Monthly Archives: October 2017

Pointless towers and pink pigeons

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A bit of light relief after all that pushing pedals around!

One of the (many) great things about the Grand Tours is the riot of colour. Of course, cycling shirts should be bright and just a bit crazy – but perhaps not as bad as the brown ag2r kit or as mad as the Carrera team’s ‘denim look’ kit of the 1990s, as worn so notably by Marco Pantani.

Happily, my club has embraced the philosophy, but there is a story to the shirt.

Between 1931 and 1950 Faringdon’s resident, eccentric, aristocrat was Lord Berners – the wonderfully named Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson before he inherited the title.

Two particular (but by no means the weirdest) things he did were to build the Folly Tower and dye the pigeons at his house vibrant colours.

When asked by the planning sub-committee what exactly was the point of the Tower, Berners is said to have replied, “The great point of the Tower is that it will be entirely useless”.

At one time, there was a notice at the bottom of the tower saying “Members of the public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk”.

Both the tower and the pink pigeons are celebrated in the Farcycles club shirt.

Farcycles is a small club in rural Oxfordshire, England made up, mostly, of middle aged (and older) riders but, between us, in the last 4 years club men and women have worn the shirt for several ascents of Ventoux (including two Cingles), an ‘everest’, an Etape, Paris-Brest-Paris, for the Raid Pyrennees, a Corsican tour, up Alpe d’Huez, Colombiere, Glieres, La Saleve, Le Mole, Aravis, Semnoz, Romme, Pierre Carree, Joux Plane, Ramaz, Sa Colobra and many more.

Wear the shirt with pride!

(No pigeons were hurt in the making of this shirt).

Exercise, insight and sociability – a heady mix

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Heading down, out of Faringdon, northwards

Well, that was quite a week in many ways.

For some time now I have run with my wife a couple of times a week, as her unpaid personal trainer. We have a range of routes but, oddly, they all seem to end up being about 6km. I enjoy the running but I think it’s fair to say that Mrs Omil endures it. This week we upped the distance to about 8.5km and ran that twice – and she took herself out yesterday morning to do an additional set of hill reps (which I am more reluctant to do as they tend to cause me achilles problems). She may never become someone who runs for pleasure (although we did do a sub-hour 10k a few years ago which was very satisfying) but it’s a really good development so all credit to her.

After Friday’s ride I felt pretty optimistic that my ‘kph-itis’ diagnosis might mean I would be able to shake it off and restore a better balance to my cycling so I don’t feel that I have to maximise the average kph every time I get on the bike. It was an important insight.

A chilly Saturday morning yesterday saw the regular club ride. I deliberately didn’t go off with the fastest bunch but cycled very happily with a group of very sociable riders cracking along at a perfectly decent 23kph. The various groups were reunited at the half way ‘banana break’ and I did go back to Faringdon as part of the quickest group – covering the remaining 37km (23 miles) at a bit over 29kph (just over 18mph). So, a real success – I enjoyed the first half’s sociability and the second half’s workout. In all, a really good 73km ride with 625m of climbing (45 miles and 2050 feet) …. and a big smile!

As with so many things in life, it’s all about getting the right balance.

Why cycle … because we can and we want to

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I have done quite a lot of climbing on the bike this year – Strava says 56,788 m (186,321 feet). Although the wisdom of deciding to do an ‘everest’ in July is open to question, once the decision was made, hill training seemed perfectly sensible (or, indeed, essential).

However, having read an excellent blog post by Tempocyclist, I realise that since then I’ve developed a case of average-kph-itis. This is an obsession with producing rides with the highest possible average kph figures, almost to the exclusion of everything else.

The symptoms are clear: setting routes looking for flat roads and tailwinds; an irrational annoyance at hills, junctions, traffic and everything that slows you down; not stopping for photos or anything else; and a constant looking down at the average speed window on the Garmin.

Now, I’m all in favour of cycling fast, training hard and getting better on the bike – but an improving average kph should be a result of those, not the main aim of the ride.

I’m 62, I don’t race and no one pays me to cycle – so sometimes I need to remind myself that I ride for pleasure and personal satisfaction, not to try to impress or beat anyone else.

Today I went out with this in mind. I deliberately turned down some flat fast roads that would have offered some ‘vanity kph’ and headed over to Lambourn for a few hills and a generally ‘nice’ ride. The result – 56 km with 601 m of climbing at 25.1 kph (35 miles, 1971 feet at 15.6 mph) … and a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours.

Small stone – big challenge

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This is the actual third stone I brought down from the summit – no stunt doubles here. Not as big as it might look – about 2x1x1 cm!

Joining the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux in 2015 was one of the best things I’ve ever done on a bike. I completed the three ascents (each non-stop) with a friend, didn’t suffer very much (apart from freezing on the first half of each descents) and fell in love with a very special mountain which even had the decency to be cloud-free at the summit for the third and final ascent.

One thing I remembered to do, when at the top for the last time, was to pick up three small stones. I had two particular friends who, I knew, would want to climb Ventoux themselves so on returning to England I sent them each a stone, with a request that they return it to the top of the mountain.

Philip returned his stone this summer and Dave has just told me that he and his wife are taking a road trip next year to include Provence (with his bike and stone in the car).

I don’t take any credit for their ascents but there is something good about others getting to experience the enjoyment I got from climbing such a great mountain.

The third stone?

That’s either for me on my next trip up Ventoux (or perhaps for Mrs Omil if I can ever persuade her to take on the climb from Sault).

The long and windy road (that leads to my door)

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A good road to be riding with the wind behind today

Apologies to Paul McCartney.

With winds of 50 mph (80 kph) forecast, yesterday’s club ride was cancelled. Quite apart from the difficulty of riding into a wind like that, a cross wind of that strength can put you in the kerb or middle of the road all too easily.

After two runs with Mrs Omil in the week, the cancellation of Saturday’s ride was quite a good thing for me as I slightly over–indulged when friends came over for supper on Friday, so Saturday wouldn’t have gone well in any event. Sadly, I continued to enjoy the left-overs yesterday so wasn’t expecting much from today’s solo ride.

Although the storm had passed, the wind was still a frisky 20 mph which put a real premium on finding a route with open, straight, roads when heading with the wind – and more twisting, sheltered ones when heading into it. There is no doubt that a bit of local knowledge pays off on days like this.

It didn’t go too badly although I was working hard to maintain 15 mph (24 kph) at times as the price to pay for the sections where nearly twice that speed seemed relatively easy. In the end, something like 68 km at 28.4 kph (42 miles at 17.6 mph).

I don’t know what the science is but it always seems that what you lose heading into a wind is more than you gain with it at your back. Still, a great way to blow out the cobwebs.

Le Tour de France 2018

 

 

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My stock ‘Grand Tour’ photo taken during the TdF 2016. I’ll try to take some more in 2018

The route of the 2018 Tour was announced today in Paris. It is pretty much as the rumours predicted – not entirely surprising as some stages are pre-empted by excited host cities or by decent investigative journalism, including by studying things like hotel booking patterns.

Starting a week later than normal due to the World Cup, the first four stages, in the Vendée department in the Pays de la Loire, had already been unveiled officially, including a team time trial (absent for two years) for stage 3. The other three stages look to be ones for the sprinters.

Then into Brittany and Normandy as the route makes its way, clockwise, to Amiens for the finish of stage 8. Stage 9 includes over 21 km (15 sections) of the famous cobbles on the way to Roubaix last visited in 2014, before a significant rest day transfer for stage 10, the first mountain stage in the alps. This is from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand and will be the Etape du Tour for 2018.

It’s a great area – the Etape I did in 2013 started and finished in Annecy but this year the tough 151km stage takes in the Col de la Croix Fry, the Col de Romme (for only the second time) and the top half of the Col de la Colombiere. I’ve ridden Colombiere a few times and really like it but I’ve only climbed Romme from the (much easier) South. They will be riding it from the North and that’s about 9.3 km at 8.8%. I’ve descended that way and it certainly feels every bit as steep as that.

It looks like my ride out to the alps next year will be targeted to get me to Les Carroz in time to watch this stage on Romme or Colombiere – can’t wait.

The next two stages stay in the alps, with stage 11 running from Albertville to La Rosière. I’ve skied in La Rosière – it was a very nice, small resort at the end of the valley road before you cross into Italy and arrive at La Thuile. In 1999 we were in La Rosière and adding a second week’s skiing in the Haute Savoie. My plan was to drive into Italy and go through the Mont Blanc tunnel back into France. The first day we skied along the road I had been planning to take into Italy, leading to a quick revision of the route. No bad thing as that was the week of the fire in the tunnel that tragically killed 35.

Stage 12 finishes in l’Alpe d’Huez. When I rode d’Huez, I found the town to be a bit of a disappointment but the whole experience was improved by carrying on above it to Lac Besson (with its decent restaurant) and then coming down via the Col de Sarenne (tantalizingly signposted as being at 1999m).

Sadly, no Mont Ventoux – I did the cinglé in 2015 and I think it’s a really special Mountain.

Stage 16 sees the tour’s arrival in the Pyrenees, before an individual time trial for the penultimate stage, down in the South West corner of the country.

Then the traditional finish takes place on Sunday 29th July in Paris.

Likely decisive stages?

Certainly the cobbles on stage 9 – especially if it’s wet and trecherous. Also cross winds can be really disruptive and cause splits in the peleton on the coastal stages.

Otherwise, as always, look out for the usual suspects – especially the mountain stages, where there will be 5 mountain finishes. Also watch out for the gravel section at the top of the Plateau des Glières on stage 10 – I rode it in 2016 (we have a very fine Routemeister for our trips to the alps) but was very pleased I wasn’t trying to race along it. The climb to the plateau itself is also pretty tough from the east side (with 5.8km at 11.5%).

The individual time trial looks to be quite hilly so might play into Chris Froome’s hands – even though he and Tom Dumoulin would, no doubt, have wanted two ITTs. In 2016 I watched Froome win the individual time trial (Sallanches to Megève) from the roadside at Combloux – that was up a hill and he was completely dominant.

Can Chris Froome win it? Certainly he can but it won’t be easy as Dumoulin, Porte, Quintana, Landa, López, Aru, Bardet, Urán and Nibali must all fancy their chances of a podium at least. It will be interesting to see what Landa can do when racing for himself and Quintana should put up a better showing assuming he doesn’t try to do the Giro as well, like he did this year.

However, what none of the other likely contenders have is the strength of Team Sky around them and that could, as in recent years, be decisive – even with the team size being reduced from 9 to 8 for 2018. Personally I hope it is as I’d love to see an English speaker joining the 5 time winners’ club (and staying there!).

Great congratulations to Chris Froome on winning the Velo d’Or – I for one hope he adds Le Tour of 2018 to it.

A ride, a seat post and Le Tour

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I got out for the club red ride on Saturday – and thoroughly enjoyed it. The weather was really (unseasonably) decent and we were on some roads we rarely visit, including a long slog out of Eastbury that got the heart pumping. I decided to ride in the front group – if I could – and ended up finishing with two particularly strong riders to make up a front three. My Garmin mis-fired but judging by the records of fellow riders I did about 74km at an average of 28.9kph.

I’m still on the Rose but am completing the upgrades on the old Giant. It now has a new seat post (with faux aero design) and my spare carbon saddle – by good fortune its all open weave carbon fibre so I think it looks pretty good. I’ve managed to buy a right hand shifter on Ebay so once that arrives it should be good to go. I may decide to ride that for the winter to give it a good shake-down before riding it out to the alps in the summer (I hope) but might revert to the Rose (with its winter wheels) for special occasions.

The Giant weighs in at about 8.3kg compared to the Rose (in fighting mode) at about a kilo less (until the winter wheels are added) – looks like I’ll have to keep some control over my weight to make life as easy as possible. The exercise needs to step up a bit!

With thoughts turning to the summer, the unveiling of the route of the 2018 Tour de France is tomorrow. Next year the fun starts a week later because of the World Cup. Rather long odds on an English double, I fear.

The first few stages, as always, are already revealed but my favourite rumour site is:

http://www.velowire.com/article/1027/en/tour-de-france-2018–the-rumours-about-the-race-route-and-the-stage-cities-.html

– it’s usually pretty accurate. After the start in the Vendée department in the Pays de la Loire, it points to Brittany for the end of the opening week, but the expectation is that it then heads east (a clockwise year) to the cobbles of Roubaix before the Alps (possibly including Alpe d’Huez), and then the Pyrenees.

For me, the 10th stage looks to be the most interesting as it comes closest to the apartment in Les Carroz. We’ve cycled the 40km to Le Grand Bornand (the 10th stage finish) on previous visits to the area but it’s hard to guess exactly where the route might go as the shortest distance between the stage start and finish is only about 30km – but the stage is rumoured to be 151km.

The rumour is that it goes up to the Plateau des Glières. It’s the site of an important battle between the French Resistance and the German army, in the second world war and it also has a fine national monument to the Resistance, constructed in 1973. We cycled it two years ago from the East side and it’s a bit of a beast that way with, I believe, 7km averaging 12%.

It might be too much to hope that it could take in the Col de la Colombière and the Col de Romme which are even closer. I’ve climbed Colombière several times but have only ridden Romme the easy way – from Le Reposoir (half way up Colombière). Riding it from  Cluses is a lot tougher (9.6km at 8.4% average – or 9.3km at 8.8% depending where you read it) and I’m surprised it’s only been used once in the tour, in 2009.

Although we don’t organise our annual trip only by reference to Le Tour, we do try to take in a stage or two if it comes close and the dates fit people’s availability, so the third week of July is pencilled in – can’t wait.

 

What do cyclists do in the winter?

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New and old – the Rose and the Giant

There are definite signs of the approach of winter in Oxfordshire. The copper beech trees are starting to turn  and the horse chestnut is covering one of the paved areas in the garden with leaves.

That is the end of “Out of Town’ with Jack Hargreaves (sadly, the fact I can remember that dates me).

While appreciating that hardier cyclists just keep cycling throughout the year, and richer cyclists simply head south, my thoughts now turn to the end of the regular cycling season in an effort to remember what normal people do with their time.

Although normality does intrude occasionally, I prefer to focus on four key things at this time of year: thinking back on the cycling year just gone, planning next year’s cycling, tinkering with bikes and working out how to stay reasonably fit so that getting back into the swing of it in the Spring isn’t too awful (important as the White horse Challenge is in April).

The cycling year just gone: 2017 has been a pretty good one – I missed my 5 hour target for the 90 mile (145km) White horse Challenge by 5 minutes, but set a PB, and rode strongly in the sportive on 1 October, even if we did take the wrong route. Better was coming home first in the club’s 70 mile (112km) sportive (even though it’s not a race) but best of all was completing my ‘everest’ in July. Considering that I so very nearly talked myself out of the attempt that morning, and went into it sure it would fail, I’m delighted to have done it.

Planning for 2018: The White Horse Challenge remains unfinished business – so I will have to do that again, still trying to beat the 5 hours. The week’s cycling in the alps is (almost) a given, but the big difference this year is the aim of cycling out there, unsupported. It will probably be about 750 miles (1200km) and I’d thought about doing it alone but one of the friends I ride with might be able to come with me – and I’d certainly not try to stop him as he would be excellent company.

One other thought I’m toying with is that doing the bicinglette (Ventoux 6 times in a day, twice by each of the routes) and then adding on one more ascent from Sault would gain access to two fairly exclusive clubs – the bicinglette has currently been achieved by only 217 people and the ‘high rouleurs’ society (for 10,000 meters of climbing) currently has only 300 members. Sounds crazy but less than 1100 metres of climbing more that the everesting. The big problem with the bicinglette is that it can only be done on Ventoux!

Tinkering with bikes: If I cycle out to the alps, I’d probably take my old 2006 Giant TCR2 and leave it out there – that would help solve the potential issue of getting it back to the UK and would mean I’ll always have a bike there in case we decide to fly out in the future. I’ve found some pedals and I’m trying to pick up a replacement right hand brifter, but the main job has been solving the issue of the stuck seat post. It has been wedged in very firmly for a few years and has defied everything, including a can of WD40 and putting the post in a vice and using the leverage of the whole frame to try to twist it, without success.

In the end, on Monday, I decided to cut it out as it was not in perfectly straight and was not at quite the right height. I cut off the post (metal, strangely, considering that it’s a composite frame) and with a hand held hacksaw blade cut the down length of the post from the inside. It was a hell of a job which involved much bleeding and swearing but eventually I did it, without cutting much of a groove in the inside of the frame itself. I did my cut at the back of the post so it has strengthening from the rear stay assembly and from the seat post clamp itself – I’ll keep a watchful eye on it to make sure it’s still safe. I’ve ordered a carbon replacement post so I might have taken some weight off the bike, as a by-product.

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Many miles on it like this and you’d appreciate standing on the pedals

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Better out than in

An odd thing that has occurred to me is that when I bought the Giant I was terrified of hills and looked for a bike with a triple. With its 28 on the back, its bottom gear is actually a tiny bit higher than my Rose with its compact and a 32 on the back! How times change.

Then there are my 20 or so other bikes to have a look at …

Staying fit: as I get older, I tend to feel the cold more so it’s back to the turbo when it’s not possible to get out in sensible weather. Beyond that, I’ll keep running with Mrs Omil twice a week and will start the squats, lunges, planks and sit ups to keep the legs moving and the core strong.

It’s not yet too cold – with luck plenty more cycling on the roads to come yet.

Four fine days in Berlin – and only other people’s bikes in view

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I like the aero aspects but guess that the weight is an issue. High quality training though, with passengers.

After Sunday’s sportive there was no resting on laurels (indeed there were really very few laurels on which to rest) because we were off to Berlin on Monday, leaving the house at 2.30am for a 6am flight (I know, but it seemed like a good idea at the time).

We were trying Airbnb for the first time and really struck lucky. The apartment was surprisingly large and was warm and comfortable and pretty well equipped. It was in the Mitte district which meant we were able to walk everywhere we wanted to go.

We did the usual stuff including the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag, the Museum area, the Holocaust memorial, Potsdamer Platz and Alexanderplatz, with the Fernsehturm tower. We also stumbled across the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (a memorial to the wall) which was just a few hundred meters from where we were staying – and which we might have missed had I not run by it on Wednesday morning.

It was a great trip – despite the rain we loved the city which felt surprisingly ‘British’ (though I’m not sure if that’s an entirely good thing). We were there, by chance, for Unification Day so also got the benefit of some free street party-type entertainment.

More surprisingly, it is a great cycling city. Bikes were everywhere, including rickshaw-type bikes and a Lidl bike (which I guess is like the Boris Bike in London). It all seemed well suited for riding, the traffic was much lighter than we would have expected, the roads are wide and the whole place seems to be remarkably flat. My only reservations would have been the weather and the tram tracks.

The last time I fell off a bike was 3 years ago when I got the front wheel caught in the gap between two slabs of a concrete road surface – and the tram tracks looked a bit like that. I didn’t see anyone suffer the problem, perhaps the tracks are wider and shallower (or the riders more skilful)?

Strangely I didn’t see a single Canyon, Rose, Focus or Cube bike – the main German brands I’m familiar with. The bikes were mostly old racers (usually down-tube shifters and a few fixies) or city bikes – perhaps the more exotic ones are kept for the weekends.

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Commuting by bike seemed very normal. I guess the owner of this one had popped in for a beer on the way home from work. The shaky phone photo does not suggest I had just done the same.

A lot of effort for small reward

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Looking more like an off road ride than an all on-road sportive

Sunday was my last Sportive of the year – the Cotswold Autumn Classic with a distance of 164 km and 2005 metres of climbing (102 miles and 6580 feet) … but it didn’t quite work out like that.

I’d not ridden for a week before the Sportive – I decided to pretend this laziness was ‘tapering’ but I was in slightly apprehensive mode meeting up with the other 4 from the club who were riding. Three of us were planning to do the longer route and the other two, the 102 km (64 mile) medium-distance.

We started about 8.15am and I was enjoying it immediately, even though it was a bit cool and there was rain in the air (which appeared a couple of times through the morning). For the first hour David, Alun and I were riding together, which made sense as we were all heading for the long route, but then David, who had been chatting with one of our other riders, fell behind on a long climb. Eventually we realized we’d lost him, but assumed that he’d hung back to accompany the others.

Alun and I carried on and decided to miss the first feed stop as we were both feeling good. We did a very comfortable 28kph average for the first 2 hours on some fairly lumpy terrain and when we got to the point where the medium and long route split we decided to carry on, as planned, to do the 102 miler (a bad idea).

Unfortunately, by the time we got 3 hours in Alun was starting to suffer a bit. He’s a very decent chap and a better rider than me, but he’d done the 40 mile club ride the previous day (chapeau, Alun) and either that was starting to count against him or he was getting his nutrition a little wrong (or both).

At the 90 km point I’d pulled ahead a bit but my Garmin hadn’t been giving me turn-by-turn directions and my cycling glasses were both covered in rain and steamed up so I was riding almost blind. Despite that, I had a definite feeling that I’d missed a turn somewhere. I rode back and met up with Alun who thought we were still on the right road, so we carried on.

The lack of route markers and the fact that we were on a fairly main road soon told us that we had indeed gone wrong. In fact, we had both missed a right hand turn to Longborough (home of an excellent 2 month opera season in the summer) – strange that either of us missed it, let alone both, separately, missing it.

We decided to continue and, soon, the proper route crossed ours near Broadway – I spotted the route markers to our left so we rejoined. What eventually became clear, however, was that the few miles that we’d missed contained a timed climb so, having flunked that, we would not be able to record a time for the long route. We’d also missed the second feed stop – I didn’t need it but it would have helped Alun, I’m sure.

With Alun not feeling great, we decided to see if we could head back to the start by a slightly shorter route so we struck out on our own and eventually rejoined the proper course (thanks to Alun’s eagle eyes) having shaved off another few miles. I was feeling really strong but we stuck together and I hope I had some small hand in helping him get to the finish in good shape.

At the end of the ride we had earned ourselves Bronze awards for the medium route. Of course, the organisers could do nothing else, but our relatively slow time for the 102 km (64 miles) route is not much of a surprise given that we had actually completed 145 km (90 miles) with an additional 750 m (nearly 2500 feet) of climbing compared to the medium route! At least I had a fairly decent time (8m 23s – top 40 out of about 350?) for the really tough Chedworth timed climb.

It is a genuinely hard, well organized sportive – hilly and on some small country roads that were wet, covered in leaves and muddy (some of my kit is in the machine for a second wash as I write). At the end we looked like we’d been doing an off-road ride and at various points I’d been unable to stand on the hills because that merely meant I was spinning the rear wheel.

So, it was a strange day of mixed emotions. I’m disappointed not to have completed the proper course but very satisfied that I was riding so strongly and happy that Alun and I completed the day together. David completed the (whole, proper) route with a silver award, so ‘chapeau’ David!

Nutrition on the bike is a strange thing. I had some cereal bars and a chocolate bar before we started but for the 90 miles of riding I then had less than one bidon of water, two salty peanut bars, one gel and a banana. I felt good and strong through to the end – I don’t understand how that can be as it’s way short of what I should need, based on all I’ve read about fuelling strategies.