Slightly Hilly Legtester

When the weather has been horribly stinky for such a long time it seems almost anomalous to be out in glorious sunshine. I’ve taken to using my rain jacket as the default piece of cycling gear, but today was able to wear a soft shell. Even then i felt slightly overdressed. By way of overcompensating for the absence of horrible conditions i opted for a horrible route, including several of the steepest and nastiest climbs in the Mendips. Most of them began with the letter ‘D’; Dundry, Deer Leap, Draycott…

The silver strip in the middle is the Levels; an inland sea
Priddy amazing signpost
All chick-hens accounted for

The first race of the season is on Sunday; it’s a 25. I tried the time trial bike yesterday; it seemed to still work, which is more than can be said for my ageing legs.

Wet and wild

Winter training is beset by anxiety and obstacles. This year the chief obstacle has been the incessant rolling in of storms from the Atlantic, like tumultuous tumbleweed. There have been lulls between the frontal lows where the wind has dipped to a gentle 35mph.

In previous winters, the fear has always been the invisible evil of ice. This year has been comparatively ice-free, but the ferociousness of the wind has made up for any palpable absence of danger or worry. I rode out by the airport first thing; later on the planes were having fun. Here are some clips of yesterday’s gnarly crosswind action.

Riding home from work yesterday i was blown to the side of the road on a couple of occasions. it was quite entertaining. At one point i attempted a ninety degree right turn into the extended claws of the gale. I didn’t dare lift a hand to signal in case a gust threw me to the floor. I couldn’t clip in because i didn’t have sufficient momentum to get the pedal stroke going. It was quite entertaining for the car drivers waiting patiently (and I was grateful for them waiting patiently). I made it home in one piece. Windy weather always reminds me of this clip that went viral a couple of seasons ago.

The first race of the season beckons. I’m hoping the weather calms down a little bit. At some point before next Sunday i should perhaps have a look at the TT weapon and think about riding it.

When base club becomes tempo club

After two weeks of not doing very much I’ve had a better week and managed to get out on the BSCC base club ride. It was great to catch up with club mates; they’ve been putting in the hard graft all winter and are now slowly turning their attention to the race season. The club road race is ridiculously early, at the end of March. This creates a feeling of pressure to have some semblance of form by then.

The pace increases with these rides as the real racing approaches. Up until now i’ve been doing them fixed, but have now reactivated the winter geared bike. it’s a Mercian 531c and I like it very much. it copes well with the inclement weather. I’ve also fixed a longer mudflap on the back using a 4 pint milk carton and a rivet. I’m quite please with myself.

Today was pretty hilly,a  short savage shock. It ended up being around 45 miles with several nasty climbs. I factored in a few extras, Chew Hill, Limeburn and Providence Lane. It was hard, but the miles are in the bank. We also avoided the worst of the weather; a miracle in these meteorologically miserable times.

In other news, i’ve resolved to stop shouting at motorists or cyclists with poorly-angle lights, or anyone who i deem to be somehow antisocial or worthy of a lambasting. It’s not healthy.

There’d be no distance that could hold us back

Firstly, Happy New Year. I hope last year was good and this year will be even better. My year has been amazing for reasons entirely unconnected with cycling.

I’m going to wait here until Dad gets back from Base Club.
OMFG Dad, I’m so tired just watching this hill climb.

In many ways cycling has been a secondary endeavour. I’ve still tried to squeeze it in and I’ve managed a fairly healthy racing calendar. For this I’m indebted to the support of Belle, who is amazing. It’s all well and good to say, “I’m only going to do local races”, bike racing requires time, energy and commitment. I can argue that it makes me feel better, it’s good for my mental health, I keep fit, it stops me going loco, but these are all ultimately self-serving arguments, and family comes first. I feel incredibly lucky that I have been able to race and fit in some training around family commitments, and it’s nothing to do with what I want to do, or however many sacrifices I feel like I’m making, it’s everything to do with working together to make things right and ensure that time is sacrosanct. And I’ve got it wrong at some key points this year, but generally I’ve got it right. If i had to offer a few key tips to anyone whose life is about to change enormously and wondering how they might manage to ever ride a bike again, then it’s this:  

1. Family comes first

2. Ride when you can: this means don’t make plans to go out at 8am with friends, it means ride on your own in the 2 hours you’ve got in the middle of the morning or whenever the window opens

3. Make use of rollers, sometimes the window is small

4. Insist your inlaws move to a location approximately 50-70 miles away on the other side of an escarpment of hills; visit them regularly en famille: cycle there.

In line with point 4, I cycled to the inlaws at the weekend. In these enlightened times where everyone’s a cyclist and everyone has an opinion about cycling, people are less and less surprised by the strange endeavours of the long distance wheelman. I rode to Cheltenham from Bristol, a 65 mile jaunt over the old Severn Bridge and via the Forest of Dean. I dropped this into a pub conversation and it caused a murmur of disbelief. ‘You did what? CHEPSTOW? You’ve been to Wales? ANOTHER COUNTRY?’ I felt vaguely nostalgic for the days when every Monday was marked by similar conversations as non-cyclists attempted to suspend their disbelief at my heroic exploits around lanes of Kent. Maybe it was a peculiarly atavistic weekend, after all, I saw only two other cyclists in the four hours in the road and I traversed the Forest of Dean where the locals eat their young.

in the five years since moving to Bristol and 30,000 miles or so ridden I’d not made it over the bridge by bike until yesterday. Belle managed this feat some years ago. I ignored my normal Cotswold lungbuster in an attempt to squeeze in a few more miles. Riding over the bridge is fun. It opened in 1966, which isn’t all at long ago. I imagine it was heralded as a new economic dawn and anglo-welsh success story, destined to link the two shorelines in perpetuity. Instead, traffic tripled in 20 years and a new bridge was completed in 1996. I wonder how long it will be before another bridge is mooted as the solution to ever-increasing numbers of vehicles.

The Severn Estuary: a total bore
Heading into Wales for about 5 minutes

Before the bridge there was only a ferry at Aust. Some of the signage is still there and the crossing is marked by Passage Road.

Under construction; an anachronistic image of what was then the future
Under the railway bridge in Chepstow: last resting place of the Severn Princess
No Direction: Home
the times, they are a-changin’

The climb up and out of Chepstow is terrific. It heads upwards for around 4 miles or so, then the road sinuously reaches up towards the Forest of Dean. Come the high season I’d like to get fresh and take the C-Bomb up there for a bit of bike-on-hill action. There are several other tasty climbs, including one beast of a ramp up to Speech House. I enjoyed it and a 68″ was just about right, apart from one or two slightly tall ramps where I had to honk it a little bit. The run into Gloucester and Cheltenham was rapid and terminally dull, apart from a nice stretch around the lanes somewhere. I have been using the ‘breadcrumb’ mapping capacity on an old Garmin 500. It’s really simple; you map the route on bikehike or similar then upload it. As long as you keep an eye out for turns it works perfectly.

The Forest of Dean: here indeed be Dragons

My arrival was heralded by a chocolate cloud cake. It was amazing.

The chocolate cloud cake baked by Belle of Bristol. Amazing; light, perfectly formed and subtle; the C-Bomb of cakes.

The following day I rode back from Cheltenham to Bristol along my normal route; straight up and over the Cotswolds. It was cold and beautiful, but also horribly icy. By the time I’d realised just how icy, it was too late. I came round the corner near Painswick to a perfect tableau of a car, gently rocking on its side and a static sea of surface ice. Luckily a fellow cyclist had warned me near the top of the descent of ice on the road so I’d taken things extremely carefully on the way down. As soon as I saw the run-off across the road i started walking.

Something not quite right with this picture

Mercifully, no-one was hurt, although moments later the Cheltenham CCC club run came rolling down the hill and went down like nine-pins. there were a couple of dicey bits and if i wasn’t doing an A to B ride I would have turned round and headed for home. As it was, I took it steady and stuck to the main roads wherever possible. I made it back in one piece.

I had a vaguely self-satisfied feeling that comes from ratcheting up the miles over the festive period. I managed a few decent rides. However, everyone else has been out doing a passable impression of team sky, busting out back-to-back 100 milers and other insane feats, including 21,000 feet of climbing in 2 days. (J’accuse Ben Davis et aussi Tom Ilett). Oh well, no prizes for having a shedload of form in February. Unless your target for the season is the Frome and District Wheelers 10 Mile Open Time Trial. Which it isn’t.

Riding Fixed With Chickens and Yarg

I apologise if you’re one of two people who have been waiting for a new post. it’s not for want of trying, more that the blog has been collateral damage in the relentless surge of Christmas and work and tiredness. I have been riding, mostly in the early mornings. I stop occasionally to marvel at the Stygian gloom; or sometimes to observe the curious goings-on at stupid o’ clock of an Advent morning.

He’s here! at Failand! Stockpiling tangerines!

Base club has been continuing with and without me. Today we went out on an extended jaunt into the Mendips. I opted for fixed. I say ‘opted’, I have yet to ride gears this winter. The others all had multiple cadences and weightings available to them. It was an oscillating experience, I was on and off the back more times than a Cat 4 mixing it with the 2s and 3s for the first time. Tom was the only one with full mudguards and a mudflap. My mudguards lacked the floor-to-ceiling face saver. This is because I have been riding on my own for such a long time that i didn’t bother duct-taping a homely solution. As a result, Tom seemed to get far filthier than anyone else, although we all looked like we’d been liberally pebbledashed by a loose-ringed norovirus sufferer. It was grim.

Tom tastes the grit and sludge from the moorland

We did around 50 miles with some tasty climbs. By the end my legs were complaining vociferously which i take to be a positive sign. It would be nice sometimes to have the luxury of gears, on the descents or flat tailwind sections perhaps. Long descents hurt in all sorts of ways; arms, shoulders and neck remain tense and tighten, the derriere chafes through the saddle-bouncing motion.

At the end of the ride I had to nip to North Street on an errand which involved the purchase of two free-range chickens and a wedge of Yarg. By that point I was beginning to hallucinate through hunger. I bumped into some chums after purchasing the Yarg and they looked at me quizzically. I attempted to convince them that my stock training method is to grab a slice of yarg and head out into the hills for 3 hours on a fixed wheel. Once I’d picked up the chickens i then had to make my way back across Bedminster like a chopper coming back from Asda, carrier bag dangling precariously from the handlebar. It was going fine until one of the chicken corpses stuck a leg into the spokes and nearly took me out. It would have been a hard one to explain: i crashed after a dead chicken in a carrier bag stuck a leg into my spokes. We made it back in one piece, just about. It surprised me how heavy two chickens could be. I’ve never bought a chicken and haven’t eaten any for about 25 years. Like computers and time trial bike design, a lot has changed in the world of chickens since then.

I am contemplating the purchase of a turbo trainer. The simple reason is the specificity of the interval session. sigh. If you are one of the previously mentioned readers, then you will know that this is something of a turnaround. In fact, it’s on a par with the volte-face taken by the liberal shitocrats when they decided that power and a lust for office was singularly more important than any sense of principals, morals or ethics. Belle has cautioned me against doing such a heinous thing. In fact, her words were:

“You told me that if you were ever considering buying a turbo trainer that i should do everything in my power to prevent this from happening’.

I found myself fumbling and dropping words like a dyspraxic in a button factory. I tried to suggest that the specificity offered by the turbo was the one thing i needed, but there was a hollowness to my pronouncements and I knew she was right. I shall simply find a shallow and consistent gradient and wallop it in steadily increasing gaps of time until my eyeballs bleed and lungs collapse in on themselves.

Hill awaits

The roads were quiet this morning. People were either sleeping or racing I imagine. the weather was strange.

Luminescent bank of cloud over Blagdon

Up in the bank of cloud
Burrington

I’ve been cramming in as many hills as possible. 

On fear of racing after a lengthy lay off and a sense of not knowing

A startsheet popped through the letter box today. This is a rare occasion; rarer than finding a Rhode Island Red with a mouth full of molars. In days of yore the CTT would send out all startsheets by carrier pigeon upon receipt of 5 shekels. Nowadays it’s all techno techno techno with online entry and results being the norm. It’s quite refreshing to receive a bona fide artifact.

It’s also a rare occasion because I haven’t done any races since the beginning of July where I managed two in three days. These were a blip, with the previous race being at the end of May. It’s been a frugal time. My last race was disappointing, i was resolutely off the pace and decided to stop and have a breather (after the race, not during). I had been struggling to manage any longer distances and felt that there was no point flogging a dead horse.

As things currently stand, I’m gearing up for hill climb season and have been training fairly studiously. Ultimately it doesn’t count for anything until you line up for a race and see exactly where the legs take you. This is partly because I train on ‘feel’. It’s an anachronistic approach, very much in keeping with posted startsheets. I have a race next weekend but have no idea what sort of form I might have. This makes me nervous and fretful. I have been working hard and my weight is where it should be. I feel as though I’m climbing well. My first hillclimb is next Thursday, followed by a couple of short distance time trials. I’m optimistic, but nervous.

 

 

 

 

On not knowing where your bike has been and on being stung on the head by a striped beastie

I rode to Cheltenham yesterday and I rode back today. It was a slightly circuitous route and several strange things occurred. In the badlands near Kingswood I was stung on the head by a wasp. 

It flew into the vents in my helmet, buzzed around then unleashed hell. I felt like it had punctured my brain and stopped at the side of the road. Televisual visions flooded my mind and checked my breathing carefully lest I experience some kind of anaphylactic catastrophe. I waited for the shock to wear off then took to wondering what Charly Wegelius would do. firstly, he’d sell his jersey for £2.5k to a bunch of win-hungry italians, but secondly, he’d get the hell back on his bike and drag the bunch back up the leaders. I followed his example (the latter one). I recommend Wegelius’ book, Domestique. It’s better than most cycling books. 

It was a hot day so I stopped at Sainsbury’s in Stroud to buy some jungle juice and replenish my bottle. This was part of my pre-ride strategy, I only had one bottle on the bike because the other cage is used for a spare tubular tyre. 

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A One Act Play

A country road. A supermarket. 

The entrance area of the supermarket is broad and capacious. The double doors are located to the left, approximately 3 metres from the ‘food to go’ section and lottery kiosk. The front of the shop is all but empty, 2 or 3 shoppers loiter near the baskets. A large and misshapen security guard leans to the right, propped up against the ‘information’ point, attempting unsuccessfully to curry favour with the lady behind the desk. 

A cyclist walks in with his bicycle and stops at the chilled drinks cabinet, trying to choose a suitable refreshment. He looks as though he has just ridden a considerable distance. The security guard approaches. He looks as though he hasn’t ridden more than 2 miles in 20 years.

Guard: I’m sorry Sir, and I can see that it’s an expensive bike, but you can’t bring it in here. You’ll have to leave. 

Cyclist: Why is that? 

Guard: Because it’s policy. 

Cyclist: Can I see the policy please? 

Guard: We don’t have to have everything written down you know. We’re not obliged to write policies. 

Cyclist: So is it a policy or isn’t it a policy? 

Guard: It’s our policy. 

Cyclist: I thought your policy might be to allow a thirsty cyclist to wheel his bicycle across six feet of floor into the shop to spend his money and buy a drink to replenish his thirst. 

Guard: I don’t want to argue, it’s our policy. 

Cyclist: I’m not arguing. You’re trying to frame this discussion as an argument to suit your lack of an argument. There is no argument. My question is, why is it the policy to not allow bikes in the front of the store? 

Guard: Because we don’t know where they might have been. 

Cyclist: Well, I can help you with that. This bike has been along the road from Bristol to here. It’s also been to France several times. It frequently rides uphill. On rest days it sleeps in the spare room with some other bicycles. What about your trolleys? Where have they been? 

Guard: We know where our trolleys have been. They’ve been in the car park. 

Cyclist: I have concerns about them resting outside in all weathers with the peoples of Stroud being able to touch them and do things. What about the prams and pushchairs? And shoes? Can you vouch for their provenance? 

Guard: If you want to argue then I’m going to have to ask you to leave. 

Cyclist: We’re not having an argument and you’ve already asked me to leave. 

At this point the cyclist replaces the bottle of chilled pop on the shelf and leaves the store. 

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The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful. On the return leg I got lost looking for Birdlip Hill (which i’d descended the day before) and rode up a curious climb called ‘Dog Lane’, which goes all the way up the escarpment then all the way down. I found Birdlip, it has been resurfaced which makes it marginally less painful going up and quite a lot quicker going down. I managed to break 50mph for the first time in quite a while. I have unpleasant memories of riding up Birdlip in the thick of winter on a 68″ gear. I will never do this again. 

I managed an average speed of 18.5mph for the 50 miles from Bristol to Cheltenham. I took in three big climbs; Wotton, Crawley, and Slad Valley, topping out at 3,500 feet of ascent. On the return my legs complained and I got lost in Stroud (punishment for arguing with the security man), as well as getting lost looking for Birdlip. My average speed was 16.5mph with a similar amount of climbing. It has been two good days of cycling. I’m not sure i’ll have the legs for tomorrow’s hillclimb at Frocester, so may rest and save my energies for the weekend. If I had sufficient room in my pockets I would have brought home some good muck. 

 

Dundry, Parsonage Lane, Blagdon, Draycott, Shipham, Wrington, Belmont

I’ve been trying to rebuild my base endurance after it took a walloping due to illness and other factors. this involves the same sort of training as normal, but with some extended weekend jaunts out into the mendips, taking in at least a few hills. Today i tackled a ride i usually favour during a ‘build’ period. it’s not one for the faint-hearted or faint-legged, for a couple of reasons. The total elevation tops out at 5000 feet, hitting that all important 1000 feet per 10 miles marker. There are 6 particularly unpleasant climbs, interspersed with some opportunities for recovery. It’s really hard work and maintaining any kind of average speed above 15mph is very difficult, requiring considerable exertion on the ups and and on the flat.

The route starts with an ascent over the steep side of Dundry, and it’s very steep. It takes around 4 minutes, oscillating between 10 and 20% with not much inbetween. The hairpins are also very steep. It’s a wall. Parsonage Lane is much gentler, at around 6% for about 0.8 of a mile. After that, Blagdon looms large. It’s the nastiest way to get up the north side of the Mendips, rising up from Blagdon Lake to the highest point of the hills in 1 3/4 miles. The elevation pitches up to around 15% at various points and is never particularly shallow. It’s a climb I really like but it’s never particularly easy, just tipping over the edge of steepness to make it hard to find and maintain a rhythm. It’s used in the Colin Carfield road race where the action generally explodes.

After a brief recovery and descent of West Close – a hill climb course used this year by Team Tor and for the National HC in 2000 – it was time for the hardest, nastiest, most revolting climb in all the Mendips: Draycott Steep. It’s a climb most people avoid on account of its unremitting savagery. it’s hard to explain precisely why, but it could be because of its unassuming nature. Essentially, it heads up out of Draycott to the very top of Cheddar Gorge in one straight, steepening line. There is no opportunity to gather breath or recover. The climb is a mile and a half long; once it pitches up to 15% it doesn’t slip back down for about a mile. Instead it gently pitches up to about 22%; the increased incline isn’t immediately evident, you can’t see it looking up the hill, but it’s evident when you start pedalling in squares and the front wheel becomes light and unstable. I find the climb exerts a curious allure, it’s a challenge and every now and then i head down and have a pop. I’ve never had a good climb on Draycott, my only memories are struggling up and wishing i had something else other than the 39:25. It’s simply too steep for too long to get any kind of rhythm.

The hostelry at the top of Draycott

Once i’d reached the top of the Mendips my legs were a bit ragged. A rapid descent of the gorge and blast through Cheddar allowed some respite. I’ve never seen quite so many cyclists coming up the Gorge, small groups and individuals enjoying the glorious weather; i probably passed around 25 riders. I’ve always preferred descending the gorge to climbing up; it’s not much of a climb, to be honest, and the scenery is more impressive when you plummet down through, remembering only to ‘think goat’: watch out for the bearded ruminants who line the cliffs.

two cyclists dwarfed by the towering cliffs of the gorge

Shipham is a main road rhythm climb, rising out of Cheddar and back up the side of the Mendips. It’s not particularly nice because it heads past a quarry, but it’s relatively straightforward. After that I hopped up over Wrington, a short and very steep climb with amazing views across to the Mendip escarpment, then rattled back into the city, pausing only to direct some leisure cyclists (aren’t we all?) onto the railway path and point some day trippers towards Clevedon. A quick ascent of Belmont and super fast descent of Clarken Combe finished off the ride. Average temperature, even at 8am, was 78 degrees. Very very hot. In an unprecedented development I drank two full bottles of jungle juice. I feel like my legs might be returning.

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