Fancy something different? Why not give cyclocross a go this Winter?

Looking for something exciting to do this Winter? Cyclocross provides a high intensity work out, to keep you motivated in a fun packed atmosphere. The Cyclocross season is about to start, with races up and down the country. 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!

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!

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.

lunch

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