Category Archives: cycling

Back in the saddle (nearly)

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Yew arch ‘work in progress’ (and the apple tree needs to be pruned)

I was down to lead the club ‘red’ ride yesterday and it was going to be my first day back in the saddle after the crash and (more importantly) the sciatica. It’s not quite 100% but very close – only the occasional stretch or quick turn reminds me that it’s been there at all.

The weather forecast was not great so I prepared to ride my wife’s hybrid (which is a man’s bike really and one I can ride OK with just a fairly small raising of the saddle).

As it was, the forecasts worsened throughout the week and on Friday (perhaps with last week’s accident in mind) the rides were called off. [Speaking of last week’s accident, 5 of the 6 fallers are on the mend and the 6th was operated on in the week and all went well, so wishing him the very best for his recovery although it’s going to several months before we see him back on his bike].

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Not convinced it’s really blowing from the east – more likely the weather vane is frozen solid

Another local club has a mince pie ride every December – ending with mulled wine and mince pies at the top of White Horse Hill. A couple of years ago I got the time wrong and found myself at the top of the hill, alone and an hour early so I missed the whole thing. Last year I got it right and cycled out with a group from the Farcycles – an excellent event. It was due to take place today so I thought perhaps that might be the occasion of getting back on the bike but we woke this morning to a few inches of snow and that ride too was called off.

That’s a real shame as it raises money for the club. By my reckoning I’ve ridden the hill 176 times this year training for the ‘everesting’ in July, and I was looking forward to number 177 done in a more leisurely manner.

Perhaps it’s nature’s way of telling me that I’m not ready to ride yet …. or perhaps, more likely, nature doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss about me and it’s just a meteorological phenomenon.

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10 foot Bay tree bent double by weight of the snow

It’s been snowing for about 10 hours now and we have something like 4 inches on the ground. No doubt the affected regions will have largely ground to a halt. I’m not planning to go out and see for myself.

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I’ll leave the mowing for now

We get snow frequently enough that it can be a problem, but not frequently enough that we are ever really well prepared for it.

‘Stiff upper lips’ and ‘spirit of the blitz’ to the fore!

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Stay safe out there this winter

It’s nearly four weeks since I came off the bike and I’ve not ridden since (but that’s more to do with the sciatica I gave myself through inexpert and over-enthusiastic furniture moving). The road rash has healed well and I plan to test out the leg later this week as I’m down as leader for one of the club rides this weekend.

A group of seven friends was out last Saturday – chilly but not frosty and, I think, dry. As I understand it, as they came round a corner they hit a road covered in mud from an adjoining field. Six of the seven came down, with two temporarily knocked out and one hurt badly with a broken collarbone and pelvis. They were good and experienced riders, riding well-maintained bikes and not going particularly fast – but had no chance of staying on.

For my fall, I didn’t even hit any visible mud or leaves – I was riding third or fourth wheel round an innocuous bend and while the others all got round safely, my front wheel simply went away from under me.

It’s got me thinking about winter cycling and what can be done sensibly to reduce the risks of falls like these (quite apart from the obvious other safety measures about seeing and being seen).

I had a pair of new Continental 4000 Sii tyres on when I fell and have no reason to think badly of them – but am wondering if I could have had them inflated a little less. Beyond that, I’m thinking of consigning them to the ‘summer use only’ kit list.

I don’t ride if it’s freezing or if there are obvious issues with frosty roads, but I’m wondering whether that’s going far enough. Do I either go for winter specific tyres on one of the road bikes, or go all the way and ride the mountain bike in the winter months – quite apart from the grip issues, being very old and having led a hard life, it would handle a crash rather better than any of the road bikes.

I wonder if I could keep up with a slower group on my mountain bike? I have some other friends who largely abandon the roads through the winter and ride mountain bikes off road from November to March. That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

Some of the group that fell were able to warn riders behind them but as a group we are re-thinking our processes for keeping in touch on the road and having contact numbers for all riders and a nominated family member. For the first time I’m putting steri strips, plasters and antiseptic wipes in my saddlebag.

Whatever your approach to poorer weather or road conditions, stay safe out there.

(And for those closer to the equator or in the southern hemisphere, I’m not jealous … much).

Sports personality of 2017?

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Sadly, I didn’t make the short list … or long list … or any list. With minimal prowess at pool, 10 pin, table football, (dominos – couldn’t find the trophies), cribbage and karting, I fail to see why.

OK, this is a bit parochially British as it’s the BBC’s award – but US friends might be pleased to know that Tom Brady, Katie Ledecky and Tatyana McFadden are among the candidates for the overseas award (but watch out for Roger Federer who has a very large fan base over here). No doubt Tom Brady is already losing sleep over whether or not he will win – clearly it would be the crowning glory to his career!

The 12 candidates for the main prize (presented on 17th December) are all very skilled and dedicated sports people – and certainly worthy of their places on the list (seven of them world champions or multiple world champions, such as Mo Farah, Adam Peaty, Elise Christie and Jonathan Rae). I’d love to have even a small fraction of the abilities of any of them but, with respect to the others, for me there are really 3 main contenders: Chris Froome, Lewis Hamilton and Anthony Joshua.

It’s probably worth saying that sports ‘personality’ might be a bit of a misnomer. Really it’s an achievement and popularity contest – personality is not quite as important as the award title might suggest (Andy Murray – undoubtedly a very fine tennis player – has won three times …. enough said).

Pinning my colours to the mast, I love cycling, I like F1 and I’m not really enamoured with boxing – but trying to put that personal prejudice aside, how can a sensible choice be made between them?

Hamilton is one of the best drivers of his generation – perhaps of any generation – but he has the disadvantage of being in a sport where your personal abilities are not enough, you need to have a great car. Hamilton wouldn’t have won the world title driving a McLaren, or a Renault, or a Haas this year. Equally it’s not all about the car because Bottas (a very good driver) failed to beat Hamilton on the majority of occasions, despite also having the Mercedes beneath him.

F1 has lost some of it’s competitiveness and sparkle in recent years and is perhaps too inaccessible to most fans (locations, prices and driver lifestyles) – it will even be off free-to-air TV soon in the UK so the pressure is on it as a sport.

Froome has the advantage over Hamilton that the technology in cycling does not create the clear-cut advantage that it does in F1. The Pinarello is a fine bike but there are UCI weight limits, most teams seem to use Dura Ace and I’m not sure any bike in the Grand Tours is significantly better than any other.

Froome’s double of Le Tour and the Vuelta was magnificent, and to win 4 TdFs puts him up with the very best. His difficulties in the Sports Personality competition probably include: Team Sky’s poor handling of the Therapeutic Use Exemptions matter, and the continuing stigma of doping in the sport; being part of a Sky Team that win too much for many people’s liking; Sky’s ‘marginal gains’ philosophy which is efficient but not thrilling; and the view of many that Chris himself is bland and too indebted to the strength of the team.

Joshua won the WBA world heavyweight title this year to add to his IBF title – then successfully defended them both in October. Great achievements and ones delivered in one of the hardest and most basic of environments, mano-a-mano.

The trophy is awarded after a public vote so, as I say, much depends on the individual’s popularity and the public’s interest in, and understanding of, the sport involved. I guess that probably makes Joshua the favourite – and if he was putting his case to me in person, I’m sure I’d be quick to agree ….

…. but personal prejudice and preference runs deep and it’s Chris Froome who would get my vote. With a combined six weeks of sustained pressure and extreme exertion, achieving what only two men had done before in the Vuelta/Tour double and getting to four TdF victories (with three in a row and four in five years), he has joined the all-time greats in my eyes.

Who knows, if he wins the Giro, the Vuelta and the Tour in 2018, he might get wider credit and recognition.

He might even get second place in Sports Personality 2018, as runner up to a member of the team that won the 6-a-side Ridgeway Cribbage League of 1988 …….. now, who could that be?

 

Froome goes for the Giro in 2018

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I’m really surprised that Chris Froome has announced that he is entering the Giro d’Italia in 2018. The race starts on 4th May (in Jerusalem of all places) and ends in Rome on the 27th.

It’s not surprising that he would want to win the one Grand Tour that has eluded him so far – all the more so next year as winning it would see him become only the third man to hold all three GC titles at the same time. Joining Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault with that honour would see him in pretty illustrious company!

The more surprising thing is that he would attempt the Giro having seen what participating in it it seemed to do to Nairo Quintana’s Tour de France this year. Perhaps it was simply the temptation of a route that seem so suit him well – with three individual time trials – but I was assuming that he would not prejudice his attempt, in July, to join the five time winners of Le Tour.

Maybe it demonstrates the level of his confidence in his own abilities (and those of the team around him). He’s quoted as being excited at the new challenge but I’ve always regarded him as more of a careful, calculating, racer whose key motivation is winning.

Whatever the reason, it’s just another reason to be looking forward to the Grand Tours of 2018.

I for one hope he can do the Giro/Tour double. What odds on him adding the Vuelta to that?

Forgive the heresy ……. but could the formula ever be n-1?

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Some of my bikes

I’m a big fan of Shakespeare – I may be one of the few not to have been put off him forever by ‘doing Shakespeare’ in English at school.

I like the ‘7 ages of man’ speech but am realizing that if he’d lived in a more modern, material world he might have also included the ‘7 ages of materiality’.

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Ah – some more of my bikes

The ages, as far as I see them, are:

  • first age, having loads of stuff bought for you as a child
  • second age, wanting loads of stuff as a teenager but not having the cash to buy it;
  • third age (if you are lucky), acquiring some cash and the stuff that it buys;
  • fourth age, arrival of children and the acquisition of stuff for them;
  • fifth age, getting children off the balance sheet and acquiring more stuff for yourself;
  • sixth age realization that you really don’t need everything you’ve spent so long (and so much) acquiring and a dawning that you’d leave one hell of a mess for your children to clear out when you’re gone, leading to the start of a process of de-cluttering
  • seventh age, (I hope) being happy with what you’ve got.

We’ve entered the sixth age recently. It’s quite therapeutic, even though it is a bit depressing to have reached stage six out of seven – I’m just hoping that stage 7 is a particularly long one.

It’s all been brought home to us through the process of clearing out my mother-in-law’s house – not a huge place any means but still a massive undertaking. The scale of the challenge for our own place was highlighted by the realization that, with garden furniture and the contents of garages, sheds and outbuildings, we’d probably fill a removal lorry before we moved on to the house itself.

Mrs Omil has been doing a great job on the house while I’ve shuffled paper around in the study (and moved furniture inexpertly, leading to the sciatica).

I am now starting to confront the garages and sheds.

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Oh – these are some more of my bikes – in the box is a Masi Prestige frame (an Italian one). The 1974 Colnago Super frame and forks are too good for a shed and are in the house

Part of the problem is that I have inherited a hoarding gene from my father. His principle was “I’ll keep it because it will come in handy, even if I never use it”. I think this is worsened by the fact that I’m from a less disposable-oriented age – I don’t like throwing away things that still work.

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… you get the picture

The solution, in part, has been raising the bar in terms of exactly how useful things really are, and loads of stuff being given to the local charity shops.

What all this has done is make me focus on the difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’ – it’s easy to confuse the two. I’m sure everybody will have a different take on this but, for me, I’m wondering if there might be a rule that says a happy balance could be achieved by having as much as you can of what you truly need, and perhaps only 10% of what you want.

This brings me back to clearing the garages and sheds and confronting the 25+ bikes I have stored there.

Of course, it is unthinkable to get rid of bikes or bike parts or cycling kit. This can be avoided simply by putting such things firmly in the ‘need’ category.

However, I constantly buy things I already have because I can’t put my hands on them when they are needed (sets of allen keys are the prime example of this – I must have 6 sets somewhere). Some clearing out might actually help me with a bit of organisation – this is Mrs O’s forcefully expressed opinion. I hate to admit it but this just might be an example of ‘less is more’ and I am weakening.

I have started to think the unthinkable – could there ever be a case for the rule ‘n-1’ ????

Sciatica – the nerve of it

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No cycling, no cycling photos. We planted the willow 10 years ago and the fir was one of our first Christmas trees here, planted out c.20 years ago.

It’s been two weeks since my last post – normally there would be rides or runs to talk about but the sciatica has put paid to any of that. I can’t remember the last time I went so long without proper exercise but at least it’s coincided with a spell of cold weather so perhaps I’ve not missed out too much.

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To me, it feels like a Northerly, not a Westerly. I hope the plane is taking people somewhere warm.

The fall off the bike hasn’t been much of an issue – tenderness on the road rash and the bruising for a few days but that’s all healed well with nice new pink skin on the elbow and hip.

The sciatica, on the other hand, has been much nastier. It started with really sharp pain in the lower back/left buttock/thigh – particularly bad first thing in the morning and whenever getting up for any time spent sitting. Apart from that, it would ease once I was moving and that meant I could even run and ride with it for the first few days. It didn’t play any part in my fall off the bike – but ironically if it had been bad enough to stop me riding in those early days I’d have saved myself a crash.

I don’t know if that meant I overdid it but it then developed into more of a constant dull ache – enlivened by occasional bouts of the old searing pain if I moved in the wrong way.

Perhaps the worst thing has been that it’s been impossible to work out exactly what made it hurt less or more – sometimes sitting would aggravate it, sometimes it would help.

It’s meant that I can’t even do any useful exercises so I’ve piled on a few pounds and have felt rather listless. The best thing has been that neither injury has really stopped me from sleeping well.

One bright spot has been that I’ve been able to cycle vicariously through some great blogs – many thanks to the authors, including: jim @ fitrecovery, Mark and Rachel @ twobritsandatent, Klem @ tempocyclist, Brady? @ baldbrady and Josh Day @ cyclingfordays. Great work folks.

I’m surprised how many people suffer from sciatica – almost every time someone asks why I’m limping I get a knowing look and a story about how how they too had suffered. The knowledge that I’m not alone is not really helping – other than the fact that they all seem to have recovered.

After three weeks it’s a good deal better – but not quite fully right. I’m hopeful of doing something this coming week but am taking it carefully (bordering on being sensible) as I really don’t want to aggravate it.

A note of caution: if you are struggling to think of something to buy a loved one for Christmas, sciatica is not the answer.

 

Good injuries and bad injuries

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The blessed turf of Lord’s (and the media centre), late afternoon – from the holy of holies, the Long Room

I really don’t like this being unwell nonsense.

I think part of it is that it’s a very rare sensation for me – I didn’t have a day’s illness in my last 15 years working and even since retirement I don’t think I’ve been ill enough to have missed a day if I had been working.

The sciatica has come as a real pain the arse (literally and metaphorically) but was improving by the end of last week.

The bruises and scrapes from Thursday’s fall made sleeping a bit more difficult that night but are healing really quickly and on Friday, having taken the train up to London, I walked to and from Lord’s Cricket Ground. I was there thanks to a generous invite from one of my brothers-in-law to a ‘sporting’ lunch in the Long Room. A great occasion – a fine meal, very entertaining speakers and really good company around the table.

I don’t know if I overdid it, but since then the sciatica has been worse. No cycling yesterday (good to have an excuse as it was raining) but two of the friends I cycle with in France came for supper (with wives). One of them was Philip, the GP, who confirmed my diagnosis of sciatica.

So, a bruised sciatic nerve that will take a few weeks to get better. The problem is that it really hurts every time I get up after a few minutes of sitting and everyone thoroughly enjoyed my discomfort (in a caring, sharing sort of way) last night as I struggled to get up to refill glasses, clear plates and make coffee.

The worst thing is that I think I’d get more sympathy if it was the cycling accident that had caused the real problems. True, I might look like a bit of an idiot for having come off but at least it would have been in the relatively noble pursuit of outdoor, healthy activity. The sciatica just came from inexpert moving of heavy furniture – where’s the nobility in that?

If you do feel the need to get injured, make sure it’s the right sort of injury. I’m sure ingrowing toenails hurt badly but they won’t induce sympathy – go for a torn cartilage making an heroic goal/try saving tackle.

Avoid trapping the finger in the car door and go for the sprained ankle on the parachute jump landing.

Or, better still, just stay safe out there.