Category Archives: Grand Tours

TdF lives!

The big sporting news (for me at least) is the announcement that the Tour de France has been rescheduled to begin on 29 August, using the original route, as planned.

At one point there was talk of holding the race as scheduled, but ‘behind closed doors’ – now the aim is to fit it in after the French ban on large gatherings ends (in fact the ban will still be in force at the start of the race so there is a bit of an issue) but in time (they hope) to get decent weather for the race, which will end on 20 September.

It is good news as a boost to the morale of fans of the tour – but probably owes a great deal to economics as well, given the importance of Le Tour to UCI finances.

In the UK, we are allowed out for exercise each day but there has been a lot of debate over how long the exercise should last. There are no official rules on the point but while many suggest that long rides well away from home are irresponsible, others suggest that the absence of restrictions and the health benefits of cycling leave it to the individual.

I guess Messrs Froome, Bernal, Thomas et al will be in the latter camp.

Le Tour de France, sans spectateurs?

Yesterday I read that the authorities in France are thinking about allowing the Tour de France to take place as planned in June/July – without spectators. Hard to believe, but could it be possible?

With the Giro already postponed, it would be a great statement in the face of the Coronavirus.

Of course, the French would love it to happen. Although football might be the country’s favourite sport, I think the tour is its favourite event and is closer to the country’s heart than any other (despite their last winner being Hinault in 1985).

I’ve seen estimates of 12m people travelling to watch it and a tv audience of 3.5 billion worldwide.

I was lucky enough to ride the Etape in 2013 and I’ve watched the race live on many occasions (London, Yorkshire, Colombiere twice, Bourg d’Oisans, Ramaz twice, Le Bettex, Domancy, Araches, Sallanches twice, Annecy, etc).

I love it – but I’ve nearly always been in a big and enthusiastic crowd which adds to the excitement and atmosphere, would it be the same without that? Although the tour doesn’t go up Alpe D’Huez this year, imagine it with an empty Dutch Corner and without the tunnel of faces lining the big climbs.

More importantly, would it be practical for the race to be run without crowds? It must be a huge drain on police resources in a normal year (although I expect that any gendarme who can ride a motorbike would kill for the job) – could they ensure that about 3000km of open roads are clear of spectators?

I suppose that if there were a few scattered spectators for the early stages, it could be argued that it wasn’t a huge risk – but wouldn’t that mean there were going to be more spectators encouraged to try their luck as the race went on? Even if it could be policed, I rather think the police might have better things to do, even in June/July.

I suppose it all depends on the view taken as to the likely behaviour of the French public – would they follow or ignore any directives that the race was happening ‘behind closed doors’ (but without the doors).

The tour is a huge event, even without the spectators. About 200 riders, mechanics, chefs, medical and related staff, police, marshals, tv and press coverage, (perhaps not the caravan as that is more for the spectators) and an apparently ridiculous number of minor officials. How could it be safe for them? I’ve seen a report that says there are 4,500 people on the tour each day – without counting spectators.

I love the idea of a peloton riding with 2m social-distancing gaps.

The idea is at least free of one potential drawback – it won’t suffer from a lack of ticket sales (other than for a few viewing stands the start and finish, perhaps). It’s a wonderful circus but I guess it’s funded by sponsors, tv and host towns – not the spectators.

I was planning to get to some of the tour as part of my annual cycling trip out to the alps but I’m sure that isn’t going to happen.

It’s virtually impossible to imagine the tour going ahead on this basis and watching on tv wouldn’t be the same – but I’d do it, willingly.

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.

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?

 

Yates and Chopin – a mighty duo

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I’m feeling that the cycling mojo is returning. I certainly lost it after the ride out to the alps. The bike has a new chain but bears the scars of battle.

Very few professional cyclists ever have a realistic chance of winning a Grand Tour. Simon Yates had the Giro leader’s jersey for 13 stages earlier this year – and then blew up spectacularly late in the race. It seemed possible that his chance had come and gone.

I think that makes his La Vuelta win even more special – rather than let the experience at the Giro crush him, he learned from it and came back stronger.

Although helped a bit by the absence of some big hitters – and the indifferent form of some others – he won with a very mature and disciplined performance. Perhaps a bit more ‘Froome control’ than ‘Pantani panache’ – but a great victory all the same.

… and even a Grand Tour winner not riding for Sky!

I don’t think any brothers have ever won Grand Tours – much less twins – so what are the prospects of a win for Adam Yates in the near future?

                                                                         ___________

Rather more prosaically, my achilles’ has continued to improve, helped by a day off on Saturday, so we ran again on Sunday morning. Normally we run for about 6km but this time Mrs O thought she should go further so we ran 9.5km (6miles). Not too fast, but a creditable distance.

Later on Sunday, along with watching Lewis Hamilton win the Singapore GP and seeing Yates safely home in Madrid, to balance out all the physical stuff we catered for our souls.

There is a talented music teacher in the village and she puts on occasional concerts for her pupils, former pupils and other young musicians. This time it was Aleksei Demchenko, an award winning pianist who played pieces by Scarlatti, Schumann and Chopin.

In the same way that I have no fast-twitch muscle fibres to speak of, I do not have an artistic bone in my body – but I really appreciate it in others and the concert was wonderful.

I don’t listen to music on the bike or while running (I didn’t even take my ipod on the ride out to the alps) but if I did it would have to be classical music. Popular music can evoke many emotions but only classical music can take you completely out of this world.

                                                                           ___________

Running with Mrs O is a good way of putting some miles into my legs but ‘proper’ marathon training is going to require some longer and faster runs so I planned to do a quicker 10km on Monday morning. Unfortunately, I woke with sore achilles tendons again. They weren’t any worse than they have been over the last 10 days or so but it didn’t seem sensible to try a faster run on them. It puts me between a rock and a hard place:

  • I want to keep running to see if I can get better and prove to myself that it is worth entering the Rotterdam Marathon but
  • I need to stop to exercising to let the achilles’ recover so I can then resume running to prove that it was only the weights, and not the running, that caused the problem in the first place.

Typical compromise ‘solution’ (which, of course, means it’s not a solution at all): I’ll stretch, run gently with Mrs O and use the bike or turbo this week.

I hadn’t expected to be in ‘injury management’ mode this early.

Monday morning’s hard turbo, 26km in 30mins @52kph (16.15miles @ 32.3mph).

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 my 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!

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.

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?