Sunday 28 February 2010

Etape preparation - 5 months to go

The weather has been slow to improve but I have at least built up a bit from the freezing January.  The last two winter series at Hillingdon took care of the top end and I managed the Hemel Hempstead and High Wycombe 100k reliability rides, the latter in grim conditions when I was beset by two punctures.  The commuting has again been limited due to a lot of freezing weather and I have abandoned any plans to go out today due to the heavy rain.  The six recent days on my club's training trip to Spain has saved the month though and given me some climbing, including a couple of time trials up the Coll de Rates.
So I have managed 815 miles in 52:52 (average 15.5 mph) with 15,115m of climbing.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Imperial Winter Series Race 12 Saturday 13th February

Temperatures above zero but felt bitterly cold in the north wind as a good (ie medium) number of riders lined up for the start in light snow.  Alex Murray made a brave early attempt at a break.  By the time I figured out it might be an idea to join him the bunch had woken up.  A two man break from the 3rd cat race came past and those at the front didn't want to let them go, leading to a higher pace than usual until the 3rd cat bunch went by and we eased to let them past and then to create a gap.  We zoomed down the back straight and bunched together on the finishing straight but as I found when I hit the front into the wind there was no option but to slow.  My Garmin shows 30.6 mph on the back straight on the final lap but that was not sufficient to do anything other than hang on at the back.  No crashes this week in our race so I rolled in at the back of the bunch.
Average Speed 23.6 mph.
That's the last one for this winter and I have done all 11 (one was cancelled when deep snow lay on the circuit).  So why do I do it, given that I don't have a ghost of a chance of winning points?  Here are some thoughts in case they assist those who contemplate doing this next winter.
1. The races are very well organised, cheerfully and efficiently by the Collins family who turn up every Saturday all winter to stand around in the cold (it's much colder if you're standing around than if you're racing) and chip ice or sweep mud off the circuit.  Register in advance and it takes moments to scribble your name and go.  They take the trouble to place all the finishers, not just the first 10 or first few, and to place those results with pictures within a couple of days on the net.  They deserve support.
2. I love cycling and it doesn't come better than whizzing around in a bunch racing.  It hones skills such as bike control and spatial awareness that are readily transferable to doing much better in sportives and to surviving in traffic.  Plus it's a bonus to mingle with other keen cyclists whether teammates or rivals.
3. The circuit itself is safe; bicycle traffic means no potholes, no ruts, no risk of a collision with anything fast and heavy.  OK, there is the risk of a crash and if you are very unfortunate you could break a collar bone.  However nobody (so far as I am aware) has ever died or suffered catastrophic injury riding circuit races (if only the same were true of commuting, time trialling or even clubruns).  So the risk/reward balance to my mind clearly favours racing over not racing, though I am the first to back off if I sense danger, and risk can be reduced further by always making your movements predictable to those around you.
4. I am the type that needs the external motivation to make an effort.  I can sustain a heart rate at around 160 bpm for an hour in a race.  On my own, the power of my will is such that I might average 120.  Must be good for me and I don't do gyms or turbos.
5. It's not therefore the winning but the taking part.  I reserve performing at the highest level to my profession.  My cycling, like my piano playing, may be mediocre to poor; but much better to do it poorly than not at all.
So I may never get a point but it is nonetheless rewarding and I recommed it.

Saturday 6 February 2010

Imperial Winter Series Race 11 Saturday 6th February

A relatively gentle northerly wind and temperatures at around 6°C, milder than it has been for a long time. There were though noticeably fewer of us on the start line today so it was a lot easier to move up (and down) the field particularly with the tailwind on the back straight. The headwind on the finishing straight caused a bunching making passing much trickier. The 3rd cats did pass us this time but with the smaller fields in both races that went very smoothly.  There was some good tactical riding happening with a few attempts at breaks, though from where I was I could not see if the final break lasted to the end. I was still feeling sore and timid today and coasted around at the back for much of the time just aiming to finish comfortably within the bunch. This limited aim would have been achieved but there was again a crash on the finishing straight for which I had to brake hard. I hope those riders are ok. I saw that my fellow blogger Lance Woodman was doing a good ride today; he was up there ahead of the crash and is clearly regaining his form rapidly – I certainly couldn’t come close to catching him after I got around the crash.
Average speed 23.8 mph.

Thursday 4 February 2010

The aggressive driver and the Car Culture

Every cyclist who rides significant distances on the roads of this country will have had the unpleasant experience of being the object of irrational hatred from a stranger. There is no doubt about it; there are motorists out there who hate us because we ride a bicycle.  I have been assaulted by a yob leaning out of the passenger window of a speeding car. I have seen things thrown over and at cyclists. Abuse is on occasion hurled at us, usually incoherent, but sometimes sufficient syllables can be recognised to reveal that the abuser is motivated by a profound misunderstanding of taxation. Although difficult to prove on any individual occasion, it must be the case that at least some of the very bad driving that occurs in the immediate vicinity of a cyclist is a further expression of this irrational hatred.

Many Judges will treat this kind of incident with the seriousness it deserves; see for example the sentencing remarks of Judge Peter Moss in R v Robertson (Guildford Crown Court November 2009) referred to in one of my earlier posts.

Full credit needs to be given to the victims of such attacks who retain sufficient wherewithal, whilst endeavouring to remain alive, to note the details of their aggressor. One such victim was Police Inspector Martin Melvin. The teenage yob, Benjamin Harrison, who had subjected Mr Melvin to numerous assaults from a motor car (accompanied with threats to kill) was however more fortunate in his Judge than in his victim. In Burnley Crown Court this week Mr Recorder Graham Wood QC sentenced Harrison to a nine month prison sentence but suspended it and ordered Harrison to do 100 hours unpaid work. He imposed a two year disqualification from driving.

Our society recognises that people with profound physical disabilities such as blindness or uncontrolled epilepsy cannot drive. The car culture will not however extend this concept to able bodied individuals who have a personality which makes them wholly unsuited to control a motor vehicle. Although disqualifications for very long periods (even for life) have been made available by Parliament, our Courts are often reluctant to impose much more than the minimum. The Court of Appeal has in the past expressed the view that lifetime bans are appropriate only where there is evidence that the offender will be a danger to the public indefinitely and the Court has expressed faith in the efficacy of the extended driving test as requiring the offender to demonstrate to the authorities that he or she is safe ( see eg R v Hopkins 2008).

In other realms, the idea that a man who has pointed a loaded shotgun at a stranger, whom he has threatened to kill, should ever hold a gun licence again or that a paedophile should be employed in a school would be risible. The driver with a personality such that he has an irrational hatred of cyclists would have no more difficulty hiding that from the driving examiner than would a rifleman or sexual deviant from an interviewing panel. One chance is enough for all of the above.

Finally it would have been good in Harrison's case to see the Court exercise its powers to order confiscation and destruction of the car involved. Such would be a genuinely useful car scrappage scheme.