Won a race once. AND DON'T YOU EVER FORGET IT

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  • 12:23:48 pm on September 11, 2017 | 0 | # |

    Which is kind of lucky as I’ve not posted anything since mid road race season!

    I did my first (and, quite possibly, last…) 100 mile TT. Despite Martin heroically handing up bottles to me and the other Horwich lads I ended up remarkably dehdrated. And pretty uncomfortable, it’s remarkable how being hunched up in the same position on your bike for just over 4hrs can highlight every tiny niggle you’d normally not notice!

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    (It’s an Ellen pic, of course!)

    Another go at the Smithfield road race up in Cumbria (last year I managed half a lap, punctured and that was that) – slightly more successful this time, in that I a) finished and b) got some good training out of it. Tom and I set up the early break – though both riding for the same club meant we weren’t likely to be given much freedom.

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    (It’s an Ellen pic, of course!)

    With half a lap to go I narrowly avoided a (pretty daft…) crash in the pack and decided I wasn’t hanging around waiting to be taken down, so just went to the front. Tom jumped on my wheel and I performed what must have been the World’s Longest Sprint Leadout along the final 3.5 miles.

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    A slightly-closer-to-home race over near Clitheroe (which was great fun last year, having got in a 2 man break for nearly the whole thing) turned out to be super tough this time round. 65 people set off and, despite no breaks staying away, only 14 people remained in the “peloton” by the time the final sprint took place! I managed to stay in the group without too much bother, but was in no place to get involved with the race for the line…

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    (It’s an Ellen pic, of course!)

    If you look closely you can just see me in the background, being stalked by the broom wagon / ambulance etc!

    A post of pre-cyclocross season cyclocross in Whitehaven next. Last year’s race was held in worse conditions than any of the winter races, this time round it was almost plesant. The course was great fun again and it felt good to get back on the cx bikes, even if I did end up ripping a tyre :(

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    Big thanks go out to Andy Brindle, who lent me some shoes after I managed to twist a cleat on mine!

    The day after the regional road race champs were held just down the road from the cyclocross, so I entered that as well. I missed the break and spend a good couple of laps with two other riders trying to chase over to it – we got annoyingly close but just couldn’t tag on the back of it, so ended up dropping back into the main group. Where I sat until the end, while getting stung by a bee. Oww.

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    And that was that. Summer done…and you know what that means…

    CYCLOCROSS SEASON IS HERE :-)

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    (It’s an Ellen pic, of course!)

    Round 1 of the NW League was much muddier than last year. I didn’t drop my tyre pressures enough and had some “issues” with going round corners, throwing away places and letting gaps open up while rolling round on the floor. Stupid mistakes. I struggled to be upset about it though because, well, you know, IT’S CROSS SEASON :-)
    8th place. Much to improve on. Bring on round 2!

     
  • 11:39:54 am on June 19, 2017 | Comments Off | # |

    In short: No glory anywhere this season (yet, anyway).
    Given my “I’m only really interested in cyclocross, so this is just something to tide me over” attitude the races so far have actually gone quite well. I’ve mostly just sacked off tactics in favour of just making it hard for myself. Lots of trying to go off the front / get in breaks / just sit up there doing as much work as possible to get a good workout.
    The Cockermouth road race was pretty much neutralized by a couple of clubs with enough members to just lose down any attack made by the rest of us…so I just kept trying anyway. It didn’t work but that’s not really the point :)

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    The same sort of thing was underway at Bickerstaffe when someone overlapped my rear wheel, slicing my tyre and leaving some nasty looking marks on the rim. Race over, but at least I stayed upright!

    After much umming and ahhing, I decided to race both days at the Horwich Festival of Racing – Saturday evening’s Elite (British Cycling organised) crit and Sunday’s handicapped (TLI organised) crit. I told myself it was because racing on sore legs was a great way to build strength. It probably isn’t, but that was enough of an excuse…
    Saturday’s race was fast. I could probably leave it at that. It’s all you need to know. 27.5mph doesn’t sound that fast for a crit, but with the slooooow corner leading onto the headwind-laden climb to the start/finish line there was no hanging about. Despite being somewhat outclassed by a few pro / semi pros turning up I went to the front a few times just to show my face (and hey, you never know, you might get away) and tried to do some pulling along / bringing back breaks. The finishing place wasn’t much to write home about (25th…although I did get some ice cream money for being the first 3rd cat), in the first ‘big’ group after the break-that-did-get-away, but it was ace fun. Proper racing.

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    Pic by Ellen Isherwood

    With legs that didn’t feel too bad after Saturday’s bashing, Sunday’s race saw me with high hopes for a good finish. I’d felt pretty good the night before, so let’s do it all again!
    With the ‘handicap’ system, the older riders are set off first, with time gaps between each age group. As a ‘master’ I was set of last, with the seniors and juniors – I think, it all got a bit messy, the basic outcome being that the 5 of us that made up that group were nigh on a whole lap down when we finally got going…and with ony 25 laps in the whole race it was a huge disadvantage.
    Rather than muck about with tactical riding / saving myself I realised pretty quickly we’d just need to hammer it to even get on terms before the end of the race. Even then, if a few strong riders from the older age categories decided to have a proper go / work together we’d be pretty buggered.
    3 of us managed to slowly drag our way back through the groups up the road, only just making contact with the front group with about 3 laps left. I spotted Andy and Tim sat at the front of the pack and, realising there was no way I’d have anything left for a decent sprint (not that I have one anyway), i dragged myself up to the head of the bunch and tried to save them having to take any more turns.

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    Pic by Ellen Isherwood

    I knew one rider had skipped off the front before my age group made contact with the leading guys, so just buried myself to try and close the gap. Sadly it didn’t work, with my legs basically imploding half a lap from the finish, but hey ho, another good workout – the same level of effort as getting in a break and putting two minutes into the bunch really, only backwards :-)

     
  • 11:16:07 am on April 26, 2017 | Comments Off | # |

    The now traditional (two times is a tradition) trip up to Kielder for the Dirty Reiver 200 gravel race (not a race) took place last weekend.
    A hastily packed campervan was whizzed up the M6 (brief stop at Tebay for some carbo loading in the form of lasagne and chips), turned right onto the A bumpy A road to Canonbie, Turned right again onto the really bumpy B road to Newcastleton, turned right again onto the crater strewn, deer infested excuse for a B road to Kielder castle, hidden in a quiet corner of the car park and turned into a bed for the night. Campervans are ace.
    Race day dawned annoyingly early. 5am starts are rubbish (as are Forestry Commission types, hanging around the car parks to swizz people out of stupidly large amounts of money for Pay and Display tickets (rant over)), but after a spot of porridge and scraping the ice off the saddle of the bike (yes, it got cold overnight!) chatting to people on the start line seemed to make everything better again. The prospect of a Big Day Out on bikes had everyone in good spirits and, after a few – perfectly toned – words from Rory Hitchens about Mike Hall, we shivered our way off into the forest as the sun started to try and warm things up a bit.

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    The pace was pretty nippy for the first few miles (and the first wrong turn). I decided that, although Phil and I had set our sights on a sub 8hr 30min time for the route, sitting way above threshold 5 miles into the 125 mile route was a bit daft so settled into a rhythm and, as we found ourselves in a similarly paced group, remembered to start looking at the views.
    Unlike the last few road races round uninspiring (ugly, even) industrial estates, the Dirty Reiver is basically a tour of some of the UKs best true wilderness. If you don’t lift your head to take in the constantly changing vista, you’re missing out. Hugely.
    Almost claustrophobicly dense, thickly pine scented, shadowy forests would give way to hilltop panoramas of utter, blissful emptiness. Distant hills, wide WIDE open skies and total silence, all linked by the continual ribbon of crunchy gravel beneath your tyres. Fast progress across the ground was made, but dwarfed by the sheer scale of the countryside. 16mph average speed for hours before we reached the first checkpoint and a chance to realise my waterbottle had already launched itself into infinity somewhere. Bugger. Good job I had my little camelbak on as well, or it’d by a damn dry day!

    The group Phil and I were in, split up briefly as we took varying amounts of time getting sorted at the checkpoint, rejoined and worked well together as we criss crossed the border. Big climbs, fast descents, not-as-wet-as-they-could-have-been river crossings and the second checkpoint/feedstation (NO FIG ROLLS! FFS!) all flew past until we reached the track from Newcastleton heading back towards Kielder.
    Memories of suffering along the meandering trail during the Kielder100 and UK24hr races came flooding back as I saw the “13 miles to Kielder” sign. the sun was fully out by this point and, buried deep in the valley alongside the river, it was almost hot. Orr pace slowed, not through lack of effort but as a result of the condition of the trail. Bigger bumps, deeper holes, looser patches of gravel and a subtle but continual upwards drag made every pedal revolution hard work. We began to pick up stragglers from the fast group ahead as we pushed on up the path, each rider taking a turn up front to pull the pace along when feeling strong and, after what seemed like an eterniity, we reached the cut off between the two race routes. One of our group was riding the 130km course and split off with a wave as the rest of us got ready for one of the biggest climbs of the day, up to the highest point on the course.

    As bizarre as it sounds and despite being 80-something miles into the route by this point, I only seem to notice the scale of the ride as I head away from Kielder castle on the second loop. Maybe it’s because there are few turnings – you simply ride yourself in one direction for miles and miles away from the start/finish on already tired legs, then take a more circuitous route to get back – or maybe it’s the relative openness of this section as you’re out of the trees for most of it, very aware of the distant hills all around you. whatever it it, it’s ace. What Big Days Out are all about. I make the mistake of working out how many miles are left, instead of just getting on with it, and start counting down from 40. The countdown does not go quickly.

    Final checkpoint passed, with a brief stop to top up my camelbak and add some more lube to the crunchy sounding chain, I start to wonder when we’ll see Kielder Water for the first time. I remember it coming into view from last year ad how it heralded the beginning of the end of the race. I’m looking forward to seeing it again, possibly too much. I start to get annoyed that I can’t see it each time we crest a hill. We’ve ticked over 100 miles now and both Phil and I have had our bad patches and come out the other side. From a purely numeric point of view, this should be the final countdown (for a couple of climbs I get the riff from that song stuck in my head…), it should be in sight, surely!
    Many, many more miles are travelled before it’s first glimpse. I’ve been promising myself an energy gel when I see it and I nearly bonk waiting for it, but it finally appears just as I contemplate caving in and guzzling the gel early.

    Not only does it look beautiful. Not only does it signify the final section of the route, but the lakeside trail we ride is so smooth compared to the gravel we’ve ridden up to this point, so fast, so fantastically swoopy that I’m grinning like a loon as we race along it. we’re on schedule for a sub 8hrs 30min finish, the sun is shining, everything is right with the world for a while.
    We cross the impressive looking dam and continue on the opposite shore, now heading almost directly towards the finish line. A short road section is blasted along and the final little climb of the day is comfortably mashed under wheel as signposts for the castle start to reappear along the route. We’re within day trip walking distance now, just a last couple of fast-so-we-definitely-make-it-in-time flat miles on well smooth surfaced family trails and that’s it. We’re done.

    Finish line hands shaken, smiles matched, free beer gladly drunk, healthy food (OK, burgers) inhaled. Plans for next year begun. Brilliant.

    The hastily repacked van is driven home in time for tea. And second tea. Then some snacks. No idea if I actually burned that many calories off, but stuff it, they feel earned :)

     
  • 02:05:27 pm on April 19, 2017 | Comments Off | # |

    Yeah, I’m still here. Just being lazy with updates.

    Done loads of riding since the National CX Champs – road season’s kicked off again, though so far it’s been a bit of a damp squib. Missed the breaks and got frustrated by those endless “sprint for 3 seconds, turn around, look s at the bunch, sit up” attacks people do…even when you go with them and try to get something going. Never sure what they’re trying to do with those…or what they expect to see after the 3 second effort when they look round.
    ANYWAY
    It’s still kind of fun.

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    Pic by Ellen Isherwood

    Even when it pisses down and you end up shivering, despite wearing softshell baselayers, warmers and such. Character building or something.

    I did a fell race too – as organised by a certain Simon Fox. It was great fun. Thankfully I knew most of the route from riding round the area, so could work out where the hills would be and never felt too out of my depth. It being a night race, I imagined my 200 lumen headtorch would be awesomely bright compared to everyone elses, but I spent most of the run chasing my own shadow as people with what must have been 1000 lumen jobs stuck to their foreheads utterly outclassed me.
    Those same people utterly outclassed me when it came to running downhill too. If anyone ever suggests to you that there’s not much skill needed for running, punch them in the leg, from me. Even flat out I could not keep pace with people as they skipped and danced their way across the ground.

    Wtf am I doing….

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    Battle on the Beach went quite well. Long gone are the days of me fighting for a top ten spot in that race – with numerous foreign pros coming over and a healthy dose of the UKs big hitters turning up for the event I”m very much back in the mid pack now.
    Doesn’t matter, it’s still the same mix of “oh my god this is amazing” sprinting down the beach, followed by “this singletrack is brilliant” twisty turny fun to get back (then repeat, twice) and you’re still utterly flat out, racing whoever’s in front of you and trying to drop whoever’s behind you.
    As always, the weather was gorgeous, so a weekend at the beach felt like a mini summer holiday and the end result of 47th out of 800 or so starters isn’t too bad – less crashing and I could easily make up 10 places I reckon.
    Next time. :)

    b? #botb #650b #itsawheelsize

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    Over to Kielder this weekend, for the 2nd running of the Dirty Reiver. Last year was a great “big” day out in the hills, hopefully this year should be at least as good. (Less snow showers would be fine…) :)

     
  • 10:47:46 am on January 9, 2017 | Comments Off | # |

    Well, the North West Cyclocross League is done and dusted (mudded?) for another year and I’m hugely chuffed to have finished in 4th place overall. Best ever. A big step in the right direction and lots of ideas left for next season and how to improve and really start chasing the last lads :)

    The actual end to the season went without too much in the way of ace results – Macclesfield promised big things (I really like the course and there’s usually a few extra top level riders looking for some late season form). Gridded on the front line with some of the National Trophy glory hunters behind me it could have been ace. Unfortunately I slipped a pedal off the start. Big time. Slamming my clipped-in foot down on the floor instead of pushing off, skewering the back of my leg, from below the ankle to just below the calf, on the chainring on the way past for good measure:

    Owch.
    Instantly out of the back I spent the rest of the race swearing at the sore leg and working my way back up towards the front of the race. I ran out of time eventually finishing in 14th. Drat.
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    Pic By Ellen Isherwood

    My final “bothered about” ( ;-) ) race of the season was the big one, the National Championships. Last year I ended up getting lapped after crossing the line for the final time so go to “finish” properly. Which might not sound like anything impressive, but I was happy enough with it and had hoped to build on it. The year I prepared as best I could – pre-riding the course the day before to get an idea of how to get round and repeating this on race day in between the other races to see how the lines had changed but in the end I just didn’t have the firepower to compete.
    I managed to avoid the annual ‘big crash off the start line’ but my lack of off-the-line sprinting power left me dangling off the front few groups straight away. Despite my riding the course beforehand I just didn’t commit to the racing line, losing ground on the tricky sections (of which there were many) while the country’s best riders utterly smashed it off in front of me. I listened to the race commentary as best I could over the cheering crowds (and they were damn good cheering crowds!), getting more and more depressed/impressed as the gap to them grew at an alarming rate.
    After about 45 minutes of so Ian Field lapped me – just after I’d crossed the finish line, so I got to ride one more lap before being unceremoniously removed from the race. On the ‘top’ part of the course, with it’s wide, fast flowing corners I didn’t lose much ground to him, maybe a couple of seconds – and even those were partly due to me trying to keep as far out of the way as possible. Once we got to the technical stuff though, he was almost instantly gone. Even with the excuse that I still wasn’t committing to riding the race lines properly (usually riding round the corners hanging a foot out for stability, or not really ‘railing’ the ruts that had formed in some of the tighter corners) the huge gulf in skill level between us was painfully obvious. At my best, I’d still have been a wobbling shambles in comparison!
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    Mincing. Oh the shame of it. Pulled from the race early. Pic from the Kinesis Facebook Page

    I gloomily trudged back the the pits, where the other Horwich guys had been frantically and fantastically running around getting my bikes washed and ready each half lap and started wondering how to improve for next time.

    Thanks (by which I mean BIG BIG THANKS) to everyone who’s supported me, pitted for me, lent me stuff when my stuff has broken, cheered me on, heckled me, orgainsed or marshalled at any of the events, chatted to me, put up with my tantrums or any poor riding I’ve stuffed out, raced against me, beaten me (in races I mean), been gracious when I’ve somehow managed to beat them and even just read this waffle. Cyclocross racing is pretty much the best form of mucking about on bicycles there is and, without wanting to sound all mushy, you make it as good as it is. Because of you lot I get to have loads of fun, week in week out and it’s bloody brilliant :)

    Saying all that, I might go and race in Ilkley next weekend, to extend the season a bit, well see how much cake I eat during the week :)

     
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