I’ve recently had the pleasure of riding with triple jump world record holder, BBC commentator, and all round good chap Jonathan Edwards. Here is an interview piece that I prepared which will soon be printed in a north east regional magazine. His new found enthusiasm for cycling and the fantastic north east environment is infectious. I hope I have portrayed both this and Jonathan’s down to earth, friendly, and enthusiastic personality:
When the opportunity arose to go for a road ride with M Steels customer Jonathan Edwards, (Commonwealth, European, World and Olympic Champion, and World Record holder) I jumped at the chance. (Sorry Jonathan, had to get that out of the way early on!). The discipline that made him an international athletics star could not be more different to my own; triple jump compared too long distance mountain bike racing; sub ten second explosive efforts contrasting with hour after hour of aerobic endurance work. I was intrigued to find out why an athlete with his speciality had developed an interest in cycling. As it happens, Jonathan’s enthusiasm for riding was fuelled by similar motivations to my own.
We met up in Morpeth. I had suggested that we rode one of my favourite mid length rides; a challenging loop of just under fifty miles that takes in some of the finest road riding in Northumberland. The route I settled on included some incredibly quiet roads with fantastic scenery, (both are endearing features of the county) some demanding and substantial climbs, and plenty of twists and turns, which add an engaging technical element to the riding.
Within minutes we were out of the town and took a left turn onto the Pigdon and Netherwitton road. This is a great start as the traffic is virtually non-existent and the road flows and dips through picture postcard vibrant green farm land. Jonathan was test riding a pair of tubular shod Mavic Cosmic Carbone Ultimates on loan from M Steels and we both agreed that they were a perfect wheel for this type of undulating terrain. At a shade under 1200 grams for the pair, I suspected they would climb pretty well too!
I asked Jonathan why he had decided to get into cycling, particularly as it was such a departure from the discipline which he had focused on so intensively;
“I decided that I wanted to get fit again after seven years of no real exercise. I had played golf during that time but it does not really boost your fitness. Cycling is also so different to my triple jump training; I’ve never done endurance work before so it’s a great challenge and I’m learning something new, training by heart rate for example. I’d like to get better at climbing, I’d love to fly up climbs!”
Well, that’s fortunate because after our gently undulating start there was going to be plenty of opportunity to practice climbing on this loop! We hit the first real ramp in the road; a short but steep pitch that takes you over and down to Forestburn Gate. At this point the Cheviots open out in front of you, Simonside sits serenely to the left, and the road dives satisfyingly through a tree shrouded ford.
As we headed towards the front of Simonside we discussed the differences in our training regimes. Our worlds could not have been more alien! Specificity is a golden rule for athletic performance in general; one practices the activity itself or the key components of that activity which are then stitched together to make the whole. Jonathan had therefore focused on sprint work, explosive weight training, and jump specific technique. No need for an endurance base then! I explained some strategies for building a strong base and throughout the ride I highlighted the benefits and applications of various pedalling drills and cadence changes. Jonathan’s enquiring mind and understanding of the importance of technique tells me he is going to get the hang of this cycling lark pretty quickly…
Soon after the quite technically challenging ups and downs in front of Simonside we got into the meat of the ride. The Bilsmoor is a tough climb with a steep middle section and I was impressed in the way Jonathan span up this locally renowned hill. I think he was pleased too:
“I did this climb a few months ago and I must say I rode it much better this time”
Enjoying the Bilsmoor
He’s doing very well; after only riding on the road for less than a year, and pottering round the Lake District on a mountain bike for not much longer, Jonathan was coping admirably with what is essentially a tough loop; this is a ride I complete as a ‘tune up’ for a Marathon length mountain bike race of between 60 and 100 kilometres. So despite a very short history of endurance work, Jonathan was demonstrating a substantial base already.
It’s even more impressive when you consider the busy international schedule that the BBC athletics commentator follows. However, he has managed to squeeze in opportunities to develop his riding:
“I generally spend half the week in London and half the week at home in Newcastle. I don’t do lots of riding around London – it’s pretty scary! But I do have a singlespeed that I use on rollers in my London flat. It’s really good for technique”.
After plummeting down to Elsdon, we had little respite before the rhythm breaking ascent of Winter’s Gibbert. I too have long been an advocate of pinching training time here and there; you don’t have to ride climbs like this day in day out to develop your climbing ability and technique. Skills sessions on rollers or the turbo trainer pay off on days like this so that you can enjoy a challenging ride in beautiful scenery. I wondered whether Jonathan felt the unspoilt north east environment had helped cultivate his interest in cycling;
“Definitely! It’s a total revelation. From my home in Newcastle it’s literally five miles until I am out into unchartered territory. I’ve found some stunning places in Northumberland, simply through getting out on my bike. Sweethope Lough is beautiful and this loop we are doing today is pretty special too. I’d also like to get out towards Alwinton at some time. The low car count is perfect. It’s great for training”.
We cruised past Harwood Forest, a favourite road of my own. With a wall of trees to the left, rolling copse dotted fells to the right, and a big sky above, the sense of space is dramatic yet tranquil at the same time. Soon after, we passed the Dyke Neuk and cruised through an undulating quiet lane to Mitford, the end of the ride in sight.
Jonathan really rated the Mavic Cosmic wheels he had been testing. The wheels were noticeably helping him carry speed, particularly through these types of dips and rolls in the road, a characteristic of high end deep section wheels. They are a great example of the quality stock that M Steels carries and I asked Jonathan why he was a customer of M Steels:
“You have to Steel yourself before you go in! (That’s one each in the bad pun stakes Mr Edwards!) You have to tell yourself that you aren’t going to spend any money… but it’s like an Aladdin’s Cave. The new shop is excellent and a huge improvement on the old premises. The service is friendly and the guys really know about cycling. Whenever I visit I’m well looked after”.
We rolled into Morpeth to finish a classic route. Both of us had enjoyed a great morning in the saddle and agreed how invigorating a good ride could be. With his new found and infectious enthusiasm for cycling, interest in equipment, and the technical aspects of riding I wondered whether Jonathan had any specific cycling goals;
“I’m not particularly event orientated. I just want to improve. I was very stats orientated as an athlete so even an average speed increase of half a mile an hour would be very satisfying. I think the best thing about cycling though is that I feel much better in myself – it’s a general feeling of wellbeing. A vibrant everyday feeling of having more energy”.
These are the core reasons that I ride too. Competition is extremely exhilarating but the main reasons I ride are the huge health benefits and the simple enjoyment of being on a bike. There are few better places to ride a road bike than in Northumberland and I hope that Jonathan continues to enjoy his exploration of our incredible landscape. We are so lucky to have this amazing environment on our doorstep and a bike ride is the perfect way to experience it.