Monday 6 December 2021

Track Champions League wows London cycling fans and riders

Track Champions League at Lee Valley Velodrome (Photo:

It had been billed as a top engagement on the cycling calendar, and had been talked about since when it was announced in the Spring of this year, so finally when the Track Champions League came to London's Lee Valley Velodrome everyone was pretty excited.

The fast and furious adrenaline-filled nature of track cycling tends to be a crowd puller, as you see at the Olympics for instance. Velodrome tickets always sell out first before other cycling disciplines. But this Track Champions League brought things to another level. 

The races were done as a league based on six races, each to be contested every week for six weeks. between November and December and in velodromes across different parts of Europe, including the Lee Valley (Olympic) Velodrome in London and the National Velodrome on the outskirts of Paris.

The short format races saw the World's top-ranked racers contest sprint, keirin, elimination and points races in rapid succession - which in itself was a challenge for the competitors who normally have long breaks in between races during a track meet.

Added to that were flashing lights, pumping sound system and animated commentators. Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend, due to illness. But from what I saw on the TV it looked pretty impressive. It seemed reminiscent of the old "Revolutions" series that used to take place in the autumn in velodromes around the UK, but on steroids!

What I noticed were the rather zany looking skinsuits that the athletes were wearing, which were designed by Santini, the Italian-based family sports clothing company. In fact, I wrote an article for the Santini website about the very tight process the company had in place in order to design the kit and have them ready for every one of the 72 riders.

The organisers of the event, Discovery Sports Events talked through what they wanted to achieve with this event. The idea, being to engage a wider audience to track cycling by making the format of the races easy to understand, and displaying athletes' performance data like what you see when watching Formula 1 on TV. Interestingly, the Head of Discovery Events, François Ribeiro, comes from a background of motorsport and bring some of those effects from Formula 1 to cycle racing. Funnily enough he also added that the effects that are being used in cycling, which are deemed revolutionary, were being used in motorsport twenty years ago. So, another reason for cycling critics to call it an old fashioned sport then!

The events went well, and wowed the sell-out crowds. Unfortunately, as has been the case with most sports events Covid-19 caused significant changes to the programme, with Paris, Berlin and Tel Aviv being removed from the rota as their velodromes were used as Covid-19 vaccination centres. Londoners were treated to two days of racing at Lee Valley.

Katie Archibald (

In the sprinters' competition Harrie Lavreysen (Netherlands) won the men's race and Emma Hinze (Germany) won the women's race. For the endurance competition Britain's Katie Archibald was the winning woman while Gavin Hoover (USA) pipped the fancied Spain's Sebastian Mora to the post.  

When the race came to London I managed to get an interview with a couple of competitors, notably Ed Clancy, who was doing his last ever race as a professional, and Nicholas Paul, racing for Trinidad.

Ed Clancy:

"I honestly think track cycling has been crying out for something of this nature for a long time – I’m probably biased but, track cycling is a great thing. The racing is short, action packed and I feel like the Revolution races gave it a really good go, to try and bring a bit of entertainment to something I’ve been very passionate about. This is the same sort of thing, but with the backing of Eurosport and some big sponsors. I think it’s mint. The crowd are loving it. Everyone I’ve spoken to that’s seen it back home on TV have loved the format. I hope for the next generation, it’s going to be around for decades to come.

Ed Clancy (Photo:
"When you’re an athlete for the Great Britain Cycling Team and you have that potential to win Olympic Gold medals that would have been your first and foremost priority. Wouldn’t it have been great to do something like this in what is now their off-season. I think it’s a great way for the riders not just to have fun and publicise themselves, but to make a decent living doing it as well. There’s decent prize money at the sharp end. I feel like it’s a scenario where everyone is winning. Hopefully the sponsor Eurosport are getting everything they want out of it; I know the spectators are and I believe the riders are having a good time as well."

Nicholas Paul:

"This is almost the end of my 2021 season, so I’m going into a break after until maybe January, just like road days something like that, and then I will be starting my preparation again back in Switzerland for the Nations Cup coming up, in the prospect of qualifying for the World Championships at the end of the year, and also they have the Commonwealth Games. 

"The Track Champions League is a big big change for track cycling. We are not accustomed to getting all this coverage, so I think it’s a step in the right direction for track cycling to let people know that it’s on the rise and it’s an exciting sport. I think that’s a step in the right direction, and the Track Champions League is doing a great job of raising the profile of track cycling.

Nicholas Paul (Photo:
"For me, it’s always a pleasure to represent the red white and black to put my country out there. It’s a little island, so I think for me to be able to put it on the map and let people know that Trinidad & Tobago has great athletes and great talent, I think that’s always a great thing for me." 

Related posts

52 Cycling Voices: Monica and Paola Santini

Why I like cycling in the velodrome

Sunday 21 November 2021

Cycle route: Eastern suburbs of Paris by bike (part 2)

Route Summary:

Vincennes - River Marne trail to Chessy (Disneyland Paris) - Dampart - Claye Souilly - Ourcq Canal towpath - Bassin de La Villette (Paris) - Vincennes

Distance: 78km   Climbing: 250m

Route on Strava

Route in detail:

(Continued from the previous post)

As my route would not be straying from the river I didn't venture that way, and in fact it was a treat to have woodland emerge before me, and this landscape was quite attractive. 

From here on, the route continued further into the countryside where there people doing associated activities like trail running, horse riding, and fishing. 

Lac de Vaires - Watersports venue for Paris 2024 Olympics

In fact, near Noisiel at Vaires sur Marne, was a large watersports area which I believe will be hosting rowing and canoeing events at the Paris Olympics, and there were a few rowing clubs practicing along this stretch of water, and also on the River Marne at Lagny.

By this time I had crossed the river again and cycled briefly through Lagny to get back on the riverside. A lot of people were out walking, or were in the cafés. There was nothing special about this suburb, but I guess if tourist en route to or coming from nearby Disneyland Paris wanted to sample a French town, why not stop at Lagny, which is what some people may have done. Or maybe they were hoping to spot Manchester United footballer Paul Pogba, who is from there.

What was noteworthy for me was how the river path up-to-now had been a mixture of tarmac and compacted gravel, but then became a twisty stretch of single-track with tree roots bumps, pot-holes. Maybe I had missed a sign to get me back onto the road, but here I was on a proper off-road trail like in Surrey. 

It should have been fun, especially as I was on a cyclocross bike, but the cumbersome pannier made it difficult to get between the trees at times and on a couple of occasions my tripod, which was on my back got caught in the branches and yanked me backwards!

My overriding (pun intended) worry was that I would see the bridge I'd been hoping to go over, above me and I would have no way of reaching it due to being a long way from the road leading to it. Furthermore, I didn't know if bikes were allowed on this trail and I was worried about the path just leading to a mass of undergrowth that it would be impossible to get through. 

Chessy-Dampmart footbridge set in a sculpture park and among cyclocross/MTB trails

My fears were soon assuaged when I crossed paths with a guy out walking his dog, and he bid me a friendly "Bonjour" like seeing a cyclist was an everyday thing. 

Shortly after, I noticed a guy riding up behind me on Canyon cyclocross bike. As I gave way to him he greeted me and zoomed along. Yay, a kindred spirit. Another guy rode along the trail on a cross bike. So it's fair to say this is cyclocross country. 

This area, known as Chessy, is also within spitting distance of Disneyland Paris. All I needed was to head onto the roads to my right, and four miles later I would reach Alice's Curious Labyrinth. Well, I had already been through one maze in the woods; I didn't need to go through another one. So I continued my planned route to cross the River Marne via the bridge which turned out to be a wooden footbridge, to Dampmart and eventually Claye-Souilly.

Eventually the path took me to the Jardin de Sculptures where the pedestrian bridge was located. As well as cyclocrossers, there were a number of mountain bikers too. 

It's worth making a mental note that this area of Marne la Vallée is a place to do off-road training.  After a short break for my lunchtime snack, I crossed the river to get onto the road to the Ourq Canal.

My route took me along some undulating roads to reach a village called Claye-Souilly. This was no longer the nearby suburb. In fact, Meaux, a stage town for the upcoming Women's Tour de France was just 10 miles from this point, and on these country roads Paris seemed a world away.

On my arrival at Claye-Souilly it was easy to find the Ourcq Canal. It was a case of look at the road from where lots of cyclists were emerging (just near the town hall), and that was the place to go.

It was good to be on the homeward trek, as it had seemed quite a long day. This area was not far from Charles de Gaulle Airport, and knowing how long it can take to get to Central Paris told me it would be a while before I reached my entry point into Paris, at La Villette. 

The straight towpath back to Paris, along the Ourcq Canal

My ride was straightforward, with the emphasis on straight! Ourcq is a very straight canal. There only seemed to be about three turns on the whole ride back. Granted, I was kept on my toes when  the signposted route took me onto the opposite side of the canal, and a section between Villeparisis and Aulnay sous Bois had a few steep rises and falls. But overall, it was just a case of following your nose for 15 miles along this straight, mainly tarmacked towpath that ran parallel with the RER B suburban line.

In the early part of the canal the area looked pretty as the route ran through parkland and woodland. However, after Aulnay sous Bois there was definitely a "banlieue" kind of ambience, with rough-looking flats and wasteland nearby with graffiti on the walls. There were lots of young lads on scooters, skateboards, or doing tricks on their bikes, as well as well as teenage girls hanging out with their mates on this late Saturday afternoon.

Yeah, it was Saturday - what was I doing still on my bike ride when I could have been hanging out with some young people?! Or more like enjoying a glass of wine with some middle-aged folks in Vincennes! 

Even though there was a route that would take me straight down from Bobigny, where I was to my suburban base, it only seemed right to complete the route properly by going right up to the Bassin de La Villette, and continuing through Paris to reach Vincennes. So, on I plodded.

Bassin de La Villette - A popular hangout with boules and beer

Once in the vibrant area of La Villette, I felt quite motivated. Apparently the cool thing to do these days is boules. It's not just the preserve of old "Marcel" blokes, but loads of groups of young people were doing it on the many pitches that had been set up, while having a beer. That's another thing to do next time I'm there. 

From La Villette I headed to the Stalingrad junction to pick up the segregated cycle path along the Grand Boulevard to reach Porte de Vincennes and back to base. 

When I entered my hotel the receptionist asked me if I'd enjoyed my little bike ride, to which I replied, it was super. If only she knew it was just 80km little! 

Nevertheless, it was a fun day out.

Related posts

Cycle route: Eastern suburbs of Paris by bike (part 1)

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Cyclists of Paris

Saturday 20 November 2021

Cycle route: Eastern suburbs of Paris by bike (part 1)

Route Summary

Vincennes - River Marne trail to Chessy (Disneyland Paris) - Dampart - Claye-Souilly - Ourcq Canal towpath - Bassin de La Villette (Paris) - Vincennes

Distance: 78km   Climbing: 250m

Route on Strava

Route in detail

Whenever I go to Paris I take my bike. I either cycle all the way there including a ferry crossing in Dieppe. Or, of late I get the train all the way there. If you do the Dover-Calais crossing you can get a regional train from Calais Ville station or a much faster (and more expensive) TGV from Calais Frethun station to Paris Gare du Nord. 

Arriving in Paris from Calais by TGV

Being in Crystal Palace I prefer to go to East Croydon, get to Newhaven, take the ferry to Dieppe, and a regional train to Paris Gare Saint Lazare from there (with a change at Rouen).

Once in Paris I use my bike to get around the city. I also use ot for longish bike rides into the outer suburbs and towns. 

In the past, I have been West to places like Versailles and Rambouillet. I have also been South, to Fontainebleau. 

Although I tend to stay on the East side of Paris when I visit, I haven't tended to go much further than Vincennes. 

So on my recent visit there, in October, I cycled out to the Val de Marne and Seine et Marne departments (counties), which are named after the River Marne, the main river in the area, and is a tributary of the River Seine. I headed out towards Chessy, close to Disneyland Paris.

The thing about this ride is that it was largely traffic-free as it involved cycling along a river (the Marne), and then later on, a canal (the Ourq).

Bois de Vincennes

My ride began from Vincennes, where I was staying. I headed through the woods along a gravel path behind the Parc Floral, passed the lovely Lac des Minimes and left the woods to go through the suburb of Nogent sur Marne, and joined the traffic. 

There were a couple of segregated cycle lanes, but they weren't on all the roads - and not on the roads I needed to get to. But I didn't feel unsafe, particularly as the traffic was very slow-moving due to road works (plus ça change!). 

The noteworthy thing was how the road climbed steeply - something I hadn't been expecting - and then it dropped down really fast to reach another suburb, Le Perreux sur Marne, which was right on the river. The area looked pretty upmarket (or BCBG, as the French would say). Folks often talk a out "La banlieue" (the suburbs) with negative connotations, evoking images of high-rise council flats and neighbourhoods awash with deprivation, crime and the odd riot. I have certainly seen suburbs like that, but I have also seen many suburbs that definitely showcase how the other half live.

River Marne at Le Perreux

Le Perreux, with its beautiful houses bordered by picket fences overlooking the River and with Mercedes SUVs parked outside was clearly in the latter category.

Crossing the river via the footbridge to Bry sur Marne was a good opportunity to make the most of the sunshine on this beautiful autumn day and take some photos. 

Given how peaceful this suburb was, I could even get some clean photos with few people around to photobomb the images.

A few joggers and walkers passed by, but that was not a problem. One couple were curious and asked if I was making a film. Funnily enough ough they washed me good luck in getting descent photos ad it was "really busy on this bridge, with so many people"! They obviously don't get out to Pont Neuf or Pont des Arts in the big smoke of Paris much at all.

Footbridge to Bry sur Marne

Onwards I pressed, along the left bank of the river, to reach Noisy Le Grand.

 This ride felt like a tribute to the RER A suburban train line as all the place names were stops I'd seen on the RATP transport map of Paris. Indeed, the train line criss-crossed my route at various points. 

By this time, the neat houses were behind me, and I got a glimpse of the slightly rough and ready landscape of an area that was distinctly downmarket. 

(Continued in the next post)

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Tuesday 9 November 2021

Rouleur Live - London rocks! Why I think London cycling infrastructure is pretty good

It was a pleasure to be on the panel at the London Rocks presentation at Rouleur Live, to talk about the positive aspects of cycling and cycle culture in London.

So many people talk about cycling in London in a negative way. It's something I have never really joined in doing, because I simply don't feel that way. I really enjoy cycling around London.

Rouleur Live panel, L-R: Laura Laker, Alec Briggs, yours truly, Ned Boulting

As someone who likes to travel by bicycle around London and in all the other places I visit around the UK and beyond, I don't think London does too badly, all things considered.

When Ian Cleverly of Rouleur asked me about appearing on this panel I was quite excited about doing it. In fact, I even put together a flow of how I thought the presentation could go! 

But a basic brief had already been put together and other panellists confirmed, so it was a case of going with the flow on the day. The presentation was chaired by Rebecca Charlton, and the other panellists were Laura Laker, Alec Briggs, and Ned Boulting. We all had slightly different perspectives: Laura was occupying her role as the active transport guru, given the writing that she does about it in The Guardian, Alec is a bike racer, though not a nerdy one that only talks about bikes and tech - but more of a cool hip kind of guy who keeps it real. The fact that he can also win races is just coincidental! 

Ned was there in his capacity as social commentator given that he gets on the telly a lot, commentating on the Tour de France, and other major cycling competitions, as well as being an author and a president of Herne Hill Velodrome. Then there was me - in the brief I was just billed as "all round good egg who likes to get out there rather than just talking about it!" I'm cool with that description.

We all had something to say, and were very positive about bike riding in London. The audience which engaged with us too, which is always a bonus. The main points we had to say is that London gets a bad rap, which is slightly unfair given that it is a newcomer in terms of infrastructure compared with other cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen. 

Also, people have a tendency to take to social media to rant about negative aspects of cycling. Folks generally aren't going to go on-line to tell positive stories. It's not helped either by certain high-profile folks in media who constantly post footage from their helmet cameras about something they saw that didn't go well. 

There needs to be a way of highlighting the positives of cycling on a regular basis, rather than painting cycling in London as a doom and gloom picture as though folks cycling on the road were entering a lion's den or playing Russian Roulette.

In terms of cycling culture, because London is such a diverse place, there are varying "cycling tribes", meaning that some sets of cyclists don't always warm to other types of cyclists - for instance those dressed in Lycra on their road racing bikes vs. those in everyday clothes on a hybrid bike. 

At this moment in time, London is trying to find its feet in terms of cycling culture and cycling infrastructure. At some point things will settle down and cycling will become normalised as an everyday thing, rather than it being a specific activity set apart from other everyday activities. 

For the presentation I noted down various points, though didn't have the time to mention everything, so I will note them here:

  • I first started cycling around London in 2001, at a time when most people cycling were cycle couriers and only a few hundred cycle commuters. I would only see about one or two women per week on a bike.
  • There were no segregated cycle lanes at all - just the odd road that had a painting of a bicycle on the edge of the road, marking the bike lane! I used to spend time planning my own route from A to B through London via various back streets as there were no sign posts or maps. 
  • Junctions at Elephant & Castle, Old Street, and Vauxhall Cross often involved putting my observation and bike handling skills fully to the test! 
  • Nowadays, we have segregated cycle lanes including at those aforementioned busy junctions, a Superhighway network, signposted Quiet Ways, traffic-free paths, and a bike-sharing scheme for those who don't own a bike.
  • When cycling to work at rush hour, there are so many cyclists on some roads that it's almost like being part of a mass participation bike ride. 
Segregated (ish) cycle path near rue de Rivoli, Paris
  • Over the last 15 years that I have cycled in Paris I have noticed a steady growth in the number of cycle lanes, and on my most recent trip there had been radical changes, notably right in the centre, around Chatelet and Rivoli. 
  • However, the lanes aren't any better than what can be found in London, particularly because sometimes a segregated lane "disappears" and then you are back in with the main flow of traffic.
  • Segregated cycle lanes aren't totally segregated because there are gaps in the lanes to allow for delivery vans to pull into them!
  • The traffic lights are phased so that even if you have right of way in the cycle lane, motorists can still turn right across your path - so you have to keep an eye out. That is something that you see in many European cities. I also saw that when I cycled across New York City.
  •  It's great that many streets allow for cyclists to ride in contraflow up a one-way street, but some of the roads are very narrow, forcing you to give way to an oncoming van. 
  • Some of the roads in central Paris are cobbled - not quite Paris-Roubaix, but you definitely get a bumpy ride. Ditto for when I used to cycle around Milan.
  • There are very few green spaces to ride a bicycle in Central Paris until you get to the extremities of the city at Bois de Vincennes or Bois de Boulogne.
Bois de Vincennes on the edge of Paris - one of the few green spaces for bikes in the city
  • I cycled around Brussels a couple of years ago, and had similar experiences to Paris, in terms of motorists encroaching into the segregated cycle lane. Also, some parts of the cycle lane contained a drainage channel, which I found hazardous to cycle on, so I ended up riding wide and on the main carriageway.
  • Outside of Brussels, when riding in the Flanders region it was great to see cycle lanes on the A roads - something you also see in France as well.
  • Interestingly folks talk about Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and other countries in Europe being more cycling friendly countries than the UK. During the first coronavirus lockdown I used part of the time to do conversation exchanges with folks in other countries (to practice my language skills). Whenever I asked them about cycling in their country (apart from the Netherlands and Denmark), they all said that they don't ride because they find cycling in their country dangerous!
  • Many cycling activists talk about wanting the freedom to ride their bike how they want - the freedom to wear whatever colour clothing they want, use or not use the cycle lane, wear a helmet or not, or put a bell on their bike.
  • In these countries that are deemed "cycling friendly" even they have their rules. In many countries it is a legal requirement for your bike to have a bell fitted that can be heard from 100m away; it is illegal to ride on the main carriageway where there is a cycle lane; notably in France, cyclists have to wear high-vis on dim days or at night when outside of the city; in Spain it is illegal to not wear a helmet when outside of a built-up area.
So in light of all of the above it is hard to say that cyclists in London get a raw deal compared with other places. In fact, I feel very happy to ride around London and have the liberty to wear what I want and not have to stress about finding a bell for my bike!

It is also worth noting that when comparing infrastructure to other cities around the world, London is a sprawling mass compared with other cities and that the Mayor of London has to work on a surface area that is easily two or three times that of other European cities. 

On Blackfriars Bridge, London, next to a cycle Superhighway

Furthermore, this surface area is divided into 33 boroughs, each with its own administration and decision making power regarding cycling infrastructure - an added layer that Sadiq Khan has to deal with when trying to improve cycling in the city.

So on balance, I don't think we do so bad, and I do agree that London rocks!

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South London to Central London by bike (mainly traffic-free)

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Monday 1 November 2021

52 Cycling Voices (in the time of coronavirus) - 32: Emma Wade

Emma is someone who I have seen around at events over the last five years. She's the one who lurks in the background when the likes of Lizzie Deignan, Elinor Barker, Rebecca Charlton, and other athletes attend a race or make their media appearances. 

In fact Emma is a very important person in the grand scheme of things. She keeps the machine going, doing all the tinkering that makes things come together. Emma is to these athletes what George Martin was to the Beatles, or Simon Cowell to One Direction (for younger readers among you!). 

She has the great job of being a sports agent. I have always been fascinated by the folks who do these behind-the-scenes roles that are of pivotal importance.

Yet Emma doesn't come across at all as one of those types you read about in football biographies that managers perceive as self-serving leeches. Her work is not dissimilar to a football agent's but she's a much nicer person to deal with. In fact Emma took time out to tell me about her role, how she got into it and a little bit about her cycling too.

Emma Wade, aged 40-ish

From: Amersham

Lives: Princes Risborough

Occupation: Agent

I’m not sure I knew what an agent was when I was a child, and if I did, I thought they sounded very shady!!

But I did always want to work in sport or in law and I think being an agent has combined both the interest in working with sports people and the behind scenes of sport, as well as my interest in contracts and negotiation. I wanted to either do that or even win the Olympics, myself (with absolutely no ability at all)! 

I’ve always worked in sport, starting from when I was at school and sold scorecards at Lord’s Cricket Ground as a summer job.

After University I worked was as a sports researcher, looking in to the value of sports rights (broadcast and sponsorship), which was a great background for when I got my next job in a talent management agency, and working as an agent’s assistant in 2003. Things basically went on from there, and I’ve worked with athletes ever since. Then at the end of 2016 I starting my own agency, Bespoke M. 

My job is to manage everything for a client, apart from their on-bike / team commitments. I do not get involved with coaching etc, but I support clients with logistics; overseeing their sponsorship and PR activity; managing media and commercial partnerships; maintaining relationships with key brands, agencies, event organisers, television production companies, publishers, governing bodies, and developing clients' corporate speaking opportunities. 

My first clients for Bespoke M were Lizzie Deignan (née Armitstead), Elinor Barker and Rebecca Charlton – all of whom I still work with now. I also am delighted to now represent others such as Katie Archibald, Lizzy Banks, Amanda Spratt, Tiffany Cromwell and more! They are all in cycling or cycling presenting and hosting such as Rebecca and also Orla Chennaoui.

With Elinor Barker

There's no such thing as a typical day for me! When I can and it’s allowed, I travel to a lot of races to see organisers, brands and clients but don’t attend all of them by any means and certainly wasn't able to do much during the pandemic.

The pandemic affected my work as every event, including the Olympics were cancelled and the future looked bleak. But thankfully two things happened which were invaluable. Firstly, there was a boom in cycling as people started dusting off bikes and getting out there to keep active, or for transport at this strange time. 

It’s been fantastic to see. So cycling brands and agencies have kept me and my clients busy. Secondly, the UCI [Union Cyclist Internationale – cycling’s World governing body] miraculously managed to put a racing season on and we had road racing for a few months as well as the European Track cycling and some cyclocross racing. That has kept me busy and has also meant that everyone was able to plan positively.

My days involve talking to clients, then maybe responding to and organising media requests, responding to sponsorship briefs, or approaching brands and agencies about working with particular clients. I also speak to team directors, sports directors and riders about their plans. I negotiate rider contracts or separate personal sponsorship deals and then make sure the corresponding contract is fair and correct, and delivered correctly.

What I enjoy most is working with my clients. Seeing the hard work and sacrifice they put in is incredibly motivating.

It is hugely satisfying to see clients do well and hopefully be a tiny part of that success through the support I can offer. Lizzie winning her silver medal at London 2012 was a definite highlight for example. In fact, London 2012 overall was a highlight as I was working with a number of Team GB athletes, and the whole experience was amazing; the crowds and support and the success we had was incredible.

On a day-to-day basis the best moments are when you see a successful partnership come to fruition whether that be a rider flourishing in the right team, or a campaign come together between a client and a brand; that’s really rewarding.

With Lizzie Deignan at London 2012 Olympics

The frustrating aspect is the unfairness of working in a sport that is still not balanced between men and women. The women’s sport is younger than the men’s, which has a long and glorious history. 

So, women’s professional cycling has a way to go to equal it in terms of coverage, races, and financially. But I’m working to try and help turn this around by working with the women’s peloton and fantastic organisations such as The Cyclists’ Alliance, to make things fairer.

When working with my clients undoubtedly their health, racing and training always comes first, and everything else has to work around that. If they’re not able to do their day job then I’m not doing my job very well!

After that, how I work with each client varies as everyone works differently. Some riders will send a Whatsapp message while at the velodrome, or on the finish line of a race, and others might need their space 24 hours before a competition for example. You get to know what works best for each person and manage everything around it. Handily I work with road, track and cyclocross riders so they all have slightly different competition schedules, which helps in managing the time I schedule with them. 

The quietest time of year (she says hopefully) is usually Christmas as that’s the one time that clients tend to disappear and spend time with their own families, as well as training. The last thing they want to do is speak to me or do a sponsor appearance!

The busiest time is the rest of the year! Media is busy around competition time, then sponsor commitments and appearances are often higher outside of competition time. Contract negotiations and discussions can happen pretty much all year round now.

Despite my busy schedule I aim to keep active when away from work – whether that be cycling, running, yoga, swimming. I do something most days, and set a time for that which I will try and stick to no matter what. Generally, I manage it even if I have to be flexible on timings. Finding the time is key for me, because the job can be seven days a week, 24 hours a day since you are looking after people’s lives which aren’t 9-5.

Emma gets in a bike ride

I allow myself to do a midday yoga class, knowing I can be chatting to a client at 9pm that night. I also have a very active Springer Spaniel who reminds me regularly when it’s time to go for walkies, and my other half loves cycling thankfully so he’s always up for trips to bike races!

I got my first bike at a young age and it’s always been a part of my life for fun and for leisure – I’ve never raced or had the desire to. I remember getting a pink racing bike with dropped handlebars for my 7 or 8th birthday. I loved it and have never looked back! I like a bit of mountain biking as well as road cycling. I cycle locally, and am lucky to have the Chiltern Hills and the Oxfordshire countryside on my doorstep. There’s also Swinley Forest, which I ride around on my mountain bike. With my Pendleton bike I use that to visit friends or go shopping locally.

I also love Zwift and just graduated from my first Zwift Academy which was a lot of fun, and really challenged me in a good way. Between cycling for leisure, and for transport I ride most days.

If I could choose one person to go on a bike ride with, I would say my Mum. She used to be a ballerina and loved her cycling, but suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for many years and has lost the ability to do anything physically; she died in January this year. So, I would have given anything to have done a bike ride with her. [Emma's mother died in January 2021.]

The changes I have seen in women's cycling since I first started working with Lizzie in 2009 have been huge. I feel like we’ve come a long way, even if we have so far to go. There is so much more professionalism creeping in now.

There is more coverage (we can actually watch races live now!), media pick up, sponsors, better quality of racing (as more riders can be professional now, without needing other jobs at the same time), and basic salaries and maternity clauses now exist in the top tier.

This definitely needs to filter down to all riders though, and it’s still pretty unheard of for most female professional cyclists to have an agent to be honest. I think the recent Cyclists’ Alliance survey showed 77% of riders didn’t get any help with their contracts last year. But we’re trying to change that.

I don’t know of any other female agents in professional cycling, though I think there may be one other listed by the UCI (internationally). In sport overall I know a few others but there are not many of us.

I’ve always been one of those people who sees what I can do or want to do rather than thinking ‘I can’t do that because…[I’m a woman]’. I was one of the first female members of the Marylebone Cricket Club, and I’m proud to be a part of the change at Lord’s. I suppose it’s similar in cycling. I didn’t really think about how male dominated being an agent or cycling was until I got into it and saw it. I just assumed I could do the job as I learnt my trade. 

Emma is currently the only female UCI-approved agent

When I went to take the agent’s exam at the UCI, in a room full of 20 I was the only woman. So I’m proud to be a woman and whatever that may bring to what I do day-to-day, but I’m also an agent.

My background is working with Olympians who don’t get paid professionally, but make their money from sponsorship. I genuinely felt like I was helping these top professionals to do what they do, rather than the historic bad reputation that agents have! So, I guess I’m a woman doing the job of an agent but I also think my gender is irrelevant to how good I am at my job.   

I have definitely come across sexism in my career sadly, but show me a woman who hasn’t and sadly there will always be people who still need to be educated in gender equality.  Having said that, I didn't see my gender as a barrier to me doing this kind of work. Being an agent is an incredibly competitive environment to work in and that goes for both sexes! 

For anyone wanting to become an agent, I would warn them that it’s very competitive and very niche. It’s also frustratingly non regulated. Anyone can decide to become / call themselves an agent (although thankfully you do have to be registered by the UCI to negotiate professional cycling contracts at least). I would advise people to gather as much experience as possible within the industry first. I worked in sports administration, communication, on the agency side, in events and more, before I became an agent and all of those experiences were invaluable.  Don’t give up if you can’t immediately become an agent, and look at opportunities around being an agent.

Instagram: @bespoke_m  

Twitter: @bespoke_M 

Other Cycling Voices

Rebecca Charlton

Claire Floret

Bithja Jones

Maria Canins

Saturday 30 October 2021

Winning on Winnats (Part 8): Monica Greenwood, Tracy Gregory and Wendy Mathie on the National Hill Climb Championships

The final athletes we are hearing from on the eve of the National Hill Climb Championships are an experienced racer and a couple of newbies.

Monica Greenwood and Tracy Gregory are both relatively local to Winnats Pass, being based respectively in the Macclesfield and in Buxton areas. Where Monica is last year's bronze medallist and an expert racer, Tracy is a new racer, keen to challenge herself on one of her local hills and just have a go - much the same as Wendy Mathie. Wendy is from my local area in South London, and Winnats Pass will cap what has been an exciting year for her, full of new sporting challenges.

Monica Greenwood (Macclesfield Wheelers)

The first time I rode up Winnats I was 15 years old and I think I may have cried because it was so hard, so it will be brutal for sure. For me it's the second to last climb home when doing rides around that way, so your legs are always broken by the time you get to the cattle grid. It will be nice to only have to start from there for a change! The women's field is super strong and I'm excited to see who will take the honours this year. I expect it to be between Bithja [Jones], Mary [Wilkinson], Rebecca [Richardson] and Illi [Gardner]. Jo Blackburn will be right up there too. They are all amazing, so it should be a great race.

This season my biggest challenge has been to fit riding in alongside work. I started a new role as women's endurance coach for the GB cycling team after last year's hill climb so I have had blocks of time off the bike for the Olympics, European and World championships. The Olympics was the longest I've had off the bike for a long time. I spent August spinning but managed to get some good work in and get what I would say was my best result of the season, with fourth place at the Curlew Cup National series in September. 

In terms of hill climbs I haven't been able to do any open hill climbs, as the last few weeks (I entered a few then work plans intervened) I have been in Switzerland and France working at the major track competitions. I just managed to slot in the Lincoln Hill Dash in the few days back home and took the win. That one-minute climb suited me as I'm built for the short punchy climbs - anything around 3mins and under. So I expect Winnats Pass will be too long and too steep for me.

Luckily my club, Macclesfield Wheelers ran a summer hill climb series so I rode as many of those as I could around work.  I'm not expecting anything on Sunday as the efforts I've done in anger since getting back on Monday from the World Track Championships in Roubaix have been below par. However, I felt the same prior to the Lincoln Hill Dash, so maybe something will return – you never know! I'm just going to soak up racing on an epic climb which is only over the hill from where I live, so there should be lots of local support out.

[Monica sets off from the cattle grid near Speedwell Cavern at 10.29am on Sunday 31st October] 


Tracy Gregory (Buxton CC/Sett Valley Cycles)

I only started cycling late in life and am doing it increasingly more each year.  This is the first year that I have done any hill climb events.  I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself to try and make it to the top of the hill! I couldn't pass up the opportunity of taking part in the National Hill Climbing Championship and riding up the iconic Winnats Pass.  

I am only slow, but I don't care - it's the personal challenge and satisfaction of achieving something so difficult.  I hope that I inspire more women to take part in events.  

Don't listen to the people who tell you that you shouldn't do something because you are too slow, too old, not good enough, etc.  If you want to do something, go ahead and do it for yourself.  Ignore the others!  

If I make it up Winnats Pass on Sunday, I'll be ecstatic.  If I'm last, who cares?  I'll have taken part and achieved something.  To all those who say "Why?", I say "Why not?"!

[Tracy sets off from the cattle grid near Speedwell Cavern at 10.14:30 seconds am on Sunday 31st October] 


Wendy Mathie (Penge Cycle Club)

2021 has been a year of firsts for me – my first duathlon (I’ve done many triathlons but never a duathlon!), first crit, first time trial, first cyclocross race, first hill climb.

I only decided to give hill climbs a go after I crashed out at my second crit race ever. After my first hill climb [Kingston Wheelers event on Leith Hill], I was hooked.

I think every hill climb teaches you so much about yourself, and you can always improve.

Last Sunday I raced at Ironman Sardinia after seven days of no sleep, mainly due to my sick son. So you feel in no way prepared for Winnats physically, but mentally….I love going uphill.

[Wendy sets off from the cattle grid near Speedwell Cavern at 10.06:30 seconds am on Sunday 31st October] 

Related posts

Winning on Winnats (Part 7): Maddie Heywood on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 6): Illi Gardner and Vikki Filsell on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 5): Becky Hair on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 4): Frances Owen on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 3): Rebecca Richardson on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 2): Mary Wilkinson on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 1): Bithja Jones on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 7): Maddie Heywood on the National Hill Climb Championships

On the eve of the National Hill Climb Championships at Winnats Pass we hear from Maddie Heywood (Team Watto), who is now doing her third Nationals and has steadily climbed in the rankings each time. She went from 16th on Haytor Vale (2019) to 7th on Streatley Hill (2020). Maybe tomorrow could see the Londoner end up on the podium.

Maddie at the 2020 Nationals on Streatley Hill (photo: Tim Phillips) 

"I feel so lucky in the UK that we have such an incredible hill climb community. This year, being a part of the UK hill climbing season, making new friends and having friendly chats on start lines and finish lines I have really grown to love not just attacking hills, but the entirety of the event. Being around like-minded individuals and being able to share our passion for brutality and also the desire for shiny light bike parts has given me a new lease of life.

Anyone who knows me, knows I am very competitive and a strong lover of hills. I particularly like steep ones (as that’s what I am good at), with minimum flat bits, so I am very excited about the hill being on Winnats Pass this year.

What I am less excited about is the never-ending cold I picked up during my triple hill climb weekend: double header (Chippenham and Severn) [Bowden Hill and Hinton Hill respectively] on Saturday, followed by Monsal Head on Sunday.

I had a go at the Nationals back in 2019 up Haytor Vale. I learned a lot from this race, such as to sort mechanicals out before the day of the race as I was stuck in the small ring on my road bike which wasn’t ideal for such a varying hill. I also later learned that a 2-hour ride to the start and smashing up the long hill as a warmup wasn’t the best prep. 

Last year at Streatley I learned a few more lessons such as don’t try new wheels on race day (wheelspin galore) and don’t try rollers for the first time on overgrown grass.

In terms of actual climbs – I think I am very suited to Winnats Pass as you have more time in vo2 max territory and I also do better on steep sections of hills as I am a ‘true’ climber and, for now, quite under optimised on the flat. Haytor Vale felt more like a time trial effort than a hill climb, and Streatley was great but a little on the short side of things for me.

This season I signed up for a hill climb training plan with Becky Hair and Natalie Creswick. This included turbo sessions, strength and conditioning, and webinars on race prep and confidence etc. I have absolutely loved being a part of this. 

The way Becky and Natalie have helped us prepare mentally for the race has been incredible, including using mantras, and planning for the things you can control on race day and fully documenting those things you can’t control and trying to find some peace with that. Anyway, I won’t give away any more of their amazing tips but it has been incredible to have their support at this time.

I have also been coached by my partner Daryl Maffey, who has used the sessions created by Natalie and Becky as a base and adapted these, structuring them around my menstrual cycle. He ensures I get sufficient rest to shift enough fatigue after my first season of road and crit racing for the new ladies’ team (Team Watto-LDN) and obtained my Cat 2 license in July.

But oh my, the competition is fiercer than ever! This year we see the reigning National Champion Bithja Jones go up against Mary Wilkinson who favours slightly longer hills. Rivalling those two is Illi Gardner who has also been taking course records by huge margins this season and absolutely stunning competitors and spectators. Rebecca Richardson is also on the startlist, so it is going to be quite a battle for the podium.

Joanna Blackburn and Frances Owen, both incredible time trialists and quite new to hill climbs have absolutely owned this season. Then there is Becky Hair and Jessica Evans who I am somewhat evenly matched to. Jamie-Lee Wright has also taken some incredible course records this season in Guernsey and is one to watch.

This season has seen fewer women’s entrants in hill climb races overall, due to the road race season being extended which has been a bit of a shame. However, year on year, it is amazing to see the attitude to women’s cycling improve with equal prize money becoming the norm. 

I know most people that sign up to hill climbs don’t do it for the money but it’s the impression it gives, and I am excited to see the day when it is equal in all aspects of women’s racing. I really think hill climbing has led the way here."

[Maddie sets off from the cattle grid near Speedwell Cavern at 10.26:30 seconds am on Sunday 31st October] 

Related posts

Winning on Winnats (Part 6): Illi Gardner and Vikki Filsell on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 5): Becky Hair on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 4): Frances Owen on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 3): Rebecca Richardson on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 2): Mary Wilkinson on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 1): Bithja Jones on the National Hill Climb Championships

Friday 29 October 2021

Winning on Winnats (Part 6): Illi Gardner and Vikki Filsell on the National Hill Climb Championships

 As we head towards the big day in which we find out who will be the inaugural Queen of Winnats Pass at the National Hill Climb Championships we hear from one of the youngest competitors in the women's senior race, and one of the older competitors 

22-year old Illi Gardner (CAMS Racing) is a hot contender for the overall crown. Having recently broken the world Everesting Record by riding up the formidable Bwlch Y Groes 72 times, the Wales-based rider will have nothing to fear on Winnats Pass. 

Meanwhile Vikki Filsell, who races for the Surrey-based all-women cycling club BellaVello CC, was in the mix of fast Vets on Streatley Hill, in her maiden season last year. This year she is hoping to build on her solid performance.

Illi Gardner (CAMS Racing)

World Everesting record holder, Illi Gardner (photo: Paul Gardner)

"This has been my first proper hill climb season as I also race on the road which is at the same time. This year I was really keen to do more hill climbs, so mixed it in with the end of the road season. I was hoping to attend the Nationals in 2020 but unfortunately couldn't due to lockdown restrictions in Wales, so these will be my first Nationals.

All the hill climbs have been really fun but I think the Porlock Hill Climb [Exmoor] and the University of Bristol hill climb [Belmont Hill] were my favourites, even though they were kind of opposites being the longest and shortest ones at ~17mins and ~3mins respectively.

I think racing on Winnats Pass is going to be special as it's such a unique, well-known climb that hasn't been raced on in so many years. I'm looking forward to the atmosphere. I rode up it for the first time earlier this year (in the snow), then again last weekend. I'd forgotten how brutal it is! My favourite kind of hills are steep ones, which Winnats certainly is; I usually prefer long grinds rather than short punchy climbs but I'm really excited to give it a go.

Everesting is such a different effort from all-out hill climbs but it definitely cemented my love for climbing, my motivation to get involved in more hill climbs, and maybe increased my pain tolerance too!

I beat Bithja Jones earlier in the season [on Bowden Hill], but it still doesn’t give me much confidence at all.... anything can happen on the day."

[Illi sets off from the cattle grid near Speedwell Cavern at 10.28:30 seconds am on Sunday 31st October]


Vikki Filsell (BellaVelo CC)

Photo: Vikki Filsell

"I am very excited (and grateful) to have the opportunity to race on Sunday. I’m not a contender, as such, but hope to do well in the over 50s category.

I visited the area in the summer and found the Winnats climb super-hard and extremely full of cars. It will be amazing to ride up it ‘traffic-free’. I think I’m ready for the windy and wet conditions, having cycled outside quite a lot recently. Training has been going well for both hill climbs and cross-country running. I try to combine the two disciplines and quite enjoy the challenging conditions.

I’ve tried two new hill climbs (for me) this season: Catford and Bec. They were my first experience of the wall of sound from the spectators. It was deafening and inspiring! Gary Beckett knows which climb I enjoyed the most (and wasn’t happy!)

There is a large womens’ field this year but not quite so large as last year. I have a prediction for the womens’ race winner for 2021 but will keep it to myself!"

[Vikki sets off from the cattle grid near Speedwell Cavern at 10.07:30 seconds am on Sunday 31st October] 

Related posts

Winning on Winnats (Part 5): Becky Hair on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 4): Frances Owen on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 3): Rebecca Richardson on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 2): Mary Wilkinson on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 1): Bithja Jones on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 5): Becky Hair on the National Hill Climb Championships

Continuing my mini series on women racing in the National Hill Climb Championships at Winnats Pass, in the Peak District, here are the words of Becky Hair (Magspeed Racing), who has been an ambassador for women's cycling, and a real advocate in encouraging women's participation in cycle sport.

Becky Hair on Leith Hill Climb (photo: Kingston Wheelers)

"In 2020 I managed to come 9th at the National Hill Climb Championships [at Streatley Hill, Oxfordshire]. I’d focused my training on the hill climb championships during lockdown (as a distraction from my work in critical care throughout the pandemic). I think I managed to do better than expected, also because quite a few people couldn’t attend.

I happened to be up in Chapel-en-le-Frith for a hen do the week before lockdown in March 2020, and I knew Winnats was close by, but I don’t think it had been announced as the National Champs at that time. 

On my way back to Cambridge I stopped off at Sparrowpit and popped down to do a recce and to tick off another ‘100 climb’. I don’t think I knew what was coming. I’d seen pictures of it, but hadn’t even driven up it before. As I cycled down I was awe struck. It was so beautiful, but so fierce. I then paused in Castleton before riding back up it. 

I went too hard, got too excited riding up Winnats Pass, and couldn’t get to the top. My heart rate was in my mouth, and I am not sure the hangover helped. In a stupid moment I clipped out, and there was no way I was getting my foot back into the cleats again, so I walked to the top, cars streaming past me and my head hung. 

That was my first experience of Winnats Pass, and something I won’t forget lightly. It’s the first hill that’s ever beaten me and taught me a lesson. So I need to give it the respect it deserves when it comes to racing it. The iconic 2021 hill climb doesn’t really suit me as it’s about 3 minutes too long, but there’s no way I’ll give up a chance to race with this backdrop in my first National Championships where spectators are allowed!

I’ve since ridden Winnats twice, and thankfully have made it to the top on both occasions. I’ve played around with my bike (Specialized Aethos) but have not made any major modifications to it - lighter wheels, changed the saddle, lightweight inner tubes, and taken off bottle cages but that’s it. 

It weighs in about 6.5kg - not the lightest I know, but when I was looking at making it a single ring front cog they’d run out of the size I wanted and it was too close to race day to make the change and practice on it! I’m lucky enough to borrow a bike from Specialized each year and as it’s not really mine I can’t go and chop it all up! Perhaps one year I’ll take the time to really make a specialist hill climb bike.

In terms of training this year, it’s been mixed. I focused early in the year on increasing my aerobic capacity for my road races and crits too. It's something I don’t have and have never trained, as 2-hour rides used to be the longest I ever did. I rode the hilliest coast to coast (the Albion 500) in July over 3 days and this really helped get me psyched up for the hill climb season too. 

Living in Cambridge is hard sometimes and I needed this to boost my confidence to ride some of the hardest climbs in the country back to back. Over the summer I probably ran a little bit too much, with races being back on, and my running club group were back together – I think this has hampered my ability to cycle and was my own fault as I thought I could do everything well! In hindsight I didn’t get a 5km PB (I scraped in at 17:54) and I wasn’t racing regularly enough on the bike over summer to have a decent crack at any crit races. 

However, the last 6 weeks have mainly been really good. I did an excellent training camp in Mallorca in mid-September. But then last week, when I went down to the athletics track I sprained my ankle in the warm-up and thought I’d broken it. Thankfully, one x-ray later it was okay and I was able to have a go at Bank Road last Sunday. 

My coach, Nat Creswick (Team Headset) has been an absolute dream and is a close friend of mine too. She has helped me reframe my anxieties and has told me when I’ve been doing too much. Me and Nat have also been coaching 17 women online over the last four months in a plan called ‘Upwards’. This has included cycle coaching from Nat, and strength and conditioning plans from me (I’m a physiotherapist by trade!). We backed this up with monthly webinars around sport psychology topics. 

Doing this coaching plan for them has actually really helped me and reminded me that the whole aim of this is to get more women on the start line, off the back of last years campaign #climbhighertogether. We’ve had people enter hill climbs and completed them with determination, tenacity and strong will. It’s something I’m really proud of and I hope we have planted the seed for them to return to hill climbing in the future.

Looking back on my race season last year, I rode eight hill climbs with mixed results. I’ve learnt more this year and done some of my hardest bike sessions ever - 7 mins of Tabata style sprints (20 secs on 10 secs off) x 3 is the most brutal thing I’ve ever done. This year I’ve ridden 10 races so far and have managed two wins, second place four times (always the bridesmaid to Rebecca Richardson!), third place three times and fifth, with a personal best at the Monsal Head hill climb. 

This gives me the confidence that I’ve had enough practice on the bike to do my best this weekend, and I am really hopeful that I’m ready to smash it given all the rest I’ve had this week!"

[Becky sets off from the cattle grid near Speedwell Cavern at 10.25:30seconds am on Sunday 31st October]

Related posts

Winning on Winnats (Part 4): Frances Owen on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 3): Rebecca Richardson on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 2): Mary Wilkinson on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 1): Bithja Jones on the National Hill Climb Championships