Double Staple secures a hilly ride

Uplifting view of the Downs: free to anyone, you don’t have to be on a bike

Map reference: Richmond Park, through Cobham to Staple Lane, Crocknorth Road, Box Hill and back through Walton-on-the-Hill. You will have to take my word for it as the Garmin turned itself off. Just under 100k

Carbs and Caffeine: Box Hill cafe, cup of tea and a flapjack, cycling fuel and lunch rolled into one delicious homemade slab

Making my way to my Richmond Park rendezvous with Jacqui, I had my doubts about today’s cycle plan. The winds were horrendous. As a gust hit, all I could do was stop pedalling, grip the handlebars and hope the cars would have the sense to know how difficult the conditions were. One senile old gent chose this day to try driving (so slowly I had to overtake going up cardiac hill – aka Broomfield Hill) while holding his iphone in front of his face to take a video. The silly old duffer is now the proud owner of a shot of me gesticulating to put the thing down. Leaving your brain at the gate because you are driving through the park is not acceptable… and that goes for parking in the middle of the road to see the deer too.

I was still worried about the gusts as we continued. A cycling friend has bust his knee skiing, and it has pricked my fear that all this training would count for nothing, should I sustain an injury. We actually got off our bikes in Kingston, as the wind funnelling between Peter Jones and Bentalls was too dangerous to ride through, but things improved from there and by the time we were in Cobham I had settled down and was enjoying myself. We pedalled on to Staple Lane and, since I climb faster, I decided to do it twice to Jacqui’s once. The plan was to catch her a bit down the road. Jacqui obviously took this as a challenge and pedalled off as fast as she could. She was most of the way up Crocknorth Road (which we know as ‘the steep one under the bridge’) before I caught sight of her. She must have been holding back before. Anyway it gave me a chance to stretch my legs along the rolling ride between the two hills and I’m sure I would have set some personal records on Strava if the Garmin hadn’t failed to record that section.

My screen told me we had done 60k as we pulled up outside the cafe on top of Box Hill. I wish I had looked at the climbing rate, as that information is now gone forever.

We were trying to ‘make time’ as we set off for home as Jacqui was late for all sorts of household admin, but were stopped as we turned into Headley Common Road by a police block and ambulance. Unfortunately a motorcyclist had been hit by a falling tree. I dread to think what would have happened if it had been us. At least the guy had his protective clothing. A policeman told us that the biker will be all right, but it is very sobering seeing someone stretchered into an ambulance.

As the road was closed for an investigation into the accident, we were forced to take a rather long circuit through Walton-On-The-Hill and Tadworth (made slightly longer with a wrong turning from me). Poor Jacqui was now very late, and had to call her mother, who was at home with the children, and explain to her that there had been an accident – no, she wasn’t in the accident – and she would be much later than planned. Mobile reception is not great up there, the conversation went round and round in loud circles for a while before the message was received.

So not everything went according to plan. Jacqui was very late and I have no record of the ride. And hail had not been forecast but fell anyway. But we banked some miles, and that’s a good thing with 10 weeks to go the the Dragon Ride.

Note to self: turbo tomorrow, need to start building up the stamina

Box Hill battle wins a new friend

Map reference: Kingston, Cobham, Fetcham, Box Hill, and loop back, 60k

Carbs and Caffeine: Top of Box Hill, tea and coffee cake, our old favourite, ahhh, it’s been a while

Feeling slightly unsure of myself, after failing to make the grade last time I was out, I nearly decided to take the light bike out today, but no, this was a fairly flat, slowish run, it had to be my heavy bike. Funny… not so long ago my aluminium Giant was my beautiful bike, I feel I am treating it very unfairly by referring to it so disparagingly. She’s still very trim and lovely. She is my second bike in name alone.

Following Jacqui’s very precise instructions, Jen and I rallied at 10.10 and we set off on familiar roads out to Surrey. As we were trundling along the quiet lanes of Polesden Lacey, we passed a man in a bright yellow jacket, freewheeling along, listening to music and as we paused to regroup he asked the way to Box Hill. We were heading that way so he joined us, reassuring us that he was in no hurry.

And so off we went… in no hurry… until we got to Box Hill. As we turned right onto the zigzag, the pace picked up. I had it in mind to try for some speed (I’m getting addicted to my Strava bling – for the uninitiated, Strava is a website that checks your speed against everyone else, and awards you ‘medals’), then remembered I was on bike number two. But by then it was too late. We were clearly in a race and I was the mug at the front doing the towing. Before the second hairpin, our new mate made his move, and overtook me easily. What had seemed like a slightly stocky frame in his waterproof jacket, turned out to be sitting on very muscley cycling legs.

Jen politely stayed behind me, but as we hit the flattish bit I told her to go and get him. And off she went… poor man, once Jen sets her sights on a challenge, she generally gets there. And she did, from quite a way back.

At the top we introduced ourselves. Jason from South Africa has only been in the country since January and still feeling his away around the area… and he’s a spinning instructor. Chapeau, Jen, Chapeau indeed.

We offered Jason a tow back to Kingston – that’s a joke Jason – and he companionably took out his earbuds and chatted to us all the way back, trusting that our dodging,  diving and weaving route would get him back to the familiar roads of Kingston, from where he could find his way back home. Mind you he had one of those Garmins where you can just ask it take you home and it will. That may have been why he was so relaxed. And the three of us are probably not very threatening … unless you get Jen’s goat.

Note to self: must check if Bike Bean is doing their Thursday run. It would be embarrassing to drag Jen to Ashtead for nothing

Out of credit…

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Good old Ebay: my new Dura-Ace Shimano brakes, not that they’d have helped today

Map reference: Kingston to Chilworth, and a reverse home, 79 long kilometres

Carbs and caffeine: Costa in Cobham, not very exciting, but just what I needed

Well it was bound to happen. I’ve been having such a great time in the past couple of weeks that I was bound to crash. At least this was only physically not literally, although I was aware that, as I was feeling less than 100 per cent, I needed to be careful on the road. The old IQ drops swiftly when you start fading.

It was supposed to be a long hilly ride with Rob today, as he trains for the Flanders sportive. But by the time we got to 40k around Leith Hill and I had been feeling rubbish the whole way, I knew it was time to bail. Unfortunately, at that stage I was 40k from home, so I turned back and trundled back to Cobham promising myself a large coffee there to get me through the last kilometres.

The smiley barista at Costa asked me how I was as she served me and was probably surprised to be told I was totally rubbish. I think the acceptable answer is an American-style ‘great’. But the bucket of coffee she served me helped me home and now I would like to say to her ‘Have a nice day…’

Note to self: it’s all part of the training. You’ve done 310k since Saturday, bailing perfectly acceptable

Badger’s drift and a magic solution

Saddle up: Kirdford Village Stores in West Sussex welcomes all sorts…

Map reference: Leatherhead into West Sussex, 100k, homage to the Spring Onion sportive

Carbs and caffeine: Bookham and Harrison, Ridgewick http://www.bookhams.com/pages/our-coffee-shop and Kirdford Village stores, where they serve an excellent bacon sandwich http://www.kirdfordvillagestores.com/

I was very honoured to be invited by Keith for his Monday Medley. My Bike Beans friend, Jo, tells me they haven’t ridden for a while together but they tend to go out for about 100k and Keith has an encyclopedic knowledge, both in mapping terms and points of interest too. He seems to know where all the celebrities live. Maybe, out of his Lycra he is a mover and a shaker himself? I wouldn’t put it past him.

We started at a hell of a lick and I had to suffocate my usual doubts, but we soon settled into a great rhythm. Five of us made it a nice compact peloton, with far less chance of being left behind. We were slightly led astray at one stage when Keith pointed right and we all dutifully pointed right and moved over into the middle of the road, only to be wrong footed by Keith drifting left and following the road around the corner.

It transpires he had been pointing at a badger. Tony decided our signalling need to be clearer than that – he has a tidy mind, I think – so he developed a flamboyant signal, starting from the middle of his chest and looping out to the right in an extravagant, wristy arch, rather like a magician pulling a rabbit out of his gilet. We adopted this for the ride, and who knows it may catch on. You read it here first.

Keith managed to squeeze in two caffeine stops but the hilly rises were relentless enough that we also had to stop at a garage for jelly rabbits, which aren’t quite as nice as jelly babies.

All in all, another wonderful day out. I was surprised to find my legs were fine after Saturday’s efforts in the Brecon Beacons. I have a busy week planned which may have me ruing that boast…

Note to self: the pedals are attached to cranks, not shanks, as you were telling everyone. Try not to embarrass yourself in front of your new friends. If anyone is interested in this, here’s the link http://bikedynamics.co.uk/FitGuidecranks.htm

A hill by any other name would feel as steep …

Map reference: Sennybridge loop, 84k, 1,940m climbing, 4 hours and 20 mins

Carbs and caffeine: musette consisting of cheese sandwich from yesterday’s packed lunch, cold cross bun, handful of jelly babies

Spotted: snowcapped mountains, two dogs wearing pink jackets, a white Lamborghini (several times), a boy-racer in a Honda (twice was more than enough)… and a lost Tesco van

Husband and I had thought we might go out for a massive ride today,  but we slept in until 8am and didn’t feel like rushing. We didn’t push off until nearly 10am and wanted to be back for the rugby, Wales v Ireland, with both teams being supported here (albeit middle son only supporting Ireland because green is his favourite colour). My eldest son had half an éclair riding on the result, and got to scoff it as Wales won.

It was cold but beautiful as we set out towards Trecastle along a back road that eventually, and unexpectedly, gave us sight of snowcapped peaks. Wales is really such a beautiful country, none better when the sun is shining. After an hour and a half, we were at the bottom of “The Hill With No Name” (aka A4069 between Capel Gwynfe and Bryamman). It’s a lovely, sweeping, long Alpine style climb with few cars and a scattering of puffing cyclists.

By now my legs had recovered from our hilly start (300m climbing in the first 30 mins had me reaching for the painkillers for my back again) and I determinedly, and pretty easily, made it up in my large cog. We then pedalled on down to Bryamman, turned back on ourselves and I then repeated the big cog challenge, against the wind all the way back to the top. Then – you guessed it – we went down the hill and up one more time… in the big cog. My Garmin occasionally reached 18 per cent, but was often around 5 per cent, with the longer sections being about 7 per cent, I reckon.

By then it was time to abandon our hilly playground and head for home. Pretty soon heavy legs set in, even Husband was feeling it. I had wanted to get all the way back in the large cog, but a really short 20 percenter forced me to submit to the clickity-click-phew method. No shame in that, that small cog is there for a reason.

Note to my Aunt Myfanwy: I thought of you lots today as we passed through your gorgeous Welsh countryside and within a few miles of your sickbed. I do hope you get better soon. x 

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Hanging on… just

Map reference: Cafe Bean ride into the Surrey hills, 65k

Carbs and caffeine: Cafe Bean, Ashtead, http://www.bikebeans.co.uk/… our promised midway stop wiped out by serial punctures

I am going to have to be quick today, but to give you a general idea, we started with 13 people and I just about managed to be in the first bunch of six back. In between we had three punctures and split into three different groups. This wasn’t down to carelessness on anyone’s part, I hasten to add. One guy fell off the back very fast because he was on a cyclocross bike and there were two to three ‘leaders’ so no one was actually abandoned. I had to work really hard to keep up with the front group, spurred by the thought that my screaming legs could only be good for me. Through Stoke D’Abernon I must have lost concentration and fell off the back of the peloton. I had to work really hard to clamber back on, tantalised by the fact that I could see the riders at the back freewheeling.

So six of us finally scrambled back to Cafe Bean for our shot of caffeine and the others came in behind us, to tell their tales of woe. Keith, one of the leaders, introduced himself and, on being told of my Etape plans, was plain speaking enough to point out that I need to be lighter. To explain, I look fine in a pair in jeans, but I do not look like a climber in my Lycra. Such comments are perfectly normal in cycling circles, and anyway I was too busy concentrating on scooping up the last bit of froth from my cappuccino to take offence. Real cyclists drink their coffee black and short, to save on calories and wee-stops.

To illustrate how tired I was – and maybe Jo too – we rounded off the morning by trying to remember whether, in response to Keith’s comment, Jo had said I looked like a heifer, or whether she had said I didn’t look like a heifer. Neither of us was sure…

Note to self: next time bring two bottles of water. That poor chap who you blagged half a bottle off probably needed it himself.

The whiff of success…

Displaying photo.JPG Early start: a two-bottle run to the Surrey hills, doesn’t she look beautiful in the sunlight?

Map reference: 130k, ’10 hill’ loop to Leith Hill area

Carbs and caffeine: Peaslake Stores http://www.peaslakevillagestores.com/, just a mug of tea, but lots on offer. Remember coinage to donate to cleaner of new loo

I had a fantastic run on Sunday with Husband, doing a 90k Box Hill loop from home, but time caught up with me and I had no time to blog it. Suffice to say the bike and I are now the very bestest of friends. We averaged 24k, so finally Husband and I can cycle together without him getting a crick in the neck from turning around to look for me. I’ll never be his training partner, but at least we can ride together. It’s a big step forward.

With all this happiness in mind, I prepared to battle Barhatch again, having failed last week. This time Rob and I set off earlier so I wouldn’t have to bail after 5 and a half hills to get home for the school run. And I switched to my new bike. I can’t, if I’m honest, tell the difference between the two bikes on a flip around Richmond Park, but give it an hour or so and the difference really becomes apparent. So the lesson, well known to amateur cyclists, is … if at first your don’t succeed, bring a better bike.

Some credit should go to those winter months of training. A friend’s husband has been scoffing that I have been so focused since before Christmas but, with no testosterone to fall back on, it’s the only way I know how. Under Bealsey’s http://www.bespoke-velo.co.uk/ guidance I’ve been working on pushing a harder gear and that has certainly paid dividends. Hills Seven and Eight passed by in my big cog (they were more like a series of rises to be honest) and I found this left me in a better position to maximise speed on the false flats in between. Husband has been saying this for years, but I don’t think I was fit enough to pull it off then.

Apart from the hills, which tend to grab the attention, I think my descending has improved a little. Some weeks ago, Bealsey told me that my feet should be horizontal when descending on a straight, with my strong foot forward. I had found this position awkward and tend to ride with my left foot down, which feels more restful. But suddenly his advice seems to be making sense. I think it may be the angle of my feet, I am working on having my heels lower in my pedal stroke, and that seems to give me more balance. Anyway, even on the pretty bumpy descents of the Surrey Hills I am feeling more confident.

So all in all, the stars were aligned and it was a great day. I know they won’t all be like this, some days just aren’t so good, but I feel very, very positive.

And why the headline ‘The whiff of success’? Well, Peaslake Stores is an excellent deli, and they were giving out tastes of their cheeses. I fell on love with a Chillies Farm wild mushroom infused camembert, and rode the second half with it ripening in my back pocket.

Note to self: last week to collar Bealsey for more training tips, before he heads off for his summer holiday guiding tour

New bike’s baptism of fire


Worth a trip: Tanhouse, buzzing with cyclists and the odd toddler

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Map reference: Cafe Bean, Ashtead, to Newdigate and back… via Pebble Hill

Carbs and caffeine: Tanhouse Farm shop http://www.tanhousefarm.co.uk, and not a moment too soon

Today my new bike and I set off on our first excursion together, with a completely new group too. I had been put in touch with a very keen cyclist called Jo through a school contact and I turned up today for a Cafe Bean ride with really no idea what to expect. I thought it was a ‘ladies’ ride, but oh no, it was mostly men, and quite pacey. We started off as 17 but lost two riders within 15 minutes.

I was a little concerned at the casual way they were dropped and desperately pedalled to keep up with the peloton. We were averaging 24k/h, hitting a max of 52k/h, and I didn’t know that the two dropees had been prepped to just peel away if they found it too fast. So with fear driving me on – I did not know where we were most of the time – I pedalled like fury and got my second wind. And after about an hour (and a couple of painkillers for my niggling back) I began to relax and grab the odd word with the rest of the crew on the flats. Nice bunch, cyclists generally are…

I have to say I was ready for the cafe stop at about the 40k mark. I finally caught up with Jo there, who kindly bought the caffeine required to ensure my continuing pace for the return leg. It’s a fantastic, friendly spot. We sat outside, briefly, discussing saddles and watching a toddler war in the play area. My money was on the boy in the stripey green shirt, but I lost when the boy in the blue jacket thumped him. We shouldn’t have laughed, but toddlers are so ridiculously transparent.

The return journey was shorter, but Hanno, the group leader had a little trick up his sleeve, driving us into Pebble Hill. I sensed the unease in the pack as we got nearer, although I was blissfully unaware of the challenge ahead, and Jo began to talk herself into a complete funk. She’s really strong on the flat but doesn’t fancy hills. Nonetheless, except for one chap who peeled off to go round the hill instead, we all made it up. I think it was about 20% at worst.

Perhaps this is the moment to apologise for saying that Barhatch Road was 29% on Tuesday. Apparently it’s only 22% (I think the blood pumping on my head must have effected my hearing, I’m sure that’s what Rob said) but I have to say today’s climb seemed more than 2% easier. Jo made it easily and clearly felt good about it. And so did I… getting off on a hill as I did two days ago leaves you with serious doubts about yourself.

With such negative thoughts banished, I shot into Velosport on my return, for Nick to confirm that Husband had set my saddle perfectly. Sorry Nick, both I and the bike could have done with a bath first.

Note to self: time to invest in a foam roller, Nick’s right, IT band still too tight. Ouch, rollers hurt

Beaten by 29% hill… bah

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Amusant? I’m not sure my LaPierre is going to take to this Italian bling

Map reference: out to the Surrey hills from Worcester Park, 100k, 1,200m climbing

Carbs and caffeine: cuppa at Peaslake Village Stores http://www.peaslakevillagestores.com/, new loo a blessing

Jacqui is away at the moment, so she kindly lent me her husband for our regular Tuesday slot. Rob is training for the Flanders (250k, 1,800m climbing) and so proposed ten Surrey hills and 140k. Unfortunately we set off a bit late with one thing and another and I had to cut this short to 100k and about 5 1/2 hills.

Along the way I got snowed on (yes, really) and beaten by a 29% hill (Rob tells me it is 29%, my Garmin had given up and gone back to zero). I am annoyed by this as I hopped off about 4m from the end of a longish climb. I had had to take pain killers for my back at one and a half hours, which is a setback in itself. I think my spine is still suffering from the short French bed on holiday and disastrous ride on ill-fitting saddle  last week. And then about three hours in to the ride we were on a perfectly normal hill – ranging from 10-20 percent with some false flats – and suddenly there was a ramp in front of me, with the top tantalisingly in view. It truly was a ramp, such as you see in a multi-storey car park. I’ve looked on the map, and as far as I can work out it was on Barhatch Road. Avoid it at your peril… or bring crampons.

So I am resting today; stretching and planning for tomorrow, when I intend to take LaPierre out for a joyride with a new group. One of the prep things was to use my credit at Pearsons http://www.pearsoncycles.co.uk/ to buy water bottle holders. They assure me that the titanium ones pictured above, made by Ciussi, are my best bet. They are light and strong, if strangely blingy. My bike is turning into a patchwork of European style. As long as I don’t have to get into Greek style debt to get the new brakes I desperately need, I should be fine.

Note to self: don’t forget to switch your saddle and stem bags too… going out without tubes and gas is not smart

Are we sitting comfortably ..?

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Blog power: The LaPierre is finally comfortable, thanks to a borrowed saddle

Map reference: circuit of Richmond Park, followed by quick spin at home

Carbs and caffeine: toast with tuna, avocado and tomato, at home but worth the effort

Through the magic of blogging, my friend Lucy got to hear about my saddle difficulties and offered me her spare Specialized Lithia Comp gel. What bliss to settle into the curves I am used to. It is padded slightly more sparingly than my original saddle and comes in at 130g (yes, I weighed it myself on the kitchen scales). Although this is not super light, the bottom line (geddit?) is I need to be comfortable. And I was.

I only did one circuit of Richmond Park today is it was gusting horribly. In fact I nearly turned back before I got there as I was being driven into the middle of the road, despite gripping the bars. Luckily, in the park you can see the gust arriving, marked by a flurry of crispy brown leaves. Traffic was sparse but I kept the speed right down in deference to the wind, and enjoyed that lovely childish sense of flying that comes with a relaxed cycle.

I’ve realised today that it is only four and a half months until the Etape du Tour, and three and a half until the Dragon ride which, at 220k, will be at least as much of a test. There’s a slight training hitch as one of my riding partners, Neil, has gone AWOL for a month. Jacqui is also gone for two weeks but she is lending me her husband, which is only fair I think.

Note to self: hit the stationers, this definitely calls for a chart… maybe even some stickers