Cheese leaves us all toasted…

Map reference: 81k, 1,000m climbing, Cobham, Cranleigh, Rudgwick, Newdigate

Carbs and Caffeine: The Milk Churn, Rudgwick,

First ride after Spain for me, and the whole Spain (chain) gang were there plus Caroline and Lou (who had been on her own trip to South Africa). I knew Caroline was feeling a little flakey so told her that I would be driving to her house and leaving from there. This did the trick. She was forced out of bed and was ready by the time I got there, although she was clearly feeling a bit under par. A good effort from both of us.

It was odd to be back in the winter clothes, and funny to note that nearly everyone was wearing Castelli Gabba cycling jackets. Luckily they come in various colours. Mine is red and I love it so much that the first thing I do when I get home is zip it up and put it through a 15 minute wash. So far it looks as good as new. It really does seem to be the best jacket for British weather, water resistant and warm, and they keep the wind out too.

With all our winter kit on, and riding in a wind that picked up as time went on, our 80k felt long. Caroline was pushing through the pain, hindered by her saddle which kept lowering itself. No moaning from her – impressive. It’s never nice when your kit lets you down (literally in this case).

It was noted that Rach B was back in knickers. We had talked her out of her pants on holiday (no sniggering at the back there, it’s a serious issue for cyclists), but her favourite merinos were back in place. Maybe it was for warmth… she wouldn’t say.

Meanwhile Rach H was climbing ‘like a mountain goat’, according to Bealesy. This is the first praise ever uttered by him, in the four or five years I have ridden with him. The Spanish sun must have got to him. Not to take away from the fact that Rach was climbing really strongly. I’ll have to find out what she had for breakfast.

We were all ready for the caffeine stop at the Milk Churn. I’ve been there a few times now. It does the best cheese on toast ever. I really do mean that. Even Bealesy was digging into Jen’s double portion, and he normally just nibbles on a biscuit. But every time I push off afterwards, I remember that cheese is not cycling food, or at least not in any quantity. The wind had picked up and I was very glad that I didn’t have to cycle all the way back into London. I felt a mixture of guilt and relief as Caroline and I turned off, leaving the others with another 45 minutes to push through. Mind you they’ve banked 110k, which can be no bad thing as summer rides approach. I’ll have to get in some secret training to keep up.

Note to self: Dragon Ride will be hell unless you get some more rides in

Knees up to the cake stop

Map reference: Calpe, Spain… yes, really

Carbs and caffeine: tapas, of course, and hotel breakfasts, my absolute favourite thing in all the world.

I am just back from my first holiday in 15 years. Ok, this is a little unfair as we have had many enjoyable holidays as a family; bucket and spade, skiing, even cycling, some in hotels and some self-catering, but none ‘on my own’.

Obviously, if I had actually gone on holiday on my own that would be a bit sad. To be clear, on my own means ‘Without Husband and Children’. For four whole days my name was not Mum. No one asked me where their trousers were. No one asked me what was for lunch. I did not have to nip to the shops for more milk (we might as well get our own cow on current consumption rates), and I saw no popcorn, either in a bowl or stuck behind the sofa cushions.

Just me… and my bike. There were no lists rolling around in my head. I only had to remember how to put the bike together out of the bike box, and hope that my Lycra would stretch. To be clear, that’s not to picture a giant me squeezing into too small Lycra, but I realised too late I could really have done with another pair of bib shorts. I would just have to wash overnight. It’s not normally an issue as I don’t usually ride two consecutive days, and even if I do, you seldom get two days of similar weather on consecutive days in England, let’s face it.

The trip was a Bealesy special ( It been a while since I’ve blogged, so to remind you I’ve been riding with Chris Beales as a guide for a few years now. We ‘girls’ go out on a Thursday with him (with the odd guest husband) during his off-season months and I trained with him in Italy before my Etape two years ago. He’s great to ride with because he does all the thinking. We just think about the next coffee stop, and pick up tips on ‘roiding’ safely.

Why ‘roiding’? Well, he’s Australian. Many things come out a little oddly, and then the rush of wind in your ears can confuse things further. We turn ‘roit’, right? This still confuses Jen as she doesn’t know her left from her right, but she’s never let it slow her down.

Added to our normal list of aural confusion, this holiday we had ‘free cake at the top of the hill’, which sadly translated as ‘3K to the top of the hill’. And Jen, Rach and I were left looking at each other in confusion, when we had completely a lovely descent in good order we thought, but were told to ‘knees up’. Since we’d been working on having a straight outer leg on the turns this seemed to contradict our instructions. No, turns out it was ‘ease up’. Or in other words, wait for the others. Of course, it was ‘knees up’ thereafter, and ever shall be.

Much of our enjoyment falls into the ‘you had to be there’ category. There was much silliness and joy. The hotel was fabulous, right on the beach. I don’t know if everyone has the same sensation, but when I look at a beach and sea, blue sky and sunshine, I actually get a rushing ‘zing’ in my head. It’s quite overwhelming. Our evenings quickly fell into a pattern, of shower, meet in the bar for a fishbowl sized G&T, followed by buffet dinner. I know some people get funny about buffet dinners, but I love them, especially when you have been exercising. It’s not because I want to eat, ‘all you can eat’ style, but if I want a bit more cheese, or some fruit, some more Iberico ham just carved off the joint, I can. Freedom to browse, rather than pressure to chose the right thing off the menu.

You might assume we would be drinking into the evening, but no. We drank water at dinner (one bottle of wine between six on the last evening) and yet I’m sure we appeared utterly toasted as we giggled our way into the lifts at about 9.30pm to get to our rooms. Yes, what busy mothers/serious cyclists want at the end of the evening is… a room of their own, and how we enjoyed ours.

Note to Husband: thank you so much for facilitating my brief escape. I really appreciate it. x




Why did the chicken cross the road?

Map reference: Practice run of Gran Fondo Dragon Ride, 224km, 3990m climbing

Carbs and caffeine: Costa in Neath, Carpanini’s Cardiff Arms Cafe, Treorchy CF42 6BN and the burger van at The Storey Arms car park at the bottom of Pen Y Fan mountain, plus endless cheese rolls, cake and jelly babies. Actually, I say endless but we were running low when we finally got back to base

One of the many benefits of my father living in the Brecon Beacons is I can do practice runs of the Dragon Ride. This Bank Holiday falling two weeks before the event was perfect. So with back pockets stuffed with food, Husband and I set off in fairly dismal weather. I think this will be a fairly short blog as we spent three-quarters of the ride up in low-lying cloud, with visability low and speeds to match. We saw wild ponies, they’re pretty easy to spot even in cloud. Sheep, the white ones are harder to spot and the babies a nightmare, as they trot across the road to follow their mothers, but we saw them early enough to slow down and divert as necessary. 

At one stage there was a gap in the relentless gloom and we saw two chicken idling on the right side of the road as we approached, with no other vehicle for miles around. The chickens panicked and, having the brain the size of a pea – this is probably being unfair to one of my favourite green vegetables, and we all know frozen peas can be very useful – they shot across the road into our path. We all made it out of the exchange in one piece but our chicken supper later seemed appropriate, given the unnecessary scare they had given us. 

Apart from these few points of interest it really was quite a gruelling ride and we stopped three times to take on caffeine and carbs. I can highly recommend Carpanini’s Cardiff Arms Cafe. They made us so welcome, insisting we roll our bikes into the cafe and sit down for our mugs of tea. It’s an old fashioned sweet shop, plus cafe, with old bench-style seating. Very different to our normal couthy Surrey places, but none the worse for that. We spoke to some locals who were genuinely interested in our crazy pastime. We felt much, much better for their delightful company, and the good strong cuppa.

Our rolling time including these stops was 11 and a half hours, which is absurd. I think moving through the wet air slowed us down and of course descending was slow due to the fore-mentioned visability versus moving hazard issues. But we did the distance and the climbing. In fact, since we were taking off the tail in and out of Margam, which on the day are on the motorways, it’s a mystery as to why the distance wasn’t nearer 200k. And we also seem to have found 1,000m more elevation, although when I get home and plug my Garmin in to the computer, it will correct any GPS errors and the figure will probably go down quite a bit. 

I think the extra climbing must be down to Husband’s ‘shortcut’ across the hills back to my father’s house. The air was blue for a while there as I reluctantly followed, but luckily the sheep didn’t seem to mind. Baaa-loody hills…

Note to self: keep working on back exercises, apparently from behind it’s obvious you are still very lopsided 

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