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On a beautiful autumn Sunday, 110 cyclists gathered in Sheffield for the third annual Out of the Saddle charity sportive, for the first time organised in partnership with the La Squadra cycling club and Nonnas restaurant. After the ride, we pulled some of the riders away from their pasta, Peroni, Wattbike races (for those who still had the legs) and massages (for those who didn’t) to talk to them about their experience that day. Interviews by Tony O’Donnell, photographs by Jodi Hinds.
Rotherham-based professional cyclist Russell Downing currently rides for the Endura Racing team. He and his brother Dean are the founders of the Out Of The Saddle charity initiative.
“Out of the Saddle is four years old now. Our charity dinner and auction first came about as an after-season get-together for family, friends and supporters, mainly because we’re away so much of the year, and there’s so much happening at that time of year that if you went to every function you’re invited to you’d end up looking like Jan Ullrich1. We’ve tended to pick a different charity to support each year, something that’s close to home or where we felt we had a connection. This year Dean came up with one that’s called Brothers on Bikes. It’s two young brothers who lost their uncle to cancer; they’ve always had an interest in bikes but have never ridden seriously. They decided to ride from Land’s End to John O’ Groats. We met them during the Tour of Britain and chose to support their charity. Dean and I are brothers on bikes obviously, so the connection was there. Dean gave their dad a call and the boys were over the moon. We’ll do a ride before the dinner with members of their family and hopefully raise quite a bit of money for their charity.
“Swifty is one of the biggest supporters of Out of the Saddle since we first started it, he was riding for Team Katusha at the time and said he wanted to support it; whenever he can he turns out and supports the rides which is great. Obviously cycling’s gone crazy this last six months with the Tour de France and the Olympics, and we’ve had so many people wanting to come to the dinner, or support it with a donation or something for the auction. We have a lot of the British pros coming, including three of the jerseys from the Tour of Britain, [overall winner] Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, [king of the mountains winner] Kristian House and [points classification winner] Pete Williams; we will be auctioning signed jerseys from all three, and there will be a good number of current and former pros turning out. It’s a busy week, but it’s all good.”
Dean Downing is Russell’s brother and rides for the Rapha Condor Sharp professional racing team.
“I enjoyed the ride. I’ve always enjoyed riding round these parts. People have come up to me and said ‘ooh, that was hard’, but they’ve all enjoyed it, and if we hear that then it’s all the boxes ticked for us. The ‘challenge’ part in the title kind of gave it away; it was tough as while 100km isn’t super far, there was a lot of climbing. The scenery out there is stunning though, and Russ more so than me trains around here quite often. At the top of the Hope Valley it was just beautiful, and everybody had a good time. A couple of the lads in the espresso [fast] group were pushing Russ and Swifty, but we had a pretty good group; people seemed to settle into groups of their own and go at their own pace on the hills.”
Sheffield-based sprint specialist Ben Swift rides on the road for British superteam Team Sky, but is equally accomplished on the track; he is currently the men’s scratch race world champion.
“The ride was good, really good. I know a lot of the climbs, this being my local training ground, but it’s really nice to have an event like this. I was supposed to be in China [for the Tour of Beijing] but I crashed in Belgium a couple of weeks ago, so I’m ride fit but not race fit at the moment. That kind of put an end to my season. I wanted to be over there going for stage wins; I tried to get myself ready for it but it was just too short notice. There wasn’t enough time to get myself race fit, and with it being so far away it’s not like I can just jump on a plane the day before.
“Nowadays I do a lot of my training with Russ and Dean. We have a big chain gang2 on Tuesdays and Saturdays around the local area, and there’s a group of us that go out into the Peaks too, doing a lot of the climbs we’ve done today. I’d say we’re very lucky to have what we’ve got here. Today there were a few people attacking around, but we rode as a decent group, it’s all good fun. It was nice to see cyclists of so many different levels of ability out.”
Matt Rodgers is a La Squadra regular, and also rides with Harworth and District Cycling Club.
“I’m not fast on that kind of course. I’m not a climber, more of a rouleur3 really, so I found it really tough today. Through Strines was difficult, especially that long one coming out of Oughtibridge [Jawbone Hill], but generally it was a beautiful ride, stunning views. When you’re coming over Strines, looking down on the reservoir and the sun’s out… tremendous. Most people rode with friends of a similar ability, helping each other along. It’s good to do something for the charity too, I’m going to their dinner next week. I’m looking forward to it.”
Vick Cotton is a member of “La Squadra Rosa”, La Squadra’s female contingent.
“The best part of the ride was coming home! We took a bit of a short cut coming back, so we did just under 50 miles, so not a massive amount out. It’s been hilly and it’s been fun. Beautiful weather, and lots of nice, friendly people. Jawbone Hill was a tough one. I stuck it in the granny gear at the bottom and just plugged away. I set off in the latte [steady] group with my friend Sara. We were representing La Squadra Rosa. The Rosa are friends as much as cycling buddies. It’s good to ride out that way as a group, you feel a lot more secure and safe than when you’re on your own, and it’s great fun.”
Sheffield’s own Malcolm Elliott is something of a local legend. He was a member of the ill-fated ANC-Halfords team, the first British team to enter the Tour de France in 1987 (the story is entertainingly told in Jeff Connor’s Wide Eyed and Legless). In 1981 Malcolm set a course record of one minute 14.2 seconds on the famed Monsal hill climb – a record that has yet to be beaten. He was still racing professionally at the age of 50, and now manages the Node4-Giordana racing team.
“I got involved with this event because I know the Downings, I know [La Squadra co-founder and co-owner of the home of La Squadra, Nonnas Restaurant] Gian, having frequented Nonnas for many years. Russ and I were team-mates at Candi-Pinarello a few years back, right before he went to Sky. In fact I raced with his father, going back a good few years.
“I know pretty much all of the roads on today’s ride apart from a couple of drags that I’m less familiar with. It’s sometimes a double-edged sword, when you know what’s coming. This year, because I’ve been so involved with the team that I now manage, training’s taken a back seat, very few and far between, so my fitness is a bit borderline. Whereas on a flat road you can just hide away a bit, the hills expose everyone’s ability, so I just suffered. Across Strines it’s just one after the other, bish bash bosh! It’s plenty of fun to do that, and to be out with the group. There’s always a brilliant atmosphere on these rides. For me, I’ve seen when cycling was an unknown sport, and the way it’s grown the last couple of years… people I’ve known socially who weren’t cyclists years ago have discovered it, and that’s great. The popularity of the sport has been building for a good few years and now the fruits are being borne.”
Dave Crowther has travelled across the Pennines to take part in the ride. While a keen and experienced cyclist, before now he has not joined a club.
“I’ve come over from Marple near Manchester with a group of friends, principally because I met Gian on a cycle ride in Italy. That’s when I found out about him being utterly passionate about cycling. Doing it the Italian way, a different way, what I like about that is that it’s a different experience. For whatever reason I’ve never felt inclined to join a traditional cycling club, partly because it’s difficult to commit the time, and partly because of the usual trepidation. It’s got style to it, it’s got panache, and the first time I came over I didn’t know anybody, and the lovely thing about La Squadra is that everybody made me feel welcome, which wasn’t necessarily the same experience I’ve had at every sports club. Plus coming in to Nonnas or Baldwins is great too. I’ve done lots of sportives, and often it’s a pretty ropy pasty at the end or a few gels, and everyone gets in their car and drives off. This feels more like we like to behave too. We’re looking at setting up the Manchester chapter of La Squadra. We’ve been looking for a form of identity, and I think that human beings being very tribal people need that; we don’t necessarily want to be walking adverts for a particular brand of clothing. The Italian kit’s lovely, it feels authentic but fits into Yorkshire. Yorkshire people don’t like things that are airy fairy but it fits in perfectly. Tough guys going up tough hills, with Italian style.”
Tim Hubbard is one of the co-founders of the La Squadra cycling club.
“It’s been fantastic to be involved with the event today, we seem to have come a long way even in the couple of years since we set up La Squadra. Initially it was something we set up just for fun. At 93ft [Tim’s marketing company] we had already done some work for Planet X [bikes] that had been really interesting and enjoyable. When we first set up La Squadra, we got the website up and running, designed the kit and so on, but it really started to move when Gian brought his expertise in hospitality into the equation. We had set it up, as I say, as a bit of fun, and two months in we had over a hundred members signed up and we were thinking “Blimey!” It quickly became bigger than we had anticipated. There seems to be a ready audience for this idea of leisurely, social riding, and we’re looking forward to taking La Squadra forward.”
Daniel Stocchero rides with Huddersfield club 3RT, and has travelled down for the day.
“I found out about the event because last week it was my 40th birthday, and Dean very kindly passed on a signed jersey from the Tour of Britain. He’s a friend of one of the lads that rides with us. We just got chatting about this, and four of us decided to come down. It was a bit of a rush because we’ve just got back from doing l’Eroica4 in Italy. We did the full distance, it was incredibly difficult. They say it’s a once in a lifetime thing but we’re going to go every year now. But it meant at least that my legs were good for today because I’ve been getting plenty of hills in. The highlight of the day has to be getting back first and beating Swifty in the sprint. I’ve been riding with Dean, Russ, Malcolm and Ben all day and it really doesn’t get any better than that. The whole club is coming down next year.”
Nigel Ould, Mark Jenkins and Chris Moore ride with the Rock Racing club and have travelled down from the north-east for the event.
Mark: “We did this ride last year and it was really professional. We thought we’d come down for another bash. The highlight has to be when we were passed by Bradley Wiggins coming the other way on a black and yellow Pinarello. He was well wrapped up, mind. Doesn’t have a lot of fat on him to keep him warm. He was probably looking for Swifty to get that tenner back. [Disclaimer: these statements may not be factually correct!] The low point was trying to outsprint Ben!”
Nigel: “Some of the roads were dodgy in places, but we get that throughout the UK. We had clear weather and beautiful views, but we looked down one valley on the way back and could see the rain out on the left, it was chucking it down, so I think we were lucky. The last climb, Froggatts, was just amazing.”
Chris: “This ride uses a lot of roads you wouldn’t normally find on sportives. Round here they tend to go for the obvious climbs like Holme Moss or Winnatts Pass. So this was very nice, a bit different.”
Matt Ellis has travelled from the north-west for the ride.
“It’s been a fantastic ride. We’ve been blessed with the weather, of course, but it couldn’t have been any better. I’m actually from Sheffield, but I’ve lived in Cumbria for 20 years, so today we were out in my old stomping ground, over towards Castleton, Bradfield, Mam Tor and so on. Let’s face it, it’s always going to be hilly in Sheffield, wherever you go.
“I’ve been hearing about what’s been going on with La Squadra, and also about the new pizza place where cyclists can meet in the back, so I thought I’d come down and see what it was all about. Will I be back next year? Count on it.”
You can learn more about Out of the Saddle’s work at their website, www.outofthesaddle.org.uk
Brothers on Bikes can be visited at www.brothersonbikes.org.uk
Next year’s ride will take place on Sunday October 13th, 2013.
See more of Jodi Hinds’ photographs from the day at http://www.jodihinds.com/blog/?p=3181
1 Jan Ullrich: retired German racer, now noted for his expanding waistline.
2 Chain gang: term used for a fast training ride where a group of cyclists ride in single file, taking it in turns to go at the front.
3 Rouleur: French term for a rider noted for their ability to maintain high constant speeds over flat terrain.
4 l’Eroica is a popular annual sportive ride in Tuscany where cyclists wear period cycle wear and ride retro bikes.