Cycling The Schelde

Belgium, and Flanders in particular, has a big network of rivers and canals and the Schelde forms a significant part of the regions cycling culture.

The section between Gent and Oudenaarde was flowing with cyclists when I visited Belgium in early June this year with my CX bike and it was easy to see why, with the huge and perfectly tarmacked cycle paths alongside the canal making cycling easy for all ages and abilities.

Schelde Cycling.

Glorious skies over the waterway.

The Schelde highway runs all the way in to Roubaix, however I opted to stop for lunch at the cafe at Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders Museum), which would make an enjoyable afternoon in itself.

After finding a nice (ahem) section of pave on the return leg to Gent I stopped for a much needed drink at the Meersbloem café on the left bank close to the town of Zevergem where there’s also a memorial to Wouter Weylandt as well as the “finish line” of the Scheldepeloton sprint.

Schelde Cycling.

WW memorial and sprint line.

Having ridden part of the Schelde on the CX bike I would love to return with my road bike and make the trip all the way in to France. The surface is so good that a standard 23 / 25mm road tyre would be perfect for the ride, however be warned… there is a 20mph speed limit in place (as well as speed bumps) so be careful when you are winding up that sprint!

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Trooper Lane – Anatomy Of A Cobbled Climb

If you have ever planned a cycling route around Calderdale in West Yorkshire you know that you are signing up for a tough day in the office. The region takes it’s name from the upper part of the River Calder, which has sculpted the landscape in and around the area’s well known towns and villages, including Brighouse, Halifax, Sowerby Bridge and Hebden Bridge. It kind of makes sense therefore that with rivers come valleys and with valleys come steep roads.

One of the more famous of the aforementioned steep roads is Lee Lane, locally known as Shibden Wall, which formed part of the 1988 Tour of Britain route. Sticking in ‘Shibden Wall’ into your web browser will quickly reveal to you a restored image of a young Sean Kelly grinding his way up the steep incline as well a link to Simon Warren’s ‘100 Greatest Cycling Climbs’ book which has now become somewhat of a bible for cyclist across the UK. You will also notice from a close examination of the Kelly image that he is in fact riding on the pavement, highlighting the additional challenge of the majority of the hardest climbs in the region, they are all cobbled.

Shibden Wall is just one of many cobbled climbs forming part of the now infamous Ronde van Calderdale sportive (well known as one of Britain’s toughest sportive events, if not the toughest) but it is another cobbled brute that I am promoting here.

Trooper Lane has that something extra. With regards to the RvC, Trooper Lane is the sting in the tail, the kick while you are down, the showstopper. The word ‘trooper’ itself brings thoughts of cavalry soldiers and armoured units to mind and having ridden the climb myself I would suggest a tank would probably be the optimum rig for this beast.

Before we come to the beginning of the Trooper Lane climb it’s worth noting there is a cobbled starter course as a warm up that commences a good few hundred metres earlier on Swan Bank Lane at the junction of Water Lane and Siddal New Road. As Swan Bank Lane then veers to the left, Trooper Lane slides to the right up a 15% incline and this is where the fun and games begin. The opening 300m section is on a narrow tarmac road and comprises of three switchbacks before the road levels (I use the word ‘levels’ very loosely, it’s still a 5-10% gradient). At this point, and for the remaining 500m you are left with an average 19% gradient (max over 30%) on some of that lovely, crunchy pave.

Trooper Lane Climb.

Cobbled Section of Trooper Lane.

As the track ramps up in front of you and you approach the halfway mark this is where the magic happens. As your lungs burn and legs scream the bank to the west falls away revealing a breathtaking view over the river basin, and if you are lucky you will hear the Sunday afternoon chants from the Shay Stadium terrace echoing through the valley, spurring you on to the summit.

Trooper Lane Climb

Brutal cobbled climb close to Halifax.

With only 200m to go the ramp is around 30% and as it bends to the left you finally see the peak at the junction with Bank Top. Big gaps start to appear in the cobbles and more than likely your armoury with the chance to weave and swerve reduced as the road narrows and with already 450 feet of climbing in your legs it takes a huge effort to cross the finish line.

As you unclip and slump on your top tube while you gulp in the air the view isn’t particular impressive from your point of rest and hence the image I captured was from the halfway point. Unless you walk back down the climb (easier said than done) you would more than likely miss this view as you are preoccupied with chewing your stem, however I am sure you will agree if you ride this, capturing a shot of the hill and the backdrop behind it is more than worth the effort.

For extra statistics on the Trooper Lane climb and an awesome 3D profile from VeloViewer see the following links:

http://app.strava.com/segments/trooper-lane-3448719

http://veloviewer.com/segment/3448719

For detail on the Ronde van Calderdale sportive and a cracking review of the day itself by Tim Pulleyn check out the following links:

http://thebrokenline.co.uk/ronde-van-calderpain-2014/

https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/events/details/102030/Ronde-Van-Calderdale-2014

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My Day With Team MTN Qhubeka

I sat down last week and realised that I hadn’t written anything on here about the Tour of Britain, which is a tragedy as it was one of my best ever cycling related days. Given the time that has passed and the amount of drama that was packed into the day I have opted for a (scrappy) bulletin style write up. Although I can never express in words the events of the day, I hope the images help tell the story and you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed being there.

So here goes, my day out at Stage 2 of the Tour of Britain with Bastian Buffel, the Head Soigneur of Team MTN Qhubeka, Africa’s first Pro-continental Team.

Big crowds were expected along the 187km route through the Lake District, particularly at the KOM point at Honister Pass, Stage 2 had the potential to be a classic for the spectators.

For the riders, having already endured a tough opening stage in terrible conditions, thoughts for most were more than likely on survival rather than glory.

Before the race even left the neutral zone it had started to rain, hard, however the MTN squad were in high spirits.

Team MTN Qhubeka at the Tour of Britain 2013.

Songezo Jim at the start of Stage 2.

At the feed zone, Basti caught a few minutes sleep while we waited for the riders to approach due to his continuous 6am – midnight (and beyond) work days during the season.

Basti’s evening prior to our meeting was particularly late due to a need for second kit wash it had gotten so dirty on the Scottish roads.

As he listed his daily tasks to me it quickly became apparent how involved and intense each day on the road is, but from his tone of voice it also showed how much he loved being part of a team that has a great atmosphere given the relatively small budget.

Basti told me that as of the start of the season only two members of the squad were over the age of 30, with all but six riders coming from Africa.

He also pointed out that despite the inexperience they have picked up more wins this season that many of the ‘big’ teams and this gave him a real sense of pride. “When anyone performs well in a race it is a victory for everyone, I can tell the riders really appreciate what the staff do for them, we are all one big team” he said.

Basti explained that if I wanted to eat then now was the time (before the riders appeared) as he destroyed a tuna baguette. “Once we are following the riders it may get a little wild, you will see what I mean shortly. I had a sponsor in the car once and let’s just say he was pretty ill”.

Basti explained that having the musettes handed out on the left of the road caused chaos for the European riders and although no one went down in the torrential conditions, many stopped completely to take on food, drink and clothing.

Team MTN Qhubeka at the Tour of Britain 2013.

Bastian Buffel at the feed zone.

Before we left the feed zone, we were joined in the car one of their German riders Andreas Stauff who had gone down hard in the opening kilometres. He was visible battered and bruised but seemed to be in good spirits.

The chase began and we hurtled round the country roads at a speed I could never have imagined. With visibility poor it felt like I was on a water slide with my goggles steamed up. I now understood why I needed to eat early. In another life Basti would probably do well on the WRC.

As we passed around the lakes on the route we picked up Songezo Jim (see Cycling News link below), one of MTN’s young African riders. Basti explained that the main aim for all their young riders is to just finish the race, however that is easier said than done in the terrible conditions and with another 6 stages to follow. Songezo seemed to be struggling to hold the wheel of the group he was with but was constantly being encouraged by Andreas and Basti to battle on.

As we approached the valley at the foot of Honister Pass we were surrounded by a wall of people, many more than I imagined. Basti and Andreas commented on the craziness of the crowds, many in bib-shorts, out to catch a glimpse of their idols. At this point Andreas seemed genuinely gutted that he wasn’t out there riding up the steep road to the slate mine given the support.

Team MTN Qhubeka at the Tour of Britain 2013.

Heading over Honister Pass.

We crested the top of the hill and immediately there was a problem. A second rider was down with a suspected broken collarbone.

Ferekalsi Debesay had ridden for 120km’s in freezing conditions, he was soaked through to the skin, he was up with the main peloton and just crested the KOM point at Honister Pass. His bike slid out from under him and hit the deck. He was receiving treatment at the side of the road and he was in a bad way when we arrived. I quickly moved the contents of the back seat to the boot of the car and he climbed in along side me.

Ferekalsi was in pain. His helmet was destroyed, his glasses were scuffed. His head obviously hit the ground too. He was bleeding, a lot. He was clutching his shoulder, he was shivering and he was in tears. I was absolutely gutted for him and was close to tears myself so I can’t even imagine how he felt.

We got moving again (60km of back seat pinball remaining) and I started to help Ferekalsi to make him more comfortable. I removed his rain cape, jacket, outer gloves, inner gloves, and two pairs of arm warmers. As I find him a tissue to clean up his arm he apologised for getting blood on my jacket.

Basti suggests Ferekalsi should eat and hands him some cake in a foil packet, which I open for him. Despite there being four of us in the car now, the only sound is the rain beating on the windows.

A few more kilometres down the road we catch back up to Songezo who has now lost the group he was with. He is battling hard but the weather is starting to get the better of him. Basti offers him food and a drink and Andreas shouts out to him that he must finish inside the time cut given the team already has two riders already out. Songezo shouts “I don’t think it is possible” but battles on up the next climb, alone.

Team MTN Qhubeka at the Tour of Britain 2013.

Songezo Jim fights in the rain.

With no race radio at the Tour of Britain it is tough to understand what is happening at the front of the race and hence calculate the time cut. All we knew at this stage was that Songezo had to keep going and he (and the whole car) was given a welcome boost as news came through of the stage result. My officially duty for the day was to update Basti on the stage via Twitter and I had just picked up the top ten finishers.

I read through the top ten finishers in reverse order, and was pleased to announce that Sergio Pardilla had finished 9th just 9 seconds behind the winner of the stage. A great result for the team, but the best news was yet to come. After just over 5 hours and 187km in the driving rain, there was one name at the top of the list that made the car erupt. Gerald Ciolek.

Basti immediately wound down the window and shouted to Songezo that Gerald had won and that all that was important was to focus on getting to the finish. We now knew that Songezo would make the time cut if he continued at his current pace and so he gritted his teeth and dug in for the finish.

Songezo finished 97th out of 104 in a group 14 mins 8 secs down. He made the time cut in the process and got to spend the evening celebrating the win knowing he was still in the race. What a story.

If you have made it this far down the page you will have noticed that, despite the team achieving two top ten finishes and a stage victory, I have spent most of the time talking about the back of the race. Funny how it works out like that in cycling, the stories of heroism and courage often come from unexpected places.

As well as Andreas Stauff and Ferekalsi Debesay, eight other riders abandoned that day through injury or illness. Songezo Jim could have abandoned but he didn’t, he carried on alone in some of the worst weather conditions I have ever seen anyone ride a bike around this country in. For that, he can consider himself a hardman the next time he is on these shores.

For completeness, the only MTN rider not mentioned, Meron Russom, went on to finished 65th in a group 5 mins 39 secs down, finishing just behind Iljo Keisse and just ahead of Bernhard Eisel. In my book that is a class ride.

As well as finishing stage 2 as top dog, Gerald Ciolek came 3rd in the points competition, 3rd in Stage 1 and 3rd in Stage 7.

Sergio Pardilla came 6th in the GC. Amazing effort given the team only finished with three riders.

Team MTN Qhubeka at the Tour of Britain 2013.

Ciolek takes the win in Kendal.

Despite the length of this post there is so much more I could have written, but I have to finish at some point, and so here are the ‘thankyou’s’.

Special thanks for my day out with the team need to go to Xylon van Eyck, the teams Press Officer. He gave me an incredible opportunity to get a ‘backstage view’ of a team I have followed since the end of the 2012 season.

I also need to thank Basti. His insight into the team, the job, the race and the cycling world in general was fascinating. It is also worth saying he is a top, top bloke who is obviously well respected in the soigneur community and is a great asset to the team. He is a regular tweeter so give him a follow at @bastiTeamMTN to boost his followers (he needs them for a bet).

If you would like to support the team then visit: www.teammtnqhubeka.com

For more back stage images then check out my Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/john00taylor/

For info on Songezo’s story: http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/songezo-jim-living-his-dream-with-mtn-qhubeka

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Riding The Boards

Britain’s first indoor Olympic standard cycling track, The National Cycling Centre in Manchester, is reportedly one of the World’s fastest indoor tracks. A lap of the track is 250m long and the banking at each end is set at a staggering 42.5 degrees.

NCC Velodrome.

The National Cycling Centre in Manchester.

A few weeks ago I took part in a taster session and rode the track for the first time for an hour. At the end of the ride I was absolutely spent but it was one of the best things I have ever done.

The buzz you get from smashing it round the top of the boards is incredible and after a few laps at near full gas the ride becomes almost hypnotic leaving you with a bizarre sensation of pain and relaxation at the same time.

NCC Velodrome.

Out of the bend.

Regardless of your level of ability, you have to give it a go.

I can’t wait for my next session. Put me back on that track bike.

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Nothing… Triathlon… Aquathlon…

On July 28th I took part in my first ever triathlon. Well, I say triathlon, that’s how the event started…

Technically speaking, it isn’t where my triathlon journey started though, I have Andy Holgate’s ‘Can’t Swim, Can’t Ride, Can’t Run’ for that.

Leeds Sprint Triathlon.

Lap 2 of the 5.5km run.

Some time at the end of 2011 a friend of mine gave me a book to read. It was about the journey of a bloke from being an ‘average’ man (sorry!) to an Ironman and details every little high and low along the way. As soon as I had finished the book I immediately wanted to get out there and do something. Now I know this may sound a little vague as far as commitments go, but I personally don’t think Andy wrote the book as a means to promote multisport events, it’s a story that, simply put, explains how if you get off your arse and put some effort in you can achieve things you previously never thought were possible. I certainly didn’t have an immediate urge to enter an Ironman, or even a triathlon come to think of it; I just knew I needed a fresh challenge, something to aim towards.

People who know me would say that I am pretty risk averse (amongst other things I hope)… and so I wasn’t going to rush out and enter anything insane like a LEJOG ride, an Ultra run or a channel swim, however, as sensible as this is, it is also part of my problem.

I would like to think that I have always had above average levels of fitness. I have been going to the gym regularly for years, I have always played football in some format and I will generally give any sporting activity a good go. But what do I have to show for all those years of exercise? That’s right… not a great deal. That is why after reading the above mentioned book I realised I needed to change things.
In the Spring of 2012 I eased myself into something new and bought myself a modest road bike. I had a few friends who already cycled regularly and my Uncle is a massive cycling fan too so it seemed like a good thing to get involved with (little would I know this has taken over my life). I started with a few smaller rides and throughout the year gradually increased the mileage so that eventually I was able to complete a 72 mile slog around every hill in the Peak District (or at least it seemed like that). I was making good progress, but still, I wasn’t really aiming at anything in particular, so I started to compile a list of potential physical challenges that I could aim towards in 2013. On this list were long distance cycle rides, 5-10km runs, track cycling, walking challenges etc etc.

In my mind, all were achievable (although probably not all in one year given the training required – I realised I prob needed to give some time to my girlfriend, friends and family!), but for some reason I though the easiest challenge to organise would be an attempt at the TPT cycle ride. I set about arranging this with a mate but as months went by I didn’t seem to be getting any closer to finalising the plan and soon the end of the year was approaching. My cycling was still going strong despite the awful weather in December but I still really wanted to get at least one challenge booked in before the New Year. And so it was on December 31st 2012 that I finally got my arse in gear and entered an event – the Leeds Sprint Triathlon. I was browsing the internet and it appeared in front of me, a local based triathlon with all disciplines covering shorter distances… perfect! I already had some goggles, a bike and some trainers and I had plenty of time to train (as it was in July)… still perfect!

It was only when I sat down and thought about the event in the coming weeks that it dawned on me why I hadn’t thought of entering a triathlon before any of the other challenges I had on my list… I really hate swimming and I am impartial towards running. Good work John, you have put your name down for an event where you are guaranteed to enjoy only 33% of it. That aside, at least I had entered something, I had completed the first step!

Given that cycling was my strongest discipline by a long way I thought I would focus on the other two components and so I started to visit the Leeds University pool to see if I could still remember how to swim. It turned out that although I could easily complete a mile in the water I couldn’t for the life of me string together a series of lengths with a decent free style technique (I was calling it front crawl at the time – I am obviously an expert now, haha). As a result, I booked in a swimming lesson with a Uni coach and I have to say she worked wonders, a few little tweaks here and there I was cruising up and down the pool by the end of the session and I even got to have pickled onion Monster Munch out of the vending machine afterwards (take that Mum!).

Swimming now sorted (kind of), on to the running element, something as I mentioned before I am not too fussed about, but that’s not to say I am a terrible runner. My PB for a 5km is just over 21 mins and I have run as far as a half marathon distance before so I am not a complete rookie, it’s just that I always seem to find an excuse to do something other than go for a run as I don’t necessarily enjoy it (whereas with cycling it’s the other way around). I knew the distance for the sprint tri was going to be an off road 5.5km which wouldn’t be too much trouble but I wanted to run as quickly as I could so I mixed in some interval runs alongside my normal workouts. Hopefully it made a difference, but if not it made me feel better anyway!

Despite giving all three elements of the tri some attention in training, as the event got closer I started to get nervous and when the entry pack arrived in my inbox a week before I have to say it didn’t really help. My main worries weren’t around the actual physical activity; they were more around the ‘admin’ side of things. Where do I put my bag, what if my tri suit rubs, what if the number belt breaks and the number blows away, what if I don’t put my helmet on quick enough, [insert now trivial worry] and so on. The entry pack also contained a document on drafting, something I had not previously considered. More stress.

As the race morning came along I had calmed slightly, especially as my brother had come over to stay the night before and he gave me some sensible advice: “Who cares if it doesn’t all go to plan? It’s your first one, just think of a training event, setting a benchmark to aim at for your next one”. I kept thinking of that as I loaded all my kit into the car and set off to the school where the swim would take place.

As I arrived at the venue I started to unload my bike, fit the wheels, test the brakes etc and grabbed my kit bag before walking over to the pool (indoor 400m swim). Before I had even exited the car park I was approached by a steward who then told me that the event I would be taking part in was in fact not a triathlon, but an aquathlon. He went on to explain that after the first few heats had gone out there had been a fatality on the cycle route (non-event related) and so the bike had to be cancelled. The selfish part of me was gutted, I had trained hard, paid a lot of money to take part, and I wouldn’t even complete a triathlon at the end of it all. With my strongest event cut, in my head I had two options; head home and feel sorry for myself (and hope for a partial refund) or man up and take part anyway.
I decided on the latter and signed myself in, collecting my race number, tattoos and a few gels in the process. After getting changed into my suit I headed over to the transition area outside the pool and dumped my trainers and bag next to my number before going back to the pool to stand with the guys and girls in my heat. There was a lot of excited chatter to begin with but that stopped as soon as the roll call began (except for when they read out the name Jeronimo Lopez Gonzalez – great name).

I had drawn one of the middle lanes along with two other guys and so was expecting a choppy ride. I was not disappointed. As soon as the whistle went I gave a huge push off the wall and was up and running quickly, and I have to admit, probably a little too quickly. The first 8 lengths went by in an absolute blur but for some reason as I started length 9 I suddenly became conscious of the water temperature. My god it was warm, very warm, much warmer than any pool I have ever been in before. Thinking about it later it was probably partly because my muscles were starting to feel the effect of the rapid start but it was certainly becoming difficult to maintain a consistent stroke. A couple more steady lengths later and I had my rhythm back but I had then lost track of how many lengths I had remaining (sounds ridiculous I know). Luckily the nice girl at the end of the lane had remembered and she signalled I only had 2 more to do. A final push and I was done and upon leaving the pool I seemed to be the third person out of my heat which gave me a great confidence boost given that I assumed I would be one of the weaker swimmers.

I legged it out of the pool and through the transition area to my bag, whipped on my shoes and number belt and grabbed a quick drink, before exiting down the same path. As I started to pick up speed to start the run course my body suddenly had a ‘4 pints of Saltaire Blonde’ moment and I found myself concentrating really hard on my feet. Given it was my first real transition it wasn’t a feeling I was used to but after a couple of minutes I seemed to get my stride back and off I went for the two laps of the 2.75km course. It was a wet and muddy run and describing it as ‘partially off road’ wasn’t the organiser’s finest work. I seemed to complete the first lap in a decent time (according to my £3 Casio) and I felt good through the majority of the second until a small hill in the last 1km. A couple more turns and I was over the line, banana in hand (not a euphemism) and feeling pretty spent. Despite the missing bike section it still felt good to finish, especially given the swim and run were my least favourite disciplines!
I collected my result printout (which looked a little odd due to the late start time and missing bike section) so I reserved judgement on my performance until the numbers appeared online. Here’s what they said:

Leeds Sprint Triathlon.

Overall and novice results for the swim and run.

I have no idea whether this was good or not but given my swimming and running abilities, the heat of the pool and the hilly off-road run I suppose I should be pleased, right?!
Looking back at the event now, people have said to me, “…so would you do another one?”, and my immediate reaction has been that I feel I owe it to myself to complete a full triathlon otherwise the mission isn’t complete. When I started on this journey a lot of people already involved in the sport said ‘once you do one that will be it, you will get the bug!’, but I can honestly say I don’t feel like that just yet. Maybe it was because I feel like I haven’t really completed a triathlon, or maybe I just love cycling too much to dedicate the time to swimming and running.

Whatever the reason, at the end of the day I enjoyed the competition against myself and I have now completed my first aquathlon, something I thought I would never hear myself say!

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2013 British Cycling National Circuit Race Championships

MG Maxifuel’s Hannah Barnes and Netapp Endura’s Russ Downing took the honours at the National Circuit Race Championships in York on Sunday evening.

2013 British Cycling National Circuit Race Championships.

Russ Downing took the victory.

Barnes was part of an early breakway that went all the way to the finish after a split early in the peloton. The women’s race was as well supported as the men’s, with riders like Helen Wyman popluar with the York crowd.

2013 British Cycling National Circuit Race Championships.

Women’s peloton.

In the men’s race, attack was the word of the day, with multiple attempts early on by Ian Bibby of Madison Genesis, before the race ended in a bunch sprint with Russ Downing sneaking over the line first, much to the joy of his brother Dean who finished a few places back.

2013 British Cycling National Circuit Race Championships.

Ian Bibby taking it to the field.

Overall, it was a great evening for cycling in the shadow of York Minster, where following the race there was a live screening of the final stage of the Tour de France. Another success for Yorkshire ahead of the 2014 edition of the world’s greatest cycle race.

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The Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge

On Saturday 20th July I completed for the second time the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge for the BHF. The challenge has a total walking distance of around 24.5 miles and takes in the peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough (usually walked in this order). The idea of the challenge is to complete the walk in under 12 hours and so people often try to complete the route in Summer where the daylight hours are greater.

The peaks form part of the Pennine range and sit in a circle around the valley of the River Ribble, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Ribblehead Viaduct.

Ribblehead Viaduct close to the foot of Whernside.

Given it’s name, it is obvious that the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge would contain 3 peaks, however in my opinion, the peaks themselves are not particularly challenging. Looking at the heights of each peak gives you the first indication why:

Pen-y-Ghent (694 metres)
Whernside (736 metres)
Ingleborough (723 metres)

Anyone who has walked up Scafell Pike (highest mountain in England at 978m) or Snowdon (highest mountain in Wales at 1,085m) will have no problem at all getting to the top of those max altitudes. Thinking more about prolonged effort, the climb to the top of Whernside from the Ribblehead Viaduct (pictured above) is probably the longest ascent in terms of time, and it is stepped in a lot of places, with no particularly hazardous sections.

So then why is the challenge so… well… challenging?! It’s the distance coupled with the climbs and ultimately the amount of time you are out on your feet.

The first time I completed the challenge I walked the route at a decent pace with a couple of friends and completed the distance in 8 hours 14 minutes. At the end of the first attempt I felt like I had a little energy left and my legs felt fairly good considering – I knew I could go quicker. This time I opted to jog a section from the top of the first peak to the bottom of the second peak and in doing so shaved off nearly 1.5 hours, completing the challenge in 6 hours 49 minutes. I consider myself to be fairly fit, however fitness is only one factor that will help you to get through the challenge. A high fitness level will help you achieve a quick time and aid recovery afterwards, but it’s not the be all and end all. Good news!

The night before my most recent attempt I was chatting to fellow participants and I told them that I thought the easiest way to completely the challenge is to simply knuckled down and keep moving. The moment you get into the habit of stopping and starting and ‘faffing’ around you will see the time slip away from you and along with it your enthusiasm. Eat and drink on the go to keep your energy / hydration levels up, try not to sit down for too long if you take a break and if someone needs the loo then keep going and let them catch up.

So just to reiterate (in case you missed it)… for me it’s not all about fitness… it’s also about your mental attitude… and your ability to dig in and plod on. Staying positive and maintaining a steady pace can be enough to get you through!

The challenge is tough, but it’s not as tough as you think, and I hope in reading this I have encouraged a few more people to get out there, take it on and have a lot of fun in the process.

As always, questions and thoughts welcome!

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Yosemite National Park

In my opinion, parts of the Northern Highlands of Scotland are the only truly wild places left in the UK today. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we are lacking in areas of outstanding natural beauty, far from it, and I count myself particularly lucky that I live right on the doorstep of the Peaks, Lakes and Yorkshire Dales.

On a recent trip to the US, however, I encountered something completely different, a new kind of wilderness… Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite Valley.

Glacier Point view.

The National Park Service website describes YNP as ‘not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra’.

Yosemite Valley.

View over Tenaya Lake.

Having spent five days there with my camera in perfect weather conditions I managed to get some amazing photos of Yosemite’s waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves and biologically diverse meadows.

Yosemite Valley.

Soda spring near Tuolumne Meadows.

Looking back, although I’m pleased with the scenes I captured on camera I still don’t think it does the park justice, but I will let you be the judge of that.

Full set of pictures on Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/john00taylor

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Cycling In Belgium

So I had a little trip to Belgium a few weeks back, taking in Brugge and Gent, some of the biggest cycling cities in Europe.

Belgium.

Lone bike in courtyard.

As expected, it rained… a lot… but it didn’t seem to put off the locals speeding over the pave for a spot of shopping. Belgians just love cycling and for that reasons it’s difficult for me not to love Belgium I suppose! I personally like to ride the Yorkshire hills and lots of them, but there is something quite amazing about a wet cobbled ride down a pretty back street for a tasty micro-brew…

A few more B&W shots in the Belgium Cycling gallery so please do take a look. Pretty overcast and grim conditions but I managed a couple of nice captures…

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TPT For Qhubeka

A couple of weeks ago, alongside four good mates, I cycled from Southport to Hornsea along the Trans Pennine Trail on my mountain bike, covering a total of 212.2 mi / 341.5 km. This is the elite squad (left to right is Dan, Rich, James, Me – back, David – front):

TPT Squad.

TPT Squad.

We completed the ride over a long weekend (that’s right… 114km per day for three days!) and in doing so raised a lot of money for a volunteer organisation known as Qhubeka. The stats from the ride are not particularly impressive although the amount of time spent in the saddle tells a story…

TPT Stats.

TPT Stats.

It is also worth noting the number of mechanicals…
• 6 flat tubes
• 4 episodes of faulty brakes
• 1 broken bottle cage
• 2 sliding seat posts
• 1 broken saddle
• 3 emotional breakdowns

So why did we go through it all and why do it for Qhubeka? You may have heard of the charity through Team MTN Qhubeka, a Professional Continental cycling team based in South Africa, that participates in UCI Continental Circuits races (and WorldTour races when invited as a wild card entry!).

Qhubeka projects aim to help rural communities move forward and progress by giving bicycles to children in return for work done to improve their environment and their community. Most of Africa’s rural population have no access to transport and people have to walk long distances to access opportunity, education, healthcare, shops and community services. In South Africa, of the 16 million school going children, 12 million walk to school. Of these, 500,000 walk more than two hours each way, spending four hours getting to and back from school each day. Bicycles are the most effective and economical method of quickly addressing this problem.

Technical input into design and component sourcing is provided by the technical expertise of World Bicycle Relief and so this is where the money we raised went, before it was passed on to Qhubeka. The bikes cost 1,800 ZAR (South African Rand) each which is roughly £130. Details on the bike can be found at the link below if you are interested but basically the £130 includes the bike, delivery, helmet, pump, cable lock and taxes: http://qhubeka.org/2013/?page_id=88
Although all five of us completed the ride, just myself and David were riding for Qhubeka, and between the two of us we managed to raise an impressive £1,619 (R22,684) – enough to buy 12 brand new bicycles (plus kit).

After completing the event I felt the need to send Qhubeka an email to say a huge thank you for their support during the bike ride. It may sound a little odd seen as we were raising the money for Qhubeka, however the level of involvement from the charity really showed how much they all support the cause and it made us really feel like part of the Qhubeka team. I have done a number of charity events in the past for a variety of different organisations and I have never had the input or experienced the level of interest as I have with Qhubeka. Not only did the tweets, FB updates and blog posts keep us going, I think it also helped our friends, family and colleagues to understand what Qhubeka is all about. Chapeau!

For anyone interested in reading more about our ride or Qhubeka visit the link below:

http://qhubeka.org/2013/?news=successful-fundraiser-ride-for-qhubeka

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