More Epic Base Miles Featuring a Veritable Harras of Horses

I have been building up slowly in anticipation of the New Year and the epic miles to come. Today I managed 34 miles and was just nudging 14mph for the totality of the ride. It was a blustery and damp morning and a visit to the Mendips was in order. The sun emerged at one point, startling the landscape and animals queuing up for paired tickets into the big wooden boat moored at Dundry.

The view from Dundry across towards Chew Valley Lake

There was a staggering amount of water cascading down from the hills, forming  torrents across the roads and pouring out of hedgerows and eddying in newly formed plunge pools in the tarmac. The road surface of many of the narrower lanes had been scoured by the abrasive action of endless rainfall, taking away the topping and leaving instead silty gravel traps at the bottom of hills. The damage seems far worse than any winter I can remember, with the edges of the roads being eaten away at an alarming rate and pot-holes forming everywhere. Several roads were closed.

Rain related chaos near Butcombe

The random and infinitely strange world of the early Sunday morning bike ride made its presence felt on a narrow road near Butcombe. I was descending gingerly, trying to find a line between the run-off and the gravel and not doing a very good job, when I came across 5 ponies happily chewing the hedges. My training as an agricultural farmhand at Truro cattle market back in the late 1980s suddenly came good (truefact). I helped a lady (who seemed to be on first name terms with the herd) to get them back in the field. I used my Mercian as an impromptu gate across the road (might have been better using a Baines) whilst she somehow snuck past them further down to drive them back up. The exercise took about half an hour. We were going well until some utter schmuck drove up the hill and scattered the wild beasts all about, rather than stopping and offering to help or even blocking off the road to stop them from heading straight into the Augean gloom of Blagdon and eating the locals. Maybe the dumbass in the massive silver car presumed I was some kind of livery expert, what with my horseherd’s uniform of lycra, red jacket and Mercian bicycle.

It’s a warning, it’s in every tongue. Gotta stop them crazy horses on the run…

One thing i noticed is that Horses descend steep, damp, tarmacked hills about as gracefully as I do, which was strangely comforting. Their hooves skittered and skidded across the surface and they looked really jittery.


After the unscheduled pet rescue I opted to head straight up Blagdon hill. I regretted this immediately but pressed on, breaking into the 27t sprocket I save for very special occasions. After about 15 minutes of pain and suffering I made it to the main road where I stopped for a banana. A couple of gents came up Burrington and stopped to chat for a while. They asked me if I knew the climb, said it was a tough one. All humility went out the window and I told them I knew it quite well having won the open hill climb on there riding a 65″ gear a few months back. I would be hard pushed to get up it in under 10 minutes at the moment, such is my wheezy, corpulent and christmassy form. One of the other chaps rode for the Clevedon and we talked about Argos bicycles. I mentioned that the Argos was a popular choice amongst the South, to which he replied, ‘I do believe Ernie Janes’ young lad rides a nice low pro’. I’m sure Allen will be flattered.

Young lad Allen’s tidy low-pro

My chance encounters weren’t quite finished for the day; descending Harptree Hill I came across the Severn Club Run. They are attracting big numbers at this time of year; there were two of them. One of them was the National Hill Climb Champion, Neil Blessitt. The other one was John. I imagine there might have been some waiting at the top of hills.

Neil pauses to catch up. It’s unusual to see him outside of September or October.

Maybe, just maybe I might break the 40 mile barrier before the holiday period ends.

Epic Festive Base Rides and the Rainbow Bands

This Christmas I’ve been struck down with a virulent cold and cough which has necessitated the cancellation of all riding for the past 7 days. I have filled the void with a medicinal concoction of chocolate, ale and baked goods.

It seems as though everyone else has been out and about, building up their base mileage with impromptu 100 mile jaunts out onto the quiet and damp roads. Some people have even undertaken the ‘rapha festive 500′ which involves riding 500km between the 21st and 30th December. I’d have struggled with a Festive 50km.

Today I threw caution to the wind and headed out on the winter machine. I’d just about stopped sniffing and leaking mucous on a biblical scale and my cough no longer sounded like keats’ dying moments (The phlegm seem’d boiling in his throat). It seemed as good a time as any to get reacquainted with the bicycle. A week off can seem like a heck of a lot longer in bike years.

I managed an epic 24 miles and nearly made it to the Mendips, veering off towards Yatton at the last minute. It was grey and pretty damp and i saw nothing of note until I came across a bona fide world champion. Elliot Davis was wearing the rainbow bands on his way home from work; it was a resplendent sight. If i’d earned the right to wear the rainbow bands I don’t think i’d ever take them off. Elliot earned his stripes in the points race at the UCI World Masters track Championship at Manchester Velodrome this year. He also took a silver in the pursuit. That counts as a pretty amazing season.

I noticed that Elliot had ‘crudguards’ on his winter machine. Following on from crudguardgate earlier this year I can confirm that Elliot almost certainly rides properly and his testing of crudguards can be taken as evidence that they can work in certain conditions: when allied to a rainbow jersey earned in competition. Elliot used to ride a Colnago with Gilko tubing as his winter hack and pub bike until he destroyed it.

I may even go out again tomorrow. Steady the Buffs.

The First Real Target

I’ve been thinking about targets for next season. It’s been tricky; I don’t doubt that it’s going to be very different and I’m certainly not going to be travelling to all corners in search of freaky fast stretches of tarmac. The adage will be quality over quantity. Generally I find I need to set a few goals in order to give shape and structure to my training. I drift if riding without a sense of purpose in the background.

I came second in the Western District Hardrider competition with 717 points out of  maximum of 720. I’d like to focus on these events again, not necessarily to win the series, which may be out of reach, but to improve times. I also really enjoy them. They are relatively local.

I’d like to try and ride for 25 miles in a shade under 50 minutes. This will require some very specific work, but the hardrider series should help. I may dabble once again in the odd road race, but haven’t the time or inclination to really set about preparing for regular 60+ mile races.

Last but not least, I am aiming to get a top 20 placing at the National Hill Climb Championship on the Stang.

That’s it.

Numbness and Penguins’ Eggs, Cold Hands and Bernard Hinault at Liège-Bastogne-Liège (and other spurious comparisons)

This morning was the first seriously cold start of the winter, with a gaggle of malicious minus temperatures hanging around outside waiting for unsuspecting cyclists. I prepared by wearing two pairs of gloves: a thinner set of Defeets and some Pearl Izumi Cyclones over the top. This has typically saved me from the cruel nastiness of numb and painful fingers. I’ve never really suffered from cold hands, unlike others I know who have struggled for years to find some sort of solution to the pain and misery of icy digits.

Bernard Hinault wasn’t averse to riding in cold weather and it’s impossible not admire the relentless and indefatigable spirit of Le Blaireau. I recommend Richard Moore’s recent book, Slaying the Badger, for further insights into the character of arguably the last great patron of the peloton. One of his landmark victories came in Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1980. Around half of the field abandoned within the hour, unable and unwilling to ride into the ashen and ghostly face of a savage blizzard. Hinault stayed put, finally pulling out a 10 minute lead over Hennie Kuiper and taking the win, but at a cost: he had such severe frostbite that two fingers on his right hand remain numb to this day.

Hinault leads the peloton through the endless blizzard

Being able to ride through unbelievably harsh conditions and get the job done is a good way to pick up points. See Ian Stannard at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, or Andy Hampsten’s epic ride over the Gavia in 1988. This year’s Chippenham Hardrider is the closest I’ve come to hypothermia on the bike.

ski goggles. really.

During this morning’s 6 mile ride to work my hands stubbornly refused to warm up. This is of course exactly how Hampsten and Hinault must have felt. I gained some feeling in my left hand but the fingers on my right remained cold and became extremely painful. When I arrived at work the pain had increased to the extent that I felt nauseous. I have had cold hands before but usually it’s only for the first bit of a ride. For a brief moment I thought of Cherry-Garrard in his savage quest for penguin’s eggs, walking into the eternal frozen night of the South Pole and becoming permanently frostbitten. And i resolved to get some better gloves.

I suspect that one of the causes might have been paradoxically because i wore two pairs of gloves. They were quite tight with no layers of air between the fabric or around the fingers. I think that a layer of warm air is required to add insulation, which is perhaps why mittens or even the lobster’s claw, are a popular choice for those with poor circulation. I have ordered some thicker and hopefully more effective winter gloves for the really cold mornings to come.

Mud on Road

This morning took me out of Bristol to Clapton in Gordano, across the lanes under the M5 to Clevedon, across the flats to Yatton, through Wrington, followed by a long climb up to the top of the Mendips via Shipham and Longbottom, across the Roman lead mines at Charterhouse and then down through Bishop Sutton, skirting the edge of the lake then past the Cove at Stanton Drew before circling back into Bristol via Norton Malreward. I opted for gears because that was what the others would be riding, although in the end i went out on my own because i woke up early. I had an alarm malfunction – it was still set to work time.  By the time base club got moving at 8.30 I’d already done 25 miles. In the end i managed about 50 miles and was home by 10.15.

At 7 o’ clock it was incredibly quiet. I saw no other cyclists and barely any traffic. I saw 2 buzzards, a kestrel, a deer at close quarters, several squirrels and today’s roadkill item of the day was a misshapen rat.

The roads were absolutely filthy after last night’s deluge. I can’t imagine riding without mudguards.


Ace of Base: Winter Training 2012/13

Winter training tends to consist of volume rather than intensity. It’s safe to say that since the end of the racing season about the most intense session I’ve done involved several pints of ales of diverse hue and complexion. It was not dissimilar to a ‘quality’ set of intervals, with dizziness, nausea and a desire to vomit, a sensation of being light-headed and cross-eyed and a pronounced difficulty in finishing the last one.

Last winter we managed to get some regular ‘base’ rides going. As with any form of training there are lots of conflicting sets of advice. Some people advocate staying in ‘zone 2’, whereas others argue that a regular intervals throughout winter contribute towards more sustained gains in fitness. As always, stick with what works for you and ignore everyone else.

What works for me is extended volume and dropping intensity. I keep hilly rides in there, this throws in some extended intervals, but nothing like the type i do in direct preparation for racing. When doing solid winter training with no desire to ratchet up the average speed, i opt for fixed wheel over gears.

Today Mark, Kieran and myself headed out on a fixed wheel base ride. It was great fun. We cycled and chatted and generally enjoyed the sensation of being out on our bikes. The fact that it was a base ride was of minor importance. We met up with Graham at the top of Burrington. We were mostly riding 67-68″ which meant careful route planning to avoid the really evil Mendip brutes, opting instead for a couple of more gradual ascents. Most of what we did was flat, with a short excursion onto the levels, a strange and beautiful place with lots of birds.

‘Difficult’ second album “Heavy Duty”, by Chicken Shack spin-off band now available in the Isle of Wedmore.
Club kit redesign is looking really bloody good.

On the way back in we were all feeling fatigued. My saddle isn’t quite right for anything over 1 hour. This wasn’t good. My legs were tired, heavy and unresponsive. I ate a lot of food when i got in. It was a successful morning.

Kieran undertakes a car, forcing him wide through sheer leg speed and cadence

Preparing for Winter

I spent some time at the weekend switching the hill climb bike into winter mode. Having finally recovered from the ale rave, I’m now ready to start some serious base mileage.

Vigorelli Path/Track
with Carradice Super C

It’s got some lovely touches, apart from being a beautiful steel frame. The mudguard bosses are hidden underneath the chainstay bridge and the front fork, keeping the lines clean with no need to drill the rear brake bridge. The Brooks is extremely comfy. I think i might switch the bars back to a set of cut down bullhorns; the drops look nice but it’s not the best position when you don’t have hoods, the curve is a bit awkward.

The Super C takes everything i need to carry, with quite a bit of room left over. It’s an essential purchase and stops my back from getting sweaty. Saddlebags are one of the most amazing things I have ever used. I stick my things in a tote bag inside the super C so i can hoick the lot out when i get to the other end. We have secure bike parking, which is nice.

The light on the front is a hope vision one. I have had this light for 4 years now. It’s absolutely perfect for the dark lanes. They are seriously cheap at Wiggle at the moment. The back light is a bontrager ember and a smart lunar. The combination of two flashing lights makes me feel a bit more comfortable.

I’ve just about got used to the 68″ gear again, which is nice. I was worried for a bit.

Reviewing Progress

Reviewing your season is an important element of bike racing. Like many other cyclists I set a series of goals at the start of the year, usually not that far into the off-season. It helps keep me focused on what I want to achieve.

At the end of last year i had PBs of 20.47, 52.15, 1.58 and 4.11.30 for the 10, 25, 50 and 100 respectively. I came 4th in the WTTA hardriders series with 705 points.

My targets for 2012 were as follows:

sub 20.19 for a 10 (club record)
sub 51.30 for a 25 (club record is 50.53, might be out of reach, but we shall see)
new PB in a 50 than this year
sub 1.05.12 in a 30 (club record)

I was also aiming for an improvement in the WTTA series in terms of placings and times. In essence, i spent the first half of the season not really troubling these lofty ambitions, apart from the WTTA, where i seemed to be absolutely flying. These are events which are untroubled by the need for a fast day or course, they are hilly and challenging time trials in scenic areas of the countryside. I came 3rd at Chippenham in the most brutal conditions imaginable, then 2nd at Gillingham, 2nd at Severn, 2nd at Bath, 2nd at Cheltenham, I won at Westbury, came 2nd at Minehead and won at Burrington. In the first 6 events I found i was consistently around 2 minutes faster than a year ago. It was good enough for 717 points and second behind the evergreen Rob Pears. The Westbury win was a cracking weekend because I won the BSCC Open 10 the day before.

I then dabbled around doing a few different events and tried my best not to crash in road races. Doing a bit of massed start was not on the agenda at the start of the year, but it was worth a punt and I ended up getting my 3rd Cat licence pretty quickly and entirely down to the fact that one of the races had a team trial at the beginning so i sat on the front for most of it and we annihilated the opposition. The opening road stage was slightly different, i sat on the front for a bit and was annihilated by the opposition. I am undecided as to whether i will be taking the road races more seriously next year. If i do it will be hilly ones only.

In about August time things suddenly started to happen really quickly. I lined up a tilt at a few fast courses and tried to make sure I had the form to go with it. This meant travelling up north for the V718, a sheltered and quick strip of tarmac near Hull. It was one of those days where everything suddenly seemed to be in alignment and I bagged a 30mph ride. 4 weeks later i repeated the trick and turned in a 19.42, taking a minute off my PB and nearly a minute from the club record.

I also hit the U7b which is my favourite course but notoriously slow. i somehow managed to scrape under 21 minutes out in the graveyard (twice) with a 20.46 being about as fast as last year’s PB on any course. The same weekend I made the trek over to South Wales for a last crack at a quick 25 – my PB had been elusive all season. The conditions and the headwind were finally in the right place and I managed a 50.21, which was also good enough to shave 30 seconds from the club record. During the event I was passed by Michael Hutchinson who was en route to competition record of 45.46. Jeff Jones also managed a super fast 47.40.

Hill climb season wasn’t in my aims because i felt the Rake didn’t suit me. I rode it anyway, and managed 35th place. I should probably have made it a goal and tried harder, or ridden a smaller gear. I’m not sure I could have tried harder, unless i went as far as Jack Pullar who spent 25 minutes puking violently into a bucket after his effort. The real goal was Burrington, and despite it being a slower day I managed to win the event. It was my 5th open win of the season, along with the Westbury Hilly, Severn 10, BSCC 10 and the Haytor HC.

And that’s it. Since last Sunday I’ve eaten an significant amount of Cadbury’s Chocolate.

we went to cadbury’s world and bought the contents of the factory. we then celebrated in subway.

It’s been an extraordinarily successful season on a personal level. I made progress i didn’t imagine was possible. I also got married in March, which outdoes even a short 19 in terms of amazingness. I have no idea what happens next season. I am going to give it some thought over the next few weeks and then come up with some aims. Having just said that I have no idea what happens next season, i do know a couple of things: the Stang will be featuring quite heavily in my end of year plans, it climbs 800 feet in a little over 2 miles; and it’s likely that my early season may be preoccupied with an exciting new arrival that unusually doesn’t come from the local bike shop.

Last Rides

Autumn Sweater

I went out on the hill climb weapon this morning for a last session prior to Sunday’s race. It involved several repetitions of short and steep hills in and around Bristol. I did Constitution Hill 3 times and Clifton Vale/Hensmans Hill 3 times.

I then rode through Ashton Court which was still and quiet in the damp autumnal weather. There were some scary looking stags making horrible and angry noises in some kind of lascivious deersex way.

Deer noise

I’m going to give the Rake the once over on Saturday, but that’s it until the race on Sunday… only 3 minutes left.

Anatomy of A Hill Climb

Once i’d decided that I was going to go fixed this year, and therefore go fixed properly, I set  about converting my winter frame, a bob jackson vigorelli path/track iron, into a fully-fledged hillkiller. It took me longer than i thought and i went down a few blind alleys in search of weight savings. I also knew that i faced a simple handicap in that the frame and fork weight was about 1600g.

I had to swap the fork and front end out to make any significant gains. This is much easier said than done, finding a 1″ threadless carbon fork with carbon steerer that is light and stiff is very tricky, a bit like looking for a block of ossau iraty in Asdabedminster. In the end, and for a bit of a premium, i tracked one down on the ebay. I suspect a few other people had the same idea because it was a proper bunfight. It was worth it in the end, saving a bit more than half a kilogramme.

I also ran a 3/32 drivetrain, i imagined it to be lighter than a butch eighth pitch chain, but might be wrong. Weightweenies was a valuable (if pornographic) resource during my quest for lightness. They have a useful database of feathery things. I am aware that through all of this I was essentially trying really hard to create a really light bike when i already had a really light bike in the cupboard, but that’s not quite the full story. Building a fixed hillclimb machine is one of the most fun things you can do. It’s also a bike that has an absolutely defined purpose: riding uphill fast. The specialist nature of the task and the event appeals to that latent autism that all men possess.

Here is a more detailed list of the componentry.

1. Reynolds 631 Bob Jackson Vigorelli Frame, 57cm; 1700g; Carbon fork and steerer; 420g; 3TTT ARX Pro Stem 150g; Chopped bars, 220g; Cane Creek TT lever, no cap, chopped half-length; 42g; Campag chorus 39t ring, 172.5 centaur cranks, record 102mm BB, 732g; DA carbon pedals 250g; Campag veloce caliper, 150g; front wheel: PX carbon laced to PX hub with conti comp tub: 660g; Rear wheel: Arc-En-Ciel laced to Royce hub with conti tub; 960g; Alien USE Carbon seatpost; 142g; SLR saddle, 123g; chain/bolts/bits/cables/sprockets, 750g (3/32 drivetrain to save weight)

Bike weight = 6.329 kg

Once you go down the route of spending money on lighter things, you then become suddenly aware of one of the truisms of cycling: it’s far far cheaper to shed weight on the rider than it is on the bike. I’m quite light, but for hill climb season i tend to take this to the edges of quite lightness. I stop eating chocolate and treats and don’t drink anything alcoholic. Incidentally, i don’t tend to drink very much at all these days anyway, it’s utterly incompatible with regular racing. In hill climb season I eat considerably less than ‘normal’ people. People seem confused that I have only one small sandwich and a banana for lunch. Race weight during the regular season tends to be 68 kilograms, or 150lbs. During hillclimb season it drops to 65kg, sometimes 64kg, or 141lbs. At this kind of weight you tend to feel dizzy and light-headed when you stand up. You can feel your ribs and your sitbones tend to make wooden chairs or benches a little bit uncomfortable. Long days at work with no snacks between frugal meals produce a feeling of emptiness. It’s at the lower reaches of the BMI index.

Combined bike and rider weight: 71kg

When out on the bike, when the form starts to arrive, you feel a sense of helium-induced invincibility and the pulse quickens at the base of any climb, a feeling endorsed by the knowledge that you can get out of the saddle and fly upwards. It’s a fantastic feeling. When I’m out training on fixed, spinning between a 57 and a 64, I sometimes get passed heading to a climb by a roadman on gears. Once the road tilts uphill the roles are reversed and the bike acquires a life of its own, the lack of weight and the relentlessness of the right gear align perfectly and I glide past the startled cyclist and leave them floundering. Occasionally they catch up on the flat some time later and a dawning recognition hits them, they’ve been skinned by a self-certified lunatic: a member of the hill climb fraternity on a specialist and home-made weapon.  

as a caveat, there is always a thinner gorilla…

thinner gorilla

On Monday I am going to Cadbury World with Belle, where apparently you can ‘create your own delicious taste sensation covered in warm liquid Cadbury Dairy Milk’. I am planning to eat the entire contents of the factory.

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