Monday, 22 June 2009

Enforced layoff

This morning's trip to the doctor was both good and bad.

No circulatory problems
No nerve damage

Soft tissue damage to toes, foot and metatarsal area

2 week course of prescription strength anti-inflammatories
Accompanying painkillers originally developed for bringing down bull elephants

2 week cycling ban until feet recovered, dammit!

This gives me the excuse to miss the Offa's Dyke Audax (which owing to the amount of climbing I would probably have failed to finish anyway) and focus on my preparations for LEL. I will try to get another 200km in before LEL, just in case I fail to finish and thus miss my RTTY.

Friday, 19 June 2009

I almost forgot.........

After the Dragon Ride, I have now done over 12,000 miles since starting cycling at a rate of 4,000 miles per year.

The Weatherpocalypse counts towards the RTTY, so I am now 2/3 of the way to completion.

I now only need a 400km Audax to get a Super-Randonneur Series award (riding 100, 200, 300, 400 and 600km events in a single year)

If I complete a 400km and LEL, I 'only' need 5 more 200km events to achieve a 5000km award for the current year.

You've got to love new targets.

On the other hand, I still don't love my feet. The pain from them now only abates when I have my cycling shoes on (shame!). I guess I'd better see the Doc' on Monday to find out what sort of damage I have done to them.

A short, gentle Wedding Anniversary tootle round the lanes may be called for first, though.

Enter, The Dragon

Some time ago, before Weatherpocalypse 600's were even considered, I entered the Dragon Sportive in South Wales, having heard the lads at the bike shop extol the virtues of it's 'almost Alpine' climbs. I thought at the time "I'm having some of that". After the Weatherpocalypse, I thought "I'll have a little bit of that" and decided to do the shorter route, knowing I was already tired.

In the week before the event, even the short course seemed dubious. The cold and endurance of the previous weekend weakened my resistance to the extent that I contracted the worst case of 'Montezumas Revenge"/Delhi Belly/Call-it-what-you will that I have ever experienced. Clear fluids only for three whole days! At least by the day before the ride, I was well on the road to recovery and 10lbs lighter. (Perhaps I could get it again next week....)

On the Saturday myself, Mrs H and sundry colleagues rode a local 25 mile charity ride in about 2 hours, and I felt fine. Off to South Wales, then.

The organisation of the Dragon Ride is first class, with the exception of parking, which left a queue onto the M4. We dodged this by doubling back from the next junction, and were away in large groups before 9 a.m.

This was the biggest field of riders I had seen since last years Etape, and I had forgotten how good big pelotons are. We fairly rocketed to the first climbs where, as usual, everyone else kept going and I slowed down. That said, the climbs are not stupidly steep, and I went well up to the top of the Bwlch (1st time). What a descent! I wish I could have seen the look on the teenage spot-monster's face as the Datameister Express shot past his Honda Hairdryer down the other side. Looking over my shoulder as I relaxed and freewheeled, I was being followed by a number of racing snakes, all pedalling frantically to keep up. Sometimes its great to be heavy!

Rhigos Mountain is another great long, drawn-out climb achieved in the saddle throughout, with another 50mph descent the other side. Sanity prevailed at the bottom, and I turned onto the short course. That area is one of fantastic countryside and enjoyable big-ring touring, at least as far as the Cimla climb out of Neath.

On the first corner, there was Howard from Team Cycling+ getting his heart rate down. Pleasantries exchanged, I carried on until I had the same problem higher up, retreating to a park bench. I was determined on this ride not to turn myself inside out, but to complete comfortably. I thought that I was getting a few strange glances from other riders, and when remounting discovered this was because I had stopped only 200 metres short of the second feed station. Oh well.....

Bwlch2 was even longer, and did require a couple of rest stops in the increasing heat, but I reached the top out of the saddle for the benefit of the waiting photographer. Descending the way we came up in the morning was another blast of freewheeling speed before the short final drag up and last, 'dangerous' descent. There is just one bad bend on the descent, a bend totalling about 270 degrees, tightening as you go round. I made it (slowly) I gather a racing snake came to grief later.

In the final 10km myself and another 2 riders averaged over 30kmh, although I lost the 'sprint' to both of them at the finish.


Now, about the performance. I was determined to get round the short course, and enjoy myself. No turning myself inside out, no dragging lungs behind me up the climbs. This I thought I did......until the results were published.

82 miles, 132 kilometers in 6:34:10, of which 6:14:22 was actual cycling.
Average speed 21.1kmh, 13.1 mph on a course with 2799 Memory Map Metres of climbing!

Looking at Memory Map when I finished, I tried to analyse my ride using its formula of :
Distance/speed on flat + time lost on ascents - time gained on descents
and could only calculate my time when inputting the best figures from last years sportive riding. (30kmh on flat + 30 seconds per 10 metres climbed - 6 seconds per 10m descended)

Therefore, my Dragon performance was not only the best of the year to date, but just as good (although over a shorter distance) as any sportive last year, Etape included.

Mighty pleased!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The Cambrian (Weatherpocalypse) 600

For some months I have had a 600km Audax pre-LEL pencilled into the diary. I was even organised enough to enter it.

So, in the early morning rain on 7th June, I found myself donning foul-weather gear in Hazel Grove, Stockport. The weather forecast was not good, but we cyclists are hard, right?

I was still faffing when the whistle went, and all but two riders (me being one) disappeared. 5 minutes later, I set off, last bar one. On the first climb of the day, the chain came off and, as I was remounting, the remaining rider shot past like a scalded cat. Last on the road. With the GPS eventually deciding to work, I set off towards Wem in the increasingly heavy rain. I caught one rider on the road to Wem, and found a few still at the cafe control, including some who were already packing and going home.

The next leg to Church Stretton was not too arduous, but still wet and shortly before Church Stretton the rain intensified. I found a cash machine for proof of passage, and a chip shop that provided sitting space in the dry, from where I could watch my bike.

Given that the rain showed no sign of letting up, I got back out before I got too comfortable, heading for Builth Wells, and beyond Knighton, the start of the hilly section. The hills were sapping, especially given the wet weather, and this section was slower. Nonetheless, I arrived in Builth on the scheduled time, although the ensuing stop was longer than expected.

Leaving Builth for Aberystwyth via the mountain road, it was apparent that I would be on my own for long sections, the fast riders having gone, and many of the slower riders having packed. The Elan Valley mountain road is superb, long open views of rugged countryside and no-one for miles. Unfortunately, it goes on for miles and progress was slow. It was on one of the descents on this section that a grating noise from the rear wheel heralded the exhaustion of my rear brake blocks. 325km to go, and only one set of brakes. Thankfully, this was also the end of the steep descents.

Leaving Aberystwyth at 11pm (already on the road for 17 hours) progress was painfully slow, uphill and into horizontal rain. On this section speeds were often down to 6 or 7 kmh, and I didn't get to Newtown until 3:30 a.m. The sun never actually came up on the Sunday, but it got light shortly after Newtown. After Montgomery, at about 5 a.m. I had an attack of the dozies, and retreated to a dry and non-windy bus shelter to snatch 10 minutes of sleep. This was to be the only sleep I would get on the ride.

Breakfast at Shrewsbury was followed by a lumpy section to an info control at Coalport. In Ironbridge, just 2 miles short of the control, the heavens opened, and the road became a flood. Water was over the bottom bracket, and wet feet got even wetter.There was no point getting off, I would only have been standing in 12 inches of water holding my bike, so I carried on. On arrival at Cannock (11a.m. and 152km to go)I phoned my wife. She was only 25 minutes away by car at home, and I still do not know how I managed not to ask her to come get me.

Finally, after Cannock, rain relented to drizzle, although by now the roads were well flooded. I splashed my way to Whitchurch, though not without missing an info control and adding 5km to the total by having to go back for it. The last section was slow, but I got through it in deep conversation with my legs. With the correct amount of cajoling "the ladies" (my legs) got me back to Hazel Grove, and checked in by 8:25 for a total of 38hours 25 minutes, of which it rained for about 34 hours.

10 days later, my legs are recovered, not so my feet. Immersion in water for so long (and being cold) has left them a bit swollen and very painful. I'm told this will pass. I really hope so.

At least I finished. Many did not. I have learned a lot, not least that I must sleep regularly to maintain speed, and will be tailoring my LEL approach accordingly. I also reckon that I can finish LEL, since many hardened veterans reckon that this years Cambrian 600 was the hardest ride of their lives. Trust me to pick it as my first.

All aboard the Tramway!

Immediately after the Etape du Dales, I decided that a full two weeks rest to shake the effects of the man-flu was needed.

I almost managed it, too, until Ray from Tamworth CC phoned to ask if I was doing the Crich Tramway Audax (100k) and could he cadge a lift. I wasn't, but a quick re-appraisal encouraged me to enter on the line. This would also be a good assessment of how I was going as it was the first ride I did with Mark (one of the First Time Etappers) two years previously.

The first impressions were that there was going to be an improvement. For a start, there was sunshine and not claggy, cold fog this year. Secondly, we got entered and faffed in time for the start, and got off on time, too.

Actually seeing the Derbyshire countryside this time was tremendous, and the first leg to Owler Bar over never-flat terrain went quickly. There soon followed the stunning descent to Hathersage, which has to be one of the best views in the Peaks. This led to the first control, under scorching sunshine, and a not-so-rapid bacon buttie.

Leaving Hathersage, the climb past the gliding club at Abney was still hard, but I didn't have to stop this time. Equally, having learned the lessons of last time, we stuck to the main road down into Millers Dale (the minor road has 1:6 gradient AND gravel, neither of which shorten my stopping distance). From Millers Dale up to Brierlow Bar seems uphill forever, but we were both going reasonably well (Ray much better up the climbs since he is only 9 stone wringing wet).

The climb from Glutton Bridge up to the traffic light above Longnor is a tester at the best of times, but I stayed on throughout and soon descended to the second control in Hollinsclough. Now was the time to refuel. Only 4 miles away was Longnor, and 5 minutes beyond that Crowdecote, one of my many nemeses. I have only 'climbed' Crowdecote once without either walking or putting a foot down, and I can only claim that since one of the Spud Riley Feedstops was halfway up last year, so stopping wasn't frowned upon.

This time, under blazing skies, I conquered it. Straight up, not stopping, no walking, no great speed, but who cares? Once back at the main road, we took the Via Gellia option, blasting downhill for miles in a small group as far as Cromford.

Now, Crich is on a hill, so no matter which way you leave it, you have to go uphill to the finish. Two years ago, this was a lovely walk. This year I rode it, pushing all the way to the finish (and pint) at the Cliff Inn.

Total Elapsed time: 6:10
Riding Time 5:10
1:20 faster than 2 years ago for 102km and 1990m of climbing.

1990m of climbing? This event doesn't carry climbing points. Having asked one of the organisers, they admitted that if they broadcast how much climbing was involved no-one would turn up, much less the days contingent of 125 riders so they keep quiet. Never mind.

Sunny. Warm. Chuffed.

Etape du Dales

There are times when my words end up being prophetic, and probably as many times I end up wishing they weren't.

The Etape du Dales was indeed very hard work.

In the end, I decided on the Kinesis for its lower gears, and whether this was the right decision or not I shall probably never know.

However, the inevitable late arrival and pre-ride faff left me leaving much later than expected, and worrying about the cutoff. This worry was not alleviated by arriving at the foot of Fleets Moss only a minute faster than last year, despite a stiffish tail wind. It was further not helped by realising when the road kicked up that my legs contained a big fat NOTHING! There was no cadence to be had, and no strength either. Evidently, the man-flu had left me lower than I first thought.

The descent from Fleets Moss was 'interesting'. The combination of heavier rider and heavier bike lent itself to a new kamikaze sumo cyclist land speed record of 55mph! Unfortunately, this coincided with a Calgary-Stampede-Rodeo quality speed wobble. Fortunately, I remembered the advice read on forums to grip the top tube between the knees, and I can confirm that this does work. I can also confirm that when you reach the valley floor some 2 miles later, still a gibbering wreck, and finally release the top tube, you are likely to have cramp in your thighs.

From there the ride just went ever more slowly. I was briefly off the bike before Tan Hill, and clambered over Lamps Moss, hitting the inevitable head wind about 50 miles from home. Head down, I managed to get 4 minutes inside the cutoff at the Moorcock Inn (there was no way I wanted to go back over Fleets Moss the other way) and slowly set about the Coal Road. Most of the Coal Road was ridden, and the rain started at the top. At least it cooled the rims and there was no danger of last years unintended exit over the handlebars on the same section.

I was caught before Newby Head by Mike Fedarb, who is doing this years Etape, and he kindly stayed with me to the bitter end. With increasing rain, I had to stop several times in the last 10 miles to wipe the salt from my eyes as it was washed off my forehead, leaving me almost blind on some of the descents.

Final finish time was a10:59:47, only a scant few seconds inside 11 gruelling hours, and some 2 1/2 hours slower than last year.

Not happy.