In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…

(William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet)

I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a travel writer, however I stuck with the safe 9-5 (those who know me are now guffawing at the thought of me actually working 9-5) day job and have written the occasional trip advisor review to compensate. But now, as I holiday in Italy, my cycling blog poses an opportunity to write about my travels. Though as I am suffering with some kind of ear/nose/throat infection and am feeling really sorry for myself, I wonder whether I will actually demonstrate my potential. So I will just tell you about what a great time we have had and mostly talk about bikes and cycling.

This wasn’t supposed to be a cycling holiday; we had discussed hiring bikes at some point, we had even discussed bringing our bikes along with us (at £200 each for bike boxes plus the airline fare it seemed a bit steep) but we didn’t book anything or make any firm plans, preferring to see the lie of the land first. We did however bring along some Lycra, gloves, helmets, shoes and even pedals ‘just in case’.

Verona was never really a serious consideration for cycling; being a city break we assumed it would be three days of wandering around the city exploring the various tourist attractions. On the first afternoon we certainly did some of that – mainly finding our bearings, visiting tourist information and making plans for the following few days. The authorities of Verona are very keen to ‘push’ their Boris bike scheme (Verona City Bike Scheme even), and we were coming around to the idea but weren’t entirely sold. There are various ‘docking stations’ around the city and you may borrow a bike for a maximum 2 hours, before docking it. The idea being that you use a bike between attractions, dock it and pick up another once you have visited the attraction. Not ideal for visiting more remote attractions or just getting away from it all. Throughout the three days we saw one person using this service and three docking stations; they just didn’t seem that obvious – though the stations we did see weren’t full so maybe we just aren’t that observant.

We returned to our accommodation on that first day and had pretty much decided to purchase a 24 hour pass for one of these bikes, in addition to a ‘Verona card’ (giving discounted/free entry to attractions at a one off purchase price of the card). We were though, still interested in the possibility of other options for hiring bikes and mentioned this to the owner of the accommodation who recommended a friend he went to university with.

In the midst of this decision making I sliced open my big toe on some glass and an inordinate amount of blood leaked from my foot. My toe survived but one of the Bed and Breakfast’s towels wasn’t so lucky. As a result, walking was painful and caused the cut to open again – a longer term hire of bikes was most definitely preferable – so we visited Mr Marco’s friend who owns a bike shop and rented the loveliest bikes going.

Here was mine, and also a shot of Ollie and I collecting them:

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My green basket machine was rather front heavy but it had a luxurious six gears. They really are rather keen on the fixed gear out here. We purchased our Verona card from the first attraction we visited and spent the rest of the day hopping on and off our city bikes to visit each of the attractions. In the evening I dressed up in a dress, cardigan and tights and hopped back on the bike to go out to dinner; how very strange to be cycling along in a dress!!! Confusion whilst ordering wine meant that we left the restaurant with an almost full bottle of wine – well aren’t baskets a handy invention! Thinking it was a bit too early to head back and wanting to try out the lights we decided to head up to the vista point which our host had pointed out on the map. This would mean some hill climbing, but ‘who cares!’ we were appropriately dressed for it… and our bikes were lean, mean climbing machines…

So absolutely no problem that the first hill we climbed up, which had my legs screaming, was actually a dead end! It wasn’t much fun going back down knowing that we had to start all over again. We rode up and up and up a road which had hairpin turn after hairpin turn, one in a dress, the other in suit trousers, Italians driving past looking at us like we were crazy. But, it was worth it, it was really worth it. The view was stunning, I imagine it is stunning at any time of the day but in the middle of the night, with all the lights it was amazing. Photographs could never do it justice but here are some to whet the appetite:

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For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night

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We needed a rest after a large dinner and a large hill climb, so we spent some time sat on a wall looking out over the city, and watching the practice of the strobe lights at the arena (for the opera which we were due to watch the following day). Thinking that we hadn’t actually reached the vista point itself, we continued up the hill some more, but didn’t really find much else except a bit more hill – but training is training and hill training is something I definitely should do more of. On the way back down we popped back to the wall for one last view and then cycled back through the city to the accommodation – we had done significantly more miles dressed inappropriately in the middle of the night, than we had managed during the day.

The following morning, with the Verona card expired and most of the attractions visited we continued our adventures by heading out to a village (which we, mistakenly, thought our host had recommended. Ironically, two days later, completely coincidently we visited the town he had actually suggested – but that’s for another post) on the outskirts of the city. On reaching the village in question, Montorio, we were disappointed to realise that there was not a lot there, so after a picnic on the side of a country road we decided to try and reach the castle which we had seen brown tourist signs for.

Castello di Montorio was quite a climb on the bikes followed by a hike up a Mountain Bike trail to the top. By the time we had reached the top we were ready to explore Montorio’s top tourist attraction; Montorio’s top closed tourist attraction. Try as we might, we could not find a way in  – the only sign of life was a bike stood up outside of what looked like a typical Hollywood murderer’s house.We left Montorio and all we had to show for our trip were limbs full of Mosquito (or Sand-fly) bites, which continue to itch four days later.

We finished our basketed cycling journey, with a final climb up to a monastery which overlooks Verona – it was also a lovely vista point, this time bathed in daytime sunshine. The monks had left a sign requesting respect and peace and quiet, so we wandered around in silence and took in the amazing scenery; that was until a coach full of tourists turned up and climbed all over the monuments shouting and laughing, and plonking themselves right in front of us.

Time to move on, the magic had been lost and we didn’t want to be associated with their rudeness.

We returned our bikes to the shop on the way to the opera; the first time I have cycled in a Maxi dress. I suspect it was also the last!

“Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.”
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Easy like a Sunday Morning

I have to admit, I wasn’t really looking forward to my Triathlon experience, but it was great! I really enjoyed it.

I imagined that I would turn up at 0730, hang around until 1000, struggle through a slow 26 miles and then wait hours for the runner to finish. I was wrong. There was very little hanging around, well for me anyway! Ollie kindly supported me, and was described by Fiona as a very good bag carrier; in fact he was like a pro team support car – handing up bananas, a towel and water as required, whilst also undertaking photographer duties. Fiona, Zoe and him had much more time hanging around, due to the cycling length taking much longer to complete than either of the other disciplines.

Zoe, I met for the first time and Fiona I used to work with. With ten minutes to go, Zoe wet-suited up and got into the water for the mandatory acclimatisation period, until the klaxon sounded and a sea of orange caps set off around the 1500m course. Once they’d reached half way (it was impossible to tell who was who) I went and waited in the transition area. Zoe did a fantastic time; less than 30 minutes! Absolutely crazy though – there’s noway you’d get me in that weed filled lake! She passed me the timing chip, which I strapped to my leg and then ran through the aisle of bikes to where mine was racked, collected it and continued running to the cyclist start line.

The first few miles were a little awkward, a man had crossed the start line at around about the same time as me and we were going around the same speed. I didn’t want to pass him as I knew that he was likely to be faster than me once he got going however I also didn’t want him to think that I was drafting him and therefore cheating. Eventually, knowing I had the energy I went past him, though don’t remember whether I stayed ahead or not… they all looked similar!

I think adrenaline got me round the first half of the course, whilst banana and Jelly Babies sorted me out for the second lap. The wind picked up slightly during the second lap, and we cycled into a head wind along the final straight. As we approached the line I overtook someone…wooohoooo. With legs like jelly I leapt off the bike and ran my bike back to the rack, then cheered on by Zoe sprinted the length of the racking to a waiting Fiona, who took the timing chip from my leg as I collapsed on the floor. I had done my 26 miles in 1:27.31, which was better than the 90-100 minutes which I had predicted, though I have to admit, I had done my trial run of the course the wrong way around!!!

I quickly recovered to watch Fiona do an amazingly fast run. All in all it was great fun and, although as the only all girls team we didn’t have much chance of a prize, we produced a good overall time between us; 02:39:14:85 which put us 112th out of 235 finishers.

I think we will be teaming up again next Season for a few events!

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Bunting and bidons

What an absolutely fantastic seven days!

I celebrated the century with a day off to rest on Monday, followed by a brief trip to the office on Tuesday and then off on leave Wednesday. Chris, Ollie and I cycled over to Horsley to watch the Tour of Britain scale the hill into the village and disappear into the village and on to Bristol.

After a pleasant ride, throughout which we were increasingly joined by other cyclists heading in the same direction, we set our bikes against a bunting lined fence and patiently waited along with crowds of villagers.

The first signs of activity were the helicopters in the distance and the police motorcycles roaring past (and certainly making the most of the closed roads). As the exitement was building a large transit van approached with hazards flashing.

Looks official – he’s got his hazards on!

Turns out he was a Yodel delivery driver in a rental van. He pulled up, half on the pavement and half on the road, completely blocking any view down the hill.  As he sat and fiddled with his sat nav and prepared to jump out of his cab the crowd groaned, moaned and stated their frustration. But he had barely removed his sat nav from the screen before the occupant of the house (and owner of the bunting) launched herself at his van, grabbed her parcel and shooed him away. Cue laughs and relief from onlookers.

And so with that minor drama out of the way we were back to focusing on the many many police motorcycles making their way through the village…and then a large police four by four. Clapping in the distance.

Here they come!

The breakaway group steamed up the hill past us and all was quiet again. We’d had word that Alex Dowsett had suffered a double puncture, so would be alone between the break away and the peloton. He came into sight and we all cheered like mad…

He isn’t even trying!

I am heard to say on the video my brother was taking. And so it turns out he was waiting to be eaten up by the peloton. The punctures had ruined his day, I could have cycled faster up that hill.

The peloton followed and Sir Bradley Wiggins passed within touching distance. Cavendish nowhere to be seen. A few stragglers followed up shortly afterwards and then the police packed up and drove off.

Which is why I got on my bike and cycled up the hill, cheered on enthusiastically by the crowds who tried to encourage me to carry on rather than get off at the pub. Seconds later a further group of pros came through. I had briefly, accidentally become part of the Tour of Britain and it was great fun!

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A brief stint at work on Thursday was followed with a further day off on Friday, to follow Stage 6 of the tour. We were lucky that there were two stages which were within riding distance this year.

We chose to cycle to the feed zone and try our luck at getting some musettes and bidons. Though we weren’t overly hopeful.

We spread ourselves out on either side of the road and our tactics paid off…

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…from diving into a nettle bush to get a mussette which had been thrown in my general direction and from bottles each of us had rounded up…(including one which Ollie caught)…we managed to get a decent initial haul.

We then followed the route of the ride and kept our eyes on the hedgerows for any which had been discarded outside of the green zone. Both my brother and I had cycled past a certain hedge but Ollie called us back and pulled a mussette pretty much unused from the bush. A long way to carry a bag which you aren’t going to use!

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Haul complete we headed to the pub for food.

Both days were brilliant fun, thanks to Chris for organising us so well! We don’t have to buy bottles for ages now 🙂

After a week of cycling we had a weekend of food. Ollie won a massive blow out meal, so we made the most of that at the Bell at Sapperton on Friday night which continued to fuel us for our respective Saturday morning rides.

Saturday morning I did just over 40 miles, which included delivery of present and cake to my Grandparents on their anniversary. 56 years. Congratulations.

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Barney, Granddog, has a feeding tube coming out of his neck…but fear not he appears to be doing well. Keep getting better Barn!

Morning cycle complete…no hot water. So I made a death by chocolate cake for afternoon tea with Ollie’s brother’s family.

Still no hot water.

Cold shower.  Eurgh.

To finish the weekend off, I did not practice for the tri as I was supposed to, we chilled out, I studied and Chris made us a blackberry and apple meringue roulade. Oh well…if we must.

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Squirrels and Caffeine

Over 100 miles you tend to think, and think I did. Mainly about Squirrels and Caffeine.

 

Throughout my adult life (and now and then through childhood) friends, family and colleagues have tried to encourage me to drink well-known and well-liked caffeine products such as tea and coffee. Although, as proven previously, my ability to stay awake at work (or school) is on the low side of acceptable, none of these caffeine interventions have succeeded (apart from a brief flirtation with Redbull – which just drove me kind of crazy and no one sensible was really endorsing it!). I still stick by my belief that tea tastes disgusting and coffee stinks so much that I doubt I will even get the chance to taste it.

 

However, I believe caffeine was my secret weapon yesterday.

 

Never before have I used a caffeine product out on a ride (apart from a brief tester in the week), but yesterday I used the caffeine version of my normal electrolyte tablets and have never felt so energetic!

 

And so to Squirrels, and a subject my Mum might not like very much. Over the past six months I have become concerned for the survival of the squirrel race. I really do not believe that as a cyclist I am better at distinguishing between a rabbit and a squirrel, than when I am driving my car, yet the amount of squirrels plastered to the roads seems to be at an all time high as far as I can see!

 

Have Squirrels lost their minds, become stupider, forgotten how to climb trees and jump about in their branches or are they simply suicidal?

 

Squirrels. Take note: Roads facilitate big, nasty mechanical beasts which will squash you. Trees have nuts. Squirrels like nuts. Take some climbing lessons and stay in the trees. Oh… and stop walking out in front of me when I am riding my bike at 30 mph downhill. Thank you.

 

Finally, the thought of a Squirrel on caffeine (whilst funny) is also terrifying.

Race day stats

The results from yesterday are up. Here are some figures: 

Chris, who started a little later than us, rode the 100 miles in 8 hours, 7 minutes and 57 seconds – thanks to him for sticking with us slowees. I came in at 8 hours, 25 minutes and 52 seconds, and Ollie 1 second behind me because he’s a gent!

That put us in positions 177, 190 and 191 out of 247. 

The fastest male on the day rode the course in 3 hours 18 minutes, which is crazy! The fastest female 3 hours 51 minutes – same sentiment there really. We were one hour longer than the average time, however the average female time was 8 hours 3 minutes and 45 seconds so we were only a tiny bit slower than average, even with the mechanical issues. 🙂

 

 

 

A complete century

The official time isn’t out yet, not that it was really about the time, but the moving time on my Garmin is 7 hrs and 6 mins over a distance of 101.70 mi and an elevation increase of 4,193ft. The official time will be around 8hrs 30 mins.

 

I am so happy to have finally completed a century! Today was obviously the day. For weeks I have been struggling with my fitness, joints and fatigue; today the weather was perfect, my fuelling plan worked and I didn’t bonk. It has become customary for me to have a half an hour lie down as soon as I get off the bike but today I felt so good at the end of the ride that this wasn’t necessary and four and a half hours later I am still vertical.  

On the way into Warminster I commented on the fact that I had got to the 20 mile point with no punctures, and that even at such an early stage this sportive was an improvement on London. On the way out of Warminster my gears suddenly stopped working, the cable hung loosely – it had snapped. I remember the disbelief that things were going wrong again, although I have learnt the basics of bike maintenance I had no idea whether this was a significant problem – to me it looked awful. It couldn’t have happened in a more convenient place though really, we had just left the rest stop so we turned around and headed back to the bike mechanic who replaced the cable free of charge. Apparently it was a strange thing to happen – goodness knows how I managed it. 

 

Much of the rest of the ride went without incident; parents, grandparents and granddog supported as usual – thank you very much 🙂 At our final stop we realised that we were likely to do the 100 miles in just over 8 hours and we increased our pace a bit to try and get as close to the 8 hours as possible. However at the 96 mile point we came across a lad on a bike, which was making an awful noise and Ollie stopped to help him. I carried on to the 97.2 mile point, from which I blogged, where I stopped thanks to my chain coming off! The boy had a puncture and hadn’t realised, so Ollie spent around 15 minutes mending it for him, (although he had a spare tube he hadn’t got any tyre levers and had no idea how to go about replacing the tube) while unbeknown to him I waited at the bottom of the hill and Chris was desperately trying to work out where we could have got to. Finally, all reunited at the bottom of the hill, we finished off the ride – it wasn’t London, but it was great to complete it with my brother who got me into it in the first place.

For Ollie – what a journey – no bike to a century within three months! Congratulations! 

 

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Posing with my brother!

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All three of us at about 40 miles

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Pulling in for some lunch.

 

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All three of us at Crofton Pumping Mill

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Ollie and I coming in to the finish. We had discussed a photo with all three of us holding hands, but no-one was too keen to be in the middle!

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Chris coming into the finish.

 

Almost a month late, but it’s complete albeit on a more difficult course than originally intended! 

Laura