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These last few days have brought with them blue skies and a warm sun, the likes of which we in the UK cannot take for granted as even the height of summer here does not necessarily mean more than 2 warm sunny days strung together at a time. My brother (and fellow Talking Tread) Sam reports that we’ve stolen his Californian weather, and that it’s grimmer than the Yorkshire Dales back in Sacramento. Well, we’re just borrowing it, okay? You probably need the rain anyway.
I left it until mid-afternoon to go for a ride yesterday, and decided – possibly unwisely – to try a couple of hills. I took a route South East through Cheltenham, whose pavements were thronging with shirtless chavs, and started the steady climb out of the bowl of our town up London Road, which I picked for it’s gentle drag which never takes you by surprise. And much to my happiness, it didn’t take me by surprise at all. I turned right near the top to get off the main road and onto a very quiet lane with smooth pavements, then left to take me South East toward Withington village.
Then I almost burst into tears. In fact for about half a mile, it was all I could do to keep my breathing under control. It’s a little hard to explain why, it’s not my first ride since starting with the back treatment, but I guess it was the first one that reminded me why I ride. It’s pure joy. The sun, the Cotswold countryside, smooth tarmac, the speed, the drivers smiling at me (it occurred to me afterwards that I might have had an enormous grin on my face without realising, and that the drivers were just returning it). Once I’d regained myself, I broke into an all out sprint, Cav-style in the drops, down the arrow-straight hill to Withington. So much fun.
However the route I planned for myself was to turn right on Withington High St, back up the hill. I might have underestimated this climb – the last time I did it I was riding with two friends, and I was fitter than both, so I slowed my pace to ride the gradient with them, resulting in what felt like a relatively easy ascent. I guess I’d convinced myself that I could ride as slow as I liked, keep my heart rate down. But the climb was about twice as long as I’d remembered, and twice as steep. It winded me, I crawled up it, but I didn’t stop. A small victory.
And then, again, a beautiful downhill section – this one somewhat more terrifying than the last – through the woods on a thin strip of tarmac peppered with pot holes deep enough to smash your carbon laminate wheels to shit and send you flying into a tree. Winding turns where you pray there’s no one coming the other way. You know, the kind of barely-driven-on country roads with accumulated gravel piles down the centre of it, which you occasionally have to ride over at speed because it’s better than hitting the pot holes. I emerged onto the main road shaky, my knuckles white. Just as I’d forgotten how much I loved to ride, I’d also forgotten how much nerve I must have built up to fly down roads like that, cause I know that wasn’t the scariest of them by far.
From that point on I was able to relax, get into a rhythm. The road gently climbed back up to the bowl edge of Cheltenham, with one last steep kicker before rolling down Leckhampton hill and back into town, setting off the LED 30 mph speed gun sign.
It wasn’t really a long ride by anyone’s standards. Not anyone who reads this site anyway – but for me it felt like a watershed. A shift between cruising round the flat lanes, my ass struggling to get re-acquainted with my super hard racing saddle, trying to remember why I loved doing this so much, and then the shift to realising exactly why I love this so much.
I think it has something to do with hills.
(my ride is here)
Just a quick one. I’m 5 treatments in to my course of spinal therapy, or whatever you’d call it, and so far it’s going well. I’m visibly standing differently, less ‘hunched over in pain’ as my Mum described, and Stefaan has put a curve back in my lower spine, where there wasn’t one before.
I got a little excited after the first week when pain levels were low and did a ride around Bredon Hill with my Dad, that backfired somewhat and sent me into 4 days of extreme discomfort. But generally the pain has improved to the point where I’ve been able to recommence my short commute by bike, and ‘Elvis’ has taken his rightful place next to the edit suite water cooler again.
The best news is that according to Stefaan, I’ll be able to start training again either at the end of this week or the next.
Can’t bloody wait.
2011 was without a doubt, my worst year yet as a cyclist. I’m not counting years previous to becoming a cyclist in the first place, of course.
Thanks to spectacularly throwing my back out at the peak of my fitness 3/4 the way through 2010, I’ve mostly spent the last year suffering various degrees of back pain and a new knee pain which has also manifested. I’ve not spent the entire year off the bike, but my total miles for 2011, spread across 12 rides, was a pitiful 220 miles. The longer rides I did manage were plagued as much by my lack of fitness as the knowledge that after the ride I would suffer more back pain. Too much riding and not enough other exercise is pretty much what set my back off in the first place, and wasn’t a psychological help, either.
On the up side, having spoken to a lot of health & fitness professionals, and one or two world-leading physiotherapists and read a few books on self re-alignment techniques, I feel I now have the tools to get off my ass, fix my own back and start riding again.
So in the hopes that starting in the dark winter months will mean I’m fit enough to enjoy the summer months, I started out small at the end of November, doing one short ride a week in the pitch black, freezing cold mornings. Not the easiest thing to do but I didn’t want to leave it till January, New Year’s Resolutions are bound to fail. After having a week long head cold over the Christmas period, I’ve just been out for another, very slightly longer ride earlier today. 17 miles rather than 10-12.
It feels REALLY LAME going for such short, flat rides when mentally you feel like you should be out for much longer, and climb at least a few Coteswold hills along the way, but I’m determined not to blow out my limited engines too soon, and stress my back out.
I thought perhaps sharing my progress back to riding ‘properly’ on Talking Treads would be a good thing. Maybe some readers have struggled with similar issues. If you’re interested, I’m using the methods found in ‘Pain Free’ by Peter Egoscue to set my back right, as well as using the FKPro Bodyweight suspension system to build up my laughably weak core, which is basically resposible for holding my spine up like it should be.
So, for anyone interested, you can see my first ride of the new year here.
I haven’t had a chance to read through it, but Women on Bikes Socal, just posted their first issue online. Despite the use of “SoCal” in the title this looks like good, local advocacy for Southern Californian Women.
My commute is usually pretty uneventful. I’m hoping it will stay that way but for some reason drivers are really being stupider than usual lately. Maybe it’s back to school mania or delayed shock to the debt limit crises, I don’t know…
First problem was the Jetta that almost ran over me and my four year old as we rode our bikes in the cross-walk to her preschool. It’s one of those cross-walks with the big neon yellow sign glued to the middle of the road. You can’t miss it. Unless you really try hard… or maybe you’re blind.. or maybe you can’t read.
Oh well. Dropped of my daughter at school and started riding to work in Palo Alto. I was waiting at a stoplight with a couple cars. Light turned green and we started to go. Some lady in a mercedes SUV came in from the left completly blowing through the red light. This wasn’t one of those attemps to make it through on the yellow, she actually didn’t seem to notice the color of the light. The best part about it: she laid on the horn because she was upset that we were in here way! So sorry your highness… won’t happen again.
This morning, I was going to write about the excitement surrounding the Amgen Tour of California, which rolls into Sacramento in a week. The race comes here almost every year, but for some reason the excitement and apprehension seems greater this year than in the past. The field is wide open, and the competition is hungry for a new figurehead; a new spokesman. Indeed, the whole sport of cycling is furiously seeking a new king, and all the major races – including the Tour of California – will be watched more closely this year than ever before.
I was going to write about the Tour of California, but this morning – a few hours ago – a young Belgian rider named Wouter Weylandt crashed during a fast descent on the third stage of the Giro d’Italia. He was 26, and he died from his injuries.
Wouter wasn’t well known outside the sport of cycling. Not yet, anyway. He was one of those tall, impossibly handsome guys with bright blonde hair and a huge white smile. On the bike he cut a broad, intimidating figure, most recently in the sober black and white of the newly-formed Leopard Trek team for which he rode.
Wouter wasn’t well known, but there is something about the death of a young man – particularly an athlete – which captures and crystallizes the horror of mortality in the mind of the public. How can a strong, attractive, successful 26-year-old, so alive and brimming with life one minute, be limp and lifeless a few minutes later? Most people had never heard of Wouter Weylandt before today, but less than an hour after he died, his name was one of the top trending topics on Twitter. Thousands of individuals around the world felt the impact of Wouter’s crash, and they came forward to express their horror, then their disbelief, and finally their sorrow.
Cycling is not a safe sport. You can look at the riders in their flimsy gear and lightweight helmets and dismiss them as posers who take few risks: just sit on the saddle, spin your pedals and point in the right direction. But when riders go down, they go down hard – often at speeds exceeding fifty miles per hour – onto narrow ribbons of tarmac wrapped around the edges of mountains. The ones that get up again – and most do, thankfully – display the shredded ruins of their cycling outfits clinging to vast and bloody wounds. Wrists, collarbones and ribs are frequently broken. Arms, legs and faces are torn up and bruised.
With a tragic regularity, notable riders in major races go down hard and do not get back up again. Fabio Casartelli, Isaac Gálvez, Andrei Kivilev. Wouter’s fellow countryman, Jean-Pierre Monseré, was the world champion when he was killed in a collision during the Grote Jaarmarktprijs in 1971. I can’t think of another sport with so regular or so high a body count.
As a cyclist who regularly rides on the roads around Sacramento, and as a writer who regularly reports on cyclists who are killed while riding bikes, I am filled with familiar emotions. Sickness, horror and appalling sadness. No one should have to risk their life in order to perform well at their sport. And yet Wouter Weylandt obviously adored cycling. He was starting his career, and had his greatest victories ahead of him. As he came down that steep section of the Passo del Bocco this morning, I have no doubt that danger was the furthest thing from his mind. He was focused upon winning the stage for a second time and establishing his name in the Giro d’Italia. I believe there was determination and intense concentration on his face, not fear, doubt or reservation. He wasn’t holding anything back, nor should he have been.
And nor should we. Cycling is a dangerous sport. It was dangerous for Wouter Weylandt in the mountains of Liguria and it is dangerous for us on the streets in our home towns. But if we give up and say enough is enough, this isn’t worth the risk, then we let the fear of uncontrollable consequences rob us of one of life’s purest and most enduring joys: sitting on a saddle, spinning the pedals and seeing where we end up.
Wouter’s girlfriend, Sophie, is expecting their first child in September. As a father, I am almost unbearably sad for this wounded family. I hope Weylandt’s baby is born healthy and happy, and that he or she grows up surrounded with people who knew and loved Wouter. I also hope that the baby grows up understanding that Wouter chose professional cycling despite the risks, and that he would never blame the sport of cycling for his death. I hope the child embraces cycling as a connection to his or her father, and grows to love it as Wouter so obviously did.
Goodbye, Wouter Weylandt. May you rest in peace forever.
The small, historic town of Folsom, east of Sacramento, will host a “viewing party” along Sutter Street on May 17th. Spectators will congregate to watch Stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California, which starts in Auburn and ends in Modesto.
The racers will enter Folsom and cross the local landmark Rainbow Bridge around 10.45am before continuing south through Rancho Cordova and on to Modesto. The intersection of Sutter and Riley in Old Folsom – a short, steep climb for the cyclists – marks the first unofficial “sprint point”, according to Robert Goss, director of Folsom Parks and Recreation. This section has been dubbed “The Folsom Prison Breakaway Sprint”.
From Sutter Street, the riders will proceed to Blue Ravine, Prairie City and White Rock Road – all of which are familiar routes for Sacramento area cyclists.
Local businesses and the Folsom Tourism Bureau have offered a $1,000 cash prize for the first cyclist to reach the “sprint point”.
Festivities on the morning of the event, which begins at 9.30am, include a DJ, street vendors, and a prize draw for a customized bicycle donated by popular local bike shop Bicycles Plus. The event is expected to wrap up around 11.30am.
It looks like San Francisco is on track to have the nation’s first regional bike share program.
The $7.9 million pilot project would provide bikes in San Francisco and along the Caltrain corridor in San Jose, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Redwood City for use by registered subscribers, much like car-sharing programs.
I can just about imagine a time when commuters will be able to grab a bike in San Jose, ride to BART, drop off the bike at the station, take the train, grab a new bike and ride to work. It would almost make BART a useful way to get around. It would be even better if checking out a bike included a free or discounted BART transfer.
I stumbled across this great project entitled “Bicycle Recycle Project” its mission to reduce, reuse and rebuild, which I am a big supporter of, is a “service learning project where students learn hands-on the basics of bicycle mechanics”. It is located at Seven Hills Middle School in Nevada City, California and not only teaches the students about the mechanics of bicycles, but allows the students to participate in many outreaches, such as a mobile bike shop, where students provide bike repair at various bicycle events. As well, the project offers after-school programs for students “with nothing to do”, they teach about recycling and the environment with the Reduce, Reuse and Rebuild teaching the students about self-sufficiencies. Yet another outreach is Bike Day at Loaves and Fishes. This gives the students the ability to help the guests of the charitable organization that feeds the hungry and shelters the homeless by offering free maintenance on their bicycles. Finally, they have organized a bike club that the students participate in. How can you participate? The Bicycle Recycle Project welcomes volunteers, bicycles and tools. Contact Steve Davis (530) 265-1840 x 8143