Jenspiration

Just a quick one. To say what an incredible inspiration Jens Voigt is. His solo effort in stage one of this year’s tour was so typical of his attacking style. This is why he’s so popular and I for one was happy to see him in the polka dot jersey. He just loves to ride his bike and loves to attack.

A word too for the crowds. Anyone who has watched the Tour this year can’t fail to have been impressed by the sheer numbers of people out there. Even 60kms from the finish in the middle of the Yorkshire moors, people were everywhere. Where did they all come from?

After a busy weekend (if watching the tour counts) I managed to get a ride in last night. I saw my bro on the way out and he said to me, “if after five minutes you’re not wondering how you’re going to keep going, then you’re not pushing hard enough”. With that ringing in my ears and Jens in the back of my mind, I pushed. Then I came across the route for today’s Stage 3 and rode that back into London. Yellow lined the roads. Even a day ahead the excitement was palpable. What more inspiration could you want?

See my ride on strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/162485512

Tour of Wessex

I’ve been hesitating to write up my Tour of Wessex weekend. Probably out of spite. To begin with, things were going rather well. Unlike last year, we arrived earlier than 12:30am. It wasn’t even dark while we put up our tent. We had the benefit of having put it up before. There was no gale ripping it from our grasp. Lights out early, we slept from 11pm.

I speak too soon. Conditions on day 1 were the wettest I’ve ever known on a bike. Within an hour we were all soaked to the skin. For the next five, that’s the way it stayed. One torrential downpour followed another. It was pretty miserable. A shame, on a good day the route of the Tour of Wessex is one of the best I’ve ridden in England.

I felt strong, especially up the first climb of the day, Cheddar Gorge. It’s one of the few that I’ve climbed in the UK where there’s a real continental feel to the approach. You’re rolling through Cheddar with the gorge looming up in front of you, waiting for it to kick up. OK so it lasts ten minutes, not an hour, but it has a good feel to it.

Come day 2, there were repercussions. I rode the medium route with Becks, but felt weak all day. I ached on the bike. Not unusual after six hours, but this felt different. By day 3 it was clear enough that we were both ill. Reduced to getting our body composition tested at the race village as we watched the brave few roll off on the long road to Exmoor. Definitely a mistake as it turns out.

Day 3 really is a good one too, especially the climb up to Exmoor from the coast. Not one to miss lightly. We’ll be back next year, but hoping desperately for better weather and perhaps not camping either.

Day 1 on strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/145830167

Day 2 on strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/145830146

Back in the game

It’s some time since I last posted. For about three weeks I was battling with a virus that stopped me training. A drenching first day at the Tour of Wessex brought me down with something. Each time I tried to get back on the bike I could tell I wasn’t up to it.

To say the least, it’s been a busy and exciting time off the bike too. Training has taken a back seat lately, with other more important things taking over. In less than two weeks I’ll be married, so we’ve been spending a lot of time on preparations… On top of that I’ve recently got myself a new job, which has also gulped its fair share of time and effort too.

As usual, after some genuine time off training, I felt pretty unfit getting back on the bike. Because time is short I have been focussing on short rides since then, keeping the intensity really high. In fact, as I often find when illness forces some downtime, I feel refreshed and I can work much harder than before. Longer-term rest really is needed sometimes.

It never gets any easier to spot when I need a that rest though. The only sign seems to be feeling really strong, but then I just want to make hay while the sun shines. With the Haute Route to aim for in late August and a busy few weeks before then, the last thing I wanted was an off-plan rest. Now though, I’m confident that I needed it. Without thinking, I just smashed my PR on a short test climb. I’m back in the game just in time to get a couple of weeks of intense training in before the wedding and some more time off for our honeymoon…

… we’re taking the bikes of course (not even my idea)!

Race Day

I have only dabbled with racing before. If you can call racing one crit a dabble. Prospects of crash carnage had always put me off. And the one Hillingdon cat 4 crit I have done only stoked my nerves. Riders careering all over the place and crashes everywhere; it was all I could do to stay out of trouble.

But some riding buddies talked me into it and a few of the guys from the shop are seasoned racers. So I thought I should give it a go. The East London Velo summer series at Hog Hill seemed like a good one to go for. Still, I was nervous. The words of José Been, commentating on the recent Women’s Tour of Britain, stuck in my head: it’s going to be gruesome! (I’m thinking blood and guts everywhere.)

The format was simple. One race for cat 3/4s, with a 30-second handicap for the 3s. Starting pace was pretty high, leaving me wondering for the first few laps how I was going to survive an hour and fifteen minutes of it. Especially up the ‘Hoggenberg’… a decent climb for a crit circuit, positioned just before the line. The group would bunch up at the bottom, holding a reasonable pace until the steepest part of the climb, where the mash fest began as others sprinted up to get a good position for the tricky sweeping left-hander that followed. It seemed like wasted energy to me, as each lap it came back together again a couple of corners later. I had good advice ringing in my ears… “don’t be a hero, spin up the climb early on”.

After a few laps the 3s and 4s came together; one bunch. And a break of four went away – but I can’t really recall how or quite when! The pace up the Hoggenberg eased off a bit too. A couple of guys went down after grounding pedals on one hairpin, but luckily didn’t take anyone with them. I think there was a crash in the bunch too, but I didn’t risk looking back. And in the final I pushed from the bottom of the last climb to take something like 5th or 6th place, first of the bunch to cross the line.

There’s nothing like a race to push you hard. This was a pretty hard effort, which is no doubt good training. Having said that, coming into the race my priorities were to 1) not crash and 2) finish (in that order). So I was really happy to get points and left excited about the next week… when I’m sure the pre-race nerves and images of blood baths will make another unwelcome appearance!

Pro score: 3/10 (racing it is, some way to go for a contract)

See my ride on strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/141575959

Hog Hill view back to London

Surrey Hills

After a three-year hiatus, I was riding in Surrey again over the weekend, meeting some friends who I’ll be riding this year’s Haute Route Alps with. We’re all going back for more after riding the event last summer. A few years ago these were my local roads. And they’ve changed somewhat since.

Not least in the number of cyclists. It’s hard to believe unless you experience it yourself. I thought my usual Essex routes were busy, but if there’s an explosion in UK cycling it’s happening right there on the Surrey tarmac! I was blown away by the number of riders out there. Once or twice jams of cycling traffic meant some careful descending, avoiding oncoming weaving riders on their last climbing legs.

But being shown around other people’s well-worn routes usually means seeing the best of local roads. This ride was no exception. I thought I knew this area and sure enough we climbed Box Hill. A smooth-surfaced delight of a climb with a steady gradient and a couple of lovely hairpins – but way too busy for any uninterrupted segments attacks! But we also sampled smaller, less-known roads. Some through verdant forest with stunning views fleetingly revealed through the trees. Quite a ride and quite a contrast to the 25km from north to south London (and back!).

It got a bit racey once or twice too. Another one of the joys of spring, as everyone looks to test their legs before the summer’s events kick in. I’ve said it before, riding with your mates is just more fun! And gives you an excuse for a coffee too…

 See my ride on strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/137724389

Llamas

Haute Route Ambassador

After being blown away by the experience of riding last year’s Haute Route Alps, I applied to be an Haute Route ambassador for the UK… and thought nothing of it for a while. Then I came home one evening to find an email congratulating me on being one of the first Haute Route ambassadors!

My first thought was of the scale of the challenge I’ll be taking in again! Next it rekindled the images of Alpine cols that burned into my brain last summer. One particular shot of the start line at lake Geneva reignited the feeling of rolling over the line with six hundred other riders, all about to experience a week-long adventure through pain, strength and awe.

I’ll be blogging my preparation for the event and on being one if its ambassadors. One look at the iconic cols in this year’s route is enough to get anyone excited. One stage takes in Col de la Madeleine, Col du Glandon and finishes up L’Alpe d’Huez! Bring it on!

London to Norwich

It’s not every day that you can rack up 200 kms. In fact, I’ve never even ridden 200 before. But once I’d planted the idea of riding with a buddy from my place in London to his in Norwich, there was no turning back.

It looked just possible to do it in under 200. But what an opportunity missed that would have been. We rode on the day of Paris Roubaix, so I was tempted to extend it to 257km in a small tribute of our own. But sense got the better of me. Maybe next year (are you reading John)?

Riding out of London gets no better than early on a Sunday morning. The suburban slog being more bearable with little traffic. [If I seem tinged with regret at having to break out of London's grasp to get a decent ride, it's because I wrote this in rural France!] But before we knew it we were nosing through Epping Forest and on our way out to the Essex lanes.

As you would expect, Essex to Norwich makes for a flat ride. A few lumps in the first 50kms gave way to rolling countryside. And pan flat riding after our Bury lunch stop. Perfect for a big day in the saddle and it even left something in the tank for a bit of a push into Norwich. 

But it didn’t really feel like such a long ride a after all. This is the joy of a long day in the saddle. With the whole day set aside and no other plans, we just kept on rolling and chatting and rolling some more. There’s a beauty in point to point rides that’s hard to capture. Something about being a journey rather than just a ride. Especially when the same journey takes a couple of hours on a train! That day we really earned our beer and nuts!

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