Autumn photos

autumn

A recent ride to Watlington was good. This is from the top of Aston Hill

I think the last time I posted I was toying with a very last-minute entry to the National Hill Climb on Haytor Vale. For a few years, the idea of a national hill climb on a long climb like Haytor was a very far distant carrot to try and get fit. One last hurrah, so to speak. It’s the kind of long climb that only comes around once every seven years or so. But, in the end, it was not to be. Even if I managed to make a last-minute dash for fitness, I don’t think I would have been troubling the timekeepers at the business end of the results board.

The 2019 on National looks like it was a great event. With worthy winners of Ed Laverack and Hayley Simmonds.

SI Joint / top of pelvis

I enjoyed a brief resurgence in September but – as if to make the decision for entering national for me – old problems returned two days before the deadline. It’s a pain in the lower back by the top of the pelvis, going down to SI joint. I always assumed it was related to FAI and problem on right hip. But, now I think it’s a completely separate problem. The outer hip is mostly fine since the operation, but it has done nothing for this other problem. It’s kind of like one down two to go. (+ dodgy hamstring). I suppose it was still good to have the operation, but on cycling front, not much is actually that different.

Exercises for SI Joint / Muscle issue

I’ve been up Aston Hill many times, but this is the first time I’ve stopped to take a photo

I’ve scoured the internet, plus all my physios and have an impressive collection of exercises, strengthening posture improvement efforts – related to addressing this issue. In lieu of cycling, I’ve developed a regular morning routine, yoga, strengthening e.t.c. As a result, my core strength is better now than at any previous time. It must help a little, but hasn’t shifted since three years of trying.

Last year, I announced a retirement whilst at the same time retaining a secret hope of returning to top form and even regaining former glories. But, now it feels more like time really is up and rather than frustrated at what is not, you start to appreciate the advantages of not actually killing yourself to try and be on top form. It’s kind of liberating to look out of the window, see the rain and say, well I don’t have to go out today – not even on the rollers!

Cycling

I am still cycling as much as relative comfort allows. Most of it involves cycling to Oxford. My daily commute gets longer and longer, even if it involves going round and round very small hilly loops. I still get great joy from accumulating miles, a daily commute of 10-13 miles, adds up and last week I made 113 miles. Occasionally, if the rain relents, I might go out for a longer ride. I always think, that before the final leaf fall, this is a great time for cycling.

Streatley hill – National Hill Climb Championship 2020

Next year the National Hill Climb Championship is on Streatley Hill. Short and steep

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Dusting bike down from the loft

My road bike had a mechanical so I got my time trial bike down from the loft. It has been up there since July 2016. It is the first time I have dusted a bicycle rather than clean it. If not cobwebs and dead spiders, it was covered with plenty of accumulated dust. Fortunately, after a quick clean and charging the electronic gears, it ran as good as new.

Riding a time trial bike can hurt parts of the body – that a road bike can’t reach. If you are unused to riding in a TT position, it is wise to break yourself in gently. But, I have been enjoying my newfound sense of freedom and had my heart on reaching Chipping Norton a good 60 mile round trip on undulating roads.

After slogging into a headwind for the first 30 miles, there was a light tailwind to push me along the return home. There is a great downhill run from Chipping Norton to Charlbury and then Islip. Apart from a few short climbs, you can get up a good speed with a TT bike and tailwind.

I stopped on one occasion to get some blackberries for food.

Continue Reading →

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A return to Chinnor hill

This week I was invited to an interview about hill climbs by a local Oxford photographer Maciek Tomiczek and his friend Nick. Maciek rides for a local Oxford club, Cowley Road Condors and became interested in the discipline of hill climbs. As a result, he is planning to make a short film about hill climbs. He has already interviewed Darryl Webster, and I believe a few more people will be interviewed.

chinnor-corner-2

Chinnor Hill

It was auspicious timing for me to talk about the motivation, enjoyment and challenge of hill climbs, as for the first time in three years, I’ve been able to cycle hard without suffering from any significant physical problem.

After a few weeks of cycling up and down some local hills, I’m quite surprised how quickly old fitness and form return. In fact, it’s returning so quickly, I’m starting to regret booking an expensive Eurostar train to Paris on the last weekend of October. I haven’t given any thought to racing, as I wanted to get rid of all niggles and pains before getting tempted to push it too quickly, too early. I’m busy every weekend in October apart from 5th and 6th. I wonder if there is a local club hill climb that weekend? That would be fun.

The interesting thing for me is that the enthusiasm for training and racing up hills feels undimmed, and I’m enjoying being able to go out. Its good to be able to rediscover my favourite climbs around Brill and the Chilterns. Who knows what will happen next, but I hope to maintain and improve fitness for next year. (I will write on my FAI experiences in the coming weeks.)

tejvan-autlier-500

Photo: Maciek

This week, Maciek also wanted to video me in action. So we went to Chinnor hill to get a few different angles and video shots. It was interesting to revisit Chinnor for the first time in ages. I’ve done a fair few intervals there over the years. I also remember watching the Tour of Britain race up there a few years ago. It was a windy, showery, early Autumn day – quite evocative of the hill climb season. One question, I remember talking about is the memories of doing hill climbs. For me, the abiding memory is nothing about the pain of doing the event. More than anything, the impression that stays in my mind is the scenery and the hills. It’s true you suffer when racing, but as soon as it finishes, I always seem to forget that aspect and you focus on the afterglow of making a good effort.

I turn off Strava notifications, and I try not to even notice if old records stay or go. I think after all these years, some records are still in place. But, hill climbs are popular like never before and a whole new generation of fast riders are coming along. It is good to see. There is a fair few good riders in Oxford, from Zero BC who like to test themselves up Brill. My favourite cycling philosophy is that ‘there’s always somebody better than you.’ (with exception of Eddy Merckx.)

I happened to catch the men U23 world race championship in Yorkshire – very impressed by the race. Epic Yorkshire conditions. Should be a good weekend for women and mens championship.

Recently a reader asked for routes around Oxford, I don’t have any in GPS form, but this is a good starting point for rides from Oxford.

Local routes by Condor Cycles

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Limitations of stretching

As a side dish to the hip problem. I’ve had a bad hamstring for the past 12 months. I was doing some exercises to strengthen muscles last year when the next day I had a mild hamstring strain. It was one of those strains which is not really painful, and you think it should get better in a few days, weeks. But, whatever I did, it hung around. When I tried to cycle hard, it got worse. I tried

  • Rest – including no exercise for two months over winter.
  • Stretching – frequent and persistent stretching. When I first tried, I couldn’t reach my ankles. But, now I can get all fingers to the ground. I stretched hamstring three times a day for nine months.
  • Strength training. I progressed slowly and steadily with the Hungarian dead-lift – which is a good exercise for strengthening the hamstrings. I also bought a balance ball for another hamstring exercise. I did other exercises for all-round balanced leg and hip strength.

Since none of this made a difference. I tried osteopath and massage. I also tried trigger point therapy, where you feel for painful parts in the muscles and press it – to relieve the pressure. I did this self trigger point therapy quite a few times. One osteopath was good, and it got better for a few days, but within a week it had returned exactly the same as before.

I couldn’t understand why if you do all these things you are supposed to do, it remained stubbornly the same. Anyway, a friend in New York recommended a practitioner who offers an alternative to physical therapy – based on kinesiology. It was reassuringly expensive at $500. But, since I’ve not been buying any expensive bike components in the past few years, I thought why not. I’ve spent more on medical treatments, which haven’t worked. Continue Reading →

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Kettlewell to Ilkley

Yesterday I made it up to Kettlewell, which is the furthest I’ve ridden for a long while. I had an operation on my hip this May, which went reasonably well. I still have a few persistent niggles, so it is a bit start and stop. But, yesterday was an enjoyable ride.

On a good September afternoon, with a light tailwind pushing you along – the run from Kettlewell, Grassington, Burnsall, Ilkley, Menston is one of the great joys of cycling. A few short hills, long winding fast descents. If you have the power to get up the little drags, you can really fly home as the amazing scenery wizzes by. Some of the run from Burnsall look different to the last time I was up here as trees have been chopped down on one side and have grown on the other.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, my Shimano Dura-Ace battery started to die on the way out. I don’t think I’ve charged it up all year. The problem with not cycling very much is you get out of the habit. I don’t think I’ve changed the chain for two years… But it seems to keep moving. Continue Reading →

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Why are breakaways nearly always caught – and when do they succeed?

I was chatting to some ‘non-cyclists’ interested in trying to understand why breakaways nearly always get caught a few km from the finish. I thought it would be a quick and simple thing to explain, but I ended up writing a lot.

In cycling, the biggest drag on effort is aerodynamics (up to 90% of drag when travelling at 50km/h). Therefore, you save considerable energy riding in the middle of the peloton. One study suggested that riding in the middle of the peloton can mean you only need 5% of the energy you would if you rode alone. You can be doing 50 km/h, but the effort is similar to 12 km/h. If you ride in the peloton all day, you can get to the last 10 km relatively fresh and ready to make a big effort.

Flowing data

 

If you ride in a small breakaway, you are making much more effort throughout the day, you will get some drafting benefit, but you will have to ride with your nose in the front for considerably more. When you get to the last 10km – the breakaway riders will be closer to exhaustion than the riders in the peloton. Then in the last 10km, there are fresh riders ready to chase down the breakaway and set up a sprint.

There will usually be many teams with a motivation to chase down the breakaway. The best sprinters will have a team willing to ride and bring back the breakaway. If a team doesn’t have someone in the breakaway, they might as well contribute to bringing back the breakaway – otherwise, they will have no chance of winning.

Secondly, if it is a one day race like the World Championships, the best riders will tend not go in the breakaway. Therefore, it becomes self-fulfilling, weaker riders enter the breakaway – either for tactical reasons or perhaps just to get some tv exposure.

A breakaway would have more chance of winning if there were more people in the breakaway and stronger riders were in it. But, at the start of the race, teams will be looking to control who gets in the breakaway. If a strong favourite tried to sneak into the breakaway, the peloton may chase down the breakaway and bring the favourite back – rather than let the break get established.

A more interesting question is what enables a breakaway to succeed?

What enables a breakaway to succeed?

Miscalculation. Teams may use a rough rule of thumb. For example, a fast-moving peloton may feel that it can bring back 1.30 for every 10km. If there are 20km to go, and the breakaway has a gap of 3.00 – it is touch and go, so they may start making more of an effort to bring it back. However, it may be that the peloton miscalculate the strength of the breakaway and leave it too late. Continue Reading →

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Tour de France 2019

The 2019 Tour de France was a memorable edition of the race. Team Ineos were relatively weak but still walked away with first and second place. After Alaphillipe and Thibaut Pinot lit up the race to the excitement of the home nation, the only French podium was Romain Bardet – not something you could have predicted from the stage on the Tourmalet. There were many highlights of the race, but the sight of Alaphillipe racing away on short climbs to nab the yellow jersey and then hold on for such a long time, were probably the best. It’s not often you get excited about time trials, but Alaphillipe racing up the final climb of the TT stage with thousands of French roaring him on was a goose-pimple moment – he was going so fast, he could have been doing a 1-minute British hill climb. Continue Reading →

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Supporting the French

It’s been a really great Tour de France. I’ve even found myself supporting the French! But, now it reaches the third week, I hope Geraint Thomas comes strong and nips past both the French riders on the last day in the Alps. I don’t think it is so much supporting the French as hoping for an interesting race, where many riders are in contention and with each stage, you can never be sure how it unfolds. Also, it makes a huge difference when one team doesn’t have a dominant mountain train to discourage any and every attack.

Tour de France stage 2

It has always been a shame that the Tour de France is usually the ‘flattest’ of all Grand Tours. The Giro and Vuelta rarely fail to give real interest in the GC, but – despite the odd edition, the Tour de France GC usually ends up being fairly predictable. But, this year it is all up in the air and there seems to be a lot more positive energy around the tour. Crashes are down; there isn’t even any doping saga hanging over the tour.

I think the organisers are finally cottoning on to the idea that seven flat sprint stages don’t make for great tv. I expect for the next few years; there will be a lot of Alaphillipe style stages with short viciously steeps climbs just before the finish. If the Tour is short of ideas, I would recommend going back to Yorkshire for a good week!

tormalet

Watching the tour go up the Tourmalet was a great experience. It is one of the few Alpine* style climbs I’ve ridden – what an amazing amphitheatre for sport. In terms of drama, it couldn’t match Sunday and other previous stages, but I was just enthralled by the spectacle and scenery. How I would like to be climbing up the Tourmalet on top form.

Nobody can predict with any certainty how the next week will unfold, but there is an old adage in the tour, that the best guide is a rider’s record in previous Grand Tours. Form and panache are one thing, but does the rider have the staying power for three weeks? With this in mind, I would put my money on Geraint Thomas – but not very much. He’s still struggling to gain the leadership of Team Ineos. But, a big thing in his favour is the proven ability to stay strong for a whole three-week tour. It is possible that the Alpine climbs (which are not quite as steep as the Pyrenees, will suit Thomas more than the Pyrenees.

Bernal, Alaphillipe, Buchman, Landa and to a lesser extent Kruijswijk all look very good, but as of yet, they don’t have a strong track record of winning a Grand Tour. If Alaphillipe cracks in the Alps, it will be easy to say we all expected it. But, if he doesn’t crack we will also say – well he had such good form why would he crack? It always looks obvious after the event. Anyway, the school holidays are here. A rest day today, Tuesday flat stage, but who knows a strong wind could make it very interesting.

 

(* I know the Tourmalet is in the Pyrenees, but I always find Pyreanean an intimidating word to spell.)

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The importance of cyclists taking out 3rd party insurance

The case of a cyclist Robert Hazeldean who collided with a pedestrian – whilst she stepped out onto the road whilst looking at her mobile phone has created a lot of media interest – especially with Hazeldean facing a legal bill of up to £100,000

It touches on a few trigger points for modern life.

  • People distracted by mobile phones.
  • Litigation culture which encourages people to sue, even if they are wholly or partially to blame. (and penalising those who fail to counter-sue)
  • Conflict on the roads between different groups – cars, pedestrians and cyclists.

As a cyclist, you might assume if you follow the rules of the road and if a distracted pedestrian steps out in front the law would protect you. But, in this case, the judge ruled that cyclists

“must be prepared at all times for people to behave in unexpected ways.”

Third Party Insurance

The easiest take away from this case, is the desirability for cyclists to get third party insurance. One of the easiest ways is to get it through membership of a cycling organisation like British Cycling or Cycling UK. I used to be covered through British Cycling, but since I am not racing, I have allowed my membership to lapse (though I could have got their commuter license). As a direct result of this case, today I signed up to Cycling UK. £46 a year seems a reasonable investment, and you get to support a cycling advocacy organisation too.

It’s difficult to accurately pass judgement on a case, where you only hear third party snippets. But, I instinctively prefer to side with the cyclist and not the pedestrian distracted by their phone. However, whatever the fairness or justice of the case – it is a reminder that, as road users we need to be careful.

The judge also made the comment

“Even where a motorist or cyclist had the right of way, pedestrians who are established on the road have right of way.”

Continue Reading →

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Small changes to road infrastructure make big difference

Back in 2010, I wrote a blog post (my old blog) about a lack of integration between two cycle paths. My complaint was that there was a good cycle path, but it ends at a narrow section of road where cars can come quite fast.

“The cycle path runs parallel to the Oxford Ring Road. It is a good cycle path for avoiding a very busy road. The cycle path then joins Iffley road, where the council have recently painted a cycle lane on. But cars often come off the roundabout at quite a high speed. At the end of the cycle path, you have to take great care joining the road, as it is quite narrow.”

If only the council would extend the cycle path a little, they could make it a much better transition to the on road cycle-path.

Nine years later

Nine years later, the council have done it! They have extended the cycle path along the grass verge. When the new cycle path ends, it is safer for entering the road. it is wider, and at this point, there is a cycle path painted on the road.

short-cycle-path

It makes for a seamless transfer from the cycle path which goes around the ring road and onto Iffley Road.

Sometimes as cycle bloggers, we make fun of short cycle lanes which don’t really go anywhere.

shortest-cycle-path

But, this one in Oxford is an example of a short cycle path which makes a positive difference.

Of course, I still think there is room to keep the cycle path going along the grass verge so you don’t have to go on the road. This might encourage more people to cycle if it is segregated lane – rather than integrated with road. But, then beyond the end of this picture, there is a junction where you would have to rejoin the road anyway.

It’s nice to be able to complement improved cycle provision – even if it is only a modest improvement.

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