Bet you thought I?d given up on the Cycling Weekly 30 Day Challenge, didn?t you? Ah, ye of little faith. I?m still riding, but the weekend was spent in Belgium at Het Volk. Here?s a recap of the past few days.
Punctures are a pain. Like the old acting superstition that no thespian should mention the title of The Scottish Play, no cyclist should ever mention the ?P? word. It wasn?t me who suffered the fate today, it was my training partner, Mike.
We set out for a steady couple of hours in windy but dry conditions. We had the wind at our backs on the way out but as we criss-crossed south-west Hertfordshire we encountered some awful headwinds.
It was relatively mild so we opted to sit outside at our café stop. The strength of the wind was such that when we stood up, the metal chairs we?d been sitting in blew away down the pavement.
I can certainly vouch for the fact there?s nothing funnier than a man in cycling shoes running after some lightweight garden furniture that?s blowing away from him in front of a parade of shops.
On the way home we took what we thought would be a pleasant country lane to avoid a busy main road. It turned out to be Paris-Roubaix country. Thick mud, stones, potholes. My mind mentioned the ?P word? and sure enough Mike yelled ?Flat? behind me. As Mike began to replace the tube it rained hard.
Distance ridden: 46km (28.5 miles)
Time: Just under two hours
Level: Base endurance
Belgium is a fantastic place to ride a bike. The bicycle is at the heart of the country?s culture ? certainly in Flanders. Drive around the centre of Ghent and you?ll see just how respected cyclists are. They have a network of superb cycle lanes criss-crossing the city, their own traffic lights and motorists know when they have right of way. Crucially the cyclists don?t abuse their status either. They stop at the lights. They give way to pedestrians. Everyone seems to get on marvellously.
Partly the respect due to cyclists is because the sport is so popular. Tom Boonen is a national hero without equal at the moment. But also it?s because every driver would know someone who rides a bike on a regular ? if not daily ? basis. If your son or daughter uses a bike to get to and from university you?re not going to squeeze another cyclist into the gutter because you?re late for work.
Anyway, the training continues and a change of scenery was a big boost to the morale. After arriving in Ghent myself and colleague Simon Richardson had just enough daylight to ride out of Ghent down to the Schelde canal and back. Apparently a ride leaves from the start of the Schelde canal every weekday morning at 9am. Some days there can be more than 100 riders, including current and ex-professionals setting out. They head down to Oudenaarde, have a coffee and ride back.
This was on the training plan as a recovery ride and although it was windy it was completely flat.
In the evening we had a few Belgian beers (Leffe and Orval) and dined on meat fondue. Simon and I differed on the perfect fondue cooking technique. He thought it best to dip the pieces of raw meat in one-by-one, whereas the man at the next table appeared to be tipping the whole lot into the hot oil in one go and skewering it out as it was cooked.
When Simon went to the bathroom I put all the meat into the fondue pot. Simon was not pleased and pointed out that the smaller pieces would be blackened and over cooked. Better that than risk eating part-cooked turkey, I reasoned.
Distance ridden: 21km (13 miles)
We put the bikes in the car and drove to Oudenaarde, parking near the Tour of Flanders museum, which is definitely worth a visit if you?re ever in town. We picked up a map of all the climbs in the area and although we didn?t have time to look around the museum I did spend long enough in the shop to weigh up whether I should spend a hundred quid on jerseys.
Simon and I rode out of Oudenaarde towards Berchem, where the Oude Kwaremont starts. The last time I rode these hills was a couple of years ago on the Tour of Flanders sportive. Back then I was lighter and fitter than I am now.
The Kwaremont was fine. It?s a pretty shallow climb but the jarring of the cobbles add to the difficulty. The Paterberg was a different proposition and I had the misfortune of riding half the climb with a pick-up truck revving its engine right behind me.
I knew I wouldn?t make it up the Koppenberg on the 39 chainring so I dropped it down ? yes, I have a triple ? but it didn?t work. All that happened was the rear wheel spun and the front wheel lifted up. I stopped, put it back on the 39 ring, attempted a risky turn in the road by riding sideways across the hill to get going and then pushed on upwards. The key to these climbs is to have enough momentum to almost skate across the top of the stones. When you?re going as slowly as I was, all you?re really doing is jerking from one gap in the cobbles to the next. I made it though.
After that the Eikenberg ? with its handy tarmac strips up the side of much of the climb – and the Molenberg were a piece of cake.
The overall effect of six hills coming in less than 25 kilometres of riding is sapping though.
After a particularly nasty stretch of cobbles in Mater, on the way back to Oudenaarde, I actually cursed and suggested they should just tarmac the lot. I didn?t really mean it.
Distance ridden: 52km (32 miles) Oudenaarde – Oudenaarde
Time: Approx 2 hours
Hills: Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg, Koppenberg, Steekberendries, Eikenberg, Molenberg
The plan had been to ride between the Oude Kwaremont and the Eikenberg and then on to the Molenberg but after getting stuck in traffic driving from the start in Ghent down towards Oudenaarde our plans were in tatters. Our decision not to ride had absolutely nothing to do with the rain or the prospect of driving back to London in wet cycling kit.
As we were driving out of Ghent we saw a chicken cross the road. No, this isn?t a joke. It actually used the pedestrian crossing too.
I went out on a club-run, albeit one truncated by the filthy conditions. After 90 minutes I had had enough and headed home. It had started well enough but when the rain fell I lost all motivation. The pace was pretty handy at times and it was good to have people to talk to but a short-cut, ignoring a ?Road Ahead Closed? sign brought a trek through deep mud and that didn?t help morale.
I?ll meet up with them again next Sunday because it does wonders to ride in a group, particularly when so much of my riding is done alone.
For the first time in a fortnight I felt really tired this afternoon. Tired enough to sleep through much of West Ham?s 4-3 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Whether it?s the cumulative effect of a fortnight?s riding coming after three months of relative inactivity, I don?t know, but it was a satisfying physical fatigue.
Distance ridden: 49km (30 miles) Club run
WEEK TWO ? THE LOWDOWN
Total distance covered: 197.5km (122.7 miles)
This week, work and other commitments meant I had to juggle the training plan a little. I completed all the sessions, just not necessarily in the right order. Tuesday was a day off the bike, but I went to the gym instead. Saturday was the first day without any exercise. I can feel my endurance and strength building.
A couple of hours on the bike is a matter of routine now. The ebb and flow between longer endurance rides and short, sharp interval sessions has kept my training interesting. The key has been the flexibility of the programme, which has meant it?s been possible to swap days according to other commitments.
Are you braving the wind and rain to carry on training? Tell us on the Cycling Weekly forum.