Saturday, 28 July 2012

Holiday in the sun

Respectability. Do you think it happens to all of us? One day we are on demonstrations, wearing stretch black jeans and Doc Marten boots, with hand-knitted black and red jumpers. Then all of a sudden the music is too loud, you worry about your pension and you find yourself always looking at sell-by dates on tins of baked beans. Just to check.

Well, if a certain John Lydon was watching the Olympic ceremony last night, I wonder if he was delighted or horrified. A certain Tory MP, and I won't even bother to look up his name, because he deserves no more publicity, did describe the ceremony as lefty rubbish. Which may be true, but then, we have other traditions besides pomp and circumstance.

Tolpuddle. Great Reform Act. Yes, the NHS, still the best even if a bit creaky. Go further back and you find the Levellers, the Diggers, and in 1381, The Peasants' Revolt.

So I know they are spending billions of our taxes, and it's easy to sneer and scoff. Though probably not at the same time. But last night I was quite proud to be British. Remembered that we do some things very well. A bit of teenage rebellion in my case, all safely forgotten by most now. And while they didn't quite go for "Anarchy in the UK", or "God Save the Queen" it was still the Sex Pistols. And not many nations would have the courage to do that.

Last week I wore this on the Tour of the Cotswolds:

It was the closest I could get to patriotism to mark the stunning British Tour success. Today, it being an Axbridge Cycling Group ride, I naturally wore my ACG top. Modelled here by Skip, at the Potting Shed cafe in Langport.

She's just checking her head is still screwed on. And threatening to punch me for taking her photo. In front of her are the remains of 8 cyclists' cafe stop refreshments, for we were a proper peloton today, we had more people in our line than the GB road race team. And it was almost as fast as their chase of the breakaway.

Figgy, Broadway Danny Rose, King of the Hill, Nelson, S, M (the latter two will get their names, don't worry) plus the two ACG stalwarts (Skip & I), hot-tailed it across the levels via High Ham on a sunny and breezy day. I fear the Summer could be over tomorrow, for the forecast is not good, so we had to make the most of it. Generally we were a well matched group, except when it came to the lumps and bumps when Figgy invariably shot off the front.

I was feeling a little fatigued today after a combined 63 miles of commuting on the bike yesterday. A trip that included the climbs of Long Lane Wrington, Yewtree Batch (Butcombe), Dundry Hill, Redwood Lodge, Backwell Hill, Cleeve Hill and Burrington Combe.

There must be simpler ways of getting to and from work than this route. It also included over 5000 feet of climbing, which combined with the quick ride I did on  Tuesday night after work
 with Skip, which had over 2000 feet, andtoday's route (where I added a climb up Shipham Hill after everyone else had gone home) with a further 2600 feet, means I've done the Tourmalet and  Aubisque this week. Shame I'll have to do that sort of thing in a single morning in a few weeks' time.

If you were wondering, details of my itinerary can be found on the Pyractif website. A few people have asked what I'll be doing, and I have that strange mixture of fear and excitement that comes before a tough challenge.

The tour does sound a bit like a headache remedy (Pyrenean coast-to-coast pro-strength), but believe me, it is a bit more formidable than it sounds. I'm getting to that stage where I'm avoiding ill people and starting to be ultra-cautious in case I crash and injure myself. Like poor Fabian today, what was he thinking?

Still I have prepared about as much as I can, and that would never have happened when I was a teenager. So perhaps there are some benefits to this respectability lark. Maybe.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

What we have will always remain

Well it's been quite a week for cycling, particularly British cycling. And I use that word advisedly, because it's more than English for once. I'll leave all the superlatives, outpourings of emotion and open top bus parades to others, I just wanted to reflect on the essence of Britishness.

The way Wiggins has carried himself, with that mix of swagger, elegance, respect for tradition, and genuine humility and thankfulness at his, and his team's, achievements, has been so refreshing to see and hear. For a British team, with a British rider to win the Tour is the equivalent of winning the World Cup, the Euros, the Champions League and the Premier League all rolled into one. So for the man that did it to be so understated about it is such a delightful contrast to the celebrations and hysterics you would see from the footballers.

And Froome (almost my namesake for I have Froom grandparents and ancestors, mini MR is convinced we are related) is similarly modest. And born in Kenya with adopted British passport and nationality, following in his parents' line. David Millar, Scottish also did us proud, and of course there is the Manx missile himself. What can I say about my hero? Brash and forthright as ever, but showing a new maturity in his teamwork, whilst still kicking all their arses on his piece of road.

Central Paris belongs to the Brits tonight.

And what do we get on the BBC sports news? Golf, a good walk ruined, that's what. Never mind chaps, while you were walking round the course, a revolution was happening.

Elsewhere, on the roads of Somerset, Bristol and the Cotswolds, I have been keeping my promise to go upwards as much as I can. On Tuesday night a window opened up in the grotty weather for a quick blast around the Mendips with Mendip Mackem, and although he then followed it up with another 15 miles to Wedmore, I contented myself with 25 and 2500 feet of climbing. Including Draycott Steep, aka The gliding club hill. First time for a long time but I got up without stopping, and followed it up with the climb to the masts by Black Down and the road over Rowberrow.

Tuesday evening's quick ride with Gary

Friday's commute into work also saw me climbing Wrington Hill (the steep way) Belmont Hill and then Dundry, Blagdon (the steep road past Yeo Valley food) and Rowberrow again, before looping round to do Winscombe Hill the steep way. Around 55 miles all told with about 4500 feet of climbing. Notice how fast I have become at my fastest, not bad eh?

Don't know about you but I can see a pattern emerging.

Friday's commute

Skip had arranged to do the Tour of the Cotswolds long ago, and this week, in an attempt to do some new and different climbs I persuaded MM to join me and ride as a group of three. And that window in the weather that was Tuesday night? Well it may have shut last week, but this weekend the whole side of the house is off as glorious summer sunshine has come pouring in.

It was scorchio!!!

Well, maybe just a bit hot, but it's easy to be carried away with the so-called Summer we have had so far. Today dawned a bit cool but cloudless, and it got better and better as the day, and the ride went on. Skip carries a camera with her, so as soon as she has done her blog I'm going to copy a few of her photos and post them here.

Lovely varied scenery, varied roads, different climbs, pretty villages, empty lanes, nice company and friendly faces all round. Just shy of 80 miles with about 6000 feet of climbing, all in all, a useful week on the bike. And today there was cheerfulness, another thing the British can do if we set our mind to it. Set your mind to it tomorrow!

The one downer to the day is a big one. MM dropped us on the first big hill, and Skip and I never caught up with him. There were lots of steep climbs, particularly towards the end, and it was on one of the corresponding descents that he came a cropper, ending up in casualty (a real hospital not the TV series) resulting in stitches, a hole in the elbow, lots of road rash and one totally trashed road bike.

All this was communicated to us by text, so I hope you are feeling better and back on a new or repaired bike very, very soon. On the few occasions I have crashed I'm always a bit wobbly when I first get back on, so I hope you are back to riding full gas soon.

Today's route by Charlie Garmin

I read something interesting this week. And I was the judge of that. The word "passion" comes from the ancient Greek verb for "suffering". I know words evolve and language changes, it's wicked, and cool. Whatever. But don't you think it's an apt word for riding bikes up crazy, steep mountains, 3500 kms in 21 days, at crazy speeds, and in tight-packed bunches, full of danger?

And of course as Mendip Mackem showed today, we are not immune from danger either, a pot-hole did for him today, one of the hazards of our roads. As i said before, get well soon, and don't let yourself be tied up in the gym, it's just a preparation for the nursing home, get outside if you can! Sitting in front of the TV letting your arteries clog is inherently more dangerous as well, and I think we all need to do something to get our adrenaline going. It proves we are alive.

Five weeks and counting.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

A face staring back at me

I have always loved  good sunsets. Ones with a multiplicity of colours and shades are my favourites, but I'm not too particular. The presence of a big ball of fire slinking over the horizon is enough, and if you throw in a nice picturesque landscape, or better still, seascape, I'm a very happy man.

This one was taken in July 2006, on the last day of our holiday in Devon, it's a shame we saw nothing like it this year, the weather being unremarkably, and perpetually dull and grey.

You may be wondering what this has to do with cycling. Well, about as much as this blog usually does, being as cycling is an incidental thread of pleasure that rides though the middle of my life. And it is 10 days since I sat on a bike, on my last commute, and all I have done in the exercise department for the last week, is a few bits of swimming, body-boarding (not that great, waves very small), and one good hike along the cliff-top path. Last Sunday.

Skip has done an excellent blog about our participation in the Great Weston Ride today (see panel to the right).  Usual kind of fare, nice weather, nice people, excellent jersey, can't wait fo the photo. I found it tough going after all that rest, but I'm feeling fairly alert and looking forward to trying my knee out on the football pitch tomorrow.

Charlie's route today shows that we weren't hanging about, and I'm only sorry that I didn't insist on Belmont Hill on the way in, and Canada Coombe on the way back. I think I've got the endurance bit sussed, I just need to work on the hills, again, and again, and again.

If you saw the Tour today you will have seen all the riders getting punctures from the tacks at the top of the Mur de Peguere. I hope they have cleared them all up, as I have to climb that col in a few weeks and no-one is going to come running out of a support car to give me a spare wheel. At 3 km, the steep bits don't last long, so I might have to go up to the gliding club next week as a bit of practice. ACG, you have been warned.

Mrs MR and I decided our seaside holidays in the wet and cold have passed their sell-by dates, as mini MR now finds everything "boring", that is when he's not telling us everything is so unfair. Tomorrow I'm back to work, having successfully relaxed, got loads of sleep, put things into perspective and decided (again) that I'm not going to let the little things bother me. For other reasons though, I think this time it might just stick.

The Schofield Kid: [after killing a man for the first time] "Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming."

Will Munny : "We all got it coming, kid."


Sunday, 1 July 2012

I'd build a road in gold - Bristol Bike Night 2012

It's hard to describe the last three days, for the sheer variety of experiences, insights and conversations is getting close to overwhelming. Which must mean a holiday is coming over the horizon pretty fast.

Friday started not with a cycling commute but with a quick-fire trip to the Toyota garage to get a lightbulb fixed. I'm sure there is a joke in there somewhere, but there was no time, because I was on a deadline at the office to get some work finished before heading off to Cirencester for the annual work five-a-side football tournament. This was being held in a couple of indoor pitches, in a nice humid, plastic covered sports hall, also known as the Cirencester Arena.

I wished I had taken a picture of this, but you'll have to take my word for it. Emblazoned on the side of the wall, behind one of the goals, were these words:

"The Cirecncester Arena - Where dreams become reality!"

In our case this proved all too true as despite managing to win a couple of matches, we somehow contrived to be the bottom team in the tournament. Or it may be that someone has a sense of humour, or maybe a complete lack of one. It is possible that young kids dream of one day stepping out onto the hallowed rubber and synthetic grass of the Cirencester Arena, who knows. Although I harboured misplaced footballing dreams when I was under ten, they soon transformed into the more usual dreams of  teenage boys.

Later on Friday night we were treated to a musical display of our own from a band entirley drawn from the organisation's workforce. Quite a polished disply it was too, full of technical proficency and lots pf gusto. Not sure it would have touched the 13 year-old Mendip Rouleur, but that wasn't the point, they got up on the stage and put themselves out there. I busied myself with a few beers and the occasional conversation, but for the most part I did was I'm best at, observing from a distance. Wall to wall extroverts, and the walls themselves had people like me stuck to them, taking it all in.

There was a certain method behind all my madness because on Saturday night I had a date with the moon, or at least a 100 km night-ride. I had a vague plan to make myself tired on the Friday, enabling some proper daytime sleeping on the Saturday and arrive at Blaise Castle, fresh as a daisy ready to start riding at 11PM.

It didn't quite turn out as planned. The Tour prologue was so exciting that it kept me awake all afternoon. First, Bradley is just where he wants to be, a nice marker put down in front of Cuddles and the rest, without the pressure of having to defend the yellow jersey for the first week or so. And of course the return of Fabian, after a very serious broken collar-bone, four pieces and a 10 inch plate no less. Where some may puff and grunt, Spartacus just gets on with being a winner. Six weeks later he's back and kicking every other rider all over Liege, and looking absolutely gorgeous to boot. That is what I call a comeback. My hero.

I tried going to bed and listening to Green Day on my ipod but that didn't work either, so in the end I decided to kill time fretting about the weather and faffing over my kit. I decided that despite the inclemency of the rain and wind, the forecast looked good enough to go with light socks, a gilet and shorts.

Bristol's night ride is the sponsored ride I am doing this year for Above and Beyond charities. I'm doing another sponsored ride later in the summer, but more on that another time. If you haven't sponsored me yet, keep your powder dry for that one please. About 40 brave souls had assembled in the car park of the Blaise Castle estate in west Bristol, intent on raising money and doing something a bit different. A quick look around the car park at the various lighting rigs and hi-vis jackets together with the feel of the cold wind whistling up the Bristol Channel convinced me it might be prudent to go for leg warmers and the thicker socks. Later on I was to be very glad of that.

Unlike a sportive, it was difficult to guage what the other riders would be like. The tandem couple from Bristol to Land's End 2010 were then again, but other than that it was all new faces. Except I couldn't see any faces as it was now pitch dark, apart from the blinding lights and refective tape from all the riders clothes. After a very quick safety briefing, including a route change brought on by flooded roads near Keynsham, we were let out onto the streets of Bristol.

A quick blast down the Portway saw us speeding past the harbour and into the chaos of the Centre. 11.30PM, Saturday night, last weekend of university term. Carnage, and we somehow didn't quite fit in. In any case the massed start was already beginning to fragment and splinter into all kinds of groups. Partly this would have been because of the varying abilities, but more pertinently it was because of the near impossibility of navigating the route unless you knew where you were going.

The signs were too small for an urban environment, at night, and did not stand out in the street-lights and amidst all the other clutter of an signs and lamp-posts. Fortunately I had downloaded the original route on Charlie, and managed to stick to it for all but one small diversion, and the re-routed bit where I could follow the signs. But the tandem kept taking wrong turns, and I'm sure others will have got lost on a regular basis.

Eventually we headed up through Clifton, and after an ominous heavy shower, we sped through Henleaze, Southmead and Filton, before crossing under the M5 on our way to Almondsbury. The suburban roads were incredibly quiet and empty, with just an occasional taxi or fox crossing our path. I was now riding with R, a pretty fit road cyclist, who would have dropped me, were it not for the fact that I had Charlie with me, and he was unsure of the route. Eventually we two found ourselves alone and way out in front, and that's the way it stayed for most of the way until near the end.

The ride became much more interesting as we turned right towards Iron Acton and into the dark of the night. A bit of tranquility developed and although not particulalry high-up, we could see the lights of Bristol spread below us, and the occasional glimpse of the moon. All too soon we turned south again, back into the urban sprawl, Winterbourne and the first checkpoint. I think the organisers were more concerened about counting everyone rather than feeding us, but I grabbed a banana in any case, and we were joined by another rider for the next few miles.

There were still plenty of people about, mostly walking home from their Saturday night, and Kingswood seemed to have a colection of nightclubs attracting revellers. There was also plenty of abuse from the passengers of the few cars that passed us, alcohol being an amazing motivator for the inane and the stupid behaviour, that the occupants obviously found tremendously funny. At one point it seemed that every car that passed us was intent on telling us that our wheels were going round.

We headed down into Downend and Kingswood, and yet again it started to rain, this time a lot more heavily. And in a more prolonged fashion, as by the time we reached the outskirts of Keynsham I could barely see through the inside fog or the outside rain on my clear plastic glasses. There were a few lumps and bumps around this point and by now we had dropped our collegue rider. R and I pressed on out into the countrside again, heading for the hills around Pensford and then into the Chew Valley.

The rain eased off and the moon really came out properly, enough to illuminate the whole of the surrounding dreamscape of hills, fields, hedgerows and deep purple sky. A quick stop at the second checkpoint and we were off again through Chew Magna, nearly colliding with a marauding badger, and then up the drag to Winford before dropping over the shoulder of a hill towards Barrow Gurney. R had left me for dead, and I'd not seen him for about 20 minutes when I found him in a lay-by on the A38, with an inability to switch between his big and small chainring except by hand.

He continued to do this, leapfrogging me and then dropping back, before finally deciding to take a shortcut back to the HQ. After the last big climb of the night, up Belmont Hill, it started to rain again. This time it was biblical. By the time I got to Failand, it was heavy. By Redwood Lodge it was torrential, by Abbotts Leigh the road had been replaced by a small river, and by the time I got to the Supsension Bridge I was soaked to the skin and just intent on getting back as soon as my legs could make me.

Back across the Downs, then through more suburban streets and a short up and over and I was back, in a total time of about 4 hours, 3-47 riding time for the 60 miles. Charlie has done a sterling job, but the poor satellite reception caused by the conditions means not all the route got recorded, but it should give you a good idea. There was a surprising amount of climbing too.

On arrival back at Blaise, the first to do so by following all of the route, I found the organisers had only just got back from the first checkpoint, suggesting some riders were in for a long and hard night. I would think that some would have arrived back in daylight, if not sunshine. I made a quick change and drove home, watching the sky start to brighten, amidst further torrential downpours.

I think it would make a lovely ride in the Summer, but at this time of the year it was just a bit too cold and too wet to really enjoy it fully. That said, there were moments when the moon came out and the whole experience was magical, and as my lighting set-up proves I can ride for 4 hours or more in the dark, I would certainly like to do some more night riding.

My big block of training from mid-May to end of June is now done. Close on 1300 miles in six weeks, and I'm really looking forward to a couple of weeks when I don't ride very much, before one or two more events in July and August. Then it's off to the Pyrenees. I can't wait, I just hope it's Summer there, and that this kind of scene can be repeated every day for a week. In all senses. Or will I wake up and find it was all a dream?