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The Alpine Challenge: Cyclosport.org Talks to Mark Phillips

by Holly Blades

The Alpine Challenge kicked off today in Annecy, France. Billed by organisers HotChillee as the "Professional Event for Amateurs", it's a much celebrated sportive in the French Alps and one which is the mainstay of any serious bike rider's calendar.

In this, a series, during the run of the four stages of the Alpine Challenge, we catch up with someone who's taking part in the event and ask them what attracted them to four days of hard work and hard cycling.

First off, we spoke to Mark Phillips. Formerly heading up the 2012 Olympic Marketing Campaign for adidas, Mark now runs his own consulting company, The Captaincy, providing solutions to mainly sporting companies who may be suffering in different areas.

Mark is a self proclaimed novice to the sport, stating an event like the Alpine Challenge shows him how little he actually knows about cycling. However, he thinks 'in at the deep end' is a great approach when it comes to a sport like cycling. 

"This is my first time riding the Alpine Challenge - Basically I thought, if you're going to go and do something, you want to do it properly. Particularly as a novice, it's one of those things where I don't know everything, I don't know the best way to do things or how things should be done, and the quickest way to learn it is to go and do an event that is really really well run."

"It's the fastest learning curve you'll ever get. It's quite intimidating if you don't know it all, but this is - well, hopefully not a 'crash' course - but quite an intense way to learn if you don't know everything about the sport."

Fortunately, he claims that cycling is an easy sport to take up, if you get a feel for it after your first time on the bike.

"I find it a really easy sport to get into. Especially through  friends who used to actually cycle - You don't have to be that good but it's a pretty quick path from finding yourself doing laps around Richmond Park to cycling up mountains in Majorca! It's a really easy journey."


Mark Phillips (centre) with pro-cyclist Yanto Barker (l) and HotChillee's Sven Thiele (r)

So how has the first day in Annecy been? What did the expectant riders have in store for them?

Mark says "We rode this morning - which was good. A little Time Trial. Well, it was called a Time Trial but I think in my case it was just normal speed going up a mountain!"

The Alpine Challenge, like The London-Paris 2012, is known for the chance to get up close and personal with some of your favourite cyclists. A fact Mark was quick to find out.

"It was a really nice ride yesterday around the Lake, just a warm up "chatty" ride and chance to talk to everyone. I managed to spend most of the ride talking to Stephen Roche which was amazing. It's pretty amazing access to all the people here."

Mark was easily swept away by the organisation of the event, likening it to a certain three weeks in July.

"What really struck me this morning, was that we were heading off, there are all the motorbikes and all the cars, was that I would never ever get the opportunity to do something like that. You watch cycling on TV and obviously I've watched the Tour for quite a few years, but to actually be part of it - and as you're going out through town, there are people waving and cheering for you. It's quite incredible, and quite emotional actually."

And of course, there are worse things to be doing then spending four days in the beautiful French alps.

"The scenery's not bad either! I think the French have quite a few beautiful spots to visit. Being up in the mountains is incredible, the actual Lake itself is pretty stunning. But I think the main attraction is that it's just so well set up for cycling. All the cycle paths, and lanes, and people actually expecting bikes to come through. It's relaxed as opposed to commuting in London which can be really stressful."

So what does Mark hope for the next three days in the saddle? Well, he thinks it's all about gritting his teeth and finding that all important 'form'.

"The next three and  a half days are going to be tough. There's definitely a degree of nervousness but I've done a couple of training camps in Majorca and the thing that really struck me was that if you're doing a multi-day ride, your improvement level is actually quite dramatic. Although it seems really hard on the first day, you quickly acclimatise into it, you get some legs, and it all starts to feel quite natural. I'm looking forward to that moment in about 48 hours time when the pains starts turning to "I can do this. This is actually really enjoyable."'

What advice would Mark offer to people wondering whether to sign up for the Alpine Challenge 2012? It's a no-brainer.

"In summary for me, this is an intense learning curve and for people who do sportives, doing daily rides, or flogging around Richmond Park by yourself, you'll learn more doing this then you would do in a year of normal riding!"

You can follow Mark on Twitter here.





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