Monday, 28 May 2012

Unfinished Business

Yesterday I rode the longest single day's ride in terms of distance travelled that I have ever done. Longer than the last day of Land's End to John o' Groats by just over a mile, the 122.24 miles I spent cycling to, during and from the Somerset 100 charity ride, were a blisteringly hot experience.

It was also the culmination of four days riding in a five day period, with a total mileage of about 250 miles. Mendip Mackem was my partner for the day, and it must have been something about the early start that made us both absent-mindedly fail to record all our routes properly. But fortunately MM is a technological genius, he may disagree, and it may all be relative, but I was doing my best impersonation of an old fart when he was explaining how to splice files together, or something like that.

He has created a route based on our average speed, or thereabouts, times of departure and arrival, and exact route of the actual ride. Our routes to and from were pretty direct and I won't trouble you with them, suffice to say the former was a bit speedier and easier than the latter. By the time I got back home I was conked. Technical term. Not only had it been a long day, but man alive, was it hot. MM drank over 6 litres of water, his poor northern body not used to sunshine and temperatures above 15C. Not only that, but as he wears shorts and just a cycling top in winter because he is so hard, he has nowhere to go within the realm of decency once the mercury starts rising.

I fared slightly better with my Mediterranean blood, honestly I have a lot to thank that ancestor from Nimes for. Now I know why I like the hot weather. Je suis tres cuit. That's French by the way. Aussi, je suis absolutement crevee. I once used those words at the top of Superbagneres, and the woman in the cafe started a conversation with me. That will teach me for trying to be a smart arse.

A lovely route, and a lovely day with lovely people. Not a word that gets used enough in my book, lovely. But this day out is one where the riders are all super friendly, super polite and the organisers from Somerset Cycling are just wonderful. And it raises money for my favourite charity too, so just has to be ridden. Some nice hills, some wonderful views, and the parcours, c'est fantastique (also French).

Which brings me on to next Saturday. And next Sunday. And next Monday. The Tour of Wessex has loomed larger and larger since I bailed out of days 2 & 3 last year. As with 2011 I'm entering on my own, apart from the hundreds of others doing it. It's a psychological battle to ride three very long days like that on my own. I'm sure I can do it, I did the route in 2010, and I'm way fitter than then. As long as I eat loads and remember to get up, and stay rubber side down, I can do it.

But I want to enjoy it too. This post has more than a hint of the confessional about it sometimes. Typing into a computer is so impersonal I forget that 6 people actually read this blog. 7 if you count my sister, when I remind her. So what I would really like are some questions from those readers. What questions should I ponder on when I trundling those 329 miles next weekend. Preferably insightful, preferably open, and preferably with more than a hint of a dilemma about them.

I promise to think about every single one of them, and give you an answer next Tuesday when I type up the blog.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Wear the right kit

Given my propensity for style-fascism when it comes to bike-related apparel, I took a bit of my own medicine today from some of the ACG. (By the way did I just mix a metaphor there?). It was something to do with the ill-fitting nature of my chamois pad in my shorts. I put my hands up and confess, I was in a bit of a rush  this morning, and having had some punishment dished out last week by Skip about my shorts being nearly see-through in certain places, I was a bit undecided about which pair to wear today.

Considering that the abuse was coming from a couple of people who spend way too much time wearing tabards and Bermuda shorts and hiking boots, whilst purporting to do something they call cycling (AKA "mountain biking") you might call this rich. But I don't, standards are standards and when it comes to lycra bib-shorts there are of course rules to be followed. Ahem.

Which is why I will be wearing something white, black, green and yellow tomorrow on the Somerset 100, looks like it's going to be another hot day, unless it rains earlier than forecast. Confusing kit choice ahead.

Good luck to Crewe tomorrow. Bunny's team, and also the source of Nicky Maynard. Notice how the sleeves and under garment are exactly the right shade of blue, along with a perfect colour of claret for the main part of the jersey. I get so cross when the club messes about with our kit, claret sleeves or socks, stupid patterns or weaves.

Not quite sure what he is pointing at, but I think he has just scored. Maybe he's pointing at someone with the wrong colour socks on.
By the way, today was an ACG ride with 8 cyclists, it was fantastic fun, and Skip's blog describes it really well. I'm off to eat and then get an early night.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

How fast?

I haven't been this hot since I rode up the Hourquette d'Ancizan. That was last August. It may even have been hotter today, it was certainly more humid, there was more traffic and definitely more potholes. But Dundry Hill doesn't last quite as long thankfully, and I was soon at the top.

I was meant to be taking it easy, what with riding on Saturday and Sunday, I'll probably do another 150 miles this week. So why I decided to ride all the way to Bishop Sutton, up to Hinton Blewett and then do a Harptree of the Eastern variety, I'll never know. Perhaps it was the sunshine, although not Cowardesque midday, there is certainly something about fine weather that draws the English out of their armchairs. By the time I came down the Gorge, it was almost as if the Tour of Britain was going on.

But Dundry, no I had a purpose there. Over the back of that hill there are two descents. Both fairly steep, but one is twisty and narrow and full of gravel. It's the one that means a short ride home. But you can't descend at anything like a reasonable speed, and in the wet it's treacherous.

The other way is the main road from Bristol out to the Chew Valley. Straight, wide, smooth, fast. Warm air, less dense, slight (6 mph cross-tailwind) breeze, unencumbered by too many layers, jug-ears contained in a pirate style buff.

I wasn't even pedalling.

I knew I was fast, but I never thought I could actually go that fast, the previous top speed on a bike had been 47.4 mph, which oddly I had done twice, once in 2009 and once last year. Isn't it sad I have all this data, it's a family thing, the collection of useless statistics that goes back years. I had begun to think that 47.4 was some sort of terminal velocity for a Mendip Rouleur on a 54 cm frame with a compact chainset.

So to go over 3 mph faster, yes miles, you are not looking at kilometers here, is very surprising to me.

Apart from that it was just a normal day at the office!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Breaking Rule 16

Today, as a result of torches, osteopaths and a dentist, I had a day's holiday from work. My parents may have bequeathed me baldness, dodgy cardivasular equipment, asthmatic lungs, short stature, a love of the foods that pile on the fat, a propensity to stress about timekeeping and the odd bit of OCD. But by God they gave me strong teeth and fine, fine gums.

A perfect daytime opportunity for a cyle ride I thought, in the daytime too. In the middle of the week, how naughty is that?

And it was sunny. And warm. So it would have been very wrong to do something useful like tidy my sock drawer or clear out the shed of junk. A job I have managed to avoid because you need warm and dry weather to stack the contents on the lawn while you re-classify, re-cycle and put everything back in again but in a slightly different order.

So Skip and I went of a spin around the levels. And it was brisk, as was the wind, but it was lovely to be out in sunshine. I'm giddy with luxes, overflowing with Vitamin D, and deliriously unSAD.

Our route is here, and it was very flat. Skip will blog later I'm sure, and may even have a picture of my offensive clothes that broke said Rule 16 of The Velominati. Some rules are just made to be broken. Like taking a random day off, red leg warmers on the commuting run, and wearing that kit. But you know what? It was fun!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

I know the sun must set to rise

I was born in 1964, at Forest Gate Hospital, East London. My parents lived in a small flat above a baker's shop in High Street North, East Ham. When my Mum was about 5 months pregnant with me she remembers standing by the open window of the flat as the bus carrying the victorious West Ham FA cup-winning side made its way to the local town hall. She was struck, she tells me, by how good-looking the young captain, Bobby Moore, was.

So you see, my affair started before I was even born. I remember picking West Ham as my team, in the late sixties, probably at the urging of my Dad. I can't remember really, it's just always been there. My first proper match, as opposed to grainy images on very low-definition television was back in 1971. The year this picture was taken. I actually had it on my wall, my granddad took the Mirror, and saved it for me.

For the record, we beat Stoke 2-1, and Bobby Moore scored one of his few goals. I don't remember much about the match, other than where I sat was in the upper side of the old west stand, which is more or less where I sit now.

It has been a very long journey, far longer than today's 100 km (although it was even less than that) sportive, the Black Rat challenge. If I were to tell you it all, this post would be longer than the whole blog. Suffice to say that I did think it no longer affected me as emotionally as it used to. There was a phase back in the early nineties, when as a single man living in London, with few outgoings and fewer friends, I spent way too much time, money and energy going to as many games as I could.

But gradually my attendance has diminished, and the cost of travel, my disillusion with the finances of the undeserving connected with football, and the alternative lure of cycling has drawn me away. But, to quote EW it's like a twist upon a thread, it draws you back, something as connected and deep will always be joined to me. Earlier this year, someone very wise and perceptive said to me that I should stop trying to rationalise what was an emotional bond, it couldn't be wished away by logic.

It was this acceptance and two matches, or more pertinently, the events that surrounded them, that made me face up to the reality that I really am West Ham till I die. Bristol City away, mini MR the mascot. He met the players, he played on the pitch, and he led the  team out. All stirring stuff, he loved it and I was proud of him. But it was Kevin Nolan that clinched it. He took it upon himself to look after my son, treat him well, despite the pressure and focus on the match. He was doing what was right even though he didn't have to.

Kevin Nolan, top bloke

Then of course there is yesterday. My nerves shredded, my voice hoarse, this play-off final mattered desperately to me. In a way that surprised me. But apart from the elation, relief and fervour of victory, that finally came shortly after Ricardo Vaz Te dispatched the ball into the roof of the net for the winner, there was something else.

When I was at a party in my student days, football was not cool. It was seedy, rough and sometimes downright dangerous. At this party, one slightly bohemian type exclaimed, "death to all football supporters", to much hilarity from the assembled students. That is what the intelligentsia thought in those days. Nowadays every celebrity is a fan, and can't wait to jump on the back of any footballing bandwagon. You know it's bad when politicians tell you who they support. Well yesterday, I was just one of 48,000 Irons. And yes, it's not Hammers, it's Irons, and if you don't know why, go look at this history.

So I often think of that moment as something of a turning point, when I realised that my roots lay in the dockyards and factories of Bristol, or London, or even Yeovil, but they did not lie in swanky parties, or theatres. This is just how it is, football is in my identity. I've been threre since before I was born, and I'm sure there will be people I haven't seen in years who were thinking of me yesterday because of that match. As Nick Hornby said, no-one else gets that, just us.

If you want to read about the Black Rat cyclosportive,  have alook at  Skip's Blog later, or Cyclosport by about Wednesday, she took some great photos around motivation corner.

It turned into a great training ride, having done a long ride last weekend, and with another next Sunday, then the three day Tour of Wessex, Dragon ride and Dartmoor Classic all in the next month, I needed some time to get over the emotion of yesterday. We were quick though, as you can see from Charlie's route.

 There is a common sight during the Tour de France, and indeed many other professional tours, of a single rider leaping from the front of the peloton with no reaction from the rest of the group. At first glance it may appear to be just another lone rider attempting to gain the glory of a stage win. There is though an agreement amongst riders that if a stage of the Tour de France goes through, or near the hometown, of one of the riders that they will be able to go ahead and stop and chat with their family and friends. This though will not happen if that town is near to the finish.

Well the Black Rat went right past my house today, so as we approached, I put a bit of a shift on, having warned the family I was coming. It was marvellous to see them on the doorstep, with mini MR waving the claret and blue flag we had bought outside Wembley yesterday. Well, this weekend really has been Paradise.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Tank Park Salute

First news from the treatment room. As you will see from his latest blog, my cycling chum is actually not a happy Bunny. In fact, so much so that he has been forced to bail from our great Pyrenean adventure in August. I had hoped to be able to keep up with him a bit more  than usual, but it is not to be, and to be honest, it is worse for him than for me.

If you know of anyone with a juvenile sense of humour (around 13-15 works best), who doesn't mind sharing a room with a dramatic, untidy hypochondriac (that's me by the way), and who also has nothing better to do than cycle from Biarritz to Argeles Sur Mere in the last week of August, and can put up with a lot of faffing, and I mean a lot, then point them in my direction.

The second bit of news is that my neck is much improved, although playing football, hanging on the shoulder of the last defender and looking backwards all night, has not helped. I hope it is two steps forward and one back, rather than the other way around.

Now, to business. The Wiggle Jurassic Beast to be precise. Which I rode yesterday, and what a splendid day out it was. The aim was to replace last week's aborted ride with a long ride out on my own, preferably in nice weather. And I think I succeeded all all three counts:

  • Long, in that it was a shade under 100 miles (99.4, and no I didn't cycle round the block to make it up to 100, I trying to resist that behaviour), and lasted 6 hours 42 minutes with all stops, 6 hours 24 with, and had about 6000 feet of climbing in it
  • Alone, but definitely not lonely, because there were hundreds of people either passing me (not that many) or being passed by me (only in the latter stages when we caught up with the short and medium routers). And besides the countryside was gorgeous.
  • Nice weather? About time, just about perfect cycling weather, mild, breezy, sunshine and cool.
Charlie Garmin let me down by completely freezing and failing to record anything. So here is a link to the organisers route. Right from the get go the route was fabulous. The ride started at the national tank museum at Bovington camp, which was a bit surreal, hundreds of cyclists, surrounded by dozens of tanks dotted about the place. There were a few more on the roads leading away from the museum, as the area is still home to many tank regiments, not to mention their training grounds.

The connections continued, for this great man was also based nearby when he was in the military, and bought his famous house, Clouds Hill, which is now owned by the National Trust, which we passed after a mile or so. Even spookier was cycling past the spot where he was killed, exactly 77 years ago to the day.

And my number for the day? 6777. Spookier and spookier.

The route continued through a forest, resplendent with bluebells, wild garlic and so quiet you could hear birds singing to their hearts content. By now I was on my own, and I studiously avoided company for the most part, wanted to do it on my own.

Despite being called the Jurassic Beast, much of the long route was into the heart of inland rural Dorset, through the picturesque Milton Abbas and up, then down, then up, and then down Bulbarrow Hill. Despite the fine conditions there were a few twisty, tricky descents with lots of gravel and water still about. From there it was onto the rolling plains, round the back of the Cerne Abbas Giant without having the opportunity to stand and gawp!

The route then headed south east, and I took advantage of a large farm truck to pull me up one of the many inclines, drafting not cheating, of course. I was now on territory I'd cycled before, it's part of Day 2 of the Tour of Wessex, and heads down to Lulworth cove, and up onto the ridges around Isle of Purbeck. And there are a lot of those ridges, and the route seemed to pick every one of them quite gratuitously, even if it meant committing the heinous crime of doubling back or crossing over itself.

Somewhere near Corfe Castle we merged with a charity cycle event, also with a mix of routes, and rider of all shapes, types and bikes. The potential for mix-ups was huge, but eventually I found myself going up when they were going down, and vice versa. Going past Corfe Castle for the second time, I knew I was in the right place.

Once past the castle, there was just one major hill and a few small draggy climbs left before I was back at Bovington. I found out later that I had missed a gold standard time by 4 minutes, but you know what? I really, really don't care. I really enjoyed myself and to do the course as a solo rider in the time I did, whilst enjoying it thoroughly too, was a real delight.

Less delightful are my pink arms. Despite remembering to cover my face in sun cream I thought my arms would be tough enough not to burn. Very wrong. I also forgot chamois cream, but as i stayed at my parents' house I discovered that Nivea cream is an OK substitute, just!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Till you change your mind

Regular readers (both of you) will know that I pride myself on being the living embodiment of KBO. Well today I feel like the embodiment of Poets' day. Only tomorrow is Monday, but you get the idea.

Today was supposed to look like this challenge. A good long ride over a fairly challenging course, designed to strengthen my endurance base in the early Spring. As I look out of the window now, I could almost believe it is Spring, as white fluffy clouds scud across the pale blue sky, and the sun beams down on my ever-growing garden's grass. Only those clouds are also being blown around by a north-easterly breeze and it's a bit chilly out there, more akin to March than May.

So what happened?

Last Thursday I got into a really dangerous and physically demanding situation. Yes, that's right I had a conversation at my desk with someone and turned my head suddenly to the left, which was bound to cause a muscle spasm. Something to do with the hyper-flexibility of certain parts of my spinal column compared to the rigidity of others, and the brain sending signal to some of these muscles:

The next 18 hours were agony, and the osteopath I saw on Friday morning was non-committal about my chances of riding today. Yesterday morning I still needed painkillers so I decided to officially bail from the event. But it's a bit like that moment when you make an appointment to see the Doctor, your symptoms diminish and you know you are going to feel a bit fraudulent at the point when they say, "now how can I help you today?" Then they do the "look". The one that says "shirker". Paranoid? Me? Doesn't mean they are not out to get me.

I digress.

I started to feel slightly less pain, downgraded from co-codamol to paracetamol plus, sometime during yesterday's cup final, about the point where Chelski got the benefit of yet another dodgy decision. Still at least that prevented Steven Gerard getting another winner's medal. Yes, still bitter, 6 years' later.

So I decided to give it a go, and met Mendip Mackem and Skip in Axbridge, rode to the HQ in Cheddar, signed on and set off.

And it hurt. As it quite often does on a sportive, only this time I was hurting at a level that I normally get after about 80 miles, not 8. My legs were fine, I ambled up Cheddar gorge and across the levels to Wedmore, but by then I was starting to get new pain in shoulder and back, so decided, for once, to be sensible. I cycled back to Cheddar, dropped off my timing chip and came home. I think MM and Skip thought I was mad for even starting, but I would have wondered about it all day if I had never given it a go.

This is my sportive which is slightly truncated as you can see. I still managed over 1500 feet of climbing in my 26 miles, and I have probably done more exercise today than 95% of the UK population. And I am planning to compensate next week, honest. But I made the right decision, so I don't have to justify it, do I?

I think the moderate amount of exercise was probably about right as the osteopath did say that I needed to keep moving it and stretching the neck. And I do feel a lot better, if for no other reason than at least I know I wasn't up to it today. And I didn't cause a longer term injury to find out either.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

What gets you moving?

Ah yes motivation. I cycled past motivation corner today on my way home. Not that I dawdled or even thought about it, for I was on something of a mission. I think I recorded a new PB for the fastest home-bound commute. Normally I slog gently home, tired and weary after delivering bucket-loads of value to my employers.

Today I was out of the basement and up the ramp, through the traffic light, like I was Bradley Wiggins trying to win a time trial. Not always a good idea in at ten past five in Bristol's delightful traffic.

Just like me but with talent, speed & style

When I was learning how to manage people (stop laughing!) I learnt all about Mr McGregor. Not the one that tried to shoot Peter Rabbit, but this one. The gist is this.  You want good long term results: be nice. You want short term results: instill fear.

 Guess what I was motivated by today.  Yep, it's Mrs Mendip Rouleur's Yoga night. If I wasn't home by 7PM, I was a dead man. I was home at 6.22.

I always thought it was a bit simplistic, Theory X and Y. Today I have demonstrated  just how simplistic and motivating fear can be.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The best a man can get

Here is today's weather report for cyclists. If you are a bike rider please go to the BBC weather site, it'll give you enough to know what coat to wear.

Between 6AM and 7.30AM in the North Somerset & Bristol area it was mild. If you have southern French lineage, you will need leg warmers and a warm top, if you are from Sunderland the usual shorts and ultra thin layer will be fine. It's drizzly bordering on light rain, but nothing to worry about.

A slight north-easterly breeze becomes a light wind at 500 feet. Quite cooling if you have too many layers on, but I would imagine a pain in the rear if slogging over the levels into it.

Probably the best cycling day of the week weather-wise.

Be careful on back roads, they are full of crap, thorns, mud, gravel and minor floods where ditches and gullies are still full of water. The hills are still draining and you will find run off on the down slopes of any roads, so be careful on descents, particularly on little-used roads, like Old Bristol Hill.

Car drivers and pedestrians are normal, for this time of the morning. The usual mix of auto-pilot, considerate and gormless.

Be careful out there.