Wednesday 23 February 2011

Ring out the mud!

So the cyclo cross season is over. Well, actually it didn’t properly get going for me. I was quite keen at the start, all pumped up and full of zeal at first. I did a few of the London League cyclo cross races, but it all went flat after early November.

A combination of cross country running and cyclo cross racing made for an angry cocktail and my legs did not appreciate it! By early November my calf muscles were groaning, by late November they were on strike!

Working conditions did not improve for them over the snowy December period. However, I managed to cut a deal in time to race the London Cyclo Cross Team Championships in February, and our women’s team even got silverware when we won for the third year running!
It was a nice way to end the season, but it's a shame that for the second year running wear and tear injuries scuppered my season. Maybe it's my old body's way of telling me to stop this frolicking and take up embroidery or something!

Anyway, a quick summary of my rather brief cyclo cross season:

My favourite race

The London Cyclo Cross Team Champs. It was horribly muddy and very sketchy, plus it rained the whole time. However it’s my favourite because our team won the ladies’ competition. This was in no small part helped by Delia who was first lady. That was our Godsend because Caroline, who got round ok was marked down as a dnf (did not finish)! My bike packed up, so I had to complete the last muddy lap on foot while wheeling my broken bike! Thankfully my result plus Delia's and Monica’s were still enough to get us the win.

Toughest Race

The London Cyclo Cross Team Champs. There were some long uphill muddy sections that were like riding through thick custard. I couldn’t rest on the descents as the bike slid all over the place. The dry sections weren’t easier as they had switchbacks that were slippery. When my chain got jammed I had to run round the course with my bike, which was tough work.

Most Memorable race
Rollapaluza Muddy as Hell Halloween Cyclo cross. A great race to watch and to take part in. Racing in fancy dress, music, beer, loads of people – it’s the perfect recipe.
I still haven’t gotten used to racing in the dark, but it doesn’t matter – there’s still a great adrenaline buzz. The crowds that cheer you on as you ride through the beer tent and run over the hurdles is amazing. I was pretty rubbish at dismounting and remounting. My wig kept getting in the way so couldn’t see what I was doing! But what the hell, it just added to the entertainment value! The table top was good too and saw a few people clear it bmx style, which was a real crowd pleaser.

Muddiest Race
Hog Hill. It was a mud bath! It seems like the course at Redbridge Cycle Centre doesn’t drain at all! When it’s that muddy I get afraid to do a practice lap. I don’t like turning up at the start line in a muddy mess! At least wait for the whistle to go first before I get stuck in! Not only was the race muddy, the course had no continuity. It wasn’t flowing so you had to ride a bit and then get off your bike and run. Some sections were so muddy it was quicker to run than to ride!

Yes, lots! But they are more messy than painful. I had a spectacular one at Herne Hill Velodrome when I failed to see a solid wooden plank on the course, hit it at speed and went flying into the mud. Once I got disentangled from my bike I was ok. The damage to me was a dent in my leg that was the shape of my chainring, and losing a few placings on the rankings. There was no damage to my bike - which is always a relief since that works out more costly to fix than bruises!

Cyclo cross bike
Planet X Uncle John, sporting new Fulcrum Racing 7 wheels. Sadly, I probably did more miles on-road than off-road with it during the cyclo cross season!

Plans for next year
Hopefully to be able to do a full season and stay injury free. And who knows, I might even get lucky and get to the Yorkshire Dales for the Three Peaks Challenge!

So, that’s it. Cyclo Cross season is over until August. What to do now? Well, I guess going on the tarmac is a bit more preferable to twiddling my thumbs. Better dust down the road and track bikes……

Top two photos by Fred; Bottom photo by R. Marston

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Welcome to Humberside!

Out and about up North with photographer Andy Jones, we did a shoot for Cycling Active magazine in the middle of the snow chaos in December.
This time we were in East Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Wolds, also known as Humberside!

Sorry, I know they abolished that name some years ago and some places may impose a "swear-box" fine for calling the place by such a name. However, I want to use the term as it does what it says on the tin, and it includes the name of that giant, elegant structure over the estuary.

It's the longest single span suspension bridge in the UK, and the fifth longest in the world. So allow me a moment or two to look in praise at the Humber Bridge - this wonderful feat of structural engineering which marks the grand entrance to the county as you hurtle towards Hull.

Thank you - I enjoyed that!

In the interests of balance we went to a few other places -

and Welton.
All very nice spots too. It soon got cold and dark so we had to call it a day. Anyway, whatever you want to call the region, the ride around there was very pleasant and is highly recommended. Oh, and you can read the full story of the ride in the current issue of Cycling Active! (shameless plug!)

Thanks to Andy for a good day out and for rustling up these great shots.

photos courtesy of Andy Jones

Sunday 20 February 2011

Travel Notes: Sea, At Last!

Condemned at La Condamine

Barcelonnette, Jausier and La Condamine-Chatelard came and went quite quickly. The most memorable thing that happened there was the hotel at La Condamine - and it wasn't for the best reasons. I'm sure the proprietors meant well and wanted to give a warm welcome to their guests but it all seemed a bit dingy and meagre over that way.

The village is on the way down from the col du Vars where there is a little ski resort, St Anne. It's one of those small family resorts popular with locals rather than long haul international ski jet-setters. It's quite off the beaten track with not much apres ski apart from admire the church over a small glass of vin chaud. In the summer, the abundance of trails in this part of the Ubaye valley makes it quite popular with local mountain bikers.
I can't imagine you'd get many of them staying in this hotel though. Granted, the establishment is cycling friendly like in most hotels in France. The woman was friendly enough, but she was abit stingy with the food. On my arrival, at around tea time it was very welcoming to hear her say "I have a lovely meal of endive, a bit of rice and sauce for you." Great, I thought.

My heart sank as I got exactly what she said. One endive, a very carefully measured, small scoop of rice, with a smattering of sauce. There was no chance of seconds either. Oh, I did get a bonus bread roll. It was smaller than any that I'd seen in any hotel or boulangerie.
Dessert was again one scoop of ice cream, exactly!

Unfortunately there was no chance of getting a "top-up" meal at a local kebab shop or chippy. This was a very sleepy town with no one around below the age of fifty-five!
Actually, there was one bloke at the hotel who was about my age. I think he'd been staying in the hotel all week to do some walking in the local area. The poor guy was skinny like a rake! Thank God I'd only have to put up with such austere conditions for one night!

Dignified in Digne
The schedule for the following day had been to continue in to Ubaye to the Tinée valley via the Col de la Bonette (Restefond) - arguably the highest passable road in Europe. However the morning turned out to be grim, with very misty watery skies. The forecast had said for the weather to clear up during the morning. "That rain won't be going away any time soon," the other guests pointed out. It was what they called a journée fine. So, under very rainy skies I made the decision not to go over the col de la Bonnette, and instead diverted round to Digne les Bains, making an impromptu stop over there.

I hadn't reserved any place to stay, but I feel someone must have been watching over me for I found a very pleasant hotel which had just one room left - a single room. That suited me fine. The bloke was very friendly and was very keen to feed me. (I must have been looking quite emaciated by the time I reached his place!)
Breakfast was a very hearty affair with the whole schbang English style, including ham and saucisses plus extra bread "pour la grande sportive" as he dubbed me. I almost felt like a VIP!

Jean-Pierre was clearly quite impressed to know that I had travelled all the way from London, and was really keen to chat. He gave me all the lowdown on tourism and cycling in the area, and was even more pleased to know that I would be passing through his home town of Gréolières. After lots of chatting about life and the universe, and him wishing me well, I finally left the Hotel du Provence and made my way to Nice.

Napoleon Rode Here!
The route I took was fairly straightforward - the N85, also known as the Route Napoleon. It's highly recommended - there are dramatic twists, turns, ups and downs in the road. It's not challenging, though it's quite long. A few club cyclists overtook me and chatted. Bon Courage was what I kept hearing when I told them I was hoping to get to Nice that day. "You'll be cycling a tad longer than me today, I suspect!" one guy said wryly. Didn't I know it!
It was lovely to cycle in warm sunshine and admire the spectacular views of the Alpes de Provence. I also passed through Castellane. This town was really pretty, though crammed full of tourists from all over Europe, visiting the famous Grand Canyon du Verdon. I had originally planned on spending the weekend there with Fred, but sadly logistics wouldn't allow it. The nearest I got to the canyon was the Casino supermarket! That was a landmark place for me, as my salt levels were beginning to flag and the extra Coca cola with crisps was just what I needed to get that extra zing to get through the remaining 40 miles.

Clued up in Gréolières
About 12 miles beyond Castellane I left the route Napoleon to ride on even quieter twisty roads than what I'd been on. This last section of my ride was the nicest. The D2 road was pretty flat, and completely deserted - just farms and forests all the way to Thorenc and Gréolières.
From Gréolières I was then treated to lots of fun and games as the road plunged down dramatically and twisted and turned through a series of tunnels known as the Clue de Gréolières. I was on the edge of a gorge and had the most amazing views of various rock formations. I wanted to study the sights but it was more important to keep my eyes on the road, especially as there was only a low barrier to separate me from the sheer drop on my side of the road!

Gorgeous Entry!
Just when I thought I'd done all the descending possible, I discovered more, as the road continued its steady drop through the Gorges du Loup. This was a real beauty spot, with lots of people stopping and parking up along the way to admire the landscape. Lots of cyclists were also out on a jaunt in this area.
I would definitely come back to ride here, especially as it is not far from Nice and could be easily done as a day's club run while staying there.

Finally, after lots of downhill, and one small lump at La Colle-sur-Loup I was on the coast at Cagnes-sur-Mer. I was within touching distance of the finish line - well not quite. The ride along the coast from here is quite long. It's wonderful to have a dedicated cycle path to follow, though my day in the saddle had become abit long and I yearned to join the punters on the beach, preferably with an ice cream.

Very Nice Arrival
At approximately 6.15pm, my estimated time of arrival, the phone rang. "Where are you?" asked Fred. "I'm waiting for you at Beau Rivage". "Sorry, I'm running a little late, I'm just along the Promenade des Anglais." I replied. "Ok, I'll look out for you," said Fred in anticipation. Five minutes later, after dodging some rather sketchy looking roller bladers and cyclists I was face to face with Fred's camera as he snapped me reaching the finish line!
I was really glad to see him after 88 miles, 6 amandine cakes, 2 packets of crisps and a pint of coke! I was even happier to have reached Nice after my adventurous route to get from London to the South of France. We celebrated with pizza and ice cream!