Monday, 22 December 2014

Another twelve months on two wheels

Well it's all mince pies and steady rides for a week now, so I thought I'd go over the 'rides wot I done' in 2014.
To be honest I thought it would be a very quiet year, as I'd decided not to race, well not road anyway. And racing has always been a big part of my year. Instead I wanted to have a go at Audax, I'd done some many years ago and had become reacquainted with Audax again in 2013 riding with Fraser and Keith. At the back of my mind was the Super Randonneur.
So no racing.
First important ride of 2014 was....well a race! The last cyclo cross race of the 2013/14 season.  And just to make this one a bit spicy we had the honour of the current World Masters Cyclo Cross Champion racing with us, 2014 might be interesting. In fact the last race was the best of the season.

The rest of January and February were spent just riding along, and converting my well seasoned cyclo cross bike for a life of Audax.  Happy with the finished result and having become better acquainted with my Garmin I formerly announced my intent to go for it to Keith. The 'go for it' being the SR....the Super Randonneur. I...we had a calender year to complete the four must do distances to get the award, 200km 300km 400km and the 600km all of course to be completed non stop. They could have been done in any order, but it seemed logical to do it in order as we were learning on the hoof.
Our first Audax was the Stevenage start of summertime special 200km.  Joning Keith and I were Gail, Fraser, Steve and Ross.  G, Steve and Ross were doing their first Audax  and a distance that would take them past anything they'd done before. The route was a flat to undulating affair heading out in the direction of Suffolk and back.  Sounds easier than it actually was, as most of the undulation was on the return leg when we were laden down with tea and cake from stopping too long.
Lesson from the 200? less stopping.
Check point Charlie on the Stevenage
The following weekend it was the 300km, another crowd but different faces this time. Keith, Steve, Vince, Trevor, Tim and myself. We all set off from Chalfont and set course for the New Forest. Leaving the warmth of event HQ was a bit of a haul as it was still dark and pretty cold, but off we set. The route pretty well goes as the Crow flies, and we managed to stay together and route find very well. Rain set in on top of the Hampshire Downs and it would be with us all the way to our turnaround check point in Fordingbridge, though it was horizontal by the halfway mark. The return leg sees me buckle a wheel which is eventually repaired. And it also sees us say goodbye to Trevor and Tim who both suffer show stopping mechanical. Keith, Vince, Steve and myself all finish later that night.
Lessons from the 300? stop even less.
Another event the following weekend,  This time though it's not Audaxing, it's the Hell Of the North Cotswolds a tough 100km off roader. I'm with Miles for this unique event, one we are both veterans of. This event has always been marked by weather of some kind, heat, driving snow or for today hurricane winds. We complete this toughie together in just over six hours.
Hell  Of the North Cotswolds

May comes, and I'm alone for my 400km Audax attempt. A route out that'll take me over Symonds Rock before heading South to cross the Severn bridge and back into England. It's hard going near the Welsh coast, but I complete this 400km ride solo and without issue. Just my 600 to do to be come a Super Randonneur.
Lessons from the 400? not a lot.
A great turning point on any ride

I have my first bike fit late May.
In June I join old friends to ride and eat in France.

July, July 12th it's the biggy. The Buzzard 600km. Keith, Steve, Tom and I are riding this, though we will all go our own way if we have issues. Long and short? We loose Steve and Tom very early on. My crank falls off soon after. Keith waits for me and we complete 'the' longest ride I've ever done in horrendous conditions. To this day I still don't think the magnitude of this ride has sunk in! Really big thanks Keith.

Off to Ghent, Belgium with Fraser to meet ex pat Phil.  Superb Flandrien riding including the Kwaremont, Paterberg the brutal Koppenberg and the famous Muur.  And as good as the riding great company, good food and Belgian beer. And the start of my interest in European ladies in tight jeans, they just do them so well.
Steep? look at the fence line

October soon comes, and with it the first of the seasons cross races, yes I know I said  wouldn't, but reading all the race reports over the year from the young club members whetted my appetite.  And we're racing in Milton Keynes so it would be rude not to. I've talked loads of club members to join me, they don't hate me for it and become hooked.

September. Quite simply why I ride. Fraser has kindly offered to take me to Luchon in the Pyrenees along with Neil. What can I say that I didn't say about last years Pyrenean ride? Famous climbs? they're all here. Tough climbs, descending bat shit fast off a wet mountain, descending bat shit fast of a sunny dry mountain. Scenery........mademoiselles in tight jeans. Food the beers! All the ups and downs including the one that got away.....again, Superbagneres I will get you. Fraser you're a star.
Especially for Iain

Back to Blighty and into the cyclo cross season, and a season head on with Miles who finishes the year one win ahead of me.
So no racing then! and not such a quiet year, just a different one. I doubt if I'll go back to Audax, but I'm glad Keith found his 'thang' in Audax. As for the racing? I missed it, as my boss at work said 'it's in your blood' So I'll be back racing in 2015.
And three countries again, four if you include Wales!

I consider myself a very lucky bloke to have such a great interest and mates.  

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Central CXL Round 8 Hillingdon Cycle Circuit

Back on the bike after missing two rounds, well it was either this or a gentle club ride. I'd been very ill since October and hadn't (and still haven't) ridden on the road, so with only one ride, a mountain bike ride under my belt I felt fit and ready to race.......not.
The plan was to follow and not race, just get my mojo back. Then if it went okay I could start riding again.
Hillingdon isn't a techy course, but when wet it can become akin to riding through wattle and daub, a bike breaking combination of London clay and cut dried straw. Today it was wet, but drying which is the worst.
So considering the distance we had to travel and the conditions it was good to see eight LBRCC riders racing. Miles, Kevin  and me in V50+. Andrew, Jules and Darren in V40+. And Chris and Ross in the Seniors.
One lap of practice was all I needed, all rideable except one bloody section where the straw had been cut and was lying on the mud. My bike clogged up here, everywhere else it was great. I wasn't the only one V's canti's and Discs all clogging, and yet some weren't plagued at all? I would have to run this section.
I tried something new this time in warm up, and probably made Ross think WTF. Hitting corners as hard as to see how far they could be pushed and easing back to find the limit, seems to work.
So to the start.  It was a small field, so being called up didn't count for much. Hillingdon is unique in having a road start so the entire grid is only two rows. A brief chat from the commissairre and we're off. I don't try and move to the front Like I would usually do and the field passes, Miles is already ahead and Kevin soon overtakes. I settle in to follow and hassle. The first lap is going okay. We come to a switchback near the end of the lap and I can see Miles is within striking distance and kevin is a few bike lengths ahead, all of which is very encouraging considering my health..
Miles and Kevin ahead, so is everyone

Then! it's the mud and reed section, the bike slows so I shoulder it and run (Pick it up and run) I run though the problem section and then slam the bike down onto the tarmac to go under the flag to complete lap one.
Within  yards of lap two Kevin is off the bike and trying to sort out clay induced mechanicals. I go past. I can't see Miles now so I assume he has ridden 'that' section. The bike cleans itself allowing me to press on thank goodness. I think it's somewhere here that Jules passes, I don't recall seeing Andrew. I get on with it, finding some better lines, even overtaking five in one go. I feel so good that when I arrive at the 'problem section' I decide to ride it. BIG MISTAKE,  as I leave the deep mud my bike becomes so clogged up it stops sending me over the bars.
The spectators are yelling at me to run, but the wheels have jammed solid, I'm rocking the bike back and forth, slamming it down, but the clay and straw is sticking fast. With hindsight it would have been quicker to take the wheels out. I finally get it moving.....just. I get a shout SIX MINUTES, it didn't seem that long, but I lost count of the people that passed me. Keith comes past just as I'm setting off again.
alone again, not shit but not good either

The bike starts to clean itself again. The gong is much better and the mud is drying, those bloody seniors they'll get a much cleaner run. The bell goes in the distance, this is just a three lapper! To make things even better four of the tight switchbacks have gone and now the course runs through in a straight line, those jammy gits that'll follow in the next race.
Just the 'problem section' left. I follow  a fast lady, she takes a different line through it. And #### me it's the line I should have taken all race as the bike cleans it. Well you live and learn.
Race over and I'm almost jumping with joy and relief happy to be riding again and with two more rounds to look forward to.
Mile won prize money which we spent on tea and cakes, very Rock N Roll.
Afterwards we watched Chris and Ross go. Standing on the sidelines us oldies where cursing their clean bikes as they came round lap after lap. Bitter?
Well done to all Miles, Kevin, Andrew, Jules, Darren, Chris and Ross, and welcome to possibly our newest and youngest rider, little Miss Darren.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Monday, 17 November 2014

Central CXL Round 5 MK Bowl (and a tale of woe)

I started writing this report when I should have been racing in round 6 at Stopsley. The emphasis on the should be bit, but more on that later.
MK Bowl Saturday at 11am, it's cold windy and raining on and off. Should I be racing? that is the question. Answer, probably not, but I am. Well I'm here but racing is pushing it a bit, I'm in very poor shape, yet feel fine, Something ain't right, Technically the course is a piece of pee, but a good few are struggling, one reason to ride. The field is decimated, another good reason to ride, but the lack of any power is the one very telling thing that all's not well.
I'll give it a go.
I'm now on the second row, and rightly so. It does mean that for once all season I can follow a wheel off the start rather than pull the whole lot along.
We get the whistle and to my surprise I cut through the field to make the first and hardest climb near the front, seems odd. Though once over the top it all goes very horribly wrong. Technical stuff fine, but once into the flat stretch into the wind my lungs give in. Miles tears past me as if he has just found a strip of tarmac. to race on. I have nothing, except a brief moment on a climb when I close, but then his off again, he is now gone proper!
I think about packing in and slow down. Time to assess. Small field, that's good...keep pedaling points to be had just finishing, Kevin is behind me, I can show the upstart that I can still ride even when I'm on my chin straps......keep pedaling. I can see riders already quiting......keep pedaling. Though the thing that baffles me is that I can ride past guys on the technicals and the climb yet I'm dying a thousand deaths on the flats? so I keep pedaling.
I'll carry on, but nothing is getting easy, I can't breathe properly, the bike is picking up mud and grass and weighs a ton. Thankfully the small fan club keeps me going. I employ the old keep it clean and smooth method, and not even that works. I stretch to get some air and hit the deck hard.
This is dreadful on a course I should do well on, well actually forgetting the pain, I am enjoying the course and conditions. The bike is faultless, everything is working well despite the conditions. That's Belgian cross bikes for you.
Still it's hardly racing, though thankfully Kevin remains behind me....imagine the Facebook abuse! Nothing comes until the last few metres when I actually sprint past another rider
If I was a novice that would have been a learning curve
And everybody else?
In V50 Miles beat me by nearly five minutes, Kevin trailed in behind me after just one go in Novices. Andrew in V40 did well despite failing gears. Chris raced a blinder in Seniors, along with Neil racing first time in class,  Ross looked good in Novices, good job to as it's first time in class next week. And finally Darren improved in Novices after playing cat and mouse with Ross.

Miles at full tilt

No country for old men

Fuck me. Let this be a warning

What about that tale of woe? or maybe a word of warning.
Sunday night I couldn't breathe, we Had to get a GP out. Was it the race? well yes partly, but the main reason was not listening to my body. I'm sat at home ill swallowing  antibiotics, inhaling a steroid spray, wearing a nasal strip and with an x-ray to look forward to, they've already taken my blood, when I should be racing.
So when should I have rested? I'll tell you, three weeks ago. That moment leaving the Black Lion start and turning to Gareth shaking my head and letting out a huge puff of air that's when. If it's hard after one hundred metres you've got a problem. That same day I abandoned the ride, and that's a first.
Then there's the poor result in the cyclocross the week after, followed by the missed Sunday ride and then no training at all for a week prior to racing.
Prior to the breathing scare I just put it down to tiredness or weak legs, I even upped the resistance on the turbos to strengthen the puny limbs. At no point did I think anything was wrong, either that or |I simply refused to acknowledge I was ill. If I was someone else looking in on me from the outside I'd have called me  fool.
The good thing is that's it's been a real eye opener. I've learnt that to race you need to be well, you can race ill, but you won't do well and the results the next week will be even worse. And sometimes you need to remember that is hobby (well it's not, it's in the blood) and that the mortgage will still get paid if I miss a race or ride.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Song For 2014

There's always a song in the background, in the bar on the avenue, on the radio driving down to the Pyrenees, on the TV in the apartment. Last year it was daft Punk. Not saying these are great songs. but the hook takes you back.
Might just be me?

Friday, 31 October 2014

The Club Run

Although this blog is for my personal use, this little post...rantette is open to and indeed welcome to comment.
The club run? I've been riding Sunday club runs through the seventies, eighties, nineties, naughties and now the what ever it is we call this period in time. For those first four decades the club run was just that, a club run. So blindingly simple no rules were ever needed. In fact there wasn't if I recall correctly any thought process in the action of riding a club run.
Everyone turned up, all ages and all abilities and off we went, The weather wasn't discussed, and there was no mention of distance or that of hills. Weather distance and hills were a forgone conclusion, a matter of fact.
Then there were the riders. Back then when a rider joined your club for the first time he rode with you as if you'd been on the bike together since leaving the womb. It seemed such a natural act there was never really a need to communicate, though we did of course. You rode a wheel because you knew you were safe behind the man in front. You rode wheel to wheel and two abreast everywhere. Verbal instructions to your club mates just didn't exist...they just didn't need to.
The kit. clean bikes always, a dirty bike was just poor form. Everything worked, though granted it was far simpler then. Cables crimped at regulation length, no rattles. black shoes and white socks. And certainly no computers, most churches had a clock and you'd be back in time for dinner. A hundred was a hundred and not 62 miles.
It was so simple, so well oiled, a thing of aesthetic beauty.

So to the present.
How in the name of all things sacred have we managed to make such a pigs ear out of something that was once perfect?
Why do so many modern club cyclists refuse to ride as a club? That's actually a genuine question. How did the rider of the past just know what to do seemingly from birth? Trust was instant. He would know if you were tiring and ease off or tow you for a while, and you'd all work together without having to be asked. Pulling away from the group would be seen as showing off, and pulling away from the group after spending all day on a wheel to do so would mean a trip to Coventry.
Riders do it all the time now, there seems to be no shame in sitting in all day long just to show everyone what you can do on the next climb.
And assisting your club mates seems to be a long lost art. What seems to constitute an assist by many is actually an attack. With so much science at the hands of the modern rider he still seems incapable of understanding that by following a wheel he is saving up to thirty percent of the energy the rider in front is using. Many a time now a rider will just surge forward past me  as I slow from towing him along, why can't he see that surging past won't help the man in front or anyone in the group, when what he should be doing is hooking up with his slowing brother.....offering a hand if you like.
We call the rules etiquette these days, but there isn't a need for the rules of etiquette as the rider should be a well mannered sportsman.

Calling out. Rather controversially the warning call makes me cringe.
When we could ride wheel to wheel and two abreast without the rest of the group half wheeling into a six abreast beast there was no need for a call ever. Two maybe three hand signals existed, the point down to a hole, the hand on the back to warn of an obstacle and the arm up for just about anything from a horse in the road to needing a wee. Now it's verbal diarrhea. Car ahead! really there should be no need to shout that there's a car coming the other way. You shouldn't be in their lane and YOU should be looking where you're going. car behind, if you're all neat and we go.....riding wheel to wheel, two abreast not half wheeling, not surging and breaking up the group the car behind can get past easier as they'll see a neat and tidy and predictable group.
Holes. Shouting hole is useless. Two reasons, a) you need to know where exactly hence the point and b) if they are everywhere then you'll know about it because your looking where you going aren't you.

The club run hijacker. The club run is 'the' club run and not a vehicle for personal gain, that's training or Strava'ing. It's oil and water. That's not to say there isn't room for competitive fun like taking the village sign or the sprint to the top of the hill, but the way to do it is to do it in a way that entertains the group and must see you exhausted at the end. Surging out of the group isn't the same, that's underhand competition. And constant surging before returning to rest in the group is a cardinal sin.

I've had a read over what I've written and I stand by it. It's too complicated, too many rules where rules aren't needed, too many choices. A little lacking in manners and an unwillingness to take advice?
Myself? I'll continue to strive to keep it simple in form and practice

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Central CXL Round 4 RAF Halton

Ten of us this time. Ten LBRCC riders racing, I remember when the club wasn't even that big! Our host venue were the superb grounds of RAF Halton, you could tell it was on forces land as it was immaculate.  The weather was almost immaculate except for the pretty strong winds, so all in all a pretty good venue for the LBRCC novices, the experienced racers and the many LBRCC spectators alike.
As usual the Novices went off first, we had six in this class including two novice novices! Emma and Kevin. Before we went off to warm up we watched the start, and then dashed off to see how they got on in the 'bowl' a steep drop with a tight turn to take you back up and out again........ Once they were underway we got on with our warm ups.
The course was a mix of well clipped grass and dry loamy singletrack, and all 100% rideable. The circuit was a beauty, with a little less singletrack it would have been a classic cyclocross course. Not a thing was an issue under tyre, only the increasing wind speed was an issue.
In no time at all we called up by the commissaire. I was called up to the front again, and then noticed that being in lane 8 on the left I was further away from the first bend, a right hander than some of those behind me?

We get a 45 second countdown, except it's not counted down and when the whistle goes I'm a little caught out and fumble with my trailing pedal. The benefit of the front row gridding is already lost. I knuckle down, I'm on the back of the fast guys with a gap behind me. To me it looks better than it actually is. We come to the first demanding part of the course a sudden loamy steep climb, and bosh the rider in front stops to walk it and a flash of team green goes flying past.....Miles. I un-clip and run to the top to see Miles almost finishing the next sector. I chase like hell to no avail, he is cementing a lead. We hit the Bowl and luck fails me again, two riders tangle and fall on the climb making me dismount and run again. Miles is away off and I'm mentally banging the bars with frustration. I won't give up, so carry on with my chase. He is stronger in the open, but I make gains on the technicals, and to make matters worst he is having better luck with walkers and fallers than me. It becomes clear that we are neck and neck, but our fate is being decided by others.
Dropping into the Bowl

Finally I get one clear fully ridden lap and I'm right on Miles tail. It's now that Andrew and Jules sail past. The scenario confuses me a little, Miles is ahead and we've held the Vet 40 pair off for longer.
I shake my self into action, but I haven't formulated a race plan, so when I see Miles luck take a turn for the worst (skidding into a rider with a rolled tub) I tear past, what was I thinking? After the race Jason from Team MK says I was flying at that point and barely keeping within the barriers.
I overcook it and fade in the final turns allowing Miles to take club honours.
Miles takes 17th and I trail in five seconds later to take 19th.
Andrew and Jules also take 17th and 19th in the Vets 40/49.
Neil took 2nd in Novices, with Kevin 5th, both are moving up to their relative age bands for their next race, Seniors and Vet50 respectively.
Ross, Darren and Stephen took 7th 8th 9th in that order, and Emma our first lady to race? taking 22nd
Andrew V40
Miles V50
Carl V50

Jules V40
Massive thanks to Ashley Lewis for his great images and his support on the day, cheers.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Central CXL Round 3 Culham Park Oxfordshire.

After a two week rest myself and Team Green were back on the cyclo cross circuit. A record nine members were out to test man and (machine in some cases) against the dreaded Culham Park course, a course which serves as an MX circuit for the rest of the year. Thankfully damp conditions the day before compacted the sand making the going fast. Well it should have been fast except the wind was up and keeping the tape monitors very busy. The wind was to play a major factor in the days racing.

First up were an LBRCC quartet going in the novices. Neil, Darren, Stephen and Ross. We watched them set off and couldn't help but notice how dominant the MTB's were, the fat tyres peerless in the sand and their suspension canceling the rough tussocky bone jarring straight. Once they were underway we vets went off to warm up. The course was familiar to me and one I enjoy. The wind however was a killer. During warm up I decided a race of attrition was on the cards. Also during the warm up Miles found the limit of his bike! We returned to see Neil and Darren come in top ten, and Steve and Ross trail in behind. Sadly Ross's race was marred by a good few 'SPD moments'.

Our turn. As usual the Vet 50+ riders go to the front, I was gridded front row again, and a look over my shoulder confirmed Miles to be right in behind me. To be honest I didn't really want to be front row, a wheel in these conditions would be a God send. Still there I was. The wind was making such a din I couldn't hear the commissaire giving the countdown so I just waited for the whistle. BOOM! we're off. So much for grabbing a wheel, I've got the 'holeshot' and out front leading the race. I lead out off the clipped grass and into the sands, I still have the front when we pop up into the crowd, it's a good feeling, but then the big boys start to filter past. Now I'm just a number fighting the conditions and trying to make up places.  The laps go well, no mistakes but I don't have the strength of some on the long stretches into the wind. Halfway in Jules in Vet 40-49 passes looking like he is on a Sunday stroll astride his mountainbike......bye bye Jules. The Andrew comes past, another Vet 40-49 rider, he even give me a cheery hello. Jules and Andrew have gone now. It's just me and my fellow Vet 50 riders to battle.  I have to work out where I stand. I glance across the course and see Miles closing in, I also clock some Trisports guys and a lone Finchley rider. These are the guys in my race. By the halfway mark I'm feeling good but unable to find another gear, by the time I've done another lap I can see that the Trisport guys, the Finchley man and Miles are exactly where they were previously. Still I can't lift it. We lap again, and again everyone is as was. Everyone is clearly as tired as me. I've had the bell so now it's just a case of keeping my race in order. Just one more leg sapping slog up the lumpy field into the head wind and onto the smooth as silk clipped grass to the finish. Three riders come off my wheel and pull away, I've just towed three guys to a better finish than me and I've got nothing in the tank to do anything about it, they're getting away. Then as I come out of lumpy field some one shouts my name....'don't let em get away.....c'mon' I don't know who it was calling out, but I got out of the saddle, put my head down and sprinted for the line clawing one place back again and taking the flag. After crossing the line I coasted out of sight to recover and joined a pool of racers slumped over machines waiting for normality to resume. It was tough racing, the class of field is far greater this season and almost double in size. It was also clear that the wind had made it's mark on the race. Getting out in front as early as possible was key, limits were reached with early efforts and the winds cemented riders into those reached positions. Possibly this will go down as the seasons tough one.

We're not over yet. Next Chris is off in seniors, Chris is a first year rider and as thus isn't getting favourable griddings. He has the unenviable task of learning the ropes and having to make his way up the field. Still he sets off well, clearly the technical issues he suffered at the National Bowl are sorted. We walk over to the main climb to give our support, his strength is evident as he passes riders going up. We then cross over to see how he goes on the flat, he is going well, but he is up against it in a very very strong field including Whyte Bike and Raleigh jerseys. I can't speak for Chris, but from the other side of the tape he looks like has a good race. A few more races and a half decent grid position will turn the tide, I think.  

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Pyrenean end of summer

It had been a year since we were last in the midst of the Pyrenean giants, but here we were again Fraser Neil and myself all set for a week of riding some of the best cols the Pyrenees can offer.
We've just landed in Toulouse to a very welcome twenty eight degrees, just like starting summer all over again! we collected our car and drove to our destination  Luchon De Bagneres. The rest of Saturday was spent getting supplies, showering (not together) and getting familiar with the cafés before getting an early night.
Neil was on a hire bike, or would be at midday, I'd brought mine over and Fraser was on his bike in residence. The plan was to ride over the Portilon and into Spain on the Sunday afternoon, that was the plan. Then there was the hire bike, Neils hire bike was a bit of a character, quite a nice carbon LOOK on some nice Ambrosio blues. However the running gear was eclectic to say the least; Shimano Dura Ace, Ultegra, 105, Tiagra and Sora, but it didn't stop there Campagnolo and FSA and that's just what made up the gears and brakes. But hey ho off we went. The first problem comes when Neil can't change down, not ideal on a cat 1 climb. After getting off and moving the chain by hand we continue to climb, but Neil isn't happy on this bike and to make matters worse the heavens open at the summit.
We take stock and conclude that Neils bike is a piece of shit and unsafe in the mountains in this weather so head back down the Portilon to swap the bike. Descending off the summit in a downpour at full tilt is a special experience, great but scary at the same time. I hit the bottom and then bang, my tyre blows out, I'm very thankful it waited until I was off the mountain. The tyre is badly torn, we're soaked through and Neils bike is still shit. The day is called. Tomorrow we'll do a big one.
We'd spent the evening deciding on a circular route taking in at least four Cols, we spent the night deciding on what beer to drink so with perfect planning we get ready for the off. By now Neil is sorted and is riding a Scott with envy inducing triple chainset. Fraser is on a sublime Time road bike and me? well I've just blown another tube so Fraser is now in pursuit of a new tyre and more tubes while I faff myself into a sweat. Fraser returns with a nice new Conti which is duly fitted. Finally I'm ready to go.....except my Garmin wont locate, I eventually give up and set off. We set off down the valley road at a cracking pace, the sun is shinning it's about twenty nine degrees, all is good. Then we cross over a railway line and I loose my drink, the lids are off and the bottles are emptied, my day isn't getting any better is it? I salvage a few drops to last the next 100km, the next four summits and the increasing heat.
The valley takes us out 30km and then it's onto the first Col, the Col Des Ares a steady 797 metre ascent to warm up the legs. Soon we get our first hairpins, this is the stuff. We press on yo yo'ing each other to the top  and passing local riders on the way. It always surprises me how well our club members climb considering where we live! We stop for the customary Col top photo, and push on, well drop off the top nose to stem.
Blurry summit piccy first of four today

The next Col is the baby one, the Col Des Buret at 599 metres. These two might be babies amongst .the giants, but the Tour comes over these. That said the Buret is easily done, We're now on our way to the Col de Menté, but first we have to encounter a mountainous forested road, not a major climb but a road that tricks the brain into thinking the big ring would be ideal. You start to question yourself about how you're feeling, my bikes hardly moving but the road seems to point downward. We eventually look at each other with that 'is it me or is this bloody hard' look, it's not just me. We slip the big ring, sit down and tempo to the end. I didn't need that.
We are now at a junction, a real juicy one. Right and it's the Col De Menté or left and it's the Col d'aspet. Last year I came off the Menté  and missed my turn during the La lapebie sportive. Instead of turning for the 599 metre Buret I got onto the 11% gradients of the 1069 metre Aspet. Luckily a kind soul chased me down and told me of my error. Today though we would venture onto the Aspet, but just to pay our respects at the memorial to Fabio Casartelli who during the 95 Tour crashed and died on one of the Aspets bends. I wonder how sobering the white stone memorial must be to current day riders as they push the limits on the descents. (Fabio Casartelli 1970-1995)
We stay longer than expected at this spot.

Next for us is the Col De Menté at 1349 metres. I sneak off ahead knowing there is a short drop at the start of the climb and use it to catapult me up the first few metres! The Menté is not technically hard, but it's a hell of a toughie a real 'time stands still' climb, It's also exposed and therefore hot. We spread out and do our own thing to get to the top, passing a few locals is a bonus, but not enough to take the niggle in my back away and it's only day two. I'm sitting high on my bars and wondering if I can get a 27 or 28 cassette in town, I even press my Ergos hoping for another gear. The 25 tooth is making it real now. Although seemingly spread out over the mountain we summit within seconds of each other. The summit of the Menté offers great views and a piccy opportunity, but nothing can keep us from descending the fantastic road below us, especially when it takes you into another country in this case Spain. We descend batshit fast, Fraser has gone and myself and Neil are in tandem. I spend moments nose to stem hoping for a 100kph moment and other times up on top gob smacked by the views. We come across Fraser already with his wheel out after blowing out on the fast descent, lucky boy is still upright.  We get it sorted and finish the descent, we've also ditched clothing, it's so warm now even the descent is hot. We reach the bottom, grab the big ring and turn left for Spain.
It's only about 16km to the start of our final ascent, but we're into a full on headwind that's dragging upwards and its pretty hot. Neil does a sterling job of pulling us to our water stop in Bossost, though his hard work isn't going to be rewarded later on. We down iced Cokes, watch a man drive his pick-up into a fountain and move on.
It's the Portillon again, the Col du Portillon at 1293 metres. One more climb and it's out of Spain and back into France and a favourite descent to Luchon and home. I'm doing 'my usual' feeling cheeky as we near the end of the ride, so after settling in I up my pace for fun! Near the top I can hear a Flute? It's pretty annoying and sure enough at the top there's a bloody hippy sat cross legged on a rock playing the flute. To misquote the Inbetweeners 'there's always some c@@t with a flute' It also starts to pour down, so it's a soggy hippy. We file into the summit top café for some mountain food and to sit out the passing storm. Bread ham cheese and coffee, classic. We grab the Col top piccy and hoon off down. Twice down the Portillon in two days, I am therefore expert at this, convinced I'll not have a second blow out I push it a bit until one bend nearly catches me out. I reign  it in we regroup and roll home. Day over, four Cols 110km.
Day three is our rest day, we always have a day off for something different.....or a rest. I think we shot ourselves in the foot with this years 'day off'. Hiking was the cunning plan, so we'd all packed walking boots for a nice restful gentle plod in the Pyrenees.  Our chosen destination was Pic de Céciré. You simply summit Superbagneres at 1790m and hike the rest to 2410m. It was bloody gorgeous, pretty hot as well and definitely not restful. A walk like this is hard on the cyclists legs even with the Leki poles taking some of the strain. I certainly start to wonder if this is a rest of actually harder than riding. I'm also sunburnt now! We finally summit and sit for lunch of bread and cheese. Going down is far quicker, but it feels like my feet are trying to break out of the front of my boots it's so steep, I'm convinced my socks have melted. Soon though we are down and phase two of the rest day is about to start. We're off to the Thermes to sweat it out in the 42o caves and pummel our legs in the spa pools. The Thermes are better than anything man made and we stay there until closing time. I feel ready for day four.
Day four is a single climb, we're going up the hors catagorie (HC) Port de bales 1755m. This is an absolute favourite of mine if done from the 'hard' side and the 'hard' it was. The ride started off with a great 30km warm up going down the valley from Luchon. This time there were no blown tyres, no Garmin problems and no water bottles spilling over the road to ruin the start, just a 35kph ride in the sun. After 30km the route turns off the D125 to Siradan and follows a beautiful route that undulates through farmland and village to Mauléon-Barrouse where soon the route turns right over the waters that have come down from the mountain we are about to climb. The first kilometres of the climb are steady through forest. The warmth of the farmland below has given way to fresh cool mountain air, so far the climb is pleasant. Then there it is, the first hairpin....things are about to get all very pointy from herein now. Last year this was the last of four Cols I climbed in the La lapebie, then the climb was strewn with riders in all sorts of pain, I find great pleasure in other peoples pain when riding, not my friends of course, but when you're on your chinstraps as we were then, it's who can manage the the pain the best.
Spinning on the early slopes of the Bales

Neil has gone on ahead, whilst I adopt Audax mode for a while to ease in the legs. As the gradient steepens the mountain becomes more exposed and it becomes damn hot. It's quite  nice to be alone climbing this beast. The kilometre to go signs act as a torment, especially the one that says 9.5% average but then starts with a slight drop, you just know you're in for a beasting at some point. When it comes I literally wobble to the top it's all I can do to avoid the rockfall that litters the road. Even the sunbathing Lizards  don't rush to get out of the way.
I'm given a gentle breather as the road cuts through the Pas de Canadien, last year there was a feed station here, no such luck this time. \however the gradient drops to 7% for a while, just enough to ease tired legs before the summit appears 4km away and before the final exposed push starts. I see Neil a few hairpins ahead, but he soon disappears. I think he is close, but the road  zig zags away seemingly taking me further away from my summit goal, Neil is clearly further away than I thought.
Finally I'm almost there with just the metre markers to push home the effort. 300......200.....100 and I'm at the top. I hadn't noticed the sun being replaced by cloud and wind in the last few kilometres, but now it was cold so arm warmers and gilets go on. We take the obligatory col top piccy and head down.
Say cheese

The descent is one of the finest, and I'm a little surprised to find I can recall most of the turns. However that doesn't help when a car takes a hairpin too fast and comes head on at me, only diving into the storm channel alongside the road saves me from a visit to the Pearly Gates. It doesn't slow me and I'm happy with my off road 'skilz'. It's crazy what you do sometimes. Neil got to the top first so I want to get to the bottom first, ideally sat drinking a coffee when he comes in!  I get to the bottom ahead, but I've no cash damn it.
Port de bales is a real tough one, and one col today is enough as it's three big ones on day five.
Day five is three cols. The Peyresourde 1569m then the Col d'azet 1580m then the Peyresourde again two Pyrenean and Tour classics. We start the climb or the first climb of the Peyresourde virtually from the front door, which I can tell you is plain ugly. Fraser on fresh legs is well up the road, followed by myself then Neil who must be paying for his blast to the top of the Bales?
First hairpins on the Peyresourde

We regroup at Garin and take a detour that traverses Portet De Luchon before spitting you out on the main climb just before the climb becomes serious business. We summit almost together and stop for coffee and frites at the small summit café. Again the weather dictates arm warmers and gilets for the descent. It's another fast one, not too many bends you can get down this pdq. From mountain top to lake, we're now riding along the edge of Lac de genos-loudenvielle and slow down to absorb it's beauty. It seems an ideal place to stop and replenish drinks, so we do. We tempo along the other shore of the lake to the start of the climb of the Azet. This is another favourite of mine, with me it's not all about the height it's more how you get there and this one gets you to the top by pure hairpin bend!  I go to the front, sitting standing sitting again it's a climbers treat. Fraser is a little way behind me and comments on my shoulders, you see I don't like a rider that rocks his shoulders when riding, looks messy. Well my shoulders are well and truly rocking and I start to laugh at his comments, problem is laughing and trying to keep your lungs in don't go together too well and I fall back while Fraser passes. We group at the top and sit a long while taking in the views. And of course get the piccy.
Now for some fun. The descent of the Azet ooooh! Everything you know about balance, position and braking, actually everything you know about riding is needed to descend this one at full tilt. You get momentary glimpses of the lake bellow which just adds to the feeling of altitude. I could descend this all day or until my pads wore down to nothing! All to soon we spill out onto the shores of the lake below. Deciding we're hungry we head off for a café only to find that our extra long stay at the summit has robbed us of eating time, all the cafés are closed. Luckily there's a small supermarket serving the ski resort so we dine in the car park on bread and cheese.
All that's left to do now is climb the Peyresourde again. I really don't fancy this, I don't mind climbing, but the Peyresourde from here is a slog. I scarper off ahead to get it over and done with, but Neil and Fraser both come past. I curse the fact that Neil chooses this moment to find his legs again and it's all I can do to keep them both in sight. Neil is ahead, but I manage to ride in with Fraser. Lets say no more about that climb. The descent however!, not technical, but it has some run outs and I manage a good 53 mph plus chasing Fraser back to the front door.
Day six and the last day of riding is a climb to the top of Superbagneres 1800m and I think HC. I've been looking forward to this all week as I didn't manage it last year. The start is the hardest start of the week, we're climbing hard and we've not been riding five minutes! On top of this there's a strong headwind. I press on hard convinced I'm now a Belgian headwind specialist, I'm way ahead of Neil and Frasers out of sight. However today Fraser is on a hire bike after exploding a freehub. I know what's happened, he has landed another shit hire bike that doesn't work. Turned out that I was right.
I turn out of the wind and onto the hairpins, Neils a dot in the distance. I feel so good I can hardly feel the efforts of climbing. I'm just 3.5km from the summit when all of a sudden.....TWANG my back goes big time. This has never happened ever. I can't pedal and have to fall against a signpost to stop. I manage to slide the bike out from under me and await Neils arrival. I explain what's happened and we wait for Fraser, but I know deep down he won't be coming up the mountain. Sadly I have to descend, I roll down a few kilometres and wonder if it's worth trying again. I loop around, but my legs won't work, so back down it is. Two years running Superbagneres has beaten me.
So day seven is spent sitting it out watching the world go by. Next year I'll tackle Superbagneres before anything else.
So there it is another summer in the Pyrenees. It wasn't all riding, there's the good food, the finest beers, musical Whippet club vans, Spaniards crashing into fountains, after beer movies icluding the best use of the C word in a movie and in particular French Madams who just do a tight jean so well.
Tres bien.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Central CXL Round 2 Milton Keynes

Saturday 4th October and it's time for my first race of the year, not just my first CX race, but 'the' first race after taking a year out to pursue other cycling itches.
The venue is the MK Bowl, so local as can be. The weather, shall we call it text book cyclo cross weather? After a very dry summer the rain has decided to make it's debut the same time as myself and six other members from the LBRCC were to race. In fact for Ross, Steve and Chris it was their cross debut. Ross and Steve were racing with Neil in the earlier novices race, whilst Chris was going in the later Seniors race. But with me today were Miles, and stepping up into vets for the first time Julian.
Race protocol put us....Miles and me in front with the vet 50 group, and Julian a minute later in vet 40. Race protocol also puts the current Masters World Champion on the front row of my group. It's probably a bit flattering that I get called up 5th to the grid shoulder to shoulder with the Rainbow stripes. I don't see him again until the pictures are published! Miles is called up just behind me. We're ready to race.
The heavens open.....even more. The course is now ripped up......pulse rate is rising and my mouths dry. The whistle goes and it's take no prisoners pace. We sprint for the hill in front, getting up this ahead is crucial. I do well avoiding the collisions on the bend at the top and get clear in 6th place. I won't hold this, but it means the others have to do the work.
The lap goes well, I do feel rusty though so I measure my efforts. That pays dividends later in the race.

In the clear
Miles has it now

I know Miles is right behind me, I see him on the switch backs and hear Ashley telling him to get me....cheers guys. On the second lap he does, passing and making space on the rough stuff. In an attempt to chase him down I overcook a descent. The brakes don't slow me down enough and I go over. No harm done I go back for my bike and press on. Miles is now away.
When I say no harm done, to me that is. I now have no rear brake, all the descents now take on a more challenging obstacle.
As if it isn't hard enough!

For the next two laps we play cat and mouse. I'm looking to see where Miles is slowest. Well it isn't the Sunday social club run is it. On the penultimate lap I'm on Miles wheel and I stay there. Then my luck turns for the better as Miles luck turns for the worst. I notice he is having gear trouble on the climbs so I wait for the last hill of the penultimate lap and pass....sorry Miles.
We get the bell, last lap. If Miles gears don't play ball I'll have it, that said I want my fellow LBRCC team mate to follow me in. I concentrate hard on the last lap, I can't cock up now. Then I get a rude awakening as Jules comes past with one kilometre to go, forgot about him! I shadow Jules around the last few bends. I can see he is being cautious with his recently mended collarbone. I tail in right behind Jules for the flag with Miles I think a few places down, but all within seconds of each other.
Then that's it. All nerves replaced with handshakes and smiles. A superb race.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Bergs of Flanders

Molteni Merckx Mobile
My workmates don't understand me. 'Ah you're away this weekend....anywhere nice?' Erm Belgium. 'Oh' I think they thought I'd head off for somewhere nice and warm to ride. 'Oh well I hope the weathers nice'. 'I don't'. They look at me all odd like. Nope I want the full on Belgian experience, Bergs, century old cobbles, wind, grit and rain.
Fraser and I left Friday night to meet Phil who had recently moved to a nice little suburb just outside of Ghent. Phil and his wife were to be our hosts for the weekend, with Phil being our ride guide for two days. We drove through the night to the sound of Ibiza mixes arriving to barking dogs at 2am, unloaded the bikes, downed a Kwaremont beer and went to bed.
Phil, barking dogs, coffee and pastries were our alarm call. Not poncing about, eager to get going in the wind under very dark skies we were dressed and out the door in no time.
As usual it takes a while to accept motorists actually giving way to you. The cycle lane thing takes a while as well. Road system dialed in, we set off for our first Berg the Oude Kwaremont, but before that we'd have two flat sections of cobbles to get over. The first is the Huisepontweg, the cobbles were damp and far more disordered than any I'd ever been on, and what followed was a total mince. That is until a helmetless flat nosed old bloke tanked past before banking it around a corner. So I manned up to manage a slightly faster mince. I felt better on the next section, the Doorn, riding the high centre of the ridged road. It seems counterintuitive not to ride in the safety of the flatter verges, but the cobbles are closer together on the tops, as I learnt when my bike slid sideways off the top and into the looser widely spaced cobbles!
Pretty soon we reached the Kwaremont, and pretty soon I realised I prefered climbing cobbles. The Kwaremont was a kind introduction to the cobbled bergs and climbed with ease.
Next up was the Paterberg. This is reached by riding some ace country lanes, which after all the riding on the cobbles seem like silk roads. Phil leads us to the start, a very tight right hander into the berg. And there it is, one straight line of cobbles pointing skywards. It looks a monster from the bottom. Thankfully the Paterberg is in good condition and only requires pure strength and traction to get to the top. Phil explains that riding the cobbles on the bergs is just weightlifting, not cycling. Then he is on a 'Belgian compact' whilst Fraser and me are on plain old compacts. I get to the top and take some photos, but they just can't show the steepness, but Phil points out the fence where the panels are about a foot lower than the one next to it. We go the other way yo the Merckx route and head for the biggy, the Koppenberg.
Within a few kilometres of the Koppenberg the heavens opened. We pretty well knew at that moment we were never going  to climb it, Phil tells us he only has a 50/50 success rate on it, so not looking good. And talking of not looking good, any climb that starts with a white painted line across the road and the actual word START painted above it sort of says you're in for something.
It was hopeless, we were all over the place, wheels were spinning but not going forward. Up ahead Phil was off and walking. I can tell you here and now that walking it is no easy task, what you need is  a backpack for your bike and walking poles, not a bike that wants to go back down and carbon soled racing slippers. That was a big shame not riding to the top, but many a pro tour rider has done the same.

So now we're on the home leg. We ride the Steenbeekdries. Then the Stationstraat a downhill! cobbled section that I'd been told I'd probably not enjoy as it included a few off camber tight wet turns. Thankfully by then I felt okay on the stones, realising that no matter which way they were laid it made no difference to the ride, and to be frank I also felt 'oh fuck it' and let rip. I lived.
Two more bergs came up, the Taainberg and the Eikenberg, but by now I was a hardcore cobble king.
To complete the experience it rained, proper hard rain that is so heavy you can't see down the road. We pressed on resigned, but also looking for a cheeky café. Then pressed on harder for home with thoughts of a good meal and plenty of fine Belgian beers in Ghent on our minds.
The best cheeseburger I've ever had and some crazy beers BTW.
The second day was shorter with the Muur as our finish. We set off in better weather and aiming for the Molenberg. Phil pulled this one up on the net for me, it looked like Thor had taken a hand in it's construction twisting this way and that with gravity defying cambers and broken up sections. When we got to the foot of the berg I took it upon myself to have a right go at it. Well that worked for a bit, thankfully the worst bit, but then it just kept going....quite long for a berg. Still I was feeling comfortable on the stones and going gloveless was helping. The berg took us into rose fields which is something I'd never seen and the smell though late in the year was just still there, nice.
Those flowers must have tinted my oakleys because when we hit the long flat cobbled section the Haghoek I tried it again. Then I have a WTF moment I'm shaking myself to bits. My helmet is spinning on my head, armwarmers are round my wrists. I look down at my hands, I seem to have ten hands or is that the vibration playing tricks and my arse feels like it's had a good kicking. The Haghoek is harsh.
The next surprise berg is the Leberg a little taster of what's to come.
The Muur. There's a busy market in the town that sits at the base of the Muur and pretty soon I'm separated from Phil. Though thanks to Youtube I recognize the way, well that and you just point up and take the narrowest roads. At first it isn't too hard, but then you go under the trees onto the perma-moss, finesse, finesse and subtle power sees you though. then you're on a steady section past the bar. What's next is the iconic turn to the chapel that marks the summit. It's no Alp, but an equally great place to be with your bike.
The turn on the Muur for the summit

The weekend is all but over, we sit in the bar near the top with coffee and tart watching the world go by, well the two wheeled world go by anyway.

Friday, 22 August 2014

The Buzzard XXX 600km

We are Super Randonneurs!
12th July 2014. Keith, Tom, Steve and myself are ready to set off from Leighton Buzzard railway station to start our 600km audax adventure. For Keith and myself completing the distance will give us our SR or Super Randonneur, the final distance we have to ride after already completing successful  200, 300 and 400km audax's in one calender year.
Keith, Steve and me will set off together. The loose plan is to ride together....if possible, but knowing how far we have to ride and how important it is, we agree that if worst comes to worst we'll go our own ways. Tom is happy and want's to ride alone, which is really the essence of audax.
I have to at this point really really thank Keith, essentially I became a passenger on Keiths ride. The week we were to ride my computer crashed, taking with it all my carefully plotted out mapping. I tried to replicate it all in the short time, but with no success. So without Keiths assistance in route finding it would have been a very different audax for me. Thanks Keith.
So off we go. Arse, I've left my gloves behind. After deciding not to ride 600km sans mitts I go back for them. I pick them up off the station bench, say hello to Tom who is just setting off, and start again.
Keith and Steve slow down for me, and I rejoin them at Wing.
The route to our first checkpoint in Pangbourne is over familiar ground, either from club runs, other audax and even some off road rides. We pass through Aylesbury and my bike starts playing up, we press on. It gets worst and when we arrive in Chinnor the chainset falls off! 30km in and it's game over. The Campagnolo chainset needs a 10mm Alen key to sort it, something not usually found in a cycle repair kit. My toys are now out of the pram, but Keith keeps calm and persuades me not to give up. Thankfully we find a small garage, the owner lends me some tools and I'm back on the road, after the thanks are dished out and photos taken. It's already been an adventure. Off to Pangbourne. We pass through Nettlebed, where just the week before the LBRCC had been mountain biking. We cross the Thames and arrive at checkpoint 1 at 69.5km.
I should mention that the XXX in the title isn't to cover up some swear words. This audax is classed as a tripple x. This means no outside assistance, no waymarking, no food stations in fact no nothing. And to prove proof of passage you collect a timed and dated receipt from a shop or cash point. So gathered at Tescos Pangbourne the four of us re group. Fueled and watered we press onto check point 2.
We so far have been extremely lucky with the weather, in fact it's now pretty hot and the terrain is starting to get lumpy, very pretty but lumpy. Keith and myself are on our own and decide to put some time in the bank. Good weather, good navigation and being slightly familiar with the roads from our 3 Down audax help us arrive at Chandlers Ford in good time. Checkpoint 2 is another supermarket. I purchase my ride food of choice, wraps, egg custard tart and water, then another trade bottle of water as the temperature is rising. I'm half tempted by the pub over the road. Feeling good we press on for check point 3. We're also a little surprised that Steve hasn't turned up? As we leave I confirm to keith that my Garmin isn't playing ball, it seems trying to download the data from someone else's computer hasn't worked. If we go our own ways I'll be relying on a A4 paper route sheet. Check point 3 is Salisbury. I have it in my head that this section is flat, I was clearly thinking of somewhere else. In fact what was I thinking, I've not ridden here. Still we're going well, even the thought of riding through non stop crosses my mind. We're full of beans, everything is going to plan. Food and water are fine, there are no further mechanicals and the weather and terrain don't hold us back. We arrive in Salisbury late afternoon, it's not the place I imagined? Our check point 3 turns out to be a grotty convenience store, I could have done with some good food here. Never mind perhaps we'll have better luck at check point 4 in Sherborne, just shy of 60km away.
We set off, up ahead the clouds are looming. The way to Sherborne is pretty well straight ahead, we're riding head on into the storm. When it comes it's that heavy blobs rain and it's still very warm, we reluctantly don rain jackets. Within minutes it stops, so we stop and un don! jackets, pedal a few yards then wallop, it hoons it down. This time it isn't stopping, we are in for one very wet ride. It's also at this point that the hills say hello. I confess I'm a little shocked at how hard these hills are, the organiser hasn't spared us considering how far we're going. Torrential rain and proper hills, the thought of riding through soon leaves my head. The thought of a quick nap after the halfway point seems more appealing.
As we approach Shereborne the rain stops, but we're wet through as is all our kit. We need real food and hot drinks. In Sherborne we find a coffee shop and enter only to be told they're closed. I'm a little stroppy at the lack of places to eat and begin to miss Leighton Buzzard, thinking of pints of Belgian beer in the Black Lion and Kebabs with Ashley afterwards aren't helping. But then there it is, the local chippy. Pie and chips ordered and bottles filled by the very friendly owner we set off to find a seat under the shadow of the Cathedral to scoff our rewards. With food consumed and proof of passage safely in our Brevet cards we set off on the 83km section to check point 5 and the halfway point at Exeter at 313km.
The hills are relentless and cause some  jovial swearing. The heavy rain has given way to fading light and light showers so all seems well. However my bike is making well hell of a noise. Riding on a loose bottom bracket earlier in the day has obviously damaged the bearings, and riding in the downpour must have washed out all the lubrication, the result is a sound like a cannon ball in a beer barrel when I climb. If I can complete the final 300km without the bottom bracket shitting itself I'll be very surprised. I have to climb seated and concentrate on my pedaling to coax the failing drive train home.
As we ride through Crewkerne and Chard I think of my mate who lives here......tempting, but Exeter is only a dark wet hilly 25km away. Then there it is the bright lights of the Exeter service station just off the M5. Our halfway point and check point 5.
The place is temporary home to the remaining riders and their bikes, a bit of a sanctuary. I order a massive coffee and enormous breakfast roll and sit down to see a very angry Keith. Let me explain. We've just navigated and riden 300km of very hilly terrain in heat, pouring rain and darkness. But just 15km away is a Travelodge we've booked so we can get a few hours sleep, booked as in booked and paid for. Which is great. Except it isn't. It seems Travelodge have given away our room. At this point I just want to walk out of the room backwards leaving Keith to tell travelodge how it's going to be. After some negotiations we get a room at nearby Wellington and for free. I take out my A4 route sheet and put the places we'll pass to memory. Then eat drink and set off. The places in my head pass, Broadclyst, Cullompton, Willand but cruelly Wellington takes ages to appear. But we're soon there, our rooms confirmed and we wheel our bikes in. We only allow a few hours sleep after a welcome shower, but it's enough and we're out like lights.
The next morning dooms very gloomy, but still. We leave our room too early for breakfast and head off to check point 6 in Wells a mere 68km away, still enough on empty.
It's now Sunday and the roads are eerilly quiet. It's also incredibly flat and we are blessed with a tailwind. As we ride through the area surrounding Taunton we see clear evidence of years earlier flooding. It's still a beautiful place though and we take time to absorb the ride and what we've done so far. I'm thanking the organiser for this respite in the riding, and it delivers us into Wells for check point 6 back on time even after our sleep.
Check point 7 is 91km away in Cirencester. This is a section I'd been fearing. We would be dropping into Bath, which means climbing back out again and that is a hell of a climb. We would also be touching on the Cotswolds. So hills would be order of the day. Thankfully the rain had subsided and the sun was making an appearance. But hills were the main theme. At two thirds of the way around I was happy, but not counting my chickens. So careful riding and good navigation were key, I was still after all nursing a poorly bike. Bath lived up to it's reputation, both in terms of navigation and climbing, the climb though does just go up and gets you out of town with no false summits or needless descents, oh except one crazy descent that had you almost sitting on the back tyre!
At Malmesbury with nearly 500km under our belts we started to see other audaxers which seemed so odd after riding so far. So when we arrived at check point 7 it was in the company of most of the remaining riders. I was happy to get that section over with, and even happier that it had avoided some of the monster climbs that I know lurk in that area. So I celebrated with a feast from M&S and scuttled off to enjoy it then cursed the fact that there was no implements in my take away lunch, hands it was.
Next was check point 8 at Brackley, a place I know but on a route I didn't. However it turned out to be a stunner through the Oxfordshire borders. Although we weren't going to break any records for the 600km audax, we had done well and we were in the company of some very experienced audaxers, they in turn were surprised to find out that we had chosen the particular event for our first 600. With that in mind we began to really enjoy the ride, of course all of it had been enjoyable, but with that enjoyment that is kept in check when you are going into the unknown.
We arrived in Brackley just as it was closing down for Sunday evening, but if all you can get after 572km of riding is crisps and Coke then so be it. Check point 8 would be another small convenience store. Surely now we had done it with just....just 40km to the finish. Sadly there was nothing to keep us or the other audaxers in the town, so with proof of passage duly obtained we pressed on for home.
The first leg of the return section was painfully undulating, the sort of hills you can't quite build up enough speed on to get you up the other side. They came thick and fast until we arrived in Buckingham. Up ahead was Winslow and we weren't going to waste any time getting there. After nearly 600km of riding we were now clocking 35kph to get there. Once in Winslow it was just like the return leg of a LBRCC Sunday G2 ride, and so nice not to have to navigate. We used local knowledge to get us home by the most direct route and somehow bypassed a small group of riders that had left Brackley before us.
We arrived back at Leighton Buzzard station just after 8pm.
It's very odd sharing so much time on the road with some one and then just riding off home when you've finished, almost rude. But we'd done it, we said we would and we did. So we did go our own ways with that what next? feeling. Odd but that's what you do, plus we were both working the next morning.
What of Tom and Steve? Tom came home later that night after completing the course alone. Steve had in the words of Bruce Springsteen taken a wrong turn and just kept going. It left him unable to make up the time, so made the hard decision to call it a day.
A few words like this really can't sum up such a great ride, every hill, every lane, every superb view. It can't capture all the ups and downs, the jokes and laughs and all the swearing, and certainly not some of the occasional physical pain, but hopefully gives you a small insight. And later I might be able to add a few images.
SR on a singlespeed for 2015 anyone?

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Calais Gentlemen's Ride 2014

50's 60's 70's some miles in there
Paying our respects
Ex Pro and all round good guys
Yours truly working those Mussels
Nick in charge of the days Age Concern ride
In green and working off lunch
Rolling with the Nomads

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Wattbike Powerfit

As an oldfart I'd always been cynical of bike fits. I sort of trusted the bikeshop owners back in the day, you know the ones that wore brown shop coats and had raced the London - Holyhead or some such epic road race before hanging up their wheels to sell to us. Sadly they seemed to disappear with the old steel frames that came in every size under the sun, the same time strangely that bikes started to come in small medium and large.
So it was then that I spent a life of 'nose low bum high' on my bikes, even my mountain bikes. Roll on thirty odd years and you begin to wonder if that was right. Well actually I started to wonder because it seems no one can buy a bike these days without needing a bike fit, I mean it's not rocket science is it? Does everyone ride like a retard until the local Paul Daniels at the bike fit company sorts them out? I was still cynical.
Here's my issue....feel free to comment. The basic bike fit, someone that's never seen you before measures you up, and using a set of formulas sets your bike up to fit you, and you give them a hundred quid.
So your bike now fits. But it did before. You could sit on the saddle, reach the pedals and bars, ride steer and climb. What's changed apart from someone saying that your bike now fits? Prove it. Well it fits, this is where your knee should be, where your saddle should be etc etc....prove it! Well that's what we're told, that's the way every single rider in the world should be set up. So if I wore the same boots as Beckham I could play for England then. I was still cynical.
Where was the tangible evidence that the fit actually made any improvements? other than the placebo effect that a fool gets when he parts with his money.
Enter Wattbike Powerfit. Someone told me that BC had been using this system to put the pros right, and that it had thrown up some data that exploded old myths about position. Basically Powerfit is an active fit that provides that tangible data there and then and combines it with data gleaned from tests with the BC elites. That someone also told me that they needed a Guinea Pig for a day to train fitters under the eye of an expert!
Will you throw in will.....okay I'm in.
Bring your bike, your kit and shoes. Duly changed into them I enter the test room, it's got lazers. I get measured up and asked a thousand questions, but I'm distracted by the red lines of the lazers measuring every aspect of my bike. They then build a picture of how, or want to ride, after all there's no point fitting up an aging biffer for racing when all you want to do is ride a few miles in comfort each Sunday. I tell them that I raced a lot, but might be knocking it on the head though I would still be keen to mix it up on the Sunday bun run.
Once all this is done your existing measurements are transferred to the Wattbike along with your own pedals and saddle.You then do a test ride, they can record HR, cadence, power as well as Wattbike specific data. test ride over the data is analysed. Turns out I'm pretty average....not happy. The data is then explained to me, thankfully I understand most of it. The program  then gives an ideal set up for the rider. I'm then poked and prodded and covered in pink sticky back dots and told to repeat the ride. I keep the cadence the same, I can't see the HR or power output. When this test is done the data is analysed again. With the simple adjustments made I see an improvement in pedaling efficiency. This is the tangible proof that is missing from so many fits. However the fitter then goes on to make further small adjustments which I test until the data readouts show the best figures. This is very satisfying stuff, but it's only part of the fit. I'm pedaling as best as I can now, but what about the rest of my position? Time to come to terms with the fact that I'm 54 not 24 and I don't have the core strength of Peter Sagan. Slammed stems might be all the rage, but only a fool puts looks before fit, and anyway it's now known that too many people ride too low. We do an off the record test, I assume my ride position, pedal a while, brake, release my grip and then slowly move my hands outwards away from the bars and I'm on my way to a very painful face/stem interface. It shows that I'm using effort just sitting there. My stem is duly raised. The result is a comfortable yet still efficient position. Fore and aft position sorted the recommended measurements are transferred to my own bike, which I know is under size, being convinced that racing a small bike is better. The changes are so drastic that the bike can't be adjusted enough. Good job I was selling it then. Along with my too small CX race bike and training bike. The data gives me the info needed to get the best fit/frame. With that in mind I buy a Giant Defy frame, which gets dressed in all my Campagnolo kit. And with read outs in hand the bike is measured to fit.
So how was it on the road? Better in every way, the comfort and efficiency vastly improved my average speed over known sectors for less HR. Shame I don't have a power meter. I also noticed I was changing gear far less. So I'm now very happy, even mildly excited. I was the proverbial 'long in the tooth' 'dyed in the wool' 'old skool' cyclist faced with the proof that I needed to change. It's only been a while since the Powerfit but it's greatly improved my cycling pleasure, what more could you want.
I had my session with the guys at the Giant store in Camden Town who were great.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Severn Across 400km Audax

Saturday 3rd of May arrived, and despite a bad bout of man-flu in the week  I dragged myself out of bed at 4am to ride the Severn Across Audax. A 400km jolly that basically goes west to cross the River Wye, drop down to Chepstow, cross the Severn Bridge and back.
For this third installment of my Super Randonneur I was alone, which was a bit worrying as it would mean relying on myself for navigation, mechanicals and anything else the distance might throw at me. It also meant that my cautious approach would lead to me riding the heaviest bike I've ever ridden!
So anyway the ride.
It's 6am and it's sunny, but freezing cold. In fact there's ice roadside. Already I'm suffering, I hadn't anticipated it being this cold. One hand is okay, but my left hand, the one in the shade is frozen it's so bad I can't move my levers and it's making me feel slightly sick. So I decide to speed up in an attempt to warm up. That works to a degree (no pun intended) and with the sun out I'm certain it'll get better.
I'm heading towards Woodstock for my first control. At 72km it's where I'll have breakfast to prepare me for the day. The ride to the first control is over some familiar and easy going roads, sadly it's still freezing. When I arrive I sit down to an Audaxers classic of 'beans on toast' The good folk at the control have an open fire going, so a chance to get warm, eat and dry off clothing in one go, but there's no time to loiter any longer.
The second control is another 70km away in Tewksbury at 145km and it'll see a big change in the terrain as I'm heading into the thick of the Cotswolds. It's familiar names and hills I'm beginning to get to know all too well, just a few weeks ago I was here for the Hell Of The North, rides don't come here for it's flatness!
Everything is going well. It's very sunny, but still freezing and far too cold to take off waterproofs and full finger gloves. Even all the climbing isn't helping. The bike is going well and the navigation has been spot on. I continue on through Stow, Guiting Power and to Winchcombe where I rode with Miles just a few weeks back. It's on a hill out of Winchcombe that my front mech goes wrong, I'm on a triple but I won't be able to use the easiest gears. 36 x 25 isn't the end of the world, but with tired legs and a few twenty percent climbs coming  up I'd have preferred the comfort of the little climbing ring I'd fitted. (upon getting back home, it turns out that I'd been given the wrong size bottom bracket) This matter on top of the cold weather was playing with my mind, I needed something to cheer me up. Control number two would do, and it soon arrived at a nice sunny café just past the famous Abbey. I stopped here to take on more food, but the service was so slow I just had some cake after waiting half an hour for it and set off. It now seemed sunny enough to take off my waterproof, so I did, but I was wrong. It was still freezing. Even with a thermal, a jersey, arm warmers and gilet the cold air cut through. Too stubborn to stop and put it back on and a bit annoyed at my long wait at the café I pressed on hoping the effort would warm me up a bit. Again it worked to a degree.
Control number three was an info only control a mere 40km away at 185km. Upon leaving Tewksbury I crossed the Severn for the first time, there's something good about crossing bridges, well in my mind anyway. There follows some great riding as I head towards Ross-On_wye. Long steady climbs through names of places I recognize from my route planning and into the plains that mean I must be nearing rivers again. The info control is at a timber mill in Walford, I'm supposed to write that down in my Brevet card but don't have a pen and have to rely on remembering that when I get back the following morning?
Next stop (and almost quite literally) was Yat Rock a stunning twenty percent climb in the beautiful Symonds Yat. The countryside here reminds me of why I'm doing this, I wished my fellow club mates where here now. I also wished my gears were working!  Even though the organisers list an optional route around the Rock I decided that even with only partly working gears I was going to go up and over it. I crossed the River Wye knowing it was coming up and fumbled with the gears in the vain hope they'd work Climbing the Rock wasn't hard, just slow, very very slow with the Garmin stopping now and then. If I thought that was it and it would be plain sailing to the Severn Bridge I was wrong. The climbing was merciless, about two thirds of all the climbing was covered in this section. I was very tired. God had created some wonderful countryside here, but he hadn't though about us cyclist. Well at least I was warm. It must be the thought that this must be the last climb that keeps you going and I was delighted when I finally descended to cross the Wye again and ride into control number four at 218km.
Symonds Yat from Yat Rock
The reward for the Audaxer after all that work was a control at Tescos, buy something, get a receipt and stuff it in your Brevet card to show proof of passage. Sitting in garage forecourts at halfway points in Audax's seems common place. I had a wonderful feast of pre made sandwiches, banana milk and a lion bar, as well as sports drink to top up my water bottle. It was about 5.30pm when I left here with the Bridge just down the road. I had planned to be crossing the Bridge by 4pm latest, but the last part of that 200km had been a killer. It was also getting cold again, so on went the jacket and full finger gloves.
The next control was at Membury Services 95km away at 314km. Whilst stopped at the control I got talking to some experienced Audaxers, one who had done this told me that the ride from here to the next control would take five hours!

We set off in a small group to cross the Severn Bridge and we were blessed with fine views, sunshine and a lack of wind. It was also good to be crossing the Bridge and heading home.
For some reason I was now finding the going pretty good and the small group had become just me. I knew the only big climb left was the Somerset Monument and I'd have to blag it with the working gears I had. All was going very well, I even remembered some of the road names from route planning taking them without the need of the Garmin. After 30km I rode up onto Inglestone Common with the Monument in view up ahead. Once over the climb it was through Hullavington and Foxley and into Malmesbury. It was here that I had a 'moment' confusing Membury with Malmesbury sadly I still had another 40km to go. Though Malmesbury did have a garage selling delights such as Jaffa Cakes and sports drink, so not all bad news. Back on the road through Chiseldon and Baydon and onto a monster of a climb, so long and so straight I could see the blinking lights of other riders nearly a mile away. I could also see the lights of the aerial mast that mark the spot of the control. I was also told that even though you can see the mast lights they never seem to get any closer, and they weren't wrong.
Finally...finally I reached Membury services. Whilst we were at the Severn control we had talked about dinning on KFC or Burger King and savouring the delights of Costa Coffee all on offer at Membury services. The bad news though was that everything was shut, 10.30pm on a Saturday night and all shut. The disappointment well......... All we had was W H Smith hmmm. Freezing cold beef pasty, Lion Bar, cold coffee and a few things for the back pockets, what a pile of shit. we sat down to eat said pile of shit, yes they had chairs and talked about how actually shit the food we were eating actually was. There were four of us here, we had been yo-yo'ing  all day and I asked if the two riders from East Devon Dynamo would mind if I tagged along for the final difficult night time 92km. After all they had been bang on about the previous leg taking five hours and said the final 96km would take another five ours. That meant an arrival of about 4am, way outside of anything I'd expected.
So outside into the freezing cold, once again ice was forming on the roadsides. This could turn out to be grim. My gloves and jacket were useless against the cold, if anywhere had been open I'd have bought a newspaper to stuff down my jacket, or used some of those disposable gloves you get at garages, but Audaxes have a knack of passing through very remote places so it was a case of shut up and put up. I had to weigh up things. Yes I was freezing, yes my gears weren't working but that was it really. Everything else was going well, I wasn't at all tired anymore, navigation had been spot on, my lights were worth all the weight and apart from my gears the bike had performed very well and the kilometres were counting down.
Again familiar place names came and went, Worlds End, Hampstead Noreys, Crays Pond, Sonning Common, Henley, Marlow.....getting close now, Bourne End, Wooburn.......another bloody long hill, Beaconsfield, Jordans. So close now it's not place names I recall it's street and lane names now, into Welders lane, Grove Lane, Nicol Road.....1km to go and there it is event HQ Chalfont St Peter. 406.7km in the bag.
There are six familiar faces at the HQ, the organiser greets me with a cuppa and Bakewell tart and tells me that the time I've got around in is very respectable, even though I'm two hours over my lower target, but I know he means it.
After a short sit down and chat I decide to head home. packing the car is a cold and tiresome chore, but the heat once on the move is very welcome. It's nearly 6am when I get home, it's light, the birds are singing and some LBRCC'ers will be up getting ready to enjoy their ride today, I'm envious of the warmth they'll enjoy.
I decide not to sleep and make a few Espressos and mull over the lessons learnt, some were, but they might or might not be taken on board for the next one. If anyone is interested I'll post in 'comments' linked to this as and when I decide.
So to end 256.6 miles 15,000' climbing. 18 hours riding. 22 hours elapsed.