A little further each time

I’ve not been as good as I should be about getting on the bike, but yesterday I did get further than I had before along National Route 41.

Most times, I’ve just ridden to Draycote Water and back – with perhaps a circuit of the reservoir. I have been up to Birdingbury once or twice, but when I saw that the next bit was uphill, I turned tail and headed back.

However, seeing that Long Itchington has six pubs, I resolved to make it there and back before dusk – leaving the house at half-past four meant I had two hours each way and not a lot left for refreshments.

Turns out that the hill after Birdingbury is pretty easy going, and after that you drop out onto the Grand Union Canal just where it meets the A426 at the Boat Inn, by Stockton. from there it’s a stepped downhill ride to Long Itchington – the steps being the many locks that must frustrate the barge pilots. As it was a warm sunny day, and the towpath is narrow in places, I had to take care to look out for pedestrians and their dogs.

I reached my target in good time, and decided to head back for a pint at the Blue Lias, which is about a half-mile along the canal back towards Stockton. The reason was that I didn’t fancy cycling around Long Itchington, and I’d already been to the Two Boats a few weeks ago.


The Blue Lias

A refreshing pint of Adnams later, I was ready for the cycle back, relishing the long downward slope into Birdingbury and the cool breeze off of Draycote Water.

It’s only about 10 miles from Rugby to Long Itchington, and along the way there are some great views of the countryside.

Tour de France

The Tour de France finished at the weekend, with a strong result for British riders.

Mark Cavendish won the final stage, so was first over the line on the Champs-Elysee, taking his stage win total to six for this year’s Tour, and ten in two years (a new British record). He came second in the points table for the sprinters’ Green Jersey, close behind Thor Hushovd. He was not likely to finish high in the overall classifications as he’s not the best at climbing, and many sprint specialists don’t even finish a full Tour (Cipollini was notorious for only competing in the earlier flat stages of the big Tour races). But, at only 24, Cavendish has years ahead of him and is already one of the most accomplished cyclists this country has every produced. If he is able to improve his performance in the mountains, he could be a major contender over the next few years.

Bradley Wiggins, who rode with Mark Cavendish at last year’s Olympics but was ultimately more successful with two gold medals, came fourth overall which equals the position achieved by Robert Millar in 1984. He didn’t win any stages, but this only goes to show that he had a very consistent Tour, able to compete in time trials and in mountain stages.

Lance Armstrong managed to come in third place, which is phenomenal for a 38 year-old who took a three year break. My feelings about Armstrong are, however, a little ambivalent. When I started to get into the Tour, Miguel Indurain was just starting his run of five yellow jerseys in a row. I can still remember the way he worked his way though the Pyrenees in 1991 to win the first of his Tours, and the seeming ease with which he retained the title the following year. So I was a bit disappointed when his record was surpassed so soon afterwards. The other thing about Armstrong is that while he has a superb record in the Tour de France, he didn’t really get far in any of the other major road races. Yes, he won seven yellow jerseys on the bounce, but he never also made a real challenge for either of the other ‘Grand Tour’ races – the tours of Italy and Spain. Indurain never won his home Tour, although he did come second in 1991, but he won the Italian tour twice and both times went on to win the Tour de France later in the year. Armstrong didn’t really compete in too many of the other major road races, such as the Paris-Nice or the five ‘Monuments’. The only other major multi-stage races that Armstrong went for were the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré and the Swiss tour, which are used by many riders as warm ups for the Tour de France.

Of course, the most successful rider of all time would have to be Eddie Merckx, who won the Tour de France five times (1969. 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974), the Giro of Italy five times (1968, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974) and the Vuelta of Spain in the only year he entered it (1973), giving a record of 11 Grand Tour wins. The French were so annoyed that he might win the Tour de France for a record fifth time in a row in 1973 that he was ‘encouraged’ not to compete (so it is in part satisfying that the only riders to win five times in a row are Indurain and Armstrong, which must rankle the French somewhat). He also came second in the 1975 Tour (after being attacked by a spectator), and so was very close to setting the same record as Armstrong. While winning the 1969 Tour, he also took the sprinters’ Green Jersey and the ‘King of the Mountains’ polka-dot jersey which has never been equalled Merckx also won the Paris-Nice three times, he won a record 28 one day ‘classics’, including 19 wins across all five of the ‘Monuments’. The only classic he didn’t win was the Paris-Tours, but he took the Milan-San Remo ‘Primavera’ seven times. He set a record for distance over an hour that lasted for 12 years (28 if you discount the runs during the 1980s on non-traditional bikes by the likes of Obree, Moser and Boardman). He was World Champion three times, and for one six year period was averaging a race-win a week.

I’m not saying Armstrong is rubbish, or that his achievements (particularly coming back from cancer) are unworthy. I also don’t buy into the accusations that he’s much of a cheat. He’s clearly world class and one of the best riders of his generation. But I don’t see him as being as great an all-rounder as Indurain, and neither of them are up to the incredible standard set by Merckx.

Down the line

Near the place I’m renting in Rugby is a section of the disused Great Central Line (it used to run from Manchester to Marylebone via Sheffield and Nottingham, and the only bit still in use is between Aylesbury and London).

The Rugby part is in a long cutting, and has been turned into a nature reserve. It’s also part of route 41 of the National Cycle Network. So this afternoon I dusted off the bike and tried it out. Despite not having ridden for many months (certainly since last year), I found it fairly easy to get down to Draycote Water, a large reservoir about 5 miles out of town. There are some great views of the Warwickshire countryside on the way, and I saw some Alpacas at Toft.

Fantastic day

This morning I was a little down, because my girlfriend left town to go to her friend’s birthday party.

But now I’m all fresh and glowy!!

Today I went out into the Surrey countryside with a few mates for a bit of mountain biking. I last did this regularly back in 1999, until I came off and broke my elbow, so I am way out of my condition and so is the bike (although apparently ‘retro’ 90s bikes are in fashion at the moment due to their garich colours and ‘hardcore’ image).

Even though the rain started as we did, and I was a little rusty and out of condition, I had a really great time going up and down Holmbush Hill.

When I was living in Maidenbower, my flatmate and I would quite often ride over to Tilgate Forest, which as far as I know is still a pretty good place to ride. I’ve been way too lazy for the past 5 years, but I am no longer happy with this, or my expanding waistline…