Friday 27 June 2008

Climb Every Mountain......

.....that's how I'll be busying myself over the next week.

The Trophee de l'Oisans - La Vaujany cyclosportive (173km/4400m climbing); Le Prix des Grandes Rousses (40km/1900m climbing); La Marmotte (174km/5000m climbing); La Grimpee de L'Alpe d'Huez (13.2km - 21 switchbacks) !

Loads of mountain passes to crest - including mythic Tour de France climbs, and many miles to cover in between.

It sounded a good idea at the time to sign up. But now the time has come to step up to the plate - and boy will it be a challenge.

Apart from the obvious distances involved, what I fear the most is coping with the heat. Normally, I would have had a few days of hot weather cycling by now. But somehow, the summer hasn't quite arrived in London and I can barely remember what real heat is like !

I spoke to the proprietor of the apartment we'll be staying in today and she said there's wall to wall sunshine and it's 32 degrees celsius. My exploits in a couple of days' time up the col d'Ornon, col de Malliol and col de la Mort etc could end up literally being a baptism of fire.

But still, I'm really looking forward to being in such a beautiful setting and discovering new places - and hopefully I'll get me and my bike up a few climbs as well.
Now where's my bike ....?

Tuesday 24 June 2008

A Race in the Sun - Twickenham Women's Team Series RR

Last Sunday's race was a real joy to take part in. Not so much because of the result, but it was the pleasant surroundings of the Surrey lanes in the June sunshine that really added the feel-good factor.

The third round of the Women's Team series was held at Chobham, close to the leafy affluent suburbs of Chertsey and Virginia Water.
Having not done a Women's Team series race since 2005, this felt like a new race for me. It was also going to be just my second race on the open road this year.

This shouldn't have been a daunting prospect for me, but it was. I always get nervous before races - especially national level races - where I get a bit psyched out by the competition. Also my track record for these races has never been good. In 2005 I learned alot about riding 2-up and 3-up time trials at the tail end of many a road race !

The start list for the race still had a number of speedy women - quite a few who had spent this season thrashing me on an almost weekly basis. So I wasn't expecting any surprises. What did reassure me though, was the presence of more than a couple of women who were of a similar ability to me. At least I knew I would get into a group.
Furthermore, the National Circuit Race Championships were taking place up North, so a number of national level riders, such as Nicole Cooke's Halfords Bike Hut girls were missing.

Our race was likely to be a slightly meatier version of the South East Championships that took place last month.

The race began in earnest at 11am, under the watch of many spectators and a few curious locals. We had 10 laps of a large circuit, followed by 3 laps of a short circuit to complete. Having calculated that I would have lost enough time on the leaders to be pulled out between laps 9 and 10, I hadn't bothered to recce the short circuit !

After a first lap in which the 40 strong peloton stayed together, the first digs were made. With Fatbirds CC, Team Luciano, Surrey League, and Twickenham CC all having strong teams their riders were the ones who took turns to do damage to the pack. Every time we climbed the hill leading out of Chobham there was a power surge, followed by a spurt up to the roundabout, an acceleration out of the corner and an attack down the Bagshot road. This proved a bit too much for the non-climbers, so a few people were off the back on the second lap.

For my part, I had to remain focused and remind myself that I could handle it. I kept telling myself that the pain from the attack would be temporary, and I would recover and survive with the bunch. I also tried to remember the training sessions I'd done, and remind myself that what I was doing here would be no worse than what I had done in the those sessions.

So with this in mind, I felt slightly less anxious about dealing with the attacks. However, I still wasn't confident enough to move up the bunch. So I spent most of the time at the back of the pack. Occassionally I moved to the middle, but I didn't dare go anywhere near the front.

Inevitably when a break went off the front on the fifth lap, I was too far back to actually realise what had happened - and even if I had known, there was nothing I could have done. In any case, as I was guest riding for Team QCP, and one of my team mates, Yorkshire Regional Champion, Sarah Cramoysan was in that break I didn't really need to do much.

So with 7 riders in the break, which included 2 Surrey League women, plus one woman from each of most teams the pace of our 15 strong group slowed down as everything was neutralised by the Surrey League riders.

It was good to have a breather, but after a few laps it began to get a bit silly as the pace slowed right down, people got a bit bored and started chatting about their holidays, life and the universe etc, and so the break gained 4 minutes. When we realised we might get caught by the stragglers we decided to get our act together.

We were later joined by Susie from Surrey League, who was not feeling on form and had been dropped by the escapees. As I looked around at the people in my group, I couldn't quite believe that I had actually managed to hang on. Yes, I was still holding up the rear, but I had had no difficulty keeping up.

Here I was with 3 fast Surrey League riders (Jo Munden, Susie Osborne, Jen Hewitt) a couple of Team Lucianos (Heather Summers, Jackie Garner) some Fat Birds (Michelle Buck, Lizzie Goodband, Tracey Fletcher), the Agisko Viners and the stronger Twickenham ladies. I think alot of people were surprised to see me there. No one was more surprised than me though !

The last section of the course involved the 3 short laps that I hadn't recce'd. It turned out to be half a mile of grinding uphill back to the main road. These 3 laps passed very quickly, and even more as things became very lively. Tac-tics came into play as the Surrey league women discussed what they would do - Susie Osborne and Nikki Wheeler who had been hanging around at the back (with me) made their move to the front, and people began to amble up ready for the uphill sprint to the chequered flag.

For me, this part of the script hadn't been written out, so I had to improvise what to do. And as jostling for position in a bike race is by no means my strength, I left it a bit late to start my sprint from the back. Oh dear, when I reached the chequered flag I realised I'd run out of road ! So I finished 11th out of our group of 15. With the lead group of 6 ahead, that put me 17th overall.

Lesson - I should follow Nikki or Susie's wheel next time !
Ok, so I just had a bunch finish, but for me I was still very pleased with how the race had gone - mainly because I had survived the initial attacks and stayed with the group. I'd enjoyed my race in the sunshine.

I think money must have been lost by a number of folks who'd seen me lap after lap believing that this one would be my last one in the group !

The race was won by Rachel Osborn (Newport Shropshire CC). The podium was completed by Dorothea Cockerell (Twickenham CC) and Rebecca Curley (Surrey League/London Dynamo). My QCP team mate Sarah Cramoysan (who normally rides for Team Swift) finished 4th.

It was a good day all round - then myself and Fred (who had ridden over to watch) rewarded ourselves with a big lunch and beer at a local country pub. Bring on the sunshine.

Photos by Fred

Thursday 19 June 2008

Moors and Wolds : Yorkshire Trip - Part 2

Day 2

Helmsley - Carlton - Cow Bank - Cockayne - Gillamoor - Hutton-le-Hole - Spaunton - Appleton-le-Moors - Marton - Great Barugh - Amotherby - Malton - Norton - North Grimston - Wetwang - Bainton - Lund - Cherry Burton - Beverley - Cottingham - Hull - 125km/1500m climbing

View Larger Map

When I woke up on Saturday morning I felt rested and ready for the next dose, but the weather was not encouraging. The rain hadn't stopped all night and everywhere was damp. Although the sky looked like it was trying to clear up, everywhere was grey.

But people are made of tough stuff up North, and saying you're not going out because of the weather is the ultimate wussy Southerner thing to say. In fact, while it was raining the previous night, many Helmsley locals on their Friday night out stood outside in T-shirts, impervious to the elements while they supped beer and smoked. For them this was just all pretty normal!

I finally set off at 10am, feeling on the one hand, glad that this was my last leg of the trip - but on the other hand, anxious about the gradients I'd have to take in along the way.

Immediately I left the youth hostel, the road climbed up to the horizon. I could see a couple of cars in the distance chugging up the road. "Oh man, I've got to get up there?!" I thought. I just took it easy and ground up the road in the granny ring.

I would have to take it easy, as my back had not stopped aching from the previous day, and I would need to look after it if I wanted to get to my destination in one piece.

The road ground uphill for around 4 miles. At the top it seemed like I was the highest thing around. I was at Cow Bank. It was like being on top of the world. You just had farms and moorland beneath you. The countryside was beautiful, but desolate.
I swooped down a 16% gradient for about 2 miles - lovely, but then immediately had to climb again - 18%. And thus the routine continued. Up then down, then up then down - 15% then 14%, 15% then 16%, 20% (!!) then 18%. And throughout this area I must have seen just 4 cars, a few hundred sheep and zillions of tufts of heather. Such is life on the North York Moors.

After about 15 miles I arrived at Gillamoor, where I had the choice of continuing up to Farndale, or down to Hutton-le-hole. As time was marching on and I wanted to get back to my folks, I decided to head out of the Moors. My back was also relieved at the thought too, as it was aching quite alot now. So I went down to Hutton-le-Hole.

This is a very pretty spot. At this point you see a bit of life too - lots of walkers and tourists. Plus caravans that have to U-turn once they realise they won't be able to get up the 1 in 3 slope up Rosedale Chimney. As much as it was tempting, I passed on that opportunity too, and headed for Appleton-le-Moor, where my stint in the Moors ended, and I was in more farmland, until I reached Malton.

Phew, what a relief to have put all those interminable steep gradients of the North York Moors behind me! Once on the road to Beverley the Yorkshire Wolds would be a walk in the park, by comparison. They weren't though. The B1248 road was just one long rolling road that twisted and turned and danced up and down slopes of varying degrees. None of the climbs were long at all - just very frequent, and some were deceptively steep.

This road was also quite a favourite with motorbikers too, which meant it was impossible for me to slip into a reverie - something that I wanted to do to take my mind off my back which was beginning to scream at me.

Instead I resorted to things like seeing how far back I could pull my stomach muscles, and counting how many breaths I could take in a minute - desperate measures.

At last, I reached Beverley, where I was able to have a quick breather and admire the Minster, a mini version of the one in York. I then twiddled my way along the last 10 flat miles through the leafy burbs of Skidby and Cottingham before reaching Hull. Gosh, I've never been so happy to reach Hull!

So, 190 miles and lots of climbing. I was satisfied with my ride, but I had also given myself an unnecessary burden. Next time, it'll be panniers for sure. I also hope to spend more time in the North York Moors - get up to Danby and Whitby, and really freak myself out going up (and down) Blakey Bank and Rosedale Chimney. Something to look foward to !

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Dales and Moors : Yorkshire Trip - Part 1

Last week I caught the train up to York and then cycled from there to Hull. This is only a 37-mile trip. However, I managed to stretch the journey out to 190 miles over two days.

This was the ultimate scenic route - taking in the Yorkshire Dales, the North York Moors, and the Yorkshire Wolds.

One of the beauties of the English language is it's varied vocabulary to describe the undulating land. Call them Dales, Moors or Wolds. All I can say is that this was a damn hilly route :

Day 1

York - Knaresborough - Pateley Bridge - Grassington - Kettlewell - Aysgarth - Wensley - Leyburn - Middleham - Masham - Thirsk - Helmsley - 185km/2130m climbing

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It was an early start. I was out of the house at 5am to get the 6.15 from Kings Cross up to York. By 9am I was whizzing down the road past York race course and out to the burbs, ready to hit the road to the Dales. There was no hanging around!

The sun was out and the roads were quite quiet. At lunchtime I reached Pateley Bridge. This was where the serious climbing began. A 16% climb up Greenhow Hill. A real leg tester. There then followed a series of 16 percenters - either going up - eek - or down, phew! In fact, I think for most of the ride 16% was the order of the day. A lot of the hills around the Dales, barring a few infamous ones are of roughly that gradient.
I took things in my stride as I had a pack on my back. I had promised myself that I would just travel with a light day pack. But it never quite works out that way. There's always an extra bit of clothing, a book or more gadgets that you feel you need to take. And when you've got a succession of hills to climb it's not easy to lug all that up. I would pay for it later.

I also had to make sure I ate regularly. The previous night I had thrown up all my dinner, for some unknown reason, so I had effectively set off on an empty stomach. Not the best start for an all day ride. By the time I reached Grassington I realised that my plan to ride up the terrible trio of Park Rash, Fleet Moss and Buttertubs Pass would have to go out the window if I wanted to reach my lodgings in reasonable time. I wasn't quite ready to tackle either of the 25% gradient roads that led out of Kettlewell. So instead I opted for the "easier" Aysgarth road with (you've guessed it) a 16% gradient!

The sun had been shining on me the whole time and it was great to be up North when it wasn't grim. There's a really friendly countryside feeling when you're in the villages of Grassington and Kettlewell (which was the setting for the film, "Calendar Girls")

However, once I crested the hill out of Buckden, everything on the other side turned grey. The sky looked threatening, and the roads were wet like there'd just been a downpour. All the cars had their headlights on. I judged this to just be a micro-climate, for once at Aysgarth everything was fine again.

From here, the roads became just merely rolling, as opposed to steep. Then from Leyburn, the roads were pretty flat as I realised I had now left the Yorkshire Dales national park and was just in fairly bog standard farmland/countryside. Bye bye Dales !

Unfortunately, there was nothing much to savour as the heavens opened while I was heading towards Masham. Shame, as I would've liked to stop and sample a tipple from the Black Sheep and/or Theakston breweries. I just had to keep riding to stay warm. Another time, eh.
So the rain stayed pretty much for the remainder of my ride - about 40miles. Thirsk was another place which was probably very pleasant in the sunshine, but on this day things were just miserable.

The misery was underscored by the numerous warnings of the gradient ahead on the A170 to Helmsley. "Sutton Bank - 25% - take care - check your crawler gear - unsuitable for caravans". There were also signs showing how many road blocks there had been due to lorries getting stuck and conking out on the tough gradient.

Ok, so we know of 25% gradients around the country that people speak of with fear and loathing. Generally, these can be found on quiet roads, and there are also alternative routes for avoiding these roads. However, the freakish thing about Sutton Bank is that it's a main road - the A170 between Thirsk and Scarborough. Crikey, I have never seen a main road so steep. It isn't just one ramp at this gradient. There are about four or five slopes over 1 mile - 16%, 18%, 30%, 20% and 19% - these are interspersed with 12% "relaxation points". My back was beginning to ache now and I was too cooked to be able to ride the whole thing. So, regrettably I had to complete the climb on foot. I just say, thank God for cleat covers !

At the top you are then rewarded with the Ryedale Visitor Centre which has a cafe and other facilities - it was closed by the time I got there though - shame.

At such a high vantage point and with all that exposure to the wind it is not surprising that this is the base for the Yorkshire Gliding Club. The views over the Hambleton Hills and the Vale of York are apparently spectacular, but in the evening gloom and wet I didn't get to see much. In any case I was too cold and wet to stop and check anything out. It was just a case of focusing on the road ahead and pushing on homewards.

The rest of the ride along the A170 was straightforward, though it was so dark that I thought the time must have been 9pm. In fact it was only 7pm. Gosh, it is grim up North!

To my left, I could see the Yorkshire Moors villages, to my right was woodland and roads (known as banks) that dipped downhill at scary gradients. Make no bones about it. The entry into the North York Moors national park is via one bank or another, making for a fierce introduction to what is in stall for the rest of the ride !

By the time I reached the Youth Hostel at Helmsley it was almost 8pm. I think I deserved my plate of pasta and rhubarb crumble desert.

Related Post
Moors and Wolds: Yorkshire Trip - Part 2 

Tuesday 10 June 2008

Bare as You Dare - WNBR !

World Naked Bike Ride took place over the weekend. It was a way of celebrating the use of environmentally friendly means of transport, and protesting against excessive pollution caused by motorised vehicles.

While this is quite a serious issue it looks like the participants had a lot of fun.

I was somewhere over the Yorkshire Moors that time so there weren't enough people around for any such demonstration to take place. In fact, there were no people - just sheep.

And really, the shock they would get at the sight of me heading towards them in my birthday suit would have amounted to animal abuse !

So, that's another year of naked bike riding I'm missing out on - hey ho !