Stephen Park

Bri­tish Cy­cling’s new per­for­mance direc­tor talks gold medals, in­de­pen­dent re­views and Wiggo’s UKAD in­ves­ti­ga­tion

Cyclist - - The Big Ride - Words MARK BAI­LEY Pho­tog­ra­phy ALEX WRIGHT

Cy­clist: Be­fore join­ing Bri­tish Cy­cling in 2017 you man­aged the world-beat­ing GB sail­ing team. What new ideas will you bring to cy­cling?

Stephen Park: Hope­fully I can bring a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. Hav­ing been in­volved in the Olympic en­vi­ron­ment I have a good un­der­stand­ing of what it takes for ath­letes to be suc­cess­ful. But ev­ery sport is dif­fer­ent, so I don’t come to Bri­tish Cy­cling think­ing I know how to au­to­mat­i­cally de­liver medals. We have a huge num­ber of peo­ple with a great range of skills and a big­ger co­hort of high-qual­ity ath­letes than ever be­fore. I hope to bring some per­spec­tive to the lead­er­ship of that team.

Cyc: Where do you look for new ideas?

SP: Once you are a learner, you be­come a life­long learner. Do I lis­ten to pod­casts? Yes. Do I lis­ten to them just in cy­cling? No. Do I lis­ten to peo­ple who are a bit dis­rup­tive? Yes. Do I lis­ten to Ques­tion Time and think about lead­er­ship styles? Yes. Have I been to look at other high-level sports? Yes. But I’m con­scious that I won’t al­ways come back with five great things to im­ple­ment. It is more about con­tin­u­ing to grow and add lay­ers.

Cyc: You joined be­fore the in­de­pen­dent re­view into al­le­ga­tions of bul­ly­ing and dis­crim­i­na­tion was pub­lished. How has it shaped your plans?

SP: No doubt it shaped the year pretty sig­nif­i­cantly. I was spend­ing a lot of time re­act­ing. There is a mis­sile go­ing off so you run over there and put your shield up. And there is an­other one com­ing in over there, so you run back there and put your shield up. So there was a lit­tle bit of time needed to sta­bilise things.

There is no doubt peo­ple here were – and still are – con­cerned about their in­ter­ac­tion with other staff or rid­ers. They were ques­tion­ing them­selves. Is this right? Is this not right? Is it re­ally as bad as it says over here? The other side was the chal­lenge of peo­ple feel­ing they were be­ing judged un­fairly. I think most peo­ple in the pro­gramme didn’t feel that the re­view rep­re­sented their ob­ser­va­tions of what they saw and how they op­er­ated on a day-to-day ba­sis.

That is not to say they felt the views of some of the peo­ple be­ing rep­re­sented were in­cor­rect, or were not ac­cu­rate ob­ser­va­tions, be­cause it is the ex­pe­ri­ence they lived. A lot of peo­ple felt it didn’t nec­es­sar­ily rep­re­sent what they saw but they could un­der­stand why other peo­ple might have felt like that.

So peo­ple were quite badly dented and I felt sorry for the sport be­cause they’d just come back af­ter a fan­tas­tic per­for­mance in Rio and never re­ally got the op­por­tu­nity to cel­e­brate.

Cyc: What changes have been made to im­prove ath­lete wel­fare?

SP: In terms of my own role, think­ing more about cul­ture – chang­ing some of the think­ing, so it’s not just about what we do but how we do it. We want more in­ter­ac­tion, but we also have to recog­nise that ath­letes are dif­fer­ent to 10 years ago. The en­vi­ron­ment is dif­fer­ent. I don’t need to tell peo­ple how hard they need to train be­cause they

The de­scent is a scin­til­lat­ing dash along a snaking road flanked by rocks covered in moss the colour of kiwi fruit

This his­toric pass, which marks the bound­ary be­tween the Cot­tian and Gra­ian Alps, has been used for cen­turies. The Carthaginian gen­eral Han­ni­bal is be­lieved to have passed here on his fa­mous ele­phant cross­ing of the Alps in 218BC. Charle­magne, the King of the Francs, crossed it with his army (not of ele­phants) in 773. Me­dieval pil­grims used it on their way to Rome. Then Napoleon Bon­a­parte con­structed the road here in 1810 to al­low carts and car­riages to pass over.

I had ex­pected the climb to be the eas­ier of the day’s two as­cents. I was mis­taken. The Mont Ce­nis rises 682m over 9.8km, with an av­er­age gra­di­ent of 7% and bursts of 10%. In the early af­ter­noon heat, how­ever, it’s a gru­elling as­cent, al­though thank­fully the shade of the for­est makes the tem­per­a­ture more bear­able.

The road is a sin­is­ter blend of steep straights and wide hair­pins and in the last kilo­me­tre, as the road straight­ens out, we face a pun­ish­ing head­wind that seems de­ter­mined to swipe us back down­hill from whence we came. And

al­though this en­tire route fea­tures less than 2,500m of climb­ing, most of it is at high al­ti­tude so it’s much tougher than the pro­file sug­gests.

At the sum­mit we’re wel­comed by the glis­ten­ing ex­panse of the Lac du Mont Ce­nis. Sur­rounded by pointed spires of rock and glow­ing bright blue in the sun­shine, it’s a scene more evoca­tive of Patag­o­nia than the Alps. The peaks of the 3,610m Pointe de Ronce and the 3,478m Mont Lamet stand guard over the lake and more than 700 dif­fer­ent types of flow­ers light up its shore­line.

In the 1961 edi­tion of the Tour de France, French rid­ers Manuel Busto and Guy Ig­no­lin ar­rived here with a com­mand­ing 25-minute lead and Busto took the op­por­tu­nity to dive into the lake to cool down. Ig­no­lin did the gen­tle­manly thing and waited for him, be­fore out­sprint­ing his soggy coun­try­man to the line in Turin. To­day we meet a cy­clist who says he is cy­cling from Geneva to the south of Italy. He’s wear­ing run­ning train­ers and has a track pump lashed to the back of his bike. I wish him luck as he con­tin­ues slowly on his 1,500km jour­ney.

At the sum­mit we’re met by an even more im­prob­a­ble sight than the chapel that sits atop the Is­eran: a gi­ant stone pyra­mid. Ap­par­ently, Napoleon wanted to build a pyra­mid here to com­mem­o­rate his Egyp­tian cam­paigns, but he died be­fore he could re­alise his am­bi­tion, so in 1968 the en­ergy com­pany EDF, which man­ages the Ce­nis reser­voir and dam, duly obliged. The struc­ture sits equidis­tant be­tween Paris and Rome and con­tains a chapel and a mu­seum with in­for­ma­tion on the colour­ful his­tory of the pass.

At the end of the lake is the stone-covered dam that marks the start of our de­scent. Be­fore we gather speed, how­ever, we take a mo­ment to ex­plore an eerie aban­doned vil­lage that lies in the shadow of the dam wall, its houses now crum­bling since the res­i­dents have moved away.

Ital­ian flair

The de­scent from Mont Ce­nis is a scin­til­lat­ing dash along a snaking road dot­ted with white road mark­ers and flanked by rocks covered in bright green moss the colour of kiwi fruit. Only a thin wire stands be­tween the road and the

drop be­low. At some point over the last few kilo­me­tres we crossed the in­vis­i­ble bor­der be­tween France and Italy.

Fur­ther down, a deep drainage gully sits be­tween the road and a wall of rock. I don’t fancy skid­ding into it so I rein in my speed. Half­way down I see the crum­pled re­mains of a van that wasn’t so for­tu­nate.

We even­tu­ally roll into the Ital­ian town of Susa at the foot of the Cot­tian Alps. This at­mo­spheric old town is filled with Ro­man ruins, nar­row pas­sages, shut­tered apart­ments and crum­bling old walls. It’s the end of our route and we have a long jour­ney by car to get us back to our ho­tel in Val d’isère, but see­ing as we are in Italy it’s only right that we linger a while and grab some gelato and espres­sos on the ter­race of a cafe be­fore we leave. Af­ter a long day in which we reached two sum­mits above 2,000m, viewed pyra­mids and moun­tain chapels, fol­lowed in the foot­steps of Ro­man em­per­ors and French kings, and crossed the high­est pass in the Alps, it’s a wel­come re­ward.

A deep drainage gully sits be­tween the road and a wall of rock, so I rein in my speed. I see the crum­pled re­mains of a van that wasn’t so for­tu­nate

Above: The de­scent from Mont Ce­nis is a twist­ing, turn­ing de­light

Park has al­ready started mak­ing changes to the cul­ture at Bri­tish Cy­cling in the wake of last year’s damn­ing in­de­pen­dent re­view, yet he adds a note of cau­tion: ‘There will be peaks and troughs and we shouldn’t get away from the fact that cy­cling is a...

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