Monthly Archives: April 2017

The White Horse Challenge


The White Horse at Uffington on the Ridgeway


I’ve mentioned this sportive in my blog several times but thought I’d add a short review for anyone thinking about entering next year. A tip – if you are thinking of entering do it as soon as entries open (usually early December) as the c. 600 places sell out fast.

This was my 6th participation – and it was as good as ever. The route is excellent and the organisation is pretty slick and certainly friendly (as are other riders). For me, it’s a particularly good event coming as it does in late April and so forcing me to get a bit fitter earlier than I might otherwise.

The event starts at the Shrivenham Memorial Hall (West Oxfordshire, just off the A420 that runs between Oxford and Swindon). You can leave any time between 8 and 9, after a quick registration and picking up the bike number and bar code slip that sticks on the side of the helmet.

This year there were at least 15 taking part from my club (Farcycles, from Faringdon – just a few miles up the A420) but with different target times we rolled out in several different groups. That was my big mistake – I missed the group of our fastest riders while chatting to a couple of other friends.

That left me working really hard to try to catch them – although I never did as they latched onto a fast train very early on. Not knowing that I pushed pretty hard – the first 40 km (25 miles) are fairly flat (with a couple of leg testers) and I did them in just under 75 minutes, hopping from group to group. Then you hit the first White Horse at Broad Town – just after Royal Wootton Bassett.  The steepest bit is probably about 1km with a 90m climb followed by a potentially tricky descent and then another flattish 15km. I was on my own here working very hard to catch a big group in front, which then promptly disbanded at the first food stop.

So I was back on my own again to the second White Horse at Cherhill – a rather gentler 100m ascent over 5km and then on through historic Avebury and to the third White Horse at Hackpen, with sections at over 12%.  Then it’s another good long decent before climbing back into Marlborough and on to Ramsbury. Spring Hill, coming out of Ramsbury, isn’t a White Horse but is, in my opinion, the worst hill on the route. It’s short but steep – something like 50m in 0.3km. I remember the first time I climbed it – it was damp and the rear wheel was spinning if I stood in the pedals and the front wheel bobbed if I sat down.

After the second food stop, there are Ridgeway climbs out of Chilton Foliat and then again out of Lamborn (of horse racing fame) over Seven Barrows before the steep (potentially dangerous) descent of Blowing Stone Hill. Turn west onto the undulating road that runs along the bottom of the Ridgeway and then left again for the 4th and final White Horse at Uffington – a proper historic one dating from the Bronze Age.

That’s another 90m climb over about 1km and I found it really tough – despite the fact that I’d trained on it, doing a total of 70 reps up it in March and early April. Sadistically the Uffington climb is timed separately for a King of the Hill competition. I was feeling it by then and my time on Sunday was 50% slower than my PB of 4.19!

Looking down the lower part of the Uffington White Horse climb

Another solo ride for the last 9k back to Shrivenham for the finish. On my first attempt in 2011 I was just outside 6 hours. This year, it was 5h 05min for the 144.4km – gold standard by 55 minutes for us over 60s (and 4th in age group).

Just the 6 minutes to find next year.

My Garmin said 145km and 1862m of ascent but the ride website says 1400m and two other friends who rode it on Sunday made it 1627m and 1280m respectively. I’m very pleased that I will be using my Garmin for my everesting attempt in July!

So, a really good day in the saddle of the Rose X-LITE CRS 3000. I didn’t stop at either food station but I know that the food is good there and at the finish. I consumed just one gel, two banana bars and less than 600ml of fluid on the ride. That’s par for the course for me and I certainly didn’t bonk or feel that I wanted more – but I wonder if more intake might have improved the output.

My club sportive is on 29 July, starting and finishing in Faringdon, Oxfordshire. We have 35, 70 and 100 mile routes through some great Cotswolds villages (and on the Ridgeway too for the 100 mile route). It’s now in it’s 4th year and coincides with the town music and arts festival. It is very scenic and friendly – and with great home-cooked food. Highly recommended (in an entirely unbiased way, of course)! Come and join us!

Cycling and running – odd bedfellows?

DSC_0251I’ve always been confused by people who say that cycling and running use different leg muscles. After all, how many leg muscles are there – surely both activities use them all?

After the sportive on Sunday I went for a gentle run on Monday morning with my wife – not very far and not very fast. It was fine – I don’t think I’d have known that I’d done anything the previous day. Later, I took a car in for a service and cycled just the 2.5 miles back home – and I certainly felt the previous day’s 90 miles.

Perhaps the answer is that running and cycling use the same muscles, but slightly differently?

Anyway … with the WHC behind me, next up is the triathlon on 14 May. The cycling can be left to tick over but it’s back to the pool to see if I can still swim (albeit badly) and it’s back out running (almost as badly).

Then on to the everesting attempt.


When quite good is a bit bad


Weapon of choice ROSE X-LITE CRS

Yesterday was the White Horse Challenge, my first sportive of the year. I recorded a distance of just under 145km with 1862m of climbing (but that looks on the high side compared to others).

An enjoyable ride, as always, but I missed out on going sub 5 hours. I managed a PB of 5 hours 5 Minutes – 8 minutes off my previous best and an average of 28.4kph.

That might be the worst of all results: if I’d broken 5 hours I might be able to decide that’s me done with the WHC because I won’t improve on that and sub 5 has been a target for a while now. Equally, if I’d done 5.5 hours I’d probably walk away knowing that sub 5 is beyond me. As it is I know that, come the end of the year, I’ll be signing up again, wondering where the extra 6 minutes are going to come from.

Lots of ‘mights’ and ‘what ifs’ but although it went well I probably spent too much time cycling solo hoping for a good train to join – and I just didn’t have enough in my legs for a big finish.

The training went well through March – the hill reps look to have been a real success – but stalled a bit in April as real life (quite rightly) took precedence.

So, not sure whether to be pleased or disappointed but not too bad for an over 60.


Bluebells, chocolate and cycling


I have many faults and failings – one is an inability to resist chocolate. Normally, the solution is not to have it in the house but, of course, an enjoyable and social Easter (including a trip to see the bluebells at Badbury Clump) put paid to that.

Two outcomes this morning were that I tipped the scales at 68kg and really didn’t want to go out for a training ride.

On the basis that the weight went on quickly, I assume it might be reasonably easy to lose. The training ride was a bit more of an issue with the White Horse Challenge 5 days away and training having slightly stalled over the last couple of weeks. Perhaps it was a day or two later than textbook – but it was certainly the last opportunity.

Eventually I managed to get the enthusiasm to get out – but not to change the tyres to the 25mms that I plan to use for the WHC. The ride was tough but OK – 100km with 1255m of climbing in 3h 41m. Clearly, if I can’t be good I’m going to be consistent – the ride was 0.1kph faster than I did it last week.

Those wider tyres had better be good!

It’s not about the bike (tyres) … or is it?

In my teens, I remember the aim was very much to have the thinnest tyres and push the highest possible gear – that was manly cycling! I still have to remind myself sometimes to knock down a gear or two and get the legs spinning – but now I’m also told that I should also be forsaking my skinny tyres.

The science is a bit baffling (not helped by not being entirely consistent) but the consensus seems to be that wider tyres have generally lower rolling resistance at the same pressure, compared to narrower tyres. I’ve seen a suggestion that a 25mm Continental GP4000 s2 tyre at 109psi has about 1.4 watts advantage over its 23mm brother. A lot of pro teams have gone to 25mm tyres and that tends to suggest the science is good.

I don’t have a power meter but Strava estimates my maximum output to be about 320 watts. That is about 5 watts/kg which is certainly OK – and would be positively good if I could maintain it for more than a few minutes … which I can’t.

Assuming the power is in the right ballpark, for a pair of tyres the power saving it is the best part of 1% of my maximum output. If the saving is constant (I don’t suppose it is) it would be closer to 2% of my average output on a more gentle ride. Some of the power saving can be traded in for a smoother ride by taking out some air form the fatter tyres (a smoother ride itself almost certainly being a faster ride) so the options are certainly attractive.

Although there are small weight and aero disadvantages they would be trivial in comparison – so switching to 25mm tyres seems to fall squarely into the category SNT (silly not to). Indeed, it is probably the category FSNT.

The tyres on my sportive bike are nearly down to the wear indicators and I have a slow puncture in the front so now looks like a good time to change. I have new 25s (Continental GP4000 S2s) so here we go to another silver bullet of faster cycling!

Un-training, Chris Froome and reality

In the relatively few years I’ve been cycling I’ve got a lot out of it. Fitness, weight control, great memories and good friends, to name but a few. But (rather obviously) I am not Chris Froome. Sky do not pay me a few million each year to ride for them and I have no sponsors and no team back-up. Although I’m sure Chris still manages to be a fine husband and father, no doubt cycling is to the forefront of his life and pretty well everything else revolves around it.

For me, it has to be the other way round. Cycling has to fit into real life – it is not ‘real life’ by itself.

Take this week for example. Tuesday’s ride was tough and I took it easy on Wednesday recovering. Thursday would have been good for another ride but was spent preparing for a dinner party we hosted that evening. It was excellent – great company, and too much food and drink. Yesterday would have been good for a ride but we drove to take my father out for lunch. Terrific to see him looking so well at 93 – and he still loves his food and has a great appetite so I probably ate more than I otherwise would, but it was a lovely occasion.

The result, I’ve put on 2kg since Tuesday and have had no cycling. That probably happens to Chris very rarely, if ever.

This is where the compromises come in. I’m not going to nibble on a lettuce leaf at social occasions – I’m going to join in with the food and drink. I’m not going to miss out on friends and family because of cycling – they are real life and, in the main, cycling has to fit in.

Today I’m off to Sheffield with our younger son to watch a session at the Snooker World Championships . Our older son is coming home for Sunday and Monday with his girlfriend – we are looking forward to it enormously but again it will mean no (or perhaps little) cycling.

So, it looks like trying to be as sensible as possible while enjoying Easter and a ride on Tuesday. True, it’s bit close to the White Horse Challenge on Sunday 23rd but, hey, the world press won’t be there to record my time, Sky won’t be re-evaluating my contract and the sponsors won’t be worrying about whether they are getting the necessary bang for their buck.

Perhaps Chris doesn’t have it all plain sailing after all.

‘It never gets easier, you just get faster’ – Greg LeMond (‘if you’re lucky’ – The Omil)

Wise words from Greg LeMond – and horribly true … when I ride alone I always seem to end up pushing myself hard. It’s strange – I can do social cycling in a group but on my own it’s always full gas (or at least leaving insufficient gas in the tank to boil an egg).

On a good day I go faster but occasionally the quote should just be ‘It just doesn’t get easier’.

Today I went out for 100 km with 1294 m of climbing up 3 White Horse hills (Broad Town, Hackpen and Uffington) and what, in comparison, must have been several ponies (Purton, Snap, Rockley etc). A bit breezy and relentlessly hard despite only being at an average of 26.6 kph. True, that’s faster than I might have ridden it last year but I was hoping for better, given how hard it felt I was working.

Perhaps it was the breeze, possibly it was just one of those days when you ‘don’t have the legs’. Maybe it was the legacy of walking about 10 miles on Sunday watching my younger son running his first marathon in Brighton (4h 06m on an unseasonably hot day so a really fine performance), or perhaps just a lack of stamina after most of my training being hill reps this year.

Who knows? I just hope I can get another longish ride in before the White Horse Challenge on 23rd April (and pray that, on the day, I get into some good trains to share the work).

Cycling to get fitter – or getting fitter to cycle?

When I started cycling, it was partly for social reasons and partly to get fit. If more friends had been golfers, runners, or squash players I might never have taken up cycling.

Ten years later, I feel like a committed cyclist. I still enjoy the social side but my original aims don’t account for me hauling myself up Dragon Hill Road (up to the Uffington White Horse, about 1km with a climb of over 90m) 68 times in the last 4 weeks.

What has happened, of course, is that I no longer ride to get fit – I now work hard to get fitter in order to cycle better. It’s a strange reverse – I don’t remember consciously taking that decision and by way of irony, the extra training I now do is done alone so I’ve lost some of the other reason for cycling in the first place.

I was wondering why and when this happened. It wasn’t when I did my first sportive – that was just 50 miles and the only extra training I did with that was one ride by way of route recce with the friend with whom I did the actual sportive.

Clearly, the competitive instincts cut in after that ride when it occurred to me that I could have done a better time with some training. It was that which made cycling and not fitness the reason for getting on the bike. After that, the competitive instinct means I continued to want to get better – going faster, going further and riding up bigger hills and that has required the extra training.

I’ve loved it and don’t regret it for a moment but there is a word of warning – make sure you know what is the tail and which is the dog out of your sport and keeping fit. It might start out with the fitness as the dog but once the sport takes over you can’t tell where it might lead. Beware, it might lead to an everesting attempt like I plan for July.

Hill reps – hard work but they pay off

Back to Dragon Hill Road this morning for another 10 reps. That makes 68 reps since 10 March – the vast bulk of my training. Until 23 March my PB was 5 min 37. Since then it has gone to 5:06 and then 4:40. Today I managed 4:19 for the first rep – and none were slower than 6:24.

It’s a real testimony (I think) to the benefit of hill reps for training.

The text books talk about developing power at lactate threshold. Whatever the theory, they seem to be giving me more endurance and power and seem to be helping improve my recovery times too.

It may be that I have a high boredom threshold but I quite enjoy doing them but it helps to make them different in terms of standing, sitting, pushing a high gear, spinning in a low gear and putting in sprints along the way.

It also feels like a good way to maximise time in the saddle – today’s ride was 2hr 5min but packed in 1168m of climbing. Well worth doing as far as I can see.