Train or train?

Following on from my post on training routine, I’ve been searching for further ways to economise my time. Catch the train? Or train…whilst making your way home? My journey to my new job is – frankly – ridiculous: three modes of transport, plus two 10-15min walks either end, adding up to – at best – 1h15, and on Friday evening a round 2hrs. The real loose cannon is the train; the tube doesn’t help, and the buses are less-than-consistent. Enough is enough.

Where possible, I’m running home. The below route can take in up to three green spaces – Wandsworth and Clapham Commons, and Battersea Park – as well as London’s spectacular skyline from Chelsea Embankment past Westminster, The Eye, and the best of the north Thameside, before cutting through the City of London. The river section is a favourite for my 3hr runs. There are also options for diverting up to Hyde and Regents Parks for variety.

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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.

Superbagneres_profile

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!

Ashdown biking

Cycled this with Al on Saturday: it’s the route of the spring Hell of the Ashdown sportive.

Hell of the Ashdown

We started at Sevenoaks (train from Charring Cross) and headed north to join the route just after Chevening as it crossed the M25 where the first climb of the day kicks in. This ride takes in some lovely rolling country lanes and quiet roads through Kent and Sussex, with some challenging hills – including Toys Hill from the north side, Kidds Hill (aka The Wall), and Groombridge Hill – to test the legs. It took around 4h30 but, without time lost for a puncture, food and drink replenishment and some early difficulties finding the narrow turns, a sub-4hr is do-able. This is a highly recommended ride.

Run Brighton: new marathon launches

My home town became my home city as part of Britain’s millennium celebrations. As a result the city has seen development to public facilities, a redesign of Churchill Square shopping centre, substantial residential property investment and – finally – the approval of work on the controversial new Brighton & Hove Albion football ground and sports complex. And now the city has announced the launch of the inaugral Brighton Marathon, Sunday 18th April 2010.

Brighton marathon_Course map

The route will take in plenty of the charismatic streets of central Brighton and Hove and the panoramic views along the seaside, before finishing on Madeira Drive (the usual finish for the London to Brighton bike ride, amongst other events). The course looks pretty flat – although miles 5 to 8 in Kemp Town might perhaps be undulating (the site doesn’t show a course profile) – so good times should be possible.

The organisers are offering 8000 entries for 2010. Scheduled for just one week before the London Marathon, Brighton will provide a great alternative. Moreover, if you enter Brighton, the event is offering to refund your entry if you are fortunate enough to – subsequently – make it through the ballot for London. This is a great way to ensure early entries into Brighton 2010 whilst avoiding lots of no shows on the day. 

I’m down in Brighton this weekend so I’ll be checking out the route and – more than likely – entering the event. London will still be my preference, but partaking in my home town city marathon would be an equally terrific experience.

Chasing the dragon ride

Dragon Ride logo

The Dragon is the UK’s leading sportive, and it’s easy to see why. The Ride combines stunning scenery, long alpine-esque winding climbs, rolling roads and fast technical descents. The administration is impeccable, and the scale of the event – relative to other British rides – is something else.

Car parking congestion meant we were late starting. Matt and I teamed up with Mike – Jonny’s mate – letting Jonny and Will shoot off on a pretty hot pace. The route from Pencoed took us straight into the hills, and on to Bwlch mountain within the first 40k. Early on, finding groups to work with was tricky: not that – with over 3000 riders – we were short of people, but we found we caught and overtook each small bunch. As a result – and despite all three of us climbing really well – I was disappointed with the time at the first rest station at the top of Rhigos.

Matt dropped back on the descent from Rhigos, so Mike and I pressed on. I found the longer steadier climbing suited me far more than the severe 15% ers in the Chilterns, and we kept passing people with exhilerating frequency. By mid-race we also managed to get into some handy groups and picked up the pace on the long flat to rolling sections. Arguably the length of the ride could be shortened – something discussed during post-race debriefing – but personally I enjoyed getting more experience working with some good riders, and inparticular the Fred Baker Cycles team. If the route were shorter it would be fun to have a good go at the climbs; but on the other hand the overall challenge is in the testing length and thus it brings tactics to the fore.

We wound our way through beautiful valleys until Bwlch mountain reared up again for the return pass. Mike dropped me, but nobody else passed me as I settled into a rhythm until 100 miles ticked on my bike computer and I crossed the summit. Once over the top we soon realised that – with under 17 miles remaining – a sub-7h30 was on. The descent was very fast, and – bar one short climb – it was mostly flat to the finish. In the last 10 miles we really put the hammer down and this was probably the hardest part of the race.

If you keep up with my posts you’ll know my time! Here’s the route. And here are the photos.

Would I do this again? Yes, although I’d want to ride with a team to avoid spending more time looking for groups than actually working with them. There aren’t many rides in Britain that have long climbs like this, so it’s an ideal step on the road to an overseas sportive. It’s definitely one to get on your palmares!

Dragon Ride

Jonny, Matt and I will be tackling 120 miles in the Brecon Beacons this Sunday. Not sure I like the look of Bwlch2 at 160km in. At least the ‘heavy showers’ forecast from earlier in the week appears to have changed to ‘sunny intervals’.

www.dragonride.co.uk

Brecon Beacons 

Dragon Ride Route Profile

Reigate Sunday Sportive

Michael Fish

British weather is almost as odd as our choice of TV weather presenters (I mean, why not more Ulrika Jonssons?). Last Sunday in the Chilterns the concern was dehydration as the sun beat down; mistaking lightning flashes for speed cameras on the drive in torrential rain to Reigate, the concern was whether this event would even start! But sportive cyclists – I’m learning – are a hardy bunch.

The biggest challenge early on was avoiding a sock soaking from pools of standing water, or from car drivers ‘getting’ riders with pools on their side of the carriageway (to the b%$£*&! in the black Mondeo: I saw you grinning as you gave me an early bath!). Redhill CC were unsurprisingly out in force and – after Al took off with a handy-looking group – they did most of the work, hammering out a 20mph average pace for the main bunch. Through a rolling section a few riders broke away and – after initially missing the break – I fought my way across to the join them. This group contained the yellow jersey – well, a guy in a yellow jersey – and we really worked well together, sharing the work at the front.

Al experiments with a new aero position in the Reigate rain

Experimenting with a new 'aero' position in the Reigate rain

We hit the feed station at 40 miles in 2 hours. Why – though – do people waste so much time at rest stops? Is it just me, or does everybody seem to pull out recliners, put on smoking jackets and light cigars? So I set out solo, and was surprised to see Al’s group behind me: “wrong turn!” I heard over my shoulder. I held on for a while, but lacking power on a short incline I dropped off the back with two others.

Toys Hill – from the easier side – came and went, as did a short sharp shower, and the three of us pressed on to the climb at Chartwell. Three became two once over the top, and all was well until we realised we’d missed a right turn! 10 mins or so wasted, which turned out to be crucial. The run in was fairly pleasant with little to trouble tired limbs, but without a group to work with maintaining a high tempo was tough. Reigate college finally emerged, and my time was 5h18 – 14 mins outside Gold – and 62nd (of approx 142). It would’ve been close without the wrong turn! Al finished in a fine 4h38.

Here’s the route. It’s also worth mentioning how friendly Redhill Cycling Club riders are. Like many, I’m yet to join a cycling club; if more riders were as welcoming as these guys cycling would be a bigger sport in the UK. Great stuff.