Friday, 28 December 2007

'07 Over and Out - Hello '08 !

2007 - a fun-packed year

High points and Achievements :
Winning 2 cyclo cross races
Gaining my 2nd category road racing licence
Having a crash free road race season
Making it round the Fred Whitton Challenge cyclosportive
Braving the cobbles of Flanders
Crossing the Pyreneees on two wheels with all our bags
Sunbathing and getting drunk in Sitges
Riding around with lots of Italians !


Low points :
So much rain at Palace
So much rain at Herne Hill
Sooo much rain at Hillingdon
Lots of races cancelled !!
Bottling out of a race at Thruxton and opting to be a WAG for the morning while Stanley raced
Freezing my bosoms off cycling on the lost and lonely military road in the Isle of Wight
Having the flu and then a chest infection
Messing up my elbow in between having the flu and a chest infection

********************************************************************

Things to look forward to in 2008 :
New club and team-mates
Doing a full women's road season
Meeting lots more cyclists
Becoming a better racer (lol !)
Riding well on the track (lol even more !)
Doing the Giro di Sardegna
La Marmotte (et encore plus)
Going ski-ing
Gaining a mean lean frame !!
Becoming healthy again
More blogging

Oh well, can't achieve much of the above in my current bugged up state. Rest and recuperation still beckons. Doc says I need to wait a week longer before I can do any sporting activity (boo hoo). New years resolutions - they've gotta be made, I suppose.

Happy New Year !

Bye Bye Cross !

Oh well, so that's it. My relationship with cross has come to an abrupt end - at least for the 2007/8 season. Boo hoo !
I got my nine races dones, so I have a ranking in the London League at least. The aim had been to do two or three more races though to convert some of the weaker results. But it wasn't to be. A dnf at Herne Hill, being ill (yet again) and a need to concentrate on my road training in January has now put paid to any chance of improving my ranking. Well, actually my position has been ok so far, but over the next few weeks it will drop as the other women complete their 9 races. I will be lucky to finish in the top 3.

Anyway, it has been a rocky (well actually muddy) road but I have enjoyed my cyclo cross season. I will miss the weekly mudfest, the scary descents, the clumsy (and sometimes) comical crashes. Hopefully I'll bump into my cyclo cross buddies at road, track and cyclosportive events.

But for now, I need to concentrate on getting better. I had the flu in late October. It took a while to get over that. I've since had a bad cold, which also knocked me for six over Christmas. I'm struggling to be fit and well for New Year - not an easy task. Stan is threatening to confiscate all my worldly goods from me so that I have no choice but to stay in my room and rest ! Luckily, I'm going to the wilds of Wales where rain, cold and wind are forecast - so that'll be an excuse to chill out and rest in the warmth of the cottage. Service will resume as soon as possible.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Merry Christmas !


Have a Good One - throw the training plan out the window and for one day in the year - indulge and be merry !!

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Christmas Cross



It's been so cold here in London recently that bets on a white Christmas shortened to 2-1 a few days ago. That has all changed though now, with temperatures having moved up to a searing 8 degrees celsius - in fact rain is now forecast for Christmas Day.

I had been looking forward to the possibility of racing today or this Thursday in the snow - I can only imagine it would've looked like this :

Christmas and Cycling

Hell, another cold has laid me off cycling (and all physical activity) for a few days.
So instead of enjoying a good bit of Christmas holiday bike rides and cross races I've been condemned to spending days in bed staring inanely at the TV. I was meant to be going up North today and doing a cross race in Yorkshire. No chance of that - It's still touch and go as to if I can race at Footscray Meadows on 27th December. We'll see.
I haven't even been able to get any Crimbo shopping done - hopefully I'll be out later today when the crowds are dying down.

On the subject of Christmas presents :

Dear Santa,

I know you've already had requests for the usual stuff - downloadable heart-rate monitor, power tap, cadence monitor, a Colnago C50, the latest Assos jersey, plus some Minx-Girl stuff for when I want to bring out my feminine side that bit more, ooh and of course some trendy Rapha mitts, blah blah blah....but please could I also have :

1. A butler who can organise my racing kit and bikes for all the training and racing I've got planned for 2008. If he could be a good bike washer and a dab hand with the old maintenance that would be great too. Oh, and if he could be on hand to give me my favourite post-race food immediately the race finishes and be ready to tidy everything up for me by the time I get back in the car that would be great !

2. A personal assistant to organise my racing diary and my race entries, book my transport and accommodation for the road races and gran fondos I plan to do. I know I don't race anywhere near the level to merit this type of elite treatment, but I do try hard and I have to fit racing around my life as a busy working noughties woman.

3. A psychologist to gee me up, pick me up and calm me down when I get the heeby jeebies before a race - especially when I've seen who I'm up against. Help with visualisation techniques would be very useful. Ok, coaches can fill this role - but that's not always guaranteed and extra confidence building never does any harm.

This might be a big ask, but you don't have to supply everything on December 25th - I can wait till late February to have everything. Failing that, do you know if Wiggle or Chain Reaction might be offering special deals on this sort of thing ??

All the Best to you and your Reindeer !

Wanna do the Giro della Penisola Sorrentina e Costiera Amalfitana ?



1. This is a fairly small event by gran fondo standards. In 2007 there were 700 competitors. Having said that it was still treated as a big event in the local Sorrento/Massa Lubrense area. Many Italians had travelled from distant parts of Southern Italy to do this event.

2. A few people from the organising committee spoke English, but this was largely an Italian event with no other riders from the UK present. There were a few people of Central European origin there (who seemed to bag the prizes) but apart from them I did not see any other non-Italians.

3. It is therefore worth knowing a little more than a smattering of Italian when doing the event. On the other hand, when staying in nearby Sorrento this town is quite touristic (and also popular for Conferences, Congresses etc) with alot of Americans around so you can get by ok without knowing much Italian.

4. It is possible to enter in advance by filling out their form, faxing it and sending a direct bank transfer. However, it is possible to enter in person 2 days before the event (on the Friday) by going to a designated venue which is mentioned in the pre-race blurb. Failing that if you telephone the organiser he can arrange to meet you and do your entry for you. He'll also brief you abit on the race - which is how I did it.

5. As this is a big cycling event in the area many of the local cafes, bars, cycle shops and other shops will have posters advertising it.

6. Registration takes place the day before the event. Get there either very early or very late. At other times the place is very busy and a bit chaotic. Hey, this is Southern Italy !!

7. The goody bag is generous - there's alot of local produce - wine, limoncella, pasta etc.

8. There's nowhere to leave belongings while you ride so just go with what you need (if riding) or leave stuff in your car.

9. In 2007 the race start was at Sant'Agata sui due Golfi. I rode up there from Sorrento. It was a 5 mile ride uphill ride on a twisting road. I was nicely warmed up by the time I got there !

10. The course was rolling, with 2 significant climbs - one of around 10km at 5%, the other of 5km at 8%. Apart from that there was nothing especially challenging. With the course following the most famous parts of the Amalfi coast you were constantly treated to amazing views during the ride - no chance to get bored !

11. The 118km are treated more like a glorified road race by many, with the winner finishing in a bit more than 3 hours. The cut-off time is generous though, with people being given up to 6 hours to complete the distance.

12. There were 2 feedstations along the way - well stocked with food, though it's worth taking your own preferred energy nutrition in case they're serving stuff you're not used to.

13. The race, especially in the early part goes through small touristic towns that are generally busy but this is ok as there are police outriders that close the roads so you get a free run through the town.

14. The post race meal is generous and takes place in a cafe style format outdoors. They have a stage built specially for the prize presentation.

15. Prizes are very generous. The winning guy got a Viner Bikes frame and a weekend for 2 in Sorrento. The winning woman got a prize of similar value. As not many women took part all of us got prizes and had our moment of glory on the stage too !

16. I would recommend this event because it's a chance to do an event in Southern Italy along the stunning and dramatic Amalfi Coast and it's good value for money. The organisers are very friendly and welcoming, and are keen to have their event appeal to people as far afield as possible. This is a good early season cyclosportive and being in Southern Italy the weather is going to be warmer than many places in Northern Europe.

Wanna do the Fred Whitton Challenge ?

Here is my experience of the ride from a few years ago

1. This is probably one of the toughest cyclosportives you could do in the UK. It takes in all the (in)famous climbs of the Lake District over a distance of 112miles (~180km). There is no choice of distance !

2. There's lots of climbing - just under 4,000m. As well as going over Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose passes you also go over a number of other climbs that are known to the locals. Note also that the dreaded Hardknott and Wrynose pass are to be climbed after having ridden approximately 95 hilly miles !

3. Hardknott is scaled from the tough side (West to East). Wrynose is scaled by the "easier" side - but at that stage you will, along with many others, be obliged to get off and walk at least part of the climb!

4. This may sound very tough but don't let it put you off. It's just a matter of being prepared. Low gears - possibly even mountain bike gears would be very helpful.
If you are of average fitness you will probably need at least 34 x 26 to ride comfortably - in any case a compact chainset or a triple. Practice loads of hill reps and climbing - preferably up 20% climbs. A trip over there wouldn't go a-miss.

5. Take gear for all weathers. A shower is not uncommon in these parts. Also consider your tyres. The climbs are tough. The descents (especially from Honister and from Wrynose) are very steep and technical. Grippy tyres would be a safer option.

6. You can set off when you like. Any time after about 6am is ok. The cut-off time is to be past Buttermere, near the 2nd feedstation by midday.

7. The fast riders take around 6 hours. The slowest riders can take around 12 hours.
The race is usually won by a Northerner and this event is taken very seriously by the club riders around the north of England. A southerner finishing in the top 10 is doing very well !
Those looking for a fast time set off at around 9am with the "serious" crew who ride in a big peloton, charging through the lanes. Don't think they will ease off the pace when they reach Honister Pass - they don't! A few will even finish in under 6 hours. If you are likely to finish in around 6 hours that's ok, but if you're not up to doing that you'll pay for it massively later!

8. Honister Pass is the first main difficulty - not just because it's got a 25% ramp in it, but also because it happens at a time when the riders are still bunched together. Many people get off and walk, so it makes it difficult to ride through the crowd. By the time you reach Hardknott the riders are well strung out - but then climbing ramps of more than 30% bring their own difficulties !

9. This ride is not sign-posted so keep the map with you - having said that, there are enough riders around for you to know the way and there aren't that many roads around for you to get lost on !

10. There are 3 feedstations - all are well stocked on food and drink. There is a good post-race snack served at the finish line and a bar.

11. There is no mechanical support, so make sure your bike is in good working order.

12. If you can, try and stay in Coniston itself and then you're within easy reach of the start/finish area. We stayed at Lakeland House Guest House. There was also a pub/hotel (The Crown) a few doors down from us which offered accommodation.

13. We didn't bother to take on the 6 hour drive from London. Instead we took the train to Oxenholme on Friday evening (3hour journey), stayed in Kendal and then rode over to Coniston on Saturday morning. (It was also possible to take the train all the way to Windermere and then ride from there, but we decided to take the scenic route.)

14. Entries for this event open on the first or second Tuesday in January at midnight . You have to download the form and post your completed entry form with the fee IMMEDIATELY. Entries are limited to 1,000 riders. In 2007 the organiser received 200 hand delivered entries from local riders on the morning that entries opened. Don't even leave it to Wednesday to download your form !

15. I would recommend this event because it's a really good challenge and you get a great feeling of satisfaction to have completed it. There's a good camaraderie among the riders. It's well organised, and despite it's popularity the event still has a local grass roots feel about it (as opposed to a corporate impersonal event). Fred Whitton's widow is usually there and is always happy to talk to the riders, thank them for coming and ask about how they found the event etc. And of course the scenery here is just stunning.

The 2011 event will take place on Sunday 8th May.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Wanna do the Gran Fondo Pinarello ?


I am meant to do a quick low-down on the cyclo sportives I do. I only managed to do one on the Tour of Flanders so far, so let me press on with others that I did this year - starting with the Pinarello event.

1. This is one of the few gran fondos in Italy where you have to enter in advance and state which distance you wish to ride.

2. There are slightly more people who do the full 200km course, than those that do the shorter 140km distance.

3. With around 4,000 entrants in 2007 this was the 4th largest Gran Fondo in Italy. (The Nove Colli, Maratona des Dolomites and GF Selle Italia had higher numbers.)

4. In 2007 this was the hottest event I rode - in fact the hottest cyclosportive ever - at 8am temperatures were around 20degrees - at midday when riding up to Nevegal ski station it was getting to 35 degrees !

5. You register (sign on/show your racing licence/pick up a generous goody bag) the day before. It is possible to do it on the morning of the event, though get there earlier as there are thousands of riders milling around and you may not get seen as quickly as you want.*
Also if you're in one of the front pens it may be a little difficult to reach your spot if you get delayed. Plus, with all the fanfare they have on stage prior to departure it would be a shame to miss that spectacle.

6. Competitors start in different pens - VIPs, elites and women are in the front pens - the remaining men are split into pens according to age group. Get there at least half an hour early so you can find your pen easily.
The pace is very fierce at the start with people squeezing through on all sides. Make sure you can hold your own in a bunch !

7. There are 5 feedstops - all are well stocked with food and energy drink + coca cola. The 5th feedstop is 20 miles from the end and only about 15 miles after the 4th feedstop - a bit excessive ?? When you see what you have to climb in between you'll be glad of that 5th feedstop !

8. Make sure your tyres are in good nick - there's a 3 mile section of unmade road (strada bianchi) on the ride up to Nevegal ski station.** There are good mechanical support services if you do need assistance.

9. The race HQ and start point in Treviso are easy to find - they are in Treviso town centre - near the Pinarello shop in fact !

10. There is nowhere to leave bags while you race so either leave home with just what you need (if you are cycling there) or leave the stuff in your car.

11. There is ample parking near the start in car parks that are on either side of the river.

12. Apparently there are showers - they were sign-posted but I didn't actually find them.

13. The post race meal is in a big marquee with a full sit-down area and a bar. I would normally have had a beer but after my 200km foray in blazing heat I was in no real state to take on alcohol !

14. Treviso itself is a nice town - abit overlooked with the more famous cities of Venice and Verona nearby, but I would recommend spending a day strolling around there. Also if you get the chance to do more riding in the area why not head northwards out towards the famous Monte Grappa climb.

15. Treviso has an airport just outside the town. Ryanair flies there from the UK. Venice is only about 20miles away too. We flew into Verona and hired a car - mainly because we wanted to visit the Veneto region. The motorway drive is about an hour - however when going in the Verona - Venice direction there's alot of summer holiday congestion getting through the exit toll booth at Mestre and we ended up getting into a 45min jam just to get off the motorway !

16. I'd recommend it because : it's a well organised event that is easy to get to. It's well sign posted, riders are well provided for during and after the race. The course is very pretty. The climbs are challenging enough but not horrendous. It's also a chance to pick up some stylish Pinarello stuff while you're over there !

* The 2008 edition will be on Sunday 20th July at 7am (long course)/7.30am (short course).
You pick up your race pack/timing chip/show your cycling licence on Saturday 19th July between 9am and 7pm at the race HQ. It isn't possible to do so on the day of the race.

** The 2008 edition will be on a revised course, in which the climb up to Nevegal will be on a different side to the 2007 edition. The new section will be undulating and will include a climb up to Rive di Valmorel and a tricky descent.
The horrible Montello climb 30km from the end will still be included though !

Maintenance - Ugh !!

Cyclo cross is to me as how some guys find their girlfriends - loads of fun, great to be involved with it, gives great highs - but boy is it high maintenance. You've gotta do the right thing at the specific moments otherwise before long you'll get nagging protesting noises and suddenly things go awry big time !

That's what happened to me last Sunday. I hadn't cleaned my bike properly after my previous muddy capers at Stanmer Park. So I paid for it at Herne Hill. A marshall helped me tighten the gear cable, but that did nothing to help my knackered jockey wheels or wonky derailleur. So my race proceeded with difficulty. Pedalling was hard work even before I hit the sticky muddy sections. The slipping gears didn't help matters any, and I continued to slip further and further down the field on my peers. In the end I couldn't go much further at any decent speed and so my race came to an abrupt end.

Thankfully those nice people at Condor Cycles were able to fix the problem quite quickly.
But why can't I maintain my bike ? I hear you say. The answer is I loathe cleaning and maintenance.
When racing cross you can easily spend more time cleaning the thing than actually riding. Where's the fun in that ?

A fellow cyclo cross rider commented on how, even though he had 2 bikes with him at the Stanmer Park race he preferred to soldier on with the one extremely muddy bike than swap it over to a more freely moving clean spare bike. The reason : he couldn't bear to spend hours on Monday cleaning two muddy bikes. Just to clean the one bike had taken him all morning - at least he has the luxury of being able to spend Monday morning cleaning bikes while the rest of us slave away at our desks !

OK - so I know it was a little bit naughty of me to not make any attempt to clean the bike, so I rightfully suffered the consequences. (I will clean my bike regularly in future.) However I must admit that beyond bike cleaning, inner tube changing and the odd lubing here and there I become a hopeless case - changing brake pads, adjusting headsets, indexing - you've lost me there - this is where I become such a girl !

I'll probably develop a bit of confidence to do these things myself once I'm in a sink or swim situation, but as long as I've got the likes of Condor Cycles, Sigma Sport, De Ver Cycles, Geoffrey Butlers and Pearsons etc to help out I'd prefer to support their businesses while at the same time being sure that I have parts that are in tip top condition when I race. The Herne Hill cyclo cross round was a bit unfortunate, but it's unlikely to happen again soon - afterall this is only my first dnf in 3 seasons of cross racing.

And who never knows - maintenance, like Guinness and Marmite may become an acquired taste over time.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The Hapless Rider - Post Script


Despite the severe weather warnings of gale force winds and heavy rain along the South Coast, Stan and I still made the trip down to Brighton to do the London League Cyclo Cross race at Stanmer Park.

I wasn't relishing riding in the pouring rain and I was still feeling a bit tired from my previous day's training. At least I had the cyclo cross bike though, as opposed to my trusty but rather heavy Rockhopper.

Usually I like to arrive at the races an hour before so I've got full preparation, warm-up and recce-ing time before the start. However on grotty days like this I'm quite happy to get there a little later as I can't be bothered hanging about in the cold and wet too long. I generally get everything done in one hit - all in under half an hour - out of the car in my kit, carrying the gear I need, ride up to the sign-on, warm up and start the race very soon afterwards.

Unfortunately, I mistimed things a little when I decided to go to the loo 5 minutes before the start. And for some strange reason in the signing-on hut, I busied myself folding up all my warm-down clothes into neat piles. (Hell, I don't even do that at home !)
Imagine my surprise when I looked up from what I'd been doing to see all the riders tearing off up the field and I wasn't even within reach of my bike. "I think they've started," someone very observantly pointed out ! Funnily enough I still didn't see that as an incentive to hurry up.

I just calmly and slowly took my bike and rode across the field to start my "race". Admittedly I did feel a bit silly riding across the start line a good minute after everyone had left, and they'd already rounded the bend and were at the top of the hill !

At moments like this you end up just riding like you've got nothing to lose. There's no real tactic that enters your mind - you just turn the pedals and do what you can as fast as you can. The terrain was so muddy - it was like riding through brown rice pudding. On the first run-up my bike got clogged up to the point I could no longer wheel it. Unclogging it cost me more time. I wanted to pack. But hey, I'd paid my money. Also the car was locked so if I stopped now I would only have ended up standing around getting cold. So riding around getting very muddy was the least worst option. So on I continued squelching up the field, through the trees, and then down again.

I also figured that to avoid getting the bike clogged it would be essential to carry the bike on all the muddy run-ups. Not an easy task as the bike was probably 50% heavier with all the mud it had collected, and I was having to use my dodgy arm. Then when I thought things were already pretty bad I got caught in a really strong gust, on one of the most exposed parts of the course. I was almost blown over !

Then a point comes when your character comes out and you decide you're gonna soldier on. Someone up there is taking the piss (almost literally) and you've had enough. You're not having anymore of it and you're gonna stand up and be counted ! The terrain went from sticky to treacherous, with many people taking a tumble. I slid and dabbed my way through a number of very dicey sections - especially where traction with the wheel was practically inexistent. I was determined to finish. And on this day finishing the race at all would be an achievement in itself.


So that's what I did - I managed to finish. And on top of that, by some miracle I didn't come last. My diligent pedal spinning managed to get me past a few people, and I ended up doing not such a shameful ride in the end ! My bike might have been unrecognisable in all the mud, but hey - I think things just got better !


photos by Phil Jones (Dulwich Paragon) and Stanley

Friday, 30 November 2007

London League ??

You may have gathered that the bulk of my cyclo cross races form part of the London League. However, of the 18 races, including the team championships only 2 of them are actually being held in London (2 rounds at Herne Hill Velodrome and 1 at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit). Fair enough, it wouldn't be very practical to hold a cyclo cross race in Hyde Park, and gaining permission to race in the Royal Parks is not an easy task. But what's the deal with organising events in deepest Kent and Sussex ?? The last 2 rounds we've done were along the Sussex coast - almost 50 miles away - and we'll be back on the coast again next week when we race at Stanmer Park, Brighton. Even the round held at Lydden Hill, nr Dover was actually nearer to France than London !!

Don't get me wrong - some of the venues are quite nice and I still appreciate the effort that organisers put into staging an event. What irks me though is the fact that this is called the "London League" and yet we race nowhere near London. It's not doing what it says on the tin. In fact the South East Regional Championships are being held in.......Fakenham, North Norfolk. My schoolgirl geography tells me that's Eastern England - about a 3 hour drive away. Why the hell are they being held up there ?? Naturally many London based cyclists have voted with their feet (or even their wheels) and won't be making the trip up there.

Ok just ranting 'cos I'm having a bad day, feeling tired and not relishing the whole of yet another Sunday being taken up going to do a race I can only hallucinate about winning !

Still, I'm really happy to have the chance to race in the league, and this year in particular there's been a good group of women getting out regularly - so whatever it's called the London League must be doing something right. At the end of the day who cares what we call it !

Cyclo Cross Round Up - The Hapless Rider !

The last couple of London League rounds have been in Sussex. I don't ride there very often so didn't really know what to expect. What I did notice was how hilly the courses were - just at a time when I was distinctly disadvantaged !

STANMER PARK
This was a bit of an ordeal. Having fallen and badly hurt my arm the previous day I was not in a position to ride particularly strongly. In fact I was unable to hold the bars of my cyclo cross bike so ended up using the mountain bike. So a painful arm and a chunkier bike which did not compare with the slick machines of my fellow competitors was never going to bode well. Still, I wanted to give it my best shot, hence I showed up at the start line.

The warm up had been a very hot affair, given the hill and the fact that I was still in my warm up gear. Realising that I was going to have to work harder than the other women just to keep level with anyone I decided to remove my long sleeves and race in fingerless gloves to reduce any risk of overheating during the race.
After 3 laps my arms were freezing, my fingers were even colder, and the brisk cold wind brought with it a blast of driving rain and sleet. By the end of the race my fingers were shivering so much that I couldn't operate the gears. Mistake number one.


I took it easy going up the hill on the early laps and spun a low gear, thinking that although I was at the back, as the race progressed I would eventually catch someone whose fuel level would have run low. No one got tired, in fact the wind probably whipped riders up into an even speedier frenzy just to keep warm !! I only began to put in more effort on the penultimate lap, but it was too late by then. Mistake number two.

I wore my pink kit for this race on the premise that if I couldn't win, at least I could look stylish. I even lost out there ! The ladies' winner, Jenn Hopkins was not only the fastest, but in her Minx-Girl colourful skort and jersey suit she definitely looked the most stylish.

Immediately I crossed the line I dashed back to the car to thaw out and put the race the behind me.


LANCING MANOR LEISURE CENTRE
My arm was slightly better for this one, but still not recovered enough for me to use the cross bike. I was resigned to taking the mountain bike again, but more resigned to not making the same mistakes as before. I'd dress appropriately, set off hard, and just wear my no-frills blue kit.

The weather was incredibly mild for November, so I just wore shorts and my short-sleeved jersey. I know I got that bit right. The hill was so much steeper, and longer than at Stanmer Park. But I wasn't afraid - I was going to power myself up it - ride my first lap like it's my last, really develop a killer instinct, ride like an animal etc. etc.

Immediately the whistle was blown the hard work began. Straight up a long steep hill. I powered along, a fellow competitor shouting at me "spin, woman, change down!"
I just ground away on a hard gear. My quads were burning, but I didn't mind because I was in a bunch. However, the downhill that we eventually got was not much of a reward for me. It twisted very technically through the trees, and the wood chippings made it rather slippery. In fact I found it rather frightening. I soldiered on nevertheless, with my rivals right on my tail. As soon as we hit the more open descents they overtook me. The numerous false flats really drained the energy out of my legs, and I began to pay for the mistake I'd made with my gearing early on in the race.

Still, I was determined to catch my rivals even as they sailed past me and I steadily drifted backwards. But alas, my pedalling became more laboured as I began to suffer from general fatigue. When I realised I was too tired to be able to control my bike on the tricky descents I started pulling into the side to allow faster riders (practically the whole of the field) to get past me. Naturally I lost even more time on my fellow competitors and waved goodbye to any chance of moving up the women's rankings. A couple of people fell, including one guy who had a nasty collision with a tree stump. In spite of that I was still unable to catch anyone.

Finally, I decided to change down to a low gear and just easy-spin my way round. That gave me time to recover, and on the last lap I even managed to overtake a 60-year-old man I'd been sparring with throughout the race ! I'm not sure if that was meant to make me feel better.

Ok, so two races in which I tried different approaches - neither of which worked. But it's all in the learning as they say.
This weekend we'll be back at Stanmer Park, and I shall be on my cross bike. Hurrah ! Who knows, I might be more fortunate next time around.


Photos by Kevin Knox and Joanne Upton

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Thanks !

I know I'm not from the right side of the pond to be tucking into roast turkey and celebrating Thanksgiving, but I thought I'd just still put in a word to show my appreciation of the good guys in local cycling.

So thanks to all the guys who give up their time to promote cycling in London and the South-East; who work tirelessly to arrange venues and funds to promote the various races and leagues - Herne Hill, South Circuit, Cyclo cross, Surrey League, Crystal Palace, Hillingdon, Beastway, plus many others; thanks to all those around who have given me encouragement and training, plus the teams and clubs that have trusted me to don their jerseys without embarrassing them in the races !Toks Adesanya, Abigail Armstrong, Janet Birkmyre, Charlotte Blackman, Judith Bonner, Hannah Bussey, Bill Butterworth, Maurice Burton, Keith Butler, Peter Cattermole, Phil Cavell, George Clare, Tim Coales, Doug Collins, Tamar Collis, Dave Creasy, Jo Denman, Jake Dodd, Rohan Dubash, Glyn Durrant, Helen and Steve Ellis, Marco Faimali, Jo Foster, Sylvain Garde, Geraldine Glowinski, Lois Gosnay, Florence Hallett, Nicky Hughes, David Jack, Kimberley Kabatoff, Keith Knight, Sue and Tim Knight, John Leitch, Ben Lockwood, David Lombari, Hanna Mayhew, Jon Miles, Jen Mitchell, Andrew “Monty" Mongomery, Mosquito Bikes, John Mullineaux, Eddie Mundy, Phil Nash, Alex P, William and Guy Pearson, Sophie Perez, Melanie Prentice, Chris Reed, Bob Ruszkowski, Dennis Sackett, Dudley Samuels, Lisa and Chris Scarlett, Doug “Snoop Doug” Shaw, Chrystelle Sheldon, Belinda Sinclair, Joyce Smith, Warwick Spence, Stanley, Bryan Taylor, Jackie Townsend, Paul Tunnell, USE seatposts, Corrine and Steve White, Nicola Wadham, Chris Watts, Keith Wawman, Whitton Timber, Huw Williams, Mel Williams, Eddie Wingrave, Emma Wood, Richard Wood, Susan Wood, Paul Wright, plus many others.
And long may cyclesport continue !

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Autumn in my Manor

I'm not werking - I've broke me arm - can't ride me bike - it's all cold an' wet - by 'eck it's grim down south !

Still, I'm glad I captured some images from that sunny by-gone era - last week at Crystal Palace.




Monday, 19 November 2007

Aaagh ! This is not what I need !!

I finally made it out on an off-road ride with Stanley last Saturday. It was a nice sunny morning, and I was enjoying the trails - especially as I could see an improvement in my efforts (cross racing must be helping).

However, what should've been a 4 hour ride was brought to an abrupt end after an hour and a half. I took a tumble on a chalky descent, just before Box Hill, at Juniper Hall. It wasn't the impact of the fall itself that did the damage, but the impact of my arm hitting the frame of my bike as I went down.
Normally when I go down I get up pretty quickly afterwards. But at that moment I sat for a few minutes clutching my elbow. Stanley had to wheel my bike down the rest of the slope while I walked.
The pain was too much for me to be able to operate the gears and brakes of my cross bike so we headed back by train.

We then spent Saturday afternoon at St Helier's Hospital A&E. Diagnosis is a suspected fractured radial head (though X-rays aren't conclusive).

Whatever it is, I can't do full activities as before for at least the next month. Right now, it's too painful to ride the cross bike, and the road bike will throw up the same problem, as the levers are operated in the same way.
I can use the mountain bike (which is what I used at the cyclo cross race yesterday). The last remaining cycling option is the track bike - no brakes to operate so no problem - as long as I don't fall on that arm ! I am due to go to Calshot next week. We'll see how my arm feels then.

It's all very annoying really. My cold had kept me out of full action over the previous two weeks, and Saturday was the first day I felt healthy while riding. Ironically I chose to ride the trails so as to avoid the risk of falling on the icy roads ! Sods law eh. Ooh it's so frustrating !

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Reed Court Farm - bumpy furrows suitable for all !

Reed Court Farm played host to Round 7 of the London Cyclocross League last Sunday. Last year was the first time this event was being staged here. My recollections of the event then were firstly of how technically easy the course was, and secondly the difficulty of finding the venue - which probably led to the unfortunate incident in which Jody Crawforth (Evans RT) leading the pack, collided head-on with a belated rider, Rebecca Stubbs (CC Giro) while she was hurrying to the start.

This time I was a little more familiar with the route to get there, even if I was still a little short on time. The organisers had changed the lay-out to avoid a collision (though not all were convinced this was an improvement on last year). Jody Crawforth was there again with his Evans team mates, though Rebecca wasn't. As for the course - well, it hadn't changed, but something had changed in me.

With a course that essentially ran around the perimeter of farm fields plus a few tight switchbacks through the odd bit of woodland, this made for something largely untechnical. In fact, last year I found it a joy to ride - no worries about riding up steep banks or tackling fearsome descents. Nothing especially muddy - even the single-track was pretty wide. So really there was nothing to it - just a bumpy Sunday ride around the fields. Great course for any beginner.

However, what made the difference for me this year was that I actually raced it. My mountain bike had been swapped for a cross bike, my smiley face was replaced by a grimace - ready for fierce competition - as I powered my way around the course on the big ring. My pulse rate was close to the red most of the way round, and all my faculties were channeled into riding as fast as I could - no senses to do much else. That will explain why I was thrown off my bike in the start/finish area after failing to see the muddy mound, and the bike suddenly skidded. The medics wanted to stop me and check that I was okay, but in those states it's difficult to stop anyone when they are forging ahead with a one-track mind !

At the end of the race my lungs were burning and I was coughing and panting for several minutes afterwards. I began to realise what people meant when they'd been saying last year that this was a hard course. It's not just how technical a course is that makes it hard. It's also down to how energy sapping it is. Riding over dried bumpy furrows at speed, at times with a head wind to contend with, and negotiating an uphill drag is extremely taxing. The body burns calories upon calories just rolling over every bump and keeping a smooth action on a fast moving bicycle. What the course doesn't request of you in technical know-how, it more than demands from you in speed and power ! And I was glad to have taken on this challenge.

On balance, this is more my type of course, and the result showed this as I crossed the line right behind Katharine Mason (Sussex Nomads) who is normally streets ahead of me.
I would still say that this is a good course for beginners as it isn't technical and the paths are wide enough to allow for easy overtaking by the lead riders.


The rankings have not been published yet, but it'll be no surprise to see Nicky Hughes (Activ Cycles) as the league leader. I might be in second place, but it'll be by a long way - I don't think Nicky will be troubled !
Still, it's good to have a standard to aim for.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Why I don't like Autumn - bugs, bugs and bugs

Bloody hell I've got this virus that won't go away !!

It cursed me for the hill climbs, so I had to miss those. I thought I was better when I did the Penshurst cyclo cross, but I realised it still had a hold on me. I've managed to get myself out for a couple of other cyclo cross races but this bug won't fully leave me alone. It still insists on making it's mark on me.

Hence I wasn't able to ride last Saturday, I spluttered my way round Reed Court Farm, and I've been coughing around since. The bug even has the audacity to play tricks on me. Just when I think it's gone I start to train in earnest, and then the bugger rears its ugly head and revisits me !! So with all this extra activity I've done while the virus was still hiding, I've ended up wearing myself down even more, meaning that it takes twice as long to get better ! It won't be surprising if I end up with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Okay, so it's only November and my first road race won't be for another 3 months, but time flies. November marches on quickly, then you wind down for Christmas and it's all mince pies and turkey, then it's the slow burn to get off the calories in January. Then bang, before you know it your first road race is in 2 weeks and you are completely underconditioned !

And autumn is when it all begins - it's in October, when there's talk of this "bug that's going round". An over-dedicated office worker who's keen to get a decent end-of-year appraisal turns up for work while feeling under the weather. Spreads it around his office, someone else spreads it around another office, then round their home, among friends and family etc and the story goes.
Meanwhile all us amateur cyclists have to try and stay fit and well. Actually, it's not about staying fit - it's staying well that is the challenge. A real exercise in infection management ! And that's what I don't like about autumn.

Why I like Autumn


When the trees their summer splendor
Change to raiment red and gold,
When the summer moon turns mellow,
And the nights are getting cold;
When the squirrels hide their acorns,
And the woodchucks disappear;
Then we know that it is autumn,
Loveliest season of the year.

Autumn
by Charlotte L.Riser


Okay, not that I can put it as eloquently as Charlotte, but I certainly agree that autumn is the loveliest season of the year.

In my current situation of temporarily being a "lady of leisure" I get time in the middle of the day to go out for a quick spin.

There's nothing nicer than being out on my bike rolling through the lanes around the North Downs on a crisp, sunny autumn day. I love the section where I cross Skid Hill (West Wickham) and go out towards Hessiers Hill. On the left there's a great view of the lane that I'm shortly to take, plunging down towards Beddlestead. On either side of the lane are farmers fields, glowing in the autumn sunshine. The landscape is bordered by trees with leaves of various shades of green, brown, gold and yellow.

It may be a working day, but not much happens in these lanes - there's barely any traffic, and it's possible to ride this 3 mile stretch without seeing a single car. There's just my trusty steed and me, with the squirrels and the birds for company.

The sight and sound of the traffic to Westerham marks the end of the peaceful climb up through Beddlestead. But even though I end up on a fast B road the ride still feels pleasant - just the sight of the oak and sycamore trees around, with the sun smiling down on me makes me feel good. At this point I usually see and greet other club cyclists who are zooming past on this fast stretch of road. I'm not the only one who likes to make the most of these autumn afternoons !

I don't stay on the fast downhill stretch for long as I shoot up Church Hill and head off towards Tatsfield. Another part which I enjoy - the road may show more signs of life - houses, farm buildings, a community hall etc. but it still has a very peaceful feel about it. It is narrow and twisty, but not many cars take this route so I can really make the most of the riding experience. I spin through the lanes at speed under the watchful eye of the horse chestnut trees that surround me on this less exposed section. My route is lined with leaves of gold, brown, yellow and green all along the wayside. As I continue, more leaves are blown along the way, some quite close to my face - almost like bunting marking my arrival !
Well, it is at moments like these that I want to celebrate the beauty of nature. If only all my bike rides could be like this.

Once I get home I feel glad to have been out and made the most of such a beautiful afternoon. Fingers crossed there can be more rides like this before the really cold damp stuff sets in.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Cyclo cross weekend roundup

Last weekend was a good weekend for cross - with the Herne Hill race on Saturday and the Inter-Area team champs on Sunday I ended up getting a double fix of the muddy stuff.

Although we were into November, conditions were really mild. The sun shone and in fact my bike didn't collect much mud at all. More mud was collected at one race in Penshurst Off Road Circuit in October than in these two races on the first weekend of November !

Saturday's Herne Hill race was fun and well organised. It was a nice low key event being held just down the hill from me. It's always good to be able to ride over to your race an hour before. I actually did the race on my mountain bike as I wanted to save the cross bike for the important Inter-Area champs the following day. Also the race was more about me practicing my bike handling skills than about doing anything speedy.
Julene, a rookie to cyclo cross, from Dulwich Paragon beat me convincingly. She rode really well. It would be easy for me to say I was just on a mountain bike and not really pushing myself. However, to be honest there's no guarantee that I'd have been faster than her if I'd ridden at race pace. With a high ranking league rider for a husband, she'll be getting some good training from him. I'd better watch out when we do Reed Court Farm this Sunday !

Sunday was a more formal affair. We had an early start in order to get up to the stately surroundings of Misterton Hall (Leicestershire) for our lunchtime race.
With big hitters in the shape of Rebecca Thompson (Evans RT) and Nicky Hughes (Folkactiv Cycles) our London team looked very competitive. Emma Wood (London Phoenix) was our third counting rider, and I was fourth on the gridding, acting as the sweeper in case one of our top 3 counting riders dnf'd. It was good to know there wouldn't be any real pressure on me during the race, but I was still determined to race as fast as possible.
My limiting factor in cyclo cross races comes down to how technical the course is, and how quickly I can dismount and re-mount my bike.

Reccing the course, I was relieved to see that it was 100% rideable - not even any planks or steep run-ups to contend with. I bet some would've found it disappointing ! Stanley had lent me his mud tyres, so even the sticky sections were okay for me. The main difficulty for me was the sharp left hand turn at the bottom of a descent, and over some rocks. It's funny how the very things I want to avoid are the objects that I end up focusing on and tripping myself up on - story of my life !

Still, immediately the gun sounded I and my team-mates raced our hearts out for the London Team. It wasn't a massively technical course, but the undulations and sticky muddy sections made it hard work. Rebecca came 2nd - pipped at the post by Isla Rowntree (West Midlands), Nicky came 11th, Emma was 20th. The day ended well with us being awarded 3rd spot and getting photographed on the podium in our medals. We went home happy.

But then Monday, was the real anti-climax. We then read in the race reports that we had been nudged off the podium by Eastern Region who had apparently had their riders finish 8th, 10th and 12th. And even worse for me - I didn't even get a result. I had a big DNF after my name. I know I wasn't a counting rider, but I still wanted to see where I finished in the field and what my lap times were. After a couple of plaintive emails I was awarded 22nd place. I won't ever know my lap scores. We'd been hoping to be re-instated to 3rd place, but the maths won't allow that. Still, we've got medals so our day wasn't completely wasted !

Thanks to Emma for getting us all together, and co-ordinating a great day out for us. Thanks to Neil S for driving us up there, and thanks to John Mullineaux for providing us with our stylish London Cyclesport T-shirts. We'll do our best to get a real podium place next year.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

WAGS and cycling !

"I tried cycling in Spain but maybe my bum's too small as it just wasn't comfortable." Victoria Beckham.

"I appreciate Sheryl as a cyclist’s girlfriend, given that she will do laundry and cook food, and do all of the things that wives or girlfriends do." Lance Armstrong on Sheryl Crow (in 2005).

*********************************************


Her : Do you have to go off and do that race - I've been rushed off my feet here with the kids - can't you do your bit ?

Him : I thought we agreed, I'll have the kids Saturday so I can have my pass for today. You were out shopping yesterday. Didn't you get some new shoes and a Karen Millen dress ?

Her: Yeah, shopping for the essentials. It was hardly fun stuff.

Him: I promise I'll be back as soon as the race finishes. I won't hang around.

Her: Umph ! That's what you always say. Well make sure when you get back you're not bringing any grubby wheels or bike bits in the house. I'm doing a big clean-up today.

Him: Enjoy your morning - he kisses her. (When his back's turned he raises his eyes to the ceiling and shakes his head.)

Her: Good luck in your race - she kisses him. (As she turns towards the washing machine she raises her eyes to the ceiling and shakes her head.)

**********************************************


Her: Shall we go out for a drink tonight ?

Him: I'm a bit tired, love. Can we do it another time ?

Her: Well, it is Friday night. I don't want another night in.

Him: Yeah, but we've gotta be up early tomorrow. I'm racing.

Her: Racing, racing, why do you bother. You never win, you're more likely to crash and either damage your bike or yourself or both.

Him: Cheers, thanks for your support !

Her: Well, what about me ? I'm the one who has to stand around in the cold and rain while you race round a boring circuit or round a muddy field out in the styx. What about support for me. D'you ever come an watch me at my dance classes ?

Him: Well, I would if they were on any other night. Tuesdays is chain gang night. I can't miss that !

************************************************


Her: Wasn't it great that we rode along the sea front together. And the view across the Riviera was lovely.

Him: Yeah, it was cool. ("I wish I'd ridden over the col d'Eze", he thinks to himself.)

Her: And I really like this bike. The saddle's nice and wide for extra comfort, and the handle bars are high so I feel safe and don't strain my back. This 20km/h speed limit's really sensible. Why would you want to ride much faster ?

Him: Yes, of course - the bike suits you. 20km/h, I was just thinking the same myself. (Pause.) But if we got you a road bike and we went round the Corniche further inland you'd be able to go a bit faster, and it would improve your cycling.

Her: But why would I want to do that ? I quite like my hybrid. The Corniche is hilly, I'd need all day to get up there. We're on holiday. What's wrong with going at a leisurely pace ?

Him: Nothing, nothing at all. A leisurely pace is good fun ! ("I could've done the last stage of Paris-Nice today. Bl**dy hell, all that lost training time !" he thinks to himself)

*************************************************


Him: Can't you ride any faster ? I thought you wanted to do a training ride.

Her: This is my training pace - I've got 21mile/hour on my computer.

Him: This road slopes downhill.

Her: I've got 165 on my heart rate monitor.

Him: I thought you said you're going well. I'm not going that fast. In fact I thought by riding at my recovery pace that would be ok for you. I didn't think we'd be riding this slow !

Her: Come on, that's not fair. My bike's heavier than yours anyway.

Him: You could've made it easier for yourself and brought the one you race with.

Her: Why would I do that ? This is a training ride, so I'm use my training bike.
Give me a break - you're meant to be coaching me not nagging me.

Him: I am coaching you. Ride with me with your lighter bike and spin your legs faster that'll give you half a chance of keeping up.

Her: Excuse me, my cadence is fine. Stop making assumptions. Even with my lightest bike I'd find it tough. You're meant to encourage, not criticise. I think it's best if I get my coaching elsewhere.

Him: And maybe we should do our own separate training rides too !

************************************************


Her: How was your race ?

Him: Oh, I nearly got in the points. I got into a 4 man break early on in the race; we managed to stay away, but then we were caught with 5 laps to go. Then 7 riders went off the front in the last 2 laps, I was blocked in and missed the break. I had to work hard to keep with the bunch, I was knackered. Still, I managed to win the sprint for 14th place !

Her: Well done. (Pause). I enjoyed my race too.

Him: Oh yeah. (Pause)

Her: I got 4th.

Him: Well done; but there were only 5 or 6 women weren't there ?

Her: No, there were 45 actually, and I was racing against all categories, including elites and first cats.

Him: Well, it's always easier for women though - negative racing. No one does anything for most of the race, then it just comes down to the final sprint.

Her: Thanks for the congrats ! You never take my stuff seriously. (She storms off.)

***********************************************
Apparently there is a happy medium somewhere in all this !

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud - Classic Cross !


So today was the first "real" cyclo cross race. By that I mean, the first race where it's damp and there's loads of mud. The riders battle through the elements caked in the stuff - just like in the classic pictures of cyclo cross riders in Belgium.

It was my first outing on the bike since my bout of flu, so wasn't expecting to do anything special. I was just happy to get in a good work-out.

I hadn't expected conditions to be so challenging, and with the amount of mud there was, I am surprised I didn't get into more trouble - like falling over in the really gloupy sections, getting my bike clogged up, or even snapping my chain - something that happened to quite a few people - including Stan.

The course at the purpose-built Penshurst Off Road Circuit, often criticised by cross riders in the past for being too geared towards mountain-biking, had been specially adapted for the London League round. This year (and last year) it was set up as fast and only mildly technical to make for an exciting race.
Last year the race was held in sunny conditions with the route being 100% rideable. However, this year, in the rain, the course became a sliding around match !
Ironically, the turn-out was still pretty high.

Maybe it's a sign that riders do find the whole mud thing quite a draw. Why would you do a cyclo cross race in warm sunny conditions, when you could opt for the tough option ?! The race then becomes even more about strength of mind and stain power, than about cycling ability speed, and not minding skidding off course into the good old brown stuff. These added dimension makes for a much more exciting contest. I get a real sense of achievement when I complete such races. I've pushed myself that bit further, and I'm glad I made it through.

By the time today's hour long race was over my bike and I were a muddy mess, I was ready to keel over, and I had developed an acquired taste for mud ! It had been great to have so many people cheering and shouting me on as I hauled my frame round the course, and I was happy with my efforts (even if I let a schoolgirl pip me to the line right in the last metre).

I don't know if I would want to do races as muddy as this every week. It can very quickly wear down the, bike mechs, brakes and wheel rims. It's also hard work for the washing machine !

But it is good to do a real muddy, sodden affair of a cyclo cross race every now and again - just to really test yourself, to get a taste of the real classic cross stuff - just like it is for our neighbours in northern France, and Belgium.
Thanks to Addiscombe CC (the promoting club) for arranging that for us today !


photos by Sylvain Garde and Cyclingnews.com

Monday, 22 October 2007

All trained up but nowhere to go !

I woke up on Sunday morning feeling even rougher than I'd felt during the previous days - banging headache, dizziness, tight chest, sore throat. No hill climbing for me then.
Even the short walk out to see off Stanley and to pick up some Lemsip left me feeling completely wiped out.

It was a real shame to not be able to take part in the hill climbs. With the numbers of people lined up along the road - around 700, it was a real festival of cycling - not just a painfest for the masochistic riders !
A former cyclist colleague of mine that I hadn't seen for a long time had happened to turn up to watch, and excitedly left a message on my phone : "Great to see your name on the start sheet. I'll give you a big cheer when you go by !" Oh, bummer ! There were lots of people - many I would have loved to hook up with - once I'd undergone my excruciating couple of minutes. But there I was, lying at home, a feverish wreck !

The Catford Hill climb, on Yorks Hill drew record crowds and had a record entry. The Bec Hill Climb, with it's very encticing £1,000 for the winner and £900 for the winning team, attracted a record number elite riders. So it wasn't a big surprise to see the 12 year old record time broken.

Daniel Fleeman (Blue Sky Cycles) made a very tidy earning that day - on top of his £200 for breaking the record, he got the grand for winning, the £900 for being in the winning team, £300 for winning the Catford hill climb in the morning, and more money for being in the winning team there too. Not bad for 3.5 minutes' work !

The lady's winning time was quite impressive too - Kim Hurst (Agiskoviner) recorded 2mins 41 on Yorks Hill (700 yards/12.5%), and an impressive 2mins 36 on White Lane (600yards/15%) - 10 to 15 seconds faster than previous winning times.

Maybe I should be glad I didn't go as I might have finished embarrassingly slowly.
But in the eyes of the spectators anyone who turns up and has a go is a winner - including the Lanterne Rouge.

The riders describe it as an amazing experience. The climb is excruciatingly painful. Your lungs are bursting, your head is hurting, you feel sick - but the shouts from the crowd really spur you to keep going. When you look ahead all you see is a wall of people, and you wonder how you're going to get through. Thankfully they do clear a path for you as you approach them. It's better to focus on the tarmac, avoid the anxiety of not seeing the road ahead, and feed off the the up-close-and-personal spectators shouting in your ears. It's real Tour de France stuff. When you finish you feel dizzy and you just want to keel over - but you're glad you've done it !
These are the words of different riders who had a go.

I felt really disappointed to have not been able to make it, and kept pestering Stanley to know every blow by blow detail of how the day went. He was sweet enough to oblige, even though I was trying his patience !

Anyway, I'm definitely going to do both climbs next year - touch wood that I won't be ill two years on the trot.



Photos By:
Stanley
Paul Churchill (www.paulchurchill.co.uk/info@paulchurchilll.co.uk)
John Mullineaux (londoncyclesport.com)

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Hill Climbs ? Oh, something's bugging me !

I've got the hill climbs tomorrow. It sounded a great idea at the time when I sent my entry off for the Bec and the Catford CC Hill climbs.

The chance to take part in a challenge with all the South London bike afionados out cheering and shouting you on, like in a Tour de France mountain stage. All the atmosphere and the camaraderie that develops among kindred suffering souls who brave the slopes.
It was also a chance to measure myself up and see how the hill reps, the road racing and the cyclosportives and cyclo cross have helped this year.

I had planned to trained up for this - but now the dreaded bug has hit me and I've been unable to do anything much for the last few days.

Stan and I did a mini ride up Yorks Hill (Catford Hill Climb) and White Lane/Titsey Hill (Bec Hill climb) yesterday. I was convinced that my symptoms were above the neck so no risk to my lungs. I just wrapped myself up with double the amount of layers and had a go at each climb. The lungs were ok but I had nothing in my legs, and I was very out of breath even though I hadn't allow myself to go into the red. But if you're ill there's no point.

After 2 ascents of Yorks Hill and 1 and a half of White Lane at snail-sprint pace we called it day. There was no point in wrecking myself any further. The damage may have already been done, as my chest was hurting during yesterday evening and I was in a real panic thinking I have contracted chronic fatigue syndrome.


Today I don't feel too bad, but then I've only been walking - between living room, kitchen, dining room. I've no idea how my body will bear up tomorrow going over the 25% ramps and the 12.5% average gradients over 600metres. The distances don't sound that long - but you are meant to sprint up them ! The fast boys take around 1min 50. At this rate I am likely to take well over 4 minutes - which will put me in pole position for the Lanterne Rouge! Well at least I'll get £10 for my trouble !

We'll see how it goes.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Parisians and Cycling - Post Script

The Velib system has been put to the test over the last 24 hours as Parisians endured the worst public transport strike since 1995. Neither the Metro, the trains nor the buses were in operation.

JC Decaux, the company that sponsors the community bike-share scheme took on extra staff to man the helplines as demand for bicycles reached capacity.
Some crafty commuters reserved their bicycles the night before the strike, and were willing to pay £45 for the convenience of it. Some tried the more unofficial reservation method - padlocking their chosen bike at the station. Most just set off extra early and braved the queues for a bike. For many this was their first outing on a bicycle for many years - but as long as there was a means of getting to work people were willing to try it. JC Decaux recorded 135,000 rentals of Velib yesterday - double the usual amount.

In the end people seemed to manage - even if it meant having to travel to a station further afield to find a bicycle, or to return a bicycle.
Given the culture of striking that you get in France we just have to hope that the employees who run Velib don't go on strike now !

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Parisians and Cycling

Over the years I have been on numerous cycling trips to France, and I feel comfortable about spending several hours in the saddle and riding up mountain passes. One thing I have never done is to cycle around Paris, even though I've been there so many times and I even lived there for four years at one point. So, why should I want to ? You might ask. Haphazard drivers; going on a suicide mission on those scary roundabouts at Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe; no where to park the bike - when you leave it somewhere you'd be lucky to find it still in one piece on your return - if it hasn't been stolen; and how the hell are you gonna hoist it into your flat on the 6th floor sans ascenseur ??

In those days when I lived there - 15 years ago - traffic wasn't anything as heavy as it is now, and there were some very pleasant places I could've ridden; paths along the River Seine; the wide Boulevard St Germain east towards the Latin Quarter; over the bridge into the bohemian 11th and 12th arrondissments - finally reaching the scenic green areas of the Bois de Vincennes.
I was always quite sporty. I even had friends who cycled around, but it never occurred to me to take to the streets on two wheels.

The good news is, cycling around Paris just got easy. Since mid-July there's been a bike share scheme in place known as Velib. You pay a fee and a deposit to register for a day, a week or a year. You receive a card, and then you pick a bike. After your ride you pay in an automated machine. It's not very expensive. The first half hour is free, after which it can be from 1 euro to 5 euros an hour. For rentals of more than 5 hours the rate increases quite alot, as the system is devised for making short commuting trips around the city rather doing club runs !

This is not a brand new scheme. It had already been in place in other European cities, including Copenhagen, Barcelona, and even in Lyon. But it is the scale of the operation that is the talking point. Velib is the biggest community bike-share scheme in the world - almost 15,000 bikes across 1000 Velib pick-up and drop-off stations. The plan is to have 20,000 bikes by the end of the year.

The principle of this "free biking" has been well received, with thousands taking to two wheels. However, there have been some drawbacks. Certain drop-off stations, notably at shopping areas and near large office blocks become overcrowded with bicycles so users are obliged to travel to find space in another drop off station. Other stations, notably the ones outside tube stops in hilly areas like Montmatre are often devoid of bicycles as users will cycle downhill. Most people are unlikely to ride uphill to drop off their bike. Also, with the sudden increase in numbers of folks cycling around the Paris streets some people get very frustrated with certain cyclists who jump red lights or mount the pavement. Needless to say 4x4's hate anything two wheeled on the road - the droves of cyclists is a nightmare for them !
These teething problems are being addressed, and luckily Paris has a scenic cycle path network using canal and river paths.

Whatever, your opinion, Velib has been real phenomenum in Paris this year, and apparently may even have assured the Mayor's re-election next year !
Sting and The Police, when they recently received an honour from the Minister for Culture, chose to travel there by Velib.

There is an official velib.fr website, and a blog to give you all the tips and advice you need.

And, if you're looking to make new friends, forget about Facebook, Friends Reunited or speed-dating. Just hang around a Velib station and act like you're not sure how things work - very quickly someone will come up and help you out. Who knows, you may even get into conversation about the different types of subscriptions available, and which Velib station has the best bikes etc.....

So I will certainly be getting on a bike the next time I'm in Paris - it's something I could have done years ago. Better late than never eh !

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

No Cake for me !!



The good news is we supported the Ibbo Cake Quest - we made a donation. The bad news is I didn't get to do the ride. Stan was not well over the weekend so I had to be his Florence Nightingale !

I hear the ride was a success, with many enjoying a good day in the saddle - as Rohan, friend and fellow Fit-For team member of John's wrote :

"Something in the region of 150 riders took part in this fund raising event which aims to support two young hopefuls in their first year placed with a club in Northern France…

The weather was very kind to all starters with an early mist that hung around in several places, gradually burning off to reveal Surrey bathed in sunshine and glowing with stunning hues of amber leaves hanging on until the winds arrive with winter.
Riders were signed out in small groups at 5 minute intervals and were offered one of a range of small laminated pictures of Ibbo in action during his racing career or just stuffing his face at some cafĂ© or other. These were tied to everyone’s bike before departure. A poignant reminder of why everyone was there…

Starting at the local village hall in Walton on the hill Surrey four different routes took riders of all abilities round some of the most scenic roads the area has to offer. The courses were all devised by Keith Butler, the man behind the Surrey League, and gave everyone a taste of John’s old stomping grounds and inevitably a couple of his favourite cake stops.

Upon return everyone was greeted with a warm welcome and awarded a medal before tucking in to a range of homemade cakes together with fresh rolls made while you wait and as much tea and coffee as you could drink. Even Mcvities had made a gesture of support and provided a pile of Jaffa cakes to keep hunger at bay…

The first “Ibbo’s Cake Quest” was certainly a success........... there is every intention to run this event annually."

I eventually did get a bit of time in the saddle when I did the cyclo cross race in the afternoon. It was nice to get some time in the saddle in the autumn sunshine, but it wasn't quite the same thing.
I must make sure I get to the next Ibbo Cake Quest.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Confidence - don't leave home without it !

So my run of wins finished. Two wins in a row at the cyclo cross races - Strood, then Hillingdon. But then the curse of Deers Leap Park reared its ugly head and tripped me up - literally !

Deers Leap is one of those course you either love or hate. As cyclo cross courses go it is fast, but not flat - lots of ups, downs, twists and turns. It's the cyclo cross equivalent of Crystal Palace road race circuit - a rollercoaster ride. Many people love it.
Mind you, the first round held there last season became a complete mudbath as the heavens opened. The second round held there was in more pleasant conditions, but the mud was still extremely sticky. The field became a mini exhibition of broken rear mechs ! A real nightmare !

However, in the "dry" this is a favourite among the accomplished 'cross riders. Watching them sail around the course is poetry in motion.

You get straight sections where you really pick up speed as you hurtle through the fields, but then the run is punctuated with a sharp turn through trees, a twisting descent that you take somewhat gingerly, and then a sharp climb which you attack with gusto, but then you lose commitment, your momentum drops, and you're forced to dismount and finish things off on foot. You get a few of these along the course, some in quick succession. Then as if you haven't lost enough time you are slowed right down as you struggle up the long drag. That's how I negotiate the course on a good day !

Unfortunately last Sunday was a bad day. I didn't "come to the race" (as Sprinter Michael Johnson used to say). I'd brought my bike, dressed in my kit, but I'd left my confidence at home.

The warm up frightened me - I stood and contemplated each drop-off for about 3 minutes before trying to take the plunge - only to quickly dismount and run down the slope. The run-ups were just that - run-ups. Where was the momentum to ride up ?? Of course all this dithering meant that I was still trying to complete the course when the start gun was sounded !

It made no difference to me. This disastrous recce-ing meant that I had already decided to remove my number and take no part in the race. Had I returned to the HQ area earlier I might even have asked for my entry fee back !

The commissaire was quite apologetic as he saw me emerge through the trees and realised what had happened. (The race had apparently begun earlier than scheduled when they'd mistakenly thought all the riders were present.)

"It's ok I'm not ready to race. The course is too tough for me." I said, still feeling shell-shocked by the obstacles. In the end, I was allowed to pootle around - if nothing else, just as training.

I managed to get in a few laps - but really it had become more like a cross-country running event for me ! I was pleased that I attempted 2 or 3 dips, but I didn't do anything cleanly - especially when I had to deal with the stress of fast and furious elites on my tail trying to squeeze round me !

Needless to say I didn't win. Nicky Hughes (Folkactive) did, and that was no surprise to anyone - I was 4th lady - out of 4. The 3rd placed lady Sarah Sutton (San Fairy Ann) lapped me twice even though normally we are of a similar level !

Yesterday I managed to "come to the race" at Howard School. This course was more my thing. Fast, not completely flat, but not very technical. I was focused and committed and was readier for the challenge than the previous week. I was still not that skillful but I was in the zone. With an unusually big field of 9 girls it would be hard for me to come out on top. The young Rebecca Thompson (Evans RT) took that crown. I managed 6th - just outside of the points, but I was just happy to have turned up with all my stuff for the race - including my confidence !

I've got a short break to do some hill-climbing, and then after that I'll be back at Penshurst Off-Road Circuit. Hopefully I'll remember to take everything.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

On a Serious Note

A local club cyclist I know is currently keeping a vigil at his son's hospital bedside after he became critically ill. The young man, aged 21 suffered a heart attack and needed a few minutes before his heart re-started. He is now about to undergo cardiac surgery. The boy was extremely lucky - not least because he happened to be in a GPs surgery at the time of the cardiac arrest - he was there becaused he'd been feeling unwell. We are all keeping our fingers crossed that he pulls through.

This news takes me back to 2005 - a year when two club cyclists did not pull through. Barry Elcome had had cardiac problems and sadly succumbed to his illness in the summer of 2005. John Ibbotson's death from a heart attack on 27th September that year was even more of a shock as he had shown no signs of malaise or illness - a sudden death. Both of these cyclists were fit, healthy young men who trained regularly for their sport. Yet unbeknown to them, they were victims of a silent heart disease which would cut them down in their prime. The whole of the cycling community in the South East was rocked by the sad news of these two prodigies, who had made great contributions to the local cycling scene.

Fortunately, research is being carried out to find the causes and treatment of the condition. Also, with screening programmes in place to for high risk patients, this will hopefully reduce the number of Sudden Cardiac Death cases in young athletes.

In memory of "Ibbo", the John Ibbotson Memorial Fund was set up to help develop young riders wishing to race in Europe.
Proceeds from the Ibbo Cake Quest bike ride, taking place on 14th October will go towards this fund.
I plan to support this event as it is my way of remembering John and the enthusiasm that he brought to cycle sport.

Nothing can be done to bring back these 2 young men. Fortunately medical research and screening for cardiac defects are being carried out to avoid this type of tragedy in future in young athletes.


picture by John Mullineaux (LondonCyclesport.com)