Low Carb

… and go faster, so says CyclingNews in this article.

Omelette for breakfast before the club ride this morning then :-) .

Tour of Flanders

Wow.  It’s the Tour of Flanders next week.  How did that come around so soon!?

It should be a great fun ride.  The ride is only 140km or so and has a total climb of about 1,300m.  So modest by sportive standards I think.  But… it’s the cobbles that worry me.

Anyway, here’s a Rapha guide on preparing for the big day.


Drink Caffeine

… and go faster, so says the New York Times in this article.

I need no further encouragement than that!

Leg Shaving

Like all hobbies, there are a couple of things people are likely to say when you tell them you’re into cycling.  When I was into solving the (rubik’s) cube it would be impossible to have a conversation that didn’t contain the words “peeling off the stickers” within 20 seconds.

For cyclists, one of the classics has to be “phnur, phnur, do you shave you legs?”

So why do cyclists shave their legs in the first place?  There are two classic reasons that I believe to be incorrect.

  • Aerodynamic advantage
  • Easier treatment/less complication in the event of an accident

If either of these were true, then cyclists would shave their arms too.  But they don’t.  As far as I’m aware.

I actually think cyclists shave their legs for two reasons

  • It looks better
  • Cyclists shave their legs

Cycling is a very aesthetic sport.  A good cyclist is fit, lean and tanned.  Hairy legs look bad.  Especially if you’re like me and have dark hair.

The second reason sounds tautalogical.  And it is.  Shaving your legs identifies you as a cyclist.  It’s what “real” cyclists do.  To not shave your legs marks you out as an “amateur”; someone that doesn’t take their cycling seriously. You wanna be part of the “serious cyclist gang”, you do the things that serious cyclists do.

So what am I going to do this year?  I think I have reached a level of proficiency and fitness where it wouldn’t be an absurd gesture out of proportion to my ability.  And I want to be in the “proper cyclist gang”.  But am I prepared for the hassle and inconvenience?  The stubble.  The mockery.  I dunno…


Campagnolo? Campag-no-no more like.

When I built my winter bike I had to choose a ‘groupset’; this is cycling code for gears, shifters, brakes and chainset.  Much like the computing world there’s a three-way tussle roughly along the lines of Shimano/PC, Campagnolo/Mac and SRAM/Linux.  To be honest it breaks down a little with the last one there, but otherwise the parallels are amusing and instructive.

Shimano is the most popular choice and is sensible, cost-effective and pragmatic.  Tour de France’s (grammar?) have been won using Shimano gear.   Pros use Shimano gear.  There is clearly nothing wrong with it.  Shimano users mostly, I guess, aren’t excessively passionate about the kit, but rather very happy that it quietly does a great job for them.

Campagnolo is about the “legend”.  It is expensive, is made in Italy and embodies the passion and history of the sport.  Tour de France’s have been won using Campag gear.  Pros use Campag gear.  Again, nothing wrong with it.  Campag users though, tend to believe they have the moral high ground too; a little like Mac fans (though not as bad thank Christ!) there is a sense that they are making an ethically and aesthetically superior choice.  I saw on a forum some cock had a signature “rather walk than use shimano” for  goodness sake.

All of my previous bikes have been equipped with Shimano and I was very happy with it.  Using mostly a combination of the best (Dura Ace) and second best (Ultegra) levels of kit and it has performed well and without issue.

So what do I think about my first foray into Campag equipment?  A couple of points to note however.  First, I have not been using the kit for long.  Second I’m running the 2009 Centaur groupset, which effectively is the third level of equipment, though as expensive as Shimano’s second level, if you see what I mean.  Third, I’m immune to high ground of any variety :-) .


I’ll be frank.  I don’t like the new Ergo levers.  They are a funny looking shape and are not very comfortable.  In fairness they are not the classic Campag shape so this criticism may not extend to their other kit.  Campag ‘got there second’ on the combined brake/gear shifters and it shows.  Shimano have a very neat solution for the gear shifting, Campag have the second choice which is an ugly ‘thumb lever’.  Damn you patents I say.  Whilst on the hoods I find that I have to shift my weight and move my hand to change up a gear which is very irritating.


The brakes are terrific actually.  My ‘summer’ bike has FSA calipers which are comparitively poor.  Maybe this is due to brake blocks, or the braking surface on the wheels.  But probably the Campag brakes are just better.  Though I’ve got some Dura Ace calipers for my summer bike so maybe this view will change.

Front Derailleur

No, no, no.  Terrible.  Apparently a bit of grit got into the shifter.  This caused it to lock up with increasing frequency when I tried to shift until the pressure eventually snapped the bracket, ending a ride.  It’s been back to the shop and is better but has locked up one more time.  My local bike shop (LBS), in this case Geoffrey Butler, have adjusted the mechanism and now every fourth of fifth time I change to the smaller ring the chain ‘locks’ causing me to have to pedal backwards to unlock it then continue on my way.

Rear Derailleur

No, no, no.  Absolutely awful.  My LBS have now had two attempts to get this right.  I prefer to choose when I want to change gear and I do not like the constant surprises that I get.  The problem is exacerbated by the fact that more force makes this ‘auto-shifting’  more likely, which is especially infuriating when I get out of the saddle on a climb.  K-chung followed by “for fuck sake” is now a constant companion on my rides.

In short, this Campag kit has been a disaster really, brakes aside.  Yes, I can give it more time.  Yes, my LBS may be a factor.  Yes, I’m a pragmatist.  But no, I will not again equip my bikes with their gear.

Campag-no.  Shiman-yo.  If you see what I mean.

Invicta Grimpeur ’09

Not the best named event of the year in the my view.  But maybe one of the toughest.  Actually, that’s nonsense – I just say and think that every week!

The ride itself is only 100km (60 miles) but takes in every hill surrounding Sevenoaks – twice.  The ride starts in Otford, does a 50km loop in one direction, back to the start and then repeats – but in the opposite direction.  There is a slightly odd psychology at play I think.  Each year, the directions are swapped in order, and this year was the turn of anti-clockwise first then clockwise.  This is arguably harder, not least as the 30% or so Yorks Hill is the final climb of the day.

We, DaveC, DaveM and AndyC and I, met up at the ludicrously named Green St Green and made good time to the registration hall in Otford.  All signed in, we have a nice cup of coffee and I sneaked in a couple of old-school biscuits – a custard cream and a bourbon – wallup!  The number’s swelled and it was nice to spot a few faces; not least PaulM who is the brilliant organiser of the Marmotte trip.

It was good to relax and build up a bit of anticipation for the ride for a change but it was great to finally set off.  Fortunately I had my excuses in early – with an interval session on Friday night and a reasonable length (120km) solo ride the day before my legs were not as fresh as they could have been.

And do cyclists like an excuse!?  As long as deep down the excuse does not mean that you’re a fundamentally shit cyclist, anything will do.  Tired.  Full of cold.  Bad knees.  Out the previous night.  Etc, etc – on it goes.  It’s a brave and reckless cyclist that turns up for any ride, pronounces that he or she is fully fit, that the training is going well and they’re well rested and expecting to have a great day :-) .

We set off at a reasonable pace, with a nice group of about 10 riders.  We took it reasonably easy for a while then after about 10 minutes opened up the legs a little.  Even without any serious hills to contend with we had a little shake-down and the numbers thinned a little.

Being an Audax ride, we had to deal with/enjoy the process of getting our card stamped at a series of checkpoints.  This has several drawbacks.  The first is that it’s a pain in the arse, fumbling around in pockets with winter gloves on.  Second, the level of competence of the very nice people that generously give their time is mixed.  Third, I managed to lose my keys somehow, doubtless during one of these stops.  And fourth, it allows dropped riders to regroup.  Which is good and bad I guess, but when you’ve busted your balls to build a gap on the road, it’s a shame to see it effortlessly taken back.

Given the hilly nature of the ride, you’d imagine that the descents would be something that I would happily embrace – and sometimes this is the case.  Just as often, however, descents are pretty terrifying – especially at this time of year.  I am particularly fearful of coming off for some reason.  Others seem to be able to race down wet, potholed, greasy road surfaces quite happily at speeds well over 50km (30mph or so).  I’m not quite at the level of being embarassing, but I can’t be far off.

I managed the first few climbs pretty well actually – despite my obviously tired legs from the previous days exertions :-) , though towards the end of the first loop AndyC was starting to put a bit of time into me on the steeper climbs.  Not enough that I’d be dropped, but enough to show a bit of authority (in my weakened state of course!) so I was relieved and knackered by the time we got back to Otford.  All four of us arrived together, with DaveM looking  strong, especially having been temporarily dropped earlier in the ride.

Another quick stamp on the card and a jimmy riddle later we were back on our way.  Straight into a tough climb.  When a climb gets beyond a certain gradient, it’s hard whatever you do.  Whilst the alpine climbs are doubtless difficult (says he with all of his vast experience!) they are rarely that much above 10%.  When climbs are above 15 or 20%, whatever you do, it’s going to be hurting.  In the saddle, out of the saddle, change down, whatever.  When you’re tired and the climb is steep – it just hurts.  Sometimes a lot.

AndyC was once again setting a really good pace and we quite quickly dropped first DaveC then DaveM.  It turned out that DaveC (club legend – I’ll properly introduce the guys in another post) was running a ‘standard’ chainset (which has standard, and big, front rings) so he’s probably now nursing thighs that look as though they belong to Arnold Schwarzenegger!  DaveM caught us again briefly, but then he was to be seen no more – this left just AndyC and I.

There was just one guy left in front of us – who turned out to be a thoroughly decent chap (as most cyclists are I find) when we met up at the end of the ride.  He’d set off a little before us at the changeover, and we caught him pretty quickly.  He was quite a big rider,brilliant/fearless on descents but not so great on the ascents (he’d been racing at Hog Hill the day before ;-) ).

(Image courtesy of Adrian Fitch – the full image can be viewed here)

After the next climb AndyC and I dropped him.  We still had 3 tough climbs left.  Fortunately AndyC started to tire a little – thank god! – and was climbing at a pace that I could just about manage.  We worked well together – of all of the riders in the club, we seem to be the best matched I think and we struggled, moaned, laughed over the next couple of climbs and pushed on a bit on the descents and flats.

The last climb, Yorks Hill, loomed.  Normally I manage a good laugh, literally out loud actually, as the road turns and you think you’re done and you find yourself facing yet more 30% or so climb.  We both managed to climb with me just about in the ascendency, grace completely out of the window, Paul Sherwen would have doubtless said “he’s all over his machine” several times.  But we were done climbing and just had a nice descent and a bit of flat back to base.

I felt pretty strong and was keen to push on.  On a small hill I looked back and saw AndyC and he’d dropped back a little.  I thought with a mile or so to go that it would not be bad form to press this advantage a little so I pushed on.  What I didn’t realise was that he’d been caught at the roundabout.  Therefore my impressive end of ride ‘sprint’ actually represented a small betrayal as I was exploiting his misfortune.  But only a small betrayal :-) .

I finally rolled back to base and got my card stamped for the last time.  I helped myself to a coffee, a ham roll and a cake, which cost a princely sum of 40p!

I think, but I’m not sure, that I was the quickest rider of the day which I was pleased about.  Nothing to get excited about though – this type of ride is not a race for a start.  But it helped ease the pain a little.

AndyC finished a couple of minutes behind me, and DaveC a little further back completing a bit of a miracle ride given his somewhat contrarian choice of gears ;-) .  DaveM was MIA.  Leaving a text, aborting the ride and heading home!

Just a 20 or 30km ride home left.  Horrible strong and slightly scary winds and a little rain greeted me but I made it home in one piece.

I can try and explain how tired I was when I got back.  We have a nested occasional table set – when about to eat my lunch, I racked my brains to try and think what I called the one I normally eat off.  I had to ask Rach in the end.  The answer : table.

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