Twinkly Dave – Mud splattered bicycle and pizza enthusiast Growing old disgracefully

May 14, 2013

Because I had to

Filed under: bikes,Racing,rubbish weather — dgpowell @ 12:31 pm

I love hills, me. Love a good long, steep incline. Love riding up them at full tilt, with any notion of ‘pacing’ myself being thrown out of the window as I begin to burn up a fireball of ascending glory (well, kind of…), tyres scrabbling for grip as I wrestle on the bars to fight against a front wheel that wants to loop out under the immense power and steepness (well, kind of…again), the sound of crumpling metal echoing behind me as other riders and their bikes implode under the strain of trying to keep up (well, kind of…).
When I head to a race, my mind is filled with hope of towering peaks seemingly lassoed with course tape, promising hours of upwards pointed battles at the very edge of what my legs and lugs can cope with, safe in the knowledge that, once up there, the course will have to point back down again, hopefully via a stream of tricky-enough-to-catch-you-out, swoopy, grin inducing singletrack and rewards-the-last-of-the-late-brakers point and shoot fast stuff.

It’s not that I don’t like flatland riding, the ‘explosion out of every tight corner’ and ‘preservation of momentum above all’ smooth-riding fest that it is, it’s just that I’d like it to appear shortly after the aforementioned monster climb and just before the also-just-mentioned superb descent. With maybe a bit more of it at the bottom too. It’s not my strong point. I can set a half decent time up a hill and, although not endowed with any spectacular talent, can hold my own back down the hills too (in a XC setting, I’d be up the proverbial creek without a paddle if I found myself in the timing hut of a DH race). Stick me on the flat with a race number on, though, and I’ll do a good impression of someone going backwards for you.
With this in mind, you can probably see how the words, uttered by me on the finish line on the UK & European 12hr championships last year, appeared to come back and haunt me. A full on, furniture flying around the room style, poltergeist of a haunting.

“Yeah I’ll defend the title next year.” I said, possibly buoyed by the liberal application of post-race- beer.

“Definitely.”

I’d just won. On a course in the Scottish borders with some cracking climbs. Climbs big enough to spot a competitor ahead of you in the distance and batter the gradient into submission until you’d caught them up, then take a few chances on the following swoopy descent to get away and begin the hunt for the next rider. Wafting a half empty beer bottle round like a sword while clutching the 1st place trophy like some sort of shield I made bold promises about how I’d do all I could to slay the opposition, with no real thought about what that might entail.
And why not, you might ask, if you’ve just won the title, you might as well indulge in a bit of bravado, it’s your right, really. It’s only fitting. So I did. In my mind the same weekend in May the next year was booked up with some sort of glorious title defense.

Mid way through the year rumours began to fly about a change of venue for this year’s race, causing a twinge of sadness as I’d always liked travelling up to Newcastleton. I’d liked how the whole village seemed to be involved in the race and, most of all, I’d liked the mixture of quality built, weatherproof 7 Stanes trail and cheeky woodland singletrack that made up the course. It suited me, with several climbs and corresponding descents breaking up the 45minute lap into a series of uphill attacks and downhill rewards. It rode well when you were on your own and it worked really well as a race course, offering glimpses of competitors ahead (or behind…) you elsewhere on the course as you worked your way round, helping you gauge you efforts and work out how you were doing on any one section. I’d miss it, but the idea of a new venue somewhere certainly didn’t fill me with dread, just anticipation.

When the new venue, Wasing Park was announced, I excitedly began rummaging around the internet for some information on what it would be like. A few videos from XC races held there started a sinking feeling, an ironic sinking feeling really, as at no point did anyone appear to be riding up anything…or down anything either. As my consternation grew, so did the discussion on various forums, “It’s as flat as a pancake”, “it’s just a field with some woods”, “it won’t be able to cope with the rain”, this last one felt like a sucker punch. After 2012’s races often being ruined by courses that simply couldn’t hold together under the Great British Weather, the move from hardpacked, weatherproof trailcentre to a possible boggy field changed my outlook on the whole race. I was still, without doubt, riding it, but in the space of a week or two I’d gone from almost giddy with excitement at the opportunity to feeling rather stoic.

I’d also hit a bit of a quandary.

My training (the word ‘training’ here being used in the loosest sense of the word, it’s more a disparate collection of stupidly long rides done because I enjoy them, that have the added bonus of getting me fit for long races) was based on getting good at riding up hills. Many of the events I had planned and had entered for the rest of the year were likely to feature many hills and, up until the new venue was announced, I’d assumed this race would too. By the time I’d pored over OS maps of the Wasing estate, searching fruitlessly for a contour line or two to cheer me up, I was well on my way to being a half decent climber at the expense of having any power on the flat. A Few panicked 6hr rides along the flatter roads out towards the coast revealed that I could still motor along reasonably well, but it was unlikely I’d be setting the world alight churning out massive power. I knew that if I knuckled down I could build up a bit more strength, but that it would come at the expense of the ability to take on repeated climbs. Did I want to try to specialise for this one race – a risky strategy at best, given the short amount of time left?

Fast forward a couple of weeks and there I was, wrestling with a tent next to the race track, in the middle of a flat field, with some woods off behind me. No hills in sight and other riders passing on their practice laps talking of a 30 minute course made up of a tight and twisty route with no climbs, no descents and no place to rest or recover. Just a constant barrage of explosions out of corners on a track so new no lines had bedded between the tape. There I was, wrestling a tent, comfortable in the knowledge that I’d done nothing to improve my ‘racing on the flat’ ability, but also comfortable with the knowledge that I would be going as fast as I could. Defending the title was happening, irrespective of ‘comfort zones’ ‘course suitability’ or anything like that. I had the sneaking suspicion it could be a fairly futile endeavour, but it was still happening and with it the pre-race bravado, faux-confidence smiles and relaxed appearing discussions came flowing back.

“Whatever happens, happens.” “ I’ll go fast and see where that gets me.”

The night before the race became several hours of listening to rain battering the tent, each droplet seemingly shouting “You’re running semi-slick tyres on the back of both bikes? Oohh, that’s a bit risky isn’t it? Ooohh, don’t know about that…” as it belted against the fabric, urged on by the accompanying strong wind. A mocking cacophony that didn’t abate until the next morning, when I nervously poked my head out of the tent, expecting to see ankle deep slop stretching across the horizon. To my near delight, the ground had held up quite well. Although now damp, most of the rain had been absorbed and the surface had remained nicely hard packed. I held high hopes for how the more sheltered parts of the course in the woods would still be riding. Perhaps my tyre choice would pay off with the right mix of fast rolling and low pressure to swallow the constant lurching kicked up by the ubiquitous tree roots on the firm surface. A spot of sunshine as the morning’s pre-race rituals were observed seemed to lift my mood even further. I was excited to be there, looking forward to racing and hoping to do well. My pre-race lap of the course had been fun, although there was nothing particularly technical to contend with the route looked like it could make a great venue to race. The sharp turns, lurking roots and mixture of long straights interspersed with super twisty sections to try and escape/catch anyone around you promised a tough event for anyone. I signed on, took my place up at the front of the starting grid with the rest of the JMC guys and found myself feeling pretty relaxed.

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That feeling lasted for about 3 seconds of the race.

The ‘neutralised’ start, as is often the case, worked in neutralising the first half a mile or so by being so fast no-one could do any sort of overtaking. Hundreds of riders all gasped along behind the lead rider at a frenetic pace until he pulled over to the side and shouted “Go!”, at which point the average speed immediately plummeted! I stayed up at the front, planning on keeping an eye on the ‘fast lads’ who tend to start these races at warp speed, seemingly trying to win the even in the first couple of hours, and got the shock of my life when I realised that within half a lap, 3 of us had opened up a noticeable gap to the rest of the field. I’d not planned on being one of those ‘fast lads’, I didn’t think I’d have the ability, but it felt good so for the first few laps myself, James Braid and Tim Dunford, sped on.

After gapping Tim for a couple of laps, he came back up to us and, in some of the twistier sections, started to gain an advantage, seemingly pushing himself very hard. Only 3 or so hours into the race, I decided to not fight to stay on his wheel. James had the same idea and we remained together for a few more laps as Time eked out a few minutes advantage each time round the course.
I’d felt good so far, the lack of climbs was noticeable – I felt like I had a secret weapon (arrogant as that sounds!) I couldn’t use – but with a liberal application of ignoring any protests from my legs, I kept my lap times fairly consistent. Such short laps changed my eating and drinking strategy; never carrying any more than half a bottle of drink with me and not bothering carrying any gels – just grabbing one every couple of laps, each time I did a ‘flying bottle change’ from Angela in the pits -was working well. Well…sort of, admittedly the first couple of fly-by bottle changes basically resulted in me ‘right hooking’ the bottle out of Angela’s hand into the stratosphere hard enough to make Mike Tyson wince, but we got it dialled quickly enough and kept the stopping down to a bare minimum.

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A few showers rolled over during the afternoon, causing the course to get a bit slippery, but despite the semi slick tyres I remained mostly upright and pointing in the right direction, swopping bikes for a clean and re-lube just the once. Tim’s lead continued to open further and, as we hit the halfway point I began to feel that this could well be the way the race would end. I’d opened a slight gap on James, but none of us were more than 10 minutes or so apart, even as evening set in and I began to think about getting the lights on the bikes.

I started a lap at around 7.30pm (that’s 7.5hrs into the race, which started at midday, in case you were wondering), shouting into the pits to get my 2nd bike set up with an Exposure Six Pack and a bit more air in the tyres. Amazingly, Angela and Rachael were way ahead of me, the bike sat waiting patiently, clean, relubed, ready to go a lap in advance despite the two of them having to contend with all 4 JMC riders – who were all smashing it at the front end of the race – swarming at them every couple of minutes as the short lap times created a constant barrage of demands.
Darkness descended (the only thing that did, given the flat nature of the course!) around me, but not in front of me as I revelled in the billion lumens on offer from the lights. With only 4 hours of the race held in darkness and enough lights to run on both bikes, I could easily afford to keep them on full power for the whole night section, which was massively liberating. Combined with the Joystick on my helmet I didn’t have to slow at all, even for the most techy-nadgery corners. I still felt strong and allowed myself to think about finishing in 2nd. That would be nice. Not fairytale nice, but something to be proud of.

Almost as soon as I did, the heavens opened. Not just rain, but a full on, torrential deluge. The course began to deteriorate, fast. Within a lap I found myself fighting hard to keep the rear end of the bike pointing in the right direction and, when I’d succeed in doing so, found myself wheelspinning madly in a fresh layer of gripless mud. A line that had developed round most of the course was now out-of-bounds to me as I struggled to find grip away from the tyre tracks of everyone else. Still I fought on, not knowing if James had been able to get his bike set up for the conditions better than I had, not knowing if Tim would be having any problems ahead of me, not even having much of a chance to think about it as the now super-slick tree roots took delight in occasionally firing me off into the course-side undergrowth.

Hoping it was just a passing shower, I forwent any warmer clothes as I rode through the pits, just grabbing a lightweight gilet and hoping the feeling would come back into my freshly numb hands as the temperature dropped, quickly and sharply to just a few degrees above freezing. If the rain stopped, I thought, some grip would come back into the course and I’d generate enough warmth by speeding back up (and crashing less…). I didn’t want to throw away the few minutes lead I’d gained on James, needlessly getting changed. It was a risk, but in the few seconds I had to consider it while passing the tent, I chose to take it.

Half a lap later I was in all sorts of trouble. The rain had continued, I had become reduced to pushing the bike through some sections as the rear tyre offered me nothing, my overall speed reduced to the point where I wasn’t pushing out any body heat and, in just shorts, a summer weight jersey and the thin gilet I really began to suffer. I grovelled round the lap, expecting to see lights coming up from behind me as James passed, but got back to the pits still in 2nd, shivering uncontrollably.

I couldn’t remember ever having been that cold while racing, ever, even during the Strathpuffer. I could barely hold a mug in my hand without throwing the contents all over myself as I spasmed and twitched. I wasn’t interested in racing any more. Having to push the bike through the mud like I had at races last summer was utterly miserable, having to listen for the sound of the brake pads hitting the rotors to know if I was pulling the levers because my hands were so numb was almost scary and the idea that I could do myself some real damage had firmly wedged itself in my head. I wanted out. Angela rummaged around in the tent for dry race kit for me to change into, trying to keep me positive as I hunched over in the entrance, knees knocking together in a way I didn’t think existed outside of cartoons of skeletons locked out of the house overnight. Teeth chattering so much I could barely speak as she kept looking for a solution that would keep me in the race.
By chance, as she pawed through kit bags, Angela pulled out and tossed to one side a pair of thermal ¾ length tights, that I’d worn while riding a practice laps the day before and stuffed in a ‘dirty clothes’ bag to be washed when I got home. In my now semi delirious state, they seemed to glow, lighting up the dark tent, with a chorus of angels heralding their appearance. Warmth! Dry warmth! I stopped wailing about how miserable and cold I was and set about the laborious task of peeling off wet racing kit from still lurching arms and legs and fighting my way in to the fuzzy warmth the old tights offered.

Knowing that I would now have dropped to 3rd, but informed that the three of us in the lad had opened up such a gap on the rest of the race that my long pit stop hadn’t lost me a podium place I clambered back on the bike and headed off for another crash-fest of a lap.

It turned out to be my last lap as I missed the cut off to do another by 5 minutes. It didn’t have any effect on my finishing position so, as I crossed the line and chatted to the organisers, I didn’t care one bit. At all. 3rd place felt like I’d done all I could to defend the title, like I’d treated it with enough respect and put some real effort into it. Like I deserved to stand around wafting a half empty beer bottle round again, full of bravado. So I did.

Congratulations to Tim on storming away to take the win convincingly and also to James for taking 2nd in what felt like a suitably epic battle. It was great fun racing and has set the bar for the rest of the year nice and high!

I have to say thanks, in a big way, to loads of people who helped me out in having kit to race on; the guys at 2Pure lent me some pimpy Rolf wheels and all the Clif energy products I could possibly need – all of which worked flawlessly and kept me competitive, in the pits Angela and Rachael showed the patient of saints to not punch me while I was being demanding, while enduring the onslaught of looking after 4 riders, the organisers made what looked like it wold be a boring wiggle around some woods into a great race course (no hills though) and a great event…I could go on for a long time mentioning people who’ve helped me, which I probably will very soon separately, but for now lets just say that it was really, really good fun.

I should also mention that it was another massively successful outing for the JMC boys too. Podiums all over the place (12hr European Fatbike Champion anyone?!), we don’t seem to ‘do’ finishing out of the top ten, do we? 🙂

October 2, 2012

Just like you imagined – My Personal Best 3 Peaks

Like a cloth rag caught on barbed wire I flail in the wind. Draped across the flanks of Simon Fell, buffeted and beaten, face not far from the collapsing ground, one outstretched arm grasping weakly at the rapidly disintergrating wire fence as the other is tested to it’s limits holding the bike across my shoulder.
The sound of utterly saturated ground immediately in front of me wrenching away tells me that the person once place ahead, held prone by the gusts, has moved another step. Perched on my toes against the near vertical slope I know it’s my turn. I have to move another step so that the invisible masses below, all lost in a claustrophobic fog so thick your own limbs seem to fade into nothingness around you, can one by one take this spot.
I can’t even breathe.
The aggressive roar of the gale force wind is fighting for supermacy in my head against the high pitched squeal that pulses every time I try to take a breath. Burning lungs and throat scream in disapproval as I try to gulp down the rapidly moving air. I can see, in the murk, the empty footprint of the racer in front of me and, for a moment, it looks like the most comfortable place on earth. I could press my face into it, close my eyes and happliy drift away.
Reality snaps me out of my stupour as my hand slips from the wire crutch to my left. I come close to slipping backwards into the racers behind me as I desperately grab outwards and lurch my feet forwards and upwards. Somehow my feet find purchase in the collapsing fellside and I find myself one step further on my journey. One step out of a million, if not more. In my muddle headed state I become grateful that my surroundings are shrouded in cloud. Ignorance right now is nowhere near bliss, but it’s as close to comfort as I can get, so I take it, let it envelop me like the blanket I sense I should be under, take solice in it.

The sensible thing to do at this point would, of course, be to turn back. To accept that I am too ill to be out here, hung out in a storm on a desolate hillside trying to compete in one of the hardest races there is. There would be no shame in acknowledging that, even on a fine, crisp autumn day I would be too weak to push myself against the mountains of yorkshire with a bike hanging off my shoulder but my previous few years at the 3 Peaks have always seemed to lack something. something that, to me at least, meant I’d never really completed the race. Sure, I’d finished in repectable times before now – legs and lungs working in harmony with the bike and fells to glide me round the rolling Yorkshire Dales in well under 4 hours – but I’d always felt that I’d sneaked a decent performance when the true character of these bleak hills was absent. As I found myself, still astride the bike, pinned against a drystone wall by howling wind, my face a contorted mess as I grimaced and tried to drive onwards, I knew this time round was what I’d hoped for.

My performance would be, by a long way, down on what I could do, but there was no way I was going to miss this fight.

murk

The cold, empty landscape on the top of Ingleborough becames a resolution as I begin to creep across it. Flat, but still tough to traverse due to the sharp, loose rocks that make up the surface, I accept the constant slipping and tripping as weary feet are dragged towards the first checkpoint. My limbs may feel limp, my heart may be racing even when not pushing hard, but I’m here for the duration. Bring it on.

I descend to Cold Cotes slowly, seemingly incapable of planning and following a route down the boggy hillside I survive by following others as they pass, until they vanish in the mist. Loosing place after place. Expecting to be last but almost joyous each time another rider rolls alongside and stops me from having to try and concentrate. It’s only as I reach the (surprisingly large) crowds at the roadside that I realise I’ve managed the descent with no crashes or overly sketchy moments. Slow and steady, but successful.

As smooth tarmac and a welcome tailwind ease the miles between Ingleborough and the beginning of Whernside past, I build up the courage to gulp down a couple of energy gels. Each one feels like a mass of razor blades as it scrapes across my raw throat, but the effect is welcome and impressive. I find myself cruising past riders on the flowing rises and dips and, after narrowly avoiding one poor bloke who is swept off his bike while riding over a cattle grid by the wind, hit the first of the stone steps that reach back into the low cloud and the hidden felltop checkpoint.

I drop my head the instant I begin to climb, bike once again perched on shoulder. I’m not racing anyone around me I am simply. going. forwards. The wind still gusts like it had been on Ingleborough. The higher I get the more darkenss descends in the cloud that once again immerses me. I begin to lose track of whereabouts I am, of everything until, with my eyes still locked on the ground in front of me, innocent and happy eyes look back.
It takes a few moments for me to realise that those eyes belong to a – possibly a poor choice of descriptor – sheepish looking collie dog. It makes the briefest of glances then scampers upwards, flowing over the steps and through the legs of competitors ahead of me before stopping, glancing back and skipping it’s way back down. Then back up again. Then back down. I find myself grinning at it’s playful exuberance in the backdrop of awful weather and obviously suffering racers all around. Its simple happiness gives me a boost as it is called back to it’s owners and I push on to the flatter, rideable track across the summit ridge wishing I could scamper as easily and gleefully as it had.

The flatter trail from the top of the stone stairway to the second checkpoint at the top of Whernside has, in the past, been a place to calm cramping legs with a low geared spin. Nothing too technical, just stare at the views, try not to lose any places and prepare yourself for the descent. Not this time. There are no views and at no point would you have a chance to stare at them, if they were there – the wind whips across the hunched backs of riders infront and behind me, as well as my own, lashing us across the path towards a sheer drop of unfathomable height. Feet are flung at the ground as zig zag routes bring each of us close to disaster over and over again. This is as close to terrifying as I’d like to get…this is exactly what I was hoping for.
Another highly caffeinated energy gel keeps what little focus I can muster going as I strive to keep the cranks turning. I pass a few riders as they are blown across rocks that halt the progress of their bikes. Underneath me, the Dirty Disco manages to hold it’s speed even when line choices are randomly rearranged by the gale. I start to imagine I look like I know what I’m doing as I reach the heroic marshals at the top and scream my race number at them. They congratulate me as I bellow thanks at them through swollen and mucus filled airways. I am looking forward to the descent and a hope of some respite from the wind down at Ribblehead, they are here in the heart of the storm for the whole day.

As the marshals fade back into the gloom and the track begins to sweep back down towards the valley below I find myself slightly fearful of what I’m about to ride. I find the Whernside descent difficult in decent conditions. Today the paving slabs are wet and greasy, the moors to either side are covered in wheel sucking deep bogs and the wind, oh the wind, seems to have becone a constantly berating companion on my route across the mountains. Jostling and pushing, always screaming, tearing at clothes and pulling air from me as I try to gulp down breaths, at times I find myself almost wailing back at it, pleading with it as I am once again thrown around against my will. The energy from the gels might be keeping me upright and my clothing might be keeping me warm enough to stave off shivering but the efforts in climbing over the two hills so far are taking their toll on a body which really isn’t fit enough to carry on. I don’t know how i’m going to keep hold of the bike and stay upright.
Deep down I know that if there was a shelter nearby to crawl into, I would. But, of course, there isn’t. You’re not made to carry a survival bag with you in the race for the sake of it.
Ice cold, ice sharp lashing rain beats across my face, shattering the thoughts of shelters and hiding away. I realise that I’m riding. I realise that I’m carving a route down the trail fast enough to be passing people. Limbs made weak by illness can’t lock rigid in fear and as a ridiculous byproduct, I’m soaking up the bumps better than I ever have before. The disc brakes mean slowing down isn’t a problem when I need to and my last minnute decision to raise the bars means my position in ‘the drops’ is perfect for hopping the bike over the waterbars, rocks and down any drops that appear out of the mist. As the rain gets heavier and water begins to pour down from the peak of my cap a grin speads across my face. Somehow this is fucking brilliant.

The road back towards Horton from Ribblehead contains a headwind that seems to have been made angrier by being penned in between the drystone walls on either side. I barely notice. I concentrate of rummaging round in sodden jacket pockets for more energy gels, manage to find a couple of the highly caffienated ones and down them in quick succession. I’m unaware of any other racers on the road around me, I doubt anyone on the road is aware of anything beyond the tarmac directly in front of the wheels. There is nothing to do here but hide from the wind as best you can and wait for a marshal to appear, pointing the way up the final climb of Pen-y-Ghent.

By the time the marshal in question appears and directs me up the bridleway towards the final checkpoint I am, quite franky, buzzing my tits off on caffeine. There is still a grin plastered across my snot and rain coated face as I start to skim past people who seem to be having trouble getting their bikes over the rubble and cobbles making up the climb. Hovering a couple of feet above any such issues, like a demented hummingbird, I make up place after place, loving every moment and not caring at all about the point where I’ll come back to earth with a bump. Flying by bike.
I pass Alan, who tells me his deep section rims were “a bit of a handful” on the ride over Ingleborough, giggle like a loon in response and carry on dancing past people.
Dancing,
on a Dirty Disco.
Ha.
Brilliant.
Love it.
Onwards and upwards I continue on my merry way, declining the offer of a cup of water from the volunteers halfway up the hill with such vigour that they burst into laughter.
I see Jase making his descent back down from the checkpoint and exchange greetings with him. He’s on a stormer or a ride.
In a storm.
Ha.
Briliant.
How do I come up with these things?
This is ace.

I wonder if I can win the race from here?

The caffeine and the good mood seem to wear off instantly as I realise that I’ve stopped passing people. In fact, in the short distance between me and where the cloud becomes completely opaque I can’t see anyone at all. I can’t see any footprints or tyre tracks on the ground in front of me and I’m suddenly utterly alone on a dead fellside. I begin to backtrack, eyes on stalks looking out for any sort of movement in the fog. After what is only a few moments, but what feels like hours, ghosts begin to appear in front of me, silhouettes trudging upwards, a line of hunchbacks creeping towards the final checkpoint of the day. I nestle myself among them until we reach more heroic marshals, braving the conditions so we can play at being hardy explorers, scream and shout out my race number against the still howling wind and turn back to face what I’ve just walked up.

‘Dibbed’ for the final time until the finish line I point the bike back down the track. The descent feels easy, for the first time in years I’ve ridden the bike enough in the run up to the race to really let it flow back down the hill and combined with still having brakes, while people I pass seem to struggle to slow down, it’s genuinely enjoyable for the first time. I make a mess of a top-tube deep puddle on the lower slopes and have to wade out after nearly toppling over and drowning, but it doesn’t seem to matter. There’s no ‘ooomph’ in my legs for the final road section but frankly crossing the finish line at all feels like a victory against the best the weather and the mountains could throw at me.

As I clamber back into the car and crank the heating up to full blast for the journey home I come to the conclusion that today’s ‘race’ was my best ever 3 Peaks, irrespective of my finishing time, or placing in the results. As epic as i’d ever hoped for and, to be honest, as epic as I’d ever like it to be…

July 10, 2012

A round up of things since Mountain Mayhem

Filed under: Racing,rubbish weather — dgpowell @ 3:42 pm

Well, since dropping out of Mountain Mayhem I’ve been finding things much clearer, riding wise. Sacking off that race wasn’t due to a loss of mojo or anything like that, in fact it wasn’t far off the opposite. I started riding bikes for fun. I started racing bikes for fun. I started getting fitter and thinking about how to go faster and ride for longer for fun and (damn it!) that’s how it’s going to stay.

I love racing, love training for the races, love just generally riding, faffing with bikes and everything else that comes with it, so I’ll continue to push myself whenever I can find any sort of enjoyment in it or recognise that it’s part of a bigger picture. I’m not, however, just going to slog my guts out in abject misery just for the sake of it. If the race course has redeeming features I’ll be on it, if it’s just a shitty schlep round some fields, then I’ll find something better to do – this country isn’t short of options, event wise (and even if there’s no other events on, there’s always some deserted hills somewhere requiring the addition of a bicycle).

With this in mind, I headed out a couple of weekends ago at annoyingly-early-o’clock to Lee Quarry for a round the Brownbacks XC race series, ignoring the heavy drizzle and late autumn temperatures at the end of July. I knew the course would still be great even under constant heavy rain and many riders and I wasn’t disappointed. The extra couple of hours before the race had stripped all the lube off my chain by the time the race kicked off, leaving me with cronic chainsuck and no option but to leave it in the big ring and run (OK, walk quickly) up the super steep, un-big-gear-mashable rises. That was fine though, the racing was still close, someone was always near enough to chase/escape from and after a few laps I’d even stopped shivering, having been soaked to the bone for most of the morning.
The standard of rider at the series has stepped up over the past couple of years and, with 12hrs of Mayhem and a couple of cheeky mid week rides in my legs I was never going to be vying for the top spots, but it was great fun nevertheless…and made better again when I discovered that almost everyone in front of me was racing as either elite or expert. I finished 9th, hung around to natter to people for a while before Phil and Neil turned up and we buggered off into the hills for a few hours along scarily waterlogged (but still rideable and fun) trails.

A week of getting the road bike rebuilt followed, with everything coming together just in time for the Bowland Badass last Saturday. This was a ride I’d been looking forward to for a while, all my favourite ‘local’ hills in one go, with the addition of a couple of food stops to make carrying enough food and drink a bit easier and a few other people to test myself against.
The constantly wet summer had played on my mind a bit in the run up to the event; if it rained for the whole ride it would make a committing route harder. Much harder. To my delight, the morning of the ride had near wall to wall sunshine.
The first few hours were ticked off in an ever increasing barrage of climbs and descents made scary by the utter destruction months of heavy rainfall had delivered to the country roads, with the first feedstop coming surprisingly quickly, 62 miles in.

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(piccie of off them lot at SportSunday)

The ‘proper’ climbs kicked off shortly afterwards, as did my rest-of-the-day-long habit of puncturing. Luckily the weather continued to hold and each pause to swop tubes, despite loosing Jase and I time to the quick lads in search of the fastest time trophy (which I did contemplate going for, for a while), was a nice excuse to sit in the summer sun enjoying a nice day out in the countryside.
The second feedstop, as well stocked with butties, sweets, samosas and onion bhajis (yes, that’s right) was paused at, not out of necessity but simply because it was nice to have the option as was the third, which also heralded the end of the major climbs. I still managed to puncture again on what felt like the ‘extended end’ of the ride, which could be seen as the reason why myself and Jase ended up getting soaked to the skin by the return of the rain when we were only half a mile or so from the finish and suggested to me that my damn fast and light but obviously not terribly tough Schwalbe Ultremos might need replacing… It didn’t seem to matter too much though, post ride cups of tea kept the damp-chill at bay and although our finishing time of 11hrs 43min wasn’t really all that good – saying that, we were still 4th and 5th riders back, to give you an idea of how big a ride it is – finishing the ride feeling fresh and not at all fatigued bodes well for the rest of the season.

June 26, 2012

No Mayhem please, we’re British

Filed under: Racing,rubbish weather — dgpowell @ 4:30 pm

I’d watched the weather forecasts in the run up to Mayhem with a growing sense of resentment toward who or whatever controls the elements. Each day I checked to see if the sun was due to make an appearance and each day I was disappointed. I knew by Thursday that no matter what happened from then on in, the ground would be so saturated that the race would be “wet”.

Now, for many races, “wet” is just something you get on with. In fact a bit of mud can be fun. Not Mountain Mayhem though. If it’s “wet” at Mountain Mayhem it’s shit. Excuse my language, but it really is shit. Not “Tough, so you have to Man Up”, “Just a added bit of technicality” or anything like that, shit. Shit. The combination of a course made up of endless swirls round freshly mowed grass fields and a particular strain of Eastnor soil means any moisture turns the race into a miserable trudge though ankle deep slop that clings to everything.
Take those conditions and apply them to a course that, due to the number of entrants, has to be wide and fairly tame all the way round and you’ve got something that resembles more of a death march than mountain biking when it rains.
Like I said shit. Not the fault of the organisers – there’s not much they can do to the ground conditions where the race takes place, or how technical the course is (and the weather’s certainly out of their hands!) – but not much fun for those wanting to race either.

Despite the knowledge of what was waiting in the Malvern hills I still drove down with Wayne and Angela, hoping for a good race. Maybe something had changed this time. Maybe it would all be better. We arrived and immediately got stuck in the mud, having to be towed into place. Arse.

Squeltching down to the registration tent it transpired that many of the ‘big names’ had decided not to race. As my feet slowly sank into the sodden earth I felt a pang of jealousy. Two things kept me from just packing up and going home; firstly, the whole of Team JMC were there – which meant the social aspect of the weekend would be good and secondly, well, the car and caravan were stuck, so I wasn’t going anywhere!

A half decent night’s sleep (caravans rock, folks!) did little to relight my enthusiasm, but the normal pre race preperations were followed as they always are. Pits sorted. Something to eat. Bikes sorted. Amble down to the start. Get game face on. Wait for the off. It wasn’t raining so I pretended that the bits of the course I hadn’t seen yet were dry and something to look forward to.

The countdown counted down and away we ran. Quite fast. In fact I felt quite good, despite the fact that within a few yards I was coated in mud. I grabbed the bike as we re-entered the arena and tried to just settle down into a rhythm straight away. No heroic opening few hours or anything like that, just sit down and get on with it.

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The course was everything I expected. Draggy, slimy, stodgy, awful and I was right up near the front on the first lap! I dreaded to think what it would soon be like, with a few hundred more wheels churning over it.
Nontheless, I got on with riding as well as I could until a momentary lapse in concentration saw me wipe out on an off camber section. Not a big crash, just one of those ‘wheels slip out from under you’ moments, but somehow I managed to land with all me weight on one end of the bars. SNAP. WTF? I leapt up, grabbed the front of the bike to get riding and see what the noise was, only to discover the bars were hanging limply down by the forks, connected only by the cables. Shit.

With the stem seemingly snapped, I shouldered the bike and started trotting along the course towards our pit area. Spectators cheered me on, telling me that despite everything, I was still in 19th overall, which gave me some encouragement to grab my spare bike and try to sprint off up onto the second half of the course.
The spare bike’s drivechain decided that that very moment would be a great time to implode and start slipping cronically. Leaving me with just two gear choices; both in the granny ring. Shit.

Amazingly, by the time I’d frantically span my way back round to the pits on the next lap, the Lurcher was fixed and ready to go. I flung the ScandAl at Wayne, shouting “it needs a whole new drivechain” and did a runner before any sounds of protest could be uttered…

The course conditions changed lap by lap. Some were decidedly wet, others the mud dried slightly into super sticky clay, all were downright awful. Every lap was littered with riders sat at the side of the trail, clawing at wheels locked solid with grass and earth or pawing at mechs twisted and torn off in the mire. Had I not been able to change to a clean bike every single time I rode past the JMC gazebo I have no doubt I would have joined them.

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I wasn’t really paying attention to how the race was unfolding around me. I was informed at one point that breaking my bikes had dropped me down to 3rd. Then I’d moved back up into the lead. Then I’d started eeking out a lead, more each lap. frankly I just sat on the bike whenever the course was rideable and trudged miserably up (or down) anything that wasn’t. Getting less and less interested every time a corner revealed no joy, no swoopy sections, no fast blasts, nothing but more dull slogging.

Then it started raining.

Wearing only a summer weight short sleeved jersey (and shorts, obviously) it took approximately thirty seconds to get cold. A whole lap – which were taking around an hour and a half by this point – later I was freezing. With numb hands and no way of getting any heat going thrugh me I flung the bike down at out pit area and stormed off to get changed into a clean race kit.

The pause became my undoing. Lingering for long enough to have a brew, I realised that I wasn’t interested in groveling round the still-deteriorating course any more. It wasn’t worth it. I knew about the prize money. I was aware that I was pulling away without having to push myself. I didn’t care. I looked at Wayne and Angela, still meticulously fettling everything I could need despite the conditions and obvious misery, told them I was going indoors to get warm and called it a day. Eleven and a half hours after I probably should have.

EDIT: I should point out the following:
A) Wayne, Angela and Michael worked tirelessly in the pits on my bikes. they literaly didn’t get a moment to themselves, fixing, rebuilding, washing, fettling, chopping up bits of food and putting on cheery faces whenever I grumbled past. A sterling effort and more than I could have asked for
B) Jase, when faced with a similar position as regards the race, took the bull by the horns, borrowed a fatbike and jolly well had a laugh with it. Ace.
C) The JMC vets team got on with it and slithered their way to 2nd in their category. Awesome stuff!
D) The JMC laydeez team took on Mayhem as their first race and took 6th, in what has to go down as one of the hardest ‘first team race’ efforts ever!
E) I’m not always as miserasble as this blog post would suggest. In fact I’m looking forward to loads more ace races this year already 🙂

October 4, 2011

Half arsed WeatherWatch

Filed under: bikes,Racing,rubbish weather — dgpowell @ 8:05 pm

Relentless 24 up in Scotland this weekend. The final 24hr solo of the year, so it’s both the final fling for 2011 and the begining of some serious training for the 2012 Strathpuffer all at once.
Am I in any shape for it?
No.
Seriously. No. I’ve barely ridden a bike for over a month. I’m a bit of a shambles and have had some sort of vague illness that’s stopped me from getting any training in. Hopefully it won’t rear it’s head during the event.

The bikes are showing signs of being ragged all year too. The frames etc are, of course, still 100% awesome. But the drivechains are a bit worse for wear and I’ll be running on some wheels I bought for under £100 after my lovely DT hub/Bonty rim wheelset finally bit the dust. Zip ties and gaffer tape sum this race up, this time round.

After all that misery, I’m still looking forward to it. Everything from the drive up there though the Highlands, the race course, the laid back atmosphere, the mid race views, it’s all genuinely brilliant and I can’t wait to get going, even if I have to grovel round at the back!

Right, last year was done in lovely warm sunshine, what about this time:

The BBC Say…

Oh arse. 🙁

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