Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Share the Passion

It's nearly time......
Here we go again; with only a few days to go to this year’s Grand Depart from Mont Saint-Michel, the excitement’s building nicely. It really doesn’t seem like a year ago that I blogged on a similar subject.

2015 was a truly special year in so many respects, especially being able to share the experience for the first time with @ASL191. The sheer madness of Dutch Corner on race day is an experience that every cycling fan should try and sample, it’s insane.

So, what of this year’s Grand Boucle? As ever, a mix of old favourites as well as new towns, roads, and climbs. It’s this ever changing landscape of all the Grand Tours which make them all so special in their own right.

This year’s SCS pilgrimage is serving as an opportunity for 2 of us to revisit unfinished business. It was back in 2009 that Si and I first visited the ‘Giant of Provence’, the legendary Mont Ventoux. We had a lot to learn back then, not least to realise that to try and ride the big climbs on race day is destined to failure. Our efforts finally failed at the 2km to go mark. This year hopefully we’ll make it to the top, paying our respects at the Tommy Simpson memorial as we pass.

As far as the race itself goes there’s much to look forward too. Cancellara’s final tour, Cav’s final shot at that oh so elusive Maillot Jaune, and can Froome make it a hat trick of wins? Whatever happens between now and the final Champs-Elysees sprint royale on Sunday July 24 th , there’s sure to be drama at every turn. Good luck to all those riding, I take my hat off to each and every one of you.

Vive la Velo

@936ADL

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Night Shift

More Caffeine Required

Some ideas are just so stupid that they make perfect sense……

Last Friday saw one such idea realised. As we gathered for a final pre ride espresso in the ever   excellent No 5, the nervous energy was almost palpable. Six of us had risen to the challenge, and I    was quietly confident that we were all up it.

It was just after 7 as we rolled out of town; a long night lay ahead of us. Escaping our own locality was the first challenge, to leave the familiar roads surrounding Shifnal behind. This in itself takes a good while, and it wasn’t until the light began to fade that we were on unknown roads. A brief feed stop in Winsford coincided with darkness falling.

Lights on and suddenly it all felt very different, but fortunately the weather was being kind to us, not too cold, and perhaps most importantly, we were rain free. The 100km mark was passed, and we rolled into our mid ride feedzone just a few minutes before midnight.

I’m not sure we were entirely typical of the average McDonalds customer at that hour of the day, but the food certainly hit the spot, and the caffeine top up was also very welcome. Friday became Saturday, and it was soon time to get back on the bikes, we had a date with Simon in Ellesmere in a little over 3 hours.

The next couple of hours were to my mind the toughest. It was time to just stick in there and keep the pedals turning. Drunken revellers staggering home in various states of intoxication provided entrertainment as we passed through Queensferry and Connah’s Quay, and my spirits lifted further as we turned south back towards home.

Simon was duly collected as planned; six became seven, and the added manpower gave us all a lift. Baschurch came and went, and the early signs of the sunrise to follows were becoming apparent. The early cloud cover delayed things a while, and also had the effect of allowing the sun to appear as suddenly as light being switched on. Even at this early hour the sun brought with it some welcome warmth, and gave everyone a much needed boost.

Another encounter with the Golden Arches followed in Shrewsbury, and the large espresso had perhaps never been more welcome. 10 hours since we left Shifnal, and over 220km covered; we were in the home straight.

The final short leg home from Shrewsbury passed in a blur; we were all pretty much on auto-pilot (rider?) by this point. Dai turned off as we went through Wellington, and we had one final hurdle in our way, known locally as Aldi Huez. I was in survival mode at this stage, and it was just a case of spin it out and get to the top. Mark had other plans, and simply flew up the climb. Impressive stuff, especially given the night’s previous efforts.

As we rolled back into town, it was pretty much exactly 12 hours since we’d left the previous evening. 255km covered, in a little under 10 hours riding time.

Gary suggested finishing off with a beer, a Belgian Tripel of course. That was the second stupid idea…..

Vive la Velo

@936ADL

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Jersey

Mont Ventoux Special Edition


There’s perhaps nothing more emblematic in the world of cycling than ‘The Jersey’. From the Maillot Jaune worn by the leader of the world’s greatest race, to the rainbow stripes of the World Champion, all have their own unique tale to tell. Whole books (see Inrng's review here) have been written about them, so it seemed only right to put together a short blog on our very own sacred garment, the SCS Jersey.

Whilst the basic design of our jersey hasn’t changed since it was so painstakingly put together back in 2013 by @ASL191 & @ObsessiveJohn, we’ve just taken delivery of the latest special edition. I may be biased,  but this latest one is possibly the best yet. A huge thanks to the ever excellent Steve from @Pente14 for his help. (check out his site – www.pente14.com – if you want very reasonably priced, top quality custom cycling gear)

These have been designed with this year’s trip to the Tour de France in mind, and more specifically it’s ascent of the legendary Mont Ventoux. If the design looks vaguely familiar, that’s no surprise. It’s a nod to Tommy Simpson, the first British male world road race champion who tragically lost his life on this mountain in 1967.

May all who wear this jersey do so with pride, along with a solid commitment to do it the justice it deserves.

Vive la Velo
@936ADL

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Perfect Commute?

Just Perfect
It was just too good an opportunity to miss. A lovely morning; the wet and cold conditions of last week a distant memory, now replaced with a feeling that summer was on its way.

With the trusty Pompino temporarily off the road with a very poorly front wheel, my CX bike has become the commuter of choice, and today it was ideal. My plan was to tailor the route in to make the most of its strengths.

Climbing out of gorge on the Silkin Way, the bike was in its element. Currently still wearing the 28mm slicks employed for the Liege Bastogne Liege trip, it was the perfect match for the hard packed path beneath.

The steady gradient offered by the converted railway line makes getting into a steady rhythm second nature, and as the hard pack path gives way to tarmac and the gradient eases, the speed builds naturally.

I was making good time, and with the drudgery of the day ahead looming large, it was time to take a moment. Time to reflect on last 50 or so minutes. Not the longest, nor the fastest commute, but in so many ways the perfect encapsulation of how special it is to be able to ride to work.

With an espresso in hand, it made me think. Had I just enjoyed the perfect commute?

Vive la Velo

@936ADL

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Monumental

HTFU
On Sunday, Team Sky’s Dutch rider Wout Poels delivered the team its long awaited first win in one of cycling’s Monuments, La Doyenne - Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Normally a relatively anonymous member of the mountain train that shepherds Froome through the Alps and Pyrenees at the Tour, but on a freezing cold day in the Ardennes it was to be his moment of glory. He won from a 4 man sprint to cross the line in 6:24:29. He’d covered the 248km at an average speed of 38.7km/h. Tellingly, this is almost always the slowest of the Monuments. This fact alone speaks volumes about the course.
The previous day it was the turn of the amateurs to see how they would fair over the same course. I was one of them, along with 9 others in our group who’d made the trip from Shropshire. We’d all prepared as best we could given the day to day distractions which we all routinely face, and it was now the moment of truth.
The rain and freezing temperatures forecast duly arrived, and we were soaked by the time we’d got to the start. Fortunately the weather dried up, but what followed was without a doubt the toughest things I’ve ever done on a bike. The course is just brutal; the 10 categorised ‘Cotes’ are really no reflection on how tough it is. In isolation any one of them would be fine, but it’s the cumulative effect which takes its toll. Add in the almost permanently undulating sections in between the Cotes, and you’ve got one hell of a parcours.
The next 12 hours or so are now all a bit of a blur, but I remember having to dig deeper than I think I’ve ever done before. At times it was all I could do to keep the wheels turning. Messages of encouragement from @SJ1202 and @Gazdburns, as well as the promise of a cold beer keep me going, and despite getting lost, going completely the wrong way, and suffering from frozen feet (I’m still limping slightly 3 days afterwards) I rolled up to the Bar we agreed to meet in just after dark. Darren arrived shortly after me (having finished in time to have a shower and get changed) and as we enjoyed a  beer( or two) which had never been harder earned, we struggled for words to describe what we’d just done.
I won’t torture myself anymore by posting up my numbers, but will instead leave you with one statistic which serves to illustrate just how super human professional cyclists are. Taking into account our ride to and from the start and finish, Wout Poels road the course almost 5 hours quicker than I did. Just incredible.
Vive la Velo
@936ADL

Friday, 29 January 2016

Mayday Mayday – A Lesson Learned



With a long ride ahead of us the pace was fairly easy as we left Newport and headed north towards Market Drayton and our final destination for the day, Manchester. As I took a glance behind me I was suddenly aware that we (@SJ1020, @Gazdburns & I) had company, and we were now four. Interesting; where did he come from?

I always enjoy these chance encounters with other cyclists, and I have a tendency to put myself in the shoes of the other guy. Three guys up ahead; steady pace; a potential catch to brighten up my Saturday morning ride. Time to up the pace a little, and to see if I can latch on to the group. They’re definitely getting closer, in fact I’m on. Relax; take stock and see what happens.

Back in my own shoes, I’ve learnt that at times like this it pays to sit tight, and let the other guy make the move. This was a road I knew well, and hopefully this knowledge would work in our favour. But then again perhaps our newly found acquaintance was also familiar with the road, and was waiting for an opportunity to pounce.

The crossroads ahead forced us all to an almost standstill, and as we strained to get back on top of our chosen gears for the day, suddenly he was past and spinning off into the distance. A surprising display of confidence; perhaps he was fed up of our sedate pace. With an uphill drag approaching it was no time to chase; we still had over 100kms to go.

Now back up to a steady speed, the gap stabilised at perhaps 30 metres or so. We were moving along nicely, so we upped our effort ever so slightly to keep things honest. With a couple of slightly steeper ramps approaching the next few minutes could seal things. A nervous glance over the shoulder up ahead provided all the encouragement we needed.

A dip in the road followed by a sharp left handed ascent meant we lost sight of our target for a few moments, but as we crested the brow the gap has narrowed markedly. His noticeably raised cadence said it all, he was struggling.

The upcoming canal bridge up ahead presented us with the perfect opportunity to attack. As we closed the gap, the right had flapping frantically at the shifters signalled it was all over. “Mayday, mayday” said @Gazdburns as the gap was bridged, and we exchanged casually deliberate  pleasantries as we passed.

Time to commit, we now pushed on and upped the pace. We couldn’t afford to offer a wheel to cling onto at this stage. After a minute or so, a glance over our shoulders confirmed our suspicions. We were now three again, and our earlier acquaintance was nowhere to be seen.

If you pass people on the road, just make sure you can make it stick…..

Vive la Velo


@936ADL

Thursday, 31 December 2015

#Festive500 Ride Diary

The Rapha #Festive500 Challenge sees participants attempt to cover 500km over the 8 days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. That’s a relatively modest 62.5km a day, but with all that the festive period involves, as well as the British weather, this is a tough ask. I also knew I needed to factor in at least 2 cycling free days.


My 2014 attempt was scuppered by the icy conditions we suffered at the end of last year, but this just made me more determined for 2015. The promising weather forecast, at least in terms of temperatures, as well as the fact that another SCS mate was also going to give this a go sealed the deal.

Day 1 - Christmas Eve – Shifnal to Preston

A good start was vital, as family commitments meant that I wouldn’t be back on the bike until the 27th. This made the sound of the rain bouncing off our kitchen’s velux windows all the more disheartening. The forecast was for things to clear up as I headed north though, and so as I rode down to meet the lads who were to escort me to the county border, my mood was one of cautious optimism.

As we split at Cheswardine, the weather ahead was looking better, and sure enough as I passed through Nantwich towards Warrington the rain stopped and the skies began to clear. The tailwind was proving helpful as well. A re-fuelling stop in Warrington also gave me an opportunity to try and dry out a little, and I was soon on my way again.

Through Wigan and Chorley, picking up signs for Preston were just the boost I needed, and even the hail storm which I encountered 2 miles from my destination didn’t dampen my mood. An imperial ton was passed and day 1 was done. I could relax over the next couple of days safe in the knowledge I’d made a fairly decent start. Time to put the bike away and to enjoy a well-earned beer or two….

Daily Total: 161.58km - Challenge Total: 161.58km

Days 2 & 3 – Christmas and Boxing Day

Eating, drinking, and being merry. We did however manage our traditional walk up Parlick!

Day 4 – 27th December – Out with @ASL191

A thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours with Anna, doing a lap of Preston. The previous two days torrential rain meant that we had to pick our route carefully to avoid the worst of the flooded roads, but we still managed 40km, which took me past the 200km mark for the challenge.

Daily Total: 40.10km - Challenge Total: 201.98km

Day 5 – 28th December – Preston to Shifnal

I’d had this pencilled in as perhaps the most important day of the whole challenge. If I could get another 150km plus ride in I was confident of success. However, the excesses of the previous night’s Gin and Tonic session with my brother in law very nearly put paid to this year’s attempt. A second career as a stuntman is on hold, as I learnt that falling down stairs is not a pleasurable experience. Ouch!

Just getting on the bike was painful, and as I rode away from my in-laws I very nearly turned around and threw in the towel. But I pressed on, if only to see if things got easier as I loosened up a little. Unfortunately it didn’t, but somehow I kept going anyway. The next 5 hours or so was perhaps the hardest time I’d spend all year on the bike. My spirits were fading with the light, and enough was enough. I was done; thankfully @ASL191 came to the rescue, and swept me up from Market Drayton. I may well have suffered, but I’d still notched up nearly 130km so all was not lost.

Daily Total: 129.60km - Challenge Total: 331.58km

Day 6 – 29th December – SCS Midwinter100

Back on home soil, and although very sore, I was feeling better. We had a really good turnout for this ride, and being back riding with familiar faces was a real boost. My fellow Festive500 challenger was out as well. He’d been on fire and was looking to complete the challenge on this ride, with 2 full days to spare.

 The weather was good too, and so I also enjoyed an all too rare winter outing on Bike #1. We rode our regular Market Drayton/Wem loop, and although we didn’t quite make the metric ton, I was still pleased with just shy of 95km. The beer in HQ was as sweet as ever too.

Daily Total: 93.96km - Challenge Total: 425.54km

Day 7 – 30th December – Only 75km to go…….

#Rule9 conditions all day, and after putting things off for as long as I dared I rolled away from home in the rain and wind. It’s days like this which illustrate what makes this challenge so tough. I may have covered over 400km in the previous 6 days, but this would count for nothing if I didn’t get over the line. Just relentless……..

Nothing special, just a loop of the local lanes, but all kms in the bank!

Daily Total: 45.68km - Challenge Total: 471.22km

Day 8 – New Years Eve – Getting over the line

I had to go into work, and so what better way than to get over the line than to lengthen up the commute a little, and to put this challenge to bed.

The previous days’ efforts were really making themselves felt, and I could really feel the fatigue. However, as I counted down the kms, this was all the encouragement that I needed.

As I rolled into the works car park, I’d passed the 500km mark and the challenge, for this year at least, was done.

Daily Total: 30.49km - Challenge Total: 501.71km

Total Riding time for the challenge was just under the 20 hours mark.

Massive Congratulations to Gary as well, it was a real boost knowing I wasn’t out there suffering alone!

Thanks also to all those who rode with me over over the duration of the challenge, and especially to @ASL191 for rescuing me at a real low point.

Vive la Velo

@936ADL