Cyclocross (Part 2) – with added Road Racing

As I said yesterday:

This weekend, from a sporting point of view, is one of my favourites. The European road cycling season gets itself underway with Le Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise (L’Ouverture), although this year the Challenge Mallorca series has been underway since Thursday. The World Cyclocross Championships also take place. This year they are being held at Zolder in Belgium.

Sunday 31/01/2016

Today we had the Under 23 Men’s and the Elite Men’s Races. I didn’t get home in time to see the Under 23 race but by all accounts it was a good one. It was won by the Belgian rider Eli Iserbyt in a sprint.

For the full race click here

The Men’s Elite Race was a classic;

After the initial sort out, it looked as if the race was going to be dominated by the three Vans, Wout Van Aert (Belgium), Lars Van Der Haar (Netherlands), and Mathieu Van Der Poel (Netherlands). It didn’t stay that way. For one last hurrah of a half lap Sven Nys took off and everyone – even the Dutch willing him to stay out front

At the risk of being lynched: I am for @sven_nys. Just because it would be so beautiful, the old Fox in the Rainbow Jersey.

Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. After the lead group had come back together a tangle where Mathieu Van Der Poel managed to get his foot stuck in Wout Van Aert’s front wheel, gave Lars Van Der Haar the chance to take off. He built a lead of about fifteen seconds at one point. Wout Van Aert didn’t panic he worked his way back up to Van Der Haar steadily and with a lap and a half to go re caught him. They seemed pretty evenly matched until the final run-up where Van Aert had just a little bit more left in his legs and made the decisive gap that would bring him the Rainbow Jersey.

Sven Nys finished fourth in his last ever World Championships

Full Race replay here

Added Road Racing

Grand Prix Cycliste La Marseillaise

I found this footage on YouTube. I think someone has shot it on their mobile phone. It gives a flavour of the race, which was won by Dries Devenyns (Bel) IAM Cycling

Cycling News report here

Challenge Mallorca – Final stage.

The video above shows the highlights of the stage won by André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal.

Cycling news report here

Trouw.nlAn excellent article in Trouw by Marijn de Vries on Femke Van den Driessche and her electric bike. Use google translate if your Dutch isn’t too good.

Cyclocross (With added Electric Bikes)

This weekend, from a sporting point of view, is one of my favourites. The European road cycling season gets itself underway with Le Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise (L’Ouverture), although this year the Challenge Mallorca series has been underway since Thursday. The World Cyclocross Championships also take place. This year they are being held at Zolder in Belgium.

Saturday 30/01/2016

The day started off with the race for Junior (under 18) Men which was won by Jens Dekker of the Netherlands, Highlights below;

But Saturday was Ladies Day with the Women’s Elite race as well as the inaugural Women’s under-23 race. Both were excellent races in different ways. The under-23 race being won by the British rider Evie Richards  in an almost race long breakaway. She had the disadvantage of starring on the third row of the grid, because as she said at the finish this was the first time she had raced cyclocross outside of the UK (and therefore didn’t have the results that would have given her a better start position). By half way round lap one she had worked her way to the front, took the lead and immediately built a race winning gap.

The highlights of the race are below.

If you want to watch the full race this link will take you to the video.

Following on from that a hour or so later we had the Women’s Elite race. There were two British women Helen Wyman and Nikki Harris who had a reasonable chance of ending the day in a Rainbow Jersey. This race worked itself out differently from either the Junior Men or the Under-23 Women both of which were won “easily” by long range attacks. For most of the race it looked as if one of four women, Sanne Cant (Belgium), Caroline Mani (France),Nikki Harris (Great Britain) or Sophie De Boer (Netherlands) would be the eventual winner. However we had reckoned without Thalita De Jong (Netherlands).

Last weekend at her home cyclocross in Hoogerheide she showed that she was in good form. This week she recovered from a bad start that left her in about 20th place half way round the first lap, but by about a lap and half to go she had made it up to the lead group. She bided her time and made her decisive attack with about half a lap to go.
Highlights below;

For a replay of the full race follow this link.

A couple of tweets about the race;

Electric bikes

Unfortunately everything was slightly overshadowed by the first proven instance of “mechanical doping”. An electric motor was found in the frame of a bike apparently owned by Under 23 rider Femke Van den Driessche who started as the favourite for the race, but abandoned before the start of the final lap with, ironically, a mechanical problem. She has denied that it is her bike and claims that it belonged to a friend. (Well blaming it on a dodgy steak wouldn’t have worked would it?) She also denies using it during the race. Which may well be the case. I suspect that the plan was to use it for the final lap. It is possibly worth noting that her brother Niels is currently suspended for “ordinary” doping.

Last summer I posted concerning the accusation (unfounded) that Ryder Hesjedal and Alberto Contador had used electric assisted bikes at the Giro d’Italia. I basically poo pooed the idea, saying that I didn’t think that it would help that much because the power boost that you could get from a motor hidden in the down tube would be fairly small and because of the limitations on the size, the battery wouldn’t last all that long. I would still stand by that as regards road racing though not with the level of certainty I had last June.

However cyclocross is a different tactical situation. The races are much shorter, in the case of Under-23 Women, forty to forty five minutes, and the riders swap bikes on a regular basis throughout the race. So consider, it is the last lap of the race, everyone’s legs are hurting. You come into the pits and change your bike for the one with the electric motor. The battery is good for ten or twelve minutes, it will last the lap. It will give you say a 100 watt power boost; not huge but it will probably mean that you can ride that hill that everyone else has to run, and if it comes down to a sprint that extra 100 watts should be enough to give you the edge.

Because bad news always beats good news to the headlines it was sort of forgotten that Jens Dekker, Evie Richards and Thalita De Jong all produced magnificent rides to pull on their respective Rainbow Jerseys. Let’s remember that and not what a talented but insecure young Belgian girl did, possibly under the influence of someone who from the little I have read (and mainly in Dutch) seems to be a very controlling father.

Student Nurses

At a time when National Health Service staff and resources are stretched almost to breaking point our wonderful government have come up with a brilliant plan to reduce the number of nurses in training, thus saving costs on the training budget, and also on future staffing budgets.

Basically George Osborne in his Autumn spending review proposed that the current system of bursaries for student nurses be replaced with a system of loans.

Civil servants are weighing up the potential unpopularity of the move, and the risk of it worsening the existing shortage of NHS nurses, against it potentially freeing up about £800m a year for the government.

It is one of a series of cuts to non-frontline areas of NHS activity and funding that Treasury officials are examining as part of a division of the Department of Health’s ringfenced £116bn annual budget into protected and non-protected areas.

Public health has already suffered a £200m cut and there are also likely to be fewer or less rigorous inspections of hospitals and GP surgeries as part of savings forced on the Care Quality Commission, the NHS care watchdog.
The axing of public funding for future generations of nurses would be controversial. The boss of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned that ending financial support could hit recruitment by putting off people from poorer backgrounds and those considering a change in career.

“Anything that makes people worse off and puts people off from becoming nurses, and reduces the link between student nurses and the NHS, would be a big loss to our society and put us in a precarious position,” said Janet Davies, the RCN’s general secretary and chief executive. She described the plan as “not helpful”.

The proposal could deter the sizeable number of student nurses already owing significant amounts from a previous degree, Davies warned. “The average age of students on nursing degree courses is 29. They’re not all 18-year-olds,” she said.

However I have a better idea. Given that as part of their training nurses do spend quite a lot of their time actually working in hospitals, I suggest that the apprenticeship model of training be adopted. Craft apprentices are paid a salary during their training and their college fees are met by their employers. Why? because their employers see them as valuable members of the workforce who contribute, not just when they are fully trained, but during their training as well. Student (apprentice)Nurses should be employed by the NHS from day one of their training.

Yellow Princess – John Fahey

The last “Songs I Love” post was Cyril Tawney’s “Grey Funnel Line” a song  about a seaman’s changing relationship with the sea. This reminded me of another piece of music (rather than a song) that I love John Fahey’s “The Yellow Princess”. It is (sort of) about a sailing ship – the Yellow Princess. As with all things Fahey the truth is probably more oblique and likely stranger than that. See his liner notes about the tune below the video.

John Fahey was an interesting character- read his Wikipedia  entry to see exactly how interesting.  He was an amazing fingerstyle guitarist and even today fifteen years after his death he is cited as an influence by a phenomenal number of guitar players.

The Yellow Princess:
I once managed to copy the main theme of a passage from “The Yellow Princess Overture,” by Camille Saint-Saens. This is a stabilized improvisation upon that passage. I began it in 1954 and completed it in December 1966, in Bastrop, La.
The Yellow Princess was a magnificent Clipper ship with golden sails, ivory prow, jade hull and jeweled mast-head; a vessel I saw setting sail at Orkney Springs, Virginia, in 1953. She was headed East and so was I. I was offered passage but took the dry-land route. Last I saw her (June, 1956) she was dry-docked on some tributary of the Anacostia. Having no appropriate wares for commerce upon the high seas I left her there. But such a well made ship! She still sails the Atlantic, I have recently been informed, prosperously laden with valuable cargo, having been quite productive all these years. She was last sighted by R. Grubbert Gardner, late 1966, in the thriving seaport of Lanham, Maryland.
The composition is played in standard tuning, and modulates between the keys of G and E major. The song thus transports itself through the Ionian and Mixolydian modes, and through this and other devices, motion suggests itself. While the motion continues the modulation is quickly executed (one should never be modally indeterminate) and the first mode hitchhikes along the road East (Md 410) to the Atlantic Ocean where it waits to see the sunrise and watch the ships go by. But the morning is cloudy. It gets depressed and collapses in the sand. Gulls and crabs are probably still there. The other drives West to the Pacific where it is caught and trapped by the sunset. Soon nightfall will come.
I did not go East. I took the wrong passage. Still, I thought, maybe I had gotten somewhere. Maybe I did. Who knows? But I am reminded of a quotation from Whitman which seems appropriate:
. . .where is what I started for so long ago?
And why is it yet unfound?
I know the answer to this question. The Yellow Princess still sails majestically out in the Atlantic, her golden sails billowing gently in the clean easterlies. I sit on the shore of the Pacific (Facing West I watch the sunset and try to think up new modes. I do not watch the ships go by. Those golden sails are on the Atlantic.) and will not venture upon that bay.
The Yellow Princess is not a canal ship. She cannot go around the Southern continent, much less circumnavigate the globe, any more than we can travel back through time. She is under a long contract to the John H. Meyer shipping firm in Lanham.
And contracts are contracts. I know that the shipbuilder made her for the Atlantic. I knew him a little. I played cards with him a few times-for money. He made her to sail in the clear water, and the Atlantic is still clean I hear. I swam in it when I was young. It is a better ocean. But no one told me this (I should have known) and now it is too late. There is no craft available in the whole Pacific Ocean on which I can find that kind of passage.
But then too the Pacific is not stagnant. And, when I stop to think about it, neither am I. Perhaps the answer to Whitman’s question is “right around the corner.”
One must choose his modes of transport and his oceans with care. He must choose between the present and the past. And then if he wants to gamble he must choose between the past and the future. The whole thing is very confusing. But I hear that out there where I live, hidden by the Venice seawall, an occasional sea-turtle comes up the cold current to see if things have changed. Some of these turtles are indigenous only to the Pacific. I want to see them and hear their voices. But I have trouble for whenever I try to listen, the rumbling voice of the land-locked turtle comes to haunt me. Sometimes it is loud, sometimes very faint. Perhaps there will come a time when I will not hear him anymore. Perhaps the saw-mill turtle is already dead and when I think I hear him it is merely imagination. But I cannot write a requiem for him until I am certain that he is dead. Recent events indicate that he may well be dead. But that’s another record. Story of my life.

First Ride of the Year

I got myself out  on my bike for the first time this year. Up ’till now the weather has been pretty miserable on my days off and riding in the rain goes against Rule#2 in my Rules for the over Sixties.

The original Rules as formulated by The Velominati are great but I feel that there needs to be an addendum to them for us more mature cyclists. For example Rule#9

Rule #9
If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.
Fair-weather riding is a luxury reserved for Sunday afternoons and wide boulevards. Those who ride in foul weather – be it cold, wet, or inordinately hot – are members of a special club of riders who, on the morning of a big ride, pull back the curtain to check the weather and, upon seeing rain falling from the skies, allow a wry smile to spread across their face. This is a rider who loves the work.

This is fine for 25 year old Belgians or people called Sean with the surname Kelly or Yates (or wannabes). For us over sixties (and Sean Kelly joins us this year), if we haven’t proved ourselves to be badass by now, well it’s not going to happen. So my Rule#2 overrides Rule #9 if you are over sixty:

OS Rule#2 Riding in the rain is not compulsory. 

If you have read David Millar’s book The Racer you will find that certain more mature professionals apply this rule as well.

Rule #1 in case you haven’t read some of my previous posts is:

OS Rule#1 If you have run out of gears when climbing a hill it is acceptable to get off and push – especially if the alternative is a heart attack.

Back to my ride. I wasn’t planning on going very far, and I don’t really do fast any more, just a gentle little ride up to Banstead and back possibly stopping for a coffee. It is about 20km and would take about an hour (excluding the coffee stop). The weather was OK, a bit grey, but dry when I set out. I had done less than 1km when it started raining lightly. By the time that I reached the top of Sandy Lane it was tipping it down, so I invoked OS Rule#2. I took a little loop though some back streets which took me back down to the bottom of Sandy Lane on my way back home.

By the time I was back at the bottom of Sandy Lane It had stopped raining, so OS Rule#2 no longer applied. I thought I might as well do the ride as planned. By the time I was at the top of Sandy Lane again it was once more coming down like stair rods. I want back round the little loop again asking the weather to make its blooming mind up. Once more by the time I reached the bottom of Sandy Lane the rain had stopped. In fact the sun was trying to make an appearance. By this time, if I had gone up to Banstead, it would have been dark by the time I got home so I decided on a little 8 km loop round by Oaks park instead.

It wasn’t the most spectacular of bike rides but as the plate my sister gave us as a Christmas present says, “You are only ever a bike ride away from a good mood.”

The ride is on Strava if you want to see where I got to.


Grey Funnel Line

Cyril Tawney served in the Royal Navy (The Grey Funnel Line) in the 1950’s, he wrote many fine songs and this may be his finest. June Tabor’s version is particularly good

Grey Funnel Line
(Cyril Tawney)

Don’t mind the wind nor the rolling sea
The weary night never worries me
But the hardest time in a sailor’s day
Is to watch the sun as it fades away

It’s one more day on the grey funnel line

The finest ship that sails the sea
Is still a prison for the likes of me
But give me wings like Noah’s dove
I’ll fly up harbor to the one I love

There was a time my heart was free
Like a floating spar on the open sea
But now that spar is washed ashore
It comes to rest at my real love’s door.

Every time I gaze behind the screws
Makes me long for St Peter’s shoes
I’d walk on down that silver lane
And take my love in my arms again

Oh Lord, if dreams were only real
I’d have my hands on that wooden wheel
And with all my heart I would turn her ’round
And tell the boys that we’re homeward bound

I’ll pass the time like some machine
Until blue water turns to green
Then I’ll dance down that walk on shore
And sail the Grey Funnel Line no more.
And sail the Grey Funnel Line no more.

I was never in the Royal Navy, I always sailed on Merchantmen, but a ship is still a ship, and what he wrote, and June Tabor sings resonates with me.

It’s The Spin that Wins

A very good analysis of exactly how George Osborne and David Cameron spin their claims of “increased” health spending. From someone on the sharp end of the cuts.


The strike is back on and Jeremy is straight out in front with claims of committing ‘extra funds’ to the NHS. Unsurprisingly this is rubbish.

juniordoctorblog explains how the funding spin is constructed and how they are getting away with it.

NHS Funding: Who’s telling the truth?

The funding situation of the NHS can be a tricky thing to get your head around, so it’s no wonder the British media struggle to report it accurately. As such, we often hear statements from the Government and leading health economists that seem diametrically opposite to each other, leaving media reporters, and by extension the general public, confused and unsure of what to believe.

For example, George Osborne in his latest Spending Review can announce a “half trillion pound settlement, the biggest commitment to the NHS since it’s creation”[1]. Meanwhile, the chief economist of the King’s Fund, states the NHS is facing the…

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Multilateral Nuclear Disarmement

There has been a lot of comment about Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to ditch Maria Eagle (pro Trident) for Emily Thornberry (anti Trident). Ultimately we will have to rely on technology to solve the problem.

Via xkcd

Songs I Love – Fairytale of New York

Because it is Christmas and this is the finest Christmas song that I know. Kirsty McColl and the Pogues finest hour.

No explanations needed.

Dinner (by Heston Blumenthal)

The concept behind Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant, Dinner, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel is an interesting one. While his other restaurant, The Fat Duck, pushes the boundaries of modern cuisine, Dinner takes its inspiration from recipes from Britain’s past. He explains why the restaurant was given its name;

It is never easy naming a restaurant. On this occasion, I wanted something that represented our menu that is inspired by historic British gastronomy, so I searched for a name that had a bit of history, but was also fun.

In the past, the main meal -dinner-was eaten at midday, before it got too dark.  But affordable candles and, later, gaslight saw dinner shift.  By the mid-1800s people were dining later.  People working in the cities were taking a ‘lunch’ to work and having their main meal at 5.00pm when they got home, while in rural areas the main meal was still taken at midday.

Even today, depending where you are in the British Isles, ‘dinner’ might be served at lunchtime, suppertime or, indeed, dinnertime!

This made ‘Dinner’ the natural choice for its typically British quirky history and linguistic playfulness.  If nothing else, I hope it’s easy to remember.

– Heston

Though, I suppose, because I live in London rather than the Scottish Borders these days we had “lunch” rather than “dinner”. Anyway the older of my two sisters was down from Scotland on her annual pre-Christmas trip to London and my younger sister suggested that we go to Dinner. Grace and I said “yes please”.


The Room

You walk into the restaurant through a bar area, which looks a pleasant enough area to have a drink while you are waiting for friends and/or your table. The restaurant itself is a large open room with a view over Hyde Park (a strategically placed hedge hides the road that runs between the hotel and the park. A glass wall runs down one side of the room allowing you the see into the kitchen and the famous pineapple spit.

The dress code is pretty relaxed, at least at lunch time, but I doubt that it would change for the evening. While most people, including ourselves, had dressed up a bit, there were a few diners wearing t-shirts and jeans and very few men were wearing ties.

Grace declared the chairs to be suitably comfortable, so on to the food.

The Food

We decided in the interests of economy to have the set menu, which is only available from 12:00 to 14:30, but at £38 for three courses is good value. Neither of the two choices of main course were suitable for a vegetarian,so Grace was given a dish from the A La Carte menu called “Braised Celery” She also went off piste with her pudding, but more of that later.

A very comprehensive wine list was proffered and flicked through. Possibly I missed it but I couldn’t see the £12.50 House Red. Wine by the bottle is not cheap. There are few, if any bottles at less than £50 and an awful lot over £100. We decided to go with the suggested wine pairings at about £10 per glass.

The set menu offers a choice of two starters, two mains and two puddings, if you are interested click here to see the full menu.

The Starter

Ragoo of Pigs Ear on Toast (c.1750)

My starter was the Ragoo of Pigs Ear on Toast. The recipe it is based on comes from around 1750. The pig’s ear is cooked in red wine and Madeira with onions and anchovies until it is falling apart. The sauce is heavily reduced to a slightly sweet syrup. My sister who also had the dish suggested that it had the texture of pulled pork, she was about right. It is served on a slice of toast, which soaks up the juices and saves asking for bread to mop them up. The wine that went with it was a full bodied Rioja. The intense meaty flavours would have completely overwhelmed a more delicate wine.


Lemon Salad (c.1730)

Grace (being vegetarian) and my other sister chose the Lemon Salad which dates from around 1730. It consisted of smoked artichokes preserved lemon, beetroot and goat’s curd. They both pronounced it excellent.
(The photo is borrowed from my sisters Facebook page)

The Main

Roast Quail (c.1590)

My main course was Roasted Quail, which was served on a bed of cabbage with a celeriac puree, smoked chestnuts and a quail sauce. This was a lovely dish. Quail is quite a delicately flavoured bird and because of it’s size not the easiest to cook, it is very easy to over or under cook and even easier to dry out. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a two Michelin Starred kitchen managed to cook it perfectly, but it was. The puree was smooth as silk and the smoked chestnuts added a complimentary flavour and texture. What they did to the cabbage I am not quite sure, but it was simultaneously creamy, crunchy and had more flavour than any cabbage I can remember eating. The wine that was served with it was something I had never tasted before. A Corsican red, made from two grapes that I had never heard of and whose names I cannot remember, I really should have taken notes from our very (pleasantly) chatty and informative sommelier. When we tried it the first reaction of my sister and myself were exactly the same “That’s different, but pleasant”, when it was drunk with the food it was perfect. I don’t think I have ever had a wine that went with the food I was eating as perfectly as that did.

Grace had the only veggie main on the menu;
Braised Celery (c.1730) with Parmesan, girolles, vinaigrette, cider apple & smoked walnuts. Unfortunately the restaurant got the idea that she was a Vegan rather than Vegetarian (she’s not it’s just that she doesn’t like too much egg or cheese and lazy cooks have a tendency to produce a cheese omelette) the kitchen left the parmesan sauce off the dish. She said it was fine and that the carmelised smoked walnuts were something else, but it probably did  need the sauce or something to bring it together.

My other sister decided to have the Roast Pollack (c.1830), Admiral’s sauce Parsnip puree, shrimps, shallots, brown butter & capers. She is married to a fisherman so knows what a good piece of fish should taste like. She pronounced it the best bit of fish that she could remember eating.

The Pudding

Spiced Christmas Custard Tart (c.1850)

My pudding was a Custard Tart, but that doesn’t really do it justice. Yes it was a perfectly made custard tart, the pastry was thin sweet and crisp and the custard, well, custardy soft and not too sweet, but what lifted it to the special was the intense thin layer of mincemeat with a good kick of brandy between the pastry and the custard, oh and the brulee type topping.

My sister had the Millionaire Tart (c.1730), which when it arrived at the table I said “oh it’s just like mum used to make”. Apparently, it had similarities in that it had a biscuit base, a caramel layer topped by a chocolate layer, but that was where it ended. Mum I’m afraid that your Millionaire’s Shortbread is now only the second best ever. (Though I don’t think they could top your Apricot Tart.)

Grace decided that she would like the Tipsy Cake (c.1810) with Spit roast pineapple from the spit that we could see revolving away from our table. She didn’t like the pineapple, but that was because for some reason she has developed an aversion to acidic foods, so she left it to the rest of us to try, it was perfectly fine, but I didn’t think the taste justified the hype. The tipsy cake on the other hand brought a huge silly grin to her face with the first spoonful, which stayed there ’till we got home. She was generous enough to let the rest of us try a little bit. It was a brioche filled with creme anglaise and soaked in rum, pure indulgence. She described it  as the best bread and butter pudding ever.

We finished our meal with coffees which came with a caraway seed biscuit and a little pot of chocolate ganache to dip them in.

The service throughout was excellent but unobtrusive, I don’t think my water glass remained unfilled for more than five seconds. Actually our sommelier wasn’t that  unobtrusive, but he was informative and fun, so I forgave him.

The bill, including drinks and service came to £75 per head, not cheap but I think for a one off occasion worth it.


Random thoughts, ramblings and rants


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