Saturday, 24 November 2012

Lessons in looking like a 14 year old boy

So a lots has happened since my last post (I enjoyed my foray into women-in-sport-type issues by the way and seeing how amazingly polarising it was; will probably end up talking about it again at some point).

Term started (it's nearly over now FUCK) and I went back to CUWBC as I was always intending to. I lasted a very impressive four days before throwing in the towel and going back to my bikes.

My heart just wasn't in it at all and I came to the conclusion that doing a boat race just out a sense of duty was a very bad reason to do a boat race. You have to want it and want it with all your soul, there is nothing gained by just going through the motions.

I wanted new challenges - I did after all finally win a boat race last year - and the bike would give me that. Sitting in the middle of the velodrome in Manchester with my head in my hands after getting wupped one of my friends remarked that he thought we might be witnessing the death knell of my rowing career and to a certain extent, he was right. Within a week I went back to and subsequently left CUW and was back on the bike again.

Stuff then started happening. I sold my boat, reasoning that it was a crime against Empachers to leave a nice Empacher lying around not doing anything for a couple of years. I put it on the Rowing Service Noticeboard (thanks Rachel Quarrell!), massively lucked out and it was sold and collected within 24 hours... mental.  

In a scene which was weirdly similar to when I bought it; I got it from York and there was the York Minster in the background, now the guy was trying it out in Ely in with Ely Cathedral in the background. It was also fucking freezing, because it was Ely.

This is my favourite me-and-my-boat picture. I had hair then. HAIR.
Although I did have a rather embarrassing cry and a REALLY massive sad, Atreus has gone to a good home though, to a nice lwt man whose going to take it to trials and generally race the bejesus out of it. I'm also considering renaming the-bike-currently-known-as-Thor as Atreus2 or maybe it can have a bike sex-change and become Electra (grandaughter of Atreus), then its nickname can be "Lecky" and that'd be cool.

Anyway, rambling.

I have now embarked on CYCLING ALL THE THINGS and there is well known that if you want to get good at cycling you need two things: a coach and a power meter (and training, suffering etc. but that it is a given). Therefore I've got myself a coach to (a) impart cycling knowledge and (most importantly) (b) stop me from overtraining.

I've also not got a powertap wheel which means MOAR DATA and MOAR GRAPHS which, as a mathematician, is very pleasing to me. However, it is also a tricky beast to please and most of the time my Garmin looks like this:

Occasionally you can make it look like this, but not for very long and usually resulting in you throwing up in a hedge at the side of the road.

So yes, this is now my life:

Descending is SO MUCH FUN when you are a heavy fucker :)

Climbing up the hills is *not* though. For the first time in my life I actually have to lose weight; everything is power to weight in this cycling game, and while being a bit heavy is fine in a boat where it adds a negligible amount to the surface area of boat underwater... When you are going up a hill it matters. A lot.

I have noticed something about this cycling thing though. Compare these two:

I mean, what the actual fuck? How does that even work? The other thing I've noticed is that for the first time ever I have a good reason to shave my legs. I mean, having to shave my legs because I'm a girl is just a shit reason. Shaving my legs because it makes me look more pro at cycling however (even if I'm just wearing leggings all the time anyway) is a good reason.


Other stuff ermmmmmmmm. Oh yeah, I got some rollers. You know, these things:

They were kinda alright actually. I mean the first time I went on them (in my kitchen, holding onto a much too low kitchen surface) I got major novice death grip in the hand I was holding on with and I was basically just sweating FEAR.

The next time was much more successful. For the first 35 mins. I decided it would be a great idea to sort of move around on my saddle a bit and ended up cycling off the edge and completely stacking it and falling off in a very ungainly way. (I almost took out my housemate who was on rollers next to me... oops).

There can honestly be nothing worse than falling off something when you're techincally not really moving at all. I have been reassured it is a rite of passage, stacking it off rollers, much like falling out of a single, which makes me feel a little better.


NOW, I don't know what it is about this item of clothing but I think you either have to be Italian or Eddy Merckx to pull them off. Else, you look like a massive twat.

 Let me demonstrate.

I give you "normal" Anna:

Cycling* Anna:

*Imagine bike + outdoors etc.
Cycling cap Anna:

 Look! I made a gif to show you how wearing a cycling cap can transform me from me to 14 year old boy!

(Sorry, I could not be fucked in lining up the images SO SHOOT ME)


Would YOU trust this 14 year old boy not to rob an off-license?
Admittedly it doesn't help that as soon as a camera is pointed at me I just pull the most stupid faces ever but I think I have proved my point; Cycling caps = you will look like a twat.

However, such is the cycling culture that we all wear them anyway. I mean, I am secretly* trying to look a bit like Robert Millar:

*not very secretly

Sure, I'm failing miserably, but it's the thought that counts right?

Now I am spending considerably more time cycling on the roads around Cambridge I have become... much less tolerant of people being fucking idiots on the roads (cars - cyclists - pedestrians inclusive).

When I have spent an entire ride being cut up by asshats and have just run out of swears to call them (it usually happens that you get an entire week of asshat driving in one ride) I start bitterly constructing award ceremonies in my head for the worst offenders. I am not sure if this is entirely normal, but I imagine getting "FUCKING ASSHAT DRIVER WHO JUST OVERTOOK ME AT 70MPH WITH AN INCH OF ROOM BEFORE TURNING LEFT IN FRONT OF ME" to some nice glitzy award ceremony. There is champagne and women are wearing sparkly dresses and shit and there are glamourous shots of the FUCKING ASSHAT DRIVER all around the place. Stephen Fry gives a little speech about FUCKING ASSHAT DRIVER and then I present him with an award.

It keeps me amused.

Of course the converse is true and I shower adulation and love in unnecessarily flowery language on people who aren't asshats too.

I think a nice friendly wave to nice people who wait for you at junctions and stuff just makes the world a better place. I also like the solidarity that appears to exist between road cyclists (the nod as you past someone else, giving people inner tubes etc.) It's just quite awesome when you are hammering it round in the Fens and it's raining and there's a fucking massive crosswind and its 3 degrees and you are sugar bonking and you accidentally dropped half your banana in the road and your arse hurts and your lungs hurt and your ears are really fucking cold even though you bought a special hat to go under your helmet and you pass someone going the other way and you give them The Nod to acknowledge that they are too suffering in this Fenland soul-destroying wasteland and we understand each other for a little moment before disappearing into the fog and your own personal hell again. It's a beautiful moment.

 ANYWAY, couple of bits of news before I sign off for the night.


I am now on Twitter! I am @rail_guns, obviously (OK, I considered @fuckinghellrage but this is a little more PC). I occasionally attempt to say amusing things, not making any promises though.


I AM MAKING MORE MUGS. If you want any bespoke ones for your longsuffering family members/coxswain/coach/dog etc. for Christmas NOW IS YOUR CHANCE. Drop me an email if you want anything, I'll put the order in mid-December probably. I'll do some more Flaily Scullers and Gorilla Fighters and that do not worry :) They'll be the bargainous sum of £8 again.

And with that, I bid you good night!

Monday, 29 October 2012

An Open Letter to Wiggle

So, I have a massive backlog of stuff to write about but this cropped up today and I felt compelled to write something about it. This is aimed at Wiggle, the online bike/running/tri shop, that are stupid and short-sighted enough to alienate half their potential consumer base by selling the item which I will get to shortly.

First, I shall set the scene.

I am in my office. I am doing maths as that is what I do. I'm looking at Floquet analysis which is actually quite cool and I am enjoying myself.

As is the way with these thing my brain eventually just melts.

I therefore do what any self-respecting graduate student does in this situation
and goes on the internet.

So, scrolling down the newsfeed, and, what is this?

Has Wiggle got hacked or something? It appears to be advertising pornography...? Wait, hang on, they're selling this stuff?

The offending item is this, a calender featuring a bunch of female cycling pros.

Err. What? I basically saw this and lost my shit a little bit. Then quite a lot. I've been meaning to write something about women and sport for quite a while; stuff started bubbling away with all the of the endless WIMMIN'S VOLLEYBALL ASS PHOTOS all over the press all the fucking time during the Olympics but I held my cool and just enjoyed the sport for what it was. Sport. With athletes in it. This bought all the simmering rage right back up to the surface because fuck you Wiggle. Fuck you, calendar. Fuck you and your "women as objects" bullshit.

A blog post had to be written. I rushed home. A fucking epic rant was brewing and you can't keep that stuff canned up too long. My average speed was faster than the local bus by some significant margin and I was pleased (take that lazy bus riders!)

I threw an omelette down myself and started drawing stuff.

OK, it wasn't an omelette, it was 3 rashers of bacon chopped up and four eggs smushed around in a pan with cheese on it but DETAILS.

This is me right now! Oooo meta.

Now some of you are probably thinking, it's a calendar, what's the big deal? Why rush home to write about this?

WELL. What I (and every other woman who commented on Wiggle's advert) found pretty fucking offensive was (a) why the hell are you sexualising a seatpost clamp - it's a seatpost clamp ffs (b) and, more to the point, these women are all pro cyclists, i.e. they are fucking good at cycling. It makes me really quite sad that these women who have suffered and sweated and bled to get to the top of their sport and to be in the best form they can be are essentially reduced to a face, a set of tits and an arse sitting on a really fucking large front derailleur.

 You know what would be nice? If we celebrated what these women have actually gone out and done and achieved instead of the fact that they are attractive and own a vagina.

Some of you rowers will draw parallels with the Leander men's calender a couple of years ago. You know, the one with Pete Reed and an umbrella in it:

 You know what though? This is not the same. One of the photos is of a girl straddling a massive tyre with tape over her nipples and stripper heals on.

I really do not care about stealing these guys pictures.

The Leander calendar equivalent would have to be Pete Reed wearing some sort of latex underwear with tape over his nipples humping a Concept2.

Yeah sure, the Leander guys all have rolled down onesies and abs everywhere and stuff, but they're doing light-hearted stuff like rowing in a boat and erging and holding trophies they've won, not this weird having-sex-with-bike-components shit. The in-your-face sexuality is just absent in the former and is, well, in your face in the this Cyclepassion thing. Hell, in the Leander one they talk about the Olympic and World Champ and Henley medals they've won, where as this monstrosity? Do they even say what fucking cycling team their on? No.

These women are sportswomen and this is not what sport is about. I do not admire people because they are attractive, I admire them because they go out and do heroic things and overcome adversity and be courageous and suffer and suffer and suffer chasing a dream. To have these women draped over weird large bike components (what is even with that?!?!?! Are they saving money by not producing a catalogue or something?) in such an overtly sexual way just trivialises all they have worked for.

THIS is what sport is:'s the Danish LM2x being utterly courageous in the last 500m and taking out the reining Olympic Champions...

Concept2's Kath Grainger enduring three silvers medals to finally get the gold after 16 years and everything that represents...

The Mirror's Frida Svensson taking on the best in the world in 2010 face on... and succeeding....

From Frida's blog's Marianne Vos crushing her demons and soloing to victory in the World Champs, nobody else in the photo....

Getty Images's Robert Millar ripping his and everyone else's legs off on some godforsaken Alp for a jersey with some red dots on it...

Cycling Weekly (And yes I know this photo is from the wrong year)'s shaking hands with your opposition on the finish line...

Steve Cristo's a great rivalry coming to an end...

... and it is passion.

The Telegraph
It saddens me greatly that these pros feel they have to do this shit for what, publicity I guess. I mean, these women weren't exactly kidnapped on a training ride and made to sit on giant bike components were they? I'd have like to think that a pro would have more self respect than to trivialise themselves in this way.  Incidentally, one of the reasons I actively dislike Victoria Pendleton is that she feels like she has to do all this stuff when she really doesn't (the other reason is that she cries a lot, but that is another story).

Really? REALLY? (And blue tyres on a red bike?!?!?!?)


I have to evaluate why I do sport when this sort of palaver crops up. Now I am not the most genetically gifted person looks-wise and I know how averages work so I'm going to put myself in the sub-average lookwise category (and no, I am not fishing for complements, I get called 'Sir' about once a fortnight and well, I am not an idiot - you have to deal with the shit life deals you) but you know what, I do not give a shit.

If I want to achieve something I will work my arse off to get there and for that it doesn't matter one bit how attractive I am. I will gladly destroy myself on an ergo or on a turbo or whatever because that way you find your limits, you learn stuff about yourself, you suffer and you become a better human being because of it. I don't train and train and train to get a nice arse so I am somehow more attractive. No, fuck you, I train because I fucking enjoy it, I (perversely) enjoy suffering and I like seeing how good I can be at something. After all, there is no better feeling after a 2K race than knowing you gave every little bit of yourself; it is somehow purifying. You're basically throwing your arms up in the air and shouting "THIS IS ALL I'VE FUCKING GOT AND IF THAT'S NOT ENOUGH, FUCK YOU" to the world (before puking into the lake).

I am not an object that sits on top of stuff in an eluring manner (if I tried many of those poses I would probably fall off anyway). I am not a pair of tits and a vagina. I am a human being who likes to be good at stuff and enjoys the journey of getting to being good at stuff. I like cycling and I like rowing and I like sportsmanship. I like being treated as a human being.

And that is why, Wiggle, you have lost yourself a customer today. You stock this calendar, which insults me on a whole array of different levels and I am not going to buy lots of nice shiny bike stuff off you. Sure, it's a drop in the ocean but I don't care. This represents too much that I hate to put up with to condone.

So, Wiggle I say to you this fine October evening a resounding fuck you. Actually fuck you.


Thursday, 4 October 2012

Nat Champs and World Champs

So the conclusion of my little foray into cycling was the National Championships on the Manchester Velodrome. I'd spent 3.5ish months on a bike, been to the outdoor track at Welwyn a few times and done *a lot* of starts sessions on the guided busway (it has a lovely wide cycle path alongside it). There is nothing like throwing yourself in at the deep end and doing a national competition with basically zero experience.... FUCKING BRING IT THE FUCK ON MANCHESTER.

So I got to the Velodrome. I had my Bianchi, I had Thor on a turbo, I had a (borrowed) Cambridge CC skinsuit; I was ready to go. There was, mercifully, a 40min warm up free session on the track (once the GB Team Pursuit team had left I SAW ED CLANCY AND CHRIS HOY!!!!!!!!!) so I clipped in and threw myself at the siberian pine.


FUCKING HELL IT'S STEEP. The straights were OK, but the banking... well fuck. 42 degrees is quite a lot of degrees of inclination. Yeah. Welwyn is not that steep.

My survival tactic was to basically cycle as fast as possible so I didn't fall off (cuz SCIENCE). And that was how I found myself utterly belting it round the Manchester Velodrome along with about 50 other people weaving all over the place while trying to crush my fear of dying as far down into my soul as possible. (Internal monologue: Anna ANNA look people are cycling slower than you on this banking and they are not slipping off STOP BEING A FUCKING WUSS *deep breath* that's it, a bit higher on the banking... HIGHER MOTHERFUCKER WHAT ARE YOU? A COWARD??!?!?

And then the U23 Team Pursuit went past underneath me at full pelt literally inches from me and I almost shit myself.


I got off the track, HR somewhere about 300bpm (ADRENALIN - MUST NOT DIE - PUSH HARDERRRRRRRRRRRR TO NOT DIE) and got ready for my first race.

Look at me, totally getting on my turbo (I can't use rollers SADFACE) with shoe covers on and wheel bags all around and all that shit SO PRO.
Such an attractive face. Also guys GUISE please note vague calf definition (that's a first). Winning.
It's time. It's time to smash 500m in the face.

This is quite a cool shot as you can see the previous person going off in the background. Also note pimped Bianchi w/ trispoke and disc and that oooooooooo.
They weigh and measure up your bike before you race. As the only steel-frame bike owner there (pretty certain that this is true) I did get some chat about how much my bike weighed. When I raced with my Brooks on there the next day (so nearly not UCI legal... oops) they said that my saddle probably made the minimum weight on its own :D

A nice man holds your bike so they can put it in the start gate (START GATE! Like, not a twelve year old boy on a pontoon - and actual pnumatic start gate! Such novelty.)  - I'm not just being a lazy so and so at this point.

Here is a close up of me desperately trying to look pro.

START GATE!!!!!!!!
And another. Cuz photos. Also, I am not very good at lady-like posture am I?

Yes, I am wearing sunglasses under a visor because FUCK YOU THAT'S WHY*

*Actual mundane reason: I couldn't see otherwise because my glasses wouldn't fit :(

And it totally looks badass.

Here I am almost kicking one of the race connoisseurs commissaires in the face trying to get on my bike (I didn't notice the step on the other side):

 Totally ready to go:

 COUNTDOWN (last two blips = stand the fuck up ready to throw your weight forward)

GO GO COURAGE LEGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I stamp on the pedals for 1/2 a lap, trying to get the boat* bike up to speed, sit down into the aerobars (too early in ever so accurate hindsight). You get sort of pinned into the track on the corners in a really exciting way when you're going fast.

*Yes, I did actually write this the first time.

Last (second!) lap! KEEP GOING.

 And that's it. Over.

Successful me-at-finish shot.
(My camera runs out of photos at this point, sorry).

So, how did I do?

Well. Honestly, I got utterly DESTROYED. Like wiped off the face of the earth destroyed. Like arse handed to me on a plate destroyed. Came 18th out of 22 in the 500mTT and didn't even qualify with my flying 200m for the individual sprint.

I'll be honest, at the time is really fucking hurt. That kind of result just *burns*. But if I've learnt anything it's that you've got to (a) not beat yourself up over shit and (b) look at stuff with some degree of context. Yeah sure, I totally just embarrassed myself but heck, if I'd shown up at (rowing) Nat Champs in a 1x, with three months of sculling under my belt and no racing experience, well you're going to get thumped and thumped fucking hard.

Did I embarrass myself? Yes, a bit. Did I learn a lot? Yep. Will I do it again? FUCK YES. I have a sneaking suspicion that this may mark the end of my rowing career (career?) for a while and the beginning of a cycling adventure.

Because adventures are fucking fun.

The other thing I was going to write about was the Women's World Champ road race (and yes I *know* I promised to write about the Olympics and all that at some point but I haven't because I am being crap.) For those of you who don't follow women's cycling (which I'm guessing is most of you), Marianne Vos is The Complete and Utter Shit in cycling at the moment. She is basically a freight train on a bike. Here she is winning the Olympic Road Race earlier in the year:

(Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
With five consecutive silvers in previous world championships (!!!! - parallels to Kath Grainger here) some epic form at the Olympics and winning the Giro and the World Cup series this year... well, you would be a fool to bet against her.

So, we skip to the last two (10 mile) laps of an eight-lap race. We have a five-woman break 30s ahead of the peloton which doesn't look very dangerous.

Stuff is getting tense. Marianne Vos does not want this to go to a sprint finish...

So BOOM the move is made. Longo Borghini is the only one capable of bridging the gap too.

At this point those left in the peloton must've got a very bad feeling...

Vos has bridged (taking some effort) and immediately comes to the front of the break and starts upping the pace. That is pretty epic in it's own right. There is another Dutchwoman in the break too so they do a little mini two-man time trial.

The others in the group at this point do precisely fuck all and just try and stay on the Dutch's wheels secretly hoping Vos will tire herself out.

(There is still 20 miles to go at this point by the way. This is some serious commitment.) The time gap to the peloton stretches out and out until it becomes clear the break will not be caught.

At some point in the last lap Becker's and Ratto's legs blow up with Vos's savage pacesetting and they drop off the back.

We are now down to five riders OOOOOOOO HOW EXCITING. Vos has a little tester sprint on the penultimate climb to test everyone's strength. Looks like American Neben and Vos's team mate Anna Van der Bruggen are dying on their arses a bit, but the Aussie Neylen and the Italian Borghini are looking good still. The question on everyone's lips is "Has Vos done too much? Is she going to blow before the finish?"

Final climb, 2.5k to go. The peloton are now 5 mins back. Everyone knows that this is where Vos's move will come and where she will try and rip everyone's legs off....

She hits the steepest bit of the ascent and courage-legs the shit out of it:

Everyone else just breaks and she puts huge distance into everyone. And keeps moving. And moving. Does this woman have an on board motor or something? At the top of the hill there is a 1.1 mile false flat to the finish. She looks behind her, sees just how much she's ripped everyone else's legs off and smiles.

The finish line approaches and she has time to pick up a Dutch flag which is pretty effortlessly cool.

Fotoreporter Sirotti
 See? Look how accurate my drawing is :D

At this point I think a run down of the podium 2007-12 is needed.

2007 - Fuck.

2008 - Fuck.
2011 - Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh fuckitdy fuck fuck
2012 - WOOOOOOOOOOOOO FUCK YES!! That is one well deserved rainbow jersey right there. (It is also nice to see the Neylen and Borghini proper full on pleased with their medals too).

Marianne Vos = freight train. The best (most successful?) female rider ever (oh, and did I mention she's 25?!?!). Just ridiculously good.

*goes and pretends to be Marianne Vos*


P.S. Thanks to Dave Mclean and Mark Holt for the photos of Nat Champs + general mechanic/driver duty! YOU ARE AMAZING.