Feature Interview: Dan Bigham

A bronze medallist at the World Road Championships to add to World Cup wins on the track and so much more, Dan Bigham has had a season to remember and it’s far from over! We chat and as always, there is a lot of chatter! Thnx Dan…

RST Cycle Clothing & Trigon Bikes

Feature Interview: Dan Bigham

2019 has certainly been a season to remember for Dan and who knows, 2020 may eclipse this year with even bigger challenges ahead.

After a winter on the track where the ‘Derbados’ based Huub/Wattbike riders showed they could beat the nations of this world in the World Cups, Dan’s season on the road was packed with highlights.

A podium in the Tour of Yorkshire riding for Ribble Pro Cycling was just the ticket his team needed to show they were well worthy of a ride in the biggest UCI races in their first season as a UCI team. In Yorkshire, Dan won the award for the most combative rider when he was in a breakaway that was caught within metres of the finish line.

A month later, in the Beaumont Trophy prem, Dan was 4thshowing how versatile he is at the highest level of three different disciplines, Time Trial, Track and Road Racing. Then came the biggest result of all – a medal at the home World road championships in Harrogate when Dan joined five other GB riders including his teammate on the track and road, John Archibald, former teammate on the track Harry Tanfield, girlfriend Joss Lowden, Lauren Dolan and Anna Henderson in the TTT Relay.

… continued after advert

His success however is much more than just pedalling a bicycle fast. The year before at the World Road Championships, Dan stood on the podium as a consultant to World Championship winning team in the Team Time Trial, Canyon SRAM (women) and I’m not sure how many consultants are out there who can put their science into practice on a bike and win World Championship medals themselves.

Talking to Dan before the World Road Championships, I said it must be a big buzz to be selected to ride the World Championships with a group of mates in the Team Time Trial Relay. “Massively” was the one-word reply. “It was an event I never targeted at the start of the year. It was not even remotely on the cards but after the road nationals I was asked by Andy Pink at British Cycling if I was interested in the Team Time Trial Relay”.

“As it’s an event I am quite keen on having been national champion a few times before and also being involved with Jumbo Visma, and Canyon SRAM last year when they won the World Team Time Trial (trade teams), I thought it should be a fun thing to do”.

Fast forward a few weeks and sure enough, it was quite ‘mad’ for them all as the GB team of six riders (three men and three women) stood on the podium having won a bronze medal at a Home World Championship.
… continued after advert


Speaking at the launch of his track team this week, Huub Wattbike, Dan said the Bronze medal in the Team Time Trial Relay was pretty cool. “The best we could have expected was to get that bronze medal and we barely put a foot wrong which is the best bit about it and we’re thoroughly happy with the performance”.

But not only did Dan help the team on the bike to win that bronze medal, but he also came up with the preparation for the ride with some cutting-edge science. In our chat for this interview, Dan mentioned course optimisation for the riders and so I asked, if possible, what is this ‘optimisation’ for those of us without science degrees!

Dan then stopped, thought for a few moments to put it into plain English and then replied “using some software I developed, you can calculate the optimum way of riding a course. For example, where you should be putting power out and where you shouldn’t. In other words, how to distribute your fixed amount of energy”.

“That means you have target powers (watts) for each rider to hit when they are on the front so we knew exactly from what point to point, where each rider should be ‘riding’ and what their target power should be for that section. Based on that, we pretty much went out and executed that”.

“At the back end of the race, it starts to be more about giving what you have got left energy wise but means at the front end, you are much more restrained and controlled. Relative to the other teams, the Dutch were 17 seconds up on us six kilometres in but we knew that didn’t matter because we knew we had paced it pretty well and then on the back end, on a technical section which favoured us, we pulled that time back on them. The Dutch were obviously pretty quick but beyond that, we were the second fastest Men’s team which is pretty cool.”

One of the advantages that the GB team had was that out of the six riders, four were very familiar with riding to power and to the science behind optimisation that Dan had come up with. John, Harry and Dan had all raced together in the Huub Wattbike track team last year whilst Joss Lowden also has Dan helping her in time trials.

That left Anna Henderson and Lauren Dolan who don’t ride to power to adapt to the process the team were using to go quick. “Anna and Lauren both don’t ride to power which is a scary thought for me” explained Dan, “so that was a challenge for me as they ride time trials to average speed which on that course was impossible because of the nature of the course; hilly and technical.”

“You could not just say I’ll ride 40k an hour here because of the course, so those two worked off each other a lot more. The girls all raced with radios whereas in our group, only Harry had a radio in case we needed to know something. The girls though were communicating with each other and pacing it correctly with Ian’s help in the car.”

“Joss was the only one riding to power so she was doing a lot of the bigger segments and bigger climbs so as long as she was on power, it meant the others could keep to that and then Anna and Lauren, who were better through the descents and corners, were doing the more technical sections where it was less about target power and more about riding the course on feel and technique. So that played to our strengths both on the climbs and the descents”.

Having won many a team time trial domestically, as well as the Worlds as a consultant, I asked Dan how did the relay compare to a normal TTT?

“Double the effort, double the workload but then there is a lot of cross over. So, one team can basically benefit from the work the other team is doing during the preparation phase. John (Archibald) and I did a lot of work on the course whilst Harry less so because his mum passed away a few weeks out from the Worlds, so he was at home, grieving and getting through a pretty tough time.”

“A lot of our course analysis and research was passed onto Harry and that helped him a great deal and the work was also passed onto the girls who came together (as a team) pretty late. Overall, it’s a double challenge with riders of different abilities, different drag coefficients and everything else.”

Being two teams racing one after the other also meant that once the men’s team finished, the final result was out of their hands. Dan explained that in the cooling down area there was a big screen where they could watch how the other half of the GB team were doing.

“We’d just come in and I think it was about three minutes in when I saw what happened with Lauren snapping an arm rest and then struggling to get back on after a turn as she had to deal with the broken arm rest so I was screaming at the TV for them to ‘hold’ and it could have gone so horribly wrong!”

Time Trial Bike frame off the shelf
At the Worlds, Dan and John were both on new TT bikes from Ribble Cycles with lighter frames after a lot of the paint work had been stripped away. The frame for the bikes they rode to a Bronze medal at the Worlds were the same as the ones they had used for much of the season.

Dan then applied his ‘aeroness’ to them to create a bike that has brought them a lot of success. Asked how they have tweaked the TT bikes to go as fast as they have in races like the British Time Trial Championships where John Archibald was second and Dan fifth, Dan replied “John did a lot of work early season on the TT bike getting the front end dialled in which was a big help”.

“We knew we had new skinsuits and helmets but what works at one speed, with one helmet and one skinsuit is not always the same at another speed so we did a lot of work getting that dialled in and the big win for John with the bike was raising his stack at the front end 40mm from the year before.”

“This meant he was able to increase his power output and be more comfortable giving him aero stability so that was wins all round”.

“He was really happy whilst I refined my position a little bit, but I am kind of at the sharp end of where I can get on the CdA front. A lot of it comes down to being more comfortable and more stable and then making some improvements on the equipment. We have new WattShop aero extensions that myself, John and Harry are running so there were little gains resulting in better results and faster times”.

I asked Dan, can anyone get their Ribble TT bike as fast as his? “Yes” was the reply. “There is nothing we are running that is not available on the commercial market. Some things are more expensive than others but that’s the game we are in and speed costs money. But everything we are running, they can go out and buy”.

I then asked, what else would someone have to do to get the same gains on their Ribble TT bike in getting aero? “The first thing is their body shape and if you can get that into the ‘right’ aero position, you can knock 20 to 30% off your aero drag compared to what you would have with a terrible position. And that is massive”.

“Beyond that, skinsuits can save you a huge amount as can the right helmet on the right person and that isn’t always the same helmet. Just because we run the POC Tempor doesn’t mean the next person should. It just happens to work well for our positions on the bike.”

“Beyond that, it comes down to the fine details. The right tyres at the right pressure which is typically a lot lower than what people think they should be running. A good wheel set which works well and there isn’t a lot between wheelsets these days, so they are there or thereabouts. Then there are the little gains like the drive train and things like bar extensions where the gains are not massive, five to ten watts, but it adds up.”

So the cockpit area of a TT bike is important to get right I asked? “That is where the focus lies these days and UCI regs are quite telling in that we’ve seen four or five regulation changes in the past two years because of how that area has seen development pushing it forward. But because the regs are well defined and fairly stable, you can develop within that window and push it to its absolute optimum”.

“People realise the position of riders is very important. If you can get into the right position and hold it consistently, how aero you are will improve massively and if you can get comfortable and get a good aero profile around that area, you’re onto a winner”.

With the road season pretty much done and dusted now, it is time for Dan to look forward to putting the training he’s been doing on the boards with his track team, Huub Wattbike, since June into practice. At a launch at the Derby velodrome this week, Dan revealed in front of a packed press conference that among the goals were three World Cups, Minsk (Belarus), Glasgow (Scotland) and Brisbane (Australia).

The team’s goals are quite lofty ones and include wins at three World Cup events, to break the 4km Team Pursuit record, break the 4km Individual Pursuit record, and break the HOUR record in Bolivia at 2600 metres altitude.

The challenge for them is to achieve these goals with new riders in the team Kyle Gordon and Will Perrett whilst World record holder in the IP, Ashton Lambie will return to the fold when his USA team commitments are done with.

Whilst the 2019/20 track season is now almost upon us, preparation for it has been going on since June for Dan and his Huub Wattbike team. “We’ve been on the track once a fortnight since the track nationals back in January, so we haven’t stopped. We knew technically we were weak, and we needed to focus on track time together. It’s not been intense stuff, slower than IP pace as a team, but all about line, line, line because we know if we can get that drilled, we can go a lot quicker.”

Having pretty much got that technique drilled over the many months of work, lately, the work on the track for Dan and the team has been about top end as well. “The last few weeks have been full gas, pretty much nailing the top end” explained Dan. “Technically, I don’t think we have been better and it’s all coming together with new bikes, new skinsuits and new shiny new bits that will help us as well.”

“We are progressing well with the new guys. The engines are there, the aero, the technical stuff is where it needs to be, and they are hitting the numbers we need them to hit. There is nothing more we can ask of them”.

There has been a lot of ‘noise’ on social media at the way the UCI are changing World Track Cups and making them Nation Cups and not allowing trade teams to compete in them. For teams like Dan’s Huub Wattbike track team, it is massive kick in the teeth.

Dan explained how that post Tokyo Olympics, the Winter World Cups, that will be held this winter pre-Olympics, won’t exist for on the track. Those winter events will be replaced by Nation Cups in the summer (July/August/September). It means Dan and his team, along with all the other trade teams, won’t have an international programme in the winter to challenge them.

The fans of these trade teams will also miss out as well because the teams they support, will now be unable to take on the nations of the world and as Huub Wattbike showed, beat them. One only has to look at how the whole ‘Derbados’ fan engagement thing took off to know what a backward step it is by the UCI.

“The whole Derbados thing has seen us bring everyone; the team and the fans, together and I just spotted someone wearing a Derbados t-shirt walk past me here at the show (NEC Cycle show) which is cool because that shows that people buy into it. People have something to follow like a local football team and can feel part of it and that is what we want. We want people to follow us like they are supporting their home team”.

There is no doubt that the boring, backward looking UCI officials just can’t see how the trade teams, especially those outside of their national teams, have created a new and exciting way to bring in new fans and the Huub Wattbike team is at the forefront of that.

For me as an Australian, I like to use the analogy of when the Kerry Packer cricket series came in back in the 70’s. The establishment hated it, but the crowds loved it and for the benefit of that sport, it was developed and taken forward over the decades to come. The UCI however and its old timers controlling the sport are obviously blind to the huge mistakes they are making.

The opportunity to take the sport of track cycling forward has been dealt a big blow but I put it to Dan, has his team not achieved everything they can at World Track Cup level? “We have achieved probably everything we can achieve in the sense of winning Worlds Cups and in John’s case, breaking World Records”.

“The top end for us now lies in putting on the shelf the Team Pursuit, Individual Pursuit and Hour records and doing that properly. Beyond that, we are very limited what we can do on the track. We can’t do the Europeans, the Worlds, the Commonwealths or the Olympics, so you can’t keep stepping up without being a nation and as I have said before, GB are not engaging with us on that level so we are kind of stuck were are”.

“In some ways, we have this glass ceiling which is a bit annoying. But then you always try and find a way of improving and as World Records go, you just want to go fast and if you are the fastest in history, there is little anyone can do to take that away from you.”

So does Dan enjoy racing in the winter when most riders in road teams are sunning themselves in warm climates or training in the winter weather here in the UK? “Hugely so” was the reply. “I just enjoy developing fast kit, riding fast times with my mates and enjoying those sessions where you put the hammer down and go fast.”

“We are always chasing speed and I guess that is what my life is about, whether it’s WattShop developing fast components or Ribble on the road winning road races or time trials or on the track and winning World Cups and breaking World records. It’s all about going fast”.

The Coming Winter
Going fast for Dan and his mates won’t stop in the coming winter just yet with three World Track Cups and some World Record attempts to come. “We want to go to World Cups and win as much as we can. We have lost Harry Tanfield who is now with Katusha (to become the Israel Cycling Academy World Tour team) and Ashton Lambie is tied to the US team, so we won’t get him until our third World Cup (the 5th round of the World Cup in Brisbane.) (Six rounds in all).

“At the first two rounds (Minsk and Glasgow) we’ll have Will Perrett and Kyle Gordon who have done a fair bit of track racing. Kyle was third (John Archibald and Dan Bigham 1-2) back at the nationals in the Individual Pursuit with 4.15 so he obviously has some good pursuiting behind him and Will has been on the track forever so technically he’s awesome and his engine has come on in leaps and bounds since he has come on board with us.”

“So we have two new guys, new tactics and the challenge of how we are going to optimise the team with the two new additions. It’s about how do we win the World Cups. There is an IP in Minsk which John will do. The second World Cup is in Glasgow so will be a big one with John, Kyle and Jonny with them being Scottish, there will be a big fan contingent there so we’re hoping to put on a show.”

“Then we have a few weeks having a rebuild and then over to Brisbane (Australia) and that is probably our ‘A’ race in the Worlds Cup series”.

“Everyone wants to win their home World Cups but I think Brisbane will be the best opportunity for us to do an outrageous ride (Team Pursuit) and take it to the Aussies. I’ll then spend some time out there with Joss (Lowden), travel around and see some family before building back up. One thing I have struggled with is keeping on top of track form from October to April so having a little bit of recovery in the middle before we’re on it again is quite important.”

“Then we have the British Championships (January 24-26) and Worlds with John and maybe myself, before heading onto Bolivia for the records!”

Dan, the road racer
With a lot of challenges during his season, we haven’t seen a lot of Dan in road races in 2019 but he has had some pretty good rides in big races though.

“I have had a good road season” he says. “I had some great form early season, the best I have ever been riding on the road but feel I didn’t put it too good use in either riding for other people or getting in a breakaway. I didn’t get the results I felt I deserved before I then rocked up at the nationals and it was season over. I did a few races here and there but by then I had the focus on the track”.

He hopes to expand his ambitions on the road in 2020. “I think we will have to look for challenges on the road unless the UCI change their approach to the Nations Track Cups on the track and allow us and other trade teams to keep competing.”

“If not, then we are going to have to shift the focus to time trials and road racing. There is a lot we can do in that arena. Ribble Pro Cycling is open to taking these ideas forward and I know that there is a lot that we do in the track team that could rub off onto the road team and result in better performances. It can take a lot of commitment and lot of effort to bring those ideas onboard but there is a lot we can do on the road to properly step up”.

Asked for his highlights in 2019, he says he felt awesome in the Tour de Yorkshire. “I enjoyed that, but I felt I could have ridden those last few kilometres (on stage 1) differently, but at the time you play it how it feels right at that moment and there are always ifs, buts and maybes. Hopefully I will get more of those opportunities next year and roll the dice differently.”

“The biggest thing we have shown this year is that it’s not been just about one rider in the team. If you look at the Tour of Britain qualification, we had something like eight different scorers and it shows our strength in depth and whilst we are not going out there and winning all the rounds (they won one however), we have done well with home grown talent”.

“The team is built of riders who are quite literally homegrown. Jack has built this team from his shed into what it is now. The riders are not ex World Tour or ProConti pros; they are just guys he’s met at Croft (racing circuit in the North East) or elsewhere and expanded from there.”

“I met Alex Luhrs and Tom Tim at BUCS Road Race in 2015, then joined the team in 2016. Tipper met John at National 25 in 2017 and invited him to join the team. I think that is quite cool to have progressed to the level we are at quite naturally and next year we are looking to be competitive and stand on those podiums and hold our heads high”.

Have time trials taken a back seat this year I asked Dan? “It has unfortunately. I didn’t like the courses the CTT had selected for the championships and I told them months in advance. Those courses were frustrating. There are arguments from both sides on using dual carriageways but having spent a fair amount of time looking at the data from both mine and other’s racing, they are never honest courses because of the inconsistency of traffic.”

“Until we get closed roads, they will never be honest. You go to a national championship where it is supposed to be the race of truth and the best rider should win but at the moment it’s the best rider who just happened to have ten lorries come past them. Technology now allows us to view the impact of this objectively, and it has definitely made me view time trials a lot differently. We should be chasing closed roads, motor racing circuits etc. It’s where the future of this sport lies in my opinion”.

Instead of competing himself in the championship, Dan took to helping others such as girlfriend Joss (Lowden) and John’s girlfriend Emily (Meakin). On how he helps them Dan says “Just fine tuning the little details because they are already switched on and have good support from Aaron at the Independent Pedaller” (note, sponsored by Aaron’s café in Canterbury).

“Aaron has gone out of his way to give them as much as possible whilst I’ve just helped out with the fine tuning like the position on the bike, helmets, extensions, drive train, tyre selection and the pacing. They’ve gone out, trained hard, focused on the details and they understand what they need to do and how they need to do it.”

“They (Joss and Emily) take a strong interest in the aero and performance side. They know why they have to ride hard in certain areas and why aero matters. It’s refreshing that they all get it, and the results speak for themselves”.

Dan is also helping out some rather high-ranking trade teams with his knowledge in getting the most from a rider’s performance. “The big thing working with teams like Canyon SRAM and Jumbo Visma is they are quite impressive compared to other pro teams I have spoken to in that they buy into new ideas and accept they don’t always know the answer but they want to ask the right questions” says Dan.

“So, they seek out the people to help them to find the answers to the questions. It makes it rewarding to have people taking such an active interest and letting me play around with their highly prized riders!”.

“They just want to learn, and I think that is the biggest thing other teams could learn from them because other teams are not so open to new ideas and challenging the status quo. In Canyon SRAM, they are also open to rider education which some people are very risk adverse to in they don’t want riders to be questioning staff or coaches”.

“At Canyon SRAM, it is the other way round and they want the riders to understand everything about being aero and how they should be optimising their equipment; what tyres and what pressure, what gearing to use on certain courses and I have gone out of my way to develop certain tools that mean the riders can sit down and analyse their own performance which is something we have always challenged within our own track team.”

“Now, teams like Canyon SRAM can go to the Worlds course and know exactly what gearing to run, and if they ride ten watts higher, should they change their gears and so on. Things like that mean they can understand every aspect of their performance and then improve it”.

After what has been a very memorable year, one can only wonder what heady heights Dan and his teams will get to in 2019/2020. Whether its racing fast or helping others go fast, Dan is showing more and more what is possible and how riding a bike fast is a lot more complicated than just pedalling fast!

Thanks to Dan for the chat and good luck in the coming World Cups.

Track Cycling World Cup
Round 1: 1/3 November
Round 2: Glasgow 8/10 November
Round 3: Hong Kong 29 Nov to 1st December
Round 4: New Zealand 6/8 December
Round 5: Brisbane (Aus) 13/15 December
Round 6: Canada, 24/26 January 2020


Cycle Division’s Shop

Send your results as well as club, team & event news here

Other Results on VeloUK (including reports containing results)

Other News on VeloUK