The Cycling Underdogs Transforming The Sport
Amateur cycling Team KGF rocked the cycling world last year as their unique scientific and mental strategies stole them victories. Now they're back, with a new name and new kit...
Team KGF were one of British sport’s most inspiring underdog stories – an amateur squad of talented cyclists who missed the usual GB selection processes but who decided to form a track team of their own, scraping together some money to enter the World Championships last year, and then winning the team pursuit round in Belarus. For a team who were sleeping on each other’s floors at the time, it was a remarkable achievement helped by a tight unit mentality and plenty of innovation, led by rider Dan Bingham, an aerodynamics expert with a background in Formula One. Their success meant three of the team went to the Commonwealth games and one of its members, Charlie Tanfield, was snapped up for Team GB.
Now, they are returning with a new name, the Huub Wattbike Test Team, a new lineup – with Charlie’s brother Harry coming onto the team alongside Dan, Jonny Wale, Jacob Tipper and John Archibald – and a new kit, and a renewed determined to shake things up again. Working out of the Derby Arena velodrome they are about to head into the World Championships against top national teams like Australia, New Zealand and of course Britain, with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as the big prize at the end of it.
Playing a big part in making this a distinct possibility are their new skinsuits which have been produced specially for them by HUUB, who usually make triathlon gear for the likes of the Brownlee Brothers, and who worked with computational fluid design experts TotalSim to create a uniquely drag-resistant gear.
Of course, it’s been an area Dan Bingham has worked obsessively on too – this is a man who is busy turning the sport on its head with a team pursuit system based on the strength of individual members rather than getting ‘types’ to fit into an agreed team dynamic. Even more uniquely, this includes staying attuned to how the riders’ strengths might vary from day to day, according to their physical and mental health fluctuations. Such a personal as well as scientific approach make this team a true inspiration.
We chatted with Dan about the launch of the kit (which is available for all cyclists to buy), the coming championships and how the team works.
The championships & the gear
“This is our second year as a UCI bike team, and we have the goal of trying to achieve something at the World Cup. We’re going there all guns blazing, and really taking on the whole series, all the national teams, Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, Great Britain.
The launch of the clothing is critical in our performance. In the world of cycling aerodynamics is massive, so clothing is crucial – if you have the right technology you can take quite a big leap. So we’re relaunching the team with a new name of the Huub Wattbike Test Team, and launching the clothing with all the mad tech that’s gone into it.”
The mad tech
“If you break down our event, the team pursuit, when you’re on the front going at 63kph we’re putting out roughly 600 watts and about 500 of that is your drag. To break that down you’ve got your wheels, your frame, shoes, helmet and body. About 8o% of it all is your body, the shape of it, the position you’re in and the clothing you wear. Clothing is absolutely huge. People think you can’t really change the shape of your body but you can definitely change how the air flows around it.
What you can do with different types of fabric, is to allocate air to different parts of the body. You can reduce the friction applied as the air flows over it, or you can create turbulent flow in the right area to reduce the low pressure downstream behind the arms, behind the legs, behind the back. It all goes into some very high tech materials testing to look at these properties and how the material will perform at a range of velocities and in different orientations. Then you strategically place the materials on the body in a very well fitted skin suit. It’s not your usual small, medium, large, it’s been tailored to us so it fits perfectly, and the seams are placed in the right location using the right fabrics. All these small little details count. You might be looking at around 2 second reduction in our suit time which is massive in a sub 4-minute event.
And it looks cool.”
The formation of the team
“We’re 2 years from when we started out with me and Charlie. We rode in the same road team, training for nationals and having a go at the individual pursuit. We thought, ‘Shall we look at a team as well, can we get a few more riders together?’ My friend Jonny from Uni I’d seen how well he was riding and his quite unique strategies, so I thought yeah I’ll have a piece of that. And then Tipper – it wasn’t his core area but he could ride track so we thought yeah we’ll get him in.
So it was a bit of a mish mash and quite late in the day as well, with only 4 or 5 weeks before nationals. But we got together as a team and focused on our training. We were sleeping between sessions on Jonny’s Uni halls floor, which is not great when you have automatic lights – at 4 o clock in the morning when someone goes to the loo it wakes everyone up.
But needs must, and It got us there. We had massive progression, we had 4.25 after our first session together for a 4k and by the nationals we were down to 4.04, so in 4 weeks knocking 20 seconds off was a pretty cool achievement.”
“It’s not the usual Team GB set up where you turn up, ride your bike, go home, and sit on your arse. We’re doing everything, from our physiology to our training, all our equipment development, our strategy, all that stuff is done in-house by ourselves, which in a way is actually a bit of a benefit. Every single rider understands what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and why we’re trying to do it as well. It’s not where you turn up and the coach says, ‘right ride 4k with these splits and these turns…’ we have to think, ‘well we’re doing this for x, y and z reason, and this rider is having a good day, that one’s having a bad day, he’s going to be peaking in this way, this is what his physiology says…’ You pull all that together to hopefully perform well on the day.
Mental health & the team
“Mental health is a massive part of things for us. At the end of the day how you’re performing is about how you’re feeling in your head. We’ve all had our ups and downs, and we speak quite often with people from the Derbyshire Institute of sport – the psychologists there help us a great deal with personal management. Jonny on the team is bipolar, so he has a lot to deal with, which is just another balancing act for the team. If he has a bad day we work to get him on the straight and narrow so he can perform, because when he’s on a high he’s absolutely flying. It’s a team dynamic management thing to make sure everyone gets in the best mental state.
You end up very attuned to each other. Reading little things. Like how someone has responded to a comment or how they look around breakfast. You have to give people space if they want to do something different or clear off; everyone needs their own time. So it’s being attuned to that and making sure as a team you have each other’s back.”
The cycling boom
“The explosion of cycling in this country is a combination of a lot of different things. Obviously, Britain performing amazingly on the world stage – which started at London 2012 and was a big moment for sport in the UK, then the Tour de France, and all the grand tours getting won by British riders has been a massive thing. And also people realising that as transport method it’s great – it’s clean it’s easy it’s healthy, why wouldn’t you do it? And also, it’s social. Instead of sitting in a pub having a drink people can go out for a ride with their mates, get out into the countryside, race each other up the hill. But the fact that we’re bloody world class at cycling helps!”
The Coming Championships
“I feel really confident. It’s something we had a discussion about as a team this morning. What is success for each rider and why? And what values do we want to exude as individuals? And I think a big thing that came out of that is execution. So we know how fast we can go, but as a team it’s about turning up on race day and executing the absolute best performance we can have. We know that in training and equipment development strategy we’ve executed things well. We’ve got everything in place but actually on the day we have to get the best out of ourselves. If the stars align I don’t see why we can’t be winning World Cups consistently and with fast times. But I’m not going to put a time on it right now!
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