Here at VeloVeritas we do like the off road world, we’ve owned our share of Muddy Foxes, Specialized Rock Hoppers and Kleins but there’s just so much else to talk and write about – the Scottish scene, the Flatlands, the road, interviews with pros, track, cyclocross, the Six Days…
So apologies to the fat tyre brigade it’s not that we don’t love you.
But one man we can’t ignore is Orange Monkey’s Rab Wardell; he understands that as a professional athlete you have to engage the Press, keep them on side and make it easy to write about you.
And that’s how we came to be sitting down with him in the Cafe of the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, recently.
How was your 2013 MTB season, Rab?
“I started well but kept going down with illnesses, I think I over-cooked it.
“I rode well enough in the first two World Cups but then went down with a sinus problem after the Peebles Criterium in the summer.
“It was a bit of a cycle of illness then rest and recovering before getting back into it.
“I was fifth in a round of the British National Series; 10th in The Brazil Ride; 11th in the Langkawi Mountain Bike Tour and top 20 in two UCI races in China.
“All told I have around 80 UCI points – I seem to ride well at international level but mess up in Britain …”
And how did the ‘13/’14 cyclocross season go?
“I rode almost no ‘crosses this season – I was racing mountain bikes until November.
“I had a good ‘12/’13 season but decided to play it lower key this winter – although I did ride ‘Dig in at the Dock’ in Bo’ness but punctured, I made up a minute on the front group but didn’t quite get up to them.”
Do you still ride the road?
“I rode the British Road Race Champs in Glasgow but got held up by the early crash.
“It’s not a priority for me but I ride it as part of my training – trouble is that I can’t just ‘ride round,’ I just have to get stuck in.”
Are you full time with Orange Monkey?
“Yes, I was with Trek last year but it wasn’t what I’d hoped for, I rather got left to my own devices in the UK.
“The thing was that their Australian rider, Dan McConnell won the first World Cup and understandably they put the bulk of their resources behind him.
“The Orange Monkey team started ten years ago as a club team and has grown since then to be a professional off road team with a network of good sponsors. The frames are carbon by Polygon – it’s a new brand but the company has it’s own factory in the Far East.
“The French company Bos supply the suspension; Shimano the drive trains; KCNC cranksets, Formula brakes and Schwalbe tyres. They’re ’29-ers’ the 29” wheels smooth everything out and seem to roll better.
“We have the option to run single or double chain rings but I’ll be on double rings for my next race – the Cape Epic, it has an awful lot of climbing.
“We have a manager and soigneur and employ a mechanic for the big races – we’ll have one in South Africa for the Epic.
“I have seven weeks in South Africa coming up, the team has obtained sponsorship from Paarl Media – a South African commercial print company – and we ride the first World Cup of the year in Pietermaritzburg after the Epic.”
Tell us a little about your training.
“I think we face the same problems as the road guys – on the one hand coaches talk about peaking and periodisation but you have to be performing at a good level all the time because there are so many races you have to ride.
“I ride the rollers, the road, off road and go to the gym.
“But I tend to do the hard work at training camps – putting in up to 30 hour weeks on the bike – and concentrate on maintaining my level between camps.”
Can you get to the very top in MTB staying in the UK or is it like the road where you have to go to Belgium/France/Italy?
“I think you really have to be in Europe; the Swiss are the dominant nationality in the MTB world at the minute, they have the best riders, the races and if you live there then you always have other quality riders to train with.
“Grant Ferguson and Kenta Gallagher are based in Manchester but spend a lot of time in Europe.
“The thing in Scotland is that you have the facilities and terrain but it’s difficult to get together with other riders of a similar level to train with.”
The Commonwealth Games must be a big goal – are you on the squad?
“There are another six or seven riders in Scotland who could go – Grant Ferguson, who’s the stand out; but then there are the Batchelor brothers Hamish and Seb, Gareth Montgomerie, Kenta Gallagher, Iain Paton and Dave Henderson.
“From those only three can ride – the selection criteria is a wee bit complex; you have to be within 106% of the time of the winner of a major UCI race provided he’s in the top 50 of the UCI rankings or a former medallist in the Commonwealth Games, European Champs or Worlds.
“I have UCI points but they’re not relevant – however, if I ride well in South Africa then I could achieve the criteria.
“The selection window closes on May 15th with the selection made June 19th.”
I believe you had a hand in the design of the Games course?
“A wee bit; it’s a course for a consistent rider – technical but not overly so – a lap is around four kilometres to be covered seven times.”
Who’ll be the main opposition in Glasgow?
“The Aussies, New Zealanders, Canadians and Republic of South Africa riders – it’s a tough competition.”
Goals for 2014?
“The Games, obviously – but first I have the Cape Epic, that’s eight stages over 700 kilometres in March.
“Then there’s the first World Cup in Pietermaritzburg in mid-April; there are seven World Cups but I won’t be riding them all – there’s one in Australia for example.
“Then of course there’s the British Series, the Nationals and the Marathon National Champs at Selkirk.
“It’s a busy calendar…”
Rab says he’ll let us know how the Cape Epic goes; and we’ll be covering more on the MTB front – honest!
Images courtesy of Geoff Waugh © www.waughphotos.com