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


Friday, 18 December 2015

Merry Christmas

Ho Ho Ho
After a year that’s tested my supply of superlatives, I’d just like to take the opportunity to wish everyone who’s helped to make 2015 such a special cycling year for the society a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

We’ve already got plenty of plans in place for 2016, but we’ve got our work cut out to reach the heights of this year. Whatever happens though, we’re going to give it our best shot.

Thanks again all, it’s been emotional.

Vive la Velo


Thursday, 10 December 2015

Commuter Encounters – Escaping from my Shadow

It all started like any other co-incidental meeting between two hitherto un-connected cyclist. It’s always nice to see a fellow cycle commuters, if only to remind you that you’re not in this alone in your efforts, and that others appreciate your trade.
My friend appeared out of the darkness from the right, and turned in front of me, perhaps 50 metres ahead. An ill-fitting rear mudguard caught my attention immediately, but given that I was on the Pompino in full on winter mode, I was in no position to pass judgement.
The gap held steady as we approached the tricky motorway junction island where the only concern is making it across in one piece. It was as we left the island that things were mixed up a little. My preference is always to take the road, whereas my friend chose the short section of cycle path. This resulted in our relative positions changing , and as the cycle path re-joined the road and our paths converged once more, I was a few metres in front. This could get interesting; it was decision time.
It’s formation started slowly, very faint at first, but as the road dropped away and our speed rose, the edges got sharper. I could sense the gap closing as my shadow formed in front of me; I was being caught. No time to panic though; I was confident that the pendulum was about to swing back in my favour.
The approaching incline couldn’t come soon enough, for me at least. The gear which only seconds ago was way too small, was now perfect for the road ahead. My shadow’s edges began to blur slightly as I increased my effort; I could feel the gap growing. This was all the encouragement that was needed, it was time to go for the kill.
My shadow was disappearing fast before my eyes, the edges dissolving into the light. Suddenly it was gone; the elastic had seemingly snapped. A brief glance behind me confirmed that my friend was all but gone, the escape from my shadow was complete. I only hope he’d enjoyed our encounter half as much as I had.
Vive la Velo

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Battling Barney

The forecast was not looking good; Hurricane Barney’s arrival was due to coincide almost perfectly with our regular Tuesday night ride. Gust of 60mph (or should that be 100kph?) were promised, and warnings against travel, and of widespread disruption swept across the twittersphere.

Barney was getting closer on the ride home from work, and it was becoming clear that riding on the road if the wind got any stronger (as per the forecast) would be at best foolhardy, and at worst, damned right dangerous.

Giving up on the evening and heading straight to HQ would have been an easy option to take, but where would the fun have been in that approach? No, instead we chose to change bikes, leave the tarmac behind, and to hit the trails. We were going to tackle Barney head on.

And what a fine decision it was. Over the next 2 hours or so we enjoyed one of those rides that remind you why you cycle. I’ve not laughed so much on a bike for a long time, and we enjoyed moments of pure comedy as Barney gave it his best shot. I’ve never cycled in anything quite like it; at times it was a full sensory overload.

At one point memories of Geraint Thomas at this year’s Ghent-Wevelgem came to the fore, as I took a Barney enforced, and entirely involuntary, left turn off the farm track and into the adjacent field. Scott and Max suffered the same fate and followed me into the field in almost perfect formation. Getting going again was another challenge in itself, but we were soon back with the rest of the group.

The rest of the ride was a real battle against the elements, and it presented some of the toughest conditions I think I’ve ever cycled in. But what a ride it was; just awesome.

As we rolled back into town, auto pilot was engaged and we headed straight for HQ, and the hard earned refreshments it offered. Heads were shaking as we walked through the door, people seemingly bewildered by the fact that we’d been out on our bikes. Somehow this made the beer even more enjoyable than normal.

What an evening, and what a ride. We’d taken on Barney, and whilst perhaps we’d not beaten him, I think we managed to more than hold our own.

Vive la Velo


Saturday, 19 September 2015


Everyone has their own reason(s) for riding bikes, from a young child discovering the unbridled joy of their first un-assisted effort, through to octogenarians still riding after a lifetime in the saddle. In between these extremes there’s an almost endless mix of reasons, from a simple ride down to the corner shop for a pint of milk, to taking on the challenge of riding from London to Paris in 24 hours.

For me though, increasingly it’s the less obvious benefits that are so valuable. Of course riding more will quickly impact your fitness, and as the speed builds many will also shed  a few kilos too. These early gains can be just the hook needed to keep your motivation levels high.

As the saying goes, ‘healthy body, healthy mind’, and it’s this aspect which to me is becoming ever more important. Whilst my day job involves working for a soulless large multinational company, the simple, and timeless act of riding a bike is its perfect foil. After a day of corporate drudgery, there’s nothing better than just getting on my bike and riding away from it all.

Missed deadlines, unanswered e-mail, and performance reviews are forgotten almost as soon as I’m clipped in, and my sanity(whatever that may be) starts to return. The madness of the modern corporate world dissolves as the pedals turn, and soon (relative)calm is restored.
I’ve come to the conclusion that cycling is my therapy, and without it my world would be an altogether worse place.

Vive la Velo


Monday, 3 August 2015

SCCA 4Up Championships – Race Report

The Team

That’s right a race report; a first for the us, and something which I really couldn’t have foreseen even 12 months ago. It just shows how things continue to grow from strength to strength. Although strictly speaking we all entered under banner of the SCCA affiliated clubs we’re members of, there was no doubt that we were competing as the SCS.

And what an event to choose as our maiden outing. The SCCA 4Up Championship is one of the real standout highlights of the local cycling calendar, and always attracts a very strong field. There’s obviously the overall win for those at the sharp end of affairs, but there’s also strong competition too within the local SCCA clubs to win their own club 4Up trophies. Not to mention the bragging rights for the next year as a bonus.

We had a plan for the ride, and three of us even managed a practice run the day before. With little more than gut instinct, agreement was set that a sub 1 hour 25 min should be our target, What could go wrong?

1039 was our allotted start time, and after the inevitable pre race faffing, it was time to be called into position. 30 seconds, 10 seconds, you go! The first target was to all get clipped in, on top of the gear, and into position. Soon we were into a rhythm, and we were riding well as a team. Changes were going well; we were sharing the time on the front, allowing that oh so precious recovery whilst in the shelter of your team mates.

Approaching the T junction that is that natural focal point of the course, our not so secret weapon was called into play – The Official SCS Supporters Club! Family members accepted, but the cheers and shouts of encouragement really did help to lessen the pain of the event. When we passed them the second time, the encouragement was just as vociferous, and again just what was needed, especially with the hardest part of the course laying ahead of us.

The 20 mile marker was passed, and we were still riding well as a team. By now the turns on the front were longer for the stronger riders, but that’s the whole point of a team time trial. It’s about getting round as a unit. It’s far too easy for the fastest man to make the team slower overall.

One final pass of the fan club, and we were into the home straight. A last big push for the final 5 miles or so. As the fatigue took hold we were getting more and more ragged. With about a mile to go the elastic finally snapped for our 4th man. With the time taken on the third man over the line though, this wasn’t a problem, and it was time to empty the tank in the race for the line.

Barely able to shout our numbers as we crossed the line, it was over. With legs screaming for mercy we rolled back to race HQ. The fan club followed and spirits were high. Congratulations were offered all round, and it was even better when we learned that we’d beaten our target time. Only by 6 seconds granted but every single one counts. For the record, we were 17th on that day, and covered the 50 kilometres, in 1:24:54. A thoroughly respectable result.

As we de-briefed over well-earned beer, the conclusion was that our first competitive outing had been a resounding success, and it would certainly not be the last.

Vive la Velo



Thursday, 30 July 2015

TdF Withdrawal Symptoms

Stage 22 Map

With the dust settling after a vintage edition of the greatest race on earth, it’s time to face up to that most unpleasant part of any cycling fans year, TdF cold turkey. No continual updates on social media; no regular podcasts or highlight shows to keep fans abreast of what’s happening. Instead, nothing; it’s all over for another year.

Sure, there’s the upcoming La Vuelta and Tour of Britain to look forward to, but however you cut it, this is cold comfort. These are akin to watching a game of village cricket after you’ve enjoyed an Ashes test match.

My mood however has been lifted by the ever excellent inrng’s Tour Stage 22 Preview. This proved just the ticket to combat the gloom. With rumours already circulating about the 2016 route, it’s time to start thinking ahead to next year.  Will Mont Ventoux make it into the route, or perhaps the Stelvio on a trip across the border to Italy? Either would almost certainly feature high on the agenda for next year’s trip.

What’s guaranteed is that the next edition will be every bit as enthralling as this year’s. Quintana will be back and looking to take the single step up required to win his first Maillot Jeune, whilst Froome will be looking to make it a hat trick of wins. Can Bertie win one more? Only time will tell.

Suddenly I’m feeling so much better!

Vive la Tour, Vive la France, Vive la Velo


Monday, 13 July 2015

#SCS at Le Tour


I've struggled for a week now for the words to describe this year's trip to the Grand Depart. Quite honestly, i've failed, and no words i can muster will do justice to last Monday's experience in Huy.

Instead i leave you with the above. The whole trip encapsulated in a single picture.....


Vive la Velo


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