What I Know About Cycling…..

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.

Ide Hill

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

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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.

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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

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Mini pittas with scrambled eggs and chorizo are perfect pre ride

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!

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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?!

Have Fun!

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!

IAIN

Heroes to the Giro!

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.

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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

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The view from our AirBnB in Bormio

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!

IAIN

2020 Vision

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!

  1. Lose Weight – I’m already a stone into my weight loss and Christmas doesn’t look like it’s been too bad (fingers crossed)! 73kg is the target, about 6kg to go.
  2. Etape du Tour – The reason the above is so important and central to the cause! I’m really looking forward to this experience but I know there’s a lot of hard work to do before we fly out to Nice
  3. Giro d’Italia – We’re off to Italy! Weather permitting we’ll stand on the Stelvio to watch the riders make their way up one of the most iconic climbs in world cycling. Then it’s off to Asti for the finish of the following day’s sprint stage. With Mike riding his first Giro I’m hoping we get a chance to catch up with him

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!

IAIN

Boxing Day Bonanza!

Firstly, Happy Christmas! Hope you all had a lovely day with your nearest and dearest.

I guess it is sod’s law that Christmas Day, the day when I had no time to ride, had the most wonderful blue skies and winter sunshine. Plus it wasn’t event that cold! Fortunately I had managed to get out for a ride on Monday (23rd), although there were still quite a few flooded points after the torrential rain we’ve had recently

Having to go through flooded parts of the lanes is always a bit of a worry, you never know what is lurking underneath!

Away from the floods it was a really nice ride and lovely, mild winter weather.

Boxing Day arrived and the rain had returned so I made my post Christmas return on Zwift this morning, brushing off the overindulgence with a blast of Emily’s Short Mix and a 40km trot round the virtual Surrey Hills. As I heard several adverts on the radio for the start of the Boxing Day sales, it got me thinking about bike products that I would look to pick up on the cheap if the opportunity arises. Here’s five products that won’t be the most well known, but they are a staple part of my kit.

Squirt Bike Lube – simply the best bike lube I’ve ever used. My drivetrain runs so smooth after an application with Squirt and it lasts a long time too. I have two in my shed, the long lasting and low temperature versions and they’re well worth the £10 price point

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Fabric Lumaray V2 Light – quite simply a brilliantly designed front light that doesn’t clutter up your cockpit. The Lumaray clips into your standard Garmin mount (comes with Wahoo adapters) and your Garmin then clips into the top of the light. Available for £25 in some places, the Lumaray carries a 60 Lumens LED and that light covers 270 degree visibility. Clever.

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Fabric Lumaray V2

Veloforte Energy Bars – there are a lot of energy bars on the market and it really does come down to personal preference but these are by far and away my favourite. 100% natural, they are created with the aim of giving riders a balanced intake of protein, carbs, electrolytes and minerals. My favourite is the Avanti variant which are vegan and gluten free in addition to being 100% natural but you can buy a mixed case of bars to try for £16.50

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The Veloforte Avanti bars combine Dates, Pecans and Sea Salt

Science In Sport Immune Gels – currently available in a brilliant ginger flavoured limited edition, the SiS Immune Gels are great for the winter season. The 22g of carbohydrate in each gel is coupled with a blend of vitamins and minerals to support the immune function. These are currently on offer for £9 for a 10 pack on the SiS website

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Cycling Podcast Friends Of The Podcast Subscription – For those days when the weather makes you turn your back on the outside. If you have an interest in pro cycling as well as riding your own bike then the Cycling Podcast is a must in your audio rotation. Lionel Birnie, Richard Moore and Daniel Friebe (as well as many regular guests) present a regular show (daily during Grand Tours) that is full of great feature and incredibly easy to listen to. A ‘Friends’ subscription gains you access to exclusive episodes throughout the year that focus on specific aspects of pro cycling and are very enjoyable. Get rid of your GCN / CW addiction and get on board with these guys

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So, there you go. 5 things that I’m positive will enhance your cycling experience through this winter, enjoy!

IAIN

The Weight-ing Game

At the end of October, while I was going through the various health checks to determine the extent of my asthma, the nurse asked me to step on the scales. 85.1kg the digital display flashed back at me. I knew I was overweight but that number shocked me a little bit and the scale of the challenge of the Etape du Tour suddenly seemed much greater, so I set myself a target of 73kg as that would bring me into an ideal weight bracket for my height and age. Now that’s not an easy task at all as that is nearly 2 stone in old money, but I’m determined and having something to focus on usually has a very positive effect on me (my wife may say to the point of obsession). I’ve been weighing myself every Wednesday morning and logging the results with an app, I knew I was close to a stone loss so I hopped on the scales after a Zwift session today.

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Apologies for my disgusting griffin’s feet

78.35kg! That’s just under 12st 5lbs, I don’t think I’ve been that light since I was a teenager. Don’t get me wrong, I know that is still weighty but I was delighted!

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My weight loss converted to stone and pounds

That means I have now lost over a stone in under 2 months, I reckon that is pretty good going right?!

So, how have I gone about it? Pretty simple really, I’ve cut the crap out of my diet (chocolate, crisps etc) and increased the amount of cardio exercise that I’m doing. I’m not living a monk’s life, that’s no fun, I’ll still have the odd takeaway and a beer with friends but now everything is in moderation.

Cutting out the weights in favour of more cardio has definitely helped too, as has reducing my gym sessions to once a week (the other one reverting to a Zwift based workout). I’ve started back on Zwift with the old favourite, the SST short workout. It’s great for building base fitness but I’ve dialled back the watts so I can concentrate on keeping the cadence high, as I improve I’ll move the watts up in increments and start to incorporate different workouts. This week I have done purely Zwift work, no gym at all and I feel great.

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SST Work Is Great For Base Fitness

The system is already noticing the changes and keeps trying to push the FTP number back up automatically but I think I’ll keep doing it my way for now

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208w Is Back To Where It Was On The Old Trainer But I Think The Kickr Is More Accurate

Out on the bike I’ve focused on tackling hills that have given me problems in the past, improving my technique and testing out what this new lightweight Iain can do. The weather has been incredibly kind over the past few weekends so I’ve managed to get some good rides in, there’s been a bit of debris around where the rains have washed it into the road and I’ve been glad of my tubeless tyres!

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Gangers Hill is an old nemesis of mine

I don’t mind the cold, or the rain to a certain extent, it’s the wind that puts me off riding my bike. Luckily we haven’t been subjected to many of the storms that the rest of the UK has seen so stomping away through a headwind has been a fairly minimal experience.

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A guy on a natty orange Pinarello rolled through my shot at the top of Ide Hill, looking out over Bough Beech Reservoir
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I live in puncheur country, lots of rolling roads
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Toys Hill – not as fun as it sounds

Of course Christmas is coming up and that will be a big test of my resolve when it comes to maintaining my sensible diet, but the promise of multiple rides over two weeks off is quite exciting! I just hope the weather manages dry, crisp and clear for some perfect winter (s)miles. If not, you’ll catch me on Zwift but it just ain’t the same is it….

IAIN

 

Kick(r) In The Pants

So the weather has been good enough recently for me not to have to retreat to the shed of doom, however this morning delivered a whole lot of mist and a realisation that I’m not so good at remembering to charge my bike lights. Mist where I live can make the roads quite dangerous, especially across the north downs where it hangs low over the open fields. Therefore I went to the shed and decided to give the Alpe du Zwift another go.

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The Alpe Was Busy This Morning

I’ve ridden the Alpe before on my old Tacx Flow Smart trainer so I was interested to see what the difference would be with the Kickr. As it turns out, a fair bit!

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Throughout the climb my average watts seemed to be 10-15 watts lower than previous attempts. Now, that could be a fitness related statistic but I actually think this is more likely down to the fact that the Kickr is a lot more accurate and realistic. The reason I say this is that one of the first things I tried with the Kickr was the SST (Short) workout and I had to quit halfway through. The levels were set at the watts I was quite comfortable with on the Tacx but that 10-15 difference seems to make it too difficult (at the moment). I’m glad I found that out as I was quite worried my fitness had gone backwards quite significantly! Time to start again with Zwift I think!

…….although I did complete the Ride California challenge to get the S-Works Tarmac apparently

IAIN

Winter IS Coming….I Think!

I guess I should have seen it coming. In the weeks following spending £600 on a new smart trainer we’ve had some of the best Sunday ride weather in any November that I can remember! You can tell that winter is on its way though, I’ve been glad for a gilet and the ever sensible DeFeet Slipstream Oversocks when dry (Prendas overshoes when wet!). The temperatures may be starting to dip but the low sun has been out, making lovely scenes with the autumn colours as it goes and only a few minor flooding incidents to contend with.

I’ve managed a couple of good rides over the past couple of weeks, not long distances by any means (56km and 65km) but enough to keep the legs turning over and I’ve made the most of the weather by trying to visit some new places, see some new things or have a crack at some roads that I haven’t been down in a little while.

A couple of Sunday’s ago I planned to do something different to my usual route, where I would usually take the left fork to go to Downe I would take the right fork to Cudham and up to the Blacksmith’s Arms. For whatever reason I had not been that way since I was riding my old hybrid bike and I rediscovered a road that was actually pretty fun! It had a bit of a gradient so I’m guessing it was that which made me dismiss it as ‘not fun’ all those years ago.

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Two legends navigate a giant puddle, Tatsfield 2019

It was a beautiful day following the rain the previous day so I made the most of the opportunity, fearing it may be one of the last this year, but last Sunday was absolutely glorious so I set out to do a few favourite roads and some new ones.

I’d read about a place nearby where there was an open water swimming lake so I decided to go and take a look. It is closed for the season now so there was nobody there but it is a magically calming place

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Divers Cove at Godstone, Surrey

I’m tempted to have a go at open water swimming when the season starts again in March/April time. I think I would be terrible at it but I can understand the appeal, not feeling constrained by the boundaries of a swimming pool.

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Divers Cove II

Sunday’s ride was beautiful. I did my usual route back in to climb up to the top of the North Downs and the views were as good as the middle of summer, I do feel lucky to have this on my doorstep

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My Favourite View From The Top Of Clarks Lane

Then, on Monday, on a still cycling related note, Adam and I attended the live tour show of the Cycling Podcast. We’re big fans of this podcast, it becomes a soundtrack to the summer especially during Grand Tours when there are daily updates. It is presented with a wonderful balance of knowledge, humour and special guests from the world of cycling who have a massive respect for the way this is presented. We joined regulars Richard Moore and Lionel Birnie as well as the wonderful Francois Thomazeau and Mitchelton Scott DS Matt White to listen to some great stories and thoughts on this season. Thomazeau crooned La Marseillaise in a lounge style that could gently send anyone to a peaceful slumber, while Matt White told a story about Niki Terpstra and Luke Rowe that I will never forget!

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The Cycling Podcast Live – l to r: Richard Moore, Matt White, Francois Thomazeau and Lionel Birnie

Wonderfully we were able to get our books signed by all four of the participants that evening….

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The cover photo is the wonderful Matt White, running to get bikes and riders onto and into team cars after Stage 19 of the Tour de France was cancelled due to extreme weather and landslides this year. Bits I have read of this book are brilliant, a great Christmas present for any fan of pro cycling

IAIN