Cheshire Cat 2010 Review

Following a successful Jodrell Bank sportive in which I encountered a number of tricky climbs, I was looking forward to taking part in the Cheshire Cat.

I originally entered the 67 mile option which took in Mow Cop and continued on to Winkle near Macclesfield. Although the climbs were tough I felt that because they came in the first 25 miles, with the rest of the route being flat, I could handle it.

Unfortunately after the Jodrell Bank sportive I didn't capitalise on having the miles in my legs. A weekend trip down to London and late nights at work meaning no trips out on the bike. The Saturday before the Cheshire Cat I went out for a 30 mile ride, the legs felt ok but I was no where near the fitness level I wanted to be at for the 67.

For 24 hours my mind was everywhere, my heart screamed for me to do the 67, conquer the climbs and tackle Mow Cop while my common sense was saying get another 47 miles in the legs and build up the base fitness.

I decided to do the 47. My target is still to do my first century in September. I decided to set a target of under 3 hours, if I wasn't going to do the 67 then at least I was going to go full out in the 47.

Signing in was simple. I arrived at Crewe Alexandra on Saturday afternoon and had it done within 5 minutes. We were all given a timing chip and come Sunday morning all I had to do is ride up to the line and get going.

2700 riders had signed up of which 260 were doing the 47. After 15 minutes I was on my way and rode along with a group, hooking on to some fast riders passing by. The pace was pretty fast early on and eventually I split off on my own after 10 miles.

The winds were mental all the way round the course, making it tough work on my own. The roads were horrendous. I didn't come across any riders throughout the morning, there was only 2 of us at the feed stop at Holmes Chapel. It was simply a case of digging deep, staying focused and keep the legs spinning.

I felt so bad doing the 47. I felt as though I was letting myself down especially when people like Phil Jones, who have only been riding for 9 months are getting stuck in with the 100, but I was glad I had chosen the 47. I wouldn't have managed the 67. I need to build up my fitness slowly, and if I'm going to do this I want to do it properly, not puffing around a course with my eyes popping out, nearly throwing up. I want to be competitive.

By the closing miles of the 47 I was cramping in my thighs. I'm going to get some advice on this as I've had much more training leading up to March than in previous years but I can't remember cramping up as much. Saying that I might be putting more effort into my riding.

The Result

I completed the course in....3 hours 3 minutes!! This included the time at Holmes Chapel where I stopped for 10 minutes waiting to see if Brad was coming through so taking off the 10 minutes I would have been well under 3 hours. Super chuffed!

My split times were the same both halves and I ended up 46th out of 260. Taking off the 10 minutes I would have been in the top 25. The fastest guy was 2 hours 24 minutes so there is plenty of scope to make up, however I'm happy with progress.

April is now a quiet month for rides before it kicks off big time in May. I'm hoping to get out a lot more with the lighter nights and get some longer rides in over the weekend. Hopefully this will build up my fitness levels and help me loose my weight. I also want to improve my hill climbing.

I would totally recommend the Cheshire Cat, a great atmosphere, superb organisation and the spread at the feed stops and finish have set a high standard to be matched. It is no wonder it sells out each year. The 2011 Cheshire Cat takes place on the 27th March - get your name down early!

Macclesfield Bikeathon 2010 Announced!

As predicted by Thoughts From The Bike the Macclesfield Bikeathon returns in 2010 on Sunday 16th May.

One of my favourite sportives of the season, there is a choice of 52, 26 and 13 miles. Those into their cycling will be up for the 52 which takes us into the hills surrounding Macclesfield to test the legs early on taking in Wincle, Heston, Biddulph, Astbury and Congleton before meeting up with the 26 miles at Siddington where the route is then pan flat.

The 52 and 26 then continue along the glorious country lanes surrounding Siddington, although these can be tough roads if the wind is up, taking us around Jodrell Bank into the quiet Swettenham and back home to Macclesfield.

Both the 26 and 13 miles are pan flat which is great for those new to cycling. Due to the quiet roads, families and little ones compete in the 13 miles, although caution is to be exercised on the last stretch heading back into Macclesfield.

Start time for the 52 mile is 8.15. The route is all on road and the atmosphere is really good too -they always lay on a good party at the end.

Entry is only £10 too with proceeds going to charity so all good! Check out the website at http://www.macclesfieldbikeathon.co.uk

Jodrell Bank Sportive 2010

Well I've done it, I've completed my first sportive of the season. The Torelli Jodrell Bank Sportive kicked off the season this morning at a chilly, overcast 8am from Woodford near Stockport. There were options of 30, 50 and 80 miles. I chose 50.

Signing on was a doddle, I simply had to give my name in at the desk and in return I received a goody bag (water bottle and 3 gels) together with a timing chip.

Once prepared I joined the queue at 8am for the start. It never ceases to amaze me just how egotistical these events can be. I was stood next to a group of guys talking the talk, the funny thing being that this guy had a brand new BMC carbon frame, DuraAce groupset and Zipp wheels, probably 5-7k worth of kit, and he was doing the 30 mile. What is the point?!

Anyway our timing chips were swiped and away we went. The first 15 miles sped by, the route taking us from Woodford, through Alderley Edge to Mobberley, through to Peover, Lach Dennis and then to Goostrey for the first feed stop. I arrived at Goostrey in 56 minutes.

At the feed stop we had our timing chips swiped, picked up free bananas, gels, energy drink and water. A minute later we were off again, winding through Goostrey before a couple of loops around Withington (Jodrell Bank) before heading onto Siddington, Broken Cross on the outskirts of Macclesfield into Prestbury, Bollington, on to Pott Shrigley, Poynton and then home again.

Up to Siddington was easy. I was rolling along in good rhythm. It was when I hit Siddington that things started to get messy. It got lumpy and the open fields surrounding the route caused a heavy headwind which made long drags of road last forever.

One of the big problems with today, compared to the sportives I took part in last year, was that nobody was prepared to work in a bunch. I don't know if it was because of early season and people were having issues with fitness but nobody even wanted to work as a pair! The wind was pretty bad, side on and head on, working as a bunch would have been perfect but it seemed to be everyone for themselves.

In fairness during the first 5 miles there was an attempt, however people just hid in the wheels and I spent half an hour on the front with no attempt of anyone coming through to take a turn. Luckily I eventually broke off.

So with this, wondering through the open Cheshire plains in the wind was hard going. Then came the hills. After a good 40 miles in the legs it came as a surprise to come across some steep ascents. I've been practising, reading and watching a lot into climbing technique and I found that my climbing has improved.

I found a lot of UK magazines really push that you must sit down and spin on the climbs, which I've really struggled with. However I found that European and American authors tend to promote an out of saddle approach. I've found that I suit an out of saddle climbing style, probably due to the fact that I can stamp my weight on the pedals.

I've also learnt not to panic and to keep my own steady rhythm, because of this I found I wasn't being too eager to grab lower gears. I also found that I wasn't huffing and puffing up the hills as in the past. I feel with my out of saddle style I have more control over my rhythm and thus found my heart wasn't pounding out of my chest.

Although saying all this, the hills were a shock to the system and in the last couple of miles I struggled, barely rolling along, my thighs were on fire, my lungs were hurting, my head light, my eyes tired. I was worn out, totally out of energy despite 6 bottles of drink, a packet of energy shots and several gels before even considering my pre-sportive build up of pasta and porridge.

The Result

This is where the surprising part comes in. Out of 207 riders doing the 50, my split time to Goostrey was in the top 20. My overall time positioned me 63rd. This proves again that if I can loose weight and improve on my climbing I can really start getting competative. I also found once again that although I was dropped on the climbs, I re-gained advantage on the decent and flat.

It is a shame the Jodrell Bank is on so early in the season as it is quite rare to have a timing chip. I started the sportive not considering time, more concerned about getting miles into the legs however I was humbled to have a time of 3 hours 20 minutes. I was expecting much worse however lets not forget I was churning out 100Ks quicker than that towards the end of last season.

My time put me 63rd out of 207 riders. 45 minutes off the first place man, however heart warmingly my time fitted in within a couple of minutes of a big bunch of riders so I'm pretty much on average pace. I thought an average speed of 15 mph was really good for me considering the hills too. Overall I'm delighted!!

I really enjoyed the Jodrell Bank Sportive, it was well organised and extremely well signposted (the signs had even been put out a week in advance!). I would have enjoyed it more had I been fit, perhaps they may have a re-run in August?

Anyway, I would definitely put the Jodrell Bank down in your diaries as a season opener in 2011. Next up: the Cheshire Cat on the 28th March!

Who are you talking to on Facebook tonight?

I have to take issue on how the media is exploiting Facebook in the recent Ashleigh Hall murder trial. I appreciate it is a terrible thing to have happened however as much as every newspaper can question about how safe Facebook is on their front pages, I must say that Facebook is merely a catalyst in this whole situation. To me it is down to bad parenting.

It is all too easy to 'blame' Facebook. We live in blame culture. In my opinion Facebook has done very well to control privacy. Facebook allows you to block all your details to people you don't know. You also have to give permission to anyone who wishes to add you. You are in control, you don't know them: don't add them.

Parents will ask how are they to know who their children are talking to and I sympathise with that. As a parent you can add software which can block websites you don't wish them to view, however Facebook and the likes of Bebo are very much at the centre of teenage social media. It would be difficult for parents to block websites such as Facebook without the fear of excluding them. Unfortunately parents can't control who their sons or daughters are talking to on sites such as Facebook. You either block the site altogether or invade their privacy.

You then rely on education which is drilled in to us all from primary school which is don't talk to strangers. There isn't anyone on my Facebook who I don't know however I can appreciate that innocent testosterone fueled teenagers may add people who they don't know and are good looking to their Facebook profile. (Let's face it, it's easier than a date: you don't like 'em just block 'em!). So while we are not strictly following the don't talkto strangers rule here there should be a degree of education where we should be cautious of people we don't know.

Now this is all well and good until they decide to meet up. Parents will then ask "how do I know who they are meeting up with?".

In Ashleigh Hall's case she had befriended a 33 year old rapist who was portraying a 19 year old boy. Chapman the offender had advised (acting as the 19 year old boy), that his Dad was picking her up so she wouldn't be freaked by the old man parked up outside her house.

When questioned Mrs Hall commented "What could I have done?" she asked. "She was 17. You don't stop your kids from going

I'm sorry but if that was me I would go and introduce myself to this Dad. My daughter is meeting a boy for the first time and he hasn't arrived with his Dad?

If I had a son or daughter I would like to think I knew them pretty well. I would know where they are going, who with and the basic time I would expect them home. Yes they could make it up, however I would be sure I would know my own son and daughter to know when they were lying: not looking into my eye, different clothing, more make up, more perfume - surely there would be signals. I know that I personally wouldn't wear the same clothes on a first date than if I was going shopping with my mates.

Secondly if I did know my daughter was meeting someone off the internet I would want to know some basic details at least and go with her, not to be obtusive, but to be there in the distance when I drop her off.

Terrible as they are, instances like Ashleigh Hall's have happened through out time without Facebook, just look at the Moors Murders or Jack The Ripper.

It isn't Facebook. It is sensible parenting, creating awareness and having care and consideration to sons and daughters which will prevent these instances.

Finding My Legs

Today was a good day. I found my legs. The months spent before Christmas in the gym on the turbo, going through the dark days, the hours spent out in the snow, frost and chilly winds have all been worth it. Half way through today's ride I hit that sweetspot, the moment when the bike position is perfect, the legs are smoothly swiping round and the road was rolling beneath me effortlessly.

It is such a great feeling. Since January, although I've been putting in the miles, the legs have felt dead: plodding down on the pedals rather than a silky motion and I've noticed i'M grabbing on to the handlebars rather than balancing delicately.

I'm really pleased that I'm in this sort of form at the beginning of March especially with the Jodrell Bank and Cheshire Cat sportives coming up. Managing a 40 mile ride and still feeling good afterwards is really heart warming. I was glowing walking around Morrisons this afternoon! I just need to keep improving, incorporate more interval training to my rides and loose the weight. Going to watch the Eddie Soens Memorial on Saturday was a really inspiring move, I would love to get involved with those races.

Since the receiving the new bike I have been struggling to find the right position. I thought that after being measured it would be super spot on. A couple of trips out and I've found I've been over stretching and it just didn't feel right, I told myself it is a new position and I would have to get used to it but it just wasn't working. It is surprising just how much difference a millimeter can make. Trust me, if you feel like a div moving your saddle up and down: don't. Be patient, ride for 10 minutes and if it doesn't feel right (your leg muscles feel too strained or you can't swipe back on the pedal easily without having to adjust your leg) then stop and make an adjustment. It will take several very slight efforts but it is worth it. Don't struggle on, go with what you feel is right.

The bike is excellent however, I'm not too sure on the Ambrosio forks. I hadn't heard of Ambrosio until I had them fitted and I believe they are an Italian brand. I'm not convinced. Put it this way, they are very stiff. Ok, the Cheshire roads at the moment are nothing but a total disgrace but I might as well be holding on to a pneumatic drill, the vibrations are incredible. To be fair they are excellent at keeping position, despite the bumps I can float on the bars and they will remain going straight however I'm going to look into some other options such as 3T or Pro-Lite.