To many people the first thing they think when they see tandem racing is the 1970s PG Tips TV adverts. I’ll stop there. For Corrine Hall and team-mate Lora Turnham, the multi World Champion Para-Cyclists it is a hard, fast, dangerous and a discipline that is reliant on both riders. Lora is a B1 athlete, which means she is totally blind, Corrine is the eyes for both riders on the bike whilst Libby, Lora’s dog is her eyes off the bike.. Don’t be fooled though, both girls would give most able riders a beating on a track.
I caught up with Corrine recently at the Team Matrix launch in Manchester for an insight to her career on the bike and just how tough it is racing a tandem.
“I started out like many others riders by trying everything going, road, track, MTB and cyclo-cross, I think everyone did cross at that time. I joined Bc’s Talent Team in 2005 and they gave me a cross bike and said go and have a go. At that time it was a case of go and ride your bike and enjoy it and thats what you did when you are 14. I did ok but never managed to win a National Title, I have 3 silver medals, 1 Under-16 which was my first National medal, Rebecca Thompson won it and Becky James got third, so it was a decent podium. Then I moved up to the juniors and got another 2 silver medals. Annie Last beat me in my first year and Ruby Miller the following year.“
So you rode cross for a few years, how did you go from the mud to the track?
“I moved on to ODP whilst I was a junior and then started to concentrate on road and track. I went out to do a few races in Europe with GB and did better then the coaches expected but it was while I was at University the chance to ride the tandem came up.
I went to Brands Hatch to see the Paralympics and I thought this is so exciting but I didn’t have any idea how to get into the para-cycling team. I’d just signed for Matrix around the same time so the Para-cycling went to the back of my mind. I had to concentrate getting results on the road.”
So that was that with the track career?
“No, not at all. I went to the track Nationals in 2012 and won the points race. From that result I received a mail from Chris Ferber, who was the lead coach for Team GB para-cycling which said, “Great result at Nationals, do you fancy giving the tandem a go?” I couldn’t really say no to an opportunity like that.”
Was that the first time on a tandem?
“Yes it was. I got invited out to a camp in Mallorca to try the tandem with Aileen McGlynn but she didn’t want to go for a ride on the first day. It was Lora who agreed to take me out just to see how I went.”
And how did it go?
“Shall We say it was interesting, I was convinced I was going to fall off but I did ok. Lora was very calm on the bike which helped. I was told later she wasn’t scared and she felt I was in control, I didn’t feel the same way to be honest.”
Having a B1 stoker on the bike can’t be easy
“Lora relies on sound when we race on the road. Because she is totally blind she trusts me to give her instructions. In a race We have a few key words I give her so she has an idea of what we are going to do when we are approaching a bend or coming out of a bend, when we need to attack and so on.”
“Before a race We actually have a video of the course to study so We can actually ride it in our heads so when We come to race day she pretty much knows the course. She has had to learn to compensate for her disability by using other methods. She is better then me at remembering a course.”
How do you study a course when you can’t see it?
“We draw a picture of the route on a piece of cardboard for her , then she follows it round with her finger, all the turns and any tricky bits and then when We go out on the road, she remembers when the turns are coming up. Its like a racing driver who walks a track and sees it in his mind and not through his eyes. Obviously I can see whats in front of us but she can actually sense a bend quicker then I can
sometimes see it.”
I’d imagine not many people realise that?
“Its scary just how good her perception is, it amazes me every time. She will tell me theres a bend coming up and I’m “right I was just about to tell you that.”
Is riding on the track easier for the both of you?
“Its never easy but I don’t tell her anything on the boards. She is so clued up on a track, she has raced in velodromes for a long team and she can pick up the dynamics of a track very quickly.”
Looking forward to the Olympics in Rio later this year, although the team hasn’t been announced, you must be fairly certain of going?
“I really don’t know. Nothing is 100% for us. We still have a couple of events to compete in before Rio. Officially the team will be announced at the end of June I think but We’ll know just before that. The final selection event for us is the Belgium World Cup at the end of May and the selection will be a week later. I think there are 9 bikes going for 6 qualifying places so nothing is set in stone until that selection date. Hopefully We have put ourselves in a good position to be selected though.”
Who decides if you go?
“The decision is with the performance staff. They have set out a criteria for selection which we have to meet as athletes. A good result in Belgium will hopefully cement a spot for us. I have to bear in my mind I have to perform for 2 riders in a sense. I have to be the best for me and also Lora, If I fail as an able bodied cyclist I have myself to blame, If I fail with Lora I have let myself and her down so I have to always think about us as a pair and not me alone. I am Lora’s only pilot, We are a team, We work as a unit, Its not that easy to just put another pilot on her bike and hope for the best. Lora can adapt to other riders but as a last minute change its not an easy option.”
The main goal for you in 2016 is obviously The Paralympics but you have re-signed with Team Matrix this year, how did that come about?
“Resigning was such an easy decision for me. I rode for them in 2013 - 2014 and I loved it. Great few years with the team. It was the same time I started with the para-cycling team and Stef(Wyman) was so supportive towards me doing that. It was the perfect set-up for me but because of our UCI commitment in 2015 I had to leave the team which was a huge disappointment.”
What is your programme for the rest of year?
“Not a great deal as a solo rider, because of the commitment to the run up to Rio, I obviously have to make that my main priority but I’m hoping to ride a few Tour Series races and the London Nocturne which will give me a nice little training block. I want to get some results from those but everything has to be focused on Rio.”
Morgan Kneisky is a nice guy, funny with an ever improving command of the English language, he told me and I believe him. Oh, and is the 2015 madison World Champion,the title he recently won with Brian Coquard in arguably the most thrilling race of the 2015 Championships held at Velodrome de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.
Kneisky re-signed with Team Raleigh GAC at the beginning of September after a successful year with the Derby based team and with the new velodrome opening soon it seems the Frenchman is in a perfect place for the coming season. We sat down to talk, not in a posh hotel but in the car park at Kneisky’s first race with his new team mates, the Eddie Soens Memorial at the Aintree race course.
The madison went down to the wire, Coquard beating Viviani in the final sprint for the title must have been so tense for you, did you actually watch the final metres?
“Oh yes I watched, I was thinking to myself, I hope, I hope but I had 100% confidence in Brian, I know he can finish a race well, I think it was easy for him at the end.”
The GB pairing of Mark Christian and Matt Gibson took an early lap up before fading in the final laps of the race, did their move worry the french pair?
“ I wasn’t happy but it didn’t panick me too much, Brian and I knew we had to get on with the race and concentrate on taking the sprints, it actually took a lot of the pressure off us, We would have been attacked all race I think if they hadn’t”
To win any big race in your home country always adds that something special to a title, did kneisky think the crowd gave him a few extra metres.
“Oh the crowd were incredible, the noise just got louder as the race went on, to win in France is so special to me, it is a dream come true, I would say it was the best day of my life, easy”
Kneisky’s first World title was in 2009, taking the scratch race title at Poland, the second coming at the 2013 Championships in Minsk. His first title must have been special, how does it compare to the new one?
“ I said the first one was good but it was a surprise to me to win it if I’m honest, the second one i won in Minsk was special because it was my favourite race, the madison, but, they don’t compare to this one, to win in my home country in front of my friends and family whowatching was the best feeling”
Kneisky signed for a second year with Team Raleigh GAC back in September after a successful season with the British team, what persuaded him to put pen to paper
“It was always in my mind to sign again, no hesitation at all, Raleigh is still a big name in France and Cherie(Pridham, team owner) allows me to ride both on the road and the track. I’m really happy to ride for the team again this year, I feel like I’m part of a family now, I am really happy to be part of it again”
How does the British race scene differ from the French, which does he prefer?
“ oh thats a difficult one,I like the mentality of the British racing, I think it gets better every year but it is a different way of racing in the UK. You get a lot of teams from Spain and Belgium turn up to race in France and the races are so hard but in the UK I think I have more chances to do well on the road”
“My English is better then last year, Yes?”
JODY CUNDY rides a track bike rather quickly, in fact, a hell of a lot quicker then many top able bodied cyclists who pound the boards of velodromes around the World. Multi gold medal winner and the current holder of the 1KM time trial World record setting a time of 1.01.466. Many will remember the start gate incident at the 2012 London Olympics that denied Cundy the chance to defend his Kilo title after the commissaries refused a restart, he secured the bronze.
The recent Newport Paracycling International meeting saw Cundy take the victory in the 1KM TT and after a terrible training period over the winter and a week in hospital during November he must have been happy with the result.
“I’m ecstatic with my form this weekend, coming into it I really wouldn’t say i was in the best condition, I’ve actually trained through it, no taper, nothing. Spending a week in hospital during November I’d say that put me behind where I should be by about 5-6 weeks but I’ve gone 1/2 second quicker then my sea level best and beat the guy who’s the Paralympic Champion, so I’d say a good days work. We’ll take the data away and learn from that before we go to Apeldoorn.”
We see a lot of track racing throughout the season but very few top quality paracycling meetings, that must affect Cundy’s preparation for the big event?
“The number of events is lacking in paracycling and funnily enough it was highlighted very recently by the IPC who ‘gave’ paracycling a position in the 2020 Tokyo games but commented that track cycling may not be sustainable, so the UCI now have it on their radar that they need to promote the sport a lot more.
“We as riders want more opportunity to race, lets get it promoted, lets make it more exciting to watch.”
Arguably the most successful Olympics and Paralympics in history was the London 2012 Olympics which gave Team GB the perfect platform to compete. With promises of the legacy and the expedential rise in cycling in the UK, has the interest in paracycling followed suit or have the general public and the media lost interest?
“ I think the lack of interest is actually worse then it ever was. Pre London, we had a good number of competitions, the media interest was there because of the upcoming games, bear in mind we had 6000 people in the velodrome for 4 days, which I could never put into words the feeling I had racing in front of that many people cheering me on, then the following year apart from Newport at the end of 2013, there were no competitions, at all, it was pretty shocking.”
With the demand for tickets so great for the Olympics and many people were disappointed they unable to obtain tickets, the interest turned to the Paralympics, with the demand for tickets not so great was there a genuine interest from the public?
The reply is balanced but then asked about the momentum of interest after the games the answer is short and to the point
“ I think the split between genuine interest in the sport and i suppose curiosity was about 50/50 I guess, obviously we had family and friends who wanted to see us and then the guys who managed to get tickets for the velodrome who hadn’t been to a track event before and I’d say they really enjoyed it. So the interest was there at the games then somewhere that interest we worked hard to generate vanished and we ended up with the World’s worst programme.
Talking about people’s perception of disability and their perception of paracycling, Cundy is pretty straight talking about his thoughts on why the interest is not as great as it could be.
“ I think the biggest problem we have in the sport is the majority of races are time trials and with the greatest will in the World, three days of that in anyone’s book is a bit tedious. The most exciting racing we have is the tandem sprint and they have taken that out of the Rio Olympics, the only real head to head racing, but We do have a scratch race at the Worlds and that race today(Newport) was as good a race as any I’ve been in and that kind of race will bring people through the doors, I think we need a bit more entertainment at our events.
“We have the riders to put on good events, I’ve just done a 64 in the kilo and I’m a C4, there really aren’t that many riders who can do those sort of times, that probably puts me top 4 or 5 at the National track Championships.”
Not a bad weekends training for Cundy as he leaves for Manchester and home
"I have a rest day tomorrow(Monday) so tonight I'll pick my bikes up from the velodrome and chill out for a while"
Hopefully not for too long.