In preparation for our Cycling Training Event in Rutland this coming weekend, we thought we would interview the chap who is in charge of putting the challengers through their paces. Here is Damon Blackbands story on his journey to working in the adventure industry and his top tips to tackling you’re cycling challenge.
From Aviator to "Sportsman of the Year"…
Like many people in this profession I have been fortunate to experience an interesting, varied and exciting career.
With twenty three years of experience as an Army Aviator, I have gained immeasurable life skills born out of dozens of exciting adventures and escapades around the world. During my time in the military I became an instructor in all aspects of mountaineering. Leaving in 2007 with the proud title of ‘Sportsman of the year’ to start the second phase of my life as a Mountaineering and Cycling Guide.
I have climbed all over the world. Including seventeen ascents of Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Toubkal, Elbrus, Kinabalu and many of the Alpine 4000m peaks including numerous treks to Everest Base Camp and other truly stunning destinations. However, the last eight years of working within the industry it is the field of cycling where I have noticed the most change. Clearly here is where there has been the most advancement in British recreational pursuits.
My experience of Cycle Guiding…
Cycle Guiding incorporates the planning, organising and route selection for cycling events. This means I have been lucky enough to pedal my way across Europe, Africa and Asia. Witnessed some incredible sights along whilst making some fantastic friendships in the process.
Watching two hundred participant’s cycle around the Arc de Triumph and down the Champs Elysée is truly memorable. As is your first sight of Angkor Wat or the Ngorongoro Crater as it appears through the jungles of Cambodia and Tanzania.
They are all truly memorable occasion’s and just a tiny insight of what is available to those willing enough to sign on the dotted line, don on their Lycra and join the fellowship of the pedal as they rekindle their thirst for adventure and open the next chapter on their journey to personal fulfilment and a healthier lifestyle.
A lot of you will be thinking when it come to a cycle challenge a) how do I do this and b) can I do this? My answer would be of course you can. I have cycled up 15% hills on route to Paris with 73 year old ladies, raced down steeper hills into the Kenyan Rift Valley with equally seasoned veterans. Watched people carrying twenty stone elatedly drop to their goal of twelve. Experienced people cry and once even propose to a loved one in front of the Eiffel Tower. Cycling is by no shadow of a doubt for everyone. It is just a matter of patience and perseverance as you pedal your way to your next adventure.
Here are my top five tips…
To help you I would like to offer my hard earned advice and tips for those attentively throwing their Lycra clad thighs over the crossbar for the first time, as well as those eager to tackle harder and longer cycling adventures in more demanding locations.
Here are my top tips to prepare you for your challenge:
- Choose your bike well; Most bikes will convey you around Richmond Park without any problems however, London to Paris or Lands End to John O’Groats are a different saddlebag of widgets and grommets! Make sure your bike is the correct size and correctly fitted for your anatomy, what’s comfy for 10 miles might not be comfy for 50 miles especially when the mercury rises and the gradients steepen, go to a good bike shop and get your geometry dialed in. Road bikes do not have to have drop-bars but these are generally lighter and it’s that which will make you ascend easier, and feel fresher after a day in the saddle, and you seldom ride with your hands on the drops unless descending.
- It is all about the saddle...Saddles that look comfy seldom are after 40 miles, razor blades look uncomfortable but it’s the ‘flex’ and support that will see you through your first century ride, good manufactures are Fizik and Sella Italia with the ‘Fizik Aliante’ being my perch of choice for sportives, with many ladies swearing by the ‘Selle Italia’ Women's Diva Gel Flow Saddle. To clip-in or not? Clip-in pedals offer you greater efficiency, but unless you are experienced enough and confident in their use then your first group ride is not the place to experiment.
- Cycling is European… distances are measured in kilometers and ‘the look’ is everything; look the part and you will feel the part. Feel the part and you will ride the part! Be proud of your bike, keep it clean and serviceable and it will work for you, equally dress yourself in the best cycling apparel you can afford, especially with what’s going to 'caress or distress' your undercarriage. No underwear and use Chamois cream. My garments of choice (as a professional) being Assos, Castelli and Ale, although Scottish brand ‘Endura’ produce a lovely range with their FS260 jersey and bib shorts at a more friendly price point. Chamois cream is a must and I find Assos chamois cream works wonders.
- Fail to Prepare – Prepare to Fail. Training rides…2-3 times a week of between 30-50km with a steady pace and some sprint and climbing sections to stop stagnation, many, including myself use 'Map my Ride' or 'Strava' apps on our phones and GPS devices to monitor and improve our performance, racing these timed segments of hallowed tarmac allows us to see our gains whilst motivating us when we are not feeling strong. At the weekends plan for a bigger ride, preferably with faster friends but more importantly getting some distance in your legs and the opportunity to fine-tune your saddle, clothing, hydration and fuelling requirements.
- Fear Nothing but Respect Everything. Don’t worry what people think about your new-found love of lycra, you’re still lapping all those critics sat on their couches. It all comes with time and practice. One of my cycling buddies has lost three stone in less than a year since taking up riding, and his health as improved dramatically. Sportives and adventure cycling challenges are the perfect environment to gain confidence; we may not have the soigneurs and masseuses that the professionals have, but we do have guides, signage, mechanics, medics and caterers along with a comfortable bed and camaraderie each night to ensure that all you have to do is enjoy the ride and brief respite from your normal routine.
I could go on, but then I would have nothing other than the finer rules and etiquette of cycling enlightenment to bore you with (for this visit velominati.com) when I see you on our Rutland training weekend, or possible on London to Paris in September. Now is the time to start your training and preparations and I look forward to seeing you all over my shoulder sometime soon.
Feel inspired? To find out more about Dream Challenges events please visit the website or contact us directly: