Saturday 31 October 2015

One day one photo - 8

Etape du Tour 2016 at your leisure!

So now that we know the route of the 2016 Tour de France the next question is what will be the Etape du Tour? We now know that as well - the penultimate stage between the ski resorts of Megève and Morzine (Stage 20) in the alps (Haute-Savoie). It's only short - 146km - but there are 4 climbs each of increasing difficulty to crest (Col des Aravis, Col de la Colombière, Col de la Ramaz, and Col de Joux Plane).

Funnily enough my interest in actually riding the Etape du Tour has waned over the years. I have ridden it before and enjoyed the experience at the time. It's certainly one for the bucket list.

But do I really want to ride with 15,000 other riders, get into a bun fight (literally) at the feed stations and battle to flea from the broom wagon?

However, I still like to know what route has been chosen since I see it almost as a benchmark for what a keen cyclist (as opposed to a recreational cyclist) would be deemed capable of.

looking at the route it's going to be very pretty and definitely a course I would like to ride at some point - preferably, given my current fitness, at a leisurely pace! It is short enough that it could still make a pleasant day out without being a survival fest.

I have previously ridden all of those cols, albeit from different sides, apart from Ramaz. I was staying in Geneva at the time, so on one day I did an out and back bike ride up to Joux Plane. It was just a case of going along a road next to Lac Leman as far as Thonon les Bains and then turning south. From there the road began to climb, and climb, and climb. Naturally it was a bit of a slog, but the high mountains were quite spectacular, and I preferred to keep my eye on them than the sterile looking resort of Morzine!

The following day I began my multi-day ride towards Nice. That first part involved riding to Le Grand Bornand via Col de la Colombière. It was pouring with rain and as I crossed the border into France a friendly border policeman warned me to be very careful for it wasn't going to be an easy ride. And didn't I know it!

I crawled up at about four miles an hour with my panniers in the rain. When it wasn't raining visibility was down to around 5 metres so I had no idea what anything looked like. In fact I didn't even know when I reached the summit! It was only when suddenly my pedalling became less laboured, then I didn't need to pedal that I realised the climbing had finished. That was such a relief but boy, was it cold. It was great to finally arrive at my hotel in the Le Grand-Bornand where the hotel manager, the sweetest guy, took pity on me when I rocked up dripping wet and bedraggled! It was just a great shame that I didn't see anything of the landscape on the Col de la Colombière in two hours of pedalling!

The following day I rode Col des Aravis (along with Col des Saisies and Cormet de Roselend), which was a much sunnier day. If you get the chance (which you probably won't if you are trying to meet the average speed in L'Etape du Tour) stop and take a few photos. Lots of wooden alpine huts adorn the mountain villages of St Jean de Sixt and Flumet, along with mountain goats and cows and the ski resort of La Clusaz.

Anyway, that's enough reblochon from me except to say get over there and explore the place. It's worth a visit! I hope to return to Haute-Savoie as I have great memories of the place - and hopefully I will actually see the landscape around the Col de la Colombière - at my leisure!

Friday 16 October 2015

One day one photo - 7

You may or may not know that I do a bit of running. It's not something I advertise much but it is one of those activities that has been whirring away in the background of my life since I was very young. I guess the fact that it's second nature is the reason why I don't talk about it much.

Furthermore, it's not something I do to break any records or try and make it into the Olympics - mind you, I don't do that with my cycling either!

I just run to clear my mind and keep myself in trim. In fact, my failure to become overweight is probably down to  running, rather than cycling!

So, this is me at the first round of the local cross country league in Surrey.

Cross country is a funny old game, where you have to be in a club affiliated to the local league in order to take part. My main club is still up in Macclesfield. But even though I am a second claim member of a local London club, because they are affiliated to a league in north London and not the one near where I live I have had to join a third running club - Croydon Harriers -  so that I can compete in this league!

I think it's worth it though as I do enjoy cross country running and I am looking forward to running at the venues nearby like Roundshaw Downs (which is where we are in the photo), Lloyd Park in Croydon, Reigate, Wimbledon etc. The folks in Croydon Harriers are friendly too.

So after the photo shoot (care of James) with my team-mate Jules we got on with Saturday's race at Roundshaw Downs. Four hundred women chasing around common land near Purley Way in vest and shorts must have been quite a sight to behold! I didn't win. In fact I finished bang in the middle of the field in around 200th place! Nothing like being Miss Average! Bring on the next one!

Monday 12 October 2015

Women's cycling just got Strongher!

First we had #weownyellow, next it was #takethestage - and now, we have Strongher, the fully fledged incarnation of an initiative set up by Marianne Vos and a group of other women's cycling ambassadors.

So I went along to the grand launch at the packed Look Mum No Hands cafe last Friday. It was great to see so much enthusiasm for what could be a really good way to bring more women on board in cycling.

Yet another cycling initiative in women's sport, and in a cycling too?? Well, this one is different because it is international - it was started by former road, cyclo cross and track cycling ( and London 2012 Olympics road) champion Marianne Vos. She and her mates in the Netherlands, including Marit Huisman dreamed up this idea almost two years ago.

They wanted to make this a global phenomenon and to that end a number of ambassadors from countries far and wide are on board - from the UK, Australia, Poland, Venezuela, Italy and other places.

So the platform consists of a downloadable app from Working in partnership with Shimano Strongher aims to connect women around the world and get them together to either take part in events organised by the ambassadors (such as a London-Paris bike ride or cycle training around Girona, Spain) or just hook up to do their own rides together.

The good thing is that it is open to women of all levels - riders at Marianne's level can meet up, but also there are ambassadors at my level, i.e. local amateur racers such as Beth Hodge from a local cycling club in London, Dulwich Paragon. There are also ambassadors who welcome newbie riders or women who just ride for leisure.

So on the website there's  a lot of information about cycling advice, rides and people's inspirational stories to tempt you out on a two-wheeled adventure.

Furthermore, the riding is not just confined to road cycling. Women's 2015 Tour stage winner Hannah Barnes is an ambassador, but also Downhill mountain biker Manon Carpenter is one, and there are other ambassadors who do BMX biking, cyclo cross and track cycling.
Manon Carpenter
Marianne Vos introduces Strongher

Last year's world downhill mountain biking champion Manon Carpenter said: "There's a lack of girls in downhill mountain biking, so I am keen to help get other women into cycling. I hope to organise a couple of women's events. I have already taken my mum out on a few trails!"

In the words of Marianne Vos, "There's a lot of diversity in the world, but cycling is the same for everyone. It doesn't matter where you are. Strongher is the chance to be caring and sharing on the bike with other riders in other parts of the world, or with a cyclist two blocks from you."

Strongher is getting a fair amount of support. Even National time trial champion Movistar's Alex Dowsett turned out to show his support for women's cycling.
Strongher ambassadors with Alex Dowsett

I hope this idea spreads and we have women from around the world meeting up for bike rides and bike events. As someone who likes biking and travelling, I think it's a great opportunity to meet local folks when on foreign shores, and I'd be happy to show foreign riders around the lanes in Surrey and Kent. Strongher will certainly add an extra dimension to women's cycling.

Monday 5 October 2015

One day one photo - 6

This bike was the reason I was able to ride the Red Bull Foxhunt downhill race last weekend. It's not my bike, sadly.

There was no way I would have got down in one piece had I used old faithful hard-tail that I have had for the last 15 years! As well as my old Rockhopper has performed for me over the years, throwing 500m down a hill, over rocks, heather etc would have been a bridge too far - well for me it would have been!

So, the very nice people at Alpine Bikes in Glentress mountain bike trail centre (where they hire out mountain bikes) leant me a lovely Trek Remedy.

It was a great ride. Full suspension, comfortable saddle, a "reverb" button which lets you adjust the saddle height while you are riding, depending on the conditions of the slope. There was also another switch to give extra bounce (or not) depending on whether you are riding uphill, downhill or on flat trails. Naturally, for this event the bike stayed in just the one setting!

People say, if you have a nice bike it makes you want to ride more. I had always been sceptical about this statement. No, surely it's just the actual activity of riding that will make you do it more - and you will just make do with whatever material you have! Well, I have to say I am tempted to do a little U-turn when it comes to mountain biking. I had so much fun bouncing down the hill on the Trek Remedy during the Foxhunt that I would do this sort of descending again and again - but only with a bike that is fit for purpose!

Now that I have got the bug, I will start saving my pennies - all 250,000 of them so I can afford an all-mountain bouncy bike. Thanks again to Andy at Alpine Bikes.

One day one photo - 5

This is me with World Downhill Mountain Bike Champion Rachel Atherton. I should have also been making the victory sign because I was feeling very happy that I had conquered my first ever downhill mountain bike race and was still in one piece!

It was quite a unique event, Red Bull Foxhunt - 150 women in a mass start racing down Caerketton Hill in the Pentland Hills just outside Edinburgh. I had never done an event like this before. In fact the last time I'd ridden a mountain bike had been more than a year ago at Brighton Big Dog, a cross-country mountain biking event in a park - quite a different proposition. And even then, I was by no means an expert mountain biker!

Red Bull Foxhunt, organised by the eponymous energy drinks company and Atherton Racing with sponsorship by Jeep was very convivial, with the staff and the other competitors being friendly and welcoming.
I had only organised to go to the event one week before, in a flight of fancy and adventure, and once there I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew. Luckily, it all went smoothly, I met a number of nice people, even the weather played ball as we were bathed in sunshine most of the weekend - quite handy when you are camping in Scotland in late September! I definitely recommend Foxhunt and hope to do it again next year. You can read more about how I got on in my article about it on Sportsister.

Related article

Trek Remedy goes to Red Bull Foxhunt