Monday, 24 September 2007

Knobblies, Grass, Mud, Dips, Banks, Planks - Cyclo Cross is ON !


It's that time of year when you feel less worked up about your racing. You turn up an hour or less before your race. You enter on the line. You're not that pushed about sizing up or psyching out the opponents. Then your off.

One hour of high intensity racing, over narrow dirt tracks, weaving through the trees, dropping down dips, up over steep banks - sometimes carrying your bike. Then you've gotta leap over planks of wood - the special ones can bunny hop them, while us lesser mortals are compelled to dismount to haul body and bike over them. All done on a "road" style bike with knobblies (even a cyclocross bike !). Sometimes done in thick, sticky mud.

Anything can happen. You might be dropped, but then your opponent may pack in due to a mechanical. You might even get stronger as others blow up. Or your opponent might fall down the banking, never to be seen again - at least for the next 45 minutes ! After an hour you finish. You're all sweaty and salty - fatigued, but with a big smile on your face. knowing that you took up the challenge as best you could. You may not have finished as high up the field as you wanted, but who cares, you had fun and did something to maintain your autumn/winter fitness !
That's Cyclo cross - it's on from now until February, and I love it !


It's the one type of cycling where I have fun regardless of how well or badly I do. I get to make new cycling buddies as we meet up for the weekly battle in school fields, parks and woodlands, of the South East. I don't get pre-race nerves like in road races. I don't worry about how/when I'm gonna get fed like in cyclosportives. I'm not even that bothered about crashing, as you generally fall on something soft. It's pretty care free compared to what I do during the Spring and Summer months, and it's the best way to get me out on my bike when it's cold and dull outside. In fact the purists may argue that it's not cyclo cross unless it's cold, and rainy - or at least full of thick mud !

I've done the first couple of rounds of the London Cyclo Cross League. Both of them took place in glorious sunshine and on dry terrain. That probably explains why I rode relatively well (Two wins in as many weeks.) ! The next one, at Deers Leap Park, East Grinstead may be a different matter. This course is known for being pretty wet and sticky, so it'll be interesting to see how my road racing fitness will fare in these conditions.

It's been great to be the ladies' winner the last couple of weeks. However, I know I will be put in my place when the fast girls turn out at East Grinstead and future rounds ! Either way, I look forward to it and I'm sure it'll be a good craic !


Photos by John Mullineaux (londoncyclesport.com)

Pyrenean Adventure - Outro


St Cyprien Plage - Argele Plage - Coullioure - Port Vendres - Banyul sur Mer - Cerbere - Portbou = 40km
Portbou - Barcelona - 2hr train ride

So we reached the Med, celebrated the fact and then went home happy !





Memorable moments of the trip :

The threatening clouds lifting from the Pyrenean peaks and the sun bursting through when we reached the foot of the col de Marie Blanque. But then the excruciating pain of getting up to the summit.

Watching 500 crazies running up the col d'Aubisque early on a Sunday morning.



The delicious pizza we had at our lunch stop - Pizzeria des Nestes - in Arreau. Proprietor Daniel Niarquin also offers great snacks for cyclists.


The suffocating heat while riding up the col de Peyresourde.


The delicious meal we had at Les Trois Seigneurs, Massat. Madame Alonso was kind enough to open her restaurant specially to accommodate us and the other English blokes, when we discovered that there was no other restaurant open in the town. The food was esquisite - the decor was something else !



Bathing at Ax les Thermes











Riding up and down the Port de Pailheres in thick fog.


Being blown around from all sides by the Tramontane on the approach road to St Cyprien


Stanley being blown right over on the border crossing into Spain - all 100kg of man, bike and panniers !



Sunbathing all day long and people watching at Sitges plage.

Getting drunk at a locals bar in Sitges

Don't remember too much about the rest of the evening - we got the train back to Barcelona, and it involved me fooling around (and falling around) saying : "I'm the Fonz, I'm really cool !!"

Lounging in the Parc Ciutadella in Barcelona, enjoying the sun, but not looking forward to going back to London !

Our trip began with a ride in cold and fog through the village of Takeley, near Stansted at stupid o'clock in the morning. Our trip finished with a ride in cold and drizzle through Purley at stupid o'clock in the morning - nothing like coming full circle !

Would I do the trip again ? Probably, but I'll carry less luggage and more gears on my bike !
I look forward to doing another adventure. Maybe the Dolomites, the Picos Europa, or somewhere further a-field.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Pyrenean Adventure - Part 5

Massat - Col des Caougnous - Col de Port - Saurat - Tarascon Sur Ariege - Les Cabanes - Ax les Thermes - Ascou - Port de Pailheres - Mijanes - Le Pla - Querigut = 90km
Lodging : Auberge du Donezan les quatre Saisons

I was pleased to have put the hardest climbs of the trip behind me. I woke up feeling fresh and at ease about what the day had in stall for me.

It had become customary for the proprietor of each place we stayed to give us pointers about what to expect that day - the terrain, and where they knew it, the weather. At Le Globe bar and hotel they told us it "should hopefully" stay dry, but be careful around the Querigut area - "ca grimpe bien". So we were warned of the tough climbs ahead - well nothing could be worse than the Portet d'Aspet or Le Marie Blanque so that didn't bother me. As for the weather, we'd been lucky so far - hot sunny days, no rain. But today looked threatening. The dark grey skies gave me a feeling of anxiety at the possiblity of getting soaked - especially if we were on the side of a mountain.


COL DE PORT


After bidding goodbye to the nice folks at The Globe, including the resident "Bard" (aka drunkard) we set off. Once again, our day began with a climb. The col de Port (preceded by the minor col de Caougnous). This col was a real joy to ride up. The gradient was very gentle for the whole of the 12km. It never went above 6%. This was also the only climb of the whole trip that Stan and I actually rode and finished together !

All the way up the sky looked threatening, and the folks along the side of the road warned us we would get very wet very shortly. The rain finally came, at the bottom of the descent (thankfully) just outside Tarascon sur Ariege. It was heavy but not torrential.

We took shelter in a bus shelter for about half an hour, and then decided to continue once the rain became lighter. Tarascon seemed a dour place. It reminded me of St Girons but without all the paper factories and warehouses. We very quickly joined the route towards Ax.

Sadly the route was quite uninspiring - A busy stretch of national road (N20) that was interminably long. We were out of the mountainous area so we didn't even have anything to look at - just fast cars and lorries.

Ax-les-thermes was a very pleasant town. We had lunch next to the spa in the main square. We both stopped and bathed our feet in the warmer while soaking in the sun.

A couple of locals came up and talked bikes with us. They were about to start a Transpyrenean route to Coullioure by mountain bike. They were surprised to see the size of our panniers. "You don't need all that", they said. "Just take loads of washing powder and you'll be fine." I'm not sure when that ever fixed punctures ! Seriously though, they gave us lots of advice about cycling in the area. We had to avoid the national road to Perpignan as much as possible, and for the ride up to Querigut we would need to take all our water with us as there'd be no shops.


PORT DE PAILHERES


The ride up to the Port de Pailheres was long - 10 miles, but the last 3 miles were done through low cloud. As we got further and further near the top the visibility decreased and the temperature dropped. At the top I could only see a couple of metres in front of me - I didn't even know when I had reached the summit ! The descent was wet and cold - colder than anything I'd ever experienced. It was only after 4 miles of descending that the fog lifted. The rain had started again though, and everything looked grey and morose - a stark contrast to the weather on the other side of the mountain.
After half hour of cycling we arrived at the ancient hill-top town of Querigut. Evening consisted of a hearty meal and a walk through the tranquil streets to admire the Pyrenean peaks in the moonlight. It was a great way to contemplate what we'd done, and look forward to arriving at the coast the following day.



DOWN TO THE COAST

Querigut - Carcanieres - Col de Moulis - Col de Garavel - Roquefort de Sault - Col de Jau - Catllar - Marqixanes - Col de Ternere - Bouleternere - Thuir - Elne - St Cyprien - St Cyprien Plage = 120km
Lodging : Hotel du Port


We left the hotel bright and early. The proprietor was from St Cyprien and was excited about the fact that we'd chosen to ride there. She did warn us, with a somewhat grave tone, however of the Tramontane wind we'd have to challenge first.

Our ride was very scenic. The area was desolate. As we were completely off the official Raid Pyrenean route we saw no cyclists and very few vehicles. We really had the road to ourselves. Apparently we went over 3 cols, though I hadn't noticed ! The sky was grey, but as our ride progressed the day brightened up. At the summit of col de Jau we were offered coffee by the English guys. We then made our way down the mountain.


BYE BYE MOUNTAINS !


All I can say was this was the best descent of the whole trip. Lovely sweeping bends, passing through scenic villages and wine producing properties. We did about 20 miles without having to pedal ! The changing architecture indicated we were getting closer to the sea. I was getting excited !


The last part of ride did involve a challenge though. We stayed very briefly on the main N116 to Perpignan. That was a real case of pedal for your life ! We then left the road at Bouleternere to join the quieter D16. There were fewer cars, but it was still extremely winder. When the wind was with us it was great. But many times we had a cross wind which, on a few occassions almost blew me over. That was the Tramontane wind for us !

I was so nervous when riding, and only calmed down when we reached the porch of the Hotel du Port. I was just relieved to get off my bike. We'd made it. We'd done the crossing - and in one piece !

It was late afternoon when we reached St Cyprien. A quick shower and we were immediately out again to celebrate our Transpyrenean ride, and our last night on French soil.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Pyrenean Adventure - Part 4

St Beat - Col de Mente - Ger be Boutx - Col de Portet d'Aspet - St Lary - Audressein - St Girons - Lacourt - Buleix - Massat = 100km
Lodging : Hotel Le Globe


RUDE AWAKENING !


I slept really well at L'Abri d'Arlos, but not enough. Breakfast was a really trying affair. Especially as it was happening a good 2 hours too soon. All I wanted was my bed - but I had to be on the bike by 9am, ready to start the climb up the col de Mente, and later ride the steepest climb of the official Raid Pyrenean - col de Portet d'Aspet. I just ate my food in silence, while trying to find in my mind the motivation to ride. The sun was already up and the weather was warming up. Why couldn't we have just stayed at the Centre de Vacances and had a leisurely day.

We hit the road at just after 9am. About a mile down the road we did a right hand turn and were immediately at the foot of the col de Mente.



COL DE MENTE


The first kilometre was quite steep - about 11% - not really want you want when your legs aren't warmed up. My back was still aching from my exertions of the first day of the trip. The climb soon levelled off, and became easier to ride at around 7%. I still wanted to take things easily though. Stan, feeling that he hadn't really been challenged on any of the climbs during the cycling tour, had decided to take some of my load. He was now carrying about 15kg, where I had 9kg to carry. But he was still able to dance up the slopes while I plodded heavily along.

The ride up the col de Mente was pleasant, as it was through a wooded section. The summit was quite picturesque. It formed the crossroads of a few cols - notably the col d'Artigascou.


So many cyclists congregated at the forested picnic site area. As well as a cafe, there were some mini kennels, keeping mountain dogs. They looked like huskies but I think conditions would have been too hot for them.

We also bumped into other cyclists that we had seen on the other cols. One guy that we'd met on the Tourmalet was unfortunately unable to continue his ride up the cols as he had broken his crank. It's not just your body that suffers on these climbs !

Stan and I pressed on down the hill. I was now in better spirits, but still felt a certain anxiety about going up the Portet d'Aspet.

At the bottom of the descent we did a right turn and suddenly we were on the climb. And didn't I know it !


COL DE PORTET D'ASPET


Straight into a 12% gradient. I heaved my way up in the most unelegant way I could find. I really wanted to do all of this without the having the nightmare I'd had on the col de Marie-Blanque. At the first corner I stopped and had a breather - an apt place to stop as it was also the site of the Fabio Casartelli memomorial.

I stopped to get my breath back and also to take a few photos of this beautiful memorial before continuing up to the summit. This climb was very short - just 4km, but it was very steep - Stan got a reading of 21% on a couple of sections. It was a real quad-buster. The only saving grace was that the climb was in the shade. Fortunately I had gotten used to getting out of the saddle on my pannier-laden bike so it wasn't quite as excruciating as riding up the col de Marie-Blanque.


Once at the summit I wanted to celebrate the fact that I'd got the horribly tough climbs out of the way. I celebrated with a cup of Ice Tea. The local riders (who we'd also spotted on the Tourmalet) told us how it had been just 5 degrees celsius the previous week, and there had been light snow ! We'd definitely been lucky.
We then took the descent towards St Girons. The run-in to St Girons was a demoralising road - a head wind that consisted of very warm air, along a straight boring road. At St Girons Stan got his bike checked as his wheel rim was dented. After assurances from the mechanic that he'd been fine, we then made our way to Massat.


WINING AND DINING IN MASSAT


Funnily enough the Londoners we'd met were stayining in the same town as us - just a mile up the road at the Hosterllerie des Trois Seigneurs. We ended up having dinner there as all the restaurants in the village were closed.


The nice lady at Les Trois Seigneurs had opened up her restaurant specially to accommodate us. I was glad she did so as the meal was absolutely delicious. Marie Angela, the proprietor had won various awards for her cuisine, and she took alot of pride in the service she provided us. She was so pleased to have had our company that she gave us a bottle of wine and a jar of honey.

We'd had a great day of a good bike ride, good wine, good company, and for the first time I went to bed without feeling completely KO'd. I was looking forward to the following day.


(pictures by Stan and 2Wheelchick)

Monday, 17 September 2007

Pyrenean Adventure - Part 3

Luz St Sauveur - Tourmalet - La Mongie - Saint Marie de Campan - Col d'Aspin - Arreau - Col de Peyresourde - Bagneres de Luchon - St Beat - Arlos = 120km
Lodging - Hotel L'Abri d'Arlos

The Landlord at the Hotel des Templiers was very keen to warn us of what a challenge we'd set ourselves.
Riding the Tourmalet would be tough enough. But adding in the Peyresourde and the Aspin would be a tall order. He advised us to have a good breakfast.

For me this was going to be a challenge - especially as Stan feared I wouldn't get through the day, and we'd be obliged to again stop early. He even suggested that we defer our arrival in Barcelona. I wasn't having any of that - it would be throwing in the towel before we'd even tried.
The reason why I'd wanted to stop the ride early the previous day was because I'd thought it may be unsafe to descend from the Tourmalet late in the day - it could be dark, it could be rainy and misty too. If I knew I had all day to ride I would be able to do the 3 climbs. Riding with the panniers and with a shortage of low gears would be difficult, but I was determined to get through the itinerary - even if it hurt.


TOURMALET


We set off at 8.15am on a slightly chilly Monday morning. I didn't mind the cold - at least we wouldn't overheat when tackling the climb. The climb up the Tourmalet began immediately. The average gradient of the whole climb would be 7% - not too challenging, but obviously some parts would be significantly steeper. I was going to take it verrry eeaasy !

The climb up the Tourmalet was very straight forward. Climbing it first thing in the morning was definitely a good idea. Within a short time the sun came out and the views of the mountain peaks in the sunshine were beautiful. Being a working day there weren't as many cyclists around as at the weekend. There were even fewer cars. We practically had the road to ourselves. Half way up the climb I had to slow down while a shepherd crossed the road with his herd. This was a recurring theme in the Pyrenees - passing through extensive stretches where animals roamed freely. It wasn't just cattle - there were horses and ponies too.

The last couple of kilometres of the climb were quite challenging, with 9 and 10% gradients to negotiate. I was really pleased to have crested the Tourmalet comformatbly. I had even ridden up without removing my arm and knee warmers !

At the summit there was a real club run atmosphere, as many cyclists, including those who had ridden up from the opposite side congregated at the cafe in the sunshine, or took photographs next to the Octave Lapize monument. It was good to chat to other cyclists about their itineraries or how long they'd taken to ride up. One guy who had just ridden up from Luz St Sauveur was going to go down towards La Mongie and then climb up Tourmalet again ! A masochist ! I realised that most of the vehicles that had passed us on the climb were actually support cars for the riders. Stan and I were definitely doing things the more adventurous way ! Or maybe some thought we were the masochists !


COL D'ASPIN


After a half hour cafe stop we pressed on with our descent, through La Mongie, Sainte Marie de Campan, and then up the col d'Aspin. This climb was quite easy - it was only about 5 miles long, and wasn't particularly steep. It was the anti-dote to the big climbs we'd done in the previous 48 hours.

We had lunch at the bottom of the col d'Aspin, in Arreau. A pleasant but sleepy town. There we ate the most delicious pizza I've ever had (outside of Italy). The owner had only recently taken over the pizza parlour, after having spent a life-time working as Head of Facilities at various blue-chip companies in Paris. He'd done a course in italian cuisine, and was putting it all into practice. I'd definitely recommend this place for a cafe/lunch stop.


COL DE PEYRESOURDE


After a good re-stock of energy, we then set about bagging the last challenge of the day - the Peyresourde. I was feeling good, but knew I had to take things easy. We were in for around 10mile of climbing. I don't think the climb up the col du Peyresourde was particularly difficult. But the fact that it was over 30 degrees celsius made things very challenging. The afternoon heat was taking its toll on me, and I ended up stopping and sitting in the shade. Funnily enough I thought I should've coped better in the heat than Stan - he just seemed to plough on up the hill unaffected. Luckily there was a quaint cafe/honey making shop at the top, where he sat and watched the world go by while I watched sweat dripping off the end of my nose !

Once at the top I savoured a well deserved coke and ice cream. We joined a group of guys from London. We'd bumped into them on every col that day, and we would continue to bump into them, as we were following similar routes. The were doing the trip with a full back-up, complete with their own food supplies and cooking facilities ! They'd opted for the luxury package !


THE HOME STRAIT


All we need to do now was just get down the Peyresourde to Bagneres de Luchon and then do a 10mile run in to St Beat. It was a lovely descent - 6 miles and no need to pedal. After Luchon we the road was slightly downhill too. It was great. St Beat seemed a bit grey and dreary. I was glad I hadn't reserved a place in the centre of the town. We stayed in a Centre de Vacances place at Arlos, a couple of km on from St Beat and less than 10 miles from the Spanish border. It had a homely feel to it as there were mainly families on holiday there. We ate in the garden while watching children playing, and others having an evening barbecue. It was really idyllic tucking into a hearty meal and sipping wine in the moonlight, under the protection of the mountains.

The day's exertions had taken their toll on me, as I struggled to lift my arms just to eat my food ! I was ready to slump over the table and go to sleep immediately. But deep down I felt happy that I had lived up to the challenge. This also meant we were back on course with our plans.

Pyrenean Adventure - Part 2

Laruns - Col d'Aubisque - Col de Soulour - Argeles Gazost - Luz St Sauveur = 75km
Lodging : Hotel des Templiers

This was our first full day in the Pyrenees. A heavy work-load and getting up for an early flight meant we had only been getting a couple of hours' sleep in the days leading up to our departure for South West France.
Although we managed a few more hours' sleep on the first night of the trip, any hope of having a lie-in was dashed when we were rudely awakened. At 7am sharp a loud pa system was turned on.

Apparently a big event was taking place that morning. The annual Montee de l'Aubisque - an 16km running race from Laruns to the summit of the col d'Aubisque. About 700 runners and competitive walkers were assembled below our hotel window, warming up for the start of the race ! And the compere was giving it his all to gee up the folks ahead of this famous local event, complete with motivational music etc.

We realised we had no choice but to get up - especially when the canon went off at 7.45 to signal the start of the first wave of the race. Furthermore, we would not be able to set off early as the road would be closed during the event. This led us to take a leisurely breakfast before leaving.

I think we took things a little too leisurely (mainly due to my dawdling)so we didn't get going until almost 11am.

By this time the weather was pretty hot. I had backache from having tackled the previous day's back-breaking/quad-busting gradient in the saddle.
The hotel folks reassured us that since we'd crested col de Marie-Blanque via the hard side, nothing we were about to do would be any worse than that. I suppose that's the advantage of starting the tour with the toughest gradient !


COL D'AUBISQUE


The ride up the col d'Aubisque would be long and hot - thankfully the gradient wouldn't be too stiff - starting off at 5%, then rising up to 10-11% in the middle, before levelling off near the top. I decided to take it easy. I was feeling the strain of having 9kg of panniers and a ruck-sack to carry. It felt worse when we were passed by lots of local club riders on their Sunday run round the lanes ! I tried as much as possible to keep in the shade. This was possible as far as Eaux Bonnes, but afterwards I was faced with the full exposure of the midday sun.

Eaux Bonnes was a pretty village, however what I remember most about it was how the gradient went up to about 12% through the town, and we had to tackle this on a one way system !

I stopped a couple of times on the way up - notably at the ski station of Gourette. The views from there were spectacular, however I was too conscious of the need to drink more, and get the salt out of my eyes !

Stan, with his low mountain bike gears was able to take it at a more relaxed pace, while I waddled along. The road was quite busy at times - mainly due to the series of coaches that were transferring runners back down to Laruns after the running race. We also saw a number of people who had chosen to run down to Laruns after their race. We greeted each other, while probably wondering which one of the parties was madder !

Finally I reached the summit, to be greeted by many cyclists and picnic-ers who congratulated us on our feat - having made it to the top while carrying our loads. I'm sure the views were even more spectacular at the summit, but at that particular moment I just wanted to sit down among the cattle and rest, while wolfing down any food that came in sight.

There was a good ambiance at the summit, with lots of people milling around, a couple of cafes and sweet shops - plus the big steel statues of bicycles in the Tour de France jersey colours - I'd seen these in various photos and during the TdF coverage. It was impressive to actually see them for real.
The sun was definitely shining here too, as our man at Pau airport had rightly predicted.

After a break we then continued on - a short descent, followed by a climb up the col de Soulour. This was hardly noticeable - just 2km at about 3%. We then paused very briefly for another photo opportunity before continuing the long descent towards Argeles-Gazost.


CHANGE OF PLAN


It was only on reaching here that I realised how much time we'd wasted. It was mid afternoon, and we were supposed to have been going over to Sainte Marie de Campan that day - only 30miles away, but it would involve the small matter of an 18km climb up Tourmalet. We also needed to re-stock on food supplies - not so straightforward on a Sunday.

After a bit of a discussion, with Stan fearing that we would fall behind on our schedule and me trying to reassure him otherwise, we decided we would just head on as far as the foot of the Tourmalet and end our ride there.

As we had more leisure time on our hands, we made the most of the pleasant bar in the main square of Argeles Gazost and sampled the local brew. Other customers nearby were quite intrigued to hear about our adventure. The said it was tiring enough doing these roads by car ! One thing I did note was the fact that we'd been lucky weatherwise. Many holidaymakers said they were making the most of the weekend after having had a week of wall to wall rain. So it wasn't just London that had had a lousy summer.


At the end of the afternoon we then made the 10mile trip over to Luz St Sauveur. This was quite a buzzing town, with lots of activity going on. We easily found ourselves a hotel in a quiet square.
We knew it was going to be an early night for us though, as we would have to do Tourmalet plus the other scheduled classic cols. We had a long day in stall.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Pyrenean Adventure - Part 1

Route : Pau - Gan - Lasseube - Oloron Ste Marie - Asasp - Escot - Col de Marie-Blanque - Plateau de Benou - Bielle - Laruns = 75km
Lodging - Hotel de France, Laruns

We'd obviously brought the bad weather with us when we arrived at Pau. I did not relish the prospect of riding 45 miles over drizzly mountains, as I looked at the grim day through the airport window. We'd inadvertently brought the bad weather from England with us.


Talking to folks in Pau they didn't make us feel any more reassured when they said the weather had been pretty bad all summer. Finally a local couple, impressed by our plans and wanting to be positive told us that they forecast sunshine for the afternoon and we'd be fine. "The sun always shines on the Aubisque", the man said as we parted company.

This was a short day cycling wise. We'd only had a few hours' sleep so we didn't want to do any heroics.

After lunch in Pau town Centre (Centre Commercial, Bosquet) we made our way to the mountains.
Even though we were on main roads it was surprising how few cars there were - especially on a sunny saturday afternoon.

Initially the terrain was very green and rolling - it was rather like cycling in Kent. Then after Oloron Ste Marie we got a proper view of the mountains in all their glory - and the threatening clouds ahead ! We decided to press on with our ride anyway, knowing that we had waterproofs etc to cope if there were a downpour. Luckily the rain never came. In fact the weather got hotter, and by the time we reached Escot to start the climb up the col de Marie-Blanque the heat was a little more than we would have wanted.

I wasn't fully used to my pannier laden bike at this point, and wasn't comfortable about riding out of the saddle. Also the cleats on one of my pedals wasn't properly adjusted and at times my foot would fall out. I felt even less confident.

I didn't know much about the Marie-Blanque - just that it had been used in the etape du tour 2004, was steep, but short. The fact that the col was tackled near the end of a 100mile back ride on that occassion would have made it understandable that this was hard work. We only had about 20miles in our legs and we weren't too fatigued so I thought I'd be ok for the 5 mile climb. How wrong I was ! The first 2 miles were ok - they were around 6 or 7%. However the last 3 miles were a real killer. The gradient didn't go below 12%. Stan recorded a few sections of 18% on his alitmetre.

I was panting so much and sweating profusely in the afternoon heat. My quads were burning and my back was protesting as I struggled up the hill in the saddle. I had to stop every mile, just to get my breath back. I realised the compact chain-set would not be enough. Oh hell !

Stan stopped with me as I rested up in the odd shaded area I could find. He was red-faced and sweating, so I knew this was tough for him too.

When we reached the top, we were greeted by applauses from holiday makers who were picnic-ing at the summit. The were very impressed with our feat. "You've certainly not taken the easy way round." they marvelled.

I was glad just to see a bit of flat. The rest of the ride was more of a celebration that we'd made it up our first col. For me I'd had to grapple this first achievement from the arms of failure. I was pleased I'd done it nevertheless.


It was great to reach Laruns in the early evening and have our dinner in the shadow of the majestic mountains around.

Photos by: Stan & 2wheelchick

Pyrenean Adventure - Intro

I'd had it in mind to do a big ride through a mountain range or other this year. Last year I rode part of the Route des Grandes Alpes. I'd also been a few times to the Dolomites. So with only very limited experience of the Pyrenees (mainly from the Etape du Tour of 2002 and 2003), we decided it would be good to spend time over there.

The aim was to do something as close as we could manage to a trans-pyrenean ride, and be self supported. It was a bit of a daunting task - the gradients in the Pyrenees tend to be more brutal than in the Alps. The weather is also capricious. But our incentive was the beaches that would await us once we reached the Mediterranean, and our weekend in Barcelona.

Stan chose to take his mountain bike because it would be sturdier than his road bike for carrying panniers, and also he would have a good choice of gears. I chose my road bike as it would be lighter, and the brakes would be better if we got into wet conditions. I used the wheels from my cyclo cross bike for better grip, and also switched the carbon fibre seat post for a steel one, so it would cope with the pannier rack. Gearing wise, I believed I would be ok with the compact chain set (34-50) and 12-27 sprocket. Stan wasn't so sure.

The plan would be this :

1. Take the train from central London to Stansted on Fri 24th August, spend the night at a B&B in Takeley, 2 miles from the airport.

2. Ride to Stansted Airport at 3.30am on Sat 25th, put our bikes in bags and get the 6am flight (with Ryanir) to Pau

3. Arrive at Pau airport, set up our bikes, ride to Pau town centre.

4. Find a post office and send our bike bags to the hotel in Barcelona where we would be staying

5. Start our Pyrenean tour Saturday afternoon

6. Reach the Med Coast (St Cyprien Plage) on Thursday 30th August

7. Do the short ride from St Cyprien (France) to Portbou (Spain) on Friday 31st

8. Catch a train to Barcelona, where we would spend the weekend

9. Fly back to London Gatwick (with British Airways) on Sunday 2nd Sept

10. Train from Gatwick to East Croydon, and then ride back home.

I hadn't done any specific training for the ride - I hoped that the usual routine of road racing, track racing, cyclosportives, and the training that goes with it would be enough.
I had already used my panniers on my road bike in the past so I was comfortable with doing that.
However, despite all that preparation you always feel a little anxious about how things will actually turn out. There'd be many stages to go through between leaving London on 24th August, and returning on 2nd September.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Tour of Britain at Palace

So it all happened yesterday - the second high profile bike race to start in London -this time, the Tour of Britain.

We weren't in Central London this time, but in the South London 'burb of Crystal Palace Park. Ok, it's not exactly Westminster or Trafalgar Square, but it's still picturesque, with a circuit that makes for great racing. It's also, most importantly, five minutes from my house. Very convenient !

This proved to be of particular benefit to me as I was racing in the women's support race at 10am. It's a real joy to be able to just fall out of bed half an hour before the race starts, get your kit on, take your bike and roll up to the start line ! Well, actually I did have to get some breakfast (a couple of hours before start time); I also had to clean my bike, sign on, recce the unfamiliar part of the circuit which had been specially opened up for the race. So it wasn't quite the seamless transition I might have wanted.

My race was short but not sweet. A clash of women's events meant that numbers were down on previous years. Where there'd normally have been around 40 riders this year there were just 13. Despite the low numbers, gaining a top 10 place was still going to be a challenge given the quality field that lined up at the start gantry.

Once proceedings were underway and we had taken in the elements of the circuit at race pace I quickly realised how tough the course was. The fast descent past the athletics track did not provide much momentum for us to tackle what followed - a flat section into a light head wind, followed by a narrow strait up a 10% "power ramp", which led us into a 200m section of steady climbing, before completing the lap via a fast chicane.

A tough relentless course. Crystal Palace holds a summer league on a short version of this course. Many people fear it and the ruthlessness of the corners and the climb, which riders negotiate about every 2mins on the 800m circuit. I had foolishly thought that this longer version wouldn't be as bad as the Tuesday circuit as we'd be doing a full 1.5mile circuit so there'd be more recovery time between each ascension of that hill.

There probably was more recovery time, but I didn't notice it as the breakneck pace was forced by Marianne Britten (Severn RC) and Charlotte Blackman (London Dynamo). My legs were in pain on the climb and going through the fast flat start/finish section did not provide enough recovery before having to push hard to keep up with the attacks on the descent. So my first few laps were spent hanging onto the coat-tails of the peloton.

Though the climb proved a little tight and led to bunching, the area was still big enough to accommodate our intimate group. However, as in race situations there's always the inevitable squeezing through to get nearer the front. This squeezing through and elbowing led to handbags between a couple of girls, and one of the riders hit the deck. Other riders weren't too happy that they were almost brought down, and some were dropped after being caught up behind events.
As I'd not been able to keep up in the thick of things I was "lucky" enough to not be affected by the incident, and just witnessed it ahead of me.

It did make for a bit of a post-race talking point - unfortunately overshadowing the talk about the race in general, the course, the fact that the women managed to catch the junior men who'd set off a minute ahead of us, and the overall magnitude of the occasion.

Shortly after the crash I was dropped for good (as were one or two others) and I continued round the course as fast as I could while riding through the pain. There were still sizeable crowds spectating at this early stage in the day, and their cheers really gave me a boost to continue.
Stanley was also offering to buy me lunch, as an incentive to finish the race. After 8 laps the race was over, with Janet Birkmyre (Planet X) again having won from a small group of contenders. I finished a lap down on her.

Racing lesson of the day : For a sweeter race at Palace I need to cause myself more pain in my training sessions, and be near the front when going up tight hills !

After my race, I felt a lot more relaxed and enjoyed catching up with loads of cycling folks I hadn't seen all year, plus others that I normally only ever see in bike kit. It's always nice to discover how nice someone's hair looks - or doesn't look, as the case may be !

It was funny watching team cars struggling around the course to keep up with the international professionals during the prologue, as they whizzed around the chicanes and sped up the hills. (Actually, a few of the pros struggled up THAT hill.)
The sun shone, conditions were warm, there was a real festival atmosphere, and Mark Cavendish (T-Mobile) won the Prologue, to everyone's delight.

The Tour of Britain will continue it's way up North, eventually finishing in Glasgow next Saturday. Good Luck to the riders !


photos by : John Mullineaux, Belinda Sinclair and Stan

Monday, 3 September 2007

Summer seems so long ago !


This time yesterday Stanley and myself were enjoying tapas on a cafe terrace near the Picasso museum in Barcelona. The sun was hot and we'd been trying to find somewhere shady to sit. Even I found myself burning at one point !

The previous day was spent lounging on the beach at Sitges in 30 + degree heat. I kept burning my feet when getting up to walk barefoot through the sand.

Today, given that we only arrived back in London in the early hours of the morning I was in a rush to get ready and out for work. Putting on the only clean blouse and cardigan I could find with my trousers seemed enough clothing to wear in this morning's sunshine. But it wasn't. The northerly wind definitely had a cooling effect. 16 degrees celsius was a bit of a shock to the system after our adventures in southern France and Spain.

So here I am sat at my desk (during lunch hour) getting back into the swing of work and the drudgery of London life ! The holiday had to end some time I suppose !

Anyway, before I forget, a brief run-down of where we went for our Trans-Pyrenean adventure :

Day 1 :
Pau to Laruns (via Oloron Ste Marie, Col de Marie-Blanque)

Day 2 :
Laruns to Luz St Sauveur (via col d'Aubisque, col du Soulour, Argeles Gazost)

Day 3 :
Luz St Sauveur to St Beat (via col du Tourmalet, col d'Aspin, Arreau, col du Peyresourde, Bagneres de Luchon)

Day 4 :
St Beat to Massat (via col de Mente, col du Portet d'Aspet, St Girons)

Day 5 :
Massat to Querigut (via col de Porte, Tarascon sur Ariege, Ax les Thermes, col de Pailheres)

Day 6 :
Querigut to St Cyprien (via col de Garavel, col de Jau, col de Ternere)

Day 7 :
St Cyprien Plage to Portbou (Spain) (via Coulliore, Port Vendres, Cerbere)
then train to Barcelona

650km cycling through the pyrenees, climbing lots of cols, while carrying 10kg of panniers on a slightly overgeared bike. I am glad I stuck with the challenge and hopefully am abit stronger for it, albeit with a slightly sore bum !

Day 8 : Sunbathing in Sitges
Day 9 : Basking in Barcelona

A great fun-packed holiday. More details and photos to follow (I promise).

Saturday, 1 September 2007

!Hola¡


Finally arrived somewhere that I can get on-line. We are in sunny Barcelona having a well deserved break after crossing the Pyrenees - countless cols and equally countless kilometres done. Forget Tourmalet and Marie-Blanque - the hardest part was negotiating an incredibly windy coast road from St Cyprien to Portbou - the Tramontane works in scary ways !!

We´ve had a great time, and are really pleased with our little adventure. (More about that + photos later.)

Anyway, off to do more lounging and sunbathing with Stan. We may even go to Sitges for the day (without our bikes). Mind you, there´s the slight snag of getting hold of our bike bags that we sent on to here when we arrived in Pau 8 days ago. The man at the pòst office says they are sitting in an office in Madrid right now. Hopefully it´ll be all right on the flight !