I get 'cross

My journal of cyclocross
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15 hairpins

Renamed: col de Vicieux

The Col de Joux Plane, famed for being the climb that Lance Armstrong supposedly 'bonked' on during the 2000 Tour de France. It looms behind the ski town of Samoens like a constant shadow, south facing, snow never settles on its green slopes. Linking Samoens with Morzine it is a popular final climb in the Tour. 

You join me at 6km to go, just over half way, I can't be bothered to write down everything that has gone before, I'll save you the ramblings, every slow pedal stroke is etched in my memory but in summary within the first kilometre this monster Tour climb has had me up and out of the saddle riding over a 12% gradient. 

It's the end of May, the baking sun has been reddening my calves for the past thirty minutes. The wooden chalets that line the road provided brief shade but they are gone now, it's just me on Vicious Matt's wheel and a 10% gradient to fight. 
Oh yeh and if you wanted ubiquitous alpine forests, forget it, instead there just endless views of the Valley Vert, 'oh lovely', I hear you say, NO NO, not nice, hot. A stressfully hot south facing slope with no cover.

At 4km in, Initially I tried to strike up a conversation with Matt, having not seen him since the CX season. The grade had flattened to 5%, but it was a trick. Suddenly the road is back to 9% quickly and my sentences became a panting breathless game of yes and no. I gave up we returned to our grind skywards in silence (I never did find out about why he's moving to Hampshire).

So here we are 11% gradient and 6km to go. The rode has swung through 90 degrees and I've waved goodbye to the view. Now my back is to the sun & the elastic has snapped. 
Within a few slow heavy blinks of my eyes Matt was gone, 20 metres ahead, maybe more.
Im on my own, now with crimson calves, sticky sweat soaked eyes, and the sound my deep and rapid breathing. I could feel my pace was beginning to drop. 

2km to go, a leafy bowl is revealed to my left and ahead the road skirts around the rim of the bowl to a restaurant indicating the summit. 
A man passes me, he's wrapped his jacket around his waist and arm warmers around his stem. 
Ahh what any annoying sight, perhaps because I am suffering and this man is on a Boardman twiddling a childish compact gear, completely void of everything that embodies a pro cyclist attempting to flatten a Hors Categorie climb, a disgrace and yet there he goes, the non-cyclist is passing me.

The devil on my shoulder said:
"Are you going to let this geek on a bike beat you, there are a mere 2km left and 250m to ascend, the end is in sight. Don't let this baffoon on a bike get away."

My heart is throbbing in my ears. The cadence is raised. Keep on, now there is a weird burning sensation inside my quads. Matt has come back into view.
1km left, the huts and the restaurant at the summit are almost touching distance, onto Matt's wheel, that guy is still ahead. Keep going, change gear, get faster, the road is now at 8% slightly easier than the previous 30 minute grind. Now Matt is on my wheel, cheering me on as we chase Mr Nodder.
Round the last hairpin and past the sign, we cross the line together but a bike length behind our unstylish rival. Damn.


The trouble with the Joux Plane is there isn't an immediate descent after the summit, you now track around a road passing a murky summit lake, through a bend, the road slopes down but there is more ahead and then suddenly your bashing your chain back into the little ring, before the reward of a descent there is a little matter of a hill to tackle. A really spiteful stingy lump. I wished I'd not sprinted after that man now.

Finally we were onto the descent and now into Morzine we flew. 


My total climb time: 1 hour 4 minutes
Pantani climb time ('97 TdF):  33minutes
Length: 12km
Average 8.5%
Max Grade: 12%
Height: 1691m
Total height gain: 1000m

If you have never tried CX this is the series for you.
Cost is £10 , everyone is welcome. Last year Fruit 4 London gave out free fruit, I got lucky with a couple of really good mangos and high quality peaches.

The Summer Series has a great atmosphere, it is run by volunteers with proceeds of the race going to charity. If the weather plays ball, you won't bee shivering and cold caked in mud on a weekday night but shredding and making dust clouds beneath the setting sun.

The courses are shorter with tricky off camber stuff reduce while the drier surfaces mean that you don't need super technical skills to find grip, perfect beginner territory.

If you've dipped your toe in the mud of CX last year then this series will hone you up for the winter leagues!

July 24th - Bethlem Hospital < My favourite London CX course, (no toilets at venue)
July 31st - Addington Park August < New Venue
7th - Bethlem Hospital August
14th - Herne Hill Velodrome < Toilets, changing area, bike wash and near to Herne Hill Rail Station

U12s - 6pm, £3
Youths - 6.20pm, £3
Seniors - 7pm, £10

Beginner CX Sessions
Cyclo-cross is one of the most novice-friendly disciplines, and the summer series is a great opportunity to race for experienced and brand new riders alike. That said, there's nothing like a couple of coaching sessions to prepare you for racing.

This year the Summer Series is running two training sessions as part of the series:

10th July - Herne Hill Velodrome
17th July - Bethlem Hospital

Keep checking http://www.summerseries.co.uk/ for updates

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch was given to me at Xmas. The jacket explains that a series of mysterious murders have taken place in Crawley & Bromley. A town planner who is looking after the Elephant & Castle estate randomly jumps infront of a tube train & the now deceased architect who designed the estate has had his home/museum burgled but nothing appears to be stolen.
It sounds like an all action story centering on the housing estate in Elephant that in recent years I've been slightly obsessed with. 
In real life The Heygate (to provide the name of the for mentioned estate) is currently being pulled down it's a ugly concrete behemoth, which in some people opinion is has a poor design with too many hidden staircases, lonely walkways & places to hide out of sight.  It drew my attention about 18 months ago because over the last four years Southwark has slowly been emptying the estate & moving residents on through compulsory purchase orders, some residents refused to leave and until October last year (even though Southwark has shut of the heating systems, public walkway lighting). There were 3 residents living in dwellings within one of the 3, 10 storey blocks. I cycled past the estate on a few occasions and it almost looked as though an apocalypse had hit a pocket of SE1. 

So, back to the book... Broken Homes follows a similar storyline about the estate being pulled down but hinting the reasoning is more sinister than purely commercial/regeneration driven by the council. 

All started well but into the 3rd chapter & suddenly the detectives narrating the story start to talk about magic & use Harry Potter style language it soon becomes clear that I'm reading a book with a confusing wizard/witch/elf magical element. It flowed well but the added confusing magical words just killed it. The book (like this blog) was riddled with grammar errors, a few phrases with past tense when present would be better, this let the fast moving story line down.  

The book ended in dramatic fashion & a few loose ends were cleared up but mostly I was left baffled. The guy that threw himself under the tube - why did he do that, what was his overall purpose? Why did the house get burgled? 
I have since realised that the book is part of a series so maybe it'll be answered in the next instalment. 

Lanterne Rouge by Max Leonard. 
Initially I wasn't too concerned about reading another book about cycling, I've had a few recently that were biographies and just weren't that compelling so a book that I thought was about people who come last wasn't that of a draw for me.
But I bumped in Max & he gave me the book & even yielded to my request for him to sign it. Since Max had gone to the trouble of giving me the book I decided I should read it. 

As soon as I started the book I couldn't put it down, told in first person it's a story of Max's discovery of the Lanterne Rouge. He briefly discusses why unlike other sports the last placed person is celebrated, in Formula 1 last place on the grid is generally considered to have a bad car, the last team in a football league is penalised and sent to the league below. 

It is a phenomenon that makes cycling so fascinating and what this book is definitely NOT is a book about losers. 

It's deeply researched and I really enjoyed Max's personal journey as he made his research and delivers some myth busting anecdotes, the story of Philippe Gaumont is particularly interesting (I won't say too much more). 

I've heard/read many stories from Tour de France and after a while they lose their impact and become just stale tales. 
It is a breath of fresh air to read about a different part of the peloton. 
When the Tour rolls through this season I think I'll find myself scrolling to the bottom of the Cycling News results page to see who is occupying the Lanterne Rouge placing. 

I was trying to organise all the receipts and bills I have accumulated. 
Found some Belgium race numbers, Renner pit pass & race parking permit. 

Dear riders

Last night was my return to Crystal Palace racing following a few years away from the scene due to breaking my shoulder and I found myself hanging on for dear life to a group which had been distanced by the lead four riders. Everyone in the group also had team mates in the lead group up the road, so it didn't seem clear to me what our agenda was -be it working to bridge back to the leaders, riding tempo to limit our losses, or you wanted to race for a position

Either way, it seems clear that everyone thought my plan was to sit on and sprint at the end. I can assure you that this wasn't the case and never has been -I simply wanted to get to the end of the race, get value from my race entry and get back into the swing of things. I've won more races at Palace than anywhere else, including the series overall in the past and hopefully anyone who raced with me back in 2010 would attest to my committed and contributing way of racing. Sitting-on really isn't my style, but when we were riding all together, it appeared that there was no cohesion. The rider on the front moved off, but back to 2nd wheel, never quite making it clear if I was to move up. Usually I take this to mean that riders moving from 1st wheel to 2nd wheel and back to 1st again want to control the pace and allow the breakaway to take shape. In my previous experience riders don't normally ride round from 4th wheel up into 1st as it doesn't seem economical.

Last night I could hear riders in our group discussing attacking (me) which put me on the back foot a bit as I was waiting for this to come. Things got a bit heated between us and I'm sorry I was aggressive, I really didn't mean to, I was also right on the limit and just hoping I could keep going when the attacks came.

Like I say, I've been away for some years and perhaps the etiquette has changed, or I simply misread the situation. I can understand your frustration, and perhaps straight after the finish is not always the best time to talk about these things...personally I find I always say the wrong things or come across the wrong way in the heat of the moment, so that's why I'm writing this now. 

If you felt, or feel you don't want to talk to me, I can only apologise for the way things turned out -perhaps road racing just isn't for me anymore.

I genuinely wish you the best of luck with the rest of your season. 
Benjamin also set himself a strict daily routine, which included time for sleeping, meals and working, all set for specific times of the day.

You'll find it in Castleton the town at the base of Winnats Pass.
1.6 miles
Winding and Windy.

The initial section forces one up and out of the saddle faster that you can say eighteen percentage, sugar, I thought this is not a good way to start a climb. You continue to grind away ontop of the pedals through the tree lined road until the foliage subsides and the road momentarily flattens.

I saw my riding companion ahead disappearing round the bend that climbed skyward and assumed that the hairpin would lead to the top. But I was bitterly disappointment.
As I struggled once more out of the saddle the the views of an old mill or refinery and breathtaking peaks were of little inspiration. I was sulking about having to ride out of the saddle once more so early on on this road, pushing and pulling on my bars as if I were punching a pillow like a told of school kid.

The corkscrew bend relented the punishing gradient eased to a more regulated manageable six percentage. I now had my back to the Hope Valley and a hopefully finishing point appeared on the windswept horizon. It looked as though my summit was in touching distance. Alas it was not, as I got closer I saw the summit was a mirage and I had to round another bend and revealing more road.

On and on I climbed at a steady pace ready but my matches has been burnt on the lower slopes and now the half mile crawl against the buffeting wind was excruciating. I caught back to my domestique and heard them speak but my heart was thundering in my ears muffling the conversation. They rode on steady and my cadence dropped, it was like the Froome / Wiggins moment of the 2012 Tour except I was wearing leg warmers and it was spitting with rain.

Finally I got some kind of rhythm as the gradient of the road stayed at an easier 5% and I reached a chalk line that had been added to the road by a previous visitor.
It was a tough fifteen minutes of my life, I never hope to repeat.

Thanks Gem Atkinson - Great Idea of Yours! LOL