Wednesday, December 31

So long, 2008, and thanks for the memories

As 2008 draws to a close, I've been looking back at the past year and what a journey I've had in these short 12 months.

Reflections on 2008 (click on the links to see more details)

* it's been a year since I gave up my desk job at the UK Department for Environment to focus entirely on Spinning and associated activities. I don't regret for a single moment that decision;
* I spent a month in India, which recharged me and gave me more motivation to come back and ride, indoors and out;
* I was hit by a car, fracturing my scapula, derailing my preparations for the Marmotte, as I was unable to ride an outdoor bike until the event itself;
* the injury didn't prevent me from attending and riding a weekend of indoor cycling with the Schwinn team in Hemsby, where I discovered my own inner strength in tackling adversity head-on;
* I tackled the Marmotte and finished it, unlike 3000 other riders. An achievement in itself, especially given the circumstances and lack of training;
* I was made to leave a class at a gym that, quite frankly, was and is being run into the ground by its manager...
* ...and immediately afterwards was offered a class by another gym for that same slot, plus another morning class, to help spread out attendance (I had a roll of two months where I was giving up my bike, so long was the waiting list);
* I was asked by Jennifer Sage to do some research on routes in Languedoc for her cycle tour company, also hooking up with her to lead group tours in Italy and France, coinciding with the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France;
* I landed some unexpected translation work for Mad Dogg Athletics (they who own and run Spinning), which was enjoyable and useful;
* I was approached by Andrew Clayton to teach a whole bunch of Spinning classes from next year at his Spinning-only facility in Putney, where the UK Master Instructors will also be teaching (I'll now be a small fish in the big pond!)
* I rode the Croix de Fer and the Galibier the weekend before they were closed off by the snow drifts... it's surreal riding in the snow-covered Alps and painful riding the sub-zero descents!
* I attended the ECA convention in Miami, ostensibly to check out Johnny G's (inventor of Spinning) latest innovation, the Krankcycle, and it was truly eye-opening - not just for Kranking but also applied to Spinning and life in general. Thank you Johnny, if only for that insight into myself;
* in Miami I also attended the Spinning rides, meeting Josh Taylor and Scott Schlesinger in the process, both of whom reminded me of what Spinning used to be and should still be. Simple, enjoyable, effective, empowering
* I didn't know who Josh and Scott were, so I was probably the least star-struck rider in the room... and so was the only one who didn't have his camera! Now I know, I can see they fully deserve the credit apportioned to them;
* after attending Scott and Josh's DJ Ride, it inspired me to get to grips with my digital mixer and I found it extremely easy to master. I used to be a DJ, so mixing comes naturally, but I was always a hands-on type of guy;
* I was so inspired by the professionalism at the ECA event that I signed up for the convention in New York next February. But more of that in my next post!

See you in 2009 - have a fun night, whatever you're doing!

Wednesday, December 24

An enforced but welcome break!

Yeah yeah, I know - it's been five weeks since I came back from Miami and you've not heard a word about it. I've been fairly busy since my return:

* I've done some translation work for MDA (the company that runs Spinning)
* I'm doing research work for upcoming cycle tours in Italy and France run by Jennifer, checking out a stage or two of the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France
* I've got myself an extra eight weekly classes starting in the New Year, bringing my total to 17 regular classes
* I've booked myself to go to the ECA convention in February in New York
* I tried and failed to garner more support for a ride in aid of breast cancer research, so it had to be cancelled
* I've got my new phone (the HTC Touch HD, better than the iPhone) so I've been playing around with it
* I finally sat down to figure out my digital mixing software (Ableton Live) and it was much easier than I thought, although I still prefer vinyl
* I've been studying sports science research for my own interest, including the use of cola to combat the effects of exercising at altitude
* and I've been planning all the activities I have in store for next year (see my next post!)

So I'm now enjoying an enforced rest, as the gyms are closed over the next two days. Back to normal on Saturday, though, with a nine-week program of recovery and endurance rides. Time to work on building those foundations, that fitness base!

I taught my last Christmas ride this morning and, after doing it eight times to different classes, I'm all out of jingle bells... until next year!

So, just in time before Santa comes down that chimney, I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy Hanukkah.

Thursday, November 13

Bienvenido a Miami!

You're not going to hear much from me over the next week, as I've just arrived in Miami Beach for a week of humid heat (a lovely change from the damp cold of London).

"On holiday AGAIN?" is what I usually hear but, as usual with me, my trip has a purpose - a 4-day ECA fitness convention. A mix of many fitness activities, lectures, workshops, etc. but I'm here mainly to get to know Johnny G's latest innovation: Kranking. The revolution in fitness caused when he invented Spinning... but for the upper body! I'll write more about it when I return but I'm getting goosebumps at the thought of being here at the start of the revolution, rather than joining it further down the line.

So it is work, of sorts - honestly! Mind you, I doubt I'd have been so keen to come had it been held in snowbound Minnesota... I'll also be finding time to take part in as many Spinning rides as I can manage and maybe a bit of retail therapy.

Right now, though, all I can think about after 19 hours of travelling is food and sleep.

Hasta luego, amigos!

Tuesday, November 4

Spinning class: Disco Fever!

I never thought I'd say this but I was inspired to put together a disco theme ride by one of those pop star reality TV programmes (X-Factor). I know, I know - but it's better than watching Strictly Come Dancing on a Saturday night!


Usually, I think of a ride profile before choosing music to match. In these types of ride, however, I put together all the relevant tunes before weeding out the not-so-good ones. Then I look at what's left and see what type of ride looks best, weeding out a few more if they don't fit that profile. The other thing I wanted to do was use "updated" versions - whether remixes, mash-ups or sampled tracks. You'll see what I mean from the playlist below.

Other than just enjoying the music, there's no particular aim other than to work as hard as you want and in control (i.e., 65-85% of MHR, although 70-80% is ideal). There are no real breaks, to encourage riders not to overdo it. Essentially, it's three loops - a slow climb, while increasing resistance, which then increases in speed (and thus effort level) by approx 10% before it's back a flat road. If, with gradually increasing resistance, HR is up to 75% by the end of the first part of the climb, it should finish the climb at around 85%. The flat road can be used as recovery as an option, especially for beginners.

Warm up - 4 mins
Climb - 15 mins
Flat road - 3 mins
Climb - 9 mins
Flat road - 5 mins
Climb - 15 mins
Flat road - 3 mins
Cool down - 6 mins

Playlist

Love's theme - Barry White
Working my way back to you - Detroit Spinners
Rasputin - Boney M
I will survive (Barcode Remix) - Gloria Gaynor
That's the way I like it - KC and the Sunshine Band
D.I.S.C.O. - Ottawan
Y.M.C.A. - Village People
Popcorn - Hot Butter
Stayin' Yeah - Usher vs. Bee Gees
I feel love is a stranger - Donna Summer vs. Annie Lennox
Can you 1999 it - Prince vs. The Jacksons
No more tears (enough is enough) - Kym Mazelle & Jocelyn BRown
Greatest trickster - Sister Sledge vs. Kelis
Funeral pyre - John Powell (from Bourne Supremacy)
I'm goin' down - Mary J Blige

Go on, admit it - you were singing along as you read the playlist!

Saturday, November 1

Going for an English

Earlier this week it was Diwali, the Hindu festival also celebrated by Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains as a Festival of Light, where the lights or lamps signify victory of good over the evil within an individual. This time always reminds me of that excellent comedy programme, Goodness Gracious Me, and arguably one of the best comedy sketches ever... "Going for an English".

The sketch is a parody of that (not so) great British tradition of going "for an Indian" after getting tanked up on far too many beers, ordering the spiciest thing on the menu (but there's always on who plays it safe with omelette and chips) and enough papadums to feed a small country, and making fun of the waiters.

Oh, the advert at the beginning is itself a parody of the awful home-made adverts seen in British cinemas to promote local facilities.

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Wednesday, October 29

Spinning class: Halloween

Okay, I know it's cheesy and I'm not one known for his theme rides... mainly because I only do them at Halloween, Christmas and whenever it's carnival in Brasil. But I do draw the line at fancy dress - not suitable clothing for exercise - nor do I compromise on the amount of work to be done on the ride. I may be no fun but I don't care - you'll work hard and LIKE IT... or else we do some interval training instead! Hehehehe

So, here's how it works. After a long warm-up that gradually builds up HR, we start climbing, gradually adding resistance to prepare our legs for the onslaught. The main block of work is a pyramid. It starts with a slow, heavy climb before picking up the cadence by approx 10%. A slight drop in resistance may be needed if it's too tough - we can't let our HR get too high.

This keeps going until the "point" of the pyramid - a very fast climb or a hard flat road, depending on your point of view, where we're running away at top effort (HR 80-85%). Without thinking, you may find that the level of reistance at this faster cadence is higher than you'd otherwise have - your legs have gradually got used to working at heavy resistances, before easing off some of that resistance, increasing cadence and then maybe adding some of that resistance back on again.

A quick, 30 second break, before we resume our way back down the pyramid - slower leg speed, which means higher resistance. Cadence drops by 10%, so resistance acts as compensation. Again, you may find yourself working harder than you'd have thought - just when you think you can't work harder at a set cadence, it drops and your effort level drops... so you increase it some more!

Just when you think you're safe from harm, you realise you still have a final climb to go and, along the way, you'll be chased by demons and goblins blah blah blah (can you tell I'm no good at this cheesy talk?). Anyway, the reality is that we have three sprints on a hill - 40secs, 30secs and 20secs, with about a minute in between. The sprints may not be easy but the recovery in between certainly won't... as you have to keep climbing! Resistance remains the same throughout and the sprints - accellerations, really - are achieved by increasing cadence as much as is possible with all that heavy resistance. Recovery, well, you just slow down to a steady climb.

Time the last track well and, at the end of the final sprint, you'll hear a huge sigh/gasp/breath of relief from the riders... just before the voice of the tracks kicks in with "There is hope!"

Happy haunting, fiendish friends!

Warm-up - 9 mins
Steady climb - 6 mins
---------------------
Climb @60rpm - 4 mins
Climb @65rpm - 4 mins
Climb @70rpm - 5 mins
Fast climb / hard flat road - 5 mins
Climb @70rpm - 4 mins
Climb @65rpm - 3.5 mins
Climb @60rpm - 6 mins
---------------------
Sprints on a hill - 5.5 mins
Cool down - 8 mins

Playlist

High priests - Michael Flatley
Riders on the storm - Snoop Dogg ft. The Doors
Somebody's watching me - Beatfreakz
Ghostbusters - Ray Parker Jr
Breathe - Prodigy
Nightmare - Brainbug
Voodoo people - Prodigy
Firestarter - Prodigy
Vater Unser - E Nomine
Thriller - Michael Jackson
Keep hope alive - The Crystal Method
Spirit's lament - Michael Flatley
Angels will help you - York & Ginger Macenzie

Sunday, October 26

Giro d'Italia 2009

Hot on the foot of the announcement of next year's Tour de France route, the rumour mill is already in top gear regarding the route of its Italian cousin, the Giro d'Italia. A notable newspaper as La Stampa has even gone so far as to publish a map of the likely route - they usually do so, with great accuracy, a few weeks before the announcement in December. It's a long way to December but... they must be confident of its accuracy!


NB - the rest days are down as 18 and 26 July but I think they mean May!

The 2009 edition of the Giro marks its Centenary, so the idea is to follow the original route while including a few classic stages, such as the Cuneo-Sestriere stage that in 1949 saw Fausto Coppi win after a 150Km escape (no, that's not a misprint - think of Lance Armstrong attacking that far in advance!). His greatest rival, Gino Bartali, finished 11 minutes behind him.

The 1949 Giro is probably the most famous among Italians, with arch-rivals Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali battling against each other against the background of a newly united nation (the Italian Republic was still in its infancy after the ravages of war). It's difficult to imagine the impact they had on the morale of a nation. Think of the effect of Lance Armstrong and the hope he gave (and still gives) to cancer sufferers... now match that with Greg Lemond's effect on the USA's interest in cycling. Now imagine the race being held in a post-Depression US and you start to get the idea!

How good were they? They completely dominated that year's Giro and Tour - all else being equal, nobody else stood a chance against them. Some will remember how Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond tore up the field in the Tour, some hark back to Eddy Merckx and Luis Ocana. For the present generation, imagine Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador...

The 2009 Giro may well turn to be just as much of a classic 60 years after Coppi's and Bartali's exploits.

Saturday, October 25

Chrissie does it again!

I didn't report on it at the time but Chrissie Wellington continued her unbeaten pro Ironman Triathlon career by thrashing the opposition at Hawaii - the event that acts as the World Championships of the long distance triathlon.

If you're thinking "Chrissie Who?", read my post last year of when she won this same event.

Where last year she was the surprise winner, this year it would have been a shock had anyone else won it. But she almost didn't! She suffered a complex puncture without a support vehicle to help her out, used up her CO2 cartridges trying unsuccessfully to inflate her spare tyre, and waited for almost 15 minutes before one of her competitors gave her one of her cartridges in a worthy show of sportsmanship.

Shame it's not an Olympic event - triathlon gets very little coverage anyway, so long distance tri (like Ironman) is mostly overlooked. Britain seems to rule the world in the sports that the media prefer to ignore, in favour of sports where we constantly lose... usually to Australia!

Friday, October 24

Lifetime bans for drug cheats

As reported in the Italian media and (in English) in VeloNews ACCPI, the Italian pro cyclists' association, is calling for a lifetime ban for pro riders caught doping. In a letter sent to UCI President Pat McQuaid, they said:

Dear Mr. McQuaid,

A few days ago your statement regarding the opportunity to implement severer sanctions for doping appeared in the press. To this end, we in our role of an association with more than 250 professional Italian cyclists would like to inform you that we are regrettably convinced that the way to combat doping is not just tougher sanctions but indeed lifetime bans i.e. expulsion.

The situation has now become so serious that only with extreme measures can we have any hope of giving credibility back to our beloved sport and – even more importantly for us – to our cyclists. The positive tests of Riccò, Sella, Piepoli, Schumacher, and Kohl are damaging, even more so because they are winning cyclists. Their conduct fuels the fires of those who unjustly sustain that the only way to win cycling races nowadays is by means of doping. This is why the UCI needs to act to eradicate every possible illegal temptation from the movement, and thereby send out the message that anybody who willfully cheats is out of the game for good.

The main reason why we demand this action is to protect the cyclists who race in full compliance of the rules and who – we firmly believe – make up the majority of the group. However, punishing the riders is simply not enough! If doping exists, it is mainly due to the fact that there are people out there encouraging the cyclists to take these illegal measures. So we need to unmask “the pushers and the doping scientists”. And the only way we can do this is to encourage the cyclists to really and effectively cooperate with the sporting authorities and with the police and legal systems.

The WADA 2009 Code agrees with our hopes, but we believe that the UCI can and must support these measures even further. On the one hand by instituting sanctions to expel cyclists that are found guilty of using prohibited substances or prohibited methods in the future, and on the other hand by offering them the chance to return to racing after shorter bans if they provide evidence that they no longer have any connection with those who encouraged or helped them to use prohibited substances or methods.

Mr President, if you decide to promote this initiative, you can be assured of our full support.


The letter was signed by ACCPI President Amedeo Colombo and the association's secretary, former world champion Gianni Bugno.

So lifetime bans - previously advocated by others in the cycling profession - but also with an idea that cyclists who cooperate with authorities should be offered the chance to race again after shorter bans. This would work well on two fronts: (1) the risks of cheating would be MUCH greater - one strike and you're out for good; and (2) would allow the authorities to offer a "plea bargain" to those who provided names of the managers, doctors, etc. who were running the drugs program.

After all, cyclists are victims - maybe not innocent ones but they would be pressured by managers to perform better by taking drugs and also provided those drugs by their doctors and coaches. THEY are the ones who should be taken out of sport - cycling would do much better without these drug peddlers...

Rant over!

Thursday, October 23

I'm sure they make it up as they go along...

A while ago I opened a thread on Pedal-On about a blog I'd found that had me in hysterics but for all the wrong reasons. Today, I had reason to refer to it so I thought I'd put here my original post.

I came across this site while browsing other blogs. I'm not one to overly-criticise other people's technique unless clearly unsafe but this certainly caught my eye!

"Purpose: strengthening and toning the hamstrings, glutes, and butt. First, add a lot of tension on your bike. Then a bit more. This set is not about fast legs, but about form, technique, and isolation of the hammies/glutes/butt. (already looking suspect) Then rest on your forearms. (here we go...) Lean forward forward as far as possible and get into a comfortable position. (did he say comfortable???) Most of your weight should be supported by your forearms resting on the handlebars. (WHY?? Why do something so utterly stupid?)

Next, thrust your hips back as far as possible, “Like you have to go to the bathroom in the desert and you are afraid a snake might bite you.” Thrust ‘em back! Then, mentally, make sure you are landing on your toes. Lasly, lift your butt up as high as possible. “Moon the moon!” Your goal is to try and get your butt higher than your shoulders. Even if you cannot do this, aim for it. In sum, you are leaning forward, hips back, butt up. (WTF ?)

Focus on keeping that butt-up! It takes 30-45 secs to explain this (try a 2-hour lecture on biomechanics) to the class and to have everyone get into proper position. When they do, remind them to breathe slowly and deeply and to keep the butt up! Climb like this for 3-5 minutes. You should feel a bit of a pain (really?) behind each of your kneecaps which will slowly crawl up the hamstrings and settle in your lower butt. Pain is good! (only if you inflict it on someone else, I bet!) Halfway through the set, carefully have the class increase the tension. (so I presume they take one of their load-bearing arms off the handlebars to do this?) Remind them of maintaining proper form (hahahaha - unintentional irony!) — lean forward, hips back, butt above the shoulders. It is easy to get tired and sloppy with this set. When you are done, your bootie and hammies should feel like they have been thrashed… in a good way! "

You can see the replies on Pedal-On in the thread here.

I think I would truly want to hit him if he ever tried this in a class in which I was participating. Yet, people think he's "awesome" - perhaps meaning to say "awful"....

Wednesday, October 22

Tour de France 2009

Forgive me, it's been almost six weeks since my last post. Excuses to come in later posts but, for now, I've been following the rumour mill about the route of next year's Tour. After some difficulties with video streaming, I managed to see it live and get hold of the map of the official route.



The keen-eyed will spot two things that stand out: firstly, the return of the team time trial; secondly, and this is the biggy, the mountain-top finish on the Mont Ventoux the day before the finish in Paris! So, like in the year when Greg Lemond beat Laurent Fignon on the final time trial into Paris, it all comes down to the wire. Knowing that the next day will be procession into Paris, expect riders to go all out to grab the maillot jaune.

Roll on the carnage!

Thursday, September 11

Normal service will resume shortly...

A combination of factors have kept me away for the past month but I will be back soon with a flood of posts about the Olympics, Lance's return to cycling, the myths about the credit crunch, and anything else I feel I need to share with you!

Since my last post, I've been taking a break in France... err... cycling! OK, so not much of a break but it was away from the volume of classes, irregular eating habits, lack of sleep, oh and the so-called summer in the UK. I think the sun is boycotting the UK for crimes against the environment!

When I got back, I got through ten Spinning classes in three days - that, and the shock of the 15c drop in temperature, I think were responsible for falling ill. Nothing serious but constantly dehydrated, headaches, dizzyness... all the signs of a bout of influenza but without the sniffles. Let this be a lesson on the woes of over-training: rest is as (if not more) important than exercise. Our bodies have a way of giving us a good kick if we ignore the signs of distress!

Once I had a break in my schedule, I managed to rest up enough to recover properly but that's when my internet connection slowed to a crawl... about 4kps, rather than 4Mbps! It was a good reminder of how slow dial-up used to be in the days before the internet caught on (approx 1995-96) and to realise how far we've come in just over ten years. Never really resolved why it was so but so long as it stays at this century's speeds, then I'm happy.

Touch wood, everything seems to be back to normal now - time to start catching up on all the things I put off while feeling sorry for myself.

Ciao for now!

Thursday, August 7

Why do I do it?

Lately, I've been teaching so many Spinning classes that I've barely had time to rest, let alone go out on the road with my bike. So I started to wonder whether I was still doing it out of a passion to train and educate people or had it got to the stage where I'd take any class just for the money (i.e., a job)? Today I got my answer.

After a strength-building and hard-working class, involving an exhilirating 51-minute climb, one of my fairly regular riders approached me and thanked me for an excellent ride. Thank you very much but - and I'm trying not to let my ego push in here - nothing unusual. Then she said that she had been much heavier when she first started coming to my classes but had since lost a fair amount - it was only then that I noticed she did indeed look much healthier... funny how you get used to someone's weight loss if you see them almost every week.

Anyway, she wanted to tell me of her experience of cycling while on holiday. She and her husband went to cycle on a route that included some minor (but not insignificant) climbs. She said that the classes had prepared her to ride at a manageable and steady pace, as well as giving her the strength to finish the ride. She seemed pleased at that and I'm happy that there's yet another convert to the cycling cause! However, then she told me the bombshell: her husband rushed past her on the first climb (typical macho male reaction... sigh!) but, when she caught up with him at the top (by keeping her effort under her threshold), he was still recovering from the effort. It gets better: she then tells me she finished three hours ahead of him. Presuming that he didn't stop at the pub on the way, that is an excellent advert for good old fashioned hard work.

She told me I was "awesome" but I think she's the one who's awesome - chapeau! And tell your husband to come to my classes!

Monday, July 28

Le Tour 2008

What an eventful second half!

The big news was that Ricco' was tested positive for taking performance-enhancing drugs. More about that in a later post but, apart from feeling betrayed by a rider with such potential, I'm glad that the system is working and hope that such idiots are expelled from cycling altogether. The good news was that Mark Cavendish continued his impressive run by adding a further two stage wins on the flat stages that mark the transition to the Alps. He would have won a fifth stage into Digne-les-Bains but a climb inside the final 10km put him out of contention, as he dropped out of the back of the main group. Given his struggle on the foothills of the Alps and the following days' hard graft in the mountains, he sensibly dropped out of the Tour to join the rest of the British team training for the Olympics.

The next day saw the first of the big climbs (Stage 15 - see previous post for profile) and they did not disappoint. The CSC team kept the pace high throughout to thin the yellow jersey group to 10: Evans, Frank and Andy, Sastre, Menchov, Vande Velde, Valverde, Kohl, Samuel Sanchez and Kreuziger. Almost everyone from this group made an attempt to attack, with Menchov looking the most promising until he crashed on the slippery road 8km from the finish (the rest of the group waited for him to rejoin before attacking again). Just 3kms from the summit finish, Sastre and Kohl attacked, followed by revitalised Valverde. Evans struggled to keep with the attacks and Schleck was able to gain the vital few seconds needed to gain the maillot jaune.

After the second rest day, Stage 16 to Jausiers was a rather contained affair, with most of the leaders keeping their powder dry for the crunch stage to L'Alpe d'Huez. Menchov, however, lost a chunk of time on the final descent, reflecting his habit of throwing away time needlessly. The next day must have been looming in the riders' minds ever since the route had been unveiled last October - a decisive stage if ever there was one, especially if a challenger is a mountain goat.

All was again relatively quiet until the Col de la Croix de Fer, when Fabian Cancellara took over from Stuart O’Grady (both CSC) to set a high tempo at the base of the climb. Anyone who doubts the value of teamwork should take a look at these two riders, along with Jens Voigt, who decimated the field through the Pyrenees and Alps, despite them not being very good climbers! By the time they reached the summit, the yellow jersey group was down to 18 riders, with CSC having six of them. At the start of the final ascent to L'Alpe d'Huez, Cancellara peeled off and Carlos Sastre bolted ahead, never to be seen again until he crossed the line - an all-out effort designed to gain as much time as possible over Cadel Evans. The time gap back to Evans increased with every 100m - at first he seemed to be controlling the gap and sticking close to Schleck but he was clearly struggling to maintain a high enough tempo up the steep slopes of the Alpe. Evans could not hope to regain any time lost to Sastre and so focused on minimising his losses, in the knowledge that he could make up that time in the final time trial.

Carlos Sastre was expected to lose his advantage to Cadel Evans during the final time trial - his lead of 1’34” after 19 stages seemed to all commentators to not be enough to retain the jersey in Paris. However, those of us who have experienced many Tours thought differently. I have witnessed incredible feats of endurance by those wearing the yellow jersey, notably Thomas Voekler's retention of the jersey for 10 days, despite Lance Armstrong's best efforts, and rendering himself nearly comatose in the process!

Cadel Evans needed to gain almost two seconds every kilometre and it was clear from the start that he was struggling to gain a quarter of that amount. Fabian Cancellara (time trial world champion) said that, in the final time trial, it was not the best time-triallist that wins but the one who retains enough strength after the mountains to perform at his best. So, despite Evans being a far better time-triallist than Sastre, it looked as if the efforts in the Alps had taken their toll on him. And not only did Evans fail to perform at his best, Sastre was riding the time trial of his life - over 53kms he lost only 29 seconds to Evans, finishing in 12th place... not bad for a climber! Unfortunately, the same could not be said of Frank Schleck, whose performance was sub-par and subsequently dropped out of the top five overall. Look out for his brother, Andy, though - not only is he an excellent climber but he also did relatively well in the time trial... and he still has 10 years of cycling ahead of him.

Well, that's it for another Tour - see you next year in Monaco!

Saturday, July 19

The art of sprinting

If you've been watching the Tour or, especially for readers in the UK, read the sports pages of a newspaper, you will have marvelled at just how good a sprinter Mark Cavendish really is. Four victories in a single Tour are a rarity and, in someone so young (23), truly awesome - he's already proving to have more potential than Mario Cipollini and Alessandro Petacchi. If this, combined with the British cyclists ruling the sport at the moment, don't instigate interest in the media and the population at large, then cycling as a sport is doomed to play second fiddle to other sports at which... well, we suck.

Anyway, back to sprinting. I've been asked a lot lately about it - why I don't do it in my classes, what it really should be like, proper technique and how to improve it. Well, let's start with what sprinting is NOT - it's not about how fast your legs are moving. Many instructors will ask their members to pick up their leg speed to 130+rpm, some even asking them to pedal as quickly as possible, resulting in a flurry of uncontrolled and pointless activity. Many members like these "sprints" as they feel as if they're working really hard. Absolute tosh - they're doing the equivalent of pedalling downhill, as they will have insufficient resistance to apply any power to the pedals. In fact, it's so pointless that the freewheel was invented to allow us to relax while the wheels go ever faster downhill. Work is measured in power output - no resistance, no power... no matter how fast you pedal. Therefore, no resistance, no work. The key elements of a sprint are power, acceleration and a high cadence.

Too many novice riders will put their chain into the highest gear and then try to accelerate - this is a very slow build up, although it'll feel very macho. Instead, they should be using a slightly lower gear to accelerate faster to a high cadence (95-110rpm), then shift to a higher gear and raise the cadence again. With practice comes knowledge of exactly which gear is best suited for a top-level effort - it's not ideal to have to change gears 3-4 times in a sprint! Say you know you can handle 110rpm at a gear that's 9 (out of 10) - your fast pace before your sprint should be in gear 7, shifting to gear 8 once the sprint starts (when you "kick") and then up to 9 once cadence has reached 110rpm. Keeping your feet moving fast is the key to being able to accelerate quickly and the ideal situation is one where you do not reach your maximum cadence until the finish line - gear 9 at 110rpm on the final few seconds. If your legs are moving too quickly or top cadence achieved too soon, you have underestimated your power output and will begin to lose ground (unless you shift up yet again).

As for power output, it's a difficult point to illustrate unless you have power meters on your bike. The maths, however, is rather simple. Imagine what some instructors refer to as "sprints": 130rpm at gear 2. Say this gives 130 watts of power output. To a bystander, looking at the fast cadences, will think it amazing that anyone can work so hard! However, the equivalent in a proper sprint and all-out effort of gear 9 at 110rpm would be around 500 watts. How does that translate? Well, imagine your driving a Fiat Cinquecento at full speed... as you're overtaken by a Ferrari at full speed. Which car will win in a true sprint finish? Which is pushing out more power, more work? Which is using more fuel? Sounds negative for the Ferrari but, in humans, fuel = calories, so wouldn't you rather be using more of that fuel?

In my classes, I've only ever taught surges, accelerations on a hill and short bursts of extra effort - they are sprints of sorts, in that they require the sort of intense effort detailed above. However, the effort required to perform a sprint similar to those of Mark Cavendish, Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, et al, would require a jump from 500W to over 2000W... beyond the realm of indoor bikes, let alone the capabilities of the riders - but that doesn't mean we can't do our best!

PS - if you have Keiser M3 bikes in your gym, fitted with a power meter, and have wondered what it would take to beat Mark Cavendish... imagine a climb at 60rpm at the highest gear (24). Then it's time to begin your sprint: with that same gear you bring your cadence up to 110rpm!

PPS - don't try it at home and certainly not unsupervised. Oh, and don't blame me if you can't walk afterwards....

Wednesday, July 16

Spinning class: Tour de France - Stage 17

The big one and, probably, the deciding stage of this year's Tour - to stand any chance of wearing the maillot jaune in Paris, any contender must put some time into Cadel Evans before the final time trial. So expect attacks even as early as the Col de la Croix de Fer.

Profile



After our usual warm-up, the road starts rising imperceptably into a long, hard climb. We'll need to vary between seated and standing but make sure your HR doesn't rise too high, save your powder for the later climbs. Strong and steady rhythm, with smooth pedalling, is the key here. Any tension will be revealed by the time we reach the top of the Galibier. Then we ease downhill but not for long - the road rises briefly up to the Telegraphe before heading downhill again.

Another long climb but, this time, we can start forcing the pace - push a strong tempo, trying to split the field and leave them for dust. Strong, continuous pressure, HR will be around 80-85% the whole way. Then another donwhill section to recover before the road starts rising again ahead of the final climb of the day - L'Alpe d'Huez. This is it - over 2000 miles of riding and this is the moment of truth. Do or die. Your one and only chance to beat your opponents. On this climb, you'll attack twice - a short, 30-second burst at the halfway point, to find out who's got the legs to follow you; then the final minute all-out effort to the finish line. HR may reach 95-98% but it doesn't matter - you're almost home and every second counts!

Warm-up - 4 mins
Gradual incline - 1.5 mins
Hard seated to standing climb - 21.5 mins
Downhill with small climb in the middle - 4 mins
Hard seated to standing climb - 14 mins
Downhill, rising to a shallow incline - 3 mins
Hard climb with sprints - 5.5 mins
Cool down - 6.5 mins

Playlist

Epona - Enya
Das glockenspiel - Schiller
Walking on fire - Evolution feat. Jayn Hanna
Light a rainbow - Tukan
Nebuchan - Frank T.R.A.X.
Passing storm - Ottmar Liebert
Lawrence of Arabia - Kleopatra
Invisible - Tilt
Hymn - Moby
Smack my bitch up - Prodigy
Third eye - Bhakta

Spinning class: Tour de France - Stage 16

Another stage in the Alps, with more hors categorie climbs, with a rare visit over the highest road in Europe. There is no mountain-top finish, where the best climbers can gain a lot of time by making an all-out attack, so chances are that the favourites won't attack each other except for keeping the pace high and hoping one or two will crack. The showdown is more likely to be during the next day's stage - it's very easy to lose five minutes on a climb like Alpe d'Huez.

Profile



As usual, we start off in the neutral zone for our warm-up, before the road goes on a "false flat" - one of those roads that looks flat but requires effort in order to keep going forwards. So we add resistance but keep our cadence high (for a climb), standing out of the saddle for brief periods to keep that cadence as the resistance gets harder. That will take us to the bottom of the first of the long climbs, where we get into the climb by gradually adding resistance until we have to stand to keep our momentum for the final five minutes.

One climb finished and we can enjoy the downhill slope to our second and final climb. Once again, the road rises but not so much of a false flat this time - the effort is clear and should be felt in the legs... so keep that cadence and add resistance to keep the pace high! That was the easy bit, now we climb in earnest - keep adding resistance while maintaining a steady cadence. If necessary, stand up to keep that cadence but the climb is long and you want to spend most of the time in the saddle. A very brief respite as the road dips before it rises even steeper than before - stand up and power your way to the top of the highest road in Europe, where you'll be able to see all the way to the Mediterranean!

It's not over yet - now you've worked so hard to keep the pace high on the final climb, you'll need to keep it high on the downhill into Jausiers. Fast cadence with resistance all the way to the finish line and the cool down. Now rest ahead of tomorrow's stage to Alpe d'Huez!

Warm-up - 4 mins
Running with resistance - 5.5 mins
Seated to standing climb - 6.5 mins
Downhill recovery - 3 mins
Slightly uphill road - 3.5 mins
Strong seated climb - 6.5 mins
Heavy climb, seated to standing - 6.5 mins
Active downhill, no recovery! - 3 mins
Cool down - 6 mins

Playlist

One wish for me - Miguel Migs
Shake your body - Shy FX & T-Power
Shiva Moon (moon nectar remix) - Prem Joshua
Hymn - Moby
Gypsy Rhapsody - Bond
Tour de France Etape 2 - Kraftwerk
Insomnia (Monster Mix) - Faithless
Una giornata uggiosa - Bandabardo
Prikansa ritual - Ravi Chawla

Spinning class: Tour de France - Stage 15

Today (or this week, as I teach at different gyms and so change my profile once a week), we're heading into the Alps after a rest day and four days of flat stages. I'm expecting this stage to be one where the pace will be kept high by the leading contenders, to separate themselves from the mere mortals. No suicidal attacks, as the stage to Alpe d'Huez will be foremost in their minds...

Profile



We start off in the neutral zone, the bit between the depart fictif and the start of the stage... known to our Spinning classes as a warm-up! Quite short but don't worry, we have plenty of time to get into the ride with a steady seated climb, gradually increasing resistance to find our climbing legs. With that same resistance, we continue up the same long climb, varying between seated and standing to make sure we spread the workload and make it more manageable while adding resistance if able to do so. For the final five minutes of the climb, we can afford to keep that strong resistance, knowing that a downhill recovery awaits. Breathing will be heavier and more rapid as we get closer to the summit, as is evident from the heavy breathing of the cyclists on the "Tour de France" track. The air is thin up here but push yourself even harder for the final two minutes.

Phew! Almost 20 minutes of climbing and we're not done yet! Luckily, we can recover during the fast downhill and, if we want to, the flat section too. However, it's not really flat - we keep the tempo high but, for two 30-second periods, we turn up the resistance as the incline rises slightly and push harder to use that momentum to get us over that hill and back to the flat road. Can be challenging if you want it to be - riding along with a tailwind at 110rpm, then the resistance kicks in and you try to maintain a high cadence... HR will rise rapidly but it's over soon enough. That takes care of the Sprint and 3rd Category climb.

Then we begin our second and final climb - again we build that resistance up to our previous high levels until, with four minutes to the summit, we take a turn off the main road and head up a steeper gradient. We can't take anymore in the saddle, so we stand up to use the power of our quads to push through that resistance and keep our momentum. No attacks on this stage but we should be pushing to our very limits (and beyond!) right to the line. HR will likely be 85-90% for the final section. Strong, hard effort - simple profile but by no means easy!

Warm-up - 4 mins
Seated climb - 6 mins
Strong climb, alternating seated and standing - 8 mins
Hard climb, seated to standing - 5 mins
Downhill recovery - 3 mins
Flat road with rolling hills - 3 mins
Hard climb, seated to standing - 9.5 mins
Cool down - 6.5 mins

Playlist

Life in mono - Mono
Twisted by the pool - FAC15 feat. Cathi Ogden
Love on my mind - Freemasons feat. Amanda Wilson
Tour de France - Kraftwerk
You don't love me - Dawn Penn
Sans papiers - Bandabardo
Future (Evolution mix) - Magic Solutions, Randy Garcia & Rube
Don't cry - Seal

Tuesday, July 15

Tour de France - Rest Day 1

Phew! What an eventful 10 days it's been thus far in the Tour - the organisers had planned the stages in way to make them unpredictable and we certainly saw action from the first day. All stages have been contested right to the wire, a small group of French riders would go on a breakaway every day (most caught but some succeeded), Riccardo Ricco has taken two stage wins while looking like he could overtake the motorbikes on the climbs, our own Mark Cavendish showed he really is the world's fastest sprinter by winning two stages with the promise of more to come. And then the race hit the Pyrenees...

The favourite to win this year's Tour - in the absence of Alberto Contador, who could probably win the whole thing on a single mountain stage - is Cadel Evans. After him, the main contenders were seen to be Alejandro Valverde, Damiano Cunego, Frank Schleck, Carlos Sastre and Denis Menchov. At least, that was before yesterday's stage - how would they fare on the first day of the really big climbs of the Tour: the Tourmalet and the Hautacam?

None of the teams were taking it easy and the pace was quick all the way to the bottom of the Tourmalet. As usual, a small group of French riders had gone ahead, along with Fabian Cancellara (not known for his climbing ability!) who is in the same team (CSC) as Schleck and Sastre. Anyway, this small group was a good 15mins ahead on the climb when both Valverde and Cunego start cracking... they just couldn't keep up with the pace. This news was fed through to the group at the front and CSC started pushing even harder to eliminate two of the contenders. Cancellara stopped at the top of the Tourmalet to wait for his colleagues and took up the pacing on the descent and flat section before the final climb. As he is one of the fastest men in the race, Valverde et al had no chance of catching the leading group.

Once at the bottom of the Hautacam, the hard-working Cancellara moved aside, utterly exhausted after putting in an effort that gained over a minute on Valverde's group. Then Jens Voight (also CSC) took up the reins to keep the pace high and soon all the riders in the small breakaway group had been caught. Both Valverde and Cunego were losing time on the Hautacam, so their chances of winning were fading away. So who did we have left, apart from Evans? Schleck was about 1:50 behind Evans, Sastre about 1:30, Menchov about a minute. There were also three riders from Riccardo Ricco's team (Saunier Duval) and Ricco was only about two minutes behind Evans overall, thanks to the time he gained on one of his stage wins. Two from CSC, three from Saunier Duval, plus Menchov and Evans (and a few others). This is were team tactics really came into play.

After Jens Voight had expended all his energy, Schleck was the first to attack but he was soon caught. Then Sastre tried as well, caught again. Obviously, CSC were testing the strength of the riders in the ever-decreasing group. Frank Schleck shot off again but, this time, only Cobo Acebo from Saunier Duval could keep up with him. What does Evans do - use his energy by going after Schleck and tow Sastre up the climb? Or let Schleck go and hope to catch up to him eventually? He did the latter, so Schleck and Cobo Acebo started gaining time over the leading group. Eventually, Piepoli - a veteran and excellent climber - shot off to join the two at the front. They would not be caught, as Piepoli won the stage almost hand-in-hand with his colleague Cobo Acebo. Frank Schleck had gained enough time to be in with a chance of the leader's yellow jersey but Evans had put in a huge effort to keep a one second lead... but not before Ricco sprinted past him to the line, to show off just how good he really is.

This is how they stand after the first test in the Pyrenees:

Evans - leader
Schleck - 6 secs behind
Menchov - 57 secs
Sastre - 1:28
Cobo Acebo - 2:10
Ricco - 2:29

Until the race gets to the Alps, this is not likely to change. But, once it gets there, watch out for more team tactics! Evans and Menchov are isolated, with both CSC and Saunier Duval having two riders as contenders for the overall lead. As Evans is a better time-triallist (one rider, racing against the clock) than most of them, the other contenders need to attack in the mountains. Imagine the various scenarios:

Cobo Acebo attacks. If Evans follows, Ricco goes along for the ride and attacks later.
Ricco attacks. Evans uses his energy to stay with him, then Cobo Acebo attacks.
Sastre attacks. Evans will likely want to stay with him, as he's also a good time-triallist. But then Schleck can attack him.
And what if Schleck attacks? He could gain a few minutes on each of the stages and would see him favourite to win in Paris.

Saunier Duval's team is packed full of climbers, so expect fireworks in the mountains. CSC have the strongest team overall, so I can foresee a lot of attacks similar to the one on the Tourmalet - this time with the aim of dislodging Evans.

Bring on the Alps!

Wednesday, July 9

La Marmotte: event report

Well, what can I say? I'm alive to tell the tale, so that's already something - it lived up to its reputation as the toughest of all cyclosportives and I completed the course, which around 3000 riders failed to do. Mind you, I'm still feeling the effects of the event with a bouts of hypoglycaemia. But let's rewind to the beginning...

I and two friends from my Spinning classes flew out to Geneva on the Thursday, to give us an extra day of preparation before Saturday's big event. One of my friends, Rob, has a chalet in Valmeinier (halfway up the Col du Telegraphe) and we stayed there while we assembled our bikes and tested them out the following morning with a quick climb up the Telegraphe (as one does!). Then we drove out to Alpe d'Huez going over the Telegraphe, through Valloire, over the Col du Galibier, stopping for lunch at the top of the Col du Lautaret - good reconnaisance that would come in handy during the event itself. On our arrival, Richard, who was the only one of us that was an Alpe d'Huez virgin, rode off to find out what all the fuss was about and finished looking like somebody had stuck his head in a microwave. Ha! The Alpe has its mythical reputation for a very valid reason... underestimate it at your peril!

The rest of the Friday was spent preparing the food we'd be taking with us. I estimated I'd burn 7000-8000 calories during the ride, so I'd need to take two days' worth of food if I didn't want to stop at the feed stations (see my post on the Rome marathon as to why I don't rely on them). My shoulder injury had prevented me from riding the bike for the previous three months, so I hadn't tested my energy requirements over a long ride - most of the time, I'd ride for three hours, stop for lunch, and ride back home. So not the ideal preparation for nine hours in the saddle!

On Saturday morning, we woke way too early for a civilised species! Mind you, I couldn't sleep at all, thanks to a humming noise from the nearby ice rink that penetrated even the ear plugs I'd had the foresight to bring. At least the weather had improved to be sunny and dry - so much so that, despite the fresh 7 a.m. air, the ride down to Bourg d'Oisans was rather comfortable. However, by the time we got to the start line, we'd missed our alloted slot and we were waved through by the marshals, past the large group of riders due to start behind us. As our times wouldn't begin until we crossed the start line, this worked in our favour - I'd heard that the mass start would be stressful and prone to accidents. Richard, true to form, shot off out of sight and left Rob and I to ease into the ride towards the first climb of the day.

Col du Glandon

So far, so easy - Rob and I were still riding along at an easy pace with minimal effort. I could keep this up all day! We had agreed to try to stick together most of the way around the course and, if split up, to meet at the feeding station at the top of each climb. When the road started rising upwards, I was still comfortable but soon pulled ahead of Rob without realising it, so I thought I'd keep going and then enjoy the break at the top while waiting for him. On the way to the summit, I managed to get stuck in a cyclists' traffic jam, as after a short downhill stretch the road rose up sharply but nobody had the sense to change gear ahead of time... with the result that everyone slowed to a halt. Grrrrr.... I went "cross-country" at the side of the road and passed the lot of them. Unfortunately, I found another log-jam at the top of the Col, as everyone stopped in the middle of the road for the feeding station. Aaargh! After deciding I'd be better off carrying on and waiting for Rob further on, it still took me 20 minutes just to get through. Bloody cyclists!

Col du Telegraphe

After a technical downhill section from the Glandon - where I was slowed down by an ambulance of all things! - and a long and boring flat section that I got through by drafting in a gruppetto, I reached the bottom of the Telegraphe. Without a friend to ride alongside, I was latching onto one rider on the climb until they started going too slow for me, when I would latch on to another. Eventually I found a rider from the De Ver Cycle Team in London, so we got chatting as we pushed our way past the other riders. Having him as a welcome distraction, I didn't really feel the work my legs were doing and we soon reached the top to find yet more chaos and a 30-man queue for the water refill. At this stage I stopped for various reasons: I had run out of water on the climb as I hadn't refilled on the top of the Glandon; I reckoned I was way ahead of Rob but thought I'd give him a chance to catch up; I was finding it difficult to eat anything, as I was getting stomach cramps. So, after another 30mins, I set off downhill towards the beautiful village of Valloire.

Valloire

Does anybody else still feel like going "wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" when speeding downhill? I certainly did on the way down to Valloire - a nice long, sweeping road without any need to slow down to negotiate dangerous hairpin bends. I had to slow down through the village though, as it was packed full of supercars and everyone slowed to check them out. I saw a nice charcoal grey Ferrari 599 Floriano that made me forget I was barely halfway through the ride and still had to get past the Galibier and Alpe d'Huez. Gulp! Furthermore, the road out of Valloire is at a shallow incline, one of those roads that your brain says is flat but your legs tell you otherwise. Still, I felt good despite not being able to eat anything for a while and could only drink plain water (no energy drinks). While on this slow ascent, I saw a one-armed, one-legged man going fairly well - with his body braced into the saddle and his missing arm braced onto the handlebar, he was doing better than most people and yet using only one leg to pedal... chapeau, my friend, you're a true inspiration.

Col du Galibier

By the time I reached the bottom of the Galibier, my legs were fine but my stomach was starting to feel queasy and I was getting fed up of staying in the saddle (bear in mind that I was not used to sitting for long periods, especially given the lack of riding in the previous three months). So, when I saw a cafe with dozens of French cyclists sitting in the sun, I jumped at the chance to stop and get off the bike. I also tried to easy my stomach with several bottles of Coke and a sandwich, while soaking up the sun and watching other riders take the steep road up the Galibier. While I was enjoying my post-lunch siesta (I am Italian, after all!) an elderly man decide also to stop for a break. Nothing wrong in seeing an older man cycling - there are plenty of old "beardies" that regularly cycle past me on my training rides. However, this guy looked about a hundred years old and could barely push the bike, let alone cycle it up the Galibier. Again, chapeau monsieur!

Right. Time to get off my backside and conquer the Galibier. Shame to leave my spot but I couldn't risk not making the cut-off time at the bottom of Alpe d'Huez... all that effort for nothing! So, after an hour and a half of soft grass, it was time to sit on that saddle again. Ouch! The Galibier starts with a vicious gradient, so it was hard work from the start. Double ouch! Once I got into my rhythm, though, I was making fairly quick progress and passing everybody on the climb. Maybe it was the bottles of Coke, maybe that I was catching up all the slower riders. Either way, I felt like Marco Pantani speeding up to the summit. I knew from driving over it the previous day that there would be a nasty final Km when the gradient became even steeper, so I didn't want to push my luck. By the time I got there, though, I was going so well that I even managed to change up a gear and attack that final Km to the feeding station at the top. The Great Galibier? Pah! Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

Col du Lautaret

After yet more chaos at the feeding station, I pushed on for the long and technical downhill. The gradient drops as sharply as it rose, so I was on my brakes for a fair bit, especially as other riders weren't respecting the racing line (the quickest line through a corner - if someone cuts you up at the wrong time, you're toast). Soon, though, we arrived at the Col du Lautaret - this is where the downhill stretch continued towards Bourg d'Oisans for 40Kms with hardly a hairpin bend. Cue the large chainring and a top speed of 109Kph - woo-hoo!!! I would have done it quicker if it weren't for slow-moving traffic... not cyclists this time but the local drivers. Get out of my way, you slowcoach! Where's the damn horn on this bike....

Alpe d'Huez

I reached Bourg d'Oisans, at the bottom of Alpe d'Huez in pretty good time. I still had a chance at the silver medal based on actual time (my ride time - not including all the stops - was only 7:20). My legs were feeling good and I still had enough water, so I decided to give the feeding station a miss (it was packed, anyway - no time to waste!) and head straight out of Bourg for the road to the Alpe. With still a chance at a good time, I decided I'd attack the climb - my previous best was 1:10 and I'd only need 1:30 to get a silver medal. So I prepared myself by staying in the large chainring and used the momentum gained to overcome the "wall". Opp oppp opppp... change to lowest chainring oppppp... lowest gear... opppppp oh crap, my legs have gone! Yep, I hit the wall in both senses - the wall of Alpe d'Huez and the dreaded hypoglycaemic wall. My lack of food and energy drinks had finally taken their toll - and at a totally inappropriate time!

I managed to make it to the first bend, where I joined dozens of other riders taking a break. While drinking most of the water I had left and trying to eat something, my intuition told me to check my mobile phone. Rob had sent me a message to say he'd been sick on the way up the Telegraphe and had abandoned the race. I sent a text to Richard to relay the message and to say that I'd be taking it slow up the Alpe. Things were starting to get difficult...

The rest of the climb is a bit of a blur. I was riding purely on my stubborness to not be defeated. So long as I had breath in my lungs, I would continue to pedal... albeit at only 35rpm. I made several stops in the shaded parts and at the unofficial water stop just outside Alpe d'Huez. Thank God for these volunteers, one of whom asked if I wanted water poured on me (Oui oui oui!!! Merci beaucoup, monsieur guardian angel). That cold shock also gave me an idea - Rob had joked the previous day about using the small waterfalls alongside the road to cool off... which is exactly what I and a French rider did. We eventually found a large waterfall and we immersed ourselves completely, lowering our body temp from heat stroke to hypothermia - bliss!

Somehow, I eventually reached the final few Kms when the gradient eased off. Time to ease my way home, right? NO! Time to change to the large chainring and attack! Damned Alpe and damned stomach cramps - I'll show you what I could've done. I passed everyone else, who at this stage where nursing their way home, and pushed hard for the line. As the pro climbers say, when asked why they ride the mountains so hard, the sooner this pain was over, the better. As I crossed the line, one of the marshals tried to direct me to one side but I was almost unconscious at this point. Luckily, Richard and Rob had been waiting for me at the line (thanks, guys!) and grabbed the bike from me before I could fall over. I couldn't really focus that well, so I was glad for their help. Apparently, my face on the line was the worst they'd seen in the time they'd been waiting and they were rather worried about my health - I didn't feel too good either!

That night, after endless drinks and a nice stodgy pizza, they were glad to see that my eyes were looking better - apparently, I had several dark spots in them... not a good sign. On top of that, I was left with heat stroke, saddle rash, a boil, stiff shoulders, a constant thirst that wouldn't go away until a week later... but my legs were fine!

Would I do it again? Well, I've already checked out the website and marked next year's date in my calendar. I wouldn't miss it for the world. I'll get you next time, Alpe d'Huez! Grrrrr....

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This is the best video I've found for you to get an idea of the route, scenery, numbers of riders and camaraderie of the event. Despite the hard effort involved, it's worth doing at least once in your life - join me next year!


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Tuesday, July 1

Spinning class: Tour de France - Stage 10

Week Two for my Spinning classes but Day Two in the Pyrenees for the Tour riders. Stage 10 starts back in Pau and heads again towards the mountains and a mountain-top finish at the Hautacam - it's the setting for this year's Etape Du Tour, when riders from all walks of life can attempt to ride a stage of that year's Tour, but I passed on it in favour of the Marmotte.

Profile



This one is fairly straightforward, although there is nothing easy about the long climb on the Tourmalet and the final assault on the Hautacam. We start off on a flat road, although we still have to work to keep a decent speed towards the first big climb of the day. Then there are rolling hills, where we add resistance before each one but maintaining our cadence by standing out of the saddle. We tackle the Tourmalet by starting at a fast climbing cadence but then slowing down the rhythm as the incline rises, varying our position on the bike to help break up the effort but without taking the heart rate too high - we can't afford to overdo it on the first climb or we'd lose too much time on the final ascent.

A brief respite as we head downhill, before the road leads up towards our final destination - Hautacam. No sprints on this one, just hard work and even harder work - when Lance Armstrong demonstrated his strength on this climb in 2000, he merely worked harder than others to leave them behind. There was no sudden burst of power, he just kept going until the others could not keep up. We do the same in three stages - there are suitable gaps in the final track when the vocals are a cappella and we increase resistance as the bass rhythm kicks back in, finishing in a show of strength for the final two minutes.

The Pyrenees are now over, the riders will have a well-deserved rest day before making their way to the Alps (which is where I'm going tomorrow for the Marmotte - see you next week!).

Warm up - 6.5 mins
Seated flat road - 7.5 mins
Rolling hills - 10 mins
Fast climb - 5 mins
Brief respite as we arrive at the Tourmalet - 1.5 mins
Fast seated and standing climb - 4 mins
Heavy seated to standing climb - 9.5 mins
Downhill recovery - 1.5 mins
Strong seated and standing climb - 8 mins
Cool down - 6 mins

Playlist

Voices - Dario G. feat. Vanessa Quinones
Clubbed to death - Rob D.
Children (Paul Oakenfold remix) - Robert Miles
A forest (extended remix) - The Cure
A fast and inspirational climbing track for which I don't have details (sorry!)
Uninvited (full length extended version) - Freemasons
3rd Earth - Solar Stone vs. Scott Bond
Beautiful strange - Bedrock

Spinning class: Tour de France - Stage 9

It's that special time of the year again - the Tour de France is about to begin! The biggest sporting event apart from the Olympics and the football World Cup... and they only come round once every four years.

If you're a newbie to the world of competitive cycling, I recommend checking out the official website of Le Tour, which has tons of info on the history of the Tour, past and current riders, stage by stage profiles, maps, etc. If you're a spinning instructor and wondering how you can bring the Tour into your rides, I can highly recommend Jennifer Sage's series of articles on her blog. I never thought, until I read her posts, that there are people out there who (unlike me) haven't been following Le Tour since before they could walk! I sigh and start to daydream whenever I hear the words Alpe d'Huez, Galibier, Tourmalet, Aubisque, Stelvio, Cima Coppi...

Anyway, back to Spinning. I personally find the mountain stages of the Tour the most exciting, probably because I get a kick out of climbing up the Alps and Pyrenees but also because they contain the most drama. There are five big stages on this year's Tour and this is the first on a series of rides I'll be leading this month - Stage 9 from Toulouse to Bagneres-de-Bigorre in the Pyrenees.

Profile



After a week on the flat roads of northern France, this is the first sight of those big bumps in the horizon but our ride begins with only a slight incline. We gradually increase resistance, standing out of the saddle as an option to maintain cadence. We keep the same resistance on another section of flat road with a very slight incline that leads us to the first sign of rolling hills, which we take by increasing resistance and standing out of the saddle to maintain our cadence all the way. Then the fun begins, as we hit the foothills of the Pyrenees - the first one we'll tackle in the saddle at a slower cadence, standing only at the end when the resistance gets too much for us. A quick recovery and then we head uphill again. After another downhill recovery, it's time to hit the two big climbs of the day - the first starts with a very steep incline, where we need to use a lot of strength to overcome the initial gradient, before we settle into a steady climb.

Did I say steady? Well, only if you want it to be! As you can see from the profile, there is a long downhill and flat stretch to the finish line. If we attacked on the second climb, anyone we dropped would be able to catch us up before the end. If we want to gain and keep a time gap, we'll need to attack on this first climb and maintain it up the second. So we'll attack twice with a 30-second surge, accelerating our leg speed as much as we can (with that resistance, it should be very hard to increase it by more than 50%). If you're going for the King of the Mountains (KoM) points (awarded to those who are among the first over the climbs) then keep sprinting for an additional 15 seconds. The longer downhill section should come as a relief after such a hard effort.

Final climb - we've worked hard to create a time gap between us and the chasing group, so we'll need to keep it on this next climb. Time to settle into a long hard climb in the saddle and, as your legs get used to the level of effort, gradually increase resistance to make sure the chasing pack don't gain time on us. Again, as an option, work even harder for the KoM points in the final couple of minutes - standing climb to overcome that extra resistance. Then we head downhill towards the finish line... but we can't afford to take it easy, the pack is working hard to catch up to us. So it's an active downhill - with moderate resistance - for the first 3 mins. A quick breather as the downhill slope is so steep that we can only freewheel and then it's two minutes of hard work straight to the finish line - fast cadence with resistance. Want to go for the stage victory? Turn up that resistance even higher and sprint the last 30 seconds! Now relax, it's over... until tomorrow!

Warm up - 4 mins
Running - 7.5 mins
Seated flat road - 5 mins
Jumps - 5 mins
Seated to standing climb - 4.5 mins
Downhill recovery - 0.5 mins
Seated to standing climb - 2.5 mins
Downhill recovery - 1 min
Seated to heavy standing climb - 1.5 mins
Seated climb with standing sprints - 5.5 mins
Downhill recovery - 2 mins
Seated to standing climb - 8.5 mins
Active downhill (not recovery!) - 6 mins
Cool down - 6.5 mins

Playlist

Rain - Mantra & Robina
The boy is mine (Club Mix) - Brandy & Monica
My friend - Groove Armada
Imagine (Echo N Stepz remix) - Shola Ama
Synaesthesia (Fly Away) - Thrillseekers feat. Sheryl Deane
Feel the beat - Darude
Acid 8000 - Fatboy Slim
Rapture (Deep Dish remix) - IIO
Clubbed to death - Rob D.
Right Samadhi - Chinmaya Dunster

Sunday, June 29

Prem Joshua

While I was in Goa, I heard an eclectic mix of traditional sitar music and modern trance that I just had to have. During a visit at the infamous Anjuna market, I found a stall with hundreds of CDs - heaven for a music junkie like me - and listened to albums that included the artist Prem Joshua. Nope, I'd never heard of him either! I had though he'd be of Indian descent but I later found out he was German. The following is taken from his website, which I highly recommend visiting, especially as you can hear samples of his music.

He began learning the flute at the age of five then went on to perform in various Rock, Jazz and Fusion bands as a flute and saxophone player, always searching for new ways of expressing and expanding his music. However, a musical “discontent”, combined with his search for the spiritual, pulled him, perhaps inevitably, towards India - her culture and her music. He remembers vividly hearing Indian music for the first time, age 16 - a crackly vinyl record of a sitar performance by Ravi Shankar: “I had never heard anything like this before,” Joshua recalls. “It was beyond my musical grasp and experience but was something of such immense beauty and depth. It felt unfamiliar and mysterious - yet at the same time like a remembrance of something I knew very well.”

This experience changed his way of perceiving music completely. Thus it was, that in the late seventies, at the age of 18, he left school, home, ended all his career plans, and travelled instead overland from Europe to India - following the irresistible pull that the East had now cast over him. On his subsequent overland trips eastward he traveled extensively throughout countries such as Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And in each place he became deeply involved with the indigenous folk music he found there, playing live with and learning from, local musicians everywhere. “I loved the roots of this music and felt an immediate connection; something that I had missed so much in Central European music,” he recalls.

When he finally reached India he had a sensation of knowing it; it felt like coming home! Along with the feeling of familiarity there seemed to be an inexplicable vibe of “at-ease-ness” in this country of mysteries, contradictions, colors and smells. And this coming home to India was only the beginning of a much more all-encompassing journey… for on his travels he came across the enlightened mystic, Osho. In the presence of this man with a long white beard, eyes as deep as the ocean and a crazy sense of humor, Joshua came in touch with an altogether different kind of music; the art of the “inner music”… silence. While diving deep into this new world of ‘silence’ Joshua also found the time to learn Indian music from one of India's finest teachers, sitar maestro Ustad Usman Khan.

To date he has released 14 albums under his name and played on countless studio recordings. He has traveled the world numerous times and plays to an ever increasing number of music lovers, inspiring them with a musical message that reaches beyond the borders of tradition, politics, religion and belief.

Go to his site to find out more and listen to samples of his music - some is relaxing, evocative of the countryside of India, and great for warm-ups and cool-downs; other tracks, such as Shiva Moon, have been remixed to make them ideal for a Spinning class.

Sunday, June 22

La Marmotte

Gulp! My main event for the year is less than a fortnight away and I feel like I've done nowhere near enough training for it. All I have is my general fitness levels and hours of various types of training (intervals, high level endurance, etc.) on the Spinning bikes. I got some road miles under my belt in March but the accident soon put paid to my plans of increasing my weekly ride up to 8 hours. Still, how hard can it be? Well, La Marmotte has been called the Doyenne of Cyclosportives, the most difficult one day event for amateur road cyclists in Europe. Not a bad choice for my first ever sportive!

The 174Km route goes through the Alps from Le Bourg d'Oisans, over the Col de la Croix de Fer, down into the Maurienne valley, and then clockwise back to Bourg via the Col de Telegraphe and the 2,600m+ Col du Galibier (by its far harder northern side, which has been closed until recently due to heavy snow), finishing with the ascent to the ski station at l'Alpe d'Huez. To some like me, the distance won't be such a big deal but the 5000m of climbing - not a common feat among amateur cyclists - and the high altitude take their toll to make a sub-9 hour finish a major achievement (it's won in about 6 hours).

For an idea of the masochistic nature of this event, read this excellent article from Cycling Weekly. If that doesn't put you off, nothing will. And here's the profile for the ride:


So why am I doing it? As any mountaineer would say, because it's there!

Saturday, June 14

Spinning class: Indian Hills

Unable to resist the influences of the subtler type of Indian music (as opposed to the hilarious, over-the-top Bollywood dance numbers) I returned from India with a sackful of CDs bought from the infamous Anjuna market. After listening to them all, I picked out a handful of tracks I thought would work and then planned to use them on an alternate hill climb / flat road profile. A rare occurence of me finding a ride around the music, rather than viceversa.

We start off with a long warm-up on the plains, plenty of time to build up to around 75% HRR before gradually loading resistance on a long steady hill to warm up our climbing legs. This is followed by a flat road with some optional running out of the saddle before another climb, this time with a series of jumps (see previous post). Back to the flat road, again with some running out of the saddle, before the road really becomes steep - no more hills now, we're into the Himalayas! After this steep rise, we need a recovery back downhill before finding a fast climb that raises our HR again. A very quick recovery to regain our composure and we're heading up back up towards our final destination above the clouds.

Warm-up - 7 mins
Seated climb - 6 mins
Flat road / Running - 7 mins
Jumps on a hill - 6 mins
Flat road / Running - 6 mins
Heavy standing climb - 5.5 mins
Recovery - 2.5 mins
Fast climb - 6 mins
Recovery - 1.5 mins
Heavy climb - 6.5 mins
Cool down - 6 mins

My HR profile shows how even the flat roads were hard work - each section of the ride can be seen clearly but the level of effort is consistent throughout.

Profile:




Playlist:

Tangerine Thumri (Orange Turban remix) - Prem Joshua
Solitude - Karunesh
Punjab - Karunesh
Bolo Hari (Bombay Lounge remix) - Prem Joshua
New Kafi - Prem Joshua
Flute fantasy - DJ Nasha
Ibizan Dawn - Sergio
Awakening: Main Sutti Rahiyaan - Shubha Mudgal
Shiva Moon (Intro) - Prem Joshua
Shiva Moon (Moon Nectar remix) - Prem Joshua
Shepherd Solitude - Prem Joshua
Tilang Tantra (Temple mix) - Prem Joshua

Who's this Prem Joshua, then? My next post will be a profile of the man and his music.

Jump!

As a cyclist, as well as a Spinning instructor, I've been asked about jumps, their purpose and how they relate to "real" cycling.

Put simply, jumps are the transition from a seated to standing position (and back again). The upper body remains relaxed while body weight is lifted up from the saddle into a standing position, then returned to the saddle. It is essential that the leg muscles are used to stand, i.e., no pulling up on the handlebars, and also to control the descent back into the saddle to ensure a soft landing. It's not about bouncing up and down, as the aim is to engage the leg muscles - for this reason, it is pointless to do jumps so quickly that proper technique and posture are impaired. These are known as "popcorn jumps" and, unfortunately, are used by many instructors looking for something to keep the riders busy - all they do is put a strain on the back, knees, shins... not to mention the potential for a hard landing in the saddle (ouch!) without actually doing any work. The purpose of jumps is to increase effort level (as you're using more muscles to move), co-ordination, explosive strength and postural awareness.

Many instructors who don't (or can't) cycle outdoors may find it difficult to see the point of jumps; many will say they're pointless and are a gimmick, created to prevent boredom in indoor rides. However, outdoor cyclists regularly lift out of the saddle for brief periods of time, especially on longer rides. This may be to negotiating steep hairpin turns (switchbacks) on mountain roads, to accelerate to close a small gap in the paceline, to quickly increase cadence on a climb to create a gap before sitting back in the saddle and continuing that higher cadence, to stretch their hamstrings after a long period in the saddle, or simply to... err... ease the pressure from the saddle!

The most advanced riders will remain in the saddle for as long as possible, gears permitting. This is to avoid using the extra energy needed when standing and to keep their heart rates under control. So they are actually more likely to make use of jumps than they are to stand up for extended periods.

They're not easy for a novice rider but, with practice, the benefits are worth the effort. Keep on jumping!

Sunday, June 8

Spinning class: Strength Builder

This is probably my simplest ride and yet one that caters to all abilities and levels of effort. Whether you're looking to begin adding some strength to your legs at the beginning of the seasons or are pushing yourself to the limit at a high level of endurance, this really is a ride that anyone can do themselves. Apart from the simplicity, I use a mix CD to keep an even tempo while making for an interesting ride (well, more interesting than a metronome!). Something like the Euphoria or Breakdown series is excellent, if you're into trance music.

The ride is split into three loops (four for an hour-long class), where I suggest riders tackle each loop at an increasingly higher effort. So, if starting the season, it's better to start at 65% for the first loop and build to 75-80% by the third/fourth loop. If going for high-level endurance, I'd suggest starting at 75% and ending at 85-90% (lactate threshold) by the final loop. You can see from my HR profile how my effort level increased during the ride.

After a brief warm-up, we begin climbing. Each loop is 1 minute in the saddle, 1 minute standing, then 2 minutes of each, then 3 minutes. While out of the saddle at the end of the loop, add resistance for the following loop to allow the legs to get used to the increase in effort before beginning the next loop in the saddle. After 36 minutes (or 48 for an hour-long ride) of climbing, we cool down.

Why the changes in/out of the saddle? At the start of the season, it allows one set of leg muscles to get used to riding at a set tempo for a fixed time before changing position to use different muscles in the legs. Gradually the time in each position increases before a loop is finished and another begins at a higher intensity. If going for a high-level endurance ride, the change keeps fatigue at bay and makes it easier to keep going before one or another of the muscles start tightening up.

Warm-up - 4 min
-----------------------
Loop (repeat 3 or 4 times)
Seated climb - 1 min
Standing climb - 1 min
Seated climb - 2 min
Standing climb - 2 min
Seated climb - 3 min
Standing climb - 3 min

Turn resistance higher and begin another loop
-----------------------
Cool down - 6 mins

Profile:

Playlist:
(From the "green" Breakdown CD, disc 2)

Epona - Enya
Right here, right now - Fatboy Slim
Wide open space - Mansun
Symmetry C - Brainchild
More than this '99 - Emmie
Seven days & one week - B.B.E.
Not over yet '99 - Planet Perfecto feat. Grace
9pm (till I come) - ATB
I can't help myself - Lucid
Carte blanche - Veracocha
Alive - Heliotropic feat. Verna V.
Mysterious times - Sash! feat. Tina Cousins
Another way - Paul van Dyk
Bass fly - Tillman & Ries
Celtic dream - Michael Flatley

Monday, May 26

Spinning class: Crystal Palace loops

It's been a while since I last posted a ride profile, so I have some catching up to do! Loops bring simplicity and clarity - good for instructors to lead - but also repetition that lets the class know what will be coming up ahead, as we go round and round again. I call this one Crystal Palace, as I put this together a few years ago after riding a closed-loop circuit that has a gradual but steady climb.

As always, each rider is free to do whatever they feel is right for them but, for those that want to follow, the flat road segment may include jumps or running...or even a recovery ahead of the climb. The climb may be done entirely in the saddle or out of it but, ideally, the first two minutes would be in saddle while adding enough resistance before standing. HR also depends on individuals, whether they prefer a comfortable 70-75% or to push it to 80-85%. I suggest riders take the first loop at 70%, the second at 75%, the third at 80%, with final one at 85%.

Warm up - 3.5 mins
-----------------------
Loop (repeat 4 times)
Flat road - 4.5 mins
Climb - 4.5 mins
-----------------------
Cool down - 5.5 mins

Playlist:
Smell of Paradise - Sa Trincha
Only love can break your heart - Saint Etienne
Do you see the light? - Snap!
Big mistake - Natalie Imbruglia
Touch me - Rui Da Silva
Family Affair - Mary J Blige
Loneliness - Tomcraft
Galvanize - The Chemical Brothers
3rd Earth - Scott Bond vs. Solarstone
Celtic dream - Michael Flatley

Friday, May 23

Schwinn Revolution 2008 - Hemsby

Although not a big deal for our continental friends (who regularly do 12-hour continuous rides) or our cousins across the pond (who host events with thousands of bikes), this was (I believe) the first event of this magnitude in the UK: 100 bikes, 14 hour-long rides spread over a weekend and - this is the clincher - the ability to stay on the bike the whole time.

I went with Rick, a friend and fellow Spinning/Schwinn addict from Hove, who took these photos. When we arrived, after a brief stop at a roadside stall to eat the best sausage-bacon-egg baguette I've ever tasted, we were told that event would start an hour later and, apparently, everybody but the two of us knew. So we had plenty of time to choose our bikes and set up...needless to say, we both went for front row centre.

Just one problem - having fractured my shoulder blade two weeks earlier, would I be able to ride, much less push myself? I thought that I might have difficulty in holding the bars without a sling but it was worth trying, as there were only two classes that Friday evening. It took me a while to find a suitable riding position, as I could not stretch or put any weight on my shoulder. As you can see, I wasn't very comfortable but at least I was able to ride - I could always coast along and use it as an educational experience.

Well... what an education! After the initial stiffness, I loosened up gradually, the adrenaline started flowing and I was really getting into it. It helped having Mel Chambers leading the ride - when she suggests you could maybe work just that little bit harder, it's hard to disagree! Soon the pain disappeared altogether and I was able to lift myself to a higher level of effort, at or above my lactate threshold, for the two hours.

Rick said he could see I was really pushing myself, despite my totally relaxed state that might have fooled others into thinking I was taking it easy. I was certainly "in the zone", so much so that my focus was on one of the tealights in front of me and all I could see was the dancing flame - I can't remember the music, Mel's words, the pain, the effort... just the emotion and the little voice whisper "I can".

The next day was more of the same but with a variety instructors leading the rides. On the final ride on Saturday morning, I started feeling pain in my knee - quite unexpected, given my other problems, but probably related to the accident. Luckily, it was time for the lunch break, so I had time to recover... especially as Rick and I decided that 45mins was nowhere near enough for a decent lunch and we opted out of the first two rides of the afternoon session. The final two rides were relatively steady, the first being a 45-min climb and the second a low-end endurance ride.

Four more rides the next day, with best (for me) being a ride called "Feel the energy". A long climb up to Macchu Picchu, going through storms, caves, sprinting away from cannibals, working together as a team to get through the worst and using the electricity of the storm to charge us with energy, finally using it all in a final burst to the top and into the sunshine. Even while writing this, the memory of that ride gives me goosebumps... I wish I'd recorded it, so I could ride it again and again on my own!

Sigh! Roll on next year - I hope it becomes a permanent fixture on my iCal.

Thursday, May 22

Why did I quit my job?

I've been asked many times lately why I left my cushy 9-to-5 desk job in central government, especially given the perks the job entails: flexible working and hours, final salary pension, and no chance of ever losing my job unless I murdered my boss (even then, probably only if it happened on government premises!). I always believed that one of four things must be present to stay in a job: good money, good prospects, good working environment (location, people, etc.), good work. Government has never been a place to make money - unless you're a consultant - and prospects were minimal given budget cuts. The environment had been steadily getting worse and the work that I loved doing (protecting the international environment) had been taken away from me.

As I was looking around for options - transfer to another post, Department, job, even country - the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy came up. They offered me just under £30K to leave. I had calculated my basic spend including mortgage payments and, with the income I was getting from my regular Spinning classes, the money would be enough to last me another ten years. Well worth the risk, given I had ten years to get my fitness business profitable before having to get another job. So they showed me the money, I took it and left without turning back. Ultimately, the choice was about my state of mind... my happiness, if you will. That has no price, in my book - I'm just lucky I had the opportunity to make a break for it and to be in a position to afford it.

After I left, I saw this video - it touched all the right buttons, as it was exactly how I was feeling every day. If you have the opportunity, don't hesitate to make that change - a life not lived is worse than no life at all.


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