Monday 28 June 2010

The aptly named Hertz car rental

So here I am in Western Canada (which I've discovered should be pronounced to rhyme with armada), without a bike, and without any plans to go out on one. Ironic, given where we are has some of the world's best mountain biking, but sometimes I heed the advice of people who tell me to "give it a rest".

I'm not missing out on training entirely though - I have gym stuff with me, and I spent an hour of the flight lying on my back in the aisle doing the upsidedown pedalling in the air thing that we used to do in PE class when we were 8. The cabin attendants did look at me a bit strangely, but as I pointed out, what do you expect if all the films are in French? And it's not as if they didn't have another aisle to use.

We flew into Calgary, which is famous for stampeding cattle, terrible car hire and an old winter olympics. We managed to experience one of these within an hour of landing, and I wish it had been being trampled by 37 angry steers about to have their balls removed. Instead, we suffered the punishment of Calgary Hertz.

We'd booked a luxury car - something big enough to be comfortable, but not so big that we'd feel we were driving a combine harvester. The people in front of us were given a Cadilac for their similar booking, so imagine the joyous looks on our faces when we were told that they didn't have any luxury cars, they never had luxury cars, and actually, Hertz doesn't even do them. Hey, would you like a free upgrade to a combine harvester?

No, we would not. We would like the car we booked. The car we booked a month ago, just like the one we've seen drive out of the car lot with the happy, smiling couple in it.

Ah... well, we could get you one of those... tomorrow. We'll call you. We're really competant.

So we took the harvester, with the expectation of changing it the next day. On the plus side, it was excellent for mowing down pedestrians.

That evening, Hertz call. Your car is here. The one you booked. I know you're out drinking and eating and enjoying your holiday, but how about bringing the ol' international harvester back and getting the car? What? You'd rather wait until you were sober? And you'd like it delivered to your hotel?

The next day, we speak to Hertz again. They would deliver! The car was with them! A Caddy!

Half an hour later they call back. They don't deliver. They never deliver. Bring back the combine. We have your Caddy.

We go to the airport, burning more of our precious holiday. At the airport, we avoid the pedeststian residue cleaning charge by pointing out that by now, we realy don't give a shit, and go to the office to get the keys to the Caddy.

We don't rent Caddys from this office. We never have. We certainly haven't given yours away again. You'll have to take something else. But don't worry, it'll be an upgrade.

Wow, Hertz really came up with the goods.

Wednesday 16 June 2010


So, 127 miles. Pretty lumpy. Not as many people as the Dragon Ride. However, they did have the Mavic support car:

And even the Mavic support bike, sans spare wheels:

Things started fairly fast, as Darren and I escaped most of our starting group up the first hill and tried to hang on to a couple of faster groups that had started after us. Tried, until we both realised that riding flat out for 6+ hours wasn't really going to be a viable strategy (you could argue, quite convincingly, that it wasn't a strategy at all). We settled into our own pace, sometimes sheltering behind others, sometimes doing the sheltering. Darren was feeling a little ill (having raced the day before with a cold) and was fairly confident that he'd only do the 81 miler. He might have been feeling rubbish but as usual it didn't show - I don't think I'd have been going any faster if he hadn't had been there.

At the first big food stop we were passed by the Torq team riders, who had started a good 20 minutes behind us. They were travelling so quickly (and with no intention of stopping for food) that they completely missed the timing mats at the entrance to the food stop and had to sheepishly turn back. We noticed a few riders doing this - the moral of the tale being to never, ever pass up the chance of free flapjack.

Shortly after Darren split off for the 81 mile route (or "Wusses Route", as it was known) and I carried on the big one. At this point it became slightly disconcerting as there were so few people around. I hung on the back of a couple of riders for a while, but let them go (i.e. couldn't keep up) after half an hour.  Then I was alone... alone to the extent that I was convinced I'd missed a turning. The course wound up and over the South Downs - stunning countryside in the sunshine, less stunning if you're worried that you are riding an unknown road with no useful map and limited supplies. I'm sure very few people die of starvation on these roads, but I didn't fancy existing on dead hedgehog and Torq bars until I was rescued.

Finally, some more direction signs, a couple of other riders and a drinks stop. After this (about the 80 mile mark) I managed to tag along with some other groups until I found that these groups kept getting smaller on all the climbs - and I wasn't one of the ones being dropped. Wowzers... I can climb. Must be all those days trying to keep up with tiny Jon.

Lots more miles, and finally back onto some familiar roads near Basingstoke. I could sense the finish so allowed myself to burn a tad more energy until the beautiful gleeming spires of the the old Air Traffic Control tower at Greenham Common came into view. Down the hill, back to the racecourse and a very gentlemanly finish with noone trying to sprint ahead of the two guys who had been towing us around for the past ten miles.

I finished 100th out of 440 starters on the 127 mile route - 7 hours 11 ride time, 7 hours 24 total including stops.

No witty ending for this one.

Saturday 12 June 2010


This time last year I was eagerly (i.e. nervously) awaiting the Dragon Ride, 187km (117 miles) of South Wales roads. A few long climbs, a couple of thousand riders and my first road event. I prepared carefully, with a well thought out and executed training plan combined with careful nutrition, a new bike and a well executed taper to have me in perfect form for the day.

Tomorrow I'm doing the Magnificat, 203km (127 miles) of Berkshire and Hampshire. Some sharp, nasty climbs, a couple of thousand riders (maybe) and my fourth road event. I've done a bit of vague training since LEJOG, eaten cake and drunk beer, I think my bike is somewhere in the garage and probably works and I've had a slightly more relaxed week than normal.

Funny how perceptions change isn't it?

I'm still looking forward to the event, but after eight days of riding similar distances I don't see it as a challenge. It's not going to be easy - I'm not that dumb - more that I'm fairly confident I can ride it at a reasonable pace, and if not I'm not that bothered. It's a big training ride.

Of course, now I'm writing about it maybe I should set a target time. You know, something to aim it. Plus I'll see all the Torq people, experience a new route that's local and they've got the yellow Mavic service vehicles too (which were my absolute favourite thing about the Dragon Ride). Hmm... maybe I am a little weeny bit excited.


Wednesday 9 June 2010

The Quickie

Friday, 1525. My laptop has crashed, it's been dry and warm all week and something outside is calling me.

Shut down the laptop in the most violent way, throw it in the drawer and skip outside to the bike rack. Spend the five minute ride home thinking, weighing options... Singlespeed? No, winter bike. Full-sus? Still a bit creaky. Road bike....? But the trails might be dusty. Dusty is rare round here, something to be embraced. Scandal then, 10kgs of race hardtail.

Into the garage, park the commuter bike, take the bling wheels off the full-sus and drop the Scandal onto them. Out the garage, dash upstairs and throw on baggies, Seventeen11 team bike jersey and silly socks. Grab a bottle of water, a Torq bar, multitool, tube and CO2 inflator. Oakleys, Giro E2, shoes, gloves.

And I'm out. Christ, this bike feels fast. Pump over the speed humps, drop the outside heel round the tight corner on the dodgy estate, carve the bike path by the park.

Pause. A4, Friday traffic. See a gap and I'm across and cutting through the pub car park and hopping the kerb and whipping onto the towpath. Race everyone else, though I'm the only one racing. Over the wooden bridge, tight switchback corners onto more tarmac. Past the racecourse, up the hill, leave those 8 year olds pushing their BMXs for dust... and I'm onto Greenham Common.

Dirt, dust, roots, singletrack. I'm riding like the first lap of an XC race, looking for all the speed I can, focusing on body position, wrists and heels, looking far far ahead. Ignore the trees and trust the tyres. Down the steep drop, over the two sleepers that constitute a bridge, up the short steep climb. Two other cyclists at the top, pausing for breath. I say hi but don't slow down.

The pickle factory is strong this afternoon... mmm... limey...

Rider approaching from the front on a silver bike and hang on is that Kev but he's got a helmet on which he doesn't normally and as we pass each other I turn and he turns and we shout hello and don't let up the pace as this is waaay too much fun to slow down.

Singletrack complete. It's now gravel, byways and towpath. Power takes over from skill as I push the intensity and my heart rate reaches those places where it doesn't often go. With other riders on the path it's like a 24 hour race, as I slow, freewheel and politely ask to come past when convenient. Then sprint like a bastard away from them.

Back on the road. Sprint to make the lights. Just squeeze through. Officer, the light was yellow.

Home. Dripping with sweat, dusted with, erm, dust, water barely touched.

Short can be epic too.

Friday 4 June 2010


As well as cycling, I'm also a big fan of food. The two kind of go together - I exercise so I can eat more, and I eat more so I can exercise. Symbiosis. Now there's a word. For my birthday I was bought an evening of butchery - not the stab-your-victim-in-a-darkened-alley type, but the cut-up-dead-animals-with-a-very-sharp-knife type.

It was fascinating. Held at The Ginger Pig, the evening started with a talk from Borat - Slovakian I think, rather than Kazak. Our course was on beef, so we learnt about different cuts, where they come from, how to cook them and aging (the good dry-aging and the bad wet-aging). We then moved onto the meat, where another butcher (I forget his name, it wasn't as memorable as Borat) showed us how to cut up almost half a cow into the major sections and explained how different cuts, on and off the bone, are known by different names. Did you know that the main chunk of meat in a fore-rib join is rib-eye steak? And that a sirloin steak with the bone left on is a porterhouse? You did? Really? Oh. You probably eat more beef than I do.

We then all had a go at cutting a chunk off the big side of cow - using saws, super-sharp knives and a little stabbing knife. That was the technical term for it. With the right tools and instruction it was reasonably simple, but I imagine we'd have made a whole lot of mince without either. Oh, there was a lot of slapping of the meat too. The butcher claimed it was a butchery tradition, but I have my doubts.

After the chunking we all got a section of fore-rib, which we turned into "Cote de Boeuf", by removing the cap, deboning one side, unrolling it, cutting out the paddywhack, putting the cap back, French trimming the ribs and finally tying it up with string.

Impressive huh? That's about £45 of meat there (included in the price of the course), sitting in my kitchen.

We then ate chunks of a bigger version of above - with five ribs - served rare with dauphinoise potatoes and a cheeky red. Yummy, and very filling. We joked how glad we were that there wasn't a pudding... and then a brioche bread and buter pudding turned up. I did my best.

More chat, including some bloke quizing the butchers on their income (must be a London thing), then a dash for the train.

I'd really recommend it - it's not often I get to saw through bones without the victims owners screaming.