Things I like about cycling #1. Conversations at the traffic lights

I was hoping to make, at least, one race this season – Burrington Combe hill climb promoted by Bristol South is often a favourite pre-national warm up. But, with no progress on the injury front, I mentally called a halt to the season.

In the past several weeks, I have been averaging one or two rides a week. A ride consists of 25 miles to Brill and back, with maybe one half-hearted interval up Brill Hill.

The one thing I’ve learnt from this season is that if you do one interval per week, you find that you get marginally slower and slower. It’s a bit demoralising; in fact, I was rather happy when my Garmin broke. It’s sometimes better to ride without a Garmin reminding you of the laws of nature. I might be able to mend the Garmin if I put my mind to it, but I have no inclination at the moment.

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Social aspects of cycling catching up at the red lights

Yet a few days after mentally writing the season off, I was waiting at a traffic light in Oxford by Folly Bridge (with about a five-minute wait) when also patiently waiting in the advanced stop area was – non-other than Angus Fisk – the organiser of the upcoming Oxford University CC hill climb at Wytham Woods. The lights were so long; I managed to find out who won the recent Walbury Hill climb and also learn about a hill climb in a couple of weeks. It is not in the CTT handbook, so I wasn’t aware of it. But, it is an Open hill climb on a private road in Wytham woods (closing date Tues).

If you watch Inspector Morse et al., Wytham woods is a favourite scene for dead bodies to be buried. But not only does it make a good spot for a bit of murder mystery but apparently there is a fairly decent climb – 2.0 km or so at an average of 6% with a few steeper kicks and the odd speed hump thrown in for good measure.

It seemed such a fortuitous meeting that I couldn’t resist putting an entry in. An open hill climb in Oxford, organised by my old club Oxford University CC. I shall have to do, even if I ride up with one and a half legs.

Oxford University Hill Climb at CTT.

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To celebrate this late surge of interest in racing, I went out for one of my weekly rides and promptly knackered my leg the worse it has been for 18 months. It’s the kind of pain where you don’t have to worry about whether you should try to ride through it or not. It’s put the bike in the attic time.

Still, I intend to try turn up for the Oxford hill climb, even if I do cycle up very slowly.

And don’t forget to stop at traffic lights, you never know who you’ll get to meet. You might even end up entering a hill climb.

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World championships in Bergen and a new book

The World Championships in Bergen, Norway were a great spectacle this year. It’s still hard to believe that last year, the UCI decided to hold their flagship event in a desert. But, it was good to see a transformation this year with a beautiful backdrop and enthusiastic, well-behaved crowds. It really adds to the spectacle, and let’s be honest often, for a long time not very much might happen in a cycle race.

bergen-cycling-sean-rowe

Photo: Sean Rowe

I particularly like the men’s time trial course. A flat 40km and then a proper climb at the end. I’ve always fancied time trial courses like this. But, in the UK we seem to do them the other way – descent at the start and then flat to the finish. But, it was fantastic to see so many spectators on the last climb. And mostly they were very well behaved. The odd one who misbehaved got properly treated by the Norwegian Police. Continue Reading →

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Stretching vs strength exercises

I’ve had an injury for past 14 months. My first port of call was sports physio. I have had good results in the past. I’m prone to imbalances in leg strength. When one leg is weaker than the other, it can cause problems elsewhere in the body. Several years ago, I had a bad knee problem which ruined a few seasons. The physio was very good in diagnosing weak leg. Strengthening exercises solved the problem.

This year the troublesome leg has also been weaker – at least 25% measured on a leg press. So I have been doing leg exercises to make the right leg stronger. But, even after a few months of physio and leg strengthening, the problem persists. Now, there is no imbalance in strength, so I went back to an osteopath. His diagnosis was that a lot of the muscles in the right leg were very tight. To him massage and stretching were key. If a muscle is very tight, strengthening it can make it even more taught. When there is lack of flexibility, it can cause over muscles to be overworked.

So, that’s current situation. Trying to strengthen legs (physio) and stretching the muscles out afterwards. Hopefully, between the two, it will clear up soon.

Stretching is something I have always paid lip-service to in the past. One of those things I may say on a blog – a good thing to do. But, in practice, my efforts were mostly perfunctory. Now, I’m stretching with a lot of discipline and feel it might be helping.

snake-pass-everest

September and October are a great time to be cycling. I miss the hill climb season – even if just the travelling around the country in autumn. Through the hill climb season, I got to see some beautiful parts of the country I never otherwise would have visited.

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Stop start season

sign-wharfe

I’ve been waiting for something good to write about, but at this rate I may not post anything at all.

It has been a stop-start season, but mostly stop – if not stuck in reverse gear. Sometimes, I can get a few days of training, but then take 2-3 weeks off the bike.

It feels like always going back to the starting point. It’s easy to lose inspiration to ride through injury and keep starting from the same low level.

I went out a few times in Yorkshire, getting as far as Grassington.

In New York, my longest ride was 26 miles during a marathon as a lead cyclist. 26 miles at an average speed of 9.5 mph. I was knackered the next day from looking behind at the lead runner. Took days to recover.

Compared to my three-hour 26 miles, these days there are riders who can ride 25 miles in 43 minutes (35 mph) (with a little help from suitable downhill dual-carriageways).

The hill climb season is upon us but I will probably give it a miss this year – perhaps one or two local events; the national is very unlikely at the moment. The only positive thing about the hill climb season is that at least I am at racing weight – an American diet of donuts and fried breakfast has not shifted any weight despite little exercise. But, being light is only one part of the equation. I went to Brill on Saturday and felt suitably slow and unfit. It was a reminder of how much hard work it is training for hill climbs.

Of all the hill climbs, I fancy doing the Monsal Head. I think you can do one minute hill climbs without any training. I’m not sure whether this is an observation that would be supported by sports science. But, in New York, I do one hill and have trained on it every year for the past 12 years. Training involves trying to race up it as fast as I can and have kept personal best times.

This August, I set an all-time pb (since 2005) of 1.34 for Sanitation Hill – faster than 2013,2014 and 2015. This was genuinely after doing hardly any training. Maybe the tail-end of Hurricane Harvey reaching New York helped a little…

 

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Chris Boardman – Autobiography – Review

cyclingA few weeks ago, I received a review copy of Chris Boardman’s autobiography. This week I got around to reading and enjoyed the book. In terms of cyclist autobiographies, this ranks quite highly. It is interesting story, with many different aspects of cycling from domestic time trials to wearing the yellow jersey in The Tour de France. As well as his cycling achievements (and failures) you get a glimpse into the personality of Chris Boardman, and perhaps what he has learnt in life. There is a degree of humour and honesty which make the book an enjoyable read. If I had to choose a cyclist from that period of cycling who I genuinely admire, Chris Boardman would be near the top of a very short list. There is also the added interest of the fact that I can relate strongly to his early career (riding domestic time trials and hill climbs)  I have followed Boardman’s career from the epic time trial battles with Graeme Obree reported in “Cycling Weekly” to his emergence as a sane and powerful advocate for better cycling on British roads.

If any cyclist epitomises the spirit of British cycling it is Chris Boardman.

  • Domestic time triallist, multiple national champion – from national hill climb to national 25 mile TT competition record holder.
  • Olympic track cyclist. Gold medal in 1992 Barcelona Olympics (Britain’s first gold on track for 72 years).
  • Three times world hour record holder.
  • Multiple world champion on road and track.
  • First British wearer of yellow jersey since Tom Simpson in 1968.

Continue Reading →

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Tour de France 2017 review

This week I have been ill (again) so took advantage of the ability to watch some stages of the Tour de France on TV, from start to finish. I’m not sure whether it is actually a good thing to have the whole stage on TV, there are only so many French chateaux you want to see per day. Even the most ardent cycling fan can get bored of a few hours with the peloton plodding away.

 

At least this week, there were none of the completely flat 200km stages. Some individual stages were quite interesting and, even if the GC battle didn’t completely fire on all cylinders, at least the small time gaps were sufficient to give hope.

Overall, I thought it was a good race. Compared to watching the tour 15 years ago, I like the cyclists involved. I haven’t followed the recent furore of TUEs too closely, but it seems the peloton is very different to the bad old days of ‘he must not be named.’

I like seeing French riders do well, and it was a good tour for the French, who have the most exciting crop of new cyclists. This year Froome showed fewer signs of invulnerability, and a future French winner in a few years looks a real possibility. Whether it is Bardet, Barguil, Lilian Calmejane or Pierre Latour – they have a lot to choose from.

tour-de-france

L’Equippe evaluated that if you only included the mountain stages, Froome would have finished 3rd. With the winner being Uran or Bardet (can’t remember which). In the last time trial, Bardet did look completely out of place fighting his time trial bike up the steep hill; from my armchair, he looked more like a club rider doing the Buxton Mountain Time Trial – than a Grand Tour winner. Chris Froome went up the climb like he was completely in control. After the stage, Steve Cummings admitted he thought his team had got their gearing wrong and were over-geared making the climb too difficult. It seems such an elementary mistake of getting the wrong gearing is something that every team is capable of – every team – except Sky of course. Whatever you think of them, they always seem to be the best prepared. Though it does help when you have the talent to go with logistics. You could have had a pretty good Tour de France GC battle, just between members of Sky – Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa, Michael Kwiatkowski all seem to have the capacity to win a Grand Tour.

In the end, Bardet’s dire time trial (dire in relative terms, of course) was just enough to keep the podium place by one second. If Sky’s Landa had pushed the Frenchman off the podium at the last minute, the atmosphere might have soured even more.

Not that it seemed to bother Froome. In responding to the challenges of a Brit riding in France, Froome frequently shows a degree of emotional intelligence and maturity which is rare in top sportsman. Another sportsman may have been peeved, but to his credit, Froome laughed it off as inconsequential. It is an attitude which gains the admiration of many – maybe even the French on the quiet. To put in perspective, Merckx and Anquetil (a Frenchman) both were booed – their crime to be the dominant rider of their generation.

I think Bardet should come over to the UK for a few months and learn how to ride time trials. A few times up and down the V718, getting beaten by 45-year old amateurs and he might learn to keep his head in the right place.

The other interesting thing is whether the organisers of the Tour de France would dare to remove all flat time trials and make it a tour for the French climbers?

Tour de France 2018

Looking forward to 2018, there is a bewildering range of possible challengers to Froome.

  • Tom Dumoulin (Giro winner and top TT)
  • Richie Porte (shame he crashed this year)
  • Nairo Quintana (who presumably will not do another four Grand Tours in succession.
  • Romain Bardet (if he can get better at TT’s)
  • Rigoberto Uran (who crept up anonymously into second place, refinding the form of a few years ago
  • Warren Barguil. Whose ability to climb away from GC riders on the last stage was quite impressive.
  • Fabio Aru. (yellow jersey wearer who might need to practise riding in Chris Froome’s wheels a little)
  • Mikel Landa (as long he doesn’t stay at Sky)
  • Dan Martin (maybe doesn’t quite have the legs, but he deserves to be up there for his attacking attitude.

Then there is the next generation of riders, who may or may not be able to make the next leap forward. From this list, you could pick from many of the Yates brothers, Pierre La Tour, or Louis Meintjes

There are even possibility of riders who won’t be able to challenge because they are super-domestiques, a la Geraint Thomas and Kwiatkowski.

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Long flat stages and Shibden Wall

This year we have the privilege of seeing a full stage in the Tour de France from start to finish – five hours of men pedalling bicycles. It can work both ways – on ‘hilly stages’ the start of a stage can be quite exciting as breaks form, break-up and new riders try to go across. On flat sprint stages, it’s mostly a long procession of castles and vineyards – if you’re lucky. The decision to go

The decision to go into the break on a ‘Marcel Kittel sprint stage’ seems to be about a few reluctant riders pulling the short-straw over breakfast. The main entertainment is seeing the faces of the odd rider who shoots off the front and despairingly looks behind to see if anyone else will come and share the workload for the inevitable doomed 190km breakaway. The Tour de France is the pinnacle of the sport, but there is no cycle race in the world where there is so little interest in going in a breakaway. Continue Reading →

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Cycling to exams in the heat

It is 30 degrees plus here in Oxford. It is also exam season with many students making their way to exams on the High Street. Some cycle in sub-fusc to save a few minutes for extra revision. I always remember cycling to exams. Walking from LMH was too far.

texting on bike

Last minute revision or getting a good luck text?

oxford-professor

Good to see Oxford Professor’s on their bicycles, but I don’t know what Drag2Zero would make of those cycling clothes.

oxford studentyoung, old and students. Continue Reading →

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Trek Speed Concept Aerobars – keep breaking

speed-concept-bar-angle

I like to ride aerobars facing slightly upwards. The Speed concept bars allow a small degree of angle. I would like more, but this is about as far as it will go.

However, when keeping aerobars at this angle, seems to place great stress on one of the bolts.

bontrager-speed-concept-broken

Over time the bolt shears and breaks off. Continue Reading →

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Trek Speed Concept 9 Review

My new time trial bike (Trek Speed Concept 9) arrived at Beeline this week. Ironically, just as my time trial season is coming to an end. Anyway it looks nice. Which is the most important thing in a new bike.

trek-speed-concept-wo-db

Trek Speed Concept 9

  • 600 Series OCLV Carbon,
  • KVF (Kammtail Virtual Foil) tube shape,
  • Carbon Fork
  • Weight: frameset, cockpit setup, headset, BB and small frame parts come out to 1,874g
  • Total bike weight (with Bontrager R5 training wheels and tyres) 8.1 kg

fin-tail

Bike with draft box

 Project One

I bought the bike through Project One. You order the bike online (or through Trek dealer) and it gets delivered to bike shop. The great thing about Project One is that you can choose any combination of equipment. This enabled me to keep costs lower by choosing cheap training wheels. I also like to be able to choose the colour of the frame. You can spend quite a bit of time, switching equipment on the website

Another great thing about Project One is that it gets delivered to a good bike shop and experienced mechanics can put it together. The staff at Beeline bikes Oxford have been helpful in getting the bike on the road. Project One combines the best of the internet buying with also using a good bike shop. The best of both worlds really. Definitely adds to the experience to get a bike through a bike shop with enthusiastic workers to look after bike.

Trek Speed Concept at Project One

The main disadvantage of Project One is the time taken for bike to arrive. I ordered in  May. It arrived end of July. I kept waiting to have enough money in the bank before ordering, but if I’d known how long it would take, I could have ordered earlier.

Also, it has proved bad timing on my part. My time trial season is effectively over (I might do one 25 mile TT just to use bike). I should have waited for new model to come out in Autumn and got bike for start of 2015. When buying a bike, it’s always worth planning the best time of the year to buy it.

Clean lines on Trek Speed Concept

This is what you pay your money for. Nice neat lines, everything hidden away. Super aero.

front-brake-

Neat front section. Really clean. Though annoyingly the plastic cover doesn’t fit 100% flush with the fork.

trek-rear-view

Smooth rear view (the black plastic bit for draft box can be removed) The lines of the frame are immaculate.

What’s it like to ride?

First impressions are good. Pretty stable at high speed. Seems to cut through the wind pretty well. Though disappointingly if you want to go fast, you still have to pedal very hard. It is difficult to make quantitative judgements about how much time it saves from last bike (Trek Equinox SSL) Even when I race it will be difficult. I was more impressed by the electronic gears than new frame. Electronic gears are pretty cool and easy to see the difference. Marginal aero gains, hard to judge. But, it definitely looks Aero! Continue Reading →

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