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.

The Wild Hills

The biggest race in South West Scotland, The Wild Hills, organised by the TLI and Dumfries CC, takes place this Saturday 13th April – Now in its tenth year, The Clubman caught up with race organiser, Dave Moss for his thoughts on the event’s continuing success and some advice for staying in contention on the road. (This blog post will be updated with photos from the race after the 13th)

Wild Hills 1994 - Whisky in the bidons?

Wild Hills 2004 – Whisky in the bidons?

Clubman – How long have you been organising the Wild Hills race?

Dave Moss – Well the oldest file I can find is from 2004, so it’s being going at least that long( 9yrs). It seems we had sponsorship from Scottish Leader Whiskey that year ! 30 finishers. This year we have over 75 riders competing.

Sprint for the 1995 winner

Sprint for the 2005 winner

Clubman – Why do you think the race has become so popular with riders?

Dave Moss – I suppose it’s because it encourages participation from all ages and abilities. Perhaps it’s the chaotic organisation that prevents it being taken too seriously and helps maintain a friendly atmosphere! Another factor might be that word has gotten around that Moniaive is actually not in the back of beyond, but fairly easy to get to from Ayrshire and Glasgow. The fact that it’s one big circuit rather than laps ( so you have to keep going if dropped ) and the long downhill finish seems to make everyone forget the pain they endured to get there.

Some Dumfries CC riders all smiles at the start 2009

Some Dumfries CC riders all smiles at the start 2009

Clubman – What memories of the Wild Hills do you have from over the years?

Dave Moss – Having to ask the riders who won! The large number of riders for whom it’s been their first race is a special satisfaction. The fact that some of Scotland’s top amateur riders return year after year is another plus.

Climb out of Moniaive - dig in!

Climb out of Moniaive – dig in!

Descent down towards Carsphairn

Descent down towards Carsphairn

Clubman – What advice would you give to riders on the road?

Dave Moss – Well there’s three crucial things to keep in mind. Number 1 There’s no point in attacking on the first climb as you will need the bigger, power riders to help you on the next 16 miles. If you are intending to attack do it from Dalry. There you will need to build up a substantial gap on the series of climbs if you’re going to hold it on the final downhill/ flat run in.

Ready to attack on the climb out of Dalry?

Ready to attack on the climb out of Dalry?

Get to the top of Corriedo and then a 4 mile downhill back into Moniaive

Get to the top of Corriedoo and then a 4 mile downhill back into Moniaive

Dave Moss – Secondly  – If you get dropped from one of the first groups, don’t ride it like a time trial, recover so you will be ready to get on the back of a faster group when they catch you.

And finally never give up! The course splits the field and there’s always riders to catch or ones who catch you who can race to the finish, and the prizes are distributed randomly, you might get one for 50th place!
UPDATE – The Race
The 13th turned out to be a dry day with good conditions for the route. One or to little scrapes aside, the route was as challenging as ever. The scratch group caught forward groups in smart time and as in many past encounters, the decisive attacks came on the climb out of Dalry. Congratulations to all the riders for providing an excellent race day.
Below is a little video with some interviews and photos.
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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).

Into The Valley

In the shortest days of the winter our fifth long winter run took us to Scotland‘s highest village, Wanlockhead via 3868 feet of climbing. I won’t even pretend the scenery was magnificent but on the other hand, after a week of immersion in Quality Street this ride was a welcome relief from decadent over-indulgence.DSC00608I was doubtful for this run all week. On Boxing Day I joined the club for some post turkey miles and pulled a spoke through the rim of my back wheel. No readers I don’t think there was a connection…they were very old rims!

I got myself some decent open pros as a replacement and fitted them just as the stormy weather was gathering on Friday, stoking up the crumpled leaves about my garage door. I set the alarm for 8 a.m. and listened to the wind and rain outside. At the last minute it was the bike or more Quality Street. I went to meet the guys for 9.

Elvanfoot in a hostile headwind...

Elvanfoot in a hostile headwind…

Low cloud hung over the hills and the valleys all day except for the last 20 miles. As much as I love the scenery in the South-west of Scotland, these conditions were grim. We were blown up the Dalveen and once over the top we rode at 25 mph average. However we knew what was coming…turning onto Elvanfoot, heading for the Leadhills, we went from 25 to about 9 mph.

In the absence of splendid scenery (the hills around Durisdeer excepted) there was plenty of interest in the 12 man peleton. There were two guys riding the route in the big chain-wheel and highest gears as part of their training regime. Andrew our route-master told me he broke his front-mech and found a replacement in the drawer of his kitchen (that’s quite something)!

When I said to Ian, a young Doctor at the Hospital, that I had a medical question he replied ‘Oh is it your prostrate?’ The guys thought this was hilarious.

waiting for the grub!

waiting for the grub!

Highlight of the run was our cafe stop at the local pub just before descending the Mennock pass. Mein Hostess single-handledly fed and watered 12 hungry cyclists, most of whom were huddled round a small fire with steam rising off their wet clothes.

fireside chat

fireside chat

waiting for the burgers

waiting for the burgers

Since the food would be a while I wandered round and took some snaps. I found myself in what looked like a play area and nearly jumped out of my longs. On a shelf was a human head…that’s what it seemed like in the gloom of the mid-afternoon.

yep...strange but true

yep…strange but true

the boys pass the time until the food arrives by...watching a programme about food..

the boys pass the time until the food arrives by…watching a programme about food..

We left the pub in a downpour and descended Mennock with its huge valleys of mist and nothingness. The truth is I’d rather climb this brute any day than descend it –  the Tour of Britain ventured up here a few years back and we went as a club to watch them grind up. Everyone suffers on that climb, the great leveller.

The wind chill and surface water on the Mennock were potent hazards but not the greatest danger – that was left to the Taliban ambushing sheep who’d launch themselves sporadically at your bike. I was glad when it flattened out and we wove our way through the Drumlanrig estate. By the time we were on the Clone Hill, the murky clouds were gone and the winter sun was nestling in the hills.

With so much climbing there were tired legs at the end but I think the general view was that everyone felt glad they’d done it. I certainly was and it was good to make contact again with the bike and the weather and the wild…when I got home the Quality Street were finished.

Mossy perks up on Dunscore Hill for a photo!

Mossy perks up on Dunscore Hill for a photo!

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.