Giro d’Splott?

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Not the Giro – TdF 2016 but I like the photo and for now it is my stock, all purpose, ‘Grand Tour’ picture

So, the Welsh Government is in discussions to bring the Giro (presumably the start?) to Wales.

On the face of it, a fairly ludicrous idea but surely no more ludicrous than starting the Giro in Belfast in 2014, or the TdF in Yorkshire in the same year – and probably more sensible than the Giro’s start in Israel next year.

Clearly, money talks (or to quote Bob Dylan “money doesn’t talk, it swears”) but if things like this spread the word about cycling in general, and the Grand Tours in particular, I’m all in favour of them.

The Yorkshire start for the 2014 TdF was a great success and has spawned the Tour de Yorkshire as part of what I hope will be a glorious legacy. I went up there for a few days to watch the TdF (and do some riding) with friends and loved it – I would also certainly go to watch stages of the Giro in Wales. Having been to university in Cardiff in the 1970s I have a great affection for the place – and it’s improved hugely since those days when the gloriously named area of Splott still had the Dowlais Steelworks.

One note of caution – when I did the first Velothon Wales tacks had been thrown along a couple of stretches of the route, presumably by locals protesting about the road being closed. Let’s hope they are more accepting of a little disruption in the name of one of the world’s major road races.

I think I’ve viewed the TdF on 14 occasions since 2003 and would not lightly pass up any opportunity to see it, or any other significant race, again. However, from my experience you should try to watch on the biggest hill possible, preferably towards the end of a stage, in order to see the riders going past a bit slower and spread over a longer time.

Alternatively, a time trial offers the prospect of a longer period of entertainment, although perhaps you need to be a bit of an enthusiast to enjoy a succession of lone riders (with the possibility of a catch or two to stir the blood). I remember watching a particularly good TdF time trial around Lake Annecy in 2009 – we were drinking beer sitting outside an elevated roadside café overlooking the course. Now that’s proper spectating.

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Rain, wind, puncture – the recipe for a perfect afternoon in the saddle

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From the top of Ashbury Hill – looking down on Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire

The only problem with signing up for the Cotswold Autumn Classic 100 miler on 1st October is that I’ve got to get the training going again and have to lose the few pounds I had started to put on to see me through the rigours of an English winter.

Domestic duties meant that I missed the club ride on Saturday to see the Tour of Britain so a run yesterday with Mrs Omil was followed by getting the bike out this afternoon, despite it being a bit wet and a lot windy.

I climbed the Fawler and Blowingstone hills and dropped into Lambourn (as far as I could see the horses were too sensible to be out today) and back over the Ridgeway via Ashbury – struggling to hold 15mph (24kph) on the flat into a headwind of at least that speed.

I thought at least I might be rewarded with some Strava PRs on the downwind sections. In the end I got 9 and 23 ‘achievements’ in all – but for being so shallow the cycling gods punished me with a puncture in the pouring rain, and then the realisation that the spare tube I’d taken with me fits Mrs Omil’s hybrid but not my Rose.

The ignominy of being picked up by Mrs Omil in the car ended another perfect afternoon in the saddle. Nearly 50km in 1h 45min with 461m of climbing.

I’m sticking with the tri bars at the moment. Learning so far:

  • they do help you go faster
  • they are not great in big crosswinds
  • your neck does stop hurting (quite so much)
  • your hands are a bit of a way from the gear levers (not too bad if you think ahead)
  • they are also not near the brakes (a big issue if you don’t have any thinking time)

On balance, I really like them.

Chapeau Chris, adiós Bertie

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Chris Froome on the way  to winning the 2016 Tour de France – taken from the roadside, watching stage 19

This afternoon saw the largely processional end to La Vuelta 2017 and the crowning of Chris Froome as winner. I thoroughly enjoyed the race which – as usual – involved more up and coming riders than the TdF and so threw up new names in both teams and riders.

Froome took the leader’s red jersey after stage 3 and never relinquished it. A dominant performance and one that means he becomes only the third man to win the Tour de France and La Vuelta in the same year (and the other two did it when the Vuelta was a two week race, with much smaller fields and was run in April/May, before the TdF). It’s a truly great achievement but one for which I fear he will get inadequate credit.

Why? A number of reasons. Partly because Team Sky handled the Therapeutic Use Exemptions matter badly; partly because Sky win too much for many people’s liking; partly because many don’t like Sky’s ‘marginal gains’ philosophy; and partly because people often view Chris himself as bland and boring.

Of course, some of these are justified – it’s a win that is not likely to stir the blood but this is pro cycling, not a bullfight. What others see as a boring champion, I see as a very modern, professional cyclist who is respectful, modest and generous to his teammates and rivals.

Perhaps a major part of the problem is that Sky have the single aim of winning the GC rather than entertaining – but I certainly won’t blame them for that.

It will be interesting to see if he ever attempts to win the Giro to complete the Grand Tour ‘set’. I believe that he has only competed in it twice – he was 36th in 2009 and disqualified in 2010 (when he held on to a police motorcycle to get a tow to the next feed station in order to retire with a knee injury). Presumably the TdF will continue to dominate his thoughts for some time to come as he heads towards 5 wins to put himself level with Hinault, Anquetil and Merckx – or a 6th to move beyond those greats?

Chapeau Chris – a man who should certainly be Sports Personality of the Year (recognising that the two wins by Andy Murray puts the emphasis on achievement rather than personality).

In contrast, we saw the final appearance of Alberto Contador. Another divisive character in many ways – not least because of his associations with individuals and teams with mixed reputations and a ban for doping after his 2010 Tour victory. The ban for a finding of Clenbuterol in his system came as a real shock at the time and he has always strenuously denied the allegation of doping, claiming that it was accidentally ingested from contaminated meat.

The amounts in his system were minute and the drug would not be one that would be likely to be used during a Grand Tour but the fact is that he was banned and stripped of a number of wins, including the 2010 Tour itself.

In contrast to Froome, Contador could rarely – if ever – be said to be boring. While Froome plays the percentages and often grinds out wins thanks to his time trailing ability, and (in part) the strength of the team around him, Contador has been something of a maverick and a showman – always looking for the opportunity to attack and win with style.

His stage victory on Saturday was almost the perfect way for him to finish – out in front on his own, on one of the most fearsome climbs in Grand Tour racing, on the last competitive stage in his career. It would be hard to write it any better.

Goodness knows what Contador would have won if he’d had a team like Sky around him – assuming he could have accepted the Sky philosophies!

Love him or hate him, Alberto Contador has been one of the greatest cyclists of his generation and I for one think that the sport will be all the poorer for his retirement.

I’d thought that 2017 was over for me and cycling – happily I was wrong

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Yes, the grass does need cutting

With my main goals for the year being over by the end of July, and plans under way for 2018’s challenges, I thought I’d probably got to the start of winding down for the winter.

Then I realised that the Tour of Britain is coming within about 30 km and my club has organised a trip out to watch it for our Saturday ride. So to keep things ticking over I got out today for a solo ride. I wasn’t feeling 100% so was planning on a steady pace just to test out the adjustments I’d made to the tri bars.

After Saturday’s try out with them I had a slightly sore neck and shoulders. I decided that I should do some exercises to help, but on Sunday and Monday the pains were worse. Of course, now I didn’t know if I was hurting from the ride or the exercises – so that worked well!

By way of adjustment, I’d moved the armrests wider and back, and extended the bars although, frankly, I didn’t really know what I was doing.

As so often is the case, the competitive juices got flowing once I started so I pushed hard for a flattish (but breezy) 35.8 km. To my surprise I clocked an average of 32.1 kph. The tri bars do seem to be working (and were much more comfortable) as I’ve never managed faster than 30.9 kph before.

Happily, I’ve also had an email from a friend who said that he had entered the Cotswold Autumn Classic Sportive so I’ve signed up too. At present I think there are now 4 of us taking part.

It’s on Sunday 1st October and the current aim is to go for the 100 mile route (with 2005 metres of climbing) which starts in Cirencester (Gloucestershire) and heads up through Bourton-on-the-Water to Broadway before returning via Winchcombe.

Last year another friend (a very strong rider) did the 100km distance and got silver so I guess that there was terrible weather or other bad conditions last year. It’s not a ride I’ve done before and I don’t know what the target times are for Gold, Silver, Bronze awards and I don’t know if they are age-related but I suppose the aim (without any confidence) must be for a Gold Award.

Tri bars are discouraged rather than banned – I’ll stick with mine for a while and then take them off for the sportive itself.

It all means that I’ve got to keep up the training for another few weeks which will be fun if the weather holds – and miserable if it doesn’t. I’ve ordered some new bib shorts that should be OK for longer rides, so at least it will be good to test them out.

Roll up, roll up – free kph?

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My bike, complete with tri bars, looking out at the garden

I bought a set of tri bars a few months ago but didn’t fit them at the time as I was mainly cycling up hills in preparation for my trip to the alps and the ‘everesting’. With the prospect of a long ride out to the alps next summer it seemed sensible to dust them off so this week I fitted them and decided to take them for a test ride today.

I wasn’t expecting great things as I’ve not done too much cycling since July. This week I’ve been out running a couple of times with Mrs Omil and had spent a hard day of manual labour in the garden yesterday – so pretty well everything ached this morning. I wasn’t sure it was going to be a good day to test the tri bars as it seemed entirely possible that I wouldn’t even be able to bend low enough to get down to them.

I opted to do my usual test route (45.1km with around 300m or so of climbing) – to my surprise I felt better on the bike than I had walking round the house so I decided to push on reasonably hard.

To be honest, I was a bit of a wimp coming back up to the hoods whenever the road surface got bad (which was frequent) or when there was a bit of traffic.

I felt a bit of pressure in the forearm and my neck took a bit more strain than normal (Shermer’s neck, here I come?) so the bars certainly aren’t set up right yet. I think they need to be set longer, tilted down a bit and the saddle might need to be moved forward and tilted down a little.

Despite all that, I matched my pb for the circuit at an average of 30.9kph. The previous pb ride was in back in early July when I certainly felt fitter.

So, not exactly proof that the tri bars made me quicker – but on the basis that I was expecting to be slower, there’s is certainly some cause for optimism. As I build up a bit more fitness, it will be interesting to see if I can improve on that pb.

 

Bears, wolves and saddlebags

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I might have to rethink that top tube pack

I’m not saying that long-distance, multi-day cycling is the dark side of the sport – but there are certainly some black arts involved.

I’ve found a very good website (https://ridefar.info) written by a 3 time Transcontinental participant and although I’ve promised myself that I won’t obsess (yet) about my plan to ride to the alps next summer, I have done some preliminary research. It reveals that the problems posed by matters like:

  • assembling the right kit
  • carrying it on the bike
  • route planning
  • navigation
  • bike tools
  • device charging
  • refuelling strategies
  • sleeping plans and
  • required fitness

are on a scale well beyond my current understanding.

Will my reasonably aggressive geometry racing bike (with its maximum 25cm tyres) be suitable for French cycle paths? Can I tell which ‘D’ roads are OK and which will bring certain death under the wheels of a 2CV? Will I be able to find places to charge the phone and Garmin on the way? Can I survive the wild boar, wolves, bears and vampires if I sleep rough? Will I be able to live on a diet of McDonald’s, Haribo, ice cream and Coca Cola, as many in the Transcontinental Race appear to? Will I really need to take that second velvet smoking jacket?

They all seem to be fair questions, apart from the fact that there are, as far as I know, no bears in France, other than the Pyrenees.

It’s expensive too: a front wheel with the right dynamo is probably bespoke and a few hundred pounds, the charger device is another hundred, the various kit bags behind the saddle, under and over the crossbar and on the handlebars could easily be yet another hundred (each), as can quality light weight sleeping bags, tents etc.

The best thing is that I now have an excuse to put the tri-bars that I bought a few weeks ago onto the bike. They might be a good idea on the long straight roads in France, assuming my old body can adapt to the position.

Of course, getting it right is very important, not least because a problem could occur a few hundred miles from home and many miles from anywhere – so I’ve got to take it seriously. When everesting I was never more than 8 miles from the apartment and long sportives tend to have some support – even if it’s only a broom wagon. What’s more, I don’t speak any significant amount of French.

However, this will be my first – and possibly only – foray into this cycling genre, so I plan on being cautious and will try to adopt an approach with modest expenditure. I will dress this meanness up as merely being an innovative extra dimension to the challenge I have set myself.

Plan for 2018 – ride to the alps

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Perhaps I’d better find a way around some of these on the journey out to the alps

Forgive me for wittering on about challenges for 2018. It’s a long way away but if I hadn’t committed publicly to my everesting attempt I know for certain that I would not have left the apartment to do it last month.

Thinking about it, I am still very happy with the idea of cycling out to the alps next July for my annual week’s climbing with friends.

The Transcontinental Race has a lot to answer for – I don’t think I’d be contemplating this without the inspiration of a race that started on 28 July and which has seen only 146 of the 285 starters finish, with one competitor still racing as I type. Come on David Coulon, only 13.7km to go after nearly 4000km of racing – and RIP Frank Simons who died in a collision with a car on the first night.

Without researching the route in any detail, it looks like nearly 1000km of cycling which I would like to do in 4 days, unsupported – and probably alone. I’m lucky that I can take a credit card and book into a hotel when I like but I’d prefer to see if I could sleep rough for at least some of the time. To be honest, I’m don’t think 62 year old retired solicitors do that sort of thing. I’m not sure if I have the guts for it – perhaps next year is the year I find out.

So, loads of logistics to think about: tent?, basha?, tarpaulin?, bivvy bag?, sleeping bag? (pretty well all unknown to me but I’ve started reading up on them). Bags to put on the bike: handlebar?, seat post?, under or over the top tube?. What about route design and navigation, food plan?

I was planning to take my old Giant TCR2 out to the apartment and leave it there so perhaps I could cycle out there on that – but it’s been 2 years since I last rode it and that means sorting the old and slightly unreliable shifters and perhaps making it a compact rather than a triple.

Part of the problem is that it’s all too far away – I will need interim checkpoints. Skiing in January hardly fits the bill but the White Horse Challenge in April is an obvious one: c.150km with 1400m of climbing and still my elusive sub 5 hour target. What else though – obviously some long rides building up distance and then putting them together, back to back. Perhaps 2018 is the year for a spring training camp out in a Spanish island? Perhaps I need to get out on the bike again – post-everesting time off officially over!

I need a plan.