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Dan Bigham – “I’m somebody who prides themselves on objective decision making”

"I felt I deserved my spot, it’s one of my strongest disciplines, but the selectors thought otherwise, I was told a few days out that I wouldn’t be riding the TP."

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In 2017 he won eight British titles; with his KGF team he’s put together the most effective independent UCI Track World Cup squad there is and when Cycling Weekly want to speak to an ‘aero expert,’ he’s the man they go to.

Dan Bigham has been a regular on VeloVeritas these last two years and we were pleased to see his selection for the Commonwealth Games.

And whilst it’s fair to say that Games sensation – a second shy of the world record – pursuiter Charlie Tanfield could justly be described as Bigham’s protégé – the man himself came home disappointed and with no silverware.

But his burning desire to prove himself as an athlete remains stronger than ever.

A fact he reminded us of of when we caught up with him a day or two after his marathon 36 hour trek home from The Games.

What were you selected for at The Games, Dan?

“The team and individual pursuits, the kilometre and road time trial.”

Dan Bigham
Dan reckons a 1:02 kilo is the highlight of “an average few days” at the Commonwealth Games. Photo©supplied

But you didn’t appear in the England team pursuit line up.

“That was hard for me because it’s the event, along with the road time trial, which I felt I was best prepared for and most suited to.

“There were five of us to consider; Kian Emadi, Ethan Hayter, Ollie Wood and Charlie Tanfield plus me.

“I felt I deserved my spot, it’s one of my strongest disciplines, but the selectors thought otherwise, I was told a few days out that I wouldn’t be riding.

“What was disappointing for me was that in the weeks leading up to the race when I asked what the parameters for selection were, the replies were in vague terms rather than; ‘you have to achieve this or do that.’

“I do realise that in one of our team training sessions a few days after arriving in Oz I was a bit naff – which I put that down to jet lag. I took a few days longer than the others to get over it.

“In some ways I much prefer how we do things in KGF. We sit down as a team, discuss it and thrash out the details. Everything in the open. I feel it’s the best way to be.”

And maybe we’d expected you to be a tad quicker than the 4:17:174 you did in individual pursuit qualifying?

“After the disappointment of the team pursuit I perhaps wasn’t as focussed as I should have been. Those few weeks running in to the race took a lot out of me mentally. I’d spent some time on the phone to my sports psychologist just trying to get my head straight a couple of days out from competition as I really wasn’t where I wanted to be.

“And again, my training as a block running in to Aus wasn’t how I would have done it – but if you’re part of a squad then you do what is set. Three weeks out from The Games we did a 25-hour road week at training camp in Portugal.

“Charlie just rocks up and pulls it out – but if you look at John and his improvement you can see the benefit from knowing which event you’re riding and preparing specifically for it.”

Dan Bigham
Dan in pursuit action earlier this year. Photo©supplied

A 1:02 in the kilometre…

“Yeah, the climax of an average few days: my slowest kilo of the season. I got held in the gate and that just set the tone for the rest of the ride. It was good to see Jonny out there putting in a solid ride, shame about the first lap wobble just costing him the medal.”

We’d expected to see you in the time trial, no disrespect to Harry’s great ride but in recent years in a time trial you’d be quicker than him?

“We’ve never raced against each other, so I couldn’t say that – but I felt I was in good shape to at least warrant one of the three spots.

“I applied for selection in January and by February knew I’d be riding; the four for the race were Charlie and Harry Tanfield, Ian Bibby and me. This was to be cut down to three out in Australia.

“As with the team pursuit there’s no athlete involvement in the selection process. Ian and Harry had been given two ‘secured’ slots and then the decision was to be made between myself and Charlie, which came as a bit of a surprise.

“At no point were we asked for any performance data between January and April, no questions on how we’d prepared, time spent on the TT bike, how any recent races had gone or even how we were feeling!

“To me that makes the process very closed off and subjective, which is a shame. As somebody who prides themselves on objective decision making, I was very disappointed, and it was a hard pill to swallow.”

You have to ‘apply’ for selection?

“Yes, that’s why you didn’t see the likes of Alex Dowsett or Steve Cummings in the ring – not right in the middle of their classics season.”

You must be pleased for Charlie Tanfield and Jonny Wale who was fifth in the kilometre – it’s fair to say they probably wouldn’t be where they are without you and Team KGF.

“I couldn’t be more pleased for them.

“John Archibald’s ride was top drawer and it was good to see our young KGF rider Ethan Vernon riding well for Wales.

“Charlie just comes along and pulls it out of the bag every time, but I think Harry had a bit more to give in the time trial – the trouble is that it’s hard to gauge the ride if you’ve not been riding time trials for the weeks beforehand.

“Jonny has improved his first lap and nailed his pace on laps two, three and four but he did wobble a bit and clipped a sponge – and maybe the gear was a little too high? All things to analyse and take forward to address over summer.”

The kilometre is crazy fast now, isn’t it?

“No 59 second ride, no medal!

“I think that all the medal guys have worked on their pacing, with ‘flat’ pacing being the aim – and on the aero aspect which is obviously massively important at 70kph.”

Dan Bigham
Dan’s extreme position is the result of much thought and testing. Photo©supplied

And in the team pursuit the mythical 3:49 barrier was finally breached – how and why?

“There were a few things; the velodrome was like a greenhouse during the day with it’s roof; at night for the finals they were making sure the doors were shut to try to retain the heat and keep the air density low.

“And of course, there’s the advantage conferred by the fact that the Aussies were catching the England team. Just another team on the track is worth at least two seconds and that increases as you get closer because you experience more of the other team’s aerodynamic wake, you’re not having to ride through still air.”

You’d be having a good look around at who was riding with what, no doubt?

“There was some cool stuff on display but for The Commonwealth Games it’s not going to be like the Olympics where the very fastest skinsuits are used – and of course you have sponsorship issues, the suits may be logo-ed ‘X’ but are actually manufactured by ‘Y.’

“The Aussies have moved on now that Simon Jones [former British Cycling endurance coach who was Sky head of performance support and innovation before moving to Australia as performance director, last year. ed] at their helm now and they’ve made strides with the bikes…

“If you look at their aerobars for example, and the cranksets they’re on now; they’re from BF1 Systems who do a lot of work in Formula One and provide a wealth of data, all connected by WiFi to a central data hub so the coaches can analyse the data immediately to a high level of accuracy.”

On the subject of data, who was looking after the WattShop when you were away?

“My brother, he did a good job, I kept in touch by email but we’re getting very busy so I have a lot to do there now!”

Chris Boardman’s new wind tunnel will surely stimulate interest in ‘aero’ for your business?

“I’ve been talking to Chris and will be going to launch of the facility, there’s a lot of mutual interest.

“His prices for use of the tunnel are good, historically it’s been a very expensive process so it’s great to see him bring aero to the masses.”

Are you going to have a ‘breather’ before you get back into racing?

“No, I have the Rutland tomorrow!

“I want to get some decent road results this year but my big focus is on the National Time Trial Champs in Northumberland at the end of June – I have a point to prove there.”

Dan Bigham
Dan is many times British Champion. Photo©theraceforthecafe

You’ve spent the winter riding big UCI track events in Portugal, Switzerland, Belarus and most recently, The Gold Coast – are you still motivated for early morning time trial starts in remote lay-bys?

“In some ways it’s quite nice, you miss home and it’s fun to be riding a club ‘10’ or going out with the local chain gang.

“I’m missing a little at the end of four-kilometre team pursuits, I need to work on my aerobic capacity and 10 and 25-mile time trials are ideal for that.”

What’s in store for Team KGF come the 2018 track season?

“Selections permitting, the European Championships are in Glasgow this year and we hope to ride at least four of the six UCI Track World Cups –

  • Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (France) – October 19-21, 2018
  • Milton (Canada) – October 26-28, 2018
  • Berlin (Germany) – November 30-December 2, 2018
  • London (England) – December 14-16, 2018
  • Cambridge (New Zealand) – January 18-20, 2019
  • Hong Kong (Hong Kong) – January 25-27, 2019

“We have new sponsors in the pipeline and that bit more money than last year so we won’t have to worry so much about cheap hotels and what the airlines are going to charge us for the bikes!”

Good to see Bigham and Co. ‘just doing it’ – VeloVeritas looks forward to seeing how they fare in the Europeans and World Cups with interest.

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

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