BLOG: ANDY JONES
It hardly seems a week since I was writing my last blog instalment. The main focus of the week was a trip over to Girona, Spain.
I was there along with Alasdair Fotheringham to catch up with David Millar and a few of his Slipstream team mates including neo-pro Dan Martin. Dan has a certain cycling pedigree with his father being ex-pro Neil Martin and his uncle being Tour de France legend Stephen Roche.
Monday morning I spent catching up with people at the office and checking over the final details for my trip to Spain. I eventually changed my flight which was to have been from Liverpool to Girona with Ryanair. However, with a revised work schedule for the trip I took the opportunity to get the earlier outgoing and return flights available via Doncaster's Robin Hood airport. That done, I got my blog written.
It was a glorious day up in Sheffield and with not being out of the flat all day I drove up the road to have a stroll up the Mayfield valley before the sun went down. Have to say it was quite chilly. There's always a great sense of calm in the valley at that time of day. There were two little owls about patrolling the area from their lookouts on the tops of the dry stone walls. Their compact hunched form makes them look like the capping stones to the walls sometimes. It can be that it's not until you scan along the wall lines with binoculars that you pick them out. They always look so cross somehow.
Tuesday and I'd arranged to meet John Charlesworth at nine for a pedal. Set out for the old Riverlin post office meeting point. It was mild and a little breezy with the skies looking as though there was a possible shower or two ahead. Got a text from John as I got to the old post office to say he had punctured near the fire station down at the far end of the Riverlin road. Started pedalling down to meet him there. He'd already got going again and it was near the Hagg Lane junction that I finally met up and we started pedalling back up the valley.
We had a steady pedal really, a bit of a recovery ride after the exertions of the previous weekend. Rode out to Ladybower reservoirs and on to Bamford. Turned right at the lights at what used to be the Marquis of Granby and rode along the valley before taking the left turn up through Brough and up to Bradwell. Over Bradwell Moor towards Tideswell. Dropped through Tideswell village and carried on towards Miller's Dale but took the left turn up to Litton. Turned right in Litton to take the road down Cressbrook and then on up Monsal to Monsal Head.
Turned right there and dropped down to Ashford in the Water to turn left to take the road to Thirteen Bends and Baslow. Left at the roundabout at Baslow back towards Calver before heading up Froggatt and home. A really enjoyable pedal which clocked up nearly 47 miles or about three hours riding time. Very steady. Glad we got back when we did as about an hour or so later it absolutely threw it down with rain.
When I got back I got down to catching up with the day's emails and phone messages. Booked the hire car for Girona. Started packing and checked batteries in cameras were charged and ready for Spain.
Wednesday I was up early to make sure I got a ride in before I had to set off for Doncaster Airport and my 15:20 flight to Girona. It was a beautiful morning and set out at about ten to nine. I'd planned to just do my regular Bakewell run but the morning seemed too good to waste and so I decided to put in my Cressbrook route adding an extra half hour in the sun.
Set out for the airport at just before 13:00 which got me to the airport by 14:00. I've used the airport a couple of times now and I like it's small size making it seem all a more calmer experience.
Sitting in the departure lounge looking across the airfield brought back memories of going to the air shows that took place here. Robin Hood airport was formerly RAF Finningley and had its annual air show in the September of each year. The long runway there could accommodate some aircraft which wouldn't perhaps be seen at other shows across the country, so there were always good crowds. Though, I guess Finningley will always be remembered for the Vulcan bombers that used to display there.
You'd stand on the crowd line along the runway and your chest would resonate to the crackling power and roar of their engines as up to four of them lifted off the tarmac one by one in to the South Yorkshire skies. I also loved the Lightning displays too with their low high speed passes down the length of the runway. A ball of pressure condensation would build around the aircraft fuselage as it approached the speed of sound before the pilot would flick the nose up vertically and rocket skywards on glowing afterburners and disappear up above the cloud level in seconds. It wasn't really until that point that the ear splitting noise caught up with the action. Thrilling stuff.
The flight seemed quite busy with quite a few young families on board, I guess getting away early for the half term. I managed to get a window seat and was able to check out the views the display pilots would have had as they made their passes over the airfield. We tracked west out over the Woodhead Pass, on to Runcorn near Liverpool airport before turning south as we passed close to the Wirral Peninsula and over north Wales. I sat next to an interesting gentleman on the flight and we got chatting about things. He was off to his 500 year old stone built house in the tiny French village of Roc L'Albere close to the Spanish border. He and his wife had bought their holiday escape about six years ago at a time when their daughter was a TV director on the 'A Place in the Sun' series with Amanda Lamb.
He was popping over for a week on his own to co-ordinate some maintenance work. Sounded a fantastic place. It was also interesting finding out about his job in the motor industry. Apparently the company he worked for produces a vast majority of the foot pedals that are in our cars today, though not in the Toyota I drive. They are still after their custom. As with a lot of things these days the materials and manufacture are sourced in China due to costs. He explained the economic figures on labour which were simply 1, 5 and 15. 15 euro an hour in Europe. 5 euro an hour in Eastern Europe and 1 euro an hour in China and India. Easy to see why so much is manufactured in the far east therefore. It has to be said he seemed aggrieved by the imbalance and the loss to European industry. You only have to look at Sheffield as an example. The once capital of steel in this country.
As we came in towards Girona my travelling acquaintance pointed out were his place was in the foothills of the Pyrenees. However the roads up in that direction were not looking good. There were articulated lorries nose to tale and at a stand still for kilometre after kilometre along the autoroute north from Girona. Apparently I read in the paper the following morning that there was some blockade type protest near the frontier causing all the problems.
I hung about at the airport for an hour waiting for Alasdair's flight to come in from Granada. I spent the time sorting the hire car, grabbing a drink of freshly squeezed naranja and reading the paper. Once Alasdair arrived just after 20:00 we quickly added his details to the car hire agreement and headed off on the short drive to Girona.
Thursday dawned to beautiful clear blue skies. It was very spring like. With breakfast over, Alasdair and I set off out to meet David Millar at 09:40 as arranged at the train station car park. David (on bike) then took us along to Slipstream's HQ to meet Dan Martin, Matt White and Christophe Laurent who would be joining David for the morning ride out in to the hills and countryside around Girona. I'll leave all the detail for Alasdair to tell you about. However, I'll say it was quite a pleasant morning in the end despite a couple of things.
Firstly, we did manage to lose Millar and Co. at one point which made it quite stressful trying to catch up again and secondly I found the twisty roads over the hills a challenge.
Concentrating on getting pictures along with the continual change in direction was creating an uncomfortable degree of motion sickness. The idyllic cafe stop on route in a small village square was most welcome.
Ride over and with Alasdair having arranged to meet David and Dan in the square near the old quarters of Girona later in the afternoon it was chance for a late lunch. We used a typically Catalan cafe opposite our hotel. Perfect.
It was 16:30 when we met up with David and Dan at a cafe in the square. I grabbed a few portrait type pics as Alasdair did his interview and then we did a couple of pics around old Girona before we left David and Dan to the rest of their evening.
On the walk back from my evening meal with Alasdair I took the opportunity to get a picture of Girona by night. Used my Canon G7 on manual and set the self timer on an exposure of f8 for 15secs. It makes the street lights look star like. I rested the camera on it's case on one of the bridges over the river for the shot. An improvised tripod.
Friday and I managed to get a bit of work done on the pictures I'd taken on Thursday before I set out for the airport. My flight was at 13:30. I said cheerio to Alasdair at the hotel as his flight was much later in the afternoon before I set off in the hire car to the airport at just after 11:00. Dropped the car off at rental return and wandered in to the terminal. Had a call from Robert Garbutt as I made my way to the queue at check-in.
The whole of the Super-League's Catalan Dragons rugby league team were checking in. Some big solid muscular guys there and made me think I wouldn't like to be on a rugby pitch to be steam rollered by them. I asked some of the team members later whilst on the flight who they'd be playing that weekend. It turned out it was to be Castleford Tigers, their first fixture of the new season.
Saturday and I'd arranged to meet John at the end of my road at Somerfield's for 09:00. It was a beautiful still morning. Very spring like. We set off steadily with the regular Matlock run I mention in mind. When ever I set out with John we always go via Whirlow and up to Foxhouse before dropping down Froggatt and taking the valley road to Baslow. If I'm on my own I go via Beauchief and up to Owler Bar before dropping down to the same point in Baslow where the route then stays the same. There's not much in distance anyway.
As we dropped in to Calver from Froggatt John started to lift the tempo a bit. We soon whipped along the flats to Baslow and started heading towards Chatsworth. There's a short, stiff drag up to the Pilsley turn off before you drop down to the park. I dug in here and sat down turning the pedals in 39x19 at 14mph. We sweep through the park and road at a good tempo along to Matlock. We stopped briefly at Cromford village store so John could get a fruit slice as he was feeling peckish. Set off again and kept the tempo high up via Gellia . Turned right at Grangemill up towards Winster. Again another little testing rise with John keeping it at 14mph over the steepest section. As we came to the crest it became a bit of a friendly battle as we went wheel to wheel for the summit. John clicked through the gears and the tempo remained high down to the junction near Alport.
It's a testing road, with a heavy surface and it's surprising how hard it is to keep it at around 28-30mph down there. So it was right at Alport to pick up the main Bakewell road past Haddon Hall. There was another cyclist in our sights just about to take the rises in the road past Haddon Hall in front of us. I took the front from John and whipped it up to 22mph over the rises. I acknowledged the rider as John and I slipped past. I kept the pace high over the crest and held it at 30mph along the flat section to Bakewell.
I only dropped to 28mph as we approached the Bakewell sign my lungs rapped round the handlebars. John came through and steadied the pace as I tucked in. We kept the tempo high until the bottom of Froggatt and just span the legs at 10mph up the climb. A cracking run on a cracking spring like morning.
Treated my bike to a wash in the afternoon and discovered I needed a new rear gear cable. It had started to fray at the cable guide tunnel underneath the bottom bracket. I drove over to the bike shop and picked up a rear cable along with some much needed replacement brake pads and fitted the parts in the evening.
I had a stroll up the Mayfield lanes later in the afternoon with my binoculars and camera. It was close to dusk as I watched the female Kestrel that's often about up there and tried grabbing a couple of pictures. She has her favourite perches to survey the area, usually from some of the old Hawthorn trees or from the top of a telegraph pole. She is beautifully marked. The picture I got was at the limit really. A bit too far away and with a 500mm equivalent lens in the poor light it was not easy to get a good exposure with hand holding the camera.
I saw a couple of Grey Partridge about in the fields too. There is one field with rough pasture and I watched as they dashed from one grassy clump to another looking for cover. They are comical and have a serious turn of speed along the ground.
As I wandered back down the lane towards the car I saw a Pipistrelle bat out. It was flitting to and fro near the old farm buildings and seemed rather early in the year to see a bat. It was getting quite chilly in the afternoon by now. I guess the spring like temperatures had warmed it's farm loft roost and kick started it in to life. During the summer there are lots of bats in this area, flitting past your head. You can hear the rustle of their wings as they brush past. The sunset on Saturday was fabulous. Deep pinky skies.
Sunday and I met up with the gang for the usual Ranskill run. Steve was back from Lanzarote, so with John, Simon and Tony there were five of us. We picked up Chris Myhill as we went across towards Marsh Lane to make us six strong. It was a beautiful morning. Crisp blue skies with a little frost on the ground in places.
When we got to the through and off start point it was decided we'd do 30 second efforts on the front. It was a good work out. Chris dropped off as he's just getting back in to some serious training so for the last 30 minutes there was only five of us. I hung in this week and we made it all together at Ranskill. Steve got the sign this week with Simon hot on his wheel. My legs were screaming after the efforts of that and yesterdays run.
It was nice to have calm conditions for the run back to Sheffield. The last couple of weeks have been horrendous. It meant the average speed was just over 19mph by the time I got back.
Had a wander up the Mayfield lanes in the afternoon. Couldn't waste a beautiful afternoon. Took my camera once again and managed a few pictures of a Blue Tit and Robin. The Kestrel was about once again tucked up in one of her favourite haunts. I couldn't get a clear shot unfortunately.
Spent the evening finishing the edit on the Girona pictures. Hadn't realised how many pictures I'd taken. Anyway, there's a good selection and got them on their way to the FTP site before I retired to bed.
Catch up in a week.
PS. Oh, nearly forgot. I checked the score of the Castleford Tigers v Catalan Dragons match from Saturday evening. The Catalans won 21-14. A good start to the new season.
Andy Jones is Cycling Weekly's resident photographer, and has covered pretty much every major cycle race there is, from downhill mountain biking to the Tour de France. You can see many of Andy's photos in our online Gallery section.