British Cyclo-Cross National Championships 2019

Last weekend, I headed down to the Cyclopark in Gravesend to see the British National Cyclo-cross Championships. These are held annually and the winner gets to wear their national flag on their jersey for a year (unless they go on to win the World Championships of course). The event was taking place at the Cyclopark, somewhere I’d never been to before. Essentially it’s a strip of land with lots of cycling facilities on it, including a BMX track and a long road loop. Allied to all of this are changing facilities and a café.

For the Nationals, the course was designed in such a way that there were a few places where you could see a good chunk of the action. I spent my time wandering between several of these points. When you factor in the 30 minute walk from the station, my smartwatch tells me I walked about 18km on Sunday.

I arrived just in time to see Harriet Harden defend her title in the womens’ junior race, while Ben Tulett (in the World Champions’ jersey) easily won the men’s race.

The U23 and Elite races were run together, with Nikki Brammier winning overall. She was having a tough contest with Anna Kay (who is an U23 rider), until Kay’s bike suffered a mechanical and she had to run/freewheel to the pits to get a replacement. That left Brammier with an imposing lead. Meanwhile, Helen Wyman caught up with Kay and they fought it out until the end when Kay just got away from Wyman to pick up second.

In the men’s race, it was complete and utter domination from Tom Pidcock. He got away very early on, and extended his lead lap after lap. Unfortunately for other riders the “80% rule” was in place. This meant that if you weren’t getting lap-times within 80% of the leading lap-time, you get eliminated. In other words, anyone in danger of being lapped is pulled from the race. It’s in operation to avoid much slower riders being lapped – perhaps repeatedly. Over-taking isn’t easy in cyclo-cross, and with a title on the line, being slowed up by lapped riders is seen as unfair.

But the result of employing the 80% rules was that with over 100 starters, only 11 riders actually finished on the same lap as Pidcock by the end who was over a minute clear at the end and managed to do a “superman” as he crossed the line.

Anyway, I took lots of photos there – the main reason for going. A few are below, and the rest can be seen over on Flickr.

A Single Speed Conversion

You know how sometimes you’re idly looking for something on eBay, and you don’t find it. So you create a saved search for it on the off-chance that it comes up the future. Then you sit back and forget about it. Until…

…One day an email drops into your inbox. The thing you were looking for is there. And it’s a reasonable price. You put a bid in, and wait.

That’s how I found myself, last December, heading out to St Neots in Cambridgeshire one Saturday morning. I was picking up a bicycle I’d bought cheaply. A Falcon Racing Cycle.

Falcon is an old British racing cycling brand, although I wouldn’t kid myself that this particular model is anything special. The reason I know this is because I used to own one of these bikes when they were new – back in the mid to late eighties. It was relatively cheap, and bought from a local bike shop after weeks of seeing it in the window. More about the bike another time, but you should know that I was crestfallen when it was stolen.

So now I had a replacement of the same bike. Exactly what I’d do with the bike I wasn’t sure. It’s in decent nick, but I couldn’t honestly say that I needed it.

Which leads me to the question I sort of posed at the top. Should I convert this to a single speed? 

I’ve only ever ridden a single speed at a velodrome, and it should be said immediately that I live on a hill. But of late, I’ve become more inclined to try a single speed.

What’s more, since I bought the bike 10 months ago, I’ve done nothing with it. I’ve not ridden it any further than when I was collecting it. So it would seem like a good candidate. I can remove a lot of the bits and pieces on the bike. Overhaul what remains, and create a town bike. That was vaguely the idea in the first place – a bike that I could run to the shops on. One I wouldn’t be crestfallen if it was stolen; although I wouldn’t be happy.

On the other hand, converting old bikes into fixed gear bikes is incredibly hackneyed. Everywhere you look in the city, there’s an old Peugeot now running as a single speed bike.

Should I do it? Maybe. Maybe not.

Will I do it? I actually might.

Cycle to Work

This is a quick video I shot the other day of my ride to work. Shot with a cheap GoPro Hero 4 Session, I’ve run it through Microsoft’s Hyperlapse application.

I’m not sure that app gets an awful lot of love, despite being really useful for making this kind of video. The stabilisation is immense, even if it can require a reasonable amount of computing power to do a good job.

The ride is about an hour condensed down to two and a half minutes. You’ll note that the first third and the last third are actually pretty good cycling paths and back roads. Only the middle section, from Wood Green to Finsbury Park, is on a main road.

The music is some free music from YouTube.

Hertfordshire 100

Relive ‘A Very Wet Hertfordshire 100 (KM)’

You know how when you check the weather forecast for something, how you totally rely on it? Well that didn’t work out too well for me today.

On Friday, on a whim, I signed up for the Hertfordshire 100, a cycling sportive that begins and ends not too far away from me. I’d not been planning to do anything but although the weather was a little iffy, it seemed that any rain wouldn’t start until mid afternoon. Since I’d be leaving around 8.00am, and would be in the saddle for no more than five hours, I should be OK.

The evening before I double checked. Rain wouldn’t come until around 2.00pm. 

So at 7.15am I headed off to the school 11km from me where the ride started. There were maybe 300 riders in total, going off in groups every few minutes. Some of our entry fee was being donated to Helping Rhinos, a charity that takes care of these wonderful animals. Cycling commentator Phil Liggett is a supporter of it, so he was sending us off on our way.

There were three ride options. A 100m ride, a 64m ride and a shorter ride. I was doing the middle. In fact it’s a little over 100km, which is plenty for me, especially as I was riding to and from the course adding another 24km or so (plus a few extra metres when I couldn’t find the school entrance at the start).

It was nippy when I headed out, and I had a race cape jacket bundled up in my cycling jersey. I decided I needed it for the ride to the start as it’s not warm at 7.15am. 

I carried on wearing it for the first part of the ride, since it was still cold. I cursed myself for not wearing a vest and bringing arm warmers. Most sensible riders were in long sleeves. What ever happened to that endless summer?

I finally removed it after the first stop, to discover I was soaking underneath because of sweat. Oh joy. And then the rain came.

From that point on, it really didn’t stop. I put the jacket back on, but it’s only a cheap Decathlon one – by which I mean, one of their base models that they don’t suggest you ride for hours in. 

Why didn’t I bring my fancy Gore breathable jacket? Well, it’s bulkier, and I didn’t think I’d be wearing one. 

Hour after hour went by, and I just powered on regardless. (Incidentally, my Stages Power Meter claims I peaked at 900W which seems remarkable. Closer examination shows that this happened at a short sharp steep hill, and I think I did jump out of the saddle and hammer on the pedals to get over it, because I knew the little hill, and it’s short. But it’s pretty meaningless seeing those measures over short periods.)

I’m glad I didn’t bail on the ride, even if by the end I knew that my rear wheel needs truing – a hidden pothole under some surface water. I managed to avoid any major calamities, which can’t be said for the poor bloke who managed to snap his chain within 500m of the start. 

But next time, I will make sure I’m more prepared for a day in the wet. I spent a long time when I got home, standing under a hot shower getting some heat back into my body.

RideLondon Classique 2018

This last weekend saw a massive collision of all things cycling. It was the final weekend of the Tour de France – fabulously won by Geraint Thomas. That had been pushed back a week to stay clear of the World Cup. Meanwhile it was also the Saturday night of the Dunwich Dynamo, from London Fields to Dunwich on the Suffolk coast. That always takes place around the July full moon. And then it was also RideLondon, with the FreeCycle on London’s closed roads on Saturday, followed by a series of races on a circuit around St James’ Park and Whitehall. RideLondon collided with the Tour de France this year, which was good in some ways – a likeable Brit/Welshman winning the Tour and getting front pages – but it meant that there was no avoiding the men’s RideLondon Classic finishing on the Mall at almost the exact moment that the Tour de France was finishing on the Champs Elysee.

The final stage in Paris has ended up becoming an early evening affair in recent years, in large part because Tour organisers like to finish the race in the mountains, either the Alps, or this year, the Pyrenees. Both mountain ranges are a long way from Paris, and even though the riders get a plane transfer, much of the rest of the Tour’s infrastructure has to drive hundreds of kilometres across France. So a late start is essential.

Meanwhile in London, the professional race is run on many of the same roads as the amateur sportive earlier in the day. So the race takes place after the roads have been cleared of slower finishing riders.

This did mean the bizarre circumstances of men’s professional cycling being on both ITV (which had moved up coverage from ITV4 for this final stage of great interest nationally) and BBC One simultaneously. Indeed, the BBC had to make do without David Millar taking his usual place on the back of a motorcycle for their coverage (Yanto Barker ably filled in), while Chris Boardman was also in Paris and not alongside Jill Douglas. More complicated was the fact that the BBC’s coverage had to acknowledge Geraint Thomas’ win, while at the same time not pushing viewers to head over to ITV!

On the other hand, we did get a few sprinters in London who’d been forced to leave the tour when they didn’t make the time cut. Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipal were in London even if neither ended up on the podium.

But enough about Sunday – which was wet and windy, and I watched from the sofa rather than the streets. What about Saturday?

I headed over to the race just ahead of its start, and as usual there was good organisation out on the roads. The final FreeCycle riders were being cleared off the route, and the women’s teams were exploring the course of the circuit. It was a slight variant on previous courses with a start/finish on The Mall, heading up and down Constitution Hill, doing a 180 degree turn just ahead of Hyde Park Corner. Then it took a loop around St James’ Park before looping up and down Whitehall, back around Trafalgar Square and into The Mall.

It is a shame that the women only get to do what is essentially a glamorous criterium circuit. But for spectators, there are lots of chances to see the riders.

One thing those spectators need to spend some time working out, is how to navigate around the course, since there are limited crossing points and it’s not always obvious. Get a map in advance is my recommendation.

Saturday was a bright but very windy day. Dust clouds blew up from time to time, and although it was still the end of July, the wind had detached many leaves from their trees following 8 weeks of hot weather, and it had the look of autumn. The wind meant that at one point a Brompton branded gazebo blew over, while race organisers had left on the ground the signs indicating the last few hundred metres distance before the finish. It was too windy to keep them standing up.

Unfortunately, that wind also had an effect on the race which stayed together from start to finish. And there’s nothing worse that a criterium where no groups or people get away. There are a number of sprint competitions that were well contested along the way, but nobody ever got off the front, and that doesn’t make for a great race. The most exciting thing that I saw happen was a crash on a corner, which held up a number of Canyon SRAM riders including Alice Barnes. She drafted the neutral service car enough to make it back on, although others didn’t.

The final spring itself was a good one, with riders across the road. Marianne Vos’ Waow Deals team, marshalled by Dani Rowe were in a good position, Sunweb were trying to repeat last year’s win for Coryn Rivera, and Alice Barnes did manage to fight her way back into the mix. But in the end it was Wiggle High 5’s Kirsten Wild who won the race. That came in the week that team owner Rochelle Gilmore announced the end of the team (Although I’m slightly confused both by the way this was announced and what it actually means, since she slightly backtracked in the BBC’s coverage suggesting that although she wouldn’t be part of it, something else might emerge. We’ll have to wait and see).

I’m not too sure what needs to be done to make the race a better competition. Perhaps some kind of financial reward for the most aggressive rider or team? There’s a lot of cash in this race, which means they do get the entrants. But there wasn’t much of a break last year either as I recall. I wouldn’t underplay the effect of the wind on the weekend’s race, but it was a shame it wasn’t a better race.

I took plenty of photos, some of which are here, and the rest can be seen over at Flickr.

Geraint Thomas Wins the Tour

Geraint Thomas - Tour de France 2007 - London - Prologue

It has been thrilling over these last three weeks to see one of cycling’s real Mr Nice Guys win the Tour.

I couldn’t say exactly when I first became aware of him, but Britain’s success on the track meant that I’d seen him pick up medals ahead of his gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 as part of the Team Pursuit – something he was to repeat in 2012.

In 2007, he took part in his first Tour de France, as part of the Barloworld team that also featured a certain Chris Froome. I was out in London and the next day, Kent, to watch that Tour start in Britain that year, and digging through my pictures from the time, he features.

He finished second last in that Tour, but he was much heavier, and was only 21 (the same age as Egan Bernal is today – suggesting that the young Colombian will be an extraordinary future talent). But he did finish, which was the important point.

Geraint Thomas - Tour of Britain - London - 2008

In 2008 he was still riding for Barloworld at the Tour of Britain – Team Sky remaining at that point a twinkle in Dave Brailsford’s eye.

Geraint Thomas - 2014 National Road Race

Flash forward a few years, and Thomas was at the National Road Race in Abergavenny. I somehow managed to get there and back for a day trip to watch that competition. These days Sky doesn’t always let their riders race the nationals because it’s a week ahead of the Tour and injuries can happen. That day, the race was swamped with Sky riders – Peter Kennaugh beating the rest, with only the Yates brothers preventing complete Sky domination.

Geraint Thomas - 2015 Tour de France - Stage 10

A year later, and I was out at the Tour in the Pyrenees where with Froome already in yellow, they entered the mountain stages properly. It was very warm on the roadside that day – and had been when I’d ridden a few km up the mountain before pulling over to conserve energy and water, and to wait for the race.

A couple of years ago, his book came out and I went to an entertaining Q&A. As with these things, there was a long queue to get the book signed, and I was towards the back. The queue moved slowly because everyone wanted a picture – something he was happy to do. I wasn’t going to bother, but the guy next to me in the queue basically bullied me into it. I had to take a picture of him after all!

I’m quite pleased I got that photo! (I also got him to sign a copy of the photo just above, which now hangs on a wall at home.)

Me and Geraint Thomas

A great day, and a great rider. A fantastic sense of humour, and it doesn’t harm that he’s an Arsenal fan.

Empty Essex

Empty Essex from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

Empty Essex is the name of ride in Jack Thurston’s excellent Lost Lanes book (NB. The first one. There have been two others since, for Wales and the West Country). The route starts in Southminster in Essex, heading out to Bradwell-on-Sea and past the St Peter-on-the-Wall chapel on the Dengie coast. The route goes offroad around the northern tip of the peninsula, past the now decommissioned Bradwell Power Station (although it may be redesigned and recommissioned in the future).

The route runs along the mouth of the River Blackwater, and the area is popular with the sailing community. Then it heads south passing through Southminster before reaching the southern part of this coast at Burnham-on-Crouch. From there, it was the train back.

This video was shot with a combination of my DJI Mavic Pro drone, and my Garmin Virb Ultra 30 camera mounted on my bike.

Note that there is an off-road part of this ride, meaning that thoroughbred racing bikes are not suitable. Something like a cyclo-cross bike, mountain bike, touring bike or hybrid will be much better. It’s a fairly flat route since, as the video and photos show, it’s a flat part of the world. On the other hand, you do have to face wind. It’s not for nothing that there are on-shore and off-shore windfarms all over the place.

As well as the photos below, there are more over on Flickr.

London Nocturne 2018

[Scroll down for more photos – and even more over on Flickr]

I like to get along to the London Nocturne when I can – the Mr Porter London Nocturne to give it its proper title. There are a series of races across the afternoon and into the evening. Earlier in the day, before I arrived, there had been a Santander Cycles race (and prior to that, an open session around the closed roads), a penny farthing race and a folding bike race. I also saw a number of very smartly dressed people with their bikes who’d no doubt participated in the “Concours d’Elegance.”

I arrived during the Masters Criterium, and also saw both of the fixed gear races. Despite a decent bit of searching, and it being a couple of days since the race, I’ve struggled to find the results of the fixed gear crits. Based on the event’s Facebook video, I think it was Rafaela Lemieux who won.

The one person I did recognise was Keira McVitty who finished 7th. She was on her own in the last few laps neither being able to reach the group in front, nor slowing enough to be caught by the larger group behind. I mention her because she’s does a lot on YouTube (her video from the evening is here), and she also features heavily in the latest episode of The Espoir Diaries for Friends of the Cycling Podcast which is a great series for subscribers following a household of young British riders finding their way in Belgium.

In the men’s fixed gear crit Alec Briggs of Team Specialized Rocket Esspresso took the win thanks to some good teamwork.

In the women’s Elite race Louise Heywood-Mah of Les Filles Racing Team rode away from the race early on, and then managed to keep the entire chasing peleton at bay for the rest of the race. She had nearly 40 seconds on them by the end, which isn’t bad for a course that they were getting around in 90-120 seconds a lap.

In the men’s race, Rob Scott of Team Wiggins tried to do something very similar. He went away early, and held off the peleton for most of the rest of the race. However team JLT Condor were very strong, and they packed the chasing group. Rising British superstar Tom Pidcock stayed close to JLT Condor’s train, and when it came down to finishing sprint it was Ed Clancy who just managed to hold of Pidcock to take the win.

Taking photos of very fast cyclists at night is always a challenge and I’m always learning. I was using an A77 Mk II and an A77. I started with my Sigma 70-200 lens, and even tried a 2x lens converter, but I lost way too much light. This event starts in the daytime, but the Elite women’s and men’s races begin as the sun is setting and finish after it has gone down. While the organisers put up some additional lighting, you are mostly wrestling with streetlights. On Saturday, there wasn’t even that much good light during the daytime as it was overcast and there was even the occasional drizzle.

I used shot mostly with my 16-50mm lens once I’d packed away the bigger one. I tend to need two flashes as my better F58 flash will overheat after too much use. So I switch to an older less powerful flash for a while, and then switch back when it’s had a chance to cool down. One way or another, this is a type of photography that requires as much low-light capability as your camera will give you.

The blurry photos are shot using a rear curtain flash – in other words, the exposure may be as long as 1/15 second, but the flash comes at the end of the exposure. That’s still very fast, and as I’m also panning a little, you get lots of motion blur and hopefully a relatively sharp image at the end of the exposure. Lots of trial and error. I took nearly 1700 photos on Saturday!

I shot many of these images as JPGs and to be honest I should have stuck with RAW. I would normally shoot everything in RAW, but when you’re taking bursts of photos, the time between the camera emptying its buffer and writing to the SD card really matters. My cards are pretty fast, so I’m at the mercy of a camera that is a few years old now. However, thinking about it, the limitations of many flash exposures I can manage in a short period means I should have stuck with RAW. The photos mightn’t be quite as noisy if I managed that.

Dimanche à Vélo

Dimanche à vélo from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

From last Sunday, trying out a different way to mount my Garmin Virb Ultra 30. I’m not completely convinced that I wouldn’t be better off with a high end GoPro rather than this, although it does let you add data overlays to video very easily. Inevitably, the experimenting also means playing with output settings of Premier Pro CC and seeing how they play with Vimeo. I tend to use 2.7k as I can still get some in-camera stabilisation if I use that. But it still seems to struggle with skies.

The music comes from the soundtrack to a film called Les Gants blancs du diable. The track appears on the recently released compilation album, Paris in the Spring compiled by Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs of St Etienne. This in turn I learnt of via the Bigmouth podcast. Invariably, you can’t go wrong with a bit of 60s French pop as you’ll know if you’ve watched any of my other videos. But now I need to explore some of the other albums Bob and Pete have collated (NB. They don’t seem to appear on services like Google Play Music or Spotify. So you may have to, you know, actually buy them!)

Trigger’s Broom

There’s a great gag from an episode of Only Fools and Horses where street sweeper Trigger has been rewarded by his local council for using the same broom for 20 years.

“This old broom has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time.”

This is actually an example of Theseus’s paradox, a thought experiment about an object – in this case a ship – that has had all its part replaced over time.

I bring this up because my Brompton bicycle has been in for major repairs. There were small cracks on the frame and the main frame assembly needed replacing. For those who don’t know, Bromptons are folding bikes, and their frames come in several parts. A few years ago I also had to replace the rear assembly.

Other parts that I’ve replaced over time include the seatpost, the saddle, both the cranks, the pedals, the chain, the mudguards, the handlebar grips, the tyres, and one wheel. Assorted other consumables have also been replaced.

At this point, the only original parts on my 8 year old bike are the fork, the handlebars, the brakes and gear changers, one wheel (which has been completely rebuilt) and the handlebar stem. So do I have a new bike or can this still be said to be the same one?

I’d argue that it is, the same, and in this instance, there are still original parts. But the nature of Bromptons means that even those remaining parts could be replaced in due course. I must admit, that having borrowed a newer model while mine was being repaired (a nice service that Brompton Junction in Covent Garden offers) I’m very tempted by the newer shifters and brake levers you can get today. But that’s for another day.

[One sidenote was that Brompton has changed the shade of red they use for their bikes in recent years. My bike was all red, and now it’s a little two-tone red. It’s not massively noticeable, but it’s there. I could have gone for another funky colour, but I couldn’t really think of something that would have worked with the remaining red parts.]