Feature – Under 23’s Living the Dream


With the help of an icon in British fashion, Jeff Banks, young riders in the Catford CC are given pro backing to race the major British events

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Feature – Under 23’s Living the Dream


For young riders looking to break into the big time in cycle sport, the journey there can be a tough one with obstacles that can seem unsurmountable, and for many, are just that. But thankfully every now and then someone comes along and unselfishly puts their money into a project to help make that journey easier.

Certainly not easy because cycling is a tough sport and as I witnessed today, these riders from 18 to 22 who are part of the Jeff Banks sponsored Catford CC, had to endure a tough day on the bike in a micro stepping stone towards achieving their dreams.


Jeff riding one of the many sportives he does when not helping with the Under 23 team .

These riders living the ‘pro’ life with bikes, kit, team car, coaching and a shot at racing with the best are being given an opportunity to prove what they can do on two wheels.

The Catford CC/Banks team is a South East London development squad created by a club that dates back to 1886. In the car with me today was the club president Steve Airey who much later in the day was washing the bikes of these riders. That’s the commitment the club is showing to its up and coming young riders in their Elite team.

Whilst the name of the club comes from a part of London, its membership comes from far and wide and even the club runs meet in Farnborough Village so the riders have quick access to the lanes. Next week, they hold a Sportive, the Hell of the Ashdown, which was created on the back of the clubs old Reliability Trial.


Catford CC Club president Steve Airey changes a wheel or a rider

Just another example of the way the club is adapting to the changing face of cycling and the work that goes into riders and events by the club. Another race the club is famous for is its hill climb at the end of the season.

But it’s the Catford CC/Banks team of under 23 riders that is keeping the club colours in the spotlight in major events up and down the country, mostly up which is unfair to the South East based team but a fact of the way the national series races for the Star Trophy are these days.

To help get the riders ready for the tough challenge of riding these ‘Prems’, the riders are being coached by Trainsharp which is helping many a star Elite name in British racing as well many more in grass roots racing and sportives. The weekend at East Grinstead for two days of hard graft is just the start of some serious training days for the young riders.


The rider is then paced back to the group.

It’s a far cry from the days when the team’s main sponsor Jeff Banks raced for the Catford CC many a decade ago and he’s now been a member of the club for over 50 years. The iconic British designer’s garments are sold by boutiques and major retailers all over the world and he spends the time he has free from his business mucking in with the team as well as providing the substantial financial backing.

Jeff said in an article in the Express newspaper that his bike, and he has many including those from pros such as Simon Gerrans, is one of five things he could not live without. His history with bikes goes back to when he was just 11 years old and says that these days he spends more time in the ‘saddle’ than he ever did.

One of his many epic achievements on a bike as a ‘veteran’ was doing Lands End to John O’Groats in four days. He’s done others including London to Lake Como, a tour of Switzerland, ridden the length of Italy and also 10 stages of the Tour de France. If that doesn’t inspire young riders, what can!


Sports scientist Elliott sets off another rider in the EPD test …


… before Jon Sharples, founder of Trainsharp, presses the stop button to record a time for each of the riders.

As well as Catford CC, Jeff also supports Orica-Greenedge and whilst I’m told that many a youngster look upon Jeff as just another avid supporter and volunteer, for me, I was quite surprised to see this fashion giant in a feed zone last year at the Tour of Reservoir handing up bottles. Was I seeing things I thought at the time.

I wasn’t.

And then I learn today that last year he was out the back of this hotel where I write this, cleaning the bikes after a very gritty wet cold day on the bike for his riders. That sort of support is priceless.

Jeff, sadly, was not here today but the riders that were on the camp are Tom Neale, Harry Godding, Henry Latimer, Lawrence Carpenter, Josh Green, Ashley Dennis, Ben Chapman, Chris Fennell, Matt Webber, Matt Clements , Gabriel Evens, Louis Modell, Ewan Tuohy, Liam Yates, Jez McCann and, Sam Henning.


Riders gather around manager Mike Morgan to find out who was fastest in the EPD test. 

Today, to show my support for Jeff Banks and his support of these riders, I went out, wearing a lovely warm Jeff Banks coat to record a day in the life of this team which is said to be the only one of its kind; an all under 23 and an Elite team.

My time with the team started the night before when manager Mike Morgan invited me across for dinner with the riders. There, one of Britain’s top female cyclists, Annie Simpson gave the riders some tips and guidance on using the team’s nutrition products.

Then, top British coach Jon Sharples, spoke to the riders, table by table, about training and the work to be done on the weekend. There was lots of banter going on and it was an example of the Aussie style’ matesmanship that this team has where the clubs motto is ‘Fellowship’.

The next day, after a hearty breakfast, the riders were lined up for a team photo by your’s truly and then I dived into a seat of the team’s Skoda with Matthew Morgan driving and club president Steve Airey taking pictures, changing wheels when needed and playing an active part of the support team for the riders on the road.


The team stuck to narrow lanes for the five hour ride.

The riders left the hotel at 10am and ahead lay five hours plus on the bike with two stops after two big efforts. One of the riders guiding them around a maze of lanes heading towards Brighton was Liam Yates, son of the legend Sean.

“Being part of the team is great” Liam explained before the ride. “It gives me the chance to do the biggest races and possibly, performing well in them. We have a great bunch of guys to ride and train with.”

“I first started with them in 2013 and last year was our first really serious season where more new riders were signed by the team. After only having done a few local crits, last year I went to the Tour of the Reservoir and that was a bit of shock racing against Giro riders like Adam Blythe. I didn’t last long! Hopefully this year will be a lot better. Without the Catford, I doubt I’d be as good as I am now so its greats to be part of. ”

Liam and the rest of the riders, riding on wet, gritty roads which caused the odd puncture, rode a steady pace until they came to a pub on a piece of innocuous looking road where they were going to be put through their paces by Trainsharp’s coaches, Jon and Elliott.


Liam Yates, son of legend Sean, describes the route for the riders to the hill climb to Trainsharp founder Jon Sharples.

The effort is called EPD or Explosive Power Development and was something they did last year as well. After synchronising stop watches, Trainsharp’s Elliott stood at the start where the riders started with a 15 to 20-second flat-out sprint before backing off to recover for a few seconds to clear the lactate and then go straight into a threshold effort up this long cruel drag.

The effort, used by many World Tour teams in training camps, simulates attacking in a road race when a rider will attack flat stick before the threshold effort. The winning effort by Lawrence Carpenter was 13 minutes or so and the stretch of road it is held on is also on Strava so anyone can have a go at it!

After that, the riders had a steady ride to the next challenge, a race up a big climb, Firle Beacon, with £50 quid for the winner! This steep climb over a few k has a dead end at the top making it ideal for a ‘race’ with little traffic to contend with and awesome views at the top for those of us waiting for the action to come to us!


Lawrence Carpenter goes clear of Ashley Dennis on the sprint up Firle Beacon

That view we had was a ‘man-o-man’ battle between Lawrence Carpenter and Ashley Dennis just ahead of the others racing to win the money put up for the first rider to the top. It was “Biker Lawrence’s” second money win of the day after also being fastest in the Trainsharp EPD test.

A quick stop at the top of Firle Beacon to get some food and the riders then headed back for the 30 mile or so ride back to the hotel. The roads were far from flat and even when the riders were only a few miles from the hotel, they were still hammering away up the climbs which showed that even at this stage of the season, they had good endurance.

After Lawrence and the others had been on their bikes for five hours plus, I spoke to the day’s winner (Lawrence Carpenter) who says that Catford is a great team to be part of and it has lots of strong young riders for this coming season.

Lawrence, from Chiswick in West London, started riding aged just eight and puts his recent success down to working hard. “It has been awesome to have a team like Catford who have got behind us and pushed us to be the best we can be for the big races. My long term goal is to be a professional and Catford is providing us a good base to help us do that”.


Liam Yates (right) helping guide the team through the lanes on the training ride.

“We’re the only Under 23 only Elite team and we all can’t wait for the season ahead”. Asked about goals for 2015, he replies, “I think the Nationals stands out for me. The time trial and road championships should be good races and then the Prems. It would be good to get some top tens and get in more breakaways (he was in a long one at the Ipswich event in 2014)”.

“We want to show the team’s colours more in 2015” Lawrence explains. The team ride today he says is typical of those the squad do on these roads. “We’re based down this way so we train a fair amount around here where the roads are good. It’s nice and hilly”.

“The efforts today were good. The EPD effort is a lengthy one and then we did the sprint up the hill. In all, we did about 4,000 feet climbing so it was a good day on the bike.”

A good day indeed for the under 23 rider who had several podiums in 2014 and also rode the Duo Normand team time trial in France. Lawrence and the team’s next training camp is one in Majorca which the coach says will be even harder which is saying something after what they went through today!

Good luck to them in 2015 and thanks for the opportunity to spend the day with them.


Club president Steve and Le clean the 14 very dirty bikes after the ride.


The night before the ride, Jon from Trainsharp talks to the riders before dinner.


Annie Simpson also got the chance to talk to the riders about nutrition 

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