Friday, 15 September 2023

One day one photo - 15: Motorbike problem rectified with a rectifier

Regulator rectifier - the solution to my Monkey woes 

This little component is called a regulator rectifier. Before today I had no idea what it was, but I think it may be the answer to the issues I have been having with my motorcycle - thanks to the people at FWR Motorcycles in Kennington, South London. I had been phoning around different outlets to see if they had in stock a good quality battery for my Honda Monkey - according to many it should have been the Yuasa YTZ5S. The guy took the time to get more details about the problems I'd been having and said that they would certainly be able to supply the battery, but they would make sure to check the bike over to see if there wasn't any underlying problem. It's true that a tracker drains the battery on a vehicle, but it doesn't drain it that much. Also if I kept on changing battery, it is hard to say that I keep being supplied with dud batteries. 

So I arranged to take the bike in to be looked at. Unsurprisingly, I was late arriving at the workshop because the bike wouldn't start - despite having been plugged into the trickle charger that morning. The only thing I could think to do was to start the bike while the trickle charger was plugged in! It gave a very tentative start, but at least the engine was running enough for me to be able to ride the Monkey the 7 miles to get to FWR. After checking the bike, within minutes they managed to pinpoint the problem. The Regulator rectifier was faulty. I don't know much about the mechanics of a bike, but this little device serves to stop the battery from being overcharged while the engine is running. Normally the voltage would be between 13 and 14 volts, and the regulator rectifier serves to keep it within those parameters. 

But if the rectifier goes the voltage goes up and up and just burns out the battery. So you end up with a weakened, even dead battery. Apparently, when the engine of the Monkey was running the voltage was going to 16V. That would explain why the battery was just getting flatter and flatter every time I was using it. 

I think that if I had gone to some other mechanics they would have just changed the battery, sent me on my way, and I would still be having Monkey issues that would just be so disruptive to my everyday schedule. So I really appreciate the guys at FWR identifying the underlying problem. Hopefully, life with my Monkey will be back to normal from now on.

Thursday, 14 September 2023

One day one photo - 14: AA motorcycle breakdown service to the rescue....again!

Technically this would be a post from yesterday, but it was the early hours of this morning by the time the AA motorcycle breakdown guy was able to help me out and get my motorcycle started. 

I really don't know what's going on with it. I rode it to band practice, after having left it on a trickle charger for most of the day.

In the two hours from when I parked it up, attended band practice and returned to it to restart it the battery had gone flat. I couldn't get the machine started. 

There I was, at around 10.30 at night at a loss to know what to do as other band members were getting in their cars to go home. I felt rather embarrassed to tell them of my predicament, especially as I didn't want to burden them with my situation. What could they have done? I don't know if they would have had jump leads for the bike. Some of them were older folks so where would they find the strength to roll the bike and jump start it? 

So I just casually said goodbye as though nothing was amiss, while quickly googling how to bump start a motorcycle. The car park was on a slight gradient so I thought it could work.

After the church car park had emptied I then began to wheel the bike and get it into position. A couple of local youths who saw me with the bike commented on how nice it was. They asked if it was broken down and did I need any help. But I just told them I was waiting for a friend. You just never know who you're talking to at that time of night.

Sadly my efforts to bump start the bike were a bit feeble so I had to give up and call the AA. Thankfully he was able to find me as I had hidden myself and my Honda Monkey around the corner in a cul-de-sac. 

On starting the bike, the first thing he said was "you need a new battery". That's interesting, I replied, "this one is barely a month old!"

He suggested that the battery was not a very good quality, and the fact that it had had to be jump started a few times will have weakened it.

Given the time of night and the fact that if I stalled the bike while riding it home I wouldn't be able to restart the bike, the AA man decided to follow behind in his truck for the short journey home by way of being on standby. Jolly kind of him.

I really must say I'm at a loss as to what to do. I have changed the battery already, I have changed the tracker (which it was thought was draining the battery too much), and I constantly have the motorcycle charged up when not in use now. It's frustrating to not know how to fix the problem, and I find starting the motorcycle quite stressful knowing that even within two hours of leaving it parked the battery will have gone flat. 

I was too tired to think exactly what to do next when I got home at almost 1 o'clock in the morning. I was just glad to have had the possibility of being rescued late at night. 

Wednesday, 13 September 2023

One day one photo - 13: Back with my other band in Croydon

A few pieces we'll playing this term at Croydon Symphonic Band

Today was that "first day back at school" feeling as I went to the first rehearsal of the new academic year with my other band, Croydon Symphonic Band. The other band I play with, at Beckenham don't stop during the school holidays, unlike quite a few other bands. The Croydon band is among those who follow the same cycle as the academic year. 

So it was good to see the old faces, including our conductor, David Cox, after a few months. I had played my clarinet over the school holidays - practicing drills at home and also solo clarinet pieces in my own books. I enjoy doing those because in the bands I play in I am either second or third clarinet so often I am not playing the melody and I end up playing things that don't make much sense unless I have a backing track or am with the band. But when I play at home with my own books I am playing the tune, and that is good for the soul. 

Having said that, nothing beats being part of an ensemble or orchestra with the full range of sounds and instruments. That's what I like about playing in bands. I just need to be on my game so that I can play my part correctly. As a relative newbie to the band (as opposed to those who have been going for 30 years), most pieces I play from the band library are new to me, so the first rehearsal back ends up being hard, as it is full-on sight-reading. I must say though, that the pieces do look good, and I am looking forward to playing them well. I am particularly pleased to see a few Gershwin pieces. Fascinating Rhythm, American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue are cracking numbers. Just don't count on me to do that clarinet intro! 

Tuesday, 12 September 2023

One day one photo - 12: Beckenham Concert Band swansong for our conductor

Felicity conducting the band. I am just about visible on the right (Photo by David Chapman)

Today was the last day in my band, Beckenham Concert Band, for our conductor and musical director, Felicity Cliffe. After a couple of years of providing musical leadership, Felicity is going up to pastures new at the Royal Northern College of Music, where she will pursue her high-level musical/conducting studies.  

To mark the occasion we played a selection of songs in a mini concert, with an audience of a few friends and family. I had missed a few sessions over the summer, as well as all of the concerts. It was a shame to have not been able to take part in the concerts, but I was glad to have been able to get to the last rehearsal before Felicity leaves. In fact we had a pretty full band as many people, including deps turned up just to have the chance to say good bye to Felicity. That's a testimony to how much people liked her. She was quite moved to see so many people, and also to receive gifts and flowers.

I only joined the band in the summer of 2022, so I didn't get to know her very well. But I thought she was a friendly person and a great conductor with a gentle manner and knew how to get the best out of us. I played most of the tunes well, though I made a mess of one of the Holst pieces, and I squeaked my clarinet. I hope nobody heard. If they did, then I'll say sorry! All the best to Felicity.

Monday, 11 September 2023

One day one photo - 11: All ready for the Swim Serpentine - But will it happen?

My gear for Swim Serpentine arrived in the post, which I was glad to see as I am actually looking forward to doing it. It is my favourite mass participation swimming event. 

I have been doing a lot of swimming this year, and for the first time ever I was out swim training consistently through the winter, including a couple of trips to the unheated lidos at Brockwell Park, in Herne Hill, and also Parliament Hill Lido. 

But alas, once again the lake, known as The Serpentine is closed due to the presence of blue-green algae blooms, so we are all in suspense as to whether or not the event will take place. When water test results on 30th August revealed high levels of cyanobacteria, The Serpentine was closed immediately. 

When a few other swim venues have fallen victim to the dreaded blue-green algae this led to the place being closed to swimming for around three or four weeks. If this is the average amount of time it takes for a lake to be rid of blue-green algae, Swim Serpentine may as well be cancelled now, given that the water won't be clear before the big day on 17th September. 

Frustratingly for many people, the organisers have not put out any official statement about the situation, and they are unable to say if the event will take place. While it is slightly annoying for me, as someone who lives in London and can just go and swim in another open water venue if Swim Serpentine is cancelled, for many people who don't live in London, there is more at stake. Many people will be travelling in from other parts of the country and will have booked travel and accommodation. They stand to lose a lot of money if they are only informed of the cancellation at a couple of days' notice.

I guess these things are beyond the control of the organisers, and it must be a real challenge for them too. In fact the last couple of years have been a challenge. The 2020 event was cancelled during the Covid-19 pandemic; 2021 also had an issue with blue-green algae. Thankfully, that went ahead when the lake was declared bacteria free on the Tuesday before the event. Sadly, due to the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, which involved the use of the Royal Parks, Swim Serpentine was cancelled. And now here we are once again, in limbo. 

I can only keep my fingers crossed that the event can go ahead.

Sunday, 10 September 2023

One day one photo - 10: Sunday at Virginia Water (and also Longside Lake)

Enjoying a Sunday afternoon at Virginia Water

I had originally planned on taking part in a SwimRun event at Longside Lake, but different factors meant that I didn't do it in the end. I went there anyway as I had arranged to meet my friend Rachel to do a bit of paddleboarding there. It was a fun hour or so that we spent on the water. We weren't able to use the whole lake as there was waterskiing also going on, and I didn't fancy being in their wake! Hopefully we can return there and have the full use of the lake.

After our exertions we'd worked up enough of an appetite to scoot across to the nearby Virginia Water where we had a picnic beside the lake. 

I must say it is a beautiful part of the world. Virginia Water is part of the Royal Landscape that includes Windsor Great Park, and has other sections like Savill Gardens, a big Totem Pole and Smith Lawn, a prime spot for playing or watching polo.

Being not so Royal, Rachel and I just slummed it eating our sandwiches from Waitrose in Egham on a wooden bench in the woods. Then in very English style, the the rain came down but we were able to have afternoon tea in the cafe, before returning outside after the rain and burning off more calories on a mini walk. 

My Sundays are normally quite energetic with a bike ride, a long run and sometimes even a race. It was quite nice to do something more leisurely for a change. Regardless of how sporty you are, it does make for a refreshing change to slow down and just enjoy your environment. 

Saturday, 9 September 2023

One day one photo - 9: Richmond Park - the cyclists' (and maybe the prisoners') choice

Rider hang-out at Roehampton Gate, Richmond Park
It's been a couple of months since I was last in Richmond Park, so I thought I'd make the most of the good weather and my bursting energy levels to make the trip across into South-West London and do a few laps of the cycling mecca for London-based cyclists. Sure, places like Box Hill and Regents Park are also popular, but Richmond Park is the place for all cyclists - not just club riders. Recreational riders family bike riders and small children all like to come out to this expansive green space, the biggest park in London.

First thing in the morning from about 7 am it tends to be the hard core club cyclists as those mini pelotons want to be able to get a clear uninterrupted path around the circumference of the Royal Park situated between SW15, TW9 and KT2, without having to slow down for or even scare away non-club riders! 

Not being hardcore, I arrived at the Roehampton Gate entrance at around 8.30am and began my three laps. By this time the park was beginning to get busy as more club riders arrived as well as recreational riders. I enjoyed just being among a large loose community of people powered by pedals.

The area around Roehampton Gate where there is a cafe and a cycle hire hub is a prime meeting point for cycling groups and it's always an area where you can bump into familiar faces. I saw different cyclists from London Dynamo, a large local cycling club that organises rides there.

Apparently, the police had also been in Richmond Park searching for an escaped prisoner who had apparently absconded from Wandsworth jail a few days earlier. You do see some dodgy bike riding sometimes, but I can't say I saw any signs of shifty behaviour! Who knows he may have been hiding in some secluded bracken or among the deer.  

Although I cycled there alone, I ended up riding close to other riders who were of a similar ability to myself. Sometimes they were stronger than I on the flat, while other times I pushed myself a bit on the hills and would catch or overtake them. Then on the descent of Broomfield Hill, it was a question of who had the strongest nerves when it came to the fast descent and the sweeping right-hand curve. Generally, they were more confident than myself as I was slightly out of practice and so used my brakes at the top of the climb in order to not pick up too much speed. I wasn't in the mood to kiss the tarmac.

Since the time of lockdown, vehicular traffic has been a little bit restricted and there are a lot fewer cars than before - particularly on Sawyers Hill and Broomfield Hill - which makes it very pleasant to ride. 

In the end I cycled two full anti-clockwise laps, then did one small lap via the ballet school and Pen Ponds, then a clockwise half-lap from Roehampton Gate to Kingston Gate before exiting the park and returning home. I always feel inspired after riding around Richmond Park - the sight of the beautiful, varied woodland on undulating terrain as well as the deer in the background doing their thing always gives me a feelgood factor which gives me wings as zoom through Kingston, Raynes Park, Wimbledon, and Mitcham to reach my manor in Crystal Palace. I hope not to leave it too long before I am back in Richmond Park again.

Friday, 8 September 2023

One day one photo - 8: Swimming in Canary Wharf

Swimming in Middle Dock, Canary Wharf

Happy Friday! And what better way to start the day than by having a dip in the Middle Dock at Canary Wharf. I got there a little later than planned after having had issues with the battery in my motorcycle - more specifically it was the tracker which was draining an inordinate amount of energy from my battery, so there was a delay while the battery was getting charged.

Once I arrived at that familiar stretch of water among the tall glassy buildings and the suits of the Docklands financial district, I felt a sigh of relief at the knowledge that I couold don my wetsuit and be in the cool relaxing water.

And cool it was! It's worth noting that the water in Middle Dock is generally colder than that in other nearby open water venues like the Royal Victoria Docks and the Docklands Sailing and Water Sports Centre. It is generally two or three degrees see colder. I am not entirely sure of the reason why; it may be to do with the depth. In any case, as we are currently enjoying a mini heatwave this was not an issue as the water was still 19 degrees Celsius. 

Now in its second season of open-water swimming, Canary Wharf is the newest London venues for this pursuit. I must say it's my favourite. It's easy to get to by motorcycle, bicycle or public transport - the tube station is right at the venue, as is the Docklands Light Railway. There are lots of cafes and bars nearby, and you are guaranteed an audience from the bemused al fresco diners! the venue handily has benches where you can change outdoors, plus there's a basic changing room for those who want to change in privacy, and there are indoor public toilets where you can also get changed. Plus, the folks are very friendly - not that folks in other venues are less friendly. I just like the folks here because last year they gave me extra credits for free. I had done a mini SwimRun challenge, in which I swam at all the local venues in one morning and ran between them, and Canary Wharf was my final venue. The staff there were so impressed at what I'd done that they gave me three or four free swims. So all the last few swims I have done in Middle Dock have been free of charge. 

Today I opted to wear my SwimRun wetsuit with calf guards, meaning that my legs had extra buoyancy, so I didn't have to do much work to keep in the optimum position in the water and I didn't have to do much kicking either. Just gliding along with gentle arm strokes of front crawl put me in the sweetspot. 

There is a 400m and a 200m loop and this morning they were only operating the 200m loop - which I think was more like 350m! No worries. The water was very clear, making it really easy to see other swimmers just by noting their legs when I had my face in the water. Given the weather, all the swimming slots were fully booked, so there were many of us in the water and we all went around visible as a clutch (or whatever the collective noun is) of tow floats. Some, myself included, were doing front crawl, while others bobbed along doing breast stroke. It's all pretty democratic as regardless of speed or stroke, skins or wetsuit, we all come out refreshed and having had a relaxing time in the water. 

Thursday, 7 September 2023

One day one photo - 7: Bromley Chainsaw Tree Massacre

Entrance gate to the site of the Bromley Tree Massacre, in Cator Park
On my morning run, today around the parks and green spaces around Penge and Beckenham I took a mini detour around the gated section of Cator Park, the site of the so-called Bromley Tree Massacre. On the morning of 10th June this year part of this lovely woodland area was attacked by none other than the leaseholder, Prince Choudhary. Apparently, he thought it was a good idea to fell around 130 trees within the park, many of them being mature oak trees, despite them being the subject of a tree preservation order. Angry and upset residents tried to challenge the workers that Saturday morning as the work was being done, but bouncers prevented them from gaining access to the park as this outrageous act continued. 

Choudhary was arrested for criminal damage, and was later released, leaving it for Bromley Council to initiate proceedings against him. 

Anyone who violates a tree preservation order could be fined around £20,000 in a magistrates court. In a crown court they could receive a much heavier penalty.  

Choudhary, a part-time football coach, has defended himself by claiming that he wasn't aware that a tree preservation order was in place, and that he felled the trees in order to create space to build a community sports facility within the park. He maintains that he is a law abiding citizen who has always been interested in helping disadvantaged youngsters in South London, and this activity was part of a plan to provide a space for them to play football.

I must say that running around the park and seeing all these dead tree stumps with dead leaves and branches around them in the central area of the park was a very sorry sight, and I find it hard to understand how someone in their right mind would think that it's okay to cut down healthy woodland. There's nothing more pleasant than taking a walk through the woods, and it is great to have this on one's doorstep. It beats me that people would have so little regard for nature. 

Therein lies the problem - people who feel they are enhancing the community by promoting open green spaces to help the local habitat and provide pleasant areas for walking, jogging or having picnics etc pitched against those who feel they are enhancing the community by promoting sports activities for local young people. The landowners, Hopeson Group Limited, have said they are willing to cooperate in order to reach a resolution.

The council have ordered Choudhary to replant trees to replace the 131 he destroyed, though sadly it'll take a generation before the woodland is restored to its previous state.  

Wednesday, 6 September 2023

One day one photo - 6: Swimming training

I was really glad to be able to to get an evening swimming slot at Crystal Palace Sports Centre on the hottest day of the year! Swimming is an activity I have done for many years, though it's something that I have tended to not talk about much or pay much attention to as a sport in the same way I do with cycling or running. While I will watch professional cycle races or running races, and discuss it with fellow fans, I never do the same with swimming. It's just been something that I get on with quietly in an unassuming way.

It's been more of a Cinderella activity for me. When I do triathlons, swimming is my weakest discipline, and is more like something to just get through before I do the "proper" sport of riding my bike and running. I have still stuck with swimming over the years though, because it is great for soothing sore legs after hard exercise - be it running, cycling. I even like to do it when I go skiing as it certainly helps my knees after a day on the pistes.

So it has tended to be a sport I did for functional reasons and I am sure it has benefited me. In more recent times I have come to really appreciate what swimming does for me. Not only are there the musculoskeletal benefits, but it's also an activity I can do for relaxation. Being in the water can help lower blood pressure too. 

With the significant growth in open water swimming I have found myself visiting lots of venues around the London area - Beckenham Place Park, Middle Dock at Canary Wharf, Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre, Divers Cove, Royal Victoria Docks. I also enjoy visiting the lidos at Brockwell Park, London Fields, and Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath. I also like to do open water swimming whenever I travel out of town. Recently I swam in Loch Lomond and on Portobello Beach while on a visit to Scotland. I also swam in the Bassin de la Villette, and the Ourcq Canal when I visited Paris

According to the Strava app, for the first time ever, my stats showed that I spent more time swimming than cycling or running during the month of August. 

All this waterbaby activity has led me to actually work on my technique and do some proper training. I haven't joined a swimming club, but I have bought a few training aids which I use to incorporate drills when I swim at my local pool at Crystal Palace. The kickboard and the flippers have been great for improving my leg technique, the hand paddles have helped improve my arm pull through the water and strengthen my pectoral muscles, while the pull buoy is a nice swimming aid to put my legs in the best position in the water.

I definitely feel that my swimming has improved. I am not necessarily swimming much faster, but I find that for the same speed I don't feel as tired as I used to, and I feel a lot more relaxed during a race. Who knows, this may be the beginning of me channelling my inner Michael Phelps!  

Tuesday, 5 September 2023

One day one photo - 5: Back at band practice

You will have seen as sport features heavily in my life. I like to do it, and watch. But I also like to do more sedentary things - among them, making music. When the UK went into lockdown for the Covid-19 pandemic in April 2020 I saw it as a time to do things that I hadn't done for a while, or try something new. One of those things that I hadn't done for ages - even decades - was play my clarinet. So I dug it out and began playing. When I played the initial drills from my Klosé clarinet method book, my cheeks and lips felt pretty tired, doing something they hadn't done for about 20 years! 

My fellow band clarinet players, L-R: Sue, Catherine, yours truly during a concert last year

I'm not sure my clarinet liked it either, for the wood on this old Noblet horn had to get used to having warm air blown through it after having being in cooler conditions. That caused a few cracks to form, so I had to just gradually increase the amount of playing time, as well as get the cracks filled by a specialist.

Three years on, and I am back to my old level - around Grade 6, and am a member of a couple of local concert bands.

Sadly, I have not been able to attend as many rehearsals I wanted in recent times due to other commitments. But I have practiced a little regularly at home, just to keep up the level for when I resume rehearsals.

So today I returned to rehearsing with one of my bands, the Beckenham Concert Band. It was great to be back and see familiar faces, including my fellow clarinet buddies, Catherine and Suzanne.

Once I picked up my clarinet and joined in with my piece there was a real sweet spot feeling of being back to a comfortable routine. I must say that playing clarinet in an ensemble has quite a few benefits for me. It's great to be able to make a fuller sound when playing with others, and it feels great to contribute towards making music that entertains others. Also, playing in a band definitely helps to raise my game as a clarinettist. I hope not to leave a few months' gap again from band playing.  

We played some classical and jazz music standards including a few Gershwin numbers, and stuff from films and TV programmes - Fame, Let the Sunshine, The Age of Aquarius which I must say I took great pleasure in playing. Sure my playing was a bit rusty as I was sight-reading some of the pieces. But it will be alright on the night, as they say.

The night in question is next week, when we will be doing a mini concert in celebration of our conductor Felicity, who will be having her swansong before she leaves to pursue further high level studies in music and conducting. 

Sadly, one absentee from my clarinet section was dear Gerry, who died a couple of months ago. He was over 90 years old and had various health issues so it wasn't completely out of the blue, but it was still sad. Gerry enjoyed the rehearsals and playing with us and his other band was a high point of his week. He always had a couple of funny tales to tell. I'm sure he's entertaining the angels up above.

Monday, 4 September 2023

One day one photo - 4: Medal Monday....for a fencing tournament!

Swordswomen and man - my finalist opponent is second on the right

Today was the final day of my beginners' fencing course, run by the London Fencing Club in Islington. To mark the occasion the instructors had organised a mini fencing tournament between the trainees. I should have done this at my regular class last Friday, but problems with my motorbike meant I was unable to attend. Very kindly, Tim the manager allowed me to attend today instead. It was good to be able to do that, but I ended up fencing with different set of people from those who I had been training with over the last six weeks. 

I certainly felt the sense of occasion because we had to attach a lead to our clothing and our weapons (foil) to the electronic sensors that would do the scoring during our fencing matches. Also we didn't do any skills training. We were straight into a Round Robin set of matches with each of the different trainees. I just swished my sword around like I was playing at swordfighting, having totally forgotten about the skills that we had been shown for parry and riposte etc. Somehow I won two matches. I also lost two matches, though one of them was a narrow defeat. This earned me the right to proceed to the "final" to determine the women's fencing champion. (The men's champion was easily sorted because there was only one man present in the tournament!) My opponent was a women I had played against earlier, who beat me during the initial Round Robin. Since then, I had developed a bit more of a competitive grrrr and began to think about a couple of moves I could do. One move I tried to do was to suddenly go low and strike from there. I have no idea if I did the move correctly, and I can't imagine that it looked pretty, but it worked as this match was a lot tighter and we ended up at 4-4, and whoever gained the next point would be the champion. This was definitely a harder fought point and we ended up almost going off the piste, and I ended up somehow catching the woman on the side of her shoulder. I can't say that I had the elegance of a fencer in a James Bond movie - it was more like a glorified handbag fight, albeit an energetic one as I was pretty cooked afterwards! Each point won is very intense and it works your legs and arm more than you realise. It's a different kind of work to say, running at a steady pace for three miles. It felt great to have won, and I was pleasantly surprised to be presented with a medal.

It's been ages since I won anything, so I was beaming from ear to ear and almost felt like making a speech like you see at the end of a Grand Slam tennis tournament! We did do a mini photo opportunity though. Maybe I should have tidied my hair beforehand!

I've actually got a taste for fencing, and look forward to doing more of it.

Sunday, 3 September 2023

One Day One Photo - 3: Surrey Hills ride up Pebble Hill - a steep challenge

Top of Pebble Hill - a lesser ridden killer climb in the Surrey Hills

My bike recent bike rides have tended to be in the local Kent and Surrey lanes. On the Kent side they have tended to be around Chislehurst, Petts Wood, or out to the village of Downe, the home of Charles Darwin. On the Surrey side I go out to Warlingham. Time has tended not to allow me to do long rides.

Today I decided to venture further out. My intention had been to do Box Hill, Ranmore Common and maybe Coldharbour. However, I started my ride too late and wanted to get home early enough to rest up before going out and meeting my friend Rachel. So on checking the time when I reached Reigate I decided to change plan, and would head homeward once I reached the roundabout in Betchworth. This involved going up Pebble Hill, a hill which I hardly ever ride up. 

It's a hill that I see when I leave Box Hill village. As I turn left to head towards Walton-on-the-Hill I see the top of Pebble Hill to my right. It seems to drop down quite steeply and doesn't look a particularly appealing road to ride up.

I only ever recall riding up it once. I remember having to make quite an effort to get up it, and things were complicated further by the fact that there's a level crossing so you ride up it from a standing start if you have to stop to let through the Redhill-to-Guildford train.

Between it being a Sunday, and also the aftermath of a train strike there were no trains so I had a clear run up Pebble Hill. The early part of the ride was not so bad, and I could just twiddle up in a low gear as I nodded to the numerous club cyclists and motorbikers flying down the road.

Then there was a right-hand bend in the road as the gradient suddenly ramped up significantly and it was impossible to twiddle in the saddle. Over the 200 or so metres I was forced to make a number of out of the saddle efforts and use every bit of energy to winch myself upwards. I could only look at a short strip of tarmac in front of me, and no longer noticed anyone on the opposite side of the road. I just had to hold a straight line as the various cars sped past me, probably wondering why in God's name anyone would choose to climb up this road without some mechanical assistance!

Finally, the gradient became manageable and I felt like I was able to use my senses to do other things like appreciate my surroundings and acknowledge the guy on the other side of the road who gave me a large thumbs up at my achievement. It certainly felt like an achievement when I looked behind me and saw the sign that said "16% - Low gear for half a mile"

At the top of the hill a breather definitely was de rigueur. That was my moment to replenish my energy stores with a bit of banana and take a few photos. Plenty of cyclists came through the junction - many of them either turned left from Box Hill to go to Walton or Tadworth, while others were coming from Walton to and turning right to go to Headley or Box Hill. No one was riding up from Betchworth.

I then headed home via Walton, Kingswood and Chipstead, feeling happy at what felt like a win. To some, riding the Surrey Hills without doing Box Hill may seem like eating a sandwich with no butter or margarine, but I must say I more than made up for it by using Pebble Hill as the filler.

Saturday, 2 September 2023

One day one photo - 2: Park Run - Saturday morning motivation

Park Run in Crystal Palace Park, London

I have been into running ever since I can remember. As a child I took part in little running races at school and really looked forward to sports day. I regularly went to an athletics track in the local area, Dorothy Hyman's Track Club and my athletic prowess earned me a few medals and trophies. I was 13 then - very much a distant memory and practically another world. Over 40 years later, I am far from winning any medal now, but I am happy to say that I still run (when I am not dealing with one injury or other) and generally enjoy it. Hopefully, all being well, I will take part in the Paris - Versailles 10-mile running race later this month. 

Today I planned to run between seven and eight miles as part of my training. Sometimes I have to work to make my runs interesting and varied in order to stay motivated. On a Saturday morning it's the easiest thing in the world to do to roll over in bed and get an extra hour's lie-in. Very handily, as it's Saturday morning I could turn up at any one of the dozen or so Park Runs near my home and incorporate the 5km mass participation run into my longer outing. 

So that's what I did - a one-mile run to Crystal Palace Park, do the 3.1 miles of the Park Run, and then take a long route back home to make up the mileage. In the end I did 7.75 miles. I'll take that. It's a good job that I don't try to get a personal best when I do the Park Runs, as this run was well off my potential. I was quite happy to plod around at my long slow run pace, and not get involved in any sparring match with other runners. The beauty of the Park Run is that any level of runner/non-runner can take part. There are those who can rattle off the distance in a little over a quarter of an hour, while there are others who walk the entire course. Then some run with their children or their dogs. Mind you, don't underestimate their ability. Some of them are pretty swift. I crossed the finish line with a time just shy of 36 minutes, in 197th place out of 258. There was something quite liberating about running around slowly and seeing a newbie runner who is slightly overweight huffing and panting, straining every sinew to romp past you in the last 50 metres before the finish line and get a sense of satisfaction. I'm good with that. I hope they don't get too disappointed when they look at the results and see that my personal best on that course is more than 11 minutes quicker!

Friday, 1 September 2023

One day one photo - 1: Optimate trickle charger - my new best friend

Through September I usually like to post one photo from my day and giving a snapshot of the life of 2wheel chick at this time of year. Some of the things are fun, some are banal and irritating, and some moments are lovely and heartwarming.

Here goes with today's photo:

Trickle charger to the rescue of my motorbike battery

You may or may not know, dear reader, that I got into motorcycling last year. I now have an A1 motorbike licence, so ride a Honda Monkey 125cc - a minimoto, which is actually quite cute. When I bought the bike, just over a year ago it was fitted with a Datatool tracking device - a useful add-on in case the Honda Monkey is stolen.

However, I have been having quite a few problems since I changed the battery. I am not sure if it's the new battery, which may not be as good as the previous one, or if it's the tracking device. Three times I have had to call the breakdown service to start the bike as a result of the battery going flat. Initially, the battery was replaced as the mechanic thought it was a dud. But it seems that the Datatool may be the problem. Yesterday the battery went flat after five days of not riding the motorbike. After riding the Monkey around for two hours the voltage was back to 13.8. But then today the bike failed to start. The battery had gone flat after barely 24 hours! Annoyingly I only discovered this when I was starting the bike so that I could go to my fencing class. So that ended up being jettisoned. The tracking company helpline, Scorpion was closed for the day, so weren't able to do anything until they reopen on Monday. So in the meantime I am using the trickle charger while waiting for Scorpion to sort out the problem. I will have to use it regularly now. In fact the guy from the breakdown service says that he has the trickle charger permanently plugged into the bike whenever the bike isn't in use. Thank goodness for Optimate. While it's good to have this safety net of the trickle charger it seems strange that I should have to use it when the bike won't be left more than a couple of days unridden. I will still see what other solutions Scorpion can provide, as well as getting a better battery.

Friday, 11 August 2023

World Short-Track Mountain bike championships in Glasgow (well Glentress actually)

It had been part of David Lappartient's manifesto when he took over as president of the Union Cycliste Internationale, in 2018. He really relished the idea of holding a sort of "cycling Olympics" in which a major event would take place bringing together all the various cycling disciplines, including paracycling - road racing, time trial, velodrome cycling, mountain biking (downhill and cross-country), BMX (racing and trials), indoor cycling (artistic cycling and cycle ball) - in one location. 

So when it came to fruition, with events being held in Glasgow and other selected venues in Scotland, there must have been a real sense of accomplishment for the directors and the operational teams at the UCI, British Cycling, Cycling Scotland, and various officials who had worked to get the show on the road, literally.

With such a major event taking place, and with continuous media coverage on TV, and regular bulletins about who was winning what, at the different races, that it was hard to not feel the buzz of the event, and be part of it.

Normally, I would have gone to the event in my capacity as a journalist and covered one of the events. But I hadn't felt that I could commit to doing that as I was working on other projects related to my other pie in medical copywriting.

As it happened, I did have a bit of time, and so I was happy to go up as an ordinary punter and combine it with a trip to visit Scotland as well as to see a couple of races.

So I booked to see the World Short-Track Cross Country Mountain bike championships, and also the indoor cycling, as I was keen to check out this new sport.

These cycling championships were advertised as taking place in Glasgow, as it contained the finishing loops of the road races, the Chris Hoy velodrome, the Emirates arena for the indoor cycling, the BMX stadium, and Glasgow Green for trials and other BMX competitions. 

As well as Glasgow, events took place in other venues around Scotland. The men's road race started from Edinburgh, the women's road race started from Balloch at Loch Lomond, there were time trials in Stirling, and paracycling events at Dumfries. The cross-country mountain biking took place in the Borders area, at Glentress, near Peebles - some 60 miles away. So it wasn't entirely focused on Glasgow.

Cycling along the Tweed

So I drove across the mid-Scotland countryside to see the cycle racing at Glentress forest. Tom Pidcock and was on the start list, as well as one of my favourite riders, Evie Richards, who would be in a very hotly contested women's race. So I was quite excited about going to watch the event.

After leaving my car at the Park and Ride in a park at Peebles, I took out my cyclocross bike from the boot and cycled along the River Tweed to reach the venue. My route went along the river and through the pretty village of Peebles, with its stone-faced houses and quaint cafes, pubs and guesthouses, then into woodland. This is a pleasant area to be with or without an international cycle event taking place. There were lots of people out and about taking walks with their family, and seemed quite content at the sight of so many visitors to their town. Who wouldn't to visit here! 

I asked directions to a local on how to reach the forest (I had failed to see one of the UCI arrows indicating the way to the centre). The woman had her children with her, who were on balance bikes and she was coaxing them along. While giving directions she also said hello to another local person passing by. "Hi John, how are things....Yes, go diagonally across the park and then you will see the cycle path takes you into Glentress. You can't miss it. It's a nice ride." she said with a mild Scottish accent. This lady seemed very proud to be a Peebles resident.

Just outside the village of Peebles I caught sight of the mountain bike centre up above, with all the hoardings, billboards, advertisements and to make the ambiance, the pumping music, loud commentary and riders - the juniors - competing in the previous race. I felt rude not riding up to watch their race, but it would have felt even more rude if I hadn't ridden further along the scenic Tweed Valley cycle path towards Innerleithen, another mountain bike trail centre. 

Time wasn't really on my side, in terms of getting in a significant bike ride. That was always going to be the case when coming up to Scotland for the cycling. Earlier in the day I had been up to Loch Lomond for a swim and that combined with breakfast and the drive over had eaten into valuable riding time. So many activities so little time as they say. Riding along the Tweed Valley Path was very pleasant. Pan flat sections intersperse undulating trails through the woodland of these Borderland forests. I encountered numerous cyclists along the way as they were using path to reach Glentress, having parked their cars in Innerleithen. Most of them were in a rush. This was also the stretch for elite athletes to do any final warm-ups before the race. I bumped into the German Team, plus some riders from Israel and Spain. The route was largely flat, but there were a fair few undulations as the path went through a multi-terrain mixture of gravel, tarmac and wooded surfaces of different bridges.

Chase group in the men's short-course race 

I managed to get back to the Glentress mountain bike centre just as the start klaxon sounded for the start of the men's race. The only thing was I was still a 100m below them at the entrance to the site! After squeezing in my bike at the expansive but packed out bike park, and going through security I did a mini fell run past the various promotional trade stands to reach the lower section of the race course, just in time to see the lead hurtling round containing eventual winner Sam Gaze (New Zealand), and Tom Pidcock leading a second group. The crowd roared and cheered as any of the British riders, including Cameron Orr came past, regardless of whether they were in the lead group or among the stragglers. 

Considering that I was one of the last spectators to arrive at the scene, I still managed to get a good view. There were crowds but it wasn't overcrowded. As the race was in progress it wasn't possible for me to go to "track centre" which would have allowed me to see other parts of the course, so I stayed put where I was. Seeing lots of press photographers also standing near me indicated that this must be a good place to be anyway. We were at the top of a mini uphill ramp around 100m from the start-finish line, so we could see the lead riders accelerating up this ramp to drop their rivals, as well as the back-markers who were straining and struggling as fatigue took it's toll on them. We were also near enough to see the finish line, which was a dead heat between Gaze and the Frenchman Victor Koretzky. Tom Pidcock took bronze in controversial circumstances in which he apparently barged Germany's Luca Schwarzbauer when trying to get in a gap on the last lap, causing the potential bronze-placed rider to crash.  

Tom Pidcock warming down at the finish line

We were also well-placed to see the riders keel over panting, trying to get their breath back after their efforts. The riders were in different states of exhaustion, and different sentiments ranging from elation, disappointment, despair or frustration. Some also needed medical attention as they'd raced around carrying a bleeding wound after crashing along a point in the course.

Tom Pidcock seemed to regain his recovery efficiently and was talking to some of his competitors. Speaking to one guy I heard him say something about "leaving the door open" when commenting on how the race went.

A few minutes later the marshals opened the barriers in order to let us move into track centre, and from there I was able to pick my spot for the women's race, which featured defending Short-Track Champion Evie Richards, multiple World Champion, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, and Dutch favourite Puck Pieterse.

After the build-up introducing the different racers, and the characteristic sound of the human heartbeat in the countdown, the klaxon rang out, and the women were off down the straight and up the hill. This time I stood on the opposite side from where I had been during the men's race. Although I got a good view, my photos weren't as clear because took more of a side-on view and the riders were so fast, the photos were blurred. I will rephrase that. Evie Richards was so fast, my photos of her were blurred! She really made a strong campaign by signalling her intentions from the get-go and riding off the front, much to the excitement of the home crowd. The best photos I got of her were racing were on the giant screen, on which the camera operators gave her a lot of time.

Women's lead group

Also the new position I was in was the shorter line of the hill, which curved to the right, meaning that spectators were very close to the riders, and a stray hand or even a small child could easily be hit if they were marginally over the barrier. I therefore did not want to take any risks even with my phone camera, so made sure to stand back.

Being in track centre meant that I could then move on to the twisty gravelly berms as the riders negotiated this downhill part of the ride. At this point the crowds were at their thickest and the loudest, with bell-ringing and whoop whooping going on too, for all riders, regardless of the nation they were representing. Combined with the dynamic commentary and ambient music, it was more like being at an outdoor music festival on this sunny early evening in August.

Sadly for Evie Richards, she didn't win, as the ever powerful Frenchwoman, Ferrand-Prevot opened the burners on the penultimate lap, and Evie was also dropped by Pieterse. Another Briton, Isla Short, finished in 13th place. At the finish line, the ever-popular Evie still looked joyful despite losing her crown, and gave lots of hugs to her fellow competitors, folks in the crowd that she knew, and took the time to sign her autograph for little girls who were clearly very inspired by her.

Tricky, downhill berms where a few riders crashed

It was a good afternoon out. I didn't stay for the presentation as I didn't want to be too late getting back to Glasgow. I must say I was glad to have done the park and ride and used my bicycle rather than a shuttlebus to get the venue. It's always a logistical headache ferrying thousands of people back to their cars, so it was a relief to not have to deal with that.   

The drive back to Glasgow was technical along all the winding roads through the rolling hills, but it was beautiful and the roads were practically empty. I can see why folks enjoy coming to Scotland.

Back in central Glasgow I got home in time to have a hearty dinner in preparation for the following day, which would involve another trip to Loch Lomond, and watching some indoor cycling.                                     

Related posts

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Memorable rides in Scotland

Sunday, 6 August 2023

Another weekend another triathlon - Eton Dorney

I can't believe I signed myself up for another triathlon. It's like buses. I don't do one for 10 years and then I do two in 10 weeks. I seem to have gotten a bug.

It's not that I have become a triathlete again; it's just part of my overall plan to stay fit in my 6th decade of life.

I had a phase around 20 years ago when I raced triathlons and duathlons regularly and was even part of different clubs. That feels like a different life. I trained regularly and intensely, planning my daily schedule around it, and even planning life around "the season". Everyone I socialised with was a triathlete and conversations, whether it was during training sessions, racing, or at the pub were "what races are you doing? Are you doing the Nationals? How was your bike splt? How long were you in transition? Did you use a Polar heart rate monitor or another one?"

There was so much triathlon talk, and without realising it I began to lose interest in it as I wasn't enjoying that feeling of being trapped in a triathlon bubble. Sure, I was probably a lot fitter than I am now, but life felt one-dimensional, and even when racing I dreaded it so much because I began to worry about not performing to my potential, what others would think if I was slower than expected, or if so and so beat me! I had to make sure I wasn't the slowest in the club. Many times I was though, and then I would feel a little bit embarrassed because I took 35 minutes to swim 1500m, or because I did 30 minutes for my 5km run. 

Then I got into cycle racing, which seemed to have more "balanced" people who largely had a healthy relationship with their sport. It has to be said that back then triathlon was a bit of a niche sport, with only hardy obsessives doing it. 

I gradually phased myself out of triathlon and didn't actually miss doing it. I had done it and got lots of T-shirts, literally! So it was time to move on.

Finishing the swim at Eton 
Photo: Maggie Easton
In recent times I have started doing a multi-sport discipline called SwimRun. It involves, you've guessed it, swimming and running. Unlike say, an aquathlon, SwimRun, which originated in Sweden, is about repeatedly swimming, then running, then swimming, then running, usually across a large lake with islands or promontories, or even crossing different bodies of water, rather like an archipelago around Stockholm. You do the whole thing wearing the same gear, so you end up running in your wetsuit and swimming with your running shoes on. 

I have done a few of these events and enjoyed them, especially the laid back atmosphere. I think the fact that there's no proper federation or national championships etc may be a reason why a lot 9f competitors aren't hard core. 

When training for this in my local area I get funny looks from people as they see me running around Brockwell Park in South London, with my wetsuit, swimming hat and goggles on my head. London is generally an "anything goes" kind of place. But even here, there are limits between stylish and ridiculous! But I just smile and enjoy myself.

So nowadays a triathlon takes a very back seat, and on those occasional forays into swim/bike/run it is pretty much for fun, with only one objective, to get to the finish line still smiling.

It is with this frame of mind that I entered the Eton Dorney Sprint triathlon - less than a week before the event, and after I'd seen that the weather forecast that day would be fair. 

On my arrival at the venue the scene for the 2012 Olympics rowing competitions, 30 minutes beforey start time, lots of athletes were already in transition or doing warm-up strides ready for the 7.45am whistle. I calmly cycled across the field to the registration desk, already in my wetsuit and then roughly arranged my gear in transition. 

Eton Dorney bike leg
Photo: Mark Easton

Within minutes I had attended a lakeside race briefing and was swimming along with around 100 other athletes in my wave. The water was a pleasant temperature - around 19°C, and was very clear. Sighting was not an issue, as I could just follow people's legs in the water. For me, it was just about staying relaxed in the water and saving energy for the bike and the run.

It seems I was a bit too relaxed as my 750m swim took almost 25 minutes, and I was one of the last out of the water. I was then the last out of transition, as I took my time towelling myself down, putting on my shorts and cycling top, and making sure everything on the bike was wear I wanted it. I was in no rush!

My bike leg was a matter of pacing myself on the flat 4-lap course. The outward bike ride was straight into a headwind, while the return was a wind-assisted blast back towards the crowds. I past various riders at this point, including others on road bikes. Some of them were a lap ahead of me though, so unless they were weak runners they'd finish ahead of me.

So the 5km run leg, like that of the Paris triathlon, was an out and back along a dead straight, flat path beside a body of water. Where previously I was going along the Ourcq Canal, this time it was Dorney Lake. Similarly, it was all about focusing and not feeling demoralised or demotivated. One woman I passed had not been able to avoid those feelings. "Are you okay?" I asked, as I passed her. "I'm fine," she replied. "I'm just bored and don't want to run anymore!" Trying to motivate her, I said, "Keep it steady, you've nearly finished." I don't know if that was much help.

I overtook a few people along the way, which helped with my motivation. On the return, I picked up my pace a little, and managed to cross the line still smiling, even as a young girl shot past me in the last 50 metres. 

It had been a fun event in the early Sunday morning sunshine, and I savoured my medal. I must say, at my age you always celebrate finishing a race without feeling any pain or injury! So it was a bonus to see that I had done 27 minutes for my run - quicker than my Park Run times, which don't involve swimming and cycling beforehand.

I don't know when next I will do a triathlon, but if I don't do another one this year, I can say that I have had a good season.

Related posts

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Monday, 31 July 2023

Women's Tour de France delivers drama and new stars

Tour de France Femmes peloton on the stage to Albi (photo: Thomas Maheux)

Following the successful staging of the reborn Tour de France Femmes in 2022, this year's edition of the event, sponsored by Zwift didn't fail to disappoint.

Last year's women's Tour de France Femmes began to the fanfare of the women racing Stage 1 on the Champs Elysees a few hours before the men's concluding stage of their Tour de France. The women then contested their remaining stages of their Tour in the East of France, in the Alsace/Vosges area with an exciting finale on the Superplanche des Belles Filles.

I must admit that when I saw that this year's stage would be starting from Clermont Ferrand, it seemed a slight downer compared with the iconic landmarks of central Paris. Granted, the event was in the shadow of the Puy de Dome, but the famous road up the extinct volcano was not included in the women's race itinerary.

However, the race more than made up for it with the final stages snaking through the Pyrenees, over the col d'Aspin and the col du Tourmalet, culminating in a time trial on undulating roads around Pau. 

Lotte Kopecky (photo: Getty Sport)
What also makes the race are the riders. It was no surprise to see women from the mighty SD Worx team occupying the upper echelons of the General Classification rankings, but it wasn't totally one-way traffic for the Netherlands-registered team flush with National, European and former World Champions. This made the overall racing exciting and introduced an element of suspense - an important ingredient for an engaging sports competition.

Where the men's Tour de France solicited a guessing game about whether Tadej Pogacar or Jonas Vingegaard would come out on top, the women's race led to debates around whether it would be Movistar's Annemiek Van Vleuten who would replicate her triple Grand Tour victories from last year (she had already won the women's Vuelta a Espana, and Giro Donne) or whether Demi Vollering would stop her compatriot in her ascendancy.  

After Vollering drew first blood by thanks to the stage one victory by Belgian National Champion Lotte Kopecky, allowing her SD Worx team to seize the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) and keep it thanks to further stage victories from Lorena Wiebes (stage 3) and Marlen Reusser (stage 8). However the team was punished with setbacks which could have toppled its aspirations. In reality, these problems were self-inflicted and would have been associated more with a small newbie team, than with a dominant World Tour Team led by some of the most experienced riders and sports directors in the women's peloton.

On Stage 4 from Cahors to Rodez, won by a breakaway rider Yara Kastelijn (Fenix-Deceuninck), Vollering crossed the finish line in a celebratory mood, in second place after bursting forward from her group. She had not realised there was another rider further up the road who had won the stage - despite her having radio communication with her team mates and sports director, and knowing that there had been a breakaway which had as much as 10 minutes time advantage over the GC chasing group at one point.  

The following day, during Stage 5, SD Worx effected a bike change for Vollering when she got a puncture. Looking at the TV pictures, the bike change must have been the slowest change in the history of bike racing! Unsurprisingly the rider lost a significant amount of time on the peloton including her GC contender rivals, so she slipstreamed off her team car in order to be paced back to the bunch. 

It wasn't plain sailing for SD Worx (photo: Thomas Maheux)

The only problem was her sports director drove down the wrong side of the road, dangerously overtaking, and potentially putting other participants in danger. 

After an initial reprimand from the race commissaire during the race for excessive slipstreaming and dangerous overtaking, sports director Danny Stam received a 200CHF fine and Vollering received a 100CHF fine. Stam was later expelled from the race after dismissing the UCI commissaires' ruling as ridiculous. 

While SD Worx had the means to pay the fine and co-sports director Anna van der Breggen could still manage matters during the race, the real bite came when Vollering received a 20-second time penalty which relegated her from second to seventh place in the GC, and 12 seconds behind Van Vleuten. This was in addition to the double whammy of seeing Movistar's Emma Norsgaard (Jorgensen) sprint to win Stage 6 into Blagnac ahead of yellow jersey wearer, Kopecky on the eve of the decisive weekend for the race.

During the decisive penultimate stage from Lannemezan to Tourmalet, Van Vleuten and Vollering had a face-off on the lower slopes of the giant of the Pyrenees. There was no love lost between these two Dutch girls - even less so since last year's Tour de France Femmes, as well as this year's Vuelta a Espana when Vollering believed Van Vleuten had been unsporting en route to her historic win. [Van Vleuten allegedly attacked while Vollering, who was in the lead, took a loo break.]

Such stand-offs can actually be advantageous to others, as Canyon SRAM's Kasia Niewiadoma found when she launched her own attack off the front, staying away until shortly before the finish line when eventual winner Vollering caught her, though the Pole still stayed ahead of Van Vleuten by more than half-a-minute. Deservedly Niewiadoma was awarded the polka dot jersey for the Queen of the Mountains.

An emotional Demi Vollering on realising she's won the Tour de France Femmes (Thomas Maheux)

What we learned during this Tour de France Femmes was that contrary to fellow competitor Elisa Longo Borghini who once described Van Vleuten as an alien, the all-powerful Movistar rider is human. She began to show signs of weakness and fatigue as the route passed through the mountain villages of St Marie de Campan, and La Mongie, and the World Champion was unable to match Vollering's attack through the mist in the Hautes Pyrenees as she crossed the finish line over two and a half minutes ahead of Van Vleuten as the new wearer of the yellow jersey. 

Similarly, at the closing time trial, where Van Vleuten has traditionally prevailed, she was also caught wanting, when she finished in 14th place, over 1 minute 40 seconds behind Reusser.

So it wasn't to be for Vleuty, who finished in fourth place in the GC almost four minutes behind the victorious Vollering. Meanwhile the SD Worx camp enjoyed huge celebrations following Reusser's victory in the time trial, Lotte Kopecky's green jersey, and Vollering's maiden yellow jersey for her overall win at the Tour de France Femmes.

As well as the battle between these two arch-rivals, this Tour de France Femmes was also spiced up by young guns going for it - new riders, young riders, smaller teams, throwing themselves out there and trying their chances for a stage win.

A crash-filled Stage 2 saw Lianne Lippert take flight with a maiden victory. The young team-mate of Van Vleuten finished ahead of Kopecky who punctured before the finish line after being led out by Vollering. Stage 3 saw the dreams of Julie Van de Velde of the young team Fenix-Deceuninck crushed as she was caught agonisingly close to the finish line after launching a long breakaway. Her cyclocrosser team-mate Kastelijn (who eventually won the overall combativity prize) finished the business by winning Stage 4 into Rodez. 

Ricarda Bauernfeind, new kid on the block (Thomas Maheux)

In spectacular style Ricarda Bauernfeind, a recent arrival at Canyon-SRAM having been in the development structure Canyon-Generation took the biggest win of her short career in stage 5 (from Onet-le-Chateau to Albi) and at age 23 years and three months she became the youngest winner of a TDFF stage.

Additionally, the likes of Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, racing for the newly formed AG Insurance-Soudal-Quick-Step team, whose sport director is former racer Jolien d'Hoore, also put time into Van Vleuten on the slopes of the Tourmalet. Kopecky who is known as a sprinter and also a handy track cyclist emerged as the Wout Van Aert of women's racing as she also put in a sterling ride in the mountains.

So all in all, the Tour de France Femmes this year turned out to be an engaging race, with interesting stories and talking points, excitement, intrigue, and new stars. 

As much as I like Van Vleuten and it would have been a good note on which the 40-year old could close out career, doing the triple, I must say that I am happy that there were a few twists and turns in the competition. Although SD Worx dominated in the rankings, we certainly saw fearless challenges from riders across the spectrum of age, experience, and team strength.

                              Jersey winners: L-R: Cedrine Kerbaol, Kasia Niewiadoma, Demi Vollering,
Lotte Kopecky (photo: Thomas Maheux) 

Next year's Tour de France Femmes with Zwift will start in the Netherlands, and we will find out the full itinerary in October. I look forward to seeing what 2024 will bring.

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