Friday, 23 October 2020

Photo of the day - 23: Giro d'Italia breakaway to Abbiategrasso

Trezzano sul Naviglio, near Abbiategrasso 

As it's Flashback Friday I am casting my mind back to a bike ride I did along the Naviglio Grande from Milan to Abbiategrasso while on a visit to Milan two years ago. That in itself was a nostalgia ride as it reminded me of the two years I spent there between 2012 and 2013. Riding along the Naviglio Grande was a mainstay ride for me in those days, as it was my local run. I was staying close to Corsa Genova, so it was very easy to get onto the fashionable Navigli, ride past the trendy canal-side cafés and continue along the canal path (Naviglio Grande) to Abbiategrasso. This picture is actually taken at Trezzano sul Naviglio, just before Abbiategrasso. It's only about a 45 minute ride from the grand Milan metropolis, but it is pretty quiet, and has a very laid back feel close to the fields of the Milan suburbs. Interestingly, this is the place where today's stage of the Giro d'Italia began. It wasn't planned that way. The professional riders should have started in Morbegno, in the Alps and then headed into Asti (of fizzy wine fame) in Piedmont. But in typical Giro d'Italia tradition, there was a rider protest. The riders had spent yesterday racing in the freezing conditions up the Stelvio Pass, so some decided they weren't prepared to do today's 258km-stage. Instead, the teams were bussed over 130km across Lombardy to a big car park not far from where this photo was taken, and the riders raced the remaining 124.5km from there. Rider protests in the Giro d'Italia are not uncommon. They usually complain about the long transfers between stages, being made to race in difficult climatic conditions, racing over a wet slippery 25% slope like Plan di Corones, or even on the 100th anniversary edition where they were to race around Central Milan, weaving around parked cars on narrow streets! So this protest didn't surprise me - though the director, Mauro Vegni has vowed to take action against the ring leaders. I think rider protests are an Italian bike race thing. I remember in a cyclosportive  we were meant to do a cyclosportive across the Dolomites but it was bucketing down, with snow at the summits. Although the event was reduced to a race up Passo Fedaia, riders still complained that conditions would be unsafe.  On another occasion, at the Giro di Sardegna cyclosportive there was a big deal made about us doing a time trial that involved a long downhill section. After a big open debate between riders and the organiser the stage was cancelled and we did a leisurely ride along the coast instead. It's just an Italian thing, I guess.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Photo of the day - 22: New Bike Day - a lovely Brompton!

Looking forward to zipping around London and beyond on this

So this landed on my doorstep, and it made my day! It was given to me by Brompton as a recompense for a day I had filming and doing a photo shoot with them in July. I had a good day out with their film crew recording footage and taking photos of a group of us cycling around Central London on Brompton bikes. That was the first time I was riding extensively on a Brompton. When I was based in Milan a few years ago I would do the 3-mile commute to work on a folding bike, so I did enjoy using that. I must admit though, that for me a Brompton is the gold standard in folding bikes. So being able to ride around London on that Sunday in July was great, and I was even more excited to know that 6-speed versions exist for those like me, who live in hilly areas. It was a very pleasant surprise to know I would be receiving one. So at lunchtime a young man arrived at the door with a big box, and I ran to the door like an excited child. It's in exactly the colour I wanted, too. Collegiate green is my thing, and I think it blends well with autumn colours. I look forward to zipping around London and beyond with it. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Photo of the day - 21: At Cherry Pie Music for my first clarinet lesson

Cherry Pie Music School for clarinet lessons and various other instruments 

This quaint looking place near South Wimbledon is a music school. That's where I went for my first clarinet lesson. I figured that if I have an exam in a month's time it would be good to get in a few lessons and to have an expert assess my playing. I have self-taught myself over the years, using a mixture of You Tube, and years before that ever existed, the great Klosé Method Manual with its gazillions of drills. Recently, I thought it would be a good idea to formalize my level by doing the grades, so in the first instant I am starting at the very beginning, a very good place to start! My Grade 1 exam syllabus seems fairly straightforward with short basic tunes and easy scales; the whole exam only lasts 15 minutes, so I am feeling pretty relaxed about it. I wasn't best prepared when I arrived at the place. I was a little hot and bothered from having done the one-mile brisk walk from where I'd parked at the shopping centre. Then I had to put on my mask on my arrival, which made me quite hot. So I spent a few minutes stripping off my layers of clothing before I could take out and assemble my clarinet. Given that this was only a half-hour lesson I didn't want to waste any more time so I got straight into playing without properly dampening the reed. I was also a bit nervous, and hadn't practiced for a few days. I'm sure I didn't sound that good. However, to my surprise the teacher said that I had played well enough to pass the exam. I would need to do more breathing exercises to support the higher notes better and give fullness - but for Grade 1 that's more like the cherry on the cake. That's very reassuring. I look forward to having more lessons; as it is classed as a school it may well remain open even if London moves into Tier 3 lockdown. The place is set up with social distancing taken into account. You wear a mask until you enter the tuition room. The tuition room is divided into two, with a perspex glass to separate the pupil from the teacher. The teacher has a mask and a personal protection perspex face covering, though she removed it once behind the perspex. So it all seemed pretty safe.  Here's hoping my clarinet playing doesn't get too disrupted.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Photo of the day - 20: Women gearing up for the National Hill Climb Championships


Finish line of Bank Road hill climb: Haddi Conant (with Simon
"100 Climbs" Warren in the background)

With less than a week to go until the National Hill Climb championships there is a bit of fanfare goinng on around the fact that there will be a record turn-out of women competing at the event. A former full-time road racer, Laurie Pestana led a campaign to "flood the National Hill Climb Championships with female entries (ideally 100+ entries), women would have their entry fees paid for them. (Rather like what Helen Wyman did a few years ago to get under-23 women to compete in the National Cyclocross Championships). This was done as a way to encourage a greater female participation at the event, and get organisers to commit to paying equal prize money for the male and female winners. Observers say around 140 women signed up for the event, so folks have been excited at this unprecedented occasion. Some of the entrants were at the Hill Climb at Bank Road. One of the women was Haddi Conant, who has taken to wearing a campaign banner on her back at the races she's been doing. She initially had a banner that said "Equal prize money for men and women!!" But once she heard that equal prize money was being offered at the Bank Hill event and at the National Championships she changed the wording. Haddi has also made a film as part of her campaign. In parallel to this, another rider Gemma Wilks is making a film about women's participation in cycling, as a way to showcase what women do, in a hope of inspiring other women. I am all for doing anything to encourage more women to take up cycling and also to sign up for races. In fact, I have been involved in initiatives, such as the London Women's Cycle Racing League, back in 2010. That has gotten people many women into cycling. It is all very well for women to campaign for equal prize money or better recognition etc in the sport. However, I feel that at grass roots level, women need to step up to the plate more themselves. Sometimes I find it surprising the disparity in the number of women who campaign for various gender issues related to sport vs how many women actually turn up at the start lines of races. I know of race organisers who put on races for women, only to have barely a handful of women turn up. Some even have to cancel races due to a lack of participants - or run the race at a substantial financial loss. During the road racing season, at least once every few weeks a race organiser puts out an appeal for more entrants because at two weeks out from the race he or she has barely 10 women signed up. So while it is great to ask for certain things from those who organise the races, we should also satisfy our end of the deal by participating regularly. Men may be perceived as receiving more favourable treatment, but then again when a race is organised the men always turn out. With women it can be very hit and miss, and high risk especially for people who are running these events on a shoestring budget and organise races as a labour of love. Some folks claim that organisers need to engage with women more, or do more to make us feel welcome. But then I say, why should organisers do more for women than they would do for men? It's ironic to say, "We want gender parity, but can you do more marketing to we women, encourage us more and give us more of a welcome than you do with men so more of us can turn up?" You can't cherry pick what you want equality to look like. I say, if women want comparable returns to the men from race organisers they need to put themselves out there, rather than grumbling from the side lines. I am glad to see that the National Hill Climbing Championships will have so many female competitors. I hope this can be repeated regularly across all kinds of races, and without always needing special campaigns.   

Monday, 19 October 2020

Photo of the day - 19: Short bike ride along High Peak Trail


As this was my final day in Matlock before returning to London I thought I would have an "easy" day riding along a rail trail. The nearest one to me was the High Peak Trail, which can be joined in the nearby village of Cromford. So I rode three or four miles along the A6 to Cromford where I could pick up the trail. It wasn't that easy to find, and I did a few a couple of unnecessary detours. But eventually I found a back lane which rose up quite steeply to get me onto the trail at Black Rocks. I guess they don't call it "high" peak for nothing! The trail is very pretty, though I found it tough-going at times, especially in the initial part where the trail dragged uphill to Black Rock. It then dropped down, only for me to start climbing again to reach Middleton Top. This trail also doubles as the Pennine Bridleway, a long-distance off-road path with different sections I have ridden in various parts of the Peak District. The path also goes through Yorkshire, and is quite challenging. This may explain why the High Peak Trail felt like harder work compared with the nearby Tissington Trail which I rode a few years ago. It was possible to continue along this trail to Parsley Hay, where I could join Tissington trail and do a big circuit to get back to Cromford and Matlock. However, being stuck for time I left the High Peak Trail and navigated my way along various un-named bridleways to head towards Grangemill Farm, then back to Matlock via Brightgate. This was a fun route, though at one point I made a wrong turn and ended up on the edge of an industrial quarry - which would have been interesting if I had fallen on track! In the end, this "shortened" route still had a riding time of over two hours, and with extra time added on for map-reading and getting lost the total outing was almost three hours! It had been a good day's off-road riding. Now I know why so many people rave about off-road riding in the Peak District. There is so much choice. Also, there's a chance I will be back here again soon as I have signed up for a cyclocross race in Matlock, which will take place very close to Grangemill. At least I will know what to expect.

Sunday, 18 October 2020

Photo of the day - 18: Out and about in Matlock

Matlock as seen from the Limestone Way

I had an active Sunday in Matlock. Doing a hill climb race on the South Downs yesterday meant that I didn't arrive in Matlock until late yesterday evening. So I felt like I had some catching up to do. So the first thing this morning I did a mini ride around the local area, taking in Bank Road, where I would later do the hill climb race that afternoon. I then continued towards Wirksworth and Middleton Top, going via Riber Castle. A hill climb race was going on there too this morning, and I exchanged a few words with one of the marshals. Matlock is a hilly place, I must say. Keen to not overdo things like I had done the previous week at the Brighton Mitre events, and turn up at the afternoon hill climb feeling tired, I kept the bike ride brief. I did do a mini cross country run along the Limestone Way though. I decided that that was round 2 of my personal cross country series. But in fact, this run was not so much as cross country but a fell run! There were great views of the town below, with Riber Castle in the distance. I then returned to my hotel room in time to change into my cycling gear to do the hill climb. After the climb, given that it was a sunny day I felt I had to make the most of the nearby country lanes. So I did a little walk along the River Derwent and then up to the war memorial at the top of a hill. By the end of the day, my legs were shot and I was ready to put my feet up. I slept well. In short, Matlock is a place where there's no shortage of things to do.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Photo of the day - 17: Another hilly bike ride on the South Downs


On the way down from Bo Peep - great to see the paragliders out 
Continuing my hill climbing season, today saw me once again on the slopes of the South Downs. My day started with a hill climb competition up to Firle Beacon. It was similar to the one I did at Steyning Bostal last week, except that in this one I actually had the time to reccie the climb. Well, the sign-on was located at the summit, and given that I had chosen to park in Firle village I had no choice but to ride up the climb to pick up my number. Last week I had been the minute woman to local rider Cathy Wallace. I had managed to stay ahead of her, but she still put time into me and beat me by 30 seconds. This time she wasn't there and I was minute woman to another local rider, Erica Martin of Eastbourne Rovers. She caught me three-quarters of the way up the climb. For me, that was a good result as she is a strong rider and Firle is slightly harder than Steyning. I finished third last in this one, which was an improvement on last place in my previous hill climb! One thing about racing is how you keep bumping into people you recognise from other races. Debbie Percival, racing for Kent Velo Girls was there - she had been at the two races I did last week. Also, it was good to see Natalie Creswick, who I know from other cycle races I have done in the past. It's that that gives cycle racing a community feel too, as you go around the circuit and get to know different people - like in many competitive sports. 
After racing up Firle Beacon, I thought it would have been rude not to pay a visit to the other nearby well-known climb, Bo Peep. So I did a little loop further to the east where I picked up the little lane that took me to the summit. That climb is shallow initially, and there is around a 10% ramp as you turn the first bend. However, the real sting is the final bend, which must be more like 18%. I am glad that wasn't included in the race. Along the way, I saw a couple of guys on hybrid bikes who were really suffering on the slope. We congratulated each other when we met again in the car park. Talk about solidarity in pain!
As well as the company of other bike riders mad enough to ride up Bo Peep for pleasure, we had many paragliders up and above us, making the most of the thermals. Gee, the lengths people go, to reach the summit without pedalling a bike - cheats!