Thursday 29 May 2008

Roughin' it in Ruthin - Merida Bikes Weekend

We could have gone to Nice last Bank Holiday weekend and taken in the climbs of the Alpes Maritimes, popped over to Monaco for some beautiful people spotting at the Formula One racing, or even zipped West to Cannes for some even more beautiful people spotting.

Instead, we weighed things up and said naahh - we'll go to North Wales instead ! I'd always fancied doing a mountain bike event, but had never really tried one. This was mainly because my weak bike-handling skills, and a lack of a decent bike meant that I would risk frittering away my entry fee by not being able to last the duration. With the new format of the Merida Bikes weekend including a cyclosportive, I was quite appealed to the idea of giving it a go. I'd be able to manage at least half of the weekend activities so my trip would not be a complete waste of time.

So off we went.

Accommodation was in the Ruthin Rugby Club field. Things were fairly quiet when we arrived on Friday early evening. But by Saturday afternoon, and in the sunshine the place became quite busy and the field was awash with cars, vans, camping cars, and of course, tents.

There was a real buzz in the atmosphere as lots of mountain biking buffs milled around. We bumped into a few people we knew from London. A few of the big mountain biking companies had stands set up to try out different bikes, and look at the latest gear etc.

With the site equipped with a big refreshment tent, children's films showing, a bouncy castle, music playing, and a bar, there was something for all the family. And many families, with their very elaborate camping gear had clearly come to make a weekend of it.


My Saturday was spent on the road doing the advertised 80-mile cyclosportive. The start time for this was between 8am and 10am. I had been aiming to get away by 9. However, not having factored in how much longer it takes to go to the toilets/get breakfast etc meant that I didn't get away until 6 minutes past 10. The organiser made a point of telling me he'd had to switch on the timing mat specially for me as I was 6 minutes late, and the main pack had left about an hour earlier !

I hadn't made a big deal about this event as for me it was just a chance to get in some miles around the North Wales hills. From the start list I'd seen that numbers were quite low by cyclosportive standards so I would end up on my own during the ride sooner or later, especially as start times were so widely varied. For that reason I wasn't that worried about setting off alone. Conversely, the organiser seemed quite anxious that I might get swallowed up somewhere in Snowdonia, never to be seen again. He made a point of checking I had the map, emergency telephone numbers and that I knew what colour arrows I should be following. I'm surprised he didn't check I had an appropriate survival bag !

So I headed out, first north to the market town of Denbigh and then south west past Llyn Brenig where there were lovely views of the lake. This was followed by pine trees through Clocaenog Forest and a very fast descent to Cerrigydrudion, before I wended my way through narrow twisty lanes to reach the outskirts of Bala.

This was the furthest point of the ride, and it was good to know that I was now on the homeward run. I was enjoying riding through these calm surroundings on a sunny Saturday afternoon, but I was surprised that I hadn't seen any other riders at all - not even people doing the leisurely 40mile bike ride.

There then followed my favourite part of the ride - the section from Corwen to Llangollen via the minor road that is parallel to the A5. This road constantly rises and falls, and twists and turns through the forest as it skirts the base of Llantysilio mountain. It's about 8 miles long and passes through Carrog and Rhewl. As you ride it you don't know when it will finish. You don't want it to finish. I didn't. It was a narrow road where very few cars passed by. (A recurring feature throughout the route.) There was just natural beauty, horses, farms, the sound of the river Dee below, and the choo choo-ing of the Llangollen railway.

It was along this road that I realised why the organiser had been so worried about me setting off late and on my own. The sight of the "feedstation" sign provided a welcome break, and a convenient place to stop for a snack. Unfortunately there was no sign of food at the feedstation. In fact there was nobody ! Had I really been riding that slowly ?? It must have been a strange sight seeing a lone rider with a race number on her bike standing outside a feedstation that had no sign of feeding ! A local lady came up and asked me sympathetically if I was ok for food and drink. As ever, I had my rucksack of supplies, so I just sat on the wall and ate a banana I had with me. I also realised at this point that I was nearer to home than I'd thought. According to the advertised 80-mile ride, I still had 25 miles left. In fact, the lady told me it was only 15 miles back to Ruthin. But then given that I had the Horseshoe Pass to deal with maybe the 15 miles would feel like 25 !

In fact, the Horseshoe Pass was not bad at all. As "infamous" passes go, I think this one is a real puppy ! The sign board claims the steepest point as being 20%. I'm not sure about that - my Garmin registered the steepest section as 13% - no worse than the streets where I live ! Admittedly if I tried to ride it at record holder, Chris Boardman's pace I might suffer a bit.

The run in to Ruthin was very pleasant - again on another virtually car-less road through Graig-fechan. As I rounded the corner to storm through the finish line, the commentator shouted to everyone "give a big cheer to the last finisher, Frederica H"

How embarrassing was that - and what's with the Frederica ?? In all the disorganisation of mine and Fred's tents I'd picked up his timing chip instead of mine, when leaving ! Oops ! Well, at just over 5 hours for the 72-mile/1700m- climbing ride, I hope I didn't bring too much shame on his name.

Fred was more concerned about where he could watch the Munster-Toulouse rugby final. So we went to a pub in Ruthin, watched the rugby match and then carbo-loaded for the following day's ride.


Unlike the previous day where comparatively few people took part, this stage of the event was what it was all about. Everyone got involved - including Fred and our London Phoenix buddies.
The ride started well enough. About 500 of us set off in the sunshine through the lanes around Ruthin. There was a good atmosphere as people looked forward to enjoying some rough stuff. Given that these events are not races there seems to be a much more relaxed feeling. Nothing intimidating or tense, like what you get in road races. There wasn't any mad fierce dash, like what you get in cyclosportives. It was just people riding along and chatting.

The first few miles were on tarmac. Not easy though - we were very quickly met with a 15% gradient, which continued for 2 miles, and increased to 20% towards the end. Many people had to walk. Fred and I rode up together at a comfortable pace. The climbing I'd done the previous day had set me up nicely for more climbing so I felt fine.

However, the trouble started for me once I was off road. The initial wide fire roads were fun - both on the climbs and on the descents. But after that there followed lots of single track sections. These were basically stony sheep trails around the side of the mountains. I had to walk along these parts. If only I'd been wearing trail shoes ! Although I hadn't fallen down, I lost confidence as lots of people around me seemed to manage the trails quite comfortably. Many people passed me. Some of these were people I'd passed earlier on the uphill sections. I didn't see them again until the end of the ride !

There was a choice of 4 routes - 30km, 50km, 75km and 100km. We had initially chosen to do the 75km route.

Within a short time of leaving the tarmac I realised I'd only be good enough to do the 50km ride. After the first feed station, at the half way point it began to rain. I was spending more and more time walking, and it started to get a bit ridiculous. I was also getting cold as I just wasn't working very hard. Fred had a cold, and my pootling antics weren't helping matters for him. The rain became heavier, so we decided to just take the short cut back to Ruthin by road. At least that way I would get a work-out.
In the end, we rode 60km, though 20km of that had been on the road. It's a shame we didn't get very far, but at least it was more challenging than anything we would've done in London.

As I said earlier, my mountain biking skills are not that hot, and my bike even less so - as I was constantly reminded by our mtb-ing friends from London Phoenix CC. In David's words, "those forks are over !"

Ok - so it's a 1999 Specialized Rockhopper with orange reflectors on the wheel spokes, and it used to have a bell. I like it. There's a story behind it. How I managed to grab it 8 years ago in a closing down sale while on a trip to see a friend in Aachen, Germany. The ultimate impulse buy. Then I rode to the station with it and had to persuade the good people at Brussels train station to let me take it on the Eurostar with me and set me down at Ashford International and not Waterloo. It felt like a bit of an adventure at the time. I was just glad to have it home with me, in England. Over the years the bike has never let me down. It served me well in the 'cross races before I got a cyclo cross bike, and it was a good spare for me last year when I hurt my arm and couldn't use the 'cross bike. So yes, the Rockhopper is an old favourite of mine, but maybe for proper mountain biking I will need to look to get something else. That would surely make a difference to my confidence, and my riding.

By the time we reached the tent the rain was falling heavily, and we had to get changed very quickly just to keep warm. We then spent the rest of the afternoon in the refreshment tent, eating hot stew and watching the rain. Once the heavy downpour turned to drizzle we then dismantled our tents, packed up the gear and drove back to London.

A bit of wet end to the weekend, but all in all our rough weekend was quite enjoyable.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

South East Women's Road Race Championships

The South East Road Race Championships is a key road race in the season for those of us who race in London and the South East. I remember the day when the standard in this race was such that a person of my modest calibre could show up and still be in with a chance of a top 5 place. In fact a few years ago I did it and finished 3rd. And no, I haven't slowed down since then !

The standard of racing witnessed in this race has increased significantly over the years, to the point that the main contenders are good national level riders, rather than Jill Soaps that are just out for a good old pootle with their local buddies.

So around 20 of us made the start line at Ellens Green in Surrey last Saturday afternoon. With the London Dynamo ladies out in force it looked like they could well be having things their way, and it was practically a foregone conclusion that recent Women's Team Series winner Charlotte Blackman would claim the top spot. The only other team that could have challenged the Londoners was the up-and-coming Agiskoviner set. For my part I was just going to hang on for as long as possible - hopefully to the end.....

Things were hot from the gun, thanks to the Dynamo trio of Charlie, Susannah Osborne and Rebecca Curley, plus Jo from VC Meudon who were motoring things along. There was attacking at every corner, every incline, and every descent. Hell, there was just attacking the whole time in those opening miles ! With the bunch having already shaken off half the field, including some of the said Agiskoviner girls it was apparent that the Dynamettes were out to kill !

I hung on quite firmly at first, but as the attacks came thicker and faster my grip began to steadily slip, as the cord was becoming more and more frayed. I clung onto the last few threads with my fingernails, really concentrating on not getting dropped. But was that really going to be enough to see me to the end? We were only on lap 3 of 7 ! Then half way through that lap, I lost my focus and the cord snapped. I was shot backwards as my Dulwich Paragon team-mate, Eryn surged forward to fill the gap I'd left. I waved goodbye to the depleted bunch and didn't see them until when we were back at the HQ for the prize-giving.

There then followed the difficult question of what to do once you are dropped on a road circuit that is 6 miles long - wait for the groups behind, or just time trial it on your own to the end. As the course was fairly flat I chose the latter. Wrong choice.

I ended up knackering myself out, and by the time Melissa from Agiskoviner caught me I was beginning to feel the effects of my earlier efforts. Although the work was evenly divided between us I was still flagging. We were then caught on the last lap by a gruppetto and we worked as a group of five. By this time I'd lost interest. I'd wanted to stay in the front group and I wasn't feeling too impressed that I hadn't stayed in very long.

I just sat in with this group and let their speed take me home. The sprint for the line and the points that were up for grabs didn't interest me either. So I rolled over the line in 13th spot - to match the race number I'd been allocated, and my fortune for the race !

Meanwhile, the front group had pressed on and continued to shed riders until they were down to just 7. Surprisingly, the victory was not taken by the in-form Charlie Blackman, but by the youngster and promising trackster (or even track star !) Emma Patterson (Agiskoviner). Charlie managed third, behind her London Dynamo team-mate Susannah Osborne. And as if to add more disappointment, she was brought down at the finish line by another rider. (And that was a bit controversial too !) Still, I think she got a very good result, especially given her dogged approach to digging and attacking.

Credit also goes to Michelle from Addiscombe CC (my second claim club) who managed to stay with the bunch and get 4th place in the event. She's a relative newbie to road racing and showed real strength at the event.

So the South East Champs have come a long way since those days when it was held just as an adjunct to the men's race on a grim Sunday morning in Goodwood. I may not ever come third in the South East Championships again, but I am happy in the knowledge that I will be a stronger rider after today's show.

Photos courtesy of Keith Lea and Surrey League

Wednesday 14 May 2008

What a rollercoaster.....I must be at Palace !!

I finally made it over to Crystal Palace for the Tuesday evening races - the first time since 2006. Why the delay ?? Work commitments not having allowed me to get there in time, and then rain stopping play a number of times meant that I didn't race a single time during 2007.

Earlier this year, when my place of work moved to London rather than in the western 'burbs I resolved to do the Palace league. Also, with the added incentive that there is now a separate women's race, there is even more of a drive to get over and race against my contemporaries as much as I can, and raise my game.

The circuit in Crystal Palace Park is so local to me, that I have every reason to be there. I'm even embarrassed that I haven't been there more often.

So yesterday I made the very easy hop, skip and jump across three streets to the race. This was all the easier as I am currently not working and so don't have the worries of getting through commuter traffic.

One feature of these Tuesday evening races at Palace is the friendly local atmosphere. Lots of people turnout not just to race, but also to spectate, or even just to meet up with other cycling buddies. Crystal Palace park on a Tuesday evening is a real hub of social activity for the South London cycling community.

So, I signed on and said hello to other ladies. There were actually 10 of us racing, but promising youngsters, Jo Rowsell (Bikehut/Halfords) and Corinne Hall (Twickenham CC) actually raced with the 3rd/4th cat men, while we eight remaining "oldies" had our own women's race.

What can I say about my race. It was a real rollercoaster. I didn't get into my pedals quick enough at the gun, so had to sprint to reach the other women. But then had to screech to a near halt to negotiate the 180 degree bend. A few riders actually overshot it and rode through the grass ! I accelerated out of the saddle to regain momentum, then flew around the next 90 degree right hander, which took us down a fast descent. The sweeping left hand bend between the bushes and trees at the bottom meant I had to use my brakes to be sure I didn't overshoot and roll down the banking, or even hit a tree. I then had to accelerate again out of the saddle to give myself the momentum to get up the 7% climb.

Now, those of you who know this circuit know that it's not necessary to apply the brakes that much. Unfortunately I am a wuss who fears taking corners at speed, so I ride very cautiously.
Consequence : I probably used twice as much energy as my competitors just to get round the course, went into the red twice as quick, breathed twice as loud, and probably only rode half as fast. Not a very efficient way of racing.

In fact, half way through I ended up making two stoppages to stretch off my calf muscles which suffered severe cramp. (A fit of vomitting the previous day probably had not helped matters on the hydration/minerals front !)

Our race was split from the start. Charlie Blackman (London Dynamo) was on the front the whole time, while other riders rode in ones and twos. I was with Tamar Collis (Addiscombe CC) for half the race, then I later rode with Hannah Stirrat (City of Edinburgh CC). Eventually, after my difficulties I crossed the line on my own. I think I finished 7th or 8th, but all that's academic in light of how my race went.

Despite the setbacks, I still enjoyed the race. I felt that I was stronger than I had been the last time I raced there. I felt I tackled the climb neatly, and I was smoother than before. The profile of the Crystal Palace circuit is definitely not boring. There's always something to keep you on your toes. Your heart and lungs are in your mouth, the adrenaline is really pumping, you have a scared "how will I get through this?" feeling. But afterwards, you feel a real buzz.

I just need to ride the course more smartly. That's to say, I must learn to like corners and let speed be my friend. So I will be back and hopefully this course will become my favourite rollercoaster. The type that makes you say: "Mummy can I go again, let me have another go", rather than the one that has me quaking in my boots the whole time that I'm standing in the queue !

Monday 12 May 2008

Tracks and Trails

It was great to make the most of the sunny weekend. Funnily enough, I didn't bother with cycling on the road. Instead I dusted down a couple of my other bikes that I hadn't used in a while and put them to good use.

Saturday - Herne Hill Velodrome

Good to get out on the track bike, even if I was a little rusty.

Sunday - Surrey Trails

A nice easy ride with the Fred and the guys from his bike club. It was a very last minute dot com decision to go off-road, hence the somewhat "roadie" attire !

All in all, a good weekend with all that sunshine as an added bonus.

Monday 5 May 2008

Crikey - Our New Mayor !!

Well, what can I say - he personified the image of a public school twit; a modern-day Bertie Wooster; he was always a bumbling chap, who made good entertainment - especially during his TV appearances on "Have I Got News for You"; he never combed his hair and I don't think his clothes ever saw an iron; just how many gaffes can someone make ?! (Prince Philip must be worrying about his position !)

So when he put forward his candidacy for London Mayor last July, everybody just laughed. We laughed, the then Mayor Ken Livingston laughed, even his own party laughed.
But today, sitting in his plush new office at City Hall, who's laughing now ??

I have to admit that I did not vote for Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, but I am thinking that maybe his tenure won't be such a disaster. Afterall, he may not have the greatest attention to detail, he may trip over his feet while walking onto the stage, he's full of politically incorrect faux pas, but he has the charisma and influence to surround himself with a team of experts to advise him appropriately and do the work. Boris might even do something positive for the London cyclist - afterall, he is one himself.


Just check out the article below that Boris Johnson wrote about cycling, in a local newspaper a couple of years ago :

"In the course of about seven years of cycling in London, during which I have come off three times, I like to think I have formed a pretty accurate assessment of the hazards on the road. There are Ken Livingstone's odious, inhuman, socialistic 18-metre Frankfurter buses blindly pasting the cyclist against the kerb. There are the motorcyclists who jump the lights and mow you down. There are the humps, almost always installed by Lib Dems, as much a nuisance to cyclists as anyone else. But the greatest menace, much more lethal than the motorcar, is the catatonically oblivious pedestrian, in particular the foreign tourist who thinks the traffic is coming the other way.

As I write these words my mouth is dry through codeine, my ribs ache and every so often a horse-head nebula of pain explodes in my elbow, because yesterday I was going at a responsible speed towards a traffic light which was irrefutably green when a band of tourists launched themselves across the road in crocodile formation and even though I shouted Ho, and even though they scattered like pigeons there was one big, burly fellow (he turned out, on impact, to be French) who stood rooted to the spot with an expression of mild curiosity, and it was only when I had weaved successfully to his left that he decided to jump into my path like a cougar, so that I went for a terrific burton, winding up for a couple of hours in Guy's & St Thomas's (marvellous, marvellous) and with my beautiful £700 bike all bent out of shape.

As I lay on the Tarmac listening to the babble of French, I thought about the density of that tourist, I mean the physical density. That's the thing about people: they're bigger than you think and that's why I urge a new concordat between the cyclist and the pedestrian.

When Cameron's Conservatives come to power it will be a golden age for cyclists and an Elysium of cycle lanes, bike racks, and sharia law for bike thieves. And I hope that cycling in London will become almost Chinese in its ubiquity. Cameron's Conservatives will go further. We will offer no new restrictions on cyclists and certainly no ban on talking on a mobile whilst cycling, but we offer this deal to pedestrians: we'll stay off your pavements if you jolly well watch where you're going."

Hoorah - so the cyclist's lot will be improved in London now. We can throw tomatoes at the evil pedestrian and cut off the hands of bike thieves, up and down the boroughs ! And after that we can sit down and have tea and scones while temporarily burying our xenophobia to will on the foreign cyclists as they career round the London streets for another Tour de France stage !

And of course Boris, if we are not happy with your work we will gladly carry out your recent request to "Boot you out with gusto !"

Sunday 4 May 2008

Wanna do the Tour of Sardinia ?

1. The Giro Sardegna takes place over one week in April, from Sunday to Saturday. This year it took place in the third week of the month. Sometimes it can be earlier.

2. The location of the event varies from year to year. This year it was based on the North coast near the town of Santa Teresa Gallura. Last year it was based at Orosei, on the East Coast, and in 2006 it was based around Alghero.
The terrain will therefore vary depending on the location, but expect the rides to be undulating, with at least one stage being a summit finish.

3. There are actually four week-long events that run concurrently during the week. All of them have a stage every day.
These are:
The Gran Giro Sardegna (a stage race with races of 50km to 170km)
The Medio Giro Sardegna (a stage race with races of 50km to 120km)
The Tour (a leisure ride each day of around 50-60km - this is non-competitive)
The 1,000km of Sardegna (an audax done in stages with route card. The stages are done at your own pace but can be very long ~ 200+km)

I did the Gran Giro and survived. Any club rider who has done cyclosportive events will be able to do the Gran/Medio giro. A good road racer will do well, especially in the Medio Giro. Roughly equal numbers of people do the Gran and Medio giro. Fewer do the other events.

The 2007 edition of the 1,000km of Sardegna was a qualifier event for the Paris-Brest-Paris audax.

4. The stages are all timed using a timing chip. The results of each stage are published at the end of each day, along with the General Classification. A daily prize-giving ceremony, with a tombola/raffle also takes place.

5. In the competitive events (Gran Giro/Medio Giro) the level is very high at the top end, as riders from prominent amateur Italian teams take part. Emmanuele Negrini, a winner of various Gran Fondos and cyclosportives including La Marmotte, is a regular participant at the Giro Sardegna. Ex-pros Massimiliano Lelli and Vladimir Smirnov took part this year.

6. That said, various levels of rider take part in the events. The minimum speeds for the stages are quite generous.

7. You are not obliged to do all of the stages, but of course if you miss one you will no longer be in the General Classification (GC). If you miss the team time trial you will still remain in the GC but you will just be given a time penalty.
Some people have also been known to switch between the Medio Giro and Gran Giro rides, but again that will lead to being declassified in the GC.

8. During the rides large pelotons can form - up to 50 riders. However, there are outriders and escorts to ensure the safety of the riders on the road. Motorists are very cycling friendly. Furthermore, the semi-professional teams will also have team cars and support personnel following.

9. During the race there are generous feedstations, mechanical/medical assistance and a sag wagon if needed.

10. Around 50 women (out of a total of 800) take part. The women in contention are not only very strong, but they will have a dedicated team of male "domestiques" pacing them round the course. Generally, the Italian men will "look after" any woman that they see trying hard during the race !

11. The goody bag is generous. This year we received a big holdall bag and a T-shirt. If you think you are likely to be in contention during the races leave extra space in your luggage for your prizes on the return journey home ! People generally receive boxes of wine, large baskets of local produce plus bike bits and pieces. Women should not be offended if they are given things like pasta making machines, legs of proscuito, aprons or other kitchen items ! It's an Italian thing !

12. The field is quite international. Obviously most of the riders are Italian, but there's a sizeable chunk of Germans, Dutch and British riders. There are also riders from further afield - United States, Canada, South Africa.

13. If you don't speak Italian there are people who help translate. Furthermore, the Peter and Anne outfit are there to co-ordinate things for the English speakers. They will organise bus transfers to/from the airport, as well as put riders together for the team time trial, and keep you updated on the latest news.

14. That said, speaking Italian will be very helpful for knowing exactly what is going on during the prize giving ceremony/event briefing session (which is conducted in Italian only). And of course, knowing the lingo may gain you new Italian friends.

Basic vocabulary when riding in the group :
Occhio - watch out (pronounced "awkio")
Bucco - hole (pronounced "booko")
Macchina/Auto - car coming (pronounced "maakina")
Piano - take it easy
Ralenta - slow down
Aspetta - wait
Dai/Forza - Come on, give it some ! (pronounced "die")
Vai/su - Go on, get up there ! (pronounced "vie" as in vying)
Andiamo - Come on, let's go !
Sotto ruota ! - get on the wheel (pronounced "rota")
Bocca al lupo ! - Good luck !

Other vocabulary
la partenza - the start
il arrivo - the finish
il traguardo - the finish line
la salita - the climb
la discesa - the descent
discesa pericolosa - dangerous descent
ristoro - feedstation
la scopa - the broom wagon
15. If you would like to do the 2009 edition the venue/details will be announced around September time by the organiser, Tonino Scarpitti on the Girobike/Mare e Monte website. It is unlikely that the event will be in Santa Teresa Gallura next year. There is a possibility that it will return to Orosei (which was a much appreciated venue last year). Otherwise there's even a chance that the Giro Sardegna will be based on a boat in Genoa and then sail out to do stages in Corsica and Sardinia. Now that would be something else !

It has now been confirmed that the 2011 event will take place from 23rd - 30th April and will be based around Arborea, near Oristano.

12th Giro di Sardegna - Part 2

Wednesday 23rd April
Stage 4 - Il Monte Limbara - 59km/1350m climbing - 3hrs 14mins (Winning woman: Melissa Merloni - 2hrs 12mins)

The main feature of this stage was the hill climb up to Gallura's highest peak, Monte Limbara (1359m). This involved getting an early morning bus to Tempio Pausania and starting the stage there. We wouldn't be climbing the peak immediately. The stage would start with a 40km circuit around the area first, then a return to Tempio Pausania and a final 10km climb to the top.

The day started with alot of apprehension. Being in a strange town, finding the start, finding the loo etc. The skies was dark grey and rain looked almost certain. Overall, the weather in Sardinia had been good, however the rains that were falling over the rest of Italy were threatening to come to our race today.

At 9.30am the event began with a circuit through the centre of Tempio Pausania, while all the townspeople came out to watch us. It must have looked quite impressive seeing our 500-strong peloton rolling through the cobbled streets. Care was needed on these cobbles as in parts they weren't dissimilar to Paris-Roubaix !

The selection then began on the first climb - about 8km into the ride. It's funny how everyone had been talking about the dreaded 10km climb up to Monte Limbara, but we had overlooked this early 5km climb. It was hardly a walk in the park, and many people, myself included, suffered as it became quite warm when the sun finally appeared. The constant 7% incline contained numerous hairpins. And to think, this was part of the preliminary loop that people had been hoping to wrap up quickly !

I just concentrated on pacing myself in order to stand a chance of tackling the final 6-mile challenge. I managed to stay in a gruppetto during this first climb, and we formed a larger group on the descent back into Tempio Pausania. However, on the approach to Tempio there was a head wind to contend with - something of a recurring theme. The road also dragged uphill, to my consternation. Consequently, I dropped off the pace in order to ease off and save some energy. I also began to realise I hadn't eaten enough - mainly because we'd set off early and I hadn't been ready to eat much at 6.30am. Once on the bus, my anxiety and nervousness stopped me from eating. Furthermore, during the ride I was unable to find my energy gels.

Once back in Tempio I went to the feedstation. Most people rode straight over the timing mat without stopping and headed straight to the mountain. So it was slightly emabarrassing for me, when in front of the numerous cheerings spectators in the main square, I stopped after having rolled over the timing mat. People thought that I was pulling out of the race. In fact, I was just looking for food !!

Feeling suitably fed and watered, I started out for Monte Limbara. This section proved to be quite difficult. Firstly, we had more than 10km to contend with. The 10km climb signed didn't appear until after I'd already been riding 7km on a false flat !

The first few kilometres were very steep. I was obliged to ride out of the saddle on the 12-13% hairpins, even though I was using 34 x 27 gearing. The sun was really beating down at this stage and that didn't help matters. In this early section many people overtook me. But once past the half-way mark I felt happier. It was, nevertheless still demoralising to see riders who had finished the climb a long time before, riding back down the mountain. One of these riders was Fred. It was good to see him just when I was starting to lose hope again. He turned around and rode with me for a short time while telling me what lay ahead. That was welcoming. He then left me once the gradient steepened again. With my new founded energy and motivation I managed to catch a few of the people who had initially passed me. It felt good to summon a strong finish.

I was just glad to have gotten one of the toughest stages out of the way.
Later that day I found out how hard I'd worked when I was massaged and the physiotherapist pointed out my swollen kneecaps and very tight muscles.


Thursday 24th April
Stage 5 - Team Time Trial - 20km

In this stage there was not much to gain or lose. The riders in the winning team would have 1 minute taken from their overall time in the General Classification. The riders in the 2nd placed team would have 55 seconds removed from their time, the 3rd placed riders 50 seconds etc down to the 7th placed team that would have 30seconds deducted. All other teams' times would remain unchanged, and anyone failing to show up would have 1 minute added to their overall time.

Because the difference between myself and the next placed rider was so big, a couple of minutes were not going to make a difference to my classification. Given that I was feeling really tired and my muscles were aching, I decided to have rest day.

There was still a cycling theme though, as later that day I was selected to be a podium girl presenting the prizes to the winning men's teams !


Friday 25th April
Stage 6 - Gran Fondo Costa Smeralda - 170km/2,000m climbing - 6hrs 47mins (Winning woman: Melissa Merloni - 4hrs 53)

I'd had a massage during my rest day, and also done lots of stretching so I felt in better shape to ride 170km (106miles). After my disastrous first stage, I was hoping I could gain some time on my competitors during this stage. A couple of my immediate opponents had consistently ridden slower than me on all the other stages after the first day so I was hoping that I could do something to improve on my initial placing of 15th out of 17 women. The trick would be to stay healthy and keep eating and drinking during the ride.

Luckily, at the start of the race I met with Tessa, a woman who had been riding at a similar speed to me throughout the week. We both talked about how hard we'd found the week, and agreed to ride together. A group of English guys from Allen and Overy law firm, who also had riders of a similar ability to me said they were going to ride together as a group. It was quite reassuring to know I'd have company in the shape of familiar riders. I think everyone secretly feared the prospect of riding 170km all alone !

For me this would be a ride of survival. We set off as a group of about twenty riders. Most of the climbing to be done on this stage was in the first 70km. This meant that our group became depleted by the time we reached the first feedstation at the top of the first 5km climb. We had mysteriously lost the Allen and Overy guys too. This new smaller group of five (two guys from Bologna, another one in Pinarello gear, Tessa from Milan and myself) continued together. That was how the group stayed right up to the finish line. It was great how the guys looked after Tessa and I throughout the ride. We drafted off them most of the way round, and they slowed down for us if we were losing contact. We all stopped at the feedstations together and we waited for each other, while checking everyone was ok.

It was such a comfortable environment in which to ride. The neverending rises and falls of the road didn't seem that bad when there was a pacemaker and people to keep you going. The scenery also kept me going. The landscape, especially on the Costa Smeralda was stunning. The coastline was dramatic, and the houses definitely looked like homes for the well heeled. We even passed by Silvio Berlusconi's villa.
I was so glad to get back to Santa Teresa after a long day in the saddle. I had wondered if I'd make it through - and I had. I was very pleased to have made a few new buddies too.


Saturday 26th April
Stage 7 - Individual Time Trial - 16km

This stage was cancelled. It was advertised as taking place around Capo Testa, but the organisers could not gain the permit to hold the race.

They then considered holding the race on the perimeter road of our hotel complex. But with a 20% descent to deal with, riders objected strongly to riding such an event due to safety concerns. Consequently, the stage was cancelled.

Fred and I went on a ride out to Capo Testa that day. It's beautiful area, but given how hilly and windy it is, I'm glad I didn't have to do a time trial there. I wouldn't have wanted to risk being wiped out by a dodgy descender during a time trial at the hotel either. Still, it was a shame that the giro came to an apparently abrupt end.

My final classification was 10th - sounds great, but of the original 17 starters, only 12 finished ! For me there's alot of room for improvement - more reason to go back to Sardinia then !

All in all, it was a great week for both myself and for Fred. We definitely earned our Gelatto on the main square at Santa Teresa !