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

July 28, 2011

Bus Fare Home

Filed under: bikes,Racing — dgpowell @ 11:11 am

My legs feel as weak as a kitten’s”
were the exact words I used, while sat in the office earlier in the day, before heading down to Manchester for the final round of crits.
By the time I’d got there and signed on the feeble leggedness (that’s definitely a word, by the way, don’t bother looking it up, you can trust me) had spread to include a very butterflied (also a word) stomach as I realised the turnout for the race was nearly double what it had been for the previous two rounds I’d raced at. Oddly butterflied (it is a word), in fact, to the point where my HRM started bleating out readings well over 100bpm just while I was pulling my race jersey on…
Now, I’ll admit I did get a bit tangled up in the jersey – you know, where you have to sort of thrash about a bit to get it over your shoulders and then sort of shimmy around to pull it down over your chest – but it wasn’t enough of a workout to raise my heart rate that much!

Being thoroughly ‘pro’ I decided to just ignore it and go warm up a bit, riding up and down the entrance road while the youth races took place, hoping to get some life into my legs. I felt a bit muddle headed but put that down to how warm and still the weather was.

The youth races finished and we lined up on the start line. This week, rather than lump everyone in together, the organisers decided to run the race as a handicap; the 1st and 2nd cat fast boys would set off half a lap behind us lowly 3rd and 4th cat riders. There was only one set of points for the top finishers available, so the top guys would have to make up the deficit before racing to the finish. I had no idea how this would affect the way we would race and, unlike last week where I was full of desire to race everyone and everything in front of me, I wasn’t sure how I would end up doing as my heart rate danced along and my legs jittered underneath me.

We set off and I was immediately at the back, a failure to clip my left foot in properly meant I was engulfed in the throng of riders up the first straight and round a sharp hairpin bend, but start line adrenaline kicked in and helped me work my way back towards the front where I could keep an eye on any likely breaks in the group.
The speed for the first few laps was high, we started to really carve round the turns and the exit of every corner turned into a short sprint. I found myself struggling to power out of the bends, having to fight to stay on people’s wheels, the warm evening air ripping across my lungs, burning them and contorting my face into a full on race gurn very early on in the hour long race.

Occasionally a rider would try to make a break, only for the group to pull them back, or more often the attempt would just sort of peter out after a few seconds, which confused me (if I was just going to attack off the front I’d get my head down, keep that initial burst going for at least half a lap and not look up or start glancing round to see if I’d achieved anything until after that), but for the first 7 or 8 laps a group of about 10 of us were pretty much stuck together. We weren’t going slowly, by any means, in fact we’d already started lapping some people, but no real ‘moves’ had taken place. I was growing more and more grateful of this as I became more and more aware that I was lacking any power and my chest was worryingly sore whenever I had to put in any effort. I could sit on the front of the group and pull it along comfortably enough (which, in crit terms, isn’t comfortable at all really), but on the few occasions where I saw someone go off the front and chose to speed up in the hope of getting away with them I couldn’t shake myself loose of the riders behind me. I had no ‘snap’.

Go @twinklydave on Twitpic

A couple of laps later and the 1st and 2nd cat riders caught us. This showed me, in no uncertain terms, that I was way down on power. Last week I’d been able to work with them, this time round, they simply flew past, picking up two riders from our group as they immediately opened up a gap in front and continued to pull away.
My muddle headedness meant I didn’t even realise it was happening until they were a good few seconds ahead of us. I was about 3rd back in the remaining group as it slowly dawned on me that no-one was going to try and chase them down.

“Shit” I thought. “I don’t know if I can do this”.
I took a couple of deep breaths, ignored the stabbing pain that doing so caused, dropped down low on the bike and threw everything I could through the pedals. Head down, cranking as hard as I could before having to brake – as little as I dared – to tear round a hairpin before hunkering back down in the drops and thrashing my legs round as any sense of efficient pedalling went out the window in my attempt to close the gap and get on the back of the breakaway.
I glanced up and saw that I was halfway across to the still flat out group. Everything was hurting and a desire to just stop and sit down somewhere was creeping into the back of my head, but I promised myself another 30 seconds of trying to bridge to the racers in front before contemplating slowing. I kept my eyes locked on the rear wheel of the rider at the back of the group and just. kept. hammering.

I got to within about 2 or 3 seconds of them, tantalisingly close but not quite in the slipstream where I could hide and recover, but got caught up trying to ride round the outside of a couple of riders I was lapping. It slowed my progress only slightly (and certainly wasn’t anyone’s fault) but it was enough to leave me floundering. I couldn’t make contact with the front group and a glance behind me showed I’d opened up a slip of around 10 seconds to the group behind. My lungs were on fire, in a “not well” kind of way, rather than a “flat out effort” way and I knew I didn’t have much in the way of strength left in me.
I kept glancing back at the group chasing me, hoping someone would leap off the front and give making a break with me a go, but that didn’t happen. I began to fade and decided to drop back and shelter in the group rather than just hang myself out on my own. The first week I’d raced I had the strength to stay out on my own for near enough the whole hour, but tonight I couldn’t face it.

I stayed in the group until the finish, occasionally going to the front, trying to cancel out anyone’s 10 second leaps off the front as we entered the final few laps and managed to cheer myself up a bit on the final lap by overtaking a few people in the final sprint. I was too far back to get right to the front of the group (newbie error on my part there), but given that I could barely take a breath without wincing by that point, I was happy enough.

Fizzy legged and worryingly light headed, I wheezed my way back to the sign on tables to hand in my race number and was presented with an envelope. A bit confused I asked what it was for. “End of series winnings”, I was told. I wasn’t aware there WERE winnings to be had, I thought everything was for glory and points (which I couldn’t earn, racing on a provisional license, so in my case it was just for glory and the pitiful amount of that I’d earned wouldn’t need an envelope to keep it in), so I stumbled back outside, wafting the envelope around and mumbling to Jase, who’d popped down to watch, “I won summat, for doing summat”.
“Cool, what did you get?”
I realised I’d not actually *looked* at the envelope or explored what it’s contents were.
“Erm…” a bit of bleary eyed reading later ” a fiver.”
“Awesome” Jase said, semi sarcastically.
I tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t sound like “I coulda bin a contender”, failed and instead commented on how it would pay for a nice chippie tea.

I wandered back over to the car, still suffering every time I took a breath, clutching my prize, feeling a lot like a (bloody tough) game show contestant who had missed out on the briefcase full of £20 notes, the holiday for two to sunny Acapulco AND the speedboat and found themselves departing from the TV studio by the back entrance with nothing more to show for their endeavours than their bus fare home.

Winnings!

Note:
I should now point out that, quite frankly, I’m delighted to have got anything as a prize. I genuinely didn’t think people would be racing for money or anything like that, I know I wasn’t. I am in no way unhappy or ungrateful with the cash (chippie tea, in effect). In fact I think it’s ace!
It’s ace that the organisers even put the effort in to staging the series and I imagine most people, like me, are happy just to get the chance to race. Chasing people down, sprinting away, getting in breaks, learning how to work through groups, with groups, watch out for likely looking moves and get thoroughly put in my place by far, far faster riders is great fun and means I’ll be back if they stage another series. Definitely. 🙂

July 21, 2011

A vindication

Filed under: bikes,Racing — dgpowell @ 8:28 pm

Back to the Manchester City Race series last night for another dose of, well, pain really.
Crit racing, I’m rapidly learning, in 90% suffering, 10% looking for chances to stay in the lead group/escape from the lead group/get up to the people who’ve got ahead of the lead group and 10% cornering skills. Yes I know that’s 110% but, to quote modern day idiots, you have to give 110% at these things. (I feel dirty just saying that. I’m going to avoid saying anything about comfort zones and having to step out of them or I’ll have to find a naughty step to go and sit on whle I think of just how low I’ve sunk, mentally.). They’re hard, but mercifully quite short and you’ll rarely find time to glance at any sort of clock to see how long you’ve got to carry on suffering for, and even if you were able to see one, the chances of you having enough spare energy to do the maths are slim. Get your head down – not too far down so you can’t see what people around you are up to – and hammer it, just like everyone else is.

Last week didn’t go to plan. Well, I turned up, got my head down and gave it everything, but followed the wrong wheel, took a few corners too slowly and found myself off the back. I worked my arse off to get back onto the leading group and finished with them, but still got scored a lap down. Which I wasn’t. So, after sulking like a child for a while, I decided a return was in order, to put things right and show in no uncertain terms that I was more than capable of staying up at the front.
The plan was set then. More awareness of what was going on. Don’t get caught napping and get dropped. Whenever possible, attack. If someone else makes a move, go with it. Be up at the front and very obvious whatever occurs.

The wonderfully polite “off you go then” start was uttered, hundred of cleated shoes were frontically rubbed over pedals (mild exaggeration) and within a few seconds a heavily breathing line of riders thundered their way up the first incline, carved round the hairpin bend and started trying to unleash hell on each other.
I found myself somewhere in the middle, but kept my head up enough to keep an eye on what was happening at the front as people began to find themseves at the wrong end of gaps in the peloton. I made sure I moved back up past anyone who started to drop back and stayed in with the lead group as the laps began to flow past.

A rider, taking his turn at the front opened a gap of a few metres after taking a couple of corners smoothly while the rest of the lead pack got a bit caught up in itself carving round a hairpin bend. No-one seemed to react as I expected it to and the lone rider stayed ahed for a few more corners, dangling off the front of the group.
“This could be it” I thought, “I should see if I can get up there”. I worked my way up to the front of the group and threw down big pedal strokes as the course curved round to the left and joined onto the start straight. Head right down until the lone rider’s back wheel came in to view just in front of mine. A quick glance behind me showed I’d escaped from the pack without dragging everyone along with me, something the other rider noticed.
We agreed to work together and set about getting as far ahead as we could, taking turns in front to drive as high a pace as we could without blowing up completely.

Our gap kept growing as we were joined by a couple of 1st and 2nd cat riders who had spotted that our move might work. We continued to work together, all taking turns on the front – me usually staring at the lap counter each time I went past to make sure it was counting down correctly and no-one thought I was being lapped, not that there was any chance of that as I was happy to help open the gap back to the rest of the group whenever I thought someone might be watching – and by the time the count down board read 3 laps to go we were (by my feeble mid race maths) just over a minute ahead of what was left of the chase group as more and more riders were shelled off the back of it. We were pushing a hard pace and it was showing.

Sadly it started to show in me too as I developed my first ever stitch while riding. I didn’t even know you could GET a stitch while riding, so it was a bit of a surprise and the last thing I needed as our group started to attack each other for the win.
One rider shot off so fast I had no time to respond, nor did the other two. He was gone within the length of the main straight and rode on to the win by a seriously impressive 45 seconds. I found myself at the wrong end of a gap as the two guys in front of me started to go flat out round the swooping corners at the back of the course. Leaden legs were forced into another battering as I refused to sit up and accept 4th place with half a lap to go.
I got back on their back wheels but had no idea if there was anything left in my legs for what was obviously going to be a sprint for the line.
We flew round the last corner utterly flat out, leant as far over as we dared and hauled the bikes up underneath us to push every bit of power we had left out through the cranks.

I had no ‘kick’. I found myself able to keep on their wheels, but had nothing left to get alongside or past them as the finish line hurtled towards us.

4th then. In a sprint finish. The instant of disappointment as I crossed the line behind them washed away as I realised I was gasping for breath. Hands were shaken as we rolled down the course, trying to work lactic acid away from muscles. No doubt about the result this time. I’d done what I wanted; got in the break, been on the front right through the race, been a part of it. Got noticed. Good.

More of the same next week perhaps…

July 19, 2011

A big dose of “character building” Over’Tops

Filed under: bikes,rubbish weather — dgpowell @ 10:00 pm

We chatted, Jase and I, about anything; bikes, previous trips out this way, how many other people we’d passed on the climb, anything, even the weather itself, in an attempt to ignore just what the weather was actually doing to us.
Clad in lightweight rain jackets, stuck limply to soaked jerseys by hammering raindrops, then gusting drizzle, then more hammering raindrops we span our way, heads down to hide away from the fact that any views across the Pennines were lost in cloud, over the tops away from Oldham towards Halifax.
Bikes arced water from wheels as we climbed further into the remoteness, disappearing into the greyed out landscape as quickly as we appeared.

An hour or so earlier we’d been sat in a rugby club bar, shovelling down bowls of (free) porridge, studying the routecard handed out by the guys from Polocini and joking that it was going to rain on us all day until we got back to within sight of the club, at which point we prophasised blazing sunshine would appear. So far, our guess had been right.

As we skirted around various little Yorkshire villages the rain would keep us interested by changing ferocity, direction and temperature (yes, really) but never went away. The climbs seemed to follow suit, often steep, occasionally long and dragging but never far away. It should have been all the ingredients for a hard and miserable ride, but somehow it was great.

We hit the cobbled climb up ‘Shibden Wall’ as the downpours abated for the first time since we set off, giving us just enough traction to clear the ascent and pretend we were issuing some pain and suffering to those around us, before snacking on (free) flapjack and energy drink top ups (also free)

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Suitably refreshed, we followed the route as it began to wind it’s way back over from Yorkshire towards Lancashire in what seemed to be a long lasting break in the weather.
Still-damp roads and steep hairpin bends combined to give us a few ‘interesting’ moments on the descents as we explored the limits of traction on a few occasions, but we hit the bottom of the climb over Cragg Vale in one, rapidly drying, piece.

We climbed, heads again bowed, legs ticking over metronomically, for an eternity, which got us about halfway up. Cragg Vale is a long climb. More climbing rewarded us with entry to the most exposed section of the ascent, where strong blasts of wind slowed our progress and turned faces from ‘concentrated’ to ‘forced’. More climbing, much more, and the road started to level out. We were rewarded with pain.. Not from legs – well used to this sort of treatment – but from some of the heaviest rain I’ve encountered, lashing us as it was thrown around by the strong, blasting wind. Faces turned again, this time to ‘grimacing scowl’ as we ducked down towards the bars in vain attempts to hide from the hammering we were taking.

Dropping down into the valley as fast as we could with little visability as the road vanished, hidden underneath the haze caused by raindrops bouncing several inches from where they struck the ground, did little to find us any shelter. No option but to carry on, first up steep climbs, then back down more twisting descents, until we found ourselves heading back towards Oldham where, as we came within a mile or so of the Rugby club from where we’d set off earlier, the rain abated and the sun came out.

Typical.

Somehow, the guys at Polocini had created a great ride. In a way the weather added to the Northern Grit that a ride entitled “Over ‘Tops”, designed around the bleak and unforgiving Pennine boundary between Lancashire and Yorkshire seemed to demand.
We were well fed before, during and after, never missed a turn due to the well placed signposts and discovered several nice new climbs to return and suffer on some more in the future (possibly when it’s not raining quite so much).
Chapeau!

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.

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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 🙂

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