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).

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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.