Thursday, 30 January 2020

Cyclists of Paris

When I was in Paris to attend the launch of the Groupama-FDJ bike racing team, I took a stroll around the centre of the city and did a bit of people watching as it was quite a sunny day. By people watching, it was more about watching all the various cyclists go by. I didn't need to go very far to see cyclists as there were quite a lot of them around, so I just stayed within a narrow zone between Hotel de Ville, Rue de Rivoli, and the Pont Notre-Dame.

It's good to see that more segregated cycle lanes have been built around Paris, and the Velibs seemed to be back in use again as well after the catastrophic failure of the system over the last couple of years. There weren't quite as many cyclists as you see in some of the cycle superhighways in London at rush hour, but the lanes were still well used by scooters and skateboarders as well as by cyclists.

Rue de Rivoli

Velibs at Hotel de Ville

Commuters on Pont Notre-Dame

Quai de Gesvres

Boulevard de Sebastopol
Rue de Rivoli

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Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Catching up with Groupama-FDJ

Marc Madiot (left) and Thibaut Pinot (right) at the presentation
Earlier this month I took up an invitation to attend the unveiling of the Groupama-FDJ team for 2020. The event took place at the headquarters of the Groupama insurance company in Paris.

To the fanfare and glitz of the mini theatre, the riders and staff appeared on-stage before a packed audience of friends, family, management of the Groupama insurance company, the FDJ lottery company, other team sponsors, and journalists.

It was the first time I was seeing the team in the flesh, and the first thing I noted was that the key figures.

Team manager Marc Madiot, plus riders Thibaut Pinot and Arnaud Demare were just the same in their demeanor as they appeared on television.

Marc Madiot was ebullient in his delivery, and feisty in his statement on how the team planned to challenge the big teams this season - even give them sleepless nights.

Anyone who has seen his highly animated reactions when watching his team knows that Madiot has a lot of fire in his belly and overflows with passion for cycling.

He also seems to take pride in injecting that passion and emotion into his team.

Clearly he wants the team to get results, but it almost seemed as though for him it was more about the team living really strong moments regardless of the outcome.

He just wants the riders to sweat emotion. It is more probable that he expects good results but he is quietly confident that they will come when the emotion is there, rather than when doing things in a highly robotic and calculated way.

Although he never mentioned Team Ineos by name, it was obvious who he was referring to when he talked about not wanting a team that works like machines, but preferring a team of human beings with emotions.

Having said that, this year they are working at little details in order to get significant performance improvements. Far be it for Marc Madiot to use the term "marginal gains" but I think that was what he was alluding to.

Marc Madiot (centre) with two riders, notably Stephan Kung (right)
Overall, Marc Madiot came across as all fired up and ready to go fearlessly where other teams may fear to tread.

A slightly embarrassing moment was when the on-stage compere commented on how Marc Madiot likes to go about his objectives the hard way round, and the team manager said that he thrives on the emotion of those moments. To which the compere responded, "yes, it's like a drug" and there was a slight gasp and a groan from the audience!

Not the best choice of words when dealing with a cycle racing team! Marc Madiot just gave the compere a friendly pat on the back and took it in good humour.

It was good to see Thibaut Pinot looking in good spirits and raring to get his 2020 season underway. My last image of him had been the heartbreaking moment when he was riding through the Alps with tears in his eyes during the Tour de France last year, at the realisation that he would not be able to continue his ride. Hitherto he had been in fifth place, 20 seconds behind the eventual winner and was ready to challenge for the top spots. Then he and the whole world saw all his dreams of podium glory crumble away. Even the television commentators got emotional seeing him climb off his bike.

After the presentation on the stage, journalists had the chance to interview the riders in the mixed zone. Around ten of us surrounded the the interviewee in question and we randomly fired questions at him.

We got to interview Marc Madiot, Thibaut Pinot and Arnaud Demare in this way. I liked the way that when Thibaut Pinot's turn came to meet us in the mixed zone he took the effort to shake hands with every one of the journalists before we began our questions.

All of the journalists were French, apart from myself and a Spanish guy. It seemed like he didn't speak French and Marion, the Groupama-FDJ press officer was doing live interpreting for him. For once I got the chance to use my French skills to their fullest extent!
Although there was no particular order to the interviewing given that it was a mixed zone, it was all very orderly.

All the different journalists having the opportunity, if they wished, to put their questions clearly, and without it being a verbal bun fight.

There was one guy who was a bit older and looked like the elder statesman of all the journos.

Thibaut Pinot warming up, with his brother and coach Julien
I think that he was from L'Equipe, and the others seem to defer to him and let him open the questions session; then we all took turns - at least those of us who wanted to ask questions.

I must also say that there were only two female journalists present, including myself.

I asked a number of questions to each of the three guys that we interviewed, but there were a few journalists including the other woman who just taped everything but did not ask any questions at all - which I found a little surprising.

After our questions we were then free to tuck into the buffet with all its delightful canapés that were very French, dainty, and exquisite.

It had been quite an enjoyable morning. Even though I went there on my own, not knowing anyone I managed to still make a few contacts. There was a guy called Xavier Louy who was the assistant director of the Tour de France at the era of Felix Levitan, and also a director himself the year Pedro Delgado won. He's also been a politician too serving in the cabinet of past French Prime Ministers. It was very much by chance that I ended up sitting next to him during the presentation and he said he would send me a book he had written called Sauvons Le Tour (Save the Tour).

I also met Stephen Delcourt, the Team Manager of the women's FDJ team, (also co-sponsored by Nouvelle Aquitaine and Futuroscope). Their star rider this year will be the newly signed, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, an exciting rider.

Along with Stephen was the marketing manager of LaPierre, the bikes that Groupama-FDJ and FDJ women will be riding.

Finally, it was a very pleasant surprise to see Claire Floret and Mathieu Istil from Donnons Les Elles au Vélo. This is a team I met last year at their civic reception in Paris after they'd cycled the whole route of the Tour de France, one day ahead of the men's pro race. I think what they are doing is a great initiative. Claire told me how they had selected the women who will be on the team for this year's ride, and are due to have a launch event.

So all in all it was a good morning out, and Paris looked as beautiful as ever in the January sun.

Here are a few of the main points made by Marc Madiot and Thibaut Pinot when I and others interviewed them in the mixed zone.
(Translated from French)

Marc Madiot 

"We try to put ourselves in the best situation to be perform well throughout the year. Our performance is built well in advance with the whole team, including with those who are not necessarily going to the Tour de France. 

It's necessary to have confidence, serenity and solidarity and that starts from the framework within the team. 

Right from when a rider is on the massage table the masseur has to transmit a positivity when doing his job and this dynamism passes throughout the team in order to get good results. This is what we want to create during 2020. 

We managed this in 2019, notably during the Tour de France. Even with the famous stage where we lost out in the cross-winds in the Tour de France we remained serene and Zen, because we had the ingredients to react. And it is for that reason that I am confident that we are capable of facing up to difficulties.  

Previously, we would look at the big teams and just be ready to react to them, But now, our objective is to be there right in the heart of the action.

I don't know for sure if Thibaut would have won the Tour last year had he not had to quit early. We will never know. But what we saw that we were capable of challenging the big riders, and all the potential was there to do well. It is this strength from 2019 that we feel good about challenging the top teams next year. 

For Thibaut we had done everything we can for him, and fate does the rest. There is always going to be something that we have no control over. However, if you observe Thibaut he has always been very strong after encountering difficulties. He's not someone who will go under. He alway knows how to pick himself up and start again. Each time he has to climb a step he does so, even if there is a bit of pain. And I think today, he is completely capable of being in the match this year."

Thibaut Pinot

"I have acquired quite a lot of experience and matured a lot. It's true that before I wasn't ready for the all the attention. 

But now I've got good results coming through. 

The journalists and the public are paying more attention to my results, but now I enjoy racing in front of my fans and I take pleasure in doing so. That's why I am happy to be racing in France this year.

I realised that there are some really nice races to do in France. I have found that it's not always interesting to race abroad. It's true that for two or three years I have wanted to return to France and do the Dauphine rather than the Tour of Switzerland, and do the Paris-Nice instead of the Tirreno-Adriatico, which I know very well and I have performed well. 

I know it's going to be a risk to do the Paris-Nice, especially because it's not really a terrain that suits me. But at the age of 30 I think that now is the time to do these races.

I don't know what the cause of my injury was last year, and I don't think it's linked to other injuries I've had. It was an injury to my thigh - something that I had never felt before. I don't know where the injury came from, and it just went away like that. It was strange. The year before that I had dropped out of the Giro with pneumonia. It just seems like I have a fragile body.

I know that there are critics who talk about how I always get ill or injured at Grand Tours. It just seems that stuff happens to me, that doesn't happen to others and I keep thinking that one day things will take a turn for the better and I will finally have the opportunity to finish a Grand Tour in favourable conditions.

Abandoning the Tour de France last year was the toughest moment in my career, after dropping out of the Giro d'Italia the previous year. It was so hard both mentally and physically. I just felt so bad having it happening just two days before reaching Paris. It was especially frustrating that it happened the year after what happened in the Giro where I was so close to the podium when I had to drop out. In the Tour de France I had never thought that I wouldn't finish, and that is the most frustrating thing - to have not made it to Paris.

For sure, after what happened last year in the Tour it seemed that everyone was talking about it, and that raised my profile. I have now learned to be a bit more well-known. Wherever I train in France I get recognised, even when I am just in my hi-vis jacket. No matter where I go, or which town I'm in people recognise me. It feels quite unusual. Previously I was only known in certain regions of France, but after the Tour everything changed. People are generally nice, and so it doesn't bother me."

Photo credits apart from the top one: Nicolas Gotz/Equipe Groupama-FDJ

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52 Cycling Voices - 25: Monica and Paola Santini

Ciao Felice Gimondi

52 Cycling Voices - 24: Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig

Saturday, 25 January 2020

More from a couple of my favourite poets for Burns Night

It's that time of year again when we think about poetry and/or eat haggis with tatties and neeps, and even have the odd tipple of whisky for Burns Night. I'll probably indulge in it a bit, given that I've not allowed myself to get drawn into this "dry January" or "Veganuary" fad. 

It's probably the only day of the year I'll bother to eat haggis so why not go the whole hog (or sheep even!) and throw in a bit of rhyme and verse too. 

I did this last year with my family, and my nine-year old nice really got into it. I couldn't believe she even knew some Shakespeare sonnets. Clearly I had a mis-spent childhood just reading Enid Blyton when I was her age. Anyway, here are a couple of verses by poets I like - John Cooper Clarke, and Murray Lachlan Young. Not exactly Shakespeare or even Rabbie Burns. But I think they're fun, and for once they're not even about cycling. Yes, I do think about other stuff outside of two-wheeled things!


(by john cooper clarke)

Does Superman wear blue tights
And keep away from kryptonite
Do old ladies get mugged at night
Are you the business
Do workers want a living wage
Do rock stars lie about their age
Would a tiger run from an open cage
Are you the business
Are you the fuck off business
Is my first name John
Is strangeways full of prisoners
Am I over twenty-one
Are the royal family really rich
Is Scooby-Doo one son-of-a bitch
Is Wembley stadium a football pitch
Are you the business
Did Noriega knock out coke
Did Bob Marley like the odd smoke
Was Jesus Christ a decent bloke
Are you the business
Does Oliver Reed ever get pissed
Can Chubby Checker do the twist
Was Karl Marx a communist
Are you the business
Was James Dean a cool cat
Was Kennedy a democrat
Do Hacedic men wear hats
Are you the business
Will narcotics get you hooked
Did Dostoyevsky write the odd book
Was Al Capone a bit of a crook
Are you the business
Did Buddy Holly wear horn-rimmed specs
Is czechoslovakia full of czechs
Did Sigmund Freud consider sex
Are you the business
Did Elvis ever rock ‘n roll
Did James Brown have any soul
Will I touch you with a ten-foot barge pole
Are you the business

If ya gonna go Keith (don't do it like that) 
(by Murray Lachlan Young)

What the hell did you think you were doing?
So blind that you just could not see
Not a thought for your legion of worshipping fans
When you shinned up the trunk of that coconut tree

If you’re gonna go Keith go Keith go
If your gonna go Keith go Keith go
If your gonna go Keith go Keith go
Don’t do it like that Keith no Keith no

Go in the middle of a hard blues riff
Go at the end of a smacked up spliff
Speedball death plunge, Lear jet smash
Coked up gunfight, high-speed car crash
Kohl black eyes cracked rock-n-roll skin
With your hand on the fret board, cigarette grin
Do it like a king pin Debauchee
But not falling out of a coconut tree

Keith, man, what goaded you on?
Was it Ronnie Wood? That said you should?
Or was it Elton John that you tried to prove wrong?
When he called you King Kong, did you snag your sarong?
C’mon, C’mon, C’mon C’mawn!
Keith, baby, tell us please what the hell was going on?

Cause if you’re gonna go Keith, go Keith go
If you’re gonna go Keith go Keith go
And if you’re gonna go Keith go Keith go
Don’t do it like that Keith
No Keith

Monday, 30 December 2019

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 7, Windsor Great Park

Kms ridden: 133
Running total: 503
Kms left: 0

Weather: sunny, 12 degC

Parks: Bushy; Windsor Great; Gunnersbury; Chiswick; Holland; Regents; Hyde

Route on Strava

Although today's post is entitled Windsor Great Park, that lovely park in Berkshire to the west of London, this was actually a mega ride that went all the way back into central London and took in Royal Parks before returning to Crystal Palace.

Bushy Park - the unsung hero of Royal Parks

Having roughly 130km left to reach the magic 500km, I had toyed with the idea of doing the whole lot in one day.

As long as I left the house early I would be able to do the ride.

This would be a largely flat ride as there would only be small lumps at Virginia Water and within Windsor Great Park.

Also, given that the ride would be mainly within the London conurbation even if it got dark this would not be a problem as the roads would be well lit, as opposed to be stuck out on misty country lanes of Sussex in the dark.

So I set off from home at around 9am, passing through a misty South-West London. Fortunately, the sun did come out and all mist was burned away. So by the time I reached Richmond and Twickenham the day looked lovely.

My first park of the day was Bushy Park, the unsung hero to me. Folks rave on about the nearby Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common, and Hampton Court Palace across the road, but forget about Bushy Park.

If a park like Bushy existed in any other town people would be marvelling at how beautiful it is. But because of its more "glamorous" neighbours it doesn't get mentioned much.

Even I admit that many a time I have breezed straight past the place when on a cycle ride to Hampton Court, or en route to Windsor. So today, I was happy to ride a route that took me right through Bushy.

Bushy Park is pretty large, pan flat, with a lake and ornate fountain. It's an extremely pleasant place to do a run. In fact, the Park Run - something that millions of people up and down the country do every Saturday morning - began in Bushy Park. The event has one of the biggest fields, with numbers regularly exceeding 2,000!

Otherwise, if you are feeling less energetic there are plenty of places to just stop among the regularly arranged trees and have a picnic.

Once back on the road I breezed past Hampton Court Palace and pushed on to Virginia Water, one of my favourite parks in the South-East. Along the way, I saw lots of groups of cyclists. That is not an uncommon sight, but what struck me more was the pace that people were riding at - almost like there was a sense of urgency. It made me think that they were probably trying to get in their Festive 500 kilometres before tomorrow's deadline!

As usual, Virginia Water was packed with Christmas walkers from Surrey and Berkshire. From there, I rode up through Windsor Great Park and into Windsor, where there were humongous queues to get into the Castle. I can't believe that people would hang around all day standing in line!  At least the sun was out.

A brief period of calm on Eton Bridge, after the bustle around Windsor Castle
Once past the tourists in Windsor and Eton my ride took on a much less glamorous landscape as I passed through drab suburbs near Slough, and then up through places like West Drayton and Southall before reaching Gunnersbury Park.

This park took me back to 30 years ago when I was a student at Warwick University, and spent a summer in Ealing. Gunnersbury Park felt like the centre of the universe! Today, it was a modest, though still pleasant neighbourhood park. 

By the time I reached Chiswick it was getting dark and it was getting a bit desolate being stuck out on the busy South Circular Road.

Finally made it to Westminster - 500km done!
Thankfully, that spell didn't last long, and my route then took me through Hammersmith, Kensington and then into central London via Holland Park.

Being in the West End I couldn't omit to go around the Royal Parks, so I did a quick stint around Regents Park while getting overtaken by lots of chain gang club riders. Then I had to battle my way through the crowds visiting Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.

My 500km were achieved in Dulwich, South London however I chose to do my photo shoot in Westminster where it would be better lit at night.

Related posts
Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 6, South Downs National Park

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 5, Box Hill

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 4, Knole Park

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 3, Beckenham/Croydon

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 2, East/Central London

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 1, Richmond Park

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 6, South Downs National Park

Kms ridden: 23
Running total: 370
Kms left: 130

Weather: Sunny, with evening mist, 10 degC

Parks: South Downs National; Preston 

Route on Strava

As those who have done or are doing the Festive 500 will know, the most challenging aspect of the riding is finding the time to get out and ride. For me this has been pretty much the same too, with days flying by and being dominated by bike riding.

Sadly, we ordinary folks don't have the luxury of someone to clean up our bikes after a messy day out, or someone who can do our laundry for us or prepare our meals. And of course there's just the simple deed of getting life done, which becomes difficult to juggle when you are out riding at least 40 miles every day.

I decided I needed to have a bit of breathing space, so today was the day to catch up on other things a little rather than going on a bike ride first thing in the morning.

Entry into the South Downs Park, from the Brighton end of Ditchling Road
As a result I set off for Brighton by car at lunchtime in a hope of riding around the South Downs National Park.

The intention was to park somewhere near central Brighton and then do a loop up to Ditchling Beacon, over to Devil's Dyke and then back.

That didn't quite work out though because parking in Brighton was a real challenge. There are some areas where I have managed to find spaces in the past, but today it was nigh on impossible. In the end I found a space on the edge of the city, just off the Ditchling Road - which I guess was a handy place for the start of my ride.

By the time the ride began it was not long before 3pm, so I only had an hour to do the circuit before night fell. Realising there was no time to waste I just pushed on as best I could. Riding up to Ditchling Beacon from this side of the hill was a novelty for me, as my normal route would be to approach it from the north, when doing a London to Brighton ride. Going up this way the road was an uphill grind, but it was not as steep as I had anticipated, considering how fast the road is when coming down into Brighton. Also, it wasn't a constant climb, but more like an undulating road.

Today had been a glorious sunny day - at least when I was driving down from London. However, as the South Downs drew nearer the atmosphere became cooler and my glasses got steamed up as it became misty and damp.

Once at Ditchling Beacon there were still quite a lot of walkers and mountain bikers riding along the South Downs Way trail. But there was a very low number of road cyclists compared with the numbers you normally see huffing and puffing up the hill from Ditchling village.

From my vantage point, at around 235m above sea level I would normally be able to see the city of Brighton including the Brighton i360 ride and the AMEX Stadium, home of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club. However today, everything was shrouded in mist. Furthermore, I was getting colder and colder as it became less fun to be there.

So I ditched my plan to go to Devil's Dyke and just turned back and retraced Ditchling Road to return to central Brighton. I was glad to have brought with me extra coats and high vis as it was pretty cold on the descent, and there was a bit too much mist for comfort, as I descended the twisty road, which still had its fair share of motorists.

Once back in Brighton I did a little loop around Preston Park - a place where I have raced in the past, and did a mini tour of the town centre, which as usual was just Brighton - with all it's hip shops around the North Lane area.

Riding back up to the car from central Brighton was pretty testing, and that probably explained why the earlier ride from my car to Ditchling Beacon had been more like a false flat - because the steep climbs kick in close to the city centre, so that on the edge of city limits things actually level off.

In the end, my ride was only 23 kms long, though it felt like I had ridden double the distance! It had been a short day in the saddle but I think my body and my mind appreciated a low mileage day for once.

Related posts
Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 5, Box Hill

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 4, Knole Park

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 3, Beckenham/Croydon

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 2, East/Central London

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 1, Richmond Park

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 5, Box Hill

Kms ridden:77
Running total: 347
Kms left: 153

Weather: Cloudy, mild 9 degC

Parks: Oaks; Box Hill Country; Gatton; Crystal Palace

Route on Strava

As it had been a while since I was last at Box Hill I decided to include this route in my Festive 500. After all, Box Hill is set within a country park, so why not have it as part of my park life theme!

My route into the Surrey Hills was slightly circuitous compared with my "plain vanilla" route via Coulsdon and Kingswood. Instead I went via Woodmasterne, Banstead and Epsom. It is slightly hillier, and a longer route than usual, but given that I am in the business of clocking up miles at the moment, I wasn't complaining!

The route took me past Oaks Park, near Wallington. There wasn't much to see there as I was on my road bike so couldn't advance very far into the park. It was also too early into the ride to do a coffee stop there either. So I pressed on past there and the lavender fields opposite.

There is a lot of parkland en route to Box Hill, notably on the Epsom Downs and around the Racecourse. But these are not technically named as parks so I couldn't give them a name. But just to suffice to say that there is a lot of green space in this area - much in keeping with the various parts of London where I have ridden so far.

Weatherwise, things were improving. There was still no sign of any sunshine, but at least the temperature was rising a little.

No sunshine, but still loads of cyclists out on Box Hill
On reaching the zig zag road up to Box Hill I saw many riders all doing the climb up to the National Trust cafe to the top at different paces. That's the great thing about Box Hill.

It must be the most ridden hill in the UK not just because it is regularly ridden by pros during the 2012 Olympics year at Ride London, but anyone who has a bike likes to have a go.

Granted, most people are on road bikes but there are still plenty of folks on hybrids - I even saw someone riding up there on a Brompton once. Whatever bike you ride and whatever pace you do it, everyone queues up for a snack at the top. So it is a democratic hill, and a busy hill - as it was today.

I did a couple of videos while at the top, and attracted the attention of quite a few riders who came up and chatted. People admired the fact that I was doing the Festive 500, though I must admit that it was surprising that none of the people I spoke to were doing it. It was hardly as though they were incapable of taking on the challenge given how strong they looked.

The most common reason given for not taking on the Festive 500 was family commitments over the Christmas period. I can understand that. With or without family commitments it isn't easy to ensure that you get in the miles. I have found that doing the Festive 500 does require a bit of thought and planning. At this time of year it is so easy for a day of bad weather, visiting a friend or family member, or even illness can just throw everything out of line and you are immediately playing catch-up.

If you go away to a training camp it is easy enough to get in 500km because that is the specific reason for being in Mallorca or Club Santa, or whichever warm-weather destination. The weather is inviting too.

However, when you're at home it is hard to fit things in around all the other distractions, and the weather at this time of year makes it all too easy to just say "computer says no" and get on with other things. So maybe it's not all that surprising that many people shun the idea of doing the Festive 500.

While at Box Hill I bumped into Bridget Malarkey, a fellow rider from when I was at Addiscombe Cycling Club. It was good to catch up with her after what seemed like years. She was looking lean and fit, although she said she didn't feel that way at all, and was a bit worried about not being fit enough to get through the rides on her upcoming trip to Colombia. The Festive 500 could have been good preparation for her trip, but ironically she was too busy to do it.

For my return route home I skipped Walton-on-the-Hill and Kingswood, and instead opted for another circuitous route to take in the extremely fast descent of Pebble Hill, to then ride into Reigate and go via Gatton Park. This route also led me discover a cheekily steep climb on Wray Lane, a road which goes right past the park and to Reigate Hill car park. I was quite caught out by this climb, and almost put my foot to the ground (shock horror)!

In my manor, Crystal Palace Park
The nice thing is I was rewarded with a lovely descent through Gatton Bottom, and my run in back to Croydon was gently downhill. Then once back in my neighbourhood I felt refreshed and ready to take on a couple of small hills in Crystal Palace and in the park before going home for a well-earned mince pie.

Related posts
Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 4, Knole Park

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 3, Beckenham/Croydon

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 2, East/Central London

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 1, Richmond Park

Friday, 27 December 2019

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 4, Knole Park

Kms ridden: 85
Running total: 270
Kms left: 230

Weather: Cold and cloudy; 7 degC

Parks: Lullingstone Country; Knole; High Elms Country

Route on Strava

Knole House, home of the Sackville West family, in Knole Park
Today's weather was not anything to write home about. It was cloudy and cold, but the fact that there was no rain was a blessing - especially after the torrent from yesterday.

My featured park of the day was Knole Park, a very pleasant deer park just south of Sevenoaks.

It's got the same feel as Richmond Park - undulating ancient parkland with deer, a stately home (owned by the Sackville-West family, of Bloomsbury fame), lots of walkers, and a big car park.

If the road through the park was wider and did a full unbroken circuit of the park I suspect there would be more cyclists there. But I think the National Trust, who manage the park I much too savvy to allow that! Instead, there is a relatively narrow road which gets quite congested with two-way traffic, and a car park that gets a bit overcrowded as all of Kent descends on this green space during holiday periods.

Still, it is a very pleasant place to be, and when I manage to get as far as here on my bike it's quite a treat. 

While in the park, a BBC Radio 5 Live reporter, Lesley Ashmall stopped me and asked me about my bike riding. She was doing a piece on how people feel the need to get out and be active after spending Christmas sitting in front of the telly, stuffing themselves with lots of chocolates and biscuits.

I didn't really want to blow her report out of the water by saying I'd cycled over 100 miles over the last few days, so I just gave an answer around how nice it is to be in the park and I was hoping to be able to make it back to London by bike. She was impressed with my ride and was quite chatty. The show aired on the early evening radio show, so I listened out for my vox pop.

Interestingly, for all the interviewing the reporter did with me, the editors only actually used one sentence from our conversation! It reminds me of the episode of Gavin and Stacey when Mick Shipman (played by Larry Lamb) is interviewed for a news programme. All his family and friends make a big occasion of staying in to watch his 15 minutes of fame on TV to see him, but in the end the broadcast included barely four words from his interview 20-minute interview. Oh well, 5 seconds of fame it is then!

As for the ride, it was a good day out with some quality miles put in. The hardest parts of my ride were on two hills - both called Old Hill. The first Old Hill was in Chislehurst, a road which I regularly ride. It's only a short hill, but it has a stiff gradient and the road is quite narrow, meaning motorists often have to stop and give way to me as I grind up the road. Thankfully they are quite patient, and sympathetic!

The other Old Hill is near Cudham - also a narrow steep road, but on a one-way street. This is slightly more manageable than its counter part in Chislehurst, but as I was tackling the hill towards the end of my ride it was that bit tough for me.

A notable nice area of the ride was around Eynsford where I passed Lullingstone Castle, and then later, Knatts Valley. Along this area there were hardly any motorists and the area was wild and desolate with the odd farm house or oast house dotted around.

Today was also a day where I saw a number of cyclists along different parts of the route. This is a popular area for South London based clubs - not just for the beauty and the quietness of the roads, but also for the undulating roads which are great for training. I definitely felt like I'd worked when I arrived home.

Related posts
Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 3, Beckenham/Croydon

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 2, East/Central London

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 1, Richmond Park