Total climbing: 389m
When Daniel Shand did his first kermesse race in Belgium, former national champion and Euro-pro Tim Harris, who over the last few years has acted as host, guide and mentor to so many young British bike racers, was shocked.
“He asked me how long I lasted, but I’d finished 28th, so I told him. He said nobody ever finishes their first kermesse and got me in a local team for the following year. I won a race, got two seconds and was third five times,” Shand tells me when we meet at his father Kevin’s home in Littleborough, outside Rochdale.
It’s on the edge of the Pennine Hills, where Kevin was a good fell runner before taking up cycling. He’s 60 but still gets up in open road races and is very successful in his age group. Kevin’s racing was Daniel’s introduction to cycling, and as his Belgian debut proved, he was a natural.
“I got involved in time trialling with my dad’s club, the West Pennine, in 2005, when I was 17, but I didn’t ride a road race until the following year,” says Daniel.
His dad takes over, “When Dan got a road licence we did his first race together, it was a CLNW handicap. Dan attacked from the start and I got in the chasing group of four behind him. I sat on, but they caught Dan just before the finish.”
Dan learned quickly, though, and finished second in his next race and went from fourth to first category in the first four months of the 2006 season. “It was the best summer, I was 18 and had a part-time job, but I just rode my bike as much as possible, and in August I did that trip to Belgium,” he says.
Shand spent the whole of 2007 in Belgium, where his podium places and in particular fourth place in a big race landed him a contract with the Profel team when he was still only 20. It was a big jump, especially for someone who had only really raced for a couple of years.
“I had stomach problems too and never really got going,” he adds. But the experience didn’t put him off.
“I went back in 2009 and raced with the Scott Cycling Team because I wanted to give it one more go for my last year in the under-23s. I did OK, had some placings, but by the end of the year I realised I’d not done enough to be a pro in Europe, which is what I’d gone for. Luckily, though, while I’ve been racing in Belgium the UK scene has grown, so I decided to come back. When the offer from Raleigh came, I jumped at it.”
Shand is a climber, a talent that never really got showcased in Belgium. He rounded off 2009 with some good hill-climb wins, although a heavy cold stopped his challenge for the national title.
The first part of Shand’s Pennine loop is a warm-up for the hills, and it’s needed on a chilly, damp day with low cloud and snow lying on the tops. He has just returned from Raleigh’s Majorcan training camp and seems happy back on home turf.
The first part is flat, but after the Burnley and Nelson conurbation, the character of the ride changes. “It’s really lumpy from now on,” Shand explains, before climbing up onto the wild moors. Hebden Bridge punctuates the two toughest bits, before the climb of Cragg Vale, which officially belongs to Shand now.
“I set the record last October: 16 minutes and 9 seconds for nearly five miles, it’s the longest continual climb in England,” he says; but he isn’t content with his record? “I want to try to hold the record for the rest of my life, which will need something pretty quick, and I reckon a short 15-minute ride is possible on a good day. That might do it.”
It might, especially considering that when Shand won in 2009 he was already 1 minute and 9 seconds ahead of Matt Clinton. “I’d need a good day,” he says, warming to the subject. “I’ve never raced or even ridden the climb when it hasn’t been blowing a head or crosswind on the exposed bit at the top, but I suppose a tailwind is possible.”
He knows the climb well, but not as well as one local rider, Dave Grogan. “He climbs it about 200 times a year,” says Shand.
“Some people might think coming back from Belgium is a step down, but it doesn’t seem like that to me. It feels like Belgium was an apprenticeship and this is for real. Basically, Raleigh is the first team I’ve been in that really feels like a team,” he says.
Shand got a lot of work done in Majorca after what has been a tough winter. “I’ve been living at my girlfriend’s and it’s flatter where she lives, so I have been getting out more than I would have done here. I’ve had to use my turbo a lot, but that’s good work, quite intensive. I wasn’t going bad in Majorca and thought the team gelled really well.”
Shand thinks deeply about his sport and has analysed what he needs to do next. “The racing didn’t really suit me in Belgium so I trained to be as good as I could be all-round; but this winter I’ve concentrated on being good at one thing, what I’m naturally good at, and that’s climbing,” he says.
As the UK season begins, Team Raleigh are the dark horses. They are a young team, and an ambitious one too, both in terms of individual riders and in their group objectives. They will certainly be a factor in what looks like being one of the most interesting year of racing here for a very long time.
Daniel Shand: Your guide
Philosophy: All or nothing
Dipping in and out of Lancashire and Yorkshire, the border follows mostly high ground, but slops this way and that. Follow the A6033 north out of Littleborough; turn left in Todmorden; follow the A646 to Burnley. This part is all main roads but with plenty of room for cyclists and traffic isn’t bad outside rush hour.
Go through Nelson on the A682; turn right in Colne for a long hard climb onto Widdop Moor. Continue on this unclassified road to Hebden Bridge, a bit busy all year so take care. Turn left onto the A646; right in Mytholmroyd to the B6138, the Cragg Vale climb. On Solyand Moor turn right onto the A58 and descend back into Littleborough.
Cycling in East Lancashire
Lancashire is thriving with time trials, a big road race league, national events, crits and road races. The national title will be contested around Pendle. Visit www.lancashire.gov.uk for Burnley cycle paths and traffic-free roads. BC’s HQ in Manchester brings pride, then there’s the unstructured joy of riding in the upland areas of the Pennines. In winter the hills look intimidating and brooding, but locals say character building. In summer they’re a joy, refreshingly lonely, great considering the amount of nearby city dwellers.