Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mad dogs and Englishmen flat out in the midday sun

Last Sunday saw the Anglo Mules take on the 112 mile Flat out in the Fens Sportive.
This coincided with the hottest day of the year with temperatures in the high 80's.
My twin brother Paddy in Texas remarked 'That's cold........I'd be wearing a coat in that weather'
I hope he was joking for any coat wearing would have surely have created the same affect of the culinary 'boil in the bag effect'
I would literally have been poached Shrimp !!!!

The course was flat if not monotonous and when the wind got up in the afternoon there was no hiding place. With long straight stretches over 5 miles at a time I saw numerous mirages in the road.
Not surprisingly they all looked like watering holes, the type that serve Ice cold beer in comparison to the warm juice that was simmering in my water bottle.With the earlier sportives seemingly choreographed by a tango instructor. It was pure joy to move away from the quick, quick, slow, of the Alpine wolds to dance a repeated quick step on this more benign terrain.

My peddles pured with the high tempo, sometimes being sent into a spinning frenzy.

My heart not so enamoured, repeatedly played catch up like a father chasing an errant child in the park.

What the Fens lacked in visual enjoyment they more than made up for in other ways.

When you are able to follow a back wheel at 2" away with speeds over 20 mph for hours on end, When you are able to feel part of the collective movement of a chain gang,

When the wind you feel is created by yourself and not by nature

Then you really know why you do it.

Next weekend five of us anglo Mules are plannning to Cycle 24hrs for Charity.........................................Life gets no easier

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mr Blue Sky

Sooooooooooooooo Exciting !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Velo Nation Reports :- Team Sky have announced their nine-man team for the 98th edition of the Tour de France, starting on 2 July at the Passage du Gois.

Bradley Wiggins, who came fourth in 2009 to equal the best ever Tour de France finish by a British rider, and recently won the prestigious Critérium du Dauphiné, will lead the squad which includes fellow Brits Geraint Thomas, who will be riding his third Tour de France, and Ben Swift who will be making his debut in the event.

Talented young Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen will make his second Tour de France appearance after last year's debut where he secured two podium finishes. Joining him will be Colombia's Rigoberto Urán, both having proved key strengths in the mountains at the Critérium du Dauphiné.

The line up features experienced Grand Tour riders including Spanish duo Juan Antonio Flecha, who will be making his ninth Tour de France appearance, and Xabier Zandio, who has previously ridden in the event five times. They will be joined by Germany's reigning Road Race Champion Christian Knees, who will be riding in his ninth Grand Tour, and Simon Gerrans, previous stage winner in all three Grand Tours.

Tour de France squad named
Team Sky have also revealed that all kit, bikes, equipment and vehicles will change from blue to green for all 21 stages of the race to help raise awareness and support for Sky Rainforest Rescue, a three year partnership between Sky and WWF to help save a billion trees in the state of Acre, northwest Brazil.

All of the riders, with the exception of Swift who has sprinted to five stage wins already this season, helped Wiggins to his impressive victory in the Dauphiné earlier this month and Team Principal Dave Brailsford explained: "This is a strong and balanced team with a real depth of talent to cater for all the race's challenges, from the team time trial to its high mountain finishes.

"The squad have raced and trained together consistently well and are full of confidence after excellent results at Bayern Rundfhart and the Critérium du Dauphiné.

"There is a great blend of experience and youth in our squad. As well as riders like Bradley, Flecha, Simon, Christian and Xabier who have ridden the Grand Tours on numerous occasions, the line up also includes some of the peloton's brightest young talents in Edvald, Geraint, Rigoberto and Ben. We have a really exciting team that can't wait for 2 July."

Brailsford is particularly looking forward to Swift's first appearance in cycling's blue riband event, adding: "I am delighted that Ben Swift will be making his Tour debut, he is enjoying a breakthrough season with five wins already and he will absolutely thrive on this opportunity to test himself on the biggest stage of all."

Relishing the challenge
The action gets under way in little over a week and the riders themselves head to the race full of confidence following those recent successes, with Dauphiné hero Wiggins confirming: "The team is in great shape, full of confidence and riding well.

"We all want to put on a good show for our fans as their support for the team throughout this season has been incredible. It's going to be a great three weeks of racing."

That was echoed by Swift who told us: "Competing in the Tour de France is what every young rider dreams of and I'm really excited about the challenge ahead. The team is riding well and we can't wait to get going against the world's best riders."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Flat out on the Fens - Deja Vu

Ever since the recent royal wedding the tabloid newspapers have been full of Pippamania projecting Pippa Middleton from a royal Maid of Honour to National Hottie.

Although I have to conceded she is rather pleasing to the eye I could never get caught up in this sort of exploitation. I am sure she does not want to wake up each morning to have half baked stories and speculative partners splattered across the nations tabloids.

This paparazzi fuelled literary drivel only has one use for me, and that is to keep my Fish and chips warm until I get home from the Fish and Chip shop.

Mr Murdoch must must have sensed my indifference and came up with a cunning plan to attract my attention.

Apparently not only does she carry a veil well, but she also runs and rides a!!!!!!

Pippa was snapped taking part in the Highland Cross challenge a duathlon across Scotland.

Her Bianchi looks a stylish as any Alexander McQueen outfit and the Mavic Aksiums will surely put distance between her and any 'Cannon clickers'.

This time last year most of the Paparazzi were over in South Africa drinking Lion Beer and being sworn at by Wayne Rooney as 'Our Lads' failed yet again in our national game.

As the Germans were peppering the English Goal with 'das fussball'.

I was cycling around Eastern England in the 'Flatout in the Fens' a 112 mile sportive by Kilo to go.

Although the field was reduced by the lure of masochistic tele viewing, I could not help thinking it was their loss. It was a glorious day and one of the hottest of the year.

Here we are again 12 months on and the forecast promises much with a cloudless sky and the temperature up in the low 80's. With a flat Terrain we could be cycling in Texas minus the Turkey Vultures and Gatorade.

This time there is a large Anglo Mule contingent with seven of us taking Part Me, Joanne, Karen, Simon, Bobby, Kelky and Karen W. its hopped that we can put in a good time and have people wandering....'Who are those Mules????'

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Coast to Coast - Day Three

Appleton le Street to Bridlington

After ordering everything on the Menu and over hydrating myself at the wonderful Cresswell Arms I felt a bit Peaky on wednesday morning, and was grateful in the knowledge that we were close to our journeys end. As we flew down into Malton with our 'Wheeled Mules' proudly displayed on the backs of our jerseys we were joined by about 20 other fleet four legged beats. Thery came in the form of race horses who were exercising on the gallops which ran parallel with our road. Our horsey emblems were not lost on them and there were some supportive whinnying and neighing being emitted from both of the equine groups. After Malton we followed the road to Settrington which was the start of the only big climb of the day. Although the wolds bore no resemblance to the Pennines as far as elevation was concerned, its access roads were certainly comparable and uncompromising in the gradients they offered.

By the time I had reached the top, my thighs were so tenderised that any passing Cannibal may think that Tartare steak were on the Menu.

On the plus side it cured my hangover.

Once onto the Wolds the route was familiar with a long flat section from West Lutton to the outskirts of Bridlington.

On this stretch the Pace and tempo increased and Joanne made a guest appearance at the front. It reminded me a bit of Mark Cavendish, Totally anonymous in the mountains where he suffers, but as soon as if there is a whiff of fast flat riding hes hovering at the front somewhere.

As we passed through Grindle the smell of the sea was unmistakable and as we approach the brow of each new hill we looked expectantly for the 'blue stuff'. Eventually it came where photo opportunities presented themselves.

On our arrival Bobby being Scots got out his Quaich in celebration of our achievement.

It is a scots tradition of sharing Whiskey from a communal cup. It was actually something that I warmed to over the three days as it seemed to make the most odd appearances, and never semed to empty.
With the task completed we now look forward to our next event 'Flat out in the Fens' a 112 milen sportive next weekend.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Coast to Coast - Day Two

Grassington to Appleton le Street

Having previously studied 'The Way of the Roses' route it was clear that much of its third part covered areas that we cycled regularly. It also meant that our second night stop would have to be close to York.
Not wanting to be bored or out of pocket, we decided to deviate from the map and use other cycle routes to take us on a more northerly tract towards Malton and The Cresswell Arms Appleton le Street.
The day threatened sunshine and showers (Heavy ones) with the mix being more in favour of the wet stuff than the bright stuff.

I elected not to wear my coat under the leaden skies on account of what I knew to be 'up ahead'.
I had previously suffered the long climb from Hebden in the Wharfedale valley up onto Craven Moor, so I knew that there would soon be more fluid emerging from inside my body than what the heavens could pour upon me.
As we stood astride our bikes ready to set off, I used both of my hands to gesture two 'V' signs which I crossed over each other and presented them to my fellow mules, who in turn looked upon me scornfully

The 'V' sign is a curious signal
The sign's meaning depends in part on the way the hand is positioned. With the palm of the hand facing the signer, it can mean:

An insult – largely restricted to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, and the United Kingdom,it means "fuck off".
Two – indicating quantity (but not in countries where it is an insult) although this is more common with the palm turned around;
Peace – in the United States and Canada without respect to the direction.
When used with other movement, it can mean:
Air quotes – flexing fingers, palm out, both hands.
This hand shape is also used in a number of signs, including "to see/look". When the pointer and middle fingers are pointed at the signer's eyes then turned and the pointer finger is pointed at someone it means "I am watching you."
With the back of the hand facing the signer, it can mean:
Two – a nonverbal communication of quantity;
Victory – in a setting of wartime or competition. It was first popularized by Winston Churchill. It is sometimes made using both hands with upraised arms as US President Eisenhower, and in imitation of him, Richard Nixon, used to do;
Peace or Friend – used around the world by peace and counter-culture groups; popularized in the American peace movement of the 1960s.
Rabbit ears – used behind the head of a subject of a photograph; OR...
"peace" or "everything's cool/OK" sign - by holding in front of oneself in a photo.
The letter V, in American Sign Language – used when spelling.

My fellow travellers clearly did not understand the further significance which is found on Ordnance Survey Maps to signify gradient.

Gradient steeper than 20% (1 in 5) Gradient between 14% and 20% (1 in 5 to 1 in 7) So I explained to them that the sign I was depicting was a goodwill warning of some steep climbs to come.

In return, I got similar signs directed back to me where the meaning had far greater clarity, and no requirement for explanation.If the climb to the top of Craven Moor was hard enough, the decent down Greenhow Hill into Pately Bridge would even have had Odysseus wimping out.

This particular stretch of road features high up in Britain's '100 greatest climbs' so by that alone it requires some healthy respect.

Within 200 yards I had reached 30mph, and the 70lbs in my Panniers was seemingly trying to race me to the bottom.

To ensure that they could not fulfill their ambition I applied half my brakes, but my speed continued to climb..........33...35.....

Full brakes applied......38, 41......42......44.......44.....43....

This was serious, my brakes were now full on and my hands were clamped so tightly that my wrists felt like they were about to disintegrate.

As each new bend was negotiated the hill seemed to get steeper and steeper, I felt like an old sailor worried about dropping off the surface of the earth.

Fortunately at the very bottom of the hill there was a Toilet, its funny how fear has a tendency to squeeze your bladder.

We allowed ourselves some moments of composure before setting off out of Pately Bridge and further East towards Brimham Rocks which was where our first calamity occured. Mark lost all power to his bike with the transmission stuck in freewheel mode.

Although the surrounding geological features looked like people they could not speak nor were they able to provide the required tools to rectify the make matters worse it started to rain.

We managed to persuade Karen to use some feminine charm to bewitch a local farmer.

He agreed to take Mark a few miles up the road close to Ripon where he could freewheel town into this idyllic Market Town.

We agreed to meet him, and continued through the rain.

The Route took us through the beautiful Studley Royal Park which contains Fountains Abbey

As we entered Ripon Market Place I spied Mark.

Such was my delight at the prospect of the reunion I momentarily lost concentration. The type required to negotiate wet and uneven cobblestones within the market place.

The net result was a spillage, scuffed knee and elbow along with total embarrassment as a couple of old age pensioners ran to my aid. I rose quickly to my feet as a boxer slipping in the ring and declined any assistance. Gingerly I greeted Mark trying to disguise the wincing pain from my hip.

Its amazing what healing qualities can be derived from a bakery. Just entering the local shop made me feel better and before I had finished off a selection of local wares I was ready to re enter the Fray.

The afternoon took us onto the flat lands of the Vale of York and towards the White Horse carved into the Hambleton Hills on the South West side of the North Yorkshire Moors.

During this time there was thunder and lightening and torrential downpours all around us but we managed to dodge all of the showers. Maybe we had had enough excitement for one day.

The roads glistened and as the sun shone we were often riding through a thin film of steam evaporating from the road surface.
Even the local cows were pleased to see us.
Eventually we got to the Cresswell Arms in Appleton le Street which was a pub we knew little about, but one we all agreed would be well appreciated on anybodies itinerary. Great Welcome, Beer fantastic Food and beautiful rooms..
It was everything that the Forresters Arms at Grassington was NOT.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Coast to Coast - Day One

At 5am on Monday morning seven Anglo Mules and our driver congregated around our 14 seater minibus . It was comforting to know that the capacity of our carriage was greater than our requirement on account of our luggage.

I was the clear winner of the heaviest load and it was suggested that I ought to be accompanied to the local weigh bridge by 'abnormal load' out -riders.

The humour was not totally lost on me as the 0.9 mile journey from my home to the pick up point usually a sedate affair demanded the lowest cog of my triple chain set.

When stationary it was similar to handling a large motor cycle, unless the bike was balanced upright there was the perpetual threat of toppling over with the ensuing crushed legs and bruised ego.

With no cycle rack or luggage space available it was always going to be a challenge to arrange the bikes inside the vehicle. Thankfully the collective minds of years of high level decision making soon came up with a solution.

The side door was slid open, the bikes minus panniers where randomly thrown in and then the vehicle was rocked from side to side.

Once the bikes had settled all the panniers were scattered evenly on top with a layering of blankets.

This successful recipe created the availability of 2 spare seats up front and 5 in the rear, which was all that was required. The bikes took up the rest.

I sat next to Dave our driver and old friend who had set up his own transport business after retirement.

On our three hour journey to Morecambe I was intrigued to know who had previously used these seats and subsequently heard the Confessions of a Mini bus driver.

I listened in awe as one of the tales included him hearing the sound of a rattle from the rear of the bus.

The sound emerged 20 minutes after dropping a family off at a local airport and belonged to a baby who had been left behind. By the time Dave had got back to the airport and found his errant passengers they had not even noticed the void in the pushchair !!!!!!

After hearing all the tales it was apparent that our bikes fared well in both style and behavioural ratings, however they scored badly in their conversational ability.

We got to Morecambe at about 9 am and were greeted with a strong chilly north westerly blowing off the sea and making us all dash for our coats, whilst smiling at the prospect of a tail wind.

We soon set off down the banks of the River Lune towards the imposing Ingleborough on the distant horizon which is one of Yorkshires highest peaks. This was our gateway to Settle and onto the Yorkshire Dales. The Roses Way cycle route was well sign posted and tracked a route along cycle paths and beautiful country lanes. Alarmingly this also included a section from Clapham to Wharfe which was soon daubed 'boulderville' It consisted of a green lane which ran through a darkened tunnel and along a mountainside. Although it was outstandingly beautiful and offered zero traffic, It also presented a higher risk of punctures, broken bones and broken bikes. If you have a mountain bike fine but for tourers or road bikes great caution is required and if its wet I would strongly avoid.
The climb out of Settle would have been extremely challenging if unladen on my carbon road bike, but fully laden on my tourer it was always going to be a tough ask. I had previously descended this beast during the white rose classic so knew of its perils.

In the early part of the climb I had settled on steady but slow tempo, my only chance.

One of my fellow Mules gratefully overtook me whereupon I politely advised him that he should keep his powder dry.

Some 100 meters later around the bend I overtook him. He had dismounted his bike with his legs trembling like a worried dog. No dry powder I noted. I managed to get two thirds of the way up before I realised that I was running out of places to dismount gracefully. Seeing a gateway ahead, breaking the line of dry stone walling I sensed a lifeline. Instinctively I aimed my slow moving crawler right at its heart and launched myself onto its horizontal bars.

Pushing my load up the remainder of this MOUNTAIN was no bed of Roses (Pardon the Pun). If the summit had not arrived when it had I was about to jettison everything but my wallet, water and wristwatch to lighten the load.After a short rest and saturation of panoramic brilliance my spirits where lifted and my heart rate able to drop to a sustainable level. More importantly the panniers were undisturbed.

With the prospect of fine food, ale and rest we pressed on to Grassington and the Forrester's Arms. I love using my blog to promote cafes, places of interest and hostelries but The Forrester's Arms found no favour with me. The staff were rude and unfriendly and Id rather eat my food in a public latrine. Resourcefully we still sourced fine food and ale before closing our weary eyes on our first day.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Coast to Coast - Preperation and planning

Rapha Continental – The Movie from RAPHA on Vimeo.

Tomorrow Joanne and I are joined by five other Anglo Mules in a 'mini Tour' from Morecambe on the West Coast of England to Bridlington in the East. We will be following 'The Way of the roses' a designated cycle route, however there will be a deviation on the last day taking a more northerly track.

Being self sufficient, with no support team and I have offered to carry all of Joannes stuff as well as my own.With such an undertaking my tourer was the only choice however looking at the amount of clothes, equipment, and potions that come in the 'Needed' category I am starting to think that a trailer would be more suitable than my traditional side luggage.

As the point of departure gets closer the pannier's have become heavier and the symbolism of 'Travels with my Mule' is not lost on me.
The three day adventure takes us over the Pennines and through some of the most beautiful country within the UK (The Yorkshire Dales). The pace will be deliberately slow determined by conscience as well as by gradient. There is also a genuine expectation that 'walking' may occur on of some of the more demanding accents which are around 25% ouch !!!!!!

It will be a pleasure not to have to ride in a competitive atmosphere to just enjoy the pleasure of cycling. As a way of inspiration I have searched for video archives and found some which have been commissioned by Rapha.

Rapha Performance Roadwear is a really cool premium sportswear and lifestyle brand focused on bicycle road cycling, clothing and accessories it also publishes the classy Rouleur Magazine.
The clothing is strongly influenced by the famous British clothing designer Paul Smith a keen cyclists himself whose early cycling ambitions were dashed by a serious accident.

In 2007 Rapha commenced filming with 'The Rapha Continental' which was driven by the idea to discover, or perhaps rediscover, the lost art of cycling. Its amazing !!!

They sum it up beautifully:-

' Too many riders that we knew had started to lose sight of why we love to ride, slipping into a racer’s mentality and putting our focus on measuring watts, counting calories and doing ‘efforts’. Don’t get me wrong, many of us excitedly pin numbers to our jerseys and line up each week but we’d reached a point where somehow the ends didn’t seem to justify the means.

Now in our fifth year, the main sensation that we, the ‘non-team’ of riders known as the Rapha Continental, have encountered, is wonderment. When the goal of a ride is about the experience instead of the speed or the distance, it changes everything.

It seems an obvious statement but it’s one that is easily forgotten with the fast pace of life, work and family. The 60-plus adventures we have ridden across the country have been a constant reminder that something spectacular happens when you mix hard riding, good friends, beautiful surroundings and punishing roads.

The communities we have temporarily become part of as we have ridden through them have given us memories we would never have had if we hadn’t passed through them on bicycles, or if we hadn’t been open to the notion that a good conversation was more important than getting in before dark.

We didn’t create this style of riding. In fact, we’ve been inspired by hundreds of like-minded cyclists we’ve met on roads all across the country. To a man (or woman), they are riders who have a penchant for gravel, who delight in a local’s tale, and who share our appetite to push the boundaries of distance and ability.

On some occasions we’ve had the pleasure of riding alongside them; on others, we’ve exchanged a simple nod and wave as we pass by. Whether we rode alone, tackling the route of the Amgen Tour of California, or whether we joined the ranks of the best organized rides we could find, the goal was always to be part of, to help create, a story worth telling. And that, I suppose, is the point of it all'.

I cant promise such a classy film but when I get back there will be pictures, somethings to laugh about and some fond memories to share.