Monday, 8 February 2016

Learning from Darren Smith

Flavours and challenges ahead of Rio 2016

It is a bright and sunny January late afternoon in Stellenbosch. The town is abuzz as usual; businessmen and students filling up the coffee shops and restaurants as the rush hour begins. 

Yet only a few hundred metres from the town centre and the atmosphere is markedly different. Tranquillity reigns amid the sounds whistles and instructions as Lisa Norden and Mari Rabie arrive at the Coetzenberg sports fields.

"Shoes off please ladies," instructs coach Darren Smith as Norden, Rabie and the Austrian athlete Carina Wasle set off barefoot around the soccer pitch at jogging pace.

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Busy Jarrad Van Zuydam

Prevention for Performance

It is around six-thirty in the morning at Le Tour 2015. The riders are still asleep optimising every minute of recovery for the day's stage starting later that day. As these super-human athletes enter their final REM cycle, several of "Africa's Team" support personnel are already wide awake as they head off on a group run.

"It is important to set aside a little time for oneself," explains Dr. Jarrad Van Zuydam. "Working on a Grand Tour is all consuming and requires total dedication. That is why we have a staff running group that heads out in the mornings while we are away on tour; a little exercise helps to deal with any stress or anxiety and gives me the energy required for the day."

Monday, 25 January 2016

Olympic Instinct

Rio Calling

I am currently re-reading one of my all-time favourite books, David Loyn’s excellent Frontline. The subject of cameramen wearing flak jackets comes up whilst Loyn is covering the Balkans conflicts of the 1990s. Most figure this protection as a must given the bullets both stray and intended flying around what was then coined as “the most dangerous place in Europe.”

The experienced and versatile Vaughan Smith tends to eschew this notion, reasoning that the jackets are too bulky and relying on his past military background to assess when to move or stay put. The fact that Smith does in fact don the heavy outer shell on two separate occasions is testament to his instinct and reasoning thereof, deeming these isolated situations as suitable to "follow the herd" so to speak. Only his background and experience could have allowed him to made that call, where such split-second decisions could have been the difference between life and death. More important to note however is Smith's well-developed personal instinct.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Project Rainbow: A Real Coaching Book

The Story of Rod Ellingworth

"I was always being belaboured with 'What the fuck do you know?' This was coming from riders and staff." Rod Ellingworth, Team SKY Head of Performance Operations.

As far as a literary glimpse into the world of high performance sport goes, "Project Rainbow: How British Cycling Reached the Top of the World" could set a lofty standard. Detailing Rod Ellingworth's journey from rider to world-class coach, this book gives a warts-and-all insight into what it takes to produce top cyclists.

Ellingworth is what one would call a "real coach." After many years as a domestically-based rider in the nether world of lower division pro cycling, he secures as job with British Cycling as Talent Team coach. From there his career progression is pretty well-known: he establishes a prolific under-23 Academy nurturing talents such as Mark Cavendish, Geraint Thomas and Ed Clancy before ultimately being an integral part of Team Sky as well as guiding Cavendish to the Rainbow Jersey in 2011.

Monday, 11 January 2016

One Photo, A Few Words 7.0

Laurent Fignon's South African Sojourn

A former Tour de France winner in the Mother City?

Entirely possible in the South Africa of today, yet almost unthinkable some two decades ago.

The header image was taken in December 1992. It shows the late Laurent Fignon on a training ride around a windy Cape Peninsula in the company of some local elite riders of the day. Distinctive in appearance (trademark spectacles and ponytail) and European trade team kit, "Larry" is putting in some winter training miles in the sun ahead of his final season in the professional peloton.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Into Summer with Richard Murray

Independently Compromising on the Road to Rio

It is the second day of 2016 and another scorcher is on the cards in Cape Town. Whilst throngs of holidaymakers are flocking to the beaches of the Mother City, Richard Murray is running long. And slow.

"People can't believe how slowly I run in training," says the Durbanville-native of his preferred running speed. "We ran around most my favourite loops this morning for almost two hours; out along Wellington Road and back through the greenbelts and dirt roads past Fairmont High School; all home territory! It was flipping hot but it was good. I had to be careful that Rachel (Klamer - Murray's girlfriend and fellow Olympian) didn't drop me on the hills. Her easy running pace is quite a bit faster than mine." 

Friday, 1 January 2016

Small Teams: Big Hearts

Love and Life with Amore e Vita

Amore e Vita - Selle SMP Pro Cycling held their annual December training camp recently.

At face value, a modest and humble affair if compared to most World Tour and Pro Continental squads. Look closely at the riders on their indoor trainers and you may notice stacked chairs and tables nearby. Hardly state of the art or opulent. Look even closer at the indoor trainer shot and some loose planks of wood are beneath the front wheel to level the bike.

But that doesn't matter.

A scroll through the team's camp gallery reveals something far more important: smiling and happy faces.

What else does a sports team need in order to foster team spirit and be successful?