Friday, 25 September 2009

Crank It!

One former Olympian who has been in the news a bit lately is former rower James Cracknell. He featured in a cycling record attempt with another Olympian, rower turned cyclist Rebecca Romero. He has also been in the headlines as one of a trio of explorers (including Ben Fogle and another former rower Ed Coode) heading to the South Pole. This was documented in the BBC series On Thin Ice.

If you spend any time watching the former rower, you are instantly hit by what a driven individual he is. He throws himself wholeheartedly into whatever challenge he is undertaking. It has to be said, at the detriment of the rest of his life (usually in a description such as this it would say 'sometimes at the detriment of...' In the case of Mr Cracknell, I have deliberately ommitted the 'sometimes') Maybe this is what makes him such a great champion. After all, we are not all double Olympic champions.

Anyway, whatever you think of him, the reason I am writing about him is that James Cracknell is responsible for one of my favourite snippets from sport, ever. It is only short but sums up the moment fantastically well. It comes from the awesome autobiography of another rowing great, Matthew Pinsent, titled 'A Lifetime in a Race'

This is a great book, which I have read twice. It follows a format is a favourite of mine, the diary of events told through the athletes eyes. From the inside as it were. A real page turner. The final chapter of the book (or epilogue) covers the Athens Olympics of 2004 and Pinsent's quest for a fourth successive Olympic Gold medal. He is part of a coxless four crew (including Cracknell, Coode and Steve Williams) who have devoted at least four years to achieving gold...

Rowing is not a sport I know. Nor is it one I particularly follow but like most inhabitants of the UK, I have been swept up by the passion of Olympic rowing. Following the fortunes of Redgrave, Pinsent and Cracknell over the last few years. I hope Matt doesn't mind if I give you a taster of the book. It may inspire you to give it a read? (NB A bit of background first, in rowing the calls and direction are usually made by just one of the team (historically Redgrave in the team of four but now Steve Williams) the others usually staying silent and concentrating on the rowing.)

Ten twenty eight; the starter goes through the call over and turns on the lights. Staring at the red nothing dominates my thoughts more than the first stroke. Make it quick, make it deep.

I know we had a good start and our position relative to the Canadian's proves it, level if not a little up after ten strokes. 'Length' Steve calls, quiet almost. We get into our cruise, less energy than the start but the foot hasn't come off the gas much, if at all. Still level, maybe up a bit, then definitely up. 'Don't wait!' We had talked about this and made a point of the mistake we had made in Lucerne two months before. We had slowed after two minutes to row alongside the Canadians rather than keep forging ahead. But even though we are trying to get ahead, they are right there, a man down. 750 down and we are not going to drop them, but we are in position A. We had always felt that they put too much into the first half and we needed to be there to punish them in the second.

Halfway, '250 now'; it's a long drawn out effort, meant to last from the halfway mark to the next, a full 250 metres. We move and then stick, then they start coming back. This should be it, it should be easier from here on in.

'Two-fifty now'; another go at moving, they are just ahead, now we have actually lost ground on them. We are getting close to sprinting but not yet all in. Bad news is that we can't seem to shake them from their rythmn, can't get away. Good news, they can't either, it's right in the balance.

Five hundred to go, both boats fly through the last mark locked together. 'Crank it!' It's a different voice, it's James. His favourite call, one we dreamed up in altitude camp, it's the beginning of the charge. Crank encapsulates everything we want here, relentless, increasing power without losing length.

Four hundred, still together, still we can't get ahead enough to feel we are going to win for sure. The grandstands start on the left hand side, the roar begins. Okay, I think to myself, this is all over if we get a decisive move here, get a half-length and it's over. Give it 30 strokes, make them the best, as if everything rested on them and win it right here. I go for more power, more length again and start driving the oar through the water with all I've got. We talked about this before too, let's get everything out, let's empty the tank...

Did they win? You might know the answer already. I suggest you buy the book whatever. A great read and encapsulating from start to finish. I would copy the whole section here but risk getting in trouble with big Matt and I am guessing if we got into a discussion, he could take me...

Cracknell's 'Crank it!' is now locked away in my memory banks. I pull it out whenever I need that little bit more effort. Whether it is on the bike, in the gym or some other sporting endeavour, if I need just that little bit more, I know the ideal phrase to spur me on.

Take care,


PS I am going to be organising a charity fundraiser for the GT Foundation soon (watch this space) and an autographed copy of Matthew Pinsent's autobiography will be one of the prizes on offer.

Friday, 14 August 2009

One small step for man...

Hello and welcome back to GT Winner!!!

It has been a while but we all deserve a rest every once in a while! It seems like an age ago that I was all wrapped up in the Etape Caledonia. What a ride and what a journey it was. Thanks again to all who contributed in both money and support.

You will no doubt be pleased to learn that it is not the end for GT Winner. I have more events planned (watch this space) and definitely more rides on the way. In the meantime, I would like to share a ride with you that was completed yesterday by someone other than me - my daughter, Skye.

Yesterday she rode her little pink bike for the first time without stabilizers! It was a very proud moment for us all and gave a huge sense of accomplishment.

I can still remember the first time I rode my bike by myself. So does my Dad. He was the one who let go of my saddle and let me ride free. Yesterday, the shoe was on the other foot as it were. I was struck by the sense of freedom there is from riding a bike, I still am today. There is nothing to beat the feeling speed and of the wind in your hair. I hope Skye gets as much pleasure from bike riding as I still do. I know as she sat down afterwards that she was very pleased with herself - and so she should be. What a girl!

There was another tinge of emotion simultaneous to the huge elation I felt at her achievement. At one point I was running alongside her, just in case of mishap. The increasingly confident (and always independent) Skye shouted to me to stop running and let her go. I did as I was told and watched her ride off into the distance. I was so proud but also aware, is this the start of my little girl really growing up...

It's good to be back,


Wednesday, 27 May 2009

GT Winner on GTF

If you have a look here the Etape Caledonia ride details are now on the Geoff Thomas Foundation website. Thanks again to Becky for organising that. If you do decide to have a look, you will see that the GTF site is a very good one, with loads of info about the charity and its events. There are also a growing band of GTF fundraisers, which is great to see.

From a personal point of view, this is going to be the last few days of fundraising for the EC project. I will be adding up the total soon. Donations are still coming in (many thanks) and we may well reach the £2,000 mark yet!

Keep up the good work,


Saturday, 23 May 2009

Post-race Photos

Here are some pictures of the race finish courtesy of my mothers mobile phone (surprisingly clear I think). BTW my Ma thought I might have been missing the chocolate since January, so she brought me a little taste! (PS It is still untouched in the fridge at home)

There are a couple of things apparent to me. One is, "how small are my folks?" They must definitely be shrinking in old age. They never used to be that small...

Secondly (and on a slightly more serious note) I noticed my white lips in the last picture with my Dad. This is not due to any Tom Boonen type antics but rather dehydration. I mentioned before that my carefully planned eating and drinking schedule had been thrown off course by the unexpected stoppage and this seems to confirm it. I downed three bottles of water soon after the picture was taken.

This can happen to the best of us though. Lance Armstrong famously dehydrated in a long time trial stage of the 2003 Tour de France and nearly lost the race as a result. He has the white lip thing too.

Cheers for now,


Friday, 22 May 2009

The Support Team

I have been caught up in the GT Winner project for about six months now. It has been quite a ride and has taken many twists and turns during that time. It has been very fulfilling but also hard work during that time. There were plenty of occasions where I would have preferred not to do the training, or not to write the blog and definitely times when I could have gone a bar of chocolate (still off it!). What I have realised is that you can't really do anything in life by yourself. You need back up. You need your support network. Fortunately, I am blessed with one of the best and it is time to give them a bit of a mention.


I am one of the lucky ones. I love my wife more than I could ever write here and I am sure she feels the same. I very much look forward to us growing old and senile together. We are true life partners and despite her relative lack of cycling prowess, her input into this project has been invaluable.

As I have mentioned many times on these pages already, I would struggle to get through the day without Marnie keeping me organised. Therefore for a project like this, she was a necessity! Add to this the amount of time she has spent massaging both me and my battered ego over the last six months, plus her endless hours of childcare while I was away riding my bike and you have a key member of my team.

There is also one last piece of thanks I owe my wife. That is to say thank you for being there (in the infancy of our relationship it has to be said) during the dark times of the cancer, all those years ago. I truly couldn't have done it on my own and I will never forget who was my rock of support.


If I thought I was lucky before, I wasn't even started! When you are lucky enough to have kids, it really does open your eyes as to what life is really all about. I absolutely adore my kids (Skye is nearly 4 and Ben coming up 2). They are both truly exceptional human beings in their own ways and I love watching them grow, almost visibly, by the day. They have spurred me on during the training and put up with their Dad being tired and grumpy!

Unbeknownst to them, they have also spurred me on in another way. I have tried not to lose sight of why I am raising this money and the thought that cancer can affect anyone, of any age, just doesn't bear thinking about.


As if putting up with me for eighteen years was not enough, always good for an adventure and a day out, my folks were my very own support team on the day. Bearing in mind that they had to drive up all the way from Lincolnshire the day before, this is no mean feet. Thanks Mum and Dad, especially for putting up with me being speechless at the finish for at least five minutes!


My companions for the weekend, Team T-A Ciclismo, are an awesome bunch of fellow cyclists. I truly could not have wished for a more hospitable group of guys to share my Etape Caledonia experience with. Before the event I had visions of wet canvas and damp sleeping bags. The reality was the lap of luxury and all my meals made for me. From Malcy's pasta, to the morning granola to the finest burgers in the whole of Pitlochry, I was definitely well catered for. Add in to this the friendly banter and a not inconsiderable sum of sponsor money and it was pre-ride utopia! Considering I had never met all but one of the guys before the weekend, their support was truly awesome. All I can say is, guys...chapeau! and same time next year...?


Speaking of beds... The owners of my place to rest for the night were the very hospitable Scott's (Margaret and Peter), sister and brother in law of JJ, one of the TA guys. Not only did these lovely people agree to letting twelve or so sweaty cyclists camp out in their house for the night (they even moved next door) but they also put up with me and my folks after the ride (BTW - owners of the finest shower I have ever used, thanks Mags. Perhaps my judgement was slightly influenced by the occasion?) Below are (L-R) Pete, Mags and JJ.

Also, the TA guys had a whip round after the ride to pay for the inevitable clearing up that was required. Mags and Pete decided to donate this money to GTF. This is truly above and beyond the call of duty and shows what great characters they are. My thanks go to them both, on a personal level and on behalf of GTF. Thanks and any chance of a bed next year...?


What is there left to say about this man? A true legend amongst bike mechanics. Well, there is one last thing. Not only did Willy assemble my new hot-rod in double quick time so that it was ready for the event, he even added some "go-faster" parts onto it...and he donated his fee for doing it to the GTF charity. Awesome work Willy, thanks!


I chose the GTF as my charity of choice for a number of reasons (see one of the first blog postings to find out why). This was long before I had the good fortune to be in touch with their campaign coordinator and PA to Geoff, Becky Frewing. Throughout the project Becky has been very helpful and encouraging and a pleasure to deal with. She has also helped me organise the next GT Winner project (coming soon, watch this space...)


Last but not least, my work colleagues. These guys have put up with me being forgetful and disorganised lately (but that is no change from normal!) They have also helped with raising money by publicising the project. Thanks guys, couldn't have done it without you.

Finally, I must also say an enduring "Thank You" to anyone who has sponsored me for this challenge. I have been truly overwhelmed by everyone's generosity and have raised far more money than I expected. I know it is going to a good cause.

All the best,


Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Going the distance...

I have made a shocking and rather unpleasant discovery over the last couple of days. Whilst reading some of the many reports on the sabotaged Etape Caledonia I have discovered that the race did not cover the complete distance. Apparaently, due to the potential danger caused by the tacks and due to the difficulty in clearing them from such a large area, the organisers decided to omit a small (about seven miles) section at the bottom of the climb. Here is an image of the route but due to my poor grasp of geography, I am not sure which bit it is?

Now, you would be forgiven for thinking that I should have noticed this before...and I kind of did. I remember thinking as we were passing the distance markers on the run in that they did not tally up with my cycling computer but to be honest, you are kind of busy with other things at the time! The other variable was that I had ridden from the campsite to the start, so my computer wasn't starting at zero (incase you are wondering, two reasons for this. I was going to set a personal best for distance, so wanted to know how far I had gone in total. Secondly, I had half an eye on doing 100 miles, a cycling landmark).

So, here is the real rub. I feel I have raised money for charity (GTF) during this project, with the objective being that I would ride the 81 mile Etape Caledonia. Now, depending on how you look at it, I have or haven't done this. I rode the whole event (as it was on the day). It looks as though I have ridden 81 miles too (73 or so in the event and another 8 going to and from the campsite) Here is a picture of my computer to confirm the distances I travelled. They are not 100% accurate, so rounding to the nearest whole number, 81 miles.

However, if anyone who has donated feels short changed in any way, you most certainly have the option of letting me know. I will not be confirming a final total raised for a few days, so there is plenty of opportunity to get in touch. I promise that if there had been the opportunity to ride the extra distance, I would have done it. The whole thing is a bit unsavoury and leaves a bad taste in the mouth but I guess that's life. I entered into the event in good faith, it is just a shame some circumstances beyond my control affected the day. I guess I will just have to do it again next year...
All the best,

Monday, 18 May 2009

Etape Caledonia 2009 (Part 2)

It is now the morning after the night before. I am happy to report that I am still in one piece, although walking seems to have taken on a new level of difficulty (and in true Fawlty Towers stylie, just don't mention the stairs - imagine Herr Flick from Allo Allo and you are about there!) Suffice to say that my right knee in particular is letting me know what it thought of yesterdays antics. More on that later.
I thought I would expand a little on my short post from last night and add in some pictures. Just to truly give a flavour of the event.
I picked up my hire car on Saturday. I had booked a nice big estate car with plenty of room for one, if not two bikes. Only to arrive and be greeted with a Ford Fiesta! Not to worry. It meant I had to decide which bike I was going to use as I could only take one. I think this prevented some on the day procrastination, so was actually beneficial. I decided to take the new steed and was truly vindicated in this decision during the event. All my stuff only just fitted in, even with no other passengers. Who would have thought you needed so much stuff just for a bike ride...

One of the provisos for entry into the Etape Caledonia is that all participants must register the day before the event. I drove up for around 6pm and was greeted by the sight of cyclists everywhere. Almost every second car seemed to be carrying a bike or two. Riding, walking, chatting, shopping, it appeared everyone in the town had the same shared passion for two wheels and it was a great sight. I registered (very quick and extremely well organised) and collected my timing chip.


For most people this pre-race registration also means an over night stay in or around Pitlochrie. I mentioned a while ago how I struggled to get a bed for the night but by a quirk of fate, I fell right on my feet! A chance e-mail put me in touch with an old friend Ed Lindsay. He is the (self-elected?) leader of a group of cyclists calling themselves "Team Affluent" (more on these guys later). Fortunately for me the TA boys had the Etape Caledonia down as their first event of the summer. Ed very kindly offered for me to bunk in with them. I expected this to mean a night under wet canvas but nothing could have been further from the truth. I stayed in a lovely holiday home on the Faskally campsite, owned by one of the teams sister and brother in law (more on this great couple later too).

I had a comfy (if short) bed and slept reasonably well considering. I awoke at about 5 am. It was damp but not raining. A good breakfast and a bit of bike prep and then it was time to get ready. It was now raining, so clothing choice was getting more difficult. I eventually chose to wear knee warmers with my shorts and to take my rain cape (horrid to ride in, very sweaty but useful while I waited around for my turn to start - and again later in the day, unbeknownst to me at the time!) I shunned the over shoes (in some way they just offend me aesthetically?) a decision I rued for the first few miles as I had really cold, wet feet! Here I am before the start.

We cycled down to the start as a team. Most of the TA boys were off early doors, so I got to watch the myriad of cyclists setting off before me. What a true celebration of two wheels the EC really is. Men, women, road bikes, mountain bikes, recumbents, tandems, you name it, they were all there. What I found particularly interesting was the true mixture of cyclists. In some groups you had true roadies with their carbon bikes and deep section carbon wheels lining up right next to a seventy year old in baggy shorts with his pannier clad touring bike. Awesome. Despite the drizzle at that stage, everyone seemed in good spirits and the organisation was again first class (as it was throughout, despite the unforeseen problems ahead).

Once I got going it was a case of trying to find a rhythm. As I suspected, at that late stage there was little in the way of group riding. I tried to find riders of similar pace but the course is quite undulating at the start, so there are lots of changes of pace and it can be tricky to ride with other riders.

Eventually I met a guy called Alex (riding a blue Trek) with whom I had a nice chat. I was trying to just stay relaxed and not worry too much about time or distance travelled. I then met another nice chap, Bruce, from Edinburgh who I road a good few miles with. We had a great chat on a range of subjects including football, rugby, cycling and work. It really helped to pass the time. By this point we had probably ridden about 25 miles. I still hadn't been in a bunch, or really drafted anyone (if you remember from previous posts, riding in another riders slipstream can save up to 33% of your energy. I would certainly vouch for this after yesterday!)

As luck would have it, I found what I was looking for. Two large blokes, riding at a good speed. Due to my size I need a larger rider to shelter behind and these guys were perfect. I didn't get their names but yellow Giant riding man and particularly Cervelo riding blue jacket man - chapeau and thank you! I proceeded to get a lovely tow for a good ten miles along the Loch side. Awesome views, sunshine and passing people all the way. It doesn't get much better than that. Once I had drained their energy I took my turn at the front and made some further headway. I was just getting psyched up for the big climb when disaster struck...

Up until now there had been a couple of minor roadside incidents. Crashes, feed stations, punctures etc. but this was a big hold up. The entire field seemed to be coming to a standstill. We all dismounted and rather demoralising, I met all the people I had ridden past already! At this point, I still thought it would be a short stoppage - maybe the feed station was busy? or another crash? so I went for a pee.

As I documented yesterday (see previous post) it was much more than that. We were held up for a long time. As I said, it was just after 10.00am when I stopped and 11.50am when I got going again. During that time we advanced about a mile down the road (I should factor this into my time, which I forgot yesterday). I won't talk too much about this period other than to say it was cold, windy but sunny and not wet. Almost all of the riders were confused, dismayed but not aggressive, despite their anger at the mindless actions of the minority. The locals of Loch Rannoch were brilliant. They provided tea, coffee and shelter (even using their own mugs!) and were very understanding.

Now, this is important. If you were to ask a non-cyclist or non-athlete whether they would like a long break in the middle of an event, they would probably say yes. Following my experiences yesterday, I would definitely say this is a hindrance rather than a help. During the stoppage I got cold, I got hungry (I had a very pre-planned eating and drinking schedule that was going very well but planned for five hours, not six!) and my legs stiffened up. Prior to the stoppage, I was going really well and was nicely warmed up for the big climb. When we re-started I was cold and there were bikes everywhere, all going at different speeds. In particular, my knee was giving me jip straight away.

I managed to get over the climb and hooked onto two guys going at a good speed. It is quite a long, stepped climb but not too steep. The main difficulty was finding the rhythm again and trying to combat the feeling of having to make up for lost time. The descent was fun, if windy. Open roads really are the way forward!

Next came my biggest stroke of luck. I was falling low on energy and knew there was still a way to go (30 miles?) I needed a group...and I got one. In this situation names are irrelevant. There is just you and the wheel infront. I decided that wheel was mine and I was staying there. The group was about six strong - Etape Caledonia jersey man, Assos jacket man, Sweden jersey man, Dave Raynor Fund man, me and our spiritual leader - Endura tights, dhb jersey, red Principa riding lady. Yep, four blokes and me all got towed for mile after mile by a very smooth pedalling young lady. To you my dear, chapeau and many thanks. For the only time in the ride, we got a bit of "through and off" going on and the pace was way, way higher than I would have manged solo. The sun was out, the scenery was stunning but to be honest, I was a long way away by now. My world had closed in to leave just the tyre two inches infront and the screaming pain coming from my thighs every time we went even slightly up hill.

We rode as a group almost to the end, where a series of truly brutal short, steep climbs really signs off with a bang. This is definitely the hardest part of the route! Then, before I knew it, I was coming in to the finish. Pitlochry was full of cheering people. I actually slowed down on purpose as I came into the barriered section. I wanted to soak up the moment. I had been thinking about this for six months and I wanted to savour the occasion. I looked around and my emotions were all over the place. I crossed the line and a lovely lady presented my with a medal and said how well I had done. It appeared so heartfelt, I almost hugged her!

My folks had come to watch and they were just after the finish. Unfortunately, I couldn't speak for about five minutes but I drank three bottles of water and then was a bit more with it. Here is me after the finish, with my medal!!!

There is much more to say but that is enough for today. As I said yesterday, I am very pleased and very proud. Thanks again to everyone who made it possible. I will continue to post over the next few days about everything and everyone involved.