Feature: Dan Bigham & More Targets to Aim For

Already a Silver medallist in a World Cup in an ultra-competitive competition, Dan Bigham is busy riding fast and taking aim at some big future targets – we chat

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Feature: Dan Bigham & More Targets to Aim For

VeloUK recently spent time with Dan Bigham at the Boardman Performance Centre, where along with Dr Jamie Pringle, they spent time making Harry Tanfield faster on his track bike.

In the three Track World Cups this winter, Dan’s team, HUUB Wattbike, have been fourth twice and won a silver medal. They have also beaten the Great Britain National team in doing that. So a small team of mates, with a budget so small they can’t do all the World Cups, is beating a team with a multi million pound budget …

No wonder they are making people sit up and take notice.

And all this without having the option of taking these performances to the big stage; the Worlds, The Olympics etc, because none of them are part of the GB team although one that was last winter, is now a GB rider. Charlie Tanfield.

What is quite fascinating for me, and many others I expect, is how Dan Bigham can ride at 3.53 pace which took the GB nation many years, a decade or more, to learn how to get down to, as well as juggle a load of other jobs.

Pic: Instagram for HubbWattBike

At the Boardman Performance Centre, he was there just to work with Jamie and his staff to get Harry Tanfield faster. He’s also working with the Canyon//SRAM women’s team and was on the podium with them at the Worlds and has his fingers in other pies like making fast carbon aero kit (WattShop), and all of the behind the scenes running of the track team itself.

Now, a lot of the riders he is competing against are full time riders who don’t have that work load. So how does Dan do it? He replies “short answer is I probably don’t balance it all that well!”

“It’s hard and I don’t think it’s sustainable in the long term. Eight or nine months ago, my dad told me I can’t burn the candle at both ends all year round or else I’ll be screwed and I did have a melt down about eight weeks ago. Maybe I’m not the athlete I could be because of the work load. So the short answer is it’s not easy but I enjoy it, so would not have it any other way.”

“If I did the volume of training the others guys do, I’d fall apart and have done as I have tried to do that before. Also, if I tried to train like the other guys, everything else I do would not get done and we would not be where we are today. If we had a team manager in place doing that stuff, it would be great but there are still things I need to do myself”.

“I think I am in good shape though and arguably I’d say I was the strongest in Paris and Canada for example, pulling the fastest/longest turns. It’s just harder to hold on to good form like that with a relatively low aerobic capacity.”.

Podium in Canada… Silver for the Derby based team – Pic: Instagram Huubwattbike

So how many hours does he dedicate to the training part of his project with the HUUB Wattbike Track Team. “On average, 11 to 12. A big week would be 15/16 hours, on the little weeks, eight or nine hours”.

“It was a something we talked about last year – ie, ‘minimum effective dose’ – how much training you can do to get the stimulus that you require but no more that will unnecessarily stress you. And I guess it depends on your goals. In my case, I only need to ride hard for less than four minutes and I’m not training for the road right now so I am not out there doing long fat burning rides and that sort of stuff. I just perform well on race day for under four minutes and that is all that matters to me”.

Start of the 2018 /19 Track Season
Under four minutes indeed. A 3.53 is pretty special and shows you don’t need GB’s millions and pick of the best riders in the country doing endless laps of the Manchester track to do that. So when did the track season start for Dan and his team?

“After we finished the road nationals in late June. We moved in before that and started on track the first week of July. Since then, we have been on the track two to three times a week. Harry came in later because of his road stuff with Canyon Eisberg. Early on, the training was about technique with longer efforts; getting used to riding together whereas now it’s about race exertion, race efforts and over speed work so we hit the splits”.

Last year, Dan and the team were riding under four minutes. Now they are riding even faster at 3.53 pace. Ten years ago, 2008, Ed Clancy, Paul Manning, Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins set the World Record of a 3.53. That’s two Tour de France winners, a three time Olympic champion and an Olympic champion. Now Dan and his mates are matching those times.

Dr Jamie Pringle with Dan in the Performance Centre tunnel helping make the team go faster

On how the HUUB Wattbike team have improved their times on last year, Dan says “it’s a combination of a lot of things. We the riders are slightly better physiologically. Not drastic improvements as year on year at this stage, you’re not going to find 40 watts for four minute power because at the top level, that’s hard to get. We have also made a lot of changes with equipment and position. The clothing though is the biggest one, and while it varies from rider to rider, on average we are saving 20 to 25 watts with the new skinsuit, which is obviously huge”.

“The other thing is we are more consistent and better at executing good rides. We’re not perfect but we’ve had no major hiccups so far. No dropping riders or crashes, so it’s ‘so far so good’. It’s about focusing on small things too, like our warm up is another one.”

“Steve Faulkner, the brains behind the Adidas hot pants back in 2012, has brought so much to the guys in just rethinking the physiology side of things. He’s not from a cycling background and did have very little understanding of the Team Pursuit where as now, he’s quite well versed and brought in a lot of new ideas, including a proper assessment of how to warm up properly from a scientific perspective. He’s brought along interventions like the ice vests, hot pants and specific warm up strategies on the turbo that have made a noticeable impact.”

“That’s a lot of little things that when you line up on the start line, you know you have done everything you possibly can to prepare for that race.”

Dan Bigham gets aero in the tunnel with yet more gains to come …

The World Cups
At the time we spoke, the team had done two of the four world cups they will compete in; Paris and Canada. None were perfect says Dan and in Paris, the first one, they learned a lot of lessons the hard way.

“Qualifying was a disaster in Paris (with a 3:57…) and I was pretty annoyed we didn’t put in a good ride because we had all the right components, but it just didn’t come together on the track. After that, we did some good rides and the 3.53 in rounds was a great one but it’s been hard to produce that kind of speed across three rides”.

Is their strategy for the Team Pursuit still as radical as it was looked upon the previous year? “I think it has become more understood and it’s nice that people get what we’re trying to do. I think we could be more left field in Berlin (they finished fourth) with three rides in five hours so we’ll be shifting riders around and trying different strategies there.”
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Getting Aero
One of the team’s sponsors is the Boardman Performance Centre near Evesham. Telling VeloUK how it’s helped the team working with experts like Jamie Pingle there, Dan explained “it has helped us question things a lot more and we have that objectivity in the answers”.

“Jamie is inspirational. He has been there, done that and got the T-shirt. He was one of the first people doing aero testing on the track back with Michael Hutchinson, and was involved in British Athletics around the same time I was although our paths never crossed then. So he’s one of the guys who follows the sport, understands it, and while not that vocal in the media, he stays in the back ground and he makes people go fast”.

Talking about how the wind tunnel and other labs at the performance centre have helped him, Dan explains “historically, we didn’t have the way of measuring the biomechanical efficiency of each rider and the finer details of position in a wind tunnel, whereas now we can go in and look at something like saddle height and take it up in small increments by 30 or 40mm and see what impact that has and how it changes certain characteristics of the rider’s pedalling dynamics.”

“It means we can make our aerodynamic decisions with a whole lot more objective data . Like we may find we are going to lose one or two percent in efficiency by moving the saddle 20mm but aerodynamically, we may find three or four per cent so we’re in a better situation.”

“The access to the knowledge there is also a key thing for us. Jamie and Barney are really switched on guys and think about stuff incredibly analytically, considering they both have very strong academic backgrounds, it stands to reason they have to apply very good science! So it’s a good environment to be where you can spend three or four hours in the tunnel and biomech lab just trying ideas out.”

“It works and we’re going faster for it and that’s the end goal”.

Asked what the typical gains are, Dan explained that varies from rider to rider. “Jonny Wale for example has made some wholesale changes to his position, 30 or 40 mm changes and people have spotted that and I have messages from a few people who have spotted the big changes, but it has been good that we could quantify the improvements”.

“With Harry, it’s more about small changes, three or five mm here and there, and that’s been the story for the last four months with him. Tipper meanwhile is a great athlete but his flexibility and biomechanics don’t lend him to being a good pursuiter. So he has been a challenge to how we can work on that.”

“In the tunnel, it’s been about in what direction should we push the body to get the aero gains because he needs to work on his flexibility. So is it the glutes, back, shoulders and so on? Then lets force him into a position in the wind tunnel, find those aerodynamic gains and then go back into the gym and physio studio, and work on the body to get him into that position.”

“It’s a totally different way of thinking about it than others have done historically. When the question has been ‘can you ride in that position – yes or no’ and if it’s no, they sack it. But for us, if it’s no, and it’s faster, we look at how can we get him to achieve that which is a different approach”.

“For me in the tunnel, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been in there trying different things and there has been stuff that’s very experimental like we have found 20 watts in one position and I just can’t ride on the track on it yet. So I keep pushing on with it in the hope that I can finally utilise it. When that happens, there will be some heads turned so I am quite excited for when I crack it. It’s fast and different”.

Asked what it’s like to sit on a bike with a 65kph wind blowing at your back and you’re stationary pedalling away at 250 watts, Dan says “Cold! Which catches you out. It’s not so bad at low wind speed but when you get to high speed, you are not keeping warm because you’re not pedalling that hard. But it’s good fun with all these eyes on you! It’s tech heaven getting all this cool data and a great experience. Very motivating to go back and ride fast!”

Is the equipment being tested too in the tunnel? “We are testing equipment a little in there like the skin suits where it’s easy to get quality data and then correlating that with everything we have from the track”.

“On the track, we have the Notio Konect sensor array where we can measure air speed, tyre forces and things like that so our track testing has got a lot better and our wind tunnel testing is world class so we can do both testing in both situations and start to understand what happens in the wind tunnel and how that works on the track”.

“For skin suits, it’s been bang on, whereas with wheels less so because the flow structures in the wind tunnel are not the same as you get on the velodrome so we test the wheels on the track”.

Dan then went onto explain that while the biomechanics at the centre was a real eye opener, they are due to get into the physiology stuff there as well soon. “We plan to go to altitude and have a go at some world records.”

“So, we are speaking to Jamie who has had huge involvement with altitude acclimatisation for the last 10 or 15 years so he has a deep understanding of it and how to bench mark what you do at sea level and how to adapt that to when you go to altitude. That’s the next step after the World Cups we have ahead of us. The focus then will be on smashing these world records!”

And the Road Season …
The racing for Dan though is not all about the track as he is one of the riders in the Ribble Pro Cycling Team which has gone UCI this year. So after the track nationals in January, what will his goals be I asked?

He replied that the road season goals were still being thought through but off the top of his head, he explained “I would like to target the back end of the season and miss the early season prems. Nail the National TT & RR, and Tour of Britain if selected where we would want to go well. It would be nice if they put a time trial in it! That would be my main goal”.

“Hopefully the Beaumont Trophy comes back too. I love that course and look to do a good ride on that again like a few years back (3rd, 2016) and the nationals (14th) this year. If I could do the same again and get on the podium, I’d be pretty chuffed.”

“I didn’t do much UCI stuff on the road last season as it was compromised because I wanted to hit this track season quite hard but as we have learnt a lot from that and put a lot in place, next summer we can probably be more relaxed on the development and preparation side and hit it a bit later and instead focus on the road results that Ribble Cycles will want”.

Dan racing his special England colours Ribble Cycles Ultra TT bike he helped design
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The final question to Dan, was about the track team and what is the big picture with it? “Originally, there was never an end goal, just to see what we could do and how far we can go.”

“Now, we want to win the World Cup and that could happen. The Worlds, Olympics etc are all the reserve of the governing body as there is no selection system in place for the Team Pursuit for us to get a chance at riding them. I wholly disagree with the cherry picking system where they go ‘we like this rider and that rider and we’ll put them together and it will work.’”

“It’s not optimal that’s for sure when everyone is training to ride team pursuits in different ways. I think the fastest team should go like in other sports (athletics, rowing etc). In the UK now, we have two teams that are among the fastest teams in the world right now so why can’t you trial for major events?”.

Would Dan be tempted to coach a nation’s team? “Not coaching as such, and not right now, maybe in the future where I’II definitely want to be in the situation where instead of having a small budget and four mates in a team, I’d like to be heading up a national team and doing it that way but not now, I am way too competitive an athlete. It’s all about doing what we can do as athletes right now”.

Thanks to Dan for the informative as ever interview and look forward to seeing them rip it up in London!


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