Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Book Review

Well I have been off now for four weeks with the knee.  This has given me ample time to catch up on some reading.  There were a few books I wanted to tackle around cycling and there are still many more I wish to read also.  I think it’s both important and nice to learn about the history of a sport so that it is easier to fully understand the rich history, which cycling is famed for.  I do however feel like I am writing a school book report so bare with my hotpotch style!

The four books I read are.  Tyler Hamilton:  The Secret Race,  Brad Wiggins: My Time, David Millar: Racing Through the Dark and Merckx Half Man Half Bike by William Fotheringham.

Tyler Hamilton:  The Secret Race

I was interested to take a look at this book for a number of reasons.  The first and most obvious one is that I have held Lance Armstrong up as a hero for most of my life due to his battling with cancer and his exploits in the Tour De France.  Hamilton interested me as he was a long standing team mate of Armstrongs and also rode when I first became interested in cycling when I was a teenager.  The book is well written and is a very smooth read by that I mean it is easy to get lost in it and like myself find that I had ran out of pages without really putting much effort in to reading it.  It is not a bitter book and in my opinion holds a very introspective narrative.  The interesting parts for me where the chapters focusing on Armstrong his character and the doping.  Being a naïve kind of guy I hadn’t really thought about Armstrong being a strong personality nore had I read anything of the kind.  This book really opened my eyes to Armstrongs character and left me researching other stories online about it as I wanted to verify the claims made by Hamilton.  Unfortunately what he says seems to be true.  The other aspects of the book that obviously interested me where the descriptions of various races and Hamiltons fight to not just be an average rider but a great rider.  This then developed into the story of how he was enticed into the world of doping and is very similar I think to that of David Millar (more later).  Overall I would say if you like cycling or have an interest in Armstrong then you will really enjoy this book.

Bradley Wiggins:  My Time

I sit here in 2012 knowing that I have witnessed an amazing sporting achievement back in July.  Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour De France.  This has propelled him into being one of the most famous sportsmen of a generation and catapulted him into the public eye.  This was then backed up by his Olympic time trial gold medal at the London Olympics.  A good time for a book then!  I had read excerpts of the book in The Times and already having had my interest peeked I ordered the book.  With excitement I lapped up the pages and thoroughly enjoyed the read.  Again another book that flew by without thought of leaving it to sit on the bedside cabinet for a while.  The book interested me as there where some snippets of data, which Wiggins gave about his rides in the Tour and in other races.  Mainly about wattage but also about VAM.  Being a bit of a geek I liked this as I am interested in this side of the sport.  The narrative itself was very good it felt intimate and heartfelt and really gave a good view of how Mr Wiggins felt over the course of the last 12 months particularly.  It would have been nice to have a little more on his early career but understandably the book is aimed at 2012 mostly.  In summary again a very easy read and a good buy for someone who is interested in cycling or sports people in general.

David Millar:  Racing Through the Dark

I have been interested in cycling for a long time but the last two and a half years have got involved with riding a bike and also being more interested in the various other raced then the Tour De France.  I had seen David Millar pop up in some of the races and on various bits of media coverage advocating clean drug free cycling.  The main article which drew me to Millar was one pre-Olympics whereby a ruling was overturned regarding convicted drug cheats competing for GB.  Millar fell in to this category.  I decided to get hold of a copy of his book and give it a read.  The book itself is told from Millar’s perspective from his childhood and encompasses his life to date.  This is something I enjoyed as it gives a fuller picture of the guy.  It is a fascinating read and draws you into not wanting to put it down.  In a similar way to Tyler Hamilton it shows how Millar fell into taking the drugs, although not in such a comprehensive way as Hamilton more of a dabble.  Millar goes deep into his feelings on taking the drugs and the effects that the life had on him.  A very interesting read and again more cycling stories regarding the racing so another winner for me.

Merckx Half Man Half Bike by William Fotheringham

This book is not written by Merckx himself but is very well written none the less.  I enjoyed this book the best out of the four.  I had not really focused much attention on the great historical figures of cycling more of a modern day student of cycling.  This book however is incredible and riveting.  It is a full biography of Merckx from his childhood all the way through to his retirement from cycling.  It tells the legendary tales of Merckx riding the Grand Tours and also smaller races in Belgium to earn a living.  What Fotheringham has done particularly well is pull a number of sources together.  There is opinion from family, friends, team mates and arch rivals inter woven into the narrative, which make for a compelling read.  The race exploits of his most famous stage and classic victories are here and described expertly.  In summary if you where to buy one book from the four it would have to be this one.  An absolutely barn storming read!

Thanks for putting up with the ranting of a cycling fanatic!

Monday, 12 November 2012

New Direction

It has taken me a while and a lot of thinking to decide where I want to go next and what I want to achieve.  One of the aims is still the same and that is to shift this remaining weight but after a fair period of stagnation I have decided to enlist the help of a coaching team.  I went to David and Stuart Percival at Mercury Performance Coaching a few weeks ago for an initial assessment and to start to look at where I will be heading this next twelve months.  After a battery of tests including a VO2 Max test on the bike the guys took the results away.  They have analysed the results and come back with a fully holistic training programme ranging from the cycling to the nutrition.  It is something that they will support me on fully sending daily workouts for the commute to work and some indoor sessions involving the Wattbikes.  They have also sent me some gym workouts and flexibility programmes.  Alongside this will run a nutrition programme.  They have worked out how many calories I need to sustain living and how many I will use over the course of an ‘average’ day.  Targets have been set and so have food groups.  I guess a diet.  Most of you will know food is my arch nemesis in that I love to eat and eat lots.  Having kept food diaries for a few weeks for the guys to look at it it was obvious even to me that what I was eating was a load of rubbish in terms of sustaining weight loss and getting the correct amount of all sorts of vitamins and minerals.  I am now in the process of looking at the diet and making some wide ranging changes.  I am sure that I will be able to keep to it but I guess there will be the odd slip knowing me.

This has all been going well I had managed to get a week of following the cycle sessions correctly for the most part and have been making subtle changes to my diet.  Then disaster last Friday.  Whilst commuting to work a car pulled up alongside me after some lights and made a left turn no indication.  This resulted in me ending up hitting the side of the car at around 20mph and ending up sprawled down the side road bike still attached.  The car stopped up the road and I got up to go and get the drivers details as the bike, my clothes and I had sustained some damage.  The car then drove off.  I was gobsmacked.  Fortunately a few bystanders had got her licence plate and car type as I was in a bit of shock.  I thought that I had definitely broken my arm and had pain in my knee along with road rash.  Mr James Jackson came to pick me up (hero) and took me home.  After about 30minutes of being at home the adrenaline and shock wore off and I was in a lot of pain.  Five and a half hours later in A&E I was to find out that my arm wasn’t broken just cut up and badly bruised.  The main concern was the knee which I had to return on Tuesday for another X-Ray due to the swelling.  Not broken but still needing crutches and painkillers as I could hardly walk I left and have been camped on the sofa ever since.  The Police came around and are looking into the ‘Failure to Stop’ which is an arrestable offence.  I am still waiting to see what happens with this.  In the midst of all this Bradley Wiggins and Shane Sutton (Head Coach at BC) get knocked off also by vehicles.  I am active on Twitter and soon there was a raging debate about whether or not cyclists should be on roads and about the infrastructure of the countries cycle paths etc.  There was also a lot of vitriol being spouted by people both drivers and cyclists.  Some of the comments where quite disturbing from people one saying something along the lines of lets have a day where we accidentally knock cyclists of their bikes.  Gobsmacking.  I have started following @cyclehatred who retweets driver’s views/opinions.  I may have to unfollow them soon as some of the things I am seeing are making me very angry and are astonishing.  Mutual respect is needed as an effort on both parts to obey the rules of the road and try to be a bit more observant of each other.  

Ned Flanders: “You were bicycling two abreast?”
Homer Simpson: “I wish. We were bicycling to a lake.”
-- The Simpsons, ‘Dangerous Curves’ (Episode 2005)

Friday, 24 August 2012

Lance Armstrong

Hey all.  A bit off topic to the usual blurb but I wanted to air my viewpoint on the Armstrong vs USADA topic.

I have only really participated in cycling for a couple of years but have always watched the Tour De France as I love sport.  The more I have being involved in cycling the deeper I have looked into the history of the sport and come to learn about the individuals who race in the sport.  There are a couple of stand out individuals to me and one of these is Lance Armstrong.  I have the fortune of remembering Armstrong’s famous battles with Ullrich in the Tour De France and remember being excited by the mountain attacks and ‘the look’.  A feeling that has been recently being reignited by Contadors attacks in the Vuelta d Espagna.  I have read Armstrong’s books on his fight with cancer, his tour victories and life in general.  I still follow his progress post-retirement from professional cycling during his Ironman career and his work through Livestrong.

I am writing this on the day that Armstrong has come out and said he will not be fighting the USADA investigation into his alleged drug taking.  You can find an article here   This is not on the grounds that he is guilty but on the grounds that he feels that USADA doesn’t have jurisdiction over his case and that the UCI does.  This means that a lot of people have come out and said he is obviously guilty.  Recently I have been probably 70/30 in favour of feeling he is guilty but I keep having swings from one side to the other.  I have a lot of thoughts and questions, which I would like to be answered but I am not sure if they ever will be.

My first point is that Armstrong post cycling has continued to be engaged in top level sport through his participation in triathlons and ironmen.  His performance has been at a constantly excellent level which indicates to me that either he is still doping, which is unlikely or that he has always been an exceptional athlete.  My second point is that if we look to his build before his brush with cancer you can see it was totally different to his post cancer build.  Armstrong even says that the cancer treatment meant he could reconstruct his body to be a better all round cyclist.  Call me naïve but being from a Sports Science background I can understand this and so will most cyclists be able to.  Climbing a hill is mostly about body composition and engine then anything else.  Also the way that Armstrong’s teams rode was similar to the way Sky’s team ride all out for GC at a pace that other teams cannot live with to deliver their man to the best possible position.

If we assume that Armstrong is guilty does that not mean that pre 2005 most cyclists where doping?  I say this as Armstrong never failed a drug test so this implies a cover up by whomever his team, the UCI, who knows or that Armstrong was clean and won his titles legitimately.  The repercussions for the first implication don’t bare thinking about.  I would have to say that anyone who won a Grand Tour pre 2005 must have doping and therefore the heritage of cycling is blatantly flawed.  There must have been exceptions to this rule as I refuse to believe that everyone doped but that’s what they must have been exceptions rather then the rule.  This means up until a few years ago cycling was a sport dominated by dopers.  Not a great history to have.

Saying this I firmly believe that cycling nowadays is mostly clean.  There are still people being caught for indiscretions but most cyclists must know that they cannot dope and get away with it.  If you look at the amount of scientific knowledge and hard training teams are putting in then the level of performance is going to be very high like other elite sports.

My final musing is that whatever the outcome of this ongoing battle Armstrong’s work with Livestrong to help families coping with cancer and the research element of the foundation cannot be touched and that Armstrong must be commended for his efforts whatever with regards to this aspect of his life.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Manchester to Hull

Having had a bit of a Summer break from the blog and a bit of a think about a change in the prolificacy with which I churn out material I have decided to go away from writing each and every Sunday regardless of what I have done and focus more on particular events or overviews of training segments I have been doing.  The weightloss is still going well and I anticipate that it will only be another three to four months to get to where I am going.  My goals are starting to change slightly in that I want to have a go at road racing next year and also some track crits.  This winter will be key to those aspirations and I will be changing the training to develop into a faster, fitter cyclist.

This Sunday past, however, saw another adventure on the bike.  I decided at the latter end of 2011 that I wanted to tick some trip boxes so to speak.  On the list was cycling from Manchester over to Hull.  You may ask why, I am originally from Hull and still have family over there and also there is the ‘fun’ element of the ride.  I had been glued to my weather app on the phone during the week hoping that the weather would be ok to do the trip and I reckoned the 100 miles or so would take me 7 -8 hours.  As it turns out the weather was exceptional and really added to what was going to turn out to be a really enjoyable ride.  I was up early for a 07:00 start and after some porridge and a pint of water I made my last checks to the bike and kitted up.  I had been researching the route for a few weeks and had a list of the roads I was going to use on my iPhone.  In conjunction to the maps on there the list would prove invaluable.  I headed out of Manchester on the Oldham Road and as it was a Sunday it was blissfully quiet and allowed me to tick along at a reasonable pace.  As I was unfamiliar with the way over the moors I was checking the maps app regularly.  I did manage however to get lost twice but rectified the navigational issues and carried on.  As I headed towards Uppermill there where some sharp climbs and some nice decents.  The local council had decided to close one of the roads over night so I had to detour round that up a particularly sharp climb.  Many of you will know I am not a great climber but my spirits where high and I was enjoying the peaks and troughs.  Another wrong turn saw me end up going down a really nice decent into Uppermill only to have to turn round and climb back up it to take the turn off.  Still I had a chuckle to myself and got on with it.  I turned onto Holmfirth Road which would take me over the moors and back into Gods own country Yorkshire.  Little did I realise that there would be a bit of a monster climb up to the top.  The climb itself was 1200 feet and took me nearly 25 minutes to do.  It just seemed to keep going and going.  There where two false peaks to.  Half way up the climb I heard a hissing noise from the front tyre and I had my first flint puncture.  I pulled over and changed the inner tube in rapid time for me of 15 minutes then carried on up the climb.  It was hard.  I was averaging about 7 mph and my heart rate was 170 – 178bpm all the way up.  Saying that I really enjoyed it and had a great sense of achievement at the top.  It is probably the biggest climb I have ever done. 

As I went over the top a fellow cyclist going the other way shouted “I bet you didn’t break any land speed records” I just thought you are most definitely right sir but I am at the top!  The decent into Holmsfirth was unbelievable it went on for four miles with a top speed of nearly 50mph.  I was holding back a little as I was unsure of the twists and turns but it went on for ever and was a highlight of the trip.  After reaching Holmsfirth I took a small wrong turn and headed to Barnsley.  This section was lovely country roads in nice weather and hardly any wind.  It was also nice to see a kids road cycling club out with their adult chaperones.  They must have been between 8 and 12 years old and I was very encouraged by their enthusiasm.  I cycled with them for a bit then pushed on through Barnsley up towards Pontefract.  As I headed up the country roads I could hear a distant roar of engines.  A few minutes later and I was overtaken by around thirty cars heading to a car rally up the road.  The noise was deafening and the fumes these old machines where kicking out where choking.  I headed on to a section of dual carriageway next and this gave me chance to think and to enjoy the weather.  After reaching Pontefract I stopped bought a sandwich and had fifteen minutes making a couple of calls and texts before setting off again.  The roads rolled a bit but nothing like Ireland so I was steady and happy heading towards Knottingly then onwards through to Selby.  In Selby again the council had decided to close the road I wanted to use so after a few wrong turns and curses then made my way up the A19 towards the road I needed to head to Market Weighton.  At this point I roughly knew where I was and set off down the A163 with some gusto and a feeling of home legs.  Little did I realise that the A163 was one of the longest roads ever… whether it was a mental feeling or an actual physical feature it felt like I was cycling along there for hours.  I reached Holme on Spalding Moor and stopped for an icecream and some water refills.  By now it was midday and the temperature was rising.  I had averaged around 20mps from Selby and felt good but I was hot and the suncream I had put on was having little effect.  I pushed on and reached Market Weighton which was essentially 7 miles to go.  I felt strong and went around Market Weighton and up on to the South Cave road.  That is when the wind picked up.  From nowhere the head wind became exceptionally strong.  I was struggling to maintain 11mph into it and the sun was still beating down.  After a last big push I decended into Brough and Lindsey’s house where there was a welcome bottle of water and some icepops!!

Ride stats

Distance:                     103.48 miles
Moving Time:              6hours 25minutes
Avg Speed:                 16.1mph
Top Speed:                  46.8mph
Elevation Gain:           5072 feet
Calories burned:          5007

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Ireland Days 7 and 8

Day 7 – Derry to Carrickmacross

Up early again for breakfast but today was going to be wholly different for a number of reasons.  At the breakfast table there was a discussion going on between Chris, Mark and myself.  We were debating whether to just catch the bus down to Dublin with the rest of the lads and forgo the last two days of the trip.  It was very close to call but I think there was a nagging voice in the others heads saying what the voice in my head was.  If we don’t finish these last two days we are falling short of what we promised people when we were collecting donations and raising money for the trip.  On top of that we would be dropping the mileage significantly.  The final contributing factor to why we had even started the discussion was the weather.  We had awoken to find the weather setting in with winds and the threat of rain from some ominous looking clouds.  There was no going back now though and we all knew it in our heart of hearts we were going to troop on and finish the whole eight days.  The conversation had occurred in a near empty dining room as most of the Irish boys where still sleeping off their party from the night before.  The main people I wanted to see however had made it down to breakfast even though they did look worse for ware.  Keith, Jody and eventually James had come to make sure we left their country and to have a good chuckle at the unfortunate state of the weather outside.  We said goodbye to the guys from Team Aldi who had lightened up our entire week with some very funny comments and their positivity whilst out on the roads.  Today was the first day I donned my full wet gear.  Turns out I would have needed scuba gear for some of the trip.  After a bunch of farewells and promises to meet up and ride again in the future twelve of us set out from the hotel.  We had made a promise that we would all stick together and pull each other through today however long it took.  Around 20 miles in to the trip it became apparent that this wasn’t going to happen.  The group splintered and six of us went on our way.  This may sound harsh but by the twenty mile marker two of the lads where already in the van with knee injuries and the rain had started in earnest.  The wind again had made an appearance and though it had started out in our favour had decided to turn against for most of the rest of the day.  The one morale boosting moment came as the coach full of the Irish lads went passed beeping its horns with all the lads banging on the windows and waving.  I would have given my right leg to have been on that bus.   By the rest stop at the 30 mile marker the weather had turned really ugly.  The support vehicles had dwindled to two and it felt like we had been cast off even though we still had water, glucose drinks and some mars bars left the supply of sandwiches which had been plentiful during the rest of the ride had dwindled to nothing.  After this we got going again but the roads turned into dual carriageways and major trunk roads and it was the most tedious leg visually of the ride so far.  This coupled with the fact that by about 45 miles we were all soaked to the bone, cold and riding into a vicious head wind meant that I was going through a major mental battle in my head.  A large proportion of the argument was that I was cold, wet and no where near the end of the 93 mile day.  The other half was a mixture of the kid’s faces from the autism centre and school, the people who had donated and my responsibility to them and my two girls who I don’t think I could have faced if I had got off the bike and took the van.  The other thing inside was that I wouldn’t get a chance again to complete the ride if I sat today out.  By 60 miles the mental fight was raging we stopped for our second rest stop and I had to give myself a stern talking to away from the group.  I was very close to stopping and getting in the van but my stubborn side wouldn’t let me thankfully.  We cracked on from 60 miles and every single sign post seemed to be so slow in coming.  Every kilometre dragged on and on.  The terrain had gone back to long drags but today there would be no respite on the down hills the wind saw to that.  I was not doing much for the group which I felt bad about but it was all I could do to keep myself on the bike with my legs turning.  We did it though we made it through one hell of a day.  Just as we were arriving at the hotel the sun decided to make an appearance.  It was not well welcomed by six cold and wet cyclists.  I think we shocked the ducks with some of our choice words directed at the sun.  We made it through the toughest day I have spent on a cycle and the toughest time I have had doing any sport.  Of the twelve that had set out eight of us finished the day.  The six of us and two very brave lads back down the road that rolled in an hour and a bit after us. 

All smiles but inside was a tired and mentally weary soul!

The hotel was spectacular though as was the evening meal and breakfast.  We had to walk through the reception looking like bedraggled tramps whilst someone’s wedding party where waiting for their function room to open.  The smell of us and the sight must have been horrific for them.  I was proud of finishing today and I was proud of the others who finished to.  It was a really gritty day.

Day 8 -  Carrickmacross – Dublin

We arose to a nice morning with the sun breaking through the clouds and a fantastic breakfast probably the best of the whole trip.  That is saying something as by now even I was sick to death of cooked breakfasts.  The food was excellent though and we where in high spirits for the last day.  As soon as we got outside though the sun disappeared and a fine drizzle set in.  We had all got out wet gear on anyway, which had remarkably dried over night.  Eleven of us started the day and we set off from the hotel to complete the 60 or so miles into Dublin and the airport.  We met some solid rain after about 10 miles, which persisted to the first rest stop at around 30 miles.  Ian our organiser had stopped at a Bistro and we all piled in for some coffee and sandwiches.  The food was excellent and boosted our morale considerably for the rest of the trip.  We cycled on and where in excellent spirits for the remainder of the day as we knew it were the last day and our crowning achievement.  We arrived at the hotel later on that day and a lot of back slapping ensued.  After the initial celebration between the twelve of us the reality started to set in that the adventure was finished.  The actual achievement of doing the ride wasn’t sinking it but with two of the remaining Irish lads leaving us there and then to go home it was a muted feeling.  The hotel again was very nice and the food was great… they had pasta on the menu I was sooooo excited not to be having carvery!  We also had a chicken wings starter instead of Vegetable soup.  Someone was smiling down on us!  After dinner most of the lads wanted to go into Dublin but I just fancied chilling with a few well deserved beers/ciders and winding down so I stayed in the lobby in close proximity to the bar.  The night passed quickly as first the football was on then some of the other residents who where staying at the hotel the bodybuilders appeared.  It was fun looking at the guys and trying to distinguish which ones where the women, even when they were wearing dresses.  I went to bed about 00:15 which was the latest time I had gone to bed by far for a bout eight days.  Adventure complete!

The eleven finishers of the 593 miles.


The whole experience was exceptional from start to finish.  Someone asked me on the eighth day at the hotel if I would do it again and without thinking it was a yes, tomorrow if you like.  Firstly the setting was amazing.  Ireland as a country was beautiful and there wasn’t a day went by where some scene or other didn’t make you say wow.  Often there where multiple bits of the most beautiful scenery.  It was also great that the weather held for as long as it did for us so we could get the best pictures and views of all the different places.  The next thing was the people.  The group, the organisers and generally public and hotel staff where so friendly and helpful.  The group had an amazing spirit about it with people talking to each other like old friends after a couple of days.  No one in the group had a bad word to say all week about anyone else and it was such a nice event to participate in.  The organisers did a great job on the logistics and the hotels.  The only criticism I could level at the whole thing was that the marshalling was non existent.  Saying we only got lost twice was probably a vindication of this though.  As the marshals were volunteers also it would be overly harsh to criticise too much.  I would love to do something like this again and am already trawling the internet and bike magazines looking for 2013’s challenge. 

Ride Facts:

592.73 miles cycled
44 hours 43 minutes in the saddle
23,660 feet in elevation climbed
23,382 calories burned
14 mph average speed

I would just like to say a massive thank you and well done to all involved in the Big Red Bike Ride of 2012 it was amazing and I will remember it and you all for the rest of my days.  I would also like to thank all of the people again who helped raise funds for such an amazing cause.  I would like to thank all the people who donated also.  Altogether we raised approximately £144000 (or Euros), which will really help the children by getting them a new Centre.

These kids are some of the children you helped.  Thank You.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Ireland Days 5 and 6

Day 5 – Sligo to Letterkenny

We set off from Sligo to cycle the 69 miles to Letterkenny a little later today.  The thought of a shorter day was appreciated by everyone and I think lulled me into a false sense that the day was going to be an easy one.  Clayton Blackmore joined us for the first 2 hours of the ride up to the 1st rest stop where he was being whisked away to fly back to Manchester.  This proved to be a tad destructive as after an hour the pace was clipping along at around 18-20mph so he could reach the stop and be able to get to his flight.  This pretty much imploded our usual group of between 15 and 25 riders and there were also a series of punctures along the route.  I didn’t feel too bad when we reached the first stop as my training for the week had been at a higher intensity then the 15mph average we had been maintaining.  We rolled into the rest stop and thanked Clayton for coming with us for part of the ride.  The normal sandwiches and mars bars where consumed and we rolled off feeling good and with a group of around ten of us.  The wind that had been stalking us picked up a bit and again we were taking turns on the front so as not to tire everyone out.  I was still feeling good and was rotating regularly onto the front to take my turn in the wind.  We made good time until going through a mountain pass with a long drag of around 5% consistently the paced slowed due to the gradient and the wind.  I had just taken my turn on the front when my body crashed.  I felt as though someone had pulled the plug on my legs and taken all of my energy.  I quickly went from behind the front to going straight out of the back of the group.  Scottish James was also struggling having sustained injuries in a crash the previous day.  This had happened just after the decent from the Cliffs of Mohen when a wood trailer being towed clipped James and threw him from his bike.  James was lucky to only sustain superficial cuts and a badly bruised knee and back.  He also suffered some whiplash.  James finished the full six days and with his injuries can count it as a massive achievement.  So I found myself out the back of the group with James.  Keith came back to us and helped us back into the group and after some water and food whilst riding around 30 minutes later I began to feel better.  The feeling was unbelieveable like suddenly having all energy removed from my legs.  Something I hope not to repeat again.  We battled on through some tough hills which seemed never ending probably because I was lacking in energy.  Unlike previous days I was dropping off on the climbs and having to catch up on the descents.  Descending being something I do well due to my weight.  We finally reached a couple of miles outside Letterkenny when a rare treat presented itself.  A descent into Letterkenny around a mile and a half long.  I hit 37mph coming down it and I have to say I was tapping the brakes all the way down it was an epic decent.  We went round the corner and into the hotel.  I had been feeling tight during the day and felt it would be a good point to go and see the physios who where looking after the group so well.  There was a list already in place when I arrived totalling probably one hours worth of wait.  The hotel had ‘kindly’ dragged down to vibrating plate machines for us to use in the meantime.  I had never used one before and took some brief instructions from Scottish James and Jody.  You can see from the video below how it went! 
After the physio and getting showered and changed we made our way down to the bar.  David May was our guest for the evening and I had a good chat with him about matters Manchester United related.  He was an interesting guy very straight talking.  He joined us at our table for tea... yet another carvery.  The food was not great tonight and Mark, Bernie and I decided to go into town and find something to subsidise the meal with.  After a long walk we found a McDonalds and ate some more food.  Another early night for me at the hotel.  I awoke around 00:30 expecting to see Mark in his bed but nno sign of him.  A few thoughts of kidnapping or him falling asleep in the lounge then back to sleep.  Turns out that Mark had been kidnapped in a way by David May and a fair amount of Guiness and lager had been consumed until 02:30 in the morning.  We where awake at 06:15 for Day 6.  Poor Mark!

Day 6 – Letterkenny to Derry

Day six was probably the high point emotionally so far.  We set off from Letterkenny with Garda (police) escort for the 83mile trip.  Not sure if this was to make sure we left or make us feel special.  David May had joined us and the group was in high spirits as it was for most of the group their last day in the saddles.  The Irish contingent had only signed up to Milan Head/Derry and that was to be there last ride of the trip.  The group we had was a lovely group and we had so much fun during the week.  I made some new lifelong friends and hopefully I will meet them again at some point next year to undertake another charity ride or sportive.  Some promises have been made so we will see what happens.  The day was extra special as we were going to one of the Autistic centres on our way to Miran head (the Northern most tip of Ireland).  The weather had looked ominous as we set out so we all had our jackets on and wet gear but in the end it held off and we had another sunny day.  We reached the Autism centre after about an hour and a half and where greeted by all of the children cheering and clapping.  This really did swell the ego’s and re vitalise the tired legs as we rode in to be high fived by every single child.  Some of the lads wheeled the kids around on their bikes and we had lots of pictures done for the charity, which was great.  It was also the first day we had hot drinks at a stop, which were well appreciated as it was coming in cold.

These are the people it was all about.

A group of the nicest cyclists and people you would want to meet

Brendon our guide for the week.  Favourite saying "its flat today lads"

We then waited for everyone and where again escorted by the Garda from the centre and through the town.  On the way out of the town one of the schools had obviously heard of our visit and efforts and around two hundred children lined the streets clapping and cheering.  Again it was an emotional moment we all felt as if we were professional cyclists for thirty seconds and during the tough times later that day and over the coming days their faces and positivity towards us was something I used to keep going.  We left the town generally buzzing and soon began to get back into the Irish rhythm of up and down, with more up then down I have to say.  We then climbed into the moors and our group of twenty riders imploded once again.  After we had climbed and split up a little bit the wind picked up across the moorland and left us nowhere to hide.  We managed to cobble together a group of four then later a group of eight to get to the village of Miran just after the moorland.  The wind was horrid and we were doing thirty seconds on the front in single file so we had some protection.  At Miran we refuelled and got ready for some tough climbing out towards Miran Head which was approximately 17 kilometres away.  On the trip out Richie got his 6th puncture of the week he was very unlucky to be honest.  We stopped and regrouped for the climbs.  They where steep and reared up over a short distance but we all made it up as a group then motored on for Miran Head.  The signposting to Miran Head was very comical.  Miran Head 9 km cycle on Miran Head 10 km cycle on Miran Head 9 km.  I was starting to think we were in a cycling groundhog day.  Believing the hard work to be done we shifted towards Miran Head at a brisk pace only to see the objective rear out of the ground up to a big rock in the sky.  The climb itself was only 500 metres or so but it reared up in such a fashion that to stop would have been suicidal.  Everyone selected their lowest gears and went for it getting a hero’s welcome at the top.

Triumphant at Malin Head

Mark the Conquerer

Speck in the centre bottom right is me approaching the Malin head climb
View from the top of Malin Head

Tour De France...No Malin Head

After many pictures we set off again for the village of Miren a short stop and then on to Derry.  The wind on the way back was utterly horrendous and I spent some time on the front again shielding the others.  We had gotten about 10 km done when I noticed that Scottish James had slipped off the back of the group with Keith for company.  I dropped back to help out as the wind was bad and I didn’t want to leave one of the group stuck.  James was in a large amount of pain still from his crash and was battling on bravely.  Keith and I managed to get James back to the village or Miran and a well deserved break from the gusting wind.  James spoke about getting the meat wagon back to Derry but decided to carry on.  We set off again in our group and headed for Derry.  The pace was alternating from slow to fast and we were rattling up the climbs at a fair pace this was cracking James as his knee was in poor shape.  We decided to split into two groups to allow people to crack on and the second part of the group to maintain a slower pace to allow us to get James home and complete the ride.  We endured yet more wind and some more long drags up into the moorland before a steep decent led us down to the Derry Estuary and along into Derry.  I led out along the estuary and took us through the town of Muff (giggle) and to the hotel.  There was a party organised for the evening and Norman Whiteside attended giving a speech.  We had undertaken the three course carvery, which by now was making me feel queasy every time I sat down to eat.  I decided on the back of the fact the next day was going to be a 93 mile trawl to Carrickmacross with 12 of us setting out to get an early night.  I could hear the Elvis impersonator from the hotel room and he wasn’t very good at all.  Mark echoed my sentiments.  I did however manage to sneak out and get a pizza which I have to say was pretty damned good after all of the beef and turkey I had endured the previous 6 nights.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Ireland Days 3 and 4

Day 3 – Ballybunnion to Oranmore

The day started with another full spread of breakfast.  It was the first day I had a full English breakfast.  I wasn’t sure how it would affect my ride but I was very hungry from the previous days riding.  I had taken my ForGoodnessShake the previous night and a vitamin tablet as soon as we had arrived at the hotel to try and keep on top of the fatigue in the muscles.  This was followed by a freezing shower to try and make sure I was ready for the third day.  I also drank a lot of orange juice in the morning to try and make sure I was topped up on vitamin c to keep the immune system functioning through the week.  We then mounted up and rode out 27 miles to the ferry crossing to make our way across the Shannon estuary.  This wasn’t ideal as we got warm then it was around 45 minutes before we got going again.  Keith Duffy had joined us for two days and had been game to have pictures taken with us and chat with us.  We got to ride with him and he proved himself to be a good cyclist.  He had only been on the bike three times so far this year so credit was given as he did very well.  A group of school children met us, or maybe they where there for Keith... and we had our morning brief from Tony our commander in chief then set off.  We arrived some 102 miles later after being directed the wrong way by one of the marshals who kindly added a 10 mile extension to our route!  We climbed one of the toughest hills as we went towards Galway over the Cliffs of Moher.  The descent was kind to us and we reached Galway after 7hrs 30mins.  The highlight of today was a stint off of the climb going down the decent on to the flat where I speeded past Keith Duffy doing 30mph on the flat and left him for dead.  The last hour or so was a big effort trying to catch up to Chris and Keith who where further down the road after climbing faster than me.  I finally caught up with them with about 3 miles to go and we reached yet another splendid hotel after a true Galway welcome of torrential rain for the last few miles.  Another three course meal was duly dispatched as was my first beer of the adventure a pint of Coors Light.  The Wi-Fi was also good in the hotel lobby which allowed me to catch up with the Garmin updates and the social media worlds of Facebook and Twitter.

I am currently uploading a video to YouTube of the disembarkation.  It’s not great as it’s my first attempt so please bear with me!

Machines at the ferry
Daily Conference - Laughter supplied by Team Aldi
Some of the Squad
OMG Keith Duffy!!

 Day 4 – Oranmore to Sligo

The day started out again with a Full English and some other breakfast items.  I had felt pretty good with this inside me the day before and it had stood me in good stead for the day.  With us mostly eating sandwiches, mars bars, snickers and fruit during the day the bigger meals at breakfast and in the evening where helping to maintain the calories we needed.   The weather had taken a turn for the worse today.  We had intermittent showers for most of the morning and as I had optimistically forgotten my rain jacket had to procure one of the orange marshal’s jackets much to the amusement of my fellow riders.  Day 4 was the first day that I had a feeling of having ridden into the ride and I was feeling strong.  I took some big turns on the front and when we finally turned for home up the dual carriage way I spent myself acting as a windbreak for a good few miles.  I was properly spent for the first time during the trip down to the wind but had an amazing sense of satisfaction that I had been part of the team and helped others out so much.  We weren’t breaking any land speed records but the sense of getting through each day and helping people home, whilst also having some excellent fun was making the trip an excellent experience.  That along with the beautiful Irish scenery.  Again the hotel was excellent and tonight saw Clayton Blackmore join us.  I didn’t get to speak to him much.  As with the other players it wasn’t something that interested me.  I had rode the previous day with Keith Duffy but that was due to him sitting in our group being at the same fitness levels not for a want on my part to fan bash him.