Simon Usborne: 'Cyclists are prone to spend silly money on gear, but why bother when your legs are as supple as smoked hams?'


Until recently, my post-ride warm-downs involved only the muscles required to lift a massive wodge of cake towards my mouth. Stretching was perfunctory – the embrace of a sofa is far more appealing after eight hours in the saddle than lunges and quad extensions. But, as you may have read (I've banged on about it enough), I was shocked out of my slipshod regime by last month's 1,000-mile Ride Across Britain, which left me with the knees of a pensioner and a five-week effort to get fit for the Etape du Tour, the amateur stage of the Tour de France.

I'll have completed the 112-mile ride in the Pyrenees by the time you read this (find out how I did on the blog), but not before a lot of painful prodding and manipulation at the hands of a lady called Fran.

I always thought sports physiotherapy was the preserve of the trained athlete, but you don't need to be a pro to walk into Balance Performance Physiotherapy in south London. Hauling my hobbling form in front of Graham, who co-founded Balance, felt like driving a beat-up banger into a Ferrari showroom, but he and Fran believe even occasional sportspeople should take more care of their bodies. Cyclists are prone to spend silly money on gear, but why bother when your legs are as supple as smoked hams?

Fran and, later, Graham quickly identified my problem. I ride with my thighs, or quadriceps, which sounds sensible, but power should come also from the core, hamstrings and, well, bum. By overloading my quads, I've been stressing out my knee caps, which should float freely in their joints. When they can't, it hurts.

The solution in my case: a bit of acupuncture (unpleasant), unsightly plasters to support the knee caps, exercises with a Swiss Ball, and Trigger Point Performance Therapy, a slightly torturous system of rollers and balls that simulates a sports massage.

It's all a major faff, of course, but after two weeks of treatment I could walk downstairs again and ditch the painkillers. I'm now back on my bike, where I hope my knees will hold out on the route from Pau to the summit of the fearsome Col du Tourmalet. There'll be cake eating afterwards, to be sure – but this time the legs will get some attention, too.;