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.
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.
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Last Sunday saw 60 or so participants congregate fairly early in the morning in Princes Risborough, on the edge of the Chilterns, for a training ride organised by Threshold Sports who have the unenviable task of marshalling all the riders from Land’s End to John O’Groats in September. For all of us who attended it was an opportunity to ask questions, meet fellow riders, hear some top tips from previous participants in the Ride Across Britain (or RAB for short) and have a small taste of what is to come.
If you haven’t seen it, here is a video on YouTube showing what the RAB could be like RAB video The video was recorded during the 2016 RAB because the Threshold Chaperones (riders from Threshold Sports who acted as guides out on the ride) told us that it rained for 8 out of 9 days in 2017 ! I really do hope summer lasts until 17 September in the UK this year….
Back to the morning, as expected a lot of the riders had travelled from in and around London – apparently the conductor on the Chiltern Railways train from Marylebone was not particularly happy with 12 bikes and riders on an early morning train from London. At least it was early and not a Saturday when the train can be packed with shoppers heading to Bicester Village! Everyone was friendly although a little apprehensive about what was in store for us during the day.
I thought I had done well travelling from Cardiff (I bumped into Carl who had also come up from Cardiff) but I think the winner for distance travelled must have been Martin who travelled from Wigan. I cheated a bit as I stayed with my Mother in Haddenham – I still cycled the six miles to and from the venue.
The best top tips top tips were:
Pack everything into a big bag with lots of spare space as kits seems to expand
Don’t believe the marketing blurb that your bag is waterproof; use lots of smaller plastic bags
Get organised and have a routine; pack your kit the night before and get the riding gear ready. You don’t want to be the phaffer who keeps their friends waiting or even worse gets turfed out of their tent by the ground-staff packing up the camp site!
Bring ear plugs (plus some gloves and a hat for the Scottish nights)
Ride within your capacity in the first two days to avoid the Medical Tent (the two days up through Cornwall, Devon and Somerset to Bath are “the worst”). By day five the tortoise will catch the hare who could be “in bits and held together by sports tape”
Don’t linger in the feed station pit stops. However, one of our chaperones confessed to a three hour pit stop last year waiting for the rain to stop – it didn’t!
Respect other road users; no more than 10 in a group, be prepared to let car tailbacks pass, obey the Highway Code
Bring a spare rear derailleur hanger for your bike just in case
Keep the training going
We were split into groups of 10 for the rides based on average speed estimates. Carl and I were chatting about going in the “fast medium” group of say 15 mph average rather than the fast 16-18 mph group – there were some fit looking cyclists at the event. A shout went up for two more to join the fast group – Carl and I looked at each other and thought “Sod it” and volunteered. It was the right choice as the route was fairly flat compared to what we are used to in the Vale of Glamorgan and South Wales and keeping up was not a problem (thank goodness).
A few hills sorted us out on the first 40 mile loop, particularly Ladder Hill in Wheatley. We dropped one team member who had over-estimated his average speed at the feed station and then the speed notched up to closer 20 mph on the flat stages in the second 20 mile loop. I was quite happy to sit in the group and draft (saving energy). Clodagh, our sole female rider, put all the men to shame by setting the pace at the front with Simon, one of the chaperones, on the first lap and nailing the Queen of the Mountain time on the end of route sprint. It turns out that Clodagh does triathlons where you are not allowed to draft and she wanted the full benefits of the ride as a training session.
After 60 miles we finished the formal part of the ride. A couple of us decided to do an extra “finisher” and do a short lap up Whiteleaf Hill. This is one of the UK’s named 100 Climbs on Strava so on the bucket list of lots of riders. It is only 1.3 km (just under a mile) in length but averages a 9.4% gradient and according to my Garmin GPS unit nearly touched 20% (or 1 in 5 at one point when I was “moving” at 2 kph) – in reality I think it is 16% in places but still seriously steep. I was amazed at the Strava time when I got home (after an extra 6 mile ride trying the beat the rain) to see that I had still set my fastest time on the climb even after 60 miles of riding.
The event finished with some very tasty tomato and vegetable sauce with pasta. If the food at the end and at the feed station is anything to go by we will not be going hungry during the ride in September.
There was lots of checking the ride on Strava (I must update the data plan on my mobile) and swapping telephone numbers and email addresses. I will definitely be catching up with Carl for some training rides from Cardiff. A few others are taking part in the Dragon ride in early June – 223 km round the climbs of South Wales and the Brecon Beacons (three more UK 100 Climbs to tick off) and there was talk of some London based riders coming down to south Wales to take advantage of our “proper” long climbs! All in all, a great event and I was pleasantly surprised how I managed to cope. I just have to keep up the training and be prepared to cycle in wet weather – fingers crossed for an “Indian Summer”. Thanks to Threshold Sports and particularly for our chaperones, Simon and John, for telling us what it is really like on the RAB – bring on September!
As a reminder, I am raising money for Dementia UK, have a read of my About page for my reasons for supporting Dementia UK. If you would like to sponsor me, please visit my Virgin Money Giving page here