The Belgian Classics

Ade's Road Cycling Blog
Belgian Classics…

It’s nearly time for the Spring Classics, which kick off in Belgium on Saturday 2nd March with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and then Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne the following day. Later in the month (after a detour to Italy for Strade Bianchi and Milan-San Remo), we are back in Belgium for E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. April races come thick and fast – Dwars Door Vlaanderen, Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen), Scheldeprijs, Brabantse Pijl, Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Mixed in are trips to France for Paris Roubaix and Tro-Bro Leon, and the Netherlands for Amstel Gold. The finale takes place in Italy with Il Lombardia.

Anyway, back to Belgium. I try to provide informative and useful articles on this blog based on my own experimentation and testing. Selflessly, I am doing that again with this post, which compares the merits of different Belgian Classics – the Belgian Bun! I see this as an important public service – it’s absolutely nothing to do with finding an excuse to eat as many buns as possible.

For those that don’t know, the Belgian Bun is the king of all buns. It is a sweet bun containing raisins, maybe some candied fruit chunks, and is covered in white icing, with half a glacé cherry on top. Note it is not a cake as it’s made from dough. They generally contain around 400kcalories, around 10% fat, 60% carb (40% sugar) and quite a lot of salt. Happily, there is some protein in there if you are desperate for a positive excuse!

I have tried samples from Greggs, Aldi, Tesco, Coop and M&S (like I said, I’m selfless). When you settle down to watch the racing here’s your guide to the best bun to accompany your coffee (or Belgian Beer, if you are that way inclined).

Marks & Spencers – 3.5 out of 5 stars

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This is not just any Belgian Bun, this is an M&S Belgian Bun! It is very fruity, with raisins and chunks of candied orange. In fact, it tastes very much like a hot-cross bun – a bit too much really. The bread is firm but not hard and the bun is well-shaped. The icing is thick, sweet and really very good, with no real fondant aftertaste.

Coop – 4 out of 5 stars

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Another bun with lots of raisins and a good, firm texture. Not so much of a citrus flavour but that’s no bad thing. The icing is not quite as thick but is sweet with no aftertaste. A great bun and comes in a pack of two – what’s not to love!

Greggs – 2 out of 5 stars

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Misshapen and slightly hard bun. The icing is very sickly and leaves a fondant aftertaste. Not one for me I’m afraid.

Aldi – 4 out of 5 stars

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Another pack of two, the Aldi buns seem to be slightly taller. They also seem to have slightly less raisins than the others and a very sweet icing, but the whole thing seems to work well.

Tesco – 5 out of 5 stars

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My favourite. The bun seems to have a hint of lemon flavour to it, and a nice selection of raisins and sultanas. The icing is thick but not too sickly and the whole thing is well-shaped and comes in a pack of two. My go-to treat when settling down to watch the racing after a weekend ride.

Of course, if you are interested in the real Belgian/Spring/Cobbled Classics then head over to the blog at ProcyclingUK

New Season

One of the things that I really love about time-trialling is that the buck well and truly stops with you.  Did you train well over the winter?  Did you take care to eat properly?  Did you allow for recovery and adaptation?  Only you can answer that honestly, and if you don’t then the race of truth will find out. The new season is not far away.  I can look at those three questions and answer honestly – yes, yes and yes!  Alas though, I am another year older and I’m sure quite a few people will have moved the needle on a bit.  I did a little bit of testing on my TT bike yesterday and it confirmed what I always know – the first few races will just be about learning to hold position and suffer in a race again. It all starts again next week – I’m looking forward to testing myself again. See you out there.

October – and so it all starts again…

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Last month I wrote about the end of the season, taking a short break and then starting training again.  This month my training plan really kicked off in earnest.  I’m using TrainerRoad, starting off with an extended Sweetspot Base high volume plan.  I’ve extended it in two ways.  Firstly, the initial phase of the plan has an extra 3 weeks to fill it out so that I will be ready for the middle of April.  Last season I was ready by the end of February and I struggled to hold fitness through the season so I’m hoping this will help a bit.  I’ll still start racing in March with the first local TT races but will build fitness through that first month.  I’m also aiming to do London Edinburgh London next year so a bit of extra base work won’t hurt.  Secondly I’ve added an extra workout.  Over the last 3 years I’ve adapted to being able to train for 6 days a week so it feels sustainable to continue that now.  And it’s a quality workout focusing on some VO2 max and sweetspot intervals, so it’s not just adding a TSS filler for the sake of it.  The result is a bigger TSS for the month than I’ve ever managed before – I’m going all in this winter!

I’ve also changed my position on the TT bike too which has taken a bit of getting used to.  The saddle is further back and the bars are extended which has the effect of stretching my body out when I’m in TT position. This is an attempt to flatten the Quasimodo-esque hump in my back.  It feels slightly strange but getting better.  I am also trying to do at least some of the training in TT position but it hurts too much on the turbo so I do as much as I can.  It didn’t seem to cause too many problems last season but the more I can manage the better.

A Word on Nutrition

The training I’m doing is very challenging.  The fact is I will be 50 next year so getting the right amount of sleep and eating properly are just as important.  I’m not great on the sleep – the older I get the harder it seems to get a really good nights sleep, no matter how tired I feel.  Also, I’m not going to bore you by listing my diet but there are a couple of things I do which may be of interest, and I’ll share a recipe for homemade protein bars that Liz has refined/concocted from various internet sources – they are really delicious – see below!

So I eat a lot of foods high in nitrates – beetroot, celery, rocket.  I drink cherry juice.  I eat foods that are a source of l-carnitine such as red meat (in moderation), milk and seeds. I also create a smoothie using 175g of frozen blueberries and 300ish ml of chocolate milk, and I eat my own protein bars to aid recovery.  If you’re interested it is worth Googling the benefits of these nutrients to see what you think.

Protein Bars

We found the original recipe online and then adapted it to taste.  These are high calorie protein bars depending upon the size you cut them.  If you cut into 12 bars, or half the ingredients to make 6, then I reckon each bar will be 200-250 kcals but high in protein.  I’m using a lot of calories in my training and my weight (and more importantly my bodyfat %) is coming down very slowly, which is what I am aiming for.

Blend 1 cup of oats until it’s like flour.  Mix in 1.5tsp cinnamon, 6 scoops of chocolate whey protein powder (I use PHD), a 460g jar of smooth peanut butter, about 30g honey, 5 egg whites and about 120ml skimmed milk.  Now I’ve experimented with adding mashed bananas (2 or 3) which was okay but not to my taste.  Instead I added 100g chopped almonds and that was great.  I then added 100g dark chocolate chips and that was even better!  I imagine if dried fruit and/or raisins are your thing you could chuck those in too.

Anyway, mix the lot really well and pour it into a greased or lined baking pan – I think the one Liz uses is about 12x9cm.  It’s baked at gas mark 4 for about 15 to 20 minutes, allowed to cool, cut into as many bars as you need then stored in the fridge.  Mine happily last a week – I wouldn’t recommend longer.

In summary for the month I managed 428 miles with 24,893ft ascent at around 15.3mph average, which used up around 17,693kcals. In addition I spent 24 hours 45 minutes on the turbo using a further 20,340kcal. Total for the month was 2,994TSS

Training Plan

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I’ve been doing a couple of things differently this winter.  For the first time I’ve gone into the winter with a plan that continues from last summer.  Last year I needed to shift some timber in preparation for cycling in the Alps, which I did.  I carried that on and combined it with a structured training plan.

The Secret to Weight Loss!

I’ve had a number of comments about my weight loss.  Generally people ask what the secret is.  They want to know what I’m doing to lose weight and how they can do it too.  Often they add that they’ve tried everything and nothing works.  So let’s be blunt about this.  Let’s cut to the chase and stop kidding ourselves.

For 99%+ of the population, if you are overweight it’s because you’ve consumed more energy* than you’ve expended.  So the magic secret is…

Expend more energy than you consume!

Now you have three ways of doing this.  You can consume less energy.  You can expend more energy.  Or you can try to do both.

That’s it. Really. Lots of people try to make it more complicated than that, but it isn’t. It really isn’t. The hard part, the part you have to work at, is the willpower aspect of this. For me personally it has taken 14 months to go from 79kg to 65kg – which is around 1kg per month.

*by this I mean food that gets converted to energy


The Training Plan

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I talked somewhat briefly about energy from glycogen stores and energy from fat in this post here, with information provided by Rob Harris, in the lead-up to my lejog ride in 2010.  It turns out, through my testing at the Endurance Coach that my body is pretty efficient at burning fat rather than carbohydrate, and consequently that makes me well-suited to endurance riding.  What I’m not so well-suited to are faster events such as races or time-trials (TTs).  And as a big part of my season this year will be focussing on TTs that seemed to me to be a problem.

Last year, I treated TTs as a bit of fun.  So I didn’t do anything in winter other than ride my bike normally.  I certainly had no training plan, and I avoided the turbo trainer at all costs!  This year, I’ve been on the turbo at least 3 times a week, in conjunction with weekend rides, with a specific focus to get me ready for TTs whilst maintaining my ability to complete endurance rides.

The focus of my training is as follows.  Firstly, there is an aerobic element to it.  People talk about base miles incessantly these days but I think there is too much focus on it.  If you have ridden several thousand miles socially then you essentially have a base already.  Doing more will just make you more efficient at that speed, which does not instantly translate to being efficient at higher speeds.  For that you need to train at higher intensity levels.  Secondly there is training at a level at or just below the level (threshold) at which your anaerobic system kicks in to support the energy requirements of your body when your aerobic system cannot cope.  By training at this level you become able to hold that intensity for longer, and you “train” your mind and body to deal with the lactic acid response you get from working at anaerobic levels.  Third, there is aerobic power – the ability to generate significant aerobic energy over short periods – such as a TT.  Finally, my training includes efforts around force production and tolerance, to improve the ability to quickly generate force for short periods.  These periods could be for climbing hills or for sprints, but the energy largely comes anaerobically and this training helps develop that capability and the ability to handle and process the lactic acid produced as a by-product.

So my training programme has included elements of all of the above – aerobic conditioning intervals (lower level, higher duration), threshold intervals (higher level, shorter duration), aerobic power intervals (low cadence, high power, short duration) and force tolerance intervals (very short “shock” intervals in a big gear).  On top of this, I have spent the winter riding a very heavy bike with big, fat, sticky tyres in as big a gear as possible – with the aim of developing my leg strength.

Now whilst I have followed (and am still following) what has been a 16 week programme, I have to say that I am a very poor trainer on the turbo.  I struggle to get my HR into the right zones and I get bored/disillusioned very easily.  So I’m not completely sure that I’ve done the programme total justice.  I am, however, much more prepared than I was this time last year – so that must surely be worth something.  My realistic target now is to complete the training programme and to use March and April TTs as effective warm-ups.  During May, June and July my aim is to beat the targets I set myself here.

Finally, all of the information and design of this training programme was given to me by the Endurance Coach.  If you want to take things up a level, or are just interested in knowing a bit more about you and your limits, then I highly recommend you visit them.

Nutrition and Refuelling for #Lejog

One of the guys on the ride with us, Rob Harris, is a Senior Tutor for Lifetime Health & Fitness, the largest provider of health and fitness training in the UK.  He’s been in the fitness industry for 16 years and has lectured for most of those.  He provided the following tips for us – which have proved really useful


To understand refuelling you need to understand how the body works and how we produce energy.

The body works in 2 ways AEROBICALLY and ANAEROBICALLY. This is with oxygen being used in the production of energy and without oxygen in energy production. This has nothing to do with being out of breath but more to do with speed of oxygen across the cell wall. Athletes such as Paula Radcliffe/Bradley Wiggins etc are able to work at a high intensity whilst still allowing oxygen to get across the cell wall to work AEROBICALLY

If you work for too long, too high you get a build up of lactic acid due to no oxygen being used to produce energy. Usually this will happen after about 2 minutes of “really going for it out of the saddle up hill”.

Anaerobic energy production uses CARBOHYDRATE   (waste product= lactic acid)

Aerobic energy production uses OXYGEN + FAT + CARBOHYDRATE   (waste products= CO2, water and heat)

Stores of Fuel

The body stores a lot of FAT (on some people it is more than others) and the average person has approximately 27000 calories of fat. We can only store approximately 1800calories of CARBOHYDRATE so it is vital that we replenish our CARBOHYDRATE store as often as is needed.

Most club runners will have enough stores to run for approximately 3 hours which is why at approximately 20-22 miles they hit “The wall”. In cycling we call it “BONKED” and this is when the body runs out of stores of CARBOHYDRATE.  Because the desire to continue is strong, the body looks for substances to replace the CARBOYDRATE and the substance it finds is PROTEIN. (Our own muscles are made of PROTEIN) So to burn FAT with OXYGEN it uses PROTEIN (This is the same as in famine)


We should make sure we have enough CARBO stores before we start exercising……replenish these CARBO stores as often as possible (usually at least every hour)…….and then top these up after we have finished but add PROTEIN to aid with muscle and tissue repair.

Before a ride.

Make sure you have had CARBOHYDRATE before you start.

Breakfast-Bread and Jam/ Fruit such as bananas/croissants/weetabix/shredded wheat/pasta/rice.

During a Ride

Dried Fruit/Bananas/Energy Bars/Energy Gels/Kellogs breakfast bars/ Malt Loaf/Bread & Jam

I often taken out 4 slices of bread and jam wrapped in tin foil in my back pockets. (usually eat around 2 hours)

It is also worth considering a rehydration CARBOHYDRATE drink and a litre of this should be consumed every 2 hours or according to manufacturers guidelines.

After a Ride.

Recovery is crucial because this will set you up for your next session. You have a window of opportunity within an hour or so of completing your session when you should be refueling.

Recent research has shown it is essential to begin refuelling as soon as possible after exercise. We should look to take 25gms of CARBO + 40gms of PROTEIN immediately after exercise and this could be in the form of a recovery drink if you find food hard to digest.

(Following my long ride on a Sunday I eat 2 rounds of brown toast with a tin of sardines or tuna. Sardines are approximately 45gms, a small tin of tuna from sainsburys is 30gms of protein. I will then have more CARBOs for lunch and I also take a recovery CARBO/PROTEIN drink)

Then consume more CARBOS (little and often say 50gms every hour) for the next 3-4 hours.

In terms of hydration, when we store CARBOs for eventual energy use we need water. Use need approximately 1 litre of water when we burn 1000 calories so ideally we need to drink every 10-15 minutes when exercising.

CARBOS             PROTEIN

Fruit                    Meat

Bread                  Fish, Tuna, Sardines

Rice                    Eggs

Cereals             Cheese

Sugar                Humus

Potatoes         Seeds/Nuts/Grains.

Seeds/Nuts    Soya

My usual pre-ride breakfast is porridge – which hopefully I’ll be able to get at our various digs.  During the rides I’ll be using the following products

Ride nutrition

In terms of energy the Torq bar is probably best – but I like the least.  The Torq gel also contains guarana (caffeine) which is great for a quick boost.  The lucozade bars and power bars probably taste the nicest – although power bars have a tendency to melt in the warm weather.  After each ride I’ll be using the following recovery drinks

Science in Sports recovery shakes

These shakes include a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein and include both fast-release protein (whey), which is absorbed instantly by the muscles, and slow-release protein (casein) for continued repair.  I have a feeling recovery at the end of each day may be extremely important.

If by any chance any companies who make any of these products are reading this blog we’d be happy to take any free samples available!

Sunday ride – 50 miles and the importance of nutrition

Today I discovered what happens when you get the nutrition side of cycling horribly wrong.  I needed to get back by a certain time to go to the match and so I set my alarm very early for a Sunday morning.  In fact I couldn’t face getting up any earlier so I basically got up, forced an energy bar down and then set off.  Within 5 miles I knew I was in trouble.  My legs felt heavy and I wasn’t up for it at all.  I’d planned my ride to go up to Rossendale, taking a right up to Bacup and then over the hill down to Todmorden and through Hebden Bridge.  Then a right up through Crag Vale to the White House on the peak at Littleborough and down via Hollingworth Lake, Rochdale, Heywood and home.

The route I’d planned contained two big climbs.  Not particularly steep but long.  The first would start at about 500ft and climb up to over 1250ft over a period of 6 miles.  The second would be virtually 1000 ft of climbing over 5.5 miles.  So I’m not even at the first climb and feeling bad, and thinking about seriously shortening the ride.  At that moment I was thinking about the issues I would face on the actual ride itself and I figured that I needed to keep going simply to put more “miles in the bank”.  Every bit of training I do now will, in the long run, be beneficial.  I got to Bacup and started up the long climb.  I was onto the small ring at the front pretty much straight away as I ground my way up the hill.  Surprisingly, as I got towards the top I started to feel better, and at the summit itself I stopped and had a celebratory energy gel before I launched myself down the well-earned descent.

Oh, and my Garmin is behaving itself again. Weird!

Cutting through Todmorden and Hebden Bridge and I turned right  to start the next ascent.  By now I was starting to feel much better and I made it most of the way up on the big ring at the front.  On the way up near the summit I stopped to look back over my shoulder and take this snap

The only way is up

The route took my past the Blackstone Edge reservoir and then right to the White House at Littleborough.  Whether the gels and energy bars had kicked in at this point I don’t know, but I was feeling strong again, like I had a second wind.

White House, Littleborough

This is the start of a great descent – the first 1.5 miles of which I averaged over 30mph!  I then skirted round the edge of Hollingworth Lake and headed back through Rochdale.

Hollingworth Lake

At this point I realised that my slow start was in danger of making me late, so I had to really push hard to get home in time, averaging 17mph over the last 10 miles.  Considering the way I’d been felling I was more than happy with that.

Total distance was 50.5 miles in 3hrs 34mins at an average of 14.2mph.  2600ft of climbing meant I used 2734 kcals

Very happy with this weekend, clocking up over 156 miles.  I’m not sure I’m going to hit my training target of 2000 miles (excluding my commuting miles) but I’ll give it a very good go!

North Cheshire Clarion Saturday Rain Run!

Standing in the pouring rain last night waiting for the dog to pick a spot to do his late-night business I figured that today would be pretty wet. And so it was. I guess that so far I’ve been pretty lucky on my training rides. A few spots of drizzle have been the worst – if you exclude crippling cold, ice on country lanes and snow by the the side of the road of course!

So it was throwing it down outside as I made my porridge. Incidentally, I think that porridge has now become my favourite pre-ride breakfast. Aside from the fact that it’s cheap (50-odd pence for 500g) its nutrition stats break down as follows for a 50g serving

  • Energy 180kcal
  • Protein 5.5g
  • Carbs (sugars) 30g (0.6g)
  • Fat (saturates) 4g (0.8g)
  • Fibre 4.5g

Pretty nutritious and not instant-hit sugary energy like some cereals.

Anyway, I’ve finally joined a cycling club.  The North Cheshire Clarion seemed like a friendly bunch when I met them after football last Monday so I bit the bullet and joined.  They do a ride on a Saturday morning from the Swan in Winwick which is only 20-30 miles.  As I need distance in my training I decided to ride to Winwick, join the ride, and then ride home.  The ride there was pretty uneventful – I avoided the East Lancs and went through Boothstown, Leigh and Lowton.  By the time I got there I was soaked.  I had wet hands under my “waterproof” gloves and wet feet inside my “waterproof” socks covered by shoes and “waterproof” overshoes!  In the fact the only bit of waterproof kit I was wearing that actually lived up to the name was my Endura hi-viz jacket.  Four club members soon turned up in the club colours.  The jerseys look really good – I’m looking forward to getting hold of one in the near future.  The ride, although really wet, was very pleasant at a nice, steady pace in what was basically a big figure-of-eight loop around Culcheth at one end and Burtonwood at the other.  It made a real difference riding in a group.  I think it’s mostly psychological but it’s definitely easier.  The loop was about 24 miles which was an enjoyable run, even with the wet conditions.  Riding home I decided to take the East Lancs which although unnerving is actually very quick – I zinged along there at an average of 21mph.  Then ducked off through Farnworth and up the big hill on Ringley Lane/Road.  Thoroughly enjoyable – total of 64 miles at an average speed of 16.3mph and 1269ft of climbing.  Total kcalories used was 3243

#lejog Nutrition stats

I’ve been reading up on nutrition for cyclists and there is some very interesting information out there.  It’s relatively well known that an average person will burn off around 2400 kcalories of energy just by “being”.  On top of this a touring cyclist covering between 50 and 60 miles per day will need an extra 2500 kcalories of energy.  Given that we will be doing between 100 and 120 miles per day then that would suggest we’ll be needing something like 7500 kcalories a day, which seems a hell of a lot.  Apparently an average person will store 1500-2000 kcalories in carbohydrates (glycogen) but a whopping 135,000 kcalories in fat stores.  A typical energy bar will maybe provide 200 kcalories!  So the secret is carbohydrate loading – consuming a diet of 70% carbs in the lead up to the ride.  Once underway a high carb breakfast and snacking each hour is important to ensure glycogen levels are maintained, plus heavy carb meals with a protein element for muscle rebuilding and recovery.  I suspect I’m going to become sick of pasta and rice…