Thursday, 18 April 2013

Strava - Risking it all?

We’ve all seen a cyclist dashing headlong through a red light at the cross roads. Questions is: Were they late for work, or are they a Strava addict?
Strava is a social network website for cyclists and runners. I was introduced to its testosterone fuelled, competitive pages at the end of last year.  A couple of friends started to brag about their latest Strava times over a beer, which being a competitive type of person sparked my interest. (Because I knew I could be faster!)
The site allows users to upload their rides from GPS products or mobile devices. The data for the ride is stored in the riders profile beside a Google map of the route.  Key information such as distance, time and altitude gained, is displayed and can be reviewed by other friends or “followers”. It is possible to keep track of your training progress through the year with nicely presented graphs displaying your weekly and monthly totals and set yourself training goals.
Obviously the fact that your friends can see this data is incentive enough to take the long route home after work. However, at the heart of Strava is the creation of ‘segments’. Users can create segments, by saving a specific section of their ride, be it 200 yards or 50 miles.  By making this public to the entire Strava community, EVERY  other member then has the ability to view and record their own time for the segment. I was a late comer to the Strava party and the globe already seems to be completely gridlocked with segments. On a recent business trip to rural Brittany I was able to plan an entire route of segments to ride after work and test myself against the locals.
If you are fortunate enough to record a fastest time for a segment this is recorded on your profile as a KOM. King of the Mountains! Should somebody then beat your time you will receive a friendly email from Strava encouraging you to try and regain your crown. Obviously the most prestigious KOM’s to hold are for arduous hill climbs or technical descents, but there are segments between the traffic lights outside the local Tesco.
There are no limitations so segments can flow across junctions, roundabouts and traffic lights. So 3 minutes into a segment, a glorious tail wind on your back and your legs feeling fresh will you slow down when the lights ahead start to change?
In the US a rider was recently killed by an oncoming car while on a mountain descent. He was on the wrong side of the road, cutting a corner by taking the racing line. It was later discovered that he had recently lost his fastest time on Strava for the descent and was presumably out to get it back – at all costs. His family are trying to sue Strava for his death, which I see as ridiculous. Undoubtedly the website encourages a healthy competitive attitude between its members, but each individual is responsible for their own actions. Having said that,  some segments are inherently dangerous. There is a cycle path near my house, around a mile in length along which somebody has created a segment. The path crosses 2 roads and due to a high hedge visibility at the junctions is almost zero. Since I ride the segment regularly on my way home I know that to achieve the KOM time it would be necessary to cross both of these junctions flat out, allowing the rider no chance to check for vehicles.
Personally I think Strava is a fantastic tool. It breaks up boring commutes to work, adds a competitive edge to solo rides when your mates are away and builds on the community feel that cycling generally engenders anyway. However, it is effectively encouraging racing on our public roads and byways. When creating segments or attempting a new PB it is each riders responsibility to ensure we don’t put ourselves or others at risk.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Southern XC Round 1

Puncturing in the car park wasn’t the best start to my day!
Matterly Basin is better known as the home of the British MotoX GP. Sunday it played host to a slightly quieter form of two wheeled racing - the first round of the Southern XC series. Set on the slopes of the South Downs close to Winchester, the course clambered over the local hills, twisting in and out of the woodland and across open grassland. It was a blustery day on the exposed hillside but the sun did its best to shine, as the clouds scooted across the sky. Despite the recent heavy rain the forest sections weren’t too greasy and a racing line formed in the drying mud. The warmer temperatures meant it was also my first outing this year in shorts! Although this does mean I had to expose my hairy legs to the smoothly shaved racer boys.
As seems to be the trend this year, the start times had been adjusted, the Masters race setting off just after the Elite riders at 2pm. I arrived in plenty of time, had some lunch unpacked the car and rode my practice lap. Tyre pressures adjusted I took a moment to just sit for a while preparing for the start. At 1.45 I jumped on the bike to head down to the line, which is when the puncture occurred! Luckily after a nervous and panicky few moments the latex sealed the hole. I just had to dash back to the car for the pump and I was back on my way.
The start was a slog to the top of the hill, and my lack of recent riding showed as I drifted towards the back of the field. Then we were into the woods where I found it hard to find a rhythm amongst the throng. The Sport leaders soon caught us as we were held up by falling riders ahead, slipping and sliding on the roots. The course was one of those which had felt terrible on the reconnaissance lap but raced really well and as the riders thinned out I started to ride better and push the pace, moving up the field on the climbs.
Maybe I was pushing on too much but I ran out of talent at the beginning of the second lap. The front wheel selected the wrong rut in the mud and fired the bike into a tree. I was fine and quickly back on my feet but the bars were twisted and needed two attempts to sort them out. Back on course and plunging down a flight of widely spaced steps I pulled the front brake lever to discover it was just flapping freely. The pivot bolt presumably sheered by the meeting of wood and metal during my fall. I quickly adjusted to life without a front brake and it had little significant impact,  I just had to hold back slightly on some of the descents.
The final two laps were comfortably my quickest, which suggests I need to improve my warm-up routine to ensure I am up to speed from the get go. Towards the end of the race I found myself alone on the hillside at one point with UK number one Ollie Beckingsale.   I have had a nice chesty cough for the past week so I hadn’t expected a stellar performance. In the end 20th isn’t going to set the world on fire but it wasn’t a disaster and it is a platform to build on. Early series points in the bag and although your lowest scoring round can be dropped at the end of the series, you never know when the mechanical gremlins will creep in.
Back in the carpark at the end of the race and there was a sudden explosion of latex. The rear tyre went flat! 

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Gorrick Spring Series - Round 4

Apparently it is possible for the sun to shine on race day! Dry and dusty trails (remember those) greeted the riders for the final round of the Gorrick Spring Series. It was a rare outing for the semi slick race tyres!

My fortunes a Frith Hill near Deepcut have been either one extreme or the other. Two years ago I punctured within 10 seconds of the start, but last year I led the Masters race before being caught (and punched!) on the final lap. There was little chance of me leading the Super Masters this year. After 10 minutes I was dead last with the opposition pulling away! Admittedly there were only 15 entries but I was still tail end charlie!

Keep your head down, maybe nobody will notice you're last!!
Strangely I was actually feeling strong and rather than get demoralised I was determined not to be last at the end! Plus I know a lot can happen in an hour and three quarters! Admittedly it happens 10 minutes quicker for the winner but nevertheless I put my head down and kept riding.

The course was defined by a repetitive series of short steep climbs that provided little recovery between the leg burning efforts. By the end of the first lap my pride had been restored and I was no longer at the back of the field. Trying to follow the wheels of the Super Vet leaders as they came through, brought me up to my team mate Alex Taylor, who I passed on a loose gravely incline about 45 minutes into the race.

The remaining hour was a lonely affair, I moved to within sight of the next rider but came home 13th. Super Masters is a tough category and when entries are low it can feel demoralising. Comparing lap times with other categories I'm not that far off my performances of last year. It is the first round of the Southern XC Series next week, lets hope the sun continues to shine and I can at least finish with more riders behind than a ahead!