Wednesday, 30 April 2008

12th Giro di Sardegna - Part 1

A brief chronicle of the week-long stage in Sardinia.

Sunday 20th April
Stage 1 - Gran Fondo di Sardegna - 115km/1600m climbing - 5hrs 5mins (Winning woman: Maria Cristina Prati - 3hrs 14mins)

As this stage also doubled as a Gran Fondo (and a stand-alone event) this meant that many people were over just for this, thus the swelling the number of participants to over 1,000.
The stage began with alot of fanfare as we all congregated at the top of the main street while announcements were made by Tonino the organiser, and other race officials.
Fred was not happy to have not trained much for this. Exams and work commitments had kept him away from training. I had done some, but on this morning I felt rough due to a lack of sleep. The undulating course would take us south towards Tempio Pausania, across to the coast, up to Costa Paradiso and Vignola, then back to Santa Teresa.

The race began promptly at 9am, with a very fast pace set by the riders from the gun. As I set off I immediately fouund myself in a group that had a good rhythm going. Various people did turns on the front, though I just stayed in the middle and sheltered myself from the wind.

Unfortunately a combination of fatigue, too much wine, and dehydration meant that just keeping up with the fast pace of the group tired me out. I ended up getting cramp after 30 miles. I had cramp in both legs - starting in my quads, then in my calf muscles. The pain was unbearable and I just couldn't ride. So the 30 miles between the first and second feed stations were spent twiddling the pedals at 5 miles an hour, and having to stop and stretch off. A number of people stopped to ask if I was ok. I even had an offer from the sag wagon, but I was determined to get to the finish line on my bike. What a disaster, what a shame.

Somehow I managed to get back riding in the last 20 miles. A large group of guys rode past, just near Vignola. It looked like the "autobus", sweeping up all the dropped souls who were beginning to lose the will to live in the head wind. I managed to latch onto the group. Luckily, they kept the pace easy, even slowing down to wait for those who had been dropped. I finally rolled over the line after 5hours 5mins. Quite slow, but just within the cut-off time.

Fred took 3hrs 33mins. He was pleased with his result.


Monday 21st April
Stage 2 - L'Alta Gallura - 90km/790m climbing - 3hrs 20mins (Winning woman: Melissa Merloni - 2hrs 23mins)

A much better day in the saddle for me. I stuck with a group most of the way round. Unfortunately the group fell apart in the closing stages, and by the time I reached the straight road back to Santa Teresa I was on my own. I'd stuck with a slower group, so as to take it easy, but some of the people tired themselves out and our initial 8-rider group was reduced to 3 or 4. Then I made the mistake of stopping at the feedstation, instead of doing like the others who grabbed their bottle of water and sorted themselves out while riding. They clearly had better bike handling skills than I since it was necessary for me to stop at the side of the road to carry out the same operations. So as a result, I ended up riding the last 12 miles on my own into a head wind. Nevertheless I was still pleased with the result and the fact that I had stayed in the group.

Fred was having a good Giro. Despite not having done much training, he managed to stick with one of the fastest groups and get round in a time of 2hrs 36mins.


Tuesday 22nd April
Stage 3 - Le Rocce della Gallura - 92km/1100m climbing - 3hrs 37mins (Winning woman: Melissa Merloni - 2hrs 43mins)

I was definitely beginning to feel tired by now, and felt the need for more and more sleep. Waking up was getting more difficult too. As there'd be more climbing today I resolved to just ride with an easy group and stay with it regardless of how slow they would go !

The group I was with contained a team of riders that distinguished itself by being very vocal. More significantly, this club contained the "Maglia Nera" - the last placed rider in the General Classification. The riders from this club are actually quite strong, but they had a thing about getting this black jersey. Maybe it was the chance to get a stylish looking jersey for free !
In any case the riders in the group had a good sense of pace judgement and how to get round the course within the cut-off - which was more important to me !
Today the group rode at a reasonable pace, and even when they picked things up on the long flat sections and were going at 23mph I was able to keep up with the group. I find that Italian riders are really good descenders, and this group of riders were no exception. I subsequently got dropped when the group hit the long, fast descents. Luckily they slowed down and waited for me when the road levelled off.

So I rolled over the line pleased with the ride. However I still felt pretty tired, and I was already thinking about the hill climb we would be tackling the following day.

Fred did 2hrs 55mins and was looking forward to tackling the hill climb - hills are his forte.

Back from the land of the Cycling Tifosi

So Sardinia came and went more quickly than I thought it would.

Well, sitting here on a rain drenched London evening makes it hard for me to imagine that just a few days ago I was worrying about Fred catching too much sun while hanging out on Capo Testa.

We had a really fun packed week.

The first day was a bit of a blur. We'd been up at 1.30am on Saturday morning to make the tedious journey up to Stansted for our 6.15am flight. Our arrival in Alghero was then followed by a long coach transfer along a twisty road. We finally reached our hotel, just outside Santa Teresa Gallura in the early afternoon.

It was great to finally touch down and find ourselves right on the Mediterranean coast. Our hotel, La Marmarota, was a type of holiday complex. It was quite idyllic to look at - set right on the coast, among palm trees and very colourful flora. The waves were wafted across the shores at the bottom of the gardens, as the sun shone down. If we looked hard enough we could just make out Corsica. I actually felt quite spoilt to be "just a cyclist" in such a lovely setting.

With all the excitement of finally having arrived in Sardinia we set up our bikes and rode out to the nearby town of Santa Teresa Gallura, 4miles away. It was quite a pleasant town with that sleepy Southern Italian feel about it - children playing in the streets, sleeping dogs etc. As Santa Teresa wasn't really touristic there was definitely an authentic Italian feel about the place.

The following day, with a bit of trepidation and apprehension, we started the Giro Sardegna, and we made it through the week. (Details in the next post.)

My memories of the week are :
The toughness of the riding. For many, the Giro might be a glorified training camp before the Gran Fondo season kicks in for real, but essentially this is still treated and ridden as a race - doing a race every day for a week is not easy !!

All plans to go sight-seeing in the afternoons went out of the window, as my main concern was to recover/rest up in time for the following day !

Riding along at barely 10miles an hour into the characteristic Spring wind of North West Sardinia.

Being in such a complex meant you had all your fellow racers around you. People were very friendly and always interested in talking to you. I got to meet many people during my week. Note to oneself - study more Italian for next time.

Being called onto the stage to be "podium girl" handing out prizes to the winning riders in front of a large audience. Well, who would say no to kissing a load of Italian blokes ??

On the last stage, being paced around the 170km-course of the Gran Fondo Costa Smeralda by some very noble Italians. Christ I needed it, I was cream crackered !

The copious amount of food that was on offer for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We might have ridden almost 600km, but I bet I still put on weight by the end of the week !

Strolling around the wild, rocky coastline of Capo Testa - the most northerly tip of Sardinia.

By the last day, the Saturday, there was a real "the party's over" feeling. People had had a great week, and were sorry it was coming to an end. When people parted company it wasn't a case of "Good bye" but more, "See you next year".
I certainly hope to be back there again.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Tense Moments

Actually, the thing I get most anxious about when going over to do bike events abroad is not the pre-race tension, the fear of being dropped, suffering dehydration, or feeling all alone in foreign place where I can't communicate fluently like I do back in London.

None of the above. My most anxious moment is always the time when I pick my bike off the carousel at the airport. I take the bag/box very carefully, suspecting that this is the first time the bulk will have been picked up with any due care during it's journey. In fact, aren't I even shutting the door after the horse has bolted ??

Regardless of what my two wheeled pride and joy may have been through I always make a habit of opening the bag and just checking that everything is in one piece. I take a deep breath, braced for what I might see. I look for any scratches or dents, check derailleur, shifters and wheels. Then I heave a big sigh of relief at the news that there's nothing sinister, before skipping out of the airport and beginning my holiday.

I have heard nightmare stories of bikes being damaged in transit when taking the plane. It's not good. And although many airlines are willing to pay up for the damage (as BA did when they damaged my wheel one time), it's still a gross inconvenience if you've made the journey specially to do a race and your bike is in bits.

Scientists are still working to see if they can get this one to fly - they might not be able to do it this month, but if they could rustle something together for my subsequent bike jaunt abroad in July that would be really handy !

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

It's Italian Challenge Time !

This time next week I shall be enjoying the sun, sea and beaches of Northern Sardinia while savouring a gelatto. Well........maybe.

I'll certainly be resting up - It'd be a well earned rest though. If the programme is correct, by then I'll have done 350km of the Giro della Sardegna on my trusty steed, and there'll still be another 200km to tackle.

Blimey - What with having done a hill climb race next Wednesday morning, lounging around will definitely be on the agenda !

I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that I get through it without getting too broken. I chose to do the Giro as a substitute for doing a training camp - more about giving my trip a bit of direction. But after having heard the reports from others who have done this before, it seems like this "training camp" will be a straight up stage race - what a challenge. I've actually had to train to do this "training camp" !

I've just remembered the last time I did a stage race in Italy, it was no laughing matter. A real tough week in the Dolomites. The main hill climb of the week took us up one climb known locally as Gardeccia. It was only 6km long, but I have never felt so much pain when racing up a hill. It averaged 10%, with the last couple of km's at 15%.

The climb up to Monte Limbara next Wednesday will be similar - and here's me going back for more pain !!

Also, quite a few of the serious Italian Gran Fondo riders use this week-long stage race as their training camp. They will make mince meat of me ! And yes, I'm only talking about the girls !!

Oh well, if I can get through the races without embarrassing myself too much, and I still have the energy to eat an ice cream and lift up my glass of vino at the end of the day I will be happy !

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Fast and Scary at Dunton

Having missed out on racing recently due to cancellations caused by bad weather, I was keen to get in a bit of the fast and scary stuff over the weekend. With the Surrey League women's race at MOD Chertsey on Saturday being limited to 3rd and 4th category women, this meant that the other category women (Elites, 1st and 2nd) would have to get their racing at the Ford Vehicle Testing Centre at Dunton, Essex. Having such a field would make the racing fast. Also, given the steep bankings on the course and the wet conditions, the circuit would probably be scary.

With the closure of the Eastway Cycle Circuit (East London) in order to make way for the 2012 Olympic stadium a new circuit was needed for cycle racing. So the good people at Ford offered the facility at their Technical Centre in Dunton, as an alternative. The circuit is dog bone shaped and 1.5miles round. However, with steep cambered bankings (like in a velodrome) on the curves at each end of the circuit this makes for quite a challenging ride - both in terms of its energy sapping nature, and its trickiness in the wet.

So it was with a certain apprehension that I showed up at Dunton yesterday, ready to race in the Team Economic Energy Spring Rumble. The clash of women's races in the London area on Saturday meant that we had a small field - just 11 women signed up for the event. However, what we lacked in quantity of riders we compensated for in the quality of the racing.

The first couple of laps were taken cautiously, as none of us were familiar with the course. Then after 3 laps Charlotte Blackman (London Dynamo) made one of her trademark digs. Initially no one went with her, hoping that she would tire herself out on this lone breakaway into the wind. Of course, this is Charlie we're talking about and she doesn't tire that easily. We arranged ourselves to bring her back. We all worked well together, especially along the windy sections, though a few managed to get dropped from the group.

Further digs were made by Anna Grundy (Team Economic Energy) and Susan Wood (Maldon and District CC), plus Charlie again but our reduced group of 7 managed to stay together. I was just glad to be in for the ride. Having missed a few weeks of racing and still trying to find my form there was no way I'd be making any digs. I was just aiming to stay with the group and do my bit during the through-and-off along the straight windy sections. I had to really bury myself - nose practically on the stem just to keep the pace up. Deep down I was just keeping my fingers crossed that the pace would ease a little.

The numerous ascents up the banking took their toll on me during the hour-long race, and at moments I thought I was going to be dropped off the back with the other 4 casualties. I felt sick. I was breathing through my ears, as not enough air came through my nose and mouth. My panting was so loud I thought I should apologise for being too noisy ! Somehow, my determination kept me going, despite the heavy shower that fell on us half way through the race.

As the rain came down we needed to take care. The concurrent 3rd and 4th cats men's race had around 40 riders. They passed us a couple of times during the race - both times on the banking. It was a case of stay low, and pray that no one slips and brings us down. Risky stuff.

Then on the bell lap, some would say the predictable happened. The pace cranked up again, and was sustained all the way up the climb on the bankings. Unfortunately I was too tired and didn't read things properly. Aside from that, my fuel tank was on empty ! I lost contact with the group on that final climb, which after about 15 ascents just felt like a tall order - literally. Talk about falling at the last hurdle. I ended up rolling in over the finish line on my own. There's no guarantee I would have finished any better than 7th had I stayed with the group and contested the sprint, but I would have still liked to have tried. I must try even harder next time.

So 7th it was. Still, I'm pleased that I managed to stick with this quality field at all - two first cats in the shape of Nikki Wheeler (I-Team) and Charlie Blackman (London Dynamo) plus rising star Michelle Buck (Fat Birds CC), and the solid rouleurs, Anna Grundy and Susan Wood.

Hopefully I'll be stronger the next time I meet these riders. I've got a series of races with a load of Italians next week. I'm sure they'll sort me out and put me right by the time I'm racing in London again !

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

London in the Springtime

Beautiful bike rides, people playing out with their friends in the fields, birds singing.......

Just like here - two days ago around Banstead and Epsom Downs !

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

News Roundup

From Cycling News (April 1st)

"Mystic Manchester" leads to medal enquiry

World records may be rejected if scientific evidence is found

Following the lightning-quick times recorded at the world track championships in Manchester last week, scientists are looking into claims that a phenomenum known as ley lines could have played a part in both those high speeds and the fantastic performance of the British team. Experts are looking into potential interaction between the mystical ley line and the stripes on the British team's skinsuits as a speed enhancer.

Manchester just happens to lie in direct alignment with two important archaeological and spiritual sites which are located along a hypothetical ley line: Stonehenge and Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. Some New Age theories propose that these lines resonate psychic or mystical energy, generating powerful electrical or magnetic forces.

"Skeptics try to play this down because they cannot explain it with science," said longtime ley line expert Martyn Erlin to Cyclingnews on Monday.

When questioned about the British men's pursuit team, which wore the white UCI leader's kit rather than the standard British team strip, Erlin revealed that the riders had worn special undershirts with the triple-stripe pattern, indicating that the team was fully aware of the interaction with the mythical ley lines.

In the past hour Cyclingnews has learned that this mystical home advantage is being investigated by both the UCI and the IOC, and that the outcome could have severe implications for the nine gold medals won.

"We'll be studying this very carefully and if it can be shown that anything peculiar was at work in Manchester, gold medals and world records may well be scrapped." Said a UCI Official. "Down with this sort of thing."

by Cheyenne Spokes


From Le Poisson (April 1st)

ASO propose Tour de London Stage Race

Talks on possibly staging a pro race in the UK capital

Following the success of the Prologue and Stage 1 of last year's Tour de France in London, sources at Amaury Sports Organisation have today disclosed plans to hold a late season professional stage race in London in 2010.

The proposed event would consist of a prologue and 2 stages. The prologue would be a 3-mile loop taking in Tower Bridge, Jamaica Road, Elephant and Castle, and London Bridge. The remaining 2 stages are still being finalised, but these are likely to both be circular stages with one stage going North towards Oxford, while the other one will head South West towards Winchester. Both stages will finish at Buckingham Palace.

"It's early days, and these are just speculative plans." Christian Prudhomme, Director of the Tour de France told Le Poisson. "We cannot confirm anything at this stage, but we are in discussions with the relevant parties. We would certainly be very happy to return to London and stage a cycle race."

Triple World Champion, Bradley Wiggins also expressed his excitement at the possibility of once again racing in front of a home crowd. "There's such an adrenaline buzz when you race on home soil, in front of a home crowd. I for one, would support any bid to hold a race here in London."

Said London Mayoral candidate Boris Johnson, "This would be spiffing news !" I'm a keen cyclist and cycling is increasingly popular in London. This would certainly help to make London a cycling friendly city. Bring it on !"

by Ollaf O'Pris