How to… be Imperfect

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We are all imprisoned by rules, everyone longs for freedom to behave in the way they see fit. I’m a non-conformist, and some feel inspired by the way I express freedom of thought. I’ve never been meticulous or calculating, on or off the bike. I ride instinctively, responding to the moment. There’s chaos in everyday life, and I tune into that chaos.’ – Marco Pantani

Happy Valentine’s day. A fitting time to pitch a case for more love, or more specifically more self-love. 14 years ago today, Marco Pantani killed himself. A wonderfully gifted athlete who ultimately cracked under the extraordinary mental pressures he placed upon himself. The Italian climber embodied an ethos of perfectionism, a disregard for pain and denial of one’s limits that is not uncommon in the sport. Good was never enough for the dreamer in Marco; there was always more.
The tragedy of his life highlights how unhealthy chasing athletic perfection can be. In the world of cycling, riders are often told to embrace pain, mammoth training loads are “kudos’d” and single-figure body-fat percentages are coveted. This can be a dangerous mix. The repetitive and time-consuming nature of cycling often draws out the worst obsessive and addictive traits in people’s personalities. Combined with the variable factors outside of our control during racing and training such as crashing, mechanicals and injury, it’s little wonder that cyclists can become obsessive about factors which they can control. Many have pre-race rituals or superstitious routines. But some obsessions are less comical; statistics show that cyclists are at much greater risk of having clinical eating disorders or exercise addictions.
This problem can be exacerbated by recent developments in technology. I guiltily admit to forcing myself to ride around the block in the rain after a hard training ride simply to get to a perfectly round number on a screen. Whilst this seems a bit trivial, today it is far too easy to quantify training loads, compare power-to-weight ratios and even track our sleep quality using technology that is a little too unhuman. The obsessed athlete can often forget these metrics are only models. Our Central Nervous System cannot differentiate between different kinds of stressors. We may be frustrated when our power is down after nailing every training session for the past week whist ignoring the stressful loads work, school or family may be placing on our bodies.  It is too easy to see mammoth training loads or stick-thin physiques of professionals and feel like we should replicate them. But we fail to account for our own limitations: genetics, age or even lack of performance enhancing drugs.
I’ve learnt too many times that more is not always better. Chasing unrealistic mileage goals and unsustainable weight targets have only led to burnout. It is a cruel irony that a perfectionist approach to sport is only detrimental. Aiming high is good whilst aiming too high can be harmful. Like Pantani, pushing our own physical and psychological limits can lead to great peaks and greater falls.

Thought we could all use this reminder today. ❤️

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Instead of a one-step forward and two-steps backwards approach, nowadays I try to see more perspective in my own training and racing. No longer do I judge the worth of a week in the number of miles I’ve ridden. After driving myself crazy over a daily number I no longer weigh myself at all. However, I constantly battle the inner perfectionist who always endorses doing more. This is partly why I value a coach so much. Having someone tell me to rest is so much easier than having the courage to acknowledge to myself that less is more. Without being told that a day off is needed, I would always feel an urge to keep pushing myself.
Furthermore, whilst being inspired by professional athletes is prima facie a good thing, comparing ourselves to our idols can be harmful. Never mind what Chris Froome uploads to Strava, even if Joe Bloggs from the office is doing more hours a week than you, this does not make you any less adequate than either of them. Any dreamer can place superhuman workloads on a pedestal, but it takes rational strength to see that the “perfect” amount of training for you cannot be purely quantified in TSS. The perfect ride is not the one which stops after a magical number on a Garmin screen. Perfection is a myth. But a ride which leaves us with a smile is one which should be valued.
You will always be able to find someone better at something than yourself. So instead of worrying about how you compare with others focus instead on being the best version of yourself. I think this is the most sustainable way to approach training and can ultimately lead to our best performances in a competitive setting, a time when testing yourself against others is no bad thing. After all, there is no such thing as a perfect way to win a race, all that counts from a sporting perspective is crossing the finish line first. The most beautiful thing about Pantani’s racing was the erratic and un-calculated way he raced. Ultimately this is what drove emotional Italians to idolise him as a national hero; despite his own perfectionist obsessions, he was loved for his artistic imperfections.

 

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Marco, why are you such a strong climber? To shorten my pain” – Marco Pantani

It is easy to worry that there is more to be done but takes balls to look yourself in the eye and say you are adequate. Remember above all that your self-worth is more than sporting performance, physique or power numbers. In 2003 Pantani underwent cosmetic surgery in an attempt to remove some of his physical imperfections. Just a year before his death, this act seemed to foreshadow the self-destructive downfall of il pirata. As explosively as he climbed, he fell.
Whilst at times sport can seem to be the only thing that matters, there is more to life than a perfect #1 ranking on procyclingstats.com. Worry less about numbers, you can never put a number on your self-worth, and give yourself some self-love this Valentines day.

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How to… Reliability Ride

A reliability ride is a relic of British cycling. Along with the classic weekend club run and midweek 10, a tradition of many of the country’s cycling clubs would be to organise a Reliability Ride or Trial to test the reliability of man/woman and bike over a challenging course. No signposts, feed-stops, finishing medals or prize money, they are a pure endeavour of navigation, leg-strength and grit.

Usually held in early Spring, they give the rider a gauge of their fitness levels after the winter. For some they may be a be an unwelcome reminder of how much zip they’ve lost since autumn’s hill-climb season. Whilst for others, a rewarding morale boost after putting in the winter miles.

Whilst many racing cyclists use them as hard training rides to sharpen their form for road races, every Reliability Ride will emphasise that they are not races themselves. This is partly due to the fact that they date back to a time when all road racing was banned in the UK. By naming them Reliability Rides, organisers could emphasise both to riders and police that there was no official racing taking place, despite what the appearance of a mass group of riders might imply.

However, whilst not officially races, the ego and bragging rights on the line at some rides is an explosive cocktail. I have done many a reliabilty ride harder than races! As they are not restricted by race circuits, the historic routes of some Reliability rides are savage. Some days you can feel the test of just completing the circuit. But to think that past generations of cyclists have completed said test on heavier & less-efficient bikes, wearing shoddy woolen jerseys in weather even worse than today is impressive. Never mind the fact that you’re following the route from a glowing gps screen on your handlebars, whilst they squinted at biro markings on a sodden Ordnance Survey map.

Man hugs radiator #reliabilityseason

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In Yorkshire I have the aptly named Hateful-Eight series (which has grown from Ron’s Reliable Five) every Sunday starting in late January to get stuck in to. But rides will be taking place all down the country, so have a look at what’s on near you. They often slip under the radar of many cyclists, especially those not part of a traditional club, but are welcome to all riders of any age or ability.

For me the beauty of a reliability ride is the motivation of the participants. They are not here to chase points for their second-cat licence upgrade, or for the strava segment KOM. They are here just to ride. No bullshit, just you, your bike and the road. Couldn’t be simpler than that. And couldn’t be better.

On my first reliability ride this year, it was minus three and snowed along the majority of the route. However a startling number of Yorkshire’s hardmen and women had turned out to give it a bash. Local lad Scott Thwaites was one such nut and told me he was blown away with the turnout. “I’m here because this is my job” he said, “but the rest of you are just out for the love of it…“. It seemed like his way of saying Chapeau. Long live the reliability ride. Long live the soul in Cycling.

Yorkshire folk made of tough stuff #ReliabilityRide #fromwhereiride

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For more info on Reliability rides see: https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/road/article/20100105-Get-Into-Cycling—Road—Reliability-Trials-0

 

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

The more things change, the more they stay the same – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1849.

I’d planned on a definite break from riding after coming back from Belgium and finishing my last race for the year. After 47 race days in 2017, I was ready for both a mental and physical reboot. By mid-September I could still find the motivation to race come the day, but my enthusiasm to train hard was ebbing. The only desire I had to get out on the bike was to stick it in the little ring and spin to the nearest caff. Moreover, although I could force myself to batter my body for a race, I knew that a physical rest at the end of the year would do me some good. Some people say they’ll try everything once, but I’m not so sure about chronic fatigue.

However, when I got back to blighty, no dust settled on my trusty Bottecchia. I had to catch up with the many cyclists I’m “lucky” enough to call friends and ride the club runs I’ve seen shape me over the years. I had to tell them about my adventures in Belgium! Plus I found that I was plain bored without cycling in my life. I wasn’t riding “vol gas” all day so I think my body got some downtime but I never gave myself the full extent of rest I’d intended.

I did my best to hang out with some non-cycling friends, since a summer of racing had meant I’d barely seen any of my childhood mates; I managed to catch up with a few guys and found these meetings delightfully refreshing.  But although some had already left for university,  I wondered if the lack of non-cycling friends in my life was a self-inflicted byproduct of the importance I’d placed on racing and training over the past years. I found time time to go swimming in Hampstead Ponds but the best days were those spent in the saddle with good company.

 

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My sister had just been given her first road bike for her birthday, so it would be wrong not to head out on the road to stick a proper half-wheel on for her first rides. Cycling is probably the only thing I have ever done to a higher standard than my sister, so now was an essential opportunity to drop her on all our local climbs. As a workaholic and talented musician, scientist and sportswoman I’ve sometimes wondered if the reason I’ve pushed myself so hard at cycling is to have something which I can claim to be acceptably good at. However with her picking up cycling, she’ll probably be “catching up” with me faster than I can keep progressing in the sport. Our lives aren’t dominated by a sibling rivalry but I still felt bitter-sweet racing her on her first ride up swains lane. It brought back memories of early mornings of racing up the climb on my first bike in toe-clips before school.

 

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Now the leaves have turned from green to brown. The racing for this year has come to an end. I moved back to York for my final year at university at the end of September but despite new modules and lecturers the rigid structure of each week feels so routine. I started working with a new coach and exploring new roads. I’ve switched from the summer race bike to the old winter trainer. But through all these changes I have a strong sense of persistence. In a calming way nothing feels new.

I can be grinding up a French Alp one day, or being dragged down a Flemish gutter, or spinning down a Yorkshire lane, but the persistence of riding remains. The rhythm may change pace but the turning of the pedals is constant; I feel the same sense of purpose being in the saddle.

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I like to think I’ll keep posting over the coming months but I won’t place that pressure or expectation on myself.

Ronde Van Oost-Vlaanderen

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My stint of Kermesses had been leading up to the U23 five-day stage race Ronde Van Oost-Vlaanderen, or Tour of East Flanders. The first three stages were mostly flat, with the final two days being lumpier “classics-style” courses.  Although only run four times previously, the race is pretty prestigious and a highlight of the season for many local Flandrian ‘renners’. I skimmed over the past edition’s result lists and some big names stood out. Connor Dunne had placed 6th in 2013, just ahead of Edward Theuns. Both of whom are currently riding the Vuelta a Espania. The following year Dan McLay won the overall. Clearly those who could cut it here weren’t shabby!

I would be guest riding for Goma Dakwerken – VDB Steenhouwerij cycling team, a Belgian setup made up of both Belgians and foreign riders. For Oost-Vlaanderen my friends Joe Sutton and Ben Foames would be riding, along with one Belgian, two Americans and a South African.

16/8 Stage 1 – Bavegem: 150km

After 20 minutes lined up on the start line to get a decent position, we were thoroughly warmed up in the stifling heat of the sun and hundreds of oiled Belgian legs. The flag was dropped and we began flat out sprinting to hold position in the bunch. And it barely let up for the first hour; 45km/hr average. It was just sprinting flat out through town centres, locking up the brakes at the last minute and kicking out of the corners again.

The kermesses (smaller local races) I’d been riding had been fairly easy to move up in. The hard part was the peddling, not the positioning. Not here though. Although I was working hard, it was almost impossible to move up. I knew where I wanted to be, but couldn’t get myself there. There was hundreds of tightly crammed bodies blocking the way! The narrow roads were swamped with angry Belgians elbowing you and dive-bombing the corners.

As such I was badly placed for the first few hours, despite knowing it would be costing me more energy chasing out of bends. Towards the back of the bunch is the worst place to get caught up in crashes, however it was admittedly my own fault when I decked it on one right-hander about halfway round the stage. I’m not entirely sure what happened, but my front wheel slid out from underneath me and I was sliding my ass down the tarmac yet again.

Jumping back up, I managed to get going again. But not before the entire field had shot past. As the convoy cars started looping round me, I got on to the bumper of my team car and had a blurry stint chewing the stem chasing back on.

Lotto led out the sprint from about 30k out which meant a fast but smooth finale. A gurana caffiene shot had perked me up but I had neither the balls or legs to get near the front of the bunch kick and rolled in mid-pack.

What I learned: if you want to play with the big boys, grow bigger balls

Savagery rating: 7/10

Result: 91st

In the evening I was treated to a massage, as was standard procedure after the stages. My legs felt like they’d earned it but was certainly a luxury I wasn’t used to!

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love a good oil-up 

17/8 Stage 2 – Adegem: 148km

After the first of many pasta parties, GOMA was ready to rock again…

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Day two’s course took us down narrow single-lane farm roads. Rain started falling on the startline. And chaos ensued.

The bunch hurtled down the tiny lanes, strung out in the gutter. After a mud-splattered first lap I punctured on the second. The team mechanic fitted a spare wheel and pushed me off, jumping back into the car. I chased agonisingly slowly but soon realised this was due to my rear brakes rubbing on the new wheel. I managed to get the message across to the car and soon enough my bike was held with my feet aloft as the mechanic adjusted my chainstay brake at 30mph. I could barely see where I was going, let alone how a mechanic could fine tune a brake in all the wet, muddy spray. Madness.

I was being paced back on, but still found it hard going. The bunch were motoring and I was pulled on the line on the third lap. I rode back to the team camper, my rear rim dragging on my brake pads at every turn. It was completely seized up with mud and gunk. I was not in a good mood.

 

 

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What I learned: chainstay brakes don’t like the mud

Savagery rating: 8/10

Result: 145th (I was still placed and allowed to start tomorrow due to mechanical)

18/8 Stage 3 – Haasdonk: 155km

After two days of bad luck I was determined to salvage something of the race in Haasdonk. I was pretty tired, which was a shame, as usually I recover better than most over stage races. However, after a couple of intensive training days I’d finally begun to get a hang of positioning in such a large pack. As such my race was easier, doing less work sprinting out of corners. But there’s only so much positioning can do over the grippy cobbled sector on the stage. I rolled around and finished midbunch fairly comfortably. – Not much story here…

However, it might’ve only seemed easier….. I had a couple of coffee’s before the stage, plus a caffeine gurana shot plus coke bottles in the last few laps from the team. (Caffeine is great at reducing perceived exertion).

What I learned: More caffeine is better

Savagery rating: 7/10

Result: 82nd

Unfortunately our DS was not impressed with the team’s antics over the first three days. We’d missed all the moves and were not doing well on any of the six jersey classifications. This meant no massages, washing and a delayed dinner – just an hour long bollocking at 7 o’clock to make us hungrier for the following stages… 

19/8 Stage 4 – Maarkedal: 156 km

The whole team were keen to get stuck in on the fourth day. We were keen to get back in the manager’s good books, and our morale was lifted with some sort of fruit tart from the soigneur’s musettes  before the start.

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Sugar kickstart

The circuit took us up a savage climb three times before moving onto a shorter lumpy finishing circuit. The first time up the climb was fairly hard but I was well placed and as we crested it I found myself second wheel in the bunch. When a rider from T-Palm attacked on the next roller, I didn’t hesitate and buried myself to follow. We were soon joined by another pair, and then one from Lotto bridged across. However after a while up the road, we were brought back by the chasing peloton.

There were a few of these type of moves early on, and luckily we had riders in them all. However, nothing was sticking. Lotto were driving the pace on the front making attacking a unsustainable strategy. By now my legs weren’t quite as zippy as before, so I was content sitting in given the high pace.

The next few times up the climb I just about managed to hang on. The finishing circuit was harder throughout, and suited me more since the group were forced to ride at a more constant effort, rather than surging and easing back. However my legs were definitely leaving me towards the last 10ks. Perhaps I was paying for my aggression earlier on?

My left shifter had become loose, meaning I only really had use of my front brake and had to climb on the drops Pantani-style. However I must’ve channelled some of Il Pirata’s panache as I manged to get round on a day that many were shelled.

What I learned: don’t go too hard too soon

Savagery rating: 8/10

Result: 75th

Back in the house, Joe led the calorie consumption charge. After four days “vol gas” our bodies were starting to cry out for serious speculoos nourishment.

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all you need is a jar and a spoon

20/8 Stage 5 – Herzele: 155km

The final morning was spent searching for Pro Plus tablets and caffeine gels (we didn’t really get offered coffee at the team house). Once these were ingested, all worries about the last day evaporated in the buzz.

The first lap the whole team were represented at the front end of the pack, going with moves and generally letting off some steam. Teammate Ben Foams had bridged solo to the break but behind I was enjoying the caffeine high, closing down any aggression from other riders.

Once the breakaway’s gap had been well established, the main group’s pace became more consistent and we cruised down closed main roads at 40k/hr making me feeling like a world tour pro in a sprint stage of the tour.

However, once we hit the bergy section of the course the pace became less chill. I was fighting up the hills but managed to stick in until I dropped my chain at the bottom of a cobbled descent. Unfortunately, this was the worst possible place it could’ve happened, since I lost all my momentum for the following climb. I went from mid-pack to last wheel in no time.

Once I’d got my chain back on, I ground up the grippy cobbles with little traction and even less speed. I chased with a few others who’d been distanced by the bunch but just as we made contact with the pack, the road went uphill again. 25% uphill. “Thanks but no thanks” said my legs.

Soon I found myself behind the convoy, with just one other Belgie for company. I was so wrecked at this point that I couldn’t even give him a turn. I was an absolute shell and relished being pulled when we rolled through the finish line.

 

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bike racing making men into shells since day 1

Agonisingly, after I climbed off I found that both brakes were rubbing. My chainstay brake had been a nightmare the entire five-day race but the front was new to joining the party. I was pretty disheartened, since I didn’t really know what I could’ve done without mechanical issues. I certainly felt I would have finished the final stage, which would have been nice since I listed as a DNF on the results- something which I didn’t feel was truly representative of my physical ability.

However, the five days race had been a brilliant advenutre and great opportunity to gain invaluable race experience at such a high level. Fair play to Lotto for ripping it up, dominating the race and taking most of the jerseys home.

What I learned: italian bikes don’t like belgian roads; and nor do weak british legs

Savagery rating: 8/10

Result: DNF

Thanks to GOMA for the amazing opportunity. I’d love to be back next year for another crack. Maybe with a bike without a chainstay brake.

 

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Belgian Cycling Summer-Camp for Dummies

After being dropped off by the saint that is Jason Nind, my team manager, on the 1st I was alone in the house for a few days. This gave me the perfect opportunity to explore Oudenaade, visit the local market and get a feel for life in Belgium. However after a couple of days without racing, the ‘Kalendar’ on the Flanders Cycling federation website became too much to resist. There seemed to be races on everyday!

3/8 Oostkamp 1.12B: 102km

After a 90 minute train journey to Bruges, I had a short ride to Oostkamp for my first Kermesse of the month. I managed to find the sign on in the back of a bar packed with locals. Beer was flowing, the race was 102k and started at half six. I had definitely arrived.

The course had a horribly technical series of switchbacks through the town but the draggier sections down the main road suited me better. I attempted to bridge to the early break but didn’t quite make it. After hanging in no-mans land until I had lactate up to my eyeballs, I was swallowed up by the chasing pack.

In a box after a failed bridging attempt – photo: Martine Verfaille

I decided to take a few laps sitting in the wheels so I could pedal without a feeling of agony again but I was given a full breather sooner than planned when my rear wheel deflated. Surprisingly I was still in good spirits, and made light-hearted conversation with a Belgian man who insisted on walking me back to the town centre.

What I learned: you need bodies to fight the wind (still learning this one from Velopark last month…)

Savagery rating: 6/10

Result: DNF

5/8 Overijse 1.12B: 110 km

After my midweek mishap at Oostkamp I was keen to get to the finish of the race at Overijse on Saturday. Keen enough to attack the steep climb from the gun and try to breakaway with an U23 from BMC and two other Brits, Harrison Jones and Josh Houlsey.

However whilst we stretched the elastic, the only breakaway we’d caused was in my fresh legs. I was cooked but looking down at my bike computer told me why. I had 380NP for the first 15 minutes. yikes!

The course had a disgusting 500m ramp at about 9% followed by a short decent and then two cobbled sectors. Following the second one, you hit a fast sweeping right-hander under tree cover which had left patches of tarmac damp and sticky. After skidding round it four times, on the fifth lap my rear tyre slid out. I hit the deck and my arse was sliding where my tyre had been.

Not badly hurt, I jumped up and tried to get back on the bike whilst the race shot past. I crunched down the cassette, from the 11 into a more reasonable gear to get up to speed. But the nature of the road meant I had fallen off in the bottom of a small dip, and had to start chasing from a standstill up a long drag.

This meant the group was agonisingly edging up the road. I chased hard, but the pack rode away with an aggressive racing style keeping the pace high. Eventually I was broomed and that was that.

What I learned: falling off slows your momentum. your arse cheek won’t thank you for it either.

Savagery rating: 8/10

Result: DNF

6/8 Meerbeke 1.12B: 112 km

After two big fat DNFs in my first two races, it had to be third time lucky at Meerbeke on Sunday. After arriving, we rode the course. My sensations weren’t too bad considering I’d crashed the day before. But this changed as we rounded the back half of the circuit. It had a bloody climb in it. A proper draggy one, which we would have to race up 12 times. So much for the Belgian flatlands.

The race was spikey for the first hour, whilst the break was established. I tried getting in a few moves but of course missed the right one. Someone let the wheel go and a huge bunch of guys escaped. However my time being aggressive off the front had caught up with me and I felt fairly cooked. I watched the group ride away; It had turned into a get round job for me.

As the laps ticked by and the climb steadily squeezed the legs of the peloton I began to feel a small revival. I began to get more aggressive again, looking to split off the bunch with a few others including Houlsey who was also racing today. One move with two others looked tasty but eventually this was reeled in my the main pack.

When your mate comes to Belgium to put you in a box… #holidayswithbae

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On the bell lap, the tempo was hard up the climb but I remained fairly well placed at the summit. I attacked on the following descent and managed to gain a small gap on the bunch. There was 3km at the bottom- a straight cross-windy main road which lead to the finish line. I knew my only chance of any sort of result was here. I seized the opportunity and pushed on down the descent, and buried myself until the line.

With about 200m to go I stopped chewing the stem and glanced back, I’d held them off. I allowed myself a nice, easy rolllll into town.

What I learned: Belgium definitely isn’t flat

Savagery rating: 7/10

Result: 46th

8/8 Dadizele – 1.12B:

1000 euros up for grabs meant racing on Tuesday was a no-brainer. A few others seemed to have the same idea. Plenty of other Brits were there which made for good company warming up around the circuit. This one was flatter which I preferred.

This was a less eventful race. I was less aggressive, and perhaps more sensible. Managing 5th or so from the group I was in meant I came away with 10 euros prize money, 1% of the total fund.

What I learned: It pays to be less aggressive sometimes

Savagery rating: 7/10

Result: 36th

 

10/8 Halen – 1.12B: 120 km

After an obligatory cafe top up on Wednesday, it was time to burn off some of the cake at Halen the next day. It was a rainy day and the circuit was pan flat, with a few slick manhole covers thrown in for bants.

Most of the race was spent chewing the stem, looking up to a spray of grey water and gutter. The speed camera sign on the main road was lit up through the wet wall of grey every lap, 40, 45, 50 km/hr. It didn’t show a happy face once.

I was grinning though, the race was super fun. Not too technical, the exposed main road gave the perfect opportunity for attacks to flow. I missed out on the winning move of five riders, which included three Lotto U23 boys. Coming into the final lap, I positioned fairly well and managed to squeeze 15th despite a complete lack of sprinting ability.

#OutsmartTheElements 📸@roland_pipeleers

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What I learned: racing in the rain aint all bad

Savagery rating: 7/10

Result: 15th

12/08 Roselare – Beveren 1.12B

After another easy day, I was raring to go again on Saturday at Roselare. I felt strong and attacked on the first lap with a few others. However once reeled in we were counter attacked ruthlessly. Now at the back of the peloton, I missed the split and began chasing. Our group held the gap at about 25s for a long while but after about an hour of racing my front tyre sagged. This rewarded me with a walk of shame back to the car for a coke and a sulk.

What I learned: attack might not be the best form of defence

Savagery rating: 6/10

Result: DNF

 

 

 

 

How To… Race in Belgium

Racing in Belgium may come with allusions of grandure, but really it couldn’t be easier to do. Although the racing is hard, the races are constructive instead of much of the negative style racing found in the UK.

Kermesses

these are the most common and typical Belgian races. 100-120km in over 12-20 laps of a short circuit. They usually start in a small town, ride out along the main road into the countryside (for a nice crosswind) and loop back around to finish in the town again.

Crits

Similar to the UK, these are short laps of a town centre. This makes for intense and technical racing. Admin is similar to a Kermesse.

Interclubs

These are bigger one day  races run for Belgian teams. You will need to guest for a local team for these races. They can be longer distances and higher quality of racing. But prize money and prestige is greater. There’s also a team prize.

More Info

All races are fully marshalled and are run on closed roads (or a rolling road closure).
Entry is €10, of which you get €5 back for returning your number at the end of the race. Prize money is good, expect up to €1000 total up for grabs. Money goes down to top 30 or even top 50, plus primes so hang around at the end to see if you are quids-in!

Races are well spectated and sometimes coincide with a town fair or festival. Expect the sign on to be in the busiest pub.

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look for the big dudes in the pale blue shirts

Foreigners will need a racing licence (such as a BC licence) and a letter of authority from their federation. Juniors will also need a calendar card which restricts them to ride no more than three races a week.

If you haven’t raced before in Belgium that year you will need to pay a €6 registration fee for the season. After this you should be able to make an online profile and see your results on https://mijnwbv.dewielerbond.be . It’s also possible to pre-enter races here. This is more necessary at the start of the season when fields get filled but by the summer time you can be pretty certain of an entry on the line.

I thoroughly recommend racing in Belgium. There’s a reason why racing here is the holy grail for cyclists. The country loves cycling and this is reflected in the quality of racing. The racing is cheap, the winnings are good and the racing is flat out. See you in the gutter.

 

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‘that wasn’t hard was it?’  ‘…..’ 

Crit crisis

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to ride a road race for the past three weekends. Instead I’ve had to get my racing fix in with a few midweek crits.

Velopark 19/7

I was feeling strong off the back of my block in France and was aggressive in order to try to form a break. However, the wind meant going alone was tough and no one but Joe Murray from London Dynamo seemed to be up for much. I had another dig late on but it was all together for the last lap so gave the kick a go.

What I learned: you need bodies to fight the wind

Savagery rating: 7/10

Result: 7th

Redbrige 20/7

Rise and shine. a new day in the big smoke brings a fresh opportunity to put your hands in the air. Tonights target- hog hill. I made it to the circuit alive, managing to avoid countless choppy moves riding through Tottenham Hale. Good start.

After a flat out first couple of laps, the paced lulled whilst the small field caught their breath. I rolled off the front and gave it a churn. the bunch let me hang in the wind, and despite making some leeway, I was brought back after about 25 minutes good training.

Then I really had to dig in; despite catching me the chasers weren’t holding back. The second half of the race was spent just holding on to the express train. With a couple slipping off in the final 10 minutes, I had no legs to follow so finished in the bunch. Sprinting backwards as usual I rolled in 10th. Fortunately after a little lie down, I’d recharged to race Jamie and the evening light home.

The endless summer #stateofmind #whenwewereyoung #stayyoung

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What I learned: if you’re going solo, don’t go too early

Savagery rating: 8/10

Result: 10th

 

Velopark 26/7

Next weekend’s action started pretty disasterously when I took out team-mate Tyler whilst he warmed up on the rollers. But things went from bad to worse after I got straight in the winning break with just two other riders. I nearly blew up following a monstrous move by Maris Petrache, a Romanian pro hot off the Red Hook London grid.

I was pulling turns, just hanging on when a Catord rider bridged across and we began 3-upping. I really had gone deep at this point and had to miss a few turns. Unfortunately the Catford lad hit me after I pulled through again, leaving me in no-mans land between the bunch and the break.

I waited, was swallowed up, and rolled around for the rest of the race. I felt like an absolute shell.

What I learned: if you’re blowing, don’t pull a turn

Savagery rating: 8/10

Result: 18th

 

Redbridge 27/7

didn’t even get to this one. after experiencing some sharp chest pain, I rang 111 when it didn’t go away. the bloke told me to go to a&e straight away. I was fast tracked through Northwick Park, and ended up in an extreme waiting room with guys on drips and oxygen. The nurse was a bit alarmed with my heart rate when she hooked me onto the ECG but I assured her I was an avid cyclist. I nearly passed out after a blood test but got an x-ray done once the lightheadedness had passed.

ecg.jpg
Copy of the ECG

Once the results had been analysed I, and a physical examination by a doctor, I was told I had probably pulled or strained an intercostal muscle. One which coincidentally was just over where my heart was beating. I was initially relieved, but  soon turned glum after my coach told me no racing for the next few days. The boss’s orders were to take it easy and make sure I was in good health before next week.

This brings me to reveal that I will be off on the 1st of August to Belgium where I will be staying for the whole month. I’ll be based in Oudenaarde in East Flanders, 30km south of Gent.