27-year-old Alice Staniford – known as @Tiny_Pigeon to her 3000 followers on Twitter, where she’s been a vocal advocate for all forms of cycling for some time – spent the last two years with EliteVelo-Kalas, for whom she took a number of podium finishes. She was born in Northamptonshire, but is now based in Exeter with husband Tom. Tom, also 27, was born in Cyprus and, as a “forces urchin,” has lived all over the place including Germany, Kuwait and even such exotic places as Leicestershire and Wales. In 2011, he was National C3 Circuit Race Champion (you can read much more about Tom’s cycling career, and the crash that nearly ended it almost as soon as it began) on Wikipedia.
Their latest venture is Cycle Engage UK, an entirely new outfir consisting of a women’s team and a paracycling team, with backing from the legendary wheelchair racer Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. Companies that might wish to back what looks set to be one of the most interesting new teams in British cycling for many years can contact Alice and Tom via the team Facebook page.
When and how did you first get into cycling?
Alice: I thought I might cycle across Europe to Italy in my summer holidays of my first year of University. I quickly bought a £70 off ebay and a super tiny tent and started cycling more and more (but never made it out of the county let alone country). I started back in second year at Uni and promptly crashed and put myself in hospital. After half a year of recuperating I got a proper racing bike and started cycling again. Within a year or so Charlie Easton had persuaded me to do my first race and I was on the path to becoming a competitive cyclist.
Tom: Used to ride everywhere as a kid. Usual story- seduced by the TdF. Got a road bike, rode some more, joined a club!
Do you remember your first bike?
Alice: It was pink. Maybe a Raleigh.
Tom: The earliest bike I can remember was a lovely lime green Raleigh hardtail, when I was about 7 years old. I still remember the gripshift and thinking it was a pretty big deal. My first roadie was a Trek 1000, which I got in 2004. I worked two weekend jobs to raise the money for it, with Dad agreeing to match whatever I saved.
Which is your favourite cycling discipline, and what is it about it that appeals to you?
Alice: It depends on the time of year. In the winter, cyclocross because it’s exciting and scary and it doesn’t matter on the weather. In the summer, definitely road – I’m imagining long warm training rides in the sun.
Tom: I used to say ‘road, no question’ but I am approaching middle-age now [! – mid-40s ed.] so I am wise and deep and… stuff. In all honesty I enjoy watching road, CX, DH, XC, Track. I most closely relate to the road. I love the skill and fitness and brutality of CX. I love watching DH because I will just never attempt it myself. XC because I wish I was that good on my 29er. Track because I’ve done a little and I love the purity of one gear, one direction, one lap, pedal.
And what do you love most about the sport?
Alice: I think it is very colourful. I like lots of colours and pelotons are always colourful and shiny.
Tom: That it’s not just a sport. It’s leisure and fun and transport and exploration too.
Which bit of your racing kit is most important to you?
Alice: Probably my powermeter. I’m not super au fait with exactly what all the numbers mean (I leave that to my coach) but I find it comforting to see I’m hitting the right numbers and I can come away from a training session knowing I did it really well.
Tom: My shoes/insoles. No question. I can’t ride without them due to various physical issues.
What’s great about Cycle Engage?
Alice: We’re new! And a little bit different. We’re targeting the top domestic events but we’re definitely an amateur team – we’ve all got jobs, school and other pressures on our time. The idea of the team is to see how far a ‘normal’ person can get at the elite level when they have a ‘professional’ (ie serious) team and attitude to give them as much support as possible. Not everyone who races competitively wants to be the next Lizzie Deignan but we do all want to achieve our best and feel like we gave our absolute best shot. Cycle Engage aims to provide the base and support to help our riders make the most of their cycling aspirations.
Tom: It would be quicker to answer ‘what’s not great about Cycle Engage?’ And the answer would be ‘not a lot’! In all seriousness we’re stupidly young as a team and still finding our way and pushing ourselves. We have a full calendar of races to compete in and events to support/volunteer/sponsor.
What will you do to support women’s cycling?
Alice: We have lots of plans but for the first year we’re just focussing on consolidating ourselves as a team and getting started on some of our community engagement initiatives.
What should the UCI and British Cycling be doing for women’s cycling?
Alice: I’d like to see a little more coordination and support between (and for) race organisers. There are lots of races these days and organisers and clubs make the effort to put on women’s races but a lack of coordination results in clashing dates, poor promotion and low entries. As a South-West based team it would be nice to see more elite races closer to our region – a large part of our budget is spent on travel and accommodation.
Tom: Many things. Diverting a little more budget to women’s cycling would open up the possibility of doing many of those things.
Obviously you ride a lot of ‘cross races, but tell us a little about your off-season training regime.
Alice: I’ve only done one cross race this season as I’ve focussed instead on building a solid base ready for the road season ahead. I’ve never done a full winter of base training so I’m excited to see how it will affect my performance over the length of the season.
Tom: Think that one was for Alice- I’ve never ridden CX in my life! I have a training bike I use all year round, that has mudguards all year round. The race bike stays securely on the turbo all winter.
Do you have a winter bike or do you stick with your usual trainer?
Alice: I just have my same road bike that I bought when I first got into cycling. It’s nearly dead now so luckily the team will have lovely new Trek race bikes for 2017 thanks to Bike Chain Ricci.
What’s the best way to keep motivated through the winter?
Alice: I signed up with Spragg Cycle Coaching this year so James keeps me motivated with analysis of all my workouts. I’m naturally really lazy so it’s really good at motivating me to do that hard session because if I don’t I have to somehow explain why lying on the sofa was better…
Tom: Make it as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. Choose appropriate route, intensity, company, clothing and cakes to fulfil those two aims.
What were your highlights, favourite race and hardest race in 2016?
Alice: I think the Ras na mBan fits all those categories. It was my first race abroad (if Ireland counts) and it was super exciting to race in such a big peloton from all over the world. But it was also the hardest race since I was completely out of condition and suffering like a dog from Stage 1. I was secretly glad when I crashed out before the epic mountain stage!
What does the future hold for women’s cycling? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
Alice: Optimistic. It’s growing at a huge rate. I just hope that we are building the right infrastructure and support networks to make it sustainable and progressive.
Tom: Huge growth in the next 5 years. I’d like to see a televised Grand Tour, myself. I’m invariably optimistic.
Describe your warm-up routine.
Alice: As soon as I get on the turbo I just want to kill myself so where absolutely possible I avoid it. I use music for indoor training sessions but not normally in a pre-race situation. I like to soak up the vibe.
Tom: Silence. Turbo. Powermeter. Hydration.
There are still some people out there who think women’s racing isn’t as interesting or competitive as men’s racing. What would you say to convince them otherwise?
Alice: Come to a race! Especially cyclocross races, as they’re really great to spectate at.
What are your main aims for the coming season?
Alice: I’m working on improving my endurance (that’s what all the long Winter miles are about) so I’m looking to be comfortably finishing national series events and consistent top twenties or better in team series events.
Tom: Establish the team properly, plan for Year 2, make friends, have fun. In no particular order. And on a personal basis, get back racing regularly to a reasonable standard.
A ten-year-old comes up to you after a race and says she’s just starting to race. What one bit of advice would you give her?
Alice: Study hard! Cycling is fun, but except for the very lucky, it’s not a career.
Tom: Better get back to the start line quickly!
Finally, here’s the keys for the Neutral Service time machine – you can use it to go for a ride with anyone in cycling history, past or present. Who’s it going to be?
Alice: Pauline Ferrand-Prevot or Marianne Vos. I think they’re both really inspiring. I love how they’re both absolutely dominating cyclists and yet still really approachable and feminine.
Tom: Lance. That period was my introduction to the sport and I have so many things I’d like to ask him.
(All photos supplied by Cycle Engage and are copyright of the team or the photo’s owner)
Joining: Heidi Viles, Lucy Driver and Hannah Newsham (all from Somerset RC), Jenny Bolsom (from Bike Motion), Susan Freeburn (from PMR@Toachim House), Alice Staniford and Sophie Williams (both from EliteVelo-Kalas). Tom Staniford is the first rider on the paracycling team, with more to be announced in the future.
Previous Ten Minute interviews on Neutral Service
Catherine Coley – Sian Botteley – Maddie Gammons – Gemma Sargent – Gaby Homer and Savannah Morgan – Valentina Scandolara – Alicia Speake – Meredith Miller – Anneke Prins – Giorgia Bronzini – Marijn De Vries – Heather Bamforth – Georgina Pymer – Nicola Soden – Detta Guerrini – Isla Rush – Jen Edwards – Anika Todd – Alice Cobb – Deborah John – Tanya Griffiths – Laura Morgan – Rebecca Nixon – Suzanne Deveny – Karla Boddy – Sjekkie Vos