Stourbridge CC Reliability Ride Review – 31st January 2016

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Stourbridge CC Club Jersey

So, the first event of 2016 and I got to ride it with two of my mates, one very new to cycling and the other looking to start off the year with a long ride. The purpose of the early season ‘reliability ride’ is to test out the legs and see how you’re faring for speed as you complete a shorter but testing route. You’re given a route beforehand but generally it’s not signposted and it’s up to you to go the right way and sort out mechanicals en route.

I’ve seen the Stourbridge CC reliability ride come up the last few years but never quite found the time to do it, this year the plan was to cycle over from central Birmingham with George, meet Adam in Stourbridge, do the ride and then cheat and get the train home. The route was uploaded to the Garmin and we set off in the dark. A gentle ride across the city (and a collection of Adam) and we were at Kingswinford Rugby Club, handing over our money and signing in before having a cup of hot brown for warmth.

Kingswinford Rugby Club

Kingswinford Rugby Club – the start and finish point

Conditions were relatively good, not raining but chilly and quite mucky from the previous day’s rain.
We set off early (the slowest group) in order to give us plenty of time (being George’s first ever event and Adam’s first in awhile) and ended up following a couple, who seemed to be having an early battle with plenty of orders and assistance required on climbs from the two mile mark. We were meandering along, keeping a steady pace without rushing and it was no surprise when the faster groups who had set off later caught up to us in a big long line and didn’t hang around.

We had a very hairy wet descent into Bridgnorth, I came into the first sharp bend far too quickly and had to try and do the big no-no of cornering whilst still on the brakes, which led to a load of under-steer and a second of panic as I saw the opposite kerb coming up and thinking I wouldn’t make it – luckily I did but I took the next bend at a more respectable speed. I had a bit of fun on the climb out of Bridgnorth, attacking it properly and overtaking a dozen other riders before sitting up at the top and waiting for the guys behind who had been sensible.

Bridgnorth Climb

The beginning of the Bridgnorth climb I had fun on

We’d found the headwind at this point and the most difficult stretch of the ride, a constantly undulating up and down series of solid climbs and descents that didn’t let up and didn’t give much chance to rest the legs. The average speed started tumbling but with the quick guys long gone all the riders were now struggling, we had a brief altercation with a car who didn’t appreciate some of the more wobbly unstraight hill climbing – cyclists going slowly uphill don’t have the energy for such nonsense. Eventually this hard section finished with us reaching Bewdley and crossing the river Severn.

This is where not knowing the area properly showed, we took a brief re-fuelling stop, tacked onto the back of a small group that passed us, had a tractor come past us on a tiny road and then straight up the steepest hardest part of the ride. The gradient shot up to between 15-20% and the group very quickly blew apart. I caught up to the rider who had made it to the front and had a laugh as Adam let out a loud cry of anguish at the effort behind. Struggling up in the lowest of the low gears at little more than walking pace I made it up using the bike and set to waiting at a crossroads at the top. 4 minutes later the guys appeared – I’ve been reliably informed that they walked/ran up the worst of it and Strava tells us that they weren’t the only ones that day. This effort pretty much killed off Adam’s knee for good, which required some nursing back to the finish.

Stourbridge Reliability Ride Profile

Stourbridge Reliability Ride Profile Map

The knee prevented Adam from going at anything like his usual pace, especially on the climbs where it was having the worst effect. We stuck together and managed to coax it back the final 10 miles as a unit without any serious damage being done and a restorative bacon sandwich as the reward at the finish. Our end time wasn’t amazing which wasn’t surprising all things considered with the injury – 3 hours and 16 minutes to complete the 42.3 mile course. Strava says that we came 101st out of 110 so a confidence boost to the guys that they’re faster than others with plenty left in the tank. A good ride and plenty of extra grub on offer too.

Strava – Stourbridge CC Reliability Ride 2016

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Stourbridge CC Reliability Ride Review – 31st January 2016 was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

London to Paris in Under 24 hours

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Right so in the traditional Christmas style, gather round children, I have a story or two to tell…
I’ve been very neglectful and haven’t been writing for awhile and eventually the guilt and haranguing from family members has meant that my last acts of 2015 will be to finally write up my Dunwich Dynamo and London to Paris experiences and enter 2016 with a clean conscience.

And so onwards…

London to Paris Logo

London to Paris – An Idea

I’d heard of London to Paris as an entity many times beforehand, I vaguely remember seeing that a school acquaintance had done it via Facebook as well, but it all stemmed from having to take a week of annual leave at some point before September or risk losing it. Trying to work out something useful to do in that week, Paris looked alright as it had been a long time since my last visit and fairly cheap to get to as well. The Megabus was threatening to be very cheap, albeit very very lengthy, when the thought of investigating if cycling it would be as cheap.

The ferry worked out as a nice cheap £20 and there was a very handily timed 11pm to 5am sailing as well that removed the need for an overnight stay. With the pieces coming together, the next step of putting a time challenge element on it to coax me along was thought of – Trafalgar Square to the Arc de Triomphe (some tongue in cheek symbolism is always good), 175 miles, a ferry trip and a new time zone in under 24 hours.

London to Paris Packed

All packed, ready to go

London to Paris – The Start

I managed to get the mishap out of the way very early on this ride, in pumping the tyres up to an ambitious 145/150psi to cater for the weight of the saddlepack and get the most out of the latex inner tubes (there’s some boring cycle science waffle here that I won’t go into unless asked), I managed to blow the tyre off the rim between leaving the flat and getting to Birmingham Moor Street station – a distance of possibly 1 mile. Weirdly, inspection on the train showed that the tube was intact despite its minor explosion and the tyre just needed putting back on. A more modest 120psi was chosen this time round.

Getting to Trafalgar Square for the designated start time of 5pm (August 17th 2015) was not a problem, quick photo of Nelson and music selection and everything was go, Arc de Triomphe by 5pm the next day or glorious failure.

London to Paris Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square, the starting point

London to Paris – The Ride

I made an effort to try and get out of London as quickly as possible – down Whitehall, over Westminster Bridge (plenty of time to see the sights), down by Elephant and Castle, learnt that Denmark Hill genuinely is a hill, the toll road (free to cyclists) at Dulwich Village is very nice but also has a proper hill in it, skirted past Crystal Palace, West Wickham and finally into some Surrey countryside by Biggin Hill and the M25. It was here that I misjudged a tight corner spectacularly badly, had to go onto the other side of the road and was lucky nothing was coming the other way. Suitably chastened, I stopped shortly afterwards for a picture and energy gel stop and to ask myself some searching questions about overconfidence in descending skills.

One or two slight navigational errors were quickly picked up by the Garmin’s alarmist bleeping whenever I deigned to ignore it and the cons in the choice of route became noticeable as the ride went on. Instead of plotting a path that was probably quicker, I’d gone for the direct shortest possible way which involved a fair few small country lanes also taking the direct shortest way up over the hills. Whilst going up Turner’s Hill, the front tyre felt very squishy which merited a quick tube change. I originally thought this was a slow puncture from the earlier incident but Strava claims this would have been nearly 4 hours later so I think something was ridden over. Apparently I was stopped for 13 minutes, but I claim I did the whole tube change in under 5 minutes and spent the rest eating cereal bars.

London to Paris Surrey Hills

The lovely view of the M25 taken shortly after my near miss

I overtook a couple who had gone past me whilst I was sorting my tube out, who I saw later on at the ferry (more on them much later) and the rest of the way into Newhaven there was nothing really to report. McDonalds provided dinner and after a short wait at the terminal I was allowed on the ferry. I’d not booked a cabin, just had a blow up pillow and the hope I’d find somewhere to sleep and maybe even a plug (success here). Ate my second dinner, a surprisingly reasonable chicken korma ready for the long day ahead in the morning.

A quick coffee and a moment to freshen up and it was time to get off the ferry. Ended up having a conversation with another cyclist as we waited to go through passport control – he asked me if I was going to Paris, which I was, and when I thought I’d get there, to which I replied ‘Mhmm, around lunchtime’, ‘Ah nice, which day?’, ‘T-today’, which returned an surprised yet impressed look. He was leading a team of 4 who were going to take 3-4 days to cover the route. We wished each other good luck and set off. Cycling through Dieppe in the dark, the Garmin took me through a supermarket car park and out the other side which did feel like it actually was a shortcut, even if a touch odd, and onto the D road that would take me to the outskirts of Paris. Even at this point Paris was given as a direction on the signs with the optimistic mileage (kilometreage?).

London to Paris Ferry Food

Woww…Ferry food

The plan was to ride to Gournay-en-Bray by which time things like shops might have begun to open and breakfast would be served. In the meantime I cycled around two hours in the dark, a little bit dopey, but had a friendly tailwind to help. The Avenue Verte is a cycle path created deliberately for London to Paris cyclists, but I thought I’d avoided it in my route planning (thinking it was like some of the British cycle paths) and certainly did for the first 20 miles in France, but did find myself on it which came in handy as it turns out. In one of the villages I went through on it, they had a newly built, nice public toilet facility, with a drinking water tap for topping up bottles. Absolutely perfect for me in all areas at that point. The risk to the Avenue Verte is the frequent points where it crosses roads, at half 6 in the morning I could take the risk that nothing was coming, later on in the day I can imagine it interrupting the rhythm quite a bit, other than that the surface was excellent.

Reaching Gournay, breakfast was served thanks to a Leclerc and then it was back on the road. Again the shortest, directest route issue came into play, where the main road went around a couple of villages, I went through them on odd tracks and it turned out not to be the easiest way. The road itself didn’t have many proper hills, it seemed to go straight on for ages and then have a gentle nagging drag up over a crest with no descent the other side. All of the work and none of the fun! I was beginning to flag, the effort and monotony of having been on a bike for so long was starting to grate but the spirits were rescued by the sight after climbing a hill at least 30 miles away from Paris. Way off in the distance was the hazy, but unmistakeable Eiffel Tower standing out apart on the landscape. After being within sight of Paris, I knew that I would definitely make it.

London to Paris Saddle Bag

Nearly a disaster, only spotted this after I’d arrived at the Arc

A long long straight windy road past an airport no-one English has heard before and it was time for the drop into Cergy-Pontoise, my unofficial ‘outskirts of Paris’ moment as from there it was all built up areas. A spot of lunch down by the river Oise was followed by a long grind up and away from the river, not particularly steep, just felt long and hard getting going again. The next 10 or so miles didn’t really have anything of note, other than although these were busy city routes, I didn’t feel in any danger as a confident cyclist getting through them. It looks bad on the map but it shouldn’t put anyone off.

Reaching the bridge at Courbevoie suddenly it looked much more like the Paris you expect, the buildings changed and became grander with leafy boulevards. The cobbles of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré were a good practice for the ones ahead on the Champs Élysées, especially factored into the route in order to tick off a cycling bucket list task of copying the last part of the Tour de France. The sheer traffic, coaches and constant traffic lights make it hard to get into a proper rhythm, but I’d like to think I was the quickest one up there that day – Strava tells me I was four minutes slower than the pros but I’d like to see them do it whilst paying attention to traffic lights.

London to Paris Champs Elysees

At the top of the most famous street in cycling

At the top of the Champs Élysées is the Arc de Triomphe, the goal of the endeavour, the finish line and the most famous roundabout ornament in the world. The 4 or 5 lanes around it are some of the most feared for drivers, let alone cyclists but timing is everything, when I got to the junction there was a brief window of clear air and I sprinted across to the middle after a slow lap around the Arc. A good while was spent quietly taking in what I’d done, before some quick circuits of the Arc (currently 16th quickest out of 790) and off to the hotel.

Remember the couple I mentioned earlier? I cycled past them on the way to the hotel as it happened. We’d all done London to Paris in a day, but I’d arrived around 45 minutes earlier having ridden solo.

London to Paris Arc de Triomphe

I made it!

I arrived at the Arc at 2:32pm so the completed time was 21 hours and 32 minutes including the ferry and time difference.

Best things I packed:

  • Blow up Pillow – amazing
  • Mini Toothbrush/Toothpaste – felt great starting off the day at least a bit refreshed
  • A battery pack – made sure all my lights were recharged on the ferry + my phone
  • A good mini track pump – the Lezyne Micro Floor Drive
  • A large saddle pack – an Ortlieb Classic in Large
  • Good bib shorts! Don’t go cheap here
  • Chamois cream – I don’t normally bother but for this sort of ride, do it
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London to Paris in Under 24 hours was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

The 2015 Dunwich Dynamo

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Right so in the traditional Christmas style, gather round children, I have a story or two to tell…
I’ve been very neglectful and haven’t been writing for awhile and eventually the guilt and haranguing from family members has meant that my last acts of 2015 will be to finally write up my Dunwich Dynamo and London to Paris experiences and enter 2016 with a clean conscience.

And so onwards…

Dunwich Dynamo Logo

A Potted Dunwich Dynamo History

The Dunwich Dynamo is an overnight, 120 mile, ride that leaves Hackney in London around 8pm and sees riders reach Dunwich on the Suffolk coast shortly after daybreak the next morning. It’s half organised, free to enter, and the non-competitive nature of it encourages all sorts of riders to give it a go, from club warriors to those that normally just cycle to the shops and back. The equipment on show is a bewildering mix.

Now me and the Dunwich Dynamo have a history. For some reason it has become the most ill-fated ride I continue to do. I first gave it a go in 2010 only for 5-6 punctures and a lack of route sheet to put pay to our ride, the night was ultimately spent trying to sleep in Braintree station waiting for the first train. The second attempt in 2011 was successful and the beach was reached, despite a puncture at the ‘Welcome to Dunwich’ sign and a wobbly descent on a flat tyre. 2012 was probably the worst attempt, I managed to get around 10-15 miles in before a weird, power out type feeling kicked in that ultimately resulted in a 12 day hospital stay to cure Guillain–Barré Syndrome. The years 2013 and 2014 were skipped because of Luke, firstly he booked a Scout trip on that weekend and secondly because he hit a cat and broke his elbow. There were no excuses left for 2015.

The Dunwich Dynamo Tandem Idea

For 2015, I managed to rope in my flat-mate George and the idea to do it on a tandem surfaced. Ebay was consulted and one was bought for under £100. I really wish I’d made a copy of the original picture because nothing I describe will do it justice – the short version is it looked like it had been kept in a barn for at least 30 years and had no discernable maker’s name or anything to distinguish it Edit – Found one!
It then promptly lived at George’s dad’s workshop for 4 months where it was cleaned up, shot blasted and given a new coat of paint. By the time we got hold of it, it was unrecognisable. Best estimates based on the stem and original Cyclo derailleur are that it’s from the 1920s or 1930s. We ended up deciding to build it as a single-speed because of the ease and the route being a more or less flat one, it wouldn’t cause too many issues.

Dunwich Dynamo Tandem Before

How it looked after being picked up from the ebay seller

Dunwich Dynamo Tandem

The Dunwich Dynamo

Getting it on the train and down to London was surprisingly easy, with our limited practice, the part I was most worried about was cycling across London but even that wasn’t a problem bar one incident. Coming to a T-Junction and wanting to keep the speed up, rather than stop and reset, I looked, saw it was clear and turned left. Somehow out of the options that were laid out in front of us of cycle lane or road, I chose the very narrow raised ’causeway’ between the two. The drop was too great to just stop and put feet down, but with an abrupt end clear ahead we had to hop off the raised part into the cycle lane, which surprisingly worked. Then the saddlebag fell off.

The afternoon was spent in a cycling café watching the Tour de France Prologue and sunbathing in the park next to the starting point. As the afternoon turned into evening, the amount of bikes and cyclists kept growing, with plenty interrupting a nearby pétanque game by cycling through it unintentionally. Eventually Luke and Will arrived and our contingent of two veterans and two newbies was together. We made it a full 50 yards as a foursome.

Dunwich Dynamo Start Point

8:05pm. The pre-ride meetup point at The Pub On The Park, London Fields, Hackney.

Will managed to start his own run of Dunwich Dynamo misfortune by completely destroying his chain less than a minute into the ride. It was completely unrepairable and an 8pm start time meant that all nearby shops were long shut. We gave our commiserations and left Will with an unfortunate long walk/scoot to Liverpool Street station to get home.

A couple of thousand bikes all leaving London at the same time always has the same effect, queues of traffic and frustrated drivers. These first 20 miles or so were very fun on the tandem, needing to keep some space due to our limited braking power, we often forged our own path and discovered that on the flat and any small bumps we were quicker than almost everyone else without much effort. At this stage we were pulling over regularly to wait for Luke who was caught up behind others and not willing to match our 20mph quite so early into a long ride. We found that riding a tandem with bright green wheels lended itself to quite a bit of conversation from others who seemed impressed that we were young people on a tandem and that it was a singlespeed…it’s hard to imagine not having gears until you don’t!

Tandem on the Train

On the way down to London

About an hour in, just shy of the M25, we stopped at a petrol station and stocked up on potentially the last chance for refreshments for awhile. I tried to put a bottle of coke into our frame triangle bag, only to split the bag and make all the gels fall out. With no other place to put the gels as the pockets were already full a fix was fashioned using a footstrap and we were able to continue. I can’t remember the exact point, but it can’t have been too soon after we had our first visit from the rear wheel gremlin. Each time we put in a bit of extra effort, the back wheel came out of its fixing and jammed everything up. We had to keep stopping, turning the bike over, re-place the wheel and tighten everything back up. This kept happening and got worse and worse. We ended up making Luke wait at least 30 minutes at one of the villages with a pub still open because we were faffing so much with these issues.

The next stretch was where it all came to a head. 10-15 miles where it felt like the wheel came off every two minutes anddd a puncture thrown in for good measure. The puncture was especially bad because my pump chose that moment to break, so we resorted to hailing riders as they went past for someone with a pump until one eventually stopped. With the tyre pumped up and ready to go, we eventually stopped a few miles afterwards because the rear wheel had popped out for the thousandth time. The despair of stopping every 10 minutes without respite had finally got to us and we were ready to throw in the towel.

Dunwich Dynamo Route

Dunwich Dynamo Route

Attempts to get hold of Luke took awhile and when we finally spoke, it turned out he was already in Sudbury, a full 18 miles or so ahead (an hour with a working bike) and so we agreed to go our separate ways – him to home and bed and us to the lovely city of Colchester. Having consulted the map for options, it was decided this was our best option, the nearest station was 25 miles away but the first train wasn’t until 8am, Colchester was 30 miles away but there was a promised train just before 6am. We had around 4 hours to get there so the pressure was off provided we could coax the rear wheel to stay on. As it happens the last thing I did whilst we were stopped proved to be the life saver. I’d managed to find some modern style wheel bolts packed away that were probably worth a go and were attached by spanner within an inch of their lives. Closer inspection showed the vintage ones we had been using were worn smooth on the inside and just couldn’t grip any more. The rear wheel didn’t come out again after this.

Spirits renewed because we were on the way home and we were no longer fighting the bike, we had music playing to keep us going (and awake) and walking up the steep hills on the way to Colchester was no problem – turns out gears would have been useful for this bit. Breakfast was served at a garage a mile from the station and desperately needed. We spent around 40 minutes in Colchester station car park waiting for the rail replacement bus service, which had no problems putting a tandem in the back. The final drama was the bus driver forgetting to call at Stratford on the way to Liverpool Street and being about 2 minutes from the latter when deciding to turn around to go back to Stratford. Some of the passengers were vocal in expressing their displeasure at this decision as they pointed out they may as well get off now. The furore woke me up and knowing roughly where we were (Aldgate East as it happens) decided it made sense for us to get off too. Nudged George awake, took the bike out of the hold and cycled across to Euston to go home.

Strava Data

Tandem Outside London Euston

Our Tandem Outside London Euston (second breakfast in bag)

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The 2015 Dunwich Dynamo was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Tour de France 2015 Recap

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Tour de France Logo

Another Tour is in the history books with Brit Chris Froome now a two time winner of the race. The hilly profile created lots of exciting racing and a tight finish with a race between Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome up Alpe d’Huez to decide the winner. The start back in Utrecht feels like a lifetime ago but after a little introspection the 2016 Tour is only 11 months and 1 week away!

2015 Tour de France Froome Quintana

Tour de France 2015 Prediction Recap

Yellow Jersey Tour de France icon
1 – Chris Froome (1st)
2 – Nairo Quintana (2nd)
3 – Alberto Contador (5th)
4 – Vicenzo Nibali (4th)
5 – Thibaut Pinot (16th)
6 – Romain Bardet (9th)
7 – Alejandro Valverde (3rd)
8 – Tejay van Garderen (DNF – Sick)
9 – Pierre Rolland (10th)
10- Simon Yates (89th)

7 of the top 10 predicted correctly!

Sprinter Jersey Tour de France icon Green
Green Jersey – Alexander Kristoff (10th) – Way off with this one, Kristoff was weirdly quiet through the Tour. Peter Sagan predictably dominated, riding in the break on many consecutive days to thwart Andre Greipel.

Polka Dot Jersey Tour de France icon King of the Mountains
King of the Mountains Jersey – Joaquim Rodriguez (5th) – Not a shocker, he was a contender and did have a go

Youth Jersey – Nairo Quintana (1st)

Outsiders:

Simon Yates – 89th – The overall position disguises the promise shown, Orica Greenedge had a horror first week and ended up severely depleted for the rest of the race. 8th on the Muur de Huy and 11th on Alpe d’Huez shows genuine talent at a young age.
Tony Gallopin – 31st – Spent most of the first two weeks in the top ten overall, had 5 top ten stage results without winning a stage.
Louis Meintjes – DNF – Got involved in a breakaway on Stage 12 and finished 5th but another who struggled with illness.
Sam Bennett – DNF – Had one top ten result but then became ill and really struggled before having to quit the race.
Eduardo Sepulveda – DSQ – Sepulveda was doing well until during a mechanical he hopped into the team car and was driven 100 metres up to the other car with a replacement bike. Riders can’t ride in cars at all and he got disqualified.

And finally some of the best Tour de France on-board camera footage:

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Tour de France 2015 Recap was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

A Confession: Breaking some of ‘the rules’

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Given the level of cycling education and interest that most roadies have, I’d imagine that we’re all very familar with Velominati’s ‘The Rules‘. For the unitiated, it’s a list of tongue in cheek rules for all serious cyclists to adhere to. Breaking some of them make you stand out like a sore thumb in a group but many others are harmless.

Merckx and De Vlaeminck at Paris Roubaix

In the interests of honesty and confession, there’s a few I just break without caring, effort and forethought.

The Rules

Rule #1 – Obey the Rules
We’re off to a good start…

Rule #14 – Shorts should be black
Style has repeatedly suggested that black is the best colour. The lesson learnt from the production of Beetle Vale Velo Club kit was that green is a terrible shorts colour – great for you, the view into your inner soul from behind less good.

Rule #16 – Respect the jersey
Whilst I will never been seen in a Tour de France jersey or the rainbow stripes, occasionally people have had to double check that I am not, or ever have been, the German national champion.

Rule #17 – Team kit is for members of the team
Again, I may have the jerseys from when I represented Garmin in 2010 or Cofidis in 2003, alternatively the internet might have been involved.

2003 Cofidis Jersey Maillot Trikot

Rule #24 – Speeds and distances shall be referred to and measured in kilometres
Whilst I can convert between the two happily by dividing and multiplying with 5s and 8s, the British side of me always wins over and miles will always win. Audaxes however are the one and only time the Garmin will actually be set to kilometres due to the sheer barrage of metric data.

Rule #26 – Make your bike photogenic
Many people have seen my carbon repair…it’s not pretty, it looks like a sludge of carbon fibre set upon the junction of the chainstay and seatstay.

Rule #29 – No European Posterior Man-Satchels
I use a huge massive red bag that projects itself out a fair bit, primarily for Audaxes where you want one of everything, just in case.

Rule #31 – Spare tubes, multi-tools and repair kits should be stored in jersey pockets
One action, two rules broken.

Rule #33 – Shave the guns
I’ve seen the video, I know it does actually help but I’m also aware it will eat into my non-bike time in such a way that I can’t make the effort. Plus I’m not married and I have been reliably informed by Tinder’s finest that hairy is best.

Rule #37 – The arms of the eyewear shall always be placed over the helmet straps
Always always inside, cannot understand the justification, cannot comply.

Rule #49 – Keep the rubber side down
All punctures or mechanical bashing is so much easier by turning the bike upside down, whilst remembering to take the Garmin off first. You only do that once, regret the scratches and then remember forever (just like learning to ride clipless).

Rule #56 – Espresso or macchiato only
Cafe Nero knows full well I’ll have a latte post-ride, steamed frothy milk is the reward for getting flogged on Tardebigge each week.

Cafe Nero Latte

Frothy milk goodness

Rule #60 – Ditch the washer-nut and valve-stem cap.
Without the nut the valve rattles around the rim weirdly. Caps I can do without. Fun fact, I’ve recently had a doctor and a Masters student tell me that the cap’s job is to keep air in the tyre.

Rule #62 – You shall not ride with earphones
Yeahh I do this but the absence of Beiber and Carly-Rae Jepsen makes it alright. The carefully selected brand of non obvious indie bands lends itself to credibility.

That’s it.

If anyone actually does actually adhere to the all the rules, they’re certainly not enjoying themselves on the bike and take themselves too seriously.

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A Confession: Breaking some of ‘the rules’ was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

The Dutch Yellow Jersey Drought

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Tour de France Logo

The Netherlands has a rich cycling history with various Grand Tour winners and at home, a cycling infrastructure that is the envy of the rest of the developed world. Yet somehow, a surprising statistic is that the Dutch find themselves not having worn the yellow jersey since the 1989 Prologue stage.

The support on the 7th hairpin, now known as Dutch Corner, on the Alpe d’Huez shows the love that Dutch fans have for the Tour de France. The passion and craziness amongst the sea of orange as the riders climb the iconic climb is testament to this. With the Alpe providing the last meaningful action in this year’s Tour, we can be sure the whole mountain will be a tunnel of fans supporting their favourites.

Alpe d'Huez Dutch Corner Orange Tour de France

On the Prologue stage held around Luxembourg in 1989, Erik Breukink beat the challenge of GC contenders Laurent Fignon, Sean Kelly, Greg LeMond, Steve Bauer and Miguel Indurain by between 6 and 10 seconds. Winner of the White Jersey for best youth the previous year, he ultimately withdrew from the race and didn’t reach Paris, but finished on the podium in 1990.

1989 Erik Breukink Prologue Tour de France

Erik Breukink on his way to winning the 1989 Prologue.

The beginnings of the drought

With 11 different Dutch Yellow Jersey wearers in the 80s alone, there was nothing to suspect that a 26 and ongoing year wait was in store for the next one. No Dutch rider has finished on the podium in Paris since Breukink’s 1990 result with the closest being Robert Gesink’s 4th place in 2010. For most of the 1990s and early 200s, Michael Boogerd became the great Dutch hope, a 5th place in 1998 a sign that hopefully he would kick on and potentially end the drought.

Michael Boogerd Tour de France

Michael Boogerd

Boogerd only ended up with one other top 10 however, a result of 10th in contrasting with a low point of being the highest placed Dutch rider in 74th in 2004 (the worst ever result for Dutch riders). For most of that time there were still stage wins to fall back on, but even these dried up. After a run of 40 years out of 44 with a stage win, Dutch riders didn’t win a stage between Pieter Weening’s victory Stage 8, 2005 and Lars Boom winning on the cobbles of Stage 5 in 2014.

Not all Dutch Doom and Gloom

The Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin had a great chance to break the run in this year’s first stage and was the favourite but ended up finishing 4th in Utrecht with Jos van Emden in 5th. With an in-form Dumoulin, future prologue style Stage 1s could see the Dutch run finish.
This far into the race, it’s no surprise to see the pair of Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema as the highest rank Dutch riders, but being close to 3 minutes back already it will be a tough ask to haul themselves into Yellow at any stage and so the run should continue into 2016.

2015 Tom Dumoulin Utrecht Stage 1 Tour de France

Tom Dumoulin, Stage 1, 2015

THe upside to 2014 was a double top-ten result with Laurens Ten Dam in 9th and Bauke Mollema in 10th. If these riders and Robert Gesink perform to their potential and attack similar stages to the Mur de Bretagne early on then they do stand a chance of reaching Yellow.
praying for wind.”

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The Dutch Yellow Jersey Drought was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Tour de France Cobbles – An Amateur Experience

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With today’s Tour de France Stage 4 going over some of the cobbles in Northern France – it’s time to regurgitate my interesting experience of Paris Roubaix in 2013.

2015 Tour de France Stage 4 Profile

As you can see, one climb, and apart from the cobbles, a fairly easy stage.

2015 Tour de France Stage 4 Route Map

The start of the 2013 Paris Roubaix Challenge was a little underwhelming with small groups setting off whenever they wanted and no health and safety briefing that we Brits are used to at every sportive, a more French ‘if you’re doing it, get on with it, I don’t care’ attitude sufficed.

I was in a group with 4 other guys and we ended up tacked onto the back of a group doing an easy 18-20mph on the flat before we hit the first section of cobblestones after nearly 10 miles. I caught up and passed two randoms, dodged lots of bottles which at the first sign of bumps had escaped their cages. It was immediately obvious from this section that the Paris Roubaix cobbles were worse than the tamer ones in Norwich city centre.

The section crossed a main road halfway through and not wanting to get taken out by a car I tried to use my brakes – it turned out that the vibrations had completely wrecked the gripping muscle in my forearm, luckily as it turned out I didn’t need the brakes as Gendarmes were stopping the traffic anyway. I ended up finishing the 1.3 mile section 30 seconds quicker than the others. We all ran Strava which provides GPS tracking and then has various short segments where people race against each other for the best time.

We went quite quickly over the next few sections, which all just appeared from nowhere round a corner and were always a shock. A lot of the following sections merge into one after this point, which probably shows that I was beginning to tire and was zoning off inside myself and not thinking much. I do however, remember the Arenberg.

The Arenberg is the picture that most people have of the Paris – Roubaix race, it’s a 1.5 mile section, dead straight, through the forest and is rated 5-star difficulty (all the sections are rated by the organisers and only two are 5-star). We stopped and took a couple of pictures at the start which was probably unwise as we should have used the preceding downhill to build up speed to really attack it. I certainly found it hard to get up to speed whilst trying to clip in and avoid Sean Kelly doing a piece to a camera bike. I found the whole thing a struggle and could only really trundle along, it certainly got harder when I decided to do the ‘Geraint Thomas Paris Roubaix’ move of crashing there by bouncing off the cobbles to the right and getting my pedal caught in the metal railings set up for the race the next day.

I ended up going over the handlebars and was sat on the ground facing the way I’d come with my legs somehow unclipped and the bike on top of them. I did a quick sit rep and didn’t appear to be hurt, the phone in my back pocket was somehow unsmashed, so I got back up and rode to the finish.

Arenberg

Arenberg, Paris Roubaix

Lots of people were regrouping after this important Paris-Roubaix secteur and about 10 seconds after setting off the side of my front wheel was smacked into by someone turning their bike around despite my shouts at him, luckily I didn’t come off here. On the very next secteur of pave however, I managed to find a way to crash. Roubaix was starting to feel a long way away.

PR2b

I was following a randomer closely behind having shot to the front of our group at the start of the cobbles and he very kindly decided to heavily brake to a stop with no prior warning leaving me with nowhere to go but down. I uttered an expletive or two, got myself back upright and rode off shaking my head.

Aware that I had been at the front of the group and not noticing any of them going past during my altercation, I waited for around 10 minutes at the end of the next secteur which led straight into the Pont Gibus Paris-Roubaix secteur, after which I again waited for about 10 minutes. Eventually getting bored and wondering if someone had had a mechanical, I cycled on. As it was, when I got there I found everyone waiting for me wondering where I’d been. Typical.

We pushed on going over a number of other secteurs, all starting to create an agonising pain in my right hand that felt like I’d broken it. Secteur 13 is where my Paris-Roubaix experience differs to most.

I punctured fairly close to the start of the 1.4km segment, whilst overtaking a particularly slow rider I had to move off the relatively smooth area at the side to the wrecked wheel tracks area and the back wheel made such a metallic clang bouncing around that I was fairly certain the tyre was wrecked. Sure enough, in a matter of seconds it was dead flat. Not having any spare inner tubes (though I did have levers and a pump…go figure) I started walking hoping a fellow cyclist doing the Paris Roubaix challenge would bail me out. Luckily one did after a few hundred metres, so I set about repairing the puncture by replacing tubes, no problems there. The tyre however just would not inflate at all. Back to walking. I made it off the end of the cobbles and found myself in a quiet town of Orchies. No obvious shops on route here, so I stopped and hoped for the best.

A British cyclist stopped and put a CO2 cartridge into the tube as I’d figured it was my pump that was rubbish as I never use it and then went on his way. Annoyingly about 20 seconds the tyre was flat again…I’d been given a spare tube with a hole in it to begin with, great. At this point I was thinking I was basically just going to be sat on the streets of Orchies waiting for the broomwagon to sweep me up and take me into Roubaix, but that’d be at least a couple of hours away before that arrived. I’d turned the bike upside down and taken the back wheel off to make it obvious in case one of the neutral Mavic service bikes appeared…which predictably none did.

What did bail me out however was an older French gentleman who came up to me and enquired what the issue was and said he had some spares at his house, just put the bike in the car and we’ll drive 250m there. Now being British, my upbringing has conditioned me to be highly sceptical at offers of assistance from strangers but this guy was a true gent. He gave me a new tube, then appeared with a track pump and made sure everything was fine before I set off again. I thanked him profusely, making sure I’d shown my gratitude at the help I’d frankly not been expecting and as an offer of thanks gave him the inner tube I’d been given as it only had a small hole and could be repaired and used by someone who actually had a puncture repair kit.

Looking at the map towards Roubaix, I was aware that I’d lost about an hour with this mishap and it seemed easy enough to cut off what looked about an hour’s riding, catch up somewhere near where the group would be and still do the 5* rated Carrefour de l’Arbre and more importantly, get to the Roubaix Velodrome before it shut at 6pm. I figured I had just under 4 hours to ride about 40miles, in theory very doable, provided nothing else went wrong.

I headed North instead of West, up a ridiculously straight busy main road, into a headwind. The sides of the road were full of grit, something I tried desperately to avoid having had one puncture and now heading off route, away from even the broomwagon. In theory I had to make a left turn according to the rudimentary map detailing the Paris Roubaix event route, in practice the turn I saw said it was heading to a village in the middle of the section of the route I was trying to cut off and was no good. Suspicions I’d missed the turn were raised when I began to see long disused and empty pillboxes from the Maginot Line and then a sign saying I’d entered the Wallonie Region (yet oddly no mention of Belgium). Nothing really changed from one side of the border to the other, same style buildings, same language, but here I was, in Belgium.

Now traditionally, Paris – Roubaix has never entered Belgium, in fact the only mention I can find relating to Belgium is to do with when 3 riders got disqualified after riding through a flashing train crossing because apparently in Belgium they stop the trains going through cycle races. This was completely new ground. I turned off the main road, going more North West and basically ended up on the tarmac lanes going between farms. All in all, I spent about 30-40 minutes in Belgium quite enjoying myself, especially when I realised how much honeycake and honey waffles I had in my jersey pockets from the last feed stop. A much needed sugar rush.

I shortly came to a junction where a lot of cyclists suddenly zoomed past, chasing onto the wheel of one, I noticed he had one of the Paris-Roubaix numbers on his handlebars, I was back on route! Unfortunately less than a mile later I was back on the pave. I’d missed out Secteurs 12-6 but now everyone I passed or was passed by could be someone I recognised from my group. Secteur 5 was a good introduction back to the brutalness of the pave, that pain in my hand hadn’t got any better, Secteur 4 was the 5* Carrefour de l’Arbre, which felt hard work but I didn’t realise it was that one until near the end. It was good to know I’d done the last really hard section and celebrated with my final piece of honeycake.

PR2b2 Getting into Roubaix, there was one final annoying drag of hill and then I hit the back of a massive traffic queue that went all the way up the final stretch of straight boulevard to the entrance of the Velodrome. Taking my lead from a presumably French cyclist, we did some traffic weaving, waiting at red lights and very slowly making progress.

2015 Quievy Cobbles Tour de France

Eventually we reached the right turn into the Roubaix Velodrome park and then the glorious moment where it all opens up and you’re on the velodrome proper. This is closely followed by a feeling of panic as your eyes tell your brain that based on what they’re seeing you’re in a deal of trouble. The angle of a velodrome is way way steeper than it looks on a television.

Immediately at the finish I had a medal hung around my neck, as I had reached Roubaix under my own steam after doing 150km, even if it was unconventional! I was pointed in the direction of the coach expecting to see the guys already there…as it was I’d managed to get 15 minutes ahead of them and Chris’ face in particular when he saw me sat there already was priceless. I told them some cock and bull about how I must’ve overtaken them without them realising before giving them some snippets of what had happened. I don’t think I mentioned the French guy at all amongst all the other happenings.

With any luck, with the Tour de France covering some of the same ground, they crash less than I did or at least end up as equally as unhurt. After yesterday’s crashfest on Stage 3 of the Tour de France, there will be a nervous peloton for sure.

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Tour de France Cobbles – An Amateur Experience was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling