Around Poole Harbour with Darren Kenny

DISTANCE 27 miles (43km)


TOTAL CLIMB 160 metres

ACHTUNG! Be careful in Poole town centre

“I never rode the time trial, it was too early in the season for me, but it was a big event around here. It was going strong when I started cycling, and I always rode out to watch some friends do it. Today we’ll do what I can remember of the route, but there have been a lot of road alterations over the years, so we’ll stay off the busy ones,” Darren Kenny says.

“It was a special race, though — how many time trials start on one side of a river and your kit is sent over on a ferry to wait for you on the other? The entry fee even included your ticket back,” says Darren Kenny setting the context for today’s ride.

The time trial was called the Circuit of Poole Harbour and it ran from 1974 until 1994, when traffic lights on the course made racing impossible and the organisers, Bournemouth Jubilee Wheelers, decided to end their promotion. Poole Wheelers revived the event two years ago, putting on a shortened version that avoids the lights but keeps the ferry ride in.

imageTrue all-rounder

Kenny’s cycling CV is impressive. World records, from 200 metres to the hour; Paralympic gold and silver medals; world gold, silver and bronze medals, and in events as diverse as the team sprint and the road race.

“Genetically I’m a sprinter but I’ve always ridden endurance races,” he explains. “I have done 1,300 watts in a max sprint test, but I’m able to ride a variety of distances because our road events are two to three hours, which allows me to do quite a lot of speed work in my training,” he says.

Training and racing are Kenny’s job. “I like going on rides like today. This one takes me back to when I first started cycling with its connections with the time trial, and we pass the park where we used to race on a track that had the shallowest bankings you’ve ever seen. I ride a lot in the New Forest, but I do most of my real work on the turbo. It’s not fun but it’s very effective. My coach, Gary Brickley, decides the sessions and we work on power outputs that are determined by the blood lactate levels I get during tests.

“I try to be as specific as possible. For example, I have a Tacx Fortis trainer and my friend writes the programmes for the courses that you can use with the trainer. He’s done one for the Beijing time trial course, so this morning I rode two laps of that. It’s good for muscle memory, which is especially important for CP (cerebral palsy) riders because we need to practise things a lot.

“During the day I’ll do a ride like this before another session in the evening. I’ll maybe meet some friends, like Barry Clarke who owns the Hotel Collingwood in Bournemouth and has helped me a lot. It was Barry who encouraged me to have a go for the Paralympics when I’d got back into cycling after my accidents. I’d raced quite a bit before my first head injury in the 1988 Tour of Ireland, but a series of accidents after that made my condition worse, until I was just lying on the sofa putting on weight and on heavy medication.”

Kenny started riding regularly, then contacted British Cycling about Paralympics racing. After taking part in the National Championships and doing some good times he was invited onto the Paralympic squad. “My doctor is really encouraging and has fine-tuned my treatment to keep the neuropathic pain and muscle spasms I’d been having under control. I still don’t have proper muscle control, and things like walking give me problems. My left side power is down, and I have problems riding in crosswinds because of that. I also find left turns very difficult.”

Once through the Poole traffic, Kenny heads for Wareham then goes left at Corfe Castle, riding between Wytch Heath, one of Britain’s inland oil fields, and Nine Barrows Down. This is the edge of the Purbeck hills, but the route here isn’t too steep. Good job, as Kenny forgot to pack his cycling shoes when he did the school run this morning, so sportingly agreed to ride in his trainers.

At the top of Dean Hill, Kenny stops to look at the view over Studland Bay and outlines his plans for the rest of today, “Sometimes I ride a local race in the evening but tonight it’s another turbo session, one hour at a specific power. It’s a horrible session but I’m not doing this for fun, it’s my job. I’ve done worse jobs. I once worked eight hours a day putting pork pies into boxes. Compared to that one hour on a turbo isn’t bad. I lost my iPod the other week though, and that was a bit desperate.”

imageRising standards

Later this week Kenny will be up in Manchester. “I’ll be doing motorbike chases on the track and trying out my new TT bike on a local time trial course.” Training at home, Manchester and racing all over the world makes for a tough programme, but it has to be tough as the standard of Paralympic racing has gone through the roof.

Kenny’s biggest rival is Javier Ochoa of Spain. He won a Tour de France stage on Hautacam before he was involved in a training accident that killed his brother. “He hasn’t beaten me on the track yet, but he is very good on the road. He’s won at the Paralympics and won the world road title last year. I beat him recently though, in his home race.”

When we met, Kenny had just returned from looking at the Beijing courses. “The pollution wasn’t bad. They have done a lot to clean up the city, like not allowing lorries in, but the thing that struck me most is the beauty of the place where our road races and time trials will be held. It’s a huge park with a lake where the water is held back by a dam built to look like the Great Wall.

“For the finish we go out onto the lake on a 600-metre pontoon that is 30 metres wide, turn at the end and sprint back up the other side to the finish in front of a huge grandstand. Racing on that is going to be an amazing experience,” he says, as we arrive back on dry land after the ferry ride.


* Age 38, married to Maria with one son, Brandon

* A full-time athlete.

* Lives in Verwood, Dorset

* Has won two gold and one silver Paralympic medals, and nine gold, three silver and two bronze Disability World Championship medals

* Voted the 2005 BBC South Today sportsperson of the year


Start in Sandbanks and follow the B3369 past the Marinas and towards Parkstone. Turn left (TL) just before the A35 and follow signs through a series of roundabouts to the Poole Museum. Turn right (TR) on the B3068, then TL on B3067 and cross the A35 on the roundabout to take up the A351. TL on B3075 through Wareham, TL on A351 and TL on the B 3351 in Corfe Castle. Follow this road past Studland to the ferry at Haven Point.