Wednesday 29 July 2020

Lets hear it for the women's Tour de France - by Donnons des Elles au Velo!

In exactly a month's time the Tour de France professional race will start, from the sunny town of Nice. Today, a group of around 13 women complete with support staff and team bus will set off from exactly the same place to do the same route of the Tour de France. This is the sixth year that the Donnons des Elles au Velo group are doing this challenge. Normally the stages are ridden one day ahead of the professionals, with the ride being known as J-1. However, with the issues around Covid-19 pandemic the ride is taking place one month ahead of the Amaury Sports Organisation race, and is known as M-1.

This crew of women will be tackling the route of this year's Tour de France

So the women have ahead of them around 3,500km of riding to do all around France over the next three weeks. Their ride is a way of showing solidarity to women's cycling, and is also part of the campaign for there to be a women's Tour de France.  

A women's Tour de France took place between 1984 and 1989, where the likes of Jeannie Longo, Maria Canins, Connie Carpenter-Phinney, and Mandy Jones competed. The race happened at the same time as the men's event, with them racing stages over the last 60km of the men's stage ahead of their arrival. They didn't race all 21 stages, as only selected stages were included in the women's race. Also the women were not professional racers, so many were not sponsored and did the racing more as a hobby. When I recently interviewed Maria Canins and Jeannie Longo for an article I wrote for Rouleur magazine they both had fond memories of that era.

After the women's Tour de France ended it was replaced by a 10-day women's stage race around France, given different names - notably La Grande Boucle Feminine. However, those races were no longer part of Amaury Sports Organisation, and given that these races took place at a separate time of the year from the professional Tour de France race, women's racing happened largely under the radar.

So Donnons des Elles au Velo, by doing this M-1 ride are joining the chorus of people from different corners who would like to see a women's Tour de France be restored. At the moment, there is a one-day race, La Course. This year that will take place on the first day of the Tour de France, in Nice. However, many feel that having a stage race would be a more positive way for ASO to show its commitment to women's professional racing.

So, here we are in Nice with a group of motivated women about to ride their Tour de France feminin. It hasn't been an easy ride for them.

The route: 21 stages; 3443km; 6000m of climbing - a bit more than doing Surrey Hills!

Bear in mind that France went into lockdown for two months and they lived through a proper lockdown. People were only allowed to go out for one hour per day, and couldn't be more than 1km from their home. So that didn't bode well when trying to get in training rides.
A lot of rides were done on Zwift, plus a lot of Crossfit, virtual body toning classes, and a little bit of running. But admittedly, none of this can really replicate the 6,000km+ that people do as part of their preparation.

Furthermore, some were directly affected by the Covid-19 crisis as they were working on the front-line; or they even suffered from coronavirus themselves. Claire, the team leader lost her sense of taste and smell and experienced psychological effects from the disease too.

One of the team members, Caroline who lives in London managed to make the trip across to Nice, but her bike had still not arrived in France the day before the race! 

But despite all the various impediments and measures in place, the women finally made it to the start line, all rearing to go.

I will be following the fortunes of Donnons des Elles au Velo as the wend their way around France. I too, would like to see a women's Tour de France - though the form it would take would need to be carefully considered. My main motivation for following this M-1 ride is my interest in seeing how this group of women are able to inspire people through taking on such an onerous challenge against the inherent obstacles of a 3-week stage race plus the additional issues that we have today. 
The women come from all parts of France, and beyond, including the UK

You can follow the women's progress on their Facebook page. On their website you can find out more about them and sign up for free to ride individual stages with them. I will also be catching up with them to hear how they are getting on.

Photo Credits: Mickael Gagne and Marie Istil

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Saturday 18 July 2020

Cycle route: Local gravel ride around South London-Croydon suburbs

Following on from my previous routes on road in the Kent/Surrey lanes, and a traffic-free route into Central London, I thought I would go off-road and share a route I like to do into the nearby trails. It is nice to get in a ride on some off-road trail, and some of them are nearer than you think.

An off-road ride need not be all about doing epic adventures along the South Downs or through the Surrey Hills (though admittedly they are fun). 

Sometimes, when pushed for time a ride just on local trails hits the spot for me. It is a kind of sweet spot as the trails are not particularly challenging technically, and even though I don't go far I can work up a sweat as there are usually one or two climbs, which can be a proper work-out if taken at pace.

And of course there's always an added bonus of riding around in nature, away from built-up areas and traffic. Funnily enough, the local trails are only within a couple of miles of Croydon but you really wouldn't know it.

One ride that I do goes out to Croham Hurst, on the edge of Selsdon, South Croydon. I start off from home and very quickly am in South Norwood Country Park and Nature Reserve. This is a place that was previously waste land, and sewage farm, but has been significantly spruced up in recent times. There are lots of walking and cycling trails, as well as a lake, popular with anglers.

From there I go around the Croydon Athletics Arena to go through Ashburton playing fields and Spring Park, which have a mini trail for cyclists. The first mini challenge is the climb up through Pine Wood where there are some tree roots to negotiate, though you can always wheel your bike if it's a bit too technical. 

At Croham Hurst

Opposite this area is Addington Hill, locally known as Shirley Hill. This is a great area for off-road riding and was previously used as a cyclocross venue in bygone days. However, there are some special pebbles on the ground among the heather which means that it is banned to cyclists. So I just make-do with going around the edge of it. Sometimes I do have the odd rebellious moment and ride over to the viewpoint, which has great vistas of London in the distance. It's worth the excursion, I'd say!

Once on the other side of Addington Hill the route drops towards Selsdon along a bridleway behind residential property, to then climb steeply to reach Croham Hurst.

This area of woodland is not very big, but there is a lot going on there, with many species of bird, insects and ancient woodland. So it is designated as a Special Site of Scientific Interest. When here, stick to the bridlepath and you'll be fine. Sometimes people from the Friends of Croham Hurst get a bit annoyed with cyclists who ride all over the trails. If in doubt just follow the horse poo, and you'll know you're on the bridleway!

Going up Conduit Lane

From these woods there's the option to turn round and return home via the steep bridleway known as Conduit Lane, and then pass through Coombe Woods and Lloyd Park. That makes for a short spin, but you do burn calories - especially when riding up Conduit Lane. 

It's not a given that I would be able to get up that path, especially as it can be a little loose or muddy, and require that bit more effort to get any forward motion on the 12% incline. One good thing about this is that it doesn't last long as the slope begins to level off just as you start thinking it's excruciating, and thereafter the bridleway is either flat or downhill. Then at the end, there is a cafe to reward your efforts and replenish those burnt calories!

Bear in mind that the ride through Lloyd Park is also slightly uphill so take your time over your break (if you've got time)! Once out of Lloyd Park the ride is in its closing stages and the route passes once again into Ashburton Playing Fields before returning to South Norwood Country Park. Given the size of this area and the abundance of trails you can extend your ride by doing a few loops of this area if you suddenly feel the urge to stay out for longer, without being too far from home.

Back in South Norwood Country Park

So in a nutshell, that is one way of getting in a 60-90 minute ride while burning a few calories, being in touch with nature, and away from the London hustle and bustle.

There are other variants for extending this ride, like going on to Little Heath Woods, Selsdon Nature Reserve, or on to Three Half-Penny Wood. I detail those routes in another post in the future.

This route, along with other local routes can be found on my Strava feed.  


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Wednesday 1 July 2020

Review: Just doing things with Rapha + Outdoor Voices jersey

It's all about just doing things

The latest offering from Rapha is a range of clothing that's a slight departure from the traditional designs. After a chance meeting with the American activity clothing company, Outdoor Voices while on a trip to Mallorca a couple of years ago, the two companies decided to collaborate's and design this cool range, Rapha + Outdoor Voices

Rather than the cycle wear that evokes hardcore bike riding (and suffering) on epic climbs in the Alps or ultra-distance rides from Paris to Brest, the Rapha + Outdoor Voices range is about doing more "normal things" like fun, recreational things and chilling with your mates.

In these times I haven't been doing much chilling with mates, but I certainly like to do leisurely things. I'm averse to suffering on my bike! So this range seems right up my street. I was sent a lightweight jersey (medium) and a support bra (large) to try out. 

Lightweight jersey

The jersey has a slightly rustic-looking terracotta shade, peppered with black and yellowish specks - something I associate more with doing leisurely things rather than hard-core racing. For me, the overall colour is soft on the eye, and probably a garment you can wear even when not cycling.

There's taping on the sleeve ends and pockets to help preserve the jersey's shape. I particularly like the layout of the pockets. There are the usual three rear pockets, with the middle pociket having additional capacity - a see-through pouch for a phone or other small item, and a detachable mini purse for coins.

On top of all that, you can unzip and open the whole of the pockets section to store a larger item like a waterproof jacket. It's very cleverly designed, with the idea that people have practical lives and aren't just nose to the handlebars racing. Yes, sometimes people want to stop, buy an ice cream and enjoy the scenery.

Rapha have kept their form of putting little slogans on the fabric, so inside this large pocket there is a tag saying, "Don't forget pump, tube, tire levers, snacks."!
All overarching this are the excellent wicking properties of the polyester/elastane fabric, which works well for me and kept me dry when things got a bit sweaty for me!

I found the lightweight fabric just right for the season. It felt soft on my skin and I could move around quite easily in it, especially on those moments where I had to stop and pick up or wheel my bike on certain trails.

The medium size fitted me okay, and medium is what I normally wear in Rapha jerseys. But I think that the cut in this range is slightly smaller than other Rapha jerseys, so I think a large would have given me a looser fit, which is how I generally prefer to wear jerseys. The lightweight jersey is available in dark green, pale blue and terracotta. £120

Support Bra

I took the large size support bra as I take a D/DD cup in bras normally. That was the right fit for me. However, bear in mind that having ample breasts doesn't always equate with ample size trunk/rib cage and so the bra covers the bust well, but may not be tightly snug around the trunk. So it might actually be better to get a size down if you are looking for that snugness. It comes down to personal preference. 

I like the fit of my bra, and I felt confident that it was doing it's job, even on those occasions that I cycled across rugged, bumpy terrain. The nylon/elastane/polyester fabric gives it excellent wicking properties, and the back-cut straps allows good freedom of movement. It also pairs with the bib shorts, though I don't have those, so I'll take their word for it! The bra is available in dark green and pale blue. £40

Overall Impression
To look at the clothing you wouldn't know that it is Rapha, unless you see the Rapha + Outdoor Voices branding on the inside seams on the neck or when the jersey is unzipped - or if anyone gets sight of the support bra in its full glory.

This has been a deliberate move by Rapha as a way to give a brand essence that is less intimidating for women who would like to get into cycling but without doing hard core, high performance activities. I think that's a good move as there is definitely a growth in the number of women cycling, and the profile of women cycling. So it is good to have something that can have a universal appeal.

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