The final countdown……

A week to go and time for a pre ride round up. As I get ready to put away the desert boots and settle in to a pair of Specialized road shoes as my footwear of choice Paul Wellers proclamation of “Direction, Reaction, Creation” seems to capture where things are at…….

Some exciting contact through Raith Rovers put me in touch with Ali Gibson from the Armed Forces TV station who explained that a documentary on the Battalion has developed in some part thanks to discussion she had with Major Tait who has been a challenge ambassador for me. So some of the training has been filmed and a time is set for the camera to capture my departure from Starks Park. The documentary will contain pieces from clubs with connections to the Battalion including time with our own manager who was delighted to be invited to speak about a subject he holds dear to his heart.

Sponsorship is currently just creeping over £1600 and given this was an area where we had no set aspirations I am pleased that so many people have been so generous. It is truly a special thing to see the names of friends, family, colleagues and names of people not yet in my contacts list get behind my efforts. McCraes Battalion Trust wholeheartedly thank you for your kindness.

imageKit- it’s here and it’s awesome, I wouldn’t have got a gig as a catalogue model but this sharp outfit is set to show up any pro-peloton threads as unimaginative and frankly dull!
Adding on to the kit theme my main bike is now the proud owner of a new headset cap provided by Kapz.com. If I have even a moments doubt I simply need to look down and see the message RemembeR staring back at me.

 

 

imageSelling the jerseys- Amongst many kind actions I wish to thank John Greer (Raith Rovers former players association) who has taken a huge amount of time to secure some signed tops from the senior clubs who had players commit to the Battalion. On my return watch out for an online auction including: A Hearts top signed by the team that took them back to Europe, An away Hibs top signed by the cup winning team, A Falkirk top signed by their play off team and with the help of our own Kitman and Rovers fanatic Simon Pollock the Rovers team that gave us such a great season have signed a RemembeR top. Particular thanks to those who helped John out; Brian McLauchlin, Peter Houston, Liam Fox, Lewis Stevenson and Tom Phillips. I know 2 of our ex players are diligently working to fill in the gaps in the teams represented so an update may be needed as teams get back to business in the coming weeks.

The route is now set and again simple kindness has saw key people, share the product of their labours freely. So thanks to the London-Edinburgh-London audax for the use of their route and associated garmin direction files. The big battlefield ride have been free with their mapping of a route from Dieppe to Amiens and I enter France with some confidence. Though distant roads create challenge I have actually never cycled in Edinburgh and I am indebted to my good friend Alex for his company on my first day. As the senior groundsman at Murrayfield his presence adds a rugby connection which is again fitting given McCraes had internationalists amongst their ranks. I also wait on news of a possible meet with Leyton Orient supporters who may be able to ride with me accross London. With such as shared history in elation to their own players sacrifice at the Somme I would love to make that connection.

The final update is that we seem to be set for entry in to Comtalmaison through a ring of steel thrown up for security reasons. The kindness and sense of inclusion which has characterised the actions of Jack Alexander and John Dalgleish has been of great reassurance to us in our preparations.

 

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May the Force (GB) be with me…

One of the most time consuming but ultimately rewarding parts of the preparation for the trip has been the decision to try and replicate the Raith Rovers RemembeR kit in cycling format.

The strip was introduced in 2014 marking the McCraes centenary and has remained our away top through to the end of the 2015-16 season. Fitting in many ways that the Battle of the Somme Centenary will herald the end of the kits use though the longevity of the decision to make such a radical change to our traditional colours will endure.

The production of cycling kit is a booming business though the options are very much hindered by the small production run for an event such as this one. The first step was to approach a range of providors who were easily found by virtue of a google search and a trawl of the most used cycling forms such as: Bike radar, cycle chat, road cc, Road cycling uk. In addition discussion with a couple of local cycling clubs and my own local bike shop gave me a list of a dozen to approach.

The response was varied from “couldnt be bothered to reply” through to “we would like to help you but cant/wont” This was far from futile as each response guided me towards new questions and ideas.

A short list of 3-4 companies stood out with price and production times in line with my hopes and expectations. I asked for a draft design and this is where one company stood out. Force GB Company site based in Yorkshire promised:

Free Design & Graphic Service- the highest quality fabrics sourced from suppliers across Europe and a rigorous quality control system.

Design & Construction- Graphics are prepared to incorporate all design features, colours and logos. Once approved the latest digital print equipment is used to ensure pin sharp reproduction of the design. This is then sublimated into the fabric ensuring no washout or fade

Made in the UK- Customer service, design & manufacturing is all under one roof at their factory in West Yorkshire.

Competitive fixed price, No minimum order, Friendly & efficient customer service

The process started with receipt of a base design which on its own was enough to generate positive comments from a host of parties with an interest in the cycle challenge.

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I have no doubt that the professional nature of the design contributed towards the level of interest that sponsors have shown in the kit. The time delay in securing sponsors and providing their logo details has been a test of extreme patience for Graham who has linked all of my communications since i first showed interest. No calling and explaining my idea to a dozen different people, no promises of call backs that didnt happen, no tales of a key person having been “just missed” as I make my umpteenth attempt to discuss the order. 1 person start to finish, excellent.

As sponsors changed and evolved I have chased PDf and EPS logos for more time than I wish to recall. As such we have seen 6 different design production proposals come and go with every one seeming to cause no great inconvenience. This is key as the time has allowed for me to secure support that would not have been there but for the fluid nature of my agreement with Force GB.  We also avoid disaster as the “final” kit draft contains an error that would have brought ridicule to the whole project McCreas….McCraes  spot the difference?  Subtle but vital.

In the midst of kit design the subject of sizing caused me sleepless nights as any cyclist will tell you the variation between a medium/large in one manufacturer and that of another is potentially enoromous. My own cycling kit cupboard has jeseys sized small/medium thorough some premium kit from the manufacturer Castelli which sizes me for some items at an XL- yep 68KG, 5 foot nothing and I weigh in to the oversized “step away from the fish supper” section of their website!!

Vanity isnt the key isssue here its more the case that custom kit doesnt come with a try it and swap it gaurantee. Instead Force GB save the day with a simple try before you order protocol. So I send 1 email and a couple of days later I have a test size medium and a large at my door. Panic abaited I know where i fit on their sizing spectrum and I order with the knowledge that I am not going to be challenging the local dress makers to resize something designed for a 10 year old into an article fit for a grown man to be seen wearing in public. Yep Ive been there before!!

So we finally reach the point of no return and the order is placed. Well I say the point of no return it still didnt stop me chasing Graham 10 days after the design was submitted for production hoping to add one last change. An email which appears to spend a week lost in the emailsphere lands with a kind request for ‘The Neeburs O’ Geordie Munro’ to add their support. The point is that I knew i could ask Force GB without it being a huge drama.

As a result Force GB benefit to as we decide to order some additional kit for my pitstop crew who will be on hand to massage my wearly mind as the trip gets going.

Pics of the kit will be posted when it arrives but meantime here is what we are working with.

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I am keen to add that none of the recommendations on the site have offered any inducement for me to wax lyrical about their provision. The simple intention is to give fair praise to people who have offered support and quality provision.

Etape Loch Ness

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If you happen to be new to cycling or a fledgling sportive rider then I can point you towards this event with security that you will be well looked after and blown away by the scenery once you stop chewing your handle bars on the lengthy king of the mountains section.

The profile is a mix of flat, undulating and challenging terrain based effectively on the principle of you riding a lap of the Loch.

Registration the day before the event is painless though this unavoidable necessity meant I had to forego the Rovers Falkirk game. With no wifi in our Strathpeffer digs I acknowledge my thanks to BBC Alba for their coverage.

A 6.17am start means I am on the road for the ridiculous time of 5.20am wondering if I should have foregone the whole thing and joined the Kilmarnock fans in the hotel bar the night before to seek solace at the bottom of a pint.

Ultimately I’m glad I didn’t, I meet my mate with ease and we talk Rovers for the first 30 miles before he shoots if to try for the best possible KOM time. I hang back for fear of being disqualified as I am riding with my wife’s race number having got my kit ready in the dark. A later check and I got it about right taking an extra 10 minutes just keeps me out of the results for the top 40 female cyclists.

I had 2 excuses planned if caught;
A) I am in the early stages of gender reassignment
B) the full sleeve tattoos, hairy pins and 5 o’clock shadow are commonplace for lady folk where I come from given I live a stones throw from the Bowhill miners club I’m not sure which of the 2 may have been more believable!

I settle in to the last 35 with a group of riders from; Chester Road club, Cog Velo and Kinross cycle club. Feeling decent I have a go at following the wheel in front in earnest and true to the science it sees a similar pain output reflected in a much faster speed. I even put in a Jens Voigt style last 5 mile to help a guy break the 4 hour ride time he was aiming for.

My own ride time justifies the efforts to be there as without hammering it I sneak in with a decent time. Cheers to my pal Alex for the banter and the volunteers for a great day, the ice cream at House if Bruar on the way home was much needed.

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Do you know where hell is? Apparently it’s just off Hallbeath Road

imageSorry if the title offends just a play on the old Rovers song which is dragged out when Derby day duty calls. The sentiment of hellish suffering seemed to fit with many of the descriptions of cyclocross printed online.

On to the cycling, I am never shy of identifying myself as a mediocre cyclist, average in ability and in essence lacking in the drive to chase any significant change in my cycling profile. Given I don’t aspire to take on the human powered land speed record that’s kind of OK.

However, a winter’s morning trip to the Beverage Park Kirkcaldy to watch some cyclocross provided a moment of clarity and instead of my usual self-deprecation the reality struck home that what I have been doing by belittling my time on a bike is limiting the nonsense I can get involved in.

The event comprised of an A race and a B race each for up 50+ adult riders of every ability under the sun. I watched the B race before the biting wind and rain took away my companions will to remain outdoors and I left with a mission. If these folk can flog themselves round the track with everyone admiring their tenacity and no one caring a jot about their prowess then why can’t I. Why is my fear of coming in last in a race that I am allowed to be rubbish in stopping me from having a go!!

Cyclocross is….a sport where riders generally attack a course for 40 minutes to an hour using road style bikes modified for off road use. Throw in some hurdles, obstacles, hills and a mix of surfaces: tarmac, sand, gravel, grass, mud, mud then there’s mud and you have the basis of cyclocross.

I like the description of the sport as being akin to “a time trial with torturous intervals thrown in for good measure” It’s not for the faint hearted, it’s not easy and every definition I have found seems to reference the word brutal as if it’s a legal necessity.

So up until last week I thought it wasn’t for me…..

However my first act when I got home was something I never thought I would do: flip open the iPad, type in Cyclocross races Fife and immediately sign up for an event 7 days away in the neighbouring town of Dunfermline.
British Cycling- Valentines masCXacre
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So Saturday night and my bags packed: bottles, multi-tool, track pump, tubes, Garmin, heart rate strap, food, socks, gloves, arm warmers, helmet, glasses and CX shoes.

What kit to wear simple choice look in the cupboard and find the blackest gear I have- I did throw in the line from Spinal Tap about me having “none more black” kit but I just received a blank stare.

Bike had been tested out a couple of days before so was cleaned and lubed..titter..lubed!! So along with a spare set of wheels these were thrown in to the car and we were good to go.

It was a blast seeing the kids charge round their course as we arrived. In my real world job I have to face people who too often trot out the myth that kids are only interested in computer games. Sure these are a big draw but what about a word for these kids who were giving it laldy?

We have been to quite a few pro races and seen the big names sign in so it was a hoot for my kid to see her Dads name listed as I signed in. Even more hilarity ensued as I bagged my race licence for the day.

I had asked a steward what tthe protocol was when I arrived and aside from telling me where the start, pits and toilets were he just said “enjoy it” which seemed pertinent advice.

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I had a couple of practice laps in my legs and decided the tail end of the pack was the best starting point. Let’s not mess around with a corner by corner disection of the next 60 minutes. The truth is I had no idea what was about to hit me. Mud soup had replaced the grass from my arrival, off camber turns, switchbacks, single track wooded section, barriers of various sizes, sharp descents and a couple of stiff inclines where climb or carry the bike was the decision.

I was passed by way more people than I picked off (not bad when you start at the back!) but Ifinished in the mix with a few of the riders I had stated with. It was quite something to see the “talent” hurl past, I had been worried of causing a Headline grabbing incident by dealing a front placed rider but that was avoided by good verbals from all concerned.

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What did I learn? Dismount and remount are key, I had done no learning and it showed as I was dropped in a moment by those who had this skill, fighting back to see this happen time and time again was noted. Ride the mud, this stuff does not compare to anything I’ve ridden before, my front wheel rim was not visible for many of the sections of the course. I had no experience of this from towpath rides or local parks. Ride slow fall over, it’s counter intuitive but if you feel like your going over then you best speed up. Train cross to ride cross would seem to be the theme from the people who shared wisdom. Steady winter pace road riding doesn’t help with what’s needed for a guts out hour.

Finally I learned that the comments relating to “Just enjoy it” were actually true. I have joined football teams, social clubs, cycle rides and even workplace activities where people believe they are inclusive and welcoming. This in my opinion hasn’t always been the case. Maybe I was too nieve to see the cliques today but I don’t think that was the case.

It was a riot and I am certain that when the next season starts towards the end of the year then I will be up for some more action; better prepared, more aware and maybe even in possession of some proper bike skills.

A great day out, a step into the unknown and a chance to show the kids that sometimes even old guys get rewards if they are willing to step out of their comfort zones.

Dunfermline Cycling Club, Bravo

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Keilder Cross Cycle Challenge

First chance to put some of the proposed logistics into action with a weekend riding cyclocross in the Keilder water and forest park, Northumberland.

The Kielder Cross is an off road cycling challenge based in the remote expanse of Kielder Forest Park. Held over two days, this sportive style event consists of a 40km night ride around the full circuit of the Lakeside Way on the Saturday evening. This is then followed by a more challenging 60km circuit on the Sunday incorporating a wider variety of terrain.

Keilder Cycle Challenge

Like the sponsored ride in June/July we will travel in a hired Mazda Bongo.

Adventure Campers-Dairsie Autopoint

What if the event, well….it was hard, very hard. Such a relatively small distance was complicated by the harsh winds which came into play midway through the ride. It’s not often that I really give in to fear on a bike but the section of travel across the dam at Keilder was awful.

A first night time event for me and this is something I have no desire to repeat. I made use of a 2 torch approach with a Leyzene macro drive due on a helmet mount and an Exposure Diablo on the bars. I let myself down by depending on a run time for the front light which wasn’t realistic and as such the last 15 KM was done relying solely on the helmet torch and my reserve Exposure flash which I had as a spare.

Factor in some schoolboy clothing choices which saw me complete the whole ride with a Gabba gilet, buff, waterproof cap, lobsters shell gloves and a race cape tucked down the front and back of my bibs while I sweated it out in an Aplpha jacket and on unfamiliar territory the time was respectable:

41       David Hancock     VT 40       Coaltown of Balgonie      02:35:38

A finish in the middle of the start list from the 90 riders who took to the forest on the night. The post ride facilities were excellent with hot and cold drinks and food well received.

I was shocked by the damage the short ride had inflicted on my cohort of finishers as time was taken to replenish energy levels.

I had a short ride back to base and a night in the camper to negotiate and as the rain fell and wind blew what I really didn’t need was a snapped rear mech hangar. What that did was take me out of the Sunday ride which was something I could cope with.

The main reason for the trip was to test the logistics for the Contalmaison ride and we learned a lot. Mainly the Bingo is too small and a far slicker operation needs to kick in with regards: what kit is taken, how the support vehicle is packed and despite being a fun ride we require a vehicle with a more modern engine capacity.

Perspective courtesy of Strava (2015 in numbers)

Strava is either the bee’s Knees or total garbage depending on which cyclist you ask.  The website/App has a number of functions aimed at helping cyclists keep track of their riding.

There are a number of features available which include the ability to search the database for routes and athletes.

The site has aspects similar to other sites like MapMyRide or Ride With GPS. The basic service is free but an optional pay component allows access to additional statistical detail. Members include both amateur and professional athletes.

The site software provides a ranking of times on route segments, including top male and female performance. The current top male and female athletes for each section are awarded King of the Mountain (KOM) or Queen of the Mountain (QOM) respectively. There is ability to comment on, and give accolades on, performances. However, activities can be kept private and therefore kept unseen by other members.

There are additional features including periodic challenges which usually challenge a member to run or ride a certain distance in a certain number of days. If the challenge is successfully completed, the member will receive a badge that can be displayed on their profile page. 

Premium features 

Strava Premium features include “suffer scores”, powermeter data, filtered leaderboards, the ability to set goals, and see live where the athlete stands in relation to the King or Queen of the Mountain on a specific segment.

Various aspects of logged activity include:

route (plan view)
elevation (net and unidirectional)
speed (average, min/max)
timing (total and moving time)
power/energy 

The key aspect of Strava which gathers love or loathe is its core feature which allows riders to plot the distance between any 2 points (a segment) which becomes open to other riders to compete for the fastest time between the 2 points. The fastest gets awarded the “King of the Mountain (KOM)”

KOM’s are not within my reach though locally I do hold a couple which to be honest I created in the field at the back of my house.  Anyone is free to try and take them but access to the starting point in my garden is strictly limited and guarded by some quite ferocious dogs.

imageIf I am to be allowed to be self deprecating in other areas of my cycling profile then I should state I am also the owner of a handful of top places in the Oxford area. These were collected while visiting family though if honesty prevails I should report that I now hold more Queen of the mountains than I do King of the mountains.

I had actually taken my wife’s garmin out with me and subsequently I am quite the lady in the Carterton/Briars Norton area!!

I have recently taken Strava on as the main portal for keeping track of my ride statistics, this decision was made for me by the purchase of a Garmin 520 which is a neat bit of kit aimed at allowing real time feedback on highlighted segments. Not something I have really used yet but cool feature. The main draw was the improved course mapping (from my 500) and Bluetooth uploading which has been faultless so far.

Click on the link below to see a nice wee video of my on road stats from 2015, a year when too many other demands got int he way of just riding my bike. A trawl through Garmin connect showed another 520 miles accumulated on rides indoors on either Tacx Antares rollers or an elite hydro mag trainer.

My 2015 Strava Adventure

 

imageFeel free to follow me and give any feedback which might prove useful, it would be great to have you involved.

either search strava for athlete name (David Hancock)

or use this link

Strava Athlete profile

 

 

 

 

A Punters Palmares

Palmarès

Taken from the French, meaning list of achievements or list of winners.
Im going to take complete artistic license to claim the sportives I’ve completed as achievements as a backstory to somehow help us make the jump that my aspiration to get to France in time is completely achievable.

I’m not at this time a club rider, the reason is that my local club generally ride is too fast for me, yep that’s the truth. I know the process is one of going week after week and hanging in there till you find the group aren’t needing to wait on you quite as much and hey presto you have made the juncture.

For me that process hasn’t been hugely motivational, that might change as the benefits of group riding are well documented. There are other clubs who have rides which would be a better fit but at this time geography doesn’t quite fit or there is the important factor of not liking a clubs kit or their sponsor or some other parochial but vitally important factor which stops me committing.

There have also been periods over the past few years when riding with 2 or 3 others was common but work commitments and relocation has robbed me of great some cycling buddies. So meantime it tends to be me, myself and I.

Needing to have a focus has always been there and to that end the sportive scene has been a positive entity for me.

A cyclosportive, or often simply sportive, is a short to long distance, organised, mass-participation cycling event, typically held annually. The Italian term Gran Fondo is commonly used for these events in the United States, Australia and some other English-speaking countries.

Not all definitions as are as kind as these comments from cycle chat forum show:

Sportives are where you hand over a load of money to someone and then go for a ride on the road. T Bennet 2011

A sportive is an overpriced cycle event that usually has poor organisation and lots of middle aged men in lycra on very expensive bikes going quite slow – people like them because you get free food, and it’s cheaper than playing golf! E-Rider 2011

In my opinion what Sportives suffer from most is the fact they bill themselves as non-competitive yet each rider is issued with a completion time thereby giving the allure that your time is a public demonstration of how fast and how successful you are as a rider. As such I have heard friends telling any willing audience how they nearly won a sportive.

Funny when they are technically competing in a field containing people in gorilla costumes, folk on tandems with flowers in their baskets and folk toddling along 1mph ahead of the Broom wagon which sweeps up riders who will exceed the generous minimum safe speed.

 

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Fair play if that’s your thing. My motivation is a bit different as the pre-planned sportive can offer a sense of greater meaning to the hours “lost” on the bike and the balancing act of fitting cycling in with family time, football commitments and long work hours.

An event some miles away offers the chance of a family night away a kind of weekend break where instead of disappearing to the pub for the evening Dad disappears in the morning before anyone is up and reappears “burst” half a day later in desperate need of a shower and a set of more discreet clothes.

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So here is a list of where I’ve graced the tarmac: Pedal for Scotland 50 and the wee belter 10 with my kid, Ride London family ride 15 and London 100, Etape Caledonia 80 x2, Etape Pennines 65, Highland Perthshire 50, Tour of the borders 70 x2, Bethany trust 55 x2, Bianchi owners ride 50, Tour of Britain Dumfries ride 55, Keilder cross 2 day cyclocross event, Etape Inverness 70 x2.

 

 

Disclaimer:

I have not knowingly been “beaten” by anyone dressed in a gorilla costume though I did get passed on the Schehalion climb during the Etape Caledonia by a guy wearing a business suit and riding a fold up Brompton. For the record I nailed him on the descent and gave a firm message that his efforts at enjoying himself were not acceptable!