So, 8 months after Back In The Saddle, here is the much anticipated sequel “back in the saddle 2”. The initial enthusiasm about having a lot more time to train was quickly replaced by the looming deadlines of my Masters and all that. So, while there was the occasional burst on the turbo, these were far and few between. And instead of writing the odd post (like I’ve done for the past 2 years) I decided to wait until I was actually in the saddle properly this time.
So here I am: a few spins out and about, nothing major, but at least I’m back to pretty much where I was in April 2011 (which was really the one year I actually did some cycling). Without the commuting and with the masters completed, there is a lot more free-time, especially in the evenings. So, with all that I have 2, possibly 3 big cycles starting in 1month (all 100 mile spins), and therefore mild panic has set in! It’s going to be a massive ask compared to 2 years ago, where I would have had another 6 weeks training from the same condition i’m in now, but if i don’t set myself pretty big (but not impossible) targets I’ll just keep slacking off.
Numbers wise I’ve barely broken 300 miles on the road , so a long way to go to the target of 3000 for the year, (again, I need something to aim for something to keep me cycling into the autumn & winter). The weight numbers are, um, nasty. Probably safe to say I won’t be aiming for polka dot jersey’s in any of the sportives: but then again one of the main reasons for taking up cycling to start with was to drop a few pounds, so if all goes to plan this should be less of an issue as the weeks/months go on.
So, after 6 months of commuting 3 hours a day, zero miles on the bike and about 20lbs weight gain, I’m finally back on the bike!
I’ve moved to a new place so only a 15 minute stroll to work, so at least now I should get back some time that I can put towards the turbo. Nearly all of the gains have been completely lost, but I’m starting back now to get in shape for next season. The flattest 10 miles in Ireland was cycled on Saturday, and it was tough, but delighted to be back! Hopefully I can press on now.
A good look at reducing traffic congestion from Brussels, through the eyes of a bike messenger
I’m a bit disappointed to hear the news on Friday that the Etape Hibernia is to be cancelled, but I’m not really surprised.
For those of you not in the know, the Etape Hibernia is one of a series of events, following on from other successful events such as the Etape Caledonia. But what really set it apart from others was that it was a closed road event, covering 84 miles around County Clare. Normally this wouldn’t really be a factor for me, in that I tend to stick to quiet roads anyway. But without doubt the most spectacular scenery I have cycled around was the Clare coast, so I was really looking forward to seeing what it was like on closed roads.
Having said that, while the concept was good the organisers had completely shot themselves in the foot with the timing. Regardless of how well it is run on the day, the extra cost over other events (I think it was over €50 for entry) would be enough to put off a lot of people. But factor in that the event was always run on the same weekend as one of the flagship Irish sportives, the Sean Kelly tour, well there was ever only going to be one winner. Looks like I’ll be cycling in Waterford in August (NB that’s a good thing!)
I think from reading the blog it’s fairly obvious that I’m as interested in the gear as much as I am in cycling itself. So I thought it was worth doing a piece on a few apps on the iPad that are really useful for keeping up to speed with cycling.
First off, I’m probably a bit atypical in that I have a fairly decent (20mb) broadband connection, but due to poor coverage in the apartment I don’t actually have a standard TV setup. Rather I use online TV services, such as the RTE player (for Irish TV) and more recently Netflix for TV watching.But 2 months ago I bought an iPad, and while initially I I had some ideas on what I would use it for, it quickly became apparent that’s it’s also ideal as a small TV.
I cover the exact set-up I use over on my techie blog, but for here I’ll mention the Eurosport app. It costs €37 for 12 months on the iPad, but given that over the weekend I was able to watch some of the Strade Bianche and Paris-Nice wherever I wanted in the house, I can’t really find fault the price at all (although the fact that because it’s in ireland once again I’m gouged over a Sterling-Euro “conversion” that doesn’t detract from teh usefulness). One point is that a lot of people have complained that this pricing is standalone from peoples’ Sky accounts, but in my situation that doesn’t apply at all. Also, I have read reports that there are issues over 3G, but again that’s not something I use, so I can’t comment.
Next up the Rouleur magazine. I said I’d try it for six months (€18.49 (as opposed to €12.70 for a single print issue from wiggle), and it’s a bit of a disappointment. The magazine itself is a stunnning high-end publication, with a real emphasis on design. And while the iPad version is an exact copy, this is it’s downfall. In portrait mode one page at a time is displayed, and while this makes it the font easier to read, when you only see half a picture on each page it’s kind of annoying. But then in landscape mode it’s a 2 page layout, but again this has its pitfalls. While the 2-page photos are stunning, the font is too small to read. Overall while the content is good, the app design isn’t up to par. While design is of paramount importance to the print edition, the designers should know that mobile apps have different requirements. Add in the fact that the app is very buggy (I find that if I open the app and then come do other work, if I try and come back to it later it often takes a restart of the iPad to open)- again a disappointment.
But one app that really works on the iPad (or iPhone for that matter) is the cycling news app.It’s nice, clean and simple, exactly what’s needed in a mobile app. The font is a decent size, and easy to read, while there is a button at the foot of each article linking to the pictures. It’s simple, and because of this it works. Rouleur could learn a lot about how to design an app from this
As per usual lately, there is a big gap between cycles. So a 5 mile spin on the flat turns feels like I’m going up the Tourmalet on the big ring, and yesterday was no exception. But I have about 10 weeks to my first 100km cycle for the year, and even though things are fairly chaotic time-wise, that’s more than enough to start getting miles in.
With that in mind I said I’d potter off yesterday for a handy 15 miles or so. As per usual I thought I couldn’t possibly be as weak or unfit as I felt after 5 miles, but very slowly I started to feel a (little) bit better. The breathing got a bit easier, speed picked up and I was able to enjoy things. I was actually thinking to myself how much better I was feeling when the heavens started to open. It was only a shower although quite heavy, and since i was about 4 miles from home I said I’d up the tempo and try find a bit of shelter. As I turned a corner I saw a wall just off the road, just enough to shelter, so I started to sprint the 200m or so to it. I just started to unclip and brake as I pulled off the road, BANG! Bloody gravel! Straight down on my knee, hip, shoulder.
Doing what any self-respecting man would do, the first thing I did was jump up and look around, make sure nobody saw it. But of course there was a little Mondeo with an elderly couple about 200 yards away. By the time I had stood up and dragged the bike off the road they had stopped and wound down the window: she looked quite upset. But once I figured that nothing was broken (first I checked the collarbone, then the bike) I gave a thumbs and off they went.I was a bit sore on the way home, and it took a mile to loosen out, thankfully it was only 4 rather than 40 miles!
Now, this isn’t exactly a hardcore story of someone cycling a 20-stage race with 3 broken ribs or something. But considering this was the first time I fell off a bike in about 20 years (apart from the first day I was clipped in and forgot about it, but that was a very low-speed maneuver but generally I’m very cautious), it was a bit of a shock. I’m very lucky that nothing is broken, and apart from being a pretty stiff knee and sore elbow I couldn’t have gotten off much lighter (16 stone at 15 mph is a lot of momentum! Plus a lot of that went through the shoulder, so the very first thing I checked was my collarbone). The main thing is it’s a reminder to pay attention.
Yesterday was my first proper time on the bike since Mizen to Malin, and we picked a cracking event, the inaugral Glin GAA/Mid West Cancer Charity Cycle. Out of the M2M crew it was only Mike and myself, but Mike’s mate Robbie also joined us, for his first event. This was a 60 mile spin around west Limerick, and contrary to gloomy weather reports we were absolutely spoiled by how good the weather was.
The route itself was about as flat as you could hope for, although the sting in the tail was at the end. BUt since the whole objective was to be a charity cycle there was a big emphasis on keeping the group together, so it was very stop/start. (starting at 10:30 I thought we would be back around 3PM, taking it handy. As it was it was 5PM). But in between stops we were let tip away at our pace, so it was nice to be closer to the front than the back for a cycle . There was a bunch of maybe 10 club cyclists straining at the leash, and they broke away from the group, finding the “bursty” nature hard to handle. But since the sun was shining and it was a charity event we decided we were happy enough to stay with the group.
The organisation for the event was very good, there was plenty of support cars, motorbikes and vans , and no shortage of water or food. It might be worth catering for a higher speed spin next year, but given the majority of people hadn’t covered a fraction of the distance before, the slower pace was definteily the way to go for the first event. It was great to see a turn out of people just turning up on whatever bikes they had or could borrow, and it was a massive effort for some. It actually highlighted the progress we’ve made over the last few months, in that I was able to take a few turns and for once even help pull a few up the odd drag.
As for us, we really enjoyed it, the weather made it really enjoyable, and given that we pushed the pace a few times (Mike especially was at the front constantly during the day), we were surprisingly fresh by the end (although I didn’t really enjoy the last 2 climbs, but nothing new there!). I was surprised by how high my heart rate was at times, especially when i wasn’t under a lot of pressure, but given how quickly it recovered I’m taking that as a sign of improvement.
Now that there was a car available , we made a decision (without much hesitation in fairness), to ditch the bags for the last day. Given that we had about 400 miles in the legs and wanted to tackle the Gap of Mamore it was a fairly wise decision. Althought the legs were stiff, the sun was shining and so morale was high.
As per usual we eased into the pace until legs were loosened out, but the route out to Buncrana was fairly flat and we tipped away at a nice pace, stopping once to get some gear out of the car. But the weather Gods had been quiet all week and by the time we pulled into Buncrana we were well and truly saturated. And with the northerly wind the temperature dropped as well .
We had lunch at a petrol station, and just as we were about to pull out (the rain hadn’t subsided yet), a local came up to us talking about the spin. He had done Mizen to Malin 4 times previously, and was quite enthusiastic. Once he found out we were going to try Mamore near the end of M2M, and in those weather conditions he thought we were nuts! In fairness he was very helpful with directions, and even lead us through town to the road. But between the bad weather, and the tales of woe ascending and descending the gap, morale started to take a downturn.
And of course the complete lack of signposts didn’t help either. But deciding the keep the coast on our left we plodded along, checking iPhones every few minutes to see if we were close. We knew the road would be rough and ready, and after a few really sharp pulls (18%+ or so) we thought we were pretty much on it. After a couple of hundred yards I was off the bike, walking, then back in the saddle on the less steep bits, barely spinning in the triple. At least I was making progress. And then we came off the boreen, on to a better stretch of road. And to our left was what can be best described as a tarmac wall. “Ah”, I thought “bingo!”.
IN fairness, the run up to it was straight, the surface good, and it didn’t look impossible. so after a few minutes break, people took on water (some emptied water!) ,everyone settled and off we went. For me it was pretty much just a duathlon! Don’t think I lasted more than 1/2 a mile. we have photo’s but they don’t really do it justice. Basically if you stopped at all it was nigh on impossible to generate enough momentum to go forward again. Best bet was to tack across the road and pray you could clip in.
Only one man made it up on the bike the whole way (in fairness the rest gave more valiant efforts than me), but the extra weight was an absolute handicap on the way up. Having said that by the time I eventually hauled myself over the line i thought I could just coast down the other side. Wrong! Having a combination of weight, wet roads, and just sheer fatigue I knew the only way down on the bike would be to absolutely ride the brakes. And after a few minutes at 3/4 miles an hour I was really struggling to keep the speed under control, so again it was a dismount to get down. In fairness I might have made it, but fear of not making it to Malin Head because of a broken collar-bone was fairly prominent in my thoughts, so no regrets.
At least once near the bottom we were able to spin away, back to normality. And just as we were progressing down the road we spotted “the Rusty Nail”. “PINT?” I called out. “PINT!” came the reply. And we that we were pulled over again. Decent pints outside, but they tasted so much better after Mamore. It was here we spotted a broke spoke on MOC’s bike, the only mechanical failure (zero punctures!) of the week. Just as we were about to head off again the heavens opened, so we just stood under the shade of the pub, waiting for it to break, and talking to a local who did a lot of club cycling.
It can be tough when you land into Malin town and then realise there’s still another hour to go, but c’est la… We tore through Malin anyway, and on the open road, pancake flat, the lads led a leadout train, pushing away at around 21mph, into the wind. Tough work, even tucked away sucking wheel! But once we hit a final set of bumps we were all blown. From here on I just wanted to spin, and just get there. The last few miles are tough enough, no long drags, but some really sharp little digs (15, 20%), that the only way up is out of the saddle.
I eventually rolled in to the base of the Banba, for the final climb. Here the 3 amigos that had done the whole were waiting for me, and in a gesture that was (truly) appreciated, they insisted I lead the way to the top, where our supporters had gathered. And what a tough few hundred metres it was! An absolutely fantastic feeling once we got there, having an actual finish line was really nice. Big cheers to the 2 girls who came up to drop of MOC for the last day, and to Dick for driving the rest of us home. Also tahnks to Mike’s mate Vinnie, who dragged the family up for support. Greatly appreciated all.
I’ll spare the details of all the photos etc, but I would like to mention the owner of Caffe Banba, who had a coffee truck up there. He gave us some really great coffee gratis. A real gentleman.
Our original plan had been to cycle from Ballyshannon past Letterkenny, just to leave us with a short day at the end, (circa 45 miles or so). But since Martin O’C was driving back up from Limerick to cycle the last day with us, we decided to have an easy day on Friday instead. Everybody was looking forward to a nice easy relaxing day, and that’s how it started.
Since we had a short day the lads wanted to break it up a bit, so our landlady at the B&B advised us to head through the town and head to Rossnowlagh beach. The street through Ballyshannon is pretty steep, so a shock to the legs first thing, but once through town we just spun away for a few miles, until we arrived at the beach. Stopping off at the beach was a great idea, it really helped break up the day. One of the drawbacks was a bunch of lads trying to change on a packed beach without any towels or swimwear. And as a certain member of the group found out (name withheld), you need to keep up a certain amount of momentum when cycling unto the sand, otherwise unfortunate dismounts can occur!
After an hour or so on the beach, it was back on the bikes, a handy spin 45 mile spin to Letterkenny. Morale was high in the camp, although there were a few tired legs, everyone was looking forward to getting to the B&B early, just to relax for a few hours. For the whole week while not killing ourselves with pace, we had very little downtime in the evenings: normally once checked in and showered it was normally straight out to dinner.
We stopped at a petrol station on the run into Donegal Town for a quick sandwich and then back on the bikes. Barnesmore Gap was the only climb of the day into Ballybofey, but it wasn’t as bad as expected, and once into Ballybofey we stopped for another coffee.
Unfortunately this is where things went awry. Long story short we missed the turn that was signposted for Letterkenny, and ended up staying on the road to Lifford. Since we had a westerly wind we had actually been tipping away at a nice pace, and it was only after about 7 miles we realised we were on the wrong track. The options were either to cut across country (over a narrow network of roads), or cycle back all the way to Ballybofey, and then pick up the right road. Getting advice from locals (obviously not cyclists!), we headed over cross country: big mistake! The route was quite narrow, with some really nasty, sharp little climbs.
and of course we missed a few other turns (the Irish just don’t do signposts). After about an hour and a half basically going round in circles, we eventually got back onto the right road (if you look at the garmin activity the detour is fairly obvious). Of course because we were expecting only a short spin, I didn’t eat enough, and the bonk hit on the final climb up to the top of the hill before Letterkenny. I must admit I was doing a lot of whining. But at least once we hit the top it was all downhill.
The descent into Letterkenny was expected to be the fastest descent of the week, and it lived up to the billing. Because I wasn’t overly happy with the braking with the extra weight on the bike (plus a few hit manholes on the way down), i kept my top speed to 39 mph. Mike hit about 47, the highest of the week, although Donal wasn’t far behind (very hard to read a cycle computer with your eyes running!). Fortunately the B&B (Burndale House) was just off the turn, and we were home for the day.
Once we had the usual shower etc we headed off to find what can only be the best hidden gem in Letterkenny, the restaurant Fantasia. Hidden inside an industrial park, we were convinced we were on the wrong track (once again), until we caught the waft of garlic bread. And were we in for a treat! A unit across from an NCT centre, the restaurant was very nicely decorated inside, and given the large crowd it’s obvious that’s it’s not that hidden to the locals! Every plate was cleared, many rounds of Peroni consumed, and to top off the dinner the waiter gave us a round of Citronella on the house. Fantastic!
Martin O’C and the girls arrived just as we were finishing dinner, and Mikes contact (who had suggested Fantasia), next recommended the Cottage pub on Main Street. I’ll spare the details, but a good night was had, and we were back home just after last orders.
At 79 miles this was planned to be our longest day, and given that a few of us were struggling at the very start with stiff legs, the initially climb out of Doolin was a bit of a shock. But once the legs loosened out a bit it turned out to be a cracking first half of the day. Even though it was a little overcast, the cycle along the coast was fantastic. I was expecting more hills, so it was a nice surprise to find a pretty flat spin on the way into Kinvara, even if we had an easterly headwind on the run into Ballyvaughan.
After some really rough roads, and a surprising sharp little wall of a climb (the first time I had to get off the bike), outside Bell Harbour, we eventually made Kinvara. We had lunch in Kinvara, but by the time we got back on the road again it was 2 o’clock and we had 50 miles left. But from Kilcolgan all the way the Claremorris we were now on main roads, with a hard shoulder and what was now a tail wind. so for the next we hours we started making a decent pace.
Apart from an absolutely torrential downpour (we were lucky we were less than 1/2 mile from a tree) the journey into Claremorris was pretty uneventful. We arrived at the B&B (Ashlawn House) around 6, and while initially quiet, the owner had no trouble at all in letting us wash our gear.
Once sorted we strolled into town for some food. To be honest we were expecting very little of the food in Claremorris, but we had definitely a memorable night. First off we ate in the Old Arch restaurant, and the food and wine was simply fantastic! Not a morsel left on any plate, the staff were brilliant, very well trained and very friendly. It really was brilliant food.
Once we had our fill of steak and merlot, it was off to potter around town, to find somewhere for a decent pint. We were strolling around, ignoring all the obvious choices, when Martin suddenly said “lads, I think I saw a pub at the back of that shop”. And so he did. A brilliant little gem of a place, PJ Byrnes. At first we were eyed with suspicion (only about 3 in the bar), but it was exactly what we were looking for. Quiet, but with really friendly locals and fantastic Guinness. By the end of the night they were chatting away, telling us about how they had fought the law and they won! (after hours serving was the crime…pfft!). This little pub was a real highlight, they even signed a postcard of the pub, to the wish us luck and if that wasn’t enough Dick stood a round to us. These were exactly the sort of experiences that we had hoped for, and were an undoubted highlight of the trip