November 18, 2018

Cycle Sportives In Galicia

by Dean Fletcher

Galicia is becoming, very rapidly a destination for cyclists, and cyclotourists. It is a great place for a Spanish cycling holiday , as it has everything that a destination has to offer. There are kms of safe roads, fantastic scenery and nature , and the   Galician food is excellent for “apres-cycle”. For those who love mountain climbs, there are endless choices. So, what is on the menu for those who like to pin a number on their back? What are the options for Cycle Sportives in Galicia? Well, the answer is, there are quite a few. So, let’s look at them in chronological order for 2019.

Strade Termal Ourense 7th April 

This is a very special race in the Cycle Sportives in Galicia calander. That is because it is one of the rare races that crossed the Portuguese border. Because of very difficult administration of traffic police, cross border races are rare between Spain and Portugal. However, the Strade Termal can offer this rarity. Also, as its name implies, there is strade. Strade , or strata in Italian is gravel. And this race loves its gravel. In the Strade Termal 2018 edition , there were four distinct strade sections, with two of them mountain climbs.

A quick glance at the drone footage from the race video captures these climbs. The race starts and finishes in the Spa Hotel of Caldaria de Lobios . The pasta party the night before, and the full buffet lunch after the race are excellent. The race for 2019 has a provisional distance of 108km with 2000m+ accumulated. Contact Cycling Galicia for details of packages.

4 Picos Road 16th June

The 2019 edition of the 4 Picos Road will be the third running of this cycle sportive. It pays homage to Everisto Portela, the sporting director of SuperFroiz, Galicia’s biggest pro cycling team. The race starts and finishes in Pontevedra, and has four distinct climbs, the “4 picos”. Two of these are on the Morrazo peninsula, Lago de Castiñeras and Mirador de Moraño. The other two are just to the north of Pontevedra. Acibal, and finally the Vuelta de España climb to Monte Castrove, where Fabio Aru bested Chris Froome in 2015. The 2018 edition welcomed Miguel Indurain, the 5 time Tour de France winner as its patron. The race is controled , apart from the climbs, and is growing in stature every year. For package details contact Cycling Galicia.

Gran Fondo Ezaro 7th July

This race, organised by the famous Galician rider Ezequiel Mosquera, is growing every year. In 2018, and in 2019 it is a qualifier for the UCI world gran fondo championship. The race starts and finishes in Ezaro, the stunning waterfall, close to Cape Finisterre. The final 2.5km is the climb to the mirador de Ezaro. It has been used twice in the Vuelta de España and is famous for its ramp section that touches 30%. There is always a great crowd on the climb, that grows every year. This race has rapidly become the standout of the Cycle Sportives in Galicia. This is a proper race, with 20km neutral section, followed by 110km on mainly closed roads. Many of it along the coast, or overlooking it. It is a stunning race, and well worth visiting. For details of packages built around the race contact Cycling Galicia.

November 12, 2018

Strava and Watts. Are They Spoling the Fun?

by Dean Fletcher

In the blog of 22nd October, we touched on the use of power meters. I stated that I do not use one, and that I would investigate them. A couple of days later, nobody less than Michel Prud’homme was lamenting their use. He called for the UCI to ban them at the tour. Fighting talk. So, after some research, I am going to say what I think. And also,Strava. So, let´s discuss these two big subjects, and ask. Strava and watts, are they spoiling the fun.

Arguments For

When I discuss this with friends, it becomes a bit like Brexit, or religion. Everybody has a very firm view. You love Watts and Strava or you don’t. Polarised is too strong a word, but it isn´t far off. So, who is in favour of these two additions to modern cycling? It seems to me to be those who compete at the highest levels. Not exclusively, but in my small census, there is a leaning towards top end cyclists. For training purposes, there is a huge advantage using Watt meters. I have seen this first hand. The ability to control your effort, in short intensive training is clear. Also, what you thought was your absolute threshold, is indeed a lot higher. The watts don’t lie, so you keep pushing to new levels.

Can it become like a Drug?

This is what worries me about the use of these meters. We have all seen Chris Froome staring for hours at his display. Riding like a computerised human. Agreed, it hasn’t done him too badly, but there is only one Chris Froome. Yes, we can learn from him, but we ride our bikes for the enjoyment. And this is the paradox of power meters. Once you start using them, you become addicted to Strava and watts. Speed, distance travelled, the scenery. It all becomes irrelevant. Those three numbers before the W are all that matters. And that isn’t why we ride a bike. Certainly, for me it isn’t. So, yes, they can improve your training. Yes, they can improve you as a rider. And, undoubtedly they are a great weapon in your armoury as a cyclist. Will you enjoy riding more with one? I didn’t.

Strava Pros

Strava is a bit more difficult to argue against. However, I am going to try. And why? Simply because I enjoy riding a bike. I am not competing against anybody, just myself. When I ride in a group, of course I like to test myself. Equally I like to speak to my fellow riders, take in the scenery, and much more. I have found over the last few years that this is more difficult. And the reason is Strava. Go out now in a big group, and it is “eyeballs out” all day. Particularly if there is a strong wind in favour on a particular “”. Everybody wants to get up the league. It has become an obsession. I realise that many ride bikes for the competitive side. Comparing times with friends. Pushing to the limit. It is escapism, and that is why we love the sport so much. Strava helps those who like to ride, and like to boast a little.

Strava Cons

Many will argue that there aren’t any at all. I am simply going to say that I do not have Strava. I have Garmin, and when I get home, I download my ride. It is good to see how many kms, how many metres climbed, cadence etc. That helps me know where I am physically. However, I do not have any interest in who is the KOM on my local mountain, nor their time. Cycling for me is a hobby, and for 99.9% of cyclists it should be that. Only the top 0.01% are pros. If cycling paid my wages, I would use every available tool to improve. I ride a bike because I love it. Cycling has turned into a business for me. We try to make our cycling holidays in Spain as interesting as possible. I love riding, and even more with people that I have never met before. However, if my obsession is just the numbers, then I won’t love it.

In Conclusion

So Strava and watts, are they spoiling the fun? The answer to that is yes if you just ride for the enjoyment of it. The answer is no if you really want to improve and compete. For somebody in the middle like me? Those who can ride a bit, but don’t want to sacrifice enjoyment. For now, I will stick to the old ways. Perhaps I just need a bit more research. This means more rides, which is always good news.


November 2, 2018

Running and Riding

by Dean Fletcher

A while back I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon with Oscar Pereiro. Oscar is Galicia’s most famous cycling son, winner of the 2006 Tour de France. During our chat, Oscar spoke about the importance of being an athlete, not just a cyclist. He told me about how much he enjoyed running, particularly in his off season. He emphasised the importance of running and riding, as part of his overall training. And above all, he made a lot of sense.

Early morning rollers

If, like me, life is always a battle with weight gain, then running and riding makes a lot of sense. I love my food and find strict diets quite demoralising. So, anything that can help with weight loss, or weight control is important. Particularly if it means that you can still enjoy your food. On the riding front, half an hour of steady work on a static roller first thing in the morning is perfect. OK, I agree that it can be hard to get up thirty minutes early. However, if you can do it, the benefits are huge. With no food in the stomach, the body burns fat as you ride. Just half an hour, at 125 bpm heart rate will suffice. And you will be ready for the day. This was something that Oscar did every morning, so it must be beneficial. Look where he ended up.

Benefits of running and riding

Many cyclists hate running. And rightly so. If we loved it, then we would be runners. Or perhaps the halfway house of triathletes. As somebody who completed a half-ironman, for a bet I must add, I have done a bit of running. Pounding out the kms on the road is no fun if your heart is a cyclist’s heart. However, running and riding can be fun. And the key is, where you run. If you can, look for off road running. The impact on joints is a lot less, and this is important, particularly amongst veterans. I must add that many cycling buddies are ex-runners, who came to cycling to recuperate from running injuries. Looking for trails, or paths through forests, or just a decent sized field is preferable to asphalt. Here in Galicia, we have a lot to choose from.

Time constraints

A problem with cycling can be the time available. Many with busy lives can only find a maximum of 45-60 minutes during the day. The rollers are always a good idea. As mentioned above, this is always more beneficial first thing in the morning. However, an hour, or less, is a lot of time when running. So you should try and incorporate it into the schedule, particularly during the winter months. Buy a decent pair of off-road trainers, and start finding those routes. You will see the benefits very quickly indeed. And if you are looking for cycling holidays in Spain, then bring the trainers with you. There are endless kms of trails here in Galicia after a good days riding to explore.

October 29, 2018

Gearing Set Up for Cycling Holidays in Galicia

by Dean Fletcher

Many who decide to look at cycling holidays in Spain, do not live in mountainous countries. Yes, most countries have hills, and plenty of tests for those who love climbing. Spain, and in particular Galicia, can be a very challenging place to ride your bike. So a lot of thought has to go into gearing set up for your cycling holidays in Galicia. What works in the rolling terrain of the UK, may not be ideal for the steeper stuff to be found on Spain’s north west coast. So what is the ideal set up?

Standard Gearing

Most riders who live in non mountainous regions, will ride with a standard gearing set up. Standard gearing implies a chain ring of 52 or 53 teeth, combined with an onner ring of 39. The inner ring can be a 36 tooth, if you are prepared to pay for a decent front derailleur. This type of set up, for a decent rider will be ideal for a cycling holiday in Galicia. It will enable them to enjoy the flatter roads next to the coast and rivers. At the same time, the climbs will be manageable for a regular rider. As long as the back wheel sprocket has 27 or 28 teeth in its largest ring, almost all climbs will be possible. For a decent rider the recommended set up would be So 52-36 front and 11-27/28 back.

Compact Gearing Set Up

For years I always used the 52-36 gearing set up. However, just recently I have switched to 50-34. The first thing to do when switiching to a compact set up is swallow your pride. Also, forget any pre-conceived ideas of a compact set up being slower. Of course, if you are a Cavendish or a Sagan, a compact group is not for you. However, most cyclists are not, so use what suits you best. On shorter punchier climbs, I can now stay in the big ring. With an 11-27 sprocket, a 6-7% climb of 2-3km is doable in the big ring. Steeper gradients are more manageable with the 34 up front. Real steep stuff, 20%+ will always hurt. With the 34 it does seem to hurt a bit less. The sacrifice is top end speed, particularly descending. However, this is a small price to pay for the improvements in climbing.

In Conclusion 

As with a lot in cycling, it comes down to personal choice. The machismo element will see a compact set up as impossible to use. It isn’t any admittance of lack of strength to use a compact gearing set up. Personally, I am in the best form of my life. My weight is good, my strength too, and I am setting personal bests on some climbs. I firmly believe that the compact set up has been the difference. And more important than anything, the enjoyment factor has increased. I can now tackle climbs such as  Arga de Cima and also the ramps of Mougas knowing that I will get up. And that, especially if you are on a cycling holiday, is more important than anything.

October 22, 2018

Power Meters. Watt is the Story Behind Them?

by Dean Fletcher

Power meters. I don´t have one. I love riding my bike. Primarily to keep fit. Also for the sheer pleasure it gives me. The pain that shoots through my legs when I am climbing. I relish the shortage of breath as the lactic kicks in. That is why I ride a bike. Its a psychological thing for me. I think personally that it keep me young. Mentally and physically. I know it is different for all of us. So let me recount a couple of recent experiences I had with two very differing views on cycling.

Power Meters. Watt is the story behind them?

On Saturday I rode up a beautiful climb, MonteCastrove with a decent group of riders. About twenty of us, and I was somewhere in the middle ability wise. When we reached the top, I “stumbled” upon a conversation regarding performance on the climb. The best guys were all comparing their Strava times on the climb, examining segments. Like me, not all had the Strava app on their phones. However, I was the only one of the ten not to have a power meter. They were all comparing their watts, and examining where they could make improvements. The “winner” was a pure climber. 55kg of sinew and muscle. His average watts were very low compared to the second. He was 72kg but a beast on a bike. The difference in their wattage output was about 33% in purely mathematical terms. I have to admit I was lost totally, so moved away from the conversation.

Where has the Fun Gone?

I will touch on the value of power meters in another blog, as now I am intrigued by their use. Thus, as somebody who has a science degree, albeit form another era in time, I am always fascinated by numbers. However, my initial thoughts on the conversation were these. Nobody spoke about how much they enjoyed the climb. No one seemed that fussed on the fact that we were 450m above the Ria de Pontevedra, with stunning views. It was only me who  mentioned that there was a golf course at the summit. As an ex top level golfer, perhaps I only had an interest in that. Nobody spoke about anything, apart from watts. So, are power meters and Strava spoiling our sport, or are they fundamental.

An Alternative View from a Pro

Ten days ago, I had the pleasure to spend three hours riding with Luis Mendonça. Luis is one of Portugal’s top professional cyclists. I have known Luis for about six years. Without a doubt the nicest guy you could meet. We rode together, at a brisk pace , as I looked for new climbs near his home in northern Portugal. At the top of one rather agonising summit, I asked him about the climb. I was in pieces, he wasn´t even sweating. My question was how do his numbers compare to when he is racing to riding with me. His answer was simple. ” We averaged 14 km/h, in a race it would be 22km/h on that climb at least”. My reply was simple. “What about your watts and heart rate”. His reply was a surprise. ” I don´t have a power meter, and I don´t monitor my heart rate. I ride by sensastions, always have”.

Brief Conclusions

I need to study all this more before I give an opinion. My initial thoughts as a scientist, in the loosest sense of the word? Numbers always help, how can they not? When I trained for a half ironman in 2015 I was numbers driven. However, this was because I hadn´t swam for 32 years, or ran more than 5km. I had to use some sort of yardstick. However, with cycling surely obsession with numbers takes away the pure enjoyment. Or does it? Those obsessed with Strava and power meters at the top of the mountain seemed as happy as I was. Perhaps they ride for different reasons to me. I need to do more research before reaching my own conclusions, which I will share on this blog. That will include more kms on my bike, and all of them in cycling in  Galicia,  so I will enjoy my studies. I will keep you posted.