Archive for the ‘Cycling’ Category

The Yellow Bike

Posted: December 15, 2018 in Cycling
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A long time ago I visited a workshop in the depths of London to spend two days playing with bamboo and sharp tools to produce a bike frame. At the end of the weekend I had something that looked like a bike frame, it just needed a little bit of finishing. I took it home, put in in the shed with the intention of doing that finishing and promptly couldn’t find the time to do the finishing as life got in the way.

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Many months and a relocation to another country later the unfinished frame emerged from a packing crate and got put into a corner for a little while. Once the dust had settled, I found that I had the time to actually get the thing finished.

The first problem was working out what finishing needed to be done. It had been a long time since I’d been told and I’d forgotten what to do. I little search on the internet and a few e-mails I had the answer: Apply car body filler over the glue-soaked hessian and them sand it down to smooth off the ragged edges. Once that was done the joints needed to be pained in a suitable colour and then finally the whole lot should be covered in a couple of coats of varnish. Once that was done the frame could be equipped. It would then be ready for the road. It all seemed very straight forward.

Back in my youth I had attempted to smooth out the bumps and dents that I had put into a very old car whilst learning to drive. I hadn’t really done a very good job as the car had gone for scrap soon after. The only knowledge I’d gained from this exercise was not to put the filler on too thickly. I completely ignored this vital piece of experience and put the filler on far too thickly. This was mainly because the filled hardened far quicker that I had expected. This left a very unsatisfactory finish that I thought would be easy to sand down.

I’d borrowed an electric sander as I felt sanding the filler by hand would take more time than I had patience for. I seemed to spend weeks and week going through a sanding followed by filling cycle. Each time I sanded the filler it would result a mainly smooth but with odd ridges finish. I’d then attempt to fill the ridges on and end up putting too much filler on. I started to get the feeling that it was an almost an impossible task to get the finish that I wanted. After several weeks of sanding, chocking on the dust, applying filler, covering myself in filler and cleaning up the mess that I’d made. I got to the point where the result was “good enough”. In reality I lacked the skill to make it any better.

Next was the painting and this presented a whole set of new problems. The first was which paint to use. I had no desire to use car spray paints, which would have been the obvious choice, as I had no desire to fill my lungs with paint after already filling them with filler dust. Then there was the colour. There are so many colours to choose from. I solved the which paint problem by chatting to a man in the paint store. He recommended using paint for rusty metal work as it didn’t require a primer. The colour took a lot longer to settle on.

I put the paint on with a brush and applied as many coats as I could. I wanted the paint work to last and I had no desire to paint the frame again. It was starting to look reasonable. Finally, I covered the entire frame in a couple of coats of varnish. I now had a finished frame. All that I needed to do now was put the components on.

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I spent a long time going through catalogues and websites to try and understand what I needed to buy to complete the bike and came to two conclusions. The first was that it seemed to be extraordinarily expensive to buy each individual component and secondly that I didn’t really have a clue about what I was doing. I needed help.

I visited a few bike shops to ask for advice. The conversation usually started with them sucking air through their teeth before launching into the compilation of some of the most expensive components around. Eventually, I found a shop where the man behind the counter seemed genuinely interested. Instead of going into the list compilation stage his first question was: can I see it. I felt that this was progress.

A few days later I brought my pride and joy into the shop for his appraisal. The news wasn’t good. The distance between the dropouts at the back was “non-standard”. This may have been caused by the back of the frame being slightly twisted. In his opinion, in its current state, it would wear tyres excessively and even worse, potentially break axles as the back axle would not be parallel with the road. He felt that the metal dropouts could be modified to fix the situation but there were no guarantees. He suggested that I leave it with him so that he could see if he could make some adjustments. I left the shop feeling a little down.

I went back a few weeks later to get the verdict. It wasn’t good. In his words “You might as well chop it up for firewood”.

And so ended my bamboo bike dream.

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Game Over (Again)

Posted: November 24, 2018 in Cycling, Running, Swimming
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It had taken me a long time to recover from the broken hand. One week in a plaster cast and another seven in a splint took their toll. There was no way that I could swim, I just went for long walks along the beach whilst the others in the group enjoyed the cool sea water. Cycling was a slightly different matter. Twice a week I got onto the bike trainer and worked up a sweat in the hope that my legs would not wither away to nothing. I’d stopped running for a while before the accident due to tendon issues but that didn’t stop me missing it.

I had plenty of time during my enforced retirement to think about what I wanted to do once I was recovered and in my usual way, I made many completely impossible plans. I whittled the plans down to a handful of possible and then picked a couple that seemed almost possible.

The splint couldn’t come off soon enough but the injury still lingered. It would ache after a decent length swim and after a cycle ride. It reminded me not to push on too quickly and break things. I slowly worked my way back to fitness. The cycling didn’t take two long thanks to the two days on the trainer but the swimming took longer.

I’d whittled down my massive list of things to two: a long swim and a long ride. The long ride was the one I really wanted to concentrate on as it was a qualifier for an even longer ride, one that I’d read about and fantasised about taking part in for a very long time. The swim was one of the classics and involved organising some logistics beforehand. I failed to get all that sorted so that objective dropped by the wayside and got replaced by swimming a few ten-kilometre swims.

After a month or so I felt that I was finally back in to the swing of things. I’d managed to get into a swimming and cycling routine that fitted in with the rest of my life and would take me to the level of fitness I needed, all was right with the world.

I was cycling back from the swimming pool after doing a very pleasing long slow swim. I had my “pool bag” over my shoulder. My pool bag is a large bag that I’d found in the back of the cupboard and filled with all the necessities for a pool swim, I had another bag for sea swimming. I’d used my fixed wheel bike to get to the pool today as I’d not ridden it for a long time. I came home the back way so I didn’t have to cross the main road twice and because it was just a much more pleasant ride.

I’d left the bike path by the river and climbed the small steep slope, I was now on the road no more that a few hundred meters from home. The sky was blue and I was thinking happy thoughts. Then it all went wrong. I don’t know exactly what happened but I lost control of the bike. A fixie is unforgiving when that happens. It threw me over the handlebars.

I felt my helmet hit the ground, quickly followed by my left shoulder, back and leg. I lay on the road and did a mental inventory. Breathing was tricky. I was sort of winded. I was making a strange sound when I breathed out. I assumed I was winded. I didn’t feel like getting off the road, lying there was just fine.

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Sore and battered legs

I heard voices behind me. A woman said that the cyclist on the ground needed help, then I heard a car speed off. A tradesman came over with a first aid kit and helped me off the road. Someone came out from their house and offered me a glass of water. Once patched up I pushed my bike home before sitting on the sofa and feeling ill.

I tried to sleep that night, I tried to convince myself that I was just winded. It was obvious the next day that I wasn’t. A trip to the hospital confirmed it. I had broken ribs and a deflated lung. They filled me full of painkillers and sent me home. I sat on the sofa feeling sore and lightheaded and realised that all my plans for the next season had just been dashed

Game over, again

Game Over

Posted: June 10, 2018 in Cycling
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Early every Friday morning I go for a club run down to the coast. It’s called the gentle ride as it’s meant to be done at a reasonable pace but the regulars know it as the Gentlemen’s ride as the pace is always that of the slowest, which quite frankly is sometimes not that slow. We meet up at the bus stop at early o’clock. It is a time of yawns, darkness and chill when dawn is just a wish in a dark sky. We head off down the main road to the coast at the stroke of the hour. We don’t wait for any stragglers, they know the rule, the ride always leaves on time. At the end of the main road we turn left, negotiate a few crossings and then it follows the coast. Sometimes on the beach road, sometimes a street or two back. By now the sky is getting lighter and the view out to sea is spectacular. We pass groups of early morning joggers stretching their legs on the sea front and sometimes cyclists slower than ourselves. This is undoubtedly the best part of the ride. As the pub approaches we prepare for the climb. Gears are changed and the chatter subsides. It’s short and steep and can be painful for the uninitiated. We all know that it ends at the level crossing, that is where we regroup and roll gently down the road until we are back together as a group. A few turns later we are back on the coast road and catching anyone who declined the hill. There is no stigma to not climbing just a little banter. We are now on the way home and the call of the cafe is strong. We power up the main road take a right turn at the lights and trundle along the boring road until after a sneaky left turn we are sitting in the cafe drinking steaming coffees talking about the trivia of life.

Today started like any other Friday. The three of us gathered at the meeting place. We were all regulars so we all knew each other and our foibles. We left on the stroke of the hour and started down to the coast. We had hoped for a pull from another group that meets nearby but they weren’t to be seen today. I felt surprisingly good today so I took the front for a long steady turn. We picked up one other just before the lights that were not with us this morning. I kept a nice even tempo, this wasn’t the sort of ride to tear the legs off club mates. I was still happy at the end of the main road where we turn left so I negotiated the maze of turning to bring us across the tram lines and got us onto the long straight road that would take us to the coast. That’s where it went wrong.

I was still at the front as we approached the roundabout. We reached the roundabout at about the same time and the driver had slowed so everything looked as it should. Then the car pulled out in front of me. I avoided hitting the car and shot in front of them, I think I clipped the curb because just when I was thinking I’d got away with it I lost control and hit the ground. I felt winded and disoriented. In was aware of some shouting going on behind me, I was told later that the car looked like it was going to drive off so the others gave chase. When they caught the car, there was a short and frank discussion with the driver. The driver did not endear themselves by saying that I shouldn’t be on the road at that time in the morning or saying that it wasn’t their fault as I didn’t hit the car.

The discussions were over by the time I’d done a full body inventory to ascertain I had pain in my left wrist and my left ankle. I knew I had to talk to the driver and get details but I wasn’t that keen on talking to the cause of my pain. I found a rather shaken driver who felt that they were the victim in this situation. I had very little sympathy for this view, remained calm and got the bear details. I had no desire to argue the rights and wrongs of the situation with a clearly shaken person who was unable to take responsibility for their actions. I suggested that they go home, have a strong coffee and have a think about what they had just done.

 

We resumed the ride but my heart wasn’t in it. I told the others that in was turning back as I’d lost my enthusiasm, they turned back too and escorted me along the road. I was nursing my left hand. Deep down I knew I’d done something serious but I was still trying to convince myself that I’d got away with out serious injury. The others had noticed that I wasn’t putting weight on that hand. One went as far as to comment that there would be no “two hundred change hands” for me for a while.

By the time I got home my wrist was starting to swell and this was making life difficult. I had meetings to go to and needed to look smart but getting into my meeting clothes had suddenly become very difficult.

I tried to concentrate on the meetings but the pain in my wrist just got louder and louder. I needed to go to the hospital the tears running down my face told me that it was a lot more serious than I’d hoped. I queued for a while and was then seen by a doctor, she gave me some happy pills that made my outlook on life somewhat different. The x-ray revealed the truth. There was a fracture in one of the small bones in my hand that required a plaster cast and immobilization. This was not good news as it effectively stops me doing anything I want to do.

A week later I went to the assessment and was delivered the final blow. The had would have to be immobilized for another six weeks. No cycling, no swimming, it’s effectively game over.

Cast

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Norton Summit is a bit of a local classic. It’s not the steepest hill around but it has the distinction of being used for a professional bike race. This makes climbing it a must. I’ve been up it a few times on a bicycle but I’d not taken Gracie the Trike up there. I wasn’t too worried about the ascent, we have been up a fair few hills together, I was more worried about the descent. That had been putting me off.

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I’d arranged to meet a friend at the café at the top of the climb and he was interested in seeing Gracie so that gave me the perfect excuse. The weather wasn’t too promising but once I’d made the decision to do the climb a little fine drizzle wasn’t going to stop me.

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The official start of the climb is at the bottom of Norton Summit road but the going uphill starts a long way before that. In fact, it was all slightly up hill from my house to the start of the hill. There was no run up to this one.

It starts by rising slowly away from the city. The buildings start to thin out and get a lot larger. It becomes obvious very quickly that this is a very desirable area because of the view. However, the gathering woodland and the threat of bush fire makes building highly controlled. Soon there is nothing surrounding the road except trees.

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The first key point on the route is the first hairpin. The road whips round her and then gets just a little steeper. This had caught me out on my first attempt a few months ago but now I knew it was there I could coax Gracie into a lower gear and smoothly navigate the turn without undue complications giving us time to appreciate the motivational and rude words slathered on the tarmac.

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Once around the corner the climbing started and the views started to improve. To start with I could see the road below, it was good to know that there wasn’t an imminent danger of me being overtaken by a tanned whippet on a lightweight machine or even a old bloke on a sit up and beg. A little further on I turned the corner and was greeted by a fantastic view across the city and over to the sea. This was the real reason to climb this hill.

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The road turns away from the sea and then gives a view of the climb ahead. It’s possible to see where the summit should be but there is always a nagging doubt that it’s actually a false summit. To the left is a gorge to the right an upward slope. This is the point where it becomes hard work. The end seems so far away and the beginning was just a memory. Eventually the road starts to imperceptibly level out until unceremonsally we are at the top. All that’s left is a steady ride to the café for a well earnt drink and a slice of cake.

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The swim course being used as a rowing lake

I feel that I have to do at least one triathlon a year to maintain my status as a triathlete so I chose this one. I knew that the run was going to give me a bit of trouble owning to my ongoing achillies problems so I entered the longest of the events on the rational that I could make up time on the swim and bike. I’d visited the physio the day before to have my legs beaten into shape and I’d promised my loved one that I would walk on the run if I felt I needed to

I turned up at the venue with plenty of time to do all of the things I need to do before a race. It was all very relaxed and low key. It seemed that nearly everybody knew every one else. I’m new here so I didn’t know anyone, that didn’t really matter, I just went around doing my usual routine of checking where everything was and making sure that I was as light as possible before the race.

We were all herded up for the briefing. I always listen to the briefing even though I heard most of it before there is always something important in there. I’m always amazed how little attention people pay to these briefings, up to the point where some people nearly missed the start of their race.

The shorter distances started first, Before the race I’d debated whether to wear a wetsuit or not. I’m not a fan of wetsuits and in water this temperature I think they are too hot. Others didn’t share my opinion. I may be slightly slower than them but my transition would be a lot faster.

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A calm and relaxed transition

We were ushered into the water in small groups to start the swim. It wasn’t exactly a mass start, more of a staggered start. It took a while to get into my rhythm, there were a lot of people who seemed intent on trying to swim over me. I’m not too fond of that. Slowly the swimmers thinned out and I started overtaking people in wetsuits, that made me happy.

I took the first buoy wide to avoid the usual crush but ended up being pushed against the quayside. I few nudges later and I was back on track. It wasn’t a beautiful swim but it was effective. I got to the finish somewhere in the middle of the pack, neither first or last. This was my ideal position.

I’d done a lot of cycling in the week before the race, this was probably a bad thing as my legs were a bit sore. I hoped that this would help me. The soreness disappeared the moment I got on the bike. I got onto the tribars put my nose in the wind and wound it up. It was a lovely course; all the corners were coned off so there was no need to slow down, the straights were long and flat and easy to speed along. I was overtaken by a few fast boys on flash bikes but on the whole, I overtook more than passed me. I got off the bike feeling content. It had all gone well. All I had to do was survive the run.

I knew it was doing to be slow. It has been a long time since I’d run off the bike and I’d forgotten the feeling. The memory slapped me in the face as I wobbled down along the path. I ran for almost as far as I could before breaking into a walk. My plan was to walk for a minute and then start again. It was amazing how many people came passed me in that minute, most of them offered the odd word of encouragement. I started running again and jogged along happily passing some of the people that had passed me. I saw them all again when I started walking again. I wasn’t happy with the run as I’d had to walk but my achillies wasn’t complaining so that was a good thing.

When I crossed the line, I was happy. The swim and bike had gone well and the run had gone as expected. The results confirmed my feelings. I don’t need to do another one for at least another year.

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The final step

I’ve always fancied sampling a route that the professionals are going to use and this Audax route promised just that. It followed a stage of the Tour Down Under but in typical Audax style it added a few café stops and some kilometres to make the total distance 200km. This seemed like an ideal way to sample a race without participating and without being surrounded by hundreds of other cyclists with the same ambition.

It started in a 24-hour bakery close to where the actual stage would start. Just like the professionals we made sure that our nutritional needs were taken care of before the five of us hit the road. As we set off the organiser casually mentioned that gorge road, the first climb on the route, was closed for roadworks. We decided to gamble on being able to get through.

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Quality nutrition

We dodged round the road closed sign and ignored all the other signs that suggested that forward progress would be impeded at some point. Instead we enjoyed the feeling of being on a car free road. This must be something like the feeling professional cyclists get all the time whilst racing. It was rather nice not having to worry about cars trying to pass in the most ridiculous of places. Our reverie was brought to a grinding halt by a large man, covered in tattoos and wearing a skull ring on every finger. He was a man with a mission and his mission was not to let anyone pass the hole in the ground. We tried to use the power of persuasion but that was a lost cause. He had orders and a complete lack of compassion. We turned around and headed down, there was another way to get us back on route but that required a bit of climbing

I had been up Montecute Road before but that was on a mountain bike with much lower gearing. It is not a momentously steep hill but it just goes on and on. The others were far better climbers than me and soon they were snaking away into the distance. I knew the road got steeper near the end and that meant I would go slower. I struggled to the turning where the others were waiting vowing to do something about my gearing. The irony of doing this climb was that we now had to lose a lot of the height gained to get back on route. This involved a descent of the aptly named Corkscrew Hill. It was one of those rather scary descents that scares the sensible and that the reckless call fun. I used my breaks a lot.

Now we were at the bottom of the hill we had to gain the height all over again by climbing up gorge road to the reservoir. Yet again the group started to lengthen as those with climbing prowess speeded up and I slogged my way up. I thought that the climbing would be over by the time I reached the reservoir but I was cruelly mistaken. The road just became more undulating. I was able to catch the group on the down hill sections only to be distanced whenever the road went skywards. I started to get the feeling that it was going to be a long day in the saddle.

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Refuelling

The first café stop came as a welcome relief, well it would have done if the café had been open, we had to carry on a little to find a temple of calories and fountain of hydration. Just like the professionals we took care of our needs, unlike the professionals our needs included a bacon and egg roll and about a litre of coke. I was amazed at how much I was drinking. It was a hot day and I’d been dripping with sweat but to go though two bottles and a litre of coke before breakfast was for me, unheard of. At least I felt ready to tackle the next park to of the route.

The route kept its undulating character but now we were in the country and surrounded with fields of ripening corn. It was all very beautiful and for a while took my mind off the many small rises that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I had no idea that long steep hills could be hidden so well in the countryside. We got to the top of one where the views were spectacular, it didn’t even look like a proper hill. It just got steep without appearing to get steep. I don’t like this sort of hill.

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Heading for the hills

We came to a sharp corner, it housed a tree that someone had lived in one hundred years ago. Something like that is always worth stopping for. It also gave me a chance to recover slightly, finish the last of my water and have a stretch. I prayed that the next stop was as close as I though it was. It wasn’t

The next control was in a pub. The first glass of coke didn’t touch the sides. In fact, I’m sure there was some steam rising as I downed the drink. I had some crisps to slow down the flow of the next glassful. Even though I had filled by body with quality nutrition I still felt like I’d gone through the mill. I think it was here that it dawned on me that I was going to have to climb the Corkscrew in the next section. I suddenly felt rather weak.

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We should have stopped here, I needed a cuddle

The way to the bottom of the hill was mainly downwards with a few little lumps. That didn’t make the feeling of trepidation any better. Ive attempted the Corkscrew once before and it didn’t go well. This time I was hungry, dehydrated and tired. There is a whole world of difference between climbing when fresh and climbing with over one hundred and fifty hilly kilometres in my legs. I went as far as I could before grinding to a halt. I stood for a while gave myself a good talking to and them carried on for some meters and stopped again. I repeated this for a while before throwing in the towel and walking, there had been no cars on the road up to this point, now they came streaming passed all of them laughing at my inability to get up a hill. I tried to save face by cycling the last one hundred meters. It didn’t work

I met the others at the top of the climb. The official route took us down the hill to climb up another. There was no way that I was going to climb another hill. If I went down that road I fully intended to freewheel directly to my house and lay in a darkened room for a large number of hours. I didn’t care that it would be the first time I’d ever failed on an Audax. Luckily the others had no intention of descending and knew another route to our final control that involved less climbing.

There was still a lot of climbing and I was slowly coming to a halt on each climb. I lost count of the times I stopped to give myself a very good talking to. I was having a massive sense of humour failure due to the lack of sugar and liquid. This needed to be addressed urgently at the next stop. Two packets of crisps, two large glasses of cola and a packet of nuts later I started to feel a lot more human.

If I was a professional cyclist I would now get onto the team bus, participate in post-race interviews and probably be banned by the commissionaires for taking the wrong route. However, as I’m not I had to make my own way back to the city. It wasn’t far and it was mainly downhill. At last I could free wheel down the twisting road and admire the view over the city.

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Mission accomplished

This was the hardest ride I’d done in a long time and in retrospect I think I enjoyed it. It took a long time and a few bathfulls of water to recover. There is one thing that is certain. I will be glued to the television when the professionals go the same way.

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It took how long?

Lee Valley (3)

I jumped at the opportunity of a club session on the Lee Valley Velodrome, who wouldn’t? The chance to fly round the Olympic track was far too hard to resist. The only track that I’ve ridden on is Herne Hill: a four-hundred-and-fifty-meter outdoor track. Lee Valley is a completely different proposition: a two-hundred-and-fifty-meter indoor wooden track. The straights looked short and the banks looked tall. The whole thing looked very intimidating from the centre of the track but I was itching to get on the bike and have a go

After going through the formalities of finding a pair of shoes and bicycle that fitted me we were all gathered together by the coach for the initial safety talk. We all sat through it waiting to be unleashed on the track. Even during the safety talk there were differences. The main one being that slowing down to a halt should take two laps: one on the blue and another on the inside track.

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My steed for the evening

Finally, we were let loose on the track to warm up. The more experienced started higher up the track but I wasn’t ready for that. I stayed down on the blue line until I felt ready to tackle the banking. Slowly I worked up the lines and slowly my confidence grew. By the end of the warm up I was quite happily going to the top of the banking and swooping down at great speed. This track was so different to Herne Hill and it took a while to get used to.

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The medal winning GB sprint team was ‘ere

After the warm up the coach gathered us together and explained the next exercise. We were to set off in a long line and, at the end of each lap, the one at the front would peel off up the banking and re-join the end of the line. It seemed very easy in theory but in practice it was a lot harder. The main obstacle was a lack of consistency in the speed of the line. After a few laps, it started to become obvious that some wanted to force the pace and some didn’t. Whenever a fast one hit the front the line would stretch out and then on the next lap someone else would slow the pace down. This made life difficult in the line as one lap we were chasing all out and then the next we were trying not peddle into the cyclist in front.

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Mark Cavendish was ‘ere as well

As I came off I mentioned to the coach that I’d only ever been to Herne Hill and how different this was. He was very disparaging about Herne Hill, saying that it was not really a track it was more like a ring road. I didn’t share his opinion but didn’t feel the need to argue.

The next exercise was all about gaining a lap. We all set off in a line and on a signal the rider at the front would drop down to the sprinters line and go hell for leather to gain the back of the line. Again, it sounded easy in theory but was hard work in practice. The inconsistency of the speed of the line struck again. One moment I thought I was gaining and then the line would speed up. The coach had noticed. He wanted a consistent fast pace. He was concerned that if it went too slow someone would fall off the track. It took me ages to gain a lap and then, in what seemed like an instant, I was at the front of the line being instructed to gain another lap. I feel that I earned my mouth full of Haribo and slurp of water at the end of the exercise.

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Chris Froome was ‘ere too

Each exercise got progressively harder but it all remained fun. Slowly the fatigue kicked in and the rests became longer. I took to finishing each exercise early as the volume of track work took its toll. I was quite relieved when the coach announced that the next ten minutes were for warming down. Some took this as meaning rocketing round the track at high speed whilst others took this to dawdle. I took a path between the two extremes.

Eventually it had to happen. All through the session the coach had warned us not to go to slow. Up ahead two cyclists were dawdling round, half way up the track. Suddenly the one at the front lost traction and fell off the track, taking the cyclist behind with him. It looked messy and spectacular at the same time. Both lay on the track for a few minutes before gathering themselves together and being escorted to the centre to fill out forms and be assessed for concussion. At least we all know now that we shouldn’t go too slow.

Lee Valley (1)

So was Danny Mackaskill

Despite being unfit due to weeks of inactivity and eating I thoroughly enjoyed the session. It left me with the feeling that I wanted to do more, much more track work. I made a mental note to deal with this.