Relentlessly Uphill

Two days on from my latest sportive and I’m feeling human again. Almost.

Saturday saw the first running of the Twining Pro-Am sportive in Salisbury.  I have to admit that my initial reason for riding this was to give a bit of moral support to @leadout though in recent weeks I have been looking forward to it for sporting reasons. And dare I say it, sat here with the benefit of hindsight I can see the positive effect it has on me both physically and, more importantly as I type, mentally.  In all fairness the Twining event was superbly run: low key but effective start and finish, located next to a leisure centre (for showers!) with ample parking (for the support team!) and a goodie bag the quality of which you rarely see at a mass participation sports event. The weather was kind despite it being a British bank holiday and the drivers were as considerate as they ever seem to be in the South of England.  The organisers deserve the praise for delivering such a high quality yet relaxed experience.

The only snag was the route, though this should not be seen as a criticism on the part of the organisers. Indeed, looking at this objectively, the route was well conceived. For the most part it was on quiet, good quality roads and with the odd exception well signed.  But its main feature was its unrelenting nature, a constantly undulating route replete with unpredictable wind.  I know that for some this was a major negative and my cycling buddy Dr D was firmly in this camp.  For me it was a ride of two halves: the first 30 miles taken easy with Dr D, the last 30 miles spent on my own catching and passing all the hares who’d overtaken us on the way out.  Those first 30 miles seemed pleasantly rolling when taken easier*, but they never gave up on the return leg.  I finished tired but content in equal measure and looking back this was the tonic that I needed this summer.

As more intuitive readers may have already picked up, I’ve been struggling this summer and at times have felt in a similar place psychologically to where I was 2 years ago. I don’t like to dwell there to long and I’m glad that now I can recognise the symptoms before a catastrophic collapse brings them all to the fore. But it means this summer has been hard work.  Whilst watching yesterday’s Vuelta stage I was intrigued to hear Messrs Harmon and Smith discussing the body’s energy use. To simply exist and function physically (not including exercise) the body uses 15% of its energy. The brain alone uses 16% of the body’s energy.  It goes without saying that the more the brain is asked to do the more energy it requires and so the more exhausted one can feel.  And this is how I have been feeling: boredom with my lot, anxious due to the boredom, stressed due to the anxiety, bored with the stress – a vicious spiral which I have kept in a steady state. In part good, but could be a lot better. Is it any wonder I feel so tired.

And so this is why Saturday’s efforts seemed in a way familiar but also an escape. Relentlessly undulating would make a change from relentlessly uphill. Time to get a bit of perspective back, time for a refocus.


*Apologies to Dr D who found Saturday’s ride anything but enjoyable – she did make it though!


Putting the “i” in team

Something that has been eating away at me for a while is a feeling of loneliness that pervades society these days. Whilst the initial reaction of many will be to think and assert that they are not alone, I would lay down this challenge: in order to be recognised do you have to do more on your own or as part of a team?  A tough question when you start to think about it. Just to ease the seriousness for one moment, this question reminds me of an episode of The IT Crowd in which Moss and Roy feel left out of the celebration of the end of a project that they delivered and where Denholm thanks everyone but the people who deserve the thanks. Quite justifiably the boys from the basement feel hard done by. But ironically this clip also highlights they way in which others can be thanked.

For me this thought process has been ongoing during my return to work. Regular readers will have followed the deficiencies of the organisation I work for in their recognition of human resource needs and the way in which success is a misunderstood commodity.  This forms the context in which my thinking has further formed.  It has become increasingly evident to me that your contribution in this environment is measured by your individual achievements rather than your contribution to a team. I wondered if this was just me, whether it was a product of the institution or the sector that I worked in but there is growing evidence that this might just be a wider trend.

Measuring success is always going to be difficult but the metrics by which we achieve this have become increasingly individualised and ignore the contribution one person may have made to another’s accomplishment(s).  What finally made the connection for me were two articles which appeared on in the last 2 weeks. This week the UCI have announced the all important World Rankings which determine the number of starters each nation can have in the UCI Mens Road Race in Copenhagen in September.  The ranking of each nation is determined by the number of points riders from those countries have scored on the World Tour*. With a course that is believed to suit Mark Cavendish, Team GB needed to qualify as many riders as possible. By being ranked 6th they qualified for 9 starters. Only, they can only start 8 riders because only 8 British riders have scored World Tour points. On the face of it, fine. Luxembourg are in a similar position only their pints have been scored by only 2 riders, the Schlecks.  But where as Luxembourg have a lot fewer riders at the highest level of the sport (as noted in the article), Great Britain have a fair few more. And in gaining some of those qualifying points, other riders are likely to have contributed to the racing. For example, the 181 points that Bradley Wiggins has scored are not just the result of his effort alone but have been secured through the hard work of domestiques, quite a few of whom are British and who have not scored points themselves.

Which brings me neatly on to the role of the domestique.  For the non-cyclists reading this, a domestique is as the name suggests a servant to the team. They are the riders who, as HTC have shown for Cavendish, chase down the break so their sprinter has a chance of winning the race. They are the riders who, rarely seen by the TV cameras, go back to the support cars to drop of excess layers of race clothing from their team leaders and fill their jerseys with bottles and food to bring back to the front.  Without them racing would look a whole lot different for the stars. And yet there has always been some unwritten value of this role to the extent that those riders who had made this their career role have been known as super-domestiques, for example Team Sky DS Sean Yates.  And so reading’s piece on Dimitri Champion a fortnight ago added further fuel to my thoughts. Champion was French national champion (if you can forgive the alliterative pun) 2 years ago. Since that win he has suffered a spate of injuries and now has no ranking points to his name.  Just as ranking points are important to nations, they are one of the means for professional teams to gain access to cycling’s premiership, the World Tour. Riders with points are valuable, riders without points it would seem are increasingly seen as a liability.  Yet again, the ranking system, the metric used to measure success, fails to acknowledge the contributions of others in non points scoring roles. It is an issue discussed in Richard Moore’s book Sky’s the Limit, where Team Sky principle Dave Brailsford discusses the shortcomings of ranking systems based solely on points on the line and how any system can recognise the water carrying, the break chasing and the pacing back of leaders after a fall/mechanical.

And this brings me full circle. Whilst there are lone voices like Brailsford’s intelligently questioning the system, much of the disquiet is muttering and there are few alternatives put forward.  Until then we all make our contributions but increasingly feel less satisfied with what we do, especially when part of larger entities and organisations.  For me this means contributing to research yet feeling I am not valued as much as the person who writes a paper based on the findings of that research.  No longer do we play to our strengths nor a jack of all trades, we must be a master of all trades.  I have no easy answers and of course much of it comes down to interpersonal dynamics. But I still can’t help feeling we’ve gone wrong somewhere and have taken a big step to focussing on the “i” in team and do so at our peril.


*There are many flaws with this system which deserve a blog or book in their own right and which I will not tackle here.

Turn off, tune out and give up

Every once in a while I need the time and space to recharge. The world gets too much. And I don’t just mean the big things like riots and economics, its the small things in life like what I’m having for tea or how to occupy myself for the next hour. I used to feel alone and peculiar in feeling this way, some sort of failure for an inability to make decisions.  I’m slowly learning that this is just my body’s way of saying that it needs a rest.  Just as colds and swollen glands are the physical signs of stress and tiredness, this is the mental equivalent. Don’t fight it, feel it. Or something along those lines.  So whilst I could have soldiered on at 100% I’m giving myself some space to regroup my senses.  Therefore the lack of blog posts is nothing personal, I’ve not given up just having a little break. There is some interesting bike and brain related content that I have planned and can promise you in a few weeks. So in the best words of London Underground, Mind the Gap and I’ll be back soon. In the meantime, why not take a break yourself, you know you’re worth it.