Tag Archives: velodrome

From winter to spring

This February I turned 34. I have been writing this blog for approximately a third of my whole life… Crazy. Anyway, back to the story. So around my birthday I spent (with Clio’s help of course) around a week (mainly the evenings after work and one weekend) planning a two week road trip around Iceland. This involved 1) researching (mainly over Google Maps and blogs) all tourist attractions and putting them on an actual physical map, and 2) making a detailed day-by-day planning based on driving distances/durations and approximate sightseeing (walking/photography/nutrition) times for each location, parallel with 3) looking up suitable hotels/lodges for each day. For the 14 days this means a total of 84 rows of data (including ~63 sights outside of Reykjavik, 11 hotels, and 3200 driven kilometres) in an Excel/Numbers sheet. With the flights, rental car (a smaller 4×4), and accommodation included we saved around 50% of the price of similar packages offered by various travel agencies by doing everything ourselves. Of course now I have seen way too many spoilers thanks to Google Street View, but I had to do a bit of looking around anyway to plan a bit ahead in terms of photography locations and so on.

We are leaving on Sunday, so it is getting very close! By the way, we decided to go in May because 1) it is still before the super busy June-August main tourist season, and 2) May is – statistically, at least in Reykjavik – the least rainy and the most sunny month (even though there are more daylight hours during the summer), and it is only 4-5°C colder than the warmest month, July. Let’s hope we will not get a negative outlier May :)

The second half of February brought some very nice weather, so nice that right after the annual visit to the velodrome in Ghent (where from this year on there is digital time-keeping down to the 1/1000th of a second) I went for a ride outside in shorts (and arm warmers and a gilet, but still) before driving home with 132 km in my legs (including the fastest lap on the track from the team with 16.834 seconds, a good 0.5 seconds faster than the next person).

At work we had our annual company lunch at the Restaurant Arenberg this year, and even though it has a Michelin star, it is a bit too classic for my taste, so I still prefer the EssenCiel (where we went for Clio’s birthday last week) from the gastronomic places in and near Leuven. On the other hand the Easter chocolates of TML came from the Bittersweet Chocolatier this year, so it is confirmed: best workplace ever. On the same note, I have eaten so much chocolate during the past two weeks, that it really needs to stop. Luckily Iceland will be too expensive to eat too much, so there is still hope to keep my race-weight for the summer :D

Preparing for Iceland I bought a NiSi filter system (basically for daytime long exposure shots, see example test-shot with silky smooth water from the nearby abbey above), a wide angle prime lens (Fujifilm XF 16mm f/1.4 WR), a backup camera for my Fujifilm X-T3 (a Fujifilm X-E3) and a small telephoto lens (Fujifilm XF 50mm f/2 WR). And a new carbon tripod (Manfrotto MT190CXPRO4), a camera bag (Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW), and some small accessories… Advanced stage GAS – Gear Acquisition Syndrome – I know. Truth be told, all my Canon gear (plus the old tripod and camera bag) is either already sold or up for sale, so overall, actually, I own less camera stuff now. (Still GAS.) Everything is already tested and packed nicely in the new camera bag (the whole kit fits perfectly, and the weight saving compared to my old Canon gear is significant), so really looking forward to Iceland now. The plan is to mostly use the X-T3 with the 16mm lens (this is a full weather-proof setup, so even in bad conditions I don’t need to worry about getting the camera out, and I like wide-angle landscape shots the most anyway), and get the X-E3 out with the 50mm lens only if I need to shoot some more distant details or a portrait. I don’t like changing lenses and I prefer the quality of primes over zooms, so this is perfect for me. I wish I did more photography, but cycling is still the number one hobby.

The first half of March had horrible weather (except miraculously for Saturday mornings at least, so I could bike a bit), then on the first better (meaning not constant rain) Sunday we went to Antwerp with Clio to visit the Plantin-Moretus Museum. It is a printing museum focusing on the work of the 16th-century printers Christophe Plantin and Jan Moretus, located in their former residence and printing establishment, the Plantin Press, and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being a typeface-lover and map-geek, I had a really great time walking around the exhibits. Afterwards we made a small walk to the North to have a look at some of the new buildings, but the cold wind was not really suited for anything longer.

Back to work, in the beginning of April I wrote my first proposal outside of astronomy, and – after my steepest ride outside of the Canary Islands (with 3149 meters of elevation gained over only 134 km) – spent three days on a meeting/conference in slightly cold and rainy Aveiro (Portugal). Then winter came back (again) for a weekend (a ride in an average temperature of 2°C on the 14th of April, seriously?)  before the real nice warm spring arrived the week after. Luckily that coincided with the annual Tornado club-weekend, so we could have two beautiful days of cycling in the Southern Eifel region in Germany, with temperature above 20°C. I even had quite good legs (and the pace was friendlier than usual), so this year I was not at all the slowest on the climbs.

On Easter Monday we finally (as we have been planning this for years) went for a walk to the Hallerbos, to see the famous blue and purple carpet of the blooming bluebells. It was definitely worth it, but next time I should be less lazy and take my tripod too.

On the gaming front (besides FIFA 19) I have been playing quite a lot with the Division 2 lately (since I really liked the original Division too a few years ago, up to the point of having to stop because I felt addicted – this time I am taking it much more casual), and I also got Mario Kart 8 for the Switch for an occasional race against friends – as a holiday entertainment.

This time there will be no daily blog posts from the road trip, because it was super tiring in Scandinavia (even though I was happy that I did not have to process three weeks’ worth of photos afterwards), but I will post photos on social media every day, and when we are back there will be one or two posts with the ‘best of’ here too. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather!

Monthly Notices (Vol. 1)

But not the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society ;) Anyway, I always publish in Astronomy and Astrophysics… Sorry for the bad astronomical joke… (If you can call this a joke…) But as I had no posts recently on the blog, I have to admit there is no better title for this entry. And this might get more and more common in the future, as my motivation for blogging is lower and lower these days.

Starting with a reference to A&A was not completely accidental, as I spent November and the beginning of December working hard to finish my second first-author paper, which I will submit to the mentioned journal in January. I spent several evenings at the Institute to meet my internal deadlines, but it was not that difficult (the stress is on the relative difficulty, I am not complaining that I had not enough pressure or tasks to deal with), as November is the low season in cycling (which means that I basically did not ride at all), so I had nothing else to do. Now the paper is basically 99% finished, and my supervisors – and me too – are very happy with the work I have done. We still need to wait for the final comments from the rest of my co-authors (I have already received two very positive ones with only minor comments to consider), but then it should not take more than a week of work before I can really submit after the Holidays. So I expect to have a second paper by the time I turn 27. Damn, I am getting old…

No matter how much work I have, I do not work on the weekends, this is one of my principles. This way I could join my friends to Bredene (where we played board games, had a great walk along the nice coast of Belgium across high grass and sand dunes in the wind – unluckily I expected crappy weather so I had only my phone with me to take pictures with, instead of my DSLR -, and we went to the concert of the Symfonisch Orkest van de Vrije Universiteit Brussel in which Ilse plays the French horn), help Tijl in building his terrace, play FIFA12 online (sometimes I rock, sometimes I suck, it really depends on how much I can concentrate, so now I do not play it anymore after midnight), and watch Rules of Engagement (thanks to Clio’s suggestion), which is really great (and especially Season 5 is hilarious).

After I was done with the paper, I had time to do other things too. First of all I took part in our programming battle at work (no results yet – update from January, 2012: I won 2 out of the 4 categories, the precision, and the length (so the shortness) -, but it was a nice task to solve, and I did it using python of course), then – maybe I had a bit too much time in my hands – I have written a small code to do N-body simulations in 3D. It was something I always wanted to try, and it was even useful, because I finally managed to figure out how to do 3D plotting in python, and how to do numerical integration using different methods. So it was not a waste of time at the end. (See video and description on Youtube.)

In December I restarted training on the indoor trainer (this is already the beginning of the next cycling season), and the AstroTeam went to the Velodrome in Gent again, now in our custom cycling kit, as a real team. I was a bit annoyed by the fact that I had forgotten my helmet at home, so I had to rent a crappy one, but besides this small mishappening, it was a great evening. I did three twenty minute sessions, and in the last one (which was the best of all) while I was riding with a fast group (at approximately 40-45 km/h), high, near the top of the curve, the guy in front of me crashed (after touching the rear wheel of the biker in front of him), and although I had already accepted the seemingly inevitable, that I would unavoidably crash into him or his bike turned across the slope in front of me, I passed him by centimetres as he slipped down the steep banks quick enough… I was a little bit shocked. I have never been this close to a real, classical bike crash. It was really something you normally see on the TV.

Now I am back in Hungary for the holidays, so I might have time to write about other (hopefully more interesting) things during these two weeks.

Riding the velodrome in Gent

In the cold and wet months during winter, it is really unpleasant to ride the road bike outside, so you are left with three choices: 1) stop training (but come on, for three months? no…), 2) ride the indoor trainer (I will cover this in the next post), or 3) switch to track cycling indoors. I have never ridden on a proper indoor track before, though I rode one of the oldest (but outdoor) velodromes of Europe in 2009, just before I left to Belgium. But riding indoors, on a shorter, steeper track with wooden surface is really different. That’s why we (myself, plus Tijl and Kristof – the same colleagues who joined me when I rode to catch the Tour de France last summer) decided to go for a ride in the Vlaams Wielercentrum Eddy Merckx in Gent. They have specific hours, when “recreational” cyclists can just go there, rent track bikes (fixed gear bicycles, with only one gear ratio and no brakes), and ride for two hours (15 €, everything included). We had fixed this Monday evening (8-10 PM) in our calendars already a month ago, so we were quite excited about the ride.

In one word, it was awesome. We got a 5 minute introduction about the rules of the track (Tijl translated for me), and then we were free to ride. Usually we just joined a group whose speed was comfortable for us, and rode with them for some time (as it is much faster and less tiring than riding alone, and it gives you the real feeling of the track). Of course we did some individual sprints too :) Unluckily, at the beginning, I had some problems with hydration levels and the amount – or lack – of food in my stomach, but I managed to overcome these for the second part of the ride. The best part – for me – was my last 35 minutes (you can see the beginning of it on the last scene of the video below), when I rode with a group which maintained a pace of 21-23 seconds / lap on the blue line (the length is 250 meters on the white line, so on the blue it is a bit longer). This gives an average speed of at least 42 km/h! During this time, I was in front twice (as the riders rotate, because the first one in the line always has to work much more, as he/she has to ride against the “wind”, while the rest is pedaling in the slipstream), and by the time it was my third turn, everyone else was dropped :) I also had my DSLR with me, so we shot some Full HD footage of the action too (all the three of us is visible, but you can easily spot me, just search for the same guy who is on the picture above):

After the ride, we had a beer (Keizer Karel Blond) – which is really typical for Belgians… You really can’t find a sports hall without a bar :D