Feature: Dan Fleeman Interview

We talk to winner of the 2017 CiCLE Classic – Dan Fleeman – to get an insight into how he won the race after a series of top 10 places

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Feature: How to win the CiCLE Classic

On Wednesday, we took a trip down to the Cycle Division local bike shop at Barton Under Needham to chat to the winner of the 2017 CiCLE Classic, Dan Fleeman.

At the shop, Dan is the ‘guru’ of the bike fits there, and after showing me how that works (feature to come), we sat down to talk about the big race this weekend, the CiCLE Classic between Oakham and Melton Mowbray.

I started by asking, a year on, how does that win rate as a memory in his career? “As a memory, it rates right up there and also as a victory. I have won UCI stage races in the past, and stages within them but never won a UCI single day race, so I left it to the end of my career to do that.”

“I have always been fond of the race. I’ve done it around half a dozen times and was top 10 four times so I have always been up there. Last year I decided, if I was in the mix again, I was going to gamble everything to win the race as I wasn’t interested in 5th or 6th.”

The win was not just special for Dan but his team owner at the time, Andy Swain, who’s business Metaltek Engineering is based in Melton Mowbray where the race finishes. Not only that, Andy grew up only metres from where Dan crossed the line to win the race which was why, as celebrations go, the one for the CiCLE Classic 2017 was 11 out of 10 as it meant so much to Dan, Andy and his team.

Not only did Dan go onto the podium, but so did Andy who was presented with the original winners jersey by Dan and then Dan explained how Ken Jones at Bioracer UK (Onimpex) had another one made up for him to keep as a memory of that victory.

“I think that win meant everything to Andy” Dan says. “The whole reason he had a team was because of that race being based in his home town and the objective of the team was to win that race so for him and the team, to win it meant everything”.

The win was special for other reasons like the team was an Elite one, not even UCI and it won a UCI event ahead of the bigger, better funded outfits. Asked what were the key ingredients in him winning the race, Dan explained “there is luck involved but I also think you make your own luck too.”

“You see some guys riding the sectors and they are just crashing into pot holes, breaking wheels and puncturing. In all the years I have done the race, I have not punctured, even the year I rode on clinchers, I didn’t puncture, and that is probably because I have a different mindset on the sectors than some people do.”
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“I have been a British Marathon MTB champion and was always told you have to look after your bike. If you are racing for four or five hours on a MTB and one year I was leading the championship before I’d won it, and I ripped a tyre and so was out of the race. So, if you don’t look after your bike, you can’t put yourself into a position to win the race. So I used the sectors almost as recovery.”

“Some people go into them and try and make the difference in the sectors but I don’t think you will win the race in the sectors but if you get it wrong, you can certainly lose the race.”

“So I always moved myself into position before the sectors, a bit like in the classics like Flanders, Amstel etc where the racing isn’t done so much on the climbs but it’s fighting for position into the climbs and then over the top. So I used the same mindset at the CiCLE Classic.”

Sawgate – Dan is on the left about a dozen or so riders back. This is what was left of the 150 plus peloton at the end of the race on the final finishing loop

“I would try and be top 20 in the sectors because then you can relax because there are 80 riders behind you on narrow roads and they can’t come past you, so you can ease up and recover in the knowledge even if you slip a few places, you’ll be okay and you can move back up on the road. Some guys though go in there and they are trying to overtake and move up on the sectors and if you do that, you are increasing the risk of punctures.”

Favourite Sector?
The race is packed with interesting sectors, like simple narrow roads that are tarmac  to ones like Sawgate full of potholes, Somerberg, gravel or mud if wet and has a berg in it too as the name suggests or the new one last year, Stapleford Park. And not to forget the farm track in Owston which is real slippery on the loose gravel.

When I asked Dan what his favourite sector is, he replied “For me the new sector, Stapleford park, that was kind of crucial for me winning the race so for me that was good. Whilst I say I have never punctured in the race, the day before last years event, I punctured twice, once at Sawgate and through Stapleford park”.

Stapleford park, colourful and deadly surface for the last sector of the race

“ It was the best thing that could have happened. I was riding clinchers and went through Stapleford Park so fast on the shale, I ended up on the grass and jumped back onto the shale. That saw a piece of shale cut the sidewall of a tyre so straight away I knew you had to ride gingerly through there but also you needed to ride a straight line because if you move left or right in the shale, that is when you are going to slit a tyre.”

Dan then recalled the race going through there saying “… there were four of us going into that sector, and one of the riders with us missed a corner and took me out the back, so I had to catch Hayden and Matt Holmes before we got back onto the road. I was about tens seconds back but I knew I didn’t want to puncture so I was riding as hard as I could whilst also holding a little back so I didn’t puncture.”

The Farmyard
Having been through the farmyard track in Owston on my own motorbike and on the back of one, I know from my own experience even on fat motorbike tyres that this track can be lethal. Dan says of it “you go through that two ways and the first passage is more downhill and you go in fast, and if it was wet, it would be really interesting!”

“With my background in mountain biking and cycle-cross too, I quite like it where as some guys are pretty nerous. Again, you need to watch what you are doing. If you go into it at the front, you can go the same speed as the other riders and you’re fine, but if you are trying to make time there, that is when you can lose control”.

A Climbers Course?

I remember watching many years ago, Dan Fleeman winning a British Under 23 Mens Road Championship which was pretty hilly and the former Metaltek Kuota rider is known for his ability to climb. So, is the CiCLE Classic that hilly I asked Dan? “People regard it as a flat race but it’s not. I think there are 1,500 metres altitude gain on a course that is rolling, so it is up and down. But if you removed the sectors, it would be a completely different race”.

“What they, the sectors, do is they make it hard so generally speaking if there weren’t sectors, they would be flat bits for recovering on in between the hills but instead, you’re in the hills and then straight onto a farm track or over shale so you can’t really relax and your heart rate is staying high and you’re having to focus the whole race. So it makes it much harder.”
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“I think last year the main reason I was able to do better than previously was they added 20km or so to the course and once you go past four hours of racing , there are not that many riders used to racing that distance. I’ve raced the Tour of Lombardy which is 260km so to race 190km suits me better than some one who is racing crits all year.”

“They also added the two passages of that new sector at Stapleford and the last passage came pretty much inside the last 10km so while it’s not a climbers race by any stretch of the imagination, it is a hard man’s race and I have always been a rider that as a race goes on, I don’t deteriorate much so whilst I don’t go quicker in the last hour, my deterioration rate is less than a lot of riders so I have more left at the end than some.”

Opening laps
The CiCLE Classic starts with two laps of the Rutland Water reservoir, and this year they are going the other way round. What does Dan think of that opening section?

“If you look at the last five or six years, not much happens on the opening laps. Last year, there was a breakaway but it was going to come back. I think the first few years I rode it, one year I got in a break on the first passage of the reservoir and it stayed away the entire race. But the last few years though, the teams are more in control, stronger and more experienced so the race is more controlled”.

Dan added that in 2017, his team probably new the parcour better than anybody and knew when they had to race and when they could afford to ease back. “We did want to have a rider in that early move but didn’t happen but I did notice it wasn’t long before teams started to come to the front and you can tell when teams are happy with a breakaway and when they aren’t.”

“So you get a feel for the chances of whether or not a break is going to be pulled back and pretty early on, I knew it was going to come back and there were a few teams setting a very strong pace. What they did was make it a real hard race where there wasn’t really attacks going off the front but guys were being shelled at the back”.

“For me, that was perfect because if it was an easy race, the last 20km, there would be sixty left and loads who can sprint and it wouldn’t be any good for me but everyone was on their knees by the time we got to the last 20km because it had been fast.”

“At the start though, I wasn’t happy the race was being controlled because it felt easy but after 100km, 150km and so on, the fatigue was building up and when we went through Melton Mowbray the first time, there were only 30 or so guys and that was down to the natural whittling down process.”

”The first time I thought about starting to race proper was on the hill after the first passage of the finish line”.

The winning bike, Kuota Khan from Kuota UK

Bikes and the Race
Everyone may feel because of all the off road riding, there would be a lot of changes to bikes but I know from my own experience, that I turn up at the CiCLE Classic and the bikes look the same as they did at the previous race. Dan pretty much says the same thing when he explained that whilst some riders come into the race with  modifications to their bike like more bar tape or bigger tyres, he isn’t sure whether it makes a big difference having 23, 25 or 28 mm width tyres in the race.

“There are only 10km of off road out of 190km race so you don’t need to go mad, just make sure you have good quality equipment, (Dan won the race on the Kuota Khan as used by Cofidis this year) , standard deep section wheels (Edco last year), and quality tubs (Continental in 2017).”

Starting the race
Sadly for the race, and the sport, Dan is not racing now and instead concentrating on his young family (Sarah and two children) along with his business (Dig Deep Coaching) and bikefits at Cycle Dvision.

But on Sunday, Dan is expected to be at the race to flag the riders away. It wasn’t always going to be that way though. “Last year, I was thinking about it being my last year but when I won the race, I kind of had a bit of a wobble and thought I would race another season but then the idea I had was to race until the CiCLE Classic and finish after that but that would have meant training all winter so I went off that idea pretty quick!”

Colin Clews, the organiser, then asked him to come to the race and start it and being invited is special says Dan. “I have asked if I can go in a car because if have never experienced it from there. If I was on the course and was with Andy Swain with all his local knowledge, we would go round and he’d take me to the different sectors but the problem for many people is they can’t get to them because of road blocks and it is a maze”.

“So the bit in Owston, where we come into the village from different directions and you can smell the barbeque and see people drinking beer, that is the place to go and if not in car, that’s where I would head to!”

Thanks to Dan for the great insight into his victory last year …





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