TWITTER COMPETITION: Win a copy of ‘Golden Kicks’ signed by Stan Smith

9781472937049To celebrate the release of Golden Kicks: The Shoes that Changed Sport, we’re giving away three copies of  this fabulous book, signed by trainer icon Stan Smith!

To be in with a chance of winning a copy, tell @BloomsburySport what your all-time favourite sports shoes are – with hashtag #GoldenKicks.

The competition closes at 23:59 GMT on 22 November 2016. Bloomsbury Sport will choose three entries at random after the closing date and the winners will be announced on Monday 28 November 2016.

Terms and Conditions:

1. By entering this competition you agree to these Terms and Conditions. There is no purchase necessary to enter.

2. The prize (three winners) is a copy of ‘Golden Kicks’ signed by Stan Smith.

3. The competition opens at 09:00 GMT on Tuesday 15 November 2016 and closes at 23:59 GMT on 22 November 2016. No entries will be accepted after this closing date.

4. Only one entry per person, and the prize winner will be picked at random by Bloomsbury after the closing date. Unsuccessful entrants will not be notified. The prize winner must claim their prize within 14 working days of Bloomsbury sending notification. If the prize is unclaimed after this time, it will lapse and Bloomsbury reserves the right to offer the unclaimed prize to a substitute winner selected in accordance with these rules.

5. The competition is open to people who are UK residents, over the age of 18, but is not open to employees of Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, their families, agents or anyone else professionally associated with the draw.

6. Bloomsbury’s decision on all matters is final. No correspondence will be entered into. Entries that do not comply in full with these terms and conditions will be disqualified. Late, illegible, incomplete, defaced or corrupt entries, or entries sent through agencies and third parties, will not be accepted.

7. The prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative is available.

8. By entering this competition you agree that Bloomsbury have the right to feature details of the winning entrants in subsequent press and PR activity. Please see Bloomsbury’s privacy policy for how we use your information.

9. Bloomsbury may disqualify entries from winning if it has reasonable grounds to suspect that they are in breach of these terms and conditions or your participation is fraudulent, unfair or unlawful.

10. Bloomsbury may cancel the competition for reasons outside of its reasonable control.

11. Bloomsbury may amend these terms and conditions without notice, by posting changes to them on this website.

12. Bloomsbury does not accept any responsibility for any network congestion, technical failure or other problem in any telephone line, network, system, provider or otherwise which results in any communication not being properly recorded or received.

13. Bloomsbury (and its associated companies) excludes responsibility and all liabilities arising from any changes to the prize details which are beyond its control and for any act of default of any other third party supplier. In the event of unforeseen circumstances, Bloomsbury reserves the right (a) to substitute an alternative prize of equivalent or greater value and (b) in exceptional circumstances to amend or foreclose the promotion without notice. No correspondence will be entered into.

14. Entrants’ details will be held by Bloomsbury but will not be passed on. Bloomsbury adheres to the data protection legislation surrounding the use and storage of your personal information.

15. To the extent permitted by law, Bloomsbury exclude all warranties and representations (whether express or implied), and all its liability (including without limitation for negligence) regarding this competition or the prizes (other than for death or personal injury resulting from its negligence) including without limitation all indirect or consequential loss or damages, loss of profit, or loss or damage to data.

16. These terms and conditions are governed by the laws of England and Wales.

17. This competition is promoted by: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP.

Posted in Competitions

The Shoes that Changed Sport


Guest post by Jason Coles, author of Golden Kicks (@goldenkicksbook)

Since writing Golden Kicks one of the questions I get asked frequently is ‘what are the top five most significant shoes in sporting history?’ It’s actually a really tough question to answer because there are so many worthy shoes (there are over 50 in Golden Kicks!) that are important not just because they were worn to win gold medals and trophies, but because they had an impact on culture, fashion or the sports business. But having thought long and hard, here are my top five. I’ve specifically chosen shoes that are not only significant in the history of sport, but are also shoes that you can find in a good sneaker store and wear yourself.

1. Nike Air Jordan 1


When the Nike Air Jordan 1 was launched in 1985 it marked the beginning of a whole new era in the sports business. The shoe itself wasn’t really all that special. Its design wasn’t particularly innovative and borrowed heavily from its predecessors, but what made it a game changer was that it marked the beginning of the partnership between Nike and Michael Jordan. At the time, few thought that Jordan was anything special but Nike’s Head of Basketball Sonny Vaccaro saw potential greatness in him and persuaded Nike that they needed to sign him. The problem was that Jordan was an adidas fan and so it would take something special to sign him. What Nike offered wasn’t just a sponsorship, it was a marriage based on giving him his own Jordan branded line and $7m over five years, an unheard of amount at the time. When adidas passed the chance to match the offer, Jordan signed with Nike. Together they went on to revolutionise not just basketball, but Nike itself and the way that brands and athletes would work together.

2. adidas Stan Smith


adidas AG / Studio Waldeck

Continuing to grace the feet of tens of millions over 40 years after its debut, the Stan Smith is far more than just a shoe, it’s an icon. Its amazing journey has seen it transform from a cutting edge tennis shoe in the late 60s into a globally adored fashion item and the muse for a multitude of couture collaborations and celebrity endorsements. When British designer Phoebe Philo took her bow at the end of her label’s spring 2011 show wearing a pair of Stan Smiths, they became an overnight sensation. Bizarrely, adidas began withdrawing it from sale, however, leading many to lament the death of their favourite shoe. But unknown to the world, adidas were in reality planning a major re-launch that would become a lesson in modern marketing and when it re-emerged in 2014 the Stan Smith became the shoe to be seen in. Since it’s rebirth three years ago, adidas have sold more pairs than during its entire history, making it the best selling tennis shoe ever and most popular adidas sneaker of all time.

3. Converse Chuck Taylor All Star


Converse Inc

As much a symbol of America as Old Glory, it’s staggering to think that the All Star celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2017. What is also amazing is that during all that time it hasn’t really changed at all. The ‘grandfather’ of all sneakers, the All Star has been the canvas for countless different styles and colourways and has been copied by pretty much every other shoe maker in existence, from Nike (who now own Converse) to Marks & Spencer. Worn by the US Olympic Basketball team to win seven consecutive gold medals it monopolised basketball courts for decades, despite having made it’s last competitive appearance back in 1979. And it shows no sign of losing it’s enormous popularity; people aged 8 to 80 still enjoy wearing it today.

4. Puma Suede

3To many African Americans the Puma Suede is much more than just a shoe. Due to the small part it played in one of the most important moments of the civil rights movement it’s a symbol of defiance. Unwilling to compete for a nation that they felt treated them as second class citizens, many black American athletes considered boycotting the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games. Realising that they offered an opportunity to make a stand however, most decided to use the Games to highlight the injustices they faced. When black American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos came 1st and 3rd in the 200m, they seized upon the opportunity that their success presented them and headed to the medal ceremony.

Receiving their medals shoeless, they wore black socks as a symbol of black poverty, a single black glove and both placed a single black Puma shoe beside them. When The Star-Spangled Banner rang out, Smith and Carlos bowed their heads and raised their gloved fists to the sky in a defiant silent protest that became known as ‘The Black Power Salute’. It was met with complete shock. Booed as they left the podium, they were treated as pariahs for decades. Today their protest is hailed as a landmark in sporting and civil rights history and despite only playing a minor role in their protest, the Suede became a symbol of their defiance. Speaking about them Smith said ‘I wore them when I won the gold medal, and they were sitting on the victory stand that night… it was important that I have them on the stand, because they helped me get there, during the race and long before. They were as important as the black glove and the black socks.’ 30 years later the Suede still serves as reminder to the many who wear it of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ courage.

5. Reebok Freestyle


Reebok Archive

A giant of the sportswear industry, even diehard Reebok fans don’t realize that the shoe that got them there was one of the unlikeliest in sporting history; an aerobics shoe made for women called the Freestyle. Aware of the growing popularity of aerobics during the early 80s, Reebok CEO Paul Fireman decided that the company should make an aerobics shoe for the women who were taking up the exercise in their millions. While competitors followed a ‘pink ‘em & shrink ‘em’ approach, the Freestyle was designed specifically with women in mind and it had a simple, elegant design and was made of very soft leather that bizarrely had only been chosen due to a prototype manufacturing error. Instead of shoe leather, by mistake glove leather had been used to make the prototype but Reebok were so delighted with it’s softness they instructed the factory to keep using it. Being light, needing no breaking in and coming in simple colours, the shoe was an immediate hit and from sales of $300,000 in 1980, by 1985 the Freestyle almost singlehandedly powered Reebok’s sales to $307,000, knocking Nike off the No.1 spot in the US and crowning Reebok as America’s biggest sportswear brand.

9781472937049Read many more stories like these in Golden Kicks: The Shoes That Changed Sport which is available now in all good book stores or online at

And head over to @BloomsburySport for your chance to WIN a copy of Golden Kicks – signed by trainer icon Stan Smith! 


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Posted in Sports shoes | Tagged , , , , ,

Essential exercises to keep you on the bike

Adapted from Ride Strong: Essential Conditioning for Cyclists by Jo McRae


Jo McRae, corrective exercise specialist, personal trainer, bike fitter and lifelong cyclist.

One of the best things about riding a bike is that it reminds us what it feels like to be a kid. It gives us back the sense of pleasure and play that can be lost because of the pressures of modern life and being a grown-up. A bicycle can take us to amazing places, both physically and metaphorically. And often a reintroduction to the bike can kick-start a love affair with health and fitness too.

But I have some bad news that I want to get up front straight away. In many ways the human body is not designed to ride a bike.

The good news is that Ride Strong will give you the understanding and know-how to keep you riding your bike happily and healthily long into the future. Here’s a few key exercises to get you started…

Supine knee extension – strap assisted

Of all the muscle groups that a cyclist ought to learn how to stretch properly, for me the hamstrings come top of the list. Running along the back of the thigh from your pelvis (sitting bones) and down behind the knee, they are a muscle group that can become chronically short and tight in response to sitting for longer than is natural.

h1Hook a strap around the instep of your foot. The strap needs to be solid (not elastic) and long enough to work with comfortably. In these pictures Paul is using a martial arts belt.



h2Lie flat on your back and raise one leg directly above your hip, holding the belt at the knee with both hands (shown). Your lower leg should be relaxed. Relax the straight leg down at the back of the knee.

Your goal is to maintain a slight curve in your lower back in order that you target the stretch most effectively to the lower hamstrings behind the knee. Don’t allow your back to flatten completely or your hips to lift as you go into the stretch or the effective position will be lost.

h3From this start position, slowly extend your leg directly upwards, keeping your foot relaxed and maintaining a curve in the small of your back. As you move into the stretch, feel for the point where if you go any higher you will be unable to maintain this curve, at which point pull firmly on the strap to increase the stretch sensation, and hold for 1–2 seconds. Using your knuckles against your knee as a solid anchor point can help you find and hold the effective position repeatedly. Then, release your lower leg back down to the start position, relaxing the hamstrings but maintaining the knee-over-hip position.

If you are performing the stretch well, you will feel the focal point at the back of the knee. It can take some time to learn to maintain a curve in your lower back while at the same time extending your leg, but if you persist your control in this exercise will improve, as will its effectiveness. It’s important that you focus on the ‘feel’ of the stretch rather than trying to get your leg higher than is optimal for you at any time.

Dumbbell dead lift

The dead lift is the most important conditioning exercise for cyclists to strengthen their back and hips. Learning correct movement technique in lifting and bending movements, and strengthening the muscles involved is vital if you want to prevent back problems getting in the way of your cycling. Strengthening your back and glutes by dead lifting will also provide more power to each pedal stroke when you ask for it, particularly when climbing, accelerating, or pushing hard while seated in the saddle.

p3Place the dumbbell between your feet and adopt a shoulder-width stance either side of the weight. If you have a dumbbell with a flat end it might be easiest to rest it on that end, but if you are working with a spinlock dumbbell you will have to lay it on its side.

Tip forwards towards the weight using the ‘short stop’ technique. Keeping the dumbbell close to your body is good practice, and if you are presented with an object that you need to lift, keeping it as close as possible will help you lift and move it more effectively.

p4In order to reach the dumbbell and lift it off the floor, first arch your lower back as much as you can, as you tip forwards from the hips. Then bend your knees in a squatting action to reach the weight. As you bend towards the floor, keep your knees in line with your feet, and look down at the dumbbell.

Using your legs and back together, and engaging your abdominals by drawing your navel in, push with your feet and stand up tall with the dumbbell, keeping your back neutral. If you struggle to keep your back neutral to pick up the dumbbell from the floor, throughout the set work only within the range through which you can maintain an natural curve in the lower back, and then use your legs in a squatting action to place the dumbbell back on the floor at the end. With practice, and together with some stretching, you will find that you are able to increase your range of movement with good form.

Repeat this movement, tipping forwards from the hips towards the floor as far as you can maintain a neutral spine, and then pushing through your legs to stand up tall and straight. Your knees should always bend slightly to support your back throughout the movement, but not so much that the exercise becomes more of a squat than a bend.

The prone cobra

The prone cobra works all the muscles along the back of the body, but notably isolates the upper-back muscles. The way the exercise is performed here, with the thumbs turned backwards, also works the external rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder, which can become weak through hours spent holding the bars.

c1Start by lying flat on your front, head turned to one side, and your arms at the sides of your body, with your little fingers close to your sides and thumbs pointing away from you.


c2Lift your upper back off the floor, turning your thumbs backwards as you move, and squeezing your shoulder blades together. The goal is to turn the arms backwards as much as possible, keeping them close to your sides and stretching the front of your chest. Leave your legs on the floor if you can, and keep your neck long at the back so that your chin is tucked in and you look down towards the floor. Focus in extending the most through your upper back, by arching through the upper back and opening your chest forwards.

These three exercises combined can help cyclists target the poor posture associated with spending a lot of time seated on a bike or at a desk. ‘Pre-stretching’ the hamstrings allows the cyclists (who tends to have shortened hamstrings) to get into a good deadlift position to strengthen the back and the hips. The Prone Cobra exercise targets the postural muscle of the back and shoulders to correct for the ‘slumped’ posture that can be common.

ride-strongWant to hear more from Jo?  Ride Strong: Essential Conditioning for Cyclists is available to buy at discount from

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Posted in Cycling | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Injury-Free Marathoner

Runners rejoice…the New York Marathon is underway this weekend! Thousands of runners are descending upon New York City and are racing for their best. But with 26.2 miles to traverse, marathon runners are prone to injuries. And you definitely want to know what to do when you’re crossing the Queensboro Bridge and find pain shooting through your foot. Whether you’re tackling the marathon this weekend or jogging around the block, Running Free of Injuries by Paul Hobrough is packed with helpful information for how to run your best and stay pain-free.

Here are three of the most common injuries for runners, and Paul’s advice for how to treat them:

metatarsal-stress-fractureMetatarsal Stress Fracture

  • What is it? A stress fracture is an overuse injury, common at the metatarsal bones in the foot, navicular, and the tibia.
  • How do you get it and what are symptoms? The stress fracture is developed following a repeated movement that stresses the bone, causing micro trauma from submaximal loading. The appearance of a stress fracture brings pain on movement, which increases as movement is repeated, but abates with rest. The pain is characterized as being very local.
  • How do you treat it? Treatment is usually rest, but in the worse cases, you could have to wear an aircast boot for up to six weeks

Achilles Tendinopathy

  • What is it? The Achilles is the tendon that attaches the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles to the calcaneus. The Achilles is such a common area for runners to injure that only the knee can knock it off the top of the injury leader board.
  • How do you get it and what are the symptoms? The pain felt at the Achilles is noticed more as stiffness initially, first thing in the morning. Other warning signs include tight calf muscles and loss of dorsiflexion. The injury cause is largely unknown, despite several Internet articles suggesting that it’s down to poorly fitting shoes, bad running technique or, my personal bugbear, due to over-pronation. The fact is, we just don’t know what the main cause is for developing Achilles pain. What we do know is that the tendon itself breaks down.
  • How do you treat it? Achilles tendinopathy can be treated with several modalities from the physiotherapist, but there are also surgical options. The physiotherapist will use soft tissue massage on the calf muscles and into the foot, ankle joint mobilizations and foot mobilizations. You may well be prescribed in-shoe orthotic inserts if the biomechanics of the foot and ankle are perceived to be at fault. Eccentric or appropriate loading as outlined in the next section are the key route to being free from this common running ailment. However, if the appropriate loading process fails, for those resistant tendons that just don’t respond to the normal physiotherapy, there is shockwave therapy (SWT), a series of shocks derived from lithotripsy, which in layman’s terms is breaking up of hard substances.

Shin splints

  • shin-splintsWhat is it? ‘Shin splints’ is the non-medical term for medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) (Czyzewski, 2012). Shin splints are the bugbear of so many runners, especially for those runners in their second month of training for their first marathon or half marathon. It’s my experience that runners tend to get more injured in their first year of training than in the whole of the following five years!
  • How do you get it and what are the symptoms? Symptoms include dull aching pain at the front of the lower leg, loss of ankle plantarflexion, and pain on lifting toes against resistance. The pain usually is at the start and end of a run initially, and as the injury progresses the pain will get worse. Risk factors have been shown to be increased body mass index (BMI), poor alignment of the small bones in the foot, a loss of plantarflexion (ability to point the toes) and a loss of hip rotation externally (Baker et al., 2001). What this means is that there are key factors of a biomechanical nature that cause overload to the muscles of the lower leg. These muscles can be overloaded through poor biomechanics and also over-training, therefore to fully understand the mechanism of injury is the route to complete rehabilitation.
  • How do you treat it? The treatment is threefold: 1) to stop further injury, 2) reduce inflammation and to strengthen, and 3) lengthen the muscle tissue. Therefore there is a period of ‘relative rest’, which means rest from the aggravating activity, but not just sitting on your couch for the next six weeks. There are plenty activities you can still do to keep fit and aid the rehabilitation. For the inflammation and healing promotion, use ice and compression, and for the muscle rehabilitation, the introduction of a stretch and strengthening programme. There is also a need to look at the wider biomechanics to assess if there is an overload of the tibialis muscle group as result of poor form, or to exclude this and instead research the training load prior to injury for signs of overuse.

Adapted from Running Free of Injuries by Paul Hobrough.

Good luck, New York Marathoners! Which common runner’s injury do you tend to suffer from? Pick one of the three below and we’ll answer questions about it in an upcoming post.

Posted in Marathon, Running | Tagged , , , ,

Data in the Dugout: A Q&A with Sports Geek Author Rob Minto

Sports Geek: A Visual Tour of Myths, Debates, and Data is an amazing, quirky data and infographic-filled tour of the biggest sports around the world. We caught up with author Rob Minto to chat about his research as Major League Baseball’s 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians heats up.

Neither the Cleveland Indians nor the Chicago Cubs have seen a World Series in over 60 years: what can data and statistics tell us to expect in their match-up?

It’s tempting to look at historical parallels, but really, they mean very little. It’s just great narrative for the fans and TV, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

On a very simple metric of runs per game, both scored and allowed, over the regular season, the numbers show that Chicago allow 3.43 runs per game, and score 4.99. Cleveland allow on average more runs – 4.20 per game – and score less, at 4.83 per game. And the Cubs won 103 games in the regular season, to the Indians 94.

Therefore it’s tempting to say that if both teams play like they did all season, the Cubs win, hands down.

But of course, that is a big ‘if’. And game 1 certainly didn’t go that way, with the Indians winning 6-0.

What is worth remembering is that baseball is quite a random game, which is why it needs a long season to work out which teams deserve to be on top. In comparison, football requires fewer games to determine the better teams, given the more physical nature of the sport.

In fact, the World Series at (best-of) seven games is still the equivalent of just 4.32 per cent of a MLB season; the Super Bowl, just the single game, represents 6.25 per cent of the regular season. In other words, looking at season trends will only tell you so much. Form and luck will play bigger parts.

You mention the Moneyball effect in your book: does that trend suggest that data is really everything in baseball?

Data isn’t everything, despite the Moneyball revolution. Data is very good at telling you what the eye can’t see. But statistics, in their cruder form, often don’t tell you about risk, or situations. A player who tries something risky because the game situation demands it might end up with a worse average. That doesn’t accurately reflect ability.

In fact, teams are now starting to recruit using ‘soft’ metrics that data can’t tell you, such as looking at temperament, sociability and other factors, in order to build a team.

It’s worth remembering that sports teams look to find comparative advantage. Data is just one way of doing that. Valuing data for the sake of itself leads to missing other things that could be just as valuable. That being said, gotta get into the data.

What impact are the doping scandals of the early 2000s having on the game today?

The doping scandals forced players off steroids, and that de-powered the game. Less power meant fewer home runs.

That put a premium on stealing bases for a while, but that has since been shown to be a bit too risky a strategy.

So what now? Home runs are on the up again – which might be due to stronger players, or weaker pitching, or both, or something else altogether – we can’t be sure.

What do TV rating for the World Series suggest about the trajectory of the sport?

TV ratings are a big deal: it’s the best barometer we have for interest and health in the game other than attendance. And the trajectory is not good. Nationally, attendance and TV viewings are both falling or flatlining.

Of course, ratings are not generated in isolation. There are trends for watching TV in general that should be looked at, plus other distractions such as elections or other news events. Importantly, are other sports seeing the same pattern?

To a degree, yes: this is a problem repeated elsewhere, including the NFL. The question is how sports administrators respond. They can do nothing and hope that the cycle turns in their favor. Ot they can make changes. Change is, of course, difficult. If there are too many games, or not enough meaningful games, the answer is to cut the number of teams, or alter the structure of the league. But try selling either of those ideas to team owners.

How do you expect the shift in baseball ratings to play out in TV contracts in 2020?

In a word? Badly.

TV companies pay out big contracts in the expectation of viewers and advertising. If ad spend in the next few years is weak – which it probably will be, given the current ratings – then the networks will not want to get burnt again.

It depends on the auction structure of the deal, but it would seem odd for a declining market to attract a higher premium next time round. In which case, less money in the league would mean less money for players. Luckily for the clubs, there aren’t many other leagues for players to move to that command similar salaries. The result will, in most likelihood, be a stagnation in player wages.

Just for fun…Cubs vs. Indians: who wins?

Cubs. For Ferris.


Want to find out more about how sports and data collide? Sports Geek by Rob Minto is now available worldwide, and dives into an infographic tour of more than twenty sports. Discover the importance of data on the field here.

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You can follow Sports Geek author Rob Minto on Twitter at @robminto.

Posted in Baseball | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Racing to Equality

An extract from Kicking Off by Sarah Shephard

“I asked renowned cycling journalist and author Richard Moore for his view on Team Sky’s reluctance to get involved in women’s cycling, as someone who has spent much time in the company of Brailsford and co. He tells me he is less surprised than most by the non-appearance of a women’s Team Sky, asking: ‘Why would they sponsor a women’s team when there isn’t, or hasn’t been, a very healthy women’s scene? If I was a sponsor getting into cycling, I wouldn’t sponsor a women’s team.

‘Having said that, if Sky’s mission is not just about winning the Tour de France but also about encouraging people to ride bikes and promoting the sport, then it’s hard to understand why they don’t have a women’s team.’

Where Moore does see signs of positivity is in the creation of the Women’s Tour, which was launched in Britain in 2014 by sports events and marketing company SweetSpot Group. The inaugural race secured sponsorship from Friends Life, was televised on ITV4 and Eurosport and was deemed an overwhelming success, with huge crowds turning out to line the route throughout the five-day Tour.

SweetSpot’s Director, Guy Elliott, believes that elite women’s cycling was a sport that had been ‘neglected both domestically and internationally’, and that having a standalone Women’s Tour in the UK was a big step towards putting that right. He says: ‘When you look at women’s sport, from the minute women enter adolescence they are treated as second best. One of the agendas we want to wrap around our Women’s Tour is that they’re not second best, so they should be treated in their own right as athletes.’

Richard Moore agrees that the Women’s Tour could be ‘a real game changer’ in terms of bringing in sponsors for teams, telling me: ‘If it’s televised every year and there continue to be the huge crowds, then if I was a sponsor with half a million pounds, I would probably think it is worth doing for that. You need those flagship events first before you can get sponsors coming in wanting to be involved.

emma pooley

Image by Peter Trimming from Croydon, England – Emma Pooley, CC BY 2.0,

‘Sponsors get involved in sport because there’s something in it for them. Trying to persuade them to back a team because they should do it or for politically correct reasons are not very good ways of selling a sport. You have to give them a better commercial reason for doing it and I think that’s slowly what is happening.’

Another race that launched in 2014 with the aim of getting women’s cycling back on the map was La Course. A circuit race contested over 13 laps (91 kilometres), La Course takes place on the morning of the final stage of the men’s Tour de France and on the same stretch of Paris tarmac where the men end their own race later that day. It was the result of a determined effort from a group of professional female cyclists calling themselves Le Tour Entier (meaning ‘The Entire Tour’), who decided the time for change had come and launched a petition for the return of a women’s Tour de France. While the UCI remained adamant that a full Tour remained a logistic impossibility, La Course was deemed a sign that their attitude to women’s cycling was starting to change.

In an essay for the Independent newspaper ahead of the inaugural running of La Course, one of Le Tour Entier’s members, Britain’s own Emma Pooley, wrote that, ‘A women’s Tour next year would be an impossible leap: the media coverage, fan base, sponsorship and professionalism of the women’s sport has to develop gradually. But La Course is a radical step change in that development.’

While the race isn’t the most challenging circuit on the women’s calendar (apart from in the pouring rain when the surface becomes dangerously slippery, as happened in 2015), and doesn’t bring the winner anything as tangible as a jersey, a title, or a medal, it is of huge significance to female riders for one single reason: audience. The Tour de France is watched by millions worldwide, and thanks to its scheduling on the same day as the men’s race arrives in Paris, La Course is televised in 157 countries, giving it a greater reach than any women’s road race has ever had (except perhaps for the Olympic road race). For team sponsors, it’s the sort of shop window they might never have expected women’s cycling could offer.

Now two years old, the La Course effect is starting to take shape. In 2015 the second edition again featured one of the season’s strongest line-ups of teams and riders, while the prize money (£4,250 to the winner and £16,000 overall) was one of the highest on offer in women’s cycling. The success of the event is also starting to have a domino effect. In 2015 9781472913838the men’s Tour of Spain (the Vuelta) included its own La Course for the first time after race organisers Unipublic agreed to host La Course by La Vuelta on Madrid’s central boulevard, the Paseo de la Castellana on the final day of the men’s race. So it appears as though more eyes are being opened to the fact that women’s cycling has as much to offer as men’s.”

Kicking Off: How Women in Sport Are Changing the Game by Sarah Shephard is available to buy now at discount.

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Posted in Cycling, Women in Sport | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Science of the Tour de France

Science of the Tour banner

Guest blog by James Witts

Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Llandis, Lance Armstrong… The peloton’s worth of professional cyclists who have risen and fallen at the tip of a needle has left cycling’s reputation tarnished. Okay, that’s an understatement. Until Russia and their nefarious goings-on drew the world’s attention, cycling was the go-to sport whenever the words ‘doping’ and ‘professional sport’ were uttered from the lips of sporting commentators.

Many felt cycling deserved its dirty reputation; many deserted the sport, disillusioned that suspicion eclipsed enjoyment when it came to watching the world’s best. Chris Froome, for one, can’t escape the shadows of the past, the French press, in particular, questioning the legality of his every pedal stroke, every stage win, every Tour victory.

But Froome has passed every test (be it blood or urine) and he’s had many of them – the leader of the Tour is tested after every stage and cycling has led the way when it comes to implementing the biological passport, which measures a rider’s levels of new and old blood cells for signs of either EPO abuse or blood boosting. Compared to higher-profile sports like football, which many feel is apathetic and complacent when it comes to anti-doping measures, cycling is positively militant in seeking out the dopers.

Though they seek, they rarely find – there hasn’t been a high-profile positive case in cycling since Lance opened his heart – and medical cabinet – to Oprah Winfrey; instead, Team Sky’s fabled marginal gains have become shorthand for ‘racing fast, racing legal’. Cycling is hamstrung by its past; until Team Sky came along, it was all about racking up the miles, eating pasta and, all too frequently, seeing the team’s doctor for an artificial boost.

Sir Dave Brailsford and his team recognised these manacles and set about unlocking them by doing things differently. Where once teams would have spent a million pounds on a rider and their illegal performance enhancers, Sky would spend £900,000, paying the remaining £100,000 to a sports scientist and coach. Experts in exercise physiology and aerodynamics trawled the world’s sport-science conferences, universities and journals, looking for cutting-edge technology to give them the edge. That’s where my book, The Science of the Tour de France, comes in.

I spent 12 months at the Tour de France teams’ training camps and races – and hours on Skype! – to uncover what goes into creating the Chris Froomes and Alberto Contadors of this world. I interviewed the likes of sprinters Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan, but also the coaches, sports scientists, nutritionists, aerodynamicists and chefs who help to create these champions. I discovered that science plays an increasingly important role in peak performance, and not just at Team Sky but across all teams.

Take the bikes. Manufacturers spend millions designing new frames via CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and wind-tunnel research. A teardrop-shaped frame, for instance, produces 20 times less drag than a round tube. In training, teams will also load the frames with sensors that gauge how a rider’s bike position changes at different speeds. They can then tweak how the rider positions himself on the bike to cut through the air faster.

Skinsuits are one of the greatest time savings. Watch the Tour and these will be omnipresent in the time-trials where it’s man against the clock. Alberto Contador’s apparel sponsor spent upwards of 400,000 Euros designing his suit, mapping his body and pedalling style to determine optimum seam placement and the perfect drag-reducing material.

When it comes to race nutrition, caffeine remains one of the most proven ergogenics, though many teams will begin the day with a beetroot smoothie. They genuinely taste as bad as they sound but research shows that the nitrates within beetroot makes exercise feel easier.

On the most debilitating mountain stages, riders can burn 8,000 calories. Even the most meticulous nutrition plan leaves a 1,200-calorie shortfall, often worse as the riders’ stomachs and digestive systems are pretty wrecked after 2,000 miles of cycling. So riders consuming gels, rice cakes and bars is a common sight around the Alps.

As Team Dimension Data’s Mancunian sports scientist Dr Jonathan Baker told me over lunch in their European base of Lucca – there are perks to this job! – ‘There are 10,000 sports-science journals published each year. It’s my job to sift out ones that might produce gains and actually work in the “real world”.’

And it was my job to relay that information to recreational riders of all standards so that a) they weren’t blinded by academia and b) they could integrate some of the ideas into their own training. That’s what I aimed for in The Science of the Tour de France. Whether I achieved it is over to you…

9781472921703Click here to buy The Science of the Tour de France: Training Secrets of the World’s Best Cyclists at discount.

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