Ouch! So that’s why Americans call the autumn ‘fall’

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The front wheel looks pretty straight from here – sadly, looks can be deceptive

Well, that’s not the greatest week I’ve had for a while.

Wednesday last I was moving some furniture and think I’ve given myself a bit of sciatica (self diagnosed so not necessarily accurate). I managed to run with it on Thursday and cycle with it on Saturday as, once it warms up, it’s perfectly bearable and no problem at all on the bike.

I ran again yesterday before we went to have an excellent supper with some friends who also very kindly put us up for the night in Berkshire. Julia is an astonishing sportswoman and suggested that I take my bike and join her and some Tri-club and other friends for their Thursday morning ride.

It was a really good ride (87km – 54 miles), done at a good pace, with good company. Unfortunately, as we were heading back we went round an entirely innocuous looking bend that the two or three folks in front of me took at the same speed, on the same line and without excitement – but I failed to follow suit. My front wheel simply slid away from under me and as I looked up from the road I saw the following rider going over me and the bike, before also hitting the deck.

Fortunately, as to the three important things (in clear order of importance):

– happily, the other rider, a charming lady, escaped any serious injury (I think nothing more than a bruise from the fall and a tiny cut at the side of the eye from her crash helmet)

– my bike is not hurt too badly. The already deteriorating bar tape has been finished off on the right side and once the handlebars were rotated back 90 degrees it was rideable – but slowly thanks to a front wheel buckle

– I’m OK and the bang and road rash on my right hip means that I am now more balanced with the sciatica in my left leg. The banged and scraped right elbow and banged right hand have no left side equivalents but that’s OK by me.

I’m optimistic that the wheel is repairable. It’s rather annoying as I was thinking of putting on the winter wheels earlier in the week – the only reason that I didn’t was that I wasn’t sure how fast today’s ride would be and I was concerned that I might need all the help I could get to keep up!

The road was no more than slightly damp and I don’t think it was muddy or covered in leaves. I really like the (new) Continental 4000 Sii tyres I have on the bike but I’m left wondering how good they are once the weather starts to worsen – I’ve never seen any suggestion that they are a problem. Pretty much inexplicable – I guess I was just unlucky and hit a patch of oil.

It appears that a fall hurts the same whatever the reason for coming down.

First fall in four and a half years – I’ll be happy if it’s another four and a half years before the next.

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Chim chiminee

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I really must put mudguards (fenders) on the bike

Gawd luv yer, Mary Poppins – (sorry but I think I was so scarred by Dick Van Dyke’s cockney accent in the film that I can’t hear the word ‘sweep’ without thinking of him).

One particularly good thing we did last year was to introduce a sweep for our club rides. We have a rota and, with turns to lead the shorter and slower ‘blue’ ride as well, it works out about 3 or 4 duties a year.

As the club has progressed over the years, we have seen an increasing range of abilities and expectations. The red rides are usually between 42 and 47 miles (67-75km) and the faster riders will average around 18mph (29kph). Groups tend to form based on rider speed, but to maintain the social side of the club, but we re-gather after about 10 miles and again for a halfway ‘banana break’. That allows people to switch between groups – and that’s important as the fastest group tends to ride quite hard on the run back to Faringdon.

The sweep fulfils a number of functions – first as a safety net in case anyone has a mechanical or other problem and secondly as a way of checking that we don’t lose anyone. I tend to think the rule ‘leave no man behind’ should apply to more than just the military.

Perhaps most importantly, we want to encourage people into – or back into – cycling as a hobby. Newer cyclists wanting to progress beyond the blue ride may not be able to keep up with the faster riders and may not yet have invested in a Garmin or other satnav, so the sweep plays an important role in providing encouragement, company, reassurance and navigation for them.

It was my turn to be sweep for the club’s ‘red’ ride this morning. It was a simple case of bad news/good news:

Bad news – it was raining hard when I woke up.

Bad news – as red sweep I decided I had to go (a commitment is a commitment)

Bad news – I’d hoped no one would turn out but there were 6 others for the red ride

Good news – they were all experienced riders so we rode together as one group

Good news – everyone else had mudguards (fenders)

Good news – it stopped raining, eventually

Bad news – we all got cold while a puncture was being fixed

Good news – it was a really good ride, one I’d have missed if it had been just up to me!

A fairly gentle 70km (43.5 miles) at about 24kph (15mph) – not a day for heroics.

Pointless towers and pink pigeons

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A bit of light relief after all that pushing pedals around!

One of the (many) great things about the Grand Tours is the riot of colour. Of course, cycling shirts should be bright and just a bit crazy – but perhaps not as bad as the brown ag2r kit or as mad as the Carrera team’s ‘denim look’ kit of the 1990s, as worn so notably by Marco Pantani.

Happily, my club has embraced the philosophy, but there is a story to the shirt.

Between 1931 and 1950 Faringdon’s resident, eccentric, aristocrat was Lord Berners – the wonderfully named Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson before he inherited the title.

Two particular (but by no means the weirdest) things he did were to build the Folly Tower and dye the pigeons at his house vibrant colours.

When asked by the planning sub-committee what exactly was the point of the Tower, Berners is said to have replied, “The great point of the Tower is that it will be entirely useless”.

At one time, there was a notice at the bottom of the tower saying “Members of the public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk”.

Both the tower and the pink pigeons are celebrated in the Farcycles club shirt.

Farcycles is a small club in rural Oxfordshire, England made up, mostly, of middle aged (and older) riders but, between us, in the last 4 years club men and women have worn the shirt for several ascents of Ventoux (including two Cingles), an ‘everest’, an Etape, Paris-Brest-Paris, for the Raid Pyrennees, a Corsican tour, up Alpe d’Huez, Colombiere, Glieres, La Saleve, Le Mole, Aravis, Semnoz, Romme, Pierre Carree, Joux Plane, Ramaz, Sa Colobra and many more.

Wear the shirt with pride!

(No pigeons were hurt in the making of this shirt).

Exercise, insight and sociability – a heady mix

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Heading down, out of Faringdon, northwards

Well, that was quite a week in many ways.

For some time now I have run with my wife a couple of times a week, as her unpaid personal trainer. We have a range of routes but, oddly, they all seem to end up being about 6km. I enjoy the running but I think it’s fair to say that Mrs Omil endures it. This week we upped the distance to about 8.5km and ran that twice – and she took herself out yesterday morning to do an additional set of hill reps (which I am more reluctant to do as they tend to cause me achilles problems). She may never become someone who runs for pleasure (although we did do a sub-hour 10k a few years ago which was very satisfying) but it’s a really good development so all credit to her.

After Friday’s ride I felt pretty optimistic that my ‘kph-itis’ diagnosis might mean I would be able to shake it off and restore a better balance to my cycling so I don’t feel that I have to maximise the average kph every time I get on the bike. It was an important insight.

A chilly Saturday morning yesterday saw the regular club ride. I deliberately didn’t go off with the fastest bunch but cycled very happily with a group of very sociable riders cracking along at a perfectly decent 23kph. The various groups were reunited at the half way ‘banana break’ and I did go back to Faringdon as part of the quickest group – covering the remaining 37km (23 miles) at a bit over 29kph (just over 18mph). So, a real success – I enjoyed the first half’s sociability and the second half’s workout. In all, a really good 73km ride with 625m of climbing (45 miles and 2050 feet) …. and a big smile!

As with so many things in life, it’s all about getting the right balance.

Why cycle … because we can and we want to

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I have done quite a lot of climbing on the bike this year – Strava says 56,788 m (186,321 feet). Although the wisdom of deciding to do an ‘everest’ in July is open to question, once the decision was made, hill training seemed perfectly sensible (or, indeed, essential).

However, having read an excellent blog post by Tempocyclist, I realise that since then I’ve developed a case of average-kph-itis. This is an obsession with producing rides with the highest possible average kph figures, almost to the exclusion of everything else.

The symptoms are clear: setting routes looking for flat roads and tailwinds; an irrational annoyance at hills, junctions, traffic and everything that slows you down; not stopping for photos or anything else; and a constant looking down at the average speed window on the Garmin.

Now, I’m all in favour of cycling fast, training hard and getting better on the bike – but an improving average kph should be a result of those, not the main aim of the ride.

I’m 62, I don’t race and no one pays me to cycle – so sometimes I need to remind myself that I ride for pleasure and personal satisfaction, not to try to impress or beat anyone else.

Today I went out with this in mind. I deliberately turned down some flat fast roads that would have offered some ‘vanity kph’ and headed over to Lambourn for a few hills and a generally ‘nice’ ride. The result – 56 km with 601 m of climbing at 25.1 kph (35 miles, 1971 feet at 15.6 mph) … and a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours.

Small stone – big challenge

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This is the actual third stone I brought down from the summit – no stunt doubles here. Not as big as it might look – about 2x1x1 cm!

Joining the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux in 2015 was one of the best things I’ve ever done on a bike. I completed the three ascents (each non-stop) with a friend, didn’t suffer very much (apart from freezing on the first half of each descents) and fell in love with a very special mountain which even had the decency to be cloud-free at the summit for the third and final ascent.

One thing I remembered to do, when at the top for the last time, was to pick up three small stones. I had two particular friends who, I knew, would want to climb Ventoux themselves so on returning to England I sent them each a stone, with a request that they return it to the top of the mountain.

Philip returned his stone this summer and Dave has just told me that he and his wife are taking a road trip next year to include Provence (with his bike and stone in the car).

I don’t take any credit for their ascents but there is something good about others getting to experience the enjoyment I got from climbing such a great mountain.

The third stone?

That’s either for me on my next trip up Ventoux (or perhaps for Mrs Omil if I can ever persuade her to take on the climb from Sault).

The long and windy road (that leads to my door)

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A good road to be riding with the wind behind today

Apologies to Paul McCartney.

With winds of 50 mph (80 kph) forecast, yesterday’s club ride was cancelled. Quite apart from the difficulty of riding into a wind like that, a cross wind of that strength can put you in the kerb or middle of the road all too easily.

After two runs with Mrs Omil in the week, the cancellation of Saturday’s ride was quite a good thing for me as I slightly over–indulged when friends came over for supper on Friday, so Saturday wouldn’t have gone well in any event. Sadly, I continued to enjoy the left-overs yesterday so wasn’t expecting much from today’s solo ride.

Although the storm had passed, the wind was still a frisky 20 mph which put a real premium on finding a route with open, straight, roads when heading with the wind – and more twisting, sheltered ones when heading into it. There is no doubt that a bit of local knowledge pays off on days like this.

It didn’t go too badly although I was working hard to maintain 15 mph (24 kph) at times as the price to pay for the sections where nearly twice that speed seemed relatively easy. In the end, something like 68 km at 28.4 kph (42 miles at 17.6 mph).

I don’t know what the science is but it always seems that what you lose heading into a wind is more than you gain with it at your back. Still, a great way to blow out the cobwebs.