The Pros Are Back!

The winter always seems long, spending the working week with your fingers crossed that the weather will be OK at the weekend while flicking through numerous Instagram posts of the pros at their training camps in much sunnier surroundings than your own.

Last week, at long last, the pros returned to racing duty with Caleb Ewan taking the People’s Choice Classic and Daryl Impey recording a second consecutive victory at the Tour Down Under. It was a good week of racing, Richie Porte took his sixth consecutive win on Willunga Hill, Chris Hamilton took a brilliant 6th place on GC and Paddy Bevin surely would have won but for a crash on stage 5 that prevented him from being 100% for the Willunga Hill stage.

It got me thinking about what I would like to see in 2019, not what I THINK will happen but what I am hoping for. Here’s my list:

Cav To Return To Top Form
Love him or loathe him, the Manx Missile is/was/has been one of the defining characters of modern cycling. His record speaks for itself and it would be great to see him back to his best after his battles with injury and long term illness. The Tour is poorer without him. The current fly in the ointment is the injury to his long term friend and lead out man, Mark Renshaw, but hopefully Cav can get in the mix and make those sprint battles interesting to watch. It’ll be interesting to see how the BMC bike goes in the sprints too.

Mike Teunissen To Win His First Major Race
Ok, so I have a real reason for wanting this to happen due to Mike being my #cyclinggame19 rider but I do think it could happen. He’s back at Jumbo-Visma with a decent team around him and a decent bike to race on. He had a good spring last year, 2nd in DDV, 18th in Flanders and 11th in Roubaix so he’ll be aiming to improve on those results. He looks happy and training camp seems to have gone well for him. Obviously I’m hoping he saves that major win for Roubaix as we’ll be there to cheer him on!

Michael Valgren To Win At Flanders
Valgren had an exceptional Spring in 2018. Wins at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Amstel Gold Race were backed up by 4th place in De Ronde. With a Flanders conquering BMC bike under him I really do think he can win over the bergs this year and give Team Dimension Data the wins that eluded them so badly last year. With their World Tour status in question, TDD need Cav and Valgren to flourish.

Dan Martin To Finally Win Fleche
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride! Dan Martin’s results in La Fleche Wallone will be a source of irritation to him; 2nd in 2017, 3rd in 2016; 2nd in 2014, 4th in 2013, 6th in 2012. Martin has gone so close on so many occasions but living at the same time as Alejandro Valverde is a tough proposition and, when he does falter (like last year), there are superb riders like Julian Alaphilippe to step up and take the glory on the Mur de Huy. Fleche is the one that Martin would love to win and I would love to see him finally cross that line in first place

Enric Mas To Be A Home Hero At The Vuelta

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Mas Wins The Penultimate Stage Of The 2018 Vuelta

I remember watching Mas win Stage 6 of Itzulia earlier in the 2018 season and I was mightily impressed with him. He beat a good field that day including Landa, Teuns, Quintana and Roglic. He had a solid Vuelta but his crowning moment came on the penultimate stage when he slammed the door shut on Miguel Angel Lopez at the final bend and beat him to the line in Andorra. It was a wise and tactically perfect finish from the ‘next Contador’. He finished 2nd overall to Simon Yates which was a fantastic achievement and, with Yates targeting unfinished business at the Giro, Mas will be hoping to go one better.

Katusha Alpecin To Return To Winning Ways
Kevin Poulton (formerly Caleb Ewan’s coach) has joined so they will be hoping that his influence and skillset will get Marcel Kittel back and firing at the top level. Kittel looked completely out of sorts last year so he’ll have a job! There’s some good young talent there (Tanfield, Fabbro, Guerreiro, Pollitt, Wurz Schmidt) but they will be expecting much more from their veterans, in particular Kittel and Zakarin. Bit of a personal one this due to my fondness for the team after the Alpecin Cycling weekend last year, I hope they do well.

Viviani To Win Milan Sanremo
After years of waiting for an Italian to win MSR, Vincenzo Nibali stormed to victory last year in one of the most exciting finishes in the whole of the racing calendar. The tifosi will be hoping that Viviani can make it 2 in 2. By my count Viviani had 18 wins last year and he picked up right where he left off in stage one of the TDU. If the bunch stays together over the Cipressa and the Poggio, Viviani will sprint on the Via Roma and La Primavera will have another Italian winner. Fact.

Richie Porte To Stay Upright For Three Weeks
I did say this isn’t necessarily what would happen! Plagued with crashes and injuries, it would be amazing to see Porte complete a Grand Tour in good form and to see what he is actually capable of as a GC leader. Unfortunately it never seems to go right for him. On the Roubaix stage of the Tour last year (Stage 9) Porte managed to crash out before they’d even reached the first cobbled sector, the general response was “Well, it’s Richie Porte isn’t it”

Tao Geoghegan Hart To Get More Opportunities At Team Sky

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Tao Geoghegan Hart At The Amgen Tour Of California In 2018

There were a lot of unsung heroes in the pro peloton last year (Adam Yates and Richeze to name a couple) but Tao Geoghegan Hart stuck out for me. As a foil for Egan Bernal at the Amgen Tour of California he was absolutely superb, he towed Bernal round the West Coast of America and still managed to finish 5th on the GC himself. He then picked himself up and did another huge turn for Team Sky at La Vuelta. He’s a talented, level headed lad and I hope he gets a chance to shine

Tim Wellens To Take A Win, Somewhere, In The Spring
I don’t know what Wellens is doing half the time but I like it. He’s always looking to attack and animate the race and that’s great for the spectators, but he hasn’t got it quite right for him….yet. I think and hope this year could be the year we see Wellens take home a major title

Strade Bianche To Be As Enthralling As Last Year’s Edition
Brilliant race last year, just brilliant. Tiesj Benoot’s win after bridging across (with Pieter Serry, then on his own) to Bardet and Wout van Aert, then dropping them and powering up the climb to the Piazza del Campo was amazing to watch. The images and photos from the race were memorable to the max, whether it was Tiesj’s mud covered face or the anguished face of Wout van Aert as he cramped up on the way into Siena. It helped that I had a winning bet on Tiesj at 20/1 but it was a great race and we’ll be spoilt if it is as good again this year

Bardet To Return To Top Form At Le Tour
Well, he needs to doesn’t he?! The low amount of TT kilometres and the amount of 2,000+ metre finishes (5, I think) play more to Bardet’s strengths so this may be his best chance of a Tour win. Sky will be desperate to deliver a 5th yellow jersey for Froome and we all know that they are a phenomenal unit but, with uncertainty around the future of the team, riders could be more swayed by personal achievements and that could open up opportunities for others. I hope Bardet looks for those opportunities and injects some excitement into this year’s event, I’ve had a little bet on him at 40/1

So, there it is, plenty of fingers crossed moments! I’m sure it’ll be another great season of racing and that Eurosport subscription will be my best value purchase of the year (again).

IAIN

Birth Of An Obsession

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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…..

IAIN

A Good Sport(ive)

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.

Start Of The 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).

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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.

IAIN

A Fairly Brisk Start To 2019!

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

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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!

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Roll on next weekend!

IAIN

2019 – Year of the Fat Bloke?

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

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Infographic from http://www.veloviewer.com

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!

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Three Times Round The Rec Was A Bonus!

The good thing about being ill was that I didn’t consume anywhere near the amount of festive goodies that I could have done!

Onwards!

IAIN

Sliding Into The Off Season….

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!

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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!

IAIN

A New Nemesis

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.

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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.

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The Improvement Over Time Is Clear To See

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.

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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

IAIN