Friday 29 January 2016

Another inspirational women's hour world record!

It's been just over four months since Molly Shaffer Van Houweling broke the women's world hour record in Mexico, and we now have a new standard to beat. Australian former professional rider Bridie O'Donnell put in a most impressive ride just a week ago at the Super-Drome in Adelaide, to cover 46.882 kms in the 60 minutes - thus breaking the American's record by 609 metres.

Add the rides by these two women to the attempt made by Dame Sarah Storey in London last February, that makes 3 attempts at the world women's hour record in less than a year. I think this is a very positive thing for women's cycling. A lot of airtime has been devoted to men's attempts at this record, and women's exploits in this holy grail of performance cycling have been ignored.

So it's great that three women have raised the profile of the women's game since last year by targeting the 12-year old record, hitherto held by Dutchwoman Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel.

What I find particularly impressive is the fact that in the case of the latest two attempts at the hour record, the protagonists were not professional cycle racers. Molly Shaffer Van Houweling is a professor of law at University of California, Berkeley, while Bridie O'Donnell is a former professional who juggles her daily life between amateur cycle racing and working as a physician.

For Bridie, according to her blog, preparation for her hour attempt was a labour of love of numerous month. While support came from various players in the cycling world, a number of them gave up their free time to help her.

Although Bridie has a pedigree as a time triallist (She is a former Australian National Time Trial Champion), until July of last year she had not ridden in a velodrome. Not useful if you are going to taken on this ultimate challenge!

However, when you look at what other activities Ms O'Donnell is involved in it is clear that she is a high achiever. As well as time trial championship titles she is a seven-time national rowing champion, and also completed Ironman Hawaii. This complements awards she received in her medical work too. So, if anyone was going to succeed in breaking a record, on paper Bridie O'Donnell was in pole position to do it.

But like with a phrase which I was often told when I lived in France, Il faut le faire. Basically, you have to get out and do it. [Or maybe Just do It, as a certain sportswear manufacturer might say!] It's one thing to be capable, but when you're in the moment and the eyes of the world (or at least a packed velodrome) are watching you it can be quite a scary place and you can easily lose heart.

So I say, Grand Chapeau and Bravissima to Bridie O'Donnell.

It would be good to see the battle of the hour record continue. A few professional riders have expressed an interest in attempting this record. World Team Pursuit Champion, Joanna Rowsell-Shand, and former World Time Trial Champion Lisa Brennauer among them, though they won't make any steps towards doing so until after the Rio Olympics. This could have left a window open for more non-professional racers to throw their helmets into the ring, so we could see more inspirational rides from women who have dared to dream.

Related Articles

Molly Van Houweling breaks the hour record

10 Soundbites from Sarah Storey

Female Cycling Legends

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Yorkshire biking on my mind

Since the announcement of the route of this year's Tour de Yorkshire  I have been thinking about cycling in this great county!

It has been a while since I last rode in the Yorkshire lanes - in fact it was during the Grand Depart in Yorkshire. I remember very fondly that lovely day in July 2014 when we parked up at Elland Road football stadium and rode into Leeds city centre to see Chris Froome, Fabian Cancellara, Alberto Contador and Mark Cavendish set off for the Tour de France (from Yorkshire) with over 190 other riders. We then cycled on along closed roads with hundreds of other cyclists, up to the finish area in Harrogate. It was a shame Mark Cavendish crashed in the home strait, but we didn't let that get us down on what had been a fabulous day out.

It's about time I went back up to the White Rose County, especially as I spent my childhood in different parts of Yorkshire, and in the past I have done a few great cycle tours of the Yorkshire Dales, Moors and Wolds.

So which are the most noteworthy places for me?
Racing through Westwood Pasture, Beverley

Stage 1 of the Tour de Yorkshire leaves from Beverley, a lovely little town. When I travel up to East Yorkshire to see my family I like to take my bike and most rides I do involve passing through Beverley. A café stop around North Bar Within or at one of the squares (Saturday Market or Wednesday Market) makes for a nice end to a cycle ride.

The only King of the Mountains (KOM) bonus is on Greenhow Hill, near Harrogate. I have had mixed experiences on this 15% climb. The first time I rode up this hill was during a 200km audax event which began from Pateley Bridge. I had hoped to ride the route without needing to look at the map so the aim was to latch onto a group of local riders and stick with it. Unfortunately, starting the ride fresh off my drive from London was not the best idea. With no warm-up, tackling this climb so early into the ride was a bit tough on my legs. Consequently, I was unceremoniously dumped at the foot of the hill and left to crawl solemnly across the Yorkshire Dales for 20 miles, and over scary Fleet Moss before seeing another soul in Hawes.

The next time I was at Greenhow Hill was during another audax ride which began in Wigginton, a suburb of York. As before, I adopted the same strategy of hanging on to a big group of riders, relying on the fact that the guy at the front knew the way. We soon paid for our error of being presumptive when the group of 20 riders suddenly came to a stop at the side of the road realising we had gone completely off course! Fortunately, another rider took charge and we all followed again. The fact that he had a strong local accent gave me a bit of reassurance that he knew where we were going - as opposed to the previous leader with his southern accent!

Having a few (more) miles of warm up was definitely beneficial! We passed through the scenic town of Knaresborough, snacked at Ripley Castle Tea Rooms and had a quick look at the beautiful Brimham Rocks - all great preparation for the challenge! Once past Pateley Bridge the work began. On this occasion everyone stuck together on the hill at a steady pace, including on the sections that hit 18%. Once at the summit I smiled to myself in private celebration of having put the ghost to rest! I had conquered the Greenhowberg!

World Champion Lizzie Armitstead's home town, Otley is the setting for Stage 2, which is also the course for the women's race that will be contested that day. It would have been good to run the route back towards Ilkley and then go up a nice little climb in the area used last year known as Cow and Calf (or côte de la Vache et le Veau for the French organisers). I rode it once when returning from the Yorkshire Dales to Leeds. It's lovely and wide open with beautiful views over Ilkley Moor. Had it been included in the route the couple of steep ramps would have made for an interesting start to the race.

The last part of Stage 2 of the Tour de Yorkshire runs through areas that are a throwback from my childhood, as I lived in the area that straddles South Yorkshire and North-East Lincolnshire. I went to school around West Yorkshire and North-East Lincolnshire and remember journeys to netball matches and athletics meetings in different mining villages set in varying degrees of grimness. At least we experienced a bit of brightness in the gloom when we won quite a lot of our matches. I have fond memories of basking in Goal Attack glory outside the fish and chip shop a few times on our way home. Many of these villages became even gloomier after the decline of the local economy following the closure of the coal mines - notably between South Elmsall and Conisbrough.
Conisbrough Castle

On cycle rides around this area in recent years I have noticed a lot of landscaping, which has markedly improved the cosmetic appearance of the villages. Sprotborough is particularly scenic and Conisbrough Castle is still there - as well as the hill, which the professional riders in the men's and the women's race can look forward to at the end of this stage.

The étape reine is Stage 3, with lots of KOM points on offer from climbs within the North York Moors, among them Blakey Bank and Sutton Bank - one of the steepest classified roads in England.
One of the steepest 'A' roads in England

I rode up Blakey Bank during a cyclosportive as part of the York Rally Cycling event a few years ago. It was just like everything else in the North York Moors - no climbs below 15% gradient, hardly any flat stuff and you only have a few sheep and heather to motivate you as you grind your way up through the desolate moorland. Still, the views from the top are lovely once you get there! I wrote about my experiences of riding in this area on one of my weekend trips I did a few years ago. Happy days!

The route for this year's Tour de Yorkshire looks very interesting, and I would certainly like to see how it unfolds both in the men's 3-stage race and the women's race on the Stage 2 course.
Which section would I most like to ride? Stage 2 makes for a great nostalgia ride for me, but my heart says Stage 3 as I am a sucker for those punishing hills!

The 2016 Tour de Yorkshire is on 29th April - 1st May and starts in Beverley.

Related articles

Dales and Moors: Yorkshire Trip - Part 1

Moors and Wolds: Yorkshire Trip - Part 2

Shoot story - Doncaster

Tuesday 12 January 2016

Bike riding motto inspired from the Starman

"I don't know where I am going from here, but I promise it won't be boring." David Bowie (Madison Square Garden, 1997)

I found this inspiring photo on the Bikeitalia website.

It's not clear how much cycling David Bowie ever did, but I think this quote from the great artist could very much apply when out riding.

For sure, I have been on cycling trips where I wasn't quite sure where I would be going until I set off, and it was a case of taking my map and "making it up as I go along!" That was particularly the case in Italy. There was usually something that would happen - whether it was unexpectedly ending up on an unsurfaced road littered with stones and having to climb off and walk; meeting a local rider who tow's me in their slipstream to some interesting nearby places to ride, or just stumbling across spectacular hidden haunts.

So yes, next time if I'm not sure where I am going I'll promise myself it won't be boring!

Dedicated to a guy who was never boring and one of the few who could look cool in white shoes!

Wednesday 6 January 2016

It's official - Richmond Park is Britain's cycling Mecca!

So Strava has released its insight report on cycling and running activity in the UK for 2015. Some of the statistics confirm our perceptions: the most number of cycle commuters are in London. The hilliest cycle rides are done in South Wales (though I thought Yorkshire and Cornwall would be up there as well); the fastest rides were done in flatter regions like Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.

The statistic that is most salient are the 65,000+ rides uploaded within Richmond Park during 2015, easily surpassing the second most popular area for cycling, Box Hill, Surrey, the main battleground during the London 2012 Olympics cycle race.

This South-West London park (also included in the routes for the London 2012 Olympics cycle races) registered the highest number of uploaded Strava segments in 2015, with 33,226 rides recorded on Sawyers Hill - the climb up to Richmond Gate from Roehampton Gate, Broomfield Hill on the opposite side of the park, with 17,409 rides, and 15,042 rides uploaded for the Tour of Richmond Park.

I, like many riders have been going to Richmond Park for cycle rides for years. It's a great place to do circuits of this vast green space. For a club cyclist the 7-mile loop on the perimeter road is a good mini time trial to measure fitness. Multiple laps of the park make a great training ride or a club run. 
When I go there, I cycle the 10 miles through South London to reach Roehampton Gate, do three laps and then ride home again, thus making it a decent 50-mile work-out.  For newer riders one lap is a good start-point when getting into cycling.

Furthermore there are various family rides, including the Tamsin Trail which is an off-road route completely removed from traffic, so great for less confident cyclists.
If you don't have a bike there is a place that hires out a variety of adult and kids bikes at Roehampton Gate.

And as you ride around there are places to stop for tea, say hello to the deer or marvel at the landscape and the views from near Pembroke Lodge.
What is there not to like about going to Richmond Park?

Well, in recent times the police have cracked down more in reinforcing the 20-mile-per-hour speed limit to all vehicles including cyclists (much to the annoyance of amateur racers). Indeed, there have been cases of cyclists being fined for speeding through the park.

In addition, disputes between motorists and cyclists have been on the rise as the roads become ever increasingly congested, particularly on sunny days at the weekend. In fact the local MP (and London Mayoral candidate), Zac Goldsmith held a meeting just over a year ago in an effort to resolve tensions between the different park users.

So with that in mind I thought that the number of cycle trips around Richmond Park would be on the decline in favour of other areas such as some of the quieter scenic roads in Yorkshire, Cheshire or the Lake District. Wrong.

All of the most popular Strava segments in this report are in the South-East of England, with the top 10 being completed by roads around Hampton Court and the Surrey Hills, plus Ditchling Beacon - a climb ridden during the popular London to Brighton cycle event. 

Perhaps the publication of this "ranking" may make people in other regions stand up for their local popular cycling areas and come out in support in order to gain "league table promotion"! Afterall, Tatton Park in Cheshire easily rivals Richmond Park in the cycling attractiveness stakes.

I have no idea if this article has incited more people to ride in Richmond Park, fewer people to ride in Richmond Park, more people to defect to somewhere else.
Mind you, looking out of the window on this grim rainy day I think it is the couch and the turbo trainer that might just be the winners!

Related articles

The Richmond Park of the North-West

Shoot Story - Alderley Edge and Tatton Park

Rider beware: anti-social media preying on our bicycles