21 Bar and Grill Knutsford

For those of you heading out to Knutsford and fancy trying something meaty, make sure you check out 21 Bar and Grill. Jon Green of Australasia fame is Head Chef and you'll find a small but sufficient choice of menu. 

We had the 21 Fried Chicken Bucket for starter which was a sharer for two. It featured 3 pieces of chicken each with a pot of chips, BBQ beans, gravy and coleslaw. The chicken was gorgeous. The seasoning was fantastic: the chicken falling off the bone with a touch of a fork such was it's succulence.

For main we went for the 21 Gourmet burger. Gorgeous beef in amongst BBQ pulled pork sat on a brioche. It was the crumbled, half melted Cheshire Cheese which took it to another level. Chips accompanied and were tasty. Perhaps the mayo was a bit tasteless and the side salad was a bit of a let down (just rubbery lettuce with not even a dash of dressing) was perhaps the only downside.

A friend had a posh Fish and Chips which was gulped down and another had perhaps the best linguine she's ever had with mussles and all that malarky.

Service was fantastic as was the surroundings. Nice background music and good vibes. The beer was good too, the Birra Moretti on draft was fresh, refreshing and ice ice cold. The ciders on offer were fantastic too.

For those of you in your late twenties having just moved into your first house, the menu is more on the expensive side of your budget but it worked out to be around £50 a couple for us which wasn't too bad at all. Well worth checking out.

The Season So Far

Well it's not been bad. 2 minutes off my 25 mile TT PB, over a minute off my 10 mile TT PB and 30 seconds off my club 10 PB using the slower two lap circuit. I've been amazed by the times. I've hardly been able to get training in due to organising the Cheshire Classic Women's Road Race (which saw 2 weeks back to back off my bike alongside not much in terms of quality miles leading up to it) alongside helping out a recent cycling festival and numerous social activities.



I started my season 2 months earlier than last year which has helped. My first event being a 10 in early March, 2 weeks after the Llanberis training weekend. I was aiming to get into a 24 for a 10 later on in the season but never ever thought I would post a 24.13 for a 10 in April! I couldn't believe it. I crossed the line gobsmacked. I just kept saying "I can't believe it" again and again at the HQ. 

I've been happy with my times in the club 10s too. It's a tricky circuit and to get early 25s has been nice. We are using a different circuit due to roadworks on the normal circuit. The temporary circuit is two laps which contains 8 90 degree corners. It totally takes out any momentum and kills your legs. I posted a short 25 last week feeling pretty tired which got into the top 10 so hopefully there is more to come. We shall see!

Many have asked what I'm doing. As I've said above, nothing much! Very little training that is for sure! I just got out and ride my hardest to represent the club. A good Winter has really helped, losing 2 stone together with the new bike which is just incredible. It's incredibly stiff (making it near impossible to turn at the same time) and the position is perfect. Being able to change gears on the tri-bars makes such a huge difference. I'm also using a skinsuit with shoe aero covers. A lot is said about aero helmets, skinsuits and shoe covers, especially by Chris Boardman, I believe it has helped me for sure.

Anyway a lot of riders are only just starting out with their races so their form will come. I hope I can keep improving and I haven't peaked too soon. The focus will be to get some more 25s in and look towards the Cat & Fiddle Hill Climb and Cyclo Cross in the Autumn.

For anyone looking to get competing this season, Time Trials (or testing) is a great way to get involved. It's really friendly and the thought, science and margin gains beneath it all is fascinating. Although everyone competes across the same distance, everyone has a different story to tell back at the HQ afterwards. Dig deep and get competing.


Budget 2014

2014’s budget for me was all about installing confidence. The Chancellor introduced a number of initiatives designed to not only demonstrate that Britain is currently in a strong period of growth but to try move away from the current narrative of "tough economic times we are in". It was an interesting budget which really focussed on middle-class working families.

A penny off a pint always goes down well. Freezing of fuel duty is also a good move, especially at the pumps but also the knock on effect through goods. A sexy £2000 childcare tax break will be well received by hard working Mums and Dad out there. Up to a limit of £10,000, for every 80p you put in, the Government will add in 20p. Simply put, if your childcare adds up to £10,000, you’ll pay £8000; the Government will pay £2000.

There is a lot of work still to be done. Nurses in particular have recently come under the spotlight as one example. However the increase in the personal tax allowance to £10,500 should be a great help. It’s interesting the amount of people that don’t either know or remember that from April this year it will rise from £9,440 to £10,000. Next month’s rise alone should see us having £40 in our back pocket. This is important as it helps install confidence, either by having some extra money available to pay the bills, save or spend back into the economy. Many will point to taxes being raised in other areas and the government “taking with one hand and giving with another”. Well of course he is. He wants you to spend. More money on products with VAT equals even more money to burn off the deficit.

For me. looking at it behaviourally, I think it works. You make the decision on whether you spend it or not. Increased numbers in the pay packet will be noted far more than increases on goods. Look around your office at the end of the month; note the amount of people who open their payslip to check the amount. This time next year, you will have £80 in your back pocket than you have right now. That will make a difference.

Growing Confidence: but is it Shared By Everyone?

Listening to 5 Live yesterday morning, there is still scepticism over whether the UK growth can be maintained. The 1.8% growth last year raised eyebrows and was three times the size of the original forecast by Office for Budget Responsibility. In November it raised it to 2.4% and today it has gone up again 2.7% (some are say more than 3%). Some sceptics are concerned that the Chancellor’s austerity measures could be contributing to this growth, rather than it being organic.

One for the Swingers

Osbourne’s attempts to win back older voters who swung away at the last election is interesting. While the main reason for introducing a new pound coin is down to the 45 million forgeries out there currently, the new twelve sided pound coin, which looks like an old threepenny bit, touches on nostalgia. A cut on Bingo tax is another.

Reforms to pensions, such as being allowed to out lump sums over the age of 55 and not be heavily taxed, alongside the ISA limited raised to £15,000 are nice wins and largest reforms we had for years. It is an interesting move and could change consumer behaviour to how these products are viewed. If the affluent, downsizing, empty nester, silver surfers weren’t already a prime target for many brands, they sure will be now with easy access to large volumes of money to spend.

It all adds up to an underlying conservative narrative to encourage families to be married (there was talk in the last budget of a tax break for married couples, which seems to have gone quiet), work hard and save for a brighter future. You can almost see and smell those sunny, oak tree lined suburbs.

Whether it works we’ll wait and see.

Llanberis 2014

I've just got back from the annual Weaver Valley training weekend to Llanberis. The trip which starts from Northwich heads out for 98 miles to Llanberis taking in Ruthin, Denbigh, the 15 mile climb of the Sportsman before descending to Betws-y-Coed to then climb for a further 15-20 miles to Llanberis via Capel Curig and Pen-y-Pass. The way home is slightly shorter at around 95 miles, bypassing the climb of the Sportsman to continue down the A5 and cut through the forest to Ruthin before heading for home via Loggerheads.

It's a tough weekend on the legs but a good opportunity to finish off winter training with a solid 200 miles before a diet of racing from March to September. It is also a good benchmark of where you are following the long Winter.

Pre-Llanberis - Training & Weight Loss

Following a break (ie: lots of eating and drinking) in October and November I started putting a plan together and watching what I ate again in December. I wasn't too worried about miles as my racing consists of 10 or 25 mile Time Trials but I wanted to get the weight down to 12 stone. My lightest in 2013 was 12.5 stone and I felt good riding at that but an extra half a stone while maintaining power would really help.

The early part of December was pretty light in terms of miles, enjoying the shorter rides and cafe stops. I started adding more miles and quality to my training the week before Christmas once all the Christmas commitments with work were out of the way. I put in a ride on Christmas day, an easy 20 miles to see my parents and took part in the Boxing Day 10. This was good because I controlled more what I was eating and drinking on the Christmas Day.

From Christmas Day onwards I committed to Wednesday spin classes with the club and Saturday and Sunday rides. My rides on Saturday were 40-50 mile solo rides without any breakfast (glycogen rides) to get the body used to performing from it's own energy stores. I made sure my rides on Saturdays took in 3 or 4 hills too which really helped.

 I only really missed 2 days out on the bike in January and February, instead doing some Watt sessions on the spin bike and weights. These were really handy as it allowed me to see that despite losing weight I was also increasing power output.

Llanberis

So there I stood ready to leave Llanberis. My weight 12 stone exactly, down from 12 stone 8 when I started in December. A stone and a half lighter than the same point back in 2013.

All I'll say is that the gains from the weight loss throughout the whole weekend was incredible. My heart rate was about 15 beats per minute lower going up the climbs, I don't think I went into 180-190bpm (my usual heart rate zone when I'm really working such as in races) at all. Rewind back to 2013 and most definitely to 2012, I was in that zone pretty much 50% of the time such is the amount of climbing done.

Being able to work like this meant I was able to conserve a lot of energy. I remember in 2012 feeling really ill at the hotel from the amount of effort I had put in. It was a good confidence building exercise as I now know I had that bit extra to play with.

If the weather had been more favourable perhaps I would have dug a bit deeper but in the time I've been cycling I've never cycled in those conditions before. We faced a 28 mile an hour headwind on the way out, reducing speeds to 3-5mph over the Sportsman at times. It was just an energy zapping battle from start to finish, even having to work hard on the decent to Betws-y-Coed. I managed to get to Llanberis without stopping at the cafe at Capel Curig which many took advantage of, the Guinness tasted so good at the hotel!

If you thought Saturday was hard, it was a walk in the park compared to Sunday. Throughout the night, the wind shook the hotel. It didn't sound good. We woke to trees bent horizontally, rain sleeting down. The wind speed of 30 miles an hour wasn't to be the issue, the 60mph (later found to be 95mph according to the BBC) gusts were to be the main problem. Us 60 riders had to get home, there was no other way, we were going to have to do this.

I've never known anything like it. Going along the A5 was one of the most scariest things I've ever done. Two riders were blown off their bikes. At times I was on full, opposite tilt to the bike, being blown across the carriageway. Unlike the wind from Saturday where you could control it (due to it being a constant), the gusts were occasional and you didn't know when they were doing to come. It was really hard going. We all fought on, the field split to bits.

We survived and all got home in one piece. It was most certainly band of brothers. Would I do it again? Of course. Can't wait!

Guest blogging has got Matt Cutts pissed

For those that don't know Matt Cutts heads up Google's Webspam team, playing an important part in cleaning up SERPS with the recent Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird updates.

When they pushed out these updates, Matt posted up blogs, videos along with quality guidelines to make it fundamentally clear what was acceptable and what wasn't. The narrative focussed around creating high quality links from authoritative sources. Such sources included blogs and forums; supposedly content written by real people who would no doubt offer a link back on the basis that it was a recommendation and an appreciation of the content provided. In essence the better your content, the more it will be shared and written about by others, the more links you would receive back naturally.

One ways of generating some decent links back to your site was "guest blogging". So, you'd find a nice authorative blog, you would build up a repor, find that you have things in common and ask (or be asked) to write a guest blog, thus giving you exposure and raising the profile of the individual's blog (basically a bit like me getting Matt Cutts or Bradley Wiggins to do a post on here). In return that would give you the opportunity to mention your company or service and a nice back link.

Anyway, as with everything in search the boundaries have been pushed, the algorithm manipulated and now Matt Cutts sounds peeved. So much so that it sounds like a change in algorithm will be coming along to downgrade links from guest posts.

"Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company.

Back in the day, guest blogging used to be a respectable thing, much like getting a coveted, respected author to write the introduction of your book. It’s not that way any more. 

....So there you have it: the decay of a once-authentic way to reach people. Given how spammy it’s become, I’d expect Google’s webspam team to take a pretty dim view of guest blogging going forward".

To be honest Cutts did hint a few months ago that they were working on an algorithm change which focussed on ignoring paid for content. So there you go, anyone reaching out to bloggers, blatantly offering to pay £100-200 for an article won't be going far for much longer.

Core exercises and video

Developing a stronger core is one of the most important, but most overlooked areas of development when it comes to cycling. I'll be honest I found the idea of doing so boring, but following constant knee injuries caused by tight hamstrings and ITB and some mild back problems, last year my brother Chris, Clinical Director of Your Sports Therapist, put me on a Winter programme to develop my core.

The results over 2013 were brilliant. I suffered hardly any issues with my knee. My hamstrings were also a lot better (mainly helped by an exercise programme) but I found my performance was a lot better on the bike.

My brother has put together a blog which contains some exercises and also a video below. Enjoy!


Tubular Tyre Repair

For those of you running tubular tyres, if you get a puncture and it needs repairing make sure you checking out Brown's Tyres Tubular Tyre Repair. It's a friend of mine Garry Brown who is based in Winsford. Although based in Cheshire he is offering a nationwide service, send them to him and your tubular tyre will be repaired and sent back to you. For those of you who are time precious, Garry also does a tubular tyre installation service.

Garry has been involved in cycling for over 40 years and although I don't use tubs personally, the boys that have had repairs say the work is incredible.

Tubular tyre repairs are from £12 and cyclo-cross tubs are from £17 with a small charge if there are extra incisions on the tub. You can also book and pay online.

Check out www.tubular-tyre-repair.co.uk for more information.