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!