Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Kiss me or would you rather, live in a land where the soap won't lather? Dartmoor Classic 2012

Somewhere in the journey home on Sunday afternoon, on the M5, between Exeter and Wellington, Mendip Mackem asked me if I do a recovery ride after a big ride, like Sunday's. "Oh no", I breezily replied, "I go and play 7 a side football on AstroTurf for an hour, that sorts me out."

Didn't it just. Any regular readers will remember I had some knee cartilage issues in January after I twisted my right knee falling off the bike on the Turkey Teaser. For the last two weeks I have been getting similar issues in the other knee, probably brought on by some over-enthusiastic twisting and turning on the football pitch.

So I can cycle for the best part of seven and a half hours across the wilds of Dartmoor, but an hour running about with a football not only does the knee in, but has also drained me of any energy I had left. Fortunately I have had to change my commuting plans tomorrow so will be clogging up the roads with my environment-polluting bike -carrying machine again.

I'm running out of things to say about the Dartmoor classic, it's the third time I have ridden it, and this year I did my best official time of 7 hours 37 minutes, despite the tough weather conditions, and a fair degree of stopping and admiring the views. As well as cycling and admiring the views.

Skip does the descriptive stuff very well on her blog, and you can read it here.  She also takes lots of fantastic pictures, and I'm only sorry that my Devon jersey didn't get more of an outing because of the weather.  If you should browse sportivephoto site , Dartmoor classic page and search rider number 1164 you will see a few pictures of me there too. I apologise for having my rain jacket slightly open on a couple of them, it was a slight climb and I was a bit hot, although I know that is no excuse. Truth is i didn't see the photographer in time to look spick and span.

I am also delighted to see me at the front of a group as we pulled across the plain towards Princeton into a horrible squally headwind. The bloke from the Yogi club kept banging on about Belgian circles, and tried to organise things in a way that was a tad too complicated when you are having your eardrums sand-blasted by the wind and rain.

I also decided to salute the cameras as often as I could. No idea why, seemed like a good idea at the time. I think it was because I had been watching Band of Brothers on Friday night. Now that's leadership.

There is also lots of good stuff on cyclosport including my review:

GuyBuckland wrote:
I have ridden lots of UK sportives and this one is the best by a long way. I have ridden it 3 times, and no matter what is thrown at the organisers they respond brilliantly. This year a tree had blocked the route the night before, which meant a very last minute route change. Not only did they do that, but they also managed to keep the high standard in the re-route.
Marshaling, organisation and sheer friendliness is the best, and the course is tough, technical &
beautiful. They proudly and very correctly say that this is Britain's best sportive. I will be back, if I can get a place!

That just about sums it up I think. Oh, apart from this wonderful picture (below), taken by Peter Foubister, of me and Skip climbing out of Merrivale. In the sunshine, prior to the blast back to HQ that was the last 35 miles. That I did in 1 hour 58. In fact, here are the full breakdowns of my relative performances over the 3 years:

Year     Total time        To Feedstop 1            Back to stop                To home
2010    7-44-09                      2-32                    3-06                         2-06
2011    8-04-54                      2-38                    3-22                         2-03
2012    7-37-35                      2-28                    3-15                         1-55
I don't know what it all means either, and there are so many variables, that the statistics become pointless after a while. I wonder why I do actually record and track them all, perhaps I should stop. 
Of course Devon holds a really special place in my heart. The best years of my childhood were there, and I still go on holiday there on a regular basis. So yes, I was born in Forest Gate a mile from the Boleyn Ground, but if I come from anywhere it's Devon.
Last year I really struggled up that hill, and my face indicates it wasn't exactly easy on Sunday. And yet, I have been more planned and deliberate in my training this year (thank you Rick Jones for that unknown inspiration) and losing a half stone and being more disciplined about my use of my asthma preventative inhaler has all helped.
But this picture just makes me feel so happy when I look at it. I am alive, really alive, doing something that may not be world-beating, but it's pushing me, stretching my capability, and doing so in a very simple way.
I eat, I breathe, I drink, I pedal. Is there anything else?  

Sunday, 17 June 2012

You must stay on your own for slightly longer

Youtube is a blessing and a curse. First, it enables you to watch just about anything you could ever imagine. In my case that means trawling through old videos from bands in the eighties and pretending I'm not middle-aged and grey. Or bald, or sensible. Much. So you can find that great music without having to buy it, but at the same time remember how long ago it all was.

Yesterday was my sister's 50th birthday. Slightly unreal to actually think that anyone I grew up with could possibly be that old. Even though my brother passed that milestone a few years ago, it couldn't be that my closest sibling was five decades old. Still every cloud has a silver lining, and the occasion of a family lunch at my parents' house in Dorset to celebrate the occasion meant a cross-country, straight-line ride was on the cards.

And speaking of clouds, there were a few of them, but fortunately none of them dumped any rain on me. And the wind was fairly light, and when it did come it was only a cross-wind, which all helps. After a week of not riding I was distinctly sluggish to begin with, and it took me as far as Wells before I found a rhythm to my riding. It was also a bit odd that there seemed to be loads of traffic on the roads at 7.30A on a Sunday morning, until I realised there was a car boot sale near Cheddar. I thought e-bay had killed them off, but no, still thriving.

The first major obstacle was the hill from Dinder up towards Shepton Mallet, pretty steep but not too long, and I re-traced a Tour of Wessex back lane to avoid the centre of Shepton. Then it was down to Evercreech, up over the big hill to Bruton, before heading over the rolling countryside towards Gillingham.

Big climb was up to Shaftesbury and Zig-Zag hill, and a blast over Cranbourne Chase to finish. The rest had clearly done me some good, and it was the quickest I have ever done the route by some margin, and some of the previous trips had been wind-assisted. Today's route is a really lovely ride. A fair bit of climbing, but not too much, steep ups and long sweeping downs. I also had one of those moments of bumping into another organised ride, this time a British Heart Foundation Charity thing going the other way near Cranbourne. I must have said hello about 50 times in the space of a couple of miles.

Other than that I didn't see many cyclists today, probably all off doing sportives or been battered into submission by the weather. Fingers crossed for next week's Dartmoor Classic, I really don't fancy 106 miles on the open moor in the wind and the rain. The last couple of years have been brilliant, rally sunny and warm. So if you have any kind of hotline to the people who control these things, please put a word in for me. Thanks.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Dragon Ride Gran Fondo 2012

I had a couple of conversations at work recently that surprised me. One was with a colleague who couldn't understand the point of blogging. Aside from the obvious self-indulgence of the process, and the arrogance of thinking you have something to say that someone wants to read, there is something cathartic about setting out my thoughts in print. Or type. Or something.

But my point was that social media, blogging, all of this stuff fulfils two very valuable functions. First, in our mad frenetic world of "telephone burn and a purposeful gait", it helps us stay in touch. But there is more. For introverts like me it gives me the opportunity to say something without the draining effect of other people interacting physically with me. Don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are people, but, you can be very tiring sometimes, I'm delicate you see.

Which were precisely the thoughts going round my head half way up the long slow drag of a climb towards Cray in the Dragon Ride Gran Fondo last Sunday. I'd been going for quite a while, about 70 miles, 5-6000 feet of climbing already, five hours in the saddle and more to come. The cumulative effects of over 1000 miles on the bike in the last 30 days seemed to be catching up with me, and I was wondering if I was going to make it. I had just passed a sign saying only 100km to go. Which is quite psychologically tough when you have already cycled close on 70 miles.

But there were encouraging signs too. A lot of the people who had gone speeding past me after about 20-30 miles were slowly being reined in, and very few were going past me anymore. Everyone else looked tired, and besides, we were so far away from anywhere, especially the Event Village, that it would take the same 100km mileage to get back by any way you could think of anyway. So this being mining country, it was time to dig deep, grind up the hill and hope for better things.

And sure enough at the top of the hill, in a layby, surrounded by long, orderly queues there was an event feedstation. I had given the first stop a bit of a miss, because it was clearly going to take forever to get anything, and I had enough water to keep me going, as well as only being about 33 miles in. By the time I reached this next stop I was almost out of water, and had no choice but to stop. And the queue turned out to be a boon, for it made me drink my remining water, scoff a couple of bars from my pocket, eat a banana and half a dozen new potatoes from the feedstop as I waited my turn for the water bowser.

It probably took the best part of 25 minutes to get water, but the enforced stop made me eat loads, and this was enough to keep me going for the next 30 miles or so. I also stashed a banana and a few potatoes for the journey, and they were to help me finish with a flourish.

My route should have looked like this. But Charlie had a couple of malfunctions and only recorded about 100 miles worth. Still this link will enable you to click through and see some of the wonderful scenery via the google streetview function. Some of the climbs were wonderful, Black Mountain was my favourite, a long 6-7% climb followed by a wonderful empty ribbon of tarmac, with hairpins and switchbacks to descend on.

Bryn Melyn

The Rhigos and Bwlch are also pretty good, fairly easy climbs and also great fun coming down. The real killer climb was on the 85 mile mark, refered to as the Devil's Elbow (Bryn Melyn), and if you didn't know your ^r*e from your elbow you would call it something else. Wickedly steep and about a mile in length, it had quite a few people walking by the first hairpin. It also had the obligatory photographer capturing the gurning.

Rhigos climb

The last food stop was at the top of the Rhigos, but I chose to copy a few enterprising souls and have a lovely ice-cream from a van in an adjacent layby, as well as pocketed a full-fat coke for later.

Once off the Bwlch there was long descent practically back to the finish, and after a quick comfort stop towards the bottom of the hill, with added full-fat coke and banana being applied to my flagging energy levels, I quickly caught up with the group that had gone past me whilst I was stopped. It's a well-known fact that Cavendish has a banana and full-fat coke before the end of his flat stages, so he can hop onto groups and work his way to the front, for the glory of the finish.

In my dreams! But I did manage a bit of a sprint, before bundling everything into the car and making a sharp getaway to beat the oncoming rain. My official time was a few seconds over 9 hours 19 minutes, cycling time of 8-44, which isn't great, but for 12K feet of climbing and 128 miles isn't bad either. I was 773rd out of 1766 that finished. I'm not sure how many of the 4500 entered the Gran as opposed to the Medio Fondo, but I'm pretty sure it was more than 1766. Unlike many sportives, this one had a timing mat out in the back of beyond to check who did the long route, so I guess a lot of people switched to the short route, or just plain bailed. I wouldn't have blamed them, it was probably the toughest course I have done in one day in the UK.

As Mr Leadman II pointed out to me today, it is also another longest mileage day for me, and one I can't see being broken for a while. Looking at my average heart rate figures I can see a declinng trend over the last week, which is a clear sign of imminent overtraining. So I am going to have a mini break this week and not ride until at least Sunday, and then only over to my parents in Dorset.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Business Finished: Tour of Wessex 2012

It's an odd thing. Writing your blog at five o'clock on the morning of a Bank Holiday Tuesday. So much is wrong with that, in concept and detail, quite frankly it makes my head spin a bit, especially because having checked Facebook, I think the only person I know that is likely to be awake is The Princess, and she is still in yesterday, half a world away. And that makes it just weirder.

I couldn't sleep. I woke up about two hours ago, partly because junior Mendip Rouleur is very poorly, and partly because I am very, very hungry indeed. So I have already had breakfast, I'll probably have second breakfast when I finish this, and move on to third breakfast by the time the family wake up. If my Polar HR monitor is anywhere close to accurate I burned about 16 thousand calories in the last four days.

Thank heavens for the Jubilee. Without its extra day off work I may have been forced to pretend I was capable of cognitive function in the office, instead of getting this wonderful day to recover. I rode to work on Friday too, so ended up with a nice round total of 380 miles for the long weekend.

I am very grateful to all the messages of encouragement and support, and particularly to Chunky MAMIL, for his questions (more on this below) and my boss for his motivational speech as I left the office on Friday: "Course you can do it, you big wimp". It may not be in many leadership manuals, but it sure works on me. Which just goes to prove he has got the measure of me.

Stage 1 : Somerset & Wiltshire

This is King Alfred's Tower. It sits atop a hill, which is a brute of a climb, and comes after you have already done Mudgely, Cheddar Gorge, Crosscoombe, Bruton (in and out both involve hills) and have about 60 miles in your legs.

I have worked out that cycling sportives on your own, can be tough. Particularly between the 60 to 80 mile mark, and despite the pleasant weather on Saturday, by the time I puffed and wheezed up this hill, I was into some very dark and gloomy places. And I don't mean Wiltshire. I had seen the Doc at the start line, with mini Doc in tow, but he was a way off registering and I was all kitted out for an early start, so elected to go on my own. Apart from the few hundred others doing it.

Anyway, I ploughed on across the rolling hills around Warminster, the Deverills, which came and went, and seem a cross between a Bronte novel and something rather painful. Before long the wind was at my back, and I was cycling through the grounds of Stourhead, and my least favourite road on a sportive. It was covered in mud on the Lionheart and it's still covered in mud now, plus an extra layer of gravel.

From there it was a few lumps and bumps, plus the joy of a tailwind assisted flypast back along the road from Castle Cary to Somerton. Which has to be a first, I usually slog into a headwind on that stretch.

To keep me occupied I'd been thinking about my favourite colour. Which is green by the way, and to honour the day I wore this, the flag of Devon jersey from "Half-baked Brand :

With the plethora of Union flags and red, white & blue bunting everywhere, it seemed a good day to be thinking about colours. Nail them to the mast, show your true ones, the colour of money, or colourful characters. Or maybe more specific stuff? That piece of driving made me see red, or I'm green with envy of people who can climb at 15 mph, still, no rose-tinted glasses, or black arts, for this greyhair, for I knew that tomorrow I would be doing it all again.

Normally there is a sense of euphoria at the the last few miles of a sportive, and whilst I was pleased to get in before the heavens opened, the forecast was for rain all day on the Sunday. Here is Saturday's route, and you can see that despite the mileage and the climbing I was not hanging around. I fully expected to pay for it sometime, so hurried home to avoid the rain, and eat as much as I could before Stage 2.

Stage 2: Somerset & Dorset

Affectionately known as a trip to the seaside, it was with some  trepidation that I awoke to a gloomy Sunday morning. But, a very big but, no rain. And even better, someone up there clearly likes us, because a hole had been crafted in the clouds to give us a blustery but dry day. Apart from 20 minutes near the end when we got a short sharp downpour, the day stayed mercifully dry. I was all kitted out in my ACG finest, and was soon unzipping the arms of my gilet and enjoying the occasional bit of sunshine.

It's lovely route. Down past the castle in Sherborne, through pretty villages, valleys and countryside, past the Cerne Abbas giant, and on towards the sea at Lulworth Cove. Up and over the firing ranges on Purbeck before sweeping past Corfe Castle and back up north. The route is a long one at over 118 miles, and I fell in with an expert Investor Relations' Manager, E,  from Sky TV, so we chatted about football, sport, the fact that they had brilliant access to Brailsford, Cav & Co. and it all passed the time quite nicely.

A couple of times I had seen SG arrive at the foodstops just after us, going considerably quicker too, but we always managed to stay a short distance ahead. She was doing just the one day, and the lack of company was the hardest thing. It's psychological I think, to do one day on your own is tough, three can drive me a bit bonkers if I am not careful.

Corfe Castle
 The wind was a tad blustery at times, particularly on the final run-in back towards Somerton, and I did the bulk of the work to be honest. After having ridden on my own all day on Saturday, I was getting close to my energy limit, despite the copious amounts of food I had eaten on the Saturday night, and it gets harder to take on board food whilst cycling. I tried to persuade E to ride on the Sunday, as much for company as anything else, but it was not to be, E could not be persuaded and Monday was to be a solo effort again.

Here is Sunday's route

Stage 3: Somerset & Devon (just)

Day 3 was again overcast, with a fresh northerly breeze to start the day. By now I was shattered, and it was more about the brain than the body, willing me to get back on the bike. Because Day 3 is tough, on its own, and combined with the other two, it makes for a very hard three days. You could always tell the ones who had just come for a day's riding. They were the ones zooming off into the distance, or jumping on to testosterone-fuelled groups of skinny men. The 3 day people all had sunken eyes, weary faces, and a certain plodding style to their riding. I just wanted to get it done.

Which was a bit of a shame because on the whole the ride is delightful. A flat blast across the levels, skirting Bridgwater and then up into the Quantocks. The climb up Quantock Common is brutal, reaching 20% in places, and the descent, the notorious Crowcombe Hill, is also just as steep and technical. Combine it with gravel, over-exuberance and macho pride and you get a crash, the aftermath of which I saw down at the back of an ambulance by the feedstop. Nothing serious, but a timely warning.

On to the question of gearing. I ride a compact 50/34 with a 12/27 on the back. What I particular like about this subject is its simplicity and yet also its ability to confuse the un-initiated. Whilst I am sure I would have murdered for a triple yesterday morning on the climb out of Stogumber (or it may have been into it, I don't know), I was also glad I didn't have the extra weight or complexity. Too many choices is not good for me, particularly when my brain had been turned into a quivering mass that could only think of food and sleep. So you pay your money, make your choice, but I don't think it makes too much difference, you can only have so many gears on a bike.

That said, I wouldn't have minded a 30 on the back, my thighs were burning so much by now that even the small bumps in the main road around Minehead felt like the Tourmalet. I stuffed loads of jelly babies in my mouth and pressed on down the A39.

And now it's rant time. Bank holidays clearly bring out some of the worst impatience and frustration in the human race. On bikes or in cars. People- nothing slows you down as much as being dead, it's not a race!

Having been forced into the bushes on a back road by a car coming way too fast round a blind bend, I was cycling cautiously. Unlike some of my fellow riders. So just in case anyone ever reads this, here are my three please:

1. Give other riders a shout. Particularly if you are coming down a steep, noisy, windy hill and intend on overtaking someone. Especially if traffic is coming towards us, and you are on the wrong side of the road in a group of four, in team kit from a major on line cycling retailer that is not Wiggle. And sounds like a hit from Diana Ross. I will not be buying gear from your website ever again you idiots.

2. And you are also allowed to be just friendly and say hello if you cycle past a lone rider, or ask people at the road side if they need help if they have a mechanical.

3. Keep you gels, your wrappers, and yes banana skins (which take years to biodegrade and are harmful to badgers) in your pockets. Would it kill you to stop at a bin or wait till the feedstop?

Rant over.

The motorists on the A39 into Porlock were not happy as they were faced with the normal Bank Holiday traffic and a cycle event, causing huge jams. I was a bit sceptical about whether this was a wise route choice by endragon, our organisers, but the highlight of the entire three days was about to come. The climb up the Toll road was superb. Cool temperature on what had turned into a warm day, just the right 6-8% gradient to keep it interesting, switchbacks and hairpins, and wonderful, wonderful views.

On the way up I pondered on the career of Stuart Adamson and Big Country. If you look at all his work with the Skids and the first two, possibly three BG albums, it was all about the guitar. In partcular a corruscating, searing edge of a guitar. So yes, the music mellowed a bit. But I don't think it did Adamson any favours, he looks like he lived a fairly unhappy life, and whilst there are surely fans of the later stuff, it's not my cup of tea. Looking out over the bay below, I'm not sure it was his either.

From the top of the toll road it was "simple" matter of negotiating the roller coaster of a road that heads south across Exmoor to Exford and the second feedstop. I ate as much as I could stomach and ground out the last few hills before coming down off the moor on a fast descent near Elworthy. As I reached the junction I was passed by a blue car, then by two riders, one of whom was shouting something about braking and waving his fist in the air. I quickly caught them up and asked what the fuss was, only to be told that the car had been about 6 feet behind me all the way down the hill, after dangerously overtaking them and pulling in between us. One puncture or pull on my brakes and I'd have been dead, and wouldn't have known a thing about it.

I would have been really annoyed though, to get so close to the finish and be killed by an idiot. A DNF at that stage would have been heart-breaking. It was all pretty much downhill or flat for the last 30 miles, the few small hills felt interminable, and so I was delighted to latch onto a tandem being ridden by two huge blokes. On the flat they towed me, I gave them some help on the bumps, and got out of their way on any downhill, mass multiplied by velocity remember?

Day 3 looks like this. I was a bit slower today, at 15 mph exactly, which given my level of tiredness I am very pleased with.

Now for the boring statistical bit (2010 in brackets):

Total elapsed ie official time including all stops  22 hours 27 minutes (23-23)
Riding time  21 hours 37 minutes (22 - 20)
Stopped time 50 minutes (63) in nine feedstops and other short stops.
Distance travelled 337.4 miles (329.4)

So what we have is about an hour quicker and eight miles more. Very happy with that. Not sure about the Dragon ride though, see how I feel on Saturday. Right time for second breakfast.