The Cloudy Crystal Ball

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.

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Mike Wins Stage 1 From Sagan By A Wheel Width
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The Opening Days Of The Tour Were Unbelievable For Mike But Nothing Comes Close To Meeting Us At Paris-Roubaix

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!

IAIN

 

Ride London Countdown

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.

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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

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It was a fantastic trip and I stilllong to do another multi day bike ride. How far I’ve come since then….

IAIN

 

If You Can’t Beat Them……

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.

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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!

IAIN

Svenska Cykel

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

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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

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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

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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!

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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The Bike Box Alan Was Sturdy And Arrived Safe & Sound

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!

IAIN

Bike Shed Essentials

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.

1. Workshop Bike Stand – Aldi £24.99

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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.

2. Pipecleaners – Amazon £7.85 (360)

Do what now? Pipecleaners? Why?

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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!)

3. Bontrager 5nm Torque Wrench – J E James £9.99

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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

4. X-Tools Allen Key Twin Head Ball End – Wiggle £2.99 Each

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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!

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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……

IAIN

Another Year Older…

Yesterday I turned 42. It’s not a number that is celebrated outside of fans of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy but I was determined, as with most previous birthdays, to get out on my bike and prove to myself that 42 is really quite an insignificant number.

As the Ride London is inching ever closer I had planned a route that would take in both the climbs of Leith Hill and Box Hill and these would come after 70km of cycling so I could get a really good idea of where I am in my preparations. I was a bit concerned about this as by this time last year I had already completed the 160km Pearson Cycles London to Brighton & Back.

I had a good feeling in the legs when I set off, the sun was shining and there were no sign of any arm or leg warmers at all! My good mood was dampened (literally) at the bottom of Titsey Hill where some kind of river had appeared across the road, leaving me with two soggy feet that got colder the quicker I went! Thankfully they dried out fairly quickly and I could get back to enjoying my ride. It was a stunningly beautiful Thursday, light on traffic and everyone I encountered seemed to be in good spirits – perhaps the promise of a Bank Holiday weekend had something to do with that.

One thing I did notice massively was a small change that I had made to the cockpit of my bike. I’d previously felt that my position was wrong, that I was reaching a bit and perhaps the setup was too aggressive for my size (and shape!). Earlier in the week I had swapped out the stock 100mm stem that came with my bike for a 90mm Deda one (shown below)

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My New Deda Zero 2 90mm Stem & Lizard Skins Bar Tape

The difference was unbelievable, my riding position felt much more comfortable and I felt like my power transfer had increased as a result. All from shortening the stem by 10mm. If you are having similar feelings then I can definitely recommend trying a shorter stem. The bike’s handling did feel a bit more ‘twitchy’ but, once I had got used to the difference, I was back to descending and cornering at my usual speeds. With good legs and a new level of comfort in my bike position I pushed on through the lanes of Kent, Sussex and Surrey to the base of Leith Hill, a place that most cyclists hold with a certain reverence.

It’s not the toughest of climbs by a long shot but it’s also not the easiest in the area, if anything I find the (more popular) Box Hill a lot easier than this. The climb itself is 2km long with an average gradient of 6.7%, but there’s not much rhythm to be found as it pitches and rolls it’s way to the top with gradients of up to 14.5% in places.

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I’ve only climbed Leith Hill a handful of times, it’s location isn’t that convenient for me, but I felt good enough to give it a good crack yesterday and I was rewarded with a PR on Strava, knocking 18 seconds off my previous best time. I may be 5 minutes behind the current KOM holder but I was happy with that, next challenge is a sub 10 minute attempt!

The descent from Leith Hill is as I remember it, still quite sketchy in places due to the reduced visibility from the tree cover and a fairly uneven road surface! I drafted two cars down to the A25 and headed to Box Hill.

Box Hill was lovely and peaceful, a far cry from what it will be this weekend when scores of cyclists will descend (or ascend) on one of the most popular Strava segments. I think I may have had a PR here too if it wasn’t for getting caught up behind a slower cyclist while cars overtook around the second hairpin. The view from the top, as always on a sunny day, was stunning – it is one of my favourite places in the world.

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I rewarded myself with a birthday bakewell slice from the cafe and refilled my bottles, before heading off on the 35km or so to home.

A brilliant day out that also, as it turns out, included a cup on Strava for placing 9th on the all time list for the Tistey Tuck segment – never had one of those before and it was out of eleven thousand people! I’ll leave it here for posterity!

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I think, if I keep going on the same trajectory, I will be in a really good place come the Ride 100. I feel more confident, the changes I’ve made to the bike have really worked and I’m looking forward to it

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Enjoy the good weather and wherever the roads take you!

IAIN

Upgrading Old Faithful

One of the by-products of buying a set of new wheels is that you end up with a set of wheels that suddenly aren’t doing very much. I had this very scenario, with a decent set of DT Swiss wheels from my Specialized so I decided to put them on my old Felt bike (which I am intending to take to Sweden). I cleaned the cassette, swapped it over and (after a few days waiting for some brand new disc rotors) I set about putting them on my bike. Well, all I can say is that it was more taxing than I thought! After much pissing about with shims and fiddling with the position of disc calipers, I finally managed to get them running true without any disc brake rub. Score!

My other ‘project’ for this bike was to change the handlebars. When I had the original bike fit on the Felt the guy had changed the bars for a 40cm wide set but I wanted to change back to a 42cm as the 40cm felt like it prevented my chest from opening out and restricted my breathing a bit.

I ordered a set of Zipp Service Course bars and some new Deda bar tape. I’ve NEVER attempted this before so I studied the GCN YouTube channel several times before starting out

I do find that the GCN channel has a wealth of useful content for ‘shed mechanics’ such as myself, the Park Tool channel also has some useful stuff so do give them a search if you’re not sure of how to approach a certain task

I followed the handlebar taping video as closely as I could, starting with the removal of the old tape, the old bars and putting the new bars on

I was a bit apprehensive about taking on this task but, using the video and taking my time, it was a lot like putting a new grip on a badminton racket apart from the obvious obstacle of the brake hoods! I did unwind and rewind the tape a few times to try and get as good a finish as I could and I’m pretty pleased with the results!

Ok, so it’s not the most difficult of tasks and the finish isn’t perfect but I’m really happy with the result! It’s another thing that I can tick off the list of things I know how to do to my bike and next time I do it the result will be better.

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With the new tape and the ‘new’ wheels the old steed is looking good for Stockholm and should still be able to turn a few heads!

IAIN