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  • 11:07:06 am on December 3, 2018 | Comments Off on aaarg! | # |

    I love Peel Park cyclocross races. It’s such a good venue, with enough elevation difference to allow organisers some ‘proper’ descents, some really tough run ups, plenty of cambers of test skill and tyre pressure and enough natural obstacles and open spaces to create a flowing, wide and still exciting route. Somehow it’s been combined with confusingly slippery mud to result in one of the best tests for the aspiring ‘crosser. It even looks good when you park up and watch the early races take place.

    Peel Park doesn’t like me though. Somehow I always end up doing badly there. It’s not easy for anyone – that super slippery mud somehow manages to wreck bikes and wear out pit crews & washing kit as fast as it does rear mechs (and at this point I’m going to point out how utterly heroic everyone from the Horwich pit crew were, once again. Teamwork counts for A LOT when the conditions are hard and Paul, Dave and Liz were well up for the challenge. Brilliant stuff!). Crashes are commonplace even at the pointy end of the races and all that climbing through ankle deep, will-sucking slop will test your fitness regime to the max. No-one finds it easy and TBH I’m fine with that. It’s as hard as it’s meant to be in my eyes. Somehow though, something extra seems to go wrong each time I pin a number on there.

    During the National championships there a couple of years ago my pedals jammed, leaving me struggling to unclip – something you do a LOT of at Peel Park, whether it be for the run ups or just to hang a steadying leg out on the slippery sections. I threw away place after place stuck at the side of the course trying to wrestle my foot out of the pedal. The National Trophy round there a year later went a similar way, with gear issues losing me any chance of a decent race.

    This time round I expected any performance problems to stem from a lack of sleep the night before (Happy Birthday Jacqui, BTW! Great party! πŸ™‚ ), however despite making sure both bikes were in full working order I was hampered to the extreme by my shoes giving up on me on the first lap.
    I’d fitted new pedals and, although I remembered (on the start line…) to slacken the release tension on them, within seconds of the starting whistle I could tell something was very wrong. I’d been given a front row start (ace) and even managed to get clipped in straight away (hurrah!), so should have been able to hold a decent place during the start sprint, but something was twisting around on my foot. Was the pedal loose in the crank?! Nope. Was the cleat loose in the shoe?! Didn’t seem to be. So what TF is it?! I found myself wondering as I went backwards through the pack.

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    #nwcca pom pom action

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    I discovered after the first off-the-bike- section. The entire sole of the shoe had come apart! Bits of the tread were sticking out and hanging off all over the place, to the extent that they were getting caught up in the chain and pushing it off the chainring every few pedal strokes. Off the bike, I was essentially trying to run through the mud on a super slick soled road shoe (the tread just dangling about uselessly off to the side). Race, pretty much, over.

    Rather than DNF I just walked/jogged/did anything I could to get round as the shoe fell apart more and more. Despite the races taking place in winter it’s very rare that you ever get cold while taking part, such is the usual intensity, but this time I did. Trotting about the place with one legs sliding out randomly wasn’t hard enough to keep me warm (and the wafts of hot vimto from the NWCCA Pom Pom Team were hellishly tempting). I finished many, many laps down, feeling pretty dejected. Not sulky, because of course sulking about bicycle racing in the park would be pretty pathetic, but a tad miserable.

    One day I’ll have a good race there. In fact a good race anywhere would be nice about now! πŸ™‚

  • 11:33:29 am on November 26, 2018 | Comments Off on Rebel without a clue | # |

    Another round of the National Trophy last weekend, over in York. A great venue for racing and, during previous races I’ve done there, a good course. I was looking forward to it.

    I headed over on Saturday to have a look at what was in store and to cheer on the NWCCA riders in the vets races. The ground seemed greasy but firm, with the off cambers still totally rideable with a bit of finesse. A few practice laps after the racing had finished confirmed that I’d be better swapping to gripper but slower rolling tyres ( I was doing a lot of ‘sideways steering’ which, while fun, wasn’t exactly fast).

    The drive over on Sunday was done in heavy rain. I knew what that would mean for the course. Those greasy but firm cambers would be muddy, ruined grovels by the time I got to race on them. The already sloppy, running section at the ‘back’ of the course would be like something from a Somme based war movie. Bugger.

    I didn’t bother doing any pre race riding on the course. I knew it would just knacker the bike, get me covered in mud and just make me grumpy! Instead I wandered back to the van, past a Belgian lad warming up, in his own gazebo, with is name all over it, stuck up next to his huge van with a picture of him on the back of it, proudly smiling away in his team kit, surrounded by sponsors logos.You don’t really get that at the NW races. It was slightly off putting.
    Anyway, I sat i the back of the van screwing in the longest toe studs I had to the race shoes, pinning the unlucky race number “13” I’d been given onto my jersey upside down – as is the unwritten (until just then) rule to avoid bad luck – while reminding myself I was lucky enough to have Dave and Paul already stood in the pits with my spare bike, ready to spend hours getting cold, wet and muddy just so I could race.

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    Yeah. Where are my toe studs ..

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    The race itself went, well, awfully. I had no appetite to ‘get stuck in’ during the start sprint. I didn’t trust the off road tyres on the tarmac (covered in a fine sheen of mud) while riders around me were flailing from side to side. I must have been very near the back by the first bottleneck and could see the leaders already the best part 30 seconds up. I know you should always keep optimistic while racing, but I already knew I’d be getting pulled out early. A few mistakes here and there on the rest of the first and 2nd laps meant the gaps to the fast lads just opened up massively. I was wasting time fighting my way through the tail end and not making overtaking moves stick because I was angry with how badly it was going.

    York cx1
    Pic by Liz “cheering through the mud” Grimley

    Although I eventually settled in a bit – and even started to enjoy it (thanks to everyone cheering me on, it definitely stopped the mid race sulking!) – I did end up getting removed from the race before the end. I missed the cut by just a few seconds, which was even more galling given how badly I’d ridden. If I’d just got my lines learned a bit, ridden a bit more assertively (I’m not the greatest skills wise, but I’m far better than I was showing o the technical sections), maybe I could have carried on regaining places at the end of the race.
    As it was I finished in a lowly 35th. A bit dejected. I decided to blame my race number, which was still visible through the mud and nearly got me in trouble with a commissaire who said he couldn’t read it and that I shouldn’t have had it on upside down. I was in no mood to make my “it’s the right way up every time I crash” joke, so I just stomped off to apologise to Dave and Paul for sort of wasting their afternoon.

    Pic by Sarah “cheerleader” Grimshaw

    I think the next National Trophy I’ll be doing is the Shrewsbury round (the others are way too far to travel!), hopefully I’ll get back further up the field again there!

    MASSIVE thankyou to Dave and Paul for pitting for me – a bike change every lap was needed and they kept me rolling on shiny clean machines, with slick bike changes and encouragement at every handover. I’m pretty sure the bikes went home cleaner than they arrived. Awesome, awesome stuff. πŸ™‚

  • 11:30:24 am on November 19, 2018 | Comments Off on Deaf in one ear | # |

    I didn’t win this weekend’s race.

    I’ll just let that one sink in as it’s no doubt come as a bit of a shock.

    OK. Now we’re settled, this weekend’s race was a return to the seaside – Ulverston this time – for another NWCCA round. Once again, as at the National Trophy at Irvine beach park, the sun shone brightly and the scenery was worth taking a couple of minutes to appreciate. I even let Angela leave the pits for a second or two to see the seaside πŸ˜€

    The course was pretty dry and, I decided after watching the Vets and women fly round, damned fast. A few cheeky ‘power’ climbs with loose surfaces a corner-y section followed by a flat out flat bit round some rugby pitches. Good fun. You even got to have a look across the estuary at the start of each lap (briefly) to remind yourself that you were having fun on bikes at the seaside.

    I’m on there somewhere, getting the classic awful start. Pic By Paul O’Halloran

    I got my usual awful start, concentrating far too much on getting clipped in cleanly and getting swamped by faster starters. I fought back through the pack, having a bit of a battle with Rob from Macclesfield Wheelers, before briefly getting back up to Giles and Tom from Wheelbase, who were busy racing each other. Annoyingly/typically, I made a few mistakes which let a gap reopen to them, so I eventually crossed the finish line nearly 20 seconds back from them, in 5th place. Drat.

    Thing is, though, it kind of felt like I was in the lead, simply because of the support I was getting from all the way round the 1.3 mile course. I was getting so many cheers / shouts of encouragement / feedback on how I was doing / mild sarcasm / professions of love (not from Angela, I noticed…) I started to feel a bit guilty that I wasn’t streaking away from the rest of the racers like some sort of international superstar. I know it’s fun to cheer people on – half the fun of race day is watching the other races and hurling encouragement / mild abuse from the pits/sides of the course (in fact it’s well worth going to a race even if you’re not taking part in the ‘riding a bike’ part of the day, just to cheer people up by shouting at them!), but it made such a difference to me, I ended up grinning from ear to ear by the final lap. Ace. Thank you.

    Another National Trophy next weekend (provided my poorly van is fixed in time…). Not at the beach, which will feel odd!

  • 11:31:27 am on November 5, 2018 | Comments Off on Beggars can’t be choosers | # |

    I try to like Beacon Park. I really do. I’ve had some great fun races there – from thrashing my legs off in the Midweek Madness MTB races that have taken place during the summer on my singlespeed to supermodder CX races that got me my 1st ever podium finish in the NWCCA league a few years back – but there’s always something about it that puts me off.
    Last year’s race there very nearly saw me give up bike racing for good. In fact it very nearly saw me giving up leaving the house for good, so utterly horrible was the weather. It was less a race and more a collection of people giving themselves hypothermia while simultaneously writing off their bikes and murdering their pit crews in a sleety, snowy Armageddon. Not fun. No fault of the organisers, of course, in fact it was miraculous that they managed to hold a race there at all, let alone one where you could still ride a bike, despite everything being shin deep mud. With a move to November, rather than January, I had hopes that no-one would freeze to death this time round.

    As per usual my sat nav managed to find a new way of getting me to the race site – I have never arrived there having followed the same route twice. I have no idea why each and every time seems to require me travelling along new and hitherto untested roads (if I’m being honest, despite the park being about 15 miles from my house, I had no idea where it actually is!), but by the time I get to the (full) car park each time I’m slightly panicked that I’m going to the wrong place! Maybe it’s a cursed land or something, in a parallel dimension…

    When I finally found a spot to wedge the van, in the 3rd car park I tried (the downside of CX being so popular, I suppose) a glance at the clothing being worn by other racers suggested that the previous year’s snowmaggeddon might not be in attendance. In fact bare legs were on show. Maybe this year would be alright!
    Parked up and kit dragged through what feels like about 50 acres of woodland (think “Blair Witch” with more lycra) I set off on the #2 bike for a look at the completely redesigned course. After getting lost with Ben a couple of times in the sea of course tape and dead ends as the kids races, with their own courses, cut across the adult race route I managed to figure out where we would be going. It looked like it could be good fun. Long, power straights, short, sharp climbs and a few slippery corners. A bit of everything. Nice.
    To get myself settled I decided to do a couple more laps. Which turned out to be a mistake.

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    Suboptimal warm up lap ??

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    An innocuous gear shift caused the mech to abandon ship, leaving me with a long walk back to the pits from the far side of the course and just one bike for the race. Back to believing in the Curse Of Beacon Park!

    Or so I thought.

    Within minutes of getting back to the pits, I’d been offered the use of SO MANY other bikes, from riders in the V40 and v50 categories that, in complete contradiction to the well known phrase, this beggar had his pick of the crop!
    I was a bit taken aback by the generosity on offer (why everyone seemed so willing to lend me a bike when I was quite obviously so clumsy I don’t know!), but utterly chuffed to be part of a scene where everyone’s so quick to help other riders out. Cross is boss.

    The race itself went both badly and quite well all at the same time. For some unknown reason I set off in the small chainring, leaving me spinning wildly within seconds of the starting whistle, being overtaken by pretty much everyone. D’oh. A few ‘brave’ manoeuvres on the first lap saw me start to work my way up through the field (apologies to Joe Peatfield, who I cut up horribly…) and over the following few laps I clawed my way from about 25th up to 5th.

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    @twinklydave giving it some

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    A high speed (but surprisingly comfortable!) crash/slide out on a descent saw me drop back a place or two, and some very scrappy riding while I was all worked up by it meant I didn’t start making up places again for another lap. Another crash towards the end of the race, as I caught up to Martin, meant I eventually crossed the line in 3rd place. Another “what could have been” sort of result because of the poor start and crashes, all of which were entirely my own fault, but a better finishing place than might have been. I’ll stay positive and be chuffed with a podium. πŸ™‚

    Thanks, as always, to Ellen for the pictures. A coffee must be due as payment by now!

    Thankfully it was a ‘one bike’ race, so I didn’t have to pull into the pits and do a “eeny – meeny – miny – mo” style bike choice from all the ones on offer (again; thanks to everyone, you are all awesome) and I have enough spare parts ‘in stock’ to repair the damage, so I’m declaring the Curse of Beacon Park over πŸ™‚

  • 10:39:09 am on October 31, 2018 | Comments Off on Sand in my crack | # |

    A non-NW-League race last weekend, with a mini roadtrip to go with it. Back up to Scotland (after holidaying there over the summer and then returning to cheer Angela on while she swam in one of the lochs) and back in to the glorious, wall to wall sunshine. I’m starting to think the whole “bad weather” thing the Scots go on about is all just a ruse to keep everyone else away.

    Anyway. The sun may have been out in force, but it wasn’t doing well at warming anything up, with temperatures in the van each morning when I woke up hovering at around the 1 degree above freezing mark. Luckily we had the fan heater with us to make things a bit more pleasant (and there’s a certain joy in being able to stay under the duvet while making a morning brew…). Despite the chill, a Saturday trip to the race course left me in no doubt that the racing was going to be HOT!
    I got a few practice laps in. in between the Saturday races, finding a course that was super grippy, super fast all the way round and highly entertaining. I imagine, if it had been really wet, all the off camber sections would have been scarily technical and slow, but as it was you could just reposition your weight a bit and fly round them. Awesome! There were a few short “power” climbs, with a few nice, sharp corners to break up the flow a bit (almost matching last weekend’s NW league race course, which was handy!) and even a couple of trips through some sand traps that could catch you out if you dropped off the power at the wrong moment. I really couldn’t wait to race on it!

    Sunday dawned bright and sunny again. Conditions still perfect for riding bikes at the beach. Moods and spirits high, I got to the race site nice and early, had a ‘proper’ coffee from a nice little local shop just down the road and did some cheering as the other categories had their go in between the course tape.

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    Bring the noise

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    I felt like I barely needed a warm up, so glorious was the weather by the afternoon, but I made sure I got the legs thoroughly loosened up. After my last shameful exit from a National Trophy race – being removed from the course before the end of the race due to dropping too far back from the leaders – I was determined to do better this time round.
    I knew I had the endurance, but in these races, you can’t work on the assumption that you’ll work your way back towards the front in the 2nd half of the race. As happened to me, if you let the front end get too far ahead, you’re just kicked off the course. I warmed up and kept the legs spinning right up until I was gridded (3 rows back, not as bad as I expected!) for the start.

    From the gun I tried to not loose too many places. I slipped a pedal a bit so didn’t get to make up any places on the initial charge down the wide, straight starting loop and got caught up behind the “always going to happen” crash in the sand trap, but I tried to stay positive and keep attacking whenever I could.
    Groups started to form as people began to find their rhythm, but rather than settle into any of them I kept attacking off the front of each one, working my way up through the field early on in the race to maximise my chances of getting to finish without being ‘pulled’. The tactic seemed to be working. Working well. I found myself making up place after place, catching riders and dropping them as I flung myself round the course with a massive grin on my face. This was bloody ace!
    The ‘crowds’ through the sand traps were encouraging, half the course seemed to be surrounded by NW based spectators shouting at me to keep pushing on and the power-based nature of the course was playing into my hands (legs).

    Pic by Phil “shouting loudly” Simcock

    A couple of silly mistakes while I was out on my own, in between groups, saw my through-the-ranks progress halted and the last couple of laps were spent in a pack of 4 riders (fair play to the lad in our group bunny hopping the barriers like they weren’t even there…), but my this point one thing was clear – I wasn’t going to get kicked off the course before the end. Job done. Job very done, in fact, as I finally crossed the line in 19th (or 14th Elite, if you ignore the scary fast under 23 riders…which you shouldn’t really, as anyone on the course at the same time as you is in the same race in reality). Pretty chuffed with that. Mildly annoyed that I threw away a few places making those mistakes and letting the group get back up to me, but content that I’d made a good show of myself.

    Pic by “also shouting loudly” Liz Grimley

    Might do a couple more of the National Trophy races, if they’re all going to be as good as that πŸ™‚

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