Invicta Hilly

Gracie waiting whilst I fill myself with tea

Gracie was being a little petulant today and refused to get out of the car without a struggle. I should have realised that this was a bad sign but as usual I carried on regardless. We had driven here to take part in the Invicta Hilly, the smaller version of the Invicta Grimpeur, The first long ride that Gracie and I did together. The big version consists of two loops, one clockwise and one anti clockwise. The hilly is just one anti clockwise loop. There was a lot of climbing and I remember from last time that it got quite painful by the end. The smaller version was definitely the one for me today.

It all started well, the Hilly participants were waved off at the allotted time and I made my way out the gates near the front of the pack. I was under no illusions that I would be the fastest round. That will never happen with an extra wheel on a hilly route. I was surprised how long it took for the first few to come past. I was well into the first climb before it happened. This made me happy as it suggested that the minimal amount of winter training had paid off.

The first control came at the top of Yorks Hill. I sat there for a while and contemplated the first descent. Descending on a Trike is a stressful experience at the best of times and Yorks Hill is steep and evil. The road surface was rutted and covered in mud. I decided that a screaming plummeting descent was out of the question and went for the timid cautious approach instead. It still wasn’t a pleasant experience. I got to the bottom shaken and stirred but mainly happy to be alive.

I caught up with a group of riders in front and followed them to the foot of the next hill. It turned out that I went to school with one of them. I didn’t recognise him at all but apparently I was still the same, something that I doubt. Catching up and chatting took the sting out of the next hill, we even passed someone who was attempting the ride on a Moulton.

We reached the top of the next descent. This was a lot more benign than the last one. It was on a wide road with a good surface and no bends. This was a good road to drop down with childish glee. I assumed the position and let the plummet commence. Then the wobbles started. Little wobbles at first but rapidly escalating into violet throwing off the Trike type wobbles. The whole of the front of the trike was vibrating wildly. I tried pulling hard on the brakes but that only made the whole thing worse. I started fearing becoming part of the road surface in a sudden and violent way. I brought Gracie back into the fold with a combination of brute force and intermittent braking. I pulled into a layby and cursed loudly. I’d been on the margin between upright and road surface; that is quite frightening.

Climbing the next hill I noticed that the quick release on the front wheel had come loose. I’ve no idea if the wobble had caused it or it had caused the wobble but I was willing to bet that it hadn’t helped the situation. Maybe that was why Gracie was being so petulant this morning. She was obviously offended that I’d not given her the attention she deserved.

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A small cold aquatic playground

Sometime in the late autumn swimming in cold water was very appealing but now whilst standing on the Baltic coast looking at a makeshift outdoor swimming pool in Tallinn it felt very different. The water was about as cold as it could be before being solid. The air temperature was even colder. There was ice on the ground and the odd flurry of snow in the air. The reality was very different to the romantic notion of the autumn.

Cate and I had been cold water swimming throughout the British winter to acclimatise but we’d not really experienced water quite as cold. I’d entered the three freestyle events and the breaststroke whereas Cate had entered the fly, the breaststroke and the 50 free. Neither of us was really too sure what we had let ourselves into. The time had come to find out.

Day One

Day one started with the breaststroke and Cate was first. We arrived a little early and the place seemed deserted. Slowly as the time for the opening ceremony approached people drifted in from all over the place. I was expecting the sort of atmosphere that was present at the last event we were at, but that was not the case. I’m sure that the cold, snow and complete lack of shelter had something to do with that.

We found the British supporters at the side of the pool ready to cheer anyone from the UK. It was made up of all of the British competitors, their friends, lots of big flags and very loud voices. The aim was to make as much noise as possible whenever one of us was swimming. I may be biased but I think we were possibly the best cold water supporters in the world. We cheered Cate to a medal position in the 25 breaststroke.

There was a long gap to my attempt at the same distance. The snow had turned to rain and the rain had got into my down jacket to make it a cooling jacket rather than a warming one. The cold was getting to me and I’d yet to enter the water. I was shivering before I got changed; this was not a good state of affairs. Stripping down in a cold tent didn’t help the situation. I stood nervous and shivering by the tent entrance waiting for my heat to be called.

I stood at the poolside waiting to go. I was announced to the crowd and a big cheer. I was too cold to appreciate it. The announcer then instructed us in a thick East European accent to “Remove your clothes”. The cold air hit my skin. What the hell was I doing here, standing almost naked on the Baltic coast in the winter? I was not confident. My breaststroke is appalling. I’ve never been taught to do it properly, I just guessed, I don’t even practice my appalling technique. The announcer then told us to “Enter the water”. This was the moment of truth. I went down the ladder and felt the water. It grabbed at my very core and sent piercing shards of ice into my very soul. “Set!”, “Swim!”; I started across the pool with the icy water clawing at my skin, for the first two strokes I thrashed with my legs. It was not breaststroke. I calmed down a little and the legs came into the fold. My entire focus became getting to the other end and out of this frozen hell. I was last, I didn’t care, I’d completed the length and that was all I had to do. I hauled my cold body out of the water and into the icy wind. That’s when the cold hit.

I sat in a tub of tepid water hoping it would help but I just got colder. I shivered my way to the changing tent and decided that I would not be swimming the next event. It was the one I’d come to do but I didn’t care. I was not in the right frame of mind and body.

I got back to the hotel and after a few hours’ sleep I felt a lot better. Lack of sleep and cold are a deadly combination that lead to almost instant exhaustion. I can cope with one or the other but definitely not both.

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Day Two

I felt much more positive after a good night’s sleep in a warm room. I’d heard tales of yesterday’s two hundred meters freestyle and knew that I’d made the right decision not to take part. It sounded brutal. It was run in the dark and the water temperature had dipped lower.

Cate opened the account with an impressive swim to a medal position in the ice fly. The supporters club was on top form and cheered all the British girls to the end. I didn’t see the lads as I needed to get prepared for the 100 meter freestyle. I felt warm, I’m sure that the changing tent was warmer too. I got changed and then covered myself in a pair of fleece leggings, a robe and my down jacket. I felt the warmth of the clothes against my skin. This was so much better than yesterday. This time I felt ready. I knew what the water would be like, I knew how the marshaling worked, and I wasn’t cold. I was in a good place.

I have never received a cheer from the crowd before, let alone a cheer from wildly enthusiastic flag waving crowd that was standing on pool side. It made my heart fly. For the second time this weekend I was forcibly instructed to “Take off your clothes” and then “Enter the water”. This time the water was cold but not hostile; this was somewhere I’d been before. It didn’t hold any mystery.

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Cate and her WIN face

The first length was fast, the second was a little wobbly. The water was murky and there was no black line to follow. I was very aware of the lane ropes getting far too close. I nearly swam into the pool wall on the third length. The cold was starting to take its toll. The energy was being sucked from my limbs. I had a sneaky look round at the end of the third. I was definitely taking part rather than competing. The water turned to treacle on the fourth length, the energy seemed to drain from my limbs and the end of the pool seemed further away than ever. Eventually I reached the other side. I glanced up at the results to see that I’d swum a personal best. That made me happy.

I stayed in the hot tub for a long time. It was warmer today and I was expecting the after drop. Then I made my way to the sauna. The heat in there was so welcome. I sat there and breathed in the hot damp air, this was so much better. I was being warmed from the inside and the outside. It didn’t take long for normality to return.

I was there on poolside to cheer Cate to her third medal before heading off to get changed for the 50 free. This one held no mystery. I knew the ropes, I’d swum twice the distance, and I knew how to keep warm. This one was for the fun. I’d selected my brightest trunks for this race, it seemed only fair. I lapped up the whooping of the crowd. I felt it was a fast race and looking up I saw that yet again I’d scored a personal best. I beamed all the way to the hot tub and sauna.

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Gracie, waiting outside whilst I filled myself with tea and biscuits

I’ve done this ride many times and it is always cold. Today was no different. The weather forecast wasn’t too promising either, with the prospect of snow later. I used my usual rule of if it’s not raining when I start I’ll do the ride. I’d chosen to do the ride on Gracie the Trike for a number of reasons, chief amoungst them being stability and the ability to carry a lot of spare clothing. I felt that I may be in need of extra layers as the day wore on.

The start was the usual mix of familiar faces, cups of tea and catching up with the news in the small world of Audax. I met mark in the HQ and as is usual we started the ride together. Again we were the epitome of Audax cyclists: one of us on a fixed with mud guards and panniers and the other on a tricycle, chatting our way round a ride and putting the world to rights.

At various points on the first leg we tangled with a sportive that was also running on our lanes. Sometimes they were cycling with us and sometimes they were on the other side of the road. Gracie managed to raise a smile from a lot of them. On one corner curiosity got the better of me an d I asked one of the riders which sportive and what route they were doing. After a little chat we felt that we had sold the benefits of Audax (mainly more cake) over Sportives with the cyclist promising to look us up on the web.

On another corner I overtook three sportive riders, they seemed to think that having an extra wheel was in some way cheating. They were very vocal about that. I almost offered them a turn on Gracie to show them that a Trike is in no way cheating. I didn’t because I think that Gracie should be paid more respect than that. She is, after all, an old lady who is still keeping up and in some cases passing the youngsters.

The original route took us up a steep hill to a control but the organisers had decided that the road was too dangerous for us to pass. They regaled us with tales of snow and slush and slippery conditions. I wasn’t too sad that I didn’t have to struggle up the hill for a tepid cup of tea and then follow it with a hair raising descent. I quite enjoyed my hot tea and cake instead.

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Mark, at the first control using Gracie as a bike stand

Mark and I set off on the next section as the snow started to fall. It was very light snow that didn’t settle. At least it wasn’t rain. Rain would have made the ride miserable. The sprinkling of snow was little enough to be distracting but not annoying. The route passed along the piece of road that persuaded me that Audax was a good thing to do. It is a lovely narrow lane through trees and past a pond. Even now in the depth of winter it had a certain charm. I may have been viewing it through rose tinted spectacles though.

There seemed to be more slight ups than downs on this part of the route. I’m a lot slower going up than Mark. I can usually catch up on the downs, providing there are sufficient downs. There weren’t. Mark slowly pulled ahead until he disappeared into the distance. It became clear that I’d be finishing the ride alone.

I learnt at the last control that I wasn’t the last on the road. This raised my mood a little as I felt at times that the entire field had passed me. I was now back on familiar roads, I knew all the lumps and bumps and had mental markers all the way home. I was able to retreat into my little world and try to ignore my legs complaining about being used so much. I was so deep into my world that I almost jumped off the Trike when someone passed me with a jaunty “well done!”

Eventually I pulled into the HQ ready for my bowl of hot soup, a bread roll and almost unlimited cake. The feelings of gloom at my fitness faded fast with each mouthful of cake. I felt I’d done quite well for my first ride out of the year on Gracie.

 

A Bike is Born

Posted: February 15, 2017 in Cycling
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I built a bike frame this weekend, I build it using bamboo and hemp with some epoxy resin and a few metal bits. Here are a few pictures of the stages of construction

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It all started with a jig that holds the metal head tube and the bottom bracket

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We then selected just the right bits of bamboo

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Measured them up against the jig to ensure they were just right. I’d selected a few spares as well, just in case I was visited by the catastrophe fairy

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Then the bamboo had to be cut to fit round the metal bits using a viscous cutting tool and an angle measuring thing (it has a name, I don’t know it)

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The masking tape was there to keep splinters to a minimum, splinters are painful.

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The hole is then cut at the correct angle to fit the tube. This is repeated for all the tubes…

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They can then be put into place on the jig to for the first triangle. A blob of epoxy holds the tubs in place but the tape holds them in place until the epoxy is dry. The cup of tea in the corner is a vital lubricant for the novice bike builder.

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The dropouts are then fixed into position on the jig…

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and slots cut into the chain stays and seat stays so that they fit into the dropouts.

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The chain stays are then fitted into place and fixed using epoxy

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As are the seat stays.

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It now looks like a frame but it doesn’t look like it will stay together in a strong wind.

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The frame is held together with hemp strips that are soaked in epoxy resin and then wrapped around the tubes

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Like this.

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Once the joint is formed it is wrapped in electrical tape whilst the epoxy sets

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Initially the epoxy gets warm as the reaction hardens it, then it cools. Once it is cool the electrical tape can be removed

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And there we have it, one bike frame born from a pile of bamboo, some hemp and a few metal bits. It needs to be finished and lacquered to become a proper frame and then equipped to become a real bike but that will have to wait a while.

This was all done on a weekend course with the Bamboo Bicycle Club

 

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Two years ago I competed in the UK cold water championships; I entered every category I could with the reasoning that I would probably never do it again. That’s why, two years later I was back at the next running of the event. This time I’d persuaded a few others to join me the water was colder but it was just as much fun.

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My first event was the ninety meter freestyle. It doesn’t sound far but when the water is 1.5 degrees it makes it a long way. I was marshaled through the familiar stations around the pool before arriving at the pool side. There was a woman with a camera standing next to my lane. She asked me to give a reaction as I entered the water; I told her that that would not be a problem. Then she asked me not to swear. That, I said may be a problem.

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Normally I take a long time to get into cold water. I don’t find the whole process of getting wet that pleasurable. But this was a race and there was no time for the niceties. It was straight into the water or nothing. The cold hit me like an ice cube tied to an express train. The lady with the camera got her reaction. I started to doubt my ability to do this event. Then I had to duck under the water, more cold water pain, before the very quick countdown. The first width flashed by. I was in an end lane and could see everyone to my right. I appeared to be about level with everyone else. I turned and headed back across the pool. I may have even convinced myself that I was warming up. The water turned to cold slow flowing treacle on the third length. I just couldn’t keep up the speed. The cold clawed at every limb and held me in the water. I saw a few people streak ahead but my only concern was to finish. I wanted to be out of the icy hell and into some warmth.

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The next event was the thirty meter freestyle. After the ninety meter this was small beer. I had no doubts about completing this but I now knew exactly how cold the water was. The thought of entering it again was not that appealing. I felt smug that I had remembered to pack many pairs of swimming trunks. Slipping on cold and wet swimwear would not have enhanced the experience. The race was over in a flash, thirty meters is not a long way and there was a reward of hot Ribena and a dip in a hot tub at the end.

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The fun part of the event is the head up breast stroke. Some people take it seriously and race whilst others wear hats. My breaststroke is appalling so I chose to wear a hat. I should have spent some time decorating it but although I had the inclination I didn’t have the time. I left my battered old summer hat as is and swum wearing it. I came last but felt good for entering into the spirit of the event. I stayed a lot longer in the hot tub this time, the cold was starting to accumulate and no end of warm clothes was going to take the chill away

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There was a big gap between the individual events and the relays so I took advantage of the array of food stalls and stuffed my face with a pulled pork sandwich. It was a delight to stuff it down my throat. I followed it with a marvelous cup of hot chocolate that warmed some of the less accessible cold bits. We had decided on a relay team uniform, garish scale patterned tights, selected for there hideousness. I slipped into the changing rooms to put them on and then quickly covered them with jeans. These were not an item of clothing to be proud of.

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Our race was called and the four of us headed for the changing rooms, we all had the tights on under our clothes. I’d like to think that we emerged from the changing rooms at the same time to a chorus of whistles and cheers. The reality was a little more muted. We took our places on opposite sides of the pool. I went first and, in my mind, powered across the pool, Tom was next, this was his first experience of water this cold. Tim was next; he wore the hideous unicorn head we had bought to go with the outfit. This had the disadvantage of flopping over his eyes. He to a very unsteady line across the pool bumping on and off the lane ropes. Cate brought the hideous head back across the pool in a similar style. We all felt that we had swum the relay in the style that it should be done. We spent a long time in the sauna.

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Getting changed I discovered I’d lost my underpants. I had to suffer the annoyance of unshielded jeans on the walk to the station. It was somewhat uncomfortable. It wasn’t until I put my hand in my coat pocket that I remembered putting them there when I changed into the tights. The equilibrium returned to my life.

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This was the first time in nearly fifty years that there had been swimming in the Port River. At some point in the sixties swimming had been banned because of the pollution, since then the port has fallen into decline but as a consequence the water has become cleaner. As part of the redevelopment of the area recreation has been emphasised and North Haven Surf Club had taken up the challenge.

We arrived early as everything was being set up and were the first to register. We had a wander around the impressive array of stalls in the start area and wearily watched the approaching dark clouds. Half an hour before the start the rain came down dampening the parched ground. The rain finished as quickly as it started and in time for the race briefing.

Soon after we were all gingerly stepping into the water ready for the start. The water wasn’t cold but it definitely wasn’t warm. I was so wrong slightly at the start but that went as soon as the hooter went to start us all off.

The first part of the course was across to the opposite shore. Bearing in mind that the previous day I’d flown half way round the world and I’d only had six hours of sleep I was amazed that I was keeping up with everyone around me. There was no doubt in my mind that this was a swim and not a race.

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We turned at the buoy and headed up the Port Adelaide river. It was heavy going. Either the current or the tide or both were against us. However, my thoughts were more occupied with the wall to wall jellyfish that I was swimming through. The water was thick with these translucent slimy blobs. At times, I felt that I could probably get up and walk on them. Everyone and again the water would be clear of them but they would inevitably reappear.

It seemed to take ages to get to the next buoy. I had hoped that this was the turning point but when I got there I realised that the route went under the Birkenhead Bridge. The water under there tasted of diesel fumes and was distinctly unpleasant but at least the next buoy was in sight.

At the buoy the route crossed to the opposite bank and headed back down stream. The swimming got distinctly easier but I was definitely going slower. I could see lots to people in front but whenever I took a sneaky glance behind there was no one. This didn’t surprise me. I passed under the bridge once more only this time I tried to hold my breath to avoid the fumes.

I’m not good at swimming in a straight line at the beat of times but my route to the last buoy was distinctly wobbly. For most of the way I was shadowed by one of the water cover people on a paddle board. This convinced me that I was at the back of the swim and inspired me to swim even more slowly. I was quite surprised when someone passed me as I rounded the last buoy.

After the swim, we feasted on pork sandwiches and nearly hot tea and reflected on being the first people in a very long time to swim in the Port River.

 

Living the dream at Herne Hill

Posted: December 1, 2016 in Cycling

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A long time ago I went to the Good Friday meet at Herne Hill Velodrome and watched people cycle very fast around in circles. It was a fantastic day out, I came away wanting to give track cycling a go. It’s taken a long time to fulfill that dream but at last I’ve done it.  I joined up with a group of local cyclists for a coached track session.

The Velodrome was almost how I remembered it, a massive asphalt oval with banked edges sitting in the middle of a field. Last time I was here there had been crowds of people and the smell of hotdogs and cooked onions drifting over. This time, on a cold and grey November day it was almost empty. The building works for the new stand made the place look messy and untidy. It was still the stuff of dreams and I still couldn’t believe I was about to fulfill a dream that I’d had for over 10 years.

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Banking and lines

We started the session by a long line and following each other round the track. We did and exercise were we rode progressively higher on the track. We started on the white line, moved up to the red line, then the blue and finally close to the top of the track. This was the first time I’d been on the banking and I was a little nervous about how it would work. I needn’t have worried, it was easy. I just followed the bike in front and climbed up. It took a while to get used to the slight acceleration coming off the banking but it didn’t take long before I felt comfortable with the whole thing.

The next exercise was all about riding in pairs. The coach instructed us to ride at a conversational pace above the blue line with the front two peeling off at the end of the lap and joining the back of the back. He carful explained that the bottom rider need to push to the banking and clear the bunch so that he didn’t cause a calamity and bring everybody tumbling to the bottom of the track. It was a lot easier done than said. We ambled round at a gentle pace chatting as we went. I was a fair few riders back of I could watch what was happening. It was all  quite straight forward. The top man drifted to the top of the track and the bottom man accelerated to the top. Then the rest of the bunch came through. What I found interesting was the changes in pace as various people it the front. I was also starting to discover that my bike was under geared for track riding. My legs were going round much faster than everyone else’s.

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Hospitality

After a little bit of recovery we worked on changes, the coach carefully explained how the track could be used to slow down and speed up whilst keeping the peddling rate constant. It was one of those things that was obvious once it has been explained.  Soon we were off again in a long line, with the front man peeling off every half lap. My turn came quickly. I could see the line, all I had to do was carry on in a straight line whilst the pack behind me went round underneath me. As the tails came round I came off the banking and joined the tail. I felt like a proper track cyclist.

The coach had yet another game up his sleeve. This time we rode at conversation pace in pairs about the blue line. When he blew his whistle the front four dropped down to the white line and powered round to join the back of the back, changing positions every half lap. It was on this exercise that I realised my bike was severely under geared. I just couldn’t hold the back wheel and had to drop off the back of my group of four. Despite this I was still enjoying myself.

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The last lap bell – a wonderful sound

After a short brake we moved onto a little bit of friendly competition. We started with a team pursuit. I started well, I held the wheel of the bit in front for almost a lap. After that I started to lose contact and had to give up. The rest of the team went on to win the heat. We then went straight onto the next pursuit. This time I was the lead out, this was the only time my under gearing gave me an advantage. I was able to accelerate much faster than anyone else, they just had to hang on to my wheel until I got to the other side of the track and peeled off. I almost managed to get back on, almost.

The session ended with an Australian pursuit, this was new to me. We were set off at equal intervals and the aim was to pass the person in front whilst not being caught by the person behind. I was the very last in the line, I thought that this would be a good position until I saw how far the front of the line was round the track when I set off.  I used my acceleration advantage to pick off about three people by the end of the first lap but by then my legs were spinning at top speed, I couldn’t go any faster whilst those in front with the proper gearing could. I was picked off on the second lap.

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I had a wonderful time at Herne Hill, in my mind I was one of those starts of cycling that I’d seen over 10 years ago swooping round the track. I left with a desire to do more and to get another bike.