TalkingShop: Dan Craven loving racing in Britain

A question and answer interview with a popular figure in British racing, Namibia’s Dan Craven, who returns in 2012 with IG –Sigma Sport

. Dan was the winner in the most spectacular fashion this year of a stage in Spain (Vuelta Ciclista A Leon)  and next season promises to be a big one with a spot in the Olympics a big target. Dan is one of many riders to come to Britain and help strengthen the sport here.

His presence and  that of many other foreign riders is adding to the strength in depth there is in races now. With teams also becoming more all-round professional and organised, that is having a knock on effect with British riders raising their game to tackle the imports head on and as each year passes, the racing gets harder and more unpredictable.

In this interview, we talk to Dan about life back home, how training there differs to here, his goals for 2012 and how come he has a French female legend on the bike as a coach …

VeloUK: After three years racing for a British team, is the racing like you expected it to be or different (and how if the latter!)?
Dan Craven: Before coming to the UK, I really did not know a lot about the British racing scene.

I had always pictured it as being somewhat similar to South African racing for some reason. Turns out I was pretty wrong.

As much as there is not as much depth as in European races (pro/am level), there is still a healthy depth and the distances of the races are always decent (over 140km, unlike the +-90km races in South Africa).

It would be fantastic for the scene if there were a few more teams, but I would not be surprised if that happens in the next few years.

I was always highly amused by local politics in bike races in Africa and this was no different in the British scene. Fortunately there is nothing nasty going on so none of it is out of control.

VeloUK: I understand you were looking to sign for Europecar? Is that the goal still, ie, to work your way into a ProContinental or WorldTour team?
Dan Craven: It will always be a goal, in some sense to excel beyond where I currently am, and to continue to improve.

That said, I am now 28, going on 29, and have realized that even though I am not riding in the Tour de France, I still absolutely love what I do and would not want to be doing anything else.

I would absolutely pounce on an opportunity to step up but at the same time I am really enjoying my time in the UK and the prospects and opportunities on offer for the next twelve months really excite me.

VeloUK: Some may say with your weather in Namibia, why not race in South Africa? Is there a pro racing scene down there?
Dan Craven: Anyone who has spent any amount of time with me will know that I love complaining about the British weather, after all, what’s life without a pet hate! Unfortunately for me, I do just perform a lot better in hot and dry conditions – something that does not do me any favours when it comes to racing in the UK but the compromise is worth it.

Racing in South Africa would not excite me the way UK and European racing does. Even with better weather, and the financial ease, the racing simply does not suit me (way to short and usually end in bunch sprints) so it is easier for me to train in the rain for races that excite me rather than enjoy the sunshine but have no motivation for the races.

VeloUK: After three years, is there an event in Britain you especially enjoy going to. IE, the Lincoln is many British riders favourite — what is yours?
Dan Craven: I would love to say the Lincoln but I have only ever done it once… I did the Cobble Wobble in Frome this year and as much as I sucked at it, it was awesome! Seriously, who’s good over 180 meters of uphill cobbles in 25 seconds!?

My favorite race of all time? -It is a 340km mountain bike race through the Namib Desert, from the capital to the coast. 24 hour cut off time, there is nothing else like it in the world.

VeloUK: Was the stage win in Spain the highlight of the year? A break that long, it must at least be memorable!
Dan Craven: The win in Spain was certainly huge, just how the whole day worked out and how I was just flying – awesome sensation all round (just such a pity I picked up a stomach bug after that!). I must say though, if I think back on the year, I remember an open road in front of me most of all. And open road with the lead vehicle off in the distance as I spent an enormous amount of time on the front of the bunch working for the team

VeloUK: With the pros here pounding out the miles in the cold, tell us about the environment you train in.
Dan Craven: Hot and dry. Although it has rained a bit already, it has hardly had any effect and with temperatures hovering over 35 degrees on most days, it’s not really a lot of fun being outside over lunch time. If you’re not up by at least 6 o’clock, then you’re not doing a long ride. The other day I left at 4pm and after two hours, I had drunk 1.7 liters and had to pull over to refill.

VeloUK: Am guessing its a bit like Oz in that the choice of training roads is perhaps more limited than around Bristol but probably a lot quieter?
Dan Craven: In my home town (Omaruru), I have two options – go south and eventually turn around and come back or go north and eventually turn around! In both directions, the next town is 65km away so if I want to refill my bottles I have to go all the way. The next town on the northern road is 140km away (where I went to school) so it’s safe to say I don’t get there very often…

VeloUK: Do you have others to train with?
Dan Craven: When I’m in Omaruru, the local carpenter sits on my wheel when he’s on holiday or on weekends. Otherwise I’m on my own on the long, straight roads… If I come to the capital, Windhoek, there are a few more people to ride with but it is a mixed ability group so I only join them for casual rides.

VeloUK: Do you coach yourself or do you have help in that area?
Dan Craven: I have been working with Marion Clignet (famous female pro cyclist)- I met her very briefly in 2006 and was really impressed. Some mutual friends put us back in touch in July 2011 and we have been working together since then.

It has taken me many years to find a coach that is just right for me but now that I have found Marion I couldn’t be more pleased. Thanks to Trainingpeaks, Garmin, Powertap and of course the internet, working with someone that I virtually never see is a breeze.

VeloUK: Do you use any training tools like heart rate monitors or powercranks or just on how the legs and lungs feel…
Dan Craven: I am a very big fan of power – but only if used in conjunction with a coach who knows what to do with the info. Using Trainingpeaks is great and gives you a lot of insight that you would not have otherwise.

VeloUK: You are basing yourself near Bristol where there must be a great selection of roads to choose from. Do you have a favourite ride from there and where does it take you?
Dan Craven: I absolutely love Bristol and my favourite ride must be across the Downs, along Whiteladies, the Triangle and Park street and down to the Harbourside on my fixed wheel. That is a social ride of course so on a more relevant topic – I really enjoy Wales.

A lot of the Bristol gang only go across the old Severn Bridge when they are doing four hours plus, but I’ll go there for rides as short as 2h30. Across the Bridge and then up towards Tintern Abbey and then east to the Forest of Dean or west over the hills in the direction of Usk. The area is beautiful, with quiet, open roads and some stunning views from on top of the Welsh hills.

VeloUK: When do you expect to be heading to the UK to start your season?
Dan Craven: It looks like I’ll be back in the middle of February.. I’m more nervous about the ‘cold-shock’ than anything else really.

VeloUK: Is there a noticeable cultural difference between living in Namibia and England? Speed of life, people’s attitudes etc
Dan Craven: Every time I come home I have had a hissy fit and calmed myself down again all before being picked up at the airport… Yes, there is a very big difference in speed of life and efficiency. African time is definitely a lot slower and things that take hours in the UK can take weeks in Africa.

There is a very big mix of cultures in Namibia with three large groups from European descent mixed in with nine major indigenous tribes. Each has their own language and mannerisms; add in the colonial past and turbulent economics with a very friendly and open population, it makes for a very colourful and interesting society.

People very often have interesting responses when they meet me – most of them are based on incorrect assumptions. If you want to understand Namibia (or me) don’t try guessing. Come and visit – no one ever leaves this country without being enchanted.

VeloUK: I guess the Olympic road race must be really motivating to aim for. Having done the Worlds, do you expect to feel even more excited to be racing in the heart of London at the Olympics (your first?)
Dan Craven: I have little doubt that the Olympics are going to be massive for me, this year and in the future. I will be only the second Namibian to ever compete in the road race and only the third Namibian cyclist at the Olympics, so this is something very big for the country and obviously myself.

Dan wearing the colours of his country ever so proudly at the World Road Championships.

I have already made certain sacrifices that I would otherwise not have made and spending every remaining cent that I earn this year on making sure that I do things correctly. The fact that the race is in London where both past and present sponsors, family and friends are, makes me very excited! The race is a mere 100 meters away from the Sigma Sport shop so that gives an extra flair to it.

VeloUK: How does a small nation like Namibia react to a monster event like the Olympics. Does it get a lot of press for example?
Dan Craven: The Olympics are as big and important in Namibia as they are in all countries. Especially after Frankie Fredericks won several silver medals for Namibia (100m and 200m sprint) around the turn of the century. My name has popped up in the local press on several occasions when talking about the Olympics already and everyone here seems to know that I am going.

VeloUK: If you hadn’t become a bike rider, what would you have chosen to be your career?
Dan Craven: I studied a BA with Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Stellenbosch and feel that I need to back that up with something else after my cycling career. Maybe a MBA one day, but we’ll see…

VeloUK: Finally (I ask all the foreigners this!), if you’re asked by family and friends in Namibia, where should they visit in Britain, what are your top five tips of places to go to!
Dan Craven: My Parents have been over to visit me a few times and I have really enjoyed showing them Bristol, the Peak District, the Canal network and the different cultural mixtures you find in the cities. Oh, and Bristol!

Interviews from VeloUK

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