Thursday 30 March 2017

52 Cycling Voices - 8: Emily Chappell

I had heard a lot about Emily Chappell, a former cycle courier who has been doing ultra-long cycle tours around the world over the last few years, and who has written a book about her cycling tales. As well as touring, last year she was the fastest solo female at the Transcontinental cycle race (of which the late Mike Hall was the director), a self-guided cycling competition in which riders travel around 4,000km to get from Geraadsbergen, Belgium to Canakkale, Turkey via the shortest route.

I finally got to meet Emily at the London Bike Show and she talked about the Transcontinental, her bike riding in general, plus life being an author and a director at the Adventure Syndicate.

Emily Chappell, aged 34

Lives: Machynlleth, Mid-Wales

Director of the Adventure Travel Syndicate and author

Emily at the London Bike Show
"I was born in Somerset but lived in mid-Wales as a kid. I started cycling as a child like everyone else does. Where I was, just South of Machynlleth, is a good place because with Snowdonia, Cambrian Mountains and Brecon Beacons nearby, you get good at cycling up hills very quickly!  

I moved to London after uni 11 years ago, got a bike at that time and started cycling around London. Firstly, I was commuting, then I got a job as a courier for a while. It was all this riding around London that got me more into cycling. I met a lot of people who were really into audaxes, so that made me realise you can do big distances by bike. 

I always had the ambition, buried somewhere deep down to do long-distance cycle touring, and Juliana Buhring was the main person who wrestled it out of me, and convinced me that this was something I really did want to do, and that I might possibly be capable of doing it.

I started cycle touring and gradually upped my distance. One of my best trips was my winter ride from Anchorage to Seattle. My first race was then the Transcontinental race last year. When I decided to enter it I was having a bit of an identity crisis – maybe that’s too strong a word. I had done a lot of touring, but I wanted a bigger challenge. So coming into it, the Transcontinental made me think, “that just looks really cool.”

I didn’t go into the event thinking that I could win it. I am competitive - I want to try, I want to push myself and do well. But I didn’t really think very much about the fact that it was an actual race with lots of other people to compete against. I’m not a fast cyclist, and apart from a couple of Alleycat events, I was not a racer or a winner or someone who competes
But then as I got into the riding during the Transcontinental race, I started to realise I was okay at it, and began to think “Maybe I am one of the ones who could win.” So then, the pressure was on, and I just kept going, and won!

In the Transcontinental you can tailor the route for what will work for you, and the most direct route. I spent a lot of time looking at the actual roads on Streetview and Satellite mapping to try and figure out what the road surface would be. During the ride you cross a lot of gravel roads, and I think that was something that helped me. I’ve done a lot more gravel than some people in the past because I enjoy it, and I tend to think “Let’s just take the most direct route, and no matter what happens I’ll keep riding.”

Often, I had moments on the tarmac where I felt a bit tired, fed-up, down, sore and was riding along thinking how awful life is – then I’d hit the gravel, and because it’s quite hard work it’s all-consuming and focuses you. Then the time just passes quickly because you don’t have the energy to think about how much your feet hurt. You just keep going!
Having said that, even I had moments when I thought, oh God, not more gravel! Particularly as it did slow me down a bit.

There was one bit during the Transcontinental race where I strayed onto a route that was completely different from where everyone else was going. I had passed a checkpoint and went south to Albania, when everyone else went south-east. People could track what I was doing, and it would have been clear to them that this was not a deliberate route – I felt like I'd done something stupid, but I had a really good time!

I didn’t get particularly lonely during the Transcontinental race, as I like being on my own. You see people at the start and then around the check points, and at the end you see more people. Also, along the way sometimes you are on a stretch of road where there is only one route option, so at those moments you see quite a few people.
At times I was in the middle of nowhere having not seen another racer for a couple of days, and then I'd see someone I know who was in the race. So then I'd think, “you’re my friend, you’re my brother, I know you”.

Other times, when I saw another racer, I’d get slightly more stressed because I’d suddenly start thinking “There’s a guy over there who is in the same race and he’s ahead of me; but I might be going a bit faster, so maybe I’ll overtake him. And if I overtake him then I have to keep that up, and ride a bit faster.” I was thinking all those things, and then suddenly there’d be all this tension. And then if I overtook him and decided to stop for lunch, I'd see him go past, and think – ah, now he’s ahead of me! In contrast, when I am on my own, I am just off riding my bike, and I can forget about all that competition, and it’s lovely.

I am doing the Transcontinental again this year. There is a chance I could win, but there will be a number of people doing it who have done it before and who are much stronger than me. Also, I’ve been going around the entire cycling world saying “hey, more women should do the Transcontinental.” So I think a lot more women are entering because they’ve been watching it for a couple of years and they’ve started to think, maybe they could do that. The field will be much stronger this year, so if I do win, it will be a serious victory. If I do the best ride of my life but I don’t win, I’d still be happy.

In January I did a 24-hour mountain bike race in January – the Strathpuffer, up in Scotland. It’s famous for being in winter. Although it wasn’t raining or snowing, it was very cold with a lot of ice around, and was held in 17 hours of darkness. The first few hours were okay, but then when it got dark the temperature dropped and all the rocks got slippery so you just fell off all the time. I crashed, and I have still got scarring from it. A few people even broke bones, so it was even tougher than the Transcontinental.

I rode the Strathpuffer solo, and won – and I’m not even a mountain biker – it was really weird! Again, it was one of those things, where I thought, “That wasn’t supposed to happen!” I don’t think that will happen again!

I must say I am still quite surprised that I have won a couple of races. I feel like I am not the sort of person who would win races. I have had to deal with that, and think, maybe I am that sort of person. And this year for the Transcontinental, everyone is saying, “Emily is the one to beat”. And I’m thinking, “No I’m not, no I don’t know what I’m doing!” It’s a bit of a mental leap to think I am someone that people want to win against. 

I never go out cycle touring without my conditioner. On the Transcontinental my luxury item was hair conditioner. Everyone laughs at that. It’s a tiny thing that takes up very little space, and I like to have it. If I’m only going to have a shower once in two weeks, I’ve got to have hair conditioner. I feel so much better with properly washed and conditioned hair!

I am a director of the Adventure Syndicate, a group of female cyclists who are basically trying to take over the world and get more women riding bikes in all sorts of different ways. It’s a really fun thing to be doing. That is a fully fledged full-time project that I spend a lot of my time on. We really want to inspire women, not just talking about the triumphs in what we do, but also our doubts, fears, weaknesses and failures – things that many people would relate to more. We also hold events, such as presentations, and cycling weekends away.

As well as bike riding, and working at the Adventure Syndicate I spend time writing articles, and I’ve hopefully got a second book coming out, time permitting! It'll be the story of how I got into long-distance racing.

Becoming an author has been exciting, as it was my childhood dream. So it was quite surreal when it happened. The six-year old me always thought I would have a book with my name on it. I gave up on that and thought it wouldn’t happen. And then last year I held a book in my hand that I'd written, and it felt lovely! Knowing that there will always be a book I wrote on a few people’s shelves is a nice feeling.

It started when the agents came to me a few years ago. I had a blog I wrote for a while when I was travelling, and more people started reading it. Then one day a literary agent approached me. With her, I wrote the proposal, and she sent it to a few publishers. I didn’t think it would come to anything, but then a week or so later the agent got back to me with a huge list of people who were interested. Even though I got a publishing deal, it was not until a couple of days after the book launched I started to realise, this was actually happening.

The launch party for my first book, What Goes Around was lovely because it was in a book shop, and basically all my family and friends attended. It was like a wedding. I don’t think I’m ever going to get married, so the launch was like a wedding for me! 

Launch week was different because there were lots of media interviews. It’s just a bit strange because you’re kind of acting like this person that everyone wants to interview, but you know you are really just….yourself! You are trying to kind of step into this mould, but at the same time you are looking at yourself and thinking, this is a weird way to be living my life!
That period was fun, and enjoyable, but it was also quite nice to finish that phase and get back to real life.

My life has changed since the book launch, but not in a big way. I haven’t become rich and famous, but I am doing more of the things I like doing. I have been offered more writing gigs, so I was able to stop couriering and work full-time as a writer and speaker. It has been great to have been invited to give talks and readings in some interesting places. So I am enjoying living my life the way I want to spend it. I’m not making a fortune but I kind of get by, and I am back in mid-Wales where I really love cycling.

What advice would I give to women who might want to do ultra-distance cycling? I think a lot of women have mental barriers to getting out and riding, along the lines of “I can’t” or “someone like me couldn’t do that” or “that’s something someone else does.” Talking to people you realise they aren’t really scared of anything specific, they are just scared of the unknown. 

So my advice may sound a little cheesey but I’d say, “Don’t let fear be a barrier. You’re always going to be afraid of something new. Fear is just a thing to be got through. It’s just part of the experience.”
I’ve never done something I was afraid of that ended up being worse than I thought. I have never done anything I was afraid of and it hurt me. And I have never regretted doing something that I was initially afraid of.  And the more times you do something despite feeling the fear, the more it just feels like something you have to get through to get to the better bit.

Cycling is my life. I ask myself now, what would I be doing if I wasn’t cycling? It’s the thing that keeps my life rolling. It gives me so much – my exercise, my travel, my social life. It gives me things to write about and think about. Cycling is not just a sport, it’s a wonderful lifestyle. Having this one thing in my life makes everything else better."

@emilychappell   Instagram: EmilyofChappell

@adventuresynd   The Adventure Syndicate 

Other Cycling Voices

Michelle Webster

Grace and Lucy Garner

Hannah Bussey

Carolyn Hewett-Maessen

Caroline Martinez

Niusha Doyom

Maria David

Friday 24 March 2017

Mallorca with Team Wiggle High5

It was all going well on the flat!           (Photo by Bart Hazen)
Last week I had the opportunity to catch up with the Wiggle High5 team at their media/training camp in Mallorca. A group of journalists, including myself, were flown over to the team's base near Alcudia and where we interviewed the riders, their manager, Rochelle Gilmore, and also rode with them.

They were an intense three days in which we cycled with them, ate with them, and interviewed them speed dating style. 

After an initial drinks reception on the Tuesday evening with the team, we then went to dinner where I was able to chat with the girls near me – familiar faces like Lucy Garner, who I had met a few weeks earlier at the London Bike Show, and Giorgia Bronzini who I have interviewed a few times over the last few years. But I also got to meet other team members like Audrey Cordon-Ragot, Claudia Lichtenberg, and Olympic silver medallist Emma Johansson, who now has a coaching/mentoring role on the team. 

Dinner was very relaxed and the women had a laugh, chatting about many things other than cycling. I was struck by the fact that there were no specific dietary restrictions on what people ate from the buffet, and the cake for Jolien d'Hoore's birthday did not go untouched! 
All kitted out and ready to go
The following day we were suitably kitted out with a bike and appropriate Wiggle Dhb clothing so that we could at least look the part, even if we weren't going to give the "Wigglettes" a run for their money!

I was given a Vitus women-specific bike which was nicely coordinated with my jersey. It's hard to believe that wasn't planned on purpose, but anyway it certainly felt good to be dressed up a bit more stylishly than my usual attire.
Our ride the following day took us up to the Lighthouse at Cap de Formentor, where the team was filmed as we rode along the flat terrain. Each journalist also had the chance to ride at the front of the group with the Wiggle High5 team behind us. Bear in mind that the pace was very moderated so that we didn’t get dropped by the pros!

When my turn came to get on the front I chatted to Mayuko Hagiwara, a Japanese rider who I didn't really know very well. She had recently had success at the Cadel Evans Ocean race and the Semana Valenciana, but had to take it easy as she has recently been plagued by illness. 

Keeping up nicely on the flat - The hills were a different story!
Shortly after the photo opportunity she peeled off and rode back to the hotel with the pregnant Anna Sanchis. I hope it wasn't my speedy pace that made her have to turn back! 

Just when I thought I was doing okay, sitting in the bunch with the professionals, the road went uphill as the route headed towards Formentor, and I got dropped. That was the last I saw of the riders until when I was grinding my way up near the summit and they came speeding down the road from the lighthouse to get home.

Although I finished the ride a long time behind the "Wigglettes" I was just glad that I got back in time to start the interviews, and I had the energy to talk to them! As I get older I definitely feel I need more time to recover from exercise, and it is not uncommon for me to need a couple of hours to rest up after a training ride before I can do anything useful. 

So I was just glad I was able to get on with what I need to do without having a nap first! With the energy I had I was able to interview Giorgia Bronzini, Rochelle Gilmore, Emma Johansson, Lucy and Grace Garner, and Amy Roberts.
Rochelle Gilmore, the expert, giving tips on riding rollers

One of the other great things about this media camp was that I was able to get biking tips from the pros - and they are pros. Emma Johansson, a two-time Olympic silver medallist gave me tips on descending, cornering and going uphill. 

And then the following day Rochelle, a Commonwealth Champion showed us how to ride the rollers. While that is something I do at home, I realised that I had acquired bad habits so it was good to have those ironed out.

My biggest achievement however, was being taught to ride no-handed. It certainly improves my positioning and pedalling technique. I learned to ride no-handed on open roads in Mallorca. I’m not sure this is something I’d want to practice on the streets of London though!

I find media camp trips very productive, as they are a great way to get to know a team. Doing so in the early season makes for a springboard for building a rapport with the team members and following the riders' fortunes closely over the racing year. I look forward to catching up with the riders when they are over in the UK for the Tour de Yorkshire and the Women’s Tour.

Thanks to Wiggle High5 and Brand Nation for hosting myself and my fellow journalists from The Evening Standard, The Press Association, Cycling Weekly, Bike Radar, Rouleur, and The Daily Mail.  

For those interested, here are the routes as recorded by Strava that I took while I was out there:

Easy loop around to Pollensa, Sa Pobla and Bay of Alcudia

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Sunday 12 March 2017

52 Cycling Voices - 7: Michelle Webster

On a recent skiing trip to Chamonix-Mont Blanc, France, while I was trying out some cross-country skiing in the Bouchet Wood I came across a couple - Michelle and Phil - who were riding fat bikes in the snow along trails. It was great to come across biker types even during that trip. We got chatting, and I arranged to catch up with Michelle a couple of days later in a bar in the centre of Chamonix. It turns out that Michelle is originally from Hawaii but has lived in Chamonix for nine years. Phil is from not quite so far away - Hertfordshire, UK. After all these years they now consider themselves to be locals of the Alps, and enjoy the outdoor lifestyle it brings.

Michelle Webster, aged 31

Lives: Chamonix, France

From: Maui, Hawaii

Freelance copywriter and copy editor

I grew up riding motorcycles from when I was five, and my grandmother got me into golfing from a young age. Even though I grew up in Hawaii I didn’t surf until I was 16 – go figure! My dad would do up vintage motorcycles, and he and my mum raced them in Colorado, and in the desert. So it was natural that I got into motorbikes.

I only got into cycling eight years ago, a year after I arrived in Chamonix. Myself and a friend had been travelling around Europe on a three-month trip, but the exchange rate was so bad when we arrived that it literally halved my savings and we ran out of money after about a month! 

My friend had been working here as an au pair and suggested we go to Chamonix where she knew people who could offer us work for a couple of weeks to keep our trip going. I had never even heard of Chamonix before, but when we got here, within 30 minutes I loved the place. People were paragliding, climbing, and going down the river in a raft and everything, and I just thought – I’m not leaving this place! So we spent the remaining two months of our trip here. I went back to the States for a couple of months, saved up more money to return here in the winter, and I have never left Chamonix since!

Not long after arriving in Chamonix I met my partner, Phil, through motorcycling and golf, and he got me into mountain biking. I had heard a bit about mountain biking but I didn’t really know what it was.  Phil was a mountain bike guide so he really encouraged me to give it a try. We went out one day, and I sort of got hooked immediately, even though I felt like I was gasping and dying, and feeling terrible! Phil said I did very well (!) and I had good positioning on the descents - probably because my skills from riding motorcycles. 

Then three months after I started mountain biking I did the Tour de Mont Blanc. It’s a five-day trip around the Mont Blanc on various trails. The total amount of ups and downs are the equivalent of riding up and down Ben Nevis every day for five days. 

Nobody rides the whole thing, as some parts are just impossible – either too steep up or down, with rocks and steps. I trained by practicing all these really uncomfortable climbs along jeep tracks, which meant climbing for an hour and a half – almost on the limit of what I could keep doing. I got through the ride, and it was amazing. The second time I did the Tour de Mont Blanc it was much better and I felt more confident as I knew what I would be up against.  

There is a good little cycling community in Chamonix. However, the trails are geared towards walkers and the local authority doesn’t really encourage mountain biking. Here, we have the Aiguille du Midi which a lot of tourists come to visit. The Eiffel Tower is the only other monument in France that gets more visitors than the Aiguille du Midi. So Chamonix doesn’t really need the money from mountain biking! They put in a couple of downhill trails, but that’s not really what I’m into. I prefer more single-track, technical stuff. 
I’ve got a friend, Angie, who’s 52 years old, and up until she got hit by a snowmobile last winter she was riding incredible stuff. She’s a really great rider, really fit, and just so lovely. Hopefully next summer she’ll be able to get back on the bike.

There is a 24-hour race here where you have a relay team and you ride for 24 hours around a flat track. I have thought about doing races but I have not done any yet. It’s something I might look into in the future, but as things are now, I would be relying more on my technical skills than my endurance.

In the summer I try and cycle at least a couple of times a week. It’s really challenging in Chamonix as there are lots of roots and rocks. It’s literally just up and then down for pretty much all of the riding and we’re doing 500-700 metre-climbs and sometimes it’s just at the limit of what you can pedal up. I learned mountain biking here so I don’t really know anywhere else, though everyone who comes here says that it’s super-challenging, so I take their word for it!

If you are coming here to visit and you are not familiar with the area there’s a great valley ride that is challenging but not crazy. It’s a Chamonix classic, the Balcon (balcony). The Balcon consists of the trails that run either side of the valley.  It sort of gives you a taste of everything that Chamonix has to offer. The trails are a bit steep, a bit rooty, a bit rocky, and it goes up to Argentiere, and then back down the other side. It’s a great ride, with challenging single-track, and nice flowy stuff.

I have just started fat-biking in the snow on trails that we normally do in the summer  I can’t believe how well the bike grips. I let down the tyres really flat and it’s amazing. I mean stuff that would be hard to walk up and down, becomes ridable because the bike actually grips. It’s unbelievable and you’re thinking - I could never do this on a normal mountain bike - but the fat bike just climbs and climbs. As long as you can keep the wheels spinning it just carries on climbing.

At first, the bike felt really odd because the tyres are so wide that when on the road the steering almost did the opposite of what I wanted. It was like it had a mind of it’s own and was almost fighting me. As the bike doesn’t have the full suspension like my bike has, it felt a little bit bulky. I was a little bit unsure of the riding, but once I got onto a nice narrow track, it was really amazing. It felt like it was summer again and I could ride all the snowy trails that I normally ride during the sunny months. 

We usually go for months without being able to ride our mountain bikes unless we drag ourselves down to Italy. So it was really eye-opening to just see the possibilities of keeping your summer fitness. With the fat bike it’s like, wow! The only thing is the trails are coated in snow, ice, and wet roots. I couldn’t believe how well the bike climbed. Even on the descents there were really steep parts that were dangerous to walk, but the bike gripped well and just sailed down them.

Riding a fat bike is definitely more tiring than riding my usual mountain bike. The difference is like the difference between riding a road bike versus a mountain bike but with a fat bike the tyres are four times as wide! 

Also the tyre pressures are low and flat and there’s no suspension so it bounces a bit more. It’s sort of clumsy, but what it opens up for you is worth the downgrade in comfort that you would get from a good mountain bike.

Most people know me as a golfer, as I’ve been golfing since I was five. So that’s probably more of an identifier, but for me I enjoy mountain biking more. You can never ever have a bad day mountain biking. If you crash that’s not great, but in golfing you can finish your day just wanting to crawl up into a ball. It can be so frustrating, even soul-destroying. Whereas with mountain biking you never have a bad day. It’s so much fun and it frees you.
When you’re riding uphill and you’re struggling, it’s kind of medidative. When you are going downhill you don’t think of anything! So it’s a good way of clearing the mind, which helps me for golf! 

The fitness aspect of mountain biking is also really good for golf. Golf doesn’t seem that physical but it can make you mentally exhausted, and being fit can help with that. Also you’re walking something like 7km on a course, doing this twisting motion. Every time you hit a ball you’ve taken two or three practice swings and you’re carrying your bag, or pushing your bag, so it can be quite physical, so being fit really helps for that and your agility.

I’ve got a Specialized Evo Comp which I bought this year and it’s got full suspension. It's not a downhill bike but a cross-country bike because we like to pedal up. It’s not got carbon components on it, but still it has really opened up what I’ve been able to do.

My goal this year is to do the Tour de Mont Blanc with Phil. He had been doing his three-countries tour for 17 years so he wasn’t able to do the Tour of Mont Blanc when I did it. He finally wrapped up the business a couple of years ago, so it will be great to do the ride with Phil, and for him to see all the people he’s known for so long in the ride.  

I never ride without my lip balm. You’re up in the mountains, it’s windy, it’s cold or it’s super-hot so I need lip balm! My lip balm is a comfort that I can’t do without, and not having it just feels wrong!

Chamonix is an amazing place. There’s a golf course a five-minute drive away and you can go mountain biking straight out of your house, and you’re on a trail in five minutes. If you want to go up the valley you can either ride there or get on a train and take the bikes up and ride down. You can also go to Sallanches, which is a half-hour drive away, where there are more trails. Then when you’re done you can either drive or get the train back to Chamonix free of charge. It’s amazing, and I feel lucky to have found Chamonix all those years ago.” 



Instagram: @thesubpargolfer  

Other Cycling Voices

Grace and Lucy Garner

Hannah Bussey

Carolyn Hewett-Maessen

Caroline Martinez

Niusha Doyom

Maria David

Wednesday 8 March 2017

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Yorkshire Post

The year has gone by so fast. One moment we are busy watching our cyclocross heroes battle it out in the mud, the next moment we are getting ourselves ready to take part in Spring cyclosportives and debating who will win the Primavera Classica, Milan-Sanremo bike race or the Queen of the Classics Paris-Roubaix.

                                 Tour de Yorkshire (Credit:
Hot on the heals of the classics will be the Tour de Yorkshire stage race, which takes place in less than two months' time. The event, now in its third year, was inspired by the 2014 Tour de France Grand Depart.

It's the third year that the three-day event is taking place and the third year that I say I would like to go up during that weekend - but I have yet to get up there.

It is particularly great to see that there is a woman's UCI 1.1 classified race, meaning that top international riders will be there, and there are plans to make this a two-day race in the future. So I have even more reason to be up in the White Rose county. In the last two years, the Tour de Yorkshire clashed with other things I was doing, so I hope that this year will be third time lucky.

Stage one goes between Scarborough and Whitby, two towns that I rode between via the Cinder Track rail trail last year. This was a lovely, spectacular, off-road ride. Although the Tour de Yorkshire will stay firmly on the tarmac, the route will be no less beautiful, as it will snake through the Yorkshire Wolds and around the beautiful North York Moors. I do like this area because the countryside is wild and unspoiled, with a purple carpet on the landscape from the heather. You really get a feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, even though you may be less than 10 miles from the seaside.

                    Lizzie Deignan  (Credit:
Stage two of the men's race, also the course for the ASDA Women's Tour de Yorkshire, particularly appeals to me, especially now that Lizzie Deignan will be competing. The stage goes through the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, along roads that are well frequented by the local club cyclists. Pateley Bridge has popular, if not rather tough roads to climb, and it will be interesting to see how the men's and women's races are played out.

So with these tantalising competitions taking place, and the beautiful landscape North Yorkshire has to offer, I will be sure to make a trip up there at the end of April.

Before then, I will be up in that neck of the woods to do a reconnaissance of the Yorkshire Lass Cyclosportive. The actual event takes place in August, but I will be doing a preview ride to check out what riders can look forward to. The event starts from near Thirsk, with the full 103-mile event going through the North York Moors near White Horse Bank.

I think it's great to have an all-women cyclosportive with a testing route, as you don't often see that. For some reason, organisers seem to equate all-women events with a watered down, softened up variety of cyclosportive! But in fact, there are plenty of women who like an all-women's event that has the challenges included in mixed or men's events. So I will look forward to riding this route. (Note: There are shorter less challenging options too for those looking for something less arduous!)

So with all of the above taking place over the coming months I have every reason to take my bike up North.

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