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

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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

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

North Wales Cycling – 3 Rides in Easter Week

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Snowdonia National Park Sign

I spent a few days up in North Wales recently, cycling over the Easter holiday. The plan was to do a few rides and use the trip as a sort of training camp to prepare for the upcoming events that I have planned. With the Norwich 100 at the end of May and the Dunwich Dynamo in July not too far after that either, it was definitely time to kick start the season.

North Wales Day 1

North Wales Llanberis - Caernarfon - Bangor Cycle Route
Day 1 Route

The first day was overcast but the main issue was the ridiculous wind conditions – whenever there was a headwind we were ground to a halt. One of our party decided to abandon a couple of miles in after being blown around by the sidewinds and the hill peaking at 20% shortly afterwards nearly killed off another. The tailwind down the valley past Llyn Cwellyn was a great start to the ride but the turn and climb up the Nantlle ridge was horrendous. Upon reaching the top, it was decided to not descend into the wind and we turned around to head back where we’d come.

Luke bailed out upon reaching Waunfawr again, but as it was dry and the sun was sort of out, Adam and I pushed on for some extra miles. Still battling the headwind, we reached Caernarfon and whilst in the square debating a tea stop, felt some drops and dashed inside as the rain came down. Half an hour later it was all good to go again.

Caernarfon Castle
Caernarfon Castle

We followed the coastal bike path from Caernarfon to Bangor which was surprisingly good, did a quick loop around town before heading back to the bunkhouse. Chopping off a corner resulted in a solid hill climb but also meant some new lanes explored and we made it back in the dry.

Route

North Wales – Day 2

Pen y Pass Loop Cycle Route
Day 2 Route

The second day in North Wales saw just two riders set off on what is a favourite loop around past Tryfan and Snowdon – this was the first time we’d reversed it though. Early riding was nice and smooth with the tailwind working for us. There was an interesting diversion into a small industrial estate only to find the planned bike path was loose stone and flints – we avoided this.

We began the climb up the Ogwen valley on the main road which wasn’t particularly fun before turning off onto a single track road on the other side of the valley. This was a fun rolling road with a few nasty leg killers near the end. The Garmin told me the first steep part topped out at 17% and the second really steep part went up to 25%…proper leg grinders but thankfully quite short. Neither of us stopped on the climbs but did get off shortly after the last one for a breather. Going over a second cattle grid we suddenly appeared outside Ogwen Cottage and the climbing was over.

Down the Ogwen Valley
Down the Ogwen Valley

We whizzed down the Ogwen valley towards Capel Curig, the gentle downhill combined with the tailwind meant 6 miles of barely pedalling and hitting 25+mph with minimal effort. The turn in Capel Curig brought us into the headwind for the first time though and the open valley up to the roman camp junction was a hellish slog. When we got the junction I attempted to have a serious go at the Strava segment knowing that our planned tea stop was at the Pen-y-Pass hut at the top. Lots of pros have posted their own times as the Tour of Britain came along the same route in 2013. Unsurprisingly I was 2 minutes slower but still ended up in the top 12% of all riders.

It was not a fun descent into the wind but no dramas and home through Llanberis.

Route

North Wales – Day 3

Etape Eryri - Etape Bach Cycle Route
Day 3 Route

Day 3 in North Wales was a solo ride as everyone else went rock climbing. The route planned was the shortest version of the Etape Eryri, a sportive event that happens later in the year. The wind had died down and it was almost a nice day for the first time!

The route took me back into Caernarfon and along a flat coast road that I’ll definitely use again – it was next to the sea and great for a mini time trial.

The next section of interest was the climb up the descent we chose not to do on day 1 – the legs were hurting from three days of riding so it wasn’t done quickly and the steepness didn’t suit me at all. The lack of traffic though meant it was a nice, chilled, quiet climb up the Nantlle ridge.

Nant Gwynant

Pros at Pen y Pass
Pros at Pen y Pass

Descending into Beddgelert, I nearly took out a waitress who was carrying a tray of coffee from a cafe to the garden across the road…wouldn’t have been a fun crash! From Beddgelert it was a solid steady climb all the way up to Pen-y-Pass. It’s a climb I’ve only been down so had an idea of what it was like but I was surprised at how relentless it was, turns out it is a genuine Cat 3 climb. It was very similar but shorter version of the Puy Mary climb I did in France last year.
The legs were still not at their best so it was a case of putting it in a decent gear and just using a steady cadence to climb up.

With no wind the descent down Pen-y-Pass was much more fun this day, safely hitting speeds over 40mph and sprinting through Llanberis. A fun way to end the three days of riding.

Route

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North Wales Cycling – 3 Rides in Easter Week was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Sam Weller’s Day Trip to Wochma – 203km Audax

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Last Saturday I set off at 5am to do another 200km Audax, this time from Tewkesbury, heading westwards before going down to Chepstow, over the Severn to Malmesbury and back up to Tewkesbury.

I unfortunately jacked it in after 30 miles and got on the train at Hereford after an encounter with ice.

Generally alright and no major damage I tried pressing on but wasn’t enjoying it. I’d come down a hill and right at the bottom there was a patch of obvious sheet ice. I hit the brakes but still was going at 18mph and the front wheel just slid out from under me. I performed the Superman over the bars and hit the deck.

Not sure how, but cut this

Not sure how, but cut this

My sad face on the train home, cut chin and bruised above the eye from the impact of ground and helmet.

My sad face on the train home, cut chin and bruised above the eye from the impact of ground and helmet.

Helmet damage

Never had a stone get itself stuck there…it’s still there a week later

Road rash on the leg

Road rash on the leg

Left elbow damage

Left elbow damage

Right elbow damage

Right elbow damage

Holes in the winter jersey

Holes in the winter jersey

Bike Stuff on Train

It all started off so well

Sam Weller’s Day Trip to Wochma – 203km 2015 Audax

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Last Saturday I set off at 5am to do another 200km Audax, this time from Tewkesbury, heading westwards before going down to Chepstow, over the Severn to Malmesbury and back up to Tewkesbury and the first 2015 Audax over!

I unfortunately jacked the it in after 30 miles and got on the train at Hereford after an encounter with ice. Not the best start to 2015 audax-wise!

Generally alright and no major damage I tried pressing on but wasn’t enjoying it. I’d come down a hill and right at the bottom there was a patch of obvious sheet ice. I hit the brakes but still was going at 18mph and the front wheel just slid out from under me. I performed the Superman over the bars and hit the deck.

Looking forward to another attempt later in the 2015 Audax season!

Not sure how, but cut this

Not sure how, but cut this

My sad face on the train home, cut chin and bruised above the eye from the impact of ground and helmet.

My sad face on the train home, cut chin and bruised above the eye from the impact of ground and helmet.

Helmet damage

Never had a stone get itself stuck there…it’s still there a week later

2015 Audax – Sam Weller’s Day Trip to Wochma

Road rash on the leg

Road rash on the leg

Left elbow damage

Left elbow damage

Right elbow damage

Right elbow damage

Holes in the winter jersey

Holes in the winter jersey

Bike Stuff on Train

It all started off so well

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Sam Weller’s Day Trip to Wochma – 203km 2015 Audax was originally published on Me vs. Pro Cycling

Cycling in France – Summer 2014

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It’s been brought to my attention that I’ve neglected to write-up my experience of cycling in France this Summer. Something I shall attempt to rectify now…

I stayed with my grandparents in a gîte on top of a hill overlooking the town of Figeac in the central part of Southern France. Figeac is a fair way from most of the usual British tourist trail and is a good place to see the real day-to-day France without all the usual tourist traps.

Capdenac-le-Haut

Capdenac-le-Haut

The first day after – my bike, I went straight out and did a 40 mile ride heading out of Figeac and coming back up through the Lot valley. Turns out this part of France is hillier than I though looking on the map, but the valleys are flat and allow you to pick up a lot of speed whilst looking at the cliffs above.

Getting a feel for the area, the next day I went for a longer ride over 100km heading southwards. Out of Capdenac was a climb that the Tour de France had been up, with a couple of mountain points given at the summit. It wound its way upwards with a couple of hairpins, but the steady gradient meant it was easy to stick to a rhythm.

Lot Valley from Capdenac

Lot Valley from Capdenac

I learnt the perils of choosing a route from Google maps and no local knowledge as I ended up committed to going down a bumpy, rocky, – quarry road for a couple of miles (no punctures!) until turning off it. It was here I was caught and overtaken by someone who turned out to be the local Strava king, I tried to stay with him on the next climb but he was definitely a level or two of class above me.

Cajarc

Cajarc

Arriving into the towns of Limogne and Cajarc at lunchtime, my expected water top-up stops were closed and the rest of the ride became a pure survival and crazed search for a source of water. Riding back up the same valley as the day before, the river was right alongside but the banks were far too steep to fill up the bottle and it was about 15 miles later before I found a steady trickle of water pouring out of a rock face. The water was subjected to two rigorous tests for potability, did it look right and did it smell right?
Letting the bottle fill, the water was perfect, absolutely crystal clear and chilled from its time underground. A miracle find that got me home!

Lot Valley

Lot Valley

The main route I’d been eyeing up was the chance to do a proper mountain in France. Figeac is just off the bottom corner of the Massif Central but a train journey to Aurillac got me within striking distance of Le Puy Mary, a well-known dormant volcano and the highest road pass in the Massif Central region.

The pass has featured in the Tour de France 9 times, with French favourite Thomas Voeckler being first over the top the last time it visited in 2011. It seems to be a favourite of King of the Mountain jersey winners as those cresting the top first have won 20 winners jerseys over the years, dished out between Voeckler, Virenque, Van Impe and Bahamontes (who ruins the alliteration).

The climb takes you slowly and gently up the valley for around 6 miles before finally taking a left into the trees to begin the climb. There aren’t too many views from this side as generally you’re climbing up and out of the dead-end of the valley, if you’re brave enough to look behind you then you can see where you’ve come from.

View from Puy Mary summit

View from Puy Mary summit

I saw no-one going the same way as me up the climb but plenty going down (there was a reason for this which became clear…) and those going down were heading downwards at a fair rate. Some of the parts among the trees were steep but the climb itself was manageable once into a rhythm and with no-one else around it was easy to set a comfortable pace without feeling like racing.

Once up and out of the trees, you were now heading back on yourself, just higher up. The view was there to see but the summit itself was still elusive, tucked just over the ridge. There were now plenty of parked cars by the side of the road, the summit must be close. One final hairpin and it was a steady 1-2% gradient to the café at the summit of the pass – I sprinted it to get it over with.

Pas de Peyrol

Pas de Peyrol

Photos were taken and lots of looking carefully over the edge of the roadside, then the black clouds were spotted. Making a snap decision to try to descend as much as possible before the rain came in, I made it to the lower slopes without the hairpins before the thunderstorm hit.

Pas de Peyrol Sign

Pas de Peyrol Sign

When it came, it came hard! The rain stung on my arms, other cyclists were huddled for cover in bus stops, I was soaked through in barely any time and ended up time trialling back to Aurillac at 23mph. I’d missed my train back and had 4 hours to kill before the next one – I took the decision to cycle back up the train line punching in the names of train stops I could remember from the journey up into the Garmin. I ended up visiting the sleepy villages of Ytrac, Pers and Le Rouget before catching the train back to Aurillac to get the one back to Figeac. 70 miles all in all!

I enjoyed cycling round this region and definitely underestimated the size of the valley sides, they’re a lot harder than they looked on paper beforehand! I’ve ticked off cycling up a French mountain (taller than Ben Nevis too!) as well as cycling in a country with far less traffic than the UK.

Fun times

Fun times