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  • 09:52:12 pm on October 15, 2018 | 0 | # |

    The Heaton Park race didn’t go all that well really. A remarkably greasy course, which was still fun even if I didn’t get to grips with ‘that’ off camber section, could have been well suited to me, with some good long power sections – up and down through the trees with accelerations and ‘get stuck in’ cranking needed to hold your speed, that sort of thing – and what amounted to a hill reps section halfway round.
    I realised early on in the day that my ‘intermediate’ tyres on the 2nd bike weren’t the right choice – their paddle like tread offering little on the off-camber sections as far as grip went and, although they clear mud well, not enough tread depth to bite into the still fairly solid-but-slippery course. Oh well, I’d have to stay on the 1st bike whenever possible, maybe swap once if the bike clogged up with the grass & autumn leaves. That seemed like a plan.

    Didn’t work out like that though. The #1 bike seemed fine during my turbo trainer warm up, but a gentle half backpedal while on the start line, seconds away from the off, unshipped the chain. “Weird”, I thought, “but easily fixable, I’ll just wrap it back round the chainring and…oh, that’s weird, it’s not on the jockey wheels either. It’s jammed in between the lower jockey wheel, how the f-k did that happen?!”
    I got the chain back on with about 30 seconds to go…but on the first turn of the pedals off the start it jamme itself in the rear mech again. I sprinted backwards through the field, chain growling it’s way through the cage of the mech, gears skipping all over the place. Arse.

    I soft pedalled back to the pits, somewhere near the back of the pack and swap to the #2 bike (at least I have one!) and set about trying to work my way back up through the racers. I’d not lowered the pressure in the tyres much, which wasn’t helping with their lack of grip in the corners, so any places I’d make up in the faster sections was being thrown away in the corner-y bits as I tried to not fling myself through the course tape over and over.

    Lap after lap went past like this, with me getting more and more wound up with myself – if only I’d sorted out some grippier tyres for this bike, I’d be OK – and staring hopefully up at the pits on each pass of them, hoping the #1 bike would somehow be resurrected, only to see a huddle of Horwich helpers gathered round it, like onlookers at a car crash. Ah bugger.

    Issuing some watts while the tyres gripped. Of course it’s an Ellen pic

    It wasn’t all bad. The bike was by no means unrideable. The tyres cleared the mud well and the tread actually worked really well on the climbs and the faster sections. Racing is racing, no matter where you are in the overall scheme of things and the sun was coming out. I tried to enjoy it.

    About halfway through the race, Paul called out to me that the #1 bike had been made rideable again. Ace. I flew into the pits, sideways – I’d been doing a lot of things sideways, with the #2 bike often giving up grip with no notice – and got on with getting back into the top end of the race.

    I managed to get a few more places back and felt like I was settling in to the race quite well when one young lad I’d just caught back up put on a full on sprint round the final corner before the finish line. “That’s weird”, I thought, glancing at the lap number board still reading ‘1 to go’, “I wonder why he bothered to do tha…oh”. Directly underneath the ‘1 to go’ board, the chequered flag fluttered gently. “Ah bugger. Again”

    7th in the end. Could have been much worse though and, lets be honest, playing out on bikes in the park with good people is always worth it. Even more so when you’ve got a team of people willing to hang around in the pits performing surgery on a filthy bike for you, while you mince around pretending you’ve got it tough. Thanks guys 🙂

    (The mech’s a write off though, I’m allowed to be annoyed about that)

  • 08:59:09 pm on October 7, 2018 | 0 | # |

    I’ll not lie, after the 3 Peaks I felt drained. Not “aarg I can’t walk down stairs” drained like after a 24hr race, just empty. despite feeding and hydrating myself up I got the sniffles (not a cold, not even full blown man-flu, just some grotty sniffles) and felt a bit swamped with malaise. Figuring that riding through it might be the best way forward I didn’t cancel any training, just cut it slightly shorter during the week and did my best to pretend there wasn’t two races in a row coming up…

    …to my surprise and delight it seemed to work a bit and as the sun rose on Saturday I was quite looking forward to the next NWCCA race, up in Cumbria. I wasn’t as fresh as a daisy, but I wasn’t struggling to stand up straight or anything like that and the sniffles had reduced to a slight excessive snot production. Lets get on with it!

    The Westmorland Showground race course was really, really good. Enough “power” bits to suit me and enough climbs to give me even more of an advantage. The ground was pretty dry, it wasn’t stupidly cold, the sun was out and the bikes were working well. You’ve got to be happy with that!
    The race went quite well. As expected I felt like my (pitiful at best TBH) explosiveness out of the corners was a bit lacking, but the endurance was still there. A stupid crash (isn’t there always a stupid crash!) lost me a bit of time, but I finished in 4th with the knowledge that I’ve got it in me to move much further forward and greatly reduce the time gaps that opened up in future. With the start of some winter training (still ‘cross specific) coming up I’m pretty happy with how I’m going.

    It’s another Ellen pic

    Finish line crossed I almost immediately necked a bottle of recovery drink, horribly aware of what the next day’s race would feel like with even the slightest bit of fatigue in the legs…

    The Rake. My only hill climb of the season (“proper” hill climb season I mean, those fun summer hill climb races organised by the local clubs don’t count in the same way). One of the best to do, for two reasons: 1) It’s pretty short – if you want to win you’ll need to be lying on the floor at the top just two and a half minutes after setting off and 2) The crowds.
    Most hill climbs are spectated by that one old bloke who seems to be halfway up every course and one confused looking sheep. That’s it. A nasty, steep road, some cold weather – probably with a chilly and blustery headwind that’s whipped it’s way across the desolate moor you’re climbing up onto – and nothing else except a bloke with a chequered flag who never seems to get closer, no matter how hyperventilate-y you get. Not The Rake though. It’s different.
    There’s shouts of support right from the start line, your named gets repeated in an encouraging way as you make your way along the ‘intermediate’ section and then, as you turn right onto Rawsons Rake itself it all kicks off. Properly.

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    A loud PA system blares out Northern commentary to what can only be described as a wall of screaming faces. When it’s empty the Rake is quit a wide road, considering how steep it is and what a back road it is, but as you hit it’s increasingly uncompromising slopes it’s narrowed by an almost ridiculous throng of spectators, none of whom are there to politely nod approval at you. It’s rare for anyone, no matter how “back of the pack” they are, to get off. You’re not allowed. The crowds don’t let you. Seemingly fed by the information about you firing out of the PA system, if you look like you’re stuttering in your effort the chants get louder, more demanding, more in unison. “up. up. up. Up. Up. UP. UP. UP. UP. GO. GO. GO.”
    Stopping feels like it would be more dangerous and painful than turning those cranks round one more time, so you do. And do again. And again until you emerge from the semi-darkness of the tree covered section onto the one flat section nicely framed by the finish line. It is ace.
    Of course, the one thing you don’t want, is to have fatigue in your legs from the first power-away turn of the pedals off the start. If there’s a hollow ache in your thighs after a couple of seconds you’re going to be immersed in misery for what might as well be an eternity. And the crowds will still be there, round the corner, on the Rake, waiting for you…

    Despite the post-cross-race recovery drink, I knew I was in for the eternity thing as soon as I parked the van on Budge’s driveway. A walk up the course confirmed to me that somehow it had got steeper since the last time I’d gone up it and, at the same time, my legs had turned into a mixture of jelly and lead in all the wrong proportions. Bugger.
    My turbo trainer warm up made little difference and necking a caffeine shot half an hour before the race, rather than giving me a mental boost, just woke me up to the discomfort even more (thankfully Budge very kindly let me use his loo as well, so at least the nervous pre-race wee wasn’t an issue today!). Bugger.
    One final on-the-start-line tighten of my shoes to ensure I got every last feeble watt out of my legs into the pedals and “ping!” the buckle holding the velcro strap on my shoes snaps. Bugger. I’ll be racing with one loose shoe then.
    Considering all of that, it kind of went well. My slowest ever time in the event, but somehow I was able to take in the atmosphere as I rode up more than in previous years. Riding through that tunnel of noise is utterly brilliant and I heartily recommend it to anyone who likes riding bikes. Plus it only lasts for a few minutes then you can have a lie down in the middle of the road without anyone thinking less of you…

    It’s another Ellen pic

    I don’t think the 3 minutes of work took much out of my legs so, with any luck, I should be back into some sort of form for next week’s race at Heaton Park. I hope so, as it’s usually a good course for laying down some power and hurt. 🙂

  • 02:43:15 pm on October 2, 2018 | 0 | # |

    From my vantage point riding up and down the damp main road above the scene, heavy, leaden skies combine with the silent quarry walls to backdrop a line of cars tucked tight against the side of the small back road from the Helwith Bridge Inn, seemingly leaching the otherwise vibrant splash of colour from huddled riders trying to shelter from their imposing surroundings.
    Away from the hustle and bustle of yawn-interrupted, often harshly Northern sounding greetings, as the riders fidget their preparations there’s an almost silent foreboding to the atmosphere. I lift my head away from their movements towards the race route to see the three giants stand tall, towering over the quarry, over the melee, over the best plans being laid out below. This race, this event, is A Big Ask. Maybe too big. I’ve not trained for this like I have in any of my previous attempts. Less running, an almost baby-skin soft shoulder, I’m no hardened warrior, battle ready and raring to go. I bow my head and choose to focus on watching the heart rate readout on my computer. In the absence of an abundance of training I’ll have to make a race strategy based on knowledge rather than just strength enough to fight the mountains.

    The race begins with it’s “neutralised” start. I’m buried deep in the charge, which feels as safe and as neutral as a war zone. There’s little sign of a ceasefire between the riders as a mixture of adrenaline and a lack of experience of riding in tight pelotons makes for an uncomfortably tense first few minutes. I move my way towards the front of the swarm as it flows through the sleepy Sunday villages in the hope of finding a more ‘civil’ space to begin my assault. The hopeful roar of cyclocross tyres on wet tarmac is silenced almost instantly as we hit the first of the off road sections, riding across tussocky fields towards the vista-stealing flank of Simon Fell. A baked dry summer helps make for quick progress across the flat and before I know it, I’m flinging the bike onto my arm like a downed comrade being carried from the battlefield. As the hillside steepens in response to my advance, the well worn footholes appear in the earth that are simultaneously several steps ahead and immediately in front of my face. “Good god this thing is steep”, I remember as my progress slows to the classic 3 Peaks death march, “I wonder if I’ve used these particular footprints before…”.

    3PCX 2018-226.jpg

    Around me, calf muscles and lungs begin to pop like bombs going off as Simon Fell really kicks in and fights back. As riders seem to succumb to their own onslaught, I duck out of the procession and make my way back towards what I deem to be safety. Like an old friend, the wire fence to the side of the route up the slope, curved and bent by years of hauling hands pulling at it, waits quietly for me. While others try for the fast, direct method, I award myself some assistance and re-assume a position I’ve adopted several times before at this point; one hand pulling on the fence, one holding the bike in position on my shoulder with my feet jabbing into the well established grooves that tell the tale of decades of past races. It’s not as fast, but the technique gets me over the top and onto the high plains before the summit with more energy saved in reserve. Knowledge over brute strength. It’s working so far.

    I “dib in” at the top, with two things prevalent in my mind; the views across the countryside below are in attendance, a rare treat that shouldn’t be ignored and it seems quieter than in the other editions of the race I’ve taken part in. After the briefest of glances across towards the softer fells of Bowland I realise the emptiness around me is due to me being further forward in the race than normal. I’ve knocked a couple of minutes off my PB to the top and it’s paying dividends.
    Complacency and over eagerness aren’t allowed to take hold on the descent towards Cold Cotes. I’ve done well to get to the top quicker than normal, but this is no time for a flat out charge down the hill. My lack of “away from the cyclocross race field” riding means I don’t have as much skill as many of those around me. I don’t chase them or try to keep up as rider after rider sails past me. I keep myself upright, fighting fit. I know how much more there is to come and how ominous the view becomes as you realise you’ve still got two mountains to overcome. I rejoin the road at Cold Cotes with the leaden skies that enveloped the start still surrounding me.

    Energy gels and electrolyte drink are poured down my throat on the tarmac descent to Ingleton. Whernside is coming and I’ve cramped up on that climb before now. Not today. Those memories and that knowledge leave me forewarned and forearmed.
    Before that, the long linking road between the mountains gives me an opportunity. when the risks are low, sometimes a good offence is the best defence. With little chance of crashing, and safe in the knowledge those gels will soon be kicking in, I put the hammer down and set about getting back some of the places I gave away on the descent. tucked in and as aero as I can get on the ‘cross bike I chase down rider after rider. Occasionally someone will tag onto my back wheel, but it’s gratifying to see that no-one hangs on for the whole road section.
    I’m still taking back places as I hit the lower slopes of the tallest of the Peaks, with a determination as grim as the still-heavy clouds framing the scene. I dislike the descent off Whernside so want to get as much ‘in hand’ on the climb. The stone steps on the steeper pitches of the ascent differ in feel under my feet from the soft grass and dirt of Ingleborough. Harsh clunking of cycling shoes on the unyielding, uneven staircase echoes in front and behind me as I try to keep moving up through the field. It’s little more than the cycling equivalent of all out waras a group of us reach the gentler slopes along the backbone of the mountain, towards the top.

    Pic by Joolze Dymond – click her name for more brilliant shots of the race

    Over the top, my lack of preparation comes into view as fully as the sprawling Ribblehead viaduct far below. I have no idea where the rideable lines are. Once again, racer after racer is flying past me as I stumble my way along the weather beaten slabs. It’s not until we’re about halfway down the hillside that I realise I can’t win the battle by continually surrendering. Bike flung over a stile I resolutely remount and get pedalling. Forceful pedal strokes to remind myself that I can ride just as well as those around me. Skipping the bikes over rocks, floating over waterbars and dancing down the drops. A glance at the ride time on my computer shows me I’m further ahead of my previous best time. This is war, this is fun!

    I nearly miss Angela, waiting patiently for me at Ribblehead with a spare waterbottle and another gel. She shouts and waves as loudly and as vibrantly as she can, buried within the trailside throngs of supporters and spectators, but I don’t spot her until the last minute and grumble inaccuracies about her attempts to attract my attention. Half the crowd leap to her defence and I slink off, chastised for my surly attitude.

    More gel and electrolyte consumed on the 2nd tarmac link section of the day I revert to my earlier tactic and drop the hammer towards Horton in Ribblesdale. I catch up to a group of five riders and we work together quite well right up to the sharp left turn towards Pen y Ghent.
    I’m becoming increasingly aware I could sneak home in under three and a half hours – an ‘elite’ finishing time. Comfortably fuelled I decide to put everything into the ascent. Pen y Ghent is the most rideable of the three mountains, offering me a bit of an advantage which I take with full gusto. I chase down rider after rider, continually spurred on over the rocky bridleway by the lack of any leaders hurtling past me on their way back down the course. I’ve never got this far up the climb without the eventual winner and his pursuant racers going by.
    I jog where I’m forced to dismount by the slope, always looking for an opportunity to get riding again as soon as possible. The trail s still littered with the shellshocked, the injured and the just-plain-blown-up, even this far ‘up’ the race rankings. I keep taking places as I race – truly race, not just ‘make my way’ – towards the final summit.
    The descent is treated as a final salvo. Gravel machine gunning from under my tyres as I skip off waterbars I recognise from years gone by and drift round the loose surfaced corners I feel like I know quite well. Knowledge and brute strength combined. I’m still by no means the fastest rider heading back towards the road, but I find myself spinning my biggest gear while skimming over the rocks and rubble. The bike is left to play about underneath me like the battle weary war horse it is.
    I only loose one place and it’s by so little that I spend the final couple of road based miles chasing like a madman to get it back. I fail, finally ‘dibbing’ in at the finish line just a second or so behind my newfound nemesis, but it doesn’t seem to matter. I’m officially decorated as an ‘elite’.
    It could be argued I was truly part of the ‘race’ this year, rather than a ‘taker part’. OK so I wasn’t in any danger of getting near the podium but for the first time, if nothing else, I had a walk on part in the war.

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    Elite! Finally! #3pcx

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  • 04:43:10 pm on September 25, 2018 | 0 | # |

    Didn’t race the NWCCA round 3 race on Saturday, as rolling over a car bonnet left me less able to soak up the lumps and bumps than usual. Instead I took my turn marshalling (for which I get average league points, which is nice).
    It was quite good fun in itself, although it was quite a long day it mostly consisted of making sure the right age group races went the right way (no under 8s were sent off round the 1.5 mile adult course, so I class that as a success), repairing bits of course tape that got crashed through (gosh, it’s quite annoying when it’s not me riding through it!) and generally telling people in the pits off (no-one needed telling off, but the power went to my head a bit…).
    I got to watch Ben Turner ride away from the Seniors with the sort of imperiousness you’d expect from someone who gets to spend time in the presence of MvDP. I’d have beaten him, if I’d been racing, obviously. but I wasn’t, so I’ll let him take the win in my absence.
    It was also nice to leave a race without 10hrs of cleaning to do…though I need to get back racing again ASAP!

    Ben Turner racing to the win. With me critiquing his technique in the background.

    I’d had enough of not racing my the Sunday so, still with a bruised shoulder, I did the NLTTA Clubs 25 with the other Horwich lads. It was bloody freezing. Dry though, with not much wind, so I’m not too sulky about the weather. My performance was pretty rubbish – an average heart rate nearly 20bpm down on where it should have been and an inability to get comfy on the aero bars due to a big scab on my forearm meant I was way off my best (about 2 mins down on my PB in the end), but I snuck in under the hour with a 59.01 and Horwich got 2nd in the club competition, so it’s not all bad.

    3 Peaks this weekend. After missing it last year I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve not done any real “shouldering the bike up steep slopes” practice. Or running. Or long rides for ages. But it will still be ace, it always is. 🙂

  • 08:41:10 pm on September 16, 2018 | 0 | # |

    After last week’s fall-off-a-thon and general failure to race, this week’s round was to be different. I had a word with myself pre-race to remind me that a) I was there to have fun not a strop and b) shut up and race you muppet!
    Off the line it seemed to work and I remembered to embrace the sprint-based suffering. Didn’t loose to many places in the first half lap and even let people get alongside me/in front if it meant I could hit my lines (and it did, and I did, and it worked as I’d sail back past them with less effort, huzzah!). In fact it was all going swimmingly until I rode wide, up against the course tape (perfectly acceptable in itself; leaning on the tape is inside the tape, which is on the course thankyouverymuch), which had ‘drooped’a bit and got snagged on my foot, then snapped, then quickly and tightly wrapped itself round my rear mech and utterly clogged up my cassette. Gah! I could just about soft pedal with it slipping, so had a snap decision to make: get off and try to clear it out at the side of the course or soft pedal/run back to the pits and swap bikes.

    I chose the latter, having to run up the climbs and watch rider after rider stream past as I gently nursed the clogged up drivechain back to the pits. Annoying, but remember, I’m here for fun, so onto the spare bike and get back into it.

    It only took Angela and Martin one lap to de-tape the faster bike (it’s not faster really, it’s all psychological, but never mind that…), so I swapped back to that and carried on chasing people down until I ran out of laps. Great fun. Left me feeling pretty happy with how my fitness is going and determined to push on with training. Onwards and upwards 🙂

    Pic by Luke Davies

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