Bananas in Yorkshire

“I’ve got an idea, let’s go to Yorkshire instead!” Instead, that is, of the French Alps or even the much discussed and hitherto evasive Dolomites. Everyone agreed instantly.

Yorkshire. The Dales. The North Eastern corner of the Yorkshire dales to be accurate; the bit where Counties Durham and Cumbria meet up with their more southerly neighbour in a dramatic display of scenic outbidding in a who’s more scenic than the other contest. Very scenic and yet foreboding, for it is within this area that some of England’s and Britain’s highest paved roads reside, waiting, like trolls to grind the legs off of the eager cyclist. 20% gradients are common, 25% less so but are not hard to find if one should so desire such treats and 33%+, as one of our number found, isn’t impossible to seek out. The weather is fair to middling, as they say, even when the rest of the country bathes in glorious sunshine.  It can be windy. Legendarily windy; I can’t recall a time when I’ve been out this way and there wasn’t a near gale blowing. My dad used to say “if the wind stops blowing here, everyone will fall over”. Predominantly Westerly in case you’re ever thinking of heading that way. Despite these shortcomings however, this largely uninhabited square of Britain is one of my favourite places in the world.

Day 1. Unconventionally this cycle tour starts with a walk up Gunnerside Gill for no other reason than it was a nice thing to do after travelling most of the previous day along the entirety of the M1 motorway. Gunnerside Gill, a remote Victorian lead mining settlement, is reached by a footpath which climbs high out of Swaledale offering up superb views of the valley below and the hills beyond. The scars of industry still persist some 100 years on from the halcyon days of mining, looking very much like a scene from clash of the titans – the one they filmed in lead mining Yorkshire that is. Derelict, remote, eerie and as one of our companions remarked “it’s all a bit lord of the rings isn’t it”.

Day 1 proper. Breakfast is served. It’s Sunday. There’s a mountain of muesli, toast, eggs and the EU reserve supply of bananas available courtesy of Mr Sainsbury’s excellent delivery service. An essential given the proximity of the nearest shop. Ravensworth, as Ian Botham will testify, is lovely, but lacks some vital services. An ideal place to stay for the purpose of riding a bicycle in the Dales but it does present certain logistical difficulties in organising a group holiday. Following a delightful breakfast we head out on the first ride, a 50Km “flat” ride along the Tees Valley which heads out of Yorkshire into Durham briefly and then back. Designed intentionally to get us in the mood for things to come and survey the land; there’ll be plenty of hills and miles to be ridden in the week to come. Almost immediately we’re unavoidably on an incline of 10% followed a couple of miles later by an extended slope of 10-12% to reach the A66, which we must cross at our peril and not for the last time. From here, the route becomes kinder and we soon reach the first river crossing at the village of Winston. A charming place which announces County Durham proper. The vistas are wide and the skies are huge here, even on this slightly overcast day and one feels as if there isn’t enough peripheral vision to take it all in; your eyes achingly trying to see past their natural field of vision. There’s so little traffic here too, adding to the sense of vastness. When we reach Staindrop it’s time to stop for a coffee at the Country Tea Shop. It’s nice to hear a local accent akin to my own and unbeknownst to me, it’s been there for years but I never knew of its presence until that moment of passing. It goes down on the list of good coffee stops. A short burst home over the swaying wooden bridge at Whorlton and through the wonderfully named village of Hutton Magna. Hal the dog is waiting for us and greats us as if we’ve been away for a year before retreating to his sentinel position atop the stairs.

To summarise, we’ve come on a cycling holiday to Yorkshire and so far indulged in recreational perambulation and a trip along the Tees valley in County Durham. Everyone is awaiting something big. The anticipation is growing.

Day 2. The mountain of Bananas will never be depleted. Probably a good thing given what’s in stall for the next few days. After another splendid breakfast we head out to the Dales proper. From Ravensworth to Richmond it’s an undulating affair with 16% arriving quicker than desired. From Richmond we headed West  towards Leyburn and past the national park boundary post and on to Reeth, ignoring the tempting sign at Grinton Bridge for the now world famous Cote De Grinton Moor. This was made famous by TV’s Jens Voigt in the Tour De France of 2013 whence it passed this way.

Reeth is where thing start getting interesting from a geographical point of view.  It looks hemmed in by big hills with no possible way out; only there is a way out and it’s mainly upwards and over one of them there big hills. Tan Hill is an obvious attraction for the cyclist. Sure it has bitingly steep sections and goes on for a long while by English standards (5Km) but it’s not the worst hill from a gradient perspective around here and on a good day makes for a great ride, special in fact. This was not a good day however as the weather closed in almost as soon as wheel rose to meet the gradient. Vicious wind (some say legendary) and driving drizzle abounded. We battle on however and wobbled around in the worsening conditions. The scenery disappears in the gloom. Past a bothy fashioned from a rusting shipping container and onward to the summit; almost there. The gradient falters and then digs deep to punish anew. The grouse shooting party give us queer looks as we fight against the elements. I can see the faint outline of Tan Hill; we’re within touching distance now and suddenly after the last bite-back of this hill we top out at 528m above sea level. That’s about 1.9 Black Downs in VCGH terms. Long time the dream of leading a club ride over this hill has been realised.

Miraculously the weather breaks and although still treacherously windy, the decent to Keld is fast and fun. At the bottom we turn left for home along the TDF route back into Reeth, and what a road that is. It ranks in my top 10 easily. The tarmac is smooth and although the terrain is undulating the gradient tilts downwards ever so slightly overall. Following in the wheels of the big names of cycling – Kwiatkowski, Bardet, Ten Dam and Lars Boom – who all kindly posted their efforts on strava to show how massively better they are at cycling than humans.

Having lived out our TDF fantasies for the day we stopped for a coffee in Reeth at the copper kettle, another café for the list, before pushing on home over the last 10 kilometres. Most of the climbing was in the bag or so we thought, but out of Reeth on the back road towards Ravensworth, in a more direct route than the outward voyage, lies, firstly, Hardstiles Bank followed by Clapgate Bank; a double header of sustained 17 percenters, the latter of which is where Richmond Cycling Club run a hill climb, to which by some coincidence we were cordially invited to attend that evening but had to decline due to technical reasons which were incomprehensible to the layperson, shall we say. We arrive home to be greeted once again by the mountain of bananas.

Day 3. Things get serious although the mountain of bananas still persists. “We’ll be back before lunch!” Did I really say that? Setting off this time from Reeth Village centre and heading straight on to the Cote de Grinton Moor. In 2013 the peloton got a bit squashed up on this climb and had to stop at the cattle grid in order to get everyone through safely. No such trouble for us – it is a fine climb which is naturally very steep in places and quite persistent at just over 3Km long.  The downhill into Leyburn was crazy fast.

The westerly wind is greater today than previous days and riding into it makes for grim hour along the back road form Leyburn to Kettlewell. It’s lumpy along here and a comparatively poor surface by the previous day’s standards; a bit like surrey roads. By the time we arrive at the turning point in Kettlewell, I feel as if I’ve been at sea for a week. Battered by wind and waves. Waves of hills that is, including the fearsome Park Rash (reverse) with its hostile cattle grids and 20% gradients. Richmond cycling club – yes them again – organised a sportive at one time taking in this road but alas no more due, undoubtedly, to the horrendous difficulty of this twisted climb – it’s steeper the other way in case you were wondering. Descending it required skill and concentration enough.

At Kettlewell the tarmac becomes friendly again and given that it was laid in 2013 for The Tour, it is still in tip-top condition. It’s no wonder towns compete and bid to get the TDF to pass through. It’s an infinitely sounder plan than to rely on the local council alone to make infrastructure repairs. Thanks to this infrastructure upgrade we’re ripping along now and heading to Kidstones Pass; the wind is sort of with us for once over the hill, progress is swift and the Tour Decent (strava name) is a blast.

With just the Buttertubs Pass to negotiate, the three bears inform me that they need to eat. We do so at the White Lion in Askrigg – nice pub, good array of ales and a dart board – the bears have soup and a sandwich and I have chips and a sandwich.  No one takes up my offer of a round of darts (arrows as we say) as part of a prototype and unique biathlon. Meanwhile, back on the highway, the headwind has been patiently waiting for us; it sticks with us all the way to the base of the climb and adds to the almost immediate and gratuitous 20% gradient in a way which is both unpleasant and irritating. Butertubs is phenomenal however and goes on and on and although it is actually only 4Km in length, what a 4Km. One of the crew goes off the front. I can’t match it; not even close so I sit back and let the troll grind my legs off. The troll continues persistently as I heave myself over the top. There’s a feeling of accomplishment akin to an alpine ascent. Two people sit casually awaiting my arrival.

Day 4. The banana war rages but the troops are making good progress. They will be defeated soon. Given the previous day’s events the group head for 50Km leg stretcher followed by a sandwich in the local pub. Despite advertising to the contrary, many of the hostelries enroute are closed on a Wednesday. My diary entry reads “The other three bears get edgy without food and coffee”.

Day 5. The bananas have been defeated. Only a few remain. The last of their number will soon be despatched.

Sitting on top of England and looking down into the Eden valley my eyes cannot take in the whole view. It looks unreal from this viewpoint. The whole of Westmoreland and some of Yorkshire is in front of us. The strava segment we have just climbed is called “climb to the clouds” and is 14Km long. The average gradient is a mere 1.5% but this is the UK and obviously average means nothing. It’s the 95% confidence limits you should be interested in. The outliers. As such, rollercoaster would be a more apt description. On this, the queen stage of the trip it is a fitting start to proceedings. The long drag up the 5Km Roman road into a headwind will long live on in many a fireside tale, warning children away from the hill trolls.

The descent into Brough is almost alpine although Brough itself is clearly nowhere near alpine. Consider it a flyover town or a passing place. It has nothing of merit to offer the traveller except passage to the next place. The next place being the wonderfully isolated Tan Hill inn to which we travelled from the hamlet of Barras. Not many people cycle Tan hill this way, preferring either the struggle from Keld or the more accessible route up from Reeth. This way is probably the most scenic. It passes through wooded areas of silver birch, which majestically line the route as if drawing us up to some Elven hideaway whereupon Galadriel herself awaits. Woodland gives way to high pasture which gives way to the familiar bleak, vast open moorland nearer the top. The weather closes in again and we are once more hunted by big, dark clouds. Not rain this time but hail and lots of it. The Tan Hill inn is getting closer but progress is slow and takes a depressing turn towards the weather. The climb goes on. Refuge is close at hand but not before getting a quick soaking. Inside the Tan Hill Inn is a roaring fire, gallons of tea, chips and big sandwiches. The bears are happy again, but soon it will be time to leave the cave and venture forth into the wilderness (att. David Attenborough). Other cyclists sheltering from the psychotic weather begin to peer out of the window and declare the storm over. It’s time to leave but not before the general ambience is disturbed by two Dutch backpackers who seemed very amused to be in such “a crazy place”. “I mean – who comes here?”

Leaving the bemused backpackers behind to their energetic selfies and now drier, fed and feeling perkier, we head optimistically outside and into the brightening day. “Just The Stang to go”.  I say sarcastically. It’s another 40Km or so to home and the reunion with a lonesome banana, but with renewed vigour and a sense of conquest the queen stage is defeated emphatically with one last long grind over 17% gradients, a climb which I had been fearing all day. For The Stang has a special place in my memory, beautiful, remote and fearsome. Thinking about all the times I have driven up and over it on my way home to Barnard Castle and the times I have thought “would I be able to cycle it”.  An ambition realised.

Peter At the top of The Stang

Happiness is … cycling to Paris

It was cold and wet and Christmas had just been and gone. The bike sat lonely, ignored and unused in the garage, wishing there was a ‘Bikeline’ number it could phone for support. What to do???
New challenges, that is what is needed. VCGH trip to Paris, that fits the bill perfectly. Joyously I skipped to the bike to share the news.

Fast forward 5 months and many many What’sApp messages and there we were, in the Port of Dover ready for our first Team Talk from Matt. Anticipation was high. What will he discuss – the route ahead, expected pace, group riding tactics, communication reminders? No. Matt had a much bigger worry. Clearly this had been a





‘Now listen up everyone, this is really important. I cannot emphasise this enough.’ Anxious looks pass between us. This is serious. Matt took a deep breath and continued in a deeply solemn tone… ‘Make sure you are in the right gear going up the ramp to the ferry because if you aren’t you WILL fall off and look uncool and everyone will laugh at us for the whole ferry journey. Seriously everyone,


(VCGH committee please note and ensure this is in the club rules. And maybe printed on any future jerseys?)

Across millpond waters and then onto French soil for the first leg. One tight group (after a little higgledy piggledyness sadly witnessed by the support crew who held their heads in their hands) and we swept through the french country side to St Omer. Long straight roads, not much hillage but long and straight, tree lined but long…and straight. Very straight. A blue blurry pelaton whizzing through, cheered on by an elderly French gentleman sat at the side of the road in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Was he saving his place for the Tour de France, or maybe left over from last year? He was happy and he was cheering us on. He knew we were coming because the roads are so straight and long – did I mention that?

St Omer appeared, the location for the most delicious evening meal of the trip, in my opinion. Other restaurants are available in St Omer but why bother, this one was amazing. (Although Andrew sadly realised he had chosen the wrong dessert when his strawberry and vanilla ice cream came in the form of a Magnum. But it was presented very beautifully in a flower pot.)

Day 2 – St Omer to Amiens 116km 1300m

Another beautiful day as we ventured deeper into French countryside and the roads started to bend a little, up and down as well as left and right. Beautiful villages, smooth roads, courteous drivers. This is what cycling in France is all about.

Big day today. Frank had done extensive, and I mean REALLY extensive research on the route and had spotted that we had a Col to climb. Now this is what all my hill repeats had been for. Up and down up and down time after time and now we were going to finally do The Col of all Cols. Col des Chemins, a cheeky number that the Tour is too afraid of to include in its routes. As Frank said ‘No mountain too high for this group’. Col des Chemins …136 meters. That is ONE THREE SIX!!! And not steep. Not even a Strava segment.

The plateaus are beautiful, the views are amazing but the wind…wow! Luckily I could sit behind the two tallest gents on the trip as it was brutal, I was learning to make myself very small and the pace did pick up considerably as someone mentioned beer. Nothing could cheer me up though from the sight of a lonely man in a boule park playing boule all by himself. I hope he won.

Into Amiens and low and behold a bar just on the corner of the hotel, perfect positioning for cheering people in. Strava analysis showed that VCGH, especially the ladies, had swept the board, like a professional team swooping through the area and claiming all the cups. Team Awesome.
Dinner – not as quite good as the night before. Delicious Posh fish and mushy peas…but without batter and without chips. Enough said.

Day 3 Amiens – Rouen 128km 908m

Sighted by many as the most beautiful day (both in terms of weather and route) twisting and turning through the French countryside with only a few little hills to contend with and less wind on the beautiful plateaus which offered such stunning far reaching views of the French countryside.

However, before that there was a shock. Bags had to be ready to go in the van at 6.45 am. That is SIX FORTY FIVE IN THE MORNING. (Please refer to the blog on RideLondon to predict what my reaction to that was). I was a grumpalump on a grumpabike cycling my way along the grumparoad to grumpaville. Luckily Grumpaville was a pretty town in which Brian greeted us with ‘Matt has chosen the seedy little bar where all the local drunk men are or you can go to that gorgeous patisserie which sells delicious cakes…it’s up to you guys, I don’t want to sway you either way of course’. Patisserie?? Grumpiness cured.

More heavenly meandering through the countryside (France has such quiet countryside, no lorries or coaches were encountered thundering past). Lunch was a picnic by a quiet road (so lovely to suddenly see the ‘lunch van’ in sight, Brian and Matt always received a rapturous welcome) which wasn’t so quiet with us all chatting and laughing – I have to say the camaraderie of the group was amazing.

Our rooms weren’t ready when we arrived in Rouen but what does that matter to a group of cyclists who have Strava stats to entertain them? And I thought I was one of the few who spent FAR too much of my life pouring over Strava but it seems that the country’s productivity would be far higher all round if it did not exist. So we lounged around on the sofas oohing and ahhhing at our amazing accomplishments whilst wondering why the French have not fully embraced Strava (but quite relieved or pots would not have been so plentiful).

Dinner was another quiet affair, she lies, and featured the much anticipated hot sausage brioche and Norman Pig Baker. A spare meal was raffled off (it was what Jackie would have wanted) – I won a potato but events conspired against me claiming the coveted prize. Previous experiences with going out with cyclists after a hard days cycling often involved a very early night as we are all drooping our heads on the table with tiredness. Not so this trip and we even had an impromptu architectural tour by Ralph on the way back – he’s a knowledgeable man and even made drainpipes sound interesting. Seriously. A rare talent.

Day 4 – Rouen to Paris 140km 1660m

My goodness, last day already. Another early start and then straight into a hill to warm up on. At this point I need to again highlight the extensive research Frank had done, street viewing the whole route to iron out any potential problems and find features of interest – today was no exception. A few miles down the road we stopped at a huge yellow jersey monument for one of cycling famous figures, a son of Normandy, the first five time winner of the Tour de France Jacques Anquetil. We then continued along the roads which his legs had also glided along, just a tiny bit slower. Just a tiny bit.

Attempts were made to up the pace as presumably Brian had knowledge that Matt was not in full control of the van and nearly lost it at our coffee stop. Yes, Matt, vans do have a hand brake and they like them to be used, especially on a slope. Disaster was averted by a superman manoeuvre into the van and our jelly babies were able to live another day.

As we neared Paris anticipation of the Champs Elyse grew… the traffic, the cobbles, the navigation, the need for the ladies room. The blue VCGH peloton that rode into the capital was tight and formed a presence on the road that was not to be messed with. People looked on in awe as we swept through, crowds gasped, traffic came to a standstill, children knew they would never forget such a sight, YouTube crashed with footage of this momentous event. Above all, Matt, WE LOOKED COOL.

A slight hiccup when we pulled up outside the George V Hotel (why, why, why did we have to stop there?? Just cruel. We’d have fitted in perfectly in our sweaty lycra. I’m sure the staff are trained for all eventualities but is that a scenario they have considered?) and then more bouncing over the cobbles (a lost light was the only tragedy) to the stunning, majestic sight of the Eiffel Tower.

The magnificent Tower paled besides our own magnificence. WE HAD DONE IT! Ok, there may have been another team arriving at the exact same moment who had come from Rotterdam, which is much further, but we are VCGH and we are AMAZING.

Some advice if considering doing this trip:

Ask for orange club biscuits on day one. Do not take no for an answer.

Cycle from Milford to Ashford the day before – flat as a flat pancake for over 70 miles and amazing to think you have cycled from Milford to Paris (and it’s probably further than from Rotterdam).


Do not expect to lose weight – the food is yummy and plentiful (apart from the fish and mushy peas night, obviously).

Ensure Frank has street viewed the whole route – he was an invaluable and knowledgeable expert.

Don’t let Matt park the van facing towards a river. Hand brake to be applied at all times.

If you get the opportunity DO IT. As Audrey Hepburn said ‘Paris is always a good idea.’ With VCGH its the BEST idea.

Finally, be prepared for your face to ache from laughing, your legs to ache from cycling, Matt’s brain to ache from worrying and your heart to ache when it’s all over.

A few last words…

A HUGE MASSIVE GIGANTIC ‘thank you’ to Matt, Brian, Lara and all those involved in making this trip such a roaring success. As Ralph observed – we could simply think about our cycling and the support crew really did the rest. As close to professional cycling as you will experience!

This blog is dedicated to Norman

100 miles, 26000 cyclists, 1000’s of supporters, 37 million jelly babies and one happy Ali

Somewhere deep beneath a duvet in Central London…

‘Whaaaaaaaa…..(long silence, maybe even a snore)…. I don’t even like cycling’

That was the TOUGHEST part of RideLondon 100 as I really, REALLY don’t do early mornings. Who knew that there were two 5 o’clocks in the day? Breakfast consisted of two porridge pots and a banana, which FYI can all be eaten with your head still on the pillow.

Lining up for the start everyone was in high spirits and the time passed eventfully – I had my photo taken by a lady who said (repeatedly) I looked EXACTLY like her best friend, I panicked at the ‘last toilets before start’ sign, only to see many many more beyond that, I chatted to a marshall that could only talk about the bacon sandwich he was looking forward to and I was amazed by the sheer number of gels consumed over an hour before our start. I dropped a jelly baby and mourned its loss, joined by fellow jelly baby lovers.

At exactly 8.13 the horn went and my wave set off. Cycling through central London with numerous onlookers cheering was an amazing experience. I was on a mission though as David was 28 minutes behind me and I was desperate to see how far I could get before he caught up. The only way I could do this was to become a complete wheel tart, jumping on the back of anyone who looked like they had a good pace and smooth line. I even got a thumbs up from one guy. My chain came off coming out of the tunnel, which was a scary experience with so many riders bearing down on me as I tried to cross to the side. Anyone who knows how precious I am about getting my hands dirty will be proud of me just grabbing it and getting it back on as quickly as possible, the element of pursuit is a great motivator (and there aren’t many sticks lying around in a tunnel).

Once out of London and just past Weybridge I planned my first stop at 38 miles, I felt good but the bottles were empty…and at just that point the mass peloton of thousands of riders were halted following a serious accident – it took an hour and 20 minutes to move on but generally everyone was very patient – the mood was of concern for the injured cyclist. (Apart from where David was – when they all moved aside to let an ambulance pass one lone cyclist was drafting it – the power of the booing masses made him eventually pull over). Yes, the hold up was annoying but the day was far worse for those involved, and their families. Needless to say our thoughts are with them all.

In the hold up my VCGH top was recognised by a neighbour of a club member so we kept each other company as we walked at stop start pace along for about 1.5 miles (as one rider stated ‘I expected bits of me to wear out on the ride but not my cleats’). Unbeknown to either of us David passed me at this point, no idea how but friends were having a captivating day tracking us on the RideLondon app and they all broke the news to me gleefully.

Finally the roads opened again and it was onwards and upwards with Newlands Corner, Leith Hill and Box Hill looming. Another accident resulted in another 10 minute stop and Leith Hill, the one I had heard so much about but hadn’t actually get round to doing, has still not been done in its entirety as everything once more came to a halt and we all had to walk the first half. Luckily that left what I think was the steepest part which felt horrible after the wait – helpful residents were on hand to give a countdown as to how far to go.

Once the hills were conquered it was the 35 mile final push back into London (with a nasty little hill in Wimbledon to test those weary legs one last time, but the people of Wimbledon were rocking and totally motivating).

As I took the final turn onto the Mall my legs were weary, my food had run out and my bottles were empty. I zipped my top up (for VCGH publicity on the front pages of the next days newspapers) and turned into Pall Mall ready for the smile to beam across my face as the finish came into sight. But no, there was work to be done first – I was not going to let the lady who had just blasted past me have the glory of the crowds cheering (in my head, this was the Classique finish) so I jumped on her wheel and hung on until the last 100 meters when the beast within me found the energy to power past – official photo’s show that she was broken. Boom. Job done. And my inner child was put back in its box.

What a totally amazing experience – and I am very pleased with my time of 6 hours 12 minutes (once all the hold ups are taken into account). I was told it would be my fastest hundred but it was pretty much my fastest ride ever. Loving closed roads! Love cycling!

Some of the best memories

• London roads WITH NO TRAFFIC

• A spontaneous Boris Bike ride in the Free Cycle the day before. Great to see so many children spinning those little legs so fast just to keep up, and yes, the teddys were necessary extra weight.

• The amazing banners people had taken the time to make – ‘Go Go Awesome Strangers’ was my favourite

• Cycling PAST the start of Coombe Lane, thankfully

• Being in the ‘fast’ lane up Box Hill (and getting a PR to boot). I didn’t have to call ‘on your right’ as my heavy breathing was a signal for everyone around me. I got comments about it.

• Motivating texts from friends as they followed us on the app

• Feeling like a cycling GODDESS

• Seeing such a variety of people cycling – loving the love of cycling

• Waving to the elderly residents who had been wheeled out for the day (I do hope they liked cycling) – and spotting how many were asleep

• Cycling through Wimbledon dancing to YMCA – one handed of course

• The youngest spectators who bounced like crazy after being high fived

• Being a part of something so big

• Raising loads for Macmillan – such generous friends and colleagues

• Eating the best jaffa cakes ever at Leatherhead hub (I think they were normal but at that point they tasted amazing)

• Truly believing the crowds were cheering me like crazy as I blasted down the final straight – in my head I was THE WINNER

• Never once feeling alone in 100 miles…

…that said, maybe 2017 should be the year of a ladies taking a team place? Hands up ladies, who’s game?

VCGH Ladies Trip – Mallorca 2016

VCGH Ladies Mallorca Trip June 16

18 months ago Lara T led us on a 20 mile ride out of Milford.  That was to be the inaugural VCGH Ladies Ride and, with her determination to push us to achieve our potential along with our determination just to keep up at all costs, plans were made and goals were set.

Mallorca was mentioned and then forgotten whilst we built up our miles, our confidence, our fitness, our desire and our quads!  We had a go at the TTs, rode to Paris, did our first century and climbed those Surrey Hills week after week.

January 16 saw us sitting in a coffee shop mid-ride and discussing a week somewhere hot; without the need for thermal base layers.  Within 24 hours Lara T had sent an email outlining her thoughts for a Mallorca trip and the majority vote was a resounding yes.

Sat 4th June:  Team Mallorca (Lara Taylor, Lara Harrison, Ali Walters, Ali Siddall, Jackie Fieldus and myself) arrive at Port Blue Resort Pollenca to 28 degrees and a mix up with our rooms.  Calm negotiations headed up by Lara T see us elevated to all-inclusive board and just the one night of shared accommodation.  Let the holiday begin!

Rooms found, the first lesson we learn from Lara is how to adjust the headset when re-assembling your bike post-flight.  None of us had appreciated the importance of tightening the top cap gently before applying the front brake and pushing forward on the handlebars to ensure the ‘play’ had been removed or to avoid compressing the headset bearings so much that the steering could be impeded. (We do now!).

Dinner, drinks and plans for a 7.15am breakfast are made.  It’s at this point that we realise this is not your average “holiday”!

Sun 5th June:  (77k and 1182m of ascent) or more for some!

We average the equivalent of three breakfasts each and excitement is high.  The ride ahead is fuelled and Club jerseys donned.  It’s 08:30 and already hot but, with a constant breeze and full legs,  we head out for the first of our rides; Lluc Monastery via the Soll de sa Batalla or, as it’s affectionately known; Petrol Station Climb.

That’s not a very enticing name for this 7.8k ride up and through the most beautiful forest roads but, if you know this iconic climb,  then you will know why it’s christened such and the sheer joy of seeing said Petrol Station when reaching the top!  Mountain goats appear out of nowhere to surprise and endear us and disappear just as quickly noting with boredom that we are yet another cyclist.

With the climbing done, and a beautiful 7k of descent via the Coll de Fermenia back into Port de Pollenca, we stop for an early lunch.   Tapas consumed, the group splits with Lara T, Ali W and Jackie heading off to the Lighthouse whilst the rest of us get lost on the 3k ride back to the hotel which is (apparently) just a long straight road out of town keeping the sea to our left.

Even with our Garmins we can’t claim to have quite mastered the art of navigation just yet!

 Mon 6th June: (120k and 1100m of ascent)

Lara T wants us to ride in tight pairs and we attempt a couple of practice runs (minus bikes).  With equal amounts of confusion and hilarity we master the technique and realise, too late, that we have done so in front of an audience of about 40 people!  What happened to eating your holiday breakfast in peace rather than being subjected to 6 lycra-clad women doing some odd kind of synchronised dance at 8:00am?

Tight pairs working well and with clear roads, miles of “sexy tarmac”, very little traffic and plenty of energy we power through the miles and life feels good.  It’s a Monday morning and we’re riding in the sunshine with the whole day ahead and drivers who actually like cyclists.  What’s not to like?

Flagging in the heat of the day, our initial burst of enthusiasm is tempered with a little reality and the pace slows.  The general consensus of opinion is that we need coffee and cake and lots of it.  Finally we pull up in a hillside village, where the only thing open is the bar, and manage to order ham and cheese baguettes, coffee, water and chocolate biscuits all without a word of Spanish between us.  Ride fuelled, legs rested, caffeine levels topped up, we set off for the second leg of the ride.

The descent through the next village is less than 100yds long but steeper than Quell (I kid you not).  With Lara suggesting that we take things carefully and get down in one piece we have a casualty with Ali S taking a fall and snapping the rear mech.

Minor first aid to Ali and more major first aid to the bike results in her riding the last 1.5 hours home with just two gears and oh how she did that in style!  There is a particular ramp which shall now forever be known as the Siddall Single regardless of what Strava chooses to call it.  What a star.

Tues 7th June (108k and 3406m of ascent)

The BIG day arrives and we head back up Petrol Station Climb to tackle Mallorca’s most iconic and coveted climb; Sa Collabra.  Jackie and Ali S leave us at the top and make their way back to the hotel whilst Lara T, Ali W and myself head out for what Cycling Weekly call  “the perfect climb” (although I’m sure it’s been called other things that are less flattering by many a rider with empty legs).   Officially called the Coll dels Reis, the road winds through the Serra de Tramuntana Mountains and has 26 hairpins to negotiate along the 16k route with just one way in and out!

There’s even a hairpin that loops round on itself as the road descends and goes under a bridge.  Technically called a ‘spiral bridge’ this unique piece of road comes not far from the top and sits on a stony outcrop. One moment there’s a wall of rock to your right; the next there’s nothing but open air.  Exhilarating?  Yes.  A little nerve wracking for the first timer with little experience of descending?  Definitely.

Lara T left us with no doubt that safety was paramount.  One hairpin taken at speed but at the wrong angle could be fatal.  As she shot off in that enviable aero position with a “see you at the bottom” Ali W and I decided that caution was to be our plan of action.  So we made that 16k descent, complete with 26 hairpins, riding on the hoods!

Overly cautious?  Possibly.  Arrived in one piece?  Definitely.  Able to move our fingers for the next 10 minutes?  Just about.  The tiny port of Sa Collabra was a visual feast so photos taken, bananas eaten, water levels topped up and a quick discussion on whether we should actually take the passenger ferry back round to Pollentia (that would be a discussion had between Ali W and myself when Lara wasn’t listening!!), we started our ascent.

I believe that Ali W could well be the only person ever to have done the ascent quicker than the descent (although a thorough check of Strava may tell us otherwise).  My ascent was not as quick and I almost cried with relief when I saw Lara coming back down towards me with a huge smile and plenty of encouraging words.

From somewhere I found the strength for that last push up and over the brow.  Cruelly the segment finishes past the two cafes that are situated at the top of the climb but never had it felt so good to finish a ride.  Elated, exhausted, emotional and starving the three of us devoured toasted cheese sandwiches and cans of freezing cold coke before setting off back to the hotel.  Mission accomplished!

Weds 8th June: (68k and 488m of ascent – Recovery Ride)

Breakfast is still at 7.15am but we are getting quieter by the day.  Fuelling the ride has become a chore which surprised us all!  We set out with little to say between us (which always unnerves Lara) but, as we spin out the legs and head for the beautiful Mallorcan countryside our spirits lift and the pace picks up.

We ride a flat route through miles of agricultural land.  Neat fields, beautifully tended and full of salad crops spread for miles and the smell of fresh garlic and sun baked earth accompanies us for the first half of the ride.

We stop at our favourite café for multiple slices of apple and almond cake, more coffee, more water (sin gas) and seem to slump into inactivity.  The hour back to the hotel seems much longer and with tired legs we are all glad for the afternoon off and the chance to do nothing for a while.

Most of us head for a sports massage which is painfully nice and meet in the bar later to share stories of “tight quads” over several large G&Ts and a few glasses of chilled white wine.  As holidays go this one just keeps getting better and better.

Thurs 9th June (50k and 1588 m of ascent)

Out to the Lighthouse – or Cap de Formentor as it is officially known.  Lara T, Ali W and Jackie had already ridden this route on day one and done a great job of selling it to us.

Although only 40km,  the route is hilly with 1000m of climbing spread fairly evenly over both ends of the ride and miles of the most beautiful forest roads making up the segment in between the two.  Riding with the Mediterranean almost constantly in view lifts the spirits and the view at the end from the platform at the lighthouse was worth every pedal stroke.

The last ride of a long and challenging few days found me with empty legs and falling off the back but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world and it was great to hear the gang cheering me on as I came up the last ramp to join them.  It’s clear that we all want to achieve Strava PBs on every ride but we are also very much a team too and there’s a great feeling of camaraderie.

We have lunch back in Pollenca at a well know cyclist café (so well known that I don’t remember the name) and relax over the best food we’ve eaten all week.  Lara T suggests finishing with one last attempt at the Petrol Station Climb which Jackie and I decline and the others set out to do.

On their return we hear from Lara H about how much she loved the route that time, achieved her best time and appreciated every moment of the challenge feeling elated when she reached the top.  Funny how cycling gets you like that isn’t it!  One day you just wish you’d stayed at home and the next you can’t wait to get back out.  It’s official; we’re hooked!

Fri 10th June

The week is over all too quickly although our legs welcome the chance to have a day off.  Our flight is delayed by a couple of hours but we are all so post-holiday that we don’t really care too much!  We return home tired but buoyant with Ali W insistent that we plan next year’s trip immediately and who would disagree (well Lara T might of course).

I never, for one moment, thought that I would be able to ride 20 miles the first time I got on a bike.  Here I am swapping notes on rear mechs and headsets and discussing the next climb and how to approach it.  Passion is what fuels my rides – I may not be the fastest (mostly never) and I may not have the knowledge (but I’m learning), my navigational skills are rubbish (but that’s what Garmin* is for right) and I’m sure my technique could do with some refinement (working on it).

For anyone wondering if they should go to Mallorca the answer is a resounding yes and for anyone relatively new to the Club with little experience but plenty of passion then put Mallorca on your list and make your plans – you won’t regret it I promise you.

(*other navigational aids are available!!  As an aside it was quite clear that navigational aids of varying type, age and cost all logged different ride lengths and ascents.  According to my Garmin Touring Edge I did over 1000 m more of climbing that Lara T did on our Sa Colabra day!  Of course I did ………….. it say’s so on Strava!!

FF Reflections on TT-ing (yes, unimaginative title again Dodds…. sort it out)

08:13, Saturday 18 June 2016.

Cue Run DMC…. And it goes a little something like this:

  • You look cool and ready to go (Lara)
  • Do I? Just thinking of what to blog about. I’m running out of ideas (Andrew)
  • You’ll have 20 minutes or so to think about it (Matt)
  • Yeah (note: imagine sardonic tone), more like half an hour (Andrew)
  • I like your blogging (Matt)
  • Thanks. Maybe today I’ll talk about tired legs, heavy breathing, snot, pain (Andrew)
  • Yes, no doubt (Lara)
  • Blood? (Andrew)
  • Hopefully none of that! (Lara)

I wonder if this conversation bears any resemblance to what the start line team might have said to Sir Bradley Wiggins before he began his time trial world title winning ride in Ponferrada, Spain in September 2014….

Erm…  What do you think?  Probably not but, you know, for me, it was ideal preparation as I produced a P.B.  Boom!!

It was really enjoyable out there today on the roads in any event in what can only be described as “classic British summer weather conditions”, but knocking 1 minute and 4 seconds off my previous P.B. was pleasing. It certainly shows what a few weeks of structured David Millar-inspired training on the turbo can do.

Still got a very long way to go to get anywhere near to the big hitters but it was a super feeling to push the pedals to an improved time. Mind you, bit treacherous in places with shed loads of gravel and plenty of standing water on the course, so glad that everyone made it back to HQ safely for congratulations, coffee and awesome cake!

As usual, we were so lucky to have a great bunch of volunteers out today to make the event possible. Thank you to:

  • Lara Taylor – organiser and captain marvel
  • Matt Hurst – pushing off
  • Nick Strugnell, Ali Siddall, Frank Eisenhower, Sheena Milne, Debby Booth, Rob Wheeler – marshals
  • Brian Waters – finish timing
  • Marco Burgin – results
  • Ali Siddall – teas
  • Moira – Loxwood Sports

P.S. You may be very pleased to hear that there won’t be any July time trial reflections from me as I’m on holiday in Canada on the 16th.  And while I’m really looking forward to smashing the mountain bike trails on Mount Fromme, Mount Seymour and Squamish near Vancouver, I’m pretty disappointed to be missing out on July’s edition (and the Strava segment too – rather annoyingly, it’s the second seggy that I’ll have missed this year so I’m out of contention*** for the men’s GC…..)



*** contention = the titanic battle between Alastair, Nick and me for the bottom 3 places!!!!!

The Art of Time Trialling: Reflections on my Second Ever (Club) 10 mile TT**

Writing legal contracts (my day job) is not always the most interesting but posting something on the VCGH blog…  Well, that is another matter.  It is a bit of fun and allows me to (try to) convey my dry-ish sense of humour on a topic and to poke some fun at myself in the process.  With that in mind, I have a few further reflections on time-trialling after today’s club TT (2 of 6).

First off, it is addictive! You want to go well, test yourself and beat your personal best. That is the beauty and attraction of time-trialling I guess. Where you come on the leaderboard does not matter as there is always the incentive to try and beat your previous PB. Alas, I was 4 seconds slower this time out but I was really happy with my 29:04 time for a variety of different reasons.

Second, I am pleased to report back on my continued (dodgy) application of David Millar’s TT elements:

Element 1 – position

  • Mark took same fantastic pictures of the pain and suffering heaped down on Skiff Lane this morning. These pics also revealed what to me look to be the super TT positions of numero uno time today (Jon Hughes), our esteemed Road Captain et al. (err, being a lawyer I just couldn’t let an opportunity slip by to use an unnecessary bit of Latin…..)
  • I, on the other hand, look a bit cramped and curved on my clip-on TT bars. I just put them on this time and made no other bike adjustments!  A work in progress is perhaps the best way to leave it

Element 2 – equipment

  • Plenty of shoe covers in evidence today. I left mine at home this time rather than in the car…..
  • No speed suit but I did collect my new club Castelli free aero bibshorts from Lara. Maybe they will make me more “aero” next time around?

Element 3 – pacing, recon & general preparation

  • Be well rested
    • Bit of a schoolboy error here from me as, on reflection, it was probably not a good idea to do 2 TrainerRoad 20 minute test sessions on Monday night and Thursday night this week to set my virgin FTP, with a GCN fat burn session sandwiched in between
    • Pretty busy week at work too
    • Result = heavy legs and plenty of burn today from the outset
  • Cadence
    • Garmin GSC 10 now operational so I was focusing on my cadence and I was wondering before the TT if there was objective analysis and data about the ideal cadence for TTs
    • At this point Matt Damon’s great line in “The Martian” sprang to mind. You know, the bit where he realises he is marooned and to stand any chance of survival declares that “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this”
    • My “science-ing the shit out of this” on time–trialling is to pick a gear that is hard but not so hard as to make you back off and drop your cadence too much, and then go for it! That is how lawyers do science

Elements 4 and 5 – contextual and critical training

  • You remember that dusty turbo trainer? Well, it’s not so dusty anymore – hence subscription to TrainerRoad and overdoing it earlier in the week!

Third, it is really fun. I had a great time out there today on the course, chatting to people before and after and then on the social-moderate ride post-TT.  We really do have a great bunch of people in the club and for a new-ish person like me it makes all the difference.

On that note I would like to say a big thank you on behalf of all of today’s time-triallists to those who made the event possible:

  • Organiser and road captain extraordinaire: Lara Taylor
  • Start timekeeper: Nathan Hoy
  • Push-offer: Matt Hurst
  • Marshals: Debbie Booth, Ali Siddall, Nick Strugnell, Peter Davies, Adrian Waddy & Rob Wheeler
  • Finish timekeeper: Brian Waters
  • Results: Marco Burgin
  • Cakes & HQ teas: Nathan & Ali Siddall. EXQUISITE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES!!!!!
  • Photos: Mark Adams (Graham Watson watch out!)
  • Margaret and the team at Loxwood Sports


** If anyone can think of a more imaginative title, I’m all ears….

Training for Alpine climbs.

I’m probably known within the club, as the guy who metronomically cycles pretty much the same route between Godalming and Tilford every other day, titling my rides on Strava ‘something something L2 something’. But there is some method to my madness, and it’s specific appeal is due to it being one of the flattest, most uninterrupted stretches of tarmac local to Godalming.

A couple of years back I was captivated by the idea of entering the Haute Route, a 7 day stage race from Nice to Geneva, taking in 22 of the major and well known Alpine cols. It took me a second to decide to enter, a minute to pay up, and then a whole week trying to work out how to train for such a huge event. I’d never even ridden an Alpine climb before, let alone about 3 or 4 of them every day over the course of a week. Despite having a year to train, I immediately felt up against it.

After taking on a coach and quite a bit of reading, I soon realised the perfect way to train for climbing the Alps would be to train on the flats. I’m being serious.

A typical Alpine climb would be somewhere between 5-12% in gradient but will rarely match the steep ramps we have in Britain. But it’s not the gradient that will hamper progress, it’s their length, with most somewhere between 10-20km long, a few even longer. With little opportunity for respite on the ascent, you need to be able to keep turning the pedals at a near constant power for up to two hours at a time, and even with the easiest gears on a compact transmission, you’ll probably need to generate upwards of 200watts.

It’s impossible to find long stretches of hills in the UK that simulate the effort you need on the Alps, as after 10-15min on the UK’s longest climbs, you’ll probably find yourself descending and backing off your power. Even a small reduction of power will allow your body to recover. Whilst hill reps are good training for going uphill, you’ll be training your body for inadequate periods of time, and also likely to go a touch harder than you’d think you’d need to.

By training on pan flat course it is easy to pedal at a constant effort, uninterrupted, which perfectly mimics what your legs would do on a long climb. Exciting? No. Effective? Most definitely.

Before I began my ‘year of training’ I was tested with a VO2max test, which analyses your breathing and the gases you exhale as you exercise at different intensities. What was really important about this test wasn’t the nice headline VO2max number that most get excited about, it was more about establishing heart rate zones based around the different fuel sources my body was using. We wanted to find the maximum intensity I could ride at where my body was still using fat as a primary fuel source. Through training at this intensity the body would adapt and I’d be able to increase the power I could ride at whilst still using fat as a fuel source. Consequently, come the race, I’d be able to keep my carbohydrate stores for the times when harder efforts were needed.

Those long winter months of riding the same road day-in day out in my ‘endurance zone’ L2 paid dividends. My legs got used to turning the cranks for up to three hours at a time without as much as a slight freewheel, and I found my power increased by well over 20% for the same level of exertion.

When I finally made it to the Haute route I was in very good shape and although it was as tough as I expected, I found riding the climbs at a constant power was just like it was riding on home on the flat as bizarre as that sounds. Finishing in the top 75 out of over 600 riders confirmed that the training paid off. Even though my focus this year is somewhat different, these rides are still my go-to sessions as I’m still finding healthy improvements by doing them. I’ll still be found riding between Godalming and Tilford before work on most weekdays if you ever fancy saying hi!

Reflections on Climbing in the Sun

I’ve struggled with my cycling all winter. Whenever I feel I’ve made some improvement, I’ve immediately suffered a knockback: weeks of travel to the frozen north (and I really mean the frozen north, places like Sundsvall and Brønnøysund), health problems, and family commitments. So it was with trepidation that I faced my first “proper” cycling trip abroad, 4 days in Mallorca with my brother-in-law.

The last couple of weekends leading up to the holiday did not bode well: either I couldn’t cycle at all due to family priorities, or I was so out of shape that I dropped myself on a Sunday Social ride – on Vann Lane of all places! A proper look at my bike in the cold hard light of day revealed one of the reasons why I was struggling so much: a winter of cycling and hurried washing had left it in a terrible state. If I couldn’t improve my legs, I could at least improve my bike so new wheel bearings, tyres, chainrings, cassette, jockey wheels, chain, and gear and brake cables were all ordered. Stripping the bike down and rebuilding it was therapeutic, even if conducted mostly after midnight after a long flight home. A quick shakedown on the turbo revealed just how bad things had got; I hadn’t realised how noisy the bike had been, or how much effort I had had to put into gear changes – it was like a new bike.

With a week to go, and still no possibility of a proper ride outside, I decided to put in some more effort on the turbo and from the first session (Donner on Trainerroad, it was apparent that something was very wrong, or possibly very right: three 12 minute intervals at FTP and my heart rate was barely in Zone 3. If I had done this a week ago, it would have been well into Zone 4. What on earth could be wrong? I checked the turbo settings, my HRM – everything seemed fine. The following day I did Pallisade, an hour and a half of 9 minute intervals varying between 95% and 105% of FTP – a real horror show in other words. Again, I cruised it. Clearly my estimated FTP was way off.

Could a poorly maintained bike really have been costing me so much power? I don’t know, but I do know that the following is vitally important:

Rule 1 Make sure your bike is in perfect nick before the trip. Shifts should be smooth and instantaneous, the drivetrain should be rattle-free, bottom brackets and wheel bearings frictionless, brakes should bite hard and positively. Any niggle is likely to be amplified, or even worse develop into a catastrophe 50km from home with 1000m of climbing to go.

The night before flying out I packed up – a cheap bike bag from Decathlon, lots of pipe insulation, bubble wrap and masking tape, and additional padding with binliners of clothes and all looked good. We arrived in Palma at midnight, and drove to our AirBnB in Sa Pobla, excited and fearful of the days ahead.

The following day was beautiful. A bright blue sky and highs of 21C with no wind – perfect cycling weather. I had planned a route beforehand using Strava’s excellent route planning tool: 118km and nearly 3000m of climbing – further, and far higher than I had ever cycled in a day. I’ve no idea what I was thinking and certainly had no expectation of being able to complete any of the four major climbs on the route without multiple breaks.

The first 20km of the ride took us through flat fields of potatoes, artichokes and brassicas on perfectly smooth roads, roads equipped with generously wide and debris-free hard shoulders that double as bike lanes. We passed, and were passed by cyclists from all corners of Europe and beyond: Germans and Swiss, Brits and Irish, and even a Canadian club. A brief warm up climb at Campanet and we rolled on to Calmari and the first climb of the day: Col de Sa Batalla. A 381m climb, awarded Cat 2 status by Strava although I have no idea how it compares with a real Cat 2.

And it was… easy. Well, no it wasn’t, but it was nothing like I was expecting. I was visualising Barhatch or White Down but four times higher. It was nothing like that: instead a perfect 8km of expertly engineered tarmac snaked up through citrus and olive groves, pine forest and finally opened on to sun-bathed limestone slopes. Hairpin after hairpin ensured the gradient rarely went over 10% and gently pacing the climb on my Garmin (ensuring I kept my heart rate in Zone 4) saw me at the top with gas to spare.

The day carried on in much the same vein: Puig Major, the beautiful descent into the port of Soller, the extraordinary Col de Soller with its 26 tight hairpins and welcome coffee and cake at the top.This leads me to Rule 2:

Rule 2 If you are a middling-fitness recreational rider, do not be intimidated by these climbs. With proper pacing you can get up any of them: these are not Barhatch or Quell Lane! Start in an easy gear and if you have a heartrate monitor this is the time to use it – keep at the low end of Zone 4 and you can get up anything without stopping. Enjoy the view, and look forward to the heart-stopping descent on the other side. You won’t even need to get out of the saddle unless you really want to.

And then disaster – my brother-in-law’s cassette exploded, cutting short our plan to do the Orient valley and resulting in a limp home, mercifully downhill and flat, in single gear mode.

Reflecting on this, I wondered what sort of training would best prepare the average rider for this sort of climbing. The short and very steep hills we usually ride on lend themselves to intense threshold and anaerobic efforts: Combe Lane is a few minutes of hard threshold riding followed by a minute of burying yourself deep into the red zone when you get round that corner. These climbs weren’t anything like that (although I’m sure they are for pros and racers). The nearest I had done to this was long, low cadence workouts on the turbo – if you can do an hour at 75rpm at a fairly intense work level you will be able to get up these climbs. Which leads me to Rule 3:

Rule 3 Just because you struggle to get up Barhatch, don’t think you can’t get up Sa Calobra. They aren’t comparable. One is about brute strength and short anaerobic effort, the other is about aerobic endurance. If you struggle to get out on road rides and have a turbo trainer, use a programme like Trainerroad to develop your FTP, aerobic capacity, and ability to sit in the saddle churning out the power at low cadence for 90 minutes.

Day 2 and we went out for a flat ride to stretch out legs, with only the hillock of Puig Santa Magdalena to break up the ride.

Day 3 was the biggest: a flat ride to Pollença, the 419m Col de Femenia, a few smaller climbs, a descent to the coast and then the extraordinary 670m climb of Col de Reis, often referred to simply as Sa Calobra after the village at its base. The first climbs in the bag, I paused at the top of Col de Reis prior to the descent down into the village of Sa Calobra: there is only one road into the village and you must first descend it before climbing. The swooping descent is testimony that civil engineering is as much art as science: a spiral bridge, countless hairpins, viaducts, the road barrelling between sheer cliff faces down to a jewel-like cove. Tour buses can be a hazard on the road but mercifully I didn’t see any on the way down and was only overtaken by two on the way back up.

At the bottom I bumped into the Liphook Crankers and had a quick lunch with them before heading back up at my own pace. The climb is simply beautiful – a miniature Alpe d’Huez draped on the size of a Mediterranean island. I climbed in sunshine and a gentle sea breeze, occasionally checking my Garmin to make sure my heart rate stayed in Zone 4, clicking between my 3 lowest gears (I ride on 52/36 with an 11-28t cassette) to keep my cadence above 70rpm. I was pleasantly surprised to get to the top in well under an hour, although I shortchanged myself on the Strava segment as I didn’t realise the segment ended past the actual summit, and instead pulled into the first layby to rest, take a drink, have a chat and put on a jacket for the descent. Which leads me to another rule…

Rule 4 Just because it is 25C and balmy at sea level doesn’t mean it will be the same several hundred metres further up. Descending after a long climb is a great way to get very cold, very quickly. These descents are technical and potentially dangerous – you need to be able to brake effectively, and judge lines through hairpins and that’s hard to do if your teeth are chattering and your hands are frozen. Take a lightweight shell jacket or race cape and pop it on before a long descent.

In summary, if I can do it, you can. There’s not one person from the usual VCGH Sunday Social group who couldn’t do these rides.

The Art** of Time Trialling: Reflections on my First Ever (Club) 10 mile TT

I don’t tweet but I do follow a few people on Twitter and one of them is David Millar. He’s pretty ubiquitous these days so most of you will have heard of him: racer, writer, pundit, “clean” cycling advocate and purveyor of high-end cycling gear. Anyway, in the past couple of weeks he has been tweeting about his “TT system” so with the first club TT of the season looming (and my first ever TT) I decided to take a closer look at his 5 elements.

Element 1 – position

  • If your position looks “fast” you “probably are fast” says David. I seriously doubt my position looked fast and even if it did I know that I am not fast.
  • Adjust the saddle fore and aft and raise its height a bit. Check. But, oh no, can I return it to the non-TT position mapped out in my Retul fit with Garth at Lara’s house in January?
  • Use TT bars. Check. £30 clip-on specials attached.

Element 2 – equipment

  • Get some shoe covers. Check. These aren’t for speed are they? They’re to keep your feet toasty warm and (hopefully) dry. Very useful for today weather-wise but I left mine in the car.
  • Get a speedsuit (aka skinsuit). Er, that would not be a pretty sight and where do the rolls of fat go?

Element 3 – pacing, recon & general preparation

  • “Know your course” advises David. Check. Rode it last weekend for the first time.
  • Focus on your cadence. Cue scratching of head – where is that Garmin thing that I’ve had for ages but never used?  Got it, but no time to faff around lining up the magnets.  Next time.
  • Be well rested and nourished. Check as to nourishment: burger, courgette fries and a glass of Bordeaux last night – delish

Element 4 – contextual training

  • Make your training work for you in what available time you have.  Too true. Sounds like it is time to get out that dusty turbo trainer. Try Zwift – but is my computer too old and slow (like me)? Maybe extend the ride to work commute? Yes, that’s more like it

Element 5 – critical training sessions

  • Aerobic endurance & position, lactate threshold & speed control, Vo2 max. Refer to dusty turbo trainer comment above…..

In all seriousness, Millar’s blog is worth a read. You can find it here:  And David and I do have one thing in common: Brooks saddles. I use one; he’s done an advert for them.

If you’ve managed to get this far, I received another bit of sage advice this week as well for the TT: “you should feel like you are going to throw up when you cross the line” – Elliot Brown, VCGH member, 14 April 2016.  I did not throw up but I’ve got another 5 chances!

One final thing before I sign off is to give massive thanks to all those who made the event possible:

  • Organiser and road captain extraordinaire: Lara Taylor
  • Push-offer: Matt Hurst
  • Marshals: Karl Chandler, Ali Siddall, Frank Eisenhower, Kate Cheeseman, Mark Adams and Rob Wheeler
  • Finish timekeeper: Lara O’Keeffe
  • HQ tea and cakes: Sam Park
  • Margaret and the team at Loxwood Sports


** One person’s masterpiece is another person’s trash….

The Spring Onion 2016

Spring Onion header

I am a fan of the sportive.  We are lucky in our club to have a diverse set of riders from out and out racers, time trialists and those that enjoy the weekend club rides.  I am neither a racer or a time trialist but I enjoy the weekend club rides (for many reasons!) and I find them an excellent way to prepare for sportives.

Spring sportives always throw up a quandary. On the one hand they are a great way to have an event booked in the diary and give you the motivation to keep up those training miles through the winter months. On the other hand, if the weather is still cold and wet it can be the last thing you want to do.  That said, I still love ’em.

What I love about sportives is they give you a chance to put all you learn in club riding – eating, hydrating, drafting, measuring effort – into a single event that if you get it right, can result in a glorious day in the saddle.

The Spring Onion is considered a pretty tough event, cycling weekly recently gave it a 7/10 rating, which is deserved as it does pack some pretty punchy climbs in.  I was fortunate enough last Sunday to ride with Duncan and Rob, two riders I both admire and respect and it allowed me to test early season form which I am happy to report seems to be there.  The weather held after a shaky start and the 3 of us pretty much stayed together until the final climb a mere 8 miles from the end.  It was at that point I felt like I was in a breakaway – descending off Coombe Lane I hooked up with a rider from the Kingston Wheelers and working together we buried ourselves chasing for the glory we both inevitably had in our heads.

Chapeau to Duncan who steamed past me in the last mile and dashed my hopes for a 2016 victory!

Sportives are great in general, but if you are looking for an early season event that will help keep you focused through winter, you can’t go all that wrong with the classic Spring Onion – and I have to say it is made that much more special by riding with pals from VCGH.