Blog — Tips

Winter Kit - Our recommendations on 'key' pieces

Winter Kit - Our recommendations on 'key' pieces

Working out what to wear can be the most difficult part of going for a ride during the autumnal and winter months. But when you do get it right, it feels fantastic!

There are a couple of key things you need to do to be winter-kit ready. The investment will pay off big when you’re perfectly prepared for winter riding. Get the key staple pieces of kit that you can layer over/under and you’ll be sorted for the whole winter. Quality garments with the right features will last for 2-3 seasons at a minimum!

Here’s what we recommend:

  • A thermal jacket which is wind-proof and water resistant. You should be able to layer up or down under the jacket with a thermal base layer and/or cycling jersey, so allow for layers when choosing the size. Our Winter Thermal jacket is just the ticket – it can act like a long-sleeve jersey or a softshell, keeping the elements out (particularly the wind!) 
  • Thermal bib-tights. When we say thermal, we mean tights that have a soft brushed lycra on the inside (called Roubaix). This type of fabric will keep your legs warm, particularly your butt, thighs and lower back which can get very cold on longer rides. Our Thermal winter bib-tights zip right up to your chest to keep your front toasty, too.
  • Protection for your extremities. Quality winter gloves, merino wool socks, winter booties (i.e. overshoes) which keep the wind and rain out, a neck warmer (buff), and winter hat. Your fingers, feet and ears are particularly sensitive to the cold.

Getting your bike ready to roll during the winter months is also important. Make sure you’ve got bike lights — both front and back — so you can be seen in the low-light conditions. Consider using mudguards to protect your butt and the rest of your bike from the grit, mud, and dirt that will spray up from the road during the winter season. We also recommend using tyres with greater grip and tread which will allow more traction and help you stick to the road, particularly helpful when the roads are wet and greasy.

Follow these tips and ensuring you’re warm and ready can mean the difference between having a great ride and having the worst ride ever. Don’t let the cold keep you from climbing!

Our winter Col de l'Iseran collection can be viewed HERE.

An introduction to cycling in the Mountains

An introduction to cycling in the Mountains

Words by Kirsty Lenthall & Amy Marks, after our BikeWeekender Intro to the Alps weekend (22-25th September)
 
We had never met before but had both signed up for the Queen of the Mountains / Bike Weekender introduction to alpine cycling trip. Over dinner on arrival day we got chatting about our previous cycling experience and agreed that despite the detailed itinerary it was hard to know exactly what to expect.

After dinner we had our first ride briefing and had sweaty palms just thinking about it. Would I be able to get up that? Is it really a 10% gradient for that long?!

Despite cycling regularly in the U.K. this was all new to us, what to wear, when/what/how much to eat, what to take with us in the van. We knew we weren't covering much more than 90km per day, but would be ascending more than we ever had before.

Kirsty Lenthall and Amy Marks  

Day One: We left our base feeling very nervous and after 20km of undulating terrain came to our first ever Col, the Col de la Forclaz. This was 10km long with the last 3km having an average gradient of 10%. When we got to the top, just after one another, we were feeling incredibly proud of our achievements already and enjoyed the long decent back to the lake after coffees and coke. After following the cycle path around the lake and lunch at a local boulongerie we climbed our second Col of the day, the Col de Leschaux which was 12km with a small 1.5km decent in the middle. After climbing the first Col mostly by ourselves we decided it was much better to climb together  and we completed the climb. We ended the day with well deserved ice-creams in Annecy. 

Day Two: This was always going to be the 'big' day - with roughly 2,700m of ascending to be done. We started off with the Col du Marais, the shortest and least steep climb of the day but we were puffing and already making firm friends with the granny ring. We were always last to roll in but this didn't matter, the group were super supportive and there was always time for us to take a moment and to prepare for the next part of the day. We descended and rode along the cycle path on the valley floor where the van was now waiting. Off with the layers, we got some food on board and started the ascent. The Col de l'Arpettaz is one of the lesser known climbs in the region, averaging 7.1%  gradient over its 16.3kms and 42 switchbacks. We found our pace and settled in, once we were a few kms down we knew we were going to be able to do it, which in itself was a relief. Now it was just a matter of getting it done and how long it would take. We stopped en route for a photo and sugary snack then swiftly carried on. Our group was treated to personalised chalk markings along the route which brought a smile to our faces - as did the cheers of our group and a welcome committee of a local herd of goats as we reached the top. A picnic was laid on for us at the top and we refuelled before a stunning descent with views across to Mont Blanc, with both of us much happier negotiating the corners by now. The final climb was up the Col des Aravis - which started from a small village where we shared a coffee before clipping back in. We were joined by Alicia and a couple of others on this 11.5km ascent, getting some muchly appreciated tips on climbing. We finally reached the top knowing that we'd climbed higher than we ever had before. We were back in time to watch the Female UCI world champs and have some freshly baked cake. Both looked so good we had a slice of each, we didn't have the energy to decide! 

Day Three: After tackling the climbs of the day before our legs were feeling pretty tired before the start of our third day in the mountains. This day still involved 1600m of climbing and involved two climbs, Mont Saxonnex and the Col de la Colombiere. The first of these was reached after a 20km decent down the valley from St Jean de Sixt and was a beautiful tree lined climb. It was 7km long but with a high gradient averaging 9%. However, we were rewarded at the top with a cafe stop and despite the local pastry being sold out, enjoyed refuelling on gingerbread. After this, we had to tackle the Tour de France regular, the Col de le Colombiere. This climb was 16km long and had a final altitude of 1613m. We took it steadily and enjoyed some sugary snacks on the move as we climbed. With 3km to go we were finding it hard with the gradient ramping up to around 10% and were grateful to Alicia and Teak who came back and assisted us with the last push. We were again wonderfully welcomed by the rest of the team who were incredibly supportive and cheered us all the way in. Finally we completed the ride by descending into La Grand Bornard where we enjoyed lunch and the local farming festival. 

Day Four: A triple col day to finish the week, climbing back up the Col du Marais to tick off our first climb with legs that felt tired and heavy. A quick spin back on the cycle path before ascending Col de l'Epine, we'd been promised great views as we climbed up from the valley floor. The views didn't disappoint and whilst enjoying these and chatting away the 7km ticked on by. With the small matter of a flight to get that afternoon we pushed onto the Col de la Croix Fry, an 11.8km climb with an average gradient of 7% but reaching over 9% in places. These sections were tough, even getting up out the saddle to stretch the back and legs was a challenge but as we met the group at the top of the last climb we were super satisfied that we had handled all that the mountains had thrown at us. 

We don't think that you can ever be truly prepared for the mountains, but that's the beauty of experiencing something new.

Here is some useful advice we received / what we learnt along the way:

Kit: you should get a kit list recommendation sent out to you if you are going with a company and obviously it will be season/weather dependent. We were really lucky with the weather but along with your usual cycling kit your absolute musts would be arm warmers and a gilet as descending at speed for a long duration you can get pretty chilly. We also found a garmin really helpful. Know the overview of the route using a Wahoo Element or Garmin will allow you to both physically and mentally prepare for the harder / easier segments of the climbs.

Training: there's a distinct lack of long climbs accessible to us in the UK, but weekly rides of 80-120km, incorporating hills into these rides as able is good preparation. Do some specific hill rep sessions and factor in some hills at the end of a ride to get your legs used to climbing when tired. 

Think positively: hill reps can help develop strength of mind. When it gets tough have some mantras / affirmations / strategies that will keep you going and practising these techniques at home beforehand will certainly help. 

Don't compare yourselves to others: it good to aspire to climb/ descend faster but even though others maybe quicker than you it doesn't mean they are hurting any less!

The QoM Trip was fully supported and if you can this was a great intro into alpine riding where we really just had to focus on riding our bikes and everything else was sorted for us. This was still no mean feat! We did doubt ourselves at times but tackled it one climb at a time and were both pleased with how well we rode given that this was the first time we had ever done any thing of this kind of magnitude. 

We will be definitely be back cycling in the alps, confident that we can climb quicker, higher and further than before.

View Queen of the Mountains cycling getaways here.

Queen of the Mountains at the top of the first Col on Day 1

To Stretch, or not?

To Stretch, or not?

Words from ex-Professional cyclist and osteopath Alice Monger-Godfrey.

This is probably the most common question I get asked in the summer months when an event that was entered months ago has snuck up on us and is right around the corner:
Do I stretch before or after the event or both?

Cyclists are not renowned as the most enthusiastic stretchers but with the amount of time we spend in "hunched" positions rapidly increasing, we are open to anything that will help stop any niggles and keep us on our bikes.

To begin with, we have to understand what exactly is stretching? Stretching is simply the lengthening and relaxation of muscles. When cycling, we predominately use our quadriceps (front thigh muscles) hamstrings (back thigh muscles) and our calf muscles (lower back of the leg). If these large muscle groups become tight they can pull on the pelvis causing low back pain.

Stretching aims to improve your posture, circulation and a joints to your full range of motion. There is still a debate as to whether stretching improves performance and the jury is still out as to whether it helps to reduce the risk of injury. 

There has been such contrasting research and thoughts on stretching over the years. The most recent research and empirical evidence suggests that warming up instead of stretching is not only better for performance but also for preventing injury. The theory behind this is when you turn up to an event/ride/race, your muscles are cold, they're not as supple and have less scope to respond to the sudden lengthening required of them for cycling. 

Let's delve a little deeper into a muscle to find out more about this process....

A sarcomere is a long, fibrous protein and is the basic unit of striated muscle tissue. These fibres slide over one another when a muscle contracts and relaxes and is responsible for individual muscle contractions. The main muscle groups have a larger surface area from the origin to the insertion of a muscle, meaning the distance is greater between the contractile units of the muscle (the sarcomeres). What does this mean in practice? It means that a muscle with reduced elasticity that is suddenly stretched  out cannot react to this contraction quick enough, causing temporary weakness and strain. Playing devils advocate and trying to understand how a muscle works in both its contracted and relaxed state poses the question that by not warming up, the body will be more susceptible to injury.

So even with conflicting research, from my experience I believe that the human body works better when the muscles are warmed up (before an event/race) and they also respond very well to stretching after.

Alice Monger-Godfrey runs her own Osteopath clinic in Clapham, London and she works with many of the professional cyclists on the UCI circuit. 

The (Almost) Comeback Kid

The (Almost) Comeback Kid

Words by Kirsten Sjovoll - Day 4 of Women's Week 2017.

Yesterday was not a good day. It started so well – just one mountain to climb, albeit both sides and the mountain is that little HC climb known as Col de l’Iseran. But I felt good, climbing steadily, in the front peloton, ticking off the km markers. The altitude felt bracing but the summit arrived far quicker than I thought it would. We descend. The temperature is creeping up as we fly down. 25, 28, 30, 35 degrees.

Lunch is hastily consumed out of the 1330 cooler box. I’m trying to enjoy the sunshine and relax with the girls. There is an air of excitement and achievement in the air after 4 days of col conquering; smashing expectations and pushing our lungs. But I can’t concentrate. The familiar voice of doubt starts to chatter, quietly at first and then louder, until it’s all I can hear. I decide to push off and start the second – steeper – ascent from the south side. Tim – patience of a saint, jokes of a dad – has volunteered to ride up with me. Oh, my God, it is hotter than hell. And steep. The first few km are relentlessly 9 and 10%. After about 20 minutes of climbing I can bear the sound of my disc brake rubbing no more and we stop to sort the mechanical. I see the other girls ascending, gaining time, and one by one they pass. My doubt-ometer is by this stage off the charts and all I can think is how much less fit and how much fatter I am since my glory* days of stage race mountain climbing two years ago.

“I’m not sure I can do this” I whine anxiously to the ever patient, ever chirpy Tim. “Just see how you go” is his reply. And with that, and a “pro” push to get me started again, we attempt the remaining 10 or so km of the Iseran. 

It is at this point in a motivational story that I would like to be able to offer an inspirational montage of good humoured suffering, a second wind, and a glorious push to the summit.

Sorry. 

It. Was. A. Sufferfest. There were points I thought I was track-standing I was going so slowly. Doubtometer voice was screaming only marginally louder than Tim’s Rob Brydon impressions and I was in a serious world of pain. The mountain is stunningly beautiful but I couldn’t appreciate it. Even the flatter bit was ruined by a headwind. And then I saw the final 2km sign. Something clicked. I remembered why I ride. I started cycling after my mum died and I found a release from the pain in my head by emptying my legs on the road. It was a way of releasing the loss and it’s taken me to new (literal) heights. It’s brought me new friends, it’s brought me love, and it’s brought me back to life (although sometimes after breaking me right down first). And I ride because I can. Because my legs will carry me wherever my head allows them to and because I am stronger with every pedal stroke.


One km to go. I can do this. My legs felt empty but my head felt strong. There was no way this mountain was going to beat me. Then the summit. There were tears (I take pride in making grown men cry) and there was a new resolve inside.

It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t fast and it wasn’t even the longest or the toughest ride I’ve done but the feeling of achievement after those 1 and a half hours of pure suffering was something completely new.

This is why we ride.

*disclaimer – glory is all relative and it wasn’t as if I was Lizzie Deignan or Emma Pooley at any point in my cycling life.

 

 

Keen to race? How to start...

Keen to race? How to start...

Words by Helen McKay (Team Les Filles Queen of the Mountains) on Bike Racing in the UK and how to get into it.

After the ride some of the girls were asking about racing. The first event I did was a low key sportive. There are lots that are very achievable (I'd say start small and then take on more and more challenging ones). My first one was in March in the Chilterns. I loved that someone had taken a photo, and that I got to see how many men on race bikes I got to beat (on my hybrid with flat pedals)!

Then I decided Sportives were fun, but I wanted more of a challenge. I wanted to unleash my competitive spirit. I wanted to race. 
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Membership
To race a British Cycling crit (race on a short circuit) or a road race you either need Membership AND a day license, or Membership (gold or silver) AND a full 1 year license.
I only got a Gold membership when I was going to race abroad a lot during that year, otherwise Silver covers everything.
A day license is the cheapest option, but you don't get to keep any points you gain in that race. I dived straight in and got full licence. It just depends how sure you are you want to keep racing or not versus the cost.
There are some winter series races for Cat 3/4 women (everyone starts as a Cat 4 and then if and when you get points you move up to Category 3, 2, 1 and finally Elite) which would be great introduction to racing. I think it's a good idea to do Cat 234 or E1234 local races to witness and get a feel for tactics from those who've been a round a bit longer. I also recommend starting with crits over road races because its important to learn racing skills, without traffic, before adding that extra element in. Crits tend to be 15-20 miles long (45-60mins) and cost £15-25 per race.
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Circuits
Easiest circuit is Hilllingdon in West London - trains from Paddington to Southall - or ride. No hill, not too technical. Favoured by sprinters.
Also Velopark - East London - bit of a turn which is mildly technical and hill which can help make the race more challenging. 
Cyclopark - Kent but trains stop 3 miles? away. Flat, windy, more technical than Hillingdon.
Hog Hill - has a hill that after 8 laps stops being a joke. Best training out there!
Can find races on British Cycling website. Some events are on Rider HQ. Best to pre-enter but lots you can enter on the line.
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Time Trials
Time trials are a different kettle of fish. They are run by Cycling Time Trials. You have to enter at least 2 weeks in advance. This is annoying but unavoidable. Never enter a BC and CTT and then blow out one for the other - they get peed off about that. If you can make both on the same day fine, but don't do one and tell the other you're sick/away/dog ate your homework. They will know. CTT events Expect to pay £8-£15 but get up at 4am to get to them. No tactics. Just pacing. Own ride over the distance to get quickest time. Sounds easy but you just feel sick the whole way. Not for everyone.
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Cyclocross
Cyclocross is a fun wintersport. Very friendly. It's basically done on a bike that looks like a road bike but has fat knobbly tyres. You can do it on a mountain bike instead.    
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Training and nutrition
Don't worry about it for now. Just ride. Just race. That alone will get you fitter.
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Swearing
Energy can get high in races. It's important that what happens in a race, stays in a race. Most people didn't mean anything and they are usually sorry or there's an explanation for what went wrong. 99% of people are great and we can all make mistakes. Men passing in their race may also shout, its better to shout and avoid an accident than to say nothing and suddenly boom - again it's just what happens in a race. Nothing personal. And if they are stupid, #helpfuladvice can be offered to them too. 
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Helen McKay is part of the Les Filles Queen of the Mountains Racing Team. She has been racing for a number of seasons in the UK and often rides abroad in France as well.