26 December, 2011

O Symetric

I started riding with O Symetric chain rings five weeks ago, on the advice of my coach Jon Sharples. After fitting them and spending a good ten minutes spinning the cranks and watching them go round (because they look awesome in my opinion!) I went out for my test ride.

Now I know with some bike parts you can change them and not really tell the difference, although people like to pretend they can. For example new stems; “mmm yes feels much stiffer”, tyres; “wow so much more grip!”, wheel bearings; “SO much smoother!”. But with O Symetric Rings this is not the case. First pedal stroke and you instantly know something’s changed.

"What. Is. Going. On. Here?"

O Symetric chain rings - funny to look at
For me, my first test ride felt like a combination of riding along whilst putting the brakes on and off twice every pedal revolution, and riding over a million hump back bridges in a row, like a fairground waltzer. I started to get a bit seasick at one point.

If I’m honest, I didn’t really know how to feel. I’d read a lot on the theory and being a university graduate (or closet nerd) I liked what I’d read. Claims of big power increases and better muscle development is not to be sniffed at!

The basic principles are that the rings reduce the amount of force required to rotate the cranks past the top dead centre and bottom dead centre of the pedal stroke, when it is hardest to produce power. The rings then allow more force to be applied during the ‘power phase’ of the pedal stroke when you’re using the bigger quadriceps muscles to push the pedals forwards and down. It takes advantage of the bigger quadriceps muscles and makes allowances, as it were, for the smaller and less powerful muscles. At least that’s how I understand it.

Fast forward to the present and I’m now convinced. Big transformation from my first ride confusion I know, but the way I’ve felt on the bike is enough proof for me. The first few weeks were admittedly strange and sometimes uncomfortable, but I’ve stuck it out and now feel totally smooth and natural on them. I’m finding I can average higher power for my long training rides and I did my best ever five second power output on them a week ago, mucking about and sprinting for a 30. That’s got to be a good sign. (Sorry!)

23 December, 2011

Some ideas for extra training

It’s the winter months which means it’s time to get the woolly bottoms out and wave goodbye to the idea of ever getting any sunshine on your bare flesh other than your face. Racing seems like a lifetime away so, inspired by countless magazines out there promising the earth, here are my ideas to keep boredom at bay and get you fitter quicker (probably).

      ‘The rollercoaster’.
A personal fave of mine: Whilst doing a period of faster paced riding find a nice rolling road which takes a sudden and dramatic downward turn in the final minute or so of your effort, preferably in a 30 or even 20mph zone. At this point, nearing the end of your effort, you’ll be thoroughly jaded and delirious enough to continue trying to maintain the chosen power output down the hill (resulting in nigh on break-neck speed). With any luck an innocence bystander will saunter across the road in front of you resulting in a giant leap in your heart rate. Extra training!

Ignore all calls for bike maintenance.
Who’s got time to clean a bike? Not you or I: We’re too busy training! That creaking noise produced by your disintegrating chain: that’s using energy. That dramatic wobble in your rear wheel from the several broken spokes: requires more power for forward propulsion. That corroded headset which forces you to cling to the bars for dear life at all times: that’s a core workout. Those brakes that never truly release: just think, you’ll be flying when you get on your race bike in Spring! I rest my case.

Here I am leading by example

Pump your tyres up once at the start of winter.
Then destroy the track pump – simple yet effective. If your tyres go a little soft, who cares? You certainly won’t be! You’ll be putting in more effort than your training partners, and you’ll have to be agile as a ninja to avoid any road debris with your super soft treads otherwise you’ll be blowing out nonstop, thus topping up your road handling skills all winter. Going round any kind of corner will also train you in the art of make or break (your neck). Who needs to ride ‘cross for bike handling skills when you’re training on 25psi?

Soft tyre, hard man

Good luck future champs!

19 December, 2011

The fans

Any cyclist will tell you that the fans are one of the best things about racing. Riding through a wall of noise; of screaming, cycling-crazed nutters, is such an unparalleled experience. It’s an adrenaline rush like nothing else.

It’s one of the things that makes me love racing in Belgium so much. The people that flock out to watch races over there are so dedicated. They love cycling like they love beer and their own mothers, and because of this they are awesome!

This post doesn’t really have much of a point other than to show you some funny pictures of rather interesting people. Some of these snaps make me laugh quite a lot! This last set depicts probably the most famous cycling fan in the world, Dieter ‘Didi’ Senft, in his natural habitat – on the roadside of the World’s biggest races. He has earned considerable admiration for the amount of TV time he has accomplished over the years and is an unfaltering fan favourite. Oh, and he's mental!

16 December, 2011

Mind over matter

I admit that I spend a large amount of my time on YouTube. It is such a great invention. There is a colossal amount of interesting and inspiring stuff out there if you spend a little time looking. I’ve been doing a fair bit of turbo training recently which gives me about an hour and a half of looking for distractions in the kitchen – YouTube is perfect!

Respect where respect is due. This post was going to be dedicated to people and things that I think deserve respect with several different angles on mental strength and examples of different people. However, in my eyes Thomas Voeckler personifies suffering. The man is a glutton for punishment and possesses seemingly endless capacity to endure pain. I suppose that’s why he’s such a great rider.

The video below shows the stage in the 2004 Tour de France when he went above and beyond expectation, perceived ability and (really) any common sense to keep the yellow jersey. He pushes himself beyond where most people can go. I think it’s one of the most inspiring videos on the internet right now, certainly that I’ve seen recently.

(At 1:56 he's so zoned in he looks like he's singing encouragement to himself!)

Then, unbelievably, he repeated this show of total commitment to again defend the yellow jersey in this year's Tour, in particular on stage 18. The guy is a complete animal! He admitted himself at the Tour that he was not capable of winning the race overall and yet he willingly tore his own legs off to try anyway. I can only have pure respect for this kind of devotion/insanity and hope that I can do the same in my career.

12 December, 2011

I want you back for good

“Whatever I said, whatever I did, I didn't mean it.”

Inspired by unquestionably the best boy band of my generation (Take That obviously!) and my deep love for puns, I’m writing this post.

You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and when this is mobility trust me, you miss it. I have attended the gym a few times this winter to strengthen my ‘core’, whatever that means exactly. I quickly realised I have very little back strength so proceeded to do some heavy weights, like any rational person would of course. The net result is that I can’t really bend at the waist any more. Or support weight on my left leg. This has made cycling (and general motion) a bit of a challenge.

I knew I’d done a little bit of damage last week at the gym. I was doing my third set of dead-lifts when I got a rather unpleasant spasm in the lower lumbar region of my back. I made my first good decision (possibly ever) to stay away from the gym for a while to let it settle down. That was the end of that gym session, and I’m currently being led to believe, the beginning of the end of my mobile life.

Things were okay for a couple of days until Saturday when I was walking up some innocuous enough stairs and decided, “Heck I’m gonna take this to another level!” so I started taking them two at a time. Woah, I’m badass.

This turned out to be a pretty colossal mistake. Three leaps later and I received another one of those lovely spasms which left me slumped against the side of the stairwell, clinging onto the handrail for dear life and looking increasingly like a smack head. 

Unfortunately things haven’t got much better in the last few days. I had a massage on Sunday from Neil and it’s improving slowly I think. We’ll have to see if I can get out on the bike tomorrow. I must hobble up to bed now. Wish me luck with the stairs!

09 December, 2011

I’m not addicted; I just can’t live without it

How often do you have to do something to be addicted? Some things you do repeatedly every day: eat, sleep and breathe for example, but no-one tells you off for being addicted to them (unless you've got a bit of a problem). So surely doing something once or twice a day is okay, right? I’m talking about drinking coffee of course.

It’s not that I need it; it just makes me a better person when I have it. It brings out the best in me! Like a food supplement, or Photoshop. I realised this most starkly yesterday afternoon when I got home from work after an epic four hour shift and had a turbo session to do. To say I was lacking in motivation would be an understatement. I was on the verge of getting into bed for an early night at 3:15pm when my conscience kicked in.

“Okay, this is what I’ve got a coach for; must follow orders, must get on bike, must do pedalling…”

(cheeky pic courtesy of wikipedia)
But first, I needed a little help from my bestest fwend, Mr Caffeine. We’ve been through a lot have me and caffeine. He’s been with me at the end of tough stage races, at the crack of dawn getting ready for work or a time trial (back when I did far too many of them!), or just of an afternoon when I’ve needed a little treat. He’s been good to me and in return I’ve been faithful. No tea in this household thank you very much, especially not that green stuff! Where’s the high in that?

So I had a nice sit down, flicked through ‘Hello’ (obviously not mine, just happened to be on the table) and enjoyed a coffee. Then I dragged myself onto the turbo and nailed the session. It was great! I’m not saying it was easy by any means, but with my ally caffeine I’m genuinely amazed at what I can achieve.

I don’t think I’d be where I am today without coffee. I probably wouldn’t have got a degree, or a cycling career. Probably wouldn’t even have the energy to type these words (one handed obviously, the other hand nursing a latte). I’m not addicted though! I just enjoy coffee, as a friend.

In fact the similarities to a relationship are becoming frighteningly real. I spend a lot of time thinking about when I’ll next be with coffee. I enjoy the smell, the taste, and the experience of coffee. We don’t even need to share words now; we just sit together and enjoy each other’s company.

However I think I may have gone too far when I was witnessed in the supermarket saying: “Oh I’ve missed you so much darling, once you were gone I realised how much I need you!” whilst cradling a packet of Ethiopian Arabica.

That’s normal right?

05 December, 2011

A picture is worth a thousand words

Or in this case two pictures.

I’m not sure why I’m recounting this experience for public consumption, but it feels like something I must do. Maybe it will give me some ‘closure’ as they say; but I doubt it. Let's travel back to probably my most painful experience on a bike, emotionally not physically.

It started off so well, as I suppose most bad days do. I was mid-way through the Tour De Loiret, a three day, four stage, French stage race. It’s a race that suits me, on rolling terrain with typically aggressive continental riding, and I was feeling stronger and stronger. The final day was two stages of around 90km each, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. My story relates to the morning stage.

I felt incredible - one of those rare occasions you get when you’re racing well, the legs are good, the head is good, the weather is good. I saved my legs for the end of the stage because it became apparent early on that the sprinters had their eyes on this stage. It finished with three laps of a Kermis style circuit. On the final lap I attacked twice, escaped twice, but no-one was willing or able to work with me.

So I waited.

With the lead out teams amassing at the front I bullied my way forward in the last 5km. Seeing a chance before the final sharp left hander I attacked hard up the left hand side. Ten seconds of full gas, a look behind. A gap! Perfection. I nailed the last corner like my life depended on it, with the French Army lead-out breathing down my neck. Now it was straight and slightly uphill for the last 800m. I had a fair distance on the bunch but they were bearing down.

500m – Still going good.

400m – Legs tearing apart.

300m – Can’t get enough air in. Starting to swoon.

200m – Grinding teeth away.

100m – Surely. Got. This?

50m   – It’s in the bag!!!!!

I’ll let the following pictures tell the rest of the story.

Don't do it kids! I can confirm that it's the worst feeling I've ever had after a bike race. Just look at my face!

02 December, 2011

The signs of a good ride

We’ve all been there. You’ve just done the Mother of all rides. The Don. The Frankenstein.

No one has ever trained this hard, in the history of cycling, since the world began, period. You’re pretty sure that Chris Boardman did the same session that you just did when he was training for the world hour record in ’96, but with less reps.

So here are the signs that you’re a supremely driven, borderline sadistic, monster on two wheels.

1) When you get back from the ride no need to knock on the front door- your other half can hear you coughing from halfway down the street.

2) The two miniature steps to get into your house are a big effort; the stairs up to the shower are a no-no for the foreseeable future.

3) You convince yourself that this single show of training dedication will ensure total domination in the races next year… “No no, none of my rivals could ever train that hard… good as won already… It’ll be a case of just turning up…” you mumble to yourself in a feverish state of semi-comatose.

4)      All conversation is shunned by the immediate need to consume whatever food and/or liquid is within arm’s reach of your point of collapse. Instead, expect a faint gurgling sound to be emitted as cupboards are emptied.

5) The lower half of your kit is inexplicably covered in mucus. Obviously you were going too fast to notice how or when this happened. It’s sure to have made a great impression on the general public twinned with the lycra costume though, and needless to say it’s a huge hit with the girlfriend!

So there you have it, the signs of a good session.

Please note: I am not responsible for any shortening of lives and/or loss of partners due to striving to follow these guidelines.