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Hasta La Vista
Rapha Condor Sharp have established themselves as a dominant force in UK racing over the last few years. In 2012, the emphasis is on developing young talent, with the introduction of a group of U23 riders. Among them is Felix English, the Irish track sprinter who famously defeated Chris Hoy. Here he tells us how he’s settling in at the team training camps ahead of an exciting new season.
WORDS & PHOTOS: Felix English
This Saturday I’m off to Alicante in south-east Spain for my second Rapha Condor Sharp training camp. At 19, I’m one of the younger riders and being part of one of the UK’s more successful pro teams of recent years still feels somewhat surreal. I signed my contract with the team last October and since then the months have flown by.
The first job was to get measured up for our team edition Condor Leggero road bikes. I have quite a weird body geometry – short legs and a long back – and this makes getting a bike that fits correctly pretty difficult. However, Condor were able to offer us custom frames to accommodate any unusual preferences, so now I feel both comfortable and more solid on the bike.
The second task was to visit one of our sponsors, the Claremont hospital in Sheffield. We’re lucky to have a great sponsor that also enables us to have a full medical check-up: blood tests; performance analysis; physio assessment; and nutritional advice. The result was some incredibly useful information, all of which will help the team in preventing illness and injury and, hopefully, in improving overall performance.
Until mid-January, most of my training had been spent putting in steady kilometres to build a solid base for next season. I had been lucky with the weather down south, as the temperate didn’t drop below 10 degrees until the end of December. However, things were more of a challenge for my teammate James McCallum. Known to everybody as ‘Jimmy Mac’, he lives up in Scotland and was already sliding around in the snow.
On the 8th January we flew off to Lanzarote for our first team training camp. I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. It was the first time I had ever ridden and trained with such a strong group of riders, so I had no idea how I was going to compare with the other lads out on the windy open roads of Lanzarote. We travelled over as a group of eight: Dean Downing, Jimmy Mac, Mike Cuming, Richard Handley, Tim Kennaugh, Luke Mellor, Oliver Rossi and myself. We were joined by team boss John Herety, our mechanic Pete Fowler, soigneur Andy Evans, the team coach, Ken Matheson, and SHARP photographer Camille McMillan.
The aim of the camp was for all of us to get to know one and other, on and off the bike. We were told from day one that we would be keeping the riding steady and working on the technical aspects of racing. Rides varied from five and-a-half hour endurance days to two-hour recovery spins. Not once throughout the entire camp was a rider dropped from the group. For me, this sums up nicely the philosophy of the team; we looked after each other every day and in return built respect between one another. This will be vital, especially when the racing starts.
Dean Downing had a good knowledge of all the roads on the island and he planned our routes each evening for the following day. Staying in La Santa meant we had a good 20- to 30-minute climb first thing every morning; this always brought a few moans and groans from me but it was a good way to get the ache from the previous day’s riding out of our legs.
Our specific technical riding varied throughout the week. We started off with some sub-maximal ‘through-and-off’ blocks for 20 minutes, which later progressed to a harder 15-minute block. We also did some sprint and lead-out work, one thing I was really looking forward to. The first attempt was a full six-man lead out for around four kilometres, with myself and Oliver sprinting hard at the end.
The team got it going so fast that both myself and Oliver were pedalling like mad men. After downloading the data that evening, we found out we had clocked 83kph, which equates to 136rpm in 53×11.
Our post-ride routine highlighted how well we were being looked after. We would ride into the hotel and give our bikes to Pete, who checked them over each day and fixed any problems or niggles we had during the ride. We then headed straight to Andy and tucked into our lunch, prepared while we were out training. On a couple of the days we were treated to omelettes made by Mr. Herety himself (he once worked as a chef).
After lunch it was time to grab a quick shower before jumping on the massage table, where Andy fixed our battered legs, straightened our twisted backs and in Deano’s case patched up missing skin. The result of a freak accident, when his rear tyre had blown off the rim, Dean was unlucky enough to bounce down the tarmac at 50kph on a rather tender area, one primarily used for sitting on.
Otherwise he came out of the crash in relatively good shape – it could have been a lot worse considering he was still recovering from a recently pinned collarbone. Dean still didn’t miss a single day’s training and his lungs got some extra work in the first 30 minutes of each ride as he shouted abuse at himself to get through the initial agony of riding with dry, cracking wounds. Dean’s been riding for Rapha Condor Sharp for more than four seasons and his experience and character is invaluable.
Since returning from the camp I’ve done a few easy days but the recent snow brings me to my current situation: not much training and a task which I usually try and avoid for as long as possible - packing for an 11-day training camp.
This next trip is to Benidorm, to prepare us for the racing season which starts almost immediately after we arrive home. There are more riders this time, including Richard Lang and Ben Grenda (both Aussies), and Chris Jennings (South African) who arrived in the UK at the end of January. Well also have another mechanic and soigneur. We’re taking both road and TT bikes this time and which have already left on their journey toward Benidorm on a four-day road trip from Manchester; not having to drag bike bags around the airport with us is a real bonus.
I’ll soon kick off my season with a local circuit race and TT, before flying up to Manchester to stay with one of my teammates so I can ride a couple of local events there with the team. This leaves me three days before flying off to Taiwan to ride my first international race of the year. The Tour of Taiwan has brought the team success in the past and we will be looking to emulate that again this year.