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  • 12:07:14 pm on April 24, 2018 | 1 | # |

    “There’s something very wrong with that lad” I think to myself, as a bead of sweat detaches itself from the rim of my cap and drips, irritatingly, onto the lens of my dust-coated glasses. The drip rolls slowly across my field of view, smearing a path across the dirt as my tyres scuffle and scrabble at the dust beneath them, tracing a similar looking line behind me.

    We’re 90-something miles into this year’s Dirty Reiver and Phil’s just professed his undying love for the climb that’s recently come into view. I’m lost as to what could have caused this outburst, as far as I can tell it has no redeeming qualities at all. It’s the wrong sort of steepness, it’s too long, the surface is too loose to stand up on without wheelspinning, the embedded stones are slightly too large for my tyres to roll over smoothly, so I’m having to move around a lot to keep traction, the dust holding them in place is too dusty and is coating everything – not that the previous 90 miles haven’t been exactly the same, but this hill seems like a more concentrated version of al the irritating bits so far.

    It’s not even got a big-country view at the top, it just goes into some more woods that smell too much like fresh pine for my liking. Stupid bloody climb.

    I slowly start to realise that there’s nothing wrong with the hill and I’m just being a grumpy sod.

    As we crest the summit and find ourselves hurtling down another fast, loose, swoopy, fireroad descent I sit up to soak in as much of the breeze as I can. We’re at the pointy end of a 21 degree temperature swing – the start line hovering at around the freezing point and the top of this climb (hereafer known as Grumpy Hill) bathed in 21 degree bright sunshine. I’ve gone from achingly cold fingers and toes while trying to warm up, with arm and knee warmers, base layers and gilets, caps and double gloves doing little to fend off the chill to staring longingly at lonely patches of snow on the hilltops, wishing I could roll around on them, turning them instantly to steam.
    The gilet is now stuffed (badly) in my little camelbak, which is protesting how overpacked it is by repeatedly smacking me in the back of the head over every bump (of which there are a lot in a 120 mile gravel race). The arm warmers are rolled and bunched around my wrists, creating the worlds worst tan lines ever. There was a point, about 10 miles in to the event, where I was perfectly dressed for the temperature. Before and after that it’s been all wrong, but we’ve not had time for me to sort out my wardrobe mid ride, we’ve been flying round the route. Flying. Over an hour up on last year’s (already fast…) time and showing no signs of slowing down, even if one of us is in love with the hill we’ve just smashed it up.

    Photo taken just before I started to wilt in the heat!

    The event has been brilliant up to this point. It always is, but this year it’s been brilliant and fast all at the same time. We arrived at the first checkpoint, 30 odd miles in, in a group of about 15 people, with an average speed of nearly 18mph. The halfway point came and went with little drop in speed. By the 130km/200km course split the group had broken up with myself and Phil a couple of minutes back on 2 other riders, but we’ve still left the final checkpoint with an average speed of 17mph. The miles have flown by under bright blue skies and utterly perfect conditions for Big Rides. Winter’s been awful, but rides like this make all the rainy, cold, dark training worthwhile. Maybe Phil had a point about that last hill, it was lovely, in it’s own way.

    As the 100 mile mark ticks over, we’re joined by another rider who’s worked his way back up to us – strong stuff. The three of us fly round the trail around Kielder Water. It’s like the icing on the cake as it swoops and curves with the shoreline on a smooth, grippy track. As we cross the dam wall and race back towards Kielder Castle I can’t help but grin as I stare across the water, it’s beautiful. Every hill in the background has been ridden over, there’s nothing else to do now but cross the finish line and drink beer.

    Which we do.

    7 hours and 15 minutes it takes us to get round the 200km. Well over 3100 metres of climbing dispatched in super fast time. Nothing beats big bike rides in the sun when it’s over terrain like that. 🙂

  • 02:24:15 pm on April 17, 2018 | Comments Off on Battle on the Beach | # |

    My summer beach holiday took place last weekend. Down in South Wales. While most people head for somewhere nearer the equator and prioritise high temperatures, my beach holiday requirements were slightly simpler. I just needed the beach and a tailwind down it 🙂

    Saturday day saw a nice ride along the coastal cycle path to the pier at Mumbles. A chilled out pace in glorious spring sunshine, sharing the route with hundreds of other families was ace. Everyone happy, everyone having a little adventure at the seaside, away from the hustle and bustle of the busy main roads. Brilliant.
    Saturday evening saw me eating pizza and drinking beer, with a nice lung-burning time trial down the beach in the fresh evening gloom. Every year I’ve entered Battle on the Beach I’ve paid the extra to do the night lap and, up until this year, every year the lure of the bar has been too strong. Not this time though, this time I was well up for it.

    Not up for it enough to do any sort of warm up, or anything as sensible as that, but up for it enough to line up with 200 other grinning riders, each being set off from the start line at 10 second intervals into the darkness.
    I’d overheard the commentator mention something about riding through the main marquee, right past the band and though it was just a joke, but seconds after launching myself off the startline I found myself briefly sandwiched between a crowd of dancing onlookers and an enthusiastically strummed version of The Stones’ “Crossfire Hurricane” (I think, I was only in there for about a second!). Brilliant.
    Out onto the beach and away from the light of the main arena my “beach holiday necessity” tailwind kicked in bigtime. I almost wiped out riding across the soft sand, losing all momentum, but soon reached the hardpack section near the tide and started spinning the bike up through the gears until I ran out of cogs. 30mph, tucked in and spinning like a loon, chasing down light after light from riders in front of me through the inky blackness. You can’t beat it 🙂
    The beach exit had turned into a bit of a queue up a steep, soft sand bank, but it didn’t seem to matter. Everyone was loving it and everyone waited patiently. The return leg along some old, sandy, tank tracks and some lovely swoopy singletrack saw me miss a couple of corners but refuse to slow down to correct anything – favouring just crashing through course-side bushes at full pelt to get back on track. Probably not the fastest way round the route, but awesome fun, if a little spiky in places!

    I finished 18th and went back to the bar.

    Sunday morning brought with it some very uncharacteristic rain. I decided to ‘up’ the amount of clothing I would wear for the main race and added a softshell baselayer and arm/knee warmers, thinking that it might get chilly if the rain persisted. somewhat annoyingly (for me) it didn’t amount to much during the race and, within about 30 seconds of the starting hooter going off (from where I immediately went from “at the front, on the front row” to “a thousand people back somehow” on the startline run across the soft sand) I was absolutely boiling!
    Saturday’s tailwind had grown overnight and groups of riders were hurtling across the sands at well over 35mph. Not only did you need fitness to compete and work your way up through the riders, but a big gear was a necessity – I was spinning out 46×11 and wishing for something bigger!
    By the time we finished the first lap beach assault I’d worked my way back up into the top 20, which was pretty good (for me). I lost a few places through the singletrack and, weirdly, along the sometimes-sand-sometimes-grippy doubletrack section, where I thought I’d be able to hold my own, but I consoled myself with knowing my heartrate hadn’t dropped below 180bpm since setting off. Any places lost certainly weren’t as a result of a lack of effort!
    Laps 2 and 3 went in a similar way. Silly fast down the beach in whatever group i found myself riding with. Lose a place / regain a place etc through the doubletrack & singletrack sections. Stay as fast as possible. Put in all the effort I can. Try not to crash.

    The doubletrack section – my nemesis during the race

    “Try not to crash”.
    This plan went well until the final lap, where a slip in the singletrack, with only a couple of miles remaining, saw me slide out to the side of the course, both feet unclipped. Suddenly rider after rider hurtled past. I fumbled around trying to get going again, my glasses steaming up as my feet slid around on the pedals trying to get clipped back in. I couldn’t see a thing, riding through complete guesswork until enough airflow across the lenses cleared them enough to give me an idea of what was in front of me. Panicked gasping ensued as I tried to chase back as many of the newly-ahead-of-me racers. I managed to get a couple of places back but crossed the finish line in 33rd – having dropped about 7 places due to that one fumble. It gets properly competitive the further towards the front you are!

    The briefest pang of grumpiness was washed away almost instantly as I handed my timing chip in (partly by the now heavy rain…) and realised just how utterly awesome the race had been once again. 5th year in a row I’ve raced the event and it just gets better and better. A great beach holiday 🙂

  • 11:51:29 pm on January 22, 2018 | Comments Off on Heroes and Villains | # |

    I was watching James Bond, on the telly the other day. Engrossed in the plot I’d seen many, many times before as Blofeld tried to do world changing things, I got more and more emotionally attached to the henchmen in his volcano lair. (Best lair ever, by the way).
    It was fairly near the end of the film, the plans for world domination were pretty much done with and an entire army of ninja goodies were sliding down ropes, firing guns and generally being heroic all over the place. Despite the obvious futility, the daftly dressed henchmen were still fighting to the death. Most of them were probably employed under the pretence of the job being fairly easy – in charge of just pushing one button every 30 minutes and that was that, so the pittance of a wage didn’t seem too bad. I bet the idea of martyrism was hidden pretty deep within whatever contract they signed. I bet that contract even had a “hire purchase” of the daft outifit they were all wearing. All in, they had a pretty raw deal really.

    Meanwhile, Blofeld himself was busy pissing off to freedom on his personal monorail (bet the henchmen would have had to pay to use that…). No thankyou. No mucking in. Not even a backwards glance suggestive of the slightest glimmer of guilt. Gone in his personal carriage. Git.

    I crossed the line at the end of Sunday’s NWCCA finale and didn’t even drop down through the gears. Hard right straight after the finish line, back across the main field to the pits, where several semi frozen members of Horwich CC were busy tidying, cleaning, and packing up under a barrage of hail and sleet like they had been all afternoon. Despite having all raced themselves (with the exception of Angela, who’d spent all day elbow deep in buckets of cold water as the snow came down, getting bikes washed in between laps), they’d pulled on what little clothing they had in their cars and bravely stepped back out into weather they couldn’t hope to keep out.
    Somewhere, months ago, they’d been sold the idea of all mucking in at the races. Support whoever’s racing. “It’ll be a laugh”, they were probably told, “bring your own kit though”.
    “You’ll probably just be holding one bike out every 30 minutes, it’s fairly easy”.
    Under the constant sleety bombardment they’d fought on to keep everything in the pits going, ensuring I’d have a bike ready to go if I wanted one. As a win became more and more obviously hopeless they’d carried on bravely.

    I got back to the pits picked up a bike that wasn’t utterly crudded up, leaving the filthy one to be cleaned – despite the futility of it – pulled on a jacket that no-one else was allowed to wear and pissed off to freedom and my own personal, warm, carriage. No thankyou. No mucking in. Not even a backwards glance suggestive of the slightest glimmer of guilt. Blofeld had his shuriken-injured hand, I had numb limbs from the weather. He had his monorail in his volcano lair, I had my campervan. He had no idea if any of his henchmen survived the assault. I’m presuming half of Horwich CC are frozen solid, shin deep in the Beacon Country Park slop.

    In a feeble attempt to raise myself above the level of Bond Villain, I would like to issue (possibly posthumous…) heartfelt thanks and respect to everyone that stood out there in that awful, awful weather on Sunday. I have no idea how anyone could race in those conditions, then go back out to stand around in them for another hour to look after someone else. Hugely impressive stuff, for which I’ll always be grateful.

    PS If you ever need a reference to get a job as a henchman in a volcano lair, just ask. And for god sake read the small print. 😉

  • 06:06:44 pm on January 15, 2018 | Comments Off on Taking a plastic butterknife to a tank fight. The National CX Championships | # |

    I actually did a “proper” warm up.
    Admittedly I’d finished the proper warm up half an hour before the gridding for the race took place, so was cold again by the time we were started, but I did do one.

    I even sprinted as hard as I could at the start, and kept trying to sprint harder. Almost holding my own for once.

    But f-k me, by 1 minute into that race the leaders were, how can I put it, “comfortably” ahead?

    I compounded issues somewhat by letting my front wheel wash out over the top of a rut while still in the first lap, side-by-side melee, clattering arm first into one of the solid wooden stakes holding the course netting up and getting myself in a knot, but I don’t think the top half of the field really needed me to give them an extra advantage. They seemed to be wafting away quite easily as it was.

    Put me in all sorts of trouble though. From somewhere in the late 20s (which might not sound very good, but for me to keep up off the start with a National Championships level field is actually something worth looking impressed at), to about 50th in a few short seconds. Bugger.

    (Not that I was the only one having problems, of course, nearly 20 people DNFed, which goes to show how frantic and fast it was).

    Anyway. With the fear of being pulled out of the race early lurking in my mind I got back on and started to work my way back through the field. Of course, everyone there was fast, so there were no “making up 30 places in half a lap” heroics. Each place was a proper battle. thankfully the course was BRILLIANT to race on. seriously. Every battle for a place was a pleasure.


    As at the National Trophy in Bradford a couple of weeks back, just as I really started to get into it I was pulled under the 80% rule. I’d got it into my head that I would finish – I’d been on the course for 50mins (which was supposed to be the race length), but no. As I headed for the start/finish line a commissaire waving his arms directed me off the course. Gutted.

    Doubly gutted, in fact, as I’d just got past 3 people, who spotted that we were being pulled and sprinted when I didn’t, retaking their positions.

    Triply gutted, no less, as if I’d realised what was happening and kept ahead of them I’d have finished in the points. At the National Championships. (Ok so the winner gets 200 points, and I missed out of just 2, but still…)

    Ho hum.

    Good job it was bloody brilliant to be a part of 🙂

    Good job the people I was racing against seemed genuinely worried when I caught them, due all the encouragement I was getting from the North West posse at the side of the course 🙂 Awesome work everyone!

  • 11:28:03 am on January 4, 2018 | Comments Off on Macclesfield goes wrong again | # |

    I do like the course at Maccclesfield. It’s “proper” cyclocross to me. Fast, wide (so you can race side by side for the most part), plenty of off cambers, tight corners, short uphill slogs and some big ring fast sections. Brilliant stuff. I hate going there though, as something always seems to go wrong. Last year I slipped a pedal off the start, stuffing the big chainring into the back of my leg in the process (the scar’s still there!) and this year was no better.

    Off the start a non-descript effort saw me not loose too many places, which was good enough for me. I was still in the ‘front end’ as it were and, as we crossed the finish line for the 1st time I started to settle into the race. A gentle shift up one gear at the back for the muddy uphill corner and…


    A god awful sounding noise and suddenly I can’t pedal. At all. I try to back pedal a bit, thinking something’s got stuck in the rear mech/cassette/I’ve got chain suck. Nothing. The pedals are utterly jammed.
    The race flows quickly past me as I leap off and start wrestling with a slightly-too-short chain that’s somehow ended up in the big chainring/big cog at the back combo and ended up locked solid. The mech, though still attached thankfully, looks hideously stretched and I’m fearful everything might explode if I just use brute force to get things going again. A minute or two stood st the side of the course, right next to the commentator who gleefully narrates my predicament to the spectators, sees me manage to wrestle the chain off the big ring by bending it in as gentle a way as I can muster. I clamber back aboard with the phrase “Well, he looks like he’s got it going again. The only positive for him is that he’s got 50 minutes to try and get back in the race” ringing in my ears.

    Of course it’s an Ellen pic

    With any hopes of a decent finish gone I use the first lap to work out what my plan of attack is going to me. Drop out and save wear and tear on the bikes? Bimble round at the back?


    I can’t do “well” but I can give myself a bloody good workout on a great course. So I do. I start chasing down everyone in front. Start working my way back through the field. Make sure I’m pushing myself all the way. Testing myself on the off camber corners. Pushing on , on sections where other people seem to be trying to recover. Occasionally crashing, but making a note of where I crashed and making sure I nail that bit the next time around.

    12th in the end. Can’t be “happy” with the result, but content enough that I kept going and got a decent ride in.

    National Champs next. Really hope I can put in a decent performance…or at least not get pulled before the end!

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