A Practical Guide To Riding A Granfondo Or Sportive

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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!

Coping With Injury

The Spanish Pyrenees

The Spanish Pyrenees

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!’

KT Tape. A short term solution!

KT Tape. A short term solution!

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.

Girona, A Cycling Mecca!

Start of the shop ride

The start of the shop ride.

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.


Coffee Stop a meeting of all nations!

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.

Sven Nys – The Final Year: Vimeo on Demand

117692_550x814This beautifully filmed video will appeal to both cyclocross addicts and the uninitiated. As the title says, it’s the tale of Sven Nys’s last year of a stunning competitive career. It tells the story of an athlete, who at the age of 39 wants one more final year competing at the pinnacle of his sport. Racing against those significantly younger, was never going to be easy. As if that wasn’t hard enough, he is also trying to over come the aftermath of a divorce. The film gives the viewer an insight to how he worked with his coach and confidents, to move forward. Moments of self doubt and heart felt difficulty, show he’s only human but like a phoenix he rises from the flame and gets his reward.

This film will move your soul and for all those cross fans out there, send a shiver down your spine. I’m sitting in sunny France writing this but even I thought “Come on bring on the mud”! What a fantastic hour and 38 minutes entertainment to rock your soul. It’s available on Vimeo on Demand. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/sven/182956406

A Beginner’s Guide To Riding Big Climbs

Col d' Pailheres

Col d’ Pailheres

Cycling up another mountain climb in France last week, I started to think about how my approach to this type of riding has changed over the years. I’m not saying it’s always easy but there are certain things I do to make the whole experience as enjoyable as possible. In a nutshell, ’How to Give Yourself a Fighting Chance’.

Take more water with you than you would in the UK. It may be hot and you’re going to be working hard. You can always ditch some part way up.

Start off in an easier gear than you think you really need. If you over gear early on it will be difficult to recover. I have a 32 sprocket on the back and I’m not afraid to use it! It’s much better to keep the cadence high (the number of pedal revolutions per minute) than to maul. Look at Chris Froome, he’s a master of spinning those pedals round.

Sit down for most of the climb. It’s more energy efficient and let’s face it, unless you want to race the other ‘Tour de France wannabes’ who may be accompanying you, you’re not going to have to respond to an attack. I am not the right body shape to be a great climber, so I prefer to move to the back of the saddle when my cadence has dropped to 60rpm (i.e when it’s getting steep). I then focus on pedalling in nice circles ensuring that I am pushing the pedal down and as it gets towards the bottom of the stroke and dragging it back up. This helps to gain maximum propulsion. My hands rest lightly on the top of the handle bars and I try to stay fairly relaxed.

If the gradient steepens and I can’t pull the pedals round then I sit further forward on the saddle with my hands on the hoods in a more aggressive position. I may even then get out of the saddle. Obviously this means not only am I moving the bike up hill, I’m also supporting my body weight which takes it’s toll. If you are fortunate enough to be a natural climber and can nip up any gradient go for it. You may be able to dance on the pedals a lot better than me and it may be quicker.

Having tried to persuade you to sit for the bulk of the climb, it is worth getting out of the saddle every now and then just to stretch your back and stop your under carriage from falling asleep. This is relevant for both men and women. Personally I favour the corner of a hair pin bend because it gives me a little bit of momentum for the next section.

When it’s safe to do so, take the line on the road with the least off camber. When you’re struggling every centimetre counts so you don’t want to pedal uphill anymore than needed. Look for the shortest and flattest route particularly on corners. Needless to say, be aware of other road users.

If you start to realise that those pervious days in the saddle have ripped your legs off, it’s time to adopt a bit of psychology. I personally like to focus on a sign post, tree etc say 100ms up the road and just think about pedalling to that spot. No I don’t stop when I get there, I just choose another feature up the road. In stops me from concentrating on negative thoughts.

Finally ensure you have left a bit in the tank to arrive in style out of the saddle. After all who’s going to know that for the bulk of the ride you’ve been crawling along having a crisis. The lasting memory captured on film of you arriving at the col is all that counts, isn’t it???

Enjoy and remember it’s all about personal challenges and not what others are doing around you.

Happy cycling 🙂

The Numpty’s Guide To Your First Day Away

This little insight will resonate with the fool hardy and be an insight for the inexperienced.

Leave Blighty in sub 20 degrees, and sit in the car for 2 and a 1/2 days. Wake up below a favourite peak (in my case Mont Ventoux) to the sound of people getting ready to ride to the summit. Announce that you’re beside yourself with excitement and just have to go, despite feeling totally knackered with a stiff back. Get ready at warp speed leaving behind trip essentials like that extra gel. After all you can’t remember where anything is because nothing is sorted! As a token gesture to good preparation, fill your bottles more than normal, because after all it’s gonna be hot!

Whizz past some French woman, half your age and think ‘hell that’s starting at a snail’s pace!’. After a short time hear her breathing down your neck and think,‘well it’s not a race anyway, so I’m going to let you pass and I’ll get you later.’ Suddenly be engulfed with an over whelming feeling of heat exhaustion because the temperature is rising to 30+ degrees. Check your gears to ensure you are actually on the big sprocket at the back. Maybe the front disc is rubbing? No, it’s a case of ‘what you see is what you get!’

Think, this stretch of 9% seems to go on for ever and big climbs are often rides of retrospective enjoyment. Get your ass whipped by some guy in a vest and gym shorts, circa 1960’s, flying by on an E bike. He’ll be pedalling like the clappers with his feet at 10 to 2 in a pair of flip flops. Your self esteem falls below the floor and you begin to wonder if your really are too old to expect great things of yourself. After all your back is in a state of total melt down, despite you trying to get out of the saddle on every corner.

After what seems a life time, the end is in sight. Is there a feeling of joy and elation? No not really, rather a feeling of completing a mental hell.

Mont Ventoux this time, L’Alpe d’hues a few years before. You have a poor memory Phelan or maybe the draw to join the lemmings is stronger than you think. Maybe the first ride should be easier to flushing the legs ready for harder things? What I do know is, that some things you have to find out for yourself.

Happy travels and may you all enjoy the elation of completing many big climbs abroad.

Don’t Let the Grass Grow Under Your Feet

_MG_3493I could have rehashed some article from a sport’s scientist, about what to do when it’s all going ‘pear shaped’. I don’t deny that their comments and findings hold great value, but sometimes I relate more to someone personal experience.

‘Heh that’s like me. I’ve had that and I’m not sure what to do’ is always kinda reassuring. So I am hoping that someone may find an element of hope and direction here. No this is not an Agony Aunt page, just some woman trying to think out of the box. It may not solve your training issues but it might just get you thinking.

Still training hard

Still training hard

It’s been a challenging return back to some level of fitness, after the end of the cyclocross season. Motivation has been at a low and I have been nursing a shoulder injury. Initially I did a few tough sportives, involving huge amounts of climbing sprinkled with cobbles. Could I galvanise my body into some serious action? Could I hell! I was capable of mauling my way round for hours, but it was very much a case of ‘what you see is what you get!’. Also I had lost all leg speed and ‘the straw which finally broke the camel’s back’ was a kicking at the Leek Hilly reliability. My pride was at an all time low and my self esteem was well and truly dented. Ok, I’m no superstar! I am a woman in her 50’s, my body is changing, I am getting slower and weigh a bit more, but I still train hard and want to do my best. I lost all confidence riding with groups of riders, fearing I would get blasted.Time for some evasive action I thought. I have always believed that within reason, you can improve if you put your mind to it. I have touched on this before.The likes of Jo Friel and other sport’s scientists, working with older athletes, emphasise the need to train differently. Yep you’re right, this is a favourite topic of mine, but let’s face it at 52 I have a vested interest in their findings. I don’t want to lie down, admit that I am going through the menopause and need to throw in the towel.

Here I am, having returned from today’s ride over the Cat and Fiddle and I have to say _MG_3613things are much better. No I haven’t measured my power, I can think of better ways to spend my money. Let’s face it, I am doing the best I can, so seeing it in watts is neither here nor there. I do know however, that this girl is nipping along with her heart rate over 150 bpm which for me is a good endurance ride. There comes a point when you know your body and heart rate well enough to recognise when you are recovering and working at a good personal level. So yep, I am back to using a heart rate monitor because the readings mean something to me. I know from years of training, when a depressed heart rate shows I am struggling and need more recovery.

So what am I doing differently? In the past during the off season, strength and endurance would have been my priority. I would have focused on big gear intervals and a 20/25 minute threshold sessions. But as I grow older, if I don’t work at a high cadence, I quickly turn into an ‘old plodder’!  I need to keep those neurological pathways firing fast, to make my legs pedal quickly.

So the emphasis has been on quality and speed. I have cut some of my long rides down and included two sets of intervals and a set of tabatas (20secs on 10secs off). The quest for quality has even meant that I do a lot of my sessions on a turbo; even when it’s sunny outside! The downside of living in the Peak District is that it’s always windy and every ride end’s up with me mauling up a 20% gradient. The only things that seems to have suffered is my sun tan, but you can get that in a bottle!

I have taken the interval sessions from the British Cyclocross page. They are part of a suggested 8 week training plan. I am not saying this strategy will work for everyone, but it does seem to be addressing my needs. When your tried and tested model isn’t working, you have to find a different way. We can all let the grass grow under our feet, but somethings are worth researching and fighting for.

Onwards and upwards to all my ageing friends and may we all continue to move forwards. See you in a muddy field sometime.

BCU 8 Week Plan