Tag Archives: cycling

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.

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Training plans – benefit or burden?

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Of course I understand that if you set yourself a significant challenge, you have to train for it. However, I have mixed thoughts about most training plans.

My main gripe is that I always feel guilty when I fail to stick to them (which is every time). Once the guilt sets in it’s easy to forget the good bits you are doing and what you are achieving and just focus on the negatives – the parts of the plan you are flunking.

Holidays, injury, bad weather, social commitments, laziness – there are always more reasons not to train than there are to train.

My other gripe is that they always seem to be so over-blown. That’s double-edged. Bad because it makes it even more likely that they can’t be kept to – but good because failure to keep to the plan doesn’t mean you’re bound to fail at the challenge.

I ran the London Marathon twice in the late 1990’s and had sub 4 hour training plans that I failed to keep to – but (just) managed sub 4 hour times on both occasions.

Perhaps it’s not surprising. If I was setting myself up as an expert and advising people on training for a specific event, I’d certainly be taking a cautious approach and building in some contingency to avoid people keeping to the plan and still failing at the challenge.

The thing that’s got me thinking about this is the everesting training. Clearly, it’s a sufficiently ridiculous challenge that I need to train – but how? I’ve found reference to a plan on the internet that seems to be endorsed by the Hell’s 500 people so it’s ‘official’ but they want $66.66 for it and it seems to entail at least 90 hours of cycling over 8 weeks. I’ll bet it’s good but that’s just the sort of plan that I know I’ll flunk.

So, taking the theory from that plan, I’m just going to have to cycle as much as I reasonably can, with much of it being uphill. In particular I’ll embrace the high intensity training model and go for hill reps up Dragon Hill – much as I did earlier in the year training for the White Horse Challenge.

I’ll couple that with weight reduction, where possible. The bike weighs in at about 7kg and I’m too mean to upgrade to Dura Ace to reduce that any further – but perhaps I’ll risk going without taking a spare tube and pump (or rather leaving them in the car).

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Weapon of choice

I ride with a carbon saddle and want to keep that for lightness. It’s never been a problem (even for the triple Ventoux in 2015) but this could be a few hours too far for that? It needs thought.

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Instrument of torture

As for me, I weighed in at about 65.3kg this morning (not too bad for 177.5m – 5’10” and 10 stone 4 in old money) so I’ll keep an eye on that. I wonder if I could lose a bit more without compromising on what little power I have?

 

How (not) to train for a triathlon

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I did a sprint triathlon in 2015 – and another last year. I enjoyed them but learnt that: I swim badly; I cycle reasonably; I am almost adequate at the run (for an old bloke). So, after signing up for an olympic distance triathlon I will have addressed the issues, right? Wrong.

The early year focus has been on my first sportive (90 miles on 23 April) to the exclusion of running and swimming. Since then I’ve cycled less than 45k, been in the water three times and have run three times, gently, with my wife and three times alone – and only once as far as 10k.

At over 60, I should know better and I don’t really have the excuse of insufficient time, given how so many people manage to do much more while sill working.

Worse still, I’ve only tried on my wetsuit twice and will not manage to get in an open water swim before the event itself. Perhaps I have a secret death wish?

I did take a swimming lesson – but just one and only last week. It was good but, at this stage it will probably serve mainly to confuse me as, during the lesson, I was totally unable to practice more than one new thing at a time – and even then several other things (like breathing) went to pieces. I’m sure it will be really helpful once all the advice becomes a natural part of my swimming but perhaps the session I plan tonight isn’t enough for that to happen!

Sunday promises to be interesting.

So: train consistently, work on your weaknesses; taper properly; and don’t let the event introduce new things to you (especially like wearing a wetsuit for the first time).

Oh yes, and do what I say, not what I do.

Old dog – new tricks?

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Instrument of torture. How can something apparently so simple be so difficult?

I won’t say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, just don’t expect too much too soon. At least that’s the experience of this old dog who has tried to learn two new skills this week.

I’ll deal with the first one first. With my first olympic distance triathlon just over a week away, I tried to get into a wetsuit. It was a disaster. I didn’t time it – which is a good thing as it would have been too depressing – but more worryingly I couldn’t actually get into it at all. Eventually the arms and legs went in but I couldn’t do it up at the back.

To be honest, I rather panicked at this point. It’s a second hand Ebay special that I was sure I’d researched carefully but it seemed clear that I’d bought a size too small. I went back to the manufacturer’s website and that confirmed that I hadn’t made a mistake – I am pretty well in the middle of the ranges for height and chest size and at the lower end for weight.

Unfortunately, the suit did not know this and it steadfastly refused to do up. Having got hotter than I might after a couple of hours’ cycling I did the only sensible thing – I gave up. At this stage I was expecting to have to abandon the triathlon completely as it will be wetsuit-compulsory and I felt too mean to go and buy another.

I tried again the following day, sure that I’d lost weight overnight – or that my technique would have miraculously improved. It hadn’t. I’d like to think it was simply due to my manly chest but, having been a cyclist for a few years, I’m a rather more Chris Froome than Arnold Schwarzenegger in that department.

I swallowed my pride and asked help from my wife who seemed pleased to be getting her own back after years of needing help to get into evening dresses and necklaces. It worked. Sadly, it fits so well that, far from making me appear sleek and lithe, it highlights bumps and lumps that I didn’t even know I had. I thought it might have a slimming effect like a corset – instead it just magnifies the bits that shouldn’t be there and mocks the bits that should be bigger. I was also rubbish at getting it off. I’ve watched the Brownlees and they don’t seem to have the same problem – how could that be?

The only good news is that I eventually went online to get advice about putting a wetsuit on. The site I found says ‘get a helper to do the suit up’ so perhaps I shouldn’t have worried in the first place?

I’m wondering if I should drive to the triathlon wearing the wetsuit. The problems are obvious: the final nerve-induced visit to the gents; death by overheating on the journey; explaining it to the Police if stopped or to the petrol station attendant if low on fuel.

They say transition is the fourth discipline in triathlon. Sadly, for me, that may mean it takes as long as any of the other three.

Second new trick tomorrow.

Making it up as you go along – is there any other way?

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DIY calf muscle treatment kit

I like to think of myself as reasonably intelligent (which, of course, almost certainly means I’m not) but much of what I do is made up as I go along.  That is certainly true of my sport and training and is a very good reason why this blog is not ‘how to ..’ but – at best – ‘how I ..’.

I got out for a run this morning in surprisingly decent weather and managed 9.1km at 5:55/km (5.65 miles at 9:30/mile). Not exactly burning the tarmac but something to build on. If I can break the hour mark in the triathlon 10km I’ll be happy.

The good news is that the stretching and ‘ice pack on calf’ approach tried yesterday might have worked (at a cold but not-quite-frozen temperature). Although not entirely niggle free, the legs are not too bad and my heel seems to be much less tender.

Admittedly, the ‘freezer blocks stuffed down the back of cycle leg warmers’ design may need a bit of polishing before it hits the High Street, but I may have stumbled on something that works for me.

Another possible glimmer of common sense breaking through is that I’m trying to arrange a swimming lesson. My technique (such as it is) comes largely from the internet so is shaky at best. I understand that drowning during a triathlon is generally frowned on, so I’m swallowing my pride (and obstinacy) and going for some help from an expert.

Watch this space.

If at first you don’t succeed – try tri again?

 

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A number of cycling friends refer to me as ‘going to the dark side’ when I tell them I’m doing a triathlon – but I have great respect for triathletes. Quite apart from the extra kit required, the additional skills and training time that are needed demand real respect.

With my first sportive out of the way I’ve turned my attention to the triathlon in a couple of week’s time. Not enough time to train properly – but it will be very much a ‘happy to get round’ experience, being my first olympic distance event – and my first open water swim since I was on a seaside holiday in my teens.

It’s not started well. A short run with my wife on Monday, a swim in the pool on Thursday another run on Friday, a gentle cycle on Saturday and a second run with my wife today are all I have to show for the first week’s effort.

The running has left me with painful calf muscles, achilles tendons and a sore heel. I spent an hour after today’s run with freezer blocks tucked inside leg warmers to see if that will help as I can’t afford too many days without a run if I want to get run-fit in time.

As for the swimming – even less encouraging. After the sprint triathlon I did last September I swam every week and got up to 100 lengths in the pool (2.5km) fairly comfortably. I lapsed after Christmas so Thursday was the first swim for 4 months – and felt like it. Not a pretty sight and surprisingly little forward motion for all the effort being expended.

I’ve still got to try on my wetsuit for the first time and fit in a practice open water swim wearing it.

How do triathletes find the time to do all this properly?

This could end in tears.

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 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!

https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/events/details/159149/Farcycle-FollyFest-Sportive-2017