Saturday, 31 December 2011

Rapha's Festive 500 - Final Day!

Day 4 - Saturday, Dec 31st - 70 miles
It's the final day of the challenge - either I complete the mileage today or it's too late...

And, luckily, it's the best day yet - dry and even occasionally sunny. The headwind's still there, but it's not bothering me as much today. Having the end in sight certainly helps to make for a pleasurable, rather than dutiful, ride.

In fact, after 240 miles over the last week - far more than I would every usually ride this time of year - I feel so comfortable on the bike and the miles feel easy.

I head west again, out through Cotteridge, King's Norton and Frankley, dropping down to Belbroughton and on to Blakedown, Kiddermister and Bewdley, before climbing up to Callow's Hill and Clows Top and falling again to Newnham and just short of Tenbury Wells.

Turning for home, the wind behind me is wonderful, I feel like a ship under sail. And Clee Hill looks lovely...

The ride home is a genuine pleasure and I feel strong and pretty fresh considering the 310 miles.

And just in time for a lovely New Year's Eve meal!

So that wraps up my Festive 500. What have I learnt from this? Well, I knew I could physically do the miles, but it was a challenge to combine that with a family Christmas with the days so short.

And also a fantastic start to training for the summer's challenge of tackling 13 of the Tour de France's toughest mountain climbs...

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Rapha's Festive 500 - Day 3

Day 3 - Thursday, Dec 29th - 60 miles
The wind continues to blow and the rain has returned, although rather more fitfully today.

I've decided to change direction, heading west through Kidderminster and over Clows Top towards Tenbury Wells, where my sister-in-law lives.

Today's rain is more showery, with drier spells. It's not fun as such - especially riding the uphill slog out of Bewdley - but it's not quite as dreich as the first day.

Clows Top really does live up to its name, with the clouds literally scraping the tops of the hills.

Turning back at Mamble, I realise how strong the wind has become and it certainly makes the journey home a lot easier than the ride out!

70 miles to go...

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Rapha's Festive 500 - Day 2

Day 2 - Tuesday, Dec 27th - 100 miles
After 3 days off the bike - and having given it a thorough clean and washed my gear - I'm ready to face another battle with the weather to burn off some festive calories.

But this ride proves to be far less unpleasant. Although needing to ride 20 miles and also facing the same headwind, and despite early drizzle, things perk up quickly and I never look back. I'm in Worcester by 11.00am, rather than 1.00pm as last time. And no punctures to report...

This is much more like it, rolling easily along, racking up the miles. I'm joined by another cyclist a few miles from my turning point - he's on his way to visit his in-laws, meeting his family there who were driving the same route (something I've done many times).

With a few days off, I'm feeling pretty fresh, apart from the low-level fatigue in my quads and I'm able to turn for home at 1.00pm, this time with the wind (without rain) pushing me steadily home.

A sign caught my eye near Gloucester for Nature in Art, which turned out to be the rather grand Wallsworth House where my great-grandfather was butler before the First World War and where my grandmother was born. Must pop back to find out more!

A ride to restore the spirits.

130 miles to go...

Friday, 23 December 2011

Rapha's Festive 500 - Day 1

I pledged to join cycling apparelists Rapha's Festive 500 - a challenge to cyclists to beat the winter weather and ride 500 km (just over 310 miles) between December 23rd-31st.

It's a laudable idea in and of itself, especially at a time when the mince pies and mulled wine are flowing, but is it possible?

I don't mean could I manage to cycle that far, because I know that's true having done it many times - although I haven't ridden 100 miles in a day since the end of August. But is it possible to fit that many miles into a busy, family-focussed week when the days are short and the weather wet, cold and generally miserable?

Well, let's find out...

Day 1 - Fri, Dec 23rd - 80 miles
With Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day all ruled out for cycling on the grounds that I don't want to face divorce, the only choice was to dive straight in with a decent ride on the first day of the challenge.

The weather forecast for the coming week is an absolute stinker, with rain being the main challenge, followed by strong winds and low temperatures.

The first day doesn't disappoint, with a 15 mph head wind as I ride South West towards Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. And rain. Starting as a light drizzle, it gradually picked up intensity during the day, at some points becoming fairly heavy.

The Scots have a word for this weather: Dreich...

I really hate rain when I'm cycling, particularly standing water. It's not just my clothes getting wet, although that's a pain, but having sodden hands and feet in temperatures (factoring in the wind chill) of near freezing really isn't much fun. Plus it means spending at least an hour cleaning the bike down when I get home if I don't want to ruin the wheel rims and grind the gears to bits next time I ride.

Riding out of Birmingham, through Kings Heath, King's Norton, past Longbridge and over the Lickey hills, I do start to find a cycling rhythm and the day at least looks doable. But after nearly 20 miles, as I approach Droitwich, I feel the rear wheel start to 'fishtail' and realise I have my first puncture on my road bike in 3 years. It takes half an hour to find shelter and replace the inner tube, blowing it up with my comically-small bike pump - not much bigger than a marker pen, but surprisingly effective.

Back in the saddle, I gingerly ride 5 miles to the nearest bike shop in Worcester to buy a new inner tube and check the tyre pressure. Unfortunately the track pump the owner lends me is useless and clamps onto the true valve, ripping it off as I try to remove it. So that means fitting another new tube...

I won't bore you with details of the rest of the ride. Suffice to say it carried on in a similar vein, with strengthening wind and rain. The one small crumb of comfort I was anticipating - riding home with the wind behind me - was sadly not to be as the wind turned 180 degrees just as I reached the turning point...

But I did make it home after 80 miles, although unable to feel my fingers or toes and with sodden gear.

230 miles to go...

Friday, 9 December 2011

I'm Up For Rapha's Festive 500 - Are You...?

My cycling clothing manufacturer of choice, Rapha, are challenging cyclists to escape the clutches of the Christmas sofa by riding  500 km (310 miles) between the 23rd and 31st of December.

I've done 1,000 miles in 10 days before, but over Christmas this could be a real challenge. But if I can persuade Mrs Robinson to let me out - and the weather isn't as bad as last year - I'm up for the challenge.

The question is, is anyone else going to join me...?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Cycling Provence

I'm pleased to see that the good people of Vaucluse in Provence are promoting cycling in their lovely region, which includes Avignon and the area where Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources were filmed.

Oh, and Mont Ventoux...

I've cycled 'The Giant of Provence' twice already and plan to climb it again next summer as part of a tour of the Pyrenees and Alps.

So it's great to see the French region promoting cycling. Plus there's a chance to win a mountain bike and other cycling goodies...