Monday, 19 August 2019

Another year another Prudential Ride London

Why I enjoy Ride London 100

Feeling satisfied after completing the Ride London 100
Just like April is London Marathon time, late July/early August is Ride London. This great weekend festival of cycling dominates central London, with people of all ages and abilities having a go at cycling. This year it took place on 3-4 August.

For me, it's a chance to put on my favourite cycling kit and look my best in front of home crowds for the Ride London 100 cyclosportive. It's not often that I get to ride in front of lots of people in my local area, so I like to make the most of it.

I always relish riding these 100 miles from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park at Stratford, through central London, Richmond Park, and doing the trio of Surrey Hills (Newlands Corner, Leith Hill, Box Hill) before returning to central London and finishing in front of Buckingham Palace.

So, as is the tradition, I wore my brightest Primal cycling kit. I also had a nice bike to ride, namely a test ride of the 2020 Liv Avail Advanced Pro 1. It came complete with disc brakes and electronic gears (SRAM eTAP AXS if anyone's asking). So I had the gear - I just had to show people I had some idea.

Ride London Wake-up call

These things are easier said than done. Firstly, although I consider myself to be a morning person, getting up for the Ride London sportive is always challenging for me. I have done this event 3 times, and the start time for my wave has generally been at around 7am. This means I have to be in my pen by 6.30am, which means a 3.45am wake-up call. Unlike going to the airport where I can sleep on the train to Gatwick, for Ride London I actually have to be alert to do the 13-mile bike ride to the Olympic Park at 4.45am.

And the wake-up call comes after I have gone to bed late on the Saturday after covering the Ride London Classique women's race for such and such a cycling publication, which includes hanging around to interview the riders for such and such a cycling publication.

This year there was a delay in doing the post-race interviews because a crash in the finish strait meant that adjudicators had to analyse footage and decide if any penalties were due. There were, and sadly for Kirsten Wild, she was relegated from first place to disqualification after having strayed from her sprinting line and causing the crash. She wasn't willing to do any interview, but I did speak to Coryn Rivera and Alice Barnes.

So with only a few hours' sleep I was faced with a 100-mile cycle ride at 7 am (or in real terms a 113-mile bike ride at 4.45 am when you include cycling to the start).

For my ride to the event I cycle through the almost empty streets for Sydenham, Catford, and Lewisham - give or take a dozen Ubers - cross the river via the Greenwich foot tunnel and then continue my cycle ride to Stratford. I never particularly research how to get there because once on the Isle of Dogs there are lots of other bike riders so I just follow the mass peloton, bleary-eyed and get carried to my start area.

All ready to go at the start line in the Olympic Park
However, this year there weren't that many people to follow, and shock horror those people weren't locals and were following Google maps.

This route ended up being quite convoluted and going through lots of alleyways and different canals. As it was a case of guess beggars couldn't be choosers, I just followed the errant peloton and hoped to get there sooner or later.

I got to my start point later - in fact quite a lot later, so I ended up starting in a completely different wave from my scheduled start. No bother! That was a blessing in disguise as it meant I didn't have to stand around for half an hour on this crisp morning. So I just had 100 miles to do, with the aim of enjoying it and not getting cramp or just getting hollow legs, like I have done on the previous occasions.

Riding with the 100 Club

I used to do quite a lot of road and track racing, so a 100-mile ride was not much of a problem for me because that top-end effort was there and could carry me through a long-distance cyclosportive. These days I only really race in winter during the cyclocross season, so the rest of the time I am doing long-ish rides, but not particularly at a hard pace. So riding 100 miles does become a bit more of an effort as my legs can testify. Unfortunately, my mind doesn't quite believe it and the last 30 miles (usually after Leith Hill) becomes a tour de force to get to the finish line.

Once we got going it was a lovely speedy ride along closed roads that we never ride on any normal day - the A12 trunk road, the Great West Road, also known as the A4. Then tunnels like the one at Limehouse, and the Hyde Park Corner underpass. Like excited kids the peloton shouted and whooped whooped as we went through these enclosed spaces.

Ride London does have a bit of a festival atmosphere with people riding different types of bikes. Naturally most people are on road bikes, but you still get folks on hybrids, mountain bikes and tandems. But then you'll get some people who challenge themselves by riding the 100 miles on a Brompton, or a recumbent bike. One guy on a hybrid had even brought his dog along and he had a lovely ride sitting there in the basket on the front of the bike. I hope the dog enjoyed speeding down Leith Hill!

Some folks rode Bromptons - I chose this!
From the start at Stratford through central London and up to the Hampton Court Palace feed station the ride was fast without making any effort at all. I easily averaged 20 mph without pushing.

In the next 25 miles the roads become narrower and slightly undulating, so it's usually the time to think about managing energy before hitting the challenging climbs. Also, as the roads narrow you have to be more alert and aware of what's going on around you.

Ride London cyclosportives seem to be run with the same spirit as the London Marathon (given that they both have the same organisers). That basically means that anyone can have a go, especially if you have a back-story around raising money for such and such a charitable cause.

The UK must be one of the few countries where you can take part in these events and the slower and fatter you are, the more people will treat you as a hero - particularly if you are raising money for cancer, a sick child, or mistreated dogs. At the London Marathon there is usually a group of people who will still be running well into the evening, after having started the "race" at 10 am, and they still receive a medal.

It's all well and good having newbies and novices in running races, but when it comes to tens of thousands of bikes, that doesn't translate in the same way. So you get people switching their line unexpectedly, being in the wrong gear on a hill and suddenly coming to a stop, or just losing control of their bikes and crashing. So, having good bike handling and being ready to take evasive action is always a good idea at this event!

The Hills are Alive

Newlands Corner, the first climb was not so bad and just lasted around a mile (1.6km) long and was 10% gradient at its steepest, so that was a little leg tester, followed by another gentle quad opener at Holmbury St Mary.

Congestion at the start of Leith Hill. We got going after the 10-minute hold-up
I made use of the feed stations and hubs and stopped at all of them - not necessarily because I needed to eat, but mainly to take photos and chat to people. I met a few different women who were riding the hundred, including one who had come all the way from Abuja, Nigeria to do the ride.

The main effort came at Leith Hill, a 2.7-mile (4.5km) climb that was around 10% on average, though there were stretches at 15% and 22%. This was where a lot of people ended up walking. Sadly, it wasn't just because the road proved too steep, but also because congestion meant that we had to walk. In fact at one point we came to a complete standstill and had to wait almost 10 minutes for the road ahead to clear.

I guess it's all part and part of doing a popular event. I seem to recall something similar happening during the Tour of Flanders cyclosportive when trying to get up the Muur at Geraadsbergen or the Koppenberg.

Eventually we were able to get moving and I managed to ride around the walkers and get up to the  beast. I guess having this climb on your doorstep to practice means that it doesn't feel too onerous on the big day.

Box Hill - everybody's favourite climb - at least in the Surrey!
For me, the test of how fit I was came down more to how well I could climb up Box Hill. This is one of the most popular climbs in the country, especially with it having been included in the cycle route of the 2012 Olympics.

As Surrey Hills go though, in fact, compared with any hill it's not really that challenging. There are a few switchbacks which give it dramatic effect, and the area is very pretty, but Alpine, it is not!

However, after a bit of climbing and speed, and tackling the climb 65 miles (105km) into the ride can be energy sapping on the legs. In previous years I have just crawled my way up the switchbacks and began to drift backwards as everybody overtook me. This time around I actually managed to ride it at my normal pace, and was even passing people. Hoorah, no cramp, no problems.

I had broken the back of the ride and was looking forward to a pacey run back to London. All I needed to do was to latch onto a good wheel and slipstream my way back through Surrey. The strategy worked as we zoomed through Leatherhead, Esher, and Surbiton.

It was a sense of achievement to still be feeling strong and enjoying my ride. I spoke too soon though, because when we reached Kingston I got unceremoniously dropped by the bunch, and ended up crawling up the short sharp hill at Coombe Lane. Things were starting to catch up with me, and I had to dig really deep for another sting in the tail at Wimbledon Hill. This is one of those hills that people don't really talk about, but it catches a lot of people out, especially as it is less than 10 miles (16km) from the finish. I was doing well just to grind up the hill. Quite a few people were walking!

Cramping my style

We were rewarded with a welcoming view of Central London and a lovely descent through Putney, before winding our way through Fulham and Chelsea to reach Parliament Square. Just as significant events take place in Parliament, that's where I suddenly got cramp in my left quad, and had to shake out my leg. It looked quite unelegant in front of the thick crowds, but I had to do just enough to be able to allow me to at least ride a strong finish in front of Buckingham Palace. I just about managed it, and that was good enough.

My Garmin recorded a time of 6 hours 15, but my official time was probably about two hours longer! With all my stoppages at the feed stations and hubs, mainly to take photos and record interviews that took up a lot of time.

It had been a good day out in the saddle, and the ride has given me the motivation to do more cyclosportives - who knows maybe even an actual road race.

As for the bike: I think I have a lot to thank in the Liv Avail. I reckon this bike saved my bacon quite a lot. It was so light and responsive that my movement was just quicker than it would otherwise have been. Having electronic gears was also very useful as these just changed smoothly without that cronking that you sometimes get on manual gears. Having a nice bike definitely makes you want to ride more - so that's what I'll be doing.😁

Related Posts
Ride London - my favourite cycling event

Etape Loch Ness cyclosportive

Thursday, 15 August 2019

52 Cycling Voices - 24: Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig

Cecile Uttrup Ludwig is one of the most exciting racers to watch in the women's peloton. The 23-year old is one of the leading riders in her Bigla team. Every year we have seen her raise her profile with stronger and stronger results - notably with a third place at the Tour of Flanders this year, third place at La Course by Le Tour de France, a win at the GP Plumelec-Morbihan, and recently the Queen of the Mountains prize at the Tour of Scotland.

The dynamic Dane is also known for her highly animated post-race interviews - notably when she was very emotional at the end of La Course last year, and when I interviewed her at the Tour of Flanders this year she was absolutely buzzing.

I recently interviewed Cecile while she was at the top of a mountain training for the Women's Tour of Italy (Giro Rosa) and I got an insight into what drives the passionate, dynamic and warm-hearted Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig.

Cecile Uttrup Ludwig, aged 23

From: Copenhagen, Denmark

Lives: Girona, Spain

Occupation: Professional cycle racer

Cecilie won the Queen of the Mountains competition at the Women's Tour of Scotland  (Image:

I started cycling, after having tried every sport you can think of. When I finished high school, I focused 100% on cycling and worked in a supermarket to earn money. 

At that time I didn’t even know if I would get a pro contract and it was just like, I’m gonna do anything I can to get a pro contract. 

In the beginning people had their thoughts about it and not continuing my education. They said, "Hmm, what are you actually doing? You must be studying? You cycle some of the time, but what do you do with your spare time?"

I kept on standing my ground, and I kept on saying this is what I want and I love it so much, and I want to try and become one of the world’s best cyclists. I thought if I worked hard there would be a possibility of me getting a pro contract on a team.

I thought maybe I’ll try to give it a couple of years and then see. And then, after one year working in the supermarket, I got the contract with Bigla and since then I have progressed.

I think it took quite a while before some people accepted what I was doing.  It’s still fun to see my school friends now, and that I chose to do something completely different. 

The reactions that I get now, from friends and family is "Wow – you are pursuing your dream. It must be nice to live from your hobby" and they are really following so closely in every race that I do. 

When I do something, I do it all in. No matter if it’s a training ride, going out with friends, having deserts or a glass of wine, I enjoy it and do it all in. 

In the mixed zone after the Tour of Flanders
I am an all or nothing person. If I think about how I was at school, every assignment that I was given… if they said to take approximately five hours to write an assignment I would spend 10 hours writing it. I think I’m always a perfectionist. 

I was also cycling while studying, so my day would involve waking up at 6am, getting ready for 7 and from 8 until 4pm I would be in school. Then I would rush home and go out on my bike for 2 or 3 hours, then I would start doing assignments and preparing for the next day. I didn’t care if I even went to bed at 1am. 

As a bike racer I feel that I am travelling between two worlds. In one way I am the pro cyclist, riding the Tour of Flanders, there are so many spectators, so many rows of people screaming, it smells like fries, like beer, and there are cow bells….it’s just a crazy atmosphere and you are on your max and taking all this atmosphere in. 

Then I reach the finish line, I have interviews, I go on the podium, then into the VIP tent and there’s lunch, champagne….the interviews.. and then just two hours after this crazy experience you are sitting in the airplane and no one knows you

And the next day I sit at home and I am the normal Cecilie where I need to do the laundry, cook, go shopping, and just lead a normal everyday life. 

It is a bit weird to jump between these two very very different worlds but I also have a good group around me that I can always talk to. I think that also helps me a lot, and I have a very very supportive family. 

My family have always supported me since I started cycling. If I had to go to club races they would always wake up in the morning and my mum would do a box of food for before the race and after the race, and even though we had to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning the whole family would get up. 

My dad would take me to the race in the car and even though we had to drive three hours to a little club race of 1hr 15 minutes we would do that. I have a super close relationship with my family, and they mean a lot to me and that is also something that I feel now, especially now that I have moved to Girona.

Flying back to Denmark to see my family for the first time in six months was crazy emotional. When I was driving to my parents' place, just to see the highways in Denmark – I know it sounds crazy - I was like aww, this is home! How beautiful is Denmark, and oh my God, I’ve missed these roads.

My family lives close to Copenhagen. It is just such a nice city and the people are so friendly.
In 2021 there is going to be the Battle of the North stage race, and I am so excited about it because we are going to start in Denmark, and it is just something special to start in your home country and have home crowds. I can have my family out watching so it’s going to be super super special. 

Being a professional cyclist you sacrifice a lot. It's a 24/7 job. You have to eat well, sleep well, train... you do a lot to prepare as well as you can.... it’s part of the athlete job. You are always in search of how you can optimise everything that you can optimise. 

Cycling is super-vulnerable. If we get an injury then that's a problem. We earn our money from cycling, and we need our bodies to get a contract! 

You see Chris Froome and then he crashes in training before the time trial and he’s out for six months. Maybe in a bike race a girl crashes in front of me and then everything I’ve prepared for months and months and months is up in a split second.

At the Women’s Tour there was quite a big crash where the race leader, Marianne went out of the race. Cycle racing can be tough.

I think the moment you think about crashing and get scared while in a race, that is the moment where you often crash because you get super tight in your body and you are braking too much in the corner, and you are super afraid. If I am too focused on not crashing then that’s when I crash! 

So, even though it can be difficult you need to put your brain somewhere else, because cycling is super-dangerous. We do descents from a mountain at 80kph (50mph), I mean yeah, if I crashed at this moment holy moly I would get hurt, but I cannot think about that because if I brake at the wrong moment I find myself going backwards. 

Also when doing sprint finishes during the fight for positioning you need to put your brain somewhere else, and sometimes take risks and say, "Can I fit here?" Okay, I’m gonna try.

There are so many aspects to being a team leader. I want to be as good a leader as I can be, and it was good for me in the first years at Bigla to watch how Ashleigh [Moolman-Pasio] and Lotta [Lepistö] were being team leaders.

If you’re a bad leader then maybe your team-mates will give 90% and they’ll drop. But if they really feel connected and there is a good atmosphere in the team they’ll give 110%. 

You need to be a unit, and that’s also not something that just comes. You need to have fun at the dinner table, not just in cycling races. We spend so much time together travelling, being together before the races or after the races, in the camper. So we have fun, but we can also be serious when it is important. 

When we are able to use radios like in WorldTour races it’s important to talk to each other and motivate each other. 

It’s key to do that and communicate. Communication is one of the most important parts of cycling. When you're sitting in the bunch, and the girls are at the front covering attacks and you are saying "get this one, attack on the left and Lizzy can you go" or if Lizzy or Leah or anyone else has been in the breakaway you say "F***ing hell well done girls, f***ing amazing, you’re superwomen, keep on f***ing going, it’s unbelievable come on!" 

It’s the intensity of a race, and they also feel it. You need to be there, and in it. Riders need to feel that what they're doing is important. If they feel it then you have a weapon, and it also feels like a fun job. It becomes fun to try to be in the right breakaway or try to be at the front, or try to lead out. 

More and more people are watching women's cycle racing. After La Course last year I got a lot of responses from people around the world. Now that women's races are televised people can see how fun it is and how exciting women's cycling is. It is on the up. 

I don't want it to become a big battle or a discussion where we say let's divide or compare men and women. It's just that when I see that there is an unfairness in the way they do the course or in transmitting the race, I think that to move away from the status quo and to improve the sport we need to speak about it.  

I like Girona, where I live. There are lots of cyclists, and it’s cool. If you want to train with someone in Girona there’s always company! I live in the old part of the city which is super nice. There are also these small, narrow streets, where Spanish people go out a lot in the evening and have tapas and a glass of wine. The atmosphere is really nice.  

There were two career roads I had to chose from - to go the more normal or more secure way - getting an education and doing a conventional job - or going the opposite way and following my dreams even though it’s going to be risky and I don’t know if I can live off it. 

It was a super risky way, but it was never me to take the safe option! I see too many people waking up every day and saying "Oh my god, do I really need to go to this work, I hate this job." I say, do something that you love. Life is too short to get up every day to do something you don't like

Monday, 12 August 2019

Memorable rides in Scotland

The inaugural Women's Tour of Scotland cycle race took place over the weekend. It was a professional road race with stages that went to various parts of southern Scotland, except stage 1 was cut short 30km before the end, in Dunfermline, due to heavy rain and standing water. The race featured local rider Katie Archibald (Team Scotland), pre-race favourite Cecile Uttrup Ludwig, and eventual winner Leah Thomas (both from Bigla).

The inaugural Women's Tour of Scotland passes through Southern Scotland
Women's peloton at the Tour of Scotland (credit: Women's Tour of Scotland)

The route showcased some of the finest parts of Scotland - well at least when there wasn't pouring rain and brisk winds.

I wasn't able to go up and watch the race, but I have been to some of the areas the riders passed. In fact here are the parts of stage three that I have been to with my bike, and highly recommend.

Edinburgh Suburbs - Holyrood, Arthur's Seat and Craigmillar Castle

While on a visit to the Edinburgh Festival, some years ago I had my bike with me, and did a ride out across the Meadows, through Morningside, and then up the hill at Braid and Blackford Nature Reserve. My return journey then took me past the 14th Century Craigmillar Castle and back into Edinburgh via Arthur's Seat and through Holyrood Park.

Even though Edinburgh city centre is barely three miles away, it still feels as though you are in the countryside. The riding can be a little challenging as there are a few hills to get over.

Of course the biggest hill around there is Arthur's Seat, which the riders contested as part of the Queen of the Mountains competition during the finish line loop.

I did a short bike ride around Edinburgh and particularly liked this view.
Near Craigmillar Castle, with Pentland Hills behind
Getting to the top of Arthur's Seat and the Salisbury Crags beneath it wasn't possible with a road bike, so I parked up my bike, put on some trainers and walked from there. The views over Edinburgh are well worth it.

Pentland Hills

Another area that the riders passed was the Pentland Hills Regional Park.

I was not able to ride there, due to being on the road bike, but from Craigmillar Castle I had a very good view of the hills.

I did have the opportunity to ride on the Pentland Hills some years later when I did the Rachel Atherton Red Bull Fox Hunt.
It was a women's downhill mountain bike race in which the World DH Mountain Bike Champion gave us a head start to race down from the summit and she would fly down the hill and try to overtake as many of us as possible.

Red Bull Fox Hunt saw 150 women race down Caerketton Hill and stay ahead of Rachel Atherton
The women (AKA the hounds) race down Pentland Hills
So there I was, a 45-year-old who had never done downhill in her life, quaking in her SPDs, lined up with about 150 other women on Caerketton Hill.

We threw ourselves down the rocky, tussocky, heather-covered descent as fast as we could, hopefully without breaking any bones, while Rachel came after us in hot pursuit.

She caught me in no time at all, but surprisingly she wasn't able to get past everyone. Congestion on the trail meant that Rachel finished in a comparatively modest 35th place, while the winner was an amateur downhiller, Bex Baraona.

It had been a really good weekend. We'd had the chance to get an up-lift by Jeep so we were able to do a few practice runs, and seeding runs before the main event. It was just as well really, as I was extremely nervous when I first arrived at the venue, and wondered if I had done a stupid thing signing up for it.

Feeling good after my race with Rachel Atherton
In fact on my first run I crashed because I was gripping the brakes so tightly that the bike lost momentum on the descent and tipped sideways. Eventually, I got the hang of things and after the run I felt sooo exhilarated.

I thoroughly recommend this sort of thing. But then again, I can afford to say that now because I came away with no injuries - unlike a few unlucky girls!

I am eternally grateful to Alpine Bikes who let me use a lovely Trek Remedy bike for the occasion.

Glentress Forest

Given that I was in the area on the weekend of the Red Bull Fox Hunt, and I had loaned a bike from Alpine Bikes in Glentress Forest, I decided to do a spin at the mountain bike trail centre. This was another area that the Women's Tour of Scotland visited - well not the mountain bike centre itself, but the route went through nearby Peebles, and the riders would have gone through full gas to contest the sprint bonus at Innerleithen.

Trek Remedy at Glentress
They moved significantly faster than the pace that I travelled at on the Green family route, and a bit of the Red route at Glentress! I was probably still feeling a little tired after my weekend capers with Rachel Atherton. But what I did appreciate was the beauty of the forest, and the lovely views over the Tweed Valley.

I have good memories of these rides in bonnie Scotland, and would recommend doing them if you have time. And I would encourage you to take your time. There's no need to ride as fast as Katie Archibald or Cecile Uttrup Ludwig in order to enjoy it!

Related Posts
Red Bull Fox Hunt with Rachel Atherton

Trek Remedy goes to Red Bull Fox Hunt

Riding Etape Loch Ness

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Tiffany Cromwell's tips on training for your first 100km bike ride

For Women's 100 Rapha have a special edition jersey for the event on 14 September
Tiffany Cromwell in the Rapha Women's 100 kit (photo: @wmncyling)

Now that the weather is getting nicer we can turn our heads to fun summer events. One established event on the women’s cycling calendar is the Rapha Women’s 100 on September 14th, where women all around the world cycle 100km.

You can ride as part of an organised group, with friends, or just on your own – on your local roads, through a challenging mountain range, or out to your favourite cafĂ© stop. Wherever you ride, you will be part of a global celebration of women’s cycling.

While a few women may find this distance fairly standard and can ride around it quite comfortably, many of us may find it a challenge. Professional rider Tiffany Cromwell, of Canyon//SRAM shares her tips on how to prepare to cycle 100km.

Tiffany (centre) at the Women's Tour alongside Lizzie Deignan (in blue)
Tiffany Cromwell was in the UK recently to race in the Women’s Tour alongside Hannah and Alice Barnes. Racing in the limited edition Women’s 100 kit, the team celebrated Kasia Niewiadoma’s second place finish, behind Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo).

Here are Tiffany’s top tips for those tackling their first 100km-cycle ride

1. Build up gradually to the distance.
Don’t just think you can go out and do 100km without having done anything beforehand. Riding 100km is a long way for anyone, even for us. In our pre-season training they say you need to build the foundations before you can build the house. It’s about starting with a 20km- or 30km-ride, do a few of those, build up to 50km, 80km and then you know that you are ready to ride 100km.

2. Ride indoors if the weather is too bad
These days indoor turbo trainers are much more interactive and much more easier than in old-school days when you had to do turbo sessions for one, two or three hours staring at a brick wall.  Something like Zwift is an awesome platform. Even if you only have an hour, do an hour and challenge yourself with the sprint points and high intensity, because that’s also going to help build you up to take on 100km.
If it’s really bad weather all week, then sure a few turbo sessions are good to keep things ticking over and keep your muscles working and understanding that level of loading. Then when the weather gets good again you can do your longer rides out on the road.

3. Ride indoors if you don’t have time to ride outdoors
Cycling is more about consistency than being able to do these one-off long rides. Even if you have the chance to do two sessions a day, that would help build that endurance, say if you had an hour in the morning before work. Just get on the trainer, do an easy ride and then an hour after work and maybe stretch that to two hours, and add interval training in there as well. Because you are spending time on the bike and getting your muscles used to cycling and then you’re getting on the bike day after day, it’s a way to build up strength consistently.

4. Balance long rides with short high intensity sessions
You can do 100km quite aerobically but you can also get quite fit by doing short, high-intensity efforts as well. It’s about balancing things out. I don’t actually use the trainer so much but when I do use it it’s for short specific sessions of high intensity, and short recovery. It’s always a fantastic tool to use when you want that extra little edge for racing.

5. Fuel your body correctly
That is super important. When you are training, if you have never used gels or bars I’d say get your body used to those.
During the 100km-ride ideally I would have a piece of food for every thirty minutes on the ride. I’ll start eating thirty minutes to an hour into the ride and then every thirty minutes after that. Then I drink about a bottle every hour. If it’s hot then you definitely need to take on more liquids, and a mixture of water and electrolytes.

6. Dress appropriately
Check the weather. If you know it’s going to be a sunny day all day, great! Then you need just a jersey and shorts. But if the weather’s maybe changeable, or if you’re going into the mountains where perhaps the weather can change very quickly I always throw in either a vest [gilet] or a rain jacket, because having something that can cover your chest is really important. When you get to the top of the mountain and it’s a little bit colder then you have that vest [gilet] to put on for when you’re going back down again.

7. Don’t forget the coffee shops!
I’m all for stopping and finding a good coffee shop, and having a light lunch along the way and really enjoying the ride. Don’t have anything too heavy when you have a proper food stop or it can be a bit hard on your stomach.

Tiffany (right) with her Canyon-SRAM team-mates
8. Enjoy the ride
The best thing about cycling is really enjoying being outside, enjoying the scenery, riding with friends, and having a good little rest along the way.
If you are mentally prepared for the 100km ride, you will get through it.

Check your bike is roadworthy and carry basic tools with you like a spare inner tube, tyre levers, pump and a multi-tool.

Related posts

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Commuting by bicycle - Let's be careful out there!

When cycling around the city, I keep in mind that phrase that was perfectly put by Sergeant Phil Esterhaus from one of my favourite cop shows, Hill Street Blues, "Let's be careful out there!"

Commuter cyclists on Blackfriars Bridge
As someone who regularly cycles around London I am always vigilant about all other road users - just motorists, black cabs, Uber drivers, delivery vans, and of course trucks turning left. The most problematic for me though, are pedestrians - and even more so now with more and more people looking down at their phones instead of watching the road ahead of them.

These "smombies", or smartphone zombies, give cyclists even more reason to be vigilant when cycling in busy urban areas like central London. In fact a recent court ruling, much to the shock of cyclists has shown how we are even more vulnerable on the road, both physically as well as legally.

One day in July 2015, while Robert Hazeldean was riding his bike near London Bridge a pedestrian, Gemma Brushett stepped out into the road while looking at her smart phone. She had not paid any attention to what was going on around her and assumed she had right of way. She didn't, as the traffic lights were green.

Hazeldean sounded the loud air horn that was on his road bike and shouted to warn her he was approaching, at around 15 miles per hour. He swerved to try to avoid her, but at the same time Brushett looked up, and startled to see the cyclist so close to her, ran back towards the traffic island - also in the same direction that the cyclist swerved. Consequently Hazeldean knocked her down, leaving both parties unconscious, and needing hospital treatment.

Sadly, for Hazeldean that was just the beginning of his woes as Brushett sued the cyclist for injuries caused (cuts to her face, cracked teeth, and mental amnesia). The ruling has only just been made, and the case ruled that the cyclist was liable for damages.

Although the judge, Shanti Mauger, recognised that the pedestrian had not been paying attention because Brushett was looking at her phone she still ruled that there was a 50:50 blame for the accident because, in her words "cyclists should be prepared at all times for people to behave in unexpected ways". For that reason the cyclist was ordered to pay 50% of the damages and Brushett's legal bills.

This still represents up to £105,000 - over £4,000 in damages and up to £100,000 in legal fees. Hazeldean risks being left bankrupt. In addition, the case has taken its toll on the mental health of the landscape designer who has since started a new life in the South of France.

A friend of Brushett's launched an on-line crowdfunding appeal, and thanks to the generosity of the public and numerous sympathisers, £46,000 was raised in order to help him pay the legal costs.

This case sets a worrying precedent for cyclists. Effectively, people can walk down the road, taking no responsibility for their own safety, paying no attention to what is happening around them, and if they are hit by a cyclist, the latter could find themselves in hot water legally despite having taken reasonable precautionary steps like having a bell and abiding by the road traffic rules. A poll by The Sun newspaper found that more than three-quarters of the readers who voted believed that the pedestrian was to blame.

Three-quarters of respondents do not agree with the judge's ruling
One other point that this case highlights is the need for cyclists to take out third party insurance. As someone who has been a member of different cycling clubs for over 20 years, I have always had third party insurance through British Cycling (insurance from other cycling organisations like Cycling UK and London Cycling Campaign are also available). Cycling clubs generally make it a condition of joining, that cyclists have insurance, and people can explain why it is necessary.

However, ordinary cycle commuters and  leisure bike riders may not be aware of this, so are inadvertently exposing themselves to potential problems. If Hazeldean had had third party insurance the case would have cost him £6,000 and he could have had legal support to make a counter claim. Things could have been less stressful in the process.

What the public say:

Cyclists - be careful out there!

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Thursday, 13 June 2019

Fortune and misfortune for Marianne Vos at the Women's Tour

This week one of the key events in women's professional cycle racing has been taking place, the OVO Energy Women's Tour. The event, which first started in 2014, has grown over its six-year history, and many professional riders have called out the Women's Tour as one of the top races on the international racing calendar.
The World's best women racers at the Cyclopark
So its good for us as it means we get the top racers gracing our shores for a week. For the first time, one of the stages was held at the Cyclopark, near Gravesend. 

Earlier this year the Cyclopark was the setting for the top cyclocross racers in the country for the National Championships, and on Tuesday it hosted the top women racers in the world.

Racing was fast - at times, in excess of 30 miles per hour. So I guess that for local fast amateur riders they're going to be a little gutted that their Strava QOMs have been annihilated!

The race was won by the most successful women's racer in history, Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv), ahead of Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) and Sarah Roy (Mitchelton-Scott).

Although a win for Lizzie would have made a good news story for the home girl, I was so pleased to Marianne Vos's win. This win subsequently put her in the lead in the general classification.

Marianne is such a brilliant racer to watch in action, even down to the smooth slick way she effected her bike change when she got a puncture.

Marianne Vos wins Stage 2 of the Women's Tour (only to crash out on Stage 3)
As someone who has interviewed Marianne Vos several times over the last few years, I think she is such a lovely friendly woman, who is a great ambassador for women's cycling, and who always has time for the fans, and for journalists too!

Sadly, the following day Marianne crashed out of the Women's Tour following a cut to the head after a crashing heavily. The crash looked like the stuff of nightmares - the sort of thing that scares me when I used to be in a peloton.

The riders were in full speed contesting an intermediate sprint near Didcot, Oxfordshire when one of Marianne Vos's lead-out riders, Jeanne Korevaar, lost her handlebars when she went over a pot-hole.

Marianne had no where to go and crashed into a verge, and collided with a post in the process. A domino effect ensued and a massive chunk of the peloton went down, with riders scattered across the width of the road.

At the Stage 2  press conference looking to the rest of the race 
As well as Vos and her two of her team-mates being out of the race there were around 10 other DNF's among them big names like Barbara Guarischi (Virtu Cycling) and Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM). 

Thankfully, Marianne was not badly injured in the crash and just needed stitches for the cuts to her head. However, she says her face looks like she's just been in a boxing match. I also imagine that her morale would have taken more of a hit than the physical wounds as the Women's Tour had been a target race for her, and she probably would have been wanting to go one better than her second place achievement last year.
The crash did put a downer on the event, especially after having had a great time at the Cyclopark the day before. I know crashes are part of cycle racing, but it's still sad to see, particularly when it's the race leader who crashes out. Lisa Brennauer (WNT-ROTOR) the new race leader at the end of the Oxfordshire stage, had mixed emotions and was not especially joyous at taking the leader's jersey in those circumstances.

Wishing all the best and speedy recovery to all the riders and looking forward to seeing them back racing soon.

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Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Cyclopark welcomes world's best riders for the Women's Tour

Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) was the winner of the 62.5km-second stage of the OVO Energy Women’s Tour yesterday, putting her into the overall lead. The race saw 96 of the world's top cyclists race in Kent for the first time, at the Mecca for cycling, the Cyclopark.

After the victory in stage one of Jolien d'Hoore, the Boels Dolmans rider automatically took the overall lead, but only by a couple of seconds from last year's winner, Coryn Rivera. Marianne Vos, the most decorated female cyclist in history, and also a previous winner of the Women's Tour was not far behind d'Hoore either.

The riders setting off for Stage 2 of the Women's Tour

Racing around the 2.5-km circuit was fast and furious, with no chance for any lasting breakaway to form, despite a gallant effort by Elena Cecchini (Canyon//SRAM Racing). Various teams contributed towards driving the high pace, notably Trek-Segafredo, Team Sunweb, Alé Cipollini, Team VIRTU Cycling, Canyon//SRAM Racing, and CCC-Liv).
Circuit map of Stage 2 of the Women's Tour
Eventually, with three laps to go, Ellen van Dijk led a well-drilled Trek-Segafredo train, to set up Lizzie Deignan for the sprint to the finish line. In the melée of various contenders hanging on, Marianne Vos managed to power past the train and take the win from Deignan and Sarah Roy (Mitchelton-SCOTT).

The peloton racing around the circuit at approximately 45km/hour

Speaking to 2wheel chick after the race a delighted Henk Vos said of his daughter’s fifth stage win at the Women’s Tour, “She [Marianne] had a problem on the road and had to change her bike when she had a flat tyre, and then to win is marvellous. We follow Marianne everywhere. I can’t find enough words to say how much we are so proud. It’s unbelievable.”
Marianne Vos wins Stage 2 of the OVO Energy Women's Tour ahead of Lizzie Deignan
Here’s how Marianne Vos recalled Stage two in the post-race conference:

"Our strategy was to stay in front as much as possibl because if you’re in the back you are doing intervals all the time so it’s better to be in front and in the race and keep that focus, but Ashleigh [Moolman-Pasio] did a great job to stay in front. I mean it’s not easy to stay in front. She had a good race and she felt comfortable, and she was there also to go with the attacks and stay in control.

"For myself, I was trying to save a little more, and the other riders were kind of delivering me to the front, so it is really good when your team mates are there in front. It really motivates you to stay there as well.

"If the bunch is doing 50 km per hour and dropping to 45 and going to 55 again there’s no option to stay away. Cecchini did a great job to try, but she’s a really good rider, and it’s so hard to stay away for a couple of laps, especially during the final when the pace was so high. On such a circuit you really need a strong breakaway with a couple of riders that can keep going.
Marianne Vos at the post-stage press conference
"There was a lot of action, in the bunch. You needed to get to the front all the time so I think from the side line it might have been a little boring, one bunch going around but in the group you were constantly trying to get a position, get to the front, stay in the front. It was actually interesting for us to do such a thing.  

"If it had rained this [race] would have been totally different. It was quite safe in the bunch I have to say. It’s a very experienced bunch, people were really good at bike handling, it’s not a really big bunch. Everybody was fighting for each centimetre, it was safe but if it’s wet….once you get into the grass then you have a big problem. Today [when on the grass] it was possible to save it and get back on the road again. That happened on nearly every corner. You didn’t see all the action, but we did!

"I had a flat tyre. I didn’t worry at all. I was like, “it happens”. Let’s change bike and see if I can get in. It happened with 11 laps to go so there was sort of plenty of time. But yeah, I’ve had less good places to have a flat tyre this year. [For example, at Paterberg, in the Tour of Flanders].

"I was quite surprised at the gap I had when I won. I saw a gap opening at 200m to go. I came from the back so I thought “okay if I don’t go now I will be late, so I will have to go and see if I can open up a gap”, and then I did, but I felt okay now the legs are going to burn so I just kept going and I saw no wheels coming, so that was of course a great feeling.

"It’s always nice to have more riders in front, and Ashleigh [Moolman-Pasio] is a great climber, so going to the next days it’s really helpful. She’s a great climber and she can do crits as well, and time trials as well. Having her in the team is very important – valuable – but not just Ashleigh. I have to say Jeanne Korevaar did a really good job today and also the other riders. So the team is going to be more important in the next days, so we are going to try our best.

"Lizzie’s [Deignan’s] form is great. No doubt. I’ve seen her in the first races coming back [after maternity leave], and of course she hasn’t won yet, but I think she’s close to her top shape and definitely she was really good in [Tour de] Yorkshire. She’s in great form, she’s always one to watch for GC and the team is strong as well. They have a very strong team. We don’t fear anyone, but Trek [-Segafredo] is one of the teams that you want to watch."

For Lizzie Deignan, who placed second in the race she was pleased with the result, considering that she had not been targeting a win in this stage. The Yorkshire-born rider said:
"On paper this is the least suited [stage] to our team. It was just about riding as a team and that’s what we did. Ellen [van Dijk] and Trixi [Worrack] did an amazing job. I really have to thank them for that."

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Thursday, 6 June 2019

Italian cycling tales from towns on the Giro d'Italia route - 2

Stories from the places on the 2019 Giro d'Italia route. One thing I liked about watching the Giro d'Italia cycle race was when the route went through areas that I am familiar with - either places where I lived or stayed when on holiday, or places I cycled through.

Here are some of the stages that brought me some fond memories.

Commezzadura (Val di Sole) to Anterselva (Stage 17)

The first section of this stage is an area I am familiar with, having done an event called the Giro di Dolomiti. It's a one-week cyclosportive in stages held in late July/early August, based in Bolzano.

The novelty about this event is that the General Classification is not based on the time taken to complete each of the stages, but just the time to do the main climb of each stage. The rest of the time people ride the remaining part of the stage at a leisurely pace, enjoying the Dolomites. You are even treated to a sit-down meal at altitude somewhere along the route.

Making friends at the Giro di Dolomiti
The year I did it, in 2006, Passo Mendola was the main climb of the first stage. I remember it well because I'd been so anxious about the event, and I was not sure if I would be fit enough. Italian bike riders use cyclosportives as de facto road races, so no one seems to ride on their own at their own pace. Or at least that's how things had looked to me.

In fact, it was at this race that I learned that cyclosportives need not always be a speedfest. In particular in this cyclosportive I knew I would only need to put in a hard effort for one climb, and the rest of the time it would just be a trans-Dolomiti social with folks from various parts of Europe.

Passo Mendola, which we climbed from Bolzano (the opposite way to the riders this year) was about 10 miles long, but it had a gentle gradient. Once I had gotten that out of the way I felt fine.

It was also nice because on that day I met some guys who had come to the event from Kent, and an Australian girl, Yvette who was half Italian and half Australian and working for Pinarello. We built up a camaraderie for the rest of the week, and met other people too. That contributed to me having a really good time at the Giro di Dolomiti. I would definitely recommend this event.

The riders in this year's Giro d'Italia took the main road to get from Bolzano to Ponte Gardena. However, it is possible to do this route on a traffic-free path. Google maps doesn't show this route for bicycles, however it is there and it is quite a pleasant tarmacked path that follows the River Adige. I cycled along it to get to Bolzano from Ponte Gardena.

At the time that I rode this I had been staying in Milan as I was working there, and for the August bank holiday I spent a long weekend in Canazei, in the heart of the Dolomites. As part of my return journey (which involved a train via Bolzano and then Verona to get to Milan) I got a bus to Ortisei (or it might have been Plan de Gralba), then rode downhill to Ponte Gardena from where I picked up the cycle path.

Along the way, a local guy on a bicycle decided to ride with me. I just thought it was just your average local who just says hello, where are you from, blah blah blah, and then carries on along his way at a faster pace than me.

However, this guy was not ready to do that at all. I told him that I wouldn't be going very fast because my bike was heavily laden. But he said he didn't mind. His car was sitting in a garage in Ortisei being serviced, so he had all day to hang around and was looking for something to do! So he was all set to ride with me for the duration! Cripes!

He was pretty harmless, and just talked about life and the universe, plus Italians' other favourite subject after football - the state of the economy and corrupt politicians - so I had two hours to learn about this blokes' thoughts on Berlusconi, Beppe Grillo, the Lega Nord, and a bit of Gigi Buffon!

Thankfully, just when I felt I'd had my fill of his opinions and he was about to say, "...and another thing..." we arrived at the outskirts of Bolzano, so he wished me a good day, and went on his way back to Ortisei. I like to think he had got everything off his chest!

This trip back to Bolzano was a lot easier than my outward journey. I had taken a packed train from Milan to Verona in which I and a load of other cyclists had been packed like cattle into a carriage with our bikes on an oppressively hot day. Then I picked up an equally packed train up to Ponte Gardena, from where I had planned to ride up to Canazei with all my luggage.

Progress was very slow as I sauntered up the road on my fully laden bike. The first 20km of the 30km route was uphill, as far as the Passo di Sella. Every so often I would phone the proprietor of the B&B where I had a room reserved, to say that there would be a delay in my arrival time, especially as it was getting to evening and I still had to ride up (and then down) the Passo di Sella.

Finally at around 7.30pm, when I arrived at Selva di Val Gardena I popped into a hotel and got them to call a taxi for me. The taxi driver told me it would cost 80 euros to take me to Canazei.

Delightful Dolomiti - the Sella range of mountains
Not wanting to pay so much I told him to take me just to the summit of Passo di Sella, and then I would roll 10km down the hill to Canazei. He reluctantly agreed to do so, fearing that I would catch hyperthermia riding down from the summit (which was at 2,218m) at that time of the evening.

He was right about the descent being really cold, but I just wore every bit of clothing in my luggage. It was a beautiful descent. Although it had been a challenging day, I felt lucky to have had the chance to see the Sella Ronda and the Dolomites rocks from up close at sunset. The area looked amazing.

Lovere to Ponte di Legno (Stage 16)

As the pre-planned climb of Passo di Gavia had to be removed from this stage of the Giro d'Italia due to snow, Mortirolo became the main climb of this stage. It was quite a spectacle watching the riders climb up it from the hard side, Mazzo.

Summit of Mortirolo
This takes me back to the time when I rode up the Mortirolo a few years ago when I was based in Milan and took the train up to Tirano for a long weekend in the high Italian Alps. As Mortirolo was not so far from where I was staying I decided to ride it one Friday afternoon.

I was having a bit of trouble finding the climb so a friendly local cyclist, Giulio, showed me the way there. He got me to follow his wheel along the valley road, and we arrived at Tovo Sant'Agata near Mazzo, where he dropped me off.

A butcher by trade, Giulio only worked in the morning and would spend every afternoon riding around the local climbs - Gavia, Aprica, Ponte di Legno, Bormio, Stelvio and of course Mortirolo. So for him to take a few minutes out of his afternoon to ride with me along a valley road was probably light relief!

I held his wheel like my life depended on it as he drafted off a rather speedy tractor. By the time he dropped me off at Tovo Sant'Agata the sweat was pouring down my face and I then I contemplated this monster I had to climb. "Just take is steady," Giulio said. "You'll be fine."

I came out of the climb alive, but it was not fine at all. The climb was so steep, and I ended up having to get off my bike and walk. I felt really stupid to have chosen the Mortirolo as my first climb of the trip when I hadn't found my climbing legs.

On the way up to Mortirolo from Mazzo
It was a Friday afternoon, and I was wondering if I would get back home before dinner! Eventually I came out of the woods - metaphorically as well as physically - and I had a lovely view of the Valtellina valley area.

Then I dropped downhill to a town called Monno. This descent was quite shallow and it made me realise that this was the side I should have ridden up the Mortirolo.

The views around were so beautiful and the descent was not technical, so with a nice end to my ride it made me forget about the earlier difficulties in the afternoon.

The rest of my weekend was spent riding up to Bormio and to Stelvio. Time didn't allow me to go up the Gavia, and I made a resolution to return there to ride. My next trip to the area was to go skiing in Aprica, and I haven't returned there since. So Passo di Gavia is still on my bucket list.

Ivrea to Como (Stage 15)

Lake Como at Bellagio
Of all the stages of this year's Giro d'Italia this is the stage I am most familiar with it. I have ridden in most of the sections of this stage.

As I spent 18 months in Milan, and still visit the area regularly I always make a point of riding around Lombardy.

The immediate outskirts of Milan are industrial, and sadly they don't have any preserved green belt areas like what you get around London, so a ride from Milan city centre to the nice areas that we know and love is actually quite ugly.

You pass industrial estate after disused factory, after out-of-town retail park, so I would generally cut out these eyesores and get on a local train to Monza or Como, and ride around the Brianza and Lake Como areas. Sometimes I would go to Lecco and Bergamo too.

Madonna del Ghisallo
Arriving into Como was always a nice feeling as I would get off the train and be right next to the beautiful lake. From there I would take the road along the lake, the SP583 to get to Bellagio, and then turn right to climb up to Magreglio, the site of Madonna del Ghisallo.

There are lots of options from here. I could turn back and enjoy the ride along the same road, which is the direction in which the pros cycled along this road during their first passage into Como.

But feeling energetic last autumn I decided to go on to Sormano and then tempt the Muro di Sormano, a quiet narrow, ridiculously steep lane which is a short cut to Pian del Tivano. In hindsight I should have done like the pros and taken the longer, but more gentle Colma di Sormano.

The Muro di Sormano is THE hardest climb I have ever seen on a bike. It is even steeper than those really steep roads in the Lake District. I have yet to meet anyone (outside of elite racers) who can ride this. Apart from the first 150m I ended up walking most of the roughly mile-long (1.7km) climb, and then got on my bike for the last 30 metres.

Embarrasingly when I reached the main road near Pian del Tivano a few hikers cheered at me for having managed to do the climb! I felt it necessary to come clean with them and say I didn't ride it. But they were just impressed I had ridden any part of it at all!

Which way? Turn left for the pain of the Muro di Sormano
The descent to Nesso is hairpin central - pretty technical. At least the pros had a clear road.

I had to deal with cars in front of me, making me either work hard to overtake them safely on the narrow road, or take it handy so that I didn't run into the back of them.

Then once back on the road to Torno it was a real blast to ride along the side of the Lake to get back to Como. I really appreciated the picture postcard that was the town of Como, with its lovely landmarks, in the distance.

The pros then had the pleasure of riding up to Civiglio. I would normally do this route as a separate ride either from Lecco and Ponte Lambro, which is the easy way down, or I would start in Como and do the tough climb up towards Brunate, then turn right to Civiglio when I was two thirds up the climb.
Lake Como as seen from Brunate

This road is not visible while at Lake Como as it is a quiet road that starts at the back of the town. However, while at the lake if you look up you see a lighthouse way up above, and that is where I need to go.....

It's quite daunting, especially as the first part of the climb is quite steep - probably around 12%.  with lots of hairpins. Even driving up there is quite tricky! A few years ago I wrote an article for the former Cycling Active magazine about riding around this area. We did a photo shoot in the area, and it was quite fun.

As Italians like to chat there were quite a few people who were curious to know what we were up to during the photoshoot, and I remember a guy who was quite happy to slow down in his car, while I was riding on a steepish hairpin, and chat to me about what I was doing and shout "forza, dai". It's an Italian thing, I guess.

A well-derved ice cream awaits in Como
Talking of Italian things, all my rides around this area would end in the main square near Como cathedral, where I would have a gelato before getting the train back to Milan. I miss those times, but I also know that it is easy enough to go back there from London - something that I have done since those days, and will continue to do.

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