Category Archives: climbing by bike

An alpine reality check … Galibier here I come?

Mt Blanc from Le Bettex last year

After a day of hobbling around with the calf pull (or as I like to think of it, ‘calf tear’ which may be the same thing but sounds more dramatic) I did my turn leading the club Sunday ride. Probably not wise as I still couldn’t walk properly but it’s an easy and short ride (this one was 13 miles, 21km) aimed at families, new cyclists and those returning to riding.

I took a mountain bike and made sure I cycled with the pedal under the arch of my right foot to avoid flexing the ankle. Very much a case of do what I say, not what I do – on Wednesday’s training session I’d been telling the school children to ride with the balls of their feet on the pedals.

It worked pretty well – except that I had to take my right foot off the pedal when going over bumps as otherwise the shock through the leg rather hurt. We had a new chap cycling with us – he’s a relatively new cyclist but looks like a really good recruit for the Saturday rides too.

After reading up on matters on the internet, I think I’ve managed a grade one (or possibly one and a half) tear to the right calf muscle as I was able to run (slowly) back to the flat after I did it on Saturday. It was a real shame (to say the least) as I’d just run a 5:05 km before it went, which is quite quick for me.

The calf is both painful and swollen – if both my calf muscles were this size normally, I’d be a proud man.

It’s all a bit stressful – I never seem to injure myself cycling (subject to the very occasional falling off) but the running has given me 6 months of painful Achilles tendons every morning, an unhappy knee ligament and now a pulled muscle. The answer looks like stopping the running and going back to the cycling … but I enjoyed the Marathon last month, I do like running – and want to do another marathon. What should I do?

With our sons home over the weekend they helped in the garden and, once I had progressed from hobbling to limping (and with me wearing a very fetching green surgery-strength compression sock) we went for a couple of great (slow) walks before they went back to London on Monday.

Looking to the mountains

The annual cycling trip out to the alps is starting to loom large on the horizon. This year we are incorporating a night away from the apartment to open up some new climbs. My vote has gone in for the Col du Galibier and Col du Télégraphe duo. It’s a combined climb of 1859 metres over the course of 34.5km (6100 feet in 21.5 miles).

I think Galibier is the 6th highest climb in the alps and features a monument to Henri Desgrange, the man responsible for the creation of Le Tour, so it has to be done. The two Cols together are only just over a fifth of my ‘everest’ climb so how hard can it be … (I rather wish I hadn’t said that).

It’s made me realise that, since the Rotterdam Marathon in early April, I’ve cycled 5 times: 1×13 miles; 1×20 miles; 2x50miles; and 1x70miles. To put in an entry for the understatement of the month, it’s probably not enough!

Backside to saddle time – once the calf is up to it.

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Training and challenges: why bother?

Me on my favourite mountain – Ventoux. On my way to joining the The Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux in 2015

Last Saturday got me thinking about training for big challenges. More accurately, I was thinking about not training.

It was a bit cold, the bed was warm and comfortable and going out for a long run was just about the last thing I wanted to do. Despite that, I did go out and I did run 20.7 miles.

Did I enjoy it? Hmmm … I probably enjoyed having done it more than I enjoyed actually doing it.

Will I carry on doing it? Yes, of course I will.

So, why do I do it is the key question. No one is paying me to run so what makes me? I’ve narrowed it down to just a few things, I don’t know if I’m in line with others in this but for me, it’s:

1 I quite like exercising. I value being reasonably fit and am vain enough to enjoy being fairly slim. However, this is only a small part of the motivation. It doesn’t justify the level of training needed for a proper challenge. Without the challenge I’d still cycle, run and go to the gym, but there’s no way I’d do as much.

2 I like the feeling of having done some hard exercise. There’s a good deal of satisfaction at the end of the run/cycle/gym session but that’s gratification some time in the future – the feeling that it would be easier not to go out is often much stronger and certainly more immediate.

3 It feels to me that the great bulk of the real reason why it’s possible to get out to train for a big challenge is all about the commitment to the challenge itself.

Either it’s the positive aspect of feeling that the training will make success in the challenge more likely – or it’s down to fear: fear that without the training I’ll fail in the challenge or it will turn out to be a very unpleasant experience.

So, it looks like the question to ask is not so much ‘why train?’ but ‘why take up the challenge in the first place?’. No challenge, no training, more time in the nice warm bed.

My first challenges were the London Marathons in 1998 and 1999 (in my early/mid 40s) and they really were a leap into the unknown as I’d done nothing like it before and was probably caught up in the testosterone-fuelled excitement of five of us at work getting carried away with the idea.

My big cycling challenges have been rather random. The Etape du Tour in 2013 was a complete shot in the dark – I’d only been cycling for 3 years but a couple of friends had completed the Etape the year before so why couldn’t I?

L’Eroica in 2015 was an appealing prospect (and a trip to Tuscany is never to be sniffed at) and the Cinglé du Mont-Ventoux was an enticing challenge that could be picked up on the way back from Italy – and to a cyclist there is something very special about Ventoux. Equally it was a challenge that relatively few had taken up – my number is well under 9000 while there are now nearer 14000 successful challengers.

‘Everesting’ on the bike in 2017 was again a great (and ridiculous) challenge – something that relatively few had achieved (I think I was in the first 1800 – it’s now nearly 3000).

Riding out to the alps, solo and unsupported, last summer was something I’d wondered about for some years of driving out there. I’d not done a multi-day ride and hadn’t ever really ridden to anywhere before, as opposed to doing out and back rides.

My current challenge of running the Rotterdam Marathon in April is rather out of left field – but it will be great to run it with my younger son (even if I only see him at the start and finish as he shows me a clean pair of heels).

So, why do I take on the challenges? I wish I knew the answer.

Is it simply that I like the vanity of being known as the chap who has done some slightly extreme things? Am I shallow enough that I like it that Philip, who was once my mad cycling friend, now regards me as his mad cycling friend?

Do I like the framed pictures/momentos/’brevet’ cards so much?

Am I addicted to the masochism of the effort?

Possibly guilty as charged on all counts.

Perhaps it’s simply that, as you get older and no longer have to test and prove yourself at work, you need to test and prove yourself some other way – and that setting myself challenges is my way of doing that.

Whatever the answer, what I do know is that I will be looking for a new challenge after the Rotterdam Marathon. Whether it’s the bicinglette, John O’Groats to Land’s End, another marathon or an ultra marathon is not particularly important – the key, surely, is having the challenge.

Psycho and the Pacific in Piccadilly

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‘PsychoBarn’ by Cornelia Parker – a rather nice contrast to the Neoclassical surroundings of the Royal Academy, London

We stayed in London for the rest of the week. The plan was to run on Sunday morning with Mrs O – but it was cold and raining. Happily, I’m not yet at the point of having to train in bad weather …. so we didn’t.

Friday was full of domestic duties but on Saturday we went to the Royal Academy. It was pot luck as to what exhibition they might have on but we were lucky a they had one called ‘Oceania’ – showcasing art from the South Pacific islands, including New Zealand. Although we might not have put this one down as a ‘must visit’ we were very pleased to have stumbled across it and it was excellent.

There was also a small gallery with English watercolours which was lovely too. Mrs O can trace her family tree back to the sister of Thomas Gainsborough, the famous 18th C English artist and there was a watercolour by Gainsborough in the exhibition. We were tempted to take it with us on the basis that, surely, it was ours but decided the Academy might not understand.

We carried on into Piccadilly, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square where we came across ‘Africa on the square’ – a festival of music and arts with pop-up food stalls and a African market – very good entertainment.

I think it’s those sorts of thing that show the benefits of city life – and we are particularly lucky to be able to enjoy both London and Bournemouth – but I was still happy to get back to rural Oxfordshire on Sunday afternoon.

If we are going to spend more time in Bournemouth and London I’ll have to think about leaving bikes there. With space at a premium in London, perhaps there’s an excuse for the purchase of a Brompton?

So, a decent week returning from 3 week’s rest for the Achilles tendons – about 19.5km (12 miles) of running and a very rare week without any time on a bike. I’ll put that right in the next few days.

To be honest, I can’t wait for the start of my 20 weeks training programme leading up to the Rotterdam Marathon.

The route for the 2019 Tour de France was released last week. It doesn’t come very close to Les Carroz so it may be a year that we give a miss to viewing a stage. I love the tour but have seen enough stages over the years (about 15, I think) that I’m happy to give it a miss if it takes too much time from my own cycling in the alps.

Without any mad ideas like cycling out there next year I’m going to see if I can take on my friends Phil and Philip for our own king of the mountains title. This year the ride out to the alps had rather taken the edge off my legs’ performance by the time I arrived!

Yet again, it looks like the Tour’s organisers are trying to set an ‘anti-Sky domination’ route. What’s the chance that Sky will again thwart their attempts?

 

The big debate: to hell in a helmet, or to hell with the helmet?

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Setting a good example – helmets are compulsory in UCI events (but, I think, only since 2003)

Geraint Thomas has recently been reported as saying that he thinks helmets should be compulsory for cyclists.

He is said to argue that the development of helmet design in recent years now means there is “no reason not to” wear one, that he “always” wears a helmet – and feels that others should do the same.

It’s important to note that this is a news report and that the quotes attributed directly to him are also entirely compatible with him merely making a recommendation that helmets should be worn.

Since the article appeared he’s tweeted:

Wow! This was one question in an hour interview. It’s nothing I’ve ever thought about. So when asked I thought… I always wear one and I’d advise all children to wear them. Didn’t realise people felt so passionately about helmets!!

So, let’s be kind and say he was just unprepared and naive … however, whatever he said and whatever he thinks, it has reignited the helmet-wearing debate in the UK.

To put my cards on the table, I don’t pretend that I have understood (or even read) all the research on the topic – but I always wear a helmet when riding a bike (other than on the turbo!).

As far as I am concerned, I hope I won’t fall off, I try very hard not to fall off but if I do fall off I’m keen to have sensible protection to my brain, my most valuable and vulnerable organ. I also always wear a helmet for skiing.

Most members of my cycling group wear helmets – but a few very intelligent and rational riders do not. The non helmet wearers either simply do not like helmets, or have reasons for believing that they are not the answer to preventing injuries from falls.

One argument is that wearing a helmet gives a false sense of security such that it can promote less careful riding.

I don’t go along with that – I know that if I fall off my helmet won’t save me from road rash, bruises and other injuries to arms and legs, broken collar-bones or hips. I certainly hope that my helmet will offer some protection to me head, but with everything else remaining so vulnerable, the helmet in no way makes me less careful.

Other arguments are that helmets can actually cause some twisting neck injuries, that research has suggested that drivers may give less room to helmet wearers than they give to riders without helmets – and that helmets do not offer significant protection in many cases.

It is also said that we should be promoting healthy lifestyles so that anything that might put people off cycling – like compulsory helmet-wearing – should be avoided. It was reported that Western Australia’s helmet law reduced cycling in Perth by 30-40% and that in Melbourne, cycling levels reduced by 36% in children and 44% amongst teenagers as a result of helmet compulsion – I do not know if participant numbers later recovered.

I know we have compulsory seatbelt wearing in cars and compulsory crash helmets for motorcyclists in the UK, but is the legislative programme so empty that cycle helmets get national scrutiny?

If you’ll forgive the ‘reductio ad absurdum’, I believe that there are significant numbers of people who damage their health by being inadequately dressed in cold weather or by over-exposing themselves to the sun. Anyone for compulsory coat wearing if it’s below 10℃, or compulsory long sleeves, hats and sun cream when it goes over 25℃?

It’s complicated but although I choose to wear a helmet I am not in favour of legislating on this.

I know the BMA (the British Medical Association) advocates compulsory helmet-wearing, and you can call me a wishy washy liberal but I prefer to give people freedom of choice on issues that affect their own well-being and safety – all the more so when the case for legislation does not seem to have been made beyond reasonable doubt.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall, 1906.

“I recommend helmet-wearing, but although I may not fight to the death over the matter, I am in favour of the rights of others not to wear one” – The Omil, 2018.

Post big ride blues?

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The bike has had a couple of short rides out but has a horrible ‘clunk’ so will not be undertaking any challenges for a while

The very hot dry spell has ended – it’s still fairly warm but wet and cold compared to the previous 80+℉. I’m taking the true British approach and have started to complain about the bad weather.

I’m not sure if there is anything such as ‘post big ride blues’ but since I’ve got back from the alps I’ve certainly lacked motivation and enthusiasm.

Last week I ran with Mrs O and had a couple of social rides with friends to a total of under 50 miles – but I missed the club ride on Saturday and have simply backed out of a couple of times when I thought I might have gone for a longer run. I’ve got to start increasing the running soon, if I’m going to know if I have another marathon in me by the time entry for the Rotterdam marathon opens.

The bike is making a loud ‘clunking’ noise at the moment – but I can’t work out what it is. Nothing seems to be loose but I’ll work through it step by step and am sure it will be something obvious.

I’ve been watching the Transcontinental Race on the laptop (‘dot watching’ on the tracking screen is strangely compulsive) but that is drawing towards an end. James Hayden won for the second successive year in under 9 days – for 3,790km with 50,396m of climbing (2,354 miles and 165,338 feet). That’s a totally solo and unsupported ride through, I think, 12 countries. He rode for 606km (377 miles) in the first 24 hours of the race – and at that stage he was not in the lead. Incredible!

At present, 65 riders have finished and 83 have scratched out of 254 starters. The rest are scattered over at least 8 different countries. What an event – and yes, I would be tempted if I thought I could make a reasonable fist of it. It’s so far beyond anything I’ve ever attempted …. but there again ‘everesting’ and riding out to the alps were too before I did them.

Le Tour – wonderful. Transcontinental Race – more phenomenal cycling

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More from stage 10 of Le Tour

I have never been mistaken for Mick Jagger – nor do we apparently have anything in common. However, having finished my ride to the alps, I can at least get some small sense of what it must be to try to come down from the high of a big performance.

The point is that the ride was quite all-consuming and, I’ve already said, that was one of the great things about it – the glorious simplification of life down to ‘eat, sleep, ride’.

Once I got to the alps I was occupied by the cycling with my friends and following Le Tour but having returned to what passes for normal life, it’s difficult not to think about the next challenges.

My promise to Mrs O that I won’t go for a solo challenge next year means I’ve got to recruit a fellow idiot or accept that I’ve got quite a while to ponder the issue – the main thing that might come off in the meantime being a marathon with our younger son in April 2019.

Happily, I can get the challenge experience second hand by following the Transcontinental Race that started on Sunday. I know it’s well beyond me but I can dream ….

As I write, the leader has ridden for 1 day 18 hours and 30 minutes and been stopped for only 4 hours 18 minutes. His average moving speed is 28.4kph (17.65mph). Quite phenomenal.

Of course, if I can’t exactly plan the next trip, I can think about cycling kit. Sometimes even that can be oddly entertaining. On the Chain Reaction Cycles website there is a Kask Rapido Road Helmet for sale. Apparently, they think one of its great attractions is the ‘Expanded polystyrene shell that optimises crash impacts’

Not sure about you but I’d go for a helmet than minimises crash impacts.

Tour de France 2018

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A rare picture – Geraint Thomas was more often ahead of Chris Froome. This is stage 10, just above Le Reposior on the Col de la Colombière – the last before Thomas took (and kept) the yellow jersey. 

No doubt, much of the cycling world would have wanted anyone but a Sky rider to win Le Tour. There is a strong argument that any domination of a sport becomes unhealthy over time and six wins in seven years certainly amounts to domination in my book.

However, I guess that if a Sky rider had to win, Geraint Thomas was a pretty good choice – a man who:

  • seems to be very popular in the peleton,
  • served his apprenticeship with good grace and humour (in 2007 he finished 140th out of 141),
  • handled the pressure commendably (rather in contrast with David Brailsford at times),
  • passes the ‘would you be happy to have a drink with him in the pub’ test, and
  • above all, is not Chris Froome.

Cards on the table, I am a big fan of Chris Froome and believe him to be a great champion – but I fear that the reception he’d have got when standing on the top step of the podium would have been ‘mixed’ at best (!) and, in some eyes, the victory would have been potentially tainted.

Of course, being a member of Sky since its creation, Geraint may be tarred with the same brush in the eyes of the sceptics but I believe that he’s never applied for any TUEs.

He doesn’t even have mild asthma – how many self-respecting pro cyclists can say that.

Chapeau Geraint.