Le Tour

It took about 9 hours to get from Bristol to Bradford on Friday. We left at 3pm and crept into the crepuscular northern town after 10pm. The next day we headed out towards Addingham to catch the first day of Le Tour, whilst the rest of the family staked out a spot in Skipton. The ride up towards the route was an unnerving affair; hordes of people heading in the same direction, on foot or by bike, legions, rows, waves, a steady flight of ridiculously excited people.

The caravan was very exciting; we scrabbled in the dust and asphalt for prized bits of swag. Mike just missed out on a polka dot cap after it landed too near another fellow and he wasn’t prepared to fight for it. I would have pushed the chap into the drystone wall, grabbed the swag and legged it.

the roll-out; depart fictif

Penny tells the fans to stay back, no selfies

Jens: “I enjoyed the first few minutes and then I thought what was I thinking! I needed to go long and make it hard for everyone but I paid a hard price and I didn’t know how I was going to finish”

G and Alejandro share a little joke

Rui Costa, Frank Schleck

Close-up

Mike moonlights for the South

Contador and Rogers

On the second day we were on Oxenhope Moor, where upwards of 40,000 spectators were kept in check by the diligent efforts of one policeman.

In all seriousness, we were prepared to stand in the middle of the road and unleash a heist on the Carrefour Camion. Luckily we didn’t need to.

 

Luckily the Carrefour Swagman was hurling out caps with metronomic efficiency and we managed to score a couple. The hillside was covered with people; I was in awe of the sheer numbers of spectators. It was far more than were at the last big race I’ve seen; Paris-Roubaix. Beyond that, what made it special was the sense that it had captured the imagination of the whole of Yorkshire. Support for the tour was discernible in every village, every shop, street and establishment, even many miles from the route. There was a regional pride and complete determination to somehow combine the cultural force of the Tour with the innate and captivating identity of Yorkshire, both in terms of the awe-inspiring scenery, and in terms of the people that live there. It became a festival of many things and it was incredible. Belle mentioned this morning how it all seems like a dream; a technicolour riot of movement and sound. There’s not much more I can say or write, it was a brilliant weekend; a sentiment shared by everyone who went. I’m still reeling from the excitement.

There is a peloton in there somewhere (pic: liverpool echo)

Lastly, according to Strava, my time up Holme Moss was 36 seconds quicker than Laurens Ten Dam, Lars Boom, Ted King and the others managed in yesterday’s race. This is quite reassuring. I’ll ignore the fact that i rode it as a double hill climb, whereas they rode it as one of 9 classified climbs in a 124 mile stage. Marcus Burghardt was 3 seconds up. I’ll let him have that one.

Vive le Tour!

A friend recently asked the lady wife ‘why are you going to Yorkshire this weekend?’. We guffawed at her innocence, living in a world where cycling is merely a very occasional metaphor for life, rather than the opposite, where life is a thinly veiled masquerade, belying the fundamental truth of cycling.

Anyhow, this weekend sees the Grand Depart visit these shores for the first time since London in 2007. I went to that one, it was quite exciting, but as Ned Boulting recently commented, outside of Hyde Park and the circuit it was less of a success. The exponential rise in cycling since that point means that this is going to be a big one.

I’m looking forward to seeing the riders, grabbing a few tawdry but essential French commercial trinkets lobbed out by the caravan, and enjoying the spectacle of the greatest show on earth.

The mother lives near Bradford. We are descending en famille, with the addition of Steve Douchebag. He sent me a salutary warning this morning:

He’ll have to wear leg warmers and ride at the back.

Meanwhile, a clubmate is warming up for the tour by attempting to ride as many stages and mountains and hills in as short a time as possible.

Looking at the stats makes me feel nauseous. This kind of extreme riding is terrifying. I’ve heard they sleep in muddy fields for 30 minutes at a time, ride through darkness, sleepride, the works.

On enhancing the National TT Championships with the spurious and wanton addition of the rock horns

I was trying to explain to someone recently what it means to ride in the BC National Championships. This involved the use of a clumsy analogy involving what it might be like for a very good club tennis player, or even district big-hitter, to take on Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. It was as close as I could manage; Thursday’s race included the Olympic Time Trial Champion and The Commonwealth Games time trial champion and the winner of the Tour de France. They were the thick end of a very thick wedge of absurdly quick riders. Somewhere in amongst it all could be found a gentle sprinkling of club riders, whilst over there, looking confused and nervous and a small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was PJ.

I spent at least some of the pre-race period sat on a sofa at Celtic Manor in my skinsuit talking to Matt Le Tissier. i didn’t know he was Matt Le Tissier until someone else came up and asked for a selfie to send their Southampton-loving chum. He looked a lot like Phil Tufnell. He seemed very friendly and not daunted by the lycra. He was aware that a race was going on. Bradley Wiggins then walked nonchalantly through and everyone stopped and stared.

I took my rollers. This is unusual for me, but it seemed unlikely that there would be anywhere to warm-up, and the possibility of wet weather posed distinct problems. I was very glad i did, i managed to find a quiet spot to set up. What with Celtic Manor being a Ryder Cup location, it seemed entirely appropriate that Colin Montgomerie was able to offer a helping hand.

After 4 weeks of beautiful weather, the heavens opened in time for the Elite race at 6pm. The roads were greasy and grubby. It made for some technical and hair-raising sections on the 12 mile lap. The start ramp was chronically exciting, as was the Hugh Porter commentary; at first. Hugh Porter is a legend of the sport, but his best years of commentary appear to be behind him. At times he seemed to have been switched with a confused dementia patient reading out some bingo numbers.

The bike passed the offical bike check, which is more than can be said for some. My complex home measuring system involving a tape measure, door frame and sharpie was identical to the rig used by the scrutineers. Several other riders fell foul of the bike checks. It left me wondering why people push it when they know the rules. Perhaps it’s easier when you’re not pushing the envelope; I didn’t particularly worry about it. The extensions needed to be pulled in by nearly 5cm and the saddle pushed back a bit, i erred on the side of caution – a metaphor for the race. And so it goes…

Race face on

Rolling down the ramp, taking Courtney Rowe’s advice to ‘freewheel just in case’

I didn’t go full gas on some of the sketchy bits, it was too sketchy. Apparently Wiggins was fully committed and asked where the nearest hospital was prior to starting. I eschewed this approach in favour of a slightly lower key ride. Fortune favoured the brave, and i wasn’t that brave. At the end of the lap loomed the horrifying spectre of a steep and savage climb. There’s no way to describe the brutality of climbing up a 25% wall on a slightly overgeared time trial bike. I had the 42:23 on, I didn’t have anything else. This was fine; I am used to climbing on fixed so can turn bigger gears over when going uphill. It was hard and i had to stay out of the saddle all the way up. I could have done with something a bit lighter, but it didn’t make a huge amount of difference, the climb was vile. It’s worth noting for information purposes that it is harder than any hill climb i’ve done over the past 4 years. The saving grace was the smörgåsbord of red and gold; a cheering, baying mob of the Bristol tifosi, screaming encouragement. It took my mind off the climb.

There are some other notable features that made this event the best race I have ever been involved in, notwithstanding the presence of several riders who I tend to idolise. It utilised a full road closure; not some rolling stoppages, but a full, barriered closure from start to finish. If you’re not used to riding on full closures it’s a weird experience. It takes a long time to get out of the habit of hanging to the left hand side of the road, rather than choosing the racing line through the long and sweeping bends. When you finally do get to taking the racing line through sharp right handers, it’s accompanied by a nagging fear, ‘i do hope the road really is fully closed and there won’t be any nasty surprises’. On the first lap I was led out by a motorbike outrider from the NEG group. This was an amazing experience; he signalled all of the slippery drain covers and hazards. After the first lap it was a free for all, there were more riders and more following cars.

Such was my excitement at being in the biggest race of my life that I took every opportunity to throw out the rock horns, both on the first and second lap. I think that some spectators saw this a potentially foolhardy, or perhaps a sign that I wasn’t treating the race with due diligence. Ultimately I wasn’t taking it hugely seriously, I wasn’t in it to win, I was there to do my best, to represent the club and to enjoy it. I didn’t want to come to last. Essentially these were my goals for the race. And to throw some shapes wherever possible.

Horns on the hill

Sir Brad did not give the horns

I came 28th out of 60. Wiggins’ time was stratospherically fast; he is the reigning Olympic the trial champion. Outside of the continental riders, the bulk of competitors were within 4 minutes of each other; i was within this block, just. I came in 9 minutes behind Wiggins. I just kept it to within 10 minutes, which is how i imagined it would be. Getting to ride the event in the first place was a success, staying on the bike and making it round was even better, finishing within the top 30 at the National Championships, ergo, all of the country, and not being significantly adrift of the non Grand Tour stage winners, was the best of all. I was chastened and humbled by the level of support; Mum, nephew, wife and child, in-laws, club-mates, random strangers asking questions, the tweets and likes, everything.

I raced yesterday on the Somerset levels. It wasn’t quite the same.

 

 

Bigger, harder, faster, more… and morphological exemptions

Form comes and goes, and it’s a fickle, capricious beast. Last week i was slower than everyone who i measure myself against, by some distance. I was tired and run down; it was a hard day. I took a more rigid approach to training this week and tried to stay off my feet a bit when resting and recovering.

Today i went to the R course in Wales. I’ve changed the bars on my TT bike; it took 3 evenings of wrangling. I’m using the 3T aura pro. The bike is nearly UCI legal, ready for Thursday’s smashfest against the choppers. I left the extensions at normal length, rather than pulling them in to within the 80cm rule. This may or may not mean anything to you.

David Kiddell gets some cowbell at Burrington last October. Today’s ride was for David.

I had no expectations today – or more accurately, i had very low expectations. A brief test run, checking the new setup, felt ok. I was cautiously optimistic. I warmed up and again felt ok, free from the nagging, omnipresent fatigue. I rode away from the start and settled into a rhythm; characterised by trying to go as fast as i could, but also not overcook needlessly when I didn’t have to. I had some time and speed in the bag at the turn, but the home leg is really draggy and has wiped out fast rides for me before today. I clung on and hit the last corner at an alarming pace to stop the clock at 49.58. This is a 30mph average. It’s also the first 30mph ride ever recorded at 25 miles by a BSCC rider. I’m very happy. It puts me up into the lofty heights of the ‘fastest riders’ tables and makes me about number 130 in the ‘all time fastest riders’ list. I’ll take that.

My form appears to be back on the up again. Timely.

Dog on wheels

It’s an unwritten rule of amateur cycling that at the precise moment when you should be riding the crest of the most stonking pile-up of form and fitness, things take a bit of a nosedive. A combination of excessively long working hours and an outbreak of the crippling medieval plague known as ‘hayfever’ have had a savage effect on any intention to continue with the current block of panic training.

Today i returned to the F11-10 course in darkest homecountyshire with a couple of targets in the back of my mind. The first of these was to bag another 19. Both the Sphinx and I were of the opinion that a 19 should be on the cards as long as we both rode the course. In fact, rumour had it that they would be handing them out with the race numbers; there would be no need to ride. It’s the new face of time trialling; compare complex power-related numbers on internet forums beforehand, calculate the strength and direction of the wind, load up on ridiculous acronyms and then feed this all into an online weboracle called “Training Speaks”, which then chitters out a tickertape feed containing your time.

Not being able to seek solace in the world of numbers and figures (see: “ooh i did an all time power PB and my CDA was off the hook, check out my TO and i totes nailed the blue CTL, and my FTP is like, AMAZEBALLS, even though i was 5 minutes slower than everyone else) it came to pass that we did actually have to ride the course at race pace and then actually try and achieve the projected time. If the 19 wasn’t on, then we were chasing the club team record with Andy, the erstwhile club skipper and all-round good egg. Jo Knight was also chasing the BSCC ladies’ 10 record – she achieved her aim with a super-rapid 23.38.

On the epic, bongo-clad ride to the Spinkhaus in St Worstburg, calamity struck. The armrest bolts sheared off and it clattered to the floor. At that point there was only one thing for it; an EU mountain of duct tape.

i’m glad i didn’t PB, otherwise this set-up would have been the only way to go. A bit like ‘mr ride in his pants’.

It held firm for the duration of the race, which is far more than can be said for my mental fortitude, endurance and physical powers. Things started well; i caught my minute man within 3 miles or so. I’m not sure the rider up the road was at the peak of his powers; i’ve heard tell that he has had some form in the past and may have once ridden bigger races than the Hemel 10 and worn brighter jerseys.

I resisted the temptation to ‘do a cavendish‘ because I’m not Mark Cavendish, I am a fairly hapless club rider from the westcountry. I also didn’t want to get a punch in the chops or a pump in the trispoke from one of British Cycling’s bona fide living legends. I think Yates climbed off after about 8 miles or so. I don’t think he was having a particularly good day. I wasn’t having a good day either; i did ok for the first 8 miles, but after that turned into a headwind and lost my way a bit, dribbling home in 20.24 for the 10. I was about 20 seconds down on where I perhaps should have been. That said, it was enough to help lower the Bristol South CC ‘Team’ record for 10 miles, a mark which had stood for 23 years. I also managed to throw out the ‘horns’ for the legions of paparazzi stood at the side of the arterial trunk road. I shall go away and brood for a bit and then hope that form returns, hayfever subsides, and tiredness abates.

I’ve been getting lots of messages of support ahead of the BC championships in two weeks. Trotters wins the prize for the best one yet…

On current form i’m a hot favourite to destroy the hell out of myself.

“British Cycling Announces World Class Field For National Championships”

In a little over two weeks time the National Road Championships are taking place at Abergavenny. There are various events, including the road race, featuring a stellar line-up. It’s worth heading over to see the circuit; it takes a route through Celtic Manor near Newport and is a tough course. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see the top domestic and continental professionals going head to head for the red, white and blue jersey. On the Thursday evening the time trial championships kick things off. Some of the heroes of modern British cycling are riding; people who have shaped the narrative of the sport, like David Millar: his personal arc of triumph, then earth-shattering fall and eventual redemption contains all the elements of optimism that most cycling fans have clung to over the darker years.  Sir Bradley Wiggins is also down to start. I can’t begin to mention how important a figure he is without lurching into hyperbole. He is the reigning Olympic time trial champion.

David Millar is the commonwealth games champion. Both have won grand tour TT stages. They are the zenith of the sport. Also riding for Sky are Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe. Alongside is Alex Dowsett of Movistar, who recently sliced 25 seconds from the National “10” record, pulling out all the stops to record a 35mph ride.

The startsheet is available here. Some time ago i put an entry in. It was fairly speculative and I didn’t anticipate getting a ride. As it happens, I’ve managed to get in. I’d like to reiterate that last statement, it seems a bit Karl Power-esque. Somehow, i’m riding in the same race as the above people and a whole gang full of inconceivably fast people. Since i saw the startsheet this morning I’ve been a state of excitement, anxiety and fear. I hoped the professionals would turn out, but now the concrete, real reality of the race line up has created different emotions; I’m fearful and I am going to be on the receiving end of some fairly hefty time gaps. But it is what it is, and if you’d told me 5 years ago that i’d be on the startsheet for this kind of race I’d have looked askance and questioned your sanity. As it stands; i’ve entered, I was given a start based on the organiser’s belief that i wouldn’t be out of place in the elite race and was deserving of the chance. I want to race. I want to not come last. And i want to throw out the rock horns on the start ramp. (Oh no, please, no, i didn’t even think about the start ramp, if there is one, christ, please god don’t let me fall off).

And i want to savour the moment and look back on it as one of those things that i did within a life where opportunities were taken. Because time trialling, the race against the clock, the race of truth, is a thinly concealed metaphor for the battle against the capricious nature of time itself.

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

But at the same time i’m shitting myself in living terror at being caught for 25 minutes by Sir Bradley of Wiggins.