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Van Vleuten: The relentless rainbow dreamer

Original Post:  Cycling News

Snap 2018 01 30 at 10.04.44

There was a time, around the mid-2000s, when Annemiek van Vleuten was living in cramped student accommodation, working a 32-hour week, and racing on a salary of just €100 a month. If it’s tough at the top, as the old adage goes, then it’s a hell of a lot tougher at the bottom.

Almost a decade later and the 35-year-old is striding confidently through the Hilton Hotel in downtown Adelaide, greeting fans and mingling with the cycling public who affectionately call out, ‘Annemiek’ before instinctively positioning themselves for selfies.

That previous world, when Van Vleuten was just starting out on the Vrienden van het Platteland team, must seem like a galaxy away. Now, the world time trial champion is at the pinnacle of the sport but, as she tells Cyclingnews’ Daniel Benson, she’s far from finished and just as determined as ever to build on her ever-improving legacy.

This year, Van Vleuten will embark on perhaps her most challenging season yet as she aims to dovetail her love of road racing and time trialling with ambitions of success on the track at the World Championships. Given the increasing specialisation and competitiveness that has developed in women’s cycling, it will be no easy venture but the Mitchelton-Scott leader is anything but fazed.

"I only want to take on a challenge if it’s really serious," she says with a smile that belies her undoubted hunger.

So, this year Van Vleuten will use the early-season races in Australia – she is currently racing the Herald Sun Tour – as building blocks before switching to individual pursuit preparations in February. Her track plans mean that she will miss the majority of the Classics – barring the Tour of Flanders – before returning for a serious tilt at the Giro Rosa and then a three-pronged attack at the UCI Road World Championships in the autumn, in which she will race the team time trial, the individual time trial and then the road race. She is nothing if not eager.

"The idea for the track actually started three years ago when the mechanic at Mitchelton-Scott tried to convince me that I should target it," she says, before stating that her goals for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games are likely to be based on the road.

"The mechanic, he worked with some of the girls on the track and I was a good prologue rider but I found that it was hard if you had no track experience. It’s not super-technical but there’s a lot involved. I like challenges and maybe this gives me a different approach to the start of the season."

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Indeed, Van Vleuten was once recognized as a fine prologue rider and was a regular fixture at the podium celebrations on the opening days of stage races. Then something changed but, unlike a switch being turned on, it was a slow gradual process of improvement that started around 2015, when she began preparing for the following season's Olympics. Her subsequent crash in the road race has been well documented but it was the months of preparation in the build-up to Rio that really saw her change.

"I saw the course for the Olympics and realised I had to become a better climber if I was to really try and target the race," she says. "I did a lot more altitude camps and really worked on my climbing, and that really was a turning point in my career."

It wasn’t just her climbing that was given a thorough examination. Although she was proficient and successful against the clock, she wasn’t quite world class over longer courses. A move to the Australian team in 2016 provided her with the necessary equipment and the platform to train properly. It may sound clichéd, but sometimes a change of kit and a new environment can work wonders for a rider.

"Another point is that I have a time trial bike at home now. That made a massive difference. Before, on other teams, I never had a TT bike at home, so I could never train on it. So now I can fly to altitude and bring my time trial bike. When I was on previous teams that wasn’t even allowed. People ask me how I became a stronger time triallist, well, being able to train twice a week on my time trial bike made a huge difference."

With her skillset complete, Van Vleuten has the air of someone who believes she is now ready for anything. She doesn't come across as arrogant – the opposite in fact – but whether it's track, Classics, stage races, time trials, or the cyclo-cross she dabbles in, anything seems possible.

"After I come back from the track, the Ardennes are a big goal for me but if you ask me what my two main goals are for this year, it’s the Giro and the Worlds. I’m really pumped for the Giro this year after messing up last year. I’m really looking forward to racing on the Zoncolan on the second last stage and there’s a really hard time trial. I’m going to love targeting it with my team. We’re all really motivated," she says.

"For the Worlds on the road I’m looking forward to targeting the road race and the time trial. That’s my main focus. The triple is possible but that’s not a main goal. The goal for me is to win a rainbow jersey."

The road Worlds, however, are a long way off on the horizon and Van Vleuten is still competing in Australia as part of the Herald Sun Tour.

She has based herself here for several months now, enjoying the warm weather, the relaxed nature of living, and the adventure of being away from her native home. In a sense, it was her move to Mitchelton-Scott in 2016 that created the freedom in which she could flourish.

"The team has really helped me develop. In the past, I was focused on training and numbers. This team feels more like a home and I enjoy it more," she says. "I’ve learned to enjoy more about my life in cycling. So, while I’ve been here in Australia for three months and had a lot of fun, if you check my training files I’ve done a crazy amount of work here too."

It’s not just the team’s nationality Van Vleuten has a fondness for.

“I love it here, I love Australia,” she beams. “I started my holiday in November. When I got to Melbourne I parked my bike for three weeks and I traveled around with my best friend, who I’ve known since I was three years old. We had great fun. We went hiking, saw the Great Barrier Reef, and did camping with spiders and snakes around us. I was totally out of my comfort zone but I loved it.”

Whether it’s on the track, the road, or the mud and sand of ‘cross, it’s difficult to imagine Van Vleuten ever out of her comfort zone when it comes to cycling. So much has happened to her since she left that tiny student room in 2008 but, given her appetite for a challenge, few would bet against her rainbow dreams becoming a reality once more. Whether it's on the track, the road, or both.

Reilly Spirit HSS Bike Review

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Brighton-based Reilly Cycle Works showcases the enormous frame designing and building talents of Mark Reilly, respected as a master of his craft. Experienced with titanium and steel, Mark has been using Columbus Spirit steel tubing for over a decade, more recently progressing to hydroformed Spirit HSS as used here.

Hydroforming lets frame designers get more creative, and offers the ability to customise a frame’s stiffness, comfort and looks with specific tube profiles. The triple-butted niobium steel forms a flattened top-tube, down-tube with flattened upper surface, extremely flattened seatstays that broaden towards the seat-tube, and ovalised chainstays with no crimping or bridge. The 44mm diameter head-tube is a match for the oversized down-tube and swoopy carbon fork.

What sets this frame apart is its fillet brazed construction, which creates beautifully clean, flowing joints that are complemented by the beautiful paint finish and smart graphics. It’s far more labour intensive than TIG welding, and accounts for much of the cost, but each frame is bespoke, and the price includes paintwork design.

We like the brazed-on front mech mount, removing the need for an unsightly clamp, and customers can opt for internal cable routing, depending on their chosen groupset. Any braze-ons required, such as down-tube cable stops, are in stainless steel, as is the head-tube badge.

Our model is one of the first bikes we’ve had supplied with the new Shimano Ultegra groupset, with hints of Dura-Ace, and refinements across the board. Its compact 50/34 chainset is paired with a climb-friendly 11-32 cassette and long cage rear mech. The brake callipers are a little less angular, the hoods slimmer and the shift levers enlarged.

Apart from the lever feel, the groupset was mostly forgotten once riding, as the frame took centre stage. Whereas a good carbon fibre frame seems to float over the road surface, only feeding back abbreviated passages of surface texture, the Reilly maintains an impressively detailed commentary. It’s a firm ride, but not harsh, smoothing road vibrations and taking the edge off sharp hits.

The complete bike carries a little more weight than some here, but from the way it rides, you’d never know. Assertively swift over rolling terrain, the handling is crisp, confident and predictable, and makes good use of the 25mm Continental tyres’ generous 27mm inflated width.

It’s content to cruise, but standing on the pedals unleashes a bit of a hooligan, switching from assertion to controlled aggression. The wheels aren’t super light, but deliver able performance to match the frame’s ability and, at 23mm wide, help stability too.

Both head and seat angles are 73 degrees, which is quite normal, but we found the zero setback seatpost pushed us too far forward of our preferred pedalling position. The narrow 40cm Deda bar is easier to live with, but a customer could specify alternatives to suit.

The Reilly Spirit HSS has lines and a lustrous finish we could gaze at all day. Such metallic artistry deserves to be enjoyed, and riding it is a treat that improves with every hill crested, and one we wouldn’t tire of.

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Exustar SM322 Mountain Biking Shoes

Exustar SM322 Carbon MTB Shoe 300x300The Exustar SM322 Carbon MTB Shoe is our top of the line mountain biking shoe, built for the rider who demands high performance gear to keep up with their serious riding style. Built of lightweight components that are very stiff, this shoe is designed to transfer as much power to the pedal as possible.

The upper is constructed from a synthetic microfiber leather with breathable mesh side panels and reflective material and features a molded heel cup. The breathable mesh keeps your feet cool, while the reflective material provides additional safety when riding at night or a dusk. The molded heel cup adds support and helps hold down your heel during the pedal stroke.

exustar shoe diagramA forged Microlock ratcheting buckle provides the first layer of retention, with two Trihook straps below that that offer secondary tightening without creating painful pressure points. These two together provide quick tightening, quick release, micro-adjustment and very secure locking. Once you’ve put your foot in, it’s not coming out without you wanting it to. Adjusting on the fly is a snap, and the shoe will come off quickly when it’s time to wear something else. This buckle system is far superior to traditional laces.

The insole is a washable, Dupont Engage EVA. A little time in the wash and these shoes will smell great even after months of riding. The sole is a super stiff carbon fiber with injection TPU thread. Carbon fiber provides stiffness while keeping the shoe light. The sole of this mtb shoe features threaded inserts for toe spikes, and is compatible with Shimano SPD cleats. The tread on the sole offers base level traction, but you have the option to add cleats if you wish. For example, if you find yourself riding in wet, muddy conditions, the spikes will come in handy.

This mtb shoe offers superior durability, first-class performance and a great fit. A stiff cycling shoe that will transfer maximum power to the pedal, keep your feet comfortable, and stay well-ventilated. Whether you’re a serious racer, a spin class hero or a weekend warrior, this is one shoe you can’t miss.

Crikey! Is that an Australia Team Cycling Jersey?

austrialia 1 255x300Aussies know cycling, the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games recently wrapped, with Australia finishing in the top tier with 20 medals, 7 of them gold! 9 Australians have won the Tour de France, with the most recent being 2011’s Cadel Evans and 2013’s Simon Gerrans.

The great southern land is home to dozens of off-road trail rides, all over the continent-country, from the 613 Km Oodnadatta Track in South Australia to the 1146 km Great Central Road through Western Australia and the Northern Territory. In fact, Cycle Australia lists 20 rides through the Australian wilderness, encouraging mountain bikers to explore the vast wilderness and wide open spaces. For even more exploration, Cycling Tours of Australia and New Zealand can set you up with guided tours to make for the ultimate cycling getaway. With so many options for your cycling adventure in the land down under, you want to ride in style, right?

Well ride in style and show off your Aussie pride with the Ecyclingstore World Jerseys Australia Team Cycling Jersey. Made from 100% Polyester DrySport wicking fabric, the Australian Team Bicycle Jersey is the perfect choice for breaking a sweat in the hot Australian sun (or, wherever you ride). Sporting the shape of the Australian continent and the flag’s colors as well, this jersey is a perfect representation of the country’s pride! Get one and your mates will say “good onya.” Dinky-di!

10 Tips to Help You Race

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Guest Post:

As the season fast approaches there are a number of key items that any aspiring racer needs to be aware of, and to focus upon. You have trained hard all winter so you might as well put all of that work to good use. Here are 10 tips that should help you on your way :

1 : Have a plan
Recently I was out on the bike training with Fitzy (Mehall Fitzgerald winner of 5 Ras stages and former National Champion who represented Ireland over 120 times) who is never short of clear straight talking advice. He said that if he was bringing a good cyclist to a race and asked what the plan was and then got an answer of ‘I’ll see how it goes’ that he would stop the car, f**k your man out and make him cycle home.

You must have a plan. You must know why you are going to that race. Maybe it is for training so that you will be in peak condition for your main goal weeks later, or maybe you are going to get placed in the top 6 or maybe you are going to win, but you must know why you are going.

2 : Using a race as training
If you are going to a race that you are viewing as a training event that will increase your fitness and abilities so that you will be in peak condition for an event later in the season there is only one way to ride the race. Attack, Attack, Attack. Each time you attack and get caught it will make you stronger. You might end up getting dropped but that is OK. You will eventually attack someday when you will not get caught and you will solo to victory. Hiding in the bunch all day will not really make you stronger. Be part of the race and be active. You will enjoy it more too.

3 : Races are not won on Strava
Fitzy also had strong opinions on people racing who gauge their ability on where they rank on a Strava KOM leaderboard. This gives very little indication of how they will do in a race. All that matters in a race are how many people, if any, cross the finish line ahead of you. If you sit on a strong group of riders and jump them at the top of a drag in the middle of a race to get a KOM you are only fooling yourself. In the past any cyclist you spoke to would tell you that they were not training and hadn’t seen the bike since the previous Sunday, whilst having done over 30 hours that week. That was part of the tactical battle. If you want to be competitive don’t put all of your cards on the table for all of your competition to see. Keep some of your spins off of Strava. Maybe only upload them in batches of 10 or 15 every few weeks.

It can also be a good idea to put your garmin in your back pocket during a race or just have it showing speed and distance. Looking down watching heart rate and watts will only hold you back. You can always push yourself further in a race than you ever will in training. After a race, too often you hear people say that they looked down and knew they were gone once they saw how high their heart rate was. Some who have percentages onscreen even remark that they had hit 110% of their max h/r. All that tells you is that the figure entered was not your max h/r, and that by looking down and seeng 110% and easing up you still do not know what your max really is.

4 : Use others lack of planning to your advantage
In a race of 100 riders on any given Sunday in any given bunch there are about 80 who are there to see what might happen and maybe they might get up for a place at the finish. That is fine and they enjoy that, but if you are being competitive you can forget about that 80%. Then there are about 15 who are seriously planning on getting a placing in the top 6. Be at the very least one that 15 and try to figure out as many of the remaining 14 as possible to know who to follow approaching the finish. Then there are about 5 who are actually there to win. When you are amongst that group you must know who the other 4 are and pick one or possibly two to follow and watch them like a hawk.

5 : Train in bad conditions to race in bad conditions
You do not necessarily have to like training or racing in the rain but you must get used to it in order to shorten your odds of a victory. Sean Kelly is famous for his ability to race in bad conditions but even he will tell you that he does not particularly like riding his bike in bad weather, but he dislikes it less than others. On a wet day at least 50% of your opposition will have cracked before they get out of the car. Once you have trained in bad conditions you can use this to your advantage.

6 : Know how to sprint
You must be able to sprint and you must train to be able to sprint. Even if you view yourself as a climber you have to be able to sprint out of corners, sprint across to breakaway groups and most importantly be able to sprint in a small group at the finish, so you must do sprint training.
A good way to sprint train is to find a very quiet straight section of road.
Mark out 200 meters.
After a 20 minute warm up, roll to the start point and almost come to a stop in a gear something like a 53 x 16.
Then kick as hard as you can and change into a 15 and possibly a 14 if you get on top of the gear.
You should be 100% empty as you throw the bike at the line.
Then drop it down into a 39 x 25 or whatever the smallest gear is on your bike and spin back up to the start line again and repeat.
You should only be able to do 4 or 6 of these before you are completely empty. Then just do a 20 minute warm down and you’re finished. This 4o minute training session is very important and best done on a Tuesday.
Doing 20 or 30 sprints during a training spin is good practice for sprinting out of corners etc. but you need to do the tank emptying type to get that race winning edge.

7 : You can’t win a race on twitter or Facebook
Social media is great for many things but again as Fitzy says ‘You can’t tweet the lads up the road in the break to wait for you’

Mental recovery is an important part of race preparation just as physical recovery is after a hard training session. You need to arrive at a race slightly keyed up and some nervous energy is a good thing. To have the right amount of this energy you need to be mentally fresh. Spending all day and night before a race on Facebook and twitter keeps you wound up and makes you mentally fatigued. Read a book, watch a movie or do any single thing that you find relaxing, but don’t do it with your phone in your hand.

8 : Preparation is key
Your bike should be spotless and in as new condition every Saturday evening before a Sunday race.
Tyres should be checked for any piece of glass or debris that could cause a puncture.
Chains should be oiled invisibly i.e. you should not be able to see the oil on the chain or dripping from it. Your cassette should sparkle in the sunshine.
You feel better on a clean bike. You race better on a safe bike.

Your kit bag should be packed the evening before and everything in it should be fresh and clean, including shoes and helmets.

Your food and drink should be either packed or on the kitchen counter ready to be prepared before you leave.

You should have a race morning routine of when you eat breakfast, what you eat and drink on the way to the race. Some even plan where they will stop to use the toilet along the way. Always bring your own toilet paper just in case.

9 : Do your homework
If the race is on anywhere within cycling distance you should ride the course beforehand. Ideally you should also do your sprint training the Tuesday before on the finishing straight so that you know exactly where you can begin your sprint and hold it all the way to the finish line.

Look at the weather forecast and know exactly what direction the wind will be coming from. Look at the course on google maps and pick out a number of locations where you think that an attack might succeed.

The best place to attack is approaching the top of a drag or climb. People make an effort to get up the climb and then many tend to ease off slightly once they reach the summit. That is a good place to attack and go very hard down the other side. 10 meters over the top can easily become 100 meters on the way down. On a narrow twisting road you can get out of sight quickly and then you are in with a real chance of staying away.

Another good time to attack is just as another breakaway is being caught. If there has been a hard chase there will be a natural lull that you can take advantage of.

If you are not a sprinter attacking in the last kilometre just before the sprint begins when everyone is watching each other and nobody wants to waste their efforts by leading everyone else out can be a good time. It might only work 5 or 10% of the time but throughout the season that could be two race wins for you.

There are times when it is good to bring a few riders with you such as 20k from the finish and times when you should just try to go it alone such as anywhere in the last 5k.

Do not sit up until you are caught or cross the finish line. I once won a race by keeping going when all of my breakaway companions sat up and said that we were caught and there was no point continuing. The bunch saw them sitting up and the chase eased up too. That was enough for me to open up another gap which grew out again and I made it to the finish alone.

10 : Enjoy racing
There is nothing in ordinary life that can give you the feeling of exhilaration that bike racing can. But you must be involved and not just a spectator in the bunch. No matter how competitive you are against your opposition there is always a mutual respect afterwards that leads to very long lasting friendships.

Racing is what you have been training for. All of those hard winter spins, those intense efforts as you buried yourself in training and those Saturday nights when you were in bed at 9.30pm were all for this, so make the most of it.

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