TalkingShop: Sam Harrison – Boot camp is win win for me

Welsh rider Sam Harrison, a second year under 23, is in Beijing preparing to rattle the Chinese boards in the Team Pursuit after six weeks in a GB boot camp

Larry Hickmott writes … When I think of Sam Harrison, I think of a rider not afraid to attack and one ready to put himself in a box to win a bike race. But, for the last six weeks, that determination has been used to try and keep up with riders who may well be Olympic Champions in the 2012 London Olympiad. Who knows, perhaps Sam will be one of them in August …

Sam is in Beijing right now and his trip to the World Cup was not in his original long term schedule but he is glad to be back with his mates and ready to do a ‘ride’ in the Team Pursuit.

It was only the year before last, 2010, when Sam was a junior and ripping up the road in the Peter Buckley national series but a year on in 2011, he won a Bronze medal at the World Track Championships (Holland) and now is working his ass off to make the team for London 2012.

Sam is a podium programme rider in the GB Cycling team and the only podium programme rider in the team for Beijing. The reason for putting Sam back with his Academy mates who he still shares a flat with in Manchester, is to see how he has improved after the six weeks in the boot camp with the likes of Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas and Ben Swift. It has been a tough training camp for Sam and he paints a pretty grim picture of how he has suffered at the hands of the riders who he has been training with.

Many of the riders he is training with have Grand Tours in their legs and are quickly progressing as they find their track legs. Sam too feels he is progressing but says it’s a never ending pursuit chasing to be at their level. It is not unusual for a rider so young to have that gap to close. Jason Kenny before Beijing was not the rider he was six months later when he gave Sir Chris Hoy the biggest fight of anybody for the Gold in the Sprint. But as Jason said to me, if you’d good enough, you’re old enough.

Same with Sam Harrison.

Talking about the training camp, he says “It’s quite hard to enjoy it and have good morale when you’re getting a kicking every time you get on the bike. It’s also hard to see the improvement at the minute because people like Pete (Kennaugh), G (Geraint Thomas) and Swifty (Ben Swift) with the road in their legs, they cope with the hard work a lot better. I found in the boot camp I was waking up with such sore legs and so tired because I just don’t have stage race legs.”

“Them boys having the Tour de France and Giro in their legs are coping a lot better!”

“The idea is to step out of that and go to Beijing with the academy lads and try to put in a good performance in the Team Pursuit.”

The last time Sam was in Beijing, he won the Omnium but this time the task to win that for GB will fall on the shoulders of the comeback kid, George Atkins. The Team Pursuit in Beijing is held over two days and the final is held on the first day of the Men’s Omnium. So Sam gets a ‘rest’ and will concentrate on the Team Pursuit.

Sam (left) will be racing with Mark Christian (right) in China while Erick Rowsell (centre) will be part of the Endura Racing team at their launch this Saturday at the London Bike Show.

GB have for a few years held a view that they need to bridge the gap between the Academy Team Pursuit and the Podium Programme Team Pursuit. The difference is huge and Sam admits it was quite a shock for him despite having competed with GB in Appeldorn (Worlds) in 2011 and come away with a Bronze medal.

“I didn’t realise how much stronger they would be and how much harder they would train” he says.

Sam has been on a training camp in Majorca with them and says even training on the flat was hard work as they all pressed on. It is though, he says, pretty inspirational training with them. “I am sure I will have moved on and I’m looking forward to trying to break into the team for the London World Cup and the Worlds.”

And the London Olympics I asked? “At the minute, my making the team for that would be a pretty big outside chance with the likes of Pete (Kennaugh) who is absolutely flying on the track and has been one of the strongest in the team during the boot camp.”

“It is going to be so hard to get in that team. I am realistic about that but the experience will be invaluable. I will have trained through an Olympic year and will know what it is all about. Whatever the scenario, come August, whether I am in the team or not, I will have benefited from the technical aspects of it and the physical training too”.

“It’s a win win for me”.

Asked about the difference between riding an Academy Team Pursuit and one with the Podium riders, Sam explains “the gap is pretty massive to be honest. At Under 23 level, you use quite a lot smaller gears. To use the bigger gears, you have to all be strong enough because if you have one weak link and they slow down on the bigger gears, you basically stop. So using smaller gears, that limits how fast you can go”.
“With the academy, the pace is a lot more up and down pace wise too.”

“The team at the moment though is looking good. Joe Kelly (Isle of Man) is probably going to be man 4 and he’s looking really strong, and Mark (Christian) who is in his fourth year, he’s strong and Simon Yates is always going well.”

“When you are with the likes Ed (Clancy), Peter (Kennaugh), Swifty (Ben Swift), Burkey (Steven Burke) and G (Geraint Thomas), they are pretty experienced team pursuiters and most of them are the best in the world at the minute so with them, it’s a lot smoother on the bigger gears.”

Sam training at Manchester during a GB training camp last year.

“They all know what they are doing but that’s what you’d expect. They make less mistakes and if they do, they know how best to correct them. The Team Pursuit with the Under 23s can be harder because you have to concentrate a lot more and when the pace is up and down, it’s physically tougher. The seniors though are a lot faster and a lot smoother.”

Asked what size gears we are talking about now in the Team Pursuit, Sam explained that for the Under 23’s it can be 100 or 102 whereas in the boot camp with his fellow Podium Programme riders, he was using gears up to 114 doing standing starts and so on. “The difference is pretty huge” he adds.

“Physically, you need that strength to get off the line and if the pace does dip when you’re on 108 or 110, you need the power to build it back up.”

That’s one reason why GB has always been keen to have one set of its riders racing in the pro peloton and doing the big races like the Grand Tours to give them the depth and strength a Team Pursuit effort can require. That leaves the sprinter type endurance riders like Ed Clancy and Steven Burke to do the races in Britain which are suited to the type of effort they’ll make in the Team Pursuit.

The weeks in the boot camp with lots of track work doing everything from little gear work, big gear work, standing starts, motor pacing as well as team pursuit drills certainly took its toll on Sam. The three hour road on the Wednesday during a typical week for example was supposed to be easy but the pace of the other riders meant even those rides were far from easy for sam. And then there was the gym work.

But if it was easy, everyone would be able to do it and Sam has shown how talented he is by making it through the camp and is now in Beijing ready to lay some numbers down as they take on the best in the world. He doesn’t expect GB to win there but depending on who turns up, they may get a medal or at the very least, come up with some respectable times for an Academy team.

Then, its back to the boot camp and to try and make the cut before the London World Cup. It is like one of those reality TV programmes where everyone is doing their best not to be knocked out. It happened to Sarah Storey in the Women’s Team Pursuit and no doubt, they will reduce the numbers in the men’s squad at some point too.

Sam is the youngest at 19 but he’s also very quick. Like Ed Clancy, like Steven Burke, he’s more of a sprint endurance rider which is probably why he has suffered so much at the hands of the Team Sky pros but who knows, in the Team Pursuit where speed over the 4k is the key, maybe, just maybe, Sam will surprise everyone including himself by making the team for the London World Cup and the events that follow…

I, and I’m sure all the readers here at VeloUK, certainly wish him lots of luck in that quest … thanks for the chat Sam!

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