5 Weeks to Go

Training Round (9 days to 2nd August)

  • Distance cycled: 362.1km
  • Time on bike: 16 hours 3 minutes
  • Total elevation gained: 2,654m

This is my first week of dedicated training for Ride Across Britain. This is easily the most I’ve cycled in a week in my life, but this will only increase in the run up to September. My body is already feeling it with slight aches and pains which I’ve never felt before and general fatigue, which is a bit concerning. The longest ride I’ve put in is 100 km and that in itself was a real struggle, so knowing I’ll be averaging about 175 km a day for 9 days straight is really daunting.

Saturday 25th July

Cycled nearly 75 km today, up into Hertfordshire and back home, which took just over 3 hours. This was one of the toughest rides I’ve ever done (although I reckon that’ll start to become a common phrase soon enough) even though it wasn’t that long. This was just because it was my first proper ride in 3 weeks and my longest ride since May. The first 25 km unsurprisingly I felt sluggish, the second 25 km I was flying, but that cost me massively in the last 25 km, where I was really struggling and contemplated a couple of times about stopping and just getting a taxi to the nearest train station. In the end I ended up taking a few breaks (I normally never stop on a ride shorter than 100 km) and just persevered.

Sunday 26th July

It was pouring down all day today and I didn’t fancy mixing it up with cars with the conditions so poor, so I drove down to Regent’s Park and cycled some laps. With each lap around Regent’s Park around 4.5 km, I decided to do 11 laps. The first lap I warmed up. From the second lap I did intervals sprinting on the slight uphill on the east side of the Outer Circle for about a km for 9 laps, taking it relatively easy between the intervals. On the last lap I ‘warmed down’, I was completely drenched after about 10 minutes so I was quite cold for most of the ride.

As a resuly I probably saw at most 5 cyclists actually training in 2 hours, when you’d normally see easily 50 in Regent’s Park on any given Sunday. Even though the weather was abysmal, most of the cyclists had massive smiles on their face and that’s one of the pleasures of riding a bike. You feel the freedom of being a child again, nothing to worry about, just the joy of flying around on your bike, with the wind blowing in your face – especially in the rain, it just feels like being a kid again, putting on to Wellies to play and splash about in the rain.

Monday 27th July

I’ve never cycled 2 days in a row, let alone 3 days since university (and even then I’d never cycled more than 20km in a day). Still the commute on Monday, wasn’t too bad. My legs felt slightly heavy and I felt a bit uncomfortable sitting on the saddle for the first 5 minutes, but I was fine after that.

Wednesday 28th July

I was absolutely flying this morning (or at least it felt that way) with green lights most of the way in, minimal traffic and the legs felt great. I nearly always feel brilliant when I get into work after cycling in, and the same when I get home, it’s the endorphins and adrenaline speaking. Still it’s so much nicer cycling to work than being crammed on the underground, especially in the summer.

Friday 30th July

I took it relatively easy today cycling into work. I’ve quickly realised there’s no point in rushing on my bike in London, taking unnecessary risks as often I’ll just end up having to stop at a traffic light anyway. At most I’ll save a couple of minutes. Also when I cycle a couple of times a week it’s fine to go hard, but when I’m cycling 5 times a week I need to cycle at a sustainable pace or I’ll pay for it in the following days (especially when I know I’m doing 3 relatively long rides in the coming days). It’s the same with Ride Across Britain where it’s crucial I cycle conservatively or I’ll really struggle.

Saturday 1st August

Today was just a short quick ride up into Hertfordshire, a route I’d done quite  a few times before, in total 54 km. I cycled at a good pace (over 25 km/h), but I didn’t push myself knowing what I had in store for the next day. However it wasn’t a pleasant ride for my ears (and probably more painful for my soul), as the lubricant on my chain had been washed off after last week’s ride in the rain, so my drivetrain was squealing and screeching for the whole ride.

I cleaned the bike when I got home and lubricated the chain. I also noticed that my tires had some serious cuts in them so decided it’d be a good point to change them. The tires had been brilliant (Michelin Pro Service Course 4) and really flew and I’d only ever suffered 1 puncture (would have happened to any tire as I went through a massive pothole). The only problem was they’d only lasted about 1,500 km, but that is the trade-off if you want quick tires. The new tires (Vittoria Rubino Pro Slick) aren’t supposed to be as comfortable or quick (but still not bad), but they look awesome (blue side walls which match my bike) and they’re supposed to be highly durable, which is perfect as I increase my mileage for training.

Sunday 2nd August

Sunday as always is usually the big ride of the week. The plan was a 100 km ride into the Chilterns. It’s North London’s answer to Surrey/Kent (who’d want to venture South of the river anyway…) and a lovely part of the world, with part of the area designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and barely an hour from London.

It was a glorious day for cycling, slightly too warm for my liking but still lovely to be outside. I started off from home and before I’d even warmed up within a couple of kilometres I faced a sharp climb up Bittacy Hill towards Mill Hill Village.

I soon noticed that the new tires didn’t have much of a negative impact and rolled well with the bike sounding much happier after I’d cleaned and lubricated her chain (I’ve just decided to refer to my bike as a female, especially as I consider her to be my baby/wife).

Through the Woods
Through the woods

After about 25 or so km I started noticing a consistent thudding in the back wheel after each revolution and this quickly became unbearable. I stopped in Bovingdon, had a quick PB sandwich and noticed that my tire had deformed near the valve of the inner tube, with the tire starting to come off the rims. I deflated the inner tube and re-inflated it again which seemed to have sorted it out.

The only real challenge of the day in the form of a hill came as I left Berkhampstead, where the hill ramped up to over 10% at some points. I thought I’d got to the top, but as I went round the corner, I realised it continued going up for another half a km. It’s a matter of pride to never get off a bike to walk up a hill.

Around the 60 km mark my back tire felt soft so I stopped and realised I’d got a slow puncture. I really should have changed the tube the first time. I spent 5 minutes changing the inner tube, only after I noticed I’d been standing in the middle of an ant’s nest… I did my best impression of a skinny Rambo on a bike wrapping the old inner tube across my chest and I was on my way again.

Five minutes later I came across two ladies, one who seemed to be having some trouble, so being a gent I offered my help. The chain had come off her time-trial bike (no idea why she was riding that), but it was an easy fix. However her bike continued to make noise near the crank-set, and I tried to see if I could sort it out, but quickly admitted I wasn’t certain what was wrong. I do most of the work on my bikes so I’m not too bad around them, but I need time (and a lot of patience), which I didn’t have, as I still had 40 km to ride at that point. The bike was ridable though, for which they were grateful.

It's not all bad
It’s not all bad

I really struggled in the last 20 km and I ended up stopping in Radlett (lovely little town by the way) for a rest. I’d done almost the same ride back in May and had not stopped once, but clearly the distance I’d rode this week had caught up with me. Once I was in Barnet the last few km were easy as I motivated myself with the ice cold Pepsi Max and Doritos that were waiting for me at home (weird cravings).

You can find the route I took on Strava.

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Brailsford had a dream

I might by a little late to the party in posting this entry nearly two weeks after the end of the Tour, but for anyone who’s living under a rock, Chris Froome’s gone and done it again, he’s won le Tour de France for the second time.

When I last posted about the Tour, Froome looked like he might end up dominating the race. However in the end it was one of the closest Tours in recent years, with Nario Quintana pushing Froome to his limits on the penultimate day up the Alpe d’Huez, cutting his lead in half. After cycling for three weeks over 3,300 km, Quintana was only 1 minute and 12 seconds behind Froome! In the end Froome was a deserving winner, donning the King of the Mountain’s jersey too, the first person to do since Eddy Merckx (G.O.A.T?) in 1970.

Britain’s Greatest?

Naturally shortly after Froome had won the media began questioning who the greatest British cyclist may be (check out this BBC article). Whilst Chris Hoy is considered Britain’s greatest Olympian with 6 Golds on the track, he’s incredibly one dimensional as a cyclist.

Cavendish, who’s also had success on the track (although he was sadly the only GB track cyclist to not win a medal in Beijing in 2008) has won an incredible number of races on the road. This includes stages and the overall points jerseys at all three grand tours, Milan-San Remo (one of the five monuments of cycling) and the Road World Championships, making him probably one of world’s greatest sprinters ever.

Bradley Wiggins’ all-round track record speaks for itself though: 5 Olympic medals on the track, including 3 golds, a further Olympic gold Time-Trialling, current World Time-Trial Champion, current holder of the Hour record and of course a Tour de France winner. At the age of 35, he’s aiming for another track Olympic gold at Rio next year.

However Grand Tours are considered the pinnacle of cycling and at the age of 30 Froome definitely has time to win a few more, which would put him right up there.

British Cycling

Traditionally, as cycling is a team sport, the winnings of the Tour is split with the rest of the team, in this case Team Sky (the British based team that both Wiggins and Froome rode for). The reported winnings by Sky from the 2015 Tour de France was only EUR 556,630, EUR 450k due to Froome’s win.

The man at the helm of Team Sky is Dave Brailsford. Although not comparable to MLK or even K.Dot for that matter, Brailsford had a dream that Team Sky would win the Tour de France within five years with a British cyclist, when the team was created back in 2010. In five years, a British cyclist riding for Team Sky has won three times!

Team Sky is effectively a spin off stemming from the success of British Cycling (the national governing body of cycle racing). This began in the 90s, inspired by the likes of Chris Boardman, well invested Lottery funding and number of men with a vision, Brailsford being Performance Director of British Cycling until last year. This culminated with success at the Olympics in 2008 and 2012 (think Wiggins, Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Laura Trott).

The Present and Future

This year’s Tour de France saw a record eight British finishers of the ten that started, many who’d come through the ranks of the British Cycling programme.

Apart from Froome, riding hard for Team Sky there was Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard, both British Cycling alumni , as well as Peter Kennaugh, a track Olympic Gold winner and the current British Road champion, who unfortunately did not finish due to injury.

One of this year’s stand out performances was Geraint Thomas, also a track Olympic Gold winner, he was Froome’s second in command. For nearly the entire three weeks he was at the front of the race supporting Froome. With three days to go, Thomas was 4th overall, however he suffered in the last two mountain stages, but still came 16th overall. At only 28, Thomas is definitely a contender for a Grand Tour in the future.

Cavendish could only manage one stage win this year and although he’s only 30, the new crop of sprinter’s might just be too good for him now. I’ve already made it clear that I have slight ‘man-crush’ so I won’t say any more.

It was 25 year old Essex lad Alex Dowsett’s first Tour this year, also coming through the British Cycling system and a former Team Sky rider, he’s the current British Time Trial champion and the former hour record holder (which Wiggin’s took off him earlier this year). Although he left the Tour injured, he’s another name to watch out for.

This was also twin brother’s Simon and Adam Yate’s first complete Tour de France experience. At an age of only 22 (it’s quite depressing that they’re younger than me) both had a couple of top 10 stage finishes. Riding for an Australian team, they’re still developing as Grand Tour riders, however both have an incredibly bright future ahead.

Finally veteran Steve Cummings completed his eight grand tour. The 34 year old is also a former track cyclist from the early 2000s and a former member of Team Sky, he won a phenomenal stage on day 14, flying past two top French riders to win the stage in the last few hundred metres. What made it more special was that he currently rides for the first African cycling team who were invited to the Tour in a number of years and won on Mandela day.

As you can see the previous success of British Cycling and the continuing success of Britain’s cyclists continues to inspire current and future champions. However perhaps more importantly it has inspired normal people from all walks of life to get on their bikes, get fitter and see a bit more of the beautiful British countryside.

Cycling has never been more popular and is considered to be the new Golf. It’s brilliant to see so many people out on their bikes on the weekends, even though the overweight MAMILs (Middle Aged Man In Lycra) on their £10k bikes does cause slight repulsion and jealousy (I’m jealous about the bike…).

Ultimately cycling is simply about having fun, as Australian Simon Haas wrote on his arm to remind himself during stage 14 of the Tour (yes, it’s smudged, but what do you expect after the man’s been riding for 200km in 40 degrees).

Brailsford had a dream