Friday, 8 April 2016

Can-do Girls - Annaleena does midwinter!

Following on from my post a month ago for International Women's Day I will be continuing my series on women who have done impressive things or accomplished amazing achievements. Those that have been where others fear to tread and have come out on the other side deserving a massive badge of honour as well as a big piece of cake!

These are the Can-do Girls. These women really can. We all know of celebrity female athletes and adventurers who have achieved outstanding feats in sport, and I have already mentioned some of them in my previous posts. This series will focus on Jane Bloggs or Jane Doe who has done extraordinary things.

Today I want to talk about my co-worker, designer Annaleena Piel Linnå. As cycling fans get ready to watch the professionals battle it out on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix spare a thought for Annaleena who rode the cobbles on her own on her 30-year-old steel touring bike all alone in December!

Luckily for her the weather stayed largely clement, but it still didn't get her out of riding on the various cobbled sectors. 

Starting from central Paris, (as opposed to Compiegne where the masses start their ride) Annaleena set off on Boxing Day last year and headed northwards. She recorded her story with nice photos on her blog. Here's how Annaleena summarised her trip when I spoke to her:

Paris-Roubaix was actually my plan B!

I did Rapha Festive 500 for the first time last year [2014-15] and thought this is so good I’m gonna do it every year, so I was looking for a way to get in 500km over Christmas.

I had wanted to do Land’s End to John O’Groats but couldn’t find any accommodation past Glasgow at that time.

Also the floods came and I thought I’m either gonna die or it would be a really miserable week.

Then while on train journey to Paris with my bike thought, why not Paris-Roubaix? So there I was downloading the official route from last year and doing the planning just two days before I set off!

After spending Christmas Day in Paris and I set off on Day 1 from the centre of the Capital to Compiegne, which was about 112km. Because of my recovery from flu and needing lots of rest I ended up leaving Paris around noon so I didn’t arrive in Compiegne until around 7 o’clock that night. So the last 3 hours was spent on unlit roads with loads of drivers beeping at me through the dark, shouting “Crazy girl, what are you doing on the road?!”

The next day the weather was sunny all day long and the temperature was 14degC, which was so lucky.

There were around 52.7km of pavé but I did about 12 sections of them and I don’t know exactly which ones I did because a lot of them were ridden in pitch black! I’d be riding along, barely able to make out what was coming – then it would go all bumpy and I would realise “Ooh, I’m on the pavé!” The worst one was more than 2km long and it hurt my head so much.

I had wanted to do all of the pavé but many of them were being reworked. I’d get to a few of them and there’d be a dozen old people there, The Friends of Paris Roubaix, with their tools fixing the road!

My tactic throughout was to keep calm and keep going. People had given me tips to go really fast on the cobbles and weigh down my bike. That wasn’t difficult as I had 12kg in the saddle bags!

It would have been nice to stop for a long lunch during the ride but nothing was open. I even had to go to a nursing home to use their toilet, and that was an adventure in itself!

Arriving in Roubaix I felt so jubilant. The ride felt so much better than everyone had told me. My ride didn’t end in Roubaix though as afterwards I had to ride another 18km to Lille, where I was staying and do another 120km to make it 500.

I have lots of great memories from the trip and would absolutely recommend doing it independently. If you are riding over Christmas bring loads of food, because at that time absolutely everything is shut and I ended up riding around starving!

Just get on your bike and do it!

Photos by Annaleena Piel Linnå

Monday, 28 March 2016

Leisure cycle ride through Sussex

Over the years I have come across lots of traffic-free cycle routes up and down the UK and abroad as well. I think they are really good ways for people to get into cycling. Even for experienced riders they make for a refreshing break just to be able to ride and not think about motorists and lorries.

As it happens, in the UK thanks to a report in the 1960s that led to the closure of thousands of miles of railway lines, these disused lines have now become the cyclist's gain. We now have lots of pleasant cycle routes around the country that we can enjoy at our leisure with our families and friends on sunny bank holidays like today.

I have started writing about these routes on Total Women's Cycling website. The first one in the series is on Forest Way, a 7-mile route from Groombridge, near Tunbridge Wells to East Grinstead.

I enjoyed this ride. I hope you do too! Look out for more routes that I will be writing about over the coming weeks.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

These Girls Can!

I like to celebrate women's achievements everyday, and there are a lot of women achieving lots of things around the world. But go on then, as it's "International Women's Day" here's my bit.

I would like to give mention to a few women in cycling who have been trailblazers and really stood out. Some had to battle against the odds but they managed to break through whatever barriers and dealing with adversity - poverty, accident, family constraints or sexism. I can't go without mentioning Beryl Burton, who I have great admiration for, and will continue to admire. And as one of Yorkshire's toughest I am sure we will be remembering her again at the Tour de Yorkshire next month.

I also can't go without mentioning Marianne Vos, who I find amazing. As someone who has met her on a number of occasions I would say she is a very nice person as well. Even though she has been a multiple-time world champion across various disciplines in cycling she has a lot of time for the humble biker like me, and she has been instrumental in promoting women's cycling around the world.

And now for other stand-out folks:

Victoria Pendleton - Yesterday it was announced that she will be competing in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, not on two wheels but on four legs! Yes, the Olympic track cyclist has reinvented herself as a jockey! She only started horseracing a year ago and she is going to be representing at one of the top horseracing events in the UK next week!

She has had mixed fortunes in horseracing, having crashed out at Fakenham in February but then won her race last week at Wincanton. Furthermore she has had mixed reactions from the horseracing community with champion jump jockey John Francome saying she should quit before she hurts herself, while 20-time jump jockey champion AP McCoy, who has been giving Victoria a bit of coaching has been very encouraging and says that her participation in jump racing is good for the sport.

Whatever she does, I think that Vicky is a credit to women's sport because she gets out there. When speaking to her it is clear that she is very driven and motivated and it is hugely inspiring to others.

Apart from a cyclist in the para-sports category of the Laureus World Sports Award nominations the only cyclist is none other than Rachel Atherton - World Downhill mountain bike Champion. She herself described it as a "crazy and massive honour"! So she'll be sharing the stage with the likes of Lindsey Vonn, Serena Williams, Lewis Hamilton, Lionel Messi and Usain Bolt.

It would be great to see Rachel win in the Action Sports category. Whether she does or not I think she has been a trailblazer - literally with all her antics throwing herself down hills and notching up championship title after title since she was 14. (She's now 28).

From further back in time I must mention Camden's finest (after Amy Winehouse) Billie Fleming. She only set the women's record for the greatest distance covered in a year, in 1938 - 29,604 miles! Then lived on to the ripe old age when she died aged 100 two years ago.

And talking of more firsts - Annie "Londonderry" Cohen Kopchovsky, in the 19th century was the original "new woman." In 1894, at the age of 24 and leaving behind three young children at home, was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by bicycle through accidents, mishaps and high water. Makes me feel lazy when I groan about riding just down to Brighton!

So there you have it, a few trail blazers that inspire me and make me think. This Girl Can!

Related posts

Women's Cycling just got Strongher

Female Cycling Legends

Interviewing a few good women

Thursday, 3 March 2016

10 Fast Facts on.... World Hour Record Holder, Evelyn Stevens

Last week the American racer Evelyn Stevens broke the women's hour record, beating the time set by Bridie O'Donnell just over a month ago. On her Specialized bike with a standard Shiv frame the Boels Dolmans rider covered 47.98km in 60 minutes around the 7-Eleven Velodrome in Colorado Springs. So who is Evie Stevens?

Apart from being the third woman to break the World Hour Record under the revised UCI rules after Molly Shaffer Van Houweling and Bridie O'Donnell, and being the team-mate of World Road Race Champion Lizzie Armitstead here are a few more fast facts.

1. Evelyn's first ever bike race was at a cyclo cross event in 2007. She didn't win and crashed loads of times.

2. Evelyn got into road cycling when she attended a local women's cycle training session in Central Park, New York in 2008 after her sister suggested it.

3. She only turned professional in 2010 aged almost 27, two years after taking up road racing seriously, and after a career working in investment banking.

4. Evelyn is an ambassador for World Bike Relief, a charity that aims to improve the lives of underprivileged people around the world by providing bicycles.

5. Her coach is Neal Henderson, who also coached BMC's Rohan Dennis - another rider to break the World Hour Record.

6. Evelyn is good friends with another BMC team rider, Taylor Phinney and she stayed with his parents in Colorado while there to make her world hour attempt.

7. Her husband, Brett works for Twitter.

8. Other professional racers who are interested in the hour record are waiting until after the Rio Olympics, but Evelyn has used her world hour record ride as a way to help her hopefully in the Olympics, by way of improving her power on the flat.

9. The track at Colorado Springs was 333.3m, which is shallower than the Olympic tracks, but better adapted for Evelyn's riding style as a non-track rider.

10. During her hour record different parts of her bike, including the bottom bracket had the grease removed in order to make more marginal gains on her speed when riding.


Related posts

Bridie O'Donnell - Another Inspirational Women's Hour Record

Molly Shaffer Van Houweling breaks the World Hour Record

10 Soundbites from Dame Sarah Storey

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The World's Most Accessible Cycle Sport - Street Velodrome!

Pop-up Street Velodrome
I had a go at this sport called Street Velodrome and all I know is surfer-biker chick Anna Glowinski does it and raves about how great it is. Well, given that she likes her sport adrenaline-fuelled I immediately wanted to give this activity a wide berth. As a veteran rider I find I value my bones more and more!

However, while I was at the London Bike Show, where they had set up their rig, I bumped into Anna. When I said I would be going over to watch the Street Velodrome competition she was very encouraging. "Go on, give it a go. It's free and it's so much fun," she said.
"I don't know," I replied unsure. "I'll make a fool of myself in front of everybody."
"Don't be silly. Anyone can have a go." I think that's what sold me. Anyone can have a go.

So I toddled along hoping that it would be fun, just as Anna had said. Looking at the bankings at the extremities of the short circuit made me feel a little apprehensive.

Kelly, the lady who was helping out and coaching people of all ages was very helpful. "It's not bad once you get going. You'll be fine. We'll get you to race against this boy."

I wasn't sure I wanted to race against anyone, but racing against a seven-year old kid who was barely higher than my waist worried me. He could either upstage me royally, which would be embarrassing - or even worse, I could go wrong on the banking, fall over and squash him - which would be mortifying!

Once I put on my trainers and the guys kitted me out with a bike and a helmet I first did a few circuits of the track on the flat ground, just to practice going around tight corners. The trick is to learn to look around the corner at where you need to be. .

It is true that I am already practised in going around corners, having ridden in a velodrome and raced a little on road and cyclo cross circuits.
In reality, looking around the corner is the only real skill anyone needs, so after a few laps around on the flat you pick up the concept and you're ready to go on the actual circuit with banking included.

For my first go I set off along the straight at medium speed. I should have been a bit quicker so that I would have the momentum to get up onto the banking. But even with this slight mistake where I crawled up the track at a snails pace things weren't so bad because it meant I tackled the tight corner at a controlled pace and once I was looked around the corner the bicycle followed and took me down the ramp, picking up a high speed as I hit the straight, and this speed was enough to take me up the ramp at the other end of the track, where once again I was looking around the corner. So before I knew it I was rounding the bend again to take another fast descent to my startpoint and then up to the banking again. And thus continued the cycle.

There are lines marked on the track showing when you need to start looking around the corner, and Kelly would shout across to me to do so in case I forgot! So I felt in safe hands.

Getting the cornering right
It was a real adrenaline rush for me and I was enjoying the "speed". I felt like Guy Martin, but in fact I was probably more like Eddie the Eagle! Nevertheless, the riding is easy to get into both in terms of skill and equipment. You just need to be in trainers and trousers or shorts. Lycra and specific cycle kit is not necessary. 

By the time I had finished my practice the little boy I was going to race against had already competed against someone else and won, and as I was the last person signed up for the session there was no one else left to race against.

No worries. There will be other opportunities to race, as Street Velodrome travels around the country and people can sign up on-line to have a go either in the amateur series, or in the pro series if you want to race at a higher level.

Carl Thompson the originator of this pop-up concept wanted to create a cycle event that was engaging, entertaining, free of charge, and can have a broad appeal. The series starts in May at the Eden Project and tours different venues around the country. Amateurs race for free and their series runs parallel to the pro competition, with the best amateurs being invited to the super finals outside Buckingham Palace as part of Prudential Ride London at the end of July.

"We try to get a good balance between male and female competitors as we want to showcase women's cycling rather than have it as a support event to the men's race," Carl explained to me. "We are affiliated with the This Girl Can sports campaign and we hope to reach out to 16-24 year-old women.
And the secret to doing well at Street Velodrome? According to Carl: "It's about the start - pushing off as quick as you can in a big gear when the traffic light turns green. Then when riding the berm [the tight turn] you look at the exit of the turn to get you around the corner."

Getting the cornering wrong!

So there you have it guys and girls. Street Velodrome is all very accessible. Just sign up and remember to push hard and look round the corner - something that this guy unfortunately forgot to do, though no harm was done. I'm sure that won't happen to you!

Related posts

A night with Rollapaluza

Monday, 22 February 2016

Two teams, two launches, lots of motivation

I managed to get down to the London Bike Show a couple of weekends ago and had the privilege of seeing two women's team launches on the Friday and Saturday.

Friday saw the launch of Drops CC, a new UCI registered team headed by Bob Varney, with mentoring from the hugely successful national racer, Karla Boddy. I am impressed to see her move into a mentoring/Director Sportive role, particularly as I recall her racing some of the races in the old London Women's Cycle Racing League less than 5 years ago.

With riders such as Caribbean Road Race Champion Tamiko Butler, and National Masters Road Race Champion, Laura Massey the team hopes to make its mark in the National Series Races and the National Championships, as well as in some of the races in Europe. The team hopes to get a wildcard entry for the Aviva Women's Tour (now part of the inaugural Women's World Tour series it accepts entries primarily from top tier UCI women's teams).

All the ladies are currently finalising their training in Mallorca, but when they leave the island I look forward to seeing the women making their mark at the early season classic continental races - Le Samyn des Dames, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and Grand Prix de Dottignies, as well as races over here like the Women's Tour of Yorkshire, the Cheshire Classic.

On Saturday afternoon we were treated to the eye-catching kit of the newly formed Cannondale Girls racing team (aka We Ride Green). Again, this team has a lot of familiar racers that I have seen riding on local circuits in London and at the Notts/Derby Cyclo cross and the Northwest Cyclo cross leagues. In fact a number of the girls are from the former Mule Bar Girls racing team.

Cannondale Girls seem to have retained the same spirit of fun while racing hard. In fact the big reveal included generous amounts of Prosecco as well as delicious cookies and cakes baked by the girls themselves. Moving swiftly on from their kitchen talents Natalie, Adele, Diane, and Maxine talked to me about their plans for the coming season. Plans are quite varied within the team due to the diversity of disciplines Cannondale Girls pursue. Unlike Drops CC who are focusing on the road, Cannondale Girls will be mixing in quite a lot of off-road activities - Enduro, Downhill and Cross country mountain biking, as well as cyclo cross - and also mountain bike orienteering. A rather alternative way of cycle racing, and Natalie was very excitedly looking forward to a season of doing this with team-mate Emily Benham, the 2015 World Mountain Bike Orienteering series winner in this exciting discipline.

It'll be very exciting to see how this group of "Wonderwomen" get on in 2016. In fact you can catch up with some of the team members at Cannock Chase trail centre on 20th March during their Bike Demo weekend.

Although both of these teams, have a slightly different slant in terms of their racing, they share equal amounts of motivation and energy. Furthermore, what I admire about them is that most of the racers are not full time athletes. They have professional jobs or studies, and family commitments - some with children, while one (Phoebe Sneddon) is currently pregnant!
But yet they are so disciplined and hungry to succeed that they manage to juggle all other aspects of their lives with their racing and still manage to take home silverware. And that gets my full admiration.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Town and Country cycling

I have finally received the all-clear to start cycling. So, in true 2wheelchick spirit I got straight back on my two-wheeled horse.

Admittedly they have been shaky beginnings, but in any case I am just glad to have been able to get my bike out of the garage and give it a spin. It was a lovely feeling to be sitting on the saddle and rolling along, albeit slowly!

My first ride was last Sunday week. Ironically the sun had been shining all morning, and the weather was set fair for the afternoon, according to BBC Weather. However, the moment I stepped out of the house and began to pedal the sky suddenly turned dark grey and spots of rain began to fall. Within 10 minutes we had gone from bright sunshine to grim hailstones! A bad omen? "This wasn't part of the plan!" I said to myself. "Bloody typical!" In all my annoyance I adopted a defiant attitude, and was determined to continue with my plan to get to Richmond Park. It may not be the most pleasant comeback ride, but the importance was getting out and doing it.

So off I trundled. In fact, in the battle of wills it was one nil to me, for the rain soon subsided and within a quarter of an hour we had sunshine again. A bonus!

My ride through South-west London turned out to enjoyable in the end. One thing I like about my cycle rides in London is the fact that you can ride through suburban built-up areas and it is still perfectly agreeable. We are privileged to have a lot of green spaces. From South Norwood lakes, Streatham Common, Tooting Bec Common, Wandsworth Common, Putney Heath, I feel blessed to live in a big city that still has plenty of green spaces. I know people bemoan the fact that London has less greenery than it had 20 or 30 years ago,  but really I think we do well compared with other European cities.

Riding around central Milan when I worked there was flat and compact, but it was not picturesque at all. The ride out to pleasant cycling areas like Brianza or Como involved a 20-mile dismal trudge past a collage of industrial estates and disused factories!

By contrast my urban ride to Richmond Park was quite a joy. Needless to say once in this royal park I found it a delight to be there among the various other park users enjoying outdoor life - including the deer. 

For a first ride I had coped ok. However, it had been a shock to the system even just to ride up a very gentle incline that went over the railway line near me. I felt rather self-conscious going at a snail's pace over  the slightest slope and holding up all the traffic behind me! It reminded me of my trip to Peru when I landed in Cusco only to struggle with the altitude. While I had to rest in between every step I took, 70-year-old Peruvians with packs on their backs were skipping past me effortlessly. Today I felt the same embarrassment as I felt back then. This was just a less exotic setting! 

Naturally, once in Richmond Park the idea of riding all the way up to Richmond Gate and Pembroke Lodge was completely out of the question, so I stuck to riding the small loop that took me past the Royal Ballet School and Pen Ponds Car Park.

There was just enough time for me to get a quick snack at Pen Ponds and then head back to Clapham Junction to get the train home before dusk. Normally I would have ridden home, but given that my computer was showing 20 miles of riding for the day I thought it better to stop before I do myself some damage through "overtraining". I slept well when I got home!

My second ride was a couple of days ago, and this time it was out to the more rural setting of the Kent Weald. Being in Crystal Palace means having a few options - the chance of getting into Central London within a comfortable distance, but also the facility to get into the countryside and quiet lanes.

Sunday's ride took me past the increasingly used Biggin Hill Airport, with its attractive display of civilian and Royal Air Force aircraft, then I dropped down through Westerham and along the Pilgrims Way, passing a number of quaint English villages to reach Sevenoaks, and my ultimate destination - Knole Park. 

Where the previous Sunday's ride had included one significant hill around Wimbledon Park, this second ride was peppered with hills and long uphill drags. I was significantly challenged on the long climb up through Keston, and then later on when riding through Sevenoaks. In fact through absentmindedness I overshot the turning into Knole Park and ended up doing an extra mile of uphill, nearly ending up in Tonbridge! Although this ride was slightly longer and much hillier than the previous week I had coped better and already felt stronger.

This ride, although only 25 miles still left me pretty pooped at the end of the day - particularly as my body had also been working hard to stay warm in these winter temperatures we've been having. 

Knole Park is worth a visit. Like Richmond, it is set in wild, vast, unspoiled parkland with its share of deer as well as a stately home with ornate courtyard (and of course a tea room) to visit. 

So, after two varied rides I am beginning to feel like a cyclist again. In a week's time I should be able to take on the daily cycle commute to work - once I have conquered the mighty hills of Crystal Palace!

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Richmond Park - Britain's cycling Mecca!