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.

Crystal Balls 2013

2013-Official-Tour-de-France-RouteHopefully Le Tour 2013 will be more gripping than the borefest Team Sky served up last year. Froome looks the strongest of the favourites but he may be undone by old allegiances and on the road ‘understandings.’ 

Let’s start with the favourites who will line up at the start line in Corsica –

Chris Froome

Ryder Hesjedal

Joaquim Rodriguez

Cadel Evans

Jurgen Van den Broeck

Tejay van Garderen

Alberto Contador

Outside chancers – Robert Gesink – Alejandro Valverde – Richie Porte – Bauke Mollema – Andy Schleck – Haimar Zubeldia – Igor Anton

I’d say Evans will struggle this year as perhaps his glory days are behind him. Van den Broeck will need to steer clear of injury and spills and the talented Hesjedal is recovering from a serious crash in the Giro. The very promising Van Garderen will most likely have to sacrifice his chances for team leader, Evans. Schleck has not shown much form this year.

So…Contador versus Froome is the battle we all believe will define the tour. Froome can certainly match Contador on any stage, including the many mountains in this 2013 edition of Le Tour. But…does Froome have allies on the road beyond his Sky team mates?

Rodriguez - maybe not winner but gamechanger

Rodriguez – maybe not winner but gamechanger

I think it’s possible that being the favourite will make him have to do twice as much work covering attacks etc. And as far as attacks go we should mention the dark horse for this year’s tour – Joaquim Rodriguez. Although he’s No. 1 cyclist he’s not always been around for Le Tour. He presents a problem for Froome not just because of his ability but his potential to rekindle his allegiance with Contador and also Cofidis main man Navarro. Froome has a lot on his plate just with these two alone!

get on yer bike Sagan

get on yer bike Sagan

New talent Moser

Moser

The GC aside there’s lots of other possibilities for excitement in the 2013 race. Of course there’s the amazing Sagan who will enthral us, I hope, with his finish line antics. I’d love to see him and Johnny Hoogerland in a break away together. It would also be great to see  new talents like Ted King and the much talked about Moreno Moser show their hands.

ted king

Ted King

As for the sprints, will Matt Goss and Griepel get the better of Cavendish? It’s unlikely.

Best Bikes – I’ll need to have a good look over the opening stages. At the moment it’s the Garmin team’s cervelos

And the worst tops – Sojasun

really?

really?

 

LBS

What place for the Local Bike Shop in the carnivorous internet market place? The Clubman spent time away from his laptop/credit card to talk to the owners of two Dumfries bikeshops and found the human contact refreshing.IMG_1426

Like most cyclists I spend a fair amount of time internet browsing for components, clothing and (with the laptop discretely angled away from Mrs McG) my next bike. I have my favourite sites for purchasing. My number one at the moment is Merlin Cycles. They don’t have the range or massive stock of Wiggle but their customer care is excellent with impressive speed of delivery. I’m also a fan of SJS Cycles for the little bits and pieces you sometimes think you’ll never find.

Some of my fellow club riders are expert Online bargain hunters – they should be on breakfast TV with their skills. I can’t remember how many conversations I’ve heard on a club run which involve eBay bargains for cassettes, headsets or ‘genuine’ Oakley glasses. Most employers seem concerned about their workers using social media sites. If they found out how much time we roadies spend searching for the best wheel-set or a decent saddle, they’d be praising tweeters for their restraint!IMG_1425

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The old jigs are the best

Kirkpatrick Cycles has been Dumfries’s LBS for as long as I can remember. Those of us old enough will know that it was run for many years by Bob Forteath. I bought one of my first road bikes from him. The shop was an aladdin’s cave of new, old and ancient cycling bric-a-brac. In fact I’m sure I once spotted the genie pricing some down-shifters before re-vapourising into his lamp. Bob was everything you’d expect from an LBS even offering you his tools to borrow for a tricky job.IMG_1421Bob sold the business on to young bike enthusiast Ross Anderson a couple of years ago. For a young man, Ross shows plenty of astuteness. He’s re-organised Bob’s cave but cleverly retained it’s essential character. When you step into Kirkpatrick Cycles you know you’re in a proper bike shop. Old iconic frames nestle amongst modern components.IMG_1418What you notice immediately is how the shop is dominated by Ross’s work area. And that’s one of the essentials of the LBS, a good mechanic. I was telling Ross he’s already got a reputation amongst local cyclists for his mechanical skills and wheel building. The LBS is all about reputation.

Ross treats the compliment modestly but he is clearly hard-working. When I ask him about the LBS versus the Internet Bike Shop he emphasises the importance of personal contact. He can’t match the mark up on bike costings but he’ll be at his work station till 10pm and in the next day at 8am working on that bike you bought online. (biggest problems? cyclists using Muck Off on their headsets).IMG_1474

Across the river Andrew Grant runs another drop by LBS – DG2 Wheels. He’s assiduously built up his business since 2009, expanding every year. At any one time he has over 100 bikes in stock (I loved about 99% of them). He tells me road bikes and hybrids are now easily out-selling mountain bikes and that female customers are in the ascendancy.

DG2 is quite a contrast to Kirkpatrick Cycles. The large airy unit has none of the old bike shop claustrophobia. Although it is decked out with brand new bikes (Focus, Raleigh plus rising star, Moda) and glistening components, Andrew’s approach to his shop is as traditional as Ross over at Kirkpatrick Cycles.

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The emphasis is on the personal approach to bike buying and servicing. Andrew argues he doesn’t sell bikes but rather ‘helps people to buy a bike…’ Purchasing a bike is about answering many questions; purpose, fit, material and crucially, after-sales.

Both Ross and Andrew concede the power of the internet bike shop but stress that sometimes buying a bike online is risky. The bike needs to be set up and then looked after through proper servicing and that means a mechanic you can rely on…that means the LBS. And what if you need something quickly – some cabling inners? Spokes? wheel truing? Imagine there wasn’t a LBS for all of those necessities which keep you on the road?

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We are well served with Local Bike Shops in the South-west. I’m an internet bike browser but I also like to go somewhere for a browse or a hunt for the right spacer or the right tool for Campagnolo chain-sets or just for a chat about biking. Long live the LBS.

Bicicletas Bonitas!

Cycling with Club Ciclista Aluche turned out to be one of my most memorable days on a bike.IMG_1233

I contacted the Aluche club last year with a view to riding with them in the spring but as the time drew nearer it was looking pretty doubtful. I was only staying in Madrid for 5 nights and it was going to be difficult to get my bike from the airport onto the busy metro and then find a space in the hotel to set it up for cycling. Also I had had a bad winter with a virus and chest infection – I didn’t feel particularly fit.

I decided nonetheless on a Plan B – hire a road bike in Madrid for the day. The bike hire shop Rutas Pangea was excellent. They set the bike up with SPDs and a small toolbag etc. It was an old Macario frame with some tiagra. It might’ve been from the 1990s but it was a nice, firm ride.

So with a map to the meeting point and my Dumfriess CC top on I set off through the ‘calles’ of Madrid for a 100k cycle. Luckily it was the Semana Santa and the roads were very quiet. As I cycled towards Aluche I was hoping I’d followed the directions properly. I had – I heard them before I saw the club riders. The noise of their laughter and chatter filled the area. What followed was really humbling. There were over 20 riders assembled and each one of them came over, shook my hand, introduced themselves and welcomed me. It was a wonderful gesture. As we made our way out of the city, their joking and banter made me feel like I’d been cycling with their club for years.

The one with the red hoods and MMR from Asturias...extremely cool!

The one with the red hoods –  an MMR from the Asturias Region…full dura ace or ‘durache’ as they say in Spain – an extremely cool bike!

A very smart Pinarello!

A very smart Pinarello!

On one of the long drags into the Spanish countryside, I had the chance to check out the Aluche bike set-up. I was expecting to see a peleton of Orbeas but there was a wide variety of brands – Giant, Felt, Pinarellos. The MMR was a little bit special and could well knock the Van Nicholas off of my wish list. All the guys used standard doubles with shimano (although at our cafe stop there was the time-honoured debate about shimano versus campagnolo). Most rode 11-25 sprockets but judging by the mountains surrounding Madrid I’m guessing those sprockets will get changed depending on the route.

On the road the ride divided naturally into two groups A and B. Given my poor winter and the old Mercario, I opted for Group B. When the hammer went down it went down hard. The road landscape outside Madrid was long and draggy at times with a brutally nagging headwind. Pretty soon the Spanish/English barrier was replaced with the universal language of cycling – through and off. The towns and villages came and went –Pozuelo, Boadilla del Monte and then a cafe stop in El Alamo. Here we met up again with Group A after their extra loop – a great way to avoid two separate rides!

wine, coffee, tortilla and jamon

wine, coffee, tortilla and jamon

The cafe stop was incredible. Once again the warmth of the club was striking. Every rider came over and asked how I was getting on. I wasn’t allowed to pay for anything. After we’d eaten I was presented with a small coffee liqueur which we all downed then cheered. Amazing!

This wee nip certainly helps fire up the legs!

This wee nip certainly helps fire up the legs!

We assembled outside for some photos and were told firmly by a policeman to keep it down as a Semana Santa procession was taking place!

Think my old tin machine is ruining this pic

Think my old tin machine is ruining this pic

Heading back to the city we picked up some tail wind and the kilometres ebbed away on the widening roads. 100k of pure cycling enjoyment was coming to an end. As the centre of Madrid shimmered opaquely beneath the mountains, I wondered what was different about this club.

I think their bond of friendship was tangible. The way they spoke with one another and rode together showed their closeness as a group. They seemed at times more like brothers than a cycling club. The rider I’d contacted last winter, Domingo, was not present as he had had a really bad fall in the mountains with the club and had been airlifted to hospital (I remembered what that was like). He emailled me from hospital saying ‘the boys will look after you…trust me…I owe them my life.’ Something about this statement seemed very real and true about CC Aluche. I could see that clearly as I could see it in my own accident 2 years ago.

At the metro they all stopped to say goodbye and shake hands. They called me friend and ‘hombre’. After a bleak winter in Scotland, this ride was a pure tonic, a celebration of everything brilliant about cycling. I’ll be wearing my Aluche top as soon as it arrives!

Later in the week I persuaded Mrs McG and Miss McG to visit the famous Otero bike shop in Madrid (muchas gracias guapas)! Photos below.

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one of the old Otero frames

not much from the outside but a tardis really

not much from the outside but a tardis really

Otero Team Time Trial Bike

Otero Team Time Trial Bike

would love this frame

would love this frame

Stravarama

The first spring-like day in March also means my first strava session = what shape’s the body in after winter’s hibernation and…will Strava become obsessive?

First Strava session - not great but not bad either

First Strava session – not great but not bad either

I have mentioned in a previous blog that one of my cycling goals this year was to participate in Dumfries CC’s very well run TT series. So after many years of cycling why now for a taste of time trialling? Two reasons; I think when you’re cycling you always want to try new things and have variety. You hear this on the road when cyclists talk about their training or their objectives for the year ahead. The other reason is a little more specific. I want to see if I can improve marginally,  riding with cadence, riding in a  certain shape and sustaining a tempo.

I’m not really concerned with the TT league placings (maybe this is reverse psychology – acknowledging defeat before losing)? but my objective is that the TT discipline will impact on my cycling in a good way. Likewise I’m hoping to join one of my fellow roadies who is a keen mtb rider for some sessions to help with bike handling during the spring.

Key to my preparation for the TTs will be the app. STRAVA. I’m not a fully signed up Garmin user at the moment. The cost of a Garmin could get me some new cycling shoes and a cool pair of Castelli bib shorts.

Strava is an excellent free app which probably sucks the battery power on my iphone but no matter. The GPS is pretty accurate and you can then store your rides on your own Strava page. The Strava page has a social network aspect with fellow bikers following you etc.

castelli v garmin?

castelli v garmin?

But the key to Strava is the stats breakdown – the specifics of performance. There’s something magnetic and potentially obsessive about stats: what your body is doing or not doing. This winter I’ve tried to work a lot more with stats using my old cateye cadence monitor. After many years of battering myself on the turbo ‘trying to get better…’ I decided this year to only allow achievable targets and these targets must only be marginal improvements. Does this sound unambitious?

Probably yet the results for me have meant a very different winter to others. Take intervals for example, the staple of the turbo session along with the pyramid. This winter I decided every aspect of the interval session must be absolutely correct;

  • interval speed/cadence,
  • off interval speed/cadence
  • rest speed/cadence.

Without doubt I found dealing in these specifics very hard, physically. But I’m glad I finally found out how to have a proper and therefore successful interval session!

The Strava sessions help continue this approach – the bends, the climbing and the straights – all improvements and targets must be incremental and achievable. IMG_1176

There are dangers of course with Strava. For example how long will it be before we start saying ‘ I strava’d’ instead of I went for a bike run? But the main one is becoming what American riders call  a Stravasshole. On the Boulder Cycling webpage they even have a list of criteria for the Stravasshole –

  • Choosing a Strava Segment due to favourable winds
  • Stravaing while in a pack, no, this is a solo thing!
  • Descending in a bubble and yelling “Strava”
  • Posting your Strava account link on your resume

I hope it doesn’t all go too far, I’m a big enough idiot without adding Stravasshole to my list of under achievements! For those interested there’s a great article about the Strava craze, including its dangers on the Outside web page – you’ll find it here.

Of course instead of all the stats and Strava, if you come home after cycling, your clothes soaked in sweat, your eyes sunken into your cheekbones and legs smashed…then you probably had a hard session!!! (you’ll know this without checking your Garmin).

‘The ides of March are come…’

Amidst all the training sessions and hard miles in freezing headwinds, our club members are currently gripped by a familiar angst about our Saturday club run. What has brought this debate to the fore?…could it be the time of year?

A couple of seasons ago we changed the structure of our Saturday club run. It used to be a mass start but now we have three start times for groups of differing abilities and aspirations. There was apparently a lot of unhappiness about the old structure; the club was getting bigger, people getting dropped and the need for safe passage out of town.

And now? unhappiness about the 3 group structure, the club getting bigger, people getting dropped…plus ca change as the saying goes.IMG_3719

There is something which fascinates me when people change a system. I see this, as I’m sure many do, in my work place on a regular basis. The logic is always the same. A change in system is designed to improve things. But when you change a system do you change human nature? Do we even consider human nature – our competitiveness? Our need to be part of something but also our need to express ourselves? Or our self interest?

Mostly our Forum reflects the negative aspects of the Club run debate. And on the road most guys have something to say about what’s wrong and how it could be improved. This for me is actually encouraging because it shows that our cyclists care about their Saturday run and that they want to preserve something, the thing that got them out on a bike in the first place.

Our weekend run is the very centre of our club. That’s why it stirs up so much passionate debate in our members. The best experiences I’ve had on a bike have been on those Saturdays, teasing one another or trying to crush your buddies on a hill, or those incredible and mysterious moments of riding in a group where everyone is quiet and the cycling is intense and purposeful.

I might add that having cycled with clubs abroad, the vibe is exactly the same – the anxieties are similar.

Yet most of all the agonising is part of the cycling calendar. Usually the debates are most intense at this time of year – March and early summer. Why? Because of the importance of the winter and the training that goes on. Cyclists are naturally anxious about their level of fitness and because we are all at different stages in the winter months it can be a bit confusing on the road. Some guys are already strong. As for me, I’ve been getting smashed every Saturday during the winter months.

Whatever the changes ahead in the club run, I’m sure that deep down, it won’t change our cycling natures! I’ve no doubt there’s guys have got me in their sights and believe me, I’ll be returning it with interest in the summer and when those little on-road competitions are over then we’ll ride some great miles, talking nonsense and sharing stories. Long live Saturday mornings!

The Cooke, The ‘Thief’, The Tour and its Lovers

In a week of cat and mouse revelations from ‘Legend’ Lance Armstrong, a more deserving legend announced her retirement from cycling with an incisive attack on dopers – In doing so, Nicole Cooke  reminded us about the honesty most of us share in riding our bikes.

As with her breakaways and sprints, Nicole Cooke’s timing of her retirement was finely judged. Leaving the sport she loved, she fired a broadside at the Disney media managed, show ‘confession’ being played out across the Atlantic with Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey. I loved her unbridled courage in saying to the world

 ‘When Lance cries on Oprah later this week and she passes him the tissue, spare a thought for all those genuine people who walked away with no rewards – just shattered dreams. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances…’

If only some of her fellow male cyclists had the guts to say that out loud in the 90s and early 2000s, then we might be further on than we are. In her press statement Cooke added

‘I do despair that the sport will never clean itself up when rewards of stealing are greater than riding clean. If that remains the case, the temptation for those with no morals will always be too great…’

This is certainly borne out by a BBC graphic released this week stating that of the 33 Tour title since 1980, 17 were nullified by doping. More than half. That’s a lot of shattered dreams for those who followed those races in awe.

Riding clean

Riding clean

Across the Atlantic, when what is needed is an unreserved and detailed confession to the proper authorities, all we read and hear is speculation about how Armstrong is avoiding litigation, how he is in discussion, how he is preparing the way for a book deal etc. Compared to these depressing shenanigans, Cooke’s honesty is like a ray of dazzling sunlight to the club cyclist. If it weren’t for cycling pros like her we might end up in an apocalyptic situation where we trust no one in the pro tour.

Sometimes we club cyclists could be forgiven for thinking that unlike fans of Murray in tennis or Messi in football, our sport has no pro heroes.  And when you think that, as I write, there are thousands of cyclists in their freezing garages or sheds smashing themselves in a turbo session then maybe we know who the real heroes of cycling are.

Thanks Nicole Cooke!