Winter, why not give cyclocross a go?

Julie PhelanLooking for something exciting to do this Winter? Why not give cyclocross a go? Some fantastic regional races are already up and running, the 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. Julie Phelan

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 complete film ‘For The Love of Mud’ can be bought from Vimeo of demand)

Women’s Training Day – 5th September


Based at the Birches Valley Visitor Centre, the aim of the course is to develop women’s confidence to enjoy riding off road. In a relaxed, no pressure atmosphere the morning session will cover elements such as cornering and riding berms, braking techniques, riding easy drops as well as  lifting the front and back wheel over roots and small rock steps.

After lunch, the group will set off on a guided ride to apply their newly acquired skills on the numerous tracks and trails found on Cannock Chase.

For more details or any questions please contact me using the email above. Payment can be made using PayPal or cheque.

Ridley-Western Summer Cyclocross Series

 Shelled but happy ! Is that nuts???

Shelled but happy ! Is that nuts???

The problem with deciding to race just in the Winter, is that the ongoing Summer race chat makes you feel a tad twitchy. So I found myself trekking down to Bristol last  Wednesday. The Ridley- Western Summer Cross Series has been running for a few weeks now and it has been in the back of my mind as a possibility.

The whole affair had a laid back feel, with a great group of people. I had a brilliant evening, riding a good course with a nice mixture of tricky turns, steep off camber sections, roots, steps and the added bonus of electronic timing.

Racing  in Pro Vision colours for the first time, I finished first in my age group with a sound performance.  Whilst I am not a big advocate of racing all year round, I must admit the occasional off season race certainly adds a bit of spice and keeps me motivated. More importantly, I have made some new friends who I know I will meet again for a bit of cross bike action.

Thanks guys and gals. It was lovely to meet you and yep the FlanRou on September 6th looks fantastic .

There are two races left in the series, so if you are down that way why not give them a whirl?

FlanRou CXSportive, the Sunday after round one of the SW Cyclocross League which has a floodlit final. Both start from the same venue with overnight camping



The Lapierre Cheshire Cobbled Classic

Enjoying a well earned class of Leffe

Enjoying a well earned class of Leffe

As a fully fledged Belgian, not to take part in a sportive promising a hilly 100km ride, with five cobbled sections, would have just been crazy! As it also includes the infamous Corkscrew climb, with a gradient of 45%, this was not going to be a day for the faint hearted!

The event started in the gorgeous Lyme Park, near Disley, home of the gorgeous Mr Darcy. With feed stations stocked with Belgian chocolate and waffles, along with the usual carbo gels, it was like being in Belgium for the day. All good fun with hills to rip your legs off and cobbled tracks to test your skills.

It really was a fantastic day. As expected there was lots of fun on the Corkscrew, with people busting a gut to try and get up it. It took me three attempts just to find the smoothest line. I remember thinking, ‘What the hell are you doing woman, playing here when you’ve still got miles to go?’.  The boys were spurred along with the promise of their own body weight in Leffe, if they got to the top. Apparently sixty tough souls made it, in stark contrast with the previous year, when in wet conditions, no one made it!. See it does stop raining in the Peak District, honest!

The remaining cobbled sections, with the toughest climb at 20%, seemed a doodle in comparison. Eventually we left the hills of Derbyshire and made our way over to Alderley Edge, and the delights of the Cheshire cobbles, notably Swiss Hill. All too soon we were swinging round to the finish, to be welcomed back with a glass of Leffe and our very own cobble to take home!

Debating the best line!

Debating the best line!

The severity of the climbs is not to be underestimated and I have to say having a 11-32 on the back, was a good choice for me. It made the whole thing much more enjoyable. My days of mauling are over! As for tyre choice, I put my Vittoria Open Pavés back on. I love riding on these, having got round Paris Roubaix puncture free. It always makes me smile as I hack as fast as I can over the rough stuff, cyclocross style. ‘Hell’s teeth woman you’re on your road bike. It’s amazing what you can do with a bit of determination and the right kit.

I’d like to thank Francis Longworth and his team for a fantastic day. At £25 it’s an absolute steal and gets you into the National Trust Parkland for free. I enjoyed it so much that I am going to have a spin around the Lapierre White Roads Classic, inspired by the Strade Bianche, on July 12th. A bit of Italiano down in Oxfordshire, sampling some of the gravel and chalk roads of the Ridgeway. Some people will do anything for an espresso and a glass of prosecco at the finish!

Faster After 50 by Joe Friel

Book ImageIt’s taken a long time to admit that my body has changed since my best performances, in my early thirties. Despite training as hard as I did in a previous life, the gains have been harder to achieve and recovery has taken longer. Coupled with the double’ whammy’ of increasing weight gain, it’s not been an easy time…. and just to make it even harder, the older you get the shorter the races become! Initially I found this all a bit daunting. I weigh more, I’ve lost power and yet the racing is more speed orientated. Well I guess I could have a right old grumble about that for days, but instead I have decided to do a bit of research in my quest to join the ranks of the top veteran woman in next season’s National Trophy Cyclocross races.

I have always steered clear of books for the ‘ageing athlete’ feeling you can do anything if you put your mind to it. However this is clearly not always the case! After extensive trawling book shelves, looking for the answer to the elusive question, ‘How to be older and still pull off a performance you’re proud of’, I found this little gem written by Joe Friel.

Joe Friel Is one of America’s leading endurance coaches and some years ago produced a fantastic book called the Cyclist’s Training Bible. He has coached both amateur and professional athletes and bases his work on the most current research on ageing and sports performance.

In a nutshell the book covers how to plan training and recovery using periodization, sessions to rebuild muscle mass and power, training at different intensities as well as nutrition for high performance and reducing body fat. The philosophy behind many of his ideas, is not dissimilar to Carmichael’s, ‘The Time Crunched Cyclist’ but with more of a slant towards us older athletes.

I have to say it really has made me think and refocus. Quotes by living legend, Ned Overend, who is 60 this year, but still kicking ass, are inspirational. He reiterates the point emphasised by Friel, that as we age high intensity and recovery is the key to going faster.

If like me, you feel you are not moving forward, it could be time for a complete rethink. Maybe I should of have kept this book a secret because it’s my only ammo! Oh well, knowledge is to be shared and a healthy level of competition is good for the soul.

Paris Roubaix Challenge

Starting off in Busigny in the rain.

Starting off in Busigny in the rain.

At 7:30 am on a cold wet morning, I set off with 4,499 other hardy souls to ride the Paris Roubaix Challenge. In a nutshell it’s a sportive run the day before the professional Spring Classic, in April. Starting from the sleepy town of Busigny, it offers 170 km of mixed terrain, including all the cobbled sections, that the pros ride. For those of a nervous disposition there are shorter options available. Would I do it again? You bet I would! I loved it, for all it’s attrition and the range of emotions that make up the Paris Roubaix classic.


The first sector of cobbles are like an obstacle course. Bottles, some still attached to the cage, pumps, saddle bags and spare tubes lay strewn across the track. After a while you realise that your eye balls are rattling in your head and the crown of the cobbles, just doesn’t look in focus any more. At one stage I swear my head just hurt from the constant jolting. The mud, grass, tussocks and stones at the side become a seductive alternative. After this experience, I wouldn’t bat an eye lid, if someone suggested I rode my best road bike through my local woods.

Near Busigny

Near Busigny

All too soon the Trouée d’ Arenberg appeared in the distance. There’s a sense of impending doom and excitement. Camper vans are squashed into every available space, there are hoards of spectators lining the route. Cyclists nervously look around, plucking up the courage to enter this legendary section. I was beside myself, I was there! This is the iconic bit, that you always see on T.V. These are the cobbles I had been watching ‘Cobbles Cancellara‘ hack along during those Sufferfest, four minute intervals.

A liberal covering of greasy mud, ensured the full Arenberg experience. I scooted around some poor soul receiving medical attention, in the middle of the track. The challenge is to find the smoothest line and avoid riders and debris on the floor. I pedalled as though my life depended on it, moving from the crown of the track, to the off camber and sometimes even ploughing through the mud at the side.

When I think back, the whole thing really makes me smile. What type of perverse person, would ever think that this was a good route for a road race? After this classic section you kind of think you’re in the clear, but there are still many miles to cover and more pavé to rattle over. The last part just becomes ‘mind games’. Your hands feel sore and your arms pulverised. Signs for Roubaix, pick the spirits up and a lap of the legendary track, makes you realise it was all worth it.

Roubaix Velodrome

Roubaix Velodrome

Here’s a list of the changes I made to my bike to help both machine and body make it to the finish. I am pleased to say I finished both puncture and blister free!
* Double taped handle bars
* Tight fitting bottles cages which always keep the bottle under tension
* Vittoria open pave 27mm tyres
* Fi zik Antares versa saddle with a groove
* Spare tubes, pump, tools etc stowed in deep back pockets
* Pearl  Izumi gel padded track mits

The only other thing I would suggest that you consider is; the long option from Busigny to Roubaix is a point to point route. There is a bus to transport both you and your bike to the start from Roubaix at 5:30 a.m, but it fills up very very quickly. Ideally you need a driver to drop you off in Busigny. The drive from Busigny back up to Roubaix takes about an hour and a half.

On reflection, it was a tough, amazing experience, requiring determination, a bit of courage and preparation. I can’t encourage you enough, to have a go. Can you have the same thing on your bucket list every year??

Well that’s next Easter sorted out for me!

Goals For 2015

As the end of imagecross season draws near I find myself thinking about new challenges for the year, I love planning. It motivates me and keeps me focused. Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how determined you are, sometimes we all need something to get our backsides out of the door!

I want to have some personal challenges sprinkled with a few competitive ones. Cross has been really motivating and exciting, but it’s time to focus on a few other things before September rolls around once more. So here is my list for the year. fingers crossed I get entries 🙂


Paris – Roubaix sportive – 170km including enough cobbles to rattle all my fillings out.

The Fred Whitton Challenge – 112 miles in the Lake District with the best ups and downs the Lakes has to offer.

The 3 Peaks Cyclocross Race- a torturous course taking in the three biggest peaks in Yorkshire. A true test of fitness, skill, tenacity and sheer bloody mindedness. A determined effort to put all back issues behind me, literally, will get me in the position to accept an entry. Many fingers crossed for this one. It’s mad, it’s hell,  but has a special place in my heart.

Mary Townley loop – didn’t make it this last year.  Set in beautiful countryside. A 47 mile off road loop above the Pennine Bridleway, with a frightening number of gates to negotiate. What the hell! All that jumping on and off will do me good!

Return to cross racing in September with renewed vigour and determination to have fun and achieve my personal best! So what’s on your list? You might just inspire someone else!

Letting My Air Down!

Picture: Roxanne McNaughton

Picture: Roxanne McNaughton

I do not profess to be an expert in tubular tyres, but as someone who has used a pair this season for the first time, I thought I’d share my ramblings for the uninitiated.

After much thought and picking people’s brains, I plumed for a set of Challenge Limus 33s. Designed for muddy conditions, I went for a tyre I felt would get round most courses. Let’s face it, we all know that at some point we will end up riding in a mud bath!

Well that was the easy part! As for which pressure I should ride at, that seems to be a journey of discovery. Much to the amusement of my friends, I have developed a habit of squeezing the tubs, of those who seem to know what they are doing and asking ‘experts’.
“Don’t mind me, I am just feeling your pressure!” I say smiling sweetly!

Lots of people have helped. Steve Douce took lots of air out at one race, and Chris Young insisted I really ought to put some back in! All helpful information, for which I am really grateful. I seem to be happy at around 20 psi at this stage. I am frightened of bottoming out and sometimes I feel like the bike is wobbling round the corners. However I am also mindful, there’s no point running tubs if you don’t have them low enough to reap the benefits of extra traction.

My initial instinct was to ride at too high a pressure, however with experience I have begun to understand the advantages, on some courses of running them lower! Onwards and downwards Phelan!

Want more information? Have a look at Fluent in Cross.