Friday 5 December 2014

What Katie did at Milton Keynes...

It was a brilliant day out last Saturday at the World Cup Cyclo cross race in Milton Keynes. Here is a snapshot view of the women's race from a camera fitted on Katie Compton's bike. The American rode impressively, narrowly missing out on the win when she was pipped on the line by Belgium's Sanne Cant. All that after just recovering from an asthma attack the week before. Class act!

(Video from UCI Channel)

Milton Keynes goes cross crazy!

The tough run up
So Milton Keynes World Cup was a success. It was a great day out. The sun even shone and there were loads of cycling bods that I bumped into on the day. Around 10,000 people turned out for the event - which is amazing. That has never happened at all in the UK - not even when cyclo cross World Championships were held in Roundhay Park, Leeds over 20 years ago.

It was just great to be able to walk around the different team camper vans and talk to the elite riders. They all seemed so amenable and friendly.
Helen Wyman loved it

For me, the highpoint was the women's race. I have to say it was a really momentous occasion standing on the long run-up watching women I knew battling it out against the world's elite. It seemed quite surreal.

I have written a few accounts of the event for Sportsister and for Cycling Weekly on-line and in the magazine, but I would just like to share other thoughts.

The course looked pretty mean as well. People described it as a more challenging World Cup course - more like a World Championship course. It's only when you see it for real that you get a full perspective of just how tough these courses are, how steep the hills are, and how muddy it can get. Even just walking around the course was challenging at times - I was worried I would slip and fall on the bankings!

The following day the National Trophy race was held on the same course, which meant us mortals could have a go on it. I had hummed and haa'ed about whether or not to enter it - then 5 minutes before the deadline a couple of weeks before I started my on-line entry. I typed in personal details, then I proceeded to the payment page and typed in those details. Suddenly I got a message saying "payment unsuccessful" - I was 30 seconds passed the midnight deadline and the system had rejected my entry. I don't think that was a bad thing!

As a spectator to the race last Saturday, judging by the looks on the faces of the junior men, who looked at times like they were going to cry, and even some of the women who looked exhausted going round, it was a good job I spared myself the humiliation and also the potential waste of £25 and the cost of a night in a hotel. I am not sure I would have got in even one lap before being pulled out of the race!

I have lots of quotes from riders that have not been used in my write-ups so I will put them out in future posts.

An exciting finale to a great race to the women's race
In the mean time what I have seen, which looks fun though is a clip of the race from Katie Compton's on-bike camera. She narrowly missed out on winning when Belgium's Sanne Cant pipped her on the line. Still, I think she did very well and was very brave to carry a camera on her bike in those slippery conditions!

(Photo: Bart Hazen)

Friday 28 November 2014

How to be a cyclo cross fan

It might seem a little bit strange, standing around in a muddy field to watch cycle racers. We don't mind watching a Tour de France stage on the side of a mountain and we know what is involved, even if it means hanging around for hours just to see the riders whizz through in less than a minute.

The great thing about watching a cyclo cross race is that you get more bang for your buck when watching the racers. The course is about 1.5 miles and loops around back and forth so you can see the riders various times per lap. The women race for at least 40 minutes and the men race for 50 minutes to an hour.

Gabby Durrin by Andy Bokanev
The pros certainly ride quicker than we could ever imagine racing, but it is still not that quick given that they are riding over rough, challenging terrain. (In Belgium last week the pro riders raced over sand dunes!) Riders also have a few moments where they will have to dismount from their bikes and run up some steps or up a hill.
But you don't have to be just standing in one place the whole time - there are other things to do. There is usually a beer tent selling a fine selection of novelty beers, various refreshments and a cycling expo. You can even just go to the pits area and see how to wash down a muddy bike in 2 minutes, and how the pros dispose of one bike and remount a new one in 10 seconds.

Ahead of the first ever World Cup cyclo cross race in the UK, at Milton Keynes, which I talked of in my previous post, here are a few tips from some of my buddies who are seasoned cyclo cross fans and racers: (This is a longer version of what I wrote in this week's "Cycling Weekly" magazine.)

Claire Beaumont, cyclo cross racer for Vicious Velo
“Walk the pits. You get to see the riders close up and you might catch a glimpse of the might Sven Nys, or even give a friendly wave to Nikki Harris and Helen Wyman.”

Stefan Wyman, team principal to Helen Wyman, European Champion and Bronze medallist, World championships 2013
“Helen likes noise. She said she wouldn’t have found the strength in the finish to win the European Championships in Ipswich a couple of seasons ago if it hadn’t been for the home crowd. That’s how much it means to a rider.”

Paul Burgoine, photographer and cyclo cross connoisseur
“Supporters’ clubs make a coordinated effort to wear the same kit and congregate together. I have Sven Nys socks and bandana, a Telenet Fidea bandana, and a Helen Wyman hat.”
Nikki Harris (Telenet Fidea) Bronze medallist, European Championships 2014
“Anyone that comes out standing round a muddy field to support me, I respect! I don’t care what they do as long as they give me a big shout. Maybe even bring some running trainers if you are out to support me, then you can run to the hard bits to give me extra encouragement!”

More tips from the experts:
1. Wellies are king. Even if it's not raining the ground turns into a quagmire. All that walking and cheering makes it a long day. Jimmy Choos, brogues or Manolo Blahniks will be a waste of money!
2. Get in on the action early. Arrive before the men's race and walk the circuit, then check out your vantage point for the elite races. Find a technical spot where you can see a master class in bike handling... and the crashes. In the right place you can see your mud-plugging heroes a few times every lap and also see the action on a big screen.
3. Wear supporters' club kit of your favourite riders or fancy dress - it's actively encouraged - paint your face, where a silly hat or just carry a big flag.
4. Cheer loudly for all the racers - whether they are first or last, whether you know them or not! Cowbells, whistles, chants, is all welcomed by the racers.
5. It gets crowded. A camping chair might be useful but will get in the way near the barriers. Also the area may be a bit crowded to travel around it or stand around with your bicycle. Keep dogs on a lead!
6. Soak in the atmosphere. There's lots to enjoy besides the racing - the music, the commentary, the expos. There will be TV crews so put your best face on for the cameras!

It's here - World Cup Cyclo Cross comes to England!

It's not just me and my mates who think cyclo cross is in the UK is on the up. The world's governing cycling body recognises it too - so much so that they have agreed to hold one round of the World Cup Cyclo cross series in Milton Keynes. And the race is tomorrow. This is the first time that the UK is hosting a world cup.
Yes, as we speak all the great and the good of cyclo cross are alighting at Milton Keynes Central or leaving junction 14 of the M1 motorway to make their way to their hotels and reccie the course.

It's probably a big deal for them, because the top cyclo crossers generally race in Belgium, Holland and maybe a little bit in Northern France. Most of them are Belgian or Dutch so for them it is a hop, skip and a jump (with bikes slung over their shoulders) to get to a race! It is certainly a big deal for us to be welcoming them!

This will be the only round of the series that is taking place outside of the Belgian/Dutch heartland. So I, and thousands of others will toddle over there to see the pros show us how it's done (or maybe how it isn't done) if they struggle on an apparently very technical course based around a big hill with steps and hurdles.
Hopefully I'll be able to get a few words with the riders for Cycling Weekly and Sportsister magazines.

Nikki Harris (by Bart Hazen)
As it's a home event there will be a strong British contingent. Look out for Nikki Harris and Helen Wyman, who have realistic chances of getting on the podium. Then there is Gabby Durrin, who has been very consistent over the years. The battle will be between them and overseas riders such as Katie Compton from the US, Sanne Cant from Belgium, Sophie de Boer from Holland and a few other women from the Czech Republic and France. 

Helen Wyman (by Bart Hazen)
In the men's race our best rider is Ian Field, though the fight for the podium will likely be between Lars van der Haar, Kevin Pauwels, and a number of others from Belgium and Holland. There's likely to be a huge crowd around the legend that is Sven Nys from Belgium. Apparently he gets a similar reception to David Beckham when he is at home!

Yes, cyclo cross is to Belgians what football is to Brits! There will be loud crowds with various chants, and supporters' clubs for specific riders. That all sounds a strange concept to me, but I look forward to seeing it and maybe even getting involved in the fun.

For anyone going along to the race tomorrow at Campbell Park, Milton Keynes you can just turn up and buy a ticket. Take some wellies or sturdy shoes, wrap up warm (though the weather is not forecast to be too cold) and have something that makes lots of noise to support the riders - a cowbell, whistle, a trumpet, even a vuvuzela. The riders will appreciate it! More tips in my next post.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

One day one photo - 28

Tuesday 7th October

I must admit, being in Cheshire I feel quite spoiled for choice when it comes to places to ride my bike. From Macclesfield you are right on the edge of the Peak District. It's just a case of me riding down a few streets and then I am on the Cat and Fiddle Climb, which then takes me in to Buxton and all the Peak District.

Even before the Peak District there is Macclesfield Forest, where there are quiet country lanes and hills to climb which are just as challenging as anything in the Peak District.

If you're really not feeling up to doing hills then you can head west, and amble along through the Cheshire plain, taking in villages around Chelford, Alderley Edge, Holmes Chapel and Joddrell Bank. The roads are still fairly quiet and the landscape is just as pretty.

On this particular day I took my bike on a loop over Cat and Fiddle, up Long Hill and then down into the Goyt Valley. If you get the chance to go there it's beautiful. Even if you don't have a bicycle, walking around there is great - and you certainly see lots of folks around there.

My itinerary was on a bike though, which meant that I covered quite a lot of ground in a short space of time and had loads to look at - especially when I was grinding uphill for what seemed like forever! The road from Long Hill down into the Goyt, Goyt Lane is a massively steep, fast descent. Watch out for oncoming traffic and troops of Duke of Edinburgh kids tramping up the road!

On this descent, you get a lovely view of the Goyt Valley with the Erwood Reservoir and the woodland below. (Just like in the photo.) I loved this view.

If you turn left at the end of the road you've got a lovely amble through the valley and the road is just a false flat that climbs very gradually back up to the Cat and Fiddle. If you turn right, which is what I did, you've got a hard 1.5-mile slog back up to the car park at Pym's Chair.

It is a hard slog, and don't feel ashamed to get off and walk. I almost did! The gradient was probably around 20-25% in places and I felt very self conscious riding among walkers who appeared to be travelling quicker on me as they went up on foot! At least people gave me encouragement. Then from Pym's Chair, which is a kind of meeting of the streams of cyclists and walkers from all the different directions, there is then a fast descent and another climb at Jenkin Chapel. Not wanting to go and ride among the motorbikers on Cat and Fiddle (or tackle another horrible climb at Lamaload Reservoir) I took the only slightly less challenging climb back to Rainow.

It was only once I reached the main road through Rainow that I was able to cruise comfortably back in to Macclesfield. It had been a very pleasant ride - especially as the sun was out, making the place look even more beautiful than usual. I look forward to doing this route a few more times, and hopefully not going embarrassingly slowly up the hills!

And that's it for the "One day one photo" series for this year. I hope you enjoyed it!

Friday 24 October 2014

One day one photo - 27

Monday 6th October

At this time of year when the weather's not quite so sunny and warm I like to try out other sporting activities to jazz up the autumn (in between doing cyclo cross races).  

When I can get to them I do cross country running races, and in previous years I've also taken to playing hockey.

These are all fun competitive activities but they require a bit of training and commitment. I also feel obliged to keep the team captain happy and embrace the cause in the name of helping the club to that much wanted win. Don't believe the captain when she says it's the taking part that counts!

So sometimes it's nice to just do a physical activity that is completely non-committal, without any particular goal, without any worry about performing for the team and no awkwardness about letting the team down - just something fun.

So, I found the answer - rollerskating. It was my sister, Jacqueline, who told me about it. She's been going to the sessions in Hyde Park on Sunday afternoons, so one day I thought I would join her. Not having any skates I thought I would hire some. But I quickly worked out it would be more economical to buy some.

So, this was me about about an hour after I bought some rollerskates (the term they use is quads) from a shop near Lancaster Gate in London. I'm of the generation of folks who thinks skates means quads - none of these new-fangled rollerblade things. Even though Hyde Park was at the end of the road there was no way I was going to risk skating on a public thoroughfare.

Once in the park I donned the skates and boy did it feel strange on my legs. I used to skate a lot when I was 14 or 15 years old - thirty years ago! I quickly realised that my legs had completely forgotten what to do! So it took me an hour to get from the entrance of Hyde Park to the point where you see me in the photo. One hour of tottering around on wheels swinging my arms around Frank Spencer style, just to cover 500m! Where's the double-decker bus to hold on to when you need it?!

I am clearly still learning the technique. Passers-by automatically knew they would have to give way to me (rather than me give way to them) when they saw me approaching. And thank goodness there were railings to hold on to! Shortly after the above photo was taken the path went downhill, I panicked at the speed, lost all confidence and crashed to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Thank goodness for wrist guards!

I eventually caught up with Jacqueline after another hour, and a few mini tantrums at the long-suffering Higg. Thankfully the area where they were was smooth, flat, and there were park benches around when it got a bit much for my muscles. My sister gave me a few helpful tips but I only made tiny improvements that afternoon.

Even though I was pretty rubbish it didn't matter. It was all good fun. I look forward to learning a bit more, though skating in Macclesfield may be a baptism of fire. With the various hills I will struggle to find flat areas, so will have to take out extra insurance!

Any tips on how to stay upright gracefully would be most welcome!

Wednesday 15 October 2014

One day one photo - 26

Sunday 5th October

Another weekend, another cyclo cross race. This time it was a bit more of an event for me because it was organised by my cycling club, Manchester Wheelers.

When I did this North west cyclo cross league event last year it was my first cyclo cross race since 2011, my first competitive event in the UK since returning from Milan, and my first race in the North-west.

As my cyclo cross bike was still in London I used the only bike available, my mountain bike. The race took place in Heaton Park, which was not difficult to get to on public transport. It was just a case of taking the train into Manchester Piccadilly and then cycling 5 miles across town to the north of the city. At the time I'd felt a little out of place being there - a woman rocking up for a 'cross race, seemingly the only person on a mountain bike, significantly lacking in fitness and out of practice riding on the rough stuff. "What the hell", I thought. Nobody knows me, so I don't mind if I make a tit of myself! It's just a bit of fun!

In the end, the race didn't go too badly. Since the course wasn't very technical I managed to get round ok. It was probably thanks to the series of hills, where I was able to use my acquired strength from climbing the Lombardy hills.

I say it didn't go too badly - but let's not get carried away. I didn't come last! I had to battled it out for 97th position out of a field of 110! Everything had been looking good for me getting 4th lady out of eight, but a mistake on an adverse camber meant I toppled myself over, wrapping the course tape around myself and the bike. The end result was that all the women overtook me as I slipped down to 7th place! Still, it gave a few people a bit of entertainment!

So this year, I turned up, wanting to close the circle. My faithful old mountain bike was replaced by my cross bike, I was a bit fitter than last year, especially as this was my fourth cyclo cross race of the season. Instead of racing in neutral kit, this time I raced in my newly purchased Manchester Wheelers jersey. Furthermore, I got involved in helping out at the race by being a runner for the judges (obviously not during my race!). All the cycling I did between the finish line and the event HQ doubled as a good warm-up for me.

It was a good day. I met more of my Wheelers club mates, the sun shone, and my race didn't go badly at all. I still didn't win, but I finished 8th woman out of eighteen and I even got some prize money in the vet women's category. It's nice when things come together.

Photo credit:

Tuesday 14 October 2014

One day one photo - 25

Saturday 4th October

Manon Carpenter (L) mixes it at the Parkour ride
The summer racing may be almost over, but that doesn't mean the autumn cycle racing calendar is any less busy. There is so much going on that it's hard to keep up with everything and report on it.

One event that I would have liked to have attended was the inaugural Parkour Ride, which took place at Tobacco Docks, East London. I always thought parkour had something to do with leaping off buildings and street furniture like Spiderman. Apparently, this version, done on bicycles is not as hair-raising but it is just as adrenaline-filled.

According to organisers, the Face Partnership (who also organise the Nocturne series and the Revolution Series), Parkour is "a  multi-discipline head-to-head elimination race with two riders racing a special circuit up and down the multi-storey car park". The circuit runs up and down all seven levels, with various obstacles such as box jumps, whoops and berms, switchbacks, plus of course all the ramps between the different levels of the multi-storey car park.

A number of high profile competitors turned out, including professional road racer, David Millar, world mountain bike downhill champion Manon Carpenter, and all-round cycling personality Anna Glowinski. She gave her account of her experience to Total Women's Cycling website. From what I heard, racing was quite exciting, and the competition was won by BMX supremo Liam Phillips.

For those who like their cycling from a more sedentary standpoint there are various bars and spectator points, all accompanied by a DJ sound system and other entertainment.

I can't see myself having a go at this sort of thing. I'm too much of a big girl's blouse for all those obstacles, but I would love to get down and watch the action next year while enjoying a few Red Bulls.

Photo credit:

Did you go to this event or have you been to something similar? How was it? Whether as a spectator or a competitor post your experiences in the comment box.

Monday 13 October 2014

One day one photo - 24

Friday 3rd October

Working close to the countryside means that it is possible to get out and do a quick bike ride at lunchtime. I have a couple of regular loops that I do on my road bike around Pott Shrigley or Blaze Hill. Now that it is the cyclo cross season I like to try out some off-road circuits. I must admit that it is not so easy to find bridleways in this area. There are plenty of footpaths, but we all know it's naughty to take your bike along those!

I have managed to find a quick loop that I can do, and this is what I did on my lunch hour. Although it is not 100% off road, there is enough to do which will give you a good work-out and test you bike handling.

There is a section behind Blaze Hill called Oakenbank, where the tarmac abruptly gives way to a pot-holed trail. It's all the more challenging as you carry on uphill for a good mile before negotiating a tricky descent. A sharp left at the bottom takes you up a very steep incline, Kiskhill, for which you'd be thankful that you are on tarmac! Once again the road turns to a messy challenging trail as it levels off, and you reach a trail that leads you back to Blaze Hill and to an area called Hedge Row, close to Bollington.

If there's more time and you want an extra work-out, en-route back to the office there is a steep, cobbled road known as Beeston Brow that you can scale for good measure. Although not officially a trail, it is like riding up the Koppenberg in Belgium. I am quite happy to be on my cyclo cross bike for that rather than a road bike!

So at the moment I am making the most of the dry conditions and riding my cyclo cross bike at lunchtimes before the weather changes and I become a muddy mess.

Friday 10 October 2014

One Day One Photo - 23

Thursday 2nd October

Browsing around I came across this photo on Carl Sukonik's @thevainphotos Twitter page. The photo was taken by Chris Auld while a group of us were in the press room at the Cycle Show a couple of weeks ago.

After I had done my rounds at the various stands at the show at the NEC I returned to the press room to find Jens Voigt there with TV sports presenter Ned Boulting, and a host of other press and PR folks. They were huddled around Ned's laptop watching live streaming of the World Cycling Road Race Champs. As the race entered the exciting closing stages more of us joined in to watch, and were treated to live commentary from Jens Voigt himself.

It was a little surreal see the Jensie just sitting there hanging out like your bog standard MAMIL who follows professional cycling. Some things never change! Once the race finished Jens got on with autographing a pile of posters and photos, doing a mini photo shoot, and being interviewed (notably by my good self) just as is standard with prominent people.

It was a pleasant surprise to find this photo. I wouldn't say no to coming across similar surprises on t'internet!

Photo courtesy of Chris Auld Photography

Thursday 9 October 2014

One day one photo - 22

Wednesday 1st October

When I need to go to a bike shop in Macclesfield I go to this one - Macc Cycles. It's just on the edge of the town centre at Jordangate. The shop hasn't been open very long - about a year or two - so I like to support new local businesses when I can. And as I have a few bikes and am not very good at mechaniccing, myself, I imagine I give him a healthy amount of business!

The reason I choose one bike shop over another is down to what type of buying experience I will get - as well as its reasonable prices. Cycling is a hobby - something that I really enjoy. So when I go to a shop it's nice to be able to chat to the sales people/mechanics and have a more personable contact with them. If it's just a case of taking something off the shelf and barely saying a hello and thank you, I might as well just go to Chain Reaction Cycles online.

Retailers get upset at cyclists going to such online retailers. But in my opinion there are still enough folks like me around who wouldn't have a clue what to do with a new gear cable, or how to index gears. So we will carry on going to cycle shops. And when we go, we want to feel we have had a positive interaction.

So with Andy, who owns Macc Cycles he serviced my cyclo cross bike and made a few other tweaks to it when I went to pick up the bike. I also asked him about his thoughts on different types of bike kit, like electric gears. And we talked about how the racing season has been. I must admit, Andy can talk for England, and I don't necessarily need to have a lengthy chat when going in just to buy an inner tube, but it's a nice feeling when you go into a shop and the sales people know your name and don't just treat you like a generic bod.   

Wednesday 8 October 2014

One day one photo - 21

Tuesday 30th September

This is the view that I am treated to now when I go to my Tuesday Wattbike sessions at the Manchester Velodrome. This hallowed establishment, the City of Manchester Stadium (aka the Etihad) along with the velodrome both sit within a part of Manchester known as Sportcity. As well as these being homes for cycling and for football (a view that won't be shared by United fans) this area also hosts various other sports such as a national squash centre and the regional centre for tennis and gymnastics.

This area was borne out of the constructions for the 2002 Commonwealth Games that were held in Manchester - a fine example of a sporting legacy. It's great to come here, but I got caught out when trying to get to my turbo session. In Manchester town centre instead of taking the 231 to Droylesden, I had to take the Etihad Stadium bus. The passengers were all males of a certain age, (Don't Man City have any younger fans?), and annoyingly for me the service only went as far as the football stadium, so I had to walk an extra 10 minutes to reach the Velodrome, making me even later for my session. Needless to say the traffic through Manchester was chaotic, the bus was packed, and once I got off the bus I had to run the gauntlet of a mixture of pie/hot-dog sellers and mounted police.

I'm sure there were others like me who wanted to get to their own respective training sessions at Sportcity, but a football match had to take precendent over everything and we had to endure all that is imposed on us by "the beautiful game". I believe Manchester City were playing against Roma as part of the Champions League. I've no idea who won, and since all I was thinking of was giving those Wattbike pedals a blast, I didn't care!

Friday 3 October 2014

One day one photo - 20

Monday 29th September

Summer officially ended almost two weeks ago, but given the number of warm sunny days we have had it is hard to believe this is supposed to be autumn. Here is Higg after enjoying a swim session in the lake. I could have shown a photo of both standing together in our wetsuits "his and hers" style but it would've looked a bit twee! Our foray into open water swimming is one of the things that has been a key characteristic of my summer this year. This is an activity I used to do a few years ago when I was competing in triathlons. Back then, open water swimming was something I simply endured. It was that initial long pin-prick that you get at the start of a race before you settle into your stride and engage in the proper competition of cycling and running. Maybe I would have enjoyed this first leg of a triathlon more if there had been places to practice. It was possible to go on bike rides or running sessions as training in between races. But in the late 90s and early 2000s when I was doing these races, opportunities to do open water swimming training sessions were few and far between in London.
Fast forward to 2014, and it seems that open water swimming has really enjoyed a surge in popularity as people submerge themselves in this new fad. Wanting to try something new, I decided to renew my relationship with swimming. I was able to hire a wetsuit for the season at a reasonable cost, and even better, I found that there were lots of areas to do open water swimming sessions nearby. In the Northwest there are sessions at Salford Quays, other sessions in front of Media City, and also at Boundary Water Park, near Jodrell Bank (where Higg is pictured). In London there are various places - in the Serpentine lake in central London, in places near Richmond Park, and the place where we went to - Heron Lake, near Staines. 
Although I am not a great swimmer, I have really enjoyed my trips to the different open water swim venues. I particularly enjoyed the USwim sessions at MediaCity. It seemed like every triathlete and keen swimmer in Manchester would turn up with their wetsuits on a Saturday morning or Wednesday early evening, pay a nominal fee, squeeze into a wetsuit and jump into the water, all to the sound of a playlist of retro funk and soul music. There's a choice of 400m laps or 750m laps of Dock 9, and sighting is very easy thanks to various landmarks like the quayside flats, the trams, the BBC building or The Lowry. Some people do breast stroke, most do front crawl, and a few do backstroke. Folks swim at various speeds and there are lifeguards nearby in case you get into difficulty. When not swimming there are areas to get refreshments and chat to others. For an activity that used to give me a lot of anxiety, I must say I quite enjoy open water swimming now.  So having to return my wetsuit, and seeing the various venues ending their sessions until next spring is the real sign that summer has ended. I will miss open water swimming. Mind you, I'm not sure I would want to swim in any of those places in November or December either!  

Thursday 2 October 2014

One day one photo - 19

Sunday 28th September

So I was back at the Cycle Show at Birmingham NEC on the final day, which meant even more people were swarming around the exhibition halls.

I was glad to have been there on the previous Thursday for two reasons.

Firstly, because on trade day it is a lot easier to move around the hall since there are fewer visitors than on the publicly open days.

Secondly, I wasn't able to move easily as I sprained my ankle the previous day when doing the Parkrun in the morning and then aggravated it even more at the cyclo cross race later that afternoon. So I had to keep my movements to a minimum, only visiting a couple of stands and then spending the rest of the time in the press room. 

Why couldn't I have just stayed at home and rested up? Well, because I had been accorded some time to interview a certain Mr Jens "shut up legs" Voigt for Cycling Weekly. It wasn't an occasion I wanted to miss. So I gave it a "shut up ankle" and made the trip down to Birmingham.

Now I, and my peers have a lot of respect and admiration for the Jensie and it is fair to say he is box office. But it's easy to say that when you are in a bubble of cycle aficionados who willingly travel to France to stand around for hours just to watch him whizz by in a few minutes - people whose lives revolve around cycling. It can't just be assumed that he is a crowd puller for the large number of lay public who have a general interest in bicycles and have come down to the NEC for a leisure day out with the family.

So I was interested to see how much of a crowd-puller and crowd-pleaser he really would be to the public, for the Questions and Answers session on the main stage.  And indeed he was. It was standing room only to see this event, with people squeezed into every possible space available. The MC said that this was the best attended event of all the Q & A sessions.

The session was followed by a mammoth autographing session on the Trek Factory Racing stand where a very long queue of men, women, children and babies waited patiently to have their minute of fame with the Jensie. Sadly, many people were turned away as he had to go away and fulfil other media commitments. People had also been left disappointed in the morning when the 90-minute photo and autographing session had not been long enough to satisfy the queue of folks who wanted a piece of him.

So I got my chance to talk to Jens Voigt later in the afternoon, not long before he had to dash off for his flight back to Berlin. I must say I actually felt a little bit nervous when I initially spoke to him, which is something I don't normally feel when interviewing people. I definitely had the feeling of being in the presence of greatness!

As ever, the smiling Jensie was down-to-earth, and quite easy to talk to. He really does talk for England and for Germany too! Jens had lots of stories to tell and made me and his entourage laugh with his sometimes out-of-left-field sense of humour.

The thing that struck me most about Jens Voigt was how generous he was with his time for people and he showed no arrogance at all in spite of all his achievements. He was just an all-round nice guy.

I hope Jens Voigt sticks around and maintains his profile in cycling or otherwise. The public appreciates characters like the Jensie. Who knows, if he gets his way we may even see a fly-on-the-wall style The Voigts, showing his family life on TV, or a "cameo" as a murder victim in CSI!

My interview with the Jensie is now on-line. Read it here.

Photo by Ian Homer Photography

Wednesday 1 October 2014

One day one photo - 18

Saturday 27th September

This looks a nice place to relax and enjoy the autumn sunshine on a Saturday afternoon - Markeaton Park, near Derby. Apparently there are pretty gardens, a boating late, a new, popular children's playground, donkey rides and even a craft village. Well, I didn't see any of that! I was too busy getting down (though not dirty) in Round 3 of the Notts and Derby Cyclo cross League within the park.

I didn't really notice any particular features since, as usual I arrived with perfect timing to allow me to just sign on, quickly don my kit, go to the loo and arrive on the start line a minute before the commissaire blew the start whistle!

The lack of rain is great in that we are spared from loads of mud, and more importantly we get to ride our bikes for more time than we spend cleaning them! However, when it is this dry it's such a bone-shaker ride. My tyres were pumped up quite high, so the going was even harder.

The great thing about the Notts and Derby League is that the women's category has a good-sized field - bigger than the leagues in the Northwest, Yorkshire or London. In this race there were 23 women. Apparently in the previous week's round there were 40! That is the order of number you get in a national level race. With fields of that size you can actually get involved in a proper duel with other riders. On this day I ended up in a 3-way fight with a woman from Team Empella and another girl from Matlock CC. Unfortunately for me I got a bit carried away and had a rather spectacular crash in the closing lap - typical! No bones broken, just a very grazed elbow from when I slid across the grass and a rather bruised ego since the crash occurred right in the open field where there was maximum viewing potential for the avid spectators!

Anyway, that aside, it was a fun race with a friendly atmosphere. I hope to be back doing one of those league races before long, and would recommend it to anyone starting out in cyclo cross.

Monday 29 September 2014

One Day One Photo - 17

Friday 26th September

I managed to get hold of the latest issue of Cycling Active magazine. Even though I have been contributing articles to this and to Cycling Weekly for a few years I still get quite excited about seeing the finished product on the shelf of WH Smith or the newsagent section in Tescos or Sainsburys. There is something very satisfying about seeing the planning, logistics and creativity of a seedling that you had in a brain come into fruition in the shape of a product that appears on the shelf of high street shops.

That is the case this month, with my article on cycle commuting which is in the current edition of Cycling Active. We looked at two options for commuting around a town on two wheels - riding your own commuter bike or hiring a bike. So we compared the riding experience and practicality of using a Raleigh Cameo versus a Boris Bike. The specifications, costs, the riding etc are examined in more detail in the article. In a nutshell, the conclusion was that the Raleigh is the more comfortable and more attractive-looking of the two bikes and is a bike that you can take wherever, and ride for as along as you like. The Boris Bike is a robust, reliable two-wheeler which does the job, but does not feel as comfortable as the Raleigh when being ridden for more than an hour. However, it is maintenance-free, hassle-free, and once you've paid your nominal membership fee (for a year or for a day) the first 30 minutes of riding it cost nothing.

I am glad that we finally got this story into a magazine as the shoot for it was tricky - mainly on account of the location. We wanted to be in a central London location, so we went to Belgrave Square. There was a bit of pressure to get the right shot, in the right light, and without any cars in the background. As this area has lots of embassies, there is a high (though discreet) armed police presence so we wanted to get everything done quickly and hopefully without any incident kicking off while we were there!

I had always considered this square to be quiet at weekends, but in fact quite a lot happens. With a private park and tennis courts in the middle of the square a lot of the well-healed Belgravia and Chelsea set go there for a quick game, or take their offspring there for lessons. It is a cut-through route for getting to Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge. In addition, there's a parking lot that becomes very popular thanks to Westminster Council's relaxed parking restrictions at weekends.

Sometimes doing photo shoots involve unexpected interventions from members of the public. In central London, especially in this area, there are usually a few tourists who interupt the shoot to ask for directions to Buckingham Palace or the nearest tube station. Others may ask the photographer if he could take a photo of them for their holiday snaps! While we were doing our shoot a small film crew turned up, looking for a spot. I think they had wanted to take the site where we were, but I guess it comes down to the old saying about the early bird. Also, because we were using Boris Bikes which we would leave on its stand in between shots, we had to be mindful of other people around who had also left their Boris Bikes to stand nearby. It was very easy to pick up the wrong Boris Bike and end up with someone else's bill! At least we didn't have the experience that I had a few years ago when doing a shoot in a run-down part of East London, before the Olympic stadium was built. I and the photographer were out, and a guy who looked a bit high on something took a real interest in what we were doing and wanted to be in the shoot!

I had been anxious that my 18 year-old nephew might get tired of being asked to ride up and down the same short stretch of road umpteen times while being photographed. In fact he was as good as gold and seemed happy to be involved. I was the one who started to huff and puff, wanting to finish up soon and get on with other things. (Posing for photo shoots is not my strong point!) Afterwards we moved on to the Royal Albert Hall where Higg took the rest of the bike shots, ably assisted by my nephew, and I sunbathed in the park. We then went home happy with our clutch of pictures.
The full review of the bikes is in the current issue of Cycling Active.

Sunday 28 September 2014

One day a few photos - 16

Thursday 25th September

The Cycle Show is back in England, and once again it is at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre. I went along and checked it out for the day. As usual the larger cycle manufacturers like Trek, Colnago and Raleigh had fancy stands with their 2015 range on show. There were a lot of smaller stands with innovative items on offer. A couple that caught my eye were the new range of helmets from Brooks which have a fabric and tweed covering. It's great to have helmets to wear which match with your ordinary clothing, rather than almost exclusively helmets that better match sportswear.

There were various stands with different ways of improving cyclist's safety, notably through lighting systems. One I particularly liked was the one from Veglo which consists of commuter straps worn around your body or around your rucksack with a light and fibre optics that light up. They not only allow the cyclist to be seen by other motorists but they give a sense of depth and distance away as the motorist approaches the cyclist from behind.

Finally, a company called Tannus were displaying their puncture-free tyres in a range of bright and cheerful colours. The tyres are made from solid material so there is no inner tube and if a sharp object penetrates the tyre there is nothing to deflate, hence the tyre still keeps its shape and doesn't go flat.

These shows are always a good way to catch up with folks in cycling. Among the people I bumped into were people from other cycling magazines, Geoff Saxon who organisers the Wiggle-Kilo-to-Go cyclosportives, bike shop owners Maurice Burton and Guy Pearson. I also managed to get an interview in with 2-time Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso. He was all very amenable and spoke English pretty well - which was handy for me as my Italian was a bit rusty at times! Anyway, a good day out.

Friday 26 September 2014

One day one photo - 15

Wednesday 24th September

Photo by John Mullineaux on London X League
The cyclo cross season has started, yay! It's one of the best ways to brighten up dull winter days and keep you fit during the off season. Actually, with hill climb competitions in full flow, a number of cyclosportives still to be done, plus various series of track cycling races is there really an off season? As dull winter days - well winter is not quite here, but this autumn has been one of the driest for decades and the cyclo cross races I've done were in warm sunshine! But who's complaining! I, and my bike, don't mind a delay to the arrival of mud!

The rankings for the London League are out and I am currently lying in 5th place (strictly speaking 4th=) in the women's competition. Great news! The thing is, that is after only 2 rounds out of 15. Given that I am not going to be in London every weekend I will not be able to contest for the top spot so I am happy to step back and give the other women a chance of claiming glory in my absence! (ha, ha - if only those words represented the reality!) It looks good to say I am in a top 5 position out of 23, but even if I were able to do the required amount of races I wouldn't be troubling any of the women in line for a podium place. The level at the London League has improved significantly since the days when I started doing cyclo cross almost 10 years ago. A number of the women from London will contest the National Trophy races. A few will even race in Europe and mix it with the heavyweights of cyclo cross in Belgium and the Netherlands. That's a good thing for women's racing. 

So, while I am unlikely to be figuring on any podium at the end of season presentations I still look forward to getting out and enjoying a good old race like I did recently at Penshurst Off Road Cycling centre. I won't necessarily be doing all the London League events but I will get out and ride in other leagues in the North-West, the East Midlands, and Yorkshire, which are all within easy reach of Macclesfield.

One day one photo - 14

Tuesday 23rd September

I managed to complete my Sportsister review of this new cycling jacket that Proviz have provided for me to test. It's an innovative type of high viz clothing that could substitute the day-glo yellows and oranges that people usually wear. I quite liked the feel of it, though I think I could have ordered a size smaller in order to get a more tailored fit like what is shown on the product website. But hey, I guess it means I don't have to worry about it being too tight if I have a few layers on underneath or if I "expand a little" over time!

This jacket, the Reflect360, is apparently the world's first jacket that uses a 100% reflective outer shell. I didn't know that, but what I do know is that the jacket certainly has a funny glow about it in the dark. When I walked into the living room with the lights out, I noticed something glowing in the corner and it almost gave me a fright! The jacket was glowing in the dark like something you see in a sci-fi show! A sliver of light had come through the gap in the curtains and this light was instantly being reflected off the jacket to make it highly visible. The thing is that all I noticed first was the chair glowing! It was only as I got closer that that I realised it was the jacket that was hanging from it. That's what must have also been happening when wearing it at night while riding in the street. I'm sure there were a few motorists who were thinking "what in the name of God is that?" at first sight! At least it caused them to stay back and give me a wider berth when approaching, which is what the intended aim is. So that can't be a bad thing, even if it gives a Dr Who or a Red Dwarf moment!

Thursday 25 September 2014

One day one photo - 13

Monday 22nd September

On our trip to Dublin we also bumped into the local who's who. The guy in the chain is Christy Burke, the current Lord Mayor of Dublin. Apparently, this guy was previously a member of the Sinn Fean party but decided to go independent in 2009 in a hope that his views could be better represented. The guy has also served a couple of years in prison for being a member of the IRA. Burke admits to having been an "active Republican" during the 1970s, but these days tends to focus on local issues like anti-drugs campaigning in his local area.

The Lord Mayor is also staunchly against the British royal family and does not see why they should be visiting Ireland. In fact he is lobbying for Queen Elizabeth to not be invited to the 1916 Easter Uprising anniversary commemorations in a couple of years' time. Having said that, for all his radicalism he still seemed a nice man, as we saw when he came over to officially open some local allotments. And like all politicians as he was walking out and saw my friend's baby he couldn't resist the opportunity to be photographed with him (whether the baby or its mother wanted it or not) showing off his "softer" side. It seems that whatever political hue or doctrines a politician holds, he always has to be photographed smiling and cooing at a little baby! Some things never change.

One day one photo - 12

Sunday 21st September

On our trip to Dublin we visited some friends of Higg's who lived in Laragh in the Wicklow mountains. It's all very pretty and quite touristic around there. The friends said that they look forward to the autumn/winter period because at least they can have their neighbourhood back to themselves after a spring and summer packed full of coachloads of people visiting nearby Glendalough, or ramblers walking the Wicklow Way. They even had Michelle Obama in the region, and on that day all the roads in the area were closed off in order to accommodate her, her two girls, her 50-strong motorcade, the Garda and the Irish Army! Traffic in County Wicklow was gridlocked!

Thankfully on this visit Higg and I were able to move freely and on our journey we drove through some spectacular scenery, notably through the Wicklow Gap. It was a shame that we didn't have bicycles with us. The last time we rode in this area was a about 4 years ago. The wind was so strong on the Sally Gap that it felt unsafe. There were even a few times when I felt more comfortable walking. On this day though, the weather was calm and everywhere was bathed in lovely sunshine. The perfect day for a bike ride. I hope to go back there again before long - and with a bicycle.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

One day one photo - 11

Saturday 20th September

Whenever I am free on a Saturday morning and not taking part in another race or event I try and do the Parkrun. As they have one all over the country it is not too difficult to find one nearby. The great news is they don't just have them in the UK. They have started doing them in Ireland now - which is handy because that's where I was over the weekend! So off I popped to do the one at Marlay Park, in Dublin. As you can see, I am really working hard at my 5km run!

The great thing about these Parkruns is they have a designated venue to hold the post-race coffee for the runners. In this case it is the café and courtyard of Marlay House, where there is also a farmers' market. I must say that Marlay Parkrun is one of the prettiest Parkruns I have done. It goes around parkland and then through the woods, with the finish in front of a stately home. As well as the farmers' market there are also artisanal stalls. I was more interested in the foodstuff though and ended up spending more time at the market, due to the various cakes on offer!

As for the running, well, I was glad to finish in the top half of the field. Looking at previous results it looked like the level would be quite high with the top 10 males all doing sub-18 minutes and the top females doing sub-19 minutes.  I had thought that with the Dublin half-marathon taking place on this day the numbers would be down on their usual 400-strong field, and slower folks' results would look better than usual. No such luck! The fastest guy won in 15 and a half minutes and the field was as big as usual. I was happy to churn out my usual 24 and a bit minutes, and still have the energy to hang out around Dublin City with friends and family for the rest of the day.

One day on photo - 10

Friday 19th September

I managed to get sucked into the all-night marathon show that covered the results of the referendum on Scottish independence. The programme wasn't all that gripping. This wasn't helped by the dour BBC coverage, but the monotony was mainly due to the stream of councils declaring the "No" vote had won.

I shouldn't really have had difficulty falling asleep through all of this, but on a few occasions when the magic moment came my slumber was interrupted by a gigantic cheer. This happened when Dundee, Glasgow and a couple of other councils came out and said yes to being a separate country. So, my all-nighter wasn't completely wasted! I wasn't on the side of the "yes" vote. I had just wanted to see the really tight contest being played out as the opinion polls had been forecasting. Although the "yes" vote got a creditable 45%, this was not really mano-a-mano stuff.

I must say I am glad that Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom and we will be able to see the likes of proud Scot, Katie Archibald representing Team GB on the world stage in the cycle races. It is possible to be proud of your nationality and be part of the UK or be British. I can understand the reasons why people would vote "yes" to independence and I respect that, but I still believe that we are stronger together. I finally got some kip just before 5 am, and caught up on the rest of my sleep during my journey to Ireland later in the day.

Sunday 21 September 2014

One day one photo - 9

Thursday 18th September

13 - the new range of bikes from Halfords - was launched and I went along to the grand unveiling in Central London. The shop is already known for distributing well known brands such as Boardman, Pinarello, Kona, Pendleton and Mongoose. But the special thing about this range is that it is intended to be complimentary to what they already stock, and it is their own Halfords brand at affordable prices.
The essence of the 13 brand (of which the logo is shown upside down, in keeping with cyclist superstition) is, in the words of chief designer, Justin Stephens is to "ignore convention and follow instinct." So that's what they've done by introducing this range of hybrid, mountain and road (including a cyclo cross) bikes. They have brought in various elements from different types of bikes in order for them to be eye-catching and distinguished, notably with the use of UCI stripes in their frame colours, and internal hub gears in the hybrid bikes. It was all very informative and interesting. I guess the proof of the presenting is in the riding, and I look forward to trying out one of their bikes.


One day one photo - 8

Wednesday 17th September

Working in Tytherington, near Macclesfield means that my lunchtime bike rides always involve going in or around Bollington. Anyone who knows this pretty village will also know that one of the main features of the area is this monument known as White Nancy. The actual monument is not very high, but the fact that it sits on top of the Kerridge hills, 250m above sea level means that it can be seen from various areas of the village and the surrounding areas. Up close I don't think it looks like much, but from afar it's quite impressive. It's also a useful beacon for finding my way back to base if I get lost in one of the many lanes!

The other useful thing about White Nancy for me, is it is a useful target for training both on the bike and on foot. While it isn't permitted to cycle right up to the summit, it is possible to cycle up the lane and the bridleway which are about fifteen metres below and a bit of a slog as the ride involves going up a 20% gradient. For the even more hardcore riders, and those training for something like the Three Peaks Cyclo cross race, it is possible to do reps where you ride up the bridleway and then dismount from your bike and run up to the summit with your bike slung over you shoulder. I prefer to just pedal or wheel my bike up the bridleway - none of this shouldering malarkey!

Another lunchtime activity which is popular locally is running to the summit. From where I work that means a 4-mile round trip run with 150m of climbing. Now I thought running along the flat was an energetic enough activity to do in the middle of the working day, but doing a fell run is quite hardcore. In fact, some of my colleagues happily do this a few times a week. I guess that works up an appetite before eating! I'd like to get into fell running, and my colleagues have invited me to run with them. Somehow, I'm not sure I want to do this in a lunch hour though - unless my boss doesn't mind me having an afternoon nap! Somehow I don't think that will happen!

Friday 19 September 2014

One Day One Photo - 7

Tuesday 16th September

After my Specialized road bike was cheekily stolen from me in a Milan street a couple of years ago I reverted to riding my old racing hack. It was the first road bike I bought, about sixteen years ago - a red bike from De Ver Cycles in Streatham, South London. It was my pride and joy back then, and I was really grateful to Maurice Burton who built it for me at a very reasonable cost.

Riding it again after having spent 7 years using the nice lightweight Specialized (which I'd also bought from De Ver Cycles) felt like riding a tractor, thanks to the heavy grade aluminium and fork, commuting rack and mudguards. Time trialling or riding hilly cyclosportives on this has been challenging! But the good news is things have just become easier - at least for the remaining weeks of the road season.

Once more, thanks to Maurice, I have received this little beauty to test ride - the De Ver Flight. So far, I have used the bike in a triathlon and also in 2-up time trial, and the bike has performed well. It is so much lighter than the first De Ver bike I rode, and with a more responsive frame. The comparison between the Campagnolo Athena groupset versus my old Shimano 105 is more than night and day! Even better, there are electronic gear shifters to play with, thus eliminating clunky gear changes. Of course, this is not the first swish new bike I have been given to test ride. It is just noteworthy how my first bike was a De Ver heavy unwieldy thing. And here I am all these years, coming out of the same shop with a light speedy thing that can rival many of the big brand road bikes that people rave about. Watch this space for the full review!

Tuesday 16 September 2014

One day one photo - 6

Monday 15th September

There's been widespread talk about this Bogota-based women's cycling team kit. It's not actually this photo that has been doing the rounds on the social network sites, but that photo. I imagine there are lots of photos that have been taken of the women in this kit, especially as they have been racing in it since January. But this is the one that has sparked the controversy. I'm not sure if this kit is to my taste. The design looks a bit busy to me! But hey, what does my opinion matter! Anyway, they're a sponsored team so I guess they can't pick and choose.
The thing is a spokesman for Team Bogota Humana said that members of the team which is made up of, Angie Rojas, Laura Lozano, Luz Adriana Tovar, Ana Cristina Sanabria, Argenis Orozco and Lina Dueñas liked the kit when it was first presented to them and they were happy to race in it.
Unfortunately, the photo taken of the women at the team presentation during the Tour of Tuscany (Giro di Toscana) did not come out as they would have wanted, and the girls have become the subject of ridicule, outrage and frantic social network gossip. Even the UCI are "on the case" with the president Brian Cookson describing the kit as "unacceptable by any standard of decency". 
Meanwhile the president of the Bogota Cycling League, Carlos Fernando Ferreira has defended the kit claiming that the colour in the groin area of the kit is ochre, and that unfortunately changes in the lighting and flash photography led to the the colour taking on a flesh-coloured tint which is nowhere like the colour when seen "in the flesh" (pardon the pun!). 
I feel sorry that the team is going through all this. I believe them when they say that the design was created without any malice or anything provocative in mind. They are not the first sports team to make a fashion design faux pas, and they're unlikely to be the last! Columbians take their cycling very seriously, and this team's performance can't be too bad given that they are contesting a big international women's cycle race far from their native Columbia, all the way in Italy. It would be great to see as much media comment about their cycle racing achievements as there has been about their kit!