Sunday, June 8, 2008
136 days to go
Of all the cyclist’s enemies out there, the wind is the sneakiest.
At least the rain, miserable and sodden though it is, has the decency to show itself.
And at least you can wave your arms in indignation at the 4x4s that stick you into the hedgerow, as the wife of some investment banker – yes, that’s rhyming slang – ferries little Tarquin home for his organic pre-homework snack.
But the wind is a liar and a thief.
One minute it’s pretending to be your friend, giving a helping hand and making it all feel so easy.
The next it’s blowing into your face, howling with laughter at your ineptitude after robbing you of the speed beneath your wheels.
But after a week of almost non-stop rain, I happily took the wind as a riding companion.
I get a fair bit of stick for my ‘Rain = No Ride’ philosophy. Everyone tells me how good I’ll feel about myself if I get out there in the rain, but in the final analysis the ‘cons’ outweigh the ‘pros’ for the simple reason that there are no ‘pros’.
The cons are too numerous to list here but for a start the bike gets ruined, it’s utterly miserable and car users drive even more poorly in the rain.
So for nine days I have been consigned to the rollers for short spells, never more than 30 minutes at a time, but fitting in a couple of sessions some days.
Why the rollers as opposed to a turbo trainer? Well, it’s quieter, you don’t need to fix your bike up to it and ruin your back tyre. You need to concentrate too. Riding a turbo is such a mind-numbing experience that too much of it turns your brain into vegetable soup.
And not a nice, tasty soup with big firm hunks of exciting vegetables that you’ve made yourself, but a sort of soft brown sludge you get in a tin.
As you sit there, pedalling against an artificial resistance, your mind wanders, until you are just turning the legs over without a thought. You forget what you’re doing and you’re really no better than a lab mouse that has only a little plastic wheel for exercise.
On the rollers you have to concentrate on staying upright. It may not sound much but you can’t allow yourself to drift. So you think about what your body is doing. It may not be an intensive work-out, but all the while you are slowly improving your core stability and you are promoting a smooth pedalling style. A jerky stroke will have you flitting left and right, in danger of an embarrassing spill onto the kitchen floor.
Anyway, the weather had been appalling and I stuck resolutely indoors, repeatedly refreshing the BBC weather website, which became an exercise in proving what a waste of time the weather forecast is.
On Monday night, the BBC had a black cloud with two raindrops to illustrate Tuesday’s weather.
Imagine my surprise when I woke on Tuesday with the sun streaming through the crack in the curtains. And imagine my astonishment when the BBC’s five-day forecast had been edited to show a white cloud with a bright shiny sun.
That’s the sort of revisionist approach the Soviet Union would have been proud of – not what I’ve come to expect from good old trustworthy Auntie Beeb.
And back to my initial point about the wind being a low-down filthy cheat – what is the universal weather symbol for wind? There isn’t one. There’s just a number in a circle with an arrow pointing out of it. Rubbish. I think the symbol should be a cloud with a sarcastic-looking, smarmy face on it with fat cheeks exhaling (the wind can be depicted by wavy lines or something).
OUTDOORS AT LAST
Anxious to make up for lost time and spurred on by my training partner and fellow Paris-Roubaix guinea pig, James, I knew I had to get out as soon as the weather allowed. On Sunday, while it rained all day north of London it was evidently a little less miserable in Surrey because I got a text message at about 4pm telling me that James had been out for a very windy 56-mile ride. On his own.
Considering I’d just returned from a country pub where I’d eaten a pork chop the size of my face, I felt bad about myself.
So I did a three-hour ride on Tuesday and another two hours 40 minutes on Thursday, the wind making it a tougher experience than really it needed to be. It’s just so difficult to gauge how you’re feeling and how you’re going because of the invisible enemy that can be helping one minute, hindering the next.
In Berkhamsted I noticed that the parking bays (usually filled with 4x4s while their drivers have a coffee in the high street) are cobbled. Just for fun I clattered over the edge of a couple of sections to remind myself that this training programme is all about Paris-Roubaix. It was bumpy and everything but absolutely nothing compared to the roads we’ll be riding in northern France.
If anyone knows where there are any proper cobbled roads in the UK, let me know firstname.lastname@example.org
The first mini goal was always Sunday’s Harp Hilly 100km reliability trial, where it will be interesting to see whether the sportive revolution has had any affect.
The old Catford ride, one I’ve done a couple of times, has been rebranded the Hell of the Ashdown cyclo-sportive and sold out in about four minutes. It’s likely to be a full-on race from the off too, as everyone lines out on the wheel of the Rapha-Condor-Recycling guys.
But in Hertfordshire I hope for a more civilised affair. A gentle first hour would certainly do me a favour.
And if the wind could just ease off for three and a half hours or so I’d appreciate it.
PICTURE: Cobbles Hertfordshire parking bay style. Paris-Roubaix they ain’t.
Hell of the North blog part 1: 143 days to go
Official Paris-Roubaix cyclo-sportive 2008 site