Sunday 29 November 2009

More Classic Cross

Today was Round 10 of the London Cyclocross League. Due to a lingering injury I was unable to go. I really would've liked to do this one as it was at a new cyclo cross venue, Hog Hill (aka Redbridge Cycle Centre). The organiser had done alot of publicity around the event and it looked like he'd gone to alot of effort to prepare the course for this race.

With the torrential rain that we had over the weekend and on the day itself, this race had all the ingredients to make it a classic cyclo cross race.

Spectators, race officials and photographers were even braver souls than the ones who lined up on the start to face the hour-long biblical conditions!

Unlike the mudfest of the previous week at Penshurst where a quarter of the field pulled out due to bike mechanicals, today's event hardly anyone's bike give up the ghost.

It seems that this race featured, among all the typical run ups, drop-offs and other obstacles, the right kind of mud!

The surface at this cycle circuit normally drains well, so despite the showers the organiser had still anticipated a dry-ish course. On this particularly tempestuous situation though, nothing had any chance of resisting a soaking.
But the "great" thing, riders said, was that conditions were just very runny, and all the clag simply ran straight off the bike. There were no problems of bike bits getting clogged up.
I suppose the main snag was recognising people. It wasn't just muddy faces that made people unidentifiable, but also the dark angry skies covering East London that seemed to protest over the bikers indulging in their Sunday afternoon fun. I don't imagine washing machines would have been happy at having to deal with all that cycling kit in the aftermath either!

Definitely sounds like Hog Hill was lots of fun, and I hope I get to ride a race like that before the season's out!

photo by John Mullineax @

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Grrr - Somebody's clipped my wings!!

So what's going ? I wake up in the morning, get out of bed and lumber around the flat, all ungainly like a wounded elephant. There's hardly any movement in my right ankle and putting any weight on it is painful. Once I get my trainers on things are a little better, with the support they provide.

The sad thing is, I'm only wearing trainers just to hobble around the flat. Not going doing anthing sporty. If I'm feeling really courageous I might walk to the train station and clock in at the office.

Somebody's clipped my wings, so I can't do my favourite activities. Oh, how I miss being able to run up and down, and cycle around. Everyone's moaning about the foul weather we've been having. How much more of a soaking can you get while out riding a bicycle in London during these grey November weekends? Well, what I realise is I'd rather be rained on in a dreich country lane than be confined to my flat at the mercy of reality TV shows, trashy soap operas and completely inane singing and dancing competitions!

I'm an amateur sports personality, get me out of here!

The mean deed was done last Tuesday week. While out doing my lunchtime run around St James' Park I stopped off on my regular circuit to do some skipping reps across the way in Green Park. I wasn't sure if I should have been doing the reps as it was a bit windy and I didn't want to risk tripping and falling. Well, I took the risk anyway and jumped for about 10 minutes. Everything went fine.

But, it was the twig on a slippery path wot did it! Jogging down a little cut-through in Green Park, my right foot suddenly wobbled, then jerked violently to the left and then to the right. I stumbled, but didn't fall down. Boy did it hurt though. I instinctively hopped a few steps forward, like you sometimes see sprinters do when they suddenly get an injury while running. When I came to a stop, I immediately felt the pain spread all along my foot and ankle as the inflammation set in. I looked back and saw the cheeky little culprit lying there in the wet mud, camouflaged among the autumn leaves. Bloody Hell!! It's typical how you can sail through the difficult things and then it's just that little bit of banana skin (or a twig even) that brings you down. With no other way of getting back to the office I limped along The Mall to return to work. My lunchtime sport had come to an abrupt, painful and very unceremonious end.

So that's it - a biplanar ankle sprain that's not bad enough to warrant a cast, but nonetheless highly annoying. No sport for the next few weeks, which means I'll be endorphin-light and grouch-heavy - hardly a bundle of laughs! I will be heavy, in more ways than one. Not doing sport has got me piling on the kilos already. I just hope that when my wings eventually grow back they will be bigger and stronger. They will need to be to get this bloater off the ground!

Sunday 22 November 2009

So when is the cycling off-season?

The last women's road race took place in early October. Time to hang up the bike, take things easy and then get back into training. No racing, no really intense training. Just taking things easy for a couple of months.

Err, not really. That might have been the case 5 years ago but it doesn't seem to be the case now.

Back in 2004 there was a road racing/time trialling calendar which ran from April to late September. Then everything stopped and you went into hibernation for a few weeks, re-started training and then came out to play again in mid/late March. Some people used the time to do running, some did completely different sports like hockey. A couple of hardy souls did cyclo cross or duathlons. But in the main, people didn't do any cycle racing between November and March.

Now, it all seems to have changed. There has been a noteworthy increase in the number of women taking part in cyclo cross races - many of them coming straight off the back of a road racing season. Where only 3 or 4 women turned out to race a London league event, it's not uncommon now to have 10 women present on the start line. And that's not counting the women who do cyclo cross racing in the neighbouring leagues that cover the London area - Eastern and Central.

Track racing at Calshot velodrome has begun, and there is a winter league - although the venue is a good 2 hours' drive away, many Londoners still make the trip over there. Furthermore, there are winter road racing leagues at Hillingdon (in West London) and Redbridge Cycle Centre (aka Hog Hill, East London) which get a sizeable attendance. Of course we mustn't forget the roller racing national series and winter leagues!

So, with all these events taking place, when does a London racing cyclist actually get the chance to rest up? It appears that the answer is "You don't"! There's so much going on, and a combination of wanting the buzz of racing, being a racing creature of habit and even peer pressure means that you can very easily get roped into racing 52 weeks of the year!

Maybe this trend is also being driven by our professional/semi professional counterparts. After the final protour race - the Tour of Lombardy, some road racers turn to racing the World Cup events at the various velodromes and the 6-day events. There's road racing to be done Africa, Asia and South America over the winter months. And of course there's cyclo cross.
While the top racers don't necessarily take part in all of these disciplines, there is still enough to keep the attentions of the amateur cycle racer who would want to emulate their heros in each of these disciplines and,before they know it, it's all about racing, racing and more racing!

The trend of the never ending season can definitely be seen in other sports like football, rugby and tennis. A number of top tennis players have complained at the demands made on their bodies as a result of a punishing competition schedule. They've probably got a point.

There is a more sinister side to all this racing - so much racing means so much training (in theory), which means the body never really gets properly rested. This results in a greater tendency for illness and injury. I don't have figures but just looking around I see more and more cases of illness due to overtraining/over-racing and even chronic fatigue syndrome.

The message is, while the cycle racing calendar may be jam packed full of events that we can take part in nowadays, it is still worth dosing the amount of racing done. And as I sit here with a strapped up ankle after a nasty sprain, I realise that by having this (albeit enforced) break, I may actually be doing the rest of my body a favour!

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Africans and Cycling

Traditionally, cycling in the African continent has been viewed more as a mode of transport than as a leisure activity. Bicycles are used very much for practical, even commercial reasons - for getting to and from work, or for transporting goods.

Unlike in Europe (or North America or Australasia) where people can own both a bicycle and a car, and use them for different purposes, in many parts of Africa a bicycle substitutes a car and a car replaces a bicycle when you fall on better times.
In fact, in Nigeria, my country of origin, some people are even ashamed to be seen on a bicycle as it is perceived as a sign of failure - not having done well enough in life to be able to afford four wheels. And then that leads to other issues when people believe you're in a lower socio-economic class. Furthermore, the lack of adapted infrastructure and "creative" driving techniques can make cycling a hazardous activity for those who are not properly resourced and kitted out.

A former Nigerian transport minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe tried to promote cycling as an alternative means of transport to motorised vehicles, as a way of reducing the gridlock that's crippling the country's roads, and improving the nation's health. This idea was met with widespread condemnation and ridicule, with people saying that it would take the country back to the stone age!
Deciding to lead by example, Maduekwe cycled to his government meetings. Sadly things didn't work out too well for him. Press pictures of him arriving at meetings with his suit and his papers completely drenched after being caught in torrential rain, and then being hit by a bus and knocked into a ditch didn't inspire confidence. He was not deterred and tried to establish cycle routes between Abuja and Lagos - unfortunately this was not supported.

The good news is that cycle sport is taking off in other African countries. Speaking to a cyclist from Uganda who had taken part in bicycle races there, he was completely amazed when I told him it was possible to race in the London area every day during the summer. He said that in Uganda they had just one road race a year, but it was a really big event for riders from all over the country and this was seen as a big leap in cycling.
The Tour du Faso, a stage race in Burkina Faso organised by the Tour de France's ASO has been on the UCI Africa tour since 2005. Other UCI races in Africa include the Tour of Cameroon, Tour of the Cape (South Africa), and the Tour of the Ivory Coast. The African road race championships were held in Namibia last week.

Yesterday, in Kigali saw the start of the Tour of Rwanda. Twelve 6-man teams lined up to start the stage race that will cover 1,069km through the land of a thousand hills over eight days. Prize money may be modest - 900,000 Rwandan Francs (1300euros) for the winner - compared with 450,000 euros for the winner of the Tour de France. Nevertheless, this race will be as hotly contested as any other, with teams from all over the African continent (Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Uganda, Morocco) plus a couple from France and Holland.

Rwanda has come a long way since the vile days of the genocide 15 years ago. Cycling has really been embraced in this country, with cycling being encouraged not just as a mode of transport but for leisure as well.

The Rwandan national cycling team is coached by American ex-pro, Jock Boyer. The riders in this team earn 70 euros a month, which is enough not just to support themselves but also to send money back to help their families buy food and pay for medical bills. In a country where infant mortality is 90 deaths/1000, life expectancy is 40 years old and average salary is 12 euros per month, these pro cyclists are living very comfortable lives.

Tom Ritchey, bike frame designer, and one of the pioneers of the mountain bike has set up Project Rwanda to raise funds to buy more bicycles for Rwandans.
Shortly after the Tour of Rwanda stage race there will be the Wooden Bike Classic race - a mountainbike race for amateur cyclists, which is well supported by Rwandans and ex-pats.

In the words of Joseph Habineza, Rwandan Minister for Sport and Culture, "Cycling is the sport that brings our people together. It's part of our history, our work and our leisure. We really want people to enjoy it."
Sounds like they've got the right idea.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Cycling's War Dead

At a time when we remember those killed at war I have been thinking about cyclists who perished. Browsing through a French history cycling site special mention is made to those cyclists lost during the first world war. It seems that cyclists paid very heavily with their lives during that time.

Among the French cyclists mentioned were former Tour de France winners, Octave Lapize (plane shot down, 1917), Francois Faber (shot, 1915) and Lucien Petit-Breton (killed in a motor car accident, 1917). The latter's brother, Anselme Mazan was also killed during the war, in 1915.

Other high profile cyclists of the day who were lost were the 1913 winner of the Giro d'Italia, Carlo Oriani (died from pneumonia), the 1896 Olympic track champion Leon Flameng (killed in a plane crash, 1917) and the English track star Tom Gascoyne.

As well as the elite cyclists there were hundreds of amateur cyclists killed during the Great War.

At Meriden in the West Midlands stands the National Cyclists Memorial, a monument which specifically commemorates cyclists lost during the First and Second world wars.

Lest we forget.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Heading for the Hills

There are lots of hills around near where I live. South London is full of them. As soon as I leave my home in the morning to go to work I am woken up with a steep hill.

The training rides that my club, Dulwich Paragon organises tend to go into the Kent Hills. Over the years I have learned to like hills and make them part of my cycling life.

The ones I really enjoy riding though, are the Surrey Hills. They are not the nearest hills to where I live, and my ride there involves the tedium of crossing the urban sprawl of Croydon. Once I reach the quiet leafy lanes around Dorking and Leatherhead, however, I am rewarded with beautiful landscape, spectacular views of the Downs, and delicious cakes at the Box Hill National Trust tea shop.

That's where I was today (riding around the hills, not just eating cakes!). Although it was a cold, damp, and at times a grey day, the beauty of the Surrey Hills failed to disappoint me. The various autumnal shades of browns, yellows, greens and red were really pleasing to the eye. The cover provided by the canopy of branches gave me a feeling of safety and warmth.

Today I was at Ranmore Common and Box Hill with club mates Steve, John and Emily. A good ride was had by all, despite us having to cut out Leith Hill due to time constraints. That'll be for another day I imagine.

Anyway, here's a quick shot of the route we took from Crystal Palace and the loop we did once we reached the Surrey Hills. A fuller route is detailed in an article I wrote for Cycling Active magazine. (Currently available in all good newsagents!)

Hopefully my next visit to this area will be in the near future.

View Crystal Palace - Surrey Hills (Ranmore) in a larger map

Halloween Snap Shots

It was a full week ago that we had the Rollapaluza Halloween cyclo cross race, but it I can't help talking about it even now. It was certainly the main talking point in the cycling community last week. It even overshadowed the Inter-Area championships which took place the same weekend. Even though that was a national event, also with a big field, many people talked of how that event really paled into insignificance by comparison. It seemed quite a sorry affair with literally one man and his dog spectating! I must admit I'm glad I didn't make the trip up there.
Anyway, for those who weren't at the Rollapaluza spectacular, or those who want to be reminded what a great night it was, here are some snaps.

Photos courtesy of Graham Stacey (Catford CC), plus one from Alistair Lang (Pearson Cycles) who I am not sure whether or not to thank. Maybe he had a moment of schadenfreude when he saw me crash. Ok, I will admit I do laugh when I look at that Frank Spencer moment!

Photo: London Cyclesport