fitter, further faster. rebecca charlton, robert hicks and hannah reynolds. bloomsbury softback 192pp illus. £18.99

fitter, further, faster

in 2007, as a result of having viewed a short movie about the hot chillee organised london-paris ride, i thought myself man enough to give it a go, despite having not only never ridden that far in one day, but had no experience of riding in a peloton. signing-up and paying one's monetary dues is only one part of the equation, and as it turned out, undoubtedly the simplest. there is then the small matter of not only training to participate, but training sufficiently in order not to disgrace myself in any noticeable manner.

according to the information set out at length on the l2p website, those in the slowest group (including yours truly) would be expected to maintain a 25kph average over each daily route, a number i took as gospel without ever really taking a reality check as to just what that might entail. it is a simple matter to reach or exceed such a number when nipping down to debbie's for some soya froth, and even when returning into a less than favourable headwind. that, however, is a mere 30k, around a fifth of that demanded for a day of london-paris, so there was little doubt that a (large) modicum of training was demanded.

coincidentally, i had received a cycle training book for review around the time i'd decided to grace the champs elysees with my presence, the title and author of which currently escape me. however, the gentleman's advice so neatly dovetailed with my own workshy approach, that it couldn't have come at a better time. the basis of his advice (at least as i read it) was, that in order to go faster, you had to train slowly. every domestique's dream.

having worked out a 50km loop, i proceeded to keep careful watch on my heart-rate for a three month period, trying my hardest to maintain 130bpm or fewer between new year and easter. the theory behind this approach (and it's harder than you'd think) was that of acquiring base fitness, a level that would allow me to confidently leave others in my wake, come easter weekend. bizarrely, it did appear to work, and on leaving somewhere in london to cycle to somewhere in france, that 25kph average rarely gave me any trouble.

i should point out, however, lest you now view my superhuman achievement as worthy of approval, that i had not factored in the daily stop for lunch, meaning that we never had to ride 150km in a single sitting. and that munchie break was apt to provide a much needed second wind.

it would have been a very slim volume had that been the total sum of training advice offered, but since i had little need of the remaining pages (so to speak), i paid them less attention than those i required.

the authors, so far as i know, all currently work for ipc magazines, writing for cycling weekly or cycling active, two publications that concern themselves not only with reporting on the goings on in the pelotonic world, but in varying ways, to educate their respective readerships as to the nuances of modern training methods. this, of course, pre-supposes that the majority find this of daily concern.

fitter, further, faster is subtitled get fit for sportives and road riding, one which i think might contain a token degree of self-reference. the sportives i can understand, for what else is the hot chillee london-paris ride, if not three sportives over three days? however, i, and several others i know, tend to use road riding to keep fit, rather than the converse. it's interesting what a pedant with an interest in semantics can construe.

the chapters are segregated into sections, beginning at the six month to go point and rattling through the features that the authors deem prudent for the reader to know. though i do not wish to appear trite, the first sentence in the book's introduction may give an indication as to where its impetus lies "Cycling is booming, and it's not hard to see why so many members of the British public are cottoning onto the benefits of the sport." where i am going to be trite is in taking issue with the use of the phrase 'cottoning on' when used in close proximity to 'British public'; since when did citizens of the uk ever 'cotton on'?

though fitter, further, faster encompasses 192 pages, chapters and paragraphs are necessarily brief, made even more so by the copious use of not always entirely relevant illustrations. though a particular pet-hate of mine, chapter one lays emphasis on goal-setting. "Setting goals is not as easy as you may think. There are many elements to consider, and if you get one of the factors wrong, it could affect your main goal." a bit melodramatic, methinks.

however, from the tone of the subsequent chapters and sections, i not unnaturally think this book may well be aimed at the newbie (horrible word, but...). each section is interspersed with words from professional cyclists or support staff, individuals such as dan fleeman, jimmy mccallum, john scripps, phil cavell, dan lloyd and others, lending a substantial degree of credibility to the authors' assertions. there are glossaries concerning appropriate clothing, tools and spares and even gadgets and gizmos, all marvellously over-illustrated.

what is particularly praiseworthy is the structured approach to the countdown from six months to the event itself. cleverly, the same approach lends itself well to those who are, in fact, training for road riding, however that may be constituted. for those without the tenacity to consume an entire book's worth of nutritional advice, the short and sweet appreciations offered in fitter, further, faster strike me as arrows worth following. if any of the basic advice imparted strikes you as worthy of further investigation, there is plenty of more in-depth information available on the bookshelves or on the internet.

in fact, if used in this manner, as something of a resource pointer, it is likely to offer a well-spent £18.99. in every activity or sport, there is a wide variation in approaches, both from authors such as reviewed here and those wishing to avail themselves of a leg-up to the next stage. it is slightly disappointing to record, however, that salient diet advice ('Head for the aisle with fresh meats and fish, opt for one red meat, a couple of poultry and at least two oily fish meals.' seems to omit any recognition that at least one or two of us might be of the vegetarian persuasion.

though there are chapters concerning themselves with basic bike handling skills; drafting, etiquette, cornering, climbing etc., i didn't come across any advice relating to riding in large groups. pelotonic numbers from london to paris were constrained at around 100, and even that, for one more used to riding with a maximum of six, seemed almost a step too far. many of today's sportives have entries that number in the thousands, a large proportion of whom will have an exaggerated impression of their own ability on the bike, and most of whom will not have read fitter, further, faster.

being a self-confessed crap descender, i generally tend to find a line down hills and or mountains, and stick to it from top to bottom. i might be last to the bottom, but at least everyone else knows where i am. i don't think i do the authors a great disservice by stating that, try as i might, i could find little in the way of soothing advice that might put the nervous at ease when surrounded by a fast-moving bunch of cyclists. practice is obviously the very best way to achieve experience in this, but a few dos and don'ts wouldn't have gone amiss.

coupling this book with a healthy dose of pragmatism and self-awareness, really ought to put the inexperienced cyclist in a more confident frame of mind regarding their ability to undertake one of those sportives that everyone keeps mentioning. and those for whom sportive riding is complete anathema, there is still the essence of a structured yet less onerous training schedule that ought to result in a fitter, faster and more positive-minded cyclist than the one that opened at page one.

fitter, further, faster is by no stretch of the imagination the last word on cycling ability, training and nutrition. there are several more comprehensive manuals on the bookshelves, but many are far more daunting from the outset, resembling the cycle clubs that cheerfully leave new members far behind in the name of brokering a stronger and tougher constitution. the melodrama, however, never quite leaves us behind "Once your wheels have crossed the finish line, you'll be overcome with a whole array of emotions. Some riders are relieved, others express joy, and many cry."

maybe it's just me that's different.

bloomsbury publishing

wednesday 10th april 2013