Monday 26 December 2011

What shall I do with my new Go Pro video camera?

Yesterday was, you know, Christmas. Christmas Day. I ate too much, I drank enough, I went for a minor walk with my mother scoping out new bike trails on the common. She should really stop riding illegally, but I indulge her.

I'm very thankful for all of the wonderful gifts I received - everything this year showed some thought behind it which I far more gratifying than costly things that are pointless. I even had a few unexpected items which hit that "I'd never have bought that for myself, but it's brilliant" sweet spot. Some books, clothing, bike stuff.

And... a Go Pro Hero HD camera. Now, if you've not come across these I'll assume you don't mountain bike, drive fast cars, parachute or run with the wildebeast across the plains of Africa. The Go Pro is one of the main cameras for filming yourself doing something stupid and then putting it on the internet. YouTube is littered with people being attacked by squirels, falling off cliffs or eating three week out of date oysters. So, in a world where most videos have already been done, what should I film with mine?

Firstly, I plan to wear it around the office. That way, when people ask me what I do all day I can just point them to the daily video. Thrill as I order a pastry to go with my coffee. Scream as the revolving doors nearly cut me in half. Sleep while I spend two hours listening to how some start-up is going to change the world of mobile phones FOR EVER! The only drawback of this is that I often come across sensitive information, and the other blokes in the gym changing rooms might get a little uncomfortable.

Secondly, the world needs more videos of long, complicated and frustrating bike maintenance. Most bike maintenance videos show you how to fix things. Mine will show how to break tools, strip threads, slice skin and a new array of British swear words. Two hours trying to remove a stuck bottom bracket with increaing levels of violence will no doubt be an internet hit bigger than a dog being chased by a herd of deer whilst two babies and another dog commentate on the action.

Thirdly... well, I'm open to suggestions. Long boring road bike climbs? Gentle descents at safe and cautious speeds? A six minute bike commute where drivers generally see me and give way where required? I just don't know.

Any ideas?

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Training block 1, #HauteRoute

Amazing how the prospect of seven days of suffering focuses the mind, isn't it? About three weeks ago I was bumbling around in a haze of indecision, riding a bit here, running a bit there and generally doing my best to devour the European chocolate mountain. Now with some real mountains looming up next year I'm dedicated, organised, dare I say motivated.

I've finished my first two week block of training - I'm now officialy old according to Training Peaks so I can only cope with two weeks of hard work before needing a recovery week. To be fair to TP, last year I was getting pretty wiped out in the third week of each training block so maybe it has a point.

This has been the first chunk of base training - so a reasonable amount of hours, some leg spinny stuff and the fun of single leg drills. I've also been pretending to be beefcake in the gym, lifting some heavy weights. Well, heavy for me. I'm still using the pink vinyl ones, hopefully I can progress to purple next week. They'll match my face then.

My one moment of gym based glory is the leg press machine - I can now do 3 x 6 reps using ALL the weights, a whole 190 somethings. I've never been able to do this in previous years so either my legs are stronger or I'm less worried about tendons snapping.

I've kept to my plan pretty well - TP turns the workouts on its calendar green if you complete them (or get close) - and I reckon I'm 85% green. I also did a threshold test - riding as hard as I could for 30 minutes after a decent warm up. I'm at about the 260w mark, so not bad but some room for improvement. 272w would put me at 4w per kilo of bodyweight (I'm 68kg at the moment). I'd like to get to around 280w+ at 65ish kg, 4.3w/kg. That's still nowhere near Jon in good condition (5w/kg!) but at least I'll be close enough to him up the hills that'll I'll see which way he goes at the top of the climb and don't have to spend the night in the woods with the wolves again.

I apologise. That was a bit geeky. Don't worry, normal service will be resumed next time.

Friday 2 December 2011

Call NASA, the MOD, CERN, the Pentagon and Dr Hawking. I've invented invisibility.

It's astonishing. I couldn't believe it. My bike and I have somehow developed an aura of invisibility. A "cloaking device". A magic ethereal cape.

You scoff, I know. How can a lowly biker come up with such an incredible invention? You are right to ask. Quite frankly, I don't know.

I was first alerted whilst riding to work on Monday when I saw a silver BMW on a side street to my right. The mid-thirties female driver looked towards me, yet in some way looked through me. Like I wasn't there. It was curious. I thought that my day-glo yellow jacket plastered with reflectives was fairly obvious. And that the 240 lumens of flashing Exposure Joystick with wide angle diffuser would have been seen by the dullest of half qualified drivers. However, this wasn't the case as she pulled out on me forcing a violent brake, swerve and shouted expletive.

Ho-hum. This happens occasionally.

Tuesday, mini-roundabout at the end of the road. Van driver (50's, male) shoots past, failing to give way.

Like I wasn't there.

Wednesday, another mini-roundabout. A blue Seat I think. I was ready this time, trackstanding on the painted white circle as the driver breezed past, oblivious to me.

Wednesday evening, a car comes alongside, ahead then brakes sharply to a halt. Why would they do that if they saw the retina searing Exposure Flare? The various reflectors, the Altura Night Vision jacket, the pedal reflectors bobbing up and down 80 times per minute?

Then it hit me. Invisibility. It's either being projected by me (unlikely), the jacket (less likely) or the lights. I can only imagine that the lights are combining to cancel not only each other out, but all the light reflected by the bike and me.

Now, there must be skeptics amongst you readers so I thought I'd video my bike at rest, just so you can see the effect - and how difficult it must have been to see me this week.

Brace yourselves.

Wow. Nobel prize anyone?

Sunday 27 November 2011

I've gone and done something silly

Right, enough of all the rambling on about old bikes and new bikes. When it comes down to it, it's not about having, it's about doing.

Last year we did Land's End to John O'Groats. That was a challenge - seven months of planning and training, team bonding sportives, charity fundraising, outfit buying and finally the eight days of riding themselves. It was, to me, epic.

This year has been indifferent - a crash and eight weeks off the bike, a couple of sportives, my first big mountain road riding - nothing that really inspired me to knuckle down and concentrate, to get up an hour early through the winter and ride the long way to work, to drag my ass over to the big hills every week and spend every Saturday afternoon prone on the sofa wearing leg squeezing tights. I didn't even shave my legs.

Next year will be different. I've entered something silly. The Haute Route.

Columbiere. Madeleine. Glandon. Alpe D'Huez. Alpe D'Huez again. Izoard. Cime de la Bonette. And a few others.

Seven stages. Distances of 120km, 105km, 136km, 14km (up the Alpe), 136km, 98km, 171km. Ascents of 2700m, 2700m, 4700m(!), 1000m (in 14km, up the Alpe), 3700m, 3200m, 2900m.

I think that counts as epic. I have three goals for this.

1. To get to the finish, i.e. be riding on the last day
2. To complete every stage within whatever time limits are set
3. To have a final position in the top half of my category. This is probably a bit of a "stretch" goal.

Preparation so far has consisted of picking out three other training events, booking a week in the Dolomites, putting together a high level plan and buying some new climbing wheels.

Oh, and the three days after I entered I got up an hour early and rode the long way into work.

Hell, I might even shave my legs again.

Friday 4 November 2011

New bike, new bike!

Well, I've finally sold my track bike. A combination of the difficulty in getting to the track combined with a hunk of metal and ten screws in my collarbone convinced me to let it go.

Still,  you can't go through life with only six bikes, so I had to order another one. For a while I've been thinking about something to ride on the road in the winter. In the past I've used a combination of the Allez with Crud Road Racer guards, or the Scandal with slick tyres for when it got really messy and a bit more grip and disc brakes felt that little bit safer. I've also been thinking about a "bimble bike" - something that looks pretty and I don't mind riding slowly on. I always feel a bit odd doing gentle recovery rides on a carbon race bike.

Fate intervened and I was sent an email from Planet X, which included a build of their steel cross-ish frame, with disc brakes. Clearance for 32mm tyres, mudguard and rack mounts, plus it looks pleasingly retro. It's called a Kaffenback, because you can use it for going to the caf(e) and back.

Like this.

It's a kind of metallic tan colour, bronze maybe? Contrast gold panels with white logos. Black bits. To me, it just looked right.

Tonight was the first ride (I'm not counting going up and down the road on the day it arrived to get the position right). It's been foul all day - windy, rainy, thunderstorms. The roads are covered in puddles, leaves, mud and general autumn crap. Ideal then.

I couldn't believe how smooth it is. I'm sure it's 99% down to the tyres but in my head I'll attribute it to it being steel and designed by master craftsmen in Yorkshire. Or somewhere like that. I was confident on the messy roads, the brakes worked, the mudguards guarded (...and rattled, but that's sorted now) and you know what? I felt great riding it at full on bimble pace.

Finally, I have a "recovery ride" bike. Now that's niche.

Sunday 23 October 2011

I'm not in love with my Orca any more

I still love it, of course, a deep seated affection established over more than 8500kms. It's still beautiful, still excites me when I ride it, still does all the jobs I need it to do.

But no longer do I find myself staring at it lustfully whenever I see it. No longer am I obsessive about washing it down after every ride, lubing and polishing it. No longer do I get buterflies when I walk into its room and see it lounging against the wall.

Our relationship has developed now. I've spotted the occasional blemish, heard the occasional nagging creak, felt the slight movement in the cranks when before there was none. I've applied varnish to a stone chip, changed the brake lever reach, replaced the odd worn part. We've grown together over the past couple of years - I'm a better rider and able to take the Orca to places I couldn't have done before, handled it more deftly and brought it to the top of more exciting peaks with astonishing rewards.

And all this without falling off once.

So, I love it, but I'm not in love with it.

Time to start a new affair?

Saturday 15 October 2011

A Magical Discovery

I learnt something yesterday. Something magical, brilliant, useful and unexpected. However, telling you now would only be half the story, so you can either read on or cheat and skip to the end.

Where does the story start? In Afan Argoed? On the drive down there? In Cirencester the night before? No, it starts several months ago when Jon suggested a trip to the Afan trail centre (in South Wales, for non-UK readers). We'd been there a few years ago as part of a Welsh road-trip and it seemed as if Jon's stellar performance in the Twentyfour12 had re-ignited his mountain biking fire. Needless to say I was mildly ambivalent due to not having done much MTB this year and an underlying nervousness about crashing and breaking. Still, after a Jon repeatedly suggesting dates and me repeatedly avoiding the issue Jon finally came up with a day that I had no valid reason to decline. It was nearly scuppered at the last minute due to various work-y things but kidnapping his manager and locking him in my cellar suddenly solved the issue.

The night before I travelled down to Jon's in Cirencester. He lives half an hour nearer to Afan than I do, so it made sense to get everything sorted at his the night before and leave early in the morning. The evening was spent eating pasta, drinking beer and wine and playing with small children. There was also some toenail cutting but I don't really want to expand on that.

We were up at seven (06:20 for Jon, using the toddler alarm), coffee, toast, arse-lard, bike clothes and into the car by 07:30. Little traffic, more coffee and bacon roll at the services (Jon: "I don't think I've been to these services before". Me: "We stayed here for the Dragon Ride") and in the Afan car park for 10:00. Some minor faffing and we were riding by 10:15.

"Skyline" is the big long trail at Afan and the only one I've not done before. It starts with the same climb as "White's Level", which I have done, but then heads off into the slightly-more-wilderness than the other trails. At 47km it's also a good 3-4 hour ride (4-7 according to the trail guide...ha!). The climb is sort of interesting, in that there a various rocky sections - loose, steppy, nadgery - that kind of thing. It's not particularly steep though, so more of an exercise in power management for the technical bits than an outright lung-burster. I do find these trails tediously repetative - hey, we've built a rocky feature on the climb, let's do it every 20 metres! I think that's at the heart of my dislike of trail centres, and what distinguishes them from natural routes.

So, where were we? Ah, yes, getting lost on Skyline. I say lost - we knew we were on the trail at all times but somehow managed to miss a 25km loop, suddenly finding ourselves at the final descent. Another exercise in repetition - roll down a bit, rocky feature, roll down a bit, rocky feature - times twenty-five.

After the aborted attempt at Skyline we did "The Wall" (much more natural feeling - definitely my thing), rode back to the Glyncorrwg centre for lasagne, chips and Coke and tried to fix my brakes. Did I mention my back brake lever was squishing to the bars before biting? That really helped my crash induced nervousness. I fact, most of the descents involved Jon zipping off into the distance and me being much more cautious - merely terror rather than hysteria. It's all relative though - I was still going quicker than previous visits.

We decided that we were both a little tired by now so we were never going to attempt Skyline. White's Level it was. My fixed brake became unfixed, we rode up the same initial climb and bimbled round.

On the spin back to the car we discussed how battered we were feeling - four and a half hours of rocky trails uses very different muscles to six hours of road riding. I could feel my core, my hamstrings, my calves were burning from all the standing and my shoulders were stiff from all bar control. Either we need to do more MTBing or stick to being wimpy roadies.

Once in the car I really started to feel the ride. The seats were hard, my glutes (=arse) ached, my legs ached... it wasn't comfortable. Thankfully all the traffic and accidents were going the other way so we had a clear run back to Cirencester. We transferred my stuff to my car and I started the drive home.

I then made my magical discovery.

When you are tired, battered, aching and stiff: Heated seats are awesome. It's like taking a long, hot bath whilst having a nagging feeling that you've wee'd yourself.

Now, that was worth the read wasn't it?

Sunday 2 October 2011

Catching Flies

As predicted, the weather yesterday was blistering. It was the first of October, and it was my first minimum-clothing-full-length-zip-unzipped ride of the year (excluding foreign lands). And no, this isn't the Southern hemisphere.

I had one of those magic legs days too -the days when you glance down at the computer and can't believe the power you're maintaining. I even overtook someone. Admittedly he was shirtless, on a loaded tourer and looked like he'd been riding non-stop for six days, but hey, an overtake is an overtake. I broke my record for the ride to my Mum's, and then broke it again on the way back. I'm surprised Team Sky haven't been round.

I celebrated this achievement with a stretch and a Cornetto, though not in that order. It was more important to get the recovery ice-cream down quickly. Proper sports nutrition is vital for an athlete like me.

Then I went for a shower. That was where I discovered that not only had I been dragging my own sorry carcass up the hills, but the carcasses of twelve flies. Twelve. At least - there were a few mushy black dots that could have once been flies but it was hard to tell. I only counted the dots that had a clear, visible leg or wing.

There are definitely a lot of flies about at the moment. In the evenings, when the sun is low, you can see clouds of them and feel the bigger ones slamming into your glasses. Are they as confused as I am by the weather? Do they think it's Spring and have all hatched six months early? Any entomologists care to comment?

Still, there are definitely twelve fewer than there would have been had I not been out yesterday. No need to thank me. All part of the service.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Indian Summer

Who'd have thought it? There I was, just writing about having to fit mudguards, and we've been blasted with sunshine and warmth. Finally, summer has arrived. 22C on Monday, 24C today, 26C forecast for the weekend.

Actually, I didn't just write about the mudguards. I fitted them. My Crud Roadracer guards are now in their third fitting and oddly they've got harder to attach. Somehow I need to cut bits off each time I put them on. Maybe my frame is shrinking - it does keep getting wet.

After fitting the guards, the next obvious step was to get the bike on the turbo. I find it vital to fit mudguards for turbo use - it gets pretty moist in my garage duing some of those interval sessions and I'd rather take a shower in clean water at the end of the session, rather than doing it with sweat during the session.

So - guards, turbo. I've also bought a new softshell jersey for use on the road (continuing my love affair with Gore bike clothing) and stocked up on Minty Arse Lard. Oh, and mud tyres on the mountain bikes.

And along comes the heat. Still, bring on the dry, hardpacked trails, the smell of roasting tarmac and the salt-encrusted helmet straps. I'll cope with the guards when I don't need them, the mud tyres in the dust and I'll leave that new shell hanging in the garage.

This is the UK.

Snow next week then.

Friday 23 September 2011

Tools are ace

This may be slightly obvious to some readers but tools, in particular specialist tools, are ace.

When I first started trying to do my own bike maintenance I had the basic, usual things - allen keys, screwdrivers, pliers, some squirty cream and a hammer. I could therefore do smaller tasks, and with a significant amount of bodging and swearing, slightly more complex ones too. Over the years I've built up a good collection of odd shaped pieces of metal half dipped in blue plastic that all do one thing, and one thing only, very well.
  • A chainring bolt spanner is ideal for saving you from having to try and grip the back of the bolt with a pair of pliers.
  • A chainwhip is ideal for saving you from having to try and grip a cassette with a pair of pliers.
  • A decent chaintool is ideal for saving you from having to snap a chain with a pair of pliers.
  • A star-flangled nut tool is ideal for saving you from having to try and seat a star-fangled nut with a screwdriver. Only joking! You'd try and do it with needle nose pliers.
Basically, I used to try and fix things with pliers. If they didn't work, I'd hit things with a hammer, and then try the pliers. I have spent over £100 on tools to use instead of pliers.

A couple of days ago I replaced my drive train (cassette, chainrings and chain), bottom bracket and shifters. Out came the chainwhip and lockring tools. Out came the Shimano HTII tool. The workshop chain tool. The cable cutter. The copper slip. The baby wipes. The latex frickin' gloves.

All went swimmingly apart from undoing one plastic cap that goes on the end of the crank axle. I just couldn't get it to undo using the HTII tool - my fingers couldn't grip it hard enough. What solved the problem?

Pliers. Never forget the pliers.

Monday 12 September 2011

Week off

I have a week off. I'm not going anywhere exciting so I should have time to do some riding, some mechanics and some winterisation.

I thought a week in September would be a good idea - September is always warm and sunny, right? Not this week. To be fair, it looks reasonable but starting the week with the remains of a hurricane isn't the best. Watching the footage of the Tour of Britain I'm just glad I'm not in Scotland.

The plan is to get a few decent rides in - with a vague idea of doing a 100 miler at some point. A couple of years ago Jon and I thought we'd try and do a century (technical term for a hundred mile ride) every month through the winter. We counted a ride we'd already done in September, then found ourselves at the end of October with no ride done and no weekends left - which lead to the infamous after work ride.

This year I've done a century in April (Cotswold Spring Classic), May (Tour of Wessex), June (Magnificat) and August (Cirencester-Aylesbury-Newbury). This week seems like a good opportunity to tick off September, and we'll just see what happens.

Future maybe/possible/we'll see plans include some winter MTB enduros and some planning and decision making over the road rides next year - I'd like something up big mountains with a vague element of competition too.

Right, better get down to the garage to fix on those mudguards.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Torq 12:12 - Riding, not racing

After my lack of mountain biking this year I took a minor leap of faith (or should that be a hop of faith?) and agreed to partner Darren at the Torq 12:12 mountain bike race. It was on a strickly "non-competitive" basis though which meant there was no need to ride fast, or even ride much at all.

The race starts at midday and finishes at midnight - hence the 12:12 name - and as Darren picked me up in the morning he reiterated his non-competitive stance by stating that we probably wouldn't even need lights. That suited me - whilst I've done a few off-road rides recently I'm still nervous about crashing. Darkness and the forecast rain would increase the chances of this dramatically. He was also suffering with a cold so we decided to treat the trip as "just going for a bike ride, where there might be lots of other people riding too".

Somehow I ended up being the starting rider (the event is a relay) and decided to take my non-competitive role seriously by bimbling round the first lap. I might have overtaken a few people on the climbs but I certainly wasn't racing anyone. There were a few numpties who thought that they might save 5 seconds on a 12 hour race by barging past but generally people were pretty relaxed.

There were a couple of slightly sketchy points (which I sorted out on the second lap) but all-in-all the course was condusive to staying rubber-side down. Some dampness, a touch of moistness and a smear of greasiness on the roots but nothing that Mud-X tyres at 25psi couldn't cope with.

(Slight aside - Bontrager Mud-X are my favourite tyre in all the world. Is it wrong to have a favourite tyre?)

Ten minutes into my first lap the rain started. Just as I finished and handed over to Darren the rain stopped.

Five minutes into my second lap the rain started again, and continued throughout my third lap (we were doing double laps this time).

Shortly after I handed over to Darren the rain stopped. Half an hour later it started again, and this time it looked like it was going to continue for a while. I considered the options.
  • If I went out again, that would mean Darren would either have to go out again too or be called a wuss for the next month.
  • Darren really wasn't feeling well. It would be cruel to make him ride again.
  • Stopping now would be really non-competitive, thereby executing our strategy perfectly.
  • If we stopped we could go for hot chips.
  • Chips are delicious.
As Darren came in, sodden and filthy, after his double lap, I met him in the change over area. Dressed in normal clothes, with no helmet and no bike.

"Are you not going out again? Why not? Oh, OK."

He didn't take much convincing. That's the lure of chips for you.

So, we only lasted six hours of the race, but quite frankly we were both fairly satisfied. I hadn't fallen off, Darren hadn't colapsed vomiting and we were home at a reasonable hour. I quite like this non-competitive thing.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Because I can

On Saturday, 28th June 2008, a couple of months after I started this blog, I rode my first century - 100 miles, in one go, on a road bike. I'd built up to it with longer and longer rides and I remember getting to about the 80 mile mark and just riding small loops close to home to make up the 100, in case I blew up completely and ended up quivering by the side of the road (like that would ever happen).

A Century (capitalised to emphasise the awesomeness) is a big thing. It has to be miles of course - none of this "metric" business with kilometres. Your first century ride is like your first car crash or assassination attempt. A little scary, maybe a little painful, but forever memorable.

Two days ago, with the minimum of recent training, little fanfare and admittedly some careful pre-eating I rode from Cirencester to Aylesbury to Newbury. 107 miles.
This was partly because I wanted to help out Jon on the first part of his charity ride ( but mainly because it would be fun. Not epic, not brutal, just fun.

You've come a long way, baby.

Sunday 14 August 2011

The psychology of clothing

I've written about bike clothing before - mainly pointing out how silly it all is when taken out of context. But I realised today something fairly obvious but something that seemed at the time to be a major revelation. Now, I'm sure when people read this major revelation, they'll think "um, yeah, that's obvious", but the fact I consider it a major revelation says a lot about my attitude to clothing in general.
Off the bike, I wear the following outfits.
  • For work, jeans, t-shirt, sometimes a shirt if I'm meeting someone external or very important. I have a pair of shoes too. They're brown and casual.
  • For evenings at home, I wear whatever I had on at work. I might change out of the shirt though. And I take off my shoes.
  • For weekends, jeans, t-shirt and the same pair of shoes. Can you see a pattern emerging?
  • Now, how about "evenings out"? A birthday meal, or a night on the town? Well, obviously I'm going to wear jeans, a "going-out" shirt and my shoes. You know, the brown ones.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand.... that's about it. My attitude to non-bike clothing is very much "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Normal clothing is not particularly important to me. Besides, I like my brown shoes.

Now I've put some context around my attitude to clothing, I can let you in on the revelation.

I am very picky about what I wear on the bike.
What I wear affects how I ride.
I know. Astounding. You might imagine that I have a simple range of tops, shorts and one pair of shoes that I use for everything. Not so. I choose on style, colour, practicality, warmth, fit and even fashion. Take today for example -  a singlespeed mountain bike ride. Firstly, mountain bike generally means looser fit unless I'm racing. Colour is less important as being seen by drivers is not as much of a consideration.  Indeed, blending into the countryside is almost an advantage. Singlespeed is also more laid back in attitude than normal mountain biking therefore I'm more likely to wear clothing with "wanker" written on it.

Some general guidelines to get you started.
  • Road. Tight lycra, as little as you can get away with. A modicum of colour but stay away from fluorescants. Matching is important. Red top = red gloves. Black and white top = white gloves. Remember, first get the look, then get the speed. Shoes must match the weather. Don't wear white shoes in the rain. Roadie clothing makes me want to ride fast and hard. I find gentle rides in lycra almost impossible.
  • Mountain Bike - bimbling. Baggies, loose top, casual shoes. Can use some colour but avoid bright unless you're trying to make a statement. Casual shoes = casual riding. Flow, relax, look at the birds and the trees and the deer and the flowers.
  • Mountain Bike - training. Baggies, tighter top, race shoes. More colour is acceptable. Team shirts are allowed. Now I'm concentrating on being smooth and being fast.
  • Mountain Bike - racing. The only time lycra should be worn off road. Essentially, roadie look with different shoes and less colour matching. Breathing will be heavy and laboured.
  • Singlespeed. Naked is best, otherwise rough shorts and sandals. Wellies in the winter. Breathing is not important.
Remember the brown all purpose shoes? I have seven pairs of bike shoes. As Lance said, it's not about the bike.

It's about the look.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Let me introduce the band

I'm in a pub. It's probably my fifth of the day. I'm on my sixth pint and all I've eaten in something grilled in a bun. The average hair colour around me is grey, where hair is present. And my ears are starting to dribble at the sound of another meandering bass solo.

Welcome to the Maryport Blues festival.

The premise. Book some good/famous blues acts and put them in a marquee, charging £100ish for the weekend. Also book some quite good but not-famous blues acts and send them trawling around the pubs of a small fishing port, charging £6 for a wristband that gives entry to all the pubs. Add lots of cheap alcohol in plastic glasses and hundreds of locals drinking in the streets. Let the carnage ensue.

Maryport is in West Cumbria, sort of Carlisle and go left until you get wet and salty. For Southerners in the UK, it's very very North. The accent is Geordie put through a scrambler. We (Chris and I) spent the six trips with our regular taxi driver chuckling and agreeing without understanding any more than one word in ten. For all we know he was threating to drive us off the harbour into the sea - and we'd chuckle and reply "yes, sounds fantastic".

The Blues festival has been going for thirteen years now. Not non-stop you understand, not even blues guitarists can keep a solo going for that long. It's grown to encompass the marquee of "proper" bands along with the "Blues Trail" of pubs and clubs. This gives the whole town a party feel as there is music everywhere - there is even a free outdoor venue as well. Obviously this descended into fighting and vomit later in the evening but by that time we were safely in the "rich outsiders" marquee.

So, the bands:
  • Barry "Sinnerboy" Barnes. Some acoustic, some mandolin. The festival needed more acts like him - a bit different to all the other blues/rock three/four pieces.
  • Paint it Blue. A blues/rock four piece. Singer was folky which didn't really work for the material. Guitarist competant, bass and drums played by pensioners. Poor sound quality.
  • Dr Truth. One of our favourites. Mainly original songs, excellent musicians, top-class vocalist with what looked like 150 years of experience and anecdotes to draw on. He could have expired at any time - that's what a blues singer should be like. Actual age - probably 62.
  • Sandi Thom. She's famous. Well, she had a hit about wanting to be a punk rocker. Surprisingly good.
  • Cherry Lee Mewis. Terrible, terrible name. Same venue as Paint it Blue and again poor sound. Others we met raved about her though.
  • Dog House BB. I don't really remember this lot. Pub was packed.
  • Hooson. Powerful female singer, one of the best of the weekend. Funny coloured hair. From Yorkshire so the blues-chat was hard to take seriously.
  • Philip Sayce. He was second on the bill in the main tent, so he should have been top class. Thankfully, he was. By this time Chris was drunk enough to pay him the complement of "as good as Joe Bonamassa" at the CD signing. Thankfully he didn't hit him, and bumped fists instead.
  • Jonny Lang. We went to see Jonny Lang. He disappointed us. He fell into the world of meandering blues cliche - for someone with so many great songs, why was it hard to actually play any of them normally? Yes, I'm sure you can do it in jazz-scat with a 15/16th time signature but it doesn't help the song.
That was just the Saturday. There were five more on the Sunday. By Sunday evening we were all blused out and went for a walk and a curry instead.

Monday 25 July 2011

Life's a (pit) bitch

About this time of year I like to go to the Bontrager Twentyfour12. It's in its sixth year and I've been to five of them. The first was held on a reclaimed rubbish dump, where I lost my UK 24 hour virginity with a group of people from work. The year after I did a 12 hour pair with Jon (now known as Little Jonny Fast, LJF) at Cotswold Farm Park, before the event moved to its current home near Plymouth, Newnham Park. That was my first (attempted) 12 hour solo, cut short due to me being so tired I forgot I had caffeine gels to use when I was tired. A missed year was followed by victory in the Torchbearer12 (midnight to midday) mixed pair which brings us bang up to date. The original plan was a 24 hour pair with LJF but due to the snapped clavicle I decided to give it a miss - and pit bitch instead.

Pit Bitch, definition. It's not quite right - it also applies to people helping out other riders at mountain bike events, and you don't have to be female. My preferred definition is "someone who wants an excuse to feel part of an event, but can't be bothered with all that painful riding".

So, here's my guide to pit bitching.

Qualifications required: No formal qualifications are needed, but basic time keeping an advantage. Being able to work out "it was 03:24 when they went out, two laps, averaging an hour fifteen, allow ten minutes in case they speed up, plus fifteen more for you to get ready, means I'll wake you up at X" at 4am after no sleep and several beers is a preferred skill.

Experience needed: Good with zip ties, duct tape, disposable BBQs, super noodles, indexing gears, Dirtworker operation and motivational speaking. I say motivational speaking, what I really mean is the ability to lie consistently about relative race positions and time gaps in order to persuade riders to go out again. For example
  • "You're in fourth, only ten minutes behind third and fifteen off second. Get out there"
  • "Go out hard, and just keep going. Full gas"
  • "Did I say ten minutes? Really? I meant a lap and ten minutes!"
  • "What do you mean it hurts? Just remember what Jens would say!"
  • "Superman wears Jens Voigt underpants. Jens wears LJF underpants"
Equipment needed: Zip ties, duct tape, allen keys, burgers, cable cutters, BBQ sauce, cool box, beer, track pump, beer, comfy chair, coffee, beer. Marshmallows.

Duties: Many and various, but the main ones are
  • Sitting, looking at the weather forecast. Shaking head whilst doing it.
  • Emptying the coolbox.
  • Cheering, the more random the better. If you can get a passing rider to look round and fall off, you get a point. Ten points and you get an extra burger.
  • Sitting, poking meat balanced above some flames.
  • Wearing a silly t-shirt. Home made.
  • Watching the final stage of the Tour De France.
  • Eating ice cream at 9am.
  • Race position checking. Forgetting the race position on the walk back to the pit, making something up at random.
  • Pretending to understand bike mechanics before telling the rider there's nothing you can do. They'll just have to go round with one pedal.
Rewards: If you get all this perfectly right, you'll be rewarded with the reflected glory of podium places. You'll also have an ace weekend, meet some ace people and knock your own fitness back by a few months.

So, how was my performance? LJF and Mark were second in male 24 hour pairs, and Caroline was third in female 24 solo.

I think I did pretty well.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Pyrenees... part 8: Yes, yes we are.

Hold the wheel. Hold the wheel. Come on, you can do this. You can do this for an hour. It's hurting, but you like the hurt. Oh God, he's pulled aside. I'm in front now. Keep the pace up. Tuck low. Clip the apexes through the corners. Bit more. Pull off, ease up slightly, let them go through. Ah, Dangerous Dave is on the front now. This is really going to hurt.

And...... repeat until there are only four of the group left - three riders, one guide.

That's what happens when it's flat on the final day. It all gets a bit competitive. It was a lot of fun though, and we rattled through the final 90km to the seaside. At the seaside we had ice cream, beer, burgers, more beer, watched the first stage of the Tour, more beer, fabulous food, wine, complaints from the French (naked on balconys), complaints from probable Germans, more wine, dessert, angry Scotsman, unconcious Scotsman, more wine and finally bed.

That was it. That was trans-Pyrenees.

A few random memories.
  • Chaingate, when Greasy Dave dropped his chain on the Col de Souler, I stopped to help (therefore making it not-chaingate) and Dave got so covered in oil he earnt his "greasy" nickname.
  • Paul buying a compact chainset after the first day. Very, very wise move, and astonishing that we were in a village with a bike shop.
  • Vomiting at the top of hills. Good effort.
  • Surly Dave being the most un-surly person I've ever met. He just rode a Surly.
  • Not crashing, or even having a hairy moment, on any of the descents. That's not normally like me.
  • Coke and Snickers. I've mentioned them before and I'll mention them again.
  • The odd hour that felt relaxing.
  • Coke and Snickers.
You know, next time I might go on a holiday.

Monday 18 July 2011

Pyrenees... part 7: Are we there yet?

Not quite. Just one 19km climb, up 1281m, straight out of the hotel in the morning. One deceptive climb that advertises as being 6.9% average, but you soon realise is going to be much harder than that after the first few kilometres are only 3-4%. One Hors Categorie, steepening, relentless sweaty climb that goes on and on at 9-10% near the top, never turning, never flattening. Flies were landing on me. Hell, flies were setting up home on me. Port de Pailheres, the second highest pass in the Pyrenees, 2001m. You've got to be suspicious of that "just over 2000m" thing though. It certainly felt like they'd added a bit on the top.

See that twisty thing? We got to ride down that. At the first village we stopped for Coke and cake, waiting for the others. Ah, sunshine. On average, the rest of the tour was downhill from here.

The next climb was livened up by some very childish behaviour, mainly instigated by me. Partly instigated by Dangerous Dave doing his usual van-based goading I launched a sprint, which just happened to coincide with a minor Col summit. This led to all kind of mini-attacks, including the "wait for him to get closer then speed up" game. I'm sorry. It was fun though.

Another fabulous lunch, this time properly homemade, and we only had the Col de Jau, a mere 1500 metres or so. This was it. The final col. Winding through the trees, brilliant sunshine, the odd waterfall and a pair of teenage girls wearing very little. The last bit may have been a hallucination but the others saw them too.

The final big descent. The final mid-descent stop - though coffee and Coke were ignored in favour of a cheeky beer. And then... a recovery McDonalds. We went for milkshakes and ended up with burgers. And milkshake-like ice creams. And fries.

A few more beers, some terrible sub-motorway services food at the hotel "restaurant" and we only had one flat half-day left. How hard can one flat half-day be, which a bunch of mountain hardened riders who can smell, taste and almost touch the finish line?

We'll see. It's not as if we'd treat it as a team time-trial.

Saturday 16 July 2011

Pyrenees... part 6: Sex and Bonking

That got your attention.

Of course, it should be Seix. That's where we overnighted, in another middling French hotel. My overriding memory of this one was that the bathroom in our room had seemingly been transplanted from a 1970s caravan, complete with the world's most useless shower hose that melted and colapsed under use.

Anyhoo, a 20km flatish start led to the Col de Port (which translates to "Pass pass"). A mere Cat 2, yet somehow the lack of a decent breakfast had got to me and I hovered on the verge of bonking (cyclist talk for running out of glycogen) all the way up. Dangerous Dave was doing his sheepdog impression, shuttling up and down the line of riders handing out snacks and barking at people to keep them on the route. At the top I dug into my secret stash of Torq bars and suitably refuelled plumeted down the descent.

Sunshine once more. Arm warmers off, leg warmers off, sun cream on. We bimbled through a town, adding in a couple of laps of the one way system for added interest, before joining the Route de Corniches. I'm not one for scenery (I've just watched the TdF stage where they descended the Aubisque the same way we did - wow, that would have been amazing if I'd focussed on anything else but the road), but this was spectacular. Breathtaking. I'm sure some of the crew took some great pictures but I was content to take it in by eye. Trust me. It was ace.

Lunch stop. Hot. Sunny. Pate, bread, Haribo (hurrah!), mini-Snickers (double-hurrah!), Coke, cheese, meats, cakes.

Post-lunch, another climb - Col de Chioula. 1431 metres but nothing too steep. Forever known as "Iain's Col". Then, down to Ax-les-Thermes, a spa town where we ate, drank and were merry. Dangerous Dave earned his nickname by crashing on virtually the last corner and arriving at the bar torn, battered and dripping blood.

I think this post needs a pic. Not a Col, but a crepe.

That is a Black Forest Crepe. Cherries, chocolate ice cream, sauce, cream. There may even be a crepe in there too. That's what I call recovery food. And with it, some recovery drink.


Friday 15 July 2011

Pyrenees... part 5b: Belgium II

My titles are getting increasingly complex.

The climb up Col de Portet D'Aspet was one of my favourites - shortish and sharpish. At the top I met up with my two breakaway companions and after some faffing, texting guides and getting cold we descended to the nearest cafe for coffee. By now things were pretty chilly and this seemed the most sensible option. Plus, it involved coffee, which is always a good thing.

The rest of the group passed the cafe so we paid our bill and followed. We shortly came across the others and the van, and lunch. Hot lunch!

I haven't really mentioned the lunches. The lunches were a real highlight - who can resist a picnic every day with all you can eat local produce, cake, Coke, fruit, tea and coffee? The guides had kindly decided that hot pasta was the order for today which went down a treat. We defrosted, dried out a little and relaxed.

The after-lunch route included the Col de la Core - another Cat 1 climb. Hurrah. Plus, more rain. Double hurrah. I didn't stop to take pictures at the top of this one, but thankfully Iain did. Again, we didn't hang around at the top but descended pretty imediately, found a cafe and tried to thaw out once again.

So, that was our trip to Belgium. I loved it.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Pyrenees... part 5: Belgium

It was a dark and stormy night....

Really, it was. Very stormy. Those continentals do thunderstorms extremely well. Lightning, thunder, rain, power cuts. A few more clothes than normal went on and we rolled the 20km out of town, over the border... into Belgium.

At least, aspects were Belgian. The chill. The moisture. The combination of mist, fog and drizzle that morphed into clouds as we climbed higher. Obviously the climbs weren't particularly Belgian, but I guess they must have had some kind of cataclysm, throwing up some mountains overnight.

The first col of the day was Col De Mente - 9.3 km long, 849 up (an average percentage of 9.1%) with bits in excess of 11%. I noticed that our reigning King of the Mountains was having an easy day so this was the time.... to attack.

Up ahead, big Iain. Big as in tall, strong, powerful... but heavier than me. He'd also spotted the chance to take a Col and had set off at a fair old pace. I kept him just about in sight, through the trees, around the hairpins. It was certainly a cooler day - I guess both of us liked this kind of weather. Slowly, slowly I started to catch up - I knew there was a fair way to go so there was no hurry. Occasionally he looked round. Did he speed up as he saw me? I my mind, yes. In reality, probably yes.

Then the van came past, with Dangerous Dave at the wheel. Now, Dangerous Dave had a habit of goading riders. He might call it encouraging, we called it goading.

He leaned out the window... "You're not going to let him take this one are you?". "I'm just taking my time... few k to go".

He passed me, and slowed as he drew alongside Iain. Whilst I couldn't hear him I could imagine the conversation. "He's catching you! Don't let him catch you! You've got this one!".

Iain sped up.

I sped up.

I closed in, and sat on his wheel for a few seconds. I'm sure I heard a comment at that point, but it could have been the wind. I attacked, getting a 10m gap. I eased off, to let him catch up. I attacked again, with a slight giggle. There was definitely a comment that time.

The rest of the climb involved me trying to keep the gap safe, and presumably Iain try to close up. He was quicker on the flatter bits, I had the advantage on the steep bits. Gradually I pulled away.

The Col was mine. Not by much, but it was mine. He's a picture of me looking like a muppet. Go on, laugh. I don't care.

At the top, DD was waiting with hot drinks. We needed them. Soon Iain and I were joined by others, and cooling rapidly three of us set off carefully down the descent. At the bottom we found ourselves at one of the most (in)famous Cols in the tour - Col de Portet D'Aspet. Short and sharp 4.4km averaging 9.6% - with a maximum of 12.5%. This was the descent where Fabio Casartelli crashed and died during the 1995 Tour de France, and there is an impressive memorial to him at the foot of the climb. I pulled over, had a wander, a sit, a think. Road cycling is potentially lethal in so many ways. We'd flown down narrow roads at 70kph, on 23mm of rubber, less than a metre from deadly ravines. Dodged cars. Hopped potholes. Had punctures. Slid on gravel. Protected by a piece of polystyrene and a layer of lycra. Sometimes it's good to sit and think. Just don't do it on a technical descent.

My two companions missed the memorial. They thought I was going for a piss.

To be continued...

Monday 11 July 2011

Pyrenees... part 4: The "rest" day

Normally, my rest days involve not doing much. It's an almost constant factor that threads through them all. What I wouldn't do on a rest day is ride up something like the Col de Peyresourde, 9.8km long, 669m of ascent, an average of 6.8%. I certainly wouldn't start the ride by throwing in an extra 300m of ascent over Col de Shortcut before getting to the foot of the Peyresourde.

I'd enjoy a Coke and an ice cream, maybe, and even a 15km descent into Bagnères de Luchon followed by a pleasant coffee and a wander round a bike shop. Following that with a ride up the Col du Portillon (7.9km, 8.4% average, sections to 14%) into Spain would be sheer madness.

Oh, no. I wouldn't do any of that on a "rest" day.

What I definitely would do is spend a couple of hours drinking beer and eating tapas, before stuffing myself with a selection of excellent Spanish food, wine, port and beer.

I must have imagined that whole middle section of the day. And faked those Col signs too.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Pyrenees... part 3: Tourmalet

Off to Wiki again:

"The western side, from Luz-Saint-Sauveur, is 19 km long, climbing 1,404m at an average of 7.4 percent with a maximum of 10.2 near the summit."

Thankfully, Tourmalet, the highest pass in the Pyrenees (at 2115m) was a morning climb. This had been billed as "the big one", mainly because it was, you know, the big one. I did my now usual trick of not pausing at the bottom to photograph the sign, giving me a handy head start. I got into my rhythm, set my mental power limit to 220 watts and started tapping away.

From what I recall, the lower sections were through some little villages, all stone buildings and respite giving hairpins. At some point the trees disappeared to be replaced by Pyrenian pasture (I was going to say alpine, but we were clearly not in the Alps) which meant there was no relief from the sun. There was the odd ski station - a building, a car park - but very little else of interest.

A 19km climb is an exercise in pacing. Some riders can judge their efforts by feel and experience. I use gadgets. Power-meter, heart rate monitor, mental-state-brainwave gauge. Plus looking at the numbers gives me something to do other than looking up, up, up at a road that seems to go up forever.

210w, 220w, 190w. Heart rate 145, not bad. That's tempo. Push it a bit more to 220w average and the HR is now 151. Hmm, OK, ease it back a bit. Gear down. Oh, lowest gear already. Um, pedal more slowly - cadence 58, 55, 57... Gradient for next km 7.6%. Then 9%. Then another 9%.

I'm nearing the top now - well, 3km to go. I look up. I can see a building waaaaaay in the distance, far away and much higher than I am. Surely the pass doesn't go up there? 2km, 1km. Then there seem to be a couple of car-park ramps, 15-20%, 100m long. Right, final push. Top. Breathe.

Our group King of the Mountains was already there. We recovered with Coke and Snickers, then I went souvenir shopping. A cheap bike jersey for 60 Euros, Tourmalet branded.

There were llamas at the top, skittering around and falling off things. I think they were real.

We had lunch, we swooped down the descent, we started climbing again. Col D'Aspin. Pretty, wooded, a bit like Wales. This climb was made harder by not having signs every kilometre - don't ask me why, it's not as if I'd been riding all my life with them. Then again, the biggest climb around Newbury is only 1.5km long, so there would only be one sign anyway.

Then the descent. Slightly technical, lots of hairpins. Not the place where you want to have a front wheel puncture at 50kph. Guess what?

Thankfully it was on a straight section so I eased to a stop, walked back up the road to a shady verge and had the flint removed, tube replaced and tyre back on before the support van arrived. I still got Dangerous Dave to pump it up though.

Well, what else are guides for?

Thursday 7 July 2011

Pyrenees... part 2

Morning. We emerged bleary-eyed, having been subjected to the local om-pah (um-pah? Ompah?) band for most of the previous night. For some reason this part of the Pyrenees is riddled with them, probably due to the lack of other basic entertainments - TV, radio, internet, badger hunting.

It was hot. Hot hot hot. About 20C in the morning, 30C by midday, and just kept rising through the afternoon. Thankfully I'd packed plenty of white-based jerseys, so I wasn't suffering in black like some of the fashionistas on the trip. After some gentle rolling roads we came to the bottom of the first real climb - the Col de Marie-Blanque. 9.3km long, average gradient of 7.7%. Last 3km are about 11-12%, which is nasty by my standards. Generally a Cat 1 climb in the Tour.

That's the geeky description. The real description goes something like:

Hmm. Bit steep this. Not too bad, we did worse yesterday. I can just about sit down and turn the pedals without falling off. There's a bloke up ahead, weaving all over the road. Oh, he's fallen off. Ah, I see. This bit is steeper. And this bit is steeper again. How can that be? Who build this stupid road? What kind of garlic-steeped, goose-liver stuffed, beret wearing excuse for a road engineer decided that this was a good idea?

Better stand up. 2km left. 12%? Must be a misprint, surely. 1.2%, that's what they mean. Ow. Ow. Ow...

The top. Relax. Take picture.

I know, I know. It's only 1035 metres. But we did start at about 300m.

Next, the good bit. The descent. At this point I realised that I was competent at going down, but not exceptional (insert joke here). I was about 3rd or 4th, but thankfully I never felt like I was going to hurtle over a ravine.

We continued. At the bottom of the descent (which was pretty awesome) was a little town, which we explored in order to find water. Then on through another little town (using a rare "flat bit") before we started climbing again. These were the lower slopes of the Col D'Aubisque. We had lunch in Eaux-Bonnes, which meant that we had to do our first Hors Categorie (i.e. frickin' hard) pass in, oh, 40C heat. On full stomachs.

Wikipedia says:

"On the west, the climb to the Aubisque starts in Laruns. From there, the Aubisque is 16.6 km and rises 1,190m, an average of 7.2%. The first kilometres, to the spa resort of Eaux-Bonnes, are fairly easy [dislocatedMTB says "yeah, I could actually spin my legs for this bit]. After the Cascade de Valentin comes a section at 13 per cent. [13%? Probably, I had my eyes closed]From there to the top, the climb is 8 km at eight per cent average, passing the ski resort of Gourette at 1,400m.[Ah, the ski resort. I wanted to stop for ice cream. It wasn't open]"

"The Aubisque is one of those hors catégorie cols that make the legend of the Tour. The climb is in three parts. The first is fairly easy. The road is good and the specialists use 39 × 19 or 53 × 21[Odd, I was in 34 x 19]. Then, at Eaux-Bonnes, you [stop for a long lunch and the] turn left and get to the real climb. This part, as far as Gourette, is a lot more difficult. The hardest part swings between eight and ten per cent from the seventh kilometre until Pont-du-Goua at the ninth kilometre and you need 39 × 21[No, you need 22 x 34, the lowest standard MTB gear. Unfortunately I only had 34 x 26]. Then, after 300m of flat in Gourette, a hairpin goes up to the Hôtel des Crêtes Blanches. Riders use 39 × 17 over four kilometres before going into 39 × 16 in the last two kilometres [No, they use 34 x 26. It's all we've got. We also pedal really really slowly, about 60rpm]"

By the top I was dehyrated, shivering and baked in the sun. I needed a Coke, a coffee, an ice cream, a couple of cereal bars and a massage. I didn't get the massage.

I did get a picture though.

The descent went on for ages... it was ace. The only scary bit was the melting tarmac, but hey, it probably makes it stickier.

Next. The big one.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Pyrenees... part 1

I've just come back from the Saddle Skedaddle Pyrenees Road Cycling tour. I've just about recovered enough to write about it...

I think I mentioned that my bike was packed in the Evoc bag. On arrival unpacking and reassembling the bike took about 5 minutes, compared to the usual 20. I can't recommended the bag enough - it was even easy to drag around the airport. I was enjoying it so much I asked to take it with me as hand baggage but despite repeated attempts I couldn't get it to fit in the little sizing cage at check-in.

So, bike unpacked, fellow riders met. All by themselves. One Canadian woman. One Australian woman. One man who flew over from Saudi (where he lived and worked). Six other assorted men. Bikes ranged from a Surly Long Haul Trucker, with co-ordinated accessories, to a rather tasty Cervelo. Two guides - big Kevin (who I was convinced was called Steve for the first 2 days) and Dangerous Dave. Dangerous Dave was merely Dave at that point...

We ate, we drank, we talked. We girded our loins for the next day. Mountains? How hard could they be?

Fast forward 12 hours.

Oh. My. God. I. Need. Oxygen. Must. Slow. Down. Or. Fall. Off. 14% for next Km. 12%. 12%. 7%. 5Km to top. Ow. Ow. Ow.

Looking back, the first climb was always going to hurt. Nothing to do with the length, or the gradient, or the heat. All to do with it being the first climb of the trip. This was where we started to sort out "the order".

"The Order" is the unspoken King of the Mountains competition. No-one admits they are trying, no-one talks about it before it starts, but once that first big climb of the trip comes up gears are shifted, pedals are stood on and heart rates go to maximum.

I hit the steep start hard, putting 20m into the second placed rider. Then I realised that this wasn't a 500m Cotswold climb but lasted 8Km. Oh. A few hundred metres further on and I was now the second placed rider. Bah. I was also in a lot of pain. Somehow I got it under control and vowed two things.

1. To respect my position. I wasn't the best climber.
2. To never hit a big mountain climb that hard again. The new tactic was to start slow, and continue slow.

The first Col.

Only 1135m. Only! The highest point around here is 230m. It was also one of the steepest of the whole trip with some very nasty sections.

The second Col, which although was higher was much less steep.

We had lunch at the top, where we were amazed to discover that was it for the climbing - the rest of the day was downhill to flat, pretty much. Which was nice.

Tomorrow - some Cols you may have heard of.

Thursday 23 June 2011

My road bike is excited. Very excited.

My road bike is going on a plane. My road bike has never been on a plane before and so it has been spinning around with excitement. It's even been making little excited chirping noises from within the funky Evoc bike bag it's been carefully packed in. That was a fight, I had to wrestle it to the floor and take its wheels off in order to get it to calm down. I can still hear it now, through all the padding and the living room floor (our garage is at the bottom of the house), going "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeekkkkk!".

My road bike is going on a plane to France. To the Pyrenees. To Tourmalet, Aubisque, Aspin, Peyresourde, Portet d'Aspet, Marie Blanque, Souler, la Core, Jau, Portillon, Port, Pailheres...

And I'm going with it.

I'm quite excited too.


Tuesday 14 June 2011

Hell of the North Hampshire

Belgian. That's how we like to describe road rides that are cold, wet, rough, dirty and brutal. Last Sunday's Magnificat was double Belgian.

Some statistics to begin with.
  • The long route is 202km (or 127 miles if you're being non-Belgian)
  • 587 people paid good money to do this route
  • 17 people took the short option and did 51 miles
  • 131 people took the medium option and did 81 miles
  • 65 people didn't finish
  • 202 people didn't start
  • 172 people completed the 127 miles
So less than a third of the entrants completed the route.

This sounds a little like I'm about to justify quitting. But no. I was one of the 172. The 172 cold, drenched, battered, numb, punctured and beaten who were truly Belgian too. Also in that 172 were Phill and Dave B from LEJOG (who somehow managed to ride 140 miles!) and three others I know from work - Dave W, Pat K and Chris H (on a hybrid!). Awesome stuff.

So... what happened?

We've had quite a lot of sunshine recently, and very little rain. All week I'd been watching the forecasts and it looked like the precipitation fairy would be making an appearance. The forecasts for Sunday varied a little - on Wednesday showers were predicted, on Thursday it had changed to light rain, Friday heavy rain and Saturday we were back to light rain. I spent most of Saturday on various weather sites, hoping that one of them would show a change in the wind, or a change in the cloud cover. To be fair, they did - but not in a good way. Moderate to heavy rain all day, 15mph winds.

Time to prepare.

Clothing. I umm-ed and ahh-ed, but past experience has told me that too hot is better than too cold, and being warm is more important than being dry. Time for the trusty Gore Phantom softshell (which kept me alive on LEJOG), knee warmers and my winter overshoes - rated down to -5C.

The bike. Wet lube on the chain, Conti GP 4 Seasons tyres - a rain/winter tyre. This is June! What am I doing using winter tyres in June!?

The food. Extra strength Torq juice, mainly gels and a couple of bars. I don't like to be hungry. You might have guessed that from my last post.

Time to sleep and pray the forecast was wrong. It normally is.

Morning came, and it was just as predicted. 9C, windy, moderate rain. I rode to the start expecting queues of people like last year but it was surprisingly quiet. I was in the first group off at 8am and I think I saw my first punctured rider at 8.10am. It was carnage - all the water was hiding pot holes and helping the local flint to shred tyres. There were also very few people out, so no real groups were forming. I punctured at 20 miles in - a giant pothole exploding the rear tube at the valve - and had a 15 minute fight to change the tube with cold sodden hands. In all honesty I was in a better state than a lot of people who hadn't really dressed for the conditions. My feet were wet but toasty, my shell was keeping out the wind and keeping in the warm and my hands were just about functioning.

I put all thoughts of a fast time out of my mind - with no groups around I must have ridden at least 100 of the miles alone. I stopped briefly at every other feed stop and just kept pedaling. Around almost every corner there was someone fixing a puncture, and when I saw the odd other rider there was very little chat. Grim.

At the 80 mile point there was a feed stop with hot tea! That was nice. I even had sugar. 80 miles done... only 47 to go. Fuck.

With 25 miles to go I lost the ability to change my front gears. The bike was working, but my hands were so cold I couldn't push the lever. I used both hands to get it into the little ring and left it there.

With 16 miles to go, I treated myself to a caffeine gel. I was on very familiar training roads now so I knew what was coming. A couple more climbs, one little kicker (at about 25% gradient) and just keep pedaling.

At about this point I started to think about what I was going to do when I finished. I'd been invited to a friends (Caroline) for post-ride tea and cake, but quite frankly I figured if I stopped I'd never get going again. Then again, there was cake. But home and a hot shower beckoned. Home or cake, home or cake...

With 10 miles to go I lost the ability to change my rear gears. Again, cold hands. I put it in a lowish one and singlespeeded to the finish. At this point cake won. That and the fact I was rapidly losing the ability to work my bike controls - brakes would probably be next and Newbury traffic with no brakes is no fun.

The finish. I grabbed the goody bag (completely failing to carry on through to get a medal - ah well) and bimbled the 500 yards to Caroline's house. I realised how cold I was when I found I couldn't grip anything - I couldn't undo my helmet straps, I couldn't undo a zip, I couldn't undo my shoes. Thankfully Caroline had warmed up after doing the 81 miler and helped me with the tricky fasteners. A warm towel, a very hot shower, a cup of tea and a huge piece of cake and I was almost human again. She gave me a lift home - there was no way I was riding again - and I picked up my bike later. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

So, that was the Magnificat

Chapeau to everyone who turned up a rode - whatever distance. You are all now famous Belgians.

(There was a tweet later from one of the photographers, @SportivePhoto - "Have now photographed over 150 sportives, NEVER have I been in the rain all day long. An epic day for those who rode")

Friday 10 June 2011

Today I have eaten...

Two slices of toast with cherry jam.
One slice of malt loaf.
A Nature's Valley granola bar.
An apple.
A Nutrigrain Elevenses bar.
An egg salad sandwich.
A giant jacket potato with baked beans.
A handful of dried cranberries, blueberries and raisins.
Another slice of malt loaf.
A small High-5 gel.
400ml of Torq Recovery, Chocolate Orange flavour.
Another slice of malt loaf.
A slice of bread with some chicken, sort of folded over into a sandwich.
A square of Lindt Mint Intense chocolate.

I'm now cooking tea - home made ciabatta pizzas. Then I'll almost certainly have a Solero. And maybe some more malt loaf.

I'd better do this 200km bike ride on Sunday, otherwise I'm going to be really really fat.

Monday 30 May 2011

Tour of We

Or 2/3rds of Tour of Wessex.

Yes, I wimped out on day three. Tired legs (from about 20 miles in on day 2) and a forecast for persistent rain swung the will-I-enjoy-this-ometer firmly into the "Hell No" zone. Having spent most of the day sleeping and eating pizza and cake I think I made the right choice.

Day one was windy, showery, hilly, occasionally picturesque and windy. Did I mention windy? I rode most of the way round with Darren, having let Jon, Phill and Phill's friend Chris escape into the distance. I remember the climb up Cheddar Gorge, the second feed station (with little old ladies serving tea and coffee in china cups!), Darren chatting to a young lady for 30 miles (she kept trying to get away but she just wasn't quick enough), the climb up to King Alfred's Tower (ouchy) and Darren's dodgy knee making an appearance again. I also remember Becky (of the Brownies) arriving back at the campsite after getting round the 73 mile route - an amazing achievement when her longest previous ride was about 25 miles.

Day two was hilly, often picturesque, occasionally sunny, windy and hilly. Did I mention hilly? Darren had to turn back after the first 2km - broken knee - and there was a resolution from the team to "take it easy". To be fair, I managed to stay with the others for most of the first section, only to lose them after the feed station and have to ride most of the next 30 miles solo, into the wind. Still - it was pretty - Lulworth Cove, Corfe Castle, some other rolling hills covered in green stuff. I think I saw the sea, but I was concentrating on not crashing on a steep descent so paid it little attention.

Ah, descents. 70kph/43mph on one, narrow and twisty through the trees. I was back with Phill and Jon at that point; I'd caught up at the second feed stop and sat behind the pair of them as they towed a group along, into the wind. I managed to hang on for most of the way back, before blowing up in impressive fashion 10km from the end. I even needed a caffiene gel with 2km to go - I was never going to make it otherwise.

So, 363km/227m in two days, lots of up, lots of down and lots of wind. I don't think I'd do the event again - the whole concept of multiple daily loops from one place gave the feeling of not really getting anywhere. The camping facilities were poor, the "event village" more of a hamlet and it wasn't great value either. Compared to something like TwentyFour12 it was a bit disappointing - I guess it goes to show that mountain bikers party better than roadies.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Something truely momentus has happened

The recipe for "Becky's Brownies" has escaped, and ended up in our house. It came with a full set of ingredients (estimated value: £341.56) and a brownie tray. They were a very kind present for Pie on her birthday and yesterday they transmutated from blocks of calorie laden individuals into blocks of calorie laden combinations.

Each block: 840kcals
This has happened at a very convenient time - carbo loading day. As everyone knows, chocolate is a carbohydrate, as is butter. I'm not so sure about sugar and marshmallows but I'll tolerate them. They also come in handy chunks, much like Clif Shot Bloks, and I can eat around 15 in a sitting. I'm excellent at eating.

Carbo loading day inevitably precedes some kind of exercise - in this case three 100 mile rides on consecutive days. After last year this should hold no fear, however the combination of breakages, no real base training and recalcitrant back muscles might come together to make things a little tricky. Not to mention a forecast for rain - the first real rain for two months.

Still, if it all goes wrong I can kick back at the campsite with a beer, some brownies and work on my stomach.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Wow, three weeks

That's a bit of a gap since the last post. It's not that I've not been doing stuff, but it hasn't seemed interesting or exciting enough to mention. OK, I've bought a car (therefore completing part two of my shopping list). I eventually let practicality get the better of me and ended up with an estate, although it does have 414 BHP.

What else? I've learnt to drive a Land Rover Discovery (old model) very slowly. Low range box, diff locks, chunky chunky tyes... "let's off-road!". Great fun. Almost as much fun as taking a 414 BHP estate car onto a runway and being coached in how to drive it properly by Don Palmer, all thanks to a 40th birthday present. I just wish the present had included a new set of tyres too. I did this with my friend Chris, who also has a 414 BHP car (saloon version) and curiously also received a driving course for his 40th birthday.

That's enough about cars. On to bikes. Remember those pics of me in Cycling Weekly last year? Here and here? Fuzzy, but definitely me. Well, they've got a better photographer. I don't even need to annotate the new picture.

If you click on it you'll see that's me at the front and Jon behind (as ever...!). Somehow they've made me look fat, which is quite an achievement.

Next weekend is the Tour of Wessex. Hopefully I'll be in good shape - I've certainly got back to reasonable fitness - but I annoying managed to tweek my back while fiddling with a bike after my ride last night. I'm currently lurching around the house like... um, House really. I'm sure I'll be fine. Really.

I'm not just getting my excuses in early. Honest.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Well that went quite well

107 miles in 6:14 (official time, including feed station stops), 39th out of 253 people doing the long route. Not bad considering that I've missed a couple of months worth of training, and I've not ridden more than four and a half hours since... let me think... August?

The preparation was pretty much perfect - a week of rest and eating, culminating in a magic pasta followed by rice pudding at Jon's, courtesy of Jem. Staying over gave me the chance to meet little Esme, reaquaint myself with slightly bigger Tom, and meant I didn't have to get up at 6am. Easter Monday morning came and a light breakfast, a gentle roll to the start and we were off...

Light winds, sunshine and Jon and pal pulling on the front for the first ten miles. Then some more pulling on the front by Jon, interspersed with me trying to get him to slow slightly on the flat and hoping he'd wait for me at the top of every climb. This continued for about 50 miles, until the first couple of real climbs... the kind where people were walking... but somehow I wasn't. Somehow, all those intense turbo sessions had done something. Somehow the training had worked.

We rolled through the 100km in about three and a quarter hours. A brief calculation gave me similar to complete the remaining 70km and finish in a Gold standard time. How hard could that be?

Well, then came the hills. The gut busting knee wrenching teeth clenching real hills. Some I remembered from last year, some were new or maybe blanked out. I rode them all though, even though I was sub-walking pace for parts. Being able to trackstand is a handy skill.

And finally - the last 30km. At this point I was confident I'd finish so I was able to put a bit more work in on the front. Handily this coincided with a drop in energy from Jon (who later turned out to be incubating a nasty stomach bug) so I was able to pay back the earlier favours a little. A group gathered behind as we swept up slower people who'd started before us.

Then the last 5km. A main road, flatish and fast. I thought I'd sit on the front and time-trial to the finish, towing the group home. Three others in Performance Cycles jerseys had similar thoughts though, so I ended up four back.

500m to go. A rise in the road - not a hill, just a kicker. So I kicked, sprinting into the climb, breaking away from the group. Then a black a white rocket, who had the same idea, came past me. Ah, Jon's back. One other rider came too, and when I looked back we were 50m ahead of the bunch. Childish I know, but I'm really a big kid.

The finish line. The Easter Egg. The food, coffee, stretch, bimble back to Jon's for more food, water, tea and cake. Home.

Slump on sofa.... a nagging feeling I've forgotten something...

Recovery Tights!

Sunday 24 April 2011

First event

When I broke myself, one of my thoughts was that I'd wasted all the money used in entering various events. Well, here I am the day before my first scheduled one and I'm tapering and carbo loading in preparation. For those who don't speak cyclish, that means I'm resting and eating.

Tomorrow is the Cotswold Spring Classic, an event so good that they give you an Easter egg at the end. I did it last year - it was tough, but not killer - and it'll be a good test to see how much worse I am after an unexpected couple of months off earlier this year.

Jon claims that he's going to pace me round the 100 mile route (there is a 100km option) but I seriously doubt whether he'll be able to ride as slowly as I'll be going, especially when there are other riders to chase. At least the weather is looking promising - 20C, 9mph winds - so he can work on his cycling tan.

So how do I feel? Legs are... OK. My newly acquired powermeter is giving me a rating of "Cheshire" on the cheese-legs scale. I reckon I may have been at "Double Gloucester" this time last year, so not quite as good. I've certainly not done anywhere near the amount of hill climbing practice - I've missed those weekly 7am trips to the Cotswolds to ride for five hours every Saturday.

All in all, I'm pretty positive. Not that I'll do well, but that I'm actually going to be on the start line. If I complete the 100 mile I'll even be ahead of my "best case scenario". Fingers (and collarbone screws) crossed.

Monday 18 April 2011

Personal Training Camp Days 4 and 5

Failure. Failure to do the planned 400km/16 hours. The total was about 12 and a half hours, 320km. Not bad, but not great.

Still, I've learnt a couple of things.
  • In the middle of a personal training camp, on the designated "rest day", don't do a set of power intervals and then get taken out by Jon to be "manned up"
  • After being "manned up", the most likely result for the next day will be a bimbling recovery ride, at a pace that a unicycling rhino would call slow
  • Pro-cyclists, on a pro-cyclist training camp, probably don't have to go down the tip
  • It's highly unlikely that they'll go shopping for socks in Winchester either, and end up buying expensive handbag presents
  • And don't get me started on the temptations of hot pastie sellers and free samples in the posh chocolate shop. They don't sell many pasties in Lanzarote.
Essentially, life gets in the way. Which to be fair is no bad thing.

I needed some socks.

Saturday 16 April 2011

Personal Training Camp Days 2 and 3

After the excitement of my longest ride for ages on day one, I eased things back slightly for day two and did a well used loop of 85km. Pace was slightly slower (a good thing) and I clocked up another three hours.

That's all I can remember. Wow, it was only two days ago and already my mind is a blank. I think that's the problem with solo rides on familiar roads - everything blends together. There may have been a dead badger or two but I've seen a lots of dead badgers recently; it must be the season for them.

Day three. This was designated as my "rest day", so I was up early, did a trip to the tip to clear some garage space, visited the bike shop for cables and rim tape and returned home to talk myself into some intervals. After an hour of internal debate I dragged my carcass down to the garage and fired up the turbo. Two sets of 3 x 2 minutes, at a power of "hurty". After the first set I remembered that I'd also arranged another ride with Andy Schlek/Jon that evening. Hmm. Better not do the full second set then. Another hour clocked up.

5pm, and it looks like Jon this time, instead of that Andy fella. Jon in his full shop team kit including matching silly shorts. We set off and I soon realised that wha looked like Jon's Wilier (that's a bike) was in fact some kind of lightweight motorcycle. That's all I could conclude as I just about hung on behind him as we cruised along at a steady 45kph. There were also "vroom-vroom" noises and exhaust fumes but I'd rather not talk about them.

Another 35km notched up, and another hour and a quarter (there were some hills where the pace dropped a little). I limped up the stairs, fed Jon coffee and a hot cross bun, then collapsed on the the sofa.

So much for a "rest day".

The score after three days - 9 hours 45 minutes riding, 257km. Oh, and the start of a saddle sore...

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Personal Training Camp Day 1

Ow. My legs really shouldn't hurt this much. 114km, 4hr 30mins, a few hills in there. Probably a bit more intense than I should have been riding but I seem to be doing that a lot recently. I'm sure tomorrow will be different.

I was up on time, coffee'd on time and out on time. I'd found a route called "Magnificat Stage 1 Plus" buried on my laptop, which I thought was the first chunk of last year's event with a loop back. Almost right. It was obviously something I'd drawn last year after the event, as the first 30km and last 40km were from the official route but with a beautiful linking section through some picture perfect Hampshire villages. Honestly, I had a "Isn't this bit of England brilliant" moment and I even saw my shadow a couple of times as the sun bravely tried to make an appearance.

Hell, I even passed the Vitacress watercress place and the entrance to Jody Scheckter's organic farm.

I stopped near Basingstoke for a Snickers and Powerade top-up which just about saved me from some low-sugar wobbliness and I kept up the pace until catching my chain on my front mech (again... really must sort that) which pulled it round and meant I sounded like I was trying to grate a spoon for the last 5km.

In, stretch, recovery drink and a first appearance of the year for the recovery tights.

The next couple of hours were spent slumped on the sofa watching "The Flying Scotsman", continuing the cycling theme.

Now off to a quiz. That's not very training camp but I'll pretend the Directeur Sportif has organised it.

Tomorrow - 3 or so hours, then physio appointment, then maybe another hour. We'll see.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

My own, personal, training camp

For those who spend their lives not obsessed with cycling, training and eating (and I know there are a couple of you left) a training camp is where you go somewhere sunny with other freaks and spend the days riding and eating.

This is not my plan.

I've been to a couple of training camps - semi-public ones - in Southern Spain. The weather was sunny (we'll conveniently gloss over the rain sodden days where we nearly died of exposure), the routes glorious and the food plentiful. Riding with a group adds additional motivation and having a plan and some ride leaders meant that six hours of training a day was done.

This is not my plan either.

I have 5 days. Three in the week, two in the weekend. I'm in drizzly Berkshire. I've no-one to ride with Wednesday and Thursday, the chance of 45 minutes riding with Jon and Friday and no plans for Saturday or Sunday. My endurance fitness is questionable and my motivation marginal. I do however have a fistful of GPS routes, a garage-full of energy products and a fridgeful of milkshakes.

My target: 400km or 16 hours.

Game on.