Thursday, 6 October 2011

Time for an update!

It’s been a long time since I updated this blog, mainly because little has happened with regard to cycling. I’ve not raced since the end of June and, to be honest, I haven’t missed it. Life has been hectic enough to mean time for training has been limited – I’ve still been doing plenty of riding, but not really training (by training I mean hurting myself on the bike). So last night was the first time in a long, long time that I went on a hard ride – the Dynamo early Wednesday night ride, from Richmond Park to Chertsey and back. I’m only going to say two things about it – firstly I lasted in the main group for about two-thirds of the ride, and secondly ‘ouch’! Much fitness to gain over winter, and a few kilos to shed.

I awoke this morning to find out that Steve Jobs had died. What sad news – as someone who is not even an Apple evangelist it struck me that he has done more for personal device technology than most in this world. I struggle to think of someone who’s image is so closely associated with the products he helped develop and bring to market. He had become and will continue to be the face of Apple.

As a student of Ergonomics and Human Computer Interaction I had early exposure to what Apple innovations meant to users of technology, in particular the innovative approach of the GUI. I remember grappling with HyperCard at college, sitting around a Mac with several other students and actually doing rapid app development, not just reading about it. It was a fantastic way to learn about the intricacies of programming a user interface that would mean something to the end-user. When I started work in my first consultancy there was a ‘legacy’ Macintosh 512k that sat in the corner of the office that was still occasionally used. The 512 must have been produced at around the same time as the Apple ‘1984’ advert (that no one really understood) and yet here we were still using the device to play around on in 1995!

Bringing things up to date, I think I am one of a small number of people who doesn’t own an iPhone, an iPad or an iPod (I do have a Nano though). I’m sure that will change in time!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Can I have the bill please?

Some days I really cannot be bothered to update this blog with my lack of racing prowess. This isn’t one of those days, but the previous 15 or so were. So roll up, roll up, 4 race reports arriving in chronological order, in the fewest number of words possible:

Race 1, Eelmore closed circuit, about 2 weeks ago:

Race 2, Hog Hill closed circuit, about 1 week ago:

Race 3, Eelmore again, about 5 days ago:

Race 4, Surrey League Kirdford (not Alfold as advertised), one day ago:

To give a little more flavour to the report, if each race were represented by a main dish they would be as follows:

Race 1
Lentil and chickpea bake. Finished just to be polite, even though you hate every bland mouthful.

Race 2
A massive porterhouse steak. Seems daunting at the beginning, but as you progress you start to think that you really could finish it and still have room for pudding.

Race 3
Roast beef with Yorkshire pud, roasted parsnips and all the trimmings. Ordered because you particularly love roasted parsnips. The kitchen is out of parsnips and they’ve substituted over-cooked, bitter chicory.

Race 4
Pork vindaloo (a properly pukka homemade one). Tastes great and has you going back for more, even though you know you’ll feel utterly spent the next day.

So four more races, no points gained. But my form and attitude improved through each one and by Race 4 I was really enjoying myself again. And as luck would have it, I now probably don’t have the chance to race again for at least two weeks!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Note to self:

You’re going to stick near the front tonight, right? Not off the front, not in the middle of the bunch, not at the back, but in the front 10-15 the whole race. The safe area where you actually enjoy racing. You’re not going to waste energy on the front – you’ll ride a smart race for once. OK, we’re rolling out – off we go. Remember, sensible riding, energy conservation, don’t get rattled by dodgy riding, don’t…

Hey, woah, what are you doing? No riding on the front I said, and yet here you are on Lap 1 dragging the whole bunch round. Alright, you’re only riding tempo, but stop it. Immediately. Got it?

Right, that’s better, back at 4th wheel. Let that guy go off the front, leave him to dangle, don’t get involved in chasing him down, just latch onto a wheel coming past and stay in the top 10. Good, you might finally be getting the hang of sensible racing. Stay away from the gobby upright rider and the skinsuit rider – remember last time? They were all over the place.

There goes one of your clubmates...yes, of course you should let him go. Ride tempo on the front for half a lap to give him a chance. Don’t try and catch his break, no, I said don’t...hey, what are you doing? Just because another rider popped off the front you don’t have to...oh I give up!

Right, so despite all my advice you’re in a break, aren’t you? Idiot. It won’t last, no matter how much effort you put in, no matter how much you’re shouted at by others, because it’s too early and the pack behind is rampant. You’ll just tire yourself out, but go ahead, you’re obviously not paying attention, are you?

OK, so the pack is less than 100m behind you, time to knock it off, have a drink and recuperate for a moment. Didn’t exactly cover yourself in glory on that break, did you? Back to Plan A, stay near the front, expend minimal energy. There you go, back at 8th wheel, nicely done. Just stay there, try not to slip back, watch out for gobby guy again, keep it together, let others chase the riders popping off the front.

No, I said don’t slip back. Concentrate, you’re nearly at the back of the bunch. Pedal, faster, move up now or you won't be able to again until the next lap – missed it. Try again in a few minutes. Wait for the rise of the hill, OK now, go go go! NO! Not on the outside down the back straight, the bunch will swerve again and you’ll have the door closed on you. Oh well done, you wasted all that energy to gain 2 positions. Brilliant! Get your breath back and try again in a lap.

Pedal, pedal, push – right, you’ve done it – near the front of the bunch again. Five laps to go – good timing. Now concentrate and, whatever you do, under no circumstances will you...stop that! Was it really worth chasing him down? You’re tired now aren’t you, and the bunch are racing properly. You’re slipping back, keep pushing. Watch out for the guy in the middle of the bunch, he’s dying – go left. LEFT! NOT RIGHT! See, you can’t move out there because of the stream of riders coming past. Well done, you’ve just gone from 5th to near-last in the blink of an eye. That’s your race over sunshine.

Next time you really should listen to me.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Hillingdon Masters, 18th May

Hillingdon. Turned up. Raced. Went home.

Or for a full and frank report that really captures the excitement of the night, see below:

Hillingdon. Turned up. Circuit was wet. Raced. Bike got dirty. Went home.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Rock and a hard place

Well, I’ve done two more races since I last reported, neither of which were terribly successful. The first was another of the Eelmore 3/4 races, so an hour churning around what has become my least favourite circuit. Round and round we go, slow into each hairpin, sprinting out of it, always in sight of everyone on the pan-flat road. I think I’ve finally come to the point where I can no longer be bothered with Eelmore – you have to have serious stamina and a lethargic bunch to get away (it does happen occasionally) and I’m never in a good position for the sprint because I’m so hesitant on the final corner. It isn’t difficult and I’m happy to take it at speed, but I’m always worried about less skilful riders. There was another crash on the final corner due to some dodgy handling, and another CCB rider earlier who seemed to flip his bike on the straight. That’s the second time this series that one of their riders has fallen on a straight piece of the circuit!

Last night was the second Vets series at Hillingdon (mix of ages across E1234 categories) which should have been a safer event. It was certainly more fun, partly because I know some of the riders there and partly because the riding in these Vets races seems to be quite feisty. I spend a lot more time near the front of the race (positive mental attitude) but suffered from my efforts in the windy conditions towards the end. Ever mindful of what can happen in a large group at Spillingdon I decided to sit out the last lap by coasting round at the back of the bunch. If you’re not in the top 20 or so on the final lap with such a big bunch there’s next to no chance of moving up into contention and I just don’t think the risk is worth it. Plenty do though, it would appear. There was a big pile-up on the final lap in the back straight. About 10 riders went down, some quite heavily. Robin from Dynamo was one of them – he’s only just come back from a crash-related injury and seemed to have broken his collarbone – terrible luck. Another Thames Velo rider looked badly hurt and there was plenty of damaged carbon. I narrowly avoided skidding into a prone AndyL from the Wheelers and had to swerve again to avoid a fallen rider in a TeamGB skinsuit who ignored my shout to stay still. Hopefully all those injured will recover soon.

So that’s two races, two back of bunch finishes, and three crashes. To some extent you can say “Oh well, that’s bike racing” but I’m increasingly of the view that there are some extremely careless people out there. I’ve seen more crashes already this year than in the last two or three years and the trend doesn’t seem to be slowing. So why are there so many crashes now? Partly I’m sure it’s down to increased numbers on some of the circuits that allow you to be sucked round in the draft of a massive bunch, irrespective of your fitness. That will always mean more riders who think they are in with a chance of glory in the final lap of a crit. More riders are an overall positive sign though, meaning that the sport’s popularity is rising.

I’m sure lack of experience comes into it as well. I’d expect to see some crashes involving youngsters (late teens/early 20’s) who have a different approach to risk in the bunch. They tend to learn quickly though, and usually they show a good standard of riding anyway – they simply take a few more risks because they are fearless. Alright, I’ll admit I’m quite envious of their lack of fear!

The riders I now worry about are the older riders who seem to have recently come into the sport. They don’t seem to be lacking in fitness, but they are simply not experienced in a bunch and take risks without having the benefit (that the younger riders have) of really quick reactions. I can’t help feel that if they only got out more often in chaingangs with their clubs they would develop the skills required to be safer in crits and road races. Last night I felt calm and relaxed at the front of the race, even though I was working hard. In the middle of the bunch I felt nervous and unhappy, even though I was putting in very little effort.

More than anything I’m now worried that I’m becoming increasingly hesitant in the bunch and would rather put in massive efforts to stay on/near the front or drift around a few metres off the back. Perhaps I need some more chaingangs rather than races, just to prove to myself that cycling in close quarters can be a safe and rewarding experience…

I've posted a photo (thanks LCS) which, for a change, shows me actually putting some effort in on the front! Looking at it I'm thinking that I might need a longer stem - I've been feeling a little cramped on the bike in races recently. I also need to loose a couple of kg that have snuck on recently. They must have been hiding in the bottles of wine and at the bottom of the bags of cashew nuts!

Monday, 25 April 2011

General racing

Quick updates from the last two races:

1) Hillingdon Vets, Wednesday night. Quite fast, large field of mixed-ability old codgers (I include myself in this description). Stuck around the back, found it impossible to move up. Finished at the back. Not even a decent workout really. Spend half the time seeing how far I could get whilst breathing only through my nose! Good race though, fairly disciplined and friendly. I'll be back...

2) Milland Hill 3rds, Saturday. Got caught in the split on the second lap, from then on there as no getting back on. That final part of the hill is a killer for the fuller figure - stomping on pedals at walking pace, front wheel jumping off the ground, just to get up the hill. Enjoyed churning round the circuit in a smaller group much more after the split. Great course, interesting profile and good marshalling. Finished near the back, which is enforcing an already-too-prevalent habit. The Gilbatron (TomG) won, great ride, not that I saw or contributed to the win at all.

Oh well, onwards and (I am sure) upwards...

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Eelmore 3/4, 13th April

The first race at Eelmore, under grey skies with rainclouds scudding across the horizon. Fairly strong headwind down the home staight, chilly and inhospitable weather. The evening didn’t start well with the organisers realising that they had been locked out of the circuit (well, for car access at least) so we all had to park in the car park and trudge all the way down the gravel path to the sign-on point.

The 3/4 race saw a large turnout (the biggest I’ve seen at Eelmore) of around 55 riders. It made for a nervous opening, with many seemingly inexperienced racers vying for position on the first few laps. I made sure to stay at or near the front for the first part of the race and stay out of trouble. It also meant that I could take the corners at speed and not have to sprint out of every corner, as is required if you ride near the back of the bunch.

Halfway through I made my main mistake – taking a breather near the back of the bunch. With the number of riders in the bunch , the speed on the back straight and the bunching on the headwind straight I found it really difficult to move up again. The bunch was not depleted at all (Eelmore is rather like Hillingdon in that with a big bunch it is almost impossible to get dropped) and some riders were showing signs of erratic riding. I get more and more pissed off when I see riders in the bunch, out of the saddle, looking behind them and swerving all over the place. You are not pros!

Just as I was starting to move up with about 5 laps to go I got caught behind a crash on the top hairpin – one rider had wobbled and taken down another VC Meudon rider. I just managed to avoid his bike as we all sprinted to get back onto the back of the bunch. At 2 laps to go there was another more serious crash on the home straight with about 4 riders coming down. Again this seemed like a totally avoidable crash that was probably down to inexperience, probably from just one rider who took out three other unfortunate riders. It’s fair to say that at this point I gave up, sat up and coasted the final two laps – no way was I going to get up the front from mid-bunch in a group of about 50 without exposing myself to far too much personal risk.

I think over the last few years I’ve seen one crash at Eelmore on the hairpin. In one race this year I’ve seen two crashes. I feel that standards in races generally are really slipping and I have to say that I put the blame squarely on riders who seem to have little experience of group riding. Riders who want to race should have plenty of chaingang miles under their belt before they even contemplate turning up on the start line. It’s an important fact to remember for existing club riders too – we all benefit from making the group rides as inclusive and welcoming as we can.