Friday, 16 February 2018

Should cyclists really be banned from dual carriageways?

Recently there has been a furore over plans by Highways England to ban cyclists from using the main road that leads into the city of Hull, the A63. For those who don't know the area, it is the road that the M62 leads into when the motorway comes to an end. It is a dual carriageway with an initial speed limit the same as the motorway, 70 mph, and then later reduces to 50mph.

In the last five years there have been six collisions involving cyclists, including one fatality in 2013 along this road (compared with 297 collisions involving vehicles over the same period). On that basis Highways England has deemed the road to be dangerous for cyclists and has proposed a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) prohibiting them from using this stretch of road. This proposal has received the support of Humberside Police and Hull City Council.
A63 trunk road to Hull
The 15-mile stretch of the A63 within the proposed banning area at North Cave includes the whole of a 10-mile time trial course, known as V718. It is quite a popular race venue, particularly as club cyclists say it's the fastest time trial in the country, so lots of potential for personal bests. I guess riding in the slipstream of the various trucks as you go on a slightly downhill stretch will have that effect! The V718 course has welcomed Olympic champions such as Joanna Rowsell and Bradley Wiggins, as well as Commonwealth champion Alex Dowsett, who at one point held the national 10-mile record.

Naturally, cycling organisations and club cyclists are outraged at the prospect of losing the opportunity to ride on this road. Indeed Cycling Time Trials, the governing body for time trial races have put out a statement opposing the proposal. Opposition has been echoed by Cycling UK, as well as British Cycling who put out a statement jointly with Welcome to Yorkshire.

As well as protestations from other cycling groups including Hull Thursday  Road Club, Cycling Weekly magazine commented on how a decision to ban cyclists from this type of road would be a "terrible move". Furthermore, for local residents in the Welton, Melton and Brough area, including priest and blogger Graeme Holdsworth who cycle between these villages to get to work, a cycling ban would significantly affect their travel options for getting to work.

The TRO is currently in a consultation phase and objections to it must be received by 19th February.

While there have been various protestations on social media, this does seem to be a hot-potato subject as opinion isn't all one-way traffic.

A number of cyclists have expressed concern at the notion of cycling along a road that may as well be a motorway, given that it is merely the M62 in all but name. The road contains trucks making their way to the port in Hull, as well as folks travelling in the opposite direction, to Manchester and other parts of the country, all travelling at speeds in excess of 50 mph, and probably significantly higher.

I regularly drive on this road when I travel to Hull or East Yorkshire and I must say it really isn't a road I would want to be cycling along. When I see cyclists on the road I immediately think they are on some sort of a death-wish!

On a few occasions when cycling on local trails or country lanes I have had to either cross the A63 or ride along it. Thankfully there was a segregated cycle path on the part I was on.

On one Saturday afternoon I pootled along the cycle path parallel to the trunk road at the same time as local cycle racers with numbers pinned on their backs zoomed past me during a time trial. I did not envy them, particularly as it was a windy day and they wrestled their bike into a straight line while traffic rumbled by.

Now, that is my impression of the road. As keen a cyclist as I am I avoid the A63 as much as possible. Having said that, I think that cyclists should still be free to ride on that road if they wish, and I think that it would be a sad precedent if a popular event like the V718 time trial were lost because Highways England preferred to ban cyclists rather than put in place more safety measures for cyclists.

It is worth noting that a TRO was approved on an 8-mile section of the A19 dual carriageway near Teesside in 2015.

In 2016 a local resident in Leatherhead submitted a petition to Surrey County Council proposing to ban cyclists from the A24 dual carriageway between Dorking and Leatherhead. The Council rejected the proposal on the grounds that a ban would not support their overall strategy of making cycling inclusive within the local authority. This road, which was part of the London 2012 Olympics route for the cycle race, and is part of the route of the Ride London cycling events has benefited the local economy by bringing a lot of cycle touring to the area.

On publication of the news of the proposed TRO in the Hull Daily Mail, its readers were polled, asking if they thought cyclists should be banned from the A63. One thousand people were surveyed, and 77% of respondents replied "yes" while only 23% were opposed to banning cyclists. 

Those wishing to send in their objections to the proposed Traffic Regulation Order have a wee bit of time.
Deadline for submissions is February 19th 2018
Write to:
The Office of the Director
Operations Directorate (Yorkshire & North East)
Highways England
3rd Floor South, Lateral
8 City Walk
Leeds LS11 9AT.
Ref: The A63 Trunk Road (North Cave Interchange to Daltry Street Interchange - Prohibition of Cyclists Order)

Saturday, 10 February 2018

52 Cycling Voices - 18: Sarah Strong

Our latest cycling voice comes from Sarah Strong, a stalwart of the London women's cycling scene. She's been there, done that, got the T-shirt plus a few scars. But she's strong by nature as well as by name. I've known Sarah since she got into cycling over 14 years ago and I commend her for all the work she's done in the sport. But Sarah has my utmost admiration for winning a Pointless trophy!

Sarah Strong
Age: 42
From: Bristol
Lives: London
Project Coordinator for a mental health charity/NHS

As a child our family were never into cycling, but I did do BMX biking in the mid-1980s between the ages of about 9-12 years when I got into it via a school mate. It felt kinda cool, and there were only three or four of us girls who raced regularly. One went to the same school as me and it was good to chat to her about races.

My mate Dave, and I used to go to get taken to the BMX track by his dad so we could practice with the local club, Burgess Hill Bombers. There was also a wooded patch near my house with a natural bombhole, and rooty jumps, that we used. You could get some decent air on some of them - well, it felt like that, but it was probably only a few centimetres! There were also the usual homemade ramps set up next to local rows of garages or quiet cul-de-sacs. I really enjoyed doing something a bit different. 

Then when I hit teenage years I stopped doing it, mainly as I wasn't that sporty so didn't enjoy it that much. My mate Dave got a mountain bike  (which at that time was becoming fashionable), and my interest fizzled out.
When my real passion for cycling kicked off later, as an adult, my parents were happy to hear that I'd found something that was clearly benefiting me a great deal. Nowadays I cycle more than my sister does and I suspect she thinks I'm a bit mad! When her partner and I talk bike stuff I can hear her eyes rolling!
I have been club cycling for about 14 years now. It all started at the Beastway Summer Mountainbike Series in 2003 when I was recovering from a bout of depression. A housemate asked me to help out her club one week when it was their turn to volunteer at one of the rounds.
Initially it was the social side of the race series I warmed to, and being out in the fresh air, doing something new. I became part of the organising committee of Beastway, (the Structureless Tyranny) working on it for the next nine summers, and was usually to be found doing sign-on and lap-scoring duties.
It led me to start using an old bike I had, to commute to work, and to have a go at racing myself. Six months later I bought myself a second-hand road bike and have never looked back.
My first cycling club was London Phoenix, where a few of the regular Beastway riders were members. But proper club cycling didn't happen for me until a year or two later when I moved to South London and joined Dulwich Paragon.
Riding my first club run with them was rewarding but exhausting. After thirty hilly miles from Crystal Palace to the edge of Kent and back on a Saturday morning I spent the rest of the day on the sofa! Gary MacGowan (a Dulwich Paragon stalwart) was the friendly and encouraging face that led me and my friend to return for more.
It was while at Dulwich Paragon that another Sarah (Atkinson) convinced me to try a women's beginner road race, organised by London Dynamo, at the Longcross Test Track (Chertsey) back in 2009. I raced two of those and would have actually gained three British Cycling racing points in the second race if I'd bothered to buy a full licence! I was so chuffed!
Then Maria David convinced me to do the first (of two!) cyclocross races around the same time. I wouldn't have tried it without her encouragement. Being near Herne Hill Velodrome was a great opportunity to try track cycling, and the Women's Training Sessions started by Anna Glowinski kicked off my track riding and racing. My friend and club-mate Lesley Pinder also persuaded me to join her down at HHV on regular occasions.

Track cycling has been fun. I raced at the National Track Masters in Newport about 18 months ago, though I didn't have any goals as such. It was more about taking part because my fitness level was not brilliant at the time, and I was just happy not to have been the slowest in my age group! Aside from the Masters and Herne Hill Velodrome track league I haven't raced much at all in the last two or three years. 
Criterium racing is what I have enjoyed the most. There, I felt the most comfortable about my ability and skills on several of the London circuits. When I was race fit I loved the feeling after a crit - at least once I’d got through the first fifteen minutes of thinking my lungs were going to explode

I eventually stopped racing around 2014/15 as I felt like I wasn't achieving much. In 2009 I was knocked off my bike by a car while commuting to work and needed surgery on my knee. Then in 2011 I shattered my collarbone in a crash when my front wheel hit a massive pothole at the Dunwich Dynamo. When I came back to racing in 2012 I found myself on the start line with women half my age who had coaches and a lot more time to train than me. From the gun I would be immediately spat out of the back. I just didn't have the mental fight.
Long-distance cycling is something else I do. I did my first sportive, the 110-km Ride of the Falling Leaves (by Dulwich Paragon) in 2006. It was the longest ride I’d done at that point, and it was such fun.
Since then I’ve done more rides particularly after I stopped racing. I did a couple of trips to the Pyrenees with clubmates, and Paris-Roubaix in 2008. The cobbles are a special kind of hurt but the sense of achievement at the end was immense. I felt the same after the Etape du Tour in 2013.
I do enjoy long rides, seeing the countryside and having a range of feelings, thoughts and sensations, compared with the eyeballs-out nature of racing.
On one long ride, though, I nearly got into a bit of trouble when I did some solo riding in mid-Wales. I ran out of water in the middle of the Cambrian Mountains with over twenty miles to go, all uphill and into a headwind, and no phone reception there either! It was a tough moment and I was quite worried about how I would get back to my lodgings. There were no shops, no one around and just one or two cars passed me. 

I really had to push myself mentally and battle through it. When things got tough I just had to risk it and take a bit of water from the River Ystwyth. When I got home the first thing I did was to devour a pack of Pringles! I did gain the confidence to know I can do it, if I end up in a similar situation. 

In 2017 I did my first ever cycle tour, with friend Kat who I originally met some years back through the London Fixed-Gear and Single-Speed group. I was rather anxious about it as I’d never ridden long distances with panniers and camping gear etc. before.
We did a horseshoe-shaped loop around half of Wales over one week. It was hard, but amazing. There were highs and lows, tiredness and hunger, wonderful sights, lots of laughs, and excellent company. I also realised I didn’t object to camping as much as I’d been telling myself for years! I’d like to do more touring.

Funnily enough I have recently taken up BMX biking again. It's just for fun and I do it in the summer. There are women's sessions on Tuesday nights at Burgess Park (near Peckham) that I go to. My skills came back quite quickly, but as I am now bigger, taller, and a lot older than when I last did it I don't tend to take risks! 

I do like shoes. I used to have a lot of cycling shoes, specifically Sidis! I tried various brands in my first couple of years of cycling and Sidis fitted me the best. As a teenager I had corrective surgery on both feet and have since had issues finding shoes that are comfortable for me. So when I found some that fitted so well I started finding reasons to buy more!
At one point I had eight pairs of Sidis - one for each of my bikes! These days I’m down to five pairs, and I haven’t bought any in a while. Maybe it's time to acquire some more!
A simple bike ride can do wonders for your mental health, but it’s way more complicated than just pedalling your depression away. There is no direct causal link between cycling and wellbeing – it’s a range of interacting factors. Cycling is not a cure-all, and it’s not going to magic away depression forever. It is something I use to improve my mood though, and I start getting a bit grumpy if I don’t do any cycling for a few days.

I find that my mental health benefits from the exercise, the independence, and the social circle cycling brings with it (most of my close friends are people I’ve got to know through riding). Riding helps to stop the rumination that comes with anxiety. Occasionally, I’ll return from a ride with a head as busy as it was when I set out – but this is quite unusual.
I was incredibly anxious about co-ordinating and presenting the evening we had on cycling and mental health at Look Mum No Hands last Autumn. I’d had a very difficult time the day before too. On the night of the event I didn’t say quite all that I wanted to, but it was more important to facilitate others. The fact that the members of the panel were so willing to contribute made organising the event very easy, and took the pressure off a bit! I as very grateful for their participation and honesty, and it was a valuable evening.
We received amazing feedback, and it underlined my feelings that many cyclists experience mental health challenges, and many who experience mental health challenges cycle. It was great to hear how the people who came along, or followed on Facebook live or on Twitter, found it beneficial.
There will be an event in Rapha Manchester later this month, plans are afoot for another evening at Look Mum No Hands, and one at the Bristol Bike Project. As part of Sport Relief, which is focusing on mental health, I’ve done a piece to camera on the subject of anxiety for a documentary about a celebrity's experience of anxiety. The programme will air in March during Sport Relief week. Hopefully what I said during the interview made some sense!
On the back of that I set up a blog - - and I’m hoping to encourage people to contact me with their contributions. There have been a few responses already, which is encouraging. It would be great to gather a range of voices and experiences so that people can know they aren’t the only ones going through tough times, and also folks might share their ideas of how to manage their wellbeing when getting on the bike isn’t necessarily possible.
Perhaps I was particularly fortunate to find my way into cycling through people near to me, and I didn’t find it at all difficult as a woman getting into cycling. The London cycling scene was somewhat smaller in my early days 14 years ago and, to me, it seemed like a supportive niche of a size I felt comfortable in. Being part of Beastway meant I got to know a lot of riders with experience and expertise, and I could learn from them.
I do remember, however, being nervous about turning up to my first Dulwich Paragon club run as newbie, and feeling a bit out of my depth amongst all the matching club kit. There was no need to have worried though, as I was welcomed in the club, and became a regular very quickly. In fact on the few Saturdays I didn’t go on the club ride it seemed a bit odd. At that time, to me there were enough women involved to form a core group of moral support if required.
To anyone wanting to get into club cycling I would say have a think about what type of cycling you want to do. Some clubs may be more focused towards racing, others are maybe more social. Larger clubs are more likely to have riders that cover the whole spectrum and there will be opportunities whether you are interested in track, or audax, or cross, or whatever. Look out for clubs that have social rides – many of which you can attend and try out before you join. Check any advice about expected fitness levels and/or ability.
When I’m not on a bike I do like attending art exhibitions, and living in London means a wealth of options on the doorstop. I have a soft spot for art, architecture, and design between about 1750-1950. The last exhibition I visited was Red Star Over Russia at Tate Modern. Museums are good too – I had a decent wander around Sir John Soane’s recently. It’s mad, overwhelming and brilliant!
Also, I occasionally do a bit of glass-engraving. They are usually one-offs as presents, but I have engraved trophies for the end of series prizes for Beastway a few times, and had other small commissions. It’s all freehand work with a rotary engraving tool, so too much in one go can be hard work on the fingers and wrists.

Hatha yoga is something I try and do regularly as I feel relaxed after the sessions, and I hope to take up Mindfulness again to compliment this.
One highpoint for me was being on the quiz show Pointless, with my friend Lesley. It was a surreal experience. We just applied to go on the show for a laugh. When we got the call I was on holiday, so had to take a day out to travel to the studios in Hertfordshire, be there for the day and return to my holidays .Filming was fun, and Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman came across just as warm and going off on their flights of fancy as they appear on the TV. Answering the questions in front of the camera was a lot trickier than shouting the answers at the TV at home!
In the cycling world I really admire Kathryn Bertine, who campaigned for a women's Tour de France concurrent with the men’s race. In the non-cycling world I get inspired by older women such as Mary Beard, who challenge the status quo, are passionate, sincere in what they do, and are willing to take risks to follow what they believe in. 

But most of my inspiration comes from my friends, and often I’ll do things with them that I never would have contemplated on my own. For me, the moral support from friends is invaluable.
My ideal day is about being on the bike, with a close friend, in the countryside somewhere on a sunny summer day, with a flexible route and in no hurry to get back home. Writing this in February is filling me with much longing! 

Cycling and mental health event at Rapha Manchester: 
22nd February 6pm - 8pm

Sarah will feature in an article by Emily Chappell in the Spring issue of Casquette magazine.

Twitter: @Opiumia
Instagram: @opiumia5

Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017: That´s a wrap!

Things that worked well in 2017

Cycle tour to Northern France
Cycle tour to the South of France
Skiing the Sella Ronda of the Dolomites
Ski trip to Chamonix and Courmayeur
Riding with Hull Thursday Club and Yorkshire Lass cycling club
Riding with the Wiggle High5 ladies
Crops from my allotment  - nasturtium, courgettes, corn, beans
Some interesting copywriting projects

Things that were a bit sketchy

Not managing to take an NCTJ module due to a last minute change
Having to divert my Cycle trip in the North of England due to high winds
Not completing any more crochet projects other than a couple of hats
A very convoluted copywriting projects
Losing my phone

Oh well, time's up, that's a wrap!


Hello New Year!

Things that I hope will be better in 2018

All copywriting projects running smoothly
Staying injury free, including completing the Paris Marathon 
Completing the Etape du Tour and not being swept up by the broom wagon!
Staying on top of the housework - maybe getting a cleaner!
Getting more involved in London life
Going on trips with friends and family 
Learning to relax at home
Completing more NCTJ modules
Write more articles 
Finishing my 52 Cycling Voices series
Taking decent photos and maybe a video.
Keeping a good blood pressure and BMI
More grow your own, more yoga, and more bike rides, of course! 

Happy 2018!😊

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Another year, another trip to Paris! - Part 3: Chantilly

After a well-earned sleep I was ready to do the final part of my Paris ride.

After a hearty breakfast I started my ride from Beauvais. Firstly, I did a mini circuit of the town. It wasn´t anything to write home about as I had seen the best parts the previous day. What I saw today was the part that I had seen on the last time I was in Beauvais, just over a year ago. I had been on a mad dash to get a train to Paris on a Saturday evening after a tedious day on the road. I recognised the road around the train station and the industrial area that I had taken, though at the time I was so focused on trying to catch the train that I didn´t notice the delights of the various factories and DIY stores. Today I had the chance to appreciate the water treatment works, the Nestlé factory, and even Carrefour in their full splendour!

After a tour of the grey side of Beavais I was into the green and pleasant roads that would take me to the Pays de L`Oise, and Chantilly. Rather than ride along the main road with traffic I was able to ride along a traffic-free cycle path that started from Therdonne, just outside Beauvais, and went parallel to the D12, going to Hermes, and towards Bury. I kept thinking that these towns might be in the first instance quite chic, like an expensive handbag or perfume, and then in the second instance, a bit industrial like an industrial city. But no, they were neither - just quaint non-descript villages in Normandy.

Quiet lanes through the woods in Normandy
The nicest town in the area though, was Saint-Leu-Esserent, which was quite old, with a gothic church and a bridge. Soon I was into practically deserted roads that just had woodland to guide me along the way. It was all very nice, though I was looking foward to getting to Chantilly.

And once I got there it didn´t fail to disappoint. I have always known Chantilly was famous for its race course, having seen the Prix de L´Arc de Triomphe on Channel 4 racing a few times. I didn´t know just quite how chic it was. Chantilly being twinned with Epsom, home of the Derby should have given me a clue. On entering the town, a signboard describes it as the "capital of the horse". It made me wonder if that also meant you could get decent horsemeat from their local butchers!

Though I think really, Chantilly is still more upmarket than the London suburb in Surrey - not that I want to cause offence to the people of Epsom!

Chantilly - the horse capital
The high street definitely reeks of wealth, with it´s designer shops, and expensive cafes. It is also heaving with pollution, as the roads were just choc-a-block with audis, mercedes, BMWs and the odd Bentley. On this day there were loads of cyclists too, as a triathlon was taking place at the Château and many athletes cycled back from the castle to their lodgings. If only I had known this was on, I would definitely have entered.

It was an extremely hot day, and the open water swim in the lake around the Château would have been lovely - maybe not the run though! In any case this race, part of the Castle Series is definitely one to note for next year.

Nice setting for a triathlon
Talking to the security guard in the grounds of Chantilly castle he talked about all the events that people could look forward to, including the Prix de L´Elégance, which was due to take place in a couple of weeks time. That sounded about right for this place, which is the epitome of style. It made me laugh that he was telling me about an event all about style, as I stood there all bedraggled and sweaty in the 30+degrees heat!

I then sat in the park and ate my packed lunch before pushing on - a lot later than planned. By this time it was going to 4pm, and as I breezed past the lovely gated mansions along the tree-lined avenues I comforted myself with the fact that I was in the department of Ile de France, which for me, means the Parisian region.

Chantilly wins the prix de l'élégance!
So I would be at my lodgings in the 11th arrondissement within an hour or two. Er, not so! I was 30 miles away, so yes getting there in aound 2 hours was about right. However, I had not factored in stopping to go shopping, taking photos or even getting lost in the suburbs - which was bound to happen as I was no longer following the Avenue Verte route.

The other important point for me, was that I was not taking the direct route. I had wanted to take in a little bit more forest, so ended up on a convoluted route that took me through Gouvieux, Royaumont Abbey, Forests at Carnelle, L´Isle Adam, and Montmorency, before entering Paris via Argenteuil, and Asnières sur Seine, and then onto Arc de Triomphe via Boulevard Malsherbes and Avenue Wagram.

By this time it was around 8pm! Whoops! But hey, I had seen a real specturm of places en route - industrial parts of Normandy, historic bits, the upmarket suburbs of Paris, as well as some dodgy looking areas of the northern "banlieues" of Paris.

Pont d'Iéna - tense, terse, tourists
In another variation, my ride through Paris did not involve Champs Elysées, for once! This time I opted for leaving the Arc de Triomphe roundabout via Avenue Iéna, which took me straight to the bottom of Trocadero and right into Champ de Mars, where the Eiffel Tower is. It was also more difficult to get a stranger to take a photo of me down here than when I was at the Arc de Triomphe. It was like they had become mistrusting of everyone - which I guess is not surprising, given recent events. Having said that, it didn't stop people from photobombing my pics with silly faces and waves. The tourists at the Eiffel Tower definitely seemed a different breed from the polite folks up at Charles de Gaulle Etoile!

After a spin through the streets of the Left Bank, and down Boulevard St Germain, I crossed Henri IV Bridge to reach Bastille, my favourite area.
Finally, I arrived at my lodgings, another Ibis Hotel off rue de la Roquette, near Père Lachaise, and was ready to celebrate my arrival with a moules frites and a good wine at the nearby Cafe L´Artiste.

My route into Paris on Strava

Related posts
Another year, another trip to Paris! Part 1 - Avenue Verte

Another year, another trip to Paris! Part 2 - Beauvais

Paris en velo! Arrivee fictive

Friday, 15 December 2017

Another year, another trip to Paris! Part 2: Beauvais

Arriving into Beauvais at lunchtime knowing that I had finished my cycling for the day was quite a nice feeling.

Hell, I had started my bike ride at roughly 5 am so I deserved to finish at 1pm! It was a warm, sunny day, lots of people were out, the shops were open, which is not always the case in small French towns at this time of year, and I felt quite fresh.
As the day was still young I knew I could take my time with things. So I spent  a bit of time admiring and photographing the very imposing cathedral.

The mighty Beauvais cathedral

I had never really considered Beauvais to be a touristic town, but then again Ryanair do fly there – they even call it their Paris destination! So I imagine a fair few people will stop by and admire this “lovely surburb of Paris” before heading properly into the city of light.

And there were many people in Beauvais, looking at the St Pierre cathedral and the nearby Mus̩e de l'Oise. Some folks were British. Where else could they have been from Рthis couple that spoke to each other in thick Liverpudlian accents?!
I then moved on to reach my hotel. I hadn’t quite expected it to be so far out of town, or that it would be up a hill. Gee, I had just come down a big hill to get into the town, and here I was already climbing again just to reach my rest and recuperation spot!

I guess nothing good comes to you without putting in a bit of effort first! And that good thing came in the shape of the Ibis Hotel, Beauvais. Yes, a big-chain hotel that may have been lacking in style. But it had everything I needed - friendly receptionists, a decent sized bedroom and bathroom, strong Wifi connection, a bar, and even a room for my bike - a room, not an alleyway outdoors at the back of the building or a leaky shed. An actual room that was on par with my bedroom minus a telly, a bed and a bathroom!

And it didn't stop there - they were serving meals, but there were a number of restaurants nearby also doing the same. There was a hypermarket about a mile away selling everything, including bike bits, and, hold onto your hats - they had Decathlon and Intersport right opposite. Who says you can't have a good time in Beauvais!

After an afternoon nap I went out for a walk in the local area. It was nothing to write home about. Just your typical neighbourhood on the outskirts of a town near an airport, with yoofs in a skateboard park and ladies of various ethnicities in housecoats gossiping over the garden fence. Think more Hounslow than Richmond!

There were a number of other cyclists staying in the hotel too, and I saw them sitting out on the terrace discussing their ride. I said hello to them and exchanged a few words as cyclists do. They were also riding to Paris, though at a more leisurely than me, by stretching their trip over 4 days.

The London-Paris cycle ride is a well-beaten route for many cyclists, including organised touring groups and charity bike riders, of which this group were a part. This is probably the fifth time I am riding to Paris, and I have yet to do the ride as part of an organised group. In a way I must admit I feel quite relieved to not be part of such a group because the people I meet who go on these rides can only say "I went from London to Paris by bike. Get that!" That's all very well and good, but then all they know about is London, and about Paris. They don't know the names of the places in between, including places they stopped at. All they know is the fact that they followed a ride leader through some rather nice countryside, ate some good food and ended up at the Eiffel Tower. And they probably didn't interact with a single French person along the way!

That's rather a shame, but then again maybe that's how it should be. But hey, when did I ever travel in the way it should be done!

And with that thought I went to bed feeling satisfied, after a hearty meal at La Boucherie.

Related posts
Another year, another trip to Paris! Part 1: Avenue Verte

Paris en velo! C'est parti!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Another year, another trip to Paris! - Part 1: Avenue Verte

Earlier this year I cycled to Paris. I did a similar trip last year, and I thought I would like to repeat the experience hopefully this time without the hitches.

I would love to do the full monty right from Central London by bike, riding all the way to the Ferry terminal at Newhaven. However, time constraints and annual leave from work meant that my cycling didn't actually start until I reached French soil. So strictly speaking I did a Dieppe to Paris trip!

On the way to Dieppe again!

I boarded the 10pm ferry from Newhaven, and arrived in Dieppe at around 4.30am. By the time I had rolled off the ferry and gone through passport control it was almost 5.30am.

That was handy for me because I hadn't booked any accommodation in Dieppe, figuring that at that time of the morning it would be feasible to start cycling immediately. However, it was late August, the roads were still dark and I was slightly apprehensive about how tricky it may be along the unlit Avenue Verte. Furthermore, this rail trail, being in bowl, meant that there may be a hanging mist. The prospect of riding through the woods in these conditions didn't really excite me.

So for me, it was handy to just saunter through Dieppe up to the start of the trail in Arques la Bataille. Helpfully, by the time I got there the sun was just breaking through, so it wasn't pitch dark. I was looking forward to the sun coming up completely in a hope that I might a bit warm as well. Because this part of the Avenue Verte colllects morning dew and dampness it tends to be a few degrees colder than the immediate surrounding areas. In any case, it was cold and I had dressed for the occasion by wearing two waterproofs on top of my cycle jersey, as well as a high vis gilet. It sounds like overkill, but I needed it!

To be on the Avenue Verte or Not to be on Avenue Verte - That is the question

It was lovely and peaceful riding through this part of France with no one else around, and just the trees and the birds for company, and the odd car passing by on the adjacent D1 minor road. I always like that early bird feeling where you get to see the daybreak before anyone else.

As it happened I wasn't the only person cycling along the disused railway line. A group of four or five riders who had been on the same ferry as me also took the Avenue, though I am not sure whether they were going all the way to Paris, or if they were just looking for a nice night ride in Normandy. They weren't carrying much luggage and they were just on hybrid bikes, so I can't imagine they could have been going that far. In fact when I saw them they were already having a snack stop and we were less than 10 miles into the ride!

As the time drew to around 7 o'clock I saw a number of riders going in the opposite direction, and they were mainly French. I am guessing there must have been a 8am or 9am ferry due to leave for the UK. So it seems that this ride is as popular with Londoners wanting to go to Paris as it is with Parisians wanting to come to London.

Next, a few other people who passed me slowed down to ride along for a short while.

They were a couple that looked quite fit, and it looked like they were riding with a mission as they were hoping to get to the suburbs of Paris by the end of the day, and they were hardly carrying any gear on them.

So along the Avenue Verte to Paris it seems you can meet a variety of cyclists out on a bike ride, and at a variety of times too.

Avenue Verte was a nice as ever once the sun came up, and was lovely and peaceful. At this time of the morning, rush hour, there weren't loads of cyclists on the trail, and in fact there were quite a few vehicles on the various roads that crossed the cycle path.

I took an initial breakfast stop at Neufchatel-en-Bray along the path, where there were benches near a pretty church, and toilets further along the way. There were also residential houses that backed onto the path, and I noted an old woman who didn't seem too impressed to open her curtains and come face to face with my mug! I bid her good day, and the old hag scowled back!

Once the traffic free path ended at Serqueux I stuck as much as possible to the waymarked signs for Avenue Verte up to Forge-les-Eaux. This meant I did quite a pleasant run-in to the village via some quiet residential streets and through some parkland. Forge-les-Eaux was another stopping point to stock up on food and have more breakfast.

A Mustang to COMPlement my ride

I had considered stopping by and saying hello to the guy in the local bike shop where I spent a fair bit of time and money on inner tubes last year. That bike shop had been a godsend. It wasn't open at the time that I passed through, so I pressed on with the next phase of my ride.

For my part I had set out to complete the ride over two days, in a change from last year (and even previous years). So my destination was just going to be Beauvais, a place I passed through very briefly last year. It was the scene of a mad dash to get the last train to Paris in an attempt to avoid being stranded in deepest Normandy after dark!

Like last year, I was riding a Raleigh Mustang gravel bike and carrying panniers. But this time, rather than being on the Mustang Sport, I was testing the upgraded version, a Mustang Comp. This bike comes complete with hydraulic disc brakes and just a single chain ring, complemented with dinner plate sprockets to get me up any hills. The Comp is less weight than the sport, even with my panniers mounted on the bike . I'll take that!

All change at Forge-les-Eaux

It is quite possible to look out for, and follow the characteristic green and white arrows all along the way and end up at Ile de la Cité opposite Notre Dame Cathedral in Central Paris.

The quiet roads and traffic-free paths guarantees that you won't be riding along busy roads. After Forge-les-Eaux I chose not to follow those arrows though, and make up my own route.

That part of France has so many minor ("d" and "c") roads that you can choose any of them and end up on a quiet route. On this Friday morning in August people may well have been on holiday. Otherwise they were hard at it in their offices, their farms, their homes or just shopping. Basically, they were anywhere but on the road! So I had the pick of lot in terms of which route to take, and so I eeked out my own itinerary to Beauvais.

From Forge-les-Eaux the road dropped downhill into the area known as Pays de Bray, where lots of towns called "something or other -en Bray" seemed to pepper the landscape. I don't know what Bray means, but I guess it must be something like "lumpy roads and steep lanes" based on the terrain!

Gerberoy village (from website)

Hills aside, the landscape is pictureseque with undulating farmers fields and very old villages. Of particular note were the villages of Songeons, Buicourt, and Gerberoy. Apparently Gerberoy is billed as one of the prettiest villages in France. It's certainly a nice place to be, but I wouldn't want to square up to the Mayor of Giverny or one of the many villages in Dordogne and say that!

Rain rain go away!

The weather was very pleasant and sunny, but somewhere I had seen a weather forecast for rain at Beauvais right at the moment I was due to reach the town. So although I was enjoying my ride, I had a nagging thought that sooner or later the sun would turn dark and  I would get drenched as the heavens the opened. Although I was equipped with wet weather gear, I didn't relish the prospect of having to bounce around through puddles and not be able to see the nice view through the dampness. I just had to comfort my self in the fact that my journey would soon come to an end as I was only going as far as Beauvais.

In fact, my ride ended up being rain free. I was even lucky because on the approach to Beauvais the roads were wet like there had just been shower. So France Meteo hadn't been wrong, it was just that I had timed my ride into Beauvais perfectly! Once in this town with its medieval buildings and cathedral I celebrated with an extra large swig of water and and  a Clif Bar (that was all I had left!) before tackling the climb to get up to my hotel in the outskirts of the town.

It had been a pretty ride, with a few famous landmarks along the way. But after having had just two hours' sleep, I was ready to crash out in my hotel room.

My Strava route from Dieppe to Beauvais can be found here.


Monday, 27 November 2017

52 Cycling Voices - 17: Rochelle Gilmore

Rochelle Gilmore is big in cycling. If you haven't seen her you’ll have definitely heard her extremely knowledgeable punditry on the BBC, ITV, or on Eurosport. 

After a successful career as a professional road and track cyclist (including a Commonwealth Games title on the road) she set up the Wiggle High5 team (then known as Wiggle Honda) in 2013. The team is replete with some of the world's best women racers with a number of world champions. I first met Rochelle a few years ago when they were doing the team presentation in Ghent, Belgium. She came across as driven, motivated, and entrepreneurial, but was still kind, gentle and clearly had the wellbeing of her riders at the forefront of her mind.

Oh, and Rochelle is a successful business woman, and is pretty damn good on the rollers!

Rochelle Gilmore, aged 35

From: Sutherland, New South Wales, Australia

Lives: San Martino di Castrozza, Trento, Italy

Occupation: Manager of Wiggle High5, Businesswoman, Broadcaster/Commentator

I got into cycling when I was three years old. My two older brothers were racing BMX and I just nagged my mum and dad, because I wanted to get out and race with them. So I started BMX racing, and competed with the under-5 boys. At that time and during my early high school days BMX was not an Olympic sport but I really loved just pedalling my bike - getting out of the gates, sprinting, and all the technical aspects of BMX.
Later I was identified through a programme at school where they came and asked if anyone wanted to go and be tested for Olympic potential, as an athlete. There was power testing, short sprints, four-kilometre runs, tests to see how high I could jump, long jump, all that stuff. 

My results were in the top 1% of Australian olympic potentials around the age of 13, and so I got a letter from the government saying they would financially support me for the next three years if I chose one of the sports on the list. There was a choice of rowing, mountain biking, cycling, and triathlon. Because I had done BMX for so long I was keen to do cycling, so I got into track and road cycling through the local Institute of Sport. I was living in a very small country town out in the bush, to the South of Sydney, and they would pick me up from my home and take me to the races. 

Within 3 months I had won an under-15s national title, moved to the New South Wales Institute of Sport and then on to the Australian Institute of Sport. It all happened pretty quick, and was really exciting, especially as I was doing an olympic sport.

Emotionally, My strongest memory from my career was winning a Road World Cup in Australia in 2005. It was a very satisfying moment because I had just transferred from track to road. So for me to win a World Cup in my home country was massive.
Then obviously getting gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games was a high point for me too, because I’d got silver four years before that, and four years before that, so after twelve years I wanted to go there and win. I did not want to come home from the Commonwealth Games with another silver medal. It just feels really great to have won gold now, particularly because the silver medallist in the race was Lizzie Armitstead (Deignan). So it makes it even more special seeing that she has really established herself as one of the world’s absolute best as an all-round cyclist.
I raced alongside Nicole Cooke on the same team, and shared a house with her for seven years. When I think about Nicole Cooke's career I remember those moments when she was just so happy whether a teammate won or she won. I remember the staff would really try to go that extra mile to support her within the pro teams that I rode on with her. There were people who really wanted the best for her. I recall some really beautiful moments in Nicole’s career and I think she took a lot of positive experiences from the sport. 

I don’t have memories of mistreatment or abuse or anything of that. I tend to remember those special moments that we had, travelling around the world together, and the fantastic time we had when we raced in San Francisco. It was just great that our teams were able to take us to those races. Unfortunately we are not hearing those stories from Nicole these days.
I try and keep in touch with the pro cyclists I used to race with. I keep in touch with nearly all of the girls I was with when I went through the Australian teams in AIS and the pro teams I was with. With social media you always know where people are and what they’re up to so even if you don’t speak, much. We are all still involved in cycle sport in some way, and as I was racing for many years, I am not just going to walk away from it. So I do bump into different girls I raced with and love catching up with them.  
This year while in Australia I bumped into was Mari Holden, an American who raced for T-mobile and was World Time trial champion in 2000. She was out there working as a director. I also caught up with Rahna Demarte (now Gerrans) a girl I went to the junior world championships with in 1998, who I hadn’t seen for 15 years. She’s now married to Simon Gerrans. Catching up with her was fantastic as well. Then there are other people like Vic Pendleton and Chris Hoy who I’ll see around the place and catch up with.
The key to the success of Team Wiggle High5 has been in maintaining a decent quality of life for the riders and making sure that rider well-being is at the top of the agenda.
At Wiggle High5 we have an atmosphere where quality of life is the priority so we don’t want unhappy athletes or unhappy staff. You can’t expect riders to get results if they are unhappy. We really look after recovery and the personal interests of the riders. One unique thing about this team is that riders all have some buy-in in the decisions, and the riders really feel like they are important to the team.

Also, all the athletes are really good friends. They have chosen the riders that they like to be around. We make it a priority that everyone is happy with the composition of the team and the personalities we have, and everybody really has each other’s back. That’s one of the mottos within our team, that we have our staff and our team-mates’ back all the time.
For Wiggle High5, results in races are only one part of the team’s aims. Wiggle High5 has always had a strategy to increase publicity for the team through social media campaigns as a way of bringing positive returns for their sponsors.
The money side of things only comes with exposure. So what I did when I started Wiggle High5 (at the time Wiggle Honda) was to have a really strong PR team to create ideas to give our sponsors return on investments. So we have a strong focus on social media.
It is hard to accept, but if you analyse it there is way more history in men’s cycling than in women's, and way more spectators watching men’s cycling. The business side of the sport is the men that are generating the majority of the money because of their history. For that reason it’s hard for women to walk onto the stage and demand exactly the salaries and prize money that the men are getting. 

Women work just as hard, and in some ways the women are more professional than the men, but our sport – women’s cycling –  is relatively new compared with male cycling. It’s not rocket science though, that there are challenges. We can’t just say £50k for the men, £50k for the women at every race, if there’s only 1% of the viewers watching the women. Organisers want to do a great job for women's cycling, but there's a difference between what they can do and what they can justify.
Conditions are definitely much better than they were ten years ago, for sure! We are progressing every year with the prize money, and women can now make a career out of cycle racing. The TV coverage has been the biggest advance. Obviously things like Ride London, Tour of Britain, Tour de Yorkshire and Le Tour by the Tour de France have TV coverage and that makes a huge difference to our sport.
As women’s cycle racing grows, the calendar has become very intense. Sadly, some races like the Route de France ended up being removed from the calendar this year.
Women's racing has a very busy and difficult schedule because we want those monumental races. We want to have Tour of California, Tour of Britain, and these big races that give us the opportunity to race alongside the men’s races or within the same week, and have all the publicity that the men get. But as a result, we have a very heavy programme and we have to travel a lot. The UCI obviously don’t want to turn race organisers down but now that we have a Women’s World Tour, with TV coverage, that’s distinctively the pinnacle of women’s cycling so they are the races that the top riders and top teams will focus on. So that makes it difficult to fit in all the races.  
A Tour de France for women would be great, though perhaps not three weeks. Women’s teams are a lot smaller than the men’s teams, so if you want your best riders to prepare for a two- or three-week Tour de France the other races would definitely suffer.
During my racing career I did commentary for a lot of Australian networks when I wasn’t racing.  I had started TV commentating with Phil Liggett back in 1997, so Eurosport asked if I could commentate with Sean Kelly for the women’s road race at the London 2012 Olympics. I was available to commentate because injury had put me out of the Olympics.
So from that, I did the World Championships for the BBC, and have done that every year, plus Ride London and the Tour de Yorkshire, then the Tour de France stuff.
It’s still very emotional when my girls are in a race, and you have to hide that when commentating. The hardest race I had to commentate on was the first Ride London women’s criterium in 2013 when Laura Trott won, while she was riding for Wiggle Honda. The team was fresh and new and it was exciting, there were so many people watching, it was live on television and I remember the last lap, how my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. It was really hard the commentating and keeping a neutral tone.
When Chloe Hosking won Le Tour by the Tour de France on the Champs Elysees in 2016 I did express some emotion and I was really, really happy about that.
There have been other tough moments like the Rio Olympics, commentating when Annemiek van Vleuten had her crash. That was a really sick feeling to the point where I couldn’t speak for the next five minutes. When commentating we have to stare at the screen and watch things really closely and at that point we are glued three or four centimetres form the screen and to see the crash, it was really devastating. This is someone that I know personally, as I know a lot of the girls in the peloton, and not having the information about whether she was moving was a hard moment.
As well as commentating I run a few businesses. I am the High5 distributor in Australia and that’s given me a lot of insight into business that’s orientated around numbers, whereas cycling success is more orientated around victories and leveraging that through media exposure.
I also run a company, GoExPro, an Australian company that sells ex-professional cycling equipment. On top of that, I have RMG Sports Production which makes cycling and other videos and documentaries. I’ve just been involved in making a 59-minute documentary on motorsports. 

Then I have two other cycling teams that I work with - the High5 Dream Team, and the Australian national team. 
To run all my activities I’ve gotta be a bit OCD where I’m super super-organised, so I use my time wisely. Normally in meetings I say, "I’m spending 15 minutes - give me your issues," and I say yes no yes no, and bang - I’m gone. There are moments where you need to let the conversations go - there are no time limits, and you have to stay and listen to everything.
Since I’ve retired and gone into business it has been a big challenge keeping fit and feeling comfortable about doing exercise without it being your job, and without feeling guilty about not training hard when you are out on the bike.
I have now come to realise that I have to do exercise to function, work and make good decisions and be relaxed. So it is more efficient for me to combine exercise and work together.
When it comes to places to cycle I love Mallorca because the roads are smooth, the weather’s good, there are a lot of cyclists out there to ride with. I only discovered Mallorca a couple of years ago and really fell in love with it. I come here to do a lot of work, but I enjoy my rides and that makes me feel more productive.
My mum is a massive fan of women’s cycling and she knows way more than I do because she has a lot more time than I do to be reading about them on social media! And if I want to know something I could just pick up the phone to my mum and ask her. She’ll tell me things sometimes and I say, “There’s no way that’s true!” And she’ll say, “It’s on Twitter, I’ll send you the link!”
She’s not one of those people who woud want to influence my decisions on team matters, but she will inform, and she will say, “Why don’t you sign this rider next year, she’s been doing really well.” Then we’ll have a debate about why she got points or her results, or whatever. My mum ’s definitely a good person to have discussions with.
She’s got a new place to live in Dubai, so I stopped over when I was on my way to Europe from Australia earlier this year. I was there for less than a day and we went shopping. The shopping Mall has an indoor ski slope, so I went for a ski while she went to the bar and watched me from out of the window! She really appreciated me stopping by to see her. Then she comes to see me at my house in Italy a couple of times a year.
My drive and motivation to be successful has come from my step-father, who my mum married 25 or 30 years ago. He’s a very successful business man and I relate very well to the way he manages people and I have learnt so much from him. I wanna make my mum and my step-father very proud. That was my drive, to prove I could make something in the business world.
They’ve always wanted me to hang the bike up and retire and do something in business because that’s how they measure success, and they did ask me quite often, “When are you going to stop with the cycling and do something in business.?” Actually when I told my parents I was going to start a women’s cycling team they were just like…”That’s a ridiculous idea!” But hey, four or five years down the track they are extremely proud.
I never go out on my bike without my phone cover that always has my credit card, usually a hotel keycard, and my business cards. I carry cards for the businesses I have in Australia, so if someone in Australia is looking for a bike, or asking about High5 I can just give them a card. While out on the bike you meet so many people that you can do business with.
I could have done one of a number of different sports, because when I was young I was doing gymnastics, athletics, swimming, surf-lifesaving, motocross ....From the age of three years old I just wanted to do sport. You know, like people say “When did you decide?” I think I was like five or six years old when I was watching the Olympics on TV and I was saying, “That’s me, I am sport!” I was just born to be athletic.

Some people say I may have been better suited to mountain biking because of my technical skills, but road cycling provides such a wonderful life. You move around, you travel the globe. Track cycling for me was probably physically better, but in terms of lifestyle, doing laps around an indoor velodrome was good, but after five or six years, I felt it was time to get out there and go pro with a road team. The freedom of being on the road, there’s no other feeling like it!
I feel so fortunate that I chose cycling and that this has been my career, and my path, and I love it.

Twitter: @RochelleGilmore       Instagram: rochellegilmore        www,