28 March, 2012

Animal Farm

I'm off to stay at the team manager's house this weekend, ready for the start of the stage race on Friday. I also realised recently that we're practically living on Animal Farm, so here are some pictures of the animals I saw whilst mincing about on my rest days this week.

Caruso the hound dawg.

Sheepy (getting camera shy).

Flock o' weird birds.


Pecky and fwends.

Big ass cows.

Eeyore's cru.

Parrot and a parakeet (maybe?)

Massive white fella.

27 March, 2012

'Easy' weekend?

I had quite a relaxed few days in terms of mental pressure this weekend. There were no big races on so I did a couple of Kermisses with a bit of extra training beforehand. The plan was to sit in and get some ‘speed miles’ in but I have an allergic reaction to sitting on wheels for the duration of races, so I naturally ended up doing more work than I should have.

Saturday was a 110k Kermis in Koekelare and I got there early so I could do ninety minutes steady before the start. It was nice to meet up with Neil Reeder and the GWR boys too, as four of them had come over to smash up the foreign circuit. The start was characteristically fast and twisty, with a lovely smattering of cobbles and crosswinds, and the bunch shredded. I bullied my way to the front and stayed there or thereabouts throughout which was lucky, because it was carnage behind. 

I got in the break, then I clung on for dear life. I'm still looking quite comfortable here.

Nearing the end there was a group of about forty riders away and I was cruising along with them, mostly at the back with sore legs. One guy clipped away and no-one else chased him so I waited for my moment and then attacked about 1.5k from the end, in a nasty headwind section. I felt like I was barely moving and thankfully a bloke came across to me from the bunch. I did one turn and then sat on him, before doing the age old trick of jumping him (like the big meanie I am) 300m from the line. The bunch were right on our bums by this point and one guy came round me, but I just managed to hold onto 3rd by doing a rather comical bike throw (and spraining my arm in the process).

When the legs say no and you just can't go, follow wheels. Sitting on like a boss!

This is me pretending to be at the front of a bunch sprint, when in fact I'd been off the front for over a kilometre; got ya! 

On Sunday, me and da boyz rode 20k out to Merelbeke for another jolly Kermis. It was quite a big field and the fast course made it very difficult to get away in a break. After several semi-suicidal attacks (easy for me to say) there was finally a split near the end with 10k to go, and as it had four of us Terra boyz in it I drove it. 

One of many doomed breakaways I was in. This 10k escape earned us one 10 euro prime. I'm not sure it was worth it: if you look closely at my face you'll probably agree.

I put in a little attack 3k out but wasn’t feeling it and when I came back my Belgian amigo Bjorn De D went over the top and took a friend with him. He was looking super strong so we massed at the front and covered any chasers. From there myself and Josh Hunt did a textbook lead out train for Llewellyn Kinch who just got pipped for third and was fourth. It was a good day for the team and a pretty convincing show of dominance.

Mythical: enjoying the view from the top of the Muur yesterday.

Today I enjoyed a coffee in the sun, riding up the Muur Van Geraardsbergen and getting a team issue hair cut. This weekend is the Tryptique des Monts et Chateaux stage race in Belgium so I’m looking forward to seeing how I go over a few days racing.

Hair cutting is the new spectator sport. It's like a live reality show. Here's Josh Yetman getting the snip. 

Team issue haircut. Well I like it (and it was free). This is also the photo on my application to be a boyband member.

22 March, 2012

Picture perfect

I got a wicked camera for my birthday (cheers sisters and brother in law!) so this post is mostly going to be my crap attempts at photography. It'll give y'all a bit of an idea about where I'm living though, which might be interesting.

Here's one of two pyscho wasps on the inside of my window. I shooed them out and when I came back in a few hours later they were there again, waiting for me.

Here's Saasha just hanging in the garden. Note the 'swimming lake' on the far left and the football pitch on the right.

Kitchen and that.

Lounge for lounging.

Epic cup collection. The 'turrrtoise' on the far right is a defo fave.

Caruso, the super dog!

18 March, 2012

Broken thread

According to Bjarne Riis you have to screw a bolt too tight ten times before you know what the limit is (from ‘Overcoming’ which is a must watch). According to Rolf Aldag; “You go out… for seven hours, seven hours, seven hours. It’s raining- it might snow. I think suffering in cycling is basically the key to success.”

I think I took their sentiments to heart a bit, because I’ve threaded the bolt again. I seem to do this every now and then, usually when I get over excited and am going really well so I keep pushing and pushing. There are limits to what you can do to yourself and the stronger you get the greater those limits are: but they still exist.

I knew about four days ago that I didn’t feel quite right within myself, and to prove myself right I’ve contracted full blown man flu. It’s a shame because I was looking forward to doing the interclub today and seeing how I fare at a slightly lower level. Still I’ve managed to fill my time really constructively whilst being off the bike in the last few days. We went shopping yesterday and now have a shelf each with our own personal treats on. Mine’s the top shelf (I do love my canned goods).

I picked up this rather dodgy looking coffee too which was damn cheap, and as I sip it now seems to taste alright, although my taste is fairly minimal due to the streaming-nose-man-flu-itis. 

I also stumbled on these ridiculously cheap pancakes which are immense! So yes, you are correct; I’ve basically just been eating and drinking (coffee mind!) for the last two days. God I can’t wait to get out on the bike again.

PS. How incredible was the finale of Milan Sanremo!

16 March, 2012

Rack o’ ribs

I’ve been feeling a bit knackered over the last few days and it could be a number of different things. We moved into our actual proper house on Tuesday which was great! We’d been crashing at the manager’s house for the past three weeks so to actually be able to unpack our suitcases was pretty good. I had my 23rd birthday on Wednesday which was hilariously tame in the end; we got some beers in and then planned to head to the local town for some dancing. It turns out that Belgium doesn’t have any taxis (not sure how people get anywhere on nights out?) and once we got to Zottegem it was deadddd anyway. We did stumble across a very promising little local which was rammed, but swiftly got shot down when we realised it was a private party.

Trying in vain to get in the break of the day at Deinze Ieper

The last week or so has been quite a full on period of racing and training and it’s worn me down a bit. I went really deep in the race on Sunday for no real result, which is always irritating, and then went straight into a tough few days of training. It’s strangely nice feeling like this though because it means that all I have to do is rest a bit and I’ll come through it. I’ve got faith in the training I’ve done so there’s no need to panic. I am getting a bit bored of struggling with the stairs every morning though. I feel like I’ve aged fifty years every time I have to traverse the two flights down to my bike.

The second time up the Kemmelberg, just after I'd nearly hit a parked car and ended up out the back.

I’ve got an interclub this weekend called Mol, so I’ll see if I can freshen up before then. The plan is to sit in and try something constructive at the end, rather than breaking myself early on to no avail, but don’t tell anyone!

People getting swept up off the road after a crash just short of the line. 

12 March, 2012

Deinze Ieper

Riddle me this: If a bunch of 200 riders is completely strung out in one long line, in a crosswind section, going at 55kph can the rider at the back see the rider at the front?

Answer: No. All he can see (could read ‘all I could see’) was the back wheel of the rider in front.

Yesterday was an absolute smash fest. In hindsight I think what happened was that I rode like a junior. I was determined to get in the break of the day, but as it turned out there wasn’t really one. It’s all very easy and somewhat pointless to appreciate, in hindsight, that I wasted a lot of energy. I lost count of how many hopeful breaks I was in in the first 80km, the outcome of which was that I was swinging in the last 30km. I’m certain I haven’t felt that screwed this season, and perhaps not last either, although time dims the memories of suffering. I was floundering quite badly with 40km to go when a split formed ten guys in front. No one in my ‘group’ was that strong so I ended up doing a pretty horrific few kilometres to get back to the bunch, towing about six guys with me. And that was the end of me more or less. From that point I was just hub staring and handlebar chewing. I got so thirsty at one point I was using gels as a drink source which wasn’t as funny at the time as it sounds now. When I saw the 20k to go banner I nearly cried; I would have done but I was too de-hydrated.

I clung on for grim death at the back of the remaining eighty odd riders and avoided two crashes in the last few kilometres, one of which was in the last fifty metres and looked pretty horrible, so I was happy about that. The sight of a lone rear wheel bouncing down the road and over the finish line is scary and poignant when considering how dangerous the sport is.

I’d more or less resigned myself to breaking a limb before the race as a psychological tool to enable me to ride more like a crazy bastard. It worked and I was much better at elbowing, moving up the bunch and more or less being a dick to everyone else. Unfortunately I did hit a parked car, albeit at about 5kph, which put me out the back just before a major climb. Still it’s all to be expected from the argy-bargy involved in top level amateur races. I spent so much time on and off the brakes that I started getting cramp in my hands.

Oh well, I finished a UCI race in the bunch (66th place or something) I didn’t break any bones, and it was sunny today. Wat leuk!

08 March, 2012

You win this round, Belgium

My plan for the day was to ride out to a Kermis, do it for training and then head home. It was about 35k away so not a bad warm up you might think. I set off with a rucksack and some essentials, just in case it got a bit nippy and I needed another layer.

That turned out to be my best decision of the day, as my body thermometer failed to realise when I left the house that it was hovering around 4 degrees and not getting any warmer. There was a lovely cross headwind to keep me company as well as lingering snow on the roadsides from the storm the other day. It was bloody horrible. As luck would have it my route had me heading along a suitably soul destroying main road towards the Wallonie region of Belgium, with complementary gravel and sand everywhere, and lorry drivers taking it upon themselves to play ‘scare the cyclist’ by hoofing it past me.

Just as I settled into a mediocre rhythm I took a wrong turn and had to backtrack two kilometres, and then I got a flat. By this point I was just having an all-round great time. I whipped off the tyre (obviously covering myself in that inexplicable grey crap that comes off wheels in the rain) in no time and realised that my fingers didn’t work any more. After a mano-a-mano battle of wills against my tyre I fixed the bastard and was on my way. This was when I remembered how much of a scrawny runt I’ve become. After a great winter (in terms of cycling anyway) I’ve got less body fat than a stick of celery and my heat retaining capacities are about as good as an open window.

I spanked it for the next 10k trying to get feeling back in my body; then just trying to get to safety. I was starting to convulse a little bit and my primary thought was getting to the headquarters and getting in a car. My fingers were starting to swell like little chipolatas and I couldn’t hold the bars properly. Then I started thinking about chipolatas, and sausages, and barbeques and summertime. I didn’t ride the race, in case you had any doubts.

Belgium, you can be a tough bastard sometimes. You win this time, but I’m here all year.

05 March, 2012

Only as good as your last race

They say that you’re only as good as your last race, which is why I had to race twice this weekend. On Saturday I raced in Vlaamse Pijl which is a UCI race with some cobbled climbs in it from Flanders. I was pretty pumped, but it turned out to be quite a disappointing race in the end. I rode the course a few days before so I knew what was coming with regards to the climbs but I forgot how insane a bunch of 200 riders can be. The first hour was pretty rapid and then the 10k before the first cobbled climb was like a race finish; guys were diving up the cobbles at the side and doing suicidal moves to get to the front. You spend more time leaning on other guy’s bars than not, which wears you down mentally. No one gives anyone any space; it’s a brawl on wheels.

When you get to the front it’s a case of smashing it for as long as you can until you got swamped, and as it turned out this happened to me just before the climb. I went from top 30 to almost dead last and from then it was pretty much game over. There were two or three stupid crashes up the climb and I had to unclip, then over the top it was balls out, obviously. The long and short of it is that I chased onto the group in front alone, but by that point they were off the back of the bunch anyway, so we rode to the finish and got pulled 30k from the end.

I was down to do 4-5 hours training on Sunday but I wasn’t really up for it, so I decided to take out some frustration and ride 55k to a little Kermis and sit in for training. I’m pretty awful at sitting in though (as anyone who knows me will agree) and I was stupidly aggressive early on in the race. Once I got in the break I did sit on at the back quite well, but with about 30k to go my legs were tying up a bit so I inhaled some gels and did no work. The break shredded in the last 15k as usual and I made the front five. I wasn’t riding for a result up until now, but I started thinking I could have it at this point. Up the final climb two guys gapped me but I caught them around a dodgy corner at 300m to go. I laid down a seriously weak sprint to try and get the early jump on them but it was lame! Still, I was happy with 3rd after a solid weekend.

01 March, 2012

Mind of a moron(?)

If you’ve ever wondered what goes through the mind of a rider when they attack from a long way out then wonder no more, because I did it last Sunday, and I’m here to spill the beans. Here is my inner monologue.

‘I’m feeling quite good now. I think I’m stronger than these other guys in the break. The bunch is getting pretty close. We need to go harder or we’re going to get caught. Ah what, there’s oil on my new white bar tape! This cross wind is getting pretty boring. Wow they know how to make bumpy roads in Belgium. I’m going to go a bit harder now and see what happens. Is anyone going to come with me? Oh that’s good that guy’s coming across to me: oh no he’s not. Is that the bunch behind? I’m going to look forwards now. Can I make it round this corner without braking? I can make it round this corner without braking. I’m not going to make it round this corner without braking! I should probably stay upright I think. How far is it to the finish? Not so far. Two laps from here, only two laps; that’s alright. How long was a lap again? 10km or so wasn’t it. Oh shit.

20k to go: Okay that’s it, nice big gear, push the pedals. I can’t see them behind right now, that’s good. Why is no one clapping? Belgians. Oh no there’s a crazy lady, my biggest fan.

19km to go: I feel good. This is easy! Maybe I’m not going hard enough, I’ll go a bit harder. I can’t breathe! Okay that’s too hard, easy tiger. This corner’s good because I can stop pedalling for a second or two. My ear’s itchy.

18km to go: Out of sight out of mind. This is fine; maybe if they catch me I’ll still be able to sprint anyway. Stay on the drops; that’s not back pain, that’s just character building stuff.

17km to go: How long is this lap? Have they sent me the wrong way because I’m not a Belgie? Maybe I should take the union flag stickers off my frame. They do look cute though.

16km to go: I haven’t changed out of the 11 in a while, what a big strong boy. I need to pee.

15km to go: This road is too straight, I need some corners soon. Omega Pharma are probably all on the front right now. Goodo.

14km to go: I know this hill. I attacked here once. Twice more up it and then I’m home and dry.

13km to go: That’s the bunch. They look pretty mad.

12km to go: Maybe if I celebrated as I went over the line this time they’d be nice and give me the win?

11km to go: Hey crazy lady! You’re my favourite.

10km to go: Next time round through the finish and I’ll either be very happy or very sad.

9km to go: Distance means nothing when someone means everything.

8km to go: This energy drink tastes funny. I can’t really see straight. Probably shouldn’t crash.

7km to go: If they catch me now I can definitely sit in and win the sprint. Definitely.

6km to go: What am I doing here? Am I enjoying this? Maybe I should get a real job.

5km to go: I must be close now. My legs are starting to go. Just once more along this crosswind section. Where is the bunch? I hope my legs look good on telly.

4km to go: Up this hill, out the saddle, power power power. MY LEGS FEEL FINE.

3km to go: Put it in the eleven. Don’t hit any stones. Are my brakes rubbing?

2km to go: Crazy lady, you’re a hero. Round this bend, don’t hit the curb.

1km to go: I can’t see the bunch. This is actually happening! I’ve just remembered why I do all the training and sacrifice stuff. This crowd is incredible; they’re going mad for it! This celebration is going to look so great on video! Hahahaha.'