a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Carnival day - race day - new bike day

Escaping the worst of winter weather even for a week is really good for moral even if returning just in time for the arrival of 'The Beast from the East' MetOffice was a bit of a shock to the system. Following a short blogging break to catch some sun and put the finishing touches to my winter training this week's post is a bit of a mixed bag - some Lanzarote pedalling the Arrecife Carnival, Croft circuit racing and the first view of my new race whip.

I upgraded my IPhone to the 8+ just before we went away, and I am really glad I did as the new camera is superb, the picture above was my first try using the new 'portrait mode'

This time last year I wrote a blog post on training in Lanzarote in which I described the island as 'a tough place for bicycle practice' - well guess what? ... it still is. I won't spend too much time rambling on about Lanza in this post, just a bit about my training which will lead nicely in to the second part of this post and the two opening 'races' of my 2018 season. If you want to read a bit more about cycling in Lanzarote here's the link to last years post LanzaTraining.

My plan for the week was to ride for about twelve hours in total over six days and taper a bit towards the end of the week, we were returning home on Thursday 15th and my first race was Saturday February 17th so I wanted to be reasonably fresh when I got back. My training plan was to do a three day block starting with a three hour endurance ride followed by two days of approx two hours incorporating some race specific efforts. I collected my pre-booked hire bike from the excellent Free Motion bike store Free-motion the day after we arrived and just did an easy ride to make sure the bike was OK and to flush the flight out of my legs, a gentle pedal along the cycle path from Puerto Del Carmen to Arrecife was ideal.

I was really lucky when I set of to do my endurance ride as five minutes after I left our apartments I met a group of Irish riders (above) who I started chatting too and who were happy for me to join them, although they were doing a considerably longer ride than I had planned. A grand set of County Wicklow lads they were too, I felt a bit sorry for them to be honest as this was their last day on the island and the first decent one. Their time in Lanza had coincided with the worst weather there for over twenty years, rain, hail and really low temperatures - so much for the luck of the Irish.

Arrecife Carnival

Another picture using portrait mode on the Iphone 8+. While we were in Lanzarote the Arrecife Carnival was in full swing and we saw it advertised as the next best carnival to Rio, which I thought was a bit of a bold claim to be honest. But it really did live up to the billing and was an absolutely cracking day out.

Above picture by my wife Sue of some of the spectators at the carnival, we plan on visiting the carnival again next year - but next time we are going to join in and go in fancy dress ... apparently.

Race 1 - February 17th

If you are out the back of the bunch it is a big help if you are riding with a mate. Above working with someone that I have raced with a lot Paul Sill from Manilla Cycling.

My season stated on Saturday the 17th February after getting back from Lanzarote on the Thursday. Although my intention this year is to compete almost exclusively in age group racing I decided to enter the last two rounds of the Velo 29 Winter Series at the Croft motor racing circuit which is only about 15 miles from home. These are handicap races run under BC rules open to all categories from 4th Cat to Elite and three groups set of at one minute intervals. The 4th Cat group are of first followed by the group that I start in of 2nd/3rd Cats and finally the 'scratch' group of 1st Cats and Elites. I would normally only race with 3rd/4th cat riders so these are not races that I expect to do well in or even survive in the bunch but they are excellent training, especially if I ride there, race and ride home.

This wasn't the best season opener I have ever had if I am honest and due to poor positioning in the bunch and lots of attacking (and partly due to having spent the previous seven days on the beer) I was dropped along with a few others after five laps. Our little group rolled round taking turns for the next five laps until the bunch caught us again and we hung on at the back until the just before the finish - not a great start to my season but could have been a lot worse.

Race 2 - February 24th

Richard Jones from RibbleProCycling. tests his legs at the Velo 29 Winter Series. Richard had just  got back from a tough ten days of training with the team in Calpe, Spain. You can read all about the team's training camp here Ribble-Training Camp 

                              Above - Early laps, still in the bunch mixing it with the young guns and trying to look composed.

Race two was also at Croft and as the weather was good I again opted to ride to the circuit and do a few warm up efforts on the way. In this one, although the average speed was nearly two miles an hour quicker the pace of the race was much more even and I was still 'reasonably' comfortable in the bunch with twelve of the fifteen laps gone. We had been caught by the scratch group at this point and the attacks had started, particularly on the cross-wind section of the circuit. I wasn't so much dropped but caught on the wrong side of a split in the bunch (well that's my story anyway and I am sticking to it) I did the final three laps in a little group and overall I was pretty happy how I felt and quite encouraged by my ride.

Above - My Strava HR analysis from the 24th at Croft shows that for 97% of the race I was in Z4 or above with 2 minutes 46 seconds in Z5, which is a lot of Z5 for me these days. It was probably during this Z5 period when the high HR alarm on my Xplova X5 Evo cycling computer was bleeping madly that some young comedian in the bunch behind me asked "Here mate is that your Pacemaker going off" - funny, very funny.

I rode in plain kit for my first two races in part because they were really only training days for me and also because my team bike was not due to be delivered until the end of February. My 'proper' season opener is on 18th March - see my post here AgeGroupRacing so that will give plenty of time for a few training rides to get my position dialled in on my new Ribble Aero 883

My friend and accomplished sports photographer Richard Sharpe of SI Events Photography who took these racing pictures is an ever present at Croft circuit - you can see more of Richards excellent work here. SIEvents
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 New bike day

My Ribble Aero 883 Custom arrived right on schedule on the 28th of February and I am just a little bit pleased with it. Ribble supplied me with the custom frame and fork and I sorted the rest, so you can't currently buy this specification. You can however spec your own 883 Aero on the Ribble bike builder Build your Ribble here and if you want the custom paint job you can buy the Ribble Aero 883 Pro Team Edition - see it here Pro883 the exact bike that the RibbleProCycling Team are using this season, complete with SRAM Red Etap and Zipp 404 wheels, without a doubt the best looking bike in the UK peloton - go on you know you want one.


Sunday, 4 February 2018

Polarised training - avoiding the grey days of January.

This January I only did two kinds rides, I was either training hard or pedalling gently to my favourite cafe and there was not much in between. Last month I rode 30 out of the 31 days but I definitely didn't train on all of those days and if you look on my Strava you will see that a lot of my rides were around 20 miles at about 14 mph. There was a reason for all those easy rides to the The-Mockingbird-Deli-Yarm and it wasn't just because I like the coffee and company in there. Those easy cafe rides were essential to allow me to recover from some really hard January training days.

                              Another freezing day on Teesside and this is the view I have 'enjoyed' for much of January.

Back in the day when I was a multi-sport athlete I followed a blog written by an American triathlete called Gordo Byrn Coach Gordo  I was really keen back then and unfortunately trying to emulate Gordo's fairly extreme approach to Ironman training eventually led me down the path of overtraining, although I didn't realise it at the time. This wasn't Gordo's fault of course but mine for being an idiot and simply trying to do too much training for too long and not listening to my body, a hard lesson to learn but learn it I did - eventually! Gordo did however provide me with a couple of gems of training guidance which I have not forgotten and which are particularly relavent to the way I am training at the moment. The first one was that your fitness is not primarily influenced by your overall training volume but is the outcome of the quality and duration of your key sessions. The second piece of guidance was that you should try to avoid the grey zone, that intensity of training that it is easy to do a lot of, that doesn't really do you much harm but that doesn't really illicit much improvement either. For the grey zone in this post I am talking about HR Zone 3 on the table below - in yellow just to confuse.

As my racing season approaches I have spent some time in the last few days analysing my January training a bit more closely than I have in the past and also comparing it to last year. So rather than waste the effort I thought I would share it on the blog. My recent post on the type of training an elite rider does in the winter proved to be quite popular 7 Winter Days. In that post I touched on what my winter training strategy was - basically hold the wheel of my son and coach Jack. I have also previously posted on fitness, here Simple Steps and diet and nutrition here Weight although to be clear I am not a coach or physiologist, I am a sports sociologist so when it comes to training advice I rely on Jack to keep me right, you can contact Jack for training advice at jack@neprocycling.com but as you might expect with a background in academic research I also like do things in training that are evidence based and the product of recently published, peer reviewed academic research. 

One of the sources I like for reliable training information is a sports physiologist called Yan Le Meur (YLM Sports Science) who produces really good infographics to explain the latest research. In his infographics he includes what the key message behind the research is and also the practical applications of the research. He summarises scientific articles into a single image by breaking down the research in to an easily digestible format, whilst still respecting the message and work of the original authors. These infographics are not intended as a substitute for academic papers but represent an effective way to stimulate peoples thinking and are particularly useful for those who don't have access to academic journals or who rarely read them. (There is a short bio on Yan at the end of this post)

Infographicfrom YLM - based on research carried out in 2014 illustrating that a polarised approach is more effective than, high volume training or threshold training. 

There is a lot of information out there on a polarised approach to training, the following link to Road Cycling UK explains it well Polarised and I particularly like this one from Phil Wilks of his own experience Polarised experience but for the purposes of this post and how I have approached it in practice is to keep things very simple by just minimising the amount of time spent riding in Z3 the grey area. (or yellow on the table above) by increasing the amount of time in Z4/Z5. In practice this means make the hard rides hard with a lot of Z4 or or even very hard Z5 and the easy rides very short and very easy Z1/Z2 - simples. I should say at this point that my approach to training in January has not just been a case of pressing harder on the pedals for longer. I have been doing varied race specific efforts which got harder as the month progressed, sometimes solo, sometimes with a group and often just by simply trying to hang on to Jack's wheel while he did his efforts.

                                 That feeling of relief when you are just about to get dropped and the level crossing gates close.

To illustrate the difference a polarised approach has made I have included using some numbers and screenshots from my Strava below. Last year my early season focus was the Tour ta Malta in April TtM which was a good early season objective and one which I was really motivated to train hard for, so my perception of last January was that I had trained really hard, turns out I hadn't - certainly not in comparison to this January anyway. Before looking at the numbers a quick explanation of the jargon.

The Strava Suffer Score is a Premium feature (you have to pay for it) and is an analysis of your heart rate data based on your own custom heart rate zones. By tracking your HR throughout your ride relative to your maximum HR a value is attached to show exactly how hard you have worked. The more time spent in the higher red Zones 4 and 5 and the longer you ride, the higher the suffer score. The Strava suffer score is based on well established science and is inspired by the TRIMP concept (TRaining IMPulse) developed by Doctor Eric Banister back in 1991.

So when I compared January 17 to this January the time spent riding and the overall mileage are pretty similar, but this January has been much tougher than last January and the Suffer Score is significantly higher because I adopted a much more polarised approach, hard or easy - not much in between.

The numbers:

January 2017 - Totals:   Hours - 57    Miles - 924  Strava Suffer Score points  - 1884

January 2018 - Totals:   Hours - 60    Miles - 968  Strava Suffer Score points  - 2688

When I looked at the amount of time spent I had spent in Z4/Z5 this January the difference was pretty significant to say the least.

January 2017 - Time spent in Z4/Z5 = 2 hours 58 minutes - 178 minutes

January 2018 - Time spent in Z4/Z5 = 8 hours  2 minutes -  482 minutes - an increase of 171%

Now I might have a PhD but I am happy to admit that I am not that great with sums so I have had my calculations checked and double checked - partly because I couldnt quite believe it either !

Why is the Z4/Z5 percentage increase so massive ? Here are a couple of examples of the difference in Suffer Score between two similar rides when the amount of time in the GREY zone (Z2/Z3) is reduced.

Below a 52.7 mile ride from the 22nd of January 2017 in a small group and fairly typical of my long rides last winter, with way too much time spent in the 'grey' zone. It didn't do me any harm but with the benefit of hindsight it probably didn't do me that much good either. Suffer Score 77, time in Z2/Z3 - 2 hours 45 minutes, time in Z4/5 - 10 seconds !

Below a very similar 50 mile ride from the 20th January 2018 with a similar sized group. Suffer Score 147, time in Z2/3 - 1 hour 38 minutes, time in Z4/5 - 55 minutes. No surprise that I described it as grim but you know what they say 'it doesn't have to be fun to fun' and I am certain it was much more beneficial and specific to the demands of my upcoming races Age Group Racing. Probably no surprise that the following day I just rode gently to the cafe.

Below - My winter training group and a bit of a mudguard issue for my team mate Will Corbett from Team Ribble and after being dropped on a big hill another opportunity for me to drag myself  back to the group.

Take home messages:

1. Train with others if you can, ideally with the fittest people you know. Its easier to get into Z4/Z5 if you are desperately trying to hold the wheel of fitter/younger/more experienced riders.
2. Leave your ego at home and accept that you will be dropped you will get used to it - I have.
3. If you are fortunate enough to have more than one training option - choose the hardest one.
4. Train hard - recover - repeat.
5. Drink a lot of coffee.

Below: Actual footage shot today of me being dropped again (04.02.18). Video was  taken with the in-built camera in the X5Evo smart cycling computer from Xplova that Ribble Pro Cycling are fortunate to be using this season.

Racing starts for me this month and my early season priority race is the four stage LVRC Tour of the Abberleys in Worcestershire over the bank holiday weekend 5th - 7th May, hopefully my January suffering will result in some decent form by then.

Bio - Yan Le Meur
Yan gained a PhD in 2010 on the performance factors in Olympic Distance triathlon and subsequently
worked at the French Institute of Sport as a sports scientist. He is currently employed as the scientific advisor at AS Monaco Football Club, his role there is to provide monitoring, training, recovery and rehabilitation advice to improve the performance of the team.


Sunday, 21 January 2018

A cafe worth racing for.

The name of this blog came from a comment by one of my study participants when I was researching the sociology of cycling for my PhD. It was an extract from a Facebook status inviting riders to a group training ride and it ended with the comment 'the ride will conclude with the inevitable race for the cafe' and it was a bit of data that went straight in to my thesis - along with a long winded sociological explanation obviously. (LINKS here to previous posts with some extracts from my thesis for those who have trouble sleeping Strava and here Prisoners here Violence and finally here Kudos )  

The words used on the FB status are important because they illustrate the competitiveness that inevitably emerges when racing cyclists train together but it also demonstrates the centrality of the cafe as part of the cycling experience. My study paticipant didn't say 'to the cafe' but 'for the cafe' the inference being that the cafe wasn't just the destination or end point it was also the prize (for the first to arrive) and also the reward for participation.

To cyclists the cafe is important even if it's not being raced for, cyclists don't just visit cafes they have a need for them and cycling is an activity that has a need for them too. Cycling cafes make cycling happen and we need great cycling cafes to help cycling thrive. Cafes are meeting points from which to start rides or somewhere to take a break during rides or as the end point of rides, the destination, the reward or maybe even the prize. Cycling cafes are not a uniquely British phenomenon either, where ever you go where cycling is enjoyed as a sport or leisure activity there will be cycling cafes and spending time in them is part of the cycling experience for me and a lots of others. See my post here on the best cycling cafe in Girona, Spain La Fabrica

A few weeks ago wrote a post on the very popular discipline of cyclocross in the north east of England Cyclocross and during my research I came across a bunch of guys riding in fairly prominent black/white and pink kit who provided me with some really useful insights in to the thriving local CX scene.The guys were riders for the Pedalling Squares Team who represent a cycling cafe in Swalwell, near Gateshead just south of the river Tyne. I had heard of Pedalling Squares but never actually visited partly due to the fact that it's a little bit out of my normal pedalling range.

Curiosity got the better of me and last week and I paid a visit to Pedalling Squares PSQ by car and killed two birds with one stone by dropping my girls off at the nearby Metro centre, thus avoiding the dreaded January sales but also getting to pay my first visit to a cafe that was voted one of the top five cycling cafes in the UK by both the Financial Times and the Daily Telegraph.

I keep refering to cycling cafes which Pedalling Squares is but, it is also so much more. In terms of it's style the place has a very simple retro/re-cycled feel about it and if you do arrive by bike you would feel very comfortable in your cycling kit. You can even bring your bike inside and if its in a real state they will jet wash the mud off for you while you have your food and coffee... seriously! The cafe is not just for cyclist's though and has quickly established itself as something of a community hub and meeting place in the Gateshead area, with walkers, dog owners, running groups and rugby teams all taking advantage of the relaxed and friendly atmosphere, muddy boots and dirty kit are definitely not an issue here. 

The cafe is situated in a former 19th century brass works and also houses the appropriately named Brassworks Bicycle Co. Brassworks compliment the cafe by looking after your bike while the cafe looks after you. Brassworks offer servicing from just £15.00 and for smaller jobs you can enjoy a coffee while Patrick (below) works his magic, with a portion of onion rings @ £1.50 whats not to like ?

Patrick also re-cycles and refurbishes pre-owned bikes in an attempt to encourage people to ride and live a healthier lifestyle by providing cheap bikes and helping the environment by encouraging sustainable travel. Patrick has real a passion for steel and vintage bikes and loves to get classic bikes back on the road.

Eric Murphy from Pedalling Squares is a self-confessed bike geek with a particular passion for the Grand Tours. His idea for the cafe came from an existing buisness selling cycling caps and retro cycling memorobillia. Pedalling Squares is now a bit of a one stop shop for cycling kit as they also run a custom jersey business with Adrian Murphy, Eric's son taking care of online activities. Eric and Adrian have loads of plans to develop Pedalling Squares even further, they recently opened an event space/venue and photographic and film studio upstairs called the White Space Studio WSS and coming soon to Pedalling Squares is an artisan bakery. 

I must be honest here and confess that I didn't actually have anything to eat on my visit as I was meeting the girls for lunch but, from what I saw the food looked tremendous and I loved the cycling themed menu. I really liked the look of the 'Sagan' pananini, baked ham, swish cheese, chutney and baby spinach, but if a burger is more your thing you can have 'The Armstrong' spicy chicken burger with relish and rocket served on a brioche bun. There is a veggy option too with the 'Cavendish Garden Burger'. The menu is really comprehensive with 'Giro D'Italia' and 'Nibali' sharing boards which you can follow up with a 'Belgian' waffle - cyclists food in every sense. Did I mention the coffee? they all come double shot as standard, this really is my kind of cafe.

I am definitely going to venture up there on my bike in the summer, I will pick a nice day and hopefully get to enjoy the outside seating area (above) like the crew from South Shields Velo, a really welcoming and enthusiastic club, I am a bit biased here though as some of my friends are members. SSVCC . Incidentally SSVCC have their smart club kit supplied by PedallingSquaresCC  now there can't be many cycling cafes that can do that !

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Dealing with danger: The Normalisation of Risk in Cycling.

I haven't posted much cycling sociology recently so this week I thought I would use some research to try and explain how cyclists deal with the ever present risk involved in cycling on the roads and the liklehood of crashing. Also included for added value is a selection of some of my own painful mishaps. Some of the first research on this topic was done back in 1999 by an eminent American sociologist called Edward Albert. The data that Albert used was gleaned from interviews with racing cyclists, accounts of cycling accidents and articles related to cycling accidents from cycling magazines. As a result Albert's findings are as relevant and valid today as they were in 99.

Edward Albert was an experienced amatuer racer himself and as such his research was conducted as an 'insider'. He decided to carry out his research after a minor racing crash caused him to question his own willingness to continue to risk injury. He was encouraged by his team mates to get back on the bike as soon as he could and that was the starting point for his study. Crashing is just one of those things that happens in cycling that you have to accept, especially in races and as the saying goes 'there are only two types of cyclist - those who have crashed and those who will crash' and I certainly fall in to the former category.

When 2017 came to an end my annual mileage on Strava fell a few hundred miles short of what woud have been my biggest ever year. The reason for the shortfall was that I hardly did any riding in May following a crash in a race on May 1st and I spent the next few weeks recovering from three fractured ribs. In a similar way that a crash caused Edward Albert to question his future participation, I too re-considered the next steps in my cycling career following this accident. (See my see my post on age related racing here LVRC/TLI)

When the inevitable happens cyclists have developed a way of dealing with it and several layers of taken for granted meaning inform the short question on the 'T' shirt in the above picture. The mock concern for the bike can be understood as a way of glossing over the way that accidents, when they do happen represent a sobering reality and remind us of our vulnerability and this can be quite disconcerting (as it was for Albert and myself). Even if a rider is injured concern for the bike represents a demonstration of commitment to the sport, an acceptance that crashes are inevitable and an assertion that they will ride again and that nothing less would be expected by their peers. An obvious variation on this question is the seemingly insensitive enquiry from a friend - 'never mind about you - is the bike OK?' which again is an affirmation that that as a serious cyclist there can be no question that the fallen rider will be back on the bike ASAP.

Sometimes accidents happen due to the conditions and even though half expected they can still come as shock. In his research Albert found that the resolve to ride again was a constant theme in accident accounts. He found that crashes were regarded as opportunities to exemplify the core values of the sport and the inherent toughness of its participants. This response to crashes is a symbol that affirms a claim to membership and serves as a right of passage in to the social world of cycling. These values are repeatedly demonstrated in professional and amatuer racing alike, as almost regardlesss of the severity of the crash, there is an expectation that the race will go on and that fallen riders will try to continue.

On other ocassions accidents are due to the actions of idiot drivers which is what happened to me when I had my 'Big One'. I was struck by a car while out training, resulting in an acromioclavicular dislocation of the shoulder and some titanium souvenirs. An additional bonus was the pleasure of the turbo for the next 151 days, and no unfortunately the bike wasn't OK, in fact it was a total write off.

In his research Albert described the car/bike relationship as 'the elephant in the room' of cycling. He observed that many cyclists see their relationship with motorists as contentious and adversarial. It's certainly true that any experienced rider that you speak to will have a stock of stories relating to encounters with drivers who, intentionally or unintentionally, had put them at risk. In his research Albert found that these accounts tend to have a matter of fact quality about them and are regarded as merely having conversational value, even though an account might begin with a comment such as 'I nearly got killed the other day'. This type of comment as every regular cyclists will understand is intended to defuse the reality of riding on the roads so as not to interfere with future participation. Since we have all experienced incidents of this type these comments also serve to attribute a taken for granted quality to near death encounters.

Crashes in races are generally theroized as ordinary occurences too, something to be expected and the expression 'thats bike racing' is often used to normalise crashes. When a crash occurs in a race it is usually construed as being attributable to somebody or something. Sometimes crashes occur simply due to equipment failure as in the incident above of a tubular tyre rolling from the rim. (Picture from my friend Steve Craig). 

Sometimes race crashes are unattributable and are simply chain reactions which result in what Albert describes as 'reaction accounts' of what ocurred, with each rider justifying his own actions simply as a reaction to what other riders did. Participants can formulate their own accounts of what happened and following race crashes riders will often comment that some of the riding was 'sketchy' or 'scarey' or make comments such as 'I knew something was going to happen'. After races in which a crash (or crashes) have occured small groups of riders gather to discuss what happened and in doing so both exempt themselves from any blame and at the same time re-affirm their own 'thats racing' belief. 

Here we go again, this one was a racing accident and its time for the obligatory post crash A&E selfie followed by ten of the NHS's finest stitches. The location of the Middlesbrough Cycle Circuit was clearly considered very carefully by the planners, its almost right next door to a hospital - handy that.

Another racing crash, I am the rider in green in the centre of the picture but this one happened behind me and I avoided the carnage which made a nice change.

Its not just when racing that crashes happen. If you are a regular on group rides then almost inevitably a crash will occur at some point as result of the inexperience, carelessness or stupidity of other riders and all three were evident in another one of my 'get downs' which happened on a group ride from Puerto Pollensa in Majorca. (See my post here PollensaCycling for a more recent Majorca trip that I managed to get through without falling off) 

We were riding along a straight road in pairs in a group of about a dozen riders when a local rider, lets call him Pedro decided that it would be a good idea to move to the front along the inside. I was riding on the inside of the group and as he passed me he hooked my bars and took us both down in to a rock filled drainage ditch at the side of the road. This had the effect of spoiling a really good day out and certainly wasn't the ideal thing to happen on the first day of the family summer holiday. 

Pedro was carted off in an ambulance with what turned out to be minor abrasions. Me being the idiot I am decided it would be a better idea to press on with the group and ride the 30 miles back to Pollensa. When I finally got back I struggled to even get off the bike and I am not sure how I managed the stairs to our first floor apartment, turns out climbing stairs is bit tricky with a fractured pelvis. In the above picture a bit of Spanish road rash and some good old British holidaymaker ingenuity as the apartment sweeping brush is transformed in to a crutch using my ruined cycling shorts - Top Tip here folks, always take a roll of black electricians tape with you when you go on a cycling holiday to Majorca.

The next day I was supplied with some proper crutches from the hospital at Muro and we hired a wheel chair so I could 'enjoy' being pushed around the resort for the rest of the week. This was the nearest I got to the beach on that holiday but I did manage to struggle to the bar a few times, purely for medicinal purposes obviously.

The overall conclusion that can be drawn from Albert's research and this post is that road cyclists do not court risk for it's own sake. Rather, due to the inherently risky nature of the activity we have accepted the dangers and incorporated them in to our subculture as taken for granted normal occurences, an unfortunate but central element of what we do and of what it means to be a cyclist.

So to all you lucky blog readers who have never had a 'get down' - just stick with it people it's going to happen eventually, it's just a matter of when.


Reference: Albert, E. (1999) Dealing With Danger: The Normalization of Risk in Cycling. International Review for the Sociology of Sport. 34(2), 157-171.


Sunday, 17 December 2017

The cyclocross scene in the north east - winning isn't everything

Next month sees the culmination of the UK cyclo-cross season the HSBC UK National Cyclocross Championships to be held over the weekend of 13/14th of January Hetton Nationals. The championships are at Hetton Lyons Country Park in the north east and promoted by Hetton Hawks Cycling Club I have been wanting to do a post on the CX scene in the north east for a while so I thought I would do it now before the big event in January. 

Ian Field five times British Champion in action at last years National Trophy event held at Hetton Lyons Country Park

Another great shot from last year's national trophy event at Hetton

The well established Cyclocross North East (CXNE) series, backed by British Cycling, is the high profile side of cross in the North East. CXNE has it's origins in the North East Cyclo Cross Association which was established in the 1950's. More recently the energetic team at CXNE have undertaken a re-branding exercise and introduced chip timing technology to bring the sport right up to date. CXNE take their resonsibility as organisers very seriously and insist on high standards of behaviour to ensure that their Sunday cyclo-cross races are safe enjoyable and that the racing takes place in a positive environment. Each event is organised by volunteers and designed to test riders technical, physical, tactical and social skills and winning is not regarded as the main priority.

An alternative to the CXNE events are the races run on a Saturday by NECCL (North East Cyclo-cross League) who are affliated with TLI Cycling TLIcycling- see my previous blog here on age group racing Age Is Just a Letter. These races are run on a much smaller budget and offer an alternative, slightly more low key but equally well organised race series. The NECCL races are popular because of the sheer simplicty of the events which are raced on a wide variety of courses. Both organisations offer competition that is friendly and family orientated and the lucky cyclo-cross riders of the north east have a massive choice of events to choose from. If they are prepared to double up on a weekend and race Saturday and Sunday between September and January a keen cyclocross rider in the region could potentially do a 25 race season without travelling much more that 60 miles from home. It doesn't have to be expensive either, the NECCL keep the cost of racing as low as possible with seniors racing for just £7.00 (if they are TLI members) under sixteens race for £3.00 and the under twelves pay just a £1 - great value.

A team that typifies everthing that is good about the north east cyclo-cross scene are the boys from the Pedallling Squares Peleton. The team only got together this season and are very easy to spot in their pink/black/white kit, designed by Adrian Murphy from Pedalling Squares - Cafe/Bar/Kitchen

In their first season the guys have very quickly developed a really good team spirit. I was chatting to Philip Addyman from the team (third left - above) and he commented that "the atmosphere in the team is just right: not too serious and no pressure, yet everyone is quietly motivated to do their best."

Above Philip Addyman battling it out with someone who definitely is a winner, north east cyclocross star and U23 GB International Anna Kay who will be racing on the road for Storey Racing in 2018. Here racing at the NECCL Saturday 2nd December event at Gypsies Green Stadium in South Shields.

Another picture of Anna Kay left competing today at the Telenet UCI World Cup at Namur in Belgium  Namur-UCI-CX  and top right twin sister Megan (who by coincidence works at Pedalling Squares PSQ) racing cyclocross in the colours of Hetton Hawks. Confirming that cyclocross in the north east really is a family affair, bottom right we have dad Bill also a keen racer getting airborne on his MTB.

I also got the opportunity to talk to Stuart Whitman from the Pedalling Squares Team (above) and I asked him what it was about the team and the NE cyclocross scene that he enjoyed. 
"Cracking camaraderie! We don't take ourselves too seriously and go racing because we really enjoy riding round muddy fields for an hour in the freezing cold ! Don't get me wrong we race to win, but learning, failing and persevering makes us better people. We are also realistic and we support each other and have a laugh. The NE scene is great because of the family atmosphere at the races and the way that it encourages people to get in to racing, especially the youngsters. Having two strong leagues is obviously a key factor as we are spoiled for choice when it comes to different venues and we have really varied terrain to race on, from common land in the suburbs to farm land in the hills"

Team morale is clearly high in the Pedalling Squares squad no doubt helped by great backing by Eric from PSQ.  At a recent, very cold race he brought along thermos flasks of coffee and flapjacks for the riders when they finished, nice touch. Rumour has it that this handsome Pedalling SquaresCC  key ring in a gift box was recently awarded to one of the team for a 5th place finish ... its just a rumour though.

The final round of the NECCL series was held yesterday at a very nippy Hetton Lyons Country Park. on a course that was still partially frozen. The team from Pedalling Squares were well represented with Eddie Halstead (above) on the grid toughing it out in shorts and looking very cool and calm before the start. A good day for the PSQ squad with Philip Addyman making it on to the third step of the podium - well done Phil, got to be worth a key ring surely?

Just to prove I have actually done a bit of cyclocross myself, above pre-beard when I was racing for Adept Precision NEHS and clearly loving it? I have to come clean at this point though and admit that my cyclocross career only extended to two races. This picture was taken on my cyclocross debut at Preston Park in Stockton. I suffered like a dog for the whole thing and was lapped by everone in the field after somehow managing to bend my chain on the first lap. I thought, don't let it put you off, so I entered another one. The course for my second race included log obstacles, a really steep hill and even a massive muddy puddle that they expected us to ride through ! That was it for me - the cyclocross bike went on E bay and somebody got a cracking bargain ... apart from the bent chain of course.

I couldn't write a blog post on the NE cyclocross scene without including a picture of this lad, one of the most popular riders in the region, my friend and team mate at Ribble Pro Cycling eleven year old Joel Hurt. Here is Joel winning a cross race and definitely looking like he has been riding through muddy puddles ... way tougher than me is this fella ! 

UK Blog Awards 2018
Thanks for reading and also for your continued support. Almost unbelievably the blog has now had over 200,000 page views and has been nominated in the Sport and Fitness category of the UK Blog Awards 2018. If you would like to vote just follow this link: UK Blog Awards 2018 this bundle of theraceforthecafe merchandise will be going out to one lucky voter. Thanks again - Tony

Sunday, 3 December 2017

7 Winter days - what an Elite rider did and why he did it.

This week the focus is winter training. This post co-written with my son Jack is a bit longer than normal but there is some good stuff here that should be helpful. Jack is an Elite rider, a British Cycling Go-Ride coach and in his 'spare' time is the Boss and founder of Ribble Pro Cycling. Jack is also my coach and my main training partner, although the word partner is slightly misleading as it might conjure up a picture of us riding along side by side happily chatting through the monotonous steady winter training miles - that is definitely not what we do. Why no conversation? you might wonder, well two main reasons, firstly I am not strong enough to ride alongside Jack (more on that later) and secondly due to his work commitments his training time is severely restricted so his rides are very focussed. Sometimes apart from 'Bonjour' when we meet there is hardly a word exchanged until the training is done and we stop at our favourite cafe on the way home for a coffee.                                                                                                                                               
Saturday 11th November 2017 - Endurance

On Saturday the 11th we caught up with friends and former team mates by joining the Adept Cycling Saturday ride, above Jack in blue on the left at the rear of the group. For the first 30 minutes we rolled along in a big group of 15 or so riders before five of us formed a smaller group to do a longer ride and things got significantly harder. We took on a rolling route around some lanes that we had not ridden for a while which made a nice change but it was quite 'grippy' at times. Below Jack's Strava entry for the ride and link here Endurance with Adept

Jack: Endurance ride with a small group; cafĂ© stop after 2 hours 30 minutes followed by 45 minutes at a higher intensity to up TSS (training stress score). I use the Training Peaks  software Training Peaks to monitor all of my training as it gives me access to a huge database of information to compare previous sessions and performances. I look at the performance manager tool daily to gauge training stress over the shorter and longer term in conjunction with listening to my body and amending sessions depending on how I am feeling on any given day. 
Note: TSS is a composite number which takes in to account the intensity and duration of the training undertaken, providing an estimate of the overall training load and associated physiological stress produced by the training session.

                                                      Above - Jack's Training Peaks Performance Manager Chart (PMC) 

Jack: The purple line is ATL (acute training load) indicating short term training effect. The blue line is CTL (chronic training load) indicating the long term effects of the training done over the previous 6 weeks.The yellow line is TSB (training stress balance) the difference between CTL and ATL from the previous day.

Sun 12th December - Resistance efforts.

We took advantage of a gap in the weather to do a two hour ride with a strength building focus. This was a session where I was 'hanging' on Jack's wheel throughout. At least the efforts were completed and we had made it to the cafe before Jack picked up a puncture. Above - changing the tube outside our favourite cafe The-Mockingbird-Deli-Yarm

Jack: This was a shorter conditioning ride with 3 x 5 minute resistance efforts @ 260w, alternating 3 minutes @ 55-60rpm followed by 2 minutes @ 95-100rpm. Training to power allows me to control and monitor each training session and maximise every minute on the bike which is really important when trying to juggle work and other commitments. Resistance efforts help to develop seated power and muscular endurance. Maximum of five minutes in duration and at a power just under my CP20 (20 minute critical power - an all out effort only sustainable for 20 mins) alternating time at 50-55rpm with time at 95-100rpm afterwards to focus on pedalling technique.

Monday 13th November - Rest

Jack: I always have one day off the bike a week for mental as well as physical recovery. During the first phase of winter training I incorporate some off-bike resistance work, mostly unloaded using bodyweight exercises that work on the posterior chain muscle groups and help to address any imbalances.

Note: See my post on training principles and the importance of recovery here Simple Steps

Tuesday 14th November. Two hours with 30 minutes @ tempo.

Tuesday was intended to be a two hour session but time constraints caused it to be a bit shorter. The main element of the ride was a 30 minute block at 'tempo' (see below). Jack retained his BC Elite licence this season by accumulating over 400 points, I on other hand am a 62 year old 3rd Cat who didn't pick up a single point, as a result we are a couple of levels apart - three to be precise ! For my strategy to address this issue next season see my post here  Age Related Racing.  My objective for these sessions is to hold on to his wheel for the duration of the effort - sometimes I manage it sometimes I don't. This means that on the majority of our rides Jack is effectively training solo and as result getting maximum benefit from his limited time on the bike. For a closer look at the ride follow this link Jack Rees | Team Ribble - Strava

Jack:  Aerobic conditioning underpins the ability to develop a deeper level of fitness. This is perhaps a slightly older school of thought but one that works well for me, the deeper the level of condition the more stable and consistent my form is during the race season. This was a conditioning ride with a 30 minute block of Tempo at 262w. Tempo/sweetspot is a time efficient zone, boosting training stress and increasing anaerobic threshold. 

Wednesday 15th November. Group endurance.

On a rare Wednesday off Jack wanted a 4 hour endurance ride so we met up with a few friends including Will Corbett from the Ribble Pro Cycling team. Next tear Will be moving in to the team's senior squad and riding his first season as an under 23. Will has developed through the team’s structure and had some impressive results as a junior, he is now able to take and respond to higher training loads and is just about to start training with power which no doubt will help him too improve even further. Also joining us was full time pro rider and former team mate Ben Hetherington who also developed through Jack's team structure. You can read the full story of the evolution of the team here Not Just Racing For The Cafe . Ben is an extremely strong rider who is training hard for his second season with UCI Continental team Memil Pro Cycling Memil . Also pictured from our regional team a good friend and one of my regular training partners Dave Atkinson who was short of time so could only stay with us for an hour or so before heading back. The rest of us decided on an out and back route in to the Yorkshire Dales with most of the climbing coming in the first half of the ride.

                      Jack on the left, Will Corbett in blue along with Dave Atkinson and Ben Hetherington on the right.

Jack: A day off Work, so did a 75 mile endurance ride with a group of four. We did 5 minute turns focusing on seated climbing. I like to train solo or like this in small groups so that I can control the intensity. Ideally I try to back up conditioning days like this with more conditioning the following day to increase training stimulus but if that’s not possible I try to complete the next day at a higher power output. 

Above in the Yorkshire Dales climbing up to the village of Downholme on a climb called Wallburn Head, a 1.2 mile ascent with an average gradient of 4%. I am grimly trying to stay in contact with Jack and Will while Ben was clearly not under any pressure as he dropped back to do a bit of Instagramming, training with pro's - they make it look easy !

Thursday 16th work on the bike

One of the advantages of Jack's job as a British Cycling Go-Ride Coach is that occasionally he can combine working with riding his bike. On a Thursday evening he works at the Middlesbrough cycle circuit coaching the best Junior and Youth A&B category riders in the region which makes for a fairly intense hour.  

Jack: On bike coaching at the Regional CCT (Club Cluster Training) some unstructered efforts above 400w+ when working with the group of riders. Some Vo2 / neuromuscular efforts during the session too. It's good to include some very high intensity efforts within the overall week. These efforts complement the more aerobic focused training, increasing FTP (Functional Threshold Power) and helping to retain an element of sharpness even during the “off-season” CTT Coaching

Friday 17th Getting it done.

Below Jack's TT bike or as he calls it 'The Goat', not sure if that's an affection nick name to be honest. Jack did this ride solo, I think I must have been washing my hair or painting my nails or something. I am not a big fan of 'The Goat' either truth be told, riding behind him when he is on it is grim and makes it extremely difficult for me to hold his wheel, there is definiely not much shelter to be had sitting in behind 'Aero Boy'.

Jack: I aim to ride the TT bike at least once per week during November and December, usually a 25 mile loop spending as much time as possible in the TT positon. Included in this ride are 2 x 10 minute blocks at 230w to increase the TSS of the ride
The Goat story, back when cycling was based more on panache rather than aerodynamics and numbers Alejandro Valverde not so affectionately referred to his TT Bike as “The Goat” as it sat in the corner of his apartment and was never ridden. This attitude has of course now been turned completely on it’s head in the pro ranks with the GC riders and TT specialists riding the TT bike for up to 7 hours a week throughout the year.

Saturday 18th November: A long work day so no time to train.

Above new for the coming season Jack's Ribble 883 Aero with power meter.

Sunday 19th November: Lumpy for strength and condition

This was a tough Sunday morning ride for me for sure. We rode north on quite a tough route, no really big climbs but a lot of long drags. On the return leg we had a long straight run south along the B6275 a road that was originally built by the Romans - apparently. Its a great section of road to ride with a tail-wind but on this day we had a strong cross wind from the west which meant grovelling on Jack's wheel was even harder than normal. Jack wanted three hours to the cafe in Yarm which we almost got but then after our coffee he decided that we should go the long way home and do a 'test' on the way back, great idea... not. Below and through the link my Strava entry.  Lumpy for Strength and Endurance

Jack: Another ride for conditioning, a heavy frost overnight so did a big main roads loop. As it was a stand-alone ride following a rest day I rode at a higher base intensity than I would normally during a block of training. I didn’t do any specific efforts in the first part of the ride just kept the pressure on. Stopped after 2hours 55 minutes of riding for coffee. After the cafe stop I did a 45min loop home included within that was a block of 10mins @ 240w and shorter threshold block as a benchmark test @ 311w. Threshold a very time effecient effort level,  start with short blocks and build as the winter progresses and fitness improves. Good to compare power figures with efforts of the same duration from different periods of the year – benchmark every week, month etc.

Jack's seven training days over this nine day period added up to 316 miles 16 hours 44 minutes of training with an accumulated TSS of 913. If you want to get in touch with Jack he is easy to find on FB, Instagram or Twitter.

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