Thursday, 13 June 2019

Fortune and misfortune for Marianne Vos at the Women's Tour

This week one of the key events in women's professional cycle racing has been taking place, the OVO Energy Women's Tour. The event, which first started in 2014, has grown over its six-year history, and many professional riders have called out the Women's Tour as one of the top races on the international racing calendar.
The World's best women racers at the Cyclopark
So its good for us as it means we get the top racers gracing our shores for a week. For the first time, one of the stages was held at the Cyclopark, near Gravesend. 

Earlier this year the Cyclopark was the setting for the top cyclocross racers in the country for the National Championships, and on Tuesday it hosted the top women racers in the world.

Racing was fast - at times, in excess of 30 miles per hour. So I guess that for local fast amateur riders they're going to be a little gutted that their Strava QOMs have been annihilated!

The race was won by the most successful women's racer in history, Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv), ahead of Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) and Sarah Roy (Mitchelton-Scott).

Although a win for Lizzie would have made a good news story for the home girl, I was so pleased to Marianne Vos's win. This win subsequently put her in the lead in the general classification.

Marianne is such a brilliant racer to watch in action, even down to the smooth slick way she effected her bike change when she got a puncture.

Marianne Vos wins Stage 2 of the Women's Tour (only to crash out on Stage 3)
As someone who has interviewed Marianne Vos several times over the last few years, I think she is such a lovely friendly woman, who is a great ambassador for women's cycling, and who always has time for the fans, and for journalists too!

Sadly, the following day Marianne crashed out of the Women's Tour following a cut to the head after a crashing heavily. The crash looked like the stuff of nightmares - the sort of thing that scares me when I used to be in a peloton.

The riders were in full speed contesting an intermediate sprint near Didcot, Oxfordshire when one of Marianne Vos's lead-out riders, Jeanne Korevaar, lost her handlebars when she went over a pot-hole.

Marianne had no where to go and crashed into a verge, and collided with a post in the process. A domino effect ensued and a massive chunk of the peloton went down, with riders scattered across the width of the road.

At the Stage 2  press conference looking to the rest of the race 
As well as Vos and her two of her team-mates being out of the race there were around 10 other DNF's among them big names like Barbara Guarischi (Virtu Cycling) and Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM). 

Thankfully, Marianne was not badly injured in the crash and just needed stitches for the cuts to her head. However, she says her face looks like she's just been in a boxing match. I also imagine that her morale would have taken more of a hit than the physical wounds as the Women's Tour had been a target race for her, and she probably would have been wanting to go one better than her second place achievement last year.
The crash did put a downer on the event, especially after having had a great time at the Cyclopark the day before. I know crashes are part of cycle racing, but it's still sad to see, particularly when it's the race leader who crashes out. Lisa Brennauer (WNT-ROTOR) the new race leader at the end of the Oxfordshire stage, had mixed emotions and was not especially joyous at taking the leader's jersey in those circumstances.

Wishing all the best and speedy recovery to all the riders and looking forward to seeing them back racing soon.

Related posts
Women's cycling just got Strongher

Fun at the Women's Tour



Thursday, 6 June 2019

Italian cycling tales from towns on the Giro d'Italia route - 2

Stories from the places on the 2019 Giro d'Italia route. One thing I liked about watching the Giro d'Italia cycle race was when the route went through areas that I am familiar with - either places where I lived or stayed when on holiday, or places I cycled through.

Here are some of the stages that brought me some fond memories.

Commezzadura (Val di Sole) to Anterselva (Stage 17)

The first section of this stage is an area I am familiar with, having done an event called the Giro di Dolomiti. It's a one-week cyclosportive in stages held in late July/early August, based in Bolzano.

The novelty about this event is that the General Classification is not based on the time taken to complete each of the stages, but just the time to do the main climb of each stage. The rest of the time people ride the remaining part of the stage at a leisurely pace, enjoying the Dolomites. You are even treated to a sit-down meal at altitude somewhere along the route.

Making friends at the Giro di Dolomiti
The year I did it, in 2006, Passo Mendola was the main climb of the first stage. I remember it well because I'd been so anxious about the event, and I was not sure if I would be fit enough. Italian bike riders use cyclosportives as de facto road races, so no one seems to ride on their own at their own pace. Or at least that's how things had looked to me.

In fact, it was at this race that I learned that cyclosportives need not always be a speedfest. In particular in this cyclosportive I knew I would only need to put in a hard effort for one climb, and the rest of the time it would just be a trans-Dolomiti social with folks from various parts of Europe.

Passo Mendola, which we climbed from Bolzano (the opposite way to the riders this year) was about 10 miles long, but it had a gentle gradient. Once I had gotten that out of the way I felt fine.

It was also nice because on that day I met some guys who had come to the event from Kent, and an Australian girl, Yvette who was half Italian and half Australian and working for Pinarello. We built up a camaraderie for the rest of the week, and met other people too. That contributed to me having a really good time at the Giro di Dolomiti. I would definitely recommend this event.

The riders in this year's Giro d'Italia took the main road to get from Bolzano to Ponte Gardena. However, it is possible to do this route on a traffic-free path. Google maps doesn't show this route for bicycles, however it is there and it is quite a pleasant tarmacked path that follows the River Adige. I cycled along it to get to Bolzano from Ponte Gardena.

At the time that I rode this I had been staying in Milan as I was working there, and for the August bank holiday I spent a long weekend in Canazei, in the heart of the Dolomites. As part of my return journey (which involved a train via Bolzano and then Verona to get to Milan) I got a bus to Ortisei (or it might have been Plan de Gralba), then rode downhill to Ponte Gardena from where I picked up the cycle path.

Along the way, a local guy on a bicycle decided to ride with me. I just thought it was just your average local who just says hello, where are you from, blah blah blah, and then carries on along his way at a faster pace than me.

However, this guy was not ready to do that at all. I told him that I wouldn't be going very fast because my bike was heavily laden. But he said he didn't mind. His car was sitting in a garage in Ortisei being serviced, so he had all day to hang around and was looking for something to do! So he was all set to ride with me for the duration! Cripes!

He was pretty harmless, and just talked about life and the universe, plus Italians' other favourite subject after football - the state of the economy and corrupt politicians - so I had two hours to learn about this blokes' thoughts on Berlusconi, Beppe Grillo, the Lega Nord, and a bit of Gigi Buffon!

Thankfully, just when I felt I'd had my fill of his opinions and he was about to say, "...and another thing..." we arrived at the outskirts of Bolzano, so he wished me a good day, and went on his way back to Ortisei. I like to think he had got everything off his chest!

This trip back to Bolzano was a lot easier than my outward journey. I had taken a packed train from Milan to Verona in which I and a load of other cyclists had been packed like cattle into a carriage with our bikes on an oppressively hot day. Then I picked up an equally packed train up to Ponte Gardena, from where I had planned to ride up to Canazei with all my luggage.

Progress was very slow as I sauntered up the road on my fully laden bike. The first 20km of the 30km route was uphill, as far as the Passo di Sella. Every so often I would phone the proprietor of the B&B where I had a room reserved, to say that there would be a delay in my arrival time, especially as it was getting to evening and I still had to ride up (and then down) the Passo di Sella.

Finally at around 7.30pm, when I arrived at Selva di Val Gardena I popped into a hotel and got them to call a taxi for me. The taxi driver told me it would cost 80 euros to take me to Canazei.

Delightful Dolomiti - the Sella range of mountains
Not wanting to pay so much I told him to take me just to the summit of Passo di Sella, and then I would roll 10km down the hill to Canazei. He reluctantly agreed to do so, fearing that I would catch hyperthermia riding down from the summit (which was at 2,218m) at that time of the evening.

He was right about the descent being really cold, but I just wore every bit of clothing in my luggage. It was a beautiful descent. Although it had been a challenging day, I felt lucky to have had the chance to see the Sella Ronda and the Dolomites rocks from up close at sunset. The area looked amazing.


Lovere to Ponte di Legno (Stage 16)

As the pre-planned climb of Passo di Gavia had to be removed from this stage of the Giro d'Italia due to snow, Mortirolo became the main climb of this stage. It was quite a spectacle watching the riders climb up it from the hard side, Mazzo.

Summit of Mortirolo
This takes me back to the time when I rode up the Mortirolo a few years ago when I was based in Milan and took the train up to Tirano for a long weekend in the high Italian Alps. As Mortirolo was not so far from where I was staying I decided to ride it one Friday afternoon.

I was having a bit of trouble finding the climb so a friendly local cyclist, Giulio, showed me the way there. He got me to follow his wheel along the valley road, and we arrived at Tovo Sant'Agata near Mazzo, where he dropped me off.

A butcher by trade, Giulio only worked in the morning and would spend every afternoon riding around the local climbs - Gavia, Aprica, Ponte di Legno, Bormio, Stelvio and of course Mortirolo. So for him to take a few minutes out of his afternoon to ride with me along a valley road was probably light relief!

I held his wheel like my life depended on it as he drafted off a rather speedy tractor. By the time he dropped me off at Tovo Sant'Agata the sweat was pouring down my face and I then I contemplated this monster I had to climb. "Just take is steady," Giulio said. "You'll be fine."

I came out of the climb alive, but it was not fine at all. The climb was so steep, and I ended up having to get off my bike and walk. I felt really stupid to have chosen the Mortirolo as my first climb of the trip when I hadn't found my climbing legs.

On the way up to Mortirolo from Mazzo
It was a Friday afternoon, and I was wondering if I would get back home before dinner! Eventually I came out of the woods - metaphorically as well as physically - and I had a lovely view of the Valtellina valley area.

Then I dropped downhill to a town called Monno. This descent was quite shallow and it made me realise that this was the side I should have ridden up the Mortirolo.

The views around were so beautiful and the descent was not technical, so with a nice end to my ride it made me forget about the earlier difficulties in the afternoon.

The rest of my weekend was spent riding up to Bormio and to Stelvio. Time didn't allow me to go up the Gavia, and I made a resolution to return there to ride. My next trip to the area was to go skiing in Aprica, and I haven't returned there since. So Passo di Gavia is still on my bucket list.


Ivrea to Como (Stage 15)

Lake Como at Bellagio
Of all the stages of this year's Giro d'Italia this is the stage I am most familiar with it. I have ridden in most of the sections of this stage.

As I spent 18 months in Milan, and still visit the area regularly I always make a point of riding around Lombardy.

The immediate outskirts of Milan are industrial, and sadly they don't have any preserved green belt areas like what you get around London, so a ride from Milan city centre to the nice areas that we know and love is actually quite ugly.

You pass industrial estate after disused factory, after out-of-town retail park, so I would generally cut out these eyesores and get on a local train to Monza or Como, and ride around the Brianza and Lake Como areas. Sometimes I would go to Lecco and Bergamo too.

Madonna del Ghisallo
Arriving into Como was always a nice feeling as I would get off the train and be right next to the beautiful lake. From there I would take the road along the lake, the SP583 to get to Bellagio, and then turn right to climb up to Magreglio, the site of Madonna del Ghisallo.

There are lots of options from here. I could turn back and enjoy the ride along the same road, which is the direction in which the pros cycled along this road during their first passage into Como.

But feeling energetic last autumn I decided to go on to Sormano and then tempt the Muro di Sormano, a quiet narrow, ridiculously steep lane which is a short cut to Pian del Tivano. In hindsight I should have done like the pros and taken the longer, but more gentle Colma di Sormano.

The Muro di Sormano is THE hardest climb I have ever seen on a bike. It is even steeper than those really steep roads in the Lake District. I have yet to meet anyone (outside of elite racers) who can ride this. Apart from the first 150m I ended up walking most of the roughly mile-long (1.7km) climb, and then got on my bike for the last 30 metres.

Embarrasingly when I reached the main road near Pian del Tivano a few hikers cheered at me for having managed to do the climb! I felt it necessary to come clean with them and say I didn't ride it. But they were just impressed I had ridden any part of it at all!

Which way? Turn left for the pain of the Muro di Sormano
The descent to Nesso is hairpin central - pretty technical. At least the pros had a clear road.

I had to deal with cars in front of me, making me either work hard to overtake them safely on the narrow road, or take it handy so that I didn't run into the back of them.

Then once back on the road to Torno it was a real blast to ride along the side of the Lake to get back to Como. I really appreciated the picture postcard that was the town of Como, with its lovely landmarks, in the distance.

The pros then had the pleasure of riding up to Civiglio. I would normally do this route as a separate ride either from Lecco and Ponte Lambro, which is the easy way down, or I would start in Como and do the tough climb up towards Brunate, then turn right to Civiglio when I was two thirds up the climb.
Lake Como as seen from Brunate

This road is not visible while at Lake Como as it is a quiet road that starts at the back of the town. However, while at the lake if you look up you see a lighthouse way up above, and that is where I need to go.....

It's quite daunting, especially as the first part of the climb is quite steep - probably around 12%.  with lots of hairpins. Even driving up there is quite tricky! A few years ago I wrote an article for the former Cycling Active magazine about riding around this area. We did a photo shoot in the area, and it was quite fun.

As Italians like to chat there were quite a few people who were curious to know what we were up to during the photoshoot, and I remember a guy who was quite happy to slow down in his car, while I was riding on a steepish hairpin, and chat to me about what I was doing and shout "forza, dai". It's an Italian thing, I guess.

A well-derved ice cream awaits in Como
Talking of Italian things, all my rides around this area would end in the main square near Como cathedral, where I would have a gelato before getting the train back to Milan. I miss those times, but I also know that it is easy enough to go back there from London - something that I have done since those days, and will continue to do.


Related posts
Italian cycling tales from towns on the Giro d'Italia route - 1

Venturing out to Mortirolo

My Tour of Lombardy

The hills are alive in Tirano

Bella Sella ride


Sunday, 2 June 2019

Italian cycling tales from towns on the Giro d'Italia route - 1

Stories from the places on the 2019 Giro d'Italia route. One thing I like about watching the Giro d'Italia cycle race is when the route goes through areas that I am familiar with - either places where I lived or stayed when on holiday, or places I cycled through. When I see the places on TV it always conjures up memories of the time I was there. In most cases I wish I could go back and ride in those areas - even if I am a little older and slower than I was a few years ago!

Verona (Stage 21)
Verona city entrance 
I love Verona. The first time I ever visited Italy I went to Venice. During that visit I also visited Vicenza, Lake Garda, and Verona.

All those places were pleasant and exciting, but my favourite place was Verona.

It didn't have quite as many tourists as Venice, and seemed a more manageable sized town.

There was also more space than the never ending narrow alleyways of Venice. In my opinion Verona looked prettier than Venice and didn't have a tired look about it from the gazillions of tourists, which I seem to notice in Venice.

I love the central central historic areas in Verona, and its Roman arena, where the Giro d'Italia finishes.

The time trial that the pros are doing for this final stage goes up the Toricelle road. I have never ridden up this road, but I have driven up it. Once, on a weekend away in the Veneto region I booked to stay at a B&B just outside the city centre, and it involved me driving up this climb. I hadn't realised that the road up to the B&B would be so twisty or that it even went uphill! So it was a bit of a test of my driving skills, especially as it was late at night, I wasn't that sure of where I was going and was stuck in among all the local drivers.

Verona Arena and City Hall at Piazza Bra
The B&B was very pleasant and we were treated to beautiful views of the city below, so going there was worth the effort.

The Toricelle climb was used in the World Race Championships in 1999, and is a regular time trial route for the locals. A nocturnal time trial takes place there every year around the end of August/early September. They call it a "cronoscalata" (hill climb). That must surely be one for the bucket list - well after a bit of training.


Feltre and Croce d'Aun (Stage 20)

The route from Feltre to Croce d'Aune is essentially the same course as the Gran Fondo Sportful Dolomiti, which takes place in a couple of weeks. This ride was previously known as the Gran Fondo Campagnolo, which is probably a more relevant name given that the guy who invented Campagnolo components was from Vicenza, not far from this area.

In fact he came up with the idea of the quick release wheel - something that is in most bikes nowadays - when a problem with his wheel on the Croce d'Aune during a cycle race in 1927, cost him the win.

I have done quite a few cyclosportives in Italy, but I have never done this one. A few years ago, we used to say that that the Gran Fondo Campagnolo (now the Gran Fondo Sportful Dolomiti) was one to avoid because the weather was always bad. The Maratona dles Dolomiti and Gran Fondo Pinarello which happen in early July both take place on very warm days. But at the Feltre event, the rain always showed up on the day, occasionally with the route having to be cut short.

So I tended to steer clear of it. Looking at recent photos of the race, it seems that the weather tends to be okay nowadays. So maybe it is time for me to consider riding it.


Treviso to San Martino di Castrozza (Stage 19)

I know Treviso from the time when I rode the Gran Fondo Pinarello - another cyclosportive that takes place at the home of the eponymous family-owned bike manufacturers.

Start line of Gran Fondo Pinarello with Yvette from Pinarello
It was more than 10 years ago when I rode it, so the route is a little different nowadays. The day I rode it, in July the weather was blisteringly hot and I rode the 200km route. We rode up Passo di San Boldo, which features in this stage.

Our route was from a slightly different side as we climbed for about 5 miles and then went over unmade roads before eventually threading in and out of a series of tunnels. The views below were spectacular. The San Boldo climb was the appetiser for a longer more arduous climb, not to San Martino di Castrozza, but to a ski area called Nevegal, which was again on unmade roads. It was a bit like doing Eroica!

Once there we turned around to do the run back in to Treviso, and passed over the Volpago di Montello, which was only about 2km long, but the gradient went to 12% - so something akin to the steep climbs I ride in the Kent or Surrey Hills. So I felt at home!

Montello climb in Gran Fondo Pinarello
During the Pinarello cyclosportive guys kept giving me tips and offering assistance to improve my ride. Some would tell me to just follow the wheel and save energy, while others would just automatically offer their wheel for me to draft off.

A bit like the equivalent of a gentleman holding a door open for a woman, when biking in these parts, guys would offer women their wheel and allow them to draft. It's not something you'd ever see in a UK cyclosportive.

In the last 20 miles of the Pinarello cyclosportive a group of local Italian guys came by and got me to ride in the group with them. They did a chain gang and told me I didn't need to take a turn on the front, so I basically got towed to within about 400m of the finish, and then they dropped back and allowed me to come through and sprint for the line! It made me feel quite important - even if I ended up finishing in 4,347th place out of 7,000 riders!


Valdaora to Santa Maria di Sala (Stage 18)

I have been to this part of Italy in the past - not for cycling, but to ski, and on one occasion for hiking. I wasn't in Valdaora but I was in nearby Dobbiaco. Although the area is part of Italy, it has a distinctly Austrian look and feel about it, and people automatically speak to you in German. Some people there don't know any Italian!

Cross country skiing around Dobbiaco
I went on a trip with Exodus Adventure Company to learn cross country skiing some years ago, so we were based in Dobbiaco (or Toblach, the German name). I had been enjoying the skiing, but deep down I felt that there was something not right about not being able to do a long downhill. Cross country skiing is hard work.

The trip took place in December, when the temperature was about minus 15 degrees C. So in those temperatures I put on about four layers under my jacket. However, within about 15 minutes of starting to ski I had to remove layers. It got to the point where I just stripped down to my cycling jersey and arm warmers. Anything more, and I was overdressed!

Cross country skiing is not that type of skiing where you can look cool as you drop down a hill at speed and then lounge around over a mulled wine enjoying the views at altitude. It's just rough and ready and you go hard at it uphill, on the flat, and even downhill! You burn more calories than cycling or running and in my case I end up a sweaty mess.

Cortina d'Ampezzo
So when I'd had my fill of working hard in the snow I left the group and caught a bus to get over to Cortina d'Ampezzo (where the riders passed through during this stage) to enjoy a bit of the gravity-assisted stuff - proper skiing.

I may have been a bit lacking in the style department, especially by Cortina's high standards, but the folks seemed to let me off!

I do hope to go to that area with my bike, and will go through Cortina, plus nearby Passo Falzarego, a well-known climb in that area which was not covered in this year's Giro (but has been included in the past).


Related Posts
Italian cycling tales from towns on the Giro d'Italia route - 2

Riding the Gran Fondo Pinarello


Wednesday, 29 May 2019

My Cycling Year So Far - Tour of Flanders

Belgium Bound

Cyclist central at Oudenaarde
Another high point of my year so far has been my trip to ride the cobbles of the Tour of Flanders. It had been a few years since I last cycled this event. The last time I rode this Spring Classic was in 2007, and had a great time there. I hadn't intended to to leave it this long before going back again.

Since the time when I last rode it, they had moved the start and finish from Ninove to Oudenaarde, and they had reintegrated Koppenberg, which had been removed from the course for refurbishments.

Apart from that, the atmosphere, fanfare and zeal of all the racers was just as present as ever.

Away from industrial Asse and now in Denderleeuw
I travelled to Flanders by Eurostar to Brussels and then cycled from there to Oudenaarde. The route I took was nothing to write home about, as it passed through some industrial areas around Anderlecht and Asse.

It was only after Denderleeuw that the landscape began to look like the pretty Flandrian scenes that we see on television. I guess when you do these types of rides you get to see places as they are - warts and all.


Word on the street - cycling on Belgian roads

The road conditions were okay. Getting out of Brussels was easy enough. Even though there were bike lanes I still needed to be careful as vehicles would still park in the bike lanes. Some of the bike lanes were so narrow that on occasions you were riding in the gutter, so it was better to ride further out from the kerb, in the flow of the traffic and on a decent road surface. You also need to be careful of crossing side roads, and make sure that cars aren't turning across your path.

In short, riding through Brussels was not bad, but it was not this cycling paradise that people claim is so much nicer than riding along streets the UK. People can be too quick to say that cycling in Europe is better than cycling in the UK. My experience is that in all countries you get good bits and not so good bits. You get good drivers and careless drivers everywhere.

Once into the Flandrian countryside I was on trunk roads that had cycle lanes which was great, though bear in mind that on many side roads that were not trunk roads there are no cycle lanes, the roads are not especially wide, so the conditions are no different from riding on a minor road in the UK.


Riding up Koppenberg

Some local riders at Koppenberg
After a pleasant 40 miles I arrived at my lodgings which were just outside Oudenaarde, and around the corner, literally from Koppenberg. That area was quite busy as lots of folks were practicing it ahead of the cyclosportive and before the crowds arrive. It was a good opportunity to chat to various folks - who seemed to have come from everywhere. Of course there were people from the local area, but there were folks from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, even a group from South Africa.

Saturday was the big day, at least for we amateurs, so I rode the three miles from my bed & breakfast to reach central Oudenaarde, from where I began my ride.

As I was a little late getting up, and I knew I would  need to be back in time to see the professional women's team presentations, I decided to do the 74km option. That wasn't an easy ride though, because it still included around 14 bergs. The tough challenges of Paterberg, Oude Kwaremont, and Koppenberg were included, with the latter being tackled barely 10km into the ride.

Koppenberg didn't fail to disappoint, It was a 15-20% gradient, with cobbles everywhere, and crowds of other riders. Being on my cross bike meant that I felt more comfortable in my riding position, and the tyres offered that bit more cushioning - quite important for my 50-year old bones!

For me, it was just important to keep a good core stability, stay relaxed, hold my line, and be ready to shout "on your left/on your right" very assertively.

The tactic almost worked, but then a woman in front of me, who seemed to be riding well, fell over. She was Italian and her cycling buddy had been shouting words of encouragement to her [Dai, dai] and she seemed to be feeding off that, but then suddenly, bang! She hit the deck, and I had no where to go, so had to dismount quickly.



That was a bit annoying as I was near the top, and thought I had conquered the beast. In my bloody mindedness I walked back to almost the bottom of the climb and decided to attempt it again. The area was quite thick with riders and spectators, and a few people offered to give me a push as I remounted my bike. Then they all shouted Allez, Allez as I strained to get up the climb for a second time, through gritted teeth. This time I did it, and felt like I had won the Tour of Flanders!


Feeling old after Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg

This gave me the confidence to cope with the other bergs to come. Our route didn't include Geraadsbergen or Kapelmuur/Mur de Gramont, but we had enough to be getting on with. Oude Kwaremont was not so steep, but it went on for a long time, and the cobbles seemed sharper and disordered compared with other bergs, so it was a bumpier ride. It was definitely the area to be though, as a spectator as there was loads of pumping music, and a massive beer tent of the same name, and loads of people who seemed to already be on the way to getting drunk.

A word of warning - the descent from Kwaremont is lovely and fast, but then you round the right-hand corner and you are met with this steep cobbled uphill. That was Paterberg. I could have stayed on the bike, and quickly tried to find my low gear, on the hill, but I didn't have the legs to cope with the change of gear. So I just dismounted and manually changed gear in order to comfortably tackle the ascent. Once again, it was a case of being mindful of the folks who were dismounting on the hill once they ran out of gears, as well as those who chose to walk in the middle of the road. This climb felt as steep as Koppenberg, but was not long. However, I still felt quite tired after the previous exertions, so it was harder work for me.

Feeling happy after riding Paterberg (and Oude Kwarement too)
It was a relief to have been able to do those tough three bergs, as well as the other ones. I just had to put my head down and hurry back over the remaining 15 or so miles to get to the finish line. My lack of fitness began to show, and I felt quite tired. A few people past me, and I wanted to jump on their wheels, but I didn't have the strength to hold their wheels. So I just rode back at my own pace.

It was just great to see the finish line, knowing that I still had the ability to ride even the tough bergs.

A good day out in Flanders

Flanders is a great place to be when the bike races are on. At the lovely place where I stayed, Enjoy B&B Today, there was a group of Irish guys, and some Italians from Turin as well. Around Oudenaarde and the surrounding area there were also lots of people from the UK, and I recognised jerseys from local clubs like Kingston Wheelers and Dulwich Paragon. There was a large contingent from my club, Penge CC, though I travelled separately from them. It was good to bump into Dougie Fox and other riders from Crawley Wheelers. I don't get to talk to them much when I'm in London - so it was just ironic that it took a cycling event abroad to get us to sit down and have a chat with them over a beer! But that's what the Tour of Flanders does.

Feed station at Ronse, where you bump into people you know

Related Posts
Tour of Flanders ride 2007

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Thursday, 23 May 2019

52 Cycling Voices - 23: Yewande Adesida

I first met Yewande at the London Nocturne about two years ago when she took part in the fixed gear race. She was riding for Velociposse at the time, and was enjoying her new adventure in cycle racing. Yewande has really made progress in her short time in cycle racing - taking a bronze medal at the sprint race at the British Universities and College Sports (BUCS)  track championships, competing in the National Track Cycling Championships. In between all that, she even found time to do some modelling for some big-name cycling brands after a recommendation from Ayesha McGowan, bike racer from across the pond.


Yewande Adesida, aged 25

From: London

Occupation: PhD Student at Imperial College, London


(Photo by SRAM)

I got into cycling properly when I stopped rowing about three years ago and then I thought about which sport to get into.  

I had been a rower for about six years and gone as far as I could, so wanted to find a sport that I was better suited to. 


I chose cycling. It wasn't completely new to me as it was part of my cross training when I was rowing, so I had done bits of it here and there.

I always knew I wanted to do track cycling so I worked on getting my accreditation at Herne Hill and the Lee Valley velodrome.  

There wasn't anyone in particular who inspired me to do more serious cycling. I always just knew that I wanted to compete and race so it was just about me getting to that point where I could do that. 

I took my time about which club to join. Then me and a friend heard about a women's racing team called Velociposse, which was looking for riders, so joined that one. They were very friendly and wanted to encourage more women into cycling. My team mate Eeva Sarlin was quite enthusiastic and encouraged me to have a go at fixed-gear racing. 


At the London Nocturne in 2017
The 2017 London Nocturne was my first crit race on a fixed-gear bike. I was a bit scared as there were a lot of sharp turns. 

I got dropped, but then I did what I could to try and get ahead of the group I was with. The race was interrupted due to crash and I also ended up hitting the barriers. I was okay, and am still really glad I did it, as the support from the other racers was great.

I raced for Velociposse until November last year, then joined a team called SES Racing, a mixed team that focuses on track sprinting and being competitive.

With them I went to the National Track Championships in Manchester at the start of this year, doing the sprint race and the keirin. Competing at the National Velodrome in Manchester for the first time was a really good experience and I really enjoyed it. It was also really tiring. I had never raced a keirin indoors before so it was nice to do well in that event and work on that for next year. All round I had a really good experience.

I finished 10th overall in the Keirin. I was not expecting that at all, as I had raced four times, when normally I would only race twice, so it was really good.


I had done the individual sprint, which I normally do. I’ve raced that in competitions before, and I equalled my personal best in the flying 200m and came 13th overall and was able to qualify for the match sprinting, even though I knew that that would be a tough.

I was probably a lot more nervous for the sprint because I had expectations for how I wanted to do, but I was less nervous for the Keirin because I was going into it to learn and have fun.

Yewande does some road racing too
I had been pretty nervous about racing at the Nationals with the top riders, but the people with me from my new club were really supportive, and really helpful. I don’t think I was as freaked out by the whole situation as I would have been this time last year. I have been working on my confidence, and my thoughts going into races in the past couple of months, and that has definitely helped.

I saw a sports psychologist that was available to me through university so I would go for a session every few weeks and it’s been really helpful so far.

My goals this year are to focus on sprinting and see what happens. The BUCS is my main target but I'm hoping to do well at the National Sprinters League too over the next few months. 

Before, I had been doing endurance races, but now I’m going to stick to sprint events. I will probably race on the road, but not as much as last year.

My season so far has been pretty quiet compared to last year because I've only been doing sprint events and I also had a hip injury. It was actually quite good to have a break from racing and focus on the rehabilitation stuff, but I'm back to full training now, which is good.

Things are quite busy these days because I juggle my cycle racing and training with coaching, as well as studying for a PhD in wearable technology in rowing. 

Living in West London means it takes a while to travel across London with my track bike to get to the Lee Valley Velopark in Stratford, but I am very motivated.

My most memorable day on a bike was probably last July when I won my first crit last year at a Full Gas summer series crit on the road circuit at Lee Valley. 

I had been racing for over a year and the closest I had come to winning was getting second place in a crit. The previous month I did a race at Cyclopark, Gravesend, and had been about to win it, but then I crashed and ended up in a ditch. So winning the Full Gas crit was a great feeling. 

When cycling, I never go out without Jelly Babies. I really like them. I think they’re not too sugary - or at least they don’t taste too sugary - so they are quite easy to like, and being quite soft they are easy to eat.

I think the British Cycling #OneInAMillion campaign is a good way of trying to increase the numbers of women doing cycling because it’s a great confidence booster and also a way to keep fit, and explore cycling. I definitely see the benefits of the campaign. If more people can experience cycling then it’s great.


Yewande (second row, right) with some women of colour who cycle
I think the Women of Colour cycling group set up by Jools Walker and Jenni Gwiadowski has been quite encouraging so far, too. At the first meet-up I’d never seen so many women of colour before, so it was nice to know that they existed. 

I think it sends out a really good message that there are other women of colour in the sport, and women of colour should not be afraid of getting into cycling because it shows that we exist. The group creates a positive environment for people to grow in the sport.

I have hardly seen other women like me doing cycle racing, and often I am the only woman of colour at a race. It was similar with rowing too. I used to feel uncomfortable about it, but I don't think about it so much now. Hopefully there will be more women of colour racing.



Getting to model for SRAM and Rapha was a real shock, but a pleasant one - especially with SRAM as I didn't expect to be featured. It was great to be involved with both campaigns and work with talented and enthusiastic people, and most importantly be a part of creating more representation in the bike industry - there have been lots of positive responses. 
Modelling for Rapha (Photo by Rapha)
It's hard to feel a part of a sport when you don't see people that look like you on a start line, in social media or in advertising, so to work with brands that are working to change this was such a great opportunity.


I would encourage more women to get into cycling because it’s great for boosting your confidence, learning a new skill, meeting different people, and getting to explore different places that you might not have gone to otherwise. And you get to eat lots of cake!


Instagram
@yewie_a


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Geraldine Glowinski



Wednesday, 15 May 2019

My Cycling Year So Far - Cyclocross

Gee, I can't believe it's May already. Time marches on so fast, I barely know where I am!

Massive apologies for the silence on these airwaves. I was too busy riding my bike! Talking of which, here's a bit about what I've been up to.



In January I took part in the National Cyclocross Championships, vets race. I wouldn't normally do a race at such a high level, but I just couldn't pass on the opportunity given that it was taking place locally at the Cyclopark near Gravesend, Kent.

Now that I am well and truly a vet, I don't have to worry myself racing with the elite racers though, knowing that at least if I get lapped I won't be pulled out of the race. Having said that, I did have a moment in the race where I really wanted the commissaire to tell me my race was over - instead he told me I had another lap to go - much to my despair and my screeching legs!

The course was harder than I have ever raced on. It was a real assault course of a lap, with a flyover, steep drop-offs in rapid succession, steep off-cambers, steps, thick sand, a steep descent onto the tarmac and a fast bit of tarmac up to the finish line. That was the best bit!

The flyover at the Cyclopark for the National Cyclocross Championships
For once I had the time to get myself properly organised and go to the venue the day before race to do the course recon and pick what my racing lines would be. It went well, even if I did feel pretty pooped after three laps.

But when race morning came, all the nerves set in and I was falling all over the place during the warm-up lap. By the time I was on the start line, I was covered in mud from the times I had fallen over during the warm-up lap! On one of my crashes on an off-camber I tangled with a young girl who was also warming up. I felt bad about that, as she looked as if she was going to cry.

When I got back on my bike I noticed that my handlebars were bent, and also my derailleur was locked into one gear. I feared I would have to race the course on a single-speed bike! Luckily, I was able to get help from a mechanic in the pits, who was working for the Jewson team. That was so nice.

I also went through a freaky moment of feeling like I couldn't ride and wondered how I was going to get around the course without trashing myself, or my bike even more. As I had arrived at Cyclopark in good time I was able to practice the tricky off-camber section several times.

A guy from the Velobants team who had seen me struggling came over and gave me tips on how to ride that section. Silly me, I had also forgotten to let air out of my tyres. Because I had cycled on the road to the train station at Bromley South, and then again from Meopham to the venue I had high pressures in my tyres and forgot to deflate them when I was warming up.

Suzi Wise and myself, so relieved that we got round the race okay
 Once I reduced the tyre pressures by half, everything came together and I felt so much happier riding the tricky sections.

I probably rode my best cyclocross race in a while, and really felt emboldened to ride like I had nothing to lose - even if I still took a couple of tumbles.

It was great to have Fran from Velovixen, and who also rides for Velobants, cheering me on. In fact there were a lot of people around the course cheering us on - more than we ever normally get. I even ended up in a dual with a Twickenham racer.

Then the next day I watched how it was done when the elite women raced, and I managed to see number one cyclocross racer Helen Wyman fly up the hills that I could only walk up during my race. She came third in this race, though seemed in good spirits, chatting to all her fans. It was a great weekend of cyclocross, and I actually feel like training properly for the nationals for next year.

The elites showing us how it's done on that hill - Helen Wyman (right)

That has been one of my memorable experiences on the bike this year. I have had others, such as my ride at the Tour of Flanders and a riding into France and the Paris suburbs. We have also just had the Tour de Yorkshire and I managed to ride stage 3, from Bridlington to Scarborough, which was lovely and tough in equal measures! More on that in later posts.


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Friday, 25 January 2019

Burns Night again - so more cycling poetry


How about a bit of cycling-related poetry. Every year I say I'd like to get into poetry - along with writing that great novel that gets turned into a film! Once again I haven't got round to it, so here are a couple to celebrate while you enjoy a bit of haggis and whisky.  

The first poem has a moral at the end - if only I could ride a horse! The second poem is an ode to a place that many club cyclists go to for warm weather training, and I imagine for the other delights this Balearic Island has to offer!


Mulga Bills Bicycle
by 
'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze; 
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days; 
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen; 
He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine; 
And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride, 
The grinning shop assistant said, "Excuse me, can you ride?" 
"See here, young man," said Mulga Bill, "from Walgett to the sea, 
From Conroy's Gap to Castlereagh, there's none can ride like me.
 
I'm good all round at everything, as everybody knows, 
Although I'm not the one to talk - I hate a man that blows.
 
But riding is my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight; 
Just ask a wild duck can it swim, a wildcat can it fight.
 
There's nothing clothed in hair or hide, or built of flesh or steel, 
There's nothing walks or jumps, or runs, on axle, hoof, or wheel, 
But what I'll sit, while hide will hold and girths and straps are tight: 
I'll ride this here two-wheeled concern right straight away at sight.
" 

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that sought his own abode, 
That perched above the Dead Man's Creek, beside the mountain road.

He turned the cycle down the hill and mounted for the fray, 
But ere he'd gone a dozen yards it bolted clean away.
 
It left the track, and through the trees, just like a silver streak, 
It whistled down the awful slope towards the Dead Man's Creek.
 

It shaved a stump by half an inch, it dodged a big white-box: 
The very wallaroos in fright went scrambling up the rocks, 
The wombats hiding in their caves dug deeper underground, 
As Mulga Bill, as white as chalk, sat tight to every bound.
 
It struck a stone and gave a spring that cleared a fallen tree, 
It raced beside a precipice as close as close could be; 
And then as Mulga Bill let out one last despairing shriek 
It made a leap of twenty feet into the Dead Man's Creek.
 

'Twas Mulga Bill from Eaglehawk, that slowly swam ashore: 
He said, "I've had some narrer shaves and lively rides before; 
I've rode a wild bull round a yard to win a five-pound bet, 
But this was the most awful ride that I've encountered yet.
 
I'll give that two-wheeled outlaw best; It's shaken all my nerve 
To feel it whistle through the air and plunge and buck and swerve.
 
It's safe at rest in Dead Man's Creek, we'll leave it lying still; 
A horse's back is good enough henceforth for Mulga Bill."

John Cooper Clarke-Majorca.

null

MAJORCA
By John Cooper Clarke (1976)
Fasten your seatbelts says a voice
Inside the plane you can’t hear no noise 
Engines made by Rolls Royce 
Take your choice 
…make mine Majorca
Check out the parachutes 
Can’t be found 
Alert those passengers 
They’ll be drowned 
A friendly mug says “settle down” 
When i came round i was gagged and bound 
…for Majorca
And the eyes caress 
The neat hostess 
Her unapproachable flip finesse 
I found the meaning of the word excess 
They’ve got little bags if you wanna make a mess 
I fancied Cuba but it cost me less  
…to Majorca
(Whose blonde sand fondly kisses 
the cool fathoms of the blue mediteranean)
They packed us into the white hotel 
You could still smell the polycell 
Wet white paint in the air-conditioned cells 
The waiter smelled of fake Chanel 
Gauloises… garlic as well 
says if i like… i can call him “Miguel” 
…well really
I got drunk with another fella 
Who’d just brought up a previous paella 
He wanted a fight but said they were yella’ 
…in Majorca
The guitars rang and the castinets clicked 
The dancer’s stamped and the dancer’s kicked 
It’s likely if you sang in the street you’d be nicked 
The Double Diamond flowed like sick 
Mother’s Pride, tortilla and chips 
Pneumatic drills when you try to kip 
…in Majorca
A stomach infection put me in the shade 
Must have been something in the lemonade 
But by the balls of Franco i paid 
Had to pawn my bucket and spade 
Next year I’ll take the international brigade 
…to Majorca
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Women of Colour cycling group - is it necessary?

Look Mum No Hands! Cafe in London holds various types of events and regular meet-ups. One group they have formed is a Women of Colour meet-up. The first meeting was held in December of last year, and another meeting took place a few days ago. It will now become a monthly event.

First Women of Colour cycling group at Look Mum No Hands

I went to the first one, as I was a little curious to see how the meet-up went, and as someone who likes to meet different types of people in cycling I was looking forward to meeting new people. Also being experienced in cycling and in the cycling community I was looking forward to sharing lots of information about the cycling scene and giving tips to anyone wanting advice.

This group was an initiative borne out of an article written by a woman who bemoaned the fact that she hardly saw any women of colour when she took part in the Ride London 100 last summer. She also claimed to have encountered white MAMILS (middle-aged men in lycra) who gave her "uncomfortable gazes" at the cycle event, or "microagressions" from white males as they overtook her when commuting.

This was then picked up on by the likes of Jools Walker (aka Lady Velo), Jenni Gwiadowski and Ayesha McGowan, an Afro-American bidding to become the first black female professional racer, who felt that there was a need to group together black women who don't feel that they could get into cycling because of a feeling of being different from others around them.

As someone who has known Jools since 2011, when I interviewed her at the Tweed Run cycle ride for Cycling Weekly magazine, I felt I would like to support her cause, so I attended the event. (I arrived a bit late as I had been at fitness class that evening.)

There were quite a few women, and Ayesha McGowan who linked up to the meeting from her home in the United States via Skype. Although I missed the early part of the meeting it seemed that a lot of the women talked about how they never received encouragement to get into cycle riding, and felt uncomfortable because there was no one else in the group that looked like them.

Some felt they were ignored, and didn't feel confident about getting involved, others talked about being passed over to become brand ambassadors for different marketing companies, or that black women cycling are not represented in the media.

While I believe every word of what the women say, I still find it hard to say that there is some kind of racial or discrimination problem, or even that there are barriers to entry for black women to get into cycling.

That has not been my experience at all, and I have never perceived any barriers to entry or discrimination.

No one in my family was particularly into cycling. My dad bought a Peugeot bike in the 80s and I had a go on it a few times, but generally my parents didn't like me cycling. I have two sisters, neither of whom ride a bike and have never shown a particular interest in doing so even though they are aware of all the activity I do on two wheels.

I grew up in an area where we were the only black family. There were local people who were happy for me to join their cycling groups, however I didn't have the means to join in.

Not having a suitable bicycle, and living in a remote village in Yorkshire where the nearest group was 10 miles away, meant there was no practical means of me joining them. My parents were certainly not going to let me cycle all the way there. And there was no way they would encourage me to ride on public roads.

I did bits and pieces of cycling over the years, as described in my 52 Cycling Voices, and eventually got into regular club cycling almost 20 years ago and I have really enjoyed it. Various people have encouraged me over the years - men, women, black, people, white people, including MAMILS!

Through cycling I got into journalism and testing out kit for brands. It is true that I have not seen many black people out cycling, and very few black women. However, the numbers are growing.

The thing is, I still can't say that the lack of black people cycling would be a barrier to entry.

In fact the biggest barriers I have had were from my own folks! My parents did not want me to ride, thinking it was too dangerous. My dad always used to say people who cycle on public roads just want to kill themselves!

My mum couldn't understand why anyone would want to ride any distance over a few miles if they could do it by car. Black women that I met when I came to London found it a bit strange that I would like to ride a bike. At dinner parties mentioning cycling was more of a conversation stopper!

"Did you find the place okay?"
"Yes, I cycled over - it was quite straightforward."
"Hmm.... I never understand cyclists - they always get in the way on the road."

When I was growing up, getting around by bicycle was seen as something you do because you don't have access to a car. Doing it as a child is fair enough. But cycling around as an adult was just a sign of failure - that you hadn't managed to find a job that paid you enough to buy a car!

With these traditionalist views and encounters, which aren't unique to my situation, it's not surprising that black women aren't thinking about cycling as an activity.

I would say this is a bigger barrier to entry than any white MAMIL! I too have done the Ride London 100, and never got any strange looks from anyone. In fact for a while I joined a chain of guys until my legs turned to lead after Leith Hill!

Finish line of the 2017 Ride London 100 
People have been saying "if you can't see it, you can't be it," meaning that you can't become something if you don't see people who look like you doing it. I can't say I identify with that phrase though.

Fair enough, if I had seen other black women cycling I would have found it inspiring. However, there were no such sights when I was a child.

Nevertheless, I still got inspired by the occasional young man I saw on a road bike around South Yorkshire, or the men I saw on TV riding the Tour de France.

These Italians, Spanish or Irish guys who looked nothing like me still made me dream of riding up a mountain pass in Europe - and I eventually did it for the first time on a Graham Baxter training camp to Spain in 2000. I was the only black person in the part of around 60 participants, but it didn't bother me one jot.

At no point did I ever feel that I should join a group of other black female cyclists, or black cyclists. I have only ever been interested in joining groups of pleasant people I can get on with, who have similar interests to mine. I find it hard to see how being black and female would be the basis for forming a group.

There are various statistics around cycling. According to Cycling UK, in 2017 4% of the population rode their bike more than once a week, and 5% rode between two and five times a week.

White people were three times more likely than people of South Asian and Chinese origin to cycle more than three times a week, rising to four times more likely than people of black origin.

Another Cycling UK survey reported 8% of women in the UK describe themselves as regular cyclists (compared with 20% of men). So the figures for black women who cycle, would be low.

There are various explanations such as issues around confidence and negative experiences on the road -  things which aren't race-specific.

A survey by Transport for London did call out family responsibilities such as caring for children and other family members as a barrier to cycling for ethnic minority women.

I am not querying these statistics, but for me the bottom line is and will always be about not allowing reports and statistics to bog me down, and just getting out there and doing the thing I want to do.

As for the other points around representation, brand ambassadors or finding cycling groups where one can feel comfortable, there are various responses to that.

Transport for London marketing photo

On representation: Many years ago, when I first got into racing, British Cycling published a full-page photograph of me in action in their events calendar. I was wearing full club kit, with my race face on. It was quite a shock to see my mug plastered next to "March", but one can't say I was invisible!

Some years after that I was photographed along with a few others as part of a marketing campaign for the Sky Rides. I regularly see photos of black women in Transport for London's marketing materials on cycling.

So I find it hard to say there is no representation. In fact, considering that black people make up 5% of the UK population, and black women represent an even lower number than that, it wouldn't be realistic to see loads of women of colour in a campaign - particularly as so few ride a bike anyway.

If black women would want to see more women represented in cycling campaigns, more black women need to get out on their bikes. And the facilities are available for that to happen.

There are Breeze Rides, Cycling UK rides, Regional women's cycling groups and on-line forums, and a Velovixen forum specifically for women cyclists. There is no reason for any woman to feel isolated in cycling - regardless of race.

I, myself set up a women's local cycle racing group with some other women in 2010. We appealed to women of all levels to join, and we organised rides for beginners too. We marketed this on-line and through the cycling media, but no black women turned up. Now I was racing at the time, and was regularly photographed racing.

So what of "If you can't see it, you can't be it" for those black women who may have wanted to try biking?

As for ambassador programmes - that is extremely competitive for anyone who applies. With hundreds of applicants, the odds of being selected are always going to be stacked against you, particularly as marketing managers want to see specific evidence that an individual's cycling activity fits with the essence of their brand. There are plenty of white people whose applications are rejected!

Getting into cycling and doing it regularly is not especially easy for anyone, regardless of gender, race or the level people would like to achieve. You may well have to go out of your comfort zone at times, as well as reading and researching around the subject.

That is just part and parcel of trying any new physically demanding activity. I am not saying that prejudices and issues don't exist in society, but I am inclined first to remember that we have a responsibility to put in the effort if we want to achieve an outcome, and we shouldn't be so quick to attribute difficulties in progressing, to society.

So from a personal standpoint, a specific cycling group for black women isn't really necessary. Such groups that set me apart because of my colour give me a feeling that there's a special need and we're not like other folks.

I am happy to go along to the meet-ups and socialise, talk about the latest cycling news, exchange tips and ideas.

I am not interested in joining a moan-fest of people talking about being downtrodden and excluded though. At the meet-up there was talk of organising rides, and I would be happy to do some - though my rides will be defined by the terrain and level/speed, and not by people of a particular race or colour. They will be open to any woman (or man even) who wants to come along.



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