Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Marauding Mules

Mallorca is the largest Island in the Balletic Archipelago.
It is a real diamond amongst the scattered jewelled outcrops that rise up through the surface of the Mediterranean.

This strategic outpost appears to have been an obsession for all those who seek to conquer.
The interested parties provide an assortment of classical and mythological warriors as well as a few misguided souls................ but more about them later.

The Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans were the first to arrive, in the shadow of the imposing Tramuntana mountain range to the north west.
Their respective hints of civilization were soon halted by the next batch of more boisterous inhabitants.
Gunderic and the Vandals, the Byzantines and the Barbary Pirates soon arrived taking in more than just the sea and Sangria.
Finally the Spanish, Catalans and Italians all sought to ‘have a go’ before the island became a Spanish province in 1716.
300 years on and little has changed, the Island is still invaded throughout the year.
However the only things that are taken are the vistas, and the only blood that is spilt is by accident.

The new invaders are Lycra clad warriors, with bucket list entries ready to be struck through.
Descending through the heavens from all corners of the globe the appetite for conquest has never been greater.

The Phoenicians replaced by Orica GreenEDGE, The Romans by Lampre- Merida, whilst Gunderic and his band of vandals are now replaced by Philip and the Mules.

The natives are not hostile, but a friendly bunch who provide a warm welcome, wine and victuals fit for a king.

With winter setting in and the imminent threat of having to cover ones knees, Mauel our Spanish Dr suggested that vigorous exercise, specialised hydration and an exotic diet should be prescribed he exhorted

Rather than write out a prescription he highlighted the great value of a Ryan Air £37 ticket to Mallorca and homely accommodation at his sisters in law.

Knowing his medicine as he does Manuel also decided that we should be introduced to an unfamiliar drug.

A SuperSix EVO with Shimano ultra Di2 voted the best bike in the world in 2012
Not being one who resists what might be good for me, I duly took my medicine along with some other fellow Mules.

I think there is always an inner debate in your head.

Do you hire a bike or take your own?
Having done both there is no right answer 
It basically comes down to choice, cost and logistics.

You don't want a bike that feels like a coat that you might leave behind in a pub

Something that was great when new, but has seen better days
You don't want to eat into the money you had put aside for post ride lubrication

And finally you don't want to spend more time obtaining the bike as you did travelling to your destination

Ours were sourced from Bikehead ( who now operate from two locations in Aloro and Alcudia.

The bikes were delivered to us on arrival which is a usual practice if you are in a group.
I must admit I did not know what to expect. 
My gleaming beauty were far greater than the engine that was going to be use to power it.
Things in life are never equal.
For those who like to know about the bits and pieces 

Quick Facts about SuperSix EVO
  • Ultegra 6700 Wheelset
  • Cannondale Hollowgram SI Crank
  • Ultegra 12/27 Cassette
  • Compact chainset with 50/34
  • Fizik Antares Saddle
  • Bikes comes with one bottle (Yours to keep)
  • Bike computer (Upgrade to Garmin Edge GPS €5/day)
  • Saddlebag containing 1 innertube, 2 tyre levers and a pump.
  • Continental GP4000s tyres.
  • Weight 7.1kg

As well as these there were other models designed for every level and budget.

And so to the riding

Although most cyclists come to Mallorca for the warm weather climbing the island offers everything in the way of terrain.

If you want flat there is the coastal plain running from the South West to the North East

If you want mixed terrain North to South
And if you want some mind blowing climbs,switch backs and vistas the west coast offers it all.

Most cycle shops provide a user friendly, waterproof cycle map which corresponds to the signage out on the road.

Getting lost would be more of a challenge than some of the sturdier climbs.
These also provide gradient indicators so that you can plan where you might want to rest and where you might want to be sick.
The car drivers on the whole respect cyclists and provide plenty of room.
The ones that don't are usually in hire cars with recognisable regional accents, the sort that you might find on any railway station in the UK.

Going at the end of November was a risk weatherise, but there were many positives.
The Accommodation and flights were cheaper.
The traffic was always very light.
We could always get a place at the most popular restaurants
And finally the locals will now lookout for the Mule jerseys in the 2015 UCI Cycling Calendar 

As it turned out we had three days of great cycling, with a little rain during our very last ten minutes of cycling.
All in all we actually got more wet on the inside than we did on the out.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Not so Sportive

Seven years ago I completed my first Sportive.
I remember it well because it was The Cheshire Cat and anybody who has ever ridden the ride will always remember it.
The signature climb of Mow Cop seemingly chosen to break your resolve, before numerous other so called lesser climbs were gathered together like a crowd of bullies to humiliate you.

With no more than about 500 riders there was a collective goal.
To survive.
By that I mean complete the course without having a coronary or completing some roadside cramp dance.

It was the first time that I had ridden with a group of other riders and being uncertain about every aspect of road etiquette I was cautious, communicative, and careful about every change of speed and manoeuvre.

The fact was not lost on me that if I did something unpredictable it may result in other peoples bodies and bikes being damaged.
Fortunately my fellow suffers all seemed to have the same mindset and this masochist challenge had no unwanted recklessness, danger, or general incivility.

It appeared as if the event was 'Enough' where egos, Strava segments and stopwatches were left in the glove compartment

That was Seven years ago!
A time when there was perhaps one sportive per weekend, few recreational cyclists had carbon bikes and the thought of an international British cycling team was just pie in the Sky.

Oh how things have changed.

 British cycling has triumphed across genders and physical abilities  both on the track and road.
With multiple Olympians and Tour de France winners cycling is a fashionable now as running used to be in the 80's with people cycling sportives in the way that they would run half or full marathons.

Most converts are courteous and responsible and have obviously learned about personal ride etiquette and the dynamics of group riding.
However an alarming  number clearly have no idea or no inclination.

Ride etiquette has evolved over the years to protect us, the rider, and its all based on common sense and survival instincts. This appears to be lost on many either through lack of experience, technique, knowledge or in most cases ignorant over confidence.

If your riding at 35 mph two inches from somebodies wheel - It may be nice to let them know

If you are stupid enough to overlap somebodies rear wheel, especially on the inside your asking for trouble.

If you don't communicate you have no right to remonstrate if things go wrong

Half wheeling = Half a brain

When people overtake they often think that when their body is past so is their bike - They then cut in  before their back wheel has passed.

This summer I took part in Ride London for the 2nd Year where the number of participants had increased substantially.
The first year it was dry and crowded but in the main the experienced riders were able to avoid collision scenario's created by half brained cyclopaths who had as much spacial awareness as a blindfolded Elephant in a cycle shed.

This year was different I had never seen such reckless irresponsible riding
Nor had I ever seen so many mangled bikes and riders, many of whom appeared to have serious injuries.

This Summer one of our club riders Andy was taking part in the Big G sportive in East Yorkshire.
Whilst descending a rider decided to draft him without notice.
Whilst travelling at over 35mph the rider behind touched Andy's wheel.
Andy was unable to complete Ride London.....bit tricky with a broken femur

The rider responsible will probably be touching your wheel next week  whilst at the same time Andy is facing a battle to keep his leg, his job and ultimately his dignity.

Riding like an idiot is one thing, taking responsibility for a resulting smash is even worse.
Sadly I am sure that this is a growing problem and believe that individuals and organisers need to wake up to the risks and take more responsibility.

I believe that to enter any Sportive you should be required to prove that you have 3rd Party Insurance
I believe that there should be an obligation to report any collisions or serious incidents to the organisers
If recklessness is an issue and serious injury has occurred the matter should be reported to the Police

I love Sportives - but hate riding with Muppet's

If your passionate about this issue please share and circulate

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mile High Club- Cycling the Rockies

Mamils (middle aged men in Lycra) are strange creatures and very unpredictable at times especially those from Yorkshire.
Whilst currently carrying enough weight to be used as ballast for a small coaster choosing the rocky mountains for a cycling holiday could be considered by some as foolhardy.
Others might consider the need for therapy or 'meds', but some would see the ironic and beautiful logic.
Like Patrick Swaize looking for the perfect wave  in Point Break I am always looking for that ultimate challenge.
To find a ridding environment that is so 'Bad Ass' that it wants to drag you off your bike and wear away your cleats as you march your bike up oxygen starved gradients.

Where you grimace and say No - despite averaging a speed something close to walking pace

Pedalling out your comfort zone is not for everyone though, many are happy to vegetate on the flatlands - grazing on an appetite of mediocrity and convenience.
I like my eggs hard boiled.
So at the end of September armed with one  bag full of trepidation and the other my trusty steed I took off to Denver, Colorado.
The healthiest state in the US and one which I now affectionately see as California at altitude only with better manners.

Adopting the mantra of 'When in rome'....... I took my cowboy hat, a must for this land of frontier folk.
Brave, brazen and incredibly cool.

I was hosted by the inequitable Rachel and Jamie Simpson and their son Owen - all of whom were generous of spirit, warm of heart and as mad as a box of frogs when it came to sporting ambitions. They made my  previous cycling exploits seem rather amateurish.

Rachel insisted that at least for 32 hrs we should get used to the altitude.
This consisted of eating, drinking and laughing.
Having become out of breath by merely turning the pages of my book, I thought this was a jolly good plan.

Providing an impromptu history lesson Rachel illustrated how the earlier settlers had to fight for their food and that there were no family privileges!!!!!!!!

Denver appeared to have a number of different attractions which were all far more accessible than the rationed oxygen.

With our allocated time in the altitude completed on the 3rd day (well 2.5 to be precise)
We ventured up 'Lookout Mountain'. This starts in the prospecting town of Golden and climbs about 1500 feet in about 5 miles.
The climb was easier than expected. I could not work out what took my breath away the most.....the View or reduced oxygen. Both were equally breathtaking.

After this short taster we drove to Red Rocks an amazing Ampetheatre cut into the rocks which has been one of the most sought after venues for all the great music acts since.
All my favourites had been there and I am sure they loved the venue as much as I did.

The Next Day was some riding in the Garden of the Gods down to the South near Colorado Springs under the shadow of Pikes Peak.
This national Part was staggering in its beauty and each vista reminded me of my boyhood when I would watch old western movies on a Saturday afternoon

I half expected to see the lone ranger appear behind every rock. The route around the park was only about 7 miles so we went around a few times. It contained one particular climb (below) where the gradient was more akin to Europe and it was the only time on the whole trip where death seemed a possibility. Half way up I started to hyperventilate, panicking that I could not get enough oxygen into my body. I did not wimp out and stop but just slowed down to as slow as I could and concentrated on my breathing. It was a defining altitude moment for me as it was a blueprint I used thereafter.
Pedaling to my heart rate.

With a couple of rides checked off Jamie then took us to Deer Creek.
When we told people about deer creek all raised their eyebrows and came back with what seemed a compulsory question.
High Grade?
Oh Yes High grade .....meaning the route up with the highest gradient.
There then would follow phrases I would more commonly associate with surfers or skateboarders I guess road cycling in Colorado is hip. Radical Man!
Deer creek was very tough. Jamie had read a couple of two inch novels before our arrival but seemed somewhat impressed that fat boys can climb.

The climb also gave us our first look at Mount Evans. At over 14,000 feet it was on our list but with a large dollop of snow on the top it looked as if we may not even get close to it.

Mt Evans

Our main event was on the other side of the Rockies in Grand Junction about 300 miles away.
The Tour de Moon
All though the journey was long it was a sensory overload with picture postcard views over every horizon.

Grand Junction was on the western side of the Rockies close to the Utah Border. It was famously home of the original Coors Classic bike ride and the location for the film American Fliers where Kevin Costner fashioned some unsuitable lycra.
The film also guest starred Eddy Mercx.
The town embraced cycling and we embraced the town.

The next day saw the start of the Tour de Moon and wearing our finest Mule livery we tried to prove that Mules can really climb in a sportive designed for the polka dot folk.

By this time we were fully acclimatised and we never let the Club down.
Each climb was accomplished where I personally managed to overtake 2 people to everyone that overtook me. Hitherto unheard of on climbs.

With little time for Photos, Simon and I did the main climb again after breakfast the following day.............just to prove that we did it.

On returning back to Denver we decided to give Mt Evans a go.
Although the snow had cleared from the roads it was freezing at that altitude and strong winds were forecast.

Although this huge mountain offered little resistance in the way of gradient the wind at the lower levels was over 30mph.
Once we got past the treelike approaching 12,000 feet it was over 50 mph and impossible to cycle safely.
Rachel smiled reminding me that the mountain would still me there next year.
She is right.
Do you hear Mt Evans........Ill get you yet.

As holidays go this was my best ever and I have had some great ones.
Although the cycling should have stolen the show what I loved most was the warmth and friendship I got from the adorable Simpsons
I already miss you lots