Sunday 31 March 2024

Operation Etape du Tour: March update

This month's Etape du Tour training was about continuing to get in lots of climbing and miles, but also adding some speed. I have been trying to get to the Herne Hill velodrome regularly, and have renewed my British Cycling racing licence in a hope of doing some races. I have yet to find a race I feel comfortable about doing though.

This month has been about increasing the overall number of miles as well as doing longer rides.

The plan had been to do a few rides of 100km+ and also to do nearer to 700km.

I also hopes to get in some fast paced rides - they could be done in any format - as a criteria race, track cycling, or latching onto a group at Regents Park. 

At a Herne Hill Velodrome training session

I am pleased to have got in a few sessions at Herne Hill Velodrome. The best day for me ability wise is the Thursday morning, which is intermediate training for Vets and women. However, it's not always possible to go on that day so I try another session. 

On one day I went to the Friday morning session, called Intermediate training. In theory I should be okay in that session as it's intermediate. But because it's all ages, I end up riding with young men less than half my age - well I am not really with them, but hanging onto their wake if I am lucky. Usually after a quarter of a lap the become a speck in the distance before the eventually lap me!

Or they don't get to lap me because I am spent up and out of energy so quickly that I have already swung up and am sauntering around the top of the banking trying to get my breath back by the time they come around again.

That process repeats itself a few times before I am eventually able to join a group of guys who have tired themselves out and are riding at a more normal pace. That "normal" pace is more like my race pace, and by then I can then slot in. This way of riding is a little scary as you know it's going to start as a few rounds of being chewed up and spat out by the bunch. But in the spirit of "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger", I hang in there.

On another day I went to the Tuesday morning session, which is Vet's an Women's skills. As this session is very much about skills (as opposed to speed), and is the next level after the initial track induction session, the level is quite light and the exercises are easily manageable. What I noticed was how long the breaks were between the exercises, and at times I found it bothersome as I could feel my body cooling down. Besides, I wanted to get my money's worth, as well as getting in a decent mileage on my bike.

So what I have learned is that it pays to go to the session that properly suits your fitness level. I hope to do more Thursday sessions than other sessions, and if possible, even move up to the Friday session.

This month I had hoped to take part in a criterium race. After all, I had renewed my British Cycling racing licence, so it would be good to see if I could get some points. Interestingly there were a few races going on over Easter that I could have taken part in, but all of them had something about them that put me off.

Firstly, there was a women's race at the Castle Coombe racing circuit, near Bath. The distance to get there didn't put off.  The issue was that there were two races - one for 4th category only, and then the other one was for Elite, 1st,2nd and 3rd category racers.

I am 3rd category, but there was no way I wanted to race against elite riders. Interestingly, multiple Paralympic medallist Dame Sarah Storey was on the start list in the E123 category race. What chance would I have in that field?? In actual fact I had the fitness and skill of a 4th cat racer and the age to be a 3rd category racers, But this would have been my first race in maybe five years - and even then, that race had was the first one in about eight years and I was easily dropped.

To be honest, I think that 3rd category racers should be given the choice of racing with category E12 or category 4 riders. This should especially be the case for we oldies because according to British Cycling rules people over 40 can never drop lower than 3rd category even if they don't score points or race. Whereas riders under 40 drop down to 4th category if they don't race or score points, meaning they have the chance to start from scratch if they make a come-back, where we are somewhat thrown in at the deep end. 

So with all that in mind, and the added complication of strong winds on an exposed racing track, I decided not to race there.

Another race taking place at the Milton Keynes Bowl was one to consider. However, looking at the results sheet from previous rounds of the race series it seemed that the fields were so small - barely into double figures. I just didn't feel minded to spend all that time travelling up the motorway to Bedfordshire to do something not more than a small team time trial.

The final option for racing was a veteran's league. The British Masters Cycling league is a separate entity from British Cycling and operates under separate rules.

The issue with that was that people aren't put into categories based on points earned, but instead based purely on age group. So a 50-year-old would race others of the same age without taking into account that one 50-year-old might be a former national champion or elite racer, while the other may be a new racer. 

In general, hardly any women turn out for these races so we get lumped in with 60-year-old men. But don't underestimate them. There are still some national champions in there. The women I've seen on the start list are people I raced against many years ago and who wiped the floor with me then.

So all that, coupled with windy conditions on the challenging Hog Hill circuit didn't appeal to me.

So in the end, I didn't do any racing. Hopefully I will get to use my cycle racing licence in the near future, but as you can see, finding a race that is right for me is easier said than done!

Westwood Park, one of my local hills in South London

The positive thing is that I managed to get in some good climbing, and found a route which took in lots of hills in my local area at Crystal Palace. I did my regular 8-hill circuit three times, and then ventured further into Upper Norwood and Thornton Heath for more hills. In the end I did more than 30 hills over 40 miles and with 1500m of climbing. That was tiring, but very satisfying.

This is a link to the route that I took.

So I might not be riding so fast these days, but I can say I have found my climbing legs.

Related posts

Operation Etape du Tour: February update

Operation Etape du Tour: January update

Operation Etape du Tour: December update

South London Spin: Flèche-Chislehurst

Thursday 14 March 2024

Liv Avail: My new wheels for the Etape du Tour

As part of my preparation for the Etape du Tour I have been given a bike by the good people at Liv Giant, a Liv Avail road bike which is perfect for long-distance rides and cyclosportives.

There's nothing like new kit to get you motivated to take on a challenge - be it clothing, a training device, and my case a bicycle. 

I have recently taken ownership of a Liv Avail Advanced 2, and I must say I'm loving it (as the saying goes). 

The good people at Giant-Liv have provided me with a bicycle as part if their ambassador programme. Liv have a history of supporting women in their bike-riding adventures - be it in elite road racing athletes and teams, amateur athletes, or events like the Women's Tour de France. 

So I am very happy and honoured to be supported by Liv, and I am very excited to be riding one of their bikes.

The Avail Advanced 2 is an endurance bike, with a geometry that allows a slightly upright position rather than a full-on racing position that you find with the Langma. Endurance is my thing these days, so it is ideal for cyclosportives. It comes with Shimano 105 groupset, hydraulic disc brakes, and tubeless tyres. Most importantly, the saddle is a women's specific Liv Approach, which I have used before on other bikes and I know it will be comfortable over many miles. The other important thing is the very low gears, which are perfect for my ageing knees!

I must say I like the deep green colour (officially called Kelp Forest), which then gradually shades into black at the bottom. You don't often see bikes in that colour so that makes it quite distinguished. 

I will do a proper review in the coming weeks, but I just wanted to say how excited I am to have the bike. Maurice Burton and his team of shop assistants and mechanics at De Ver Cycles kindly set up the bike for me, and it was quite a joy to get out and ride around the block when trying it out. I look forward to getting in lots of miles and smiles on it

Related posts 

Friday 8 March 2024

52 Cycling Voices - 37: Marion Rousse

Amaury Sports Organisation are the organisers of the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, and like with its other races it appoints a director. The men's Tour de France has Christian Prudhomme, while the women's equivalent is Marion Rousse. For such an event ASO couldn't have chosen a more appropriate person for the job, given Ms Rousse's very strong pedigree. 

Born into a cycle racing family, Marion recalls going to watch her father compete in semi-professional races when she was barely five years old. A couple of years later she was racing herself, and went on to become a professional racer and French National Champion. Marion has since retired and become a sports broadcaster and gained experience as a director of other races. 

I had the pleasure of interviewing Marion on a few occasions and was impressed at how industrious she is, as well as being a new mother  and partner to one of the most successful road racers, two-time world champion Julian Alaphilippe.

Marion Rousse, aged 32

From: Valenciennes

Lives: Andorra

Occupation: Director, Tour de France Femmes and Sports broadcaster for France Televisions 

I am the director of the Tour de France Femmes and Consultant for France Televisions Sports, as well as being a mum - though being a mum is what takes up the most of my time.

There is a lot to manage, but my life has always been about doing different things in various places with full days. And as well as that I am always doing bike-related things - something I love.

I started cycle racing aged six, so I’ve always had a routine to follow throughout my life. It comes naturally to have to manage a routine so that's no different. It comes naturally, though now that I have little Nino, I try not to travel too far away from him and I bring him with me as much as I can. It’s lovely to get home on a Sunday evening and spend time with him. It’s a routine that I have managed to establish, and I feel lucky to be able to do what I love.

Having Nino has been the biggest change in my life, and probably the same for people who become a parent. Having a baby changes your life and your priorities, and my biggest priority is Nino. I would say it has given me a calmer more mature outlook on my job in a way I didn’t have before. I certainly feel like I have grown up a lot since I became a mum.

When I’m at home I leave my telephone aside and dedicate myself 100% to Nino, and to Julian when he is home. It’s true that it’s my form of self-preservation when I am at home. As I may only have one day at home, I cut myself off from work things so that I can give myself the time I need to relax, otherwise I would explode! 

In my free time I look to do sport. That’s the thing I really need to do. I feel good physically and mentally when I have done a bit of jogging or cycling. I also like to go for relaxing walks in the countryside when I can, in the afternoons with Nino and Julian. Julian is into music, and so he plays his electronic drumkit sometimes.  

We live in Andorra for part of the year and then I do day trips to Paris at times. Then with my job I am lucky enough to travel to various events around France. One would say I live a bit all over France!

I am originally from near Valenciennes. I am a proper northerner, and grew up in a village where there were 600 inhabitants. So it was really in the countryside where there wasn’t even a boulangerie. A famous film called Welcome to the Sticks was based in that area. My parents still live in the area and I go up when the Paris-Roubaix race is on as they live really close to one of the cobbled sections. 

When I was growing up I was always watching bike races on TV with the family. There wasn’t a single televised race that I missed – whether it was Paris-Roubaix, the Tour de France or Tour of Flanders. Roubaix was special for me because I was in a cycling academy and I did all my championship races at the velodrome in Roubaix, and the local championships were held there each year. So as Northerners we were really proud watching the Paris-Roubaix and I could say, ahh the Roubaix Velodrome, I’ve already won races there. I would often ride some of the cobbled sectors too. 

I would have liked to race the women's Paris-Roubaix, even if it is a poisoned chalice as it is nevertheless the most difficult race in the world. It’s the most tiring race mentally and physically. It might be flat, but the paves are so difficult and in such a bad state that when you ride them you are aching everywhere – on your arms, your fingers, everywhere, though less on the legs as it is quite an atypical course. 

I think I would have loved doing it, as much as I would have hated doing it. But it’s sure I would have still been on the start line to do it if I'd had the opportunity. 

I was born into cycle racing. My cousins raced professionally, and my dad also raced at a high level as he was a first category rider. So as a baby I was already at the roadside in the buggy, watching bike races. Cycling really has been there all my life. After a while I had enough of being at the side of the road cheering on my dad; I wanted to have a go at cycle racing. So when I announced to him, aged six, that I wanted to get into cycling he wasn’t in favour of it at first. He said it was too hard and I was too young.

So, one day my mum secretly signed me up to race. Then when my dad returned from work I showed him my licence, saying there you go dad, I can now race. He just laughed and said, “Okay you can race but I’m telling you now, we won’t be going to races every weekend.” We went the following weekend, and in the end he became my coach and he did accompany me to all the races after that.

I have an older sister, Flavie, who is six years older than me. We have very different temperaments, which was obvious from birth. My sister has always been very calm and relaxed, whereas I’ve always been the one who would run around everywhere and always on the move. I was always energetic getting into rough and tumble and would come home with my clothes all dirty and with lumps and bumps on my body. That thing of running around energetic doing lots of activities has still continued into adulthood.

I raced at a time when women’s cycling was not as developed as it is now and was not so professional. There were big differences in the level of racing. Some women were very strong, earned higher salaries and won a lot and then there was everyone else. I was at Lotto Soudal, but had to work at the same time in order to earn a living. So it was by chance that I got the opportunity to be a commentator for a few cycle races on TV. Initially I was both a professional racing cyclist and a commentator. But I got the impression that I wasn’t doing any of them very well.

Doing the two was hard to juggle and I began to reconsider my future given that at the time I was 25 and already had a 20-year career in cycle racing. After all, I had been racing since I was six years old! So I already had thousands of kilometres in my legs. 

So I decided to take this golden opportunity to further my work in the media. I was enjoying it so much that I thought maybe this is the moment to turn the page and move in a new direction. And I must say, I don’t regret that decision.

I can't say I prefer one type of job over the other as the two are completely different jobs and I reallly enjoyed doing both. I had a wonderful time being a professional cycle racer but there were more sacrifices to make in terms of lifestyle, being out training all day.

Being a consultant in media doesn’t require hours of training like I used to. Of course I still get on my bike and keep fit, but not for as may hours as before – and it certainly doesn’t tire your legs out like before. But it’s still hard work, commentating on the races. 

I can't really say I miss being a cycle racer. It's just that I'm not really one to look back on things. Once I have done something I tend not to look back much. That’s how I’ve always functioned. I don’t even pose myself the question. I am just happy to commentate on the cycle races on France TV, given that it’s a national channel. My character is to move on without looking back and wishing I was doing what I used to do. I'm not nostalgic.

Even if I’m not part of the exciting racing that is going on now in the women’s peloton, I really love commentating on it for France TV and knowing that the racing is reaching a wider audience. Women’s cycling has developed a lot, and I am just really happy to see the future developments in women’s cycle racing.  

The problem in women's cycle racing is that historically there was a massive difference in level among the women. There were a couple of teams that paid their riders well – though that was quite rare in the women’s peloton. And because of that you had some women who raced but were more like amateurs and then there were others who were paid professionals. Whereas now you can see that because of the evolution in women's cycling there are women who can compete on a more level playing field and it is great to see that. It’s not always the same women who win – there are various scenarios that play out in a race and the courses are very different.

It’s great that now when you watch a women’s race it’s not easy to predict who will win, as the competition is at a much higher level and there are good routes designed for the race.

It’s true that women haven’t had the same treatment as they do now, and the professionalism that exists in women’s racing now is normal, where before it wasn’t. It’s great that we have things like the minimum salary now, but it’s a shame that we had to wait so long for this to happen.

Even if I know we still have some way further to go in the evolution I tend to be optimistic and I look to the future, looking forward to more positive things for women’s cycling and women’s sport in general, rather than saying “damn, I didn’t have the opportunity to do this or that when I was a racer.” I’d rather focus on moving forward.

There are more and more important races for women, like Fleche Wallonne, Tour of Flanders and now we have the Paris-Roubaix, which was brilliant to watch and even gets good viewing figures. But we were missing a stage race of reference for women. Well, the most beautiful cycle race in the world is the Tour de France, which is such a big race that it goes beyond sport and resonates so much for the sport of cycling. 

So having a women’s Tour de France is the best thing that can happen. And Amaury Sport Organisation treats it in exactly the same way as they do with the men’s Tour de France. It's great to have a stage race of reference for the women. It is the best thing that can happen for women’s sport. 

For me, in accepting the role of Director of the Tour de France Femme with Zwift, I had to know that Amaury Sports Organisation were treating the race with the same attention as they do with the men’s Tour de France – not just doing the race for the sake of it. They needed to really want to do it, and I hope that young girls can watch this race and be inspired to become a cycle racer. The plans are in place, the route is in place, the women are ready so we are ready to go and it’s going to be super.

The work I have done in previous jobs have helped set me up as Tour de France Femmes director. I didn't just come from nowhere to do this role. I have the experience of having been a professional cyclist. I have been in the media with France Televisions, so I know the journalistic side of things as well. And the organisers cap is something I learned from being joint director of the Tour de Provence. When I stepped into the world of race organising I was surprised at everything I discovered I had to do, and all the constraints around the work which form part of cycle racing these days.

It is paramount when taking the role of race organiser that I understand these aspects when taking on the role. I understand the importance of having meetings with the town councils, looking for sponsors, engaging with local cycling/interest groups, and how to design a route. So my experience in organising the Tour de la Provence helped me in quickly assimilating into the role as Tour de France Femmes director.

I never imagined that I would be the director of the Tour de France Femmes, though I must also say I never imagined working in television either or doing the other things I've done! It was Christian Prudhomme himself who called me to say he was really thinking of me for the role of Director of the Tour de France Femmes, and he asked if I was interested. Well, I didn’t hesitate in accepting the offer. It’s an amazing opportunity, and something that I am proud of. Cycling has brought me so much over the years, so if I can bring something to cycling in my role, I will do it with my heart. 

I raced with a few of the women who are still in the women’s peloton. I raced with Annemiek Van Vleuten (who retired last year), Marion Vos, Elena Cecchini, and women who were in the French squad who are still on the circuit now. So it’s nice to have this link. Whether they are women I know or not, we are all there with the same objective, to make our sport more well-known and we are travelling in the same direction. 

I think that the women's Tour de France could serve a role as to inspire little girls to want to have a go at racing at this level. They will switch on the TV and will see women on a bike, and they may even say to themselves “Well I could have a go at that too” and they won’t pose themselves the question about whether they can do it or not. In fact what we would like, by holding and televising the Tour de France is to show that yes it is possible to do bike racing – whether you’re a man or a woman. We want to show that if you want to do cycle racing you can, and it is perfectly normal to see women cycle racing on TV.

I feel very comfortable in the work I do, and I just get on with it without thinking whether I am a man or a woman. I’ve always been keen to move up the ladder, but I also think that if I move up it was because I proved myself and not because they wanted to just have a woman in place and it looks good to do that. I like to think that I earned my place because I knew what I was talking about.  

So the best reply I can give to people who are stuck on the fact that a woman shouldn’t be on a bike, or I have nothing to say to a woman about cycling …I don’t need to explain anything to them because I don’t have anything to say to them, and I will just show them – whether that’s with women’s cycling in the Tour de France Femmes – that we deserve that. We have nothing to explain because we are in our well-deserved place and we can do our jobs well. It’s for others to change their opinions, and that can come from them, rather than us needing to explain anything to them or persuade them about anything. 

So my advice would be that women should go out and do exactly the thing that they love and to not get a complex about having a go at it be it cycling or rugby. Do whatever you want to do. 

Marion Rousse on Instagram

Other cycling voices

Sadhbh O'Shea

Emma Wade

Pauline Ballet

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig

Claire Floret

Monica and Paola Santini

Maria Canins

Rochelle Gilmore

Rebecca Charlton

Hannah Bussey

Friday 1 March 2024

Sports training camps: Why go to Mallorca when there's Manchester

Ready for my taster session at Manchester Velodrome

People tend to go on sports training camps in warm weather destinations abroad - Spain, South of France, Portugal, even Australasia. But I think that it's still possible to do and enjoy a training camp close to home, right in the UK. So I chose to go to the North-West of England. 

It's that time of year when elite athletes and amateur athletes, including some of my contemporaries head overseas to places where the sun shines a lot more than in the UK, there's less chance of rain, it's that bit warmer and folks don't have to hear stories about the latest political scandal in UK politics  [not that this sort of thing doesn't happen elsewhere, mind you!].

A large group of runners have just jetted off to Club La Santa, in Lanzarote. Some people in my cycling club went to Alicante in Spain's Costa Blanca, while a few others are preparing to go on a women's cycle training camp to Mallorca. 

I'm not averse to these sorts of trips - indeed I have done them in the past, and I've even enjoyed them. These days, I shy away from trips purely to go training because I like to get more out of my trip than each day just riding around somewhere, including a little cafe stop on a sun-kissed cafe terrace. You repeat the process every day, probably varying the café and eating a tostada instead of churros, and perhaps adding in some swimming and maybe running. 

Don't get me wrong - I love a sporty holiday. But I also like a cultural element too. When you go on these camps you are just beaming up your cycling club, or usual cycling buddy group from the UK to Spain. So you are effectively creating your own temporary British enclave in the Balearic Islands or somewhere on the coast of Spain. I must admit, that doesn't excite me. If I go to Spain, I want to be in Spain - mixing with Spanish people, soaking in Spanish culture, and vising the places that make Spain famous. 

Doing a SwimRun race while on a trip to South of France

Also, I like to give my training a bit more meaning, so with that in mind I like to take part in some sort of local sports event while there - maybe a mini cyclosportive, a running race, or as I did last Autumn in the South of France, a SwimRun race

Not only was there a specific focus to my trip, but I also got to mix with local-ish athletes and make new contacts.  I don't know if people would necessarily call that a training camp - I don't know what the term is. But those sorts of trips with different dimensions are what I enjoy doing when I travel abroad to do sport.

In terms of training camps in the pure sense, I am quite happy to do that nearer to home. So with that in mind, I Manchester - well, 20 miles South, to the North-West's finest place, Macclesfield. 

It was just a case of throwing the bike and all my other sportswear in the car, heading up the M6 and less than four hours later I was at my apartment in the middle of Macc. There were no worries about dismantling the bike for the airline or paying extra to have it carried, no worries about what to take or not take through security, or keeping my luggage within the weight limit. It was all just straightforward and hassle free. I didn't even get caught up in any traffic jam on the motorway.

It was early evening on Saturday when I arrived in the East Cheshire market town at the end of a sunny day. However, sods law was that on my arrival the sky turned grey and as I set out to do a mini local spin. I felt a few drops of rain and the precipitation became heavier and heavier as I proceeded along the disused railway line, now known as the Middlewood Way. I hadn't planned on going far, and was only looking to stretch my legs after having spent a few hours in the car, so I was happy to cut short the ride.

Middlewood Way in Macclesfield

Sunday morning involved a four-mile early morning run in the sunshine along the Middlewood Way, and across to the Riverside Park through woodland between Macclesfield and its posh neighbour, Prestbury. I enjoy this area and have good memories of doing regular runs along here a decade ago when I lived in Macc. Even though its right in the town, there is a feeling of being out in the countryside, especially since livestock roam around the place in Springtime.

After breakfast I then took out my bicycle and did my training ride. This is a big area for cycling. The British Cycling talent team, based up in Manchester often come down to this area to do their training rides, and lots of local riders gather here. The equivalent of Box Hill, is a climb called the Brickworks. It's a 2.7km steady climb from the village of Pott Shrigley over moorland and past farms to near Kettleshulme, on the edge of the Goyt Valley. As I trundled along various riders past me, and said hello. I also saw a group of women on a ride. It looked like they were from the local Rapha Cycling Club. There's a cafe part way up the climb, though it would probably be better to go there on the way back down to Pott Shrigley. In fact I saw a lot of bike riders travelling down in the opposite direction, as I was winding my way up. Perhaps the cafe was their destination. I had no plans to stop there as I had a few places to visit from my itinerary and I was sure I would find an alternative place to stop if necessary.

Once over the Brickworks climb, I then climbed up the winding scenic road to be level with Blaze Hill, then took the fast descent through Rainow to return to Macclesfield and start the climb up the town's most iconic climb - the Cat and Fiddle. This is climb of  just over 10km (6.6 miles) takes you to the eponymous pub in the Peak District National Park, before dropping  6 km (4 miles) to reach Buxton. 

Despite the climbing practice I had had in South London, and earlier in February in Spain, I still felt unfit when tackling this climb. The road surface was quite rough, which didn't help. I figured that that would make me stronger. Once past the big turn in the road at Walker Barn I was officially in the Peak District, and with that the weather also became wilder, as the area seemed more desolate. There weren't that many vehicles, despite it being a main artery. There were very few cyclists too. Much fewer than I had seen on the other nearby roads.

Blaze Hill, outside Bollington, close to the Goyt Valley
Soon I reached a crossroads - a de facto decision point. I could continue to the summit, some 5km (3 miles) away, turn right towards Wildboarclough, turn back and enjoy a lovely descent into Macclesfield where the monthly Treacle Market was taking place, or turn left towards the Goyt Valley. Not wanting to disappear into some sort of Bermuda triangle along the A537 road, I decided not to continue towards Buxton, and I chose to do the latter option. This involved a very technical descent past Lamaload Reservoir. It honestly felt like riding down a wall while trying to avoid pot-holes and gravel. For the first time in decades I actually had to dismount and walk down the hill! On my way down, a few motocross bike riders came up in the opposite direction and waved at me, probably wondering what the hell a road cyclist was doing on this road! 

What goes down must come up, so I then crested a series of hills on the edge of the Goyt valley that took me back to Blaze Hill. By this time my legs were quite tired and looking at my Garmin watch I could see that progress through my itinerary had been very slow. You can't fake your fitness in the Peak District. It finds you out very quickly! And I found out that I still had some way to go to reach optimal fitness.

So with that, it was a very easy decision to return to Macclesfield via the gentler roads in the Cheshire Plain. After a long downhill along Blaze Hill, my ride then took me to Bollington, then through to, Tytherington, Adlington and onwards to Prestbury where life was very leisurely and folks were displaying their Sunday best al fresco at the local cafes. Getting out of Prestbury was more challenging than I had anticipated as there were a few hills to get over before reaching Macclesfield.

Finally, I reached my lodgings at Waters Green feeling satisfied that I had had a proper work-out. Indeed I had, as Garmin showed that I had done - more than 1,000m of climbing over 51 km. That was certainly the hilliest ride I had done all year.

With the limited amount of energy left, I then enjoyed a walk around Central Macclesfield to see the popular Treacle Market.

Monday was planned as a slightly less onerous day than on the Sunday. My bike ride consisted of a loop from Alderley Edge, a popular National Trust area of outstanding natural beauty, and heading through the nearby village of the same name, and home to many a footballer's wife (and in theory their husband) or Coronation Street actor. My loop also included Mottram St Andrew, once again Prestbury, before doing a loop up a local climb in that area, Artist's Lane. Nearby is a Flandrian type hill called Swiss Hill, but I decided to leave that one until another trip. 

Time was short, and I wanted to also do a little trail run through the woodland at Alderley Edge. One way I did this was by running along a Permanent Orienteering Course and identifying checkpoints. It's often a great way to make a run more interesting, and also to discover a new area. My run ended up being just a couple of miles as my orienteering skills were good enough to find the checkpoints quickly (That's what I like to think, anyway!) 

Straight afterwards it was a case of hotfooting it to the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, where I signed up to take part in a taster session at the Velodrome. It was billed as a taster session, but in fact I just took one of the reserved hire bikes and rode around for as long as I could in the time allowed - for me it was 40 minutes as I turned up a little late. I am not sure if I could have survived the full hour going up and down the steep bankings! 

Taster session at Manchester Velodrome

Had I been a complete novice at track cycling the coach would have spent time showing me what to do, but because I had been to the Velodrome in the past (though was not yet accredited), and had become a regular rider at my local velodrome in Herne Hill, I was allowed to get in an individual training ride, under the watchful eye of the coaches, in order to increase my fitness. 

There were a handful of other riders doing a paceline, but I wasn't strong enough to join the line, so I did my own thing. The coach said that I looked fine, but I would just need to do a couple more taster sessions so that I can then gain clearance to join the Regular Riders sessions which is the stepping stone along the way to gaining Accreditation.

By the end of the day, I was feeling a little pooped and was ready to check into my new lodgings, a private room in Central Manchester YHA. There, I had a well-earned meal and an early night to prepare for an early start at the Manchester Aquatics Centre.

Early the following morning I put on my running gear, gathered my swimming kit, and did the two-mile run from Castlefields to the university district where I joined the other swimmers doing training laps in the 50m pool at the Aquatics Centre. This popular venue is a legacy facility from the Commonwealth Games, and still gets a lot of use. It was a clean modern pool, and quite swish following its refurbishment in 2021, compared with the spartan facilities at Crystal Palace. I felt quite motivated, so did one kilometre. That was as much as I could do in the time allowed, as I still had to have breakfast, check out and then make my way back down to London.

The end of my training camp in the North-West had come, and I feel that it had been fun-packed, productive, and I like to think I have increased my fitness. Who knows, I may even be feeling fitter than if I had just doing a few kilometres here and there with my cycling buddies and sitting in a sun-drenched cafe. 

It has to be said that some people do these so-called training camps just so that they can spend time away from the UK, and some coaches that advertise the trips talk more about the well-being benefits of enjoying a cafe stop on the coast while sipping some local patisserie and coffee that is better than back home. Indeed, I see more Instagram photos of what's on people's plates than where they actually rode their bikes! 

Potato Wharf, close to where I stayed in Manchester

Granted, there's no contest when it comes to comparing the weather in Manchester versus Mallorca. But then again, wind, rain and snow are not entirely alien to the Balearic Islands. I have certainly been caught out without a pack-a-mac while cycling up to Puig Major. Even this year there have been weather reports of strong winds on Spanish soil. So weather is not entirely guaranteed even in traditionally warmer, sunnier countries. 

At least in Manchester, it's a case of better the devil you know. In any case, UK weather is so changeable that it is still possible to find a reasonable window in which to get out and ride a bike. Then of course swimming and track cycling aren't even weather dependent. 

So overall, I am happy to ride my bike abroad as long as I get the full cultural and social experience of being in that particular location. However, if the aim is purely about getting in a training camp and keeping fit I would rather keep the logistics simple and stay closer to home. 

But no doubt, I will at some point in the year end up getting a fix of riding my bike along sunny roads in a French, Italian, or Spanish hotspot, and I certainly won't complain about it!

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