What about Steve Peat??

A number of people have asked me, and it would be silly of me not to comment on the addition of Mark Cavendish to the list of potential winners of 2009 BBC Sports Personality of the Year. For me not to comment would be like Nige at work not blogging if Tranmere Rover won the league (or actually winning a game at all!).

In all honesty, I don't Mark should be on the list, it should have been Steve Peat. The legend that is. After years and years of trying, never giving up, he finally became World Downhill Champion.

I'm a big fan of Mark Cavendish, I watched every race of his through 2009 and I proudly wear the Columbia-HTC jersey when I'm out on the bike. Yes, what Cav achieved is incredible, 23 wins this year, 6 of which at the Tour de France and of course Milan-San Remo. He is the most successful British (in terms of wins) cyclist ever, his win on the Champs-Elysees in Paris at the end of the Tour was fantastic, winning by such a distance. To win in Paris is a dream for any cyclist, but despite all of that he didn't win the green sprinters jersey. If Cav had picked up the green jersey then yes, I would definitely say he should win.

Some say he should have won the green jersey, he was deducted precious points when it was thought he had pushed rival Thor Hushvod into the barriers during the final a sprint. He hadn't, the barriers weren't positioned correctly. However, the following day after Cav said the jersey had been "stained", Hushvod in true style, went off the front on his own and gained all sprinters points for the day to prove the point that it wasn't. It was an epic performance which will be talked about for years to come, Cav couldn't match it and that's my point - there is so much more to come from Cav, to win BBC Sports Personality now would be too early.

People say it should be Bradley Wiggins, and his transformation from track to roadie - to see him play in the mountains with the likes of Armstrong, Contador and the Schleck brothers - was both heartwarming and incredible, but this time round he didn't get the Tour de France top 3 placing, and lost out to Cancellera on the time trials, so again I think to suggest Bradley Wiggins, like Cav, is too premature - there is much more to come from Brad.

This year, my money is on Jenson Button to win.

Building A Train Station in a Week

When the floods hit Cockermouth and with it tore down bridges leading into the main working town of Workington, a community was cut off. However in the space of a week, engineers have worked to build a temporary train station in a week. The station will bridge two ends of the town together. I would really recommend watching this video on the BBC which goes through the whole process.

A friend of mine, Richard Worsnip, commented on Facebook about this saying "Good to see they've pulled this off so quickly. It does beg the question that if a temporary (but safe) station can be built and rolling stock sourced (old Inter-city carriages to my eye) in just 6 days, why can overcrowding issues elsewhere in the country not be resolved"?

A very good point. In the space of a week, the engineers had sent a helicopter to scout land, found an ideal spot of land, contacted the council, arranged a 2 year lease, built 2 platforms out of scafolding with non-slip surface, a portable waiting room, a car park and footbridge. A new footpath is currently being built by the Army and will be open in the next week and Royal Engineers laid out the 4,000 tons of rock base foundation. And not only that but services are being operated for free.

It was an incredible feat of engineering, determination and manpower. It was well organised, there was no fannying around, no endless meetings to discuss it. It was: we have a problem, we have an easy solution, we've got a job to be done, let's do it quickly and do it well.

It could only have happened in Cumbria though.

Cumbrians have such drive and tenacity. My family come from Cockermouth, I've grown up there during many a school holiday, it was where I bought my first vinyls when I started DJing and I have a lot of memories there. It is a gorgeous town, no matter what the weather there is always a warmth about the place, it is always bustling. Everyone knows each other, all the shops are family run and to see all that destroyed was simply heartbreaking.

Back in the day there was a farmers market every week which I loved to go and see, unfortunately BSE destroyed that community and Sainsburys has now bulldozed the market over.

What was really heart warming (and the reason why the train station was built in a week), was that despite the floods and the disruption, there was no sulking. It was "we need to battle on and get on with it". There were stories that businesses had grouped together, and the next day were back trading in a new rented premises.

Stories like that are incredible to hear.

Raleigh Back in 2010

Another new cycling team joining an ever increasing UK circuit, as blogged last week, is the Raleigh Cycling Team.

Raleigh have recently been through a tough couple of years, once a key racing team back in the 1980s when the Tour of Britain was called the Milk Race (Joop Zoetemelk even won a Tour de France on a Raleigh), they soon capitalised and went down the cheap, commercial route, distributing thousands through Halfords. They quickly became detached from their racing pedigree, preferring cheap bikes and big profits; roadies didn't want to be associated with the commercial Halfords crowd and with no sexy sport status behind them, Raleigh soon lost vision.

Raleigh are making a return to the pro scene in 2010 with a new cycling team, riding new and improved Raleigh bikes. First impressions are good, they've signed up young talent alongside experienced riders such as Tom Barras, Dale Appleby and Liam Holohan.

I don't think the likes of Rapha Condor will be frightened by the squad, however it will be good to see the classic badge re-appear. I have a lot of fond memories of that badge from when I was younger.

I think the exposure will definitely help Raleigh improve sales of their hybrid and bottom end bikes. Raleigh is a big British brand which has been forgotten and stamped into the mud, the exposure will help Raleigh dig itself out of the ground and become an aspirational cycling brand to families and those popping into Halfords to buy a bike for the first time in 15 years who don't know about Boardman.

For us roadies, I'll give them a miss. I'm with Team Sky and Pinarello.

Team Sky Caught Training




Cycling Weekly caught the new Sky Cycling Team out training together this week on their new Pinarello Dogmas (I'm still waiting for the phone call from Pinarello with all this publicity I'm giving them!!).

They were up around Saddleworth in the gorgeous British weather on Thursday, although Juan Antonio Flecha doesn't seem to bothered! By the looks of things they are still waiting for team kit to come through.

They will be moving to Quarrata in Tuscany soon, a purpose built training HQ, together with the academy riders. The project is being managed by Max Sciandri. I would recommend reading this article on the Guardian website by William Fotheringham about Quarrata.

The line up is now pretty much complete now and includes:
Kurt-Asle Arvesen (34)
John-Lee Augustyn (23)
Michael Barry (33)
Edvald Boasson Hagen (22)
Sylvain Calzati (30)
Kjell Carlstrom (33)
Dario Cioni (34)
Steve Cummings (28)
Russell Downing (31)
Juan Antonio Flecha (32)
Chris Froome (24)
Simon Gerrans (29)
Mat Hayman (31)
Greg Henderson (33)
Peter Kennaugh (20)
Thomas Lövkvist (25)
Lars-Petter Nordhaug (25)
Serge Pauwels (26)
Nicolas Portal (30)
Morris Possoni (25)
Ian Stannard (22)
Chris Sutton (25)
Geraint Thomas (23)
Davide Vigano (25)

There is still much debate over whether Bradley Wiggins will sign to Sky. It sounds as though he wants to, he recently mentioned that to win the Tour de France he needs to be playing for a team lik e Man United, but at the moment he is at Wigan. Garmin Slipstream are certain they won't let their big rider go until the end of his contract.

There is also concern over promising young rider Ben Swift. His former/current team Katusha are being funny over letting him go with 2 years left on his contract. They ordered him to a meeting last week in Italy to discuss this, which Ben didn't turn up to.

In better news, the Sky cycling team has now been awarded a UCI license which means they can now compete in all the big races and also Sean Yates has joined the team as Sports Director. Sean was manager at Team Discovery and Astana working with Lance Armstrong.

The line up is definitely one of the most exciting in the peloton. I personally can't wait to see Russell Downing, Chris Froome and Steve Cummings working together. Fingers crossed Ben Swift gets his move.

Cycling Team News

Quite a lot of team news going about the place at the moment.

Firstly Rapha Condor have announced their team line-up for next year. I believe one of the strongest line-ups on the UK circuit. They've signed Jonathan Tiernan Locke from the defunkt SportsBeans team. Jonathan put on some excellent performances last year and is a great signing. This added with getting workhorse Graham Briggs from CandiTV, alongside British National Road Champion Kristan House and crit powerhouses Chris Newton and Dean Downing.

My one to watch, not only in Rapha Condor but in the season as a whole will be Darren Lapthorne. The Aussie put some amazing performances last year, getting in 3 or more breakaways in the Tour of Britain and the legendary ride at the Chester Tour Series.

Rapha Condor Cycling Team 2010

Graham Briggs
Dan Craven
Matt Cronshaw
Zak Dempster
Dean Downing
Ben Greenwood
Kristian House
Darren Lapthorne
Chris Newton
Tom Southam
Jonathan Tiernan Locke
Dean Windsor

Another team worth watching is the Endura Racing Team.

Bike clothing manufacturer Endura has invested heavily in this team, poaching Rob Hayles from Halfords Bikehut to be both rider and team captain. He has bought along some of his buddies too including one to watch, Ian Wilkinson.

Team Endura Cycling Team 2010
Jack Bauer
Ross Creber
Jason Christie
Gary Hand
Rob Hayles
Evan Oliphant
Sandy King
David Lines
James McCallum
James Moss
Rob Partridge
Scott Thwaites
Callum Wilkinson
Ian Wilkinson

There are also 2 new cycling teams in the form of The Metaltek Racing Team sponsored by cycling website www.cyclepremier.com and renewable energy energy company Infinis. They will ride Basso Bikes.

The other team being South West based
Pendragon Sports/Le Col/Colnago, Pendragon organised a number of cyclo-sportives throughout the year. The lineup is already quite impressive with international rider Yanto Barker on board.

CandiTV Marshalls Pasta are yet to name their squad having lost Russell Downing to Sky, however sponsor Motorpoint have announced they will become a bigger sponsor in 2010.

The Long Road To Cyclosportives 2010

It seems like ages ago since I last took part in a cyclosportive, although it was only 2 months ago. Every weekend burning around country lanes or getting home after work and charging up to Holmes Chapel and back. It seems like a life time ago now.

Since that last cyclosportive, the Manchester 100, I ventured to the gym a couple of times but it just isn't the same and I've been out every other weekend on my bike for a couple of hours but I'm finding the short days and change in weather is taking it's toll. I'm finding it hard to motivate myself, especially with no sportives to look forward to.

A couple of holidays to Zagreb and Edinburgh, together with a 2 week cold knocked out two weeks of any bike riding too. I think having been running on cycling fuelled adrenaline since March finally ran out and I just felt exhausted. I calculated I have cycled around 2000 miles this year.

I can feel the weight gain, I can feel my muscles and fitness just fading away and I know I need to do something about it, it's just finding the motivation in this cold, wet, miserable, dark, foggy weather.

Some much needed relief came this week with the announcement of a couple of dates for 2010. I've already entered the Cheshire Cat and fancy the 67 mile version up Mow Cop this year. Now just to get to the gym........

The Dates So Far....

The Cheshire Cat – 28th March
Manchester to Liverpool – 30th May
Manchester to Blackpool – 11th July
Manchester to Manchester – 5th September

Michael Jackson - This Is It

When the news filtered through that Michael Jackson had passed away, I was shocked. I'm not a die hard Michael Jackson fan but I, like many people, grew up listening to him and count his records as some of the first I listened to and bought.

I remember being in primary school, going round to my mates Millsy and James Lawton's houses and listening to the Thriller album, most notably Beat It, Billie Jean and Thriller. This was around the time he released the much under-rated Dangerous album with Black and White and Heal The World hitting the charts. We watched Moonwalker numerous times together with the HIStory video, replaying the Smooth Criminal video time and time again.

I remember one lunch time at primary school, the 3 of us walking around the field singing the songs together and doing the immature boy thing of hitting our pelvis everytime we did the "Ow!".

The shocking thing about Michael Jackson's death, was that he had actually died. You had grown up in this balloon of him being invincible. The thought of Michael Jackson ever dying was inconceivable, and here we were, in the middle of him rehursing for a string of live dates at the 02 in London, he had passed away from a heart attack.

There were reports that at the turn of 50, he couldn't handle the 100 dates at O2. That he lived his life on a diet of painkillers. That it wouldn't be the same, that he couldn't sing, that he would no longer be able to dance like he used to.

Well having seen "This Is It", I can safely say that it would have been the most amazing concert. He would have firmly shut the mouths of those who dared to say he couldn't do it. The concert would have been talked about for years to come. That at the age of 50, he effortlessly moved through each song, everything sang in tune with same overwhelming emotion delivered back in the day. Everything looked and sounded perfect.

I thought this was going to be a film with 10 minutes of rehursal footage, and an hour of mind-numbing interviews. It wasn't. It was 90 minutes of pure live music, every single song in full. The great thing was you got to see the "behind the scenes" footage of putting together the videos for the concert, the dancers rehursing the moves, Michael meticulously rehursing with the band.

It was clear to see who was in charge and that was Michael. Everything had to be perfect, especially musically. The notes had to be delivered to perfection, every breakdown, intro or outro was timed on cue by Michael Jackson. It was perfection only other artists can strive to achieve. He wasn't frightened to change things, he knew what would work the crowd; "don't worry, that's the reason why we rehearse" he repeatedly said.

It was just breathtaking to see the energy, passion and movement he had. Unfortunately, we will never get to see the concert for real but thankfully we can at least savour these precious 90 minutes.

Sky Cycling Team Bikes Pinarello

Team Sky have announced their cycling team will be riding on Pinarello bikes for the next 3 years. The team will most probably ride the Italian manufacturer's amazing looking Dogma.

It will be interesting to see if they keep the Italian feel and go with Campag gearing.

Full article on Sky Sports. The news follows the announcement of team members last month and the news they've been granted a UCI Pro Tour Licence.

Nocturnal Frequencies Mixed By Woody

Nocturnal Frequencies Mixed By Woody (October 2009) by woody_homegrown

Nocturnal Frequencies (October 2009)
Mixed & Compiled By Woody

01 - Two Armadillos Feat Barbara Alcindor - Je Suis Differente - Sthimaudio
02 - The Discowboys - At Midnight (Steve Bug's Always Late Mix) - Dessous Records
03 - A:xus - Suite Disappointment (Rocco Remix) Rebirth
04 - Lovebirds - N2Deep - Lazy Days Music
05 - Candy Dealers - Street Delight (Harold Heath's Re-Rub) - Eight Tracks
06 - Hipp-E - I Know Ya - Onethirty Recordings
07 - Harold Heath - Lovebird - Lost My Dog
08 - Joris Voorn - Chase The Mouse - Rejected
09 - Makam - When You Love Somebody - Sushitech Purple
10 - Glimpse & Martin Eyerer - Southern Soul (Jay Shepheard Remix) - Buzzin Fly
11 - Joris Voorn - We're All Clean - Rejected
12 - Lucas Keizer - Stolen Cajun Ahule - Guesthouse Music
13 - Technasia - More Fusin' - Music Man
14 - Trevor Rockliffe - Can I Hit It? - Mentor

Thanks to all artists and labels for their music.

Last Of The Summer Wine. Mixed & Compiled By Woody

Last Of The Summer Wine. Mixed & Compiled By Woody by woody_homegrown

Last Of The Summer Wine
Mixed & Compiled By Woody

01 // Miguel Migs Feat LT / Get Down (Dolls Combers Spring Vocal Mix) / Onelove
02 // Roberto De Carlo Feat Colin Corvez / You Are The One For Me (Miguel Migs Salted Dub) / Purple Music
03 // Lisa Shaw / Like I Want To (Fred Everything Dub) / Salted Music
04 // Knee Deep Feat Cathy Battistessa / All About Love (Ralf Gum Deeper Alternative Mix) / Knee Deep
05 // Giom / Just Trippen / Blackcherry Recordings
06 // The Candy Dealers / Come Alive (Jay West Mix) / Alphabet Music
07 // Joshua Heath / I Refuse / Drop Music
08 // Kinky Movement / Finger Funk / Shakin Music
09 // Joshua Heath / Son Of A Gun / Drop Music
10 // Sonny Fodera / Loose My Mind / Drop Music
11 // Ken ECB / I Heart Bougie (Toka Project Coast To Coast Remix) / Amenti Music
12 // Olivier Desmet / Just Like Heaven (Joshua Heath Remix) / Amenti Music
13 // Jay J & Torin Rea / Sunshine People / Guess Who?

Thanks to all artists and labels for their music in this mix.

Sky Cycling Team Members Lineup

Sky have been announcing their 2010 Professional Cycling Team lineup, with members including:

Kurt-Asle Arvesen (34)
John-Lee Augustyn (23)
Michael Barry (33)
Edvald Boasson Hagen (22)
Sylvain Calzati (30)
Kjell Carlstrom (33)
Dario Cioni (34)
Steve Cummings (28)
Russell Downing (31)
Juan Antonio Flecha (32)
Chris Froome (24)
Simon Gerrans (29)
Mat Hayman (31)
Greg Henderson (33)
Peter Kennaugh (20)
Thomas Lövkvist (25)
Lars-Petter Nordhaug (25)
Serge Pauwels (26)
Nicolas Portal (30)
Morris Possoni (25)
Ian Stannard (22)
Chris Sutton (25)
Geraint Thomas (23)
Davide Vigano (25)

What a team. Sky have done a great job with this cycling team. Really chuffed that Russell Downing has got a place but look at the likes of Chris Froome, Columbia's Boasson Hagen, Lovkvist, Cervelo's Simon Gerrans and Juan Antonio Flecha. Thats before we even start talking about Possoni, Steve Cummings and Geriant Thomas!

Incredible team, good to see Steve Cummings in there (who lives just down the road from me in the Wirral). Expect big things from Peter Kennaugh, definitely one to watch.

I think Boasson Hagen will become the natural team leader unless we sign Bradley Wiggins, simply due to his incredible scope and power.

Manchester 100

Well today was scheduled as the last sportive of the season for me., although a couple of others have popped up which are interesting, The Bruntwood Ellipse Cycle Sportif (a 55 mile ramble from Knutsford into the Peaks) and Salford Cycle (a 1k time trial around Salford Quays). Salford Cycle is interesting as it would be the first time trial I will have competed in.

Anyway today was the Manchester 100. Choices of either 100 mile or 100k available of which I had the 100 mile planned. Preparations leading up to the 100 hadn't been great, since completing the Rapha Condor Sportive in Blackpool, I've had the normal weekend rides with a couple of hourly rides midweek. It has been nearly a month layoff since Blackpool, and I had lost my conditioning. 2 weeks leading up to the event had seen training tail off too. A couple of rides the week before saw the legs feeling right.

The 100 mile started between 7 and 8. As we drove to the event, we found we were stuck in a massive queue to get in which tailed back on to the motorway (we later found over 2500 people had entered)! By the time we had parked and got ready it was quarter to 9, so hopes of doing the 100 mile route had vanished. Having missed the groups to ride with, I wasn't going to do my first 100 miles on my own so changed plan to do the 100k.

My target now was to compete with my time of 3 hours 30 mins from the Rapha Condor ride. I still can't believe that time and today would be a good test to see if I had timed it right! The best thing about the Manchester 100, is that within minutes you're into winding country lanes, meaning no slow moving, massive groups.

The pace was pretty slow and I couldn't find any groups to ride with. To be honest I ended up riding on my own for the whole ride. I decided to stop only once half way in Middlewich. It was pretty quiet when I rolled up and after a banana I continued on. It was after Middlewich that my thighs started cramping up, the slow down in my training was starting to effect me and with it got overtook by two people which lead me to chase them and get my second wind.

10 miles and a sharp climb later had allowed my legs to return to normality and cruised to the finish. My time. 3hours 35 minutes. 5 minutes slower than Blackpool.

I found out on my return the fastest 100k time was 2 hours 51, so still some catching up to be done. I was chuffed with my time, especially with the slow down in training and riding on my own.

Compared to Manchester to Blackpool, this was much better, no riders clogging up roads, excellent finish and good food stops and facilties. The route well signposted and marshalled. The only downer being the lack of groups to ride with, I put this down to them doing the 100 miles instead.

So I was 5 minutes slower and I felt on the climbs that I wasn't as sharp as previous. Back to training and hopefully a couple more rides before the season is over.

Hincapie Leaves Columbia for BMC Racing

News that Columbia-HTC's George Hincapie has left to join BMC Racing. He has signed a two year deal which will see him be team captain.

It is a shame to see him leave Columbia-HTC, I feel he brought a lot of experience to the team and reading Mark Cavendish's autobiography you got a sense of support from him too. The response from Columbia-HTC will be interesting. Although they do have a huge amount of talent on board, loosing Hincapie and Berghardt will be a sad loss to them. Watching the Tour this year and from reading Mark Cavendish's autobiography, Hincapie helped Cavendish out on a number of occasions to bring him to the front.

I suppose it was a big temptation for George Hincapie, I thought he was going to join Lance Armstrong at his Team Radioshack along with Lepi Leipheimer. I think it's a testiment to George's character that he chose to go with a team with more options available, away from bowing down to Lance, and an option which will see him be captain. Good on him.

BMC have also signed world race champion Alexandro Ballan and George's fellow team mate Marcus Berghardt, 2 major signings which will make BMC a team to watch next year.

Vuelta a Espana

Well the Vuelta has got underway, Germany, Holland and Belgium staged the first 4 stages in typical wet weather and today they are heading back to Spain. Once again Fabian Cancellera won the opening time trial, and is currently in yellow. Legend, what a rider.

The riders will ride over 3000km over the next 3 weeks. All the big teams are taking part including Cervelo, Columbia HTC, Saxo Bank, Rabobank, Liquigas, Garmin and Casse D' Espaigne.

Columbia HTC arrive without Mark Cavendish and George Hincapie but the depth of the team allows them to still compete in the sprints with Andre Greipel with the likes of Kim Kirchen and Adam Hansen for support.

Garmin include David Millar and Dan Martin (who was unlucky to miss the Tour and will be worth watching in the mountains), together with Julian Dean, Martjin Maaskant and Tyler Farrar.

Cadel Evans is there with Silence-Lotto but I don't think he's with it this year to cause too much of a problem. Olympic Road Race Champion Alessandro Ballan joins in the fun with Lampre and Ivan Basso, Daniele Bennati and Romain Kreuziger are there for Liquigas.

Astana have left all the big guns at home (probably because most of them are leaving for Team RadioShack) so won't cause too much trouble. Although interesting Vinokourov, returns from a doping ban to Astana. I remember watching him at the last Tour he rode in, and he was a fantastic fighter of a rider to watch, such a shame he felt he had to dope. Talking of doping, Alejandro Valverde returns with Casse D' Espagne having missed the Tour due to trying to shake off a 2 year doping ban himself. It is currently in appeal. He had a fantastic Dauphine Libere, could be one to watch.

The strongest team for me is Saxo Bank, with both Andy and Frank Schleck popping along for the ride. With the mountains of Spain to contend with my money would be on Andy Schleck to win. Hopefully he isn't too tired after the Tour.

Manchester 100 Sportive

Well my next sportive will be the Manchester 100 mile on Sunday 6th September.

The Manchester 100 Route.
There are two options. A 100 mile and a 100 kilometre. The route starts at Wythenshaw Park which is always a nice venue to start from as there is ample free car parking and proper toilets too. You can start when you feel like and you are normally in groups of 30 to 50.

From Wythenshaw the route winds down to Knutsford, through Ashley (going past Tatton Park). There is a lengthy drag going past Tatton Park, which can be a bit surprising early on for the legs but nothing major. From Knutsford, the route continues to J19 of the M6 and past The Windmill pub, through Pickmere, past Arley Hall and through Great Budworth before a sharp dig at a crossroads into Comberbach.

The Manchester 100 route continues through into Barnton where a short hill normally slows down people really quickly, so be alert, look ahead and be ready with the gearing. 5 minutes later, once into Winnington there is another short stab called Burrows Hill, this again quickly slows people and finishes as a junction at the top so be careful.

The Manchester 100 route then travels into country lanes and this is where the 100k and 100 mile routes split. The 100k continues on to Winsford before re-joining the 100 mile route at Middlewich and home. The 100 mile route goes on to tackle around Burwardsley, past the picturesque Beeston Castle (with a couple of minor climbs) before finishing halfway at Nantwich.

From Nantwich the route works it way up to Winsford, Sandbach, Middlewich, Alderley Edge, Wilmslow (where there is a stinker of a hill when you have tiring legs) into Styal and back to Wythenshaw.

It's a great ride, every junction is clearly signposted and marshalled. There are about 3-4 stops through out the rides, Middlewich is a main feed point for both rides by the canal.

It seems like eternity since finishing the Rapha Condor Blackpool Sportive at the beginning of the month. After doing 4 100k sportives back to back, your legs get used to it, the distance gets easier and as I found faster.

I've been out on the bike a bit, mainly 10 mile time trials and I've done a couple of 2-3 hour rides, but nothing major. I do fear I've lost the sharpness of the legs from a couple of weeks back but we shall see. I'm looking forward to the challenge of completing my first century.

What did I say about Russell Downing?!

I told you, surely a place on Sky must be knocking on the door for Russell Downing now as he has only gone and now won this week's Tour of Ireland! This week's 3 day tour (cut down from 5 because of the credit crunch) included some big names including Mark Cavendish, Lance Armstrong, Dan Lloyd and Jeremy Hunt, their teams Columbia HTC, Astana and Cervelo are also represented. Halfords and Rapha Condor are other UK teams invited. Saxo Bank are also in there too.

Russell Downing won the first stage for his team Candi-TV Marshalls Pasta, which also saw Rapha Condor's Kristan House win a intermediate sprint. Not a bad year for him having won the National Champions Jersey recently. Mark Cavendish won the sprint on the second day too, rounding off an amazing year for him too.

For Russell Downing to win against such well recognised international riders is fantastic. I wouldn't mind a Pinarello Prince like his either!! At nearly £4000 just for the frame, I might need to save the pennies for a bit longer!

Great Britain World Championship Cycling Team

Amazing news. Great Britain has been allocated 9 places at the Road Race World Championships in Switzerland in September! Because Great Britain, as country, is in the top 10 UCI ranked nations (due to the impressive results of all our riders in UCI competitions recently) we are able to have 9 riders instead of 6 for those outside the top 10. Great Britain is ranked 8th in the UCI list with 462 points.

It is an huge achievement, even ousting out big cycling fanatics France.

Currently, 14 riders have been chosen to go on a training camp in Switzerland and will be narrowed down to the final 9.

Looking through the list it is incredible the list of just 14 names, and just shows the talent British cycling has at the moment:

Jonny Bellis (Saxo Bank)
Mark Cavendish (Columbia)
Steve Cummings (Barloworld)
Russell Downing (CandiTV)
Dan Fleeman (Cervelo)
Chris Froome (Barloworld)
Roger Hammond (Cervelo)
Jeremy Hunt (Cervelo)
Dan Lloyd (Cervelo)
David Millar (Garmin)
Ian Stannard (ISD)
Ben Swift (Katusha)
Geraint Thomas (Barloworld)
Bradley Wiggins (Garmin)

The most notable addition for me is Russell Downing. Fantastic news, especially for the UK circuit and surely must give him a heads up for the Sky team next year now. I'm a huge fan of Russell Downing and he has swept up pretty much everything this year. I hope he gets a place.

My 9 would be: Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins, David Millar, Jeremy Hunt, Chris Froome, Steve Cummings, Roger Hammond, Ben Swift and Russell Downing.

The World Championships are on Sunday 27th September.

New Sportive Hits The UK

News in today that bike manufacturer Wilier has teamed up with new sportive event company Uk Cycling Events to sponsor a range of sportives hitting the lanes from October 2009 into 2010.

UK Cycling Events are looking at catering for both the road and MTB market, much like Evans Cycles do with their Ride It sportives.

Unfortunately the majority will be kicking off down South. The first events will be the Wilier New Forest Sportive and the Wilier South Downs Sportive on the 11th and 18th October respectively.

There will be a choice of 3 routes, 100 mile, 70 mile and 40 mile, which are 10 miles more than the standard which will be a bit more testing for the beginner, amateur and experienced bracket riders.

Event facilities will include free parking, energy bars and gels, up to 3 feed stations, signposted route, mechanical support, event timing, showers and maps. Entry fees range from £22 to £15 which is again the norm with pretty much any sportive.

Check out UK Cycling Events for more info.

Rapha Condor Blackpool Sportive Review

Rapha Condor are getting quite a few mentions on this blog of late, hopefully I'm inline for a free jersey sooner or later! Saturday was the third sportive in a row for me, another 60 miles this time around the Lancashire countryside.

The Rapha Condor Sportive is another new addition to the UK sportive line up, and a warm up to the Blackpool Nocturne crit series later on in the evening. The sportive started at the Solaris centre, right on the seafront of the South Promenade (for those of you that did the Manchester to Blackpool, it was finishing point for that sportive).

The route would take us on a loop from Blackpool into Lytham St Annes, through Warton, Freckleton, Kirkham, Longridge, Goosnargh, Woodplumpton through Lytham St Annes and back home.

The weather started off dull and grey with the odd shower so with full length bibs and stowaway jacket on we set off (signing on was a doddle, the facilities were great and starting was efficient). The route took us down the long drag up to Lytham St Annes. The pace was fast pretty much all day. Once again I suffered cold muscle syndrome at the start, loosing my starting group but managed to join another slower moving group, then got on the front and dragged them along to the bigger group up the road just in time for the country road stretch.

A group of about 15 of us tore through beautiful winding country roads, if only it had been hot and sunny! The roads were deathly quiet allowing the group to take up the whole road with no problems. A couple of short but sharp hills within the first 10 - 15 miles caught me out, which saw me hitting the back of the group. I hung on and managed to work back through on the flat.

The pace was relentless, the group was never more than 2 a brest due to the pace and you were constantly pushing forward. Well, we thought we were going at a good pace until out of nowhere the Rapha Condor Cycling Team came bombing through. 20 of them all 2 a brest. You dug deep, you tried to catch the wheel but the speed was too mad to keep up. It really makes you think just how much more you need to improve when you see that and credit to the Rapha Condor team for getting involved with us common foe, it was a great experience.

Anyway, after that the bunch, which had rolled around country lanes for the last hour, became detached. Everyone was everywhere and soon enough I was on my own. I think I lost energy from chasing the Rapha Condor group and then simply lost track of the bunch in the process. I think the bunch was full of strong, faster riders that left me at that point.

So I battled on, a couple of drags crept up but nothing to worry about. No-one over took me nor did I see anyone either. I eventually came to the feed stop and was the first one there. By this time the sun was shining and off came the jacket. I was joined 5 minutes later by 6 others and from there I continued with 2 guys. We worked together really well, constantly taking turns on the front and rolled through the lanes really well. Unfortunately I lost them at a road junction having got caught up for 5 minutes trying to cross and ended up doing the last 12 on my own.

Again the roads rolled along pretty quickly and the final couple of miles into Blackpool through Lytham St Annes dragged once again (for those that did the Manchester to Blackpool it was the same finish). I'll never get used to that drag it's a pain.

I rolled across the line in 3 hours 30 minutes. Delighted. I had knocked 30 minutes off Cheshire Plains and Peaks and 1 hour off Manchester to Blackpool. To makes things even better apart from numb bum my legs felt great, even the next day.

The organisation was great, the organisers were really friendly, a smiling face and clap is always great at the end. You recieved a free SIS gel, energy bar and drink at the feedstation. Everywhere was signposted really well, some larger markers would perhaps be an improvement for next time but no major worries.

There was a mixture of abilities but I would say this sportive was more for those into their cycling with a couple of sportives under the belt. I would definately recommend the Rapha Condor Sportive.

Rapha Condor Cycling Team New Sponsors

I've just read that cycling team Rapha Condor have added 3 new sponsors for the remainder of the season. Fantastic news to hear that despite the recesssion, companies are investing in cycling. It just shows how much cycling has come on this year. Sky have invested in Skyrides and a new British team for next year's tour and this is even before we starting talking about the fantastic Tour series which recieved twice weekly ITV 4 footage. Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish even got page reports in the likes of The Mirror and and graced the front page of the BBC Sport website! Only a couple of years ago, a small paragraph would have been big news!

Rapha Condor's new sponsors aren't little fish either. Sharp Electronics, Paul Smith Jeans and Malmaison Hotel Group have been added.

Sharp will be pushing their Sharp4Prostate initiative, which will tie in nicely with the Tour of Britain, which is sponsored by The Prostate Cancer Charity.

Super luxurious hotel brand Malmaision will be getting involved with a training camp tour which will see Rapha Condor visit a number of Malmaision hotels over August in the build up to the Tour of Britain. The riders will stay at the hotels and those who are Rapha Condor Club Members will be able to stay at the hotels as part of the hospitality.

Paul Smith Jeans is a nice addition for the fashion conscious Rapha Condor team. Sir Paul is known to be a cycling fantatic, and his fashion brand will work nicely alongside the Rapha brand.

Rapha Condor Cycling Team will be racing at the Blackpool Nocturne on Saturday 1st August. I will be taking part in the Rapha Condor Sportive during the day.

In Conclusion: Tour de France


So, after all the hype the Tour has finally finished for another year. It's mad. Since March I've been looking forward to the Tour, watching all the Spring classics and the past three weeks have just whizzed by.

Well my prediction was right, Alberto Contador scooped up a second Tour De France victory, and he did so with relative ease. It is credit to him, that he has improved from simply being a good climber in the mountains, to now being unstoppable in the time trial. Other than Fabian Cancellara, no-one could touch him in the time trials and then when it came to the mountains, he launched a legendary attack which left everyone for dead, gaining twenty seconds on his rivals - most importantly killing off the Armstrong threat.

Away from there it was down to Andy Schleck to try and take some time away from Contador. He couldn't do it in the time trial, and he found out that even with the help of his brother Frank, he still couldn't get rid of Contador off his wheel in the mountains. Contador simply sat there, bobbing around, letting Andy do all the work. All the while you just knew he had lots left in the tank. It was a fantastic ride by Contador, especially when you consider the pressure he was under from Astana and Lance Armstrong. That attack in the Alps was the turning point, even Armstrong held his hands up and said I can't compete with that.

Credit to Andy Schleck though, although he couldn't shake off Alberto Contador, he lead up all the major climbs, made attacks and rode well. He can't be disappointed with a second place. I think people will have a new found respect for him.

I'll hold my hands up, I didn't think Lance Armstrong would be as good as he was. He was mixing it up with the big guys and finished a credible third. There was no way he could beat Contador and Schleck on the climbs but he hung in there right to the end. He has said he will be back next year, with a new team sponsored by RadioShack. If he keeps up the fitness over Winter and has a good Spring in his legs, it will be very interesting next year, especially with a team surrounding just him.

The Winners

For me there are two big winners of the Tour, and they are both Brits. Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish were nothing short of sensational.

For Bradley Wiggins, to turn from the track to the road and stick it in the climbs with the likes of Contador, Schleck and Armstrong was awesome. I predicted before the Tour he would be one to watch. Many disagreed. Many said he couldn't do it. Many suggested he had doped. If you follow cycling closely you will know Bradley Wiggins is totally against people who dope, his autobiography has many references to his thoughts against doping, so those accusations were uneducated. His determination is second to none. Infact to say his nearest competitor was Armstrong is a credit. His team Garmin didn't let him down, heroic efforts from VandeVelde and David Millar made sure he was always well placed. Bradley finished an incredible 4th and has since hinted he may quit the track for the road. I hope he does because I would love to see him win the Tour.

And then Mark Cavendish. 6 sprint wins including winning in Paris on the Champs-Elysees was awesome. He didn't get the green jersey, a moment of stupidity cost him that. Many claimed the barriers weren't set up correctly, Cav said he was deliberately going slow to allow his team-mate George Hincapie get the yellow jersey. Either way, he was judged to have blocked rival Thor Hushovd and lost all his points for the stage. Lets face it, there wasn't much of an arguement from his team Columbia-HTC too!

Each opportunity to win was executed flawlessly. Needless to say his team worked fantastically to drive the peloton, with Mark Renshaw leading him out perfectly every time. The thing about Mark Cavendish is that he is sharp, he notices movements, and will go early if needs be. His climbing has improved and it will only be time before he becomes a more all rounded sprinter like Thor Hushovd.

Mark's Columbia-HTC team mate Tony Martin and Cervelo's Heinrich Haussler are also worthy mentions. Tony only missing the young rider's jersey to an impressive Andy Schleck, but was in a two man breakaway up Mont Ventoux having lead out Mark Cavendish the day before. Henrich Haussler's breakway in the rain to win alone will remembered for years to come, his tears over the line showed how much it meant to him.

Another shout has to go to Sylvain Chavanel, was there a breakaway he wasn't in?! And Saxo Bank's Fabian Cancellara - where did he come from? After a disappointing Spring, he had the yellow jersey for the opening days after an incredible time trial in Monaco. He fought well and throughout the Tour could be seen on the front too.

The losers


Cadel Evans and the Silence Lotto team. Non-existant and his Tour was over after the team time trial. Once again his weak team let him down.

Carlos Sastre. The former champion was lost in the shadows, non-existant throughout much of the Tour and struggled badly. Sore point for another wise fantastic first year Cervelo performance.

Denis Menchov and the Rabobank team. Did they actually turn up? The Giro D' Italia champion fell off more times than I've hot dinners.

Tom Boonen. Last minute entry having got himself into trouble for snorting Cocaine. Could have won fans back over but left early feeling ill.

Cheshire Plains and Peaks Sportive

Cheshire Plains and Peaks is a new sportive set up by Ian Jerams and Paul Woodrow to raise money for St Rocco's Hospice. There was two options to choose from, either 100k or 100 miles. The 100k went from Stockton Heath, near Warrington, up to Alderley Edge hill and back again, while the 100 mile route continued on through to Macclesfield and spent a few hours in the Peaks, up to the Cat and Fiddle before heading back to Stockton Heath.

I opted for the 100k. The week after the Manchester to Blackpool I was feeling pretty good but then on the Sunday before the Plains and Peaks I came down with a Migraine and felt really tired and groggy for the next couple of days. I was a bit worried that not spinning the legs in the week leading up to the sportive would be a bad move. However I found that the rest had actually done me good and a run to Holmes Chapel and back on Thursday night found the legs to be in good form, just the body feeling lazy.

Come Sunday morning, it was grey. The heavens had opened and it rained constantly all morning. I rolled up to registration at Bridgewater High School, there were warm welcomes and after a quick signature we were given a number. Looking around the hall, I realised that these guys were regulars at pushing out an 'easy' 100 miles. Everyone seemed to be lean figured clutching their amazingly, expensive bikes. Me and my Dave Hinde felt a little out of place!

After an introductory briefing, we headed out on the route. I was first out with a group of 5, soon to be joined by a further 3. In the first mile, the pace was good enough to get the heart rate up and legs going. The next couple of miles the pace stepped up and was very high. I was struggling to keep up and found myself being slipped off the back. I think it was because I hadn't warmed up and the pace was a shock to a still sleeping system. I couldn't be dropped from this group. I pushed hard out of the saddle to keep in touch and eventually I clawed my way back on. Within the next mile or so my body eventually got it's self together and all was ok.

After that I rode comfortably and the 8 of us roared through the country lanes. The pace was good, we got to Alderley Edge is less than 2 hours from Stockton Heath, that was even with a headwind.

I say I rode well, I got dropped dramatically up Alderley Edge hill. Right off the back. I kept calm, from my other rides I learnt not to panic and chugged up at my own pace, keeping my breathing right and fighting past the burning thighs. I got to the top and thankfully a feedstop.

The ride back from Alderley Edge was good, rolling along country roads. I was joined by Graham from the morning's group and together we ate up the miles back home. The only trouble I had was in the last 5 miles, I think with the talking I had lost track of eating. A small drag soon made sure my legs lost any sort of energy. A quick gel sorted that out and the last 2 miles were fine.

The time: 4 hours 5 minutes. Nearly half an hour quicker than Manchester to Blackpool and this time I only stopped once. I was chuffed and I felt good at the end. Ok, I was covered in mud, soaking wet, my shoes had small lakes in them but the legs felt great, not sore or aching.

I would recommend entering next year. There was about 50 of us this year but there is certainly room for growth. The route was nice, riders friendly and the support staff were great.

Manchester to Blackpool Review

The annual Manchester to Blackpool ride has been going for donkeys of years, my Nan used to ride it back in the day! This year proceedings kicked off at Old Trafford, home to Manchester United. This was a really good idea by the organisers, previous years have seen it start in the center of Manchester meaning having to pay £10,000,000 for car parking. Old Trafford had masses of car parking space and all free too.

Rolling up to the car park it was great to see such a turnout, the car park was full, with mini buses dropping off further groups of riders. Signing on was easy, I was glad I had pre-booked our entries as 8am seemed the best time to be setting off for most riders. Having to queue up for 15 minutes to pay, then another 10 minutes to the start would have been too long. Having pre-booked we simply queued for 10 minutes, handed in our entry card and got a map in return (not that you needed one as it was very well signposted).

The ride to Blackpool took in the sights and sounds of Wolseley, Leigh, Wigan, Haigh Hall, Leyland, Chorley, Preston, Preston Docks, Lythm St Annes and finally Blackpool. The ride was pretty flat, the hills were no issue at all, all were easily done in the big ring and were more long drags than sharp climbs.

Between Haigh Hall and Preston Docks was the best part for me, open country lanes and a quiet bypass allowed to dig deep and get some speed in. The worst part was the final 10 miles, a strong headwind was tough work, luckily I got some help from Harvey Hutchinson and we got rotating on the front. The long, long, long 5 mile drag into Blackpool with the headwind and heavy traffic was tiring and I suffered cramp towards the end. The finish was fantastic, a sprint from the traffic lights down the promenade right by the sea front with hundreds of people shouting and cheering you on.

The support of the general public through out the ride was great. The whole 60 miles had people watching at the side of the roads, shouting and cheering on, especially when you were attacking or digging deep.

Dangerous

It was great to see so many riders of all abilities out there. There must have been 10,000 riders on the route, however this lead to problems. The roads, especially for the first and last 20 miles, when we were going through towns were totally jammed with bikes. In my opinion it was really unsafe for both riders and drivers. It was the first time I've ever seen an event this busy.

People also unfortunately rode carelessly, keeping more than two abrest in built up areas and even if they were two abrest they were taking up nearly the whole road! Slow riders were not keeping to the left, some even sat right in the middle of the road. Many didn't look over their shoulder when moving out and one guy nearly spat in my face at one point because he wasn't looking.

This chaos all meant that cars couldn't overtake, and that in return caused faster riders to overtake both bikes and cars. The constant slowing down and sharp acceleration to get past everything was a pain and wasted valuable energy.

I also ride in SPD-SL's which makes it very hard to stop and start quickly so I was constantly on the edge looking ahead for riders pulling out which was also tough when concentrating on keeping focused on my own ride.

In my opinion it was far too busy to go through town centres. It was totally unsafe and the organisers must either reconsider the route next year or limit numbers. It will be a shame to limit numbers as the ride does great things for Christies but safety must be paramount.

Conclusion

I was chuffed with my ride, the legs felt good, the bike was great and despite being slowed down numerous times (together with the strong headwind) I managed a time of 4 hours 25 minutes. If I had a clearish run, I believe, I could have got close to 4 hours. I was really chuffed with my constant speed, at one point I had a train of 6 riders behind me and they dropped off. It was also good that even in the last 200 metres I had a good, fast sprint in me.

Manchester to Blackpool is a great ride, especially for those starting out on Sportives. The ride takes in riders of all qualities, lots of different charities, fancy dress, road bikes and mountain bikes.

There were tons of feed stops, 5 in total stocked up with food, drink and mechnicals. Food and drink was well priced, £3 quid would get you a drink, sandwich and banana. You can be assured that you will never ride alone and that there will always be someone of your ability. If the family isn't coming down to support you can either pre-book a bus back home or we got the train back to Manchester for £15, although be aware they only let 5 bikes on per train!

I would definitely recommend Manchester to Blackpool to anyone. I'll be back next year for a sub 4.

Tour de France 2009

Well the cycling team presentations got underway today in Monaco. This year's Tour De France is shaping to be one of the best with a huge number of riders in the running to win the overall.

A 180 riders will take on 21 days of solid riding, taking on 3,500km. There are 2 individual time trials, the first being the opening stage in Monaco and 1 team time trial which Garmin Slipstream will be looking to take back after Columbia won in the Giro. There is 7 mountain stages altogether with the riders taking on the incredible Mount Ventoux on the penultimate stage. Mount Ventoux is the highest point in Provence, with the riders climbing over 1,800 metres. Mount Ventoux is so vicious that it even has it's own micro climate and claimed the life of british rider Tom Simpson. Never before has a mountain appeared 24 hours before Paris, and could potentially decided the Tour there and then.

Just before the start, Cervelo launched a new cycling team kit, a refreshing white in the baking summer heat of France while Mark Cavendish's Columbia Highroad announced a new sponsor, mobile phone manufacturer HTC. They are now called Columbia-HTC. Sad news that promising climber Dan Martin had to pull out with an injury.

So who to win?

My call is on Astana's Alberto Contador. He looked sharp in the Giro and also Paris-Nice, he has improved on his time trialling which with his exceptional climbing will really help him. He has a very strong team behind him with Armstrong and Leipheimer, who could also be potential winners themselves.

Last year's winner Carlos Sastre returns this time with the Cervelo Test Team. He has fantastic equipment, a nice team behind him and would be one to watch out for going solo on Mount Ventoux.

Cadel Evans has come second twice now, he looked strong in the Giro but he suffers from a bad temper in the field and has no strong support from his team. He has incredible drive and determination and he could do it albeit on his own.

And then there is Lance Armstrong, back from the dead to take a record 8th Tour de France. Can he do it? He has improved considerably but I don't think he can. I can't see him matching it against Contador, Sastre and Evans on the climbs. He will give it a good go, I just hope he supports the real contender in his team first, Contador.

It will also be interesting to see how Andy and Frank Schleck get on in their Saxo Bank team, definately ones to watch in the climbs.

And Mark Cavendish? It is told that he won't be challenging for the green sprinters jersey and going more for stage wins. I believe he can win the green jersey, he is looking fitter than ever, made good decisions throughout the season (such as to pull out of the Giro) and he will get to France.

Also watch out for British riders Bradley Wiggins and David Millar who are look very strong. I'll be keeping an eye on Bradley Wiggins who has improved dramatically and looking very lean. Incredible time triallist and may spring a surprise on the climbs.

All in all this year's Tour de France will be incredible. The full list of riders and teams can be found here. Footage everyday on Eurosport and ITV 4.

Tour Series Chester

Following last week's trip to Joop!tastic Stoke, I ventured over to Chester for the penultimate round of this year's tour series. A circuit around Chester town centre. Once again the turnout was fantastic with crowds lining the circuit all the way round, even the downpour in the first 10 minutes did nothing to dampen the spirits.

Once again the pace was high early on with the bunch stretched out however a break from Rapha Condor's Darren Lapthorne wasn't chased down and he burnt off for the remainder of the race. A former Australian champion Lapthorne broke in the first quarter of an hour and ended up lapping the backmarkers and being over half a lap ahead of the peloton. It was an incredible ride, a legendary ride with Lapthorne totally looking at ease as he tore the field apart lap by lap. To stay away, win all 3 sprints and the race by such a margin has never been done before.

The rest of the bunch looked knackered, perhaps two crits a week was starting to take it's toll on the legs. The Halfords team looked tired and not very structured while CandiTV and Plowman Craven seemed to be grouped up near the front of the peloton. The Rapha Condor boys continued to set the pace, attack after attack courtesy of Chris Newton. By the final laps Rob Hayles (who to his credit had been a common face near the front) finished at the back of the main bunch while Dean Downing even got dropped.

With two laps to go Russell Downing broke loose and grabbed a nice clear advantage to take second. It is to Russell's credit once again that while all the other big riders were gasping for air, getting dropped left right and center he had looked after himself with enough legs to breakaway. He has to be in for a shout with the Sky Team come next year.

Anyway Chester went to Rapha Condor team, the power of Chris Newton, the pace of Tom Southam and the calmness of Kristian House but in particular Darren Lapthorne who put in a legendary performance which will be remembered for a long, long time to come. Entertainment at it's best.

Does Stoke-On-Trent Smell Of Joop!??

That's the question I was asking myself on Tuesday night. It seemed as though I couldn't get away from it, as soon as I stepped out of the car I could smell it and I was surrounded all night long. I had noticed it a couple of weeks earlier when Nay was djing in Hanley and thought nothing of it but I was back again in Stoke-On-Trent surrounded by a scent haze of Joop!

By the end of the evening I came to the conclusion that there must only be one perfume sold in Stoke-On-Trent and that everyone must shower, wash clothes and drink Joop! as it was so overwhelmingly wierd. If anyone else has had similar Joop! experiences in Stoke-On-Trent it would be good to hear from you. I'm more a Coolwater man myself.

Anyway I was in Stoke-On-Trent for round 7 of the Tour Series, which has had a fantastic response with twice weekly, hourly footage from ITV 4. The Tour Series is pretty straight forward, several teams of professional cycling riders battle it out for an hour and 5 laps of racing around a city centre circuit. There are several prizes to be won, obviously the guy who comes first at the end, a sprinters competition (as every 15 minutes there is a sprint, the person who finishes in the most top positions throughout the 3 sprints wins) and interestingly a team prize.

For those not familiar with cycling, cycling teams will surround themselves around one man in their team to protect him, help him up climbs and get him to the front to win the sprint at the end. The reason being, that in a group of riders, those in middle/back use 40% less energy than the man at the front, so the team works hard to keep the main rider fresh.

The difference with the Tour Series is that the races surround teams working together. The riders need to not only win the individual sprints but also get as many of the team across the line together at the end. The more riders from a team in the highest places, gain more points.

Halfords Bikehut are especially good at this, with all but 1 finishing in a bunch at the end and so they should with Olympic riders Rob Hayles and Ed Clancy in the team. The racing was excellent, with the riders passing every minute so you got to see a lot of the moves. Credit goes to Chris Newton and Kristian House of Rapha Condor really making everyone work hard, the power and effort was incredible. The eventual winner was on form Russell Downing of CandiTV Marshalls Pasta.

The Tour Series works it's way round to Chester next Tuesday and I'll be at the front banging the boards once again. It was great to see such a huge turnout of all ages cheering the riders on. It is exactly what cycling needs and just shows you don't have to be cycling guru to join in the fun!

Cycling Weight Loss For Road Race

As blogged previously I need to loose 2 stone to take part in local races and to climb better. 12 stone is my aim.

Although I'm training harder than I ever have and covering more miles than ever before, I'm still struggling to drop the weight. I've slimmed down slightly, I've become more toned, my legs are stronger however I am too top heavy for both climbing, endurance and speed.

I've already cut down on a lot of things, however I'm now going hardcore!

* Cutting down on cheese and only using low fat cheese.
* Wholemeal bread only.
* Wholemeal pasta only.
* Wholemeal rice only.
* Alcohol only at the weekend and that being cut down to no more than 2-4 pints.
* No orangina during the week - water/orange squash only.
* No crunchy nut cornflakes in the evening. 1 bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes a week, 1 bowl cornflakes a week and 2 bowls of fruit and fibre.
* Black coffee, no sugar.
* Tea with sweetener or 1 sugar.

I'll keep you posted.

Weaver Valley Cycling Club & The League International

Having taken part in many sportives, having lost some weight and having stepped up training to 2x 30 mile and 2x 15 mile routes a week I'm now looking for other cycling events to get involved with.

Firstly I'm looking to join a local cycling club called Weaver Valley Cycling Club. Based in the Northwich area, it was formed back in 1962 and has grown to a strong 100+ members. My original plan of action was to train, and gain experience this year and look seriously next year into a club.

Having a met a number of guys from Weaver Valley, one of which caught up with me at a junction the other week, I think I'm ready to get involved and simply choose the right club rides on a Sunday which aren't too far away for me not to cope.

Talking of Weaver Valley, they ran a road race this morning around Weaverham. Fantastically well organised, about 6 escort cars, a motorbike and a massive peloton roared around a short loop.

I also popped along to a TLI event midweek. Again a circuit around quiet country routes, with escort cars. In my innocence I didn't realise such events existed here in the UK having read stories in Cycling Weekly about promotors having trouble running events and rolling road closures.

These guys simply set out a circuit, have a car out front, a motorbike in the middle and two cars, one being an ambulance at the back, with marshalls at every junction with red flags. All vehicles have signs and yellow lights. The marshalls simply step out when the lead car approaches, hold out red flags and stop traffic for literally 10 seconds. It is so simple. Reports of a couple of drivers beeping abuse were reported for being held up 10-20 seconds, a side from these morons everyone I saw loved the cycling, even stopping, pulling over into a layby and watching with delight. People even ventured out to watch. It was great to see.

Talking to the organisers, for me to get involved I need to loose weight. Not a problem, I knew that already, the guys looked super fit, well conditioned, very lean. I need to get down to 12 stone. We shall see - I can't wait to get involved in those races!

Center Parcs Whinfell Forest + Priority Package Review

I've just returned back from a midweek break at Center Parcs at Whinfell Forest near Penrith in the Lake District and would definitely recommend the Center Parcs priority package.

It was the first time I've visited a Center Parcs, Becky had been to a couple when she was younger. We booked an apartment together with the priority package at Whinfell Forest.

The Center Parcs Whinfell Forest complex was really easy to find, literally 5 minutes off J40 of the M6.

Arriving is pretty straight forward, you queue up to the 6 drive through areas, where you're signed in, given your keys and told what to do. After which you basically park up and wait till 3pm when you can enter the complex, during this time you can get out and go explore the complex on foot if you wish.

We had paid extra, so we were allowed to drive into the complex an hour early at 2pm. Think of Center Parcs Whinfell Forest like a little village, with cottages grouped collectively in little cul-de-sacs around the complex. A smooth, one way, tarmac road round winds throughout the complex, the complex is simple to navigate round, just follow the signs. Cars are only allowed on the complex on arrival and departure days only, so having dropped off all your bags you then drive to large car park and bid farewell to your car till the end of the holiday.

The Cycle Hire Centre is located right next to the car park so we popped in, were efficently given two bikes and cycled back to our apartment. The bikes are all mountain bikes, and you can hire kid seats and little trailers you can pull along as well. They aren't the most amazing bikes in the world but will do you for cycling the short distances around the complex.

Center Parcs Whinfell Forest Extras - Priority Package
If there is one piece of advice I can give it is to take advantage of the Priority Package when booking your holiday! It is a fantastic package. For only £100 you get:
* Early check-in - hour early at 2pm which is quite handy as you can be getting on when people are only just entering the complex.
* Week long hire of 2 mountain bikes
* 2 free spa sessions on the Monday or Friday. (I would recommend to go Monday - it was dead)
* £10 gift voucher to use at the Parcmarket
* Visitor passes - ideal if you have family up in the Lake District.
* Welcome pack - which was fantastic - you get 2 pints of organic semi-skimmed milk, loaf of bread, butter, big bag of sugar, big bag of twinnings tea bags, big pot of Gold Blend coffee, big bottle of Volvic water, washing up liquid, loads of Andrex toilet rolls, big pots of strawberry jam and marmalade, a carton of Tropicana orange juice and a pack of Mcvities milk chocolate digestives.


How Expensive Is Center Parcs Whinfell Forest?
One of the concerns I had when going to Center Parcs Whinfell Forest was how expensive it was going to be, especially with buying food and drink from the supermarket at the complex. Another concern was how well stocked the Supermarket would be from previous holiday experiences aboard.

From reading some reviews, we went to Sainsbury's before we left and stocked up fearing it would be mega expensive, however we didn't need to at all. For one, the supermarket was very well stocked, it was fantastic - it had EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING. The prices were also very competitive, I would say exactly the same as the likes of Sainsbury's with maybe a couple of items being slightly more but nothing to make you conk at the till! The welcome pack also covered most essentials for the week too.

Eating Out?
There is a good choice of restaurants, an American diner, Cafe Rouge, Bella Italia, an Indian and Refresh, a little cafe. There was a Starbucks for a relaxed coffee by the lake which was nice. We decided to eat in 2 nights and eat at the American diner and Bella Italia. The food was good at the two restaurants, however the prices were slightly on the expensive side. Expect a main to cost around £10, with drinks head north to £3.

If you have little ones though you're in for a mega deal, for every adult spending over £10, children ate free in the restaurants.

There was also a takeaway/delivery service should you feel like staying in and doing nothing. There were pizzas, indian and chinese on offer, as well as drinks too. Again the prices weren't cheap but hey you're on holiday and you could get away with it as a one off.

Activities
Center Parcs is totally geared up for kids, I would say aged up to the beginning of High School and prodominantly little ones. There are tons and tons of activities available, in fact I doubt away from paragliding there isn't an activity you couldn't do. There is plenty to keep everyone entertained all week. The activities were good, lasting around 45-60 minutes. The activities are where they make a lot of their money so they can be quite expensive. The trick is to plan ahead before you arrive.

Swimming is strongly catered for, the large dome holds not only the restaurants but the massive swimming pool. Really nicely set up for all ages, really warm, well monitored by lifeguards. There is a wave machine, water rapids and loads of slides. All I would say is that if you want a quiet gentle swim then I would book time in the spa pool instead!


So is Center Parcs all about kids? What about couples?
Although kids do play a big part at Center Parcs I didn't feel they got under my feet at all due to the space available. The big swimming pool was a bit claustrophobic during the day but after 7 it was fine. There is no entertainment around really at all and the complex goes dead after 10pm,so prepare to chill in your apartment with a DVD. Becky and I would recommend taking the Friends box set, super relaxing!!

For couples I would definately 100 recommend the spa Aqua Sana, it is fantastic. It has 11 different steam rooms, foot baths, a hydrotherapy pool, waterbeds and an outdoor heated pool which was gorgeous. The way to do it is to take loads of books and magazines and spend a whole afternoon just chilling on the sofas, do a treatment and then chill some more. It was gorgeous. You can get a whole week pass for £50 each, or just an afternoon for £36. Expensive but worth it for the experience.

Additional treatments are available too, an hour massage session will be knocking on £60 while a haircut and highlights will be around £100.

There are loads of other activities available and we enjoyed crazy golf, quad biking and I loved the horse riding. You have a good hour ride through the forest and the complex, all supervised and it was great.

Booking is so simple over the internet and there are points around Center Parcs where you can look and book. The instructors were all very helpful and friendly too.

Accomodation
There is a range of accomodation available at Whinfell Forest from small 4 bedroom cottages with a jacuzzi attached to it to a studio apartment. We had a studio apartment and it was really nice, very spacious, the kitchen was very well equipment and the bathroom did the job. The TV and hifi were good and we looked out onto a pond and the dome behind. We made friends with the ducks and rabbits while we were there!

Other accomodation looks nice, and all look similar, I would advise to get as near to the centre as possible as the cottages looked much nicer. If you happen to book on the outskirts of the complex, don't worry as everything is really easy to get to and I would say you were only 5-10 minutes away by bike to the center.

Apart from the Lakeside Lodges and apartments I would say the rest of the complex have very limited views, either overgrown trees or looking out to the front of your cul-de-sac, so don't get over excited! In my opinion I thought the grounds needed more of a tidy up and a trimming back, but hey I suppose it's rough and rugged forest!

In Conclusion
It was a great holiday I would recommend Center Parcs Whinfell Forest it to anyone, especially those with little ones. I would feel comfortable letting my son or daughter play on their bike around the cottage in the evenings. It was very secure and very relaxing.

Don't get worried about the supermarket prices, just plan ahead with eating out and activities.

Oh and if you have a road bike do take it as the tarmac road around the complex is fantastic to do some circuits on!


Macclesfield Bikeathon Review

Well here I am resting my sore legs after a good day in the saddle. Today was the third ride of the year, the Macclesfield Bikeathon. Last year I did the 30 mile option and really enjoyed it, with the extra pre-season training and two rides under my belt I opted for the 52 mile version this time round.

Brad and I rolled up for a 8am start. Almost immediately we were climbing hills, taking in Ridge Hill and Barlow Hill in Macclesfield before heading into deepest Winkle. It was a shock for me, I don't exactly love the hills and the 30 last year was all flat so I wasn't expecting so much climbing early on especially within 10 minutes of starting.

Naturally as before I struggled, although I've incorporated hills much more into my training I still got dropped as we climbed up on to the moors near to the Cat and Fiddle. Brad with his lean figure found the climbing easy and dropped me early on.

This ride was a good learning curve for me, I found that going up the first long steep hill of Ridge Hill I was trying to peddle at a high cadence and keep the pace up. Although the pace wasn't fast as on the flat, I just blew up and was really out of breath. After a short flat period I calmed down, however there was another steep climb, a hill which wound up the hillside on to the top of the moor. Put simply, halfway up I had to stop. I was incredibly out of breath, I nearly spewed up and was in a state. I just sat there and watched everyone slowly roll up the hill. What was I doing wrong?

After I had calmed down I set off again and had no problems going up the steep bit. I realised with the numerous climbs that came for the next hour that I had been going to fast and I had to simply take it slow, sit in the siddle and grind it out my pace. I relaxed my body and concentrated on my breathing and found I was doing fine.

I also found that despite the heavy climbing I still had a lot of energy in the legs for the decent. So instead of resting, I was pounding out the cadence. I was overtaken by a few people on the hills, but easily re-gained my position (and further) on the decent so it worked out nicely. If I can loose weight and improve on the climbs I'll be very happy.

So, the hills were a shock, certainly a lot harder than anything I've done before, however I found that I had a lot of energy for the flat. The next 20 miles was flat around Cheshire, taking in Jodrell Bank and Goostrey which I whizzed along.

The final 10 miles was painful, the earlier climbing, together with the relentless rain, tooks its toll on the legs. I found I lost my power on the flat, simply pushing the cadence through, keeping the legs spinning and not re-gaining position, just keeping it steady. The last 6 miles saw some naughty sharp hills, nothing significant but enough to piss you and you're tired legs off.

I returned to Macclesfield a tired rider. In 3 hours 55 minutes I had learnt so much, achieved so much. I was totally drained however loved every minute. I love Macclesfield Bikeathon, I would recommend it to anyone. It is superbly well organised, friendly stewards and everything runs like clockwork. Over the 52 miles there were 4 checkpoints, yes 4 checkpoints, with free refreshments which is incredible considering you can do some rides which are longer (or even shorter where you pay the same entry fee) and get less checkpoints! On top of that when you reach the finish there is entertainment, massages, free food and drink and you recieve a medal for your efforts. The best thing is everyone is friendly, there is a great mixture of riders too. I would definately recommend it, roll on 2010!!!

MP Expenses

So Hazel Blears has written a cheque for £13,000 to payback the capital gains tax that she didn't pay when she sold her 'second property'. This second property co-incidently she kept flipping from one property to another like a pancake!

Well sorry too late Hazel! It just shows the amount of money she has to simply write out a cheque for that sort of money anyway! If she has so much money then why fiddle with the system in the first place? How are we to trust such greedy MPs? It is completely unbelievable that not one MP seems to be taking any sort of responsibility. Each one simply blames the system and they were working within the rules.

Rules or no rules, the fact that MPs were happily swopping their second home allowance from house to house, making extensive home improvements with public money and then selling it on for a profit is totally disgusting. How they ever thought they were in the right in the first place is incredible and just shows worryingly the morons running the country at the moment.

Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats has come out and repaid the £110 he claimed for buying a trouser press! The guy claimed back on expenses, a trouser press!!! His excuse was spat out in a major humph earlier on today "well in my position, representing the party, we have to be smart and well dressed and people seem to have taken an offence to that so I have repaid the money". Well so doesn't everyone in a job Nick? I have to wear a suit to work along with thousands of other people each day. I don't see everyone going to their companies and claiming back trouser presses. I know what would be said to me if I handed in my expenses form with an iron on it with the excuse "I need to look smart".

Then health minister Phil Hope is said to be repaying £41,000 worth of expenses. I don't even earn that in a year! Yet the fact of the matter is that none of these MPs are admitting they are in the wrong, when quite obviously they know they are! Because if I felt I was in the right I would be putting up much more of a fight not to loose my £41,000!! These MPs would get far, far more respect admitting wrong doing than simply writing a cheque.

Yet while all this is going on Gordon Brown is no where to be seen, probably writing a press release on how upset he is to hear about Katie Price and Peter Andre splitting up, than to be concentrating on real issues. Mincing about "trying" to get a cross party system in place. Get some balls Gordon - take charge!

Because who was it, yet again, coming out with a vote of confidence, a statement of sincere apology, told us that we had been let down, that everyone in his party will pay back the money or be thrown out; yes David Cameron. David Cameron's display of anger over the problem and quick actions to nip it in the bud was great to see.

All this wouldn't have been possible of course without The Daily Telegraph, without the Telegraph we wouldn't have found any of this out. It is to their credit this has all come to light and has become great PR for them in the process. I would love to see the sales figures!

Has Tesco's Results Pissed People Off?

As we venture deeper into the recession, this week supermarket giant Tesco released record profits of £2.95 billion pounds. You would have thought it would be great news to have a company performing so strongly despite the downturn with loads of money available to pass on to staff and suppliers! Well I think it has had the opposite effect. In these tough times with people struggling to make ends meet, is it best practice for Tesco to promote making more money than ever before? I think not.

Consumers like a good guy. For a long time Tesco has been that good guy, slashing prices to make our shopping budgets go that bit further. However their overwhelming size is now starting to have the opposite effect on consumers. Tesco have destroyed small local shops, a sense of community in some respects has been lost and word has got out that they've got a bad reputation for hanging suppliers by their balls too, which has another adverse effect on the community. A couple of these factors are starting to rub the wrong way for Tesco.

Jonathon Warburton, Chairman of baker Warburton's seems to agree. He spoke at the Manchester Business School earlier this week and he mentioned that he fears the size of his own business could turn customers against them as the family ethos it has created is lost and felt that the same was happening with Tesco. He also spoke about how he too was under constant pressure by Tesco to give them more money, in the past 6 months they've had 19 meetings alone.

Of course business is business. Tesco needs to please the shareholders, the whole company strives to hit targets and to increase sales results year on year, that's only natural. You can't help feeling that if the release had been cushioned with news of how Tesco was in the same boat as the consumer, that they were feeling our pain and they were doing everything they could to help, it wouldn't have been as bad. I think an important consideration is how the size of the business has lost it's contact with it's customer base.

Cyclo Sportives 2009

I've pretty much concluded the list of events I'll be taking part in this year. They are:

Cheshire Cat - 29th March 2009 - COMPLETED REVIEW HERE
Ron Sant Reliability Ride Tarporley - 13th April 2009 - COMPLETED REVIEW HERE
Macclesfield Bikeathon - 17th May 2009 - COMPLETED REVIEW HERE
Manchester to Blackpool – 12th July 2009 - COMPLETED REVIEW HERE
Cheshire Plains and Peaks - 26th July 2009 - COMPLETED REVIEW HERE
Rapha Condor Blackpool Sportive – 1st August 2009
Manchester 100m – 6th September 2009
Rourkie's Cat & Fiddle Cycle Challenge - 4th October 2009

As always I'll be joined on most of them by Brad and we'll also be raising money for Christies across the whole lot of rides at Just Giving.

I'll be posting a report on here after each race and you can also be kept up to date on my Twitter.

Training for me started on the turbo over the winter and has worked wonders for early season fitness.

Whether you are new, getting back into it or a regular cyclist I would really recommend these rides, there is a good mix of abilities in the pack and you'll always find someone on the same level as you to battle it out. Plus it's a good way to raise money for charity at the same time.

If you're thinking of entering get in touch it would be good to hear from you. If you have any questions I'll do my best to help.

You can be kept up to date with dates across the country on sites such as Cyclosport.

I hate hills!

Well ride number 2 is now complete, today was the Ron Sant Reliability Ride, a 45 mile loop run by the folks over at local cycling club Weaver Valley. The route started off in Tarporley and took in Burwardsley, Tilston, Hob Hill, right down to Whitewell and back up to Malpas, Egerton Green, and past Beeston and Peckforton Castle.

I personally thought, with the amount of clubs around the area, it would be busy, however only a handful of people turned up. After a glorious Sunday, we woke to a cold, foggy morning and off we set after a relaxed, friendly registration. Along with the miserable weather, I found it hard to get into a rhythm without the vibe and atmosphere of a normal ride at the start.

In the first hour and half, the ride took in numerous climbs and for the hardcore who attempted the 66 and 100 mile courses on the Cheshire Cat I'm sure it would be a breeze. I didn't. I hate hills, always have done. I'm currently loosing weight to make it easier, and the practising so far has seen me improve. Anyway, I got dropped by both a group and Brad, and was behind by a fair few miles. I was climbing well, I kept in the big ring comfortably, I just wasn't climbing fast enough and was getting out of breath pretty quickly. Something wasn't right and having been dropped and now everyone out of sight I stopped and removed my beanie from under my helmet. I've found out today that it's better to feel the chill than to protect from it. My performance totally changed and I managed to catch up with Brad. The second half from Malpas onwards was a lot flatter and I pushed on. I got a good rhythm and was flying along.

However it was from here that it all went wrong. As we registered we were told that there were 2 points which weren't signposted as they had run out of arrows when putting them out. One of the missing arrows was a right on to a main road which was easy to spot, the other however was at a junction to direct you back home, which was also part of the loop we had passed previously at the beginning. Unfortunately a couple of us took the wrong turning, going back round the loop again and ended up doing my own last quarter of the route back to Tarporley instead.

I was a bit disappointed by the turnout, the lack of numbers meant there wasn't the challenge of the chase of busier rides. Pretty much all of the riders that entered were Weaver Valley riders, I met a couple along the way and they were friendly. As with reliability challenges there wasn't a feedstop but the guys were friendly, it was good to do a challenging 45 miles non-stop and the ride took in some nice scenery. I'd recommend it.

Macclesfield Bikeathon 52 is next.