Another year draws to an end, so it's time to look back and see how my year on and off the bike unfolded.
Following a pretty momentous 2013 for me, I had an idea that perhaps this year might have some difficulty in matching all the previous year's highlights. I didn't set any specific aims, but knew that I wanted to have a go at a few more road races and probably do a multi-day road race event. As I was now in the over 50s veterans group, I planned to target the Dunsfold Vets series and hope for a few podium spots or maybe even a win in my age category. Accumulating the 25 points needed to keep my 2nd Cat race licence was something that I wasn't going to think about until I had got a few races under my belt.
None of us could have reckoned on the two shocking events that were to cast such long dark shadows over the year though.
After a winter when we all wondered if it would ever stop raining and riding through so many roads that were ankle deep in water for weeks on end, it was a relief to finally get out and do some riding in good conditions with all the usual suspects during February, including a great club ride around the Isle of Wight at the end of the month.
After following Sam's training programme since the beginning of the year, I was feeling pretty fit and ready to start racing going into March. My first race of the year was a 2/3 road race on the Dunsfold road circuit, which went well and I was happy with a comfortable bunch finish after a big break had got away. There were plenty of races at Mountbatten coming up and I planned to use one or two of these as a means to check if I was at the required fitness level to enable me to compete and not just get 'spat out'. After racing at Dunsfold on the Saturday, I decided to give the Mountbatten race on Sunday 9th a miss though and went out for a ride with Helen on the tandem.
Later that evening, news of a dreadful crash at Mountbatten started to filter through as there were a number of people from our club present either racing or helping. There had been a number of casualties, including our own young Luke Stace, but the worst injuries had been sustained by Richard Philips-Schofield, who was riding with the Hantspol team. Sadly, Richard died of his injuries two days afterwards. This tragic event sent shock waves throughout the local and national cycling community; everyone that races accepts there are risks, but this was something that nobody had ever really considered possible, right on our own doorstep. Helen told me that she did not want me to race at Mountbatten any more and that she thought I should seriously think about stopping racing altogether as it just seemed to be too dangerous.
With the closure of Mountbatten, and no other races planned, I now had a few weeks to consider what I wanted to do. It was on a club ride at the end of March, when for some daft reason I just kept on riding afterwards and thinking about life in general that I had a moment of clarity that told me I should carry on racing. I also recorded my longest ever ride of 209km whilst I was mulling it all over One of the Strava comments put up on my ride afterwards made me smile - it was from Howard asking me if I had forgotten where I lived?
Early April saw a large contingent of the club travel over to Belgium for the Tour of Flanders Sportive. This was a memorable weekend both socially and for an epic ride over the cobbles. The memory of seeing so many riders literally falling off and scrabbling around all over the place will stick in my mind for a long time Somehow, I managed to pick my way through the carnage and a few of us had a fantastic smash up for the last open road stretch into the finish. Watching the pro riders in the main event the following day was a real privilege.
At the end of April, we embarked on our annual memorial ride, which saw a welcome change of route taking in the isle of Wight and the New Forest for a very long hard day in the saddle with over 200k ridden and a very sore bottom by the time I rolled back onto my driveway.
The early May holiday weekend was crunch time for me - could I manage 3 consecutive days of road racing? There was only one way to to find out! Matt, Clint and Dave Mitchell were also asking themselves the same question. Day 1 was the relatively flat but fast Dunsfold road circuit that I was familiar with and I was happy to finish comfortably in the bunch. Day 2 was on the Bletchingley circuit, which I had not previously ridden and it was brutal I rolled in around 20 minutes down with a number of other guys who had found the course (and the pace) just too much to cope with - Matt had a fantastic ride and top ten finish though. Day 3 was on another new circuit for me near Edenbridge in Kent. My legs fell off on the last lap and I finished a few minutes down on the main bunch, but it was great to see all the guys who had ridden over to support and cheer us on. So although I was never realistically going to feature amongst the contenders, I was pretty happy to have completed the event.
After spending a week recovering from the exertions, I had a good start to the Vets race series at Dunsfold and managed a third place in my first outing, just half a bike length behind the winner of the over 50s category. I also noticed that the way these events were being scored by BC seemed somewhat over generous, so those 25 points might be well within reach; it was a race win that I wanted though!
A trip to Gran Canaria with Helen and some old friends of ours was just the ticket later in May and I was able to get some very nice rides in, together with plenty of sunshine. One of the rides (Valley of the Tears or VOTT route) was memorable as a stunningly beautiful one, whilst also being brutally hard. I was also in a spot of trouble when I got back some 3 hours later than I had originally said! Thoroughly recommend Gran Canaria as a cycling holiday venue though.
June saw the races coming thick and fast, with another third place at Dunsfold and a good bunch finish in the National Masters Road Race Championships held up in Buckinghamshire. I also suffered my first ever DQ along with 7 other riders at the National Masters Circuit Championships at Hillingdon after a pretty farcical race with two separate age category races being run together, which resulted in total chaos. I was a bit annoyed after finishing in the top ten, but knew there was no point arguing with the Chief Comm afterwards.
In July, a few of us went over to Bourg to have another go at The Marmotte, prior to joining the rest of the club up at Lake Annecy. The weather up until the day was pretty awful, but on the day we got lucky with some lovely sunshine and perfect conditions. It was great to ride round with Paul, Clint and Dan for pretty much the whole of this fantastic day on the bike. Sadly, and although we didn't find out until the following day, this was also the very day that Howard was to be tragically taken from us back at home.
After driving up to Annecy on the Sunday and meeting everyone else at the rather nice house there, news of Howard's accident had come through. Although it wasn't yet clear that he had been fatally injured we all feared the worst, whilst desperately hoping for the best as we awaited further updates over the next day or so.
We heard of Howard's death during an afternoon ride up the Col du Tamie and there were a few tears shed as we stood quietly together at the side of the road and subsequently back at the house. The rest of the week was understandably a rather muted affair as everyone tried to comprehend what had happened; the weather did its best to join in with some unusually cold, wet and gloomy conditions too. I think we all made the most of what we had though and the poor weather did mean we had an excuse to sit drinking beer whilst watching Nibali ride the cobbles like a master and effectively crush his nearest Tour rivals in the process.
After returning from France, I headed over to Alberta in Canada for the wedding of my nephew. Although I only had a few days there, I took the opportunity to hire a (very ordinary) Felt bike - which cost me a fortune - to sample some of the roads around the area north of Edmonton where my brother lives. I think I can safely say that it was probably the dullest and most uninspiring place that I have ever ridden, with straight, flat and often busy roads that go on forever with nothing to see except oil wells for hundreds of miles It certainly made me appreciate the beauty of what we have right on our doorstep here in Hampshire when I went out for the first time after returning and I have tried to capture this with a few pictures uploaded into the album.
August saw a chance to re-visit Ride London and although the route had to be shortened due to the biblical downpour we endured, this did not dampen my enthusiasm for having a monster tear up with Sam in the company of the great Marianne Vos. It was an honour to have my legs well and truly shredded by such a great rider yet clearly a lovely and most un-assuming athlete who was happy to chat away in the bunch when she wasn't smashing it on the front! Definitely my highlight of the year and I was astonished to see the time of 3hrs 35mins for the 86 miles covered against my name afterwards.
On the Monday after, we all said our final goodbyes to Howard. Although it was a desperately sad occasion, I also found it to be an uplifting experience to see so many friends, relatives and sporting acquaintances there, all of whom had nothing but love and great stories of Howard to share. He is much missed, but we are all surely very lucky to have known him.
Our club sponsored race at Alfold went well as usual and I was happy with a solid bunch finish behind Sam and Matt. Thanks again for plenty of support on the day from many of our club members and well done to Guy for persevering with the barbecue despite the worst of the rain coming down on his sausages!
By now, I had accumulated 30 race points, so had more than enough to retain my 2nd Cat licence for next year, although I was definitely feeling like I was starting to run out of gas in the tank. I also didn't get so much satisfaction out of the points this year as I felt that they were won somewhat cheaply compared to the brutal road race events that I was not really top ten material in. I had also not managed to improve on my two third place finishes, so the top spot would have to wait for another year
My final competitive event of the year was the 4 up team time trial, where together with Paul, Gerry and Dave we formed the 200 year up club Although we rode a much faster time than last year, so did everyone else, so we were some way off taking the veterans crown. Have to say that the SDV vets were awesome on the day though and I was utterly exhausted at the finish - my season's race legs had definitely just come off!
Following a holiday in Greece, with a few nice rides thrown in, I spent October just doing a few rides here and there and generally trying to re-charge. Unfortunately, this did mean that I failed to get any 100k rides in for the first month since we all started this particular caper. However, November's traditional ride over to Alfriston more than made up for this lapse as we had a fantastic group turnout for our annual remembrance weekend trip. The turnout in Ditchling at 11am on the Sunday was exemplary and very poignant and we turned the last 20 miles into quite some smash up in the pouring rain once again!
December saw us heading over to a new venue for the annual mince pie ride and what a venue it was - if Carlsberg made man caves, then they would surely be like the one we found nestled at the bottom of Jon Belfield's garden! Thanks to Jon and Wendy for making everyone so welcome. There was just enough time in the year left to fit our club Christmas dinner evening in the following weekend, which saw a great turnout of around 30 in the Italian enjoying the food, wine and (sort of) entertainment
So that's pretty much it really. I'm not usually one for too much soul searching or introspection, but sometimes there are events that naturally lead one to question all sorts of things about life and this has certainly been the case for me this year. Tragic and unfathomable events such as these just reinforce my belief that we should be grateful for everything we have, treasure our families and friendships and enjoy life to the full for as long as we are able to. My daughter Fiona bought me the picture at the top for Christmas and it really does seem to sum things up perfectly for me.
Most of all though, be happy - just like Howard always was.
Happy New Year everyone.
Thought I would have another go at condensing my year into one of these blogs and have really enjoyed looking back over so many personal highlights during what turned into a pretty good year for me - both on and off the bike.
From February onwards and with a lot of help from Sam, I did try and stick to a more focussed weekly training schedule, rather than just doing lots of miles/hours of riding. Going into March though, after what seemed like a never ending winter of many hours spent churning away indoors on the turbo or the rowing machine, I was not at all clear as to what level my fitness was with my race season due to start.
My first outing was a Surrey League road race on the Dunsfold road circuit and I was in trouble with severe leg pain from the off as my long standing chronic compartment syndrome came back with a vengeance. I get this problem from time to time and can usually ride through it, but sometimes the pain just gets unbearable and I have to stop, or as was the case this time, unclip the offending leg and pedal one-legged! I managed to drag myself over the finish line at the back of the bunch for a painful and unhappy drive back home - not the start I was hoping for. Thankfully though, this was to be the last time I would suffer so badly with this problem for another 6 months.
After getting my legs back together again, I set about following Sam's training plan as closely as I could and started to get some decent results down at Mountbatten. Sam told me to try and be more aggressive and force some moves during these often rather negative races and this seemed to pay off as I started to get into breaks and finish in the points fairly regularly. In April, a good squad of us went up to the MOD test track at Chertsey, which is one of my favourite circuits and I was hopeful of getting a good result. Sadly, the race was marred by a number of bad crashes, which resulted in both Dave Shaw and Dave Mitchell having to go to hospital with various broken bones. Happily, they both made full recoveries after a few weeks rest and were both soon back to their respective best.
The end of April saw us make the annual club trip over to Gloucester for the MBMR, for which there was a great turn out and some excellent support provided by Guy et al from Jon Belfield's van. My day did not start particularly well though, as I nearly had a heart attack when Rob Capel's tyre blew up in my car during the drive up. The lack of any sort of reaction from Rob at the time was both astonishing and (afterwards) hilarious! The ride itself was a tough one for me and I ran out of legs for the last few miles back into Hungerford - should have had another pint at lunch time! My other memory of that ride was Andy Sayner looking like he could have ridden another 100 miles as he seemed to get stronger and stronger whilst the rest of us were wilting. This was easily the longest ride of the year for me, but I do look forward to a new route for 2014 - especially after Paul pointed out we were basically riding between two places infamous as mass murder sites!
Another April highlight for me was my first LVRC road race, which was on a great road circuit near Alton. Clint and I both enjoyed this very well run event and seeing some really fit guys racing well into their 50s and 60s - shows that we are never too old for this malarkey!
Moving into May and after getting third overall in the five race 3/4 Cat Mountbatten series, I started doing some of the Surrey League Vets series races at the Dunsfold Aerodrome. These are always hard races with plenty of good riders around who enjoy ripping the legs off other riders and I was pleased to be able to hang in some breaks with a few of these guys, gathering a few top ten finishes to add to the points tally. For the first time, my mind did start to contemplate the possibility of accumulating the 40 points needed for 2nd Cat.......
The big highlight in May was undoubtedly the trip to Bala in Wales with Kent, Paul and Clint. This is an awesome place to ride a bike and all those who said they were going but dropped out really did miss out on a great trip. Kent is organising a return trip this year, so you really do need to be there!
After a very nice holiday trip to the US and a welcome re-charging of the batteries, the racing continued thick and fast with the build up to what would be my first ever multi-day stage race at the end of June. Sam was also racing in what was now a 1,2,3 Cat event; Matt, Dave Mitchell and Howard Radcliffe were also entered into what turned out to be a superb event run by Poole Wheelers.
The first day was very hard indeed with a hill climb TT in the morning and a very lumpy road race in the afternoon, which was raced at an incredible pace that I eventually had to give in to and roll in with a number of other bunch rejects. The following day, I was both pleased and surprised that my legs seemed to be ok and I posted what for me was a reasonable time in the flat TT. Matt and Sam also posted good times and we were looking forward to the afternoon road race which was on a huge 20 mile circuit, complete with fully marshalled roads, traffic lights we were allowed to cross on red and junctions all covered in favour of the race. My aim was simply to try and hang on to the end in such a high quality field and I was pretty chuffed to manage it, although I almost turned myself inside out a couple of times chasing back on! Matt had a great finish to win the bunch sprint, whilst Sam had been up the road in the break for the whole race. Although I was never going to trouble the leader board in this, I did feel a real sense of achievement in finishing whilst plenty of others floundered.
After another LVRC race, it was time to head off to France and after 800 miles at the wheel in a day, it was a relief to find the lovely woodland campsite near Mont Ventoux where Paul and Wendy were already camped; Dave and Gill Shaw were also parked alongside in their mobile palace - with a welcome cuppa on hand!
After tough but beautiful rides up Ventoux on successive days (in baking heat), we had the pleasure and privilege of watching Chris Froome destroy the field and effectively win the Tour from right where we were sitting in front of Chalet Reynard. We then headed up to Bourg to hook up with all the others for a fantastic week of fun and riding in the Alps, which culminated in watching the tour ride up Alpe d'Huez. What a fantastic week that was!
I really did think that the buzz from this week could not be topped, but the Ride London 100 in August did just that. A fantastic day on the bike with a great bunch from the club smashing it up on empty roads in perfect weather. The adrenaline rush as we hammered up The Mall in front of thousands of cheering onlookers was truly incredible! Fingers are crossed for another entry this year.
After an excellent club barbecue at Hundred Acres, the rest of August was a blur of racing - the Winchester Street Crit and our club road race at Alfold were great events to be involved in and I got to the end of the month just needing four more points to get the 40 needed, so the question was: did I really want them? So, and borrowing the inimitable words of Uncle Dave, I thought about it for about a second or so and made my mind up - of course I wanted them!
With a holiday coming up and the feeling that my batteries were starting to fail a bit, I knew that the race at Mountbatten on the 11th September would be my last outing of the season. So it was now or never and with some good team help from Jon Healey, I finished 5th to grab the last few points that I needed.
After returning from holiday, it was time to back things off a bit and just enjoy some social riding such as the annual trip to the Isle of Wight and some great Sunday tear ups with the usual suspects!
Then in November, we all headed off for our Remembrance Weekend trip to Alfriston, which was memorable for so many reasons. Once again, it was brilliantly organised by Paul with great road support provided by Wendy and Sam - courtesy of Steve's van. Conditions for the ride over were appalling, but everyone just got on with it and the open fire in the pub when we got there was bliss! The ride back was a lovely contrast in weather and made for some magical autumn scenery.
At the end of November, I turned 50 and the day was better than I could have ever hoped for, with a great morning club ride in lovely weather, followed by a fantastic party in the evening with all my family there and lots of club members too - not forgetting some very noisy fireworks of course!
Our annual trip over to Roger's for the Mince Pie Ride saw our largest ever group club ride and this was a great event to be part of as we could all see young Alex making good progress after his dreadful injury in the summer. It is uplifting to see so many people come together in support of Alex and we all hope that 2014 sees him continue to make great strides in his recovery.
So all in all, it's been an epic year for me; it remains to be seen how things go with the racing next year as a 2nd Cat, but I will be giving it everything I have got. It's been a pleasure riding and socialising with all of you and I hope 2014 brings all of us another great year together - both on and off our bikes.
Never done one of these before, so I thought why not use it to review my year on (and off) the bike?
After a pretty good winter's training coming into 2012, I felt fitter and stronger than I have done since taking up this lark, so I was entertaining hopes of maybe pushing towards enough points for 2nd Cat - just to experience some real pain!
Things didn't go to plan though, as I had a big crash whilst skiing in France in early March, which trashed my knee and put me off the bike for a few weeks. After getting some specialist advice and MRI scan, I was pretty happy when the consultant chappie said it would be best not to have my ruptured ACL repaired. He added that I should crack on with riding my bike as much as possible to rebuild the muscles, which would greatly help with knee stability - so who was I to argue?
Just when I was starting to get my fitness back, things took another bad turn when I was brought down in one of the early races at Goodwood by a young lady who crashed in front of me. I remember flying through the air thinking 'here we go again' and wondered what bits I would break this time. Happily though, I was relatively unscathed, which was more than can be said for my bike wheels or the young lady who smashed her collar bone and got my tyre marks embedded into her skin for her trouble!
At this point, I was pretty close to giving it up after Mrs R told me that it just wasn't worth the risk - I even considerered dabbling in the dark arts of TT until Clinton had a word in my shell like. Unfortunately, his words are not printable here.....!
So I decided to dust myself down again and get on with it. My first big road race was the Thames Velo, which was the usual excellent event. I felt surprisingly good in the race and was pleased to help Matt get across to a break and he ended up finishing a fine 2nd place, with enough points to go up to 2nd Cat.
After that, my focus turned more to getting in some long rides as preparation for the trip to France for the Marmotte. Once again, the ride over to Gloucester was a real highlight - except the bit where Guy blew both his tubs at about 40mph! Clint, Rob Shannon and I re-visited the 127 mile Magnificat and got soaked once again, but no doubt this was all good stuff for the main event.
The week in France was another epic time on and off the bike, with great company, stunning rides and the highlight of riding round with Dave Shaw and seeing him get his deserved gold medal this time. I will never forget the sound of him bashing his chain into the big ring as we got to the top of the Alpe for a tear up to the finish line in not much over 8 hours!
For the remainder of the summer, I went back to a mixture of some tough 2/3 road races and a few of the circuit races. I managed to double up at Mountbatten a few times and was happy to be able to keep Clinton company and stick with the ballistic pace of the group most of the time - one race saw an average speed of 30mph showing for the 50 minutes of racing! Our sponsored road race at Alfold went very well, with a great turnout from everyone to make sure we were well represented as a club and the 3 of us racing getting fully involved in proceedings.
The final major highlight of the year was the trip so brilliantly organised by Paul, which saw more than 20 of us ride over to Alfriston YHA to drink lots of beer, then ride back again the next day. Once again, great company and great fun was had, whilst the ride back in glorious autumn sunshine was absolutely stunning. The ride support provided by Wendy and Sam, plus getting into Ditchling in time for our own small but very poignant Remembrance Sunday parade also made this a really memorable trip.
Very much an up and down year for me, but the good bits definitely outweighed the not so good bits and despite a pretty dismal points return for the year, I will be back for another crack next year!
Thanks to everyone who makes this club such a great group of people to be involved with - both on and off the bike. Here's to another great year in 2013
Happy New Year One and All.