Andrew Croker is part of the core team who'll be accompanying former England rugby union captain Lawrence Dallaglio on every leg of his epic 2,770 kilometre Cycle Slam which starts on February the 12 in Rome. From there they'll be joined by celebrities including former Arsenal defender and Match of the Day pundit Lee Dixon, one time Spurs and Newcastle striker Les Ferdinand and newsreader Dermot Murnaghan plus members of the public and ride to Nice, Paris, Twickenham, Fishguard on to Rosslare and finally Edinburgh. It's all for Sport Relief and we'll be keeping up with their training and the ride itself
TEAM SKY LAUNCH
I'm lucky enough to be invited to the Team SKY launch. Cycled down to the London Eye. It's -4 and I haven't cracked riding in the cold. The master plan is Therm-ic heated insoles (for skiers really), Northwave winter boots, heated gloves, Heatmax pads. Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins are assigned to our group and we ride en masse, maybe 60 of us, to Admiralty Arch and meet the others. Up close the Pinarello Dogmas look just beautiful and the kit really sharp. I asked Marcus Ljungqvist what he does in the cold. "Freeze. Dont really ride in the cold any more". That was helpful. Three laps round St James's Park was too much, so baled out after one and headed for the showers and the super-slick press launch. Hope they do well.
33 days to go
Snowing heavily and go for an epic MTB ride with Lee Dixon, Joanna (Mrs Croker and the only woman riding the whole route) and Antony 'Bonzo' di Lorenzo (brother of TV sports presenter Matt Lorenzo). Every inch is a slog in heavy snow, but great training. Lee is very strong and very committed, a natural on the bike. We talk about discipline on the Slam - "Trust me, I am the world's leading expert on putting in a professional performance after overdoing it". Right now though I can see his approach is more Wengerish than Mersonish"
SUNDAY 17th JANUARY
29 days to go.
The snow has finally gone. Our first group ride. A pleasant 75 mile loop round Surrey. The plan is to see what this 'simulation brings'. 42 riders turn up and it all goes very smoothly. Actually it doesn't. Lawrence does some publicity stuff in Richmond Park and we set off, but he's one of three who flat before we even leave the Park. He has two more within ten minutes and goes home. He has ridden two miles! Home to spin. 22 people make it over the Surrey Hills to the Pizza Express in Cranleigh. Sky News' Dermot Murnaghan heads out with us - he's strong on a bike, but still living down inadvertently drinking neat Pernod on Ventoux when the water ran out at Chalet Reynard. Super agent Dickie Relton (MD of Greenroom the event organiser) has his tights on backwards and a major mechanical. Rapha and Team Sky design guru Tim Ashton loses a flashy flat Pinarello spoke (serves him right) and the manageress drives him to Guildford, and so it goes on.I appoint myself tail gunner and ride back with small group including 'Sir' Les Ferdinand. I have chosen my wheel for stage 1. Sitting behind Les is very pleasant, though you dont get to see much. I lose a spoke on the A24 and am now out the back. Team Garmin-Transition rider Dave Zabriskie advised me to wrap cling film over my shoes before putting on my overshoes – weird but it works! I am dry and toasty - but I have also gone for the top tip from Sven Teutenburg, putting those hand-warmer sachets between your shoe and overshoe. Think I might have cracked the cold. Going to make mudguards compulsory, why should I give somebody a nice drag while I get covered in ****? Lots to do. Slightly more Brian Rix than Dave Brailsford at the moment, but we are getting there. The group are great fun and we are committed. But then so are lemmings.
In the evening I got a text from Paul Kimmage [Times journalist and author of the controversial Rough Ride] that he has torn a calf muscle skiing. I wait to hear if he's out. Slump in front of the TV and watch Team Sky notch their first win in the heat of Adelaide, Greg Henderson leading home Chris Sutton.
WEDNESDAY 20th January
26 days to go.
Decided that I should have a heart rate test just to be a little more scientific, not used one for years but it must make sense for 24 days - Lee Dixon, Bonzo Lorenzo and Steve Heath also come over, and we are of course not remotely competitive. I look like Hannibal Lecter in the mask, and Frank the dog hides under the table. It's harder and shorter than I thought (insert your own joke). 15 minutes cranking it up until you just can't move the pedals - all after a 12 hour fast. Mark Clarke has been doing this for 10 years at Trainsmart and seems to know what he's doing. As your heart rate climbs your ability to burn fat suddenly just drops off a cliff - at 128 beats for me - and above 138 I hit RQ1 which is pure carb burning and zero fat. So I now know that if I am going to just sit there across six countries and cruise then 138bpm is the target. I said I was lactating at 138 and Lee said this was unlikely, but could explain a lot. I now know my personal heart rate zones for building aerobic base (fat burning), lactate (or lactating in my case) threshold and RQ1 (high intensity) so I can ditch the 220 less age "guesstimates" and use my HRM properly. Given that I am 56 I strangely get bragging rights by outscoring the others. Not surprisingly Lee and I have different types of fitness (Mark says). He could overlap after all, and I am as Paul Kimmage described 'a diesel'. And I also can't climb - there are strains of ivy that climb faster.
My VO2 max was 49.8 which Mark describes as 'elite' level (amazing) -'for your age' (oh dear, not so amazing after all). Then after all that good news while warming down my heart goes into 'bonk' mode and my pulse goes up to 202 while I go into a cold sweat. Mark seeems concerned but I tell him this is my body's standard reaction to abuse or punishment - usually pushing the big ring or too much Rioja, or both. Think I need an ECG.
But staggering that in 1994, the year of my first Etape, my VO2 max was just 40 .... so up 25% in 15 years. For the record Lee (46) scored 47.3, Bonzo (47) 47.3 , and Steve 48.0 (extrapolated as his head was so big it caused a leak in the mask). A really useful exercise - and further proof that '220 less your age' is just nonsense. Did you know the heart rate of a baby in the womb is 220, apparently that's where it came from ... then it slows by one beat a year until you either die aged 220 or it explodes on Alpe d'Huez.
Aah, the appliance of science.
Paul Kimmage rings me, the physio says his calf tear not too bad, he'll be back in two weeks. Good news. He fell doing some aerials. No he didnt, he fell off a drag lift...
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