Guest Blog – Rob Kennison – Finish Manager of the Tour of Britain and Women’s Tour

One of Rob Kennison’s favourite sayings; ‘I’ve crashed in better races than you’ll ever ride in!’
Rob is also a prolific winner of the ‘Mug of the Day’ award given out daily at the finishes at both the Tour of Britain, and Women’s Tour. I believe he actually won it twice in one morning last year.

“But what do you do for the rest of the year?”

It’s a familiar question when people find out that I’m Finish Manager for the Tour of Britain and Women’s Tour. Believe it or not it is what I do all year round. These races don’t just arrive in town!

Planning starts immediately after the previous Tour finishes, and as venues are confirmed I head off to recce the proposed venues with Race Director Mick Bennett. We have numerous criteria that have to be met to ensure we reach the criteria necessary for a UCI HC (Men’s) or Women’s World Tour event.

The finish straight needs to be at least 8m wide, straight and with a good surface free of cats eyes etc, sometimes we have to ask for street furniture to be removed or the surface to be improved. Team parking has to accommodate at least 20 team coaches plus another 40 team vehicles and 60 escort motorcycles. We also require parking for all of our Tech. vehicles, and space for Hospitality, Judges Unit, Race Office, Podium, Anti – Doping and the SweetSpot Death Star where we hold strategic meetings.

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Rob about to leave after the final stage of the Women’s Tour 2016

Once we are confident we can build our finish at a given location I liaise with Route Director Andy Hawes to join up the route and final 3km, sometimes there can be quite a lot of restraints so this is not always straightforward.

In the months leading up to events I have regular meetings and site meetings with venues, these usually have a tight agenda to address items such as Emergency Services liaison, road closures, event schedule etc. I also attend Safety Advisory Groups to ensure plans are in place to cover any eventuality, unexpected road closures, Emergency Service call outs as well as arrange for licences for our promo zone and temporary structures.

A month before the Tour we publish our Race Manual so it’s important that accurate maps, profiles and schedules are ready so that teams can check out the routes and are prepared for their on race briefings.

Race day usually starts with an alarm at around 04.30, a quick coffee and bacon roll and I’m on site at 05.00. Our first job is to position our large infrastructures, hospitality unit, Judges unit, podium and power generators. Signage teams set out to position the last 1km signs and branding team get to work.

The gantry is erected and at 08.00 the Fire Service rock up to fill the water ballast tanks, shortly after this we have another breakfast cooked by the amazing Charlie’s Angels followed by a Finish Crew meeting to go through any information that needs reinforcing. At this meeting there’s always some banter around the “Mug of the Day” award, presented to the person or persons who may have cocked up in any way. By eleven everything is ready for hospitality to open and receive guests at 11.45, shortly after this, depending on how far they have to drive, the Team Coaches start to arrive in convoy from the start, the parking team position them allowing plenty of space for the team cars that will arrive with the race.

Live TV starts at 1pm and the show is 4 hours long with the finish usually around 3.30. We get regular updates from the race via our Race Control situated at the finish line, and final road closures are placed to allow the 1km inflatable to be erected. The tension builds in the last hour with Team soigneurs and media crowding the finish area, usually trying to keep an eye on the big screen to see how their boys or girls are doing, when they can’t see the screen all are glued to their phones following the excellent ToB Twitter feed. I position myself about 100m after the line where I ensure soigneurs are safe and won’t be hit by the riders as they finish, I direct our H & S team so that they are able to park the Race Controllers’ and Commisaires’ cars. The anti-doping team arrive and inform soigneurs which riders are required to report for testing. I gather the “catchers” to make sure we are ready to catch the correct riders to chaperone them to the podium for the presentations. Generally the race flies into the finish and riders come to a stop with swannys to grab a drink and directions to team parking, the leaders go to the podium and as soon as the broom wagon has passed our teams start to dismantle everything. I attend a couple of meetings before heading off to my hotel close to the next day’s finish, this can be up to a two hour drive so sometimes we don’t arrive until quite late. I usually have dinner a quick G&T and head for an early night ready for the next stage when we repeat it all again.

Once the Tour finishes I have a bit of down time before we begin on planning for the following year. It’s a good time to spend some time on my own bike and to try to regain some fitness. This year I decided at the last minute to ride the Master’s World Track Championships just three weeks after the Tour, not the best preparation but I was satisfied to make the finals of both Scratch and Points races. Next year I’ll be once again focussing my racing on track and grass track  and promoting a couple of meetings myself.

@Theo Southee photography

Picture credit Theo Southee

 

Some of Rob’s greatest crashing palmares; Junior Worlds 1982, Amatuer Paris Roubaix 1983, Tour of Belgium 1983, Ster van Brabant 1983, National Madions Champs 1986, Lincon GP 1985

 

I’d really like to thank Rob for convincing me to tag along with Medway Velo last year, doing the Not The Tour of Flanders sportive with them (I managed to lose everybody, but finish eventually), then joining in with their trip to Paris Roubaix. He also talked me into attempting grass track, and through him and the others; Sally Smith, Phil Booth, Alex Cook, Tom Kennison, Matt Nunn, and Steve Smith, they have bolstered my confidence no end! I’m a proud 2nd claim member to Medway Velo, and can be found as a stand in DS/ Soigneur at track meetings in the summer. 

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