The above picture, from my personal Instagram account, was posted 5 years ago today. I had just placed an order for my first bike since I was a teenager, a 2013 Specialized Sirrus Hybrid bike, and it frightened me to death.
Rewind to the previous June (2013) and my son, Zac, had just been born. Having a child is a momentous occasion in the life of any adult and I was no different. I had the same hopes and fears as every new parent; I hoped he would be happy, I hoped he would be healthy but, more than anything, I questioned whether I would be good enough to be his Dad. Moments like that can often be lightbulb moments of clarity, where new ideas form and a new resolve to change for the better is found. It took slightly longer for me, October to be precise, but what happened changed me for good.
I had smoked for years. Not just casual smoking either, 20 a day since I was a teenager in senior school, nearly 20 years all in all. Looking at Zac I realised how unfit I had become, I had played football and cricket well into my late 20s but as my 30s hit and my knees gave out I played less and less sport and gained less and less exercise overall. I wanted to be able to do all of the things a Dad should do with his son; run around, play football in the garden, ride bikes without becoming a wheezing mess, gasping for air. For that reason I resolved to give up smoking by doing Stoptober so I got myself the worst tasting e-cigarette I could find and an app to tell how many days I’d gone and how much money I’d saved. It went surprisingly well but, in order for it to continue, I knew I had to have something to throw myself into, a goal to focus on and something to achieve so I signed up for the British Heart Foundation London To Brighton bike ride and placed the order for the bike. The rest is history I won’t recap.
I’d always enjoyed watching the Tour de France on TV and actually had a chance live encounter with the race in 1990 as a 13 year old on a school trip to Mont Saint-Michel, but I never really considered what the purchase of that bike and that goal of giving up smoking may lead to. We completed our epic cycle from London to Paris and raised a lot of money for the Rainbow Trust and I completed the Ride 100 amongst many other sportives. This year we’ll be in the Arenberg Trench to see the pros thunder by in Paris Roubaix and I’ll be off overseas to cycle through some of Sweden’s amazing landscape. I have completed things that I would never have thought possible 10 years ago and I have a deeper understanding of a truly wonderful sport, as well as meeting some brilliant people along the way.
All that from one simple order for a bike…..
At 8:30am on the 29th July 2018 I wasn’t particularly loving life. I’d moved under 100 metres in 20 minutes, it was raining, I was soaked, I was cold and there was still 45 minutes until my wave were due to set off on the Prudential Ride 100.
What followed, in all honesty, was one of the worst experiences that I’ve had on a bike. There were people everywhere, all over the road, with not a clue what was going on around them. This was magnified when the roads narrowed and I found myself picking through a lot of less experienced cyclists who found themselves struggling on small inclines. Ultimately, it was a lack of experience and an absence of awareness that caused me to be knocked off my bike in Richmond Park. On one of the short, sharp climbs that the park is famous for, I was sticking to the right hand side of the road to overtake the slower cyclists on the inside as per the instructions we had been given at the start. As we neared the crest of the climb a cyclist in front of me, without looking, veered out into my lane knocking my front wheel sideways, throwing me diagonally over my handlebars. For some reason my shoes did not unclip so the bike followed and came crashing down on the inside of my right thigh. I was thankful for the Kask Mojito helmet I was wearing as my head bounced off the tarmac. I sat at the side of the road dazed, with a pounding headache and annoyed that my participation might be over because of someone else’s idiocy. However, I had raised a lot of money and I was determined to finish for the charity so I clipped back in and cycled the last 70 miles with a badly mangled and buckled back wheel (a wheel that eventually had to be rebuilt, costing me £200).
I managed to finish the ride but I had not enjoyed much of it at all and the throbbing pain in my head prompted me to go home rather than stick around to watch the end of the pro race.
It was this experience that led me to the conclusion that I am going to give mass participation, charity sportives a miss from now on. I don’t find any enjoyment in them now as I spend all my time being wary of the less experienced cyclists around me. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for people getting on a bike, getting some exercise and raising a lot of money for charity but I will be concentrating my time on smaller events from now on.
I didn’t want to let much time pass in the New Year before getting out on my bike but, due to family commitments, that first ride had to wait until the 2nd January. I didn’t go far, 30km, but it was enough to get those legs working and to see what kind of shape I was actually in
I didn’t feel too bad but it was clear that there’s a fair bit of work to do to get back to the levels of fitness that I had last year. 30km was enough for that first run, work to do!
Today I went a bit further. My friend Ben text me and we met up at the Lavender Fields near Woodmansterne, it’s a popular route for cyclists as the roads from there form part of the London to Brighton cycle ride. Ben is a seasoned cyclist with Étape du Tours and Mount Teide to his name so he is a handful to keep up with but I did ok! Below is a video of the roads from Markedge Lane to Rocky Lane, a lot more traffic than we’re used to actually but a good run. We turned for home at Nutfield and came back via Farthing Downs.
We managed 50km overall with a fair amount of climbing so I was really happy to get that under my belt. That’s 51 miles in the first week of 2019, only 1,531 more to beat last year’s number!
Roll on next weekend!
It’s that awkward time of the year between Christmas Day and New Year. You know, that time where nobody knows what day it is (aside from those poor few who have to go in to work), BMI is measured in cheese percentage and getting off the sofa results in the landslide of numerous Lindt chocolate wrappers.
…..everyone, that is, apart from cyclists!
I have seen this time of year referred to as ‘the perineum’ of the year but that’s a bit strong and for cyclists it seems to present an uplifting and positive tone. It’s a chance to reflect on the year gone by and to look forward to goals and aspirations for the coming year. Show me one cyclist who makes a rash commitment to a goal while merrily drunk at a New Year’s party. Go on, show me!
For me, after the planned precision of London to Paris in 2017, 2018 was a bit more sedate and a bit more confused. I completed some big rides like the London to Brighton & Back and the Ride 100 but, ultimately, they didn’t live up to expectation and that was a disappointment. On the other hand I cycled with the Alpecin Cycling Team and enjoyed the scenery of the Serra de Bèrnia i Ferrer in Spain whilst on holiday so all was not lost. I would like to do more cycling abroad, it’s a completely different proposition.
In an infographic my year doesn’t look bad at all
As I look forward to 2019 my plan is simple, just to keep improving as a cyclist, enjoy it and lose some weight. I currently weigh 81.8kg so I have about 7.4kg to lose before I’m not considered overweight. I going to steer clear of big sportives as I’ve found little enjoyment in them this year, I’m going to ride with friends and get the feeling back. I’m off to Roubaix (to watch) in April with Adam and then I have a trip to Sweden planned for July to cycle round the archipelago that lies to the east of Stockholm.
A stomach bug has kept me off my bike between Christmas Day and now, annoying as I had planned a Boxing Day ride, but I managed a 5k run yesterday and a 30 minute recovery spin on Zwift this morning. The run wasn’t the fastest I’ve ever done but, after the illness, I’ll take it! I was just happy to complete 5k!
The good thing about being ill was that I didn’t consume anywhere near the amount of festive goodies that I could have done!
My Strava account tells me that I haven’t been on my bike since 10th November, almost a month. That’s pretty embarrassing really considering my commitment to myself that I wouldn’t shy away from the change in the weather and that I would keep myself as fit as possible. In truth external factors have driven that short hiatus; a nasty stomach bug, a trip to see England trounce the Aussies at Twickenham and the works charity ball have all made weekends short on time, energy and motivation.
Before that I’d had a run of bad luck. One trip ended with a double puncture and a fight to stay upright on a fairly steep descent, then a grovelling phonecall to my wife to come and get me (20km from home) as I only had one spare tube with me. Then I took part in the Wiggle Kent Classic where I quickly realised that I was completely out of shape, tired, terribly overdressed for the conditions and felt bloody awful……and I got a puncture about 10km from the end. So all in all, I wasn’t exactly ‘feeling’ the whole bike thing anyway.
I have still been going to the gym so, with the weather looking ok for tomorrow, I should be able to get back out there and get a short ride in to get myself going again.
Back in October I had a new experience, Adam and I went to the Six Day Cycling event at the Lee Valley Velopark in Stratford (the one used in the 2012 London Olympics). It was an amazing experience, track cycling with beer, lots of lights and the constant accompaniment of a DJ in the middle of the track. We got to see quite a few events from Madison to the Keirin and it was brilliant, I really enjoyed both the action and the atmosphere and I will be going back!
Lastly, we’ve taken to supporting Mike Teunissen in the 2019 Cycling Game over on Twitter. The game is simple – become a rider’s number one fan, support them unconditionally, interact with them through Twitter and be the best hype team around. I chose Mike because I think he has a tremendous season coming up and he seems like a genuinely nice bloke. He finished 2nd in the Tour Of Flanders this season but his move to Team Sunweb never really worked out, now he is back with Team Lotto NL Jumbo and raring to go in 2019. He is very capable of making attacks stick and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him take home the W in one of the big one day races next year. I’m kind of hoping he’ll race Roubaix so that we can go and say hello but I’m guessing Flanders will remain a big target for him. Kom Op Mike!
Those who have read this blog before will have heard me mention the ‘Nasty Little Rise’. It is a Strava segment that I encounter on pretty much every ride from my house if I turn right at the end of my road rather than left. It’s nothing special at all, 0.4 miles long at an average of 4.6%, but hit it when you’re not really fully warmed up and it is a bit of a shock.
I used this segment to measure my progress seeing as I crossed its evil path so many times, it’s also a great reminder to me of how far I have come since I started cycling. Obviously many things can impact a rider’s ability to keep improving, from adverse conditions to minor injuries or illness, but the overall pattern of improvement is usually fairly clear to see. I first logged this segment on in August 2016 (when I switched to Strava from MapMyRide) and it took me 3 minutes exactly, my PR now (in May this year) was 1:53.
To frame this, however, the KOM on this segment is 1:13 and has stood for over a year.
I’ve ridden the Nasty Little Rise 21 times now (since my switch to Strava) so I started to look for something close by that could take over as my benchmark improvement segment. It had to be something longer with the same, or greater, gradient so that I could continue to measure my improvement as a cyclist. I remembered a segment that I’d done over a year ago up Woldingham Hill, it nearly killed me that day, so I decided to go and have a go at it a couple of weeks ago. It is a 0.6 mile climb at an average of 7.2%, with some parts topping out at 11%, so it is certainly more challenging than the previous segment.
The first time I did this my time was 10:37, with a 4:46 moving time as I obviously stopped, out of breath and dying, for 6 minutes! That was 8th April 2017. Fast forward 17 months and I tried it again, 4:54 this time without the lengthy pit stop in the middle. I know I can do it faster than that as I wasn’t 100% well that day so it will become part of my regular rotation to see how much I can improve
Last weekend I joined the Alpecin Cycling team for a bit of a leisurely ride in London. On arrival we were given a bag full of official Katusha Alpecin team kit a sized up for our rides for the weekend. I was incredibly lucky as I’m a short arse! It meant I got the Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Aero with upgraded Zipp wheelset and SRAM Etap shifting, probably costing 3 times the amount my bike did! My pro shot came out ok!
We headed out of London, along the river to Putney Bridge where we turned off and headed down to Richmond Park. We rode with an ex-pro, Jörg Ludewig, who rode all the grand tours in his pro career as well as De Ronde 7 times and Paris Roubaix 6 times…
…..so he knew what he was on about!
Our pro photographer accompanied us on a rather wonderful PedalMe bike and some of the shots he got of us were brilliant.
I managed to stay upright in Richmond Park this time so that was a bonus! The bike was an absolute dream. I’d never used SRAM Etap before so I took it easy first off, however I found the system completely intuitive and very easy to use and I was soon changing gears without thinking. The biggest change for me was the wind impact on the deep rim back wheel, I was taken by surprise a couple of times particularly in the narrow London streets where the wind is funnelled at high speed. We had completed 72km by the time got back to the hotel.
The next morning we headed up to Trafalgar Square for the main event, joining in with the closed road cycling event on the route of the final stage of the Tour of Britain. While the others in the group flew off up the road, I took it a bit easy. I hadn’t cycled with other cyclists since the Ride London and the fall had made me nervous of the people on the route (many of them kids) who weren’t experienced in riding in these numbers of cyclists. It soon opened up though and we had a great time on the route, it was bloody tiring but a thrill to fly round the streets while bemused tourists looked on waiting for the main event
After a quick change back at the hotel, it was back to the VIP hospitality on the start finish straight to watch the final stage erupt with Caleb Ewan taking the win. I’d been tipping Ewan all weekend so I was delighted he came through! I also popped in the Pinarello shop to see G’s Tour de France bike and Froome’s Giro bike – the Giro trophy is the most beautiful sports trophy in my opinion, it is simply stunning and the history that it holds is mesmerising.
It was an absolutely phenomenal weekend, a money can’t buy experience that I will treasure. It makes me more determined to be the best cyclist I can be, to be ready in case another opportunity like this comes along!
I’m very excited.
There’s not a lot of times in my life where I have said that and genuinely meant it. I’ve been watching the Tour of Britain this week and I have genuinely enjoyed it. Particular highlights for me have been the Challacombe Hill climb, the scenery through Cheddar Gorge (a place I want to ride) and today’s finish on the Whinlatter Pass. Being the son of a Cumbrian and having spent many a summer in that part of the world I would’ve liked to have seen the pro riders tested on the likes of Hardknott, Wrynose and The Struggle (remember Wiggo running up there in the 2016 edition? See below)
Tomorrow, while the pro peloton is enjoying a slightly easier day from West Bridgford to Mansfield, I will be heading into London to play my small part in this year’s edition of the Tour of Britain. Through work I am very fortunate to have been invited to be a guest of Team Katusha Alpecin for the weekend, culminating in a VIP viewing spot for the final stage on Sunday and an opportunity to meet the team afterwards. First though is the real fun part for me, we are going to be put in pro kit and on pro bikes for a ride out through the Surrey countryside tomorrow. The chance to ride a top spec bike is mouth watering, although I’m slightly nervous about revisiting the scene of my Richmond Park Ride London fall on a more expensive bike that isn’t mine!
There will be photos, lots of photos!
As the summer threatens to give way to the inevitability of Autumn, then Winter, I start to look towards next year and what ride(s) I can work towards. Though this year is far from over, I always find it is good to get one or two big ‘project’ rides in the diary to keep the motivation high throughout the winter.
I always try to get one last sportive ride in before the winter months and this year is no different. Last year Adam and I did the Stroke Association’s Thames Bridges ride, this year I’ve signed up for the Wiggle Kent Classic in November. They are roads that are going to be very familiar to me, but I’m hoping that I’ll find one or two nuggets that can work their way onto my own personal route rotations.
I’m signed up for the longest ‘Epic’ course which covers 79 miles, plenty should the weather be against us at that time of year. The start and finish at Lingfield Park is nice and close to home and passes through Edenbridge on the way back where some of my family live so it is a very local route!
Secondly, more excitingly, is a trip that I have booked this week. Myself and two friends (Cam and Ben) are going to visit another friend of ours, Rob, who lives in the suburbs of Stockholm at the end of June. We’re taking our bikes and, over the four days we’re there, we’re planning a couple of lengthy rides to check out some of the stunning scenery that Sweden has to offer. I’m particularly looking forward to cycling round the archipelago, using the free ferries where required, as it looks absolutely stunning. Not too many hills at all, just some good roads.
A return flight, with a bike box each way and one checked bag, is costing us £235 each. Obviously, staying with Rob is minimising our expense while we’re there, I’ve heard Sweden is expensive.
Next week I’m meeting Adam to talk about part 2 of 2019’s potential foreign adventure. This year’s stage 9 of the Tour de France over the cobbles had everything and I was as excited by it as I am every year when Paris Roubaix rolls around. I text Adam to say ‘I have to see this live!’ so that is what we are planning, a trip to see the Hell of the North up close and personal…… possibly coupled with riding the short version of the Paris Roubaix sportive the day before.
That would make for an excellent 2019, cycling wise.
Ride London was a disappointment, as previously mentioned. The fall, the rain, the closure of the Surrey Hills and (most saddening) the passing of Nigel Buchan-Swanson on Ockley Road. I have just glanced at his Just Giving page and the donations are almost at £17,000 which is lovely and the comments are both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time, a fitting tribute to a guy who was doing what he loved.
As others rested and slept after that gruelling course, I was up at 3am to go to Spain to visit friends of ours at their villa in the foothills near to Lliber which is a small village 20 minutes from the coastal towns of Xabia and Calp. If you are looking for a place to stay with close access to some wonderful cycle routes then you have found it as it is within easy reach of the Coll de Rates, the popular training ground for the pros.
It’s a beautiful place, slightly out of the way so you need a car of some description but it is an ideal spot for a base and some peace and quiet (if my kids aren’t there!).
I hadn’t planned to do much last week, aside from borrowing a mountain bike to head into town for a bit of a look round, but the scenery changed that and the hills were calling so I decided to go and try one of the easier 25 mile routes in the vicinity. That said, 25 miles in August temperatures is not easy, as I found out! I planned a route that would take me on a nice long climb at a fairly low average gradient, but give me the thrill of a full on descent the other side.
As you can see there’s a lovely winding, hillside road that climbs for 7.5 miles at an average of 2.9%, with only the crest of the climb reaching ramps of over 15%. However, less oxygen mixed with a mountain bike and no proper kit made that extremely difficult. The first part of the climb had me smiling from ear to ear, it was simply stunning. The views from the road were so good that I was forever stopping to get a better picture!
The road snaked round the hillside, climbing upwards towards the summit and it got hotter and hotter! I took it fairly slowly, enjoying the signs warning cars to give cyclists at least 1.5m clearance (which they did!) and the information at every km which told you what the max gradient and metres climbed would be in the next km as well as the total distance to the summit! It was a fantastic setup for cyclists, excuse the image below as it was a grab from a video I took
The crest of the climb was, as mentioned, a real sting in the tail but the reward was amazing
I took on the last of my water and enjoyed the view as the sun beat down mercilessly on my shoulders. With the water finished, it was time to head back into Xalo and home to the villa, a 6 mile descent at an average of -5% which had me squealing with glee as I kissed the apex of the right hand corners and descended as quickly as that mountain bike would let me. It was exhilarating, I’d never felt that free, such a buzz. The only thing was that I didn’t video it, but after climbing back out of Lliber I did video the descent to the villa using my newest GoPro mount…..my mouth!
Amazing roads, friendly cyclists, friendly locals. A great little bike shop in Xalo as well as a cyclists cafe and almost guaranteed good weather. I’m glad I went on that ride to have some fun on a bike again, it was the tonic I needed and I’ll be back with my road bike and my kit……
……maybe I’ll go and hang out with the pros on the Coll de Rates!
On Sunday just gone, I stood at the Olympic Park in Stratford with thousands of other cyclists waiting to start the 2018 incarnation of the Prudential Ride London 100 mile sportive. Despite the dullened skies and the ever increasing rain, spirits were high and the famed British sense of humour shone through in the massed ranks.
I had one of the latest start times possible, 9am, which wasn’t the best for me as I’m an early bird usually and the weather was forecast to get worse.
The first 30 miles flew by and before I knew it we were wheeling through the gates of Richmond Park, that’s where my ride took a turn for the worst. I’d already noticed people’s inability to heed the instructions and keep left and it was tough to keep speed going into the small lumps that you can easily get over if allowed to keep your pace. Going up one of those lumps a fellow rider, without looking, moved straight out in front of me and clipped my front wheel, sending me spinning to the ground with a massive thud. The result? A small headache, a dented helmet, a ripped shower top, a painful right thigh, a couple of dents in the paintwork and a hugely buckled back wheel. There was no way I was quitting so I pressed on to the Hub at Newlands Corner and queued up to see the mechanic who did what he could to straighten up my wheel.
After standing in the rain for half an hour waiting for the mechanic I was on my way again, despite the damage I was looking forward to the tests of Leith Hill and Box Hill. When we got to the end of a road I was expecting a right turn to Leith but, instead, we were directed left and were told that Leith Hill was closed. Disappointed, we crawled down the other side of Leith Hill and on to Box Hill where, again, we were told the hill was closed due to a medical incident. I was annoyed and disappointed, all that training and effort was wasted and I cursed the only rain we’d had in about 3 months. In an increasingly annoyed state I made my way back to London and the finish on The Mall. It was an anticlimax, I’d finished but I hadn’t finished. I’d only done 90 odd miles because of the rerouting of the ride and the medal I was given, to me, felt worthless.
It was only way after the event that I learnt of the passing of Nigel Buchan-Swanson on Ockley Road near Leith Hill. A fellow rider, riding for Macmillan Cancer Support, had suffered a fatal heart attack on the route, hence the the closures. A pang of guilt mixed with sadness hit me, guilt for all of the anger that I’d felt for not being able to complete the ride and sadness for the soul of a dedicated cyclist and fundraiser.
The ride was everything I hoped it wouldn’t be in the end, which was a sad end to something I’d wanted to do for so long.
Dedicated to Nigel Buchan-Swanson, may the giving of his life help to save so many others. I have made a donation to Nigel’s Just Giving page, if you would like to do the same the link is here
Yesterday marked one week to go until the Ride London so a pal of mine, Al (who is also taking part in this year’s ride), and I went on a recce of two of the major climbs on the route, Leith Hill and Box Hill. The climbs come at around 55 and 65 miles into the 100 mile ride so a significant amount of energy will have been expended by then. I’ve done Box Hill numerous times so I’m confident in my ability with that one but I’ve only attempted Leith Hill once before and, that time, I inexplicably had to stop for a wee about 3/4 of the way up! I wanted to do Leith Hill in one go before the big day to prevent any kind of mental barrier forming so, despite the heat, we headed on down through some of the leafiest villages that Surrey has to offer and round to the base of Leith Hill.
Strava lists Leith Hill as a climb of 2.03km at an average of 7% but the maximum gradients can hit 14.5% in places
You can see from the Veloviewer segment grab that the hill isn’t really that consistent, the gradients rise and fall a lot on the way to the top, with quite a vicious last kick to conquer. Those of you who use Zwift will know the climb inside out and it is a fair recreation of the hill, halfway up I had a lovely conversation with a couple outside their house as I went past!
I managed to finish the whole thing without needing a wee this time! It took me 10 mins 26 seconds but it’s done, complete, so I have no questions going into the ride next week.
The other important thing about the ride yesterday was to practice getting nutrition right and I have a new love to share – Veloforte nutrition bars (https://veloforte.cc/). They are superb bars to fit in your pockets, a little expensive but well worth checking out
There are three different bars
I used the Classico and Di Bosco variants on this ride and they were superb, each 70g bar is packed with 300kcal, 50g of carbs and 5g of protein. I shall certainly be taking these next week!
After all is done I am off on holiday to Spain, planning to trade the road bike for a mountain bike around the hills of Lliber a couple of times!