Thursday, 30 April 2009

Women's Race at the Smithfield Nocturne

Great news! We will have a women's race at the Smithfield Nocturne in London on June 6th. Yay! It's a big deal for us racing chicks as it's been a while since there was a women's criterium race in the heart of London. These series of evening crits, Sponsored by Rapha, have been running for a couple of years now. They attract large crowds, especially at this Central London location, where there is a packed programme of fun events. They are all quite different, but they all provide for exhilarating, rip-roaring action and a great evening out. With lots of trendy City bars in this historic part of London, spectators have a lot to keep themselves busy with in between the races.

It's always great to race in Central London, where you have not just the cycling community out watching you, but a whole manner of passers-by. Many don't know much about bike racing, but with all the fanfare it's difficult to ignore what's going on, and the sport even acquires new fans.

Women's racing has never been on the agenda at these events. But this year, the organisers are trying something different. For us, it's once again a great opportunity to show off our side of the sport, and hopefully people will come away with a very favourable opinion of women's criterium racing.

So I'm off to get my entry in - as well as a bit of training!

Hey, Let's Be Careful Out there

I used to love watching Hill Street Blues on a late Friday or Saturday night during the '80s. My favourite part was the pre-credits when Sergeant Phil uttered that phrase as all the officers were dashing out after the 5.30am roll call: "Hey, Let's be careful out there."

Nowadays that phrase has so much more meaning, especially when riding around London. It's more like London Cyclist Street Blues - even tragedies.

Although the number of cycling accidents and fatalities in London is down compared to to 4 or 5 years ago, there is still no room for complacency. Thirteen cyclists were killed in road traffic accidents (RTAs) in London last year - nine of them involved heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). So far this year four cyclists have been killed on London's roads. All of them involved HGVs.

Last month was particularly tragic when two cyclists were killed within the space of a week - one at Old Street, and the other at Elephant and Castle.
There was a horrible story of a guy taking part on a cycling forum reading about how a serious accident had occurred in West London. He later discovered that it was his girlfriend who was the fatality.

Look at this photo.

That's how my club-mate's bicycle ended up when a lorry suddenly turned across his path. Miraculously he had the reflexes to literally jump off his bike and save his skin. He's now nursing a badly cut leg and a very bruised ankle.
Another club mate of mine is also recovering after being knocked off her bike while on her way to work.
What's happening to our cyclists in London?

The statistics show that the majority of fatal accidents are as a result of cyclists being crushed by HGVs while turning left. The drivers failed to see the cyclist that was on the inside lane to them.

Various organisations including the CTC (UK's national cycling body), and the London Cycling Campaign have launched awareness campaigns so that HGV drivers pay special attention to cyclists. These organisations recommend the use of improved safety mirrors on lorries.

There are also various cycle training courses for people who wish to commute by bicycle. Furthermore, Mayor Boris Johnson (who is a cyclist) has put forward a proposal to the Department for Transport, for a pilot scheme in which cyclists are allowed to turn left at a red light provided there are no pedestrians crossing. This is a fairly contentious proposal, though in a way I can see his logic. By cyclists getting a head start from the lights, this will avoid the risk of being hit by other heavier vehicles moving off at the same time. The idea needs to be properly thought through though, as that will also increase the risk of being hit by other vehicles that have right of way in the cross-wise lanes.

Anyway, whatever measures are put in place it is ultimately still going to be down to ourselves as cyclists to be alert and keep our eyes and ears open to all that's around us at all times.
And hey, hey, hey - Let's be very careful out there.

Photo by Mark Parsons of Dulwich Paragon CC

Monday, 27 April 2009

Enjoying a little more Springtime

I decided yesterday that the day's ride would be more about fun than serious training.

Fred and I, along with a few club-mates, took the mountain bikes out through Farthing Down and out to Reigate. Then we went across to Tadworth, back to Banstead and then home. It was a pedestrian paced ride, but just what I needed given my poor mountain biking skills and my need to take things easy.

Coming back through Banstead the woods looked beautiful and we found the chance for photo opportunity too difficult to resit.

We stopped, admired the bluebells and then Fred took a few snatched photos. I must admit I am actually happy with this one. Nothing to do with the rider! For me, it just represents what a spring day is about - moving around at a leisurely pace, smiling in the sun, and admiring the scenery around you.

photo by Fred

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Up the Palace!

Tuesday was the Queen's birthday - so what did we all do? We went to the Palace of course! Well, Crystal Palace actually.

And there was not a gun salute to be heard - just the sound of a whistle, a bell and a siren plus the whirring sound of the smooth pedalling and the odd clink from the chainging of gears. Of course there's the occasional shout of "hold your line", or "on your left", plus the regular cries of "work together, keep it going, dig in." All the while, suited and booted officials diligently make notes as a man shouts out the numbers of the riders who complete each lap of the circuit.
Thus is the routine of the Crystal Palace crit races, which started on Tuesday and will continue until the end of August.

I was in the priviledged position of not having to get involved in this merry go round of a circuit, which can be quite daunting even for some of the most seasoned road racers.

I leant my services as a marshall for the race. So it was just a case of standing at one of the entrances to Crystal Palace Park and alerting passers by and other park users of there being a cycle race in progress.

As we were quite flush with marshals there were 3 of us at this particular entrance, which is on a tricky hairpin on the circuit. It meant then that we were able to do a fair "division of labour" when it came to marshalling.

So at times I was able to just watch proceedings. On such a punishing circuit there's no where to hide. There are so many turns and corners, plus a challenging climb, thus many opportunities for you to be dropped. This course definitely finds holes in your training (or lack of it)!

Spectacting the race was very interesting. There's the guy who sets off like a lightning bolt from the gun, but then gets caught by the main group about 5 laps in and then he burns out and becomes relegated to peloton fodder. Some riders start off quite conservatively, just sitting in near the back end of the pack, and with the help of another fellow rider manage to work their way up to the main group, then contest the sprint for the line. The class act, for me is the one who just burns off the front from the gun and then manages to stay away for the whole of the race and win.

That's what Charlie Blackman (Cyclefit) did in the women's race. She did it in such style, and her victory was a very deserved one - especially as throughout the race I saw the sweat and heard the panting even from a good distance away!

My team mates from Dulwich did well. Two of them were new to the course, so were a little phased by the number and trickiness of the corners. They didn't disgrace the club by any means with their performances. Karen, the third rider finished just off the podium in fourth place.

I hope to be at Palace within the next few weeks. Watching the race has given me the motivation to have a go. I hope to race there soon.

photos by London Cyclesport

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


I could've gone for a run in the park near my work at lunchtime. Instead, I decided that today would be a rest day and I decided to do something I don't normally do during my lunch hour. I went for a stroll.

I put on my jacket, didn't take any money or work papers and just walked around St James' Park at a leisurely pace. This was probably inspired by the Slow Down London festival that starts this week.

Well, the only thing I took with me was my camera phone and as I ambled along I stopped and contemplated various scenes and really marvelled at the colours, the architecture and the natural beauty in London on this lovely, sunny, Spring day.

There was no rushing around to be done, no thinking about my work, and it was something very enjoyable that I could do in Central London without needing to pay for it! I felt so much for refreshed when I returned to my desk for the afternoon session.

Here's a bit of what I saw.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Just Riding the Bike - Down South

Sometimes I get moments where I don't want to see my bikes, never mind ride them. In fact my Specialized that I used in Mallorca was sitting it's bag for 10 days after I returned to London. I couldn't bear the idea of having to ride in anger - whether to train or to race or just to do a stupid commuter race.

I definitely get a "yeuk" feeling when I think that I'll have to strap on a heart rate monitor, ride within a specified zone, do a certain number of intervals or heavens above - use a power tap.
What's wrong with just enjoying riding the bike - not counting the miles or the average speed, not needing to watch the cadence - just simply spinning the pedals as you amble through the country lanes and contemplate the pleasant landscape in the warm sunshine.

View Saturday club run in a larger map
So that's what I did last weekend. On Saturday I didn't actually start my bike ride until around 2pm, as I'd been running in the morning. As I still hadn't unpacked the road bike I chose to use my cyclo cross bike, which was ready to go and sporting nice new road tyres. The ride wasn't very long - just the Saturday club run route done in reverse - 30 miles. I had a very pleasant ride, though when done the "wrong" way round it made for a tough first half, with one climb being a proper 25% gradient. That aside, it was an enjoyable ride and I felt free. On my own, with no wheel to chase and very few people on the roads. I only saw a couple of other cyclists, the occasional car, and no horses.

View 269 - Edenbridge Loop in a larger map
Sunday was a longer ride. By then I had assembled my road bike so was able to take that one on it's first Spring outing in London. Again, it wasn't a long distance - 50miles of pootling through the country lanes of Kent, taking in the local cyclist haunts. I even stopped and took photos of the bluebells, which was a nice way to break things up before tackling the dreaded triple of Yorks Hill, Toys Hill and Titsey Hill on the homeward run.

By the time I got home, London was still basking in warm Spring sunshine and my legs felt like they had been well exercised but I wasn't shattered. More importantly, by the end of the two days I had re-kindled my love for my bikes and I felt ready to start cycling again. Looking forward to more pleasant cycling.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Sheer Grit!

Local cycling buddy Charlie Blackman only started road racing a few years ago, in 2006. I bumped into her at a few road races back then, and we were about the same level in those days - both 3rd category road racers. In fact, I remember her saying to me while in the bunch during a circuit race - "you go in front girl - you're stronger than me!".

I've improved a bit since then - I'm now a 2nd category road racer. But Charlie's progress has been so much more impressive. She worked hard at her training and battled her way through the ranks. She has now joined a select club, being just one of 10 women in the UK to have an Elite road racing licence. Charlie even managed this despite crashing and suffering concussion in her first season, and then a broken collarbone in her second season.

Anyway, I interviewed Charlie earlier this year for the London Cyclesport website, and found her answers very inspiring. It's interesting how reading other people's experiences motivates you into training, and just gives you that extra kick up the backside.


Maria David, LondonCycleSport's women's correspondent, talks to Charlotte Blackman (London Dynamo).

Thanks for doing this interview, Charlie. You have had a phenomenal rise - from newbie 4th cat in 2006, to elite racer in 2008. Congratulations!

You were previously an elite rower. What made you cross over from rowing to cycling?
At the end of 2005 I was struggling to find the time to do anything other than work. I’d just moved house, was organising a wedding and trying to complete my teacher training. I kept getting ill, couldn’t make weight (I was a lightweight rower), got a telling off from my coach at GB trials for only coming 8th (!!!) and decided I’d had enough. I saw cycling as a different, unpressured way of keeping fit and as a change of scene.

What do you attribute your success to?
It’s funny to think that I’m “successful”. I just like riding my bike. I’ve always been sporty: 14 years of ballet, followed by 10 years of rowing. There is no secret: I’m not particularly gifted, I’m just happy putting the hours in. I’ve been brought up with a very strong work ethic. That probably helped.

Do you think coming from a rowing background has helped you in the cycling?
Without doubt. I think the hours I put in dancing taught me discipline but rowing taught me about bloody-minded hard training. Riding in the wind and rain by yourself is very much like being battered about in a single scull on the Thames. I sometimes think that the sculling has left me with far more of a psychological legacy than a physiological one.

You have been spotted at times, training alone on a cold, dull, rainy day. What motivates you to go out riding for hours on a miserable winter’s day?
My coach, Guy Andrew’s advice is “I don’t ride in the wind and rain, but you must!” I quite enjoy the long rides in the cold and I comfort myself with the idea that it’s all “money in the bank”. I also grew up in a mining pit village in county Durham so I’m quite used to wind and rain.

Who are your heroes?
I’m still a big kid in that my mum and dad are my heroes. They’ve both battled the Big C in the last two years and have my utmost love and respect. My sister runs marathons, I think she’s a bit of a hero too. Even when I rowed I think I found normal human beings far more “heroic” than the celebrities. My team mates like Jo Munden, Susannah Osborne and Lisa Scarlett are also my heroes. Jo and Susannah taught me a huge amount about riding my bike and Lisa taught me a great deal about courage!

I remember the photo of you crossing the finish line when you had your first victory in a National Series race at the Sid Standard Memorial RR last year. You looked quite emotional. What was going through your mind at that moment?
The absolute relief of not being caught by the bunch! I was desperate not to be caught. I’d attacked from about 4km out and kept thinking “Charlie! What have you done?”

So last year you raced the Women’s National Team Series as part of the Surrey League team. This year you are racing in a dedicated London Dynamo women’s team. How different will that be for you?
I think it is going to be a very different experience. There are familiar faces on the Dynamo team and there are other experienced riders. It is also good to have young riders like Claire Beaumont and Emma Patterson as they will get so much out of this season and it will be exciting to see how they go. There is already a colossal amount of team spirit and enthusiasm and in that respect we are very like the Surrey League team.

London Dynamo has a sizeable women’s squad. What does the club do to attract so many women? Your club seems to have achieved something that many clubs can only dream of.
There are lots of girls but we are racing across different disciplines. That can be frustrating. (I wanted to hide Jenny Lloyd-Jones’ TT bike last year and just have her come and road race!) But this is also a real strength and it means that there is always a more experienced female rider for them to talk to. We have also run winter skills sessions for the last three years and that’s helped to increase numbers. I think the visibility of the club within SW London helps draw women in and the fact that the club supports us and has a healthy social scene, makes sure that they stay."

And for the 2009 season what are your racing goals?
To have fun and not to fall off the bike!

Do you plan to race in Europe?
I’m going to Belgium in a couple of weeks to race. The very thought of it fills me with a mixture of fear and excitement.

Best of Luck with the coming road racing season.

photos by John Mullineaux at

Monday, 13 April 2009

Primavera Travels - Over....for now

So now I'm back in London on a typically grey damp bank holiday weekend - not the best weather to come home to, but it's always nice to get back to your trusty old home comforts and sleep in a familiar bed.

My journey to France and Italy ended well. I even had a tentative foray into off-road riding in Liguria with our friends at Riviera Bike, Jo and Ady. We returned to London nicely refreshed and I felt good about our long weekend away.

Sadly, our second spring-time trip, to Mallorca, was a non-event by comparison. Usually I really enjoy going there and there's some great cycling to be had. But I think a combination of being greeted with unseasonably cold wet weather, and my luggage not arriving at the same time as me (which thus prevented me from riding my bike), plus a couple of other hitches put a dampener on things - literally.

Also as a general rule, I like to take in the culture of the place I'm in when I travel. Somehow, being in Mallorca where you get lots of Brits who aren't interested in the culture or the language doesn't really give much scope for that. Travelling there with Spanish people might have made it feel less like a Costa del London experience!

On the plus side, I did get to ride a nice carbon fibre Orbea, care of the good people at the Mallorca Mar i Terra bike shop in Santa Ponsa - a very comfortable ride.

We didn't get round to riding the classic Sa Calobra climb, but we experienced a few other interesting roads that I hadn't ridden before -

For example, the coll de Sa Creu, a back road that climbs only for 5km but has numerous switchbacks and is quite steep in places. It's a very scenic way of getting from Palma to Calvia.

Of course, I couldn't go to Mallorca without taking in the breathtaking coast road from Andratx through Estellencs, Banyalbufar to Valledemossa.

Once our rides were done for each day we relished our post race refreshments of wine and savouries while admiring the view from the balcony of our lovely hilltop apartment. So it wasn't too bad.

I think the next time I go, I will probably combine it with a trip to the Spanish mainland - maybe ride around the Catalunya or Valencia regions first, and then get a ferry across to Palma. That would definitely spice up the trip and give things a more Spanish feel.

pics by Fred