Archives for the month of: January, 2010

Sticky, sickly sweet, overpriced… Who hasn’t had a long, otherwise pleasurable, ride marred by the claggy-mouth of too much energy drink, or suffered the jittery after effects of sucking down caffeine-addled gunk in the heat of a race?

With all these energy ‘foods’ tasting so awful – and often producing various unwanted side-effects – it’s a wonder why we continue to buy them. But like many other products designed to improve our performance on a bike, the marketing men have discovered the cyclists’ Achilles’ heel – fear of failure. Read the rest of this entry »

There seems to be a general myth that bike racers are perpetually fretting about their weight, and what foods to allow into their finely balanced bodies. Admittedly that’s probably true to an extent, but there are those of us whose problem is not avoiding foods, but trying to get enough of it.

During periods of heavy training or racing it can become a chore trying to consume enough fuel to keep going. And for us skinny climbers we haven’t got a whole lot of resources to call upon when too few calories are hitting the system.

When getting home from a hard ride the last thing I want to do is fiddle about in the kitchen preparing something complicated. But then again, a frozen pizza isn’t going to fill the massive whole in my belly either! So this recipe is great – full fat, no holds barred, and easy to prepare in advance. A vegetarian version can be made by leaving out the pancetta and swapping the mascarpone for Gorgonzola. Read the rest of this entry »

The harsh winter weather poses a number of problems for the dedicated racing cyclist. You may have seen the recent Cycling Weekly 10-page winter riding special in their January issue. Or possibly the Cycling Plus 24-page full colour glossy pull-out supplement on surviving the elements? Or maybe the Cycling Active one-shot special mini-magazine with exclusive cut out and keep wall-mounted training schedule?

But if you’re still hankering after expert tips and advice on getting out on the bike during the miserable British weather, then below are my TOP TEN TIPSRead the rest of this entry »

Flailing elbows, jostling for position, novelty victory celebrations

Who of us hasn’t watched with a heavy heart the closing stages of a flat day in a grand tour as the plucky breakaway gets gradually reeled back in by the combined might of the sprinters’ teams? That horrible moment of the ‘catch’, with brave tired cyclists capitulating to the demands of the well-drilled bunch…

Maybe one courageous soul resists the inevitable just that bit longer, jumping away from his breakaway compatriots like a fish flipping out of the fisherman’s net… Only to be caught again a moment later.

I blame the sprinters for this unsporting cruelty. Those flashy ‘superstars’ of the peloton, who only poke their head into the headwind and the front of the race metres from the line. Those lazy spoil-sporting gits. Coasting in the slipstream of their teammates for 200km, only to bask in the glory on the finishing line. Read the rest of this entry »

For many cyclists power is where it’s at. Investments in expensive power meters with complex outputs measuring effort to the nth degree. Labourious toil in the gym working those quads or calves or whatever it is those guys do in there. But the cyclist’s real power is not found in bulging thighs, but in the head. No one is getting anywhere in bike racing without plenty of willpower.

I have skinny thighs - but worse, very little willpower. Lazy is my middle name.

At the start of a race you’ll always find me at the back of the bunch. The service car practically has to nudge me along, so reluctant am I to get going. The first 10 minutes always feel too fast to me. Don’t these guys know we’ve got plenty of time to do that? Why not leave the racing to the last possible moment, when we finally, absolutely have to?

Fortunately for me new scientific studies have shown that lack of willpower is not a sign that I lack character or grit, but that it’s just a general evolutionary flaw of the brain. The human prefrontal cortex – the bit of the brain that handles willpower – is underdeveloped, and is often overwhelmed by excess stimuli. Read the rest of this entry »

The turbo trainer was originally a rudimentary torture device dating from the Middle Ages. Historians believe it was used by Flemish sheriffs to punish misbehaving townsfolk, and was a popular alternative to flogging.

Early turbo trainers are quite clearly visible in the background of some of Bruegel’s lesser known paintings (see above).

At some point after the invention of the bicycle, the two contraptions of physical discomfort were combined and thence was born what we know today as the turbo (or ‘home’) trainer. Its form has changed subtly over the years and the mechanics refined over time, but the general principle has remained the same – a bicycle is locked into the frame with the back wheel pressed against a roller that applies resistance. The effect of this is a soul-destroying dissolution of the will to live within the participating cyclist.

Older models produced constant but uneven noises – a heavy whirring noise, peppered with clicks, creaks and squeaks. It’s not easy focusing on those intervals when you can’t even hear yourself count down the seconds.

More recent designs have become more devious however, operating almost in complete silence. Instead of the consolatory whirring produced by intense effort, now that intense effort produces… nothing at all.

And herein lies the rub. Sitting on a turbo trainer draws into relief the idea that cycling itself is a fruitless, purposeless pursuit. When going for a training ride you don’t actually travel anywhere in effect – you start at home, do a big loop, and then arrive at your destination, which is back home again. All that effort to go in a circle? You may as well have sat at home all along!

Turbo training is just a lesson in futility – pointing out that you spend your time cycling in circles, that professional teams are never going to be knocking at your door, and all your friends and work colleagues think you’re weird.

Needless to say, these are all things I hardly need to be reminded of.

Anyone who has stepped into a gym this past week will know that now is the time that New Year Resolutions are being made. For us roadie types this is a particularly exciting time of year – being generally prone to setting ourselves targets, then readjusting those targets to more closely match expected performance, then finally ignoring those targets in favour of establishing new totally unrelated goals that seem more achievable, even if only in theory… But January is when we really set the targets, when we’re really going to start doing that extra turbo session, to really stick to the training plan this time.

What’s even more exciting is that the weather is so foul at the moment that we can settle down and really concentrate on our plans for the coming season. Excel spreadsheets may well be a device in this process. Starting to write a blog may be another. Actually getting out on a bike and starting to train towards anything will have to wait for the time being – there’s simply too much planning to do.

For the record my resolutions are: to train better, to race better, and to get better results. And to get my hair cut on a more regular basis.

A mecca for all cyclists residing within spitting distance of London and its commuter belt, the Surrey Hills offer challenging climbs, pleasant rural roads, and most importantly, plentiful cake stop destinations.

The downside to all this picturesque riding is that the roads and lanes suffer in bad weather; prone to ice in the depths of winter, mud and puddles during periods of wet weather. So basically in the midst of this ‘cold snap’ it’s basically a no-go on a road bike. But generally rides out into the country are preferable to endless lapping of Richmond Park. And we all wave to each other too – must be something about being outside of London.

The good folk at my club, the Kingston Wheelers, have teamed together to produce a very valuable resource to anyone planning routes out to the hills. The map charts the various Surrey Hills landmarks – Horse Block Hollow, Leith Hill, Coombe Bottom – but more importantly a comprehensive cake stop listing. Doubtless it won’t be long before a Wheelers points system will be employed to rate moistness of carrot cake and piquancy of the brews on offer at each establishment.

Personally I’m rubbish at map reading, and will get lost no matter how detailed the directions. In fact, I used to get lost on my way to Richmond Park which is only a 15 minute journey. Recently I’ve come to terms with my incompetence, but found that it’s actually a great way to explore and discover. The added adrenaline – caused by the fear of never finding my way home again – also helps to add a little extra pace to my training.

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