Saturday, 31 December 2016

Rapha Festive 500: Day 5

Wednesday 28th December - My Tour de Londres - South-eastern loop (Kent)

My first day of pure cycling - no running race to warm me up/wear me out first (depending on how you look at it)!

So that meant I could get up first thing, be out of the door by 9am and enjoy the relatively mild, sunny conditions all the way to Tunbridge Wells.

Wrong. Overnight temperatures had dropped and London had developed a glazing of frost on the roads. I don't recall seeing gritting lorries around, so that was going to make surface conditions tricky to say the least.

In effect, the challenge of dealing with riding after a run was replaced with the challenge of dealing with the riding after an icy blast on the roads. This would be all the more difficult given that I had planned to ride 90km around the country lanes of Kent. Hmm. A couple of people had posted photos of themselves battered and bruised after crashing while attempting the Festive 500, and having to prematurely end their mission, so I had to be mindful of the risks.

Eventually, I decided to go out, but to postpone my departure to 10am, shorten my loop and (boo hoo) stick to the main roads. So there would be no Jackass Lane, which meant no Westerham Hill, no Hosey Hill, no Edenbridge, Penshurst or Tunbridge Wells - all areas that I particularly like riding in.

Deer in Knole Park

Instead, I had to stick to the dull old A232 through West Wickham down to Locksbottom, and then pick up the even duller A21 to Sevenoaks.

I did allow myself to go over Badgers Mount and down Pole Hill though, as I could see that these roads weren't too bad. It's a shame that loads of cars and lorries also had the same idea!

My one consolation on this part of the ride was my mini tour around Knole Park in Sevenoaks which looked lovely as ever, with lots of walkers and baby deer to add to the Christamssy ambiance.

Once past Sevenoaks I moved into slightly less familiar territory as my route went towards Maidstone. Along the way I passed places that rang a bell as I recalled doing triathlons on those roads a number of years ago.

There was Ivy Hatch and Igtham, which are part of the tough bike routes in the Sevenoaks and the Tonbridge triathlons. Later I passed Leybourne with its lakes. I remember doing evening triathlons there, and they were tough simply because you had to find your way round the bike course with no marshalls or signage! Going around what had seemed like a complicated system of roundabouts I ended up completely lost with a passerby having to give me directions back to the HQ. Happy days!

Just outside Maidstone I turned up towards Rochester where the terrain was a bit more scenic. By this time the ice on the roads had melted in the afternoon sun. In these more clement conditions I was able to ride along the Pilgrims Way where the road was devoid of traffic - unlike the alternative route which was full of lorries going to the nearby Waitrose depot!

Some people might find a Waitrose depot the nearest thing to heaven, but the roads around there were a nightmare, dodging trucks and potholes. Anyway I would prefer my Waitrose wrapped in a nice fluffy Ocado van coming to me, rather than vice-versa!

Rochester Castle
Rochester was pretty - at least what I saw of it. By this time I was getting a bit bored and hungry. Being in unfamiliar territory meant that I had stopped to check the map quite a few times and that had disturbed my rhythm, and made the day longer.

A really nice view of a spectacular looking chalky escarpment in the distance had kept me going, but even with that there's a limit to how much looking you can do!

Once in Rochester I had a quick gander at the harbour, the cathedral and the castle before heading over the ironbridge to the other side of the tracks - Strood and Gravesend, where my ride ended.

In Gravesend I only managed to see the shopping centre and the train station - I must admit, that's as much as I needed to see of the place. Sorry, but Gravesend is hardly Tunbridge Wells or even Rochester!

Anyway, I was glad to have done a jaunt around the Garden of England, taking in familiar places, new places, famous and not-so-famous places, while clocking up some useful kms and staying upright!

Rochester Harbour
92.3km ridden; running total - 318.7; 181.3km left
1 bagel; two jammy dodgers, a custard cream; 3 quality streets; 
weather: frosty, 5degC, sunny spells

Rides on Strava
South-eastern loop (Kent)

Ride from the train station

Related Posts
Rapha Festive 500: Day 4

Rapha Festive 500: Day 3

Rapha Festive 500: Day 2

Rapha Festive 500: Day 1

Tackling the Rapha Festive 500

Friday, 30 December 2016

Rapha Festive 500: Day 4

Tuesday 27th December - My Tour de Londres - Beckenham (Cyclocross race)

Today was different from the other days of my Festive 500 challenge. Yes, I was out on my bike, I put in a few kms, but I worked harder than I have worked all week on the bike! Yes, I did a cyclocross race. As this was an inaugural event taking place in a park just three miles from my home it would have been rude not to race there!

It seems like Lewisham Council are keen to revamp and reinvigorate the house and grounds of Beckenham Place Park, and have given permission for different sporting events to take place. They have started doing Park Runs there, and now Lewisham have allowed for cyclocross racing to take place.

It's a really nice park and very vast too. While the Park Run is held on grassland that is pan flat, the cyclocross course builders have typically gravitated towards the hilly side of the park where there were old golf course bunkers which can make for a great sandpit as well as the odd berm.

So I rolled along to Beckenham for the Yulecross. Riding through the park at a rather sluggish pace I began to feel my efforts from the previous three days beginning to catch up on me. In fact, my legs felt so creaky that I wondered if I should have been racing at all. I guess there was time for me to duck out gracefully as I had not signed on, and  as I hadn't yet arrived at the race HQ I could have easily turned round and gone home before anyone saw me!

However, a deep-seated curiosity kept me moving towards the house, and before I knew it I had paid my £10 and pinned on a race number. So I was in, whether I liked it or not.

There was a good turnout for the race, with around 13 women on the start line. That was down on the large numbers there have been in recent rounds of the London League, probably due to Christmas holidays, but it was still a massive improvement compared with a couple of years ago.

On the blow of the whistle we set off on a steep uphill section (what is it with steep sections at the start of races? It's not fair!) My legs were still feeling heavy, so I just crawled up at a slow warm-up pace. Needless to say I was shot off the back into last place within a few metres. This didn't bother me much, and I just decided to do my own ride and ease my legs into the pace.

Being a festive event, I had dressed up for the occasion - well at least my version of dressing up. I was wearing my new Hackney GT arm warmers, my jazzy Madison three-quarter tights and my favourite jersey, so the hope was that this would at least be worth a photograph, if not any British Cycling points or prize money! Sadly, when you are in last place and off the back the photographer tends not to want to waste his energy or his film on you!

By about half-way through the race I could feel my legs waking up, and I suddenly had the energy to get into race mode. Gradually my pace kranked up and I began to catch a few of the women one-by-one. Without me realising, my body had found a first wind that was making me race. My legs put in a spurt on the hills, and threw me over the bumps. I had a grrr going on!

With Abi Armstrong post-race - photo by David Steele

Going over the planks was still a bit pants and I did stack it in the sandpit, getting my chain all messy with the stuff, but hey, the adrenaline rush was great and I felt strong.

In fact, by some fluke I had managed to ride myself from last out of 13, up to 5th place, once again overtaking (as with the SE Championships) Liz Orr from Kent Velogirls in the closing metres (sorry Liz - I'm sure you'll get me back next time!).

It was nice to have finished better than I started, even if I was a lap down on the winner, Louise Heywood-Mahe of Les Filles RT.
And as a bonus though, it turns out I was photographed after all!

After the fun and games of the cyclocross race, catching up with other riders including Abi and David who were up from Eastbourne, and Russ Jones who designed my arm warmers, I sauntered home, the tank empty but feeling happy.

25.4km ridden; running total - 226.4; 273.6km left
Weather: sunny, 8degC, light wind

Related Posts
Rapha Festive 500: Day 3

Rapha Festive 500: Day 2

Rapha Festive 500: Day 1

Tackling the Rapha Festive 500

Mudplugging again! Cyclocross is back

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Rapha Festive 500: Day 3

Monday 26th December - My Tour de Londres - Southern loop (Surrey)

Another day another running race followed by my bike ride. I must say this has been the trickiest aspect of completing the Festive 500. It's easier said than done, doing a running race before getting on the bike and riding. For a seasoned triathlete or duathlete this is a piece of cake, even grist to their mill. But for me, as someone who has not indulged in this for years it can be a bit hard on the muscles when repeating the activity a few days in succession.

Sitting in a bath of almost freezing water has therefore become part of my daily ritual. It's always a bit of a "yowser" moment when my lower body gets immersed, but my leg muscles will hopefully thank me for it!

The other practical problem around doing an event before starting my ride is that I end up starting my Festive 500 miles later in the day, and given that the sun is sets at around 4pm I always feel like I am racing against the clock to be out of the country lanes before it gets dark.

But, as I said earlier, I don't want to have to stop my other activities because of this challenge.

Farthing Down - the bit before it gets really muddy!
So, today's event was my running club Boxing Day handicap - a 2-mile cross country running race in the area south of Croydon known as Farthing Down and Happy Valley.

It involved a steep uphill section from the gun, followed by undulating sections that were incredibly muddy. For me, this would just have to be a survival run - do enough to get round without incident (there were a few casualties along the way), but not be so slow that the organisers would need to send out the search party!

Needless to say, I finished in last place. But hey, I beat the people who are still on the sofa or still in bed, and I got a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon - a nice red wine for being the lanterne rouge!

After all the merrymaking of the Boxing Day handicap my bike ride didn't start until almost 1pm. In fact, I had already clocked up some kms for the day as my ride to Farthing Down was about 16km.

Given the time, I planned on doing a short local loop into Surrey, taking in the edge of Redhill and Reigate. The roads were even quieter than on Christmas Day, and I hardly saw any cars on the lanes around Gatton Bottom. I didn't see many cyclists either, which is a turn-up for the books on this popular route. So it was great to have the roads to myself in the nice winter sunshine.

Then problems struck part way round when I got the hunger knock. Even though I had only run a little more than two miles, the challenging cross-country terrain had made it feel like a much longer distance and my legs had worked harder than I realised. So it was a bit of a battle to keep going. As a general rule I can't eat anything less than four hours before a running race, so I end up doing morning running races on an almost empty stomach. That was the case today, and then afterwards I only had time to quickly eat a bagel before dashing off to start the ride.
Fanny's Farm Shop

Ironically, my route went past the old Fanny's Farm Shop. This used to be a famous cafe stop among local cyclists for years and the cakes were lovely. It wasn't just a cafe, it had all these nice little huts where you could enjoy your refreshments in novel parts of the farm, including in a tree house.

Sadly, Fanny died a few years ago and the cafe closed in 2015. So there I was standing outside the old sign for the farm shop, without even a sniff of cake but with a few hills to crest at Chipstead before I could get home. That blessed bottle of wine in my bag was of no use apart from to weigh me down and make me dig even more into my low energy reserves! Luckily, I found a stray mini-pack of oatcakes hidden right in the bottom of my bag. A lifeline! I wolfed down the manna from heaven before pushing on back home. After a few more hills it was downhill back into Croydon (metaphorically as well as literally) and I got home comfortably before sunset (thankfully).

49.6km ridden; running total - 201km; 299km left
3.6km cross-country run
1 bagel and 4 oatcakes
Weather: sunny, 10degC, windy

My rides on Strava

Ride to the Boxing Day handicap

Southern loop (Surrey)

Related Posts
Tackling the Rapha Festive 500

Rapha Festive 500: Day 1

Rapha Festive 500: Day 2

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Rapha Festive 500: Day 2

Sunday 25th December - My Tour de Londres - Central London loop

Christmas Day, yay! I can do what I want, eat and drink what I like and lounge around - at least once I've done my customary Park run and a few miles of the Festive 500 challenge! So, given it was going to be a funpacked day I made an early start.

Midnight mass, a few hours' sleep and then 14-mile bike ride to Richmond Park for the Park run. I had never done the Park run there before, but chose this venue for Christmas as it's my favourite London park, and as it was going to be my 50th Park run I wanted to make an occasion of my run.

Riding through London on Christmas day at 8am is a dream. If only it was like this all the time. I was able to take the main roads without any problem and not think about taking a quieter alternative or a traffic-free route. Streatham High Road, Wandsworth one-way system, the South Circular were such a breeze I thought I'd died and gone to heaven!

The Park run was fun and festive, with the route being a loop set between Richmond Gate and Sheen Gate. They weren't the easiest 5kms, but they were definitely easier than cross-country races I've done in Richmond Park.
Santa ditches his reindeer to join the Park run!
Santa Claus came on the run as well, but I don't know what he was playing at. No sledge, and all the deer looking on forlornly wondering why he was running away from them!

Alistair, the run director on the day was impressed that I had ridden over from Crystal Palace. That's a long way, he said. I didn't want to blow him out of the water and say I would be doing more riding around London after the run!

Next up was my route into London via Putney Bridge, Fulham, Chelsea, Knightsbridge and into Hyde Park. Traffic did begin to get a little busier, as the Sloane rangers who brought out their Chelsea tractors also wanted to take advantage of these relatively quiet roads.
Christmas day is great for biking in London

As for the parks, Christmas seemed like any other day. Loads of people were out in all of them - Hyde Park, St James's Park, Green Park and the Mall - walking, cycling on Boris Bikes, or scootering. In the sunshine there was a real feelgood factor, and London looked lovely - just like a set in a Christmas film.

To jazz up my ride on this day, and for probably the only day of the year, I rode with my headphones on and sans helmet along the cycle superhighway from Embankment to Tower Bridge. On a day like this I couldn't not have a bit of Troika or Walking in the Air serenading me on my ride along the River Thames!

Then after Tower Bridge, I came back down to earth with a bang! The pretty buildings, the Royal Parks, the family walks were all gone, and replaced with the drudge and dreariness of Bermondsey and Deptford. And, worst of all I was welcomed by a ravaging head wind, which blew even stronger after Lewisham. There was nothing to look at, apart from the tarmac as I pedalled madly, going nowhere fast!

I guess you can't have it all. Eventually, I returned home and heaved a big sigh of relief while enjoying a well-earned glass of wine. I really appreciated my turkey roast, chocolates and mince pies.


59.9km ridden; running total - 151.4km; 348.6km left
5km run
1 bagel, 2 Hobnobs, 3 Quality Streets
Weather: Sunny, 13degC, windy

My rides on Strava

Ride to Richmond Park

Central London loop

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Tackling the Rapha Festive 500

Rapha Festive 500: Day 1

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Rapha Festive 500: Day 1

Saturday 24th December - My Tour de Londres - South-west loop (Surrey)

As my rides are going to be in London and the home counties I have dubbed my Festive 500 My Tour de Londres.

Having read the various pieces of advice, one of the key points I've noted is to get out on the bike early, to accumulate the miles and leave a bit of slack towards the end of the eight days. So I got on my bike first thing in the morning - but it was just to do the 13.5km round trip to take part in the Dulwich Park run!

Park run, Dulwich Park
The terrain for the run was fairly easy - a pan flat 5km, and I just trotted round so everything was fine. As it was Christmas Eve, the runners were in the spirit of things so I joined in too by wearing something festive and having a post-run mince pie. It would have been rude not to.

Run director Gillian seemed quite impressed that I was hoping to ride 500km in eight days, though I guess it didn't sound that noteworthy when saying I had done 6.5km so far!

I really want to get in the 500km, but I don't want to miss out on doing the other sporting activities I enjoy, so Saturday was going to be a long day as I had planned to do a ride out to Box Hill after returning home from the run and having my breakfast. (I can't eat breakfast if I have a running race in the morning.)

So given the other activities I'd been up to, I didn't start my main ride until half past eleven. This was the Southern part of my ride, which would go mainly into Surrey. My ride to Box Hill took a slightly longer route through Croydon, over to Epsom and into the Surrey Hills via Ashstead and Headley. I also planned to do more than one ascent of the famous zigzags.

At Box Hill, as usual there were lots of people out walking, and of course cycling. A few of the bike riders I got talking to said that they wouldn't be signing up for the Festive 500 as they were planning on doing lots of drinking, and would be travelling up to see family (possibly or not possibly in that order!). It made me wonder what I was letting myself in for, particularly as the people I was talking to looked pretty fit, but yet were shying away from this, while I was attempting it on the back of a year of sporadic cycle training and racing.

Looking forward to my flapjack at the tea shop
After two ascents of the zigzag road, I had worked up an appetite, so I wasn't going to miss out on going to the National Trust tea shop for some festive flapjack.

Then it was off home via Tadworth and Coulsdon to return home.

91.5km ridden; 408.5km left
5km run
Two mince pies, one flapjack and 2 Quality streets eaten
Weather: cloudy and mild, 12 degC

My rides on the day on Strava:

Ride to Dulwich Park 

Ride from Dulwich Park

South-west loop - Surrey

Related posts
Tackling the Rapha Festive 500

Monday, 26 December 2016

Tackling the Rapha Festive 500

In recent years I have found my regular cycling mileage steadily drop to almost recreational levels. When I was in Milan my commuting miles were just 6 miles per day along pan-flat terrain, and although I made an effort to get out and ride at weekends in the lovely testing hills around Lake Como and the Oltrepo Pavese region, I was only getting out and doing this type training ride once every couple of weeks, since weekends would frequently be spent travelling to London or elsewhere.

Things didn't improve when I was in Macclesfield either.  Again, the great training terrain of the Peak District, the Goyt Valley and Macclesfield Forest were on my doorstep. However, I was returning to London every other weekend, and my commuting miles were just 3 miles, albeit over undulating terrain.

So since starting to live in London full-time, last summer I have come to realise how much fitness I have lost from my former self. It has been great to get back to doing my regular 10-mile hilly commute into Central London from Crystal Palace, as well as my weekend rides. Although regular, different significant events in my life and health matters have meant I wasn't able to spend as much time out on my bike, or ride to a high intensity.

But now, I feel it is time to get back to the good old days when I could ride 150 miles + per week through commuting and riding a decent weekend ride. It would be lovely to feel fit enough to properly ride cyclosportives to my potential, not just aiming to survive them. I would also like to have the base fitness that to do high intensity competitive cycling.

It is now time to break the old cycle [pardon the pun] and reinvigorate my bike riding. So what better way to do so than by taking part in the Rapha Festive 500. Basically, I am challenging myself to ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.

In theory, it should, be doable. This distance, 500km (or 310 miles) is roughly what people can do when on a week-long warm-weather training camp in Mallorca or Lanzarote. But that's the rub. The Rapha Festive 500 is a global challenge, so those folks in southern hemisphere countries like Australia or South America won't have trouble completing these distances during their long, warm summer days. Even the climatic conditions in Spain or the Canary Islands at this time of year are quite mild.

Here in the UK it's another matter. With sunrise being after 8am, and darkness falling by 4pm a long bike-ride, on country lanes gets harder to fit in. Of course there's also the weather to consider. People in Northern England and Scotland are experiencing two sets of strong storms, and down here in London it has been very windy. No, these short, grim, cold days don't inpsire people to get out on a bike. So achieving 500km this week will be an achievement for me - not just because I will have endured the inclement conditions, but also because I will be able to say I have given a very healthy boost to my cycling fitness.

You can get in the 500km any which way - as bite size 70km stages, or as a couple of ultra-long rides if that's the way you want to do it. My friend, Annaleena Piel Linna did Paris-Roubaix-London last year. I considered doing London-Paris and back. But in the end I have chosen to stay home and do My Tour de Londres.

The plan is to ride from London to the home counties surrounding London tracing routes as near as possible in the shape of the spokes of a bicycle wheel - maybe with a hub and a bit of the rim! Stages will be between 50 and 100km, depending on the day, given that I will also be juggling these rides with a few running events and a cyclocross race.

It'll be a long road, but I will give it my best shot. So keep an eye out for my posts on how I've been getting on.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Book Review: Preventing cycling injuries with body conditioning

I got into cycling on the back of triathlon, which in turn I got into as a way of cross-training to reduce the amount of knee injuries I was getting as a runner.

For me, cycling (and swimming) were great conditioning exercises for my body and I never feared getting wear and tear problems when doing these activities. Swimming fell by the wayside though, as I didn't have so much time to train for three sports, and to be honest when doing triathlon I was regularly last out of the water. Concluding that I was happier on a bike than in the water, I continued my fitness journey on  two wheels.

So over the last fifteen years cycling has been my daily bread (plus a bit of running, which I have done since childhood).

Sadly though, I have not stayed injury free during that time. Even cycling can cause injuries - and I don't mean concussion and broken collar bones from crashing!

It's not uncommon to get wear and tear injuries such as tendinitis on the knees, illiotibial band syndrome (i.e. tightness down the side of the thighs). I have seen people take months out due to back and hip problems too.

As I get older I realise that things can only go downhill - and not in a good way! I need to stop the rot!

So, when Bloomsbury sent me this book to review I was quite interested. Ridestrong by local cycle racer, Jo McRae is about body conditioning, something I am really interested in reading about. I say read, it's not actually a book that you read. It's much more practical than that! There's a good introduction on what body conditioning is, and how it can benefit cyclists. Then the book is split into sections dealing in turn each with: Stretches, Strength, Core work, and Cross Training sports of benefit. You have lots of photos of how to do the exercises, as well as ready reference pictures for each of the chapters.

Finally, the closing chapters of the book talk about about periodisation of your body conditioning programme. This book is not designed to be read cover to cover, but more about focusing on the aspect that is of most relevance to you. It's also something that you can dip into, particularly if you need a reminder of how to do the different exercises.

I am very glad to see a book like this, particularly as I really need to think more about injury prevention. Sure, I've done things like pilates classes and yoga too. But there's something quite reassuring about getting advice from a fellow cyclist, so can identify with the biomechanical issues we can have.

Jo has been a coach and exercise specialist for many years and has been a cycle racer since her teens, so anything she doesn't know about cycle fitness and conditioning isn't worth knowing!

I have been following the exercises in the book and will let you know how I am getting on.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Christmas Gifts for the Cyclist - 4

Stay warm and dry when cycling

I was sent some items from the Dhb range of Aeron Rain Defence gear to test out earlier this year. I had hoped to use the gear during a cyclosportive, but in fact the weather just wasn't cold enough!

Having said that, the short-sleeved jersey was really useful because it protected me against the rain. So I wore it when I rode to Paris on a very wet day in June, and it was also useful when I rode across the windswept South Downs on a ride down to Brighton.

So even if the gear may seem a little warm for mild weather such as what we are even experiencing now, something like the jersey (and the accompanying arm warmers, leg warmers and bib shorts) are great for wet and windy days - which you get at any time of the year.

As for the Aeron Full Protection Softshell this has everything that other garments have, though it is properly toasty to wear.

When wearing this with the rain defence shortsleeved jersey you are so warm. It was useful against the sea breeze on the Brighton coast, but it really comes into its own in wintry weather.

In fact, a couple of weeks ago when the temperatures were barely above zero in London I was almost overheating on my ride in to work! When the temperatures dropped to -5 degrees celsius I felt much more comfortable.

So basically, this gear is great for the winter. Even if the weather isn't that cold right now in the UK, proper winter won't be far away and I'll be even happier to have this gear to fall back on.

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Christmas Gifts for the Cyclist - 2

Christmas Gifts for the Cyclist - 1

Monday, 12 December 2016

Christmas Gifts for the Cyclist - 3

Jazz up your ride

Cyclists aren't always that adventurous in their choice of colours of cycling shorts and tights. When out on the road people go for black, or maybe dark blue. Certainly black is the colour of choice now, particularly as a few clothing companies like Rapha favour that colour scheme and it has proven popular.

Personally, I don't agree with Henry Ford. I want any colour as long as it's not black! I would love to see something a little zany that can jazz up your ride and brighten the day for the beholder! Even something that will make passing motorists think, "what in God's name is that?!" At least there's no chance of them failing to see you!

In the mean time check out these women's sportive three-quarter tights that I was given to test by Madison. Yes, they are black but they do have a nice sheen on them and there are a few little flourishes which make them stand out. I like the flashy design on the cuff of the lower leg.

Madison have produced matching soft-shell gloves too with splashes of blues and purples. I wouldn't say the outfit is out and out zany, but it does depart a little from the whole plain black theme, and I like it. Worn with the windproof dhb Aeron Rain Defence short-sleeved jersey, the different blue shades make a great-looking combination. 

So that's the look - how about the feel?

The pants are comfortable and have good flex for movement. Furthermore, they are warm and are fine for rides during these balmy temperatures we are currently experiencing. However, when we get properly into winter the ensemble would be better for fast-paced training rides or a race. As for the gloves, being showerproof and windproof with a fleece lining they are thick enough to still do the job, so even on leisure winter outings your ride is still jazzed up a little.

Madison Element soft-shell gloves: size XS - L; purple or red; £17.99
Madison Women's Sportive 3/4 tights: black/white/grey or black/white/blue; £44.99

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Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Mudplugging (sort of) again! Cyclocross is back

SE champs at Cyclopark. Photo by Paul Willis
Just when I was wondering if I would ever ride cyclocross again, I managed to find the time to dig out my bike and restart doing some of the rough stuff.

There's not much to say about it except that I found it lots of fun, and it's been so long since I last raced that in the words of the cook on Poldark, "I've mislaid me skillage!"

But I survived, and I didn't come last. The sun even shone on both of the races I did. Anyway, just to prove that I'm not making it up, here are a couple of pics care of some very nice souls who thought it was worth a shot photographing me! I am lucky to have not gotten too muddy as conditions so far have been dry, which gives an opportunity to ease into the sport.

My first race was at Leeds Castle, near Maidstone - incredibly bumpy, quite challenging and with a hill that completely killed people's legs! There was also moat (also known as a swamp), that people ended up jumping into after clearing the low hurdles. As I had travelled to the venue by train and had no change of socks or shoes I preferred to go round and wade through the long grass! It added a bit of time to my ride, but at least my feet weren't sopping wet for the long journey home.
Slogging up the hill at Leeds Castle. Photo by Mike Last

The lady in the London Dynamo kit is Claire Richardson. She was actually walking up that hill at the same speed that I rode it! We then battled it out for the finish line and I managed to get ahead of her by some fluke!

My second race was the South East and Eastern Regional Championships held at the Cyclopark near Dartford, Kent. Just when I thought that races couldn't get harder than at Leeds the course builders came up with another leg-sapping course! Very technical with a number of dismounts - to get over steps, high hurdles, a horribly steep hill, a deep sandpit, and I had to get off for a few adverse cambers that I just couldn't negotiate.
Dropping down a technical descent. Photo by Paul Willis

The lady in the pink jersey is Liz Orr of Kent Velo Girls. She was very good technically and was ahead of me for most of the race, but all I can say is thank goodness for tarmac! I was able to put in a bit of power on the road up to the finish line, and that's the only reason I was able to get past her.

Next time we will be in an "old school" course nearer to home in the suburbs of Croydon, where there will be pure mud. So I am not sure I will be so lucky to stay ahead of Claire or Liz. But whatever happens, just doing cyclocross will brighten up my day and I will be appreciative of the folks who cheer (or even jeer) me on as I haul and slide my way around the course.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Proviz bags the glowing market!

REFLECT360 rucksack

Proviz has established itself as a well known brand of super visibility jackets. Now they are producing various other items that will make you stand out at night.

The latest item that I have been testing is the REFLECT360 rucksack. We all get that slightly uncomfortable feeling when you're all set to go out, you've put on a high vis jacket in the hope of being seen at night, only for everything to get obscured by a big black rucksack! So how well will motorists approaching from behind see you now?

You can cover it with a high vis cover, but it's not guaranteed the cover will fit. Sometimes I wear an oversized high vis gilet on top of the rucksack - not very pretty! And it may not do the job anyway.

So when I was sent the REFLECT360 rucksack to try out I was quite impressed with it. It would only have been a matter of time before this latest accessory was produced. And it is the logical solution when you think how many people cycle commute now, particularly through London.

Judging by the numbers of people on the Cycle Superhighway there's no sign of the dark streets and the sub-zero temperatures deterring people from circulating through London by bike. So a super-reflective rucksack was a logical addition to the array of Proviz items, considering how useful and popular the jackets had become.

So what do I make of the rucksack? Well, it does everything it says on the tin! It's a rucksack, and a rather spacious one too. Capacity is 30 litres, meaning there was room in it for my change of clothes, my lunch, and a book, which I usually carry in case I get on public transport, plus a bit more space in reserve.

There is a front pocket in which to put smaller items like your wallet and phone etc. Then there are deep side pockets in which I put things like tools, puncture repair kit and maybe an extra drink.

Then I like the little touches such as a loop to hang a light from, a mesh ventilation system to help reduce dampness on your back, and additional loops to attach a strap if you want to carry the rucksack as a shoulder bag.

The thing I like most about the REFLECT360 rucksack though, is that addresses the things that concern me most as a commuter - will I be seen, and will my stuff get all soaked if I get caught in the rain?

Well those reflective beads are ever present in the fabric and there are no worries about you not being seen at night, and you stand out like a spaceman! Also during these autumn days motorists have on their headlights during the day so the reflective properties take effect even in daylight, so you can still be spotted on the road.

The fabric is waterproof, and furthermore all the zips on the rucksack are Aquaguard(R), meaning that they completely seal up when closed.

So there you have it, a rucksack that I can feel comfortable (literally and metaphorically) when out on my bike.

Proviz Sports


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Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Christmas Gifts for the Cyclist - 2

If you're looking for new wheels for next year here are a few ideas based on bikes I have tried and bikes I just like:
Raleigh Mustang Sport
I have tested out the Raleigh Mustang Sport gravel  bike quite a lot this year and it's been good to me.  Some people have been a little sceptical about the point of this style of bike. But I just consider it to be a great all-round bike that can be used on and off-road. Think of it as something that can work well on slightly more rugged terrain than a forest trail, but without the chunkiness of a mountain bike.

It is also great for carrying bits and pieces if you are carrying your provisions for multi-terrain cycle touring, or just commuting. And of course if you are just going to be riding on tarmac you can always put on thick slick tyres. There are other bikes available in the Mustang range if you are looking for something harder core or lighter.

The Trott range of bikes from Laura Trott Kenny have been gradually making their presence known on the streets and lanes around the country. I have been testing out the RD2, and have found this good value for money. It's a decent entry level bike if you are making the step up to cycling as a sport. I found it nice and light on the hills and you can pick up a decent speed on the flat.

My old favourite is the Boardman Team Carbon women's bike. I have ridden different incarnations of this bike since when they were first publicly on sale around 2010, and they have never failed to disappoint.  The latest version still has the same basic geometry, though with small tweaks to give comfort when riding long distances such as in a cyclosportive event or a long training ride. These are perfectly good bikes to race with as well.

Visually I like how this bike doesn't have any pink or flowers or anything girly about it, but everything in the form is female specific. Boardman have also managed to keep the cost well within the £1,000 mark (In fact it is currently retailing at £799, down from £999) so it can be purchased on the Cycle to Work scheme, meaning you only end up paying £400 for the bike. Now that's good value.

Liv Fluorish FS
Finally, I wanted to add in the Liv Flourish FS hybrid. I am always on the look-out for a nice sit-up-and-beg hybrid for when running errands or going on picnics. These bikes really make cycle riding a pleasure and I feel I can take life easy, and enjoy the environment around me.

What I particularly like about the Flourish FS is that although it looks like an old fashioned "Call the Midwife" bike, it has got a bit of performance, as city bikes go.

The frame is made from lightweight aluminium, there's a triple chain ring giving a choice of gears from the 21 speeds available, and the fork even has suspension, with 40mm of travel. Get you! Liv as a brand is not so well known in the UK, but just think Giant and that should give you a better idea of them. Liv is the women-specific arm of this well established name in bike gear, so you can't go wrong on quality. I look forward to seeing more of their gear in 2017.

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Thursday, 24 November 2016

Christmas Gifts for the Cyclist - 1

Happy Thanksgiving! Ok, so now I have paid deference to that great American tradition and the bun fight also known as Black Friday let's talk about things that mean more to me closer to home. Christmas - crikey it's just one month away.

The John Lewis advert is out, the lights are sparkling brightly on Oxford Street, so I can't get away from it, and neither can you dear reader. In case you're stuck, here are some ideas for your cycling (and even non-cycling) friends and family.

This is part 1 of a series so if you don't see anything you like today, there may be something tomorrow.

Protect your extremities

I love this Vulpine Merino collar. I had previously been making do with an old acrylic scarf. It does the job of keeping the breeze away from my neck and chest, so I can't complain too much. But the downside can be that if I put on a spurt when riding to work it can get a bit damp from my sweat.

Being 100% merino wool means that this neck cowl not only keeps me warm but keeps moisture away from my skin and feels soft on my chin.

I particularly like the subtle red one (which they call tangerine). It also comes in light grey (heather grey), dark grey (charcoal) and olive green.

One size

This goes nicely with the Vulpine Merino beanie, keeping your head and ears nice and toasty.

Once you've sorted out your upper extremities let's look at the lower part the body: your pinkies. These Block socks from Vulpine, also made from 100% Merino have stopped my pinkies from going numb last week, when we had temperatures around 5 degrees C.

The other thing is their striped collegiate design means they are also suitable to wear in the office environment. I like the navy, mandarine and charcoal colour scheme as it matches the neck cowl and the hat. But that's me being conservative. It's okay to go a little off piste with the other fine designs!

Sizes: S, M, L, XL

* Vulpine sent me the merino socks and the merino collar for review.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

10 Soundbites from....Shane Sutton at the Rouleur Classic

Last Thursday saw the start of the Rouleur Classic three-day extravaganza where the who's who of cycling turned out in London to meet and greet, press the flesh, talk about their year in cycling, reminiscing, regretting or refuting what they had done. As well as that, we were treated to lots of exhibitors showcasing their latest wares.

It was great to see at the same event folks like Sean Kelly, Christian Prudhomme and Jens Voigt alongside local biker folks that I hadn't seen for a while - Michelle from Total Women's Cycling, the guys from Eroica Britannia, and of course chief driver, Ian Cleverly.

We knew who would be on the bill for the main stage interviews, but it was quite a surprise when the interviewer for the evening, Ned Boulting, casually announced that former British Cycling Technical Director, Shane Sutton would be making an appearance.

Initially I thought it was a joke, but no it wasn't. He was there in the flesh, in the press room with lots of people around him, many of whom were very pleased to see him.

What he is alleged to have said to Jess Varnish and the other discriminatory comments he made sound shocking, but on the stage Sutton sounded like a broken man who had really been put through the mill and was trying to pick up his career. And, as we now know, he strongly denies the allegations and his legal team are appealing against the sexism ruling made by British Cycling. 
Here are the other things Shane Sutton said on-stage to Ned Boulting.

"When you look at the women I brought into the sport and the different dieticians, psychologists, etc... all that has brought success. That's why I will fight the sexism claim.

We should look at the successes of the athletes - the Froomes, Armitsteads etc..We are losing focus by going on about whether someone made a comment or not.

I'm not going to say I am perfect. Maybe in the past I did overstep the mark but over the years I have improved.

At British Cycling we had three key ingredients for our success: Great leadership in Dave Brailsford; great coaching; great talent. In 16 years on the coaching side I have never had any claims against me. I will fight to clear my name.

I did not tell Jess Varnish that she had a fat a*se or she should go away and have a baby. I wanna clear my name. I had a fantastic time at British Cycling and I will live to fight another day.

I've had a lot of dark nights, a lot of cigarettes but I have drawn strength from people supporting me - the girls and others at British Cycling. I want to thank the people at British Cycling who have supported me.

[In response to whether he has started drinking, following previous drinking problems]

It has been really tough and I really had to draw on my inner strength, and needed support around me. I've been clean for 13 years.

I'm not ready to stop working in biking yet. My ticker is red, white and blue - and I don't mean French! I've been part of the most successful team in the world, but I'm looking to do something where I can make a difference. I need to make sure my next job is right for me. Before I take on anything abroad I need to discuss things with my wife.

My stand-out memories in my career at British Cycling were: Vicky Pendleton's performance in Beijing [2008]. It was the first time I cried, knowing what she has been through. I also have really great memories about seeing Chris Hoy win in London [2012] during the Keirin ride. 

[In response to the question on what was in the medical package delivered to Team Sky during the Dauphine Libéré road race in 2011]

I don't know what was in the package. I suffer from Barrett's [oesophagus] so I was often having packages delivered to me when travelling so I don't really think about it. But I don't know anything about that package. There's only two people who know the answer to that question. I guess that will come out in the investigation."

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Monday, 31 October 2016

Bike Review: Raleigh Mustang Sport Gravel Bike

As we head into the winter months it is comforting to be out on a sturdy bike that can withstand adverse conditions such as early morning frost, extra debris on the roads, and something you can ride off piste if you decide to take short cuts through off-road sections; or even just something on which you can enjoy a leisurely winter off-road bike ride. This is where a gravel bike could be an option.

Since April I have been testing out the Raleigh Mustang Sport gravel bike. These are a relatively new breed of bike to the ever increasing range of bicycles that one can stock their garage with - and hopefully ride!

The gravel bike (also known as an adventure bike) is a cross between a cyclocross bike and a road bike. Some might it describe it in other ways, but basically it looks like a cross bike, but without the zippiness that you would want in a race, however it is very comfortable to be on for long rides.

That means that its sturdiness makes it a good bike to use when riding off-road or going cycle touring on trails. It is handy that the bike also has areas where you can mount a rack and mudguards - which is what I have taken to using on the bike lately.

I used the bike when I rode a series of routes along rail trails around the country, and also on longer rides such as on a route to Brighton from Guildford along the Down's Link and the South Downs Way. I also used the Mustang Sport to ride across the Transpennine Trail. The Mustang Sport even did a foray abroad, when I used it for a cycle tour to get to Paris, where part of the route went along the disused railway line from Dieppe to Forge-Les-Eaux known as Avenue Verte.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the Raleigh Mustang Sport:

Although the Mustang Sport is happier off-road it performs perfectly well on tarmac. If you want to do extensive riding on-road it may be better to use something like Land Cruisers which are tough and can deal with some less rugged off-road sections. Some of my rides were on tarmac and I rode with the Schwalbe CX Comp tyres that came with the bike.  On these tarmacked sections the Mustang Sport was fairly unchallenged and rolled along smoothly along. Carbon forks as well as the tyres provided good dampening when I went over some cobbled sections such as areas of Hull Old Town, or down the Champs Elysees in Paris. 

When on trails such as the Hudson Way between Beverley and Market Weighton, or the Tissington Trail in the Peak District the Mustang Sport was really in its element on these gravelly trails which had a few sections of single track. the bike held the paths well and steering was smooth and responsive when maneuvering through narrow sections. 

On the muddier, boggier sections such as when I rode on the trail between Scarborough and Whitby  the Mustang knew how to get through it, and having disc brakes meant that there was very good clearance between the frame and the tyres. So I didn't have to worry about the bike getting clogged up. I just had to worry about the big clean-up when I got home!

You have the option to buy the bike set up with tubeless tyres  on the Mustang Sport, though I didn't choose this option. I must admit I  am not so familiar with these and don't trust myself to fitting them properly. I think in future I would put these on as you will have one less thing to think about when it comes to tyre pressures and punctures. In any case the clincher tyres I had worked well and they held their pressures well. 

On my ride to Brighton via the Downs Link with the Mustang Sport I decided to leave this trail in search for a bit more of a challenge - so in my wisdom I took the South Downs Way. Now this is probably the thin end of the wedge in terms of what the Mustang Sport will take. There are long sections of grass on the downs, which is completely fine for the bike. However, there is a fair share of steep rugged single track. The great thing was the gears were low enough for me to get up these 18-20% hills, but the bike was definitely challenged on the descent. It was very much a bone-shaker and the disc brakes squeaked quite a lot. The Mustang Sport endured the 10 mile-section that I rode, but I think it would be you, rather than the bike that would give up the ghost first if you intended doing the full 100 miles of the South Downs Way! I am sure the bike would be fine for a short section - in the same way that people do the Three Peaks of the Yorkshire Dales on their cyclocross bikes. Just make sure to use bomb-proof tyres, and keep your body in tip-top condition!

In my opinion the Raleigh Mustang Sport is a good option for multi-terrain rides particularly if you are not a speed merchant. It is heavier than some cyclocross bikes, but that makes it a sturdy option on all surfaces.

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Thursday, 27 October 2016

Can-do girls - Delia conquers Three Peaks Cyclocross

It's that time of year when cyclists indulge in wacky racing over muddy fields, through woodland, in sandpits, jumping over hurdles, and sometimes climbing up flights of steps with their bikes slung over their shoulders. You've guessed it - cyclocross is back on again.

So this month's Can-do girl features none other than local hard nut racer, Delia Beddis of Vicious Velo, champion of the Three Peaks Cyclocross challenge. Hailing from Otley, the same town as that other women's cycling champion, Lizzie Deignan (née Armitstead) Delia isn't satisfied with the traditional cyclocross races that are completed in barely forty-five minutes. What really gets her out of bed is flying up and over the big peaks of the Yorkshire Dales - Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen y Ghent, one after the other with her bike in "the hardest cyclocross race in the world."  

That means a distance of 61km (33km being on mountain trails), 1500m of climbing, and about 4 hours of racing for Delia, though probably more like 6 hours for us lesser mortals including myself, if I even try it at all! The Three Peaks cyclocross race is definitely one for the bucket list, but I must say that I find it one of the scariest races on the sporting calendar. Running a marathon or doing an Ironman triathlon are things I would tackle first as my preparation for this monument of cycling athleticism! I therefore have massive admiration for Delia who has done this race no fewer than four times, and been the winning woman on two of those occasions. Chapeau! (or maybe even Flat cap as they might say oop North!) 

So here's a bit about this challenge in Delia's own words.  

I've done the Three Peaks four times now. The first one wasn't too great and the second was the infamous year of torrential rain when unfortunately I crashed out. Things got better after that.

I won the race for the first time in 2013. It was the third time I was doing it. Most importantly, my Dad and I won the 'Parent / Child' competition that year and we got a bike rack for our efforts! 

I'm not made for top-end speed so I like a long gruelling race. Also, if you're half decent at running you can get a good result. It's such a great atmosphere and it's near my proper home in Otley so I'm fairly used to the terrain. That's why I keep coming back!

The terrain on the Yorkshire Dales is totally different from a normal cross race. That can be a shock to the system for most people when they race it for the first time. It varies between each peak. Ingleborough is like moorland and can be a bit boggy on the tops; Whernside is more rocky with steps - the limestone slabs on the descent make for good riding especially with disc brakes. Pen Y Ghent is more like a trail but still tough to get up especially near the summit.  

I try to dovetail my Three Peaks training with road racing in the summer. I use the road to build up some endurance but start to layer in some walking and running from May/June to remind my legs how to do it. Slow and steady build up is the best way to avoid injuries. I generally stop road racing around July to focus on Peaks endurance. I then do mountain biking and running uphill with the bike as much as possible. 

I don't get to do as much training as I would like in the Dales. This year I only managed one training weekend at home so the rest of my training is done down in Kent. There's no substitute for riding up in the Dales and getting used to the terrain and the conditions though. Even things like knowing how to shoulder the bike into a strong wind really helps. I did get some harsh weather practice in the west of Ireland this summer, which was good prep!

The course is bumpy but different to the cobbled classics. The longest parts with bumpy descents are Whernside and Pen Y Ghent. Whernside is okay once you relax into it. If you're too tense then it can hurt a lot and you're more likely to crash. I usually find that Pen Y Ghent is a great, fast descent but I was in pieces by that point this year so it felt very bumpy. I hadn't eaten enough so blew big time on the final climb. 

How to reduce shocks to the body? I've been working with my coach Jo McRae on core conditioning and weights this year, which has been a big help for taking the bumps and being able to recover afterwards. Other than that, I try not to get too tense on the bike.  

I rode a Giant TCX Advanced Pro this year and I love it! It was fitted with Land Cruiser tyres because they're like tractor tyres, so low risk of punctures. 

I don't make any significant changes to my bike for the race. Disc brakes help but I did a better time in 2013 on cantilever brakes! Some people put tubing on their bike for when shouldering [carrying the bike] but I don't think there's any need. I just don't use a bottle cage so that it can sit correctly. 

The time I did it in this year wasn't my best and was well down on what I was hoping for. It started well and I was happy after the first two peaks until I realised I was running on empty. I knew that riders like Verity Appleyard were strong, and in a panic to try to save time I didn't eat as planned at the top of each climb. I totally blew apart on Pen Y Ghent and everything from there on was a bit of a blur! I am still really happy to have got the win though, and there was a great atmosphere in the pub at the end. Mark Richmond, who has taken on the mantle of managing the Three Peaks from John Rawnsley is doing a great job. 

My tactic was to go as fast as I could uphill and keep going faster downhill, then time trial the road sections. 

Some people switch to racing on a road bike on the tarmac sections and then get back on their cross bike on the off-road trails but I think it's a bit of a faff to be honest. It takes a lot of time to plan where helpers will be and I don't like the idea of something going wrong. There are limits on the tyre width that you can use so there's minimal advantage in switching bikes. So I just try to keep it simple! 

You've probably guessed that the toughest part for me was Pen Y Ghent! I just had to dig in really hard even though I was seeing stars! I got through by drinking Coca Cola and Lucozade offered by some friendly supporters and racers, just so that I could get some much-needed sugar. 

Starting up at the front makes a really big difference as you don't get stuck in the bottlenecks. If I do get stuck, my general tactic is to get my elbows out and shout as loud as I can. I'm not a very nice person when I'm in race mode! 

I didn't crash or have any mechanicals this year. My boyfriend Mark and my Dad were my support crew and everything was seamless as ever!

My most memorable moment from any edition of the Three Peaks was in 2013 when I won, and seeing my Dad at the car park in the end. I think that achievement paled in comparison to anything else I've done in his eyes. Sorry is that a bit soppy?

I have had an extended break since doing the Three Peaks because I'm doing an assessment for work. I need to get my head back into it now and start training for the National Trophies, so will probably target the latter part of the season. I'll see how things go. 
Photo by John Mullineaux

I'd love to go further up on the podium at the National Championships. [Delia came third behind Nikki Harris and Helen Wyman at the 2016 Championships.] However, it's such a competitive field these days!

I'll race in Belgium though, with my ViCiOUS VELO team mates this winter. There's a block of races around Christmas and New Year that are great fun. I'm nowhere compared to the pros but racing at that level really brings me on. 

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