Sunday, 29 April 2012

Best of intentions

There is a young man from West Ham
Who rides his bike whenever he can.
Then one Sunday at eight
The wind blew off his gate
So he stayed indoors and ate jam.

View from the window this morning
I didn't really eat jam, that's poetic licence. I sat on my indoor bike for 70 very, very boring minutes and contemplated the play-offs. we'll see, won't we?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

I don't know how it gets better than this

English settlement
 Wiltshire is THE county for white horses, and I'm not talking about the slightly odd seventies children's TV show of the same name.  Although I did quite like it, more than Belle et Sebastien, which I thought odd on two counts. First it was dubbed. As a child growing up in the 70s, this never worked for me. Second the dog was from the Pyrenees and yet they lived in the Alps. How did that happen?

The white horses was Yugoslavian and also dubbed, but as it was from behind the Iron curtain, somehow more acceptable. Although it was a strange relationship with the horses, but I have a theory about that, which I'll keep to myself.

No I am talking about the  Wiltshire White horses, although thanks to the local government butchers one of them purports to be in Oxfordshire now, and I think may have been in Berkshire originally. Anyway to the point. I rode the White Horse Challenge again. And yet again it proved to be a marvellous ride through the countryside. My parents both came from the Wiltshire-Berkshire border, so I know the area well, and love it all the more for that. And the route of the ride links four of the horses, the ones at Broadtown, Cherhill, Hackpen Hill and of course Uffington. Some say the latter is in fact a dragon. I couldn't care less, it's one of the best pieces of cultural art in this country. And probably over 3000 years old.

On the journey up to Shrivenham I was wondering if the rain would join the stiff westerly breeze at some point, leading to some kit faffing, but in the end the rain held off until I got back to HQ, meaning my ACG ensemble was just about perfect. I was also wondering how I was going to ride the route, given the lurking presence of virtual partner on Charlie. But let's face it, there was only going to one strategy : RLF and hope to beat 5 hours. Well. I didn't quite manage that, but I did go faster than last year. Quite how is a bit of a mystery. Apart from pedalling faster in higher gears obviously.

The first 40 km of the route have a few bumps but are largely flat, and offer the opportunity to get in a group, wheelsuck, save energy, do your turn and cover the first 20 miles in an hour. I don't know if it was the strong headwind, or the fact that no-one apart from me and two others was prepared to ride on the front, but today it was just not happening. By the time I got to Purton (about 18 miles in) I was doing yet another turn and already 3 miles down on last year. Probably a mixture of both.

I carried on up the hill, there is a small ride that peaks at 8%, and soon found myself 2-300 yards ahead of everyone else. So I just kept going, and apart from a couple of brief interludes where I pulled people along or jumped on a wheel for a bit, I was solo for the following 72 miles. By the time I hit the Broad town hill, where I got dropped last year, I had reduced my deficit to 2.5 miles, and little by little, this continued until just before Lambourn, about 72 miles in, when I took the lead.


Across the rolling hills, down the descents, through Avebury, and down into Marlborough I rode like the clappers. Barely stopping at either feed station, I was intent on pushing myself as hard as I could and see what I could do.

Unbelievable considering how much I pushed it last year, and had help from a couple of fast groups. If you look at my Ride with GPS route you will see they have started doing segments a la Strava, and from those I have been able to see that my climbing has improved a lot, I did Hackpen Hill 30 seconds faster, and Dragon Hill nearly a minute faster. All of this statistical nonsense still doesn't help with the headwind in the last section of the ride, or with my mental nutrition and hydration strategy (keep it to the bare minimum), but I'm pleased that my ride time as well as my total elapsed time were both better than last year.

Charlie's 2012 route, with the total elapsed time of 5-06-28, and Charlie's 2011 route with a total elapsed time of 5-08-53. Given the exposed nature of the course, I think the wind probably balances itself out, unless you lose energy. It was probably neutral overall today. I felt completely spent at the end, I can't imagine going faster on my own, and doing it in a group the whole way or at least for the first flat bit takes some shine off the challenge.

I am delighted to knock over two minutes off my overall time though. Equivalent to 0.8 miles according to Virtual Partner. I may well not do it again, it's hard to see how I could be much faster, and 5 hours seems a long way off for me. Still a lovely ride though, through the countryside past the White horses, the sacred ancient landscape and fortunately the weather was very kind. If anyone fancies it next year, I promise to ride it for fun. No really. Promise.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Another for the one you believe

I have a new dilemma. I have Mendip Mackem and IT to thank for pointing me in a new direction. It's called Virtual Partner. Not something dodgy on the Internet, but a function Charlie has. I never even knew it existed until last Sunday, and now it has me all in a quandary. If you have a stored version of a bike course you have done before, you can set up VP and effectively race against yourself. Naturally, yourself of yesteryear does not know there is a race going on in the future, so you should have an advantage. Although I suppose eventually, if you use it enough you will realise that any bike ride could become a race.

I so, so wanted to have a nice relaxing ride on Sunday on the White Horse Challenge, 90 miles in the Marlborough Downs. The weather is likely to be more heavy showers, wind and general muck, not like the last couple of years when it's been cool and still. I got Gold last year in 5 hours and 8 minutes, and today rode a pace, over similar terrain, which would deliver 5 hours 12 if sustained for 90 miles. Get in a few good groups, a bit of adrenaline, and Gold (sub 5 hours 20) is very doable, and sub 5 hours is not impossible.

On the way into work it was dry until I got to the top of the airport hill, and I was about 30 seconds ahead of myself from back last October. Then the rain came, torrential, pouring deluge. And my back brake pads are so worn to be almost, not quite but almost, useless. And it was hard to see in the spray and concentrate on the urban traffic. There were also roadworks that weren't there last October on the way in. So I was about 15 seconds down by the time I arrived at work.

Blasted it on the way home though, I ended up over 90 seconds, the equivalent of just over half a mile, ahead by the time I got home. I think the VP goes at the pace you did when you set up the course, perhaps someone call fill me in.

My dilemma? I have a course from last year, on an identical route for the WHC. I suppose I'll know soon enough if the conditions are against it, but I do really need to be building things up slowly at this stage, not blasting myself too early in the year.

What do you think?

Charlie's route today

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Just a casual, causal, easy thing

This is what I posted on Friday morning:

Anyone fancy a ride on Sunday morning? Not too early, not too late, not too easy, not too hard?

That was before  I got shot-blasted by the rain on the way home, and shot-blasted by the all-conquering (for a change) Irons yesterday. Fortunately the scheduled time was 11.30AM, meaning a bit more sleep was possible, but I was still feeling a bit on the tired side when I rolled down into the Square in Axbridge for a new class of ride.

Four of us set off, Mendip Mackem, Skip and IT (name to follow soon) and we went over past the Webbington Hotel, switching back and forth trying to avoid the stiff northerly wind. I had opted for shorts, it's Spring and bright sunshine abounded, and I didn't want to be too embarrassed by MM, who avoided the stereotype by adding arm warmers to his shorts and short-sleeved jersey. By contrast I had a warm base, a warm top and a windproof coat. Southern sofite and proud.

The human beings in their metal boxes were an eclectic bunch today. Just after I stopped to put my chain back on, a man stopped to offer me help, he had a wide tool selection in his car apparently. That's never happened before, such public spiritedness was in marked contrast to the camper van driver who misjudged my speed when overtaking in the face of an oncoming car. Avoiding action and a Look , that the he who shall not be named would be proud of, were duly dished out.

Likewise the random abuse I got from the passenger in a car that passed me near Yatton school. I have no idea what she said as she charmingly leaned out of the window of the Citroen Saxo her male companion was driving. She might have been complimenting me on my stylish pedalling action or the colour co-ordination of my lycra. Who knows, she didn't look very happy, and all that emotion sadly was wasted on me.

The vague, casual plan, had been to head out to Kingston Seymour via Yatton. We considered changing our mind, but stuck to it in the end, only to find a shut cafe. Or rather a cafe shut in readiness for a Christening party. We ummed and ahhed and came up with an alternative plan to hit the Walled Garden. It was at this point that Skip decided to bail, as the effects of her sportive and the understandable lure of Asda caught up with her.

The rest of us swung out across the moors, before passing Motivation corner and up Brockley Coombe. I was beside myself with excitement, internally at least, that a plane flew directly over our heads as we cycled past the end of the Bristol airport runway, narrowly missing some startled plane spotters in the process. IT and MM were both decidedly "on it", and we had a brisk climb up Brockley, with MM leading the way.

We stopped for some lovely coffee and reasonably priced and discounted cake in the Walled garden, my choice was chocolate and stout, all the iron being the obvious attraction.

If you have ever read Dr. Hutch in Cycling Weekly, you will know about his friend Bernard, the one who has races with other cyclists, the latter not realising they were in a race. It was delightful for IT and I to catch a Weston Wheeler, he had around 3-400 metres on us at the start of Burrington Coombe, and we took him just before the top.  ACG 1 Weston Wheelers 0. All we have to do now is keep a low profile and the League is ours.

From there we wended our way back to Shipham and Axbridge respectively, for a round trip of around 45 miles, and very enjoyable it was too, so thanks to my fellow riders for a great ride, even if the planning was even more casual than I intended.

Charlie's route

My friend Bunny has been having some serious issues with his back of late, which has stopped almost all exercise, so I hope he pulls through unscathed in the end. It's poor posture that is the cause of all this, and it also meant I spent Thursday afternoon on a table in just my underpants, lying on a rolled up towel while a woman jumped on top of me. Obviously that is poetic licence to describe osteopathy, and sounds much, much more pleasurable than it actually was. If you have ever been in the position of having four of your mid-vertebrae unlocked at the same time, you will know this. If you haven't, you really should give it a go, it's such fun.

At home Mrs Mendip Rouleur is scaring me by clearing out stuff.  Lots of stuff, from drawers, desks, cupboards, you name it. EBay and the charity shop have never been so busy. In fact I'm not going to sit in one place for too long or I could be next. Apparently we shouldn't be keeping stuff we haven't used for ages, "just in case we need it", as we won't. Like the cycling top I hadn't worn for about 3 years, one of the first I ever owned. But my blue Northwave top was perfect today, and although I see her point, and I do now have dozens of rags (aka clothes that were going to be recycled) for cleaning the bike, the perfect blend of temperature and wind direction and sunshine that meant only today's clothes combination would do, could well recur.

It just doesn't pay to be too casual about these things, it matters.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Everything has to be paid for

I gained about 5 pounds in weight on the ride home tonight. Not by stuffing myself with cake or Easter Egg, no by acting as an unofficial reservoir for Somerset's imminent official drought. I thought that the real reservoirs would never be able to catch all that water falling out of the sky, so I'd use my socks, my leg-warmers and coat to mop it up for them.

People joke about me at work. It had been a gloriously sunny day in Bristol, all day until about ten to five. Then the clouds rolled in, the sky darkened and down came the rain. Of course it is my own fault for crowing this morning about what a wonderful ride I had on the way in. I left just after dawn, and cycling up from Wrington I looked down into the valley to see the mist beneath me, and the pink sky of the sunrise above me. Well, see for yourself.

Dawn over Wrington
There was still a lot of water about on the road, but I didn't care. I suspected I'd be hot on the way home, I'd dressed for a midpoint between forecasts, 2 degrees at dawn, 13 degrees at 5PM.

So the weather gods got me good and proper and no mistake. Rain, headwind, even hail. I really should have known better. I'm planning on going out on Sunday, so if you have any outdoor activities planned for the weekend, do them tomorrow. I guarantee rain on Sunday from about 11.30 onwards.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Dream our dreams alone with no resistance

I'm not one for blogging the commuting rides any more, they are too predictable, same roads, same traffic, blah, blah, blah.

But today, aside from managing to get my chain jammed around my chain set and crank, just when I joined a main road, necessitating much fettling, banging and a lot of swearing, two significant things happened. Although you can be the judge of that.

First, although lots of rain showers this evening and last night, the weather at dawn was monumentally gorgeous. Sunshine, myriad of colours at sunrise over the hills. Low hanging sun reflecting off the surface water, fair dazzling me on the back roads. Which means SUNGLASSES!!!! Yes, I wore sunglasses all the way in, and all the way home. And that means Summer is just around the corner.

Second, I said goodbye to my black Cateye bike computer. Or rather, I didn't, because it fell off somewhere between Coronation Road and Long Ashton, and despite doubling back, I didn't find it. I lost a back light recently, it was clipped to the saddle bag and I think someone nicked it at a pedestrian crossing.

Now losing kit is not that significant. The thing is, when I thought about it, I was a bit sad. That computer has been from Land's End to John O' Groats. Across the Pyrenees from Hendaye to Cerebere in 100 hours. We have done numerous sportives and ACG rides. All of that is very sad. But the real significance? I realised I have a spare one, so don't need to buy another.

As my maternal grandmother used to say, "Happiness is not getting what you want, it's wanting what you've got". Or something.

I have no stats from the ride home, so it had to be neutralised, ride on feel, which is actually quite liberating. Not that I'm in a hurry to try it again.

If it that's a bit cheesy for you, thank your lucky stars you are not Fabian Cancellara at the moment. For all his power and glory, his collar bone is not in a good way, as this shows.

Monday, 9 April 2012

What does the world ask of you?

Sign of things to come
Just to confuse you this post will be littered with the photos from last Sunday's ride on The Joker Sportive.

The ability to control people or events

Graeme Fife, well-renowned author, broadcaster and polymath, talked about how little cyclists can actually control. When I recently exchanged thoughts with the Princess on the nature of suffering, I was not joking. I really think that the ability to enjoy the suffering is what separates a cyclist from a bike-rider. And to do that you have to accept that most of what goes on when you are on the bike is beyond your control. Perhaps, you can influence events, through clothing or gear choices. Perhaps in the long run you can buy a lighter bike, or lose some weight. All that will do is habituate you to a new degree of suffering. That is why Deer Leap is still blooming steep, and no matter how hard you try, it will be so until the next ice age.

Which is why climbing hills, short ones, steep ones, long draggy ones, or easy ones, is really all in your mind.

To be able to accept that, you have to let go of the urge to control everything. I think that is not just a cycling challenge, it's a life challenge. Paradoxically, the less you seek to control, the more you will influence, and the easier it is.

Mind freed, legs following

The rate at which work is performed or energy converted

All about heart rate and cadence, and of course the absence of kangaroo petrol. It's all very well having a brilliant 6000 horse power engine, but if it turns over very slowly with no torque, it will chug along like Ivor the Engine. Unlike the speeding human missile that passed the ACG on Deer Leap yesterday, clearly busy converting energy like there is no tomorrow. Just as well, for tomorrow, or today, is a wet and soggy day cooping the nation indoors.

Erstwhile colleague, highly organised and effective administrator, and I like to hope, a friend

Also an Irish surname, and Manchester City player, this scion of the family also is a bike rider, and can always be relied upon to give it to you straight and honest. No side. If all the world was like her, there would be more fights in the world, but I think there would also be more laughter, more authenticity and more joy. I salute you.

As I do all my cycling colleagues from today. King of the Hill was out, along with Skip, and her camera. Thankfully no pictures of me eating cake at the Fenny Castle cafe, or even of my a**e on a bike looking faintly ridiculous either. We were also joined by P, whose name will become apparent in the next few rides I hope, and together we made for a good, social ride. Especially coming down the gorge, when the visitors and financial contributors to our local economy were admiring the views and HOLDING ME UP ON MY DESCENT. Well, I retained my outer calm at least.

Aren't we stylish?

A song from the album "Louder than hell" by Manowar

 I never was a fan of heavy metal. I loved punk music in the 70s and early 80s, and when I frequented the youth club in Little Paxton, Cambridgeshire, there was always a battle for control of the record player by the punks and the heavy rock/metal/crap music fans. I lump them in together for they had no imagination or political sensibility. Music has far too important a place in the human psyche to be just about pleasure.

So, readers I tell you now what I told the ACG yesterday and my wife last Friday, as we travelled to a Leonardo da Vinci  exhibition (I put this in to let you know I am a man of culture, but in reality I prefer French painting to Italian, it's in my genes). Most modern music has no melody, or if it does, it is some voting-gameshow-reality rubbish, but most of all, it is not this this. I particularly liked the references to knowledge and it's connection with attractiveness in that clip. Makes you think, no?

And yes, I had spikey hair too, and yes it was all a long time ago.

Both the butt of the joke
An English Darts champion who has won 15 world titles.


Team kit rules all complied with
 A census-designated place in Teton County, Montana, United States

I think this is my favourite of them all. I have no idea what Montana is like, but obviously it has hills.That's French.  It doesn't have too many people either, so I think I'd probably like it.  Nt as good as the Mendips for sure, as the two versions of Charlie's routes, the  first and the second both showing my weird geometric pattern of a ride. For once I was just going where the road took me. Although it's not totally true because I did have to come home at some point, and after 50 miles and 3000 feet (remembering my Elevation corrections are enabled of course) I was glad to.

Everybody move to the left
I'm very grateful to World Traveller for the use of the title to this post!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Arthur Ellis, where are you now?

To paraphrase the old Radio one request spiel, anyone that knows me, knows that I am a sucker for a medal. Given that I have long given up competing against anyone else (no, really, it's...almost true), and my chief aim is to self-actualise in the velodramatic world I inhabit (my this is self-indulgent!), I do not fully understand this fascination.

It could be related to my Numismatic leanings, or just a magpie's obsession with collecting the bright and shiny. I have kept every sportive medal, and a few from walking or swimming events too, and slung them on the stand that holds the mirror in the bedroom. (Nearly a song.) So you can imagine my pleasure at my latest mementos from yesterday's Joker sportive, which I mentioned in last night's somewhat random post.

I see the same tendency in my son, it's that thing when he's told, you haven't finished it unless you do all of this, and as Bunny is always saying I'm the embodiment of KBO, if there is a challenge going I have to do it, unless something mechanical hits me. Or a failure of will and a conveniently sited split point between long and short routes, but fortunately that wasn't an option.

So all these extra little challenges, a steep hill  up and down at 20% a piece(which I cycled in the other direction last summer, for tis near my parents' house), Gold Hill in Shaftesbury (also done before, and therefore eminently rideable as long as no-one stops in front of you), Zig Zag hill (done more times than I can remember on journeys to the folks) and the last, an absolutely pointless climb up to near the finish, and then back down again before another climb to really finish. As someone once said, we all love a futile gesture, and after over 6000 feet of climbing and 70 + miles, what is one more?

No medal though. Something better. These cards.

"Played the Joker, double it up to four"

Great aren't they? I loved the ride too, just about perfect blue skies, no wind, a slight nip in the air but not too hot or cold, and generally empty roads if un petit peu de gravillons on some corners. That's French.

Skip had a bit of a tough time, but I'm pleased to say I really enjoyed myself. My climbing has got better for a change, although I'm not tempting fate. It does leave me with something of a dilemma. I am determined to stick to the plan which is all learned behaviour, and in this case, designed to stop me over-training like last year. Being burnt out in June.

Part of that plan is riding the white Horse Challenge for enjoyment only, and not for a time. Of course the weather may blow a gale anyway, but if not, there is a temptation to see if I can get a sub-5 hour time. I'm 8 minutes off it, and last year's ride was my best ever sportive performance. It's hard to see where 8 minutes can come from, unless I get with a good group as before and manage to stay with them after the first climb (unlike last year). That means one big effort to climb well, and it might just work.

But it goes against the plan. Decisions, decisions!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The history of the Garmin family

It's a little known fact that in 1066 one of the knights fighting alongside William, Duke of Normandy, was called Robert Le Despensier. No doubt he dished out plenty of hurt to the loyal Saxons on Senlac, as well as being the founding father of all performance-enhancing chemists the world over. Given that I have finally listened to medical opinion (after about 20 years of ignoring it) and started to take performance-enhancing drugs on a daily basis, this is somehow apt for a cycling blog. More on that another day.

What is even less well-known is that one of Robert's squires was Guus de Garminge, from the small hamlet, that now lies in what is now known as the Netherlands, for sure, of the same name. Guus was untypical of most of the people of his village, in that he had a hunger to travel the world, see far-off places, meet interesting people, and kill them.

The family legend grew up, that one of Harold's house carls, fighting on into the twilight of the battle of Hastings, was just about to lop off Robert's head, when the loyal squire charge up the steep gradient and flung himself at his master's would-be dispatcher. Between them Robert and Guss, finished off the Saxon and both survived the battle. Duke William, heard about the story and duly knighted Guus in the aftermath of the battle, and bestowed upon de Garminge a small manor house in Hampshire.

The family prospered, and their estate was distinguished from those of the other Norman invaders by the clear signs that directed everyone where to go, and how far to their destination. The de Garminge family married other local families, and eventually invested in overseas trade to Gascony. One younger son, Aubrey de Garmin (as the family were now known) founded the great map-making industry that became all the rage for a short while in medieval London, Whilst another, Villiers Garmin, secured the rights to maps of the unknown over the sea, mapping vast tracts of what was thought to be wilderness out in America.

Like all families though they had their black sheep, Jonny "long road" Garmin, succeeded to the family fortune around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, and invested heavily in mapping Kenya for big-game hunters. Unfortunately Jonny fell for a man from Ujiji, who promised eternal salvation or something, and gave him a blank cheque for the heart of darkness, only for it to never be seen again. Jonny never recovered, and spent the next 30 years, slowly wasting his money on compasses and sextants.

As a result of the excesses of Jonny Garmin, succeeding generations have had to make their own way in the world. His great grandson,  Charlie, currently sits on my handlebars, and acts as a satellite navigation device. Bella Garmin, a great-great granddaughter, has just started working for Skip, although like all the female Garmins, she harbours hopes of a great match to restore the family to its former splendour.

Garmin Towers

The chief aim has always to reacquire the family seat, Garmin Towers, the deeds to which were lost in a famous gambling match at Claridges in 1937 by Bunty Garmin, Charlie's grandfather (Bella is descended from Bunty's younger brother, the famous rake and socialite, Bimbers Garmin). The story goes that Bunty, responded to the taunts from a member of the Tomtomahue family (the Garmin's local neighbours in Hampshire and for centuries their sworn enemies. The family feud dates back to the famous enclosure of Topey Wood, an act for which Tarquin Tomtomahue was never forgiven by the Garmins), to put his gradients where his mouth is, and promptly lost the last remaining asset the family possessed.

Other famous members of the family include Vaughters Garmin who made a name for himself leading a cycling team, and the Italian, Alessandro Garminelli, (descended from a cadet branch of the family that went to Italy in the 14th century and never came back), who became a racing driver.

Despite the lack of money, all the modern-day Garmins are well-educated (Charlie for example went to a minor public school in Tunbridge Wells, while Bella attended Roedean) and impeccably polite, if at times, as befits their troubled and chequered past, somewhat unreliable. The family motto, "Vade ostende mihi viam" owes much to their Dutch roots, as does their general sangfroid when asked for directionn.

Today I rode the Joker, a really fun sportive, which I'll tell you about next time.

Today's route by Charlie Garmin.