Thursday, 30 September 2021

Photo of the day - 30: Joss Lowden, new hour record holder

Photo: Matt Alexander/PA Wire

Congratulations to Drops-Le Col rider, Joss Lowden who broke the women's hour record at the Velodrome Suisse, in Grenchen, Switzerland. The distance she covered in one hour, 48.405km, beat Vittoria Bussi's hitherto record of 48.007km achieved in 2017.  

The 33-year old from Lewes, East Sussex had had her eye on the record for many months since she unofficially broke it last year while training at the Derby Velodrome, so she knew she would be capable of doing it again. However, doubts always set in during the preparation. Lowden, who is a road racer and one of the team captains at Drops-Le Col/supported by Tempur team, has been having a good season having won the Tour Feminin in Czechia and placing 5th at Brabantse Pijl. A week before her world record attempt, as part of her preparation she competed in the mixed relay time trial, the time trial and the road race at the World Road Cycling Championships in Flanders, Belgium. 

What is impressive about this record is that it beat other records that were achieved at high altitude. Apart from Bridie O'Donnell who cycled at 46.882/hour in 2016 in Adelaide, all the other hour records were broken at around 2,000 metres altitude - either in Mexico or in Colorado, USA. Joss Lowden's record was not completely at sea level as the Velodrome Suisse is at 450m altitude, but it is far from high altitude. This record also beat the ultimate speed of 48.149/hour, set by Jeannie Longo in 1996 but was not recognised by the cycling governing body (Union Cycliste Internationale) due to her having adopted the banned "Superman" position.

Given that Joss was constantly ahead of schedule throughout her ride, it seems that she would probably be strong enough to break her own record in the future. So who knows, we may see her again in the Velodrome Suisse.

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Photo of the day - 29: Catching up with SD Worx ahead of Paris-Roubaix Femmes



There's been a buzz this week as folks gear up for the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes race. The Paris-Roubaix is one of the oldest professional bike races, and arguably the most gruelling one-day race. The full distance is 258km (161 miles) and the last 160km include 30 sections of cobbled roads (pavés) with most sections being between 1.5 and 4 km long - a total of 55km of pavés. These cobbles aren't of the neat variety that you find in quaint touristic towns or even the ones you see during the Tour of Flanders bike race. They are just jagged, irregular rough and ready cobbles of all shapes and sizes on old narrow roads. Riding your bike along them is a massive test in bike handling and resilience on your body. When it rains it's treacherous, as has been seen over the years in the men's race. 

After a lot of campaigning for a women's race, the organisers ASO finally decided to stage the race last year. Unfortunately, like with many events during these coronavirus times the race had to be postponed twice, and so we now have the race taking place this coming Saturday. It's going to be a real moment in cycling history.
The women's race will be a shorter version of the men's race, with the distance being 116.4km (70 miles) and 17 sections (29.2km) of pavés. The women will tackle iconic sections of Mons-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de L'Arbre, though it doesn't include the Trouée d'Arenberg.

Given the magnitude and excitement of the occasion, I was keen to talk to as many women as I could in advance, as part of an article I was writing for Cycling News website. One of the teams definitely worth speaking to was SD Worx, with its star-studded riders and a couple of riders who could be in with a realistic chance of winning.

So today, for my article in Cycling News, I spoke to Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Christine Majerus, and Jolien d'Hoore, who is retiring from professional racing straight after the Paris-Roubaix Femmes. As expected, all three riders are very excited at the prospect of competing in this race. 

They had just finished doing the reconnaissance of the course, and it was fair to say that they all found it a very tough course, that is going to be risky if it is raining. None of the women were concerned by the fact that they won't be doing all of the iconic stretches of cobblestones, or even that the fact that the race is less than half the distance of the men's race. For them, it was the fact that there is a women's Paris-Roubaix at all, and that in itself is a good thing.

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Photo of the day - 28: More Italian cycling success, even ahead of the mighty Dutch

 

Getty Images

Continuing the theme of Italians winning things this summer, this was once again repeated at the Women's World Road Racing Championships. The noteworthy thing was that it was Elisa Balsamo who managed to outsprint Marianne Vos, the greatest female bike racer of all time. Those who have followed the season will not be surprised that Elisa was in the mix at the end, given that with her sponsored team Valcar Travel & Service she has tended to contest sprints and be in the minor placings.

But to get ahead of the great Marianne Vos was an achievement at another level. I think the difference between Marianne and Elisa was that Vos probably launched her sprint a little late, and furthermore Balsamo had a very strong cohesive lead-out team in the shape of Elisa Longo Borghini, Marta Bastianelli, Marta Cavalli and Maria-Giulia Conflonieri. Interestingly, the Dutch team was also very strong on paper. People have been talking about them for the last couple of years being a formidable team, and the team to beat.

Given that a number of these riders have been Olympic Champion or World Champion, it isn't without reason that the world is talking about the team from the Netherlands. The question isn't will they win? It's more - which one out of  Marianne Vos, Annemiek Van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen, Demi Vollering, Amy Pieters and Ellen Van Dijk will win? 

Unfortunately, the team has lost out in recent major competitions. At the Olympics, they totally failed to spot that a relatively unknown rider from Austria (Anna Kiesenhofer) had done a breakaway off the front to win. In fact, when Annemiek Van Vleuten crossed the line in second place she did a victory salute, thinking she had won! Apparently, some members of the Dutch team new that there was already a woman ahead on the road, but this doesn't seem to have been communicated between them. (Radios weren't allowed during the race.)

Then at the World Championships communication was better, but they still didn't manage to get organised to launch Marianne into the best position at the right time for the sprint for the line. So their most decorated rider failed to catch the young speedy Italian in the home straight. 

Marianne looked extremely disappointed - more so than I have ever seen her after a race - and she was in tears on the finish line. I must say, I felt bad for her and would have like to see her win.

But I think here, it is a case of the strongest team isn't always the team that wins. What counts more is using your resources wisely and working better as a team. And I think that's where the Italians were able to make the difference. So the buzz word is "team work". And that's something that the Italians seem to excel at where the Dutch need to do better.

Monday, 27 September 2021

Photo of the day - 27: Bike to School Week

 

Photo: J Bewley/Sustrans

At a time when we are looking for ways to reduce pollution and carbon emissions, and even more now that there are issues with fuelling at the filling stations, it is worth considering providing a favourable environment for children to ride or walk to school.

As it happens this is the start of Bike to School Week, a time to encourage children to go to school on two wheels. However, there is an issue in getting children to go to school by bicycle. In a recent survey involving over 1300 children aged 6 to 15 years old, only 2% of them children currently cycle to school. The YouGov survey commissioned by the walking and cycling charity, Sustrans, also found that about 14% of children would like to ride to school. 30% of the children said they were worried about cycling to school, and 57% felt that there were too many cars in the immediate area around their school.

Some local authorities have decided to close roads to traffic in the areas around a school first thing in the morning and at school closing time (known as School Streets). Southwark Council have done that near where I live, in some of the roads around schools in Dulwich. 

I have noticed that there are more children on bikes on those roads. As a car driver (as well as a bike rider) it does sound a bit irritating that some of the roads I normally drive on are out of bounds at rush hour. But I must say, there are alternatives including taking the train or cycling too. I think it's more important to give children the opportunity to ride to school in a clean, safe environment, and enjoy bike riding. It's that sort of thing that can help girls and boys develop more of an appetite for bike riding, and in future we can become a nation more geared towards bike travel and active transport.

Also for those who would like to improve their bike riding skills and confidence when riding on the roads, Bikeability is a scheme that provides free training. I must say that the earlier you learn to ride a bike on the road, the more confident you will be on the road through the rest of your life. I have certainly found that through taking my cycling proficiency test - many many moons ago!

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Photo of the day - 26: Final SwimRun of the year, at Bewl Water

 

Exiting the water after the first of six swims

The second part of my final weekend of multi-sport races for this year was the As Keen As Mustard SwimRun at Bewl Water, near Tunbridge Wells. There was a choice of three distances - a 5km, 10km, or 21km. I chose to do the middle option, which consists of a total of 1800m swim split over six swims and interspersed with seven runs which totalled 8.2km.

Nowadays I feel comfortable with the swim, especially after all the training I've done and having swum two miles in the Serpentine last week. The run was something to just get around, because I haven't done a lot of training due to me trying to learn to run in minimalist shoes. Because I haven't fully mastered that, I have to take it easy during the SwimRun races to avoid injury as I am running without my usual orthotics - something I wouldn't advise if you're jumping in and out of the water!

It was a very pleasant event, running around the woodland and country trails and then at intervals wading into the water to swim, getting out and running again. I ended up right at the back during the first run as I stopped to properly tie my shoe laces and adjust my pull buoy. But I managed to catch a few women, and we formed a little group at the back. I gnerally feel quite relaxed in these events because they usually start with a run, and by the time you reach the water you have warmed up a bit and so when you get in the water it's quite refreshing. There's no need to take time acclimatising or warming up; you just get on with it. When swimming you need to keep your eye on where you're meant to be going as there aren't any buoys in the water. There's just a flag and a marshal at the other end of the lake, so it's up to you to pick the shortest line. Be mindful that the swimmer in front of you may not be very good at sighting, so it's always good to check for yourself where you're going. I finished fifth from the back, but it was nice to see the women at the finish line, and we congratulated each other as well as talking about our exploits during the race.

I do like these events. There's no argy bargy in the water and people do them at various paces - some people are competitive, especially those intent on qualifying for the major events in Sweden. But then there are other folks who tootle round. I'd say SwimRun is in the same vein as orienteering, where some people are mighty fast and then others just trot round and enjoy the scenery. But whichever level you are everyone feels like they've had a workout and there's a friendly atmosphere. I look forward to doing more of these events next year.

Saturday, 25 September 2021

Photo of the day - 25: Castle Series Aquathlon at Hever Castle


For the first part of my season-closer weekend of multi-sports I took part in an Aquabike race. I'd not heard that such a thing existed. Aquathlons (swim and then run) are common-place, but an aquabike (swim and then cycle) is almost unheardof. It was organised by the Castle Series crew, and that's the only place where I have seen it organised. 

We started in the same wave as those doing the aquathlon, meaning that we all swam 750m in the lake at Hever Castle and then in transition half of the field ran 5km and the other half of us cycled 20km through the country lanes of the Kent Weald. It was a fairly lumpy course that went out towards Cowden, Penshurst and Chiddingstone. I was familiar with those places from doing training rides, though it's been a while since I rode those lanes at any fast pace. 

The race was enjoyable, but I must say it was a strange day out. I had originally planned on driving there, but given that all the queues at the filling stations were spilling out onto the roads I was worried about getting stuck in a traffic jam, and arriving late to the event. So I managed to get on a train at East Croydon make the half-hour journey to Hever, followed by a 10-minute ride to Hever Castle. I thought I got there in good time for the start of the race, but the event was quite big, with about five or six races going on concurrently. There was a lack of signposts on the site indicating where people had to go, so it was easy to get lost. 

I couldn't see how to get to the start line at the lake and when I asked a volunteer he didn't know either! So he had to look for another volunteer to ask and then when he found out, although he was nice enough to accompany me to the lake, he kept saying I had plenty of time even though my race was starting in 10 minutes and it was a long walk to the start line. I arrived at the start line with about 2 minutes to spare, and missed the pre-race briefing.

When racing, the marshal in the swim to bike transition didn't give any instructions on where I could mount my bike and start riding, so I had to stop and ask her. Then when I finished my bike ride the marshals didn't give any instruction on what I should do next, given that it was effectively the end of the race. It seemed weird that there was no finish gantry to go to, and my race would just finish abruptly in the bike funnel. Then a marshal in transition gave me a medal. So it was a bit of an meh kind of end to the race. In fact, it was only when I asked to go into the finish area to pick up some refreshments and saw a marshal collecting timing chips that I remembered to remove my timing chip. If I hadn't asked to go into that area I would have gone home with my timing chip still on.

Then to cap it all, when I got home and looked at the results my name didn't feature as I had been classed as a DNF! Eventually, my result was added to the list, and I apparently came about 14th or 15th out of 20. I don't know how accurate that was, as my Garmin had recorded a faster time. 

So, it was all a bit of a non-event in the end. I am not sure that an aquabike works because you need a finish line for cyclists. It's reasonable for competitors in an aquabike to expect a finish gantry where they can power through, give it that final spurt and even a victory/achievement salute. The way the course was set up, it would have been dangerous for us to do that while a triathlon or aquathlon or running race were taking place. But then to not have a finish gantry for cyclists does feel like you are being short changed, and potentially lead to you being accidentally classed as a non-finisher. It was a different experience, but I probably won't do it again - especially as it cost £70!

Friday, 24 September 2021

Photo of the day - 24: Another great result for African Cycling

Courtesy of Bettini Photo

History was made again for African cycling when Biniam Girmay won silver at the U23 men's World Road Race Championships. The 21-year old from Asmara, Eritrea, finished 2 seconds behind the winner, Italy's Filippo Broncini, and a shade ahead of Olav Kooij of the Netherlands. 
This is the first time that a black African cycle racer is making it onto the podium in any race of a World Championships. He only signed up with Intermarché-Wanty Gobert Materiaux this summer, but he has already made his mark, doing well in races that have punchy climbs - as was the course between Antwerp and Leuven today. 

There have been a growing number of African riders doing well in professional races, and a big moment was in 2015 when Daniel Teklehaimanot, also of Eritrea wore the polka dot jersey of King of the Mountains at the Tour de France. Since then there have been fleeting results here and there, but nothing as resounding as a podium place in a world championships. Hopefully, we can look forward to more great results from this young man, and it can inspire other great performances from black African riders.

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Photo of the day - 23: World Cycling is going to Africa

 

Riders tackling the Mur de Kigali during this year's Tour of Rwanda

It isn't just in Belgium where you get a massive enthusiastic crowd on a cobbled climb. This is the "Mur de Kigali" one of the famous climbs ridden during this year's Tour de Rwanda. Africans definitely take their cycling seriously. The event has been run as a UCI event since 2009, with Africans making the top 10, though in recent times and notably this year more European teams have taken the start line and contested the top spots. Also, the Tour du Faso, in Burkina Faso is due to take place in October. This is another big cycle race on the African cycle racing calendar and that has been a UCI event since 2005, with ASO, organisers of the Tour de France, having assisted in the running of the event.

The great news for African cycling, though is that today the UCI announced that Rwanda will be the host of the 2025 World Road Cycling Championships. This will be the first time that such a prestigious event is taking place on the African continent. A delighted Aurore Mimosa Munyangu, Minister for Sport, said that "Rwanda will commit to delivering a memorable Road World Championships".

I think this is great news, and it can only be a positive thing for cycling in Africa. I look forward to seeing more cycling events taking place there, and who knows - I may even do a few myself.  

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Photo of the day - 22: Trying to master barefoot running so I can do SwimRun

 

I went out for a run today - just my standard 5km trot around my local parks in Crystal Palace. I enjoy running; it's something I've always done since as far back as I can remember. In fact, I consider myself to be more of a runner than a cyclist because it is the sport I did first, and it is the one sport I have done competitively since I was a child. 

I have done all sorts of running races in my time - from sprinting in my teens, through middle and long distance races including marathons, as an adult. It was a bumper 12 months in 2018-2019 when I did Beachy Head, Paris and New York marathons all within that time. 

I haven't done a marathon since, or even a half marathon this year. That is a turn-up for the books for me. The main reason has been because I took up a new kind of race called SwimRun, this year. Basically, it's like an aquathlon, but where an aquathlon is swim once change into running shoes and then run once, SwimRun is run swim, run swim, run swim, run swim and you keep repeating that however many times required depending on the race. It's about trying to get from one point to another across a body, or bodies of water. Apparently the sport began in Sweden when a group of guys, after a night out, had a bet to see who would be first to get across a group of islands surrounding Stockholm.

The novelty of SwimRun is that you keep the same gear on throughout the activity. So you run in your wetsuit, and you swim with your shoes on. Yes, you heard correctly. Regular competitors have a specific SwimRun wetsuit that gives the flexibility to run in it, and they wear lightweight trail shoes or minimalist running shoes that don't weigh your legs down when swimming, and drain the water off when running. 

I invested in a pair of Vivobarefoot ESC Tempest shoes, specially for SwimRun and they're great. However, my problem is that I normally wear orthotic soles in my shoes when running. I need them in order to have the correct gait, and avoid running injuries. The problem is that if I wore them in the water they would be ruined. I did check with podiatrists to see if there is such a thing as waterproof orthotics but apparently that doesn't exist. 

So the only thing for it is for me to learn to run again without orthotics. So I am trying to do barefoot running. I don't actually run in bare feet. but I wear the Vivobarefoot minimalist running shoes. To master this new way of running though, I need to keep my usual running to a minimum so that my muscles don't get confused about which way they should be used. 

At the moment I have got up to running 2km in this new way style. So I am very much a beginner. That means for now, I can't run very far - which is a bit of a pain. Well, actually it's not - but it would be if I did run far! 

A couple of times a week I do indulge though, and allow myself to put on my usual Mizuno Ghost running shoes with my orthotics and break out to do 5 or even 6km. Realistically, it could be another six months before I am able to run that distance with minimalist running shoes. So for now, I will have to make the most of my local jaunts around the park.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Photo of the day - 21: Un Posto Al Sole to improve my Italian

 


Forget about all these new fangled apps like Duolingo for improving your language skills. With so many different resources available on-line now, there is so much to choose from and so many things that can be done in stimulating ways. 

My method of choice is the soap opera. As the language in question here is Italian, it has to be Italy's most watched and longest-running soap opera, the 25-year old Un Posto Al Sole (A Place in the Sun). The production company and the opening credits give it a feel like Neighbours or Home and Away. But given that the setting is in an apartment building (Palazzo Palladini) in a fictional neighbourhood in Naples with a bit of grittiness, murder and mafia thrown in between various social issues, it's probably more like Eastenders

I started watching the daily soap during the major coronavirus lockdown we had in the Spring of last year. At the time I was about 18 months behind, but with regular viewing and the odd bit of binge watching, I am now pleased to say I have caught up and am watching the show contemporaneously with viewers in Italy. 

So when I speak to Italians we can now speculate about who did attack Susanna and leave her for dead? Who will win out in the Marina, Fabrizio and Roberto triangle? Will Silvia leave Michele for Giancarlo? When will Filippo get his memory back and recognise his wife? Will Renato wrongfully end up behind bars? And what is the point of Vittorio on the show? Well, actually I probably won't have those conversations with the Italians I know. The woman I regularly have a conversation exchange with laughed when I told her I watch Un Posto Al Sole. She never watches it, but her grandparents watch it. One guy suggested I try and watch something a bit more cultured. (I do have a load of episodes of Inspector Montalbano to watch. I wonder if that's cultured enough.)

But hey, these types of soap operas do have their uses, and I think there are probably more Italians that watch the show than want to admit, given the high viewing figures. After more than 300 episodes of the show I can now understand what practically all of the characters are saying (I haven't fully mastered Guido and Vittorio's accents), and it has helped me with my own spoken Italian no end. In fact, I was quite comfortable speaking to people recently on the phone when I did interviews for the Tour of Lombardy feature I wrote for Pro Cycling magazine.

I heard that former Manchester City legendary manager Roberto Mancini apparently improved his English by regularly watching Coronation Street. Bonus points to him for choosing to watch the soap opera based in his town, and persevering with Manchester accent!

Anyway, my point is, don't poo poo the basic soap opera when getting to grips with a new language. If it's good enough for Signor Mancini, it's good enough for us.

Monday, 20 September 2021

Photo of the day - 20: As featured in Rouleur magazine

 

Since the start of this year Rouleur magazine has been producing issues that are based around themes. For example, they had one about women, one on mountains, another on innovators. The current issue is themed Empower, and features different types of people in society - particularly those who are different from the traditional image of a cyclist that people have had in the past.

Editors Andy McGrath and Ian Cleverly were interested in including a piece on my views and experience in cycling, so I was happy to put down my thoughts.

I think that when looking at society or groups of people in society it is important to include the whole spectrum of views and experiences. My feeling is that in recent times there has been far too much talk of black people in cycling "being made to feel unwelcome", or saying black people don't cycle because they don't see "anyone who looks like them" doing it. (I must admit that is a term that still baffles me.)

The thing is, I can't concur with that sort of talk. I first rode a bike when I was under 10, and I got into cycle racing more than 20 years ago. It is true that I didn't see many black people cycling when I was growing up in Yorkshire, though in London I do see quite a lot of black people on bikes nowadays. 

When I got into cycling it had nothing to do with how many other black people there were on bikes. I just began bike riding because I enjoyed it. In fact, the people that inspired me where the white European guys toiling up mountain passes during the Tour de France when I first watched it on Channel 4 in the 1980s.  

As for being made to feel unwelcome, that sounds alien to me. I have never experienced that. If anything, it is probably white, middle class, middle-aged males that helped me get more into cycling. I have no idea whether or not they were privileged. In any case I didn't feel any less privileged than them! I just saw them as kind, encouraging people who were willing to give up their time to coach us in club cycling and bike racing.

I don't see myself as any sort of trailblazer or breaking down barriers as I never actually perceived any barrier in the first place. Whatever barriers I might have encountered were more down to my bouts of lethargy, or getting the heebie-jeebies before a bike race - and that's not a racial thing.

I have noted that a few events have taken place where panels of people talk about diversity in cycling (in this case read race/people of colour), and I have tended not to be invited to speak on these panels because I get the feeling folks don't perceive me as being "on message". It just won't do for me to say, "I've had a great time in cycling - everyone has been really friendly and welcoming!" I'm supposed to talk about the struggles of being a black woman in cycling, the mistreatment, the microaggressions, the privileged white male that made a bigoted comment, how I didn't see anyone who looked like me and I felt unwelcomed when I joined a club....

The fact is, I can't say these things because it's just not been my experience. In fact, I think it would be quite wrong to portray cycling in this way knowing that many people have been good to me in the sport. I must say, I was glad to be able to write the column, and give mention to some of those people in my article.

Marco Faimali and Andrew "Monty" Montgomery from my first club, Addiscombe Cycling Club, were mentioned as were Dulwich Paragon. Also mentioned were John Leitch, Glyn Durrant and Keith Butler (RIP) who got me into road racing. Then there was also Mark and and Stephanie Wyer who helped me in cyclocross, plus Dave Creasy (RIP) at Herne Hill Velodrome. Maurice Burton of De Ver cycles also got mentioned as I got my first "serious" bikes from him and he invited me on their charity bike rides. The final edit of the article doesn't have all these people mentioned, but the fact is there have been loads of people who have shown good will towards me in the cycling world over the years - and from this short list of names, a significant proportion of them are white males. 

So for that reason, speaking as a woman of colour, my experience is that cycling is a welcoming activity for different kinds of people, and I am happy to spread that message.


Sunday, 19 September 2021

Photo of the day - 19: Cyclocross season opener at Ardingly

Photo: Dave Hayward

After yesterday's fun-packed day of a hill climb race in the morning and Swim Serpentine in the afternoon, I was feeling a bit tired and not really in the zone to be doing a competitive bike ride. But today was the day of my first cyclocross race of the year, the London and SE League race, organised by Dougie Fox of Crawley Wheelers.

Cyclocross racers wait impatiently and avidly all through the spring and summer for the season to begin. While other folks begin to bemoan the rapidly disappearing summer (or the UK version of summer) cyclocross racers get more excited as the weather turns greyer, colder, and damper!

I had paid up for this event, and had had it marked in the diary for a few weeks, so I really wanted to go. Also, we barely had a cyclocross season last year due to the pandemic. So I wanted to make up for that this year. The only problem was that I was feeling quite sluggish and felt more in the mood to admire the nature as I tootle around, rather than eyeball my rivals through eyes of fierce competition as I pedal in anger.

In any case I went through the motions and got in the car to drive to the South of England Showground, Ardingly, where the event was taking place.

At moments like this when you aren't rearing to go your brain picks up on it and you end up getting things wrong. Firstly, I got the venue too late to be able to do a recon of the course. In fact I got to sign-on 10 minutes after it officially closed. 
Secondly, I failed to put my helmet on. I think the fact that I was wearing a hat led me to falsely believe I was wearing my helmet. When I realised the error, we had less than 5 minutes to go before the 12.30 start. I pedalled like mad back to the car and put on the correct head gear. Looking at my watch as I rode back to the start line I thought I was doing okay for time as it was 12.27 I would be able to reach the start line within three minutes. However, at 12.28 I heard the whistle go and the pack sprinted off in the distance, while I was still 50 metres from the start line! Whoops!

I think that was the adrenaline kick that I needed to get into the race, given that I was well behind the field. I didn't panic, but just rode at a steady high pace, and focused on not getting my racing lines wrong. Thankfully my summer gravel rides had helped improve my bike handling, and I was able to get over the various mounds and drops on this fast flowing course without too much problem. 

As it was a first race I just hoped to get around cleanly and not really focus on the result. I did manage to catch a few women - Monica Zamojska from Brixton Cycles, helped by the fact that she crashed on the hurdles; then Elaine Owen from De Laune CC. There was another De Laune CC woman who I caught right in the finish straight, but she was better at getting over the hurdles than I. In any case, I was pleased with how my race went, considering my rubbish start. 

For me, the main thing was how good it was to see the old faces again - Liz Orr from Kent Velo Girls, Emma Porter from Penge CC along with Wendy, a new Penge CC rider who I also saw yesterday at the hill climb. I did manage to say a few words to Caroline Reuter of Dulwich Paragon, who is still queen of the London and SE league. I had hoped to chat a bit to my old sparring partner, Suzie Wise of C&N Cycles, but she has made so much progress since the last time I saw her that she was way off in the distance. And after the race, we both got caught up talking to different people. Hopefully I will catch her (in the race and after the race!) next time. 
All in all, it wasn't a bad afternoon out, and I am actually looking forward to the next race.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Photo of the day - 18: Swim Serpentine done, and a lovely London Classics medal!


The day finally came and I swam 2 miles in the Serpentine. It wasn't pretty but I did it. Not only did I receive a medal for my efforts, but I got an extra big one too for achieving the London Classics challenge.

London Classics is a medal you get for completing the London Marathon, Ride London 100-mile cyclosportive, and Swim Serpentine 2 miles. If you have done all of these events, regardless of the year, you are eligible for a medal. I am glad they say regardless of the year, because I ran the London Marathon twice - in 2002 and 2005. I have applied quite a few times since and have been rejected. I think the times when I was accepted I hadn't realised how lucky I was. In fact in those days you would apply any time up to late September and you would get a response in mid-late November. You had around a 1:2 chance of getting a place. Now it is totally different story, with applications open just for one week a year before the event, and probably a 1:10 chance of getting a place when you factor in all the places allocated to charities. 

I have done Ride London 100 three times. That is probably my sweet-spot event, as I generally get a place given the work I do in cycling, and I can get around the route in a reasonable time without loads of training as I know the roads, and my fitness from all the other types of cycle rides and races I have done carries me through.

Swim Serpentine for me, was the sticking point. Getting a place isn't difficult as there's no ballot. However, swimming two miles was a stretch target for me. In a previous life when I did triathlons regularly I got used to doing half-mile and one-mile swims. Once I even did a half-ironman and swam a mile and a quarter. But that was a long time ago, so getting back to a point where I would feel comfortable swimming almost double the distance was going to take a bit of effort. 

This year I have probably done more swimming than I've done at any other time in my life - including thee period when I was in a triathlon club. Everywhere I went I swam: my local pools at Crystal Palace, Streatham Ice, South Norwood, then outdoors at Beckenham Place Park Lake, Brockwell Lido. Moving further out of my neighbourhood I swam in Lidos at Charlton and in London Fields. I also did more open water swimming at Royal Victoria Docks, West Reservoir in Stoke Newington, Divers Cove in Godstone, and The Haven at Feltham. On my trips up to Manchester I swam at Salford Quays and Sale Water Park. Then there were also the swim-run events at Chorlton Water Park and Box End Water Park. So yes, there's been a fair bit of swimming done this year. 

For the race I made sure to stay warm, wearing full neoprene including gloves and booties. I also had on a pull buoy to keep my legs up, and I used hand paddles. I thought I had all bases covered, but in fact I forgot to tighten my pull buoy before getting in the water and it kept swinging around my leg while I was swimming. There was no way I could have put up with that for the two miles, so I swam to the shore where the water was shallow and started to amend things. The lifeguard thought I'd gone off course, but when I explained to her what I was doing, she was okay with it. It was not a bad thing having this pause as it was also the chance to chat to the spectators and curious passers-by in Hyde Park. You don't usually get to do that while in a swimming race!

After that, everything went swimmingly (pun intended), apart from the odd moment I had to tip water out of my goggles. Sighting was not a problem (for once) as there were so many people to follow. For me, it was just a case of keeping a steady rhythm between moving my arms, rolling my body and breathing. Admittedly my pectoral muscles began to ache in the last half-mile, but it was a case of mind over matter, and staying confident.

It was great to that the marshals at the finish line were people I knew. There was a guy I had met at Royal Victoria who was there, as well as Audrey from Crystal Palace Triathletes, and Donna from South London Harriers. Thanks so much to them and all the other volunteers and the organisers for making this a fun day.

As I walked through the area to retrieve my gear from the bag drop, and get changed many people congratulated me. I hadn't realised why they kept saying it to me more than anyone else. In fact it was the effect of wearing my London Classics medal. It is an impressive looking medal, and peoeple are genuinely happy to see that folks have achieved these three big endurance events in London. And I must say I do feel slightly proud that, as per the saying on the medal (et ego Londinium vici), I have conquered London!

   

Friday, 17 September 2021

Photo of the day - 17: Enjoying classical clarinet

In recent times the clarinet playing has revolved a lot around the pieces I play with my local concert band. Those tunes tend to be a mixture of theme music from films and TV (ET, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Trek etc.), medleys from musicals and pop stars (Jesus Christ Superstar, Abba, Michael Jackson) and then a few bits of classical and folk songs. 

But what I enjoy playing, and what is on the syllabus for my grades tends to be a mixture of classical and jazz music. I must say I do enjoy the classical side of things as it makes me feel like I am getting the proper building blocks for clarinet and music in general. Also, all the renowned method books for clarinet are by classical composers, it seems. So for me, it's important to have that base even when doing all the modern, stuff. One musician I admire is Miles Davis. Although his music is very much synonymous with jazz, the great trumpeter was actually classically trained. He cut his teeth at the Julliard School, a conservatory in New York and played classical music. The jazz stuff was more of a side hustle for a while.

So I guess, if that's what he did, I should do the same! Aside from all that, I like classical music anyway, so am always happy to play it. One of my go-to books have been the Lefevre sonatas for clarinet. Then today, I finally got the Demnitz book, which is much needed as I am getting to the dizzy heights of doing turns, trills, mordants and grace notes and I realise I am rubbish at them. So hopefully, Demnitz will give me a helping hand while I get to grips with the dominant 7th in G major! 

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Photo of the day - 16: Swim Serpentine is go!

After my post from a couple of days ago I found out that The Serpentine had been opened that very morning - which is good news as it meant that the Swim Serpentine would go ahead. This was also confirmed by the fact that I received my race pack.

I had already been looking to see what my plan B event was going to be for this coming weekend, but now I can look forward to swimming in Hyde Park in front of the thousands of people who go there for roller skating, jogging, cycling, horse riding, or just milling around - plus the spectators who will have gone there specifically to watch their friends and family. 

Due to Covid there won't be a grandstand or a jacuzzi like they have had in previous years, but I don't mind too much about that. I am looking forward to doing my first swim-only event of the year. Normally, I would have done more. I entered the Great North Swim, in the Lake District in June, and the Club to Pub Swim at Henley-on-Thames, but in both cases other commitments meant I couldn't go. I had hoped to do Dock-to-Dock at Royal Victoria, but that filled up very quickly. 

So the Swim Serpentine two miles will be my first event. I have not swum this distance before, so it's going to be a whole new world for me. The furthest I have swum is 1.5 miles. Folks say that you don't have to swim the whole two miles in training, as long as you are swimming regularly. Normally, I would have liked to do the full distance though, just to give me that extra confidence going into the water. But I know I have spent many sessions in the water - both in the pool doing drills, and in different open water venues, so I like to think I will be okay. 

For me, the main thing is to not allow myself to get cold. I could be in the water for almost two hours, so I must do what I can to not lose use too much energy trying to stay warm. I will need that energy to move my arms and legs through the water! Since the start of the pandemic, I have had my temperature checked countless times and it consistently comes out in the low 36 degrees Celsius - 36.2, occasionally even slightly below 36. Considering that hyperthermia begins to set in at 35.5, it's not surprising that I frequently feel cold - even on a warm day.

So as long as I have on my neoprene Heatseeker vest under my wetsuit, my neoprene hat under the official swimming cap, booties, and maybe even gloves I should hopefully be okay. People may laugh given that it is still summer, but hey needs must when you have this sort of challenge and I!  

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Photo of the day - 15: Crystal Palace Hills

It's getting to that time of year again when hill climbs take place. People travel long distances to race all of a couple of minutes up a very steep hill. It's a different kind of race that only seems to exist in the UK. I have heard of similar sorts of races abroad. In Italy they are known as cronoscalata, and they do them in France too. But in those events people are racing up proper mountain passes where good amateur racers could still be riding for an hour. They normally happen on iconic climbs like Alpe d'Huez, France or Madonna del Ghisallo, Italy. But in this country we have a season full of these races, meaning that although some venues are famous such as Cat and Fiddle, Box Hill or Winnats Pass (the venue for this year's national championships), many hills are unknown to all but those local to the area and hill climb aficionados. 

My quirky side got the better of me last year, and I did some hill climb races last year. I got the bug and I am doing some again this year. I am pretty slow compared to the rest of the field, but I do find that these sorts of hills do improve my own riding and hill climbing ability, so that's why I am happy to stick with it. I also enjoy those few minutes where you really push yourself so hard and everyone is there shouting and cheering for you. At the bigger events it's just like what you see on TV when the racers go up a mountain pass and massive crowds are shouting "Allez allez" at the riders.

As part of my preparation I ride the hills near where I live. We are lucky to have a choice of hills in the Crystal Palace area, so I can regularly get in a small hilly loop either at lunchtime, or in the case of today, just after work and before my clarinet class. In the 14.5km ride (9 miles approx) I managed to get in six hills and 280m (850ft approx) of climbing. The loop includes what I call the dreaded trio of Westwood Park, Canonbie Road, and Eliot Bank.  I always get apprehensive about these climbs before I ride them, but in a strange way I also feel that I have to ride them because I live in hope that in time I will learn to like them, and I will get stronger.

This is a typical quick loop that I do. To get more hills in I can also add in the ones that come up from Dulwich, and the ones in the conservation area of Crystal Palace. 

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Photo of the day - 14: Blue-green algae in the Serpentine - blurgh!


Photo: Roland Turner
This little gem in central London is The Serpentine, the main lake in Hyde Park. My running club is named after this place, as Hyde Park is our home area for running. Also, I regularly come and ride laps of the park now that there is a lovely smooth cycle path all the way round. 

Folks do various other activities there like horseriding and roller skating too. And then there's swimming. There's a lido, which is a cordonned-off part of the lake where there is organised swimming, and then big events are held there where folks can swim the whole of the lake. That was the case at the London 2012 Olympics for the triathlon and the open-water swimming event. Every year there is also Swim Serpentine, which is swimming's answer to the London Marathon or Ride London. It's a mass participation event where thousands of people can swim half a mile, one mile, two miles or even six miles. 

It's meant to be taking place this Saturday, except that I have just learned that the lake has been closed to swimming since the end of August due to blue-green algae. That's quite a surprise. I have certainly heard of it affecting other swimming events I've done. But I have not heard of it in The Serpentine before. I just thought something about it being in a Royal Park meant that the maintenance would be top notch and therefore that wouldn't be allowed to happen.

There's been no official word from the organisers, except to say that they are pumping fresh water into the lake. Hopefully this will work. When I have seen places closed because of blue-green algae they didn't reopen for many months. 

It would be great to be able to swim there this Saturday, especially because if I complete the two mile-swim I will receive a special London Classics medal. These are awarded to those dedicated hard-core souls who have completed the London Marathon, Ride London 100-mile and Swim Serpentine 2-mile events. Fingers crossed that the Royal Parks Authority can resolve it and things go swimmingly on Saturday!

Monday, 13 September 2021

Photo of the day - 13: Gigging with my band at Eastbourne bandstand


Ready to play with my concert band at Eastbourne

As well as sport, I do like a bit of music - making music...or something resembling that, if you ask my neighbour! I have had a clarinet for many years. It all started about 30 years ago when I went to live in France after graduating from university. In those early, cold, nights in Paris I needed to find something to do, given that I didn't know many people, and I would feel too tired to understand everything on television. So I hit upon the idea of filling my evenings by learning the clarinet. My neighbours were incredibly accommodating! I managed to get hold of a clarinet after one of the local music shops referred me to a guy in Montmartre who specialised in refurbishing second hand woodwind instruments.

So I made the trip across Paris and they guy sold me a Noblet for 2,000 Francs, which I paid for in instalments. They were very helpful and referred me to a teacher whose studio was above a sex toys shop. It was a bit seedy getting out of the Metro at Pigalle, passing the risqué looking men and women, and going up the steps to his practice room. But Didier's classes were fun. He said he was a bit nervous when giving lessons, and needed to smoke throughout, if I didn't mind. I kind of did mind, but I put up with it because his lessons were cheap. His main instrument was the bass saxophone and I went to see him play at jazz places in the 6th arrondissement of Paris on a few occasions. I was impressed that he had the breath to get out such long notes.

And that was the beginning of my relationship with the clarinet. I played regularly for about four or five years, including when I returned to London. But then it just tailed off as I got involved in other activities. Fast forward to last year when we had the near total lockdown in the Spring. Wanting to do something different during those incredibly unusual times, the clarinet came to the fore.

I have been enjoying playing - working through my grades, going to lessons, and I also joined my local concert band. I must say, playing the clarinet gives me a great feeling - something different from doing sport. It's quite a nice break from all the other energetic things I do, and there's a real feeling of satisfaction when you can produce a good tune either alone or with the band. I also like the versatility of the clarinet. You can do very low notes and very high notes (well once you get over the horrible squeaking). And it lends itself well to all genres of music - jazz, classical, folk, salsa/afrobeat, and just bog-standard pop songs too.

I did my first gig with the band yesterday. It was their first performance since 2019, and everyone was so pleased to be back playing to an audience after the coronavirus hiatus. We were at the historic Eastbourne bandstand for a traditional afternoon concert. It was really enjoyable, and it seemed that the audience got into it too. I could get used to doing more of these. The good thing for me is that today, at the band AGM I took up the role of Gigs Manager. I really fancy the idea of being involved in organising events - something I have taken great pleasure in in the past. So I look forward to us playing in more bandstands, a few church halls, bars, and who knows maybe - the Royal Albert Hall!

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Photo of the day - 12: First sea swim of the year - at Eastbourne



The concert band I play in were due to do a gig at the Eastbourne Bandstand. Given that it is right on the seafront, I decided to get there early enough to go for a quick dip in the sea. I had been wanting to go for an open water swim all week, and with Swim Serpentine less than a week away I was keen to take whatever opportunities I could. It was quite an easy thing to do. I parked on a side road off the seafront road and walked to the sea front to start my swim. Given that it wasn't very warm, I wore a wetsuit - in this case my swimrun wetsuit with calf sleeves. 

As I have gotten into the sport of swimrun I have found that the kit you use for this sport is really handy for swimming in general. The calf sleeves and pull buoy (which is strapped to my thigh) give extra buoyancy to the point that you don't really need to kick your legs when swimming front crawl. The hand paddles also make your stroke efficient and you go that bit quicker than if you had none of these items. 

The other things I have that really make life easier are a pair of swimrun shoes. They are basically minimalist running shoes that are light and don't weigh your legs down in the water, and then they drain quickly when you get out of the water. The ones I wear are Vivobarefoot Tempest. Other brands exist like Salomon or Inov8. They were great because I could walk down the road with them and then just get straight into and out of the water while wearing them. 

This was my first sea swim of the year. I don't know why I'd left it so long. I had made a previous attempt a few months ago in Brighton, after cycling there from London. But I didn't have my wetsuit with me, and even though it had been a hot day the water just wasn't hot enough for me. So I only succeeded in getting knee deep into the water before I called it a day! 

This time I had the gear and that gave me a lot more confidence to have a go and deal with "the challenge". The water was a bit choppy, and that made sighting a tricky as I kept being wafted off the path I was trying to follow; but thankfully The Wish Tower when swimming one way, and Eastbourne Pier when swimming the other way, made life a lot easier. I had a big tow float with me, which is necessary, particularly for visibility among the various paddleboarders and other swimmers. So all in all I felt safe during my one-mile swim. 

When I got out, quite a few people stopped and asked me how my swim had gone and admired the fact that I had been in, given the temperature. That gave me an even greater sense of achievement. I highly recommend a little dip like this, particularly before something like a concert, as I came out feeling quite relaxed, refreshed and ready to jam.


Saturday, 11 September 2021

Photo of the day - 11: Wireless Festival at Crystal Palace



Crystal Palace Park, local to my home, is one of my go-to places for running, bike training reps and a bit of roller skating too. But this weekend it is off limits because of the Wireless Festival. In fact we have had restricted access to the park since August when they had a series of weekend concerts as part of the South Facing festival. Then there have been nights showing outdoor cinema, classical music concerts, and an opera. But Wireless has been a bigger deal. I could tell when I did a run there last week and many paths were closed, plus there were loads of engineers and bulldozers. 

I have never been to the Wireless rap festival before and I must say that looking at the list of artists on the billing I haven't heard of a single one of them. I certainly wouldn't be able to identify any of them if I came face to face with them. But it seems they are well-known, as is the festival, given that the 50,000 capacity venue is sold out, and lots of road closures are in place around Crystal Palace.

Many local people were complaining about the noise and some said they could hear it from their homes a mile away. I can't say it disturbed me personally. I only heard the music when I went out for a run in Betts Park. 

Folks (myself included) were also worried about the place looking like a tip afterwards or that there might be some horrible crimes committed. I didn't hear anything on the news though, so I guess the event was incident free and folks were largely well-behaved.

I think that locals heeded the memo too because in the end there wasn't actually that much traffic on the road. So one could say that this big festival was a success.

Personally, I think that given the last 18 months we've had, it is nice to have a bit of entertainment and merrymaking going on in the neighbourhood. It also puts the area on the map.

The other thing is that the historic area of Crystal Palace Park has fallen into disrepair over the years, and The Crystal Palace Park Trust have been keen to organise and host events in the park as a way of raising funds to restore the various parts of the park - be it the playground facilities, the concert bowl (affectionately known as the "laptop") or even the dinosaurs. 

So even though I don't know any of the artists at Wireless and I probably won't ever attend that festival, I am glad to see that these sorts of events are of appeal to others and they can help in the process of keeping my local area the attractive place that it deserves to be.

Friday, 10 September 2021

Photo of the day - 10: Cycle race up Winnats Pass? Maybe!

 

Photo: Neil Theasby

This beautiful stretch of road is Winnats Pass, in the Peak District. It's in a very popular area just outside the village of Castleton, with Peveril Castle nearby as well as a number of show caverns to visit. And lets not forget the numerous walking trails that lead to Mam Tor, and the highest peak, Kinder Scout. But the most noteworthy thing here for cyclists is this excruciatingly steep hill over 1km, with 25% gradients, which breaks the moral of many. It's not uncommon to see people pushing their bikes up the hill. I rode up it last year while on a ride around the Peak District, and I had to stop for a breather. That was in part due to the stress of the numerous vehicles going up the hill too. It's quite hard to manage the ride up this climb. 

The good news is that this hill has been selected for the National Hill Climb Championships at the end of October, so riders will get to ride up the hill with no vehicles given that it will be on closed roads. The bad news is that many people who would like to ride up this climb won't get the opportunity.

Therein lies the subject of a heated debate that took place on the UK Hill Climbing Facebook group today. 

Last year, almost 500 riders, including 93 women, competed on Streatley Hill, the venue for National Hill Climb Championships. This year, the authorities have limited the numbers to 300 riders. The organisers have designated 150 places to men, and in the interests to equality, 150 places to women. One guy highlighted the issues around this. His claim is that 150 places for women is a lot given that there is never that number of women entrants in any hill climb. Last year's championships had a record number of entrants - around 120. And this was after a big communications campaign and an offer to pay the entry fees of 100 women. Normally, around 50 women enter. In a non-championship hill climb race there are usually fewer than 10 women entrants. 

So on that basis, it will be hard to fill the 150 places for women, and if they are filled there will be novice women taking part, who may even end up having to push their bike up the hill! (For many women, last year's national hill climb championships was their first ever hill climb race.) Meanwhile, the 150 places allocated to men will be easily oversubscribed as much as two-fold, with some very capable men being denied a place on the grounds of them not being ranked highly enough. The man questioned if this really is equality when you will have every woman who applies, including novices, being accepted into the race while some very experienced men who have been competing in hill climbs throughout the year will not get a place.

I think this is a valid point, though unfortunately because the man mentioned that some women will be pushing their bikes up the hill this rubbed people up the wrong way, and what could have been a more level-headed discussion, descended into a slanging match with women taking offence and talking about all those historical inequalities sport, male chauvinism, women being oppressed, misogyny etc.

While I believe in equality, I do think that it is not as basic as saying 50% of the world are women, therefore allocate 50% of the places to women. I think it is important to take into account the practical implications of implementation. I think that allocating 150 places to women when there has never been that level of participation from amateur women racers in any hill climb will engender problems and also a lack of equality in the actual fibre of the competition. We could have elite/top female racers up against other women who are wheeling their bikes up the hill. In the men's race it will elite male racers against other top male racers. That's how a National Championships should be. I think that women need to show equal engagement in sport, the same as men in order to have the same number of places allocated.

 Many women choose not to take part in competitive cycling, but they will be very quick to call out sexism if there is a nominal difference in allocations between men and women. For the balance to be redressed, it is up to women to get more involved. 

My views weren't popular when I expressed them on the forum, though I say this as someone who is positive about women's sports. I have done sport since as far back as I can remember, and I have been involved in initiatives to encourage more women to get involved in sport. Therefore my views are based on my observations and discussions. I hope that over time, more women can take up hill climbing. 

And for what it's worth, I don't feel offended when someone suggests that I may end up pushing my bike up Winnats Pass. That is not an impossibility. I have had to do that a few times in the past, and if the ground is wet and I get back-wheel spin on the day of the National Championships, I may well end up doing so again!

Thursday, 9 September 2021

Photo of the day - 9: Thinking of Il Lombardia (the Tour of Lombardy)

 


As we head into the Autumn and the road cycling season approaches the red kite, representing the final kilometre of the race, I am thinking more and more about The Tour of Lombardy, or Il Lombardia, as it is commonly known - not least because I've been writing a feature about it. In recent days I have spoken to quite a few people, including Norma Gimondi, daughter of the late great Felice Gimondi. 

Today I spoke to the head honcho at RCS Sport, organisers of this event and other big Italian events like the Giro d'Italia and Strade Bianche. It was great to finally get to speak to Mauro Vegni and talk to him about the race and its history. They are putting on quite a few races in the coming weeks - Tour of Sicily, Milan-Turin, Gran Piemonte as well as Il Lombardia. So I felt quite honoured that in this busy period he took the time out to talk to me. 

All this talk of the race, and cycling in the Lombardy region leaves me thinking that I really should go there. I must admit, I have gotten used to doing things over the phone or in video chats. Travelling seems such a faff, especially at this time where you end up having to think about Covid tests and health passes to go to different places - or even the government suddenly deciding to put the country you are visiting onto a red list, or add in other special measures. 

But, I must say I have fond memories of the couple of years I spent in Milan, and I really loved riding around the various areas in the Lombardy region - Como, Bergamo, Lecco, Intelvi, Lugano (in Switzerland), and also going South to Pavia and Oltrepo Pavese. I managed to get in a trip to Lombardy in February of last year, right before the coronavirus pandemic hit. It was only a brief trip up a couple of climbs near Bergamo - before I went on to do some skiing in Courmayeur and Chamonix - but it was lovely. So yes, all this talk of Il Lombardia has me salivating and thinking, maybe I should go there, and meet some of the folks I spoke to, other professional riders, as well as some friends I know there too. I'm holding that thought.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Photo of the day - 8: Open water swimming in the Thames

 

photo: Eirian Evans

This is where I should have been today - swimming round and round in the River Thames at Richmond. However, finishing off a number of writing projects meant that I couldn't get the time out to go there. The Thames Young Mariners have regular open water swimming sessions there, and given that it is within the London area it is well worth getting along and having a swim. The coordinator is allowing extended sessions too, for those of us who need to do long swims. I love the idea of swimming in that area - especially in Richmond, one of my favourite areas of London. Hopefully I will get to swim there soon. Apparently, there will be sessions through the autumn and winter too, but I must say I would rather do my first swims there now. I'm not quite ready for really cold water just yet. I'll leave that to the hard core fanatics!

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Photo of the day - 7: Catching up with sports photographer, Pauline Ballet


I first met cycling Pauline Ballet in March of this year when I was writing for a project on inspirational women in cycling. She was one of the 31 women featured. As with practically all meetings at that time we chatted via Zoom from our homes (She's in Paris, while I'm in London). She was buzzing as she'd just got back from photographing the Strade Bianche professional cycle race in Italy, which she described as "rock 'n' roll". I enjoyed chatting with her so much as she was quite a laugh - and it was good to get in some practice speaking French too. We said we'd be in touch again, but all various commitments meant that we couldn't get together until today.

Talking to her, it's been non-stop - what with Tour de France, the Olympics, the Vuelta a Espana and many other smaller events. I must say the life of a sports photographer can be pretty full-on hearing what she has to do - long days, walking around carrying heavy equipment, sometimes on the back of a motorbike speeding down the hill following a rider descending a mountain pass, then packing up to do another race in another country etc. So I can understand why when she has the odd break between her assignments she is totally "off" - away from work conversations and her computer. 

Pauline also photographs other sports like the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros stadium, and football matches with Paris St Germain at Parc des Princes. What I found funny was that she's not a massive football fan and she just gets on with the job professionally. The footballers, including football megastar Lionel Messi, are just professional athletes. Yet meanwhile, gazillions of football fans around the world would give their eye teeth just to get within 20 feet of him!

I hope to see Pauline again, who know - maybe even in person at a race. Hopefully I won't have to wait six months.

This is the first-person feature I wrote about Pauline earlier this year.



Monday, 6 September 2021

Photo of the day - 6: Talking to Norma Gimondi about Felice

 


As part of the work that I am doing on a feature article about the Tour of Lombardy I had the pleasure of interviewing Norma Gimondi on the phone. She is the daughter of the man above, Felice Gimondi, one of Italy's greatest bike racers. 

Felice won all three of the Grand Tours (Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a Espana) in the 60s and 70s, including winning the Giro three times. He also won the World Championships in 1973, and the Tour of Lombardy twice. The great man sadly passed away at the age of 76, a couple of years ago after suffering a heart attack while on holiday. 

I have good memories of interviewing Felice Gimondi in Bergamo in 2012, when I took part in the eponymous cyclosportive (Gran Fondo) held in his honour. So it was good to speak to Norma today. She had lots of stories to tell about her father's days racing, and she spoke with a lot of pride. She mentioned how much he enjoyed riding up the Madonna del Ghisallo climb, and how he got the hunger knock and left with nothing to eat he had to pick figs off the trees. She also mentioned how upset Eddy Merckx was when Felice beat him at the Tour of Lombardy. Even in 2014 at gala event, almost 50 years after the event, Eddy didn't want to be reminded of the day and refused to autograph a photo she had of her dad crossing the finish line ahead of Merckx. 

Norma said it always makes her feel happy to talk about Papa, as she calls him. Based in Bergamo, where the family is established, Norma is a lawyer by trade, and she is also vice president of the Italian Cycling Federation. For her, it is important to preserve the Gimondi name in cycling, and that is one way that she can do it - through being involved in Italian cycling. I really enjoyed my chat with Norma Gimondi, and hope I get to meet her in person in the not-distant future.

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Photo of the day - 5: Cycling up Toys Hill the hard way


This is one of my favourite views when I go cycling in the Kent lanes. I rode past here today. It's the view over the Kent Weald, from Puddledock hamlet. I imagine on a very clear day you can see Bough Beech reservoir and Hever Castle from here - once you've had time to get your breath back. 

Yes, the ride up Puddledock Lane after coming down past Chartwell is not easy at all. I call it the hard way up Toys Hill. Toys Hill is hard enough, and puts fear into a many a local rider, especially as it is done towards the end of a ride when returning to South London, with its unrelenting gradients. But the route to the summit via Puddledock is harder. 

If you coordinate your turn well on the descent from Hosey Common you can use a bit of that momentum to carry you up the initial part of the hill - for all of one metre! Most of the time I have to take it easy when turning into this lane from Mapleton Road as it is a sharp left-hand turn. Also, there's a rapid click of the gears as I try to find the granny ring. 

After that it's a steady grind, up the narrow road that goes straight up, with 15%+ sections. You can't go all out, as you need your wits about you if a car is coming down the hill, or even other cyclists too. Also, it's best to get used to the gradient at this time of year while the road is dry. Often in autumn and winter the road surface is damp and you end up having to do the whole thing in the saddle to avoid the back wheel spinning. So if your legs are primed for this type of effort, doing in the saddle won't seem so onerous. 

I seem to have made it sound like a hill too be avoided. But I really love that sense of satisfaction when you reach the top, and Toys Hill Well, with it's lovely view and park bench make for a just respite and reward, before carrying on to join the main Toys Hill and ride up the last hard section, and enjoying the long fast descent to Brasted.

I did do another difficult climb after Puddledock - Westerham Hill. That one was still hard, but not as quad-busting as the previous push I had to do, so I was happy enough.

This is the link to the full route I did today.

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Photo of the day - 4: Getting ready for Swim Serpentine, London


It was quite a surprise to see this photo of me on the Swim Serpentine weekly newsletter. It's actually a photo the organisers took of me just after I finished my one-mile swim at Swim Serpentine about two or three years ago. I was really buzzing from the enjoyment of the event, and the fact that I had had a good swim over one mile. It's not always the case. Sometimes the water is choppy, or you bump into other competitors. Sometimes I get tense in the water, particularly if I can't see the buoys and I lose sight of where I'm going. But this was a good swim, with lots of buoys to help with sighting, loads of crowd support in Hyde Park and on the Serpentine Bridge, and even swans for company! 

The photo is also a reminder to train, and the fact that the event is just a couple of weeks away. I have signed up for the two-mile event, which is a stretch target, though I have done lots of swimming this year. Swimming was the first organised sports we could do when lock-down measures were eased. However, it hasn't always been easy for me to fit in the time to swim two miles. A mixture of my busy schedule, and some venues only allowing you to swim for an hour has meant that it's quite hard to go the full distance.

The good thing is that when I aired this issue on the Open Water Swimming Facebook group I had lots of replies from people naming venues where it is possible to swim for longer than an hour - including one of my local open-water swimming venues at the Royal Victoria Docks. So now, I just need to take myself to those venues. Not long to go until the big day - 18th September.

Friday, 3 September 2021

Photo of the day - 3: Women's cycling in Afghanistan


This is 25-year old Masomah Ali Zada, an Afghan woman who recently competed in the individual time trial in the Tokyo Olympics, as part of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team. Her appearance at the Olympics was a real landmark moment in sport. She had taken up cycling in her homeland at a time when rules about women doing sport were relaxed since the regression of the Taliban. Nevertheless, conservative sections of society still voiced their disapproval of women doing sport, and people would even throw stones at Masomah and her sister Zahra when they out cycling. This didn't stop her joining the Afghan national team, but due to persecution by other tribes within Afghanistan (She and her family are Hazara minority.) Masomah and her family were granted asylum in Lille, Northern France, where she is studying engineering at university. Speaking about the Olympics she said,

"It's not just my dream to get to the Olympics, but it is my responsibility to open the door for the other refugees in France. I want to represent the rights of women in all countries and also Afghanistan, who think that they cannot ride a bike. I've received messages of support from around the world with people saying, it doesn't matter that you finished 25th out of 25, you are already a winner because you raced."

That was a very positive thing to see. Sadly, within a couple of weeks all that has changed, as the Taliban have once again taken charge of Afghanistan and women cyclists are living in fear for what will become of them as an imminent ban is imposed on women doing any sport. There is currently a fundraiser taking place to help rescue female Afghan cyclists. It's sad to think that something that we do without thinking about it in the UK, can become a real tour de force in other countries. I hope that women can be taken to a safe place, but I do feel sad knowing that for every woman rescued, there will be hundreds of thousands left behind. 

Here is the link to the fundraiser page

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Photo of the day - 2: Islabikes eJanis eBike


 I finally got my review of the Islabikes eJanis written out and submitted to Cycling Weekly for publication on the website. I must say I find this e-bike quite elegant-looking, especially as the battery is discreetly built into the frame. The other thing too, is that it weighs 13.5kg, which is very light compared to other ebikes. Some ordinary mountain bikes weigh more than this e-bike. So if I ever had power failure, the bike is perfectly rideable without the motor. Of course, now that I have the motor I am going to use it. 

Review of the Islabikes e-Janis on Cycling Weekly website 

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Photo of the day - 1: Gravel ride to Box Hill


This was me on the trails at Headley Common, near Box Hill on the August Bank Holiday weekend when I did a gravel ride out to the Surrey trails with my friend Arabella. It was all a bit vague as I had thought we might go along the North Downs and then pick up the Downs Link to get to the coast. But in the end we were more in the mood for doing things in a leisurely mode, given that it was the Bank Holiday. So we only actually got as far as Box Hill in the end! Mind you, we did do 45 miles in the end, which is not to be sniffed at for an off-road ride. It was a really fun day out, with new trails we did in South London around Riddlesdown and Coulsdon Common. Then we cut across onto the North Downs near Caterham, and followed them to Box Hill, with a couple of fun detours, before turning home along various trails in Epsom, Banstead and Carshalton. We did three cafe stops and stopped for a few photo sessions. So yes, it was all very leisurely and fun. A London to Brighton off-road ride is still on the menu for the near future though. 

The route on Strava is here