Tour of Britain

This year’s edition lived up to the hyperbole, it has been the best one ever. Some of the stages have been outright sufferfests; the one over the Struggle in particular somehow packed in 4000m of climbing. It was brutal. Apart from the obvious highlight of a double stage in Bristol, I enjoyed watching Ian Stannard ride away from Graham Briggs on the Cat and Fiddle, like an angry Dad dropping his precocious but weak son on a character-building ride one Sunday morning. It was savage. Briggs looked like he was sprinting, Stannard like he was popping to the shops.

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More cowbell, Dad!

Saturday’s time trial was a thrilling opportunity to catch sight of the finest riders in the sport at very close quarters. Tony Martin, Tom Dumoulin, Rohan Dennis, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Steve Cummings and lots of other super big hitters. Wiggins looked like he wasn’t taking it very seriously. In later interviews he did point out how hard it is to train for a 4 minute event on the track and then ride a lumpen shit-fest round the more scenic bits of the UK for 7 days. Nevertheless, he was in full soft-pedal mode. wig

It made it much easier to catch a glimpse of the greatest UK cyclist ever in his last race on the road. It felt significant and I was pleased to be there. in contrast, Dumoulin looked super fast.

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Surely a 15 on the V, easy peasy.

The afternoon stage coincided with a friend’s stag do. I’m too old for the mad shenanigans which happen on these sorts of days, the complex rules and the fast and loose imbibing of horrific alcoholic drinks. We gathered on the Downs, replete with banner, and cheered on Tom Dumoulin, for some strange reason. It made the Tour of Britain twitter feed as one of the moments of the day.

capture

We lost out in the public vote to Mark Cavendish looking at some children sat on a chair.If you zoom right in on the banner you can see the full glory of the masks, as well as my puny arm struggling to lift it.

csa4bwuwiaaibancsa0nlewcauvibp

 

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Everyone was excited by my watermarked face, and the strange reflection of the Vuelta in my sunglasses. It made for a strangely otherworldly experience. The sunglasses helped with the eye holes, unlike one of the masks above where you can just see an eye beadily poking through.

It was a brilliant day. I love bike racing. But I think everyone knew this already. In  other news, Marcin Bialoblocki managed to scrape 50 seconds from Alex Dowsett’s ten mile record with a 16.35. That’s 36mph. Try holding that on the flat for 10 metres, people. He repeated the feat the next day with a 44.04 for 25 miles. Quite a weekend.

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.

21 days of one day races

The TIVO box is primed and cleared, ready to engorge on 100+ hours of bongo. It’s Giro time. Of the three grand tours it’s arguably he most anarchic, terrifying, and captivating. Things happen in the Giro that don’t happen in the Tour; epic splits, absurdly steep climbs and savage accumulations of mountains, day after day. It also has its fair share of mythology and heroism. The clichés regarding cycling are probably accurate; it’s a race that reflects the cultural background and psyche of a nation. For further reading I recommend John Foot’s Pedalare! Pedalare!

Fiorenzo Magni using bar-tape as leverage to counteract a broken collarbone. Really.

The story of the 1973 Giro is beautifully told in Jorgen Leth’s film, Stars and Their Watercarriers. It depicts the epic struggle between Eddy Merckx and the Spanish mountain goat, José Manuel Fuente.

The film is a precursor to Leth’s more famous documentary, A Sunday in Hell.

In recent years, a couple of stages stand out, but especially the Strade Bianche in 2010 when Evans emerged from the grey primordial soup of Northern Italy to take the win

Evans and Vinokourov. I think.

This year the race makes an excursion into France to tackle the Galibier, before heading back across the border. It’s very exciting when a race heads over a climb you’ve ridden yourself, it emphasises the extreme difference between the amateur dilettante and the hardened Grand Tour rider.

From an anglophone perspective, this year’s race is all about Sir Bradley of Wigginshire. I imagine that the strategy will be Indurain-esque in its simplicity: limit the losses on the really steep stuff and then absolutely muller it in the time trials and everywhere else. It should make for amazing viewing.

Quick Change

I spent most of yesterday afternoon watching the Worlds. Phillippe Gilbert’s late attack was an act of utmost savagery and incredible to watch. It was also brilliant to see Ian Stannard doing what Ian Stannard does best, ride like a rabid monster on the front, tearing the race to pieces. According to Wiggins, or possibly Millar, i forget who, there are occasions in the peloton where the pace goes through the roof and riders start wondering what the hell is going on, and why they are completely on the lam, and the answer is almost always one word: ‘Stannard’.

One of the more impressive and speediest things happened in the junior’s race. Watch closely.

http://vimeo.com/49997914#

Tour of Britain

The Tour of Britain starts in a couple of weeks time. It promises to be an extended lap of honour for Lord Bradders of Wigginton, not to mention Sir Mark of Cavendish. I’m really excited; it’s the first one i’ll be able to actually watch since 2006. Time flies, and I can’t quite believe it’s been 6 years.

Martin Pederson won. Famous names in the top ten included Pozzato, Nuyens, Rogers, and a young Andy Schleck in 8th.

Mark Cavendish as a stagiare for T mobile, being interviewed prior to the Bradford stage start.
Nick Nuyens, classics winner
Brian Holm and Malcolm Elliott
rogers and vandevelde hanging out in Bradford

Milling around at the start is the best way to get up close to the riders and teams. This year i’ll be watching it from the top of Merrivale Hill on Dartmoor where i’ll be competing in a team hillclimb in the morning to celebrate the race coming through. The evening before i’m doing the Barnstaple town centre crits which herald the start of the next day’s stage from the sleepy North Devon borough.

It’s a great time to be a cyclist.

 

 

Etape De La Défoncé

Adjective

défoncé m. (f. défoncée, m. plural défoncés, f. plural défoncées)

  1. (slang) fucked, wasted, high (on drugs)

Verb

défoncé m. (f défoncée, m plural défoncés, f plural défoncées)

  1. Past participle of défoncer

Yesterday was the final stage for two of the most important stage races in living memory. The Tour De France and the Etape De La Défoncé. Unfortunately i couldn’t ride both so i opted for the latter. I came home after the stage race to watch the former, and marvelled at Wiggins performing the leadout, giving it a flick of the elbow on the last corner of the Champs-Élysées, leaving Cav to power up the straight to take his 4th win in a row. Later on the podium, Wiggo unleashed another impeccably timed one-liner; “We’re just going to draw the raffle tickets now”.

Cav and Wiggo get ready for the Etape de la Defonce
Wiggo re-enacts his fist pump for the EDD crowd.

I’ve been utterly overwhelmed by this year’s Tour. There’s not an awful lot more to say. My Mother rang me to discuss Both Wiggo’s and Cav’s victories yesterday. My Mother-in-Law cites Bradley Wiggins as her new hero. Everyone at work is talking about it. It’s on the front cover of The Times as a special wraparound poster – there is nothing else apart from the spectacular sight of the yellow jersey in full flight.

astounding

Whilst the Etape De La Défoncé may not have seared itself into the collective consicousness of a nation in quite the same way, it has left an indelible impression on the psyche of the participating peloton. It’s a terrific race, but pretty tough on the legs. I felt much stronger yesterday and rode much more conservatively at the start, despite us defending a slim lead. I rode in the bunch and did everything i could to avoid expending any energy.

John forgoes the team talk in favour of a team ‘stare’ instead.

John was in yellow and having a great race, things were getting spicy when suddenly a car came across a roundabout and he swerved onto the raised lip, knocking his gears out and ending his race. One of the amazing things about racing in Wales is that the Marshalls and NEG have the power to stop traffic. This leads to all but closed roads. Occasionally someone squeaks onto the course and causes problems. The NEG do an amazing job.

the red and gold reflected in the glorious weekend sunshine

When it got to the first major climb the race just exploded; riders started going backwards. One of the Kingston Wheelers took it on from way out for the time bonus and it just went mental. I found a tempo and rode back across. For the first time in a road race i found myself overtaking lots of riders and holding my own right at the front of the peloton. I began to bridge across to the main group, riding cautiously on the descent before tacking back across again, meeting up with Tom Ilet who was having a terrific race in the red and gold. Christian also was hurting himself recklessly and doing damage to the bunch in the process. It was exciting. I then went for the little ring to spin over the top and ride on with the break. It didn’t quite work out, the chain unshipped and wedged between the seat stay and the chainring. I couldn’t flick it back on so had to stop. It took me ages to get it back on, by which time riders had come flooding past and the break had gone. I was left in a futile chase across the valley to try to get back on, but didn’t make it. Again, i thought i must have been a long way down, but there were big groups behind me on the road. I got in with one of them, but wasn’t quite on their rhythm so succeeded only in disrupting their smooth chaingang until i managed to get in sync. Then my chain came off AGAIN. And that was it, i came home further back.

Strada Cycles holding onto yellow… by one second

It was a missed opportunity really; i wouldn’t have won or anything, but i definitely could have ridden for/with Tom and Christian and held on at the front, there were a number of big climbs to go. Tom took 5th overall and Christian bagged points to move up to 3rd cat. Sam had a tasty crash, but luckily somersaulted into a soggy and grassy ditch, rather than the unforgiving tarmac.

I’ll have to go back next year, it’s a brilliant race and is amazingly well-organised by Will Pring and his team of volunteers. I went from the euphoria of the stage win, to the slough of despond that is getting dropped, then back to the giddy heights of mixing it up on the climbs and seeing other people go backwards, then back down again, before finishing on a high because of the camaraderie and support from all the riders in the race. Riding with the Strada chaps was a blast, they are gentlemen all.

It was an amazing weekend to be riding a stage race with a rider in yellow.

Maillot Jaune (Etape De La Defonce)

It’s been a slightly insane day. I’ll work backwards. I’ve just finished watching the Tour and I am more than slightly overwhelmed by Bradley Wiggins’ Time Trial performance. I was also left gobsmacked by his amazing interview in French where he compared Francois Hollande to a chap from Big Brother. Apparently he’d promised to breakdance with Hollande if he won Le Tour.

La maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins s’est gentiment moqué d’un journaliste qui lui indiquait la présence du président de la République, François Hollande, à l’arrivée de l’étape à Brive, vendredi.

Ah bon ? C’était lui ? Je ne savais pas qui c’était, je croyais que c’était quelqu’un de Loft Story…... Il est où maintenant pour que je fasse du break dance avec lui ? Vive la France ! a-t-il souri.

Whilst Britain’s latest national hero was scorching his way to history across the baked tarmac of Bonneval, I was involved in stage race in South Wales. It started off with a team time trial, then a 53 mile hilly road stage. I love team trials. They are beautiful. Tomorrow is a 45 mile very hilly road stage. I’m riding for Strada Cycles Road Team, even though there is a BSCC outfit in the race. It’s a long story, but all’s fine and i haven’t yet been banished into the outer regions of the Severn Road Club for my rank turncoatery.

Bedminster’s answer to Froome and Wiggins

The plan was (John has lots of plans, this much i learnt today) to try and take the yellow jersey in the TTT and then defend it in the road race stage. John’s plan kind of worked, insofar as NOTHING went according to plan, but we managed to take the yellow jersey and defended it (in the loosest sense of the word) in the road race stage.

Le Maillot Jaune! Sacre Merde!

The TTT was about 7.3 miles. We managed 16.20. I’m not sure what the average speed was. I do know that at the turn John went the wrong way and had to do a complicated volte-face to get back and then we sat up a bit whilst he buried himself to make up the 50 metres. It was quite entertaining. We still managed to beat the next best team by 27 seconds which gave us a decent cushion for the road stage, especially considering the 20 second time bonus on one of the primes. Which brings me on to the road stage…

There was a prime at 3 miles. Immediately after this a break got away and we were left with chasing duties. I spent about ten miles on the front with Matt trying to get it back and it really hurt, and in short, it destroyed me. I started going backwards on the climbs. This happens to often to me in road races, i’ve yet to figure out why or how, it’s another post i suspect, with lots of navel-gazing and speculative nonsense, but i imagine it will throw up the incisive insight that a hillclimb is a time trial. I am good at time trials. A climb in a road race is not a hillclimb. I am not particularly good at road races. QED.

At one point we were working to chase down the break, doing a lot of through and off and really driving the pace. Whilst this hurt a lot, and i found the gaps getting steadily bigger, it was also a highlight of the race. As the wind changed direction the movement of the paceline switched and we changed on the inside. It was fascinating.

I started to yoyo off the back. It’s really hard. You can only get back on so many times. Whenever there’s a lull you plead for respite, but it soon picks up again. Eventually, after about 45 miles, and 8 miles from the finish, the elastic snapped. This wasn’t altogether unexpected, i had a feeling my endurance would let me down due to the lack of training. It’s a bum deal, but as i mentioned previously, the twin alignments of work and weather scuppered my build-up. I waved goodbye to the bunch, metaphorically, and locked into a battle for survival just to make it up the last 8 miles.

There was one chastening section; the race heads out to roundabout and then back up to the finish. I had to witness the break heading back. It was the cycling equivalent of the walk of shame. In the end, John held onto the jersey by ONE SECOND. This is great news. It’s also awful news because it means we have to go out and do the whole thing again. The only silver lining is i’m about 2 hours down on the GC so everyone will leave me alone. I don’t think my legs will be in attendance. I don’t like to compare myself to Jens Voigt, but i felt a certain empathy with his latest utterly genius pronouncement about the Tour. I don’t like to compare a 53 mile road race stage and 7 mile time trial around Cowbridge with 3000km through France either, but what the hell.

http://www.itv.com/tourdefrance/news/cult-cycling-hero-jens-voigt-talks-to-ned-boulting/

Every cell of my body was screaming at me: ‘Stop, stop, I’m tired.’ I could hear them all, millions of little cells yelling in agony: ‘Jens, stop, I can’t do it anymore!’