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 ūüďł@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

 

 

 

 

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.

Kamikaze attack at Hog Hill last night #fullninja #fruitninja #blackwhiteandredallover #allergictosprinting #tbw231

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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.

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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.

How To… Race in London

If you live in London and want to race your bicycle, these are some of the options open to you.

Crits

Crits or criteriums are perfect for inner-city racing. They are run on a short tarmac circuit, usually only a kilometer or two long. These are pretty flat, but this makes them fast and the addition of sharp turns can make for technical racing. Races usually last an hour or 90 minutes at most, so most people will race from the gun. Make sure you get a good warm up, and get your elbows out because they can be pretty feisty afairs.

Lee Valley VeloPark

Built outside the velodrome in the Olympic park, this new circuit has super smooth tarmac. The fairly sweeping bends make for quick race speeds, especially if there’s a tailwind on the back straight. If you need to brake much, if at all, you’re doing it wrong. In the summer there is racing on Wednesday evenings and weekends. There is also a winter series if you like racing in the rain.

Hillingdon

This Tuesday night classic is flat as a pancake. . Like Velopark, wind can be a factor in the racing as it is fairly exposed. Suits pure sprinters, climbers avoid. There is also an LVRC (old boys) series.

Crystal Palace

Whilst battle rages at Hillingdon, the other option on Tuesdays is at Crystal Palace. But only if it isn’t raining. Which it usually is. A technical upper portion of the circuit makes for some choppy riding. There is also a lower end to the circuit. This means there is a hill in it, which you do every lap. This makes for hard races. Probably the most fun circuit in town though. Sign on for racing is in Cadence bike shop up the hill.

Hog Hill

Thursday evening north of the river is all about the Hoggenberg, a 300m wall of pain. Apart from a solitary kick, the rest is pretty flat. Think of it as an interval session. If you’re not going well, Hog Hill will find you out. But if you are fit, this is a puncheur’s paradise. Watch out as the summer series finishes before summer does.

Cyclopark

Cyclopark in Gravesend is also an option on Thursdays. The longest of all the circuits, this can flow a bit more like a miniature road race. Flat-ish circuit with a lush tarmac surface. Be warned: it is always windy here.

Milton Keynes

A third option on Thursdays is the MK bowl. Races are run on laps of a big circuit and inner, finishing circuit. Another pan flat one. For a change.

Road Racing

Road racing is for weekends only. Nearly all races will be affiliated to a league. Preference usually goes to riders who ride for clubs affiliated to that league, so it may be useful to join one of those if you’re riding a lot of events in a certain area.

North and East London: ERRL

North West: Central

South London: SERRL

South West: Surrey

Circuits vary in terrain, but most will be flat or have a steep climb or two. But remember we’re in the South East. Climbs do not last more than three minutes.

Time Trials

A rider against the clock. Pure racing. Unfortunately to clock competitive times you will need to have a TT rig, skinsuit and aero helmet. But if you can’t beat the guy with all the aero gear, at least you can beat your personal best. Usually cheaper than bunch racing, and you can be guaranteed a workout.

In Town

Midweek time trials are held on the Velopark & Hillingdon crit circuits, with competitors doing lots of laps with no traffic to contend with. London Dynamo also occasionally run time trials around Richmond Park. These are usually oversubscribed so get an entry in early.

Brickendon 10 

A Tuesday night series is run by North Road RC on the ’10’ (9) mile circuit at Brickendon, just outside Hertford. Although it might be the shortest 10 miles you can race, its certainly not the flattest. A very ridable distance for a good warm-up, workout and cool-down.¬†http://www.northroadcc.org.uk/activities/time-trial-series/

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Hobbs Cross

Further east on Tuesdays you can find the Hobbs Cross evening league. Another lumpy 10, you do 3 laps of rolling circuit. A better option to ride to if you live in East London. Run by Redbridge CC: http://www.redbridgecyclingclub.co.uk/

Welwyn 10 series

Welwyn Wheelers also run a Tuesday night series, on the Cole Green circuit. This is about a five minute spin from the Brickendon circuit. A flatter course comes at the price of riding down the A-414. http://welwynwheelers.org.uk/time-trials

Open events

On the weekends you can find more competitive and prestigious events. These go from 10 miles up to 12 and even 24 hr races. The sanity of competitors riding anything longer than a 25 or 50 is questionable though.

Look at events run on the various London districts on the CTT website: https://www.cyclingtimetrials.org.uk/find-events

Hill Climbs

A niche sub-discipline of time trials, these races are run on the steepest hills organisers can find. The traditional hill climb season is towards the end of the year, around October, when everyone sensible has stopped racing. The most famous of these near London are the Catford and the Bec. Another notable shout-out is the Urban Hill climb up Swains Lane.

Track Cycling

Track racing requires a specific track bike. No brakes and just a solitary fixed-wheel gear, track cycling is a perfect way to hone your speed. Track riders are often strong crit racers as races are also short and intense. Track cycling is good because you get to race a few races each time, meaning your get more chances to win.

Herne Hill

An absolute relic, now fully refurbished. This outdoor track has a quality league on Tuesday nights. There are also Open meetings on weekends. Their Open season meetings are on the last Sunday of the month.

VeloPark

The VeloPark Track is a superb facility. Built for the 2012 Olympics but now open to the choppers of the capital. Occasional summer meet but most popular is the infamous winter track league. The roof means racing is hot whatever the weather.

Welwyn Track

The outdoor track at the Gosling Sports arena in Welwyn Garden City is one close to my heart. Track league runs every Friday evening in the summer.

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Cyclocross

Cyclocross is muddy, mucky and heaps of fun. Either completely or partially off-road, be prepared to jump off your bike and tackle obstacles such as steps, jumps and tree roots. You’re going to need a separate bike for this one too. Either a cyclocross specific bike, or else a mountain bike can hack it. Knobbly tyres are a must though. Be prepared to spend more time cleaning your bike than actually racing it.

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North London: Eastern, Central

South London: London (A short midweek summer league is also run.)

Also look out for the Rapha Supercross at Alexandra Palace.

Bonus Rides

The Dunwich Dynamo

Not a race, but a mass participation ride run every year on the longest Saturday night of the summer. Start in London Fields, Hackney at 8pm and ride through the night to the coast. Upon arrival treat yourself with a midnight snack at the cafe and enjoy the sunrise. If you think you’re as smart as me, you can try to ride home too!

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Commuter racing

In a city with thousands of other cyclists, the quickest way to get around town can often get competitive. Enjoy pretending-not-to race fellow rush-hour work goers, early-morning park lappers and boris bikers around the city. But do obey the rules of the road and stop at red lights. Cycling in London can be dangerous and the only way to earn the respect of drivers is to respect the highway code ourselves. Do not give your fellow riders a bad name.

This is my London. I have raced all of these events and disciplines. Each suit different style riders and help train a unique set of riding skills. The more you can do, the more versatile you will be. But if time and money are limiting factors for you, just start out with one or two. Crits and road races are best in the summer when the weather is drier, whilst Cyclocross and the VeloPark track league provide great options to keep racing in the winter.

Its easy to assume London is no place to be a cyclist, but you’d be wrong. There is a vibrant riding culture and some seriously competitive racing. I hope this can help point potential racers in the right direction. Good luck and get stuck in!

Thanks to Paul Burgoine for the photos.

Tour of Sussex 2017

 

 

I returned from the Alps pretty tired and my recovery the next week was feeling pretty slow. This might’ve been since I was playing 5-a-side against 12 year-olds at a secondary school; I had started work experience as a PE teacher. But when my phone rang asking me if I wanted to ride the Tour of Sussex with Team OnForm the following weekend I only had one answer…

Stage 1 РITT/Prologue: 2km 

Hot, humid and a strongly negative TSB set me in a snoozy mood for the evening prologue up Ditchling Beacon. Pumping some tunes out on the rollers in an attempt to get in the zone, I cruised to the start feeling a little readier to go.

Having ridden the climb once before on a London-Brighton-London training ride, I remembered the finish was after a right-hand bend. Unfortunately the beacon has several of these bends, all looking uncannily similar to a fatigued, 20 year-old cyclist with lactate pumping through his legs.

I started fairly smoothly, holding a steady effort into the base of the climb. But when the road snaked off to the right-hand side, I proceeded to sprint into it, with the belief I was about to crest the hill. As such, I did a sort of ¬†horrific over-under interval, blowing up and having to recover before going max-out again into the next right-hander. It didn’t help that the race manual listed the course as only 1.4 km…

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All smiles

I finished with a time of 6:30 which put me 30th on GC.

Stage 2 РTeam TT: 11km 

The following morning started with a team time trial. It basically went up one hill, along the top and down the hill again. Not the best for a team with a 50-something-kilo climber (Oli Smee) and a 70-something-kilo sprinter (James Ambrose-Parish). Elliot Joseph and myself made up the four man team. It probably didn’t help that we’d only met the previous evening, never mind ridden together.

With the help of gravity, Oli pulled Elliot and myself up the climb leaving James far behind. He then cowered in the wheels of Elliot and myself (whom gravity favours when travelling downhill) whilst we smashed down the descent to the finish line.

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…where’s James?!

Although it felt like a bit of a disaster, our ride placed us 5th out of 20 teams. But although I had moved up overall in placing, I was growing further away from the lead in terms of time. Team ASL had put in a blistering ride leaving me a whole minute down on the yellow jersey.

Stage 3 – Goodwood Crit: 69km

A peloton fueled up on complimentary protein coffee rolled up for the crit around Goodwood race circuit, which would follow the morning’s TTT. The wind and exposed tarmac meant the difference between riding on the front and in the wheels was laughable. One lap off the front was enough for me to confirm this and I sat in for the rest of the race once g pulled back by the bunch. Although not a massive effort, it had left me feeling a bit wank. Furthermore, my team mate Elliot had made the break of the day which gave me a nice excuse to do absolutely nothing. I avoided crashes, going over threshold and rolled in behind James A-P who won the bunch gallop.

Stage 4 РLadies Mile RR: 91km 

I was eager to leave my mark on this stage, as all of the previous stages hadn’t really suited me. Certainly the results hadn’t suited me! I was also probably the only rider ¬†feeling less tired than the previous day, as the fatigue from France dissipated. As such, I was nervous not to miss the breakaway.

Attacking from the gun with one Bowlphish rider, we were joined by others until a group of about 20 strong was working well together, ahead of the peloton. However when the large group was pulled back, I knew another split would go imminently. I dug in and went with the first attack up a steep climb. After a bit of huffing and puffing over the top, a group of five of us was rolling away from the main pack. Our gap grew quickly. The bunch must’ve been tired from dragging back the first break, and were clearly less worried about a smaller group up the road. My team mate Elliot was driving the pace like a man possessed, allowing me to contest the prime sprint. I came second which bagged me 5 bonus seconds: cheeky.

On the last lap a few riders began to slow and I realised others were flagging from their efforts. Keen to hold the peloton at bay, I put in a leg-testing attack in the saddle. Glancing back I saw I had gap of a few bike lengths. This was the moment. I rolled the dice, pushing on in the saddle. Not looking back this time, I emptied the tank and pushed hard on the pedals.

 

Joy.

Stage 5 – Beachy Head RR: 104 km

I was confident going into the final stage, now sittting at 4th on GC. The race rolled out from Eastbourne seafront. My top-secret was to hold back whilst the current podium tired themselves out attacking each other, leaving me to hit them late on with fresher legs. The masterplan was soon put on hold. I was going very hard sooner than I’d have liked, as the race was deneutralised on a steep hairpin climb out of the harbour. I managed to emerge at the front end of the field and held this position for the rest of the race. Behind, riders would be steadily spat as the K’s rolled by; each climb up Beachy Head eating away at the size of the pack.

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Marking yellow

A couple of riders managed to get away after about an hour of racing but I didn’t panic. The current GC podium were all within eyeshot. One particularly tough lap caused a split which saw me off the front along with the yellow jersey (Joseph Murray) and a handful of others. But our lead was was soon brought back by Team ASL who’s riders were sitting second and third on GC.

Frustratingly, on the last lap, cars came between what was left of the main group. Murray, along with two others, managed to steal away a large gap. Myself and the other riders were stuck behind the traffic, powerless to react. Still, I knew I had to try to limit my losses. I felt it hard to move up on the final climb, but managed to contest a top 10 on the stage. At the finish line I learned that one of the riders up the road was now well in contention for the overall win and I was sure I’d dropped on GC. To add to my displeasure, I realised I had a slow puncture. No wonder the last climb had felt draggy.

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Still, all-in-all the weekend had been a success. I’d got some quality racing in with some mates, and managed to pick up a stage win to boot. I still felt tired from my block in the alps but hopefully my success would be a taster of things to come in the next few weeks.

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Still a chopper at heart

Race savagery rating: 6/10
Final Result: 9th
Learned: If you start a stage race tired, you’ll feel fresher by the end >.<

Thanks to Tour of Sussex for the photos.

Alpine Goldmine

After being picked up from uni on Friday, the next day I was off to France for 9 days of gurning around some alps.

On Saturday morning my chilled vibe was rudely interrupted by an overweight bike box at the airport bag drop. After shedding pedals, protein bars and drink mix into my hand luggage I had reached BA’s sufficient race weight. Hopefully I wouldn’t be worrying about this on the return flight; I should come back a lot leaner in several ways.

From Heathrow a short flight to Lyon was followed by a drive to Vaujany where we registered for the following day’s granfondo (http://www.grandtrophee.fr/epreuve.php?C=2). A beautiful dinner of supermarche delights followed overlooking the misty mountain scenery in ¬†Oz en Oisans where we were staying for the week.

Day 1 – Vaujany Granfondo: 185km

The next morning we awoke at the crack of dawn for the Vaujany but still managed to miss the official start. We chased to the line to que our timing-chips against an oncoming peloton and spent the next half hour riding through-and-off to the bottom of the first climb in order to try and catch up with some of the field. After riding full gas up the Col de la Morte, we rode the Col du Ornon and Col du Sarenne steadily slower. The final climb up to Vaujany dragged endlessly. It seemed that a 39 was probably too big for these climbs, I rolled around at 60 rpm in the inescapable heat of the sun.

My official time was¬†06:51:32¬†over the 175km course, which placed me 83rd overall. Considering we’d missed the start – key to getting in a quick group, I was fairly pleased, although my pacing strategy certainly could be improved. I only saw one guy passing me in the entire ride, not counting stopping at feed stations.

Day 2 РLa Bérarde & Col de Sarenne: 134km

After a much needed lie-in, we cruised up to a little chalet at the end of a twisting alpine road at la B√©rarde; the most scenic caff stop I’ve ever had. After a brew and jabon-fromage sandwhich (an almost exclusive stop-choice for the week), we rode the Col de Sarenne. The patchy road surface was broken up with the names of the pro’s, written on by fans of the Dauphine which had passed up just a few weeks before. Ominous clouds began to spit with rain and we decided “yates you can” have two cafe stops in one ride. We sheltered in Alpe d’huez and warmed up over hot chocolates whilst the showers passed before finally dropping down to the bottom of the valley and riding the final climb back to the chalet.

Day 3 – La Toussuire, les Lacets de Montvernier & Col du Glandon: 98km

With a rainy afternoon forecast, another early start was needed. We drove up to the top of the Croix de Fer and did a gorgeous loop via Saint-Jaunne-de-Maurenne for a shop-stop and back up the Glandon. We also went up the iconic 17 hairpins of les Lacets de Montvernier which featured in the Tour in 2015. The early start payed off as we didn’t get wet apart from a slightly sweaty effort up the Glandon.

Day 4 – Col du Glandon, Col du Mallard & Croix de Fer: 166km

I arranged to meet up with my team mate Hamish Carrick for the day and ended up riding a similar loop to the day before but in reverse. Rain hit after descending the Glandon so we sheltered in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne over coffee and baguettes.

Big miles & coffee smiles #decerano

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Once fully caffeinated we drove hard up the Col du Mollard, climbing for a solid 90 minutes non-stop. After descending down the other side we briefly stopped with a donkey at the bottom of the Croix de Fer. Now the weather really turned prompting me to reach for my emergency Kendle Mint Cake and stuff a newspaper up my gilet. Once I hit the final climb back up to Oz the sugar kicked in and I warmed up, arriving wet but happy.

To my horror, I immediately learned that Nathan had crashed on his ride that morning. Whilst descending his front tyre hit a small rock and exploded, sending him flying into a rock face at full pelt. The result was not pretty…

Road to 2018 starts here

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Day 5 – Rest day exploring: 39 km

Wednesday morning was spent visiting Nathan in hospital. We drove down to Grenoble, en route retrieving Nathan’s bike from the local¬†gendarmerie,¬†to the bleak concrete block where he was hooked up to antibiotics. The weather in the mountains was stormy but the atmosphere was sunnier at the hospital in several ways as we tried to lift Nathan’s spirits. Despite an obvious end to his holiday and time off the bike ahead, he was positive and gracious. I went out in the rain that afternoon, exploring misty twisting lanes.

Day 6 – Col de la Morte, Col d’Ornon & Oulles: 140km

With the rain clouds out of the picture, Hamish tempted me with a longer ride to help embed the tanlines. Tan level seemed to correlate well to form; I seemed to go better on each climb of the day, culminating in a cheeky strava KOM on one of the Oulles climb segments.

Day 7 – Alpe d’huez/Marmotte registration: 68km

The registration for Sunday’s Marmotte Granfondo was taking place at the top of Alpe d’huez which gave us the perfect excuse to recce the final climb with a churn up the infamous 21 hairpins. After some queuing, waiting around and galette munching our preparation for tomorrow was complete.

Day 8 – Marmotte Granfondo Alpes: 208km

Horrifically early o’clock, forcing down breakfast, stumbling up to the van with the bikes and a drive down the valley. Then a ride into¬†Bourg d’Oisans for the start along with 9000 other lycra-clad humans. I set off way too hard, smashing up the Col du Glandon with endless French lean-beans. The following descent was gratefully neutralised; it was wet, gravely and generally pretty sketchy. I managed to find a fairly strong group to ride along the valley with, however most seemed content just to sit in. I was eager to push on and at one point broke away with one other (the cameraman in the video below).

I pushed on up the Col du T√©l√©graphe with the fastest in the group but after stopping to refill my bottles at the summit, found myself exposed in the wind on the rolling descent. However, once on the next climb I found I was catching up and dropping those who’d left me earlier. I felt the benefits of having done plenty of long rides before as I felt strong rolling through with a handful of riders after the fast descent. I stopped at the bottom of Alpe d’huez for a quick snack and then emptied the tank up the climb to finish in a time of¬†06:28:57 (87th fastest on the day).

The quickest way home was a 25km ride, but I didn’t feel too bad after a complimentary pasta and coke at the finish line.

All in all I had a great week; beautiful roads, stunning alpine scenery, great company and a much improved tan. Moreover, I was well under the weight limit at Lyon airport on Monday morning!

Total: 1038km in 43 hours

#thanksforcoming

Pas beau

After my success in Essex the previous weekend, I was on the road up to Northumberland with the team for the Beaumont Trophy – a classic British race first run in 1982 and now on the UCI calendar.

Somehow five boys, four bikes, seemingly endless bags, bottles and food was rammed into a Land Rover which heaved itself up the A1.

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Cosy

We recced the course and the infamous Ryals climb in some incredible evening sunshine and managed to find the remote farm with hostel style bunks where we had a room for the night just a stones-throw from Hadrian’s Wall.

The next day dawned and it was another scorcher. We arrived early and had plenty of time to change, warm up and take in some of the women’s racing that was taking place before us. Given our excess of time, I was one of the first to line up and was well positioned throughout most of the first lap. That was until I slid into a huge bank of gravel on one of the lefthand corners on the course. I floated over the stones but managed to hold myself upright. As a re-emerged from the otherside I saw just how far up the field I had been. A mass of riders filled the road ahead of me and I fought my way up to try to reclaim a decent position before the decisive Ryals climb.

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the ryals

I managed to hang on for a couple of ascents but to my horror on the third ascent I cramped awfully! What’s more frustrating is the bunch took this climb the easiest of all, soft tapping up the rise with a breakaway well established up the road. I could barely turn the pedals as I watched the group slide away from me.

3654 Bikes team car gave me a bottle of electrolyte mix and after downing the lot, I regained ability to ride again. But it was too little, too late; the bunch were too far up the road and chasing back on solo was a fruitless mission. I was passed by the broom wagon and was told my race was over.

I was gutted, as I’d been feeling strong and was sure this time I would finally finish a¬†UCI race. I don’t usually suffer from cramp so had a google in the Land Rover over some food. Over-exertion and loss of electrolytes seemed to be related. Beaumont was certainly hot in many ways, so this seemed to fit with my experience.

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thirsty work

This was my last race before a mid-season break in the Alps and a bitter way to end a long block of racing. Hopefully a change of scenery and a tan will bring some fresh morale and better form.

Testing times

After a week of downpours in York, I took the train down to south to get closer to the equator. First on the agenda was a crit at Milton Keynes bowl. As our new kit had just arrived, team management had decided it was a good opportunity to double-up the presentation and a night’s racing.

 

 

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It was a windy evening, but the showery spells seemed to be holding off for the 7pm start. Teammate Corey Ashley attacked from the line and the E12 race got started aggressively. I was keen to get stuck in, and spurred on by the new lycra I launched off the front of the pack with Douglas Coleman (Spirit-Tifosi). After a few laps we were joined by William Scott (Flamme Rouge) and three of us made good ground. We lapped the 3/4 race taking place behind and soon caught riders from our own race.

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new kit too slippery for the camera

However,after about half an hour of racing Coleman attacked, remarking “I’m not just gonna tow you to tha line am I?”. I was expecting the Spirit rider to try to shed his companions but we still had nearly half the race remaining so it seemed a little premature for fun and games. I chased on with the Flamme Rouge rider but after I pulled another¬†turn on the front Colleman kicked again and I was officially spat from the break.

To my dismay, the wind seemed to be affecting me a lot more with the absence of two tall lads to sit behind. I was caught by one group but was fairly sure I had lapped them, so sat off their slipstream not wanting to be DQ’d by the commissaires. I then continued to turn myself inside out to hold off the others chasing behind. I rolled in and, although there were lots of bodies across the course, was fairly sure I’d placed third.

I’d managed to get a midweek ten in bolted on the back of the crit, which gave me a fairly draining 320 W normalized for just over an hour. To my dismay however, I was listed on BC website as 10th a few days afterwards. There were no transponders so either the time-keepers or myself were mistaken, but I was annoyed to miss out on points I felt I’d earned.

The following Sunday I entered the Eagle RC road race. Lacking the motivation to warm, I span my legs in the neutralised section as the race convoy left in the 9 am sunshine. To my disbelief the rider in front of me was sporting thick merino socks which were poking out the top of his waterproof-type overshoes. He was going to have some sweaty feet!

I got stuck in right away and managed to get in a small break of four or so riders. We were then joined by a large group- nearly 15 or so! But this was pulled back as the guys in the main bunch panicked at the size of the break. I attacked on the second time up the climb to the finish line to claim the first prime. £5 was a nice contribution towards my entry fee anyway.

Instead of sitting up, I decided to push on and see if I could get up the road in hope of a chasing group behind forming. As I’d taken 1:40 out on the main bunch, it took a whole lap away solo before I was caught by about eight chasers.

We built a fair lead and it became clear the winner would be one of the group. A few riders began to voice their opinions that the pace should ease as there was no need to press on away from the peloton. One guy started complaining that he “was 40” on the climb, and had stopped pulling turns. I attacked again and this managed to drop the riders who were hanging on.

I pushed on again up the finishing straight to take the second prime and a lap later attacked in similar fashion to get away with one other for the last lap. We worked well together and soon the chasers had given up. I opened up my sprint early, nearly 1k to go and managed to bring home the win by a fair margin.

Last week I was contemplating moving towards some time trialing after seeing little return from my efforts in road races. However it seemed that adopting some testing tactics in road races has payed off instead!

 

 

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