30Aug11

“I also thought: why has no one else tried this? Folk had been using tri-bars for seven years. Which just shows you: people accept what they’ve got, what they’re told.” – Graeme Obree


Geraardsbergen

30Aug11

Tomorrow is the Geraardsbergen Kermis. Geraardsbergen and in particular de Muur van Geraardsbergen is holy ground for cyclists. The race see us finish in the main square of the town, which, is half way mark of the first section of the Muur. Tomorrows lap sees us race to the top of the first section turn right and descend away from Geraardsbergen. The riders of Ronde van Vlaanderen turn left before heading to the real Muur. Either way I am very excited for tomorrows pilgrimage. All going well I will pass the through the town 15 times and cover 170km.

Finish of the Geraardsbergen Kermis in 2009. Team mate Nicky Walker was on the podium



The end of August signals the beginning of the end of the season. All the riders in Europe are about to enter the month of “Creeptember” where motivation to race, train, stretch, diet can be at their lowest. However, this is also the time where the desperate are fighting for contracts for next year or even just for pride. Creeptember is a time of the year where motivation can make up for lack of form and/or ability.

At the moment I don’t have a contract for next year and I don’t have the results to feel comfortable that I will get a contract, well a paying contract anyway. However, I do have motivation. I actually feel like the time is going too fast at the moment.

I have always managed to get through Creeptember fairly well and usually string together some good races and even get a couple of results. I have trained well this past month and a half and I feel that this year will be no different. I admit that I am mentally fatigued and this is noticeable in my slow replies to emails and general lack of blogging. It’s also noticeable in me heading to the noodle bar in town to buy dinner once a week compared to at the start of the season where every meal was home cooked.

The mental fatigue is the sign that the little things can clip away from me and end up costing me a result. If I put on weight, don’t stretch, don’t maintain my bike I might find myself missing a podium, the front group or ending up off the back of the bunch if the accumulation of little things gets to be enough.

This brings me to my biggest weakness. Food and my weight. It led a former teammate, Frank van den Broeck, to say that I had “a mind like a babies.” Although I don’t agree with him on his dietary advice I have to agree that during this time of year I can and do eat the wrong things. Comfort food. However, I am confident enough with my current mental strength that I now have a mind like a toddlers and I will be able to resist the delicious offering that are around me.

I doesn't get much more Belgian than this.

Delicious

To me my diet is a litmus test for my general condition. If I am eating well it means I am training and preparing well and that I am mentally strong to fight for results.

"One beer is good. Two is better." -VDB. If you can find a Westvleteren Beer do yourself a favour and enjoy

This blog also comes after a horror month where I haven’t been able to shake little illnesses. It finally reached a climax with getting one of my wisdom teeth pulled out two weeks ago. The pain and irritation from this minor procedure was still with me up until two days ago. With the pain no longer with me I really feel like I have turned a corner on the past month and thankfully I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and the possibility of having a great end of the season.

Right now I feel determined to FIGHT for a result and make this the best Creeptember I have had.

Time will tell wether I am a toddler or still a baby.


Stage by Stage: I am under no illusion that this is going to be a boring post. So this is just for those interested in reading what the racing was actually like for me.

Prelude: Did very little. Goals for the criterium was to stay upright, continue my acclimatisation to racing at 2,500m and gain an insight into racing in Asia. Finished in the bunch.

Stage 1: After puncturing whilist returning from a “nature break” meant burning a lot of matches returning to the bunch. Massive thanks to Guss (mechanic) for his push (83km/hr) that got me back in the race caravan. This stage brought home the fact that whilist racing at altitute every effort has to be considered and weighed before commiting to it. Attacked solo with 30km remaining (lasted 5km). Finished in the bunch.

Stage 2: The first 84km was uphill. The last 30km of the hill were spent in the wind keeping Estifanos out of trouble. Dropped 3km from the top and despite chasing in never returned to the bunch. Finished in the third group.

Stage 3: After a very bad nights sleep I felt crap on the bike. Despite attacking early on I missed the break and with out motivation, strength or energy to fight for position in the wind I was dropped in the run in to the line. Finished 3rd Group. Whilist I was feeling sorry for myself Jan had attacked and was crossing to a leading group of two riders (that ended up 1st and 2nd on GC at the end of the tour). Unfortunately no one knew he was there and therefore he had no support from the team car in the form of hydration, sticky bidons or encouragement. He got within 5sec before fading and finally being caught by the bunch but it may as well have been 1hr.

Stage 4: Once again I was active in the early part of the race but missed the break. The race came back together over the Cat 2 climb. I attacked on the descent 25km before the finish but was caught once the gradient lessened 15km before the finish.  Finished in 1st group.

Stage 5: The race really started today. The stage would take in a Cat 1. Climb and a HC climb. I attacked a number of times on the run in to the Cat 1 climb but no one was given much margin. Once on the climb I made a strong attack that looked like going away. Then it began to rain. The rain felt as cold as ice. Cold enough that it was making me hyperventilate. The rain forced the members of the break to quickly pull on what clothing they had. After this we were quickly bought back. I got my breathing under control and some clothes on and stayed in the front group over the top of the climb. I looked down at my speedo as I went over the top. 45km/hr! No wonder I was hurting and more than half the bunch was dropped. The bunch came back together on the run in to the next climb, which, would reach the high point of the tour (3987m). I was dropped 4km to the top of the climb and rode in with a small bunch. 3rd group.

Stage 6: I was the last attack that didn’t get away. Daniel made the break, which, was caught 5km before the line. I punctured with 10km to go. I didn’t bother chasing.

Stage 7: The sting in the tail of The Tour of Qinghai Lake began to show itself. 94km uphill before a 75km descent. I felt tired for the first 5km and was truly worried at how I would cope. A pinch 5km in woke my legs and I up. I was strong. I followed moves and attacked myself. Finally a break went after over 70km of hard and aggressive racing. The break included Estifanos Gebresillessie who managed a very strong 3rd at the end of the stage. The fact the break stayed away was incredible because the bunch was desending at 70km/hr for a long long time and we were truly moving in the run into the line yet taking very little time off the break. Bunch finish. Breakaway up the road.

Stage 8: 239km Xining to Lanzhaou. After a 4hr transfer from the previous stage, which, was the hardest of the tour had created a lot of tired bodies on the start line. Motivation was further crippled thanks to constant light rain. Once again Marco Polo made the break thanks to Loh (impressive how hard he fought to be in the move) who would later be joined by Daniel. The stage was lumpy with a general downhill trend so it was looking like a bunch sprint. The break was caught very early with 45km remaining. There was a final climb with 35km to go. I attacked hard on the climb and was away with a rider from Colanago CSF but was caught by the chasing bunch just over the top. I again tried on the descent into Lanzhaou but it was too  easy for the bunch to maintain a high speed on the motor way into town. I avoided the carnage in the last 10km and finished 41st.

Stage 9: 93km Circuit race. Despite the fatigue of the previous nine days there was plenty of motivation. The racing reflected that as riders and teams searched for the last glory on offer. Fast is the only way to describe the racing. I waited. With 30km to go Michael Friberg from Fly V attacked. I went with him.  We pushed massive gears and encouraged each other. Michael was incredibly strong and did the majority of the work. We were caught 10km to go as the sprinters hunted for the last stage.

Conclusion: I have to say that the 10th Tour of Qinghai Lake heavily favoured the sprinters and didn’t have much for the pure climbers or the all rounders. Personally I would like to see one really hard stage for the true GC contenders and at least one stage for the all rounder.

And now enough is enough is enough.


It probably hasn’t been worth the wait but here it is. Better late than never. The Tour knocked me around more than I expected it to and it took me a good two weeks to feel human again. The reason after that is procrastination. The words below were written on the plane on the way home.

Writing about my experience of The 2011 Tour of Qinghai Lake is going to be a bigger challenge than the actually riding the race. Over the course of my time in China, which, included 1 prelude criterium, 9 stages and a handful of training rides there were so many experiences that it’s hard to know where to begin and where to finish.

The Present:

Right now I can’t wait to get back to Geleen. I am craving a good cup of coffee, Nutella on toast (fresh bread) and some fresh fruit.  If I look deeper these small cravings are merely the outward signs of me wanting to return to a familiar environment.

Statue at The High Altitude Training Centre near Xining

China was a big step into a very different culture and Qinghai province, where the race was held, was a big step inside of that culture. I was certainly outside of my comfort zone. The stories of bad (“un-safe”) food made me question everything I in-jested and this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Cyclists on a promotional poster for the tour

So really what I am craving is relaxation. I can’t wait to be in an environment that I trust (apart from European Cucumber). My bed, my kitchen, my living room. I am looking forward to kicking up my feet tomorrow morining and enjoying a cup of coffee and Nutella on toast while reading cyclingtipsblog as well as reconnecting with the social media I have been without during my time in China.

My mate

The Experience and Expectations:

I travelled to Qinghai Lake with many expectations. Fortunately none of my negative expectations were met. The Iranians weren’t head and shoulders above the rest of the peloton, the food didn’t poison half the peloton and the course wasn’t impossible.

Crowd control heading home

The experience of racing along the Tibetan Plateau was breath taking (pun intended). Not only was I  (at times) racing with 66% of the oxygen available at sea level but the sceneary was amazing.

Qinghai Lake in the background. On the plateau

The support from the locals was incredible. I think I signed over 1000 autographs and had my picture taken by more than 100 people. I’m kind of a big deal in China. The crowds were on par with any major bike race around the world. The last stage saw spectators standing 10 or 20 deep just to catch a glimpse of the race. The people even lined the road to watch the race convey drive by during transfers.

Autograph hunters

The organisation of the race was almost perfect and the opening and closing ceremony (broadcast on National TV) were testimant to how well the Chinese can put on a show.

Opening ceremony. Broadcast live on National TV

Closing ceremony

New Friends:

Whenever you spend a prolonged period of time with a group of people you are bound to make a few friends. I must have something to do with the shared experience of pain but bike racing seems to create and destroy friendship easier than most other endevours. Luckily for me The Tour only strengthened my bond to my team mates and created new friendships.

Guss (mechanic), Christian (jack of all trades) and Janeke (room mate)

The Race:

I went to the race searching for a stage win. I tried and tried but in reality never really put myself in a position to take one of the stages. A mixture of bad luck (punctures), bad positioning, other duties, and unfavourable finishes for a rider of my abilities (not a climber and not a sprinter) meant that my attempts came to nothing.

Yet I finish the tour satisfied. I was able to help my team and team mates, I felt stronger as the race progressed and I learnt a lot about racing.

Certainly I feel some fatigue but mentally and physically I feel extremely good. From here I rest and make sure I recover properly from the 10 days of racing before seeing what form I have gained from The Tour.

During a transfer

Current Expectations:

Knowing how my body will respond to the stress of racing 10 days at altitude is oddly an unknown. From other riders previous experiences you will either be flying or creeping.

The positive is that I felt stronger as the raced progressed, however, only time will tell wether it has helped or hindered my season. It certainly has left me with a better insight into where my physical strengths and weakness are on the bike and therefore has given me a clear direction to head with my training.

Lanzhou. Final Stage


I have been trying to write a blog for the past few weeks. And by trying I mean thinking about.

Over a week ago the team and I raced The Lede Pro Kermesse. I had the kind of day every cyclists dreads. It’s commonly know as a “bad day” and for me the symptoms were: aching back, blocked legs, crook gut and an unresponsive heart.

The Lion of Flanders blowing in the “Belgium Breeze”

After two laps (20km) I wanted to pull off and have an early shower. Instead I grovelled, pushed big gears and tried to help teammates where I could.

Then it started to rain. And I grovelled, pushed big gears and tried to help teammates. I wanted to finish. Why? Because it was good training and because I wanted to finish.

With 30km to go I was at Mordialloc and imagined racing to St Kilda.  And I grovelled, pushed big gears and tried to help team-mates. I was going to finish.

So far this season I have had good legs and yet I have failed to be in the good break. Yet on my worst days of the season I found myself in the front group of 40 with a lap to go. And I grovelled, pushed big gears and tried to help team-mates.

Marc Ryan made the selection after racing his heart out in the last 80km and finished 4th. Jan Kuyckx was in the second group and gritted his teeth to a hard fought 9th. I ended up 25th in the 3rd group. Loh Sea Keong was 35th after riding the most aggressive and toughest race ridden by an MPC rider this year.

The finish

Luckily for me it seems Lede was just a “bad day” and not a sign of a loss of form. I bounced back at Ruddervoorde two days later. I felt much, much better. And to show just how cruel cycling can be I missed the front group.

I am now in China for The Tour of Qinghai Lake. More info to follow.

Rest time

A big thanks to Peter. As I suffered during the race I concentrated hard on proper posture on the bike and everything Peter and Mark McGrath have taught me.

Without it I wouldn’t have stayed with the group in the crosswinds.

Follow npmitch on Twitter


A Bad Year

03Jun11

So far this has been a bad year for cyclists. Having said that I began to think that everyday a cyclist is killed or injured while riding. Causes are numerous. Car’s, pedestritions, stupidity, other riders or pushing the limits. The last cause I wrote is the biggest reason I ride a bike. I love the mental and physical challenge of riding but I also love the connection that tyre and ground make. This sometimes fragile connection is one of the best feeling you can have on a bike. Wether dirt or tarmac that fragile connection is amazing and pushing it’s limits is a lot of fun.

I have been a fan of Chris Akrigg‘s for awhile now and I was sorry to hear that he had a bad stack. It is amazingly brave of him to post the video of his crash. I wish him all the best and I hope he has a speedy recovery.

Not If, But When from chris akrigg on Vimeo.

On Tuesday I raced Gullegem Korse. A lot of big names were there. Nick Nuyens (who I owe a cut from the bet I put on him for De Ronde), the inform Phillipe Gilbert, Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder, Robbie McEwen, Zdenek Stybar and many other very storng riders. I had really good legs and was riding really well. I was sticking near my man crush Tom but when it mattered I couldn’t find him. I relaxed for a little bit and was out of position when a break I should have been in went away.

The race was eventually won by Mr Gilbert. Note to self: Follow the inform rider.

Sunday I am racing Tour de Rijk. The action will be taking place in and around Rotterdam. The forecast is for rain and 25km/hr winds. To understand what 25km/hr means I thought I would create a scale. 0-10km/hr: No wind/nothing to worry about. 11-15km/hr Slight breeze, enough to hurt the legs but not enough to make a difference. 16-20km/hr enough to hurt and put riders off the back. 21-25km/hr more than enough to split the bunch.

I have a lot of memories from Tour de Rijk. The last time I was here I had amazingly good legs until I had one really really bad one.

Tomorrow lot’s of R&R, a coffee or 5 and maybe a few more rapha movies.

Rapha Australia rides the Victorian Alps teaser from RAPHA on Vimeo.

I am excited to see the full version. I love the roads around this area.

Great Ocean Road Classic from RAPHA on Vimeo.

Again stunning roads that I love to train on. Now that Rapha have use two of my favourite training area’s I am waiting on them to come for a ride to Kinglake and on one through The Ardennes.

And finally Dirty Deeds had their first cyclocross race for the season. It got me some pumped up knowing my mates were racing and that there was a Parlee CX not being used.

My Supporters:

Cycling Edge

Fetha




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