Why haven’t I posted anything about the Tour de France?

Because no one needs my comments on it – last year turned out to be so disappointing in terms of the doping scandals, that reading back through, my posts on the Tour reflect my growing disillusionment with the event. Also last year I was able to attend the prologue in person, and enjoy the atmosphere of the Tour so felt I had more to say or report.

But, for the record here are my comments on this year’s tour.

Cavendish – Yay!

Published in: on July 15, 2008 at 9:00 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: ,

Naughty Medicine

I was watching today’s overview of the Tour de France on ITV4 with my five year old son. He was very interested in what he was seeing and had remembered the “spotty shirt man was the one who was best at climbing”. He liked the idea that the winner got a yellow jersey, and the fact that Tom Boonen was ‘big’. But things got a bit tricky when the Vinokourov and Rasmussen stuff came up. Also he wanted to know why Bradley Wiggins was being talked to by Policemen and why he was going home. So I tried to explain about doping and as is often the way when you try and explain something a bit tricky to a child it comes out kind of half-cocked.

So

Vinokourov had been taking “naughty medicine” and was told that he and his friends weren’t allowed to ride their bikes in the race and that they all had to go home. Rasmussen had lied to his friends about where he was so everyone thought he was taking ‘naughty medicine’ and because no one likes a liar his friends said they weren’t friends any more and he had to go home by himself and sit in his room. One of Bradley Wiggins’ friends had been caught taking ‘naughty medicine’ and Bradley was cross with him because the policemen asked Bradley if he had taken ‘naughty medicine’. Bradley hates ‘naughty medicine’ and thinks people who take it are very silly and they should go home and have to sit by themselves for a long time and not be allowed in races. David Millar had taken some ‘naughty medicine’ but he had been on the naughty step for a long time and now he was allowed to race again, now he doesn’t like ‘naughty medicine’ and promised he won’t take any ever again. Finally Alberto Contador was a very good rider and hopefully he hasn’t taken any ‘naughty medicine’, if he has he is not allowed to keep his smart yellow jersey or his golden bowl, but he hasn’t taken any so it will be ok.

I think there’s a children’s book in there somewhere.

Published in: on July 31, 2007 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Cycling through the witching hour

At the turning point of the witching hour I set out for an evening ride, I just needed to spin the cranks after hearing about Vinokourov being thrown off the Tour de France. A fast ride out of the village, the feeder lane spitting me out onto the A36, I didn’t know where I was going but as long as the cranks were turning I didn’t care. The sun was under the horizon behind me as I sped into the gathering shadows, very little traffic around. Pretty soon I found myself heading down the gradient towards the Frome bypass, flying insects smacking into my helmet and goggles, breathing through clenched teeth to avoid ingesting unwanted winged protein. More pylons, one steel foot practically on the road by the new Frome Flyer Harvester-style motel thing in the middle of nowhere, always a full car park, I never see anyone there. The light is fading fast as I turn back down the bypass and head now towards Frome itself.

A hiss of airbrakes, flashing orange indicator and a rush of air. Huge artic easing past me, plenty of room on the empty road, nightfreight on the A361. Off right and up Beckington Hill, easier now that I’ve been riding regularly, fast through Beckington itself then right again towards the garage.

The western horizon has cooled to a dull orange tinged with gold; black, wet inky clouds moving in with their promise of rain for the coming night. Now as I speed beneath each street lamp the sulphurous light throws a shadow rider onto the tarmac behind me, moving into sharp relief the angle changes as I cycle towards the next light, the ghost racer moves to my right, now in front, matching me pedal stroke for pedal stroke but going faster before fading into the road and being replaced by the next shadow from the next lamp. For quarter of a mile I cycle with this shadow peloton, each doppleganger riding up from behind and dropping me.

Past the roundabout there is only my bike light to guide me, but as I turn off the A361 onto a narrow backroad the half-moon struggles clear of the cloud blanket and illuminates my route. A silent white ghost crosses my path at head height, Barn Owl. Though I have seen many, the eeriness of its sudden, quiet manifestation shocks me and I briefly forget to pedal. Now pacing a flying bat, the moon giving enough light to see 11mph or maybe 14mph on the computer, things seem much faster in the dark. Beneath the canopy of trees lining the road into the village there is no light save the feeble blue-white disc thrown out by my front lamp, it falls uselessly on the road illuminating only a blur of gravel, eyes scrambling in the darkness for a foothold on any shape the brain can process before I reach it. But soon I am in the village itself, all evening meals and blue static flicker of televisions in front rooms. It’s only half nine but there is no one to be seen.

The gradient up to the house scrubs off my speed enough to comfortably get through the gate and past the bins without putting a foot down. Eight and a half miles, enough to read the internet headlines about the Tour’s latest doping scandal without feeling anger. The brief flame of anger is lost to the road, now there is just that strange breed of disappointment that only comes when you find your heroes have cheated.

Published in: on July 25, 2007 at 9:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Tour so far

I must say that, despite the (very) faint whiff of doping controversy, I’ve really been enjoying the Tour de France this year. Vinokourov crashing so badly so early on seemed to have blown the whole thing wide open, when he finished the first proper mountain stage in tears of agony I thought he wouldn’t be in the start up next day. Then there was his crazy solo breakaway on stage eleven with only 2km to go. Were you, like me, suddenly on your feet willing him to win it? It seemed so futile, so mad, he was breathing fast, the bandages on his stitched up knees a blur of white. It was inevitable that he would be swallowed up back into the Peloton, but for a moment it looked like a miracle was happening. However I was pleased that Robbie Hunter won it in the end, the first Maillot Jaune for South Africa. The British have performed well this year, sure the riders aren’t hugely high up in the general classification, but I think they have given good account of themselves. Bradley Wiggins in particular is worthy of praise. Early in week one, a suicidal solo breakaway into a headwind that looked just briefly like it might get somewhere, what a brave ride, even if it wasn’t planned. And then today, he really upped the ante on a day where many riders probably wanted to take it easy and prepare for the mountains. He started the time-trial in the dry and rode at a cracking rate through a downpour to set a time that stood as the fastest until Vinokourov blew it out of the water. Sixth against such powerful riders and on such poor road conditions was a major achievement.

Bradley Wiggins - photo from BBC website

Millar put in a solid performance today as well. Now there’s no real telling which way it will go. Vinokourov moved up ten places on one stage, Rasmussen looks precarious, Cadel Evans is doing well, I love a Tour when you can’t tell who is going to win.

Here, according to this week’s Cycling Weekly, are the winner’s average speeds for stages 1-8

Stage 1 – 27.12mph (43.65kph)
Stage 2 – 27.46mph (44.2kph)
Stage 3 – 22.25mph (35.81kph)
Stage 4 – 25.9 mph (41.69kph)
Stage 5 – 24.64mph (39.67kph)
Stage 6 – 23.17mph (37.29kph)
Stage 7 – 25.1 mph (40.41kph)
Stage 8 – 21.23mph (34.17kph)

the first one hundred kilometres of Stage three was raced at an average of 19.7mph (32kph) according to Bradley Wiggins’ cycle computer.

Although these speeds look pretty fast to me (remember my 19.3mph over 14.3 miles? Rubbish!) they are slower than normal for the Tour de France. Rumours abound that this is because a general doping clean-up has finally happened.

I can hardly wait for the Pyrennes… although that does mean I have to ride up Brassknocker Hill this week. I did ten hill-circuits in preparation today, it’s not going to be enough training so I think I’ll try and ride Winsley Hill first in the next couple of days, gulp!

Wee Greg’s Tour de France

Here is a photo of myself and Greg Eden enjoying the 2007 prologue of the Tour de France in Hyde Park, London. Greg and I worked together and I have good memories of us following the 2005 Tour as Lance, the wounded and restored king, won his historic seventh Tour.

Myself and Greg at the 2007 TDF prologue, cheers!

Greg commented that he used to have a Peugeot cycle cap in the Seventies, though he didn’t know what had happened to it. Then this fine picture surfaced:

wee Greg

In his own words:

“…that’s me in Magescq, Les Landes, France, 1978 – having cycled there from Paris on a knackered old racing bike with no gears (I was a tough kid)- also bearing the scars of a recent fall, damaging knee, elbow, and crucially, face when the steering column went wonky…”

Published in: on July 17, 2007 at 11:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Tour de France Prologue

A lucky shot of the time trial

“‘allo eengleesh, it is what you ‘ave been waiting for, ze famous caravan of ze Tour de France and ‘ere is it!”

In a blare of airhorns and to raptuous applause a twenty foot lion driven by a Frenchman in a crash helmet crawled across the bridge crossing the Serpentine, it could only be the Caravan Publicité of the Tour de France. This weird collection of carnival floats and spanking new 4x4s, staffed by surly looking students and deeply tanned young ladies chucking free tat out to the cycle fans is the advance party of the greatest cycle race on earth, setting off a good two hours ahead of the riders. It’s a curiously incongruous mix, the fume belching slow crawl of the motor cars in the caravan and the campaigns populating the people’s village to cut car use and get more people riding.

It was one pm, I’d been in London since about ten in the morning and used my early arrival to walk the whole course, the T-mobile team had been warming up from about eleven, as had a few other sporadic riders and the weather was looking good, it promised to be a good day’s sport. Already people were staking out their spaces by the barriers, setting up picnics, stepladders and shouting “Allez Allez!” as the horse guards came down the course to Buckingham Palace for the eleven o’clock changing of the guard. With no traffic anywhere near the course it was possible to hear the distictive rumble of a time trial bike’s areodynamic rear wheel long before the rider arrived. There were police everywhere, many of them on mountainbikes exchanging banter with the ambulance cycle response units, drinking tea outside the emergency command centres and giving directions to the many visitors from the continent.

The People’s Village in Hyde Park was very busy, part anglo-french market, part celebration of the bicycle and cycling. The highlights for me were the roller-racing at the LCC stall which I sat and watched for a while, and a chap going past on a Penny Farthing.

chap on a penny farthing

By 12:30 I had scoffed my picnic and set up by the barrier on the bridge over the Serpentine. There was a mild wiggly bit of road, a speed bump and to my left a sharp bend. This gave me a really good view of the action. My old chums Greg and Jo were in town for the tour so a few texts later we joined forces to take in the start of the time-trialling. Watching the people was almost as much fun as watching the bikes. Here a Basque family unfurling their flag and waving their cycle caps at every rider, there an overweight chap in ill-advised cycle shorts wheeling two grand’s worth of bike through the crowd, wincing with every bump and scrape as he tried to ease it past the spectators. With blood sugars plummeting we were only kept going by the sheer speed of the riders, their exersions psychologically transferring to us the strength to walk accross the park in the heat to Bar Ricard and some bierres, saucicons et biscuits. Here is Greg and myself watching the action on the big screen, I am wearing the original shirt of the Highway Cycling Group, also the offical badge.

me and Greg

We decided to make a move when the Miami Dolphin Cheerleaders inexplicably turned up a few yards behind us to promote American Football (it made no sense to me either). After talking to the St John’s Ambulance cycle response team and getting a fascinating guided tour of their equipment we took a good look around the cycle stands, sampling the village and picking up London cycle maps for Greg and Jo. Then we made our way slowly but surely down the mall towards the finish, in time to see David Millar and Bradley Wiggens make their runs. The atmosphere was incredible, as the British riders came down the course the cheering arrived before even the Gendarme on the motorbike who rides in front of each time-triallist. It would have been nice to see a British winner but Fabian Cancellara produced an incredible scorching run, his every line was tight and he spared no horsepower throughout the course. On the Mall the speeds were just unbelievable, with my titchy little digital camera it was near impossible to get a shot of the riders. Here’s one I managed to take, an indication of the speed is the fact that the guy with the camera has just taken a photo of the rider and hasn’t even got his finger off the shutter.

very fast rider

It was a spectacular event and it felt amazing to be a part of it. The crowds were fantastic, clapping all the riders and cheering everyone on, it was terrifically good-natured and I really hope we showed the UK is a good host to the Tour de France. It would be great if there was a gap of less than thirteen years before it visits these shores again.

More of my not very good photos can be found on my Flickr page here.

Published in: on July 8, 2007 at 10:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hi Viz

Midsummer has been and gone, not that you would know from the weather that we are in the midst of summer, hopefully it will all clear up during this month. As the nights are beginning to draw in I thought it was time to address the problem of visibility. For a cyclist, being seen is half of the problem when it comes to cycling in traffic. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can quite clearly imagine a scenario where I am lying shattered on the tarmac and the last voice I hear as it all ebbs away is someone saying “I just didn’t see him”, I live in fear of such a thing happening. On our Tuesday rides John and I ride right up to the turning point of the witching hour, racing through the twilight to get home before darkness falls. We both have lights, but not the sort of Halogen power superlamps that blind drivers and make them think they are about to be abducted by aliens. So something a bit more visible is needed. I have written before in praise of the Respro Hi-Viz vest, it does a fantastic job of throwing back even the faintest glimmer of light (and you can fit a lot of takeaway in the pockets), but what I was looking for was something that creates the ‘human’ shape that our genes are programmed to look for. Something that shows I have a head and am therefore a person, not a glowy thing moving slowly to the left. I had some Hi-Viz helmet stickers left over from previous glow-in-the-dark frolics and as my road helmet is a kind of silvery grey, I thought maybe I could cut them into strips and stick them along the ridges. That way the curve of the head would be visible and they wouldn’t look too jarring in daylight.

While my wife did half an hour or so on her bike rigged up to the turbo-trainer, I took the stickers and snipped some of them into strips. While we’re on the subject of turbo-trainers, ours is so noisy it’s incredible. It’s a cheap one granted, but even outside in the workshop it sounds like a very small motorbike revving up. At least in the workshop the floor is concrete so it doesn’t vibrate through to next door. I read a great article once that said if your neighbours come round to complain about the noise of your trainer it’s best to be honest, even if they won’t understand, because if you say it was the washing machine they are going to wonder what the hell you were doing, especially as you have just answered the door dressed in Lycra, sweating like a pig and panting with exersion. It won’t look good.

Anyway I finished the helmet, popping a couple of circles on the back and the top. Below you can see the results in pitch black with my camera a room away and the flash on it’s weakest setting. From behind, it looks particularly scary thanks to those dots. At least it should give motorists enough of a start that they see me and slow down (hopefully they’ll slow down, the other option is running me off the road in sheer terror).

hi viz from the front

hi viz from the rear

I once went to a talk by Adam Hart-Davis at Ottakar’s in Chippenham. He had cycled down from the train station on his folding bike and was dressed in his trademark yellow and neon pink cycle gear. Someone asked why he dressed like that to go on his bike and he replied as a true practical scientist, “I don’t want to be killed on the road”. He went on to explain how although early evening light may appear bright to a cyclist out in the open air, to a motorist visibility is already much poorer. It’s true, how often have you been driving along on a country road and been suddenly startled by the up and down movement of the pedal reflectors barely a few yards in front of your car? If you have no lights, or weak lights on your bike, sometimes those pedal reflectors are the only thing a driver will see, and often they will only see those at the last minute. Being visible is half, or maybe even three quarters of the battle in cycle safety. Drivers need all the help they can get as, let’s be honest, a person driving a car often isn’t paying that much attention to the road ahead. A lot of drivers don’t even seem to be able to see speed limit signs, a police officer in a reflective jacket pointing a radar gun, or a massive yellow box on the end of a pole with a big relective strip on the back. It’s up to the cyclist to jog the driver out of the torpor, you need to be visible enough to cut through the interior clatter of Top Gear’s-all-time-best-ever-driving-anthems-guitar-classics-volume-IV or whatever feelgood dross is on the stereo. You need to startle them out of the mobile-phone-in-the-gear-changing-hand-55mph-argument-with-her-mum-andyesmumIdidstayovergary’slastnight or whatever she is talking about instead of watching the road. Hopefully my get-up, in combination with the flashing red light on the back and full reflectors will cut through all the chaff insulating a driver from what’s going on ahead of them.

I urge you to take the time to find a way of becoming more visible on the bike, it’s not just the driver’s responsibility, don’t be even partially responsible for another poor sap having to choke out the words “..I just didn’t see them”.

Tour de France

Although I lost out on the chance to have VIP treatment at the Tour de France prologue, I have decided to scrape my pennies together and go to London anyway. I know that if I watch it all on TV I will be feeling rubbish that I didn’t go AND I will moan about not going, FOREVER!

So I’ll get there early to soak up some atomsphere and try and stake out a good vantage point. According to the current weather forecast there will be sunny intervals. It’ll be a really fast course, but the variable weather and the wind may throw in some wildcards and mess up the predicted results. So all being well I should be writing a report for the blog tomorrow evening.

Published in: on July 6, 2007 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tuesday Ride IV: The Mountain Stage

A text popped up on my phone this morning, it was John Hayes “It’s the mountain stage today”, gulp! Was he going to take me up Brassknocker Hill? The Alpe d’Huez of Bath and North East Somerset? Thankfully not, he did, however, take me up every other hill available in the area. This was, in John’s mind, to honour the start of the Tour De France, but he was four days early. No matter, The Highway Cycling Group was up to the challenge.

The sky was semi-clear as we met up by the mill and ambled up the road, sporadic showers had been the characteristic weather of the day, but the clouds currently floating overhead seemed to be uninterested in delivering rain. We crossed the A36 and rode at a gentle pace through Norton St.Phillip towards Midford, only speeding up on the downhill into Midford village. John had fitted a new bike computer, he hit 44 mph on the descent and I hit 40 trying to catch him up. What he didn’t tell me was that we would be climbing Midford Hill as soon as we were in the village. I had just pedalled like mad in my highest gear to catch up with him and arrived breathless at the base of the longest hill of tonight’s ride. Damn! Next time we do this route (oh yes John, there will be a next time) I will work out the length of the hill because it seemed to go on for ever. Round about halfway up my mind started wandering as it often does on a steep hill, anything rather than thinking about how much further there is and whether or not I’ll make it. I couldn’t find a comfortable position on the bars, hands on the brake hoods? Hands gripping the straight part of the bars? Hands near the stem lightly touching the tape? One hand off as I tried to stretch my back? I began to think back to the birth of my first son, five years ago. By the time my wife had got to the birthing bed she was in so much pain from the contractions all she could do when they came was wriggle her legs around. She said later that her body was desperately trying to find a position that eased the pain, I think I was trying to do the same thing with my hands on this hill. Not that I’m equating climbing Midford Hill on a bicycle with the pain of childbirth you understand, more that it was one of those situations where I felt that if I tried to keep my hands moving it would hurt less, for the record I don’t think it did.

There were stretches of road where we stood on the pedals and ground away, there were strecthes where we could sit, spin and take on water, but mostly it just seemed to be somewhere in the middle. John was in front all the way, when we reached the top I took the lead and gave him a brief respite from the headwind. We turned right at the double roundabout by Coombe and stopped at the beginning of Bradford Road for some Mint Cake and a photo.

Myself and John.

Then some fast riding through the outskirts of Bath, over the junction at the top of Brassknocker Hill, then onto Claverton Hill. The trees at the top of the hill curled and crowded over the road forming a dramatic archway, a maw about to swallow us down into a screamingly fast descent replete with hairpins and variable road width, true Tour de France stuff. Again John shot on ahead, he really is a fearless descender, particularly in the face of uncoming traffic, I just can’t open the bike up like that. On joining John at the bottom he told me to touch the wheelrim, the constant braking had left the rim incredibly hot, too hot to touch for anything more than a split second. A quick conference and we decided to head back along the A36 to where the Iford road joined, head across the valley to Westwood then turn for home. I decided to lead on the ’36, setting a cracking pace into the headwind (we decided that the wind changes as we ride, we always seem to be going into a headwind. Always!), but John reminded me there was one more hill before the turn off. Just after the lights on the crossroads at the bottom of Brassknocker Hill, the A36 winds it’s way up the hill past Freshford. I forgot how long the hill is and after timing the traffic lights perfectly I started taking it at 14mph, burbling on to John who seemed to have gone quiet, pretty soon I was down to 12 mph, I looked behind and John was in the distance. I had totally misjudged the length of the climb and now had to tough it out to keep my momentum. As articulated lorries heaved their way round me, throttles full open, I ascended seemingly ever upwards, John was a long way behind but my speed was dropping fast. John had said at the base this was our Ventoux, and I very nearly became our Tom Simpson, the post mortem would have shown large intakes of caffeine, bananas and two ibruprofen. We made it, regrouped, then John took us left off the main road and pretty much back down the hill (again John with the speedy descent) into Freshford and on a search for the mysterious ‘third road’ into Iford (see previous post). The road surface rapidly deteriorated and we were soon cycling through mud and gravel in the middle of the tarmac, the width of the road was diminishing at an alarming rate, particluarly considering the reckless speed we were going. An overgrown cast iron signpost with white paint peeling into flecks of rust told us we were headed the right way, and it wasn’t long before we were resting by the bridge under Britannia’s imperious gaze, admiring the manor house at Iford. More mint cake was taken on, fortifying us for the final and possibly shortest, but certainly steepest climb of the ride, the road out of the valley and up to Westwood.

We started well although it got steep terrifying quickly, all I could see in my head was that 17% gradient sign at the top. Then the strains of a string orchestra started playing, I asked John if he could hear it too, thankfully he could and the applause that followed told us there was a concert in the folly at Iford Manor. John suggested we imagine the applause was for us, he laughed, and lost concentration and momentum enough to have to put his foot down. I crawled on ahead, determined not to use the granny ring (it’s called Begging the Granny), in any case, I wouldn’t be able to get into it without stopping the bike, and stopping the bike would mean I was walking the rest of the hill. Unlike the other side of the hill which I rode up last time I was here, there is a bit of width to the road so I could move side to side on the tarmac, making the ride slightly longer, but also fractionally less steep. So zig-zagging away and breathing like an asthmatic hound I managed to get to the top, where I spent a good few minutes wheezing until John rode up.

We were spent, legs like jelly we rode through Westwood, parting at the crossroads outside Bradford-on-Avon. An excellent ride, but not one I would want to do on a regular basis.

I said to John, and I’m saying it here, that we will do Brassknocker Hill sometime during the mountain stages of the Tour de France. There John, I’ve said it, it’s here on the internet. We cannot back out now.

Iford Manor, Britannia on the Bridge.

I missed out on getting a VIP pass to the prologue of the Tour de France by a brake-cable’s width. I was due to go as part of a company hospitality package given to a friend by another company who he does business with. Unfortunately, the company giving out the tickets decided to cut the allocation and cancel the hospitality. Needless to say this left my friend in the very embarrassing position of having to tell me that the amazing lig he had invited me on had been pulled. Of course I was gutted, but it was after all a freebie and it wasn’t my friend’s fault at all. He now feels terrible about it, but he really shouldn’t, this sort of thing happens and it’s just rotten luck. Many, many thanks to him for inviting me on it in the first place.

As it happened though, two things happened on the same day I got the news I wasn’t going to Le Tour that cheered me up no end and made me forget all about it. Firstly my eldest son’s joint birthday party, shared with two of his chums hitting the big zero five in the same week, we held it at Longleat after hours. An amazing time was had by all, after playing in the adventure castle and getting a soaking in the water fountains, we all picnicked on the lawn at the side of Longleat House. The weather had been filthy all week and in fact it was raining on Friday morning, but by the afternoon the sky was blue and dotted with beautiful fluffy white cumulus clouds. Crucially the temperature was warm enough to feel like late June and it was a splendid event.

The second thing was a terrific ride I took out on a loop to Iford Manor. Two weeks ago I took my mother and my youngest son there during the day to look around the garden. The road down into the valley is on a 17% gradient and it is seriously narrow. So narrow that I thought our standard size family estate was going to scrape the sides and my mum was on the verge of a panic attack due to the complete lack of passing spaces. We took the road out of the valley up the other side, it turned out to be narrower and around the same level of steepness. I thought to myself, I’ve got to ride it.

So Friday evening, the children being asleep and the sun still well above the horizon at 2030 I gave it a go. Nice and easy on the route to the hill down to Iford, racking up speeds of 27mph on the flat with the breeze behind me. Then the hill down itself. It Was Scary! More scary than in a car. having the brakes full on didn’t really seem to slow me down (must give them a good looking over), I’m sure I was slowed, it just didn’t feel like it. Flanked on both sides by a wall with no kerb there was simply nowhere to go if anyone was trying to rant up in a car in the other direction. To make things just a little more tricky, the tarmac was covered with chippings and stones, most of which appeared to have fallen from the crumbling masonry or been gouged out by pointy bits of car. Arriving at the bottom is a fantastic experience, the rider explodes out of the hill onto a junction with no road markings. To the right stands the magnificent Iford Manor. The house is mediaeval in origin, the classical façade having been added in the 18th century when the hanging woodlands above the garden were planted. It’s the site of the internationally reknowned Peto Gardens, built in the early part of the twentieth century by Harold Ainsworth Peto. He collected a great many artefacts from around the world in his travels, from fourteenth century bas-reliefs from Italian churches to statues of snarling hounds from Germany and stone lanterns from Japan. All of these are featured in the garden which is well worth a visit. Also the housekeeper’s tea-rooms do the most AMAZING scones with jam and cream.
I digress, leaving myself standing impatiently with one foot on the pedal, the other poised on tiptoe just touching the gravel strewn tarmac. So, straight ahead is a road that goes I know not where, meandering off into light woodland, stone wall one one side, fence on the other. Leaving only the road to the left. This climbs out of the tiny valley, crawling up through the countryside until it eventually joins up with the A36, but before the hill starts there is a wonderful old bridge, capped with an imperious statue of Britannia which glares down at the waters of the river Frome.

Britannia and your humble author on the bridge at Iford

The road towards the A36 quickly gets steep and narrow. So narrow was it, that although I was cycling in the middle of the road, my shoulder was stung by a nettle on the bank. Once again my front derallieur failed to find the granny ring so I thought I would try and stand on the peddles and take it in the middle ring. I got about two hundred yards then I experienced something that has never happened to me on a bike before, as the road got suddenly steeper the bike simply stopped. I just didn’t have any forward momentum, it wasn’t like it got hard then ground to a halt, it just stopped. Foot down, telltale oily print from the outer chainring on the inner calf of my right leg. This is a shameful brand, the mark of the beginner who must get off the bike to walk up hills. Well I wasn’t going to walk up the hill. I leant over and popped the chain onto the inner chainring, the so-called ‘granny ring’. With the bike in its lowest gear I set off again, just about getting enough speed up to enable me to slip my foot into the straps. Near wheelying with the force I was putting in, I crawled up the hill, my breathing speeding up, but not quite getting to the panting stage. After a quarter of a mile it started to get easier as the road began to wander off from side to side during it’s ascent of the hill, the climb was becoming quite pleasant. Soon an angry buzzing sound filled the air, accompanied by an oddly acidic smell, faintly redolent of sulphur, the A36, still busy with traffic from Bath even at nine in the evening. In comparison to the gentle arcadian tranquility of Iford, the road seemed perverse and utterly unlovely, though to be truthful, Iford is as much a product of humanity shaping the landscape as the main road I was now hurtling down. I hadn’t ridden this stretch since last year when I first bought the Lemond Etape. My first ride from Farleigh Hungerford and back along the A36 had been painful, necessitating frequent stops as a double stitch burned my sides leaving me hardly able to turn the cranks. It was an ignoble and sobering ride that had left me feeling awful and despairing of ever being able to ride in the same manner I had barely ten years before. Now, less than a year later, I am three quarters of a stone lighter, the stretch seemed comically easy and a stitch, even a double one, is something that can be ridden through. It was uplifting to be riding back to the village, feeling that progress in gaining fitness and losing fatness was being accomplished in such a small space of time. I hope this comes as some encouragement to anyone reading this who has perhaps started cycling again and fears they have a long way to go before feeling like they can ride comfortably fast and get fit.

I get a lot of hits at this blog from people looking for average bike speeds and I assume they are just getting into riding a bicycle, maybe they are a bit discouraged that they are only hitting 12-14mph on their rides. Just keep going, remember Eddy Merckx, who I consider to be the greatest racing cyclist ever, said the way to get better at riding your bike, is to ride your bike. I promise if you keep riding, you will get better, faster, fitter, thinner.

Ride like the wind; Be home for tea

The Highway Cycling Group Badge

Published in: on June 30, 2007 at 11:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Eternal Reek of Damp Wool

I have just returned from a weekend away in Wales with my family. A good time was had by all even though the rain was near continuous. I’ve been going to the Brecon Beacons since I was too small to remember, my father was from the area, a little farm called Forest Lodge. He used to have to cycle into school, looking at the undulating hills and narrow roads it becomes apparent how my Father was able to keep cycling into his forties (he died age fifty) even though he smoked forty a day. That basic level of fitness and ability to cycle long distances, up and down all but the steepest gradient was forged on the anvil of those hills. I remember him once telling me how his brakes failed coming downhill into Heol Y Senni and he came off onto the tarmac. The bike was fine and he painfully carried on, having to sit a maths test with blood seeping through the gauze bandages covering his road-rash.

Normlly the only cycling you hear about in the Beacons is mountain-biking, but this year we saw loads of road bikes powering down the excellent A roads around Sennybridge and Glyntawe. At the Mountain Centre near Libanus there was a display of ’50 years of the Brecon Beacons National Park’, I took a snap of this rather nice photo of a touring group resting above Talybont. Witness the geezer in the beret.

Picture of cyclists on display in the mountain centre

Sunday was of course Father’s Day. The Boys got me this Tour-de-France guide which came with a free History of the Tour DVD. It’s published by the people who create Cycling Weekly so it’s a pretty good lowdown of all the teams etc.

Cover of the Tour De France Guide

It also came with a free Rapha catalogue. My Birthday isn’t until October, but seeing this catalogue, I feel the list is already starting to be compiled! Result!

The title of this post comes from the Mint Sauce cartoon strip drawn by Jo Burt for MBUK magazine. I have Mint sauce stickers on my Mountain Bike.

Published in: on June 18, 2007 at 11:03 am  Leave a Comment