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

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  • 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:

    Owch.
    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.
    DSC_7324.jpg
    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!
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    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 :)

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    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 :)

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    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! :)

     
  • 08:29:27 pm on October 22, 2016 | Comments Off | # |

    ‘cross season continueth. Never easy, so far mostly dry and fast (in fact I think the SUMMER ‘cross in Whitehven has been the only wet one!). Winter is on it’s way though…you can tell.

    After the tough start to the North West ‘cross league at Houghton Tower we were treated to a mini build up to the 3 Peaks (possibly more fun if you were doing it than if you weren’t!) at Rossendale. Described as “old school”, the part quarry, part boggy/tussocky moorland offered up more tough climbs (OK so any climb is tough when you’re already on your limit, but the escape from the quarry past the pits genuinely was a leg breaker), some exciting “will my front wheel disappear up to the hub in this puddle” moments and a delightfully miserable “run up” that reminded your calf muscles of what was to come on Simon Fell a few days later.
    My race went OK. No real issues, a few shambolic crashes here and there cost me time but 5th seemed like a decent result. A last lap puncture lost me more time but didn’t affect my finishing position (big thanks to everyone in the pits who had everything ready!).

    And then all of a sudden it was the 3 Peaks again!
    Always a good excuse to pack up the campervan and enjoy a weekend away in the Dales, this year’s unofficial build up was a really nice Saturday stroll around the hills surrounding Settle. Caves were explored, hidden waterfalls found and a sneaky cake eaten on the 10 mile wander. Properly de-stressing stuff :)
    Race day was kicked off with some heavy rain hammering on the ‘van roof, making my question my sanity before I’d even got to the sign on tent. The all important pre race warm up was mostly spent hiding in the refreshment gazebo waiting for the deluge to stop, though I did manage to get myself nearer the front of the pack this time for the start, which made the “neutralised” ride over to Simon Fell feel slightly less hectic (still had to avoid two crashes though!).
    For some reason, Simon Fell just took ages to get going this time round. I remembered suddenly finding myself clambering up the steepest part in 2015, then almost instantly being at Rawnsley’s Leap, but on this occasion boggy field after boggy field just kept coming. The wire fence aided ‘hup’ just didn’t arrive for what felt like ages and even when it was finally over, there seemed to be twice as much singletrack to negotiate before the marshal assisted clamber over the stile. Weird.
    Anyway, by the time I’d dibbed in at the top I was sick of lugging the tonne of bike on my shoulder and my feet were sore from tripping over unforgiving rocks. So things seemed to be getting back to normal.
    As per normal I lost about a thousand places on the descent down to Cold Cotes. More interested in getting down the hills in one piece I didn’t try to chase anyone and got dangerously close to enjoying it. Certainly more than Phil, who had managed to snap his seatpost halfway along the trail, anyway (kudos for carrying on BTW!). The ground was wetter than last year, with more puddles to splash through on the way to the spectators throng at the bottom, all of which were great fun as long as you didn’t mind occasionally coming to a full stop with your wheels half buried in the hillside :)
    The road section over to Whernside came and went fairly quickly. A decent group built up and we all did some work on the front to pull us along at a fair lick. I may have got a bit melodramatic at one point when chatting to Will Beresford (on his debut appearance) about how horrible the stone staircase up the next mountain was. But by the tenth minute of stumbling round on the uneven slabs pressed into the stupidly steep slope, just as ice cold rain started thrashing down, I felt it was totally justified. At least Simon Fell is a bit softer (and has a helpful wire handrail)!
    As with Ingleborough, the descent was taken with consideration rather than bravery. I hunted out a few lines I’d not found in previous years and immediately failed to remember them for the future. Oh well, at least I know they exist now!
    The next road section to the base of Pen-y-Ghent felt pretty tough into the wind, but again I got in a group that worked well together and reached Horton-in-Ribblesdale with a smile on my face. Just one mountain to go…and this one’s mostly rideable on the way up!
    Feeling in decent shape I put some effort in on the climb, making up a few places and reaching the final checkpoint in a decent enough time.
    The final descent felt easy. Although I was still reigning myself in a bit, all the repairs done to the trail over the past few years had transformed it from a final, rocky, tricky brake-burner into something almost simple. A few waterbars to hop, the odd rock to weave around, but for the most part the only real issue was dodging the riders still making their way up.
    3 of us found ourselves dropping back down together and we hit the road to the finish line with me in front into the wind. I expected to be left out there by the other two (lets face it, if you’re racing in a group it’s the only sensible thing to do!) until they felt like attacking and that’s precisely what happened. The attack came, a gap opened up to them and it took too much out of me to get back onto their wheels to really contest the sprint for the line. Not that it seemed to matter too much, what with sprinting for 71st place :)

    With barely a week to recover it was back to the North West league, this time a Saturday/Sunday double header starting up in Cumbria for another great course. Not massively technical as such, but with some interesting “is it faster to run or ride” sections that seemed to change in character after each lap.
    I felt a bit down on power and got frustrated when my rear wheel pulled itself out of the dropouts (is there a more sickening sound than the teeth of a rear cassette getting mashed into the carbon fibre of the chainstay so hard you’re convinced the whole bike is about to snap?!) twice, costing me loads of time wrestling it back together while everyone raced off ahead of me. 8th place felt like a loss, even if there were a few extra ‘big hitters’ in attendance.
    Sunday’s race was the always-fun Horwich race at Leverhulme Park. To my delight I felt a bit better and, although definitely not at full speed, enjoyed the race. Even the run ups were ace. 6th place seemed acceptable enough under the circumstances.

    Horwich cx

    To keep myself used to racing, I used the next weekend’s break in the NW league to travel over to Yorkshire for one of their races. It’s clash with a round of the National series meant numbers were a bit down on normal, but that suited me fine, as I was more interested in how I rode rather than who I was racing. The course featured some seriously off camber sections that properly tested the gluing job I’d done on the tyres and, thanks to a mid race rain shower, a heap of super slippery grass corners – all of which were great fun to slide round in a ‘foot-out’ style :)
    4th place wasn’t amazing, given who wasn’t there (if you see what I mean) but everyone in front of me beat me fair and square so the only thing I could be grumpy about was the lack of cups at the coffee cart post-race!

    Manchester was the venue for the next NW round. Heaton Park has been kind to me in the past (my first ever top 10 a few years back, even after starting at the very back of the pack) and equally harsh (last year’s Northern Champs just felt awful), so I had no idea what to expect other than a very fast course, given how dry the ground was.
    This time round it gave me the closest race I’ve had in a long time; a loose cleat in my left shoe lead to me slipping a pedal off the start, fighting my way back up from about 15th place into the top ten before a hilarious (if you weren’t me!) full pelt “aaarg I can’t get my foot out” crash into the barriers. It cost me a bit of time on every lap as I fought to get unclipped from/clipped back into the pedals. However Martin Woffindin also had issues losing his chain on a few occasions, which left us both sprinting for the line side by side eventually crossing it so close together even the electronic timing down to a tenth of a second couldn’t split us!
    The commissaires awarded the 4th we were racing for to me (no idea how they could tell who got it!), which was pretty good.

    Heaton Park cx

     
  • 09:14:18 pm on September 12, 2016 | 1 | # |

    Well, the road race season (for me) is over. First year where I’ve really tried to get more out of them, rather than just turn up to the odd one. There’s been highs and lows (and a complete lack of wins, ahem), sadly it sort of fizzled out, rather than me going out with a bang at Clieves Hill (which isn’t really much of a hill, to my disappointment). A break got away and, rather than work together, the rest of the bunch just spent the race doing silly little 10 second ‘attack off the front, look round, sit up’ things. Didn’t seem to matter if you went with them, they’d sprint, look round, sit up. No taking turns, no concerted effort to get a second split/bring the break back, just ‘off the front, give up, come back’.
    Still at least they were doing somethng, I started to get pretty wound up with riders hiding at the back shouting out things like “we won’t get them back unless we work together” then not taking any turns.
    By the end of it I was just chasing as many of the silly leaps up the road, using them as practice for coming out of corners during ‘cross season.
    (Oh, I finished 17th, as if that matters).

    DSC_7124.jpg
    Pretending there was a descent. Pic by Ellen

    To get the new ‘cross bike bedded in I drove up to Whitehaven for a spot of “summer cross a few weeks later. The “summer” part presumably being a sarcastic addition to the title. Jeeeeeezus. It was THRASHING it down on the way up north and just got wetter as I got closer to the venue. For a while on arrival I just sat in the van, getting buffeted around by the gale force wind, watching wave after wave of summer storm utterly drench the ground.
    Sweet. Cyclocross weather!
    As it was (I thought) a low key, non-BC-ranking, far away from everyone else who races, sort of affair (and because I’m extraordinarily arrogant) I splashed my way round a few warm up laps imagining I had some sort of a chance of winning. That thought lasted right up until we lined up (or huddled together from the battering weather, more accurately) and I noticed one of those washing-powder-advert-white jerseys with the National Champion bands on it.
    Arse.
    It may have been the junior champ, rather than Liam, but lets be honest, that makes eff all difference. He was a speck in the distance within seconds of the start and just sped up from there. Out of sight, out of mind, in a different league.
    I squelched and splashed my way round in 2nd for a bit, before Niall Patterson whizzed past on one of the lumpy-tussocky sections on his mtb and quickly opened up a gap. I managed to find a rhythm, settled down and that’s how it stayed until the end.
    No bike changes needed as it was so wet the mud couldn’t stick and a good course with plenty of off cambers/tight corners/faster bits/steep run ups etc meant I got to work out what needed to be moved/swapped/fettled for the NW League and treated it to it’s first podium finish. Happy enough with that.

    Last bit of the Midweek Madness races I’ve raced a few of took place the day after, in totally different conditions at Beacon Park (home of my best cyclocross result to date). Another great course for the singlespeed meant I did pretty well, this time only being left for dead by 3 other riders to finish 4th with another grin on my face. You should do some of these races next year, they’re ace :)

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    Pic by Chris Meads (who did loads of pics for the whole series)

    And then
    All of a sudden
    It was cross season again!

    I’d missed the first round, at Hoghton Tower last year and suffered as a result of it. Not getting any points meant I wasn’t gridded at the front on the start line for subsiquent races and with a off-the-start-sprint as rubbish as mine that’s a big issue. It took months to get back on par and I didn’t really get onto the front line until Beacon Park, the last round, where I made the most of it and finished 2nd. This year was different. After a good hour or so of cheering on/heckling the vets & women from the pits (if you can’t have a laugh at these races, you’re missing out, big time!), my 5th overall in the league meant I got a place up with the fast lads on the front row.
    Deep breaths and a final gel squeezed down my neck. I wonder if I’ve got any better off the line…

    …actually, it didn’t go too badly. Up the first climb as the whistle blew I pretty much held my own. Certainly in the top ten for the first lap, aware of the elbow-rubbing, bar-clashing melee behind but far enough ahead to avoid it.

    The course was tough. Seemingly uphill all the way, dry enough to be flat out, twisty turny off cambery enough to be interesting all the way round, combined with the warm temperature it certainly took it’s toll on a few riders. I managed to work my way up to 4th, then the lad in 3rd knackered his wheel, moving me up to 3rd, then I somehow managed to pull my wheel out of the dropouts (tub stayed glued on though, so that’s good!) so had to dive into the pits for a bike change (quickly sorted by Paul – cheers!). That put me back to 4th.
    I held the gap at the same distance until the ‘best’ bike was ready to go again and, back aboard the Merlin, set about trying to get back up to the lad ahead. I got within a couple of seconds of him but ran out of laps before being able to really attack. Ah well. 4th it is.

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    Air time! Pic by Ellen

    Decent start to the season and the first ‘average heart rate well over 180bpm’ hour for a good few months. Nothing but enthusiasm for the next round here :)

     
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