Burping your way to sprint success

I’ve always had a fascination for numbers and quantification, probably because I started my career as a scientist before I found life was and could be so much more interesting. Today I was doing 30 minutes steady spinning on my turbo trainer but without listening to ‘The Boss’ on my iPod because the battery was flat. And, being an Apple product, I couldn’t simply pop in some fresh batteries. So to prevent myself from getting bored I did some simple arithmetic to entertain myself.

I know from my percentage body fat approximately how many kilos of stored energy, i.e.  fat, my body has. Apparently a Tour De France rider needs about 6000 calories a day over and above their normal requirement for basic functioning. This they take on board according to a systematic schedule over each day’s stage using a combination of energy snacks carried with them and larger amounts of supplies picked up on the move from feed stations. The total needed for the 3 weeks of the race is about 120,000 calories. I have stored about my person about 220,000 calories. At first glance it seems that I could ride the Tour De France nearly twice without having to take on any extra calories. This is not so. Heaving an extra 4.5 stone of fat up the roads and mountains of France would require a lot more calories than it takes to cover the same terrain as a spindly emaciated professional Tour rider who is not carrying his entire 3 week food ration with him. Obesity is not a race winning strategy. On the other hand riding at the front of the bunch on narrow roads would be a good way of controlling the pelton for a while. When Julia and I did a walk last Christmas entitled ‘exploring Brighton’s back passages’  there was a tale from Regency days of a very fat burgher challenging a fit young rake to a race over 100 yards or so for a substantial wager if he could choose the race course and have a 10 yard start. The rake immediately agreed to what he saw as an opportunity for easy money. The race course the Burgher chose was the narrowest alley in Brighton and, of course, started the race 10 yards down it. Needless to say he easily won the race and the wager.

Mark Cavendish

These calculations and thoughts kept me occupied for about 20 minutes and I still had 10 minutes to go on the turbo. At this point I let out a rather unseemly burp and to my surprise my heart rate, showing on the monitor on my handlebars, dropped momentarily by nearly 10 beats per minute. Needless to say I experimented with some deliberate burps and found I could repeat the effect. Now the same level of exercise at a lower heart rate indicates an increase in power measured in watts. Burping has the surprising effect of increasing, however briefly, power output. I wonder if the top coaches are aware of this? I can see this catching on as a way of getting a brief power advantage at crucial stages in a race. A loud burp at the moment of attacking on a hill, or making that final jump in acceleration for the sprint finish may give a decisive and winning advantage. Will we expect to hear the last hectic metres of a sprint finish peppered with reverberating belches? Having watched Mark Cavendish’s sprinting style and strategy over the years I predict you will rarely hear his race winning burp outside of 200 metres to go.

The importance of ‘weight’ training

This post is mainly a list of resources, links and quotes about the relationship between fitness, weight and cycling performance. As I have discovered myself, losing weight is the single most effective way to improve performance. I guess this is pretty obvious really. Given the same level of fitness and strength, you will go further, go faster, climb hills more easily if you are not carrying several kilos of lard with you. I am undoubtedly fitter and stronger now than I was 6 months ago. But the improvement in my performance on the road, especially on the climbs, is all about my 2 stone weight loss. I’ve read in several places now that the key to weight loss is calorie reduction and that in most sensible and doable diet/exercise regimes typically 80% of weight loss comes from changes in eating. My experience, so far at least, seems to confirm this.

The arithmetic is quite simple. One pound of fat stored is 3500 calories. It takes 3500 calories worth of exercise to reduce your fat store by 1 lb. So, taking last November as an example, I burnt about 8000 calories on my bike, on the road and on the turbo. This amount to 2.25 lbs of fat. However I lost 9 lbs that month. So, in a fairly active month, 75% of my weight loss is down to my reduced calorie diet and 25% to cycling. In December I only did 4000 calories worth on the bike and had put 2 lb on by the end of the month. Presumably I’d have put on 3 lb without the exercise. January is looking a lot better and so far I have done 4000 calories worth already with a week to go. So far I have lost a further 4 lbs since New Year, again about 25% down to the exercise.

Hopefully the next stone will come off over the rest of winter and I will be down to under 14 stone 7 lbs by the end of March. If I succeed it will be mainly down to keeping the calories down in my diet. However, come the Spring and Summer, and with the new bike I will buy when I’m down to under 15 stone, there should be a significant increase in my cycling and the 75%/25% ratio between dietary and exercise weight loss should shift significantly in favour of exercise.


Riding at a moderate speed (12 – 14 mph) you will burn approximately 235 calories per half hour depending on weight but this is about right for turbos and rollers I think.

EFFECTS OF WEIGHT LOSS ON CYCLING PERFORMANCE http://www.livestrong.com/article/337110-effects-of-weight-loss-on-cycling-performance/

Those seeking to attain the proper power-to-weight ratio often follow this rule of thumb, per the Cycling Performance Tips website: The number of pounds you carry should be no more than twice your height in inches.

So, at 6 foot, I need to weigh 10 stone 4 lb!!

Improve Cycling Performance – Optimize Body Weight http://cyclingcommentary.typepad.com/cycling_commentary/2011/01/improve-cycling-performance-optimize-body-weight.html

Losing five kilograms of body weight results in a remarkable 7.7-8% increase in cycling performance. That means that each kilogram of body weight is worth 4.5-5 watts of power. That’s huge, especially if you’re a masters level cyclist and your best VO2 max days are behind you.

Nutrition: Lose the pounds to gain speed and power http://www.bikeradar.com/fitness/article/nutrition-lose-the-pounds-to-gain-speed-and-power-24762/

Wiggins told the London Evening Standard that the weight loss meant he was “carrying the equivalent of six bags of sugar less up a mountain”, adding that 1kg of body weight over a 30-minute climb equals one minute in time……

After checking your body composition you should only aim to shift any excess weight slowly and steadily. “It’s important that weight loss is modest and is no more than approximately 1lb to 2lb per week,” says Gavin Reynoldson, a teaching fellow at the University of Bath’s Department of Sports Development. “This can be achieved by reducing energy intake by about 500Kcal per day. Any more than that will likely result in impaired performance and loss of muscle mass.”

For example, for those with a light training programme (less than an hour a day of low intensity exercise) he advises 5-7g of carbohydrates per kg of body mass per day, but for a cyclist undertaking an extreme exercise programme (more than four to five hours of moderate to high intensity cycling such as a stage race), he advises 10-12g of carbohydrate per kg of body mass per day. In real terms, a piece of bread has approximately 20g of carbohydrate, and 50g of dry-weight rice has about 30g of carbohydrate.

So for me (99 kilos x 6g) this means 594 grams of carbohydrate, equivalent to 30 slices of bread or 20 x 50g portions of rice.

BICYCLING AND WEIGHT CONTROL  http://www.cptips.com/weight.htm

Some authors have suggested that riding at slow speeds (<50% VO2 max) is preferred for a weight loss program as more of the Calories expended will be supplied from fat tissue storage at lower levels of exercise. Let’s look at this argument in more detail. If you ride at 65% VO2max, your body’s fat stores will provide about half of your Caloric needs and the other half will come from glycogen reserves. At 85% VO2max, the relative number of Calories supplied from fat fall to about one third of the total number expended with the balance again coming from glycogen reserves. However, if one looks at the absolute numbers, a fit cyclist riding 30 min at 65% VO2max will burn about 220 Calories (110 fat Calories, 110 Calories from carbohydrate or glycogen stores). The same cyclist, riding at 85% VO2max will burn an additional 100 Calories (total of 320 Calories over the 30 minutes), with 110 Calories still coming from fat and the balance of 220 coming from carbohydrates. So even though fat provides a smaller percentage of the total energy needs, the actual number of fat Calories burned during the 30 minutes of exercise remains unchanged.

t’ Tour in Yorkshire

Me, Cyclist v Harriers event, Farthngdown, Coulsdon, Surrey, December 1969.

Me, Cyclist v Harriers event, Farthngdown, Coulsdon, Surrey, December 1969.

This is the first post for a month, perhaps not surprising given the intervening Christmas and New Year break. I’ve manage to come through this without too much damage to my weight loss efforts, only putting on about 3 lbs all of which I have managed to lose again. I’ve only been on the roads three times since the beginning of December, an LCAG Saturday ride, my local 7 mile circuit and I rode to Peel Park and back to watch the National Cyclocross Championships. Despite being very cold I enjoyed these very much, probably the first time I have seen cyclocross live since I last competed myself in 1969. At over 11 stone I was much better on the road, a bit too heavy for the cross country stuff. It’s a great sport to watch though if you wrap up well. The circuits are quite short and challenging and you are close to the action. There’s races for all classes including kids and the over 50s veterans (some are still competing well into their 70s) and races usually last between 30 minutes and an hour.

Stage 1

Last Thursday I went to the show outside Leeds Town Hall for the announcement of the route for the Tour De France through Yorkshire. I’m afraid I found the preamble and the interviews with minor celebrities rather boring and, as it was cold and snowing, I came home early. There was a fantastic crowd there however, despite the weather. The first stage only has about noteworthy 2 climbs (from the perspective of a Tour rider anyway) and should finish in a sprint in Harrogate. There is a reasonable chance that Cavendish will end the day in the Yellow Jersey! The second day is much harder. It starts in York and has a flat beginning but has 8 significant climbs in the last 80 kilometres with one only 5km from the end in Sheffield. I have put my name down as a volunteer Tour Maker but 8000 beat me to it so I’ll have to wait and see. I am hoping to get fit enough to ride the first stage, illustrated above, 190 kilometres on roads most of which I have ridden before albeit 25 years ago. I suspect a lot of people will be doing this. Realistically I won’t be up to this until the Spring of 2014 but that gives me a year to get fit enough for what will be for me a very demanding route. The full details of the Yorkshire stages can be found on the Yorkshire Le Tour web site.

The other big happening is the televised confession of Lance Armstrong with Oprah Winfrey. He has admitted to blood doping and using other banned substances for all 7 of his Tour wins and even before his cancer. He said he didn’t think of it as cheating as it was just part of the job, like putting air in your tyres and water in your bottle. He also claimed it was not cheating as it was a level playing field, implying that all his other main opponents were at it too. More will come out as a result of this I’m sure. The interview and confession have had a very mixed response so far. Armstrong wants to be able to return to competition in Iron Man events but he will have to spill a lot more before his lifetime ban is reduced. Nicole Cooke’s take on Armstrong is powerfully expressed in her retirement statement.

“But for many genuine people out there who do ride clean; people with morals, many of these people have had to leave the sport with nothing after a lifetime of hard work – some going through horrific financial turmoil. When Lance “cries” on Oprah later this week and she passes him a tissue, spare a thought for all of those genuine people who walked away with no reward – just shattered dreams. Each one of them is worth a thousand Lances”.

Wiggins for the 2013 Tour De France?

This had been a great week for cycle racing in Britain. It was announced on Friday 14th December that Yorkshire has won the bid for the Tour De France Grand Depart. The first two stages will take place in Yorkshire and a third will finish in London before the race transfers to France. This is an enormous coup for Yorkshire and Britain. Then, to cap it all, Bradley Wiggins wins the BBC Sports Personality of the Year yesterday, Sunday 16th, and Dave Brailsford (Cycling GB and Team Sky) was voted top coach of the year. The rise of cycling’s success and profile in recent years is evidenced by Mark Cavendish winning in 2011 (Tour De France sprinter’s green jersey and the World Road Race champion) and Chris Hoy in 2008 (3 track golds in the Olympics). Previous to this we have to go back to 1967 when Beryl Burton (World Road Race champion and 12 hour TT national record for both men and women) came second to Henry Cooper and Tom Simpson came first in 1965 (World Road Race champion).

So, I look forward with relish to the 2014 Tour De France. But what will transpire then will undoubtedly be influenced by what happens in 2013, in particular the Wiggins/Froome controversy. After Froome appeared to sacrifice his own chance of winning the Tour De France last year Wiggins stated that in 2013 he would ride for Froome as pay-back. Earlier this year he said that he did not intend to defend his yellow jersey as he wanted to concentrate on the Giro, the Tour of Italy. This precedes the Tour De France and, assuming Bradley wins it, would leave him to support Froome in the French Tour. Part of the controversy was due to the fact that Froome was clearly the better climber and, if nothing else, certainly sacrificed a stage win to help Wiggins. But Wiggins was the better time trialist, crucial for this year’s event, and Froome lost time to Wiggins very early due to getting caught out in a crash. My view, for what it is worth, is that Wiggins was the more complete rider and worthy winner. The vow to support Froome in 2013, the yellow jersey riding as a domestique for an arguably less able team mate, did not ring true for many of us. Sure enough, apparently on the back of some good numbers in early training, Wiggins appears to be changing his mind and now says he wants to defend his jersey in 2013. Does this mean Sky will have two leaders who will fight it out? Or will Dave Brailsford have to decide who it will be and order one to ride for the other? I want to see Bradley ride for a second win but I will feel sorry for Froome if he is ordered to ride for him again. I would not be surprised if Froome, after his showing in the mountains and his eventual second to Wiggins, did not receive lucrative offers and unambiguous leadership for the Tour from other teams and sponsors. But with a team and resources like Sky and the promise of Wiggins riding for him, why would Froome think twice about any other offers? Perhaps he should have learnt the lesson of the 1986 Tour and the similar situation Greg Lemond found himself in with his team leader Bernard Hinault, the Badger.

In 1985 Greg Lemond was riding for Bernard Hinault to help him win his 5th Tour De France and equal the records of Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx. Hinault had not had a particularly good year running up to the Tour, recovering from a knee operation, but seemed in good form at the start. Lemond and the rest of the La Vie Claire team (created in 1984 around Hinault specifically to secure his 5th win) were controlling the stages and chasing any significant breakaways so that Hinault could conserve energy for the crucial mountain stages, where he would take time from the other main contender, and the time trials where he would deliver the coup de grace. However, on the 16th stage Hinault crashed in the last kilometre and suffered a badly broken nose . He struggled across the line several minutes later but was awarded the same time as the bunch he was in. Lemond was in a small group he had been policing that had sprinted for the stage victory a short time before the main field finished. Over the following days, while Hinault was nursed along by his team mates, Lemond continued to police and follow the elite riders who were attacking Hinault and riding for the overall win. As the next few days unfolded it became clear that Lemond was the equal of any of them. Had he ridden to aid them rather than merely to defend Hinault’s interests he could have worn yellow into Paris with Hinault hanging on for the third step of the podium. On the crucial day, when he asked permission to do this, Lemond was led to believe Hinault was not far behind and catching, so he sat up and waited. It was only as time passed that Lemond realised the true position and his one opportunity to be the first American to win the Tour De France had gone. Hinault continued to recover over the remaining days and rode into Paris with the yellow jersey and his 5th record equalling win. And it was on the podium, during the yellow jersey ceremony, that he announced to the world and to Lemond on the step beside him (who finished second only 1 minute and 42 seconds behind) that next year he would be riding for Lemond’s victory, a message he repeated on a number of occasions at press conferences over the next few weeks.

However, the French media and public could not and did not believe that their beloved Badger would not attempt a 6th victory to take the all time record. 1986 would probably be his only chance of making history as he had vowed to retire that year as age and injuries were catching up with him. And, in any case, tradition decreed that if at all possible the yellow jersey should always be defended out of respect to the race and to its history. Working to aid an American winner was unthinkable given the strong anti-american feeling of the French public and media. All the papers assumed that the battle for the win would be between two Frenchmen, Hinault the defending champion and the winner of 1983 and 84, Laurent Fignon, returning after a year out recovering from the Achilles heel operation that effectively finished his career. Lemond barely got a mention and was not seen as a serious contender. No one realised at the time that Hinault’s victory of 1985 would be the last by a Frenchman to this day.

Indeed, Hinault seemed to be having second thoughts. As the early season wore on, particularly as Lemond was not having great success that year so far, partly because of lack of enthusiasm from some of the team members, Hinault made a number of statements along the lines of ‘we will let the race decide who is strongest’ and, out of respect for the Tour ‘I will ensure if Lemond wins he will have deserved it’ and so on. When it came to the race Hinault appeared to take every opportunity to attack Lemond. He was only 2 seconds ahead in the prologue time trial, took another 2 seconds in stage 1, but another 44 seconds from him in the 61.5 km Individual Time Trial at Nantes. So far Hinault looked the fitter rider. The crunch came on the 217.5 km stage 12 in the Pyrenees, Bayonne to Pau, when Hinault finished 3 minutes 36 seconds ahead of Lemond. The pair were now first and second on general classification with Hinault leading by 5 minutes and 25 seconds. Was this game over?

Far from it. The next stage 14 was the horrific 186 km from Pau to Superbagnères taking in the major ascents of the Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde and Superbagnères. Hinault, a very volatile person at the best of times and perhaps in a moment of madness, attacked on the descent of the Tourmalet and continued the attack up the the Aspin where, at the top, he had a further 2 minutes and 20 seconds over Lemond. However, he was caught and dropped on the final climb of the Superbagnères where Lemond won the stage and took back from Hinault exactly the amount of time he had lost to him the previous day. Hinault was still in yellow but that night the merde really hit the fan in the La Vie Claire team. It was on stage 17 in the Alps that Lemond at last got in front of Hinault to wear the yellow jersey as Tour leader. He did this by the ‘simple’ expedient of sitting on the third placed contender, ZImmerman, when he attacked and dropped Hinault. At the stage finish Hinault was in third place 2 minutes and 47 seconds behind Lemond.

Perhaps the most remarkable stage of that year’s Tour was the stage 18 which climbed the  Galibier and Croix de Fer before finishing at the top of the notorious 21 hair pins of  L’Alpe d’Huez. Hinault and Lemond finished side by side in the same time, Lemond apparently pushing Hinault over the line to take the stage victory as a (perhaps rather ironic) thank you. greg_lemond__bernard_hinault 1986 TdFWhat had started as a battle between the two up L’Alpe d’Huez left the rest of the field and main contenders in tatters with the nearest over 5 minutes behind and the rest in gasping disarray over the 13.8 km of average 8% slopes with maximums of 12%. The contest between to two had effectively, and deservedly, given Lemond the overall victory, all others simply blown away. His 2 minutes 45 second lead overall on Hinault should be enough to withstand the challenge of Hinault in the final time trial which in the event Hinault won with Lemond 25 seconds behind in second place – even though he had crashed, remounted and rode with a rubbing brake until he could change his bike. So for the first time the Tour De France was won by an American. And, as Hinault said when he began to prevaricate on his promise to support Lemond, the race did decide who the strongest rider was although no doubt he felt sure the verdict would be in his favour. Hinault retired at the end of the season, as he said he would, and went on to devote his life to his farm in Brittany and various duties connected to the Tour De France. And France still awaits another French hero.

It remains to be seen how the 2013 Tour will pan out between Wiggins and Froome. The 1986 Tour is reckoned by many to have been the best ever. It might be too much to hope that the 2013 event will surpass it. Wiggins’ recent statements are not much different from some of those of Hinault when he was changing his mind about not defending his yellow jersey and riding for Lemond. It will be interesting to see how the media and public take sides. There isn’t the nationalistic factor this time – they are both British and ride for an England based team. However, Wiggins is our hero and it is hard to see media and public sentiment swinging behind Froome. Froome was born and brought up in Kenya where he has spent most of his life before coming to England in 2007 and subsequently joining Team Sky. He aims to return to Kenya in due course as a coach to encourage the development of cycling there. This rather tenuous and legalistic connection with Britain of course will not dampen our enthusiasm for him if he produces the goods. Wiggins is a Londoner brought up by his English mother’s parents in Maida Vale, near Kilburn. However, he was born of an Australian father in Ghent, Belgium before coming to London at the age of 2 with his English mother when his father, a track and six day rider of some talent but a propensity wine, women and song, abandoned them.

Whatever happens, it promises to be a fascinating season next year with a great deal of interest no doubt being shown on how Wiggins and Froome fare in their training and early season events leading up to the Tour De France. Will Wiggins win the Giro? If he does, will this make him more determined to go for the double? Will losing it make him even more determined to win the Tour? What circumstances may lead to him honouring his seeming promise to Froome? As things stand at the moment, my prediction is that he will defend his jersey with Brailsford’s blessing, but I’m not putting money on it.

For full stage by stage results of the 1986 Tour De France and a fairly detailed blow by blow account see the entry in the very useful Bike Race Info web site 1986 Tour de France. Even better, read the highly recommended Slaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernhard Hinault, and the Greatest Tour de France by Richard Moore, 2011.

Why I will never win the Tour De France

I’m currently reading Tyler Hamilton’s ‘The Secret Race’ that gives the low down on his time with the US Postal professional cycling team and Lance Armstrong. The focus of the book is the doping regime their top riders used to win the Tour De France, particularly the use of EPO. They employed the notorious Dr. Michele Ferrari as their coach and doctor. What I found interesting is that the use of EPO was a part of the training and racing regime but the underlying science and other aspects of the training programme, innovative at the time, are now the orthodoxy. Minus the illegal drug use, the Ferrari training programme informs nearly all scientific training programmes today. It’s all about maximising certain numbers. Whether this is done within or without the rules, everyone is chasing the same numbers. One number that is a prerequisite to winning the Tour De France is that you must be able to sustain a certain power output, measured as wattage. The figure you need to achieve is 6.7 watts per kilogramme body weight. So for me to win the Tour De France at my present weight my threshold wattage would need to be 670 watts. Since Bradley Wiggins’s is something like 450 watts the problem is obvious. Assuming mine is about 200 watts, I would have to weigh about 30 kilos, 4 stone 10 oz. to achieve a figure of 6.7 watts per kilogramme.

michele ferrari

Michele Ferrari – doctor and coach to many of the world’s top athletes

This is why, according to Hamilton, Ferrari was obsessed about weight and diet. He may have been the overseer of their EPO, testosterone, steroids and other performance enhancement and  ‘recovery’ medication but to them he was more like a body weight fascist from the extreme wing of Weight Watchers. His argument was that for the vast majority of racing cyclists the easiest way to maximise their watt/kilogram ratio was to lose weight. It is interesting that central to Bradley Wiggin’s preparation for the Tour De France was a weight loss programme to shed 7 kilograms  – over a stone – without losing power. From the 77 kilos of his track days he was down to 69 for the Tour. In the process he reduced the percentage of his weight made up of fat from 7% to 4%. I’ve reduced my percentage body fat in the last 5 months by 7 percentage points. Easy. But I started from a high of 42%. This is another reason I will never win the Tour De France.

It is because of the science of cycling performance now – it’s all about the numbers – that  I still prefer road racing to track racing. Bradley himself admits that he is more relaxed and comfortable competing on the track. If you know the numbers, you know who will win the 4000 metre pursuit, for instance. In fact, why not get all the figures independently certified and decide the medals at a meeting of doctors? Of course events with an element of strategy, team tactics and chance, like the Madison or points race, cannot be reduced to just the numbers.

Wiggins crashes out of the 2011 Tour De France

Outside of purely technical track events perhaps, the numbers do not always win. As Tyler Hamilton says, there is no measurement for the amount a cyclist is able or prepared to suffer. In my own experience I have known racers who have succeeded because they can out-suffer their opponents on a particular day. And team strategy and tactics are often decisive in the outcome of races, not to mention the psychological aspects. And then you might fall off and break a collarbone, like Wiggins did on stage 7 of the 2011 Tour. But what was he doing languishing in the middle of the bunch on a sprinters’ stage (Mark Cavendish won it riding for HTC) over a flattish route where his sole responsibility as the team’s general classification man was to avoid crashes by riding near the front? Wiggins was in the form of his life, according to the numbers, but this counted for naught.

Sprints and tubs

I got my old turbo trainer out of the garage during this year’s Tour De France, inspired by Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky, to try and get fit again and take to the roads once more. As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, I used to race in the 60s and early 70s in the South and continued to do so for a while after moving to Leeds in 1974 but finally gave up racing some time in the mid 80s. Over the years I accumulated a lot of cycling bits and pieces which I either threw away or gave away if they were any good. I passed on a pair of Mafac centre pull brakes and some Campagnolo components as well as a pair of sprints and tubs and some new unused tubs as well. In a conversation a few weeks ago with a relative newcomer to cycling I realised that, in this day of light high pressure wired-on tyres, what the Americans call ‘clinchers’, not every one knows about tubular tyres for bikes. What brought this to mind was noticing the near destruction of the tubular tyre on the rear wheel of my turbo after nearly 5 months of fairly constant use – illustrated above. I bought the turbo from Ellis Briggs in Shipley about 1977 so it’s about 35 year old now. At that time I put an old Holdsworth bike on it where it has been ever since so the sprint and tub on the back survived the clear out. I cannot now remember what make the tub is and in any case it and the wheel it is on was acquired when I bought a second hand Woodrup round about 1975. If the wheel and tub were original they date back to the mid 1960s when the frame was made so they might now be over 45 years old. They are at least 37! I don’t suppose there are many tubs this old still in some sort of service, but clearly this one’s days are numbered.

For readers not familiar with tubular tyres, or tubs, they are similar to conventional wired-on tyres in that they have an outer casing with a tread attached to the circumference that contacts the road, and an inner tube that can be inflated to high pressures within. The main difference is that the outer casing is also a tube with the edges meeting at the inner circumference where they are stitched or otherwise fixed together.

A tape runs round the inner circumference to cover the stitches or join. The inner tube is made of much lighter and thinner material than a conventional inner tube (it never has to come into contact with tyre levers). The construction method enables much lighter weights compared with wired-ons and can be inflated to much higher pressures – typical clincher 100 to 130 psi, tubs up to 200 psi. This makes them much faster and livelier for racing, less rolling resistance and less inertia to spin them up. The other advantage is they are generally quicker to replace when one punctures as it is just a matter of ripping the punctured one off and pulling a new one on. In a club road race it was normal to carry a spare tub folded behind your saddle for a quick swap and chase, assuming you had remembered to carry a pump too.

The wheel is also different in that the rim is designed to fit the inner circumference of the tub. The tub is fixed into the rim by using a wider adhesive rim tape or, as we used to do, apply tub cement or glue to the rim well. Once inflated to a high pressure the tub grips the wheel very tightly and, if properly fixed, they rarely come off. Even so, on hot days and with a lot of front wheel braking, the glue can soften and the tub roll off the rim. And on the track where very light tubs are used at very high pressures it is not unknown for a tub to explode. However, compared with the other risks of racing, these risks are relatively minor and unusual. Wheels fitted with these rims were referred to as ‘sprints’ – hence sprints and tubs. We used to cycle out to events with an old set of sprints and tubs on the bike, or winter wired-ons, but carry our best wheels either side of the front wheel on sprint carriers to use in the race. 

Fixing a puncture is quite a skilled job and although in my day most of us did it ourselves you could take a tub to a professional repairer and get the job done for about 10 shillings if I remember correctly (50 pence). When you were earning £4 a week this was a lot of money but a high spec new tub could cost more than a week’s wages. Today the top tubs used by professional track racers can cost over £200 each, as does the one below. I doubt if these are normally repaired. At the pressures they run they would probably explode when they puncture – 15 bar is 217psi.

The best velodrome racers in the world rely on the best indoor tyres in the world: Many victories were achieved with the Continental Olympic tub in World Cup and Olympic Games. Its highly firm casing allows a pressure of up to 15bar

Training using a heart monitor

Early last July I bought a Polar FT7 heart monitor. I’d never used one of these before but apparently they have revolutionised training since my racing days. I decided to buy one because, being very unfit and over weight, I thought it might help me not over do things and do any damage. But I only unpacked it and started to experiment with it last week.  I have discovered that the monitor calculates and records maximum and minimum heart rate (HR) for each training session, the calories burnt, session length and how many minutes in the fitness (cardio) range and in the fat burning range. Since losing weight is my priority at the moment I have decided to try and do most of my training in the fat burning range. Obviously I want to get stronger and fitter and exercising to lose weight will still contribute to this but concentrating on losing weight would be of more immediate benefit. Even at my current fitness level and strength I would get up the hills I’m struggling on a lot easier and faster if I had a stone or two less to lug up them. All the  formulae for calculating the various exercise zones require a maximum heart rate figure. Some also require a resting heart rate figure as well. Using my HRM my pulse at rest is about 50 and in one strenuous effort on the turbo I saw a 167 maximum. However most of the formulae for maximum heart rate give a figure between 155 and 164 for my age so 160 looks like about right. Using the formulae from Heart rate monitor training for cyclists (a very entertaining article as well as informative) my training zones are as follows:

  • Zone 1 (60-65% of maximum heart rate): For long, easy rides, to improve the combustion and storage of fats. (102-110)
  • Zone 2 (65-75% of MHR): The basic base training zone. Longish rides of medium stress. (110-128)
  • Zone 3 (75-82% of MHR): For development of aerobic capacity and endurance with moderate volume at very controlled intensity. (128-140)
  • Zone 4 (82-89% of MHR): For simulating pace when tapering for a race. (140-151)
  • Zone 5 (89-94% of MHR): For raising anaerobic threshold. Good sessions for 10- and 25-mile time-trials. (151-160)
  • Zone 6 (94-100% of MHR): For high-intensity interval training to increase maximum power and speed (160-170)

A good article from Bikeradar.com suggests a variety of turbo sessions for different objectives including one on fat burning: Turbo trainer workouts for all seasons

Alternative sites give slightly different figures e.g. Heart Rate Training Zones or Javascript Heart Rate Training Zone Calculator. According to this last one my fat burning zone is 96-104 which the results below show might be more accurate than 102-110 which, according to my HRM give me no fat burning time. Results so far:

Tuesday 30th October: turbo 20 mins using HRM [242 calories, fitness 19.26, fat burn 4.58, max 162, av. 120] But the first 5 minutes where with the HR monitor running before I got on the bike so, in the light of the next 2 results, I suspect the 4.58 fat burn minutes were before I got on the turbo!

Wednesday 31st October: 25 min turbo [tried to stay in fat burning HR zone 102-110 with a burst at the end after 20 mins, but: 210 calories, fitness 21.50, fat burn 3.06, max 154, av. 112 which compares unfavourably with yesterday].

Thursday 1st November: 25 mins turbo [first 20 mins 110-128, 100 revs sprint at end and recovery, 270 cals, fitness 24.25, fat burn 0.34, max HR 164, av HR 127, clearly my fat burn HR range is well under 100!] According to this chart my fat burning bps range is 93 to 109

Update: Friday 2nd November. Today I wore the HRM to work and kept it running for about 4 hours. My HR varied between 58 and 108 (with 123 going up stairs) and it seems I spent at least half the time in my fat burning zone. If this is so it looks like I don’t need to train on the turbo for fat burning as my current state of fitness means I just need move about a bit!

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!