‘Cross diary 34: @RaphaSuperCross. Take your mum

November 18, 2013 at 11:20 am | Posted in cycling | 8 Comments
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Entirely coincidentally (cough), we were visiting my Mum in North London when Rapha Super Cross came to Alexandra Palace. Having comprehensively failed to show her what ‘cross racing was like by weeping and DNSing at the last opportunity, I was keen to make amends.

The sun shone; the wind blew; the boys squabbled. Business as usual, then. Ally Pally was looking glorious in fashion-forward Autumn-Winter 2013-14 style. I got the boys signed on, then went for a ride round the course, immediately sliding over in the Spiral of Doooom™ (plus ça change, then). Good course: lots of charging around on the grass, bit of singletrack, out and up into the woods again, and repeat on the other side.

crossmess

Brilliant .gif of the Spiral of Doooom, by Josephine Hartfiel (@Josi_Hartfiel). Click it if it won’t work.

Primo (8) had one of his legendary meltdowns halfway round his second lap: I’M NOT DOING IT. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME. I HATE CYCLOCROSS. Me: OK then! I carefully ignored him for a couple of minutes; he climbed back on sheepishly and rode off again. He finished the race grinning about his prizes (Hope bottle and quick-release keyring). I tried foolishly to turn this into a Learning Moment. Me: See, it was much better to finish, wasn’t it? Him (immediately grumpy again): NO. Meanwhile Segundo (5) was busy being my CX role model, soldiering on happily despite being unable to ride half the course.

Rapha Super Cross 2013 - Ally Pally-47

Marvellous Sights of That London

We milled around a bit, chatting to @Tiny_Pigeon and @TomStaniford, and looking in wonder at cyclists with BEARDS (rare sight in W Yorks). @iancleverly came over to say hello. @nik_tweet announced her arrival by smacking me hard on the arse as she rode past. I threw all my kit at @spandelles and went to line up. The women were in with the vets AND the juniors this time; they set us off in three groups, with the women going last. A commissaire called out names and women took their places, including the girl I’d just been chatting to; realising I knew her from twitter, I shouted ‘Ooh hallo @fentinator!’ There was no time to ponder how daft this sounded as my name was next. Yes, dear reader, for the first and very possibly the last time in my cyclocross career, I got GRIDDED. I actually got GRIDDED. I looked over to see @spandelles laughing his socks off. It didn’t matter.

I got an uncharacteristically good start and held my place in the middle of the group for ooh, half a lap, which felt very exciting (normally I’m shelled in the first few metres). While I was the only person who foot-dabbed in the middle of the Spiral of Dooooom, I didn’t fall off (as at least one other person did). Got a bit of a shock coming round one corner to find BARRIERS had suddenly appeared, but, unfazed, I managed to get off and back on again without drawing too much attention to myself. I charged into the woods excitedly and slithered around on one corner; the girl behind me said ‘Well recovered!’*

Rapha Ally Pally 2013

Get me, looking all PRO and not falling off or owt

Quite a few people burnt me up on the long hill, but cowbells were ringing and spectators were shouting REMEMBER, YOU LOVE THIS! IT’S WHY YOU DO IT! and COME ON THE WOMEN! and so I had to, really, didn’t I. I got overtaken loads (including by @fentinator, who said ‘Hallo!’ cheerily as she lapped me) but I managed to reel one woman back in over about a lap and a half and finally finished ahead of her. Result!

The rest of the day passed in a happy blur of eating crêpes, riding around with the boys and shouting encouragement at the elites. My mum had a great time; I found her watching the seniors, literally jumping up and down going ‘This is really exciting! Is this on the telly, ever?’ We erred on the side of caution and skipped the fun race to go home; @spandelles cunningly avoided all post-race pit crew duties by going and getting on a train. My mum cooked the boys’ tea, and I washed all three bikes then fell asleep in front of Countryfile. A pretty good day, in anyone’s books.

* get me, with the SKILLZ

‘Cross diary 33: BRIDE of @RaphaSuperCross

October 23, 2013 at 7:29 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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We like Rapha Super Cross. There’s something for everyone: face painting, frites, DJ, mud, terror. Remember the draggy, sloggy, uphill gunkfest from last year? There were a few scores to settle with Broughton Hall. I put my determined face on, and we loaded up the car.

The forecast had been grim all week, but the rain mostly held off. Uncharacteristically, we only took one wrong turn before we found the venue. The boys leapt about excitedly singing the theme from Wallace and Gromit while we unpacked the car. I went off to ride the course (as usual, I had my backpack on; some wag asked me if I was planning a picnic) while @spandelles got the boys ready for their race.

kids on the start line (pic by @spandelles)

They did well; Segundo (5) gave it some serious welly (‘I overtook someone!’) and Primo (8) rode up the banks like they weren’t there. They demolished enormous portions of frites while I tried to read Dutch and chatted to @melaniebbikes and @davewhite99 and queued for the loo and cooled down and generally did all the wrong things.

My turn. The vets went off first, then the women a couple of minutes later. @nik_tweet took a picture of me, grinning unconcernedly.

Me on the start line (pic by @nik_tweet)

I chatted to @alisonkinloch, who was back racing for the first time since breaking her wrist (she eventually came third. THIRD. With a still-painful wrist. I could weep). I got a really bad start, choosing entirely the wrong gear and cleverly positioning myself on the outside of the first turn, and I gradually dropped back over the first lap. It basically just got worse from then on. The course was a lot more fun than last year: tarmac, and steep banks, and twisty bits, and woody bits, and barriers, and thick mud, and bridges. The Rapha chap gave me a highfive as I grumbled past. @antmccrossan called out my name over the tannoy. @bex_love and her kids rang cowbells and shouted for me. But all that couldn’t make up for the despondency of toiling round on my own, watching everyone get further and further away.

Rapha SuperCX 2013 Skipton 21

I *am* suffering. Honest. That’s a grimace of pain. (Picture (c) Jo Allen, used with kind permission)

Soon, of course, I wasn’t on my own any more. The vets were coming. I’m a bit better at being lapped now (‘On your left!’ ‘OK!’), though @crossjunkie did give me a fright (he’s so STEALTH).It was getting hairy in the Spiral of Doom, with tight corners and deepening mud. The spectators were baying for blood, and they soon got it: I lost traction, slid over sideways and just heard ‘NO! YA F*CKER!’ as I landed on the ground with a bloke and his bike on top of me. Oh dear. He disentangled himself and sped off; I picked my bike up and was about to remount when someone yelled ‘SADDLE!’ Narrow escape…

broken_saddle (pic by @spandelles)

Winner of the Most Original Excuse For A DNF competition

So, that was it. I lifted the tape and tried not to cry in front of everyone. Chris Young offered to remove my saddle so I could complete the remaining ¾ of a lap without it. I declined (though I’ve regretted this since; I knew I couldn’t ride the whole thing standing up, but if it had occurred to me to run, I might have had a go). Chris tried to hide his disappointment at my lack of grit. Yorkshire hard men, eh.

Still. Broken saddles turn out to be up there with cute dogs in their knack of getting people to talk to you. I made a load of new friends wheeling my bike about. The chap who crashed into me came over and gruffly offered me a replacement (‘I’ve got loads of saddles.’). We introduced ourselves and made up.

We watched the elites racing, full of awe. Then I demonstrated my true cyclocross skill, which is as a spectator, screaming myself silly at the fun race. DON’T LET HIM GET PAST! CHANGE UP CHANGE UP! GIMME SOME RACEFACE! The sun came out as Wolf Man, Tinkerbell, the MTB tandemists and a motley crew of other hopefuls braced themselves for the wall of foam. It was a fitting end to a great day. And we’ve got Ally Pally next week to look forward to. I WILL FINISH. I will.

broughton hall with 5yo

‘Cross diary 32: I both START and FINISH a race

October 9, 2013 at 8:27 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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Yup. I actually made it to the start line. No mechanicals, no illnesses, and no attacks of CBA. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Are you sitting comfortably?

In the traditional Yorkshire Points stylee, we drove around (stunning) Temple Newsam park for about fifteen minutes looking for the right car park. Someone followed us, in the vain hope we knew where we were going. It’s all part of the charm. The boys and I went to sign on; my name was under Vets 40-50, rather than Women (apparently my Here Come The Belgians membership has granted me Honorary Bloke status. Result!).

Primo warming up. I won’t mention the ENORMOUS meltdown he had just after this

The kids’ field was so enormous that the under-8s, under-10s and under-12s all had separate races. Segundo (now 5 years old and racing for the second time ever) gave it some impressive welly, chewing the bars: ‘I overtook three people, but then I fell off in the woods and they all went past me again!’* Primo (8) rode most of the climbs (a New Thing for him), though his newly-perfected remount dissolved under pressure*. While @spandelles tried unsuccessfully to feed them sandwiches, I dodged off to do a recce lap. We didn’t race at Temple Newsam last year, but it’s a belter of a course; lots of singletrack, which was fun but not too horribly technical, plenty of tearing across the grass and up and down little banks, and even a horrible up-a-steep-bank-over-planks section. You BEASTS.

Time to line up. I got chatting to a tester called Jess (‘What kind of pedals have you got?’ ‘No idea.’). I promised Nikola Butler I’d try not to bring her down on the first corner. The field was massive; @amyling and I were worried about being overtaken on the singletrack, but the staggered start (40+ veterans set off first, then 50+ and women) and the initial lap round the field seemed to string everyone out enough that it was never really a problem.

temple newsam in the treesAnyway. You should have seen me. I zoomed over the singletrack! I cornered like a pro! I rode up all the steep little banks! (apart from one, where I fell off into a bunch of nettles, nearly taking @Chipps down with me). I lost loads of places every time we went over the planks, ‘cos I can’t dismount on the right hand side of the bike, but hey.

IMG_1401

Friends. Aw! Nikola has promised not to tell anyone she is lapping me, here

My remounts were ALL functional, even the ones where I only had a couple of seconds to get back on! I overtook a few people! I stayed out of the way of nearly everyone who lapped me! (apart from a chap who wanted me to ride over loads of tree roots while he took the smooth line; we bumped each other amiably and both stayed upright). A woman behind me shouted GET OFF YOUR BRAKES! encouragingly as we went down a steep hill; she overtook me at breakneck speed and came off spectacularly on the next corner. (She lapped me after a while, and had the decency to promise not to fall over in front of me any more as she went past.)

I love this shot. How pro do I look? If you ignore the grin, that is

It was hard. Ooh. But it was GOOD. In typical fashion, I started getting the hang of it about three quarters of the way through. Crucially, it also felt PROPER. While I wasn’t giving Annie Simpson anything to worry about, I also didn’t feel like I was just making up the numbers any more. I was Trying Hard**, and doing a good job. As good as I could, anyhow.

Afterwards, I chatted to some of my new HCtB teammies, and rode around with the boiz on the grass in the blazing sunshine. I fell off trying to trackstand, and again trying to ride no-hands. We had some sandwiches, and an ice cream. It was too lovely for words. And when the results came in later, I was ecstatic to see I’d beaten some ACTUAL REAL LIVE PEOPLE. Days don’t come much better than this.

* Like mother, like son…

** I put my Garmin on for the first time in a race, mostly to check that I was really working as hard as I thought. It’s quite funny: my HR is basically a flat line across the whole race, at 92-95% of my (notional) maximum. So, yeah. I am Trying Hard All The Time.

‘Cross diary 31: in praise of having a crap time

September 26, 2013 at 11:17 am | Posted in cycling | 8 Comments
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Well. My ‘cross season didn’t exactly get off to a blistering start. Remember that water crossing at Keighley? I womanned right up and rode into it. My front wheel didn’t come out; I did a slow-mo faceplant, picked myself up bashfully, and rode off worrying slightly about the grinding noise coming from my gears. Two recce laps later, the chain jumped off for the third time and jammed solid. DNS. Never mind! I thought. Wakefield next week; I like Wakefield. But the Gods of Snot laughed at my mortal aspirations, and sent down a LERGY upon me, and lo, I DNSd for the second week running.

In between these events I had an ace time with @michgreig at the Velodrome. Most of the day passed in a blur of grinning selfies and sectionable antics, but she didn’t find the riding very jolly.

mich & me

Lowering the tone in the velodrome caff

I love Michelle’s writeup of our day because it does something unusual: it’s honest about having an awful time on the bike. Mostly, judging from twitter, we’re all out there SMASHING IT and being AWESOME. Challenging ourselves, pushing ourselves, (wo)manning up. Of course, we can’t set new PBs or bag QOMs or ride further, faster or grimmer every SINGLE day. So on the other days, we tootle along through the bluebells on lazy café rides. The sun shines, we have lashings of ginger beer, and arrive home tired-but-happy. The odd bad day on the bike is explained through illness, or overtraining, or (occasionally) the weather (though blaming hailstorms for DNFs generally results in a sea of responses invoking Velominati’s Rules #5 and #9). Even the bad days are good, because we’re learning stuff about ourselves and fine-tuning our goals and… you know.

The subtext of all this is clear. We’re lucky to be bike riders; to be able to roll out of the front door and have fun on two wheels. This is abundantly true. But the flipside can be feeling isolated when you hate it.

The other day, I tweeted about how warmups make me want to cry. How I feel terrible for at least 30 mins at the beginning of every bike ride, and want to climb off and curl up in a ditch. (The last CX race recce I did, I thought I must be ill, I felt so awful: leg pain, chest pain, head pain. I was riding round in tears.) People came out of the woodwork to tell me this was perfectly normal; they all felt like that. So why had I never heard anyone say it before?

Jo Burt sent me his lovely piece on the fear of going out riding. I nodded compulsively all the way through. Lois sent me hers about giving up. Ditto. I wrote last year about DNSing through abject terror. We can’t be the only ones feeling like this. Why is it so rare to read about it?

Failure - The Thing You Experience Before Being Successful

Some of it it must be that weird combination of relief at stopping and selective memory. Every cyclocross race I do, I ride round thinking, ‘This is NUTS. Why am I doing this to myself? God, this is awful. Never again.’ Then it’s over, and within minutes I’m all, ‘Well, that was fun!’

Some of it is the desire to forget the bad bits, to present a happy face (the psychologist Naomi Baron calls this ‘my best day’ in relation to Facebook status updates). In terms of sports pyschology, this is probably important; Jo McRae writes on psychological self-sabotage and ways of staying positive about your riding. And nobody wants to be the one who brings everybody down.

But endless pressure to be positive is tiring and alienating. I moaned recently that I’d been riding all summer and Trying Hard and everything, and I was STILL crap. I got taken to task by a couple of people for letting the side down. In their eyes, if I said *I* was crap, I was not only putting lots of other women off riding when they needed encouraging, but also dissing anyone who wasn’t as good as me, by default.

But everyone has terrible days: days when they can’t get it together, their legs don’t work, and they want to give up. For some of us, these days are far and few between; for others, they’re depressingly familiar. Sometimes, we finish; but sometimes, we abandon, and we don’t have an excuse. Sometimes, we feel the fear, and manage to do it anyway; sometimes, we don’t, and anyone telling us to MTFU just makes us sob uncontrollably.

miffy the fuck down

Merckx The Fuck Up? Or Miffy The Fuck Down?

So this is to say it’s OK to fail. It’s OK to give up. And it’s OK to write about it. No, it’s necessary to write about it. It’s all part of riding bikes, and being part of this odd, lovely little community where people share their experiences and support each other. Happy/ crappy* riding, y’all… (*delete as applicable).

‘Cross diary 30: I plan my racing season

September 11, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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So. This summer I’ve been Trying A Bit Harder, riding a (little) bit further and getting ever-so-slightly faster (downhill, at least). I’ve had 2-3 weeks of, er, tapering, due to a sudden bout of CBA*. But ‘cross season has started, so like all Proper Athletes, I’m formulating a structured, methodical plan of attack.

While I may have been busy PODIUMING over the summer, my sights are set somewhat more realistically for ‘cross. Last year, I was a newbie. My goals for the season were:

  1. Learn to remount (and, crucially, do it in an actual race);
  2. Come not-last at least once.

Avid readers will recall that I met both these goals, overhauling a 73-year-old in the final yards of one race and only getting my shorts caught on my saddle during one other. Therefore, throughout the season I set myself new, ongoing goals, including the following:

Rooty singletrack

  1. Overtake someone;
  2. Ride up steep banks without getting off;
  3. Get round corners without foot-dabbing;
  4. Stop falling off on the DAMN singletrack.

I’m still working on no. 4, but can report definite progress on the others. So this year my goals are more specific. I’m looking at the races I rode last year, and tailoring my plans to the individual courses. (I’ve provided handy links to the race reports from last year, so you can remind yourself of how utterly hopeless I was, for perspective.)

Keighley: Ride the water crossing instead of getting off. Ride up and down the banks without getting off. Ditto the steep descent with a 90 degree bend at the bottom. And the muddy bits. And the off-camber sections. Basically, try and stay on the bike more than 17% of the time.

Wakefield: Stop falling off on the DAMN singletrack.

Brighouse: Arrange lovely, relaxing family day trip to somewhere at the other end of the country.

Temple Newsam: Didn’t do this one last year. From looking at other people’s race reports, mostly SFOOTDS**. And get round the corners. And don’t knock anybody off.

Rapha Super Cross, Skipton: pray fervently that they have changed the course. If not, remember to remove clods of mud from back brakes while toiling over soggy grass. Try not to fall asleep on ground before having chance to hobnob with lovely delightful twitter people.

Alexandra PalaceRapha Super Cross, Ally Pally: Another new one. Steps: shoulder bike without concussing fellow competitors. Practise too-cool-for-school Laahndan raceface. See Skipton re. falling asleep.

Sheffield: Another new one. Find out where Sheffield is.

Heptonstall Fancy Dress: Never actually raced this one as always ill. Wash hands obsessively and refuse to breathe in for a week beforehand. Think up mind-blowingly ACE costume.

Todmorden: See Heptonstall, minus the fancy dress. No, sod it. I’ve missed this race 4 times due to illness (2 x winter, 2 x summer). If I actually get to race, I’ll wear the fancy dress to celebrate.

Sounds achievable, doesn’t it? Not too ambitious? True to form, I’m already hopelessly overexcited. This year I’ll be racing proudly in Here Come The Belgians colours, hoping I won’t be excommunicated for getting off and weeping on the cobbled climbs. The 8yo is an old hand, now, but this year marks the 5yo’s racing debut. @spandelles will reprise his role as pit crew-slash-supernanny-slash-psychotherapist. We’re going to smash it. Hup hup!

* Can’t Be Arsed

** Stop Falling Off On The Damn Singletrack

‘Cross* diary 29: I PODIUM

August 2, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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Last year’s Bike Blenheim Palace Festival of Cycling was a beacon of happiness in a rotten summer; the only weekend in six weeks of school holidays where the sun blazed, we tootled around on tandems, and the whole family stopped bickering and had a lovely time. So I was keen to go to its 2013 incarnation, Orbital Festival at Goodwood. We booked tickets, entered races and got excited, but at the last minute the boyf baulked at the five-and-a-half-hours-in-the-car-with-two-squabbling-children-and-two-nights-in-a-tiny-tent aspect, and it looked like it was all off.

Happily, I have some brilliant friends. My twitter pal, the lovely and devastatingly witty @michgreig, offered to put me up at short notice and be my partner in crime, despite never having met me. (Blind faith, maybe, but when you’ve wept with laughter imagining your respective crushes fighting in jelly, you know you’ve found a kindred spirit.)

women-in-love

On Sunday we were on the 7:02 from Victoria, plotting our day and guffawing. We got off at Chichester and drafted a friendly Bromptoneer to Goodwood. At nine-something there were already Bromptons everywhere; it felt odd to be riding a big-wheeled bike. In a fit of excitement, we signed up for a race – the Tutti Frutti scratch race. 45min plus one lap. It’ll be fine! We’ll be fine! Yeah. Yeah!

We wandered round the stands. Everyone was friendly and delightful, with the exception of A Certain Café, who were their usual grumpy selves (but they’re from London, so we probably have to let them off). A quick bimble round the racetrack; 4.5km with a FIERCE headwind in the home straight. Oof. Then back, in time to watch the Bromptoneers lining their bikes up in the sunshine.

The Brompton World Championships is an incredible spectacle; this year there were 750 riders, all dressed up to the nines. It’s a Le Mans start: they set off in waves, running to their folded bike in the paddock, unfolding it and leaping aboard, then charging past the screaming fans (me) ringing cowbells (Michelle) onto the circuit. They did four laps, with some impressive tactics being employed; if you’ve never watched teams of Brompton riders doing through and off, I thoroughly recommend it. We made friends with a little family and screeched GWAAAN ANOOP! every time their son rode past. Someone gave us a free Berocca**. It was all jolly nice.

As the last of the Bromptoneers rolled in, we were in the starting area, hyperactive with nerves. We defused them by joshing with the other competitors: ‘You look a bit pro. No skinsuits in this race.’ By the time we were herded over to the start line, we were all best buddies. A quick run-through of the rules from a marshal (disappointingly, these weren’t No Pushing, No Bombing, No Petting), a blast from his air horn, and we were off. I shot out the front like an idiot and wondered where everybody was for about a third of a lap, before the bunch (including Michelle) steamed past me, working together like pros. Oh dear. I couldn’t hold their wheels and pedalled round on my own for a lap and a bit, before being caught by a girl of about 14 and her dad.

Pride prevented me from letting them go, so I jumped on her wheel***, then went up to the front for a turn. Me! Working with people! Blimey. We steamed round for half a lap then I swung off*** and she came through***; we’d left her dad behind at some point. The two of us stayed together for the rest of the race. At a couple of points she flagged and I waited; after that I took the pulls*** into the headwind and let her do the tailwind sections. FOOL. The bell rang, we did our final lap, I pulled her up the home straight and she tried to come round me. I went ‘Ooh, you BEAST!’ and pulled out all the stops****, just managing to pip her for the line. Cheek. (There’s a photo of me doing this, looking like I’m about to be sick. I won’t inflict that on you. Here’s one I like better, of me doing Oh My God This Sodding Headwind: )

We giggled about excitedly for a while, WOOHOOing at the Brompton presentations and squeaking at people doing backflips on trials bikes. I fangirled all over Michael Hutchinson and Julia Shaw. We were about to go home when our names were called over the tannoy. We were needed for the presentations. Us! Needed! For PRESENTATIONS! We ran over, laughing hysterically, dumping bikes and bags and clattering up the stairs, to be called out onto the balcony for the WOMEN’S PODIUM. Yes, dear reader, I got a kiss, a handshake and an ACTUAL MEDAL for coming in third woman. Michelle, the Pocket Rocket, was FIRST WOMAN. People cheered and clapped and took photos. It was, quite honestly, one of the best moments of my life.

Women's podium, Tutti Frutti scratch race

Wearing our medals, we rumbled home on the train with ca. 1357 other bikies (most of them on Bromptons, of course, though this didn’t stop the guard having a good grump at us all). Andrew greeted us at the door in a butcher’s apron; the barbie was already on. He listened patiently to the overexcited gabble; we even remembered to ask him how his day had been.

When I got home to the family the next day, the boys responded to my news in typical fashion. 5yo (pouting): ‘But I wanted you to WIN!’ 8yo (kissing my medal reverently): ‘That’s AMAZING.’ It WAS amazing. An amazing weekend with amazing mates doing daft but amazing things. A heartfelt thank you to Michelle and Andrew for welcoming me and making it all possible. You’re utter stars.

* What does all this have to do with ‘cross? Eagled-eyed readers will spot that I raced on my ‘cross bike. More importantly, without having discovered ‘cross, I wouldn’t be doing any of this.

** Don’t drink Berocca if you’re frightened of neon wee, by the way

*** Get me, with the TERMINOLOGY

**** I actually pulled a muscle doing this. No-one can accuse me of not Trying Hard

‘Cross diary 27: I do a bit of track

June 9, 2013 at 10:33 pm | Posted in cycling | 5 Comments
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So. It’s all about the mud, right? And the sunshine, and the wind in your hair, and the views across the valley, the sheep, the reservoirs, the QoMs. Right? Wrong. It’s all about the TRACK.

The highly successful and much-feared Calder Valley Fell Runners have a little-known radical cycling wing, Calder Valley Velo. CVV booked a private session at the Velodrome, which I managed to inveigle my way into despite having successfully avoided numerous attempts to get me to go toiling up and down mountains, twisting my ankle in rabbit holes, etc.

So this is how I end up driving to Manchester last Friday with four hardy, skinny running types in the car, asking me if I really need the satnav and being altogether too chirpy for before-seven-in-the-morning.

The sun shines. The traffic is fine. We get there very early. A full 45 minutes to get REALLY nervous. I’ve been to the Velodrome lots of times, but only as a spectator. Walking up to reception, I’m conscious of the illustrious people who’ve preceded me across that tiled floor. This is where Chris Boardman must have signed in. Michael Hutchinson stands in this queue for his coffee (Americano, in case you’re wondering). This is where Victoria Pendleton got CHANGED. I don’t feel worthy.

National Cycling Centre - The home of British Cycling and Team GB

The CVVers, blissfully unaware of the weight of cycling history upon them, are busy getting worried about the banking. It does look impossible, when you’re down in track centre. I have my mind on other things, terribly excited about my SILVER rented cycling shoes and the Dolan track bike which has my name on it, on a little post-it. The saddle is just the right height. I feel a bit loved.

IMG_0701

Weirdly, I’m fine about the banking. However, I’ve just read Matt Seaton’s book; in one episode, he forgets to pedal while high up and comes off the bike, with fairly epic consequences. Never having ridden fixed, I am so worried about this that I am nearly sick on my shoes. I seriously consider bailing out, right at the very last minute.

Coach appears and summons us genially up to the track. We line up along the handrail and try to get our feet into the pedals (harder than it sounds when you can’t just hook the pedal up with your free foot). Coach gives us an encouraging pep talk (‘Don’t stop pedalling at the top of the banking, or I’ll be scraping you up from down here’) and we are off to do two laps on the flat, dark-blue-painted concrete. ‘One big pull with the left hand and off you go!’ I do a big pull with the left hand and, miraculously, off I go.

IMG_0745

Once we’ve managed to stop again (slow the bike by pushing back on the pedals a bit, aim for the handrail, grab a bit of netting by mistake, feel a bit foolish) we are allowed to move out onto the couple of feet of flat boards at the edge (the Côte D’Azur) and from there, up onto the banking. This feels monumental. The gradient starts right there, at a crazy angle – no gradual incline. For the first couple of laps, I’m terrified I’m going to ground a pedal. It doesn’t happen, and Coach shouts at me as I go into the corner, ‘PUSH on the pedals, now! Get some speed up!’ I start trying a bit more.

IMG_1101

I steer up the banking and push harder. It’s hot, really hot. Warm wind ruffles the hair on my arms. The corners rear up, again and again; there’s nowhere to rest. A few seconds on the straight, then into the corner again, over and over. I get down on the drops and pull my knees and elbows in, imagining myself bulleting through the air. I’m overtaking people. I dig deeper: I must be able to go faster. The sun shafts through the roof. The boards rumble with other people’s wheels; my wheels make them sing, odd pentatonic harmonies of wood on wood. I’m reeling in the chap in front, inexorably, lap by lap. I must have him. A glance over my shoulder, swing up and out, grip the bars and here I go. Faster, legs. Come on, lungs. My knees are hitting my chest. I put my forehead down on the bars and barrel through. There is nothing in the WORLD to match this.

IMG_1074

Coach laughs at me, as I trundle in at the end. ‘Look at that grin.’ Everything aches. I wobble through to the changing room and laugh stupidly in the shower. A couple of CVVers comment that it was fine, but it wasn’t for them, really. I look at them like they are from another planet.

When can I go again?

Postscript

Later, at road skills training (of which more, on another day), I have this conversation:

Me (grinning madly, jumping up and down): GUESS where I was riding a bike this morning. Go on, GUESS.

Bloke: Gargrave.

Me: EVEN more exciting than Gargrave*.

Other bloke (knowingly, with a smile**): On the track.

* Is Gargrave really that terrific? Never been…

** There are those who Get It, and those who don’t

(Pictures by kind permission of Anna, the partner of Blair Garrett, who organised the trip. Thanks so much, Blair & Anna!)

‘Cross diary 26: I crunch my numbers

April 30, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Posted in cycling | 5 Comments
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I’m on Strava. I KNOW. Get me! It’s all highly scientific. I’m uploading all my rides, and checking myself out. I got my heart rate up to 162 on the turbo, the other day! And I beat my PB on one segment (though, admittedly, I did have that modern equivalent of a hen’s tooth, a tailwind up Cragg Vale). Garmin overestimates my calorie expenditure; Strava underestimates it, I reckon. I split the difference, and work out how many eclairs it equates to.

People are following me, mad fools. Not sure what they are expecting. Mostly I suppose it makes them feel a bit better about themselves, as I struggle through the week, running slowly, and cycling weakly. I ride 10 miles in 35 minutes; somebody gives me kudos. Bless them.

My friends in other parts of the country are busy amassing QoMs. There’s not much chance of that round here, what with all the demonically fast women Yorkshire seems to nurture. This got me thinking: how am I, a bit rubbish and Not Trying Very Hard, supposed to compete with these Amazons? How can Strava include us, the Crap Ones, and give us a bit of a chance? A level playing field, if you like? Of course, I’m not suggesting we dope (I’m already up to my eyeballs in that, as you may recall). No! Instead, I propose some modifications to the Strava interface.

A new Handicap feature will allow you to modify the details of your ride to take into account the particular conditions that we all know affect performance:

strava excuses cut down

For individual segments, you will also be able to filter results to include only riders who are similar to yourself:

strava exclude speedy

So, fear not! No more will you have to attach comments to your ride, saying how the sun was in your eyes, and you weren’t ready. Strava will work out your handicap for you, and move you up the appropriate leaderboard. Bon courage!

herbie green's cartoon resized

Cartoon by @HerbieGreen. Reproduced with kind permission.

‘Cross diary 25: I interact with some motorists

April 22, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Posted in cycling | 2 Comments
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One of the great things about a ‘cross bike is a bit of off-road optionality. Don’t like getting squeezed by buses in Mytholmroyd? Simply drop down onto the towpath instead! But nearly everyone rides on the road at some point, and motorists can be downright scary. So here’s a quick straw poll.  You’re riding along, humming a ditty, when a car overtakes you close enough to shave your legs. Do you:

(a)      Shout ‘YO, BUMFACE!’*;

(b)      Shake your fist at them in impotent fury, like a Scooby Doo villain;

(c)      Chase them down so that you can do (a) and (b) right up close;

(d)      Smile and wave happily at them.

 Happy Cyclists

My one-handed riding is still a bit shaky (I once fell off trying to fling a banana skin into a hedge), which more or less rules out (b) as an option. So I’ll admit that I tend towards (a). Like many of us, this has got me into trouble. A driver tried to run me off the road in Camden. I yelled something NSFW at him; he stopped and got out. Big bloke, menacing expression. ‘WHAT d’you call me?’ Oh, dear. Suddenly remembering some advice from (I think) Richard’s Bicycle Book, I sprinted straight at him. He jumped out of the way; I tore off and hid, sobbing and shaking, until I was sure he’d gone.

Shouting at people sometimes has other, unexpected effects. I SCREAMED obscenities at a driver in Kentish Town, only to realise with horror that he was a colleague. Him (amiably): ‘Oh, hello! Did I do something wrong?’ Me (mumbling): ‘Well, you WERE a bit close back there…’

London is a good place to practise (c), of course, because you do actually catch up with people, even if you’re not very fast. At the traffic lights in Highgate, I pulled up next to a woman who’d sideswiped me. I was STEAMING. She rolled the window down, I took an ENORMOUS breath, and she said, ‘I’m EVER so sorry!’ Me: ‘Oh! Er, well…um. OK then.’

two dogs - dalmatians - driving a red car

So none of these work too well for me. Recently, I’ve started trying (d) instead. The effects are quite interesting. Waving cheerily at motorists freaks them RIGHT out. You can see them thinking, ‘Oh, crap. Do I know her?’ (An added advantage is that you can do it in great anger; as long as you’re showing your teeth, they won’t be able to tell.)

A variant of (d) is Trying To Stay Calm. A bus driver passed me with inches to spare the other day. I growled to myself, ‘I’ll HAVE you! There’s a bus stop in a minute!’ But when I caught him, I thought, OK, let’s try this. I knocked on the window and said with a blinding smile**, ‘Do you think you could give cyclists a bit more room?’ We discussed his driving good-naturedly and he said he would try harder. ‘At least you’re not shouting at me!’. We wished each other a nice day and I rode off, slightly bewildered. Smile for the camera

So I’m trying to extend this principle into general road use. When people let me out, I thank them ostentatiously. If they manage to hold back for a few seconds until it is safe to pass me, or overtake by pulling right out into the opposite lane, I wave and grin delightedly. Once, at the bottom of a long hill with parked cars all down one side, I looked up and saw an HGV coming the other way.  Help. I prepared to leap off but the driver saw me, stopped at the top, and waited patiently while I creaked up in bottom gear. I beamed and blew him a kiss; he looked delighted and blew me one back.

Oh, this sounds preachy, doesn’t it. It’s not meant that way. I don’t live in the city any more. I don’t have to deal with multiple, terrifyingly close passes every day, like I used to. It’s not possible to keep your cool if you feel like everyone is trying to kill you. I absolutely believe that less vulnerable road users need to bear the responsibility for looking after the more vulnerable ones, and I’m not trying to shift any of this responsibility onto cyclists. But I often feel helpless as a cyclist, reliant on motorists to be decent and nice, to behave themselves, to think about what it’s like to be me. Pointing out bad behaviour positively, and trying to reward thoughtful behaviour, makes me feel like I’m doing something, however small. If a couple of motorists come away thinking of cyclists as actual people too, maybe it’s worth it.

Lego Penny Farthing

* you may substitute an epithet of your choice, here

** it really IS blinding. Friend A to Friend B, discussing me: ‘I saw @accidentobizaro outside the Co-op. I couldn’t hear what she was saying because I was so mesmerised by her teeth.’

‘Cross diary 24: I charge up

April 11, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Posted in cycling | 2 Comments
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I just found out I’m a doper. That’s right, me. Doped to the EYEBALLS. WIRED on the latest candidate for PED status. Nope, not GWR4920 (though getting a lift on that would certainly move me up a few Strava leaderboards). I’m out of my MIND on thyroxine. This, of course, explains why I BURST onto the CX scene last season from NOWHERE and, er, well. Yeah.

Thyroxine definitely improves my performance, mostly because I have an underactive thyroid and tend to fall asleep at 4pm without it. So I’ve got a note, and everything.
Doctor Hello Kitty postcard
However, now I’ve Crossed The Line, I feel fully qualified to start dishing out advice on performance-enhancing substances. Here is my list of tried-and-tested supplements to give you that competitive edge.

    1. Ibuprofen. Best taken after CX training sessions, as it dulls the pain of the bruises from practising those pesky remounts.
    2. Vitamins. These are EXTREMELY important for effective recovery. An apple should do it.
    3. Coffee. Sadly, I can’t personally vouch for the effects of caffeine ingestion on performance, as I gave up drinking proper coffee last year. (Me: God, these HEADACHES. I can hardly SEE. Boyf: Maybe it’s the coffee? Me: Don’t be daft. It can’t be the coffee. (It was.)) However, the psychological boost of downing a couple of (fake) espressos before charging over to the start line is not to be underestimated. Especially if you do it while wearing your Rapha top, squinting slightly against the sunlight.

coffee bike

  1. Music. A bit of jolly salsa in the car on the way to a race can put you in the mood (or, alternatively, enable you to kid yourself that you’re going to be fine, and you really can’t possibly need another wee). More importantly, persuading the kids to sing LET’S BAKE A CAKE! at the tops of their voices all the way home will stop you falling asleep at the wheel after all the Trying Hard you’ve been doing.
  2. Beconase. If you’re lucky, you’ll have got rid of that lingering cold just in time for hayfever season to start. Ventolin might be frowned on, but a crafty snort of Beconase lets you tackle the grassiest summer ‘cross courses without fear.
  3. Sedatives. Alcohol is not recommended on race day itself, but if you’re haunted by memories of last year’s Brighouse course, a bottle of Rioja and a couple of whisky chasers will help you get to sleep the night before you tackle it this year.
  4. Protein supplements. Well, you can’t have a nice bottle of Rioja without a bit of cheese, can you?
  5. BreatheRight strips. These are ESSENTIAL for optimal performance. Attach one to your partner’s nose, and get a decent pre-race night’s sleep for once.

I love my bike

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