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  • 11:16:07 am on April 26, 2017 | 0 | # |

    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.

    dirty Reiver

    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.
    It’s still kind of fun.

    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….

    A post shared by @twinklydave on

    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

    A post shared by @twinklydave on

    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:

    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.
    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!
    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 :)

  • 11:15:50 pm on December 5, 2016 | Comments Off | # |

    First up: Best post title ever.
    Aaanyway. Few more races done. Weaver Valley went with a bang. Well, a snap, as my mech hanger did what it’s sort of supposed to and snapped as everything packed up with leafy, grassy mud. Annoyingly it happened about 20ft after the pits, so I had a nice half lap jog (Finally! All that horrid lunchtime jogging pays off!) before I could swap to the 2nd bike. Also annoyingly the mech got knackered in the explosion, as did the chain. Spend spend spend!

    NWCCA Round 8 2016 - Weaver Valley / Northwich
    You don’t need a mech for the running sections anyway. Pic by Dave Haygarth.

    The rest of the race went OK – the “intermediate” tyres were a bit frisky in the corners but I ended up still in the top ten, so I’m not moaning too much.

    Next race as back at (the cursed) Otterspool. So I marshalled instead. Ha. Average league points without having to ride into any trees. I’ll take that. Especially as all I had to do was keep people off the course while racing was on, move some course tape, heckle everyone, stifle evil cackles when people wiped out (without getting hurt, obvs) and drink free coffee. Everyone should have a go at marshalling.

    A return to Stadt Moers next (though that doesn’t appear in the post title). Another good race course with lots of good close racing as a result (though a few of my “slide right across the course” moves were a bit crap. Sorry everyone!). Only issue I had was with a front mech that wouldn’t shift into the big ring. don’t think it really made any difference though. Oh, and the “fast but not mud” tyres not liking the slidey mud – hence the “across the course in front of people”action. Sorry again! 4th and time to swap to slower, gripper tyres.

    Last Sunday was the Northern championships. Or, as one lover of the North put it, a dress rehearsal for the National Champs ;-)
    A week completely off the bike and on holiday eating and drinking too much was never going to be a good preparation for it…and now I’ve got the excuses out of the way, on to the race. :)
    I may have been the first person ever to be delighted to get picked out for random testing on the start line by the commisaires – in this case my bike was scanned for hidden motors (sadly lacking and very much needed). Off the line at the start I sprinted backwards brilliantly, rolling through the first lap in 35th place with legs and lungs in total shock. It was a good job the course was utterly brilliant fun to ride, as I might have been tempted to step off within the first 20 minutes otherwise (OK I was). But I didn’t and as the laps ticked off I got into it a bit more, picked off a few places and just generally tried to get back into the ‘flat out’ frame of mind. 25th. Bit of a flop, but such is life – and to be fair, I was never going to get in the top 10 anyway, so I’ll focus on how much fun those flowing corners were :)

    First, last or just propping up the mid table, race your arse off wherever you are!

    Still to come: Christmas and…more importantly…the final round of the NW league, the National Champs and possible another Yorkshire league round to make sure I get my money/efforts worth out of all that tub gluing!

  • 05:26:42 pm on November 9, 2016 | Comments Off | # |

    Few more cyclocross races done and dusted (mostly):
    Firstly a round of the NW league at Bebington. On a course that couldn’t have been designed more for me unless they’d actually named some of the corners in my honour. Super fast, flowing straights, long ‘keep the hammer down’ corners and just a few surprisingly tricky off camber corners to keep you on your toes. In the dry it was utterly awesome fun.
    A group of 5 or 6 of us got away soon after the start and managed to open a gap of about a minute n everyone else. I must admit I didn’t think we were really hammering at full pelt so had a couple of goes off the front (yep, me, in the lead. Weird, I know!), but didn’t manage to stay away. We remained as a group until just about the laps lap when myself and Jack Humphryes stole a few metres on the rest of our breakaway and managed to build on it, with Jack eventually crossing the line a couple of seconds ahead of me for the win. 2nd place. Can’t sulk too much about that :)

    Pic by Ellen Isherwood

    Next up, Otterspool. A name that sends shivers down my spine. I’m sure the place is cursed. The last 3 times I’ve raced there I’ve crashed the car, ridden face first into a tree, smashed a shifter and discovered, while trying to sprint off the line, that my chain was slipping over the rear cassette. It’s not that I don’t like the course – it’s got a lot of fun bits in it and I even enjoy the singletrack sections, it’s just that something always goes wrong.
    Annoyingly, this time round was no exception. Gridded up near the front, didn’t lose too many spaces in the start print, everything seemed OK then WALLOP! On my arse for absolutely no conceivable reason. No idea what my front tyre washed out on but I was instantly on the ground with about 60 people charging full pelt at me. How Andy Porter managed to not ride straight over my bike I’ll never know!
    All I could do was standat one side of the track and wait until every other rider had passed before reclaiming my bike fron the opposite side of the course, jump back on and set about chasing after the rapidly disappearing race.
    As the laps passed I worked my way up the field. Each lap getting harder as the people I was passing wanted to race me rather than just let me through (fair enough, given that we were racing for position!) and each lap getting me more and more worked up and angry. By the final lap I could see the top few riders ahead and managed to get myself up into 4th place, only to clout another tree with my shoulder. Hard. As well as bringing me to a complete halt it really bloody hurt and seemed to put a stop to my charge, I sat up a bit, which is a really stupid thing to do during a race and, unsurprisingly, Matt Lawton (who I’d passed to get into 4th) took full advantage and got back past me. 5th place. Not the disaster it could have been, but that curse is still in full effect!

    Otterspool cx 1
    Pic by Dad

    Last weekend didn’t have a round of the NW league, so I made the trip ‘oop norf’ to a round the North East ‘cross league held near Penrith (which I’ve never through of as being in the North East, but never mind that).
    The course was similar to the Rossendale ‘cross race I’d done earlier in the season in that there were lots of rocks in the disused quarry hosting the event to avoid and an off-the-bike clamber up an unrideable slope. Unlike Rossendale, however, it was utterly bloody freezing. As in sleeting and snowing, with a horrible icy gusting wind. Proper grim.
    On the plus side, all the rain meant some mud to play in. Finally!
    The race didn’t go brilliantly. I just felt cold for the most part and really lacked any pace. Not wanting to puncture on the rocks, I ran my tyres really hard which made the muddy sections somewhat tricky, but wasn’t too worried about where I’d finish as long as both me and the bike got there in one piece. Thankfully I did, in 11th place in the end. Fine with that, not delighted, but fine with it. Glad I did it too, as you can’t train as hard as you can push yourself in a race (even one you’re not too worried about).
    Big thanks to Rob, who managed to wash my bikes for me, after looking after Giles during the race – much appreciated! :)

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