Group Therapy

All three groups together

All three groups together

Our club organised their first Reliability Ride for August from Dumfries across to Bridge of Dee, Loch Ken then Corsock. It was a bit later than the traditional time in Spring but enjoyable nonetheless and different from our usual club runs.

We divided into 3 groups – 15, 17 and 19mph average over 55 miles. It’s definitely different riding in a group to a set time. Unlike club runs you suddenly become aware of a collective goal driving the pedals around which everyone in your group is responsible for – MAKING YOUR TIME!

Group One looking rather pleased with themselves!

Group One looking rather pleased with themselves!

I rode in the 19 group and I never felt we were on top of our average speed…it seemed to constantly elude us. It certainly made for an interesting ride and I found us talking more tactics than we ever would on a normal Saturday. We tried through and off, someone at the front riding tempo and, for the final section, two guys at the front drilling it. We certainly sounded like the crossest cycling group in Scotland at times with some choice expletives especially along the Loch Ken section.

anxiety eased - we made our time

anxiety eased – we made our time

Unbeknownst to us at the time, our anxiety was nothing compared to the 17 group who suffered 4 or 5 flats. This would be enough to have you heaving your bike over a dyke but it didn’t puncture their resolve or their motivation and they arrived with 17.7 on their garmins…chapeau. They had the biggest group which can bring its own problems.

f*** another puncture!

f*** another flat!

Cool as cucumbers were the 15 group who we passed on the Loch Ken. They seemed to be gliding along unworried and well organised.

We finished the official part of the ride at Pringles Pub in Corsock – great grub and I discovered people more fond of cake than myself. I enjoyed the day and the way that your own efforts are part of a bigger purpose.

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What’s Your Hematocrit Edgar?

secret-race-book-daniel-coyle-tyler-hamilton_mediumHematocrit =  The oxygen carrying capacity of blood.  Increased oxygen carrying capacity can lead to performance gains and using synthetic EPO, boosts the (hematocrit) red blood cell count.

‘Edgar’ = US Postal Team‘s code name for EPO.

On a recent visit to the Lakes I took a wander round a book store. I asked if they had a copy of Tyler Hamilton‘s controversial expose of race doping, The Secret Race which covered his time with US Postal (up until 2001) and then as team leader on CSC Tiscali then Phonak. The lady told me she had one copy left. It was in hardback. No. I wasn’t going to shell out hardback prices for Tyler Hamilton.

On Christmas morning after unwrapping six pairs of socks (brown, light brown, dark brown etc) I opened my next gift; The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle. Ah so Mrs McG does listen to me after all!

I have been unable to put this book down since. What an absorbing read it is and one of the most memorable books about cycling I’ve picked up. I don’t hesitate to say ‘about cycling’ even though you could argue it’s about doping, deceit, arrogance and ambition. Despite these powerful themes, the book also reveals a lot about pro-cycling whether it be training, diet, racing or team work.Lance_Armstrong_Tyler_Hamilton_153551555

Of course it also tells you a lot about Lance Armstrong who is the distant yet central character of the piece. However there are a whole range of other colourful characters in here such as Bruyneel, Landis, Dr Michele Ferrari, Hincapie, Pantani, Vaughters and the narrator himself, Hamilton, who illuminate the 300 or so pages.

Hamilton is clever and subtle in his portrayal of both Armstrong and himself. He goes to great lengths to portray his team leader as a personal hero and an inspiring, determined athlete, hungry for success. At the same time he provides a steady flow of damning details and anecdotes about Armstrong’s brutish arrogance and deception. It is a devastating character assassination which makes for a gripping read.

Ferrari - the key player behind Armstrong's success?

Ferrari – the key player behind Armstrong’s success?

Although Hamilton presents himself as a doper, obsessed with hematocrit levels, he also seems a victim of the EPO culture and the need to succeed at all costs. In the book the lowering of Armstrong’s reputation somehow elevates Hamilton as a man of truth. The worse Armstrong is portrayed, the better Hamilton appears even when he describes his shuttle flights to Madrid for ‘Edgar’ or a hotel rendezvous for BBs (Blood Transfusions).

Ullrich - feared by Postal

Ullrich – feared by Postal

For those of us who remember the pro-tour 90s, this book is a startling insider account of those times. Riis, Pantani, Ullrich, Virenque, ONCE, all seem caught up in the dark arts but the master was Armstrong who, according to Hamilton, earned millions of dollars from a sustained doping regime.image9

Despite the book’s whistleblower perspective I found lots of other aspects of cycling equally intriguing. Hamilton’s turbo drills and diet were a revelation as was his attitude towards lactic acid.

Also the book reveals how success on the Tour de France was all about numbers. If you had the right numbers you should win; the right level of hematocrit (high 40s), 5 extra heartbeats, the right weight, the right stats on hill climbs, the extra 3 -4 percent of watts etc…etc.

A great read – pick up a copy where you can. No doubt a film is in the pipeline!

Feed Station

It’s nearly Christmas and probably the furthest we’ll get from our bikes in terms of commitment. My winter bike is shiny and clean in the garage – a sure sign of a bad weather winter. Never mind it’s given me the opportunity to write a blog post about one of my other favourite pastimes – Cooking. And instead of the 12 days of Christmas I’ve included my 12 observations on road biking

1. When climbing it’s everything to the left.

Since I’ve been young I’ve always enjoyed making food. When leaving school I wanted to work in a kitchen. I found out you had to start work very early and buy your own equipment. For some reason I found this off – putting even though it makes perfect sense now. Of course this was in the days before the TV chef making food sexy and cursing everyone to hell like a rock star. Nowadays I spend most of a Sunday in the kitchen after cleaning the bike of course!IMG_1023

2. If you’re going to compete with fellow club members, remember they have the right to beat you.

I have a few things that I can always do well in the kitchen; cake, soup and stews. However I think with the past couple of years of ‘austerity’ I now find myself making something instead of buying it. This is why when I’m out in restaurant, I’ll rarely choose macaroni or lasagne from the menu as you’ll always compare with your home version.

cinnamon loaf - the aroma fills the house

cinnamon loaf – the aroma fills the house

3. Never wait to be ‘invited’ to the front.

I have to confess I enjoy the little challenges of competing with supermarkets. When cycling I like flapjacks which I usually buy from Tescos. But then I thought…why not make your own and then you can decide the contents and size etc?

4. If you complain about a hill, it immediately becomes twice as long and twice as hard.

Home made yorkshire puddings - bigger and better

Home made yorkshire puddings – bigger and better

Usually on Christmas Eve my family have a buffet and this year my wife suggested we make our own. She used the word ‘we’ to mean me obviously but that’s cool…another challenge. So I’m trying a few things. Having been to Spain this year means there’ll be some influences from there, such as empanadas and huevos rotos.

5. Applaud another cyclist‘s improvement and learn from it.

Baked versus Set Cheesecake? Always baked for me.

Baked versus Set Cheesecake? Always baked for me.

6. A good winter means a good summer.

I’ve always loved American southern fried food and this year I’ve faced my fears and had a go at fried chicken (watching The Help inspired me) and cool little chicken nuggets. Getting the oil temperature right and the cooking time for chicken takes a bit of practice!

KFC I smashed you!

KFC I smashed you!

7. Winter’s buddies will be the summer’s adversaries.

crunchy chicken nuggets - beasting

crunchy chicken nuggets – beasting

8. What you borrow on the road must always be returned or replaced.

Like all cyclists I enjoy a good chat on the road about food but also I’m not alone in the enjoyment of cooking and baking. One of my road buddies, Graham, is much the same and we usually have a word or two on club runs about what we’ve been making in the kitchen usually before we discuss what we’ve been doing on the turbo. Graham’s head and shoulders above me in the cooking front. His chocolate and orange cakes and homemade bread mean I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

9. Always hold the wheel.

sour cream scones - delicious just out the oven

sour cream scones – delicious just out the oven

10. A headwind will also be a tailwind.

As I said earlier food is never far from a cyclist’s mind, especially on the long runs. Another fellow roadie, John and I have taken food discussions to a new level. Usually after a long day in the saddle on a Saturday we text one another after the run. These texts are not about cycling matters as you might imagine – comparing Garmin outputs etc. No. We picture message each other what we’re having for lunch. I think he is ahead with his salmon and scrambled eggs. I nearly choked on my pie and beans one Saturday when I got a picture message of finest salmon, posh cold meats, grapes and some wine. Thank god he was on the wind up!

11. On the road don’t get isolated from your group.

Banana cake and butter icing...still working on that icing though

Banana cake and butter icing…still working on that icing though

12. If you get a kicking for 5 – 6 miles don’t forget the other 40 – 50 miles which you cycled well.

Most roadies will have a few days off for Christmas. We can spend the rest of the year agonising about the kilos. I’ll be the same. It suddenly struck me when writing this post that cycling is one of those great sports which actually demands we eat when participating…perfect for the roadie, perfect for the foody!

Merry Christmas everyone and here’s hoping for great miles in 2013.