Sunday, 21 July 2013

Climb every mountain

Just a short post today, a week after my return from the Pyrenees. It's a bit like BC and AD, only less religious. Maybe.

I'm in mourning. Not that it was much of a shock. Out of form sprinter with poorly-organised lead-out train loses to in-form sprinter with well-drilled model of , err, efficiency. Let's leave the stereotypes there before I get into trouble. My Mum would be so proud, it's all her fault really.

What Cav really needs is a brilliant Australian lead-out man to sort it out for him. Or not a lanky lad brought up in Kilburn riding for the Belgians, that might help. Well he was born in Ghent so technically he is one.

It wasn't as hot as in was going up the Port de la Bonaigua a week ago last Wednesday. Not was it as long, after all 55kms of continuous ascent is hard to beat anywhere, but it has been quite warm in England this week. It topped 30C on my way up The Wrangle on Friday as I came home from work. About 30 minutes later as I was starting my descent of Shipham Hill I had one of those awkward moments, when someone you know nearly kills you with their van. I was doing about 25mph in a built-up area but she was gracious enough to say she hadn't seen me.

It was a fortuitous meeting though as it reminded me that she does personal training and weight-loss stuff. Something I'm determined to do as the big 5-0 approaches next year. I really struggled with form for the first 6 months of 2013, but I feel I have turned a corner. Now I want to see an open road with a tailwind and a slight downhill gradient running to September 2014!

For the fourth year in succession Jennifer and I rode the Great Weston sportive. It is more of a fun-ride to be honest, and strangely it starts and finishes in different places. For most, this involves complicated logistics of buses or friendly wives or other such stuff. For us it means getting up early and riding into Bristol, doing the ride, then riding home. This also makes it more of a reasonable distance, but because I like to keep Jennifer on her toes we never ride the same way into Bristol.

Still, as far as comparisons go I can report that this was the latest in a line of four improvements for the said event, each year I have done the 85 (or so) miles faster and with less effort. So I do seem to be fitter even if I am heavier. Although weather plays its part too, but it's enough of a circular route to make valid comparisons.  Still in my one-man campaign to prove all this data I keep actually has any purpose other than to feed a compulsive need to feed an obsession, at last I can prove something inconsequential. I'm winning my competition with myself!

My main preoccupation today was insects. How many insects does the Tour de France kill every year. In 85 miles today I killed about a dozen, but I think if you are in the middle of the peloton you probably kill fewer. Then again, those in breaks or sprinting to get back to the main bunch must murder dozens. I would conservatively estimate that the total for all 21 stages is around the 100,000 per annum. Based on 20 insects per rider per stage, with 180 average riders per stage.

If you are sadder than me, you may come up with a different figure.

Keep it to yourself.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

French cycling at its best

Day 2 dawned much as Day 1 had ended. Very warm, bright sunshine, and a building full of excited cyclists. We had travelled back from Foix to the base of Pyractif in Bertren, and awoken to the tranquil sounds of an erratic church clock and an errant red male chicken.

This time the atmosphere out on the roads was a little less febrile, perhaps because we were away from a main town, or perhaps because it was just earlier in the day. All the talk was of how Froome and the Sky boys had already won the race, but if you saw that Stage 9, it turned out to be an exciting and tense affair, suggesting that the race may not be as one-sided as had been thought.

We all cycled up the long valley to Luchon, through the sprint point, where naturally Stuart had to win the mock sprint, and then for us at least, into the town to get some water.

The roads were by now closed to traffic, and this was some 5-6 hours before the race was due to come through. I had cycled down this side of the Peyresourde before, a couple of times in fact. I remembered it as being quite short and pleasant, but of course, going up an 11km climb is not quite like that. The heat was intense, and there were loads of spectators, encouraging us from the roadside as we made our way up the climb.

It's a contrast to the boys from South Wales who lobbed stones at me on the Dragon ride in June, this genuine warmth and joy at others cycling up their mountains. The main obstacle, besides the heat, were the gendarmes. They must have been given instructions to stop all cyclists and make them walk, and we had to do this three or four times, before getting back on and riding another kilometre or two to the next set.

Eventually, just in front of the col sign, we were forced to stop for good. Stuart and I chose a spot amongst the French and settled in to wait. Which we didn't have too long to do, for the Tour de France caravan was soon upon us. Lorry after lorry, cars dressed up as tyres, or houses, or 2CV, came rolling past. Tremendous excitement, engagement and a massive scrambling for tat ensued, as freebies of minimal value were viciously fought over by the crowds of grannies, old men, kids (big and small alike). Our closest rival for swag, a 70 year old French patriarch, was very adept at skewering the goods with his pointed stick, before stashing them in a large rucksack his wife had brought for the purpose.

It's hard to imagine the cynical English having such a fun day out with so little to show for it. That's what I love about that day, the sheer exuberance, the fact that whole families make a day of standing by the roadside, even if the understand little of cycling and they know their man won't win! It's French cycling fun at its best.

After that it was a case of waiting for the main action, the Tour de France. Which duly came and went, and by now you will all know what happened, the Sky team had a bad day, but Froome was strong enough to stay at the head of the field and preserve his lead.

Plenty of good photos though. As you can see, we were withing touching distance of the riders, in fact some of the team cars passed frighteningly close and frighteningly fast. The racing was interesting to see, especially the speed that they charge up the mountains.

Spare a thought if you will for a certain Mr Cavendish, cleverly hiding in the cars to pull him the last few feet up the mountain, and suffering in the Gruppetto. You can spot his UK national champions jersey in the penultimate photo.

After that it was time to re-trace our path back down to Luchon and then on to Bertren, and catch the the highlights later on the TV. Avoiding thousands of spectators was a bit hairy, but once down a couple of kilometres we were able to let rip and enjoy the fast, sweeping descent on a mainly closed road.

The rest of our trip consisted of day rides from Luchon, and you can see the photos of that on my Facebook page. It was a great trip, plenty of climbs, a trip to Spain, lots and lots of funny moments, but mainly just messing about on bikes for fun. I rode about 400 miles, so around 50+ a day, and the Tourmalet, Mente and Port de Bales were as tough as ever.

But Pyractif are supremely helpful, well-organised and know both their cycling and their landscapes. We had a mix of escorted, supported and solo rides, a cafe trip one day to Aspet, a re-enactment of a Tour stage (where I famously cycled up the wrong valley (who cares it was a nice gentle climb), and virtually no rain at all. One shower on the descent of the Port de Bales and that was it, the temperature never dropped below 30C and the sun shone for 7 glorious days.

Oh, and the food is to die for! If you want to go to the Pyrenees, go there, you will have a fantastic time. I'm thinking of organising a trip there for the ACG next year (and anyone else who is interested). If we can get a group together of up to 9-10 of us we can make it great value. The cycling isn't all HC climbs and epic days (although there are plenty of those too), there is rolling countryside too. But I can guarantee you great food, pleasant motorists, and wonderful scenery. And the company will be good too.

Interested? It will be fun. I've come to think that the best rides are the ones you do with your friends, no matter where you are, but if you can do it somewhere warm, pleasant and different it's a bonus. I'll be canvassing your opinions very soon.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Mon vaccances pour vue Le Tour (en Franglais)

Personne pas critisee mon spelling ou mon syntax pour cette poste. Parce que, pour un poste seulement, j'ecrit en franglais. La langue universale pour les Anglais qui pense ils understand parce les Francais somme dit. Je suis un des ces idiots.

Cette est le raconteurable de le jour premier mon vaccance a les Pyreenais, pour regarder Le Tour, le culture de la Tour et Frances de La Tour. Non, le derniere c'est un joke mal, certainment.

Allez, mon ami Stuart, et un groupe des Australiens, trois Anglais d'area du Bristol, un Canadien (qui est un petit peu petit) et Simon, un Kiwi avec un grande frame et un humour dry,  et un Ecossais de wire, depart de la ville de Foix, avec notre hostes, Pyractif. Chris et Helen Balfour, les prorieteurs de cette entrprise, sont le plus marveleux companie de vaccance cyclisme dans tout les Pyrennes, non dans tout le Monde. Bien sur.

Nous avons ascendee a la pic de la Col de Pailheres, un climbe de hors categorie, pour regardez le caravan de la Tour. Moi, avec un famille francais, et j'ai gagner un cap de pois rouge. Quelle delighte. C'est tres chaud et durs, certainment, mais vous connais moi, Kay Bee Oh. Eventuellement, j'arrive a la col, avec les autres, et nous takee notre place pour regarder l'action de la jour.

Volia les photos:

Le petit Columbianne, Quintana, il move le velo a grand vitesse a la pic des montagnes, mais pas de vite comme les garcons de ciel. Mon Dieu, c'est vite! Incroyable d'accord, ils pas de les steroids et le ee pee oh, c'est un talente extraordinaire, voice larse de Monsieur Froomechien, il me passe a tres, tres grand, grand vitesse.

Apres nous descend a Ax les Thermes et retournez a Bertren, pour le jour du Tour prochaine a la col de Peyresourde. A demain, je racontee cette experiance, il est difficille d'imaginez, mais c'est plus excitement de la jour premier. Oui, je connais!

A bientot.

Si vous ne comprends pas cette poste, vous doit viitee Le Google translate et selecter "Franglais" et La Langue appropiatement pour vous. Merci.

Monday, 1 July 2013

It was the questions we had wrong

It was my first niece's 25th birthday on Sunday, not sure if she reads this, but if not here's an official Mendup Rouleur Happy Birthday wish to you. Can you remember what you were like at 25? Or whenever the pivotal, "you-defining" period of your life was?

When U2 were about that age they were performing this at Red Rocks.  I urge you to have a look at the clip if you can. See past the clothes and hairstyle, that are a bit dated, and look at the raw energy and enthusiasm the whole band, particularly Bono, are putting into it. I love everything about that performance, you don't have to be a professional psychologist to work out why.

I had intended for this blog post to be incisive and profound. But as it's already 2307 on Monday night, and I have a shed load of things to do before I go to bed, I better keep it brief.

Yesterday we went to Lyme Regis. The day did not get off to the best of starts. Despite getting up at a reasonable time, and planning ahead, I managed to leave the bag containing Laurens (complete with impeccably planned route) my sunglasses, recovery drink, etc. on the kitchen table as I drove the 20 miles down to Huntworth, near Bridgwater, and Martyn's factory (which he again kindly allowed us to use as the jumping off point).

So I got to drive home and back to Huntworth again, meaning a slightly delayed start, As we had a few new faces I did what passes for my kind of rider briefing. The irony about crashing, it's your own fault, came back to bite me on the proverbial a bit later on.

Anyway eventually we set off at around 9.15, all eight of us, with the determination to have a good day out, and stick together. No pressure, no racing, and a fairly low level of testosterone. Mostly.

 It was sunny with the early morning mist all but gone, and a bit windy in places. But on the whole the weather improved as we moved further south and by the time we got to the outskirts of Lyme it was genuine Summer weather. Our circular route (almost) was hilly in places, especially near the coast.  A bit too taxing for Lee,  Anthony and Linda, but James, Martyn, Jon and Steve took it in their stride. But we were flagging a bit after the chips and fun of the prom, so we came home by a more direct route. Some of the climbs down in Dorset were of the 15-20% variety, and I actually enjoyed most of them.

I should have thought about more really, when Lee and Anthony told me their longest rides to date were in the mid 30s miles region, alarm bells should have wrung. Despite me constantly telling them that the worst was over and it was all downhill or flat, they didn't seem to believe me, and I hope I have not put them off. It's not always as tough as that, promise.

Here are a few snaps which I took. Look carefully and you can see the finger over the iphone.

 Super, super Steve, grinning insanely and inanely as he hums that tune he got from his son. Inside his head, all day.
 Jon, 2% body fat and probably fitter than Mr Wiggins at the moment. Always too quick up the climbs for me to get his picture while riding. Great colour co-ordinating, definitely best-dressed on the day

 James and Anthony, riding happily together, ignorant of their close encounter to come.
 Linda smiling the first time I told here there were no more hills.

Just outside Lyme Martyn and I slowed for another quick route conference, spreading confusion and disorder through the slow-moving peloton behind us. Bang! James and Anthony toppled into each other and ended up on the deck. Both seemed physically OK, but, more worryingly, their bikes were not so fortunate.

Steve to the rescue! He quickly trued Anthony's errant back wheel, and the collective endeavours of Martyn and the rest bodged James's front brake. Well. it got him home in one piece, and he even was able to stop at times.

 One for the Mayor. There were lots of great names today, always are in Dorset. And the roads were smooth as silk too. Comes of having all that money and nothing to spend it on but the roads. Almost enough to make you want to retire there. Do you see what I did there?
 Ohh, I lied, Jon out-sprinting Martyn for KOM. Another award.
 And there is James and others at the sea, picking sand out of his cleats before he eats an ice cream. Or chips, or other food of athletes.
 The Jurassic Coast in all its glory. And my thumb.

On the way home we pulled across country via Chard and Illminster, rather than the planned Blackdown Hills. Maybe another day, when I don't forget the map.

So what of the day. Well, probably one of my favourites of the year so far, great folks, great scenery, an abbey, a priory, a couple of great museums, a stately home, a viaduct, plenty of eating options, some nice ups and downs, a few flat bits, and the weather was glorious by the end. And of course the sea. The British at play on the beach, and lots of friendly folk at the roadside.

No artifice, no pretence, no prima donnas, no macho posturing, no ego, just a bunch of people having fun on bikes, and doing it all in a good spirit, as a group. Loved it. Want more of it.

Will you come next time, I still have a desire to cross the Blackdowns and do Cothelstone Hill at 80 miles. Next time we can do it! Sometime in August? I was thinking that this is our time, right now. We may have lost our mullets, our leather trousers, even our love of the Rolling Stones, but we have something a bit greater than all that, don't we?