As parts of Europe begin to emerge slightly from lockdown, here in the UK we are continuing to follow the guidelines put in place by the Government some weeks back. It doesn’t look like that is going to change, for the next few weeks at least, as the country attempts to turn the tide on Covid-19.
The past weekend was Easter, this year though the bookend bank holidays of Good Friday and Easter Monday were a strange occurrence where usually they are anticipated greatly for the two days off work! Everything is currently merging into one like the period between Christmas and New Year. I’d planned two rides, one for Good Friday and one for Easter Sunday and I was particularly interested to see what the Sunday was like out and about as it is normally the quietest day of the whole year. The weather was also forecast to be glorious so, again, I thought I would make best use of the situation in case more stringent measures were introduced because of people disregarding the social distancing guidelines.
Good Friday was lovely. Still arm warmers weather in the early morning but the legs were out for the first time this year and it felt pretty good. Even in the midst of a global crisis the bike, the weather and the calmness of a reduced traffic countryside made me smile.
What didn’t make me smile was an annoying brake rub that started after going over a bump. I thought it may be the new brake pads wearing in and that it would stop but it didn’t, if anything the couple of minor adjustments I made to the calliper made it worse! It wasn’t enough to stop me and make me turn for home, but it was annoying! I rode 50km including TWICE up my now ‘most hated to loved’ Beddlestead Lane so I was pleased with that. I headed home and fixed that pesky brake rub, the wheel was turning so smooth I couldn’t wait to get back out on Sunday.
Easter Sunday was quiet and then some! It’s normally the quietest day of the year anyway because most of the shops are closed and, unlike Christmas Day, people aren’t moving around all over the place to meet friends and family for dinners or celebrations. The past Sunday was the heady mix of birds singing and the whirr of a rather gorgeous Hunt freehub through the lanes.
I’d planned to do a 60km loop including Ide Hill and a couple of new lanes but I was having such a good time that I just kept going, arriving back at my front door some 80km later. It was a lovely morning, it’s going to be hard to accept when traffic levels return to pre Covid-19 levels.
These two rides have given me another thing to obsess over…….data! But that’s a post for another time.
Aside from being one of my favourite tracks by The Clash, the title of this particular post sums up how I’m feeling a little bit. While I am maintaining my training and enjoying it for the most part, the creeping inevitability of the Etape being postponed or cancelled is always in the back of my mind.
While turbo sessions and weekend rides have prevailed under the current partial lockdown, I am noticing a huge change in the amount of movement outside of these efforts. In ‘normal’ times I would easily break 10,000 steps a day but this rarely breaks 4,000 currently and it’s difficult to get two young children to go on a walk that equates to 6,000 steps! Also, through the availability of food and the proximity to a stocked fridge/cupboard, the diet has been tested to the limit.
Fortunately my willpower has been pretty good and I’ve managed to stay away from temptation on the whole, especially the Easter related products that have started to appear around the house! I’d noticed at the weekend that my face was starting to look slimmer again so I did another comparison….
My weight had fluctuated around the 73-74kg mark since the middle of February so I was fully prepared for a slight increase on the back of the changes in diet when I stepped on the scales this morning, however I had a nice surprise when the reading came back at 72.1kg (11st 5lb). That’s now a full 13kg (2st) lost so I’m incredibly happy with that and it was the little boost that I needed to keep going. I have 2.1kg (4.6lbs) to go to hit my 70kg target but am now approaching that with a renewed focus. Long rides may not be really possible at the moment so if I can’t build up the endurance I will damn well make sure that the weight part of it is working!
Looks like the good weather is here to stay for a bit so I’m going to make sure I get out tomorrow in case stricter lockdown conditions are implemented over the Easter weekend!
I have a new outlook on life! The builders have managed to finish the loft and en suite and, although it isn’t painted or carpeted, it’s enough for me to put a table in for a makeshift office! Some brief respite from the noise of the rest of the house but no more staring out the front window!
As for cycling we’re still allowed to go outdoors at the moment, though good weather at the weekend caused the Government to remind people that sunbathing in parks and on beaches isn’t part of their social distancing guidelines and I feared the worst!
I went for a 50km ride on Saturday and I was pleasantly surprised by the people that I encountered as the vast majority were in ones and twos and cycling sensibly and responsibly. I only saw one group of three (who certainly didn’t look like they lived together) and they got a few choice words. The most difficult part of the ride was keeping a rhythm on hills when bridging gaps to other riders, unless I was going much quicker I hung back as overtaking would shorten a gap for too long and I didn’t want to annoy people but then it became difficult to cycle at my own pace.
I also made the decision, as the possibility of an outdoor ban looms, that I would revisit roads and segments that have given me trouble in the past. I’ve found that a bad experience on a road in the past gives me a huge mental block, but as I’m now a much stronger cyclist and my understanding of what could have just been a ‘bad day’ has improved I wanted to conquer those mental blocks. Beddlestead Lane is one such place.
When I first got back on a bike in 2014 as a very unfit man in his mid 30s, I made a mistake one day in going down Beddlestead Lane. What starts off as a gloriously fast descent soon kicks up to a 3km long climb. It is only a 3.8% average across the 3km which, to me now, seems quite insignificant, but back then it was like climbing Everest.
I remember stopping not even halfway up, coughing up a smoker’s lung and then suffering the indignity of having to walk up the rest of way. I was close to throwing that bike away that day and it really gave me a reality check of just how unfit I was. I never went back……until last Saturday.
I know I’m fitter, stronger and an all round better cyclist than I was all those years ago but it didn’t stop the mental block from questioning my ability, I’m finding the emotional and psychological side of sport a very interesting subject at the moment. I rode my usual route over to the turning for Beddlestead and stopped…..
I watched a couple of riders disappear over the lip of the descent and gave myself a bit of a talking to before pushing off down the road. As the descent levelled and the road began to rise I made sure I was in the correct gear and got into a good rhythm, the doubts washed away and I spun my way fairly easily up the lane. I caught up with the two guys that had gone on ahead which reassured my feeble mind of just how far I’ve developed as a rider, but I hung back and maintained the distance between us. As the end of the road appeared an embarrassment entered my head and I reminded myself not to be so bloody stupid next time!
The rest of the ride was a slow and steady enjoyment of my surroundings, the peace and the fine weather. When the cars come back I’m going to dream of days like Saturday.
So, while the roads are quiet, I’m going to do more of this. There are several roads that I want to go back to, to banish old memories and challenge the new me.
Stay well, stay safe
I’m sitting here looking out of my lounge window. Not that strange in itself but I’m currently sitting at my dining room table, pretending to work from home. While the Covid-19 pandemic was gathering pace around the globe we were right in the middle of a loft conversion and getting a new kitchen, our builders rushing to make sure that the loft room was both usable and safe (if not painted and carpeted) before the inevitable lockdown. What we hadn’t factored in was the storage of our new kitchen, hence the emptying of the dining room and the repositioning of the dining room table! In the time I’ve been looking out of the window I’ve seen quite a few people out jogging or out for a family walk, which made me smile as I recalled a recent tweet by Mark Cavendish
Now I’ve never been one to lecture people on their exercise habits, having only really been serious about my cycling for the past 6 years or so, but it is incredible that the isolation caused by this horrible, deathly virus is making people seek the outdoors and exercise and spending more time with their families than ever before. I myself have spent over a week solely in the company of three people and, while the world is smaller than ever before thanks to technology, it has made me feel closer to my family……..BUT I do, more than ever, understand the need for my bicycle, the freedom it gives me and the effect it has on my overall mental health. If people keep breaking the rules and cycling is banned (as it has been in some European countries) I will be devastated and I can imagine that it will have a detrimental effect on my overall mood.
So, while we are allowed, I will make the most of the freedoms that we are afforded in a sensible, safe manner. Safety, is a key word in this situation as we obviously don’t want to be putting any further unnecessary pressures onto our brilliant NHS service so no fast descents and taking great care on suspect road surfaces! In addition to that it is also advisable to pay attention to the weather; yesterday was forecast to be gusty winds (which duly arrived) so I hunkered down in my shed for some indoor training on Zwift. Be sensible, don’t take risks!
As for training, I am fully expecting the Etape to be cancelled/postponed any day now but I am continuing with my training plan. The SST Short training workout is proving to be a real hit for my fitness and it is really noticeable once I get outside on my bike so I have moved to doing this session twice a week. When I started, I used an FTP of 170 to ease myself into the plan but that has steadily increased over the last four months and I’m currently running at 220 watts. I’m going to start to move that on again now to see where I can get to when the lockdown ends.
Take care of yourselves, your quaranteams, your families. Stay positive, stay strong, stay well.
Currently, here in the UK, we are still not under any enforced kind of lockdown. We are able to go outside, exercise and go to the shops as long as we practice the social distancing that has been well documented over the past few weeks, keeping at least 2 metres from other people for both our safety and theirs. What I have seen this past weekend shocked and saddened me, the couldn’t care less approach of some sections of the general public was unbelievable. From the crowds in Richmond Park (cyclists, why go there of all places?!) to walkers climbing Snowdon to the crush for more product at the supermarkets, what part of this do they not understand? The issue was the weather was too good!
We had to brave Tesco last week, there is no other way, so we arrived at 5:45am for opening at 6am just to get the bare essentials and get out. It isn’t something I would prefer to do but it is impossible to get delivery slots that will deliver in sufficient time. We will be making as much use of small, independent businesses as we can.
Where cycling is concerned, I did go out for a ride on Sunday. I stuck to quieter roads, took it easy (no fast descents) and made sure I enjoyed the sun on my face for what could be one of the last times for a while. There are those that will say I am being reckless going out on my bike but I believe I am in less danger than I am usually and, as long as I am taking the correct precautions, there is no sense in stopping riding until I am told to do so. I saw many like minded people when I was out and only one group who received a muttered word as I passed them.
I will go out again if I can this week, the weather is set to hold fair and I don’t want to be restricted to Zwift if I don’t have to.
Follow the rules as they are prescribed, stay healthy, stay active but keep yourself to yourself
The ever worsening situation surrounding the Covid-19 virus has been the main story for every news broadcast, paper and online media platform. We’ve seen incredibly sad images from around the globe of people losing their lives to this aggressive virus. It came as no real surprise to Adam or myself that the decision was made, 2 days ago, to postpone the Giro d’Italia. Lombardy has been at the heart of the outbreak in Italy and tough measures have been taken to limit the spread of the disease, a multi national bike race just pales into insignificance compared to what the people of that wonderful region have been going through. Neither of us are religious men, but we sincerely hope that the clouds start to lift from the region soon and the people can start to go back to some kind of semblance of normality. We hope to be able to use our flights to visit the region later in the year for Il Lombardia, all things being well.
As different countries impose different measures and sanctions it was inevitable that sporting events would be affected, although rather inexplicably Paris-Nice and the Cheltenham Festival still went ahead! The cycling season is as good as over before it really began as the list of races that are ‘postponed’ racks up. Though postponed is the word used, I cannot fathom how these races would be slotted into an already stacked calendar later in the year. My overriding hope is that this becomes a nice problem to have as things improve and they are able to be run, rather than a footnote to a horrible and destructive illness.
Personally, although it has yet to be 100% confirmed, I am pretty sure that my holiday to Cyprus is cancelled. The bike hire and the climb to Kantara Castle will have to wait for another day. The Etape is further away but my gut tells me that it will not happen this year, the timeline looks too tight to be viable. We wait and we hope, that’s all we can do.
I took the opportunity to go out on my bike this morning, not knowing whether a potential lockdown may make that an impossibility in the coming weeks. I pedalled a familiar route to Box Hill and back, making the most of the lighter mornings and the quieter roads. I could feel the benefit of all the training that I’ve been doing over the past few months as I felt strong, but moreover the situation gave me a feeling that can sometimes get forgotten…….I felt free.
As my wheels carried my home my mind wandered to those that cannot currently feel those freedoms and those who are more at risk to the effects of Covid-19. Please, try to be better. Please, try to be nicer. Please, try to help people that may be at risk. We are all in the same boat, it would help a lot if we all row in the same direction.
It’s been a good month since I’ve posted any updates on this blog, mainly because there hasn’t been a great deal to talk about. Storms and high winds have restricted time spent outside on the bike meaning my Zwift usage has increased dramatically, while elsewhere the whole world is watching and waiting to see what direction the current Coronavirus situation will take.
Certainly the latter has the potential to disrupt some pretty major events in 2020, not least the Tokyo Olympics which would be a great shame. Even closer to my heart is the threat to some major cycling races, with northern Italy experiencing a huge outbreak it looks unlikely that Strade Bianche, Milan Sanremo and Tirreno Adriatico will take place. EF Education First have already requested to be allowed to withdraw from the three races mentioned and there have been whispers that the Italian Government have decided that these races will not go ahead……but we shall see!
Strade Bianche is one of my favourite races to watch and the climb to Piazza del Campo in Siena is an absolutely beautiful finish to a race, one of the best anywhere in the world. To lose that from the calendar would be a real shame, but this year would be more disappointing as for us as Mike Teunissen is due to ride the white roads for the first time since 2017 and I know he was/is looking forward to it. Mike had a great start to the season, finishing 6th at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on ‘opening weekend’. He did brilliantly to get in the move that would go on to contest the final but his legs tired on the climb over the cobbles of the Muur van Geraardsbergen and he fell away from the front. Considering it was his first actual race day of 2020 it was an incredibly strong performance and he will take a lot of heart from that, his form looks good and bigger targets await.
Strade Bianche, if it goes ahead, will probably see Mike return to a support role for Wout Van Aert who will be dreaming of a win in a race where he has finished 3rd in the last two years. However, never say never, situations can change in a race and Mike will be feeling confident of taking any opportunities that may come his way…… if the race goes ahead.
For me, the potential impacts of the Coronavirus outbreak are still on a watching brief. Obviously the situation in Italy puts the Giro (and therefore our trip to the Stelvio) under serious threat, but also the Etape and the Ride London could be impacted further down the line. A cancellation of the Etape would be a huge disappointment for me personally so we wait and hope that the situation changes for the better over the next few weeks.
I’ve not let the Coronavirus and the related unknowns hinder my training though, I’ve continued to utilise the Zwift workouts and I’ve started to go back to the gym purely for leg work. The weight loss has slowed right down, as I expected it would, but I’m now down to 73.8kg which is an overall loss of 11.3kg (24.9lbs). The slow down has definitely coincided with the lack of outdoor bike time, fingers crossed the wet and windy weather gives way to some lovely Spring days soon!
The good thing about apps like Strava, MapMyRide etc is that you can look back and see how far you’ve come. It’s not the KOMs/QOMs or the one upmanship of beating your friends (or foes) on certain Strava segments that matters at all, it’s the personal development of the user in question. That thought came to me halfway up Ide Hill at the weekend, as I remembered the first time I tried to conquer that particular road and had to stop halfway up because I was knackered.
That ride on Sunday covered 65km in two and a half leisurely hours. By comparison, the 16km ride back home from my Mum’s house when I picked up that bike in 2014 took an hour and a half (with a lot less hills!). I considered that I’d also spent a lot of time off the bike following the London to Brighton in June 2014, in fact I didn’t get back on a bike again until March 2016 so really I have only been riding regularly for nearly 4 years. All of this got me thinking how much I’ve learnt along the way and how all of the experiences have got me to a level that I would never have anticipated 6 years ago.
Be A Weight Weenie…..
……but with yourself, not your bike! The difference you can make by eating right and losing a few pounds is quite extraordinary but you don’t have to live a monk’s life! The below shows two versions of me, 4 months apart in the same kit but with about 20lbs in weight difference
The above has coincided with a marked improvement in times on Strava segments that I ride regularly. A prime example of this is Box Hill, since the turn of the year I have knocked a whole minute off my previous best time on the Zig Zag Road. I have been doing Zwift workouts as well but I’m in no doubt that the weight loss is the main driver of the improvements.
Protect The Core!
A phrase I’ve used many a time at work, albeit with a different meaning. I started doing exercises that focussed on core strength as I had read a few different articles that all highlighted that as a key area. I have to say, they were right! Just a few sessions of planks, sit ups and squats (amongst other things) really started to make a difference on the bike as all of the pedalling motion starts at the core. The best thing is, you don’t need a gym for most of the exercises!
You Get What You Pay For
When you started cycling, unless you’ve more money that sense, chances are you were fairly frugal and bought some fairly inexpensive kit. Question: how long was it before you went out and bought some better kit? Not long, I’ll wager.
Now it is a fair point that there are brands out there, for example Dhb, that are producing good quality kit at extremely reasonable prices but I still maintain that the more you are willing to spend, the better the kit you will get. Fortunately the internet is a great platform for finding a bargain, whether it be the last of a certain size or last year’s colour, so there are brilliant brands available at very good prices. Sportful and Endura are two brands I really like that you can usually find in promotions online.
Get Your On Board Fuelling Right
This is a completely personal thing so it takes a bit of trial and error to find your perfect fuelling strategy but when you do you’ll unlock much better rides with more energy. I didn’t understand this for a long time but when it clicked I started to enjoy cycling a whole lot more.
I start pre ride with mini pittas with scrambled egg and chorizo. I find them a perfect ride fuel and easy on my stomach, plus they only take a couple of minutes to make. I used to have yoghurt, berries and granola but on odd occasions that disagreed with me
During a ride I favour real food over gels (although I still carry gels in case I need a quick hit) and I favour bars from either Science in Sport or Veloforte. The latter are expensive but absolutely worth it, they taste amazing. As I have suffered with cramp in the past my bar of choice is the Avanti, which has sea salt as a main ingredient along with dates, pecans and almonds. They’re vegan, gluten free and 100% natural – an amazing ride food that won’t leave you disappointed. Try them!
Ride Abroad (If You’re From The UK)
Simple one this. The roads and attitudes to cycling are so much better everywhere else in Europe.
A Clean Bike Is A Happy Bike
I’m a weirdo, I like cleaning my bike. I find it therapeutic. I’ve always loved tinkering with bikes, skateboards etc and cleaning the bike allows me that bit of time to indulge that personal joy. There’s a lot of products out there for this task and I’ve bought a lot of them over the years – personal favourites are Squirt Chain Lube and Fenwicks Foaming Chain Cleaner. A clean bike is likely to be more efficient and the cleaning process gives you a chance to figure out potential issues. I had a wobbly brake lever for ages, who knew there was a small screw to tighten under the brake hood that would sort it all out?!
Ride your bike, say hello to other cyclists, wear what you want, ride where you want, ride for however long you want just so long as you’re having fun. Ignore those who think they know it all (apart from professionals, of course), they’re just jealous you’re having more fun than they are.
Enjoy The Ride!
2019’s trip to Paris-Roubaix was such a brilliant adventure that we’ve decided to go on the road again in 2020. Stuff Peter Sagan, the King of Limburg is going to ride his first Giro d’Italia in 2020 and we’re going there too!
When the Tour route was released in October, the mountainous parcours caused me to send Mike Teunissen a message asking if he and Dylan would be going on holiday to Italy instead of France this year. “Probably!” came the reply. It’s a busy year for the pro cyclists with the added complication of an Olympic year to deal with. The parcours of that route around Mount Fuji, with nearly 5,000 metres of climbing, will put the sprinters (and many puncheurs) off attending so there’s a lot of jiggling to be done in the riders’ race programmes. It’ll be a busy spring for Mike with the Classics still being one of his main focus points and goals, I really do think he can push on again and improve last year’s 7th at Paris-Roubaix IF he gets the freedom to do so.
So, what of the Giro? Where are we going?
I thought I would write this post because I was pleasantly surprised at how little this is costing each of us, just over £200 each including flights, hire car and AirBnB accommodation for 3 nights. That means that we will get to see two stages of this year’s race, including one iconic climb.
Day 1 – Wednesday 27th May
We fly from Gatwick to Milan Linate with EasyJet, where we’ll pick up our hire car (we plumped for a VW Golf or equivalent). From there, our route will take us north, round the right hand shore of Lake Como and up to Bormio in the Lombardy region of the Alps. Here we’ll make our base for two nights
Day 2 – Thursday 28th May
Stage 18 Pinzolo > Laghi Di Cancano (209km) – From our AirBnB we’ll travel upwards to the iconic Stelvio Pass to await the riders and the Cima Coppi (weather permitting). The route we will take will be the reverse of the fast descent that the riders will roll down later in the day as they make their way to the finish at Laghi Di Cancano. With Dylan Groenewegen in the race and a sprint stage the following day, I’m fully expecting Mike to be on Gruppetto duty so hopefully we’ll get to give him a cheer and a friendly nudge in the right direction
Day 3 – Friday 28th May
Stage 19 Morbegno > Asti (251km) – The longest stage of the race is also one of the flattest. I would expect that it will be a fairly slow stage (following the Stelvio and in anticipation of stage 20’s climbs to Sestriere) and it should finish in a bunch sprint which brings Mike into play again in the lead out. Obviously this depends on how many sprinters are left in the race, if too many have DNF against their name then there could be a chance for the break if the bunch don’t want to chase.
We will leave Bormio early doors and head to Asti where we have our final night’s AirBnB accommodation. We’ll try to get as close to the finish line as possible and hopefully grab a word with Mike after the stage. Stage 20 starts in Alba, about half an hour away, so I would imagine the team hotels won’t be too far away.
Day 4 – Saturday 29th May
Home time. We have the day to spare before our flight at 5pm, I may suggest the trip to Alba to watch the start of stage 20 if there is enough time.
So, there it is, a whistle stop tour of the Giro but one that we are both looking forward to immensely. Italy is a country that I have only visited a couple of times so I’m excited to go back, especially to see the bike racing!
Happy New Year!
A bit late, I know, but the sentiment is there.
I had a very quiet New Year’s Eve, a takeaway and a film with the Mrs while the boys were safely tucked up in bed (I can wholeheartedly recommend Rocketman as a great film). The beauty of that quiet evening meant I woke up feeling fresh as a daisy so I had a lovely New Year’s ride over to Box Hill and back again, getting the first 60km of the year in the books.
It was a cloudy and fairly chilly morning but it was quiet so it was a really nice time to be out and about. I was glad of the Defeet Woolie Boolie socks as my toes started to feel the chill. I expected it to be busy at Box Hill with lots of like minded cyclists considering the lack of car traffic due to New Year’s celebrations but it wasn’t so, when I reached the top I was the only cyclist there and I must’ve only seen a max of 10 cyclists in the area. Consequently I was in the top 10 for the year at the end of yesterday on the Box Hill Strava segment!! Haha!
2019 In Review
Looking back at 2019, both Adam and I had a fair bit going on. From new jobs to various holidays and cycling related excursions, we packed a fair bit in. Here’s three of my favourite things from the year
Paris-Roubaix – It’s what watching cycling is all about, an adventure to stand in a forest for 4 hours waiting for 30 seconds of madness as the peloton rolls by. What an absolute joy! The fact we managed to get to the velodrome for the finish topped off the race day but we had a brilliant weekend in total, not least the chance to meet Mike Teunissen at the sign in day
Svenska Cykel – Ever since we completed London to Paris I have wanted to cycle in more foreign countries so the opportunity to go and visit my friend Rob in Stockholm was too good to miss. We cycled, drank, laughed, took some boats, laughed, drank some more for a good four days and it was a blast. The archipelago where Stockholm resides is a beautiful place and well worth a visit, I would like to return to a log cabin there in the summer for a week as it seems like an amazing ‘back to nature’ holiday.
UCI World Championships Harrogate – I was fortunate enough to witness one of the defining cycling performances of all time as I saw Annemiek van Vleuten raise her arms at the end of the Women’s Road Race but, in truth, the whole weekend was amazing from start to finish and even the torrential rain couldn’t dampen the hardy Yorkshire spirit. It’s an experience that will live with me for a lifetime, an honour to be the smallest part of it.
Looking Forward To 2020
This year is already shaping up to be just as big as last year. Plans are in the diary, tickets have been booked and events entered so I have many objectives on my mind!
So there it is, the 2nd of January and the diary is looking busy already. Add to those a loft conversion on the house and my wife’s 40th birthday and it will be a really busy year!