Cranking it up…

Map reference: Husband’s local bergs route, double Richmond Park flip with Surrey pals and shortened trip to Shere

Carbs and caffeine: good coffee, my choice of wrong cake at The Dabbling Duck, Middle Street, Shere

I’m still nursing a sore back. The pain is travelling up and down my right side and I can’t walk any distance. Yesterday, even the post box 50 metres away looked a little too far and I drove to a box instead. Nonetheless, with the help of paracetamol I have been doing short rides, followed up by intensive stretching. Incidentally, I have it on very good authority that you should try to stay off the anti-inflamatories for training purposes, tempting as they are.

I felt better enough on Sunday to get Husband to ride me round his local bergs route. For the first 20 minutes I was absolutely fine, and after that it as clear I needed to head home. Nonetheless, I captured several pieces of bling on Strava… second best this year up one of the local hills? I need to go back when I’m fit.

On Monday a couple of friends I ride with in Surrey decided to travel up here. This suited me perfectly and it was a real pleasure to see Richmond Park through fresh eyes. It’s perfect terrain for Jo, who professes to not like long hills and loves blasting along the flat. She enjoyed the commute here too as she says she’s tired of the Surrey Hills. If that’s not a lesson in ‘the grass is always greener’, I don’t know what is.

Finally yesterday, I had my regular Tuesday date with Jacqui. We were planning on driving to Cobham and then doing a Leith Hill loop. Unfortunately, by the time we had chatted our way to Staple Lane and beyond, it became clear that Jacqui’s heart wasn’t in it. Her son has scholarship exams next week and, poor love, is getting himself in a pickle. And of course, as the mother, she is trying to do everything she can to make it all right; keeping him calm and helping him through his work load. Sometimes the juggling just gets too much.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, so I persuaded her to pedal on to Shere, and The Dabbling Duck, usually a port of call on our way back from Leith Hill, where a caffeine fix would surely make the outing worthwhile. Unfortunately, out of all the delicious cakes on offer, I chose carrot and pineapple which turned out to be too sugary for my taste. Luckily I had some of my apple and prune oaties packed, and we cleaned our palettes with those.

One of things we chatted about was crank length. Jacqui is a physio and one of her clients was getting terrible knee pain and struggling to climb hills, despite being really fit. Apparently she is seriously under-tall and yet, even with a bike fit, had been given 170 cranks. Jacqui was able to advise her to go back and get 165, which the shop conceded would be right. So there you go… Husband’s intensive studying and my spreading of the word should hopefully make a big difference to a complete stranger.

Here’s the link again on cranks if you are interested

Note to self: get snacks – and painkillers – ready for long one tomorrow.

The myth of the Dragon …

Map reference: to Box Hill and back, and home on the computer researching

Carbs and Caffeine: have reinvented the flapjack using apple sauce to sweeten. They’re actually really nice, low sugar and pretty much fat free. Will test on the family and report back

I’ve been having some back niggles and so have been off the bike for a couple of days, although I am happy to report that I’m on the mend now and even managed a gentle 80k ride yesterday.

Meanwhile, with my hills training plan (and my back) on ice, I have started thinking about my two summer challenges. Everyone keeps telling me that if I can do the Gran Fondo Dragon Ride I can do the Etape du Tour. Is this a myth? Do the numbers stack up?

The Dragon Ride is 226km with 2,905m elevation.

The Etape is 142km, with 4,100-4,600m elevation (depending on what you read)

So it’s easy to see that the Etape is shorter but much, much steeper. Except, that the climbs are very different. The Dragon’s Devil’s Elbow is 20% on a lot of the ascent, and 33% on the switchbacks. But it’s short, it should all be over in minutes.

In contrast the Col de la Croix de Fer in the Etape is 22.4km long at 6.9%. If my speed drops to 10k/h, I could be climbing for two hours, although I fear the broom wagon may be sweeping my way, if there is too much of that speed. But the descents are also longer. It’s hard to imagine enjoying a descent among so many people, but my speed is definitely increasing here, thanks to the confidence I have in my new Dura-Ace brakes. The closest I have come to riding this kind of terrain is at The Hill With No Name, in the Brecon Beacons (see my post March 14) where my average moving speed was just under 20k/h. However, I need to knock off some speed for altitude and heat. The science bit is now out of the window – the affect of these is unknowable – but I’m going to knock my average speed down to 16k/h. If this is anything like right, I should be finished in 8h50m.

Back to the Dragon ride, I did the shorter version last year at an average speed of 23.5k/h. It took me 6h43 and the Gran Fondo is 73k longer, so it’s going to take me three hours longer. I am going to assume the same speed as, although it is much longer, my bike is much better and I hope I am fitter. The weather was good last year (if you can ignore an hour’s deluge at the end) and this could make a huge difference, but I can’t worry about that. So this ride should take me 9h43mins. At this distance, I don’t think I’m going to be able to up my speed at all, and my intention to hold my speed may be ambitious.

Never mind my back, I now have a sore head. And do I have an answer? Well, if you just consider bum-on-seat time, the Dragon is all but an hour longer. In which case doing the Dragon six weeks before the Etape is perfect. So I think, on balance, the myth holds water; slay the Dragon and you can conquer the Alps.

Note to self: use that grid roller… then test the back on the turbo. Boring but safe.

Rising in the East…

Map reference: Ashtead to Oxted, further east along the Downs than I have been before, 86k, including Chalkpit Lane climb

Carbs and Caffeine: Bike Beans Cycle Cafe, Ashtead, and Cafe Nero, Oxted

After a three week break I was finally able to get back to Bike Beans for the Thursday ride. There were supposed to be two rides going – a 9.15 ‘advanced’ and a 9.30 ‘intermediate’ – but they rolled into one for the first half of flat riding. Keith was in charge and had organised for us to start as one group and split after a coffee stop. I forgot to count the heads, but I think we were about 12, with some now familiar faces among the dozen. The joint ride was in part to accomodate Jo, who is carrying a skiing injury in her shoulder and so can’t do hills. In fact her doctor has told she shouldn’t do group rides. Unfortunately this advice doesn’t take into consideration Jo’s addiction to riding and this was her second group ride in two days.

The first part of the route was fairly routine commuting across the county. As ever we were going at a fair old pace, our average speed for the ride was over 26km/h, which is probably rather faster than Jo’s doctor would have liked.

I know I shouldn’t go on about the bike, but it is simply amazing the difference the last changes have made to my comfort and speed. I would love to know whether it’s the shorter cranks, or simply the upgrade to Dura-Ace groupset. And my new confidence with the better brakes earned me some QOMs (Queen of the Mountains on Strava) on a couple of descents.

Cafe Nero in Oxted coped very well with being swamped in Lycra and the group then split into three with one woman getting on a train home, a group taking the most direct and flat route home – including Jo whose shoulder was now aching – and four of us electing to tackle Chalkpit Lane with Keith. As usual there was a lot of talk about how long and how steep the climb was. I tried to tune out; so much of climbing is in the head. And, of course, it was fine. I am definitely getting stronger and I think it’s time to diary in some solo hill repeats to build on the winter base, now the weather is better.

The view at the top was stunning, if somewhat marred by barbed wire, and from there it was an hour and a half of the gentle rises and descents that make up much of Surrey. Mostly I was able to keep up. Hanno had to drift back and pick me up at one point, and Keith did the same as we bolted through the familiar roads of Headley with coffee on our minds. I earned another piece of Strava bling here, QOM of The Lord of The Flies segment, which I’m quite please with as I’d had to sneak a couple of jelly beans at Walton-on-the-Hill to get me home. No flies on me…

Note to self: don’t chicken out, you must take your heavier bike today for ride with brother

Rolling hills to rolling pin, the perfect Sunday

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Time to unwind: a rolling pin and a fitness band used to stretch out the knots

Map reference: Box Hill loop from home, avoiding the zigzag. 90k, 760m climbing, in 3 hours 20 mins.

Carbs and caffeine: no time, had to be back to watch Paris Roubaix

With the school holidays still tying me to the house, Husband and I decided to make a quick dash out to Surrey early today. The kids would hardly miss us. They were all still in their pyjamas when we got back and my daughter claimed to have been up for ten minutes.

As we set off, the roads were filled with cyclists making their way to the hills, except for one large peloton, which peeled off into Esher to the coffee shop. How far could they have ridden, I wondered? But maybe they had been looping Richmond Park while I was still asleep.

Our overall pace averaged 26.8km, so for the flat commute out we were going at a fair old lick. The bike with all it’s new bits feels just perfect. The narrow handlebars seem to enable me to keep my shoulders down – they tend to rise to my ears if I’m not careful – and this in turn allows a much more open chest position. In short, it just feels just right, comfortable; it’s my bike.

The carbon factor kicked in on the weird knobbly bit of road near Send open prison. For those of you that haven’t encountered this section, there are stretches of perfect road, interspersed with bobbly bits. I don’t know if this is some sort of mild punishment system for the prison inmates. Maybe they throw them in the back of a van and drive at speed along these sections to give them a shakeup if they break the rules? Anyway, it certainly gives the cyclists a shakeup, but not nearly as badly with the full carbon bike. I usually suffer blurred vision along this stretch, but not today.

All in all a lovely ride. I felt a little tired about two hours in, but I think I needed to eat a bit more. We whizzed back home with plenty of time to fix lunch, turn on the TV and do my stretches while watching the Paris Roubaix classic.

By the way, I have discovered that a rolling pin works very well as a massage stick. It may not have the nobbles of a bought one, but it is free, and frankly not used much for it’s original purpose.

Note to self: time to get a grid foam roller, the sun is out and there will be longer rides to recover from soon. Injury free very important.

Flight of fancy

Displaying photo.JPG Ace addition: the new crankset gets the traditional weigh-in in my kitchen

Map reference: home spinning, and quick Richmond Park flip

Carbs and caffeine: homemade chocolate chip cake seems to be disappearing, but the kids are home…

In the last four days since we got back from Flanders, I’ve done 125km, but only 18k outside. Why? The sun is shining, the bike is in perfect condition, I’m not injured … no, it’s the school holidays. I’ve been hopping on the turbo every morning after Husband leaves for work, and ploughing through my turbo challenges, pedalling between an hour and 90 mins, at a rate of 30k/h. Very, very dull.

But I do have to tell you about my Richmond Park flip on Tuesday. I left my bike at Velosport over the Easter weekend, along with a new crankset (Dura-Ace with shorter cranks than standard, at 170cm, and 11-speed cassette), Dura-Ace Shimano brakes and the beautiful 38cm 3T handlebars that I introduced in a previous blog. Velosport fitted all this for £40, which impressed me.

But what impressed me more was the ride afterwards. In fact it was less like cycling and more like flying. I don’t know whether being forced off the training for a few days while we were away left me extra fresh, but my Strava (for the uninitiated, it’s a website that compares your ride to previous rides, and to other people) gave me 70 pieces of bling, composed of strings of personal bests. And it felt blingy all the way round.

The first thing I noticed on leaving the shop were the new brakes. To actually be able to feel the pads engage is a delight. No excuses now, I’m going to have to improve my descents.

Once I got to the park and could stretch my legs, the bike just seemed to take off. Was it the fresh legs? Or was it the shorter cranks? Whatever it was, the sensation of flying was wonderful, peeling past people, and sensing Husband slipping off the back (with his tired legs, I will concede). Pure, childish joy. This is why cycle is addictive.

The final change puzzled me at first. There are little mini bricked humps as you pass by Ham Gate towards Pembroke Lodge, travelling clockwise, and the bike was so smooth over them that I started looking at my tyres, wondering whether they were flat. I hadn’t checked them when I picked up the bike. Surely the shop would check them, I fretted? Then I remembered my bars are now carbon. I was, for the first time, getting the full carbon experience. And now I get it. Over distance, the smoothness will make a huge difference, it isn’t just the weight, it’s the ride.

So the bike is finished. Apart from changing the bottle cages – I really hate the silly Italian ones I was palmed off with a few weeks ago, I won’t be visiting that shop again – it is as light as I can possibly justify. Now it’s all down to me.

Note to self: call in some favours, you need to get rid of the kids and get out.

Sometimes the weather app talks cobblers 

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Stone me: a small section of cobbles on my little circuit to dry Husband’s bike. Riders and bikes were covered in fifth by the end, black like miners, with the wrinkly ones streaked white along their lines

Map reference: Varsenare to Houtave and back, 15k

Carbs and caffeine: nothing for this short ride, but freshly cooked waffles two days ago still a highlight of our holiday here

All holidays this year have been designed around cycle commitments, so here we are in Bruges for Husband to do what is known locally as Ronde Van Vlaanderen, aka The Flanders; 254k – 120k of boring flat (against headwinds of up to 30k) followed by hills, cobbles… and sometimes hilly cobbles. It is one of the ‘classic’ one-day cycle races that the professionals do every year, and indeed is one of five of these classics that are known as the ‘Monuments’. This one was first held in 1913 and is renowned for narrow steep cobbled ‘bergs’, which force the pro riders to fight for the space at the front or risk being edged off the road. Many times, in bad weather, the pros have had to pick up their bikes and run up the hills.

Back to Saturday, and Husband’s race, all was prepared and the weather app suggested it should be dry. Unfortunately, the app was wrong. Husband set off in short bibs to spend the first three hours pedalling against rain and wind. At the first feed stop, he was still shivering. In fact it took him 130k to stop shivering. There has been some debate later about whether this was my fault for referencing the errant app reports. But I clearly remember ‘nagging’ Husband as he prepared to leave in the dark about what he was wearing, and moreover what he was not wearing – his arm and leg warmers, his new rain gilet, his waterproof? All were left in a bag in the kitchen. Luckily he has now accepted the blame, and family peace has been restored. As with his early races where he didn’t have enough water and food, it’s a lesson learnt.

With the weather against them for the first half of the day,  all the riders were forced to dismount for the Koppenberg, an early hill which maxes at 22 per cent and was covered in mud, but by the end, the road had dried and they were able to sail up the Paterberg, another famous hill. In fact, at this moment, I feel like I cycled the route myself, as we watched the pros do the route on the TV the next day. It was dry and sunny all day for them, which seems unfair.

The drier weather gave me a chance to get out, if briefly. Husband sluiced his filthy bike and I took a little turn towards the coast. It is wonderfully safe cycling, you can see for miles across the fields. But with my elevation over 25k at 24m, this was not a training ride… Just a mood enhancer.

Note to self: must get kids farmed out so I can get out for a proper ride myself

Bars should fit me to a 3T

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Best bar none: Ex-display, but now these drops are mine, all mine

Map reference: home, on the spinning bike, 50k

Carbs and caffeine: slice of homemade bread with Marmite, large cup of coffee afterwards

I shan’t bore you with the details, but today’s turbo challenge was aerobic endurance. Briefly, 95rpm sections; 5mins, 10mins, 15mins, 10mins, 5mins, with between 1 to 3min active recovery in between. I do find it helps to follow a programme and I’m quite pleased with my 50k in 92 mins, although I shall work on dropping the last two minutes next time.

Of course the main reason for blogging today is to introduce my handlebars which arrived today… in an oddly unhandlebar-shaped box. Finally I shall have a fully carbon bike and I can’t wait to see how that feels. They are light of course (208g on my kitchen scales), but I’m told it’s the lack of vibrations that I will enjoy. It’s another Ebay purchase. Here’s a link to their five-star review on bike radar

Husband managed to bag them at half price as they are 38cm wide, which is narrower than most people would be looking for. Despite having wide profile shoulders, this is what I measure at on the bones. The LaPierre currently has 42cm and I have noticed the difference with my Giant which has 40cms bars.

And anything which makes me more aerodynamic must be a good thing.

Note to self: Husband doing Flanders this weekend, must buy Genoa cake for the back pocket