Strava Scenting and other sins of the modern age

Having moved house recently i have had to say goodbye some some local roads that were my “go to” for a quick spin round the block. Its not that i’ve moved that far, its not even like i won’t ride them ever again or even very irregularly, they are on my commute and they aren’t actually that far away just not close enough for a quick spin if the wind is right (some people know what i mean).

Now i would like to tell myself that i have honourable intentions, and its probably mostly correct. There is definitely a collecting mentality to my cycling, collecting memories of places i have been and sights to be seen.

Valkenburg worlds circuit

The one feature that i prize on strava, that doesn’t have a directly competitive element, is the the Heat maps, its a great record of the places i have been and ridden, run, skied, basically anywhere i’ve recorded an activity, While i haven’t taken the opportunity to have my bike with me on many of my bike race photographic adventures there are still some reasonable miles logged

The darker the blue, turning into red, the more times those roads have been ridden and i love looking back at the thin blue lines and working out where and when those rides happened and remembering the fun times i had in those places.

This is probably not an uncommon occurrence but for slightly different reasons, for those with the right kind of competitive spirit and also the legs to back it up there will be a lot of “Strava Scenting” but almost always combined with “Segment Hunting”. Depending on how sociable you are will depend on how familiar the names in the top 10 of any given Stava segment are to you. You can take a good guess at the circumstances. Quite a few of the segments on my rides often have names and places on the same date, which only jumps to one conclusion…a team ride.

Some may argue that technology is ruining cycling, with governing bodies writing regulations stipulating weight, geometry and general shape of a bike, even the height ones socks should be. Power meters provide plenty of column inches and how they are ruining cycling with professional riders deemed to be competing like robots, not riding to the race but riding to the numbers.

Given the trickle down effect the same could be said for ameuter cycling although maybe not in the same way, the battle ground is a lot wider and the playing field less level.

Take a look at yourself or the cycling loved one in your life and check off some of the following.

Aero socks

Aero jersey

Aero Helmet

Leaving bottles, tool kit and any other ballast behind…or at least in a compact package ready to ditch in a safe place

the final sin….checking the wind direction before setting out…this is the final and most cardinal sin…and yes there are web sites which will help you plan the best day to “attack that KOM..”

Childhood Memories seen from two wheels

i didn’t start riding seriously until i was about 17, well i say seriously it was serious enough to be half arsed at ametuer racing. at some point between then and now, that i can’t quite place, i started viewing every road from a cycling point of view.

Anytime i’m not on a bike there is a sense of longing to be on the bike and enjoying the joy that any particular stretch of tarmac had to offer.

I’m hoping a lot of cyclists do this, as they drive up, down and round this country and other counties, look at glorious pictures in magazines they imagine themselves cruising up or down them on two wheels.

Lacets are probably the best example of this, whether you are going up or downhill, hairpins are the best road cycling the mountains has to offer

Tour de France 2018 Stage 17 Bagneres de Luchon – Saint Lary Soulan (Col de Portet) – Yellow Jersey wearer Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) climbing the lacets of Col de Portet

I remember one Skiing holiday boring my travelling party with tales of Alpe D’huez,as the coach took us up the 21 hairpins of the snowy climb. To be fair to them not sharing the same passion for cycling me wittering on about how hot my rims had gotten braking late into corners that i popped my tyre off is probably the height of tedium, i’ve avoid asking other cyclists if that applies to them as well.

But its hard not to reminisce about the excitement of an awesome stage of a bike race.

Tour de France 2018 Stage 11 Bourg St Maurice Les Arcs – Alpe D’huez – The dutch fans go crazy are the race hit hairpin 7 or “Dutch corner” as its known

While being able to tie iconic climbs or roads to some unique tale of cycling might keep fellow cyclists interested (maybe) taking a ride down memory lane of your own childhood is probably only interesting to yourself. For me the bike offers a unique experience when riding solo and disengage the brain a little bit and to ride round an area that i’ve spent a lot of time in to bring back some happy memories.

For nigh on 10 years my family camped in the south of Devon, tucked away in the peninsular town of Salcombe. A beautiful town sat at the mouth of an estuary surrounded by the rolling hills typical of Devon…the terrain being either up or down with very little flat at the top or the bottom.

As the roads were quiet and very narrow driving a car was impractical at times and my dad being an ex scout master, on foot was the primary means of travel. Now i am sure that for most of the walks to and from the campsite and in and around Salcombe i was not silent about the amount of walking we were doing. The tactic was to mollify me slightly with supplies of clotted cream fudge or coconut ice rationed out suitably like a proverbial carrot in front of a donkey.

The joy of entering this shop is almost indescribable, in the same way Vega casinos pump higher quality air around to keep people awake, i’d swear sugar vapour is floating around this sweet shop as you are presented with more fudge than you could possibly eat.

On some level i do remember that the walk to and from the campsite and the rest of Salcombe were not what you might call flat but i am not sure i ever really realised quite how brutally hilly they were. I certainly didn’t accurately remember how narrow and twisty they were.

Riding alongside Batson creek probably has a different appeal to walking along side it, The flat quiet road is crying out for a full on sprint along it round some gentle curves in the road, if only to enjoy some speed before you are well and truly reminded that Devon is not flat and any speed you may have is gone in a heartbeat.

As i struggled up this little beauty i figured out why i hadn’t quite remembered it being so steep or narrow . As i got to the top and it flattened out slightly a flush of memories came back, this was usually the point at which the pink and white sweet bag rustled and my parents would offer the reward as we were probably halfway back to the campsite. It was also a stretch of road where i remember signing Ging Gang Goolie while glow worms fluttered around us on the warm summer night.

If i had brought a mountain bike with me i’m sure i could probably find the long cliff top path between two places called Bolt Head and Bolt Tail but mostly in the hope of finding a different sweet shop that sold some very fine Turkish Delight.

If anyone was wondering where i got my sweet tooth from it was probably childhood holiday in devon…thankfully i am riding a bike so i can afford to indulge in a few delicious calories

Do Zwifters dream of electric bikes

Indoor training isn’t new but indoor training that is bearable for more than
10 minutes certainly is. This is something we should all be grateful for but 
apparently this is does not fit with the general consensus of opinion in the
cycling community.

For those that know me would probably describe me as a fussy fair weather
cyclist and to some extend i would happily agree with them but there is some
logic behind this, and maybe a bit of laziness.

                    cycling triangle
         

This is not to say that i haven’t braved all sorts of conditions to ride my bike and that’s probably just to prove, at least to myself, that i can ride in any weather, to appropriate the unofficial creed of the US posties (and yes i do appreciate the irony of this) ” Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…”

If you are trying to do a structured training plan then why not take the stress out of it and concentrate on the goal of completing the session. Anyone who could do an hour and a half of Over Unders on the open roads of west sussex has my upmost respect and if you could “kudos” a ride more than once i would definitely go into double figures. i can’t imagine watching the training plan flit between intervals while avoiding potholes, junctions, cars and other road hazard you can think of.

During this winter i could probably count on the fingers of one hand how many times i rode outside (ignoring a little winter sun break). While i may have been depriving myself of some company i wasn’t depriving myself of vitamin d. The wet and miserable British winter was probably a contributing factor to any increase in sales of smart trainers and Zwift subscriptions. Not everyone can spend their winter in the warmth of Canaries or Calpe and i don’t hear anyone foolish enough to tell the pro’s to HTFU when they spend as much time in sunshine as possible,.

This year i have definitely seen pro’s on training camps riding their turbos to avoid some horrendous conditions

So this summer, autumn and winter i won’t be cancelling my Zwift subscription and i may even ride indoors on nice days…you never know i might even do some E-Racing. Every time i do this i will be dreaming of the open road, the freedom of spirit that cycling gifts me as that’s the purpose of training for me, so I’ll sign of with some words of wisdom (although possibly bending his words to my own purpose)

Ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride
Eddy Merckx

 

Pavé-ing the way for some good photos (better late than never)

(***i honestly thought I had published this, clearly I hadn’t finished writing it…so here it is well after the fact***)

So the cobbles classics are now done, with less time this year I only had time for Paris Roubaix and had to confine myself to a TV spectator for some fantastic races.

With only one viable trip to the cobbles Roubaix is always my default choice, the sheer volume of photo opportunities make the return too great to pass up.

The Flanders route of the last 4 or 5 years lend themselves to a great race, to moto riders and the fans on the road side in hospitality tents. When you have to cover it by car you end up with limited scope for variation. That’s not to malign the importance of the kwaremont or the paterberg it’s just running between them with camera gear is exhausting and the chance to get something unique is greatly reduced.

Roubaix is a different proposition altogether, the course design lends itself to a great race and facilitates photographers in cars and on bikes alike. This is not to be taken for granted to paraphrase or potentially misquote Helmuth van Moltke (Yeap i did have to look him up) “no plan survives first contact with the enemy”!

As I sat in the busy La Brasserie Parisienne in Compiègne, regretting not reading the menu more carefully as I had ordered a burger with avocado in (oh the shame) I planned out the next day.

Even in a car double figure stops is possible, but at the point you can be swapping quality for quantity so I set a reasonably ambitious 8 stop plan, of which 5 are on the cobbles along with the start and the finish.

The first chink in the plan came at stop 2, we barely made it out in front of the race…a little squeeze on the right foot to get us onto the pavé and Lady Luck smiled…a parking space right next to a beautiful field of yellow. Having eyed up the crops on my ride the previous day and knowing the route was going to have crops along side,these cobbles are farm roads after all. The urgency to park and the amount of space left me with s bit of a challenge, a car door that I couldn’t get open, so I was stuck only getting one camera body out. On the plus side it removed the need for deciding what shot to take. Camera in hand I dashed into the field…with just enough time to capture the race

From this point on the plan is wholly dependent on how the race plays out…and a big measure of luck. Sadly the next stop barely worked…only one of us made it close enough, barely enough time to see that tail end of the race turn around and run back to the car.

The next stop should be an important part of the race, with the Trouée d’Arenberg looming straight after the Haveluy\Wallers section the pace tends to pick up. Sadly for us this also means that the race is spread out and we lose too much time waiting, the planned stops 5 and 6 are immediately at risk…and when I say “at risk” I mean they are on the editing floor and not making the final cut.

At this point the replay of the navigation only leaves us with one choice, the one thing I usually avoid, we ended up on the autoroute. Over the last 5 or 6 years security has got s bit tighter, or maybe just general crowd control and motorway junctions that lead near to the race routes are blocked off. It used to be a few cones in the way and if you followed a team car they’d already be moving them but now it’s giant blocks that need a forklift to move. As that disappointment of the road block flashes by the flash of opportunity strikes…some spectators seem to have created a car park on the motorway, so we take advantage and get something better than the plan.

A good stop is all well and good but doesn’t help with getting back into the bubble of the race, on the outer fringe of the race route you are much more likely to get caught behind normal traffic and all too common now impassable road blocks.

Sacrificing a proper cobbled stop always leaves a bitter taste and so late in the race it’s the possibility of race winning moves as well so popping back onto the route of Cysoing for the last shot out on course feels a bit empty. As we walk from the car to route we realise we are far enough ahead for a cheeky chip snack so I take solace in enjoying some frites and 5mins of live coverage before getting back to work.

This stop is usually a chance to catch the lead group only, run like hell back to the car and drive a very straight line to the Carrefour de l’Arbre, quite literally the carrefour part and you join the race route on its second half and drive to the finish. For some reason the photo gods smiled on us, although it took a moment to have that realisation. Instead of letting us onto the route we were waved over it, a bread discussion with Pete to weigh up the risk of this shot vs the finish we decided to roll the dice, I think it was worth it.

Having seen the leaders all that was left between us and the finish was a run across a field full of stinging nettles, some questionable driving,some even more questionable parking and a run to the famous velodrome.

All in all a great day and while I can’t claim to be quite this dead I wasn’t far off…

Happy Places for the bike

Sometimes life isn’t all that you would like it to be and when that happens its important to find ways to counteract that. Its at these times i have to remind myself that i am lucky, the ability to travel and feed my habit of exercise addiction and hold back the demons at least for a little while.

Its a worry that when you talk about riding the bike as a potentially spiritual experience that you sound just the tiniest bit pompous but everyone can choose how they manage to escape the world for a little while. Some may do it via movies, music or books i choose to do it on two wheels powered by my legs and the focus of the mind.

Riding in the UK is often not a tranquil experience, angry drivers, potholes and all manner of things to threatening to bring you back with thump…sometime literally. This is not the experience in the Netherlands…the Dutch really know how to do cycling, proper bike lanes, traffic light controls specifically for bikes and a plethora of quiet back roads that take you away to another world. If you happen to find yourself near a canal there are beautiful paths along side but beware the wind, they haven’t found a way to make it always a tailwind…yet.

My first trip to this specific place involved almost all of those things, a trip up the canal from Liege, navigating round the outskirts of Maastricht and finally onto the 2012 World Championship circuit. It was a done deal there and then, the first climb that just stretched away not to steep, just as hard as you wanted to make it and the famous Amstel finish of the Cauberg. The entire loop is lined with bike lanes and is so quiet you’ll see more cyclists than cars, apart from one year when i came across a Truck rally, that was a lot of trucks.

That one anomaly aside its a nice place to be…enough peace and quiet to catch a deer grazing.

This isn’t a place with a cafe stop (at least for me), its not a place that’s always easy to ride, today was an un-shinning (60 miles in the cold, wind and rain as Storm Hannah blew through) its just to me its the epitome of what road cycling means to me…if you get the chance i encourage you to ride it.

i can’t promise it will hold the same magic for you as it does for me but then happy places in general are a very personal affair.

Whats to become of the spring classics

As the antipodean cycling season gets into full swing with the men and women of the pro peloton take on the heat, the crits and Wilunga hill those of us stuck in the middle of the European winter turn our thoughts to the Spring classics.

It’s the piece of cycling I probably enjoy the most as both a spectator and a photographer. The dynamic of a one day races means the action could kick off at any time. With multiple chances to catch the action tempting you to combine beauty and action. When compared to a grand tour stage where you might only have one chance to stop and the pressure can be palpable … second guessing what might be round the next corner.

It could just be the familiarity with the courses, like a playbook to start from knowing that it might all go to hell on the first stop and you need to work through the audible options until you winging it all.

That is probably why Roubaix is one of my favourites to work. You start with a plan knowing that you’ll rip it up before the riders exit the first cobbled section but with that the excitement building to think on the move to predict the ebb and flow of the race. The ultimate goal to catch that key moment of the race but knowing you can capture the essence of the race…1st and second place can tell as much as those not even making it to the finish.

The Legend that is Tom Boonen on his great Roubaix win…the solo attack from over 40km out

Compared to Geraint Thomas battered, cut and bruised before the the first few sections of Pave had even been covered

2018 Paris Roubaix 165th Edition

Lets hope this years edition is as full of as much drama…and if i dare to say it some rain and mud…but sadly before that i have to comprehend a different kind of challenge.

Not intending to open a political debate as its not about the options just getting on with a decision as anything post March 29th is a mystery to me, the ability and the right to travel, the right to work even the ability to drive aboard is uncertain.

At this point in time i have not planed past Strada Bianchi, the rest of the northern France and Belgian spring classics are going to be some real last minute scrambling to organise will my normal travel plans of the last decade work or will i have to think again..should i just hope for the best and plan away….the cobbles are tempting me…

Winter Sun…escaping the rain

As soon as there was space in the house the Turbo came in and my outdoor winter miles dropped significantly. With the advent of Zwift those miles became more enjoyable, as many have repeat “Outside is free….inside is warm”

There’s no two ways about it, I’m a fair weather cyclist, any of my team mates will tell you that. Don’t think for a second that means I don’t go out in the cold, wind and rain. Of the few really long rides I’ve done this autumn/winter I’ve been soaked through, so cold my hands stopped working and did 93 miles into a constant headwind. This definitely fits into the extreme end of type 2 fun, a grim sense of satisfaction that I’d made it.

Given the option though I’d always take my perfect conditions of 25C, brilliant blue skies and a tailwind the whole way. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth I took the brief gap between jobs to go and sun myself and escape and week of downpours in the U.K. Initially looking at Mallorca but then deciding that it wasn’t warm enough so I set my sights on the Canaries and having been to Gran Canaria and Tenerife I thought I’d try Lanzarote….not a choice I would regret!

For the next 5 days I had glorious sunshine and some of the smoothest tarmac I’ve ever had the pleasure to ride…it’s so good, most of the island is worthy of a Tour de France stage finish.

Thinking it was flat because it didn’t have a giant mountain in the middle was a mistake though….it’s not flat.

An old friend from Uni would have probably described it as “rolling” but then he would have described anything less than a hard day in the alps as rolling.

The roads generally went gently up or gently down with a few biggies to test the legs or your nerve…there were even some switchbacks to enjoy.

The wind was the only downside, the volcanic peaks funnelled the wind beautifully, it was a case of switching between barrelling along in the tailwind, leaning hard into the often terrifying crosswinds or grimacing into the headwind. you could forgive an English for wishing for his hedgerows to give a modicum of respite from being pushed left or right into the gutter.

In a final hurrah to top the week out with almost 300miles I did the closest approximation to a lap round the island I could manage. Carefully planning the route to give me almost 30miles home mostly downhill and definitely with a tail wind. Despite the slow and tiring miles into the headwind and up the gradual climbs that proceeded it cruising back almost averaging 20mph seemed quite respectable and a nice way to finish.

As I sit in the airport staring at my ridiculous tan lines and thinking fondly of the time here I look despairingly down at the piles of clothes in my hand luggage ready for the joys of British winter….

KM3349 Riders KM9147.5 Me

So that’s a wrap on the 2018 Tour de France, over 9000 KM and i am back where i started almost a month ago and what a journey its been, there have been highs and low, ups and downs (and not just because of the mountains) . Somehow Pete and I managed to not have any full blown arguments and very few crossed words and i know i and not always the most fun to be around.

The lows –

The first few days were rough, getting back into the groove of snapping is always tough and the last race i shot was Liege Bastonge Liege. The first stage was all  a little rushed and trying to work our way round the tiny winding roads of the Vendee meant a lot of driving for very few photos. to finish trying out a new lens on the first sprint finish and only realising in edit that it wasn’t up to the job….the ensuing uncomfortable silence was not an ideal start.

The Queen stage, photos in the car is always hard, getting off and back on the course but as soon as you hit the mountains it gets really tough, the sparse road system generally going over mountain passes. That meant the Col d’Aubisque was the place to be, the pressure of only one stop to sum up the race. Combine camera issues with weird light and the yellow jersey on the wrong side. In hindsight i can see what i could have done better…next time i’m on a mountain when a Welshman is in the Yellow jersey on the Queen stage of the Tour de France.

The highs

In terms of  photos it might seem like an odd choice but it sums up the world of working on the Tour for me

CJW_TDFSTG6-1818

Or for something thats less unusual but certainly unique

cjw_tdfstg14-3669

Outside of the photos the are probably 3 things that stand out for me, mostly for the ego boost.

Romain Bardet using one of my photos, unsurprisingly it got a few more likes than if when i posted it, about 21,000 more 🙂

The whole of stage 20, the place i’d chosen was full of Basques and they were really on point with being enthusiastic…they quickly decided i looked like ex-pro Michael Rasmussen, who then retweeted the video of them singing to me, 19k views and 36 retweets later they then sang my name to me, yeap a bit superficial i know

But after this the food and the seat they gave me made the 5 hours i sat on the road much better, shame i was driving and couldn’t enjoy the beer they also offered.

The icing on the cake was a good day in Paris, some great pictures, a ride in a race vehicle at breakneck speeds from the top of the bottom of the Champs Elysees and finally a little bit of partying. Special thanks going to Pete for sucking it up one last time and going out, Sophie and Sadhbh for securing us beer when it seemed impossible and getting us in on the party action. It made the drive out of Paris and back to the UK a little harder but sleep is for the weak….until next time Tour De France

KM3349 Riders KM8207 Me

So that’s a wrap….the riders as done and off to get drunk, relax, eat what ever they want maybe even have an outrageous party…if they do I’d quite like an invite.

Along with over eight thousand kilometres driven (and I’m still not home) I’ve got 105GB/7488 photos taken…not sure what the edit/publishes count is…but it’s definitely lower.

For the first time I shot at the Arc de Triomphe and got the shots I wanted…to top that off I hitched a lift back down from the top in the Voiture Balai…that’s the fasted I’ll ever go on the Champs Elysees, exhilarating is the only word for it.

It’s now time for beers and maybe a party…although I’m not sure we’ve been invited to any and having just seen Taylor Phinney be turned away it could be a hard night to get in when you’re not on the guest list.

KM3233 Riders KM7934 Me

With at least a few hundred kilometres left to drive and race the Tour is pretty much over. Geraint just has to stay on his bike now, no proper racing for him to do.

For me the Queen stage in the mountains was a bit of an anti-climax. On the final mountain stage you hope for some action but with only one stop for the day you really have to hope you get lucky. Sadly Lucky I was not….camera issue just as the GC group arrived on me almost left me with no photos for the day. It’s a equal foil to the joy of capturing something you are happy with so Pete had to put up with a bit of grumpy silence for the evening. Thankfully our hotel aka Pete’s house was less than a mile down the road and dinner was sorted so there was no coup de gras for the evening of a long drive and scant dinner options.

With a long day looming and a long drive to the start I had to skip another ride up the Col de Marie Blanc, which after a little romp up it the previous morning was sad but with sleep needed and rain stopping play we packed up and headed off.

The rain on the drive to the start was no filling us with joy….bad light and sat in one place for 4 hours is not ideal.

The time literally vanished as we arrived so there was no time to recce the course and then loop back round to stop somewhere, I had to negotiate the course with riders still doing their recce and fans not quite paying attention.

By the time I started walking back to the 3KM point the rain was completely gone and the waterproof was not needed and in the heat I actually needed to take it off.

With all the riders coming though there is plenty of time to find the shot you want, my challenge of finding some good Fans was easily achieved, even with barriers.

The Basque fans were amazing, starting with deciding I looked like michael rasmussen and treating me to a little chorus of that and then after he retweeted the video a little chorus of my name. But e icing on the cake was food and then a seat

The pictures full of enthusiasm and colour were a bonus

Now onto Paris…4 1/2 hours to Poitier…one late night phone call to get into the hotel and a good nights sleep and we’re ready for one last stage and maybe a bit of partying before it’s back to reality outside of the weird Tour bubble.