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

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 and Kirdford Village stores, where they serve an excellent bacon sandwich

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

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 


Hanging on… just

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

Carbs and caffeine: Cafe Bean, Ashtead,… 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, 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 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


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

Carbs and caffeine: Tanhouse Farm shop, 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