Saturday, 21 May 2011

A Sting in the Giro Tale

I rode the Passo Gardeccia a few years ago during a Gran Fondo cyclosportive in the Dolomites.

Despite riding with a compact which gave me lower gears, that made no difference as I used all my gears up early. I could have done with a mountain bike! It was painfully steep with an unrelenting gradient. As the road twisted round each corner I thought things would level off, but it didn't. Those 6.5km were just painful! In fact "racing" up it was the most painful bit of cycling I have ever done. Local hill climb races give around 3 or 4 minutes of pain. This stretch gave me 40!

I felt sick, I was nearly crying, my quads were killing, and by the time I reached the ski resort at the top I just fell off my bike, too broken to do anything apart from panting loudly in a heap.

Yes, Gardeccia may only be a short ramp in the grand scheme of this year's Giro d'Italia route but it's damn tough. That final climb on Stage 15 will be a real sting in the tail for the riders once they've completed Passo di Giau and Passo Fedaia (which they scale from the hard side).
So those who gave their all on Monte Zoncolan today may have to pray that there's another protest and the course gets re-routed somewhere easier! Whoever wins up there tomorrow will have definitely earned their pasta! I look forward to watching this stage.

Pink is Tough!

There is a growing interest in women's cycling these days. I guess with the success of the likes of Nicole Cooke, Emma Pooley and Victoria Pendleton the general public has gotten quite excited at the prospects of these ladies striking gold at London 2012.
For the cycling fraternity the interest comes from more money being granted by different authorities to encourage more women into cycling.

Lo and behold, this year a few all-women cycling events have been scheduled. Davina McCall's ride took place a couple of weeks ago, and over the coming months there'll be the Victoria Pendleton Cycletta rides and CTC all-women rides.

A few weeks ago I went down to Bewl Water to take part in the one organised by the all-women cycling club, Kent Velo Girls.

I sometimes see the Kent Velo Girls in the lanes when out on my bike and they seem a friendly bunch. The perception I had had of them was of being a leisure cycling club, with the girls all decked out in stylish pink jerseys with flowers on.

The women are of all ages and their rides appeared to be done at a gentle pace. I had never seen anyone from that club at competitive cycling event.

So I went along to the cyclosportive expecting the ride to be a gentle jaunt through Kent and East Sussex where there was a choice of a 20mile, a 40-mile or a 60-mile ride. Wanting to get in a few miles, I did the 60-miler.

Well, how wrong I was about the "gentle jaunt"! Within the first few hundred metres of crossing the start line we were climbing. That had not been a surprise to me as it was on the profile. Profiles can be deceptive though, and the little lumps that came in the middle section of the ride were steeper than I'd imagined. There were rather more 7-8% ramps than my legs had budgeted for!

Kent, East Sussex, the High Weald - why on earth did I think this terrain would be gentle?? It has been hilly since prehistoric times so why did I think the terrain would be any different on this day?!

So on I plodded - through Wadhurst, Mayfield, Dallington, Robertsbridge and a challenging loop around Bodiam Castle, before returning via the long climb through Robertsbridge.

Descending homewards after Robertsbridge I heaved a sigh of relief as my legs got some respite, but then uttered a yelp as I suddenly had to dodge a snake in the middle of the road! Hmm, not your typical Kentish creature!

I managed the ride in a reasonable time, but by the time I was back at Bewl Water I was crawling. I'd spent the first half of the ride hanging onto the coat-tails of a triathlete from Sevenoaks Tri Club. It was great training for me, but once the elastic snapped that was it. The lack of fitness took its toll on me and I steadily drifted backwards. Still, it was a good day out and I really appreciated the beautiful scenery as we snaked through quiet country lanes, passing woodland, fields and different monuments.

Don't get me wrong. This cyclosportive had something for everyone, and it was great to be in a testosterone free environment. The 20 and 40-mile rides were routed in a way to make them do-able for new riders, and there was even a Go Ride for youngsters.
The event was very well organised and carefully planned. The goodie bag reminded me of a "Generation Game" conveyor belt, but without the fondue set and the cuddly toy!

The ride may have been testosterone free but it was still every bit as testing.

In fact, Kent Velo Girls have women who take part in time trials, and they plan to get some girls into racing, and even hill climbs. Pink may be all pleasant and fluffy, but it is also tough!

Thanks to Bee Gregorie and the Kent Velo Girls for putting on a lovely event.

Monday, 9 May 2011

A Classic in London

London may not have pavés (cobbles) like in the Forest of Arenberg or bergs like Geraadsbergen Muur but we do have cobbled streets and we also have short sharp climbs.

So using these facts, a group of imaginative folks from South London put together The London Classic, based on the series of bike races held in the Spring on the steep and cobbled roads of Flanders (Belgium) and Northern France. This ride was less than 60km long, but it was quite a bone shaker for those uninitiated to the quirky world of Spring Classics.

Under sunny skies we set off from a pub South of the river and then headed into central London where we were treated to our first section of easy pavés in Covent Garden.

Then it was on through The City where the more serious, bumpier stuff was to be found on the old streets of Stepney and Wapping.

Having ridden the Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders cyclosportives in the past, I thought I would have been ok on the cobbles of London. But then I remembered that I had been spared the worst of the jarring at these events by being on my sturdy cyclo cross bike with chunky tyres. On this day I was on my delicate road bike with slicks. So in fact I suffered the shakes more than I'd anticipated. Thankfully the cobbled stretches in London were nowhere near as long as those in Northern France or Belgium.

Heading back to South London via Tower Bridge I took a quick breather before preparing myself for a tough final 10 miles home. We were treated to a rapid succession of steep hills through South East London - Maze Hill, St John's, Honor Oak Park, and the worst of them all - Canonbie Road (oof)! This road should carry a "don't try this at home" warning. It. Is. Steep!!
After somehow surmounting that challenge, the 10% gradients of Eliot Bank and Gipsy Hill were a breeze!

Back at the event HQ of the Alma pub at Crystal Palace we then watched how it's done (or not, in Tom Boonen's case) when we followed live coverage of the queen of the classics, the Paris-Roubaix professional bike race.

We may not have had to negotiate 260km of cobbles in pouring rain and wind on our ride, and it was far from being the "hell of the north" (or the south even), but I had definitely ridden my bike, and Stepney had felt like my Carrefour de L'Arbre while Canonbie Road was my Koppenberg! Maybe for next year the organisers should award us with a genuine Stepney cobble as a form of trophy for our efforts! (I hope the Council aren't reading this!)

Thanks to Dave Mullarkey and Brixton Cycles for putting on a great event!

Photos by Wig Worland

Thursday, 5 May 2011

A Stylish, Polite Bike Ride - The Tweed Run

I remember seeing the write-ups on the Tweed Run last year and was quite impressed at the idea of riding around London looking all dapper.

It's true that in recent times people in London, as well as in other cities have embraced "urban chic" culture, and folks try to look a bit fashionable as they zip around the traffic in the City and the West End.

Dressing up to the nines in clothing that is not far off your Sunday best, and in tweeds or plus fours is quite something else.
Entries for the event opened on 27th February and closed 7 minutes later! Fortunately I managed to get a place and make the start at St Paul's Cathedral.

The place was awash with folks in all shades, textures and styles of tweed. As the event also incorporated a moustache competition men (and a few women) had gone to the effort to fashion themselves a mo for the day.
It was a real meeting point for eccentric people on vintage bikes of all different fashions. There were old postman bikes, Dursely Pedersens, Penny Farthings,etc. Even one girl just got a Boris Bike, circa 2010 and decked it out in tweed for the event!

So at 12 noon after the class photo on the steps of St Pauls all 400 of us set off on our merry way through central London.

We must have been quite a sight to the tourists and the Saturday afternoon shoppers as we wound our way through the London streets.
From The City we rolled to Westminster via Blackfriars Bridge and back over Westminster Bridge. Then we passed along Birdcage Walk, Buckingham Palace, and up through the West End. Of course we couldn't pass through the area without showing our respect for the shirtmakers at Jermyn Street and the tailors at Savile Row, purveyors of exquisitely fashioned suits and all other things gentlemanly.

Onwards we twiddled, chatting and laughing amongst ourselves in our 400-strong peloton, bidding "good day" to the traffic, the men doffing their caps at the other motorists and taxi drivers.

Some folks had managed to tack gramaphones and other musical appliances onto their bikes so we were even entertained to the sounds of 20s jazz and classical music.

It was all so very civilised, with a feed station at Lincolns Inn fields, where cucumber sandwiches and tea was served, then at the end of the ride in Bethnal Green, mini Gin and Tonics were offered - a spiffing end to the ride!
It's funny how the peloton of the Tweed Run was no smaller, probably even bigger than that of the monthly Critical Mass rides that take place in London. However, because we were dressed in very smart clothes and looking terribly British, the reception we got from the public, motorists, and even taxi drivers was much more positive. Permission to organise this ride had been granted by the authorities, though it was the responsibility of the organisers to sort out the escorting of the peloton and controlling the traffic at junctions. This was carried out with the utmost precision and we felt very safe within the group.

Organiser, Ted Young-Ing who cycles regularly says when he cycles in tweeds he definitely feels a more positive vibe from other road users than when he's in lycra or urban clothing.
So it seems that wearing tweeds when cycling is the way forward - although as we leave behind the warmest April on record and approach summer it might not be the ideal fabric!

In any case, I tip my hat to the excellently turned out ladies and gentleman who helped to make this a splendid day out on the Tweed Run.