Sunday, 31 May 2009

Chiltern 100 Sunday 31st May 2009

Got a late return from someone unable to do this ride up and down the Chiltern Hills so went for it. A beautiful day and great scenery but what a difference a week can make. Today I was suffering and struggling. A few more hills, a few more degrees and rougher roads. Got a silver but was even happier to finish. Somehow I was so much more comfortable on the bike for the Fred Whitton and the Tour of Wessex.
Postscipt: just opened my goody bag and was interested to find bottles of ecological chainlube and degreaser. I will definitely give these a go.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

DfT Consultation on safe roads

The Department for Transport is consulting on 'making Britian's roads the safest in the world'. Comments have to be made by 14th July, see
My contribution was as follows:
"Good as far as it goes but it lacks any proposal to educate motorists to give adequate room to cyclists. This requires them to understand that overtaking a cyclist is a manoeuvre that needs to be executed like overtaking any other vehicle and will usually necessitate changing lane. Close passing of cyclists and aggression towards cyclists who take appropriate space on the roads are major deterrents for cycling. The more cycling there is the more likely targets based on injuries per distance travelled will be reached."
Now is the opportunity for us cyclists to make ourselves heard. Cycling in this country is reasonably safe in statistical terms, but far too many tragic and unnecessary deaths are occurring. A significant barrier to popular cycling will be overcome when it can be demonstrated to be no more hazardous than driving a car.

Friday, 29 May 2009

A30 Crooked Billet to Clockhouse Roundabouts

This road forms the worst part of my commute. It is dual carriageway, 40mph limit, relatively light of traffic and theoretically good for cycling since there is plenty of roadspace to share. However I have had too many close encounters with drivers who just do not want to give the necessary room. I have raised my concerns with both the Highway Agency's agent, Mouchel, and Transport for London. I have now had sensible responses from both. However their focus for future improvement (should funds ever be available) is a cycle track. I would rather see speed limit enforcement, advance stop lines at the lights, traffic calming and education to motorists to give cyclists room and share the road with courtesy. I worry about the mentality of encouraging cyclists off the road and out of the way.

Maidenhead 10 mile TT 28th May 2009

Headed out to Maidenhead for my second ever time trial. This one organised efficiently by MDCC on the A4 towards Reading and back. I was one of the last starters so by that time in the evening the road was mercifully quiet and I had no adverse encounters with motor traffic. I came in at 27:07 which is not impressive, but an improvement on my first TT in early April (28:19).

Tour of Wessex 24th May 2009

A glorious sunny windless day. This year I opted for the second day of this three day cyclosportive. We were released in groups of about 50 onto the road and I managed to get into the first 3 or 4 groups leaving Somerton at 0830. Initially feeling good even on the climbs, south through Sherborne and the gorgeous scenery of Lyon's Hill. I was leading the group around here though, looking back at my Garmin statistics, that may not have been wise as I was charting previously unknown (even on the Fred) heart rates. I was in a big group which slimmed down a bit at the first feed at Cerne Abbas where I and around 20 others went straight on.

We headed for the coast via the army firing ranges around Lulworth. I struggled with a few others to keep in contact with the group up to the clifftop. The bunch stopped at this feed, so I did, but I was too slow and by the time I had refuelled etc., I could see the group heading off into the distance and gave chase. For a long time they remained ¼ mile ahead but then they slowly vanished into the distance as we skirted Wareham. After a few lonely minutes, Mr White Assos kit came by towing three others and I suggested a through and off to catch the group. This eventually worked and we were all back together by Winfrith Heath, though the price of the chase was that I was now knackered. I first cracked on the hill out of Milton Abbas at mile 70. I managed the first steep part of the hill but had not appreciated how long it carried on after the left turn. I was one of four dropped on the hill and it was several miles before I could do any share of the work.

We four regained the group by the simple expedient of not stopping at the third feed. I hung on the back for a few miles. However I have not been doing enough long rides and was tired. As the road pitched up again at around mile 80, the one rider behind me overtook and I was dropped again but this time alone. For the next hour I was entirely alone save for a hail of acknowledgment when I passed two riders who had punctured. The last of these regained and passed me indicating that he wished to ride alone.

It was not until mile 98 that the next group finally came by. They were slower paced than my earlier group and were about right for me until in the last couple of miles they upped the pace for the dash to the line. I couldn’t go faster so was dropped for the third time. I pedalled gently to and then through Somerton, for the first time on this otherwise perfectly signed course, not quite sure where I should be going. Oddly the finish was not well signed and I had to ask twice to find it. Anyway I crossed the line at 05:45 for the 112 miles, managing my first Gold at my fourth Tour of Wessex attempt.

This is one of only a handful of UK cyclosportives that comes with my wholehearted recommendation.

Fred Whitton 10th May 2009

Photo courtesy Kirkstone Inn

I feel fortunate to have survived this year’s FWC. This feeling has nothing to do with hills or distances but to my misreading of the one-way system in Ambleside. It is also meant literally. Once over the bridge in Ambleside I thought it was a one way gyratory all the way around and spent the short time available, without slowing, looking to the left. Wrong. I emerged into the path of a car from the right. We all sometimes make mistakes and this was a serious wake-up call. It reinforces my belief in 20mph limits in built up areas to lessen the potential consequences of such folly.

The family came with me this year for a weekend in proper countryside. We enjoyed the usual fine food at the usual Staffordshire pub on the way up. It was a huge disappointment that the Lake Windermere Ferry was closed. By the time we got to the sign on, in Coniston, the heavy rain on the M6 had given way to late afternoon sunshine, ideal for playing hide and seek with my daughters in the grounds of the Hawkshead Youth Hostel and admiring the nearby lambs.

Those staying in the hotel with me included teammates Mike, Alan, Dan and our supporters, Paul and Joanne. Teammates Derwent and Ruth had made separate alternative arrangements as had our club coach and cheerleader Dave and Betty. Most of us got to the Queen’s Head in Hawkshead for pre-ride nosh, booze and merriment, reminiscing about Fred Whittons past and the days when club runs would go from the Maidenhead Pondhouse to the pier end at Weston-super-Mere.

One restless night later, my best hope of a drive to the start opted for a lie-in, dreamily pronouncing the route to the start to be all downhill. I therefore set out for the warm up ride at 0715, aiming for the 0745 start that had been decided upon by Ruth, Mike and me at the Queen’s Head. It was thought we would get the 8 o’clock group without the risk of being dropped on the first hill.

It was sound logic as Mike’s chain misbehaved at the bottom of Hawkshead Hill, so Ruth and I twiddled up without him. He hadn’t quite caught us by the top so we relied upon his steely descending skills and, sure enough, he was back with us in good time to witness my near demise in Ambleside. We found a man in red and black to draft while we relaxed and enjoyed the views of Lake Windermere. Once we turned onto the climb on Holbeck Lane we opted for a lower pace and let him go, though I was reunited with him later as we rode in the same group to Honister. Not far into that climb a train came by powered by a team from Richmond CC. I suggested hopping on board but by the time I looked back neither Mike nor Ruth were with us. The guys from Richmond were strong – they went on to get cracking times- and we picked up a sizeable group, though quite a few dropped off on the upper reaches of Kirkstone. I struggled but (though it may not look it in the photo) just kept contact as we reached the summit Inn where Paul and Joanne shouted support and two Richmond riders stopped to collect drinks.

I only managed 36 mph descending Kirkstone, so lost the group, but was starting to gain when the terrain flattened. I was in luck as the two Richmond riders flew by and I stole a tow back to the bunch. We did a slightly shambolic through and off to the A66 where several groups coalesced for a 30mph run down to Keswick. I opted for the outside line as I deemed it madness to ride in the gutter dodging cats’ eyes at that speed.

The group stuck together through to Honister, the first steep climb and hairy descent. At the summit a chicken passed nonchalantly in front of my wheel and I couldn’t resist asking the marshal why. The group was blown apart but then the first feed at Buttermere was just round the corner anyway.

I headed up Newlands on my own. The day had started cool but dry and I was at Newlands when I got the first taste of things to come. The road had been wetted by some recent drizzle and was distinctly slippery. Over the top the weather brightened and Paul, Joanne, Dave and Betty were all there on Whinlatter to cheer us on. Both Paul and Dave ran alongside giving a frightening impression that they might push me up the hill.

I did the undulating stuff near the coast alone or in small groups, the sun came out and I felt quite warm. Coldfell however lived up to its name this year though we were cheered by the bagpipes. Shortly before the first feed I caught up with Dan. Soon afterwards Dan, Alan and I were all at the Calderbridge feed together. I left alone but soon caught up a group as we headed to Hardknott. As we got there one of them said he wouldn’t get past the cattle grid because of his cramp. I wish he hadn’t because I am convinced that in my case cramp is a largely psychosomatic condition. Thus far it had been a largely windless day but as I started the climb a sudden headwind came from nowhere. I managed the first hairpins just fine. Someone was standing by the side of the road on the less steep middle section offering cups of water. As I declined, I suffered an acute cramp in both calves. He largely broke my fall but I ended up with my left hip in the stream by the side of the road and my bike and legs lying across the road in the path of the frustrated Rover driver who had been pursuing me up the hill. I lay there, a helpless obstruction on the road for about 30 seconds, before I could even uncleat. I got up stretched my legs, walked a bit and somehow remounted but the cramp came back before the final steep hairpins so I got off and walked those rather than risk another fall. By now the road was starting to get wet and cars were spinning about. I found it an effort to walk those hairpins and was nearly mowed down by a backward slipping car. I hopped back on for the final section of the climb and felt a bit of a fraud as people clapped and cheered and said ‘well done’ as I reached the summit.

The storm clouds continued to gather and the hail started as I descended Hardknott making an already technical descent somewhat hairy. On the final hairpin I started to slide so just released the brakes and went for it. I managed Wrynose without sliding or cramping on the way up. For the descent the hailstones which had been falling had settled unmelted onto the road adding an additional challenge. Once I descended there was heavy rain from there to the finish.

Having dibbed my dibber I found my family sheltering under the Sports Centre eves looking a bit disconsolate. Concern was expressed about how we were going to get out of the mudfield so I was encouraged to collect my certificate smartly so we could go. I was soaked through and didn’t argue. A quick shower at the Youth Hostel and a pizza in Lancaster preceded the long drive home.

I had aimed for sub-8 hours and not to walk. I comfortably achieved the former target with a finish time of 07:27. That made up for the fact that I did not achieve the latter.

As always a terrifically organised event with cheerful marshals in all the right places and good food at the feeds. Definitely the top cyclosportive in the UK. At this time of year I always feel I may have done my last Fred Whitton, but is it conceivable that I could manage a better time and no walking? We’ll see.