Velo Pyrenees

Recently I headed out for my first experience of Europe’s big mountains. I flew in to Toulouse from Heathrow – my bike in a box – and picked up a hire car before driving in the direction of Tarbes. I’d booked 3 nights at Velo Pyrenees (see map), located near Crechets in the foothills of Hautes Pyrenees. Lee and Julie – both former top level triathletes – specifically cater for cyclists, runners, triathletes and sports tourists, and Lee is also a bike mechanic (very useful when breaking a spoke on day 1). They are  great company, being more than happy to provide maps, routes and local knowledge, or to spend an evening over home-cooked dinner discussing triathlon, pro cycling, photography, architecture, or any other subject for that matter.

My first afternoon was a nice easy spin, taking in 42 miles and the Cols de Buret and des Ares. After the London Triathlon and a flight + car journey, stretching my legs was very welcome. Day 2 started bright and early, filling my boots with bread, croissants, cereal, fruit, juice and coffee, before setting out for 72 miles and two huge mountains. First up was the Port de Bales – hors category and almost 20k in length; the first 9k is comfortable, but the middle section really kicks up and the following 8k to the summit changes gradient frequently making finding a rhythm difficult. The ascent is very picturesque and meets all expectations; 1h30, and I was happy. Descending into Luchon I then proceeded to Superbagneres: steep early on, and energy sapping in the 30-degree heat, this climb was tough. But – as tiring as it was – the views at the summit, and the dare-devil descending were, possibly, the highlight of the holiday. It’s a must if you’re in the area. All up 4,308m of ascending – sleep and food were required.


Day 3 started with a long ride from Crechet to Arreau, before hitting the 13k Col d’Aspin. I caught fellow guest Irene mid-climb – her partner Rob being illusively out of sight. I felt great and caught some more riders before the top. From the summit we descended together to the cafes in the valley, before hanging a left up the Hourquette. Having hit the Aspin hard, I struggled on the comparatively shallow gradients; the lush greenery and scenic views helped nullify the screaming lower back pain. Back down in Arreau we supped a couple of beers whilst waiting for the Tour des Pyrenees peleton to arrive. The beers nulled the aches during the hour long stint back to Crechets. 83 miles and 3,665 of ascending.

Col d'Aspin_profile

Waking up – frankly – knackered, I didn’t feel like tackling any more Cols. But then I remembered this was a one-off opportunity to immerse myself in the Pyrenean adventure. Col de Mente is a brilliant climb, and one not to be missed. Constant switch backs, lots of shade, steep gradients, and thoughts of Pantani’s record held court as I relentlessly turned the pedals over. The descent was magical, especially passing the foot of the Portet d’Aspet with Fabio Casertelli in mind.

Col de Mente_profile

I can’t wait to test myself on a European sportive. I would strongly recommend Velo Pyrenees as a base – ideally located, terrific hospitality, great company. Despite the – arguably – greater acclaim bestowed on the Alpes, the Pyrenees lived up to the promise and would challenge any rider of any level. What an experience. Check out the pics!

Training diary: week 6

Good solid week, although Wednesday saw another slight injury arise: a bruise like pain in the metatarsal area of my right foot. Unsure whether this was just a knock, or something more tricky like ligament damage or – worse – a stress fracture. I decided to lay off the running for a few days and ice/apply ibuprofen gel. If it persists I’ll get it checked out of course.

Fortunately swimming and biking are unaffected. The good news was a noticable improvement at Tooting on Monday with three of my Channel Swim team mates – all usually quicker than me, but I found myself a lot closer and feeling far better in the water. Looks like the drills and technique work are starting to pay off; long way to go though.

Week 6 (w/c Sunday 16th August)

Sun: REST; Mon am: RUN (5mins warm up + 2x15min @ 10k-5k pace / 5mins rec + 5mins warm down); Mon pm: SWIM (pyramid 2/4/6/8/6/4/2, Tooting Bec Lido 90m); Tue am: BIKE (1h15, inc Regents Park Reps x 4); Tue pm: SWIM (1hr, drills and lengths, London Fields); Wed: RUN (1hr, steady); Thu: SWIM (pyramid reps 2/4/6/8/10/12/10/8/6/4/2 @ 80% max effort); Fri: BIKE (1hr); Sat: SWIM (2.6k, The Triangle LC)

More Training Diary posts here.

ITU World Champs

In case you didn’t see the latest round of the ITU World Championship series in Hyde Park… it’s on the iPlayer for another few days and longer on the download service.


Triathlon has received increased airtime of late, mostly in highlight form. It’s great that the BBC showed live coverage of the Hyde Park ITU event – the first outing on the 2012 Olympic tri course. And if you’re quick, the Mazda London Triathlon highlights program (screened yesterday) is also available on Channel 4’s catch-up service, 4oD (this writer actually features, very briefly, looking far too serious at the swim assembly!). Ironman is clearly the hardest distance to cover, but really Eurosport, how can you condense an 8-9-hour event (mens and womens) into 30mins plus ads? (see Ironman France coverage aired in July, if highlights can still be found).

Still, this really should mark the start of more coverage for the fastest growing sport. Which reminds me: I keep repeating this non-statistical stat – like I did about British Basketball in the mid- to late-90s – but sooner or later I’m going to need numbers and sources to back this up! Does anyone or any sports body actually measure such a thing? And if so, how?


Can’t believe what I’ve just seen. If you didn’t see it, go watch it now.


Training diary: week 5

Strange week. I started the week in Carcassonne recovering from a wedding and doing a little swimming. Once back in London, I went out for a long run, only to feel a knee strain after an hour and struggle through to 1h30. I dropped the run on Weds, but could still feel the achey pain during Thursday’s hour steady and – slightly – during Saturday’s brick. I was meant to be cycling the Woodcote sportive on Sunday but a broken spoke prevented this…, just to add to the week’s frustration. Going to put this week behind me and make sure week 6 is a quality one.

Week 5 (w/c Sunday 9th August)

Sun: REST; Mon: SWIM (40mins, Carcassonne); Tue: RUN (1h30, steady); Wed: SWIM (3.25k, Clissold Leisure Centre); Thu: RUN (1hr, steady); GYM (10mins skipping + 2 x static weights/core exercise set) Fri: SWIM (1hr, drills + 50m reps); Sat: BRICK (1h10 bike, 25min run)

More Training Diary posts here.

Will Clarke’s blog

Oddly – when considering I read BBC Sport daily – this is the first I’ve seen of Will Clarke’s blog. Will is the British Champ from 2008 and most recently won the Mazda London Triathlon. I watched him compete on Eurosport recently: leading, his bike broke mid-ride, he hit the deck hard, fixed it, remounted, and still won the race.

Check out his blog. Will is in action in London’s Hyde Park for the World Championship Series this weekend – worth going down there if you live in town.

Will Clarke_blog

Cycling: winning the fight against drugs?

This is an interesting article by William Fotheringham, Guardian sports writer, cycling specialist and author of the Tom Simpson biog ‘Put Me Back on My Bike’, amongst other books.

Will Fotheringham_cyclingnews_screengrab

It’s a timely reminder of how far cycling has come in just over a decade; and even in the three short years since the Puerto/Basso/Ulrich/Landis debacle. Okay, so hopes of a Tour without scandal were dashed (if Astarloza’s B sample returns a positive), and news of Di Luca’s failed Giro test broke during the Tour. But there does appear to be a growing confidence in cycling, that cheats are being caught (no matter what their profile and stature) and that the majority of riders are – dare I say it – clean. Bradley Wiggins in particular is leading the way with his immediate post-4th place online posting of blood test results.

But then there is the dark cloud hanging over the likes of Vinokourov: should he be welcomed back in the pro peleton? Is it bad for cycling to have cheats return? He’s done his time, like Brits David Millar and Dwaine Chambers (both accepted back and – hopefully – competing clean in their respective sports). Vino may not be liked anymore, but society must surely permit those who’ve served their sentence to return to life and try again. The problem is – though – remorse; or, all too often in cycling, the lack of it. Until cyclists cease blaming everything from clinical depression to an identical twin that died at birth, from other riders to the sport itself, and start admitting to themselves and the world that they’ve done wrong, then their participation always harms the sport.

The UCI, WADA and co are getting a lot right now. But there remains question marks over people like Basso and Valverde too. The former never failed a test but was banned through implication in Puerto; in essence this breaches Article 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998: the right to a fair trial for all EU citizens. The latter is banned but only in Italy; that a rider can be banned by one national body, yet ride and win prestigious events like the Dauphine is ludicrous. Cycling needs greater continuity across national borders and to resolve unclear issues like the Valverde case in order to continue winning the fight against drugs. But it needs reciprocal support from riders: let’s hope more people step it up from the bio passport agreement and follow Wiggins’ lead on openness and transparency.

Mazda London Triathlon

Londontri_logoSunday 2nd August 2009

It’s 5.15am and I’m driving through the quiet streets of East London; bike, wetsuit and a bag of gear are in the boot. The sight of people standing, laughing, stumbling, and inebriated outside bars and clubs whilst us hardy sports nuts make our way in the breaking daylight to the start of another event never fails to move me. Move me to excitement at the challenge ahead, or to pangs of jealousy over what I’m missing out on! – I’m not quite sure. It definitely makes you realise how commited we all are; commited to our sport, our performances, our health and vitality.

Having registered on the Saturday and checked out the route, transitions and venue set up – absolutely vital for a triathlon – I simply had to rack my bike, set up my transition items and don my wetsuit. Physically I was ready; mentally I was nervous (about what technically might go wrong, rather than my personal ability). The added press and camera attention surrounding Jenson Button at the swim assembly actually took my mind off things though. And what struck me was the strong sense of camaraderie amongst athletes.

The Swim: hundreds of seal-like bodies, arms flailing, legs kicking, sight blinded by a low 7.30am sun; the start was tough. It took a good five minutes to get into a rhythm and find my stroke. I hit some good form from then on and confidence grew. It felt odd being unsure of my pace and I didn’t try to glimpse my watch; instead I focused on tempo and as smooth a stroke as the open water allowed. The funnel to the finish found me blocked by a 5-man wall slowing my surge to the ramp. I exited the water in 30.46, middle of the field but good enough for 212th in my age group. Surprisingly I wasn’t too dizzy, and T1 went smoothly in 4.12.

The Bike: the bike loop was special (see the route map); closed roads along the wide streets, down to the Tower of London and along the Thames to Whitehall. I felt brilliant and really hit it hard, notwithstanding the headwind when going West. I used my Madone without tri-bars (I think they look ugly – and I also kind of want a seperate TT bike!) but this didn’t stop me eating up quite a few people. My best moment was in the black of the Limehouse Link, cracking on at 28mph and seeing another rider silhouetted against the orange sun at the tunnel exit – amazing, and I felt inspired. Time: 1.09.32 and 139th of 494. T2 was quick and easy: 2.21.

The Run: unknown territory now. I felt stiff and robot-like, but I was committed to extracting the most from my first 10k in over a year. By the lap 1 half-way turn I felt good and hit the 5k point in 19.59! I’d contemplated a 50min run, so this was well ahead of expectations. Blisters were my only concern – both heals and arches gradually became sore (any tips to help this folks?). But I hung on for a 20.31 lap 2 and a very limited sprint finish: 40.29 – actually a new 10k pb! and 124th in my age group.

My final time was 2.27.19, 144th place. Absolutely delighted, and Dan Bullock informed me – over a post-race chat – that it qualifies me for the fast wave next time out. Full results are here.

Looking at my splits, the swim is clearly the weak discipline – yet this is also the one I know I can improve in most. I also think the bike could be brought down with more high intensity work and an aero position (or a new TT bike!). I have a side goal of breaking the 40-min 10k barrier; based on this I’m confident I can work on tempo speed to achieve this next year. I can’t wait for my next Olympic distance tri.

My mate Nik also competed, and came in a very good 2h47 – his swim was excellent, and he’s new to cycling and running so clearly he’s going to make a good triathlete. For anyone looking for a fast, flat and well-organised Triathlon then the Mazda London event is top class. 2010 entries have opened and another friend as already signed up!

Training diary: week 4

A slightly different week of training this week! Sunday was the Mazda London Triathlon (full write up to follow), and then after the event I immediately packed my bike into my DHB Elsted box – a challenge in itself – and headed south for an early Monday flight to Toulouse. 4 days in the Pyrenees followed, taking in some classic cols, before a few days rest in Carcassonne for a friend’s wedding.

Week 4 (w/c Sunday 2nd August)

Sun: LONDON TRIATHLON; Mon: BIKE (2.5 hrs, 1581m total ascent); Tue: BIKE (6hrs, 4308m total ascent); Wed: BIKE (5h45, 3665m total ascent); Thu: BIKE (4hrs, 2850m total ascent); Fri: REST; Sat: REST

More Training Diary posts here.