2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. It makes interesting reading about the reach of social media blogging….

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people. And the international context is relevant, as the site visitors came from 38 countries in total.

Throughout the year I made 26 new posts, not bad for my first year of blogging! In total there were 91 pictures uploaded – so a true multi-media experience to enjoy.

The busiest day of the year was February 5th with 32 views.  The most popular posts were:

1 Surrey Hills – Cycle Slam Training March 2012

2 Challenge Henley – Ironman Relay September 2012

3 The 3 Hs Sportive – Hills, Holes and Hail April 2012

4 Preparations are now complete – let the challenge begin May 2012

5 The Longest Day June 2012

Great memories to share!

The icing on the cake

After such an epic summer of 2012, and now that the darker nights are drawing in, it is time to reflect on the achievements of the Dallaglio Flintoff Cycle Slam and what it meant to be part of such a great event. And what is especially nice, is that my efforts have been marked by me winning an Award. 

As a fund raising activity, the event set a goal of raising £2.012M for the Dallaglio Foundation to fund the Cancer Research UK ICGC project on prostate cancer genetics and for the AF Foundation to build, develop and improve Child Rehabilitation & Physiotherapy Units throughout the UK. The first piece of good news is that these charities will have all the funding they require – as the Cycle Slam event raised a massive total of £2,022,125. Fantastic!

My own sporting story is best captured in a videocast made whilst I was taking part in the event

With a background in triathlon, I did a lot of the training preparation with my Tri Club Thames Valley Triathletes. And last night was their annual awards dinner. Well last year I was recognised as the most improved triathlete, and this year I won again this time in the “Most Impressive Performance of the Year” category. And I was up against stiff competition from Wayne Jones (who cycled to Germany raining funds for Macmillan Cancer) and Simon Fox (who did the 3 Peaks Challenge riding between the mountains and fund raising for the Duchess of Kent House Hospice). I am not sure that my cycling efforts alone quite match the others achievements but I guess the combination of riding, event promotion and beating my personal fund raising target swung it in my favour. Thank you TVT – it means a lot to be recognised by my peer group in this way.

Like all good award ceremonies, now it is time for a few thank yous!

  • Firstly to Virgin Media – who sponsored me as a customer to take part in a stage of the event – little did I know when I spotted their Cycle Slam advert, on a dark night in January this year, where this would take me;
  • Secondly to the awesome Stage 5 Group 2 riders, who I shared the best moments of the event with (both on and off the bike) – it was great to have the whole team of riders working together to achieve a common goal
  • Thirdly to my TVT team mates – who supported me on training rides and sportives to get the miles in my legs that would mean that I could really enjoy the riding challenge
  • Fourthly to everyone who donated to my personal fund raising activities – a collection of friends, colleagues and business customers who themselves raised money through their own work activities. We had the London Midland office cycle ride (on an exercise bike); the Nottingham City Homes Easter cake sale; and the LV= dress down day. That was really inspiring.
  • And finally to my family – who came to London on the final day of the Slam to see me cross the finish line and share in the glory.

It was a great personal achievement, and I couldn’t have done it without you all!

And so now it is time to draw a close to this blog. Thank you for reading and hopefully enjoying my tales. Until the next cycling challenge – target date 2014 – stay healthy everyone.


Challenge Henley – Ironman Relay

So I have spent the summer reminding myself that Triathlon is a multi-discipline sport and not just a cycle event. And to finish off my sporting season I took part in an Ironman distance event on the 16th September – doing the 42k  run leg as part of my triathlon club relay team. And quite a day it was too…..

We are very lucky that the Thames Valley is home to a number of iconic triathlon event venues. My very first triathlon some 7 years ago was taking part in a Sprint event on the closed roads at Eton Dorney; next moving up to an Olympic Distance event at Windsor; but until now the region has lacked a focus for longer distance events. I have had to travel to Europe to experience competing over a closed road course Middle Distance event.

But not anymore.  Last year saw the inaugural Challenge Henley event, offering Half Ironman and Full Ironman distances, which suffice to say caused a fair degree of controversy with many “NIMBY” locals trying to get the event banned. The local paper even ran a poll to canvas public opinion. The organisers conceded a few changes, and the 2012 event was back on.

My TVT triathlon club had good representation across both participation and support, this year having some individual Half Ironman competitors and a Full Ironman Relay team.  We also had a volunteer team manning a feedstation; and a club member providing post event recovery massages.

The weather this summer has caused its fair share of headaches for triathlon race participants – the cancelled swim at Windsor; running through a bog at the Marlow event in June, and a shortened run course  at the Cotswold 113 to avoid slippery footpaths.  At the Saturday pre race briefing, we found out that Challenge Henley also had to cope with a last minute run course change. But not because of the weather, this time because of pheasant breeding taking place on an adjacent farmers land!

So race day brought an early start, with competitors making last minute preparations at Henley Business Centre before dawn. The daylight showed clear and cool conditions with light breezes and a minor Thames river swell. In fact, perfect for racing. First to set off was Katie Hopkins at 7.10am – shaking off her cold – to complete the 3.8km swim relay leg in a very respectable 1h 21m.

By the time she was out of the water, the Half Ironman competitors were also underway meaning that everyone would be out on the bike course together.

The bike route was on closed roads, with a figure of eight loop that took riders up Bix Hill to a turnpoint near Nettlebed, then the long drag up Pishill, out past Christmas Common with a turnpoint just past the M40. The full distance was three full loops, the Half riders doing a one and half loop distance.

The riding machine that is Barry Hopkins was doing the relay full distance bike leg for team TVT1, competing the 180km course in under 6 hours. Heroic riding to cover the 112 undulating miles at an average pace of over 18mph.


By the time that Barry completed the bike course, the Half Ironman race was all done and dusted.  Sharkie Jaggard was first home for TVT; with a very close contest between Steve Wilson and Alistair Weir spurring both triathletes to break the 5 ½ hour barrier for the first time.  Top dog performances from all.

That left the run relay leg for the full distance event still to complete – and the big question in my mind in the event planning was whether the daylight would hold sufficiently for me to complete the run. That gave our team a self imposed target time to beat of 12 hours.

And to spice things up there was another TVT battle going to take place on the run course. Mike Williams was also doing the marathon with some mates in a relay team raising funds for the Sue Ryder Homes charity.  Waiting for the changeover it looked like Katie and Barry were giving me a decent lead to hold onto – but then Mike was 20 years my junior and welcomed chasing down a gap.

So I set off full of excitement to cover four laps of an out and back course that hugged the river Thames. Pancake flat and with high level cloud and a pleasant temperature, the half way point was soon covered in a shade over 1h 40m, which is pretty decent for me doing a HM. But I still had the second half to cover!

So even without doing the swim and bike legs, I began to experience what it felt like to be running fatigued. The last 15k was a case of digging in, staying focused, and relishing the crowd participation as the sight and sounds of Henley grew larger on the horizon.

Turning into the Phyllis Court complex for the last time, there was one last surprise. I spotted Katie and Barry in the atheletes pen, ready and waiting so that we could cross the line together. And we had one extra team member for the glory moment – my two year grand-daughter Lara. I swept her up in my arms and the cheering crowd showed their appreciation. What an incredible feeling!

And for the record, as a relay team we had smashed our expectations by finishing well inside 11 hours. On a par with Steve and Alistair’s combined time from earlier in the day. As we have all ridden and trained together over several winters – another very satisfying feeling.

And the run contest? Well Mike had chased me down out on the course, but making up a whole lap was never going to be practical. Despite slowing on the final lap, his team also broke the 12 hour barrier and happily finished in daylight. And best of all – he spurred me to a new Marathon PB, beating my previous best by over 3 minutes.

Now what’s my age group qualifying time for the Virgin London Marathon?

The Longest Day

After all the training for the Dallaglio Flintoff Cycle Slam, it was time to test myself in the Magnificat Cycle Sportive – riding 127 miles in one day – including 9 testing climbs. And the weather forecast for the Diamond Jubilee Sunday was …. absolutely dreadful.

I had taken part in this annual sportive event, starting from Newbury racecourse and covering a circular route across the South Downs, in the two previous years. The first time the 51 mile course, and then last year the 81 mile course – which was all part of my Half Ironman training. But never had I tackled the full 127 mile Magnificat version, which is a true test for any club cyclist.

In past years, the weather had played a major part in my recollections of the event. In 2010, the weather was dry and sunny, but last year a major Atlantic depression rolled in on the day, bringing an inch of rain and some stiff winds. A major challenge, which I have referenced in previous blog entries. However, the event organisers Ken and Barbara Robson, had made a generous donation towards my Cycle Slam fund raising, and so I had willingly agreed to make their 127 mile event, over this Bank Holiday weekend, the final part of my Slam cycling challenge.

I had two weeks to recover from the Slam itself and prepare for the Magnificat, and I was soon able to pick up the intensity of my training. Cycling in the warm weather we had a week ago definitely agreed with me, and I was looking forward to testing myself over the longest one day ride that I had ever undertaken. As the Bank Holiday weekend drew ever closer, then the weather forecast for the Sunday looked increasingly bleak. The river boat pageant in London was definitely going to be a water based event, as rain was forecast for the whole day. So I packed my wet weather riding gear, expecting the worst.

Alarm went off at 5.30am (just like in the Slam) and I picked up a fellow TVT cyclist Simon Fox an hour later for the drive down the M4 to Newbury. The racecourse was a hive of activity – for that early time on a Sunday – with cyclists getting ready for a long day’s ride. We also met up with another friend David Blundell who was training for his fourth attempt at completing the Tour d’Etape, which is the annual opportunity for club cyclists to ride a stage of the Tour de France.

Now the Magnificat route is broken down into three stages – each of circa 40 miles – following an anti-clockwise loop across the Berkshire/ Hampshire and Wiltshire countryside. Each stage had some testing climbs, the first one of which Walbury was shrouded in mist as I led a small group up the climb.

But the rain was getting lighter, and temperatures were rising as a result, which meant that it was soon time to remove the outer layer of clothing. The tempo of the ride with Simon was good, with the first stage completed in 2 ¾ hours. The second stage took us into the most southerly section, with the climbs of Old Winchester Hill and Stoner Hill.

By the afternoon the weather was steadily improving, so I even had the chnace to get my legs were out. Now the reference to legs is one that is particularly relevant to Simon. He was using the Mgnificat as a test event for a charity ride he is doing in August – Three Peaks Two Wheels – where he will be riding 200 km a day between Ben Nevis, Scarfell Pike, Snowdon and then home. His sports therapist has recently recommended a full leg shave, so that some supportive tape could be fixed to him whilst he was riding. Now that is a level of dedication well beyond anything I saw on the Slam. Lawrence and Freddie having their legs shaved so that they can ride a bike – I think not!

So 80 miles in and I was very pleased to get to the end of  Stage 2 feed station where the tea and cake was most welcome. And still a final stage of 46 miles and over 2,000 feet of climbing to go.  But apart from the odd stray shower, the weather was holding up, so with renewed spirits we pressed on.  One of the most interesting sights of the day was the way that some of the villages had been decorated. As part of the Jubilee celebrations, several Hampshire villages had covered the roadside with scarecrows, dressed up as topical characters. Along with bunting, this certainly made us feel like this was a special day for a ride, which again lifted the spirits as fatigue threatened to set-in.

With 18 miles to go, at the final drinks station, I stuffed some Jelly baby sweeties  into my cycling pockets ready for the final ups and down into Kingsclere and Ashford Hill. I was now back on more familiar roads which certainly helped me believe that the full distance was now truly within my grasp. After the final drag past Greenham Common, we began the last descent into Newbury – to cross the finish line some 9 hours and 40 miles after the start. And no punctures!  Excluding the stops, that equates to an average speed over 14 miles an hour. Perfectly respectable for us all – and well within the bronze level cutoff time. Job done.

Day 4 – the road to Olympic glory

The final day of Stage 5 of the Cycle Slam was a 60 mile ride from Ashford to London, finishing next to the Olympic Park in Stratford. A day to truly appreciate the efforts of all those involved in raising a staggering £1.8M for the excellent charitable causes.

The day started with the all too familiar 5.30am alarm call, but everyone was feeling remarkably fresh, in anticipation of the day ahead. Our rider numbers had doubled, as many stage riders were returning for the final day, but our group stuck together (no surprises there then!) We did have a VIP guest though – Chris Hyman who is the Chief Exec of Serco who were one of the major sponsors. And as I have done some call centre business with Serco, it was actually quite a good networking opportunity!

The morning ride took us through the Kentish North Downs and actually included the toughest hill climb of the entire stage with a 1 in 6 ascent of Vigo Hill. Now that got the lungs bursting, but I made it to the top okay. By mid morning we had reached the pit stop in Dartford, where the mood was relaxed and positive, everyone looking forward to not only the finish but equally realising the rising sense of achievement of a challenge conquered.

The next part of the ride took us into south London where the traffic volumes made it difficult to ride together. So we were pleased to make it to the Woolwich Ferry car park where everyone was assembling for a final convoy ride to the finish. Text and phone messages to my wife Louise to let her know that she still had time for lunch, as we would be another hour before arriving.


Soon though we were crossing the river, and with the tour cars at the front of the pack, we made our way steadily as one long snaking peloton through Docklands and onto our final destination Stratford.

The core riders peeled off to tell the stage riders approach the finish, where we were efficiently marshalled to form a guard of honour for Lawrence and Freddie to ride across the finish line. Queue flashbulbs, camera crew, lots of hugs and even a glass of champagne that one of my team mates had arranged with his family.

And what about my family? Well, my Dad is in his eighties and now lives in Australia. Well, he had planned his annual trip back to the UK to coincide with the finish of the Slam, so I had my own ‘fan club’ meeting me there – making it a very special day indeed.

And finally, if you have enjoyed reading about the Slam, then it is not too late to make a donation. Go to my Virgin Money Giving page now!

Day 3 – experiencing the Roubaix cobbles

Stage 5 day three was an 80 mile cycling stage, following the course of the famous Paris Roubaix cycle race, including a couple of sections of cobbles, finishing at the famous velodrome.

Another 5.30am alarm call – this time because our timings for the day meant that needed to arrive in Roubaix by 2pm to get our opportunity to ride the velodrome, before being coached to Lille to catch the Eurotunnel train back to the UK. It was a chilly but bright morning, and as the forecast showed a declining wind strength, I took the opportunity to ‘get my legs out’.

But it didn’t take long for the strength of the spring sun to take effect and we were soon enjoying the rolling French countryside. And today we had a second birthday in our group – it was Chris Board on day one and now Malcolm Davidson on day three. Birthday boy enjoyed a glass of bubbly at the morning pit stop and the pace soon picked up as our group chain-ganged our way through the sleepy French villages. Why so quiet – well, it was actually a bank holiday!

I must tell you the story behind this photo. The official Slam photographer Rob Cox would pop up everywhere – even hiding in a field as he was when taking this fantastically evocative group shot. Nice one Rob!

So the first 70 miles passed surprisingly easily, so we soon found out what this famous cycle race is all about. The cobbles! Now I am not talking about the traffic calming measures that are used in some UK towns, these are like riding through an earthquake, so much so that your whole body shakes with the movement of the bike. Riders were soon diving left and right to the side of the road for a small degree of comfort. And the professional racers do 50 km riding cobbles like this – no way!

But everyone in our group survived, amazingly without a puncture. Riding into Roubaix our destination was the banked velodrome where we were all allowed to do a couple of flying laps before posing for the obligatory team photo. Our whole group had stuck together (like limpets) for nearly three hundred miles, and it was most noticeable that this was the distinguishing factor. Every meal time, someone grabbed enough table space for the whole group to sit together – 100% inclusive.

After sampling the historic showers at the velodrome (where each cubicle has a plaque marking the achievement of a Paris-Roubaix race winner) we had time for some souvenir shopping (the French cycling hats were the best seller) before boarding the coach for the short journey to Lille. Amazingly we had some free time, so a hot lunch of sausage and chips, washed down by a couple of beers was the order of the day. A quick power nap on Eurostar and we were back in ‘blighty’, getting ready for a night out courtesy of Pizza Express in Ashford. And the service was excellent – starters on the table as soon as we arrived and they just kept bringing pizza until we could eat no more. The ‘end of tour’ speeches were very poignant, and Dave Butler graciously commended all of the “awesome” group 2 riders on how well we had performed over Stage 5. It would have been unfair to pick out any one rider based on their cycling contribution, so Dave awarded the ‘yellow jersey’ to Yogi (aka Jolyon Lockyer) for raising nearly £30,000 against his personal target. That is 1,000% – wow – and very deserving.

So another memorable day on the Dallaglio Flintoff Cycle Slam was drawing to a close. Just one more day – the glory stage to London – to go.

Day 2 – group riding at it’s finest

Stage 5 day two was another 100 mile cycling day, heading north from the champagne region, skirting east of Paris to finish in St Quentin. Another headwind day, so a perfect opportunity to hone the group riding technique – with the ‘awesome’ Group 2 riders.

The day started with a 5.30am alarm call – so just 4 ½ hours sleep following the Bollinger champagne reception and dinner the night before – then a quick breakfast before the rendez-vous in Challons. Never one to turn down a media opportunity, did a video piece with Taylor Murphy (the Slam Insider) whose angle was that, as a triathlete, then this cycling lark was easy. I put him straight, as the following video shows.

Today’s ride had less time pressure than day one, and more hills, so that meant more opportunities for stops. The groups set out in reverse order i.e. slowest group first; and we were the penultimate group to set-off. The first stop was back at the Bollinger champagne house in Ay, not for a ‘hair of the dog’ but more for a photocall. Each group in turn had their photo taken on the steps.


Leaving Ay, the hills started. Now those that have visited wine growing regions know that vines need well drained land to grow – and that comes naturally from hillsides. So we soon had a double climb as we left the wine growing valley behind us, only to be passed by Graeme Le Saux and Lee Dixon on the Pizza Express tandem. To add to the occasion they were dressed as wine waiters and Graeme (at the back) was carrying an open bottle of champagne. As competitive ex-sportsmen that didn’t stop them from working hard on the hills – respect guys!

The second stop was in a pretty French village that had a boulangerie – where the group bought their choice of freshly based cakes and savouries (mine was a pate en croute!) Nice to sample the local produce. To make up from some lost time our group became more organised, and under Dave Butler’s instruction, we started chain-ganging. With the 12 riders riding two abreast, in close formation, our peloton only took up the same space as an artic lorry. The outside line of riders moved forward one at a a time, taking a 30-60 secs turn on the front, tackling a modest headwind, whilst the rest of group tucked in to take shelter from the breeze. By the time we approached the lunch stop, we had the riding technique perfected, and noticed a helicopter buzzing around overhead. Assuming this to be the Discovery Channel doing some filming, we had no better incentive to ride in tight and controlled formation to the rest point. And as a club cyclist, that felt really great!

The afternoon was a continuation of the group riding, with plenty of banter to keep everyone on their toes. That night, I found out that I had a new nickname – Mouse. Why, because I had a bike that squeaked, following the previous days rain and road grit that had caked itself on my machine. Following the afternoon refuelling stop, where Catermasters provided a lovely cup of tea (and more cake!), our route led until the much larger town of St Quentin where we battled with the rush hour traffic to get to our destination.

So, another long day in saddle – nearly 8 hours of riding – but a deep sense of satisfaction at what we had achieved.