North Wales – Day 2

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Working in education, I’m often stuck with having only school breaks to take my holidays in and October half-term was one of the last few options to use it up ahead of Christmas. Wanting to do something productive, I headed up to North Wales with my bike twice.

I went to Uni in Bangor and have been up plenty of times since with a bike, usually with some friends staying in a bunkhouse in the valley between Llyn Ogwen and Betws y Coed. This however was to be another one day blast round some of my favourite roads and climbs.

October 31st – Day 2

My mum fancied a day out in Wales herself after finding out I’d been up earlier in the week and sensing an opportunity I said I’d come along if I could bring my bike.
I was kicked out of the car at the shore of Llyn Cwellyn on the south-western slopes of Snowdon and sent on my way. I had a pre-planned 40 mile route of which I’d probably only covered about 8 miles of before.

Llyn Cewllyn

Llyn Cewllyn

Straight out of the car park and I had a tailwind, perfect. I hammered the 4 miles into Waunfawr at just under 24mph before tackling a short bump up and over to Llanberis. I dropped my chain, then realised I was far too warm and took off my helmet to take off my thermal snood and put the helmet back on, all whilst still pedalling no-handed, pro-skills!

Unfortunately the descent back to the main road was ruined somewhat by patches of road works where the tarmac had been scraped off and the option was to walk or gently ride over the packed rock surface. Liking a challenge, I rode over the rocks with no incidents.

Pen y Pass

Pen y Pass

Cycling alongside Llyn Padarn into Llanberis the headwind kicked in making cycling on the flat a needless struggle, no personal best times today it seemed! Heading through Llanberis you begin the Pen-y-Pass climb which takes you up the valley to the starting point of a couple of Snowdon paths. Pen-y-Pass is roughly 5% for 3 miles and a steady climb that gets slightly tougher as it goes on, as if someone is slowly turning up the difficulty setting on your behalf.
There were some hefty side winds on the way up, at one point by the bouldering….boulder I got swept fully across the road to the other side, luckily there was no traffic!

There comes a point where you round the corner and see the inn at the top and it’s always so so much further than you think to it! It’s only when you get to the triple wobbly chicane part of the road that you know you’ve got to make one last effort to the top. I was about 3 and a half minutes off my personal best that day, testament to the windy conditions.

Pen y Pass

Nearly at the top!

The descent into Beddgelert is one I’d been looking forward to having never ridden it before, however it was ruined by a bus which overtook me near the top and then was either not quite fast enough or had to keep stopping because it was so wide. Without the bus I’d have whipped down the pass – lots of cyclists were going up towards Snowdon on the opposite side of the road, I’m always going the wrong way compared to others!

The map suggested there was a cat 4 climb out of Beddgelert and yet nothing about it sticks in my mind as being challenging, either I’m in amazing form or I had the tailwind back (pretty sure it’s the latter..).

Y Garn

Y Garn

What I do remember is the road after the left turn in Rhyd Ddu, looking back over my shoulder it looked like an uninterupted ribbon of desolate perfection with a climb up to the top of Drws-y-Coed. The overhang and dark shape of the hill Y Garn to my left contrasted with the brightness further on through the pass. Upon reaching the top, I was given my first glimpse of the sea before shooting down the pass and out of the mountains.

The View at Dinas Dinlle down the Llyn Peninsular

The View at Dinas Dinlle down the Llyn Peninsular

With the last descent and back into civilisation, the traffic picked up again and there was far less to gaze around at until reaching the sea front and being able to hammer along the straight beach road to meet up again with the driver for the ride back home.

Ride Details

North Wales – Part 1

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Working in education, I’m often stuck with having only school breaks to take my holidays in and October half-term was one of the last few options to use it up ahead of Christmas. Wanting to do something productive, I headed up to North Wales with my bike twice.

I went to Uni in Bangor and have been up plenty of times since with a bike, usually with some friends staying in a bunkhouse in the valley between Llyn Ogwen and Betws y Coed. This however was to be a one day blast round some of my favourite roads and climbs.

Day 1 – Monday 27th October

Promised sunshine and calm winds, I booked my train looking forward to a relatively warm 110km loop starting from the picturesque starting point of Llandudno Junction station.

View from the train

View from the train

Predictably I got up there (only 2 hours direct from Birmingham) to find it threatening to rain and the wind gusting in off the sea. To add insult to injury, it became apparent I was committed to a 25 mile cycle down the Conway valley into a headwind.
Getting held up at a level crossing so old-fashioned that a man actually came out to do the gates, I made the call to pull out the rainjacket which was vindicated immediately.
Always prepared! (as long you ignore the water bottles I left at home).

It’s a nice relatively flat run down the valley bar one easy enough Cat 4 climb past the Natural Trust’s Bodnant Garden and after an hour and a bit I was in Betws y Coed. The fun starts here…
The climb out of Betws y Coed past Swallow Falls is steep in places but the gradient is low enough to remain in the saddle the whole time. It then eases off past the Ugly House before becoming harder work again up to Capel Curig. It’s a fun climb because you’re never in danger of not being able to survive but hard enough work to still be a challenge.
I’m just outside the top 10% on this climb but still nearly 2 minutes behind the pros who rode here in the Tour of Britain.

Finally reaching the peak of the ride at Llyn Ogwen, there’s a 5 mile descent…with a tailwind! After some scary sidewind moments it started pushing me along letting me cruise at about 30mph. Into Bethesda I’d told the route to go up and over Bangor mountain by using a cycle path that turned out to be covered in leaves and branches, a decent test of bike handling that I passed. A wheelspin moment on a 25%+ gradient nearly saw me off but the desperate unclipping of shoes from pedals just about gave me chance to stick a leg out to stop me falling.

Bangor's Best Greasy Spoon

Bangor’s Best Greasy Spoon

I gave myself a bit of a tour around my old Uni stomping ground of Bangor, passing all the sights and sounds, cycling up the imaginatively named ‘Bitch Hill’ and up around the main uni buildings before heading down the hill and out the city (yes, it is one).

The third section of the ride was to use the cycling network path across the top coast of Wales to get back to Llandudno. This is a low traffic route through some narrow lanes and also never losing sight of the sea. Eventually you lose sight of Anglesey and have the weird sensation of cycling over the main A55 tunnels before going down right on the beach at Penmaenmawr. I took advantage of the bench on top of the tunnels and took a picture of Llandudno bathed in light – finally some sun!

Great Orme and Llandudno

Great Orme and Llandudno

Another favourite climb was ahead, the old Conway road over the Sychnant Pass. There’s some steady climbing up to it and then all of a sudden after a sharp left turn, you’re faced with a steep climb that seems unrelenting. Disappointingly there was no ice cream van at the top that day but the descent into Conway is a quick one and it’s fun cycling around the castle and over the estuary bridge.

I’d saved the climb around the Great Orme for last. It’s a one-way single track toll road for cars but free for cyclists and the way up was sheltered from the wind that had picked up again. It feels like 3 or 4 separate ramps as you slowly wind your way round and upwards until you see the castle like rampart of the lighthouse and the cafe at the top.

Coming round the corner though I was hit by a wall of wind and reduced to an absolute standstill, some expletives later, I’d got moving again. The sidewinds on the descent where genuinely worrying but I made it, trundled down the Promenade and made it back to the station where I could put my feet up and head home.

69.2 Miles in 5 hours – not the quickest but the wind played its part!

Details of the ride on Strava

A Review of the 2014 Tour de France

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The Tour de France 2014

The Tour de France 2014

We’ve reached that point where after 3 weeks of action the main race of the season is once more over for another year. It’s been an eventful Tour in some ways and also not so much in others. Here’s a short review of this year’s events.

Stand-out Riders

Vincenzo Nibali

Vincenzo Nibali

It’s hard to look past Vicenzo Nibali, with the highest winning margin since Jan Ulrich’s 1997 win, this is the most imperious a Tour de France winner we’ve seen in a long time. People will argue that it was gifted after Chris Froome and Alberto Contador crashed out in their various ways but their crashes were down to either poor positioning or poor bike handling which ultimately vindicates that Nibali was the best rider. He had an answer for everything, winning into Sheffield, dominating the cobbles and leading from the front in the mountains. 4 stage wins showed how far in front he was in terms of class compared to the rest of the field.

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan


Peter Sagan
was another stand-out, despite not managing to win a stage, his consistency again meant another record total in the Points Jersey competition. It took until the 8th stage for him to finish outside of the top 5, a new Tour record and the variety of these stages shows the all round ability that he has. Almost unchallenged throughout, his four second places shows how close he was to that stage win this year.

 

 

Jean-Christophe Peraud

Jean-Christophe Peraud

French cyclists had a bit of a rennaisance this Tour with Jean-Christophe Peraud, Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet all featuring very highly. This was the first time a Frenchman had been on the podium since Richard Virenque in 1997 and the first time two were on the podium since 1984. It’s been two or three generations of cyclists since France last won their own race and this current crop has given some hope, second placed Peraud is 37 however.

 

Rafal Majka

Rafal Majka

Rafal Majka made his mark on the Tour by winning the King of the Mountains jersey thanks to an impressive display and two stage wins. He definitely stepped up and used the freedom from Contador’s crash to forge his own path and achieve his own personal glory.

Michael Rogers’ stage win also showed the depth that Tinkoff-Saxo has.

 

Not an out and out sprinter, Ramunas Navardauskas became a somewhat surprisingly consistent high finisher on sprint stages, particularly those that finished slightly uphill or had short climbs before the end. His win on Stage 19 gave Garmin some glory within the race and his third place on the Champs-Elysees ahead of established sprinters like Greipel and Renshaw showed he may be useful in the future as well.

Major Disappointments

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador

Both Froome and Contador can be included here as neither enjoyed their Tour experiences, Froome should make it back to fitness for a stab at the Vuelta but Contador’s leg is too bad to consider it. The key part of the season lost to these two through a couple of errors.

 

 

Mark Cavendish

Mark Cavendish

Sprinting-wise Andre Greipel went missing a lot and Arnaud Demare struggled at this highest level. I’m a bit loathed to include Mark Cavendish in this, but he will be very disappointed to end the Tour the way he did, especially on home soil and with a genuine chance to wear Yellow for the first time. Although strictly speaking not a sprinter, Simon Gerrans was nigh on annonymous as well after his part in the crash on the opening day.

Andrew Talansky

Andrew Talansky

 

Lots and lots of other injuries and crashes meant that highly thought of riders such as Andrew Talansky, world champion Rui Costa, Mathias Frank, Andy Schleck abandoned and didn’t reach Paris. Talansky in particular could’ve finished highly after his impressive Dauphine.

 

 

 

Conclusions

 

Nibali destroyed the competition this year, France believes it can win again, Sagan can win the green jersey every year for as long as he likes and the UK has fully embraced the Tour de France.

Roll on 2015 and a showdown between Froome, Contador, Nibali and Quintana!

Norwich 100 Sportive – 1st June 2014

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Norwich 100 Route Map

Norwich 100 Route Map

A group of 3 of us took on the 2014 Norwich 100 last weekend, it was supposed to be 4 but Luke managed to break his elbow hitting a cat at 35mph on his bike a week or two beforehand. We all did the event in 2013 and were up for another go.

We rode in together, headed to the start at The Forum and were released with a large group of others by the Mayor and a hyperactive man with a microphone at 7:40am.

I was taking things relatively easily at this point, just moving around the slower more leisurely cyclists as we all headed out of the city. On the outskirts we ended up attached to a small group of reasonably organised guys who were efficiently taking turns at the front, I took my turn and as I moved over onto the inside for someone else to move up to ride next to me….noone appeared for a minute or so, a look at the Garmin showed I’d moved up to 23mph on the flat Norfolk roads without too much trouble and had created a big gap.

I set about catching the large group of Mulbarton Cycling Club members I’d seen glide past in Norwich as they looked like they’d be a good set to ride with – I was going fast but without overexerting and was passing huge amounts of people, a minimum of 100 within 5 miles.

Norwich 100 Holkham Hall

Holkham Hall

I took a breather behind a female triathlete on the top of the Reepham hill and two riders came flying past, obviously these were people to follow. I joined on the back and when it came to being my turn on the front we were accelerating through Reepham and ignoring the first feed stop. By the other side of the village there were just two of us.

Me and this other rider rode together averaging about 22-23mph until the next stop at Holkham Hall, we worked together, had a bit of a chat and just started dispatching people with ease. There weren’t many other people doing the speed we were and noone seemed to want to hang onto our tail.

At Holkham Hall, I took off down the straight drive, the scene of my cattle grid jumping escapades last year and went hard for the Strava segment (I ended up with 5th best Overall for that stretch). At the hall, I filled up my water bottle and lost my partner amongst the throng of people.

Norwich 100 Holkham Drive

The long straight powerful drag up to the obelisk

The next phase was the long coastal road section from Wells to Mundesley. This part has quite an undulating profile and doesn’t give much chance for coasting (ha ha). I struggled to find people going at my pace, overtaking groups and occasionally resting in one for awhile. The very overweight guy on a £4k Pinarello Dogma (Team Sky bike) provided some entertainment.

The worst part about this section were the slow cyclists on the narrow roads. I was held up massively by having to sit behind cars who couldn’t overtake slow cyclists riding two abreast and who didn’t communicate with the cars behind to let them know it was clear to pass. It was very stop start and there was no real rhythm for this part until we got into Sheringham.

I ignored the feed stop there and carried on, finding myself back in a decent group of riders, yay! We zoomed along but I was flagging slightly and got carried along by another rider who also dropped off the back of that group, the ten miles before the next feed stop were a trial.

Norwich 100 Weybourne

Weybourne and the sea

I actually stopped at this one, knowing from last year they had a grill going – some solid food instead of energy gel goop would go down well and a burger was perfect. Again it was a case of finding someone to ride with and I lucked upon a Norwich ABC club rider who set a pace at around 22mph the rest of the way back into Norwich. We blasted past flagging riders who were crawling towards the finish making sure the last 10 miles went past in a blur back on the main roads.

I got back at 1:06pm for an overall time of 5 hours and 26 minutes. I could’ve shaved 5-10 minutes from that on the costal road but it’s a personal best for 100 miles so still very good and happy to improve on my time from last year. The other guys finished about 2 hours behind.

Norwich 100 Certificate and Medal

Last year’s haul – I got a Under 6 Hours one this year.

The Gannets ‘How Hard Can It Be?’ Circuit Race – Stourport – 13th May

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I headed over to Stourport on Severn after work to go back to where my season began and where I destroyed the back end of my bike warming up, way back in January now.

This race was following the full purpose built circuit, anti clockwise as usual (well for me anyway) and a nice change from the tight courses at Leamington and Solihull. With a lot more room the race should be crash free, despite being a 4th Cat Only race.

The weather had been inclemental all day with some rain a few hours before the race making the tarmac surface a little bit greasy. With that day’s Giro d’Italia stage showing how badly some people are at going round wet corners on road bikes, I decided to be conservative in the corners and aggressive on the straights when I needed to be – the golden rule being that you have to reach the finish to contest it.

Gannets Stourport Criterium May 2014

Continental advertising tonight…

People must’ve been put off by the weather, 19 showed up and 1 warmed up before calling it a day. With 18 starters the odds were very good that I’d be finishing in the top 10 and getting my first points on the licence.

The early pace was quick, someone decided to solo attack from the start which never works so he was left to it for 5-10minutes to do his own thing. The bunch was strung out but together for awhile, keeping things sensible. Eventually though, it happened, someone decided to fall off. It was a bit of an odd one as it was the leader rider who just lost it, his front wheel slipping out from under him at low speed in the top hairpin. The rider following him took evasive action, looked to be clear and then fell off too. The bunch at the slowest part of the track anyway managed to make it through their carnage and carry on.

We had a huge shower that drenched the circuit, the greasiness turned into genuine wet with lots of water spray. In these changing conditions it became clear there was a group of around 5 riders (and me sitting in 6th wheel with them) who were stronger than the rest and they consistently took turns at the front and seemed in control. I was busy totting up numbers and worked out with 10 people now in the group, as long as I stayed upright, I would surely get some points.

Shortly afterwards we had the shout there was a Prime coming up, usually a sprint for a prize, it’s also a code word for ‘crash ahead’ as people become unpredictable chasing down something unimportant. Predictably we then had the second crash, the rider in front of me lost it coming out of the adverse camber corner at the bottom of the start/finish hill. I watched his rear wheel catch on the muddy grass and he speared off to the right and took someone else out. A very close near miss!

Post race train home

Post race train home

The race settled down and we all followed one rider who seemed to be stuck on the front pulling everyone to the finish. With 3 laps to go the pace ramped up again and it was back to proper racing. I was holding sixth wheel behind the five other strong riders comfortably until we reached the final hairpin on the last lap.

This is where in my first race I ran out of energy and dropped right back. Unfortunately this time it was lapped riders getting in the way. I got to the corner at the moment these riders took to the inside of the corner, only to have one swerve across me taking to a very odd line. This created a big gap at the crucial moment and I called the obstructive rider all sorts of words I wouldn’t want my grandparents to hear.

I was now effectively leading out the few people behind me for the finish so knew I had to accelerate hard to drop them and whilst sprinting hard up the hill, well into the red zone, a look under my shoulder showed I was on my own.

I coasted in for 6th, good enough for 4 British Cycling licence points. A third of the way towards the next level!

No Frills Racing – Race 1 – Solihull – Cats 2/3/4 – 7th May

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A relatively quick turn around between races this time and heading back to Solihull only a few days after racing there.

This race was a new experience, racing with higher categories – around 40 riders raced across three different categories, I was very much the small-fry in this race with not many 4th Cats apparently giving this one a go.

To get things off to a bad start, I realised in the queue that I’d forgotten my race licence and potentially couldn’t race. Luckily however I remember I’d taken a clear picture of my race licence to show it off and had it on my phone. Quick check later of the massive screen on the phone and I was ready to go.

The photo of my licence

The photo of my licence that scraped me onto the starting line…

From the off it was clear that this sort of racing was completely different to what I’d experienced a couple of days before. People immediately went off hard and I found myself following someone who didn’t take the corners hard or fast enough but also couldn’t get round due to the strong winds. The end result was being dropped very early into the hour long race.

Two other people ahead had also been dropped and I put in a long turn to create a group of four. We carried on, the winds making us progressively slower and eventually conceded two laps to the main field. I had a few goes on the front where after a lap of effort the other three would drop back making it pointless – I sat on 4th wheel waiting for the bunch to come back round again. We’d probably spent 20 minutes of the race together as a four and another 15 as a five as another rider was caught.

When the bunch came round again, it was missing a group of 2nd Cats who’d raced off the front and after making an effort I managed to get attached to the back of them. I spent the final 20 minutes of the hour long race racing around on the back of the main bunch and eventually finished there, albeit 3 laps down.

Bike at Solihull Station

Waiting for the train home

Naturally I didn’t feel great about the result having been lapped 3 times, but did learn a lot from it. Mainly that some races start very quick, especially with non 4th Cat racers in them and some wheels are better off not following. The 20 minutes I did spend with the bunch of primarily 3rd Cats showed that I could hang with them with the right positioning. I out sprinted a few too for good measure, being 3 laps down it was somewhat irrelevant though.

This definitely turned out to be a learning experience rather than a race for me. With the wind being as strong as it was that day, it was essentialy to stick in the bunch – as it was I didn’t come last, the other 4 riders I’d been with all finished behind me as they weren’t in the finishing bunch.

35th out of 40 sounds pretty bad but there are positives!

University of Birmingham Criterium – Solihull – 3rd May

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My first race since the Leamington Victoria Park Crits 3 weeks before took place in Solihull on the Tudor Grange Park cycling circuit – another new track to learn!

The race was a 40 minutes + 5 laps type and the track itself was quite interesting – there’s barely a straight line on the circuit, lots of sweeping bends and little kinks to be aware of and also a nasty kick of a bump to make things interesting.

Tudor Grange Park Race

I’m not in this picture…

Keen to avoid a repeat of Leamington’s wobbles and antics, I drifted around at the back for most of the race sticking to a line on the outside – the race itself was a 4th Cat Only race and as such not a lot really happened. A couple of people tried to move away only to not get far off the front, someone attacked and I went with him but we were caught within a lap. Deciding that was a pointless endeavour I drifted back to the back.

I managed to avoid the crash by the skin of my teeth – someone on the inside on the sweeping bend on the fastest part of the circuit wobbled, the person on my left shoulder pushed outwards and I had to make a detour onto the grass. Straightening up and sprinting out the saddle on the bumpy grass I only lost a second or two and recaught the bunch. The next time round though, a couple of people were off their bikes and were resigned to their race being over. I’d just about avoided the same fate.

Tudor Grange Park Race

Sweeping bends…

Coming towards the end of the race, the Garmin was saying 38, 39 minutes of racing completed I found myself back right on the front – scenarios played themselves out in my head and went with powering round as fast as I could at the front thinking that I’d make the top 10 (and points) if I could hold it until the last lap.

As it was, I held off the pack in the gap between 6 laps to go and 1.5 laps to go – being caught on the steep kick as I began to struggle. Almost immediately a counter attack went and my chance was gone, I’d effectively spent 3 miles at the front going flat out.

I stayed in the bunch and overtook a couple at the end – I can’t give an exact finishing position but 20th seems about right from 40. Again, I was strong enough to never be in danger of being dropped but just need to be better at finishing off races.