30 July, 2013

Sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail.

Kreiz Breizh Elite turned out to be a bit of a crap tour for me. I went into it with pretty big ambitions, really good form and, apparently, some bad luck. Stage 1 was a slightly intimidating 200km monster, a good hour longer than the races I’ve become used to, but in the end it wasn’t at all bad. 

I had fantastic legs and that always makes for fun racing. I was getting stronger and stronger as the stage went on which was cool. Unfortunately a break that went quite early on had all the big teams in and that was that, so I tried to save my legs for the TT the next day.

The next day came and I got up bright and early to fit in everything, including a super-duper long warm up routine to get the previous day out of my legs. I should have saved my breath! As I rode from the team bus to the start line I punctured the disc wheel I’d borrowed. One slow wheel change later and there goes my starting time. 

I set off nearly three minutes late on a normal rear wheel and went at about 90% to get round within the time limit cut-off. For those that don’t know, there’s a stage time limit which was the winners time plus 25%, so I couldn't hang about. Again I had amazing legs, and minus my late start, I wasn’t far off winning pace despite cruising the final few k. Let’s just say I was ‘disappointed’.

Lads on tour sheltering from the deluge, just before Stage 3.

Stage 3 was a shorter afternoon affair and after surviving the killer opening circuits around a 4k town loop on the narrowest, slippiest lanes, in a huge bunch, in the pissing rain, we were off. It was fairly fast all day, but was controlled by the leaders Rabobank, so I contained the urge to do something stupid and sat tight. With a lap to go, around 8.5km, on the finishing circuit I attacked. No one came with, so I blasted through the line solo with a handful of seconds. 

Attacking the lead-out trains.

Unfortunately I was caught about 3k later, just before the top of the long steady climb by various teams riding for a sprint and from there I just came in with the bunch. I was glad to show my face and a bit of my form anyway.

The final stage was another wet one and having had stomach ‘issues’ in the evening before and then the morning I didn't have high hopes. I tried to get in the break but didn't manage it and then I went downhill from there. I couldn't really eat as I was feeling rough, but I had to make myself because you can’t ride 175km on just air.

Getting around.

I went out the back door about four times but I’m becoming fairly satisfactory at riding the convoy now, so I got back on okay. I should count my blessings as I avoided a pretty nasty crash coming onto the circuits when 10 guys including those in front of and next to me decked it at 50kph. I was happy to finish a pro race against some pretty good teams and not feel at all out of my depth. For the time being I'm going to rest up and get over this stomach bug.

Happy to see the finish line.

22 July, 2013

When life gives you lemons... Kick life in the face, get your head in the game and cycle real fast.

Like I said last post: the form, it returneth! And so with it does my happy face. I'm glad to say my form is on an upward trajectory now after suffering through the stage race last week and yesterday I reaped the rewards. I got a solid second place at race number three of Ronde Finistérienne which took place on a pretty fast 5km circuit.

"Oh is that a split? Better close that..."
"Oh good, back at the front. Hang on... Who just dropped that wheel?"
"I mean really! Okay, no panic. Back up there with the front group again."

Despite riding one of the most atrocious tactical races ever, in the world, since time began, I was strong enough to compensate and save a result. Perhaps I was a little rusty after my little break but I'd like to think I was unlucky too, as both the series leader and the best young rider missed the decisive splits. My 'unfortunate-ness' basically meant that I had to ride across to a 30 rider group, alone. Then a 20 rider split, with just three others. Then when the eventual winner attacked I missed it AGAIN and was forced to chase behind with two others. In the end it got a bit desperate and I had to drop them on the final climb in a last ditch attempt to shut down the solo leader. I bought his lead down from 30 seconds to about 10 seconds in 3km, but it was too late. I watched him celebrate the win just ahead of me, like he had been all day. Sickening.

"Really glad that Nantes Atlantiques guy was allowed to escape... Gahhhhh."
Getting some 'alone time' in the final lap, chasing furiously.
You are never too strong to suffer.

Still, I'm pretty excited about my rejuvenated strength and chuffed, may I modestly add, that my tan was up there with the best of them! Thanks sun!

I kept up my daily record of being behind schedule for the podium too! Oops, sorry!

15 July, 2013

Tour des Deux Sevres

Wow! What a busy couple of weeks. I returned to France last Monday night and being a man, I began packing on Monday afternoon, one hour and seventeen minutes before I had to leave for the ferry. Amazingly I didn't forget anything too major. Just passport, helmet, shoes, bike... Jokes! The night ferry was as fantastic a life experience as ever and I disembarked on Tuesday morning having racked up a solid zero minutes of sleep. Still, France was sunny and fresh and all new to me again.

Ferries: don't forget your pillow!

Onwards to Wednesday and I was on the road again, returning for a second year to the Tour des Deux Sevres. Last year I was 3rd overall so I was looking forward to it, although having been 'en vacance' in England for a while it was going to be a bit of a form tester as my first race back.

After the team presentation on Wednesday night, where you basically get kitted up and get on stage in front of some wrinkleys for five minutes, the race proper kicked off on Thursday lunchtime with a solid 165km. It was hot and little did I know it was going to get hotter! After a pretty mental four hours it all but came down to a gallop. Two blokes escaped just off the front by six and three seconds respectively. I did a fair bit of suffering to hang in the front quarter for the whole day; energy wasted unfortunately.

The time trial was the next morning and I was hoping the legs would return as the tour went on. As it was, they were coming back but I wasn't exactly comfortable in the TT and after nearly stacking it on the final corner I came in 3rd, eight seconds back. I was disappointed but kept reminding myself that I had been off the bike with illness not long ago. Anyway, the afternoon stage was only 88km and so sure to be fast and furious, you would have thought. Well it wasn't at the start! We pootled around with various nutters trying to clip off unsuccessfully early doors and in the end it came down to the inevitable bunch sprint, despite my best attempts at slithering off in the final few kilometres. The circuit had several technical bits but also some nice smooth, wide roads perfect for a big ol' gallop. Naturally the finish line was 50 metres after the most dangerous set of corners. I kept the bike rubber-down and myself out of the ambulance so... Successful day!

Best 2nd category rider = podium time.

Day three and 110km in I thought I'd try and win the cycling race. At this point I was 3rd on GC, a mere eight seconds back. I countered an attack over a climb, Sam was with me and we forged a group of 15 or so guys. We got 40 seconds and I was yellow jersey on the road but we got shut down by Nantes Atlantique, the strongest team in the race. We tried. Hard. When we got to the finishing circuits, having been away for about 15km going full whack I wasn't feeling so splendid any more. A small group ground off the front nearing the final and I couldn't make my legs work to get me there. I lost nine places on general classification very quickly, down to 12th overall. Gutttttttteddd.

Worse smile everrrrr as I slip down the GC.

Nothing to lose in the final stage then. I was only 29 seconds down, but with riders from two strong teams ahead of me it wasn't going to be a doddle. My plan was to sit tight all day, clip off at the end and use others to win the stage and maybe move up on general too. Easy peasy. The problem is: cycling is never easy. If it's easy, you're not doing it right! There was a humoungous crosswind section after about 5km and, obviously, we didn't get told about this. Cue: massive shredding of the peloton. I was in the second group and thinking that was race over I broke my own personal racing mantra of 'Never Panic'. I panicked. I tried to ride across a 30 second gap, to a group of 35, with one other guy. Cyclists will understand what this situation means well. It means you've lost your mind! To any normal people imagine the pain of shutting your finger in a door. Then imagine doing this to the beat of a song, or the beat of your pounding heart, repeatedly squashing those digits. Left crack, right crack, left crack.... Foolish! We didn't make it and then, and THEN, it came back together later anyway. Oh man, I was happy about that. I toasted my legs and then we all got toasted later by mother nature. It was 37 degrees and there was a hot wind; people were bombing out left and right. Again a small group escaped annoyingly late in the stage, about 4km from the finish but I couldn't get there. 

I suppose cycling has a few perks.

I finished the tour 10th overall, which isn't bad and I got plenty of podium time for being first 2nd category rider which is all good fun. My tan is looking sick and the form is returning, which makes me happy.

The final podium.

04 July, 2013

Nordic Life clothing

Nordic Life is a British based company set up by a guy called Rhodri, who had an idea. Having lived in Norway and embraced the outdoor lifestyle, he realised that high quality kit is very important when facing nature’s elements day in, day out during various sports. Nordic Life’s philosophy is to judge a product purely on performance and functionality, not on reputation, and this means that they can collate the best products from different companies. This makes it really easy for us, the consumers, because if you want a new pair of bib shorts or an undervest you can be certain that you’re getting the best quality product. I was lucky to meet Rhodri a few weeks back and I loved his enthusiasm for the sport and for how he could help me as a rider. He gave me some products to try out which I’ll talk about in a moment.

The products which will be of most interest to cyclists are, first up, the obvious ones: bib shorts and jerseys from Capo, a company which designs in the US and produces in northern Italy. To me this gives the perfect balance of new school thinking and old school heritage. There’s a great range of thermal hats too which are sure to come in handy for when the winter weather gets a bit biblical! A less obvious, but arguably more important product (certainly for me as I have team kit which I’m obliged to wear) are the undervests by Brynje.

My experience of Nordic Life so far is with Brynje undervests, three of which I’ve tried. First up is the ‘super thermo C-shirt’ which is quite a thick mesh vest. It was pretty warm if I’m honest and for me, a naturally sweaty bugger, I need a vest that primarily wicks well and cools. That said, I went out on a colder day for a 6 hour ride recently and it rained intermittently throughout. I unzipped my jersey to allow airflow when it was warmer and when the rain came down I zipped up and kept the heat in. It performed well. My personal favourite is the ‘super micro C-shirt’ which is a thinner mesh vest, and thus not as warm as it doesn’t trap as much air. It’s a great fit and the best vest I’ve ever had; I would definitely recommend it. I’ve also got a thick mesh vest with a wind blocking sheet on the front but I haven’t used it yet because in these muggy conditions at the moment it’s not ideal!

I’m getting some Capo kit to try out in training soon so I can’t wait for that, and of course I’ll give my feedback on here! I think the Norwegian phrase on their website sums up Nordic Life perfectly: “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes”. With a motto like that you know, in good weather or in bad, you’re in safe hands.