Tuesday 30 January 2024

Operation Etape du Tour: January update

In my third month of preparing for the Etape du Tour, January was a bit of a challenge as I had a wobble in my commitment to the cause and I ended up playing catch-up to get in the miles - in the dark, damp weather

My ride around South London took me out past Hampton Court Palace

I am beginning to step up my training for this year's Etape du Tour. It still seems a long way off though, and in these dreary winter days it's hard to imagine riding in brilliant sunshine over lovely dry roads through the countryside or National Parks in the UK or beyond. A lot of my riding has been done in darkness or semi-darkness, on damp suburban streets of London, and only venturing into the countryside on the odd ride.

As much as I would rather ride outdoors than in the rarefied virtual world of a smart turbotrainer, riding outdoors still has its challenges and frustrations to deal with. 

So this is how I've been doing my riding in January. Firstly, I ride alone. I find it hard to join in with club runs because my daily schedule is a movable feast. I like to have flexibility in when and how I do things, as well as where I go. 

My cycling club has a system of signing up for a ride via RiderHQ, a platform for signing up to sports events. As it's a big club the rides can sometimes get fully booked as they want to limit the size of groups on a road. That's understandable. So that means for me, that if I sign up for a ride I should commit to going, or go online to remove my name, and thus free up the space for another club member - which I must admit is a palava. The thing is, I just like things old skool - wake up in the morning, see if the sun's shining. Go if it's a nice day, or do something else if the day looks dodgy.

As someone who is generally motivated and a self-starter, I don't need the pull of a group or someone else to get me out on a ride. I've taken myself out on rides since I was in my late teens, so at the age of 54 I'm unlikely to stop doing that now!

As someone who is a bit of a map geek I know the roads around my local area, so am capable of planning myself a route, and maybe discovering new ones too. So I don't need to have a group leader showing me which way to go.

So ultimately, I am happy enough to decide when and where I go on a ride. The whole concept of signing up onto RiderHQ and committing to turn up at the bike shop meet-up point at a given moment on a Sunday morning come rain or shine has all the charm of wearing a straight jacket. My working week is full of appointments and deadlines, so the weekends need to be more chilled and laid back.

So with all that, I do my own rides on my own, deciding the day before, on the day itself, or even during the ride on where to go, and I am happy enough to say hello to other riders that I see along the way. For me, it's freedom and it's bliss!

Spotting other Sunday morning riders at Kingston Bridge

Secondly, I do my rides at slightly unsocial times. As a person who has a tendency to take on various activities, I need to optimise on the hours of the day. I prefer to do sporty things first thing in the morning - like as soon as I wake up. It's the purest time of the day. No one to disturb you, and I feel at my most motivated and energised. So for me, that means 5am - sometimes even before that. So that's when I've taken to going out. 

The London streets are great. There's hardly any traffic - just Uber drivers, a few black cabs, the odd night bus. When cycling through Central London at that time the traffic lights are generally with me, so I hardly have to stop - which is handy for someone who is not a red-light jumper.

You get to see a bit of London life too - the fox community, clubbers tipping out at Vauxhall or Brixton, lovers tiffs, all the action at the 24hour grocers or the kebab shops. During the week, I say hello to the dustmen and I can learn the different days when the different London boroughs do their refuse collections!

In the early mornings  I prefer to ride through London rather than in the country lanes which are unlit and for which I don't have suitable lights. For me, the Royal Parks serve as a great place to do laps - be it the cycle path around Hyde Park, the loop of Regents Park, or the very Royal loop around St James's Park, taking in The Mall, Birdcage Walk, and Horse Guards Road. 

So, even if I did think about doing a club run it'd have to be one that does this sort of itinerary at this time of the day. I am not aware of any cycle clubs that do that.

So that has been my riding I've been doing in January, with a few rides out to another Royal Park, Richmond Park, when I break a habit and decide to ride during daylight hours.

My routine consists of doing a hilly ride on the local hills around Crystal Palace, a fast ride through Regents Park, and then medium paced rides around Cator Park, Crystal Palace, Park or Dulwich Park, plus rides around the Bromley and Beckenham suburbs. The aim was to get in 600km for this month.

The only issue was I did suffer a little wobble in early January and I came very close to deciding not to ride the Etape du Tour and just giving myself a quiet life, tootling around doing leisure rides. Sometimes getting motivated to ride frequently when the weather is rubbish and you get punctures can be demoralising and sucks the joy out of bike riding. As mentioned before, I am not cut out for indoor cycling. But in the end, the fire in my belly wouldn't let me give up on targeting this epic ride through the Alpes-Maritimes, so I got my act together.

Roehampton Gate Cafe at Richmond Park

Once I regained my resolve, that left me with around 300km to ride within around five days. For some, that may not seem an unreasonable distance to cover if your days are free from other activities like going to work and getting on with the every day chores of life. But with full-on days at the advertising agency I was working at it was quite a tall order.

But by putting in place a strict plan of starting rides even earlier than 5am, and fitting in rides at lunchtime and in the evenings, I somehow managed it. There were a few rides done when it was pretty gusty as January seemed to have one gale-force wind storm after another, and there were a few drizzly days too. But my determination got me through. 

I was happy to have gotten in a 100km ride as well, when I did a big suburban ride around South-West London, going past Hampton Court and out to Walton-on-Thames, and then heading into South-East London into Greenwich and Lewisham. It was one of the few days where there was wall to wall sunshine, the day was dry and there was no wind or rain. Lots of cyclists were out too, and there was a genuine feelgood factor, especially at Richmond Park, as always.

My South London ride took me to the South-East corner of London to Greenwich

Achieving the 600km has emboldened me to know I am capable of dedicating myself to quality training rides, and hopefully I will be able to build on that over the coming months.

Related posts

The sound tha sucks the joy out of cycling - the puncture fairy

Etape du Tour comes to Nice and I'm riding it (hopefully)!

Another cycling mission for 2024 - Fred Whitton Challenge 

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