Friday, 24 August 2007

Summer Road Racing.......A Damp Squib

The summer road racing leagues have all but finished. Well, Herne Hill track league, Crystal Palace summer league and Eelmore have their final rounds next week. But as I'll be abroad by then in my book everything's finished.

Oh dear, what a mess it has been - so many Herne Hill leagues cancelled, Crystal Palace racing cancelled a number of times. The other circuits are safe enough for racing to still take place in the wet. But it's not that much fun. That's not what summer evening racing's about.

Summer league racing's meant to be about riding over from work in the evening sun, having a few of your club mates or friends and family cheer you on - in the case of Crystal Palace people can have picnics while watching. You finish your race and the evening is still pleasant enough for you to hang back and chat to mates afterwards or go for a bite.

Not such thing this summer. It's been a miserable affair - practically every race I've done I've been on tenterhooks all day wondering if the race would be on or off -whether I could get through the hour long crit in the dry. My preparation was more about how to survive the potentially unpleasant conditions than any particular racing tac-tics.

The women's national road race championships had to be postponed from June to August, due to flooding. But even then once the day came the race took place in heavy rain.

As for the promoters this must have been a nightmare for them. How much will they have lost ? And that's not money they can recoup.

People are very reticent about entering races now - especially at Herne Hill velodrome where racing is very weather dependent. Unfortunately now, the Keiren fest that was scheduled to take place on Bank Holiday Monday has been cancelled due to lack of entries. And I bet my bottom dollar the weather will be glorious on that day.

Once I'm back from my Pyrenean trip I'll have a few weekends of road racing to do during September. Hopefully, we will have an Indian summer - just in time for the Cyclo Cross season !!

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

London by Bicycle - Part 2

It's funny how whenever I meet people who aren't from London - be it the North of England, or from outside the UK they always make the assumption that the terrain here must be pan flat.

"How are you going to cope with the Peak District climbs of the Polka Dot challenge ?" "It must be really tough for you guys trying to get up Alpe d'Huez when you're from a flat region."
Well the answer is, we don't cope any worse than people from other regions and Londoners scale the European cols just as well as the rest of them.

You see, London and its 'burbs has alot to offer when it comes to exercising the old quads. Those who say it's flat only hang out in the central area. From Regent's Park head north, and you soon hit Primrose Hill. A little further on, you've got Hampstead, Highgate Hill, and the transmitter at Alexandra Palace - right at the top of a steep hill.

Moving South to my neck of the woods it's hills galore. Just stepping out of my house and I have a choice of Anerley Hill, Fox Hill, Sylvan Hill before I can get anywhere. There's a 10%, a 13% or a 20%. Take your pick ! Ok so none of them can be described as the Tourmalet, but try doing 10 reps on those beasts at threshold insensity ! Of course once out on the road I would have to negotiate more climbs to get back home again.

Being near the Kent borders means my training rides take in a number of hills too. A favourite route of mine goes like this :
Down Anerley Hill, through Beckenham, West Wickham, Keston, Biggin Hill, Westerham, Edenbridge, Hever Castle, Cowden, Penshurst, Chiddingstone, Four Elms, Brasted, Pilgrims Way, Titsey, Beddlestead, West Wickam, and back home.

It's a 60mile loop that takes in a number of hills : Saltbox, Hosey, Yorks, Toys, Titsey, Hesiers, Corkscrew, Anerley.
The mileage is ok, but with the hills thrown in this makes for a real work-out. Riding it a few weeks ago on the one hot summer's day we've had this year, with Stanley was pretty hard work. Especially as he was a real mountain goat dancing up the hills on his lightest road bike while I struggled along on my heavy training bike. Riding up the brutal 20% on White Lane (the course for the Bec Hill climb) I almost passed out !
By the time I got back to Anerley Hill I was wasted.

So really, we have nothing to worry about when it comes to finding hills. Our biggest worry is in knowing which one to choose and summoning the courage to climb it !

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Edinburgh not by Bicycle - Just on the Fringe !

I'm sure it's great to go round Edinburgh by bicycle - zooming down Princes Street, dodging round the street performers on the Royal Mile, down through Holyrood, and then exercising your quads on the climb towards Arthurs's seat. There were 2 bike shops near where we were staying - The Edinburgh Bicycle Works, and Velo Ecosse. Even our hotel in Marchmont had bikes available for hire. But we chose to not to do any cycling on our long weekend. Instead we did the Fringe.

It turned out to be a great few days - and I didn't miss the bike at all !
The Festival is a real hotch-potch of comedians, musicals, theatre, musicians.....and they were just the performers in the street - never mind the 2,000 odd shows taking place at almost 300 venues around the city ! For our part, Stanley and I spent our time rushing between Pleasance Courtyard, The Gilded Balloon and the Udderbelly.

Memorable acts were Gamarjobat (a Japanese Comedy duo), Mickey D (Australian Comedian) and Sista She (an Australian Salt'n'Pepa with comedy thrown in).

A rare sight for me was Edinburgh in the very early morning - clubbers dotted around the city at 5am on a Sunday morning, sauntering home, bleary eyed after their partay while wolfing down a quick kebab.
We hadn't been clubbing - we'd chosen the all-night Comedy show at the Gilded Balloon. That was pretty much a party atmosphere with hip-hoppers as the MC's, pumping music, and the all essential adult jokes.

The roughed up shouting revellers were in real competition with the coo-ing of thousands of sea gulls to see who could make the loudest noise. I think the pidgeons won the battle - their noise was well amplified as they sang in chorus and weren't caught up peeing, vomitting or falling around shop doorways !

Walking home I had a real appreciation of how near Edinburgh is to the sea. The place was heaving with sea gulls swooping down on the Meadows all ready to scavenge the left-overs from the revellers - and there was alot to be had too.
Maybe it was because I was tired, but I found the sight of scores of seagulls flying in my direction a little frightening. I quickened my step so as not to get violently pecked like in Hitchcock's "The Birds".

Our late night/morning meant we we were late getting up for the Fringe Sunday activities in the Meadows. We did make it in time for the 12hr poetry marathon though. That proved to be a real hit - the tent was heaving with fans. Poetry is not like I learned it at school. None of this Wordsworth or Keats stuff - with the likes of Murray Lachlan Young representing, it's much more sex, drugs and rock'n'roll these days !

Of course we couldn't go the whole weekend without doing any physical activity, so we walked over Salisbury Crags to the summit - Arthur's Seat.
I think Stanley must have been missing his bike though 'cos on the descent he slid down the wet grassy mountain on his bum on purpose - his rear end must have been sore. Not quite the same as downhilling on a mountain bike eh !

By the end of our trip I was pretty tired. All this running around Edinburgh and staying out for late night comedies takes it out of you.

Anyway, back in London now - we're planning our next trip away - the Pyrenees. Hopefully it'll be less strenuous than chasing after Fringe performers !

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Hillingdon - a real soggy affair !

Everyone has at least one during the season - it's all part and parcel of the joys of competitive cycling. Given the "summer" that we've had so far many people will have had a few of them. So it was only fair that I get to experience one too - what am I talking about ? A really sopping wet road race.

The type where you've got driving rain whacking you hard in the face as you struggle through a head wind. You try and shelter behind the rider in front of you but you've got the taste of the muck from their rear wheel as you battle to hang in there. So it was my turn today - at the Hillingdon women's road race. Not the best way to end Team Quest race series, but probably a memorable one.

In the old days when this series began, rainy days like this would have scared the riders away. And with the resulting low turn-out it would have been a case of "how many points will I get ?" rather than "let's try and finish in the points". But today, we had the same 20-odd girls turn up to race as usual. Women racing cyclists are definitely getting hardier.

The ride up from my office in Hampton Court, to the Hillingdon Cycle Circuit just west of Southall had been a pretty damp journey. So I wasn't too bothered by the wet.

Of course once the race began, things were a little different. The close proximity of other wheels meant the inevitable faceful of kak. (In fact I could still feel the grit in my teeth an hour after finishing the race.) We were moving that bit faster than when commuting, so it was a slightly riskier situation where cornering and braking were concerned. In fact I found it pretty scary. I really wasn't in a mood to crash !

I suppose on days like these it's quite good for those riders who are seasoned from the rain swept plains of Belgium to come into their own. They can attack hard, much to the chagrin of those, like me, who are more used to riding nearer to the Mediterranean. So the attacks kept coming and coming thanks to the likes of Jayne Kilmartin (Rapha Condor) and Charlotte Blackman (London Dynamo).

I was able to reply for most of the race, but I couldn't handle them attacking on the home strait. The accrued speed I'd picked up going into the sweeping right hand bend that followed made it a lottery as to whether I could stay upright. The fact that the road descended as well made life worse. How do you brake safely in the wet when doing nearly 30mph ?? I've never been that comfortable with that section in the dry. Today I was very nervous.

The race continued on through the evening gloom - only a handful of spectators, prudently bunched under large umbrellas, to shout words of encouragement. There was no talk of any sort between the riders as we cycled across mini streams and splashed through deep puddles. Even though we were riding along as a group, we lived our own personal purgatories to survive the hour long duel. This was a battle against the elements rather than against each other.

Surprisingly, no one crashed. There were some near misses though - in particular during that famous right hand bend a Dulwich Paragon rider swerved and gave everyone the jitters.
I don't know who won - maybe Charlotte from London Dynamo, maybe Jeanette from Team Luciano - it was too dark for me to see much more than 3 meters ahead.

Only at the end of the race did people seem to come alive and talk about the experience. "What a nightmare race", "I've never seen anything like it," "I won't be doing that again in a hurry."
To the menfolk it must have made very interesting viewing seeing all these girls with hair and kit pasted to their skin. A wet T-shirt competition would have been a great way to round off the evening !
Instead, we all just dashed into the shower rooms.

I didn't win the race. I don't even know if I scored any points. But I'd won the battle of the elements. I started the race and I finished it. I wasn't put off by the rain - not the easiest thing to do when it's all too tempting to pack up and go home. Now I know that I will be able to cope with another soggy one in the future. Bring it on - just not for a wee while yet though !

(photos by John Mullineaux)

I've found my wheels but....

......I'm beginning to realise that we're at that time of year when the end of the road racing season is coming into sight, and you start to evaluate your results versus targets. It's either a case of nice work, keep it up - or must try harder, need to race more. For me, it's definitely the latter.

Now I've always been one to heed the school reports and pull my socks up when told - only problem is now, when I look at the diary I can't find the races to do. I'm booked up doing other things. I've already missed 3 women's team series races due to being elsewhere. When they were in Naseby I was in Kent, when they were in Stratford I was in Edinburgh. They'll be at Darley Moor, and I'll be in Pau.

I have managed to get down to the track at Herne Hill regularly, and over to Hillingdon for the women's evening races. But that hasn't given me much opportunity to score British Cycling points. Yes, I'm content with my 26 third category points. But if I want to reach second I'm gonna have to race right up to September 30th. So that won't leave me any break between road stuff and the cyclo cross season.

I could just say, well, I've scored more points than last year so I'm content where I am. But I feel ashamed that newer, less experienced, and slower racers than me are already second category. What's all that about ?? Well, I suppose it's down to their clever planning while I was horsing around.

When I had the time, I didn't have the motivation. Now I've got the motivation I realise I don't have the time. C'est la Vie.

I can't say my reasons for not being available to race are displeasurable. I was up in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. Had a great time there. I've got my young nephew over this w/e, so an excuse to go to the fun fair, and the zoo etc. Then off on holiday. Can't complain really.

I'll just have to give it my best shot for what is left of the road season, and learn from it for next year.
For next year I will definitely be pulling my socks up - sharp and on the double - as my teacher used to say !

Monday, 6 August 2007

Found my wheels again !

I'm happy to say I'm now back in the swing of things after my Italian adventure. I think it was the fact that the weather had been so hot over there, that it took it out of me. Once back in ol' blighty I needed to give myself a little break before getting back to the races. It wasn't such a long break - just a couple of weeks, and I was still commuting and doing low level training. I just wasn't in the mood to beat myself up at the races. Also, from what my sports masseur said, it was a good job I didn't race as my muscles were pretty shot.

I did my first bit of racing last Monday - at Herne Hill track - got slaughtered in every race. The losing margin was less, so that was still encouraging ! Also being the only female there made it difficult to judge exactly where I was compared with my peers.

Wednesday was the women's race at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit. That was a real race - frequent attacks being made, as the Agisko Viner girls were dead set on setting up one of their members for the win. It made me feel good that I was able to stay with the bunch during the various assaults being made.
I still need to work on my finish though. I sprinted for the line, but not fast enough - so only managed 13th place - still, I beat some quality riders and earned a couple of points.
We've only got one more race in this series to go, so I'm going to give it my all in the last one.

I didn't race at the weekend - just did track cycling training at Herne Hill again on Saturday, plus a hilly 60 miles around Kent with Stan.

So here we are again - a new week, and I've got track racing to look forward to tonight, plus Crystal Palace circuit racing tomorrow.
Tomorrow will be interesting. Even though it's my local course I hardly race there. It usually takes me 4 months to pluck up the courage to race on this technically scary circuit. No doubt I will be dropped, as is the case for most riders starting out on this course. I just need to see if I can survive 2 laps in the bunch - believe me, that will be an achievement !

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Before I forget.....Veneto Memories

The ride up to the old church at Romagnano, just north of Verona.

A chance to catch up with buddies before the Gran Fondo Pinarello.

Feedstations were well stocked.

Our bikes took alot of wear and tear during the ride !

Relaxing in Piazza delle Erbe, Verona

Bye Bye Verona !