Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Scottish XC series roundup (aka what we do between CX seasons)

With cyclocross season now well and truly arrived (see Steven Halsall's write up from an excellent 3 Peaks CX, which always neatly precedes the Scottish CX season), this is as good a time as any to reflect on the summertime exploits of Scottish Cross Country.

After a fun first round at Forfar back in March, the season has continued in a similar way - great courses, top notch organisation and a really good bunch of friendly riders. Round 2 moved on to Cathkin Braes, and the final test race there ahead of the Commonwealth Games. After the March sunshine of Forfar, Glasgow treated us to the stereotypical horizontal rain. The course here is one that has never really quite suited me - it nevers seems to flow for me quite as well as I would like. A few young whipper snappers in the Sport field set a high pace at the start, and I probably stretched myself a bit keeping up with them. A lingering stomach bug earlier in the week also put in a re-appearance, probably not helped by being soaked through and shivering for 20 minutes in the car post-race. I was therefore delighted to grind out a 3rd place and some solid points. It says a lot about the organisers that they (and particuarly Morven Brown on the mic) managed to still create a good atmosphere in the race village.


Young support team at Abriachan
Round 3 marked a return to Abriachan above Loch Ness. Some tweaks to the course layout since 2013 worked well, and with the weather being drier, the course was faster and more enjoyable too. I had initially intended to skip this round, but after good showings in rounds 1 and 2, was tempted back up the road (justifying the long trip by an overnight in Aviemore with wife and son, and some quality time with them on the Monday). Ben Wyvis Cycle Club put on a great singletrack course again - some rooty climbs and descents, mixed up with just enough firetrack to allow overtaking if necessary. I felt pretty good coming into the race, and was slightly disappointed by the small field - after setting a steady tempo with another rider up the first climb, I dispatched him into the second, and rode on my own for the rest of the race. It would have been good to test my legs in a close battle, but as it was, I was sprinting out of corners, racing myself for the fun of it.

Round 5 became Round 4 (the June Champs round at Gleniffer Braes being cancelled due to organisational issues with the local authority). After a huge break from racing and a 2 and a half week lay off during my summer holiday (enforced by breaking my road bike shortly before I set off to France), I wasn't feeling particularly sharp heading up to Lochore Meadows. The wet and windy battering that certain teammates were getting at the Stirling Crits was softened slightly at Lochore (at least the trees gave some shelter), and the organisers had managed a nice little event village. The local club put on a good new course, making use of some purpose built trails, and also some more natural stuff through the woods and fields. The latter was a bit of a grassy slog for low power, low(ish) weight riders like me, but the course was enjoyable on the whole. I spent a good 3.5 laps of the race locked in a battle with Michael Blossard of Nevis Cycles (impressively racing on a new 29er he had only picked up that weekend). The lack of summer riding told on the last half lap though, and when the pace was inevitably lifted for the finish, I dropped off to roll home on my own in a solid second - good enough to wrap up the Sport category series win with a round to go.


The final round marked a return (after an absence of a good number of years) to Dalbeattie. This round would double as the Champs (after that June cancellation) and was run in glorious sunshine. Local club Stewartry Wheelers put on a cracking course with some relatively technical singletrack climbs and descents, and a fast trail centre finish. If being pernickety, it was slightly longer than ideal, with a reasonable amount of firetrack, but it was a blast to race on. This was no doubt helped by being pushed closely by Stuart Dun on his singlespeed (I felt cruel dropping him on a fast fireroad section on the second lap) who kept the race interesting. I mixed it up with a few Vet and Masters riders on the run in too, and came home in a delighted first place again.




Overall, this season has been brilliant - 5 courses that I suspect most riders at English and British rounds would kill for, and great organisation by a small team. The only niggle is the relatively low numbers at some rounds - it is clearly difficult to attract riders who are lured to road racing or enduro too. The price seems fairer now though (still not cheap, but price rises in other events has meant that SXC rounds are now more in line) and the format will no doubt lure me back again next year (the two day commitment required for enduro is too much for many riders with families like myself). As well as plugging the series, this is a handy opportunity to namecheck my supportive family and friends who have variously allowed me to race, heckled, cheered, rung cowbells, and given me a lift to race when I didn't have a car. Top marks to Endura too for this year's kit - it does feel rather special!

At the start of 2014, one of my silly aims had been to amass enough points to move out of the Sport category (which is open to anyone of any age) and into "Expert". British Cycling runs a system where the top 15 sport riders in the country at the end of the year move up to Expert, and this is inevitably dominated by southern riders with access to a plethora of races, including the "British" (read English and Welsh) National Series. The cancellation of Round 4 in Scotland meant that I was always going to struggle to get enough points, and so I decided against a long haul South to a British round to go point hunting. In hindsight, a mid pack result at one British round might have been enough to tip me into the top 15, but in the end, I am actually looking forward to the alternative challenge of racing in Masters (30+) next year instead. The racing there has been close and hard fought this year, and I'm sure I'll get a better race in Masters in 2015 that I would slogging around on my own in Expert.

A few VCM riders have promised and failed to materialise on the SXC start line this year (Greig Walker being the exception, with some great podiums in the fast Vets category), so I'll be haranguing a few of you to put in an appearance next year. It really is a great series now, with a lot of similarities to Scottish Cyclocross in terms of friendliness and great courses. I'll see you on a start line in 2015.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Three Peaks CX 2014

Pretty chuffed with the Three Peaks this year; 10th, in a stacked field in 3:17:15 with some big names behind me. The race only really got going on Pen-Y-Ghent, no big mistakes before this, just steady progress keeping out of trouble.

At Ribblehead Emma shouted out I was 17th, this seemed ok, not great but ok in a strong field so I pressed on to Horton feeling not-too-bad. Starting the climb up Pen-Y-Ghent I felt fairly strong and quickly dispatched my two companions from the previous road section (definitely aided by mum who waited on the hill to chuck me a bottle of coke). As the climb progressed and the gradient steepened my legs felt increasingly tired as cramp started to set in but I still seemed to be passing people. I don't think anyone feels good on Pen-Y-Ghent, it's more a case of who's hurting less or who's able to just block out the cramp and keep it going.


I'd lost track a bit of my position but approaching the top of Pen-Y-Ghent knew I must be somewhere close to the top 10. Four of us dibbed in pretty much together so my goal was to be first back from this group and see what my time and position would be (I've never raced with a watch or any 'data' preferring to just ride to how I feel). My plan for the descent was to keep it neat, safe in the knowledge that I would have strong legs for the final road section. However it turned into a pretty fun and flat out sprint all the way down- great racing with no one giving an inch and a few hairy moments. Nearing the bottom of the hill three of us were all still close; decision time, either sit in and work together or break it up straight away? By this point my confidence was high and with my family and pal John cheering loudly I quickly decided to go for the immediate break. This worked perfectly and after passing some slow moving cars I quickly had a gap of ~30 seconds so could relax and just occasionally check back to make sure my pursuers weren't gaining- happily they weren't and I crossed the line a delighted 10th place.

A top 10 at the Three Peaks has been a goal for a few years now so I'm chuffed to finally crack it with a respectable time in a strong field. My aim was always to get that result then have a rest but... I'm addicted now, there's just nothing else like it in the UK (or the World really!). Also the event does seem to suit my strengths and it's nice to get strong results. This year felt good and my time was an improvement on before but I still feel there's plenty more to come. The Three Peaks is not a race where you can really have a 'perfect' ride, there's always something to improve and work on for next year. As in previous years I have a small scrap of paper in my diary with notes on what worked well and where I need to improve.

There was some fantastic coverage of the race this year. Thanks to Nathaniel Rosa for the cracking picture in this post, it summed up my race perfectly, check out his other shots of the race here.

Finally as always with this race a big thanks to Mum, Dad and Emma for an awesome job chasing me round with wheels and drinks!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Teamwork Redux

The results from last Sunday's race are now up on the BC website.

I finished 8th rather than 9th which means we picked up the 3 points I needed.

Job done!  I can go and dust off my cross bike now.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Teamwork

 

Kinross CC Ochils Road Race - 7th September 2014

 

The next step on my search for points took Graeme and I to Kinross for the Ochils Road Race.  Having wrapped up his 3rd category licence earlier in the season Graeme had offered to try and help me to a top ten finish.  We knew that 7 laps of this hilly 6 mile circuit suited us and given the relatively slow pace of last year's event our Plan A was to try and nip off the front on the penultimate climb.  Hopefully we would take a few strong riders with us and avoid having to fight it out on the flat finish.

I had been suffering with the cold all week and didn't feel 100% on the morning of the race.  I tried to put it down to pre-race nerves but I was well aware that I might struggle.  A quick pedal around the start venue revealed that Plan A was out of the window.  A fairly stiff breeze would be in our faces as we rode up the main drag each lap, there was no way Graeme and I could stay ahead of the bunch.  We quickly settled on Plan B: stay near the front and hope that the pace up the climb would be high enough to whittle down the numbers in the front group.

We managed to line up just behind the lead car and I forced myself to join in with the nervous sprint, brake, sprint, brake routine that happens in almost every neutral section.  I normally just try and ride steadily only to find myself at the back of the bunch by the time the flag drops.  The first couple of laps were reasonably fast up the hill and very fast on the flat.  As we crossed the line for the second time I got a shock when I looked behind to discover that half of the field had disappeared. 

In the middle of the race Graeme and I had a chat and both felt that the pace up the climb was quite comfortable but that neither of us was feeling great on the long fast straight section.  Graeme said later that he had a difficult period around the 4th lap and came close to slipping off the back on this section.

As we climbed the hill for the 6th time I was very glad that I had taken it so steady in the opening laps.  My cold was suddenly catching up on me and my legs were starting to fall off.  I was hoping that the pace would get pushed high enough to dislodge a few more riders but at the same time nervous that I could become one of those riders.  The final part of the climb was only 3% for half a mile but taken for the 6th time at an average speed of over 26mph my legs really started to protest.  For the first time I wasn't sure if I would still be there at the finish.

As we headed towards the climb for the final time I was at the front of the bunch when someone attacked and I jumped onto his wheel thinking it would be a good time to go.  I quickly realised that I was in trouble, I was running on empty.  As we reached to the top of the steep initial section of the climb I had slipped to the back of the group.  A small gap had started to open but fortunately Graeme was only a couple of riders ahead and I gave him a shout.  He dropped back and filled in the gap.  I think I would have been OK but it was reassuring to know that he would ride at a steady tempo.  He started to move us up through the field and I had a chance to recover on the easier section of the climb.  

Now I just had to make it over the last half mile kick to the top.  I managed to move towards the front of the group to give myself a bit of breathing room.  I was more or less the last rider over the crest but Graeme was right ahead of me again and soon we were hurtling towards 50mph down the descent.  We were at the back of the group but our hastily communicated plan was to bank on the fact that it was a tough finish and not go too early.  Following Graeme made the run into the finish much easier, I didn't have to worry about him suddenly attacking or slowing so I could relax slightly.

We were getting closer and closer to the finish but there was still a wall of riders ahead of us.  Graeme was looking for a way through but there was nowhere to go.  Just as I was resigning myself to rolling in at the back of the group he shouted, a gap had opened and I dived through it.  There was less than 200m to go.  I jumped out of the saddle and suddenly my legs felt great but the finish was coming up so fast, I passed one, two, three, four riders and was over the line.  

So we had pulled off Plan B.  I finished 9th, 2 more points of the 3 I need in the bag.  A great result given how I felt in the last few laps.  I don't think I would have made the top ten without Graeme's help, both physically up the last climb and mentally.  Knowing that someone else is prepared to ride for you makes you just that bit more determined to dig in when it gets really tough.  It was great fun to race as part of a team.

Thanks to Kinross CC for another fantastic event.  See you again for the Lochore Meadows cross race in November.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Racing In The Rain - Part II

Sunderland Clarion CC 3/4 - 23rd August 2014

My recent 3rd place at Crit Under The Castle stirred an interest in chasing the required point for 3rd cat.  A look at a sparse calendar on the BC site revealed that I had left it a bit late in the year to start collecting points.

This explains why I found myself in Hetton-le-Hole near Durham today to race in a 3/4 race.  It was all a bit last minute, I only decided at 11pm last night to make the trip.  The decision was made on the promise of a hill which I wasn't convinced existed.  I'd heard on the grapevine that it wasn't a standard pan flat crit course but google maps suggested only subtle changes in elevation.

It turns out there were two small hills, a slightly steeper one at the back of the circuit and one on the finishing straight.  There was also rain, lots of rain.

The course suited me well.  The hills were just big enough to dominate the course and made it easier than normal for me to stay at the front of the race.  I probably tried to get away about 8 times in a 16 lap race, normally on the climb at the back of the circuit but I never managed to make anything stick.

With 5 laps to go I decided to sit in and wait for the finish.  On the penultimate run to the line I was in perfect position about 5 wheels back.  Unfortunately on the final ascent of the back climb I had a bit of a rush of blood to the head and found myself at the front of the race.  With hindsight I was only half a mile from the finish and should have gone all in.  Instead I tried to be cute and let a couple of riders come past but I got swarmed and ended up back in about 12 - 15th.  I managed to put in a good finish and came in 8th.  All in all it was a worthwhile trip, it was a good race on a nice circuit and I managed to collect a couple more points.

Strangely I have described my race without mentioning it's overwhelming feature; torrential rain.  The middle of this race was close to the coldest I have ever been on a bike, right up there with Mull last year or the infamous ERC48 round a couple of years ago.

Anyway, I better go and check the calendar to check where I can find 3 more points.

I'll try and add another post or two describing the highs (hint: hills) and lows of my summer on the bike.

Racing In The Rain

I've been doing a much better job of getting out on my bike this summer than writing about it on here.  After seeing Chris's recent post about the lack of action on this blog I have finally stirred into action.

I've probably raced over a dozen times since my last post but I'm going to start with my two most recent outings.  Conveniently these were two of my best results of the summer.

Crit Under The Castle - 10th August 2014

Addy and I were both signed up to race in the Cat 4 race at Crit Under The Castle.  Maddy was also racing in the Women's Race.  This was a new promotion by Stirling Bike Club and it was an shining example of how to put on an event.  The race took place on closed roads in Stirling City Center and involved over 90 marshals.  In addition to the normal motos for race security they had Cyclevox on hand to film the races from the back of a motorbike.  This must surely have been the most 'pro' feeling cat 4 race ever.

The day got of to a bit of an inauspicious start, the rain as I drove round the city bypass was torrential.  So bad in fact that I seriously considered turning round and heading home.  Never mind racing, it was a nightmare just trying to get there.

After parking up in a multi story carpark I set up my rollers only to be promptly chased off by a member of staff who thought they looked too dangerous.  One thing was for sure, the thought of carrying them and a bike down 4 flights of concrete steps seemed far more dangerous so that was the end of my shortest warmup ever.

By the time our race started, 30 minutes late, due to crashes in previous races, the rain had eased off significantly.  There were races all day so there wasn't a chance to ride the course which made the first lap interesting.  The main feature of the course was a cobbled climb which was followed by a descent and a short flat run in to the finish.  The cobbled climb was fine but it was preceded by a pedestrianised section which was extremely slippy, particularly where a metal drain ran across it.

Fortunately the fast pace in the first few laps thinned the bunch quite quickly to around 15 riders which was much safer in the conditions.  The pedestrianised section was so treacherous that for most of the race I dropped back to about 10 bike lengths behind the small bunch and rode back up on the hill.

After about 15 minutes Jarlath Flynn of ERC attacked at the back of the circuit.  I went with him but we got caught by the bunch after a lap or two.  It seemed like a good place to attack so I decided to try again in the closing laps.  The rest of the race was pretty steady as the bunch stuck together. With 2 laps to go I attacked again in the same place.  Jarlath came with me and we got away again.  With half a lap to go we got caught again but surprisingly nobody counter attacked.  I attacked again as hard as I could and managed to make it over the top of the climb at the front of the race.  Jarlath passed me at the start of the final straight.  Inside the last 100m or so Graham Kelly of Hardie Bikes passed both of us to take the win.  I managed to hold on for 3rd.  Addy finished close behind in 6th.

Unfortunately Maddy's race didn't go so well and she retired with a broken mech caused by a first lap fall.

I can't praise this event highly enough.  It was fantastically well organised and it was a thrill to race in the city centre.  Hopefully in future years the organisers will get the weather they deserve to make this into a carnival of cycling.

If you look closely you might catch the VCM kit in the video:




Friday, 8 August 2014

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Camino de Santiago [Camino Frances] by MTB

Camino de Frances - from St Jean de Pied Porte (SJPP) to Santiago de Compostela - May 2014

Kitteh!


Jac [t'other half] had been wanting to do this trip for, ooh, ages.  I had been sold on virtually none of its virtues other than getting to ride off road all day long for about 2 weeks. I could have done that some where else that would have ticked all the other boxes that I'd liked to have ticked - namely ragging around fun, walker free trails somewhere with nice warm weather on an unencumbered bike while I pretended in my tiny mind to be an Enduro-God. ; )

I gave in. Times conspired such that I need to do something fun after being stuck in an office for too long over the past few years so with some free time looming I said I would do the trip. Jac booked some time off and my contract end date was set to the day prior to our flight departure at the beginning of May 2014.

We made it, it was fun. More fun that I expected, and I did not have to set foot in a church. Jac's report of the trip is here [http://minxcompendium.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/a-bike-ride-to-end-of-world-and-back-bit.html].

This post is to relate some of the gear choices and preparation that we undertook, should it ever prove of any use to anyone... If you want to read something interesting about the trip then skip the rest of this and click on the linky above.

Fitness.

We had a few months to prepare, I reckoned that we would both be fit enough to cope with our planned days of between 65 and 90Kms, and if we were not then we would be by the end of the first week. So that was fitness ticked off the list.

Accommodation.

Research indicated that as the route was a popular walking route, attracting around 200,000 pilgrims in 2013.  So it seems that there is plenty of accommodation if you do not go in a 'holy year' or in high season.  As luck would have it May was a good choice as it was early enough to avoid the crowds and should provide decent weather.

Jac initially wanted every stop to be planned and booked, I did not think this was a good way to go as there was likely to be a lot of accommodation choice at frequent intervals along or near the route [there was]  and I struggled to get any trustworthy indication of how long sections of the route would take. If we ended up a day behind [or ahead!] then it would bollocks up a lot of planning and take some effort and stress to resolve.

Best just to accept that you don't know where you are going to end up each night and enjoy the daily Camino mini-adventure of finding bed and food. Tight, but loose, as the saying goes...

Luggage.

Our biggest conundrum was the one we wanted to make as small as possible - luggage.  This was two-part...

Getting there.

The logistics of getting to the start and home from the end was a bit of a fankle, but google solved all our problems.   We got some compact Ground Effect Tardis bike bags which take 29'er hardtails with a bit of disassembly and old foam camping mat as protection.  We discarded the camping mats at SJPP and the bikes were unscathed - the bags are much smaller and easier to handle than our usual heavily padded cases - I'd definitely use them again. The bags them selves fold down to a size roughly equivalent to two packs of A4 printer paper and only weigh a kilo and a bit.  We planned to visit La Poste at SJPP on the morning of departure and mail them to a chap called Ivar in Santiago who would hold on to the bags until we chapped on his door and gave him €20 for his troubles.  As it turned out this all went pleasingly to plan - although it is worth checking the opening hours of the post office...

We organised a van share from Biarritz airport to SJPP with Caroline at ExpressBurricot, although it would have made a nice warm-up ride or train journey if wanted to complicate things a little more.

On the trail.

Now all we needed to worry about was what to carry with us. The plan was to stay on the camino, ie ride off road as much as practical.  We were going to be taking our 29'er hardtails, neither of which have  provision for pannier racks - which is good, because panniers are truly awful off-road.  So we did some research and paid a bit more attention to paragons of bike-packing geekery and guessed that we could get away with a seat pack, a dry bag on the bars and a small riding day-pack for odds and sods.

Astorga - home of amazing pastry products.


This version of lugguage was new to Jac and I and we needed to make sure we could make it work for us.  So we duly picked up a brace of Wildcat Mountain Lion bar harnesses, some Alpkit Koala seat packs and 20l AirLockXtra dry bags and set off on an overnighter trip along the Fife Coastal Path.  In February. So we stayed at a nice hotel, but packed everything that we expected to take on the Camino plus a few odds and sods just to see whether they fitted.

It was on this trip that I found that the Mountain Lion, a big dry bag and a short-headtube / low stack bars and having too much fun on descents made for front tyre shaped holes in your drybag. Er, oops.

We tried again a month or so later with an over-nighter to Peebles off road from Edinburgh. Everything was fine except for yet another hole in yet another drybag...  Although we managed to get the weight of our Koala and drybag combined down to 6.5kg - which was bearable.

We tried smaller bags, but ended up slightly compromised (we felt at the time) on the stuff we would need to leave out or mercilessly crush. I was also unimpressed with the way the bar harness squished all the cables.  More google action and I had the answer winging its way to me from an online retailer - the Vario-Rack from Klickfix.  This was a solid rack that was held slighly away from the bars by a Rixen&Kaul KlickFix doofer. It could be set up so that there would be no interference with the front wheel. The stock harness straps were removed and we used the Aplkit clippy straps instead.

This rack also meant no weird cable-rub and more space on the bars for GPS, bell, lucky velcro straps and the like. And the rack could be detached from the bike quickly if needed, without having to dick around with the straps.

Just to point out the Wildcat harnesses worked fine, but we wanted to use bigger bags than they were designed for... hey ho!

Other stuff.

What else did we take?  2 and a half days worth of riding kit [wash and wear], one off bike outfit, a small two season sleeping bag from Vango and a silk liner - both of which proved their worth, although you probably could have survived with just the silk liner and some warm PJs ; ). Camera, GPS, usual bike repair kit, 2 tubes, patch kit and tubeless anchovies a pump and some cable ties. I used a camelbak bladder which mostly leaked at the tube / bladder join.  Jac's Osprey bladder was much more watertight. I took a 16l Evoc daypack, which was bigger than I wanted, but it was never bursting at the seams so remained comfy feeling. Jac had a smaller 10l Osprey Raven.

We lucked out on the weather - wall to wall sunshine and favourable winds until we were a few hours from Santiago, which is just as well as my waterproof jacket was found wanting the next day as we headed towards Finisterre...

Changes?

In hindsight we both could have discarded at least a kilo of stuff, without compromise.  This would have made a small but perceptible difference in the handling of our bikes, but as it was everything worked just fine.

Broken stuff.

The only breakage was a partial one and that was 2 vertical bars of my Variotek rack - I think I was having too much fun on the descent to Molinaseca and repeatedly bottomed out the forks as the bag and rack flexed a bit downwards, as well as the cable probably having stretched a little from when I fitted it initially.  I did not notice it until later but 2 of the 4 vertical bars of the rack were cracked right through. My fault, and the rack remained in one piece and totally solid for the remaining 400Km... Oh and the rack saved the drybag from getting another hole in it.

busted but still working


Is it worth doing?

 Yes. Do it. Or something similar.

Pick the time of year carefully and learn  at least a wee bit of Spanish. Also there are many different 'caminos' to Santiago - check the Bicigrino and Confraternity of St.James websites for a starting point.

We took 10 days. Accommodation was available, but frequently full up by the time we arrived, especially in the cities - so we needed to try a number of different places at the end of the day before finding somewhere -  we never had to sleep in a hedgerow.  You could definitely go quicker, especially if you opted out of the Auberges 'timezone'. Equally you could happily slow it down and take it at a more sedate pace. Do what fits.

In terms of terrain there is a bit of everything, and generally enough variation each day to keep you suitable entertained. None of the trails were 'danger of death', and most of the roads were fairly quiet.

Navigation.

Way marking was pretty much spot on all the way.  The only exceptions were in the cities when you had to pay more attention  for the shells and arrows and just outside of Leon where the arrows are a bit misleading. We took a GPS but rarely used it for anything as fancy as actual navigation.

Our Camino.

SJPP > Zubiri
Zubiri > Ayegui
Ayegui > Azofra
Azofra > Burgos
Burgos > Carrion de los Condes
Carrion de los Condes > Villadangos del Paramo
Villadangos del Paramo > Molinaseca
Molinaseca > Sabugos (Padornelo)
Sabugos > Lestedo
Lestedo > Santiago de Compostela

+ 2 days out to Finisterre

Linkies.

http://www.caminodesantiago.me/luggage-storage-in-santiago-de-compostela/
http://www.groundeffect.co.nz/product/BAG/TAR
http://www.expressbourricot.com/
http://www.wildcatgear.co.uk/products/handlebar-harness/
https://www.alpkit.com/bike-luggage
http://klickfix.de/
http://www.csj.org.uk/
http://www.bicigrino.com/en/
http://minxcompendium.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/a-bike-ride-to-end-of-world-and-back-bit.html

Monday, 31 March 2014

Ronde Van Vlandaaren…

Cobbled climbs? Belgian beer? What's not to love? It's almost a 'cross race, just a bit longer. With a few roads thrown in.

And this year I have (amazingly) managed to win a bike and a bells and whistles trip with BMC to do the full 244km sportive. All for 150 words about my love of beer, cobbles and Belgium with 5 photos of me (all on off road bikes). Credit to BMC for putting faith in a cheery cx racing female 40 something as one of their six winners.

Cue a lot of frantic pedalling - what was a 'I quite fancy doing the full Ronde' turned rapidly into 'I need to finish, and smiling, to uphold BMC's faith'. 

Luckily, the bike is amazing. It's a BMC Granfondo GF01:


Carbon light, super speedy with (green-eyed-envy-inducing) Ultegra Di2 gears and designed for the cobbles of the Spring Classics.

Alone, though, not even the bike will get me 244km.  So, in my effort to live up to the fabulous bike, I've been training. More than just 'riding a bit extra' (which is what my actual CX race training has consisted of so far). I've done intervals twice a week. Ridden to work (a hilly 40 miles carrying a back pack between Todmorden and Buxton) and even back some days (I've blogged these separately).  

Cycle commute. It's not always that sunny.

I've dragged Chipps out on my first century ride. He's started proclaiming that 'if it's not 120km it's really not worth doing'. He stuck to this on our fortuitously booked holiday, in the last week of March. We rode a few stonking Spanish loops, taking us over the hundred mile mark again and also into the realm of bonk, reminding me that half the battle will be to keep myself fed.

Setting off on my first Century - Cheshire loop devised by Si
Hopefully this will prepare me for the Ronde. I've not managed to ride 150 miles in one go yet. Flanders will be my first time. But I have cobble practice under my belt, and a reasonable time in the saddle and a lot more climbing in my legs than I'll need on the day. I'm excited and nervous. But the forecast is good, fingers are crossed and I'll report back on how I do!



Friday, 28 March 2014

Dunkeld Enduro 2014

Hi Ya'll, very long time between post for me.

Turns out there are few of us (5 Mouliners thus far) doing the Perthshire, Dunkeld Enduro in May https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/dunkeld-enduro-registration . As these are my local trails I'm hosting a training ride on most if not all of the Enduro trails that will be used for the race on Sunday morning 6th April. If you are thinking of entering or just fancy a razz around dunkelds steepest and most technical trails then come along. It should be a great laugh.
Get in touch via email info@birkwoodscotland.com for more details.

Keep it upright!
Cheers
Mark

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Start of the off-season?

With the cyclocross bike gathering dust and rust in the garage, thoughts turn to what was once considered "race season" but is now "cyclocross off season". The first round of the 2014 Scottish XC series headed to Forfar where a few tweaks to the 2013 layout saw the "arena" moved to a more central location, a few extra swoops, dips and grins added through the quarry section, and some of the muddier sections removed.

Although sunny, a group of shivering riders huddled together for shelter from the wind before the whistle tooted and we were off. Racing in Sport again for 2014, I was given a front row grid slot, with last year's top Sport rider having moved up to Expert, and a number of others not being present. With the holeshot secured from the gun, I fully expected to be caught soon. Right enough, fast charging Masters racer Sean Clark eased past (the Masters racers had been sent off at the same time as but just behind Sport). Knowing that I wasn't racing Sean and that I would be unlikely to match his pace for long, I held his wheel as long as I could, thankful for some brisk pacing. After losing Sean, another rider (Alex Dimitriou) came and went as I decided not to stick with his pace, and I eventually settled in to a good pace with a Dundee Thistle rider, Neil Scott. I assumed we were duking it out for 2nd with Alex having headed up the road, and thought my chances of a podium were slipping away as a Leslie Bikes rider joined us and tested the pace up each climb. I came within a muscle twinge of falling away from the two, just about holding on up a couple of the climbs before Neil eventually opened a small gap and I was forced to ride around the LBS rider and try to prevent the gap to Neil from opening further.



Going in to the 4th lap, Neil unfortunately punctured on the quarry section, robbing us of a chance to duke it out for one last lap. Feeling pretty good, (having necked half a gel on the 3rd), I kept the pace steady, extending the gap over the rider behind and finding enough energy left for a pointless sprint against myself over the line. 

Feeling that I had ridden a reasonable race, a brief chat with a few other riders suggested that Alex Dimitriou had actually been riding in Masters (winning the category after Sean punctured), and so much to my surprise, I was first Sport rider home. It also transpired that the testing pace from the Leslie Bikes rider was recently retired roadie Ben Greenwood, dipping a toe in the SXC scene and riding in the Masters category too. A comfortable win in the Sport category in the end then, but with some good close racing with Neil Scott before his puncture robbed him of a good finish.

Elsewhere, I see that Greig Walker opened his 2014 SXC points tally with a solid 8th in a strong Vet field.

Cracking start to the season - great to be competing in new VCM kit (I'm sure the psychological effects of new team kit is worth a few seconds a lap), on my new Kinesis 29er and on dry, fast trails again. There was a great buzz around the event - well organised, good banter with a few of the usual faces and great commentary from Morven Brown on MC duties. The committee certainly seem to be doing something right and if the rest of the series is as good as Round 1 it will be a cracker - I'd urge everyone to try a round or two this year. I'm looking forward to Cathkin Braes already - sure to be a good test of the legs with a bigger field. There's work to do before then though. Maybe it's not the off-season after all?

Thanks to Craig Beattie for the photo. He has a great gallery of photos from the afternoon race.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Border Reiver

My last race was at the John Muir Winter Festival in February and to be honest it was a race too far for me at the end of a long season.  I had been feeling pretty run down at the end of the regular cross season and as a result hadn't done anything other than 'just riding around' since Mull.  I had a fair idea what to expect but I was still disappointed by my poor performance on the day.

I had decided not to race the Crit on the Campus as I felt it was too early in the season and I wasn't ready to start training properly yet.  A few weeks later someone mentioned a new race on the calendar to me, the Reiver Road Race, which was being organised by Berwick Wheelers.  The course looked right up my street being reasonably hilly and finishing on a climb.  For several weeks I procrastinated about entering despite knowing deep down that I almost certainly would.  I knew that once I put an entry in I'd need to get on with the hard work of trying to get in shape for it.  I finally entered at 11pm on the night the entries closed.

I had managed to get a reasonable number of miles in at the start of the year and after couple of good hard Sunday runs and a few sessions on some local hills I started to feel a bit better.  At the back of my mind there was a bit of a fear that I would have another bad day and get blown out of the back early on.  This was amplified because there are no longer any cat 4 only road races and over half the field were cat 3.

The day of the race was sunny and the roads were dry but there was a strong south westerly.  The 18 mile course was dominated by a stiff climb in the first couple of miles and lots of sections exposed to crosswinds.

After a briefing where it was stressed  that crossing the white line would lead to instant disqualification a full field of 60 riders rolled out from the idyllic village of Etal.  As soon as the flag dropped half the field seemed to cross the white line and fight to get to the front.  My half decent position in the bunch suddenly disappeared and I found myself towards the rear.

The effect of having so many stronger riders in the field was immediately obvious when we hit the first hill.  The pace was furious.  Fortunately there were a few gaps in the bunch and I managed to start making my way up on the steepest lower section.  A split started to form about 10 riders ahead of me and I had just enough in the tank to bridge across to the front group.  Almost immediately 9 riders jumped off the front to form the winning group.  At points we were speeding uphill at over 30mph thanks to the strong tailwind.

A few miles later we turned left into a strong crosswind and all hell broke loose.  I was towards the back of the second group as it split and over the next few miles 4 or 5 of us tried to ride back across.  I got to within 10m of the group before I blew.

A group of around 6-7 formed and at first we worked fairly well together although it became harder after a couple of riders dropped off.  Our progress wasn't helped by the fact that every time one of our number came through it felt like an attack.  After sprinting down the line he would pull a 3m gap on the front man before rapidly slowing. 

By the time we hit the top of the climb on the second lap we were down to 4 riders.  By the time we reached the crosswind section two of us were pretty cooked.  Luckily for us Peter Ward of VC Edinburgh who was easily the strongest rider in our group was going like a train.  Unluckily for him we weren't in any position to help him.  On the few occasions I managed to come through I'm sure I just slowed him down.  I spent the last half lap clinging onto his wheel hoping not to get dropped.  If I had I'm pretty sure I would have lost a lot of time.

As we approached the line our numbers grew as we picked up stragglers from the group ahead.  Fortunately for me the finish was on a climb rather than a sprint into a headwind.  I managed to put in a half decent finish to come in 25th and 9th 4th cat home.

One thing that was obvious is that is going to be difficult to pick up BC points this year.  Only 3 4th cats scored points with top 15 finishes.  The character of this race was quite different to the 4th cat only races I did last year.  Instead of the pack getting whittled down through attrition this race was dominated by strong riders who split the race at the first opportunity.

Thanks to Berwick Wheelers for putting on a great race on a safe well marshalled course.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Demons

You know those days? The ones where you really can't be bothered to go out? The ones where any excuse will do? Weather, wrong clothes, dog ate my homework,  no recovery drink to come home to. I was having one of them. No motivation, no lead in my pencil, just nowt.
The bike on the rollers was just taunting me, laughing because it knew I was already down and the thought of a roller session was even worse than going out.
Suddenly before I knew what had really happened I was at the back door, heart rate strap on, fully togged up and out into the rain.
This was supposed to be a structured training ride but it just wasn't going to happen that way. I grabbed the single speed and set off quickly realising that I had forgotten my garmin and just as quickly realised that I was glad. This ride was about, just that, a ride. No heart rate zones, seated accelerations or distance. I just needed to get out to remember how quickly your head clears and your spirits lift when you go out. I got thoroughly soaked, driven back by the wind and had to really strain to get up the hills; but it was easily the best ride of the year.
It was a ride.
All the guff about ss was true, the simplicity was exactly what I needed at that time. I remembered what I enjoyed about cycling again. 
Don't fight yourself,  fight your demons and use the weapon of choice, a bicycle.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Feeling Durty

How to keep a bit of fitness and satisfy a thirst for racing over the winter months? A few years ago, a couple of friends talked me in to the Glentress Duathlon series - a popular series of off road run/bike races on the swoopy all weather trails. I've yet to forgive them but seem to have fallen into a winter duathlon habit.

Nowadays the series has been taken over by local Paul McGreal and his team at Durty Events and moved down the road to the Duke of Buccleuch's holiday pad at Bowhill House. After a 2012/13 series affected by ice (skating on the first round) and slushy snow (much wheel spinning up snowy climbs on the second round) the 2013/14 series this year was an altogether different affair.

The first (short) round was set up in my preferred order of run then bike. I surprised myself by finishing the 20 minute run in a reasonable position, wasting too much time in transition as usual before picking up a couple of places early in the bike. A fast charging Martin Graham kept me honest for the whole bike section only for me to sit up just short of the line, not really contesting the sprint due to tiring legs. As we caught (and Martin pipped) the 2nd place rider on the line, I rolled in just behind for 4th. I'm still kicking myself for not putting the effort in to the last 100m. I'm sure everyone else's legs felt rubbish by that stage too. Lesson learned. Rookie mistake.

The "medium" round followed - an estimated 30min bike section followed by a 30min run. Having the bike section first meant I had to hold a bit in reserve for the later run. Despite that, I found myself leading up the first climb, steadily dropping other riders at a medium tempo. Martin Graham zipped off before the top as I wheelspun my way up the last section of muddy climb, and he then pulled out a bigger gap on the fire track descent - I cautiously crept down trying in vain to pick a smoother line but unable to see much at all between the horizontal rain and the relentless spray from my front tyre. A couple of missed turns later on (the signpost had fallen flat in the wind) saw me throw away a fair lead over third, and let a group of 3 or 4 riders pass me, before I picked them off again in to transition. Triathlete Kai Jackson proceeded to breeze past me on the run as I plodded round, pleased to hold everyone else off for 3rd.

The final "long" round dawned with similarly grim conditions - horizontal rain and howling winds. A similar story to the second round - I found myself leading up the climb, letting Martin disappear off soon after the top, and riding my own race from there on. Such was the spray from the wheels that I ditched the glasses in a vain attempt to see something of the trail in front of me, but couldn't honestly tell whether it was raining or not. It's the first race I've entered which appeared to be routed down a riverbed. "Grade 2 river biking" as it was later described. A few nicely cut loamy sections through the trees towards the end kept things entertaining before heading out on the run. Although the distance doesn't suit me, the "long" run route is definitely my favourite of the three - once off the fire track sections, an involving run through the woods alongside a water channel, over some logs and up the hill takes the mind off the tiring legs and wheezing chest. The final section in to the finish could be best described as a steady plod, but there was nobody in sight behind me, and as I never had any ambitions of keeping pace with Martin, 2nd was as good a result as I could have hoped for.



Job done, another solid three rounds of off road duathlon, and despite the relative lack of running this winter, a bit of fitness maintained between CX and XC seasons. Any fitness is easily undone in the post race coffee shop though - criminally good cake followed pulled pork rolls with good banter with other racers. I'd definitely commend the series as a good family day out. Long suffering Mrs W chooses her races carefully but came to two of these rounds, knowing that the warm coffee shop right by transition and easy going nature of the series makes it a good day even for non-racers.

So how did we do? 4th, 3rd and 2nd was enough for 2nd in the series for me (all three races need to be entered to qualify for the series prize) and Fraser W put in a solid stint on the medium race (looking particularly good on the bike) for 34th (9th Vet Male). Simon F is muttering something about re-wiring his house and failed to put in an appearance. I think he might be scared of the rain. I don't blame him.

I might be back next year, but I'll be checking if the forecast is for crisp frost or crunchy snow first. I think I've had enough of mud and rain for 2014 already. Great to start 2014 in my new VCM kit though, and scoring a few podiums to boot. Boom.





Saturday, 1 February 2014

Rebel

Throughout my childhood I sustained a knack for rebelling.  Refusing point blank to go in the pool at my first swimming lesson, tick.  Refusing to join scouts after cubs.  Telling the parent coaches at our village junior football club where they could stick their team, shamefully, yes me again.  Refusing to go to the secondary school my two older brothers had gone to.  Getting brought home in a Police van..  The list could go on and on.  You could put it down to being the youngest of three brothers, but I don't know.  All I know is my mother can and quite rightly does every so often remind me of said (and other) episodes with a wry smile.

Later in life this rebellious nature has been dampened though I can still rail at authority figures on occasion and hate being told rather than asked to do something..

So when the video of the false start of the recent U23 Belgian National Cyclocross Champs popped up I watched in awe as Wout Van Aert, the race favorite, disqualified for a false start and standing (fuming) next to the race officials at the side of the course as the gun fires, gives them the slip and takes off after the field down the start straight!

What an amazing act of defiance!  What spirit!  Van Aert then proceeds to ride back to and scythe through the field to 4th place in just 1 lap.  A masterful display of determination, power, talent and skill.  Incredible.

The next day Van Aert channels the DQ frustration into his pedals to win the Elite race at Otegem.   To back up his current form he then wins the Nommay World Cup round last Sunday beating arch U23 rival Mathieu Van Der Poel.

Although i'll be glued to my laptop for the Elite mens World Champs race on Sunday (3pm CET), the race i'm most looking forward to is the U23s (11am CET) .  Can Van Aert beat the Dutch wunderkind again to win the World Champs?  I bloody hope so!

Monday, 16 December 2013

What the Fox?

Scottish Cross Championships can be a bit of a let down, numbers are generally down, everyone seems a little more focused, the enforcing agents want some attention and the race is more often than not a bit of an anti climax.   Now the champs is a bit of a weird one as it is technically a regional championship but up here we have always viewed it as a national championship even though it is not recognized as such (ie. there is no Scottish Cyclocross Champions jersey) but treat it as such we do. It is a fiercely fought race and always has been.
This year the champs were hosted by The Tri Centre at the Foxlake wakeboard centre near Dunbar. I had never ridden here though had heard good reports form last years series race. The days leading up to the event had delivered some monumental rain and the drive there was a low visibility horizontal rain affair. But by the time I had passed Edinburgh the roads were drying up, maybe just maybe.
Arriving to an already filling up car park I met up with Mr Steele and Mr Graham and we decided to head down to see if sign on was possible and have a wee gander around the course, this was all achieved as smooth as butter, all praise the pre-entry system. The walk around the course coincided with the U16 race so it gave us a good idea on lines and what was ride-able as those kids don’t hang around. The course looked good, a mixture of loamy forest trails with hard packed forest road and some wet but firm grassy hillocks to negotiate. Nothing too challenging it appeared although the U16s seemed to be suffering mechanicals and punctures in particular. Maybe there was something in the ground that we couldn’t  see?
Time ticked on and after the obligatory banter and catching up it was time to suit up and attempt to warm up. Nice feature was the course skirting the car park which meant from the ‘comfort’ of my turbo trainer I could see the V50/W/J race as it progressed. And of course give shouts for Maddy and Ainsley as well as torrents of abuse to those deserving it (mostly Ali Dow, who it was good to see back on Scottish soil) Unfortunately I was just too far away to really see what was happening in the race but this is what was, Maddy was having a battle royale with Kerry McPhee (Rock and Road) again but what I wasn't aware of was that Isla Short (Thomson Cycles) was already in front of them and holding a good gap. Kerry unluckily crashed somewhere mid race which is a shame as it has been good watching her progress this season, a great new addition to the womens field and Maddy was left stranded trying to chase down Isla and here is where the confusion starts.

top of the vixens
The women’s race contained 3 categories, J/S/V as it has all season. But the champs is a different beast, the winner does indeed take it all, its an interesting scenario. The senior women are racing against three categories for the title but the V and J are racing against only one for their title. It is possible for a V or J to win their own race and the overall, somewhat loaded against the seniors but thems the rules. And that is indeed what happened, awkwardly for Maddy this wasn’t relayed to Jammie who announced Maddy as the senior champion as she crossed the line obviously to much elation, short lived however. The rules were laid down and Maddy was denied her medal by the very talented Isla who picked up both Junior and Senior titles with a convincing ride. Rough, but its not the first time its happened. See here
All of that was unfolding as we lined up for our race, a quick but thorough talking to by commissaire, Guto Williams and we were off, well not quite, Tom Forbes (heid commissaire) stepped in and removed a rider from the pack, some kind of license issue we deduced, the pack were restless, I felt sorry for the guys on the front row who must have been just about to pull that hair trigger. Eventually the rider was allowed back in and we got started, all a bit of a drama as we have come to expect from Tom. But finally we were off.

sly old fox
As you may well expect the pace was pretty frisky, I struggled to find the right gear, hit the big puddle and panicked as we entered the woods, went for a rash line that saw me ride straight over a sizable tree stump, airborn and landed minus chain which was pissing itself with laughter wrapped around the BB. Fuck it’s such a frustrating sport, so there I was trailing the whole field towards the first climb. I wont lie, my head went down, right there. I stuck at it for a couple of laps and got through some of the back end of the field but then the fizz started to run out, my only consolation was I could still see McComisky so if I could at least catch him some banter would be guaranteed, every lap when I tried to catch his eye, he wouldn’t make contact, shit, the blinkers were on, I better get my finger out, the gap was dropping but not fast enough and then there he was walking the first climb on the last lap, I caught him and discovered he had punctured, lady luck was full of tricks today. And before long it was a flurry over the hurdles and over the line. Not exactly the dream race but I had got into it and really enjoyed the course, especially the hideously hard hillock into the arena, I swear it was getting bigger every lap.

out foxed
Not much time for blethering it was back to the car for a quick change and down to the woods to unleash the VCM sonic arsenal on the seniors. The seniors looked like it was going to be a fairly staid affair as a group of 4 riders went through with a smallish gap on the rest of the field but then on lap 3 or maybe 4 it just blew apart, the instigator, Iain Paton (Ben Wyvis Cycle Club) a gap had opened which had forced the chase by Davie Lines (MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling) the pace was fairly rapid. Over the next few laps Paton stuck more and more time between himself and Lines who didn’t seem to have response to the youngster and that was that. Our guys were being treated to a sonic assault every lap and it seemed to boost them on, Stevie, Addy, Ian and Simon F, all stuck at the job till the bitter end (it felt like a long hour)

fantastic mr fox
And with that my 2013 season was over. Scottish Cyclocross and its associated organizing clubs can all give themselves a pat on the back, this has been an exceptional season, varied, fast, orderly and fun, yes fun. I have thoroughly enjoyed every race (it took a really bad one for me to realize that Strathclyde Park is actually ok, though I would love to see a more varied course there) Hopefully you will have read all about the fun and games at Mull in the previous posts from Simon Fairful (thanks Simon for being so punctual with these) when I have the energy an end of year report will follow, until then, then.

How we do.
Womens
Maddy 2nd (1st senior)
Ainsley dnf

V40
Simon M 10th
Russell 30th
Davie G 31st
Fraser 33rd
Marty 34th
Me 37th

Seniors
Steve 9th
Iain 15th
Addy 17th
Simon F 18th

All photos by the Press Room


Peace be with you all.