Salt & Sham 10 Mile TT 2018

I took part in an early season time trial on the U102 course in Iron Acton this past weekend. It was a bright and sunny day but also typically freezing for February, so it seemed slightly mad to be out racing in nothing but tight-fitting lycra. This was the inaugural event of Salt & Sham (SAS) cycling club, so I wanted to take part and show my support for a local club. The fact that I might catch pneumonia seemed a small price to pay.

After signing on and collecting my race number I headed out for what would normally have been a warm up, but was more a case of just keeping moving to avoid freezing. There was a headwind for the slightly longer outward leg, and combined with a hill leading up to the turnaround it could potentially have made the first half of the race a tough mental challenge. But I felt like I found a good rhythm, walking that fine tightrope between going bloody hard but not overdoing it. Plus I overtook my minute man and then two-minute man on the outward leg which always helps the confidence.

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There were 42 riders taking part, plus a healthy number of spectators along the route shouting encouragement and shaking cowbells making it an enjoyable event. And the tailwind and downhill stretch from the turnaround improved things even further. It’s an exhilarating feeling to be buzzing along at high speed with nothing but the sound of the whistling wind and a disc wheel whooshing for company.

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With the wind on my back, I kept my momentum up most of the small rises without losing too much speed and for the final couple of miles I was hanging on, wanting to give it everything but also knowing that I was already at my limit.

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Emptying the tank

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LOL 

My finishing time was 25:41 giving an average speed of 23.4mph. I rode the race blind in terms of data on my bike computer, but looking at it afterwards I averaged just over 300 watts which is a personal best power output, a significantly positive outcome for such an early season race. The winner was Josh Griffiths from Bristol South CC in a time of 22:51. I ended up placing 16th.

So if I want to start threatening the podium I need to find another 3 minutes from somewhere. I’m not sure whether this could come from improved aerodynamics, increased specific fitness or better rest and nutrition. These are all areas that I’ve only recently started paying better attention to. However, I do have enough experience of cycling to know that whatever the question, a new bike is usually the answer.

Chew Valley Cycling Club

Despite being an area of outstanding natural beauty, with a large population living in historic villages dating back to the Domesday Book and basically being a bit of a mecca for almost every weekend cyclist who lives in Bristol, Keynsham, Somerset and Bath, the one thing that the Chew Valley lacked was a cycling club.

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The Chew Valley – home of dairy cows and now, a welcoming cycling club

I’ve been a member of Bristol South Cycling Club for years, enjoying their events and races in the Chew Valley. However I rarely attend their weekend club rides or social nights as these are all held in the distant lands of “the big city over the hill”. As a result I always felt that I missed out on a lot of the social aspect and camaraderie of being a club member. After meeting a few other Chew Valley cyclists who were struggling with the same problem we decided to start our own club.

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The Hunters Lodge – home of myths and legends

The club’s formation meeting was held at The Hunters Lodge, a lonely and slightly derelict-looking pub out in the middle of the Mendip Hills. The inside is magical: it’s like stepping into a time machine to a 1950’s pub. The place must have drifted through decades with the decor becoming increasingly dated and unfashionable. Fortunately the long-standing owners were clearly playing the long-game, knowing that one day it would just ooze vintage style! Either that or they just didn’t care. Anyway, not only does it work but there are several amusing myths surrounding the place. I’ve heard that the Kray Twins used it as a hideout, that tunnels beneath the pub lead to secret government bunkers and that if the owner catches you using a mobile phone he will either confiscate it or throw you out. Hence the lack of photos to verify the myth. I hope one day there will be a plaque outside stating “Chew Valley Cycling Club was formed here in 2016”.

By the start of 2017 we’d formed a nucleus of new members, were holding regular club rides and had ordered kit. We played around with a few kit designs with everything looking like it had been designed by an idiot using ClipArt … basically because it had. So in the end we called in the experts and asked cycling kit supplier Milltag to design and make our kit. Probably one of our best decisions.

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For posterity this needs to be recorded – the cow peering out the rear pocket is class

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Milltag nailed it

The club has continued to grow which has been really enjoyable for everyone involved. We are affiliated with both British Cycling and Cycling Time Trials which has allowed several of our members to compete in road races, criteriums and time trials this year. However, the majority of our members currently just participate in the weekend club rides for the social and sporting aspect of riding in a group.

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Club rides leave from The Crown, West Harptree at 8am every Sunday morning

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Supporting a local race

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CVCC TT flight mode

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Bath Sportive

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Beer & bikes – killer combo

We recently held our first AGM (at The Hunters obviously) which was a great way to get feedback from our members and find out what everyone wanted from the club. Fortunately people mostly wanted more of the same, with the addition of beginner / introductory weekend rides for slower or new riders. So this is something we’re hoping to roll out soon. Oh yeah, and they wanted cycling caps, presumably for de rigeur cycling cafe stops!

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Give the people what they want – caps coming soon …

 

My cycling season has finally begun

If you want to ride your bike on a regular basis, don’t have a child, start your own business or embark on a home refurbishment project. And especially don’t do them all at the same time. Only an idiot would do that. Anyway, this particular idiot has finally complete the refurb project and so took the opportunity to go for a long ride today. 70 miles to be precise. Continuing the theme of biting off more than I can chew, I’ve signed up to do a 100 mile sportive in a couple of weeks time with an old mate so thought I’d better condition my bum to endless hours on a saddle. I’m generally not so interested in sportives these days, but they can be a good reason to meet old cycling friends who live in different parts of the country so thought I’d sign up. This will be the first time I’ve ridden 100 miles in about 2 years so I’m looking forward to the challenge.

I was putting my bike back in the shed with my toddler daughter when she spotted the bike she’ll hopefully be learning to ride on one day. She seemed pretty keen to have a go but couldn’t reach the pedals yet. I think I’ve still got a few months before I need to fit the stabilisers.

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She seemed very adroit at eating a biscuit while sat on the bike – a key still for long distance cycling! 

Long rides or short rides: a matter of perspective

Several times this year I’ve headed out with the intention of riding 50 miles but have ended up doing 30. Partly because I keep underestimating how long it takes to ride 50 miles, especially at this time of year. And partly because the winter weather gets the better of me after two cold hours in the saddle.

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Up on the grey and threatening hills

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Glimpses of Spring 

Cycling’s a funny hobby – how did it make me think two hours of exercise is a short workout? When I play football, or run, or go to the gym I never do it for more than two hours. Often for much shorter, depending on whether I get tired, substituted or sent off. However, one of the benefits of cycling is that you can be fairly flexible with your timing and do it when you have an opportunity. Plus there’s no travel time, you just ride from the front door for as long as you’ve got. I’m sure when the weather improves and life gets less busy I’ll find the time to ride for longer.

Today was one of those classic English drizzle days. Too warm to wear a rain coat and too wet to go without. I stopped a few times to take it off, put it back on, take it off, etc.  I may have only ridden 30 miles but I made sure to include a good climb. Two miles of constant climbing in warm drizzle wearing too many layers resulted in a boil-in-the bag effect. This was followed by several miles of cold sweat, the sort of feeling you associate with having a fever. It was somewhere in the midst of this unpleasantness that I thought, bugger this I’m going home for a cup of tea.

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Doing the rain coat dance 

I think it’s just a matter of perspective. Two hours of exercise at this time of year is good enough for me. I’ll save my long rides for the summer when you ride for longer because it’s enjoyable.

Farewell old friend

After 10,000+ miles and many happy years together I decided it was time to bid farewell to my oldest bike. I wasn’t being forced to implement  the S-1 Rule where my total number of bikes was causing matrimonial disharmony, it was purely to free up a bit of space at home and because the old fella wasn’t getting any miles these days. I felt sad seeing him collecting dust and cobwebs in the back corner of the shed and thought he’d be better served as a starter bike or winter hack for another cyclist. The fact that old bikes seem to hold their value on eBay was an added incentive.

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eBay selling photo

I took the time to give the bike a thorough clean, and then probably went above-and-beyond the call of duty by dismantled the head-set to clean and re-grease it. The last time I’d ridden the bike was a rainy day and the headset had spluttered rusty gooze over the top tube. I didn’t want the buyer to think they’d bought a lemon if the same thing happened to them, so it gave me peace of mind to fix the problem.

Buyer beware

Buyer beware – the brand name has worn away from the side of the saddle. Which isn’t the original saddle that came with the bike. This bike clearly has some miles in it

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I made sure to include photos of wear to forewarn potential buyers

With 5 days to go, bidding is already fierce so I’m expecting to recoup some of the expense that’s gone into this bike. If I still lived in a city I think it would be handy to have a number 3 bike for locking and leaving without worrying too much. But living out in the sticks, it would appear that the correct number of bikes to own is 2. One carbon-fibre bike for training and racing, and one steel frame bike with mudguards and rack for winter riding, baby-carrying and errand running. However … I’m not completely ruling out the possibility that the freed up space in the shed could be nicely filled by a shiny new bike.

Spectating a professional cycling race

I made my way into Bristol yesterday to watch the finale of Stage 4 of the Tour of Britain. When compared to other sports, watching a cycling event is quite a strange experience. You hang around on the side of the road not really knowing what’s going on in the race, eventually a procession of police motorbikes and press cars come through with sirens and horns blaring which excites the crowd and then finally the riders stream past with everyone clapping, cheering and seeing if they can recognise any of them. Which is generally difficult with their faces concealed beneath sunglasses and helmets. It’s a very fleeting experience which can feel like a bit of an anti-climax. Everyone mills about afterwards for a few minutes chatting about what they thought they’d seen and looking on their phones to find out what was actually happening. And that’s it. It’s finished.

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The race finally arrives

I had a good day out, meeting up with some friends and cycling 40 miles in total. It was also a beautiful, sunny day so hanging around on the side of a road for an hour wasn’t too much of a hardship. It’s also quite amusing to overhear the typically banal chat from other cycling fans discussing the intricacies of their equipment. Being a cyclist really brings out your inner nerd.

There’s definitely something unique about how close you can get to the race. It would be chaos if football fans could touch the players or shout in their faces while they were playing. And it was good to head over to the finish line afterwards and see the riders cooling down outside their team buses. Formula 1 fans pay thousands for that sort of access. Watching cycling is free.

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The Team Sky bus was pulling the biggest crowd

I got caught in a bit of rush hour traffic on the return home. For someone who lives in a little village and does most of his riding on quiet country lanes this is fortunately a rare experience. I was faced with a dilemma: sit behind a mile-long queue of cars breathing in their fumes, or ride up the middle of the road with the motorbikes and face a few shouted comments from white-van-men about riding on the wrong side of the road etc. Nobody likes sitting in traffic so I guess cyclists can provide a focus for some people’s frustration. But I’m not quite sure I understand why nobody minds a motorbike doing the same.

Saying goodbye to the city

Saying goodbye to the city

New climbing challenge

Now in its third year, Rapha and Strava have once again teamed up to challenge cyclists to climb a dizzying height on their bikes. This year the challenge is 8,800m (28,870 ft) in nine days. This equates to three stages of this year’s Tour de France and is roughly the same height as Mount Everest. The prize for completing the challenge is a commemorative woven badge which has been quite rightly mocked by a club-mate for being a bit Boy Scouts, but sometimes you’ve just got to geek-out and stitch your badge on your cycling bag with pride.

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Today’s ride was a full tour of the steep Mendip hills

Knowing that time-constraints later in the week will probably lead me to the evil but efficient practice of hill-repeats, I started off with a ride I’d been contemplating for some time. A complete circuit of the Mendip Hills going up or down every road I know. It turned out to be a 62 miler, but the horizontal distance was inconsequential. The real result was over 6000 ft of climbing. This took me four hours and provided some spectacular views of Somerset and the Chew Valley. It also left me battling the mental challenge of the oncoming ‘bonk’ for the last hour as my energy reserves depleted.

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Heading down towards the Somerset Levels 

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I may need to replace my brake blocks after this challenge

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Another narrow, windy descent

Towards Blagdon

Towards Blagdon Lake in the Chew Valley

Cake consumption was the immediate priority on my return home

Cake consumption was the immediate priority upon my return home

After today’s 62 miler returned 6000 ft of climbing, and yesterday’s 35 miler gave me 4500 ft I’m about a third of the way into the challenge. Tomorrow I will be giving the legs some much-needed rest, knowing that there’s still some way to go before I can reach for the victorious needle and thread.