Category Archives: Pro

Compact vs standard

Moving to a standard chainset seems like a rite of passage for a cyclist. No pro would be seen astride a compact. But hang on a minute… I’m still riding compact.

So, what am I doing? Well, my winter bike is my old bike, bought some 7 years ago when I rode a bit less. Standard wasn’t even a question then. My summer bike is newer, but I wanted to spec it to ride in the mountains. My usual Essex and Regents Park training routes don’t include the sort of climbs that demand fewer teeth than a standard 53/39. That bike is for the mountains too and I didn’t want to be switching chainsets around. So compact is good enough.

Only recently when racing could I really have done with some extra gears at the top end (although perhaps that was me more than the bike). Now I find myself riding a 11-25 cassette to get the most out of my compact chainset.

In two weeks I’ll be in the Alps. Stage three of this year’s Haute Route Alps takes in Col de la Madeleine, Col du Glandon and the ascent to Alpe d’Huez. One thing I know, is I’m not yet ready to take on its 4,600m of elevation gain on a standard.

That’s the difference between me and them.

Proscore: 3/10

For even more on gear ratios – CyclingTips have a great post here: Beyond the big ring

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R&R

We are officially back from honeymoon. Not until you’ve married do you realise how much physical and mental energy it takes to plan, organise and do. Without question every last bid of effort was worth it and delivered truly the most special weekend of my life.

In our wisdom we chose to spend our first honeymoon days hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc, to recover, you understand. On a last minute whim we included a climb up to the highest point of the whole Tour – the 2,665m Fenêtre de l’Arpette. This long and gruelling day included a daunting boulder field climb, way beyond anything we imagined when we dreamed up this idea. Mentally it was just what we needed, some forced time out, spending hour upon hour focussing on nothing more than where to put our feet. Physically, yes it could have been a little more restful.

Our second week focussed on some R&R in the hills and on the coast of northern Italy. We got off to a good start. ‘Tutti’ for Sunday lunch at a small local restaurant turned into an eight-course extravaganza. Only the stretch of our stomachs ruled out a ninth. Lots of dinners followed, lots of spritz (see pic). That’s more like it, the long-needed week of rest did us both so much good. We did manage a couple of spectacular, lovely, quiet rides in Italy and with the Haute Route clock still ticking I squeezed in a couple of hill efforts too.

Sadly it could last no longer. Next holiday in four weeks. Oh wait, it’s the Haute Route… So a couple of weeks’ hard training needed before I can kick back again and taper for the Alps.

Spritz

Honeymooning on strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/169363747 and http://www.strava.com/activities/170678484

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

100kph

You can tell it’s autumn just from looking at my post titles… The first storm of the year has hit us. In the wake St Jude’s 100kph gusts, it seems apt to talk about wind.

Wind provides everything you need for great winter training (at least when you’re not at risk of being flattened by a tree, like I was on this morning’s ride). The illusion of the elusive souplesse on your way out. Relentless low-cadence strength training on the way home. Or if you’re lucky, the other way around!

Still, it’s pretty much my worst nightmare when it’s windy out there. You’ll know I can take rain from my last post, but there’s something demoralising about slogging into a headwind, no matter how much good you know it’s doing you. And somehow it never gives back as much as it takes.

The only silver lining perhaps is the emptiness of windswept roads. Each hour out there is one up on your rivals and one more in next season’s legs.

Training in St Jude’s 100kph gusts. Pro score: 8/10

falling leaves

Cycling squares: update!

You’ll remember my previous post on cycling squares. Quick recap: top ride snacks should be Pocketable, Chewable and Full of Energy.

Mr Rossi riding buddy has thrown a new contender into the mix! More home-made cycling squares. This time full of honey-filled, peanut-fuelled, energy-packed oatey goodness. And with the odd surprise crispy crunch thrown in for good measure. This many flavours usually disappear in a confused melange. Not here – each bite packs a different punch.

The verdict: we have a new joint No.1 Ride Snack. These tick all the boxes – only available at Pretorius Bikes! Or if you can persuade Rossi to give you some (like I did)!

Pro score: 9/10

ross cycling squares

Cycling squares

Training on empty might be good for fat burning on short rides. But even if you’re watching what you eat off the bike, you need to eat when you’re on it… and often. Riding nutrition is a very personal affair, but we can find some common ground. What makes a great snack for cycling? For me they must be…

  • Pocketable. Robust. It’s got to stay in one piece. Nobody wants crumbs in their jersey pockets.
  • Chewable. When you’re in the red, breathing hard. Must not make you choke when you’re supposed to be going faster.
  • Full of energy. And the right kind of energy. Slow and fast release. Easy on the stomach, but with enough punch to give you that something extra when you’re running on empty.

I love cycling and I love food. The two come happily together in my constant quest for better riding snacks. Here in reverse order are my top three so far!

Third place: Everybody loves a banana. Nature’s energy bar, full of the right kind of stuff and easy to eat. Biodegradable skin so no need to worry about the wrapper. But nowhere does a banana deteriorate faster than in the back pocket of my jersey while riding. Besides, we’re not tennis players.

Banana. Pro score: 2/10

Second place: Nutrigrain elevenses, a reliable personal favourite. I’ve been eating these cinnamon-flavoured goodies ever since I started riding and still use them. They taste good and keep you going, but make no mistake, you’ll want some water to wash them down. Also, being shop-bought, not very pro.

Pro score: 3/10

First place: Vac-packed cycling squares. I came across these while staying at Gite Belle Vie in the Pyrenees, right at the foot of the infamous Tourmalet climb. Eric, our host, kindly offered Wife-To-Be and me some squares for our assault on the Col D’Aspin and Hourquette D’Ancizan. Sure, you need a bit of infrastructure to make them (vacuum machine)… but they are Hands Down Number One Ride Snack! Home made (by Eric’s wife), delicious, nutritious, chewable, mess free in your pocket and easy to unwrap thanks to a nick in the vac wrapping. Plus you can mix it up with any of your favourite ingredients. It just doesn’t get any better!

Pro score 9/10

cycling squares

Arms before legs

There’s little denying it. The long days of summer seem, sadly, to have departed us for another year. Perhaps I’ll cling a little longer to the hope of a last few balmy days of respite before the inevitable grip of winter closes in. But it’s happening.

If you’re fitting early or late training around your working day, you’re sure to be riding  the coldest hours of the day. You’re already reaching for those extra layers. So I’ve been digging around the back of my kit cupboards to find those long-lost pieces that I loved to forget. Bibs and jersey just won’t cut it any more.

What comes first? Arm warmers? And we’re not talking arm protectors – only needed in searing southern European heat (remember that?). We’re talking fleece-lined affairs. Well, I can handle wearing those. What about legs? You’ll need them at some point too.

And here lies another pitfall for the Amateur Pro – which comes first? Well if you’ve trained or raced hard this season you’ll want to show off your legs for as long as possible. So whatever you do – no leg warmers until you really must! If it’s too warm for arms then it’s too warm for legs!

Arms before legs. Pro score 8/10.

As demonstrated by Daniele Ratto, riding to victory on stage 14 of this year’s Vuelta a España