The global pandemic this year changed a lot of plans for families over the Christmas period. We were no exception, our normal Christmas plans were not possible due to the restrictions within the UK at the moment. Normally we travel to Devon and Scotland to spend time with our extended families.
A small consolation of not being able to do our normal travels to visit extended family this Christmas break was having a bit more time to get out on the bike between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
So I thought I would attempt the Rapha #festive500 challenge. I have attempted it in the past but never quite made it. Snow, freezing rain, sub-zero temperatures make it a tough challenge.
I have been asked this question quite a few times since completing the Haute Route Alps this last summer.Is there more to do or should I hang up my cycling shoes and say I am done.[Un]fortunately I am the sort of person that needs a purpose to motivate me so the prospect of me just calling it a day doesn’t really sit with me, I know that if it wasn’t a cycling challenge then it would be something else, I suppose I have somewhat of an obsessive personality.I don’t like to do anything half-hearted.
One of the great things about cycling as a hobby is that there are so many different avenues to go into, whether that be road cycling, mountain biking, BMX, Cross, touring, racing, etc….so there is always an option and plenty of challenges to take on.
So what about 2018, well for 2018 my attention turns to epic one day rides. At the moment there are two earmarked on the calendar.
The first is the Mallorca 312 in April, traditionally this used to be a 312km race around the island of Mallorca but was changed a few years ago to a circuit of the Tarmuntana mountains with a loop to the south eastern coast before finishing back in Alcudia.Still covering 312 km and over 5500m of climbing it will be a big day out for Scott and I.
The other epic day out will be the Vatternrundan in June,a 300km circuit around Lake Vattern in Sweden with 23,000 other participants. This one I am riding with a few friends from Rapha Cycling Club.
So I am sticking to the road cycling for now and will focus on getting ready for long days in the saddle.
Here is a final look back at my statistics from 2017 and have a wonderful, safe & prosperous new year.
What’s in the box? ……………………………………………….I get asked this a lot as I travel across the world for work with my bike in tow.
I work for the technology and strategy company Ciena. Ciena is one of those companies who everybody uses but nobody knows about. The equipment and solutions Ciena builds light up the fibre optic cables and networks all over the world that provide access to the internet and data networks. I work in a team that looks at different market segments and works out where Ciena fits and how to shape the products, solutions and technology to meet the customers needs. I specialize in the mobile world and in particular what is happening for 5G and it involves speaking to Ciena’s customers and potential customers, industry partners and bodies, standard forums and other technologists all over the world. It is fascinating, exciting and at the same time daunting. I am a firm believer that technology can be used to do so much good in the world and am excited by the possibilities and experiences that it can open up.
As I travel a lot and enjoy cycling, (I took up cycling again a few years ago to offset the spread of middle age (see this post ), I decided that wherever possible I would take my bike with me. My first business trip with my bike was a couple of years ago to attend a technology forum at Ciena’s R&D labs in Ottawa. The trip was successful in that my bike made it safely to Canada and with the early morning jet lag I also got the time to go out on the bike ahead of meetings. Since that first successful trip I have endeavored to do the same again, with varying degrees of success.
Here are some things I have learned along the way.
1. Plan Ahead, do some research. Not every business trip is going to be conducive to having the bike along. I ask myself a few questions before deciding to take the bike or just opt for the hotel indoor bike. These questions include,
Will I feasibly be able to get out for a ride during the trip?
Will it be dark in the morning before meetings and get dark early in the evening after the working day which means cycling would be hazardous.
Is this a city/place where cycling is feasible ? (this doesn’t always stop me)
What will the weather be like while I am there? (is it going to be persistent wet, windy, snowy, 45 deg Celsius etc)
Am I staying in one place or doing a multi-city/country visit? This means will I have to pack/unpack the bike many times.
Will I be able to transport the bike box from the airport? (many “intermediate” rental cars especially in the US don’t have fold down seats)
Do the airlines that serve that country/city allow bike transport? (this is a blog piece all of itself). Being a frequent flyer with airlines helps.
If all that works out, then I also try and plan a few rides using information from the web or local sources. I then save these rides in strava and load them onto my bike computer (Garmin 810) with an updated basemap created from the openstreetmap project on the web. I’ve written another blog piece on planning routes and the sources I use, click here to read it.
2. Use a hard shell bike case. I use a Polaris Bike Pod, which is supplied by my local bike shop, The Bike Centre. Previously I have also used the BikeBoxAlan. Both are great hard cases which I have found protect my bike and the contents really well. Both are lightweight which helps with the airline baggage weight limits but sturdy. I have a slight preference for the Polaris bike pod as it is a bit more streamlined than the BikeBoxAlan and so fits in cars better and is a little easier to tow around the airport. I have found these hard cases to give just a little more resilience to the sort of travel I do.
3. Add extra bubble wrap and padding to whatever is supplied. It will keep your precious stead from getting scratched or worse. I normally add a generous amount of bubble wrap around the rear derailleur , seat post, drivetrain and around each fixing/attachment/strap point to give a little extra protection. Also when packing my helmet, shoes and clothing I put them in bags that I don’t mind getting a little oil on if they become in contact with greased parts of the bike.
4. Pack a spare rear hanger – It’s good practice anyway regardless of traveling but it can save a bike trip.
5. I include a bike towel, I don’t feel comfortable getting grease and stuff all over the hotel towels or hotel room carpets when building or packing my bike.
6. I pack my bike computer in my laptop bag.
7. At the airport take the carry/tow handle off the bike box when handing over to baggage handlers and carry the tow handle in hand luggage. The bike box I use has a detachable pull handle to help when wheeling the box around the airport. Unfortunately this can get snagged in the baggage systems of airports. I had the misfortune to have this happen to me when the baggage ticket was attached to it on a trip from Atlanta to the UK via Toronto. The handle was snagged in the machine which broke one of the latches and the baggage tag slipped off at Toronto meaning they had no idea where to send it on to for the connecting flight to London. It took 8 days to find and ship back to the UK the bright green bike box with distinguishing stickers on it. This leads me on to the next two points.
8. Have the check-in clerk attach the baggage tag to the side of the box and not the handle (if the box has one). Also then take the individual little stickers that are on the baggage tag (there are normally at least two more) and distribute them around the box. Just in case the main baggage tag gets ripped off by something. For the consequences of not doing this see the previous point.
9. Customize the bike box, to make it easily identifiable when explaining to a baggage clerk. The one I use has stickers on it from all the places I have visited with it and it also has my rider details on it. Just in case it ever doesn’t make it onto the connecting flight then at least it can be described and identified. (See previous points)
10. Be prepared to wait a bit longer at the baggage claim carousel. Invariably the oversized luggage area is not near the carousel that your flight has been assigned too and the quality of the oversized luggage areas & service varies immensely. The longest I have waited and the bike box has arrived has been 65 minutes. (That was at Sydney airport).
At the beginning of October I attended a Small Cell Forum conference hosted by Reliance Jio in Mumbai. As I was going to be there a few days and would be working in difference time zones throughout the day I did some research to see if it was possible to go out for a ride whilst I was there.Having previously taken my bike to India in Delhi earlier in the year I had an idea of what to expect from the traffic point of view but wanted to see if the area yielded any cycling routes.
One of the things I do when deciding whether or not to take my bike with me on a business trip especially if it is the first time I am traveling to a city or area is to have a look on the internet to see what sort of cycling community exists and what the area is like for riding in.
The first thing I do is enter a simple search into google.
Cycling in ……….. for example Mumbai.
To my surprise I found quite a cycling community in Mumbai which I didn’t expect. Midnight Cycle Tours, routes into the national parks and groups that would go out along the coastal roads early in the morning or late in the evening.
Invariably there will be a blog post or a cycling club that has a local website with their favorite routes or cycling shops in the area.Sometimes cycle shops or clubs will post details of their regular rides, this is especially true in cities where it may be more difficult to get out on the bike.
From this initial google search I can start to get an impression of what the area has to offer for cycling.
I will then turn to bikemap.net .A website full of user uploaded routes from all across the globe.I have yet to find a place I am visiting that doesn’t have at least one route loaded on that website.
I have also used the Strava Curated routes for some of the cities I have visited.This database is slowly growing and more cities and areas are being added which list top 10 routes in a given city.
One of the things I did in 2017 was join the Rapha Cycling Club as this is a global cycling community.A search of the club forums can normally yield a member or two in most places around the world and as the RCC network expands so do the shops and local chapters which helps in ride planning and routes.
These resources help me decide whether or not there are sufficient opportunities to create some routes that I can tackle in the timespan I will have in a given city or location. Normally this will be either early in the morning on a working day (especially when jet lag kicks in) or maybe at the weekend if I am staying for longer.I will then start plotting some routes on the route tool on Strava. This helps me gauge how successful the rides could be.If I can come up with two or three good options then normally I will take the bike with me.
For Mumbai for example, I managed to plan 5 possible routes. I did get to go out on the bike one day but my ride was cut short as my internet research was not thorough enough to note that the park I wanted to cycleinto had a cash entry fee even for cyclists.The info on the website was out of date.Unfortunately my ATM card didn’t work so couldn’t get cash at the time and the opportunity was lost.Nevertheless I know for next time.
It’s been a few weeks now since I completed the Haute Route Alps and I have been contemplating how I can adequately sum up the experience. The fundraising hasn’t stopped, the justgiving page remains open till the end of October to collate donations. Hopefully this post will try and articulate what was for me without a doubt the toughest physical and mental challenge I have undertaken and help put a few more dollars/pounds into supporting the sustainable diabetes program through Team Type 1 foundation.
Let’s start with the official review video created by the Haute Route Team which gives an insight into the event. I was interviewed during the event and they used a bit of that interview in the voiceovers.
I arrived in Nice ahead of the event and met up with Joe and Manuel who I met via social media in the lead up to the weekend to grab something to eat. This meeting set the tone for a great week, making new friends, sharing amazing experiences together, enjoying great company, helping, encouraging & assisting each other.
Rather than a blow by blow account of each stage I thought I would share what a typical day on the Haute Route looked like.
5-6am Wake up, get up, shower, kit up, breakfast, pack day bag for drop-off at the start. Pack some food, make a sandwich for eating in the first two hours. (thanks Ben for the tip)
Around 6-6.30am Pack transport bag for pick up at the hotel. Gently roll down to the start village and drop off day bag for collection at the finish.
7am – Stage start. Along with 300 other riders, we roll out for anywhere between 5 & 8 hours on the bike.
8-9am – Within the first hour or so, we would have hit the first mountain climb of the day. In a normal stage, described here, the race organisers would put in a minimum of three big mountain cols, which in and of themselves would be a decent day out in the mountains on a bike. This first col of the day would be to warm up the legs and prepare for the next big climb which normally was a monster.
A feed Station would be placed normally at the top of the first climb of the day to allow a quick rest and replenishing of supplies. For me, this meant grab some cut oranges, sugary drink, salted crackers and eat another of my veloforte bites.
Anywhere between 11am-1pm – Hit the big climb of the day. The list of these second climbs of the day read like a who’s who of the famous mountain cols. Cayolle (2326m), Izoard (2360m), Sarenne (1999m), Madeline (2000m) & Colombiere (1618m). Normally these ascents would be between 9-32km in length meaning that in some cases we were climbing for multiple hours at a time. Climbing the Cayolle on day 1 I cramped up towards the top making me really worried for the rest of the week. I made sure I replenished my salt intake better during the week and adjusted my re-fuelling strategy to make sure it didn’t happen again.
From 2pm to 4pm (or later). The last big climb and avoiding the time cut for the day. For each stage there was an official cut off by which we as riders must finish in order to be categorised and receive an official finish time. My goal of the week was to make the time cut each day and not receive the dreaded DNF (did not finish).
FINISH THE STAGE – Pick up day bag, shower, change, eat, massage, find hotel and prepare for next day. Hand wash kit, pin on race numbers for next day.
Find a good place to eat and get those carbs and proteins in for the next day as well as a good debrief of the day.
Without question the lows came when doubt came into my mind about whether I would be able to complete the climb/stage/race/section * delete as appropriate. As Chris said to me on Stage 3 the mind always goes before the legs and essentially he was right. A couple of these darker moments stand out.
∗On stage 1 I cramped up on the climb to Col de Cayolle, as we climbed 32km from Ascros to the first big summit. At this point I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make the time cuts and finish the race and all sorts of doubts came into my mind. Had I trained enough, had I bitten off more than I could chew, was this simply something that was beyond me. I realised that I wasn’t replenishing the salts I was losing through sweating and the effort and so made some changes to my refueling strategy that involved more crackers and included a bit more salt in my food. It made a difference, no more cramps.
∗Towards the end of the day on stage 2 we climbed the Col d’Granon a dead-end climb of 12km to a gravel car park. After spending a little too much time on the top of the climb at Izoard I was running out of time getting close to the time cut and put myself under pressure. It was a tough climb which tested my mental capacity as I had to dig deep to finish ahead of the cut. I made it by 30 minutes but I hurt. I can with complete confidence say that I have no desire to ever go back to the top of the Col d’Granon, the road that leads nowhere.
∗On the Col de Joux Plane, with just 7km to go to finish the day the road went up into double digits, after so many climbs and kms that week I wasn’t sure that I had the legs left to get up these 14-18% ramps which although they lasted just a kilometre or two seemed to drag on and on. There was a reward at the end of it though. (See the highs section below)
∗On the morning of day 2 we gathered at the ski resort Pra Loup, there I met Jerom Grilhot also riding for Team Type 1, but he is a board member. He shared with me the incredible strains that Diabetic athletes put themselves through to compete. He said something very poignant, “for me the pain stops when I get off my bike and lie on my bed, for these guys (athletes with diabetes) it is never ending”
∗Seeing my son Scott at the top of Col d’Izoard on stage 2 as he and my brother had travelled across to spend some time on their bikes in the mountains and cheer me on. Scott took this shot as I made it to the summit.
∗On day 5, which was the queen stage I had just summited the Col de Madeleine and taken a break to refuel and get ready for the last segment of the day. As I restarted on the descent, I was on my own with this amazing descent opening up ahead of me with Mont Blanc in full view. An exceptional moment on the bike
∗Similarly on Day 6 climbing up the last climb of the day on the awesome Col de Joux Plane. We had passed the early ramp and as the road snaked up the mountain there was a moment where the sun was shining beautifully with absolutely no wind, perfect silence with only the sound of my drivetrain moving along. For a moment everything was perfect. Ironically within just one km I also had one of my lows of the race as Joux Plane ramped up to double digits but then I was rewarded with a switchback looking over the Mont Blanc Massiv that brought back the beauty of this magnificent climb.
∗Finishing the time trial on Alpe d’Huez (stage 4), completing it in my best time ever and finishing with friends at the top.
∗The finish... being congratulated by my brother Chris (in the shot below) and my son Scott (behind the camera).
The Haute Route for me would not have been possible without the incredible support of my wife Lisa and my family. They allowed me the time to train and get ride fit and where there cheering me on all the way.
A huge shout out and thank you to the all of the riders, support crews, Police, mechanics, volunteers that made the week happen but especially to Joe, Manuel, Monika, Lukas, Joe, Greg, Sean, Gernot, Ian, Chris and Scott who rode at various times with me and made the days fantastic.
… which isn’t so bad if work requires me to fly to the other side of the world where it is the height of summer. Not great if the location is in the middle of winter. Very confusing if one’s travel is via both in the space of a week.
I have just got back from a recent business trip that took me from the UK to Washington DC (landing right in the middle of the protests surrounding President Trump’s executive order restricting travel from certain muslim countries), and on to San Francisco before doubling back to the UK and then across the equator to Sydney, Australia.
At the beginning of the year I hatched a plan to ride the Haute Route in August 2017. To do so would require a lot of preparation and training, therefore the goal for the year was to cycle 10,000km to establish base fitness before a more structured training regime commences in 2017.
Longest ride of the year 230km (Tour of Flanders Sportive)
Longest climb 1806m (Galibier as part of La Marmotte)
So now as 2017 begins, the goal shifts from 10,000km to 10,000miles before 1st August 2017. So another 6000km of focused training and commuting to get ready for the big event on 21st August . All the time raising money for the official charity Team Type 1. www.justgiving.com/MarksTT1Fundraising
I really struggled to get any sleep last night. The incredibly sad news of the murder of Jo Cox MP yesterday has unnerved me somewhat. There are no words to adequately give comfort to her family, her husband and children. A life cut tragically short.
What has unnerved me is what this heinous crime represents a horrible low point in a Britain that is divided. There are many truths and facts yet to emerge from what occurred on Thursday and the motivation is not clear yet. I am though unnerved by some of the reaction, commentary and rhetoric that seems to have come to represent the United Kingdom. Hate and divisiveness seem to rule at the moment and the shocking events of yesterday just underline this.