Archive | cycling

Power uphill and sliding in the rain

Bradley Wiggins must be enjoying riding in the sun of California, resplendent in his yellow jersey. Much more preferable to  slipping all over wet Italian roads. 12 months ago, it was painful to watch Wiggins nervously descend Italian roads like he was on an old fashioned club run. But, 12 months on, it was good to see him putting out the power in the time trial and up the long mountain in sunny California. By contrast the Giro riders are having to deal with extraordinarily difficult conditions, which is leading to crashes all over the place. A times it appears more like a badly planned circus than a cycle race.

Here in the UK, we grumble about the rutted state of British roads. True the gravel and heavy roads slow you down, but at least you don’t have the ice-skating ring of Italian roads which seem to be doused with olive oil. There are so many crashes in the Giro this year, that you would think that if it was monkeys riding the Giro, it would get shut down for cruelty to animals.

falling-off-bike

Power on the Uphill

I can understand why light riders go quicker uphills. Less weight, increases your power to weight ratio. But, one thing I’m not quite sure is why is it much easier to put out more watts cycling uphill. In a recent hilly time trial, I was struggling to do 300 watts on the flat. If I made a big effort, I could do 310, 320. But, when the road went uphill, I could hold 360-370 watts. The last five minutes of the race I averaged just shy of 370 watts, because it was a 10% climb. If it was a flat five minutes I would have averaged 290, if I was lucky. The steeper the hill, the easier it is to put out more power.

Recently I did a one minute intervals, I went  flat out for a minute. But, despite making maximum effort, the power depended on the gradient. At the start it was flattish and I was getting 450, but when it became steep, it went up to 600 watts.

I’ve heard that some riders are more suited to putting out power on a climb. I wonder why or perhaps everyone experiences that.

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Maglia Rosa – the Giro d’Italia by Herbie Sykes

MagliaRosaCover_mediumI received a copy of Giro d’Italia by Herbie Skykes at the Buxton Mountain Time Trial. I’m not sure if it was a prize or given to every rider. It is published by Rouleur. Herbie Sykes is an Englishman who moved to Italy and became fascinated with the Giro and Italian cycling culture. The book tells the Giro through the experiences of top riders – (though not necessarily famous outside of Italy). One attraction of the book is that there are many new cycling stories. The famous Tour de France stories are all well known, but in the Giro there are many different epic cycling stories from lesser known Giro riders.

For example, Franco Balmamion the last Italian rider to win back to back Giro victories (I’d never heard of him). There are also some interesting accounts of riders who made it from the poorest social and economic circles.

With all the ups and downs of the long history of the Giro d’Italia, it also gives you an insight into Italian culture and political life as much as it does into cycling.

The one difficulty with the book was that sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all the unfamiliar Italian names. Alas, my knowledge of the Giro is quite limited apart from the famous Bartoli and Coppi.  But, it is always good to read something new. It was a timely read, with the Giro starting in May this weekend too.

Photos from Giro

Charly Gaul 1956

Charly Gaul 1956

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coppi-the-bike-show

Fausto Coppi

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sastre-goflo Photo flickr goflo

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photos-per0ni-2101406219 Photo flickr per0ni

The other problem is that, especially in the past few decades, it’s hard to read it without feeling considerable regret the Giro has been sabotaged by doping. Such a great history, but the history is tainted; the amount of pride you can get from the past seems to depend on your tolerance of doping infractions.

Pantani Bandanas

[Warning: begin rant] It’s a bit off topic, but I wanted to mention the Pantani phenomenon. Marco Pantani was a tragic life – someone who deserves considerable sympahty, but it is hard to think of a more unsuitable role model for professional cycling. I just can’t get my head around these Pantani limited edition bandanas and shirts, which are proliferating at the moment. In a way I find them more painful than a Livestrong yellow wrist band. It sums up the curious Italian approach to cycling and doping. They are cynical after years of doping, but they love to celebrate one of most prolific dopers and someone who led protests against the implementation of doping controls.

[/rant over]

The magic always remains

rowena-rubber_slippers_in_italy Photo Flickr rowena

The good thing is that whatever happens, the Giro always bounces back. Whatever it goes through, there is always interest in the epic three week tour; there is an instinctive capacity for renewal.  In the past few years, the Giro seems to be undergoing another period of renewal. With the attraction of some of the big Tour de France podium riders and cycling names like Cadel Evans, Wiggins, Nibali and Quintana it seems the Giro is in a strong position.

Watching the Giro fly up to the Stormont Parliament in Northern Ireland was a magnificent sight.  Who would have thought that it would be the Giro d’Italia to see the troubled province of Northern Ireland bedecked in a sea of pink and multicultural flags?

It was particularly sad to see Dan Martin crash out. Because he is a rider who really seems to be worthy of supporting and signs of a new era.

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Shimano Campagnolo – no 12 speed please

There is a nice bit in some old cycling book, written by Greg Lemond. He advises cyclists not to bother with Shimano’s new 7 speed – it won’t catch on. He says 6 speed will be fine. It’s appears wonderfully outdated now. If only we had to worry about 7 speed!

Cycling is an annoyingly expensive hobby. I’m just ordering a new bike, and of course I want to get the best. That means Dura Ace Di2, which will have to be 11 speed. I would have been quite happy with 10 speed. I really doubt having 11 cogs rather than 10 will make any difference in time trials – even in hilly time trials where you use a full range of gears.

rear-cassette

An old fashioned 7 speed cassette. Look how closely the ratio is. Not so good for getting up Hardknot pass.

The pressure to upgrade

At the moment, I have a large collection of racing wheels. They all have 10 speed cassettes on. It is very convenient because I can easily switch wheels between road bike, training bike (actually 9 speed, but it works in emergency) and time trial bike. But, this move to 11 speed only increases the inconvenience and pressure to upgrade all the other bikes to 11 speed.

This is the problem with cycling, there is a great pressure to keep spending money.  True, I could have stuck with a mechanical 10 speed. But, when you win and lose races by 2 seconds, there is always the pressure to look for marginal gains.

No 12 speed please!

I admit that it was worth making the upgrade from 6 speed to 7 speed. 7 speed gives you more choice, which is useful on hilly routes.

But, I really hope Shimano and Campagnolo don’t bring out 12 speed gears. There is no need for it. If they do bring it out, it won’t be so much for the performance benefits, it will be just to get cyclists to spend more cash in that 3-4 year cycle of upgrading.

Cycling is supposed to be cheap and simple, but something somewhere went wrong.

Now, does anybody want to buy some second hand 10 speed cassettes?

 

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Great Dun Fell

Another 100 climbs states that Great Dun Fell is the greatest climb in England’ “Our Mont Ventoux’ it  has no peers, there is no comparison.” The only surprising thing is that I hadn’t heard of the climb until quite recently. But, since finding out there was a Pyrannean style climb in England, it was definitely on my list of things to do. Since I was up in Kendal for Shap Fell hill climb, I thought it would be good to combine the two.

road-top-view

I’ve spent many years scouring OS maps, looking for the most difficult climbs, but you could quickly scan over Great Dun Fell (on OS 91), assuming it is nothing more than a farmyard track or glorified footpath. Ironically it has a pretty good road surface all the way to the top. The top half is closed to cars, but open to bicycles. It is definitely worth a visit and is a real epic climb.

The statistics of Great Dun Fell only tell half the story:

  • Length – 4.5 miles
  • Vertical ascent – 632 m
  • Average gradient – 9%
  • Max gradient – 20%
  • Height at top – 2,900 ft / 835 metres
  • Category of climb – 2
  • KOM time: 25:03 – 10.2mph
  • 100 climbs 11/10 (number 187)

Great Dun Fell from Long Marton

bend-2-view

If you want to add an extra 100 metres on to the climb, you can start on the valley floor from Bolton and head towards Long Marton before going north to the village of Knock. This makes a 7 mile climb of 757 metres, which gives a category 1 rating. The rise from the valley is pretty steady, a nice leg loosener before the climb starts proper. The good thing about approaching from Bolton and Long Marton is that you can see the radar station looming on the horizon for quite a distance. At least you know where you are heading. The radar station dominates the skyline throughout this valley.

Knock

cyclist-start

It would be easy to cycle past the turn up to Great Dun Fell. There are no 20% signs. Just a sign saying dead end, a sign for Knock Christian Centre, and a sign telling you to beware of red squirrels.

The song that came unconsciously into my mind as I was cycling through Knock was the old Guns and Roses classic ‘Knock, Knock, Knocking on heaven’s door‘. The village of Knock obviously. But, ‘heaven’s door?’ –  well the Christian centre, and perhaps the fact you are about to head up to the heavens. (or through hell)

bend

In comparison to Alpine climbs, Great Dun Fell is shorter, and at a maximum heigh of 835 metres, it is well below some of the Alpine giants which stretch to over 2,000m. But, what Great Dun Fell my lack in absolute height, it makes up for in unrelenting steepness. When you are already tired, you will have to get out of the saddle as you battle up slopes of 20%. There’s no way just to sit in the saddle and pedal a nice high cadence on Great Dun Fell.

Continue Reading →

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Endura BaaBaa Merino baselayer

endura-baabaa-baselayer

I bought this Endura BaaBaa Merino baselayer in anticipation of some cold wet early season time trials. Merino wool offers good insulation, but really comes to the fore when wet. It can retain heat reasonably well, even when it is damp day.

Sizing

Although 6 foot 3 – 38″ chest, I choose size S. I wanted it to be tight fitting to go under a skin suit. If anything, Merino wool can stretch a little over time with use, so I’d rather go for a slightly small size rather than large. It fits well, though a little short in the arm, which is to be expected given my height.

The recommended sizing is

S-36-38, M-39-41, L 45-47, XL -42-44,  XXL -48-50

Review

endura-baa-baa-merino-l-s-base-layer

Merino wool makes a good base layer because it is reasonably soft against the skin (though not as amazing as some Merino advocates claim). It is also excellent at wicking away sweat. It never seems to get heavy with sweat, which some other materials can.

A surprising number of people have told me that you can wear Merino wool unwashed for two months, and you still don’t get any untoward smell.  I can’t say I’ve ever dared test this to the limit. But, you can see how that is possible.

It can be put in the tumble dryer, which is good. When you take it out, it seems dry already. Whereas other clothes take longer to dry.

It offers a good layer of insulation. It is quite warm, without being too heavy. I’ve used it on quite a few damp and cold rides this summer, and has always performed well. Continue Reading →

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Mur du Huy and roundup

For drama and excitement, the Ardennes classics (Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallone and Liege Bastogne Liege) couldn’t match the earlier Belgian classics, like the Tour of Flanders. For some reasons, the courses of Flèche Wallone and Liege Bastogne Liege encourage more conservative racing. Liege Bastogne Liege was also doubly disappointing if you were trying to pick out a Sky rider to support.

Still watching the peleton fragment on the Mur du Huy (during the Flèche Wallone) is a great sight; it may not last very long, but it is a great spectacle. The Mur de Huy has definitely been added to the list of climbs to do.

mur-du-hoy-rider-flowizm

I am riding up the Mur du Huy-rider. Photo: flowizm

Interestingly, the profile of the Mur de Huy is surprisingly close to Pea Royd Lane – this years venue for the National Hill Climb. (Of course, the Mur du Huy is raced up after the small matter of 200km in the legs, but you know what I mean..)

 

bend-mur-de-hoy-clausmoser https://www.flickr.com/photos/clausmoser/

bend on the Mur-de-Huy clausmoser

Mur du Huy

  • Distance 0.8 m (1.3km)
  • Average 10%
  • Max 17% (25% at apex)
  • height gain 119m (392 ft)
  • CR: around 3.30 – According to Strava, Romain Bardet did the climb in 3.36 in 2014.

Pea Royd Lane by comparison

  • Length –  1.1km
  • Average 11%
  • Max grade – 20%
  • Height gain – 129m
  • CR. D.Fleeman 3.19 (2009 nat HC)
  • Pea Royd Lane

The interesting thing about the Mur du Huy is that all the commentary says the trick is to time your acceleration to perfection. You have to ‘go’ at the last possible moment. The history of Fleche Wallone is full of seeing riders create a winning margin, only to slow down to a crawl as another rider comes past at the last moment. This is what makes it so compelling viewing. You never know who is going to come around the corner at the last moment.

mass-huy-flowizm

Mur du-huy-flowizm

In this article on the  Mur de Huy, professional rider Marco Pinotti (69kg) says put out 440watts for the climb over 4 mins. But, says he can’t ever win there because it needs a rider who can put out a bigger wattage in a short space of time.

Mur du Huy women’s race of 2012

It’s food for thought for Pea Royd Lane because I always thought with hill climbs – you had to go as hard as possible right from the start and try and hang on.

 

Sky hot and cold

Team Sky always generate a lot of hubris.Overachiever, underachievers, there’s always plenty of opinions out on the world wide web. But, they have put up a reasonably showing in this seasons early classics – even if they haven’t yet landed a big victory.  It was a shame strongman Ian Stannard crashed out shortly after winning an early season minor classic. Still Geraint Thomas  and Stannard are both promising prospects for future. But, with the classics, good potential is not enough, you have to have the combination of luck, judgement and being in the right place at the right time. It’s also good to see Ben Swift come back to winning ways after a quite 2013.

Wiggins has blown hot and cold all through his career, but he is getting close to having one of the most comprehensive ‘all rounder palmeres’ in the history of cycling. There are not many track world and Olympic champions to also win the Tour de France; if he could grab a monument like Paris-Roubaix before he retires, it will be a palmeres that very few will ever be able to match.

Also, the resurgence of Bradley Wiggins could present Team Sky with that old chestnut of team leadership melodrama. There’s no question, that at the moment, Chris Froome will be the named team leader, and Bradley Wiggins has all but said he can’t go for another Grand tour win, but this year, stage 5 of the T de F is said to be a cobbled affair. What happens if Froome crashes or looses a couple of minutes on the cobbles? Would Wiggins (almost a cobbled specialist) wait? Or will Wiggins, perhaps suffer a communication malfunction as soon as the cobbles appear?

But, given the apparent lack of strength in depth at Sky, Froome may well need Wiggins as a super-domestic. Perhaps the TdF will be the chance for Wiggins to play the role of Gregario du Luxe. Who knows which way it will go.

Staying upright is half the battle

In other circumstances, it might be funny to see a cyclist fall off on the last corner. But, I couldn’t laugh at poor old Dan Martin – falling off in Liege Bastogne Liege with the finish line in sight. It’s just too close to the bone.

 

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Cycling terms explained

A random selection of contemporary and classic cycling terms explained with varying degrees of lucidity. Some may give the impression of being entirely made up, which is probably because they are.

Cycling phrases

‘Pedalling in Circles.’ These days you seem to hear this expression quite frequently. A good cyclist should ‘pedal in circles’ ( if you have standard cranks, you may be thinking it’s pretty hard to cycle in other shape and you’re right) When asked for advice about cycling, Fausto Coppi replied ‘trying pedalling harder’. This is the essence of pedalling in circles – keep those pedals moving. The actual idea of pedalling in circles, is that you don’t just push on the down stroke, but also pull on the way up. So your exercising pressure for the full 360 degrees of the pedal rotation, and not just the 180 degrees going down. An advantage of using clipless pedals and toeclips.

TIME TRIAL ALBUM cc.qxp

Pedalling squares – Not quite the opposite of pedalling in circles. Pedalling squares means the cyclist is floundering, pushing a big gear with no élan and generally struggling. You pedal squares, when you bonk or blow up.

‘Hold your Line’ –  You’ll hear this in road races or very serious chain gangs. The idea is that when going round corners you need to hold a set distance from the edge of the road so you don’t force other people onto the other side of the road. Though people who shout ‘hold your line’ tend to have a very good capacity to sneak past you just after saying this. Holding your line is different to taking the racing line – you can do this when you’re on your own and take the shortest distance through the apex of a corner

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To Half Wheel If you’re in the opposite of a serious chain gang, you may hear stately club members ask you not to ‘half wheel’. This is when an overeager cyclist keeps trying to push the pace of the group higher – by riding ahead and making other riders cycle faster to keep up. This is very much against the tradition of the traditional British club run.

Wheelsucker – Someone who always sits behind another rider to benefit from drafting, and never going to the front of a group to do a turn. If a half-wheeler is trying to show off by going faster, the wheelsucker is a rider wanting to enjoy the efforts of others. It does depends on the type of wheelsucking you do. The best sprinters will never be at the front of the peleton until the last 100m of a race. But, it’s generally considered bad form to be a wheelsucker on your daily commute.

paceline

Slipstream – Riding behind another rider can save up to 30% because of the reduced aero drag. This is the attraction of being a wheelsucker, especially if your close to ‘blowing up

‘Good style’ – It may seem curious you can have a good cycling style. But if you watch a race, you may hear the commentators say ‘he has a good style – he looks very good on the bike’. This may be followed by said rider going out the back. Looks can be deceptive. Good style is very rarely compatible with ‘gurning’ see below. But, one of the advantages of cycling is that you may be really rubbish, but as long as you ‘look good on the bike’ then it counts for something.

les-wilmot

Les Wilmot – Looking good on the bike.

Souplesse – Synonymous with good style is the more evocative French word souplesse. It means to pedal at a high cadence and with seeming ease. An untrained cyclist will tend to ‘mash‘ (push) a big gear at a low cadence. A well trained athlete will be able to pedal with souplesse – high cadence for hours on end. Continue Reading →

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Ripponden bank and stage 2 of T de F

A training ride over Cragg Vale, Ripponden Bank and several other climbs which seem to proliferate around the Hebden Bridge area. Some of the climbs like Oxenhope Moor, Cragg Vale and Ripponden Bank feature in the TDF stage 2. Shame they didn’t put Luddenden Moor in there.

After Friday’s Buxton MTT, my legs were still a bit tired, but it was Easter Sunday, good weather and I was keen to check out some climbs in South Yorkshire, used in the upcoming TDF stage 2. I rarely go in this area, but it is great if you’re looking for hills to cycle up. Despite frequently getting lost and not always knowing where I was going, it was a good ride.

Oxenhope moor

Oxenhope moor

Over Bingley Moor, I went through Cullingworth to Oxenhope where I joined the TDF stage 2. There is a good steady climb from Oxenhope up to ‘Cock Hill’ on to the moors. At the top, it is quite high at 1,400ft, (400m) It is a fairly steady gradient, not too bad with the wind behind you. I was stopped at two sets of temporary traffic lights, as the council work furiously to get the road ready for the ‘big race’

From the top of Oxenhope moor, there is a great sweeping descent into Hebden Bridge. Not too steep, just nice and long. It will make a good climb the other way, with quite a significant height gain of over 280 metres. At Hebden Bridge, I had a vague idea to look for Mytholm Steps, but my OS map didn’t go that far. I ended up going miles past, ending up in Todmorden. I stopped to ask a kind elderly gentlemen, (he had a badge to say he was a veteran of the Normandy landings). He’d lived in Todmorden all his life, and told me I’d come 7 miles too far West. It would have been interesting to stop and talk to him more. But, I moved onto find some climbs.

Pexwood

Todmorden in the distance on Pexwood climb – the climb to a private house and a dead end

I saw this Pexwood lane, looking suitably interesting – winding it’s way up the edge of a moor. It was a great climb, with double switch backs – quite steep until it rather abruptly stopped at a ‘Private rood’ sign. I might have plodded on and tried my luck, but the road also deteriorated into an unmade surface. I turned around and went back  to Mytholmroyd for the Cragg Vale climb.

cragg-vale

Cragg Vale

Cragg Vale proudly claims to be the longest continual ascent in England. 968 feet of climbing in 5.5 miles. There is nothing steep, it is a classic long drag or as Magnus Backstedt would say ‘A big ring climb’ Though I didn’t use my big ring, despite an encouraging tailwind. But, it was possible to keep a nice steady speed, even at the steepest section halfway through.

Cragg vale

Even at its steepest, it never seems to go over 7%, so you can do the whole climb seated down. It’s a good ‘easy’ taster of long Alpine climbs. You can get into a good rhythm and enjoy the scenery. Someone has put helpful km markers, telling you have long you have left. Though for some reason, who ever put these helpful markers on the road, decided the top of the climb was after -0.5 km of downhill. It did seem to kind of diminish the ‘longest continual ascent in England’ tag.

Cragg Vale

Cragg Vale half way up

The climb was very popular, I both ascended and descended Cragg Vale and saw a lot of cyclists going up and down. I’m sure the Tour de France has encouraged more to try the climb – it is definitely worth a visit for any cyclist. At the top of Cragg Vale a strong wind was blowing, which made the descent to Ripponden almost as slow as the climb.

Continue Reading →

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Training on the outdoor track

New York is always full of surprises. Here, in the middle of Queens, New York, there is the Kissena Velodrome. An outdoor concrete velodrome.  It’s a bit lumpy, but if you’re looking for a traffic free cycling environment, it is an oasis in the desert. When I went during the week, I often had the place to myself. A good opportunity for a few intervals and training.

wide-track

The velodrome

After a heavy few weeks of mileage in March. This last week has been much quieter. Just a few recovery rides around the track this week.

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Training

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Riding the 2014 TDF Stage 1

Ever since the Tour de France route was published a few months ago, I’ve been planning to ride the first stage as it includes some of my favourite roads in Yorkshire. 190km is a bit out of my comfort zone, but I wanted to see what it was like to do a full stage.

hawes-utd

Hawes United win the 2013 Wensleydale Cheese makers league – (and the Tour de France is coming to town)

In the end, I modified the route to avoid heavy traffic and ended up including some extra climbs. It turned out to be 120 miles, with 3,100 metres of climbing. It was a great day, and really enjoyed it, even if I did really suffer for the last 20 miles.

I didn’t start in Leeds, but from Menston near the A65. The A65 is not the most cycle friendly road, so just before Addingham I turned right on the B6160 towards Bolton Abbey and Burnsall. This cuts off a corner, but more importantly saves battling the articulated lorries on the Skipton bypass. The B road through Bolton Abbey and Burnsall is a really great cycling road. Little traffic and great scenery. It’s never flat and always rolling. At Grassington I rejoined the tour route proper on the B road towards Kettlewell and Bucken. After you have passed the slate mine near Grassington, this becomes a good cycle road. It wanders up the Wharfe valley through good countryside. Today the traffic was quite light.

kidstone-pass

Buckden with Kidstones pass in the distance

Kidstones Pass

Kidstones pass may only be a category 4, but it’s still pretty hard work. 130 metres of climbing, and quite steep around 16-17%. It will make a great place to watch the tour.

kidstone-yorkshire-dales

Descent from Kidstone pass towards Bishopdale

By the time I’d reached Aysgarth, I had only done 1 categorised climb, but noticed I’d already done 1,000 metres of climbing. It is really ‘rolling’ countryside, and the metres all add up. Continue Reading →

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