Saturday, 19 May 2018

Shifnal Scouting Cycle Challenge - Ride Report

At the start...
The last time I blogged it was to introduce an exciting project which we’d teamed up with our local Scouting group to organise. After many weeks of preparation, and lots of hard work by the whole team, on Sunday 13th May it was the day for the inaugural #ShifnalScoutingCycleChallenge.

The routes had been planned; a feed station organised en route, and the catering arrangements made. All we needed now was some good weather, and some cyclists wanting to take on the Challenge.

Registration for the event opened at 0800, and with the sun shining and temperature rising, a steady stream of cyclists started to arrive. In no time at all, bikes were seemingly everywhere, and the atmosphere was great as the riders enjoyed a pre ride coffee, and bacon sandwich. Complimenting the online entrants, were a number of people entering on the day. Taking a moment to look around the Scout hut, it was amazing to see the level of support we’d received.

After a quick rider briefing, the start was opened just after 0900, and the riders began to roll away from the start. The start area emptied quickly, and it was soon just Gary and I left to leave. We were to act as the joint ‘Lantern Rouge’ for the event, sweeping up any problems along the way. Fortunately, our services weren’t required.

We arrived at the feed station in Gnosall (a massive thanks to Gnosall Scouting for letting us use their hut on the day) to the sight of cyclists enjoying hard earned coffee and cake, most of which had been handmade by the various groups which form the Shifnal Scouting family. Even at this relatively early point in the day, the feedback was positive, and without exception, every rider was enjoying the challenge.

Gary and I were joined by Len at the feed station, and we spent the next hour and half of so riding round the outer loop of the event. Conditions were just about perfect; a lovely early summer day. A quick 2nd stop at the feed station, more positive feedback received, and we’d already had reports of the many of the 50km riders returning to the event HQ.

The glorious weather continued and in seemingly no time at all, we were rolling back into Shifnal. On arrival it was great to see so many riders still enjoying the post ride refreshments in the sun. The mood was upbeat to say the least, and people were exchanging experiences and stories from the day’s ride. Over a burger and coffee it was great to be able to catch up with so many of the riders who’d all played their own part in making the event such a resounding success.

Perhaps the most encouraging comments of the whole day were from people talking about next years event, and that they were looking forward to it already. No pressure there then……

I’d like to sign off by thanking everyone involved in the challenge for playing their part in making it such a fantastic day. We raised over £1600 on the day, and you can all rest assured that every penny of money raised will go towards the building of the new bushcraft shelter for the group, which we’re hoping to start work on in the coming months.

Until next year……

Vive la Velo

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Introducing the Shifnal Scouting Cycle Challenge

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since the last blog, but as the saying goes life just seems to get in the way.
But, we’ve been given the opportunity to get involved in a really exciting project which seems more than worthy of putting together a few words. We’ve teamed up with our local Scouting group to help organise an event in support of their fundraising efforts for a new outdoor activity shelter. Over a beer or two (no surprises there then), the Shifnal Scouting Cycle Challenge was born.

Designed to appeal to all cyclists, this event will hopefully appeal to experienced cyclists and novices alike. Two routes will be available on the day, a 50km challenge for those newer to the sport, and a more challenging 100km route for those looking for more of a challenge.
If you read this blog, enjoy riding your bike, and are free for a few hours on Sunday 13th May, why not enter here - - you’re support would be greatly appreciated.

Vive la Velo

Friday, 17 March 2017

Favourite Places - The Belgian Road

Flanders in Shropshire

With the spring classics in full swing and my two favourite races of the year only a few weeks away, it seems like the perfect time to reflect upon our very own piece of Flanders in Shropshire.

Nestled in the heart of Shropshire between Canyton and Beckbury, this most innocuous 2.5km stretch of badly surfaced concrete road has something special about it. It’s that intangible property which transforms otherwise ordinary roads into something so much more.

It can be ridden either way, but for me it has to be in the direction ridden on ‘The Toothpaste’, Shropshire’s tribute to the greatest one day race of them all, The Hell of the North, Paris-Roubaix.

Ignore the sat-nav error signs as you turn off the main road, and as you pass the small cottages on your right, you’d be right to ask what all the fuss is about. But as the fields open out, the landscape is transformed. Wide open, and seemingly always windy; you really could be in Flanders. It’s not difficult to imagine the road being lined with spectators and campervans, as the pro peloton thunders past.

Ninety degree left and right turns do their best to upset any momentum you’ve managed to gather, and the potholed surface means you need your wits about you at all times. As you crest the gentle brow it’s now a drag race all the way to the end. The farm buildings pass in a blur, and with gradient finally in your favour, speed builds almost effortlessly.

All too soon it’s over, and the right hander back onto the road bring you back to earth with a bang. Suddenly normal tarmac seems ever so slightly dull. Every time I turn off the Belgian Road I make a promise not to leave it so long next time.

If you’ve never ridden this beauty before, do it, and I just hope you enjoy it half as much as I do.

Vive la Velo

Friday, 11 November 2016

In Praise of Winter


Barely a couple of hours after I’d drafted this blog, and as if to prove a point, our regular Tuesday evening ride  endured one of the wettest rides for a long time.

As the saying goes, #Rule9 all the way…..


Every year’s the same, and yet it never gets any easier. This year it feels like a switch has been flicked, and after a mild October, the clocks going back have co-incided with plummeting temperatures. Winter is well and truly upon us.

This change of season is perhaps the most marked; no gentle warming of the days as winter gives way to spring and summer, no cooling as we leave another summer. More sudden, more definite, all  seemingly exacerbated by the clocks losing those 60 minutes in late October.

But to embrace this change, is to put yourself on the path to enjoying it. Put the summer bike away (although make sure it’s ready to go if the chance to explore one of our oh so rare crisp, dry winter days arises), and make the most of that most underrated stable mate, the winter bike. It’s probably much heavier, and much less shiny than it’s summer loving equivalent, but only a fool judges a book by its cover.

My winter bike is the perfect example. The oldest bike I own, it’s gone through changes too numerous to list. It’s currently in ‘Touring’ mode, complete with incredibly heavy Shimano Alfine Hub. Fully loaded with two panniers, it weighs a ton.
The first couple of rides will almost certainly be awful, although this isn’t the fault of the bike. Instead this is a reflection of the failure on my part to adapt; to fail to take into account the extra weight that a winter bike brings. In no time at all the change comes. Instead of forcing things and spending too much time riding against the Garmin, it’s time to relax, change down a gear or two, and just enjoy the ride.

Winter may be unavoidable, but with the right bike (along with decent winter kit – but that’s a blog in its own right) we can keep the wheels turning, topping those base miles in the process. These will prove oh so valuable next year, when as Spring Classics will appear on the horizon, and we can start all over again…….

Vive la Velo


Wednesday, 21 September 2016

North Coast 500 Ride Report - Hitting the Reset Button

Feeling Small

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to ride in some stunning locations. From the magnificent Shropshire Hills that are on our door step, to the high peaks of the Alps and Pyrenees, each location   offering their own unique cycling experience. Nothing however prepared me for the four days of cycling which I’ve just enjoyed; Scotland’s North Coast 500.

Eleven of us made the trip up to Inverness which serves as the start and finish for the route, 10 riders, and our support vehicle driver, Gareth. We’d all prepared as best we could for the challenge ahead, but as we rolled away from Inverness Castle I for one was feeling ever so slightly daunted by the prospect of what lay ahead.

Much has been written about the route itself, and all I’d add is that it’s everything you’ll ever read, and so much more. From what’s widely regarded at the toughest climb in the UK, Bealach na Ba, to the relentlessly undulating roads of perhaps the remotest part of Scotland. At times, the assault on your senses threatens to overwhelm you, with hour after hour of stunning scenery. With Lochs and mountains for as far as the eye can see, I don’t think I’ve ever felt smaller and more inconsequential. The scale of the surroundings is just breath-taking.

The ride itself is just one aspect a trip like this. Along the way we shared experiences which we’ll remember for a long time, some good, some not so good. All however, playing their own part in making the trip so memorable. Whilst out twitter fuelled detour to the world famous Attadale Gardens may not have been our best decision, visiting the Tea Room still resisting the march of the Latte most certainly was. The quite fabulous Cullen Skink we enjoyed in Ullapool is also worthy of a special mention.

Our accommodation along the way is also something we’ll look back on fondly. Whether it was sleeping with wild pigs in the Kinlochewe Bunkhouse, drinking fine malt whiskey in The Rhiconich Hotel, or the quad rooms (named Stalag 17 & 18 by their occupants) in John O’Groats, all added to the overall experience.

As the final few miles passed and Inverness came back into view, it began to dawn on me that over the last four days I’d been lucky to experience something really quite special.

A massive thanks to those I’ve shared this experience with. Gary, Mark, SA, Darren, Charles, Dai, Max, Nick, and Simon, I only hope you all enjoyed the trip half as much as I did. Chapeau to you all.

A special mention to Gareth; our support driver for the trip. An absolutely awesome performance, I’m not sure he’ll ever quite appreciate his contribution to the trip. Thanks for allowing us to focus on the riding.

For me this trip has made me re-calibrate what constitutes a great ride, it’s like hitting the re-set button. I’ve really no idea where we go from here……..

Vive la Velo


Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The North Coast 500

Doesn't look too bad......
Tomorrow sees us pack up and set off for what’s possibly the most ambitious challenge we’ve ever
taken on, the fearsome North Coast 500.

Months of preparation, and many thousands of miles later, it’s now time; the waiting is over. We’re planning on riding the route over four days, which means we’re facing up to some very long days in the saddle. However, this trip is an oh so rare opportunity to devote whole days to the simple pleasure of riding a bike. Throw in some of the most spectacular scenery the British Isles has to offer, and it’s fair to say that this promises to be a very special few days.

Wish us luck and keep an eye on twitter/instagram etc. for updates as we’re on our travels. You canalso keep up to date with our progress on our very own #MuttonChopTracker………

Vive la Velo


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

SCCA 4-Up Championships – Race Report

Let the pain begin......
After last year’s successful debut in what’s without a doubt the standout event in the county’s time trialling calendar, we were back for more in Sunday’s 2016 SCCA 4-Up Championships. And what’s more, when the start list came out we had a bone fide cycling superstar in our midst, Dame Sarah Storey. It was only after a little more research that I realised quite how much she’d won. 11 time Paralympic champion, 27 time world champion, and the holder of no less than 72 world records. Quite a coup for the SCCA, and to see someone signing on to an event that we were riding in a world champions jersey (earned not purchased I might add) was a vaguely surreal experience.

The exposed north Shropshire plain always seems to be windy, and the forecast gusty weather arrived as predicted. And as is all too often the case, the wind direction was going to make the return leg of the event just brutal. At least it was dry.

Warm up complete, we lined up on at the start. 1 minute…..30 secs…10…5..4..3..2..1…We were off, all clipped in and quickly up to race pace. After a check to confirm that we were all present and correct, it was time to get settled in. Even though our practice session had been short, it was paying dividends from the off and our changes where going smoothly.

One of the standout features of this event is the level of support enjoyed along the route. When the going is getting tough it’s amazing the difference a friendly face and cheer can make. It really does make a difference, so thanks to all who came out to the course to show their support.

The wind really made itself felt at the first turn onto the Hodnet bypass. With a tailwind and slightly downhill to boot, we seemed to be absolutely flying along, seemingly oblivious to what this would mean on the return leg. Our progress was still good as we headed out to the turn, and we were still riding smoothly and sharing the work on the front.

Past the 20 mile marker and we were about to face the toughest part of the day. Less than 2 miles in length, but wide open: into a block headwind, and uphill for the final couple of hundred metres. Suddenly the ease with which we’d ridden this part of the course in the opposite direction a few minutes earlier, came back to bite us. In an instant our cohesion was in tatters as the gradient took its tool. The nature of the event meant we had no choice other than to regroup, and try and recover.

Back as a unit we made the final turn for home, less than 6 miles to go: disaster averted and we were ready for one final push. Past the infamous (on Strava at least) Peplow Pave and we were in the home straight.

It was time to empty the tanks and leave it all out there on the road. Thankfully the final few hundred metres were downhill, across the line, and suddenly it was all over. I think we were all pleased with how things had gone on what was a really very difficult course, made all the worse by the wind.

What followed was a very gentle return to race HQ for coffee and cake (a crucial part of post TT tradition), and soon after came the official results. Dame Sarah’s team were pushed into second by the oh so impressive local team from Rhino Velo, but where did we end up? 14th on the day, and although we missed out 1:20 target by 55 seconds, I was pleased with the time given the conditions.

Although riding in society colours, all of the team this year were also Wrekin Sport CC members and so we were also riding for the club’s prestigious ;¬) 4-Up Championship Trophy. What’s more we won it! Amazing……

Vive la Velo