The Kentish Killer

Amongst my usual Sunday ride crew, we have in recent years tended to make the “Kentish Killer” sportive our first test of the season. Organised by local club gs avanti, it falls in mid to late February, vying with the “Hell of Ashdown”, organised by Catford CC, to be the toughest early season challenge in this part of the world. (Chapeau to anyone who takes on both, by the way.) Having never done the HOTA, I can’t tell you which is better (i.e. harder), but the KK generally lives up to its name.

The short route is 45 miles, the long one is 70. We generally go for the long one (obviously), although it has to be said that the reduced version looks pretty tough too, as it cuts out a long draggy climb and a similarly long fast descent, but keeps all the nasty climbs. And nasty climbs is pretty much the name of the game with the KK, with notable rises including Carter’s Hill, Hubbard’s Hill, Ide Hill, Sundridge Hill, Row Dow and Tinker Pot Lane. It’s about 2000m of climbing in all. So it is, quiet literally, not for the faint-hearted.

At this time of year, conditions vary, but the one thing you know you won’t get is sunny and warm. Last year was very cold – about 3 degrees for most of the ride. This year was mild but quite windy (in the aftermath of Storm Doris) with some early drizzle. The roads were pretty wet from rain the previous day’s rain, and there were a lot of punctures, including both of my mates but fortunately not me this year.

So how did it go? Pretty well actually. I was 15 minutes faster than last year (when knocking off 10 minutes spent helping fix a flat), which considering I am a year older and 2kgs heavier, I am pleased with. Just outside the top quartile when including the 10 minutes, and a “silver” time for my age group (’twas ever thus).

Interesting that I have not felt in particularly good form so far this season – looking at some of my favourite Strava segments shows some particularly slow riding – and yet I put in a good performance when it “mattered”. What can we ascribe this to? What did I change for this ride? Five things:

1. Carbs. I don’t generally eat a lot of refined carbs (bread, pastry, pasta, anything sugary). Being a bit of a weight worrier (I can’t help it), I think they are an easy way to put in lots of calories without necessarily feeling full. I suspect that can sometimes leave me feel me low on energy. The day or two before a big event however, that goes in the bin and I pretty much eat all the bread and pasta I can find.
2. Beetroot. For about five days prior to an event, I take one Beet It shot a day. The theory is that the very high level of nitrates in the concentrated beetroot juice aid performance somehow. The science does not seem to be completely proven, but I do feel it makes a difference for me. (For instance, this article suggests 1% improvement in time to exhaustion in well-trained individuals, but no change in other measures https://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/2013/09/25/nitrates-beetroot/ )
3. Tapering. I normally do turbo sessions on Wednesday and Friday. I skipped Friday and went for a swim instead. So by Sunday morning the legs were feeling pretty fresh. A no brainier.
4. Caffeine. It is well documented that caffeine is a performance enhancing and entirely legal drug. You can buy sports energy products containing caffeine, but I took the DIY route and put a couple of crushed Pro Plus tablets in each bidon.img_1746.jpg
5. The good bike. The one with the lighter wheels and the Di2 gears. It generally stays on the rack in the garage most of the winter, only coming out for special occasions such as this. And it definitely makes a difference. It is immediately more nimble and effort turns into acceleration much more readily. A real treat compared to the winter bike.

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The good bike. Grey day.

So which of these made the difference? That is the million dollar question. I suspect they all contributed. But I would say that, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered doing each of them. Carbs, tapering and caffeine are pretty uncontroversial, as is using a better bike. Dosing myself with nitrates is a little bit more leftfield, but it is not as though I am dabbling with the occult – it definitely works for some people.

And what do I learn from all this? In order to be in better form for the Sunday ride (as I have previously discussed, a highlight of my week), Saturday shall now be pasta day and I might knock back a couple of shots of Beet It too. I don’t think I’ll be filling my water bottles with espressos, but I’m going to look at caffeinated sports drinks.

Anyway, enough self-analysis. I can heartily recommend the Kentish Killer as a curtain-raiser for the season – it blows away any remaining cobwebs, gives you a marker for where your fitness is, and sets you up nicely for the bigger challenges to come. Speaking of which, I need to book the Castle 100 in May down in Tonbridge. They’ve added a 125-mile version this year… being someone who rarely chooses to pass on a stupidly hard challenge, I guess I’ll be signing up for that then.

Silly cycling injuries

I’m lucky never to have been seriously injured in a bicycle-related accident and long may it stay that way. However there have been a few minor incidents over the years. I was reminded of these the other morning, when I was not on my bike but carrying it. The bike in question was the Brompton, unfolded, and I was walking up some steps at a train station. A moment of inattention resulted in my foot slipping down off the edge of a step. This in turn led to my jaw becoming very quickly acquainted with my handlebars. Punched in the face by my own bike. Great. Luckily all teeth intact and no bleeding, just a rather dazed feeling and slight embarrassment, but fortunately there were not too many other commuters around to witness my somewhat bizarre accident.

My worst crash happened on the very first ride of my first cycling trip to the Alps, a few years ago. Me and three mates had arrived after lunch, and having reassembled our bikes were heading out for a reccie of the surrounding area, to get our bearings and check our machines had been properly put together. As we headed out of town at a brisk pace down a slight slope, I realised my Garmin was not picking up my speed. A quick look down at the sensor attached to the chainstay told me it was slightly too far away from the magnet on the spokes. So not wishing to be without data (god forbid) and not wishing to stop (finally we were in the Alps after months of anticipation), I decided to reach down and adjust it on the fly. That did not turn out to be a good decision.

All it needed was a little nudge inwards. Unfortunately I gave it a big nudge inwards. It jammed into the spokes and sent me flying over my handlebars head and shoulders-first on to the road, at some speed. It seems remarkably fortunate that all I came away with was middling road rash (knee, hip, elbow, shoulder). How close was my head to hitting the kerb? Even with my helmet, that would surely have done some damage. No broken collarbone, no lost teeth. A lucky escape after a moment of gross stupidity. My bike came off less well and following a further tumble later in the week (not my fault this time – a level crossing made treacherously greasy by some light rain – two of us came down), it was effectively a write off. My decision to take out bike insurance just before the trip turned out to be a timely one (I do occasionally make good decisions…).

The other incident that comes to mind was on a Sunday ride with the Curly Designer Bloke. I was following him and we had just come down a gentle hill on to the flat, so were travelling with a bit of speed, to a point where the road both narrows and turns slightly. The high wall on the inside corner makes it difficult to see any oncoming traffic. I should have scrubbed off a bit of speed, but instead was wiping my nose (which drips more or less constantly when I ride) with one hand. As we round the corner, we see a Range Rover heading down the middle of the road. CDB slams on the brakes. With one hand off the bars, I take half a second longer to react and can’t slow down in time. I now have three options: into the path of the oncoming 4×4; into the back of CDB; or into the hedge on the left. So left it is. The way CDB tells the story he looked round after the car had past and I had vanished into thin air. In fact I had finished curled up in a ball deep in the hedgerow, but somehow still clipped in and unable to extricate myself. After I had finally unclipped, CDB helped me out, trying and failing not to laugh. This time a few scratches were all I had to show for my misadventure. Another lucky escape.

So what do we draw from all of this? Two lessons: pay attention, and don’t be stupid. Not exactly deep insight, but difficult to argue with.

I will try to listen to my own advice tomorrow, when I, NBE and CDB take on our traditional curtain-raiser for the season, the Kentish Killer. 70 miles / 112kms, 6700ft / 2000m of climbing. I shall report back next time.

Cycling en France

We are one of those extremely fortunate families to have a holiday home overseas – in France in our case. I always try to impress on our three children how lucky they are to be in this position, but of course it is impossible for them to fully understand because they don’t know any different. (When you read in the news that 45% of children live in families with less than a “minimum income standard” – defined by members of the public as the least that you can reasonably live on – it really does put in perspective how lucky folks like us are. https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/households-below-minimum-income-standard-200809-201415 )

The choice of location for our house was simple: Mrs 40SC is French, although she has now lived in the UK as long as her formative years in France, and the house is close, but not too close, to her family. That just happens to be a rather good place for cycling. (Actually I think you could pick just about anywhere in rural France and conclude the same.). We are in the Rhone valley in the south east of the country, close to where four departements meet: clockwise from 12 o’clock they are Drome, Vaucluse, Gard and Ardeche. (As an aside, I am a big fan of the French system of numbering the departements. It appeals to the logician in me – and he is never far from the surface.  So Ardeche is 07, Drome is 26, etc.  One day, when I am even more boring than today, maybe I will learn all 101 of them.)

Between them these four areas have an embarrassment of cycling riches. To name but a few, the Drome has the Vercors mountains, precursors to the Alps; the Vaucluse has the giant of Provence, the Mont Ventoux itself (visible from pretty much everywhere in the surrounding area, including our garden – see photo of the sun rising behind it); the Gard and the Ardeche have the Cevennes and the Monts d’Ardeche respectively, both on the fringes of the Massif Central; and the latter also has the eponymous Gorges de l’Ardeche, best known for canoeing but the winding, undulating road above has spectacular views.

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If these departements were English counties most of them would be big ones. Not right at the top of the list, but close, in terms of area at least. However, they are relatively sparsely populated, like much of the French countryside, with no really big cities (although the Vaucluse has Avignon). The Ardeche has the smallest departmental capital in France, Privas, with a population of under 9,000 (although to be fair it is only the 5th largest town in the departement). It is principally known for its bucolic charms and farm produce, including fromage de chèvre, charcuterie, chestnuts and blueberries.

If you like statistics, here are some to illustrate the point, which is that there is a lot more of France to go round: in the UK as a whole, each square km is shared by on average 268 people; in France, the same figure is just 118 people. That’s quite a lot less crowded. Which is great if you are a cyclist.

Region                      Area (km2)                  Pop (‘000)         Pop density / km2

Ardeche                   5,529                              320                       58
Drome                     6,530                              495                       76
Gard                         5,853                               733                       125
Vaucluse                 3,567                              549                       154

Kent                         3,738                               1,800                   481
Derbyshire            2,624                               1,100                   394
Cumbria                 6,776                              498                      73
Norfolk                   5,380                              885                       164

(All of this from wikipedia, the source of all truth and knowledge:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_French_departments_by_population
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ceremonial_counties_of_England )

Despite the relative lack of people, there are plenty of roads, generally maintained to a good standard. Sometimes they are bit scratchy but they don’t do potholes in France like they do back in the UK. I guess the weather makes it a bit easier to look after the tarmac. Fewer potholes also means less gravel on the road. In the south of France, it is less wooded than the UK (at least the bits I cycle in), which means fewer leaves, twigs, branches, husks and so on to make the surface nervy. Less rain, and a bit more wind (certainly down the Rhone valley which has the Mistral), keep the road surfaces dry most of the time. In short, better roads and fewer people on them. It’s a great combination.

I’d quite like to stay here permanently and just cycle a lot. In fact that is pretty much my retirement plan. Would I miss the restaurants and pubs of London? Proper beer? Food from a different nation every night? Friends and colleagues? Yeah a bit. I might pop back every now and then. But to give an example of the upside, back in the UK at the moment it is around 0 degrees, and risky to be out in the lanes which could be icy. It’s no fun on a road bike at those temperatures. Whereas here in the Rhone valley (from where I write, this half term week), it is 10 degrees in the morning and 16 in the afternoon – ok, it is a bit warm for the season, but it illustrates the point. We won’t get those sort of conditions in the UK until April. I plan to make the most of it and ride every day, family commitments permitting. I might even go for short bibs one day, just to make a point.

Maybe I’ll retire early. Can’t remember what was so important that needed to be done at work anyway…. Unfortunately reality will come crowding back in to my little bubble of cycling bliss as soon as we are back in the UK. There are the not-so-small real-world issues of the kids’ schooling, Mrs 40SC’s fledgling new career and continuing to earn enough to pay for the upkeep of two houses. But one day, one day…

Power test

There was no more putting it off.  No cold, no hangover, no problem with the power meter.  Time to HTFU and get on with it.

For those of you not familiar with a power test, it is a way of estimating your Functional Threshold Power (FTP), which is the highest power you can maintain over 60 minutes.  This is then used as a reference point for training sessions.  For instance you can do unsustainable efforts at above FTP (e.g. short sprints or climbs), or sustainable efforts at below FTP (for endurance).  So it’s like training with heart rate, except your power doesn’t vary depending on how you feel, how much caffeine you’ve had that morning and other variables – you always know exactly how hard you are working.

Clearly training with power requires a power meter of some sort, and while those are coming down in price, they still ain’t cheap.  So I recognise they are not for all.  And not everyone wants to obsess over their “numbers” all the time.  Nonetheless, I shall continue.

I guess you could do a power test by just pedalling for an hour, after a suitable warm up.  For some reason, the most common tests don’t make you do this.  The one I use (as instructed by The Coach) goes as follows:

20 mins easy spinning
3×1 min fast pedalling (100rpm) with 1 min recoveries
5 mins easy
5 mins all-out (“punch it and hold it” say the instructions)
10 mins easy
20 mins maximum sustainable power (95% of this number is your FTP)
10-15 mins spin cool down

So the first half an hour is pretty easy, gently bringing the legs and cardiovascular system to life.  Then it starts to hurt.  If you’ve done an FTP test before, the 5 mins all-out is at about 110% of that figure.  It’s not much fun, but at least it is short.  Then a nice long easy spin to recover.

The real fun starts after 45 minutes on the turbo. At that point you know that the next 20 are going to be horrible.  It’s a mental challenge as much as anything, as a constant battle is waged in your brain between “You are strong, you can do this” and “I just want it to stop, please make it stop!”.

For me it goes roughly like this:

@2mins
“OK, you’ve found your cadence and effort level, all good so far.” vs
“This is already hard and I’ve only done 10%”

@5mins
“25% done, numbers are ok, just keep doing the same thing.” vs
“Only a quarter of the way through?! You have got to be kidding me. I am hurting badly already.”

@10mins
“Half way through, looking solid, banked a decent average so far.  Same again is all you need to do.” vs
“Jesus Christ this is hard, how can I possibly do the same again??”

@15mins
“Come on, three quarters done, keep pushing, only 5 to go” vs
“This is horrific, I really want it to stop now. Can’t we just call it quits?”

@18mins
“Two to go, you’ve done all the hard work, give it everything now, empty the tank.” vs
“There’s nothing in the tank you fricking moron, I’m dying. This is just not funny.”

@19 mins
“Can do it, will do it, can do it, will do it.” vs
“My lungs aren’t big enough! My heart rate has been off the scale for the last 17 minutes.  I think I am actually going to die.  Why the f*ck am I doing this?”

@20mins
“There you are, wasn’t so bad was it?” vs
“I hate you. Don’t ever make me do that again.”

So all in all, it’s a barrel of laughs.  I reckon at least three months is required between tests to recover from the trauma.

Music

A power test, or a really hard turbo session, is always accompanied by my Chemical Brothers playlist.  It seems to be well accepted that music can reduce your perceived exertion, as set out in this article, for instance, from a few years back: http://thesportjournal.org/article/music-sport-and-exercise-update-research-and-application/

What that article goes on to say, however, is that for high intensity exercise, music doesn’t actually make any difference, because the agony is so loud it can’t be drowned out by the tunes. Essentially it appears that music distracts you from the suffering, but only up to a point.  So all that careful playlist choosing and planning is fine for your moderate workouts, but crank the resistance up on the turbo and you may as well be listening to King’s College Choir singing Christmas carols instead of Rage Against the Machine.

Folders and electrics

Those of you who know me will know that I have been an advocate of folding bikes for some time. I get the train to work, but at each end of the journey the folder cuts out a tedious walk or a claustrophobic trip on the tube. Getting from the West End to the City is pretty straightforward. It’s particularly handy when there is a tube strike on. For about four years now I have had a Dahon. “A da-what?” I hear you say. Dahon are one of those brands of folding bikes that are reasonably good and reasonably priced. When I got it, I wasn’t sure how much I would use it and therefore didn’t want to pay top dollar. Turns out I used it a lot. Four out of five work days, I would say, all year round. It’s not much fun in the pissing rain, but then what bike is?

So I decided that it was time for an upgrade. It had been on my mind for a while. About four years in fact. The Dahon is fine but it is quite heavy, doesn’t fold up very neatly and is frankly horrible to ride. Standing up on the pedals is like riding something made of rubber, it squirms around all over the place in a very unsettling way. It just doesn’t feel like a “real” bike. Which is perhaps to be expected. It’s not a real bike, after all. But I wanted to get decent value from my purchase so I persevered with it. Eventually however, I just got fed up with putting up with it. It was time to move on.

For about a month or so I have therefore been the very proud owner of a shiny new Brompton, in alluring lipstick red. The folding mechanism is a brilliantly economical piece of engineering. And it was love at first ride. Like a real bike, even though it isn’t and even though it has smaller wheels than the Dahon. I can stand on the pedals, accelerate from lights! And let’s face it, there is a bit of kudos from owning a Brompton, whereas there is none at all from owning a Dahon. It’s a joy and I should have got one earlier, despite the fact it was nearly double the price.

Anybody want a Dahon, one careful owner…?

Still on the broad topic of non-standard two-wheeled propulsion, I saw one of these parked near the office recently:

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It’s a “Smug”, it would seem. Their website, http://www.smugcycles.co.uk, says:

“British design sophistication and US retro beach-styling blend to create an e-bike that you’re proud to be seen on. Indisputably aspirational, the cool, clean aesthetic with its intelligently-designed battery concealment ensures the most relaxed, graceful, exhilarating yet effortlessly simple, stress-free riding with assistance from a power source only you know is there.”

If the battery is concealed, what’s in that big pouch attached to the down tube, I wonder? Not convinced it has a “clean aesthetic” either, it reminds me slightly of a Second World War motorbike.   But setting aside the marketing guff, it does look like fun. Fat tyres, front shocks, Harley handlebars, disc brakes. They don’t come cheap, though, with the website showing prices from £1,900 to £3,200.

I have to say I am all in favour of electric bikes. Stuck-in-the-muds like me who consider themselves “real cyclists” probably won’t ride them, so they are not detracting from that world. Rather they will be ridden by people who otherwise wouldn’t get on a bike, which has to be a good thing. I recall meeting a couple in their 50s, I would guess, at the top of a monstrous Alpine climb (the Croix de Fer? I forget). He was sinewy and fit as a fiddle, a very keen cyclist. She was not, but had accompanied her beloved in his sport of choice on an electric bike. Why the devil not? If electric bikes can promote marital harmony (not something bicycles are necessarily renowned for – ask Mrs 40SC – actually please don’t), then more’s the good.

Sunday ride

I say Sunday, but it could be any chosen day.  It’s the day of the big ride, the high spot of many a cyclist’s week.  The time when home, work, family are all left behind (temporarily at least), the time when cycling is given the priority it deserves.  If we are really pushed for time, we might squeeze in two hours; if we have greater liberty (or just get up really early) we might get four or even more.  The only things that might derail the Sunday ride are serious family commitments or atrocious weather (I draw the line at ice or heavy rain).  Otherwise it prevails over all else.

As well as being an escape from domestic reality, it is also a test. What sort of shape am I in? What sort of shape are my mates in? Who’s going to be quick up the hills today? Will I get any Strava PR trophies?  The wrong answers to these questions can be dispiriting, the rights ones uplifting.

It is also a test of willpower.  Sometimes it is an achievement just to get round, battling the wind, rain and cold, the potholes, puddles and punctures.  Often the Sunday ride is not necessarily a lot of fun, but there can be a huge sense of satisfaction when it is done: as Frank Bruno said on winning his world title, “It was tough in there, but I done it”. The post-ride mug of tea, and the hot shower as fingers and toes come back to life, can be near-religious experiences.

It’s often an important training session, both physical and mental preparation for the big rides to come – hills and mountains to be climbed both at home and abroad. 

So all in all it’s a pretty important event in the week of a cyclist.  Missing it is, if not unthinkable, then certainly highly unpalatable.  The week is incomplete with out it.

The Sunday ride is not without cost, however.  There are invariably jobs to be done when we are back – perhaps lunch to be cooked, kids homework to help with, a trip to the park, a shelf to be put up, admin to be done. When what we would rather be doing it sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea, perhaps drifting into a gentle snooze for just a few minutes…  There is an impact on family life – it is half a day out of the weekend after all – which should not be dismissed lightly. But we tell ourselves, and those we might otherwise be spending time with, that the Sunday ride is important for our health and our sanity.  And I think there is a lot of truth to those statements. But we should be careful not to become dogmatic about it.

And so what of this week’s ride?  Just me and one buddy, the Nicest Banker in England (NBE).  As well as being just a really nice guy, NBE is skinny.  Scrawny even.  He will never be overweight, his body seemingly physiologically incapable of that state.  Always has a beer, always has dessert, never puts on a pound.  Unlike me.  This winter has seen a significant “variation” (i.e. increase) in weight, mainly due to the chips, beer and cake consumed whilst skiing.  Apparently Chris Froome puts on 5kg in the offseason.  That is about the only thing he and I have in common.  OK that’s a slight exaggeration but only slight.

So a lean NBE and a rather less lean me, both of us claiming to be “not bike fit”, set off on one of our usual hilly routes back and forth across the Kentish North Downs. It was grey-cold, with damp low cloud on the hilltops and just the odd glimpse of brightness in the sky.  At least there was no rain, although there were puddles a-plenty and some of the roads were in a shocking state. 

As I suspected, NBE killed me up the first two or three proper climbs.  Over 10 minutes or so of climbing, he put at least 30 seconds into me each time, and not for lack of trying on my part.  Hmm.  Not unexpected but slightly depressing nonetheless.  But as we went on he tired a bit while I seemed to, if not actually get stronger, then at least maintain my form.  On the last climb, I stayed within about ten yards of his wheel the whole way, which cheered me up significantly.  Overall, a satisfactory result – a job done and reasonably well at that.

It started of as a ride to be endured and finished as a ride to be enjoyed.  If I can shift some of my newly acquired spare tyre, I might even catch him on the last hill next time. It’s February, the end of winter is nearing, and it’s time to be optimistic about the coming season.

Pain cave

I was supposed to do a power test this morning. When I say “supposed to”, that was what my coach had set (more about coaching another time). I’d already deferred it from Wednesday for some excellent reason which now escapes me. And I ducked it today as well. Again for excellent reasons, namely that I was slightly hungover from a work dinner and only had five hours’ sleep – not exactly perfect preparation for a maximal effort. So that particular joy awaits me next week instead.

So what to do instead? It was still a cycling day (as opposed to a swimming day, my other main occupation a the moment). So feeling slightly guilty for bailing on the big test, I found a suitably tough looking Sufferfest video (more on them below) and got down to it on the turbo. (It was Fight Club, since you ask.)

When I first heard the term “pain cave” being used to describe the place where cyclists have their turbo, I thought it rather over the top and presumably the invention an American. However I have decided that it is, in fact, rather apt. My turbo is in the garage, which is a pretty grotty place (as you can see from the photo), used mainly for storing important stuff (bikes) and unimportant stuff (junk that will almost certainly end up at the dump one day). It’s cold, has bare walls and a disintegrating concrete floor. Mrs 40SC says it smells of rats or mice; she has a better sense of smell than me and is probably right. It’s quite a lot like a cave.

img_1717As for the pain bit, that obviously depends on how strong your masochistic streak is. But I suspect most cyclists have a pretty strong one. Indeed it is said that the most successful pros are the ones willing to inflict the most pain on themselves. I am a very long way from that level of craziness, but nonetheless it is pretty satisfying to really push yourself hard on the turbo, in a way which is difficult to do on the road because of unhelpful things like crossroads and traffic lights.

Crank up the resistance, put it in a big gear and push as hard as you can. Feel like your lungs are on fire, watch your heart rate hit ever higher levels, feel your legs start to give up and then slump over the bars, barely able to turn the cranks, chest heaving. Spin weakly for a bit, sit up, watch your heart rate come back down again. Wipe away the sweat and snot. Feel your legs regain some strength, spin faster, edge the resistance up. And do it all over again.

It hurts. Quite a lot. So why do we do it? It makes us fitter, true, but there is more to it than that. Is there a need to counteract, both physically and psychologically, the slightly excessive eating and drinking of the previous night or weekend, or a perceived slothfulness of recent days? I think that plays a big part. “I’ve been a bad cyclist, I must do my penance.” It’s like self-flagellation as a punishment for your sins. On reflection, it’s not masochism, because it is not pain for pain’s sake, it is pain to purify, to cleanse, to strengthen. “I am a good cyclist again.” It allows peace of mind.

Going long

When writing about the turbo, I have to give special mention to one of my cycling buddies, the Aussie Terminator Triathlete. He will be known as ATT. When training for Challenge Roth last year, he was known to put in five hour sessions on the turbo if the weather was inclement on the day he was supposed to doing his long ride. Five hours?! I think the most I have ever done is two, on a desperate Sunday when the rain was lashing down. OK, his session didn’t have the bar-chewing intensity of a shorter effort, but it still shows incredible determination and persistence. Chapeau, mate.

Doing it on your own

Some things just have to be done solo.  Some bodily functions for instance. The turbo is one of those things.  I once tried doing it with a mate, when the Sunday forecast was horrible. He brought round his turbo and bike and we set up in my garage.  The bikes were at 90 degrees to each other. We sweated and grimaced together for about 90 minutes.  It was somewhat uncomfortable – where to look  at that moment of maximum exertion – deep into his eyes?? That was a few years ago and neither of us has ever suggested a repeat performance.

Sufferfest

I’d known about Sufferfest for a while but not bothered to subscribe until this autumn, when the fading morning light made it too dangerous to charge around the country lanes at high speed and the turbo finally had to dusted off. For those of you not familiar, for about $10 a month, you get access to quite a large library of videos through an app, which give you both a programme for your turbo session and some film footage to keep you focused, often of real racing, sometimes just of a guy on a bike. It’s good stuff and works well on an iPad. It’s difficult to remember how I did without it in previous years. As the name would suggest, it plays to our desire to cause ourselves suffering and is pretty good at achieving that result. I recommend it. And no, I am not on commission. Yet. http://www.thesufferfest.com