Also as a nice postscript to that first year, we did way of the roses and someone dropped out so someone we didn't know - James - took his place, first time we'd ever met him. Fast forward a decade and I was his best man last year. Two other early ICC members were groomsmen.
06/03/2023 – One Ride to Verulam All
The Verulam CC Reliability Ride (VRR) is the last event I rode before lockdown and the first one I took part in when things opened up. And this year my calendar seemed to open up with a VRR-sized space at just the right time. Why would I do this again? It’s usually cold, the course is really challenging and the start is out in Redbourn.
Last year I had puncture after puncture. That wasn’t going to happen this year. I shod my bike with 30mm Challenge Strada Bianchi tyres - full on Spring Classic mode. Richard chose a modern classic in blue with 28s and mudguards. Sensible bikes were the order of the day.
This bike loves being in the big ring a little too much
With 4,500ft of elevation, plenty of technical sections and the roads full of potholes, mud, water and gravel, this is probably the toughest of the Chilterns Classics series. This year the course is tweaked and it’s 68.6 miles (down from 70.1 last year), but it still includes some leg, back and spirit breaking climbs.
I drove up and met up with Richard, who had ridden up from Islington. He was looking for a big day and I was just looking to get round. There were a few others planning to be there, but it was a complicated weekend with another train strike to manage. Despite the VRR field being mainly composed of local riders, I felt there were fewer taking part.
I don’t get bored of saying this. It’s only 12 quid. Yes, it costs just £12 to enter and while there are no food stops or aid stations, you get hot drinks, pastries and a pile of bars to grab at the start and then shed load of sandwiches and cake at the end. It’s cycling’s grassroots, old fashioned and quite timeless in its low-key and friendly ways.
How did it go, I hear you ask? Well, I set out at 9am behind a group of about 30 keen-looking riders. Placing myself strategically towards the rear of this pack, I was looking for a group to drop off the back and ride at a mellow pace that I could comfortably get involved in. No such luck. They were going at it hammer and tongs. Averaging 245w over the first three miles was not something I could sustain over the full distance of the course. That’s my hour power, my race pace, not something I could stay with. I dropped back. Please note I was not dropped. I. Dropped. Back.
Richard mixed it up with the big group for another mile before realising I had “tactically fallen back.” We pressed on, still going at a fair lick. There is a lot of amazing woodland on this ride and a few decent vistas, too. We ploughed through the Ashridge Estate and then past Albury and the Musette Café. I had earmarked the No 2 Wine and Cheese Deli in Wendover for a pit stop and it did not disappoint. We took on toasties and coffees, just as well as a pair of climbs were about to hit us in 5 miles' time.
The view from the deli as two more arrive in Wendover
Whiteleaf and Wardrobes. They sound innocent, sweet even, but they are buggers. Whiteleaf - #23 in Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Climbs book – is a half mile that averages 10% and tops out at 20%. No sooner have you go down the other side of Whiteleaf than you hit the 0.87 miles of Wardrobes Lane, which although averaging a more modest 8.9%, it tops out at 13.4%. And Wardrobe is sneaky. It hides its steeper section where the road turns sharply left. Round that bend and you hit the 13.4% part. Not such a brute as Whiteleaf, but riding these two back to back is makes you really glad to close the door on Wardbrobes, so to speak.
Richard had some kind of diagonal weird crossover going on with his chain just as we began Whiteleaf. It went back into place. Phew. Whiteleaf done. Then he was well ahead of me on Wardrobes Lane. It was only when we’d got past the top, I understood why. He couldn’t get in the small chain ring. He necessarily had to blast his way up. Mr May is something of a grinder, rarely using the small ring. “Perhaps there were too many cobwebs?” I quipped. Maybe. After 5 mins of failed fettling, he decided to call it a day and big ringed it to High Wycombe train station. Having ridden up, he ended up logging 75 miles. Not so shabby.
Endless rolling hills await
I wasn’t expecting to see any more groups on the road, but within a minute of Richard’s departure, a pair of riders came by. They were both local and on the VRR. Great. They knew the route really well and I was happy to be guided. I locked in on a rear wheel and went into wheelsucker mode. Their pace was a little below what we’d been doing, but still strong enough. It took 20 miles for me to step up and take a turn on the front. When I looked back, I’d lost them. I really, really wasn’t riding hard. I hoped nothing untoward had occurred and rode the last 5 or 6 miles to the finish. I later learned they ran into another rider they knew and eased off for a chat.
After refuelling at the HQ and uploading my data, I was quietly and tiredly delighted. Compared to last year, I’d ridden faster, kicked out more watts and hadn’t had a single puncture. Strava gave me 128 achievements. And I had hit my maximum heart rate on Whiteleaf. Blimey! If reliability rides are in any way accurate as traditional early season fitness and form tests, then I am starting to get excited about what I can achieve this year.
If you want to ride the route, you can drive up or take a train to Harpenden (3.5 miles) or St Albans (5.4 miles).
Next week (12/03/23) is the Berkhamstead CC Spring Classic, which starts from Aldbury at the Musette Cafe. Get a train to nearby Tring if you fancy it.
Good day out. The bike was clearly determined to not allow even a momentary breach of Rule #90. Those who live by the big ring,...
If you want to try one of these rides:
Berkhamsted Spring Classic is this Sunday. HQ is at Musette, Aldbury. Entries close on Wednesday. https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/events/details/275552/Berkhamsted-Spring-Classic
Finsbury Park Reliability Ride is the following Sunday. HQ at Potters Bar. See: https://forum.islington.cc/events/8079/#comment16865821
24/04/2023 – Highway to Hell
Back in 2010, Rapha staged it’s first Hell of the North ride. An homage to Paris-Roubaix, it was 50 miles in length and featured 20 gravé sectors rather than pavé. These were gravelled paths and dirt tracks – the best they could do without access to French and Belgian-style Spring Classic cobbles. There was an apres ride social at a pub to watch the finale of Paris-Roubaix and enjoy a beer and frites. It was free to take part and take part I did.
I was working as a cycle instructor at the time and went along with an instructor buddy called Neil. Neil was on a cross bike. Sensible. I was on the only bike I had - a steel Peugeot with down tube shifters and 25 mm tyres. How times change. I don’t think I saw anyone else on a cross bike that day, everyone seemed to be on road bikes and all seemed determined to tough it out. Maybe there were one or two MTBs. It also has to be said, there was no GPS routing. There wasn't even a cue sheet. We were given something that looked like a brevet card with a roughly drawn route. It wasn't a map. More like an artist's impression of the route. The route itself was signed by pink chalk marks. I just followed the riders ahead and hoped for the best. The rest stop was fairly spartan, it featured bananas and water only.
Even in 2019 most entrants were on ordinary road bikes with narrow tyres
Times (and tech) do change. When disc brakes came to road bikes, the opportunity for fatter rubber opened up. With that an opportunity for a new kind of bike, the gravel bike, with tyres that were beefier than you could fit on a cross bike. Bikes that could compete with many mountain bikes for off-roadworthyness, so to speak, but were also lively on tarmac.
The route card for the first Day in Hell
In 2010, most riders had 23mm tyres. I took part in 2013 and rode - I kid you not - on a fixed-gear bike with 25s and a 66in gear ratio (48:19). I had quite a few punctures that day and it was a slog. After eight editions of the Hell of the North, Rapha renamed the ride A Day in Hell. Pretty much the same fare, except the event became a paid for thing and places were limited. I didn’t get a place again until the 2019 edition and then, having learned my lesson, rode my titanium (geared) road bike with 30mm tyres. The ride was more plush, but I still got a few punctures.
The 2023 edition was not as muddy as I'd feared
Fast-forward to 2023 and it’s now £25 to enter Rapha's A Day in Hell. The start is from Rapha’s HQ, which is Elthorne Road in Islington. Handy, eh? And it wasn't at all hard to get a ticket, even three days beforehand. This year Rapha offered three routes: 100km (standard), 136km (long route) and 100km (optimised for 28mm tyres). I took on the standard and RideWithGPS indicate about 25% off-road. It wasn’t at all. After 10 road miles you’re into it and it’s mainly off road all the way to when you hit Shenley on the way back. You could pick up several tracks from here if you wanted to stay off road – probably all the way to Finchley.
As you'd expect, gravel bikes now dominate the ride
Compared to 2010, the bikes are of different order. Tons of beefy rubber-equipped gravel bikes and road bikes with 28-32mm tyres. Something that hasn’t changed is that the field is almost exclusively male. I found this odd. Rapha has worked to champion women’s cycling and their RCC rides seem to feature a good proportion of women. I think I only saw one or two women riding, which, as an ICC member and in general a human, did feel very odd.
Two Mason Bokehs enjoy a well earned break in Shenley
This year I worried (unnecessarily) about it being too muddy. There were one or two short sections that were really sloppy, but all were rideable. Rapha set up a feed station in Brickendon at the Farmer’s Boy and there were bananas and tons of bars and gels to grab, along with inner tubes. I got chatting to a chap who was also riding a Mason Bokeh. I think we were both starting to flag and stopped off at the Orchard Cafe in Shenley to refuel. It was only 10 miles from the finish, but I just had to have some real food.
Rest stop giveaway goodies acquired
Below are the three 2023 routes. You can also find all of the historic Hell of the North and A Day in Hell routes on RideWithGPS.
So weird catching up on this, and seeing pics of former members I had no idea had ever been involved with the club! Particularly Alison Alexander who was a regular at the Evans I worked at back in those days... I actually sold her the bike I see in some of the pictures you've posted David!
... in fact the guy next to her in this pic was the Head Mechanic at the store..! (I think they dated for a while?)...
I did it in 2019 on 25mm 100psi tyres and it was sketchy as all hell but I managed to stay upright by just sending it on certain section.
When I did it again in 2020 on an actual gravel bike it was still sketchy and can't believe I completed it the year prior on road tyres. No punctures either year though.
+Zac I believe that sketchy feeling of being on the edge of control is called Type 2 fun. No punctures for me in 2023. A massive relief mainly down to the massive difference from 25mm to 42mm.
+GeorgeS which Evans? I bought my beloved Surly Steamroller from the Hendon shop.
Over the years I worked at St Pauls (Farringdon Road/Ludgate Circus), Waterloo (The Cut), West End (Mortimer Street) and Spitalfields. Occasionally I covered shifts at London Bridge too.
IIRC, Ali bought the bike in our Mortimer Street branch. I don't miss working retail one bit, but getting trade prices again would be nice!
Some great memories here! Just had a cruise back through some photos and this is I think one of my earliest ICC photos/memories. The Great Escape 2015 edition, I think I'd been in the club for a year at this point. In the background it's @ceci @Ivan.B and maybe @Sir_Shannonball in the white gilet?
This was my first 200k and think I fainted at the end. Because I was new, didn't know what I was doing and hadn't eaten enough on the ride. Still have that bike (albeit in new colours).
+Alec 2015 and the event was still an audax. Here is the registration desk and a panorama of the crowds building outside Look Mum No Hands.
I'm not the wearer of the white gilet in that shot, I was on a tandem with +RichardM in 2015. There was a good article on the Look Mum blog: http://www.lookmumnohands.com/blog/essex-adventures/P136 At the bottom of the page were are links to other editions of The Great Escape.
Richard doing a great job of holding both me and the tandem upright
I think I need to give some kudos to Paul Baker +paul.b who served as our first kit manager and Orestis Mavroudis-Chocholis +Orestis who served as membership secretary. Both made tremendous contributions.
Paul is the rider climbing Hardknott's Pass in that dramatic photo on the home page of the forum. He was competing in the Fred Whitton Challenge.
Ah nice, tandem before the new colours!
Yes. Getting round 200km in 6:47:04 (moving time) planted the thought that a tandem might be useful for time trialling. What a slippery slope!
30/04/23 - From Groovy to Gravy
Having ridden the 100km of Rapha’s A Day in Hell last week, I felt confident taking on the mere 37 miles of Spoke Cycling’s inaugural Groovy Gravel ride. Roughly half the length, you still get beer and frites at the finish. This was going to be easy, right? Actually, you also got an orange Spoke mug, but more of that later.
Spoke have been running gravel rides on Wednesday evenings spring to autumn from their Codicote cafe. Groovy Gravel was a natural extension of this vibe for owners Alex and Jonathan. I took the train up to Welwyn Garden City with Richard May and we grabbed a coffee and a race card (oddly there was no number on it). Like last week at A Day in Hell I had knobby 42mm tyres, as did Richard. But looking around there were quite a few mountain bikes. Did they know something we didn’t?
Lucky that I cleaned my bike in advance...
They did. It rained a fair bit that week, but the key thing was the route. It was quite intense. Almost entirely off road and with many muddy, flooded areas and unrideable sections. Hike-a-bike is not really Richard’s style and he headed off to work up a sweat on more solid surfaces around the halfway mark.
This was a total hike-a-bike part of the route
It was quite a challenge to stay upright. This can be fun. Without a little slip and slide going on, it isn’t quite a gravel ride. The first steep gradient we hit and everyone was walking. It was just too sloppy to have enough traction. Even the MTBs. We had quickly gone from groovy to gravy. From gravy, we hit some seriously flooded trails. I do like this kind of dirty ride.
This is me on one of the "more sensible" sections
I fell in with a rider called Ash. He was struggling a bit, so we stuck together. We both managed slow-mo spills and both suffered horrendous “glue mud.” I don’t know what else to call it. It is like fast drying concrete and clogs up everything. There is one field between Tewin and Bramfield that is full of this evil stuff. Just two wheel rotations and your bike is buggered. If you have a front mech, it will be stuck. Front wheel, stuck with a clogged up fork. Back wheel, stuck with a clogged rear bridge. And the chain… Seriously, the chain had glue mud between every link. Both of our bikes had this and the chain would not sit on the chain ring. We had to grab handfuls of water from puddles and work this filth out. That took 20 minutes, no word of a lie.
Ash, some mud and a snack
My bike with residual glue-mud having spent 20 minutes unclogging it
Clearly I had put my foot (feet) in it
We limped back to Spoke running on fumes. 37 miles had felt like 137. Most people seemed to have done the shorter 20 mile route on a MTB and who could blame them? The beer and frites and sense of camaraderie were great, the route (although super challenging, was really well marked out with orange ribbons. And as well as the beer and frites, you got an orange Spoke mug as a gift. I couldn’t fit it into my pockets, so I zip tied it to my bars. Brilliant, eh? Except when I got home, I cut the tie and forgot to grab the mug. It smashed!
My smashing way to carry a mug
I think Alex and Jonathan should take great credit for getting this event on. They are going to have several road rides, too, to build on their Ride of the Falling Leaves from 2022. My only gripe (which I made loud and clear) was that it should have more road sections. Half the pleasure of a gravel bike is that it is capable and quick on and off road. A bit more on and I think this ride would be even more groovy.
Frites and beer included
Here’s the route, just take a detour around that field near Tewin.
10/05/2023 - Sign of the times
Forget about the race itself, just getting to the start line can be quite a task. Some of my favourites include setting pm rather than am on my wake-up alarm, missing some vital bit of kit and getting lost between the HQ and the start. This is all assuming that the event in question isn’t cancelled in the first place...
The London and Home Counties Veterans Time Trial Association (VTTA) 10-mile time trial on 7 May was not meant to be the first race of the season for me and tandem race partner Richard May. It was meant to kick off a month earlier on 10 April with the ECCA 25 Championship, but that was cancelled because of hazardous potholes. Then the Charlotteville CC 25 on 23 April had a mix up with categories and would not allow Richard and myself to race on a tandem (it was pouring that day, so we didn’t miss much). Then another ECCA 25 on 30 April was also mysteriously cancelled at the last minute. This was all something of a wind up.
The VTTA race was on the F11/10 course. It’s an out-and-back, that features a nice long drop off that you don’t have to do uphill on the return leg. In short, it’s widely regarded as a fast course and as such drew 150 riders in the solo category and three in the tandem category.
This season Cycling Time Trials, the National Governing Body for time trials in England, Scotland and Wales, have created a road bike category for all races. Of course, you could always enter any time trial on a road bike before, but now if you choose to ride a road bike, you are not competing with time trial bikes. This is a really positive move.
Six years ago, I helped organise a training day with Matt Bottrill Performance Coaching. Matt was a legendary amateur racer and we hired him and his team for a day’s workshop, looking at how to plan your training to reach your goals, FTPs, diet, rest, mental strength and will finish with a panel session. There are videos of the day on the forum.
One young chap on Matt’s staff was George Fox. Spin forward 6 years and George now has his own coaching business and was aiming for a record or two in the new road bike category at the VTTA 10. Well, he did it! George set a time of 18:41, beating Colin Sturgess’ record which has stood since 1988. His time was the second fastest of any rider that day, Richard Oakes being the fastest at 18.12 on a time trial machine. GCN fans would have spotted Ollie Bridgewood placing 5th overall (19:09) on a time trial machine.
George Fox on his Argon road bike
The Calfee Design Dragonfly tandem in its new livery
I’m getting distracted here. I was/we were racing that day, too, in the tandem time trial machine category. The machine itself has had something of a wash and brush up since last season with a lively new orange paint job. We were up against national champions Elliott and Greenstreet and a racing couple, Chris and Joanne York, who also looked rapid. With 150+ entrants the car park was full and we found ourselves setting up the turbo trainer for our warm up on a local street (which isn’t weird at all). Richard’s power meter is malfunctioning and he stepped out of the warm up for a while. He makes up for it by pushing hard when we head off for the race. “I’ll do it on heart rate or feel,” he mutters.
We get to the start OK ahead of the Yorks, who were off before us. Tandems go in 2-minute gaps rather than the usual single minute between solo riders. Typically, Elliott and Greenstreet arrive moments before we set off, which I always find impressive, but my innate sense of punctuality would never allow me to do.
We’re off reasonably well and averaging 26.5mph when we hit the sharp descent, which is roughly at the 4-mile point. This drop off is at least 1.5 miles and it is glorious. We touch 44.5mph and our average is above 30mph by the time we hit the bottom. Then it’s four flat miles to the finish. I’m not tracking my HR while we race (power and average speed), but I later see I hit my maximum heart rate as we sprint to the finish. And it was a sprint, kind of. We can see the Yorks up ahead heading for the line and do our best to catch them. We very almost do, but find ourselves overtaken by Elliott and Greenstreet meters before the finish. I wish someone had caught that on camera. We did later catch up with the Yorks and check out their very lovely Mercian machine. You can see that there is a lot of love poured into what is a simply stunning build.
The Yorks' spiffing Mercian tandem
Then it was tea and a slice of almond and apple cake back and the HQ as we awaited our official time. It was 20:48. This is a PB for us by a massive 1:03. Pretty exciting. I can’t say we blew the roof off the village hall, but in the “whirlwind” I did grab an extra bit of cake. It’s also an ICC club record for tandems at 10 miles.
Tea and cake never seem to go out of fashion
On the drive home – happy and tired – +RichardM gets a call from an unrecognised number. “Hello?” It was Rachael Elliott. We had forgotten to sign back in. Unless we did, we would be disqualified and our time voided. “Would you like me to sign you both in by proxy?” the national champion kindly offered. “Er, yes. That would be very kind. Thank you.” And there you have it. It’s not all about getting to the start line or even the finish line. You have to sign on the dotted line.
Nice report, +Sir_Shannonball
So what did we learn? Well, for one thing I should probably outsource signing duties to Rachael Elliott, and riding duties to Remco Evenepoel, and just focus on the cake.
Here are a couple of photos from the ICC to trip to the TdF (in Epping)