Monday 30 September 2019

Daily photo - 30: One month till New York Marathon

In just over a month's time I will be lining up with over 50,000 other runners at Staten Island, New York, to complete the 26.2-miles (42.2km) of the New York City marathon.

Training has been steady throughout the year, so I like to think I will get through it as long as I stay injury free. How long I take will be another matter.

Of all the big city marathons New York is known to be a little hillier than others as the route goes over various bridges around the East River and Harlem River, and the last three miles through Central Park are also undulating.

This will be my first time in New York - in fact my first time in the United States. So I don't know what to expect, and I don't really want to overstretch myself given that I also want to have a bit of energy to visit the city.

Earlier this year I ran the Paris marathon. That was fun but I did a pace just to get round, stopping to take photos and do social media. Injury had meant I'd only had two months to prepare for it, and for me the importance was to be able to continue running after the event without needing to take a long break or rehabilitation afterwards.

So my training for New York has been a steady build-up since May. I like to think I am on track, since I have got up to 18 miles, and then in a couple of weeks I will start my tapering.

It is a little strange to say that I am only just going to New York, given that I have been on earth for over 50 years and have visited other places like Cuba, North Africa, and on two occasions South America. But yet I have never been to North America. I don't know the reason why, but there is probably a subconscious reason for not  having gone there sooner and in a way that makes me slightly apprehensive about my forthcoming visit.

I am hoping to do some cycling over there and maybe even do some cyclocross racing. I also plan to hire a car and visit an area called the Catskills, in the mountains if possible. That area looks quite pretty.

The thing that has bothered me though, is the architecture of some of the hotels just looks quite ugly and characterless, and that has made it difficult for me to choose accommodation. Furthermore, when looking at Google maps to check out an area where I hope to stay I feel quite concerned at how many fast food places there are nearby. It is seriously tempting to take a supply of my own healthy food and portable cooking facilities just to be sure I eat correctly while there! Maybe I am over-reacting, but I think it is this fear of being in an unrefined, sterile place that bothers me.

Enough of me putting a downer on my own trip! I am looking forward to running the New York City marathon and I have heard that atmosphere there is even crazier than what you get in London. So I am definitely looking forward to that aspect. As for the rest, I will take things in my stride literally - and be just content to say I got the T-shirt from New York.

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Sunday 29 September 2019

Daily photo - 29: Paris - Versailles running race

I was meant to do this 10-mile running race today, but after all the faffing of trying to get there I didn't do it. I got my dates wrong, thinking that it was going to be last week.

Last year I was meant to do it but it clashed with Swim Serpentine so I wasn't able to get there. This year it clashed with the World Road Racing Championships.
Two years ago I missed the deadline as it sold out very quickly given that it was the 40th anniversary.

It just seems like I am destined to not run this classic running race from Paris to Versailles. I always like to do a sporting event in Paris - I ran the marathon there earlier this year. Doing an event that takes you to the regal residence of Louis XIV (and XV and XVI) in Versailles.

The last couple of times I have been to Paris, I cycled to Versailles and the area to the west of Paris is very scenic with lots of woods and forests. Hopefully it will be fourth time lucky next year when I make another attempt to enter and run the event.

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Saturday 28 September 2019

Daily photo - 28: Record number of women cyclocross racers at Milton Keynes

While the world was watching the women compete in Yorkshire at the World Road Race Championships, another big women's cycling event was taking place at Campbell Park, Milton Keynes. Velobants cycling club organised a cyclocross race, CX in the City 2 which attracted a record 165 women racers. This is something that has never been seen before in any race, particularly as it wasn't a national level event, but a round of the local Central Cyclocross League.
Photo: Keith Perry
When last year's event, CX in the City 1, took place on the course from the 2014 UCI World Cup a large field. This year the organisers set an ambitious target to get 100 women to the start line. Fran Whyte and her club mates at Velobants CC did a lot of work to promote the event, notably with the help of 10-time national cyclocross champion Helen Wyman. A lot of women on the Velovixen women's chat group who were unfamiliar with cyclocross decided to have a go once the concept was explained to them. That helped to swell the numbers to a massive 165.

It was quite a momentous occasion, though sadly I wasn't able to race it because I was doing work around the World Road Race Championships. It sounds like everyone had a great time and it was a massive achievement for Velobants and the wider women's cycling community.

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Friday 27 September 2019

Daily photo - 27: Published in Telegraph Women's Sport

I have been contributing articles to publications for a few years now, and so I have become used to seeing my articles in magazines or on-line. I must say I did get quite excited about this latest article of mine being published in The Telegraph. It is something that I aspire to - being published in a national daily newspaper, and even in a broadsheet.

Earlier this year Anna Kessel, previously of the Guardian, joined The Telegraph to head up a new section specifically aimed at raising the profile of women's sport - Telegraph Women's Sport.

This new publication aims to champion women's sport at elite and grass roots level, while addressing under-representation, and campaigning for specific issues that impact on the women's game. The editors are keen to adopt a bold style of journalism that can really grab the attention of the reader.

I think this is a great idea - especially as women's sports publications are few and far between. So it is great to have an article of mine published.

The feature was all about the rainbow jersey worn by the world cycle racing champion, and why it is so hotly contested by women, as well as profiling the women behind Santini, the manufacturers of this jersey and a range of cycle wear.

For the article I interviewed past World Road Racing Champions Jeannie Longo, Mandy Jones, and Tatiana Guderzo and it was very interesting to hear their stories.

Seeing the final product on-line, and in the print version of the newspaper gave me a buzz. This sort of thing definitely spurs me to look for more ideas. I hope to be able to produce more engaging stories.

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Women to watch at the Road Cycling World Championships

As the UCI World Road Cycling Championships take place in Yorkshire the fight for a gold medal and the right to wear the rainbow jersey will be hotly contested.

Gone are the days when there was a clear favourite you could single out. With outstanding performances in the UCI Women's WorldTour by various women in the professional peloton it is hard to say who will win the contest in the 150km race between Bradford and Harrogate.

People describe this course as being like a Classics course such as the Liege-Bastogne-Liege race in Belgium. That means very long, with constant short, sharp hills, often in rainy weather. However, some think victory could still go to a sprinter who can handle the Classics if they have good support, since the hills are tough but may not necessarily completely separate the regular WorldTour riders. The weather will play a part in the race though, as this can be changeable, and if it's not raining it will be quite windy on the top of the Dales.

Anna van der Breggen - defending Champion
Dutch Girls (8 riders)
Everyone has been talking about the Dutch team, and it is true that with the likes of Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen, Annemiek Van Vleuten, Chantal Blaak - all former or current wearers of a rainbow jersey, it is reasonable to say one can't see past a rider from that team taking the top step of the podium.

Their helper riders such as Amy Pieters and Lucinda Brand also have very strong racing CVs.

However, sometimes having so many brilliant riders in one team can ironically be a problem as it then becomes difficult to devise a clear tactic, and there may even be discord among riders if one feels that she should be the lead rider for the win.

Having spoken to Marianne Vos earlier this year she said that there is no jealousy and among their team they are always glad to see a compatriot doing well, and to will always be ready to help them get the win for the Netherlands. If the Dutch do fumble their tactics on the road to Harrogate there will be a few other teams ready to capitalise on that.

The Italian Job (7 riders)
Marta Bastianelli after winning the Tour of Flanders this year
They also have a good core of riders which includes two former world champions - Tatiana Guderzo and Marta Bastianelli, who will be the lead rider.

They also have a strong climber like Soraya Paladin, who was one of only two women who managed to stay with Marianne Vos during her ride to victory at the very hilly second stage of this year's Tour de Yorkshire. And don't discount Elisa Longo Borghini, who is a phenomenally strong all-rounder.

Their joker card will likely be Letizia Paternoster if the race does come down to a sprint. The Italians have a history of being the nearly team as they haven't won the title since 2011, but they generally manage to get someone into the top 5, if not on the podium. They also have a very good team spirit among themselves.

The Young Americans (7 riders)
The Americans cannot be underestimated, and have been having a very good World Championships thanks to Chloe Dygert-Owen winning the time trial and Megan Jastrab winning the World Junior Championship. Chloe Dygert-Owen was clearly strong in the time trial, but she has also had a great season, notably when she dominated the Colorado Classic in the summer. Coryn Rivera's season has not been as glittering as in previous years mainly because she didn't feature so much in the top places during the early season races. However, she has been steadily gaining ground and so she shouldn't be ruled out of the mix, particularly because she will have support from strong riders like Katie Hall, Ruth Winder, Tayler Wiles, and Leah Thomas.

Brits at home (6 riders)
Alice (left) and Hannah Barnes - key riders in supporting Lizzie Deignan 
With a World Championships in Yorkshire passing the childhood places of Lizzie Deignan, this is going to be a massive motivation for the Team GB.

Deignan, who has shown some impressive results this year since returning from maternity leave will know these roads like the back of her hand, and will have a solid team behind her, though not necessarily with quite the might of some of the other nations.

Alice and Hannah Barnes will be key in the team, as well as Lizzy Banks, a new rider who has shown brilliant form on hilly courses - notably at the Tour de Yorkshire this year. Nikki Juniper, who does most of her racing in the UK, has extensive experience of riding hilly courses in the North of England as well as doing some classics courses in Belgium, though the question remains as to whether she will have a response to the attacks from the Dutch.

Pole Dancers (7 riders)
Katarzyna (Kasia) Niewiadoma - a punchy rider in the Classics
People don't talk so much about the Polish but this year may be the time to do so. I would say they are the dark horse in this.

Kasia Niewiadoma is a punchy rider with a very daring way of racing and can spring surprises where people may not expect it.

She has ridden well in the hilly Spring Classics races in bad weather, such as what you get in Yorkshire. The Poles may have another card to play in the shape of Malgorzata Jasinksa who is a good climber. Their lead rider will be reliant also on the likes of Anna Plichta and Marta Lach.

Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie (6 riders)
The Australians, like the Italians generally manage to get someone into the decisive final part of the race, but unlike the Azzurri, the Ozzies have never had anyone win the World Championships. Last year Amanda Spratt finished in second place on the mountainous course at Innsbruck. Maybe she could do one better on the lumpy course through the Yorkshire Dales.

The only thing is that team Australia have been slightly weakened by the loss of some good helper riders like Sarah Roy and Grace Brown. They do have Brodie Chapman, who placed second in the Colorado Classic and Chloe Hosking who won the sprint at the Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta recently. Mind you, the Australians are putting all their eggs into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics basket, so for this World Championships I wonder how hungry they will be for a win.

Dynamic Dane
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig

Great Danes (5 riders)
A very young Amalie Didericksen won in 2016 on a flat course, and she is there again this time around, though the lead rider is likely to be Cecile Uttrup Ludwig who has been a strong force over the last couple of years, but has really set the Women's WorldTour alight this year. She is as dynamic in her racing as she is in her post-race interviews!

Other people to watch
Germany's Lisa Brennauer can hold her own as a good all-round rider. We haven't seen her full potential during this year, and she has played a helper role to Kirsten Wild her Dutch team-mate in the WNT trade team. But that's not to say she doesn't have what it takes. She recently shone in the Boels Ladies Tour when she got a top 10 place. She is also the German National Road Race Champion.

South Africa's Ashleigh Moolman Pasio is a great climber and is a talented racer who has an ability to get into the mix even in situations where she has no team-mates to help her. It's a good job really, since she will only have three team-mates for today's relentlessly hilly race and it may be a big ask for them to be able to animate things at the front for her.

Cuba's Arlenis Sierra doesn't race much on this side of the Atlantic, but has shown herself to be a solid rider as part of the Astana Women's Team. She is the Pan American Games Champion and placed within the top 20 at the Tour of California.

My pick of contenders

Anna van der Breggen: defending champion and 2019 Silver Time Trial medallist  - notable wins this year: Winner, Fleche-Wallonne; Winner, Tour of California.

Marianne Vos: 2006, 2012 and 2013 Champion - notable wins this year: Winner, Trofeo Alfredo Binda; Winner, Tour de Yorkshire; La Course by the Tour de France; Ladies Tour of Norway.

AnnemiekVan Vleuten: 2019 Bronze Time Trial medallist - notable wins this year: Winner, Strade Bianche; Liege-Bastogne-Liege; Women's Tour of Italy.

Chantal Blaak: 2017 Champion - notable wins this year:Winner, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Marta Bastianelli: 2007 Champion - notable wins this year: Winner, Women's Tour of Flanders; Winner, Ronde Van Drenthe.

Letizia Paternoster: notable wins this year: European U23 Road Race Champion.

Chloe Dygert-Owen: 2019 World Time Trial Champion - notable wins this year: Winner, Colorado Classic; Winner, Joe Martin Stage race.

Coryn Rivera: notable wins this year: Silver, USA National Championships; 2nd, Ladies Tour of Norway.

Lizzie Deignan: 2015 Champion - notable wins this year: Winner, Women's Tour.

Malgorzata Jasinksa: notable wins this year: 5th, Polish National Championships; 9th, Women's Tour.

Katarzyna Niewiadoma: notable wins this year: Winner, Amstel Gold, 2nd Women's Tour.

Amanda Spratt: notable wins this year: Winner, Tour Down Under; 2nd Trofeo Alfredo Binda; 3rd, Women's Tour of Italy.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig: notable wins this year: Winner, Grand Prix de Plumelec-Morbihan; 3rd, Tour of Flanders; 3rd, La Course by Le Tour de France.


Thursday 26 September 2019

Daily photo - 26: Gutted Colombian rider left with no support after mechanical

An emotional moment for the young Colombian rider German Dario Gomez. This was one of the big talking points of the Worlds and you had to have had a heart of stone not to have felt for this rider during the men's Junior World Championships in Yorkshire.
For young riders these championships are one of the rare opportunities to show themselves on a World Stage. It's a big big deal for them go be racing at the World Road Cycling Championships, with all its global coverage.

So when German Dario Gomez had his tyre roll off his wheel while he was up in the breakaway group and about to contest a hill it must have been annoying. But what was heartbreaking was to turn around to find there was no mechanical support available to him.

The Team Colombia support car was far back in the following convoy - 21st out of 25 - and the neutral service car failed to spot him and passed by.

The difficulty for the Colombian team is that because they had limited resources their mechanics were sharing a support car with other nations - Chile and Uruguay. That car had to stay in the vicinity of the majority of the South American riders, who were further back in the race. One of those riders crashed so the support car was held back even further.

Another issue was that in the UK because motorists drive on the left, riders who have issues and need support should move to the left.

However, everywhere else in the world traffic goes on the right, and that's where riders are automatically used to doing - which is what German did. Sadly, it meant that he wasn't seen by neutral service.

Lots of team support vehicles passed him and even those that did see him were reluctant to stop for fear of being penalised by the UCI for assisting a rider from a rival team.

So this combination of factors led to poor German Dario Gomez being left at the side of the road in a desperate situation. He first tried to fix the problem himself, and then began to walk up the road carrying his non-functioning bike. Such as shame, especially as he is a strong rider on hilly courses and could have been among the top finishers in the race.

Eventually German's team support arrived, some three minutes later and a Uruguayan guy came out to help him. The man was actually the father of one of the other competitors in the race. German managed to finish the race, coming in almost 17 minutes and 60 places behind the winner, Quinn Simmons of the USA.

This incident sparked a lot of debate about how a rider could have been deserted like that, and the Colombian Cycling Federation lodged a complaint with the UCI. While the UCI expressed their sorrow and disappointment at what happened, their explanation was that support cars had been instructed to stay well back from the riders and no overtaking was allowed for safety reasons because the riders were on the very fast descent of Kidstone Bank.

Team Colombia mechanic Fermin Gomez said that it was impossible for him to get to German Dario Gomez quickly given that they were sharing the support car with other nations. In addition, they'd had to attend to other riders' mechanical issues. Fermin felt that the UCI should put more measures in place to help riders from nations with limited support.

As for German Dario Gomez, he seemed happy to have completed the race, and despite all that happened, was upbeat on the team bus, and positive about his overall experience of the World Championships.

He said he was very happy to have had the chance to represent his country and had given 100% in his races. He described the incident as a situation where he was full of adrenaline but didn't know what to do and was just trying to do anything regardless of how futile it seemed.

German was grateful for the support and messages that he had received. I will look out for German Dario Gomez in his future races, and wish him all the best.

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Wednesday 25 September 2019

Daily photo - 25: No hat-trick for Van Vleuten at Time Trial championships

This is a big week for cycling in the UK as the World Road Cycling Championships take place in Yorkshire.

I haven't been able to get up to Harrogate for the celebration of cycling, so I have been following it on TV.

Of interest to me were the women's races. Earlier this year I interviewed defending champion Annemiek Van Vleuten when I saw her at the Tour of Flanders. She was riding well and was keen to defend her time trial title, and hopefully becoming the first woman to win the time trial championships for the third time in a row.

Despite all her efforts, she was not able to record the fastest time over the 32 kilometres from Ripon to Harrogate. Annemiek subsequently finished third behind the winner, USA's Chloé Dygart-Owen and compatriot Anna van der Breggen.

Annemiek was gracious in defeat, and ever the consummate professional, managed to keep a smile during the podium ceremony and the post-race interviews despite her disappointment. I must say I have a lot of respect for her composed reaction in these circumstances.

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Tuesday 24 September 2019

Daily photo - 24: Shout out to Geoffrey Butler Cycles

In light of a few local bike shops having difficulties, and sadly the recent closure of Blue Door Bicycles in Crystal Palace, I thought I would give a shout out to one of my relatively local bike shops, Geoffrey Butler Cycles - a bike shop in Croydon that has been trading for around 60 years.

There was a time when I would go there quite a lot when they were based a little nearer to Croydon Town Centre and I would ride past there on my way back from club runs with my then cycling club, Addiscombe. They also used to supply the club kit so we would often go there. It was quite nice to arrive there on a Saturday afternoon, bump into other local riders and chew the fat about the local cycling scene.

These days I don't travel down that way as much as I used to, and I am no longer a member of Addiscombe CC. I managed to pop in there today to have my cyclocross bike serviced and it was good to catch up. They did a good job, and provided further advice on the bike, which always enhances the customer experience. It's a shame I wasn't able to buy cyclocross tyres from them though, as they said that nowadays they just don't see the point in stocking items when they know that folks are buying them on-line. 

I recall getting a similar reply from David Hibbs of Blue Door Bicycles when I asked him about 'cross tyres. He said that in 9 years of trading, he had never had anyone enquire about them. 

I guess therein lies the problem for local bike shops - less custom as folks abandon face-to-face shopping in order to go on-line. I guess Butler's stem the loss by having an on-line presence too, which is essential these days. I do hope that Geoffrey Butler Cycles and other local bike shops don't fall victim to the digital economy and other upcoming trends.

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Monday 23 September 2019

Daily photo - 23: Why I need a regular sports massage

A sports massage is an essential part of my exercise regime, particularly as I increase the running training.

My iliotibial band always gets tight and that leads to problems with my knees. Or my calf muscles get tight, then I end up with Achilles tendinitis.

But having someone dig their elbows into those knotted parts of my legs does the trick.

It's always painful at the time, and I almost want to curse - particularly when the therapist goes right into my IT band. I have been getting massages from Sam at Pureform. For a small slender lady her massages pack a punch!

Doing yoga regularly has given my legs a bit more flexibility and I have not needed to get massaged fortnightly, like before. So I left a month or so before getting massaged, and by then I was ready to be massaged especially after my 19-mile run the previous day. If only I hadn't left it so long to have a massage!

Sam found knots in all parts of my legs where I hadn't felt any problem. It seemed like she was deliberately hunting them down unnecessarily. If it aint broke why are you fixing it? I felt like saying as her hands dug into my leg so much that it caught my breath!

After 30 minutes of pain and discomfort, I was glad to get off the massage table. The next day my legs felt nicely loosened up, and I felt ready to get back and run again. So I'll be back in a couple of weeks again for more pain!

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Sunday 22 September 2019

Daily photo - 22: Thames path run

Docklands as seen from Greenwich Park
Today was the day I needed to do my long run. On the agenda was 18 miles to do. Marathon training can be quite dull, and sometimes you get days where you really don't feel like running so far. Don't get me wrong I enjoy running but occasionally I get days where I feel like doing something else - riding my bike, going for a swim, or just lounging around. Even if I do decide to run, it's only really a 5km spin that seems appealing.

On top of that, the weather was not looking great. The weather hadn't been looking too bad first thing in the morning, contrary to what the weather forecast said. After resolving to get ready to run the sky turned black and there was a heavy shower. Perhaps a good excuse to stay home?

I actually felt quite annoyed that the weather turned just as I was due to go out. At these moments I develop a defiant streak and I think, "I'm not going to let the weather stop me!" So I continued to prepare myself and gathered together lots of waterproofs and warm clothing.

As a way to motivate myself I decided that my run would be a trip into Central London. Yeah, yeah why don't I get the number 3 bus, or jump on a train at Norwood Junction? That's not so interesting. How about a trip that takes in various parts of London that I can see up close?

So my route was going to be to take the Waterlink Way, a waymarked route to Greenwich that follows the Ravensbourne River. From Greenwich I would then cross the River Thames via the foot tunnel and then run along the Thames Path all the way to Westminster. Hopefully I would arrive into Central London before the shops closed and I could go to Waterstones and reward myself with a book.

That was the plan - hopefully it would stay dry. As I stepped out of the house covered with waterproofs and with my hood up, also laden with extra clothes I felt very hesitant and wondered if I was doing a wise thing running into bad weather.

In fact, the rain became lighter and lighter. Furthermore, it was still quite warm and muggy and I ended up having to strip off. In fact, as well as running with a small backpack I was now running with a kit bag with my anorak, long-sleeved top, anorak, hat, food and phone.

I got various odd looks as I ran through Beckenham and Lewisham with all my kit. But I didn't care. I was glad to be out, and I was looking forward to going around London.

By the time I reached Greenwich the rain had stopped completely and at times the sun was even trying to come out. The view of Docklands from Greenwich Park was beautiful. Having the silver-coloured buildings juxtaposed against the different shades of green of the trees in the park.

The other side of the river was what I call "old London" - places like Shadwell and Wapping with cobbled streets and old houses of the former dock workers. Following the Thames Path also gives an appreciation of how twisty the River Thames is, and also how dominant the office complex of Canary Wharf is in that area.

Docklands as seen from Wapping
The path had been very quiet, practically devoid of people, but once I reached Tower Bridge the numbers swelled and at times it became difficult to run along the path as it was packed with tourists, particularly around the Globe Theatre, Tate Modern, and Royal Festival Hall.

Finally I arrived at Westminster Bridge where I climbed the stairs to reach street level and I made my way up through St James's Park to get to Waterstones.

Phew, I was there in the nick of time. It had been a fun run, though with more than 18 miles in my legs they were definitely feeling it. With just 10 minutes to spare I had to make a choice. Not being able to think completely straight I just picked up a book quickly - Acid House by Irvine Welsh. The running had put me on a high!

This was the route that I took, as recorded on Strava

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Saturday 21 September 2019

Daily photo - 21: Belated Rapha Women's 100 - A Royal Ride

Stopover at Windsor Castle
Every year women all around the world cycle 100km on a given date either in organised events or in other individual rides, all in the name of doing the Rapha Women's 100.

It actually took place last Saturday, 14th September but I was busy racing. I also raced on Sunday so it was difficult to find the time to fit in a 100km ride. Finally I made a date with doing it on this sunny Saturday.

Whenever Rapha do these biking initiatives I like to get on board and find a theme, so this Women's 100 was called a royal ride.

It was basically a route that I have been wanting to do for ages but a combination of habit and laziness has meant that I generally stay in the lanes nearer to my home in Kent and Surrey.

Today would be a bit of an outing, and to mark the occasion I used the fancy Liv Avail Advanced Pro 1 I've been testing, and put on my favourite Primal jersey. I don't think motorists can say they didn't see me!

My ride started from home, in Crystal Palace. Anyone familiar with the area will know it's not regal, but the name fits with the theme.

The route took in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, Hampton Court Palace, then Virginia Water Lake. I love coming to this part of the world. I get a cosy feeling as I ride past the exclusive properties in Virginia Water village, cross the main A30 road and see the panorama open up as the lake comes into view. It is also from here that my ride becomes largely traffic-free, as the route goes up through Windsor Great Park, and then after Windsor Castle the route follows bridleways (National Cycle Network route 61) to Maidenhead.

As it was a sunny day many people had the same idea as I did, to go there and see the other sights of The Royal Landscape. I passed the Totem Pole and then climbed up to reach the Guards Polo Club, before moving on to the Copper Horse statue at the top of the Long Walk.

It's so tempting to ride straight down the this 2.64-mile path straight down to Windsor Castle. Sadly cyclists are banned from this stretch so I have to take the long way round through the various mini estates of Windsor Great Park.

Snack stop at Maidenhead Bridge
One of these days I might have a rebellious moment à la Theresa May running through a wheat field, and ride my bike down this Long Walk and take no notice of anyone who shouts at me.

But today I followed the rules, as always, and headed to central Windsor, and then over Eton Bridge to take the Jubiliee riverside bridleway to reach Maidenhead. Even though the terrain was rough, it was okay to take the Liv Avail over it since the tyres are quite wide. It was like going over the "strade bianche" type roads you get in parts of Italy.

Maidenhead, in the Royal Borough of Berkshire was near the apex of my ride and it was here that I had a snack on the riverside near the bridge. Afterwards I made a pleasant discovery in the shape of Taplow, an even more upmarket place than Maidenhead. I felt a bit too dressed down, particularly in these parts.

From there it was a case of heading back to Windsor, again via bridleway (National Cycle Network Route 4) via Dorney rowing lake and Eton College, then onwards through Datchet ànd Wraysbury to end my ride in that idyll of Middlesex, Staines.

My Garmin recorded 64 miles, but I am happy to call it 100km. It was just good to have executed my mainly right royal Rapha 100 ride.

My route on Strava is in the link here.

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Friday 20 September 2019

Daily photo - 20: Benefits of jumping with a skipping rope

You coule burn 1600 calories an hour with this bit of rope
Skipping is something that I have done on-off since I was a teenager. This activity has many benefits.
  • Helps boost your immune system
  • Balances your metabolism
  • Improves tendons and ligaments around your calf muscles
  • Good for mood and mental health
  • Improves coordination and stamina
  • A one-hour session can burn up to 1600 calories! (Bear in mind the average daily calorific intake is 2000 calories)
As a child my regular routine had been to come home from school and change straight from my uniform into my sports kit.

I would then run one mile on a country lane near my home and then once I had finished my run I would pick up my skipping rope and do 60 turns of the rope in the driveway. That was my routine every day without fail.

At that time I suffered from asthma, and I worked out that if I did this activity every day it would stave off my breathing difficulties. If I missed a day I would feel my chest tightening, so it was important to run and skip every day, so it was handy that I enjoyed doing it.

Sixty turns was the number I used because that was the standard set by the Brownies if you wanted to get your Agility badge. I then moved on to 100 skips and included turning the rope backwards. I would only do it for about 10 minutes, but I definitely got a rush of endorphins.

When I first moved to France I didn't have the money to join a gym so I just paid five Francs for a "corde à sauter" and that was my main way of keeping fit - 15 minutes' skipping in the courtyard every morning, much to the bemusement of the residents.

It made me pretty toned and fit, and I remember colleagues being rather surprised when I said that I never went to any gym and just did skipping. So it is something that I still like to do now, and fit it around other sporting activities.

These days I don't skip every day, and being older I avoid skipping first thing in the morning as I don't think high intensity is good on the heart first thing in the day.
My routine tends to be a one-mile warm-up, then a set that consists of 100 turns followed by 300m-jog, and repeat it four or five times.

I vary the steps, doing normal jumps, heel and toe steps, jumping from side to side, hops, high knee jumps, crossing legs, and if I'm feeling energetic peps - turning the rope double quick. After all these years I still haven't mastered crossed arms. The last time I tried it was in 1992 and I ended up in crutches after landing on my ankle. So I have a bit of a phobia to that one.

But that aside, I enjoy a good old skip. It's a great work-out, it puts a good spring in my step when running too so I run more efficiently than if I didn't skip. It keeps my legs in shape too, so I can't complain.

Apparently there is a British Rope Skipping Association where you can find out more about the benefits of skipping and skipping rope training.

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Thursday 19 September 2019

Daily photo - 19: Speaking Italian Tatiana Guderzo

Tatiana Guderzo with her bronze medal at the Innsbruck World Championships last year
My foreign language skills have been put to good use in recent times, notably when doing cycle journalism and interviewing cycle racers when I interviewed cycle racing legend Jeannie Longo in French, and Movistar's Sheyla Gutierrez in Spanish. I have also interviewed people in Italian too.

Earlier this year I spoke to Marta Bastianelli at the Tour of Flanders cycle race after her victory in this cobble-stoned classic. In June I also spoke to an Italian top racer from the 1980s, Maria Canins about her cycle racing and her success during her heyday. Today I spoke to BePink's Tatiana Guderzo, the 2009 World Road Race Champion who is on her way to the championships in Yorkshire.

Speaking to all of these women was very pleasant, and I feel that making an effort to speak in their language goes some way towards helping relations and also having them open up more in our conversations. I had been a little bit nervous beforehand, but I think watching episodes of Un Posto Al Sole and following the latest love triangle of Serena, Leonardo and Filippo has been very helpful!

Tatiana came across as quite vibrant and dynamic, and was very positive about the upcoming championships. Everyone has been talking about the Dutch cycling team being the strongest. It is true that they have some very strong riders and Tatiana acknowledged that too, but she is also sure that she and her Italian team will fear no one. For the 2018 bronze medallist, it is not always the strongest team that wins. I wish her and team Italia all the best.

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Wednesday 18 September 2019

Daily photo - 18: Another day another run - at South Norwood Lake

South Norwood Lake in the early morning, with Crystal Palace transmitter watching over
It is roughly six weeks to go before the New York Marathon so I must make sure to not step off the gas in my training. I don't particularly want to go crazy in my training as I need to make sure the running is gradual and my legs don't get completely shot. 

So in between my long runs or my harder intervals I like to do short easy runs of around 5km where there is no pace to run to, and it's just about admiring the area around. 

One of my favourite areas is around the corner from where I live. South Norwood Lake is an area I have run around for over 20 years. It is within easy reach of where I live now, and where I used to live, so it has been a constant - along with Crystal Palace Park. 

As I was doing an early morning run I really wanted to capture the lake in it's glory in the autumn sunshine. I also took the time to notice the Crystal Palace transmitters and how they dominate the local skyline, and watch over the local area.

South Norwood Lakes is a pleasant area to take a walk. Folks also go fishing there. Apparently there are some quite large carp. Then there's a small sailing club, a cricket pitch, football/rugby pitches, a bowling club, and there's a mini wood too. For a small lake there's a lot going on.

I definitely recommend this route.

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Tuesday 17 September 2019

Daily photo - 17: Enjoy what you do

Abi Van Twisk (first left) next to Lizzie Deignan, who is beside Elisa Longo Borghini
It's always a nice surprise to see a piece that you sent to a publisher being published - especially when you weren't expecting to see it.
So it was nice to see the piece that I did after interviewing Abi Van Twisk from Trek-Segafredo, being published on the Velovixen women's cycle wear blog. I remember seeing Abi race cyclocross as a junior a few years ago. She was pretty good and lapped me quite easily. She's a young'un so I guess I wouldn't expect anything less!

It is good to see her racing on the world stage now alongside the likes of Lizzie Deignan, Elisa Longo-Borghini and other top riders. Abi took a bit of time out to chat about her bike riding. Like a lot of people say, not just in cycle racing but in any walk of life, the important thing is to first and foremost enjoy what you do. There's no need to over complicate matters. Just do it and take pleasure in what you do, then the rest will follow. I think I will take a leaf out of Abi's book.

The full article is here.
Enjoying the Ride is what matters

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Monday 16 September 2019

Daily photo - 16: Bye bye Blue Door Bicycles

After nine years of trading at Central Hill, Crystal Palace Blue Door Bicycles has shut up shop. It's a real shame that the shop is no more. A combination of high rents in the area plus people choosing to buy their bikes and bike bits on line has led to the demise of the business.

It's such a shame that the shop is going. This site has had a bike shop there for almost 100 years, so it is a real shock that there will now just be an empty shop. It's a sign of the times - not good for cycling, and not good for the local area either.

I am a bit traditional when it comes to buying anything. I generally like to buy things from a shop rather than online, unlike many of my contemporaries.
I like the interaction with a sales assistant, and in particular when buying items associated with hobbies or things I enjoy doing it's always good to have conversations about items. Furthermore, in the days before online buying was so prolific I would always bump into other local club cyclists when I went to De Ver Cycles or Geoffrey Butlers cycle shop on a Saturday afternoon, and you could catch up with other riders. You just don't get that experience buying on-line, so I only buy stuff on-line when it becomes difficult to find what I want in the shop and so am therefore forced into shopping that way.

I went to the shop and bought some lights; I was glad to catch David Hibbs before they finished. He said that there may be another bike-related business occupying the space in due course. As for him, he will be starting a job with the cycling and walking charity, Sustrans. I wish him well.

So now, Crystal Palace has one less local bike shop to go to. I hope the other cycle businesses in the area don't go the same way. So anyone near Cadence, SE20 Cycles and other bike shops near you I encourage you to support your local bike shop.

Sunday 15 September 2019

Daily photo - 15: More cyclocross at Crystal Palace

The second part of my double-header weekend took place in my local area - at Crystal Palace Park. Contrary to the previous day where I had to cycle over to central London and catch a train to the home counties, today I just did a 10-minute ride up the hill. It was nice to take things leisurely in the morning.

The sketchy descent that caught many people out 
Where last year the course was based around the upper terrace of the park, this year the area used was lower down, around the area where the Tuesday summer circuit races take place. Given that this section of the park is on the sloping part of the park it meant the course was a distinct step up in terms of skills and strength.

My memory of last year's course was of long fast straights over gravel and a few short sharp climbs and descents, including one descent and climb where many people had to dismount. This year's course had a similarly tricky descent and climb, but it was not the hardest section.

There were some very testing climbs that people ended up walking/running up. There were also a few sections that had loose terrain. One such are was on a steep descent immediately after a steep climb, and contained a couple of tricky bends.

The top riders were able to ride it, albeit slowing right down to negotiate the turn, but the for the rest of us we were really caught out on it. Some people dismounted from their bikes at the first turn. Then there were others like myself, who very gingerly went around the turn, but had to try and get round those riders who had dismounted and were walking down the slope. Oh, and as if that wasn't enough there was a stake and taping to clear as well. So it was all a bit of a mish-mash. Needless to say this was a popular area for spectators, of which there were many.

The Crystal Palace round of the London and South-East cyclocross league is a popular event as it is a very nice venue, set in the historic park. The train station is right on the edge of the park so it is easily accessible even without a car. As it was a sunny day and many visitors to the park, there was also a fair amount of people out on picnics and curious onlookers. Furthermore, with lots of cafes and restaurants nearby in the Norwood Triangle riders can head up there for their post-race celebrations or commiseration.

On one occasion on the infamous descent I failed to clear the tape and just rode straight into it, snapping it in the process and almost coming off my bike. That probably provided some entertainment for people watching, and given this was my local area people recognised me so I couldn't hide behind any anonymity!

Sharing the podium with Tracy Wilkinson-Begg (1st) and
Elaine Owen (3rd) (Photo: Caroline Reuter) 
At least I wasn't alone in breaking the tape. The course marshals were kept busy constantly having to fix and re-fix this section! But hey ho, when you're so tired and heaving and dribbling you are beyond embarrassment or caring to apologise!

I ended up sparring with a woman called Kath from Dulwich Paragon. She was physically stronger than me, but I was able to pass her on the technical sections. In the end, she got the better of me on the last lap.

I think the combination of racing at Milton Keynes the previous day, plus running sessions on Saturday evening and Sunday morning had begun to take their toll on me. It was a good match though, even if I did get lapped by the winner, Kath's team-mate Caroline Reuter. The pleasant surprise was that I won second prize in the women's vet50 category.

It was nice to win back my entry fee. That money can go towards a sports massage. I damn well needed it after a weekend of putting my body through the mill. Looking forward to the next one!

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Cyclocross at Milton Keynes

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Saturday 14 September 2019

Daily photo - 14: Cyclocross at Milton Keynes

The first part of my double-header weekend of cyclocross was at Milton Keynes Bowl. I cycled up to Euston train station and made the half-hour train journey up to Milton Keynes. Getting to the Bowl was just a 5-minute cycle ride through South Loughton Valley Park and past the Teardrop Lakes.

Pain faces on one of the numerous climbs each lap  (Photo: Keith Perry/Central Cyclocross League)
This was the first round of the Central Cyclocross League, so a lot of people had come out to play and the fields were big. There were 50 riders in the women's race. That's the sort of number you get in the National Championships! We even had our own separate race, which doesn't often happen in local league races.

There was a wide variety of levels too - from experienced National Trophy contenders down to newbies. Some had only raced on road, so were getting used to the whole off-road thing. The course was not massively technical though, and was wide enough to allow for overtaking. It was just a bit bumpy on the grass!

Given that I have never raced in this league before (I usually do the London League) I hadn't expected to be gridded, but they found a place for me. And surprisingly, it wasn't right at the back! On the sound of the whistle we all charged up the hill and tried to get ahead of as many opponents as possible.

The course was over a wide area of parkland set on the side of a hill. There were so many switchbacks that it made me dizzy. Also some of the tight turns on the descent were tricky and the ground was slightly loose so you had to try not to let your back wheel slide away. At one point I got over-confident after I passed a few women and thought I could throw the bike around the bend, but I completely misjudged the corner and almost came down. Thankfully I rescued it, but I did lose a few places.

There was a bunch of around five or six of us who all played cat and mouse between ourselves. Some were stronger on the bends, some where stronger on the flat straight sections, others dismounted and remounted at the hurdles very efficiently. One woman was able to bunny-hop them. My strength was probably on the hill as I was able to stay in the saddle and spin a granny gear and then have something left to negotiate other challenges.

Cyclocross is so taxing, as you are constantly at almost 90% effort (or at least I am) throughout the 40-minute race. It also makes it difficult to have the faculties to do much else apart from pedal and breathe very loudly. As time went on and I became more tired it was difficult to focus and see which way the course went. All I could see was a mass of course tape glistening in the sunshine, and at one point I completely missed a turn and went off course, breaking through some loose tape. More time wasted. But it was all good fun, and was a good sparring match with the other women.

I met Jules and Nancy, a mother and daughter who were racing, and we were all around the same level. They were from London too, but because they're in the North-West that puts them in the Central Region. So I am not sure when I will see them again, unless I suddenly decide to turn up at Regents Park for some 6am laps - something that club cyclists North of the River seem to do a lot. Hmm.
Great to catch up with Fran from Velobants
I crossed the line between Nancy and Jules, and just in front of the young lady on the pink bike who had been bunny hopping the hurdles. It was good to get a competitive race, and not get lapped by the leaders, which included Velovixen Fran from Velobants. The only thing was that because we weren't lapped we ended up doing more than 40 minutes. I recorded almost 48 minutes of racing on my Garmin. No wonder I wanted to drop when I crossed the finish line!

It was a good day out, with music, refreshments, commentary, and crowd support - all the stuff that makes for a fun event, especially after a good work-out.

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Friday 13 September 2019

Daily photo - 13: About last weekend in the Forest of Dean

Local residents at Whitemead Forest Park at Forest of Dean
After my cyclocross race in Gloucester Boating Lake I went back to the Forest of Dean mountain bike trail centre for another quick blast.

I had hoped to try some trails that would be more challenging than the family trail.

One of the local riders told me about some blue trails that had berms and bumps near Ellwood. So I parked up near Cinderford and then rode through the forest as my warm-up to head towards Parkend and then on to Ellwood.

En route I passed this area, Whitemead Forest Park. It looked quite inviting, but I was keen to press on to find some trails. However, I couldn't help but admire these free-roaming sheep. I managed to snap just two of them, but there were around 15 in the flock.

Who knows, they might have been on their way to the nearby Woodman Pub - which is probably where I should have gone because not long afterwards I bonked (ran out of glucose). My efforts in the cyclocross race and the riding around the forest began to take their toll.

A Sunday roast and a glass of beer would have hit the spot nicely!

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Thursday 12 September 2019

Daily photo - 12: Liv Avail Review published

My review of Liv Avail as seen on the front page of Cyclist magazine
My review of the Liv Avail women-specific road bike has gone live on the Cyclist website, so all can now read my thoughts on it when I tested it.

It's always get a warm feeling when I see my work published to a wider audience. There's something quite satisfying about how something that just started as a few words on a Word document eventually comes to life in a magazine online or in print.

It is something that I have done for 10 years and something that I don't get tired of. Some years ago I wrote articles and reviews for Cycling Active (an old IPC Media/Time Inc magazine) and Cycling Weekly regularly. Sadly Cycling Active closed, so I just do the occasional article for Cycling Weekly. Recently I have written for Rouleur online and Velovixen women's blog. Sadly, other women's publications I have written for have not worked out so well. Sportsister hardly had any budget, and Total Women's Cycling folded when its parent company went into administration.

Maybe it works out better if women's cycling articles are included within a unisex cycling magazine, given that women's publications have not had the best track record.
That is a debate for another day, but for now I want to soak up the satisfaction of having produced something that can hopefully inform, educate and/or entertain a reader.

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Wednesday 11 September 2019

Daily photo - 11: Learning languages and talking Italian

Today I spent time working on my Italian. I have always enjoyed learning foreign languages - not that I speak many.

The couple of languages I speak give me a lot of pleasure, satisfaction, and also the confidence that I can get by in those respective countries.

French is a language I learned when I was at school. I got through 'O' Level French, but in reality all we learned at school was enough to pass the exam rather than for it to be of any use in France!

So my French practice came from going to evening classes and doing an 'A' level course by correspondence.

It was only when I went to live in Paris for over four years that I put my learnings into practice and learned more stuff that you don't find in books!

That was almost 30 years ago. Although I returned to the UK in 1996, I have not forgotten my French and I still use it when I visit.

Because I enjoyed speaking French I decided to add Spanish, and more recently Italian to my language-speaking repertory.

The process with these latter two languages has been slightly slower because I didn't live in the countries for a long time.
I have travelled around South America and Cuba for a few months in the past, and I lived in Italy for over 18 months, so I get by when I have to speak to people. But I would like to get to the stage where I dream in those languages. Apparently that's the indicator that you are properly fluent in a language.

So in an attempt to maintain, if not improve my level in Italian this Hugo book has been my friend for a while. I am old fashioned about these things and don't really go for all these new-fangled apps or computer software that people talk about. For me, it's just good old grammar books with exercises plus watching news clips and trashy soap operas on RAI television. Un Posto Al Sole is my go-to television show. It's like Home and Away, but because it's in Italian and set somewhere that looks like Amalfi Coast that makes it a slightly classier brand of soap opera. Watching the fortunes of Vittorio, Silvia, Leonardo, Adele, et al has become my guilty pleasure. I also like to read Gazzetta dello Sport or even the odd novel.

What I must say about language learning/speaking is that it has a very positive effect on my brain. It's like another part of it is opening up, and it puts me in a bright place. It's not exactly like when doing sport and you get endorphins, though it's something similar. It's more like jumping onto a different ride at the fair, and getting a different kind of enjoyment. Because languages have different rhythms and sounds it could also be like playing a different instrument - something else that I enjoy. Whatever it is, that change does me good.

So even if I didn't travel abroad I think I would still practice languages just to exercise that part of my brain and experience that bright feeling.

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Tuesday 10 September 2019

Daily photo - 10: Marathon preparation running on Farthing Down

As the New York marathon, which takes place on November 3rd, draws ever closer I am getting increasingly focused on getting in enough running. So today I did some trail running in and around the south London beauty spot, Farthing Down.

Farthing Down, managed by the Corporation of London
I am really keen to get in enough training to get me round the five boroughs and the bridges of New York City without too much problem.

Marathon training is always tricky for me. On one hand it's about getting in the miles, speed, and strength in my legs so that I feel ready when I reach the start line. On the other hand I have to be mindful about not over training or injuring myself during training.

Things I do to avoid injury are:
  • Getting in lots of stretching between runs
  • Cross-training, i.e. regularly cycling and swimming
  • Doing a couple of yoga sessions a week, more specifically hot yoga
  • Deep massage every few weeks
  • Alternating my long runs between road running and trail running
So today was an off-road run that started from Farthing Down car park and then went down to Happy Valley, up to Coulsdon Common, and then round some other trails past Surrey National Golf Course, Chaldon Church, Netherne-on-the-Hill, and back to Farthing Down.

It was a very scenic 12km (7.5-mile) run and once again a chance to discover new places. The village of Netherne-on-the-Hill is very quaint and orderly village. It was previously the site of a progressive psychiatric hospital, known for its use of art therapy for the patients. The hospital has since closed and is now a residential village, still exhibiting a distinct calmness about the place.

After leaving this village I was once again back on the rolling downs completely in the middle of nowhere. It felt completely remote and looked so scenic. Who would have known that this was around 15 miles of Central London.

In short, going off-road is good for the legs as well as for the soul. The good thing is that you don't have to travel so far from a city to find these calm, peaceful places.

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Monday 9 September 2019

Daily photo - 9: Motorway welcome break

When I was younger and I drove to other parts of the UK for the weekend, I didn't think anything of setting off at 9 or 10 o'clock at night to drive back to London. I would regularly do this when I drove up to Yorkshire to visit my family. Night driving was maybe less interesting due to not being able to see the countryside, but you were generally guaranteed a clear run. It was always good to breeze through North London and Central London to get to my home in South London in the dead of night.

Now that I am a bit older I find that I can no longer do that. I am starting to get tired easily. If I am driving after 10 pm it just becomes risky business as I start to doze off. I don't even need to have been driving far.

Turning the radio on really loudly makes no difference either - I have been known to fall sleep soundly in a night club or during an opera!

Marsh Farm Hotel
So, in short I have decided to avoid long drives late at night. That means I will get to know the hotels along the different motorways.

I guess it's a bit of variety from getting to know what's along the different rail trails!

Returning from my trip to Gloucestershire I found a very pleasant place to stay, the Marsh Farm Hotel. It was just off junction 16 of the M4, at Wootton Bassett.

I could have stayed at a Holiday Inn nearby, but it's more pleasant to stay at independent places. Also, this place was a couple of miles from the motorway so it was still fairly peaceful.

Considering that it was a Sunday night, there were still quite a lot of people in the hotel - mainly people from Abroad - a group of German motorbikers, and some Belgian Tourists. I'm not entirely sure what they would have liked about Wootton Bassett. It's a somewhat morbid place associated with the armed forces and solemn parades through the town when a soldier gets killed in service.

Given that they were of a similar age to me, I am guessing they are going through the same sleep issues as myself after 9pm. 

It's happening. We are getting old. The struggle is real, but thank goodness for motorway hotels!