OK, now where did I put it?

So my aim this year is to ride 5000 miles, an increase of around 1500 miles on last year. To date I am about 200 miles behind my year to date target. 

You read correctly, I log my rides in miles. Getting ahead of the game come Brexit time and you ‘Km’ cyclists get deported.

I have recently lost my cycling mojo, fallen out with pedalling the miles on the new badly dressed roads of Essex. Imagine your very own personal Strade Bianche. The idea of cycling to a cafe stop for coffee and cake has lost its appeal. That’s right, I said it. No real reason for it and unable to pin point an event which has led to this. As a shrink would say ‘all decision can be attributed to a traumatic point in one’s life’ but there maybe one.
Usually kept for the winter or those summer months when it rains, I have been on Zwift. Using the platform to keep my fitness up and remain on the bike. Plus a post dripping work out coffee is on hand and I can have two!!!  
Last week I managed to ride around 85 miles, well I say 85. I run rollers for Zwift, which offer little resistance so climbing a hill, taking into account wattage, the algorithms of the program adjust my displayed speed accordingly. For me to climb and maintain a descent speed, I pedal harder. So after completing Rapha Rising 30 mile Challenge and climbing the 3 mountains of Watopia it felt more like 50 miles on the rollers. I actually hurt the following day.  
I think the ease of jumping onto Zwift and riding within a few minutes became very appealing recently and not having been online since the London extension, it has kept things fresh but I did not see my wife in the crowd cheering me on.

I did mention earlier there was no traumatic event that lead to my recent hermit approach to cycling, I had completely forgotten one moment. I did not have matching wheels on the summer bike, the embarrassment to be out would have been life changing. We cyclists have some real issues.
A few weeks ago I felt the back of the bike dragging when climbing, I went through the process of elimination.  Cleaned the BB30, chain cleaned, brake calliper alignment but no improvement. So I removed the back wheel and investigated further, after a discussion with Hunt Wheels, they arranged for the wheel to be returned for investigation. So I needed to replace it for my rear winter wheel, you now see why I stayed inside.
The service from Hunt was fantastic, they arranged collection on Tuesday, repaired on Wednesday, phoned to update me and my precious wheel arrived Friday morning. That is impressive. It would appear there was an issue with the freehub and pressure on the bearings from the axle, Hunt replaced it all.
So has my mojo returned with matching wheels? A little but feel Zwift still has a hold. Anyway I have ordered new tyres, new cassette and chain for the summer bike so it may have to wait a little while longer for a true test.
I understand that coffee growing countries are waiting on tenterhooks for my return but do not worry about the little dip in the market.

 

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Fred Whitton Challenge 2017

So did Fred treat me nicely?  We were presented with a sunny warm day with little wind but it was not Fred I had to worry about.

You could not ask for better weather. A south westerly 8 mph wind with temperatures set to sore to 18º.  Not the case at 0515 in the morning when myself and Ian left the hotel for a short 7 mile warm up ride to the start.

Once Ian had completed his early morning registration we lined up on the start.  The earlier warmth slowly leaving our bodies and being replaced with the freshness that is 0600.

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The start of Fred 2017

We finally crossed the start line at 0615 and I avoided the temptation to revel in the start and increase the pace to something that could not be maintained.  I had decided to pace myself, setting the Garmin’s virtual partner to the speed completed in 2015.  This was for two reasons, to stay ahead of my own target and stop me constantly looking down and counting down the miles.

We slowly started to warm up again as we headed through Ambleside, the marshals directing us off the main road and to the beginning of the first climb.  The pace soon reduced to single figures as pedals were turned with more effort.  Passing a sign stating the next section of the climb was at 116% and I was not sure if my 34/32 would cope with such steepness.  This was the start of the climb to Kirkstone Pass, a long but gradual climb that would take us to the highest point on the course.  I like this type of climb, it allows me to set a rhythm, a steady tempo on the pedals.  I would say the view was fantastic but as we passed ‘the struggle’ we ended in the cloud and it was cold, around 4º as we crossed the summit.  We were handed some Haribo by the support teams at the top and they tasted good. (The Haribo, not the support team).  These climbs are tough but they do provide one hell of a descent and I like descending.  Not because it means I can recover and no requirement to pedal but these descent are twisty, allowing the line of least resistance to be picked and then hold on.  I did not allow the bike to run away but when the brake pads are starting to smell through heavy braking, you need to give things a break.

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The climb towards Kirkstone Pass

The ride continued well and slowly heading towards the 50 mile feed stop but there was still a testing climb to come, Honister Pass, 1.5 miles with a 10% average, slapping you with a short 15% section, just incase you thought it would be easy.  In 2015 I stopped and walked a small section, this year I did not put a foot down but did utilise the stone bridge half way up to compose and motivate myself for the last push.  Entering the slate mines it was then a 13% descent down the other side.  A small group formed and away we went, quickly catching two cars but our top speed was scrubbed.  With twisty tight roads there was no point in putting yourself or others in danger with a risky overtake.  That was not the decision of all and caused issues that affected everyone else.

I met Ian at the 50 miles feed stop in Buttermere and grabbed malt loaf, sandwiches and refilled my water bottles.  I did not want to stop for too long as the next climb, Newlands was less than a mile from the feed stop.  During this climb I noticed something was not right, I started to feel a twinge in my right knee.

I decided to ease up and not too push on the flats, hoping it was something I could ride out.  The next climb of Whinlatter, 1.8 miles at 7% average, I struggled.  The climb has a couple of kickers but in general a steady climb but I was finding it difficult to apply pressure through my right leg.

I continued but things were starting to get worse.  There were still two major climbs, Hardknott and Wrynose to come.  I decided I would get to the 83 mile feed stop, take on some food, obtain some medical advise and rest up for a bit.  Unfortunately this was not the case, a short and unassuming climb to Fangs Brow but at the top I knew I could not carry on.  I made a marshalling point and needed assistance from them.  At that moment it was that bad that I was unable to twist out of my cleat, a marshall had to undo my shoe so I could get off the bike.

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Unfortunately this was the end of my race, there was no point in carrying on and being driven to the feed stop there was still some climbing to do.  I am absolutely gutted I did not complete the course but I made the right decision.  My time with Fred is done but I would still love to return to the area and complete the hills again, splitting them down into smaller chunks. 

I have not ridden the bike for over a week now and rested.  I did have a doctors appointment but due to the cyber attack, this had been cancelled.  A physio’s appointment has also been booked but need to wait another week for that.  I went out on a family ride yesterday for around 4 miles and everything felt good and the legs have been twitching to get back on the bike.  I am back into work tomorrow so will have a spin around Regent’s Park and see how I get on.

Please be gentle Fred

In a few days I will be heading to Grasmere, Cumbria and register my place for the Fred Whitton Challenge then I’ll be heading off for a tranquil night in a B&B over looking Lake Windermere. There will not be a chance to soak up too much scenery as it is an early start on Sunday for a challenging ride.

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Am I ready for Fred?

Having completed it before I am aware what the countryside will offer. I think I am fitter than I was in 2015 certainly putting in the miles. Eating plan sorted. New wheels from Hunt. Plus a compact chainset with 11 gears on the rear offering 11-32. There are a limited number of steep hills in Essex and even though it was part of my training program, my main job and Back On Track taking up time it soon took a back seat.
For 2017 I will be riding with Ian Appleby, a very good friend met through Twitter. I have not seen him since 2015, when we rode Fred for the first time and I will be entering his territory once again. Ian can climb, in the drops with a water bottle in his mouth. Personally I think he was just showing off but I would do the same if I had that ability.

The ride strategy has been organised but the Thorpe jury is still undecided, pass the 1st feed station at 50 miles and head for the 2nd at 88 miles. This will be the longest ride without a stop and I have not completed many rides of this distance over this type of terrain. If everything falls into place with eating, the speed and the wind behind me then anything is possible.

After the second stop the miles will count down towards Hardknott and Wrynose Pass, the climb you see in the distance, it plays with your mind as you can see the flicker of all the cyclist’s red lights dancing up the mountain. Last time I climbed this I was beaten, 18% average with 30% switch backs on Hardknott, pedals turning that slowly that there was not enough speed to unclip. Not sure how I will cope with it this year, I am aiming to complete the two climbs but I am a realist. I am not accepting defeat before I even begin but respectful of the surroundings.

The weather forecast is better than the wet soaked ride of 2015 and I am hoping it stays dry but with the amount of height gained, who knows what the weather may have in store for us.

The crowds that line the route are a credit to themselves and motivating to us riders. Turning out in all weathers, cheering, shouting and encouraging riders up the hills. To those there on the day and those who have been there in the past, chapeau.

I have a couple of rides under my belt for this week, a 63 miler, 100km for the Strava achievement, a non-stop affair with a climb up North Hill, all went well. Today was a ride with the rest of Back On Track Cycling, an easy ride to the Blue Egg for cake. An easy 16 mph average on the way out and a couple of sprints on the way home for good measure.

If you are riding, good luck and ride safe

Hell of the Ashdown

I am not a natural climber, Essex does not have the hills. I have become acclimatised to the flat, rolling bumps of my surroundings. So I have to go hill hunting.

It was an early start for the Catford CC ride, my alarm sounded at 0540, all had been sorted the night before so breakfast, wash and a final check and all ready to go. The drive to Biggin Hill didn’t take long, just over an hour and the car park at the Charles Darwin School, our host for the day, had not even started to fill so I was guided to a half empty parking area.

Once registered, I was handed my rider number and wrist band. It was back to the van to prep the bike, fit the number, get changed and then time for the off.

The start line

I had been lucky to receive the first time slot available so I sat at the start gate. I was the only one and concerned that I may have to set the pace for the whole race. The organisation from Catford CC is fantastic and will only allow a small number of riders to leave at any one time; approximately 10 riders left at 08:00. There was no time to get comfortable or warm up, within the 1st mile we descended around 150ft then began to climb 250ft at 12.7%. Nothing like giving you a baptism of fire but then the name does not say ‘fluffy bunny bike ride.’

My aim was to pass the 1st feed stop at 32 miles and head straight to the one at 55 miles. The start of the ride had been harder than the previous attempt, mainly due to the change of start location. I need to work on my endurance levels and with further hills looming, I decided not to push it. The people offering their time at the feed stops deserve a special mention and a big thank you. A ride like this and you get a warm welcome, hot tea and coffee, malt loaf, bananas, flapjacks but no full English breakfast that I did request.

32 mile stop

The stop was a short one as I wanted to stay warm for the descent and the climb up Kidds Hill, aptly known as The Wall, just under a mile at 8.5%. This was just a teaser for things to come. The next 20 miles consisting of going downhill, very fast then of course, what goes down must come up and it did so. Very steeply! I hit a wobbly top speed of 41.6 mph and ended up braking as the bike started to feel a bit twitchy. Lycra clad and typical English winter affected roads do not make for a happy ending and Lainey would have killed me if I ended up in hospital.

My miss timed eating schedule had played havoc with my guts. So some adjustment is required. I had split the hour into 3 x 20 minute alarms. 2 would consist of a bite of an energy bar and on the hour, a gel. With the continuous hydration, I felt as if it was all swilling around and I craved savory instead of the sweetness. With a short 7% climb to the 55 mile stop I hunted for what I craved. Sitting there on the table, with angels singing harmoniously in the background, was a plate of cheesy bites, I nearly ate the lot. The last time we arrived at this stop we only had 8 miles to go so my spirits were up beat.

As I left the feed stop I spoke with the marshalls, I asked for some clarification on distance and they responded with 13. I’m thinking 13km is close to 8 miles, happy days. My legs were feeling it but I felt OK. A marshall tried to hand me an energy gel and with a devilish twinkle in his eye said, “you’ll need this for Star Hill.” I did not take it as I had enough churning around. Turned right I began to climb again for a further 2 miles. I should have clarified whether the distance was in kilometers or miles, it was in fact 13 miles and some of the steepest climbs were ready to chew me up and spit me out.

It was time to dig in. Getting back on a level road, I could easily return to a steady 17/18mph. As soon as a hill appeared the speed rapidly dropped off. What didn’t help either was passing the finishing spot from the previous year plus having someone pass our small group as if we were standing still. I did not even attempt to get on his wheel.
After descending a segment called Suicide Drop it was time to climb, who wants to finish a ride on a sprint. Hogtrough Hill started at 9% for 0.7 miles and then to add a final kick ramped up to 13% for the last 0.2 miles, no one wants it easy. Returning to familiar ground, as we had followed the same route earlier in the day but from the other direction. I stupidly thought that morning, this would be nice to climb so on the return leg we did, the final half a mile at 9% with a steep switchback.

I was glad to see the finish but nothing left in my legs for a final push but happy with the 4hrs41 to complete the 67.5 but highlighted deficiencies in my riding.

I’m done

There needs to be more preparation before The Fred Whitton Challenge in May;

I need to do more hills, Essex has an abundance of these!!!!!

I need to get my eating plan right and with the right food. Mudguards weighed me down, creating unnecessary drag, that’s my excuse.

I need to improve endurance and spend more quality time in the saddle.

The Hell of the Ashdown is a ride I’d recommend to all. Decent hills allow you to get into a steady rhythm and will test you. Especially if you normally ride in flat areas.