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

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  • 11:10:58 am on July 22, 2019 | 0 | # |

    As an opportunity to stretch my legs and get back in the swing of race day prep (pinning a number on can be more tricky than you might think you know) I used a spare Sunday to nip down to Swynnerton for a road race.
    I admit I was slightly swayed into racing by the idea of the course – rather than the usual road race fare of laps of an industrial estate, this one took place on MOD land, behind all the high fencing you’d imagine (and far away from all the sulking traffic!). I imagined men with bits of tree sticking out of their helmets and camouflage painted faces commando rolling across the course in front of us, and tanks as lead out vehicles, neither of which actually materialised. There was, however, the immortal line in the pre race briefing “stay on the course, don’t take short cuts, there are live fire exercises taking place today. Also, don’t pick anything up as it may explode.” If it had been me giving the talk I’d have probably added a line about people dropping gel wrappers being shot by snipers – not that I saw a single piece of litter while racing, which is ace.
    As we rolled off, I wondered how long it would be before the attacks started. I’d not had a chance to warm up properly (though the ride from the race HQ meant I wasn’t worried about doing myself an injury), so was secretly hoping for a few laps to get into the swing of things. That didn’t happen, of course, as people started throwing themselves off the front pretty much straight from the ‘go’. I let the pack bring them back for a while, before moving up towards the front to stick my nose in the wind and get my legs properly firing by helping on bringing back a few little attacks. Nothing too strenuous, just a chance to get up to threshold and loosen up.
    As I sat on the front, feeling pretty good, I decided to grab a quick drink. It was pretty warm and I didn’t want to end the race (75mins plus 3 laps) cramping up. Somehow when trying to return the bottle to the cage my fingers slipped and I watched it hit the ground beneath me. I shouted out a warning to everyone behind me (well, half warning, half cry of despair as all my water vanished 20 minutes into the event!). 30 odd people rode over it, thankfully no-one crashed, but it was utterly mullered. Right. I’ve got 55minutes and 3 extra laps to do and the closest thing I’ve got to refreshment is two energy gels. Hmmm.
    Rather than sit in the pack moping about it, I decided to crack on as I’d planned (my vague plan being to get a good work out and do some attacking, even if nothing came of it), so during a brief lull in the pace, I hammered off the front as best as I could. I was joined by a rider from Omnipex and together we started to push on. I’d seen a of the attacks so far come to nothing as their pace dropped within a few minutes of opening a gap, so was hopeful we’d work well together to stop that from happening. To my delight we kept building on our advantage and started sharing the workload, h was obviously a strong rider and we soon saw one of the motorcycle outriders drop back behind us – great, a gap of at least 30 seconds, we’d now be out of sight for most of the course, if we keep this up we could get a healthy lead going.

    45 minutes in and we’d started a decent through-and-off rhythm going. Our speed was consistent and, from what I’d noticed while sat I the pack earlier, slightly faster. We got the call as we crossed the start finish line of being over a minute up. I was reaching threshold when taking my turn and recovering well when behind and by the next lap we were up to 1 minute 20 seconds ahead. Ace.
    Sadly, 50 minutes in, the other rider punctured. It took a lap or so for his tyre to go down and as he pulled off to the side of the course I’d already made up my mind to crack on alone and try to stay ahead. I knew if I sat up I’d have no chance in a sprint, after putting in so much effort up to this point, and my vague plan for the ay to get a good work out would be complete if I just got my head down and hammered it for as long as possible, so that what I did.
    I’d made a note, while in the break, of how many watts I was pushing at various points on the course and set about keeping them the same. No recovery now, just one big effort and try to keep the gap. The guys on the start finish line kept shouting out the time gap for me, which was a great help and Iw as encouraged as it didn’t seem to be reducing as the laps passed.
    The lad who punctured, while walking back to the start (not taking any shortcuts, or picking anything up…) held up his bottle for me, having noticed that I had nothing to drink, which was really good of him and would have been welcome, had I not buggered up the hand-up and basically belted the bottle out of his hand onto the floor, rather than grabbing it. Bugger (and, thankyou for the offer!).
    I had one gel left, which I guzzled as the “3 laps to go” call came out from the finish line. Still one minute in hand. I started doing mental calculations. I could lose 20 seconds per lap to the pack, would it be enough to hold the pace I was doing currently (my speed / watts were pretty constant, which was a wonderful feeling this far into the effort)? Will they be picking up the pace (I was sure they’d now know I was out on my own)? I decided to keep at the same pace, I felt I had perhaps one more big effort left in my legs, which I’d keep for a last lap push.
    “Two to go”. Head down, don’t let the pace drop.
    Bell lap. Head down, on the longer straights I allowed myself a glance over my shoulder. I’d planned to give one last big push when they came into sight. Nothing. I carved round the sweeping corners at the back of the course and onto the long curved road to the finish line. Another glance back, no sign of them, but not that much of the course behind was in view. The finish line was, though, ahead in the distance.
    No cocky sitting up and waving nonsense, I’ve seen too many videos of people losing races by starting their celebrations miles from the line and getting passed by half the race. Stay on the power until I could cross the line on foot without being overtaken.
    Job done. I crossed the finish line, looked chuffed as the polite finish line clapping was directed at me and immediately carried on round the course to where I’d dropped my bottle. I didn’t like the idea of leaving litter on the course and, secretly, I was hoping there’d be something to drink left inside it! It had vanished from where I’d seen it sitting in the verge to the side of the road, which ended the quandary I was having (“Do I pick it up? What if it’s not my bottle but an unexploded bomb? We were told not to pick stuff up! Do camelbak make bombs?”), so I rolled back to the finish line to see the rest of the race sprinting for the 2nd place accolades. Not only had I held my advantage over the 25minutes I’d been out front alone, but by the last lap the chase had been given up and the infighting meant I’d won by over 3 minutes! Chuffed! Chuffed and thirsty!
    My bottle had been picked up and brought back to the start/ finish (thank you to whoever tidied up the course!) , but was completely smashed, so the offer of a bottle of water was swiftly ad gladly taken up!
    Thanks to everyone involved in setting up the race – it was a really good and entertaining course to race on, at a great traffic free venue. Highly recommended! ?

     
  • 11:05:45 am on April 16, 2019 | Comments Off on No mud | # |

    With me still picking dried mud out of the corners of my eyes from Hit the North (I imagine I’ll be doing that until the next one…) I set my sights on the last few races before (and this sounds scary) getting into prep mode ofr the next CX season
    First up was a hilly TT. Sadly the course had to be shortened due to roadworks, which cut out some of the hillier bits (where I tend to make up time on the those with full TT bikes), but I did OK, ending up 6th. I felt pretty strong right the way through, though I nearly froze to death wearing just the skimpy skinsuit, riding past people scraping the ice off the windscreens of their cars. Brr!

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    Next up was one of my favourite events, Battle on the Beach. I’d headed down to South Wales a few days early (in order to get officially old…) and had spent the week before the races eating too much, but I was still very much ‘up for it’ while standing in with the Seeded Riders. My legs felt fresh, the sun was shining, the bike set up was (to my mind) spot on and prior knowledge of what was about to happen saw me full of hope of a great result.
    Annoyingly, my hopes lasted less time than the starting hooter. The bloke next to me tried to set off on his bike, rather than running (hard to do due to the super soft sand), he got anout 2 pedal strokes in, ran out of power and flopped over to his left, still clipped in, landing flat on top of my bike as I tried to run past, pinning it on the ground underneath him as he flailed about.
    I glanced up at the front end of the race hurtling away down the beach as I tried to wrestle the bike from under him. Race over. Balls.
    Eventually I managed to prise my bike out from under him and spent the rest of the race working my way up through hundreds of riders. I obviously had good form as I was able to fight my way back up into the top 50 before running out of laps, while still making up places. Shame, but a great workout and still a fantastic course to race on. I’ll be back for number 7 next year!

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    Finally, another trip up to ride the Dirty Reiver. To me it’s almost the opposite of Battle on the Beach, with wide, solid tracks stretching for miles, instead of swoopy narrow singletrack with soft sand to keep you on your toes. It’s usually bloody cold as well, where Battle on the Beach somehow manages to steal a bit of summer, despite being earlier in the year. One thing that both events manage to have in bucket loads is a great, fun atmosphere. Thousands of like minded riders buzzing about the trials to come. Brilliant stuff!
    Once again, it was bloody freezing on the startline, though thankfully(!) I got to spend the final few minutes before the race stealing a bottle cage off the bike of one of the organisers (thankyouthankyouthankyouTHANKYOU!), after mine shattered in the cold. Not the kind of warm up you’d imagine would be good for your body, but at least it kept me occupied!
    I got everything sorted just as the riders started to stream through the startline. Phew! I worked my way up through the enormous peloton to the ‘pointy end’ in time to cross the official “timed” beginning of the course with the fast lads.
    What followed was 7 and a bit hours of utterly fantastic remoteness. Phil and I sat with the lead group for about 60 miles. I felt utterly fine at the pace that was being set. I accidentally rode off the front of the group after about 45 miles and, feeling so strong, contemplated putting my head down, getting some power out and really making a go of it, but chose discretion rather than heroics and let everyone ride back up to me. Maybe next time…

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    This pic from Stephen Smith’s album on Facebook – some great pictures of the event!

    By the 2nd feed station the group had broken up, with Phil and I sat in around 8th place, comfortably in line to finish within the “top tier” 7 and a half hours, but as is always a risk, a couple of punctures late on (and stopping to assist other riders who’d run out of spare tubes – always be nice to people when riding!) meant we missed out on that target by less than two minutes. A shame, but it was still a fantastic day out. I felt amazingly comfortable all the way round, even when sat riding into a surprisingly strong headwind for mile after mile, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever crossed the finish line feeling so fresh! Can’t wait to go back and do it again (though maybe next time I’ll sort some heating out for the campervan, as it was damn cold overnight!)

     
  • 03:54:48 pm on March 21, 2019 | Comments Off on Hit the North | # |

    Perhaps one of the hardest things I’v ever done is get out of the van, into a cold, miserable deluge that wholly encompassed this year’s Hit the North race over in Manchester. I mean, the inside of the van was all warm and dry. there was a sleeping bag and pillow tucked away in the cupboard right by the pull out bed and it was still damn early in the morning (I’d got up especially, to ensure I got a parking spot). A few hours kip, followed by a nice brew (all the ingredients were also tucked away), it could have been lovely.
    I didn’t though. I pulled on my wellies, started saying hello to familiar faces before even getting across the car park, trudged my way down to where sign on was located, swore as an overflowing river where a path used to me overflowed into my wellies, leaving me with two buckets of cold water attached to my feet ad set about getting warmed up for the race.
    Well, I would have got warmed up if it hadn’t taken me hours to get back to the van – it seemed that the whole of the NW cyclocross league was there, plus all the MTB riders I know, plus more familiar faces from further away. Brilliant, and weirdly heartwarming to recognise and be able to great that many ace people. The only downside being that I had just enough time back at the van to tie my number board onto the bike with twine, change out of my welly/pond footwear into something more carbon fibre-y and use a quick ride back to the start as my warm up.
    It was all downhill from the van to the start line, so I got there bloody freezing and already drenched. Ho hum!

    For some (stupid) reason I ignored the fact that I was on the singlespeed mtb, with it’s twiddly small gear, and elbowed/shoulderbarged my way to the very front row. Th starting hooter went off and I was immediately swamped by people with sensible bicycles hurtling past me while I twiddled away with my legs flapping at about 200rpm.

    That, pretty much, set the scene for the whole race. Any flat/fast parts of the course people whizzed past, anything uphill/slower/harder gave me a chance to get back in touch and race. Fair enough, I thought to myself, this is meant to be fun anyway.
    I’ll admit that, for the first hour or so, I was very much relearning how to ride the mtb. It’s been ages since I’d tried to go flat out on it and it did take me a while to get back in the groove. Once I’d mastered the handling of that bike again (seriously, it’s the best machine ever made for swoopy singletrack!) I was totally in love with the course. Every corner was an opportunity to push the limits and come railing out the other side grinning like a mud splatteed loon. Uphill, downhill, past the beer kegs, it was all utterly fantastic. Even when the brakes wore out I didn’t want to slow down (which was lucky, as the only way of doing that was to slap your foot on the ground, hit a tree or jam your knee into the ground. Ahem.)

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    The two hours passed surprisingly quickly, and so much fun was had I barely noticed the continual pouring rain (though much more of the course resembled a stream towards the end…and the bits that were streams to start with started to resemble mighty rivers). I crossed the finish line with no idea how I was doing in the overall scheme of things – I knew most of the super fast lads had well and truly buggered off, but it didn’t seem to matter. I’d pushed hard wherever the gear on the bike let me, got some great ‘skills’ training in and had a proper laugh. you can’t ask for more than that!
    (I actually finished 7th, which I’m pretty happy with. Maybe next time I’ll bring a geared bike and warm up before!) 🙂

     
  • 05:11:33 pm on February 4, 2019 | Comments Off on No blaze of glory… | # |

    Final round of the NW league last weekend. Another new venue (loving all the new courses this season, great work race organisers!) and a new set of ground conditions to deal with: mostly frozen rock solid, but with a constantly changing, melted, muddy layer on top. Hereafter know as semifreddo…

    I’ll openly admit that I’d started the off season early and had spent the week eating terrible (delicious, usually biscuit based) food while barely riding a bike. Never mind, the sun was shining on the snow (slightly melting it…), the youth and vets races seemed to be going well and everyone seemed to have the “last day of school” feeling going on, me included. I couldn’t be faffed doing a proper warm up, I just wanted to get stuck in a bit and have some fun for one final time before stripping the bikes down for their summer hibernation.

    Off the start I didn’t do too badly. Rob got another lightning start but I got up into 2nd place and began working my way back up to him before my race was rudely interrupted by some hidden ice under one of the fast corners. I went down like a sack of spuds and watched several people get past me as i flailed about under the course tape.
    Back up as quickly as possible and back into the race, now down in 5th, I tried to close the gaps but a combination of the season-old drivechains of the bikes starting to give up (if you want to test your concentration levels, try racing cx on a tight, twisty course, covered in ice and off camber while simultaneously ‘feeling’ your drivehchain and backing off/back pedalling each time the chain tries to jam itself up into the frame with chansuck. Skills required 🙂 ), stupidly crashing out on the same patch of ice a 2nd time and then getting all wound up with myself for messing up…which (of course) lead to more mistakes (and a couple of slightly embarrassing crashes that really shouldn’t have happened… meant I only made it back up as far as 4th.
    On the plus side, during my final lap or two I was able to mentally get a grip, despite the setbacks and refocus on racing – I didn’t quite have the power to get back on terms with Rob, Matt and Martin but I was able to close the gap right down where I may have previously remained disheartened.

    Several lessons were learned – about the bikes and their set up and about how to manage my head during the race. Good stuff.

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    Binned it! Pic by Ellen

    And that, as the saying goes, was that. Season over. On crossing the finish line I allowed myself a bit of an indulgent look around at the group of riders who had finished in front of me – hearty, heartfelt handshakes were being passed around between them as I rolled over. I know I spend quite a bit of time on these blogs thanking the people who support me in the pits, but equally I should thank everyone I’ve got to race against. I shook hands and offered thanks and congratulations and genuinely meant every word, every race has been close, hard, exciting, full on and yet always fair and good natured. I have nothing but utter respect for everyone who I’ve raced with this season, it’s been bloody brilliant.

    Next season, it’s all change. Plans are very much afoot. I’m moving up a category, to V40 and fully intend to get myself to as many National Trophy races as possible. The NW league is just too good right now to avoid so I’ll be there as much as possible – racing the (fast!) v40s and, whenever practical, sticking my nose in with the seniors to keep myself nice and keen.
    I won’t be doing it alone, I know I’ll have back up in the pits from the ever awesome (some would say “long suffering”…) Horwich team and for the first time ever I won’t just be getting into shape for the season based on guesswork… (dot dot dot 🙂 )

    A Power Meter? With my reputation?! But who will be analysing the data it provides and tailoring my training based on the information it provides…

     
  • 12:58:55 pm on January 28, 2019 | Comments Off on No rest for the wicked… | # |

    …apart from the last two weekends, where there’s been no CX races, obviously.

    After a brief hiatus, during which I grew to love the whole “not having to pack everything / spend hours cleaning and fixing everything” routine that a gap in the league calendar provided, the NW races leapt back into action last weekend with a return to Blakemere Village. I’d enjoyed the previous round held there and had high hopes of another fun course. I may have been getting a bit fed up with all the faffing before and after racing, but once on the bike, I was still as enthusiastic as ever to go flat out.

    Last time round the course could be summed up with the phrase “never more than 3ft from the next corner”, this time round it was dominated (to my mind) by a huge straight section taking you from the far side of the course back to the pits at warp speed. A rare opportunity to slam the chain onto the big ring and hammer along. Cool. Don’t get many of those, especially at this time of year when you’d expect ground conditions to be somewhere between “mud” and “doom” – somehow this time round the course seemed even drier and grippier than last time.

    As expected, the speed off the start line was fast. Within a few seconds Rob and Tyler had managed to open a gap on the rest of the field – me included – but I got my head down and paced myself back up to them, trying to use the strong tailwind giving us an extra boost along the stright to my advantage, while keeping steady when we turned to ride back into it as a headwind. No surges in speed, just a constant effort to close the gap gradually.

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    Myself and Martin made contact a lap or two into the race and, wile I contemplated “sitting in” behind them for a lap, Martin seized the initiative and immediately attacked. I wasn’t sure if either of the lads would be able to respond after their lightning quick start, so realised I’d have to go with him. I jumped to stay on his wheel and heard Rob do the same. The 3 of us hung together for one more lap, with Martin setting a pace fast enough to eventually shed Rob. And then there were 2…

    As we hit the – as I called it – hill reps section, I decided that my legs seemed to be happy enough with the race so far and I’d have a dig to see what happened. Well, as the hill reps section involved 3 stomps up the same slope, each with a tight bend at the top and drop back down between each, I decided to have 3 digs in a row. I knew Martin would be able to close down one attack with the greatest of ease, but what about 3? If he managed to stay with me there were enough laps left for me to recover from the attacking and if I got a gap I had a slightly tailwind assisted straight immediately after to push on and build on it, so off I went.

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    To my delight, a gap opened up, so I set about burning a few matches before turning to face the wind – get as much space between us as I could before it became harder for him to get back with me. Approving noises coming from the pits as I rode past them spurred me on and I set about pacing myself round the course like I had for the first lap or two, balancing my effort as much as possible in case Martin got back to me. For a few more laps I kept everything as similar as possible – same line through each corner, same gear shifts at the same time, metering out and surges on the climbs and riding steady through the corners.
    It had started raining quite heavily but he course was holding up well, so the levels of grip on offer remained good, with everything staying rideable. The bike didn’t seem to be clogging up with mud so I decided I wouldn’t swap to the spare unless I had a mechanical issue. More approving noises from the pits told me I was opening up the gap steadily with each lap. Just stay steady, don’t start mucking about trying to rail round the corners or sprint up with e hill reps like a mad man, was the order of the day.

    The last lap bell started ringing a bit earlier than I expected. I took a few glances around to make sure there were no counter attacks coming, saw that my lead was – barring disaster – good enough to get me round safely and started to worry about what to do when crossing the finish line.

    Maybe you’ve never thought about this before. Maybe you’re so used to winning races you barely even notice it. I don’t win that many bike races (and you can stop shouting “that’s an understatement!” right now, thank you very much…), so what was I going to do to look awesome rolling over the finish in 1st place? It’s a contentious issue – cyclingnews.com has a good article dedicated to the best and worst finish line salutes – and I ended up getting so stressed about it I eventually settled for a simple “one hand in the air”, rather than anything particularly memorable. Maybe I should add some “finish line celebration” practice into my training (oh stop laughing).

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    Thanks to Ellen for all the pics!

    And that was that. With just one race left as a member of the senior category (officially), I’d got my first win. Bit last minute, but hay ho, better late than never. On to the final round next Saturday, then it’ll be time to think about SUMMER! Woo!

     
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