Saturday, 31 May 2014

Joie de vivre

After riding 1053 miles between 27 April and 26 May, including some fairly chunky, lumpy events, it was a relief to have a week off work these past few days.

Time to re-introduce myself to my family, the sofa, and the joys of eating badly, sleeping a lot, and dozing in front of Eurosport's coverage of a fantastic Giro d'Italia.

It is amazing what a few days of doing practically nothing can do for me. Last weekend, at the end of that event I would have been quite happy never to see a bike again, let alone ride one. My over complicated exercise-tracking spreadsheet was showing a worrying trend in decreasing average heart rate, and most worryingly of all, I was just starting the slippery slope towards the first of the steps leading to the edge of the abyss called "I really don't like cycling anymore".

But three café-cooked breakfasts, one fantasy film with Angelina Jolie (I didn't go with her, I went with the Rouleur family, but she was in it), and an average daily sleep quotient of 9.5 hours has restored my love of life and with it, the desire to be on the bike at all times.

Today, Jennifer, Clayton and I rode to Sweets café and back. I did a couple of extra hills for good measure, and although Strava thinks I did 51 mph coming down Shipham Hill, I don't believe it. It's not steep enough and I'm not that fast. But my heart rate was back up where it should be, and more importantly, it was fun.

The icing on the metaphorical cake (to go with the icing on the real cake, a lovely Victoria sponge if you care for such trifles) was the mending of my Somerset jersey's zip, meaning you can expect to see me wearing it a lot. The colour poses two interesting challenges. First, it clashes with the Red Madone, and wouldn't be that great with K1 either. I'll have to live with that.

Second, since I bought it, I'm a bit smaller, meaning it's a bit baggier, and the colour is less than red-hot masculine. I'm fine with that, ambiguity is one of my closest friends, along with spontaneous and abstract, so if it bothers you, you'll have to live with that too.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Renne weiter um zu fliehen

I had an ohrwurm while I was riding the Somerset 100 today. Much of it on my own. Which is ironic since it has grown faster than a stream of ivy up the back of my house. In 2011, all the participants could hear the quietly spoken rider briefing because we were all close enough to do so.

Three years on, and I bet most of the 350 taking part didn't even know that there was a briefing. But the ride, organised by Mark Cox and the team from Somerset Cycling, still retains its essential character. It is for local charities, and most of the local riders come and do it. Although I understand that there were more from outside the area this year, I certainly saw a number of jerseys suggesting people had come from all over the south of England to ride.

It's an easy course, and the addition of a 35 mile ride is genius. It gets families and others who want an introduction to organised riding to come and participate. Jon and Trevor had members of their family with them today on the shorter route.

But Martyn, James, Peter, Russell, Ray, Dean, Clayton, Gary H (although I didn't see him till the end) and I all rode the full 102 miles. A couple of us also rode out and back, as you can see, parking was at a premium.

And of course the weather was glorious, the scenery marvellous and the people chilled and relaxed. A bit windy at times, but sunny without a cloud in the sky. And as is the way sometimes, our group fragmented, and we all ended up riding our own ride. I had spells with Peter and Dean, as well as with Geoff and Emma, who used to ride with the ACG but now ride with the Mendip club in Glastonbury.

So I spent the best part of 70 miles on my own, for a round total for the day of 127 miles. And rode pretty well, much faster than last year, and was reasonably strong at the finish. Others may be faster, but I'm faster than I was, and that's my measure.

The earworm? Oh that was caused by all the posters I kept seeing for the European elections. Don't get me started on the politics, but have a listen to this, it helped me stomp on the pedals today.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The roads never End (Old Roads Audax 300km aka Guy Stuart's 25th anniversary bike ride)

Which way?

A question everyone has asked themselves at some point. If you haven't I congratulate and commiserate with you in equal measure. Crossroads, triangles, T-junctions, forks in the road. We all face them. If you have continued blithely on your way with the certainty that requires no questions, then you are not paying attention to the journey.

Stuart and I have now known each other for 25 years. I know, who'd have thought it. That means we met each other before Manchester Utd won the Premier League, hell before the Premier League was invented. In that time we have both moved about, married and had children (but not to each other, not yet anyway), got fatter and slimmer, and fatter again in my case, and turned into a couple of very grumpy, happy, hilariously amusing middle-aged men. Well, we think so.

And we've done a few bike rides together, generally of the iconic sort. Coast to coast, Land's End to John o' Groats, Raid Pyrenean, that type of thing. And they follow a pattern, Stuart promises to stick with me, then disappears up the hill only to wait for me and tell me how well I'm doing! So when I suggested doing a 300km Audax, the Old Roads, I shouldn't have been surprised that it would be Stuart who'd be my companion on the road.

Stuart has written his excellent blog on our trip, so I will embellish his description with a couple of observations and a few pictures.

There is nothing like crossing a good bridge. I dug my heels in to stick to the official route so that we could cross over this one, across the M5 around dawn near Exeter. Stuart was pissed off to begin with, but he knew better than to argue.

Especially as I got this one of him crossing it, I love cycling over motorways, it kind of sums up how liberating it is to be cycling in the open air. It didn't really matter that it was a very windy, stormy, rainy day. That just added to it.

We pressed on across the fringes of Dartmoor, there were rainbows, dark clouds ahead and bright skies behind us. And choices, lots of road decisions, but between us we got most of them right. Garmin helps. As does a certain insouciance about when we got back. Stuart is more competitive about cycling than me, it must come with being a better cyclist, rather than having a lot to be modest about.

The A30 used to run through the middle of Okehampton past this church. Is the world a better place now you can get to Cornwall on a dual carriageway and bypass it?

My new saddlebag is fantastic, I hardly knew it was there. Expect to see it appearing on ACG rides very soon. Or maybe a spot of light touring?

We didn't find this feature as funny as its name suggests, since we had just cycled up a steep and nasty gravel-strewn path to get there. Still, the building was nice, anyone know what it is?

And the temporary stop gave the opportunity for Stuart to hold my bike, not a euphemism, and gave him practice for when it became much more important later on, when my stomach refused to tolerate any sustenance, and I had to dash off to avoid making a mess of my saddlebag.

Cycling generally allows you to eat whatever you like. Yesterday the name of the game was eat whatever you can. Here is a picture of the most delicious pasty in the world. Shame I didn't take one of the most delicious carton of chocolate milk, or packet of cold pasta, or cereal bar, get the idea.

The hunger even got to Mr healthy-eating. Perhaps the only picture in the world of Stuart eating a bag of crisps.

So we came to rely on each other, much more so later on in the ride, when our limits were well and truly stretched. After stuffing my face in Cheddar, slightly rueful about having to cycle 50 miles away from my house, we encountered (for my 3rd time in three weeks) High Ham hill. Bugger. Digestion, 156 miles and a steep climb all at once. I thought I would never make the end of the ride.

And when Stuart's eyes packed up as I was taking the one above at sunset at Muchelney, just as my Garmin also gave up its work for the day (this despite researching and then buying a battery pack, which I cleverly left behind in my bag in the car), I wondered how well we would navigate from there onwards. Well we cobbled together a way, and eventually pulled through, completing 197.5 miles of riding in the day. My Garmin record and the unrecorded extra bit are here. The sharp-eyed will notice I forgot to switch back on immediately after Cheddar, but trust me, to quote Stuart "we ended up covering 316km, or 198 miles. We started at 6am, and arrived back at our starting point (Honiton in Devon) at 11.36pm, i.e. 17 hours 36 mins later. We ascended 3800 metres, or 12000 feet".

It was the longest single day's ride either of us have ever done.

When I came back from the Somerset Hills sportive last Sunday night, I was a bit wrecked. It was only 132 miles. I just couldn't countenance how I was going to do 50% more distance the next time I got back on a bike. And loads of people told me I was mad, barking and the like. But I got reminded of an old lesson yesterday. Well two actually. The first is don't drive a car on a motorway when you've ridden a bike for 17 hours.

But the main one, the important one is this. We can all do much more than we think we can. Sometimes I fail, sometimes it's difficult. But usually we can overcome this if we persist. And if you'll indulge me, a third lesson. It's fun finding out and really quite unremarkable and ordinary.

And this seems fit the theme

Monday, 5 May 2014

Somerset Hills Gran Fondo 2014

I'm worried. About two things. The first is that I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but more on that later.

Of more importance is that I may be becoming a little more tolerant and circumspect about biking sartorial matters. Yesterday I saw a lot of Martyn's backside, encased in opaque lycra I should add. When he wasn't off chasing anyone that passed us that is, some automatic trip switch compelling him to up his pace, drop me and try and out-run someone 20 years younger than him.

Mind you, Trevor was just as bad. Hauling myself up Elworthy, which is the only way I can do that climb, I was passed first by one woman then another, both on nice carbon machines. I know my limits, a pleasant good morning and a grimace for a smile, and they were gone, quickly followed by an orange flash on a Lynskey as Trevor's alpha male ego forced him to give chase at the risk of a heart attack.

Anyway, back to the clothes. As you can see from this lovely picture of Martyn taking off his leg-warmers at Blue Anchor, the rear zip on his gilet was undone. It was undone at 7AM, it was undone at the Pines café, up Crowcombe and it was undone at the finish. And not a word came out of my lips about it, although I can not tell you the number of times I wanted to draw level and zip it up. Although if I'd have attempted it, he'd of zoomed off into the distance.

AT the start of yesterday's Somerset Hills Gran Fondo I was somewhat put to shame by the gleaming new steeds of my companions, particularly Martyn's, and found myself in the unusual position of having the oldest bike. The Red Madone is nearly four, which in bike years is about 73, so maybe I should start the slow build-up and propaganda war that leads to a new purchase.

I have previous with this ride, having entered in both 2012 and 2013, and DNF and failed to start respectively. And when my right ankle swelled to the size of a small balloon after my mid-week commute I was convinced that the curse was about to strike again. But on advice from Nurse Sister, I elevated, rested, compressed and by Saturday the ankle was fine. Just in time to see this.

Sunday dawned bright and clear, fairly cool and some moderate wind from time to time (no sniggering, I'm not the only one), and generally a perfect day for cycling. Six of us set off together, Jon, James, Trevor, Peter, Martyn and me, and we were all full of banter as we toddled up Cheddar gorge. A first for me, I managed the 16% horseshoe without standing up. The route is a strange one. The climbs are testing, but they are all over the place.

Cheddar gorge, Shapwick, High Ham, Enmore Hill, Elworthy Hill, Blue Anchor and West Quantockshead, Crowcombe and Puriton are the main ones. As ever, the scenery, the views and the countryside were all looking marvellous. But the route leaves a bit to be desired in my view. There are too many roads that are used just to link the iconic climbs together, and to do that they used some descents which were too technical for a mass-participation sportive, when other ones are available. For example the descents through Westbury-sub-Mendip and the one off High Ham are the worst ways to come down those two hills.

But I'm trying to stick to less moaning and grumbling, or is it fewer moans and grumbles? It was lovely to have a food stop by the sea, that doesn't happy every day. Although a few pedestrians and locals didn't seem too keen, as they had to compete for pavement space with a bunch of cyclists. By then we had dropped Peter, on his first bike ride for a month, and really feeling it. We stopped a couple of times for him, but after the wonderful descent through Timberscombe he didn't catch us up, and despite waiting we thought he may have bailed and taken a short cut. He did finish, about an hour behind me and Jon, who were about three minutes behind James, Martyn and Trevor, all desperately racing off to get under 9 hours total time.

But the highlight of the day has to have been the ascent of Crowcombe Hill, well-described by this blogger. For all five of us to get up without a foot down was inspirational, and made my day. I've only attempted it once before, and failed, and as Jon so memorably said at that time, "I'm never going up there again, even in a car".

So what else is worrying me? In the last month I have completed three 200km rides, each of which has left me feeling completely kyboshed. Next week I'm committed to a 300km in the form of the Old Roads Audax. The big saddlebag is ready, travel lodge booked for a 6AM start, will I be up to it?