Those who have read this blog, or who know me well, will know my history with cycling, how I gave up smoking nearly 6 years ago now after 20 years on the fags. It was that event that caused me to find this hobby as a means to get fit and find something to focus on. I never imagined it would lead to what my wife would term an obsession.
As I approached the end of September, which will mark that 6 year anniversary, I started to look back on how far I had progressed. I’ve done some wonderful things that I never would have believed possible; London to Paris, Brighton and back, Ride London x2 were huge achievements for me, but I couldn’t help but feel that I should be better than I am. At the top of Clarks Lane, a couple of weeks back, I slumped on my bars and gasped for some air. I’d ridden this short and gentle climb numerous times, it’s only 1.3km at a 4.1% average gradient, yet it always knocks the stuffing out of me regardless of whether its the first or last climb on my ride
I made the decision there and then to go to the doctors to get myself checked out, if I had been 2 years into non-smoking I may well have felt differently but I have trained and worked hard on my cycling over the 6 year period and my gut told me that I wasn’t improving. I fully understand that my smoking could have done irreparable damage to my lungs and breathing but I wanted to get checked out, just to be sure.
This morning I went to the doctor’s surgery and sat down with him to discuss my situation. I think he was quite impressed with the wholesale changes I have made to my lifestyle and he hypothesised that I am possibly suffering from exercise induced asthma. He prescribed me a peak flow meter which takes readings of air flow out of your lungs and I have to do this when I wake up and before I go to bed for two weeks in order to collect data that may help to determine whether I need full preventative asthma medication
In addition to this he also prescribed me a Salbutamol inhaler, the substance at the centre of the Chris Froome scandal last year. This is reserved for the days where I do exercise, I’m to take it before I go out cycling and carry it with me in case I feel the need to ‘top up’.
This is my ‘Icarus moment’ (for those who are unaware, Icarus is a Netflix documentary where Bryan Fogel explores doping to win a cycling race), however mine is completely legal! I am at the point where I know my abilities inside out, I really do think I will be able to spot any changes in performance and overall condition from the introduction of this medication. I’m thoroughly therapeutically exempt, I have the signature! Flippancy aside, I am both interested and excited to see what happens and whether my cycling improves as a result. Clarks Lane will be my ‘control’ segment, I know how to ride it and changes will be easy to spot.
Last thing on this, the UK NHS service is a wondrous and amazing thing. Anybody trying to tamper with it or dismantle it should be ashamed.
In three week’s time the best of the best in world cycling will descend on Harrogate to battle it out for the right to wear the rainbow bands in the respective disciplines until they are fought for again in Aigle-Martigny in September 2020.
The good news for me is……..I’ll be there! Following on from Alpecin Cycling’s event at the London stage of the Tour of Britain last year, this year they are hosting an event at the World Championships and I could not be happier that they’ve invited me! I’m hoping to catch the Mens U23, Women’s Elite and the Men’s Elite races as well as donning the Alpecin colours once more for a ride out around the Harrogate finishing circuit.
I was intrigued, therefore, when Zwift finally released their Harrogate World Champs course into the public domain today. A stomach complaint put paid to my chances of an outdoor ride so I decided to take a leisurely spin round the new course. It is completely what you would expect from a UK based course, hardly any flat sections you are either going up or down and nowhere in between. No lengthy, steep climbs, this is one for the puncheurs with a decent engine. There are long drags at 2-3% that don’t seem like much but will sap the energy of the riders as well as a couple of short, sharp, stinging lumps to get over
Out of the start/finish you turn right onto Otley Road and it becomes clear that this is not going to be an easy cafe ride
I can only imagine how a UK road surface will make these drags sap energy as the pros go round their seven circuits, any inclement weather and this will get ten times worse!
The Zwift course is well designed, looks great and is fun to ride.
The sprint to the finish line is another uphill drag so it won’t be a pure sprinter that wins the rainbow bands this year. Indeed, the corner that turns into the finish is an absolute brute. There’s not an easy run in to set yourself for the final sprint, this will all be about positioning. This could be the one downside for MVDP, this is top level cycling and the likes of Sagan, Alaphilippe and Gilbert will know immediately where they need to be. MVDP will have the backing of a strong Dutch team and I’m sure Mike T can help to put him in the right place.
The other thing I found out today is that I have a broken smart trainer. The cadence keeps dropping out or is ridiculously high and the watts definitely aren’t correct. Looks like that direct drive trainer is nearer in my future than originally expected!
I did it, I finished the full Ride 100. After last year all I wanted was to be able to finish the whole route without incident and, thankfully, that wish came to pass.
The morning began very early for me with a 3:45am alarm call. A quick shower and a hearty breakfast later, I was on my way from my AirBnB in Walthamstow to the start line at the Olympic Park. It wasn’t the dull, rainy day of last year and for that I was extremely happy as we edged closer to our wave start time of 6:28am
Anyone who has done this ride will know that the ‘hype man’ at the start asks the riders on the front of the wave for a song to be played out as you start, kudos to the person on the front of my wave who chose Sabotage by the Beastie Boys!
The route out of East London doesn’t change at all really, down the Limehouse Link then following the river till a sharp right takes you up past the back of Green Park and through Knightsbridge on your way out to Hammersmith and on to Chiswick Bridge. The adrenaline pumps and you seem to eat up the miles very quickly. I found that starting in an early wave provided me with a lot of faster wheels to hang onto for a bit which made the whole experience quite easy and I covered the first 20 miles in under an hour. In actual fact, that pace never really relented until the bottom of Newlands Corner. The difference this year was the weather, the fact that it was dry meant that I took in a lot more of the sights and sounds as we pedalled out of town. It also meant that I noticed when I was overtaken by Dani Rowe, Jazz Carlin and a man dressed as a cow.
Newlands Corner is the first real sharpener for the legs. It’s not the most difficult but it has an awkward profile, preceded by a 1 mile drag up Ripley Lane. I had bypassed all the previous feed/water stations with the intent of making this my only stop, that was the correct decision at 50 miles in. I also made a point of messaging Mike Teunissen to tell him he’d have a tough time beating my undoubted Newlands KOM in the pro race later that day! He was up for the challenge!
The descent off Newlands is a lovely fast sweeping road but it only lulls you into a false sense of security as the long drag from Gomshall through Abinger to Holmbury St Mary awaits at the bottom. It was here that the difference in capabilities of the cyclists started to become evident. I had seen enough last year to be ultra aware of my surroundings and other riders this year, but I can honestly say that it was the (obviously) more experienced riders with their matte black everythings that were causing the most danger to everyone else on the road. I witnessed multiple incidents of undertaking, diving into corners and a complete failure to give space to other riders. I liked to refer to these riders as being from the ‘Wanker Wave’. The ride captains in the Continental kits weren’t much better to be honest and they exerted no effort or control over any dangerous riding. Rant over but, if you read this and you’re from ‘Wanker Wave’ have a word with yourself, most people out there were riding for charity so don’t get pissy because you’re not getting another meaningless Strava PB.
Talking of PBs, next up was Leith Hill. I’ve ridden Leith Hill a few times and it is tricky enough on a quiet day, the volume of people turning into it on Sunday made it quite clear that this was never going to be up there with the quickest times it has ever seen. I struggled with it if I’m honest, not through difficulty but through pace. On the left of the narrow ascent road it was slow going and on the right there was a steady stream of faster riders, much faster than me, so I struggled to find a line where I could go at my own pace and I found that extremely difficult. On the odd occasion there was a gap in the faster riders I managed to hop round a few slower riders but for the most part I just had to sit in and pedal slowly up the hill. I found the same thing on Box Hill later in the ride, sheer volume of cyclists made it very difficult to go at your own steady pace.
I hadn’t planned on stopping at the top of Box Hill as I knew, from there on in, that Wimbledon Hill was the only little lumpy bit left but I started to feel a twinge of cramp in my thigh so I pulled in past the observation point and had a rest and some food.
The rest of the ride went by quite quickly and without incident. I stopped at Wimbledon to talk to my pal Ben and then again on Putney Bridge when I spotted Al, but moved on quickly and I finally crossed the finish line on The Mall in a time of 6 hours and 23 mins. I had hoped to do it in under 6 hours but the sheer volume of people made that difficult and I was pleased just to finish.
I’ve entered the ballot for next year but I think I need to look for a different challenge for 2020!
As with last year, registration and the collection of numbers for the Prudential Ride London involves a visit to the ExCel London. The registration event opened on Thursday 1st August and runs through to 5pm on Saturday 3rd August, the day before the race. It is accompanied by a small bike show which include stands by some major manufacturers as well as talks on a main stage with special guests – this year Fabian Cancellara is making an appearance, one of the greatest cyclists ever and my buddy from a previous Rouleur Classic show!
I went on the Saturday last year but, obviously, that was incredibly busy as cyclists from all over the country finished the working week and descended onto the capital for the event. This year, I took some time from work and went to the event today (the Friday) hoping for a slightly more relaxed experience and it definitely was that. I took my eldest son, Zac, with me as his interest in cycling and bikes is growing quickly.
The show seems to have grown as the event has gained more and more popularity, but the interactive nature of the show was a different level this year with plenty to keep everyone entertained for a few hours. Zac particularly liked the Evans Cycles pedal-powered ‘Scalextric’ set which we had several goes on!
We also had a go on a superb mini velodrome that had been installed at the back of the arena. That was Zac’s first ever experience of anything with that kind of setup and he coped with it pretty well, he told everyone on the way home that he’d beat me!
There was also a full Zwift stand, including treadmill for the running element. Zac was too small for the bikes so the friendly man on the stand challenged Zac to run 1km in exchange for a Zwift water bottle, Zac didn’t need asking twice!
The people manning the stands were all brilliant. Friendly, engaging and genuinely happy to take the time to stop and chat and have a bit of a laugh and a joke. They were also excellent with Zac, he had a great time and is now pressing me for a racing bike! (YES!)
Only two things to do before coming home:
A) Check the route again
B) Have a champion’s photo on The Mall
I’m planning on heading into London tomorrow to catch the Classique Women’s Race before getting an early night, my start time is 6:28am so I have to be strict with my planning! Weather looks ok so hopefully we’ll get a good run and I can hang around to watch the pros race finish. Allez!
Back in January I made some predictions. Well, not predictions as such, just some comments on things that I hoped would happen during the current professional road season. I thought the second rest day of the Tour de France provided a great opportunity to review my list and see who I managed to jinx!
Cav To Return To Top Form – unfortunately it just hasn’t happened for Cav. Left out of the Tour team when back to something like his best, according to his DS, I fear that may be the last we see of Cav at major tours
Mike Teunissen To Win His First Major Race – well, what can I say about that! Mike followed up a brilliant 7th at Paris Roubaix with 2 stage wins and his first pro GC win at the 4 Days of Dunkirk, then first place with the team at Hammer Stavanger and first in the GC at the ZLM tour……..but he still wasn’t done.
He was excited to be at the Tour de France, the Jumbo Visma train had been running smoothly and there were big options for the team in the sprints with Dylan Groenwegen and in the GC with Kruijswijk but nobody expected the drama that unfolded on stage 1. With Groenewegen caught up in a crash in the final kilometres, Mike found himself alone at the front of the race so he decided to put the hammer down an go for it. He outsprinted Sagan, Colbrelli, Ewan, Viviani and Matthews (amongst others) to take the stage win AND the coveted yellow jersey (plus the green points jersey)! Not satisfied with that, the Jumbo Visma boys smashed the TTT on stage 2 and Mike retained the jersey.
I’m hoping to catch up with Mike in London in a couple of weeks if he rides the Surrey Classic, it’ll be good to shake his hand and congratulate him personally on a magic season.
Michael Valgren To Win At Flanders – Nope. It just hasn’t happened for Valgren this year. I’m unsure if it is the team move that has hampered him or whether it is just a form dip in general. He will return, class is permanent.
Dan Martin To Finally Win At Fleche – Nope, another one wide of the mark. Alaphilippe and Fuglsang were brilliant at Fleche. Another year missed for Dan
Enric Mas To Be A Home Hero At La Vuelta – Maybe. He seems to be suffering with illness in the Tour at the moment, hopefully his form will return for his home race
Katusha Alpecin To Return To Winning Ways – Aside from Kittel winning at Trofeo Palma (then subsequently cancelling his contract), Katusha have mustered just two stage wins this year; Zabel in a sprint in the Tour de Yorkshire and what was actually a quite brilliant stage win from Zakarin in the Giro. It’s not enough and now there are questions over the future of the team
Viviani To Win Milan Sanremo – Nope. 65th in the end. Nobody accounted for Alaphilippe this year!
Richie Porte To Stay Upright For Three Weeks – Well, he’s still in there and fighting at the moment!
Tao Geoghegan Hart To Get More Opportunities At Team Sky (now Ineos) – Tao was quite brilliant at the Tour of the Alps, finishing second behind teammate Pavel Sivakov, but his form was cruelly ended by a crash at the Giro. He’ll be back, I hope to see him in the line up for La Vuelta
Tim Wellens To Win Something, Somewhere, In The Spring – Nope. Podiums at Omloop and De Brabantse Pijl but no winners jersey.
Strade Bianche To Be As Enthralling As Last Year – Well, I think it was. Alaphilippe getting the jump on Fuglsang on the final climb to Siena finished a captivating race and announced Alaphilippe’s form for all to see. Unfortunately for others, it was very hard to match him!
Bardet To Return To Form At The Tour – Unfortunately not. Bardet looks a shadow of the rider he was.
So, there you have a mid year progress report. Not many hopes have come to fruition but Mike Teunissen has overdelivered to compensate for the others! Not many knew of him before his Tour stage win (he told me he gained 10,000 Twitter followers in one evening after the win) but he’s a talented lad who has won junior titles at Paris-Roubaix (2014) and in cyclocross so keep your eye on him!
Today marks 2 weeks till the Ride London 2019. If I’m honest, I don’t feel as prepared as I did last year but, in truth, I am probably in better shape. A combination of the weather and other ‘real life’ things have meant that I haven’t had a lot of time on the bike. Bit of a worry, but we’ll give it a go!
Last week I received an email for the final ride registration which, upon completing the said registration, gave me my final information for the ride. Those who have read my previous posts on last year’s event will know that I wasn’t particularly happy with the 9am start time so I was delighted to find my rider number correlates with a 6:28am start time this year!
The route itself looks exactly the same to last year, which is fine with me as I have ridden those roads numerous times so I know how I’m going to have to manage my efforts and nutrition.
This is quite different to the pro race which has been changed beyond recognition. Starting in Bushey Park this year, the route has been turned into a circuit race with fairly iconic Surrey roads like Ranmore Common replaced with the climb of Box Hill FIVE times. It does then wind its way back into town to finish on The Mall. Hopefully Mike Teunissen will follow up his yellow jersey escapades with a visit to the capital and I’ll be able to catch him at the finish for a quick catch up, cyclist to cyclist! Haha.
This time round I’ve booked myself an Airbnb rather than a hotel room for the night before. I love Airbnb, I find the flexibility it tends to offer over the traditional hotel method much more agreeable. Last year my wife came and stayed overnight the night before and we went out for a decent meal but this year I’ll be going it alone. I’ll be travelling as light as possible so a quiet room with a book for the night before is perfect!
I have a ballot place this year so I’m not harassing people for sponsorship but, if you do want to feel the warm glow of sponsoring me, please click the donate button at the top of the page
A final thought, 2 years ago today Adam and I had just finished day three of our run to Paris. We had cycled some 65 miles from Abbeville to Beauvais, leaving us dangerously close to the outskirts of Paris
It was a fantastic trip and I stilllong to do another multi day bike ride. How far I’ve come since then….
I’ve long eschewed the Rapha brand. My reasons for this were very basic; 1) It was too expensive for me 2) Every cyclist that has ever looked down their nose at me has been dressed head to toe in the brand and 3) I once tried one of their jerseys on in the Soho shop and I looked like a bucket of blancmange in a bin bag.
I’d wanted to buy a decent set of bib shorts for some time but I couldn’t bring myself to spend the kind of money on the brands that were suggested in every ‘best bib shorts’ write up. Assos, Le Col, Endura and Castelli all featured as highly as their prices
The difference for Rapha was the introduction of their ‘Core’ range in April. The bibs have reviewed brilliantly since then and, at £85, they were a price that I could stretch to. I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed.
I wore the bibs on our first outing in Stockholm, a very hot 80km ride so not mega long but enough to get a feel for how they were going to perform. I didn’t have any of the irritations of cheaper bibs, I didn’t have to adjust myself as much and I felt extremely comfortable for the whole ride. If you’re looking for a set of bibs that are a bit of an upgrade but won’t break the bank, then the Rapha Core bibs are definitely for you!
Last Friday I set off for Stockholm with my friends Ben and Cameron to see another one of our friends, Rob, who has lived out there for over 10 years. We’d planned this as a cycling holiday, using Rob’s house as a base, but I’d never travelled with a bike box before so I was a little apprehensive and intrigued as to how this would work out!
We hired 3 Bike Box Alan bike boxes from a local company, GoBikeGo, for a very reasonable price of £6 per day with a deposit of £100 to cover any damages. I’d never packed a bike box before but found it relatively straightforward after watching a couple of videos on YouTube, particularly this GCN one.
The airport procedure was a lot smoother than I expected too. After checking in at the automated machines we were ushered down to the oversize baggage belt where a helpful gentleman took both our luggage and the bike boxes for us (top tip – if traveling with a bike box use a back pack or a bag with straps as they’ll take those through oversize baggage too!). All safely arrived intact at the other end (albeit in completely different areas of the baggage reclaim) so we made our way to Rob’s to put the bikes back together.
Rob had planned three rides for us on varying routes around the area south of Stockholm. Day 3 was to be reserved for a slightly lighter ride, with some island hopping and ferry travel mixed in
Day 1 – 80km
The first route took us south out of the suburbs into the Swedish countryside. It became apparent fairly early on that the terrain was going to be much like that of Northern France, rolling roads with very little freewheeling or totally flat roads. The going was fairly tough due to a combination of a stiff breeze, a warm sun and several alcoholic beverages the day before. I don’t drink a lot these days so it seemed to affect me more than the others, plus I was wishing I hadn’t bothered with a base layer by 10 miles in! We headed, stopping only to answer the call of nature, through a town called Västerhaninge down to the coast at Årsta havsbad where we stopped for lunch at a hot dog stall by the ferry port, it did a mean Bratwurst!
After a nice lunch break we made our way back into Stockholm itself and rewarded ourselves with a beer at a place called the Thai Boat
The lady at the Thai Boat wasn’t particularly accommodating of our cyclist ways, denying us a table where we could keep watch over the bikes, but we stayed for one before heading back to Rob’s.
Day 2 – 111km
On day 2 I felt a bit better! I’d managed my alcohol intake the previous evening, ditched the base layer and slept a lot better overall. We headed out along the same route as day 1 but instead of continuing south to the cost at Västerhaninge, we headed South West and stopped at what Rob told us was a castle called Häringe Slott. It looked more like a manor house to me…..
We continued on to a small place called Spångbro, 60km in, where the Co-Op provided lunchtime provisions, consumed in the shade of a large tree on the grounds of a beautiful white Lutheran church at Sorunda
Rob had promised us two things on the way back: a) a 3km stretch of ‘gravel’ road that was a little bit ‘bumpy’ and b) a beer by one of the many lakes in Sweden. Ignoring the first bit in favour of the second bit, we saddled up and got on our way. The ‘gravel sector’, as it had become known, was a bit of a challenge as there were quite a few dips in the road that looked like asteroids had crashed into it. Amazingly, we all came out of it unscathed! The other side of that section wasn’t so bad, more like loose road chippings
From there, we continued up to a lake at Sundby Gård where we stopped for a well earned refreshment or two. I could post a lot of pictures of lakes around Stockholm as there’s lots to choose from, but they all look the same so here’s one!
The lakes were clear and a mecca for the locals on a warm weekend such as the one we experienced. We eschewed the chance of a dip in favour of a couple of beers in the cafe overlooking this beautiful spot
From here it was only an 18km roll home so we took it easy and made our way back to Rob’s. It was in this part, not the awful gravelly bit, where the only puncture of the weekend occurred and obviously it was going to be me! After a year and a bit of rolling on tubeless tyres I hadn’t changed a puncture in ages so it took a little longer than expected! That done we finished the final 5km.
Day 3 – 75km
Day 3 was going to be my favourite day. Since planning the trip I’d wanted to go and see at least one of the many islands that makes up the archipelago around the coast to the east of Stockholm and it didn’t disappoint.
We headed south again to a small coastal town called Dalarö
We parked up, bought some refreshments in the local shop and found ourselves a spot to sit while we waited for the ferry to take us to Ornö, one of the largest islands in the area
Nothing quite like a Fanta Lemon and some wine gums to replenish the sugar reserves.
Ornö was a beautiful island. Good roads, hardly any traffic at all and a gentle breeze that refreshed you as you pedalled on. We cycled from one side of the island to the other, about 10km all in all, then took a breather on the dock of the bay
We’d planned to take a different ferry back to the mainland, one that docked a bit closer to home to reduce the ride at the other end, so we had some time to kill. We decided to visit the remains of a fort at Sundby Ornö
It was there where the weather decided to make a non forecasted intervention. As we left the fort to head to the ferry port it absolutely tipped it down with rain, we arrived drenched and bedraggled. Fortunately, the kind cafe at the port provided blankets and beer so we passed a couple of hours drying out and drinking. It was about an hour in when we considered we should eat too.
We’d just about dried out when the ferry came. I’m not going to describe it, I’m going to let the pictures do the talking as it was a stunning ride back to the mainland (with more beer)
I’ve never been drunk in charge of a bicycle before but those last 20km back after we disembarked were the hardest (and funniest) km’s that I have ever ridden.
We packed up the boxes and returned home the next day. A brilliant trip, I can heartily recommend taking in the Swedish countryside in summer as it is a beautiful place. All in all we managed about 265km over the course of the three days which was very achievable given the terrain. We flew from Gatwick to Arlanda with Norwegian Air who were great, cost was about £250pp for a return flight with a 20kg checked bag and a bike box.
I would definitely go back to Sweden with a bike again. I would like to stay in one of the more rural holiday homes that we saw and explore the archipelago a bit more as that was stunning. Now it’s back to training for the Ride London, under a month to go!
The lead image is my bike shed. There are many like it but this one is mine as the famous movie quote goes. An ever growing obsession with the sport has led to an accumulation of stuff over time from the metal signs on the doors and spare parts to the cleaning equipment that inhabits many sheds across the land.
The reason for this post is that I’ve come to realise that there are five things that every bike shed needs. There are, obviously, lots of tools and potions that are available for burgeoning obsessives like myself but I’ve found these to be the most consistently useful.
I got this exact one from Aldi for £25 when they first started exploring cycling events and it is still one of the best purchases I have ever made. The clamp is firm and holds the bike perfectly in position by the seat post, my bike has a top tube shape that makes it incompatible that way. I use this every single time I clean or do anything to my bike.
Do what now? Pipecleaners? Why?
Well, what’s the point of using your chain cleaner made out of two toothbrushes if your cassette is filthy? A cassette can look sparkling to the naked eye but in between the cogs lurks all kinds of dirt and grime. Sit with your wheel in front of you, cassette pointing away, then run a pipecleaner in between each cog, using the action of the freehub to get it spotlessly clean. (There are also thicker pipecleaners that you can use on the crankset too!)
Quite simply your go to tool for making sure that everything on your bike is tightened to the correct level. Most bolts (seatpost, stem, bars etc) are 5nm and this Bontrager wrench is brilliant. Fits nicely in the hand with satisfying click as you get to 5nm
Everybody should have these. Don’t rely on a multitool for your allen key needs while working out of your shed, these will make your life SOOOOOO much easier. The long, ball end side of the tool is excellent for reaching hard to reach bolts (bottle cages!) while the handle itself offers a significantly better grip for leverage against stubborn bolts. I’d recommend 3mm, 4mm and 5mm versions as these will cover the majority of bolts on your bike.
5. Cut Water Bottles – THE BACK OF YOUR CUPBOARD!
If, like me, you have a habit of collecting bidons from seemingly everywhere then this is a great way to use the old ones, especially rather rubbish promotional ones that get sent your way. Simple cut them in half and use the bottom half for a variety of tasks, from brush and tool storage to a receptacle for soaking that dirty chain in degreaser. Old bidons are cheap and extremely useful!
As I said at the top of the post there are so many tools and potions and accessories that you could buy to fill up that bike shed but these are the 5 things that I use a lot, certainly the pipecleaners and the cut bidons could be something that you’ve not heard of before. Let me know your must have bike shed essentials……