Category Archives: cycling through france

Targets – on and off the bike, and no-Sky thinking

Blue Sky No Sky thinking

Well, no Sky sponsorship for the all-conquering cycle team after next year. Perhaps not a huge surprise after Sky was taken over and recent questions raised over the team’s integrity – but all that seemed to have calmed down in recent months, with the overall image being boosted by Geraint Thomas’ Tour win, a man who appears to be really popular both in and outside the peloton.

In the current economic climate it’s hard to see anyone wanting to dig quite so deep into their pockets as Sky did so it will be interesting to see how the team cuts its cloth in rather less affluent times.

It looks like the British domination is more under threat now than it has been for years – I just hope that road cycling has gained a sufficiently strong support base here in the UK to withstand a possible period of lower success in the pro ranks. Surely we are not that shallow?

No doubt, Sky will be rushing to pass on the saving to subscribers (an academic point for me as we only have ‘proper’ television).

My own cycling for next year looks to be built around the White Horse Challenge on 28 April, and my usual week’s cycling out in the alps in July.

White Horse Challenge

I’ve entered the WHC again but with some apprehension as it’s only three weeks after the Rotterdam Marathon. I have no idea whether that’s enough time to recover from the run and then get back on the bike properly, but I guess I’ll find out. The WHC is about 90 miles with anywhere between 1400 and 1750m of climbing, depending whose Garmin you use. 

This will be my 8th attempt and I’m still wanting to break the 5 hour mark – pb so far 5:05. I guess 2019 will not be the year to go under 5 hours, unless marathon training has some miraculous benefit to my cycling.

Haute Savoie, 2019

The alps trip is nearly finalised with all 6 of us being present and accounted for in 2019. I have no plans to ride out there like I did this year so I’m hoping I might perform better on the mountains than was the case with knackered legs this summer.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been out there – it’s becoming a challenge for the routemeister, although I doubt I’ll ever get tired of the Col de la Colombière, the Plaine Joux, the Joux Plane and the Col de la Pierre Carrée (‘my’ Col having being the first, and still only, person to ‘everest’ it!).

Rotterdam Marathon

Although it’s early in the training I was thinking about target setting for April’s marathon in Rotterdam.

Initially, my main aim was to break 4 hours, as I did (just) when I ran my two previous marathons in 1998 and 1999. However, the first four weeks of training are making me reassess that. 

The current London Marathon ‘good for age’ for a 44 year old male is 3:05. I don’t suppose that’s changed much since I ran in 1999 as a 44 year old, but I was probably 50 minutes outside it then. Although I’ve kept reasonably fit through cycling over the last 8 years, what on earth makes me think that I might now be within 15 minutes of the ‘good for age’ time for me as a 63 year old?

I’ve never been particularly hung up on the age thing – but that doesn’t feel like a sound basis for ignoring it completely. I seem to have been assuming that I will run the same time as if the intervening 20 years just haven’t happened!

They might change but, for now, the targets are:

  • Minimum target is to run all the way and finish without injury or undue trauma
  • Beyond that, sub 4:15 is a realistic(?) target
  • After that, sub 4:00 would be great
  • Next, it would be setting a personal best – but that’s a tricky one because I cannot remember what time I did in my second marathon in 1999. My official finish time was 3:56:42 but I can’t remember whether that was an individual time or whether that was from the gun. In 1998 I got an individual finish time, but not start time, and I know that it had taken me nearly 9 minutes to get over the start line – but I can’t remember if that changed for 1999. Let’s say 3:56 will be a pb as I have no evidence for anything better than 3:56:42.
  • The extreme wishful thinking would be 3:45 – my London Marathon ‘good for age’ time (though to me it feels way beyond just ‘good’).

The biggest factor will be staying fit, healthy and injury free (including the Achilles tendons) – but, even with all that working in my favour, 4:00 looks like much more of a stretch target than I’d assumed.

Damn.

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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.

Vuelta starts, Transcontinental Race finishes, I run and wonder what next

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OK – this is the TdF but you get my point?

The start of La Vuelta has been steady if not explosive but it’s always a great race so I have high expectations.

This year, it’s a high quality field with some big names (like Quintana, Pinot, Nibali, Porte and Aru) looking to rescue – for a variety of reasons – slightly disappointing years. The absence of Froome and Thomas is a shame (but understandable) but I suppose the highlight so far was the second stage win by home favourite, Alejandro Valverde, at the age of 38.

At the time of writing, there is only one of the 254 Transcontinental Race starters out on the course (except that there is no set course). Neil Matthews is a Brit and is over 560km (c.350 miles) from the final checkpoint – which itself is probably 500km (c.310 miles) from the finish. He’s been going for over 4 weeks now – an effort of legendary proportions.

Related to the Transcontinental Race, I’ve been reading a bit about post challenge blues. It seems that it’s a common thing to feel listless, directionless and even depressed after major challenges. I guess it’s to do with the fact that the preparation is pretty all-consuming and the event itself is full-on and both mentally and physically demanding – and then when it finishes there is a big gap where all that was.

My ride to the alps was only 84 hours of elapsed time and my training was not exactly all-consuming (I realised that my longest training ride was 121km – 76 miles – and I then did three days with an average of more than twice that). However, I certainly spent a lot of time thinking about it and have noticed that there’s been something missing since I got back from France.

I’m wondering if I’m actually more of a challenge junkie that I’d realised.

Having promised Mrs O that there will be no silly solo challenges in 2019, the most likely event to focus on seems to be the Rotterdam Marathon in April next year, with the aim of running it with our younger son (and with our older son also showing interest).

A marathon is never easy but it’s not quite at the very extreme end of the challenge spectrum partly, I guess, because it’s just a one day event and is only going to last for around 4 hours (all being well).

This week I’ve been out running 5 of the last 6 days for about 32km (c. 20 miles) and done a gym session. I’m not yet quite running at 4 hour marathon pace but it’s early days.

More running and back on the turbo trainer this week – enough of moping around!

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.

Back to ‘normal’

In spite of my very best efforts, it’s been a pretty constructive week, coming down from the ride out to the alps and a week of riding up mountains.

We were in London last weekend where I watched a couple of games in the Women’s Hockey World Cup with our younger son (who plays club hockey) and it was excellent. As a state school boy, I’ve never played hockey and the first time I’d seen top class hockey was the men’s tournament at the London Olympics in 2012. I loved it then and I loved the women’s games too – fast, athletic, skillful and hard fought, what more could anyone want from a team sport.

I’ve run twice with Mrs O and once with a friend – 15 minutes to the gym for half an hour’s weights, and a run back.

Ah yes, I went for a ride on the bike too. I’m currently doing a stint as route setter for the club (happily, they seem to have forgotten about my routing  problems on the ride to the alps) so I went on Saturday clocking up 50 miles (80km)and had a good time.

I was happy to sit at the back with the sweep, helping to look after a rider who was struggling a bit. I did a fair bit of towing on and off including a long homeward stint of about 20 minutes at 28.8kph (17.9mph) on the flat but into a bit of a headwind. So, the legs seem to be returning, with the benefit of the French ride in 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.

Ride to the alps: round up and verdict

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Mont Blanc from Le Bettex. A lovely place to be – but was it worth riding out there?

The most important question from the experience: Would I do it again? Answer: Yes.

Eating, sleeping and riding: a simplified life, and very liberating. I loved it.

Some metrics:

  • Time – 84 hours elapsed
  • Distance – about 880km (c.550miles) and over 5600m of climbing (18400 feet)
  • Punctures – 3 (all on the last day, two within minutes of each other)
  • Gashed tyres – 1
  • Falls – 1
  • Mechanicals – 0 (other than the bent rear mech hanger as a result of the fall)
  • Sworn at by drivers – 0 (as far as I know)
  • Drivers sworn at – 4
  • Hooted at by drivers – 1 (a friendly warning as I was heading for a ‘no-cycles’ road)
  • Pills/medicines taken – 0
  • Shops visited – 1
  • McDonald’s visited – 1
  • Directions requested – 3
  • Raindrops felt – 0 (lucky – very hot but dry)
  • Cramps – 0
  • Water refills by knocking at random house – 1
  • Garmin ‘Off course’ messages – innumerable
  • Almost impassable cycle tracks – many
  • Phantom cycle tracks – loads
  • Time spent lost – a few hours
  • Fun had – immeasurable
  • Lessons learned – countless
  • Satisfaction gained – huge
  • Lunacy factor – off the scale

There were times when it was very hard – but they were vastly outweighed by the times when it was exhilarating, and by the feeling of satisfaction at having done it.

Would I do it differently? A bit.

  • My routing left much to be desired. I didn’t understand that going for cycle routing meant going for unsuitable paths and tracks in preference to perfectly good roads. Equally, I guess that going for road routing would not work perfectly as it would miss out on some great paths and would put me on some unsuitable roads.
  • On balance, if I were to do something similar, I’d go for routing using the driving option, avoiding highways, and then work out detours around any major roads that got included, and ways to include particularly good paths.
  • Not booking hotels in advance was a little bit of a pain – but added to the excitement. To be able to book ahead safely, my daily milage targets would have to be relatively modest to make sure I got to the hotel at the right time. That would take away a bit of the challenge but would give more time to stop en route to take in the scenery and any local attractions.
  • I guess you need to know why you are riding in the first place: is it to get somewhere as quickly as possible, or within a certain timescale, or is it to be a tourist or just to enjoy the ride?
  • I wanted to take my road bike because I was climbing mountains when I got out to the alps. Had that not been the case I would have gone for something better suited to long distances. I guess that would have slowed me down which might have made me feel more of a cycle tourist. Perhaps I’d have been more prepared to view the ride as an end in itself, rather than a means of getting to the alps as quickly as practicable.
  • I love my carbon saddle but it is probably best kept for rides up to about 6 hours. If I did a similar ride again I’d have to sacrifice some lightness for something more comfortable.
  • I can see the advantages of riding with one or more others – safety, companionship, the pleasure of a shared experience etc. On the other hand, I liked the independence and selfishness of just thinking about me – and you’d have to be well matched as cyclists not to get frustrated by the other’s speed, whether faster or slower.
  • I took, all packed in three bike bags:
    • cycling clothes – one jersey, one pair of gloves, glasses, helmet, one pair of socks, two pairs of shorts, rain jacket, shoes, arm and leg warmers:
    • evening clothes – one pair of shorts, one t-shirt, socks and underwear, one pair of trainers:
    • other, bike – Garmin, pump, bell, one spare tube, puncture repair kit, multi tool, tyre levers, lights (2 battery and 2 rechargeable), one bottle, lock and long cable,
    • other, non-bike – 9 oat bars, electrical tape, toothbrush, toothpaste, anti-perspirant, medicines and plasters, portable charger and adapter, passport, money, ferry ticket, credit cards, biro, reading and sun glasses, phone, plastic bags and dry sacks, two bungees, sheet of places passed through or nearby, wipes.
  • I used almost everything I took. The unused items were: the multitool, cable ties, lights (save for one small rear light that I used on the final run in to Les Carroz when it got a little bit darker as the storm clouds gathered – but delivered nothing), electrical tape, medicines (paracetamol and ibuprofen), tyre levers and spare plastic bags. All of them were pretty trivial extras – the only remotely significant items as far as weight went were the multitool and the lights and I think those were essential, even if I was lucky enough not to have needed them.
  • A slightly bigger frame bag would have been useful but for cheap and cheerful versions, the bags did really well.
  • Could I have done it in the hoped-for 3 days? Possibly, possibly not. Everything would have had to go in my favour to do that: no mechanicals, good weather, friendly winds, a route on roads and good paths, no getting lost, no falling off, perhaps an earlier start each day.
  • I’ve promised Mrs O, no big solo challenges next year, but our younger son is looking at April’s Rotterdam Marathon and it might be fun to run that with him …