Saturday 27 October 2018

My Tour of Lombardy: Como, Bellagio, Ghisallo, and ooh Sormano!

After a day riding in the flatlands of surburban Milan, I then tackled the the hills around Lake Como - specifically Madonna del Ghisallo and the Sormano climbs featured in the Giro di Lombardia. I could have plumped for one of many choices - Brunate, Intelvi, or nearby Switzerland to go up Morbio and around Mendrisio.

I was happy to go up the classic climbs as it had been five years since I last rode up these climbs. Also given that the last time I was up there was in my pre-Strava days I wanted to get this ride onto the app. Yes, I was shamelessly pandering to the saying, "if it's not on Strava it didn't happen!"

The drive up to Como was straightforward; parking was not. Como, especially on a sunny Saturday afternoon can get so rammed with locals and tourists that it's impossible to find any free parking in the street. On a previous occasion I'd had to drive around a lot, even though it was first thing on a Saturday morning. I eventually found a place to park for free - in Brunate, 500m above Como and after 3 miles of rather steep technical switchbacks and a close encounter with a runaway bus that was coming down from the village!

This time I wasn't going to go through all that palava, so I surrendered myself to pricey fees of multistorey car park on Viale Lecco.

The road to Bellagio

On cycling out of the car park, very quickly I was climbing as I took the road to Bellagio. It was a picturesque route that went along the side of the lake, with lovely views of Como behind me, with the dome of the cathedral dominating the skyline.

Not exactly Como, but nearby Bellagio!
This road rose up and down, twisting and turning while passing through small villages like Blevio and Torno. There are lots of places to stop and get a coffee or an ice cream, or even have a full sit-down meal by the lake if you really want.

The nearby village of Faggeto Lario even had a lido for anyone fancying a dip. One of these days I will do this route and stop off and have a slap up meal. But for today, I had to push on because I had a plan.

After around 20 miles I arrived on the edge of Bellagio where a right hand turn took me up the road to start the classic climb up to Magreglio where the Madonna del Ghisallo church is located. At this point I began to see even more cyclists than before on the road.

Smack my Switch back

The road up to Madonna del Ghisallo was roughly 10km, so not epic in length, but epic in landscape. In short, it's spectacular.

You do have to pedal hard though, and that's the snag - particularly if you've become lardy and sluggish like me!

Those initial 3 or 4 kilometres of steep bends were a shock to the system as the gradient kicked up suddenly. I was breathing heavily, and worried how I would get through it as this was only the start of the road. A few guys passed me and grunted words of encouragement as they ground their way uphill.

View of Bellagio from the Ghisallo climb
If I wasn't feeling great there was an old boy in a worse state than myself. He was breathing so hard I am sure they could hear him in Como.

I was worried he might have been exerting himself too much for his age, especially with the way he was weaving all over the road.

As I overtook him I said the customary "Ciao" while trying not to rub it in that I was having less difficulty than him on the climb. Soon the road levelled off and he as well as I found some respite from our efforts. At that point I looked behind and spotted Bellagio a long way down from where I had come. No wonder I had had to work so hard!

A couple of guys who had passed me earlier on the switchbacks had stopped at the side of the road to take photos. This was the last point that we would see Lake Como until the summit. Then we all tackled the winding road together - well together for 100m, after which I and the old boy were dropped.

It was a beautiful road that passed through woodland with its lovely autumn colours. It made me look forward to the next day when I was due to take part in a running race on trails through this area.

Almost at the summit of the Ghisallo climb
Soon, the road went downhill, passing a village with a pretty chapel and I stopped, erroneously thinking that I had overshot Madonna del Ghisallo.

But when I saw more riders breezing through, and the road going uphill again in the distance I realised I still had a few more kilometres to ride.

Once at the summit I heaved a sigh of relief, and felt satisfied that I had managed the climb, and I had even passed a couple of guys. Maybe I wasn't so unfit then.

The guys I passed reached the summit shortly after me, and we all congratulated each other and took photos. They were Italians from Turin, who had come to Como for the weekend, specially to ride in this area.

It was funny how they were asking me, a Londoner, about the route ahead. They were debating whether to return to Como via Erba, or take the infamous Sormano. When I told them they would be climbing the hard side of Sormano their decision was made. They would carry on straight down to Erba. My decision was made too. I would descend a little, but instead of going to Erba I would turn right and climb to Sormano to take on this Wall.

Meltdown on the Muro

After a look around the chapel with all its cycling memorabilia, and taking more photos of Lake Como I enjoyed the fast decent towards Erba, but half-way down turned sharp right to enjoy more uphill switchbacks to reach the village of Sormano. This climb was gentle, and a breeze compared with the effort to reach Magreglio.

Again, this was a popular Strava segment as lots of cyclists were on the road in both directions. I also saw some riders who I recognised from the Ghisallo climb when they passed me on the way up. If they were only just passing me now, that meant they must have taken an extended café stop at Ghisallo summit, given that they overtook me on the Sormano climb so fast.

Sormano village, where a beast awaits around the corner
On these types of twisty roads, like on any similar roads in scenic areas the world over, you get plenty of motorcyclists, and this road was no exception. There were loads of them on this sunny Saturday afternoon. Thankfully, they kept a healthy distance from me, so it wasn't bothersome.

Once I'd passed Sormano the landscape became more unkempt and desolate as it went through scrubland and then woodland.

Then I saw the sign for the Muro di Sormano, with its vital statistics laid bare on the ground for all to see. 1600m in length, average gradient 17%, maximum gradient 25%, and all the years this climb has been included in the Giro do Lombardia. Taking this narrow steep lane was not compulsory, as it was possible to stay on the main road and continue the longer and less steep way round. But hey, I didn't come all this way to miss it out. I had to at least attempt it.

It was clear that this was going to be tough, and not even the initial downhill at the start of the lane would lure me into a false sense of security.

As walkers in the woods saw me coming down the road they all commented in Italian saying words to the effect of "I hope you're ready for this, you will need very strong legs."

Don't be fooled by the downhill road. It goes to THE WALL
And they were absolutely right. This climb did not disappoint.

The initial section of road shot up just like a wall. Annoyingly, matters were not helped by a motorist who, in her wisdom tried to drive up this road, then on realising it would be too tough to drive, was trying to 3-point turn the car in the lane. Somehow, I managed to squeeze around her.

I heaved and pushed my way up, my heart pounding, quads burning as I honked out of the saddle; it had me gasping for breath. The gradient must have been a good 22%.

It then eased off - only slightly, but enough for me to be able to stay in the saddle and pedal at a snail-pace cadence.

I must have been moving at barely 2 miles an hour. The road continued along this painful slope, and I could see a bend in the road ahead, and hoped that around the corner things would ease off further. I needed some respite as I was pouring with sweat, and every small lump in the road was too much for me. I was right on the limit and thought I would either melt or combust or both!

Alas it wasn't meant to be, and the road continued at its relentless 17% gradient. After about 400m I put a stop to this purgatory on wheels by climbing off my bike and walking. I am just glad that my road cleats were grippy enough to be able to walk, as this road was not even easy to negotiate on foot.

I can't think of a harder climb than this in all the riding I've done in Italy. The hard side of Mortirolo is pretty tough, and I had a similar experience on that one, but that was only for a brief stretch, and to be honest I wasn't that fit. I've heard Zoncolan is difficult too, but I have yet to ride that one. After that, I would compare this climb with the steep climbs in England, like Hardknott Pass in the Lake District, possibly Winnats Pass in the Peak District, but definitely Wrynose Pass going up from Ambleside. The only saving grace about the Muro di Sormano is that being a narrow lane, it is generally traffic free, unlike the comparable climbs in the UK.

Time was marching on as I plodded through this forest, and the sun was beginning to set. As much as I was enjoying the scenery which mixed woodland with rock, it was still disconcerting not knowing when this road was going to finish. I knew I wasn't far from the main road but it was nowhere in sight and there I was all alone.

None of the riders I had seen earlier were on this road. It seems like they had taken the much easier and sensible option of riding the 5km detour along the very gentle climb known as Colma di Sormano. Maybe I should have done the same, but on all previous occasions that I had cycled this way I had opted for the Colma, and for once I just wanted to try the Muro. I made the immediate decision, though, that this would be the last time I ever "ride" along this road!

One other rider as crazy as myself was attempting this challenge too. It was an old boy in civvies and his bike had a dinner plate-sized cassette so he was able to spin up the road for longer than I managed. But even he gave up the ghost two-thirds of the way up. This Muro di Sormano takes no prisoners!

Eventually, I heard the sound of people shouting above, and getting in their cars. What a relief that I was getting back into civilisation! Once at the top of the road I looked back and marvelled at how far the road had climbed over the one mile stretch - even if I had only managed to cycle half of it.

Out of the Woods and Down to the Lake

Given that it was getting late I didn't bother to stop for a coffee. It was just a case of pushing on back to Como. In fact, I didn't have to push at all because from then on it was just one long descent through the Pian del Tivano, and the village of Nesso. Although the ride was effortless, it did require concentration as the switchbacks were very tight and steep. I needed to be mindful of oncoming vehicles as well as the vehicles that I caught up with.

Even though Lake Como was close by, there was no sign of it below, and I was constantly riding through wild remote woodland. At one point I wondered if I was on the right road.

Eventually the descent took me to the junction with the main road and suddenly the lake reappeared. Phew, I was on the home run. It was just a 15km ride back to Como where I celebrated with an ice cream.

Back to the flatlands at Como where an ice cream awaits
It had felt like a long afternoon, but that was more because of my "hillwalking" experience mid-ride.

I would definitely recommend this loop, though it's not necessary to do the hard option that I went for. You don't have to ride the Muro di Sormano. The Colma is pretty doable and it is also very pretty. Other options from Ghisallo are to leave out Sormano and drop straight down towards Erba, then veer off to Ponte Lambro and take a gently undulating road towards Tavernerio, Ponzate, Civiglio, followed by a fast descent into Como.

If you do go for the more testing loop, use a bike that has the biggest dinner-plate gears you can find, otherwise wear shoes that you can walk in!

Check out my route on Strava

Related Posts
My Tour of Lombardy: Naviglio Pavese and Naviglio Grande

Bike Como!

Our Lady of Cyclists - Madonna del Ghisallo

Shoot Story - Como

Thursday 25 October 2018

My Tour of Lombardy: Naviglio Pavese and Naviglio Grande

After a settling day in Milan I hit the road doing proper bike rides. One day was an easy outing along the Navigli Grande and Pavese, the next day was a hilly ride around Lake Como and up Ghisallo.

Naviglio Day

In an ideal world this would have been my southern Lombardy bike ride, going past Pavia and into the Oltrepo Pavese area. I had it mapped out in mind, to get down to Casteggio and do a loop from there, taking in places like the hilltop village of Montalto Pavese, Salice Terme, and maybe even Zavartarello - places on the edge of Lombardy province, bordering on Piedmont and into the wine region that not a lot of people know about (and which I would say is a mini version of Tuscany).

Unfortunately, I wasn't actually feeling great and was on the verge of getting a cold, so had to take it easy rather than climbing too many hills. In any case time was not on my side. I made an attempt at a getaway in that direction, but the traffic first thing in the morning was pants, even though we were travelling away from Milan.

The start of the Naviglio Grande in central Milan
So with all of that conspiring against me I made an executive decision to stop somewhere near Chiesa Rossa and start my ride from there. This town is know as the official start line of the Milan-Sanremo professional bike race (rather than the ceremonial parade from Central Milan) and I decided to make it my official start too for my flat bike ride, rather than taxing myself in the hills.

These canal paths or Navigli are great cycle routes for if you're wanting to get out of town. There are three that lead from central Milan to small surrounding towns roughly 20 miles away. The Naviglio Pavese and Naviglio Grande are near one another and both start from the Darsena channel near Piazza 25 Maggio among all the bars and restaurants. The third, Naviglio Martesana is more to the North-east of the city, past the Stazione Centrale.  Since the time I lived there they have been smartened up with the paths resurfaced, sign-posting put up and distance markings painted on the ground.
Resurfaced cycle path with signage

Naviglio Pavese

From where I parked I got onto the Naviglio Pavese and headed south towards Pavia. This canal path, which leads from central Milan to just outside the picturesque town of Pavia (which to me looks like little Florence), is a great place for riders of all persuasions. And that's what I saw along the way.

There were people using it as their commute to get to work, others were out for a leisurely bike ride, though not in great numbers given that it was a foggy Friday morning. Then there were the harder core club riders who rode it like they were on a mission, some perhaps trying to beat their Strava record. Whatever church the rider belonged to, they all said "Ciao"as they passed me.

Naviglio Pavese
This Naviglio passes various villages and hamlets, and if you have time there are a couple of churches, monuments, and relics from a bygone age of functioning canals you can visit. There's even a museum of coffee making machines nearby if that's your thing. But I didn't have time to do that during my ride.

Naviglio Grande

By the time I reached Certosa di Pavia the fog had become quite thick, and it was getting sketchy, even trying to see other riders a short distance away. So I turned around and headed towards Milan, which was bathed in sunshine, where at Binasco I left the Naviglio Pavese and cycled west to pick up the Naviglio Grande.

Trezzano sul Naviglio
The roads in between these two canal paths are to be endured rather than enjoyed. They're not so busy give or take the odd truck, but they are not particularly picturesque. There are plenty of factories and arable farms if you like looking at that sort of thing, and then every now and again you get a random prostitute near a lorry park. Oh, well. No, this aint no Tuscany - just a criss cross of suburban roads to get you to the various motorways; roads that take you through commercial and industrial areas that help make the Milan economy one of the strongest in Italy.

Thankfully, I was soon back onto the pretty Naviglio Grande, which has a suburban forest and picnic areas as well as ornate churches at Gaggiano and Trezzano. For those into open water swimming, something I have dipped my toe in, there is a swimming race from central Milan out to Abbiategrasso. The paths and surrounding areas are definitely pleasant, but the water might be another story!

One short section along the path that was closed for maintenance. With bollards blocking us off and heavy machinery in sight there was no way of passing through there, even on foot. So I was obliged to take a diversion. I could see a path that appeared to cut across fields to get around the the works and wondered if it was worth trying that option rather than making a 3-mile diversion, or riding along the very busy parallel road.

Gaggiano - nice day for a bike ride
It was interesting seeing the varying pieces of advice from the different local riders I asked. A few just said, "Absolutely not - you'll definitely get a puncture." They also looked like they wouldn't have even wanted the slightest fleck of dust on their flashy steeds. A couple of others just said, it is possible to get through but I had to "be very careful". In the end I took the short cut, and to be honest, I don't know what all the fuss had been about. The road surface was nowhere as bad as pave in Paris-Roubaix - not even a bit of Strade Bianche. These Italian guys were real snowflakes! I bet they don't ride when the sun's not shining either!

So I continued along my way and returned to my base in the sunshine near Chiesa Rossa. By the time I finished it was lunchtime and many more cyclists and club runs had come out, making the most of this very pleasant Friday afternoon.

I was pleased with my Naviglio ride, though I still have it on my list to ride in Oltrepo Pavese the next time I am in Lombardy - and I will even drink some wine.

Related posts
My Tour of Lombardy - Upcycle

Giro dei Navigli (Canals of Milan) - Martesana

Hills near Milan - Oltrepo Pavese

Milan to Rapallo - Part 1

Wednesday 24 October 2018

My Tour of Lombardy: Upcycle

Last weekend I spent time in Lombardy, Northern Italy. My base was in Milan, which was handy as my plan had been to go to visit places that were north and south of the city.

You may or may not know, dear reader, that I spent around 18 months in Milan a few years ago. It was when I had a medical copywriting job in an advertising agency over there, so I know the city well. I have fond memories, and left behind some cool friends. So I do like to get back there at least once a year - more if I could.

So this was my trip for 2018. As with the previous trips I've been on it was a fun-packed weekend, and always hard to fit in everything I want to do, and visit all the folks and places I want to see.

A Cinelli hire bike from the nearby Biciclette Rossignoli bike shop
The first thing I did on my arrival, after picking up my hire car, was to set up my bike and take it for a quick spin around the city just to be sure that everything was working okay. I have hired a nice road bike in the past from Biciclette Rossignoli in central Milan. I have also hired from a firm near Como.

Both outfits supply very good quality bikes, though I chose to bring my trusty Boardman because I was not sure what my movements would be and I thought that the shops might be closed on the day that I wanted to return the hire bike. Having said that, I would certainly recommend a renting, particularly if you want to try out a Cinelli or a Pinarello bike which might be nicer than your own road bike!

Being based in Rogoredo was convenient for me because it meant parking was not an issue, and I was close to the ring road (known as the Tangenziale) for when I wanted to leave the city.
However, it meant that my bike ride would just be around fairly ordinary neighbourhoods that didn't go near tourist attractions or anywhere noteworthy. I think that once you're outside the small central zone of the Duomo, Castello Sforzesco, Brera, Colonne San Lorenzo, and the Navigli everything else is pretty drab.

Naviglio Grande - one of the nicer parts of Milan
In fact, if you took a wrong turn you'd end up on a dirt track - apparently a road - called via dei Pestagalli which is quite a depressing sight, with disused industries and condemned buildings. I wouldn't recommend going there after dark!

So my ride was a pretty quick spin through the city limits up to the Naviglio Pavese and then across some creative roadworks just to tickle the Naviglio Grande, before turning back to make it in time to meet Filippo, the landlord of the studio I'd be staying in.

My evening was spent at Upcycle, a bicycle cafe that is basically Milan's answer to Look Mum No Hands! cafe on Old Street, London. Just as I went to the launch night of Look Mum Hands! back in 2010, I went to the opening night of Upcycle in 2013. Upcycle has very much the same feel as Look Mum. They are in similar kinds of areas - a little bit away from the centre of the city, but in up-and-coming hip neighbourhoods.

Upcycle bike cafe, Milan
Both venues frequently hold events about all aspects of cycling, and show major bike events on a big screen. The interiors are decorated with cycling-themed memorabilia, where you can have meals and snacks at rustic-style communal tables. Where Look Mum gives a nod to Belgian beers, Upcycle leans towards Scandinavian food. Look Mum has a bicycle workshop with mechanics, while Upcycle has a large space adjoining the cafe, used for holding events with conference-style audiences.

So Upcycle is where I was on the Thursday night. A book launch took place that evening, and it was quite a big event for the people from Team Cassinis Cycling Team, the club I joined while I lived there. A member of the team, Martin Angioni, had just written a book called 98 Reasons Why I Cycle (Le 98 Ragioni per cui Vado in Bicicletta), so this was his big gig. Mario Cocco, the club president interviewed him on stage, and read excerpts from the book, while making jokes.

Martin Angioni's book which I one day hope to read
I've gotta say I was pretty tired, after only having had a couple of hour's sleep the night before, and being my first day in Italy my Italian was very rusty to say the least! So I think I probably only caught half of what was being said - and that was partly because I did nod off at times.

I'm sure it was very interesting, but my bad - this was not the best day for me to attend a function that was exclusively in Italian! Still, it was a better effort than the last time I was in Milan and was meant to go to Upcycle for an event. On that day I similarly only had a couple of hours' sleep and then went on a long bike ride on my arrival. So when I arrived at my studio I was so tired I fell asleep and completely missed the evening event at Upcycle! [Note to oneself - don't go to bed at 2.30am when you've got a 7am flight!]

On this occasion, it was great to get there and see Barbara Bonori, who had been the women's cycling coordinator when I was in Team Cassinis, and who had organised the book launch, along with the publishers. She also organised a bike ride from the Vigorelli Velodrome up to Madonna del Ghisallo, which was due to take place a week later. Unfortunately I was not going to be in Milan for that.

I also met a woman who is the European Marketing Manager for Cinelli bikes. They are based just outside Milan, and it would have been really nice to see them and check out their bikes. That is something that I will definitely be doing on my next trip.

Then there were other familiar faces that I saw from the days when I rode with Cassinis, and I said a few words to them, including to Roberta and Massimo from Cicli Esposito.

So, although it had been a long day for me, and a testing evening for me, from a stamina point of view for me, it had been a good day and I was very happy to have met the old guys. Hopefully, it won't be too long before I see them again, I can spend more time with them, and my Italian will just roll off the tongue - facilemente!

Related posts
First club run in Milan

Giro dei Navigli (Canals of Milan) - 1

Giro dei Navigli (Canals of Milan) - 2

What I like about Milan

What I don't like about Milan

Friday 19 October 2018

Bike Review: Canyon Roadlite WMN CF 8.0

For those of you who are after a bike for keeping fit and doing longer endurance rides, but without necessarily using a road racing bike, this could be an option to consider.

Canyon Roadlite WMN CF 8.0
The Canyon Roadlite women-specific bike is designed with that in mind. It has the same geometry and specifications as other women's road racing bikes in the Canyon range, except that the bike has straight handlebars.

Canyon lent me this bike to try out earlier this year, so I had the chance to ride it in different situations and different places. I wrote a review of it for the now closed Total Women's Cycling website, which you may also wish to read.

I did a ride up north in the Yorkshire Wolds, and took it around country lanes just outside Beverley and a few of the hills in that area. The hills weren't quite Nunburnolme Hill proportions but in the areas of Millington Dale, then later, South Cave and Elloughton, where I went, the hills were still steep enough. My other rides were more leisurely rides in Surrey - namely Box Hill and the areas around Epsom. Since the frame is carbon fibre, it was very light and so it was very responsive when pedalling, and really took me up the hills with relative ease.

Women's geometry and cut-away saddle for comfort
The main thing for me, was the lack of dropped handlebars. I wouldn't normally ride a bike like that when doing a serious training ride, and it felt a little bit weird just having straight bars to hold, particularly on the descents. But really, it was something that I got used to quite quickly - especially given that it's no different a sensation from doing a descent with a mountain bike.

Like a lot of road bikes now, the Roadlite has disc brakes, so you have good control when doing a steep descent.
As with other bikes from Canyon, you have a choice of spec depending on your preference and your budget. The bike is available with an aluminium frame and Shimano 105 components, rather than Ultegra or Durace.

Overall, I would recommend this bike for those who want to take the next step up from leisure bike riding, but without necessarily getting into the sharp end of cycle racing. The women-specific geometry and the saddle make it a comfortable ride over long distances, of around 50 miles - which is the longest ride I did. If joining one of the beginner groups on the local club run or a British Cycling Breeze Ride, you wouldn't look out of place on this. Also, those who are big on mountain biking and want to ride on the road without using fat tyres may also find this bike a good option.

My review of the Canyon Roadlite WMN CF 8.0 on Total Women's Cycling webiste.

Related Post
Canyon's grand ideas for women-specific bikes

Monday 15 October 2018

Weekend at Cycle Expo Yorkshire, doing cyclocross, and running

It's official. Yorkshire is a World Champion venue when it comes to cycling. Indeed, the county will be hosting the World Road Cycling Championships in Autumn 2019. Just like when the Tour de France came to Yorkshire in 2014, Harrogate will once again be the focal town as most of the races will go through or finish in the Yorkshire spa town.

The countdown has begun, and as part of it Yorkshire hosted its first cycle show, Cycle Expo Yorkshire, at the site of the Great Yorkshire Show, in Harrogate.

Yorkshire counts down to the World Championships
I wasn't able to get up to the press and trade day, but I did go on the Saturday and Sunday, and quite a few high profile folks had turned out for the occasion, including Lizzie Deignan, fresh from having her first child; Shanaze Reade, who has come out of BMX-ing retirement to reinvent herself as a track cyclist; Canyon-Eisberg road racer Andy Tennant; Mr Yorkshire himself, Sir Gary Verity; and Ruby Isaac showing off her amazing tricks on rollers at the grand old age of 10!

I managed to get a few words with Sir Gary Verity about the expo and the upcoming World Championships. His interview now forms part of a feature I wrote for Rouleur website. Part 2 of it will come out in a few weeks. I also spoke to Lizzie Deignan for an interview feature for Rouleur.

Ruby Isaac throws a bottle to the audience while pedalling on rollers
In between interviews with the different guests and presenters I checked out the Yorkshire Event Centre, looking at what was on offer, while meeting different people. It was good to see, albeit briefly cycling presenter and author, Ned Boulting.

I also got talking to the husband of artist Lucy Pittaway, who has been the official artist for the Tour de Yorkshire for the past few years. Although she's not big on cycling, Neil is. So it was good to chat with him about the highs (literally) and lows of cyclosportives and riding events like the Etape du Tour, which he has ridden a few times. Lucy Pittaway had some lovely paintings on show, notably the one of the riders going up through Haworth, and the signature painting from this year, of the infamous Park Rash.
They are doing cycle themed calendars too, which I look forward to hanging up on my wall in 2019.

Park Rash by Lucy Pittaway
Also at the show were test tracks around the grounds to try out various types of bikes including off-road manual and electric bikes.
I didn't test out any bikes but I did ride around the grounds during a cyclocross race. It was a good call having one round of the Yorkshire Cyclocross league at the event, and I made the most of the opportunity!

Until this cyclocross race all my previous races had been in dry, sunny conditions. But this was the day where I would break my proper cyclocross duck (at least for the first time in about five years). Looking at Sunday morning's torrential rain it was the easiest thing in the world to say, "I'll stay at home and ride the turbotrainer." But somehow it felt weird saying that in relation to cyclocross.

Cyclocross means grey, muddy, rainy days. That is good cyclocross weather! Racing in the sunshine on dry, dusty, bumpy trails is not good. Your bones are rattled all over the place, you get massively dehydrated... why would you want to race in those conditions?! That was how I tried to convince myself to race, though I wasn't fully convinced myself - especially because when I told folks I'd be doing the cross race I was met with replies like "rather you than me" or "you're such a brave thing."

Anyway, I went through the motions of getting ready and drove from my base in Kettlewell, over to Harrogate. My morning had been spent doing a trail run, and I had managed to escape the rain. As soon as I arrived in the rainy car park and saw the various riders either getting ready to race, or covered in mud from having raced I felt convinced that I should get out there. Regardless of their situation they all looked very matter-of-fact about the conditions. No one seemed bothered by the torrential rain. It's probably a Northern thing, and there was no way I wanted to act like a Southern softie! So I got on with the business of racing too.

A bit of tarmac provides respite from the mud bath known as cyclocross!
It wasn't a wasn't a massively technical race, but there were a few sections that caught me out in the increasingly boggy conditions. Running across an adverse camber, locally known as the "Yorkshire Wall" was not at all easy, and was the scene of one of my more spectacular crashes - right in front of a sizeable crowd.
There was also a mini bombhole, which had a small pool of accumulated rain. As long as you got good momentum on the descent it was possible to clear it without putting your foot down, even if you did get a bit of a soaking. I had to use my core muscles to the max as the bike slid around, and it felt like I was in the lap of the Gods as to where I would end up. Luckily I didn't crash at that point at all during the race. I just crashed everywhere else!

I didn't know any of my other female competitors, but I got to know a couple of them afterwards - notably the ones I'd been sparring with throughout the race.

Mud-splattered but happy
There was one woman that I constantly swapped places with at different points. I was able to get around the corners and up the short sharp hills quicker than her, but she was better on the fast, non-technical sections. She was also better than I was at staying on her bike. I crashed at least five times, and things got decidedly tricky as the mud was more and more churned up, and it became very slippery. Towards the end of the race I was falling down just while walking with the bike.

Also my bike began to suffer and the last thing I wanted to happen was for my rear mech to snap, so I just slowed things down and gently twiddled my way around my final lap, crossing the finish line in a muddy mess, but happy to have made it through. Needless to say, my erstwhile opponent had gained even more ground on me, and I had to accept that as all part and parcel of racing. I hope to get to another cyclocross race in Yorkshire - maybe we'll have a return match.

As a reward I bought myself a UCI World Championships bobble hat, as I felt like a champion, having soldiered on through the difficult conditions. Back to the Expo where I had a final look at the various stands before heading back to London.

As a first Expo in Yorkshire I think it went well. They had been expecting around 200,000 visitors. I have no idea how many did go. The weather on Saturday had been forecast to be pants, but it wasn't. Sunday's wet weather didn't look like it had deterred the visitors.

Mr Yorkshire himself Sir Gary Verity (right)
Cycle Expo Yorkshire was probably about a quarter of the size of the Cycle Show at the NEC. I could imagine it getting bigger, in the same way as the Cycle Show has done. I remember a few years ago when the Cycle Show was held in a hall at the Business Design Centre in Islington. Then it just grew and grew, moving to Earl's Court, and now it's scaled the heights to being at the National Exhibition Centre. Cycle Expo Yorkshire will be a pretty big deal next year, as it will be taking place at the same time as the World Championships, so I expect it will be heaving at that time, as people descend on Harrogate from all over the country, and beyond. I'm looking foward to it.

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