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

July 15, 2011

Doing a crit…

Filed under: bikes,lunacy - other peoples,Racing — dgpowell @ 9:48 am

In my quest to not use the turbo trainer during the summer and as part of my “attempt to get a bit of speed into my legs before the ‘cross season kicks off” plan I headed over to Manchester to have a go at the flat out gasp-for-breath-a-thon that is criterium racing.

For the uninitiated, all they are, really, is going really fast on your bike round a short circuit for an hour or so. For people who really love them they’re a whole lot more than that; tactics, highly specialised equipment, attitude, lore, strange behavioural patterns and complex mid race etiquette that can become totally engrossing.
I was very much in the “turn up and just ride really fast” camp. I’d made sure my newly rebuilt road bike worked, chucked some race kit on and sprinted over to the event (in the car) just in time to sign on, get charged an extortionate fee for a day racing license and do some pretend warming up in the car park, surrounded by people who appeared to be in the same lowly category as me (I felt it necessary to kick off my crit racing career down in the ‘4th cat’…which isn’t unlike the ‘fun’ cat in mountain bike racing…only with more shaved legs) many of whom were taking it worryingly seriously with turbo trainers and stretching regimes that I’ve never even thought about for the big important races.

We lined up, someone said go, then we rode really fast for an hour. Which is what I was expecting.

I dropped off the small group at the front of the race early on, but over 45minutes or so worked my way back up to them, dragging a couple of other guys along with me who seemed happy enough to sit in my slipstream until they started to fade, not long before I bridged back up the leaders and finished in the bunch.

112
Pic by Ed Rollason You can see all his (ace) pics from the race here

I’d been told about how 4th cat bunches work (or don’t) by several racers I know who’ve worked their way right up to 1st and elite status and decided to just watch what happened around me – after all this was just a turbo trainer session outdoors in reality – until we finished, whereupon I was told by the organisers that I’d been lapped.

I knew I hadn’t, I knew (as did several of the marshals around the course who congratulated me during the race for putting the effort in to catch the bunch back up after losing ground early on) that I’d just closed a gap that I’d let open, but thought that maybe the results would work sort themselves out when everything was checked later. Sadly they didn’t and I’m surprised at how peeved I feel about it, given that I was happy to sit back during the event and watch and, due to only using a day license, wouldn’t earn ‘points’ or anything like that anyway.
I think it’s a mixture of knowing I worked my arse off (189bpm average heart rate for the hour the race lasted = putting in the effort, mmmkay) for the whole race out on my own, often leading a few other riders round until they fell off my wheel and yet still didn’t get noticed…I mean, I don’t exactly blend into the background in the nice bright JMC kit, do I?

Anyway, ignoring my overly precious ego taking a bashing, it was really good fun. After only one go at it I can see why it takes over many peoples whole racing calendars and why some races, run round closed off city centre streets have become ‘must do’ events for many riders. I’ll definitely do some more and hopefully in doing so get myself in decent enough shape to bother the top ten in a few ‘cross races again this year 🙂

June 9, 2011

Rapha do a nightride

Filed under: bikes,lunacy - mine,lunacy - other peoples — dgpowell @ 2:07 pm

They don’t do things by half over at Rapha.
Getting ready to go out for a ride as the sun sets is a rather peculiar feeling (unless you’re Jase – in which case it’s the norm) and nothing can quite prepare you for the feeling for rolling though Manchester on a Friday evening, trying to warm up and avoid thousands upon thousands of middle aged women stumbling out from a Take That gig at the same time. (OK this wasn’t strictly part of the Rapha organised bit, but it didn’t half add to the ‘overall vibe’…)
Suffice to say we arrived at the meeting point somewhat muddle headed, not as mudle headed as a few of the stumbling drunks we’d ridden past en route, but muddle headed nontheless.
A quick sign on and handful of freebies later (freebies are A Good Thing, mmmkay) we set about necking freshly and expertly brewed coffee in order to maintain some sort of grasp on the evening. Swigging cappucino we read through beautifully designed and printed the audax style route card, slowly coming to the conclusion that this was no ordinary ‘vat of tea in the corner of a musty village hall & handwritten unintelligble route descriptions’ style bike event. I felt slightly guilty stuffing the guide into my jersey pocket…

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At the stroke of exactly 12.32am the group set off. 11 of us in total, making a wonderfully rag tag peloton of overtly expensive carbon, retro steel and “it’s all I could find in one piece” cyclocross bikes that wound its way through the sodium lamp lit back streets, chatting and nattering as the mixture of excitement and massive doses of caffiene worked their magic.

Urban backdrops bagan to fade away as we rode out through Ashton-under-Lyne towards the first climb of the day up Mottram Moor, which held the honour of having the only “prime” of the night.
Early-ride-eager legs saw quite a few of us pick up the pace, all gunning to be the first over the top to take any glory on offer. I had no idea where I was going, how far it was to the top, or even exactly where we were supposed to race up to, I just put my head down and kept cranking at the pedals, waiting for a rush as I got mugged by Jase, Phil and John, who seemed to know where the finish line was. To my suprise (and secret delight) the rush never came, from my vantage point (hanging limply from the bars, as my lungs attempted to escape, head so low I could see behind me) I could see bikes thrashing towards me but as the sound of my rasping breath reached near crescendo levels they dropped away again. I’d hit the top in front and for my efforts I was rewarded with a really rather pimpy Rapha Essentials Case

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From there the true hills began. As did the true nightride experience; the utter darkness of the empty countryside lit only by what lights you had on your bars made for some fantastic ride-by-the-seat-of-your-pants descents – made even more exciting by trying to chase Jason down roads he knew quite well when all I could see were the fast flowing white lines marking the edges of the carridgeway – there was no shortage of adrenaline induced giggling each time we regrouped and began exaggerating how close we’d come to losing it on corners that had leapt out of the blackness!

Riding through a deserted feeling Macclesfield, attention turned to the main climb of the day (erm, night) over the Cat & Fiddle, a climb normally buzzing with speeding motorists and boy racers, at 2.30 in the morning it was as deserted as you could possibly wish for. Totally slient apart from the deep breathing of the group as everyone pushed themselves hard ni the cool night air.
As the climb continued, groups began to spliter off the back of the pack until Jason, John, Phil and I were left, pulling ourselves towards the pub marking the pinnacle of the ascent at the front.
Backwards glances revealed a string of bright lights weaving their way upwards as the seemingly endless turns of the road wore down legs. We pushed on into an ever growing headwind, eventually hitting the top just before 3am, as the blackness of the sky showed the first signs of warming towards morning.

top of cat & fiddle

Regrouped again, our peloton began to plummet back down towards Buxton, urged on by the promise of mid ride refreshments. Again the descent became a game of staying in the blackness between the two white lines, going as fast as you dared. The wind began to roar as speed built up and corners started to come faster and faster, each one railed around, leant right over, wishing for lights to pierce further into the gloom.
I yelped.
It was intantaneous.
Fully leant over, feeling like I was inches away from “getting my knee down”, with riders hanging right on my back wheel suddenly the black space between the white lines wasn’t black.
It was white, sort of wooly and had a pair of startled looking eyes!
Through luck as much as any skill I managed to drift wide enough to not clatter into the lamb, as behind me all hell broke loose. More shouts, the squeals of cantilevers wrenched against rims, the high pitched squeak of tyres loosing grip and sliding across the cold tarmac filled the air as nighttime reactions were tested to breaking point.
How we all managed to stay upright and not embedded in a small sheep I have no idea, but suffice to say we hit the outskirts of buxton very much awake…

We barely needed the coffee on offer from the Rapha moblie truck-come-shop-come-hanging-out-area-come-cinema, parked up in a layby just out of town. I imagine may of the early shift lorry drivers did, as the sight of a group of lycra clad cyclists, swigging brews at Silly Early am was probably the last thing they were expecting, but gathered around the Gaggia we were still buzzing from the ride so far.

Refreshed and refuelled we headed back out across from the Dark to the White Peak as the brightness of the pre-dawn sky began to illuminate the scenery we suddenly discovered we’d been missing. Rolling hills swathed in morning mist kept the effort needed high as we cruised through Tideswell and began to climb over Miller’s Dale. Once again the group fragmented on the ascent as tiredness began to hit home, just as the sun exploded over the horizon, almost instantly warming the chilled air.

Through a still asleep and silent Buxton for a sencond time as the route turned and began weaving back towards Manchester, we turned our attention to the the return climb over the Cat & Fiddle. This time the climb was shorter, but the breaks between groups became larger and Jase, John, Phil and I decided to push on back to the velodrome in order to finish the ride before we lost too much of Saturday.

Spinning out 52×11 gearing was the order of the descent, before hitting the flat, taking to some dual carridgeways and getting our heads down for some fast paced spinning through Stockport as the world begain to wake up around us.
The remnents and casualties of Saturday night’s exuberance were crawling their way home through litter covered streets as we chainganged our way back through the outskirts of Manchester. Bleary eyes not quite focussing on us as we thundered through, trying to come to terms with what they’d been up to the night before as we did the same…only for very different reasons!

We rolled back up to the velodrome at around 7am, having some trouble getting grips with what time of day it actually was, before agreeing in principle the idea of many more adventures in a similar vein and heading home to start the day, exhausted and aching…

May 9, 2011

The CouldaShouldaWouldas

Filed under: bikes,lunacy - mine,lunacy - other peoples,Racing,rubbish weather — dgpowell @ 11:47 am

Every morning after a big race is a muddle headed affair. If you’ve raced to a decent finish and are left with with the dizzying come down as all the tactics, efforts and intensity of the event suddenly disappear, you’ll find yourself mentally wandering back to the course, into the race, lingering a little too long before snapping out of it and getting back to the normalities of life. Tiredness helps hold you in the past as each corner, each drop, every climb is relived, remoulded and recreated. Not just as it was, but so much more, the mud will offer up more grip than you gave it credit, your legs will be capable of more power than you demanded of them, you will see where you could have given and taken more. It’s a skewed and distorted picture, highly rose tinted and very belittling, but ultimately nothing, in comparison to the knowledge that, ‘you did it…and did it well’.

Sadly, if you’ve gone, raced and fallen short, the same flashbacks, the same bloated opportunities you didn’t take will grab at your attention as you work through the next day, but now with no answer. No endorphin fuelled defence, nothing to placate, unused energy will work against you and as you drift off into the past frustration will pin you down. All you can do is creep through what little remains as good in these newly created memories and build them into a plan for the future. The way out is through.

I raced for just short of 12 hours at the weekend. Only half of what I should. But I felt fit enough to keep a decent pace, had enough in reserve to change tactics if I’d needed to and could push the bikes as far as my skills allow without them holding me back. Fuelling was working well, I felt comfortable and seemed to be able to take on what I needed each lap. I can build on that over the next few weeks and take it to Mountain Mayhem.

ragley-pits

On a slightly lighter note, dropping out meant I got to see the ‘real story’ behind what goes on in the pits at these races. I used to think that it was 24hr of solid hard graft by those supporting the racers – while we as racers just ride round and round, pit crews would be working their fingers to the bone through the worst conditions you could imagine to ensure we never have to remove our attention to just riding a bike, but I now know better.

I now know that its basically one long party.

Beer, a night of loud music and poor dancing (Michael and Wayne probably have no idea what they looked like, bouncing around to the Beastie Boys at 3am in the pouring rain, up to their ankles in mud…). That’s all it is. Maybe with a rag occasionally wafted at a bike, should one get too close to the never ending supply of all-the-food-you-know-shouldn’t-really-eat-as it’s-bad-for-you.
Pah. Hard work indeed.

March 1, 2011

The belated Christmas Cracker sportive

Filed under: bikes,lunacy - other peoples — dgpowell @ 1:02 pm

Originally set to be run back in December, I’d entered the Christmas Cracker sportive, up in the Lakes, as part of my Strathpuffer training. The plan being to ride up there, do the 57 mile route then ride back to make a Big Day Out.
Sadly it had to be postponed due to mental amounts of snow and generally wintery weather (as you might expect in a mountainous area…in winter, ahem) turning the roads into ice skating rinks and burying everything under several foot of non-road-bike friendly snow, so I didn’t get to use it as training. Rather than just cancel the event, however, the organisers decided to postpone it and give everyone a go at it in slightly kinder conditions. It ended up being rearranged for last weekend, leaving it marooned a bit, as far as me using as training was concerned, but perfectly placed for Angela to enter it and give it a go as her first foray into the murky world of (semi) competitive bike riding. 🙂

A few weeks of ‘last minute’ training around my favourite local fells (I’m not sure that Angela really needed to do rides with 2 cat 1, 3 cat 2 and innumerable cat 3 climbs in, but I felt that it was better to be safe (and knackered) than sorry…plus I’m evil and strongly believe that everyone should grovel up long, steep climbs as much as possible) meant that come the day of the event Angela was in fighting fit shape and her MTB was set up as well as it could be for road riding.

The alarm went off at just after 5am, our plan being to get up and get to the start as early as possible, giving us as much time to do the route as we could possibly need, which gave Angela her first exprience of Daft Riding; trying to shovel down hearty breakfasts while all your body wants to do is sleep. She didn’t enjoy it. Not that you’re meant to, dark-o-clock is a crap time to have to get up, but it is an integral part of being a hardcore (idiot?) cyclist, so she got on with it and we soon found ourselves wizzing up the motorway towards Grasmere and the event HQ.

Vast amounts of money poured into Pay and Display machines, signing on done and pre ride chammy cream applied we joined the queue of eager looking, flourescent coated riders at the start before being set off in small groups so as to not cause any congestion on the utterly-deserted-because-it’s-still-stupidly-early-on-a-sunday-morning streets.

Angela had her sensible head on and stopped herself zooming off after everyone ahead of us as we rode away from the narrow Grasmere streets and into the surrounding woodland, spinning an easy gear and making short work of the first, incredibly steep, climb. The 25%+ gradient soon had people off and walking, but we span on and reached the top without having any real trouble at all. The following descent, just as steep as the rise up to it, was taken fairly easily; the rain-wet surface and sharp bends caught quite a few riders out, most notably a girl just ahead of us who missed a turn and ended up several foot away from the road in some bushes. Luckily she’d found the softest spot on the whole descent to crash on and after I’d got everything on her bike pointing in the right direction again and her mates had arrived on the scene she was able to carry on.

The second big climb of the day was summited with us barely noticing and we cruised on along the undulating roads, through woods and along lakesides and a decent pace. The rain that had been falling all morning was beginning to ease and as the morning progressed I began to recognise more and more of the roads we were on from previous rides in the area. We span on without any real problems, save one dropped energy gel wrapper (Angela’s waterproof didn’t have any pockets, so I was acting as drugs mule, passing her fuel as she needed it) which I had to stop and ride back up the road for while Angela carried on (don’t drop litter kids), only to discover that it was still half full as it dribbled out of the wrapper and down my back through my jersey pockets, yuck.

We crossed the A590, heading onto the Lakeland peninusulas towards the halfway foodstop at Cartmel as the clouds began to break a bit and as we entered Cartmel the sun finally made an appearance, in fact it was turning into a cracking day to be out on a bike.
We hit the foodstop hard and in good spirits; apart from a few niggles Angela was still feeling fresh, the weather had gone from a wintery, steady rain at the start to a positively spring like bright sunny day and the local church was even ringing the bells for us as we arrived (OK, maybe the bells weren’t for us, but never mind). Flapjacks, gingerbread, shortbread, scones (with jam and butter, of course), tea, coffee and sandwiches were all devoured, drinks bottles and camelbak bladders were refilled and rainjackets were swopped for lighter windstoppers as we prepared for the second half of the ride.
Jase and Phil arrived, having extended their ride by starting further south just as we began to suspect that eating any more would be a bad idea, so after a brief hello and glance at Jase’s nice new Ragley ‘Cragg Vale’ we headed back out to conquer the last couple of big climbs over Grizedale.

Back across the A590 and into Grizedale forest itself the roads remained wonderfully quiet for a sunny Sunday afternoon. Despite the ever growing miles in her legs, Angela pushed on, losing out to riders on road bikes on the flatter sections, but more than making up for it on the climbs, setting a challenging pace that saw her catch rider after rider without slowing. In fact, on the last real climb of the day while still spinning in the middle chainring we passed several people pushing their bikes, which provided more encouragment than any words could. We crested the climb and tucked in for a fast, swooping descent down to Hawkshead, which felt like the beginning of the tail end of the ride.

xmas-cracker1

Fast B roads saw us skirt round Ambleside with a renewed vigour and a final guzzle of energy gel, despite tiredness beginning to creep in, as the mileage left dropped down to single figures. The shoreline road past Rydal Water and Grasmere itself turned into a bit of a final hurrah, before cruising past Dove Cottage and along the last (sneakily climbing, headwind infested) stretch of road into the village centre and across the finish line.

5hrs 30mins to ride the course. A full half hour faster than I had expected us to get round, despite wet roads at the start and a headwind for most of the way back from Cartmel. Angela seemed pleased, well she did after the all important post-ride brew anyway and, like all hardcore (idiot?) cyclists she was as busy contemplating how to follow the ride up with something bigger as she was feeling smug about completing it…

February 14, 2011

Hit the North

Filed under: lunacy - other peoples,Racing — dgpowell @ 12:05 pm

I can see him!
I can bloody see him just up ahead!
Get your head down. Keep the power on. Everyone else is walking, trudging across the saturated field. I’m still riding, flying past people at 3mph, with my head buried in the bars. Trying to spin circles as the ground beneath me slurps at the wheels, pulling me down, sapping energy.
I can see him. A glanced shot into the distance. He’s off the bike and clambering up the unridable slope. Close enough to make out the writing on his jersey. Keep fcking pedalling.

I hit the steep slope and dismount. Someone’s spray painted “MTFU” on the grass to the side. They’re right. No running practice has been done in preperation. In fact no running at all. Doesn’t matter. Force the legs up the hill, dragging the bike. Get to the top and get back on now! Final footsteps as I crest the climb and throw myself back into the saddle, amid cheers and encouragement from the spectators. Back riding, back at home and back on the singletrack, swooping through the stodge and slither as the race worn mud plays with the tyres.

Flow with the course as the rain water flows down through the ruts and holes dug into the treelined lap. Blinding spray leaps up, requiring feel for the ground to keep everything upright and facing the right way, give the tyres room to move in the unstable slime. Stay off the brakes. Keep and eagle eye out for him, in between the lashings of watery grit, as riders are caught and passed. Any flitting through the trees might be him, every corner promises a glimpse – am I catching him? Keep the hammer down. Power out of every corner, head down on every straight. Rail every berm, of which there are many, and keep your lungs on the outside all the way.

winter1

I bloody love this race. Double the length of your average ‘cross race and with more technicality in the course, yet short enough to be a sprint and with enough fast sections (in between the unridable bits…) to keep you straining, on your toes, it’s in a league of it’s own.
My plan to take the race on by simply drinking a large can of overly-caffeinated, sugar rich ‘energy’ drink before the start and hoping the subsiquent hyperactivity would last until the finish line was going well. I was in third. Chasing Dave Haygarth in second, surprising even myself with just how well I was riding the tricky stuff.
I’d made the right decision bike wise; the TD1, shod with mud specific tyres was simply flying. Any moments where I’d get caught behind slower riders on the narrow sections were turned into short, breath catching breaks before exploding out of the saddle and hurling myself round corners so fast my stomach would lurch. Everything was coming together. Proper flat out racing.

Sadly, the fizzy drink experiment backfired somewhat as, 1hr 40mins into the 2 hours the caffeine wore off, the sugar ran out and I found myself fighting empty legs and jittery arms.
With no means of replacing the energy my body was calling for I lost sight of 2nd as the grimaces began to take hold, and started hoping that I could hold onto 3rd. I started the last lap, felt something fly past me and knew I’d either been lapped by the leader (unlikely) or had dropped down to 4th.

4th it was. Clambering out of the saddle in a vague attempt to put up a chase barely happened at all. It certainly had little effect and was followed shortly afterwards by some huffing, puffing and thumping back down into a seated position. Just grind out what’s left of the course and try to not look too dribbly for anyone poking a camera at you…

Cross the line. Congratulations and commiserations all round. Chats and natters. Grins everywhere as mud plastered faces begin to set in the lunchtime sun. Even those nursing broken bikes are singing praise. Suddenly finishing positions don’t matter, any chasing down is done to have a quick catch up on how the race went for others and even race-sharpened elbows are tucked away as a queue forms for post-race brews and fine northern dining from the catering tent.

That, my friends, is a successful event. Over 200 entrants. 200 happy people, even after they’ve been battered, bruised, hosed down with mud and slop. 200 bikes that desperately need a wash too, but we’ll gloss over that one…

winter2

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