Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Palpable Excitement

The Mur de Huy

Every year’s different, but every year’s the same. With the Spring Classics a distant memory, and the Giro going the same way, as June comes to an end, the excitement is building fast. It’s that time of year when any cycling fan has only one thing on their mind. The greatest sporting spectacle on earth; the Grand Boucle, Le Tour de France.

With last year’s Grand Depart in Yorkshire being judged as one of the finest editions ever, this year’s race returns to the mainland for its opening weekend. And what an opening weekend it promises to be. Possibly The Panzerwagon’s best ever opportunity to pull on the Maillot Jeaune, a finish on the Mur de Huy, and a few cobbles thrown in for good measure.

Best of all, we’re going to be there. A baker’s dozen of us are making the trip this year, a far cry from our original trip to see the Grand Depart in 2007. Things have certainly moved on a bit since then.
We’ll have the flag flying, so keep an eye out for us on the tv. We’ve even had some special edition jerseys made for the trip as well……

Excuse me whilst I go and lay in a dark room with a collection of maps, stage timing details, and a copy of cycling weekly.

Vive la Velo


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

#L2Pin24 - The Longest Day

On the start line......

Six months planning; twenty four hours riding; a lifetime of memories; a day on the bike I don’t think anyone who took part will ever forget.

As we stood outside Buckingham Palace in the sun, I’m not sure any of us really understood what we were about to undertake. Over 430 kilometres (that ‘s 270 miles in old money) lay between us and our destination, and this was comfortably more than any of us had attempted before in a single ride. We might have had a ferry crossing to break the journey up, but in reality this was more a hindrance than a help, taking a good chunk of time out of the already tight schedule.

The first challenge was to escape the clutches of London, every stop and start upsetting our momentum. Blackheath marked a most welcome change though, and as we crossed the A2, the congestion seemed to ease slightly, and our progress picked up.

After our main re-fuelling stop in England , it was time to turn inland from the north Kent coast, and head towards Dover. By the wonders of technology we’d already been warned that our ferry was going to be approximately 45 minutes late, and whilst this ate even further into our schedule, it also gave us some breathing space. Our passage through Kent had taken longer than we’d planned.

Once on the ferry, it was time to take on more fuel, and to charge battery packs in preparation for what would be possibly the toughest part of the whole ride, the night shift. Not for the last time on this ride, caffeine was most certainly our friend.

The ferry doors slowly opened; the darkness ahead welcoming us onto French soil. Paris may well have still been almost 300km away, but at least we were in the right country. Calais was soon a distant memory as we navigated through the eerily quiet lanes of northern France. The temperature had dipped noticeably, but thankfully it was dry.

The next two hundred kilometres or so are all a bit of a blur to be honest. My focus was on making sure I was eating and drinking enough, as well as just trying to keep the pedals turning. One memory which does stick with me is when our route took an easterly turn, and we were met with the sun coming up over a distant ridge. Quite beautiful, and perhaps most importantly, a real boost to our group’s morale.

As we passed the 100km to go marker, the group came to a simultaneous and unanimous decision. Caffeine was required, and it couldn’t come soon enough. Ten espressos later, we were back on the bikes with just the kick we needed to get us over the line.

Even though our progress in France had been good, the knock on of the earlier ferry delay meant that this was going to be very tight. We were certainly going to make it to Paris in time, but we might just be fashionably late getting to the Eiffel Tower.

Our 24 hours ran out as we rode through the Parisian suburb of Montmorency, just over 15 kilometres from the middle of the city. We all came to the decision that this was an absolute victory, and we’d done it, we’d managed to ride from London to Paris in 24 hours.

All that was left to do was navigate into the centre of Paris by bike on unfamiliar roads, when we’d all been awake for upwards of 30 hours, and had ridden over 430 kilometres!

As I rode across the Pont D’lena, blue sky was the backdrop for the Eiffel Tower. I really can’t think of a better place to finish a ride.

A sight for sore eyes!

After the celebratory pictures were taken under the tower, the tiredness that had been building so slowy, was gone in an instant. An absolutely amazing experience; without a doubt the toughest thing I’ve ever done on a bike. As I said earlier, a ride that none of us would ever forget!

We even attracted a fan club!
Here are the ride details.......

Vive la Velo


Tuesday, 9 June 2015

#SocialImperial100 – Ride Report

An amazing turnout

Cycling and challenges go hand in hand; undertaking the former leads us almost inevitably to the latter. It’s these personal challenges which keep things fresh, and without them life would be a whole lot duller.

This year’s challenge thrown down by the ladies section was, by comparison to our last two efforts, fairly straightforward. One ride, 100 miles, an imperial century; simple enough to say, but even having ridden a number of imperial tons, it’s still a fair achievement.

With the date set, and the route designed to take in many of the roads which make cycling in Shropshire so special, the challenge was on. I knew we had half a dozen or so definites, but I really had no idea just how many would turn up on the day.

The day of the challenge dawned, and as I rolled down to No5 with @ASL191 and @TF2109, it looked like the weather was going to be kind to us as well. A little windy perhaps, but more importantly, dry and bright. As pre-ride espresso was consumed, riders kept arriving. Ten and counting and still more were turning up for the challenge. As we lined up for the group pre ride shot we had 17 riders. Just amazing, and a testament to just how far we’ve come.

As the saying goes, you can’t eat an elephant in one meal, and with this in mind I’d split the route up into manageable chunks interspersed with coffee and cake stops. Our first stop was another of our favourite coffee shop, the excellent Jones’ in Market Drayton. They handled the influx of cyclists admirably, and in no time at all, coffee, tea, and cake was served. Refuelled, it was time to get back on the bikes; we still had some way to go.

Spirits were high amongst the group and our progress was good. New acquaintances were made, and old ones renewed as we passed through Woore and Audlem and towards Lunch in Nantwich. We even ended up with a brass band playing to us as we had lunch in the sun.

With a total of 1700 miles being covered by the group, punctures are an inevitability, and sure enough we suffered our first. Fixed in double quick time, a second was quickly followed by a third. This was getting silly! Fortunately though this was to be out final mechanical issue of the day, and we were soon back on track.

Our final scheduled stop of the afternoon was Wem, and another favourite watering hole of ours, Joules’ Castle Hotel. #MaltedRecoveryBeverageConsumption completed, we were on our final leg. Shawbury passed, closely followed by Edgmond and Newport.

The Imperial Century mark was passed just as we passed under the M54 on the final sprint into town, but that didn’t stop some from doing a lap of the town. Just to be sure you understand ;¬)

With a post ride curry planned for the evening, the was only time for a very swift one in HQ. The mood was buoyant and it was fair to say that the challenge had been well and truly #Smashed. A massive thankyou to everyone who made this such a great day on the bikes!

So, what’s next? The bar has been set high…..

Vive la Velo


Thursday, 23 April 2015

Just Another Tuesday Night

As we climbed out of the gorge via Coalport Bank bathed in the early evening sun, all those dark and cold winter nights seemed an oh so distant memory. However, it was payback time, and we were reaping the reward from the work we’d put in over the winter months.

With @Daicycling riding the Tour of Pembrokeshire this coming weekend, it seemed only right to take in a few hills, and so after the pre ride coffees(just don’t mention the @SJ1202’s Iced Latte….) it was time to head south towards Coalport, Broseley and beyond. I’d a route in mind that involved many of our favourite climbs.

On the climb back up onto Wenlock Edge from Bourton, the initial group had split into two, with the breakaway featuring the grimpeurs, whilst the remainder were taking things at a more leisurely pace. We didn’t know it at the time, but the breakway’s fate was sealed when we suffered a puncture in the main group. Of course, no assistance was offered, or for that matter expected. Instead a steady stream of advice and guidance was shared with @SJ1202. To his credit he took it all in spirit in which it was intended.

In no time at all we were back on the road, Cressage came and went, as did Ironbridge. On such a beautiful night it seemed only right to take a pitstop at the All Nations Arms on our way back out of the Gorge. As ever, the beer was excellent, and from there it was a short ride back to HQ.

The remainder of the breakaway group was waiting for us in HQ when we arrived, and as the inevitable post ride post mortem took place, the beer flowed freely, and the well-earned Cobs and Chips arrived. Tales of punctures and wrong turns were shared alongside the inevitable inane chatter that follows our regular Tuesday night rides.

Just another Tuesday night perhaps, but noteworthy all the same. A great ride, good beer, and a top group of lads.

Looking forward to doing it all again next week.

Vive la Velo


Monday, 13 April 2015

One Weekend - Two Very Different TTs.....

Meet Ernie!

Saturday – The Time Trial

Purchased late in 2014; and built up gradually over the next couple of months, last week saw the final piece being placed in the jigsaw that was the latest addition to my cycling stable, a full blown time trial bike.

After dabbling with a few time trials over the last few years on a variety of normal road bikes, it was suddenly all looking much more serious. I was even feeling a little nervous; would I be able to do the new bike justice?

The Cold Hatton to Hodnet and back course is one I'd ridden a few times before, and always seems to be windy. Today was no exception, and a strong cross/tailwind was making its presence felt. I’m still finding my way on the tri bars and so this was sure to add to the test.

The rituals of signing on, paying the entry fee, and collecting a number(33 this time) were completed, and after a warm up I was being called to the start. 3..2..1..Go, and I’m off; the strong crosswind is immediately apparent, and I’m really struggling on the tri bars. Soon though I settled into a good pace, and before too long I can make out the rider ahead. Spirits lifted, it’s as if a giant magnet is acting to pull me up the road. 

In no time at all though the roles are reversed, and the catcher became the caught, as my minute man comes past. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the eventual winner of the event on his way to a ‘long 22’. Very impressive given the windy conditions. Past halfway, and the wind was still strong. I pushed on though in the knowledge that the series champion from 2013 would be closing in on me. My target was to hold him off. With a mile to go there was still no sign of sign of him, and I was hopeful I could make it stick. One last effort and I crossed the line; a glance behind to see number 35 about fifty metres back. I’d held him off, which was small personal victory on a tough day.

I crossed the line in 25:06, which was a personal best on that course, and given the conditions was a time which I was pleased with. A solid start to the 2015 season!

The Toothpaste Signage

Sunday - The Telford Toothpaste

It’s scarcely possible to imagine a ride more different to the previous day’s effort, but less than 24 hours after I’d completed my first ‘10’ of the year , it was Toothpaste time. Now in its fourth year, this is a special event, and is Telford’s very own homage to the greatest one day cycle on earth, Paris-Roubaix, otherwise known as ‘The Hell of the North’. At 0830 we rolled out from the start, and the atmosphere was lively as we made our way along the old railway line towards the Ironbridge.

With the shortest of warm ups, all too soon we turned right away from the River Severn to begin the climb out of the Gorge and up towards Little Wenlock. The group was split apart as the gradient, and rough terrain took their toll. After we regrouped in the shadow of the Wrekin, it was time to enjoy the quiet lanes and tracks which define cycling in Shropshire. 

The group was working well together and we were maintaining a good pace. As the ‘Sandy Secteur’ approached, I was just telling myself to stay relaxed, and perhaps more importantly to try and keep the rubber side down.  It all got a little sketchy at times, but we all made it through in one piece. Charles wasn’t so lucky on one of the next off road sections, and he did his best impression of Geraint Thomas at this year’s Gent-Wevelgem race, as he parted company with his bike and ended up in a ditch. Fortunately no harm was done, and he was back up and on the bike in no time.

A stop at the feed station coincided with our first puncture of the day; this would not be our last. Coffee and cake consumed, puncture fixed, it was time to press on. As we swept through our home town, it was all too tempting to head straight for HQ, but there would be plenty of time for that later in the day. ‘The Belgian Road’ was next on the agenda, to my mind the Toothpaste’s very own ‘Le Carrefour de l’Arbre’. Windy on the stillest of days, today it was something else. Just brutal!

Brignorth came and went, and it was time for by far the longest off road section of the day. Fortunately the surface was good, and we kept up a good pace, the thought of the well-earned post ride beer driving us all on. As we pulled up to the Black Swan, the verdict was a unanimous one. A fantastic ride all round, and a truly unique event.

Beer and chips were served, and it was time to watch the finale of the race which had inspired our efforts. Riding the Toothpaste only serves to underline the efforts of the men who ride Paris-Roubaix; they are the hardest men, in the world’s hardest sport.


Vive la Velo


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Max White Limited Edition Collectors Commemorative Ride Report

Happy Birthday Max! photo 10995922_10203865045694774_1411115999460398640_n.jpg
Happy Birthday Max!

Whilst we should celebrate every opportunity we get to ride, only the most special rides are a celebration in themselves, and this week’s Tuesday night ride was one of them.

What better way to celebrate a birthday than to ride your bike, and when Max mentioned that he had a significant birthday approaching it was clear that we needed to do something special. Post ride refuelling was a given, and with the weather forecast looking favourable, Max announced the ‘Max White Limited Edition Collectors Commemorative Ride’. We opted to go imperial for the evening, and to aim for a half century. Entirely fitting in the circumstances……

The longer distance meant an earlier than usual start, and even then we knew we’d need to keep up a healthy speed to make it back to HQ at a decent hour. After the customary pre ride coffee at No5, eleven of us rolled away from the clock tower at 180V sharp; we were off. Early progress was good, but disaster struck for Shaun as we climbed into Cheswardine when his bottom bracket decided it had had enough and tried to uninstall itself from his bike. Without the tools to fix it, we had no option but to press on, and leave Shaun to wait for his very own ‘Voiture Balai’ to sweep him up. Never a man to be defeated though, he still made it back to base for the beer and cobs.

As we endeavoured to make up for the lost time in Cheswardine the pace quickened, and the group were working together nicely as we passed the halfway mark.  Speeding along on the A53 heading towards Shawbury, and…….”BANG”…….the unmistakeable sound of a blow out. Fortunately everyone stayed upright, and as we rolled to a stop it was time to survey the damage. Max had suffered one puncture, whilst Dai had managed a double blow out. Things quickly got worse for Dai though when he discovered that the impact had torn a hole in his tyre, and bent his rim for good measure. Game over for Dai and it was time for another call, and another broom wagon.

Now well behind schedule, we pushed on to try and make up the time lost to mechanicals. Yet another puncture was quickly fixed and we soon on the home straight. One last drag up the ‘Abbey Road’ and it would be downhill all the way home.

We made it to HQ about half an hour late, but the beer was soon flowing and the cobs were well earned. Cakes, cards, and presents followed for the birthday boy, and as we recounted a truly excellent night on the bikes, talk turned to the numerous events fast approaching. We’ve certainly got plenty to look forward to in 2015. A great night all round, and a big thanks for everyone who made it along, and especially to Max for suggesting it in the first place.
Happy Birthday Max! #FiftyNotOut

Vive la Velo