Guess what day 3 started with….yup – torrential rain!
At least the days were consistent. Thankfully that was the last we saw of rain until we finished the Hebridean Way.
We started at the Lady of the Isles statue. My wife and her sister headed off following the Hebridean Way but I decided to take a different route. I’d spotted a road heading up a local hill to a radar station. It looked like a fun climb so I parked up and took my bike for a spin.
The view from the top was superb. I could see all across South Uist, Benbecula and onto North Uist.
After the ride I drove through Benbecula. It was very flat and surprisingly ugly. Sorry Benbecula but you are the elephant man of Hebridean islands. The only redeeming feature was the Co-op. They had amazing cinnamon donuts. They were so good I ate two even though it wasn’t yet 10am.
I sped through quickly and caught up with my wife in North Uist. The sun had come out and it was a very pleasant day. I would have offered her a cinnamon donut if I had any. I offered her an oat cake instead.
North Uist was very nice. Quite roads and nice scenery. We could even see St Kilda in the distance. The people of Uist thought folk in St Kilda were a bit dim. They say one St Kilda man came to the island and spotted a lighthouse. He ran towards it, flung open then door, ran up the stairs and looked at the big bright light and said “is that you God?”
I don’t know how true that is but it makes for a good story.
We finished cycling in Berneray and were treated to a glorious sunset –
– Which was nearly as good as the sunrise the next day.
Eriskay is famous for three things – whisky, horses and football. Which sounds like the ingredients for a great night out.
Whisky – In 1941 the SS Politician ran aground off the Isle of Eriskay whilst carrying a significant cargo of Scotch whisky. The incident inspired the film Whiskey Galore. One Christmas I bought my dad a £250 bottle of whisky. I thought he would save it for special occasions so he could savour the taste. Instead, he tanked the bottle in three days. At least he enjoyed it.
Horses – I have only ridden a horse once. It was in India. I sat on the horse. The horse bolted. I tried shouting “woaaaaah” to slow it down. It didn’t stop as it only understood Hindi. Since then I have never trusted horses. Eriskay is home to the Eriskay pony, an endangered breed of horse unique to the island. They roam free but they seemed to enjoy hanging out at the pub.
Football – Fifa recognised Eriskay football pitches as one of “eight remarkable places to play football in the world”. I used to play football in Lewis. It was remarkable any of our pitches could be used for football. One pitch was so slanted I needed climbing equipment to make it out of my own half.
The journey from Barra to Eriskay takes 40 minutes. Luckily some dolphins appeared and swam alongside the ferry
Eriskay is very small. It only took the cyclists 15 minutes
to cycle through. They missed all three of the things Eriskay is famous for because
they followed the official Hebridean way route exactly.
One of my complaints about the route is that it does not point out interesting diversions. For example in South Uist the route passed a side road that lead up a small hill to a magnificent view of the whole island. It only takes a couple of minutes to cycle up but there is no indication on the road that it is a diversion worth taking.
We stopped for lunch at the Borrodale hotel. A recent Tripadvisor review described it as “tired looking…like the rest of South Uist” That must have been written by a man from North Uist.
I thought the place was nice and the food was tasty. In fact, It was so good we went back in the evening.
The riding in South Uist was very easy. The only problem occurred when a funeral cortege approached us on a single-track road. We stopped to let them through but it took 15 minutes for everyone to get past.
We finished the day at a statue called “the lady of the isle.” It was commissioned when the Ministry of Defence was planning to build a missle testing range on the island. The statue is a reminder of the power of church and community. I’m sure its intentional that it looks a little bit like a rocket.
An episode of the channel 4 house hunting program “Location, Location, Location” featured a flat in Glasgow that was described as a desirable two bed home, in a quiet neighborhood, with stunning views across the city.
I recognized the flat because I lived around the corner from it. The flat was not at all desirable. It was next to a very busy noisy road and the only view out the window was of MacDonald’s drive in restaurant.
The flats location is on Crow Road. So when I heard cyclists say they were off to cycle Crow Road this is where I thought they were going. I couldn’t understand why they said the climb took them 30 minutes. I could walk it in 5. Maybe they stopped for a MacDonald’s McFlurry?
It was only once I got a road bike that I discovered the other Crow Road was on the outskirts of Glasgow in Lennoxtown.
The first time I saw it I didn’t think it looked too hard. Little did I know that from below I could only see half of the climb. The first section up to a car park. Then there is a big right turn over the hill.
One year I decided I was going to be the quickest man up Crow Road. Now this is quite a challenge because allot of good cyclist use the climb for training. The Scottish Tour De France Cyclist David Miller used to ride a dozen reps of it as training in preparation for the Tour.
So my choice was either train hard and smash it or be smart!
I choose to be smart. So one new years day I got up early and became the first man up the Crow that year. Which also meant I was the fastest that year….as long as I didn’t check Strava again for 12 months.
Its not a steep climb. I’d describe it as steady. Although when the wind is in the wrong direction it can be a bit of slog!
Great views on both sides of the Campsie hills. Ona clear day you can see for miles around.
Its normally a quiet road. Especially on Sunday mornings or weekday evenings.
According to Strava it has 1900 metres of climbing, which is not flat, but…
If you cycle in Scotland, and around Glasgow in particular, then 1900 metres is not particularly hilly over 112 miles. In fact, apart from the two named climbs, I struggled to think of anything else I would consider to be a hill. Some slopes, yes, but hills? Something requiring your lowest gears? No.
Instead, there a long stretch on perfect flat roads or gentle up or down gradients. Plenty of time to try and work out a good position on the tri-bars (something I maybe should have worked out beforehand…) and plenty of time to see the spectacular German…. tarmac. With so many kilometres in the tribars it was hard to look up and see anything but road.
And I was trying to look up because, without a watch, I was riding with no idea what time it was, how far I’d gone, or how fast (or slow) as I was going.
I had to cycle by feel. Never flat out, fast enough to keep moving, and with plenty to eat and drink to keep fuelled.
Luckily, the food stops are regular and often, with plenty to chose from – water, sports drink, gels, fruit, rice cakes and plenty of volunteers so if you missed one chance to take something you had another chance 10 meters up the road.
By this stage, the weather was perfect, warm-ish but with 100% cloud cover to keep the worst of the sun away. There was barely any wind, with it only picking up on the second loop.
With closed roads, people out in every town we passed through, and a strict policy of breaking up anyone drafting – I saw one Marshall shout at a pair of cyclists riding too close – it felt like a true race. You vs the course.
And to make it feel more like a race, there was the Solarberg.
First, you can hear cheering. Then music. Then the drumming of a thousand clapper balloons. Then folk gather at the side of the hill screaming at you to go higher, climb faster, keep going – and then you realise that this is just a slope before the solarberg. There are two climbs. One as you come into town. Then once you pass it, swing right and see the actual climb you can’t hear a thing because of the noice of five thousand Germans screaming just for you.
It felt emotional riding through it. This is what I’d been training for over the last ninth months. This moment. And I wanted to savour it. I rode slower. Sat up. High fived a spectator. And enjoyed it.
After that it was back to the start, another loop and still no idea what time it was or how fast I was going.
But, a thought had started to percolate, maybe losing the watch was a good thing. If I had the watch would I have been checking times and speed and distances and thinking about how far I had to go? Instead, riding on feel I was comfortable, I wasn’t counting down miles and, on the second lap I was able to pick spots from the first lap and count them off instead: a clown dancing in a lay-by; an Isreali flag flying beside a field; the Greding hill climb to signify the bottom of the course; the Solarberg again before the sign returning us to Roth and a last few miles of downhill before transition 2.
I rode into transition 2, happy, elated, and with no idea how long I would have to finish the run…
Solarberg: A Warning
If the Solarberg is Hogmany in a hill climb then the second time you go round it’s New Year’s Day. The party’s over. A few folk remain but most have moved to Roth to get ready for the finish.
With a heatwave of 40 degree plus across central Europe I think I may need to revise the following list to include a portable fan, a bucket of ice cubes and lifetime of living in the Sahara desert.
As it may be too late for a pasty Scotsman to suddenly develop a tolerance for hot weather (which, as any Scotsman knows, is any time it’s not raining), I’ve prepared the following list of Roth essentials and will now spend the next week trying to work out the one item I need but have forgotten to include – because there’s always one thing I forget!
Last week, while walking along a neighbouring street, a man ran out his front door with a woman shouting after him. As he got in his car, she screamed at him: “I don’t know why I stay with you!” before she slammed the front door shut and he drove off.
This week there was a ‘For Sale’ sign on their house…
I tell this story because, despite the sadness of an imploding relationship, it had two bright points. One, I always liked their house, so I finally got to see inside it when the estate agent posted photos on Right Move. Two, it just goes to show that you need to follow through with actions to back up your words. There’s no point shouting about something unless you actually do something about it to.
Just like the Etape.
Every year I say I’ll beat Iain and every year I then beat Iain.
Last year was close though. To be fair, he did wait while I had a mechanical so he could have won, if he’d carried on. But he didn’t, so he didn’t. Who said good guys come last? Accurate words!
Last year was also more of a contest because Iain was training for Norseman. He was riding every day. And yet, he still couldn’t beat me. (He might have the legs, but he still had the good heart to wait).
But when we could only draw when he was at his fastest on a bike, it meant that this year I didn’t need to say anything. The contest was over before we even started. I could see the ‘runners up place’ in his eyes. He had a haunted look on the start line. He looked old. Weighed down by a history of failure.
It was BRILLIANT!
Not that I’m gloating. Much.
Anyway, with the result a foregone conclusion it was only a matter of turning up and paying attention to the course.
The first 10 miles are fast, if you want them to be. As each wave leaves the high street, groups quickly find their own pace. Some sprint, some take it easier as they warm up. A few tight corners and sharp wee hills cause bunches to form but after 10 miles, the roads clear and while you’re never free from other riders, it’s easy to find some space at your own pace.
The first hill is not steep but it does have three miles of steady climbing. It’s almost a straight road so there’s no need to think about turning or any hair bends to negotiate. Just sit and grind it out.
One of my favourite sections. A 15 mile flat run around Loch Tummell. With nice flat roads, good views across to Schiehallion and across the loch, it’s a great section to find a group and make quick progress to…
Which is not as bad as it appears on the profile. There’s a few steep slopes. A final drag that some will sprint for that ‘frog dancing on a hot plate cycling legs and arms akimbo climbing out of your seat’ shot from the official photographer, but the real kicker is the next mile, which continues to rise even after you’ve passed the King/Queen of the Mountain checkpoint. After that, it’s five miles downhill and a chance to enjoy some easy curves and quick times.
The other side
Largely flat for the final 20 something miles with a good mix of moorland, trees, villages and wide roads. By this stage, you’ll see less bikes but, if you’re lucky, and want to joint them, you’ll find a few groups to latch onto to get your speed up until…
The second climb
Ballincluish. And a 20 metre ladder that starts as soon as you turn off the main road. If you haven’t changed gear before you turn then you’ll be looking at a slipped chain as your ‘reward’.
After that, there’s a couple of miles of rolling hills before the final descent into Pitlochry and a short climb back to the High Street where you can get…
The Goodie Bag
Or bad. As there’s never any goods in the bag. It’s always empty. Don’t expect a banana or a biscuit or anything at all. One year, all it had in place of a treat, was a single page flyer for a new Sainsbury’s… that was opening later that year. (And, in fact, never opened at all after local protests). But while I always complain about the bag, Iain never does. Well, he is used to coming home from the Etape empty handed…
Is the winner of a race the person who crosses the finish line first or the person with the fastest time?
You might think that these two statements are mutually
At the weekend, Andrew and I headed to the north west of Scotland
to take part in the Bealach Beag sportive – a 72km race that includes the UK’s
biggest road climb. An ascent of 626m from sea level in just 10km.
I’ve done the race four times. Andrew has done it three
times. He has beaten me every time.
Race 1 – I did it on a mountain bike. Not because I am an amazing biker but because I did not know any better. I quit half round because I was knackered.
Race 2 – The first year Andrew did it too. We both did the long version of the race. I had learnt my lesson from my experience with the mountain bike. I brought a hybrid bike instead. Andrew brought a road bike. He won.
Race 3 – We both used road bikes. The temperature was unseasonably warm. It was nearly 30C during the climb. Andrew was wearing shorts bib shorts and a light cycling top. I was wearing winter gear. I felt I was biking in a vertical sauna. He won.
Year 4 (this year) – I had been training for the last four weeks and I hoped that was enough to beat Andrew’s five months of Challenge Roth training. Just in case it was not enough, I had taken radical weight saving action to eek out the best performance from my bike. I removed the bell
I also had a cunning plan….
At the start of the race we were both given a time dibber. We
had to dib in at the start and dib in at the finish to record our time. At the
start line, I let Andrew dib in first. I then deliberately waited 10s before I
At the finish, we both raced for the line. Andrew thought he had just pipped me as he dibbed in first. What he didn’t realise was that I had a 10s buffer on him. We received the paper results and it shows quite clearly I’m the winner or am i?
If you look at our Strava times it clearly shows Andrew beat
me by 5 minutes because he did the climb 5 minutes faster than me and then
paused his Strava at the top until I appeared. He then restarted it and we
continued on the course.
So… is the winner of a race the person who crosses the finish line first or the person with the fastest time? All I’ll say is that on paper I’m the fastest Todd.
The plan was simple. We’d buy a tent and camp out on the mountain the night before the Tour arrived, only there was two problems. One, we didn’t know how to pitch a tent. The second, I’ll get to in a second.
The first problem was easy to solve. We bought a pop up tent. According to the ‘how to’ video on YouTube it was a simple to pitch as opening the cover and letting it open naturally. It took seconds, with no poles, pegs or skill required. Perfect.
The second problem was harder to solve. The day we arrived in Grenoble, the nearest city to Alpe D’Huez, it started to rain. And then the lightning started. And the thunder rolled in and we chickened out of using a tent and booked a hotel for the night instead with an aim to get up early and drive to Bourg-d Oisans, the town at the base of the climb.
And that’s what I’d recommend. We thought there would be a queue of cars, that would it would be difficult to get parked but, we left at 6am, got there for 7am and had no problem driving there or finding parking in the town. I admit, we then had eight hours before the tour passed through, but we were there, and we could explore the town to find… a bike shop run by a woman from Glasgow?!
We bought water, we bought breakfast, we bought supplies for lunch and filled our backpacks and then started to walk up Alpe D’Huez.
As the sun rose, it was a warm climb but not a difficult one. There was food and drinks for sale as you climbed and every corner was covered in flags, people and RV’s who’d booked there spot a week before and had set up home with barbecues and satellite dishes on their roof feeding live coverage of the day’s race.
As we climbed we got higher, as did the spectators. Corner 7 – Dutch Corner – was loud techno music, orange t-shirts, smoke and booze. The party had started and even the thunder & lightning hadn’t stopped it.
We found a spot overlooking corner 7 and had a cracking view of the spectators including one man who tried to run up to the summit while wearing a Borat mankini. He was last seen, buttocks jiggling, breath heaving on his way to corner 6. I hope he made it. It would have a tale to make his grandchildren proud. As long as he didn’t show them any photos…
As you wait for the tour, the excitement builds. You can see helicopters in the distance, the publicity caravan comes through around an hour before, throwing Bic pens and sweets from cars disguised as chickens or baguettes. Then security comes through. Cars get faster. Helicopters louder. Flares are fired. Smoke drifts. You can hear the cheering roll up the mountain before the road gets mobbed in an orange mass and the first rider breaks through. It’s half war film, half circus performance.
And the best bit is that unlike most days in the tour, it carries on for around 40 minutes as different riders take different times to climb to the summit. The GC contenders are first, the main peloton next and then a steady stream of spent domestiques and burly sprinters just about holding on at the back.
Once done, you can walk back down the mountain using a trail to cut the corners and to walk almost straight down rather than back and forth from corner to corner. You could use it to climb up, but, that would mean missing out on walking the same route as the riders climb.
Watching the Tour at Alpe D’Huez is a fantastic experience. One I would recommend if you’re thinking of going to watch the Tour.
It’s the end of January and I’ve already raced three times without leaving my house once. Every Saturday morning I’ve entered the Norseman Race Series on Zwift.
Racing on Zwift is a great way to keep your motivation up when training indoors. Not only do you get all the normal race feelings of “I’ve not prepared for this”, “why is everyone faster than me” and “Dear God, why did I enter this?” but it’s warm, so you don’t mind (as much!).
The Norseman Race Series is 12 week series of races over Zwift’s biggest climbs including, Alpe Du Zwift, the digital version of Alpe Du Huez.
I’ve been to Alpe Du Huez. I saw the Tour De France three years ago and walked from the base of the climb to corner 7 so I think I know exactly what it’s like to go very slowly up a very big climb. 🙂
And, though I’m basing this on memories of a hot French day three years ago, the climb in Zwift seems to be a very faithful version of the real climb, even down to the Scotsman at the side of the road walking up and wondering if he’s brought enough water for five hours on the side of a mountain. (This last bit may not be true).
The climb is not normally open for all Zwift riders. You have to be level 12 and above. Which I didn’t know, because I didn’t know that the experience points you collect had any bearing in game. So, if you want to try the climb then you need to enter a race unless you’ve already reached level 12.
If so, having others racing up the mountain is a great way to get to the top yourself. You can’t help but pedal harder when someone overtakes you, and you can’t help but pedal faster when you get near the finish and see someone just ahead of you and you decide that they are “going down!”.
Some tips for racing on Zwift:
Warm your legs up at the start and make sure you’re ready when the flag drops. I started one race 10 seconds before the start and, by the time I’d started spinning my legs, everyone else had blasted off.
Don’t use power ups. That’s cheating. Even if it’s allowed in the race, it’s still cheating – it’s digital doping! Don’t do it!
Do use real life power ups. If you’d have a gel in the real world and you’re racing for an hour or longer, have a gel with you too. It’s not doping if you can actually eat it and get a power up (unless what you’re eating is on the WADA banned list, then don’t do it either!).
Make sure to enter the right race. I’ve also tried some shorter races and these are categorised by power so that people race with others of the same ability. Races are graded A – E with A to D being increasing power and E being everyone. Of course, I entered a D. And got left behind…
Entering races on Zwift is fun and does give a sense of achievement missing from a normal session – unless your normal session finishes with a lap round the house, arms aloft and shouting “Championee!” in which case, well done you! 🙂
A few weeks ago I bought a smart trainer. Until then I had a dumb trainer, it would only do what I told it, and I told it to “woah – take it easy, there’s no need to go too fast!”
What I needed was a trainer with a PHD. That’s a trainer with a Pedal Harder Damnit attitude – and a smart trainer seemed the answer. A smart trainer is one that links to a laptop or tablet and adjusts your workout as you ride. And not just to make it easier, as I would adjust it, but it also makes it harder (damnit!).
With the trainer sorted, I knew I needed a training programme that would help me ride smarter too. I had a look at a few but Training Peaks seemed to require a spreadsheet and Sufferfest had the word Suffer in it’s title and who wants to suffer? Harderfest maybe? PushYouALittleBitMoreFest? But not Sufferbest? You might as well call it Quitfest. ‘Cause that’s what I’d be doing…
Instead, I tried Zwift on an iPad linked to my trainer because it promised I wouldn’t suffer as I’d be using it like a computer game. And, instead of spreadsheets like Training Peaks, I’d see a wee rider cycle round New York’s Central Park and the centre of London. It would be like Mario Kart!
The first time I used it, I didn’t know what I was doing. My wee man on screen was surrounded by other riders. I tried to ride round New York’s Central Park and keep my speed around 20mph. And I didn’t get it. It was slow. The trainer would increase resistance as I rode up hills and I didn’t understand why because I’d just drop the gears to make it easier and then –
– someone shot past me and I thought “follow them!” and then
– a group formed around me and I was in a peloton and we’re all doing 25mph and I’m thinking “I can’t be dropped”.
– then I’m climbing a hill and a message is telling me that if I keep this pace I’ll be in the top 50.
And I think “Now, I get it!”. Zwift is for folk who need a bit of competition to motivate themselves. It’s a game of jealousy and better my neighbour. Even though you don’t know the people around you, you suddenly want to be better than them just because they’re real people too. You’re no longer training on your own. You’re not just Mario – you’re also racing Luigi!
Since then, I’ve spent around 10 hours on Zwift trying various routes and features. But, despite the ability to customise my wee man on screen, I’ve point blank refused to do so. I know I can change the colour of his socks but why would you?! This is Zwift not Barbiefest.
In a few weeks I’ll report again and see how a month of Zwift compares to a month of trying to cycle in Scotland in December.