Thursday, 21 July 2016

Unfinished Business – Mont Ventoux

We made it.....
Epic is an oft overused adjective, but the focal point of this year’s Tour de France trip is fully worthy of its use. Folklore and myths surround Mont Ventoux, and these only serve to increase its magnetism to cyclists. As soon as the 2016 route was confirmed, the deal was done.

Two of us had unfinished business with the ‘Giant of Provence’, having come so close to making it to the top in 2009 only to be thwarted by the closure of the road as Armstrong (remember him?), a pre Vegetarian Contador, as well as our very own Wiggo approached.

We’d learnt a valuable lesson in 2009, and this time our plan was to avoid the melee of race day.  Instead our plan was to attempt to ride it on the day before; as things turned out this was a very wise decision indeed.

We may have avoided the race itself, but as we rode across to Bedoin at the base of ascent, it was clear we’d another challenge to deal with when making our ascent. Ventoux was living up to its name, but having come this far, there was no turning back now.

Much has been written about the climb itself by those far more eloquent then I, and all I can add is that it’s an absolute brute. Unrelenting, the gradient gives no rest bite on the way up. No false flats or hairpins to give you a moment, or even to snatch back a precious gear (before almost always giving it back again), just a constant grind.

It was only when leaving the shelter of the lower slopes’ wooded section that the severity of the wind started to become apparent. Passing a flagpole snapped clean in half, I began to fear for the worst. Surely I wouldn’t be scuppered for the second time, would I?

Less than 5km to go and it was getting worse. Safety barriers were being blown over, and turning one corner I came about as close to stopping as I think it’s possible to do without actually coming to a halt. Fortunately the road soon turned again and I managed to regain some momentum.

As the final corner approached I could hardly believe my eyes. People were off their bikes and pushing, and one chap was on his hands and knees seemingly clinging on to his bike for dear life. I’d never seen anything quite like it before. Somehow this sight gave me one last boost, and from somewhere I’m not sure I knew existed I summoned up one last effort. I swept round the corner, and suddenly the wind was gone; the shelter offered by the weather station at the summit making the last 100m or so perhaps the easiest of the day.

Finally, almost 7 years since I first set out to tackle this most iconic of climbs, I was at the top. Another one of the big ones to tick off the list. The weather had added another dimension which I’d not planned for, and it limited time at the summit to a minimum as the cold conditions bit hard. After a couple of pictures it was time for the descent of a lifetime, but that’s another story……

Vive La Velo

@936ADL

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