- Posted by Robert Garbutt
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This is what we've been waiting for. May has only just begun and it seems as though we've already had a summer's worth of sunshine. Those cold, grim days at the turn of the year are already a distant memory.
I've never known so much good weather so early with the temperature hovering in the mid 20s over the Easter holiday. Forget the DIY and gardening, it was bike riding every day for me - I wasn't going to miss out.
And what perfect timing for a royal wedding, another extended holiday just a week later giving us a second chance to get the miles in.
Now there really are no excuses for not entering those sportives. My first big test will be the Wiggle Dragon Ride on June 5. I'm not getting too carried away, I'm only aiming for the 120-kilometre version, but even with my new-found enthusiasm that'll be no mean achievement for an old chap like me. It's also less than a year since the crash that kept me off the bike for four months last summer.
If my Welsh adventure works out then I'll plan the next phase of my comeback, setting my sights on longer distances or even a Gran Fondo.
Robert Garbutt is editor of Cycling Weekly
- Posted by Penny Comins
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Making my way to the North Face Everest Base Camp has been the hardest challenge I have ever under taken. Ill prepared and advised I brought a Specialized cyclo-cross bike. While I speed on along the highway; smooth endless straight roads that remind you of an American road trip, I was grinning. When it came to the to turn off to Base Camp and a change to rough road meant my bike was back in the truck and I was back in the 4x4.
One of the worst snow storms has been following us and is set to stay for eight days. We woke to a crunchy snow cover and climbing the Gyatso La (5,220 metres) was not going to go ahead until a truck came down the pass; indicating is was open at the top.
As soon as the truck came everyone was off, it was -2 degrees Celsius. The sun shone for the start and then a blizzard took the skies over. Summiting was a white out for many. A guest house was on offer and taken by all. Hot water was not on the menu, it took 15 water jug boils to have a hand basin 'shower'. The pipes froze overnight leaving no water for a morning freshen up either. Tibetans have a harsh life.
Climbing the Pang La (5,200 metres) was an off road version of Alpe d'Huez with over 50 hairpins laid out in front of the rider. Lunch was served half way up, the wind biting and all below freezing temperatures. The ice-cream shop at the top was the first view of the Himalayas and the mighty Everest herself. The Redspokes group released prayer flags at the top of the pass for good luck and caught a glimpse of the mighty white peak in the distance, all be it shrouded by cloud. The mountain range was impressive as was the descent, all newly carved in to the mountain to carry the 2008 Olympic flame to the summit of Everest.
Camping again was going to bed in sunshine and waking to a thick blanket of snow. The dark sky rolling down through the valley hinting more snow was on the way. We were on the last leg to stay the closest we could to Base Camp.
On arrival in Rongbuk the ground was too frozen for the tents to be erected so it was back in to a guest house. This time there was no running water at all and the en-suite a communal open hole for a toilet. The guest house owners' son just pooed on the step through ripped trousers. We are all sipping yak butter tea peering out the window, hoping for cloud to lift to see the mighty North Face.
- Posted by Kieran Frend
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Introducing our latest blogger, Kieran Frend. He's a rake-thin, former Pendragon rider from Staffordshire, racing out in France with UC Aubenas.
Salut, and welcome to my first blog.
I'm writing to you from the South of France. The sun is shining, the coffee is great, the women beautiful - but I'm here to talk about gutter sniping, dangerous descents, mountain-top finishes and Eastern Europeans.
It's taken taken six years of riding a bike pretty much full on to get to the point where I am, living the dream and chasing contracts along with the other "strangers", as my team manager refers to us foreigners. I'm constantly wearing my Prendas ‘Brit' edition cap just so everyone knows where I'm from on the start line.
My team is based in the Rhone Alps. Along with Brittany, it's the most competitive area to race a bike in France. Our calendar consists of Elite Nationals, Coupe de France rounds and first category races. Frankly, I'm yet to ride a chipper!
Esko, one of the aforementioned Eastern Europeans, has been burying himself for me in recent races; it's great having him help me in the ‘pelican'. Being a skinny boy, I'm suited to the climbs but of course everybody wants to start them at the front.
I'm not sure if it's the Eastern European rep, the skinhead, big legs, refusal to brake first or aggressive sound of Estonian swearing that make it so easy for Esko to keep me at the sharp end. Either way the French don't seem to argue much with him.
Thankfully I've backed up his hard work, placing seventh on a stage and the overall in the Boucles du Haut Var, then sixth and ninth in one day races.
I'll admit to being really nervous when other guys are helping me. I've never had that kind of support and pressure before. But due to the style of racing here, I wouldn't fancy my chances riding solo.
If you're wondering how it compares to the UK, it's very different. There's more strength in depth. Sure, if you were to bring Bibby, Downing, House et al here, they would be some of the best guys and win races, but the riders that come after seem to be so much stronger.
I've been swinging half a length of the wheel in front of me on a climb expecting to turn round and see ten riders left - and there have been over a hundred still there.
The racing really does only unfold in the last hour. Up until then it's just plain fast and simply about survival. All of a sudden, when you're convinced it couldn't get any harder, there's a 10km climb to make the selection.
Tactically it's far easier racing here - it's not about ‘picking the move' as it is in the UK, it's a case of just staying as close to the front as you can, saving energy and waiting for the pace to take its toll. If you've got the legs you'll make the selection. If not, CIAO!
Aside from the bike racing I've been enjoying busying myself with watching the local wildlife (women), sampling fine cuisine and drinking copious amounts of coffee.
If the above are not viable options, then I revert to winding up my Kiwi team mate as much as possible. Thankfully he's a tolerant guy.
Last week's messing about involved a bucket of ice cold water being thrown over the top of the shower. Also getting the hair clippers out when bored has yielded some interesting results. We're living on the edge here...
As I said this is my first blog and I've no idea if the following write ups will interest you but if you've got some criticism constructive or otherwise, let me know.
For more regular updates, daft observations and humour, you can follow Kieran on Twitter @kieran_frend
Frend with burly Estonian teammate Esko
Making Frends with the local wildlife
- Posted by Penny Comins
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The first five days have been a challenge and not in the cycling sense. Whilst I have been over the might Khamba La and the Karo La pass, the first of the five 5,000 metre passes it has been in the support vehicle.
After a fantastic ride out of Lasha, following the river up through the valley I fell slain to the stomach bug. Not able to make it from my tent to pick up my bike from the truck with out ducking into the tent loo let alone up the pass, it was in tears that I had to sit in the back of the 4x4.
The black ribbon of the Khamba La pass revealed itself as it wound up the open baron brown basin. All 23 kilometres could be seen from start to end. The fastest up of our group was in 2 hours 15 mins, while many crawled up dealing with the enormity of it and the reduction of air. A triple ring was the key on the day.
The fluttering prayer flags and dressed up yaks was a sight to climb for. As was the sight of Nazin Kang Sa (7252m) protruding its white peak above the horizon over Yamdrok Tso bright blue lake.
Day 3 of riding; I again hoped to be on the bike and ride my first 5,000 metre pass but the bugs in my tummy had a party the night before and it was not going to happen. As the icy winds closed in on the rest of the group and the numbers jumping in the support vehicle I questioned the difficulty of this trip. It wasn't for the faint hearted. This was an expedition.
So bad, I was taken on to a hotel and after two days in warmth and sanitation, rehydrating using my Maxifuel Viper Active I felt good enough to ride. Tiny children, ingrained in mud yelled 'hello' on the side while the only obstacles to manoeuvre was horse and cart as farming life hummed around me.
A bridge under re-construction meant a river crossing. My feet were already blocks of ice, so instead of getting wet I tried to negotiate hitching a lift across on a horse while putting my bike on the cart. The farmer was having none of it. A kind orange truck driver, usually beeping us off the road, threw me and my bike in the front cab and delivered me dry to the other side.
Now it's on to The North Face Everest Base Camp.
- Posted by Penny Comins
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I have packed, re packed and then re-checked just for luck. What do you take when venturing in to the largest mountain range in the world? Tomorrow I embark on a 20 day ride from Lhasa in Tibet to Kathmandu, Nepal, all of it at altitude. It is only on our last day on May 3 that I will below 1,500, still technically altitude.
Looking over the profile one last time today we cross five 5,000 metre passes, yet there are many 4,000 metre climbs. The toughest is ahead of us in two days time - Khamba La. At 23 kilometres it climbs from 3608 metres to 4296 metres and is the steepest we will encounter. To say I am nervous is an understatement.
Today we went for a test ride and my choice of a Specialized Crux cyclo-cross bike seems fit for purpose. With over 75 per cent of the Friendship Highway paved now as the Chinese make a direct highway to Beijing I am sure that my option for a lighter bike minus suspension will make it easier for me over the passes. I was breathless at the slightest effort of pulling away from the lights and my heart rate rocketed. It is going to be a test of patience and pacing to conserve energy for the future days.
We are camping by rivers for the next three nights and as I lye here in my comfy hotel bed I am thinking about how I got myself in to such a challenge and can I get to the other end. I have already experienced altitude sickness and spent 18 hours in bed over a 24 hour period trying to ride out the nausea, headaches and drossiness.
Tomorrow is D-day. We roll out at nine am, one last shot in front of the Potala Palace and then up to camp at the base of Khamba La. That should give me some time to work out how to tackle my first Himalayan climb.