I was recently lucky enough to get a place on the 2012 Garmin Sharp Ride Out organised by Garmin UK. I got my place through the ballot so considered myself very lucky to be among the 500 people gathering at the UK Youth Avon Tyrrell activity centre in the New Forest on a sunny and warm Friday morning.
Garmin have put this event on for the last few years to co-incide with the Tour of Britain. They bill it as a chance for their pro team riders to give something back to the fans, and the whole day was certainly in that spirit. The highlight of the day was to be a 50 mile ride through the New Forest in the company of the pro riders and assorted other special guests. However the whole day from start to end was a well run and extremely fun occasion.
After registration, which included possibly the best goody bag ever (including in my case an extra piece of luck in being a random winner of a Camelbak) there was time to peruse a variety of demo/vendor stalls. Muc-Off were giving demos of their cleaning products whilst of course, Garmin were demonstrating their cycling related GPS units. Indeed you could also hire one free of charge for the ride (I’m already an Edge 500 user.) Mavic mechanics were also giving bikes a fettle on request.
In a larger marquee area Garmin’s UK Fitness product manager gave a good demo of the features of Garmin Connect. In the presentation and Q&A he openly admitted that progress with Connect hasn’t been as fast as they would like. He also talked about some of the upcoming features they are working on, including better elevation/gradient features in activity views and course planning, as well as more social/discovery features. All of which should help bring Connect more in line with some of the competition that have moved faster and which, frankly, have taken mind and market share. It will be interesting to see if Connect can tempt me back from being an avid (and paying) Strava user.
Next up was no less than Phil White, the founder and CEO of Cervélo – the Canadian bike company that of course provide Garmin Sharp Barracuda with bikes (after Garmin and Cervelo Test Team merged for the 2011 season.) Phil talked about how he and Gerard Vroomen started the company as cycling enthusiasts but primarily as engineers. He then discussed advanced in carbon-fibre technology and some of the innovations they have brought to the cycle industry, especially in terms of testing. He claimed Cervélo were the first company to actually factor in the rider in frame testing! Finally he talked about aerodynamics and how Cervélo have innovated in this area through use of Computational Fluid Dynamics and other wind-tunnel analysis, especially focussed around the development of the P5 time trial/triathlon frame. He talked about “foam Dave” – a laser modelled replica of Dave Zabriskie used to achieve consistent and repeatable tunnel tests.
During the Q&A I asked Phil if he thought the UKSI bikes used by Team GB at the Olympics were likely to be superior to commercial products given their hype, or whether it was just smoke and mirrors. He answered that he hadn’t obviously been able to obtain a UKSi bike, but he was pleased that David Millar, the Garmin rider and Team GB road captain, was not pressured to ride one of the UKSI creations and chose to ride his Cervélo S5.
After Phil finished it was announced that the Garmin team were delayed (aside, they went to the wrong place – jokes were made about that given the sponsor!) so a couple of hastily arranged Q&A sessions were presented. First up was Tim Don, 2006 ITU Triathlon World Champion.
Tim was brilliant value, answering everything asked of him with humour and honesty. This included his disappointment at not being selected for London 2012 (the BTA went with a strategy of choosing “domestiques” who would ride solely for the Brownlees.) and his goals for the future.
Next were Felix English and Luke Mellor from Rapha Condor Sharp. They were thrown in at the deep end a bit but made a good fist of their Q&A and came across as hungry young pros.
By this time most people were getting hot and sweaty in the marquee and increasingly eager to get out on the road. The ride briefing kept some interest, but thankfully the Garmin team arrived and quickly got up on stage.
A short interview commenced, covering the year so far (including the relatively disastrous Tour de France) before the questions were opened up to the floor. Naturally most were aimed at Tyler and Sep, but in the spirit of the occasion it was good that nobody asked anything too testing or controversial.
So, onto the main event. We were set off in groups of about fifty. Unlike what I’ve read about previous years, there was no attempt to segregate groups by expected speed, which was good. I ended up in the third wave out, and we had Nathan Haas along with us.
I managed to have a chat with Nathan about his season, saddle sores and his goals for the Tour of Britain (it has been one of his main goals all year) and his targets for 2013. The pace being set was fairly average and it was clear that the pros were quite happy to go at the prevailing pace of the group they were with. I took the opportunity to play pretend pro and shot off the front to catch a smaller group further up the road. I eventually made my way onto the back of a much larger group with Sep Vanmarcke on the front. I stayed with this group until the food stop at halfway.
The second half saw me ride solo or with smaller groups. At one point I hooked up with a larger group and realised I was following the wheel of Tim Don! This lasted for about five miles until we hit an exposed section with a headwind and a slightly uphill drag that saw me drop off the back. I made it back to the start with an average speed of just under 19mph however.
Post-ride hot food was provided as every relaxed and swapped stories before people started to ebb away.
A massive thank you to Garmin UK, the Garmin Sharp Barracuda team and everybody else involved in the day. Of course, events like this are always PR exercises but this really felt like it was aimed at giving back to the fans. Judging by the number of people wearing Garmin kit, riding Cervélos and generally having an awesome time, it is well worth the cost and effort. Given the amount that people pay for a far inferior experience at a lot of UK sportives this event really stands apart. Other pro teams could do well to follow the example. I hope I get lucky next year as well!