Huge apologies if there have been any of you lingering out there in cyberspace hoping for a more steady stream of updates. As per usual I had hoped to maintain a constant feeding of information onto this site- but essays, exams, revision, racing and the like gradually wore down my motivation.
Anyhow, I’ll try to keep this brief as I have exams looming in May and I already feel as though I’m behind on revising for them.
The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity for me. One of the real wonders of cycling (and I imagine any sport, really) is the fact that year on year you continue to learn so much more- about the sport, about your body, about training, about yourself. This year has been no different for me in that respect, but things are really starting to come together and I feel that both mentally and physically I’m moving up another level. The thing I am most pleased about, however, is the fact I’m still enjoying everything so much.
I’ve been privileged to work with some truly fantastic people for the past few months. It can be hard struggling physically, financially or mentally when there is just you. Every elite athlete has been there at some point or other, but I truly believe that these moments of crisis define you as an athlete, and also as a person. Similarly, if you have been blessed to receive some help (whether with money, equipment, expertise, or just moral support) it is appreciated all the more, and the circumstances in which the provision is made tell you a great deal about the people who are providing that support to you.
There are basically 3 people/organisations in my life at the minute who I am eternally grateful to. Not because of the support they provide, but for the fact that they never ask for anything back. As sponsors/supporters one would expect the arrangement to be fairly balanced- I use their expertise/equipment, and they expect something in return. So far nothing could be further from the truth. I have felt absolutely no pressure to perform (outside of the presures I put on myself) and for that I am truly grateful, as it means I can concentrate just on my performances and improving them- not on fulfilling sponsors obligations.
Cyclefit are the first on my hitlist of thanks. This is a company who are the most qualified bike-fitters in Europe. A company so well-qualified that they train other bike-fitters- whether they’re from Specialized, Trek, or any other of the variety of bike-fitting companies in existence. Two guys so bereft of arrogance, ego or fawning complacency that they’ll take in a struggling rider (a paracyclist, no less) give him a decent cup of coffee (monmouth, no less), fit him up on the rig, sort out bike fits, stash him a load of kit and bike (2 at last count, no less) and do so with a candour and humour that I feel very touched to share with them. What have they asked for in return? Well,.. nothing. I don’t think they’ve even asked to be on the sponsors page on this website. They simply couldn’t care less. Is this poor business practice, a missed opportunity for some potential media coverage? Or is it just the fact they’re so damn good that they just don’t need the additional advertising? I’m leaning pretty heavily towards the latter. If you ride a bike, and want to ride further, faster, in more comfort… don’t even think about going to see anyone else. They’re your first port of call at www.cyclefit.co.uk
2nd on the hitlist is Jonathan, Mick, Frances and all the crew at Balance. A slick multi-disciplinary outfit based in Clapham, they work very closely with Cyclefit on a great many of the bike-fits they do (although their bike expertise is a tiny area of all the things they do)- providing additional biomechanical, orthotic and physio support as the case may require. Mick made the footbeds to go in my shoes- no mean feat for someone with pretty badly messed-up feet 2 sizes different from the other with no fat on the soles. Not only did they offer that service free, no-charge, without me even asking- I then get a call from Jonathan, one fo the Directors (who I’d never met or even spoken to) who asked if he could come on board and help. He then came down from London to Exeter for the day (!) bringing with him a bag full of expertise, ideas and Trigger Point Therapy products- all of which he gave to me. And what did he ask for in return? Erm, well… nothing. And how useful are the techniques he showed me? They’re pretty essential to me now. Basically if www.balancephysio.com don’t know it about the human body and how it works, it’s probably not worth knowing.
Last but no means least- a particularly special thanks must go to a man; a Big Name on Campus at Exeter. Alan “Beef” Pope. Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at the University of Exeter. Despite taking an active and engaged role in the development of the majority of athletes in the High Performance Unit he found time (quite a lot of time… about 3.5 years now) to help out a struggling cyclist with no real results or performances to his name, prior to actually realising he was a paracylist and contacting British Cycling. For over 3 years now Beef has been the calm voice of reason for me, and in all that time I don’t think he’s ever asked me to do anything for him in return. Except perhaps shut up about Rapha. And Coffee. And bike porn. Or any other variety of topics I witter on about. Thanks Beefster. His sporadic twitter feed can be followed at www.twitter.com/itsbeef
Yeah, so “keeping this brief” didn’t really work out…
(This is a reproduction of the original article first published at http://www.roadcyclinguk.com/guest-blog/delusions-of-grimpeur-11–caffeinated-grimpeur/6287.html )
Quick note- Rapha and High5 goodies have been sent out to all the worthy winners. If any of you haven’t yet received any prizes, fear not, they will be with you in the next day or so. Thanks must go out to Rapha and High5 for providing the spoils of war, to RCUK and its fantastic readers for entering the competition, and to www.rokkexpress.com for building www.tom-staniford.co.uk which made this all possible. Thanks guys.
Another solid week of training has come and gone at Delusion Towers, the Exeter bastion of the Grimpeur, and things are beginning to hot up on the training front. Saturday saw me venturing further south to Penzance for an 80-mile hilly epic around the Cornish coast with Rapha Condor Club members. An arduous route was made easier by the fantastic camaraderie displayed by all riders (and honoured guest Colin Lewis) and the generous helpings of coffee cake at St. Ives. Once I’ve managed to track down a few pictures I hope to publish a full write-up in Delusions 12.
I’m now back in Exeter and enjoying the first days of my rest week- a luxurious respite from the daily grind of training made all the more enjoyable due to the fact that the heavens have opened with a vengeance. There’s something especially nice about bad weather on a rest day- you’re flushed with contentment from completing the hard training required of you; a sentiment only exacerbated by the fact you feel you have somehow skilfully negotiated the downpour and cheated the Gods. Of course, the corollary of this feeling is that you feel quite wretched when it’s sunny on a rest day- torn as you are between a desire to rest and not jeopardise your long-term training programme and the desire to get out and enjoy the verdant green of England in bloom. [In February? - ed.]
I sit writing this now at my favourite coffee shop in Exeter. It is pouring rain with terrific consistency but I am warm and philosophical; sheltered as I am under an attractively-positioned umbrella.
Whilst waiting for pictures from Saturday’s epic I’m somewhat bereft of a decent topic for this Delusion, so I have opted to fall back onto discussing one of my major passions alongside making Lycra go fast- Coffee. Please note that in the interests of keeping you all awake I won’t be going into a terrific amount of detail- so any fellow coffee-aficionados amongst you may have to excuse me for simplifying some points.
Coffee has, for a great many years, been the preserve, friend, ally and accomplice of the passionate cyclist. Caffeine has been shown in various studies over the years to; increase fat-burning; increase endurance; reduce perception of pain; and stimulate the central nervous system amongst other things. Subjective testing I have embarked upon also proves (at least to me) that it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Coffee has gone beyond being about mere performance benefits for the wannabe Euro-poseur cycliste, however. Coffee and the cafe culture have permeated the very fibre of this glorious sport. Whether under the guise of the obligatory club run coffee/cake stop, the pre-ride warm-up espresso or the post-ride rewarding beverage- no supplement has been quite so widespread in its appreciation and application. Indeed outside of just cycling, coffee is the second most-traded commodity on the world market after oil- with billions invested year on year in fuelling everyone’s cravings for it.
Capitalising on this wave of coffee appreciation and the permeating of Euro café culture into British life is my friend Matt of www.bikecaffe.com. Combining a talent for finding rare and high quality blends with a focus on fair-trade, organic and sustainable trade- he operates from a pimp espresso trike (see pics) often found in the centre of Exeter. I’d urge you all to give him a go if visiting the area.
The production of coffee itself begins with the selection of beans from the coffee plant. The fleshy fruit from around the beans is removed, and the ‘stone’ inside is the actual bean. Coffee plants, like grape vines, grow best in very specific conditions, and this combination of environmental factors (altitude, humidity, sunshine, soil composition, wind, etc) known as ‘terroir’ has a dramatic effect on the flavour of the beans themselves.
Once stripped of fruit, the ‘green beans’ as they are known are left in the sun to dry. Individual plantations/estates may turn these by hand or machine according to their own views on proper drying. The dried beans are then bagged up for roasting.
The larger estates may have their own roasteries on-site. Others may, for economic reasons, ship their green beans to the country of sale and roast them there, or roast them though a specialist company. Roasting involves heating the beans in a special kiln- the temperature and length of time dependent upon whether a light, medium, dark etc variety is required. This naturally affects flavor- with darker roasts creating a darker, more intense brew.
The roasted beans are then sealed in airtight containers and sold. Kept in the fridge/freezer in airtight packages, roasted beans can remain fresh – even for months. Once ground, though, freshness (and taste) will start to deteriorate immediately depending on variety. Old coffee is generally quite muted in flavour, will not produce a pleasing crema (the creamy off-white substance found floating on quality coffee) and may even taste quite bitter/stale.
The fineness of the grind itself is important in brewing coffee. Cafetieres or ‘French press’ require a moderately coarse grind for best flavour. Espresso requires a finer grind. Too coarse and the coffee will run through an espresso machine too quickly, resulting in a weak coffee with no crema. Too fine or tightly packed and the coffee will be too strong or acidic as the hot water has burnt the coffee.
Individual coffees- whether from a specific region, specific variety, or even specific estate all respond differently to pressure and temperature- so home-grinding requires some mild experimentation in the pursuit of the perfect cup. Of course a general fine grind will generally work with all espresso machines- but for the perfectionists/purists/nerds such as myself the pursuit of the perfect espresso is all part of the joy of coffee appreciation.
Regardless of whether you are a casual drinker or are consumed with a craving for constant coffee perfection I would urge you all to try as many varieties/blends as possible. Like wine, there is a whole world of taste, texture and flavour just waiting out there for you to experience.
And, let’s face it, it’ll make you ride faster.
What’s not to like?