Haute Route: a pro experience at the pointy end of the peloton

So, what is the Haute Route? Well, it’s pretty much the closest an enthusiastic idiot / weekend warrior can get to living the life of a pro cyclist.

The Haute Route is a series of seven day stage races taking place over the Pyrenees, Alps, Dolomites, and Rockies. The seven days of racing sounds tough, but don’t stress, the organisers do give you a ‘rest’ day. However, on that day they also make you do an ITT up a mountain. So, only 60-90 minutes or so of pain rather than 5-6 hours. Mmmm restful. 

Whilst the riding is brutal, with an average stage being around 120km in length and at least 3500m in gain, the organisers do a lot to make life easier for you. They really do make you think you’re riding the Tour De France (other Grand Tours are available), with iconic Mavic cars and bikes patrolling the road to offer assistance, hundreds of assistants martialling the roads  to control junctions and keep you moving in the right direction, and the broom wagon looming large at the back.

With the broom wagon comes the competitive element – the stages are fully timed (bar some dangerous descents, which are neutralised), and you’re awarded a GC position for the week. Competition is super-high, with ex-pros and Olympians rubbing shoulders with amateur road champions and cat 1 racers, as well as the odd broom-wagon dodging overly-moneyed MAMIL on a Pinarello of course.

The Haute Route Pyrenees 2016 was lucky enough to be graced by three Black Line Londoners; Deenzy, Mel, and that new guy who didn’t come to the Box Hill rideout. We all opted to go through the Sports Tours International tour operator,  who do huge amounts to make a stressful week easier; organising airport transfers, briefing you on the stages to come, and most importantly, providing mountain top picnics resplendent with sandwiches and coffee in the neutralised feed zones.

We’d all met and become friends at the 2015 Alps edition, had all placed in strong but not outstanding positions, and so knew what we were letting ourselves in for in 2016. Mel was targeting stage glory in the TT, Deenzy would take whatever an old man can salvage from his decrepit legs and booze riddled innards, and me? Following a summer of training in the mountains and riding in lots of races / grandfondos etc, I thought I’d try to ‘compete’ in the Haute Route rather than just survive it. I knew I wasn’t going to be up there in the top 10% of the peloton, but reckoned I could get a bite of the next slice of the cake.

Having worked my way up to 68th of around 400 riders on GC in the first three stages, day four was my first stage starting in the prestigious top 75 ‘racers’ pen, and ironically enough, my first rideout in my virgin BLL jersey. As I stood in the pen of purgatory, chowing down on a peanut butter, banana, and jam sarnie eyeing my adversaries, nerves were high. I knew the pace would be breakneck from the moment we escaped the neutral zone. My adversaries in the pen looked lean and lithe, and I felt a little like an imposter. The fact that the parcours almost immediately took us over the 19km ascent of the Tourmalet didn’t exactly calm me down.

Team BLL

As expected, the first 10km of the stage leading to the base of the Tourmalet was taken at punishment pace. The pack of 75 looked and felt like a road race, surging up the draggy valley to the start of the col at well over 40km/h. Personal space was at a premium, with touches of knuckles with your neighbour a common occurrence. Just clinging onto the wheel in front over some of the pitches in the road lead me to push well over my power threshold and my heart rate monitor was close to breaking point.

Eventually the inevitable happened – CRACK – the sound of carbon on tarmac. A touch of wheels about 5 riders up the road led to two riders hitting the deck and a shrapnel of bidons, bars and other bits and bobs spilled across the road. I managed to dodge this, but several others were caught up.

Thankfuly the spill calmed the temperament of the bunch and of course, split us up. I found myself in the third group on the road, consisting of riders 30-50th ish on the road. We took the rest of the climb at a hard but achievable pace, and it was certainly something I won’t forget. Like coverage you see of Nairo, Chris, Alberto, Vicenzo and co, we attacked the 10% ramps and swept around the hairpins as one compact unit. There was no benefit to be had from drafting, but the psychological benefit of company, and the desire to keep your enemies close, kept us together.

We were climbing the west side of the col and were enshrouded in shade for the early kilometres of the climb, as the sun rose behind the far side of the mountain. The experience of riding in the lengthening morning shadows as the sun peeked over the summit, climbing through the barren rocks and empty fields of the Tourmalet’s landscape, accompanied only by the noise of burring chains, clicking gear changes and the odd communication between riders, was certainly something I won’t forget. I’m no pro, but it sort of felt like it. Riding further down the field can feel a little like any cyclosportive, with small groups of riders strung along the road. However, being up in the pointy end, riding in well matched and aggressive packs that are truly racing each other, really adds to the pro experience provided by the Mavic cars, marshals and massages etc.

I’m perhaps making the climb sound like some sort of Rapha-esque romanticised vision of a bike ride. This was certainly not the case. As we reached the ever steepening final kms, the attacks went and a few small groups accelerated off the front. Knowing that I was in a field of more accomplished riders than myself, with my legs searing with the lactate of around 80 minutes of hard climbing, I kept my powder dry and stayed with the remnants of my peloton over the crest of the col.

Having grabbed my pre-filled third and fourth bidons off my awesome ‘soigneur’, Roy, from Sports Tours International at the feedstation, zipped up my jersey (no gilets required on a day that reached 40 degrees C) and stuffed a piece of Duo bar down my gob, the breakneck descent followed. Topping out at 80kmph and averaging almost 50kph, this was almost as incredible as the climb.

As to the rest of the day, well, two more climbs followed on a day that reached, in Haute Route terms, a relatively benign 100km and 3,400m in total, and I finished 50th on the day, moving me to 55th on GC.

I faded towards the end of the week as my legs failed to keep up with the abuse dished out to them early in the week, but I finished a pretty pleasing 60th overall. I’d have loved to have breached the top 50, but hanging on to 60th feels pretty good to me. That elusive top 50 will be my project for Haute Route Dolomites 2017…

Jim Cotton

Inside the Peleton – A New Experience.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about group riding since completing the Mallorca 312 last Saturday. It’s something most of us long distance triathletes never do and the view from inside the peleton was a new experience.

Once out of the mountains when it got on to the flatter stuff past Palma at about 170k it got particularly interesting because it was the first time I had experienced riding in a really big peloton among some fairly well drilled riders. 

The 3 of us from Black Line who were riding the event (Me, Mel Wasley and Al Maher) ended up in a big group being led by a Mallorcan team from Manacor -who were all in smart matching kit and riding very disciplined. You hear about being sucked along by a peloton but in all honesty until Saturday I thought this was a bit of an exaggeration, however sure enough, once we were in this group we were scooting along at over 40k per hour by just soft tapping and freewheeling. It was an amazing experience but also pretty stressful as you have to concentrate 100% on not getting too close to the wheel in front, touching wheels and causing a massive pile up….making you the most unpopular person in Mallorca.

Continue reading “Inside the Peleton – A New Experience.”

Box Hill 20 Gallery

Images by Carel Du Plessis of Black Line London’s annual Box Hill challenge. 20 reps, great friends and LOTS of cake.

Al Maher’s Epic Land’s End to John O’Groats

LEJOG_StartFinish

 


Sunday brunch, over a triple English breakfast, I am wondering what to do with some spare days before Christmas.

I had always wanted to take on the classic cycle challenge from Land’s End to John O’Groats, known as LEJOG, the traverse length of Britain. Like most people I had imagined cycling it in summer to take advantage of the long daylight hours. However the number of days seemed to fit my schedule and despite being winter it would make for an extra challenge. I figured accommodation could be booked on the fly, being low season. I would allow myself the flexibility to cycle as far as each day permitted and had no fixed end date. A quick check of the 10 day forecast and conditions looked good. Why wait for next summer? I was going do it now!

I had never individually raised money for charity before as I always felt I couldn’t ask for money for something like a marathon or the like, as I’ve run many. LEJOG seemed a worthwhile and lengthy challenge. I chose CRISIS, the national charity for single homeless people. They organise “CRISIS at Christmas” each year for the homeless and the time of year seemed appropriate. They also run The CRISIS Skylight Cafe on Commercial Street in East London near where I used to work. I wanted to help.

I went into preparation overdrive. A quick list of things to do before I set out and a t-shirt design that evening with the charity and fund raising details.

Monday I purchased some new items, had the t-shirt printed, booked a train ticket for Penzance, packed my panniers (9kg rear, 3-4kg in the front), which were not light as I was truly packing for winter. I took two front lights, a head torch to light the road, a rear light for the seat post and two for the rear of my bike helmet. I marked the whole route out on a £10 Phillips Road Atlas.

Tuesday I took off to the station, panniers on for the first time, they felt clumsy and awkward and I wondered if they’d be fine for the entire journey. I was off to catch the train from Paddington. Due to the speed I put this plan in to action, it meant I hadn’t told many people what I was about to take on. By chance, I ran into one of my best mates Ben, at Paddington. He saw my laden bike, along with me all kitted up and asked what I was up to. I told him I was off to Penzance and he knew exactly what that meant and gave me a few words of encouragement.

That night in Penzance, the B&B would only let me lock (cable & padlock that I had) my bike to the grate in the ground at the front of their house. I went to sleep hoping it would still be there in the morning.

DAY 1 : 11-Dec-2013 Land’s End to Launceston

106 mile / 171 km
[Strava]

LEJOG-Day1

I arrived at Land’s End with the sunrise having already broken through the clouds. I wandered down to the famous Land’s End signpost and due to the absence of anyone else around I tried to take a few ‘selfies’, only to end up dropping and cracking the screen of my iPhone. I wandered up to the Hotel and signed the ‘End-to-Enders’ logbook, the most recent entry being 6th December 2013…eek! One of the hotel staff obliged in taking a photo of me at the Land’s End sign.

A 10am depart; I made my way along the Cornish coast. St. Ives was particularly scenic. I had to have a Cornish pasty, so stopped for one in Hayle. Hit some really hilly sections. Through to Padstow and across the river to Rock. Then into the dark of the night with bike lights blazing and flashing. I arrived in Launceston at Rose Cottage B&B and rewarded myself with a steak and beer at the White Horse pub for dinner. Apparently some of the hilliest parts of the route were now behind me, after only the first day, whew!

DAY 2 : 12-Dec-2013 Launceston to Street

102 mile / 165 km
[Strava]

LEJOG-Day2

The B&B host afforded me an extra banana for my day’s journey. He told me they had hosted a JOGLE (the reverse route) cyclist about a week ago, as I figured it must have been the cyclist who signed the log book on the 6th December. I pushed into Devon and found myself having to change the tube on the front wheel as it seemed to be leaking, though I couldn’t detect where, using the usual means. Snacks at a service station, I was then into Somerset and encountering more tractors and farm traffic on the roads.

Into Glastonbury that evening but had to double back after missing a turn, to a place called Street, and to the Wessex Hotel for my accommodation. I noticed one of the straps on my panniers had broken, after only two days! Pasta and pizza with a pint of Carlsberg for dinner to the sounds of a live act at a nearby Italian restaurant. All was sweet in Street!

DAY 3 : 13-Dec-2013 Street to Nr Hereford

95 mile / 153km
[Strava]

LEJOG-Day3

Light rain in the morning. It was over the course of the day that I had to tend to pannier problems no less than 5 times. Again, thankful for taking some zip ties as they were a saviour, I even had to secure the rack with them. Through North Dorset and over the River Avon. Got lost a bit with the myriad of roads. Some sections here were a little more traffic heavy than I’d encountered. Into South Gloucestershire and over the River Severn.

Skirted through Wales and passed though the lovely town of Monmouth as an amazing sunset took place. Was following the Wye Valley over some hilly quiet roads as it got darker and darker. The muddy farm roads of Somerset had left my bike so dirty I had to give it a gentle jet wash at a service station.

Arrived at my accommodation, The Old Vicarage, near Hereford. Walked 30-40 min into town to the 24 hour Tesco to collect a some cold chicken and a selection of salads for dinner. A stretch of the legs before bed. Feeling good after three good days!

DAY 4 : 14-Dec-2013 Nr Hereford to Ellesmere

94 mile / 152 km
[Strava]

LEJOG-Day4

Pannier problems again from the outset, they continued hitting my spokes on some of the rougher sections of road. I secured them again successfully without too much of a problem.

Highlight of the day was passing up over Long Mynd. I was at first cursing the steepness of the gradient having to push my bike up part of the ascent as it was way to steep for my gearing and load, though I was rewarded with stunning Shropshire scenery. The strong wind blowing across the top of the moorland and the descent into Church Stretton was a blast. Due to the excitement of the descent, I missed a turn had to route back via Stapleton & Lea.

The bike chain was now squeaking so I purchased some general purpose oil from a service station, to use for the rest of the trip.

As dusk approached, the wind was absolutely howling and it was pushing me along at a fantastic pace, up around 40km/hr+ with ease. I imagined my rear panniers were acting like sails. I pulled into Ellesmere to stay at the Red Lion pub. Chicken wings and a massive lamb shank for dinner washed down with a couple of beers. Despite the locals having a big night out in the pub, I slept solidly in my room above.

DAY 5 : 15-Dec-2013 Ellesmere to Blackburn

85 mile / 137 km
[Strava]

LEJOG-Day5

The day was going well until about an hour in and I heard the ping of a broken spoke. The pannier problems from the days before had weakened the spokes. With very few shops open on a Sunday I secured it with tape to the adjacent spoke, released the rear brake, and aimed to nurse it to Blackburn.

The highlight of the day came as I slowly passed and shared a conversation with a guy called Alan from Chester who did LEJOG in 2000 when he was aged 65. I enjoyed hearing him recount his experience and the route he took, it gave me a lift. In fact he was riding the same frame as he did LEJOG on, though he’d since had it re-sprayed.

As I checked into the Hill View Hotel in Blackburn I noticed I’d now busted a second spoke. Pizza Hut for dinner and all I could do was scoff at the “500 calories only” pizza options.

DAY 6 : 16-Dec-2013 Blackburn to Kirkby Lonsdale

56 mile / 90 km
[Strava]

LEJOG-Day6

I missed breakfast! It was a 6:45 to 7:45 sitting! So I had some sandwiches from a service station instead.

It was raining from the outset but I had my waterproofs on. The morning hours were dedicated to addressing the rear wheel problem I now had. The guys at Ewood Bikes sold me an affordable replacement Mavic wheel, arranged postage home for my broken wheel and gave me a cup of tea, top service! I was on my way again despite taking a few wrong turns trying to get out of Blackburn.

Off through the Forest of Bowland, which surprisingly wasn’t at all densely populated with trees, though I imagine many years ago it was. The rolling landscape was all very scenic none the less.

As the daylight closed, I had now pushed into Cumbria and checked in to the Blue Pig Inn in Kirbky Londsdale. A really nice little town. Dinner at the Orange Tree pub while a group of locals sang Christmas Carols. I enjoyed Fish n Chips and a few of the local brewery’s ales, their ‘Singletrack’ brew was superb!

DAY 7 : 17-Dec-2013 Kirkby Lonsdale to Gretna Green

70 mile / 113 km
[Strava]

LEJOG-Day7

The host of the Blue Pig Inn advised me of a shortcut through the town and down to the historic Devil’s Bridge, on the way to Casterton. The morning was crisp and I enjoyed cycling along seeing the low lying blankets of fog in the valleys.

Into the Yorkshire Dales and over Scap Fell, which is used as one of the climbs on the Tour of Britain. The cycling was fine until my chain started to slip on gradients of only 3-4%. So without surging I continued cautiously to Penrith and over the lunchtime period had the chain-set replaced. After which I was back on the road and flying along again.

Made it to Carlisle in good time and given there was still daylight ahead, I raced it all the way to Scotland. This was a good mental milestone. I stayed at the Gretna Hall Hotel in Gretna Green. It was curry night! So devoured a good meal and a few pints of beer.

DAY 8 : 18-Dec-2013 Gretna Green to Balloch (Loch Lomond)

115 mile / 185 km
[Strava]

LEJOG-Day8

Excellent progress through the first 25mile / 40km. The route largely meandered either side of the motorway towards Glasgow.

Purchased some Scottish Tablet (a sugar slice) for energy. Took a much needed coffee stop near Adington in order to warm up. Each day, I was now starting to get cold hands and feet after only a few hours of cycling.

Made a few wrong turns around Paisley near Glasgow. From Dumbarton I had a tow-path alongside the river to follow. This allowed me to cycle safely an extra 10 miles in the dark to get to Balloch at the tip of Loch Lomond. A most successful day of 115 mile / 185 km! Stayed at the Tullie Inn, with steak soup and vegetables to refuel me.

DAY 9 : 19-Dec-2013 Balloch (Loch Lomond) to Fort William

84 mile / 135 km
[Strava]

LEJOG-Day9

It was cold and blustery, rain fell as I set off. I followed Loch Lomond from there and because a 300m section of road had been washed away it meant most of the traffic had been diverted elsewhere, being effectively treated to closed roads. At the road construction site, one of the workers said he didn’t mean to be rude but he asked if I was “f**king mental” cycling in these conditions.

Once I got to Crinlairich I had to stop and dry my socks and gloves on the radiators and warm up with two cups of coffee before setting off into the Highlands proper.

As the road crossed through Rannoch Moor, the snow was prevalent and falling. Sleet smattered my face and it was stinging my cheeks. These were the toughest conditions I had ever cycled in. One guy in a car who kept stopping to take pictures of the landscape also asked if I was “f**king mental” (twice in one day!). The cycle to Glencoe was tough and I was concentrating on pushing on through the cold and blocking it out mentally. I was really pushing to make it to Fort William as I knew there were more accommodation options there. I ended up waltzing in to the West End Hotel, soaking wet, to the amazement of the staff.

Dinner in town at the Crofters pub. Haggis neeps and tatties, sausages cooked in Irn-Bru and a pint of Best, a fairly Scottish affair!

DAY 10 : 20-Dec-2013 Fort William to Invergordon

88 mile / 143 km
[Strava]

LEJOG-Day10

After the tough day cycling into Fort William it took me a bit to get going. I’d stopped at a garage at Invergarry for a snack and a chat with the attendant. I later arrived into Drumnadrochit expecting to have lunch, though none of the restaurants or cafes were open, since it was winter and not the tourist season. I settled for some hot chips and a few chocolate milks. A quick photo in front of the fiberglass Loch Ness monster and pushed up over a steep 15% hilly climb into more landscape quilted in snow.

Pushed on to Invergordon as it hit dark. It wasn’t hard to miss the giant oil rig platforms in the distance, all lit up, which were being renovated by the shore. The host at the Ship Inn tumble-dried my wet clothes which was super nice. A pub dinner and on the walk back I noticed the sky starting to clear, so I crossed my fingers for favourable conditions in the morning.

DAY 11 : 21-Dec-2013 Invergordon to Wick

80 mile / 129 km
[Strava]

LEJOG-Day11

Got cracking early and made good progress with no rain. The sky and the sunlight at this latitude and time of year was throwing off some amazing colours!

Stopped in Helmsdale and on advice of a local had a great coffee with cake and mince pies at a local art gallery. En route, I saw “John O’Groats” on a road sign for the first time, with 85 miles to go. Some windy conditions but a comfortable days cycle, I was feeling pretty fit.

Checked into my accommodation in Wick at the Bank Guesthouse. A pretty low key night, though because I was excited for the final few miles in the morning it wasn’t easy to get to sleep.

DAY 12 : 22-Dec-2013 Wick to John O’Groats

16 mile / 27 km
[Strava]

LEJOG-Day12

The morning sun was glorious and I enjoyed the final miles. The low-slung winter sun cast an amazing light for my arrival. It was an immensely satisfying feeling when I arrived at John O’Groats. It had been a truly fantastic way to see Britain, in all its winter beauty!

As I collected the last stamp on my transit verification form (to be acknowledged as an “End-to-Ender”) I learnt that in the coming months / year they’ll be enabling an embedded timing device at John O’Groats. This will mean that it will not matter what time of day you arrive, your journey can be verified on arrival 24/7.

I caught the train from Thurso to Inverness where I boarded The Caledonian Sleeper which travels overnight to London. A great train journey to cap off a great and truly memorable cycling journey!

Summary Data by Day

LEJOG_Summary
Here’s a short video, I hope you enjoy it!


IMG_9287-001
THANK YOU to all the friends, family and colleagues that generously donated to LEJOG-Crisis£882.55 was raised for CRISIS. Each donation and comment spurred me on more than I could have imagined.

@alastairmaher

 

Mel vs Hills. Mel Wins.

Anyone who knows me will know I like a good hill. I train on hills, I try and race on hilly courses, I’m all about the hills! I also have a fear of going fast and using aero-bars  so hills are helpful here as I don’t need to do either.

I’m not sure exactly where it comes from but I remember that when I first bought a road bike and started cycling properly even the little inclines around Richmond Park struck fear into my heart and most of the time I would be found taking the anti-clockwise loop around there! However with a bit of persistence, hard work and consistent training the impossible became possible and I was soon able to take on the baby ascents of Richmond Park at a respectable speed and HR! After a year of training only in Richmond Park I started to get brave and headed out to the country lanes of Surrey and their selection of hills put in some consistent training. Half the time I think it’s as much about controlling your mind and the little voices as it is about strength!

This is why when I read about the Rapha Rising Challenge on Strava it looked perfect for me! Having got my A race out of the way for the year I liked the idea of a different kind of challenge.

Taking inspiration from the Tour de France the challenge set was to accumulate over 7,235m  of climbing in 8 days. This total is apparently the same amount of climbing as elevations of the Peyresourde, Ventoux, Sarenne and Alpe d’Huez combined.

Given the challenge began on a Sunday and ended the following Sunday it made most sense to break it up into 3 weekend rides and one mid-week ride….

Chiltern 108 miles of hot hilly hell

Chiltern 108m Hilly Hell

For my first ride I hit the Chilterns. It is up and down the whole way round (as you can see from the profile) but scenery is gorgeous and the roads are generally small country lanes, although you do have to watch out for potholes which are sometimes more like craters than holes.

It was one of the hottest days of the year so getting nutrition right was key to having a good ride. Unfortunately, I was so intent on not getting lost I spent the first 50 miles staring at the route on my Garmin and not getting enough food and drink in. Not a nice feeling! I had a spent 20 mins sitting under a tree eating a sandwich and drinking a coke before setting off again. Unfortunately the damage was done and the next 58 miles passed at a snail’s pace, a very sweaty snail! But, I knew that if I wanted to complete the challenge I had to the get the climbing in so I plodded on round. While it was painful at the time I think rides like that are great to have in the bank. When things get tough in a race or training you can look back and remind yourself just how bad it could be!!

Total climbed: 2,439 mtrs

Midweek Top-up

Midweek Top Up

By the time it got to Wednesday I’d just about recovered from Sunday’s fun so I took advantage of the glorious weather and flexible working hours and headed out for my usual Surrey hills loop which gave me another 750 mtrs to add to the pile!

Total climbed so far: 3,189

 

Legs of Steel

Legs of Steel

 

For Saturday’s ride I talked fellow BLL’r Paul D into a circuit of the Legs of Steel route. It definitely helped to have some company to distract from all the climbing. Unfortunately, the Garmin lost a few 100 mtrs climbing so I finished the day slightly down on where I should have been. I also had to admit defeat and take the train home.

Total climbed so far: 5,085

 

16 Ascents of Box Hill 

Box Hill

 

 

The final day I still needed 2,150mtrs of climbing and really couldn’t face another long ride around Surrey to get the final metres. I had discussed the idea of doing hill repeats of Box Hill on the previous days ride with Paul.  At the time it seemed like a crazy idea, but now faced with the prospect of another loop of the Chilterns or Legs of Steel route it looked like quite a good option… I started out early. Funnily enough I found the first 4 or 5 laps the hardest but once I’d got into a rhythm it was actually quite relaxing. It’s also great people watching, I hadn’t realised quite how popular Box Hill was until I’d done this. Every descent down I passed a constant stream of people making their way up on all sorts of bikes at all sorts of speeds. A great people watching and bike spotting opportunity!

Finishing the 16th lap was a great feeling, not least because I could finally stop at the cafe for a well deserved slice of cake! It was a great challenge to do, so satisfying that I’m thinking of making it a regular event (when I say regular I mean once a year regular ) So let me know if you fancy joining me in 2014….!

And if you’re interested the overall winner managed to accumulate over 41,000 mtrs of climbing over 7 rides during the 8 days. Now that’s impressive!

Total climbing at the end: 7,293

 

My top challenging hilly routes:

Chiltern 100 169km and 2,400 mtrs of climbing

The sportive is held once a year and offers 3 different distances. I use these routes as training rides when I fancy something different to the Surrey or Kent hills. The routes are mainly on country lanes and all your efforts on the climbs are rewarded with stunning views across the Chilterns and some fantastic descents. You are also treated to some fantastic place names, I challenge you not smile as you whizz down Pishill! But my favourite place name is Speen, probably because it is a sign you’re on the home straight!

Legs of Steel (long) 81km and 1,600 mtrs of climbing

This is probably a staple hilly route for anyone who cycles in Surrey. Again it is a route used for an annual sportive, but is a well trodden circuit for Surrey cyclists all year round. It takes in all the classic Surrey hills starting with Leith hill and finishing off (finishing you off) with Box hill. It’s a course that keeps your interest by combining long grinding hills with some short-sharp-take-your-breath-away-hills!

 King of the Downs – 185km and 2,700 mtrs of climbing

I first did this route a couple of years ago with two friends. It seemed like our day was doomed before it even started.  It was pouring with rain, a man was sick on our bikes in the train (one of the many hazard of the first train on a Sunday morning), one friend fell off his bike before we’d even started and then realised he’d only bought one booty and no waterproof.  We then proceeded to start the race by cycling in the wrong direction. However once we got over these issues and got on the road it turned out to be one of the most challenging and fulfilling days climbing I’ve had. The route takes you around Surrey, North Downs, Ashdown Forest and Kent and takes you through a “greatest hits” of climbs in these areas.

 

Guest Blog: From Triathlete to Cyclist

Nicole Oh

Pearson Physio and friend of Black Line London Nicole Oh guest blogs about her journey from iron woman to competitive cyclist.

“Retired Triathlete” – that’s what my twitter bio says. And having made the transition to “Road racer”, I’ve learnt just how different Triathlon and Cycling can be.

Cycling is a hard sport, period. Not being one to sit on the fence, I will just come straight out and say that it is harder than Triathlon. The main reason is, in road racing, you almost always have to go at the pace of other riders. You could be pushing as hard as you can, just holding on, with bleeding lungs and burning legs, then someone decides to attack (again), and if you can’t find that extra little bit at that moment, you’ll be dropped and essentially, your race will be over. And to make matters worse, your competitors are looking out for that weakness, so they can put the boot in when it will cause most suffering. Sometimes I think that those who do best in road racing are those who can hurt themselves the most, something I am yet to master…

In Triathlon, form aside, generally the strongest/fastest person will win. Triathlon is about pacing and control – what pace you can sustain for a certain period of time without blowing up. In road racing, tactics, thinking, and team work play a huge part. Often the smartest rider/team will win, and not necessarily the strongest. This is one of the reasons I like road racing!

The majority of triathlon injuries are overuse injuries in some way, which normally involves some degree of training error or bad decision-making on your part sometime in the process. Whilst these injuries are also quite common in cycling, the risk of you crashing, often at high speed and often entirely not your fault, is far higher with a bunch of 50+ riders travelling over 25mph within inches of each other. You could be in the best form of your life, when someone comes down in front of you, and in a few seconds, your season could be over. Bad luck definitely has it’s part to play.

You become very unbalanced as a cyclist… in body shape that is! (some would argue in mindset as well). In a sport where a good power to weight ratio is essential to being competitive, upper body weight, even if it is muscle, is dead weight, and therefore not needed. I have gradually over the past year felt my legs getting bigger and heavier, and my once quite developed shoulders and guns shrinking. And for the first time ever I care about what I weigh, and even went on a diet… a proper one,where I counted the number of calories that went in and out.

Further to the imbalance, my core stability has never been so bad! I feel myself having to make an effort to sit up against gravity, both on the bike and in everyday life. I have turned into one of those cyclists who just rides their bike, the type that I often lecture in my clinic! I have taken for granted how much just a little bit of swimming and running help to maintain your core muscles, and I have fallen out of the habit of going to the gym just once a week to do some S+C.

The training is different. I know it’s obvious with 3 disciplines, but triathlon involves a lot of volume and does take up a lot more time, and hence requires a lot more organisation to be able to train consistently. When I was training for Ironman, I didn’t really think about it, I just programmed it in to my routine and did it. Now that I am out of the routine, I can’t imagine ever fitting it all in! The fatigue is different too – my legs are often tired and heavy with cycling training, with Triathlon, my whole self felt shattered!

Road racing is great if you’re not a morning person! The earliest road race I’ve ever done started at 9.30am, but is usually more likely to be 1pm. Training camp rides start at the civilised hour of 10am. This is in stark contrast to the 6.30am trips to the lake on Saturday mornings, or loading the car to go to a race at 5am, as party-goers stumbled out of clubs in Clapham!

I do miss triathlon and being a triathlete, especially around the time of the year when everyone goes off to lovely European destinations for races. However, for the time being, i am enjoying the new challenges of road racing, especially as i have an awesome bunch of ladies in my team, Les Filles RT, to race with. I also love some of the traditions and romanticism of road racing, from the unspoken peloton etiquette to the tea and homemade cakes at race HQ (usually a village hall) after a road race.  However, I’m sure my days of clipping on a race belt are not over yet…

Who better to treat your triathlon and cycling injuries than Nicole? Find her at http://www.pearsonphysio.co.uk/ and on Twitter @PearsonPhysio

When BLL met Gary Kemp. Part 1.

You might know Gary Kemp as a member of Spandau Ballet, with whom he was at the epicentre of one of the last real youth culture movements in the UK. You might also know him as a Kray Twin or  author. What you might not know is that he is a committed cyclist and in part one of a two part interview he took time out to talk to Black Line London about his love of two wheels…


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