Ran out of Excuses, Entered Some Races

Where did 2014 go? It was the year of the excuse, not a single points race was entered, lots of commuting done but a hard ride at the Ride London 100 (86mile monsoon) got me back in the mood.

But could a commuter, on a fixie bike, climb up the road categories?

November saw the start of an arms race; adding Powertaps to the road bike, the fixie bike and picking up a Turbo Trainer. Quality over quantity was the new ethos, adding structure to the commute and slotting in some Sufferfest pain! And a Fixie_Powerwhole new world of pain it was, clocking my first indoor FTP @ 270w in November and performing an outdoor test @295w on 31 December. On the Turbo there is nowhere to hide, nobody to draft and no traffic light to save you.

I finally jumped in and paid up for 3 races in the Imperial Hillingdon Winter Series, C+ with points available.

Imperial Winter Series – 10 January 2015

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My first ever C+ race with points on offer was a stark reminder that this quest could take a while. After a week commuting in high winds, that were also present during the race, there wasn’t much to say. Stuck in the bunch all race and found myself blocked with nowhere to go at the end, rolling over the line 26th. Lessons learnt; at Hillingdon it is all about positioning.

 

Imperial Winter Series – 17 January 2015

A little more confident, sitting in all race and getting blocked wasn’t an option. Less wind meant the bunch was a bit smoother and not as wide. Not much happened all race, as is the way with Cat 4s, until the 2 lap board came up and I was stuck, again, only I’d learnt a new trick earlier in the race, be vocal. As the final lap started to unravel it felt like deja vu, stuck around 15th when a TCC rider in front of me blew his dynamite very early and we both shot up the inside shouting ‘ON THE LEFT ON THE LEFT‘, riders actually moved out of the way and through we went but we were both spat out the front in no mans land.

In front of me was half a mile of twisting corners and 2-3 bike lengths behind 60 people who wanted to be there in the points. Didn’t fancy myself as a sprinter and having watched John Domans Yo VS them speech “if you see an opening tear into it” I went for it. Like Chris Froome staring at his stem, I watched my power closely, backing off a little to negotiate the bends before opening up a long way from the line.

It couldn’t happen could it? I looked back once before closing my eyes for a split second and stamping on the pedals. One quick glance a few meters from the line and I see my team mate blasting down the outside, both of us giving it everything.

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Somehow I’d clung on, winning by a few inches and even better two other Kingston Wheelers were in the top 5 of what must have looked like some great team coordination.

Amazing feeling, as a peer said to me later, not many people ever get to win a race. 10 points in the bag!

Imperial Winter Series – 24 January 2015

For 2015 British Cycling moved the bar, a cat4 rider needs 12 points to progress. Mission for the day, a solid finish in the points.

But the wind was back. Buoyed by last weeks solo attack, confidence was up, only I found myself near the back and struggled to move up.  As the laps counted down a dab of power on the outside was the only way to move up.

This time I finally managed to hold myself near the front and stay there. With 1 to go an early attack from another rider strung us out into a paceline where I held a wheel in 4th. With the pace and wind both high we got onto the final straight safe from the bunch coming over the top; cantered over the line 3rd.

A satisfactory end to my career as a Cat 4 rider!

What next? Perhaps next week I’ll go back and get schooled in the E123 (I did and was very much schooled)!

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Number 81, step up!

You can’t get it till you’ve tried it and after a few weeks of talking the talk, getting everything in place and looking for races it was time to try and walk the walk, baby steps anyway.

Hillingdon_map

There are only so many bragging rights you can earn from Strava  and with this in mind I got the game face on and rolled out to Hillingdon crit circuit for the 3/4 summer series.  A windy in parts, flat, 0.9 mile go-kart track for cyclists, open to the wind and with a nice long straight to the finish line it comes with tales of many a crash.

The pace was quick from the go and the first 15 was spent sucking onto the back of the bunch, a group of about 40 people. Much of the race was spent trying out different things included a solo attack, the end result a lap of airtime for the kit sponsors before being sucked back in, heart and lungs on fire. Sadly it all ended rather prematurely when*clunk* the chain fell off and before I could get it back on the bunch was gone. 10 minutes was spent in hero mode but to no avail.

Result: DNF
Duration: 1 Hour
Avg Speed: 25mph

It was a good first go and I’d recommend that for a first race you get out there, try different things and learn your limits, just don’t expect to gallop off the front like seabiscuit. 

Hillingdon_bunch

I returned to Hillingdon a week later with a slightly wiser game face. From the outset it was a calculated plan of mix it with the front of the bunch, stay safe, find wheels, chase breaks and save the legs. Still I wasn’t wise enough and a lack of experience showed as it came to crunch time. The bell rang for the last lap and the 3/4th gallop begun. The confidence to attack on time wasn’t there and too much ground was lost going into the penultimate corners. 

Result: 12th
Duration: 55 minutes
Avg Speed: 24.6mph

Next up: improve on the final laps, attend some C+ ranked races and start working on Cat 3 status. For other novices out there here is just about everything you need to know to get started, correct me if I’m wrong!

Before race day

Club ride. Can’t emphasise this enough. By all means race solo but learning to ride with a quick bunch is a must and some team mates on race day adds to the mix.

Race day

Registration was quick and easy but give yourself time to take on some food, sign on and do a few warm up laps. Get a feel for the course and think about those open sections where the wind might make life difficult.

Cornering

This is a weakness of mine born from riding fixed. Don’t focus all of your attention on the wheel in front, look further ahead and you’ll take a much smoother line. If you are on the inside watch out for being squeezed and vice versa. Make your presence known.

Mixing with the bunch

Don’t change direction without looking. Some people indicate before moving into a space, some shout, up to you but don’t let others bully you, hold your line.

Plug the gaps, if there is a space in front, move into it.

If a teammate is in a break don’t chase it down and if you do, make sure nobody is on your wheel.

The sprint

Advice is somewhat lacking on this  but if you’ve not found yourself in a break make sure you are near the front. Try to avoid getting boxed in and look for a fast wheel.

If you are organised enough try and start a lead out train for a team mate, all part of the fun.

Top tip

Spend some time out on the front & make sure there is someone there with a camera. This is the most important thing.

What do you need to race?

Most closed circuits accept a provisional racing licence, you can get this with bronze membership from British Cycling. If you want to earn points you’ll need silver member to purchase a full licence.

If you want to understand the ranking system this link is really useful. If you are a 4th Cat looking to score points look out for races that are Regional C+ as explained here.

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All roads lead to Rome, a summer 2010 adventure.

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Synopsis

Seemingly cycling from London to Brighton or even Paris isn’t enough these days, insistent on seeing Europe and having a proper adventure, it was destination Rome.

The trip was simple; two guys, two road bikes, unsupported, 18 days, what could go wrong. This blog is a retrospective view on a trip that  I frequently get contacted about and hope this proves a useful resource.

      • Kit – Bikes
      • Kit – Fully loaded
      • Route: France, Switzerland Italy
      • Accommodation, camping and food.
      • Rome

Kit – Bikes

Use what you have right? at the time we were on a budget and chose to use the bikes we had. Two aluminium road bikes. They certainly did the job, not the comfiest but it was all about touring with speed and big miles.

Bike: Specilized Allez Sport
Wheels: Planet X Model C
Mounting: Rack with M:Part seatpost clamp
Panniers: Ortlieb Back Roller Plus [saving the grammes]
Frame pump, x2 bottle cages, tri bag on top tube & saddle bag
Basic tools, emergency boot patch etc.

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! Tip: Understand gearing. I rode a compact over the Alps with a standard 12-25 cassette. Not that hard, not until you fully load the bike. Look at the widest cassette available, a 12-27 would have made the uppy bits far more pleasant.

Kit – Fully loaded

Trying to be a weight weeny and tour fully loaded is something of a juxtaposition but we managed to keep it to essentials only.

Evening wear: beach trousers, plimsolls, tshirt, 2x boxers
Bike wear: x2 jersey, 1x rainproof, 1x merino base layer,
1x socks,2x padded shorts, mtb SPD shoes
Tent: Quechua T3 Ultralight Pro, a 2 man would be too cosy!
Highly recommended for price to weight and is still used today
Sleeping: Some old sleeping bag and Quechua roll mat
First aid: Emergency foil blanket and road rash treatment
Electronics: Camera, iPod shuffle and Freeloader PICO solar
charger. [enough power to charge the iPod daily but
you'll want  beefier for a smartphone/garmin]
Cooking: Jetboil and spare gas, spork and two bowls

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! Tip: Emphasis was put on clothing that could be layered. The sleeping bag case doubled as a pillow. Merino can be worn for days, this was put to the test. Take some toilet roll!

Route

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In 2010 devices like the Garmin 705/800 weren’t as prevalent [or familiar to me], we kept things simple taking two paper maps, purchased from Stanfords.

The best roads generally run alongside the motorways and if you look hard enough there are national cycle networks or you can try and follow the Via Francigena.

Day Miles Finish
1 113 Calais (France) [Start TW15]
2 90 Doullens
3 135 Val de vesle
4 83 Wassy
5 70 Langres
6 112 Pontarlier
7 95 Martigny (Switzerland)
8 110 Mergozzo (Italy)
9 60 Novarro
10 70 Alessandria
11 56 Genova
12 65 Levanto
13 70 Pisa
14 64 S Vincenzo
15 64 Grosseto
16 75 Tuscania
17 52 Tiber
18 18 Rome

France:

Largely undulating and after years of riding in London the natives give you an impressive amount of room overtaking [before trying to kill each other car on car]. 

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Don’t be surprised when people want to offer you help the second you flash a map or give you much needed chocolate!

We packed in some big mile days in France to ease the pressure at the other end. There is plenty to take in like Notre Damn and most humbling of all what were seemingly World War I battlefields and memorials. 

Switzerland and the Alps:

There was a bit of a climb out of France from Besancon and some rolling country as we made our way to Lausanne on Lake Geneva. The lake is encircled with an on-road cycle lane, makes for pleasant riding and lead us easily to Martigy.

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We had originally aimed to cross the Alps via the St Bernhard pass but even in May/June this was closed due to snow. So we took plan B, cycled around 50 miles down the valley and made our way over the Simplon pass. It was a steep start but we made our way over the top to some fantastic views and an unforgettable decent. Speed wobbles on a fully loaded bike exceeding 50 mph are insane and it just kept going down and down and down..

Here is the route we did on that day.

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Italy:

Mentally the toughest part of the trip, the mighty Alps conquered surely it was just a flat slog to Rome? No.

When it is flat you wish for more interesting hilly bits, when you find them you wish for flat bits. By far the biggest surprise on the trip were the climbs and undulations between Genova > Pisa.

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These were tough, hot, dry climbs that made the Alps seem easy. Climb out of one bay and descend into the next, repeat.

Pisa > Rome we originally planned to follow the coast but it became apparent this was largely unpleasant dual carriageways and we headed inland to Tuscania, finding various national cycle networks and onto Tiber. From here there is a dedicated cycle route into central Rome.

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Accommodation, camping and food.

We winged it. End. Ok..

France

We lucked out arriving in Calais stumbling onto a campsite as the sun set or did we luck out? It turns out the French know about camping, finding sites was easy and they generally all had great showers, warm water, supplies and were v.cheap, around 5-10 Euro.

I miss the food. The ritualistic 6am boulangerie stop for breakfast was always fantastic, even the bread [with nothing on!] blows what we get in the UK away. Supermarché are easy to come by but be warned, they don’t do 24 hour service. Pick up food before evening to avoid a Mars bar dinner.

Switzerland

Expensive but we only spent 1 night. Winner of the most expensive 500 ml bottle of coke award, about £5.

Italy

CIMG1607-PSThe Italians don’t do camping, it turns out. Our second night spend in Novarro, the only campers in an exiled 80s resort next to a dilapidated but possibly still open men’s club getting eating by mosquito’s with cold showers and broken glass, was interesting. We left before 5am.

For the rest of the Italian leg we sought out hostels where possible, half decent camping is only found around the tourist hot spots. Like that cheesy Pisa place, where people take cheesy photos, oh.

Our last night was at the highly recommended Tiber Village, situated on the outskirts of Rome it was the perfect place to unwind before the last day. A large holiday village complete with swimming pools, hammocks, bar and TVs to watch the then football world cup. The guys at reception even gave us maps to a cycle route away from the main roads into Rome.

Special mention

Camping Navarre, Langres, France

AIG Hostels, Italy

Camping Tiber, Italy

As for Rome?

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Do visit, it was worth the cycle but by all means fly over.

For those those who flew out and met us at the Colosseum, it was a messy night. Turns out a jug of wine was cheaper than two pints.

Trip-O-meter

Total Miles: 1,417
Riding Time: 104 hours
Avg Speed: 13.5mph
Daily Miles: 78

Would we do it the same again? No but that was part of the fun of doing it first time. If you want to go hard, fast and far consider credit card touring. The lack of camping in Italy negated carrying much of the gear. I’d happily weight weenie down to a bar bag, large saddle bag and the bare essentials.

If you want to know more, leave a comment…

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