Thursday 31 January 2008

Everybody's at it - this cyclosportive craze !

It's that time of year when people are talking about what races their doing, what goals they've got - how they'd like to do this or that event etc.

Over the years more and more people have gone from just talking about it to really doing stuff. Many people, who previously never saw themselves as planners, or people who would sign up to bike events a long time in advance are suddenly doing so. Why ? Because they have to. In the old days you could talk about riding a bike event, do nothing about entering it, then maybe a week or two before, you see how you feel and make your decision at that moment.

Nowadays, with the exponential rise in popularity of long distance challenge rides, or cyclosportives events organised in the UK are filling up faster than rats up a drainpipe - literally within hours.

The Fred Whitton Challenge, The Etape du Dales, and The Dragon Ride all filled up within hours. People are even already making plans for the Devil Ride in August, and the Ride of the Falling Leaves, in October.

So why the sudden zeal over cyclosportives ? And more importantly, is this really the shape of things to come, or is it just a fad ?

Answer: the zeal is probably explained by the fact that for the first time people can ride competitively in a "comfortable" environment. Ok, so riding 140km or mor over hilly terrain is not exactly a walk in the park, but it's still more laid back than the sharp end of a 100km. A cyclo sportive has hundreds, even thousands of competitors so you still get to ride in a peloton of sorts - and you're unlikely to be the slowest.

We can also thank the low cost airlines for the growth - the new found accessibility of places like Treviso, Marseille or Pau has meant that the popularity of European cyclosportives by British based cyclists has meant that organisers over here are tempted to copy the models over there - which is great news for us, especially as it avoids the expense and hassle of going abroad.

I don't think this is just a fad. That's what was said about aerobics in the 80's, marathon running in the 90's and triathlons in the noughties. They're all still going strong. And cyclosportives look set to go the same way in the UK.

I'll see you at one near you soon !

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Cycling Club Culture

It's great to be in a cycling club - joining others with whom you can share your passion for all things two-wheeled. It's a chance to spend pleasant days in the saddle, talk about the latest bike innovation and gear - even if you have no idea! It can even be a way of just making new friends - forget Facebook!

In London and the South-east area there are loads of cycling clubs to choose from - about 120. And near where I live I am particularly spoilt - Dulwich Paragon, De Laune, Brixton Cycles, Velo Club de Londres, Norwood Paragon, Anerley Bicycle Club, Catford CC, Addiscombe CC, London Dynamo - and that's before counting the triathlon clubs that have cycling sections.

At a personal level I like the whole concept of being in a club, but sometimes I find that I come unstuck when it comes to deciding which club I'm in.

Clubs can be odd places to be - or at least some of the people who belong to them are. For me, a club is certainly a handy place for hooking up with new folks, as mentioned above. However, given that I know lots of local riders who belong to other clubs - some of whom I've gotten quite friendly with over the season - I don't tend to confine my riding and bike talk to one given group of people in one club. I have latched onto other clubs' weekend rides on the odd occasion.

So if I'm having good times with folks from various clubs, which club am I meant to join if everyone is generally pleasant and the rides tend to run through the same common axis through the Kent lanes and Surrey hills?

The answer is, nowadays I just go where there happens to be a racing scene for women. At Addiscombe CC, my first club, I got involved in women's team racing. When that dried up I rode for Pearson Cycles, but unfortunately their women's team did not materialise. I have now moved to Agisko Viner, where they have quite a happening scene. While I am a first claim member at this club, I am still a second claim member at Addiscombe CC, and I also have second claim membership with Dulwich Paragon, the bike club in my immediate locality.

Now, I don't have a problem with that, however among other members - especially those who belong to the older clubs - the idea of moving clubs can be quite frowned upon.

To them, leaving a club almost seems like a way of saying "I didn't like it there" - "I fell out", "Your club's not very good". Folks infer negative connotations, and some take offence. In extreme cases some ex-members are even sent to Coventry by certain club committee members, and become persona non grata - "How dare they leave and go race for the rival club ??"

Why there should be this type of reaction, I don't know. If different clubs have different emphases on what they want to achieve then what's wrong with joining a club that has the same cycling and racing aspirations as yours?

I have managed to keep good relations with people from my previous clubs, and still bump into them at races. I even do the occasional training ride with them. Who knows, I might return to one of these clubs in the future.

A few weeks ago, talking to Matt Seaton, respected local racer and journalist for The Guardian I felt I had met a kindred spirit when he described how uncomfortable he felt when he had to break the news to Velo Club de Londres that he was moving to another club, and how he tries to manage racing for different clubs. He has since come to an arrangement where he races for Mosquito Bikes during the cyclocross season, and Rapha when he does road racing. Good idea. Fortunately the majority of club riders are pretty reasonable.

Let's be honest though, we're just cycling club tarts! (But I don't mind.)

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Women and Road Racing

I get the impression that for many this subject is a real conundrum for them. When it comes to road racing most women are happy not to have any further involvement than to watch their other halves from the sidelines.

If they are going to get into cycling at all it would be for commuting purposes, or just the odd bike ride in warm weather.
If they are going to get into competitve cycling it'll be anything but road racing. It could be triathlon, time trialling, mountain biking, cyclosportives, maybe even cyclo cross or track cycling. But road racing is at the bottom of the pile. The last resort which is done by a very select (mad and/or gutsy) group. Call me one or the other or both, but I am glad to belong to this group.

Maybe it's the fear of the embarrassment associated with not keeping up with the bunch (being dropped) and riding around on your own that is a major reason why women don't indulge in this sharp-end aspect of cycling.

But the sharp-end is exactly what I like about it - the fast and furious pace, the buzz of being carried along at speed in the group, the nervous anticipation of what's going to happen next - will someone attack, or will there be another lull. In my case there's also the thrill of the chase when I've got to try and catch the group after (yet) another lapse in concentration - maybe that's not quite part of the game ! But anyway, in short I get off on the adrenaline of road racing.

To those who aren't sure about it, I'd say it's really not that bad once you get started. I suppose the problem for many is getting started.

But then, if more women took part there wouldn't be that problem, as having large numbers of riders would mean a larger spread of abilities and therefore a few bunches - even races within a race.

Also, more women on the scene would mean less of a conundrum for event organisers. There seems to be the never-ending dilemma - shall we put on a women's race, and if so where do we put them ? Will we get enough of a turn-out for this to be a viable option ?

Such has been the issue for us over time, that recently we learned that one of the key events for women in the London area has been wiped off the calendar.

The women's Hillingdon series started a few years ago, in 2003. There weren't that many riders taking part - especially as the event was being held on a Friday night. Still, there were riders who attended regularly, who have since become real powerhouses in British Cycling - Leda Cox, and Janet Birkmyre, to name a few.

The fortnightly series was then moved to a Wednesday evening. This proved to be a more popular option, with 20 or more starters not being out of the ordinary. The organisers, still feeling that this was not so economical decided to hold male vets racing concurrently on the circuit during these Wednesday races.

And that has led to logistical problems - saftey concerns when the vets' peloton was overtaking the women. Though no accident occurred, there were still arguments and altercations between the two sets of riders, or sometimes with the organiser.

So much so now, that the organiser has decided he doesn't want the hassle of trying to run two races concurrently. He has had to drop one of the races. Guess which one he's chosen ? Yes, so we are now in the process of scraping and scratching around to see if we can somehow find a place for women to race regularly when the season starts. Not an easy situation to be in. Furthermore, we will be compromised when trying to gain points to move up the categories. If we've suddenly lost the chance to gain at least 10 points for doing this fortnightly race we might as well kiss goodbye to the chance of moving up a category this year.

We therefore need to stand up and be counted, and do what we can to have regular road racing restored to our calendar. This would certainly be helped if there were more of us taking part in road racing. In time (hopefully) more women will get involved, and putting on a race for us will become as second nature for most organisers, as they find it for staging races for male competitors.

Sunday 20 January 2008

Quick Catch-Up

I've got over my flu, my chest is clear, I'm not coughing, and I'm full of life and vigour ! Actually I'm full of life but am doing my best to keep buoyant while fighting the mediocrity of truding to work and then home again under the leaden, grim skies looming over London these days. I've managed to keep away from any serious bout of SAD even though it's constantly knocking at my door in January.

Anyway, the above aside, I have managed to get some training in - a good session on the turbo trainer after an aborted trip to Hillingdon due to technical problems on my bike.

I also managed a run through the park near me.

But the part of my training session that really killed was the hula hoop. I don't travel far - just swing my hips, waist and bum around. There's no jumping up and down involved, or pushing any weights. But that circular motion with a limited part of your body sure burns the calories. And it will definitely go some way to getting rid of my newly acquired and very unwelcome spare tyre !

I also plan to get in some mid-week rides now that it's not too cold, and then do circuits.
It's always good to have a few motivational factors that get you out training. Mine are :
a) being in a new racing team and therefore not wanting to embarrass myself too much next to my team-mates.
b) the training should help me a bit for when I go ski-ing in a few weeks.
c) and more importantly, a new gadget always makes you want to train. (I'm expecting a Garmin Edge 305 any day now.) Spending your £100+ makes you want to get your money's worth. You feel the excitement of downloading the data and poring over training graphs and charts in a semi-anorak sort of way. Well, I can't do any of that if I've got no training data to input into the machine. So once it arrives I will look forward to having lots of graphs to analyse !

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Missing my 2Wheeled horse !!

I'm still not back in the saddle yet but I'm beginning to feel stronger. I managed to run across the Victoria Station concourse to catch the 18.52 to Epsom Downs and I didn't feel like keeling over afterwards. I must be ok then. Or maybe I was just too eager to get away from the office !

Hopefully the weather won't be too cold this weekend so I will get out and do some easy riding, and start collecting quality winter road miles.

I've changed club now - our team manager has high hopes for the coming road and track racing season so I need to get my posterior in gear pretty damn quick !

Of course I am rearing to go, but I'm just so weak, but I'm restless - and I'm missing my horse with wheels, boo hoo.

Last week at LLantwryd Wells I was confined to watching from the sidelines while my friends went out and had fun in the Welsh hills.

And also in the Welsh fords !

I just pootled in pain in the woods.

Ooh please Sir let me have some 2 wheel fun now !

Photos by Stanley

Wednesday 2 January 2008

Off Air

The "technical difficulties" haven't been resolved yet - Doc says my chest is still rough - service should be resumed in a week's time.