Wednesday 31 October 2007

WAGS and cycling !

"I tried cycling in Spain but maybe my bum's too small as it just wasn't comfortable." Victoria Beckham.

"I appreciate Sheryl as a cyclist’s girlfriend, given that she will do laundry and cook food, and do all of the things that wives or girlfriends do." Lance Armstrong on Sheryl Crow (in 2005).


Her : Do you have to go off and do that race - I've been rushed off my feet here with the kids - can't you do your bit ?

Him : I thought we agreed, I'll have the kids Saturday so I can have my pass for today. You were out shopping yesterday. Didn't you get some new shoes and a Karen Millen dress ?

Her: Yeah, shopping for the essentials. It was hardly fun stuff.

Him: I promise I'll be back as soon as the race finishes. I won't hang around.

Her: Umph ! That's what you always say. Well make sure when you get back you're not bringing any grubby wheels or bike bits in the house. I'm doing a big clean-up today.

Him: Enjoy your morning - he kisses her. (When his back's turned he raises his eyes to the ceiling and shakes his head.)

Her: Good luck in your race - she kisses him. (As she turns towards the washing machine she raises her eyes to the ceiling and shakes her head.)


Her: Shall we go out for a drink tonight ?

Him: I'm a bit tired, love. Can we do it another time ?

Her: Well, it is Friday night. I don't want another night in.

Him: Yeah, but we've gotta be up early tomorrow. I'm racing.

Her: Racing, racing, why do you bother. You never win, you're more likely to crash and either damage your bike or yourself or both.

Him: Cheers, thanks for your support !

Her: Well, what about me ? I'm the one who has to stand around in the cold and rain while you race round a boring circuit or round a muddy field out in the styx. What about support for me. D'you ever come an watch me at my dance classes ?

Him: Well, I would if they were on any other night. Tuesdays is chain gang night. I can't miss that !


Her: Wasn't it great that we rode along the sea front together. And the view across the Riviera was lovely.

Him: Yeah, it was cool. ("I wish I'd ridden over the col d'Eze", he thinks to himself.)

Her: And I really like this bike. The saddle's nice and wide for extra comfort, and the handle bars are high so I feel safe and don't strain my back. This 20km/h speed limit's really sensible. Why would you want to ride much faster ?

Him: Yes, of course - the bike suits you. 20km/h, I was just thinking the same myself. (Pause.) But if we got you a road bike and we went round the Corniche further inland you'd be able to go a bit faster, and it would improve your cycling.

Her: But why would I want to do that ? I quite like my hybrid. The Corniche is hilly, I'd need all day to get up there. We're on holiday. What's wrong with going at a leisurely pace ?

Him: Nothing, nothing at all. A leisurely pace is good fun ! ("I could've done the last stage of Paris-Nice today. Bl**dy hell, all that lost training time !" he thinks to himself)


Him: Can't you ride any faster ? I thought you wanted to do a training ride.

Her: This is my training pace - I've got 21mile/hour on my computer.

Him: This road slopes downhill.

Her: I've got 165 on my heart rate monitor.

Him: I thought you said you're going well. I'm not going that fast. In fact I thought by riding at my recovery pace that would be ok for you. I didn't think we'd be riding this slow !

Her: Come on, that's not fair. My bike's heavier than yours anyway.

Him: You could've made it easier for yourself and brought the one you race with.

Her: Why would I do that ? This is a training ride, so I'm use my training bike.
Give me a break - you're meant to be coaching me not nagging me.

Him: I am coaching you. Ride with me with your lighter bike and spin your legs faster that'll give you half a chance of keeping up.

Her: Excuse me, my cadence is fine. Stop making assumptions. Even with my lightest bike I'd find it tough. You're meant to encourage, not criticise. I think it's best if I get my coaching elsewhere.

Him: And maybe we should do our own separate training rides too !


Her: How was your race ?

Him: Oh, I nearly got in the points. I got into a 4 man break early on in the race; we managed to stay away, but then we were caught with 5 laps to go. Then 7 riders went off the front in the last 2 laps, I was blocked in and missed the break. I had to work hard to keep with the bunch, I was knackered. Still, I managed to win the sprint for 14th place !

Her: Well done. (Pause). I enjoyed my race too.

Him: Oh yeah. (Pause)

Her: I got 4th.

Him: Well done; but there were only 5 or 6 women weren't there ?

Her: No, there were 45 actually, and I was racing against all categories, including elites and first cats.

Him: Well, it's always easier for women though - negative racing. No one does anything for most of the race, then it just comes down to the final sprint.

Her: Thanks for the congrats ! You never take my stuff seriously. (She storms off.)

Apparently there is a happy medium somewhere in all this !

Sunday 28 October 2007

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud - Classic Cross !

So today was the first "real" cyclo cross race. By that I mean, the first race where it's damp and there's loads of mud. The riders battle through the elements caked in the stuff - just like in the classic pictures of cyclo cross riders in Belgium.

It was my first outing on the bike since my bout of flu, so wasn't expecting to do anything special. I was just happy to get in a good work-out.

I hadn't expected conditions to be so challenging, and with the amount of mud there was, I am surprised I didn't get into more trouble - like falling over in the really gloupy sections, getting my bike clogged up, or even snapping my chain - something that happened to quite a few people - including Stan.

The course at the purpose-built Penshurst Off Road Circuit, often criticised by cross riders in the past for being too geared towards mountain-biking, had been specially adapted for the London League round. This year (and last year) it was set up as fast and only mildly technical to make for an exciting race.
Last year the race was held in sunny conditions with the route being 100% rideable. However, this year, in the rain, the course became a sliding around match !
Ironically, the turn-out was still pretty high.

Maybe it's a sign that riders do find the whole mud thing quite a draw. Why would you do a cyclo cross race in warm sunny conditions, when you could opt for the tough option ?! The race then becomes even more about strength of mind and stain power, than about cycling ability speed, and not minding skidding off course into the good old brown stuff. These added dimension makes for a much more exciting contest. I get a real sense of achievement when I complete such races. I've pushed myself that bit further, and I'm glad I made it through.

By the time today's hour long race was over my bike and I were a muddy mess, I was ready to keel over, and I had developed an acquired taste for mud ! It had been great to have so many people cheering and shouting me on as I hauled my frame round the course, and I was happy with my efforts (even if I let a schoolgirl pip me to the line right in the last metre).

I don't know if I would want to do races as muddy as this every week. It can very quickly wear down the, bike mechs, brakes and wheel rims. It's also hard work for the washing machine !

But it is good to do a real muddy, sodden affair of a cyclo cross race every now and again - just to really test yourself, to get a taste of the real classic cross stuff - just like it is for our neighbours in northern France, and Belgium.
Thanks to Addiscombe CC (the promoting club) for arranging that for us today !

photos by Sylvain Garde and

Monday 22 October 2007

All trained up but nowhere to go !

I woke up on Sunday morning feeling even rougher than I'd felt during the previous days - banging headache, dizziness, tight chest, sore throat. No hill climbing for me then.
Even the short walk out to see off Stanley and to pick up some Lemsip left me feeling completely wiped out.

It was a real shame to not be able to take part in the hill climbs. With the numbers of people lined up along the road - around 700, it was a real festival of cycling - not just a painfest for the masochistic riders !
A former cyclist colleague of mine that I hadn't seen for a long time had happened to turn up to watch, and excitedly left a message on my phone : "Great to see your name on the start sheet. I'll give you a big cheer when you go by !" Oh, bummer ! There were lots of people - many I would have loved to hook up with - once I'd undergone my excruciating couple of minutes. But there I was, lying at home, a feverish wreck !

The Catford Hill climb, on Yorks Hill drew record crowds and had a record entry. The Bec Hill Climb, with it's very encticing £1,000 for the winner and £900 for the winning team, attracted a record number elite riders. So it wasn't a big surprise to see the 12 year old record time broken.

Daniel Fleeman (Blue Sky Cycles) made a very tidy earning that day - on top of his £200 for breaking the record, he got the grand for winning, the £900 for being in the winning team, £300 for winning the Catford hill climb in the morning, and more money for being in the winning team there too. Not bad for 3.5 minutes' work !

The lady's winning time was quite impressive too - Kim Hurst (Agiskoviner) recorded 2mins 41 on Yorks Hill (700 yards/12.5%), and an impressive 2mins 36 on White Lane (600yards/15%) - 10 to 15 seconds faster than previous winning times.

Maybe I should be glad I didn't go as I might have finished embarrassingly slowly.
But in the eyes of the spectators anyone who turns up and has a go is a winner - including the Lanterne Rouge.

The riders describe it as an amazing experience. The climb is excruciatingly painful. Your lungs are bursting, your head is hurting, you feel sick - but the shouts from the crowd really spur you to keep going. When you look ahead all you see is a wall of people, and you wonder how you're going to get through. Thankfully they do clear a path for you as you approach them. It's better to focus on the tarmac, avoid the anxiety of not seeing the road ahead, and feed off the the up-close-and-personal spectators shouting in your ears. It's real Tour de France stuff. When you finish you feel dizzy and you just want to keel over - but you're glad you've done it !
These are the words of different riders who had a go.

I felt really disappointed to have not been able to make it, and kept pestering Stanley to know every blow by blow detail of how the day went. He was sweet enough to oblige, even though I was trying his patience !

Anyway, I'm definitely going to do both climbs next year - touch wood that I won't be ill two years on the trot.

Photos By:
Paul Churchill (
John Mullineaux (

Saturday 20 October 2007

Hill Climbs ? Oh, something's bugging me !

I've got the hill climbs tomorrow. It sounded a great idea at the time when I sent my entry off for the Bec and the Catford CC Hill climbs.

The chance to take part in a challenge with all the South London bike afionados out cheering and shouting you on, like in a Tour de France mountain stage. All the atmosphere and the camaraderie that develops among kindred suffering souls who brave the slopes.
It was also a chance to measure myself up and see how the hill reps, the road racing and the cyclosportives and cyclo cross have helped this year.

I had planned to trained up for this - but now the dreaded bug has hit me and I've been unable to do anything much for the last few days.

Stan and I did a mini ride up Yorks Hill (Catford Hill Climb) and White Lane/Titsey Hill (Bec Hill climb) yesterday. I was convinced that my symptoms were above the neck so no risk to my lungs. I just wrapped myself up with double the amount of layers and had a go at each climb. The lungs were ok but I had nothing in my legs, and I was very out of breath even though I hadn't allow myself to go into the red. But if you're ill there's no point.

After 2 ascents of Yorks Hill and 1 and a half of White Lane at snail-sprint pace we called it day. There was no point in wrecking myself any further. The damage may have already been done, as my chest was hurting during yesterday evening and I was in a real panic thinking I have contracted chronic fatigue syndrome.

Today I don't feel too bad, but then I've only been walking - between living room, kitchen, dining room. I've no idea how my body will bear up tomorrow going over the 25% ramps and the 12.5% average gradients over 600metres. The distances don't sound that long - but you are meant to sprint up them ! The fast boys take around 1min 50. At this rate I am likely to take well over 4 minutes - which will put me in pole position for the Lanterne Rouge! Well at least I'll get £10 for my trouble !

We'll see how it goes.

Friday 19 October 2007

Parisians and Cycling - Post Script

The Velib system has been put to the test over the last 24 hours as Parisians endured the worst public transport strike since 1995. Neither the Metro, the trains nor the buses were in operation.

JC Decaux, the company that sponsors the community bike-share scheme took on extra staff to man the helplines as demand for bicycles reached capacity.
Some crafty commuters reserved their bicycles the night before the strike, and were willing to pay £45 for the convenience of it. Some tried the more unofficial reservation method - padlocking their chosen bike at the station. Most just set off extra early and braved the queues for a bike. For many this was their first outing on a bicycle for many years - but as long as there was a means of getting to work people were willing to try it. JC Decaux recorded 135,000 rentals of Velib yesterday - double the usual amount.

In the end people seemed to manage - even if it meant having to travel to a station further afield to find a bicycle, or to return a bicycle.
Given the culture of striking that you get in France we just have to hope that the employees who run Velib don't go on strike now !

Thursday 18 October 2007

Parisians and Cycling

Over the years I have been on numerous cycling trips to France, and I feel comfortable about spending several hours in the saddle and riding up mountain passes. One thing I have never done is to cycle around Paris, even though I've been there so many times and I even lived there for four years at one point. So, why should I want to ? You might ask. Haphazard drivers; going on a suicide mission on those scary roundabouts at Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe; no where to park the bike - when you leave it somewhere you'd be lucky to find it still in one piece on your return - if it hasn't been stolen; and how the hell are you gonna hoist it into your flat on the 6th floor sans ascenseur ??

In those days when I lived there - 15 years ago - traffic wasn't anything as heavy as it is now, and there were some very pleasant places I could've ridden; paths along the River Seine; the wide Boulevard St Germain east towards the Latin Quarter; over the bridge into the bohemian 11th and 12th arrondissments - finally reaching the scenic green areas of the Bois de Vincennes.
I was always quite sporty. I even had friends who cycled around, but it never occurred to me to take to the streets on two wheels.

The good news is, cycling around Paris just got easy. Since mid-July there's been a bike share scheme in place known as Velib. You pay a fee and a deposit to register for a day, a week or a year. You receive a card, and then you pick a bike. After your ride you pay in an automated machine. It's not very expensive. The first half hour is free, after which it can be from 1 euro to 5 euros an hour. For rentals of more than 5 hours the rate increases quite alot, as the system is devised for making short commuting trips around the city rather doing club runs !

This is not a brand new scheme. It had already been in place in other European cities, including Copenhagen, Barcelona, and even in Lyon. But it is the scale of the operation that is the talking point. Velib is the biggest community bike-share scheme in the world - almost 15,000 bikes across 1000 Velib pick-up and drop-off stations. The plan is to have 20,000 bikes by the end of the year.

The principle of this "free biking" has been well received, with thousands taking to two wheels. However, there have been some drawbacks. Certain drop-off stations, notably at shopping areas and near large office blocks become overcrowded with bicycles so users are obliged to travel to find space in another drop off station. Other stations, notably the ones outside tube stops in hilly areas like Montmatre are often devoid of bicycles as users will cycle downhill. Most people are unlikely to ride uphill to drop off their bike. Also, with the sudden increase in numbers of folks cycling around the Paris streets some people get very frustrated with certain cyclists who jump red lights or mount the pavement. Needless to say 4x4's hate anything two wheeled on the road - the droves of cyclists is a nightmare for them !
These teething problems are being addressed, and luckily Paris has a scenic cycle path network using canal and river paths.

Whatever, your opinion, Velib has been real phenomenum in Paris this year, and apparently may even have assured the Mayor's re-election next year !
Sting and The Police, when they recently received an honour from the Minister for Culture, chose to travel there by Velib.

There is an official website, and a blog to give you all the tips and advice you need.

And, if you're looking to make new friends, forget about Facebook, Friends Reunited or speed-dating. Just hang around a Velib station and act like you're not sure how things work - very quickly someone will come up and help you out. Who knows, you may even get into conversation about the different types of subscriptions available, and which Velib station has the best bikes etc.....

So I will certainly be getting on a bike the next time I'm in Paris - it's something I could have done years ago. Better late than never eh !

Tuesday 16 October 2007

No Cake for me !!

The good news is we supported the Ibbo Cake Quest - we made a donation. The bad news is I didn't get to do the ride. Stan was not well over the weekend so I had to be his Florence Nightingale !

I hear the ride was a success, with many enjoying a good day in the saddle - as Rohan, friend and fellow Fit-For team member of John's wrote :

"Something in the region of 150 riders took part in this fund raising event which aims to support two young hopefuls in their first year placed with a club in Northern France…

The weather was very kind to all starters with an early mist that hung around in several places, gradually burning off to reveal Surrey bathed in sunshine and glowing with stunning hues of amber leaves hanging on until the winds arrive with winter.
Riders were signed out in small groups at 5 minute intervals and were offered one of a range of small laminated pictures of Ibbo in action during his racing career or just stuffing his face at some caf√© or other. These were tied to everyone’s bike before departure. A poignant reminder of why everyone was there…

Starting at the local village hall in Walton on the hill Surrey four different routes took riders of all abilities round some of the most scenic roads the area has to offer. The courses were all devised by Keith Butler, the man behind the Surrey League, and gave everyone a taste of John’s old stomping grounds and inevitably a couple of his favourite cake stops.

Upon return everyone was greeted with a warm welcome and awarded a medal before tucking in to a range of homemade cakes together with fresh rolls made while you wait and as much tea and coffee as you could drink. Even Mcvities had made a gesture of support and provided a pile of Jaffa cakes to keep hunger at bay…

The first “Ibbo’s Cake Quest” was certainly a success........... there is every intention to run this event annually."

I eventually did get a bit of time in the saddle when I did the cyclo cross race in the afternoon. It was nice to get some time in the saddle in the autumn sunshine, but it wasn't quite the same thing.
I must make sure I get to the next Ibbo Cake Quest.

Monday 15 October 2007

Confidence - don't leave home without it !

So my run of wins finished. Two wins in a row at the cyclo cross races - Strood, then Hillingdon. But then the curse of Deers Leap Park reared its ugly head and tripped me up - literally !

Deers Leap is one of those course you either love or hate. As cyclo cross courses go it is fast, but not flat - lots of ups, downs, twists and turns. It's the cyclo cross equivalent of Crystal Palace road race circuit - a rollercoaster ride. Many people love it.
Mind you, the first round held there last season became a complete mudbath as the heavens opened. The second round held there was in more pleasant conditions, but the mud was still extremely sticky. The field became a mini exhibition of broken rear mechs ! A real nightmare !

However, in the "dry" this is a favourite among the accomplished 'cross riders. Watching them sail around the course is poetry in motion.

You get straight sections where you really pick up speed as you hurtle through the fields, but then the run is punctuated with a sharp turn through trees, a twisting descent that you take somewhat gingerly, and then a sharp climb which you attack with gusto, but then you lose commitment, your momentum drops, and you're forced to dismount and finish things off on foot. You get a few of these along the course, some in quick succession. Then as if you haven't lost enough time you are slowed right down as you struggle up the long drag. That's how I negotiate the course on a good day !

Unfortunately last Sunday was a bad day. I didn't "come to the race" (as Sprinter Michael Johnson used to say). I'd brought my bike, dressed in my kit, but I'd left my confidence at home.

The warm up frightened me - I stood and contemplated each drop-off for about 3 minutes before trying to take the plunge - only to quickly dismount and run down the slope. The run-ups were just that - run-ups. Where was the momentum to ride up ?? Of course all this dithering meant that I was still trying to complete the course when the start gun was sounded !

It made no difference to me. This disastrous recce-ing meant that I had already decided to remove my number and take no part in the race. Had I returned to the HQ area earlier I might even have asked for my entry fee back !

The commissaire was quite apologetic as he saw me emerge through the trees and realised what had happened. (The race had apparently begun earlier than scheduled when they'd mistakenly thought all the riders were present.)

"It's ok I'm not ready to race. The course is too tough for me." I said, still feeling shell-shocked by the obstacles. In the end, I was allowed to pootle around - if nothing else, just as training.

I managed to get in a few laps - but really it had become more like a cross-country running event for me ! I was pleased that I attempted 2 or 3 dips, but I didn't do anything cleanly - especially when I had to deal with the stress of fast and furious elites on my tail trying to squeeze round me !

Needless to say I didn't win. Nicky Hughes (Folkactive) did, and that was no surprise to anyone - I was 4th lady - out of 4. The 3rd placed lady Sarah Sutton (San Fairy Ann) lapped me twice even though normally we are of a similar level !

Yesterday I managed to "come to the race" at Howard School. This course was more my thing. Fast, not completely flat, but not very technical. I was focused and committed and was readier for the challenge than the previous week. I was still not that skillful but I was in the zone. With an unusually big field of 9 girls it would be hard for me to come out on top. The young Rebecca Thompson (Evans RT) took that crown. I managed 6th - just outside of the points, but I was just happy to have turned up with all my stuff for the race - including my confidence !

I've got a short break to do some hill-climbing, and then after that I'll be back at Penshurst Off-Road Circuit. Hopefully I'll remember to take everything.

Sunday 7 October 2007

On a Serious Note

A local club cyclist I know is currently keeping a vigil at his son's hospital bedside after he became critically ill. The young man, aged 21 suffered a heart attack and needed a few minutes before his heart re-started. He is now about to undergo cardiac surgery. The boy was extremely lucky - not least because he happened to be in a GPs surgery at the time of the cardiac arrest - he was there becaused he'd been feeling unwell. We are all keeping our fingers crossed that he pulls through.

This news takes me back to 2005 - a year when two club cyclists did not pull through. Barry Elcome had had cardiac problems and sadly succumbed to his illness in the summer of 2005. John Ibbotson's death from a heart attack on 27th September that year was even more of a shock as he had shown no signs of malaise or illness - a sudden death. Both of these cyclists were fit, healthy young men who trained regularly for their sport. Yet unbeknown to them, they were victims of a silent heart disease which would cut them down in their prime. The whole of the cycling community in the South East was rocked by the sad news of these two prodigies, who had made great contributions to the local cycling scene.

Fortunately, research is being carried out to find the causes and treatment of the condition. Also, with screening programmes in place to for high risk patients, this will hopefully reduce the number of Sudden Cardiac Death cases in young athletes.

In memory of "Ibbo", the John Ibbotson Memorial Fund was set up to help develop young riders wishing to race in Europe.
Proceeds from the Ibbo Cake Quest bike ride, taking place on 14th October will go towards this fund.
I plan to support this event as it is my way of remembering John and the enthusiasm that he brought to cycle sport.

Nothing can be done to bring back these 2 young men. Fortunately medical research and screening for cardiac defects are being carried out to avoid this type of tragedy in future in young athletes.

picture by John Mullineaux (

Monday 1 October 2007

Road Racing - Over and Out !

My road racing season has finally ended. I wasn't actually sure when it would finish. A stuttering start in March, and a long time spent gearing up and warming up meant it was only June when I got into a near regular rythmn of racing. At one point, with my run of jitters, near panic attacks and a general lack of confidence I almost gave up on the idea of road racing altogether ! When I eventually found my mojo I took to racing in earnest, knowing that I would need to continue to the end of October if I wanted to move up a category.

Anyway, six months and 43 points later I've made it through - and even with a month to spare ! I am now a 2nd category rider. So this may still be a universe away from Nicole Cooke, but I feel like I've won my own little World Cup challenge. It's not always that easy to get the points in women's races - not least because all categories race together. So racing has always been a big challenge. From the start, a 4th category rider can easily find herself racing against an elite category rider. A tough task to finish in the points.

The up side of it though, is that you have a constant vision of what to aim for. Moving up a category will obviously mean needing to raise your game even more, but having raced against the cream of the crop regularly means that it's not as big a shock to the system when taking part in National Series races. For the men, it's a different story. Moving up from 3rd to 2nd category can be a bit of a poisoned chalice. It's a good cachet to say you're now 2nd category - a category that shows you're taking your racing seriously. But those first few races of getting dropped from a bunch containing the likes of Malcolm Elliot, Warwick Spence and a whole raft of other Elite and 1st category riders can be enough to make anyone hang up their road racing bikes - and many people do.

No, I won't have that problem next year. 2nd category gives me a feeling of confidence about my racing, which is always good. It will also make me more focused in my racing. I'm already thinking about what I will need to do to get the 160 points needed for 1st category ! Or maybe, for now I should stop thinking and just get on with celebrating the end of the road season !