Saturday 31 October 2009

Bring on the Night!

So I made it through the the (not so) muddy hell Halloween cyclo cross. It wasn't pretty but I survived. Actually, strictly speaking that's not entirely true. Wearing fairy wings and a fancy catmask I didn't look too bad. I survived but I didn't come out unscathed. A couple of crashes on the whoop de whoo bumps left me with a grazed elbow.

I don't know where I finished. I'm pretty sure I wasn't last but I was a long way from the front. I should've put an additional light on my helmet as I couldn't see the twists and turns in the path very well, and that made me a bit anxious about going so fast.

I'm embarrassed to say that I wasn't particularly out of breath by the time I finished because I just hadn't felt confident enough to ride really hard. The times when I did give my bike some welly was when I needed to in order to get over the whoop-de-whoo bumps. But then I just lost control of my bike and ended up falling off the bumps! I think my fancy dress was intact by the time I crossed the finish line so I was happy enough.

The course had a good mix of fast sections with technical (though safe) obstacles thrown in. A lap was also long enough that you didn't get lapped too quickly by the faster riders. In the women's race I was lapped by the winning girl, Corinne Hall (Team Corridori) and then was just caught by the second placed lady Joanne McRae (Arctic Premier) as I crashed spectacularly in the home strait. By then, my biggest concern was whether my fairy wings hadn't been squashed!

Even though the race took place in the dark, overtaking was still quite orderly and people were able to overtake each other without too much difficulty. A couple of people had problems with keeping their lights mounted on their bikes, and they ended up racing with it in their mouths! Joanne McRae was compromised when she had to ride the first lap with no light after hers broke, and so she took time out to get another one during the race.

For this Halloween event the racers got into the spirit of things (no pun intended!), with most of the women and many of the men wearing fancy dress. One guy, who raced wearing a plastic face mask, said it was like racing with a wet face towel on the whole time. It still didn't stop him from doing well.

But what a night, what an atmosphere. The organisers, Rollapaluza and Tour de Ville had gone to alot of effort to make this a well organised and successful event. And sure, they succeeded. There were large crowds out to watch us and cheer us on. It seemed like all the cycling community, as well as other local triathletes, and just other locals had come out to watch. Loads of people cheered me on as I stumbled over the hurdles and struggled to get back on my bike each lap. There was funky music, drinking and general merriment. This event was a real credit to cycling in London. Thanks to Rollapaluza for another great night.

photos by John Mullineaux @ London Cyclesport

I wanna go to Italy!

With the route for the giro d'italia having been announced a week ago, I've been looking at the interesting stages of the 3 week race in May. A number of famous climbs have been included along the way - passo di Gavia, passo Motirolo, Monte Zoncolan, Monte Grappa, Plan de Corones etc.

I have done a few trips to the Dolomites and have ridden one of the most famous passes - the Passo dello Stelvio, but it's been a while since I was there to do anything really classic.

So, for next year I would like to do one or two of the high profile Gran Fondos. Looking at the calendar there's alot to choose from. Right now registration is open for the Maratona dles Dolomiti and also the Nove Colli - two of the biggest events. But then there's also the Felice Gimondi, the Gran Fondo Pinarello, the Marco Pantani, the Campagnolo, the Colnago etc. So much to choose from. Most of these events include well known mountain passes in the routes. It would be easy to just take off to Italy during the Giro and ride up to the Zoncolan or the Passo di Gavia the day before the pros pass through. But really, riding through the Dolomites in May isn't exactly tropical. Remember that famous stage on the Passo di Gavia in 1988, where many of the riders completed the stage practically in a hyperthermic state? Even in recent years we've seen pictures of riders gingerly attempting descents in the snow!

The pros get paid to risk life and limb doing this sort of thing. I don't!

So realistically, if I wanted to get a taste of some Giro d'Italia action while getting the chance to follow the same route as the pros, it looks like the event of choice would be the Nove Colli, which happens to be celebrating it's 40th anniversary this year, so there'll be additional fanfare.

The route will go in and around Cesenatico in the Emilia Romagna area. Although there are no classic climbs, this is still a very lumpy area to ride - well, there are at least 9 hills!

To get a taste of the classical climbs I could do the Maratona dles Dolomiti, which takes place in early July. There is also the Giro dles Dolomiti, which takes place over a one-week period in early August and is based in Bolzano. By doing those two events you get to ride the Passo Pordoi, Passo di Giau, Falzarego, Plan di Corones and the Stelvio.

If doing the Gran Fondo Marco Pantani you will also get to ride the Mortirolo and the Gavia.

So there's quite a choice of places and events to ride in Italy. I've only mentioned the Dolomites and Emilio Romagna, but there is of course, the Veneto area (Treviso, Verona, Venice). Remember that the Giro will finish in Verona this year, and the stage will take in an interesting hill climb up the Torricelli, a steep road that leads up out of the city. (There is an amateur version of this race in the late summer.) That could be a good excuse to head to Verona in late May. There's also Tuscany, Liguria, the Appenines and of course the islands of Sardinia and Sicily - all of them with significantly (in)famous climbs, Gran Fondo events, and beautiful scenery to be sampled. I haven't registered for anything yet - I will need to get my skates on for the Maratona, and also get organised for the Nove Colli. Not sure exactly which events I will do but I have a feeling that 2010 will be about Italy.

Thursday 29 October 2009

It's all getting spooky now!

It was ages ago, back in August when I signed up for the Rollapaluza Halloween Cyclo Cross race. It sounded a good idea at the time while having a beer one Monday evening after a track training session.

The cyclo cross course at Herne Hill doesn't really suit me, but as it's so local to where I live I always like to make it down there for the race if I'm around. The fact that it was in aid of Halloween was probably more by default than by design.

But now, 2 days from the day of the race the magnitude of the event is really dawning on me.

It'll be on a Saturday night, in an in-field which has been adorned with a whole manner of obstacles. The beer tent has been erected, lots of folks are talking about how they'll be coming over to watch.

I have looked at the start list and the fields will be BIG. All the who's who of London cycling seem to have made a date with this event across all the categories. Twenty-six women have signed up for this race. I have never seen such a long startlist of women's names in a cyclo cross race in the London area! Don't get me wrong, I think it's brilliant. The field will be pretty strong though and the battle at the front end of proceedings will be as hard fought as for any national level cyclo cross race – especially with the prospect of generous prize money to take home.

So with all the pre-event fanfare that's going on, I'm actually getting a little nervous. Loads of people will be watching me so I don't really want to make an ass of myself. I did my first 'cross race of the season last Sunday. I came through it ok, so I know that I will survive the 40 minute race. I have dug out my night riding lights. Hopefully the cable from the lights to the battery is long enough to fit the cross bike frame. I even ventured out at night off-road. It was pretty scary when I was alone, but Saturday should be alright as I'll have about 79 others riding around me!

Wanting to get into the spirit of things, I have decided to do a bit of fancy dress. I've got a mask and some wings. Hopefully my visibility won't be further impaired by my cat-mask, and I won't get the wings caught in branches along the way. I have no designs on winning, but if at the end of the race my wings are not hanging down my bum, my mask hasn't flown off and my skirt isn't caught in my wheels, I think I will have done well! And I will savour that all important beer afterwards!

Monday 26 October 2009

Back in the Cyclo Cross Groove

After alot of deliberation and even a false start last week when a mechanical problem stopped me getting over to Reed Court Farm, yesterday I finally made it to my first cyclo cross race of the season. Hillingdon was the venue, and overall it treated me well. The sun was out, it wasn't muddy at all. The course was fast and not especially technical. Just how I like it.

Only thing is owing to me not letting out enough air from my tyres these dry conditions made for a very bumpy ride. My bones have been rattled all over and I feel like I've done Paris Roubaix. Also my back aches as I didn't get out the saddle on the various little climbs and the new stem on my bike is probably a bit too long. Oh, and I felt a bit sick on the penultimate lap as it's been ages since I pushed myself so hard over 60 minutes. My lungs hurt too. But still, it was a great to be back.

Delia, my club mate was first lady.

I finished second or third, after a duel with a Twickenham CC girl. There were quite a few ladies out for the race, which is always good, and my club actually had 3 ladies racing. That must be the first time ever that there were more than two women from the same club racing in a cyclo cross race (apart from in team championship races).

Yesterday has made me feel quite energised and ready for more. It won't be too long coming. There's the Halloween Cyclo cross this coming Saturday. I'll need to sort out lights and some fancy dress. And with the planned tricks the organisers are building into the course, it could be scary! Bring it on!

Saturday 17 October 2009

Birth of a Legend

Alphonse Steines' cunning plan to take riders over the Pyrenees for the next edition of the Tour de France was met with dismay. "You're going crazy!!" was the response from race director, Henri Desgrange.

"But this is the injection we need if we want more interest from the public. We have taken the riders over the Ballon d'Alsace. We need something more. Let's try the high mountains!" Argued the innovative sports journalist from Luxembourg.

Desgrange agreed to his assistant going out and investigating a route. So in January 1910 Alphonse Steines set off in a hired chauffeur driven car from the village of St Marie de Campan, to climb up the 17km to the col du Tourmalet. Everything was going ok as the car crawled up the road. Suddenly at 4km from the top, and as the night was closing in, a snowstorm struck, rendering the road impassable. Despite Steines' determination to continue, his chauffeur refused any attempt to drive on.

The ever persistent Steines got out of the car and continued his ascent on foot in the darkness. Neither the bitterly cold snow nor the threat of bears in the wilderness were going to deter him. When Steines had not returned at the end of the evening a search party was sent out. He was found at around 3am shivering, tired and in shock near the village of Barèges. The innkeepers took him in for the night where he was offered a meal and a hot bath.
Later that day Steines sent Desgrange a telegram:
"Crossed the Tourmalet. Very good road. Perfectly practical. Steines"

When the route was presented to the bike racers in April 1910, a number of them recce'd this new Pyrenean inclusion. Alarmed by what they found, many of them didn't bother to start the race. "We'll never be able to get up there" they said. On July 3rd only 110 riders actually showed up on the start line, compared with the usual 150. People simply didn't feel it would be possible or even safe to ride up all these Pyrenean climbs.

As he "raced" up the Tourmalet on 21st July that year, Octave Lapize, one of the best climbers of the day was reduced to walking up this giant of the Pyrenees.
"You are murderers, yes murderers!" he shouted, later on as he passed the organisers. At the bottom of the col d'Aubisque Lapize vowed he would quit the race once he reached the nearby village of Eaux-Bonnes. Having been persuaded to continue, he won the Tour de France that year, ahead of only 40 other survivors of the gruelling competition.

Last Thursday when Christian Prudhomme unveiled the route of the 2010 Tour de France, many of the racers were excited at the tantalizing challenge of scaling the col du Tourmalet twice.

Professional teams will be doing their utmost so they can qualify to compete in the world's biggest bike race.

Amateur bike riders will be flooding the Etape du Tour lottery system or paying over-inflated prices so that they can ride stage 17 and pedal up the Tourmalet.

It's quite ironic how back then, in 1910 riders shunned and cursed the idea of cycling up the col du Tourmalet. A century later cyclists the world over, can't keep themselves away from it!
And just think, if it hadn't been for Alphonse Steines' "white lie", today we may just be contenting ourselves with a spin over the Ballon d'Alsace!

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Off Road and On Road

We started our Sunday by doing a ride around the trails of Surrey. It was all very pleasant. I was beginning to get the hang of being in the dirt, even if my 1999 Rockhopper is becoming a bit of an antiquity!
When it came to the infamous "Wall of Death" near Warlingham I wasn't too keen to have a go though. Mind you I wasn't the only one to get nervous at the sight of this sheer drop, so it was just left to a couple of brave and skilled souls to have a go while the rest of us looked on.

Our group leaders conveniently took us to the top of Titsey Hill for around 1.45pm on Sunday, just in time to reach the proceedings of the annual Bec Hill climb.

We were able to watch the competition unfold on the 700 yard long White Lane, which leads off Titsey Hill. All the locals were out in force to watch the ultimate battle of the power to weight ratios.

A few girls took part, which was good to see. The overall winner was a non-local guy, Michael Leonard Smith of Team Milton Keynes with former winner and hot favourite, Jody Crawforth claiming 3rd in the pouring rain.
I have such admiration for all the people who have a go at this.

photo by Fred

The climbs aren't long but they are very steep - almost 20% in places, and they have to be taken at speed. In addition the crowds that line the road can serve as encouragement, but also in my case, a chance for a public humiliation!

I may feel more comfortable riding on road than off road, but seriously I would prefer a mountain bike race over this 700 yards of pain. Maybe one day I will get the courage to take on this challenge.

Saturday 10 October 2009

Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'

I was very curious to have a go on the famous Rollapaluza rollers, having spectated at one of their well-renown spin evenings. So I signed up for their "Brief Encounter" night - roller racing in pairs, Madison style. Two teams of couples would compete against each other over 1000metres. The first person would spin on the rollers for 500m, and the second person would then continue the remaining 500m. As I needed a partner Fred signed up as my just about willing partner, and we entered under our team name, Rumble in the Cronx.

By the time we got to do our heat in the qualifying rounds we had already had a few beers so I wasn't sure if I was properly prepared for this. Our aim had just been to have a go (as opposed to competing) while not embarrassing ourselves too much. Sitting on the stage in front of the crowd among all the lights gave me a slight sense of nervousness. Members of the Rollapalluza team were on hand to help us adjust saddle height and explain how the game worked. We also had a couple of minutes to warm up and do some practice spins. The rollers felt weird, as the first thing you notice is the lack of resistance. It's very much about keeping a fluid pedalling motion and avoiding rocking from side to side. This was more about flexibility than strength.

The last thing that Rollapaluza's Anna said to me before the start whistle was that I was a bit unlucky to be pitched up against one of the fastest female roller racers on the scene. I realised I would have to give it my best shot if I didn't want to humiliate myself.

At the whistle I pounced down on the pedals, forgetting about techniques and just spun my legs as quickly as I could. I couldn't hear much, apart from loads of shouting but without any distinguishable words. I just about made out Anna's words as she shouted, "you're beating her, you're winninig." I tried to keep going, but I could feel myself waning and the beer swilling inside me. I felt sick and thought I might fall off the bike as I was rocking around so much. What was only about 30 seconds felt like half an hour! Finally I was told to stop and Fred picked up on things. He had a significant lead to play with, which was good news for him. But the guy he was up against was a master of spin, so Fred was caught and overtaken right on the line.

That was brilliant. I was on a real high when I came off the stage and was ready to do it again, even if my pulse rate was at almost 200bpm and I was panting for several minutes afterwards. There's definitely something addictive about it. You get the same amount of endorphins released into your brain from 30 seconds of roller racing as you do from one hour of cyclo cross racing. Get that!

It was a shame we lost, but our time was by no means embarrassing and we'd been up against a strong pair. The fastest 16 teams qualified for the knock-out rounds. We came 17th. Fred was quite relieved to hear this as he began his third pint of Guinness. We watched the rest of the rounds, which became more and more tightly contested as faster times were produced.

The competition was eventually won by Anna's team, Tom and Jerry. Regardless of how well people did, a good time was had by all.