Friday, 5 February 2016

A bit of cycling poetry

I missed Burns Night, which was over a week ago but I guess it does no harm to have a bit of poetry at other times of the year.

I don't see many cycling poems around, but I as prompted to look up a bit of verse when I saw Murray Lachlan Walker on the television during The Wright Stuff - a daytime show which has become my vice (along with Celebrity Big Brother) during my extended absence from work.

This guy's a bit of a rock'n'roll poet so I didn't think he'd be that interested in cycling. In fact he wrote something on the occasion of the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire in 2014.

It's not exactly Wordsworth, but I am just impressed that he wrote a poem on this subject at all!

Tour de France

Murray Lachlan Young 03/07/014

Through Aysgarth, Masham, Middleham
Through Otley, Ilkley, Skipton, Reeth
Through Mont Noir, Paris and Carcasson
Via butter tubs o'er lofty peak


The whirr of ten times forty wheels
A carb-fuelled, quad pumped, flying wedge
A jockeying of shifting deals
All balanced on a razors edge


A haw-hee-haw, ah ha, ha, ha!
Le Yorkshire tea au lait, pour moi?
Regarde vous , je ne cest qoui
Le Yorkshire 'Pud' No! Ooh la, la!


From Black sheep ale to Bergerac
St Etienne they journey far
Chris Froome this time? Or Contador!
Le Rosbif Roi? Or, no cigar?


But one thing that we know for sure
Half man machine half whippet thin
As down the champs Elise rides
The ‘Maillot Jaune’ anointed king


This festival of mother France
This grand fromage procession home
Will wear a certain cussed pride:
(born of (among other things) financially prudent pragmatism, also calling a spade a spade and not being afraid to speak its mind)
For this year it be Yorkshire grown.


'Le Yorkshire tour mama it come!
Allez, allez, regarde la!
Le ‘Eee oop’ et le ‘Eee ba goom’
Ou est Le ‘Bobby dazzelar?’



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Monday, 1 February 2016

Where I want to ride in 2016

I have seen lots of folks talking about their goals and objectives for 2016. I guess that's the thing you do at the start of each year. OK, so we are into February now - better late than never!

My recovery from an operation I had in November last year has meant that doing sport has been off limits and therefore completely out of mind.

A couple of days ago was the first day I did any physical activity of any shape or form, when I jogged almost 1km and had a go on a few machines at the nearby outdoor gym for a 10 minutes. It's very much a case of baby steps right now, but hopefully in a few weeks I will be able to attempt a 5km run or do my 10-mile cycle commute once I am back at work.

So, I am only just getting slowly out of the starting blocks, but at least I am in a position to think about some of the things I aim to do this year.

First, a quick recap of 2015:

This was quite an eventful year which came hot on the heels of a very black 2014 (in which my mum died suddenly). My move from Macclesfield back to London, and then a further move when I sold my flat in Crystal Palace to buy a house made things fairly busy. I started a new job in London while juggling this with being an executor of my mum's estate (not a job I would recommend), dealt with a relationship break-up and finished the year with a major operation. Things were a bit busy in 2015!

But I rode my bike - I managed a bit of cyclo cross racing, and I even had a go at a downhill race. The rest of the time was spent doing pleasant cycle rides around Cheshire (while I was in Macclesfield) and then off-road and on-road rides on the Kent and Surrey trails and lanes. 

Cycle racing was out of the question as my head was already too full! No space to deal with competition!

I still managed to contribute some magazine articles, do a journalism exam and get in a couple of local running races (including a fell race and some orienteering) for fun. 

Hopefully, 2016 will be more straightforward than 2015, without it being boring.

So, here's what I want to do in 2016:

A couple of Sea to Sea rides

It turns out there are a few waymarked routes to get from the west coast to the east Coast of the north of England. The classic Whitehaven to Newcastle (Tynemouth) route is on my list, but I would also like to do at least one of the others: Southport to Hornsea (Transpennine Trail); Morecambe to Bridlington (Way of the Roses); Walney to Whitby (W to W). The Transpennine trail is the easiest one, and is local to where my family is. So I would like to get that in. I will see how the time goes, so time-permitting I would then try the W to W.

Long distance off-road rides

This will be a choice between either the Pennine Bridleway or the South Downs Way. I have done different sections of this, but have never done the full length as one trip. This would represent a slightly easier and less apprehensive challenge than the Pennine Bridleway as I am already familiar with the South Downs, and I know there will always be a train station not too far away that'll get me back to London if I bail out! However, the Pennine Bridleway sounds like an exciting ride.

Organised rides

I will do an Evans Ride-it off-road ride. These are nice and local. After that there are the Cycling Weekly Adventure Cross races. The Moors and Shores one looks interesting as it goes through Dalby Forest and the North York Moors as well as passing near the seaside towns of Scarborough and Whitby. 


A couple of cyclosportives. There are so many to choose from that I can't say which one right now!


Racing

Cyclo cross - I only did 'cross at the start of the 2015 season, so hope to get a bit more use out of my cyclo cross bike this year. As well as using it during the organised rides I plan to do a race. The good news is I don't have to wait until the summer or autumn to pin on a number. There is a cyclo cross series up in Hull (East Yorkshire) during the month of March, sponsored by cycle shop Vive le Velo. 


Track cycling - I have a track bike that I haven't seen for about four years when it was left at the Herne Hill Velodrome before I went to work in Milan. I was worried that the people who run the velodrome may have sold it off. In fact I was recently told that it's probably been making a little kid very happy as they have had the use of the bike during the training sessions. At least it wasn't taking up space in their lock-up for nothing! Well, this year I will want it back so I can use it. The plan is to do the Saturday morning training sessions and then take part in some women's races. 

I have been known to ride my bike abroad over the years so you might think I would include a cyclosportive in France or Italy on the list, or even just a smidgen of a tryst with my beloved Alps or Dolomites! The answer is that a ride in foreign parts is neither on nor off the agenda. I just want to see how I feel on the day. I went on one overseas trip with my bike last year and enjoyed it. Part of the fun of was the fact that it was a spontaneous decision to go to Lake Como. Going abroad to ride or race is not really an aim as this is would not be a new challenge for me. It'll be more a case of just go if or when the mood takes me. The UK rides in te North of England mentioned above will be more of a challenge for me as they are set in rugged terrain. Also, being up North I will probably have to deal with my fair share of considerably more rugged weather and more isolated areas than the popular, iconic climbs in a sunnier European destination!   

Needless to say I will do some running races too - something which has always given me lots of pleasure. Parkruns go without saying, and it would be nice to do well in my age group category at some local races. Having recently joined South London Harriers, which is quite a strong running club, their training sessions are likely to sort out my (lack of) form! 

The rest of my anticipated activities for this year are dabbling in the odd novelty event - a bit of orienteering, some mountain bike orienteering and even some fell running. That does exist even in the London area! 

I just want to have fun when doing sport in 2016. But before I can do any of the above I will have to stretch my physical capability a bit further than just being able to run 1km. 


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Friday, 29 January 2016

Another inspirational women's hour world record!


It's been just over four months since Molly Shaffer Van Houweling broke the women's world hour record in Mexico, and we now have a new standard to beat. Australian former professional rider Bridie O'Donnell put in a most impressive ride just a week ago at the Super-Drome in Adelaide, to cover 46.882 kms in the 60 minutes - thus breaking the American's record by 609 metres.

Add the rides by these two women to the attempt made by Dame Sarah Storey in London last February, that makes 3 attempts at the world women's hour record in less than a year. I think this is a very positive thing for women's cycling. A lot of airtime has been devoted to men's attempts at this record, and women's exploits in this holy grail of performance cycling have been ignored.

So it's great that three women have raised the profile of the women's game since last year by targeting the 12-year old record, hitherto held by Dutchwoman Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel.

What I find particularly impressive is the fact that in the case of the latest two attempts at the hour record, the protagonists were not professional cycle racers. Molly Shaffer Van Houweling is a professor of law at University of California, Berkeley, while Bridie O'Donnell is a former professional who juggles her daily life between amateur cycle racing and working as a physician.

For Bridie, according to her blog, preparation for her hour attempt was a labour of love of numerous month. While support came from various players in the cycling world, a number of them gave up their free time to help her.

Although Bridie has a pedigree as a time triallist (She is a former Australian National Time Trial Champion), until July of last year she had not ridden in a velodrome. Not useful if you are going to taken on this ultimate challenge!

However, when you look at what other activities Ms O'Donnell is involved in it is clear that she is a high achiever. As well as time trial championship titles she is a seven-time national rowing champion, and also completed Ironman Hawaii. This complements awards she received in her medical work too. So, if anyone was going to succeed in breaking a record, on paper Bridie O'Donnell was in pole position to do it.

But like with a phrase which I was often told when I lived in France, Il faut le faire. Basically, you have to get out and do it. [Or maybe Just do It, as a certain sportswear manufacturer might say!] It's one thing to be capable, but when you're in the moment and the eyes of the world (or at least a packed velodrome) are watching you it can be quite a scary place and you can easily lose heart.

So I say, Grand Chapeau and Bravissima to Bridie O'Donnell.

It would be good to see the battle of the hour record continue. A few professional riders have expressed an interest in attempting this record. World Team Pursuit Champion, Joanna Rowsell-Shand, and former World Time Trial Champion Lisa Brennauer among them, though they won't make any steps towards doing so until after the Rio Olympics. This could have left a window open for more non-professional racers to throw their helmets into the ring, so we could see more inspirational rides from women who have dared to dream.


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Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Yorkshire biking on my mind

Since the announcement of the route of this year's Tour de Yorkshire  I have been thinking about cycling in this great county!

It has been a while since I last rode in the Yorkshire lanes - in fact it was during the Grand Depart in Yorkshire. I remember very fondly that lovely day in July 2014 when we parked up at Elland Road football stadium and rode into Leeds city centre to see Chris Froome, Fabian Cancellara, Alberto Contador and Mark Cavendish set off for the Tour de France (from Yorkshire) with over 190 other riders. We then cycled on along closed roads with hundreds of other cyclists, up to the finish area in Harrogate. It was a shame Mark Cavendish crashed in the home strait, but we didn't let that get us down on what had been a fabulous day out.

It's about time I went back up to the White Rose County, especially as I spent my childhood in different parts of Yorkshire, and in the past I have done a few great cycle tours of the Yorkshire Dales, Moors and Wolds.

So which are the most noteworthy places for me?
Racing through Westwood Pasture, Beverley

Stage 1 of the Tour de Yorkshire leaves from Beverley, a lovely little town. When I travel up to East Yorkshire to see my family I like to take my bike and most rides I do involve passing through Beverley. A café stop around North Bar Within or at one of the squares (Saturday Market or Wednesday Market) makes for a nice end to a cycle ride.

The only King of the Mountains (KOM) bonus is on Greenhow Hill, near Harrogate. I have had mixed experiences on this 15% climb. The first time I rode up this hill was during a 200km audax event which began from Pateley Bridge. I had hoped to ride the route without needing to look at the map so the aim was to latch onto a group of local riders and stick with it. Unfortunately, starting the ride fresh off my drive from London was not the best idea. With no warm-up, tackling this climb so early into the ride was a bit tough on my legs. Consequently, I was unceremoniously dumped at the foot of the hill and left to crawl solemnly across the Yorkshire Dales for 20 miles, and over scary Fleet Moss before seeing another soul in Hawes.

The next time I was at Greenhow Hill was during another audax ride which began in Wigginton, a suburb of York. As before, I adopted the same strategy of hanging on to a big group of riders, relying on the fact that the guy at the front knew the way. We soon paid for our error of being presumptive when the group of 20 riders suddenly came to a stop at the side of the road realising we had gone completely off course! Fortunately, another rider took charge and we all followed again. The fact that he had a strong local accent gave me a bit of reassurance that he knew where we were going - as opposed to the previous leader with his southern accent!

Having a few (more) miles of warm up was definitely beneficial! We passed through the scenic town of Knaresborough, snacked at Ripley Castle Tea Rooms and had a quick look at the beautiful Brimham Rocks - all great preparation for the challenge! Once past Pateley Bridge the work began. On this occasion everyone stuck together on the hill at a steady pace, including on the sections that hit 18%. Once at the summit I smiled to myself in private celebration of having put the ghost to rest! I had conquered the Greenhowberg!

World Champion Lizzie Armitstead's home town, Otley is the setting for Stage 2, which is also the course for the women's race that will be contested that day. It would have been good to run the route back towards Ilkley and then go up a nice little climb in the area used last year known as Cow and Calf (or côte de la Vache et le Veau for the French organisers). I rode it once when returning from the Yorkshire Dales to Leeds. It's lovely and wide open with beautiful views over Ilkley Moor. Had it been included in the route the couple of steep ramps would have made for an interesting start to the race.

The last part of Stage 2 of the Tour de Yorkshire runs through areas that are a throwback from my childhood, as I lived in the area that straddles South Yorkshire and North-East Lincolnshire. I went to school around West Yorkshire and North-East Lincolnshire and remember journeys to netball matches and athletics meetings in different mining villages set in varying degrees of grimness. At least we experienced a bit of brightness in the gloom when we won quite a lot of our matches. I have fond memories of basking in Goal Attack glory outside the fish and chip shop a few times on our way home. Many of these villages became even gloomier after the decline of the local economy following the closure of the coal mines - notably between South Elmsall and Conisbrough.
Conisbrough Castle

On cycle rides around this area in recent years I have noticed a lot of landscaping, which has markedly improved the cosmetic appearance of the villages. Sprotborough is particularly scenic and Conisbrough Castle is still there - as well as the hill, which the professional riders in the men's and the women's race can look forward to at the end of this stage.

The étape reine is Stage 3, with lots of KOM points on offer from climbs within the North York Moors, among them Blakey Bank and Sutton Bank - one of the steepest classified roads in England.
One of the steepest 'A' roads in England

I rode up Blakey Bank during a cyclosportive as part of the York Rally Cycling event a few years ago. It was just like everything else in the North York Moors - no climbs below 15% gradient, hardly any flat stuff and you only have a few sheep and heather to motivate you as you grind your way up through the desolate moorland. Still, the views from the top are lovely once you get there! I wrote about my experiences of riding in this area on one of my weekend trips I did a few years ago. Happy days!

The route for this year's Tour de Yorkshire looks very interesting, and I would certainly like to see how it unfolds both in the men's 3-stage race and the women's race on the Stage 2 course.
Which section would I most like to ride? Stage 2 makes for a great nostalgia ride for me, but my heart says Stage 3 as I am a sucker for those punishing hills!

The 2016 Tour de Yorkshire is on 29th April - 1st May and starts in Beverley.


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Moors and Wolds: Yorkshire Trip - Part 2

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Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Bike riding motto inspired from the Starman


"I don't know where I am going from here, but I promise it won't be boring." David Bowie (Madison Square Garden, 1997)

I found this inspiring photo on the Bikeitalia website.

It's not clear how much cycling David Bowie ever did, but I think this quote from the great artist could very much apply when out riding.

For sure, I have been on cycling trips where I wasn't quite sure where I would be going until I set off, and it was a case of taking my map and "making it up as I go along!" That was particularly the case in Italy. There was usually something that would happen - whether it was unexpectedly ending up on an unsurfaced road littered with stones and having to climb off and walk; meeting a local rider who tow's me in their slipstream to some interesting nearby places to ride, or just stumbling across spectacular hidden haunts.

So yes, next time if I'm not sure where I am going I'll promise myself it won't be boring!



Dedicated to a guy who was never boring and one of the few who could look cool in white shoes!

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

It's official - Richmond Park is Britain's cycling Mecca!

So Strava has released its insight report on cycling and running activity in the UK for 2015. Some of the statistics confirm our perceptions: the most number of cycle commuters are in London. The hilliest cycle rides are done in South Wales (though I thought Yorkshire and Cornwall would be up there as well); the fastest rides were done in flatter regions like Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.

The statistic that is most salient are the 65,000+ rides uploaded within Richmond Park during 2015, easily surpassing the second most popular area for cycling, Box Hill, Surrey, the main battleground during the London 2012 Olympics cycle race.

This South-West London park (also included in the routes for the London 2012 Olympics cycle races) registered the highest number of uploaded Strava segments in 2015, with 33,226 rides recorded on Sawyers Hill - the climb up to Richmond Gate from Roehampton Gate, Broomfield Hill on the opposite side of the park, with 17,409 rides, and 15,042 rides uploaded for the Tour of Richmond Park.

I, like many riders have been going to Richmond Park for cycle rides for years. It's a great place to do circuits of this vast green space. For a club cyclist the 7-mile loop on the perimeter road is a good mini time trial to measure fitness. Multiple laps of the park make a great training ride or a club run. 
When I go there, I cycle the 10 miles through South London to reach Roehampton Gate, do three laps and then ride home again, thus making it a decent 50-mile work-out.  For newer riders one lap is a good start-point when getting into cycling.

Furthermore there are various family rides, including the Tamsin Trail which is an off-road route completely removed from traffic, so great for less confident cyclists.
If you don't have a bike there is a place that hires out a variety of adult and kids bikes at Roehampton Gate.

And as you ride around there are places to stop for tea, say hello to the deer or marvel at the landscape and the views from near Pembroke Lodge.
What is there not to like about going to Richmond Park?

Well, in recent times the police have cracked down more in reinforcing the 20-mile-per-hour speed limit to all vehicles including cyclists (much to the annoyance of amateur racers). Indeed, there have been cases of cyclists being fined for speeding through the park.

In addition, disputes between motorists and cyclists have been on the rise as the roads become ever increasingly congested, particularly on sunny days at the weekend. In fact the local MP (and London Mayoral candidate), Zac Goldsmith held a meeting just over a year ago in an effort to resolve tensions between the different park users.

So with that in mind I thought that the number of cycle trips around Richmond Park would be on the decline in favour of other areas such as some of the quieter scenic roads in Yorkshire, Cheshire or the Lake District. Wrong.

All of the most popular Strava segments in this report are in the South-East of England, with the top 10 being completed by roads around Hampton Court and the Surrey Hills, plus Ditchling Beacon - a climb ridden during the popular London to Brighton cycle event. 

Perhaps the publication of this "ranking" may make people in other regions stand up for their local popular cycling areas and come out in support in order to gain "league table promotion"! Afterall, Tatton Park in Cheshire easily rivals Richmond Park in the cycling attractiveness stakes.

I have no idea if this article has incited more people to ride in Richmond Park, fewer people to ride in Richmond Park, more people to defect to somewhere else.
Mind you, looking out of the window on this grim rainy day I think it is the couch and the turbo trainer that might just be the winners!


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Thursday, 31 December 2015

Cycling (and other) picture memories from 2015

Winter walk around Bollington (nr Macclesfield) Cheshire
 
Anna Christian at Wiggle Honda camp

 
 
And we're off! Red Bull Foxhunt with Rachel Atherton




Park run Lyme Park, Cheshire

Hanging on to Team Wiggle Honda
Little niece at Ride London with Islabike
Trek Remedy from Alpine Bikes
Dropping down to Lugano from Como
Back to the London rush hour routine!
 
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