Tour de France 2015 review

It was a great Tour de France. Nearly every stage was interesting, with full on racing the whole way through. I seem to remember years when half the Tour de France was predictable, flat sprint stages, which only came to life in the last 10km. The sprinters union may complain the tour has been ridiculously hilly, with relatively meagre pickings for the likes of Cavendish and Griepel, but for the viewer – classic style one-day races (cobbles, side winds and short sharp climbs) do make for intriguing and interesting racing.

It’s hard to imagine that in the 90s and early 00s, the Tour would put on massive long flat time trials. Amidst the near hysteria of Froome taking 60 secs from his nearest challenger in the Pyranees (60 secs he later lost in the Alps), who can forget the days of Indurain putting in six minutes to his nearest challenger in long time trials? Those years of Indurain and Armstrong domination were pretty much like watching paint dry. This year’s tour was not quite as finely balanced as we might have liked, but another mountain top finish in the Alps and the tour would have been on a knife edge. Continue Reading →

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Pros and cons of power meters

If power meters had never been invented I would be quite happy. They cost a lot of money and in the past two years I’ve had more technical problems with power meters than I have had with any other cycling equipment.

quark-power-crank

On the other hand, it’s hard to push back technological advances, as the Luddites found out all those years ago. Yes, it would perhaps be nice if we all rode single speed steel frames with nothing more than the wind in our face to evaluate how hard we’re trying. But I can’t deny I’d rather have a 6kg Emonda for climbing in the Lake District, and now you can have a power file to look at and muse after. Whether you get as much joy inspecting a power file as you do climbing Hardknott pass, who can say?

My power meters

Quark Elsa

The Quark Elsa is a pain to fit (at least for me – of low technical capacity) and it frequently broke down in the first six months. To be fair, it’s been quite reliable this year and the power figure seems reasonably reliable. However, a dropped chain on Monday did knock off a precariously balanced magnet, showing it’s just another thing that go wrong.

Stages

I bought a Stages power meter crank this April because I wanted one for the road bike, and it was too difficult to swap the Quark cranks / bottom brackets e.t.c. Stages is half the price of Quark and at £700 is moving into the area of reasonably affordable (by cycling standards anyway)

It is relatively easy to fit, you just need a bit of finesse with a torque wrench (something I lacked, rounded a bolt and had to buy a new bolton ebay) Since using in May, the Stages has been reliable and consistent so far.

The main thing about the Stages is that it gives a reading of 30-40 watts more than the Quark. I was really excited to suddenly be getting an extra 40 watts on training rides. Though alas, I still had very similar times to last year’s efforts at 40 watts less.  An extra 40 watts means nothing, if you don’t go any faster. That’s the thing with power meters, it still is the time which counts in races (at least for now…)

I’ve tried resetting Stages, but it gives the same high power reading, which is a bit of a pain for comparing power meter outputs between the different bikes, I’m not sure which is right. For a five minute hill, it’s the difference between a watt per kg ratio of around 7.3 or 6.8.

I think there is a way of testing the reliability of power meters and properly recalibrating, but I don’t really have time.

Advantages of power meters

Pacing. Perhaps the most obvious benefit of a power meter is that it will give very useful indicators about good and bad pacing. For anyone doing a time trial, it is really useful information. I started using a power meter after 8 years of racing. I thought I knew how to pace a good time trial. But, a power meter suggested my pacing wasn’t as good as I thought it was. In some cases, it was a real eye opener.

You don’t have to be a timetriallist to benefit from the pacing benefits. Even a sportive rider may benefit from a look at power. If you’re doing over your threshold after the first half an hour, it’s going to be a long six hours in the saddle.

Speed and power. Without a power meter, it is interesting how much importance you can give to speed or average speed. With a power meter, you can have much more confidence in holding back on a tailwind and increasing effort into head wind.

Peaking. The first year I used a power meter was 2014, during the hill climb season. It was very useful for seeing the 3-5 minute power achieved during a race / training session. It enabled me to spot patterns about the consequences of training and racing very hard, with little rest, and then the contrast with racing after a few days rest. Continue Reading →

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Hill climb courses / events 2015

A list of  hill climb events for 2015 from CTT.

I usually spend a lot of time trying to work out what kind of hill all the course codes are so this is a page with some of the info I have, but bear in mind it is incomplete, and possibly inaccurate.

  • Sometimes it is hard to find info on the course. If you have more info, or link to event website, drop us a line or leave a comment.
  • To enter hill climb click on name of event. Note some events, have separate event for J/W. Best to check at CTT site.
  • The most helpful thing to know is roughly how long a hill climb will take. Time of 1st ride is either CR or estimate CR for men. Some course records are from memory. But, it will provide a rough guide to kind of hill

Continue Reading →

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Shaftesbury CC 50 mile TT

The Shaftesbury CC 50 mile TT has been held since 1906. The first winner being S.Smith in a time of 2.27.52 – not bad for single speed, no traffic roads and probably less than skin tight alpaca wool tights. It’s a pretty impressive history for a cycle race. (Starting only 3 years after the first edition of Tour de France).

Today’s Shaftesbury CC event was held on the E2/50c – a fast bit of road using the A11 and A14. Michael Hutchinson once broke competition record for 50 miles in this event, with a 1.35. I did the ECCA 100 on this course a few weeks ago. With windy conditions, and still awaiting some go faster aero equipment, I was more interested on what power I could manage – rather than setting a time.

But, the plan to ride to power, didn’t go to plan as the Garmin somehow got mislaid in the car. I found it after the race. But, without Garmin,  it was back to, ‘old school’ riding on feel, with not even a clock to give an idea of how long it was taking.

The first leg was mostly tailwind, and it was pretty fast with quite a bit of time spent in biggest gear of 56*12. I’m been having problems getting the gear into the 11 sprocket, so before the race dutifully put bike in workstand and checked gears were working properly In the workstand, the gear slipped into the 11 sprocket as seamless as possible; there seemed nothing to adjust. Yet, as soon as got on road in Cambridgeshire, it wasn’t budging and I couldn’t get in the 11 for love nor money. I bet if I put it back in workstand it will work again. I would love to understand the science of this or maybe there is no science it is just the amateur bike mechanic gremlins at work.

Still, I can pedal a high cadence and it was great fun going along with tailwind up the straight road. The A11 is about as far removed from hill climb territory as you can imagine. Still even hill climbers like trundling along at high speeds. With such a good speed, uou’re almost tempted to give the turn a miss and just keep going to do an out and out 50 mile and get the train back. But, at Red Lodge, I came off the A road for a short bit of quiet B-road. I later found out I went through 25 miles in about 48.17. which would be a massive 25 mile pb. But, that was before the return leg. It was quite windy on the way home, though I felt pretty good and felt a lot more power than BDCA 50. But, perhaps if I had a power meter it would be telling me something different. That’s the rub with a power meter, is it good to be told you’re not trying hard enough?

Anyway I finished. A little bit thirsty. It was quite warm today.

I did a 1.42.18 – perhaps 3rd place. Behind Adam Topham 1.39.30 and Jon Wynn 1.42.14 There were quite a few times around 1.42, though I kept getting confused mixing up handicap and actual times. My brain wasn’t working so well after than effort. First women was A. Lethbridge 1.54, just ahead of J.Muller 1.55.

I enjoyed the race. Less windy would be good, but you can’t have everything. But, not many timetrials left now, just the odd 10 mile and 25 mile TT. I’m sure when I finish TT season at Nat 25, my new aero-equipment will turn up the day after. Just as reliably as my 11 sprocket will work as soon as my bike goes back in the stand.

Big thanks to Shaftesbury CC and all the marshalls who stood by the side of a busy road for a couple of hours.

Results

ecca-50-2 ecca-50

Related

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Doping, suspicion and cycling

I always knew doping was wrong.

I could list another 97 reasons, but what I never appreciated – was how doping creates a toxic legacy for many years after the event.

The legacy of generations of dopers, is that it has made people prone to cynicism, suspicion and disbelief. It is a very toxic legacy for  cycling; yet it is not the dopers who face the music – they retire, keep their prize money, write a best selling confessional story into the bargain – or get a job in the media…

The problem is that against a backdrop of recent doping histories, exceptional performances in cycling are frequently compared against former dopers. It’s good to ride up a mountain fast, but if you ride up faster than a former doper, people are ready to jump to conclusions. Whether justified or not, it is painful to see, and diminishes the potential of sport to act as a source of inspiration and enjoyment.

Continue Reading →

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The Froome Show

The first nine days of the Tour de France were gripping and exciting stuff. As long as you weren’t one of the riders carted off to hospital with a broken bone, the Tour was fantastic entertainment. The Tour organisers were probably feeling pretty pleased with themselves for creating nine stages of great interest and unpredictability. The Tour looked to be poised on a knife edge, with the Fab Four (expanding to the Fab Five or Six as we really got carried away) eyeing each other up over the tiniest of second margins.

After 2014’s disappointing disappearance of two big contenders (Froome and Contador) this looked a mouth watering tour.

tour-de-france

But, in the time taken to climb the last 14km of today, the Fab Four had rapidly disintegrated into the Boom Boom Froome show. To say Sky were going to ride defensively, it was a masterclass in blowing your opposition into the waters. There was little crumb of comfort for any of his opposition. Quintana did his best and limited his losses to fight another day, but he still had to suffer the ignominy of getting nabbed on the line, by a Sky super-domestique (Porte). Continue Reading →

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Tidying the cycle shed

I’m reading a book – ‘The Life-changing art of tidying’ – It is a Japanese guide to clearing clutter, getting rid of things you don’t need and creating space. It advises starting off with the easiest categories first – clothes, books, paper and then moving onto most difficult categories like photos and sentimental stuff.

Well, all that went swimmingly – even the so called sentimental childhood photos going in the bin without so much as a demur. I was getting great joy from clearing the clutter. But, the really difficult category that the Japanese author failed to mention was that of miscellaneous cycle parts…

Shelf

One cycle shelf of many. Note best pair of overshoes kept here. Suspiciously tidy. Though plants pots are not cycle related.

Firstly, where to start? I have miscellaneous cycle parts littered all around the house – outside shed, conservatory, cupboard under the stair, cupboard in living room, window sill in living room, not forgetting the black hole which is my loft. There are also three very old wheels, suffering various degrees of rust – stuffed into gaps between house and shed. I didn’t dare look at the back of garden, in case I found a long forgotten rusting old 501 frame unearthed under a heap of rubble. The only room which could be considered cycle free is the bathroom – as long as we ignore the road rash bandages and creams to reducing itching in the skin – post-epilation / waxing of the legs.

One thing the book suggests is that you must keep all categories in the same place. I was getting off to a bad start, with cycle parts dotted around the house and everywhere else as well. (I even have a secret collection of cycle parts at my parents home in Yorkshire…) Continue Reading →

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Nopinz

Sometimes an idea comes along – and everyone thinks – why didn’t I think of that 10 years ago?

In the world of aero-marginal gains, NoPinz is a great simple idea. Reduce the aero drag from a flapping number and use a self-adhesive wallet to stick number to your back.

NoPinz

The other advantage of the Nopinz system is that:

  • It means no messing with trying to attach you number with safety pins. (even though I do secretly like the ritual of number pinning; even though I never get it right first time. )
  • Protects skinsuit from getting holes in. Big issue if you’ve spent a lot of money on a skinsuit
  • Organisers should be happy because it means no-one trying to put glue on the number to keep it aero.
  • Avoid safety pins falling out (which can happen)

I used this disposable speed wallet a few times back in April. You have to be careful in putting on. It’s a little fiddly, but about the same time as doing and undoing safety pins. It worked well from what I could experience. It stayed on 100% and definitely felt better from an aero perspective.

The only thing to watch out is that your skinsuit needs to be dry before putting on.

Wattage saving

I’ve heard claims of 3-5 watts saving for a speed wallet. I haven’t tested, but intuitively it does makes sense. You can sometimes feel the sail effect of a number which is held in by safety pins.  Even more watts claimed here

Given it has many advantages and few disadvantages, it definitely makes sense. By comparison to other aero-savings, it is quite affordable. Continue Reading →

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Chiltern cycle festival – Penn house hill climb

After the national 100 mile TT last week,  it was – in the words of Monty Python – time for something completely different. A short hill climb held in the setting of Penn House estate near Amersham, as part of the Chiltern Cycle Festival. Not only a hill climb, but three rounds, with a head to head to decide ‘King of the Chilterns’

chiltern-festival

I arrived early to have a look around the Chiltern cycle festival and a few of the sportive riders making their way back from their ride around the the Chilterns. There were lots of interesting cycle stores and displays, with retro looking bikes and clothing definitely in vogue. There were quite a few cyclists kitted out in their finest wool and Alpaca jerseys and shorts. You can say what you like about retro cycling – but it is very aesthetically pleasing. It seemed a good atmosphere and was a nice place to hold a cycling festival. Lots of children and families enjoying cycling, which is good to see.

However, in this sedate, relaxed atmosphere of vintage bicycles and L’Eroica sportives – I felt somewhat out of place with a modern bling, blong, low weight carbon fibre bike – electronic gear shifters and one piece lycra skin suit. At least, I wasn’t wearing a pointy time trial helmet, that would have been too much… Continue Reading →

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