Archive | cycling

Stage Two of Tour de France 2014 photo blog

Tour de France stage 2

After being blown away by stage 1, we had the good fortune to have a second bite at the cherry. Yet again the world’s biggest cycle race was passing over God’s own County and straight over many of my old training roads. It felt too good to be true, a weekend of cycling heaven.


The French Gendarmes looked pretty serious. But, the British police were really enjoying themselves. It will remain an abiding memory watching a police car go up the climb with the theme tune to “Last of the Summer’s Wine’ blearing out of the windows with four policeman giving high fives!


Family and friends came from all over the country – they had a field day. If you want to be seen on TV bring a flag, like this Irish flat. I was on TV twice! though you can’t see much of me. I was too busy taking photos. That’s another dilemma of watching the tour do you concentrate on cheering and enjoying or do you try and capture something?


Back of peleton


Water carriers – I wouldn’t want to carry that weight going uphill.

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Watching Le Tour de France in Yorkshire + Photos

It was a really great day watching the Tour de France in Yorkshire.


Despite near saturation media coverage, I still find it difficult to get my head around the notion that cycling in the UK is mainstream. But, today it was all about cycling. It was surreal cycling along roads I used to train on with virtually no cars, just hundreds of other cyclists. Even when I did see a car, they were kind, courteous and patient. I know it won’t always be like this, but it was something to experience for a day.


On Ripon bypass

Even at the best of times, it seems cycling in Britain is something to be tolerated – ‘OK, you’re a cyclist but can you please keep in that segregated cycle lane, thank-you very much‘.

King of the yellow jumpers

King of the yellow jumpers. The Black Knight – He is famous for crippling the French army at the battle of Crécy in the 14th century!

I’d never thought I’d see the day, when my county of birth (1) would come to a virtual standstill to give 100% attention on a cycle race passing through. Such enthusiasm and excitement I haven’t seen since the 2012 Olympics (and that was pretty special). I went to see the Olympic road race in the centre of London, but to be honest, the Tour de France is on a completely different level. The Olympic road race was just one of many unbelievable events – The Tour de France demands and fully receives centre stage. They don’t fly 60 French gendarmes in, just to taste the local Wensleydale Cheese. It is all a bit surreal, almost unbelievable. I think many in Yorkshire are proud that we’ve helped add something quite significant to the Tour de France.


Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Yorkshire!

I thought I’d take the train into Ilkley four hours before the race was due to pass by. I couldn’t get the train because it was full. This is a 600 capacity train running four times an hour. I’ve never seen a full train at Menston before. I walked home and got on my bicycle.


The peleton

The Peleton in full flight


I went to watch in two places.

First up was Burley bypass. A few miles from my parents house in Menston. Normally 10km from the start on a flat stage, and spectators are pretty thin on the ground – even at the Tour de France. But, this was the day for everyone to be there. I met some old friends from Otley CC. My whole family had turned out to support the race.

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Oxenhope Moor

Oxenhope Moor climb (Cock Hill) from Oxenhope – south towards Hebden Bridge.

  • Length 2.1 miles
  • average gradient – 6%
  • Max height – 432m
  • Height gain: 709ft (216m)
  • Category 3
  • Max gradient: 10%
  • Time: 9 mins
  • OS Map 104
Oxenhope moor

Oxenhope moor – Release your inner cyclist – route of stage 2

Oxenhope Moor is a long steady climb from the village of Oxenhope to the top of Oxenhope Moor. It sometimes goes by the less well known name ‘Cock Hill’. Though when the Tour de France came through town, they decided Côte d’ Oxenhope Moor had a better ring to it.

Oxenhope moor

I’ve been up Oxenhope moor a few times. There is some great hills around the Keighley and Worth Valley (e.g. Thwaites Brow and Hainworth Lane). Keighley has some of the best cobbled climbs this side of Belgium. But, Oxenhope Moor is less strenuous than some of those short steep climbs, but at over 2 miles, it makes a good test, and if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, it can be really hard work on the exposed slopes.


Oxenhope moor looking towards Howarth

After leaving the village of Oxenhope (At the end of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway) It passes the Wagon & Horses Inn on the left. Also after a few hairpins, you can take a left turn to take a harder and steeper minor road over the moor past the Holline Hill wind farm. This takes you down to Luddenden. By the main A 6033 is probably a better route to take – it doesn’t get too busy.

The climb is hardest as you leave the village of Oxenhope, but eases off towards the top.

There is a great descent from the top of Oxenhope moor into Hebden Bridge. Long and sweeping, though parked cars on the road mean you have to take care. From Hebden Bridge you are spoilt for choice if you want to keep cycling uphill – you could take in Cragg Vale or if you want something very steep try Mytholm Steepes or Halifax Lane from Luddenden.

Oxenhope Moor Tour de France 2014

Oxenhope Moor is one of the many climbs on stage 2 of the Tour de France

Hebden Bridge to Oxenhope Moor (north to south)

Oxenhope moor

Oxenhope moor on descent to Hebden Bridge

From Hebden Bridge to Oxenhope Moor, the climb is even longer, with over 300 metres of climbing. It is steep at the bottom as you come out of Hebden Bridge but gets less steep the further up you go.

  • Length – 3.5mi
  • Average gradient: 5%
  • Height gain: 1,018ft (310m)

Tour de France fever hits Yorkshire

I’ve noticed that I’ve been getting a lot of traffic in recent days for the Google search ‘Buttertubs pass’, Grinton Moor, Cragg Vale’ – You could almost guess the route of the Tour de France by the popularity of keyword searches.


Ilkley from the Cow and Calf – you will be able to watch the Tour from a distance snake its way along the A65 from this vantage point

The Tour de France is a big deal for the Yorkshire; we haven’t had this much excitement since the Yorkists gave the House of Lancashire a good thrashing in the old War of the Roses (And if history buffs claim the House of Lancashire won the war of the Roses, it’s not the version we remember here in Yorkshire.)


But, it would be churlish to bring up old conflicts from the dark ages, the Tour de France is giving the old county the kind of uplifting excitement and inspiration – not seen in Britain since the 2012 Olympics. Like the Olympics, the Tour de France is another vehicle for creating a spirit of international friendship and goodwill. It is an unexpected benefit of attracting a big cycle race to your shores.


Goodness me, all the pubs in Otley have translated their names into French. This is the greatest outpouring of British-French unity since British pubs started serving garlic bread! in the mid 1980s.

Leeds Grand depart

Leeds Grand depart

In a country struggling to deal with the growing influence of the European Union, you may think Britain was primarily beset with trying to regain it’s Anglo Saxon independence. But, even in the heartlands of our EU bashing county, there’s been an outbreak of French lingo, and appreciation of most things Gaelic. The Tour de France has done more for British-European relations, than a whole string of EU directives and speeches.


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Tips for avoiding punctures

Getting punctures is often a big discouragement for people taking up / continuing with cycling. Several years ago my parents bought some cheap hybrid bikes They had good intentions to start cycling. But, after one or two rides,  two tyres got punctures and they have been sitting in the garage ever since; I think the idea is that as the family cyclist I will sometime get round to mending the puncture. But, it hasn’t happened for a long time.

It’s a shame many beginners get put off by punctures because with a bit of preparation, you can make punctures a very rare experience. I blame cycle manufacturers who sell cheap hybrid bikes and put on cheap, useless tyres which are more likely to puncture. I’m sure everybody who buys a bike would prefer to pay an extra £20 to get puncture resistance tyres, but in the pursuit of cheaper bikes, we end up buying cheap tyres – which puncture and then we get put off cycling.

The quick check list for avoiding punctures

  1. Buy the best, puncture resistant tyres.
  2. When replacing an inner tube, be careful to put it on properly. Use fingers not tyre levers (avoid getting inner tube caught between rim and tyre)
  3. Replace worn tyres.
  4. Keep tyres at recommended psi (if too low, they are more likely to get pinch flat)
  5. Avoid the grittiest part of the road, where punctures are more likely.

1. Puncture Resistant tyres

If you buy a road bike / hybrid bike, there are some excellent tyres, which have very strong puncture resistance. This is the best investment and upgrade you can make to any bike. Unless you are racing, don’t worry about the extra weight. You won’t really notice it for a commute into town, but you will appreciate the reduction in punctures.


Schwalbe Marathon a good barrier to punctures.

On a commuting bike, I would suggest something like  an Armadillo Specialized All Condition (Armadillo Tyres at Evans Cycles) or Schwalbe Durano / Marathon

Both tyres are very puncture resistant. I’ve averaged a puncture more than every 3,000 miles using these tyres. They are very rare.

For summer training, racing, I might choose a lighter tyre, with less puncture resistance, but still pretty good. On a training bike, I often use Continental Dura Skin or Continental Grand Prix. You can see reviews of good road tyres here.

Unfortunately, at the moment it is hard to get completely puncture resistant tyres for road bikes. For some bikes you can get solid tyres, which offer a puncture resistant ride, but I wouldn’t want to ride them. When racing I always choose a tyre with good layers of puncture resistance, at least 1 or 2 kevlar belts. For training and even racing, I would rather choose a slightly heavier tyre and have an improved chance of avoiding a puncture. Only on very short hill climbs, will I risk the lightest tubulars.

Good Tubular puncture resistance


If you ride tubulars, a good puncture resistant tubular is Continental Competition (not the fastest) but pretty hardy. This is my Continental competition, I plucked out a sharp piece of glass from the rubber – no puncture. But most other tubs would have punctured because it’s quite big piece of glass.

2. Avoid the grit at the side of the road

Often on busy roads grit and debris accumulates on the side of the road;  riding amongst all this grit definitely increases the chance of getting a puncture. Don’t feel pushed into the edge, keep an eye on road surface and avoid potential problems. (BTW, there is a post here – don’t ride in the gutter, but give yourself a good distance from edge. This gives you room for manoeuvre when avoiding potholes and thorns.)

Also, it’s important to look out for potholes, if you ride over a pothole, you can puncture or even worse come off and break your wheel.

Also, there have been times, when I’ve got off and walked by  a newly cut thorn hedge which the farmer has kindly left on the road.

3. Put on the tyre properly – avoid pinch punctures

The biggest cause of ‘repeat punctures’ is putting on a tyre with tyre leavers. This invariably causes a pinching of the inner tube between rim and tyre. To avoid this, it is important to always put a tyre back on with your hands.

This video is good.

One thing I would add is after replacing inner tube and tyre, blow up to 20psi and then go around both sides of the tyre to check you can’t see any inner tube caught between rim and tyre. If it is, make sure you get rid of this, as it will cause a pinch puncture. This is especially important if you used tyre levers.

If you want a really amateur video about putting on a tyre. In the days of a full head of hair, and steel time trial bikes. (it only weighed 6kg!)

4. Tubeless and self-fixing slime

Another option is to go tubeless. Tubeless avoids pinch punctures. Also, you can put self-healing slime into a tubeless, so if you do puncture, the slime should automatically seal the puncture, and avoid 99% of punctures. I’ve gone tubeless on one rear tyre.

5. Correct tyre pressure

At a low tyre pressure, you are more likely to get pinch punctures. This is why mountain bikers are much more likely to use tubeless. By running tubeless they can run low psi of 30ps – 40psi – without worrying about getting a pinch puncture (inner tube stuck between tyre and rim). If you run ordinary inner tubes and tyres and keep a low psi, you may end up with a pinch puncture.

6. Use new inner tubes

I never use a puncture repair kit. I just buy inner tubes in bulk. At least a failed puncture repair is one less thing to worry about.

8. Check tyres for wear / scratches and embedded grit

I frequently check tyres for wear. I prefer to replace at early signs of wear. I have seen some riders wear tyres down so much, you can actually see the outer layer is completely gone! This Continental GP 4000 has been worn down by riding on rollers. I could get more miles out of it, but, it’s done a good few thousand, so I’d rather replace now.


Another good thing to do is to check for pieces of glass that have got embedded in the tyre. I will use a sharp point (nail or safety pin) and flick the grit out. (watch out for your eyes). This prevents the grit getting pushed further into the tyre and causing a puncture at a later date. I usually tolerate one or two scratches in a tyre, but, when they start to look deep or prevalent, I chuck the tyre out. Better to replace too early and avoid that puncture!

9. Make sure there is rim tape on the wheel.

I’ve had two punctures because the rim tape slipped off the centre of the wheel; this meant the inner tube was in direct contact with metal rim, and this caused a puncture because the metal rim can have sharp edges.

10. Tubulars over inner tubes and tyres

The advantage of tubulars is that they are less likely to suffer from a ‘pinch puncture’. But, overall it really depends on the quality of the tubular. For racing I use tubulars, not so much for better puncture resistance, but they are lighter. However, when you do puncture it is more expensive. So road tyres and inner tubes are better for training.

11. Never blog about how you never get punctures

I once blogged about not getting punctures and preceded to get 5 punctures in a week. But, sometimes you can go a long time without puncturing.

12. Avoid riding in the rain

People often find that riding in the rain causes an increased chance of puncture. I think this may be due to the fact that the water reduces friction and makes it easier for grit to penetrate the tyre. I guess no body would choose to ride in the rain unless they can avoid it. But, be prepared for higher risk of puncture if it is wet.

13. Ride a solid wheel

You can now get solid tyres which are 100% puncture proof. They are a bit slower, but will last a long time. No air, so no puncture a Korean Company Tannus is manufacturing them. It will be interesting to see if they catch on.



British time trial championship experiences

The British time trial championship has been held annually since 1997. Originally a joint CTT / BC promotion, it was for a while it was also called the Circuit championship (to distinguish with long standing CTT championships of 25 miles, 50 miles e.t.c) In the past few years, it has been run solely by British Cycling to ensure the best spot in the calender so that Pro riders can make sure they can enter, and pick up any precious UCI points on offer.

In the domestic time triallist calender, this is the big one. A chance to compete against all the pros.

This year there was a certain logic to me not entering the British Time Trial Championship in Wales this July – My bike is of dubious UCI legality; I sold my only UCI compliant tribars, and it’s a hassle to get another pair. Then there is the cost of BC license, new tribars e.t.c., and I’m up in Yorkshire that week e.t.c., e.t.c. Yet, although there is a logic in not entering, I still feel a pang of regret when I see the startsheet.  – especially after learning how hilly the course is.

The startsheet shows the strength in depth of British cycling; even in the absence of Chris Froome, it’s probably one of the strongest time trial line ups in Europe.

It also shows the unique nature of the sport of cycling, that you can still rock up alongside people who you watch and admire on tv and get to partake in the same race as them.

These are some past experiences of riding the British Time Trial Championships, now organised by British Cycling under UCI rules.


In 2005, I finished 14th, five minutes behind the winner Stuart Dangerfield in Penistone, Yorkshire. It was very hilly race and my first season of racing. After the first lap, I was in a ridiculously high position after storming up the hill as if it was a 5 mile prologue. I blew up spectacularly, but for one lap out of three I was riding with the best. In the absence of any expectation, I enjoyed it all tremendously. It was the first race my mother came to watch and she said unlike everyone else, I never braked to go around a corner she was watching from. I’m not sure whether she said this as criticism or as a complement.


I finished near last in that race. I wasn’t in good form, and not racing much that year. I also got lost and took a wrong turn at a roundabout; at least it was a good excuse for a dismal performance. The only thing I remember about that championship was that I even turned up on the wrong day (arrived on Sat, to learn it was on the next day Sunday). Fortunately, it wasn’t too far from Oxford.


The third championship was on local roads near Buckinghamshire. Bradley Wiggins, after finishing 4th in the Tour de France in July, stormed around the course to win in 1.02. I was a good nine minutes behind in 28th place; it was one of the few races I managed that year, but it was still good to participate.


A pre wind tunnel position. There’s a minute right there.


Wiggins, Hutchinson and an unknown club cyclist riding together.

Wiggins, Hutchinson and an unknown club cyclist riding together.

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Cycling and health

Cycling offers significant health benefits from the increased aerobic fitness. Given the rise in health problems associated with physical inactivity and obesity, cycling could play a major role in improving the nations health.


Health benefits of regular physical exercise

  • Reduces the risk of dying prematurely
  • Reduces the risk of dying prematurely from heart disease
  • Reduces the risk of developing diabetes
  • Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure
  • Helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure
  • Reduces the risk of developing colon and breast cancer
  • Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Helps control weight
  • Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints
  • Helps older adults become stronger and
  • promotes psychological well being

However in cost-benefit analysis of transport, health issues are often ignored. Unfortunately, concerns over the safety of cycling deter many from one of the most accessible forms of exercise. The tragedy is that as people lead increasingly stationary lives this causes hidden problems such as rising levels of diabetes and heart disease.

The rise in motor transport and decline in cycling / walking


The post war period saw a sustained fall in pedestrian and cycle transport. In the post war period, transport policy was driven by the attempt to accommodate the growth of motor transport. However, combined with a decline in manual labour, this era saw a sharp fall in physical exercise and a resultant increase in health problems.

Rather belatedly, transport policy has begun to acknowledge wider issues such as health, quality of life in determining transport policy.
For example, in 1998 the Integrated Transport White Paper A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone made the acknowledgement that

“The way we travel is making us a less healthy nation.”

Cycling and Health Statistics


Perceptions about the dangers of cycling deter many from cycling. But, in perspective, mortality rates from cycling are much lower than the ‘silent killers’ , such as heart disease.

UK Deaths in 2003

  • All Cyclists – 113
  • All road users – 3,471
  • Cancer due to inactivity – 28,016
  • CHD / Stroke due to inactivity – 57,322

Source: McPherson, Klim. (2002). Coronary heart disease: estimating the impact of changes in risk factors; Klim McPherson, Annie Britton and Louise Causer. – London

Despite cycling often being perceived as a ‘dangerous’ exercise. Society is arguably ignoring the hidden dangers of sedentary lifestyles.

Net health benefits of cycling

There have been various studies which show the net health benefits of cycling.

One of the largest was the Copenhagen Center for Prospective Population Studies It involved 13,375 women and 17,265 men aged 20-93 from a population of 90,000 living in central Copenhagen. Of this group 14,976 cycled regularly.

  • The study found that even including risk factors from cycling (injury), those who did not cycle experienced a 39% higher mortality rate than those who did. (Study)

Copenhagen has a low accident rate  helped by good cycling infrastructure. But, the size of the study shows the great potential for health gains from a city which encourages cycling.

Risk factor of mortality depending on levels of fitness


Source: Risk death

Another study suggesting an inverse relationship between mortality rates and levels of fitness. Continue Reading →


Mountain high review

Mountain High is a compilation of 50 of ‘Europe’s greatest cycle climbs by Daniel Friebe and Pete Goulding.

Mountain High arrived through the post at a fortuitous time. It was the day the Giro d’Italia was due to ascend the legendary Mount Zoncolan, in northern Italy. I went straight to the section on Mount Zoncolan to read about the mountain.


Mount zoncolan – Serafino


Widely considered one of the hardest climbs to be used in procycling, Mount Zoncaolan is one of the epic climbs of European racing. Hopefully, it will be remembered for it’s steep slopes and dramatic backdrop rather than for the ‘stupid spectators of 2014’ – who seemed to have a field day on that particular stage. (youtube video of closeup)


Mountain Zoncolan from Priola – av.gradient 13%. Heigh gain 1,140m – length 8.9 km.

The book gives us lots of fascinating insights into the riders and climbers. For example, In 2007, Gilberto Simoni said climbing Mount Zoncolan was a like a slow, steady execution. ‘Mortifying’ was the adjective he used. He used a 34*27.

For each 50 climb, you get a good overview of the climb and also rich snippets of history and racing, which give even more drama to the climbs.

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Bike maintenance tips

Firstly,  there’s an excellent article from Bike Radar here – top 10 bike maintenance dont’s

The advice may sound obvious. But I’ve been guilty of most of them over the years. If you speak to anyone who works in a bike shop, you will learn never to take it for granted that people know how to do the obvious – like blow up tyres.

The most important tips of bike maintenance I’ve learnt from bitter experience

  • Learn how to repair a puncture without getting a pinch flat. (use hands, not tyre levers. After putting on, go all the way around both sides of rim to make sure no inner tube is stuck between rim and tyre.) Alternatively – go tubeless
  • There’s no shame in taking your bike to a bike shop. Something like wheel truing is a fairly rare job. You’re better off taking it to an expert rather than trying to do it yourself.
  • If you take your bike on a plane and have to redo stem and handlebars, make sure you learn how to tighten the headset. In the words of Bike Radar ‘Never tighten the top cap without loosening the stem bolts’
  • After rain, speedplay pedals need greasing like mad – unless you want to keep forking out £200 for a new pair.
  • For a bike you race on, it is worth changing chain every 1,000 miles to get better efficiency and make expensive cassettes last a longer time.
  • Never rush bike maintenance. You will pay for it in the long term. Take your time, use the proper tools. Don’t work at awkward angles which will round the screws. Avoid disasters like this stem fitting

Confessions of an amateur bike mechanic


You wish there was some kind of natural law which meant that when you increase your cycle fitness, automatically your mechanical competence increased in equal measure. You feel that if you can cycle 50 miles in under two hours the gods of cycling should, at least, give you the capacity to change a tubular or adjust a gear without losing the will to live and contemplating becoming a cross country runner just to avoid bike maintenance.

But, alas, life is not so straightforward; not only do we cyclists have to train through wind, rain and sleet,  but we also have to learn the intricacies and challenges of bike maintenance. Give me a 20% hill and I’ll cycle up it all day long, but give me a Shimano Dura Ace 10 speed group set and, for the life of me, I will never be able to remember whether tightening up the front chainring position is anti-clockwise or clockwise.

Instead, I will mindlessly keep turning the screw in all different directions until by a random chance of fate, it nearly aligns like I want it to. This is assuming I haven’t given up and taken it to a bike shop.

Over the past 20 years of cycling, I’ve become a reasonable descender, a competent timetriallist, and a pretty good hill climber. But, whilst my cycling capacity has risen from rank beginner to good amateur, my bike maintenance capacity is still languishing in the ‘might be able to manage 10 miles, if the weather is nice’ kind of category. (i.e. he can change a puncture, so long as the tyre is sufficiently pliant and malleable.)

Nevertheless, despite years of frustration, broken allen keys and gear shifters which resolutely fail to shift, I still have some wisdom to pass onto those who find themselves in a similar situation.

  • Your best bet is usually to take it to a bike shop who know what they are doing. You will save yourself time, money and you won’t have a large dint in your carbon fibre frame because you hit it with a spanner in frustration. Now, this is not exactly scintillating advice – but, it’s always been my great saviour. No matter what you start you know that when you fail to finish it, you can always take down to bike shop. In 20 years of having my bike repaired, only once have I felt bike repair was expensive; often it’s embarrassingly cheap – at least compared to motor car maintenance, which seem to have a £50 minimum charge just for turning up at the garage. Here, I will give a shout out to Reg Taylor Cycles on Iffley Road – they have been doing a good job for 10 years.

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Rectory hill climb

The Hamptons Rectory hill climb will be part of the Chiltern Cycling Festival. It looks like it will be a good event with many cycle events lined up for the day. By the afternoon there could be a good crowd watching the pain and suffering of the hill climbers. The hill climb will be on closed roads, which will be good for riders and spectators. There are quite a few prizes, such as Solo clothing, and I hear a good entry.


It will suit the short sprinting type of hill climbers. Depending on where the start and finish are, it’s not that dissimilar in length to Monsal Head / York Hill (Catford CC)


It is steep, with a gradient of 14-15% at the bottom before levelling off near the top. Ironically, the hill climb finishes by the underground line (Metropolitan line from Amersham). There can’t be too many hill climbs where you climb to a London Underground train line.


During a long ride yesterday, I did 2.05 up the 0.5 mile hill. And two and half minutes up the longer 0.6 mile version.

But that was after 50 miles of trying to find “Old Amersham” without a map. I would imagine a winning time of something like 20-30 seconds quicker.

As much as I love hill climbs, it will be a tough one for me. It’s a day before national 100 and I might be in with a shout of a good placing in the national. 3 efforts of 2 minutes are not quite my forte.  It will be good to wear the national jersey – though using a granny ring will be very tempting. It’s looking like a good one to come along and watch.