Am I on track?

Am I on track?

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas...!!

So I sit here late on Christmas Eve.  The kids have been tucked into bed, my beautiful wife and I have had a few too many champagnes, and we are enjoying the "calm before the storm" of Christmas Day...

So what would be my dream cycling Christmas presents to wake up to tomorrow?

Well, I would love a new pair of race wheels - some Shimano Dura-Ace C50's would be awesome.  I'm a huge fan of Shimano hubs - their old-school cup-&-cone bearings are (to me at least) superior to all others. And a set of 50mm deep carbon rims would be the perfect 'do everything' race wheelset for crits, road races and time trials.

I'd also love the new Ultegra Di2 electronic groupset. I don't see a need for electronic shifting - but I'm absolutely entranced by these groupsets.  I drove the proprietor of a local bikeshop nuts when I spent half-an-hour playing with a Di2 display set-up a month or so ago.  Its just one of those things I lust for...

But in all seriousness - what I really wish for is a safe year on the roads, accident and injury free. Really, if I get that, then I can't imagine it being anything other than a great year.

I hope everyone out there, whether you are a cycling lover or not, has a happy Christmas and a safe, exciting 2012.

Cycle on, my friends!!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Race 2/2011: Balmoral Club Criterium, Murarrie.

I couldn't finish the year without rolling around at my home club criteriums, especially after all the fun I had at the Twilight Crit earlier in the week at Nundah.  This was the very last race of the year before the Christmas/New Year break, so my last chance to race for 2011.

I was running a bit late (alarm clock malfunction!), so ended up driving to the race - turning up at 7:30am for a 7:40am start in C-Grade.  After quickly registering (there were 48 of us in C-Grade), I did a few laps around the carpark to warm up.  Soon, we were called to the start for our instructions - 40min + 3 laps, with a prime at roughly halfway. And we were away!

The pace was on quickly, but settled into a pretty steady rhythm early on. I was very happy with how my legs were travelling - once again I was working hard, but my legs didn't feel as 'fragile'. I was holding my place in the peloton pretty well, and experimented a bit as I went with my rear gearing to see what felt best. I ended up spending most of the time flicking between the 16 & 15 cogs (and of course staying in the 52-tooth chainring), the reasonably high cadence in those gears feeling good and natural.

We had a brief rest around the 18min mark when B-Grade overtook us.  It did get a bit messy though, with a couple of guys at the front seemingly unwilling to let them get away cleanly.  It was a bit frustrating, but being further back there wasn't much I could do...

My telling moment came at about 29min.  A small group of 5 had gotten away, and the main peloton strung out into a long line as the chase picked up its pace.  I was pushing hard, but feeling OK. Suddenly, a rider a few in front of me lost the wheel he was on, and rolled off to the side!! The two guys behind him both sat up, and looked back at me to see what I would do...

"Oh no" I said to myself - just like that, I was facing a 15m-ish gap into a headwind to make up.  I dropped into the 14 cog, and gave it everything I had - which turned out not to be much!  I couldn't make any in-roads into the gap, and after a brief chase which blew my legs to shreds, I sat up and admitted defeat.

There was a group of about 10 riders behind me who had been dropped earlier. I tried to grab onto them as they went past, but my legs were still so blown from the chase that I couldn't do it. I rolled off the track and into the carpark instead...

A quick check of my bike computer showed I had lasted just over 29min - almost the exact same time as Wednesday's criterium! The average speed was 38.4km/h - but that included a couple of easy laps while B-Grade passed us, so I think the pace was generally quicker.  I topped out at 49.1km/h, presumably during my little chase at the end.

So, all told, it was another good result. It never feels good to get dropped - but again I was happy that my legs were able to work hard and keep me in the race for that long. It was no surprise I wasn't able to bridge a gap - but that at least gives me a benchmark I can work to improve.

Now, after 2 tough races in 4 days, I can look forward to 4 weeks of laying down some base mileage for the 2012 season. Hopefully the improvements will keep coming!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Race 1/2011: HPRW Twilight Criterium, Nundah.

Wow.  Its been around 14 months since the big accident when my shoulder was broken, and I've been back on the bike for about 3 months.  It feels so good to be racing again...

I rolled up this afternoon for race 3 of the HPRW Twilight Criterium series, held at Albert Bishop Park in Nundah.  This has always been a favourite series of mine - there is something awesome about mid-week racing after work.

I was obviously very nervous about how I'd go.  The main reason to race was as a bit of a benchmarking exercise - how was I going, and how much further do I have to go?  Well, I have the answers to that now - I'm going well, but I still have a long way to go!!

I signed on at the registration desk at 4:30pm, and rolled around the track for 20-ish minutes doing an easy warm-up.  I pulled off to the grassy verge for a while to watch some of my fellow racers - about 30 altogether in my grade (C Grade, of course!).

Race time came along very quickly, and I nervously gathered with the others for the start.  This race was to be a points race - 2 points for the first rider across the line every lap, and then 5-4-3-2-1 points for the first 5 riders on the final lap.  The commissaire told us it would be a roughly 25min race - and away we went!

The pace was on quickly - I was gasping for air after the first lap, desperately willing my legs and heart to find some sort of rhythm...  A quick glance at my bike computer showed us flying along at 45km/h along the home straight!

Fortunately, I managed to settle myself down.  I was working very hard, but not red-lining (yet!).  I wondered briefly if I'd be able to keep it up for the whole race, or if I'd crack - but pushed the thoughts aside and focused on turning my legs over and finding a good position sheltered in the middle of the pack.

12min 30sec into the race, and I was still there. I had made it to halfway, so that was my first goal achieved!

At around the 18min mark, I had my one 'scare'.  I didn't notice the front of the pack start to string out as they lifted the pace. Sudden;y, I realised I was being overtaken by lots of riders around me! I ried to loft the pace, but my legs suddenly felt sluggish...  Glancing over my shoulder, I realised there was no-one behind me - I was coming last! I had to lift and hold that wheel in front of me.

I buried myself holding onto the back of the racing pack.  I kept telling myself that the leaders would ease up soon, and I'd get a chance to recover...  Fortunately, after half-a-lap, they did just that.  I rolled further up the pack, breathing heavily, and feeling great that I had managed to hold on.

My legs got a bit crampy at around 22min.  I felt some twinges, and wondered if this was my sign that they were about to blow... Again, timing was on my side. The pace eased slightly, giving me a chance to get a slight recovery.

Soon, I was starting to pray for the 'final lap bell' to be rung. We raced past the start/finish line at 25:30 - and the bell still wasn't rung! "Come on!" I thought - I wasn't sure how long I could keep it up...!!

To my relief, the bell went on the next lap. I was ecstatic - I had made it. I pushed hard to make sure I didn't lapse right at the end, and crossed the finish in the middle of the pack.  I gave a little fist-pump as I finished - mission accomplished!!

Final stats for the race were 29min 30sec duration, with an average speed of 39.4km/h. Pretty pacy for my first race back!

I am totally stoked with the result.  Even though I was at my limit a few times, I managed to finish the race with the pack and not get dropped.  Its given me a massive confidence boost, and I'm looking forward to laying down some good mileage over the next month and tackling the next Twilight Criterium in mid-January 2012.  Although I might squeeze in one more race for 2011 before then.....

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A Perfect Day

I've had lots of 'perfect days' on the bike.  Long rides through a variety of terrain, group rides, short rides, races - yesterday was another one of those days.

After a wet and rainy couple of days in Brisbane, I woke to a beautiful, bright blue sky.  I got changed into my cycling gear quickly, and filled my backpack with my lunch and work paraphernalia, pumped up the tyres on the roadbike, and rolled down the driveway.

After a couple of days off, I could tell straight away that my legs felt great and were ready and keen to work hard.  After a short warm-up along some bike path and back-streets, I headed on to a main road and the start of some rolling hills.

The weather was perfect - low 20's, and a cool, light southerly tailwind at my back.  I couldn't hide the smile on my face...

I decided to start off with hammering the uphills and recovering on the downhills.  My legs felt strong as I pushed hard, getting that lovely lactic acid burn as I crested each short hill.

A decent stretch of bikepath followed (my rule is "small chainring only on bikepaths" - they aren't race-tracks), so I kept up a nice high cadence, pushing a decent pace.

Next were the two decent hill-climbs of my commute - Queensport Rd and the Gateway Bridge.  I dropped into the 39x21 for each climb, got out of the saddle, and went as hard as I could for each one.  Queensport Rd nearly broke me by the top, but I just made it.  I recovered on the long decent, and smashed halfway up the Gateway before the legs cracked - I dropped back to the 39x25, and spun up the rest of the way feeling satisfied.

Next, some bikepath recovery again before my final 'set' - three long stretches of flat road.  I pushed the chain onto the big chainring, and tried to hold as high a speed (and cadence over 80) for the entire length of each one.

That was the first time since my comeback I'd really hammered hard on the flats. The legs had a nice deep burn going, but kept on going. I tried to keep a relaxed grip on the bars, and drive my legs onwards, and they responded nicely.  It felt amazing to open the legs up like that and work hard - I've really missed that feeling on the bike!

I rolled into work still with that big smile still on my face.  A quick check on the bike computer showed 57min - my first sub-hour inbound commute for my 23km journey since I'd re-started on the bike.

Those mornings of perfect weather, perfect conditions, and great legs don't happen that often - they are mornings to savour and enjoy. Can't wait for the next one!!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

November 2011 Review

A quick update of my cycling in November before we reach the end of December!!

Mileage - 201km
Weight - 88kg (steady)

I'm very happy with that mileage figure, a smidge over 200km.  Remembering I spent half of November in Sydney for work, I managed to knock out those kilometres in just a couple of weeks.

It was also a good mix of road-riding and a couple of sweat-fest magtrainer sessions.  Mixing up both road and trainer is definitely having a positive effect on my bike fitness, even in such a short timeframe.

So what's ahead for December?

I'm still working hard on consistency.  Not thinking too hard about training structure, or losing too much sleep over intensity - just focussing on getting on the bike as often as possible and racking up the km's, so the legs will be ready for a big 2012.

The Cycling Qld 2012 road racing calendar was published last week.  I'll post later about that in more detail - but it won't be any surprise that reading through the calendar got the competitive juices flowing.  There are only three club criterium races left in Brisbane for the year - this Saturday and next Saturday at Murarrie, and next Wednesday night at Nundah.  I know I was blogging earlier about giving racing a miss until 2012, and focussing on base training - but I reckon I'm going to hit the races at least once (maybe even all three!). This'll help me satisfy those racing urges, and give me an indicator (and hopefully some motivation!) for my training over the Christmas/New Year period.

I'm feeling good on the bike, the new saddle is feeling great (more on that later too), and I can't wait to rack up some more good kilometres on the bike over December.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

To race or not to race...

I'm torn between two conflicting ideas about whether or not to race in December.

So what is the case "for"?

One of my favourite racing series - the HPRW Twilight Criterium Series - starts this week. It comprises 6 races (3 in December, and 3 in Jan/Feb), held at 5pm on a Wednesday afternoon at the Nundah Criterium Circuit.  There is something incredibly fun about mid-week, after-work racing.  Not sure what it is, but it makes the Wednesday 'hump day' something to look forward to.

I desperately want to get back to racing, and this is probably my last chance to race in 2011. This year has been non-existent racing-wise, and it would be nice to get a couple of races in before the year is out.  Especially given that I bought my 2011 racing licence back in last December (whilst recovering from my first round of shoulder surgery), and I should get something for my $220!!

The case "against" does exist though.

If I'm honest with myself, I don't have any race fitness at all. So do I shell out my $10 to race, knowing full well I'll be very lucky to make it to half-way? Or do I accept my legs just aren't there?

Realistically, I should just focus on building up some 'base' over December, and target races in the new year with some decent fitness and leg speed under my belt.

At this stage, I'm leaning towards the 'against' argument.  If I think about the 'long game' - it'll be better for me if I forget about doing any high intensity bike work for now, and put my efforts into some longer, base-building rides. Some group rides will be great for that too, plus will brush up my bike-handling skills for the rough-&-tumble of a racing peloton.

We'll see if I can keep my competitive urges in-check, and take the sensible approach...

Friday, 25 November 2011

Product Review - Cell Bikes 2012 'Rapido' cycling jersey

I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the latest jersey offerings by Cell Bikes a few weeks ago - the Cell "Rapido" jersey.  Its bold black, yellow and white colour scheme is certainly eye-catching, so after a few rides I thought I'd give a quick review on its performance.

So what makes a cycling jersey a good cycling jersey?  In my opinion, you need a few things:
  • light, breathable fabric
  • good length zip for hot days
  • comfortable fit
  • decent rear pockets
  • good looks!!
Let's start from the top.  The Rapido jersey fabric felt terrific.  I wore the jersey on a 2-hour solo river loop on a muggy Brisbane morning, plus a couple of 1hr+ cycle-commutes. The jersey didn't stick to my skin, but breathed very well. Sweat was wicked away, keeping me comfortable throughout the whole ride. Best way to describe it is that I didn't notice the jersey during the rides - so a big tick for that criterion.

The zip is a "half-length" zip - which for me is a good compromise.  I'm not a fan of full-length zips, as I feel like they make the jersey fit not-quite-right.  And the super-short zips don't suit the warm Queensland climate.  This half-length zip is a great compromise between the two lengths.

The half-length zip.
For sizing, I prefer my jerseys to be figure-hugging - but on the tiny bit loose side (definitely not skin-tight!). Nothing baggy or flapping in the wind either.  I have the "Large" size jersey, which fit just right for me at 175cm tall and about 87kg heavy.

Love handles?? What love handles...??
Good-size rear pockets are crucial for any cyclist doing longer rides.  I typically stuff in them a small wallet, my mobile phone, some ID, maybe some muesli bars or a banana, and an extra tube. There was plenty of room in the Rapido jersey pockets for all my gear, and getting them out while riding was a breeze.
Plenty of room in the three rear pockets.
The final criterion is good looks. This of course is a highly subjective and personal one.  Personally, I think the black, yellow and white colour scheme looks striking and terrific.  A bonus is the black torso section helps hide my paunch a little too!!  A definite thumbs up for me.

So why should you buy this jersey?

Obviously, I like this jersey.  But to be honest, there are lots of great jerseys out there that also 'tick the boxes' of the above criteria.  What makes the Cell Rapido jersey better than them?

The answer is this - $24.95.

I recently read one of the major Australian cycling magazines, which had a 'fashion spread' covering lots of the major clothing manufacturers.  I couldn't believe that the cheapest jersey featured was $99!!  A quick look in a couple of local bike shops near me showed their cheapest jerseys were $59 - and some of them were inferior to Cell's Rapido.

Some of the really high-end jerseys - like Assos for example  - are great. Very 'technical' materials that fit extraordinarily well. Are they better than Cell's offering? Well, yes they are. But you are paying $200+ per jersey for the privilege.  If you have the disposable income to afford this, then go for it.  It isn't value for money though - you are not getting a jersey that is 8-times better than the Rapido. In fact, you aren't getting a jersey that's twice as good...

And at the end of the day, that really is the bottom line for the Cell Rapido. You get a very good jersey, at a ridiculously cheap price. The only reason you wouldn't buy this is if you don't like the looks. Otherwise, its the best value jersey buy you'll get anywhere.

Happy cycling!!

What an awesome jersey!!

Monday, 7 November 2011

October 2011 Review

My quick stats for October 2011:

Mileage - very little.
Weight - 88kg (steady).

So I find myself still in Sydney - I am now into my fourth week.  It feels like a long time, especially given I was only going to be here for 1 week when I first flew down!!  All the signs though point to me returning at the end of this week - finally...!!

I've been desperately missing getting onto the bike.  One of the great things about cycling for me is the mental stress relief it provides.  Having been away from home for so long, I need it now more than ever - but ironically I can't do it with my bike sitting in the garage back home...

So this week, I bit the bullet and hit the hotel gym.  I'm knocking out 30-45min sessions on the stationary bike, alternating days with some upper body weight training (based around my shoulder rehab). I'm also making sure I do a long 2-hour walk on the non-cycling days.

Not quite like my road bike - but it'll have to do...

I'm only 3 days into this regime, but I'm already feeling in much better shape mentally - a testament to the power of exercise.  Hopefully this'll also get the legs ready for launching back into 'proper' cycling once I return home.

With some luck, and a solid November of training, I'll be able to squeeze in a club race or two before 2011 winds up. Fingers crossed!!

Friday, 28 October 2011

2011 Velo d'Or Awards

With the 2011 world pro-cycling tour effectively over, awards season has kicked in. Arguably the most prestigious of the cycling awards is the Velo d'Or - an award that first began back in 1992, and was created by the French cycling magazine "Velo".

This year's worthy recipient is Philippe Gilbert.

Philippe Gilbert, in his Belgian champion's colours.

Let's just run through his incredible series of successes for the year:
  • Stage win in the Tour de France, plus wore the yellow jersey
  • Montepaschi Strade Bianche - winner
  • Fleche Brabanconne - winner
  • Amstel Gold - winner
  • Fleche Wallone - winner
  • Liege-Bastogne-Liege - winner
  • Belgian ITT and road race champion
  • Tour of Belgium - winner
  • San Sebastian - winner
  • Grand Prix of Quebec - winner
  • Grand Prix de Wallonie - winner
  • Ster ZLM Toer - winner
  • Stage wins - Volta ao Algarve, Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour of Belgium, Ster ZLM Toer, Eneco Tour of Benelux.
Wow!!  Is there anyone willing to argue that he is a worthy winner? Even though he is a one-day specialist, he managed to take the overall win in the Tour of Belgium and Star ZLM week-long stage races, showing his versatility.

When someone is this dominant, one can't help but wonder how he would go if he ever decided to focus an entire couple of seasons on overall Grand Tour success (I have wondered the same thing about Fabian Cancellara in previous years).  Those fans will have to wait, though.  Gilbert has stated clearly that he has unfinished business with the one-day Classics - specifically, Milan-San Remo.  "La Primivera" is the only one of cycling's monuments that Gilbert doesn't have on his palmares, and that will be his overwhelming focus for the first part of season 2012.

Two other awards were handed out. The French Velo d'Or went to Thomas Voeckler, after his Tour de France 'heroics' of doggedly holding onto the yellow jersey through the mountains.

A common sight - Pierre Rolland paces team-mate Thomas Voeckler
and Cadel Evans uphill in this year's Tour de France.

For me - the real French superstar was his team-mate Pierre Rolland. He went everywhere that Voeckler went, pacing him up every mountain, and doing plenty of chase work on the uphills. Rolland also took out the coveted Alpe d'Huez stage with a thrilling ride when he was finally 'unleashed' to ride for himself.

Peter Sagan

The final award - best young rider - went to Peter Sagan. The young sprinter is shaping up to be the next Philippe Gilbert. Sagan is quick in a sprint finish, but comes into his own when the finish gets a bit lumpy. It'll be exciting watching him develop over the next few years, hopefully he and Australian Matthew Goss (who I'm big fan of) will have some great battles in the future.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Where did the time go?

One of the challenges many "weekend warrior" sports-people face is finding the time to pursue their sporting passions.  Cyclists, such as myself, are no different.

I've always been clear about my priorities. Whilst I'm passionate about my cycling, family activities come first.  So once they are factored in, plus my work commitments (I still need to earn some dollars  -I'm not a full-time professional cycling blogger yet!!), there isn't a heap of time to squeeze in some 'quality training' on the bike.

There is a well worn saying about this - the six P's  (ie. "Perfect planning prevents p!ss poor performance").  In other words, some planning of your week means you should be able to fit in enough bike time for enjoyment, good training, and racing.

With my long injury lay-off, I had completely forgotten about the necessity of planning my on-bike time. I've simply been commuting on my bike (a very handy 1 hour , 23km commute each way), and adding in any other rides as I could squeeze them in.  That's worked well for the first couple of months, but it has gone pear-shaped and come undone so far in October.

An initial run of bad weather in the first half of the month restricted my riding days.  And now, I'm been sent to Sydney for work for at least a week.  My initial goal of 350km for October is looking like a distant dream...

Now, if I'd been planning for this, it could have been different.  I have a mag-trainer sitting in the spare room - with the wet weather in the first half of the month, I should have set this up so I could squeeze in a few early morning sessions.  This would have me in good shape leading into the week away in Sin City (Sydney).

Then, whilst in Sydney, I could knockout some crosstraining - like running, or some workouts in the hotel gym - that would tide me over and give me a bit of variety until I get back.

In any case, its not worth crying over spilt milk, or lamenting about what I should've, could've or would've done.  The important thing here is to re-learn the 'planning' lesson, and to have my contingency time arrangements in place for next time this happens.

So, when I get back from my Sydney trip, I'll have these plans in place.  I'll be looking forward to being back on track and getting in as much training as possible before a couple of big races in November.

In the meantime - if anyone has any tips about places to hit in Sydney after work, I'd love to hear them!!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Welcoming Whitey - unboxing my new fixie.

Is there anything more exciting than getting home and finding a box like this waiting on your front doorstep??
Is it Christmas already??
Yes - it's a new bike!!  A brand new white fixie, courtesy of Cell Bikes.

Even better, it was free. A few weeks ago, Cell asked via their facebook page for people to do some testing of the new search facility on their website, with the promise of a possible prize for those that assist.  Being a sucker for a freebie, I dutifully searched for 10 random things on their site, and emailed in feedback.

A week later, Cell announced that 9 lucky testers would receive a discount voucher code, and 1 super-lucky tester would receive a free fixie. You can imagine my excitement when my name was announced as the winner!

Delivery was super-quick, typical of Cell's service levels. I let Cell know what size & colour frame I wanted just before lunchtime on a Wednesday. And the next morning, at about 10:30am, the bike was on my front door-step. That's from Sydney to Brisbane, in under 24hrs from ordering - impressive...

So on a lazy, sunny Sunday afternoon, I settled into the task of unboxing my brand new Cell fixie.  Here was what came in the box...

Wow - that's a lot of white...!!

The frame, rear wheel, cranks, chain, forks, stem, and brakes were already assembled. All the cabling was also in place.  The only things that needed to be attached were the handlebars to the stem, the front wheel, the seatpost, and the pedals.

Assembly was very easy. A basic guidebook is included in the box, but only someone with zero knowledge of bikes would need to refer to it. No-one should feel intimidated by having to do this themselves, as 90% of the work has been predone by Cell. Only simple tasks, requiring some undoing of bolts, fitting a tube or wheel, and replacing the bolts, are left to do.

A great sign of Cell's build quality was that all the threads on every bolt and screw had a generous smear of pink grease. It makes you feel very confident that care and attention has been paid to the pre-built sections of the bike.

No fancy tools are required either. I completed the entire build with the following equipment.

  • Some allen keys
  • a 15mm wrench (an adjustable wrench would be fine)
  • a knife to cut open the box and remove some cable ties
These are all tools that any self-respecting shed or garage should have in them anyway...

So about 30 minutes after unpacking the box, Whitey was officially born!!

Welcome to the world, Whitey!!

A long-term test and review will be forthcoming in a few months time.  But of course, that doesn't mean I can't tell you about my first quick spin on Whitey.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this bike. I am very happy on Bluey (my Argon18 Radon, running a 10-speed groupset), so what more could I expect from a fixie?

As cliched as it sounds - riding Whitey was just plain fun! Spinning up and down the street - not training, commuting or racing - just riding. I was genuinely amazed at how enjoyable it was riding this bike...

As I said - a long-term test will come down the track.  But first impressions are very, very positive.

The details:

The Cell Fixie is currently only $350 - simply outstanding value for money. It comes in either white and black, and in 4 different frame sizes.  The frame and forks are steel, and it has an alloy seatpost.

The wheels have 32-hole aluminium rims, and they are stopped with Radius side-pull brakes controlled with "bmx"-style levers. The rear wheel has a flip-flop hub - fixed on one side, and a freewheel on the other.

If you've ever thought about dipping your toes into the world of fixies - well here is the easiest, cheapest, and best-value option for you to do just that.

Hey Dad - I think your new bike fits me just right...

Monday, 3 October 2011

September 2011 Review

Quick Summary for September 2011:

Mileage – 270km
Weight (end of month) – 88kg, a loss of 1kg.

My first full month back on the bike, and while I didn’t quite hit my mileage goal, I’m very satisfied that “small-ring September” was a success.

September was very much a ‘tale of two halves’. The first two weeks were spent (as per normal) at work. The 2nd half of the month was much more fun – holiday! It was school holidays, and so we packed up and headed to Burleigh Heads for the fortnight.

My cycling goal for the first couple of weeks was to cycle-commute 3/week. I only hit 2/week, but I wasn’t too concerned about that. The legs are feeling really good and strong, and the small-ring riding has been a great start for my fitness.

I had a ‘breakthrough’ ride in the second week. I left work, and my legs just felt invincible. I ‘held myself back’ on the flats, and on the uphills I didn’t fall away as I had been. I ended up getting home in 56min – a massive 10min quicker than my normal homeward commute time, plus I felt as fresh as normal. Finally the legs are starting to adapt, a great feeling!!

Fortunately, I was able to take my bike with me for our two weeks holiday on the Gold Coast. The plan was to fit in a couple of early morning rides each week. Staying at Burleigh Heads was ideal – lots of group rides start at the Burleigh surf lifesaving club carpark, with rides heading north to the Spit at Southport, or south to Coolangatta (& beyond).

For the first week, I did a solo ride up to Southport, plus a ride down to Coolangatta. For the Coolangatta ride, I was able to tack onto a local group for the homeward leg, which was fun – my first ‘group riding’ experience since my return to cycling!

Week 2 of the holiday, and I could only fit one ride in. I rode with the Gold Coast Masters club down to Coolangatta – I left them there and turned for home (they were heading on a 6-hour ride to Kingcliffe & the Gold Coast hinterland!!).

This ride was another great confidence builder. After a short hill (not many of them along the coast!), an older female fell off the back of the bunch. Myself and another guy sat up and waited to see if she was OK.

The guy said “we should wait and drag her back to the group – what do you reckon?”
“No worries” I replied.

The group had a fair lead on us, and we were riding into a headwind. I decided to ‘test the legs’, and did a long 10min pull on the front of our little trio to try and catch the group. I managed to hold 32-33km/h and a cadence of 82-85 – best of all, I didn’t ‘redline’ (although I was working pretty hard!). Very happy that my legs handled the effort, and I didn’t blow up or need a ‘recovery’ – great signs for the month ahead.

So all up, a very good September on the bike. Now – onto October. Time to up the volume again (aiming for 350km+), plus a bit of intensity. And if the legs keep improving, maybe a return to criterium racing in the last week or two…!!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Sick - to train or not to train?

One of the more common questions heard around the cycling traps is - "do I ride when I'm sick?" This has been particularly relevant to me this week - I had a cracker of a head cold last weekend, and I was hesitant to get back on the bike too quickly.

First of all, let's keep in mind where I'm coming from. I am - literally and metaphorically - a C Grade Cyclist. So my advice isn't aimed at someone in the ProTour, or even an A-grader who has a coach that guides them to one or two peak races a season. My perspective about sickness and training is all about your average weekend warrior, who also has a day job and a family to come home to at night.

So - my general rule of thumb is "leave the bike in the garage". There are a few good reasons for this:

1. You can extend the length of your sickness. Training obviously puts your body under stress. A sick body is already under stress, and the training simply knocks out some further defences against the illness. By training on, a week-long head cold can turn into a month-long general illness and fatigue.

2. Your training will be sub-optimal. Sure, you can knock out the mileage and intervals (or whatever) that you or your coach have programmed for yourself. But you will not be able to hit your usual performance marks. Your body will be speed & effort limited by the sickness, meaning your legs will not be able to work as hard. 

So these two reasons alone should be enough to put you off training - you won't be able to train properly anyway, plus you'll just extend your sickness time.  Instead of being 1-week behind in your preparation, you'll end up more like a month (or more!) behind.

3. You could permanently damage yourself. OK - this is more serious, and won't happen to everybody. But if you push yourself hard while sick, you can really hurt your insides. Your heart - already under pressure, beating at a higher rate to cope with the sickness - will be asked to work even harder while you train. Your lungs too, which are probably gunked up, will be struggling to cope with the respiration workload. If you are unlucky, permanent damage to these organs can result. And that's a lot worse than missing a couple of weeks of training...

Have I scared you yet? That's not the idea, of course. But the key is to change your mindset. Often people think that they are 'tough' for pushing through with their training while sick, and it puts them ahead of the pack. Ironically, the opposite occurs - it often puts them in much worse shape than the sensible cyclist who takes the week off and rests up. 

So when do you get back on the bike? Do you have to wait until you are 100% better and sickness free?

Personally, I'll get back on the bike when I'm almost better. I find if I take it very easy - just cruisy, low heart-rate effort, and leaving the bike in the small chainring - it actually assists with the final recovery from the illness. For me, I think it "gets everything moving again". But I must stress the super-cruisy effort though - its not 'training', just rolling the legs over.

In summary - if you are sick, rest!! Pushing yourself back too early will have the opposite effect you intend. Resting up and getting better will have you riding more strongly in the long run.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

August 2011 Review

As part of “keeping myself honest” and tracking my progress as I return from injury, my plan is to do a ‘quick monthly summary’ of what I’ve done on the bike, any improvements or regressions, my plan for the month ahead, plus a weigh-in.

This is the first of those monthly summaries – my August review.

Mileage: 135km
Weigh-in: 89kg.

The best I can say is that I was “back on the bike”, which I discussed previously. Rides were confined to a few cycle-commutes. There could have been more, but plenty of rainy weather and a nagging cough meant I opted out of a few chances to ride.

Good news is that I did drop 1kg of weight, and am now out of my brief flirtation with the ‘nineties’ and am down to 89kg. Whilst the rides would have helped that, its probably mainly due to being a bit more disciplined with snacking at work.

I also bought a few bits and pieces to have me ready to go equipment wise. Two lights were purchased from Cell Bikes - a “Smart super-flash” red rear light (to replace the one broken in the accident 10 months ago), and a “Bike Rider Nitestar” 900 lumen LED light. I also bought a couple of pairs of Route7 Elite bib-knicks. Reviews for all of these will be posted up after I’ve racked up some good use from them all.

So what’s ahead for September?

The main plan is to bed down some regular riding habits. I’m still avoiding riding two days in a row, so as to protect the legs from injury – given my cycle-commute is just over an hour each-way, I figure the day off between each one is warranted at this early stage of the return. The goal will be to ride Mon-Wed-Fri, which will work out to roughly 135km/week.

I’m also going to christen the month “small ring September”. I’ll be keeping the chain on the small chainring all month, to avoid the temptation to push myself too hard too soon. September is all about slowly rebuilding an aerobic base, and I figure keeping it ‘easy’ is the best way to go. There are enough hills on my commute (eg. the Gateway bridge, Queensport Rd, and the rolling hills of Creek Rd) to keep me honest and ensure I don’t slack off!!

I think that covers it off!! Let’s all hope that the weather behaves itself so that we can all make the most of some beautiful spring weather…

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Rain, rain go away...

So here is something I had totally forgotten about in my 10 months unable to ride - the frustration of rainy days!!

I have always been a 'fair weather cyclist'. If its raining or the roads are wet, I'll leave the bike at home. Not because I find it uncomfortable - I have had some very fun rides in the driving rain!! But mainly as a safety issue, as I don't want to go for a slide down the road, especially if I'm commuting in amongst the vehicular traffic.

So only 1 ride for me this week so far. Monday to Wednesday was rained out, I happily got back on the bike Thursday, then Friday I gave the legs a rest... Hopefully next week the skies will be a little clearer...

Monday, 22 August 2011

Preview - 2011 Vuelta a Espana

The third and final 3-week Grand Tour for 2011 started this weekend - the Vuelta a Espana (or the 'Tour of Spain').  This Grand Tour always suffers a little in comparison to the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia  many cycling fans are still in 'post-TdF fatigue', plus the cycling world is also looking forward to the World Championships held just after the Vuelta (this year in Copenhagen, Denmark).

This year, a few big names have opted to skip the Vuelta - namely Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, and the Schleck brothers, Andy & Frank.  However, the battle for the 'red jersey' (worn by the overall leader) will still be keenly fought.

For the overall winner, my tips are:

1. Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha)
Rodriguez is a Spanish rider, who skipped the Tour after a hard-fought 5th place in the Giro. He'll be hugely motivated, with the Vuelta being his home tour). He also has a punchy sprint finish for a climber, so is well-placed to benefit from the time bonuses (20sec for every stage winner) available on every stage. His weakness is the time-trial - he fel off the Giro podium thanks to a poor time-trial this year. My tip - 1st.

2. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas)
Nibali is also skipped the Tour this year, after coming 3rd in the Giro. I think this is a key to success - riders can either focus on the Tour, or the Giro/Vuelta double. Otherwise, they are just too fatigued.
Nibali is a huge talent, and is the Vuelta's defending champion. He has also podiumed in all 3 of his last Grand Tours. If Rodriguez falters, Nibali will take the win.  My tip - 2nd.

3. Michelle Scarponi (ISD-Neri)
Scarponi took 2nd place in this year's Giro (won by Contador). I don't think he'll do the job in the Vuelta though - he's an 'old man' now, and I reckon he can only peak for one Grand Tour each year. He's wily and experienced, so that will keep him near the pointy end of the field. My tip - 4th.

4. Igor Anton (Euskatel)
A Spanish climber on a Spanish team - what more motivation does he need? Crashed out of the Vuelta last year while leading, and must be wondering what could have been. Don't think he'll win, but will push Rodriguez & Nibali to the limit. My tip - 3rd.

5. Jani Brajkovic (Radioshack), Jurgen Van den Broek (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky).
These three guys are lumped together as the "Tour de France redemption bunch". All three started the Tour in great form, but crashed out and abandoned very early in the race. While they are all terrific contenders, I question their ability to recover from injury and re-peak for the Vuelta. They will finish in the tip 10, but expect them to have at least one 'bad day' in the mountains that will keep them off the podium. My tips - Brajkovic 5th, Wiggins 6th, Van den Broek 7th.

Of course, there is also the Sprinters Jersey.  The hype this year is all about Peter Sagan (Liquigas), a young sprinter who has had great form this year. However, this is his first Grand Tour ever - how will he handle his first 3-week race?

My tip is that Tyle Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) and Daniele Bennati (Leopard-Trek) will fight out the jersey, with Sagan 3rd. Super-sprinter Mark Cavendish (HTC) is also racing, but I suspect he'll drop out before the end to prepare for the World Championships.

For my fellow-Australian cycling fans - about 8 key stages willbe televised live on SBS this year, so we get to see some of this great race!! Hopefully we are all fully recovered from our 3 weeks of late nights on the couch watching Cadel Evans win the Tour...  :)

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Transfer season in the Pro Peloton

It's been an interesting transfer season in the pro cycling world so far. I thought I'd pen a few brief thoughts on what I consider to be some of the more key moves confirmed so far.

First of all, we have what is becoming the BMC SuperTeam.

Thor Hushovd (top) & Philippe Gilbert (bottom) - both destined to wear BMC jerseys next season.

BMC have signed both Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert for next year. Already, they looked to be stacked with winners - Cadel Evans, Greg Van Avermaet, and Marcus Burghardt are just a few of the big names already in the squad.  Not to mention the potential of young American Taylor Phinney.

Obviously, the signings were all about BMC winning more than just the Tour de France and the week-long stage races that Cadel  has excelled in this year. However, as a fan of all things cycling, I'm not exactly thrilled.

In my ideal cycling world, all the 'heavy hitters' would be on different teams - I love seeing these guys race each other. However, we'll now see Hushovd and Gilbert racing together in Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, and Gilbert with Cadel in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Lombardia.

To me, that's a shame.

Cadel Evans & Philippe Gilbert after racing to the line - sadly, we won't see that again...

Finally, a few quick notes about Australian start-up team GreenEdge.

As an Australian cycling fan, its hard not to get over-excited about this team. Some of the new signings include Simon Gerrans, Jack Bobridge, Travis and Cameron Meyer, and Stuart O'Grady.

GreenEdge have stated upfront they are looking to initially pitch themselves as a "one-day Classics"-style team. So far, they are certainly recruiting the type of rider who will excel in this type of race.

I also like some of the 'old heads' they have recruited. Guys like Stuart O'Grady, while they may no longer be at the very peak of their cycling powers, will be able to teach and guide the up-&-coming younger riders in so many ways. The opportunity to ride under Stuey's guidance will be invaluable.

That's all for now. I'm looking forward to watching the transfer season progress - I'm especially keen to find out the ultimate destination of Mark Cavendish, now that his HTC team has folded.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

10 months & 3 days

Finally - after 10 months & 3 days after the SMIDSY (sorry mate, I didn't see you) from the old lady in the white Corolla, I have once again cycle-commuted back in to work...

Yesterday was another day of beautiful cycling weather in Brisbane. I was pretty nervous getting ready, but excited as well. The ride in was terrific, very relaxed and calm (apart from being chased by a duck!). 

The hills were, as I expected, a little painful, but I sat in the 39x25 and just spun up as relaxed & steadily as I could.  All up, I covered 23km at an average of 20.1km/h. My butt was already feeling pretty sore, having lost all its hard-earned callouses long ago! My legs though weren't too bad, which is encouraging...

After some deliberation over the course of the afternoon, I decided I'd ride home as well. My main concern was my sore butt!! Could it handle another hour on the bike?

I decided to take a 'short-cut' back to the Gateway Bridge bike path, which cut 1.5km off the commute, in the hope it would save some time and some pain. There was definitely some discomfort, but I managed to soldier on... The hills heading home were much harder though, I could feel the legs really struggling, especially in the last 1/4 of the commute home.

When I finally got home, the stats told the story. 21.5km at an average of just 18.7km/h. Yes, it really was a struggle! But of course, a bad day on the bike is still a million times better than a good day on the bus! 

I am so pleased with my ride yesterday. Both that I made it - a 45km first day back is pretty good - and that I also immediately got back that sense of enjoyment for the bike. I'm looking forward now to slowly rebuilding my form and fitness over the next couple of months.

Monday, 15 August 2011

"Baseline stats" and some prep...

So I've been preparing to re-start my cycling journey. For me - it really starts when I begin to cycle-commute again. In my mind, that signals my transformation to being a 'cyclist' again.

I have had to jump through a few hoops first, though. My wife, who has always been very supportive of my endeavours - but who is understandably a bit edgy about me being 'back on the road' again - made a couple of requests before I got back in the saddle:
1. Sort out our Wills, and
2. Tell my parents!!

On Friday, our Wills were signed in our solicitor's office - done! And today I sent out an email to my parents and in-laws, making it clear that if I were to be killed while riding my bike, that it's not my wife's fault for "letting me ride my bike again"...

So I'm sorted!! Weather permitting, tomorrow will be the big day. To say I'm excited is an understatement. It would also be fair to say I'm a bit anxious and nervous too, but I suspect that'll ease once I get in amongst the traffic again.

This morning, I jumped on the scales to check what my weight was so I could track how I progress over the coming months. The needle on the scales flickered a fraction below 90kg - and so I'll mark off 90 kilo's as my starting point (ugh!). It could have been worse though - I smashed up my fair share of dagwood dogs and strawberry ice-creams with the family at the Brisbane Ekka yesterday...!!

Also, I've been keeping my eye out for some good value bib-knicks. I have three pairs in my regular rotation - 2 x Route7 Pro's (my favourites!), and a pair of Descente blue bibs (to match my club jersey).

The Route7 knicks are fabulous, and I bought them for only $30/pair - bargain! Sadly, that model are no longer made, and I've been somewhat bummed in the search for similar good value knicks (as alluded to in previous posts, I'm a by-necessity cheapskate).

So I was excited to receive an email from Torpedo7 today, revealing a new model of Route7 bibs - the Route7 Elite bibs - and on special for $30! I'm going to order a couple of pairs tonight, and see how they go... I'll do a review down the track and let you know if they are any good...!!


Fingers crossed for a sunny day and peaceful traffic on the roads tomorrow!!

Saturday, 30 July 2011

A hefty weight to carry...

Next week, I am going to make my first cycle-commute into work since 'the accident' - nearly 10 months ago!!  So I have decided to take a few 'baseline measurements' so I can loosely track my progress as I re-enter the cycling world.  

This morning, I did a weigh-in to see where I would be starting my renewed cycling journey at.  My weigh-in protocol has always been designed to minimise as many variables as possible, so I can get a reasonably consistent measurement.  Basically, it entails getting out of bed, hitting the loo for morning ablutions, stripping off the pyjamas, and jumping on the scales (sorry for the gross disturbing visuals - especially if you were eating while you read this!!).

So what did I see when I looked down at the scales - 90 KILOGRAMS!!

My usual weight is around 81-82kg, and I trim down to a racing weight once or twice a year of 79-80kg for a big event.  

I remember when I visited the physio after my first round of shoulder surgery, she said, "You know, 95% of men in your position injury-wise will put on 10-ish kilos by the time you finish rehab and are ready to get back on the bike..."

How prescient!!  Looks like those hills are gonna hurt that little bit extra for the first few months as I try to shave off my 'excess'...  

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Video speaks louder than words...

There is so much I could say about Cadel's win. His 2011 Tour de France title is arguably the greatest moment in Australian road cycling history.  I think the following video expresses everything I feel about his win...

I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I do...

Now, I am going to spend the next month trying to recoup the three weeks of sleep that I have lost...  :)

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Tour de France - one big week to go!!

So we have finally reached the pointy end of the Tour de France (literally metaphorically), with only 6 stages left to go.  These final, decisive stages will cover the mountains of the French Alps, the individual time trial (ITT) of stage 20, and the final stage procession into Paris.

So where are things at, how are the main contenders faring, and what do I think will happen from here? I'll give a quick rundown on these rider-by-rider:

1. Cadel Evans
I never thought I'd say this - but right now, I believe that Cadel is the favourite to take the overall title.  His form appears great, he is responding quickly and decisively to attacks by the other riders, and he seems confident and calm within himself.

Why he will win - he is a much better time-trialist than either of the Schleck brothers, so they need to attack and gap him by at least 2-minutes over the next few Alpine stages - but Cadel is riding too strongly to let that happen.  Smilarly, his lead over Basso and Contador (both strong time-trialists) mean they'll have to at least catch up to Cadel, and the big efforts required (if they can even do it) will lead them to be too fatigued to beat Cadel on stage 20.

2. "Frandy" Schleck
Frank & Andy Schleck (or 'Frandy') really need to 'do something' in the Alps. And by that, I mean they need to stop mucking about and drop the hammer on the other overall contenders (if they can). Tactically, their riding has been at best 'bewildering'. They are arguably the best climbers of all the overall contenders - if this is true, and they have the form, they need to blow everyone away over the next few stages.

Their biggest weakness is the time trial. So they need at least a 2-minute gap on everyone before the stage 20 ITT. The way they are riding, they'll go into the ITT level pegging with Cadel, and that won't be enough.

3. Ivan Basso
Basso came into this Tour underdone, thanks to a training accident (smashing his face on a descent from Mt Etna!).  However, he has ridden into some terrific form over the course of the Tour.  He is a similar rider to Cadel, and I believe their form is at a similar level as well.

Ivan's big problem is that he is more than a minute down on Cadel overall. So he too needs to gap Cadel in the Alps (jus to catch up), and then beat Cadel in the ITT. I think he could do one of those things, but not both.

4. Alberto Contador
Like Basso, Contador needs to attack hard in the Alps to make up a 2-minute deficit on Cadel, and then go on to defeat Cadel in the ITT. Alberto is a great rider - perhap the greatest Grand Tour rider of the current decade. But can he pull off an epic comeback in the Alps?

I don't think he can. His Giro d'Italia win earlier this year seems to have taken a lot out of him. And he is carrying a minor knee injury that seems to be blunting his usual dominance in the mountains. I believe this makes him a 'minor podium' candidate at best.

5. Thomas Voeckler.
The wildcard in all this is Thomas Voeckler, the plucky Frenchmen currently in yellow.  He shouldn't still be leading this race - he is not in the same climbing league as the others, and so should have been dropped by now. But he hasn't been, he's still there!! 

I believe he'll be dropped in the Alps, and fall out of contention.  But they say that 'the yellow jersey gives you wings', and he might hold on long enough to snag a podium spot. It'll be interesting to see how he goes...

Viewing Tip

The big stages from here are stages 18 & 19. They'll be on Thursday & Friday nights here in Australia. Both are huge mountain stages, with summit-top finishes. If you can only pick two to watch, pick these two.

So I'll put my money where my mouth is, and predict my final overall finishing list:
1. Cadel Evans
2. Andy Schleck
3. Ivan Basso
4. Frank Schleck
5. Alberto Contador
6. Samuel Sanchez
7. Thomas Voeckler
8. Damiano Cunego

If I get all 8 in the right order - you all owe me a beer...  ;)

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Cross-training (or, "How running weaseled itself back into my life")

Way back in the mid-90’s, I entered my first organised sporting event since leaving school – a sprint distance triathlon at Redcliffe (a seaside town just north of Brisbane, Qld). I had a great time, and started training to both get faster and make it through longer events.

I continued doing triathlons for a few years. But after a while, I was struggling to motivate myself. After some long thought, I realised three things:
1. I love swimming and swim training.
2. I love cycling and cycle training.
3. I would rather stick a fork in my eye than do any more run training…

Henceforth, I was a cyclist. Cycling became my main focus, with regular swimming as cross-training and as a fun alternative.

Which makes what I am about to tell you all the more puzzling – I have started training for the Bridge2Brisbane fun run.

Of course, I can point the finger of blame away from myself for this – it’s my wife’s fault!! She is a ‘walker’ when it comes to exercise, and a pretty good one too. In fact, her walk is faster than my ‘jog’ (which I find a bit embarrassing).

Last week, my wife said to me “I want to try and run the Bridge2Brisbane”.
“That’s great honey” I replied, not seeing the trap about to gobble me up.
"So, they have these free training sessions,” she continued. “You’ll come to them with me, right?”

And there you have it. In a 30-second conversation, with no warning, I was training to become a runner again.
“Don’t look so sad,” my wife laughed. “You’ll probably end up loving it. And I do appreciate you coming with me.”

I know I won’t love it. But I know I do love her, and so I’ll do the sessions with a smile on my face, and give her all the encouragement I can.

I must give credit to the Bridge2Brisbane organisers – the free training sessions are an outstanding idea. They are on at the Ship Inn (Southbank, near the Goodwill Bridge) every Tuesday and Thursday night at 6pm, and at New Farm Park every Saturday morning at 7:30am. All the sessions go for an hour, and are split into beginner / intermediate / advanced groups.

If you are thinking about becoming a (god forbid) runner, I would genuinely encourage you to turn up to these sessions. You don’t have to register, sign up or commit to anything. The turn-out is also impressive (over 100 every time), and made up of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels – so chances are you won’t feel out-of-place, and you will meet some new friendly faces at the same fitness level as yourself.

Enough about running now!! This is a cycling blog, and normal transmission shall resume shortly. For the moment, I need to mentally prepare myself for the sore legs that will surely arise after tonight’s training session…

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Next milestone in my shoulder rehab...

Headed along today for my monthly check-in with the physiotherapist – Janelle from HandsOn Therapy. She has been looking after and managing my shoulder recovery, after my surgeon released me into her care.

Good news today was – I don’t have to see her anymore!! Janelle was happy with how the shoulder is progressing, both with range of movement and rebuilding strength.

Now, the only rehab professional left is Leonie, my Exercise Physiologist (who works in the same practice as Janelle). Leonie will be continuing to supervise and adjust my gym-based shoulder rehab every week, although at the last visit, she said I’d probably only need to see her a few more times at the most. From there, I’ll be ‘on my own’ doing a set weights routine in the gym.

I’m actually really enjoying my gym-based shoulder rehab. As silly as it sounds – it feels more like a ‘manly’ thing to do as opposed to using the elastic therabands. Clearly, it pushes the buttons in the prehistoric grunty man-part of my brain…

To give you an idea of the sort of ‘shoulder training’ I’m doing – here are the basic exercises Leonie has me doing in the gym:

Warm up with ‘straight arm pulldowns’ (both front and side’ using a cable pin-weights machine.

Then using the cable chest press machine; doing ‘lat pull downs’ and ‘seated rows’ on the “hi/lo” cable machine; using dumb-bells to do front raises, shoulder press, and twisting bicep curls; and doing some ‘functional lifting’ exercises, bringing dumb-bells up from the floor to both shoulder and head height.

After all that, I’m usually pretty exhausted (at least, my shoulders, arms & chest are!!). My shoulder already feels a lot more ‘solid’ and strong after only a couple of months of this routine. Maybe I’ll need to upgrade my bike stem and handlebars to the Pro Vibe Cavendish or Thor Hushovd editions to handle my new found strength!! ;)

Saturday, 9 July 2011

TdF - First week review

As it turns out, staying up late watching the Tour de France, functioning effectively in a full-time job, and maintaining a helathy relationship with your wife and daughters are NOT mutually exclusive things. Although they may as well be...

Yes, I am suffering (like all pro cycling lovers out there) - and so blog posts have dried up this week. But I am back today to review the first week of the tour, and give my view on the winners to this point.

Cadel (right) puttimg the hurt on Alberto Contador

1. Cadel Evans
I have to start with "our Cadel". The leader of all the "overall contenders", and in 2nd place (by only 1 second) in the entire field. He is riding with confidence and panache, and already has a stage win to his credit. This year's Tour has already been a success for Cadel - let's hope it continues in the same vein.

Tyler Farrar, paying tribute to his friend, the late Weyter Woulandt

2. Tyler Farrar
Came into this Tour as one of two sprinters in his team (Garmin-Cervelo), and considered not in the same class as Mark Cavendish. However, he has turned that idea on its head, and is now a clear co-favourite with Cavendish ("The Manx Missile") on the flat-land stages for the pure sprinters.

Andreas Kloeden

3. Andreas Kloeden
His team, Radioshack, will be feeling like losers right now. But Kloeden is the inadvertent 'winner' out of Radioshack's disastrous Tour so far.  Radioshack entered the Tour with four (not one or two, but FOUR) overall title contenders - Kloeden, Levi Leipheimer, Jani Brajkovic, and Chris Horner.  So far, all except Kloeden have suffered massive bad luck. Leipheimer has been caught out in time gaps caused by crashes. Brajkovic DNF'ed a stage due to injury. And last night, Horner suffered a severe concussion and head injury in a crash (and is an unsure starter for the rest of the Tour). As a result, Kloeden finds himself the undisputed leader of the team - albeit with much less support in the mountains than he might otherwise have had...

Philippe Gilbert, pulling on the yellow leader's jersey.

4. Philippe Gilbert
He has continued on his crushing one-day Classic form, taking a stage win and a 2nd place. Also has worn both the Yellow and Green jerseys. He could quit the Tour tomorrow with a huge sense of achievement already.  Only downside is the possible fracturing of his team, Omega Pharma-Lotto. Gilbert has taken wins ahead of the team's designated sprint leader Andre Greipel (who has expressed his dissatisfaction). And during one stage, chased down his team-mate Jurgen Van den Broek who had attacked less than 1km from the finish line... Apparently, and not surprisingly, the OP-L team bus has been a little tense...

That'll do for now. It has been an outstanding Tour so far in terms of excitement, drama, and results. Hopefully that will continue, starting with tonight's first mountain-top finish (although not a 'high' mountain) at Super Besse in the central Massife Centrale region of France.

As for me - I am off to watch the rugby tonight!! The Super 15 grand final between my beloved Queensland Reds and the Canterbury Crusaders is on at Suncorp Stadium. I'll be there with my Dad, dressed in red and cheering like a lunatic.  Then I'll sneak quietly into the house, get cosy on the couch with my wool blanket, and watch tonight's stage of the Tour... Heaven!!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Stage 1 shakes up the Tour!!

Stage 1 of the Tour de France last night, one of my ear-marked stages for a long night on the couch.  It was 'doubly long' for me - earlier, I was at Suncorp Stadium with my Dad and 45,000 of my closest friends to watch the Queensland Reds defeat the Auckland Blues in the Super 15 rugby union semi-final. So I hit the couch still buzzing from the great football game...

I knew it would be an interesting first stage his year, both because it was a road-racing stage instead of the usual short ITT prologue, plus the finish of the race (short & steep) promised a difficult finale for the riders. However, a few timely (or untimely, depending how you see it) crashes meant there were a few significant time gaps at the end.

Winners from stage 1:
- Philippe Gilbert (see pic above), who brought his one-day classics form into the Tour. He is almost unbeatable in these races at the moment.
- Cadel Evans (see pic below), who won a mental battle today in many ways. Put over a minute into Contador, plus had the legs at the end to finish strongly, showing the rest of the field he was a force to be reckoned with.  Great to see him on the right side of luck for a change with the crashes...
- Tyler Farrar, who's mid-stage sprint win over Cavendish was overwhelming. It'll give him a tonne of confidence for the flat stages to come.

Losers from Stage 1:
- Alberto Contador, who dropped about 1min 15sec from most of the leading overall contenders. Significantly, one of those is co-favourite Andy Schleck. This will have to drastically alter Contador's race strategy, meaning any defensive tactics will be out the window. He must attack now to make up the big time loss.
- Mark Cavendish, who got totally worked over by Tyler Farrar in the mid-stage sprint. He'll be looking for revenge sometime soon!!
- Samuel Sanchez / Tom Danielson / Ryder Hesjedal / Christian Vandevelde / John Gadret.  All riders who would have been hoping to be the "best of the rest" and place highly overall this Tour, and who have now given up a bunch of time on the very first day. A big knock mentally for these guys...

So an exciting and dramatic start to the Tour - let's hope that's a great sign for the rest to come!!

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Prepping for Le Tour

Only a couple of sleeps now until the Tour de France kicks off.  I'm sure the riders are al deep in final preparations - and as an avid, slightly obsessive fan of al things cycling, so am I...

First thing is to make sure the viewing facilities are in tiptop shape. I'm fortunate enough to own a digital TV, so I've double-checked that the signal strength I'm getting on SBS is nice & strong.  Last year - when the Tour was broadcast on SBS2 - I was getting terrible picture quality.  I ended up heading out to Dick Smith Electronics, and for $20 I bought a digital signal amplifier. It just plugged into the wall, and my antenna lead went into it. Made a HUGE difference to picture quality...

Next is my late-night snacking protocol.  Sometimes you need something crunchy to keep you going through the stage...   Sweet snacks (like snakes or jelly-babies) have turned out badly for me in the past - way to cloying a taste for every night.  Similarly, too-salty is dangerous - you end up way too thirsty and drink too much water. And when you are already sleep-deprived with the Tour viewing, 4am toilet runs just add to the difficulty!!  For me - Grain Waves are my snack of choice (nice & crunchy, not very salty), with Pringles as my occasional alternate...

Of course, with snacking comes drinks!!  Over the years, I've learned that water is my friend. As my general Tour drink, a big cup of water sitting nest to me on the couch is perfect.  But for one or two Tour stages, the big guns come out - exotic imported beers...  I'll usually go for something that is local to the region the Tour is in that night - some research is required!! The fallback beverage is a strong Belgian Trappiste beer - with my favourite one of the Chimay beers. Guaranteed to keep you warm (and a bit squiffy)...

Finally - make sure the couch is in good working order!! If you are using a recliner, lube & oil the mechanism so you don't wake the house with squeaks & squeals every time you get up to recharge your drink.  And ensure you have a nice cosy Onkaparinga wool blanket in case the temperatures drop in the middle of the night.  The blanket is especially handy if you doze off and wake up at 7am the next morning...

Good luck with your Tour watching!! A bit of planning and prep will only enhance the experience...  :)

Friday, 24 June 2011

Book Review: "The Death of Marco Pantani" by Matt Rendell

During my 8 month's off the bike (and thus no cycle-commuting), I have the joys of a 90min each-way bus commute every day. Not fun - but on the upside, I've done a lot more reading in this 8 months compared to usual... 

My latest read has been "The Death of Marco Pantani" by Matt Rendell. 

At its most basic level, its a biography of one of my favourite all-time cyclists. When I ordered it from the library, I was looking forward to reading about the enigmatic Pantani, his fantastic swashbuckling riding style, and what made him tick.  Instead, what I ended up reading was a tragedy - the chronicling of a man's sad descent into drug dependency and hopelessness...

Matt Rendell did a terrific, throrough job of what must have been a difficult book to research. He seems to have interviewed a huge number of the key people in Pantani's life - including his parents, agents, team-mates, doctors and medical staff. It is very comprehensive.

The comprehensive nature of the book is probably, for me, its only downfall in terms of 'readability'. Personally, I found it getting bogged down a number of times in very exacting detail - either of interviews, or exacting minute-by-minute recounts of different events. If Matt Rendell was aiming to make this a reference book, then perfect - he nailed it. But as a casual reader, I found these parts difficult to get through, and wished he'd shown a little more brevity.

That said, I am very glad I read this book. I am a huge fan of professional cycling, but must confess my knowledge of cycling history pre-the Armstrong Era is pretty weak. Rendell's book really illuminated me on cycling of that era, and gave me a sense of perspective and context of many of the historical names of that time.

This book was also, in an emtional context, tough reading. As a lover of pro cycling, some of what I read was straight-up depressing - my initial feeling was of how corrupt and dirty cycling was, and how could it ever emerge from such depths. And as a psychology graduate, I was stunned and appalled at how Pantani - who was clearly in severe mental and emotional distress over many years - could be allowed to reach such a terrible state. Did no-one see the warning signs? Were they that oblivious?

Looking at what I've written so far - it looks like I'm saying "don't read this book".  But in fact, I think the opposite - its a must-read. As a modern cycling fan, it gives you a huge understanding of how far cycling has come by understanding where its come from. More importantly, its given me a much greater sense of the pro cyclist as a 'person', and not just a pedalling machine that turns up ready-made in lycra at the start of each race.

Definitely buy it (or borrow it from the library, as I did). Don't expect a rollicking, easy read - but do expect a read that will leave you with a greater knowledge and perspective of both Pantani and cycling in general.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

"Reverse" goal setting

I may have mentioned previously that my cycling goal for the year is the Ipswich Open (both an individual time trial and a road race) in October 2011.  Its probably wildly over-optimistic given my 8 month absence from the bike, but you have to have a goal, right??

So, in order to work out the steps to get there, I've worked backwards...   If I'm going to race the Ipswich Open in October, then...
  • September - I have to be racing in my club criteriums at Murarrie, so I have some racing efforts in my legs. Which means...
  • August - I have to be riding in my long, pacy club group rides. Both to have some decent mileage in my legs, and to ensure I have my group riding skills back up to scratch again for racing.  Which means...
  • July - I need to be back to cycle-commuting regularly, and getting in some decent (but slow) weekend rides to prep the legs for the group rides.  Which means...
  • June - for the rest of this month, I need to get used to just being on the bike again. And getting myself mentally ready for commuting, plus ensuring I have all my gear ready for it.
Hopefully that will have me ready to race in October, with the goal of simply finishing the race with the main peloton.