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

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  • 05:11:33 pm on February 4, 2019 | 0 | # |

    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 | 0 | # |

    …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!

     
  • 10:44:47 pm on January 6, 2019 | Comments Off on Three Course Meals | # |

    I thought I’d got away with it a bit at Macclesfield last week. Despite being in the middle of the Xmas / New Year period and all it’s calorific trappings, I didn’t feel too sluggish. same notch on the belt buckle and a decent spring in my step. All the extras caught up with me today though.
    The Waddow Hall course was delightfully not flat. 1600ft of climbing in just over 8 miles allows for nothing but either going up or thundering back down again. Ace. And, usually, my forte. I like a good climb, me. Lungs popping, jaw slung low as you fight gravity and traction while bouncing off your own internal rev limiter. Torque over horsepower. you get the picture. Problem was today I would be tackling the course and racing everyone with quite a few mince pies tucked safely away round my midriff. 2nd helpings and days spent eating rather than training are not conducive to skipping up hills.
    Never mind. I decided to class today’s race as an abrupt end to the gluttony and set about pushing myself on a route that appeared to be an awful lot of fun.
    I got a half decent start, right up to the point where half a bird’s nest leapt up into my rear mech. Although it didn’t jam the gears up I knew I’d have to dive into the pits on the first, frenetic lap rather than concentrate on staying up with Isaac as he opened up a bit of a lead on everyone else. Drat and bother. Down to fifth and some gaps to close then.
    Where I’d normally make up a decent chunk of time, on the long dragging grass climb that broke a lot of hearts (and lungs) during the day, I had to suffer like a dog to make up any time at all. Not that anyone found it easy, of course! So I put as much effort onto letting the bike fly on the descents to close the gaps in front. It may have looked a bit “all over the place” but I had great fun doing my best “foot out / flat out” impression.

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    I managed to work my way back up into 3rd, behind Martin, with 4 laps to go and what followed was some of the closest racing I’ve done in a long time. Over the new few laps we swapped places countless times – neither ever far back from the other and neither at all aware we were closing the gap to Matt in the lead, so engrossed were we in our own private battle.
    The final result came down to one moment, on the one flat section of the course – an innocuous looking, slow speed hairpin bend just past the pits. Whoever was in front out of this corner held all the cards really; the following descent was too narrow to risk an overtake, and after one last corner the final drop down to the line was simply too fast to get alongside and past. Despite being a good minute or two from the line, those in the pits would be able to see the end of the race, barring disaster.
    Into the hairpin I was just in front. I picked a tight line, working on the assumption that a slip would push me wide ‘closing the door’ on any attempt by Martin to ride round the outside of me. My front tyre washed out, as I thought it might, but somehow my foot popped out of the pedal as I fought the bike back into shape. A moment of not being able to put the power down was all Martin needed to lunge past as I flailed, clipping back in as quickly as possible and jumping on to his back wheel as quickly as I could. Daaaaaamn!

    3rd place it was. You can never be too grumpy about a result when you’ve been part of some really good racing, so I’m not grumpy at all. Hopefully the next two rounds will be just as entertaining! 🙂

     
  • 10:36:46 pm on December 30, 2018 | Comments Off on Waaa Hoooooo! | # |

    Macc Supercross is always a good event. The park is big enough for a wide, fast course and has enough elevation within it to make for some leg testing climbs and swoopy descents. Add in a good smattering of off camber sections and you’re onto a winner. The fact that it tends to be one of the final races before the National champs, so is often used by some of the top UK guys as a warm up just adds to the good course to make for a great event.

    In previous years I’ve had some bad luck while racing there – last year my drivechain jammed itself solid on the first lap, leaving me dead last by the time I managed to literally kick it back into working order – and I’ve never really done myself proud, results wise. This year I decided I was going to do well, simply by enjoying myself. No worrying about who was in front / behind me, or how it would affect the league placings, just ride in a way that made me smile (in between the gasps for breath, obviously.)

    I dropped the pressure in my tyres as low as I dared to give me a bit more grip on what turned out to be an amazingly slippery course. With a few (fast!) exceptions, each turn was a fantastic balancing act with speed and lean angle in constant question. Even during the pre race course exploration I was drifting around continually. Awesome fun.

    The race was, frankly, brilliant. Not the best start, combined with a super slow motion crash as Isaac slipped over in front of me, leaving me nowhere to go but over the top of him, gave the fast lads a lead they didn’t really need but I reminded myself that I was there to have fun, so just got on with wrestling the bike around the corners and sprinting the straights.
    A couple of bike changes, to make sure neither drivechain got too clogged – and to enjoy the different handling characteristics / feel of the tyres, if I’m being honest (I’m aware that this may sound quite sad, but I find it fascinating, so there) – was no sweat for the Horwich pit crew extraordinaire and helped me climb back through the field, with lap after lap of great close racing and finish just inside the top ten. Thank you all 🙂

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    Paul catches the Giant while Liz holds out the (freshly washed during the preceding lap) Merlin. A perfect mid race bike swap once again 🙂

    You know it’s been a good race when you cross the finish line wishing you could just keep going. More of that sort of thing please! 🙂

     
  • 11:12:13 pm on December 22, 2018 | 2 | # |

    Getting the water barrel trolley stuck in the mud while dragging them over to the pits before today’s race should have told me all I needed to know about the conditions awaiting me.
    Actually, no, coming within a whisker of getting the van stuck in the mud within seconds of turning off the main road onto the race site should have told me all I needed to know. This was not to be a fast, dusty race. The big chainring was to be of no use today. Socks were destined to be soggy.

    I still felt the need to pre ride the course and discovered, to my delight, that it was an absolute hoot to ride (those bits that were rideable, anyway). My ‘cross skillset needs lots of work and this race course had chance after chance to work on them. Slippy, slidey corners, run ups, drops and plenty of places to practice the sort of mid race decision making that can move you up the results sheet; is it faster to run / follow the line of those in front or ride that line over there / swap bikes or keep pushing on on the current bike etc. The best gift an aspiring ‘cross racer could get!

    Thanks to the slower nature of the conditions, I didn’t get a bad start at all. Certainly, as we passed the pits for the first time I was up amongst the fast starters, which I tried to ignore while getting on with concentrating on my lines, riding smoothly, staying clipped on and pedalling through the corners while always looking for alternative lines to keep the pace up. Oh and running properly too. Lots of that!

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    Somewhat unluckily, on that first lap I managed to bugger up a small stream crossing – catching an unseen rock under the slop that pitched me off to the side – and landed splat in the cold, grubby water. Hoping no-one caught the incident on camera I clambered up and set about getting back on terms with the riders that had gone through while I splashed about!
    The tortuous nature of the mud took it’s toll on both riders and bikes, with many having mechanical issues. While chasing Rob Rowson my chain jammed itself up between the chainring and the frame, luckily a hasty bit of back pedalling got it free before any damage was done to the rest of the drivechain, but I decided to ease back slightly to nurse the bike round and swap on the next pass of the pits.

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    Within a lap the 2nd bike was having similar issues, the gears slipping under power as some gravel caught in the rear cassette called for more gentle pedalling. Despite not being able to really hammer the pedals, as more and chainsuck threatened to rip the rear mech off, I was able to keep competitive – another bike swap gave me clear tyres that let me really play in the corners (as did properly low tyre pressures – tubs are ace!) and a final swap for the last half lap, which may sound a bit decadent but really was needed, saw me roll over the line in a “grinning because it was great fun but not beaming because it wasn’t a Christmas miracle result” 5th place. I’ll take that, especially if I can have as much fun as that every time! 🙂

    Stuck record time: THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN AND EVEN MORE THAN NORMAL to everyone in the pits for me – every time I wanted a clean bike I got one (this takes A LOT of work and makes everyone involved bloody awesome in my book). Thank you to everyone cheering me on round the course, at the risk of sounding like I’ve had too much mulled wine, winter’s got nothing on the warmth amongst the NW CX community, I love that we’re all in it together and know that making the atmosphere at these races is as important as riding and finally thank you to everyone putting these races on; the hard work is totally TOTALLY worth it.
    If any of you need a good word putting in with Santa this year, point him in my direction. 🙂

     
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