Saturday, 29 June 2013

Tour de France 2013- starts today...

At 12.15pm Corsican time today, the sprawling, narrow streets of Porto Vecchio will be overpowered with colour and klaxons and people who have squeezed into every vantage point to see off the 100th Tour de France.

198 men in 22 teams will start the race, it will be a long road and, in places, a steep one. Whether greatness lies at the end of it is a vexed question, although that remains the objective 110 years and 100 editions after this great epic started.

This is the bike race that everyone knows; a colourful, lycra-clad amorphous swarm of thunder-thighed masochists known collectively as 'the peloton' whirr relentlessly through the French countryside at high speed, occasionally taking on the kind of terrifying Pyrenean and Alpine summits that sane individuals would think twice about ascending or descending in a car. The teams, the riders employ a strict hierarchy and caste system not dissimilar to that of a beehive, where each member has its own specific role and the group works in harmony for the common good. The cycling equivalent of worker bees are the 'domestiques' whose duties involve protecting their team leader (the queen bee) from rivals and fetching and carrying refreshments from the team car. Further up the chain are the cyclists who specialise in various fields of industry - such as climbing, time-trialling or sprinting. Given the skill sets of the various riders it comes as no surprise that the Tour de France consists of a number of races within the overall race. The overall leader is the man in the yellow jersey, synonymous throughout the world, but then there is the green jersey (best sprinter), and the polka-dot jersey (best climber) plus the white jersey (best young rider) - very rarely we see a rider who will fill all jerseys simultaneously and it is well documented the lengths to which cyclists will go to get their hands on one of these emetic garments.

So, tune in today - and pretty much every day for the next three weeks - keep up with British hopes as Chris Froome attempts to become the second Brit in history to win - see the drama unfold, the crashes, the blood, sweat and tears. Look out particularly for stage 15 - Bastille Day and a summit finish on Mont Ventoux (Gary and I rode up it last year) - and the final day on the Champs Elysees - can Mark Cavendish win the sprint? - We'll be there having cycled to Paris - can't wait!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Chequers - Ticknall.....

Last weekend the weather turned for the worst, once again our riding plans were compromised, although we managed 50 or so miles before the heavens opened. Since then I've done a couple of 20's - generally though it's just not how June is supposed to be! - However, as another Wednesday night rolls around and with clear blue skies and even some sunshine, the beer ride offered a mid-week chance to get a few miles in.
I rode through to Newton Burgoland, meeting Gary and Paul from over the road at a convenient junction. We cycled into Ashby de la Zouch climbing up past Champney Springs before zooming through the town centre onto the quieter roller-coaster country road past Smisby and on to Ticknall. Sometimes things just don't feel right on the bike, there's no real explanation, it's just one of those things 'an off day' would be the colloquial term - today was such for me. My back ached, legs felt lifeless and heavy, every pedal turn seemed to require supreme effort - in short I was struggling to keep up. On the other hand,  Paul from over the road was flying - he pushed on to such an extent that he dissappeared from view on more than one ocassion. As we approached Ticknall we descended from a section of the Pistern Hills - this area is dotted with a series of short, energy sapping climbs - Gary and I spent some time practising for our ascent on the Ventoux over here, we had been down this one many times - but never up it. I made the ridiculous suggestion that we should climb it tonight, after our visit to the pub - unfortunately the offer was accepted.
We dropped down into Ticknall at speeds approaching 40mph - it gets scary on patchy uneven roads that twist and turn - but we were okay, just a couple more up and downs and we had arrived.

The Chequers - Ticknall

The Chequers is the oldest pub in the village; a sterotypical traditional country village pub. Thick stone wall exterior, small, quaint, multi-paned windows and a warm welcome. The pub dates back to the seventeenth century with obligatory exposed timberwork, twisted doorways and unevenly plastered walls. There are three small interconnecting rooms one of which is home to the bar. There are simple benches and free standing stools and tables and an open fireplace.
The beer selection is minimal - but no matter, what there is is good, well kept and crystal clear. We opted for Draught Bass - Doom Bar was the alternative. The pub was busy for a Wednesday, the landlord looks like a throwback to how landlords used to look, smartly turned out in a shirt and tie - when was the last time you saw that?  He was kept busy all evening and didn't stop pulling pints and attending to customers the whole time we were there. Always a sign of a good pub. No food here apart from bar snacks, crisps/nuts etc. No music, no games machines -  This is purely a drinkers pub, a place to meet and chat and while away an evening. The toilets are outside in a separate outbuilding - a real throwback - these are probably the original, from the seventeenth century - a real traditional toilet smell!
We set off for home at around 9.30 - all of us heading out of the village towards Ashby before most of the riders veered off to Hartshore - scared at the prospect of  climbing up the aforementioned hill - Gary, Paul from over the road and I stayed on course and edged our way upwards. The road was tunnel-like in places, the trees forming a dense canopy overhead as we toiled upwards, Gary shouting out the elevation in various percentages as we went - a few more turns, a steeper bit and suddenly it was over - and much to my surprise, easier than expected - I took it very steadily (slow) but I don't think it was as tough as the Pistern Hills Mark 1.
The road now was predominently flat and often downhill - the riding was fast and furious back towards Ashby - we were touching 30mph for some sections and before we knew it we were outside Nick's Fish Bar - Cycling makes you hungry - we were hungry - chips all round then - and they were excellent.
After fuelling up there was a further 'race' through Ashby and up to Willesley past the Golf course and across the motorway before we split up - another 10 miles or so and I'm home by 11pm - tired but feeling that this was the best beer ride so far this year for me.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Crown Inn - Yoxall

It's humid here - jungle conditions. I managed to sneak out of work early for tonight's beer ride across to Yoxall and The Crown Inn. Ordinarily I probably wouldn't have bothered, it's a round trip of 50 miles on a Wednesday evening, wouldn't get home until midnight and work the next day - however, one of the group elders, Norman, had organised chip butties. With a prolonged series of emails he went to great lengths to gently remind everyone to be there, directions were sent out, departure times, butty serving time - the whole thing had all the urgency and importance of a military operation. I thought I should make the effort.

The ride out to Yoxall was pleasant on such a beautiful evening - plenty of other riders out enjoying the warmth. My bike seems to be going well since the last round of tweaks and fettleing and I met up with Gary and Paul from over the road at around 7.00pm - then it was our usual breakneck race through the lanes to Coton in the Elms and from there to Walton and into Barton under Needwood. The hills slowed us a little, but in general we were moving.

The Crown - Yoxall
The Crown stands on the edge of the village directly on the busy A515. From the outside it looks fine, reasonable condition, tidy, nothing to deter the passing trade at all. There is a tidy outdoor area at the rear with picnic bench seating on a neat grassed patch and sheltered by trees and shrubs. Tonight is the warmest so far this year, sitting outside was obligatory. We were the first there and picked our table, Gary went for the beer while I guarded our bikes. The beer was good, pale, clear and refreshing - Smugglers something or other by Warnes I believe. The rest of the group who had cycled from Burton arrived, Pete, Glenn, Barry, Ken and Tim, by now we had two tables. Norman arrived separately via a pathway leading from the back of the pub - thinking about it now I'm not sure he was on his bike? - can't remember seeing it? - But he actually lives in Yoxall so maybe he walked?

The chips arrived in a couple of large bowls accompanied by a large platter of thick bread and butter slices. First impressions: Good! - The chips were large, thick and consistently golden in colour. They had a slightly crispy outer which revealed a perfect fluffy centre. Salt, vinegar and brown sauce were the accompaniments - just the job and so far so good. Just one thing to pull them up on; no knives were provided - so that once the chip butty was built it had to be eaten as one massive whole, no way to cut it in half - but it didn't seem to matter - we coped.

Inside, the pub was typically traditional, a couple of interconnecting bar areas, bar stools, bench seating and tables, cream walls with retro/1950's style photographs of groups of girls in various poses. Two or three real ales, cider and a selection of lagers etc - nothing exceptional but perfectly adequate and welcoming. The landlady was particularly affable and gave an impression of studied efficiency.

Norman in action
We left at around 9.00pm - Gary and I making our own way back via the big hill up to Barton - once again we raced off like demented fools - charged by the carb boost we flew through Barton at racing speed - 26/27mph - people sitting outside the pubs there should have been suitably impressed.

After I left Gary and rode the last 12 miles solo I had some sort of premonition - turning into the quiet Derby Lane I thought that for sure an animal was going to dash out in front of me and bring me down. I slowed down to touring speed and ambled along. I saw nothing until the last two hundred yards of the lane when a badger scurried out, no more that a couple of feet in front - weird!!

Home and in bed by 11.30 - 50 miles in the bank.

Monday, 17 June 2013

How cyclists travel when not on cycles....

One of the Wednesday night 'beer run' riders, who is also one of the respected elders of the club has revealed his new car to us all.

Tim is making steady progress towards his 80th birthday but is a regular rider still. He has a decent collection of bikes that he rotates as the fancy takes him. And we know that he has a 'classic car' in his garage. However, his latest aquisition is one to be admired by all. He's purchased a new Morgan sports car, one of the models that looks like the original, proper Morgans - three wheels, open top, no gizmo's.

He turned up in it recently on one of the Wednesday night club rides - here it is for you to admire!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Another 100....

As the London-Paris expedition looms ever larger on the radar, weekend rides have to take on some significance. Last weekend saw the start of a serious effort to get some miles in the bank, and this weekend was much the same. Except for the weather. 

Instead of the bright sunshine of a week ago we were faced with blustery gales and a series of showers which did more than simply dampen the spirit. But, in the true tradition of bold explorers we soldiered on, constantly trying to avoid the black patches of sky that we knew would make us miserable. The first 60 miles were ok - except for the wind, which when catching you unawares was powerful enough to deflect the bike almost to the point of causing a crash. And, if we were facing it head-on, the battle to simply keep moving in a forward direction verged on futile. From 60 miles onward the rain came down as if from a hosepipe. Thick sheets, almost hail, and stinging our bare arms and legs. We sheltered where we could under the cover of large trees or huddled under bushes - it was cold, wet and totally miserable - a typical summer day.

I got to thinking about my tan - those of us in the pale-skinned ethnic groups know that to be considered a true, enthusiastic and committed cyclist, it is essential to get the cyclists tan. The basic elements of this are twofold: the tan on the arms, legs and face must be deep, deep nut brown, and, critically, the dividing line between the tan of the arms and legs and the pasty white of the rest of the body must be razor sharp. The thing is you need to wear either the same jersey and shorts for every ride or invest in several identical sets to ensure the dividing line is not compromised by differing hem-lines. This is why the pros are so careful about the fit of their race kit. Line up the hems with the previous days race line and you’re good to go. Of course not all kit offers the same UV protection and there is therfore a danger of a slight tanning action through the garments - this is a no-no and will redice the level of contrast - So, apply a liberal sun block to your white bits, maybe using masking tape on the arms and legs to ensure that none intrudes onto the tanning area - and there you go, an easy way to ensure you look good on the bike - and even better in the shower! - This plan is no good on days like yesterday however - the sun was hiding and the black dark skies of another season had taken over.

Still, no matter - by the end it was 107 miles for me - despite the adverse conditions I'm convinced I've recovered better than I did last week - and with a couple more long rides planned for the weekends ahead all should be good for the Paris trip. But it would be better and easier in good weather!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Chris Froome favourite for the Tour de France.....

Congratulations to Chris Froome on his victory at the Criterium du Dauphine - he will be going into the Tour de France as odds on favourite after a series of impressive wins culminating in this, the traditional pointer to the favourite for the Tour.

"The counter is back to zero for the Tour" he says, trying to muffle the growing hype after a series of dominating performances. There will be six or seven contenders for overall victory at the Tour but just three weeks away from the start none of the big guns look to be firing like Froome. And none have the back-up of a Sky team that demonstrated with chilling efficiency that they still have the ammunition to ensure cyclings most prestigious title remains in Britain. 

With defending champion Sir Bradley Wiggins out through injury - Froome looks every inch his team-mates Tour successor. Wiggins won the Criterium last year and went on to make history - Froome looks in great shape to do the same. - Can't wait and we'll be there in Paris for the finish!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Saturday century.....

Everything seems caught up in a vortex of summer growth. The weather has been beautiful and for more than a week we have been caressed by strong, warm sunshine. Hedges and copses are thick with new growth; verges are frothing with cow parsley and the extraordinarily bright yellow rape fields shine like gold. The canopy of leaves along tree lined roads seem stitched ever tighter so that the effect is like being in a huge green tent, foxgloves are blooming in erect, close masses and bracken fronds are unfurling fast.

We decided a long ride would be in order - we had considered riding to York or Bath or Oxford - stop overnight in a pub then ride back next day. In theory a good plan, but means a weekend wiped out, plus the cost of overnight accommodation. A more pragmatic solution would be to ride local lanes - we would never be more than twenty or so miles from home in the case of emergency, we know where to find a good pub for lunch and there would be no need for a night out. And so it was.

I met Gary at 8.00am at our usual spot. He'd planned a suitable route and we set off with a sense of needing to get the job done. We made for Shackerstone and then Congerstone before heading out to Far Coton, Shenton and then on to Upton - all familiar lanes. We then crossed the A444 heading for Ratcliffe Culey - by now the early morning cloud had melted away to clear blue skies and bright sunshine. Lots of cyclists out - we passed two or three large groups, maybe fifteen or so riders in each as well as couples and plenty of solo riders - the good weather encouraging for all.

From the crossroads at Pinwall we went straight ahead towards Warton, marvellous clear views across to Polesworth and beyond, we cycled gradually upwards enjoying the landscape as the fields folded and unfolded all around us and into the distance. We skirted around Newton Regis before dropping into Clifton Campville and from there to Haunton, Harlaston and on to Whittington. The road from here to Alrewas and Kings Bromley was a particular pleasure, shafts of slanting sunlight piercing the green canopy as we made good progress along quiet lanes. We had to dismount and dash across the busy A38 dual carriageway, but it wasn't too much of a hinderance. The grassy verged roads now seemed flat, Gary commented that they reminded him of the Fens. We passed through Fradley and joined the main road at Kings Bromley turning left towards Lichfield before making a right turn towards Armitage. From there we made another right turn to Hill Ridware heading towards Abbots Bromley - the road now was constantly undulating, piercing short rises followed by the welcome roll down the otherside. By now we were hungry - we passed a couple of pubs that looked tempting but nowhere open - still only 11.30am!

Soon we had descended into Yoxall, now we had the climb up Town Hill towards Barton Under Needwood. First time I've been up this drag although I'd enjoyed coming down from the other side many times. It wasn't too bad - we took it steadily (slowly) and before we knew it we had reached the top. Into Barton and a stop at the recently refurbished Co-Op for sandwiches, crisps and a drink - we pedalled to the bench in front of the church to enjoy our lunch and take a well earned rest. Across the road was Cadence Sports - the shop owned by former Tour de France cyclist Adrian Timmis. We decided to pay a visit. Half an hour later I was over £700 poorer - a new set of wheels!!

A very welcome reward at the George & Dragon
Onwards then to Walton on the hill and the climb out of the village - familiar territory now as we made progress towards Coton in the Elm and then towards Netherseal. I'm feeling tired now - the miles are beginning to take a toll - the contact points, hands, feet and bum are all saying 'enough!' - but we press on. Another few miles and we have passed the 70 marker - We arrive back at the starting point and Gary heads for home, I do too, but decide to carry on and add a further twenty to get the magical '100' - so I'm back where we started at 8.00am this morning - I take the same route for about eight miles but then turn off to Stoke Golding - another struggle of a climb - this time worsened by the days efforts. I stop at the George and Dragon and buy a pint of Goats Milk - a wonderfully hoppy pale ale. I sit outside and enjoy the sharp citrus flavours - if I had more money I would have stayed for another - but I have to move on. On to Shenton and then Sutton Cheney, Cadeby, Market Bosworth and, at last, home. 103 miles covered. The first century of the year!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Idea for a holiday?

Here's something that might be of interest!

A cycleable campervan - wow - that's going to be tough going uphill.