Sunday 24 September 2017

Back to Beccles and Bank and Some Musings (LGD -231 Days)
Sunday 24 2017, 102.4 Miles

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Well hello there. First up apologies for the silence. I realise it’s been 3 weeks since I last posted a report here. You might even have thought that I had gone to sleep, or worse still, given up riding! Well, neither’s true. I haven’t been asleep, apart from the standard nightly 8‑hour quota, and I certainly haven’t given up riding. Since I lasted posted a report on 2nd September I’ve ridden about 800 miles – mostly shorter (50ish miles) with a few sessions on my turbo trainer in the garage.

The shorter rides have all been local ones and pretty routine so I didn’t want to bore you with inconsequential trivia! Hah! Whilst turning the cranks on the turbo I’ve watched a couple of episodes from Season 3 of Y Gwll (Hinterland for those who don’t speak the language of heaven). Y Gwll is a bit like a Welsh version of the acclaimed Scandi-thriller, The Killing and is set in Aberystwyth and the surrounding countryside. I know the area quite well as I used to work out of an office in Aber in the early 1980’s. Our office was just a few doors along from the building which is used as the police station in Y Gwyll.  So, it’s quite fun to watch and certainly makes alleviates the potential boredom of pedalling hard and going nowhere!

I’ve also been really busy for the last few weeks. Some work for clients – yes, I do actually do some work from time to time for a small and select group of clients who keep me in inner tubes, chain oil and other riding essentials. I’ve also been working on the final stages of the top-secret project which is now close to completion with the launch looking likely at the end of November. Much of this has involved working with a designer. I’ve learnt the hard way that a Pantone can manifest itself in several shades depending what the colour is being applied to. Anyway, I hope to be able to sign-off the final design in the next few days and I am expecting the near-final prototype very soon too. So watch this space as my lips are sealed.

A couple of days ago I went to the cycle show at the NEC in Birmingham. This is a chance to get close to and sometimes handle the latest bike porn. It’s also a good opportunity to catch up with Uncles Andrew and Pasq and Aunt Lucia on the Bianchi stand. This year the Bianchi display was splendid with the product full range on display. Several of the bikes were being shown off in the new 2018 colour schemes and equipment configurations. There were lots of people milling round the large stand admiring and, in one case literally drooling over the bikes. I was pleased to see that celeste was still the defining feature of the stand although black seems to be the contrast colour of choice for 2018. Also on display was the SF01. This is the result of a new collaboration between Bianchi and another iconic Italian company, Ferrari. The SF01 is based on the Specialissima and comes with high end components. The frame is finished in Ferrari red and despite being a celeste addict, I have to say that it does look rather splendid. The influence of Formula 1 oozes from the bike.

For today’s ride I went out through Stradbroke, Halesworth and Beccles returning via Loddon, Newton Flotman and Banham. It was a lovely sunny day with a bit of wind. Although, officially speaking it is now autumn, today was one of those days where summer seems to have had a last hurrah. I’m hoping for several encores. The signs of autumn are evident though. For me two key pointers are browning trees leaves and sugar beet being harvested. I saw plenty of both. I stopped in Loddon to refuel and then as I passed by Shotesham I spotted two church towers about 100 yards apart. With my curiosity piqued investigations revealed that one was a ruin and the other was still intact and in use. Post‑ride investigations on the Interweb revealed that the ruined one, St Martin’s, is thought to have been abandoned in the 17th century. The other one, St Mary’s hosts a monthly service. I also discovered that Shotesham has two more churches, All Saints and St Botolph’s. The latter is also a ruin, thought to be abandoned at the same time as St Martin’s. Why there were so many churches in such close proximity remains a mystery.

Whilst riding today I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on recent events in the cycling world. The last few weeks have been phenomenal. First up was the Froomedog who added the Vuelta a EspaƱa to his Tour de France victory. He is only the third rider to have achieved this feat and the first to do it since the Vuelta was moved in 1995 to take place after the Tour. In many ways, the Vuelta is my favourite Grand Tour. It always feels to me like a riders’ event ‑tough and gritty with a little less of the razzmatazz that accompanies the Tour and to a lesser extent the Giro. The Froomedog's victory was richly deserved through a combination of canny attacking and support in depth from his team who defended the lead when it was being threatened.

The Vuelta was without doubt made even more exciting with the repeated attacks by Alberto Contador. Unfortunately he was ill during the first week of the race which put paid to his overall GC aspirations. But that didn’t stop Bertie/El Pistolero from lighting the touch paper once he was back to full strength. This was his last race before retiring and as a home event he obviously wanted to do something special for his supporters and fans who each day lined the roadsides with an almost a religious fervour. His solo victory on the penultimate stage at the top of the fearsome Angliru climb was truly magnificent and richly deserved. The sight of Bertie riding round the finishing circuit a few yards ahead of the peloton on the final day’s stage in Madrid brought a tear to many a fans eyes.

September was also the time for the Tour of Britain which this year started in Edinburgh and over seven stages made its way to Cardiff. As the 6th stage was local one I made my way over to the start at Newmarket to have a look at the teams and their bikes. One of the great things about road cycling is that it is still possible for spectators to wander freely amongst the team buses and get close to the riders and their bikes. There are a few barriers immediately around the start and finish areas but otherwise there are few, if any obstructions to impede a close-up look-see. I had a good gander at the Lotto NL Jumbo bus and the team bikes. Can I just say at this point that the final result of the Tour couldn’t have been better. It was won by Lars Boom. Why is that so good? Well Lars rides for Lotto NL Jumbo and the team rides Bianchi XR4s. Passione celeste!

In my little mental wanderings on today’s ride I also reflected on another phenomenal achievement. In my post for 3 July I commented on Mark Beaumont who was setting out to break the record for riding around the world. He was aiming to complete the 18,000 miles in 80 days a la Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg. Well on 18th September he rode into Paris 17days, 14 hours and 40 minutes after setting off. What a truly outstanding achievement. You can find out more about this epic ride on his website (click here). He usually writes a book about his rides so I ‘m looking forward to it and maybe even a filum? Chapeau Mark, Chapeau. My humble little rides pale into insignificance alongside those of my namesake. Andon that note – good bye readers. I’m hoping it won’t be another three weeks before I communicate with you again…

Saturday 2 September 2017

Some Ups and Some Downs in Cambridgeshire (LGD -253 Days)
Saturday 2 September 2017, 104 Miles

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Hooray, the sun’s shining and looking out the back door of my house there’s not a cloud to be seen! Standing in the back garden at 7.30 am it’s actually quite warm. Ideal for a century ride. Whilst chowing down my breakfast I pondered the possibilities – a ride south into Cambridgeshire with a bit of hill climbing became the route of choice. Mostly because I haven’t ridden there for a while. I’ve also been watching the nightly highlights from the Vuelta on the tellybox. There have been some impressive mountain stages so they provided a bit more inspiration. Not that I was going to experience anything comparable, but the Cambs Ups and Downs might just act as a catalyst to get me dreaming about a Pyrenean ascent or three. It’s now almost one year since I last rode in the Pyrenees and I have to say that I rather long to be back there.

Today’s Bianchi of choice was the Infinito. The Impulso is currently with Mick Madgett in Diss for a full service which involves a complete strip down of the frame and a rebuild with some new components and some wheel trueing. In the two years that I’ve owned it the Impulso has done close to 15,000 miles and I’ve worked out that the front and rear derailleurs, which were previously fitted to my Via Nirone before it died, will have done about 50,000 miles! The front mech is as good as new; the rear mech feels a tad spongy – this may be a cable issue – but I’m guessing that the main spring is probably feeling the miles. I wonder how many times I’ve changed gear with the rear mech over those 50,000 miles? With electronic gears you can now count this on the Garmin. Hmm. Data’s good but too many numbers ….?

At last, the fog's clearing
Within a couple of miles of saddling up and setting off I realised that I may have made a mistake. Visibility had dropped to a few hundred yards due to ground fog and the temperature had fallen significantly. Wearing a thin summer short sleeve jersey gave me a distinct chill. I should have worn some arm warmers. No matter I told myself once the sun had burnt off the fog the temperatures were bound to rise which meant that when I arrived at the Cambs ‘hills’ I would be all set to go.

Sure enough as I left Suffolk near Newmarket heading towards Cambridge the sun did emerge and I could feel a noticeable rise in the temperature. The route from Burwell through the Swaffhams is quite exposed and I’ve battled the head winds here quite a few times. With a tailwind today was very pleasant and I pootled along at a leisurely pace enjoying the scenery. Crossing over the A14 and then arriving at Fulbourn I reached the start of today’s first ‘up’.

The segment from Fulbourn to Balsham is just over 4 miles long at an average gradient of 1 per cent, with a maximum of 5 per cent. Nothing too taxing. It’s defining feature is that the road is straight so I could see the climb stretching away ahead of me. About half a mile up the road I could see the fluorescent orange jersey of another rider so that gave me something to aim for. Resisting the temptation to up my pace and chase, I settled into a steady and hopefully sustainable cadence. Sure enough, I gradually closed the gap and after about a mile I caught and overtook my target. The other rider slowed significantly when the road ramped up slightly as it crossed over the A11 whereas I just going at a constant pace.

Is that an up or a down?
After crossing over the A11, the road kicks up slightly and I was passed by another rider who had caught me. Then there is a short descent before the final mile up to Balsham. The second rider, going full gas, opened up a gap as I freewheeled down the descent before heading up the final leg. I had the last laugh though as the other rider ‘blew’ and I passed him about halfway up the ascent. By the time I reached the top the other rider was nowhere to be seen! 2-0 to the Captain methinks!

From Balsham I carried on to West Wickham before turning back on myself to West Wratting and dropping down to the A11 in the process losing all the elevation I had recently gained. Then I doubled back at Six Mile Bottom for the next ascent to Brinkley which is similar to the one from Fulbourn to Balsham. This time it was a climb of about 3.5 miles with an average gradient of 2 percent (the steepest bit doesn’t quite touch 6 percent). The road is also slightly less straight which, to my mind makes it more interesting. With no riders ahead of me I just did my usual thing of choosing a gear that I felt I could stay in all the way to the top and kept spinning along quite happily. It was quite warm now so I was glad of my summer short sleeved jersey.

Whilst riding around the ‘hills’ I was reflecting on what I have seen of this year’s Vuelta. It’s certainly been an eventful race. The Froomedog has asserted his authority and has been wearing the leader’s red jersey for several days. Not that he’s had it all his own way. Whilst he and his team have been pretty dominant, controlling the race with the odd flurry of inspired and attacking riding, the Froomedog has had a couple of ‘moments’ – crashes and mechanicals. The crashes seemed to be more a case of falling-off on a descent rather than the more usual collisions and downs with other riders. The other revelation has been Bertie/El Pistolero (Alberto Contador). Bertie has lit up the race on a couple of occasions with some really aggressive attacking riding which makes for great viewing. Sadly he was apparently unwell at the start of the race which has probably killed off any GC hopes. A shame as this is his final tour before retirement. Stage wins are now the order of battle. I’m sure the Froomedog hasn’t forgotten the 2011 Vuelta which he effectively lost because of an attack by Bertie. So, he’s marking him pretty closely. The other main GC contenders are all there or thereabouts; the Shark (Vincenzo Nibali) is circling at the scent of blood. But it seems to me that their prospects may depend as much on whether or not the Froomedog can stay upright on a working bike as they will on their own riding abilities. The final week has the potential to provide some enthralling racing. Anyway that’s my take on the Vuelta so far.

Something's coming ...
From Brinkley I gradually made my way north east past Bury to home. The closer I got the more I spotted a flurry of yellow signs warning of road closures and traffic delays next Friday. The Tour of Britain, which has a strong start list of World Tour Riders, will be in these parts. In fact it passes along a lane just beyond our village. I’m planning to get out and have a look. I’m not sure where I’ll go but I’ll let you know.