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.

photo

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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