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  • 09:04:16 am on October 14, 2019 | 0 | # |

    Pretty much sums up the good bits of any sort of bike race, that phrase. One of the great things about cyclocross is that the phrase sums up the entire thing: Someone says “go” (or blows a whistle, sounds a hooter, or whatever) and those three words should sum up all you try to do until someone waves a chequered flag at you. Little is required in the way of tactics, there’s not much point in pacing yourself (and, quite frankly, if you try and “pace” the first minute of a cyclocross race you’ll get a good view of everyone else disappearing off – so get stuck in!), just stay upright and keep telling yourself to pedal dead hard.

    I did. It seemed to work. Off the start line at the last NW round I’d picked a slightly bigger gear than normal and, for a second or two, I could feel the rest of the V40 pack starting to surge around me. Pedal Dead Hard and hold your position in to the first corner as you get on top of that big gear was the plan and it seemed to pay off. Frantic gear changes around me were left behind through the second and third corners as 4 or 5 of us opened a slight gap. Bill Nickson was hanging off the front by a few bike lengths. Pedal Dead Hard and get on his wheel. Sorted. We start to stretch the gap back to 3rd as we climb past the pits and begin the “still have to pedal dead hard because of the mud” descent.

    I decide discretion is the better part of valour through the wall of sound (a great atmosphere created by the hecklers at the top of a steep slope) that encompasses the bombhole climb and Run Dead Hard out of the dip – it still counts the same in ‘cross.

    We don’t use file treads very often in the NW league…

    By lap 2 we’ve got a decent little gap so, as we start the horrible dragging climb back from the bottom of the course towards the pits, I decide to push on hard, in case anyone behind makes a move to get back on terms with us. Head down (as much as possible when you have to keep an eye out for the constantly changing ‘good line’ through the ever present mud!) and, yep, Pedal Dead Hard.
    Through the pits I open a gap on 2nd and there’s only one thing to do when that happens – keep going. Focus on picking the right lines through the tricky sections and always get the power down as early as possible.

    40 minutes of that and, hey presto, someone hands you a beer on the finish line as you roll over the timing mat for the win. Lots of training, lots of time spend making sure the bikes work, lots of support in the pits (on this occasion not needed, but to know they’re all there for you makes a huge difference) and encouragement from marshals/spectators round the course all hidden behind a muddy grin earned by simply pedalling dead hard. Job’s a good ‘un.

  • 11:00:16 pm on October 6, 2019 | 0 | # |

    Round One of this season’s National Trophy Series was Derby. A well tested, almost classic venue. Apparently. I’d never raced there. In fact I’m struggling to think of any time I’ve been to Derby for any reason.
    A stupid early start to get there gave chance to watch a glorious sunrise as summer made a brief appearance. Barely a cloud in the sky and a complete lack of mud under the wheels. Dust, in fact, was being kicked up as the frantic-first-lap-of-the-first-race-of-the-season hurtled into the never ending ribbon of corners for the sake of corners.

    I know because I saw it. Way off in front of me. BC’s seemingly random allocation of gridding position saw me completely at the back. As in there was no-one behind me and I couldn’t even see the front couple of rows of riders. Crap. “Good job cx races aren’t all about the vital fast start eh!” joked a spectator.

    Amazingly, I got a good start and found myself swooping though the field almost instantly. The front of the race was already kicking up that dust way ahead (it’s not like they need a head start!) but I was on a mission and by the start of lap two my rough estimate was that I’d made up about 30 places while everyone was still fairly closely packed together. Brilliant.

    Sadly a crash saw a lot of that work wiped out and the rest of the race was spent getting those places back for a second time. A tougher ask as the laps passed as groups formed (getting up to and past one person isn’t too big an ask, but groups of 5 or 6, all busy battling each other become mobile roadblocks in effect – too long a line of riders to power past on the (infrequent…) straights without a response from at least one of them, and too busy taking all the possible lines on the corners to rail round.
    Enough of the negativity though, I regained all the places I’d lost and more besides, finishing 30th. All that mattered by that point was making sure I’d get a better gridding position for round two (and getting a cold drink, as the combo of dust, sun and 25 degree temperatures was a proper throat dryer!)

    Round 2. Home. Nearly. Westmorland Show Ground. Venue for rounds of the NW league before now (and a good venue at that). Close enough to pop over to on the Friday to help out with setting up the course. OK I only tapped in a couple of stakes and ziptied a sliver of catch netting, small fry to the scary long hours lots of the NWCCA lads and lasses have sacrificed to get it going, but at least I had something to concentrate on while racing: Don’t crash and wreck the bit’s I’d put together!
    For this round I was gridded 20th – this would have been brilliant, but I completely lost track of time before the start and missed getting a proper warm up done. A few sprints up and down the road next to the venue meant I wasn’t likely to actually ‘hurt’ myself, but I didn’t get the same sort of launch off the line as occurred at Derby. (You can see how far back I was in this vid: https://twitter.com/VeloUK/status/1180557533934694400 )
    Back to about 35th by the first corner and a telling off when I got home about concentrating on getting myself sorted and leaving the bikes to the Horwich guys who really are happy to take care of the behind-the-scenes stuff for me!
    Another unneeded head start handed to the top guys and a lap spent waiting for the legs and lungs to catch up with my race head.
    I soon got up to speed and, on what can only be described as the perfect mix of technical sections and flat out bits, I got to grips with fighting back towards the pointy end of the race.

    Roost! Pic by Ellen

    The more I raced, the more I loved it. The course, the way I felt, all spot on. Even the conditions – enough mud for ruts to form on the off camber sections and make some sections faster on foot, but still offering enough grip to really hammer it – were ace. Every obstacle seemed to have someone cheering me on attached to it, which just spurred me on more.
    11th by the end. Still riding strong and feeling great, wishing for more laps so we could all carry on (oh how’d I’d learn…). I’ll get up to the fast lads and get a decent result, everything’s there.

    Sunday ignored the pleasant autumnal conditions of day one, utterly. Rain rain rain and more rain overnight turned the course from techy fun to ferocious. Normally I;d be settling back feeling smug at having already done “my” race, but a deep down desire to just race bikes all the time meant I’d entered the elite race as well, so back to the Showground I went.
    I did the sum total of 1.5 practice laps (plus a couple of goes at the “drop of doom” which, while rideable, was damn uncomfortable, so I decided to run (slide on my arse) down it during the race.) and set about begging the Port Sunlight guys for help in the pits with their jetwash.
    OK, that’s a lie, they’d already offered as they’re properly nice people. I don’t know how they managed it, but they seemed to be looking after half the race – and we all got clean bikes when we needed them. Chapeau!

    I didn’t mind being gridded quite far back for this one (understandable, seeing as I’ve raced once in that age category this season), I was in it for the fun of it. And by “fun” I mean it was a great chance to get some skills practice and flat out riding done. In the mud. A bit of trench warfare. But (and it’s a big but) don’t bin it and get hurt. Conservative racing, whatever that is (I may have just made it up).

    So slow Adam appears to have fallen asleep… Thanks to Graham for the pic

    Not a great race, given how surprisingly fresh I felt at the start – I had expected some fatigue, but everything was just…working! – but I started in 49th and finished 39th. A few chain issues cost some time and I know full well I could have pushed harder here and there, but it was still, strictly speaking, a net win. Plus it left me in no doubt about just how brilliant everyone involved with the NW league is. I mean, Sarah came over after the race to apologise about not being in the pits on my last lap, thinking I’d already been pulled from the course – despite the fact that she’d dived in to help completely off her own back (and it would have made 0 difference!). A demand for payment would have been more appropriate than an apology! And, if you think I’m ever exaggerating the amount of cheering people do for me from the sides of the course, this time round it actually became the topic of (out of breath, gasping) conversation a couple of times with other riders, while racing! Just brilliant people.

    Ayr next (for the Trophy’s, we’re off to Beacon Park for the NW leaague again ext weekend). Last year it was stunning, here’s hoping for even more this time. 🙂

  • 08:40:28 pm on September 8, 2019 | Comments Off on Bonk | # |

    Please don’t be broken
    Please don’t be broken
    Please don’t be broken
    The hideous sound of carbon wheel rim smacking against unyielding stone step went right through me. The lower-than-I-thought-it-was pressure in the rear tub had offered little in the way of cushioning and the first couple of pedal strokes away from the step up out of the baron at Hoghton Tower were a lot softer than you might have expected from a sprint to the finish line when you’re leading the race with 2nd and 3rd place right behind you.

    Frankly I would have deserved to knacker the rear wheel, the way I’d been riding. I’d managed to get back up to the leaders after slamming on the brakes during the first sprint from the start to avoid having a big crash as another rider swerved across in front of me (a ‘racing incident’ rather than anything sinister or overly reckless), not once, but three times. Each time I’d thrown away the results of the effort by wiping out needlessly, having to pick myself up, hope no-one saw (of course they did) and get back into the chase.

    Pic by Ellen

    Eventually I managed to string enough laps together with no rolling around on the ground to get on terms with Ste and James and from then on it was just a proper battle round the stodgy climbs and (ace) swoopy descents. I was in front when I exited the wooded section on our final lap. I was almost grinning about having made it over the tree roots upright rather than sprawling around in the dirt as I had done in previous laps, but with no time to glace around I had no real idea by how far behind or how quickly anyone was closing on me.

    Thankfully I had enough space to mince a few wincing pedal strokes away from the step before crossing the finish line in 1st. Chuffed. Chuffed and sore, as I’d managed to whip off all the scabs that had formed over last week’s grazes, leaving me with freshly bloodied shins again. One day I’ll get round without crashing…

    A mixture of elation and pre planned stupidity saw me ride straight back over from the finish line to the pits, quickly swap over to a freshly cleaned bike (thank you pit crew!), squeeze an energy gel down my neck and back to the start line to race in the seniors event. I wanted to get as much race level practice in as possible (and god knows I needed to keep practicing the skills!) without any stress, so I’d promised myself I wouldn’t get too caught up in the racing.
    Obviously that plan lasted all of about 10 seconds. From mid pack off the start I worked my way through the racing around me, ignoring the little voice in my head that kept chanting “Exactly what is fueling all this effort? You’ve had 2 gels since warming up for the V40 race.” and “You should have had a drink in between races. It’s very hot isn’t it…” It was hot, which I hadn’t really planned for, and I was beginning to feel like hydration was going to start playing a part in the effort soon enough, but for now, chase people down.
    I made my way from the mid thirties up to about 13th place before the metaphorical wheels came off. Seeing the lap board read “5” (hello to everyone at the start/finish line who kept cheering me on!) as the first twinges of cramp set in was a sobering sight. 5 of THOSE laps, with all those sharp, steep climbs. Maybe I should have just finished the first race and bought myself a coffee instead…

    As those laps crawled past I started to drop back through the field, less and less able to stick on the wheel of whoever past me each time someone did, focusing on getting up the climbs without dismounting and riding the tricky sections cleanly while ignoring the dead feeling coming from my now empty legs. I couldn’t form any spit to get rid of any mud that got in my mouth either, which was pretty grim. grim enough to make my mind up when someone shouted that Giles wasn’t that far behind me. I had the option of putting in one final (no doubt feeble) effort to get across the line before he lapped me, or just plodding on at the pace I was at and finishing straight away, one lap down.

    He was very gracious as he rode past to his first win of the NWCCA season, while I gazed vacantly down at my stem laughing internally at my own stupidity for picking this particular race to try and “double up” for the first time. 🙂

    “You dick” Pic by Ellen

    I finished 16th, as it turns out, which falls into the “could be worse” category.

  • 10:03:01 am on September 3, 2019 | Comments Off on Back at it for the first time | # |

    By golly I’ve missed cyclocross racing. By the time I’d parked the van at Blakemere I was ready to get ragging round the field, in fact by the time I’d filled the van with all the nonsense that seems to go along with racing cyclocross these days (once upon a time it was one bike > ride to race > race > ride home on what was left of that one bike, now there’s two bikes plus spare wheels plus warm up wheel & turbo, 2 full sets of kit, track pump, jetwash, numberous barrels of water & other bike cleaning stuff, etc etc etc. Enough to fill a medium sized van, basically) I was ready to get stuck in. Pre riding the course and cheering on the V50s for a bit wasn’t doing the trick, I needed to get stuck in 🙂

    As my first race as a V40 I wasn’t gridded (I could probably have begged and pleaded to be let up near the front row, but the idea of doing a “don’t you know who I am” didn’t really sit too well with me), so I lined up a few rows back and, after some gentle banter (“Who let all these kids in”/”You know about the rule where we stop mid race for our Complan” etc) it was finally time for that last pre-start whistle deep breath.
    I’d been training well for it and knew I was in decent form, Lee from Transition Coaching’s been putting in lots of effort to get me ready to race. This may not have been our ‘peak’, but I knew that start whistle wasn’t just for this race but for my next step in getting properly fast and fit. I think I got my best ever “off the start” first few pedal strokes as the whistle blew through an explosion of giddiness! We’re off!

    Within seconds everything felt right with the world again. Fighting my way up through the field during the frantic first lap – ‘cross is a lot more physical than road racing, there’s quite a bit more leaning on each other through the turns when you’re all battling for the same line, somehow though it’s always good natured. There’s some touching of elbows and you might run a bit wide on a corner if someone’s trying to pass you, you know that you’ll receive the same when you’re the one overtaking, it’s just part of it, it’s racing. It’s ace. especially when you’re all flat out on a great, swooping fast course.
    I got up to a group of about 5 people up at the front and took another deep breath. Onwards and upwards.

    Up into 2nd, with Ste Henshaw right with me – retaking the place each time we got to the barriers I was opting to dismount for while he hopped over them (we may only have been a couple of laps in but I was already planning on keeping myself upright and safe until the business end of the race) – always flat out and absolutely loving it.
    As happened a few times last season, I lost concentration for just a second, this time while making a relatively slow turn across a gravel track and completely lot the front end as the front tyre gave up traction, dumping me down on my right knee and (worse, as fa as I was concerned) on the drivechain side of the bike.

    I left up, remounted and did the classic “don’t look, just hope everything’s still working” gear shift. The mech started clattering against the spokes well before I was in 1st gear. My leg was pretty scuffed up too, but who cares about that, the mech’s buggered!
    I nursed the bike back to the pits (if I’m being honest it worked just fine for most of the lap I had to get round, as long as I didn’t need to change down any lower than 3rd, but you never give it 100% if you’re half expecting something to give up completely). On to the spare bike and down to 5th.

    It took me a lap or two to get back into the swing of the race (and to ignore my now quite sore knee!). I managed to get back on terms with the 3rd and 4th place riders (Roy and Bill – I’m learning who’s who in this category one race at a time!), eventually crossing the line in 4th after (and this is slightly embarrassing) forgetting that we only race for 40 mins not 50, d’oh!

    First race over. My form is good. My bikes work when I don’t smash them into the ground (thankfully it was just the easily replaceable mech hanger that was damaged). Everyone I’m racing with seems to be loving it as much as I am. Can’t wait for the next one. 🙂

  • 11:10:58 am on July 22, 2019 | Comments Off on Tank warfare | # |

    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! ?

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