Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Mold-y Old Dough

...post so named because of the fiver in my pocket that was a bit damp by the time we got back to Yr Wyddgrug yesterday, the start and finish of our 80 mile ride.

It was the first, and possibly, though hopefully not, last preparatory ride as a complete unit for our London to Paris expedition at the start of September.  So, Andy, Dylan, Neil and I set out from said north Walian town at 0800 hours for our anti-clockwise circuit of the north-eastern part of the Principality and and the western fringes of Cheshire.

And man it was hot for the first 4 hours or so.  None of us had temperature gauges on us, but it was 21c when we left and must have been 28ish at its lunchtime peak.  Thereafter the clouds came over, the wind strengthened and there were a few spots of rain.  I preferred the former, but suspect my riding colleagues were with the latter.  For me though it was a treat of the largest proportions to be able to descend the Horseshoe Pass into Llangollen with no gilet, no arm warmers, a thin top, 70 km/h on the computer and total comfort.  Wonderful, and for a few glorious minutes redolent of a Pyrenean descent, the common characteristics being little traffic (yesterday at least), and a switchback which means you can see the full glory of what's about to happen.

To both give you a vague feel for the geography of the ride and its highlights, the Mold to Horseshoe Pass section was followed by the questionable delights of Wrexham, Bangor-on-Dee and its cobbled, single track bridge over the eponymous river, Malpas, the dual castles of Peckforton (recently extensively damaged by firestarting Scouse bridegroom) and Beeston, and the twin prettinesses that are Farndon and Holt.  Roadkill of the day was undoubtedly rabbit, and we were treated to the sight of a plucky magpie trying to scare off a buzzard from its carrion, to which the buzzard responded by trying to take off with said dead wabbit in its talons.  The mapgpie had the last laugh though, because the buzzard dropped it, and after we passed by, the magpie moved in for the post-kill.

I think we learned quite a lot from the day, both collectively and individually.  I'm sure the boys will be putting their individual reflections on our La Manche blog, but for me I think the biggest thing is that we need to put a bit more effort into riding at close quarters.  Yesterday we had the luxury of quiet roads and a relatively uncomplicated route, and whilst those things will hold true for our riding through the bulk of France, they most definitely won't in the the mean streets of London and Paris.  There, one wrong turning could mean untold angst in the act of re-grouping, and ironically our London and Paris days are precisely the two where we actually have some time pressures, and can't afford to muck around unnecessarily.  But riding at close quarters takes discipline and skill, particularly with panniers.  I also need to 'learn' the routes as far as possible, so I can concentrate on the group and road signs, rather than looking at my directions.  It's going to be a genuine challenge.

Other than that, things were fairly straightforward.  For someone who'd never previously ridden more than 42 miles Dylan coped admirably with 80.  Neil apparently cruised through the whole ride, and Andy showed glimpses of the form that made him a fearsome triathlete.  It all augurs well.  And if we eat on our ride as well as we did on our return Chez Hallworth, we'll have good and plentiful fuel on board.

Not sure about the next blog, as I leave on Sunday to go TdF watching.  Haven't been as excited about anything since we actually took delivery of the house in Brittany last year, and it's reminiscent of that pre-Christmas feeling you get as a 7 year old.  How sad's that?  So, if there's not on up by Sunday pm, it'll be the following weekend.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

I've seen Lord Hereford's Knob...

...mainly because I cycled past it today.  Yes, today was the Hereford Villages 100 Audax, and here's a novelty - on a predominantly cycling blog, I can actually post about a bike ride.

I had originally entered the 200km, but the redoubtable and long-suffering Mrs K accompanied me to Hereford, and there's only so many shops one woman can manage in a day.  Besides which, less than 3 weeks back into training after the marathon, I really didn't need to ride 125+ miles, when as it was with riding to the start and a couple of diversions, I managed 75 as it was.  75 solo and bumpy miles is a pretty good workout.

I entered the Hereford ride partly because it looked a pretty good route, and partly because I needed an excuse to go down to Much Birch, a small village south of Hereford where my father's ashes were interned in February, and for various unfortunate reasons I wasn't there for the event and to see the new family headstone, so I needed to pay a visit.  It wasn't until we were on our way yesterday afternoon that Mrs K pointed out it was Father's Day weekend (if you see what I mean) which made the visit doubly appropriate.  The last time I was in the Much Birch graveyard was 2 years ago on LEJoG with Mendip Rouleur, as it lies on the route, and it was good to be back there, reminding me of that magnificent ride, childhood holidays, and of course my father.

All worked beautifully after the visit - a cracking B&B, a surprisingly good slightly out-of-town Chinese, and a lovely evening walk through the grounds of Hereford Cathedral, which are being refurbished with fantastic craftmanship.  There was also a walk through a very tranquil riverside park, and for a short while we almost imagined we were walking through a sophisticated European city.  Until, that is, when we hit the last couple of streets back to the B&B, where there was a 17ish year old vomiting into the gutter with a bottle of cider next to her.  More ambulance-people's time was wasted mopping her up.

Let's not linger there.  On to the ride.  Which was a corker.  It started through the gorgeous Herefordshire black-and-white villages on Weobley, Pembridge and Stansbatch, moved on to Titley and Brilley, from which there was a magnificent descent with views of the Black Mountains, and the halfway checkpoint was in the no-introduction-needed Hay-on-Wye.  Ah yes, there was also a tollbridge across the River Wye just before Clifford - a wooden bridge, for which there was a toll of 10p for bikes, and a guy in a hut collecting the money.  Can he really collect more than it costs to employ him?

After Hay, there was the toughest climb of the day, past the title of today's post, and on to Ewyas Harold.  More views of the Black Mountains interspersed the riding.  There followed just generally nice countryside, and apart from being nearly wiped off the face of the earth by someone in a Jag on a corner of a single track road, all proceeded smoothly.  There was one other hairy moment, which was my fault entirely - too fast down a descent and I had to use the run-off area on the corner at the bottom (as it would be described in Grand Prix world).  Mucky tyres ensued, but nothing worse.

So, 10/10 for the route, but only 3/10 to Herefordshire County Council for the road surfaces, which were uniformly awful.  The ride, in fact, feels like confirmation of many of my observations over the last few months:
- audaxes are great; super routes, lovely people organising and riding them, incredible value for money - today's cost me £4 with food at the beginning and bananas at the end
- in this country, the standard of driving in relation to cyclists, and road surfaces, leave a lot to be desired (though I did encounter the politest road rage ever today when [for reasons that remain a mystery to me] a middle aged lady in a Mini wound her window down, wagged an admonishing finger at me, and shrieked "just be careful".  Maybe it was more of an existentialist observation than a comment on my riding)

I had fun today, notwithstanding the road surfaces.  It may be the last time out on the road before France in a couple of weeks.  Which reminds me - Conrad (see previous posts) completed his Paris-London ride yesterday, and if to reiterate my points above, made it all the way from the Champs Elysee to the Elephant & Castle, whereupon he was promptly (and I use his word here) twatted by a woman in an Audi.  It was a SMIDSY incident ("sorry mate I didn't see you"), and again to use his phrase - "why would she?  I was only wearing white shoes and shorts and a dayglo top".  Unfortunately, it seems he's got either a broken or badly bruised rib, so I'm crossing my finger he'll be ok for our trip.  Update next time.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Desert Island Discs

Warning: a post that's got nothing to do with physical exercise of any kind.  It was "Your Desert Island Discs" on Radio 4 at the weekend, in which listeners were asked to nominate the records they'd take with them to a desert island.  Now I do love a good list, and I like music too, so it got me thinking....which 8 bits of music would I take with me?

Well, let me stress from the start, these are not my favourite songs - I discounted "favourite" as a selection criterion, on the basis that if you were stuck somewhere, totally alone, evoking good and happy memories would be the most important things, hence this little lot remind me of particularly memorable or enjoyable times.  I don't promote them as being of any great merit or worth other than that.  Here goes.  (One last thing - the list would undoubtedly change if I did it again in 6 months time).  In roughly chronological order:

  • Music, John Miles
  • Bette Davis Eyes, Kim Carnes
  • Whip It, Devo
  • Running Up That Hill, Kate Bush
  • Animal, Def Leppard
  • By The Way, Red Hot Chilli Peppers
  • Time To Pretend, MGMT
  • Dog Days Are Over, Florence & The Machine

Monday, 13 June 2011


Fate, children, unexpectedly late nights and difficult domestic jobs all conspired against me to mean that I did only 4 pretty short training sessions last week.  Or at least that's what I could claim.  The reality is that lack of a plan was the thing that conspired against me the most.  It seems that I don't even need a target particularly to get on the bike (though it helps); the mere existence of some words on a page is enough for the lycra to be pulled on.  So, sure I didn't get to bed till 2.15am on Sunday morning and I was going down to Wolverhampton to see the kids at Sunday lunchtime, but I could still have managed 45 mins on the turbo rather than lying in bed.  And yes, removing the fronts of the kitchen units on Friday night for them to be taken away, stripped and re-painted was a right faff, but I didn't have to watch the Tour Series highlights did I?  Again, a quick core training session in the back bedroom was definitely feasible.

To summarise then, it was a lazy week.  But I'm stirred to action this week.  The missus is away most of it, so there's no excuse there, and most importantly, I've written the plan down.  It's simples really - I'm going to do 6 weeks of Carmichael's Time Crunched Cyclists Training Plan (interspersed with 'real' rides, like the Hereford Villages Audax this coming weekend, and then the riding in France for the Tour), and then move on to my patented, special, secret, hill climbing training ready for the Pyrenees.  I'm not going to reveal the magic ingredient in that recipe, save to say I'm glad telephone directories haven't been phased out yet. (Why ever not though?).  The serious point about that is that riding up a foreign hill for an hour is a very different experience to riding up most British hills, no matter how severe their gradient.  And that difference centres on duration - being able to put down 350 watts to power up a half mile British climb is of little use if you can't convert that to 250 watts for an hour to go up and over a French col.  That, in turn, tests out your core, your lower back muscles, and your muscular endurance, all of which must be worked on.  And I simply don't do enough road miles these days to build those things through general riding, so some specificity in the training is called for.

The question is - why don't I do enough road miles?  And the answer is....a whole combination of things, ranging from the fact that I get bored easily and my consequent need for variety, to the lack of regular local riding partners (not that I've tried to do too much about that, and it's never stopped me in the past)), to the volume of traffic on British roads (we're getting closer to the truth here), to - and I think this is the most important thing - the shocking state of British roads.  Last Saturday the weather was glorious and my route was as quiet as it's possible to get in Cheshire, and yet.....and yet.  I seemed to spend much of the time avoiding not just the ubiquitous potholes, but the rutted, the uneven, the broken away, the generally deteriorated surfaces.  It's just not fun to ride worrying about which bit of the bike is going to get broken next.

The whingeing is going to stop there however.  I'm looking forward to both the ride from Hereford to Hay-on-Wye and back next Sunday, and the the first outing of the London to Paris team 2 weeks today round the delights of north Wales.  I've also not suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune that Mendip Rouleur has had to endure in recent weeks (qv his fishneedsabicycle blog for more detail).  So, Chapeau Bradley after his triumph yesterday at the Dauphine, and let's bring on the riding.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

La Tour

Ok, back in front of a pc, so a proper blog entry.  Well, as proper as I ever get.  First, a couple of things before I get to the main point of this.  Sportives - I'm feeling vindicated (but hopefully not smug) about my decision not to do any this year.  Actually, I am going to do one in October, but I'll come to that later.  The Dragon Ride last Sunday seems to have been a really disappointing experience for a lot of people, including Mendip Rouleur and The Cycling Mayor.  It's a little invidious to compare entry fees, and in any case the cost of an event is way down the list of factors when it comes to deciding what to participate in, but I can't help contrasting the typical £30ish it costs to do a sportive with either the fiver for an audax, or the £40 I paid to do the duathlon in April.  That event only had 200 participants, there were active marshalls at literally every road junction on the bike section, there was security protecting bikes and equipment in transition areas, everything worked perfectly, and the goody bag was actually worth having, and there were no queues for anything.  Superb - as a competitor you actually felt quite special.

I've forgotten the other thing I was going to mention, so I'll press on.  As I said in the last entry, three weeks this weekend we're off to France, we being myself, Conrad (who I still consider my cycling mentor as it was he who introduced me to this noble pastime), and Neil, these days my main mountain biking buddy.  In fact, it's not the first time the 3 of us have done a French road trip - when Conrad and I did the Etape du Tour in 2004, Neil acted as driver, directeur sportif, DJ and soigneur.  Not masseur though, no sir, there was none of that.  We had a good time then, and I'm hoping we'll have a good time now.  It's not one of the events mentioned in the blog title, but it's the next notable event on my riding and running calendar, so it's gonna get a bit of coverage I'm afraid.

However, some training is required between now and then.  Not because we'll be riding at massive speeds over the 200 or so miles we'll do over the course of the week - we'll be finding our way and enjoying the countryside - but because there will be a few hills on the routes, and the heat will be on between Conrad and myself to see who can ride up with the most nonchalance and the least apparent effort.  No disrespect meant to Neil, who's likely to not be quite as rapid up the inclines, but (and I can say this in the safe knowledge that Conrad doesn't read this blog), both Conrad and I have a latent competitive streak, but an equally strong sense of what's gentlemanly.  Which means that we'll both be wanting to get to the tops of the slopes first, but neither of us will want to seem to have actually expended any sweat in doing so; that would be most ungentlemanly.  And I'm not going to be able to pretend to shepherd Neil up the hills all week.  And Conrad's going to be all pumped up, having opted to do his company's Paris to London charity ride next week in the "super elite" section of riders.

I'm having a day off today, but I've been out on the road or on the turbo in 7 of the last 8 days.  I'll give it another couple of days, then I'm going to start putting a bit of resistance on the turbo to imitate those hills, whilst simultaneously practicing to not have that "tongue-lolling-about, face-screwed-up" look that normally accompanies my big physical efforts.  On a bike, I hasten to add.

I was at our house in Brittany for a week recently, and did some serious route planning from the house to the Tour starts and finishes in the 3 days we'll be riding out to them.  I planned them with a detailed map, then went and drove a decent proportion of the roads, and it's just made me even more excited to go out there.  If we get there safely, only heavy rain will spoil the riding.  Let's hope not hey?

OK, it's good to be back online, but there's not a lot else to report at the moment, so I'll leave it there.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Break in transmission

Sorry about the 2 week gap- combination of broken pc and poss-marathon torpor. And I'm doing this on my iPhone, so it's going to be really short. Well, the marathon was truly tiring. I've been back on the bike this week, but it's still too early to put any power through the legs. After Lance Armstrong did the 2006 New York Marathon he apparently said it was the hardest thing he'd ever done, and whilst I suspect a Tour de France is out of reach for a greater proportion of the population than a marathon (let alone winning it) I kind of know what he means. A marathon just messes with your joints more, and it hurts more at the time. I doubt, however, it changes your physiology forever, which is what a 3 week Grand Tour is said to do.

Talking of which, 4 weeks tonight I'll have my bags packed to go and be Tour groupie for a few days. Can't wait. More of that, and prep for it, next time.
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