Monday, 20 July 2015

Back to Basics - Road Race Sprinting Part 1: Introduction and Psychology

We've seen that mad rush to the finish line, the elbow-to-elbow charge at the head of a seething bunch and the last desperate kick on the pedals and literally throwing the bike through the finish line. We may have seen the irrational nudges, shoulder charge or head-butt the frustrated banging on handlebars. We may have heard the noise, felt the rush of wind at the roadside and seen the gasping riders after they've crossed the line. Only a relatively few have been there. This is the realm of the sprinter.
From an interview with Brian Viner in July 2009 this comment by Chris Boardman sums up the psychology of sprinters, he was talking about Mark Cavendish;

"And he doesn't see the world in the same way as everyone else. In a sprint, with bodies everywhere all going at 70mph, I'd see the bodies, but he sees the gaps between the bodies. That's the difference"

I think he meant 70kph but it's still pretty fast; drive down the road at 40mph in your car, these people would be passing you. Now imagine that in a tightly packed bunch just inches apart.

Generally during a sprint, and in the last few minutes before it, the sprinter's body is full of adrenalin. He or she is in the full fight mode. In this situation the brain collects and processes information as fast as it can to such an extent that sprinters often remember every detail as if it were slow motion. The road surface, the movements of the other riders, the moments to make a move, when to make a final kick; all of those things happen so quickly yet the sprinter has plenty of time to react. This high speed processing creates a feeling of control and considering the potential for big accidents they are actually quite rare suggesting that the control is impressively real.

The adrenaline really does, as Chris Boardman said, let the sprinter see things differently from the rest of the bunch. The sprinter's brain really does see possibility; the gap will open up, there is enough room, I can do this. In all the high speed and pressure of a handful of intense seconds the sprinter is still making considered decisions, just faster than any other considered decision you'll ever make. Can I get through, what if so and so goes early, do I follow, do I go 95%, left or right the decisions all taken faster than you can read the words. That's what adrenaline can do. Adrenaline can also make a person hide, shake and run away, turn them into a quivering wreck, but the sprinter uses adrenaline, lives for it and harnesses its power, that's the difference.

Of course there is so much more to the psychology of sprinters.

To anyone other than the sprinter the lead up to the sprint, high speed jockeying for position and that last few hundred metres looks dangerous. Spectators and non-sprinting cyclists see high speed, close proximity, the odd elbow being used and riders blocking each other and pushing to get out of a box and all of this at a speed hovering around 40mph (60kph). In fact for very many cyclists it is just too much and they won't get involved. There is very definitely an element of risk and an element of fear.
The sprinter sees things differently. The biggest risk for the sprinter is not ending up in the gutter with a broken bike and broken bones; by far the biggest risk for the sprinter is someone getting to the line ahead of them. You can recover from broken bones, most serious sprinters know this because they've done so (or they've seen their opponents do so), your bike can be mended, but you never recover from the missed opportunity when you were second across the line. That second place stays with you. The fear of not winning is greater than any fear of crashing and it is this fear that stokes the adrenaline level mentioned above.

Nobody likes to finish second but in a sprinter's mentality it would be better to win the sprint for second place when a lone rider has already won the race than to be beaten to the line in a bunch. It is all about being the absolute fastest in the final rush for the line. There is no greater thrill in sport. The sprinter may dream of a lone race win, and occasionally it might happen, but they tend to be realist and understand that their best chances will always come from within a decent sized group. Winning at the head of a charge of 50 or more riders is always the biggest rush.

When the sprinter doesn't win it doesn't matter what he or she says, they feel a very deep sense of failure. That feeling is horrible and leads to a level of self analysis which some will share and others will internalise. The sprint takes about 10 seconds at the end of hours of racing but in those seconds the sprinter has invested everything, a fraction of a second's hesitation, or starting an effort a fraction of a second too early, misjudging the wind, the gradient or the opponent; all of these things can make the sprinter lose. They are all failures and failure is the sprinters biggest fear.

Telling the failed sprinter that they have another chance tomorrow is no real consolation. Challenging the sprinter to do better (no doing better isn't enough to), challenging the sprinter to win tomorrow has a better chance of success.

When you see Mark Cavendish almost in tears because he or she got it wrong and doesn't need sympathy, he needs the challenge of another race, another boost of the sprinters number one friend adrenaline followed by the second drug of choice; endorphins - winning gives a shot both and makes the sprinter feel better; until the next time.

Essentially the sprinter is the world's fastest addict!

So how do we get into the realm of the sprinter? My next "Back to basics" blog post will focus on the techniques of the sprinter and then I'll look at the tactics of the sprinter and finally at training....

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Eroica Festival - Part 4 - the last day

Sunday morning and the final day of the festival looms, the biggest challenge for me is the 55 mile Derbyshire ride on my old race bike. I'd lowered the gears a bit but am still a bit apprehensive.

Might the late night singing along with Pat's guitar have been too much? Along with Gav, Elizabeth, Grant, Christine and Maggie I'd had a great time listening to Pat's own songs and then singing along to those we knew but arriving back at the B&B at midnight I started to question my wisdom.

We were up early for breakfast which for Maggie included the addition of a large flat mushroom with grilled haloumi - Frank and Wendy excelled once again. As I prepared my bike Wendy was getting ready for the 30 mile ride after a friend pulled out the previous day and offered her their place. Wendy had never ridden 30 miles before and here she was taking the challenge on a 3 speed vintage bike dressed in land-girl dungarees. Later on we heard that she had completed the ride although she was somewhat tired so very well done indeed.

After breakfast I grabbed the bike and with number pinned to my newly acquired vintage-style wool jersey headed for the start in Bakewell.

Me and bike ready for the off....
From Great Longstone it is mostly downhill so I'd decided to ride the few miles to the start as a gentle warm up and although a little cool the weather was lovely. Just past Hassop Station I came across a gentleman (a term that seems particularly appropriate on this day) who having started earlier had a flat tyre just a mile into his ride. He'd changed the tube but was struggling with a mini-pump so I stopped and my 30 year old frame pump so had him back on the road. Half a mile later a large group climbed the hill out of town as I rolled down and among them I spotted an old friend, Simon Burney, who I'd not managed to find all through the weekend.

Down at the start things were quite busy and along with a mixed group of English and Italian riders of all ages (but mostly at the higher end of the scale) I was waved off with cheering crowds and an atmosphere rarely seen at any bike event. We rolled through town and over the bridge and nobody was in a rush. This was not only going to the the most handsome ride but one of the most civilised also. The stronger riders took the wind and sown cruised over Hassop and onto the Monsall Trail. The newly opened tunnels were both impressive and a little cool.
Along the trail I chatted to a fellow rider who turned out to live in Hebden Bridge just over the border from us. First stop, with toilets, came at Miller's Dale just before the first significant climb of the day and many were filling bottles - that reminded me to start drinking a little.
Soon the mixture of roads and trails brought us to the 20 mile point at Harrington where there was plenty of food and drink. As I'd had such a great breakfast I didn't need to eat so had my card stamped added a little water to my bottle and headed out again.

Out on the trails I met up with Pat Carr, fully recovered from his previous night's singing and already half way round the 100 mile route, we had a nice ride and a chat for a few miles and then took our separate routes.

After one of the prettier paths alongside the road we came back to the road and I met another rider stuck at the roadside, his chain completely jammed between the chainring and frame - the mechanics at Harrington had used a lever to unjam it previously but he had no sort of lever and neither did I. He'd been struggling with it for a while and had pretty much given up. Fortunately although I didn't have a lever I did have a plastic bag and some experience in such matters and after a few minutes had him back on the road.

Eroica was that kind of event, if someone looked like they needed help people would stop and offer it as well as they were able. This was the friendliest large bike event I'd ever seen.

After the steep, sometimes loose, mainly damp and sometimes muddy descent of Sheep's Pastures to Cromford at 37 miles the food and drink on offer were very welcome and set me up for the next leg of the ride.

The last stop couldn't come too soon and Chatsworth House along with the ice cream, food and drink was magnificent and a short ride across the grass onto the road for one final big climb before the drop down to Bakewell. Having ridden almost 60 miles since breakfast the climb was tough, almost too much for me, and at the top I had a brief stop to stretch cramping legs.

The last stretch was down the hill to Bakewell. Along with the descent from Beeley Moor which I had first ridden almost exactly 40 years ago on my first club run this final descent was great fun - and although I was passing riders all the way down I still maintain that I was exercising the caution the organisers had advised! 

So there we have it:

Eroica Britannia - truly the most handsome cycling festival, and the friendliest, with superb routes and of course with Shay the Poet!

Roll on next year!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Eroica Festival 2015 - Part 3

Saturday afternoon at Eroica Britannia and the Della Grants have done their stuff (look them up on google - in fact why not google all of the acts mentioned here) and then their kit has to be packed away and for 10 minutes that is all, and the crowd drifts away. Next up on stage will be Charlie Jobson, Bakewell's own singer songwriter. We were introduced and chatted to the MC and Charlie wanted to know what I did so he could do a seamless link. He plugged in his guitar, we took our seats and he performed an excellent set of his own music and a handful of covers. He has a lovely voice and was an accomplished guitarist, a pleasure to watch and listen to:

Bakewell's own Charlie Dobson
With a few minutes to go of Charlie's set I spoke to Vicky from the promoters, checked my iPad for the millionth time and then went off to find a quiet corner to compose myself. Performing in front of fellow poets I am used to but this, performing in front of friends who've never seen or heard my poetry plus an audience who probably came for the music, this was a bit nerve wracking. The quiet corner didn't work so I found some friends to chat to instead and suddenly Charlie was on his last song and I was waiting at the side of the stage. As he finished Charlie gave me an excellent introduction and saved the MC a job.

Step onto the stage, adjust the microphone stand, put a bottle of water on the floor and off we go:

My carefully scripted introduction was no longer required I knew what I wanted to say, spoke directly to the audience, told them about being a cyclist and a poet and led into my first poem. 

On stage and taking the audience for a Big Dipper ride....

Apart from a slightly droopy mic stand all was going well. When they were supposed to laugh the whole audience laughed, when they were supposed to be sombre they were, when they heard my saddest poems (The Curse and Dead Eyes) they were quiet and a few tears were wiped away. I picked them up again with more lighthearted poems and finished with a love poem for my wonderful and lovely wife. For the full set list and to read some of the poems head over to my other blog - www.seams

Elizabeth and Grant enjoying the show

Christine and Pat enjoying the show with Gavin's beer bottle just making the shot
A thirty minute Big Dipper of emotions, for the audience or for myself, and the final applause rang in my ears as I stepped off stage to make way for the next bans, Root and Branch. I sat in the audience with friends, Maggie and my brother Brendan (who having queued for over an hour to get in arrived shortly after my set had finished). Now I could really relax and we enjoyed a string of foot-tapping folk tunes before we headed out into the late afternoon of Bakewell.

Root and Branch rounding off the afternoon's entertainment
A brilliant afternoon, a privilege to perform here, a great audience and it couldn't have been better.

The afternoons entertainment left behind we walked to the town centre in search of something to eat and Pat Carr, feeling inspired, stooped off by the bridge to entertain the passing crowds, busking a mix of his own and other's songs with his excellent singing voice and his travelling Martin guitar.

Maggie and I went to the world's number one Bakewell Pudding shop for tea and I bought a pudding to take back to the bed and breakfast....

For a full set list and to read some of the poems head over to my poetry blog at  -

For those not on the blog you'll need to buy my book "Thinking too much", available shortly - email for more details, or catch a performance.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Eroica Festival 2015 - Part 2

After a great nights sleep our hosts, Frank and Wendy, served an excellent full english breakfast, perhaps the full Derbyshire, with Maggie's preferred vegetarian sausages (Linda McCartney's) and we were set for the day.

Having made sure I had my iPad, and a printed backup copy of my poetry set for the afternoon, a short drive down to the already busy showground and a fairly long walk from the car park took us to the entrance and we were ready for action.

First on the agenda was a tour of the vintage stalls and a search for a jersey that would pass for vintage on the next day's ride. A brief stop to have a look at the vintage bikes competing for best in show and then on with the tour.

Vintage bike with very small vintage caravan (for vintage dolls)

Soon after that tour was interrupted again, this time by that competitive urge that doesn't go away even with age and 20 years since racing on the roads and velodromes. The Buxton Pump, sponsored by Buxton Water was a bit like a Rollapaluza set up but as you pedal lights indicate an amount of water you'd have pumped and distance covered. I watched a couple of people and thought that doesn't look too hard. So here I was on an MTB on a low gear on a trainer and a countdown in my ears; not too hard and 100m, 200m seemed to go quite quickly and the small group of onlookers were encouraging me, beyond 300m and it felt tough and approaching 500m I thought it would never end. As I staggered off the machine wishing my legs would coordinate properly they told me that my time of 37 seconds put me on the leader board - not bad for my age and fitness.

37 seconds is such a long time!

We wobbled away (well I did anyway) to get some cool refreshment at the Fentiman's bar and it was very cool, loads of ice and a little bit overpriced, but it made me feel better.

Fentiman's botanical gardens (drinks tent)

Near to the CTC gazebo I'd met some of the staff and a few of my fellow former CTC colleagues and partners and we headed for an early afternoon cream tea served in nice vintage pots and crockery - very nice they were too;

Maggie enjoys a nice cup of tea
After an ideal and very sweet lunch I was keen to be ready for my poetry set at 2.30 but once again got diverted. The National Trust, great people to support through a membership, had brought along a couple of miniature penny farthings and I couldn't resist having a go - so much close to the ground that real ones. I listened to the advice about leaning back and that pushing on the pedal tends to steer the wheel and I was off - not in the crashing sense but off on a short loop around the field. That was actually quite fun and now I want a go on a real one (I think).

Miniature penny farthing
"The Parlour of Oratorial Delights and The Emporium of the Unusual" (the Arts Tent) was buzzing as The Della Grants knocking out their belted out their blues, rock and folk influenced tunes to an appreciative audience.

The Della Grants on stage

We took our seats and at the end of the show spoke to the MC and arranged that there would be a near seamless join between the next artist and myself. A few nerves began to set in.


YOU SHALL NOT PASS (on this side anyway)

I don't like the signs on the back of buses and commercial vehicles that tell cyclists what to do, that misrepresent the rules, that suggest somehow cyclists are below that vehicle and its driver in a pecking order and signs that are rude and give an orders to cyclists "KEEP BACK" or "DO NOT PASS...."like a motoring Gandalf on steroids!

Having said that I know that some people on bikes might need a reminder of the risks, so I'll admit it; I appreciate those signs on the back of buses and trucks that advise cyclists about passing on the inside.

It is horrifying watching other cyclists riding up the inside of these vehicles while I'm choosing not to take insane risks. I've even been sworn at by other riders for not leaving than a nice clear run to risk their lies in this way - I rarely swear but for those people I'm happy to make an exception.

Cycling home tonight I wondered what sign I'd like to put on the back of my bike for the motorists around here ....

Maybe "don't pass so close to me" - especially for the idiot in a Range Rover who did it several times last week and then after trying to scare me by chucking tons of metal around got out looking for a fight - hope he found one because I wasn't about to oblige and cut across a pavement to avoid having to join in.

Or perhaps "don't pass me when there isn't room"

"Don't pass me and then turn left"

"Don't pass me when you are stopping"

"Don't pass me when it isn't safe"

"Don't pass me while you're distracted"

And while I'm at it there would be a few others for other things I see most days:

"Don't pass me when you are smoking dope"

"Don't pass me when you're on the phone"

There is a problem though!

If I get all of that on the sign big enough to read then I'll need a bus to put it on the back of, and then they wouldn't mess anyway, would they?

Monday, 29 June 2015

Eroica Festival 2015 - Part 1

Having returned from an amazing weekend in Bakewell here's our experience of the most handsome cycling festival and a celebration of all things vintage,  Eroica Britannia 2015.

There'll be a couple of additional posts to follow; one about the ride and another about the entertainment on Saturday afternoon including my own 30 minute poetry performance.

The Peak District has always been one of my favourite places and the chance to head off to the festival in Bakewell was one to be grabbed as soon as bookings opened. Feeling disinclined to camp (age and infirmity etc.) my wife, Maggie, and I decided to find somewhere nearby to stay and found an excellent Bed and Breakfast at Great Longstone, close to Monsall Head and just a few miles from Bakewell and the showground.

When I say "found" I mean that having looked at a map in the morning in typical older-cyclist fashion I thought I knew where we were going and then, overtaken by creeping doubt, stopped in the gorgeous village of Ashford on the Water to check the SatNav. Of course the SatNav didn't want to find any satellites and the mobile phone signal could barely be described as adequate so we carried on using the gradually fading map in my head. Amazingly we found Great Longstone, roughly where I though it should be, and with directions kindly supplied by our hosts arrived at the B&B. The location was quiet, the facilities excellent and the hosts Frank and Wendy really could not have been better. The view from the bedroom window, opening to a beautiful garden confirmed we had made the right choice and our weekend started out on a high:

The view from our bedroom over the superb garden

Unloaded, refreshed and ready to go we headed for Bakewell stopping around half way at Hassop Station for a lovely lunch with a good choice of vegetarian options. Although a mile or so from Bakewell we were already into a world of vintage cycling, surrounded by plenty of vintage bikes and a few vintage riders like myself. At this point Maggie could have been forgiven for a brief non-cyclist panic but she enjoyed the lunch and the atmosphere and I didn't pore over the old bikes too much and simply commented, perhaps too often, on some of the less usual bikes and the fact that it might be possible to hire a tandem here.

The old station has a great bookshop, a very nice cafe and of course bike hire and workshops and the Monsall Trail runs right past the old platform. We'll certainly come back here for a gentle bike ride and a spot of refreshment again.

All roads lead from Eroica
Fed and watered it was time to head to the showground. A short drive, a reasonable wait to get our tickets exchanged for wristbands "Oh! An entertainer, you are one of the special ones", parked the car and a bot of a walk to the main entrance.

So here we were, Eroica Britannia 2015.

First impression, this looks big, and different, unlike anything either of us had seen before; time to explore!

So off to town to find something to eat....
This lot had already arrived at the pub!

(see more in the following posts....)

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Poetry at Eroica from Shay the Poet

Just one month to go to the most handsome cycling festival - Eroica Britannia.

Vintage bikes, vintage everything and 30,000 people heading to Bakewell in the Peak District for a fun filled 3 day family adventure on 19, 20 and 21st June


There's music, films, conversation, food, drink and of course loads of old bikes.

And this year there will be poetry, courtesy of yours truly, with a half hour set on the Saturday afternoon.

My set list is almost sorted and although I never really stick to the list there will be a couple of new cycling ones in the set including "A minute and a half" and "I like people riding bikes". There'll be a fair few non cycling ones too and we'll have a great time.

I'll post more on the set as we draw closer.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Letter to Bozz (the Mayor of that there London)

Dear Mr. Mayor,

Please excuse my slightly Northern habit of shortening names but may I call you Boris, or Bozza or maybe Bozz?

I think we'll stick with Bozz!

So anyway Bozz I've been in that there London today and I have to say that you've got some fairly decent stuff down there. You seem awfully keen on knowing what time it is what with the posh clocks all over the place; I especially like the ones in Fleet Street and the one at the Palace of Westminster which is not too shabby alongside ours on the Town Hall in Rochdale - good isn't it? 
Anyway Bozz the thing I didn't like so much was the traffic and indeed the roads you have down here. In particular I thought it was a shame that you've got all that extra paint on the road with pictures of bikes, buses, taxis and motorbikes alongside them - they might look fancy but they don't seem to do much really do they? Anyway I don't suppose that's your fault.

I noticed that some of the people on the roads are a bit confused and are not sure when to go, when to stop and when they ought to just get out of the vehicle and hand in the keys to the nearest Police Station. And some of the taxi drivers seem to have filled their heads so full of "the knowledge" that they can't remember some of the more basic stuff; one today even tried to pass me as I cycled along Fleet Street even though he was about to turn left, it's OK though because I ignored the paint on the road which might have confused him and put myself and my bike in a good visible (primary or control for the experts) position and made him wait a moment.

A little later I came across another "taxi driver of the overflowing brains" who didn't like being behind me even though there wasn't enough room to pass. When there was room I considerately left him a bit of extra space so he could pass safely and then I discovered a problem with your traffic lights. It seems that some of them don't work on some of the taxis and some of the bikes; best get them seen to eh! Of course I realise it isn't your fault!

I hear lots about the dangerous tipper trucks and wondered why you encourage cyclists to use a little lane on the left and then move forward into the Advanced Stop Lane (ASL) at traffic lights. I'm sure you must have a good reason for the way the roads are marked and I'm sure that those people who did what the road markings suggest, and then got killed by trucks didn't really mind, and I'm sure their families understand. Of course it's not your fault.

Hope you don't mind but I chose not to use those little lanes and the ASLs but queued with the rest of the traffic which seemed to be OK with that.

While I was riding around I couldn't help noticing that I didn't see many of the famous London bobbies around the place except at the railway station. I thought I saw one on the embankment beside your river but as he was on stilts and smiling a lot I decided he probably wasn't a real one. I expect that you don't need them out an about on the streets because everyone is so safe. It isn't really your fault but you really ought to know better, shouldn't you?

You might be able to make things a bit better by policing the traffic a bit more, you know things like dealing with people going too fast, cutting across lanes, parking in dodgy spots "only for a minute" and especially knocking other people over by not looking properly. You could make it even better by creating and enforcing a 20mph speed limit all over your town and by keeping cars and stuff off more of your roads.

I saw qute a few people in cars, trucks and buses being a bit silly with the way they were driving and was a bit bothered that they might hurt somebody. Finally I should mention that I saw some people on bikes and a few pedestrians do really silly stuff and they could have got themselves hurt which would also be a shame, wouldn't it?

Anyway Bozz that's all for now.

If you want to talk about how to run your city a little bit better I can help or I can arrange for you talk to some friends of mine who know lots about this stuff. You can call me Seamus, or Mr Kelly - well you know how us northerners don't like having our names shortened don't you.

Careful now!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Thinking Too Much: Connect2poetry celebration event

Thinking Too Much: Connect2poetry celebration event: Two groups of cyclists, a group,of walkers and lots of people to make up an audience enjoyed the special celebration at Healey Dell on 5th O...

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Cycling, walking, poetry and music in one!

This Saturday 5th October sees a special celebration event for the Connect2Poetry project at Healey Dell in Rochdale from 1:00pm to 3:00pm.

At the site of Broadley Station, Station Road, OL12 0HZ, we will have the Songsmith Solar Marquee erected where both entertainment, in the form of the Connect2 poets and an open mic, and refreshment will be available. There is car parking available on Station Road. If anyone would like to read let me know by email at

There will be 3 groups travelling to the Dell via the Connect 2 Network with stops along the way for poetry and to try the Connect2Poetry app (download from

WALKERS at 11:30 from Greenbank Primary School, Greenbank Road, Rochdale OL12 0HZ - this will be a steady walk for approximately 1 hour with Vik and Norman. Transport will be provided back to the start and to Rochdaletown centre from Healey Dell after the event at 3:00pm.

CYCLISTS Group A from Littleborough Railway Station at 10:30 for a very steady bike ride with Seamus taking up to 2 hours with plenty of poetry stops along the way.

CYCLISTS Group B from Mills Hill Railway Station at 10:45 for a very steady 2 hour bike ride with Rick and Sam again with plenty of stops along the way.

If you would like to come along you can book with Cartwheel Arts (01706 361300 or which will help with catering but please come along even if you haven't booked and you'll be very welcome!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013