We’ve had the privilege to ride in the press car for many of the stages of the Women’s Tour. Driving the car, and providing insider information and guidance by the bucket-load on the racing action has been Alasdair MacLennan. Not only a skilled driver (and you need to be to navigate safely around a bike race) he is also a key character in the cycling world.
What’s your background and interest in cycling?
I’ve been in cycling for 45 years. My family were all cyclists and I’m a life member of British Cycling. My parents gave it to me for my 21st Birthday, which was a few years ago now! It was probably one of the best bargains in cycling because it cost them £50.
I was also national coach, national team director in Ireland for 7 years. I’ve been at two Olympic games, 4 commonwealth games, and I don’t know how many stage races – I wouldn’t even try and count!
What is the press car, and what does it do?
Basically I’m there to service the needs of the press, be it from the old cynical hack who’s been there for years following bike races, to the new, young, fresh-blooded journalists who maybe need a bit of explanation on how things work.
Stage races are very technical products. Until you’ve actually been in the car and seen what goes on, they don’t understand how complicated the sport is. I was asked to do this job because of my experience, and hopefully I’ve been able to impart some knowledge to people like yourself.
When you aren’t driving the press car at the Friends Life Women’s Tour, what do you do?
In my day job I’m a publican and self-employed businessman. But I’m also President of Scottish Cycling, and I’m a director at British Cycling as well, so I’m heavily involved in the actual administration of the sport as well as the organisation of races.
I’m also the Scottish team manager for the commonwealth games this year, and I’ve been heavily involved in the preparations for Glasgow 2014.
You’ve driven the race car or been involved in many races in a similar capacity, and another big cycling race, the Giro, is having it’s grand depart over in Northern Ireland at the moment. Why have you decided to work the Women’s Tour rather than the Giro?
Because this is something really special. It’s something that I never ever thought I’d see in my life. I’ve been a great crusader and supporter of women’s cycling for many a year and I’ve been discussing with Guy (Elliot, of SweetSpot) for a number of years the potential for a women’s race of this nature, and I just had to be part of it because its something new and exciting.
How have you felt the race has gone so far?
It’s been absolutely fantastic! Its been much bigger and better than I imagined it would be. If you go back to the start of the inaugural Tour of Britain, the men's tour, as it stands at the moment, this would be bigger than any of the first four or five editions of that. You can see what that’s grown into in the last few years, so the potential is obviously phenomenal.
Are you rooting for anyone?
Obviously as a Scotsman I have to be quite parochial and say I have a particular interest in Katie Archibald. She will be with us in Glasgow 2014, and plays a very important part in our team, and the overall games, which is hugely important for us. So yes, Katie is the one.
To be honest though, I just like bike riders and bike races, irrespective of gender. I respect any athletic performance. To me all the champions are superstars.
Back to the press car. We get a constant feed on information over the race radio. This includes status updates, results of sprints sections, and calls for team cars to help riders. How you know what the updates actually mean?
You have to interpret what comes over the race radio; a lot of the messages are kind of cryptic. They don’t mention things like crashes and all the rest. But when you hear they’re calling for 5 team cars all at once, you know there’s been an incident. It’s done for a number of reasons. They don’t want to cause panic to the teams, so they just say a rider needs service, whether it’s a puncture, whether it’s for feeding, or whether it’s an accident they need to be serviced and that’s basically what you hear.
But you know instinctively; at certain times in the race you hear certain things, and you have an understanding of what’s going on.
With the success of the Friends Life Women’s Tour, and La Course coming up later, would you say this is a pivotal year for women’s cycling?
Absolutely! We’ve come off the back of the hugely successful London Olympics. We had a year for everyone to catch their breath last year, and now it’s starting to build up again. I’m involved as well in the politics at a higher level, and the UCI are making huge strides. They’ve changed their mind-set as well and they are really trying to accommodate the scene much more. They always paid lip service to it in the past, but now they realise that there is a genuine product that merits their full attention. There’s only one way it can go and that’s up!