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 (bespoke-velo.co.uk). 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

 

 

 

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.

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 http://www.velosport.co.uk/ 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.

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

Domestique bliss

Map reference: Wimbledon, Epsom Downs, Bookham, hilly loop, 73k

Carbs and Caffeine: Domestique Cycle Cafe, 8 Grove Corner, Great Bookham http://www.domestiquecyclecafe.co.uk/

Bealsey http://www.bespoke-velo.co.uk/ was down to his two stalwarts, Jen and me again today. I guess the other ‘ladies’ are still regrouping after the half term break. He asked if we wanted hills or flat and, after a certain pause, we plumped for hills. We both like hills it’s just hard to actually choose the leg-achy route. Decision made, it was our usual flip though the suburbs and then up through Epsom high street to the racecourse, then down a different road and, you guessed it, back up to the grandstand again. Apparently you can do that, cartwheel fashion round the race course ad nauseam, but luckily we pushed off before sickness actually kicked in.

I have to say my lungs are still far from A1 after our family virus. I also felt uncomfortably low on juice going up the 20% hill towards Bookham, near Polesden Lacey. Luckily, a new carb stop awaited me. It’s name clearly points it at cyclists, and it has secure bike parking, although we didn’t feel the need to use it.

The welcome was warm, and if the walnut cake was a little thickly spread with butter icing, that was easily fixed. Some people would probably relish the extra icing, but I could see Bealsey looking a bit askance as he nibbled on his biscuit. I removed the offensive addition and tucked into the very nice homemade cake underneath.

In case you don’t understand the reference in the cafe’s name, domestiques are the members of a cycle team charged with delivering water and food to the main competitors http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestique. They are quite heroic in their efforts to help the team, carrying the extra weight and killing themselves to get up to their team mates at the front of the pack, then drifting back down the peloton exhausted. Maybe, next time I am asked what I do for a living I shall say Domestique, it certainly sounds better than housewife, which I cannot say without stuttering…

Note to self: more hills needed, now spring is springing

Fit for purpose

Hole lot better: a popular choice at the moment for men and women alike

Map reference: Velosport, Putney http://www.velosport.co.uk/

Carbs and caffeine: some French biscuits (from ski holiday… no biking but plenty of fresh air)

The ‘fit’ doesn’t refer to me this time, the fit was for the bike. I had um-ed and ah-ed about where to go to get the new LaPierre fitted, but in the end it was a no-brainer to go to Husband’s ‘pet’ shop. They’ve built a bike for him in the past and repaired and prep-ed his bikes for his various challenges. It’s good to develop a relationship with a local shop. For a start they know as we walk in that we are not about to buy one of their top end bikes and that saves a lot of time.

We were late for our appointment with Nick as Husband had to fit some pedals onto the bike and lower the seat so I could sit in the knife edge saddle. It was a very uncomfortable ride to the shop; the brakes seemed out of reach and my rear end was certainly getting a bum deal.

Nick was sympathetic to my complaints (no need for biological vocab, just pointing and pulling a face was enough) and started by fitting an Adamo saddle. They are the ones that look a bit like a tuning fork, with two prongs at the front and a large gap in the middle. Enough said, I think we know what that geometry is all about. Then it was down to measuring and tweaking and sticking fuzzy dots on me… and then videoing the result. I don’t like me on camera and this was no exception, but the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures were a revelation. I looked much more comfortable, and less hunched up… although with my shoulders I shall always look more like a rower than a pro cyclist.

I can’t wait to have a proper go on some familiar hills so I can feel the difference. Well, actually, I will have to wait for the weather to clear … again

Rattle and roll

Map reference: Wimbledon, Cobham, Leatherhead, Ashtead loop, just under 60k

Carbs and caffeine: Cafe Bean, Ashtead, usual great welcome, new cake… prune and apricot slice

At last, out with Neil on a real bike. No pretend puffing up hill (ok, when spinning it’s real puffing, but pretend hills), and the feel of the wind on my face instead of the odd blast from the rotating fan.

It was a little grey (only clear glasses required) but mild. Neil had achy legs from throwing himself back into other training, but more worrying was his squeaky bike. In fact there is something majorly wrong with his front wheel which makes a non-stop crackling, slapping noise. I had severe doubts that the bike would make it. It did, but I cut out a hill… there was no way I was going to get stranded up Headley Road with a one wheeled bike. Closer inspection at the coffee stop showed the rims are completely knackered too. It’s a real workhorse of a bike, but I think it’s time the old nag was retired. An investment is needed. At least some new wheels.

Aside from that, I felt really strong after my week off the road, and managed to stay far enough ahead of Neil that I didn’t have to hear the squeak. Poor guy, I can’t imagine it’s a comfortable ride at the moment.

In the coffee shop a man became rather flustered when he found himself referring to Neil as my partne… er … colleague. What is a riding companion to be called? I shall give it some thought.

Note to self: Got to get out there one more time before half term. Call Jen, quick