Friday, 28 December 2007

'07 Over and Out - Hello '08 !

2007 - a fun-packed year

High points and Achievements :
Winning 2 cyclo cross races
Gaining my 2nd category road racing licence
Having a crash free road race season
Making it round the Fred Whitton Challenge cyclosportive
Braving the cobbles of Flanders
Crossing the Pyreneees on two wheels with all our bags
Sunbathing and getting drunk in Sitges
Riding around with lots of Italians !

Low points :
So much rain at Palace
So much rain at Herne Hill
Sooo much rain at Hillingdon
Lots of races cancelled !!
Bottling out of a race at Thruxton and opting to be a WAG for the morning while Stanley raced
Freezing my bosoms off cycling on the lost and lonely military road in the Isle of Wight
Having the flu and then a chest infection
Messing up my elbow in between having the flu and a chest infection


Things to look forward to in 2008 :
New club and team-mates
Doing a full women's road season
Meeting lots more cyclists
Becoming a better racer (lol !)
Riding well on the track (lol even more !)
Doing the Giro di Sardegna
La Marmotte (et encore plus)
Going ski-ing
Gaining a mean lean frame !!
Becoming healthy again
More blogging

Oh well, can't achieve much of the above in my current bugged up state. Rest and recuperation still beckons. Doc says I need to wait a week longer before I can do any sporting activity (boo hoo). New years resolutions - they've gotta be made, I suppose.

Happy New Year !

Bye Bye Cross !

Oh well, so that's it. My relationship with cross has come to an abrupt end - at least for the 2007/8 season. Boo hoo !
I got my nine races dones, so I have a ranking in the London League at least. The aim had been to do two or three more races though to convert some of the weaker results. But it wasn't to be. A dnf at Herne Hill, being ill (yet again) and a need to concentrate on my road training in January has now put paid to any chance of improving my ranking. Well, actually my position has been ok so far, but over the next few weeks it will drop as the other women complete their 9 races. I will be lucky to finish in the top 3.

Anyway, it has been a rocky (well actually muddy) road but I have enjoyed my cyclo cross season. I will miss the weekly mudfest, the scary descents, the clumsy (and sometimes) comical crashes. Hopefully I'll bump into my cyclo cross buddies at road, track and cyclosportive events.

But for now, I need to concentrate on getting better. I had the flu in late October. It took a while to get over that. I've since had a bad cold, which also knocked me for six over Christmas. I'm struggling to be fit and well for New Year - not an easy task. Stan is threatening to confiscate all my worldly goods from me so that I have no choice but to stay in my room and rest ! Luckily, I'm going to the wilds of Wales where rain, cold and wind are forecast - so that'll be an excuse to chill out and rest in the warmth of the cottage. Service will resume as soon as possible.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Merry Christmas !

Have a Good One - throw the training plan out the window and for one day in the year - indulge and be merry !!

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Christmas Cross

It's been so cold here in London recently that bets on a white Christmas shortened to 2-1 a few days ago. That has all changed though now, with temperatures having moved up to a searing 8 degrees celsius - in fact rain is now forecast for Christmas Day.

I had been looking forward to the possibility of racing today or this Thursday in the snow - I can only imagine it would've looked like this :

Christmas and Cycling

Hell, another cold has laid me off cycling (and all physical activity) for a few days.
So instead of enjoying a good bit of Christmas holiday bike rides and cross races I've been condemned to spending days in bed staring inanely at the TV. I was meant to be going up North today and doing a cross race in Yorkshire. No chance of that - It's still touch and go as to if I can race at Footscray Meadows on 27th December. We'll see.
I haven't even been able to get any Crimbo shopping done - hopefully I'll be out later today when the crowds are dying down.

On the subject of Christmas presents :

Dear Santa,

I know you've already had requests for the usual stuff - downloadable heart-rate monitor, power tap, cadence monitor, a Colnago C50, the latest Assos jersey, plus some Minx-Girl stuff for when I want to bring out my feminine side that bit more, ooh and of course some trendy Rapha mitts, blah blah blah....but please could I also have :

1. A butler who can organise my racing kit and bikes for all the training and racing I've got planned for 2008. If he could be a good bike washer and a dab hand with the old maintenance that would be great too. Oh, and if he could be on hand to give me my favourite post-race food immediately the race finishes and be ready to tidy everything up for me by the time I get back in the car that would be great !

2. A personal assistant to organise my racing diary and my race entries, book my transport and accommodation for the road races and gran fondos I plan to do. I know I don't race anywhere near the level to merit this type of elite treatment, but I do try hard and I have to fit racing around my life as a busy working noughties woman.

3. A psychologist to gee me up, pick me up and calm me down when I get the heeby jeebies before a race - especially when I've seen who I'm up against. Help with visualisation techniques would be very useful. Ok, coaches can fill this role - but that's not always guaranteed and extra confidence building never does any harm.

This might be a big ask, but you don't have to supply everything on December 25th - I can wait till late February to have everything. Failing that, do you know if Wiggle or Chain Reaction might be offering special deals on this sort of thing ??

All the Best to you and your Reindeer !

Wanna do the Giro della Penisola Sorrentina e Costiera Amalfitana ?

1. This is a fairly small event by gran fondo standards. In 2007 there were 700 competitors. Having said that it was still treated as a big event in the local Sorrento/Massa Lubrense area. Many Italians had travelled from distant parts of Southern Italy to do this event.

2. A few people from the organising committee spoke English, but this was largely an Italian event with no other riders from the UK present. There were a few people of Central European origin there (who seemed to bag the prizes) but apart from them I did not see any other non-Italians.

3. It is therefore worth knowing a little more than a smattering of Italian when doing the event. On the other hand, when staying in nearby Sorrento this town is quite touristic (and also popular for Conferences, Congresses etc) with alot of Americans around so you can get by ok without knowing much Italian.

4. It is possible to enter in advance by filling out their form, faxing it and sending a direct bank transfer. However, it is possible to enter in person 2 days before the event (on the Friday) by going to a designated venue which is mentioned in the pre-race blurb. Failing that if you telephone the organiser he can arrange to meet you and do your entry for you. He'll also brief you abit on the race - which is how I did it.

5. As this is a big cycling event in the area many of the local cafes, bars, cycle shops and other shops will have posters advertising it.

6. Registration takes place the day before the event. Get there either very early or very late. At other times the place is very busy and a bit chaotic. Hey, this is Southern Italy !!

7. The goody bag is generous - there's alot of local produce - wine, limoncella, pasta etc.

8. There's nowhere to leave belongings while you ride so just go with what you need (if riding) or leave stuff in your car.

9. In 2007 the race start was at Sant'Agata sui due Golfi. I rode up there from Sorrento. It was a 5 mile ride uphill ride on a twisting road. I was nicely warmed up by the time I got there !

10. The course was rolling, with 2 significant climbs - one of around 10km at 5%, the other of 5km at 8%. Apart from that there was nothing especially challenging. With the course following the most famous parts of the Amalfi coast you were constantly treated to amazing views during the ride - no chance to get bored !

11. The 118km are treated more like a glorified road race by many, with the winner finishing in a bit more than 3 hours. The cut-off time is generous though, with people being given up to 6 hours to complete the distance.

12. There were 2 feedstations along the way - well stocked with food, though it's worth taking your own preferred energy nutrition in case they're serving stuff you're not used to.

13. The race, especially in the early part goes through small touristic towns that are generally busy but this is ok as there are police outriders that close the roads so you get a free run through the town.

14. The post race meal is generous and takes place in a cafe style format outdoors. They have a stage built specially for the prize presentation.

15. Prizes are very generous. The winning guy got a Viner Bikes frame and a weekend for 2 in Sorrento. The winning woman got a prize of similar value. As not many women took part all of us got prizes and had our moment of glory on the stage too !

16. I would recommend this event because it's a chance to do an event in Southern Italy along the stunning and dramatic Amalfi Coast and it's good value for money. The organisers are very friendly and welcoming, and are keen to have their event appeal to people as far afield as possible. This is a good early season cyclosportive and being in Southern Italy the weather is going to be warmer than many places in Northern Europe.

Wanna do the Fred Whitton Challenge ?

Here is my experience of the ride from a few years ago

1. This is probably one of the toughest cyclosportives you could do in the UK. It takes in all the (in)famous climbs of the Lake District over a distance of 112miles (~180km). There is no choice of distance !

2. There's lots of climbing - just under 4,000m. As well as going over Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose passes you also go over a number of other climbs that are known to the locals. Note also that the dreaded Hardknott and Wrynose pass are to be climbed after having ridden approximately 95 hilly miles !

3. Hardknott is scaled from the tough side (West to East). Wrynose is scaled by the "easier" side - but at that stage you will, along with many others, be obliged to get off and walk at least part of the climb!

4. This may sound very tough but don't let it put you off. It's just a matter of being prepared. Low gears - possibly even mountain bike gears would be very helpful.
If you are of average fitness you will probably need at least 34 x 26 to ride comfortably - in any case a compact chainset or a triple. Practice loads of hill reps and climbing - preferably up 20% climbs. A trip over there wouldn't go a-miss.

5. Take gear for all weathers. A shower is not uncommon in these parts. Also consider your tyres. The climbs are tough. The descents (especially from Honister and from Wrynose) are very steep and technical. Grippy tyres would be a safer option.

6. You can set off when you like. Any time after about 6am is ok. The cut-off time is to be past Buttermere, near the 2nd feedstation by midday.

7. The fast riders take around 6 hours. The slowest riders can take around 12 hours.
The race is usually won by a Northerner and this event is taken very seriously by the club riders around the north of England. A southerner finishing in the top 10 is doing very well !
Those looking for a fast time set off at around 9am with the "serious" crew who ride in a big peloton, charging through the lanes. Don't think they will ease off the pace when they reach Honister Pass - they don't! A few will even finish in under 6 hours. If you are likely to finish in around 6 hours that's ok, but if you're not up to doing that you'll pay for it massively later!

8. Honister Pass is the first main difficulty - not just because it's got a 25% ramp in it, but also because it happens at a time when the riders are still bunched together. Many people get off and walk, so it makes it difficult to ride through the crowd. By the time you reach Hardknott the riders are well strung out - but then climbing ramps of more than 30% bring their own difficulties !

9. This ride is not sign-posted so keep the map with you - having said that, there are enough riders around for you to know the way and there aren't that many roads around for you to get lost on !

10. There are 3 feedstations - all are well stocked on food and drink. There is a good post-race snack served at the finish line and a bar.

11. There is no mechanical support, so make sure your bike is in good working order.

12. If you can, try and stay in Coniston itself and then you're within easy reach of the start/finish area. We stayed at Lakeland House Guest House. There was also a pub/hotel (The Crown) a few doors down from us which offered accommodation.

13. We didn't bother to take on the 6 hour drive from London. Instead we took the train to Oxenholme on Friday evening (3hour journey), stayed in Kendal and then rode over to Coniston on Saturday morning. (It was also possible to take the train all the way to Windermere and then ride from there, but we decided to take the scenic route.)

14. Entries for this event open on the first or second Tuesday in January at midnight . You have to download the form and post your completed entry form with the fee IMMEDIATELY. Entries are limited to 1,000 riders. In 2007 the organiser received 200 hand delivered entries from local riders on the morning that entries opened. Don't even leave it to Wednesday to download your form !

15. I would recommend this event because it's a really good challenge and you get a great feeling of satisfaction to have completed it. There's a good camaraderie among the riders. It's well organised, and despite it's popularity the event still has a local grass roots feel about it (as opposed to a corporate impersonal event). Fred Whitton's widow is usually there and is always happy to talk to the riders, thank them for coming and ask about how they found the event etc. And of course the scenery here is just stunning.

The 2011 event will take place on Sunday 8th May.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Wanna do the Gran Fondo Pinarello ?

I am meant to do a quick low-down on the cyclo sportives I do. I only managed to do one on the Tour of Flanders so far, so let me press on with others that I did this year - starting with the Pinarello event.

1. This is one of the few gran fondos in Italy where you have to enter in advance and state which distance you wish to ride.

2. There are slightly more people who do the full 200km course, than those that do the shorter 140km distance.

3. With around 4,000 entrants in 2007 this was the 4th largest Gran Fondo in Italy. (The Nove Colli, Maratona des Dolomites and GF Selle Italia had higher numbers.)

4. In 2007 this was the hottest event I rode - in fact the hottest cyclosportive ever - at 8am temperatures were around 20degrees - at midday when riding up to Nevegal ski station it was getting to 35 degrees !

5. You register (sign on/show your racing licence/pick up a generous goody bag) the day before. It is possible to do it on the morning of the event, though get there earlier as there are thousands of riders milling around and you may not get seen as quickly as you want.*
Also if you're in one of the front pens it may be a little difficult to reach your spot if you get delayed. Plus, with all the fanfare they have on stage prior to departure it would be a shame to miss that spectacle.

6. Competitors start in different pens - VIPs, elites and women are in the front pens - the remaining men are split into pens according to age group. Get there at least half an hour early so you can find your pen easily.
The pace is very fierce at the start with people squeezing through on all sides. Make sure you can hold your own in a bunch !

7. There are 5 feedstops - all are well stocked with food and energy drink + coca cola. The 5th feedstop is 20 miles from the end and only about 15 miles after the 4th feedstop - a bit excessive ?? When you see what you have to climb in between you'll be glad of that 5th feedstop !

8. Make sure your tyres are in good nick - there's a 3 mile section of unmade road (strada bianchi) on the ride up to Nevegal ski station.** There are good mechanical support services if you do need assistance.

9. The race HQ and start point in Treviso are easy to find - they are in Treviso town centre - near the Pinarello shop in fact !

10. There is nowhere to leave bags while you race so either leave home with just what you need (if you are cycling there) or leave the stuff in your car.

11. There is ample parking near the start in car parks that are on either side of the river.

12. Apparently there are showers - they were sign-posted but I didn't actually find them.

13. The post race meal is in a big marquee with a full sit-down area and a bar. I would normally have had a beer but after my 200km foray in blazing heat I was in no real state to take on alcohol !

14. Treviso itself is a nice town - abit overlooked with the more famous cities of Venice and Verona nearby, but I would recommend spending a day strolling around there. Also if you get the chance to do more riding in the area why not head northwards out towards the famous Monte Grappa climb.

15. Treviso has an airport just outside the town. Ryanair flies there from the UK. Venice is only about 20miles away too. We flew into Verona and hired a car - mainly because we wanted to visit the Veneto region. The motorway drive is about an hour - however when going in the Verona - Venice direction there's alot of summer holiday congestion getting through the exit toll booth at Mestre and we ended up getting into a 45min jam just to get off the motorway !

16. I'd recommend it because : it's a well organised event that is easy to get to. It's well sign posted, riders are well provided for during and after the race. The course is very pretty. The climbs are challenging enough but not horrendous. It's also a chance to pick up some stylish Pinarello stuff while you're over there !

* The 2008 edition will be on Sunday 20th July at 7am (long course)/7.30am (short course).
You pick up your race pack/timing chip/show your cycling licence on Saturday 19th July between 9am and 7pm at the race HQ. It isn't possible to do so on the day of the race.

** The 2008 edition will be on a revised course, in which the climb up to Nevegal will be on a different side to the 2007 edition. The new section will be undulating and will include a climb up to Rive di Valmorel and a tricky descent.
The horrible Montello climb 30km from the end will still be included though !

Maintenance - Ugh !!

Cyclo cross is to me as how some guys find their girlfriends - loads of fun, great to be involved with it, gives great highs - but boy is it high maintenance. You've gotta do the right thing at the specific moments otherwise before long you'll get nagging protesting noises and suddenly things go awry big time !

That's what happened to me last Sunday. I hadn't cleaned my bike properly after my previous muddy capers at Stanmer Park. So I paid for it at Herne Hill. A marshall helped me tighten the gear cable, but that did nothing to help my knackered jockey wheels or wonky derailleur. So my race proceeded with difficulty. Pedalling was hard work even before I hit the sticky muddy sections. The slipping gears didn't help matters any, and I continued to slip further and further down the field on my peers. In the end I couldn't go much further at any decent speed and so my race came to an abrupt end.

Thankfully those nice people at Condor Cycles were able to fix the problem quite quickly.
But why can't I maintain my bike ? I hear you say. The answer is I loathe cleaning and maintenance.
When racing cross you can easily spend more time cleaning the thing than actually riding. Where's the fun in that ?

A fellow cyclo cross rider commented on how, even though he had 2 bikes with him at the Stanmer Park race he preferred to soldier on with the one extremely muddy bike than swap it over to a more freely moving clean spare bike. The reason : he couldn't bear to spend hours on Monday cleaning two muddy bikes. Just to clean the one bike had taken him all morning - at least he has the luxury of being able to spend Monday morning cleaning bikes while the rest of us slave away at our desks !

OK - so I know it was a little bit naughty of me to not make any attempt to clean the bike, so I rightfully suffered the consequences. (I will clean my bike regularly in future.) However I must admit that beyond bike cleaning, inner tube changing and the odd lubing here and there I become a hopeless case - changing brake pads, adjusting headsets, indexing - you've lost me there - this is where I become such a girl !

I'll probably develop a bit of confidence to do these things myself once I'm in a sink or swim situation, but as long as I've got the likes of Condor Cycles, Sigma Sport, De Ver Cycles, Geoffrey Butlers and Pearsons etc to help out I'd prefer to support their businesses while at the same time being sure that I have parts that are in tip top condition when I race. The Herne Hill cyclo cross round was a bit unfortunate, but it's unlikely to happen again soon - afterall this is only my first dnf in 3 seasons of cross racing.

And who never knows - maintenance, like Guinness and Marmite may become an acquired taste over time.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The Hapless Rider - Post Script

Despite the severe weather warnings of gale force winds and heavy rain along the South Coast, Stan and I still made the trip down to Brighton to do the London League Cyclo Cross race at Stanmer Park.

I wasn't relishing riding in the pouring rain and I was still feeling a bit tired from my previous day's training. At least I had the cyclo cross bike though, as opposed to my trusty but rather heavy Rockhopper.

Usually I like to arrive at the races an hour before so I've got full preparation, warm-up and recce-ing time before the start. However on grotty days like this I'm quite happy to get there a little later as I can't be bothered hanging about in the cold and wet too long. I generally get everything done in one hit - all in under half an hour - out of the car in my kit, carrying the gear I need, ride up to the sign-on, warm up and start the race very soon afterwards.

Unfortunately, I mistimed things a little when I decided to go to the loo 5 minutes before the start. And for some strange reason in the signing-on hut, I busied myself folding up all my warm-down clothes into neat piles. (Hell, I don't even do that at home !)
Imagine my surprise when I looked up from what I'd been doing to see all the riders tearing off up the field and I wasn't even within reach of my bike. "I think they've started," someone very observantly pointed out ! Funnily enough I still didn't see that as an incentive to hurry up.

I just calmly and slowly took my bike and rode across the field to start my "race". Admittedly I did feel a bit silly riding across the start line a good minute after everyone had left, and they'd already rounded the bend and were at the top of the hill !

At moments like this you end up just riding like you've got nothing to lose. There's no real tactic that enters your mind - you just turn the pedals and do what you can as fast as you can. The terrain was so muddy - it was like riding through brown rice pudding. On the first run-up my bike got clogged up to the point I could no longer wheel it. Unclogging it cost me more time. I wanted to pack. But hey, I'd paid my money. Also the car was locked so if I stopped now I would only have ended up standing around getting cold. So riding around getting very muddy was the least worst option. So on I continued squelching up the field, through the trees, and then down again.

I also figured that to avoid getting the bike clogged it would be essential to carry the bike on all the muddy run-ups. Not an easy task as the bike was probably 50% heavier with all the mud it had collected, and I was having to use my dodgy arm. Then when I thought things were already pretty bad I got caught in a really strong gust, on one of the most exposed parts of the course. I was almost blown over !

Then a point comes when your character comes out and you decide you're gonna soldier on. Someone up there is taking the piss (almost literally) and you've had enough. You're not having anymore of it and you're gonna stand up and be counted ! The terrain went from sticky to treacherous, with many people taking a tumble. I slid and dabbed my way through a number of very dicey sections - especially where traction with the wheel was practically inexistent. I was determined to finish. And on this day finishing the race at all would be an achievement in itself.

So that's what I did - I managed to finish. And on top of that, by some miracle I didn't come last. My diligent pedal spinning managed to get me past a few people, and I ended up doing not such a shameful ride in the end ! My bike might have been unrecognisable in all the mud, but hey - I think things just got better !

photos by Phil Jones (Dulwich Paragon) and Stanley