Young kid on a mountain bike

Inspired by the National hill climb, I went out for a 30 mile training ride yesterday to Brill. It was a beautiful autumn day, but unfortunately, I was in discomfort by the end of the ride. I was plodding along St Clement’s at a fairly sedate speed when I got overtaken by a young lad on a mountain bike, backpack and big mudguards.

There was me – on a state of the art – Trek Emonda, Dura Ace Di2, several thousand pound Carbon fibre bike, and here I was getting overtaken by a young lad, taking home the weekly shopping. Welcome to the future.

Not only that, but as he nonchalantly breezed past, he obviously recognised me and said:

“Hi Tejvan”

So I made a big effort to catch up this MTBer and find out who was sailing past. Of all people, it was Joe Baker (Zappi CC) who had been riding the national hill climb championship this weekend up at Hedley on the Hill. Not only that but he was the champion under-16 rider, finishing 11th junior men in a very respectable time of 4:40.5 (results)

On the positive side, he mentioned he is getting closer to my Brill KOM, but still a good 20 seconds off. So at least for a short-while I can live on my past glories of Brill hill.

It’s a small world. You cycle around Oxford and you don’t know who you are going to bump into next.

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National hill climb 2017 – results

It looks to have been a great national hill climb championship up in the North East. Both Dan Evans ASSOS Equipe UK and Joscelin Lowden (Lewes Wanderers CC) making worthy champions.

It’s not quite the same watching results drip through on Twitter – compared to actually racing and being there. Sitting this year out reminded me of what the championship means.

Champions

dan Evans

Photo Velo UK – Dan Evans

  • Men: Dan Evans ASSOS Equipe UK 03:54.3
  • Women: Joscelin Lowden (Lewes Wanderers CC) 4:53.4
  • Junior Junior Male: George Kimber (CS Dynamo)  4:13.9
  • Female: Corinne Side (Racing Chance Foundation)    5:19.0
  • Male Team: B38-Underpin Racing (K. Savage, P. Clark, Andy Nichols)  12:31.7
  • Female Team: Racing Chance Foundation (Corinne Side, Tamsin Vicary, Heather Bamforth) 18:08.5

Dan has been a very consistent hill climb performer of the past few years. On hills above two minutes, he has rarely been beaten. It’s an impressive open campaign and becomes the first man to take a second championship since Dan Fleeman in 2010. They say hill climbs is a young man’s sport, but a little like myself, Dan came to the sport relatively late. All I can say 36 is a very good age to become national hill climb championship (I was 36 in 2013). Can Dan win again? Well, it doesn’t get any easier as you approach the big 40.

2nd place Adam Kenway (Raleigh GC) put up a spirited title defensive; perhaps next year will be more to his liking. Proving that hill climbs is still a young man’s game, Kieran Savage (Team B38) must be pleased to get third spot, whilst still an espoir. I always feel a certain empathy for people who just finish outside the podium. Jo Clark has consistently finished in the top 5, but is collecting a few near misses. This year just one or two seconds was the difference. Interestingly Clark was the only rider to beat Evans in an open event (on the Rake) – another rider who will be looking forward to the short climb up Shelsey Walsh. With strong competition, there were many very good hill climbers within 10-15 seconds of a podium place. Honourable mention to first Vet man Niall Paterson Velo Club Cumbria. Next year, I might be able to provide some competition in the old man category.

JoscelinLowden_velo-uk

Joscelin Lowden Velo UK

In the women’s event, no former champion meant the event was open, but the quality of the field was as strong as ever. I don’t think the women’s podium has been so close – with just 2 seconds separating the top three. It was good to see Hayley Simmonds enter the event and get so close. She is a world class rider and time triallist, but, at the end of a long road season, the rigours of four minute British hill climb make it a real challenge compared to what she is used to riding. Mary Wilkinson (Yorkshire Road Club) produced a superb ride to finish 2nd. After a good open season, Joscelin Lowden (Lewes Wanderers CC) won her first title. In this CTT report, Lowden sums up the attraction of the hill climb championship.

“Some people question why I would come all the way up here to ride for five minutes and I start to think ‘Am I mad?’ but it’s so much more than just riding on a hill.

“It is everybody else here that makes it special for us riders: the supporters cheering us on, the course commentators, everything just makes it such a fun event and to win makes it extra special,”

The photos of the ev Continue Reading →

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National hill climb 2017

Results:

Men:

  1. Dan Evans (ASSOS Equipe UK)   3:54.3  (course record)
  2. Adam Kenway (Raleigh GAC)      3:59.5
  3. Kieran Savage (B38-Underpin Racing)      4:03.1
  4. Joseph Clark (Cycling Giant Sheffield)      4:04.9
  5. Leon Wright (Race Hub)    4:05.3
  6. Mike Morris (NFTO Race Club)     4:05.6
  7. Andy Cunningham (All Terrain Cycles)     4:08.1
  8. Zeb Kyffin (GS Metro)      4:09.9
  9. Kieran Wynne-Cattanach (Maxxis 4 RT)   4:10.6
  10. Patrick Clark (B38-Underpin Racing)      4:11.2

Team: B38-Underpin Racing (K. Savage, P. Clark, Andy Nichols)  12:31.7

Women:

  1. Joscelin Lowden (Lewes Wanderers CC)  4:53.4
  2. Mary Wilkinson (Yorkshire Road Club)     4:54.5
  3. Hayley Simmonds (Team WNT Pro Cycling)        4:55.6
  4. Fiona Burnie (GS Metro)    5:03.9
  5. Jessica Evans (Assos Equipe UK)  5:11.6
  6. Rebecca Goodson (Velo Schils Interbike)  5:13.2
  7. Elizabeth Banks (Storey Racing)    5:16.1
  8. Jacintha Hamilton-Love (Dulwich Paragon)          5:20.6
  9. Alice Lethbridge (Drag2Zero)        5:21.4
  10. Hannah Slade (Chippenham & District Whs)       5:23.7

Team: Racing Chance Foundation (Corinne Side, Tamsin Vicary, Heather Bamforth)         18:08.5

Junior Boys:

  1. George Kimber (CS Dynamo)        4:13.9
  2. Thomas Prentice (GS Metro)          4:23.5
  3. Alex Raynard (Matlock CC)          4:26.8

Junior Girls:

  1. Corinne Side (Racing Chance Foundation)            5:19.0
  2. Lily Greenhalgh (Team 22) 5:28.7
  3. Jasmine Gray (VCUK Velochampion)       6:29.0

Continue Reading →

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OUCC hill climb – Wytham Woods

Today was the Oxford University CC hill climb. It was on a private road from the attractive village of Wytham up through the woods used by Oxford University research teams. I wanted to do the race because it is probably the only climb in Oxfordshire I haven’t ever done – it is usually closed to the public. It had a lovely smooth tarmac which felt great to ride on.

hc-start

The climb does not rank in the epic category but makes a reasonable four-minute effort. The steepest section is at the bottom, just after the start and then there are several false flats with slight rises every now and then. It means you have to go pretty hard from the off and try and maintain your speed in the last half of the climb. You can’t really get into a rhythm as the gradient is never constant; it was an interesting climb to do. Probably perfect for my current shape.

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I only entered the event on an impulse after bumping into an OUCC rider at some traffic lights in Oxford. After putting the entry form in, I regretted it almost immediately. In the end, it was kind of worth it, but it felt a bit weird not only to be doing a hill climb but to be even riding a proper road bike. Sometimes when cyclists say ‘they haven’t done any training’ you have to treat it with a pinch of salt. But, in my case, it’s a pretty fair assessment. I was in bad shape three weeks ago, but since then haven’t touched the road bike at all. I’ve spent a year trying to ride through a minor injury but now have given up until it is better. There’s only so much motivation you can muster to ride through aches and pains.

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Continue Reading →

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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. Continue Reading →

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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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