Last week I read a article about the importance of accepting that things won’t always go as planned. It’s not always easy to accept but the moment we put the front wheel on the start line, it’s a risk we have to deal with. Great athletes seem to recover from failure, dust themselves down and come back strong. How do they do that?
Looking for something exciting to do this Winter? There’s still time and lots of races left so why not give cyclocross a go? Details can be found on the British Cycling Cyclocross page. If you like short sharp racing where you can turn up, race round and be back on the settee for tea time, this could be for you!
It’s a discipline full of contrasts and that’s why I love it. I start racing in September with my sunglasses,on dry and fast terrain but finish in January/February with as many clothes on as possible, up to my knees in mud. Courses can be a mixture of terrain, ranging from grass, woodland, road and gravel tracks,each requiring a different style of riding. Off camber, banks and steps all add to the fun and provide a different skill, perfected by the serious cross rider. I am no power house but the different elements of cross enable me to make gains in different areas, so it almost becomes a case of ‘horses for courses’. Clearly if you want to be a good cross rider you need technique, speed and strength. Don’t let that put you off! Cross is full of fun loving weekend warriors, who are up for something different. Let’s face it you’ve got to have a sense of humour to hack round a muddy field in the depths of Winter only glad in lycra.
No you don’t need a cross bike to race at local or regional level, a mountain bike will do. That’s how we all start and as for the kids, well there’re usually races for even the smallest. A truly inclusive sport which caters for all, have a go! It’s very addictive and when you complete that race knee deep in mud, you’ve scaled that muddy bank which felt like the Eiger, you’re going to feel so proud of yourself. Arrrrrh that warm glow when you’ve done something really worthwhile. See you there!
If you’re still in two minds maybe this little trailer will change your mind. It makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, but then I love cyclocross!
The prevalence of ticks seems to be on the increase and is certainly something I think about more and more.The link below may be of interest to all who enjoy the outdoors. It’s not designed to scare, but rather make us a bit more ‘tick aware’ than we have been before.
Feeding- despite the provision of feed stations on the route, they should never be relied upon. Ensure you have enough food for the bulk of the ride. Personally I like to think of the feed stations as additional. For last week’s event I had three energy bars, opened in my back pocket, one gel with caffeine (to be taken with a water) and a cheese roll made from soft bread cut into small pieces. I find that a constant intake of sweet food, makes me nauseous, so cheese works well. I wrap the small bits of roll in silver foil which I can unwrap with my teeth, whilst still on the move. You really won’t have time to stop constantly for eating, so work out a strategy for refuelling on the move, hence the need for having the bars already opened.
Drink- always start off with two 750 ml bottles of tried and tested carbohydrate drink. Yes, they may have refills on the route, but your own carbo hopefully will get you through the first three hours. After that, you can top up with any provided on the course, or you could even choose to have more powder in your pocket and use their water to top up. If it’s hot, mixing the carbo slightly weaker than normal will help you rehydrate, but you will need to refuel in another way. As the ride progresses and ‘carboed out’ I personally like water. It makes me feel like I am ‘running clean’ and is more refreshing. At last week’s event I had a real dip at about three and a half hours. I started drinking Coke and water because I needed a ‘pick up’! Usually this would create an insulin rebound and make your blood sugar drop, but if you are already exercising, it will give you a big ‘kick start’ because of the caffeine and sugar mix. For me this work’s brilliantly. What ever you choose to do, never skimp on liquid. It will sabotage your performance and could risk your health. If you are getting to the end of the ride and find you are carrying too much, just ditch it.
Equipment- it makes sense to have a small repair kit with you and at least 1 spare tube, even if there’s mechanical support. Time wasted waiting for assistance, can make you miss a time cut off. Make sure you have the correct tyres for the job. Last week’s route was on lots of pavé (cobbles), which is a bit of a feature in Portugal, so I rode round with 25mm Vittoria Pavés which for me are are bomb proof! They are what I used on the Paris-Roubaix sportive. If it’s a hilly course, make sure you are not under geared. At the moment, I am using 11-32 sprockets on the back. Sure, I don’t always use that 32, but last weekend when I still had 10km of 7% to go up and the temperature had hit 34 degrees, I was grateful it was there. So to the men who thought they could maul their way up it, the reason this old gal’ over took you, was because she could sit down, spin and save what little energy she still had left! It’s a hard lesson I know but the ability to spin is your friend, as Chris Froome repeatedly shows us. I rest my case!
Choice of distance- it’s very easy to choose a really hard course from the comfort of your settee. Yes, you want to set yourself a personal challenge, but the ultimate aim is to complete it in style and enjoy it. Is it best to crawl round and finish just as the course closes or is better to hack round a slightly shorter route, passing some people on the way? Remember,the longest course will have the fastest riders, so unless you can ride with them in a bunch, you may end up riding a personal time trial. I have to lay my cards on the table here, I have done both! I do quite like the ’nipping round with style’ option. There’s nothing better than a bit of acceleration!
Personal effects and clothing- last but not least, always wear good shorts you have ridden in before and don’t forget a liberal amount of chamois cream. Yes it’s a funny subject but, do you really want to be walking like John Wayne for the following week? Long endurance events blitz our immune systems and we need to do everything we can to keep ourselves in one piece. On that note if you are lucky enough to be wrecking yourself in the sun, don’t forget sunblock. You already risk, feeling like you’ve aged 50 years on Monday, so you don’t want to look like it too!
I have tried to include all the things I think about in my preparation for events such as Granfondos and sportives. If there’s anything I haven’t covered or clarified, I will quite happily answer any questions via my blog. Whilst I have enjoyed top level competition, it’s some of these mass participation events which will stick in my mind forever. They are fantastic personal challenges which can be tailored to your level of fitness, so be brave and get an entry in now!
A short video about my experience riding the Douro Granfondo in Portugal. A 156km ride along the stunning Douro valley. May 2017.
Have you ever thought about warm weather training?
I have just spent 4 months near Cartagena, in the Murcia region of Spain. Whilst this area doesn’t have big mountains it does have a nice mixture of hills and flat areas. The roads are fairly quiet and usually the climate is warm with very little rain. Sadly not quite the case this year, however whilst my fellow cyclists back home were slogging out the miles in freezing temperatures, I was bowling along in at least 15/16 degrees at it’s worst.
The area is very accessible via the AP7 motorway or alternatively flights arrive regularly to San Javier (Murcia) airport from the UK. Car hire is generally cheap along with accommodation and campsites.
I was fortunate enough to meet up with a member of Club Cicliista Cartagena, who introduced me to the club. In retrospect, unless you have fixed ideas already about what you want to do, this is a great way to find out about the best local routes and meet other riders. It’s not unusual for Cartagena to have in excess of 60 riders out for it’s Saturday morning session.
Spanish clubs are very different from those at home. Most rides are supported by a club car providing mechanical support and to assist with rider safety. For me the most bizarre thing which makes me smile even now, is having music blaring out from the club car whist riding along. The memory of one particularly loud rider, singing along with the Macarena will stick with me forever. He soon shut up later as we stepped on the gas towards the latter part of the ride. Can you imagine that happening at home? We’d be banned!
I will miss the whole thing dearly, the post ride tapas and general enthusiasm for all things cycling. They couldn’t help me enough and I am sure they would be the same for any foreign rider. Finding links for granfondos, racing, sorting medical certificates and even helping make contact with groups of faster riders. Nothing is too much trouble. All they do ask for is a valid BCF membership/license to show evidence of insurance in the event of an accident. As for equipment, I would recommend fairly robust tyres. After several punctures I swopped over to a pair of Vittoria Paves. Murcia is a large vegetable growing area and there are significant amounts of small stones and dried mud on the road.
All rides seen to have a bit of ‘unofficial racing’ thrown in just to liven things up a bit. I have to say I loved that bit and would always take things easy the day before so I could give it my best. No point doing otherwise, is there? Don’t let that put you off as the riders tended to regroup at specific points along the way.
From what I understand the Cartagena club isn’t exceptional. Many clubs in Spain are similar. It’s a great way of experiencing foreign cycling and you could even brush up on a bit of Spanish. I have to admit mine isn’t great at this stage, but I have learnt 2 important words, derecha (right) and izquierda (left)! Adios amigos!
Unfortunately dealing with injuries is all part of any athlete’s life. It’s a difficult time mentally for the individual concerned and for those around them. Many of us find exercise the panacea for dealing with stress or are just obsessed with the bike riding. For those who revel in competition,the pleasure of completing a challenging race or session,is second to none. We kick start the release of endorphins (hormones secreted in the brain) during exercise. These are very addictive and there lies the big problem. How to survive a time, when we can’t exercise in our normal way.
During times of difficulty,I personally find solace in listening to how others have created a coping strategy. Today I plan to share mine and hope they may get you thinking. A plan may be the one thing that keeps you sane! You could always develop your own ‘variation on a theme’!
‘I had just started riding for Univega and was moving through the ranks well. I had trained hard all Winter and it was just a case of putting the icing on the cake. One slip in muddy conditions at the first National MTB race, put payed to that. There went my MTB racing, sponsorship and indeed riding off road in general. The big problem with any break obviously, is that falling off whilst your recovering really isn’t an option. In my case although the bone had knitted quickly, it needed to strengthen. After spending considerable time on a turbo trainer and then riding on the road I wanted a goal to keep me going. Let’s face it, you need something to strive for if you are spending hours on the turbo! So I found myself a time trial on a fast course with a view to aim for a PB. I am no tester and time trials just don’t ‘light my fire. In this instance however, it gave me a focus requiring high intensity training in short bursts, with a limited risk of ending up on the floor!’
I got my PB, kept a good level of fitness and was soon back on a mountain bike. Looking back on it now I can see it gave me the opportunity to experience something different, in a relatively safe environment.
I have to admit that the bulk of my foreign cycling adventures have been in France. There’s something very reassuring about travelling around a country you know. Having watched races like the Tour de France, most cyclists can have a good guess where the best places to visit are. So it’s with some trepidation I am venturing down through Catalonia and then into Spain. I had heard a few people mention Girona, inland in the Costa Brava, as a great base for cycling but to be honest it didn’t really mean a great deal to me.
So here I am writing this article having fallen in love with the place. It has a mild climate even in the Winter and has a wonderful mixture of mountains and coastal rides. On arrival I didn’t know where to start so I made contact with Saskia Welch-Van Vuuren, and Dave Welch at Bikebreaks Girona Cycle Centre who proved to be both welcoming and helpful. They have a ‘shop ride’ every Thursday morning leaving at 10 a.m. It’s the perfect way to experience the fantastic riding Gerona and the surrounding area has to offer. The ride is open to anyone who rides a road bike and aims to cater for a variety of levels. After an hour the group stops for coffee and then splits into ability groups for the continuation of the ride.
Last week’s ride consisted of rider’s from 5 different countries so had a real international feel to it. 25 riders shared stories and their passion for cycling over coffee. I can’t recommend it enough; so much so, I am planning to do a revisit next week.
The shop stocks their own books describing local rides complete with written instructions, maps and GPS downloads. They also organise guided rides, cycling holidays and sportives. Saiska and Dave are a mine of information for those wishing to get the best out of their cycling time in the Girona. For a list of all the services they offer check out their website. I have included a link below.
https://www.gironacyclecentre.com/ They also have a Facebook page which is worth checking out.