Zwift Riding and Q&A with Jens Voigt

EBE 53 Grenchen - Nemecky cyklista Jens Voigt prekonal svetový rekord UCI v hodinovke výkonom 51,115 km na velodróme Suisse vo švajèiarskom Grenchene vo štvrtok 18. septembra 2014. 43-roèný Voigt, ktorý konèí s kariérou, prekonal rekord èeského cyklistu Ondøeja Sosenku z 16. júla 2005, ktorý prešiel na olympijskom štadióne v Moskve za hodinu 49,7 km. FOTO TASR/AP
German cyclist Jens Voigt cycles during his attempt to break the one hour cycling world record at the velodrome Suisse in Grenchen, Switzerland, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Voigt has set a new mark in cycling’s historic Hour Record, racing 51.115 kilometers (31.76 miles) around a velodrome track. Ending his career with a record attempt one day after his 43rd birthday, the German rider beat the 49.7-kilometer mark (30.88-mile) of Ondrej Sosenka in 2005. (AP Photo/Keystone, Peter Klaunzer)
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This Winter I’ve spent most of my time riding indoors on a turbo trainer, safe from the dangers of ice, snow, wind and bad driving. I have a good setup but generally need group rides and some uptempo music to keep me entertained as I literally stare at the walls. Every now and again one of the perks of Zwift is that you get the chance to ride with a pro rider who could be your hero. Jens Voigt is possibly the most popular 00s non-contender cyclist. His 17 consecutive Tour de Frances between 1998 and 2014 made him a well known name for all cycling fans, especially for his two breakaway stage wins. Jens Voigt took the chance to lead a group ride on Zwift this week.

Jens Voigt Riding on Zwift
Jens Voigt in the virtual world of Zwift

Riding with Jens Voigt

The ride with Jens Voigt took place very late one night (00:30am) as it came live from the Tour Down Under which started yesterday in Australia. Luckily this ride was on a Friday night so I knew I would be able to have a lie-in the next day! We rode for 60 minutes around the London Classique course which was used for the Women’s Worldtour race in 2016. It’s a fairly flat and easy course at 5.5km long, but it takes in all the sights of central London which even look good virtually.

Riders are taken past the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Trafalgar Square before heading down the Mall to Buckingham Palace – I think even the London Eye sneaks in an appearance. As we cycled along at a quick tempo for mere mortals, riders were able to pose questions to Jens Voigt and have him answer to the group.

Jens Voigt Tour de France Yorkshire 2014 Stage 2
Jens Voigt wearing the Polka Dot Jersey in Stage 2, 2014 Tour de France

Questions & Answers with Jens Voigt

Many questions were asked and answered, most fairly sensible ones too surprisingly – no-one took the chance to ask him his favourite film or beer for instance. Given the proximity to the Tour Down Under which has now started (albeit with a truncated stage due to heat), he reckoned that Richie Porte had the best chance of winning it. Whilst on the topic of pro-cycling, Jens was asked quite a few questions about his time in the peloton. The best room-mate he had was ‘funny guy’ Bobby Julich, who he rode with in 2000-01 with Credit Agricole and also later at Team CSC between 2004-08. The best leader he rode for as a domestique was Andy Schleck, described as ‘classy’ – the two won the 2010 Tour de France together.

Lance Armstrong naturally came up, Jens says that he always got on with his 2011 team-mate, chatting about family and kids over coffees. Surprisingly despite the red rag to a bull effect that the Armstrong name has, something sensible followed it up. Whilst riding as a pro, Jens would clock up an average of 35,000km during the year with around half of that taking place at races – I thought I’d done well to manage 13,000km last year!

Jens Voigt Hour Record
Jens Voigt whilst breaking the Hour Record

The Hour Record

Once the rules for the Hour Record were changed, Jens Voigt was one of the first riders to take to the velodrome to try and beat the existing record. Jens briefly held the record for 6 weeks before Matthias Brandle set a new record. For the Hour Record Jens was weighing 78kg (I can only dream to be such a weight!) and averaged 413 watts (I can only dream to hold such wattage for an hour!). It’s unusual to get the actual numbers, but it shows the difference between the average club cyclist and a pro. My best power to weight ratio I’ve recorded is 3.6w/kg whereas Jens held 5.3w/kg – a huge amount of daylight!

Everything else…

We also learn that his eldest son plays lacrosse and his second son raced bikes for 5 years but stopped. Clearly there won’t be any new Voigts gracing the pro peloton in future years. Finally, Jens’ worst bonk (where you run out of all energy and can barely turn the pedals) was in a junior stage race, whilst in the lead and once the bonk happened he lost the race by a big margin.

It’s always worth keeping an eye out for Zwift events with former and current Pros, you never know what tidbit you might learn!

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Zwift Riding and Q&A with Jens Voigt was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

As 2016 comes to a close…

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At the start of the year after a lacklustre 2015 cycling-wise, I set myself the target of cycling 10,000 kilometres in 2016. As it turned out, I managed more than 13,000!

I’ve completed a few sportives in the UK (CFC Sportive, Mad March Hare) and rode the Dunwich Dynamo on a restored 1930s singlespeed tandem. I also completed the Festive 500 for the second time, after completing it before in 2014.

I also managed a couple of trips abroad, seemingly centred around Belgium. I went and saw Fleche Wallonne, rode and watched Liege-Bastogne-Liege and cycled from Brussels to Cologne for a beer festival. I also managed a few cheeky miles in Copenhagen for good measure as well.

I’ve got a couple of sportives already signed up for in 2017 such as the Mad March Hare, I’ll repeat the 10,000km target and I’m working out a trip abroad again. I’m also increasingly tinkering with the idea of doing time trials for the first time in 2017 as a way to release some of the competitiveness without having to deal with crashes. I’ll continue to race indoors on Zwift.

Happy New Year and good luck for 2017!

2016 Infographic Strava Veloviewer

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As 2016 comes to a close… was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Cycling to Work – Commuter Racing

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Being a Commuter and Cycling to Work

There’s definitely a few of us who as a commuter are lucky enough to live roughly near to where they work and are foolhardy enough to brave the traffic to commute into work on our bikes. Out on the street you’ll see huge variation in what people use to get to work. From cheap heavy mountain bikes to the odd person still out on their carbon ride in the depths of winter sliding around on the ice.

cycling commuting clothing

Aside from the steed, clothing shows similar amounts of variation. There’s plenty of garish yellowy green hi-vis on show, clippy shoes, smart shoes (and even one person with clippy shoes without the clips – like having football boots without the studs) and even the odd Rapha jersey for some reason. I’ve already covered cycling kit as a whole here, but the commuter kit throws in a whole new world of possibilities.

Personally I go for the tweed jacket with laptop bag ballast, suited and booted approach, which given it has the aerodynamic properties of a woven sail flapping in the wind makes my ride into work just that touch harder. It’s still easier and quicker than having to get changed more than I need to.

rapha tailored jacket stylish cycling commuter

Commuter Racing

It’s only natural then that we want to defeat the others that we come across on our route, some battles get played out repeatedly at the same times and the same places, just on different days. There are different ‘stages’ or ‘tracks’, the most common one for me in Birmingham is the Gooch Street – Pershore Road – Hurst Street bike route blast, however Broad Street was once a happy hunting ground and there’s a special place for beating people up the hill into Kings Heath.

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The climb to Kings Heath

Everyone has their own route and points where they come across other commuters, but like all cycle racing a hill climb victory is worth more than simply being quicker than someone on the flat. Especially if you’ve got a laptop bag.

Now there are a couple of unofficial rules, going through red lights is a big no-no and an instant disqualification. Being able to then still pass someone who has gone through one of them gives a solid moral victory however. Gaining a sense of achievement by blasting past someone who is going at glacial levels of slowness is not cool, you’d have to blast past about six for one real victory.

Also overtaking and then going immediately left across their path is a bit of a dick move (it’s dangerous enough when drivers do it). Drafting is allowed, but don’t expect much information coming back to you like you would on the club ride. Their last minute swerve around the pothole could see you hit it for instance. The questionable quality of mudguards also makes this practice disadvantageous if it’s a damp day, as you’ll only end up mucky for work.

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The Commuter Racer Mindset

It takes the right sort of person to initiate a race with someone they don’t know, who probably doesn’t know they’re racing and is just using a bike as a means to get to work. Hyper competitiveness is a must, a turn of speed is very useful, as is the ability to self-justify this behaviour. ‘I’m just doing it to get to work quicker’, ‘this is good training’ and ‘my anaerobic levels are going through the roof!’

Some races start by accident because the number one goal is to get into town and make that train, despite leaving the house 5 minutes later than you should have. Soon you have lots of overtakes and someone smart who has jumped onto your back wheel that you have to try and burn off where possible.

The dream days are the ones where all the lights are green, all the islands are clear and you can smash it to work in 15 minutes without having had to stop on the way.

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Cycling to Work – Commuter Racing was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Zwift Review – A New Way of Indoor Training

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Zwift

So what is Zwift? Well, traditionally Winter cycling saw people putting on layer after layer, braving the cold and wet on a club ride or having to resort to riding indoors on a turbo trainer. The latter was always dull, staring at the four walls out of your mind bored. Some people found relief in watching films whilst riding, I generally had to resort to playing the Xbox. By distracting my brain from clock watching by playing Fifa (driving games didn’t work very well, it’s hard to fight the urge to lean into the corners). Around two years ago Zwift was created to fill in that gap and make indoor training much more interesting.

Mathew Mitchell Zwift KISS (C) 28th November 2016
Leading the group – no helmet, black/blue kit and white/green bike.

Anyone with a bike, a turbo trainer (£100+), a couple of sensors (£50), an ANT+ stick (£10) and a PC can get going. As you ride, Zwift calculates your power in watts and converts that to a speed in-game as you zoom around a couple of virtual worlds. Most people will start off with a solo workout or two before exploring the world of group rides and Zwift racing. A number of pros can be found riding as well, the likes of Jens Voigt, Michal Kwiatkowski, Laurens Ten Dam, Andre Greipel, Thomas de Gendt, Jasper Stuyven, Fumy Beppu and Axel Merckx. I suppose you could play the likes of FIFA and Madden with/against some pros but they’re less upfront about it. On Zwift real names are used and you can even get a notification to your phone if someone you like starts riding.

Mathew Mitchell Zwift KISS (C) 28th November 2016
The lead group has formed, I’m going with it and seeing how far I can get

Zwift works well because of the social aspect. Whilst you can be a hermit and simply ride on a workout passing everyone by with no interaction, the most fun is had on group rides. The well led ones are kept to a reasonable manageable speed. Somewhere between too easy and too difficult where conversation (typing in this case) is possible whilst riding and the chat helps the time spend riding fly by. Facebook groups help established groups get closer and before you know it, you’re fully involved in the Zwift community. A new set of people are asking where you were on Sunday and encouraging you to beat personal bests and improve that FTP (functional threshold power).

Zwift Racing

As a relatively new convert to racing on Zwift I’ve realised I’ve now found the tip of the iceberg. This stuff is serious.
Anyone who hasn’t forked out for a power meter is looked down upon and so is not racing with a heart rate monitor. The efforts required to finish high up are huge, in my last two races I’ve had to lie down straight away afterwards because I’ve put myself into the red so much. A sign of good training! As in real-life, racing is split into categories, this effectively means that in the middle of a mass race you can ignore those marked with an A because they’ll be disappearing into the distance shortly. It also gives newbies a chance to race against each other in the starter D category rather than feeling like they’re being thrown straight into the masses.

Mathew Mitchell Zwift KISS (C) 28th November 2016
Still in the lead group…

My first race was on the Richmond 2014 World Championship circuit. I managed to lose all of the groups and spent nearly the whole thing on my own. Guaranteed to be the slowest way to race, with no draft effect to help the speed. I had put myself in the D category as a beginner but the power I put out meant I got upgraded to 10th (of 11) in the C category. The auto-upgrade prevents people under-representing themselves and winning categories they’re too good for.

I had another go a few weeks later and whilst it was hard work it was much improved. I finished 4th in C category after getting myself into one of the leading groups and then gradually falling backwards as I lost contact with my group on the last lap. Despite that, what was most memorable after this race was Zwift crashing and my PC refusing to reboot. After re-installing Windows I lost all the data and couldn’t upload it to Strava either. Far from ideal.

The last two weeks I’ve been back on it cycling wise and have done 4 races. Two results of 13 and 19 in the B category, and two more of 2 and 8 in the C category. It’s fair to say that I’m somewhere between the B and C categories and that the race circuits heavily impact what I can do. The circuit in London is a favourite, it’s relatively flat with only a blast up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square that causes brief issues. Unsurprisingly this is where I’ve done my B races. I seem to have hit on a strategy of going as fast as I can early on, hanging onto the quickest group for as long as possible and then seeing who I can hold off until the end. Hanging onto the back of a quick group early on does give you huge leads over chasing groups, I just need some more fitness to hang on until the end! It’s been this week where I’ve found out about the work that Nathan Guerra (a top American MTB-er) who has a Youtube channel that broadcasts Zwift races live as he provides commentary. It’s been useful to be able to re-watch the races and see at which point I should’ve done something better or been more active at a crucial point. It also helps me get better screenshots!

Mathew Mitchell Zwift Friday Criterium 25th November 2016
Caught on Youtube – near the start of a race trying to escape with a group

So…Zwift

As a means of indoor training, for me Zwift has made it something worthwhile and actually enjoyable to do. It saves me having to go out into the city to train on dark, wet, cold evenings so I could probably claim some safety advantages to using it as well. Especially because you can’t crash on Zwift, unless you’re particularly careless and fall off your bike somehow. Having group rides and races means that you can choose what sort of ride you want to do, whilst managing to have that social aspect. Being able to race against other actual people makes it that extra bit real and allows the competitive side to come out. It pushes you far more than a winter club ride or than you would doing a workout on your own. By doing more than just riding long rides and doing specific training rides and races, the data has shown that I’ve made improvements despite riding less in the last two months – my FTP is now around 45 watts higher than it was when I first started on Zwift 3 months ago. For me, being able to play on Zwift and ride regularly has definitely been a worthwhile investment.

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Zwift Review – A New Way of Indoor Training was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Cycling Brussels to Cologne – First Touring Experience

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Birmingham to Maastricht

At the start of the year we came up with a plan to visit Cologne for a beer festival and combine it cycling somehow. Not wanting to waste time cycling from home we took the Eurostar to Brussels to head off from there. It meant leaving home at 5am to head into town, briefly smashing one of my panniers on a bollard as I misjudged the size of a gap and catching the train to London. The short cycle from Euston to St. Pancras was fine and we dropped our bikes off to be put on the train. As we tried to go round the front to go through security it turned out I’d printed off everything but our actual tickets, I just had a copy of the booking confirmation somehow. Having not brought the card I booked with we couldn’t use the machines to print off so I had to use my persuasive powers to get someone in the booking office to print them for me, crisis averted!

Cycling through Belgium
Cycling through Belgium

We sat on the train watching Southern England and Northern France fly by, before eventually reaching Belgium and Brussels. We picked the bikes up from the cargo area and spent ages trying to put the panniers back onto the bikes, hadn’t quite learnt the routine and our cheap panniers on a non matching rack meant some bodging was necessary with bungees. The Garmin struggled to pick up our location outside the station but once it kicked in and we were facing the right way we started on our way. Leaving the centre of Brussels wasn’t particularly picturesque and the route eventually followed a river through a large industrial area, a great introduction to Belgium – eventually however we ended up punching through and escaping the city into some countryside by the airport. We found ourselves on a very long and very straight cycle path next to a busy main road and had a couple of episodes of stopping to sort out panniers as George destroyed clips and had to re-adjust.

The Albertkanaal near Zandvoort
The Albertkanaal near Zandvoort

At Werchter we turned off the road and followed a path alongside a river that was busy with cyclists despite it being 1pm on a Thursday. We stopped for lunch at an Aldi in Diest, refilled the supplies and pushed on. We joined the Albertkanaal at Hasselt and ended up creating our own fun by racing on the wide traffic-free road alongside, we spent 5 miles trying to out do each other and managed to fly through at 20mph+ even with the bags. The Zandvoort racing circuit of vintage F1 fame was on our left and something was driving round it but the barriers were disappointingly just tall enough to prevent us from seeing. The canal road was nice and flat with the exception of the locks which had a short drag uphill each time.

Lying around waiting for the Garmin to charge
Lying around waiting for the Garmin to charge

We pulled off the canal for the last stretch to our overnight stay and then the Garmin died on us. I hooked it up to the portable battery and we sat down for 20 minutes on a path by some trees to let it charge up. We went through a few small towns before turning off into the forest and a fun descent down to our stop at Sonnenvijver just outside Maastricht. We’d arranged ourselves an Airbnb in what looked like someone’s summer chalet in the forest, by a lake. We chilled, showered and headed out to the other side of the lake to a restaurant for a nice dinner and time to relax before heading to Cologne the next day.

Bikes at the overnight stay in Maastricht
Bikes at the overnight stay in Maastricht

Maastricht to Cologne

It's the Amstel Gold Race windmill!
It’s the Amstel Gold Race windmill!

We set off the next day out of the woods and off into Holland, our first destination was Valkenburg, a detour I’d enforced after looking at the map during the planning stages. Valkenburg is famous for hosting the annual Amstel Gold Race which ends on the well-known Cauberg hill. It has also held the cycling World Championships 5 times and a couple of Tour de France stages. On our way there, we passed an iconic windmill that often gets pictured in the race and took our own. The Cauberg itself is quite short and sweet, just steep. I took it easy at a constant speed, Rich shot off and promptly fell into a stinging nettle bush trying to change his chain from the big ring to the inner ring. George’s knees were hurting him so he pulled over to see what Rich had done and I made it all the way to the top in one go and waited for them to come up whilst eating some waffles. Embracing the Dutch spirit!

The Amstel Gold Race finish line - I won!
The Amstel Gold Race finish line – I won!

Coming off a roundabout I very nearly stacked it, crossing the road with the cycle path I managed to slide a bit going across a concrete gutter which the pannier bags made worse, somehow I managed to hold it and we avoided a crash! We managed to enter Germany without realising it, the route took us down a horrible small lane that had brutal cobblestones and when we came out the other side I noticed that the road signs had changed and the parked cars now had D registration plates – it wasn’t for another mile or so before we saw the first road sign with some German on it to confirm it. We found a Lidl in the next town and sat down for lunch in the car park, getting a few odd looks. Shortly after we’d got going again George managed to break a clip on his panniers which meant stopping for awhile and Rich hiding by a hedge to get himself out of the sun. He’d already got the moniker of Captain Redleg after just one of his legs caught the sun the day before and had gone, unsurprisingly, very red. We waiting for George to finish re-lashing his panniers to his bike and watched him purposely stride across the road onto the left hand side to get going – a quick ‘George mate, Germany’ and he realised what he’d done!

We found the Netherlands
We found the Netherlands

The route kept us on bike paths for the most part, keeping us off busy roads but being able to enjoy their beautiful view to the side. At one point the path crossed sides and we missed it so were on the road coming up to a roundabout. A German driver who had turned into the relief lane took the time to stop and shout out of his car at us. The German was quick and I’d so far only had a supermarket trip with little interaction to think in German so far – the one word I did understand was ‘Idioten’, plainly he thought we should’ve been in the cycle path! On one stretch shortly afterwards that definitely didn’t have a cycle path, Rich had pulled in ahead for some directions, as I came past I told him we were going straight on before slamming on the brakes 50 metres further on. On the ground was a genuine real €50 note! I picked it up and spent it once we’d got to Cologne on everyone’s shopping, spreading a bit of good karma.

Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral

We had a brief detour to avoid a bridge it turned out was very much closed and impassable but managed to end up on the outskirts of Cologne before heading into the city through some cycle paths between the fields and in the parks and before we knew it we were at our apartment for the next few days. Quick trip to Lidl later and we were chilled out relaxing on the terrace with a well earned beer. The days of beer festival in Cologne afterwards were also good!

Night time at the Cologne beer festival
Night time at the beer festival
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Cycling Brussels to Cologne – First Touring Experience was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Cycling up Snowdon on a Road Bike

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Snowdon

I think it’s becoming obvious that I like to set myself a challenge and see what I can do with a bike. It started with various sportives, then a 200km Audax, then London to Paris in under 24 hours, trips across Belgium and now taking my bike to the highest point in England and Wales, Snowdon.

I first mooted the idea to George in the Spring but we couldn’t find time to do it before the voluntary cycling agreement on Snowdon kicked in – it basically says no cycling between May and September due to safety issues with having lots of walkers on the path and bike flying down it at the same time. Fair enough we thought, we’ll do it later in the year.

In the meantime George found himself moving to Chirk which made preparing and travel a little easier, no longer having to leave quite so early in the day from Birmingham we were able to get up at a sensible time and head up at about 9am. We parked up in Llanberis down a side street, pro tip to avoid the parking charges, got ourselves ready and set off up the Llanberis Path to the summit and our first ever HC climb.

Start of the Llanberis Path
The start of the off-road stuff on the Llanberis Path

Climbing Snowdon

The first tarmac section was very steep, I saw 22% on the Garmin briefly, I stayed on but George was forced to walk some of it. We reached the gate off the road which signalled the start of the path and the beginning of the off-road fun. George had a proper mountain bike, front suspension, fat tyres, the works. I was on a road bike with fat-ish knobbly 35s with a very low psi, disc brakes and clippy shoes/pedals.

We ended up going through the gate at the same time as a pair of walkers, we knew if we saw them again before the top that walking was quicker than cycling, as it turns out, we didn’t see them again. The early section was spent getting used to knowing what our bikes and us could handle. I had a couple of very slow instances of falling over, a combination of being clipped in for one and being ambitious the other time. We soon learnt that neither of us were much good on what we started calling giant cobblestones, the gaps between them meant it was too easy to lose a wheel or lose momentum resulting in having to come to a quick stop.

We walked up a few of the short steep slopes with these but comfortably rode the relatively flatter sections with gravel and smaller rocks. Surprisingly quickly we found ourselves within sight of Snowdon’s Halfway House, predictably shut with the Summer season well over. This section was very rideable and posed us no problems. The section after meant we had to walk for around a mile with the bikes. It was steep, had the giant cobblestones and was much too technical for our skill level. Walking up there in clipped shoes and a bike on my shoulder was tough and was probably the only part that caused us both issues physically.

George looking down the Llanberis Path
George looking down the Llanberis Path

Crossing under the railway line, we would’ve been within sight of the top if it wasn’t in a bank of cloud. We also lost the wind protection of the bank that the railway sits on top of and gained a close up view of a steep cliff face, probably one of the few points of possible danger on this path. The steepest uphill section was next, the less rocky surface made walking up it easier for me in my cleats, but I also had my bike on my shoulder as I found that easier than pushing a bike up that wanted to roll backwards between each step. Eventually it flattened out a bit and we were able to ride across a lot of the ridge before the path returned to being big rocks with steps built in. On the upside, this was the final stretch up to the summit of Snowdon, with the bike back on the shoulder I was running up some of this as people coming down made comments on how mad we were.

Our bikes at the Snowdon Summit
Our bikes at the Snowdon Summit

We reached the summit mound in 1 hour 50 minutes, took a photo or two and then ascended the steps to the toposcope at the highest point. Unfortunately due to the mist it was fairly useless, not being able to see further than maybe 50 metres away. As we did the brief descent to Hafod Eyri, the fairly recently built visitor centre on Snowdon, a party of school children (that had come up on the train) seemed particularly impressed that we were up there with bikes and more so that I had a road bike with me. We went in for a well earnt coffee and flapjack and a bit of a breather – we got many looks from everyone else in there, I guess we looked a bit different! Back on the outside to get our bikes (which we’d locked up, although we’d debated if anyone would really be even able to take them from up there), we ended up in a conversation with some Royal Marines who were doing something equally as daft, climbing up with massive packs as part of a training exercise.

Inside Hafod Eyri
Inside Hafod Eyri

Descending Snowdon

We had to walk back down the steps, not being quite good enough to be able to ride down them, blasted across the flatter section we’d ridden across before until we reached the steep section. I was struggling to hold the bike back even with the brakes fully on and the back tyre was moving around, so I got off to walk. George rode it, but as I watched him descend quickly, his left leg ended up off the pedal and it didn’t look particularly controlled. When I eventually joined him, he confirmed that he’d been on the brakes, locked up sliding around a lot and had definitely scared himself a little. We crossed back under the railway line to an unrideable section that we had to walk down. My cleats didn’t enjoy flat sloped rocks and there were a couple of slippages, one resulting with me throwing the bike on the floor and the other with it stuck on top of me whilst crouching and George having to come help get it off.

Once the big rocks went and the gradient lessened, we were back on the bikes. The steady descent meant lots of riding on the brakes, it was surprising how quickly speed got picked up if you didn’t. We were both smashing down this easier stretch of the path, able to ride down parts that we couldn’t ride up and we were back at Halfway House before we knew it. The road bike with its lack of suspension wasn’t finding it too hard going, being able to pull the front wheel up and over the bigger rocks meant it was the back wheel and legs taking more of any hits that happened. Eventually the back wheel hit a rock a little too hard and we had to stop for a puncture. Being a seasoned veteran at replacing these, we were done in 5 minutes and back riding.

The view on the way down the Llanberis path, almost out of the cloud cover
The view on the way down the Llanberis path, almost out of the cloud cover

We were friendly and courteous to all the walkers, passing them slowly and with a nice shouted warning to let them know we were there. Everyone was kind back, definitely impressed at our efforts or the madness of them. Near the bottom where the path started after passing a small group on a particularly jagged section, I’d just got off to hop down it when I looked up and saw George’s back wheel was a metre or two off the ground, somehow he didn’t faceplant but managed to push it through his legs and just sort of walk off it as his bike hit the deck behind him. Dusting himself off, we we were able to make the short distance back to the starting gate and a fun descent on the tarmac back into Llanberis for lunch at Pete’s Eats.

Strava – 494th out of 1769

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Cycling up Snowdon on a Road Bike was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

The Great Shakespeare Ride 2016 – 100 Miles

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Great Shakespeare Ride Logo

The Great Shakespeare Ride was the first sportive I ever did in my fledgling pre-lycra, pre-clippy shoes days. I remember it being very hard work with plenty of stops to recuperate and the last ten miles were a huge struggle. In the end I finished 108th out of 134 in 8 hours 10 minutes, whilst people I now regularly ride with finished in the top 10. I also did it in 2014, but chopped off the end to go home after 100 miles rather than do a 15 mile loop to the finish and back again.

The route itself is very hilly, so not something I’m naturally suited to as a heavier rider. Lots of early leg testers designed to tire you out are compounded by the finishing climbs of Sudeley, Saintbury and Larkstoke. In many ways the route was similar to the Liege-Bastogne-Liege Sportive I did in the Spring.

Great Shakespeare Ride 2016 Elevation

The ride started with the Stratford Cycling Club leading the pack behind a car providing a neutralised start, designed to get everyone off the busy main road and through the small lanes safely before depositing everyone in Wellesbourne. What happens once the car pulls over is someone takes up the pace and a whole long string of people follow waiting for the dual kick of Spring and Frizz Hills leaving Wellesbourne – once on the hills, it ends up as free for all as the once cohesive pack turns into smaller groups. I ended up in quite an elite group, happy to let the guys from the Cycle Studio team do the work as they were only doing the 100km route. We followed the wheels and the next ten miles flew past on a pretty much flat part of the route.

I lost touch with the group on the designated timed hill-climb of Lady Elizabeth hill leaving Middle Tysoe, despite taking half a minute off my previous personal best, I was still a minute slower than the mountain goats that I was with. I ended up isolated, with my previous group out of sight and no-one behind appearing to catch me up either, as it was I spent nearly ten miles on my own holding off the hundreds of cyclists behind me before getting caught up by a couple of randoms and Mark, a familiar face from the Stratford club. I sort of rode the rest of the way with Mark, with a few mishaps and unplanned stoppages along the route.

Mathew Mitchell climbing Lady Elizabeth Hill Warwickshire
Climbing up Lady Elizabeth Hill

Our small group might light work of the easier mid-section of the sportive, which was flat after the rolling hills before it and a nice rest before the climbing began again. The section around Guiting Power is a series of 3 or 4 short drags followed by a long 3 mile drag and really eats into the leg strength, it didn’t help that I lost touch with the group as my Garmin came out of its holder on landing as I jumped the bike over a pot hole on a descent. Despite my best efforts to come to a stop, turn around, locate and pick up the Garmin, the group had disappeared and were gone. Again I was on my own cresting the top of the hill before zipping across the valley to the other side and gently climbing up to Belas Knap. The descent has a nasty 90 degree right-hander but this one was in my mind’s directory of local knowledge so I took it sensibly. A club mate managed to break his collar bone going down the straighter parts of the same descent a year or two previously so I made sure to give it some respect. At the bottom is the village of Winchcombe.

The first feed station is in Winchcombe and I fully intended to stop there but somehow managed to completely miss it and had to tackle the steep Sudeley climb with no break. It’s one I really struggle with, the gradient kicks up to 20-22% gradually so you end up really grinding away, barely moving at that point. It didn’t help that my gearing wasn’t too suited to the climb, riding in 52-25 meant lots of zig-zagging to get up (bike tech geekery now over). The upside to missing the feed station is that I was caught shortly afterwards by Mark, I’d managed to undercut him as he stopped and had pressed on. We joined ourselves to a group and ended up blasting down the Stanway descent, a favourite of mine, that was used in a Tour of Britain stage in 2014. The close to two miles long road has lots of gently angled corners that allow you to fly down without having to touch the brakes and make fun controlled swoops.

We followed them to Snowshill (also used on the Tour of Britain 2014) where it all broke up again. Now reduced to steady pace on the climbs, it was a case of powering through the pain and reaching the top somewhat together. The small gentle climbs up to Lavender Fields continued to suck the energy from the legs but a tractor provided some entertainment, waiting behind it at a junction, I ended up drafting behind it up a hill for half a mile and now get to claim 4th place out of over 5000 on that Strava segment. The best part was overtaking other cyclists with the tractor and speeding past whilst using almost no effort.

Mathew Mitchell and Mark Lampitt Hampton Lucy Great Shakespeare Ride 2016
Struggling together up the final rise before the finish. Still plugging away…

We took in Broadway Tower before beginning the descent to Chipping Campden, I had to refill my water bottles in Ebrington, losing touch with Mark as I attacked beforehand to try and create a bit of a gap – halfway up Larkstoke I found him again though. We crawled up it together and kept each other going as first I hit the wall followed by Mark as we both passed close to home and the temptation to turn off and finish kicked in. The final drag back up out of Hampton Lucy nearly finished us off but we got a good photo out of it.

We finished 19th and 20th out of 144 riders and just snuck under 6 Hours with my time of 5 hours, 59 minutes and 31 minutes. The ride finished with a well earned beer.

Strava

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The Great Shakespeare Ride 2016 – 100 Miles was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling