Progress report – 2 months in

I thought it would be useful (bearing in mind whatever else this blog is for it’s to help keep me motivated) to summarise progress so far. The main objective of all this is to get healthy and fit enough to enjoy a long active retirement. Getting back on the bike is the way I will achieve this but also an important objective in its own right as hopefully it will be one of the major activities of my retirement, for leisure and as a mode of transport. Apart from exercise the other key component of the get fit and live for ever plan is weight loss through changing my eating habits and dietary regime. This amounts to cutting back a bit on alcohol and reducing my calorie intake by an average of 500 a day. This, combined with moderate exercise, should mean I lose between 1 and 2 lb per week. I started this in September, about 8 weeks ago, and I’m down to 16 stone 3 lb from 17 stone 5 lb, a loss of 16 lbs or 2 lbs per week, so this seems to be working OK so far.

My exercise/training regime started at the beginning of September. I got my old turbo rollers out of the garage, unused for over 30 years, and started doing 10 minutes steady pedalling, about 70-75 rpm, two or three times a week. I also devised an as flat as possible  short road circuit I could ride regularly straight from home. Living where I do it is impossible to avoid the hills. The flattest I could find starts with a 1.5 mile uphill drag followed by undulating roads and a steeper half mile climb towards the end. The total distance is 6.5 miles which I did once a week in September and got the time down from 42 to 36 minutes. From the beginning of this month, October, I have extended the circuit , first to 7.5 miles and now to 10 miles. I’m averaging about 11 mph at the moment, an improvement on my initial speed of 9 mph that included a couple of stops on the hills to get my breathing back under control. Not very fast but it is hilly!

Also this month I have increased the turbo roller sessions to 20 minutes per session and to 3 times a week. I find this rather boring and, inspired by Richard Hall who I hope to do some riding with next year, I will be putting an interval training programme together that will help me extend the turbo sessions to 30 minutes alleviated by some variety and goals. I have a heart rate monitor and, if I can understand the instructions and set it up properly, I will be able to measure any progress I am making in terms of maximum BPS and recovery between intervals. Hopefully this will figure in a later progress report.

In addition to all this, I have been going on the Leeds Cycle Action Group’s (LCAG) social rides on Saturday mornings, starting on the 8th September. To date I have been on six rides. These tend to be between 12 and 15 miles. These run all through the year and I intend to go on as many as I can through the winter as the weather and other commitments allow.

As for the future, I hope to be able to join the LCAG’s fortnightly intermediate Sunday morning rides (30 to 35 miles) when they start again next March with a view to eventually being able to do the longer rides, 50 – 70 miles, on the alternate Sundays. I also want to set myself specific targets by choosing and registering for some Sportive events. I may be restricted in my choice for next year as these tend to be quite long and hilly. Another possibility is the annual London to Brighton Heart Foundation event. My old heavy hybrid bike would not be entirely suitable for this so as a further incentive I have promised myself a new road bike before spring next year, perhaps the beginning of March when I should be down to 15 stones if I’m on target. Who knows, I may even do the odd club time trial. And what better way to celebrate my 70th birthday in 2016 than ride La Marmotte!

Time trialling east of Knaresborough

This is the second ‘diary’ post – the first one was Starting again. The hope is that others might offer their own diary entries in due course. This has been quite an active weekend for me with a ride round my 7.5 mile training circuit on Friday, the 15 mile LCAG social ride on Saturday followed by a 14 mile ride in the lovely rolling Yorkshire countryside east of Knaresborough on Sunday morning. My friend David was competing in the last Yorkshire Road Club time trial of the year, a 15 mile event run on the V221 Grafton – Cowthorpe course. This is an out and back course on the A168 that runs along side the A1. It’s about 30 years since I’ve been out to a time trial so I drove out to the start to see how things have changed, if at all, and join Dave’s wife Chris for a gentle ride round the neighboring lanes. It was a beautiful day for a ride, sunny and crisp with almost no breeze, but a bit cold for racing. The temperature was about 2 degrees in the car parking and changing area behind the Royal Oak pub at Staveley, headquarters for the event, and a deep frost on the ground. Chris and I set off for our ride as Dave set off to the start, about 2 miles away. Over the next hour and a bit we meandered through the quiet lanes around Farnham, Arkendale and Coneythorpe. The morning gradually warmed up, reaching 10 degrees, as we rode through the delightful rolling countryside. I had to stop once on the longest hill we encountered to get my breathing back under control before continuing but it was obvious this would be fantastic and relatively undemanding terrain for cycling for anyone reasonably fit. There seemed to be dozens of cyclist out in the area, several small groups and at least two substantial club runs of 20 or more riders.We were cheerfully greeted by nearly all of them although on the hills I had to leave the responses to Chris.

1930’s time trial competitor dressed all in black including tights and alpaca jacket. Thanks to Classic Lightweight Reminiscences.

When we got back to Staveley the race had finished and I got a chance to talk to some of the riders. One thing I found surprising is that of the 14 entrants only two were under 40. All the others were veteran riders ranging in age from 43 to 74. One rider I spoke to claimed that this seemed to be normal now for club time trials. I assume the younger riders were more interested in mountain biking, BMX, track and road racing. Time trialing is a peculiarly old fashioned and very British form of cycle racing that dates back to the times when road racing was not allowed in this country. Racing on open roads was banned by the National Cycling Union in 1890 and ‘massed start’ road racing did not return fully until the 1940s. The ban was self-imposed to forestall a move to ban cycling altogether. There seemed to be a class and political element to the hostility to cycling expressed by the wealthy and influential as it was predominantly a working class mode of transport and leisure activity. A great deal of concern was expressed about the increasing mobility of the working classes! Consequently time trialling, invented in England, started as a clandestine activity and act of resistance, taking place in the early hours of the morning wearing black clothing that covered the entire body and with no race numbers. The first time trial was run by the North Road Cycling Club in north London, over 50 miles, in October 1895.  A brief history of the beginnings of cycle sport in this country can be found on the British Cycling web site – 50 Years of British Cycling – How the BCF Was Formed. The Wikipedia article on Cycle Time Trials is also worth a read for a bit of the background. It has never been a major part of cycle racing elsewhere in Europe where track and road racing have always been the dominant forms of racing.

The other thing I noticed was the exotic and expensive bikes in evidence. The 60 plus year old getting ready to race a couple of cars down from where I was parked gave my a full rundown on his bike – carbon wheels, aluminium frame, etc and told me that he had got a bargain for £2,500! Dave’s bike was rather more modest with conventional wheels and less expensive equipment generally. He ruefully surmised that the other chap’s bike was probably worth about a minute advantage over the undulating 15 mile course. Certainly Teams GB and Sky, for instance, look for minor advantages in their bikes and equipment that could save even 1 second a kilometre. In fact 1 second over an entire race can win it.

In other respects, for this modest club time trial, nothing much has changed. No one had ridden out to the the event, but this was normal back in the 80s too. Riders were still getting changed in their cars. Helpers still pinned race numbers on the back of jerseys and shorts. There was the same bonhomie and banter, tall stories and excuses. I felt quite at home!

[The photo of the 1930s rider above is from an article Time Trials 1940’s/1950′ or the Men in Black by Peter Underwood].

Markets, money and genes

This was going to be a carefully considered opinion piece on the latest revelations about Lance Armstrong and the doping scandal. However, I’m not altogether sure what my opinion is. On reflection I’m probably more disappointed by the bare-faced lying than the actual doping which I see as just a point on a continuum of normal, or at least understandable, behaviour given the context.

Put together the heady mix of money, competition and markets and you will always get a striving for advantage. This striving can lead to innovation, cheating and illegality. Look at the world of commerce, finance and banking. Look at the way middle class parents who can afford it seek to give advantage to their children in education and the labour market. Look at cartels, price fixing, industrial espionage. Much of this behaviour lies on a continuum from fair and legal, to unfair and legal, to cheating and illegal. In sport generally and cycling in particular sponsors are looking to maximise their profits and will pay professional sportsmen handsomely to help achieve this by establishing and adding value to their brands and successfully competing for a greater market share. Professional cyclist and the wannabe top amateurs are competing more directly in another market; a labour market. Competition for success and sponsorship between pro cycling teams leads to innovation in training regimes based upon a better understanding of human physiology, the development of sports psychology and nutrition, advances in technology, and so on. In addition cyclists are in competition with one another to secure positions in the teams. Innovations are not regulated or sanctioned initially for obvious reasons (they’re new!) but some become seen as unfair and are banned and legislated against. For example blood doping (removing blood and re-transfusing it after the body has recovered and before an important event) was not made illegal by the International Olympic Committee until 1985 although it probably started in the 1970s. Blood doping was used by the military (documented cases for USA and Australia) before critical missions. To quote a senior nutritionist involved,  “What we are trying to gain is an advantage over any potential adversary”. According to Wikipedia, after the 1984 Olympics it was revealed that one-third of the U.S. cycling team had received blood transfusions before the games at which they won nine medals. Seems the Americans have a bit of a track record for this! They are, of course, not alone.

The point about blood doping is that it increase the percentage of blood made up of the red oxygen carrying cells. This increases power output and stamina significantly and helps with the problem of lactic acid build up in the muscles. This percentage of red blood cells is referred to as the hematocrit. I understand that between 35% and 45% is normal but this varies quite a lot between the sexes and individuals. Apart from natural genetic variation it tends to be higher for people that habitually live at high altitude (hence the benefits for lowlanders to train at altitude). It can be increased by injecting pharmacological  EPO, which is otherwise a naturally occurring hormone in the body that affects red blood cell production. For the purposes of regulating and testing for blood doping the International Cycling Union set the limit for hematocrit at 50%. One problem with setting the 50% limit, pointed out by Graeme Fife in his book about the Tour De France, is that given there is not yet a reliable test to distinguish between your own naturally occurring EPO and introduced  pharmaceutical EPO, this implies the use of EPO up to that limit is OK. It becomes a level to be achieved, the de facto and default level. Consider two competing athletes of identical performance, one with a natural hematocrit of 48% and one with 40%. Clearly there is no advantage in taking EPO for the first individual but a considerable performance enhancing affect for the second. EPO taken by the second athlete would cancel out the genetic advantage of the first athlete. Is this fair? Should it be seen as cheating? If so perhaps altitude training should be banned as well. After all, it allows athletes (or their teams) with the money to set up training camps specifically designed to enhance their genetic baseline abilities in comparison with individuals and teams that cannot afford to do this. The same goes for the use of oxygen depleted training chambers. Those with the wealth can afford to develop legal means to enhance performance instead of the cheaper, accessible, perhaps more democratic (!?) illegal means. A lot of other teams have been complaining about the amount of money Team GB and Sky are able to put into equipment, support, management and their training programmes and are saying that, at the very least, this is giving them an unfair advantage.

This has always been a problem in sport. In the 60s and 70s me and my mates would ride up to 50 miles to Sunday morning time trial events to compete, setting off as early as 3.00am sometimes. Most TTs started about 6.00am then so a full field of 120 riders, leaving at minute intervals, could all be on the road by 8.00am. If it was a 25 mile TT then the last rider should cross the finishing line no later than, say, 9.15 before the traffic begins to build up. On the other hand competitors with cars, or parents with cars, would arrive nice and warm and fresh often producing a set of rollers from the boot to warm up on. We would probably be riding the same all purpose tubs on all purpose wheels we used for everything – TTs, track and road races – and they would have expensive Clement silks on light weight radically spoked or disk wheels specifically designed for TTs. They would have the latest tight fitting super smooth racing gear while we still wore the old fashioned woolen racing shorts and cotton racing jerseys. As in so many other walks of life genes plus bank balance, all else being equal, will nearly always beat genes with no money. Another bone of contention is that some of the riders we were up against where full-time riders on unemployment benefit. These were referred to as state sponsored shamateurs. This was the source of a serious family rift between Beryl Burton and her daughter Denise. Denise, training full time on the dole, eventually began to beat her mum who ran a home and worked full-time. Beryl saw this as cheating and said so!

There is an interesting quote from the USADA Report on Allegations Against Lance Armstrong that came out a couple of days ago.

“The USPS Team doping conspiracy was professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage through superior doping practices”.

Notice the reference to ‘superior’ doping practices as being unfair. Presumably it’s unfair because the other teams doping practices are inferior. Probably not what they wanted to convey.

Now that Armstrong has had his 7 yellow jerseys taken from him, are all the 2nd place men declared winners? Ulrich is not interested, perhaps for obvious reasons. How far down the final classification for each year will we have to go to find the clean overall winner, and the winners of the green, white and polka dot jerseys? This is simply not possible Given that it is likely that most of the main contenders were also ‘preparing’ for the Tour, in the main most years have probably been a reasonably fair fight. I would be in favour of letting all the results stand and just designating those years as pharmacologically assisted. In addition why not legalise EPO and regulate its use through licensed and certified doctors?  Having said that, my preference would definitely be for a completely ‘clean’ sport. But for it to be also a fair sport are their other aspects that would need to be regulate, perhaps other forms of wealth based performance enhancements?

PS 13th October 2012. Just spotted this in the Independent this morning Why don’t we legalise doping? I’m not sure if this is serious or tongue in cheek.

The Cycling Weekly Bucket List

Last week’s edition of Cycling Weekly (4/10/2012) had a 26 item ‘bucket list’ – things to do before you kick the bucket. I first read this venerable publication about 1962 when it was called Cycling and Mopeds, cost about a shilling (5p, now £2.99!)) and was affectionately referred to by the cycling fraternity as ‘the comic’. It started life in 1891 as ‘Cycling’ and has over the past 121 years had a chequered history closely linked with the waxing and waning of the popularity of cycling. It became Cycling and Mopeds (pedal assisted 50cc motorbikes) in 1957 to try to broaden it’s appeal but this only led to it’s more rapid decline. The editor at the time was hoping that once people had tried motor assisted cycling they would be converted to the real thing. Unfortunately the ‘real thing’ they went for was proper motorbikes and cars.  ‘Moped’ was dropped from the title sometime in the mid 1960s.

The 26 items on the CW bucket list are listed from number 26 to 1 so I assume they are in order of some sort of reverse priority or desirability. I’ve Iisted them here starting with CW’s number 1 and notes on whether I have already done them or, if not, whether I’m inclined too.

1. Ride up Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux. This I would dearly love to do. Apart from (if I succeeded) meaning I was super-fit for my age I would find it very moving to see the memorial on the spot where Tom Simpson died in 1967 in the Tour De France climbing the Ventoux. I am of course rather more circumspect today but he was one of my idols and inspirations.

2. Find, buy and restore a bike I wanted as a kid. No thanks. I’m not particularly nostalgic for the old equipment, although it was simpler then. I’m nostalgic for the youth I used to be. That’s what needs restoring if only it was possible!

3. Ride on another continent. This is a possibility. I guess it would probably be the US. Perhaps China or Cuba. I’ve ridden in Europe of course but this only counts as another continent if you belong to UKIP.

4. Ride a big British sportive. Definitely on my list. I’ve done something along similar lines many times in the past before sportives came along. These were reliability trials – fixed marshaled routes to be covered within specified times. I’ve done 50, 70 and 100 mile events and, once, a 240 mile in 24 hour event. But these didn’t have the pseudo-race nature or the organisation and support of the modern sportive. I fancy one of the continental ones that follow the route of a Tour De France stage or one of the Classics.

5. Ride on a velodrome. Done this, many times, racing in both Herne Hill and Paddington track leagues. However, these were outdoor and large ovals with relatively shallow banking.  Herne Hill is 450 metres long with 30° banking.  Paddington track was longer, about 500 metres I think, with 22° banking. I have not ridden an indoor modern velodrome whihc are shorter and steeper. They do ‘taster’ sessions for all comers at the Manchester velodrome (250 metres and 42° banking) and I might well have a go at one of these. They will provide a bike and helmet if required and a some tuition.

7. Grab a ride in a team car. Not bothered really. I have followed races I have helped organise in a car. This is not the same as being in a team support car of course. If the chance came along I’d take it.

8. Get 50 people into cycling. I think I have got one or two people into cycling perhaps over the years. I’d always encourage people if and when the opportunity presents itself and offer what advice I could.

9. Ride with your kids. Haven’t got any. However, I have ridden with other peoples kids including nephews. None of them as far as I know have taken it up subsequently!

10. Watch a cobbled classic. This would be something like the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix. I’d love to do this. How they race as fast as they do over the so-called Hell of the North is simply amazing.

11. Ride a tandem. Done this. In fact we still have our old tandem, a french  Motobecane. We did a bit of touring on it in the 1980s, once memorably in France when the forks sheared just below the crown as we pulled up at St Malo for the ferry home. We had spent the previous two weeks hurtling up and down the Brittany hills and the steep descents into small fishing villages and harbours, fully laden with all our camping gear. So things could have been a lot worse. These days Julia prefers to be on her solo. You need a lot of faith in your pilot if you’re the stoker with no steering or brakes. I will probably do a post here on the joys and tribulations of tandem riding.

12. Do a big cycling ‘do’. Maybe one day, but not a priority. This seems to mean one of the big charity dos when top celeb racing cyclists come along. One I might go to in due course is the David Rayner Dinner which usually has a line up of top pros in attendance. This year these included Ben Swift, Ian Stannard, Russ Downing and guest of honour Sean Kelly, one of the greatest road sprinters and classics riders ever. David Rayner was a promising young professional Yorkshire who died at the age of 27. The charity raises funds to support new up-and-coming riders.

13. Watch the Tour de France, French style. I’ve done this on a number of occasions and can recommend it. I’ve not yet been on the roadside at a big mountain stage and this is something I still hope to do. However, I have seen it pass through several towns and villages and the final stage on the Champs Elysée. Like so many things, watching it on TV diminishes the atmosphere and the spectacle, the whole sense of occasion. Having said that, you see far more on TV than by the road side! The ideal is to watch it in a road side tabac or bar in a town it is coming through, pop out to see it passing, and go back into the bar to continue the argument with the locals.

14. Sprint down the Champs Elysée. I’ve ridden down it a few times but never sprinted it. Not that there would be much difference.

15. Join a cycling club. Needless to say, I’ve done this many, many times (as  Bea Clissold (Betty Marsden) would say). The whys and wherefores of joining a club will be the topic of more than one forthcoming post I’m sure. Whether you should join a club or not all depends. But one thing is for sure. Social riding with mates is hard to beat. And there is safety in numbers!

16. Go on a training camp. I quite fancy this. When me and my mates of the Tooting Bicycle Club used to get destroyed in early season road races, the teams that thrashed us and left us for dead were often bronzed and whippet like from a couple of weeks March training in Majorca. Worth it just for the weather, even without your bike.

17. Meet Eddy Merckx. Never done this although I’ve seen him at a distance. I wouldn’t set out to avoid the bloke but not a priority. I’d rather meet Barry Hoban. A contemporary of Tom Simpson, I once saw him riding up the long drag on the Stanningley Road by the fire station on a lone break on a stage of the Tour of Britain. I think he was on his way to a win at Odsal Top. I’m not sure what year it was, sometime in the late 70s I think. I was the only spectator on the entire stretch of road! How things have changed. I wonder if he remembers my solitary rather strained and self-conscious ‘allez Barry’?

18. Go cycle touring. Again, done this many,many times and would highly recommend it. Due to lack of spondolicks we nearly always camped and set off without booking anywhere, usually in France. There are stories to be told! If new to this I suggest prebooked B&Bs or hotels, perhaps even one of the organised supported tours with travelling mechanics and a broom wagon. But there’s nothing like winging it for being able to tell the stories.

19. Ride a long distance trail. Done it but it rather depends what you mean by long distance and what you mean by trail. The one we’ve done that probably fits what CW have in mind is the Sustrans’ Sea to Sea route, 140 miles of minor roads, cycle tracks and paths from the West coast to the East coast. I would definitely recommend this and I will probably seek out some more to do when (if?) I get fit enough. The End to End, perhaps, or a nice warm continental route. Actually I quite fancy doing the Sea to Sea again. But I won’t be doing any long rides off road I don’t think. Too much like hard work, too hard on  the bike, and too hard on your bum.

20. Race. Many, many, many times. In fact I’m even thinking of doing the odd time trial again sometime in the next year or two. I’m not sure I would recommend road racing to a late comer to cycling. My feeling is that it is something to start quite young even though you can carry on doing it well into your dotage. Feel free to disagree. I’m sure there are examples of late comers surviving and enjoying it. But I’m thinking of the hundreds of hours and thousands of miles I did in close company club riding in various states of exhaustion before taking to the hurly-burly of bunched racing or the track. Time trialling is a different matter though. You tend to fall off all by yourself.

21. Ride a hundred miles in a day. Why not? What’s the problem? But of course I do now know what the problem is as someone who can these days barely average 10 miles an hour on a bike for 40 minutes. As a youngster I used to cycle to Brighton and back from London with the club setting off at 8.00am on a Sunday morning and getting home for 3.00pm in the afternoon, averaging about 15 miles an hour on the move. When out training we used to ride tempo at 20mph (‘evens’) for hours at a time. Today I find 100 miles an unimaginable distance. But who knows what the future may bring.

22. Ride as many hills from the 100 Greatest Climbs book as you can. Why not? But not for me. I don’t have the mentality to be the cycling equivalent of a Monroe bagger. I wouldn’t mind collecting a few Pyrannean and Alpine cols one day though.

23. Ride with a pro. Done that. Brian Robinson (the first Britain, actually a Yorkshireman like Hoban, to finish the Tour de France and win a stage) and other pros used to ride at Crystal Palace circuit on a Tuesday evening in the handicap events. The juniors on their 86″ top gears would set of first followed at intervals by the 3rd cat, 2nd cat and 1st cat seniors, the independents (semi-pros) and finally the professionals. The circuit was about 2 miles long and all the groups were off before the juniors appeared again twiddling their nuts off. After about 2 or 3 laps the whole bunch of about 160 riders were altogether screaming down the Annerley ramp at 50 mph, fast, downhill and slightly banked. In among this lot were the juniors, legs a-blurr in their restricted top gear and barely in control, and the inexperienced 3rd cat riders nervously twitching and braking in a thunderous sea of whirling wheels, thrashing thighs and elbows. Little wonder Crystal Palace was referred to as the bloodbath. When I say I rode with professionals what I really mean of course is I saw them flash by and into the distance to safer and more profitable terrain.

24. Ride on tubs. Done that. Tubs are tubular racing tyres, The flimsy inner tube is completely enclosed in the tyre which has a base tape around its inner circumference. This is attached to a rim designed to take it (a sprint rim) with glue (tub cement). Sounds crude but makes for very fast light wheels. Typical tyre pressures can be over 100 lbs per square inch depending on conditions. Probably the best tubular tyre for racing in a velodrome is the Olympic Tubular made by Continental. These can be pumped up to 217 lbs per square inch (if you’ve got Chris Hoy’s arm muscles) and currently cost about £200.  Problems can occur with blow outs and tyres rolling off rims, sometimes due to excessive heat or incorrect gluing. Either way it can be noisy and bloody. Clinchers, what we used to call wired-ons, are so much lighter and stronger than they used to be they can now be used for training and even racing. But for maximum performance tubs can make an appreciable difference.

25. Buy a piece of cycling memorabilia. I’m getting bored now. Don’t bother.

26. Learn to ride a unicycle. Why?

I’d be interested to hear any items you would have on a cycling bucket list. Feel free to comment!

Remembering Beryl Burton

In recent years when talking about cycling with youngsters, and even older people new to cycling,  I have been somewhat surprised and disappointed about how many have not heard of Beryl Burton, probably the most successful female racing cyclist ever, certainly in the UK. I thought a brief account of Beryl with a couple of my own anecdotes about her would be a suitable topic for this blog. The spur has been a chance remark made by a good cycling friend of ours, Dave Robbins (more of whom in another post!), when he and his wife Christine, also a keen cyclist,  were eating with us last Saturday evening. Dave, somewhat younger than me but perhaps not in the full flush of youth any more, is still riding and racing and a few weeks ago was helping marshal a Yorks Road Club time trial. One of the competitors was Brenda Littlefair, a contemporary of Beryl Burton and still racing today with her life long club, the East Bradford CC. In the 1960s and 70s Brenda was wining medals at national level in time trial events and is still racing today well into her 70s. Beryl would be 75 now if she had not tragically died of a heart attack at the age of 58 while out on a social ride.

Beryl’s record was remarkable by any standards, male, female or anything in between.  She won 96 National championships in time trialling, track pursuit and road racing. From 1960 to 1974 she was British track pursuit champion 13 times. From 1959 to 1974 she was British road race champion 12 times. In all the main time trial distances (25, 50 and 100 miles) she was the national champion almost without break from 1958 to the early 1980s. She was the 10 mile TT champion for four consecutive years 1978-81. She was a prolific winner on the world stage too. She won the World Pursuit Championship in 1959, 60, 62, 63 and 66. She won medals in 11 world pursuit championship spanning 3 decades starting with the Gold in 1959 and finishing with the Bronze in 1973. And, despite being a big gear pushing time trialist, she won the World Road Race Championship twice in 1960 and 1967 and took the Silver in 1961. By her own admission she did not have the immediate acceleration or sprinting ability generally needed for road racing success. Consequently her winning strategy was to sit in until the other riders were beginning to show signs of fatigue and then take off on her own. She simply upped the pace and burnt everyone else off her wheel. From then on the race became Beryl out on her own time-trialling to the finish while behind her the others with any pretensions of winning frantically trying to organise a team time-trialling effort to bring her back. The long lone break, especially when a do or die bunch is at full cry hunting you down, is probably the hardest way of winning a race. Beryl pulled it off twice against the best female cyclists in the world. She undoubtedly favoured pushing a high gear. One report I remember claimed she often used a 62 chain-wheel with a 13 rear sprocket! This is a gear of 129 inches with a development of nearly 34 feet (‘development’ being the distance travelled for one revolution of the pedals). If this is true it explains a lot. Very few men could handle a gear that big.

We had first hand experience of Beryl’s awesome power when she caught us up one Sunday afternoon when we were riding with the York Tandem Club near Malton. This was sometime in the late 70s when she was still at the peak of her powers. A group of tandems and a couple of solos were being led by David Holland. We were on our way back to York where we would put our tandem on the roof rack and drive back to Leeds. Beryl, she told us, had been on a training run round the Yorkshire Wolds and was on her way back to Morley, to the west of Leeds.She would have done well over 100 miles that day. She slowed down along side David to have a chat just as he had taken a large bite of a Mars bar. Despite having slowed down she was still half-wheeling us so we sped up to keep pace with her. David’s attempts to respond to Beryl’s questions about where we had been and how far were we going descended into farce as he struggled to breath, chew and talk all at the same time and only managed to choke and spit out soggy lumps of Mars bar all over his arms and handlebars. Beryl waited patiently while he composed himself and his face returned to something like its normal colour and after a few more words and “well,nice to have met you” said she had to get back to get the family’s evening meal on the table. With that she pushed on her pedals and, accompanied by a couple of rasps as her back tyre bit into the road surface, she accelerated smoothly away. A tandem with a couple of teenage lads on it asked who was that. When told it was Beryl Burton they didn’t believe it and decided to give chase and find out.  She was only a couple of hundred feet up the road but rapidly shrinking into the distance. Our two doubting Thomas’s sprinted after her and soon all three were out of sight. About 15 minutes later we spotted the tandem coming back towards us. Apparently they never closed the gap and gave up exhausted. This was quite remarkable as tandems on flat and undulating roads have a significant advantage over solo cycles and these were two fit young men.

One of the most remarkable records Beryl held was for the women’s 12 hour time trial. This she achieved in 1967 when she recorded 277.25 miles.This record still stands today despite massive improvements in equipment, nutrition and training methods. What was even more remarkable, the men’s record was set in the same event, the Otley CC 12, by the Yorkshireman Mike McNamara, the then king of men’s time trialling. But he ‘only’ managed 276.8 miles. Beryl started 1 minute behind Mike (in time trials competitors set off at fixed intervals and have to ride alone and unassisted – what the French call ‘the race of truth’) but 10 hours into the race she caught him up. As she rode past him she offered him a liquorice allsort  Apparently he said ‘ta love’  and promptly ate it as she swept by. What further rubbed salt into the wound was the fact that Beryl worked full-time (variously on a beetroot farm and as a rhubarb picker) and only trained evenings and weekends whereas McNamara was virtually a full time racing cyclist. I think this is the only time a woman’s cycling record has been faster than the men’s. Today’s 12 hour TT record for men stands at 317.97 miles set by Andy Wilkinson on the 5th August 2012. Think about it! The only time I have personally raced against Beryl was in a 2 up time trial. Dave Robbins and I made up a team and Beryl was on the start sheet paired with a 14 year old boy. I have vague memories of beating her but this may well be wishful thinking!

Apart from the tandem club incident I met Beryl to speak to on a couple of other occasions, once when involved with making a film about cycling for Yorkshire TV and once when she was the guest of honour at a club end of season dinner. The TV filming was quite an eye opener. I went with the film crew to reconnoitre a route a few weeks before filming. We drove around the Yorkshire Dales looking for suitable roads, views, village greens and pubs to film the cyclists on or against. The alleged ‘club’ group we assembled was like no other seen before. It had Julia and I on a tandem, Beryl Burton, one of the oldest members of the Leeds CTC section still riding on a vintage bike (he was in his 80s), a couple of normal cyclists and Marylyn Webb, at that time (early 1980s) one of the most popular presenters on Yorkshire Television, riding a sit up and beg ladies frame with a wicker basket on the front. It took us all day to take what turned out to be in the finished film about 10 minutes worth inter-cut with various archive clips of cycling through the ages. Beryl, unlike the rest of us, had cycled out to Threshfield were the filming started. Throughout the day she was friendly, chatty and patient and seemed quite happy to be one of the gang. The film ended with a sequence high on the moors overlooking a beautiful view of the Dales. Marylyn asked me if she could ride with me on the tandem and with her behind me we road off into the sunset with Julia following some distance behind on Marylyn’s basketed bone shaker.

The occasion of the club dinner also demonstrated Beryl’s friendliness and warmth. The club concerned was Velo Club Leeds, sadly no more. This must have been the late 70s or early 80s perhaps and Beryl accepted an invitation to be a guest and present the various cups and medals. Towards the end of the meal when she was introduced before the presentations it became quite clear that there was an expectation that she would give us a bit of a talk, an after dinner speech. This took her somewhat by surprise but with aplomb and modesty she rose to the occasion and gave a very good impromptu talk. She obviously felt very comfortable and at home with her own people, fellow club cyclists.

So much more could be said about Beryl and no doubt others have. These are some of my personal recollections of a friendly, warm and down-to-earth yet remarkable Yorkshire women who, if she was alive today would no doubt be lauded by the media and seen as a national heroine.

Beryl Burton on Wikipedia
Women’s Time Trial competition records on the Cycling Time Trials web site

This video clip shows Beryl winning the 1967 World Championship alone and also 12 years later, riding a club time trial in the UK. Notice the massive chain-ring!

Starting again

I have been over 17 stone for quite a few years now and I would be embarrassed to say what my body fat percentage is. I semi retired in July 2011 and will be fully retired in July 2013. My plan is to lose weight and get fitter in order to enjoy a reasonably lengthy and active retirement and with this in mind I have decided to get back into cycling. I had been thinking along these lines for quite a few years but now it’s crunch time. I have never entirely given up cycling – the odd leisure ride along the canal and even more occasional longer run – and so am hopeful that I may still have some residual physical benefits from my days of long distance touring and racing that came to an end in my early 40s. And I can’t pretend that Bradley Wiggin’s winning the Tour De France in July was not inspirational and provoked quite a lot of nostalgia about my own past racing career, such as it was.

So, in brief, I got my old turbo trainer out with the Holdsworth bike on it I bought from Ellis Briggs of Shipley when I moved to Leeds from London in the 70s and had a few 10 minutes spins on this through July and the first 2 weeks of August. The last 2 weeks in August we went to France with our friends Robin and Lesley to stay with their daughter Judy and partner Matt who had recently bought a cottage just outside Bergerac in the Dordogne. They had bikes there and the three of us – Judy, Matt and myself – took to doing a short training run every other day of about 6 kilometres. The first 2 kilometres are an uphill drag and then mostly flat or downhill with a kick at the end just before the village.The first time I did it I got off and walked up parts of both hills. The second time I got off once and the third time I completed the circuit without dismounting – just. My time improved from 32 minutes to 28. Judy and Matt were both faster than this but they are over 25 years younger! This modest progress was  encouraging and, inspired by these rides, I have devised a 6.5 mile circuit round Greengates in Bradford where I live. It is quite hilly, a fair bit of traffic and 4 sets of lights, so not ideal. It could not be more different from the quiet, warm and wooded lanes just outside Bergarac! My first attempt took 42 minutes on the 1st September and I have since got this down to 36 minutes as of today, the 2nd October.

On returning home from France I also started going on the 15 miles beginners’ and returners’ social rides organised by the Leeds Cycle Action Group on Saturday mornings from Roundhay Park in Leeds. These rides go at the pace of the slowest rider with a sweeper and ‘spanner man’ bringing up the rear. The group leader waits at the top of the more demanding climbs and changes in the route so no one gets left behind. Everyone was very friendly and supportive and I was made very welcome. The first ride was out to and around Eccup Reservoir. A few small hills but I managed OK. The following Saturday was on mainly dedicated cycle paths to Temple Newsam and back where I had to get off on the longest hill. My third ride was last Saturday, the 27th September, which I found a bit of a killer. We went up Slade Hill right at the start, which I just got up, and then Rigton Bank, where I had to walk the steepest section of about 1 in 6 or 17%. Absolutely knackered. Then to finish there was the long drag into the wind past Scarcroft golf course and up Tarn Lane. None of this required getting off but by the time I got back to the tearoom at Tropical World I was done for. I felt quite ill and had to sit down while David Kent, an old friend who I met when I started riding with the Leeds CTC 40 odd years ago and who I have introduced to this group, queued for my coffee and toasted teacake. He got me a vanilla slice too which was very kind of him, assuming correctly that I badly needed a sugar jolt! At least I am being reminded of what it is to suffer on a bike and that I still have some stomach for it.

I discovered the Leeds Cycle Action Group (LCAG) on-line when I was searching for information about the Leeds CTC (Cycle Touring Club) section. I hadn’t ridden with them since the early 80s and discovered they had more-or-less disbanded. A remnant of the group now rode with the LCAG. Apart from being an activist group campaigning on cycling issues in Leeds they organise a series of social rides. In addition to the Saturday morning beginners and returners rides (more of which in another post) they have intermediate runs of about 35 miles on alternate Sundays and, on alternate alternate Sundays, longer runs of 50 to 70 miles. My ambition for between now and next Spring is to graduate to the intermediate rides. If I can achieve this I hope to be up to some of the longer rides by the Summer. The longer term plan is to be able to ride CTC and club reliability trials. These are organised rides over a designated route to be completed within a certain time with intermediate controls and time checks to make sure you have not taken any short cuts. They can be any length, usually between 30 and 100 miles. The longest I completed was a 240 mile in 24 hours, with David Kent and about 60 other riders, round about 1978 starting and finishing at Odsal Top, Bradford. The route included dinner at the George in Dent in the Yorkshire Dales,  a tea wagon at Penrith in the early hours, the climb of Hartside Moor to Alston, the highest town in England, a glorious ride down Middleton-in-Teesdale as the June sun came up, breakfast at a B&B in Richmond, lunch in a fish and chip restaurant in Wetherby (where I had two portions of fish and chips and four mugs of tea) and back to Odsal Top for 3.00pm Sunday. I think I can guarantee I won’t be doing one of those again! But you never know.There are a number of similar types of events these days, called Audaxes and Cyclosportives which I may well have a go at in due course, particularly some in France.

Apart from getting back into cycling, the other strand to my campaign to lose weight and get fit is to modify my eating. My sister-in-law Gill bought Julia a copy of the Hairy Dieters recipe book – How to Love Food and Lose Weight. This has been very successful. I was tempted by a Horizon programme on the BBC sometime ago about the effectiveness of reduced calorie diets and incorporating regular fasting days into your routine. It seems there are a number health and longevity benefits to this in addition to weight loss and control. However, I think that this would be too extreme while I am increasing my physical activity so I will be sticking to the Hairy Dieters’ plan. For the record I have lost 12 lbs so far, over a period of 3 months.

Something else I have done to encourage me is to get my old Woodrup racing bike out of the garage. I bought it second hand in 1974 and last raced on it in about 1981. It was extensively refurbished in 1998 but never ridden since. One day I hope there is enough clearance between my stomach and my knees for me to ride it again. The frame dates back to about 1964 so someone was probably racing on it in Yorkshire just as I was starting my racing career in South London.

Update 24/11/2012  I have since discovered that the 240 miles in 24 hour reliability trial mentioned above was 1980 as Julia and David’s wife Val went to the York Mystery Play the same weekend when Christopher Timothy played Jesus. 1980 was also the year Julia and I completed a 100 kilometre Audax West Yorkshire event, on solos, starting  at Oakwood Clock, Leeds,at 9.30am with time checks and controls at Whixley (31km at 11.07), Fountains Abbey (59km at 13.32) and Little Ribston (81km at 14.55) before finishing back at Oakwood Clock, 103km) at 16.12.