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: http://www.whiteflyerphotography.com/

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: jakelewis.cc

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.