a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Women's Cycling: Bloomers, Boompods and Barriers.


I have been meaning to do a post on women's cycling for a while as there is a lot going on in the sport at the moment and I thought good place to start would be with a very quick look back at the history and significance of women's cycling, followed by a feature on a really up to date cycling team, my friends from the Boompods/Edco/NRG squad, finishing up with a quick a look at some of the barriers to the success of women's cycle racing that are yet to be resolved. 

The role of the bicycle in the history of the emancipation of women has often been overlooked by historians, but in the latter part of the 18th century the bicycle provided women with freedom that they had never experienced before, and not only the freedom to travel but the freedom from the restrictions caused by the billowing dresses and skirts which were the fashion convention of the time. Over a hundred years ago Alice Hawkins a member of the suffragette movement caused public outrage by cycling around Leicester wearing bloomers to promote women's rights. Subsequently during the fight for the vote the bicycle became a powerful symbol of the emancipation of women.

Victorian ladies enthusiastically took to cycling, even though they had to had to deal with many social, political and material challenges to their freedom of movement. Cycling in everyday dress was potentially dangerous as long skirts would get caught in the wheels. Loose fitting trousers or 'bloomers' soon appeared which allowed much greater freedom of movement, however they caused an uproar across society with some men even signing pledges not to associate with women who wore bloomers.

The right to dress as they wished has always been at the forefront of the women's rights movement and cycling was central to it. In 1881 the Society for Rational Dress was formed in London, opposing womens's restrictive clothing. Cycling was at the heart of this movement and cycling groups began to form across the country as more and more women began to wear knickerbockers and bloomers for cycling. This was regarded by some to be an affront to public decency and the image of 'the new woman' with her bicycle and her bloomers became a figure of ridicule and scorn. 

The bicycle and cycling eventually led to a change societies attitude to health, fitness and exercise and helped to prove that women were not to quote Dr William Fowle in 1826 "feeble and helpless" American suffragette Susan B Anthony later claimed that the bicycle had "done more to emancipate women that anything else in the world"

In a future post I will be looking at some of the significant figures that have contributed to women's cycling and cycle sport over the years and also some of its current stars, but for now to bring things right up to date a look at a team from the north east of England who are really making an impact on the sport Boompods/EDCO/NRG  -  'The Team that Rock'


A couple of weeks ago I went along to a photo shoot with some of the riders from  Boompods EDCO NRG organised by PR specialist and team founder Tony McDonagh of Manilla PR A great location had been picked for the shoot, a subway in central Middlesbrough with plenty of 'industrial' back drops to use. It was, I have to say absolutely freezing, although the conditions seemed to be more of an issue for Tony and myself than for the girls. Tony is involved with team in several areas but regards his main role as being on the sponsorship side of things. 

                                    Some of the riders: Jen Batey, Chloe Gladders, Ellen McDermott and Olivia Fawcett with Tony

The team was conceived in the autumn of 2016 based on a perception that there were lots of talented riders in the region but what was lacking was a pathway from their club participation to high level racing. Initial success came as a result of the fantastic commitment from a small group of riders in the team's 2017 debut season, helped and supported in no small part by sponsor EDCO wheels. The targets for the team were deliberately set very high in terms of the UK racing scene and as a result Boompods have rapidly become the 'go to team' in the north east where talented riders can achieve their ambitions.

                                                                                     The BoomPods/Edco/NRG squad for the TdY

This year, working with Boompods who Tony describes as "one of the most supportive sponsors a team could have" has enabled the squad to reach the ambitious levels set for them at the outset in only their second full season. It has just been announced that the team will be competing in the most prestigious event on the UK calendar the Asda Women's Tour de Yorkshire TdY which for 2018 is over two gruelling stages on the 3rd and 4th of May. Stage one is a tough 82 miles between Beverley and Doncaster and Stage two starts in Barnsley and follows an equally challenging 82 miles to the finish in Ilkley.

May is going to a be a really busy month for the team as straight after the TdY they will be competing for the first time in the televised OVO Energy Tour Series Tourseries. The team will be contesting all seven rounds of the series starting on the 10th May in Redditch right through to the final round at Wembley Park in London on the 29th May followed by the Grand Final at a location to be announced shortly.

       (above) Sarah Walker in the thick of the action on her way to 6th place at the Active Fakenham  Criterium on the 1st April.

                                       Some of the talented Boompods juniors L-R Marie Lynn, Olivia Fawcett and Anna Armstrong

                                                        A picture from the photoshoot and it's a strong look from the Boompods riders.

I know several of the girls from the Boompods squad from the north east cycling scene and because I raced with some of them at last year's Tour of Malta (my blog posts on the race here: Malta-1 and Malta-2) Hannah Farran from the team is also a good friend who I regularly train with. Above Hannah racing in awful conditions last month at the tough Oakenclough road race in Lancashire.

In the cafe last week I had chance to chat to Hannah about the team. There is a great atmosphere around the squad and one of the first questions asked her was how the team had managed to develop such a good team spirit so quickly "The team began with the ethos of 'we got this' which was originally an Instagram hashtag used by one of our sponsors, Continental Tyres, CONTI however it soon developed in to the ethos of the team. We have always played to the strengths of everyone and we like to think that one of the main reasons why we have been successful. All the riders contribute to the team in more ways that simply riding their bikes"

When I asked her about the teams racing strategy Hannah summed it up well  "The BoomPods approach is to always race aggressively and try to win but have fun doing it. Somebody recently commented that the team 'seemed to be punching above their weight'  which is probably accurate but that's because we are passionate, ambitious and most of all determined to have fun racing our bikes"


Ellen McDermott of Boompods on the grid earlier this month preparing to race against some of the biggest names in the sport at the Ronde van Gerwen Criterium in Holland (on the front row left to right) Dutch rising star Puck Moonen of Lotto Soudal, alongside 2016 Olympic Gold medalist and multiple classics winner Anna van de Breggen of the Boels Dolmans team and on the right Dutch National Champion and winner of the 2017 La Course by Le Tour de France, Annemiek van Vleuten of Michelton Scott. 

I started this post by highlighting how cycling has empowered women and has been a site of social progress throughout it's history. But it is also clear that cycling and cycle sport specifically has also been a site where women have been socially constrained. Women's cycling is in a better position today than it ever has been but two big issues still dominate the sport: under investment and an underlying culture of discrimination within the sport. 

It was announced recently that women riders in the 2019 Tour Down Under will receive the same prize money as their male counterparts, although this is a big step forward there is still a huge pay gap in the sport. There is no minimum wage for professional female cyclists and as a result female professionals are lucky if they earn half as much as their male peers. Another issue is distance and duration of races which are limited in women's races under UCI rules with road races restricted to 130 Km and time trials to 40 Km. Also lacking is equality of coverage of women's racing, more coverage would attract more sponsors which in turn would bring more money in to the sport.

Change will come for sure, but in the meantime look out for 'THE TEAM THAT ROCK' this summer having fun racing their bikes ! 

Boompods latest!                             

A good day for the Boompods today with a one two in the Tyneside Vagabonds Spring Criterium, at the Middlesbrough Sports Village. Hannah on the top step with new signing Amy Graham second and Nikki Metcalfe of Prima Team Racing completing the podium. 


Sunday, 8 April 2018

Learning a lesson: From the Cavern Club to the Pain Cave

Here is something I learned recently: Spending the day before a bike race on the drink in Liverpool  after abstaining from alcohol for several weeks in order to perform better in bike races is not conducive to peak performance the following day in the bike race that you have travelled to Liverpool to compete in ... well surprise, surprise (as Cilla used to say)

I haven't raced on Merseyside before but I have visited Liverpool a few times and enjoyed the city every time. When I mentioned to my wife Sue and daughter Ellie that I was racing nearby we decided to make a weekend of it so they could get in some Sunday morning retail therapy in Liverpool One while I was at the bike race - good plan. The only snag is whenever we are in the city it's become a bit of a tradition that we 'pop' in to the Cavern Club. So pop in we did, but I was absolutely adamant that I was only going to have one ... or possibly two beers, famous last words !

If you are ever in Liverpool a visit to the 'The Most Famous Club in the World' should be on your list of things to do. The Cavern with its vaulted cellars, memoribilia covered walls and intimate atmosphere has been at the heart of the Liverpool music scene for over seventy years and everyday of the week there is live music from mid-afternoon until late in the evening. One of the acts performing at the Cavern this time were the Pre-Amps a young 4-piece band from Newcastle Upon Tyne. They specialise in covers from the 50s and 60s, from The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Small Faces, their set was brilliant, a real retro experience and they had the place absolutely bouncing. I even got up and did my best Mersey Beat Dad dancing, oh it was special! (video available on request) 

After a short stop-over back at our hotel we spent the evening down at Albert Dock. A really nice meal at the impressive Gusto restaurant and inevitably a couple more drinks and by the time we hit the fresh air to stroll back I had come to the inevitable conclusion that - yes, it was going to hurt in the morning for sure.

The race was the Town Green Masters at Bickerstaffe about thirty minutes from Liverpool city centre giving me just enough time to eat my breakfast banana and drink some petrol station Costa en-route. The race was organised by Brian Rigby of St Helens CRC who along with his team had put in a lot of work preparing for the race, as it was a new circuit that had taken three years to get sanctioned. I was particularly impressed with the colour coordinated bike rack they provided me with for my Ribble Aero 883, nice touch that I thought

This was a British Cycling event with two races on the same circuit, a 40+ Masters and my race the 50+ Masters. This was the only BC organised race that I am doing this year as I have previously posted that my season will be mainly focused on age group racing organised by the TLI and LVRC where I will be competing in the 'E' Category (60+) so even before my over indulgence in the Cavern I wasn't particularly optimistic about my chances in this race (just as well) especially as the start sheet included quite few BC 2nd Cat riders.

A picture from the day by my cycling photographer friend Ellen Isherwood. I think this was on lap two and although I appear to be breathing quite hard I was still reasonably 'comfortable'. You can see more of Ellen's great cycling pictures on her Instagram gallery @ellenisherwood 

The race was six laps for a total distance of approximately forty miles. The circuit was fairly flat but with no hedges or trees so it was very exposed. The first three laps were spent with the race mostly in one long line with some huge turns done by one particular rider, John Agnew from Lune CC although he was making the race hard he didn't manage to cause a split. During the early laps my heart rate was a few percent higher than I wanted it to be but I was managing to hold a reasonable position and not in any danger of being dropped - then the attacks started. There was a bit of a lull on lap four and I moved up to about tenth to try and get maximum shelter and create a bit of 'sliding space' and it was at this point that I started to believe that I might actually survive and get round in the bunch. My confidence was misplaced though as a couple of minutes later a big attack went on the right hand side of the road and I was immediately grovelling to get on to a wheel - any wheel ! A little gap opened up which soon became a couple of bike lengths and that was it, the bunch was disappearing in to the distance. If you have ever been 'out the back' in a bike race you will know that it seems like just a few seconds after you have been dropped the bunch appear to slow down and for a brief moment you think you can regain contact - you can't and I didn't ! That was it, resigned to the last two laps solo, you can see my race data here Strava.

                                                                     Picture Credit @ellenisherwood

No need to look for your's truly in this picture as I had already been off-loaded by this point, but you can see that a few people were hurting on the exposed sections of the circuit. Although it wasn't particularly windy it still had an effect when the strong men at the front decided to put the pressure on. When I though about it later I didn't remember seeing any of these fellas in the Cavern Club the day before... funny that. 

                                                                Picture Credit @ellenisherwood

The race was decided on a sprint from a small group of six who had escaped on the final lap. The winner was Andy Bennett of Omnipex Bio Race RT with Simon Deplich of Team Chronomaster/Leisure Lakes Bikes second and Karl Smith of Bott Cycle Team third.

Another Sunday another race

                                                           Picture Credit: @ellenisherwood

Above - Today (08/04) I raced in a TLI road race race at Bashal Eaves near Clitheroe in Lancashire which was round one of the eight race Lapierre Series. So I was racing in the Ribble Valley on my Ribble Aero 883 for Team Ribble. I arrived at the race fresh after a good week of preparation, clear headed and raring to go, managed to sneak in to the top ten and picked up some series points - I even did a few turns on the front !


Sunday, 25 March 2018

Home town heritage.

This week a look at the cycling heritage of my home town Stockton-on-Tees, a town with a history going back to 1138 which if you have nothing better to do you can read about HERE on Wikipedia. I won't bang on too much about the town's history but before I get on to the cycling stuff I have to mention a couple of notable events from Stockton's past:

In 1827 the friction match was invented in Stockton by local chemist John Walker, unfortunately he didn't bother to take a out patent on his invention and he didn't actually make any money from it - so maybe old John wasn't such a bright spark after all - not impressed? What about the first ever rail journey by a steam engine? In 1822 George Stephenson's Locomotion Number One travelled between Stockton and nearby Shildon, an event that was to change the world for ever, now you must admit that was a biggy.

                            One of John Walker's giant matches and my Giant bouncey bike on Stockton-on-Tees riverside.

Before I get to Stockton's cycling heritage first a little bit of historical context just to set the scene. The earliest years of the existence of the bicycle saw not only the development and manufacture of a new machine and form of transport but also the rapid development of a brand new sport. 

The first recorded bicycle race in England was held in the meadow of the Welsh Harp Inn, Hendon near London in 1869. Bicycle racing soon became a regular attraction at horticultural shows and athletic meetings which frequently also included exhibitions and sales of new bicycles.

Stockton's Clubs

The first cycling club in Stockton-on-Tees was formed in 1878 at a meeting held at the YMCA in Dovecot Street. The club badge was the Stockton emblem of the castle and anchor and the club uniform was designated as a cardinal blue blazer and a straw hat with a blue band. The joining fee was fixed at one shilling and sixpence and the Stockton Cycling Club was born.

The bikes of the time were Ordinary's, also known as Penny Farthings or High Wheelers. The cost of an Ordinary was about £4 which probably put them out of the reach of most working class people. However, the Stockton Cycling Club owned a bicycle, there is a reference in the club minutes that it was donated by a Mr H Newburn and this machine could be borrowed by members to practice on for a small charge.

The Ordinary was not easy to ride and somebody had to hold it steady to start a novice rider off. There must have been a certain amount of enthusiasm to practice riding as the club decided to acquire a wooden machine (which presumably was cheaper) which the members could use for free, and a rule was introduced that only those who had learned to ride on the wooden machine could mount the High Wheeler.
On Good Friday 1878 a trial run was organised to the nearby hamlet of High Leven to make sure that all those who intended to ride on the Easter Monday were capable. The first official 'Club Run' from Stockton-on-Tees took place on April 4th 1878 and went to Mount Grace Priory, Stokesley and Great Ayton, a route that is around thirty miles with a few lumps along the way and a fairly tough ride on an Ordinary I would imagine.

Stockton Cyclists in 1910 wearing their straw hats and blazers. There is still a thriving cycling club in the town and Stockton Wheelers which formed in 1916 currently has over 300 members. You can find out about their current activities HERE - SWCC

Stockton Wheelers members of all ages enthusiastically getting proceedings underway at the annual Stockton Cycling Festival which this year is over the weekend of 15th-18th July, full event info HERE Stockton-Festival
Stockton's Bike Brothers

Any account of Stockton's cycling heritage has to include a mention of the towns well known bike builders the Taylor brothers. Jack Taylor started making light weight racing bikes in 1936 and was later joined in the business by his two brothers, Norman and Ken. In 1942 Jack bought a plot of land in Church Road in Stockton and despite war time restrictions which meant that they were only allowed to use £100 worth of building materials the brothers managed to build their own workshop on the site.
Above the Taylor brothers outside their Stockton factory, each of the three brothers invested £20 in to the business and with it they bought as much bicycle tubing as they could afford from the Reynolds Tube Company.

In the post-war years Jack Taylor hand-built bikes were in great demand. At its peak the company employed nine people but by 1986 only the three brothers remained. Even then interest in their bikes was still high and the BBC made a short film about the brothers and their bikes called appropriately 'The Bike Brothers' - you can watch it on Youtube  HERE  TaylorBrothers

                                                      A classy Jack Taylor lightweight with its distinctive curved seat tube - remind you of anything?  

I wonder if renowned bike designer Gerard Vroomen  (definitely not from Stockton) who founded Cervelo in 1995 with his partner Phil White was inspired by a Jack Taylor in his youth ? Vroomen is now part owner and head of design at 3T  and responsible for their Strada model (above) check out his blog HERE GVBlog there is some good cycling stuff on there.

Stockton's Finest.

Any blog readers who can remember the UK racing scene between the mid 70s and the 90s will know of Stockton cycling legend Paul Curran who began his career with Stockton Wheelers aged 14. Paul went on to win virtually every big race on the British calendar, not to mention the Commonwealth Games Road Race in 1986 along with the team time trial. On the continent he won stages of the Tour of Normandie and the Circuit des Mines. Paul was a genuine all-rounder who could win on the track, in time trials and on the road. You can see all Paul Curran's major results here PC-Wiki

Above - Paul Curran competing at the World Amatuer Road Race in 1985, his career came to a premature end in 1996 when he suffered serious injuries in an accident with a motorcycle at the Tour of the Pennines. Paul still lives in Stockton, still rides his bike and is still involved in the cycling scene in Stockton as Chairman of Stockton Wheelers and running a bike shop in the town PaulCurran-Cyclesport.

So, Stockton on Tees, my hometown and a pretty good place to live if you are a bike rider and I haven't even mentioned the nearby iconic training routes of the North Yorkshire Moors, the Yorkshire Dales and Upper Teesdale ? I will do a blog post sometime.  

And Finally - #UTA - Up the Anchors

Another big event in Stockton's sporting heritage happened yesterday when Sockton Town FC won the second leg of their FA vase semi-final against Marske United and are off to Wembley on Sunday May 20th for the Buildbase FA Vase final.

Thanks for reading.

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 !
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