Why it is perfectly OK to still like professional cycling

February 2, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Posted in cycling | 1 Comment
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1. Only impressionable under-23s with Machiavellian parent-managers motordope. The pros have been definitely not motordoping since at least 2010. Everyone knows that.

2. EPO is like, so last season. Procyclists are FAR too fashion-forward to be doing it now. They won’t even wear the same shades as last year. You’re telling me they’re still doing drugs?

3. Testing is really amazing these days. Everyone has basically given up because they know they’ll get caught, as soon as they’ve retired. Their reputation will be in tatters and they won’t be national treasures or get commentating gigs or anything.

4. The UCI are committed to routing out cheats and punishing them severely, by giving them two-year bans and only letting them have Cat 2 licences when they come back.

5. The really bad offenders have to sit on anti-drugs-in-sport boards, and become the Mr Mackeys of cycling.

6. It’s only a few bad apples. Well, and their dads. And their spouses. And their brothers. And their doctors. And their mechanics. And their team managers.

7. If Modern Cycling gets too much, you can squinch your eyes tight shut and imagine you’re back in seventy-something and Eddy’s bossing the peloton with a single sneer like the Brabantse Elvis and Hinault’s knocking bystanders out with a mere EYEBROW and cycling is marvellous and epic and heroic and totally believable and nobody ever falls off their bike suddenly.

8. Or you can go back to the nineties when nobody wears a helmet so you can still tell who is who and there are real climbers and rouleurs and nobody is good at everything and there are proper CYCLING HEROES like Pantani.

9. Anyway, there are BRITISH PEOPLE winning bike races these days, and THEY can’t possibly be cheating, because it just wouldn’t be cricket. So, marginal gains, and, you know. Beetroot. I’m cheering for beetroot. GO BEETROOT.beet

Beyond beginnerism: building an inclusive cycling culture

March 12, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Posted in cycling | 23 Comments
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I read Collyn Ahart’s piece on beginnerism, and got a bit confused. I found things I agreed with, and things I didn’t, and things I didn’t understand. I may have the wrong end of the stick entirely but I wanted to respond.

I agree that a lot of stuff that’s aimed at women is aimed at beginners. This seems to be to be because there’s a genuine appetite for it. Women want it. Not all women, of course. But the success of Breeze rides and women-only initiatives of all sorts suggests that there’s a substantial number of women who *do* want this kind of stuff. I know women who want to ride without feeling that they are holding everyone up, who’d like to learn to adjust their gears without feeling patronised by the blokey atmosphere of most bike shops, who feel more comfortable taking what are to them challenging steps in the company of other women. This is how they feel. How can we tell them that’s wrong?

Personally, I’m not tempted to go out riding by the promise of cupcakes and girls-only giggles and a glimpse of Vicky Pendleton. Here in Yorkshire, the women scare me more than the men do. In ‘cross races, I’m generally battling it out with Mesh Insert Man at the back of the field; my female competitors have left me for dead in the first lap. Going out riding with a bunch of women here doesn’t generally involve much gossiping.

Me on the start line

The author, about to watch the rest of the women’s field disappear in a cloud of dust

So I’m not the target market, maybe. But there are beginners, and beginners. What about the next steps? What if you think you might like to race, for example?

If you read cycling magazine advice, they tell you to go out on the club run to develop bunch riding skills. I know women who do this, who go out with their local club, but they are very strong and very fast, fast enough to keep up with the lads sprinting for signs. I’m not that fast, and my self-belief is fragile; what doesn’t kill me, instead of making me stronger, mostly makes me weep and think I’ll just give up biking and take up crochet instead. I don’t seek out women-only events; I like men, I like racing and training for ‘cross with men, and some of the most helpful, encouraging and unpatronising advice I’ve had has been from men.

But I went to women-only road race training, and it was brilliant. The reason it was brilliant was not because it was full of women; it was because I was among peers. People at roughly my level. People who were a bit better than me at some stuff, and not as good as me at other stuff. I fitted in. I’m sure there are men out there who are at the same level as me, who I could ride with happily. But, just as ‘men who think they might like to have a go at racing’ are probably at a similar level to each other, so are ‘women who think they might like to have a go at racing’. We all need to find our level, and this is a simple way of judging it.

I’m bothered by the lack of opportunities to progress beyond the Breeze rides-and-cupcakes stage. I’m bothered by how difficult it still seems to be to find support and training for women in a sport that is so dominated by men’s racing. But I can see the green shoots appearing. The first CDNW women’s cat 2/3/4 road race this year had 64 finishers. SIXTY-FOUR. That’s nearly twice as many as last year, mostly because of road race training events like the one I attended. Last year I attended a BC women’s velodrome session that was bursting at the seams with good road riders keen to have a go at something new. Where were all these women the year before? What were they doing? Perhaps it does take a women-only session to make people think ‘Well, maybe I WILL have a bash at that’. At the moment, the culture of cycling is overwhelmingly male. Paying attention to women’s participation at all levels of the sport – not just beginners, and not just elites – will help to build a cycling culture that’s about all of us. But I don’t think this will happen without a clear focus on opportunities for women to progress, and this means (almost by default) that we end up defining ‘women’s cycling’ as something separate, something different.

In order to create a cycling culture that is inclusive of men and women, we need to define what is missing. Otherwise we are just assimilating women into the existing culture. That’s where people like @_pigeons_ and @Cyclopunk and @festinagirl come in, detailing and documenting and ranting and raving about the inequalities that still exist, and the fantastic, thrilling contribution that women’s cycling can make to cycling culture in general. We need to rewrite cycling culture, and to do that we need to recognise clearly what is absent from it. Then (I’ve argued this before) we can progress to a place where women’s-specific magazines and advice and events are redundant, and we define ourselves by the kinds of bikers we are. And our newsstands will be filled with these publications instead:

alt mags

Martyn Irvine: a BDIPCesque tribute

March 1, 2014 at 11:02 am | Posted in affairs of the heart, cycling | 2 Comments
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The first thing that made me laugh till I cried when I joined twitter was bangable dudes in procycling. Minx and her collaborators indelicately scrutinised the male peloton, staying just this side of NSFW and making fangirls choke on their cornflakes in the process. If you’ve never heard of BDIPC, I suggest you go and acquaint yourself with it before reading on; you could start with this fairly typical example.

Ready? OK. BDIPC’s very American in style (at least, to my English ears); I found myself wondering how an English version would sound. Then Martyn Irvine did his astonishing double-medal-winning feat at the Worlds in 2013, and I suddenly had a subject. I wrote this quickly, in a sweat, a year ago, and it made me laugh*. And after Martyn’s heroic efforts in the scratch and points races over the last couple of days, it seems relevant all over again.

martyn irvine by shane mcmahon

Martyn Irvine (c) Shane McMahon, on Velonation

Hello there, from across the pond! We English girls like a toothsome, athletic chap as much as anyone, so we’re enormous BDIPC fans. But all this upfront talk of bangability still has us a bit, er, gosh. Well. You know. We may be right up there in the top five Nations Who Like Falling Out Of Taxis At 3am Without Any Knickers On, but actually talking about, er, the, ah, you know, the ACT? Well. It has us groping for words.

And of course, well before we get to the, um, act, we have to make the unsuspecting boy aware of us. We’re not too good at striding up to people, locking eyes with them and suggesting, well, golly. How can we do that, when we’re too shy even to tell our best friends?

Picture me, long ago, skirt waistband rolled over as soon as I was out of sight of the house, school-illegal plastic sandals on my feet, gripped by a new, crippling crush on a sixth former. Best Mate is DESPERATE to know. ‘Who? WHO?’ ‘I can’t. He’ll see me looking at him.’ We cook up a subtle plan: as he saunters by, I’ll turn to her and utter a prearranged sentence. We roam the school corridors at breaktime, giggling. Finally he slouches into view, tall and wan, hair falling studiedly over his face. As we draw level, I ask her, casually, ‘How did your mother’s barbecue go last night?’ Best Mate whips round, looks the poor lad in the eye and exclaims, ‘HIM?!’

So, of course English girls swoon over pretty Euro cyclists, and we’re jolly keen on those Americans who look so delightful all covered in mud.  But sometimes, we hanker for a fellow who knows where we’re coming from. Someone who’ll laugh at our jokes, get on with our brothers, and who might even be nervous and cack-handed, like us, when it comes to chatting to people they, er, oh, you know. People they LIKE. You’re making us blush, now.

Martyn Irvine’s storming performance at the Track World Championships, bringing him two medals in the space of an hour, dragged our attention right away from the crossword. Golly! There was a chap with GRIT. And an Irishman, too! Every English girl likes to imagine she’s got a bit of Celt in her. Transfixed, we watched him digging ever deeper, holding on longer than we dared hope, finding the reserves for that last, game-changing push, and finally bringing off the impossible. Our teacups wobbled in their saucers. There he stood, bathed in the post-race glow, pushing his flop of ginger hair back from his glistening brow, his diffident, delightful attitude matched perfectly by his gentle Northern Irish brogue. And as a nation, we leapt from the sofa, strewing pussycats and Hobnobs left and right, and declared, ‘HOW DID YOUR MOTHER’S BARBECUE GO LAST NIGHT?!’

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* I offered it to Minx as a guest post but she declined**. I’m still utterly devastated by this.

** She did say it was ‘hilarious’, though. [wipes eyes] [blows nose]

Valentine’s Day special: What your cycling fantasy says about you

February 14, 2014 at 8:17 am | Posted in affairs of the heart, cycling | 2 Comments
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Warning: This post contains scarily bad fan art*. Readers of a nervous disposition may wish to look away now.

I know, I know. You watch cycling because it’s the toughest sport on earth. You admire procyclists’ athletic prowess, their immense tactical nous, their superhuman ability to suffer. Skinsuits are the sensible aerodynamic choice, and leg shaving is merely practical. It never crosses your mind that the peloton is made up of hot young men and women at the pinnacle of physical fitness, honed muscles straining beneath the merest wisp of lycra, sweat illuminating the maps of bronzed forearms, mouths open and brows furrowed in the intense peak of the sprint. You buy Cycling Weekly for the articles.

I believe you. I really do. This blogpost is not for you. No, this is for the rest of us, the mere mortals, who take part in serious discussions about team transfer rumours and technical innovations while secretly googling ‘Matti Breschel beach’.

Happily, you need hide your immoral thoughts no longer. As I revealed exclusively last week, proper, full-on crushes have deep psychological significance and may serve up to three (3) important purposes. But even transient, fickle, mildly diverting fantasies can tell us interesting things about ourselves. Read on to find out what your cycling fantasy says about YOU.

fabs croppedFabian Cancellara

Perfect, designer-stubbled, red-carpet-ready Fabs is the ladies’ choice. While he never puts a foot wrong professionally, Cancellara’s tweets in his own personal English-Swiss German hybrid, Fabianese, hint at a kooky inner life. You like a man with hidden depths: you’ll insist it’s movie-star looks that attract you, but really you long for a soulmate who’ll admire your Hama Bead creations and help you write Star Trek-Sherlock crossover fanfic.

You probably also lust after: Kristian House. Dr Who.

Marianne Vosvos cropped

Dominant but magnanimous, quietly confident, inscrutable, Marianne is the stateswoman of the peloton. You yearn for firm but fair leadership: a woman who’ll impose her way on you absolutely, but without causing conflict. Maybe while wearing leather.

You probably also lust after: Lizzie Armitstead. Birgitte from Borgen.

cav croppedMark Cavendish

That diminutive, boyish exterior barely veils his wildly ambitious, supremely confident core. Perfectly polite until extremely provoked, Mark is boy, gent, and trained assassin all rolled into one. You’re drawn to men who know what they want, and are utterly persuaded they can get it. And who can assemble an AK-47 in fifteen seconds, blindfold.

You probably also lust after: Daniel Craig. Moriarty.

Laura Trotttrott 4 cropped

Gorgeous, giggly Laura, the girl next door who’ll walk your dog and tear your legs off and sprint until she pukes. Your desire for Laura expresses your inner turmoil: the contrast between how you seem, and how you know you really are. You long for a woman who’ll push you to extraordinary heights, who doesn’t know when to stop, who’ll demand the ultimate from you. And then make you a cup of tea and laugh at how you’ve gone all red in the face.

You probably also lust after: Laure from Spiral. Molly from Sherlock.

irvine croppedMartyn Irvine

Lovely, diffident, self-deprecating Martyn, with his gingery hair and his pitiless killer instinct and his habit of making mincemeat of his rivals. He’s the poster boy for your desire to overcome your self-doubt, stay focused through the ups and downs of fortune, and discover your own inner grit. Or perhaps it’s just the Northern Irish accent. Say ‘now’, again, Martyn. Mmmm.

You probably also lust after: Colin Morgan. Dr McCartney from Green Wing.

Sean Yates/ Beryl Burton/ Roger de Vlaeminck/ Eddy Merckx/ Eileen Sheridanyates cropped

Steeped in nostalgic longing, you’d really rather go back to the days when men were men and shorts were short and TVs had dials and Eddy bossed the race, hair bouncing like a matinee idol, while his competitors did struggleface under damp curls. Modern life is a challenge for you, but your romantic nature allows you to see the best in people and imagine them as heroes of less complicated times.

You probably also lust after: Philippe Petit. James Dean. Audrey Hepburn. A young Harrison Ford.

boris croppedBoris Johnson / Phil Liggett / Jeremy Clarkson/ Jeannie Longo

You’re an individual, ploughing your lonely furrow through life. One (wo)man, swimming upstream against the tide of popular opinion. You pride yourself on seeing beyond the surface to the unique charm buried deep within. You’ll start a fight in an empty room, and like nothing better than baiting innocent bloggers until they pop. Oh, hold on. OK, you had me there. Very funny. Ha ha.

You probably also ‘lust after’: Michael Gove. Rod Liddle. Nurse Ratched.

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* My excuse for the scarily bad fan art is that I wanted pictures, but I didn’t want to get into trouble for nicking them. And once I’d drawn the sketches, they made me laugh so much I couldn’t see, so I had to include them. I’m sorry, Laura. I really am.

Your help needed with my highly scientific road racing poll

February 5, 2014 at 11:16 am | Posted in cycling | 2 Comments
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So, after going road race training and having a ball, I’ve entered my first ever road race. It’s in March. 2/3/4 cat women only. Fifty-seven of us so far. (I KNOW. 57!) Traffic-free circuit, mostly flat.

I tweeted about this last night; responses fell into two broadly opposing groups. Please improve the objectivitical scientificness of my research by answering the poll below, which summarises these two viewpoints. If you’d like to add any further points of view/ advice/ tips/ warnings/ jokes, please do, in the comments section. Merci!

Race ya

January 12, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Posted in cycling | 6 Comments
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The fifth of January sounded perfectly reasonable when I signed up for a women-only road race skills session a couple of months ago. But Christmas came and went in a blur of port, crisps and Junior Monopoly, and suddenly I was getting up at improbable o’clock in the DARK on a freezing Sunday morning, struggling into sixteen layers of cycling kit and packing sandwiches, snacks, and any other warm clothing I could find into the car. I nearly left without my bidons as (in an uncharacteristic fit of organised-ness) I’d stashed them in the fridge the night before. Off to pick up @VicandLib and @1fishonabike. F-f-f-f-f-f-f.

It was good to be the designated driver, as otherwise I’m almost certain post-Christmas torpor would have set in and I’d have decided I didn’t want to go. I’m extremely happy this didn’t happen, as we had the most excellent time. Heather Bamforth had sent us a comprehensive set of instructions on what to bring (helmet, food, helmet, extra clothes, helmet, bike, don’t forget your helmet) and the structure of the day. We rolled up to see lots of young, athletic-looking chicks getting dropped off by their Dads, and resigned ourselves to representin’ the Old Crox wing [complicated handshake, followed by muttering about arthritis in fingers]. But when we got down on to the circuit, it was clear that the group were a happy mixture of ages, experience and fitness. In a few minutes, Huw Williams was trying to get thirty (thirty!) excitable women to calm down and listen.

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‘AWRIGHT TAMESIDE!’ Huw needs a Madonna mike

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Hastily-grown beards protect us from the cold

Tameside is a purpose-built traffic-free circuit, about a kilometre long, with corners and little inclines and a bit of grass (should you overshoot a corner and find yourself doing some impromptu cyclocross). It’s great fun to zip around. We spent three hours practising all kinds of skills, with Huw, Hannah Walker (from Epic Cycles-Scott Contessa Womens Race Team), Carley Brierley and Heather offering their expert advice. Some highlights:

  1. Riding in little groups and changing position (front rider goes to the back and so on). Avid readers will remember I am incapable of riding on someone’s wheel without grumbling HELPHELPHELPHELPHELP the whole time. I was still doing this to start with, but gradually it got easier, and I learned to look up and through the rider in front, which is a lot less panic-inducing than staring at their back tyre. (It also means you see corners coming, which is useful.)
  2. Cornering. I was hoping I’d be all right at this, having spent the summer practising for ‘cross. YESSS! Can’t tell you how terrific it feels to be good at something, and to get complimented on it (thanks Carley).
  3. Riding around in a big group being paced by Carley at 15mph, then 18mph. This came near the end, and I was thrilled to find myself riding in a bunch at speed, spotting gaps, trying to pick through the crowd, within elbowing distance of everybody. Never thought I’d have the courage to do this, and it felt so utterly PRO I could hardly speak for excitement.
  4. Mini-races (about 15 mins long). Yup, you know it’s serious when I finally take off my zippy cyclocross warmup trousers. Overtaking people on corners! Being overtaken again on the straights (damn)! Shouting ON YOUR RIGHT! Still haven’t really got the working-with-people bit sorted out, but golly, this was fun.
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l-r Carley (foreground), Hannah and Heather dispense #protips

We did a lot of other things, but these are the bits that stick in my head and make me grin to think of them. I made such a lot of progress in three hours. All the same, it was quite a relief to get into the relative warmth of the classroom. Freddie made us all a cuppa (life saver) and Huw did the Science Bit: what we need to know to improve our fitness and prepare for racing. There was LOADS to think about here, particularly as Carley and Heather were giving examples from their own experience of training, coaching and racing. Invaluable stuff, and plenty of lightbulb moments.

I came away keen to have a go. CDNW are organising several races just for 2/3/4 cat women this year, and Heather, with her irresistible enthusiasm, insisted we’re all capable of racing. One thing she said to the group sticks in my mind: ‘If YOU all show up to a race, you ARE the race.’ Of course. How simple. So come on, fellow hopeless people. Show up with me, and we’ll have a go together.

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Grinning is not part of the training but it’s hard to resist

There are two more sessions: Rhyl on 19 Jan 2014 and Blackpool on 02 Feb 2014. They’re filling up fast, but if you’re interested, you can read about them and sign up here.

Pictures by very kind permission of Fred Bamforth.

A bit more about the coaches here:

Huw Williams

Heather Bamforth

Carley Brierley

‘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 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

Are you road race ready?

August 5, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

After I raced and MEDALLED and PODIUMED last weekend, curious readers have inundated* me with requests for advice. If no-hopers like me can race, maybe they can, too! What do they need to know? Do I have any tips? I’ve put together this handy questionnaire, so you can test your understanding of race etiquette and tactics. Consider your answers carefully.

1. What is through and off?

a. Something that happens if you don’t pay attention while you’re knitting
b. Working with other riders in a line, taking turns on the front
c. That thing where you jump your skateboard up and slide along the edge of a bench

2. If someone shouts ‘Get on my wheel!’ what do they mean?

a. Ride closely behind me, to shelter from the wind!
b. Here! You can have a go on the unicycle, now
c. Let me win, and I’ll leave you my fortune!

3. When you’ve taken a turn on the front, you should swing off. What does this mean?

a. Do a little slalom through the dotted lines, to demonstrate your bike handling skillz
b. Throw a punch at the nearest spectator
c. Move to the side to let the next person come to the front

Bernard-Hinault-punch-1024x674

4. When riding into the wind, you should adopt an aero position. What does this mean?

a. Sit up straight, so you can eat your chocolate without choking
b. Get right down over the handlebars so there’s less of you in the wind
c. Ride along with your arms sticking out going NNEEEAAAOOOW

5. In long races, you may need to refuel. Does this mean:

a. Ride no-hands and boss your gel like a PRO
b. Get someone to hand you up a Subway every three laps
c. Pick up a couple of bags of charcoal for the post-race barbie

6. Before racing, you should make sure you are adequately hydrated. Does this mean:

a. Take on isotonic fluids in small but regular quantities
b. Have a couple of shandies, and a Berocca chaser for the vitamins
c. Get someone to tip a bucket of water over your head

Beret Baguette_39

7. In sprints, you should always hold your line. What does this mean?

a. Don’t let go of the bungee attaching you to that fast guy
b. Mid-race coke-snorting is inadvisable, and best left for the after-party
c. Don’t veer all over the road

8. If you win, which is the correct podium arrangement?

a. 1st puts two arms up, 2nd puts right arm up, 3rd puts left arm up
b. All jump up and down waving excitedly, kissing medals etc.
c. 1st looks ecstatic, 2nd looks murderous, 3rd looks confused

9. If you win, which is the best podium speech?

a. I’d like to thank God, my agent, my mother, my mechanic, my tyre sponsor, my hairdresser and that person who comes to all my races but never says hello
b. You like me [sob]. You really like me!
c. Mum! MUM! Press the button on the top! No, the big button! The other one! Did it make a noise? No, that’s just it focusing. Press it harder! Did I have my eyes closed?

10. If you lose, which is the best excuse?

a. The sun was in my eyes
b. Knew I should have run tubs instead of clinchers
c. Oh! Were we racing?

podium cake 3

* One person asked me, anyway

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