devil

Sharing the road

With Le Tour de France (TDF) in full flow, I thought it high time I write a new blog post.

But before I start-proper, it’s worth mentioning some of the finer points of Tony Martin’s unfortunate exit from Le TDF.

Specifically, I think a lot can be said for the way Martin’s teammates rode side-by-side with their fallen compatriot up to the finish line – helping him along as he clutched his shoulder.

tony martin #Feels

Though Martin had to abandon the race with a broken collarbone, the actions of his teammates showed a great deal of respect.

I think it’s a lesson most cyclists can learn from – amateur or otherwise.

QUICK NOTE: I understand the irony of using an image of at least four blokes riding side by side to make a point about sharing the road, but that’s the image I want, and that’s the image I am gonna have. Deal with it.

While having a conversation with non-cyclist colleagues recently about sharing the road, they made several points I really couldn’t argue with.

I am a firm believer in using the rode wisely, but quite frankly…not all cyclists do.

In fact, many I see while out riding act like total knob-heads.

KH #KnobHeadSenseIsTingling

Remember: In the battles of car vs bike, lorry vs bike, bus vs bike and motorbike vs bike – there will only ever be one winner, and it certainly ain’t ‘bike’.

Riding two abreast, or even three abreast isn’t heroic, it’s dim-witted and unnecessary.

tr #TotalRecall

Plus, if you’re riding two abreast at 15MPH, you really are losing out on the benefits of sharing the work at the front……you know, like they do in a TDF breakaway.

Sort it out.

polka dot

KOM: King of the Molehills

For anyone who loves cycling; the polka dot jersey is perhaps the most iconic, most sought-after item of clothing out there – barring, of course, le maillot jaune.

Here is a picture of me in my polka dot beauty…..the pose says it all really.

polka dot

To get the real polka dot jersey, however, you must first be a professional cyclist, and secondly you must be King of the Mountains (KOM).

Fortunately for us mortals, the cycling app ‘Strava’ lets you record your ride and tells you how well you did on specific sections.

Of course, you can use it to test yourself on the mountains in France and see how much you pale in comparison to the likes of Alberto Contador or Nairo Quintana – last year’s Tour de France KOM winner.

I actually did this when I rode Mont Ventoux – needless to say I was well over 45 minutes behind the KOM – Laurens ten Dam you.

I also record every normal ride I go on.

This weekend was no different.

Not much in the way of miles, sadly, as a hot Saturday in England means one thing: Beer Garden.

Therefore, the ride was pretty standard, without too much fuss for the first 20 miles.

But then we came to *the* world’s shortest hill.

Mill Lane you absolute beauty.

Mill Lane can barely be considered a climb, it’s not even really a hill but Strava says it counts and so do I.

I have tried to get the KOM on this hill for 18 months. It’s a short, sharp, pot-holed single-track nightmare.

But on Saturday I felt good.

Some way off the foot of the climb I got on my Dad’s back wheel and started winding it up.

More than 650 people have recorded rides up Mill Lane, undoubtedly going for glory as I was: I honestly believe it’s Maidenhead’s answer to the KOM competition.

None of them, however, sit atop the leader board.

Why, you ask?

Cos I do! (rubs hands maniacally like Mr Burns)

leader board

(I’m not even sorry for ‘Pinchen’ the top spot, Michael)

Average pace up the climb was 21.2 MPH, peaking at roughly 30 MPH.

I’m pretty proud of the whole thing.

KOM details

(I’m really at ‘one’ with Mill Lane)

But not because I got the top spot and certainly not because of how difficult (or not) the climb may be.

No, I am proud because of the team work.

My Dad and I have been going for the record for 18 months as I said and to do it, we had to work together.

I will always say it in almost all of my blog posts: ‘riding with someone is always better than slogging it out alone’.

Want proof: my King of the Molehills title should be proof enough…

machine

Is he man or machine?

As the old saying goes: ‘practice makes perfect’. But I think that’s a load of rubbish – and here’s why.

Practice – especially the practice I am currently undertaking – makes passable. Passable, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

As you may be aware from reading my blog posts, I, alongside my Dad, am currently training for the third in our series of tortuous French mountain climbs.

We both ride Felts, we both love climbing, and we both love complaining that riding ‘hurts our lungs, legs and lives’.

But it’s not all bad.

In fact, it’s actually one of the most enjoyable things I do – especially when all the training culminates in reaching the summit of a particularly long, steep brute like the Col du Tourmalet or Mont Ventoux.

MV Hello, Monty

(Again, see my first few blog posts).

But England has its fair share of ‘brutes’ – the second stage of last year’s Tour de France (irony noted) taught us that. http://blog.veloviewer.com/the-climbs-of-stage-2-of-the-2014-tour-de-france-part-1/

That stage was held in Yorkshire. I live in the Chilterns in Bucks. But still, it’s not flat.

For instance, 26 miles into my 45-ish mile ride on Monday is proof of that fact.

Hill Road in Watlington (yes, really) has a build-up of about six miles, which leads onto a 1.2 mile, 6.3% average climb.

Sure, it doesn’t sound all that bad but as many riders will know, these so-called ‘short climbs’ with their ‘average gradients’ are often the most agonising.

Hill Road is just such a climb.

As I said, I usually ride just with my Dad but by chance on Monday we were accompanied by two other riders who, at the foot of the hill, put pedal to the metal.

Time to pull out my inner, well, not Armstrong…..but you get the idea. And so I did (a bit).

army Look at that shade….dayyyyym, son!

We chased our two rivals from about half a mile up.

This is what riding is all about, let’s be honest.

We caught the first rider without too much difficulty. His legs had gone, but in the interest of fairness I am going to assume this hill had come after 50-60 miles of riding….so fair play to him.

His compatriot, however, was……errrr…..an absolute machine.

machine This man has a serious case of pink eye….

I didn’t see what he was riding, or what kit he had, at the bottom of the climb and I certainly didn’t stand a chance once he got out of the saddle, dancing on the pedals like a Home Counties Contador, and shot off up Hill Road as if it were a speed bump.

By the time I reached the summit (second out the four….*cough cough*), he had already got off his bike, gone for a piss, and picked up his winner’s teddy (no, not really). It was a modern flight of the Phoenix – though he didn’t crash and wasn’t stranded on an Island.

And he did all this on a 1.2 mile climb. Impressive is an understatement.

I hate losing things like that.

However, in losing to that bloke on a climb that barely seemed to faze him but that almost killed me; I found a renewed sense of hope.

He clearly trains hard, puts in the miles, and reaps the benefits. I can do that. I have done it before. I’ve got to do it again now.

But why bother?

Because I haven’t yet mentioned the outcomes of the last two mountains I, my Dad and my Brother have climbed – I have never said who won, essentially.

There’s a simple explanation: I’m embarrassed.

In 2013, on the Col du Tourmalet, I was on a Felt F5 and my dad was on some steel-framed Saracen. Needless to say, I won that particular battle.

In 2014, however, on Mont Ventoux, I was on a felt F6 and my dad was on an F5, while my brother was on a Specialized Allez.

My Dad blew me away that day, kicking with about 2km to go after climbing side-by-side for 20km.

He admitted to me while on Monday’s ride that he knew I was suffering on the Ventoux, and that I ‘played it all wrong’ that day.

I doff my cap to him…he saw a weakness in me and he made me pay. It’s exactly what I would have down, had I had the legs to do it.

It won’t happen again. It can’t happen again. Least of all because he will be 65 for our next adventure, and I will be 27.

But, I take nothing away from him. ‘Age is just a number’ as they say, and he certainly champions that mantra.

panache

It’s a “Houndsteeth” cycling jersey, for God’s sake

I’m in the market for a new cycling jersey and must admit; I am partial to the more garish numbers (think green Tinkoff-Saxo kit) – as long as they don’t negatively impact on the quality of my ride.

goodnewseveryone

“Good news everyone” (thanks, Futurama), Panache seems to have read my mind and has launched its “Houndsteeth” jersey.

Touted as a “short sleeve jersey that looks good and feels extremely comfortable”, the Houndsteeth is designed for situations that require speed and endurance.

There isn’t anything overly revolutionary in terms of features, though.

Weight is 135 grams; it’s made using SuperWICK TWO wicking fabric; and has three rear pockets.

Yawn.

The real excitement is in the design. It isn’t called Houndsteeth for nothing.

Red, white and blue stripes are set between black with the Panache logo emblazoned across the chest and collar.

And woven throughout the entire jersey is a bold hound’s-tooth (dog tooth) pattern that wouldn’t look out of place on a Trailer Park Boy. Hi, Ricky!

ricky

According to Wiggle, the jersey gets its stand-out canine stamp via digital printing – a technique that produces “super-rich, bold and vibrant graphics”: TICK.

When I look at it I start salivating like some disturbed, hybrid Homer Simpson/Fang the Boarhound crossover.

Then I look at the price and reality ensues.

List price is £99, though Wiggle has mercifully struck off 10% – making it £89.10 with free UK delivery.

But even so, £89!

Across most of the sporting world, £89 would get you an entire kit, with a name on the back, and you’d still have enough money left to live.

I just don’t understand why cycling gear has to be so expensive all the time.

Especially something that wouldn’t look out of place at a school disco.

Having said all that: gimme, gimme, gimme.

zero

Hydration, Hydration, Hydration

We all know the adages about water and its elixir-like properties. But sometimes water alone is not enough.

However: run, ride or train, the body needs fuels and it needs to remain hydrated and protected.

Stupidly, I never used to set much store by drinks tablets and their supposed benefits…until recently, that is.

I was lucky enough to be handed a job-lot of ‘Zero’ sports drink tabs by my boss a few weeks ago.

(Quickly drag self away from urge to make joke about receiving “job-lot” of something that defines itself as “Zero”).

For me, the High5-branded electrolyte sports drink supplement has become a real life-saver.

zero

Zero tabs are designed to reduce tiredness and fatigue, while supporting your immune system and protecting the cells from oxidative stress – well, that’s what High5 claims.

But I’m not totally sceptical.

The product has really worked for me during my last few rides.

I certainly had more energy than usual and I was definitely hydrated.

Now, I don’t really understand what these types of products actually do and honestly couldn’t tell you whether or not Electrolytes and Magnesium will boost your performance, but in my mind they work.

And if that gets me up one extra climb, or means I can push an additional 10% on a ride, then so be it.

Give it a try. It worked for me in a big way, and I think it’ll work for you.

And if you can’t tap-up your boss for free supplements…..too bad.

Wiggle do them pretty cheap (sorry High5): http://www.wiggle.co.uk/high5-zero-electrolyte-drink-20-tabs/

cramps

Cramps, craters and companions

When it says it’s going to rain in England, you better start channelling your inner Noah. Because when it rains here, it doesn’t mess about.

Except for this Saturday.

With 40 miles on the bike planned, you can imagine my relief when I woke up to blue skies instead of marauding grey clouds.

Not being totally naïve, however, I was sceptical. And rightly so.

By the time I’d clipped in (11.30am), a blanket of cloud and a fierce headwind had decided to join me.

No problem, though. Fighting the elements during the first half of the ride will surely mean a tail wind on the way back, right?

Nah.

As I mentioned, this is England and the weather does what it wants – usually pissing you off in the process.

But it’s all for a “good cause”…I am riding a 20-ish KM mountain pass in September in the French Pyrenees – known as the Plateau de Beille.

I’m currently in training to prepare for this summer’s ride; the third such excursion I have undertaken in three years – having already completed the Col du Tourmalet in 2013 and Mont Ventoux in 2014 (see post: “All roads lead to France”).

My training, however, isn’t going to plan.

I have nobody to blame but myself. I haven’t put in enough miles this year, and it really showed on Saturday.

Howevr, my big issue isn’t stamina, it’s cramps. It’s always cramps – regardless of miles covered.

It’s an issue faced by thousands of athletes. But there is hope.

I am by no means an expert, and I am not dolling-out “must follow” advice, but my cramps have always gone away the further I get into the season.

High5, the sports supplement brand, has a pretty decent advice page for anyone suffering cramps: http://highfive.co.uk/high5-faster-and-further/cramp

It’s advice I followed last year after a serious bout of cramping that seemed to last months – eventually, the cramps gave up.

But cramps aren’t my only issue.

England’s roads are just as debilitating.

This isn’t a new problem and I am not breaking ground by mentioning it but I have never had to take issue with our roads before – it’s usually the people on them that you’ve got to watch out for.

Where I ride – the Chilterns – there are some great roads, some stunning views, and a job lot of dirty-great potholes.

30 miles into Saturday’s ride: I am unceremoniously introduced to a crater that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the moon.

potholes

Yes, I probably should have seen it but I didn’t, so it wrecked my tyre and buckled my wheel – albeit only slightly.

All of this comes back to adequate training, in my opinion.

Had I have trained harder this season, I would have been fitter and would undoubtedly have been more aware of my surroundings.

I would have been more in control of my bike and would have put more energy into descending properly, as opposed to trying to get to the bottom of the hill as quickly as possible because it meant I’d be one step closer to finishing the ride.

But it’s not all bad.

Aside from the issues, there were some supporting characters that really shone during the ride.

My dad, for one.

The problems I faced on Saturday would have been absolute nightmares had I been riding alone.

The old man seems to carry a mechanical menagerie whenever we go out riding, and never once complains or asks me to share the load (yes, I should probably insist).

Cue what is probably the best and only real piece of advice I can give: Always try and cycle with a friend.

Cycling is tough, it can really hurt. But believe me, it is a completely different experience if you aren’t alone.

That is, unless you’re powering up a mountain away from the pack in search of that most elusive of prizes: the yellow jersey.