Wet Weather Riding

I’m the first to admit that I’m a fair weather rider and try to avoid riding in the rain. However, as the Deloitte Ride Across Britain 2017 involved 8 out of 9 days of rain, I’ve decided that I’d better get used to wet weather riding and test out my kit. The weekend just gone (16-17 June) gave me the perfect opportunity! Fortunately, both rides on Saturday and Sunday started out dry before the heavens opened with some serious rain showers together with fairly strong wind.

What did I learn?

  • I still don’t like riding in the rain!
  • My rain jacket from Rapha works – as it should considering how much it cost
  • Good lights are useful to make sure cars and lorries can see you. I’m not a great fan of the “stealth black” cycle clothing look.
  • Disc brakes are more efficient that rim brakes in the wet, at least on the bikes I’ve got and slower riding speeds are a good idea
  • I need to get some better waterproof over-covers for my cycling shoes as I don’t want to be riding for 6 or so hours with wet feet

Apart from the weather, training is going well although I have had a bit of tendinitis in my left foot. This has been my first “niggle” of the year and a combination of ice, elevation and ultrasound is having a positive effect. Hopefully all will be well next weekend.

I’m taking part in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain to raise money for Dementia UK. You can sponsor me by visiting my Virgin Money Giving page here

Dragon Tour – First Multi-Day Event

Over the weekend of 8 – 10 June, in order to prepare for the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, I took part in my first multi-day cycling event – the Dragon Tour organised by Human Race Events which is badged as L’Etape Wales with links to the Tour de France.  The event culminated with the Dragon Ride, with distances ranging from 100 to 300 km.  I had booked to do the Gran Fondo at 223 km.

The start for the first two days was based just outside Crickhowell which offered the opportunity to do two different rides of under 100 km each in the Brecon Beacons taking in the climbs of Gospel Pass and The Tumble.

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Ready for the start on Day 1

I knew what to expect with The Tumble having ridden it twice in the Wales Velothon – basically a steep first half and a relentless grind for the second half once clear of the trees.  Gospel Pass was completely new to me, a gradual start and an absolutely horrible ramp up towards a cattle grid in the middle, followed by a reasonable gradient to the top.  My sunglasses glasses had completely steamed up by the cattle grid and I had to rely on a race marshall telling me not to stop and keep riding!

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The view from the top of Gospel Pass (Day 1)

The view from the top was spectacular even with the low cloud.

Day 2 included The Tumble climb – I managed a Personal Best time, followed by a great traverse of part of the Brecon Beacons plateau.  The descent off the plateau was fantastic despite following a lorry that was doing its best to burn out its clutch (it probably stopped me taking too many risks downhill).

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Brecon Beacons plateau – not so steep descent!

The last 20 miles were the longest 20 miles I have ridden in a while, constant hills and rolling terrain and being passed by faster cyclists – no peloton this time to draft behind.

The Dragon Ride started from Margam Park, near Port Talbot.  Sunday started bright and sunny, no cloud cover of any note unlike the previous days.

The day ended up being very hot which made pacing myself on the long climbs essential – no going for PBs uphill, just getting round was the key thing!  The descents off the Bwlch and the Rhigos were fast and great fun and made up for the long slog up.

In the end, the previous days’ rides took their toll and at the second feed station I decided to drop down to the Medio Fondo – still a ride of 150 km (about 95 miles).  My hamstrings were protesting and with the Deloitte Ride Across Britain being my goal there was no point injuring myself with three months to go to the start line in September.  I wasn’t alone in changing the route on the day given the high temperature.

I ended up with a ride time of 6 hours 40 minutes (compared to a total elapsed time of 7 hours 12 minutes).  Carl (who I rode with on a training ride recently) did the Gran Fondo in 9 hours which meant I’d have probably taken around 11 hours to finish given my average ride pace.  Clodagh, who showed all the men up at the Deloitte RAB training ride in April, went round the Gran Fondo in an astonishing elapsed time of 8 hours 37 minutes and won the Strava Queen of the Mountain for the event as fastest female rider over that distance plus was one of the fastest females over the Devil’s Elbow timed climb.  I certainly will not be trying to keep up with Clodagh on the Deloitte RAB !

What have I taken away from the Dragon Tour?

  • The multi-day format was great, particularly if you managed to get to know other riders
  • Pacing is key; it’s no good going off too fast and not being able to cope on the next day or the third day
  • Fuelling (eating enough) and keeping hydrated (drinking enough) is important, particularly with the very warm weather we had during the Dragon Ride
  • Riding in a peloton saves an enormous amount of energy and riders having a bad day are very grateful for a “tow”, even if you end up cycling a bit slower than you could manage
  • I can cycle the daily distance required on the Deloitte RAB but I can work on my climbing ability (basically more of what I posted about in Gravity)
  • A daily post ride massage, however short, worked wonders on tired muscles!

Overall the Dragon Tour was fantastic – I couldn’t fault the event organisation, particularly on the Dragon Ride.  The race marshalls were plentiful and dealt with the few tacks thrown on the road by disgruntled locals (upset by 5,000 riders visiting south Wales for the weekend, many with families, and spending their money in the area!).  The volunteers and staff in the feed stations were awesome, with a special mention for the feed station at Ystradfellte – so friendly and welcoming!  I certainly hope to take part in the Dragon Ride next year.

I’m doing the Deloitte RAB in part to raise lots of money for Dementia UK in memory of my father who suffered from dementia.  You can help me raise money by sponsoring me at my Virgin Money Giving page here

Gravity

Today I went for a training ride with a fellow Deloitte Ride Across Britain participant, Carl, who lives in Cardiff.  We are both taking part in the Dragon Grand Fondo ride next Sunday (10 June) and didn’t want to over do things today so limited things to 100 m short of 100 km (and 1,150m of climbing).  The Dragon Ride is 223 km with over 2,900m of climbing though the Welsh Valleys and into the Brecon Beacons.

Both Carl and I are similar ages (either side of 50 !) and manage to ride at about the same speed on the flat and slight inclines.  Where things differ is when we go up hill and Carl starts to pull away with alarming ease (or at least to my viewpoint – Carl may say he is working very hard).  I blame gravity for this state of affairs!

I think our respective sizes had a lot to do with it.  I’m 189 cm tall (6’2″ in old money) while Carl is probably 170 cm (5’7″) with weights of 88 kg and 67 kg respectively.

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Carl and me after a 60 mile ride

This means I’m having to get an extra 20 kg or so up hill – the equivalent of 20 bags of sugar.  I can try and increase my power to weight ratio by increasing my power output – the amount of energy I can put through the pedals.  My training over the last six weeks has concentrated on power improvement.  I can also try and lose a bit more weight – I’ve lost about 6 kg since Christmas, so could expect to get rid of a further 2 kg by September.  Losing extra weight after shedding the initial excess weight is always more difficult.  However, I wouldn’t want to affect my ability to put out the power.  Plus, I really don’t want to end up looking like Chris Froome (sorry Chris).  For one thing, buying lots of new suits and shirts would be rather expensive … and I like chocolate far too much.

In the end, I think I will have to accept that some riders will be quicker uphill and I can use gravity to help me on the downhill – lighter riders then sit on my back wheel and use me as a moving windbreak.  They’d better watch out for the braking distances as I have disc brakes which generally allow shorter stopping distances than rim brakes.  I have to remind myself to allow more time to slow down when I ride other bike with rim brakes, particularly if it is wet.

Next weekend is going to be real challenge.  I have rides on Friday (105 km or 65 miles) and Saturday (85 km or 52 miles) with quite a bit of climbing in each ride in the Brecon Beacons near Crickhowell – the routes go up Gospel Pass and The Tumble (on different days thank goodness).  I’ll have to see how the legs are feeling on Sunday – I will have the option part way through the ride of dropping down to the Dragon Medio Fondo, a distance of 153 km (95 miles).  Look out for the next blog to find out how I get on.

As a reminder, I am raising money to support Dementia UK I am 40% of the way to my target fundraising (I don’t have a minimum amount to raise because I am totally self-funded and not taking a sponsored place).  You can support my by donating at my Virgin Money Giving page here

100 Days to Go !

It is now starting to get serious as there are now 100 days to go (or less depending when you read this blog post !) until the start of the 2018 Deloitte Ride Across Britain.  As one participant wrote on their blog we have now reached a tipping point – training cannot now be put off in the belief that we still have plenty of time to make up for missed sessions or times when you don’t put in a decent effort.  There is also the desire not to pick up an injury, catch a cold or even worse, have a crash – there is not really enough time to mend if you break something!

The organisers, Threshold Sports, sent out training plans last autumn suitable for beginners, intermediate and experienced cyclists.  I’ve been following a slightly different plan with my coach, Lawrence, at Enduraprep and I’m relieved to see there are some similarities between the plans, although I tend to do shorter, more intense sessions during the week and longer rides at the weekend.  I think I would struggle to do the two 1 1/2 to 2 hour mid week rides suggested by Threshold Sports, while a five hour ride at the weekend is no longer a faint hope but becoming the norm.

Threshold Sports sent out a questionnaire last week to the participants asking about our training in terms of length of rides and the type of bike we intend to use if not a road bike.  I hope I don’t received a “Must Do More” note from “teacher”!

I was glad last weekend was a Bank Holiday as I only managed to get out on the Monday for a long ride through the Vale of Glamorgan round to the west of Bridgend.  It was hot and sticky with a headwind on the way back – distinctly hard work.  I didn’t make it easy on myself as I decided to go up the climb up to Norton near Ogmore by Sea.  It is a short but steep climb – the 1 in 10 sign is wrong – it’s steeper!  Simon Warren, who has written a series of books about cycling climbs in the UK, only gives it a 2/10 score, probably on account of its short length.  There was a great view at the top.

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Top of Norton Hill, looking north west

Personally speaking, I prefer the longer, steadier (less steep climbs) of The Rhigos, The Bwlch and The Tumble (all rated much harder) any day !  This coming weekend I plan to do a training ride in preparation for the Etape Wales and Dragon Ride on 8-10 June.  Hopefully there will be a few of us “RABbers” taking part and we plan to investigate the Devil’s Elbow (a 7/10 climb).

My sponsorship page is now seeing a bit more action as it is easier to ask for sponsorship the closer I get to the event – I’ve received some very generous donations recently – thank you very much!  There is still plenty of time to support me in raising money for Dementia UK .  You can find my Virgin Money Giving page here

15 weeks to go !

I’m starting to count down the weeks to starting the Deloitte Ride Across Britain – it is now 15 weeks to go according to Training Peaks which I use to track my training and fitness.

The big news this week was the announcement by the ride organisers, Threshold Sports, of the final route with big changes announced for Scotland.  This year we will be climbing up through the Cairngorms to the east of Scotland rather than Rannoch Moor to the west.  It means that we will climb up through Glenshee rather than Glen Coe.  From my point of view it will mean going very close to where I stayed with my parents when I saw my sister, Caroline, graduate from the University of St Andrews (a few years before William and Catherine I hasn’t to add!).  We spent a couple of very nice days at Dalmunzie Hotel – this was before my father started suffering from dementia, so the ride could be a little bitter sweet bringing back some memories from quite a few years ago.  No golf clubs this time though!  The hotel is situated on a long “out and back” road so I’m not sure I’ll actually go and visit.

The route change has resulted in a longer ride – now at 980 miles according to some calculations and over 50,000 feet of climbing.  The reaction on the Facebook forum for the ride has been mixed to say the least!  Some regulars are not happy at the changes, particularly the extra climbing and one particularly steep bit (allegedly a 20% gradient).  Others, like me, don’t mind one bit – I’m sure the scenery will be fantastic and hopefully the roads will be a bit quieter than the road through Rannoch Moor.  Judging by some of the posts last year about the ride, some of the locals were not happy about being held up by lots of cyclists.

Training is still going well.  The good weather over the last couple of weeks is certainly helping.  My long ride last weekend was a trip round the the west of Bridgend, a distance of 119 km with climbing of 1,273 m.  The aim was a flat ride if at all possible.

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Ogmore Estuary

This weekend the aim was more climbing (at least two hills) and I covered 87 km with 1,355m of climbing.  I ended up riding the hill up to Pentyrch (and got my best time) and two of the three climbs up to the top of Caerphilly Mountain.  I gave the really tough climb from Caerphilly itself a miss – the Caerphilly 10k run was taking place and I wasn’t sure of the road closures.

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Changing seasons near Dyffryn Gardens

That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!  I’m sure I will be visiting the tough climb over the summer as I need all the practise I can get to improve my climbing ability.

Fingers crossed for decent weather for the Bank Holiday weekend coming up.  On Saturday I’ve got a visit to the gardens at RHS Wisley courtesy of my alma mater Reading University – I’m taking my mother as she hasn’t seen the gardens for over 20 years!  It will be back home for sailing on Sunday afternoon and a long ride on the Monday.

If you would like to help me support Dementia UK, please visit my Virgin Money Giving page here

South Wales delivers over May Bank Holiday

What a difference a week makes – from chilly pretty miserable cycling weather to “wall to wall” sunshine and almost too hot for cycling !

On Saturday I completed my first cycling Century – 100 miles in a ride with 2,160 m of climbing.

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View from the top of the Bwlch

It is a bit scary to think that I’ll have to do a slightly longer distance each day for nine days in September in order to complete the Deloitte Ride Across Britain.

I’ve just joined the Deloitte RAB Facebook group (a closed group for participants of the 2018 ride).  It is interesting to read some of the comments about lack of training and the hope that they’ll be “pulled along” by the rest of the riders – I have to admit I’d be concerned about a bit of wishful thinking considering how hard I found the Saturday ride.  Here is a 3D view of the ride Relive Link

I ended up climbing two of the Top UK 100 climbs – the Rhigos (from both sides) followed by the Bwlch from the Treorchy side.  There was then a long ride home via Bridgend and the coastal road through the Vale of Glamorgan.

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View from the top of the Rhigos

I worn the cycle top sent to me by Dementia UK as shown by the photo at the top of the Rhigos.

I did a light spin indoors on Sunday as I didn’t fancy the heat of the afternoon after sailing at Sully in the morning, although it was a bit of a drift fighting the tides due to lack of wind.

As Bank Holiday Monday was due to be even hotter I decided to get up fairly early and got out for a ride shortly after 7.30 and took out my Specialized Venge for a spin over 100 km or so.  This is a very different bike from the Cannondale SuperSix that I intend to ride on the Deloitte RAB.  The Venge is an “aero” bike designed to go fast.  The ride is fairly unforgiving as the bike is very stiff.  The Cannondale is also a race bike and very stiff but is designed with some clever tech to dampen some of the road buzz – I have also converted to tubeless tyres which can reduce punctures.  This was brought home to me when I got a puncture after less than 12 miles!  The rest of the ride was uneventful – lots of cyclists out, probably training for the Carten (Cardiff to Tenby) ride next weekend by the look of lots of cycle tops.

The Vale of Glamorgan was looking at its best – not a cloud to be seen and new surprises for me just west of Bridgend when I came across the Merthyr Mawr Warren National Nature Reserve after riding down a dead end – quite unintentional !  The smell of freshly cooked bacon from the campsite wasn’t fair…

It is now four weeks until my next sportive – the Etape Wales and the Dragon Ride.  Lots more training to get through before then including a few more climbs.

If you’d like to help me raise money for Dementia UK please visit my Virgin Money Giving page here I’m a third of the way to my target if you include the Gift Aid !

Chilly riding for the end of April

Last weekend was the first for three weeks when I didn’t have an organised Sportive to attend – it was a good job too as the weather didn’t play ball !  My Saturday ride was more like riding in mid March with an average temperature of 8 degrees Celsius, in other words pretty cold with the need for leg warmers, long sleeved top and wind jacket.  So different from last weekend with bib-shorts and short sleeves.

I tried out a longer distance, intending to go round the west side of Bridgend.  However a wrong turn took me part way into Bridgend before I started to go the right direction to Porthcawl.  A look on the map afterwards shows me where to go next time I want to ride a fairly flat ride – only 1,200 m of climbing in 113 km, not bad for the Vale of Glamorgan.

Repeating some of the routes allows me to see the changing of the seasons, definitely darker looking green grass and more leaves appearing on the trees.

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Here are a couple of photos taken from the same vantage point from a couple of earlier blogs and hopefully I’ll be able to repeat the process over the coming months.

In terms of training, the last few months are starting to pay off.  I did a Functional Threshold Power test last Wednesday, the 20 minute version rather than the hour long test – I do wonder if anyone does the full hour !  For those who haven’t heard of or done a FTP test, it involves warming up for around 15 minutes (minimum) and then riding as hard as possible for 20 minutes on a static bike that measures your power output.  I managed an average power of 259 watts over the 20 minutes which is only 2 watts off my personal best set after two weeks of riding everyday on holiday in Greece.  Although the test is absolutely horrible to do, I will probably do a couple more FTPs before September to test my fitness levels.  I have found the key to the test is not to start too hard but to try and be consistent for the first 10 minutes and then try and increase the output a little – the last three minutes are always the worst!

It’s now less than six weeks to the next Sportive, the Dragon Tour with L’Etape Wales, which involves two days riding in the Brecon Beacons near Crickhowell and then the Dragon Ride from Margam Country Park near Port Talbot.  It will be a good test of riding long distances on consecutive days and a few of my new cycling friends from the Deloitte RAB I met on the training ride will also be taking part.

Do remember, I am doing the Deloitte RAB to raise money for Dementia UK and you can visit my Virgin Money Giving page here