London CX Team Champs

This year I managed to get my own team together from the guys I work with at Sigma Sport. Thanks to the boss for lending us the Sigma Sport van too!

James Nolan bravely said he’d give it a go on my Colnago, whilst Andy Richardson and Will Bridgman completed the team. 

We were late entering, and as such had to ride in the ‘non sporting’ team champs, with 15 minutes less of racing and after the main event.

A warm up lap with Will and James, showed the course to be not dissimilar to last year with most of the main features remaining the same. A single plank in the wood gave Will a slightly worrying moment as he bunny hopped it and caught his back wheel. However the course was only going to cut up, and I was interested to see what lines would appear after the main Team Champs.

I thought I was more prepared, and certainly was a lot more at home on the course than I felt last year, however a combination of not eating enough, and being started so late/ getting cold meant that I wasn’t at my best. 

The race was still fantastic though, with some hilarious mistakes and falls around me, not forgetting the clever guys with the Benny Hill theme tune playing over the handheld megaphone as we hit the first off camber sections. 

A slow climb into the trees and getting held up at Death Drop Slide, meant I dropped further back, but kept concentrating on putting the most effort in I could. Not easy when the start of the race was 35 minutes later than it should  have been. The slick hill was back, and I climbed it without much issue until the third lap. 

The course was great, with slick mud making fishtailing so easy, falls left, right and centre and I certainly felt more at home in every section, just very flat and without much energy. I also managed to wrench my shoulder again.

James did supremely well on his first time off road in three years, Andy looked totally pro and Will absolutely smashed it round. 

Proud that we managed to get a team together, and proud of the guys for helping make it a fantastic day out!

Thank you guys… baptism of fire for certain! Same time next year?!


#keepsmiling 

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Ride London Day 1

Today I’m here at the Expo in the Excel, working for Sigma Sport on the Sigma/ Extra stand. Having been picked up at 6, it’s the lull at lunchtime  (alright ‘late’ lunchtime) that’s let me get out for food and a quick blog post. There’s a load of my favourite people here that I don’t get too see as often as I’d like. Shelley, Mark, Rob and Joe from Conti UK  (I’ll be working with some of them over the weekend), Rory from Upgrade, some of the Hot Chillee crew, my super landlord Jon from Vittoria…. and a few more.

I like working events like this despite the long days, it’s such a great chance to interact with people – not just customers, but people from all over. 

A lot of people are here to do the sportive for charity, for causes that are near and dear to them and that in itself is special. Others to do it just to say they’ve ridden the same roads as the pros on Sunday.

So. I’m here with Sigma today and tomorrow. With Continental on Saturday, and at the cattle market in Kingston with Continental for the activation zone in Sunday. Don’t be afraid to come and say hi if you are around!

Another roller session planned for this evening as I won’t be doing much for the next few days!

#keepsmiling #thankgodforfriends 

Dunkerque Roubaix With Hot Chillee

Credit Jojo Harper for all the pics, apart from my cobble and images in Ypres….

I don’t know if I was more excited or nervous, when I learnt I’d got one of two places given to Sigma Sport¬†from¬†Cervelo, who are one of the official ‘Teams’ of Dunkerque Roubaix as well as being one of the Hot Chillee Ride Captain sponsors.

It’s been something I’ve really wanted to do since last year, and only further enhanced by the fact that it included cobbles. Wait. Did I tell you I liked cobbles? Oh, yeah, maybe I did. Once or twice.
This is what they have to say about it:

‘This intimate 165km ride takes place two weeks after the iconic Paris-Roubaix.

The event is restricted in numbers and follows the HotChillee event format of flagged pavé race section, rolling road closures, full service corp and small seeded speed groups.

This is the closest experience amateur riders can get to a pro Spring Classic with participants riding alongside cycling legends on a route which takes in the last 40km of Paris-Roubaix.

Previous riders include Team GB rider Geraint Thomas, Tour de France winner Stephen Roche and Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Bäckstedt.

Riders experience an iconic finish in the velodrome with use of the original pro rider showers and drinks reception in the velodrome bar.

The¬†event is¬†preceded by an¬†exclusive dinner on the Saturday night with cycling legends where they share some¬†exclusive¬†insight into the pro¬†peloton.’

Rereading the confirmation email, I tried rather hard not to get too excited at the prospect of riding a brand new¬†51cm Cervelo C5 with DI2. Why a 51cm? Looking at actual top tube length, a 54cm would be a little on the large size. Although I didn’t know it was DI2 until I got there.

I’d been checking and double checking the rather crap forecast in the preceding week, and it looked cold and rather wet. An impulse buy at the last second from work,¬†Castelli Nanoflex Pro Bibtights¬†would prove to be the best last minute buy ever.

As usual, I agonised over what to pack, deciding that at the last minute, taking too much was better than not taking enough. And hey, I was driving my own car, plenty of space and all that.

I had a nightmare Friday night, when it took me nearly two hours to get my pedals off. More my fault than anything! They might not look the coolest on a road bike, but I think they are perfect for CX, and happily rode Paris Roubaix in them without issue! I have both CX bikes fitted with them, and absolutely love them. Crank Brothers Eggbeater 2 in case you are wondering.

I had a late morning slot on the Eurotunnel on Saturday, and had a last mintue detour to Ypres (Ieper), which was beautiful but chilly.

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I arrived at the hotel in Dunkerque a little earlier than expected, but there was plenty of people there already, all setting up for the next day. I was quickly pointed to the Cervelo mechanic, an absoultely lovely guy, called Detlef (a Germanic mechanic, who according to Sven Thiele, famously finished first and second at the best German Mechanics awards at the Alpine Challenge). After a quick chat, he suggested I get changed and take the bike for a quick spin to check the set up. A quick check in, and a hello to Andy Hawes, Matt Stephens (sorry, Kenny!) and Sven, a change of clothes, and I made my way back out to ride the bike.
All I can say is that I did not have to change a thing, saddle height and reach were perfect. It’s only the second time I’ve ridden DI2, and it took a few minutes to get used to it again. I did debate using my Colnago saddle – but after using the Fizik Antares (I think!) – I thought it would be perfect. Perfect tyres with Continental 4 Seasons too, not a moment of doubt with grip.

A lovely evening was spent, with a rider briefing, then first of all with Kenny van Vlaminck and then with Stephen Roche. It was great to have some of the other Sigma Staff along, Will Bridgman, James Brewer and Callum Clarke, as well as both bosses, Ian Whittingham and Jason Turner.

A fairly early night was had, I’d already packed a day bag, and the musette we were given. And I knew I wanted to be up early for breakfast, which was available from 06.00. Our group was the first to leave at 07.30.

I was quite worried before the start, having never ridden the distance before, worrying as always about being too slow and getting dropped, and slightly excited about trying out a super sweet bike over some pretty rough terrain. It was raining steadily as I took my bike outside, and felt rather cold to say the least. I gave my end of day bag to Detlef, and my musette to our lead car, and was ready to roll.

Not many people in Group 3, the *social paced* group. And actually that was something to be thankful for. It was easier to remember names, and easier for the Ride Captains too. We were quickly introduced to each other, and set off.


I set off at the front, a place I quite like to be, with John who was to stay at the front of the group for the whole ride. We chatted away as the miles rolled by, sat side by side with the group in a good compact form behind us. It rained and rained, but I was doing enough to stay warm, and it was a long while before the rain started to soak through. With the rolling road closure around us, and a good tempo (well above the advertised average of 23km/h for the first 3 hours), it was easy to while away the  miles as the rain got heavier, and the wind picked up incrementally. Our out rider motos were excellent, herding us on to bike paths on the main road, and waiting at every junction, keeping safe distances as they rolled past us, and the odd thumbs up from one of them.
John mentioned we would see the first hill with the mast on top of it soon, and we did. I mentioned, as I like to do, that they would probably drop me quickly as I was no climber. I believe in being honest at the end of the day. Ironically I climbed a lot better, but it woke up my legs and lungs, and I soon called out for them to pass me out as I was holding some of them up. I think about six of them did, John took a quick loop to come back and check on me, but I was ok just blowing like a train. And we carried on up and up. Nothing too steep or long, just a bit of a shock after a fair few miles of mostly flat road. Eventually I got myself to the top where they were waiting, and only then did I realise there was a couple still behind me. More food to be had quickly, and we set off again. The next hill I climbed a hell of a lot better, pacing myself but spinning quicker, and soon caught up with the ones that had gone ahead. We spotted the one thing I wish I’d taken a picture of – a chairlift the opposite side of the road, and a few of us mused what it was for and where it had come up from.
The rain still kept coming down, but with constant grazing on food, and still on the front, I was doing fine. My legs felt good, and I felt more confident the further we went.
However the first section of cobbles came up on us quicker than expected, John and I turned on to them upsides, and I had to let him get in front. He’s faster and quicker than ¬†me, and soon pulled away. Honestly riding with 100psi over cobbles is a pretty bad idea, but one that I knew was only going to last until lunchtime, when I planned to let a bit of air out.
However this was the first time I had ridden a carbon bike on cobbles, and it took most of the first section to adjust as the bike was bucking around so much. No chance of hitting the sweetspot when the tyres are too hard!
Soon enough we were all through, and after the 3rd/4th pee stop (I had none) – we set off again. The rain still falling, and if it wasn’t falling, it was already on the road and being picked up by us as road spray. Then we had hail. It hurt a bit. And suddenly we were at the lunch stop.
Food was excellently provided, but as I’d been grazing away, I only had a bit of cake, half an orange, and a bit of coke. Then as I was cold and soaking wet, took the opportunity to change into my Sigma Winter jacket which is pretty warm, and a proper rain cape which was another thing I’d borrowed from @cyclingfiction (Jesse you are a superstar). I left my damp baselayer on as I needed the long sleeves, but despite being damp, it did work. Soon I was freezing from stopping, and plaintively asking to get going again, just as Group 2 and Group 1 rolled in. A refill of my pockets with food, and we got our stuff to get ready to go again. Guess who forgot to refill their water bottle? Yep. Me, despite telling everyone to hurry up. (Slightly embarrassed to say the least!)
Then, the next section. It rained harder, we rode into more and more wet roads, and it hailed again (that actually stung like mad), and still I sat on the front. I tried riding in the group a couple of times, but I was at my happiest on the front with John. Coming up to the cobbles, I had dropped back and said to Dave that I’d be happier on the front going onto them, he said to make my way back up there, so I did. I started recognising places we were going through, and a church here and there that me and Phil had ridden past two weeks ago, but still the first section took us by surprise. I led onto them, with John behind me, hard on it along the crown. Assembling all the split second sights, mud, corners, narrower sections and just riding as straight and as hard as possible and then an oh fuck….. Lead car had slowed right down and the motos were flagging us to slow down. however I know cobbles and did not want to brake. Instead slowing the turning of the pedals, it still nearly caused chaos, one of the guys riding off the crown and into the mud by the side of me. Luckily we got through it ok. I was still feeling good, surprisingly, and carried on my thing of eating every 20/45 mins, and making myself drink. Especially before each section of cobbles!
Suddenly we were at the GC section, I told John to go in front of me and I tried to power away behind him. The first section was hard, and Tom over took me just after and went off just ahead with John. I buried myself trying to keep the pace high through the next section, and just before the third section I knew I was on my limit. A quick glance around showed Dave and a couple of others just behind me, and I felt a crushing sense of disappointment that I was going to get thrown out the back. Somehow I stayed in front but I felt crushed, so completely knackered. I knew if they got in front, I’d never pull them back. But I kept going somehow, barely able to breathe, or turn the pedals when I hit the tarmac the other end. Finally realising I had probably needed the sports drink I hadn’t yet touched. As I reached for it, first one then another rider came past. The crushing weight of defeat hit me hard, and I downed half the bottle in one go. Managing to then get three Shot Bloks down as well before I turned onto the Carrefore de L’arbre. Then, literally magic. I had legs again. I stormed after the two that had gone past me, passing first one, then the other. Having to dodge up on the bank, then choosing the worst place to get back onto the cobbles. I so nearly stacked it, the bike hit a massively uneven section and I nearly let the bars go. The back end went one way, the front another. But somehow I wrestled it back into control, turned the corner, and just rode straight up the middle as hard as I could for the timing section at the end. I got through, and managed to unclip and stop. And stood there trying very hard not to cry. It was unbelievable, that I’d managed to pull two fairly strong riders back, after I’d sat on the front of the group for the majority of the ride so far. The emotional shockwave hit me so hard I could barely breath. And it was a a few minutes before I could turn around to see the others.
We left the Carrefore as one huge group, all riders mixed in. I managed a quick chat with all the guys from work, Rich Earkins from edco/Continental, and a few other faces I knew before we hit the last section of cobbles at Hem. I just followed Callum to start with, then dropped onto the side behind some guy that wasn’t riding fast enough. I overtook him on the last stretch, avoiding the guy who had gone down. When we stopped for a regroup, I felt so knackered, I had a gel just to get me to the velodrome.


It was slightly surreal to make it, and ride that last lap and a half around the velodrome. By the time I’d given my bike back to Cervelo, and collected my bags, my brain had fried. Only when I got upstairs to the showers did I realise I’d forgotten my towel. One of the PMR girls lent me hers… I’d never been so glad to get washed and changed ever.
I couldn’t see the TV for the end of LBL, and was so tired, I just tried to eat a baguette. They then called the awards in the little backroom, woman’s winner, masters, grand masters. Then they called the ‘spirit’ awards. When they said my name, I just stared at them. It didn’t compute until Andy Hawes looked at me. A complete oh my god moment when presented with it from Stephen Roche, and we all stood on the podium for a picture.

But when they called Cervelo as the Team winner… my brain had enough… I made sure that we had James up there with us before they took pictures!

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Winning – the Cervelo dream team… the lads are a *lot* quicker than me! Credit: Jojo Harper

 

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What a day. I have no idea how I got through it, but it was an amazing event. So well looked after, and so well prepared. And to ride a dream bike like that was fantastic. I never thought I’d finish the route, let alone be able to sit on the front of our group the majority of the ride.
It was seriously hard work, in rather wet conditions, but I looking back on it, I loved every second of it.
Superbly well organised, the Ride Captains are brilliant, massive kudos to Dave who got so cold and wet he was shaking at one point and John who was happy to tailor his pace to stay with me at the front.
Huge thanks to Sven too – belief is a strange thing. You’ve no idea how much stronger I feel having done that.

Thanks to both bosses, Jason and Ian, for letting us have the opportunity to do this #keepsmiling

A CC with the right mentality?

Ironically I still don’t belong to any particular CC’s (cycling clubs for those of you who don’t know), although I ride under¬†Sigma Sport¬†when I race (ahem, trying to stay in front of the last person on a cx course would be more apt), and help out with the¬†Women’s Rides¬†from the store when I can.

A great little article that encompasses all that the bad stuff I’ve come across was shared on Facebook this morning. Truly, talking to some people, they would have me believe that it’s all in my head, and it can’t be that bad.

Well, fuck you. Yes it can. We haven’t all cycled for years, or had a local club we could join. Or even had people willing to share a bit of advice. Not every club is suitable for every person, no matter if you have 2 members, or a few hundred.

Have a read of this:¬†Dysfunctional Cycling Club and why you should quit…

Thankfully I’ve found one of the most supportive bunch of people I could ever have come across, despite not actually being a member of their club, I try and join them for rides when I can – as long as it’s tolerated. They even invited me to race the¬†London X League¬†Team Champs with them – even though I wasn’t in their kit, or even any match for their slowest rider.

Just goes to show, that there are decent people out there. Massive thanks again to the¬†Kingston Wheelers¬†– all the social riders that appear frequently/ infrequently on Wednesday nights (and other days) for the Richmond Park ‘laps’ and weekend rides.

Anyway. I’ll enjoy my day off the bike today. The Kinesis is being fixed at Hampton Wick, and I need to put slicks on my Colnago cx bike.

#keepsmiling

A good ride captain

I wonder what you think makes a good ride leader? I’ve had experience of very good (Callum Clarke, Toria Jamieson and Louise Wainwright immediately spring to mind) and very bad.

It’s not just communication with others in the group, it’s keeping an eye on/ looking after others, including dropping back to check on others. The odd bit of praise doesn’t go amiss either. Knowing when to call out for pace/directions/stupidness is always good. Common courtesy and manners round it off.

Yesterday (Sunday 8th November) was a perfect example of how it can work. And if I think praise is due I will give it. An organised women’s (and partners if they wanted) ride starting at Sigma Sport in Hampton Wick, heading out via Cobham and West Horsley to the hill at Shere, and back via Cobham. Not far, and in fairly decent weather.
Sod’s law Callum punctured as we headed toward Esher, but great for everyone to see how to change a tube quickly and effectively – even with mudguards on.
Cat (or Kat, sorry if I’m spelling it wrong!) was our other leader, and they both held a good steady pace out through Cobham.
Throughout the ride Callum dropped back to check on the others, calling out quickly if we were pushing a bit too fast.
Everyone waited (like they should do!) at key points, the top of that sneaky climb at Shere or at junctions.
An extra bit through Bushy Park on the way home gave everyone an opportunity to stretch their legs briefly, and then it was back to Sigma Sport at Hampton Wick for coffee and pastries.

Everyone I spoke to really enjoyed the ride(s) and the unusually warm weather helps too.

Rather epic to treat my cx bike to a nice little spin on the road, some nice greasy/leafy sections around Shere made me rather happy for the awesome little rig I’ve picked up!

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Plus. I’m a bit in love with my shoes! Limited edition Giro ‘Anodised Red’ CX/mtb shoes.

http://www.sigmasport.co.uk/item/Giro/Empire-VR90-Limited-Edition-Cyclocross—MTB-Shoe/9ZWU

Oh. And the bike?

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Not a terribly great picture, but I’ve been too busy riding it to take pictures of it!!
It’s a Kinesis 5t Disc from Upgrade bikes http://shop.upgradebikes.co.uk/Catalogue/Bikes/Kinesis/Kinesis-5T-Disc-Brake , with eggbeater pedals from CrankBros.

So much fun….

Even better I have a couple of skills sessions coming up. Caroline Stewart and Bruce Dalton have both offered up their free time to help me out a little. And Helen Wyman has promised a take over clinic.

As usual I can’t thank people enough! You amazingly wonderful people!

Meanwhile, here’s a few pictures from this mornings ride. This is why you should #ridelots

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All taken from Kingston Bridge this morning.

Autumn Colours. Rule 9 night. London 6 Day.

What does autumn mean to you?

Some years for me it’s been the start of the National Hunt season, the never ending litany of sweat, tears, heartache, back breaking work (literally if you were emptying stables and using a mucksack!) accompanied by mud, ice, more mud, fog, copious amounts of mud and the turning colours of the leaves.
Some years it’s been ‘baby’ season, all the yearlings (young racehorses, less than 2 years old) coming into the yard. The stubbornness, excitability and stroppiness of young horses being taught to carry a rider.

This year it’s bittersweet. I miss it, being bundled up in winter gear at 5.00 in the morning, only to be in a tshirt by 10.30. I miss seeing the dawn break as we canter up the woodchip gallops (I’d say in control, but racehorses are funny creatures!). I miss the epic fogginess and ‘Watch the fucking deer/pheasant/car/idiot!!!’ (delete as appropriate).

It’s bittersweet because I had to break myself out of a vicious circle doing a job I thought I loved.

It was only yesterday I actually realised the leaves had properly started changing and falling off the trees. Sat on the train heading into London Bridge (after legging it to the station from my current house, something I couldn’t have done last year!) I was free to dream away, and try not to let it hurt too much.

So few people I am around now would understand what it’s like to ride that same bloody horse everyday, the one that’s come back from injury and is mad as a hatter. The one I started off disliking, but over the course of weeks starting to like. Even though she was a loony. Stuck on the minefield trotting bus,  for weeks on end in mud, torrential rain, freezing fog and stunning sunshine. Luckily the cowbag only buried me once. I learned to love her, riding her was a field of emotions – anxiety, nerves, adrenaline, laughter, giggles (she’s trotted past the same hedge for days and now it’s scary, and she spooks and bucks and squeals). The knowledge that you know exactly what’s going to set her off like she’s got a rocket up the ass, but also the knowledge that going in a straight line is a bonus!!

Fuck. I miss it.

This is a whole different world. I love working at Sigma. Loads of great people to work with. Lots of fun to be had, the #Rule9 @SigmaSport night on Thursday was really good fun with Zwift demos, knowledgeable staff, people from Mavic and Exposure lights, and a funny Q&A with Matt Stephens. Catching up with Holly Blades (@lifeofholly) was even better.

And then the London 6 Day last night, tickets courtesy of @Brother_UK were the best seats in the house – right on the finish line.
There’s something incredibly amazing about watching a former Paris Roubaix winner riding the different competitions. Nikki Terpstra doesn’t even have the same build as some of the others, but by god is he quick! Not quite as quick as our boys Chris Latham and Ollie Wood though ūüėČ
It’s always great to see the roadies riding a different discipline, currently track is one of my favourites – the sheer strength, fitness, power and speed is so close up that coupled with the electric music, it’s hard to do anything except want to have a go yourself!

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Morgan Kneisky

Sat where I was, it felt like you could sit there and watch the competitions hour after hour, day after day. It’s so involving with a ridiculously great atmosphere.

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After all of that. It called for a quiet, reflective ride this morning. Knowledge that the Specialized Concept Store has great coffee, plus the fact my gears were skipping a bit, led me to wander that way.
But I love the weather we had earlier. Windy, autumnal, the billion colours of a changing season that left me unusually restless also led me to going flat out down the hill, bunny hopping all the speed bumps.

Just because I can.

Even the car driver I overtook grinned back at me.
Great to watch Stu in the workshop too. As always I love to learn, and it’s a bonus when people don’t mind you being there.

The ride home into a headwind and a constant shower of ever heavier rain just buoyed me up. I love the restless days of autumn, even the pouring rain, and being back on the bike commuting has helped me get a bit fitter too.

See I don’t really mind the fact that most people think I’m mad for loving the weather like this. I like being a bit different. I’ll always prefer the muddy CX, the wet, cold Paris Roubaixs, the hair raising descents in the rain from the Giro or the Tour.

I was always the one smiling in the rain. Especially riding out racehorses in it. You’d definitely be guaranteed to see me #keepsmiling then.