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August 21, 2014

Ride Report – Ride London Surrey 100 08/10/14 – event 4 of 4

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ben Rapp @ 11:16 am

Dear All,

Before I start, a final reminder that this is for charity as well as for fun, so please visit https://www.justgiving.com/Ben-Rapp-2014 to donate to the NSPCC. As ever, my thanks to everyone who has donated so far.

Ride London Surrey 100 10/08/2014

 139.3km; 905m of climbing; 4h 13m of riding; 3,595 calories

(including there and back from home: 169km; 5h33m of riding; 1200m of climbing; 4,217 calories)

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http://www.strava.com/activities/178186845

I’m still occasionally astonished by the stoicism of the English. This year’s Ride London 100 was blighted by weather in a truly Biblical sense, yet more than 20,000 people finished. Some of them, myself included, had charitable promises to keep, but many were simply there for fun. Looking at the photos of hordes of cyclists walking up hills in the rain, fun isn’t the first word that naturally comes to mind.

I don’t often get up at 04:00 to go cycling. Limited cognitive capability at that time of the morning is one good reason why. The preceding couple of days had been filled with worried conversations with fellow cyclists about the – dire – weather forecast for the weekend, and in the end I spent some time on Saturday evening fitting wet weather tyres to my aluminium rim wheels and changing brake pads. So it remains a mystery to me that, at 4 am on the Sunday morning I blearily looked at the BBC forecast – for who knows where and when, but surely not London on Sunday 10th August – and decided that it looked pretty clement, actually. So off came the alloy rims, and back on went carbon rims, narrow race tyres and carbon-specific pads. This was not the single greatest decision of my life. Nor was discarding knee warmers and shoe covers in the hall, still stung by memories of overstuffed pockets weighing down my jersey in the Alps.

Fortified with porridge I set off at 04:35 for the agreed rendezvous at the foot of Muswell Hill. I arrived in good time only to find that I had left my bidons (water bottles) at home. Starting the day with a hill repeat wasn’t in the original plan but, not being Anquetil, I would need water so back I went. I made the loop in time, just, to meet the others and we set off through the darkened streets for the Olympic Park, weaving our way between the drunks as they weaved their way between invisible obstacles of their own.

Arriving at the start it was chilly but fairly clear, and I felt vindicated in my choice of wheels and outerwear. The RLS100 involves a good deal of hanging around at the start; I was fortunate to have some friends from the Muswell Hill Peloton to chat to, keeping my mind off the chill that was beginning to bite somewhat harder as I cooled down. We traded absurd estimates of average speed and the usual cycling braggadocio, to be interrupted by the PA announcing that, after consultation with the Met Office, the organisers had decided to shorten the route, cutting out Leith and Box Hills and turning it into the Ride London 86. This was a clue that the weather was unlikely to be like the sunny forecast I’d seen – or imagined – in the early hours.

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Now you’d think that a 14-mile reduction in the route, cutting out the only two serious hills – to the extent that England has such things – would turn the whole thing into a cake walk, and if middle-aged cyclists had any sense, it would have done. However, the actual effect was of course to turn it into an 86-mile flat-out sprint. We set off at 6:30, and the next 90 minutes was a glorious rush. I latched on to a fast group and we raced through the City, Westminster and Hammersmith enjoying the frankly surreal experience of familiar territory at unfamiliar speed on closed roads. Richmond Park was dismissed at similar pace, and I stayed with the pack past Ripley. At 1 hour 45 in, I’d covered 70km – an average of 40km/h, which is as fast as I’ve ever ridden over that kind of distance and significantly faster than last year.

Then, inevitably, it all went wrong. I’d spent some time on the front – never a good idea – and, more importantly, had forgotten to drink while focused on staying with the pack. Half-way down Ripley Lane, I cramped up. Not just one leg, or one muscle, but every muscle group in my legs taking turns. It was quite unpleasant. That meant game over for the fast pursuit; I had to stop briefly to let the worst subside, then crawled my way up Newlands to the 80km hub where I stopped at the St John’s Ambulance for help. After 500ml of electrolyte, a 10-minute rest and some vigorous leg rubbing (self-administered, disappointingly) I got going again, but the spark had gone out of me.

I’ve not mentioned the weather so far. It had been tolerably unpleasant, with chill clouds giving way to persistent rain after Richmond Park – enough to make me put on my rain jacket when I stopped on Ripley Lane – but as yet nothing to merit the abbreviated route or the dire predictions that had been broadcast in the days leading up to the event. As I made my way out of the hub, however, the weather gods finally made good on their threat, and the rain really started. And when I say rain, I mean downpour, tropical stair-rods, torrents, cats-and-dogs, where-the-bloody-hell’s-Noah-when-you-need-him rain. It was, frankly, ridiculous. It was also unrelenting – the rain wouldn’t stop for the rest of the ride – more than two hours to go at this point.

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I started slowly, legs still wobbly with cramp, and was glad of the enforced slow-down since my rash 4am wheel choice was coming back to haunt me. Carbon rims don’t stop very well in the wet. More specifically, they exhibit binary braking – which is to say absolutely nothing at all when you first pull on the levers then, once the rims have dried, grabby deceleration that’s hard to moderate. This has two consequences: firstly, if you lack total confidence in your wet-road cornering grip – which I do, as I’ve mentioned before – you have to spend a lot of time on the brakes when descending in order to have any effect at all. This tires your hands, and slows you down – which is the idea, of course, but if you’re chasing a fast time it just adds to the ticking clock you can hear in your head. Secondly, pack riding becomes considerably more stressful as you have no way to react quickly if the person in front of you slows or changes direction – your initial grab at the levers having less effect than a muttered prayer. It’s OK if you’re riding with people you know, or up at the sharp end where the riding is predictable, but if you’ve fallen back a bit the riding standards tend to fall with you.

Still, I got my legs back under me, found some people I decided I felt comfortable following, and turned the pedals. The second half was a good deal slower, but I focused on drinking enough – and eating, although I cocked this up too and ate far too little – and dealing with the increasing number of comedy water hazards that the weather was throwing at us. I don’t much mind riding in the rain – although normally I have shoe covers and other gear, so it’s less like cycling in the bath – but this was absurd. Not only did the rain at times come down so hard you could barely see, but all the drain gratings were overflowing, meaning that any dip in the road became a small sewage-scented lake that we had to ride through. The feeling of dirty brown water sloshing up over my shoes while the wheel in front sprays it over my face is not one I am keen to repeat any time soon.

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The rain eased a little as we made our way along the Embankment towards the final km into the Mall. My pace eased with it as, matches all burnt, I watched people who’d husbanded their resources better than me sail past. Still, it was gratifying to cross the line before eleven AM, and my Strava log showed a riding time of 4h 13m for 139km, which isn’t too terrible, all things considered. Nonetheless I can’t help thinking that a sub-4hr time was achievable if I’d only shown more sense in the first half. Inexperience shining through again, I suppose.

So that brings this year’s charity cycling campaign to a close. At the time of writing we’ve raised £1,909.80 – more than last year, but some way short of my (optimistic?) target for 2014. I – and the NSPCC – would be hugely grateful if any of you who’ve not given already could find the time to give even a small amount; every penny goes to help make a childhood a safer and happier time for all children. Go to https://www.justgiving.com/Ben-Rapp-2014 to donate.

Final statistics for 2014:

919km; 14,182m of climbing; 38h 58m of riding; 23,834 calories

(a little shy of the 600 miles, but 40% more climbing than I thought)

July 24, 2014

Ride Report – Alpine Challenge (Event 3 of 4)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ben Rapp @ 5:11 pm

Well, the “Alpine Challenge” certainly turned out to be challenging. This is a long write up, but there’s a lot to say. Before I start, a reminder that this is, in part, for charity so please visit https://www.justgiving.com/Ben-Rapp-2014 to donate to the NSPCC. We’ve reached 44% of the £3,500 target, so please dig deep. As ever, my thanks to everyone who has donated so far.

Preamble

Unlike the other rides in my 2014 NSPCC campaign, this was not a public organised “Sportive” but something a few of us from my cycling club put together. I’ve written this from my perspective, in keeping with the other write-ups in this series, but could neither have organised the ride nor made it up the Cols without my fellow riders, so Miguel, Phil, Pete and Alistair – chapeau!

Day 1, Thursday – Baptism of rain and mist

114km; 2,944m of climbing; 6h 14m of riding; 3,485 calories

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The day dawned miserable and rainy; we all scrabbled about for every bit of clothing we’d brought with us, and went out looking more like a February ride in Hertfordshire than July in the Alps. We’d plotted a roundabout route with some moderate climbing to begin with as a kind of entrée, followed by the Col de Sarenne as the main course with the Col d’Ornon for dessert. We rode down the valley and through Bourg d’Oisan in mizzling rain, then started climbing Alpe d’Huez. After five of the famous 21 hairpins, we turned off to follow the Route de la Roche d’Auris. We rode up a fairly gentle grade along the side of a dramatic Alpine valley, made all the more dramatic by the mist – we could see a precipitous drop to our right, but it was a drop into nothingness as the road seemed to float along in the clouds. We crossed 1300m, then descended into Le Freney-d’Oisans. A coffee break was threatened, but had to be abandoned due to a distinct lack of open bars.

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Now the real climbing began – the Col de Sarenne, 1000 vertical metres of relentless ascent at an average gradient of 8%. We would climb steeper grades later in the week, but this was my first experience of Alpine climbs, and the enduring memory is of the relentlessness of the slope; there is no respite. The weather continued chilly and damp, disappointing more for its restriction of the views than the temperature, which was something of a blessing in disguise as we sweated our way up.

 

The Sarenne is the hard way up to Alpe d’Huez; once you’ve summited at 2000m there is a descending saddle across to the resort at 1800m. That descent was the only time that day that the weather really hurt – the chill at altitude going straight to the bone despite having thrown on every layer, leaving my teeth chattering and my shivers making bike control surprisingly difficult.

Lunch at a little restaurant in Alpe d’Huez let us warm up and compare suffering. The old hands reminisced about taking the same route in better weather, while the neophytes congratulated each other on surviving thus far. Substantial quantities of carbs – in solid and liquid form – having been ingested, we somewhat reluctantly set off towards the second climb of the day. We made a brief tour of the resort to find the official finish line of the Alpe d’Huez climb, then began the long descent of the 21 famous corners. I confess that in the wet, with dodgy rear brakes (a long story, but when Mavic say “Exalith pads only”, I can tell you they mean it), I was more Wiggins than Nibali. In the dry with practice it would be magnificent – even in the wet we were doing 80km/h at times.

 

Back down through Bourg d’Oisans, with a brief stop to remedy the brake problem – thank God for proper bike shops – and a left turn off the D1091 to head up the Col d’Ornon. Fired up by road signs warning that the 1091 would be closed next weekend for the Tour, and fuelled by our excellent lunch, we made short work of the 11k ascent. Although it has its steeper sections, the average gradient is only 6% and after the Sarenne it seemed remarkably manageable – despite being three times the length and four times the ascent of Box Hill. The gentler grade also gave more scope for appreciating the Alpine meadows populated by cows – and sheep – with traditional bells.

Once at the top, we turned tail for a quick descent back to Bourg; much more enjoyable this time, with open sight lines, a shallower gradient and working brakes at both ends of the bike. We rolled back along the valley floor to our base at Oz-en-Oisans, home in good time for bike cleaning, showers and bragging before dinner.

Day 2, Friday – Catastrophe

45km; 849m of climbing; 2h 13m riding time; 1,334 calories

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The weather outlook was uncertain, and the forecast unsettled, so we stuffed our jersey pockets with all the cold weather gear we had and, thus encumbered, set off for the Col de Lautaret and the infamous Galibier. A minor interruption just outside Bourg d’Oisans when one of the party hit broken glass in the cycle lane and destroyed a tyre; a companion and I raced into Bourg to procure a replacement, then hared back again – tyre around my shoulders like Mercx carrying a spare tubular in the glory days. My pride in having joined International Rescue was only slightly deflated by the realisation that there was in fact a bike shop fifty metres behind where we’d stopped in the first place…

The climb to the Lautaret skirts the side of a deep river valley; the scenery is jaw-dropping – vast cliffs, steep gorges, snow still clinging to the highest peaks. The ride is punctuated by slightly scary unlit tunnels and occasional would-be racing drivers whose squealing tyres thankfully give us plenty of warning. The weather had held fine; we were all somewhat regretting having burdened ourselves with arm- and leg-warmers, rain jackets, gloves, overshoes and buffs as the sun beat down.

Unfortunately for me Thursday’s exertion had taken a toll on my knees, and as we began the climb towards Lautaret it started to feel as though someone was stabbing me above the patella with a knitting needle on each pedal stroke. Bagging the Galibier is very much on my bucket list, however, so I persevered until about a third of the way up. By this stage I’d had to stop the group twice to take a break and it was clear that I wasn’t going to keep up, so I let them head on and continued at my own slow pace for a while longer. About half-way I simply couldn’t keep going through the pain any more and had to abandon. I stopped, dejected, at a garage – inevitably closed, it being after twelve and before two – and called a taxi from Bourg.

By half-past three I was back at the hotel, down in the mouth and wondering whether I should pack up for home. Fortunately the hotel’s owners know an excellent physiotherapist who – more good fortune to follow the bad – was at the hotel when I got back tending to another patient. She kindly fitted me in that afternoon and worked hard on my legs. She suggested that with rest and ibuprofen I might be OK for the following day, which lifted my spirits immeasurably.

The others got back deep into the evening, exhausted but triumphant. They’d done 124k and nearly 2,400m of climbing; all had made the summit of the Galibier. I listened to their tales of derring-do with the best smile I could muster, then slunk off to bed resolving firstly to emerge renewed on Saturday morning, and secondly to go back and climb the Galibier as soon as I can.

Day 3, Saturday – Resurgence

124km; 3,656m of climbing; 6h 43m of riding time; 3,894 calories

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Another rainy day. With some trepidation on my part, and a certain exhausted resignation from all of us, we saddled up for the biggest ride we’d planned so far. The Col de la Croix de Fer is one of the most famous of the Alpine climbs and often a feature of the Tour; the Col de Glandon, which ascends to the same ridge by another route, is one of the most demanding.

The climb of the Croix de Fer starts from just below the front door of our hotel, so there’s little warm-up although the initial gradient is not too vicious. One quickly ascends into truly glorious scenery, even in wet, misty weather; at one point the slope above me to the left looked like a Japanese watercolour, with mist shrouded trees cloaking the mountain either side of a frothing waterfall. The climb is punctuated by a single descent into a river valley; from that point on the gradient steepens to 8% and one’s appreciation of the landscape diminishes as the eyes focus up the hill praying for a crest.

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There is a crest at 1,800m, with a short descent then the final 200m of climbing to the true Col. Thankfully both the weather and my knee held, so although it remained cold and misty it wasn’t too miserable. Nonetheless, the – very friendly – café at the top was warmly received by all, pun absolutely intended as the temperature at the top was resolutely in single digits.

After a fortifying coffee we began the seemingly endless descent to St Jean de Maurienne. This is more than 30km of constant descending; occasionally taxing on the nerves, always taxing on the brakes, but exhilarating and of course a huge relief after all that climbing. As we dropped into the valley, we also dropped into sunshine; the transformation in the weather was extraordinary, with sunshine and 25° warmth in St Jean.

It took a couple of stabs to find a restaurant that was both welcoming and provided a table with a view of our bikes. I suppose it’s heartening to find that at least some local waiters still maintain the ancient tradition of sneering hostility which was for so long the mainstay of the French hospitality industry. Our eventual choice couldn’t have been more accommodating, providing huge quantities of salad and charcuterie despite neither being on the menu, and once more we made inroads into our calorie deficit.

At last we could put it off no longer and began the return via the Col de Glandon. This starts with a further descent into the valley towards St Etienne; this is faintly depressing as one remains constantly aware that every metre descended must be climbed again to get home. The climb itself starts around 600m of altitude, and basically never lets up until just over 1900m. It gave me my first taste of normal Alpine summer climbing, as heat management and inescapable flies took the place of drizzle and chilled neck muscles. It appears that the flies can keep pace up to about 10km/h. It also appears that 10km/h is about as fast as I can go up a 10% gradient. Flies 1, Ben 0.

As we climbed, the weather closed in once more – in some ways a welcome relief from heat. Ultimately it seemed of little importance; Glandon is a properly hard climb – or at least so it seemed to me as the second Col of the day. I’d enjoyed the Croix de Fer; I survived Glandon, but only by narrowing my focus to keeping the pedals turning. At times I was in my lowest gear (34×32) at 50rpm – which is to say very very slow indeed – just remembering that every four pedal revolutions meant a metre climbed. My knee had flared up again, although not as badly as the previous day, which added to the fun, particularly since abandoning half-way up Glandon wasn’t really an option. I stuck it out, and made it up – last of the group – and am slightly unreasonably proud of having done so.

 

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 The weather had a final gag in store for us as we wrapped up and began the descent back down the Croix de Fer – it began to rain. Not just the mizzle and patter of previous days, but a serious downpour. The unexpected consequence? Blindness. I’d taken off my glasses, which were too rain-spattered and fogged over to be much use. Descending at 40-50km/h, the wind felt like it was sandpapering my eyeballs, to the point where I couldn’t see at all. Not the most comforting sensation at that speed on those roads. Even once I’d put my glasses back on it took a couple of minutes for my eyes to stop hurting, and I still couldn’t see much. The rain let up eventually and the return of vision made the streaming wet roads somehow much less threatening. Nonetheless the descent was, at times, heart-in-mouth stuff. A 14% gradient seems bloody steep when you’re looking down it, and coming off the brakes means accelerating like a sports car. All of us reported more brake wear across these three days than we’d normally see in a season back in the UK.

 

The last few kilometres were a blast as we hell-for-leathered it home. Never has a hot shower, a big meal and several glasses of wine been more welcome. There had been talk of a brief assault on another Col on Sunday morning before we set off for home, but – unsurprisingly – the consensus over dinner on Saturday night was that we’d done enough – indeed, had enough. We’ll be back next year, though; there are still Cols unridden and waiters unbearded in their dens.

 

Summary statistics

Alpine Challenge: 283km; 7,449m of climbing; 15h 10m of riding; 8,713 calories

NSPCC 2014 so far: 750km; 12,982m of climbing; 33h 25m of riding; 19,617 calories

June 10, 2014

Ride Report – Tour of the South East (Event 2 of 4)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ben Rapp @ 12:18 pm

Dear all,

This is the second in my series of reports on the cycling challenges I’m taking on for the NSPCC this year.

Before I start, though, I’d first of all like to thank everyone who’s already given to this year’s campaign. I’m bowled over by your generosity; we’ve reached 37% of the £3,500 target after just one event. The NSPCC are grateful, too – something I can confirm since they saw fit to name me a “Fundraiser of the Year” at the dinner event on Saturday’s. Actually this is your award, not mine – so anyone who’d like a go in the commemorative cycling jersey they gave me is more than welcome!

At the dinner, the NSPCC showed a video setting out their programme for primary schools. The key statistic is that, on average, 2 children in every primary school class are suffering abuse or neglect. That’s 120,000 children in all, most of whom are too young to know they’re being abused, or to know whom to turn to. The NSPCC wants to send trained volunteers into every primary school in the country, more than 23,000 of them, at least once every two years from 2016. You can read more about this programme here. It’s going to cost £20m to set up, and every contribution, no matter how small, goes towards this target.

To donate, please go to https://www.justgiving.com/Ben-Rapp-2014.

 

299.8 km (186 miles); 11h 35m in the saddle; 3,510m (11,515ft) of climbing; 7,000 calories.

Map 

http://app.strava.com/activities/151044085

 

Detailed ride report

The ride was spread out over two days, starting from the Gravesend Cyclopark on Saturday morning, heading to Guildford for an overnight stay and then taking a different route back to Gravesend on Sunday. There was a lot more to it than a normal “sportive”, or organised cycle ride. The riders were split into four groups based on expected average speed; each group was preceded by a motorcycle outrider and followed by another motorbike, a team support car and an ambulance.

Ride2Raise, the organisation behind the Tour of England, had put a lot of effort into getting as close to the “pro peloton” experience as you could for amateur riders. This included recruiting some pro cyclists to provide ride leadership and “domestique” support – of which more later.

My group of around 30 riders set off at 08:30, second from last – the groups were running in reverse order of speed in the hope that we’d all arrive at Guildford at roughly the same time. This made it important for the group to stay together, because anyone who couldn’t keep up would end up falling back to a still faster group. We set off at a reasonable pace in threatening, but dry, conditions; unfortunately it soon became clear that we’d set off in the wrong direction! Due to some issues with signage and mapping devices, we’d missed a turning; we had to turn back and retrace our steps to get on the correct route. The early pace also told on group cohesion, with the weaker riders struggling to hold on; this meant slowing the group down, which made it hard to ride in a fluid rhythm.

The Saturday route was very hilly, with more than 2,000m of climbing. This spread the group out further, making the ride leader’s job still harder. Then the heavens opened – not entirely unwelcome as a relief from the muggy heat, but as the rain persisted spirits dampened along with clothes and everyone became spattered with mud. The roads also became treacherous in places and we had our first faller. This is where the support riders and vehicles came into their own: the group carried on while the support staff administered first aid and got the rider’s bike sorted out; then one of the domestiques rode her back to the group.

The schedule called for three stops on the way to Guildford: a morning break after about 50k; a lunch stop at 85k and a final tea break at 125k. While it’s unusual to stop this often, and doubly so to stop for a proper cooked lunch, it gave the groups a chance to reform properly and offered a rest for those finding it hard going. It also allowed for some shuffling of the group order; our unscheduled diversion meant that the fastest group caught up with us at the first stop; we were then held there to let them get a head start. On Saturday, though, there was palpable frustration at the artificial pace of the group and in the end, blessed with drier weather, a couple of us made a break after the first stop. We recaught the fast group at the foot of the Kitts Hill climb – that day’s timed climb challenge – although the work of catching them blew our chances of setting a good time up the hill, despite the valiant efforts of the NSPCC cheerleaders half-way up.

We picked up our group again at the top of the climb and continued on to lunch. While a rest and a meal is never to be sniffed at, we ended up stopping for 40 minutes, which meant cold legs and heavy stomachs when we set off again. The group fractured again shortly after lunch and I found myself out front chasing the lead motorbike. I was having a nice, if slightly lonely time, in increasingly good weather on quiet roads when I was surprised to see the escort rider heading back in my direction. Apparently he was lost; and so, in consequence, was I. Apparently the rest of the group had spotted a turn-off he (and I) had missed and were merrily heading north-east as we rode west. He asked me to wait while he checked; after 8 minutes he came back to tell me the bad news. I’d gone 4k in the wrong direction; having to retrace my steps, plus the waiting time, put me about 10k behind the group on the road.

I rode as hard as I could manage and finally caught them at the last stop of the day, just as they were rolling out. Lesson learned, I stuck behind the ride leader from then on. The ride was pretty uneventful for the rest of the way to the finish, with the exception of the last 5k. Just as we saw signs for Guildford and started breathing the relieved sighs of the soon-to-be-showering, the course turned off to the right. The organisers clearly felt we hadn’t suffered enough, as they’d thrown in a couple of short, but nastily sharp, climbs before the end. There was much cursing – especially from me when I realised that a combination of the big effort to get back on the back of the bunch and failing to eat while doing so meant I’d run out of legs.

We rolled into Guildford together, ditched our bikes and headed totteringly for rooms, carbs and showers. Total mileage for the day was 161km (just over 100 miles) for me.

That evening the NSPCC laid on a dinner for 100-or-so riders. We swapped war stories, ate well, and were entertained by Paralympian Mark Colbourne. Now a professional speaker, he gave a crisp and funny account of his transition from amateur triathlete via life-changing injury to world champion, Paralympic gold and silver medallist, and MBE. At the close of the dinner there was a prize-giving, as expected, with jerseys for the fastest from each group up the timed climb – not something I was in any danger of getting. What was unexpected was that I was called out to be awarded a jersey as a “fundraiser of the year”. I felt very flattered – and very conscious that many others had done equally impressive things; I’m just fortunate to know generous people.

Sunday’s ride was a marked contrast. There’d been a little juggling of groups, but nothing dramatic, yet by some alchemy we suddenly cohered as a unit. In glorious sunshine we rolled back to Gravesend – on a significantly flatter route – holding a good pace and working together well. I was surprised – and I think others were too – to find we still had legs and could hold our own on the climbs; in fact I set my best time ever up Box Hill (though still nothing to write home about – I wonder if I’ll ever do this climb with fresh legs?).

My only drama was a sudden rear tyre blow-out, thankfully after the long and fast descent from Box Hill – peak speed 74km/h (46mph). Once again the support system came into its own: no sooner had I stopped than the team car pulled in, a replacement rear wheel came off the roof – then several more ‘til we found one with the right number of cogs – and I was on my way again. The long-suffering domestique towed me back onto the group and all was well with the world. Well, apart from finding that SwissStop Black Prince (what a name!) carbon-specific brake pads are definitely carbon-specific. On alloy rims they have slightly less effect than prayer. Never mind, I had my first-ever tour-style wheel change and I still had one working brake, so all was well with the world.

Lunch saw my own wheel, and hence two-wheel braking, restored. We restarted with our only unscheduled diversion of the day when we turned the wrong way out of the lunch stop, cheered on by the indefatigable NSPCC staff. Possibly if they’d booed us instead we’d have worked out sooner we were going the wrong way. Fortunately we twigged quickly and turned around; repassing the lunch stop did lead to suggestions that we pause for a quick top up, but these were over-ruled and we rode on.

This time our pace was such that the fast group didn’t catch us till close to the last stop of the day; given that their ranks included a number of Cat3 racers, that felt pretty good. As did being held at the final stop to prevent us arriving back at the Cyclopark too soon! Eventually released, we worked together like clockwork through the last couple of big climbs and then the fast run into the finish. We rolled in through the gates bang on time and did a final lap of the Cyclopark race track. There may have been racing, but that would have been childish, so I shan’t confirm it. Except to say I went too soon and didn’t win the final sprint.

All in all, despite occasional glitches, a well thought-out and well-executed event with tireless and enthusiastic support from NSPCC, Ride2Raise and CTC – this last providing the mechanics who not only fixed mechanical problems at the stops en-route, but also cleaned and fettled all of our bikes overnight – what a luxury. I’ll certainly be back next year if they run it again.

My next update will be in July, after I get back from four days trying to fit in as many of the historic climbs around Alpe d’Huez as we can manage. I said at the outset I’d do 600 miles and 10,000 metres of climbing for the NSPCC; so far I’ve done 289 miles and 5,533 metres in two events, so perhaps I can beat that target. I also said I’d raise £3,500 by doing it. Perhaps we can beat that target too?

https://www.justgiving.com/Ben-Rapp-2014.

Ride Report – FT Sportive (Event 1 of 4)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ben Rapp @ 12:12 pm

‘Brutal’ seems to be the word I heard most in the finish area of yesterday’s FT Sportive, the first in the series of four events I’m doing this year in aid of the NSPCC. The weather was against us, with gusting headwinds and chill temperatures – accompanied by occasional light drizzle just for comic relief. The course was tough: 166km through the Surrey hills, with more than 2,000 metres of climbing, combining seemingly-endless rolling hills with several longer, steeper sections. Although Box Hill gets all the press, in my opinion Pitch Hill and Combe Lane (at the 90 and 100k marks below) are both harder; they’re certainly steeper.

 

My own ride wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped – I started too fast and used too much energy fighting the wind, so the back half of the ride was about gritted teeth and heart-rate management. In the end I got round in 7h dead, with just under 6h 40m of moving time. That’s a good hour and forty minutes faster than last year (although last year I did get lost and do an extra 10k…) but still well over the time I was hoping for. Maybe if the conditions had been better, or I’d found a group to ride with rather than doing it largely solo – the cyclist’s book of excuses is a long one.

The full Strava log is here: http://www.strava.com/activities/139967328

Anyway, I made it round, which is the main thing. The focus now is on training for the Tour of the South East. This is a two-day event, so managing an effective recovery between the stages will be key. I’ve not done two hard days back-to-back before; of course in the Alps in July it’ll be four days, so I need to get my head around recovery strategies.

I’ll send another update in June after the Tour. In the meantime, thank you to everyone who’s donated so far and please continue to support the work of the NSPCC however you can.

 

Ben Rapp

Ben Rapp

10,300 metres of climbing, 600 miles, 4 Challenges – NSPCC Fundraising.

Filed under: Company news,Corporate Responsibility — Tags: , , — Ben Rapp @ 12:04 pm

As you may or may not know, our CEO, Ben Rapp rode in the inaugural Prudential Ride London 100 last year to raise money for the NSPCC, raising a little over £1,800.

This year, Ben is raising the bar with the astounding target of £7,500. Managed Networks will give £3,000, Ben will donate £1,000 personally and the rest is up to us.

We’re asking you to put your hands in your pockets again, and put them deeper, since Ben is working a little harder for the money.

Here’s this summer’s schedule of cycling challenges:

May 11th FT London Sportive (100 miles, 1100 metres of climbing)
June 7th NSPCC Tour of the South East (180 miles, 2000 metres)
July 10th Alpine challenge (220 miles, 6000 metres)
August 10th Ride London 100 (100 miles, 1200 metres)

You can follow Ben’s progress on Strava: http://app.strava.com/athletes/1285758

Ben will be posting occasional updates, and the results from each event, on his JustGiving page, which is also where you can donate: http://www.justgiving.com/ben-rapp-2014

We thank you for all of your support.

January 15, 2014

Dispelling some myths about the cloud

Filed under: BYOD,Cloud Computing,DesktopLive,General,MN News — Tags: , , , — Ben Rapp @ 12:52 pm

Towards the end of 2013, we looked at the benefits of businesses moving to the cloud. In December, following some eye-opening conversations at The Business Show, we recognised that the IT community clearly hadn’t done enough to explain what the cloud means and how to leverage it.

Part of the education hurdle is to clear up some of the misconceptions people have about the risks of going cloud for their IT. Here are a few of the cloud myths we’ve come across recently, and the reality behind them.

 

  • Data is more secure in a physical facility than in the cloud.

Fact: A reputable cloud provider will ensure their data facilities have sophisticated anti-malware, anti-spam and anti-virus protections, not to mention the fortified physical security that most data centres invest in. They’ll spend more money and more time on security than you are likely to want to or be able to afford to. This doesn’t make them immune to natural disaster, but all worthwhile cloud services will have a comprehensive business continuity plan which they will share with you – including evidence that they’ve tested it – to ensure their disaster doesn’t become yours too.

 

  • Companies lose control over their data once they move to the cloud.

Fact: This is certainly not true if you choose a good cloud provider. Your contract should make your ownership of your data explicit, and outline clearly how and when you get your data back should you choose to move some or all of your IT back in-house.  Good providers will also guide you in deciding which business processes you want to manage on-premise and which ones you want in the cloud.

 

  • Moving to the cloud is more expensive than the conventional on-premise.

Fact: Not if you take the true cost of IT into account.

Many businesses focus solely on the more obvious IT costs like hardware, software and the remuneration of IT staff.  They overlook associated costs like security of office space, floor space to house servers, the cost of electricity and air-conditioning. It’s also easy to miss all the little maintenance and upkeep costs associated with running your own environment. Then there are the truly hidden items: what should a business spend to get properly resilient and secure IT, and what are the potential costs of failing to do so? How much extra profit would come out of having IT systems available from anywhere at any time? What’s the value to you of transferring all your IT costs in opex and smoothing your cash flow? Finally, what’s it worth to you to know that delivering IT is someone else’s problem?

To get a true picture of the costs, you need to dig a little deeper for those costs that we’re likely to sweep under ‘operations’ carpet.  A little digging will reveal that the cloud is less expensive, more transparent and an easier IT model to implement.

Take Managed Networks’ DesktopLive solution, for example. You pay £49 per user per month and get the Microsoft Office suite,  Exchange email and secure file storage, all accessible from any device with an internet connection, whether it’s a PC, a laptop or a tablet. You also get 99.5% guaranteed availability and comprehensive service desk support and account management. You can be absolutely sure your data is stored in the UK;  the service desk is also exclusively UK-based. As your business grows you can add additional users as you need them, with no capital expense. Similarly, if at any point you decide to downsize your workforce, you can just as easily reduce the number of users without wasted investment. But that’s not all. DesktopLive also stands head and shoulders above competitors like Office 365 and Google Docs. Why? Two words: support and integration. DesktopLive is fully supported, with real, knowledgeable, helpful human beings one free phone call away. DesktopLive can integrate with and accommodate your line of business systems (accounts, CRM, stock control, ticketing, whatever) – seamlessly, fully supported and with the same resilience and security as DesktopLive itself.

 

  • It’s all or nothing when moving to the cloud

Fact: Many businesses on the cloud use a combination of private and public cloud. This is called the hybrid cloud.  With the hybrid cloud, you choose to keep your sensitive data and proprietary information on your ‘private’ cloud while web and application servers can go on the ‘public’ cloud. You can decide on a balance between both factoring in risk mitigation, reliability and cost. A good cloud provider can help you decide how to use the hybrid cloud option to your advantage.

Find out more about our cloud solution DesktopLive. Call us on 0800 783 6170 or email us at sales@mn.co.uk. You can download our complimentary DesktopLive Presentation.

 

December 30, 2013

Managed Networks makes Christmas donation to NSPCC

For the last few years, Managed Networks has taken the CSR initiative of financially supporting and raising awareness of UK charities. At Christmas, we step it up a notch and make a bulk donation to a selected charity. This year, among the many charitable causes we’ve supported, we’ve chosen to make our Christmas donation to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

Our Christmas donation of £2,000 to the NPSCC will help raise awareness of child cruelty and provide a safer environment for children. The donation comes in addition to the £1,800 raised by Ben Rapp CEO of Managed Networks at the RideLondon event in support of NSPCC in August 2013. Mr Rapp also makes an additional personal contribution of nearly £1,000 to the charity annually.

Everyday trained volunteer counsellors of the NSPCC comfort, advice and protect around 2,500 children and young people who may feel they have nowhere else to turn. These helpless children have suffered abuse, cruelty, bullying and exploitation and NSPCC is committed to putting an end to it.

At Managed Networks, we believe in helping the less fortunate in our society and we’ll continue to do our part to support worthy causes like the NSPCC’s. Some other charities we’ve supported financially in 2013 alone include The Stroke Association, Jeans4Genes, Breast Cancer and Blind Children’s Society.

As our corporate Christmas tradition, we work out the amount we would spend on gifts for clients and donate this money to a charity.   We hope that other organisations will follow suit and support charities like the NSPCC.  When it comes to supporting charitable causes, the size of the organisation doesn’t really matter. We can all make an impact.

Read more on Managed Network’s CSR.

 

(Left to right) Taylor Graham, Celia Pedro and Luke Smith (NSPCC)

(Left to right)
Taylor Graham, Celia Pedro and Luke Smith (NSPCC)

 

December 11, 2013

The Value of Doing IT Right: 3-Part Webcast Series

IT is not a department. It’s not optional. It’s what knits your business together and lets it do what it does to make you money. IT is the foundation of competitiveness and you cannot separate it from doing business. IT ‘is’ doing business.

Join Ben Rapp MA(Oxon) FBCS CITP CISSP-ISSMP, CEO of Managed Networks as he explores the benefits of getting the right IT for SMEs in this 3-part webcast series.
Part 1: Four Things SMEs Get Wrong: Resilience, Security, Accessibility and Productivity

Many small and medium businesses think disasters won’t happen to them, or they can’t be hacked. Worse still, they think IT can be turned on and off as they see fit.

Join us on Tuesday, January 28th 10.00 – 10.45 GMT

Part 2: How Much Are You Really Spending on IT?

The second part of the webinar looks into the hidden costs of IT that end up costing the company more. What does the time your staff spend looking at the hour glass actually cost you?

Join us on Tuesday, February 11th 10.00 – 10.45 GMT

Part 3: A Change of Viewpoint

The final part of this trilogy focused on the need to change the viewpoint from technology to a focus on enabling your business to compete long-term.

Join us on Tuesday, February 25th 10.00 – 10.45 GMT

 

To find out more about this webinar series, please email us as sales@mn.co.uk or call us on 0800 783 6170

December 10, 2013

Has the IT community failed?

At The Business Show recently at Olympia it was interesting to see that most of the delegates we spoke with had heard about the ‘cloud’. However, not many knew the first thing about it. If an established business owner can still ask “what is this whole cloud business about?” while pointing at the sky, that’s a pretty clear sign that we’ve not been very effective in our communication.

We’ve been making lots of noise about how exciting it is that everyone can move to the cloud without successfully explaining what the cloud actually is and why you might want to use it.

Utlimately the cloud is not actually that complicated. You still do the same things – write documents, send emails, store data – but you no longer have to own and operate the servers and software licenses that let you work. Instead someone else – a cloud service provider – runs many powerful servers in one or more datacentres; you connect to them over the internet and ‘rent’ just enough of their capacity for your needs, when you need it.

It means you don’t have to  pay for servers and software, nor invest time and money in maintaining them. You also benefit from the cloud provider’s scale to get better performance and better reliability than you could afford on your own.

Still, moving to the cloud might seem daunting to the less technology-savvy. If the first few sentences from a cloud provider  to a prospective customer are full of jargon and brand names like “VMware” and “virtualisation”, the customer may lose interest pretty quickly. This is about doing business more effectively and more reliably for less money; it’s about making technology someone else’s problem.

If someone else can take on the risk and responsibility of delivering your IT; why not let them? Find out how Managed Networks can help you decide if the cloud is right for your business by calling 0800 783 6170 or emailing us at sales@mn.co.uk

December 9, 2013

Managed Networks donates free IT to 10 lucky UK-based SMEs & Start-ups

Filed under: MN News — Ben Rapp @ 6:03 pm

In the spirit of the upcoming festivities, Managed Networks, the UK-based provider of cloud services to SMEs, is offering 10 lucky start-ups free IT valued at 15,000 GBP. The winner will receive free cloud support for twelve months, while two runners-up get six months each with the remaining seven each receiving three months’ worth of cloud support. The selected companies will get all the benefits of Microsoft Office and Exchange delivered from a secure data centre with full support and 24/7 availability. This promotion, is part of Managed Networks’ efforts to help UK PLCs compete on the global stage.

DesktopLive is a fully customizable hosted service that allows users to access their familiar Microsoft Office applications from wherever they are. The product is a perfect example of how seamless stress-free cloud services should be. DesktopLive affords users the same experience as working from a desktop but with the benefit of a fully functioning and customisable desktop with the added advantage of a round-the-clock service support. As if it couldn’t get any better, DesktopLive is fully optimised for offline use.

The key features of the product which even its strongest competitors have failed to provide include capabilities such as local email synchronisation for laptop users while roaming, the ability to add extra line of business applications and a 24-hour UK-based service desk. DesktopLive also comes with the very much needed -and otherwise costly- 24/7 support to SMEs which, again, competitors have been unable to match.

One of the key features of DesktopLive users will find remarkable is that their data will be stored in secure data centres in London and Leicester. “Small businesses are easy targets of security breaches and they can no longer afford to be lax with data security” says Ben Rapp, CEO of Managed Networks.

Mr Rapp said in his statement that, “In the last 12 months, the number of start-ups in the UK alone has increased by around 24 per cent. However, given the limited disposable income that has plagued many small businesses around the UK, it comes as no surprise that business owners are constantly looking to reduce their overall cost, while striving to stay competitive. Continuing in the company’s commitment to support UK businesses, Mr Rapp also noted that having proactive and reliable IT support is one of the more important capabilities that set successful new businesses apart from their competitors in today’s business environment.

The company was established over 20 years ago and has provided SMEs around the UK with proactive jargon-free IT-support. DesktopLive was launched in response to the demand by some of their existing customers for a flexible hosted service which allowed users to access their familiar Microsoft applications while on the move and from their home PCs all at a competitive cost. Managed Networks wants SMEs and start-ups to experience what extraordinary enterprise-level IT support feels like free of charge for three months.

For more details call us on 02074968036 or email us on sales@mn.co.uk. For terms and conditions and to find out more about this promotion including privacy policy, please visit http://get.desktoplive.co.uk/.

 

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