Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Hammer or Nail?

To truly savour success one must have experienced failure, and in the last week I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy both of these emotions.

One of the appeals of cycling, to me at least, is the fact it offers us the ability to regularly experience both of these extremes in (almost)equal measure. As the saying goes, some days you’re the hammer, others the nail.

Let’s consider failure first. Never planned, but always a possibility, even the greats of our sport experience it. Think Cav on the Champs Elysees last year, or perhaps Sir Twiggins at the 2011 tour. Our failures may be smaller, but nevertheless a fail is a fail.

Good planning is no guarantee of success, just ask the team GB road race team at the 2012 olympics, and our failure in the #TwoShiresEnduro is no reflection on the preparation. The route was meticulously planned, and the objective was clear. One day dedicated to the objective of an off road metric century. Whilst 100km on the road is nothing out of the ordinary, on a #Mtb with big fat tyres, and on muddy trails, it’s a different story.
This was a very personal objective for me. I’d got close a number of times before, but like a test batsman stuck in the ‘nervous nineties’, I’d never been able to convert an off road ride into the magic three digits.

As we rolled away from the start the mood in the group was optimistic, and early progress was good. We were approaching the 35km mark when we turned onto a unassuming and innocent looking canal tow path which would take us to potentially the highlight of the days route, Cannock Chase. I immediately noticed the hedge trimmings that littered the path, but the Stan’s Tyre milk sloshing around in my tubes meant I wasn’t overly concerned. Not everyone however, had discovered its magic. As the first puncture of the day was being fixed it quickly became apparent that we had a far larger problem.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it before; puncture after puncture after puncture. In a short three mile stretch of canal tow path, 7 of the group of ten experienced in excess of 20 punctures. All available tubes used, puncture repair kits were called into action.

As we re-grouped in Milford on the very edge of Cannock Chase, it dawned on us all that our target for the day was slipping away from us. Cold, hungry, and dejected, we took the difficult decision to abort, and to return to Newport. As we re-fuelled at KFC(surely a measure of how low we were), the consensus was that although we’d sealed our failure, we’d made the right decision. On that day, we were most certainly the nail.
Fast forward a week, and this time a very different objective was in my sights. I’m by no means a Strava lover, but I do find its challenges intriguing, and its Gran Fondo 1 challenge had piqued my interest. To ride 130km in a day. Not the longest ride granted, but in January in the UK, the weather was almost certainly going to be the toughest part.

It turned out this was to be a solo affair, but this only added to the challenge in my mind. As much as I enjoy riding in a group, sometimes lone efforts are the most rewarding.

With the rain beating down on the Velux windows it wasn’t looking good. Postpone maybe, but a final check of the forecast was more encouraging. Rule #9 conditions could only add to the experience. My descision was made!

Early progress was good, and without a doubt aided by a significant, but at the time unknown, tailwind. An added bonus, and one that was entirely unplanned, was my first solo ‘Project 330’ ride. 100km in under 3 hours 30 minutes. It was over coffee and cake in Market Drayton that I realised this was in the bag. The last 30km was all about hanging in there and just making it over the line.

As I passed through Sheriffhales, the 130km mark was passed, and less than a week after failure came success. On this day at least, I was the hammer!

Vive la Velo

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Highlights of 2013

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I’ve just logged the details of my final couple of rides of 2013 and it seems like the perfect time to reflect on what’s been a quite incredible cycling year.
From a personal viewpoint the most pleasing aspect of 2013 is the way that our society has grown. We’ve picked up a number of riders as the year’s passed, and collectively we’ve completed hundreds of rides and many tens of thousands of kilometres.

Testament to how great a year it’s been is how hard it’s been to pick a couple of highlights to share. A trip to Le Tour in Alps, as well as a day in the Pyrenees are just two of the experiences which have both missed the cut. Time Trial PBs, crashes, a first ever double imperial century, and the quite unique Telford Toothpaste are also left lying on the cutting room floor. I just hope you enjoy reading about the two that made it.

My first highlight was from earlier in the year, and was a very personal experience. It featured a solo, two day, near 400km ride from our current base, to my hometown of Margate.  A vicious head wind was my companion for what seemed like the entire two days, but it was the snow that so very nearly broke my will. However, the Golden Arches came to my rescue(and not for the first time), and thankfully the snow flurries passed. Riding into and out of London was a highpoint of the ride, especially with the knowledge of having started out northwest of Birmingham. As I rode along the promenade in Margate I can safely say I’ve never been so pleased to see its old Victorian clock tower. An epic in every sense of the word.
The second highlight was also an A2B ride, and was an experience I’ll never forget. London to Paris, a ride that I cannot recommend highly enough. Three days of pure unadulterated cycling pleasure. It was all @ASL191’s idea as a way of marking a significant birthday which she celebrated in 2013. Five of us undertook the challenge, and my role was one of chief mechanic and the logistics & route planner, as well as being a general source of encouragement along the way. Highpoints along the ride are too numerous to detail, but an abiding memory is from day 2, as we enjoyed mile after mile of lightly traffic’ed French countryside. As the French would say, Chapeau!

What’s for certain is that 2014 has much to live up to!
Vive la Velo