Feature Interview: Dan Bigham (Team KGF)

After being around Track World Cups and Championships for a decade, I cannot recall any team making such an impact in the Team Pursuit as Team KGF. I speak to the teams Dan Bigham about the worlds cups so far

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Feature Interview: Dan Bigham (Team KGF)
Photos: Gary Main

Related Features on VeloUK | Feature – What is Team KGF

After being around Track World Cups and Championships for a decade with Team GB, I cannot recall any team, nation or trade, making such an impact in the Team Pursuit as Team KGF did at the Manchester World Cup. If riding the times they are doing was so easy, then all national teams would be doing them but no, at Manchester, there was Team KGF fighting for Bronze with the European champions no less.

It is such a crazy story, you’d think it was a movie dreamt up by an imaginative screen writer. Four riders (Dan Bigham, Charlie Tanfield, Jacob Tipper and Jonny Wale) – amateurs who work – pooling their money with some help from sponsors, using off the shelf bikes with some fancy little bits and doing times quicker than the Gold medal winning team at the Sydney Olympics.

These are not riders who have had years and years inside the GB medal factory but a mix of riders who have goals of doing something big in cycling and when the system that GB works with doesn’t even notice them, they do something to make them sit up and take notice and GB and the world have done that.

On Thursday night, I spoke to Dan Bigham and started by saying their David versus Goliath performances seem to have gone down well. “Yes, everyone is happy with how it’s all been received because we kind of flew under the radar with Glasgow being seen as perhaps a one off and Poland not getting that much coverage. So it was great to get it together at the home world cup and whilst it was a shame not to get a bronze, to be in the mix and have the likes of Hoy and Boardman talking about us on TV was pretty cool”.

“That sort of coverage put some motivation in the bank for the next big block of training.”

Dan explained how the times they were doing in Manchester, 3.58s, which whilst more common these days by the very top nations, is still an achievement, and he says that it’s not far off their goal of a 3.57. “It was mission accomplished if you look at what happened in Poland when it fell apart for us”.

“We got it together, made some last minute changes in strategy and trained at Manchester to make sure we could get three of us to the finish line. I also had the flu in the week before so there were a negatives that we were trying to deal with as well.”

“It went well though so we can’t complain. There were a few mistakes technically but we can train that and everything else seems to be in place”.

Sure they can train but these guys are not full time and certainly not paid to do this even though they are in a UCI team. “We all work” says Dan. “Charlie is doing a full time degree at Derby University in mechanical engineering, Jacob is a full time coach, and myself and Jonny are in wattshop doing aerodynamic testing, development and consultancy outside of cycling so we are not full time athletes by any means but we are doing our best to find the time to train as much as we need to. It’s a good balance, we’re not full time working but we’re not full time cyclists either.”

“We’re not paid so we are amateurs in that sense. We have a very tight budget and are having to pay for a lot of it out of our own back pocket and it’s not cheap to go to these races and we’re now trying to get funding together for Belarus and Switzerland as well.”

Dan then explained that the exposure they have had has seen all types of people coming to them offering help including those from industry and academics but its early days and they certainly don’t have companies queuing up to throw money at them.

What they do have are friends and people who just want to be involved, offering their services, even if it means paying for it out of their own pocket and it does come across as proper old school support like the old days but with a very high tech edge bringing great results that even GB could not come up with much before they got lottery funding. … continued after advert


Thinking out of the Box
Over the years watching team pursuiting, a team like GB will take a fast rider like Ed Clancy and put them in at man 1 to get the team up to speed off the line and in the quartet will be strong riders like Wiggins who can do multiple lap turns. That is simplifying it but the strategy for Team KGF is so off the wall that it doesn’t even come close to being part of the norm.

“Our strategy has come about more because of necessity than trying to be wholly innovative” says Dan. “It has been nice to have to go back to the drawing board and think about it a lot more. We’re trying to get Jacob Tipper around with us and he’d quite happily admit he’s not as strong a pursuiter as Charlie and me so we are doing our best to get him to the line so we have had to think a bit differently about how we can get him round whilst maintaining the speed and Charlie and me are doing the turns we need to do.”

“So that combined with the fact that it makes a lot of sense that we are also maximising the physiology of the riders in the team as well. Like Jon is an excellent kilo rider and time trialist so we make sure we have an ‘easy’ start (1.03 standing start kilo – is not really easy for us outsiders!) so we don’t have to put a big effort in after we’ve done the starting effort which is 800 to 900 watts for 20 seconds.”

“We get a good amount of recovery while Jonny is doing his turn and then we go down to three riders very early.”

Dan then explained that normally, a two lap turn is a long one for teams but for them, it’s actually shorter than usual. “We do very long turns but that’s just how we use our energy efficiently and technically too it’s good because the more changes a team puts in, the more chance a team can fall apart as that is where we are struggling right now and hopefully in the future that will change but for now ,we’re doing the best we can.”

Dan then explained he does lap one for the team leading Jonny into his turn and set up a pace they need before Jon goes into a five lap turn. “We’re trying to push that out to five and half which would be amazing, but right now we have him go as long as he can and get it all out without him slowing down before he bails and that’s a big thing for a kilo riders as they usually ride it the other way round”.

“It’s then down to Charlie, Tipper and me to do 2.5 kilometres, so it’s big long turns to the line.”

Looking at the training they can do to try and achieve their goals of winning a World Cup medal, Dan explained “we tend to get an hour of gate practice on Monday mornings, and then Monday evening we’re in the gym at Derby Uni, Tuesday typically is a road ride with some intervals before getting on the track on Wednesday for a few hours where we’re on there with students and the public”.

“Thursday and Friday more road rides as well as gym on Thursdays before going back onto the track on Saturdays before a road ride on Sunday. We get two good quality track sessions and a good gate session so it may not be optimal but it will do. There is always room for more track stuff but we get by.”

The tech stuff
Track bikes are quite simple machines to look at; no gears, no brakes and so on but there is still things to be gleaned talking to some one like Dan. Like do the riders in the team all ride different size gears?

“We are playing about with gears quite a bit as mechanically we are quite different especially me and Tipper for example”.

“I am quite happy on relatively small gears so I’ll Team Pursuit on 108 to average 125/130 rpm where as Tipper will team pursuit on 116 at an average of 110/115 rpm. So there is a big differential but it plays to our strengths as riders. We are looking at optimising our cadence still though.”

Another area I thought would be interesting to hear about are tyre pressures. On the road for example, tyres are getting bigger and pressures lower but for the track it is all very different!

“It is quite a different scenario on the track” says Dan “because it is such a smooth surface, you don’t get what is known as break point pressure like riders on the road are going softer because when you hit the rough stuff, if you have a hard tyre, you start bouncing but on the track it’s smooth. So you can go very high (200 plus psi) with our tubulars without hitting a break point pressure as such.”

High Tech Sweet Shop
For anyone remotely interested in bike tech, finding yourself surrounded by the best track bikes in the world is like being a kid in a sweetshop and for Dan in Poland, their first world cup, that is exactly what it was like.

“There were so many nice bikes and it was great to look at the detail on them. I really like the German bikes which they have really thought them through. Very unique and a lot of custom parts on them; it’s a well designed bike.”

“It was good to see how different people tackle the same problems and what solutions they come up with and that inspires you to come up with other ideas to try and help us go faster.”

The team KGF track machines are off the shelf bikes with a few custom bits and Dan says “I’d love to have a custom bike and it is something that is in the pipeline but its long term and hard work. We have just gone for the quickest bike we could get and I know there are faster bikes out there but you just can’t buy them for love or money; they are either out of stock or have massive lead times.”

“Thankfully we have some cool bars from USE and they have been helpful and we are working around things with a carbon manufacturer for custom parts to find a few more watts and get a little quicker with it”.

Looking ahead, Dan says the team have Portugal and Switzerland track C1 UCI events coming in December. “Myself and Charlie are going to Portugal for the pursuit and kilo and we’re going to Switzerland three days later for a Team Pursuit and Individual Pursuit. The plan is to smash it and do some quick times and see what that brings us”.

“We want to try and get some Individual pursuit points together so hopefully myself and Charlie have enough within the UCI rankings to go to the World Champs. Then we have Belarus in January and that’s a big one. It’s not just the team pursuit, there is an individual pursuit there too and that’s attracted interest from Charlie and me. One spot only so there will be a battle between us to see who gets that”.

Dan Bigham

Whilst I didn’t see the World Cup in Manchester as my attention was elsewhere at the National Trophy cyclocross, it was easy to see there was plenty of interest in the track based event in Manchester.

When I asked Dan what the highlight of the Manchester World Cup was, Dan started by saying that it was a tough question to answer, before adding “ I quite liked the rounds of the team pursuit. The final was the crescendo but I liked the rounds because after Poland, we wanted to make that step up and everyone was feeling good. We were all wondering if we could go quicker than we did in qualifying (4.00.448) and everyone was up for it and it was quite a busy crowd on Friday evening so for me that was a personal highlight”. (The team did a 3:58.134 in that round and almost the ‘57’ they were chasing.

“It was bitter sweet in the final as no –one wants to lose and finish fourth but equally it was quite a good ride (3:58.455) and we showed ourselves and put ourselves out there.”

Asked for his assessment on that final when his team led by over half a second after the first kilo, four tenths after two kilos, a few thousandths at kilometre three and then lost the bronze medal by just over a second.

Dan took the blame right on the chin saying “I’ll take the blame for it in all honesty. I went to go half a lap further than I did in the rounds, three and half to a four lap turn, which I could just about eke out but I was absolutely gassed and I didn’t get on after the change”.

“I didn’t go high enough (on the track) which was a bit lazy, so I dropped onto Charley, had to back off a little and then accelerate and you only have a few seconds to do that as Tipper does a half lap turn before Charley starts riding and he’s as fresh as a daisy as he’s been sitting in man three for a kilometre.”

“So he was riding as hard as he could at the front and I was doing 400plus watts trying to hold the wheel and on the limit and couldn’t hold the wheel and the gap was opening. I was riding as hard as I can!”

“We know what we need to do to address that so we’re not in the same situation again. It’s just down to more training at race speed behind the derny, fatigued and all that sort of stuff and training so we don’t get it wrong.”  … continued after advert


The effort in watts
Asked how much of an effort is it to sit in the wheels at 60plus k an hour, Dan explained “That varies from rider to rider and how well they ride the wheel and also down to their drag coefficient. I’m quite low on the bike so I get a good amount of recovery so when I am in man three or four, I am only sitting at 320 to 340 watts, threshold or so.”

“Where as Charlie can be 400 plus on the wheel and so can Tipper so they are having a harder time but whilst I wouldn’t say you can recover, you can sustain it at man three quite easily. So when you have had that for a minute or so, you feel like you can go again.”

And how many watts on the front pushing through the air? “I’m doing roughly 530 or 540 on the front, Charlie is just over 600 on the front and Jonny is little bit more than that at 630ish so reasonably big watts.”

Track and Time trialling
Having won so many championships (10/25/50 for example), I had to ask how his training for the time trial to the track was different.

“My training for the time trial wasn’t conventional, I was doing mostly track based training for the time trials. So it hasn’t changed a great deal and I found the track stuff helped my road a lot. I was probably doing a lot more threshold stuff through out the summer, more ten and twenty minute stuff as and when but equally trying to keep the track training up as much as I could as that was always in the back of my mind; what we were doing this winter”.

“So now, the focus has been on the team pursuit stuff so the training is more intense. Like we’re doing two, three, four lap efforts so you’re talking big maximal stuff for thirty to sixty seconds where as during the summer I was doing five to ten minute efforts on the track. It’s got more intense and we’re in the gym as well doing a lot of heavy lifting trying to build up the strength and power”.

And endurance work? “Not a great deal” replied Dan. “We’re all different types of riders so Charlie goes well off a high training load, where I am quite happy off a minimal week of maybe ten to twelve hours”

“I have built up a good aerobic base on the road in the summer doing national A and B road races and now I’m looking to keep that fitness and turn up to track sessions ready to perform and maximally hit those sessions”.

The Goals Ahead
Looking ahead, there are plenty of big goals for the team besides the UCI events and World Cups. Like the British Track Championships then the World Championships and then the Commonwealth Games. “The aim is to repeat what we did at the National Championships this year and hopefully get selection for the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games” Says Dan.

We wish the team lots of luck with those aims and also the aim of making the GB team at some point. I’m pleased to hear that GB have been helpful to the riders in talking to them about that and doors are open. Who knows, they may even have other news which will be exciting to hear when and if it comes to fruition….

Thank you to Dan for the chat!



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