Oxfordshire with GP racer Bradley Smith
DISTANCE 18 miles (30km)
MAIN CLIMB To Brill
TOTAL CLIMB 200 metres
ACHTUNG! Traffic on B4011
Ask a motorcycle racer about his injuries and he’ll respond: “Like actual broken bones, you mean?” If there is one area where a pro motorcyclist comfortably outscores a cyclist it’s with the injury card.
The cuts, bruises and scrapes that can seriously affect a cyclist are racked up like Nectar points by motorbike racers. They get double points though, for ligament damage, concussion, broken bones, and severed fingers and toes. And that’s before you get
to the serious knocks that could actually prevent them racing. When it comes to crashing,
motorcycle racers have got us beat. And they don’t bleat about it either — it’s not unusual to see an injured racer demand that he is carried to his motorcycle and physically lifted into the saddle so that he can continue to race.
There’s lots to admire about these leather-suited characters, who have more in common with cyclists than we like to admit. Many ride bicycles as part of their fitness programmes. Quite a few in fact are nuts about cycling and avid followers of the pro scene.
One such is Bradley Smith who races a 125cc Aprilia for Polaris World in the Moto GP world
championship. Moto GP also includes a 250cc series and the blue riband 800cc class with superstars like Valentino Rossi and the UK’s James Toseland.
The 125 class is where the Rossis of the future have traditionally started out and Smith, 17, is currently lying seventh overall with a best placing of second at Le Mans. He is one of the UK’s most talented up and coming grand prix riders.
Smith lives with his family in a village on the edge of Oxford and was intending to race his bicycle this year but numerous crashes on his Aprilia have had him covering more miles on crutches than his Cervelo. His new Specialized Tricross has also been languishing in the shed, but he is hoping to ride some cyclo-cross races on it this winter, and will, if the rest of the season is relatively injury free.
The high life
“I broke my left toe going for pole in qualifying at Mugello,” Smith starts the ’08 list of pain. “And that crash also dislodged my tibia and fibia. I also did ligament damage to my hand. The following week I high-sided again and all my recovery was lost as I re-damaged the same bones. In that crash I just managed to hold on to one side of the bike as it accelerated towards the wall. I let go and was flying through the gravel but the bike bounced off the wall and hit me. I didn’t feel too well after that. I was a bit the worse for wear, in fact.”
He’s had about ‘half a dozen’ high-sides this year. A high-side is the worst type of crash and thankfully rare in cycling. It was a bicycle high-side that effectively ended Joseba Beloki’s career in the 2003 Tour de France, when Lance Armstrong did his famous shortcut across a field.
On a motorcycle a high-side is heart-stoppingly spectacular: “You lose rear grip (on a corner) and as it slides you close the throttle. Then it grips again. The bike is like a wound up coil and when it lets go, it lets go big.” The rider is catapulted into the air, landing
heavily either on the track or in the gravel trap, where he just about has time to duck out of the way of his rapidly disintegrating, cartwheeling machine.
When we meet for a short ride around the lanes, Smith looks healthy and fit, having just returned from a weekend cycling trip to Italy with his mechanic Dennis Pazzaglini and ex-pro Roberto Conti, winner of the Alpe d’Huez stage and sixth overall in the 1994 Tour de France. They had ridden the Stelvio (2,758m), Passo Rombo (2,491m) and Merano 2000 (1,620m) climbs. The mid-season break, after 10 of 17 races, has given Smith a good chance to heal up, work on his fitness, and go flying down mountain passes on his bicycle. Isn’t that a bit a tame compared to his 150mph 125?
“It is, but on the bicycle you are in the wind, with no leathers or engine. You don’t have a
big helmet or earplugs so it’s a different sensation.
“On a Moto GP track you are on a 10 metre-wide strip of tarmac with very little on either side. The others might be alongside going at 90mph but you are all doing the same speed and it feels slow. There is no rock face next you like there is on a bicycle where everything goes by so fast. I get an adrenaline rush from that.”
We are straight into the genteel Oxfordshire countryside, where the traffic is midweek-light and the going easy on flat and straight lanes which criss-cross the M40 heading east to Brill, then south to Chilton and Long Crendon. The climb to the pretty village of Brill, with its landmark windmill, just needs some cobbles and it could be in Flanders.
Smith clambers over a style and is keen to try out some cyclo-cross technique. Weighing in at 51kg (just over eight stone), he nudges 58kg in full leathers and helmet and the team must add two kilos to the bike to reach the minimum weight limit. Getting his bony elbows into the triangle as he shoulders the Tricross might take a few goes but you can see the lad has got what it takes on a bicycle, and his two-hour time up the Stelvio is mighty impressive. He is supported by In-Gear Cycle Sport in Uckfield, Sussex, and they have done a good job fitting him up on the Tricross — he looks like a natural on it.
He’s got the ‘grinta’ to be a very good cyclist. In his first race last year Smith refused to pack despite being dropped on the first lap by a bunch of seasoned racers. He completed the whole event, 90km, riding alone in constant rain to finish 29th and last, but ahead
of lots of riders who packed due to the conditions. In his second race at Hillingdon he stayed with the bunch and contested the bunch sprint.
Smith pedals easily past thatched cottages and pubs with colourful hanging baskets into Worminghall, where it rains briefly, leaving the roads shining silver and gently steaming in the sunshine. On the track, it’s been a season of rain-hit races and Smith has been desperately unlucky to have missed out on a maiden win after showers have caused crashes and re-starts.
Out on his bicycle, away from the pressures of the Moto GP circuit, Smith shows great maturity in laughing off what has been a torrid half season. The first big win is just round the corner. As his fan club sticker says: ‘Go Brad!’
YOUR GUIDE: BRADLEY SMITH
- Age 17, lives near Stanton St John with family, mum Dawn, dad Allan, sister Ashleah (16) and brother Cortnie (13)
- Rides for In-Gear RT and did two RRs in 2007
- Fave song: Fort Minor ‘Remember The Name’. Hear it on a fan’s website bradleysmithfanclub.com and visit Smith’s site at bradley-smith.co.uk
- Failed his first driving test for being too hesitant. Takes his motorcycle test soon.
From Stanton St John head east on minor road, taking left fork after half a kilometre to cross M40 motorway. Turn right (TR) to Oakley where TR onto B4011. Turn left (TL) to climb up hill to Brill, where TR in village and descend to Chilton. Continue to Easington and into Long Crendon where TR and TL after crossing the B4011, direction Shabbington. TR onto minor road and return to Stanton St John via Worminghall, crossing M40.