Am I on track?

Am I on track?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Milan - San Remo 2013: Preview & Predictions

The 'real' pro-cycling season starts tonight, with the first Monument for 2013 taking place: Milan-San Remo. Also known as 'La Primavera' and 'La Clacissima', this race is the longest one-dayer on the professional calendar, taking in a 298km route across northern Italy.

By all reports, this will be raced in the toughest conditions in a long time - rain, strong winds, cold and possibly even snow are expected to test the competitors this year.

All the action is expected to take place in the last 50km of this race, when the peloton crosses two key climbs - firstly the Cipressa, and then the Poggio, before a tight, technical (but fast!) descent into the streets of San Remo and the finish.

So without further ado - here are my picks for this year's race!

Who will win - Peter Sagan (Cannondale)

If you were a betting man, Peter Sagan is the unbackable favourite - this race's Black Caviar.  He has shown outstanding form in the lead-up stage race of Tirreno-Adriatico in similar conditions, and tonight's course matches his strengths as an all-rounder & sprinter perfectly.

His biggest obstacle is the fact that he is such a stand-out favourite.  He will be watched like a hawk by all his competitors, and the attacks on the Poggio will come thick and fast as no-one will want to take him on in the final sprint.

Will he be able to deliver as favourite, or will the unpredictable and uncontrollable peloton somehow conspire to defeat him tonight?

The dark horses - Edvald Boasson-Hagen and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)

Team Sky - controlling the race...

Both EBH and Geraint Thomas showed great form in the early season - but disappeared from view over the last few weeks.  Team Sky opted to not race their Classics squad, but instead take them away for a high altitude training camp instead.  As a result, these two guys have been out of sight and out of mind.

Are they still in form? Or are they still building to target the later cobbled classics? Who knows!  However, I have no doubt one of these two will be on the podium somewhere later tonight...

Back from the dead - Thor Hushovd (BMC)

The Norwegian God of Thunder, Thor Hushovd, had a 2012 that was more of a whimper than a bang.  Out of form due to injury and sickness, he has much to prove this year.  To that end, he has shown very promising form in the lead-up events, and I expect him to show he is almost back to his best tonight.

The Plan B riders - Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS)

Both of these riders have higher-profile team leaders tonight, but are outstanding competitors in their own right.  They are both also in great form.  I suspect they'll be the late attackers on the Cipressa and/or Poggio to try and shake up Sagan.  Will the attacks stick and give one of them the win?  Probably not - but these two won't die wondering...

My sentimental favourite - Heinrich Haussler  (IAM Cycling)

After coming 2nd to Mark Cavendish in this very race by less than the width of a tyre a few years ago, Haussler has had a rough time of it.  A very bad accident in 2011 (also involving Cavendish) has meant a very long way back to form (which he hasn't properly found yet).

Still not back to his best - but I would dearly love to see the attacking Haussler do well in this race tonight for his new Swiss team.

Live in Australia!

For the first time ever, this race is going to be broadcast live into Australia on free-to-air television!!  The broadcast begins at 12:35am Monday morning on SBS ONE - I will be glued to my screen, and drinking as much coffee as I can to stay awake.  No-one can ever say Australian cycling fans aren't dedicated....!!

Sticking my neck out

Okay, so I'll finish with my predicted finishing order for the race.  I had an awful record doing this for 2012, hopefully I'll have better luck this year!

1. Sagan (Cannondale)
2. Thomas (Sky)
3. Chavanel (OPQS)
4. Nibali (Astana)
5. Goss (Orica-GreenEdge)
6. Hushovd (BMC)

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Product Review: Swisse Choc Energy Bars

Not long ago, I did a review of Winners Energy Bars in Choc-Berry flavour.  They were a hit for me, and I'm happily working my way through a box I bought on a clearance special from the local supermarket.

Ducking in to grab some bits-&-pieces a few weeks ago, I came across another product on special - Swisse High Carb Energy Bars (Chocolate flavour).  They were half-price (woohoo!), so I grabbed a handful and threw them into my trolley to try out later.

For those who care about the important figures - these bars have 230 calories, 4.7g of protein, 5g of fat, 38.3g of carbs (of which 8.5g is sugar) and 22mg of sodium.

As a rule, I don't eat prior to training rides less than 90min long (in the morning, pre-breakfast that is). And so I normally would only wolf down a muesli bar before setting off on longer bunch rides. Similar to the Winners Bars I tried, this is where I used these bars - usually before setting off on my 2-3hr Planet Cycles shop rides on a Saturday morning.

Do they work?

Yes, definitely. I didn't get any of the telltale signs of energy deficit during my rides with this bar, and (probably more importantly) no 'energy spike' that inevitably leads to an 'energy crash' later.

More importantly - the taste!

For me, taste is probably the most important criterion in these reviews.  Most of the commercially available bars are pretty good for what they are designed for - so (assuming a similar price) taste is the governing factor when I make my choice. It's a lot harder to eat when you aren't looking forward to the experience!

The texture of these reminded me a lot of a chocolate crackle (a chocolate rice crispie treat, for those readers not in Australia!).  I definitely picked up on the 'rice bubble' type texture straight away, a real contrast to the oat-style bars I've had before.  I was surprised to read the ingredients list later to see rolled oats were the major ingredient!

These bars weren't as sweet as I expected them to be either - a huge plus for me.  Nothing worse than that cloying sweetness you can't get rid of, and you still have half a bar to go... 

Probably my only real criticism was they were a little dry to eat, and I definitely had to consume them with a bottle of water handy to wash it down.  That's just a personal preference for me, I'd prefer a bar that's a little more moist in texture.

A second opinion

My 14yo daughter grabbed one of these bars as we dashed off to her weekend waterpolo game.  She took a bite, and said, "Oh wow - these are great!"

She loved the mix of oats and chocolate rice crispies, and thought they were the best bar of that sort she'd eaten so far.  The lack of sweetness was also a big plus for her, but she disagreed with me that the bar was 'dry' in texture and thought it was just right.

Would I buy these again?

Yes, I would - but they probably wouldn't be my first choice.  Purely on the taste factor, there are a couple of others I prefer.  But its not that the Swisse bars taste bad, I definitely enjoyed eating them - its just that there are others I enjoy more.

The bottom line is that if you prefer a 'rice crispie'-style texture in your bar, you should definitely give these a try.  You will really love them.  I know I'll be keeping some on hand for my daughter as a quick and easy pre-event 'meal' for her swimming and cross-country running seasons.

For that matter, if you see them on special at the supermarket (like I did), definitely grab a few to try for yourself.  Even if you end up preferring others, they taste pretty good anyway and do their job of providing a lasting energy hit.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Work trip cross training at Coogee Beach

I've been steadily plugging away in this first quarter of the year, sticking to my basic (and slightly boring!) plan of gradually racking up consistent mileage and hours on the bike.  So far, two-thirds into this 3-month base period, everything is going to plan (apart from all the rain!!).

For the last week (Sunday to Friday), I was sent down to Sydney for a work trip.  My hotel was much better than usual - I was staying at Coogee Beach, straight across the road from the ocean! A beautiful spot - and after the last month or so of constant grey, rainy weather in Brisbane, the opportunity for a post-walk beach swim everyday was very exciting.

Coogee Beach

Of course, I wanted to do something to put some training stress into the legs while I was there.  Nothing too serious, but some sort of exercise that matched in with the current base training phase so I could keep up my training habit.

So the plan was to do a couple of walks! I figured a couple of long walks (not strolls, but pushing myself) would do the trick, and give the legs some different training stimulus to cope with.

Fortunately, Coogee was the perfect launch point for the Eastern Beaches Coastal Walk route.

On Sunday, I spent a couple of hours walking from Coogee to Tamarama Beach and back again.  This was a stunningly beautiful walk, following the cliff edges and coastline on a well-marked pathway.  It was challenging in spots too, with some massive long stairways taking you up and down the cliff faces.  It was hard to pick a favourite part of this walk, but Gordons Bay was a highlight as it seemed like such a secret, hidden spot that was a surprise to come across.

Gordons Bay

For the next couple of days, my legs were sore! I was pretty happy with that too - it was good to know I'd managed to get some decent exercise in.  I think the stairs had a lot to do with it...

Later in the week, I headed in the opposite direction, and walked the Coogee to Maroubra Beach trail - another solid 2-hours.  While this pathway wasn't quite as pretty - it used a few backstreet detours and I thought Maroubra was a bit of a hole - it still had some beautiful sections.  The highlight was definitely Lurline Bay, a rocky inlet where you had to scramble along the surf-beaten rocks to rejoin the path at the far end.

Lurline Bay

Along with the swims at Coogee Beach each afternoon, these long walks (roughly 2-hours and 10km each) were great training alternatives.  Their long length and hilly profiles ensured I got some decent base training benefit out of them - plus they were just beautiful, scenic walks to do as well!

The Eastern Beaches Coastal Walk stretches from Bondi to Maroubra, passing through Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly, and Coogee beaches along the way.  Definitely the best section is Bondi to just south of Coogee.  If you find yourself out that way with a few hours to spare, I would highly recommend it!!