December Cover Story: How It All Began

Life on two wheels started back in the early 90’s as a twelve year old kid who was hooked on football (weren’t we all?) At the time I was playing for the school, Sunday club and Southampton school boys. It was the best excuse to get out of afternoon German lessons, a kick around in the fresh air or “football training” as the PE teacher liked to call it seemed much more important. Anyway, my older brother and his friends were riding cycloccross in the winter, the galaxy graphics and fluorescent colourways of their kit and bikes were far too much for an easily impressionable youngster to ignore. I couldn’t stretch to the Alpinestars Cro-Mega DX with elevated chainstays, even the British Eagle Boss was out of my paper round money price range, but I had it in my head that I wanted to ride bikes and a late season deal from Cycle World in Romsey saw me ride out of there with a similar looking day-glo Reynolds 501 tubed mountain bike with 300LX groupset and a 500LX rear mech (that was the deal clincher). I was there. I was now a proper bike rider. (A dreamer back then too).

The first time I pinned a number on my back was for a juvenile Wessex league cyclocross race at the Southampton sports centre. It was only 20 odd minutes long but oh man was that a hard 20 minutes. Nobody handing out quarters of oranges at the mid point either, a different world compared to schoolboy football. I think I was 10th out of twenty starters and despite feeling like I’d been ridden over by most of them the day after, I knew that this was a sport I wanted to make part of my life. I told my footy managers it was all over, even had them offering to pay my expenses for a tournament in Germany I was supposed to be playing in (pretty cool the power of a 12 year old eh!?) but I’d made up my mind. A couple of years later and the Juvenile title was mine, all mine! (Said with a Dr Evil laugh after it).

From then on it was all about bike riding, the buzz on the mountain bike scene at this time was incredible. The Gorrick’s, SAMS & National Points Series were a staple diet in the summer with cyclocross racing in the winter. It took a good few seasons to progress through the ranks from Youth, Junior, Expert and finally to Elite level whilst I was lucky enough to get support from local bike shops along the way. I got given a road bike to use by a friend of mine who was doing a Sports Science degree and was helping me out with coaching and advice. I still look back and laugh now at the 80 or 90 mile rides I used to do at the weekend with those guys, as a 15 year old, on a bike that was too big for me with downtube shifters that wouldn’t index up to the lowest gear at the back (which meant I was normally on a 42 x 21, 23 if I was lucky). At the time it was just the norm, but a pretty useful start when it came to road racing and especially for the inaugural running of the Surrey League 5-day stage race in 1997 where I lined up as the youngest rider against tough competition and eventual winner Raleigh pro Barrie Clarke.

In 2000 I’d just qualified as a mechanical engineer. Having that in the bag was all I needed to now look for a job I really wanted to do, or as I classed it “a proper job”. The Volvo-Cannondale mountain bike team had a big influence here. Fat tubed Cannondale hardtails with HeadShok Fatty forks, glossy blue paintwork and yellow decals. Cadel Evans et al ripping the heart and lungs out of the dominant French Sunn-Chipie team. As luck would have it I found a job being advertised by Cannondale to work in their marketing department based in Switzerland. Nothing to lose at 21 so I applied and within the month I was on a one way flight from Luton to Basel with nothing more than a suitcase and ‘Teach Yourself German in 2 hours’ phrase book in hand. This is one for the kids, pay attention at school, one day you may need that education!

As I didn’t take a bike out with me, Cannondale kindly loaned me one of the bikes kicking around the office that looked like it would be about my size. It only turned out to be Paolo Savoldelli’s Giro d’Italia race bike. I was trying to be careful with it. Probably trying too hard in fact as on the very first day riding to work I binned it in the centre of town on the tram lines. I tell you, Roger de Vlaeminck may be able to hop in and out of tram lines but I for one cannot.

Working in Europe opened up a whole new life of cycling, giving me the chance to ride things like the Grand Raid Cristalp, Swiss Bike Masters, Trans Alp, and Swiss Power Cup. Having the Swiss Alps, Alsace and Black Forest on the doorstep meant that when I wasn’t racing I’d be out exploring. New roads, new climbs, new regions. It was during this time that I got more and more into the endurance side of the sport competing in the French Grand Trophy Sportive Series. When I moved back to the UK at the end of 2004 I well and truly had the endurance bug. In the summer of ’05 I brought Cannondale rider Tinker Juarez over for the Saab Salomon Mountain Mayhem. Not content with being a pit monkey for the man himself it was the perfect opportunity to learn directly from one of the best athletes in the world in this discipline, and wanting to see what riding for 24 hours was all about I inked my name on the start sheet. Tinker blew the field to pieces and I placed 4th, which meant I saw a few hundred quid in prize money disappear down the muddy track ahead. Hmm, should I really have brought Tinker over if I knew I’d have been on for a podium? Course, he’s a legend!

A decade on from my last CX season and it seems I’ve gone full circle from where it began all those years ago at the Wessex League. Yep, it’s a whole different game to what I’ve been doing for the last few years (about 23 hours different sometimes) but flying the southern flag for the team along with my brother has reminded me once again - damn this bike riding malarkey is fun.

Ride hard, ride long, ride fast, ride safe.



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