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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

QBH ride report; 'Racing' a Sportive....

This is a ride report post Quebrantahuesos (QBH) which we did as a group of 9 from the Bespoke Clan.  Tony, Ollie and Ben DG took all the bikes down in a van as they wanted to return laden with wine. As such when Ben and I flew to Zaragoza on Wednesday it was just with hand luggage – amazingly civilised. We were met by our hosts for the event, John Fegan and his team from TraininSpain who would look after us throughout the trip. The drive to the host town of Jaca took 90 mins. As we got closer to Jaca the mountains started to appear in the distance, and the butterflies started!

Ben and I met up with the Bespoke van crew on later that evening and had a very late dinner. The other 4 riders (Paddy, Philip, Ian and Harry) were flying into Barcelona on Friday and then driving up themselves. I think poor John was bemused by the antics of the Bespoke clan and our multiple modes of entry into Spain!

The Thursday was very relaxed and none of the locals had descended into the town yet. However Friday was a different matter and the town was mobbed with very serious looking locals all riding in matching team kit. The bike porn quotient was very high indeed - Boras, Lighweights and Zipps were everywhere. Everyone also seemed to ride a size 52 with a slammed stem as well. I felt like a giant and thought what the hell am I doing taking on these waifs at their own game?

5'6 and tanned vs 6'2 and pale in a Spanish mountain sportive????
Their weekend rides involve the Tourmalet, mine involve Toys Hill in Kent
They can descend at 80kmh whilst putting a gilet on - I have still not quite mastered riding with no hands in a straight line
All of a sudden this seemed a very stupid idea….

Pre race shake-down ride. I could live here very happily indeed

The event itself is a huge deal in Spain. Its 205km long and goes over three Cat 1 climbs for a total ascent of 3500m. Compared to the Marmotte or some Etapes its probably a tad longer in distance, but with “only” 60-70% of the climbing. There are c 9000 riders, but there is a ballot system as over 30,000 usually apply. So everyone who is there is really up for it, and all the local clubs take it seriously and even set up their own water and feed stops on the route so their riders don’t have to stop and waste time. Very PRO. As a side note thats why using an operator such as Traininspain is vital - we side-stepped the ballot and were given guaranteed slots.

This was the first Euro sportive I have done since 2007 (the interim period is known as the Ironman wilderness years).
The big difference from previous events was that we went as a group, and I was riding with my loyal domestique Ben Hallam.  I was really looking forward to riding with him (in 12 months of working together we have never actually been on the same road at the same time!).
This was only the third sportive he had ever done, and would be the longest. But given the fact he is an ex-Pro cyclist and I am not, I was hoping he would be gentle with me.
The Gold Standard for my age group was 7.55, but I was told by one of the Traininspain party who had done it before that sub-7 was considered a good time. So that was the secret goal. Ben said he would ride hard for as long as he could, but given he has hardly been riding this year (too many weekend bike-fitings!) he was unsure how long he would last. His speciality was on the track, so he is very much a fast twitch explosive rider. 200km would be a great test for us both.

My form has been all over the place this year. Work has been manic (a good thing) and with two little boys under two the motivation (and ability) to do more than 3 hrs on a weekend is very limited. My usual ride partner, Dean, has been flying this year and I have not, and I have been getting a regular kicking from him. However the last month has seen an improvement and I have been feeling better. I have also started doing some sessions with Ben who has got me using my glutes far more in the pedal stroke and also worked on my core so I no longer get massive lower back pain on longer rides. The changes are measurable and its the best I have felt on a bike in a while - I just wish I had started in November and not May!  Apparently I posted the fastest time on a sportive last weekend, ‘beating’ the second fastest time by 20 mins. So the form is coming back, and I was cautiously optimistic especially when we realized it would be a hot day but not scorching.

At the start - wishing I had brought arm warmers !

The start was the usual bun fight. The first 2000 places are for seeded riders who have posted  good previous times, and they are in separate pens with the rest of us mortals started at the back. There was also a distinct form of Spanish queuing going on, so it seemed ages before we started after the official cannon went off at 7.30am (looking back it was actually 7 mins before we crossed the start line).
As such we never got to ride with the really quick riders as they were well up the road before we had even started. 

An Idiot Abroad: Season Three

If you look closely you can just about see the blue banner which was the start line

The start was absolutely bedlam. One minute we were slightly chilly at the start and then next we were doing 50 km/h. Ben told me to stick on his wheel and he was going to get us through the field. It was amazing to watch, as he would  go through a gap I could not even see and then if a group was going to slow we would simply go through them– pretty cool when the passed group was itself doing 45 kmh ! Like a good surfer checking out the waves, he would also be constantly studying the road and all of a sudden we would go onto the hard shoulder to catch another fast moving group. Although we were flying I felt very safe - it felt like being a pro and being looked after by a loyal lieutenant.

I had not been feeling great all week –so much so that on 2 days before we did a climb and my HR was at 170 and I was getting dropped. I hoped it was down to travel, lack of sleep and a bit too much to drink! However it was enough to spook me, and so on the big day I did not wear a HR monitor at all –I was scared if my heart rate was too high it would start to freak me out, and instead I decided ignorance was bliss and that I would be guided by the force.

30 km into the ride and I felt knackered – my legs were really heavy and I thought we had gone out far too hard and the whole day was going to be a disaster. Whilst I enjoyed trying to follow Ben’s wheel I also found it quite stressful – you could not really daydream like I seem to do on these events !
I then told Ben to slow down and had abandoned all hopes of a good time – simply getting round would be the goal.

Luckily the first climb (Somport) was about to start, and as soon as we were going uphill my legs warmed up and felt great. Ben and I were riding tempo, so a reasonable effort but still talking to each other, and we simply carved through the field. It was a very cool feeling to be dropping locals on their own mountain. As we turned a hairpin it flattened out to a plateau and there was a TV helicopter above filming the event. As Ben said, if that did not inspire you you might as well get off the bike now…….

On the recce of the Somport (when I had my high HR disaster) we noticed a few quite steep ramps. But on race day we did not feel them at all – it was weird  how easy the climb was. As soon as the gradient slackened we would click down a gear and press on, which always bodes well for the days ride.
Before we knew it we were at the top of the Somport and I stopped for water.

58 km in and I looked at my Garmin and we had been riding for 1.39. I was told to break 7hrs you should be there in 1.50 so we were well ahead of that and then we got the bit between our teeth.
In PRO style, locals were given out newspapers to put under your jersey – something Ben and I were happy to take given we had no Gilet or Arm warmers and there was lots of cloud as we looked over into France.
Team Bespoke - I am desperately trying to keep Ben in sight as he descends
In the UK I consider myself a reasonable descender, but am happy to concede I am very slow compared to the Euros. So much so that Ben predicted he thought he could put 15 mins into me on the descents alone in a big mountain sportive. I said at high speeds (75Kmh plus) I start to think about my family and what the hell am I doing this for. Ben said you cannot think like that if you want to be a good descender. I said that I do and I cannot help it. He said you must not - and back and forth it went.  Oh to be single, carefree and talented.....
The plan was Ben would push on the descents and freewheel at the bottom of the climb until I joined him. I was doing 75 kmh and still dozens of people passed me. A guy actually screamed passed me as he was getting arm warmers from his pocket and simply steering the bike by gripping the top tube with his knees.

However the descent passed in a blur and at the bottom I was really pleased when Ben was smiling and shouting encouragement and said he had hardly waited at all at the bottom (a lie I am sure designed to build my confidence). The descent was actually chilly as we descended into France and in the valley it was overcast. This thrilled Ben who shouted “perfect weather for a ginger person”. That was his catalyst to get us to push on and we made good progress through the valley.

Soon we were at the bottom of the Marie Blanque, which I had heard horrible things about from Ollie. Its basically pretty easy for 5km and then a grind for the last 4. There are no switchbacks to break it up either - its pretty much straight up. Although we had made great progress we were amazed how many people were still ahead of us – thouands it seemed.
Once again the same pattern emerged -  as soon as the climb started Ben and I pushed on and went passed people who seemed to be grinding quite alarmingly. It was great to have enough gears to spin up – as such it felt we were in control of our speed, unlike so many climbs when it dictates your pace to you. However, just when I was getting cocky, sure enough the last 4 km sucked, and I was soon in my 28 and very much feeling a touriste…..

At the top of Marie Blanque is 105 km, so we gone done half way (if not quite half the climbing). Time was 3.08 so we were making great progress. It was certainly hot, but it never felt as stifling as I have experienced in previous events.
The descent off Marie Blanque was crazy fast, but by now the adrenaline was flowing and whilst I was still getting passed, it was far less frequently.

The middle bump is Marie Blanque and thus c. half way. But we had the Portalet to go and that can break you if you have gone too hard too soon

The valley run in was uneventful except for the fact Ben and I were doing through and off and pulling a group of 30 locals for large sections. When we flicked the elbow to get them to pull though they didn’t, so Ben gave them a total bollocking and some of the stronger boys eventually came to the front.  I have never been so proud of him, especially when he was taking massive pulls at the front doing 48 kmh.

Everyone who had done the event said that the last climb, the Portalet, would make or break the ride. In our pre ride briefing the day before John Fegan had repeated this, and said show it some respect as if you have gone too hard beforehand you will soon know!
Its 28km at 5% - so plenty of time to blow if you had gone out too hard. Sure enough as we turned into the start of the climb Ben shouted to me “these f*kers have blown – if we push on they will go bang”. It was brilliant – Ben is so chilled out at work, but I was seeing how on a bike his strong competitive edge comes through.

Before the event Tony had shown me an iPhone video he had taken of his little three year old boy Lucas dancing to the song 'Titanium' (don't worry I had not heard of it either). Anyway it builds into a crescendo and the little man is getting super excited. Tony is shouting 'wait....wait' and little Lucas is shouting "Now daddy, now". The song then goes mental and Lucas starts jumping around manically.
So that video inspired the trip catch-phrase and at the start of every climb Ben and I would shout "wait, wait" and then accelerate shouting "now daddy now". What fun we had - the locals thought we had been in the sun too long.

As we shouted 'now daddy, now' we clicked down some gears and pushed on, and sure enough after 5 mins thirty riders became two.

We met another Brit on the climb, who was also part of the TraininSpain crew. I had not had a chance to speak to him in great depth, but on race day I noticed he had a Rapha Cent Col Challenge jersey on, so I knew he would be tidy on the climbs and we agreed to work together as a three. After 5kms of tempo riding Ben suddenly said to me –“you to need to push on I’ve blown”. I said no, I would wait for you but he said to crack on otherwise all that pulling on the flat and the scary descents would have been for nothing. I climbed another 2 km and then there was a water stop which I pulled into to wait. After a couple of mins I could not see him, so decided to carry on as I know what its like to feel pressured to ride at someone elses pace when you are not 100%. Besides I knew we had a big descent  to come where Ben would take masses of time out of me.

The Portalet might now be my favourite climb in the world. Its long, but not really steep, so you can really attack it if you are feeling good. Some parts of it actually flatten out so I was out of the saddle and into the big ring feeling like a rock star. I caught up with a skinny looking local and we worked together for almost 12 km. That’s why I love cycling – we had nothing in common apart from a mutual interest in grafting for each other.  The last 3 kms of the climb are exposed and there were thousands of spectators – a real carnival atmosphere. By now I had realized I had run out of water and food and was beginning to suffer for the first time in the entire ride. Fingers tingling, light head – yep that’s right I am about to bonk.
There were loads of club team supporters at the side of the road giving their riders food and drink, and even team cars on the course. Super PRO – but none of them had any interest in giving drinks to a pale Scotsman.

However a young boy pulled a can of ice cold coke out of a cooler and gave to me. Now this boy was in no way affiliated with the event – merely out for a fun day with his family and he was giving me food and drink they had bought especially for riders. I LOVE THIS EVENT.
Massses of crowds at the summit, so it would be rude not to get out of the saddle and pretend it was easy. I was told its 1.15 from here to the finish, so you had to be there by 5.45 to break 7hrs.
I was there in 5.18. This is on........

The descent was outrageously quick – masses of road space so very safe but quite exposed and I was a bit concerned my deep wheels my get blown about. I daren’t look at my speedo, but afterwards so I had done 89kmh – a record for me.
Is that a smile or a grimace?

The descent flattened out and a group of 10 of us formed. I was desperate to hold onto their wheel as this would be my ride in to the finish. However I bottled it going through one of the 2 tunnels and lost their wheels. I was furious with myself as I was all alone now and we had a flat section and then a small sting in the tail climb to go. By now I was properly bonking and was desperate for a group to hide in. No such luck. Eventually I hit the last climb, Hoz which is 8% for 2kms and suddenly felt very very hot indeed.

I have just put some Rotor Q rings on the bike which I love (I find its made my pedal stroke much more powerful as I can get into the power phase much quicker than before). However the instructions do say to ride for 500kms to adapt as it will use different muscles. Instead I had only done one previous ride on them and on the climb to Hoz all of a sudden I got the most outrageous cramps on the inner sides of both legs. I had never had this before – it was surreal.
Looking at my implied power numbers from Strava (I am such a geek) and this where I really suffered and lost a lot of time. I did the 3 big climbs at c 280 watts, but could only do 233 for this little one. The summit could not come quick enough.

There was a feed station at the top which  pre-race Ben and I had both agreed we would not stop at given its less than 25 km (most of which is downhill) to go.
Alas desperate times call for desperate measures, and I stopped and wolfed down two cups of coke in a desperate attempt to get sugar into the system. I knew the hard work was done, but there were a few cheeky hills which really stung after 180kms.

The last climb up Hoz - by now legs were on fire

As we came off the Col we looked down to a beautiful reservoir on the right hand side and I could see a group of 10 riders ahead of me . I dug in with all I had – 52/11 and absolutely killed myself to get their wheel. I eventually got there and then the road straightened and we were on the main road back to the finish. I saw we had 15km to go and we were motoring at 45km. It was a great feeling, everyone was working and taking pulls and there was a general feeling of satisfaction as everyone knew they were on easy street now. As a side note I am convinced this is why all our legs felt so good the next day – we had time to flush out the toxins. None of this finishing on Alpe D’Huez nonsense.

I knew I was on for a good time as everyone in my group had an orange jersey number and they were all below number 500. My number (9017) stood out like a sore thumb. As we turned into the finishing straight everyone sprinted for the line but I was happy to leave them well alone and crossed alone to a time of 6.23 which I was thrilled with.  Someone said I was the second non local (behind another Traininspain rider). The winning time was 5.44 and the guy who finished second was an ex Pro who served a ban for EPO.
Most importantly the winning ladies time was 6.30 so I did not get chicked !

13 minutes later Ben finished with a cracking time of 6.36. The man is a hero of mine. He had an eventful time as well. After I left him, he slowed right down and got as much food and drink down him as he could. We figured I put 20 mins into him on the climb but he clawed lots back on the fast descent. On the wicked fast section 20km to go from the the finish he was bored with pulling his group so bridged solo to the next group. I simply have no idea how strong you need to be after 180km to ride 20 people off of your wheel. The mind simply boggles.

The 7 other Bespoke riders had a great day out as well and posted cracking times with Tony and Ollie getting Golds as well, and the other lads getting silvers. A special mention must go out to my man Ben De Groot (whom I did Challenge Henley Ironman with last year).  This was his first ever sportive, and first time he had ever climbed (and descended) a mountain. Every night we were in Spain he and Tony would be in the bar till 1am and they had missed Friday’s shakedown ride as he was the worse for wear (he denies he was hungover - and Tony said that when Ben goes to bed he does not sleep, he is merely planning the next evening's entertainment). Ben had caused a huge outcry amongst the fellow hotel guests as he was seen smoking outside. A cyclist smoking?!  But as Ben said, everyone tapers differently……

Big bad Ben - crushing Spanish dreams one pedal stroke at a time

Despite this non-conventional training  approach he posted a fairly staggering time of 8.23 to get a Silver. Somewhere (deep) inside his body is some athlete waiting to get out. He told me to put on the blog it must have been the Parlee Z5 he was riding, and he would be happy to write a testimonial to that effect! It was great having people who so obviously viewed this as a bike ride AND a holiday. We will never win these events, so lets just have some fun whilst we take our precious holiday.

Ollie - took on the Marie Blanque for a second time and this time won, on his way to a cracking Gold time

Tony decided to go local and put as many layers on as possible.

Harry had his bike stolen recently and had to hire a bike for the event. We picked it up in Spain, and this was the first fitting Ben has ever done that involved  riding up and down a hotel corridor as he raised the saddle in 5mm increments.

Ian is a very big fan of the bike-fisting service we offer at BPL

Paddy attacking out of the saddle. He was wearing white shorts and there was all sorts of witty banter at dinner the night before about going easy on the shellfish

As an avid Chelsea fan Philip has fond memories of Barcelona. So much so that on this trip he decided not to return with the others but instead spend an extra night there…..

Because the event was not as savage as some of the French ones, everyone felt great afterwards and after a cheeky ‘pro kip’ we were ready to go to dinner. Ben De Groot and Tony (who else) had become firm friends with a local barman, Pancho, and we went to his bar for mountains of tapas and then steaks washed down by some lovely Magnums of Rioja. You have no idea how much food 9 starving cyclists can eat.

Pancho's bar. 

What made the evening even better was the fact that Spain were playing France that day and given the French border is only 50kms away there was a cracking atmosphere. After Spain one we went into the main square and drank cocktails into the early hours of the morning.  A fabulous end to a fabulous day.

The day after the ride we drove back to airport and stopped to have one last look at the amazing scenery

I started writing this report on the plane and already planning my return.  Its simply the best event I have ever done. Hard enough to be a real challenge, but not so hard (Marmotte anyone?) that its just a slog.

Speaking to Ben at the finish line and you could see he had a real gleam in his eye. He told me that was as close to racing as he had felt in years, and it had awakened something in him. In the bar after the event, when all the war stories were flashing, we plotted how we could do a better time next year.

Ben still thinks I am too quad dominant (hence back ache) and says my glutes need strengthening. The Rotor Q Rings definitely help, but its much better to improve the body than throw money at kit (and this is a retailer talking!).
He thinks purely by making these bio-mechanical changes he can improve my threshold power by 20-30 watts. So thats not training harder, or doing lots of intervals. Thats simply pedaling better…. 
Also, if I improve my core strength I won't tire so much at the end of the ride, so what little power I have left after 6hrs is not wasted.
Interestingly at the Col de Marie Blanque my elapsed ride time was 3.09 and the winner was there in 3.01. So we were only 8 mins behind at the half way stage….

However the winner pulled out a further 31 mins into me on the second half and that is because I slowed down far more than he did. You can blag a shorter ride, but these 200km events are savage and will find out any weakness you have.
So masses to work on, and am really excited to see what gains I can make. Now if only I could find a Performance Lab that offered all these services under one roof……..

If (when!) we return we would be seeded riders which means we will start with quick boys.  That means the trains will be quicker, and you will be climbing in smaller groups with less queues at the feed stops. If I can 'grow a pair' on the descents and simply train smarter (thats a different blog piece but I am convinced sessions with Ben doing core work and peddling bio-mechanic sessions will be the best time I will have ever spent improving my cycling) I think you could get close to the really pointy end of this event. At long last those winter rides will now have a purpose…..

I probably spent more time writing this report than I did riding the event! So well done if you managed to read it all. If I can say one last thing:


Saturday, 16 June 2012

Cross Training

by Ben Hallam

I’ve just got back from doing some cross training blasting round Richmond Park with some of the LSST skaters ( So thought I’d write a blog about why cyclist should consider doing some off the bike stuff.

Traditionally, cyclists do not do much training off the bike. While there is certainly a time and a place for the “get miles in the saddle” approach, this is now a bit out dated. Cross training went through a big boom in the 90’s as people saw how well triathletes were improving in their better discipline while spending less time specifically training for it. But why should cyclists consider doing anything other than riding a bike?

First of all there are the all-important performance advantages. There are studies showing that doing other sports can increase performance as well as studies that show that weight training can increase cycling strength and efficiency. Doing the same activity day in day out can also lead to imbalances in the body as the working muscles become big and strong while the underworked muscles weaken and atrophy. These muscle imbalances have been shown to increase the likelihood of injury in both the lower and upper limb.

So it’s important to get these under worked muscles moving, but sometimes it’s hard to simply contract a muscle if you haven’t been used to using it. During cycling rehabilitation sessions at Bespoke Performance Lab (, I find it easier to teach people to activate inhibited muscles (like the glutes) when they’re not doing a familiar motor pattern like cycling. If you can learn to active your muscles in a range of different activities and positions, then you can integrate these muscles into your day to day movements and see better gains in strength and coordination.

So what areas should we be focusing on when cross training? Firstly there are our muscles that produce power while cycling; the quadriceps and glutes (butt muscles). With these, we are looking to use the muscles in a new way and/or through a different range of motion. Next are our core and hip control muscles which are important for balance, control and directing the forces during the pedal stroke. Because we spend long periods bent forward on the bike, cyclists often develop an imbalance between the anterior chain (stomach muscles, hip flexors etc) which can become strong and tight and the posterior chain (back muscles, hamstrings etc) which become long and weak. Finally there are the under worked muscles in the upper body which, while we don’t want to be overly big and bulky, we do need them to be balanced and strong enough to counteract the forces being produced by the legs.

Swimming is a good cross training activity for cyclists as it forces us to use our upper bodies at relatively low loads. It’s important however to mix up your strokes as just doing front crawl will put more emphasis on the anterior chain. Back stroke will encourage the posterior chain to fire up while breast stroke will use the muscles in the hips in a new range and if you know how to do butterfly, can you please teach me!!!!

Rowing is a great cardiovascular exercise for cyclists. It puts huge emphasis on quad strength and glute activation from a very tight hip angle (the same as coming over the top of the pedal stroke). It also requires strength through your back to transmit the forces generated by the legs through to the handle in exactly the same way cyclists need to while climbing.

Personally, I do something a little more unusual for cross training; I have taken up inline speed skating. There have been many examples of skaters crossing over to cycling and being very successful. Eric Heiden won multiple Olympic gold skating medals and then went onto win the US pro road champs. More recently Clara Hughes successfully transferred from the bike to skates and won medals at both summer and winter games. Sheila Young on the other hand was able to compete and win Olympic and World golds both skating and track cycling simultaneously. So there is method to my madness. In essence it’s cycling without a pair of handlebars to hold you up. It uses very similar muscles to produce the power (glutes and quads) but requires much more core stability and back strength to maintain the position and control your force and direction. I’ve found it has really helped my climbing technique as I can get more of my body weight onto the pedal earlier in the pedal stroke. I skate for the LondonSkaters Speed Team ( and race in a number of events such as marathons (I recently did the London Inline Marathon in 1 hour 28 minutes) and also a 24 hour relay race at Le Mans. 

There is also a hidden danger in only riding a bike. Cycling is a non-weight bearing sport; meaning there isn’t much impact between your body weight and the floor. The skeletal system adapts to regular shocks and compressions caused by impact by increasing bone density. On the other hand, if this demand is not placed on the body, bone density can drop. There have been a lot of studies showing lower bone density in competitive cyclist (8), adolescent cyclists  and master cyclists. Low bone density can lead to conditions like osteopenia and osteoporosis where the bones become weak and brittle. Most famously, this is one of the reasons why Chris Boardman had to stop racing. Alarmingly, a study in 2008 suggests that cyclists can be as much as 7 times more likely to develop osteopenia than runners (12). Therefore, it would be highly recommended for cyclists to incorporate weight bearing exercise like running or plyometrics etc into their training regimes.

I am a big believer that all cyclists should do weight training (and I’m not just talking about track sprinters here). I know that a cyclist’s big fear is that they will gain too much body weight by weight training but this is not the case. By altering reps, sets, rest periods and weight, you can get big gains in strength and control that you just won’t get by simply riding a bike. A study in 2010 saw significant gains in cycling efficiency and aerobic time to exhaustion with maximal strength training. Weight training is also a very quick and efficient way to target weak muscles and address muscle imbalances.

During a cycling strength and technique session at Bespoke Performance Lab ( we break down the pedal stroke into its key fundamental movements, train them separately using specific exercises and then reintegrate them into a fluid cycling pattern. This way you can focus on the specific weakness in the pedal stroke and learn to control the movements in a controlled environment. We progress exercises from simple body weight movements, through maximal strength training to increase nerve activation and then increase the speed to convert that into power.

Five simple exercises that cyclists should incorporate are:
Lunge: Simulates the top of the pedal stroke.
Overhead Squat: Simulates the mid-point of the pedal stroke and requires more thoracic strength than a normal squat.
Single Leg Dead Lift: Requires good core control and simulates transferring energy through the back and into the bars.
Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls: Simulates the first part of the recovering stroke.
Bent Over Rows: Works the upper body in the same way as pulling on the bars.
It’s also important to stretch regularly and specifically the muscles that you are tight in.

Other things that cyclists might consider are yoga and pilates. I like yoga as it teaches lengthening and strengthening through whole chains of muscles. For example, a bridge creates length down the entire anterior chain (stomach, hip flexors etc) and simultaneously strength through the posterior chain (back, glutes, hamstrings etc). Pilates is good for teaching core activation and control. It is important however to do your research when finding yoga and pilates instructors and make sure you find a good one.

Cross training shouldn’t be something that you just do in the off season as the benefits will be felt throughout the year.  It might be that the number or duration of sessions is reduced during the season as specific training is more effective in developing performance but it’s important to continue to stress the body in different ways so that the benefits are not lost. I would aim to do 1 to 2 sessions of 45 mins to an hour during the season while this can be increased in the early off season to 3 to 4. Target doing cardiovascular efforts that can be sustained and remember that you will probably tire quicker doing unfamiliar tasks because you will be using different muscles.

Most importantly, cross training is a great way to break up the monotony of training. Doing something that is new can be a lot of fun and a good challenge.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Semi-Compact Chainsets

Both Shimano and Campagnolo are launching a semi-compact 52x36T chainset next year. This is an in-between option with a 52 tooth outer ring and a 36 tooth inner ring (as opposed to the 53x39T standard or 50x34T compact). What makes this intriguing is that Shimano are also making changes to their cassettes to run an 11 to 28 tooth range (as opposed to the old 11x27T maximum)

Now, if you are already struggling on the climbs with your compact set up (34x27T) then this option probably isn’t best suited for you and you’ll enjoy the benefits of the easier 28T sprocket. However, a lot of people riding on compact chainsets don’t have the ability to spin their legs very fast downhill. This means that when the speed gets into the 60+kph range, you already spinning at 110+rpm. Upping the big ring by 2 teeth to a 52T allows you to ride at 60kph at 5-10rpm lower and sustain a higher speed more comfortably.

At the other end of the scale, a semi-compact 36x28T gear ratio is (as close as makes no difference) the same gear ratio as a compact 34x27T. This means that your smallest climbing gear will be roughly the same. Therefore, you don’t lose anything on the up hills but gain on the down hills; which sounds like a win/win in our books.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Reader report - EE brakes

This was kindly contributed by James, he of the amazing SL4 with EPS

In the quest for something a little exotic on my new build, I asked Barry to source a set of EE brakes. With a few weeks of use under my belt, here are my thoughts.

First up the aesthetics. The EE brakes are available in silver and black, and both options have an industrial look about them. Personally I love the look, but you obviously have to happy to break up the homogeneity of a full groupset. If you are willing to do that, you will get some real performance enhancements.

For weight weenies, the brakes are light. Less than 200g including pads comes in below stock brakes. But it’s not the weight you feel in operation, the revelation is in their feel and performance.

Designed to be super stiff (hence the straight arms and articulation) these brakes have great absolute stopping power. Many reviewers compare the EE brake favourably to DA despite their lower weight. I used to run Campy Record brakes and the EE brakes are a significant step up in terms of power – they are at least one finger stronger.

More impressive, however, is the modulation. They are incredibly smooth and accurate giving a lot of sensitivity before finally dropping the anchor out. Again, a tangible step up over the stock brakes I had been running before.

I run them with SwissStop Yellow pads on Zipp 404s and SwissStop Green Flash Pro pads on my alu rims – in both dry and wet conditions these pads in combination with the EE brakes have been universally excellent.

I swap between training and race wheels on a regular basis and the chore of changing pads quickly becomes a real hassle. Fortunately, the pad holders on the EE brakes are another highlight. They fit Shimano compatible pads and secure them with a friction based channel and notch design. This provides for the easiest and quickest pad change I have come across. Pad removal can easily be done by hand and involves levering the rear of the pad out away from the holder, and pushing the remaining part of the pad still attached to the holder through the channel. This youtube video gives a pretty accurate demonstration:

The EE brakes have a large range of adjustment. Some of it comes during installation (for example you can fit shims between the pad holders and the brakes) and some of it is done in situ. I have played around with a few of the features. Adjusting pad height and angle is straight forward, taking in cable is equally easy either using the bolt or the adjuster barrel (which is also far better than Campy). One problem I have had in the past when swapping wheels is different rim widths which require a recentering of the brakes. With the EE brakes, the process is simple and accurate. Loosen a bolt behind the brake with a 4mm allen key, apply brakes at the brake lever until the pads lightly touch the rims, tighten the bolt.

All in all, the EE brakes offer that elusive quality – something that is both a bit exotic while also providing a significant performance benefit – something that can’t always be said of fancy bits of kit!


by Ben Hallam

Unfortunately, as much as we’d like to avoid it, crashing is part of cycling and it will happen to you at one point or another. Anyone that saw Cav hit the deck in stage 3 of the Giro ( surely wouldn’t have believed that he would be able to even start the next stage, let alone win stage 5 and complete the tour.

I had some decent crashes during my career. After crashing, I would normally run through a body "reboot” checklist before jumping back up and onto the bike. The list went:

1) Head
2) Bones and Joints
3) Muscles
4) Skin


Identifying if you or your riding partner has sustained a concussion is very important as server cases can cause swelling of the brain or burst capillaries, both of which can be fatal in the worst case. It is caused by impact or sudden deceleration of the head. According to the
3rd International Conferenceon concussion in sport (2008), the signs and symptoms of a concussion are:

(a) Somatic (e.g. headache), Cognitive (e.g. feeling like in a fog) and/or Emotional symptoms
(b) Physical signs (e.g. loss of consciousness, amnesia)
(c) Behavioural changes (e.g. irritability)
(d) Cognitive impairment (e.g. slowed reaction times)
(e) Sleep disturbance (e.g. drowsiness).

Always check the helmet for damage but remember that lack of impact does not mean that the rider isn’t concussed. Ask the rider questions like “what is the date?” “how many miles have we done?” “do have any changes in vision, smell, taste or sensation?” and check their balance with a simple single leg balance test, first with eyes open and then with them closed. If they have had a head impact, lost consciousness or you suspect that they may be concussed; they should not continue the ride and be checked up by a doctor.

Bones and Joints:

Damage to bone or joint ligaments will cause pain and swelling. If ridingcauses increased pain, stop and find another way to get home as aggravating the injury will increase your recovery time. Once home, your short term priority is to controlthe swelling and ice is your new best friend. Ice it will an ice pack or pack of peas for 15 minutes, three times a day.If you suspect a broken bone (abnormal shape or painful to touch), go to A&E immediately.Put as little body weight on the joint but keep moving within a pain free range. If swelling is excessive or continues for more than a day; see a physical therapist.


Muscle strains and tears are caused by the muscle being stretched or damaged. These range from mild strains (sore but no swelling), severe strain/tear (pain and swelling) to complete tear (minimal pain, muscle deformity and loss of function). With a mild strain, try not to load the muscle while it’s recovering (small gears and less riding). Severe strains will need complete rest until the swelling stops (as above ice is you best friend) but keep it moving through a pain free range. See a physical therapist ASAP to fast track your recovery. A complete tear however needs to be surgically repaired as soon as possible so head straight to A&E.


Road rash or gravel rash is the most common result of a crash. It’s normally just skin deep but if there are lacerations that are deeper, you’ll need to go to hospital to get them seen to. The biggest danger with all this open flesh is infection. It is very important to get it cleaned with antiseptic as soon as possible making sure all the bits of grit are out. Then, if it’s small enough, cover the wounds with a wet-heal plaster. Wet-heal plasters are just amazing, they create a perfect healing environment and often leave less scaring. Road rash was one of the main reasons that I shaved my legs as the hair would get stuck in the wounds, increase the likelihood of infection and be very uncomfortable.

If in doubt, get any injuries checked out at a hospital or by a physical therapist. Bespoke Performance Lab has a team of Physiotherapists ( and Sports Rehabilitators ( will be able to asses and treat your injuries . 

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Sportive Mistakes

by Ben Hallam

I haven’t done many sportives but the other week I had the pleasure of riding the 170km Mont Ventoux sportive. While riding, I saw a few things people making some common mistakes, so I thought I’d quickly write about them here.

Too hard too early: When we hit the climb for the first time, some people attacked it like jackrabbits. Surprise surprise, these people proceeded to blow up and I easily rode past them. Don’t get too excited too early. This where riding with a power meter helps no end. Doing a physiological test at Bespoke Performance Lab can give you the power bands that you can sustain for a given duration. Heart rate takes time to raise, which means that you can spend the first minute going too hard and produce lactic acid that you will not have an opportunity to get rid of until you reach the summit. Power gives you instant feedback and you can hit your pace spot on. 

Riding at other people’s pace on the big climbs: Just because someone has past you does not mean that you have to try and hold their pace. They may be going too hard and blow up anyway. You risk over cooking yourself and ending up with a slower time overall. Find your pace and stick to it. Again, riding to a power zone is a perfect way to ride your own race.

 Not stopping for water on hot days: I saw plenty of people riding past the feed stations. It’s not a sign of weakness to stop briefly on a hot day, especially for the early ones. Dehydration and heat stroke will slow you down a lot more than a 4 minute stop to top up your bottles. Suffice to say, I saw plenty of people collapsed at the side of the road throwing up with heat stroke on the route.

Control your core temperature: If it is really hot, it’s important to keep your core temperature under control. This is the heat deep inside you. If there is a village fountain, wet the areas where the blood comes closest to the skin:
a.      The head,
b.      The neck,
c.       The armpits,
d.      The elbow crease,
e.      The wrists,
f.        The back of the knees,
g.      The ankles.
However, don’t do this straight before a descent as you will probably get too cold.

Line through uphill hairpins: When climbing through hairpin turns, I saw lots of people taking the inside of the bend. Yes, it is the shortest line through the corner but it is also the steepest. This steep bend takes more energy to get up and stops all your momentum. If you swing wide, take the outside line and then cut in late, the gradient is often almost flat. Here you can click a couple of harder gears, accelerate and gain some vital momentum for the next part of the climb. The line illustrated below is for a closed road like the Etape. On an open road, it is very important to keep looking around the corner for oncoming traffic and don’t us other side of the road.

Line through downhill turns: My first descent down Ventoux was with two riders, one was taking good lines and the other wasn’t. The latter rider nearly totalled himself into an oncoming car when he turned in too early, panicked and braked mid corner. The key to fast safe descending on a mountain is the line through the corner and, when the roads are closed, using the other side of the road to maximise your ability to see round the corner. At no point should you be on the other side of the road if you can’t get out of the way if something comes the other way.

                                                              i.      The first mistake people make is not setting themselves up wide enough on the road. Always check that there isn’t a car or faster rider behind you before moving out. Using part of the other side of the road (when the roads are closed) allows you to see further round the bend. If something does come the other way you will have seen it earlier and have time to brake earlier and move back to your side of the road (unless you’re riding the Tour de France, always assume that something might have slipped through onto the course). When you are on the open road, use the whole of your lane and start as wide as you can.
                                                            ii.      The second BIG mistake that people make is turning in too soon. This causes you to apex the corner too early and means that you can’t see round the bend. It also means you have to keep shedding speed while you’re turning.
                                                          iii.      Third is braking. People often continue to brake with their front break well into the corner. This pitches the bike upright and makes it want to go straight on. Get your braking done before you turn in, then release the brakes and lean the bike with your feet just like carving a pair of skis. If you’re coming in a bit hot and need to shed speed, do so with the rear brake as you’re turning as that will not destabilise the bike as much.
                                                           iv.      Apexing too early will force you to drift wide and towards the other side of the road. You will not be able to see if there is a car coming and the forces of physics will be taking you into its path. A wider line with a later apex allows you to see further round the bend. If you can see there is nothing coming, on a closed road you can be straight on the gas and use the other side to accelerate away. If there is something coming, you already have your speed and line under control. In the words of coach Irv Blitzer from the film Cool Runnings “Slow in, Fast out”.

My diagram below is assuming we are on the continent (thus driving on the right) and on a closed road.

Not doing your fair share: I was in a group of 6 along a flatter section and there were only 3 of us that were willing to work. Now this is fine, it’s a sportive not the Tour de France after all, but two of the riders insisted on riding in second and third wheel. When the guy on the front got fed up for towing these leaches and sat up, they free wheeled and refused to go through. DON’T BE THAT GUY!!!! At least do a small turn in payment for your colleagues hard work. Or, if you are genuinely too knackered to do a turn, sit at the back and let the ones that are willing to work through to the front.