Dry

The most surprising thing about becoming teetotal is the amount of people who’ve told me they didn’t think I had a problem with alcohol: “we never saw you fall over” they’ll say.

That’s just the problem.

I’m sure if I had have fallen over from drinking, I would have stopped much sooner.

However, my problem has always been my tolerance to alcohol.

I didn’t drink in the day but by night it was always at least a bottle of wine, however, that was a quiet night in.

Most common was a half or full bottle of Prosecco, then a full bottle of white wine followed by between 5-10 gin and tonics.

That’s approximately 25 units, most nights, when the recommended weekly unit count is 14.

I’d go to bed, thinking I’d sleep it off, however the mental and physical effects always perforated my enjoyment of the following day.

It’s only now, nearly two months since my last drink, that I realise how I came to depend on it so much.

When my Dad was killed in a road traffic accident in 2003 I bought a large bottle of Jack Daniels and never looked back.

I stopped drinking on 1 January this year because it was easy alongside so many others starting dry January.

I knew I had stopped enjoying drinking and that it was adversely affecting my relationships at home and work. I knew my sobriety had to last longer than one month.

The benefits from not drinking I noticed almost immediately.

I’d so much more energy, I woke up every morning thankful of what was ahead, not full of dread or blind panic with my heart racing.

Even with less sleep, as I wasn’t drinking myself to sleep at night, I felt more energised from better quality sleep.

The continuing benefits have been weight-loss and a complexion with colour in it, as well as giving me much more time for my wife and children.

Quite literally more ‘time’ – so much of my life was wasted in a drunken stupor or suffering from a hangover, which I always pretended wasn’t there.

Whilst I remained functioning outwardly, my life was wasting away.

Work has also become far more exciting and I am bursting with creativity and renewed enthusiasm – no doubt driving colleagues up the wall.

The downsides to being teetotal, I’m struggling to find one. I haven’t longed for alcohol, which is why I would pause to call myself an alcoholic.

I suppose the most difficult thing is the feeling of being ‘out of it’ on a night out and not having the drunken time travel, come 10:00pm I want my bed.

I’m not anti-alcohol, I admire those who can enjoy a few drinks and leave it at that, but for me it’s either a couple of bottles of wine or half a bottle of gin, or nothing at all, so I’ve chosen the latter and so far it’s working for me.

Please still invite me to events, I’ll bring the lemonade.

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We’re still here

This is a slightly amended version of an original blog from 2011 which I wrote following Mark Cavendish’s World Championship win in the Men’s Road Race in Copenhagen.

The achievements of Team GB and British Cycling on the track at the Rio Olympics is yet another reminder of how far British Cycling has come since I rode for the national junior and senior development GB squad during the latter end of the 1980s.

I know the current crop of riders get sick to the back teeth of our past glory stories and how it was ‘back in the day’, however, whilst there is pathos in the careers that never were, this is meant as a celebration of what cycling has achieved and I don’t begrudge them a penny.

To preface my musings from 2011, I think it’s worth me just adding what track training was like when I rode for the squad in 1989. It consisted of one morning session each week, on the one track the UK had in Leicester, every Wednesday. No matter where you lived in the UK you had to travel weekly to it, and whilst expertly coached by Alan Sturgess, the session was often rained off as it was an open air velodrome.

Rain on a track day meant long hours in the saddle on the road, with the junior and senior teams riding together in dull and damp resolution that we’d missed another day to hone our track skills.

Footage of one of these GB training session, taken from the Channel 4 Equinox documentary on the Bicycle, is below and remains the only footage I have which shows me riding:

Whilst my time in the domestic cycling spotlight was brief, curtailed at the age of 20 by a head-on collision with a car, the story of our generation’s experience of riding for our country shows just how far British cycling has come.

As a Schoolboy I was a pretty good sprinter. When I could avoid my inherent self-doubt and subsequent nerves on tight narrow courses round car parks, I was one of the best in the country for my age, winning a silver medal at the Juvenile National Championships at age 16.

Fast-forward two years and with wins and good rides under my belt as a Junior, at age 18 I was chosen to be part of the Great Britain team.

In 1989 you were informed that you had been chosen to ride for your country by a typed letter telling you that you were on the ‘squad’. However, this meant little more than you might be chosen to ride certain races as a GB rider throughout the season.

In June the national squad of junior men and women travelled to the industrial town of Brno in Czechoslovakia, which was still, but only just, part of the Communist Eastern Block. Our GB team kit was ‘loaned’ to us for the trip.

It consisted of a second hand tracksuit, washed but not necessarily in your size. We were also given a short-sleeved GB road jersey. Despite these being an out of date design we were instructed that all kit must be handed back at the end of the trip, the only thing we were given was our skin suits. As these were an all-in-one with nothing worn underneath this decision had more to do with hygiene than generosity.

I performed well in Brno. Halfway through the points race something clicked, against the traditional cycling nations of France, Belgium and Denmark and also the mighty USSR and East Germany, I suddenly realised that this was no harder than riding with the senior riders at the local track.

I began gaining points and won the last lap sprint, meaning double points and narrowly missing out on a place on the podium which was reserved for the Eastern Bloc countries somewhat surprisingly.

On the strength of this ride and some good results on the road that year, I was chosen to represent GB at the World Championships in Moscow in July, a month later.

The Junior World Championships, 1989. Moscow USSR

Our hotel in the Russian capital, the Hotel Ukraina, was the tallest hotel in the world until 1975. A relic of Stalinist hubris built at the end of the 1940’s, it is one of a group of skyscrapers puncturing the Moscow sky known as the seven sisters.

As the world championships were to be held the following year in the UK, it would seem the Russian Federation who arranged the accommodation were keen for reciprocity. You can’t help but think that the hotels of Middlesborough in 1990 were a disappointment to them.

Hotel Ukraina

Hotel Ukraina

So good was our hotel that the mighty Italians were also staying there. However, in what would be the first of many great differences between the teams, they had brought their own food along with their own chef.

We were left to try and satiate our substantial appetites from what was a limited ration of meat and rice. There were sweet biscuits that I recall we would try and sneak out of the restaurant in our over size tracksuits, but generally I recall being hungry for two weeks.

Come the points race, my big event, on the fastest track in the World I thought I was ready. However as I began the ride I discovered I had been put on the same gear ratio as the rest of the team, 88 inches, 3 inches below what I was used to riding.

I should have checked it. I was up against the best in the World including the mighty Dmitri Nelyubin who, as a member of the senior Soviet team, had won the 4km team pursuit gold medal at the Seoul Olympics the year before, I didn’t stand a chance.

The road race was around a circuit specifically built for the Moscow Olympics in 1980. A young American whose brashness and arrogance saw him go it alone for the majority of the race, before being brought back by the bunch for a sprint finish, dominated the race. His name was Lance Armstrong. My road race ended spectacularly when an Italian put their pedal into my front wheel denying it any spokes.

The team did what it could and I mean no criticism of the coaches and mechanics who came with us who were similarly hamstrung by resources and worked hard for us to our immense gratitude. Riding our own bikes of various quality and dressed in second hand clothes we remain proud of what we did.

Becoming a Senior rider at age 18 meant we were put onto the Senior Development Squad, which saw us being called up for a couple of international races but we were very much in at the deep end.

In my first senior year I won an international race in the Isle of Man and had some promising results but two races into my second season I had an appointment with a car’s bonnet during a stage race and thus ends my racing story.

None of that Junior GB team went on to be household names, Manxman Andrew Roche was a professional rider on the domestic circuit for time.  National champion that year, Richard Hughes, along with Lee Burns, Rachel McGhee, Mark Armstrong, David Cross and the awesome brother and sister duo Mark and Sally Dawes were all lost to the sport.

However, also on that squad was an extremely likeable character whose constant smile and perkiness endeared him to all who knew him. That rider was Rod Ellingworth who would go on to become not only Mark Cavendish’s coach but also the mastermind behind the team performance which would deliver the medals at the Rio Olympics.

I emailed Rod back in 2010 whilst he was performance director at Sky, where he still holds sway, and he told me what continues to inspire him is remembering back to when “us lot” went away on GB trips and the other European nations looked at us as if to say “you don’t belong here” Rod wrote “Well, f*** em……….we are here now!” Yes mate, we most definitely are.

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For the love of Zwift

There are many moments in my life where I can claim to have witnessed a true revolution in cycling.

The abandonment of woolen clothing, which doubled your body weight when wet, to lycra. Magical clipless pedals and the Carbon frame, ushering in frame geometry which meant you no longer looked to be riding a farmyard gate.

There are also those which flopped. The aerodynamic water bottle, the Kirk magnesium frame and Mavic Zapp electronic gears. Although some manufacturers with an eye on your wallet are still trying to get you to ‘plug in’ your bike.

However, I feel sure I am witnessing a new true revolution in Zwift, an online forum for fair weather cyclists hiding out during those winter months.

It promises to revolutionise cycle training indoors, for years the most dreaded of training regimes.

I set up my CycleOps cycle trainer to work with Zwift. All I needed was to fit a Garmin speed sensor on the rear hub, a cadence monitor which came with it on the crank arm and an ANT+ sensor plugged into a USB port on my computer.

Having logged into Zwift you can choose the free trial of 50kms to see what you think, membership is £8:00 monthly after that.

From the first couple of pedal revs you’ll be blown away, it’s responsive and the technology really works.

Before long you can feel the hills and the descents, I even found myself waiting for the shade of the trees and descents, I was so immersed.

I have a Varidesk which enables me to stand up at my desk and is also perfect for raising up my monitors so that when I’m on my bike, I can see what’s on screen easier and even answer emails on a second monitor if urgent!

CUBF3TSXIAAXkfA.jpg-large

Courses include an imaginary car free fairyland called Watopia or, dependent on the date, the Richmond, Virginia World Championship circuit and the great thing is riding with others and the effort this inspires.

The phenomena is known as social facilitation and was first studied by Norman Triplett in 1898.

He studied the speed of cyclists and noticed that racing against each other rather than alone increased the cyclists’ speeds. Basically, we just can’t help ourselves!

Whether it’s trying to catch the person in front, prevent being caught, or just riding in a group with stronger riders, the presence of others makes us ride harder – its simple and that is what Zwift delivers, in bucketloads.

Along the way there are timed sections, hills and sprints, against which you are ranked against those currently ‘on the road’ and a reminder of personal best times to see what improvement you are making, but try riding steady and you’ll soon find the urge to ride harder and train more.

For me, with a busy job, time poor with two small children, being able to jump on the bike for an hour at lunchtimes is not only good for fitness but has also helped me escape to Watopia for an hour which is a very good place to be.

Well recommended and worth £8 a month of anyone’s money.

 

David Standard is an ex-Great Britain rider on track and road at both junior and senior level. He has been riding since the age of 6, starting with his father Sid Standard who owned a cycle shop in Nottingham for nearly 40 years.

He is a Dad of two with a degree in Psychology and is head of media relations at a law firm.

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On Trolls and Cycling

This is Ying Tao, she died earlier this week aged 26, at Bank in London.

ying1

Having graduated with a degree from Cambridge, and a masters in economics from Oxford, she worked for leading business consultancy PwC for nearly three years.

She had just got married. Her heartbroken widower Jin described her thus:

“She was the perfect wife and perfect in every way. She was smart as well as beautiful.”

However, some people have afforded her no sympathy and pin the blame on her, for her own death, even before the full circumstances of how she was killed are known.

Why? Because she decided to cycle into work.

Cycling has become the acceptable prejudice. Supported by idiotic pieces from certain parts of the media baiting the motorists, many of whom still retain the false assumption that cyclists do not pay equally for the roads they ride on (they do!).

The sport, and those who choose to cycle recreationally, are at best ridiculed and at worst abused physically and verbally.

The bile is worst from those recesses where people believe they can remain hidden. Posting from anonymous social media accounts, they publicly publish their poisonous thoughts they wouldn’t dare air anywhere else.

Will these trolls ever change her opinion toward cyclists?

I can only imagine my intervention and that of other cyclists hardens the resolve against ‘us’. They claim we are the angry and defensive ones.

Those people who ride bikes are angry and we are defensive.

For those who can’t understand why, imagine walking along the street with a large proportion of fellow pedestrians swinging a large metal mallet at you, sometimes purposefully close, sometimes without knowing you’re there as they’re texting or talking on their phones.


Metaphorical device and model!

Now imagine these pedestrians hitting and knocking you to the ground, injuring or killing you. Every year thousands getting killed or injured by these mallet wielding lunatics.

Angry? Now try and comprehend how angry you’d feel if these people kept doing this when you are walking alongside children.

The most passionate of my cycling friends are those who have had their children almost needlessly killed as they’ve tried to introduce them to a sport in a hope for a healthy future.

We all need to get our head around the fact that we are neither cyclists nor drivers, we are all people looking for the most appropriate form of transport, not just for our own health but for the health of society in general.

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On the perils of virtual cycling

So I left a cycling group today, a virtual one.

It was over a very trivial thing – but I decided that I would retreat back to enjoying my own bike and leave others to theirs.

However, it got me to thinking on the nature of people coming into a sport, rather than growing up into it.

I was schooled in cycling from the earliest age. My Dad introduced hundreds of cyclists into the sport as children and we learnt the ropes.

We then graduated into racing club rides to be told in no uncertain terms how to ride by the ‘racing lads’. This discipline was for the safety and benefit of every rider in that group.

We were kids, we wanted to be ‘them’ and we wouldn’t have dreamt of not listening, and in turn, not learning.

Socrates, or maybe even Russell Brand, said, ‘I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing’, which as a philosophy undergraduate I took to mean that those with a capacity to learn are therefore wisest.

Herein lies the issue. Those who have grown up with a sport have had the benefit of not only years of experience but also allowed themselves to learn. As idealistic kids we soaked up like sponges what those who went before us had learned.

Those who come in to a sport without that humility to learn, or with a cynicism derived of self importance, will not only hold themselves back but also sour the experience of those who deserve respect for not only knowing what they are talking about but also of wanting to pass on that knowledge.

The web must also take its share of the blame. It perpetuates the truth that ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.

Having been faced with no less than three weblinks to prove the particular point I had railed against, I realized that there was no hope.

The web is as wrong as it is right, populated as it is by human beings.

As Abraham Lincoln said: “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet all because it is attributed to a famous person.”

But there is so much to gain from new blood and new ideas.

The explosion in the popularity of cycling is wonderful and cyclists can learn from those who come into the sport, but of the basics, I would say to all newcomers, have the humility to listen to those who know what they are talking about and don’t google it!

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Neither driver nor cyclist

Tomorrow I will kiss my two beautiful children and my wife goodbye. I know I’ll wonder whether I will ever see them again. I’m not a member of the emergency services, nor brave enough to be a soldier, I’m a cyclist.

I know that when I leave them I will be gifted a near-death experience by either a motorist ‘buzzing’ me by passing too close (and breaking the law in doing so), speeding toward me (and sometimes even speeding up) when passing me going the opposite way on rural roads, turning across my path or driving without due care and attention, I know it’s coming and I can do nothing to prevent it.

None of my friend’s or family who have been killed or maimed ‘on the bike’ have done so because of something they did. They include the victim of one ton of metal hitting them from from behind, a car driven by a mother who was at that moment turning round to deal with her errant toddlers, or the lorry driver who came down a slip road and drove straight over the cyclist he did not see.

We don’t live in a war zone; we should be able to enjoy the sport, which does so much for the health and well being of children and adults, without fear of death. However road injury statistics continue to show that whilst road deaths are going down, the number of cyclists killed on the roads are rising.

So it should be no surprise when those people who ride bikes react strongly when conversations on cycle safety turn to the perennial argument that cyclists should stop jumping red lights and stop riding irresponsibly. An argument akin to saying that we should ignore punish stupidity with death.

These arguments serve only to distract away from the need to push for better driving standards and road infrastructure to save lives.

We are as vulnerable as newborns when we take to the roads we pay for. Yes, we all pay for the roads. The myth of road tax is slowly being eroded. There is no road tax; there is vehicle excise duty, which does not pay for the road, it is a levy based on CO2 emissions, which goes to the Treasury.

As a taxpayer and payer of council and other non-direct taxes, which go toward the upkeep of the transport system, I pay my fair share for the roads on which I ride.

The roads were not built for cars; we are all valid road users. One person in a car is no more important than a person on a bike; the addition of an engine and horsepower does not grant immunity from the usual rules governing society.

If I slow you down then I am afraid you’ll have to slow down but I will do my very best to respect you as a fellow road user as I am also the owner of two cars, I am therefore neither cyclist nor driver, I am a bloke who just wants to get home safely to see his wife and children.

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July 5, 2013 · 1:08 pm

We’re Here Now

Three days ago I sat riveted in front of the television. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing, a Great Britain cycling team in the Senior Men’s Pro World Championship Road Race in complete control and delivering to a triumphant finish their 26-year-old sprinting star, Mark Cavendish. My tweet during the race ‘Today’s World Championship is brought to you by the letters G and B’ was a response to such a complete display of cycle racing.

To give non-cyclists some comprehension of this sporting achievement it is akin to the England football team telling everyone they are going to win the world cup, winning every match emphatically to the final and then delivering one of the greatest games ever to win the championship.

How did we get here as a nation? Only 10 years ago we would have been hard pushed to spot a British rider in the bunch never mind expect them to contest the finish. 20 years ago it was even more fanciful to expect us to perform on a World stage. Whilst my time in the domestic cycling spotlight was brief, curtailed at the age of 20 by a head-on collision with a car, the story of our generation’s experience of riding for our country shows just how far British cycling has come.

As a Schoolboy I was a pretty good sprinter. When I could avoid my inherent self-doubt and subsequent nerves I was one of the best in the country for my age, winning a silver medal at the Juvenile National Championships at age 16. Fast-forward two years and with wins and good rides under my belt as a Junior, at age 18 I was chosen to be part of the Great Britain team.

In 1989 you were informed that you had been chosen to ride for your country by a typed letter telling you that you were on the ‘squad’. However, this meant little more than you might be chosen to ride certain races as a GB rider throughout the season.

In June the national squad of junior men and women travelled to the industrial town of Brno in Czechoslovakia, which was still, but only just, part of the Communist Eastern Block. Our GB team kit was ‘loaned’ to us for the trip. It consisted of a second hand tracksuit, washed but not necessarily in your size. We were also given a short-sleeved GB road jersey. Despite these being an out of date design we were instructed that all kit must be handed back at the end of the trip, the only thing we were given was our skin suits. As these were an all-in-one with nothing worn underneath this decision had more to do with hygiene than generosity.

I performed well in Brno. Halfway through the points race something clicked, against the traditional cycling nations I suddenly realised that this was no harder than riding with the senior riders at the local track, which I did on a weekly basis. I began gaining points and won the last lap sprint, meaning double points and narrowly missing out on a place on the podium. On the strength of this ride and some good results on the road that year, I was chosen to represent GB at the World Championships in Moscow in July, a month later.

The Junior World Championships, 1989. Moscow USSR

Our hotel in the Russian capital, the Hotel Ukraina, was the tallest hotel in the world until 1975. A relic of Stalinist hubris built at the end of the 1940’s, it is one of a group of skyscrapers puncturing the Moscow sky known as the seven sisters. As the world championships were to be held the following year in the UK, it would seem the Russian Federation who arranged the accommodation were keen for reciprocity. You can’t help but think that the hotels of Middlesborough in 1990 were a disappointment to them.

Hotel Ukraina

So good was our hotel that the mighty Italians were also staying there. However, in what would be the first of many great differences between the teams, they had brought their own food along with their own chef. We were left to try and satiate our substantial appetites from what was a limited ration of meat and rice. There were sweet biscuits that I recall we would try and sneak out of the restaurant in our over size tracksuits, but generally I recall being hungry for two weeks.

Come the points race, my big event, on the fastest track in the World I thought I was ready. However as I began the ride I discovered I had been put on the same gear ratio as the rest of the team, 88 inches, 3 inches below what I was used to riding. I should have checked it. I was up against the best in the World including the mighty Dmitri Nelyubin who, as a member of the senior Soviet team, had won the 4km team pursuit gold medal at the Seoul Olympics the year before, I didn’t stand a chance.

The road race was around a circuit specifically built for the Moscow Olympics in 1980. A young American whose brashness and arrogance saw him go it alone for the majority of the race, before being brought back by the bunch for a sprint finish, dominated the race. His name was Lance Armstrong. My road race ended spectacularly when an Italian put their pedal into my front wheel denying it any spokes.

The team did what it could and I mean no criticism of the coaches and mechanics who came with us who were similarly hamstrung by resources and worked hard for us to our immense gratitude. Riding our own bikes of various quality and dressed in second hand clothes we remain proud of what we did.

Becoming a Senior rider at age 18 meant we were put onto the Senior Development Squad, which saw us being called up for a couple of international races but we were very much in at the deep end. The development team riders of today, or World Class Performance Plan as its now called, are taken to Tuscany to train and develop. In my first senior year I won an international race in the Isle of Man and had some promising results but two races into my second season I had an appointment with a car’s bonnet during a stage race and thus ends my racing story.

Of the Junior GB squad that year I believe there are only two riders still pulling on their lycra in anger. Manxman Andrew Roche is currently a professional rider on the domestic circuit. Matthew Charity I still see riding his bike on Facebook in his adopted homeland of the USA. National champion that year, Richard Hughes, along with Lee Burns, Rachel McGhee, Mark Armstrong, David Cross and the awesome brother and sister duo Mark and Sally Dawes were all lost to the sport.

However, also on that squad was an extremely likeable character whose constant smile and perkiness endeared him to all who knew him. That rider was Rod Ellingworth who would go on to become not only Mark Cavendish’s coach but also the mastermind behind the team performance which would deliver the first Men’s Cycling Road Race World Champion for 46 years on Sunday. Through an injection of lottery funding and making sure that nothing is ever left to chance again, British cycling has never had it so good.

Rod and I exchanged emails last year during the Tour de France, at which he was Road Coach for the SKY professional team. He told me what continues to inspire him is remembering back to when “us lot” went away on GB trips and the other European nations looked at us as if to say “you don’t belong here” Rod wrote “Well, f*** em……….we are here now!” Yes mate, we most definitely are.

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