The Olympics: Celebrating Success or Jingoism? – Stuck in Draft #2

I wrote this over a year ago, and never quite got around to publishing it. Hence it now forms part of my Stuck in Draft series.

And so another Olympics have concluded and from where I sit it has been a success.

Let me clarify that a little. Team GB has undoubtedly been successful. But there’s a much wider context when you look at the Olympics.

These include:

  • The cost to the host nation of holding the Olympics
  • The IOC
  • The wider geo-politics of the Olympics (e.g. Russia’s participation)
  • The commercialism
  • The zika virus
  • A green diving pool
  • Competing nations’ reactions

And there are many more besides.

It’s clear that hosting the Olympics is just ridiculously expensive, and it will be interesting to see what happens in upcoming Olympic cycles. Brazil probably thought it could afford the Olympics when they won in 2006, but ten years on, and the world economy had changed not least in Brazil itself.

So while state employees weren’t being paid, and poverty is endemic, millions are being spent, perhaps unnecessarily. Winning both the World Cup and Olympics in a short space of time seems one too many global sports events at the same time.

Beyond that we’ve had the spectre of empty seats in nearly every arena. We know that tickets are vastly expensive for the local population, but surely filling those seats should be a massive priority for any organising committee? Give the tickets away if need be. Surely you make some money back on over-priced snack concessions.

It’s somehow hilarious that Irish IOC member, Patrick Hickey, was arrested for ticket-touting when from several thousand miles away it seemed that availability of tickets really wasn’t a problem (with the exception of the Maracaña for the men’s football final).

And with a reported 12% of Paralympic ticket sales sold so far, there’ll be even more blue empty seats next time around. Recall that Brazil sent the fourth largest team to London in 2012 and were 7th on the medal table. Those would suggest that it’s taken seriously.

The IOC have shown themselves to be essentially unreformed. They couldn’t take decisive action against state doping carried out by Russia, leaving it to the Paralympic Committee to show who had some balls. Sadly the Paralympics are suffering a dire shortage of cash. The IOC is rolling it, but don’t expect any bailouts. “Nothing to do with us squire…”

And they treated the whistleblower of state-sponsored Russian doping, Yuliya Stepanova, with distain. Already in hiding in the US, and not allowed to compete at these games (plenty of other ex-dopers did compete), the president of the IOC, Thomas Bach actually said the following: “We are not responsible for dangers to which Ms. Stepanova may be exposed.”

So to the average Brazilian, the Olympics may or may not have been a sideshow – at least until they won the men’s football final with a Neymar penalty, or the men’s volleyball final. But that doesn’t automatically make the Olympics per se a bad thing.

The British team has done superbly, exceeding the medal total for 2012 – something that’s never previously been achieved after a home Olympics.

They finished second in the medals table (the table being unofficial, and weighted towards gold medals), notably ahead of China.

There are two key reasons for these things: lottery money and China under-performing.

Lottery money is significant. At £4m a medal, there seems to be a fairly direct correlation between Olympic success and the amount a nation invests. In the UK this is funded by state lottery run by a for-profit organisation, Camelot. Most know that when they buy a lottery ticket, they know that some of their cash goes to these athletes and their programmes.

Indeed 25% of lottery money goes to “lottery projects” of which sport gets 20% – so about 10p of every £2 ticket.

And of course, we know that the money is targeted at sports who achieve returns on investment: cycling, rowing, yachting and gymnastics for example. Medals are targeted at almost all costs. In the track cycling, many wondered why the GB team had done poorly at the World Championships in London earlier this year, but so well in Rio. The fact was that even though the World Championships were on home turf, the team had focused on peaking their performances in Rio. If that meant under-performing before then, then so be it. Funding is dependent on Olympic success and no other!

Is that the right way of doing things? Probably not. If GB is unlikely to win medals in your sport no matter what (e.g. basketball), then don’t expect any cash coming your way soon. And while it’s great that we support our athletes and allow them to train rather than hold down multiple jobs while they compete in a world that is mostly unprofessional, that doesn’t necessarily help at grass roots levels. Those pitches and swimming pools still need to be there and accessible.

The scariest single statistic I’ve read in the last few week is that 52% of children leave school unable to swim 25m unaided. That’s simply shocking.

And what about China? Well they under-performed badly, and no doubt there’ll be inquests into why. Possibilities include a natural down-shift following a home Olympics. Everyone raises their game to perform well at home, later metaphorically breathing out when the games are over. GB seems to be bucking that trend, but Tokyo 2020 will be interesting.

There’s also the changes happening in Chinese society. Olympians are bigger stars now – and that brings with it distractions when you perhaps have some money when once you didn’t.

Finally, the cat and mouse game of drugs cheats and drug detection continues. Who knows if that is a reason.

The fact that a peak audience of around 7m people watched the British women’s hockey team defeat the Netherlands on Friday night, or that 2m stayed up until nearly 2am on Sunday morning to watch Mo Farah win the 5000m, shows that the Olympics do bring us together as a nation like no other sports event.

Newspapers are full of Olympic pull-outs and “Gold Medal special editions.” Welcome home parades are being planned for Manchester and London. The BBC Sport website saw record views with 68.3m unique browsers in the UK alone, compared with 39m in 2012.

Something to do with a post-Brexit proudness? I doubt it. If anything, the Olympics gives Britons a two-week holiday from unending political turmoil.

Are we getting value for money for our Olympic success? I’d answer yes. It’s not the be all and end all of what we need to do for sport on a wider level. The broader Olympic “legacy” of 2012 does not seem to have emerged in terms of participation. But I know I’m a lot happier seeing lottery money being spent on gold medals than public money on things like useless “garden” bridges across the Thames.

Finally, is the coverage celebratory or jingoistic? BBC coverage of the Olympics was clearly skewed towards events that the GB team does well in. How else to explain primetime Taekwondo? If you’re a fan of handball or archery, you had to look to the digital channels.

But we’re probably no different to any other nation in that regard. From speaking to friends across the Atlantic, it would seem that from an NBC perspective, there were no other nations aside from the US competing in any event! Then again, with so many US medalists, which you’d expect US TV to cover, that wouldn’t leave a lot of time for anything else.

At least we don’t get the X-Factor style sob-stories attached to every single athlete. How they overcome adversity to get to these games. Etc etc etc.

If I had a criticism, it would be a few too many montages that ran way too long, and were aired way too many times. And when commentators cross the line and become fans, that becomes awkward. That’s especially the case where they’re essentially hoping the non-British competitors make a mistake and get that dive wrong, or fail to clear that fence.

It’s always a problem when many of the commentators are either ex-competitors, and quite often friends of the athletes.

And there’s often too much expectation shown. Despite their quality, we can never be certain in events like Track Cycling or the 10,000m that our guy or gal is going to deliver the goods. Yet they sometimes were presented as nailed on certainties, and that’s simply not the case.

One other thing from a UK perspective.

Can’t we just shift Eastenders to BBC2 for a couple of weeks? It would stop a lot of needless channel changing. Stick the Ten O’Clock news there too. Then there wouldn’t be complaints about the news being delayed (complaints from people who for some reason had access to BBC 1 but curiously not the BBC News Channel, which was happily broadcasting the news at 10pm each night).

Sadly, I’m not sure that this will be an issue in four years’ time since the timings of the games will mean nothing live in peak, and it’s unclear how much digital coverage the BBC will be able to provide under their deal with Discovery/Eurosport.

U-Turns in Pancras Road

Note: This is aimed particularly at anyone who cycles in central London and travels near either King’s Cross or St Pancras stations. Everyone else? As you were. Unless you work for Camden Council…

While tube maps show King’s Cross St Pancras as a single station, anyone who visits will know that there are actually two different stations served by that tube. King’s Cross serves trains to the north and Scotland, as well as Hull, Cambridge, King’s Lynn and suburban stations to the north of London. Over in St Pancras, there are Eurostar services to the continent, services towards the midlands, and trains running north-south between Bedford and Brighton.

Between the two stations is Pancras road. While you can travel through towards Camden, it’s mostly used by black cabs, minicabs and a few buses dropping people off and picking passengers up from the station. There are dropoff points for both stations along the road, and King’s Cross’s taxi rank is set back from the road too (St Pancras’s taxi rank is on the other side of the station).

These are busy places, and there is always lots of traffic.

However, Pancras Road is also used by a large number of cyclists who are entering or leaving either mainline station. And that’s where the trouble comes, because the road can be positively chaotic. On the St Pancras side, is a long area for setting down and picking up, but at busy times double parking is pervasive. So minicabs in particular will crawl along the road waiting for a spot to open up to safely discharge their passengers. They tend not to worry about other traffic users.

Then there is the real problem – vehicles conducting three point turns. I understand that once you’ve set down, vehicles want to return into central London, but vast numbers conduct three point turns. I took this video on Friday with separate vehicles all trying to do the manoeuvre in very busy surroundings.

It would be safer for all in the vicinity if three point turns or u-turns were made illegal on this section of road. Particularly for cyclists, this can be dangerous as there is so much movement in the area, that cyclist can become invisible.

Instead, such turns should be further up Pancras Road, where there is already taxi-waiting space for those cabs queuing to pick up passengers at King’s Cross. For others, it’s easy to loop around St Pancras station via Goods Way and Midland Road, from where drivers can head off in any direction again. Let’s just keep the horrible 150m section between Euston Road and the passenger entrances of King’s Cross and St Pancras Stations clear of u-turning traffic can we?

On Uber in London

(Note: This mostly comes from something I wrote on Facebook. So I thought I may as well broaden it out and publish it here.)

TFL has decided it will not award an operator licence to Uber from 30 September. In essence, it is saying that Uber must cease operations in London.

TFL says that the reason’s behind this Uber’s approach and a “lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications.”

These include:

  • Its approach to reporting serious criminal offences.
  • Its approach to how medical cetificates are obtained.
  • It’s approach to how Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks are obtained.
  • Its approach to explaining the use of Greyabll in London, software that could be used to block regulatory bodies from gaining full access to the app and prevent officials from undertaking regulatory or law enforcement duties.

In response, Uber released the following:

It speaks of 3.5m Londoner who use the app, and the 40,000 drivers they have on their books. They claim their drivers undergo the same background checks as black cab drivers, and that “Greyball” was never used in the UK “for the purposes cited by TFL.”

However I don’t think their response is quite a point by point rebuttal of TFL’s accusations. The Metropolitan Police, for example, say that Uber has in fact failed to report crimes, and claims that it is more worried about its reputation.

Uber’s response also doesn’t explicitly say that “Greyball” was not used in any shape in the UK.

Safety and regulatory issues aside, a lot of people are disappointed. Not the representatives of black cabs of course. They’re delighted.

But what of the 40,000 drivers. They’re going to lose their jobs are they not?

Well, not exactly. First of all, Uber goes out of its way to say that these are not jobs. Uber drivers are self-employed, and as such, have no real protection or employment rights. That obviously saves Uber a lot of money.

Personally I can see both good and bad sides of Uber. They’re revolutionary, but they’re also incendiary. They undercut everyone else in the market, but they do this by effectively subsidising each trip. They can’t burn cash forever, but if they kill the competition, then they have it to themselves.

Black cabs, on the other hand, are protectionist, and that too is unsustainable in the 21st century. Their pricing is too high (although their prices appear even worse if Uber rides are subsidised), and they seem to believe they have god-given rights to the roads ahead of nearly all other vehicles. (Cf. Objections to just about any and all cycle infrastructure).

But Uber users can relaxe. In reality, nothing will change.

Uber can appeal, and eventually win back its licence. It just needs to make some structural changes. All the things TFL called them out for are correctable, and should be corrected. They have behaved badly – driven from the top by a now ousted CEO.

Issues like reporting not reporting crimes would get any cab-firm banned. Uber should expect no difference. Just because you’re big, it does not give you carte blanche to behave as you like.

Uber will appeal this process for months and/or years; fixing the issues and remaining on London’s streets all the while.

Those 40,000 drivers will mostly carry on driving regardless of outcome. Lyft can fill the void if necessary – or all the local mini-cab firms that many of those drivers came from in the first place. But the structure of their work was no more secure as Uber drivers than someone on a zero hours contract working for Sports Direct.

In any case, there are other criticalities.

The number of private hire vehicles in London has skyrocketed, from 49,400 in 2009/10 to 87,400 in 2016/17. That creates congestion, and also has an impact on London’s abysmal air quality. Even a Toyota Prius burns petrol some of the time. Those volumes are unsustainable, and TFL is no doubt looking at ways to limit those numbers.

And like other groups, Uber’s long-term plan is to do away with human drivers altogether. How long it’ll be before we see self-driving cars on London’s complex street system is anyone’s guess. I’d expect it’ll be later rather than sooner given our medieval road layouts. But it’ll come, and Uber is spending big. And at that point it will revolutionise transport, and indeed, transport ownership. And jobs like driving will be gone forever.

Tube Strike Day

An all-out London tube strike seems to be quite a rare thing these days. While individual lines can be affected, or a percentage of services disrupted, the full network doesn’t go down all that often.

But today is one of those days when nearly the entire network has stopped working.

For many it’s a question of whether or not they actually need to be in the office. “WFH” or Working From Home is much more common these days, with many able to work one or more days away from their workplace on a regular basis. A laptop, mobile and internet connection, and you’re all set.

It certainly felt that many must be doing this when I started my commute on a Great Northern train. Aware that people who might otherwise use a tube may travel over to use the national rail service, I was prepared for crowds. But in fact the carriage felt slightly emptier than usual.

The train did fill up though, and by the time we reached Finsbury Park – where hundreds usually disembark – we were instead joined by locals who were looking for a train onwards to King’s Cross. Ordinarily my trains would head underground from here, by way of Drayton Park, and into Moorgate. But those are all shared Underground stations, and therefore they were shut. So trains were all redirected to King’s Cross.

This had the knock-on effect of our train becoming a bit like planes circling Heathrow in a landing pattern at a busy time, patiently awaiting a slot. There are 12 platforms at King’s Cross (Platforms 1-11 and, of course, Platform 0), and they’re ordinarily pretty full. Adding dozens of local commuter services into the mix isn’t easy to manage.

From King’s Cross it was more chaotic. I calmly unfolded my Brompton and then had to navigate hundreds of nomadic commuters, looking lost in an unfamiliar place, and with their noses buried into Google Maps on their smartphones as they worked out their onwards routes.

If you’re a black cab, mini-cab or Uber driver, you’re on duty today, and the roads outside King’s Cross were jammed up with cabs. A long queue of people snaked back at the taxi rank, but it was the weight of traffic rather than lack of cabs that kept the line stationary.

Crossing the Euston Road from King’s Cross without using the underpass is pretty fraught at the best of times. But with the tube station shut it appeared that the underpass was closed as well. Crossing the road means navigating as many as four sets of traffic lights – all separately. Cars have the priority here, not people. My fellow cyclists and I had to use the combined might of all our bells to stop people walking into the road when the lights turned red for pedestrians and ours green.

Many may have hoped to use hire bikes. TFL have upped the number of docks around King’s Cross of late, but they were all empty when I passed, all the spares kept in a nearby warehouse having been hired out. There were still a few bikes temptingly sat in their docks, but as you got nearer, a tell-tale red light showed that they were damaged in some way and not working.

The back streets of Bloomsbury are well suited to cycling, but wayward pedestrians meant there was a constant requirement to “keep your wits about you” as then Mayor Boris Johnson once said untruly of Elephant and Castle.

Walking whilst simultaneously reading your phone is a bad mix at the best of times.

Cars and other motor traffic were less of a problem, for the most part because they were all stationary. I would imagine that for the most part walking rather than taking a bus or car would have been the better bet today.

Some people still took a few too many risks – either because they didn’t usually cycle, or were impatient and late for work. That doesn’t really excuse playing chicken with a car when you’re on a bike. There’s only ever one winner in that game. And nipping behind a reversing lorry, as I saw several do, isn’t too smart either.

If you had managed to pick up a hire bike, you had one further issue – full docks in central London.

Broadly speaking, bike hire commuters come in from a ring around outer London, and dock their bikes near their workplaces in the middle of town. The reverse then happens in the evening. TFL try to manage this by shifting bikes around and freeing up spaces as necessary, but there’s a natural equilibrium usually reached – just enough central docks to manage the commuters. On a day like today, everything is disrupted. I was seeing people looking lost and confused at full docks, vainly attempting to find somewhere with space. A colleague had to travel to Regent’s Park, a good half an hour away, to find somewhere to dock his bike.

At work, talk was about how people “beat” the strike. Walking, for the most part. Someone mentioned their partner paying 4.8x “Surge pricing” on Uber. I bet most of that trip was spent stationary too.

BBC London posted a video that perhaps showed why driving around London doesn’t work:

The population of London increases by 10,000 every single month.

(It’s at 8.7m up 469,000 in four years.)

That explains why we need increased and greater diversity in our transport. Roads get clogged instantly with motor traffic, so that doesn’t work. Cycle lanes do work, and there’s scope for a massive increase in the number of cyclists on the roads. But we could also do with more secure parking facilities.

That’s also why Crossrail is essential, and we need to get a move on with Crossrail 2.

It also means that petty squabbles over who runs London’s transport are ridiculous. One organisation – TFL – needs to be in charge of as much of it as possible, whatever our cyclist-hitting Transport Secretary thinks.

Days like today remind Londoners how much transport is on something of a knife edge in keeping the city working.

A Timelapse of 25 Great Pulteney Street, London

25 Great Pulteney Street – Timelapse from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

Do you ever embark on a project that somehow you never quite get around to completing?

I certainly do. And here, finally, is a project that I’ve completed some six years after I started it.

This begins back in 2010 when I was still working for Absolute Radio in One Golden Square, Soho, London. I sat at the back of the fourth floor, windows behind me looking across the Soho alleyway that is Bridle Lane and towards a building on Great Pulteney Street beyond. The fairly ugly building from the 1960s at 25 Great Pulteney Street had once been home to the agency Starcom Motive. But they’d long moved out, and the building had been empty for at least two years. When Google Street View’s team passed it in 2008, the building was boarded up, and that was still the case by 2010.

Now finally the developers were moving in, and it looked like something was happening with the building. I brought in an old Canon A470 digital camera, bought cheaply on eBay, and loaded a memory card with CHDK – the alternative firmware that would provide my camera with timelapse facilties. I also bought an external power supply and suction camera mount.

Over the next year and a half, between April 2010 and October 2011, I set the camera taking photos – first of the demolition of the building, and then of the new building rising in its place. I wasn’t consistent in either the location of the camera, the frequency of it taking photos, or what it was pointing at. When I went on holiday, I made sure to keep the number of photos a day low to ensure the memory card didn’t fill.

In retrospect, there are a lot of things I’d have done differently, including changing the aspect ratio, the photo size and so on. I was left limited in what I could do with zooming or panning across scenes. The camera was also limited in its angle of view from my window, and the camera was often mounted on a slight angle. The buildings were too close and the lens not wide enough to capture everything in one shot. The window meant reflections, and it wasn’t perfect either – neither clean nor unscratched.

Over the course of having the camera in my window, I had to ensure that cleaners at Absolute didn’t unplug it. The suction of my suction mount would invariably fail over time, and I’d come into work to find the camera on the floor. On one occasion the fall was “fatal” and I bought an identical replacement on eBay to continue the project.

In total I ended up with something like 250,000 photos. I wrangled them into something useable with Quicktime Pro, getting MP4 files from my JPGs. On underpowered PCs, this was a slow process.

Finally I had a collection of 102 files, taking up about 10GB. And then I sat on the videos. I couldn’t say way exactly. I suspect that I found it a little daunting. I knew that there was too much video and it needed editing down, although it wasn’t really a big job. I had to find some music – two tracks. One for the demolition, and another for the new building. I’ve sped many of the clips up further, removed nights for the most part, when as already mentioned, reflections of my office were a problem.

Finally it should be said that this is by no means every minute or day of the building being demolished and rebuilt. But it’s lots of it.

And so it is, that some years after capturing this footage over many many months, I’ve pieced together this video! I hope you enjoy it.

Notes and Further reading:

The architects were WilkinsonEyre, and they have a nice project page with some lovely photos of the finished building.

The building is reported to have cost £9.5m to complete, and was for the client F&C Property Asset Management (now BMO Real Estate Partners)

The front of the building has some interactive railings in a piece called Finial Response designed by Cinimod Studio.

London Six Day Racing

Six Day London 2015-26

Note: I began writing this last year, and then like so many posts, I left it languishing in drafts until I’d got around to processing the photos to go with it. Then I was lax about getting up to date with processing my photos. And so finally, three months later, here’s the whole piece.

I must admit that I was quite excited when I heard that six day racing was returning to London. Mark Cavendish was the promotional front man behind it, and I suspect he may well have been racing the series were he not still recovering from injury.

Essentially a two-man team competition, it’s racing in a velodrome over six nights, with an overall winner determined from the cumulative results. In between events for the six-day competitors, there are other races so that entrants to the main competition aren’t actually on-track non-stop all night.

Six Day London 2015-16

That all said, the racing is fast and furious, designed to keep an audience attentive. As soon as one event finishes, the next is on track – although most track racing is like this. Allied to the cycling are the lights and music. In London we had a Ministry of Sound DJ in a purpose made booth right in the centre of the velodrome. He was providing us with a non-stop soundtrack of music for all the events, ramping up the volume accordingly.

Six Day London 2015-14

At one end of the velodrome’s centre were the racers’ cabins. Usually in London, where the 250m circuit leaves quite a big space, a good half of the area is handed over to riders in sectioned off areas. But they can also easily escape downstairs to toilets and changing facilities. Traditionally riders rarely left this central area during a meet however, so the only privacy they were afforded were these wooden cabins with curtains they could pull across. More importantly seigneurs could give them regular massages to keep them loose between races. In London this wasn’t strictly necessary, but they kept the cabins on for form’s sake.

Six Day London 2015-11

So what did I make of the night – the fourth of the six days in London? Well I enjoyed myself a lot. The music wasn’t pounding house music, but stuff you might actually know. It’s probably a cliché, but who wouldn’t want to hear the Ride of Valkyries when the Derny bike pilots lined up for their specific race? On top of that, the lighting made for a great atmosphere. Normally inside the London Velodrome, the lighting is bright and harsh, but for this they’d made things quite special.

There was lots of food and beer available for sale, and the crowd was having a good time. I suspect it’s not quite as riotous and chaotic as some Continental six day races, but it was good fun.

Six Day London 2015-10

The crowd could have been larger though. I suspect it’s quite an uphill struggle to fill a velodrome on six consecutive nights. And I’m not sure that starting on a Sunday and finishing on a Friday is the best way to do things. I notice that in Ghent they start on Tuesday and finish on Sunday. At least that way you get big Friday and Saturday nights. On the night I went, they reallocated tickets to lower area for anyone who’d bought an upper level seat.

Six Day London 2015-5

I think cheaper tickets would have been smarter too. My front row ticket actually cost £60 which is damned expensive however you look at it. The night before Bayern Munich fans were protesting the £64 price of their tickets at Arsenal to see two of the top football sides in the world play! Upper tier tickets were cheaper, but lower prices would probably have seen more tickets sold. Yes, cycling can be very middle class (much more so in the south-east in my view), but that’s a lot of money for any sporting occasion. And when you factor in £5 a pint Heineken, you’re looking at expensive evening out.

And I do note that whereas in Ghent, the centre of track costs €19 for standing, in London the part not given over to riders is for hospitality. There was a very expensive BMW parked in the middle, and a smaller number of people enjoying very pleasant corporate hospitality.

But they did put on a proper show. We had both in vision presentation from OJ Borg, short films to explain race formats, and of course commentary over the races which was separate from the TV commentary heard on Eurosport. You have to do that if you want to properly mix the sound for TV. The Revolution series tried using Hugh Porter for both track and TV commentaries a year or so ago, and it really didn’t work. My only complaint there was that some of OJ’s interviews were drowned out by the music underneath. Crank up the volume of those interviews, or drop the music down even lower.

The organisers made full use of the screens with lots of bespoke graphics, and it was good to have a few cameras attached to bikes for live pictures.

Six Day London 2015-23

The riders are also aware that it’s a show as much as competitive. Indeed exactly how competitive they really are is a good question.

Most of the riders we saw are regulars on the six-day circuit, and have been riding around Europe for a few months or so doing this. But they play to the crowd enormously, bigging up the audience ahead of a time-trial, and taking their wins fulsomely. We got trackstands and “argy-bargy” that wouldn’t be allowed in a UCI event. It all adds to the interest – although race times remain good, and this is more than exhibition stuff.

I listened to The Cycling Podcast’s coverage of the Six Day meeting, and came away feeling a little the same. The other big velodrome racing in the UK is the Revolution series which has slowly expanded out of its Manchester home as we’ve seen new velodromes open. It’s now up to six rounds, usually with an afternoon and evening session for each round.

Because these events are limited to a single day, they’ve done well in attracting big name British riders to help fill the stands. They’ve had Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas ride rounds for example. I note that the ticket for the same seat at the London round of Revolution only cost £38.50. Except, I couldn’t have bought it if I wanted to, because they’d already sold most of the better tickets.

I’m not saying the Six Day racing shouldn’t continue as well, but I think it needs to be made more affordable. This may sound odd, but the event they probably want to aspire to is the Darts World Championships at Ally Pally. Big groups of people going along with express intention of having a good time.

I’d love to go to Ghent and see some racing there. Maybe later in 2016…

Six Day London 2015-25

Lumiere London

Lumiere London-3

The world and their mum seemed to be in London over the weekend for Lumiere London. I had planned to try to get around the whole thing in one evening, but large crowds and a need to be in King’s Cross by 8pm meant I only saw a subset of it on Thursday night. By Saturday, some parts of the exhibits were so overcrowded that the lights were turned off for a time to ease congestion.

Anyway, social media is being deluged by photos from the event, so it’s only fair that I add a few of my own.

Lumiere London-7

Lumiere London-8

Lumiere London-11

Lumiere London-14

Lumiere London-20

Lumiere London-22

Lumiere London-24

The full set of photos is on Flickr.

Tour of Britain 2015 – Stage 8

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-22

The Tour of Britain ended this year as it usually does, with a circuit race around central London. But there was a new circuit this year, with the race heading more into the West End than it has previously. The crowds looked good, and although it was hard to follow the race, I later learned that the reason Team Wiggins were on the front so much to start with was to enable Owain Doull to take the two seconds he needed to get on the podium in the first sprint.

In the later part of the race, a breakaway swept up any more intermediate time bonuses, so Doull got his podium spot. But there was more controversy in the final sprint as Sky’s Elia Viviani was edged into the barriers by Lotto Soudal’s Andre Greipel. There are a couple of photos further down that show the two crossing the finish line and having some words.

Many more photos on Flickr.

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-4

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-6

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-7

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-10

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-16

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-19

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-20

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-23

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-26

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-29

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-30

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-32

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-35

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-36

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-40

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-47

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-48

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-53

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-55

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-61

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-65

Tour of Britain 2015 - Stage 8-66


RideLondon 2015-12

A couple of weekends ago was the now annual RideLondon cycling festival in London. There are several strands to it, including:

– FreeCycle – 10 miles of closed roads around central London for families in particular to pedal around
– The Brompton World Championships
– The RideLondon Grand Prix – Women’s professional circuit race
– RideLondon 100 – 100 miles of closed roads for a mass participation sportive
– London-Surrey Classic – Men’s professional road race over an elongated version of the sportive’s route

And there was other stuff beyond that – junior racing, exhibitions and so on.

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Foolishly, I signed up for two of the events, and this year got into both of them.

The RideLondon 100 is the big one, and this is its third running, and my third time of trying to take part. It’s a 100 mile sportive and this year I finally got in without having to go down the charity route (access is easier going via a charity, but you must commit to raising several hundred pounds for said charity, which may or may not be easy depending on your personal circumstances). This year was the first that I came up trumps in the ballot.

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I entered the Brompton World Championships on a bit of a whim with a friend. I didn’t expect to get in, since there are only 500 spaces, and people really do travel from around the world to take part. But I did manage to get in, and that had me worried – was it a good idea to do a circuit race the evening before a 100 mile sportive?

I would soon find out.

This weekend was also a bit of a mechanical challenge for me – partly of my own making. On Friday night I decided I should finally fit the rear mudguard for my Brompton that I bought a couple of months ago to replace a damaged one. Replacing a mudguard on a Brompton tends to mean removing the wheel, and because I rarely do that, and it’s more complicated than a regular bike with hub gears, I can have problems.

In the meantime, I had sort out my outfit. Brompton World Championships rules dictate that you should be smartly dressed with a collared shirt, tie and jacket. Shorts may be worn, but there should be absolutely no visible lycra!

I chose an old suit jacket, plain white shirt and a black tie that gave me the look of either someone going to a funeral, or a someone from Reservoir Dogs. I would instantly regret my choice of jacket, since the moment I ventured outside, I realised that it was a lot warmer than I’d thought it’d be. This could be a hot race.

The other problem I had outside was that I realised there was a problem with my gearing following my wheel removal. Fiddling as much as I could, I couldn’t sort it. The chain was slipping which wasn’t good. I headed slowly down to The Mall where Brompton had an enclosure. Once registered I looked to find a mechanic who could help me out. He quickly diagnosed my problem – I’d refitted the wheel wrongly. (Note to self: don’t do hurried unnecessary things to a bike the night before a big event).

He fixed it, but noticed that my hub’s cones were loose. He didn’t have the right tools, and a Brompton representative suggested that I slowly head over to the Brompton store to get them sorted. I crossed the streams of cyclists on the FreeCycle (many thousands, moving around very slowly), and headed downstairs to the workshop. The mechanic recognised me – I’ve been in a few times – and he very quickly sorted out my hub cones problem and fine tuned my gears.

Also downstairs were some Italians riders who were conversing in Italian with the mechanic. Looking at their bikes, I could see some serious speed modifications that they’d made – thin tyres (not my bombproof Marathon Schwalbe monsters), big chainrings, deep-rim wheels and so on. I saw a race number – A4 – which meant this was someone who’d be at the very front and had probably been invited. They were in this to win.

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Back in the Brompton area we began to ready ourselves. The start would be “Le Mans” style – that is you race to your bike which has to be folded. Lots of people were tactically arranging how to reach their bike quickly. Over the PA system I learnt that ex-pro David Millar was taking part in the race, but that since he’d only got his bike yesterday, he’d not learnt the unfolding technique properly. Some people seemingly practice their unfolding to get it down to 6 seconds. I’ve never “practiced” as such, although I’ve folded down fast as a train approached.

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We were lined up on The Mall. The course took us down to Buckingham Palace then a left turn around St James’ Park, along birdcage walk and then around until you’re back in The Mall again. A 1.7km circuit in total. There’d be eight laps, although if we were lapped – a highly likely prospect in my case – then we’d finish on the same lap the winners finished. I didn’t expect to race more than about five of the eight laps.

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I was in the “C” group. We had been grouped according to our expected times. I’d no idea how fast I’d be, but third out of four groups was fine by me. But being further back, we’d leave 20 seconds behind the leaders. The race started and the first group were away, then the second, and then us!

I actually managed to get unfolded and away faster than anyone near me, and I was soon flying. After that it all becomes a bit of a whirlwind. Getting into a group would have been the sensible thing, but I always find it hard to get into a group with strangers like that. I slipstreamed a little, and no doubt people were using me to slipstream too. Someone in drag overtook me; I passed someone in full barrister garb. On the corner near Buckingham Palace, the crowds were huge and they cheered us on.

After about three laps, I was little perturbed that the leaders hadn’t yet passed. Then they did – flying up on the right hand side along Birdcage Walk. I carried on, with lots of cheers in The Mall where there was also a good crowd. Then I suddenly found myself isolated – nobody close behind or in front. I kept going. My friend then appeared on my right – and I tried to get on his tale. But I lost him on a corner. He’d started behind me so had made good time catching me up. We headed on and on.

Another fast group overtook me, but I didn’t think it was the leaders. But I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t really counting the laps, although I was pleased to hear the bell and see one lap to go. I crossed the line with a last minute sprint.

When I looked back at my bike computer, it turned out that I had ridden 7 of the 8 laps. The leaders had only passed me once (although they were close to doing so again), and I’d ridden at an average speed of 31kph (19mph). I was happy with that. My lap times – we were chipped – showed me tailing off a little as the event unfolded. And later when the results were published, they showed me finishing 192nd out of 500 riders. I was pretty happy with that.

I certainly needed as much water as possible afterwards though. And did I mention the suit jacket was a bad idea?

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After we’d finished there was a professional women’s road race on the same circuit. The Brompton area afforded good views of the race, and I ignored the presentation ceremonies to watch the race which, despite a couple of escapes, was looking to being a bunch sprint until a nasty crash happened right on the finish line of the penultimate lap. As the remaining riders completed their final circuit, it looked like touch and go as to whether they’d be able to have a sprint finish. But the injured riders were cleared just about in time, and Velocio Sports’ Barbara Guarischi won a tight finish with Ale Chippolini and Wiggle Honda riders in contention.

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I headed off home before the junior races since I needed to get a pasta meal down me, and a good night’s sleep ahead of the next day’s RideLondon 100.

My start time wasn’t until 8:09am, but the organisation of the event meant that my “pen” actually opened at 6:51am. So I needed to be in Stratford for around then. Trains really don’t start early on a Sunday, so for me that meant a “warm up” cycling the 12.5 miles from home to the Olympic Park where everyone was starting. Fortunately, at 5:30am the roads were empty and the sun was up.

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The event this year had enlarged to 26,000 riders, and with that comes lots of organisation. Each rider has a colour and a letter which correspond to start times and a barriered-off area somewhere in the park. Riders are released in batches at regular intervals from 6:00am until 9:00am. So I was about two thirds of the through the released riders. Again, this was probably based on the time I said I’d do the ride in – as much a guess as anything.

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We slowly edged towards the start line in an organised manner. An MC was getting suggestions for start music for each batch. A wag in our group asked for “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” So it was Eric Idle we were hearing as we crossed the line and began.

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The phased release strategy means that the roads aren’t too crowded, and we were soon getting up a head of speed along the A12. Fairly soon we headed west and in no time at all had reached the Tower of London and a 10 mile sign shortly afterwards. If it was all going to be like this, this would be a piece of cake!

We sped through central London and I was surprised to see people at the first drinks stop. Surely they still had plenty of liquid at this stage? Then we headed westwards through Kensington and out towards Chiswick, crossing the Thames at Chiswick bridge.

The roads were wide and empty, and because it was early in the morning, there were few residents trying to cross the road – which is as well, since this can be quite hard when cyclists come speeding through, although there were plenty of marshals on hand to facilitate pedestrians crossing.

Then we turned down towards Richmond Park, where barriers ensured no deer would wander across our path. The modest hill in the park slowed people up a little, but it was still easy going.

Then it was on towards Kingston Upon Thames – the 25 mile mark. But it was at this point that you briefly see the return route, and even at this early hour I could see riders coming back into town. As I said, faster riders were released first, so they’d probably be looking at four hour finishes.

We headed along through Walton and towards Weybridge, and although I can’t put my finger on it, I began to really feel that something was wrong.

I thought that I must have overcooked it a bit. I couldn’t have recovered properly from my Brompton race the previous day, or got enough energy from food. This in spite of a large pasta meal the evening before followed up with an early porridge breakfast.

But it was undoubtedly true that I was now struggling. No longer was I overtaking others, but I was being overtaken by riders I’d passed some way back. We reached a downhill section, and I was even slow on that (In retrospect, that should have been a clue, but I didn’t pick up on it).

I struggled onwards, but was worried. If I felt like this so early in the ride, there was no way I’d complete the full 100 miles. I was just slogging along, my average speed slowing all the while.

Then I started to feel something. My back wheel wasn’t right. I looked down and it seemed like it was wobbling a little. I kept going.

Eventually I reached what I later discovered was West Byfleet. I was exhausted. I pulled in and looked more closely at the wheel. It was all over the place. And that meant that I was riding against my own brakes. No wonder I’d been struggling to reach 20kph. It was awful. Some police who were on crowd control duties came over and asked me what was wrong. I said I had a mechanical. The effort that I’d been going through meant I couldn’t really talk to them much to explain the problem in detail.

One of the policemen said that I was lucky. There was a bike shop just up the road – less than 100m away – and it was open. I thanked the policeman and wheeled my bike on, and could now see that the wheel was a mess. The wheel barely turned at all.

I asked a chap who was there if he could help. The wheel was properly buckled, and there was a broken spoke.

He said that he could probably fix it, but it’d take 40 minutes. Or he could sell me a new wheel. In fact he’d actually sold his last spare wheel, but he removed one from a display bike and I went for that option. More expensive, but I’d be on my way sooner.

He whipped my wheel out with a colleague and soon switched over my tube, tyre and Garmin sensor to the new wheel. I left some contact details, settled up, made use of his facilities (so much nicer than all the chemical toilets along the route), and was soon on the way. Thank you very much Pure Motion Cycles of West Byfleet!

I can’t emphasise enough how lucky it was that I broke down RIGHT outside a bike shop! At other points in the event, I saw cyclists wearily walking their bikes with more serious mechanicals in the middle of nowhere. While most drinks’ stations did have mechanics on hand, they were at 5 mile or more intervals. You could be facing a long walk. And in any case, it wasn’t clear that they’d be able to fix, or better yet, replace, my wheel there and then.

I was now, if not exactly flying, then racing along. My new wheel made a world of difference. Suddenly this was all very doable again. I was now particularly vigilant about potholes.

The first notable climb of the route was up to Newlands Corner. I’m not really familiar with the Surrey Hills, so I didn’t know where I was. Had I just climbed Leith Hill? No. At the top of the climb was the second of the big “hubs” – the biggest food and drink stops. But somehow this hub was running a bit low. It only had water and energy drinks. No gels or food (which there should have been). Although I was now a bit further back than I would have hoped, I thought it was a bit poor that the slower riders were so deprived. Years earlier I once ran the London Marathon and had a similar experience of reaching drinks stops that were out of water or energy food. So the weakest runners got the least.

Fortunately I’d brought enough food and energy gels to get myself around. I only really needed to top up with water or energy drink. I find that it’s worth varying your liquids. Although it’s good for you on a long ride, too much energy drink can leave a horrible taste in the mouth, and I ended up switching to water for most of the latter part of the event.

Then it was on to Leith Hill proper. It begins slowly with a gentle slog upwards until suddenly the road narrows and the gradient increases sharply. I was happily prepared to ride it, but it seemed that riders in front of me weren’t, and despite many shouts to “Walk on the left,” the road was completely blocked. I slowed to a crawl in my lowest gear trying to carry on pedaling, but it was no good. I had to stop. I just couldn’t cycle through the crowd. One chap in front of me came a cropper when he discovered that too late and tipped over sideways still clipped into his pedals, and taking someone else with him.

It did annoy me that people couldn’t or wouldn’t walk on one side of the road, and I suspect that this was a problem that only those released later would face. Faster riders would have ridden straight through.

Fortunately it was only a few tens of metres before I was able to clip in and continue the ascent. But arguably the most dangerous part of that particular climb is actually the descent. It’s in a deep tree-lined cutting and the road surface is poor. Fortunately we were spaced far enough apart to avoid any incident.

Sadly, I later learned that a rider had collapsed and died of a suspected heart attack on Leith Hill. In truth it’s not that hard a climb, so other things probably came into play.

The next hold-up, oddly enough was Dorking. I think it was a “sheer weight of riders” thing, but the High Street was packed and we couldn’t all get through without stopping and walking a bit. But then it was on our way to Box Hill.

This is another hill that, amazingly enough, I’d never climbed before. The surface of the climb is super-smooth, having been relaid ahead of the Olympics. The road has several long switchbacks, but the gradient is pretty constant at around 5%. While I wouldn’t say that I hammered up it, I was comfortable enough getting to the top, where the views were great.

I didn’t hang around for pictures (despite having a camera, I took very few), and after refilling water bottles, I headed onwards. With 30 miles to go, it was through Leatherhead and Oxshott before reaching Kingston again, and then heading out towards Wimbledon. I hadn’t previously realised quite the extent to which Wimbledon sits on a hill, but that was a nice final little kicker, before dropping down to Putney. Then it was across the river and the home stretch.

I flew along for these last miles, since I knew the roads a little better, and you could measure yourself as you passed building like Tate Britain. Soon it was up past the Houses of Parliament, up Whitehall, and then a sharp left through Admiralty Arch and onto The Mall. Everyone does their “sprint finish” and crosses the line.

My timing chip time said I was slow at 7:00:28. But I prefer to use my Garmin’s timing which removes stoppages for getting my bike fixed, and drinks and toilet stops. That says 6:14:42, and even that includes some slow “moving” through drinks stations. I’d have preferred to be closer to 5:30 to be honest, and my average speed was slow at 25kph when it should have been closer to 28kph.

But all things considered, given some of my technical issues, I’ll take that time, and look to go much better next year if I get in again. It would have helped had been able to ride with others, but in point of fact, I didn’t really manage to do that. There was a little of it right at the beginning, but once I’d got through my mechanical trials and tribulations, I was mostly riding solo.

Overall riders were mostly well behaved, and it was clear a good proportion of the club riders were put into the early pens since there were relatively few fast “chains” coming through. A few people didn’t read about sticking to the left if you’re slower, and while riding two abreast is fine, you should ideally not sprawl across both lanes or ride three abreast. The only real issue I had was on Leith Hill where a little more consideration could have been shown.

I didn’t notice too many casualties at the roadside, but there were a few, and they were not always pleasant looking. I never saw any of the causes of these incidents, but they did appear to be more towards the centre or right hand side of the road rather than the left.

Overall the operation is really well handled. The release strategy is good, and aside from the foodless-hub, the event is well catered for. Indeed the worst part of things was getting out of The Mall and into Green Park at the end of the ride, mostly because of the hoardes of tourists heading back and forward across the flow of cyclists around Buckingham Palace.

The crowds were great, especially towards the end. And I have to hand it to the charity groups who’d wildly cheer anyone in one of their branded jerseys but were generally enthusiastic towards everyone.

I considered waiting around for the conclusion of the men’s road race, but decided it would be several hours until they got here, and I’d prefer to head home. The ride across London to the station gave me an immediate reminder of how great closed roads are when you’re not having to battle other London traffic. And of course, it being a Sunday, there was a bus replacement service on my train line home, so I took a train to another station some ten miles away and got a further “warm down” cycling back home from there.

Then I settled down to watch the last 60km of the men’s race which was now on the roads I had ridden a few hours earlier. Kudos to whoever decided to put David Millar on a motorbike in the middle of the race. I remember Channel 4 using Allan Peiper to do something similar in cycling races years back, and I think it’s been done a little on the continent. But Millar is an excellent analyst, and putting him in the middle of things really added to what we could understand about the way the race was progressing. BMC’s Jean-Pierre Drucker beat three others to the win, including Sky’s Ben Swift.

Overall a fun, but undoubtedly exhausting weekend. I’ve already entered the ballot for next year.

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View from the Shard

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To the 34th floor of The Shard and the Shangri La Hotel where a friend is having a party. A great night but a challenge to get good photos from. I knew that the internal lights of the glass would cause horrible reflections inside, so to try to combat it, I arrived with a piece of black felt into which I’d cut a hole that wrapped around the lens of my RX100. The idea was to block out light and reflections. But triple glazed windows basically defeated many of my plans. The photo below is a good example:

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I like the photo a lot, but there’s a great big bit of table reflecting in the lower part of it. Short of turning all the lights off, there’s not much I can do. In the end, go with it, and try to work around the problem.

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