Archive | July, 2013

Five reasons why you should watch the Tour de France

7 Jul

Sprint finish Tour de France1. It’s incredibly exciting watching. Stick to the highlights between 7-8pm on ITV and you’ll see the best of that day. Unbelievable sprints to the finish line, incredible strength up steep mountains, stunning scenery and splashes of vibrant colour in the various team kit. Not to mention the nail biting carnage of the crashes and unplanned chaos such as the support bus getting firmly stuck under the finish line, with riders at 60k an hour just 3k from the end. You’ll be on the edge of your seat.

2. You learn about science. ITV do a brilliant job of explaining the how and why behind cycling. Why it matters to sit on the wheel of your team mate (the energy you save by riding in their slipstream is substantial), how close you need to be to make the most of this advantage (very), why the team sprinter who will win the stage is kept in the middle of the pack until the last minute (so he can conserve his energy). You realise how strategic and tactical the sport is – mental as much as physical.

3. Cyclists are hard bastards. Sure, Murray may play for three hours to win Wimbledon, but these guys are on the bike for five plus hours NON STOP. They eat, drink and pee on the bike, battling several thousand metres of ascent in the mountain stages and riding on the flat at an average of 50k an hour and downhill at up to 100k. That’s some serious speed. And they do this EVERY DAY for three weeks. It takes not just physical prowess, but pure mental determination and focus.

4. Mark Cavendish (speaking of physical prowess). Need I say more…

Mark Cavendish

(P.S. Ladies, if you do want more, check out the Bangable Dudes in Pro Cycling blog. The site consists of carefully selected photos of good looking professional cyclists (opinions are subjective). There’s something for everyone, including a heavily bearded CX cyclist and some mountain biking dude riding in just his gold speedos. Er….)

5. In the spirit of equality, I asked the men in my household what they thought. Their answer: crashes and sprints (as covered above) and the girls on the podium… an outdated, sexist tradition of having two beautiful women on either side of the podium as that day’s winner recieves his jersey and gifts… Really?!! Do they have men at the podium for the women’s Tour de France I wonder???

Dan Martin podium girls

If all the above is not enough, this year is the 100th Tour de France, so it’s the perfect time to get into it. It only happens once a year, so make the most of the next two weeks. And if you really enjoy it, you’ll have the Vuelta (the Spanish version), the Giro (the Italian version of the Tour de France) and the Classics (one day races) to watch as well.

You’ll also be able to appreciate why there is so much controversy around doping in cycling and whether it really is possible to achieve first place through sheer human athleticism, or whether you do need some additives.

Oh, and if you’re confused about the various colour jerseys and what they mean, there’s a brilliant explanation in this article from the Financial Times. Here’s an excerpt:

Then there are the jerseys: the semaphore of the Tour. The overall leader wears the famous Yellow Jersey (or Yellow Jumper, as I pitifully managed to refer to it on my first Tour). The Green Jersey is worn by the rider who manages to sweep up the most “points” on offer every day. You get a certain number at the finish line, and a certain number for an intermediate “sprint” en route. The Polka Dot jersey goes to the rider with the most points in the King of the Mountains competition – much like the Green Jersey but only available to collect on mountainous stages. The White Jersey is for the best young rider overall.

Any more ideas???

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Race Report: FT & Human Race London Cycle Sportive

1 Jul


Team FT“It’s a shame they don’t have a 130k route” I remarked to Jonny as we set off on the medium length, 100k FT London Cycle Sportive . “The long route of 160km is a bit much, but I would happily do something in between”. Well. Be careful what you wish for…

It couldn’t have been a more perfect day for the ride. 26 degrees and the most glorious summer day we’ve had all year (I have ridiculous tan lines to prove it), minimal wind, blue skies. Perfect cycling weather. 2500 cyclists gathered at Dulwich Park in South London to start the route, choosing from 50k, 100k or the epic 160k ride. There were around 20 of us from Team FT, sporting custom made kit from Le Marq (somebody later said we had the best kit of the day and I tend to agree). The crowd was mostly men and, ladies, I’d like to point out one of the good things about doing a mass participation event which is 80% men is that there are barely any queues for the portaloos. It’s the little things.

Sportive startWe set off in 10 minute waves, all very orderly and organised, after a short race briefing: “stick to the road rules, watch out for fellow cyclists, enjoy”. After the unavoidable stop/start route out of London, 15k or so through Cyrstal Palace and Streatham, we reached the delightful narrow country lanes of Kent. I was struck at how little distance you have to travel out of London to feel miles away from the city. We’re talking rolling green meadows, lush green hedges, colourful flowers, cows, horses, sheep, red brick houses dotted throughout the fields. The slim roads are undulating and at the top the views are gorgeous. It’s great riding, and there was brilliant comradery between the cyclists as we sped along in loose pelatons with the usual shouts of “Hole!” “Car up!” “Slow!” etc.

Heading into KentWe’d programmed the route into our Garmins but needn’t have done as it was clearly marked with huge red arrows. These navigated us across the North Downs and up the steep incline of Biggin Hill until, after about 50km , we reached the first feed station. Nobody prepares a feed station for you on a training ride, so this was a real treat. The wonderful people from Access Sport, who the ride was in aid of, were giving out energy bars and drinks, jaffa cakes, jelly babies, bananas and delicious home made flapjack. There was even a mechanic truck on hand to help with ailing bikes – it was a seriously good set up.

Refuelled and rehydrated we set off again – and this was where things started to go wrong. The trusty red arrows seemed to be pointing in various different directions, confused with yellow diversion signs, and Garmin couldn’t find us anywhere. Eventually, the red arrows and the yellow diversion signs just ran out and Garmin blinked nonchalantly, totally off route. Cue lots of lost, confused, hot, sweaty cyclists trying to figure out where they went wrong. Some were trying find the route from a mix of printed paper maps (so old school) and others shaking non-responsive Google Maps frustratedly on their phones. As the group got larger there were varying reports of which direction was right, but we were all reluctant to head downhill in case we found ourselves having to retrace our steps upwards. Talk about the blind leading the blind. In the end we set off for Dorking, certain that this would lead us to Box Hill eventually where we’d find the course.

Box Hill lookoutThe bad thing about losing your way on these roads is that while it is possible to get back on track, you usually end up along some busy A roads rather than the pleasant country lanes. Which is what happened to us as we wound our way down into Reigate. We passed through the town, added an extra 15k to our ride, and eventually Garmin stuttered to life as we grew closer to the route. A well spotted left turn down Old Street Lane and we were back, happy red arrows leading the way once again. It later transpired that some BT road workers had changed the arrows as they were doing some highway maintenance and needed to put in a diversion. They didn’t think to tell the Human Race guys, who had set up the route hours earlier and had no idea their directions had been tampered with. Cheers, BT.

And so on to Box Hill and its gentle climb upwards to the best lookout of the day. It was a hive of activity at the top and we stopped for the obligatory photo shoot. A cycle sportive can be so different to a running race – stopping is more acceptable and timing isn’t as crucial as so many factors including hills, traffic lights and weather impact on your total. So after another bite to eat we set off, home straight now back into London. It’s a fast, flat and downhill road back from Box Hill, lots of fun. The ride came back into town via Croyden, uninspiring to say the least after the prettiness of the Surrey Hills. I’m sure there must be a nicer route back in.

The finish line was at the Herne Hill Velodrome, London’s oldest operational Olympic venue and where we were lucky enough to go track cycling recently with Team Sky’s Ben Swift. It truly was the sprint finish of a champion, turning sharply onto the track and racing round as fast as possible to cross the finish line in elation. A brilliant way to end and as you crossed the line you not only got coconut water and refreshments, but a shiny new medal to wear on the way home.

Bron and KateA massive thank you to the organisers and marshalls, many of them volunteers giving up their weekend to make the ride safe and enjoyable for everyone. I’m superbly proud of fellow cyclists Bronwynn and Kate today too (in photo to the left). Bron only bought her bike two months ago, so 100km today was a fantastic achievement. And Kate’s only ever ridden two other 80k+ rides and has been battling a cold all week, so was equally strong. Final stats were 115km with 1,152m of ascent, and by the time we added on 20km to and from home, my earlier wish of a 130k ride was well and truly fullfilled. Next time, I’m doing 160km…

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