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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A two man race and 648 mobile spectators… Keith Murray on #3pcx.

Collegues, CX riders, and rivals… SCOTT sports Keith Murray takes time to talk about his battle with Scot Easter on #3pcx

Keith Murray

The 3 Peaks Cyclo Cross has always been something that had grabbed my attention, as a kid and a cycling fan I’d heard and read about the crazy race that was a mountain bike parcours that you had to ride on a CX bike. Continue reading

Wessex CX Round 2

Whilst the hard people were heading off to the #3pcx challenge today, I was heading off to Swindon. To a golf course no less!

Before you get your hopes up that I’ve given up cycling and taken up golf, I have to tell you that the golf course is decommissioned and I went to cyclocross instead.

LCCA didn’t have a round this weekend, so I planned to combine seeing my parents, with a cx race. It’s still less than a year ago that I started racing, and I need all the experience I can get.

So, whilst I would have preferred to be in Yorkshire cheering on Keith Murray, Scott Chalmers, Scot Easter and Emma Osenton, I found myself moseying around a nicely technical grass course.

The other part of the reason I like the Wessex league, is that it so friendly. With the likes of Caroline Stewart, Chris Macleod and Graham Robins there, they make you feel more than welcome.

Caroline rode a recce lap at my pace with me, and I quickly identified one corner that I found tricky. Just one mind. Off camber, 180° right hander going downhill. Why I’m having problems with exactly the same type of bend two races in a row, I don’t know!

Very, very glad to be riding Continental CX Race tyres. With a course that had such a decent covering of grass, even when the heavens opened briefly, it didn’t properly cut up. Sure there were some damp, squidgy grass, but it was merely suicidily slippery. Not muddy as such.

It took me a while to get into the race. And looking at my lap times, my last lap was fastest again! I need the experience more than anything. Different courses, terrain, and people. I found it a huge learning curve today. Eventually winning the battle at the back with another girl.

The only problem I had was faceplanting over my bars on the second lap. Not entirely sure how I ended up on the floor – but hey ho!


I didn’t enjoy the first lap. But by the second I was back in that love/hate relationship. I love the course. I love riding cx. I dislike that I’m such a novice and so slow. I love the friendliness.

It’s not easy not having the experience or background of years in and around cycling clubs, road races and cross.

#keepsmiling

Humbled By My Friends

You may be aware that a lot in my life has not gone to plan recently. From numerous visits to the dentist, to broken bikes and frustration with my fitness.

Needless to say, I don’t mean to be whinging and moaning. I’m too matter of fact for that – although I’m not sure anyone knows me well enough these days to corroborate with that.

I completed cx at Herne Hill on Thursday 11th August. A hot, arid, dusty evening in southern London. Glad to get there early, mosey around a warm up lap, sign on and get a feel of the course with Phil Booth who had earlier in the week helped me out to fix the Kinesis (thanks for indexing it Hans Stiles!). I was quite looking forward to the mostly flat course, a nice bit of solid single track, and a couple of interesting features.

Nice to be joined by fellow colleagues for this very well organised, uncategorised race. It’s a shame there is just the four in the whole of the London CX scene, but I understand how hard it must be to organise. Kudos to both the 5th Floor and Kinesis for their hard work and sponsorship.

I started fast, but the grass and my lack of fitness soon pulled me back. Within a couple of hundred meters to be precise, and from there I paced myself around at the back of the field, getting caught and passed by Alec Briggs  (5th Floor) fairly quickly.

I loved the singletrack, and ft more than home on a course like this. That bloody steep hill hidden around the back of the sun splashed track was hell. Taught me I need to start jogging again! The lovely Hazel Barnes was not too far in front of me and we did a few laps sort of together, her egging me on and me glad to have someone my pace (ish). Really welcomed the shouts from Ian Cleverly too, it helped a lot! Considering how rusty I was – and how hard I found it, I really enjoyed it a lot. I know the skills I need to work on, along with my fitness.

Friday evening, sadly, saw me reduced to tears. Being classed as ‘unapproachable’ and the context of how it was delivered, whilst feeling rather uptight and worried about the two races I had at the weekend, combined to one of the most heartfelt posts I’ve written on Facebook. Needless to say, the support I received from friends both close and acquaintances helped bolster my courage for doing the Brighton Big Dog on Saturday. 

Something that to a lot of my fit friends that have been racing years, probably doesn’t mean much, but was worrying me considerably.

Thank you friends for helping pull me back together. Especially those from Medway Velo – Alex, Phil, Sal and Rob deserve a special mention. Because without these guys I wouldn’t be brave enough to face doing a lot of things.

#crossiscoming #keepsmiling 

Podium at Herne Hill. NLTCBMBC Thundertrack 

Today I set out having had about two/three hours sleep. From being sunburnt the other day – more fool me, haven’t ever been that burnt even from working outside for 15 years – I have some slight nerve damage in my back and on my shoulders. And a constant itching that makes me want to tear strips out of my skin.
I arrived at Herne Hill far too early for the NLTCBMBC, and felt that rubbish I actually had a sleep in my car.
I was quitely excited and a bit worried, never having ridden on a banked track before. But more than willing to give it a go.
Phil Booth arrived first, shortly followed by Alex Cook who had offered me the use of his track bike. Until he arrived, I thought he was riding – but no, he was being brilliantly kind and standing in as soigneur/DS.
Being the awesome mechanic he is, we had the bike set up in a few minutes, and he encouraged me to go out and spin around the flat kiddies track to get a feel for it. I think my smile said it all.

A bit nervous, worried but happy. Really happy to have friends like this around. Phil reassured me more than one, and I needed it.
Eventually I got myself signed on, as more and more people turned up. We were joined by Jo Smith and her partner Rob.
I eventually unearthed the days schedule: Scratch (11 laps for us B’s). Kerin. Elimination. Points.
Then I had a brief session with Phil warming up on the track. Look before you move, flick the elbow to let them know your moving. Always look. Angle of the bank is the same at the top as at the bottom.

My advice is be aware at all times; of who and what is around you.

Men’s B’s were up first and with Phil riding in that group, I was able to keep an eye on what was going on as I rode a few warm laps in the center of the track. With it being windier than normal, I knew it was going to be hard. Alex’s advice – you need to go faster…

Then it was our turn. With only 7 of us in the B group, I managed a quick chat with some of the others as we waited patiently in the holding area.

A couple of deep breaths as we were called up and sat on the fence. Nerves had long gone. Just focusing on what was happening there and then. Then the race was on. As its a group of people I had never ridden with before, I was a bit wary, but knew I would be on the front shortly. The front rider flicked up and moved off, then the second. Then I was on the front, being careful not to do too much. Then a glance behind, a flick and I’m up and letting the next few come past me. I tuck into the back, briefly losing a gap before regaining it. We rotated rather well, and it began to get harder and harder being on the front as it got windier. Totally focused on the wheel in front and how the rider was acting, it was only on the last couple of laps I started to drop of the back. They quickly dropped another girl, who I then focused on and managed to come around her in the back straight before we finished. I might not have finished in the bunch, but I was really pleased at how it had gone.

I felt tired after that. Sitting down and chilling as I watched the men’s A’s and then the women’s A’s take their turns. It’s great to be there with friends, supportive and encouraging they help me to believe that I can do better. Having them talk through a bit after the race like a coach would do is invaluable. If I could have had the strength to hold that wheel a bit longer, I would have done.

Next race was the Kerin. We had a practice go at it, and I knew I would have to save my strength – so as the derny pulled off I didn’t put all of my effort into it. Knowing I would need it later.

Then it was the Elimination or Devil Takes The Hindmost. It was to be a rider out every lap until the last three. As soon as the whistle went, I found myself out the back. Holding the last wheel, I was able to move up in the back straight and around the top corner. Making sure I was in easily. Then I did it again. And again. And just held on so four were out. I was in the last three and really struggling. As we came to the top corner they pulled away, not a lot, but enough that they were well clear. Again it was a hell of a learning curve. And I was over the moon to have been placed!

Kerin proper was next. Only five of us lined up, and as the derny pulled off I was getting dropped. I finished the race wondering if my legs had it in them for the points race!

I lined up for the points race with very heavy legs, hung grimly on for a few laps before getting shelled out the back like I was shot. Not entirely sure how I managed to stop! 

I had already heard rumours there was another race; so made the most of resting for a bit then turning the pedals around for a few laps before Alex attempted to teach me how to track stand which kept ending in me laughing madly and him even cracking a smile. 

Unfortunately I’m not very good, and kept giggling. I get the basics of it and understand how, but it’s obviously something that takes practice! 

I lined up with Jo Smith, Keira McVitty and one other. All experienced top class riders and way out of my league! So when the whistle went we ambled around to the section of the track we had to stop in. I rode slower and slower, getting teased by the judge who told me to keep going, and eventually rolled past Keira and gave up just upsides Jo…. who promptly over balanced behind me and followed me out. Then they blew the whistle…

Picture courtesy of Phil Booth 

I cannot thank Alex enough, letting me borrow his track bike, setting it up, keeping me laughing even when I was completely knackered and trying very hard to put up with teaching me to track stand. You, my lovely, are a superstar. A proper mate as well. Much appreciated and rather humbled.

Phil, you’re a diamond too. You’re encouragement is exactly what I needed – especially when I wasn’t sure about riding it at all. 

Medway Velo has been so supportive and I hope I did them proud today. Huge thanks to Jo and Rob for being supportive too.

Here’s to grasstrack next weekend where I will be with the best group of people I’ve met!

#keepsmiling 

Ride London Day 1

Today I’m here at the Expo in the Excel, working for Sigma Sport on the Sigma/ Extra stand. Having been picked up at 6, it’s the lull at lunchtime  (alright ‘late’ lunchtime) that’s let me get out for food and a quick blog post. There’s a load of my favourite people here that I don’t get too see as often as I’d like. Shelley, Mark, Rob and Joe from Conti UK  (I’ll be working with some of them over the weekend), Rory from Upgrade, some of the Hot Chillee crew, my super landlord Jon from Vittoria…. and a few more.

I like working events like this despite the long days, it’s such a great chance to interact with people – not just customers, but people from all over. 

A lot of people are here to do the sportive for charity, for causes that are near and dear to them and that in itself is special. Others to do it just to say they’ve ridden the same roads as the pros on Sunday.

So. I’m here with Sigma today and tomorrow. With Continental on Saturday, and at the cattle market in Kingston with Continental for the activation zone in Sunday. Don’t be afraid to come and say hi if you are around!

Another roller session planned for this evening as I won’t be doing much for the next few days!

#keepsmiling #thankgodforfriends 

Aim For the Stars

EDITED TO INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING: Sally is lending me a road bike and I can use her rollers. Rob has a turbo I can borrow for a while. This is what friends are for. Also thanks to Phil, Alex, Steve and Tom #mycrew #thisiswhatfriendsarefor #MedwayMassive

@swordpanda has also offered to help me out with a training plan when I’ve healed after dental surgery. 

Well. Not quite the stars. I mean I have an ice gel pack currently resting across my face after dental surgery yesterday so I can’t exactly do much. Walking in a straight line would be a bonus. But I need something to aim at.

You know I don’t have any of the following; road bike, turbo, rollers, hr monitor, power meter or any idea of how to go about training. But I do have a great bunch of friends at Medway Velo who have helped me out no end.

Having Paris Roubaix Challenge to aim at was hard and I’d had no specific training other than increasing the miles. But with everything going a bit wrong at the moment, I need to aim at something.

Despite ‘my’ road bike being requested back at work, a few days after breaking a spoke on the loaned wheels and less than a week after getting hit by a pedestrian and a car, I’m trying very hard to look forward. I can’t ride a bike/ do much for a week and having a mouthful of blood isn’t really conducive to doing much. 

So I’ve entered the Green Arrow grasstrack on the 14th August. It’s not the biggest event ever but it is one that I didn’t think I’d be able to do.

Ride London Expo is next week, Thursday and Friday with my employer Sigma Sport and Saturday and Sunday with Conti UK. Not much chance for riding a bike anyway! 

I know I’m not very good, that I don’t know anything much about training or fixing bikes. Does it really matter? Are you brave or bonkers enough to have a go?

I’ll always try. I always want to learn, even if no one wants to teach me or help me out, I’ll be doing the best I can.
Having been underestimated by so many for so long, I’m truly grateful for those that are now my friends, the willingness to put a bit of belief and support behind me. 

#keepsmiling