Friday 28 February 2014

Lunchtime jaunt - 2

Bollington - Adlington - Pott Shrigley

Following on from my previous post on a quick loop around Blaze Hill, here is another little route that can be done during a lunch break in the Macclesfield area.

The hills are not as severe as Blaze Hill, but as there are a few of them you still feel like you have had a good work-out at the end.

If you want to take a pub lunch afterwards, you are spoilt for choice for places to go. Considering the small size of the village, Bollington has a glut of pubs. Of course, I am not advocating drink riding!

From Tytherington go to Bollington via Dumbah Lane and Flash Lane where your legs are given their first little test. This is easy enough and is probably barely noticeable as a climb if you are feeling fit. At the Cock and Pheasant pub turn left and go through Bollington as far as the Dog and Partridge pub where you  turn left, passing the Vale Inn and the Middlewood Way car park. The road climbs quite steeply at this point as it leaves the village and you arrive in Adlington.

As you look to your right you can see Pott Shrigley above, which gives a sense of foreboding as you realise you have to get way up there before you can tuck into lunch! At least the climbing is steady and the gradient is never severe. Just keep turning the pedals at a regular rhythm and you get there.

It is worth looking around and admiring the views around though. Lots of farmers' fields with livestock, and beautiful trails adorn the green rolling hills on the horizon. At one point below you cross the Middlewood Way and the Macclesfield Canal where people are walking, jogging, cycling and fishing below. Even now I still have to pinch myself to comprehend that this is a fairly standard way to spend my lunchtime.

Eventually you reach the country house and hotel known as Shrigley Hall and then the road plunges downhill to return to Bollington. At this point you can either continue straight on to the Dog and Partridge to start a second loop if time allows.

Otherwise, return to base but not without the final testing climb up Church Street in Bollington. The climb is short but the gradient is around 20%. The thing I dread about it is if the road is wet I am obliged to ride the whole thing in the saddle, since an out-of-the-saddle effort just makes the back wheel spin. Also, the road is a little narrow so there's always a risk of having to give way to an oncoming vehicle. Usually, motorists give way to cyclists though. The drivers tend to look at you with a mixture of bemusement and admiration that you are even attempting to ride up such a steep slope.

At the top, you are then rewarded with a steady descent back to Tytherington via Jackson Lane/Oak Lane, passing another clutch of pubs, including the Red Lion at the top of the lane, and the Lord Clyde at the bottom.

This is a nice loop which can be done quite easily within a lunch break and you even have time to sample the brew at one of the many local pubs!

Monday 24 February 2014

My moment of the week - 3

Another step towards equal pay

News from Twenty20 Cycling
Milestone: Koppenbergcross is the first European cyclocross to give equal prize money, powered by Twenty20 Cycling.

The Koppenbergcross in Oudenaarde sets a new milestone in the history of cyclocross. In cooperation with the American company Twenty20 Cycling we are the first European cyclocross to provide equal prize money for men elite and women. So far there was a gap of over five thousand euros between the prize scales for men and women in first category races, such as the Koppenbergcross. A gap that the Sint-Pietersvrienden, organizers of the Koppenbergcross, now decided to close.
The winner of the GP Twenty20 Cycling (the new name of our women’s race) on Saturday November 1st 2014 is no longer rewarded by 350 euros but by 1667. Exactly the same as the next winner of our GP Willy Naessens for men elite. The same counts for all riders further down the results of our men and women’s race. A clear signal with which we hope to help the current growth of the Koppenbergcross and women’s cyclocross. So far, the world championships were the only cyclocross races on European soil to give equal prize money.

The British rider Helen Wyman – European champion cyclocross, member of the cyclocross committee of the international cycling federation, triple winner of our race and resident of Oudenaarde – is obviously happy with this step.
"In my eyes, this is a huge step. It is a very significant moment for women's cycling. This allows women to make one step up the ladder towards equality. I spend a lot of my free time trying to advance women’s cyclocross and I hope this will lead to a chain reaction of races who do the same, as I know the support is there from sponsors, supporters and riders. To be a part of this development for the sport is fantastic for me.”
“For the Koppenbergcross to be the first race in Europe to do this is very special. I love the Koppenbergcross, to me it is the biggest race outside of the World Championships. It is legendary. To have an American sponsor back the race shows how significant it is around the world. I can't thank Twenty20 Cycling enough on behalf of all of the racers that take part next season. I'm certainly already looking forward to the GP Twenty20 Cycling and hope to collect another cobble stone in 2014.”
I am very pleased to hear such positive news for women's cycle racing, especially in a world where the gap in prize money between the genders is shameful.
The winner of the 2013 Tour de France won 450,000 euros. The winner of the women's equivalent race in 2013, the Giro Rosa, won 460 euros! Marianne Vos, one of the greatest female cyclists, who has World Championship titles not just in cyclo cross but also in road racing and track cycling, plus Olympic titles can earn up to 80,000 euros per year. That is a decent salary, but compare that to the 2 million euros of Bradley Wiggins!
Furthermore professional male cyclists in a ProTour team are guaranteed a minimum salary of 30,000 euros per year. Women racers in equivalent level teams, on the other hand receive no minimum salary, with some only earning just 6,000 euros per annum, and many having day jobs in parallel to their cycle racing.
I understand that lobbying is constantly taking place, not least by the women racers themselves, and  the world cycling governing body, the UCI is (supposedly) looking into it. However, the wheels of change are turning very slowly.
It is good to hear this positive news and I hope it is the start of a turnaround in attitudes to prize money for women in sport.

Friday 21 February 2014

The Richmond Park of the North-West!

For keen cyclists based in London one of the key focal areas to ride a bicycle is Richmond Park. Go there on any Saturday or Sunday and you will be struck by how many people are riding around. 

The perimeter road of the Park is approximately 7.5 mile in circumference, so it is a convenient distance for any cyclist.
For the novice 7.5 miles could be a challenge, especially when going anti-clockwise and tackling the climbs up to Richmond Gate and from Kingston Gate. Racing cyclists enjoy practicing chain gang training rides over multiple laps of the park and challenge themselves to complete a lap in under 20 minutes (without being caught for breaking the 20mph speeding)!

I used to really enjoy going to Richmond Park, both for cycling and for running (the park is popular with hundreds of runners too!). Being there is like being in the countryside despite being less than 5 miles from Chelsea. It is peaceful, lush and there is even a bit of wildlife in the form of deer which have been there since the time of Henry VIII.

I miss Richmond Park, with its lovely trees, nature reserves and beautiful views over the suburbs of London. But the great news is I have now found the answer to that here in the Northwest - Tatton Park!

Just after the pretty, upmarket town of Knutsford is Knutsford Gate, which leads into a vast area of parkland, that gave me the same feeling of openness and freedom as Richmond Park. There are quite a few similarities between these two Parks. Both parks have listed buildings and stately homes with bijou tearooms. Both have nature reserves and green spaces where you can lose yourself away from the madding crowd. Both of them seem to be under flight paths to major airports!

There a couple of small differences. Richmond Park has a few hills, and Tatton Parks has a couple of long lakes (or meres). However, there is no doubt that on any Saturday or Sunday both parks become awash with walkers, runners, horseriders, people fishing and cyclists doing laps.

So that's where I was last Sunday with a group of cyclists from Manchester Wheelers. This club, which is quite active in the North-West had organised a women's training ride in the park. Although it was the first time I was meeting the other riders everyone was very welcoming and I felt quite at home with them within a short time of starting the ride. One lap of the park measured five miles and was largely flat, with a section of the lap going outside of the park boundary.

Around 15 of us turned out for the ride and we split into ability groups. Acouple of guys were there to give tips and advice on "through and off" and "holding the wheel". It was all useful stuff, especially as I was a little rusty on all of this given my lack of road racing activity last year.

Riding around felt like the good old days - enjoying a training ride, seeing other local cyclists and saying hello and returning home feeling motivated and invigorated to do more.

So, I think I will be back in Tatton Park before long. I get the feeling that this could become one of my local hangouts over the coming months.

Friday 14 February 2014

Crossed out!

The cyclo cross season is now over. Phew!

While I expect and I don't even mind a bit of mud in my running and cycle races I must admit that this year's mud was getting a little bit too challenging. With the rainfall of biblical proportions that we have been having it is just as well that the season has come to an end. I don't know if my bike could have taken any more!

It's a shame I didn't manage to end the season on a high. My last race took place last Sunday at Haywards Heath, Sussex. It was the team championships.

In recent years I have not been able to do this race as I was either on a birthday weekend away, or not even in living in the country, as was the case last year.

So I felt good about supporting the race, which was organised by local 'cross stalwart and all-round good guy Dougie Fox.

I didn't even have a team since my club, Dulwich Paragon had not managed to get anyone together. But Dougie put me in a composite outfit with some guys who I had not actually met before. In fact I didn't even meet them on the day. (Sorry guys.) I must also apologise to them as I did not finish the race. My competition ended within a few minutes of the start whistle going. I hope they had not been counting on me as one of their top 3 finishers.

Due to me stupidly forgetting all my credit cards up in Macclesfield that weekend I wasn't able to pick up the hire car I had reserved for my weekend in London, so I had to travel to the race by train. That was quite straightforward so I didn't mind too much, especially as it was sunny, if a little cold and windy.

Unfortunately my gears on my bike were not changing very well and things were clunking and jamming a bit too much. The last time that happened my bike got chain-suck and my race was over. Not being big on mechanicking I couldn't do anything about it at that moment, so hoped for the best. But these were all pipe dreams really. No sooner had the herd of bikers rounded the first corner than we were in 6 inches of clag! My bike was not liking it, neither were my feet!

I could hardly pedal, and I was worried that something was going to go. So I made an executive decision to quit before something broke completely and then I would have no way of getting back home!

It was a shame, as it looked a good race and it would have been good to catch up with folks I knew, including Paul who was down all the way from Finchley, and Luke the editor I write for at Cycling Active. Hopefully I'll see them soon.

The cyclo cross season seems to be starting earlier and earlier each year since they have started a summer cyclo cross league, so it'll only be a couple oif months before we are back cyclo cross racing again! Some might call it sacriledge!

I turned on my heel, trudged up through the trail back to the race HQ and then made my way home, braving the mini floods on the Sussex lanes.

Anyway, here are some photos (taken by the lovely Higg) to remind me of some of the good times I had over the cyclo cross season. Overall this was a fun season.

My races were in various places, so I didn't really get involved in any league battles. Some of my races were done on a mountain bike, which made it very tough going at the Yorkshire cross round in Beverley, and the Rapha Supercross round in Manchester. But it was just nice to be back doing a cyclo cross race after a couple of years' absence.

My favourite race of the season was the Northwest league round at Heaton Park, Manchester - simply because it was the first 'cross race I did on my return. The riders and the spectators were friendly, the weather was sunny and the course was kind to me!

Then things became more challenging, with my muddiest races being at the London League round in Penshurst, and the East Midlands round at the Bakewell Agricultural Showground.

My toughest race was easily the Nationals. It was pretty muddy too, but with just so many off-camber sections I spent a lot of the time off my bike! It was all good fun, though and I really appreciated the encouragement from the spectators, even if I couldn't show it during those embattled moments!

Funnily enough, my cycling club didn't award a women's cyclo cross trophy this year. They probably thought it wasn't worth it because none of the girls had raced.

And they're off! London Rapha Supercross
Ah well, I know what I did and I am happy with the way my season went, considering I had been out of cyclo cross for a couple of seasons. I look forward to next season.

The mud at Bakewell
Macc Supercross

Tackling the Philipsberg, Manchester Rapha Supercross

Whoops - loving the Bakewell sand

Enjoying the London Rapha Super Cross

That hill in South Park, Macclesfield!

Toughing it out at the Nationals

And the band played on!

Friday 7 February 2014

My moment of the week - 2

A few good women!

I recently did an email interview with Helen Wyman for Sportsister online magazine ahead of the World Cyclo cross Championships. I got a real sense from her answers that she was really looking forward to racing in Hoogerheide (the Netherlands) and she was raring to go. So it was really great news to learn that she got a bronze medal at the championships.

A lot of noise had been made about the likes of Marianne Vos, Nikki Harris and Katie Compton, so it was always going to be a little tight gauging who would complete the podium. In the end Vos rode to a seventh championship victory, followed by Eva Lechner of Italy, and Helen finished ahead of Nikki Harris and Katie Compton for third place.

That's Helen's first ever podium finish in a World Championship race. I am so pleased for her. I have alot of admiration for sportstars like Helen who plug away year in, year out, often without much recognition in the media, but stay highly motivated nonetheless. That gives us all hope that we too can live the dream if we perservere.
So once again Marianne Vos is World Cyclo cross Champion - as well as being World Road Race Champion, World Track Cycling Champion and London 2012 Olympic Road Race Champion. This woman is unstoppable!

I must admit that the day we all crowded round the big screen on that rainy August afternoon at Box Hill cheering for Lizzie Armitstead to get a gold medal for team GB, I secretly didn't mind that she was beaten to the line by this superwoman from the Netherlands.

We have seen her really turn herself inside out to win races across various cycling disciplines and an Olympic road race title was missing from her palmares. So I didn't feel too bad about Armitstead being pipped by a woman who was making history. Marianne Vos is a massive inspiration for women's cycling and I look forward to seeing her do even greater things.

Saying that, she may now get the chance to shine now that it has been announced that there will be a UCI women's race in Paris on the final day of the Tour de France. Following tireless work by the Le Tour Entier (LTE) campaign which involved the likes of Kathryn Bertine, Chrissie Wellington, Emma Pooley, and Vos herself,  to have a parallel women's Tour de France, Amaury Sports Organisation has given the go-ahead for a women's one-day race.
The race will take place on the last day of the Tour, right on the Champs Elysees, where the all eyes of the world will be focused. There's no better platform to showcase women's cycle racing!

I think that's probably the best we could hope for at this stage. A 3-week long race around France, along with all the associated logistics is not something that can be done overnight. There would also be important questions over how this would fit into a the women's road racing calendar, given the various other racing commitments that women have at that time of the year.
Having said that, it would be great to see the return to the calendar of short stage races like the Grande Boucle Feminine and the Tour de L'Aude, as well as a women's Tour of Italy that is not beset with sponsorship issues.

For now, a women's cycle race in association with the world's most famous cycling event, held in Paris is a step in the right direction, and that is cause for celebration.
I really appreciate the work done by these women to raise the profile of our sport. I hope this can lead to more positive things for women's cycling, and women's sport in general.