2011 has to be one of the quickest years I can remember, it only seems like yesterday I was seeing in the New Year and here I am at the end of start of January writing my 2011 review.
2011 started with a training camp in Majorca, this was part of my preparations for the World Track Championships, and we were treated to some great weather which was especially welcome as the day we left the UK it was snowing. I managed to get some quality miles in during the camp, these miles would prove to be valuable to the rest of the season, especially as I’d added the 4km Pursuit to my racing program.
With 2 training camps back to back in Newport on my return to the UK, preparations for the world champs were almost complete. So it was off to Italy, and a chance to race again on the world scene. First up was the 4km Pursuit, an event I’d only ever ridden 2 or 3 times before, and never really mastered. However with all the extra endurance work of the previous year, I pulled out a massive 20second PB in qualifying to make it to the gold medal ride off against Jiri Jezek. I got a little too excited in the final starting off way too quick, and soon paid for my fast start, but a silver medal at the world championships in a new event put a smile on my face. The following 2 days of racing were business as usual as I returned to the events I know and love, the kilo and team sprint. I surprised myself in the kilo, breaking my WR by 3 tenths of a second, which considering a lot of my focus had been on pursuit in the run up to the competition, it was a welcome surprise.
The final day of competition was the team sprint, and with the rules changing regarding composition of the team almost at every event I was part of a new line up. This time, myself, Darren Kenny and Terry Byrne lined up against the Chinese team in the final. With both teams breaking the WR in qualifying it was always going to be a good race, and sure enough the level of competition pushed us to another world record. Although this only stood for about 2 weeks before the rules were changed once again by the UCI.
So track worlds were a success, I came away with 2 WR’s 2 gold medals and a surprise silver, it was a great way to start the year especially with the London Paralympics just over a year away.
Upon returning home from the World Championships I had my first race in the colours of Para-T, the team I’d set up with my girlfriend. It was a great debut for the team, and really helped raise awareness to the standard of Para-Cycling.
With no break in training my focus switched to competing on the road, as I travelled to Sydney Australia for the first round of the UCI Para-Cycling World Cup. I was there to score qualification points for GB, these points are essential as without them the team may have to make tough decisions on who they take to the Paralympics next year. The racing in Sydney was a shock to the system but an 8th in the road race and a 6th in the time trial were all valuable points.
On my return from Australia the road miles started to build up, as did the competitions. Next up was a block of racing in multiple countries as I continued my qualification points quest, first up was Piacenza in Italy, with a 5th place overall and one of my favourite races of the whole year, then it was a quick drive to Switzerland for another 2day race in Gippingen. Before then joining up with the GB squad and heading out to Segovia in Spain for the 2nd round of the UCI world cup, although I struggled in the road race I scored more important points in the time trial. With my little road trip almost to an end it was a quick flight over to Glasgow, where I joined a few other members of the GB squad to take part in the middle 4 days of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain.
With all the travelling and racing, my body was getting pretty tired, but it was all important miles in my legs, and I hoped that these would prove valuable for 2012.
With a quiet period without any races for a few weeks I could get on with a few other things that had come my way, first up was a photo shoot for Sky, as I’d just been signed up to their Sky Sports Scholarships program, they were going to offer financial and media support in the run up to 2012.
In the same week as the Sky photo shoot I made my way down to London, where I was meeting with Fiona Banner, a Turner Prize winning artist. She had been commissioned to produce 1 of 12 posters for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and I was to be the subject of her poster. It was quite a daunting process as Fiona has a technique were she paints with words, and I was to model nude (only slightly scary!). But I thought about the posters that you still see from Olympics past, and thought it was definitely worth being part of history, so that was it, there I was stood naked in Fiona’s studio! To be honest after the initial shock it wasn’t so bad, and by the end I was pretty comfortable, however I don’t think I’ll be turning to life modelling anytime soon, although at least I know what’s involved now!
The next challenge for me was the National TT Championships, and although the event was undersubscribed it still proved a tough test as it took in a few climbs which were 14-16% in gradient, not exactly what you want in the middle of a time trial, and definitely not suited to me, but I came out with a 4th place, which although isn’t great, I couldn’t give anymore.
With only a few weeks to help fine tune my preparations I was on the way to Roskilde Denmark for the World Road Championships, in the pursuit for more qualification points. First up was the time trial, and 2 laps of the 15.2km course. I tried to measure my effort over the course so I would have enough left in the 2nd lap, but as I crossed the finish line on the 1st lap I was overtaken by my minute man and was starting to struggle and lost my rhythm. By the time I managed to find it again, I was well on the way to finishing the course! 12th place in the end, not too disappointed, but would have been nice to make it to the top 10 and score a few points. After a day of rest and recovery it was an early start for the road race. 5 laps of the TT course, as the course was relatively flat it was difficult to make the break and get away. However a small group of C5 athletes did just that along with one C4. The race came down to a bunch sprint for 2nd place, and although with my speed I was in a good place to get a result, with less than 1km to go I struggled in the bunch for position. I really didn’t want to risk crashing and ruining my 2012 preparations, so I pulled out of the bunch and let them go. I think if I was an out and out road racer it would have been a no brainer and I would have been in that sprint for the finish, however I’m not at the moment, but who knows in years to come.
Off the bike I was busy again, doing some filming and photo’s for Alexander Mann Solutions who have agreed to support and sponsor me in the run up to the Paralympics, and beyond. Another project I’ve been involved in is with Sainsburys & Channel 4. I was one of 10 athletes they decided to profile in the run up to the games over 3 short films. The first went out in the summer and the remainders go out in 2012. They were good fun filming, and I can’t wait to see the outcome as the first film looked great.
With the Worlds over it was time to get back to the velodrome, and a few weeks of preparation before the National Track Championships. The first part of the preparation was a 3day block of training on the Olympic Velodrome in London, it was a valuable experience and I now know what to expect come the Paralympics.
The Nationals were a great start to the track season, I placed 5th in the open kilo in the fastest time I’ve posted at a season start. I also had a great ride with Jon-Allan Butterworth and Terry Byrne in the Open Team Sprint coming in 5th place also. However the highlight of Nationals was my flying 200m WR in the Open Sprint Qualification, a time of 10.805 and good enough to place me 11th overall.
I finished my year the way I started it, on a training camp in Majorca. I made the best of the good weather and got all my endurance base miles in prior to the World Championships which are early in 2012, everything went well apart from the flight home, which got cancelled, but made it back the following day with a little help from my brother and dad!
The finale to 2011 ended with me being named the BBC East 2011 Disability sports personality of the year, something I’m very proud of.
2011 has been a busy year filled with a lot racing, travelling and promotion, and 2012 promises more of the same, plus the added bonus of a home Paralympic Games, something to get really excited by!
Thanks to my sponsors, friends, family and especially my girlfriend Christina, who have helped make it happen. Here’s to 2012!