Tag Archives: cycle training

Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Berkshire hills – lovely, but not quite the alps


Dragon Hill – again

We got back home from the alps late on Thursday night. Despite too much cheese, bread, potatoes and wine, I managed to return weighing a little over 66 kg which is better than I’d feared.

I got out on the bike this morning despite still feeling a bit jaded – it’s not that I’m worried about a lack of training for next weekend’s sportive, of course.

It was breezy but I went gently, looking for some hills – typically that means heading for the Ridgeway.

First I went up Dragon Hill Road to the White Horse at Uffington – I make that the 177th ascent of it this year after using it as a key training climb in my everesting training. Then along the undulating Ridgeway road, turning off for a climb up Sincombe Hill and a descent into Lambourn (with a lot of race horses out on the gallops).

Climbing back out of Lambourn I rode through Baydon, Bourton, Shrivenham and back via Highworth and Coleshill (which is largely a National Trust village but was also the home of the late, lamented, Sir George Martin).


Coleshill … er … hill

… and Badbury Hill …


Looks OK but it kicks up in the trees with bits at 15% and 16%


Why do hills never look as steep in pictures as they feel when riding them?

Clocking up a few more metres of climbing in and around Faringdon I did a total of 73 km with 1008 m of ascending. It felt pretty tough and I rode it at only just over 24 kph – but somehow managed 36 Strava ‘achievements’. I have no idea how that happened.

I’ve always avoided any product placements or endorsements in this blog but if, like me, you lie awake at night wondering how you can organise your next cycling holiday in Taiwan, help is at hand through ‘Pedal Taiwan’, a company set up by the son of some friends.

The cycling and scenery look spectacular so if you are going to be in the area – or are looking for something just a little different – please have a look at their Facebook page.

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


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.

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


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.

Bears, wolves and saddlebags

DSC_0438 14.34.39

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.

Everesting week 7 – stuck in the foothills?


What could be inappropriate about this during the TdF?

I used to be in the ‘stretching (along with lunch) is for wimps’ camp but I’m re-thinking that one as a fairly gentle run on Monday brought back the pain in my left knee and introduced a new one in my right heel.

The knee is the Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) again – stupidly I didn’t keep up last week’s stretches of the left quads. The foot – I think – is Plantar Fasciitis from a tight calf/achilles and should be sorted (spot the theme developing here) by stretching the right calf.

At least I can comfort myself that I must be working some muscles with the current training – but if it’s only those two muscles, I’m in trouble.

That meant no cycling until Wednesday. To avoid aggravating the injuries with anything too long, I did my ‘standard’ training circuit – 45.1km with 319m of climbing. I managed a PB with a 30.9kph average. I was stopped 5 times for lights and once for traffic calming so I guess that would have been over 31kph without slowing down and accelerating 6 times. I’m happy enough with that (but it would be good to get the 31 recorded properly).

Friday was 48km with 575m of climbing at a steady 25.8kph but felt pretty good. Saturday was another 49.5km with 556m of climbing, at 26.6kph.

Week Single session hill reps Longest ride (km) Total km Total meters climbed


1 10 64 139 2178
2 12 79 162 2504
3 15 52 143 3038
4 20 62 138 3045
5* 15 53 105 2212
6 25 103 164 2823
7   50 133 1450


* +2 hours turbo trainer

I’ve been wearing my vintage Festina shirt recently the hope that it might encourage people to offer me performance-enhancing drugs – but it’s not working.

If you’re new to the sport and wondering about that, see here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1998/07/98/tour_de_france/134842.stm.

I had broken through the 65kg barrier (before my birthday weekend), my resting pulse is down in the mid 40s and my BMI about 20. I guess (hope) I’ll soon get to the point where there’s not too much more training that I can do usefully but I’ll carry on for a while and then try to keep it ticking over for a couple of weeks of tapering ….. with continued stretching.

The White Horse Challenge


The White Horse at Uffington on the Ridgeway


I’ve mentioned this sportive in my blog several times but thought I’d add a short review for anyone thinking about entering next year. A tip – if you are thinking of entering do it as soon as entries open (usually early December) as the c. 600 places sell out fast.

This was my 6th participation – and it was as good as ever. The route is excellent and the organisation is pretty slick and certainly friendly (as are other riders). For me, it’s a particularly good event coming as it does in late April and so forcing me to get a bit fitter earlier than I might otherwise.

The event starts at the Shrivenham Memorial Hall (West Oxfordshire, just off the A420 that runs between Oxford and Swindon). You can leave any time between 8 and 9, after a quick registration and picking up the bike number and bar code slip that sticks on the side of the helmet.

This year there were at least 15 taking part from my club (Farcycles, from Faringdon – just a few miles up the A420) but with different target times we rolled out in several different groups. That was my big mistake – I missed the group of our fastest riders while chatting to a couple of other friends.

That left me working really hard to try to catch them – although I never did as they latched onto a fast train very early on. Not knowing that I pushed pretty hard – the first 40 km (25 miles) are fairly flat (with a couple of leg testers) and I did them in just under 75 minutes, hopping from group to group. Then you hit the first White Horse at Broad Town – just after Royal Wootton Bassett.  The steepest bit is probably about 1km with a 90m climb followed by a potentially tricky descent and then another flattish 15km. I was on my own here working very hard to catch a big group in front, which then promptly disbanded at the first food stop.

So I was back on my own again to the second White Horse at Cherhill – a rather gentler 100m ascent over 5km and then on through historic Avebury and to the third White Horse at Hackpen, with sections at over 12%.  Then it’s another good long decent before climbing back into Marlborough and on to Ramsbury. Spring Hill, coming out of Ramsbury, isn’t a White Horse but is, in my opinion, the worst hill on the route. It’s short but steep – something like 50m in 0.3km. I remember the first time I climbed it – it was damp and the rear wheel was spinning if I stood in the pedals and the front wheel bobbed if I sat down.

After the second food stop, there are Ridgeway climbs out of Chilton Foliat and then again out of Lamborn (of horse racing fame) over Seven Barrows before the steep (potentially dangerous) descent of Blowing Stone Hill. Turn west onto the undulating road that runs along the bottom of the Ridgeway and then left again for the 4th and final White Horse at Uffington – a proper historic one dating from the Bronze Age.

That’s another 90m climb over about 1km and I found it really tough – despite the fact that I’d trained on it, doing a total of 70 reps up it in March and early April. Sadistically the Uffington climb is timed separately for a King of the Hill competition. I was feeling it by then and my time on Sunday was 50% slower than my PB of 4.19!

Looking down the lower part of the Uffington White Horse climb

Another solo ride for the last 9k back to Shrivenham for the finish. On my first attempt in 2011 I was just outside 6 hours. This year, it was 5h 05min for the 144.4km – gold standard by 55 minutes for us over 60s (and 4th in age group).

Just the 6 minutes to find next year.

My Garmin said 145km and 1862m of ascent but the ride website says 1400m and two other friends who rode it on Sunday made it 1627m and 1280m respectively. I’m very pleased that I will be using my Garmin for my everesting attempt in July!

So, a really good day in the saddle of the Rose X-LITE CRS 3000. I didn’t stop at either food station but I know that the food is good there and at the finish. I consumed just one gel, two banana bars and less than 600ml of fluid on the ride. That’s par for the course for me and I certainly didn’t bonk or feel that I wanted more – but I wonder if more intake might have improved the output.

My club sportive is on 29 July, starting and finishing in Faringdon, Oxfordshire. We have 35, 70 and 100 mile routes through some great Cotswolds villages (and on the Ridgeway too for the 100 mile route). It’s now in it’s 4th year and coincides with the town music and arts festival. It is very scenic and friendly – and with great home-cooked food. Highly recommended (in an entirely unbiased way, of course)! Come and join us!


Cycling and running – odd bedfellows?

DSC_0251I’ve always been confused by people who say that cycling and running use different leg muscles. After all, how many leg muscles are there – surely both activities use them all?

After the sportive on Sunday I went for a gentle run on Monday morning with my wife – not very far and not very fast. It was fine – I don’t think I’d have known that I’d done anything the previous day. Later, I took a car in for a service and cycled just the 2.5 miles back home – and I certainly felt the previous day’s 90 miles.

Perhaps the answer is that running and cycling use the same muscles, but slightly differently?

Anyway … with the WHC behind me, next up is the triathlon on 14 May. The cycling can be left to tick over but it’s back to the pool to see if I can still swim (albeit badly) and it’s back out running (almost as badly).

Then on to the everesting attempt.


When quite good is a bit bad


Weapon of choice ROSE X-LITE CRS

Yesterday was the White Horse Challenge, my first sportive of the year. I recorded a distance of just under 145km with 1862m of climbing (but that looks on the high side compared to others).

An enjoyable ride, as always, but I missed out on going sub 5 hours. I managed a PB of 5 hours 5 Minutes – 8 minutes off my previous best and an average of 28.4kph.

That might be the worst of all results: if I’d broken 5 hours I might be able to decide that’s me done with the WHC because I won’t improve on that and sub 5 has been a target for a while now. Equally, if I’d done 5.5 hours I’d probably walk away knowing that sub 5 is beyond me. As it is I know that, come the end of the year, I’ll be signing up again, wondering where the extra 6 minutes are going to come from.

Lots of ‘mights’ and ‘what ifs’ but although it went well I probably spent too much time cycling solo hoping for a good train to join – and I just didn’t have enough in my legs for a big finish.

The training went well through March – the hill reps look to have been a real success – but stalled a bit in April as real life (quite rightly) took precedence.

So, not sure whether to be pleased or disappointed but not too bad for an over 60.


Bluebells, chocolate and cycling


I have many faults and failings – one is an inability to resist chocolate. Normally, the solution is not to have it in the house but, of course, an enjoyable and social Easter (including a trip to see the bluebells at Badbury Clump) put paid to that.

Two outcomes this morning were that I tipped the scales at 68kg and really didn’t want to go out for a training ride.

On the basis that the weight went on quickly, I assume it might be reasonably easy to lose. The training ride was a bit more of an issue with the White Horse Challenge 5 days away and training having slightly stalled over the last couple of weeks. Perhaps it was a day or two later than textbook – but it was certainly the last opportunity.

Eventually I managed to get the enthusiasm to get out – but not to change the tyres to the 25mms that I plan to use for the WHC. The ride was tough but OK – 100km with 1255m of climbing in 3h 41m. Clearly, if I can’t be good I’m going to be consistent – the ride was 0.1kph faster than I did it last week.

Those wider tyres had better be good!

More everesting planning

So, what I know (or think I know) is that I’m going to have a go at everesting in July, using the climb between Les Carroz and the Col de Pierre Carree in the Haute Savoie. It’s about 11.5 km with a 725 m ascent at a fairly steady gradient in the order of 6.5%. It will take 12 and a bit reps to climb the necessary 8848 m. The distance to be cycled will be about 280 km (175 miles).

What I don’t know is how long it will take me – assuming I complete the ride – both on the bike and for rest and meals.

When I did the climb last summer (just once) it took about 54 minutes on the way up and 13 on the way back down. With no fall off of performance (which is completely unrealistic), that would indicate around 14 hours on the bike.

In 2015, the Cingle du Mont Ventoux (about 4500 m of climbing and 130 km so almost exactly half of an everesting) took 8 hours on the bike and 10.5 hours total time elapsed. Clearly double the climbing will mean even more extreme tiredness but that might be a bit offset by a friendlier gradient, less wind and no time being spent at the top (there is nothing but a col marker at the top of Pierre Carree although, to be fair, there is little of any merit at the top of Ventoux!).

All that seems to suggest being out for somewhere between 18 to 22 hours in total. Looking at the Hells 500 website, that fits reasonably well with the bulk of the elapsed times achieved by previous ‘everesters’, although the range is huge – between 9 and 40 hours.

Daylight hours in the alps at that time of year should be around 6 am to 21.15. I may be badly out but if 18 to 22 hours is realistic, it might make sense to start in the early hours to do the cycling in the dark while fresh, in the hope of finishing without too much riding in the dark at the end. It may be that starting like that also has a benefit from the normal boost sunrise can give.

Frankly, it’s just guesswork but it’s all I have to go on.

I’m with 5 friends on the trip to France – 3 of us are driving out together, one is driving from Germany where he lives and works and 2 are flying out to join us. I don’t want to mess up their cycling and none of them are mad enough to want to join me other than for a bit of company on a rep here and there.

My current thinking is that if the 3 of us drove out taking a shuttle in the early hours of the Saturday, we would arrive early afternoon. I could then try to catch up on some sleep while they got in an afternoon ride (if they want), eat with everyone in the evening and leave to do my attempt in the early hours on the Sunday.

God alone knows what shape I might be in for the rest of the week but that will have to take care of itself.

Does that sound like a plan?