Le Cinglé Challenge

I have cycled up the three different routes to the summit of Mont Ventoux many times. I’ve struggled with the heat, the wind and the gradient and have always thought tackling all three in one day was total madness. Why the hell would anyone ever want to do that? The thought of crawling in temperatures often in the 30s just didn’t appeal, until last year, in August! Yes, I choose the hottest time of the year, but I was well acclimatised and had just cycled across the Pyrenees, so I knew I was ready. Sometimes opportunity comes along and you’ve just got to go for it, so I did!

Known as the Giant of Provence, situated in the Vaucluse, Mont Ventoux is a very special mountain. In the relative flatness of the surrounding area, it dominates the skyline. The white stones on the top give it a ‘snowy topped’ appearance. This adds to it’s majestic beauty. It’s unlike any other French mountain, I have climbed. It’s truly unique.

So on to the practicalities:
I started in Malaucéne and went up the summit; down to Bédoin; back to the summit; down to Sault; returned to the summit and back down to Malaucéne. The Bédoin route is the Tour de France up, so usually has writing on the road and you will undoubtedly end up accompanied by numerous other ‘wannabies’. This all adds to the fun of what is a fairly arduous climb with many twists and turns. The route up from Malaucéne I personally always find mentally harder as it has long stretches of 8/9 % which look as though they go on for ever! It’s a serious case of ‘mind games’. Guess this is why I choose this accent first, just to get it out of the way! The route up from Sault is always completed last because with it’s easier gradient, it proves to be a bit of welcomed relief. I haven’t mentioned any of the descents because it’s unnecessary. They are what they are but do take care of the route down to Bédoin. With the volume of riders coming up, it’s not unusual to find overtaking cars on the wrong side of the carriage way.

Water is available at the fountains in all 3 towns. If it’s non- portable i.e not for drinking it usually says so. Water is also available in the toilets at the side of Chalét Reynard, part way up.

I used a compact chain set with 11-32 sprockets on the back. 4332 metres of climbing is a maul too far for anyone!

Start as early as you can so at least 2 ascents can be completed before the midday heat. I started at 6 a.m but some begin at 4, in order to see the sun rise on the summit.

Completing this ride was a personal challenge which I set myself. For those who enjoy having a carnet stamped with a time, as evidence of their ride,y ou may choose to register with the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux http://www.clubcinglesventoux.org/en/…

Looking back I feel a real sense of achievement. It’s a challenge on many cyclist’s bucket list and has the added bonus, that it can easily be completed without support.

Top tip: pace yourself, stay well hydrated, remember to refuel with both food and an isotonic drink and you’re almost there. With some cycling in the heat and a few hilly miles behind you, anything is possible. Go for it!



It’s the end of the cyclocross season so what’s next?

By mid January I started to crave the end of the cyclocross season. ‘I’m sick to death of bike cleaning, soaking mud caked clothing and generally sorting out mess,’ I recall thinking. After a few weeks of active rest i.e do what you fancy, I now find myself at a bit of a loose end. In fact,if I found a cross race this weekend,I’d probably be beside myself with excitement. Clearly I am recalling that bucket of soaking muddy clothes,through rose tinted glasses. ‘So what’s next?’I ask myself. Well I know I always find fell running a welcome relief. In fact I done a fair bit of off road running recently. For me it’s food for the soul. An eclectic mix of challenging uphills; sliding about in the mud; being at one with nature with a personal challenge thrown in for good measure. Even if I have a number on my back,I have no competitive thoughts,just the purity of doing my personal best with no expectation. It’s that simple.

Now it’s time to return to some cycling structured training and I can see that I’ll need some highlights. I’m thinking about some competitive goals on the way but ‘oh what to choose?’ Should it be a few MTB races, MTB marathons, road races or may be even the track? Which of these gets a high’fun factor’ rating and yet steers me towards my long term goal,improving my cross performance?

I have no doubt many cyclocrossers go through the same thought process? So I have had a ‘surf’ on our behalf.I’ve found this short article,linked below, which hopefully you’ll find useful. May be the question we have to ask ourselves is,”what do I need to improve?’ Then we can make an informed choice. Enjoy!

Summer options for cross racers

Why we should embrace failure.

Notts and Derby Cyclocross League

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?

Here’s a link to an article about developing the mental toughness such events require.  A lesson for life as well as sporting success?? I think so. Enjoy.
Thank you Mick Bown for a great picture, taken at yesterday’s Notts and Derby cx race at Holme Pierrepont. 9th at out 34, not bad for an old bird. I can live with that. 

Fancy something different? There’s still time to give cyclocross a go this Winter.

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!

A Practical Guide To Riding A Granfondo Or Sportive

Click for larger

In the Start Box – Click for Larger

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.

Finishing MedalsEquipment- 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!

Race for the Finish!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!


Winter Training in Murcia

Regrouping near Portman

Regrouping near Portman

Club car ready to bring up the rear

Club car ready to bring up the rear

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.

Stunning local scenery

Stunning local scenery

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!

9.00 start at the Stadium

9.00 start at the Stadium


Post Christmas ride meal

Post Christmas ride meal.

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.

IMG_2149From 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!