Saturday 31 August 2019

Ride London to Brighton off-road - the easy way

Everyone likes to be out on the South Downs Way
Many people know of the British Heart Foundation (BHF) London to Brighton charity bike ride, a 54-mile (87km) road ride from Clapham, through country lanes in Surrey and Sussex. The BHF also organises a London-Brighton off-road ride in September.

This is a little more challenging as it's a 68-mile (110km) practically all off-road. In the past I have ridden from Guildford to Brighton via the Downs Link and the South Downs Way in the past and that took a few hours.

A full London to Brighton off-road bike ride could be quite daunting, and you can take all day to do it. If you want to get to Brighton but without doing something so onerous how about riding to this seaside town via a few mountain bike trails within two or three hours.

You can ride to Brighton if you let the train take some of the strain and travel to the edge of the South Downs. Then get onto the South Downs Way and ride from there. You can pick up refreshments at Hassocks and Falmer. There's also an ice cream van at Ditchling Beacon.

That's what I did over the Bank Holiday weekend. It was a pleasant ride which was a good bit of exercise, though was not scarily technical.

So I got on the train at East Croydon and took the 40-minute train ride to Hassocks. From there it was a short ride to the hamlet of Clayton. When I stepped out of the train station it wasn't easy to work out which way to go, and for a moment I began cycling towards London! Eventually I found the route to get towards the South Downs, which quickly came into view.

Atop the Downs were the pair of windmills known as Jack and Jill, looking quite resplendent up in the distance. What was scary was the notion that I would have to get up to those windmills which stood about 200m above me.

Jack and Jill Windmills as seen from the path from Hassocks
The means of getting up there was via a bridleway which at first sight looked innocuous. As I began to twiddle up the path some walkers coming down it wished me good luck.

Shortly afterwards, the lane rounded the bend and I very quickly understood why I needed luck. After a little preamble on a smooth chalky path, the surface became rutted and strewn with stones. More importantly the gradient shot up like a wall - well it might as well have been a wall - the slope was over 28%!

Needless to say I could not ride it. When the gradient is that steep over uneven ground I get nervous about the front wheel lifting up, and worry about losing control and falling over. My cleats were a bit sticky as well, which didn't help matters either.

So it was safer to wheel the bike. I felt no shame in having to do that. Soon, the bridleway too me onto a grassy hillside, where many people were lounging in the sun and having picnics on this warm afternoon.

By now, the pair of windmills were close by, so I took the opportunity to photograph them while having a breather.

Taking a breather after a steep steep climb up onto the South Downs
The route then continued along a narrow lane that was less steep, but I had to wheel my bike as there were a number of walkers so it wasn't practical to cycle.

Eventually, the path opened out onto a wide area and I was officially on the South Downs Way. From here onwards the gradient went from excruciatingly steep to just regular undulations - which was a relief. However, there was no room for complacency on this hot, sunny afternoon. The constant rises and falls on this grassy, and sometimes chalky terrain was still sweaty work.

From here I enjoyed beautiful views of the Sussex countryside to my left and right, with the added bonus of a lovely sea view of Hove and Brighton. When the sun shines on the Downs I really feel like this is the place to be.

The cows seemed to be happy too, as they watched me cycle by. I did note that one of the bulls did have a happy moment with one of the cows so maybe that's why they were in buoyant mood!

All the walkers I saw seemed to be in a happy mood too. They said hello as they passed me, some making comments about how it must be hard work to cycle over the moorland. They had a point, but twiddling in an easy gear was all I needed to do. There was nothing navigation to do either because the trail was clearly waymarked. Also, as the terrain was dry there was no need to worry about sliding over on the chalky surface.

My route to Brighton went from the Jack and Jill Windmills, through Ditchling Beacon and then over to an area called Black Cap, level with Plumpton. From there I left the national trail and followed a bridleway towards Falmer and the Amex Stadium to make my way towards the coast. It was a very nice descent through desolate areas and I had the trail all to myself.

MOD Festival on Brighton Promenade
Then at the end of the trails through the South Downs ended when I reached Ridge Road, where I joined the Brighton and Hove Albion football fans on the trail to get over to Woodingdean. That was probably the most challenging part of the ride as I had to ride past lots of football fans on this trail that was a 2-mile steady climb.

Given that Brighton had lost at home 2-0 to Southampton their fans were still surprisingly upbeat, and were quite obliging about giving way to me when I tried to ride through the crowds.

On reaching the racecourse it was a case of another fast descent to reach Brighton Marina, and then I knew I had arrived.

Eddie and his tunes
Down on the promenade there was a MOD festival going on, though it looked like I had missed the main event. At least DJ Eddie Lovebus was still out, happily spinning some tunes. What a treat!

Here's the route I recorded on Strava.

Related posts
Ride from London to London-by-Sea (aka Brighton!) off-road

Festive 500 - Rail trails in England - Day 3

Rail trails galore!

More running on the South Downs

Thursday 22 August 2019

Ciao Felice Gimondi - tribute to an Italian legend

On Tuesday it was the funeral of one of the greats of professional cycle racing, Felice Gimondi. "The Phoenix" died of a heart attack last Friday at the age of 76 while swimming on the beach, on holiday in Sicily.

Enjoying meeting a legend in Italian cycling
Gimondi was one of the top cyclists in his day, only bettered by Eddie Merckx.

He is one of only seven cyclists to have won the major Grand Tours - Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana.

The other riders are Jacques Anquetil, Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Alberto Contador, Vicenzo Nibali, Chris Froome.

I had the chance to meet Felice Gimondi in 2012 when I was in Milan. I was taking part in the Gran Fondo Gimondi, a cyclosportive in and around Bergamo, near his home village, and on a sunny Saturday afternoon the day before the event, I interviewed him at the event HQ.

Gimondi seemed a very down-to-earth and charming man, and liked a joke and a laugh. We started the interview in Italian, though my Italian was not completely fluent. He then drifted into French, which put me pretty much in my element, so we carried on that way. I wondered if he would slip into Spanish or English, but we stuck with French. He didn't know any English, since it was not the common language in the days he cycled in the 60s and 70s.

My memory of the interview was how friendly he was, and how much time he had to speak. He was a bit surprised to see young black lady taking part in the event, and gave me tips on tackling the various climbs. The next day I rode the 140km cyclosportive in weather that was a complete contrast to the lovely conditions of the previous day.

The rain came down from first thing in the morning and never stopped. Many people, mainly local Italians handed in their timing chips having decided not to ride.

But I continued, and so did Gimondi, who did pretty well considering he was almost 70 at the time. He saw me after the ride and congratulated me on completing the event. I repaid the compliment!

I had hoped to get back to the Gran Fondo again, or even the Tour of Lombardy, but time passed by and it didn't happen. Gimondi was always active in cycling - being involved with different road and mountain bike racing teams, so I just thought I would see him again. Sadly, that is not be.

I am glad to have had the chance to meet Felice Gimondi, and it was a real pleasure to talk to him.

Here's my interview with Gimondi from that day:

Do you get out on your bike much nowadays?
Normally I ride twice a week, each time for two hours and mainly on a mountain bike.  

So you are involved in mountain biking now?
Yes, I really like mountain-biking. There is a lot more traffic on the roads nowadays and it’s getting a bit dangerous. It is not the same as when I was riding on the roads many years ago, and I am not as sharp as I was at the age of 25 or 30!

But mountain biking is quite technical?
It is, but it is an easier environment to cycle in. Of course there are lots of traffic-free cycle paths but these are more for family rides rather than for training on.  Also, when we take youngsters mountain-biking it’s easier to learn about cycling off road. 

Parents aren’t necessarily in favour of taking their children out on the roads at a young age, but they don’t mind them going out on mountain-bike rides. I haven’t completely given up riding on the road – I still get out and ride the local routes.

Do you have any favourite routes on the roads local to where you live in Bergamo?
My favourite routes are in the Brembilla area, north of Bergamo. These routes are included in my Gran Fondo event. I enjoy riding a loop around the Val Taleggio. It is 60km and when I was preparing for the Giro d'Italia many years ago I would go round that route 3 times, doing it 3 times a week.

Is Lombardy your favourite area to ride?
Of course – I was born and bred in this province, and I still live here now. I won the Tour of Lombardy twice, and the Milan-San Remo. These are my favourite routes! I have put my name to a Gran Fondo event and a Mountain-bike Marathon which are held in this area.

As President of TX Active-Bianchi
There is a Felice Gimondi Mountain-bike Marathon?
Yes. As well as the Gran Fondo Felice Gimondi in May, there is the Gimondibike which is a mountain -bike race. I think that in the future there will be more off-road Gran Fondo events as it is easier to get the permission to organise those. 

Gran Fondo events on roads are being subjected more and more to last minute route alterations and it is becoming more difficult to get the authorisation from the relevant bodies. 

I understand that you are involved in team management now.
Yes, I still work with Bianchi who sponsor three road racing teams – Androni Giocattoli, Vacansoleil-DCM, and Columbia Coldeportes. I will have worked with Bianchi for 50 years next year - as an amateur racer, as a professional, and now as a team manager of different teams.  

I am also president of Team TX Active-Bianchi, a mountain biking team. We have a young guy, Gerhard Kerschbaumer, who won the Under-23 Italian National Mountain Biking Championships and European Championships. (He finished in 13th place at the London 2012 Olympics.) 

You have also competed in the Olympics. How was it for you?
Yes, I raced in the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. There was a racer who got away and I joined him in the breakaway. But then about 1.5km from the finish line, we were brought back by the peloton, led by Eddie Merckx and I had no chance of winning.

You went on to have numerous victories in the years afterwards though.  
Yes, I won around 150 professional races including the Tour de France and Tour de L’Avenir (amateur), Vuelta a Espana, three times the Giro d’Italia, Paris-Roubaix, Milan-San Remo, World Championships, twice the Grand Prix des Nations Time Trial, twice the Tour of Lombardy and twice Paris-Brussels, which is no longer as important as it was back then. In those days it was as high profile as the Paris-Roubaix, but without as many cobbles, though it was quite long - 311km.

What motivated you to keep going?
Just the hunger to win. I trained very hard. When you are preparing for big races nothing is too much! As a professional racer it was about taking everything I did into consideration. I was completely committed in mind, body and spirit to my performance. You have to be fully committed if you want to achieve your goals – as much in your training as in your state of mind. I couldn’t go to sleep at night without knowing what training I would be doing the following day.

When I won the Tour de France it was my first year as a professional cyclist. At that time I hardly knew anything about professional racing. I didn’t know the other racers. On my cycling mitts I’d written the names and race numbers of the riders who were possible challengers, as well as their ranking in the General Classification. So when a racer attacked I could quickly look down at my hands and check their credentials. 

Back then, mitts were plain and light-coloured so I could easily write on them. With racing kit having logos of sponsors all over them nowadays it wouldn’t have been possible to write anything down if I were racing today!

You form part of an illustrious group of riders from the 60s and 70s like Eddie Merckx, Raymond Poulidor, Luis Ocana, and Tom Simpson. What was it like in those days racing against these big names?
I enjoyed those times. There was strong rivalry but my contemporaries were very professional. 
I have good memories of Tom Simpson. He wasn’t just a brilliant racer but he was also a great man. You always felt good when you were with him, and he always liked to joke. 

I remember that day on Mont Ventoux in 1967. There were 5 or 6 racers who got into a breakaway. Tom was with them, and that was the last time I ever saw him. Jan Jansen went on to win the stage to Avignon. I didn’t know exactly what had happened as I was just learning French so couldn’t understand everything. 

It was later on when I was receiving a massage in the hotel that I found out that Tom had died on Mont Ventoux.

During the 60s and 70s you would have been the best Italian racer at that time. How did it feel being the best in the country?
It was a nice feeling, but in many races my nemesis was Eddie Merckx, and I wanted to get near him in the competition. He was just too good though. For me, he was the best rider of all time, full stop!

What was the rapport like between the two of you?
During the races there was a strong rivalry, but his behaviour was very correct, and we had a lot of respect for each other. He had an engine that was just bigger than everyone else’s and everyone knew it! Aside from that, he was a man of good character, and was altruistic. Merckx was a true professional.

In the peloton today, do you think we have the big personalities like we had in the past?
It is difficult to have that nowadays because we don’t get the duels all year round like we used to have. It always seems to be arranged that while one big name is doing the Giro d’Italia, the other is focusing on the Tour de France or the classics, or the World Championships. 

Gimondi reminisces about what has changed in cycling since his day
Back in our day great rivals would race against each other many times a year, including in the big races. 

It was easier to keep those names in mind, whereas nowadays someone becomes well known in one Grand Tour, and then when the next big race comes round he is forgotten and the focus is on someone else for a few months. 

It therefore becomes more difficult for the public to keep a specific racer’s name in mind and so it is harder for a racer to develop into a big personality like it was in the past.  

In your opinion how has racing changed since the time when you raced?
I think the passion for racing has not changed. Perhaps it’s more difficult nowadays because there are more distractions, especially with things like earpieces and race radio. What is missing is the rider who is open in his style of racing and more instinctive. 

Nowadays each rider is told what his job will be during in a race, and that doesn’t allow for racing on instinct. For example, a racer may be told that his job is to control the race and then help set up his team mate for the sprint 10km from the finish line. That is what has changed from the time when I raced.

Also today’s racers are shaped to be just specialists in one thing. A team may want a 60kg rider who can become a climbing specialist, or they may want a powerful sprinter. It is not like before where a racer was an all-rounder and could win Paris-Roubaix, then the Tour of Italy, and still finish well in the Tour de France and the World Championships.

Who are your favourite racers?
I like Andy Schlek, though he needs to work on his time trialling. I remember his father as I raced against him many years ago as an amateur and a professional. He was quick, but not as quick as his sons though!

I also like Cadel Evans. There are riders in my team who raced against him in mountain bike races in Australia.
I must also add to that list, Alberto Contador. It is a shame what happened to him. I don’t agree with imposing a ban on a rider two years after the offence.

You should do the test on day one, the B sample (contra analysis) after 2 or 3 days, with the final decision being made no later than 10 days afterwards. I don’t understand why there was a two-year wait to make such a ruling, and I don’t think that it is correct. 

Riders have new contracts to sign, which are based on their performance in the big races. Sometimes we are talking about one million euros. How can we proceed with anything if someone will lose, or even gain the Maglia Rosa after two years! It must have been quite a strange situation for Michele Scarponi as well. In any case, I think Contador still has a good future ahead of him and he will continue to win further titles.

I understand you will be honoured, on your birthday at the end of September during the Tour of Lombardy. You must be quite pleased about that.
Yes, the Tour of Lombardy will start from Bergamo and will celebrate my many years in cycling. I will be 70 years old on the day of the race! It is a great honour to be given this recognition, and at my favourite event. It will be a special occasion for me. 

I won it in 1966 and in 1973 and they were big victories for me. I know the roads very well, and I still ride them on my regular club runs. I will be at the start of the race, but sadly I won’t be able to race it all! 

May 2012 
Interview was conducted in French

Related Posts
Interview with a legend

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

Wanna do the Gran Fondo Felice Gimondi?

First club run in Milan

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Catching up with cyclists at Ride London

While at the Ride London 100 I caught up with a few cyclists taking part in the event. As the cyclosportive was 100 miles I thought it would be nice to break up my ride by speaking to a few of the women doing it, and hearing their stories.

It was good to chat to Marie-Paul, Yasmin and Ify. They were all doing 100 miles, in Ify's case for the first time. Riding this distance is naturally quite a challenge, but it can be done if you prepare by riding reguarly and including some hills. Mind you, in Yasmin's case she didn't do much training for the event, and Ify didn't do any 100-mile bike rides in her training for it.

I know that Ify finished because I saw her again at the finish line. I like to think that the other women finished.

Chatting to the participants was a nice way to break up the ride and also learn a bit about some of the different people doing the race. I must say that doing social networking during a race is not the thing to do if you're looking to ride it in a fast time! I spent a fair bit of time trying to upload, sending tweets and taking photos while doing the ride. My official time ended up being around 2 hours longer than my recorded  moving time on Garmin! Still, it was a good day out.

Marie-Paul at Hampton Court hub

Yasmin at Wescott drinks station

Ify at Box Hill

Related posts
Another year, another Prudential Ride London

Ride London - my favourite biking event

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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, Ride London 100 is a chance to put on my favourite cycling kit and look my best in front of home crowds for the 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 for 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
Catching up with a few cyclists at Ride London

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!

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