Thursday 29 September 2016

One day one photo - 9: Gifts for a cyclist

I recently left my job as a medical writer in a PR agency in London, and I have now moved to an advertising agency still working within the fine art of wordsmithing!
Just what I always wanted!

On my last day at the PR agency I was pleasantly surprised to receive a couple of leaving gifts. It was even more impressive that my colleagues bought me cycling-related gifts! And moreover, things that I don't already have, and I will certainly use!

My co-workers know how much I like everything about "la petite reine", and for that reason I thought it would've been hard for them to know what to get someone who may already have all the cycling-related things I would want.

But in fact, a pizza cutter (complete with a disc wheel!) and a mug are a couple of things I had never thought of getting myself. Well I am partial to a bit of Sloppy Giuseppe, plus I recently added pizzas to my repertoire of home cooking meals so there is definitely scope for use. I could certainly take the mug to my new place as a good mug is always hard to find in the office!

However, in reality as they are pretty nice gifts I will try to preserve them and use them only from time to time while I fondly reminisce over the fun times I had at the old place! Thanks guys!

Tuesday 27 September 2016

15 Soundbites from..Jo Rowsell-Shand at the Cycle Show

Last week Joanna Rowsell-Shand was one of the celebrity guests at the Cycle Show held in Birmingham NEC. She appeared at the Total Women's Cycling Stage alongside Downhill mountain biker Manon Carpenter and was interviewed by Annie Emmerson.
I also caught up with Joanna after the Total Women's Cycling Awards. Here are a few words from her.

Jo Rowsell and Manon Carpenter talk to Annie Emmerson at the Cycle Show
I don't go to London much now. My family have moved up to Shropshire and I am based in the North-West. My parents have just bought a house in South-West France and I am looking forward to going there.

My favourite climb is up the Brickworks [near Macclesfield]. It's steep enough to test yourself but you can still power up it and get a good speed going.

My brother [Erick] raced in the Tour of Britain. Ironically I didn't get to see him when they did the stage to Tatton Park as I was down in London!

Rio was a great experience but the way Mark Cavendish described it on the Sunday Brunch show was true! The food was not great. Also we couldn't drink the water or eat any fresh fruit and veg. I ended up living practically on energy bars and protein bars over the 2 weeks!

We also took out loads of wet wipes as we weren't allowed to get water on our faces when showering, in order to avoid the risk of contracting any waterborne diseases. It made showering quite an awkward process!

It was a shock to the system to move from the comfortable surroundings of the Celtic Manor, Newport, to the accommodation in the Olympic village.

The bikes we used for the team pursuit in Rio were only given to us for that race. We used them for the first time when we arrived in Rio. The other bikes we had been using, UKSI bikes with Mavic wheels, were already very light and fast, but the Cervelos with new Campag disc wheels we were given for the Olympics were even better. It was exciting to get new sets of equipment.

We had to pull out all the stops to win as the Rio track had longer straights than other tracks and the air was cooler, which made it a slow track, and a harder task than London 2012. We ended up going faster than we had ever done, and it was great to break the world record.

Some people did question our sudden improvement on our results at the World Championships, but the new equipment we had was a marginal gain. It was not a game changer though. Our achievement was more down to our hard work. 

Anna Meares [Australian track sprinter] made a few comments to the press about our sudden improvement but speaking to her I think that what she said was taken out of context by the media.

I would really like to go to the Tokyo Olympics. I'll be 31 by the time Tokyo comes round, and there are lots of youngsters coming through who are very quick. But I will do my best to get a place.

This is an exciting time for women's cycling with the Women's Tour, the Tour Series, and the Revolution Series. I would encourage women to get out and do track cycling. Find your local track. There are lots of outdoor tracks and they aren't steep so are great for beginners. You can do it over the winter.

I am enjoying my break. It's great to not be feeling tired all the time, which happens on the days when I am in full-on training. I can eat what I want, ride at a leisurely pace and I don't have to be eating 30g of protein every three hours!

Yes, I seem to have started a trend with weddings! Since my wedding [in Summer 2015] there's been Lizzie [Armitstead], Laura [Trott] and Jason [Kenny]. Then there's Dani's [King] and also Andy Tennant will be getting married soon. I love talking about "my husband" rather than just "my boyfriend". 

Finally, my husband and I can now have our honeymoon. We are doing a road-trip around the US and I am really looking forward to it. We'll be there during Thanksgiving so hopefully we can make the most of some Black Friday deals. 

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Saturday 24 September 2016

One day one photo - 8: Cyclist turns to allotment life!

I like riding my bike, watching cycling and writing about cycling. But the news is I'm not all about cycling!

Every so often a cycling friend of mine may find themselves out of action due to injury and is unable to ride their bike for a few weeks. At that point they lament about what they're going to do, how are they going to spend their day, life will be dreary.....Sometimes after spending 3 weeks following the Tour de France folks say that they feel at a loss for what to do in the evening.

I definitely don't fall into that category! I enjoy cycling but if I didn't have to do it again there'd always be a few things queued up behind waiting to get done, or even just new hobbies that I've always wanted to try.

One of those things is horticulture. Funnily enough I never grew up being mad keen on gardening. It might have been because I used to get forced to do it by my dad.

But since I moved into a house with a garden it has got me thinking of things to do to make it look pretty. I have also learned to appreciate how the benefits of colour on wellbeing. So right now I have a burst of orange and yellow marigolds, plus sunflowers in my front garden. I look forward to having fuchsia-coloured nasturtium blooming as well.

The other thing I have done is to acquire an allotment. I thought it would be a long complicated process including a 2-year wait. But I got it pretty much on the spot. When I approached the secretary of the Beck Lane Allotment Society he did look me up and down a bit saying "Are you sure you can do this? Have you got a garden? You know you can't just turn up once every couple of months. You will need to put in a lot of work." I pitched my case convincingly, and I got it in late May.

I must admit, I am no expert at all, and I have spent a lot of time on the Royal Horticultural Society website and also on BBC Gardener's World. There have been many trips made to the plot in the early mornings or late evenings to dig, weed, plant things, and a lot of watering over this dry summer in London. At last, I am pleased to see that after a few false starts where seeds were planted but then nabbed by worms, slugs and birds, it now looks like I may have something to harvest this year. My pumpkins have grown!

My target had been to cultivate 25% of the plot by the end of the year, and with the beetroot and carrots I have also planted I will have managed that.

My allotment neighbours are friendly, and it provides a different view on life. It's a way of escaping all the pressures of daily life, and is a place to relax. (It is a mobile phone-banned space for me.) Allotment life is the perfect antidote to thrashing around on your bike or feeling the pressure to perform at races or be Queen of the Mountains on Strava!

Furthermore, there is a really satisfying feeling about eating stuff you have grown yourself. I look forward to eating some delicious pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie later this year.

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Thursday 22 September 2016

One day one photo - 7: Bike Review: Laura Trott's bike on tour!

So in between Laura Trott's training for more Olympic glory in Rio she managed to launch a range of women's road bikes earlier this summer. Halfords, who are marketing the range of three road bikes and a hybrid have provided one for me to review, the RD2.

Quick photo opp on Blackfriars Bridge en route to work

In summary, the bike has been made with a women's geometry in mind and from that point of view it feels comfortable. It's not too heavy, though it's not super speedy either. I like the colour and the finish, including the fact that the cables are routed inside the tubes of the frame. As the bike is a reasonably priced entry level you can't expect superslickness and the main areas where you notice this is in the finish of the welds, which can look a bit coarse. That won't hold you back too much though if you want to put in a quick training ride though! 

My first impressions of the Trott RD2 are detailed in full on the Total Women's Cycling website.

I have ridden this bike around quite a lot - mainly on my local country lanes in Kent and Surrey and it's not been a bad ride at all. I have also used it to commute to work with, and on one of my sunny commutes I couldn't help to stop and take a few photos as I crossed Blackfriars Bridge - my favourite section of the ride. I got a few friendly passers-by to stop and snap me with the bike (I don't do selfies.) and I also snapped the steed too. 

It's not what I usually do on a commute, but I was feeling in a great mood and just wanted to savour the day. I think the passers-by must have been feeling the same too as they willingly stopped to photograph me, and some even offered to do so without being asked - who says Londoners are an unfriendly lot?! And while they were at it they asked about the bike - mainly to confirm if this was the same Trott that they see on the telly. When I replied yes, they were quite impressed. The tour continues on a bridge or a road near you!  

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Tuesday 20 September 2016

One day one photo - 6: Crystal Palace Bike Park?

Last weekend London held its annual Open House, in which various official buildings, famous landmarks and residential homes with special architecture open their doors to the public.
I always want to get out for this and visit a well known establishment, but I am often away from London.
Hidden gem - Crystal Palace subway
This time I thought I'd make an effort, and the no-brainer option for me was the Crystal Palace subway. It was also the favoured option for a few thousand other people as there were very long queues to get in, and many people were turned away due to the sheer numbers. Opening up the subway for one weekend was not enough.

Earlier on this year I took part in a relay running race around Crystal Palace Park, the proceeds of which went towards the restoring of the Crystal Palace subway. This historical thoroughfare ran between Crystal Palace High Level train station and the grounds of Crystal Palace during the Victorian age at the time of the Great Exhibition.

While the Crystal Palace no longer exists, having been burnt down in 1936, and the High Level train station went in the 1950s, this subway, along with a few other aspects of the palace are still intact.

I can't believe that such a lovely ornate subway exists underneath the unglamorous bus station on Crystal Palace Parade!

It is also close to the area where the local cycle racing takes place every Tuesday in Crystal Palace Park. Wouldn't it be great to have this as an alternative venue on those days when racing in the park is cancelled due to rain. Or even just hold a party there with a bit of Rollapaluza or Rapha twist thrown in!

Whatever it is used for, I look forward to a time when the subway can be reopened and the public can go there regularly - with or sans bike.
Details of when next it will be open can be found on the Crystal Palace subway website.

Sunday 18 September 2016

One day one photo - 5: Bike to work day

Apparently it was Bike to Work day last Wednesday. I didn't know until after the fact. After all, every day is bike to work day for me (as long as its not raining)!

I enjoy riding to work. It sets me up nicely for the day, and I am in a much better mood when I have started the day cycling through London and admiring the view from Blackfriars Bridge with lots of other cyclists around me.
Commuter cyclists waiting at traffic lights on Blackfriars Bridge

Yes, the Cycle superhighway has definitely made a difference to the cycling experience in London. Cycling is so much more convenient and it's great to be in a lane separated from the traffic. The part of the Cycle superhighway that I use starts from St George's Circus, near Elephant and Castle and runs through Southwark, over Blackfriars Bridge, past Ludgate Circus and finishes just before Smithfields.

I am not the only one who enjoys riding on the Cycle Superhighway. The cycle lanes get busy with loads of cyclists and when the sun comes out, as it has been a lot recently, you get hundreds of riders out at rush hour. It's almost like being in an organised cycling event, with people of all shapes and sizes and on different styles of bike representing on the streets of London. In fact, when we are all waiting at the traffic lights on Blackfriars Bridge at rush hour the line of cyclists extends to almost the length of the bridge. It's crazy!

When I started commuting by bike through London about 15 years ago it was only really the hardy and the daredevils that ventured out on push bikes. We were very much in the minority and negotiating the traffic was makeshift and pretty much seat-of-your-pants stuff. But now, it's great to have various cycling facilities like separate cycle lanes, specific bike traffic lights, racks to lock your bike and in a few places even track pumps on the pavement. We can now begin to say that London is becoming a bike-friendly city. And that can only be a good thing.

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Tuesday 13 September 2016

One day one photo - 4: A scrumdiddlyumptious bike ride

Happy birthday to Roald Dahl who would have been 100 years old today!

This casts me back to a photo shoot I did in Great Missenden a few years ago as part of an article I wrote for Cycling Active about cycle rides in the Chilterns.

It was a good day out, though fairly busy as parents arrived with their kids to go an visit the Roald Dahl museum for their half-term holiday treat.

Roald Dahl museum, Great Missenden

Andy Jones, the photographer managed to get a few photos of the mueseum, as well as Roald Dahl's old house, the shed where he penned his famous stories, and his gravestone.

In the UK media, people have been talking alot about Roald Dahl, whether it's to discuss our favourite books or our favourite words and phrases coined by Dahl. Talking of words, the Oxford English Dictionary has added six phrases from Dahl to this reference book of the English language: dahlesque, golden ticket, human bean, oompa loompa, scrumdiddlyumptious, witching hour.

I don't have a favourite book, but something that resonated with me was the extract from his book based on his life as a youngster, "Boy". There is a part where the young boy describes how impressed he is to see an older schoolboy with long trousers and clips, on a bicycle freewheeling down a hill with his arms folded.

The boy decided that when he grows up he doesn't want to become a doctor or a lawyer or the Lord Chancellor - he just wants to have a bike like that and go whizzing down the hill with no hands. It would be fabulous!

I know the feeling exactly. When I was younger there were many things I wanted to do - travel to far off countries, speak a foreign language, be published in a magazine, appear on telly, work in an ad agency, write a book, be an athlete or perform on the stage.... I have done a number of these things or am on the road to doing these things. But I have still not been able to freewheel down a hill on my bike with my arms folded. At my age my brain would freak out too much for me to dare have a go, not to  mention the fact that if it went wrong it would have far-reaching consequences!

The other thing that I remember most about Roald Dahl was the television programme "Tales of the Unexpected" that used to be on a Saturday night. Those tales always seemed to have a macabre twist - definitely not for children. I particularly remember the episode called "The Landlady" in which involved a man staying at a B&B and being offered a dodgy cup of tea.

Although I have not read many Roald Dahl books I realise his cultural influence has been felt in my life more than I realised.

I look forward to riding in the Chiltern Hills soon, and I'm sure it'll be a scrumdiddlyumptious ride!

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Monday 12 September 2016

One day one photo - 3: Off-road spin

Cycling clears the mind, even if it is just a quick spin. I generally like to ride for a couple of hours and do a proper training ride either on my road bike or on my cyclo cross bike. But there are times when I have so much to do it is just not practical.
So at times I just do a quick spin. I have a few routes. This is one I particularly like as it is largely on off-road trails on my mountain bike. Yes, they do exist even in London!

This is the view of Canary Wharf and Docklands from Shirley Hills, near Croydon. It's very peaceful in this spot and it's great to be able to admire the London skyline from up above and far away. Further to the left of this view you also see the City, with Shard, as well as nearby Croydon and the Crystal Palace transmitters. It's a lovely backdrop, and I come home feeling refreshed from having been able to go somewhere peaceful.

Docklands seen from Shirley Hills 
Shirley Hills is a place where you find woodland, moorland, and a little restaurant too. The heather on the ground reminds me of being in the North York Moors or one of the other national parks up North - even though we are just in South London! Years ago they used to do cyclo cross races in Shirley Hills. I'm not sure why they stopped doing them. It would be great if this venue was revived.

For anyone interested, this is the Strava cycling link to my bike ride.

Sunday 11 September 2016

One day one photo - 2: Women's paralympic cycling

Team GB enjoyed Olympic success in Rio, with a number of the medals coming from cycling. From the looks of things this success is being repeated in the Paralympics. Sarah Storey became the most decorated female paralympian when she won her 12th gold in the C5 3000m individual pursuit a couple of days ago.
Corrine Hall (left) with Lora Turnham

Then today, what made me take even more notice of the paracycling was when Corrine Hall piloted Lora Turnham to gold in the Women's B 3,000m individual pursuit. I am so pleased for both of them.

What is amazing is how I remember Corrine as teenager who would regularly turn up at the local track sessions at Herne Hill velodrome. Even back then Corrine was a strong rider who would regularly zoom past me and many others in the sprint races despite the organisers giving us a 100m head start! Corrine was pretty handy at cyclo cross as well and would regularly lap a sizeable chunk of the field. Other riders in Corrine's age group who were equally strong went on to try and get onto the Olympics development squad at British Cycling with varying degrees of success. What I admire about Corrine was she took a different route by training to become a pilot for blind/partially sighted riders.

So she has now got her just reward for being not only an incredibly strong and dedicated athlete, but also for the altruism she displayed in women's cycling. Congratulations Corrine!

Saturday 10 September 2016

One day one photo - 1: Ciao Charlotte Easton!

It's that time of year again when I do my one day one photo series. So over the next month I will be putting up my photo of the day. A lot of it will be cycling-related, some of it won't be. Hopefully, it will all be interesting!

Unfortunately, this first post is sad, and will be a bit longer than other posts as it is a tribute, which is only fitting for a great girl.

Just over a week ago we lost Charlotte Easton, a young lady who had been a stalwart of the women's cycling scene in London, and a pretty good bike racer at that. I first met Charlie in the summer of 2006 when I was getting back into cycle racing following a "quiet" year which had included spending time travelling around South America.

Charlie was getting into cycle racing following many years as an elite rower. She was very enthusiastic and keen to chat to all the local newbie cycle racers, giving them encouragement in their sport.

At that time women's racing in London was a little thin on the ground and it was not uncommon to show up for a women's cycle race to a field that was barely into double figures. But things slowly began to change, and that was in no small part down to Charlie, who, with the backing of her then club, London Dynamo got many women on board in her club through weekly Saturday morning cycling skills sessions in Richmond Park.

In 2008 Charlie and myself set up the London Women's Cycle Racing Facebook group, as a way to get London women racers networking between ourselves about races. We then came up with the idea of the London Women's Cycle Racing League in 2009, and other local racers like Maryka Sennema, Liz Rice, Rebecca Slack and Rachel Jarvis, plus John Mullineaux came on board and got this initiative off the ground. Charlie's then boyfriend, Sam Humpheson (whom she married 3 weeks before her death) and some friends of his were in the process of setting up the Look Mum No Hands! cycle cafe and workshop on Old Street. By way of raising the profile of the cafe, and supporting women's racing, we were sponsored by LMNH. It was a great year for us all, especially as we saw more women getting into racing in the 2010/2011 season.

Charlie (left) with her team-mate Pan Pan Fan

When I first met Charlie we were similar in cycling ability. But she very quickly steamed ahead and left me and a lot of other people behind as she put in an enormous amount of hard work, sweat and blood, battling to get the win.

A few of us were regulars who would see each other at the local races at Crystal Palace Park, Hillingdon Circuit, Hog Hill/Redbridge Cycle Circuit, MOD Chertsey, and not so local races at Goodwood, Thruxton, or the Midlands. Sometimes I would make a last minute decision to compete in an obscure race somewhere in the styx thinking I'd get there and not know any of the other racers. As I didn't have a car I would take the train to the nearest station to the event and cycle the rest of the way. On my arrival at the venue, who would I find also arriving by bike? Charlie! She didn't drive in those days, though she would usually win back at least some of her train fare in prize money, where I would go home empty handed!

Charlie was gutsy when racing - she had a few crashes, even breaking bones or getting concussion. But she always got back up. She could also be quite abrasive with other racers and gave them a hard time if she thought they weren't doing their share of work in a breakaway or if they were cutting people up! But she was a grafter with a good heart, and wasn't one to make excuses about her lot. She was well up there on my list of can-do girls! Charlotte, in an interview I did with her for the London Cyclesport website, put her grittiness down to having grown up in a tough mining village up in County Durham.

Sadly, Charlie was afflicted by an inherited BRCA2 gene mutation that gives women a higher-than-average risk of breast/ovarian cancer, and she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in January 2012. The irony is that she received her diagnosis the day after she'd done a long training run in preparation for the London Marathon, for which she was raising money for a cancer charity. Both of Charlie's parents had had cancer, with her mother having beaten ovarian and breast cancer.

Charlie fought the disease valiantly, and even took part in running races, cycle races and a triathlons over the four years in between undergoing courses of chemotherapy. But this "alien" as she called it was metastatic and it had spread to other parts of her body - initially the lymph nodes, her bones, then her lungs, and finally her liver and her brain. At that point treatment options were all but exhausted.

I, and many of us thought that Charlie would beat it, as she was a fighter. But there's only a certain amount of fighting anyone can do. And Charlie did more than her fair share of fighting.

A few days before she passed away, just aged 36, Charlie posted a quote on social media from a Harry Potter book - "After all, to the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure." So I am sure she is having a great adventure bike racing in her new place, teaching people about Latin and Ancient Greek (her other big passion), and free from pain.

It is really hard to believe that she's not here anymore, and lots of people who met her said she made a difference to their lives - whether it was the women who got into cycle racing through her, the kids who developed an avid interest in studying Classics, the folks she had fun with at the rowing club, or just her friends and family who were touched by her warm smile and kindness.

We will miss you, Charlie. :(

The author Tom Holland wrote an obituary of Charlie in the Daily Telegraph

A public service to celebrate the life of Charlotte Easton is taking place on Thursday 6th October at 7pm in St Luke's Church, Balham, London SW12. 

Charlie's mum, Jacquelyn Easton is raising money for Macmillan cancer support. In mid-October she will be doing the Tyne Zip Wire Challenge - basically being whisked at a height across the River Tyne (Newcastle) on a zip wire from the Tyne Bridge (eek!) Check out Jackie's fundraising page.

You can find out a bit about Charlie and her interesting exploits from her blog

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