Friday, 15 December 2017

Another year, another trip to Paris! Part 2: Beauvais

Arriving into Beauvais at lunchtime knowing that I had finished my cycling for the day was quite a nice feeling.

Hell, I had started my bike ride at roughly 5 am so I deserved to finish at 1pm! It was a warm, sunny day, lots of people were out, the shops were open, which is not always the case in small French towns at this time of year, and I felt quite fresh.
As the day was still young I knew I could take my time with things. So I spent  a bit of time admiring and photographing the very imposing cathedral.

I had never really considered Beauvais to be a touristic town, but then again Ryanair do fly there – they even call it their Paris destination! So I imagine a fair few people will stop by and admire this “lovely surburb of Paris” before heading properly into the city of light.

And there were many people in Beauvais, looking at the St Pierre cathedral and the nearby Musée de l'Oise. Some folks were British. Where else could they have been from – this couple that spoke to each other in thick Liverpudlian accents?!
I then moved on to reach my hotel. I hadn’t quite expected it to be so far out of town, or that it would be up a hill. Gee, I had just come down a big hill to get into the town, and here I was already climbing again just to reach my rest and recuperation spot!

I guess nothing good comes to you without putting in a bit of effort first! And that good thing came in the shape of the Ibis Hotel, Beauvais. Yes, a big-chain hotel that may have been lacking in style. But it had everything I needed - friendly receptionists, a decent sized bedroom and bathroom, strong Wifi connection, a bar, and even a room for my bike - a room, not an alleyway outdoors at the back of the building or a leaky shed. An actual room that was on par with my bedroom minus a telly, a bed and a bathroom!

And it didn't stop there - they were serving meals, but there were a number of restaurants nearby also doing the same. There was a hypermarket about a mile away selling everything, including bike bits, and, hold onto your hats - they had Decathlon and Intersport right opposite. Who says you can't have a good time in Beauvais!

After an afternoon nap I went out for a walk in the local area. It was nothing to write home about. Just your typical neighbourhood on the outskirts of a town near an airport, with yoofs in a skateboard park and ladies of various ethnicities in housecoats gossiping over the garden fence. Think more Hounslow than Richmond!

There were a number of other cyclists staying in the hotel too, and I saw them sitting out on the terrace discussing their ride. I said hello to them and exchanged a few words as cyclists do. They were also riding to Paris, though at a more leisurely than me, by stretching their trip over 4 days.

The London-Paris cycle ride is a well-beaten route for many cyclists, including organised touring groups and charity bike riders, of which this group were a part. This is probably the fifth time I am riding to Paris, and I have yet to do the ride as part of an organised group. In a way I must admit I feel quite relieved to not be part of such a group because the people I meet who go on these rides can only say "I went from London to Paris by bike. Get that!" That's all very well and good, but then all they know about is London, and about Paris. They don't know the names of the places in between, including places they stopped at. All they know is the fact that they followed a ride leader through some rather nice countryside, ate some good food and ended up at the Eiffel Tower. And they probably didn't interact with a single French person along the way!

That's rather a shame, but then again maybe that's how it should be. But hey, when did I ever travel in the way it should be done!

And with that thought I went to bed feeling satisfied, after a hearty meal at La Boucherie.

Photos to follow



Sunday, 10 December 2017

Another year, another trip to Paris! - Part 1: Avenue Verte

Earlier this year I cycled to Paris. I did a similar trip last year, and I thought I would like to repeat the experience hopefully this time without the hitches.

I would love to do the full monty right from Central London by bike, riding all the way to the Ferry terminal at Newhaven. However, time constraints and annual leave from work meant that my cycling didn't actually start until I reached French soil. So strictly speaking I did a Dieppe to Paris trip!

On the way to Dieppe again!

I boarded the 10pm ferry from Newhaven, and arrived in Dieppe at around 4.30am. By the time I had rolled off the ferry and gone through passport control it was almost 5.30am.

That was handy for me because I hadn't booked any accommodation in Dieppe, figuring that at that time of the morning it would be feasible to start cycling immediately. However, it was late August, the roads were still dark and I was slightly apprehensive about how tricky it may be along the unlit Avenue Verte. Furthermore, this rail trail, being in bowl, meant that there may be a hanging mist. The prospect of riding through the woods in these conditions didn't really excite me.


So for me, it was handy to just saunter through Dieppe up to the start of the trail in Arques la Bataille. Helpfully, by the time I got there the sun was just breaking through, so it wasn't pitch dark. I was looking forward to the sun coming up completely in a hope that I might a bit warm as well. Because this part of the Avenue Verte colllects morning dew and dampness it tends to be a few degrees colder than the immediate surrounding areas. In any case, it was cold and I had dressed for the occasion by wearing two waterproofs on top of my cycle jersey, as well as a high vis gilet. It sounds like overkill, but I needed it!


To be on the Avenue Verte or Not to be on Avenue Verte - That is the question

It was lovely and peaceful riding through this part of France with no one else around, and just the trees and the birds for company, and the odd car passing by on the adjacent D1 minor road. I always like that early bird feeling where you get to see the daybreak before anyone else.

As it happened I wasn't the only person cycling along the disused railway line. A group of four or five riders who had been on the same ferry as me also took the Avenue, though I am not sure whether they were going all the way to Paris, or if they were just looking for a nice night ride in Normandy. They weren't carrying much luggage and they were just on hybrid bikes, so I can't imagine they could have been going that far. In fact when I saw them they were already having a snack stop and we were less than 10 miles into the ride!

As the time drew to around 7 o'clock I saw a number of riders going in the opposite direction, and they were mainly French. I am guessing there must have been a 8am or 9am ferry due to leave for the UK. So it seems that this ride is as popular with Londoners wanting to go to Paris as it is with Parisians wanting to come to London.

Next, a few other people who passed me slowed down to ride along for a short while.

They were a couple that looked quite fit, and it looked like they were riding with a mission as they were hoping to get to the suburbs of Paris by the end of the day, and they were hardly carrying any gear on them.

So along the Avenue Verte to Paris it seems you can meet a variety of cyclists out on a bike ride, and at a variety of times too.

Avenue Verte was a nice as ever once the sun came up, and was lovely and peaceful. At this time of the morning, rush hour, there weren't loads of cyclists on the trail, and in fact there were quite a few vehicles on the various roads that crossed the cycle path.

I took an initial breakfast stop at Neufchatel-en-Bray along the path, where there were benches near a pretty church, and toilets further along the way. There were also residential houses that backed onto the path, and I noted an old woman who didn't seem too impressed to open her curtains and come face to face with my mug! I bid her good day, and the old hag scowled back!

Once the traffic free path ended at Serqueux I stuck as much as possible to the waymarked signs for Avenue Verte up to Forge-les-Eaux. This meant I did quite a pleasant run-in to the village via some quiet residential streets and through some parkland. Forge-les-Eaux was another stopping point to stock up on food and have more breakfast.




A Mustang to COMPlement my ride

I had considered stopping by and saying hello to the guy in the local bike shop where I spent a fair bit of time and money on inner tubes last year. That bike shop had been a godsend. It wasn't open at the time that I passed through, so I pressed on with the next phase of my ride.

For my part I had set out to complete the ride over two days, in a change from last year (and even previous years). So my destination was just going to be Beauvais, a place I passed through very briefly last year. It was the scene of a mad dash to get the last train to Paris in an attempt to avoid being stranded in deepest Normandy after dark!

Like last year, I was riding a Raleigh Mustang gravel bike and carrying panniers. But this time, rather than being on the Mustang Sport, I was testing the upgraded version, a Mustang Comp. This bike comes complete with hydraulic disc brakes and just a single chain ring, complemented with dinner plate sprockets to get me up any hills. The Comp is less weight than the sport, even with my panniers mounted on the bike . I'll take that!


All change at Forge-les-Eaux

It is quite possible to look out for, and follow the characteristic green and white arrows all along the way and end up at Ile de la Cité opposite Notre Dame Cathedral in Central Paris.

The quiet roads and traffic-free paths guarantees that you won't be riding along busy roads. After Forge-les-Eaux I chose not to follow those arrows though, and make up my own route.

That part of France has so many minor ("d" and "c") roads that you can choose any of them and end up on a quiet route. On this Friday morning in August people may well have been on holiday. Otherwise they were hard at it in their offices, their farms, their homes or just shopping. Basically, they were anywhere but on the road! So I had the pick of lot in terms of which route to take, and so I eeked out my own itinerary to Beauvais.

From Forge-les-Eaux the road dropped downhill into the area known as Pays de Bray, where lots of towns called "something or other -en Bray" seemed to pepper the landscape. I don't know what Bray means, but I guess it must be something like "lumpy roads and steep lanes" based on the terrain!

Gerberoy village (from france.fr website)


Hills aside, the landscape is pictureseque with undulating farmers fields and very old villages. Of particular note were the villages of Songeons, Buicourt, and Gerberoy. Apparently Gerberoy is billed as one of the prettiest villages in France. It's certainly a nice place to be, but I wouldn't want to square up to the Mayor of Giverny or one of the many villages in Dordogne and say that!





Rain rain go away!

The weather was very pleasant and sunny, but somewhere I had seen a weather forecast for rain at Beauvais right at the moment I was due to reach the town. So although I was enjoying my ride, I had a nagging thought that sooner or later the sun would turn dark and  I would get drenched as the heavens the opened. Although I was equipped with wet weather gear, I didn't relish the prospect of having to bounce around through puddles and not be able to see the nice view through the dampness. I just had to comfort my self in the fact that my journey would soon come to an end as I was only going as far as Beauvais.

In fact, my ride ended up being rain free. I was even lucky because on the approach to Beauvais the roads were wet like there had just been shower. So France Meteo hadn't been wrong, it was just that I had timed my ride into Beauvais perfectly! Once in this town with its medieval buildings and cathedral I celebrated with an extra large swig of water and and  a Clif Bar (that was all I had left!) before tackling the climb to get up to my hotel in the outskirts of the town.

It had been a pretty ride, with a few famous landmarks along the way. But after having had just two hours' sleep, I was ready to crash out in my hotel room.

My Strava route from Dieppe to Beauvais can be found here.


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Monday, 27 November 2017

52 Cycling Voices - 17: Rochelle Gilmore

Rochelle Gilmore is big in cycling. If you haven't seen her you’ll have definitely heard her extremely knowledgeable punditry on the BBC, ITV, or on Eurosport. 

After a successful career as a professional road and track cyclist (including a Commonwealth Games title on the road) she set up the Wiggle High5 team (then known as Wiggle Honda) in 2013. The team is replete with some of the world's best women racers with a number of world champions. I first met Rochelle a few years ago when they were doing the team presentation in Ghent, Belgium. She came across as driven, motivated, and entrepreneurial, but was still kind, gentle and clearly had the wellbeing of her riders at the forefront of her mind.


Oh, and Rochelle is a successful business woman, and is pretty damn good on the rollers!

Rochelle Gilmore, aged 35

From: Sutherland, New South Wales, Australia

Lives: San Martino di Castrozza, Trento, Italy

Occupation: Manager of Wiggle High5, Businesswoman, Broadcaster/Commentator

I got into cycling when I was three years old. My two older brothers were racing BMX and I just nagged my mum and dad, because I wanted to get out and race with them. So I started BMX racing, and competed with the under-5 boys. At that time and during my early high school days BMX was not an Olympic sport but I really loved just pedalling my bike - getting out of the gates, sprinting, and all the technical aspects of BMX.
Later I was identified through a programme at school where they came and asked if anyone wanted to go and be tested for Olympic potential, as an athlete. There was power testing, short sprints, four-kilometre runs, tests to see how high I could jump, long jump, all that stuff. 

My results were in the top 1% of Australian olympic potentials around the age of 13, and so I got a letter from the government saying they would financially support me for the next three years if I chose one of the sports on the list. There was a choice of rowing, mountain biking, cycling, and triathlon. Because I had done BMX for so long I was keen to do cycling, so I got into track and road cycling through the local Institute of Sport. I was living in a very small country town out in the bush, to the South of Sydney, and they would pick me up from my home and take me to the races. 

Within 3 months I had won an under-15s national title, moved to the New South Wales Institute of Sport and then on to the Australian Institute of Sport. It all happened pretty quick, and was really exciting, especially as I was doing an olympic sport.

Emotionally, My strongest memory from my career was winning a Road World Cup in Australia in 2005. It was a very satisfying moment because I had just transferred from track to road. So for me to win a World Cup in my home country was massive.
Then obviously getting gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games was a high point for me too, because I’d got silver four years before that, and four years before that, so after twelve years I wanted to go there and win. I did not want to come home from the Commonwealth Games with another silver medal. It just feels really great to have won gold now, particularly because the silver medallist in the race was Lizzie Armitstead (Deignan). So it makes it even more special seeing that she has really established herself as one of the world’s absolute best as an all-round cyclist.
I raced alongside Nicole Cooke on the same team, and shared a house with her for seven years. When I think about Nicole Cooke's career I remember those moments when she was just so happy whether a teammate won or she won. I remember the staff would really try to go that extra mile to support her within the pro teams that I rode on with her. There were people who really wanted the best for her. I recall some really beautiful moments in Nicole’s career and I think she took a lot of positive experiences from the sport. 

I don’t have memories of mistreatment or abuse or anything of that. I tend to remember those special moments that we had, travelling around the world together, and the fantastic time we had when we raced in San Francisco. It was just great that our teams were able to take us to those races. Unfortunately we are not hearing those stories from Nicole these days.
I try and keep in touch with the pro cyclists I used to race with. I keep in touch with nearly all of the girls I was with when I went through the Australian teams in AIS and the pro teams I was with. With social media you always know where people are and what they’re up to so even if you don’t speak, much. We are all still involved in cycle sport in some way, and as I was racing for many years, I am not just going to walk away from it. So I do bump into different girls I raced with and love catching up with them.  
This year while in Australia I bumped into was Mari Holden, an American who raced for T-mobile and was World Time trial champion in 2000. She was out there working as a director. I also caught up with Rahna Demarte (now Gerrans) a girl I went to the junior world championships with in 1998, who I hadn’t seen for 15 years. She’s now married to Simon Gerrans. Catching up with her was fantastic as well. Then there are other people like Vic Pendleton and Chris Hoy who I’ll see around the place and catch up with.
The key to the success of Team Wiggle High5 has been in maintaining a decent quality of life for the riders and making sure that rider well-being is at the top of the agenda.
At Wiggle High5 we have an atmosphere where quality of life is the priority so we don’t want unhappy athletes or unhappy staff. You can’t expect riders to get results if they are unhappy. We really look after recovery and the personal interests of the riders. One unique thing about this team is that riders all have some buy-in in the decisions, and the riders really feel like they are important to the team.


Also, all the athletes are really good friends. They have chosen the riders that they like to be around. We make it a priority that everyone is happy with the composition of the team and the personalities we have, and everybody really has each other’s back. That’s one of the mottos within our team, that we have our staff and our team-mates’ back all the time.
For Wiggle High5, results in races are only one part of the team’s aims. Wiggle High5 has always had a strategy to increase publicity for the team through social media campaigns as a way of bringing positive returns for their sponsors.
The money side of things only comes with exposure. So what I did when I started Wiggle High5 (at the time Wiggle Honda) was to have a really strong PR team to create ideas to give our sponsors return on investments. So we have a strong focus on social media.
It is hard to accept, but if you analyse it there is way more history in men’s cycling than in women's, and way more spectators watching men’s cycling. The business side of the sport is the men that are generating the majority of the money because of their history. For that reason it’s hard for women to walk onto the stage and demand exactly the salaries and prize money that the men are getting. 

Women work just as hard, and in some ways the women are more professional than the men, but our sport – women’s cycling –  is relatively new compared with male cycling. It’s not rocket science though, that there are challenges. We can’t just say £50k for the men, £50k for the women at every race, if there’s only 1% of the viewers watching the women. Organisers want to do a great job for women's cycling, but there's a difference between what they can do and what they can justify.
Conditions are definitely much better than they were ten years ago, for sure! We are progressing every year with the prize money, and women can now make a career out of cycle racing. The TV coverage has been the biggest advance. Obviously things like Ride London, Tour of Britain, Tour de Yorkshire and Le Tour by the Tour de France have TV coverage and that makes a huge difference to our sport.
As women’s cycle racing grows, the calendar has become very intense. Sadly, some races like the Route de France ended up being removed from the calendar this year.
Women's racing has a very busy and difficult schedule because we want those monumental races. We want to have Tour of California, Tour of Britain, and these big races that give us the opportunity to race alongside the men’s races or within the same week, and have all the publicity that the men get. But as a result, we have a very heavy programme and we have to travel a lot. The UCI obviously don’t want to turn race organisers down but now that we have a Women’s World Tour, with TV coverage, that’s distinctively the pinnacle of women’s cycling so they are the races that the top riders and top teams will focus on. So that makes it difficult to fit in all the races.  
A Tour de France for women would be great, though perhaps not three weeks. Women’s teams are a lot smaller than the men’s teams, so if you want your best riders to prepare for a two- or three-week Tour de France the other races would definitely suffer.
During my racing career I did commentary for a lot of Australian networks when I wasn’t racing.  I had started TV commentating with Phil Liggett back in 1997, so Eurosport asked if I could commentate with Sean Kelly for the women’s road race at the London 2012 Olympics. I was available to commentate because injury had put me out of the Olympics.
So from that, I did the World Championships for the BBC, and have done that every year, plus Ride London and the Tour de Yorkshire, then the Tour de France stuff.
It’s still very emotional when my girls are in a race, and you have to hide that when commentating. The hardest race I had to commentate on was the first Ride London women’s criterium in 2013 when Laura Trott won, while she was riding for Wiggle Honda. The team was fresh and new and it was exciting, there were so many people watching, it was live on television and I remember the last lap, how my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. It was really hard the commentating and keeping a neutral tone.
When Chloe Hosking won Le Tour by the Tour de France on the Champs Elysees in 2016 I did express some emotion and I was really, really happy about that.
There have been other tough moments like the Rio Olympics, commentating when Annemiek van Vleuten had her crash. That was a really sick feeling to the point where I couldn’t speak for the next five minutes. When commentating we have to stare at the screen and watch things really closely and at that point we are glued three or four centimetres form the screen and to see the crash, it was really devastating. This is someone that I know personally, as I know a lot of the girls in the peloton, and not having the information about whether she was moving was a hard moment.
As well as commentating I run a few businesses. I am the High5 distributor in Australia and that’s given me a lot of insight into business that’s orientated around numbers, whereas cycling success is more orientated around victories and leveraging that through media exposure.
I also run a company, GoExPro, an Australian company that sells ex-professional cycling equipment. On top of that, I have RMG Sports Production which makes cycling and other videos and documentaries. I’ve just been involved in making a 59-minute documentary on motorsports. 

Then I have two other cycling teams that I work with - the High5 Dream Team, and the Australian national team. 
To run all my activities I’ve gotta be a bit OCD where I’m super super-organised, so I use my time wisely. Normally in meetings I say, "I’m spending 15 minutes - give me your issues," and I say yes no yes no, and bang - I’m gone. There are moments where you need to let the conversations go - there are no time limits, and you have to stay and listen to everything.
Since I’ve retired and gone into business it has been a big challenge keeping fit and feeling comfortable about doing exercise without it being your job, and without feeling guilty about not training hard when you are out on the bike.
I have now come to realise that I have to do exercise to function, work and make good decisions and be relaxed. So it is more efficient for me to combine exercise and work together.
When it comes to places to cycle I love Mallorca because the roads are smooth, the weather’s good, there are a lot of cyclists out there to ride with. I only discovered Mallorca a couple of years ago and really fell in love with it. I come here to do a lot of work, but I enjoy my rides and that makes me feel more productive.
My mum is a massive fan of women’s cycling and she knows way more than I do because she has a lot more time than I do to be reading about them on social media! And if I want to know something I could just pick up the phone to my mum and ask her. She’ll tell me things sometimes and I say, “There’s no way that’s true!” And she’ll say, “It’s on Twitter, I’ll send you the link!”
She’s not one of those people who woud want to influence my decisions on team matters, but she will inform, and she will say, “Why don’t you sign this rider next year, she’s been doing really well.” Then we’ll have a debate about why she got points or her results, or whatever. My mum ’s definitely a good person to have discussions with.
She’s got a new place to live in Dubai, so I stopped over when I was on my way to Europe from Australia earlier this year. I was there for less than a day and we went shopping. The shopping Mall has an indoor ski slope, so I went for a ski while she went to the bar and watched me from out of the window! She really appreciated me stopping by to see her. Then she comes to see me at my house in Italy a couple of times a year.
My drive and motivation to be successful has come from my step-father, who my mum married 25 or 30 years ago. He’s a very successful business man and I relate very well to the way he manages people and I have learnt so much from him. I wanna make my mum and my step-father very proud. That was my drive, to prove I could make something in the business world.
They’ve always wanted me to hang the bike up and retire and do something in business because that’s how they measure success, and they did ask me quite often, “When are you going to stop with the cycling and do something in business.?” Actually when I told my parents I was going to start a women’s cycling team they were just like…”That’s a ridiculous idea!” But hey, four or five years down the track they are extremely proud.
I never go out on my bike without my phone cover that always has my credit card, usually a hotel keycard, and my business cards. I carry cards for the businesses I have in Australia, so if someone in Australia is looking for a bike, or asking about High5 I can just give them a card. While out on the bike you meet so many people that you can do business with.
I could have done one of a number of different sports, because when I was young I was doing gymnastics, athletics, swimming, surf-lifesaving, motocross ....From the age of three years old I just wanted to do sport. You know, like people say “When did you decide?” I think I was like five or six years old when I was watching the Olympics on TV and I was saying, “That’s me, I am sport!” I was just born to be athletic.


Some people say I may have been better suited to mountain biking because of my technical skills, but road cycling provides such a wonderful life. You move around, you travel the globe. Track cycling for me was probably physically better, but in terms of lifestyle, doing laps around an indoor velodrome was good, but after five or six years, I felt it was time to get out there and go pro with a road team. The freedom of being on the road, there’s no other feeling like it!
I feel so fortunate that I chose cycling and that this has been my career, and my path, and I love it.

Twitter: @RochelleGilmore       Instagram: rochellegilmore        www,wigglehighfive.com





Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Another challenge for 2018 - Paris Marathon

I already mentioned how I have got a place in the Etape du Tour for next year. As if that's not enough of a challenge (along with all the preparation races I need to do) I have only signed myself up for the Paris marathon!
Another challenge for 2018

It's been ages since I last did a marathon - 12 years in fact, and it was the London marathon. London is the only marathon I've done, and I have done it twice - in 2005 and in 2002. I applied a few times to do the New York Marathon, and I finally got a place in 2006, but life got in the way and I ended up not doing it. Over the years injury and other commitments have meant that I just forgot about doing marathons again, but I guess that the whole "mid-life crisis" thing has got me signing up for different physical challenges.

You get to an age where you want to prove to yourself you've still got it! So here I am taking on the marathon challenge, along with other things (though I haven't bought a motorbike - yet!).

I had hoped to mark my marathon comeback by getting a place in the public ballot for next year's London marathon. But alas, when 380,000 people are applying for around 17,000 individual places the odds are slightly stacked against you!

Paris is a place where I have had a lot of good memories (I lived there for four years shortly after graduating from university.) and I always have a good time whenever I go there. I did my first ever half-marathon at the Semi-Marathon de Paris over 20 years ago. So it would only be logical to do their full marathon as well.

So within minutes of me receiving my rejection email from London Marathon, I had signed up for Paris!

Immediately afterwards you get that moment of euphoria when your place in the event that you'd been really wanting to do is confirmed. Then the feeling sinks in and you realise how much you're going to need to do between now and race day - the training, getting in loads of miles, sometimes running at silly hours of the day, or in really bad weather. But you've got to get it done if you are to hit the target and have a decent crack at the challenge on the day.

And after all that thought, you then say to yourself, "What have I done??"

Well, it's too late. I have triggered the equivalent of Article 50 for running the Paris marathon so I'd better get in, get on, and get out!

Training has been going okay so far, but I have to be really disciplined about getting the miles in. I also have to stay injury free and try not to get colds or the flu - something which is a challenge in itself when half your colleagues in the office are coughing and sneezing across the desk!

Anyway, I am going to do what I can to prepare for the marathon, and hopefully I will be able to make the start line at the Arc de Triomphe on April 8th next year. I'm going to love Paris in the springtime!


Sunday, 29 October 2017

Etape du Tour goes to the Alps again! Great!

Etape du Tour profile
So we now know the route of the 2018 Tour de France, and looking at the format it looks like it'll be a cracker.

There'll be a cobbled section again with stage 9 (Arras to Roubaix) including sectors from the Paris-Roubaix classic, which could really shake-up the field - literally! And I'm guessing as a nod to the Strade Bianche classic in Italy there's a new Alpine climb up to Plateau des Glieres that goes over a section of unmade road on Stage 10.

On the subject of Stage 10, which goes from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand, this will also be the route for the Etape du Tour.

I am very pleased to know this, especially because I missed a trick by not doing the 2017 edition of L'Etape (Embrun to col d'Izoard - check), and had been resigned to the fact that in 2018 it would be in the Pyrenees, and I would have to wait until 2019 to ride L'Etape du Tour in the Alps.

But in a lucky twist of fate we are back in the Savoy area. The route looks a beauty. It will start in Annecy, known as the "Little Venice of France" go around the lovely lake, then up over the Col de la Croix Fry, through the Aravis and the Saisies region, up the Montee du Plateau du Glieres, over the Col du Romme, then to tackle the biggest climb of the stage, Col de la Colombiere, before a long descent to Le Grand Bornand. It'll be a total distance of 169km (105.5 miles) with around 4,000m of climbing, making it a tough challenge and only slightly "easier" than the other big cyclosportive that's on the same day, La Marmotte. A water feature plus mountains is my favourite combination in a route. It's going to be a great day's biking.

Lac d'Annecy
I haven't ridden that exact route of L'Etape du Tour before, but I have ridden a few of the climbs in that area. This casts my mind back to a couple of trips I did there.

About 20 years ago I went on a triathlon training camp with UCPA, a French sports and outdoor activity holiday company. We were based in a village called St Jorioz right on the edge of the Lac d'Annecy. All our swimming was done in the lake, and then we did a mini triathlon which consisted of going up (and down) one of the local cols. I'm not sure which one we went up - it may have been up to a village called St Eustache, though all I remember was how tough I found the cycling.

I was brand new to triathlon and club cycling at that time, but the guys were very supportive. Needless to say I came last in our race, which wasn't helped by the fact that I got lost on the bike course! As usual, I had hoped to return to St Jorioz the following year and do the camp again, but you always end up getting sucked into other activities....!

Then about 10 years ago I rode an improvised version of the Route des Grands Alpes - the classic itinerary from Thonon les Bains, near Geneva, to Menton on the French Riviera.

On my first day of the route I set off from Geneva on the most miseraable of days. It was pouring with rain, grey, and really not a day to be out. I recall going through the border crossing from Switzerland into France, and as the policeman waved me through I asked him if this was the right way to Cluses. He confirmed it was, but not without him giving me a bit of a lecture on how I should be careful out there, and this really wasn't a day for a young lady to be riding up into the mountains. I reassured him by saying I would be staying in the valley! There was no chance of that - I needed to get to Le Grand Bornand that night and that involved going over the Col de la Colombiere!

So I just pressed on through the rain on my road bike, which was laiden with panniers and went through places like Annemasse, Bonneville, Scionzier and other villages that looked pretty despite the autumnal weather. Just before Cluses I made the right hand turn to start the climb. And that's basically all I did for about the next four hours!

The visibility was so low I had no idea what the landscape around me was like. I just crawled up at about 4 miles per hour, through the mist and rain, just following the white line in front of me, and not being able to see more than about 5 metres ahead of me! After about an hour of climbing I had thought I was at the summit, but in fact I was only at a place called Le Reposoir. From there onwards the rain subsided, but it was still foggy.

Luckily there was hardly any traffic around - well who would have wanted to be out in this drich weather?? Finally, after what seemed like an age, the pedalling became easier, then I didn't have to pedal at all as I realised I had reached the summit (I hadn't seen any sign saying I was at the col de la Colombiere) and I was making my decent to Le Grand Bornand. Maybe this was the time to celebrate reaching the top, but by heck was it freezing on the descent! Everything about me was shivering and my teeth were chattering.

Warm welcome at Hotel La Croix St Maurice
After about three miles I reached a village which I thought was Le Grand Bornand, and so I stopped there to look for accommodation. Shock, horror! Everything was closed. The place was like a ghostown. On no, where would I find a bed for the night?? Then after a little bit of wandering I around, I realised I wasn't actually in Le Grand Bornand, but a place called Samance. My stopping point was still another 4 miles down the hill. Good news, but not so good that I was freezing and really couldn't face more descending.

So I rode uphill to get out of the village, and then rode back up the col de la Colombiere for another half-mile to try to work up some heat! I needed to find some warmth somehow! Then I was able to complete the descent and arrived in the main square which was full of life and buzzing. Very helpfully, there was a hotel right on the main square, the Hotel La Croix St Maurice, where they had one single room left and the hotel chef had just finished cooking the evening meal, so I bagged it! The hotel and the staff were very pleasant, but what was really great for me was the heated towel rail in the bathroom, which I put to very good use!

The next day was lovely and had wall to wall sunshine. I went past places like St Jean de Sixt, La Clusaz, and over the Col des Aravis, and Col de Saisies, and through other pretty little ski resort villages before pushing on further south towards Cormet de Roselend and Bourg St Maurice.

Let's do it!




It had been time well spent in the Savoy area, and I look forward to being there for L'Etape du Tour. There'll be a great atmosphere.

So I'm in! I've now just got to get on with it and train so that the broom wagon doesn't catch me on the day!











Saturday, 30 September 2017

One day one photo - 30: More of gorgeous Verdon

Mercantour mountains see from La Route des Crete
Yesterday was spent going around the outer road circumnavigating the Gorges du Verdon, also known as the Grand Canyon du Verdon. Today was about doing the inner route, known as the Route des Cretes. Being based at La Palud-sur-Verdon meant that I could get onto this road quite easily. La Route des Cretes is basically a road that goes around a big rock formation within the middle of the canyon. You can only access that road from La Palud-sur-Verdon, and for about half of the route the road is one-way traffic only. That makes sense to me as the road is a bit narrow, there are numerous switchbacks where you really wouldn't want to make a mistake while going around the bends. And trying to get two vehicles, particularly campervans (of which there are many around here) to pass one another would be like playing Russian Roulette!

From La Palud, the road climbed steadily and as I got higher and higher I could see the gite where I had been staying become more and more like a dot in the distance. I could also see the Mercantour mountains and a portion of the gorge as a teaser, which looked atmospheric at this time of the morning. The place looked deserted, apart from a few people who were driving up to do rock-climbing. La Route des Cretes closes from October to March, and I was going over that road on the final weekend of the summer season so it's not surprising the area was so quiet. It was amazing to have this spectacular road all to myself! Finally the road reached its high point, at just over 1300m above sea level, before steadily dropping down. It was a lovely descent, and as there was no traffic, and no worries about vehicles coming up the other way this was bliss! Also, I could see across the gorge to the road below me, where I had ridden the previous day.  I don't know if there exists anything as beautiful, exhilarating, and spectacular as this in Europe. Having the sun shining down on me was an added bonus. This, for me is what I would call a must-do ride.

Going around the Route des Cretes is only about 23km, but it involves quite a long climb - around 7km, so it took me about an hour and a half to ride the circuit. You do need the hour and a half though, if nothing else to really soak in the lovely scenery in this beautiful, wild part of Provence.

I was glad to have ridden this today, as it was the perfect antidote to the motorway drive back to the coast, that I had to do straight afterwards!
 

Friday, 29 September 2017

One day one photo - 29: Gorgeous Gorges du Verdon



Today was a big day for me. I finally arrived at the Gorges du Verdon. The drive up from Nice had not been easy, as I was a little tired after having woken up around 2.30am to get my flight, and then hanging around Nice to wait for my bike which had failed to arrive at the same time as me.

I had passed the time going for a run, and then I got in the car to drive for around two and a half hours cross country. It was plain sailing on the motorway, but once off it the roads were very twisty and undulating. For quite a while I'd been wondering if I should have planned to come all this way out of Nice as the scenery, although pleasant, didn't seem much different from what was on the Cote d'Azur. But then I arrived in the quaint village of Comps sur Artuby, and after that the landscape changed dramatically. From pretty green hills, the peaks turned rocky and wild. The road became even more twisty and irregularly rose up and down. It became increasingly difficult for me to take my eyes off the road even for one second, as I had to concentrate that bit more.

Eventually I saw a sign that said "Point Sublime", and it was at that point I realised I was at the famous Gorges du Verdon.

So today was a lovely day, as I managed to ride the full circuit of the Gorge. I hadn't known how far it would be. The proprietor of the gite where I was staying said it would be around 100km, and Google maps suggested it would take me around 7.5 hours. I was a little nervous about being able to complete the circuit before dark!

In fact it wasn't that long. My Garmin measured the distance as 88km, and I got back to La Palud at around 4.30pm (I was out for 6.5 h hours but my riding time was more like 5 hours.) The high points of my trip were the section after Trigance, on the area known as Corniche Sublime, Les Balcons de la Mescla,  then the descent to the Lac Sainte Croix via the town of Aiguines.

At the Pont du Galetas I took a photo of the opening of the Gorges, and it turned out this is an iconic picture of the Gorges du Verdon, as it appears in many guide books and magazines whenever they talk about this geographic feature. The final climb back towards La Palud-sur-Verdon was a real slog for me, and I began to feel quite tired. Most of the main road from the lake consisted of a 14-km climb to the col d'Ayen, though I was rewarded with a 3-km downhill into La Palud. I was glad to have made the trip out to Verdon, and was happy to have done the circuit.


Thursday, 28 September 2017

One day one photo - 28: Bikes on flights headache

Although I have cycled abroad in recent years I tend to take my bike onto a aeroplanes less and less. Taking your bike onto a flight has become increasingly expensive. My flight top Nice cost £80, and then I paid a further £80 to transport the bicycle! Furthermore, there's always the worry over whether or not the airline company will get your bike to your destination without any damage, plus there's also the headache of transporting the bike cross-country if your start point and your destination are far from the airport.
Sometimes there's a worry about whether the bike will arrive at your destination at all!

In recent years I have tried to mitigate against these annoyances by hiring a bike where possible. Sometimes it can work out cheaper than taking my own bike, and the bikes on hire can even be a higher spec than any of the bikes I have at home.

Last year I travelled to Alicante and Costa Blanca area of Spain, and hired from a shop in El Campello. When in the Milan/Lake Como area of Italy I have hired from a company based in Cernobbio, and of course that Mecca for cycling, Mallorca, has no end of places that will hire out road bikes.

Today I flew to Nice and took my bike on a flight. Although There were places hiring out bikes, I found it would work out expensive, and some of the shops are not open on Monday, the day I return to London. So I had to give in and pack my bike onto an Easyjet flight.

The bike arrived intact, thank goodness. It's a shame it arrived five hours after I did! I should have known there'd be a problem when the guy in security at Gatwick Airport said to his colleague "who are we gonna get to move this to the plane?" Why I was in security is another story. The guy on the oversized baggage belt didn't want to lift my bike because he said that it wasn't a regular shape and reckoned it would get stuck in the scanning machine. Despite my point that this is something that I had done in the past without any problem, he wasn't prepared to believe me, and insisted that a porter take my bike up to a special security area where it would be taken manually to the plane.

So, lo and behold, when I arrived at Nice Airport at 9am, I experienced that heartsink moment when my bike was nowhere to be seen on the carousel. But thanks to the efforts by Wendy at baggage services I managed to get the bike later in the afternoon.

It didn't spoil my day too much. I spent the time going for a run on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice while waiting. However, it did make for a long day because by the time my bike arrived and I had gone through all the formalities etc. it was after 4pm when I set off to drive to Provence. When I arrived at my gite it was getting dark, and I was just ready to eat and go straight to bed.

Thanks to Wendy at Avia Baggage Services in Nice Airport, but Boo to Easyjet for not being on it at Gatwick.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

One day one photo - 27: Another cycling fatality

Grosvenor Road/Chelsea Bridge - a dodgy junction for cyclists
Yet another cyclist has been killed on our London streets today. The 36-year-old woman, who has not been named, was hit early this morning by a truck that was turning left, at the junction of Grosvenor Road and Chelsea Bridge. She went into cardiac arrest and was rushed to King's College Hospital.

But despite the efforts by medical staff, the lady sadly passed away.
The exact circumstances of the accident have yet to be established, but once again we have another instance of a cyclist losing their life while commuting around London.

I get the impression that the transport authorities do take into account cyclist safety when planning road layouts more now than they did in years gone by. However, the problem is that safety can only be assured to a limited extent if they don't invest enough money. In the UK that investment is less barely £1 per head, but British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman believes that £10 per person is needed in order to have a decent infrastructure for cyclists. Compare this with places like the Netherlands and Denmark, where investment is around double this figure.

I rode along that section of road earlier in the month, while on my way to an orienteering event in Fulham after work. It was at rush hour and there were so many cyclists. It is definitely a favoured route when commuting, particularly as parts of it have a cycle lane.

That section near Chelsea Bridge though, is a pinch point, and as a cyclist I had to weave around cars as there was no space for me to ride in a straight line. I guess that was an accident waiting to happen, particularly as some cyclists weave up on the inside of vehicles.

I hope that the local authorities will take this junction, and other dicey junctions into account when reviewing road policy.

My thoughts go to the family of the young lady who was killed.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

One day one photo - 26: I'm doing a cyclosportive!

There was a time when I used to do loads of cyclosportives - all the well-known ones in the UK such as the Dragon Ride, Fred Whitton, Etape du Dales etc, and I travelled abroad to do quite a few as well - L'Etape du Tour, La Marmotte, La Quebrantahuesos. I even didn't mind just jumping on a plane and going to do one in some local village where there would be no other British people there, and it was a sportive hardly known outside of that country.

I remember that being the case when I took part in an event called La Vencoise about 10 years ago, in the hills just outside Nice. There were probably around 400 entrants, all from the local area, congregated in the village sportshall.

The organiser was very pleased to see someone who had travelled from so far away, and when I was signing in they were really impressed to see a UK cycle racing licence. As I didn't have a car I got there by catching a train from Nice to St Laurent du Var, and then cycling the remaining 8 miles uphill to a place near Tourettes sur Loup. It was funny because when I was riding back from the event to get the train to Nice, a lot of the competitors that passed me in their cars beeped and waved at me as they overtook, or even leaned out to say bonjour. I think I was about the 10th fastest woman in my race, but he still gave me some flowers and a bottle of wine. It seemed to be one of those days that the organisers would recall as "the day a young lady from London turned up to do our race!"

Happy days! I have wanted to return there and do the event again, but have not managed to. I hope to do so again though. There's always a nice feeling at these cycle events, and they are much more personable than the large-scale, big budget, high profile events.

In the meantime I have entered a cyclosportive in the same general region, called La Mercantour. This is more towards Menton, and goes over the col de Madone and the col de Braus, which are biggies on that side of the mountains. It's again a small local event, with a couple of hundred people.

These days I do fewer cyclosportives than in previous years (so many cycling disciplines so little time!). I did the Etape Loch Ness last year, after I was invited there, and I have ridden the Ride London 100 for the last couple of years. Hopefully I will be able to get through this race, and the long climbs of the Alpes Maritimes won't have me spat out of the back of the pack too early!



Monday, 25 September 2017

One day one photo - 25: Kentish Spin

I try and get out into the local lanes on my bike regularly, though trips away and other writing jobs means that I end up cycling elsewhere and not managing to get out enough in my local area.

Then typically, when I do so the forecast is for rain, and I find myself having to hurry to get back before the deluge arrives. Or if the weather is not rainy, the roads are damp, so it means when I have to ride over those infamously steep hills of the North Downs I have to ride the 20% gradients in the saddle, as the back-wheel spin from an out-of-the-saddle effort unnerves me a bit.

Today was one of those nice sunny days where there was wall-to-wall sunshine, and everyone in South London was out. I couldn't stop waving and saying hello to folks. A big group of guys from my club, Penge Cycling Club was out. I didn't join the ride as I couldn't quite make the start, and also I had a specific route that I wanted to do, and needed to be back in time to compete in the Southern Road Relays that afternoon. But I gave a hello to them, and hope to be out on a ride quite soon.

This route is one that I call my quick Kentish Spin. It's not long, but it is still a good work-out as it includes the long drag up Layhams Lane, a short, sharp, steep ramp up Saltbox Hill, and another short, sharp, steep ramp up Cudham Lane. Then you can breeze home via Downe (aka Nigel Farage's hangout) and Keston before returning home. Although this ride goes about 12 miles out of London, and is within the M25 London orbital motorway, it still feels very much like you are in the countryside.

I find it amusing how people from other parts of the UK often ask how I could possibly find anywhere to ride when living down in London. Surely, it must be nicer to live in Yorkshire or Cheshire than in London if I want to get in nice quiet country lanes? Well the answer is, not really! It's not that difficult to find country lanes, or even steep hills from where I live. They are all there, within half an hour of me leaving the house, and that's one of the great things about riding these roads - their proximity as well as their natural beauty. Of course, cycling in Cheshire and in Yorkshire is lovely too. But it's a bit of an ask to get a train all the way up there every Sunday morning!

Sunday, 24 September 2017

One day one photo - 24: Southern Road Relays


Years ago, when I took part in running races I was doing events where I would just run individually. The only relay race I recall doing were some cross country ones at a place called Horsenden Hill in Perivale, north-west London. They were traditionally the season opener.

Apart from those, the only other relays I did were sprint relays, i.e. 4 x 100 when I was at school, and then a few triathlon relays.

But it seems that relay races have become quite common now, and I find them fun. I have done the cross country one at Reigate Priory, and a road one in Wimbledon Park. There are relay races also at Nonsuch Park in Sutton, and at Beckenham, plus the Sparrows Den in West Wickham. My favourite ones though, are at Crystal Palace Park - and it's not just because it's round the corner from my home! Earlier in the summer I did the Dino Dash Relays, which is one where they raise money to restore the dinosaurs and the subway in Crystal Palace Park. That usually takes place at mid-summer, so it makes for a pleasant bright evening spent with a lot of local runners, and they keep the cafe open too.

Then today's race was the Southern Road Relays, held at Crystal Palace. That one involved running clubs from all over the south of England. At times like this I feel quite lucky to be able to just rock up at a race which is barely a 10-minute bike ride away, while others would have had to travel all morning to get here. Apparently this event is normally held at Aldershot, but it had to be relocated to Crystal Palace. Aldershot's loss is my gain, as I probably would not have travelled to Aldershot to do it! It was a lovely sunny day, and we ended up having quite a few people spectating and cheering us on - probably just by default of the fact that lots of people walk in the park at the weekends!

Anyway, it was a fun race, though I have no idea where my team finished as I was in the B-team. Our A team got a top 10 placing, which is good for the club spirit.

Note that my club for this event was Serpentine. That is my first claim club, so the default is to run for them, though I race for South London Harriers, my second claim club for the local cross country league races, and other local races where Serpentine don't have representation. It's nice to have that variety, though I do sometimes have a job trying to remember which running vest I should take to which event! Hopefully, I won't make the error of turning up at a Harriers event in my Serpie vest!


Saturday, 23 September 2017

One day one photo - 23: Cycle Show

You know you're at the back end of the year when a) cyclocross gets going in earnest, and b) all the cycle shows take place, with cycle firms showing off their 2018 models. I have never been to Interbike in Las Vegas, or to Eurobike. But I do tend to go to the ones in London, and sometimes the triathlon show in Manchester.

So today I went to the National Exhibition Centre (NEC), Birmingham, for the Cycle Show. I would normally have gone on the Thursday when it's trade/media day. On those days there is more space, so you can photograph things without people photobombing your picture. Also, exhibitors and media folks have more time to press the flesh and network a little.

However, because I also have a full-time copywriter job to hold down in London I can't always get the time off during the week. So today was just going to be a quick tour around the show and see how far I could get through the crowds.

It actually wasn't too bad. I met Claire from Condor Cycles, Duncan who I had been dealing with from Raleigh, but he has recently left the world of bicycles to join the world of furry things - pets to be precise! Then there was the VeloVixen team, who had a dedicated women's cycling hub, with various talks being given. It was a nice surprise to catch up with Emily Chappell - cycle tourer extraordinaire, author, and director of the Adventure Syndicate. And of course it is always nice to meet more marketing managers and put names to faces - like Holly from Canyon, and Carola from Cube.

This year's edition of the show seemed busier than in previous years. The other thing that I noticed was just how much electric bikes seem to have come on. A couple of years ago there were just a few manufacturers that were displaying them. But now everyone seems to have something electric. Apparently it's the way forward. I have never thought of using one myself, and I must admit that I haven't seen that many on the road when commuting. I feel like I might be cheating if I add a little motor to my bike. Well, certainly that's what the world governing body of body (UCI) have been saying all this time! Have I missed their latest memo??

But anyway, I am glad I was able to optimise on the three and a half hours I whizzed around the NEC, (and even do a trip to the Bullring Shopping Centre).
I look forward to trying out some of the novelties I saw.

Friday, 22 September 2017

One day one photo - 22: Ofo Bikes

We have had a bike sharing scheme in London since 2007 when the Santander bikes (aka Boris Bikes) were introduced, They have proven to be a hit, since there's a lot of usage. Certainly, the docking station close to where I work constantly has people picking up and dropping off bikes.

But now, it seems like the bike sharing principle is expanding a little and going on to what might be the next step in their evolution - bike sharing without a docking station. Basically using an app to find out where the nearest bike is, unlocking it via the app or a QR code, and then when you reach your destination you just drop off the bike right where you end your ride.

Sounds great. That's what Ofo Bikes are doing, and that is what they explained to me at their launch party in Islington.

Their operations manager gave a quick presentation on what they are about, and how the bikes hail from China where this sort of bike share is commonplace over there.
They don't really see themselves as competitors to the Santander bikes which are focused more on Central London. Ofo aim to have a presence in the outer neighbourhoods of London and also in other towns across the UK.

Right now the company is doing a soft launch of the Ofo bikes where they are currently available in Cambridge and in Hackney. Over the coming months the company will be talking to different London boroughs and city councils outside of London in order to gradually roll out the bikes elsewhere.

As there are no docking stations, planning permission is not needed, however the company still needs to have backing from the council as these bikes are just going to be left randomly on the pavement - something that won't be great for passers-by, though one reason to not have your eyes focused on your phone when walking down the street!
It is also one of the reasons why another company that launched a similar type of scheme a couple of months ago (O-bikes) has not had much success.

The striking yellow Ofo bikes look a bit  more elegant than the clunky red Santander bikes, though I like to think that they will match the robustness of their older cousins. They are also lighter, making them easy to ride and gain momentum. Also there's a basket, which is pretty handy. So there are a few plusses. The main downside that I found is that it only has one gear. At the moment they are available in Hackney, which is practically all flat. However, if Ofo bikes are rolled out in somewhere like Hampstead or Crystal Palace that could be problematic! Hopefully the bikes will have a few gears by then!

I think there is definitely a place for these bikes. Santander bikes are very useful, particularly for those short journeys around Central London, which can be done quicker than taking a bus or the tube. Having a bike sharing scheme that extends into the nearby surburbs would definitely be useful, and may, as their hope is, get more people into cycling as a leisure activity.

All in all, it was a good evening, and I hope that the Ofo bikes will become as commonplace as the Santander bikes - at least in the flat parts of London.


Thursday, 21 September 2017

One day one photo - 21: Oakley Sunnies

I have a penchant for eyewear. I don't know where it comes from. Many women like to spend money on dresses, handbags and shoes. For me, it's glasses. As I am a little short-sighted I wear prescription spectacles, so when I have my yearly check-up I use that as an occasion to get a pair of specs - even if my vision is still the same as it was last year. I guess getting a new pair of glasses is my guilty pleasure.

My latest guilty pleasure is pair of Oakley Reverie Prizm sunglasses, which I have been testing.

Testing is a hard word to use this summer, given that by the time I received them the best of the summer had already gone. That had happened for a few days in May, and in the typical British way, when the actual summer was due in July, the weather took a downward turn, and we had more cloudy, rainy days than sunny days!

I have managed to wear the glasses a few times though. I wore them during the Ride London 100 cyclosportive, even though there wasn't much sun. But keeping them on demonstrated my optimism, not just for the weather, but for my performance during the 100-mile cyclosportive!

I also wore them during a ride across the South Downs, to get to Brighton. And of course, I couldn't not wear them on my recent cycle ride to Paris, where looking stylish is de rigueur!

What I like about these sunnies is the purple hue on them which coincidentally matches the colour of quite a few things I wear. Also they don't feel weighty on my face. I almost forget that I have them on, and ended up doing a few running races with them when I forgot to take them off before the race. I wasn't trying to be a poseur, honest(!). But admittedly they felt comfortable and were not cumbersome in anyway once I got into the thick of the final dash for the finish line.

The main thing I like about them is that they can be used as sports glasses, but they don't look ostentatiously like they are for sport, so they they aren't out-of-place when I'm off the bike.

All in all, the Oakley Prizm sunnies are a good buy, as you don't need to have a pair of glasses for sports and another pair when you're in civvies. These do the job for both settings.

I am going to the south of France soon, where I am sure the sun will be shining there! (If not, what hope is there for us!) So I look forward to getting a bit more wear out of them this summer.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

One day one photo - 20: Orienteering

You probably know already, dear reader, that I like running and regularly take part in running races. And sure, I enjoy doing them. Running is something that I have done since I was a child, and I couldn't imagine a life without running.

You could say that cycling is my passion, where running is more just like my daily bread. In order to curb the monotony of running I vary the places I go to and the surfaces I run on. From where I live I can get out to South Norwood Country Park, which is all off-road and flat, I can do Crystal Palace Park, which is multi-terrain and hilly, or I can do South Norwood Lakes which is multi-terrain, gently undulating, and in the winter time can even make for a good cross-country running course as the grassy field holds the rain well! Then there's Betts Park, which is really close by and is good for a quick leg stretcher. Sometimes I travel out to places like Richmond Park, Banstead or Dorking and run on the hilly trails around there, and enjoy the sights around the Surrey Hills.

So I have managed to keep my running interesting by varying my training locations. More recently I have also managed to vary how I run. In the last few years I have discovered orienteering. It was always something I was a little afraid of doing. Those maps looked like a mixture of Greek, Arab and Sandscript! Years ago, when training for a half marathon I wanted to do a rehearsal race, and the only event I could find was an orienteering event which involved 12 miles of running. I hadn't a clue how to read the map, and ended up just running round the course with a group of sympathetic guys who knew what they were doing, and didn't mind me tagging along.

We got round the checkpoints so quickly that I ended up winning the prize for first female! I was in shock, and felt such a fraud!

Since then, and while with my ex-boyfriend who was big on orienteering I managed to learn a bit about it, and have carried on going to the odd race. I did a few events while I was in Macclesfield, and have been doing the ones organised by the South London Orienteering and Wayfarers Club (SLOW). The race I did today was a Street-O in Fulham, in which you have to find clues to things on lamp posts and pillar boxes within a particular neighbourhood. The locals must think we are weird, running around scrutinising street furniture! I was pleased with my result. For once I didn't come last!

Whatever, my result I do enjoy doing this activity. It gives an added dimension to my running, and jazzes up my run. Also, when an event is advertised as 5km I generally end up running twice that distance! But hey ho, it's all good training!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

One day one photo - 19: Annemiek van Vleuten, World Champion!


The World Road Cycling Championships are currently taking place in Bergen, Norway. It's almost a week of competitions ranging from team time trials - done in riders' trade teams, through time trial races, junior, under-23 and senior men's and women's championship races in time trials and in road races.

The women's time trial was won by none other than Annemiek van Vleuten, and I was so pleased for her. Van Vleuten is the woman who had that nasty crash in the women's road race at the Rio Olympics last year. She was in the lead at the time of the crash and looked like she was on the way to winning the race. The crash looked horrific, but Annemiek escaped with concussion and a few cracked vertebrae. I say "escaped" because her injuries could have ended up a lot worse. For the Dutch racer the hardest part was dealing with the fact that she could have won this race, but instead, lost out completely.

I spoke to Annemiek a couple of months agao when I was writing a fitness article for Cycling Weekly magazine. What I noted about her was how determined and resolute she was about getting back into racing and pursuing her racing objectives. When I spoke to Annemiek in July she had already been out to Bergen and done a reconnnaisance of the course. She was extremely focused on going for the win.

I asked her how she was able to get over the trauma of what had happened to her in Rio and she said that her aim had always been to focus on the objective. She also said that she had had to deal with very difficult times in her life in the past like when her father died after a long illness some years ago. Having to cope with that, and seeing her mum have to cope with the loss of her husband had taught her to be resilient.

It is this resilience and determination that played a part in Annemiek having the amazing year that she has had, including victories in classics races, the women's Giro d'Italia, La Course by the Tour de France, and now the World Championships.

Seeing Annemiek van Vleuten get back on the horse after the massive setback she had in Rio, and tthen ride to victory is so inspirational.


Monday, 18 September 2017

One day one photo - 18: Nasturtium

I have entitled this post "nasturtium", but in fact it can relate to other produce I have reaped from my garden and my allotment.

It's that time of the year when my crops are ready (even more than ready) to be harvested, and I have ended up with so much stuff I don't know what to do with it! Last year I had around eight pumpkins, and I only recently finished eating them!

This year I have had a number of courgettes - usually aroud four per week. There is also sweet corn to look forward to as well. I think I should have picked them already, but I haven't yet managed to get down to the allotment.

Some might say that having lots of produce is a nice problem to have, particularly as a packet of seeds for these crops only costs a couple of pounds. I realise I do have to get organised though.

Nasturtium has been the real star. Last Autumn, there was so much of the stuff that I didn't have to buy any salad for around two months, and that was even with me eating the stuff for lunch and for dinner, sometimes at breakfast too! Sadly I was not able to pull up the leaves quickly enough, and one day after we had a frosty night I woke up the following morning to find them all drooped, damaged, and inedible. That was a shame. This year, the challenge is to try to avoid that happening again, though it will be more of a challenge as I have had even more nasturtium grow. It's not just on one flower bed in my front garden, like last year, but also a few rows in my allotment too.

So I am really on the hunt for as many recipes as I can find. So far I have put them into a quiche, into a fish pie, and also had them as a salad. I also intend to make an alternative pesto with them.

Sadly I can't put them into a spiralizer like I have done with the courgettes, but I hope to find some equally exciting dishes to make with these leaves that some people dub a superfood, in the same vein as watercress. Apparently nasturtium is packed with vitamin C and it is a natural antibiotic. It can stop colds dead in their tracks!

Well, I haven't seen any randomised controlled trial done on that so I can't say for sure if that's true. I haven't had a cold though, despite most people in my office coughing and sneezing these days, so I will just take people's word for it.

As a cyclist (and runner)  who is going to have to battle the elements over the coming months, I think that I can't have too many superfoods, so anything that will help my immune system, and stop me from getting the dreaded lurgy will be a good thing.