Maria Olsson / Determination by design

In the early summer of 2017, Maria Olsson sat across from her doctor following emergency abdominal surgery to remove an 8cm diameter cyst. After listening to a description of the procedure and the requirement for a biopsy to confirm the growth was benign, Maria began to ask whether an upcoming cycling challenge would affect her prognosis for recovery. The event in question was the Rapha Cent Cols – a brutal 10 day trip with an average daily elevation of 4000m – and the determination to even consider attempting the ride post-recovery indicative of an individual well-versed in pushing themselves to breaking point.

‘The doctor was looking at me like I was insane,’ reflects Maria. ‘Everyone else knew I had to pull out but I wasn’t prepared to accept the fact. I was totally in denial and just burst into tears. In a way not even considering my health concerns but worrying how I was going to tell my family and friends.’


We’ve arranged to meet in the exhibition space of the Rapha Manchester clubhouse where the previous evening Maria delivered a presentation on her role as the London-based brand’s Design Manager. Stylishly understated in dress, although her English is fluent Maria’s accent still reflects her Swedish roots with occasional hints of an Aussie twang that references the time she spent in Sydney studying a degree in fashion & textile design.

‘I grew up in a family where my mother and grandma were always knitting and cooking. We never had a lot so it was all about having the skills to complement our budget and we were very hands on. I do remember drawing a lot but at school I was always driven to focus on the sciences: biology, engineering and other technical subjects. I’d decided to go to university in Sydney and originally applied for a degree course in aero-engineering but there were problems with funding and I kind of fell into the fashion & textile thing. As it turned out – possibly rather fatefully – it was something I really enjoyed and was good at.’

After completing her degree course Maria returned to Sweden and a design role working on alpine and cross-country skiing ranges; an office visit from Fabian Cancellara and the Schleck brothers prompting her to consider the challenges of designing cycle-specific clothing and a change in focus that would eventually lead Maria to Rapha Racing. But not before she burnt out, took 6 months off to live in a cabin by a lake and occupied her time with freelance work until the next opportunity came along; a multi-faceted design position that Maria feels encouraged her to look at design problems from a range of perspectives.

‘And then I saw that Rapha were advertising for a designer. Instantly knowing I had to apply; that this was my dream job. So I sent in my portfolio, submitted an application and then, when they did offer me the position, it was a no brainer and I immediately accepted.’

That was back in 2015 and prompted a move to London where she enjoys a sometimes fractious relationship with the capital city: ‘London doesn’t feel like home but, when I’m at work, that kind of does. It’s the people that are around me that make me feel I belong. Much more so than feeling attached to a place.’

‘I love Sweden,’ Maria elaborates. ‘That’s where my heart is. And London can be fun and is full of inspiration. But I grew up in the countryside and the city’s quite a hard place. In a way it lacks empathy and it’s very easy, if you don’t have those people around you, to feel very lonely.’

Maria hands

The challenges of city living aside, it’s easily apparent from her frequent smiles that her design position is more than simply a job and is clearly influenced by her own riding. Describing how she arrives on many of the insights and ideas that inform her designs whilst riding her bike – problem solving determined by weather conditions or performance considerations –  interestingly it’s her background in the sciences and engineering in particular that play through in the approach she takes to her craft.

‘Sometimes it’s just an idea. I’m out riding and it hits me. But the way I work, it’s usually about the engineering and how we can apply this to solve problems. The fabrics we have available and how we design the cut and fit of a product. I don’t get super excited about fluffy fashion but I’ve always been really driven by technical aspects. Marrying form and function to make items that are not only beautiful but also user-friendly.’

A passionate approach to her professional life that proves difficult to balance as Maria admits – with a wry grin – that she’s always more or less on. ‘I have to force myself to switch off. Sometimes through cycling as it acts as a kind of therapy or sometimes by watching really stupid things on TV. I need that occasionally otherwise I’m worried my brain’s going to overload.’ This need to distract and unwind perhaps in part prompting the quote from T.S. Eliot* on her blog and the reason she decided to consider the Cent Cols Challenge in the first place?

*[Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go. — T.S Eliot]

‘I’ve always felt quite different from everyone else in my family and I think, because we’ve had to overcome a lot of obstacles, this made me want to find my own path. I’m naturally quite independent and not afraid to push myself. Always super stubborn. And in everything I do, I commit to it. All or nothing.’

As it turned out, it was Maria’s own body that called time on the Cent Cols; the hurt of that decision still lingering on a year later and offering an insight into her younger years when she played football and danced.

‘I’ve always enjoyed feeling strong. I like the adrenaline and physicality of sport; the challenge of how far I can push myself, how good can I get. But I guess in the past I’ve been a little selfish in the way I’ve treated my body. Because I’m so determined – stupidly so – I’ve been guilty of pushing myself too far and all the issues I now have with my knees and feet are testament to that. I kept on going when my body was telling me to stop. And it gave me lots of warnings. But if my knee was completely fucked I’d still assume that the next day it would be better. I’ve done two Manchester to London rides like this where I literally couldn’t walk when I climbed off the bike. Believing that if you can just push through that barrier you’ll go into shock and the pain will lessen. But I feel that now, as I get older, I’m finally learning to be more respectful of my body.’

Maria email

Listening to Maria describe her attitude to pain and suffering – almost at odds with her slight build that still has a dancer’s poise – I wonder how this mental toughness translates into her everyday life? Whether it influences her interactions at work and how she negotiates?

‘I try to listen and I’m not one for pitching ideas if I haven’t really thought them through. I’ll have done my research before sketching it up and maybe getting a prototype made to actually see if it works. Sometimes it fails – probably 50:50 – but you never stop trying and you can always learn from these mistakes.’

As Maria’s designs are obviously influenced to a large extent by her own riding, working for a company that encourages its staff members to spend Wednesday mornings out on their bikes is just another aspect of her role with Rapha that she appreciates and feels is fundamental in delivering the company’s ethos; these midweek social spins balanced by weekend riding and the challenges of commuting by bike in the capital.

‘It’s not easy and the rare times that I don’t want to ride at a weekend is usually after I’ve commuted the full week by bike. You spend too much time concentrating on not getting killed for it to be an opportunity to unwind after a busy day at work and I suppose that’s why I come up to the Peak District so often to ride. I love Manchester. The people are really friendly and it’s so much easier to get out of the city and into the countryside.’

Happiest when riding her bike up a mountain with some good friends or visiting the very north of Sweden where she relishes the sense of emptiness – Maria suggests that it’s so quiet you can hear your own heart beat – these moments of blissful detachment are perhaps telling when considering the personal losses she suffered at a comparatively young age.

‘I was handed this big chunk of pain with the loss of my mum that has scarred me forever but doesn’t hurt every day forever. And I think I would have been a different person today without that sense of loss. It was a consistent period of hard times but it has helped me achieve a good perspective on life. That it’s not all shiny and sparkly. And I certainly don’t give a crap about the small issues that used to worry me.’

‘Material things mean very little. In my work, by necessity, I’m super organised but outside of that environment I’m very chilled about stuff and tend to go with the flow. That wasn’t always the case [laughs]. I remember when I was still at school and I had every waking hour planned. But now? Maybe we need to be with someone that’s the opposite to ourselves? If you’re a thinker – as I am – you need to pair up with a doer. It’s important for me to see solutions to problems rather than the problem being the endpoint. And people have a tendency to sweat the small stuff when, if you step back, you realise that on the scale of things it really isn’t that important. It’s like this obsession with Strava. I don’t record everything and if it’s not on Strava it still happened [smiles].’

As it’s time for Maria to head home – she fires off a final few emails before packing away her laptop ready to ride to Stretford where she’s based when visiting the city – I ask about her plans with Rapha and what her next career move might be.

‘I guess I have some kind of vision but I try not to plan too far ahead. I’m taking it as it comes because I love my job with Rapha and my life as it is now. So, we’ll see. Who knows what the future holds?’


Rapha UK

Images by @openautograph

Wim Jan Petersen / Dutch Mountains

Sitting over a coffee in the Rapha Amsterdam clubhouse – tucked away in the ‘9 Streets’ canal district of the picturesque city centre – Wim Jan Petersen took the time to discuss his role as Rapha Cycling Club (RCC) Coordinator for the Benelux region, how his members ride and where you need to go in search of a hill to climb.

A typical Wednesday morning loop would see us riding south out of the city centre into the surrounding farmland. Canals and rivers; very green with open views. And then there’s the Ronde Hoep; probably the most popular route as it’s just under 40 km and really easy to get out and back in an hour or so. Super convenient and you get all levels of cyclist from beginners to high level racers.

We often head out towards the coast but as you’re fairly exposed to the elements – being so close to the sea – you have the wind to contend with. Dutch Mountains as we choose to call it. Pretty much the toughest it can get in this area and it can catch riders out. We have individuals from other countries joining our rides expecting it to be flat and easy and halfway into an 80 km loop they’re done. Completely cooked and it’s the wind that gets them every time.

The weather – especially over the winter months – can be challenging. The wet, the cold, the wind; it uses a lot of energy to keep your body warm so I often end up sharing my food with cyclists new to the area. And it’s always interesting to see the look of surprise on the faces of strong riders when they blow up. Welcome to the Netherlands [laughs].

Setting aside these weather considerations, you’re outside of the city in under 20 minutes and into a completely different world. In the centre it can appear chaotic – a lot of tourists, a lot of cyclists – but when you leave all that behind you it’s very empty and open. West towards the sea, open farmland to the south, interesting gravel tracks to the east or traditional Dutch landscapes to the north. We even have a climb called Het Kopje. Really just a big dune and not even that steep but we call it a climb as it’s the only one we have close to Amsterdam [smiles].

On a bigger loop we’ll make sure there’s a stop so we can fill our bidons, have a coffee and maybe a small lunch. Crossing the border always makes a ride feel special so sometimes we’ll drop down into Belgium but you need to remember to bring cash as a lot of the little establishments don’t take cards.

Because not everyone is always located within easy reach of the Amsterdam clubhouse we’ve developed a network of satellite cafes across the Benelux area offering access to rides and the same RCC experience. Cafes with a passion for cycling and links with their local cycling community and all providing our members with their free* cup of coffee, of course.

A typical RCC Amsterdam ride is very social and based on good camaraderie. We’ve come a long way in making cycling accessible at every level with WhatsApp groups being created so that rides can be planned and shared. That’s reflected in the members themselves; how they all respect each other and all have their own story. And because of that, they’re more keen to try new things.

I sometimes get the impression that a lot of people, when they think about cycling, picture someone on a race bike going as hard as they can but it’s so much more than just that. Maybe a casual coffee ride, a heritage tour through the city centre or a bikepacking adventure. And I feel that my role with Rapha is very much about embracing these different aspects and connecting with all cyclists rather than the few.

Rapha Amsterdam

Ride images with kind permission of Vincent Engel

*RCC members enjoy free coffee year round at Rapha Clubhouses


Dan Morris / Cycle Solutions

Spend time in Copenhagen and you begin to wonder whether the sign that greets you in the airport terminal proclaiming Denmark as the world’s happiest country in some part references the Danish love affair with the bike. As rush hour traffic largely comprises streams of individuals crisscrossing the city to work, school and even the nursery – toddlers sitting in large wooden boxes affixed to cargo bikes – cycling seems hardwired into the nation’s psyche. And it’s this question of whether the UK could ever see a similar mainstream adoption of the bike for everyday journeys that I’m keen to put to Dan Morris; ride leader, Rapha Ambassador and Senior Transportation Planner with Warwickshire County Council.

‘If you want to start cycling to work you’ve got quite a lot to consider. The kit you’ll need to cope with the UK climate, how long it will take you and whether you have facilities to change. Of course, if you’re riding for leisure, all of those things go out of the window. Which is why I always suggest you start riding a bike simply for fun.’

It’s easily apparent that Dan is a passionate advocate for all things cycling. From describing his professional role through to his favourite 30 mile local loop, his voice and animated hand movements punctuate the points he makes with a calm confidence. Ideal traits when communicating a message that cycling is a viable mode of transportation to organisations not always receptive to change.

Referring to the time he worked for Sustrans on a project to encourage more Birmingham based businesses to embrace cycling as a way for their employees to travel to work, he freely acknowledges the infrastructure at that time couldn’t deliver in terms of changing perceptions that cycling in the city centre wasn’t inherently dangerous. ‘I was trying my best to promote all the pluses that cycling ticks,’ Dan explains, ‘but it was a super-hard sell. Really frustrating because I understood the positive impact cycling could have on individuals and their families.’


Things finally changed when Transport for West Midlands received a £48m pot of money to develop cycling infrastructure across the seven boroughs at the same time Dan took up a new position with the cycling development business BikeRight!.

‘After 18 months of cold-calling and knocking on doors – talking the talk but not being able to deliver in terms of persuading people that cycling was a practical and safe option – we had this joined up approach that I could sell to people as a viable means of using a bike as everyday transport. We even had fleets of bikes we could loan to businesses for a week at a time to encourage their employees to at least try riding to work.’

Finding that his role with BikeRight! involved liaising with the Transport Authority’s infrastructure team – consulting on the design of cycle routes and questioning whether they met the needs of their users – he already had close-working ties with the local authority when they advertised his current position of transport planner. Concerned that he didn’t have the usual engineering background, it was following the interview after he’d accepted the position that the panel’s requirements became apparent. ‘It turns out they already had an office full of engineers and what they really wanted was a public-facing individual to not only influence the design of local infrastructure but also engage with the public on cycle-related matters.’


As he didn’t take his driving test until his mid-twenties, at the very least Dan is able to communicate this message with a degree of conviction and goes some way to explaining why cycling has been the commonality in a varied career that included a spell working in a nightclub.

‘I was finishing my shift at around three in the morning before getting on my bike and riding home. But I didn’t know anything else. I’d ride to work, to college, to see friends. And this probably accounts for why I do the job that I do. Cycling is such a massive escape for me. The headspace I need to switch off from work before focusing on home and family.’

Growing up in Leamington Spa, the West Midlands is where Dan returned following a couple of snowboarding seasons after he graduated with a Physiotherapy degree from Birmingham University. Initially starting out in the health and fitness industry led to him working within public health on a programme engaging with young people between 8 and 16 who were clinically obese. ‘Our aim was to get them active and eating well but the biggest barrier I encountered was their reluctance to take part in physical activity because of previous bullying or low self-esteem. As I loved cycling I felt this might be the perfect way to address this issue and enable them to factor in a degree of everyday activity into their lives.’

Now that he’s landed his dream job – a role in which he can marry the design and promotion of cycling infrastructure with the necessary encouragement for people to get out and use it – Dan can confidently get to grips with the key messages that sustainable cycling can address.


‘Very often, and especially in large urban areas, if you want to get from point A to point B in the shortest time then in many ways the bicycle is the obvious choice. And when people list all the potentially negative aspects of riding a bike often what I’ll simply suggest is for them to try it. Just once and see how they get on. I’m not expecting them to ride every day but if they can find their own need or reason to do it, then that can sow the seed for longer term engagement.’

Believing active travel in the UK is currently in a good place with more workplaces opening doors to enable bicycle commuting, Dan feels local authorities are striving to enable provision but there’s still a lack of consistency between areas. Cycle lanes varying in design and colour from city to city without a joined-up blueprint to make the UK a truly cycle-friendly country.

‘We need a top-down approach that is evident in countries such as the Netherlands,’ he suggests. ‘I was over there giving a presentation about UK cycling and one of the comments I made related to our perception that Dutch motorists are so much more respectful towards cyclists. But the simple truth of the matter is that their motorists are cyclists.’

‘We need people to feel confident riding their bikes,’ Dan continues. ‘The more journeys made by bike, the greater it encourages local authorities to see that cycling is a worthwhile investment. And in comparison to what’s been spent on roads and rail, cycling doesn’t really cost an awful lot to provide decent infrastructure. But there’s the catch. As local authorities are held accountable for the impact of their spending, often they don’t think they need to invest in infrastructure because no one’s riding their bikes. But if the provision was there you’d see a greater take up.’


‘If you put me on my soapbox I say we don’t need to learn from the Dutch or the Danes. We need to look to America and learn from Portland, New York and Chicago. Car-centric cities that have turned it round and increased cycling participation. Taking space back from their existing road networks to create interconnected routes that cross the city.’

But it’s the provision of cycle training together with usable infrastructure that Dan feels could have the biggest impact. Training available to all schools irrespective of postcodes and funding bids and encouraging a mindset that cycling is the norm. ‘If you can combine this with encouraging adults to cycle – bike share schemes in all of our cities and investing in the number of segregated cycleways – then I believe we can reach a tipping point where making a journey by bike becomes your preferred option and not solely for cycle fanatics like me.’

Now that he’s a father and time with the family is precious, Dan is happy to be selective about when or if he can ride or race. To such an extent that a lot of his miles are done on an indoor trainer. ‘I’m quite happy getting up at ‘silly’ o’clock in the morning to do a turbo session,’ he comments with a smile. ‘I still absolutely love getting out and riding with other people but just need to keep all these aspects of my life in balance. And I suppose it’s because cycling plays such a pivotal role in my life – both at work and in my spare time – that I really try not to be too evangelical about its benefits. But if anyone wants to argue the pros and cons, I’m that pain in the arse individual who has an answer for everything.’


All images by Benedict Campbell


Yorit Kluitman / Ordering the landscape

Sitting down with Yorit Kluitman – graphic designer and self-styled cycling fanatic – there’s a number of keywords that keep cropping up during our conversation. Collecting. Organising. Rules. Verbal clues to the visual approach he takes in ordering his world. A world rich in experience with a deep connection to the natural environment that he’s spent 5 years recording for Bicycle Landscape; his beautifully realised book that documents each of the Netherlands’ 388 municipalities. Visually capturing the form and functionality of the Dutch landscape.

Born and raised in Eindhoven, Yorit returned after a spell studying editorial design at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. Appreciating the city’s cycling infrastructure he argues the political agenda for supporting bike friendly projects stems from memories of riding as a child. ‘It’s in their blood and DNA,’ Yorit suggests. ‘So even the politicians share this same understanding and feel the need to prioritise the bicycle as a form of everyday transport. In the sense that we’ve recently had a number of roads closed and replaced by cycle lanes. Super wide and linked to the city’s network of bike paths.’

Since founding his own graphic design studio, Yorit acknowledges that he works more hours now that he’s self-employed. ‘You find yourself doing administration late at night and clients are constantly wanting to contact you about a particular project. Occasionally you get some time between different jobs when you can ride a little more but usually everything’s happening at once.’


When he does get the time, Yorit tends to head south on quiet rural roads; regularly crossing the border into Belgium where he explains the sandwiches are not only cheaper but also more generous in size. A little further to the north is the Veluwe; his favourite area for riding and the only place in the Netherlands that he considers to have a true sense of wilderness. And it’s this distinction between ‘natural’ nature and evidence of man-made manipulation that brings us to the Bicycle Landscape project.

‘I remember feeling overworked so I decided to start cycling local loops over lunch. Later I bought a race bike and ventured further afield; taking pictures on my iPhone. At the time I was studying in Rotterdam and it just struck me how the landscape in the Netherlands is super graphic. A lot of horizontal lines and organised structure that I began reimagining as postcard views. And from there I drew up a set of rules for the photographs I was collecting. No people or buildings. A spartan image searching for straight paths that relate to the horizon or a vanishing point in the landscape.’

‘A friend of mine,’ Yorit continues, ‘suggested I do all the villages, towns and cities but I looked it up and there’s over 8,500. But I liked the idea so decided to focus on the municipalities as they’re pretty well categorised.’


Reflecting on this 5 year undertaking now that the resultant Bicycle Landscape book has been published – 17,000 km over 153 rides with a final selection of 450 images whittled down from a little over 10,000 – I question whether Yorit views the Dutch landscape through the filter of his graphic design profession? If he considers his interpretation to be exaggerated?

‘There are people and signposts where I ride,’ he reflects with a smile. ‘Noise as I choose to call it. But I leave that all out deliberately. No cars, no people, no buildings. I suppose that’s the way I like my rides. Just me, the bike and my natural surroundings.’

With his home and business based in Eindhoven, his immediate urban environment offers an interesting contrast to the landscapes so meticulously recorded in his book. With a citywide infrastructure dominated by the industrial heritage of his parents’ previous employers – Yorit’s mother working at Philips and his father at DAF – he considers the city in some ways quite ugly but undergoing a gradual reimagining in the shape of the creative and technological sectors utilising the long empty warehouses and production lines. ‘The spaces are now being reworked as studios, offices and apartments,’ he observes, ‘but the skyline is still very Philips.’

Escaping into the surrounding countryside whenever he can, Yorit has a number of bikes with each fulfilling a particular role. ‘I have a St Joris steel bike that was made specifically for the Bicycle Landscape project. Bright orange paint – the Dutch national colour – with a slightly more upright position that cruises well and allows you to look around.’


‘I don’t like ‘noisy’ rides,’ he continues when asked what sort of route he favours. ‘Not in the sense of sound but well planned and fluid in the turns and changes of direction. Almost like a well composed song that starts slowly before building up, a good ride needs to be focused and ordered. I like things to go as planned. Surprises in cycling have a tendency to be dangerous.’

In terms of riding culture, Yorit describes a typical Dutch ride as super social; groups riding routes along coastal roads or through exposed terrain having to work together as there’s always the wind to contend with. ‘There’s a metropolitan lifestyle aspect in cities such as Amsterdam where people tend to follow the latest trends. In the south it’s more a traditional, grassroots interest in cycling. All the towns have their own cycle race in the summer and the terrain is a little more playful with stretches of gravel and forest paths.’

Now that the Bicycle Landscape project is completed, I finish by asking if his relationship with cycling has since changed; prompting Yorit to smile before stating: ‘I ride to enjoy the social aspect. When we come together and head out of the city centre. Enjoying a conversation over a cup of coffee or even a beer. But I’d like to do another cycling project. It’s so much fun riding around with a camera and I still like to categorise. To place things in order.’


All images with kind permission of Yorit Kluitman.

Profile: Mimi Kathrein

Growing up near Lake Constance and now resident in Vienna, the city’s cycling culture has seen some significant changes since Mimi Kathrein first began riding in 2010. At the time a closed-off world of cycle clubs that beginners wanting to try the sport often found rather forbidding, recent years have seen the adoption of a more open approach to participation. ‘Looking back,’ Mimi explains, ‘I feel the scene was influenced by the States and the UK in the way people’s riding habits have changed and this encouraged me to start a regular women’s training ride.’

But it was riding with Kelli Samuelson during a trip to LA that proved particularly inspirational; sowing the seeds for the idea of creating her own place where women could support each other in their riding goals. ‘I was still fairly new to cycling,’ Mimi reflects, ‘and felt really intimidated by the thought of accompanying such a strong rider out into the mountains that skirt the Los Angeles urban sprawl. But listening to Kelli’s story of how she founded her women’s race team which later became LA Sweat made me determined to do something along those same lines back in Vienna.’

Having already joined the Rapha Ambassador programme, this decision was further strengthened after a trip to Amsterdam during which she first learnt about the women’s cycling group STRONGHER. Excited by the prospect of founding something similar, on her return to Vienna she immediately set about launching FASTHER; a platform for women to share their experiences and develop group riding skills.

‘In this way,’ Mimi explains, ‘you can always help riders that aren’t quite as strong. They can sit in the second or third row with the stronger riders in the front and at the rear. And it’s so satisfying when you see new members understand that by riding together you can go so much further and so much faster.’

For a group that prides itself on the support it provides to new riders, it’s perhaps surprising that there’s a ‘no complaining’ rule; a concept that Mimi is keen to clarify: ‘It’s about not giving in to your insecurities. About having faith and just trying something in the knowledge that the group will be there for you. You’re free to curse when you’re climbing a mountain but it’s important to own the moment. And in some ways it’s really very simple. Some people are faster and some people are slower but it’s hard for everyone.’

Having recently discovered the joys of bike packing – Mimi appreciating the distances you can travel unsupported on a bike and the enjoyment to be found from setting your own pace – she’s at her happiest riding in the mountains. ‘The second time I climbed Mt. Ventoux I was filming with Rapha. I was riding with Jonas from Norway and we were singing all day but they kept telling us to stop because we looked too happy [laughs].’

Using her fingers to count the number of bikes she owns – her ‘Dutch’ bike and city commuter sit in street level storage but the rest are kept in the house – a background in both design and curating contemporary art means Mimi’s ideally placed working for the Vienna Business Agency. Providing programme development for the architecture, design and fashion industries in and around the city, this focus on networking and knowledge transfer mirrors her plans to establish FASTHER groups in other cities.

‘It’s reassuring,’ Mimi adds as our conversation draws to a close, ‘that there’s so many women that started with FASTHER and now have the confidence to take on a leadership role themselves. And really rewarding when you see the smiles on happy faces when individuals accomplish something they never thought possible. It’s important to remember that we’re all part of the same journey but with our own unique stories to tell.’


Picture credits:

Feature image / Sami Moreno / Gallery / 1. Caro Laska / 2. Philipp Doms / 3 Philipp Schoenauer / 4. welovecycling / 5. Peter Riegersperger / 6. Philipp Schoenauer



Portrait: Dominique Gabellini

I’m told it’s downstairs in the basement showroom of the Condor bike shop. And sure enough, when I descend past the window that fronts onto the busy London thoroughfare of Gray’s Inn Road, I find a matte black bike with deep section tubular race wheels waiting its turn with the Condor mechanics. Apart from a pink stripe that paints a line down the centre of the saddle to reappear on the flattened profile of the aero bars, it looks fairly understated. Obviously built to go fast with brakes hidden away in the front forks and tricked out with an expensive groupset, what makes this bike particularly interesting is that it was designed to race at the Hillingdon Circuit by its owner; Dominique Gabellini. And that’s just Hillingdon.

Later in the morning, when we meet over coffee in the ground floor cafe at Rapha HQ, Dominique sets the design considerations of this particular bike in some context: ‘For Hillingdon, I knew I needed a very aerodynamic frame so I went to see Condor and said I wanted this, this and this and they spoke to the engineers in Milan and the discussions went back and forth from there.’

Perhaps unusual for an individual to have such easy access to a design team for what is, in effect, a one-off build? But this simply goes to illustrate the breadth of the relationships Dominique has built through an amateur racing career that began in the south of France as a teenager before a return to competition in and around London at the age of 45.

Although playing table tennis to a good standard in his early teens, Dominique grew bored and took up cycling; winning races by the time he’d turned 17 before signing with an amateur team. 3 years later he’d decided to quit and go to university; a decision he levels at the mental challenge of stepping up to an elite level of racing. ‘I’d been told when I was younger that I’d be very good and then, on the first day of my first stage race, I was dropped. There was an echelon and I didn’t have the experience, the understanding of what was happening. I was always at the back and then out of the door.’

‘And this was difficult,’ Dominique continues, ‘because I’d been winning races – winning quite easily – but when I moved up to stage racing it was beyond my standard. It was very hard and, mentally, I wasn’t prepared for it. I was too inexperienced and I’d started racing too late.’

Admitting that these are not particularly fond memories, the contrast to the time he spent racing prior to signing his amateur contract is all the more intriguing. ‘I was part of a group of riders that we called a mafia. We did all the one day races and made a good living from the prize money.’

Describing how he travelled by car between provincial French towns, his voice and gestures animate as he recollects contesting one race after another. ‘If it was a nocturne we’d usually start at eight in the evening before driving to the next town in the morning. And we made so much money. Enough that I could buy a car – a Fiat 127 – at the end of the season. And alongside the prize money you’d win a leg of lamb or a case of wine which we would sell to the hotel.’

‘But we had to work hard for the wins,’ he relates with a smile. ‘When you had two or three mafias turning up at the same race, it was a fight. The race was so fast. And it’s important to remember that for my team-mates – who were much older than me – it was their job. They cut wood in the winter and raced their bikes in the summer.’

Contrasting these obviously good times with his later experience of stage racing, with maturity Dominique has since placed this in some context. ‘I never, ever, finished in the peloton in any of the stage races I contested. And looking back, do you realise how depressing that must have been for a 19 year old? Sometimes I was finishing 20 minutes after the main field. The last rider to be massaged, the others had finished their dinner by the time I sat down. That was my life. And I was riding with guys in their late twenties, early thirties, who’d all left school at 14 because they went into cycling. But that hadn’t been my path. I had a baccalaureate and the conversations we did share were limited as we had so little in common.’

Needing time to reflect on future plans, Dominique attached a rack and panniers to his racing bike and set off for Italy to see his parents. On his return he rode and won one last race before climbing off his bike and informing his father that he was continuing his education and enrolling in university. He wouldn’t compete again for another 24 years.

After graduating with a degree in International Relations, Dominique moved to the UK to study English before settling in London and establishing his own language school. ‘I was working in excess of 50 hours a week – Saturdays and Sundays – but I enjoyed it because I was creating something that didn’t really exist at that time.’

Referring to a business model that had his employees teaching in their clients’ homes or offices, at the time this proved a groundbreaking innovation. ‘We didn’t have any spare money for premises,’ he adds rather ruefully. ‘Everyone does it now but back then it was a novelty.’

It was his cruciate ligament, injured whilst playing tennis, that led to his doctor suggesting he start riding a bike to help build the muscle. As his office was located 10 minutes from the Condor shop, he called in one morning to purchase a bike. ‘When I mentioned I used to race,’ he recalls, ‘I could tell from their reaction that they didn’t believe me.’ Nonetheless Dominique started to train; riding laps of Regent’s Park where he made some friends who encouraged him to consider a return to competition. ‘They took me to a race and I won. Two years later, when I was 47, I won 30 races before realising that when you reach a certain level and you race on your own it gets very hard. So I approached some other people and asked them to ride with me and this became the foundation for the first Condor team.’

Speaking over the phone to Grant Young, son of Condor’s founder Monty Young, it’s clear that the seeds for a close friendship were immediately sown when Dominique first walked in off the street to purchase a bike. ‘We bonded the first time we met,’ confirms Grant, ‘and from day one he was a very loyal customer. A relationship that became, over time, more of an ambassador role and led to us establishing a small race team. We were happy to offer our support as it worked really well and everyone wanted to race with him.’

And it was also around this time that Dominique first met Rapha’s founder and CEO Simon Mottram and learnt of his plan to set up a new company that would retail high quality, carefully considered cycling clothing. As Dominique recalls: ‘He was just starting the brand and asked me if I’d model for them. We went down to the south of France for the shoot and for the next four, five years I continued in that role. And, looking back, those images were seen as being quite iconic in the way they were art directed and subsequently used in marketing campaigns.’

With this relationship now firmly established, when the Rapha Cycling Club was founded in 2015 it was a natural step that Dominique take on the role of ride ambassador; leading groups of members on rides into Hertfordshire and the Chiltern Hills or seeking out lesser known trails and pathways on his cyclocross bike. A role that compliments his continued love of racing as it’s clear that Dominique still has the same passion for competition that first prompted him to take up the sport as a teenager. ‘I perform best in crits,’ he confirms. ‘I like the adrenalin, the speed.’

Excited by the current crop of cycling talent and encouraged that women’s cycling is gaining more media attention, at 61 years old Dominique recognises that the way he competes is, by necessity, different to his earlier racing style. ‘Now that I’m older I know I can’t make the break in an elite field. I stay in the peloton, making sure I’m in the first fifteen and, if there’s a sprint, I try my luck from there.’ With a trim figure honed from weekly 5 hour cyclocross sessions, he continues: ‘In a race you’re constantly weighing up the field. You know who to follow and who won’t have the legs. Sometimes you make the wrong decision – I often make the wrong decision – but that’s racing.’

As our time together is drawing to a close – the cafe is beginning to fill as lunchtime approaches – I ask whether Dominique has any regrets in a life, appreciably in two distinct phases, spent racing? At this, he smiles before answering. ‘I enjoyed many good times but I don’t regret going to university. I saw the doping. Knew of the ‘understanding’ certain teams had with race organisers. And there were no miracles back then. You trained and worked hard. The people that were so far above us; they had something else.’

Still racing 2 or 3 times a week in London – riding to the circuit, competing and then riding home – perhaps rather typically he describes how his mood alters if he can’t get out on his bike. ‘I become unbearable. My whole life revolves around cycling and my roles with Rapha and Condor.’ A relationship that Simon Mottram is quick to acknowledge when reflecting on Dominique’s involvement since the launch of the brand in 2004. ‘Dominique has been central to the whole story of Rapha and our success to date. He’s been a model, product consultant, ambassador and connector for the brand. But more than that, he’s been a riding companion, friend and inspiration to me for thirteen years.’

And judging by the number of times our conversation has paused as friends stop by the table to greet Dominique and share a few words, it’s clear to the extent he’s held in such affection. ‘I know them all,’ he remarks as his gaze takes in the various groups of people sitting at neighbouring tables. ‘They are a family to me.’

All images by kind permission of Rapha

Profile: Chloe Lasseron

Home has proved a moveable feast for chef and culinary director Chloe Lasseron. Born in France before leaving for California at the age of 5; subsequent moves to New York and Berlin have since been followed by a return to her homeland with a job in Paris heading up R&D and innovation for a French chain of coffee shops.

Originally training as a pastry chef, the pressure of working in Michelin starred restaurants resulted in a gradual change of lifestyle; the exhilarating but intense work culture overshadowed by a newfound focus on outdoor pursuits.

With the move from New York prompted by an opportunity to work in Berlin as a recipe developer, Chloe initially explored her new home by bike before starting to lead groups of riders out of the bike shop Standert for Braver Than The Elements.

Now adding Rapha Ambassador to her already established professional roles, Chloe is ideally placed to suggest her preferred recipes for ride foods. Tempering eating well with the importance of enjoying the food she consumes, Chloe happily admits to still using a fair amount of butter but balances this with a diet heavy on vegetables and a focus on seasonality. Quinoa or rice with fish or chicken baked in the oven; everything super simple. An approach to nutrition that is echoed in her new position where she’s responsible for modernising the company’s menu in light of current food trends.

With an Instagram bio that states she’s a ‘reformed’ punk rocker – Chloe eventually tiring of the demanding daily routine imposed by maintaining a mohawk – she is now happily settled in Paris with weekends spent exploring routes out from the city centre into the surrounding countryside. Journeys that are perhaps smaller in scale compared to recent relocations but nevertheless equally as enjoyable.

Images with kind permission of Mark Hagan

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