Roubaix Velodrome

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Roubaix Velodrome, a set on Flickr.

Boonen, De Vlaeminck, Merckx, Museeuw, Moser, Kelly, Cancellara….some of cycling’s greatest names have graced this small corner of northern France close to the Belgian border.

It was Thursday 13th December 2012 and I had just finished a meeting in the town of Roubaix and felt compelled to take a small detour in the taxi to the famous Roubaix Velodrome, home to the finish of the Paris-Roubaix race.

The visit was rather surreal and the velodrome almost had a spooky feel to it. This was a cold, grey day in December and I was alone on this iconic piece of concrete, with only a few minutes to take some pictures before heading off to another business meeting. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be here on the first Sunday in April, watching cycling’s hardmen finish the “Hell of the North” and the hardest of them all, finishing first with his arms aloft in celebration.

After letting my imagine run wild for a few moments, I turned and got back in my waiting taxi and headed off to the next set of offices.  At least now, when I watch the race I can say that I have stood on that hollowed piece of concrete that some of cycling’s greats have also been on.

One day I will return, hopefully to see the end of the race and maybe even have the chance to bring my bike and ride around the track.

Show-rooming Doesn’t Need to Kill the Shop Floor

There’s a new trend hitting the high street – consumer show-rooming. This term refers to the practice of consumers entering the shop floor to seek out desired items and then making their purchases online or via mobiles.  In light of this new behaviour, retailers need to get smarter about how they interact with consumers. Instead of shying away from technology, shops need to use it to retain in-store loyalty.

 It’s the speed and flexibility that people like about buying online – to ensure that consumer show-rooming has a positive effect on high street sales, retailers need to create a similar environment to the online space, one that makes it easier for consumers to buy in-store.

How can technology improve consumer interactions at the shop floor level?

Retailers need to have the ability to recognise when a loyal customer walks into a store, and crucially, have access to an accurate and complete overview of their previous interaction history, not just with the physical shore, but across all channels.

Contact can be established by using wi-fi-based ‘presence zone’ technologies to identify a shopper as soon as they enter the shop. Working in tandem, location-based services linked with smartphone devices can give retailers the ability to identify customers individually and send targeted marketing alerts to these devices.

The best way to turn consumer show-rooming into a positive behaviour is to arm in-store employees with technology that builds on the two areas above and helps them engage directly with customers. By collating online and offline consumer insight, retailers can offer personalised promotions and ramp up sales conversion in-store.

Many high-street retailers recognise that innovations such as augmented reality applications can also provide on-the-spot product information and promotions. However, it takes an innovative retailer to deploy this type of service.

Ultimately, there are many technologies that can be used to recognise customers once they enter the store: presence zones, location services and even biometrics such as facial recognition can all be used.  But their usefulness stems from organisations having sufficient and appropriate customer data, insight and understanding to identify each customer individually.  Integrating this data across multiple channels is also vital for success.

By treating consumers as individuals, retailers can engage them through a variety of devices, from digital signage to interactive kiosks. If customers are using the store as a showroom, this type of technology can engage them in ways that encourage purchases to happen in situ rather than online.

The shop floor is fast becoming a point of consumer interaction that could just as easily lead to follow-up sales in store or online.

Retailers need in-depth understanding about their customers to be able to offer more engaging and immersive experiences. And all this depends upon having the right technology to turn customer data into customer insight.

James Lovell – IBM European Smarter Commerce Solutions Consultant

Rapha Super Cross 2012

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Rapha Super Cross 2012, a set on Flickr.

A taste of Belgium came to North Yorkshire on Saturday 20th October with the arrival of the Rapha 2012 Super Cross Series. The event was held at Broughton Hall near Skipton in near perfect conditions, with some lovely autumnal sunshine.

To add to the atmosphere there was a series of stalls in the race village where riders mixed with the spectators eating pancakes, venison burgers and the odd pint or two of local ale. The Rapha Cycle Club was also present selling coffee alongside a selection of clothing. Rouleur were also present and dishing out cowbells, which proved a hit with the kids.

Race was fast and furious over an undulating course and as the various groups took part, the course got muddier and muddier, before the Elite riders hit it mid-afternoon. This resulted in their pit crews being very busy between bike swaps to get the dirty ones clear of mud.

It was a great day out and should Rapha venture up north again next year, then I will certainly be returning.

Cycling in Illinois, USA

Well, what a great weekend of cycling that was….

I am currently out in Illinois on some business, and decided to come out early with a colleague to do a bit of cycling.  After doing the research, I stumbled across a nice looking town called McHenry in upstate Illinois, which also had a good looking bike shop called the Bike Haven where we could rent some bikes.

Jessica, the shop owner was brilliant and sorted everything for us, including some route GPX files to go on my Garmin.

Over the weekend we rode a total of 105 miles.

Our Saturday ride took us across the Wisconsin State Line to a place called Lake Geneva.  The countryside was fairly flat and very agricultural, with fields of corn in every direction.  As it was fall, then the leaves were turning aswell, so there was plenty of colour.  Temperatures had dropped suddenly and on our way out we cycled in to a biting NW headwind, which was coming down from Canada.  Our brunch stop was at a cafe called Novak’s in a small town called Fontana on the western shores of Lake Geneva.  the warmth was much need, as was the food.  The return trip to McHenry was much more pleasant, as we had the wind on our backs and as a result made good time.

A warm shower bought some feeling back into the face, and it was then time to sample the delights of McHenry’s nightlife.  The guys in the shop recommend we ate at a place called After the Fox, which was on the banks of the Fox River.  Chris, my colleague and I eased ourselves into the evening with some recovery beers, before both deciding to go for the ultimate surf and turf – Filet Steak and Lobster for $23.99 – absolute bargain – and yes….it was amazingly good.  We both commented that if that was on the menu in the UK, then it would easily have set us back between £40-£50 and we had just paid about £15.  After a Templeton Rye nightcap it was off to bed for some rest.

Sunday started very cold with temperatures again, a little over freezing.  The route plan was for a 42 miler heading out towards a town called Woodstock.  The road to Woodstock was amazing, with colours everywhere from the wooded roads.  We reached Woodstock quickly, before then zig-zaging down towards a township called Union, which was well off the beaten track.  From there we started our return and had a quick Starbuck’s pitstop in Crystal Lake before heading back to the hotel in McHenry.

It was a great way to ease ourselves into this work trip and before heading into Chicago.

Here are the GPS files:

Saturday’s ride to Lake Geneva: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/230624556

Sunday’s ride around Woodstock & Union: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/231145120

The Straight Roads of Illinois:

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Outside Novak’s in Fontana:

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Chicago 2012

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Chicago 2012, a set on Flickr.

I had the pleasure of going to Chicago recently with work. Spare time was on the short side, however I did manage to find some to take a walk around Chicago to take in some of the sites.

Some of these images were taken during an Architectural River Cruise and it is amazing how diverse the building styles are throughout the city, especially in the skyscrapers.

The view from the top of the Willis Tower is also pretty amazing, looking over Lake Michigan in the east and out over Illinois to the west.

I was also surprised how laid back the city was. Much more relaxed than New York.

Looking forward to seeing you again Chicago in two weeks when I am there again with work.

Le Tour de (France) Wiggo 2012

Le Tour de (France) Wiggo 2012

Well, that is it for another year and what a 3 weeks of cycling that was, not just for Bradley Wiggins, but for British cycling. What has just happened will be a mystery for many British folk walking down the street, but this has to be one of the greatest achievements by a British athlete of all time, so let me explain.

This year’s Tour de France was ridden over a course that was 3,497 km (2,173 miles) in length and involved the riders going through the Jura Alps, The Alps and the Pyrennes. This makes up the largest annual sporting event on the planet.

Even though one man wins, this is not an individual sport. It is a sport that involves a complete team working, where 8 other riders work tirelessly to bring glory to one man, who, if he is good enough will go on to win the Tour. This years winner, Bradley Wiggins has had an amazing team behind him and the riders on the road will put any football squad to shame. When was the last time you saw a World Champion acting as a work horse for his team captain? Well, this has been the case for the last 3 weeks.

World Champion, Mark Cavendish has sacrificed personal glory for the honour of being part of a team of cyclists that want to achieve one thing – putting the first British rider on the top step of the podium of the Tour de France. The other amazing fact is that all the prize money earned by Bradley Wiggin’s team, Team Sky, will be pooled and split between the riders and team at the either the end of the race or the end of the season.

Could you imagine Wayne Rooney giving his win bonuses back for the good of the squad? I think not!!!!

So what do the rider’s in Team Sky do? Well lets start with Mark “Cav” Cavendish, the current World Road Race Champion and the greatest sprinter of all time. He is born to win at all costs, but he has sacrificed this to support Bradley Wiggins in his bid for glory. Cav has only had a few chances to stretch his legs in a traditional sprint, so instead he has acted as a “super domestique” (helper) to ensure that his team leader is fully catered for during the Tour. Cav has been going back to the team car to collect supplies and water bottles for most of the Tour to help the cause.

This is the case for most of the other riders in Team Sky (and all other cycling teams). They are all there to help their team leader no matter what. If the team leader gets a puncture, then 3 or 4 of the team riders will stop instantly to help pace their leader back into the pack (peleton).

When it comes to the mountains, the team leader needs to have riders around him that can help him up the road. Many of the climbs are in excess of 10 miles and in some cases top out at well over 2,000m altitude, so team work is an absolute must to get the leader to the top of the climb in the best position.

In this year’s Tour, this was the job of Michael Rogers, Richie Porte and also Chris Froome. Chris Froome was at Bradley Wiggins’ side for every centimetre of the road in the mountains to ensure that he did not lose time on his closest rivals. In fact, Chris Froome was so good at this, that he got second overall for the entire race!

The other element of the race is the “race of truth” or the individual time trial. This is one man against the clock, with no help from anyone else. This is something that Wiggo excels at and is a natural extension to what he has done on the track, where again he is a world beater. The time trial can be anything from a 7 or 8km opening stage (prologue) or something longer, such as a 53km stage towards the end of the race. In this year’s second individual time trial, which was the penultimate stage, Bradley Wiggins averaged 50km/h (30mph) over the 53km course – an incredible performance.

So, after 20 stages, 3,497 kms and three weeks of racing, the peleton finally come onto the Champs Elysee for the final 40 kms. Most riders in the leaders jersey (Le Maillot Jaune – The Yellow Jersey) sit back and let the sprinters take the glory. Well, this is not the case for Bradley Wiggins. He wants to repay Cav for his hard work over the past weeks and leads him out before the final sprint. Wiggo reaches speeds approaching 40mph, before hading over to his team mate, Edvald Boasson Hagen, before launching Cav for a historic 4th consecutive win on the Champs Elysee. No other rider has done this, and it is also the first time a World Champion has won the sprint on the Champs Elysee at the end of Le Tour.

This win by Cav, completes and amazing Tour for Britain. A British rider has won 7 stages of this years tour….(Mark Cavendish – 3 stages, Bradley Wiggins – 2 stages, Chris Froome – 1 stage and David Millar (Team Garmin) – 1 stage). This again is unprecedented and shows the domintation of British riders in this year’s Tour de France.

So, that is about it now for the Tour 2012. Next stop is the Olympic Road Race on 28th July, when the winner of the Tour de France will have one job to do – ride for, and set up Mark Cavendish for the Gold Medal. If this does not sound right to you, then let me know and I will gladly explain. But I suspect that if you do not understand, then I suspect you are football supporter.

Chapeau to Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Mark Cavendish and all the other riders and staff at Team Sky. You have done Britain and British Cycling proud!!