Riding For The Club

I wrote a month ago about taking part in my first club run with Weaver Valley Cycling Club. It was a tough yet rewarding experience. I've since been on 2 further runs and decided to join the club.

I'm glad I took the plunge and went on that first run. I'm learning all the time riding with the club, slowly building my confidence thanks to the amazing support in the bunch. I've already made some good friends. It isn't a piece of cake, I'm right back at the beginning of the learning curve and just hope I don't let the club down.

So what would I say if you're thinking of joining a cycling club.

1) It is relentless. You'll be riding at 20-22 miles an hour plus constantly. There is no respite and at times you'll be flying along on the front and before you know it hanging on at the back. I struggle because of my weight, many of the guys are slim and scamper up hills no problem. I'm really fortunate I've found a great club that will hang on for 10 seconds while I'll catch up.

2) The short runs aren't just a nip round the block. The short runs will be about 40-50 miles, and don't think that if you're going to Congleton you'll be going straight there, you'll most likely take the long route there or most definitely have a loop added in.

3) Get some endurance in. I wouldn't join a club unless you're easily doing 30-40 miles non-stop at a 18-20 mile an hour pace. You'll be able to ride with the bunch ok but it won't be a leisurely ride as I've found out.

4) Get a road bike. Don't turn up on a mountain bike. You don't need the best kit, just a road bike and road tyres.

5) Get some sportive practice in. I would get at least year of riding in sportives, the miles will do you good and you'll also get experience in riding with groups at a pace. It is a good way of monitoring you're level of fitness.

Joining any club can be daunting, read up on the club and ask the local bike shop if the club is right for you (some are really pretentious, some are very leisurely). I knew Weaver Valley had an excellent reputation, fair, friendly but competitive. They host and take part in a number of bike races throughout the season and have a column in the local paper so I knew right at the beginning that I wanted to join Weaver Valley but I needed to be at a really good level before that first ride.

Tour de France 2010

Well this wouldn't be Thoughts From The Bike without a post about the Tour!!

My predictions - Alberto Contador to win, but I would keep an eye on Cadel Evans, he is having an amazing season at the moment, he could pull it off.

This season we have the debut of Team Sky, the first British cycling team since Raleigh in the 80s. It is an exciting project, with Bradley Wiggins on board as GC and Edvald Boasson Hagen for the sprints it will be interesting to see how they get on. It's great to see Geraint Thomas and the Wirral's Steve Cummings get a shout. I've read a number of interviews with Steve Cummings, it's good to see a good guy get the opportunity!

We are a few stages into the tour already and it is interesting to see how the race is progressing already. I've got to say Stage 3, which took in parts of Paris-Roubaix pave, was a sensational race. The race was split apart and we even lost one of the favourites Frank Schleck with a broken collarbone! Seeing Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans at the end being interviewed, white as a sheet, totally exhausted said it all. The images of the crowds along the pave, the riders following each other darting from side to side to find the smoothest line were amazing.

After a surprising Prologue from Armstrong which saw him take out a few seconds on Contador, people starting talking whether Armstrong could do it in his last ever tour. After stage 3 that all changed, those who were minutes behind (such as Cadel, Andy Shleck and Bradley Wiggins after poor Prologues) found themselves back in the top 10 with minutes ahead of Contador and Armstrong.

Contador wasn't going to do any damage on the cobbles and even managed to take a minute out of Armstrong. His performance so far has been solid, managing the flat stages well, no major accidents and kept himself quiet ready for the mountains to come.

This is going to be the most exciting Tour for years, I would love for Mark Cavendish to pick up the Green jersey too. I've just watched stage 5, which having seen Cav been written off the day before (due to loosing a sprint into stage 4) totally destroy the field. Mark Renshaw did an incredible lead out (one of the best I've seen from such a long way out) and Cav finished it off. The pouring of tears on the podium and in the interview afterwards just showed that despite his spiky personality, underneath he is just a cocky teenager with an incredible talent. Cav is under a huge amount of pressure, and together with a poor build up to the Tour, today showed he is a very tired guy. I hope he lasts through the mountains, but today he won himself a lot of respect for the passion he has for cycling.

Get ready for the Pyrenees!!

BTW I'm all over the ITV footage of the Tour, excellent interviews throughout and some behind the scenes footage. ITV 4 at 7pm or watch it live.

Manchester to Blackpool Review 2010

Last year's Manchester to Blackpool wasn't the best; poor cycling etiquete and the organisers cramming in 5000+ riders through town centre routes dampened what is the North West's biggest sportive.

I'd like to say that this year was better, and in some respects it was as it seemed quieter, but cycling etiquete was once again appalling. Why can't people cycle to the left, not in the middle of the road on their own and why can't people look behind them before pulling out?!! It isn't hard. The number of times someone pulled into me without looking was just incredible. Another thing, when cycling through a busy town center road why do people cycle more than 2 a breast. Cars can't overtake and causes chaos everywhere.

All this put together makes life much harder, having to slow down and accelerate to overtake and mentally keep on your toes rather than focus on your ride.

The route was similar to last year, due to an event on at Haigh Hall, we were directed up through Standish and into Charnock Green. Personally I thought this made the route a lot better, nice twisting country roads to keep the legs rolling before getting to my favourite part of putting the hammer down along the bypass at Leyland into Preston.

The ride start well, unfortunately I lost a bottle going through Leigh early on. That knocked my concentration for a couple of miles as I worried about loosing it, should I go back and get it? I decided to continue on and stop at two stops rather than the one to top up the bottle.

Although a flattish route there are quite a few drags, I don't know if it was me but I thought the first half had quite a few lumpy bits compared to last year. Nothing to get you out of the big ring but enough to get you into a climbing rhythm for a couple of miles.

I battled through the miles, the legs felt good with no cramping and even the energy sapping drag from Lytham into Blackpool felt ok, the headwind was always just crackers.

I finished in 3 hours 45 minutes, knocking 45 minutes off my 2009 time. I'm happy about that but really, really disappointed not to get 3 hours 30. I finished exhausted and it has taken a few hours for me to sort myself out. I think I obviously I need more speed and that will be down to loosing weight.

Will I be back next year? Despite it's problems, I'm sure I will.