Tuesday 26 June 2012

What's next?

Nocturne done. And I've returned from l'Ardechoise with Chris Hoy thighs (only mine are 24", not 27") so what should I target for the rest of the year?

I am registered for the Brompton world championships again and I hope that the North Bucks' Brickhill Challenge sportive goes ahead in October, but I am also trying to help my son in realising his cycling target.  In September my son will be 11 years old and he wants to complete a 100km sportive so we are building on the mileage each weekend, increasing the average speed and looking for a good event.

I have found a nearby event and I have ridden others by the same organisers so I know it will be well organised, have good feed stations and a Sag wagon (should anything go wrong). The cost is £29.50 each which, let's face it, isn't cheap.

However, it is cheaper than the Etacktape Caledonia which is £61 and is a topical subject, in particular the inference that it is a charity related ride.

I'm not going to comment, however for those planning to do the Caledonia event in the future can I point out that l'Ardechoise entry is a lot cheaper, it isn't too much further to drive to than Scotland if you live in the South of England, the cost of diesel is cheaper in France, accomodation in France is cheaper, you get a bidon and a cycling jersey in your l'Ardechoise goodie bag and the weather will be better.  Just make sure you like brie and salami.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Wind down

I decided to do an easy pedal today. The weather forecast was 100% chance of rain in the morning and very blustery, so a wet and windy wind-down.

The local Icknield Road Club meet at Barton-le-Clay each fortnight for the start of their club runs so I made my way over there for the 9am start.


We had a great pedal over to Harrold country park for coffee and cake where we met up with some other club riders for the return.  The pace was relaxed and I added a few extra miles before heading home to round it up to 60 miles, just shy of the metric century.

Saturday 23 June 2012

l'Ardechoise outcome

...basically I survived but only completed the 220km (137miles) Ardechoise route.  I made the decision at the turning for the longer Les Sucs and Velo Marathon route that I'd risk not finishing at all if I went for the extra 58km.

I have been trying to analyse what wrong and on the 690 mile drive home I knew that I made some fundamental mistakes but realised that, at 90kg, I'm not cut out for achieving medals on the very long and hilly sportives.

Firstly my refueling strategy was wrong.
In training I tried all sorts of bars, powders and gels and found the SIS gels suited me and the PSP22 drink powder.  So I took 5 gels, had one 750ml bidon with PSP22 for the start and a sachet to replenish it mid-ride.

The gels were great because I didn't need to wash them down with gallons of water, although the empty packets stuffed back into my pocket were a bit sticky by the end of the ride.

The PSP22 refill was, retrospectively, very funny. At a feed stop, I had some liquid left in the bidon and poured the powder in, gave it a bit of a shake and passed it to one of the French villagers to top up with water. He emptied the contents onto the grass and then topped up the bidon with sparkling water. Groan.

For bars, I brought a couple of Natural nut bars and my wife made her fantastic flapjack. I took a bento bag with a plan to fill it with the flapjack. But I made the mistake of changing my plan after hearing that food would be provided in every village we passed through and so I left the bento and flapjack in the car :-(
Sadly the feed stops didn't turn out to be ideal and when I made my first stop at the top of a long climb, over 2 hours into the ride, my heart dropped - I couldn't stomach brie and salami with thin slices of baguette.  They did have some banana but it had been chopped into small slices and looked pretty grim in the 27degree heat. I grabbed a mouthful of dried apricots and some packets of what I hoped was a fruit loaf and stashed them in my jersey pockets.

The 220km route traversed 10 valleys and the descents were quite technical; swoopy and not particularly steep and the road surface wasn't super smooth, so I didn't go much faster than 40mph but couldn't eat or drink for fear of losing concentration.  When the road levelled or began to climb, then I drank and ate and the packets I grabbed ended up being sponge cake which cemented in my mouth and I felt like a hamster.

The scenery around the Ardeche region is beautiful.  The volcanic domes rise up above the mountains and the Loire river rushes through the gorges in and out of the valleys.  In the valleys there was a rich smell of pine trees but at the top of the climbs the wind howled at speeds of 50km per hour.

The Van Nicholas and the compact Q-rings were perfect. I used my lightweight C24 Dura Ace wheelset which was suggested by my son and he was bang-on.  They were a better choice than the C50 wheels in the wind and for climbing. The titanium Chinook and my Fizik Arione Versus remained comfortable throughout my 12 hour ordeal.

My training and planning for l'Ardechoise was on the assumption that the ascents were about 4%.  When I was fuelled I was able to keep my cadence over 80rpm on climbs under a 4% gradient but any steeper and it became a grind and I watched my average speed progressively drop throughout the ride.

At the 78 mile marker I exploded.  I had zero energy left, a puncture had left me feeling disheartened, I'd seen the Garmin reporting uphill gradients of 9% and at this low point I took the 220km route.

The ride didn't improve for me for the remaining 58miles.  I refused a bowl of what I thought was stewed apple at one feed stop to be later told it was potatoes in gravy, which would have been fantastic.  I was so tired and I almost fell asleep on one downhill section. Other riders were beginning to collapse in the later stages and I saw some being wrapped in space foil and helped into ambulances.  On a descent close to the finish I was flagged down by a policeman and told to proceed slowly around the next corner where a rider had over-cooked the apex, injured himself and he was receiving medical attention from an ambulance crew.

As I neared the start-finish village I had read that the road reared up to 15% for 300 metres for a final crippling climb but it didn't materialise.  The route must have been changed from previous years and the last miles dropped down to St Felicien on the road we started on at 7:30am.

In conclusion I had a great holiday but it was too short, I am disappointed at not completing the full Velo Marathon but the 220km is still a great achievement.  I've learnt a lesson regarding sustenance, adding powder to water after refills, not to change plans and not to book cheap hotels near autoroutes which have people coming and going at all hours and which don't serve breakfast before 6:30am.

Above - my pride and joy on the first climb above St Felicien.

Spotted in St Felicien on the Friday registration - why not share the pain?

I had the factor 50 suncream so the awning wouldn't be necessary but the electric motor would have been welcomed on some climbs

The trade village in St Felicien was good but not many bargains

A great sculpture outside the sign-on hall with a very blue sky

Superb views across the Ardeche

The town of Valence where I stayed for 3 nights

When in France...

The Valence equivalent of Boris/Barclays bikes

My clean and cheap room in the noisy Premier Classe hotel in Sud Valence

Monday 18 June 2012

Nocturne decomposition

1. Run like the clappers. Think of it as getting off the 08:16 at Waterloo

I didn't manage to get at the front of the bunch in either the qualifying heat or the final race.  The Le Mans start is great fun and for the final they extended the run distance.  The run wasn't exactly a sprint with 39 other competitors in front of me and I wore my mountain biking shoes with cleats and metal studs so I was a bit worried about slipping over.  Next time I need to be more assertive and get close to the front, especially for the final.

2. Try and remember where your bike is parked. This avoides any backtracking and head-on collisions with irate tie-wearing runners

The organisers randomly hand out paper tickets to state the pen in which your bike needs to be placed and folded.  Some competitors turned their bike's rear lights on to help pick them out.  I could spot my Brooks sprung saddle and the lime green brake cables I fitted recently which was good as there were many similar looking Bromptons.  Other racers had different bikes, including 'The Flying Dutchman', the Raleigh elite who was on a limited edition carbon fibre Dahon.

3. Ignore the thousands of laughing bystanders. This is serious. Put on your best race face

OMG there were 12,000 specatators and it was being filmed by Channel 4!  My knees were knocking. One of the Brompton factory riders decided to have a lie down on the start line which was a bit of a distraction and helped to calm my nerves.

4. Sartorial considerations are of prime importance. Looking good is essential. Flip-flops or flapping flares, however, are a no-no.

I chose to wear my patriotic outfit which I wore at last year's world championship with a slight modification to the jacket using safety pins to keep it buttoned up.  The Brompton company MD complimented me on my attire and suggested I also needed a red, white and blue matching Brompton. I must follow up on this, assuming he is going to gift it to me - and I need to specify it to be a 6-speed as the 2-speed gearing is a disadvantage in both the world championship and the Nocturne.

5. Fast assembly - which you have been practising like a squaddie on rifle drill - is a must. Do not forget to tighten the handlebar clamp, or your world will go very wobbly, very quickly

I had been practising the speedy unfold for the last two weeks with my daughter timing my efforts and I'd got it down to under ten seconds.  All of the practising went out of the window in the qualifying race where I forgot to raise the saddle, found I couldn't unfold the bike and ended up doing everything in series rather than the two handed, multi-unfold I had practised. I had to make up a few places during the 3-lap qualifying as a result but ended in 10th place securing a position in the final.

At the start line in the final I went through the unfold in my head several times: raise seat; clamp; two hands to pull up bars and twist unfold, then tighten both clamps simultaneously; mount bike.  It went according to plan and I got away at the same time as the 'lying down' factory rider. Once up to speed I checked that the clamps were secure before getting to the first of the two technical bends.

6. Sprint away, find a well-covered gentleman to follow five laps, then pop out from behind his ample behind and wave at the crowd. Winner!

This is where it all went wrong.  At the start line of the final there was a bit of confusion as to how many laps we were riding.  Previous year's races had been shortened because of slippage in the evening's timetable but the Commissaire said we were going to be doing 5 laps. 

As I sprinted from the start I focussed on the riders ahead and concentrated on getting around the first two technical corners.  I had practised them in the warm up and qualifying race and knew the racing line without touching the brakes. I took the first corner perfectly but heard two riders behind me crash and I ran a little wide on the 2nd corner, where I'd seen others run into the barriers, but I managed to keep my momentum and honked up the short climb easily.  My family were spectating from the top of the climb and they waved their superb home-made banners and shouted encouragement as I passed. 

I got into a small group with the (lying down) factory rider and someone riding an orange Dahon and we began working together to reel in riders ahead.  I tested the legs of the other two on (what I thought was) the 3rd lap and I was able to outclimb them and distance them a little although they caught me using their gears.  I also recalled being able to outsprint the factory rider on the qualifying race so I decided I would sit back in the group on the 4th lap and wait until the 5th lap to attack on the hill, try to maintain a bit of distance and, if required, go for the sprint. 

Sadly that didn't go to plan as the the race finished on the next lap and I followed the factory rider over the line and he questioned why I didn't sprint.  I hadn't heard the bell being rung on the previous round over the noise of the spectators and had to make do with 16th position.

I did a full lap cool down and soaked up the atmosphere.  The Channel 4 camera bike followed me for a bit and I gave a royal wave for a laugh.  I hadn't won but I certainly didn't lose and there was no embarrassment.  My family were proud of me and I loved being a part of the racing.

It has been great to see my photograph appearing on the many blogs and professional photographer's sites.  One of my favourites was taken after the race.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Nocturne folding bike race

How to win a folding bike race:
  1. Run like the clappers. Think of it as getting off the 08:16 at Waterloo
  2. Try and remember where your bike is parked. This avoides any backtracking and head-on collisions with irate tie-wearing runners
  3. Ignore the thousands of laughing bystanders. This is serious. Put on your best race face
  4. Sartorial considerations are of prime importance. Looking good is essential. Flip-flops or flapping flares, however, are a no-no.
  5. Fast assembly - which you have been practising like a squaddie on rifle drill - is a must. Do not forget to tighten the handlebar clamp, or your world will go very wobbly, very quickly
  6. Sprint away, find a well-covered gentleman to follow five laps, then pop out from behind his ample behind and wave at the crowd. Winner!

I read the above in the event programme on the train returning home after a superb evening at Smithfield with my family. 

The racing for me started at 4pm with a few warm up laps of the circuit ahead of the folding bike heats with the folding bike race final at 8:20pm and it felt special to be participating whilst also joining the crowds to watch the other races.

Saturday 9 June 2012


My commuting route takes me beside St Catherine's dock where a few boats are moored, including some from the recent Jubilee flotilla.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Picture - Books

Pictures: or more precisely photographs...

The winners and runners up of the Barclays' bike photograph competition have been announced.  The winning photo above and the runners up are superb and no sign of a Boris bike in the pictures so my prediction was wrong.

One author who had a crystal ball was Ray Bradbury.  I read his obituary this morning and recalled the comics and books I read in my youth, either written by him or clearly inspired by him.  I hadn't realised that he was passionate about cycling and described his own life as 'drunk and in charge of a bicycle'.

I also found another article where he said the following:-

It’s obvious the automobile is not solving the problem and the freeway is not solving the problem. So, I make the bigger leap of saying we need to provide other means of transportation, which means the monorail that is above traffic. And until we do that, people are going to be increasingly angered by the limitations of the automobile and its inability to function. I’ve read of the idea of monorails north and south over Los Angeles, for instance, and monorails running east and west so that people have an alternative to the bus system.”
We’re talking about eliminating cars here. Cars don’t work in the city. You’ve got to eliminate the cars. It’s the car and the city environment that doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter whether you have hydrogen cars or not. There has got to be other means of transportation.


I recently finished reading the last of the bicycle-related books I received on my birthday and I think I'll go on a journey of reading and re-reading Ray Bradbury's work.

Sunday 3 June 2012


The Ardechoise is only a few weeks away now so should I be tapering, carb-loading, hydrating, getting a massage or what?  I have decided to just keep calm and carry on with my normal routine.

Today I put on my union flag cap, race cape, leg warmers and was out on the wet roads at 6:30am.  I cycled out into the Easterly headwind and found my way to Buntingford before turning for home.

On the way back I passed through the village of Southill where the residents had really made an effort for the Queen's 60th Jubilee.  The tea shop and many of the houses had created scarecrows dressed for the occasion.

I completed over 70 miles today. It was my intention to do more and my legs felt good but I punctured close to home and decided to call it a day.