Volo della Vespa: The Fine Art Of Motor Pacing Team Sky’s Andy Fenn

Pacing 2Team Sky. Underpinning the gutsy Classics Puncheurs and the somewhat spiky Grand Tour Specialists is the soul-crushing engine room of the Sky Train. It needs no introduction here. Love them or loathe them, the formidable sight of the black-clad machine at full gas is one of the most evocative sights of the modern World Tour. But these merciless displays of power do not happen by accident. Before attempts at resistance are wrung out of the peloton for the greater good of the Brailsford vision, the very life is sucked up and spat out of innocent and unsuspecting two-strokes. And believe me: The chances of the Vespa ever coming out on top are the preserve of the long-odds punter when Andy Fenn is fine tuning his devastating engine room form..

Ciclissimo!- First things first, Tim- let’s have a rundown of the essential equipment: Machine and sunglasses- make and model.

Tim Lindley – For motor pacing it’s better to use a modern automatic scooter around 125cc. The automatic gearbox gives you seamless acceleration and makes the bike very easy to control. It needs to have enough power to pull away from the rider when sprinting at 70-80 kph. Seeing as we’re in Italy it’s got to be a Vespa equipped with windshield. The windshield is integral. You want to be punching a hole in the air that’s big enough for the rider to slot into, recreating the conditions of riding in a bunch at sustained speed. Two wing mirrors are essential, enabling me to keep an eye on the riders position at all times. Always check the tyre pressure before starting, it constantly fluctuates in humid places on small two wheelers.

For the sessions with Andy I’ve been using a Vespa 125L auto.  Because I’m a ponce from Yorkshire the attire also has to fit the bill. Persol Steve McQueen shades, Barbour Steve McQueen wax jacket and a vintage Bell Jet helmet with original World War Two pilots goggles.

C!. Now- the piloting: What are you needing to do and what are the golden rules?

TL. The scooter pilot needs to be alert at all times. It’s probably the most important aspect of pacing. The rider trusts you not only to control the speed but also the position on the road. You need to choose the lines early avoiding as many potholes, grates and bumps as you can. Using both mirrors maximises the view you have of the rider and plays a big part of the communication between you. Ideally the pilot is an experienced handler of motorbikes/scooters but also a cyclist who understands how speeds vary according to road surface and gradient. If you’re doing a two hour session at 50-55kph with a couple of short rises and descents you should be aware enough to ease off when you go up and speed up as you go down. All the time keeping those twelve inches between yourselves.

Generally the schedule is agreed upon before you start so you know when the intervals are coming and you know when to keep the speed constant. Maintaining an even speed is another important factor, the whole session needs to be as smooth as possible. The pilot must be able to keep the distance from wheel to wheel the same at all times. You have to trust each other as roads undulate, red lights appear and traffic remains unpredictable. If you’re approaching a red light, accelerate away and towards the side of the road rather than into the middle, give the rider space and it will also serve as a signal for what’s coming up ahead.

Most cyclists will be aware of the numerous hand signals employed when avoiding obstacles, changing position, slowing down etc..these are also used in motor pacing to the same effect.

Don’t try and race with the cyclist. Don’t change the pre arranged schedule in any way. Don’t run red lights, jump stop signs or pull wheelies. Don’t stand on the seat and bare your arse at the Italian ladies. Don’t forget the cyclist is behind you.

Pacing 3 riding

C!. How does the communication work?

TL. A nod. A wink and a flick of the wrist.

Communication is key. As I’ve mentioned above the schedule is discussed and agreed prior to starting. Before the rider is going to break with the scooter there’ll be a look in the mirror, maybe a pull alongside and a quick word  then a shout and he’s gone. Stay put until he’s away. Then ease off and stay behind the rider out of the way. They’ll let you know when you’re wanted again. This will depend on the  length of the interval. Stay alert and aware of traffic around you, a flick of the wrist will mean you’re back on. You need to ease in front of the rider so that they don’t break their rhythm and slot back into the slipstream without expending more effort. This is where handling and experience can be key. If a rider wants to sprint behind the scooter like a lead out you accelerate smoothly, not in bursts and not aggressively. He’ll pull off when he’s ready. Don’t try and stay with him, let him go.

Roundabouts, junctions and traffic lights must all be approached and conducted with care. This is where your actions do the communicating. You need to follow the rules of the road as much as any other vehicle. The rider can look after himself and will see the deviations approaching. For the pilot it’s vital to be aware of the riders position at all times and getting out of his way is your main concern at moments like this. A clear roundabout and the rider will generally stay close to the scooter unless the curves are particularly severe. Green lights are a no brainer.

C!. What are Andy’s roads of choice for motorpacing around Lucca?

TL. The route we’ve been using is the mainly flat SS439 around the base of the Monte Pisani whose peaks include Monte Serra. It’s a 90-100km route and rises and falls in places but for the most part it’s wide, flat with some long straight sections once you get away from Lucca. You have a clear view of oncoming traffic lights and junctions and not many one way systems to negotiate. Another good road is the Freddana SP1 Camaiore road. It has a constant 2-3% incline for close to 20km then kicks up at the end. It’s a different kind of session to the previous one and can be heavily affected by the wind from mountain or sea but its pretty as a picture and makes me feel like a playboy.

Pacing 1

C!. Give us a rundown of the session

TL. This afternoon after we hammered 100km in 35 degree heat. Andy has been doing two hours with 5 intervals, some sprints and a couple of solo stretches of around ten minutes. Andy will take off at around 50/60kph and hammer his solo blocks- when this happens you need to be out of his way without moving- he was sprinting in the 70’s and I couldn’t catch him at full throttle on a 50cc Vespa. Don’t forget the rider is the reason and beneficiary of what your doing and why your doing it. They dictate the session and set the numbers. The pilot simply must adhere to the program and keep the speed and the scooter where it needs to be.

However I will say this, when Andy goes..he really goes. The scooter can’t quite catch him at first. Which is why you need the 125cc. Being on a Vespa getting dropped by a cyclist does not work wonders for your street cred. Even if it is a hot young sky rider.Sky Train

C!. Do chicks dig the pilot or the corridori more out on the road?

TL. I suppose it’s the equivalent of two supermodels blazing in tandem across the Tuscan countryside……if I say that often enough I may convince myself! Andy is built like a Grecian statue and rides like the wind. Any female adoration is undoubtedly his although I do get some waves from pensioners at the zebra crossings.

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If you fancy being towed around Tuscany by Tim Lindley, either via combustion engine or, more sensibly, pedal power, get in touch at iguideride@gmail.com or via the iGuideRide website http://www.iguideride.com/#!about/c1c32 . Tim runs guided rides for all abilities, be it groups or individuals, around the Lucca area. His local knowledge of people and places is second to none, ensuring you will enjoy some simply stunning days out on the bike. He might even play you a song with his Ghee-Tar..

(Andy Fenn, on the other hand, will simply break you into pieces)

Photo credits: iGuideRide & Nikki Dobson

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Trek Factory Racing’s Jasper Stuyven Talks Cobbles, White Roads & How It’s Better He And The Gelateria Are No Longer Neighbours

A lot of bike racing gets watched in Casa ‘Ciclissimo!’ And when the break composition is called out over the airwaves, there are certain names that cause the prosecco glass to pause on its way to the lips. Not least those of the riders who make up the new wave of swashbuckling young Belgian racers, the Wellens, Roelandts and Theuns of this world. And Jasper Stuyven. A Junior Paris-Roubaix winner, with a 2nd place at Espoir level a couple of years later, his pedigree on the cobbles is not in doubt. His nose for sniffing out the break of the day at World Tour level frequently evident. “I just ride my own race” Jasper says when I quiz him on the possibility of any favoured, pre-meditated alliances with riders of like-minded tendencies. It’s a racing style we like here.
Earlier this season, Jasper was well positioned heading into the final acts of this year’s Strade Bianche until disaster struck and he was literally blown out of the bunch in the gale force conditions. Will he be back to stake a claim on the podium’s top spot of a race that must surely soon be claimed by a Flandrian? Read on..
HRes Lobby
(Photo credit: Trek Bicycle Corp)

Ciclissimo! The Cobbles-you’ve historically performed well on them and seem to relish riding them- what is the best technique and how does it change in different conditions such as the rain? Or do you just lay down the power and say a prayer?!

Jasper Stuyven. I think it is just a combination of have power to keep your speed as high as possible. It is also important that you let your bike choose a little bit his own way on the cobbles and don’t sit too cramped on the bike. So far I have never ridden a rainy Roubaix so I don’t know exactly how that would go for me but in those conditions it is important to go lower on the tire pressure and don’t brake on the cobbles!

Jasper
(Photo credit: Tim Vanderjeugd)

C!. Strade Bianche; This year the race ended badly after you tweeted about being excited to be lining up to race the white roads..Talk us through that day:

JS. I was already hoping to be at the start last year so I was really happy when I knew I would be at the start this year. We did the recon of the last 50 kilometers of the race and I was feeling really comfortable on the dirt sectors.
The beginning of the race and the first sectors went pretty good for me. I was always in the good position and didn’t feel too much stress on the dirt. Getting to the final Astana put the hammer down on a very long sector and I was in 7th position or something, nothing to stress about and I was able to follow without being on the limit. Unfortunately, we came around a corner in to an open field where the wind was blowing from the right. The wind took me by suprise and before I even realised my front wheel was gone and I was on the ground. I had to abandon the race due to a deep hole in my left elbow.. I was 7 hours in the Italian hospital.

C!. Does being skilled on the cobbles help at Strade Bianche- are there similarities do you think?

JS. If you have the right technique on the bike you will be good in Strade Bianche and on the cobbles. It is just how you handle your bike so I do think there are similarities.

C!. We’ve seen some renowned Northern Classics riders winning in Siena. Is your ability on the cobbles something that maybe makes you look at Strade Bianche with ambitions in the future?

JS. I don’t know yet if I want to be at the start again of Strade Bianche. For now, my goals and ambitions are at the Northern Classics and this year has shown that riding Strade Bianche contains a lot of risks. I don’t know yet if I’ll take that risk again after what happened this year.

HRs Directeurs Jasper
(Photo credit: Emily Maye)
C!. The Oxygen Chamber you were training in recently- tell us about the session and the facility..

JS. Thanks to the University of Leuven I have a lot of training facilities close by and one of them is the Oxygen Chamber. I am not a big fan of sleeping at altitude because the past and some tests have shown that the benefit I get from it is not so big. Although training sessions at altitude gives me a bigger benefit. I ride 2-3 times a week for 2 hours at an altitude of 2250 meters and we can see the improvement that I make already from the the second session.

C!. What has been the most chaotic day in the peloton? One you look back on and think “What the hell was that all about?!”

HRes Moto
(Photo credit; Trek Bicycle Corp)

JS. I think I would say the mountain stage in the Vuelta last year (the one before the second rest day). We knew it was going to be a really hard day with a lot of climbing and a lot of us were hoping that the break would go before the first climb after 12 kilometers, but that didn’t happen. So we went up the climb full gas and there were rider all over. After that climb we had another 3 big climbs coming up so that was for me a pretty chaotic day in the peloton.

C!. You recently got a shiny new CX bike I see- are we going to see you racing around Heverlee park this winter?

JS. You will see me riding around the park this winter, but no racing for me. I just like to have fun on the trails with my MTB and now a CX bike in the winter.

C!. And who controls the stereo on the Trek coach?! What music do you get pre -race and on the transfer?

JS. Danny, our bus driver is the one who does the music before and the race. Most of the times he puts on some playlists from Tomorrowland and Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike.

C!. What is your dream race, the one that motivates you to get on the bike each morning?

JS. Paris-Roubaix !!

C!. I heard a rumour that you are quite fond of a certain gelateria in Lucca.. does the name Bonta mean anything to you?..

JS. Unforunately I am not longer staying in Lucca this year and past winter. That also means no longer the amazing ice cream from Le Bonta. I took a while before we found it when we were staying there but maybe it is better like that. I would show up at the races with some overweight I guess ;-)!

jasper-stuyven-bike-trek
 (Photo credit: Trek Bicycle Corp)

Birdsong

One of the things I always notice, time and again, stood at the roadside: Birdsong. There, in the background until you notice it and, from that moment on, integral to the scene. A quiet, rural lane. 200m down from a redbrick farmhouse that gives reason to the single car-width, potholed, metalled surface. Still, warm air.

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Oli Davies, ØVB Racing (Photo; Rob Slater)

Nobody stands here on any other day of the year. A small Citroen van rolls past, the driver dutifully ignoring three people standing on the roadside upon which nobody usually stands. We are trespassing on sleepy normality.

Orange flashing lights…

The first lead car slips purposefully by, edging the anticipation up another notch, the gap between it and the hurtling peloton like the seconds between the sheet lightening and the violence of the thunder. The second lead vehicle appears- the race arrives! Craning my neck to absorb the scene, I recognise firstly the team kit, then the actual rider, tearing alone through the evening stillness. He’s pursued by a hurtling peloton of riders 100m behind, he’s a careering flashpoint of energy and unparalleled effort, scything through the glimmer of barely perceptible twilight, prey ahead of a hunting pack. Heads quickly swivel, watching him flee-“GO!”-then snap back to take in the ferocious chase, thirty or more individual riders moving organically and skillfully as one. In three seconds they’re gone, our hair and thin jackets still stirring within eddies of displaced air left behind by the race as the whoosh of tyres and chains recedes.

This small road could be anywhere in Europe: leafy France, rural Flanders. This evening it’s Cropwell Bishop, Nottinghamshire. A local league race, fought out at an average speed of just under 43Kph- you may want to check out the average speeds of the professional races to put that into context. For me, this is the beauty and draw of cycle racing: Be it one of the great monuments of the sport or a local league sign-on-the-line, the essence is the same, the racing always as hard as possible from the protagonists involved. And, of course, the birdsong.

Molen