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

October 31, 2018

Sand in my crack

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 10:39 am

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

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

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

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Bring the noise

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

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

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Pic by Phil “shouting loudly” Simcock

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

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Pic by “also shouting loudly” Liz Grimley

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

October 22, 2018

Epiphanies in the spiral of doom

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 10:19 am

There was a new venue for this weekend’s NWCCA race in the leafy Cheshire suburbs, in the grounds of a out-of-town-farmers-market-cum-shopping-centre thing, complete with bemused looking Cheshire housewives driving to peruse and choose their bespoke hand crafted artisan housewares and cupcakes looking on as several hundred grinning, lycra coated cyclocross racers thrashed their bespoke hand crafted artisan push bikes round an utterly brilliant race course.

A pre-race ride round the twisty, turny, up-y, down-y lap suggested it would be a good race. Corner after corner meant the racing could be close, but with enough ‘flow’ to keep the overall pace high. There was even an unofficial (but compulsory, in my mind) jump halfway round. The course designers had obviously lost their ruler when designing the course though, as I counted about 3 straight bits on the whole way round! Another dry week meant the ground was rock solid beneath everyone’s tyres – the V50 race was FAST, with no let up in pedalling needed to get round any of the bends. Rather than a series of accelerations, the whole thing was just one huge interval-that-never-ends. Ace. Mud is brilliant, but so are fast races. I kept my tyres pumped up comparatively hard, relishing the chance to get some lean angles going on in the corners during my race…

…of course, bu the time the V50s had finished the morning sunshine (and jokes about needing ice creams to keep cool) had gone. By the time the V40s had fnnished hurling themselves round the bone dry route it had cooled off and there was a hint of drizzle in the air. By the time I hunkered down on the turo trainer to try and work some life into my tired feeling legs (I’d been doing more “efforts” during the week to get a bit of pre-National Trophy form going) that “hint” of drizzle was, well, proper drizzle and by the time we poor seniors & juniors actually lined up ready for the off it was just plain raining. Of course it was. What else.

Those rock solid, super fast corners became evil looking “will I find grip? Will the wet grass fling me across the ground on my arse as my tyres give up?” moments of terror as the rain hammered down. For a couple of laps I took it quite gingerly, not at ease with the sliding about going on from the tyres, and saw the front of the race open up a big gap. It wasn’t until, halfway into the “spiral of doom”, on about my 3rd lap, that I realised the uncertain nature of the ground was brilliant fun. Instead of trying to micromanage every little movement underneath me, I gave the tyres more freedom. I tried to ‘flow’ with the slips and slides rather than boss them about and dabbed a foot when needed, rather than braking and trying to regain traction instantly. God it was brilliant. Just ace.

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Trying to micromanage things that can’t be. I figured out you’re meant to enjoy it eventually… (Pic by Ellen)

Don’t know where I finished yet, think it was 6th or 7th, I’d given the fast lads too much of a head start to do really well, but there was mud stuck in my teeth from the grinning as I crossed the finish line. If someone had shouted “who wants to go and do that again?” as I pulled up to catch my breath, I’d have been back on the course in a flash. That’ll do for me 🙂

October 15, 2018

Never forget the ones to forget

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 9:52 pm

The Heaton Park race didn’t go all that well really. A remarkably greasy course, which was still fun even if I didn’t get to grips with ‘that’ off camber section, could have been well suited to me, with some good long power sections – up and down through the trees with accelerations and ‘get stuck in’ cranking needed to hold your speed, that sort of thing – and what amounted to a hill reps section halfway round.
I realised early on in the day that my ‘intermediate’ tyres on the 2nd bike weren’t the right choice – their paddle like tread offering little on the off-camber sections as far as grip went and, although they clear mud well, not enough tread depth to bite into the still fairly solid-but-slippery course. Oh well, I’d have to stay on the 1st bike whenever possible, maybe swap once if the bike clogged up with the grass & autumn leaves. That seemed like a plan.

Didn’t work out like that though. The #1 bike seemed fine during my turbo trainer warm up, but a gentle half backpedal while on the start line, seconds away from the off, unshipped the chain. “Weird”, I thought, “but easily fixable, I’ll just wrap it back round the chainring and…oh, that’s weird, it’s not on the jockey wheels either. It’s jammed in between the lower jockey wheel, how the f-k did that happen?!”
I got the chain back on with about 30 seconds to go…but on the first turn of the pedals off the start it jamme itself in the rear mech again. I sprinted backwards through the field, chain growling it’s way through the cage of the mech, gears skipping all over the place. Arse.

I soft pedalled back to the pits, somewhere near the back of the pack and swap to the #2 bike (at least I have one!) and set about trying to work my way back up through the racers. I’d not lowered the pressure in the tyres much, which wasn’t helping with their lack of grip in the corners, so any places I’d make up in the faster sections was being thrown away in the corner-y bits as I tried to not fling myself through the course tape over and over.

Lap after lap went past like this, with me getting more and more wound up with myself – if only I’d sorted out some grippier tyres for this bike, I’d be OK – and staring hopefully up at the pits on each pass of them, hoping the #1 bike would somehow be resurrected, only to see a huddle of Horwich helpers gathered round it, like onlookers at a car crash. Ah bugger.

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Issuing some watts while the tyres gripped. Of course it’s an Ellen pic

It wasn’t all bad. The bike was by no means unrideable. The tyres cleared the mud well and the tread actually worked really well on the climbs and the faster sections. Racing is racing, no matter where you are in the overall scheme of things and the sun was coming out. I tried to enjoy it.

About halfway through the race, Paul called out to me that the #1 bike had been made rideable again. Ace. I flew into the pits, sideways – I’d been doing a lot of things sideways, with the #2 bike often giving up grip with no notice – and got on with getting back into the top end of the race.

I managed to get a few more places back and felt like I was settling in to the race quite well when one young lad I’d just caught back up put on a full on sprint round the final corner before the finish line. “That’s weird”, I thought, glancing at the lap number board still reading ‘1 to go’, “I wonder why he bothered to do tha…oh”. Directly underneath the ‘1 to go’ board, the chequered flag fluttered gently. “Ah bugger. Again”

7th in the end. Could have been much worse though and, lets be honest, playing out on bikes in the park with good people is always worth it. Even more so when you’ve got a team of people willing to hang around in the pits performing surgery on a filthy bike for you, while you mince around pretending you’ve got it tough. Thanks guys 🙂

(The mech’s a write off though, I’m allowed to be annoyed about that)

October 7, 2018

Event Horizon

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 8:59 pm

I’ll not lie, after the 3 Peaks I felt drained. Not “aarg I can’t walk down stairs” drained like after a 24hr race, just empty. despite feeding and hydrating myself up I got the sniffles (not a cold, not even full blown man-flu, just some grotty sniffles) and felt a bit swamped with malaise. Figuring that riding through it might be the best way forward I didn’t cancel any training, just cut it slightly shorter during the week and did my best to pretend there wasn’t two races in a row coming up…

…to my surprise and delight it seemed to work a bit and as the sun rose on Saturday I was quite looking forward to the next NWCCA race, up in Cumbria. I wasn’t as fresh as a daisy, but I wasn’t struggling to stand up straight or anything like that and the sniffles had reduced to a slight excessive snot production. Lets get on with it!

The Westmorland Showground race course was really, really good. Enough “power” bits to suit me and enough climbs to give me even more of an advantage. The ground was pretty dry, it wasn’t stupidly cold, the sun was out and the bikes were working well. You’ve got to be happy with that!
The race went quite well. As expected I felt like my (pitiful at best TBH) explosiveness out of the corners was a bit lacking, but the endurance was still there. A stupid crash (isn’t there always a stupid crash!) lost me a bit of time, but I finished in 4th with the knowledge that I’ve got it in me to move much further forward and greatly reduce the time gaps that opened up in future. With the start of some winter training (still ‘cross specific) coming up I’m pretty happy with how I’m going.

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It’s another Ellen pic

Finish line crossed I almost immediately necked a bottle of recovery drink, horribly aware of what the next day’s race would feel like with even the slightest bit of fatigue in the legs…

The Rake. My only hill climb of the season (“proper” hill climb season I mean, those fun summer hill climb races organised by the local clubs don’t count in the same way). One of the best to do, for two reasons: 1) It’s pretty short – if you want to win you’ll need to be lying on the floor at the top just two and a half minutes after setting off and 2) The crowds.
Most hill climbs are spectated by that one old bloke who seems to be halfway up every course and one confused looking sheep. That’s it. A nasty, steep road, some cold weather – probably with a chilly and blustery headwind that’s whipped it’s way across the desolate moor you’re climbing up onto – and nothing else except a bloke with a chequered flag who never seems to get closer, no matter how hyperventilate-y you get. Not The Rake though. It’s different.
There’s shouts of support right from the start line, your named gets repeated in an encouraging way as you make your way along the ‘intermediate’ section and then, as you turn right onto Rawsons Rake itself it all kicks off. Properly.

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@twinklydave

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A loud PA system blares out Northern commentary to what can only be described as a wall of screaming faces. When it’s empty the Rake is quit a wide road, considering how steep it is and what a back road it is, but as you hit it’s increasingly uncompromising slopes it’s narrowed by an almost ridiculous throng of spectators, none of whom are there to politely nod approval at you. It’s rare for anyone, no matter how “back of the pack” they are, to get off. You’re not allowed. The crowds don’t let you. Seemingly fed by the information about you firing out of the PA system, if you look like you’re stuttering in your effort the chants get louder, more demanding, more in unison. “up. up. up. Up. Up. UP. UP. UP. UP. GO. GO. GO.”
Stopping feels like it would be more dangerous and painful than turning those cranks round one more time, so you do. And do again. And again until you emerge from the semi-darkness of the tree covered section onto the one flat section nicely framed by the finish line. It is ace.
Of course, the one thing you don’t want, is to have fatigue in your legs from the first power-away turn of the pedals off the start. If there’s a hollow ache in your thighs after a couple of seconds you’re going to be immersed in misery for what might as well be an eternity. And the crowds will still be there, round the corner, on the Rake, waiting for you…

Despite the post-cross-race recovery drink, I knew I was in for the eternity thing as soon as I parked the van on Budge’s driveway. A walk up the course confirmed to me that somehow it had got steeper since the last time I’d gone up it and, at the same time, my legs had turned into a mixture of jelly and lead in all the wrong proportions. Bugger.
My turbo trainer warm up made little difference and necking a caffeine shot half an hour before the race, rather than giving me a mental boost, just woke me up to the discomfort even more (thankfully Budge very kindly let me use his loo as well, so at least the nervous pre-race wee wasn’t an issue today!). Bugger.
One final on-the-start-line tighten of my shoes to ensure I got every last feeble watt out of my legs into the pedals and “ping!” the buckle holding the velcro strap on my shoes snaps. Bugger. I’ll be racing with one loose shoe then.
Considering all of that, it kind of went well. My slowest ever time in the event, but somehow I was able to take in the atmosphere as I rode up more than in previous years. Riding through that tunnel of noise is utterly brilliant and I heartily recommend it to anyone who likes riding bikes. Plus it only lasts for a few minutes then you can have a lie down in the middle of the road without anyone thinking less of you…

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It’s another Ellen pic

I don’t think the 3 minutes of work took much out of my legs so, with any luck, I should be back into some sort of form for next week’s race at Heaton Park. I hope so, as it’s usually a good course for laying down some power and hurt. 🙂

October 2, 2018

A walk on part in the war

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 2:43 pm

From my vantage point riding up and down the damp main road above the scene, heavy, leaden skies combine with the silent quarry walls to backdrop a line of cars tucked tight against the side of the small back road from the Helwith Bridge Inn, seemingly leaching the otherwise vibrant splash of colour from huddled riders trying to shelter from their imposing surroundings.
Away from the hustle and bustle of yawn-interrupted, often harshly Northern sounding greetings, as the riders fidget their preparations there’s an almost silent foreboding to the atmosphere. I lift my head away from their movements towards the race route to see the three giants stand tall, towering over the quarry, over the melee, over the best plans being laid out below. This race, this event, is A Big Ask. Maybe too big. I’ve not trained for this like I have in any of my previous attempts. Less running, an almost baby-skin soft shoulder, I’m no hardened warrior, battle ready and raring to go. I bow my head and choose to focus on watching the heart rate readout on my computer. In the absence of an abundance of training I’ll have to make a race strategy based on knowledge rather than just strength enough to fight the mountains.

The race begins with it’s “neutralised” start. I’m buried deep in the charge, which feels as safe and as neutral as a war zone. There’s little sign of a ceasefire between the riders as a mixture of adrenaline and a lack of experience of riding in tight pelotons makes for an uncomfortably tense first few minutes. I move my way towards the front of the swarm as it flows through the sleepy Sunday villages in the hope of finding a more ‘civil’ space to begin my assault. The hopeful roar of cyclocross tyres on wet tarmac is silenced almost instantly as we hit the first of the off road sections, riding across tussocky fields towards the vista-stealing flank of Simon Fell. A baked dry summer helps make for quick progress across the flat and before I know it, I’m flinging the bike onto my arm like a downed comrade being carried from the battlefield. As the hillside steepens in response to my advance, the well worn footholes appear in the earth that are simultaneously several steps ahead and immediately in front of my face. “Good god this thing is steep”, I remember as my progress slows to the classic 3 Peaks death march, “I wonder if I’ve used these particular footprints before…”.

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Around me, calf muscles and lungs begin to pop like bombs going off as Simon Fell really kicks in and fights back. As riders seem to succumb to their own onslaught, I duck out of the procession and make my way back towards what I deem to be safety. Like an old friend, the wire fence to the side of the route up the slope, curved and bent by years of hauling hands pulling at it, waits quietly for me. While others try for the fast, direct method, I award myself some assistance and re-assume a position I’ve adopted several times before at this point; one hand pulling on the fence, one holding the bike in position on my shoulder with my feet jabbing into the well established grooves that tell the tale of decades of past races. It’s not as fast, but the technique gets me over the top and onto the high plains before the summit with more energy saved in reserve. Knowledge over brute strength. It’s working so far.

I “dib in” at the top, with two things prevalent in my mind; the views across the countryside below are in attendance, a rare treat that shouldn’t be ignored and it seems quieter than in the other editions of the race I’ve taken part in. After the briefest of glances across towards the softer fells of Bowland I realise the emptiness around me is due to me being further forward in the race than normal. I’ve knocked a couple of minutes off my PB to the top and it’s paying dividends.
Complacency and over eagerness aren’t allowed to take hold on the descent towards Cold Cotes. I’ve done well to get to the top quicker than normal, but this is no time for a flat out charge down the hill. My lack of “away from the cyclocross race field” riding means I don’t have as much skill as many of those around me. I don’t chase them or try to keep up as rider after rider sails past me. I keep myself upright, fighting fit. I know how much more there is to come and how ominous the view becomes as you realise you’ve still got two mountains to overcome. I rejoin the road at Cold Cotes with the leaden skies that enveloped the start still surrounding me.

Energy gels and electrolyte drink are poured down my throat on the tarmac descent to Ingleton. Whernside is coming and I’ve cramped up on that climb before now. Not today. Those memories and that knowledge leave me forewarned and forearmed.
Before that, the long linking road between the mountains gives me an opportunity. when the risks are low, sometimes a good offence is the best defence. With little chance of crashing, and safe in the knowledge those gels will soon be kicking in, I put the hammer down and set about getting back some of the places I gave away on the descent. tucked in and as aero as I can get on the ‘cross bike I chase down rider after rider. Occasionally someone will tag onto my back wheel, but it’s gratifying to see that no-one hangs on for the whole road section.
I’m still taking back places as I hit the lower slopes of the tallest of the Peaks, with a determination as grim as the still-heavy clouds framing the scene. I dislike the descent off Whernside so want to get as much ‘in hand’ on the climb. The stone steps on the steeper pitches of the ascent differ in feel under my feet from the soft grass and dirt of Ingleborough. Harsh clunking of cycling shoes on the unyielding, uneven staircase echoes in front and behind me as I try to keep moving up through the field. It’s little more than the cycling equivalent of all out waras a group of us reach the gentler slopes along the backbone of the mountain, towards the top.

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Pic by Joolze Dymond – click her name for more brilliant shots of the race

Over the top, my lack of preparation comes into view as fully as the sprawling Ribblehead viaduct far below. I have no idea where the rideable lines are. Once again, racer after racer is flying past me as I stumble my way along the weather beaten slabs. It’s not until we’re about halfway down the hillside that I realise I can’t win the battle by continually surrendering. Bike flung over a stile I resolutely remount and get pedalling. Forceful pedal strokes to remind myself that I can ride just as well as those around me. Skipping the bikes over rocks, floating over waterbars and dancing down the drops. A glance at the ride time on my computer shows me I’m further ahead of my previous best time. This is war, this is fun!

I nearly miss Angela, waiting patiently for me at Ribblehead with a spare waterbottle and another gel. She shouts and waves as loudly and as vibrantly as she can, buried within the trailside throngs of supporters and spectators, but I don’t spot her until the last minute and grumble inaccuracies about her attempts to attract my attention. Half the crowd leap to her defence and I slink off, chastised for my surly attitude.

More gel and electrolyte consumed on the 2nd tarmac link section of the day I revert to my earlier tactic and drop the hammer towards Horton in Ribblesdale. I catch up to a group of five riders and we work together quite well right up to the sharp left turn towards Pen y Ghent.
I’m becoming increasingly aware I could sneak home in under three and a half hours – an ‘elite’ finishing time. Comfortably fuelled I decide to put everything into the ascent. Pen y Ghent is the most rideable of the three mountains, offering me a bit of an advantage which I take with full gusto. I chase down rider after rider, continually spurred on over the rocky bridleway by the lack of any leaders hurtling past me on their way back down the course. I’ve never got this far up the climb without the eventual winner and his pursuant racers going by.
I jog where I’m forced to dismount by the slope, always looking for an opportunity to get riding again as soon as possible. The trail s still littered with the shellshocked, the injured and the just-plain-blown-up, even this far ‘up’ the race rankings. I keep taking places as I race – truly race, not just ‘make my way’ – towards the final summit.
The descent is treated as a final salvo. Gravel machine gunning from under my tyres as I skip off waterbars I recognise from years gone by and drift round the loose surfaced corners I feel like I know quite well. Knowledge and brute strength combined. I’m still by no means the fastest rider heading back towards the road, but I find myself spinning my biggest gear while skimming over the rocks and rubble. The bike is left to play about underneath me like the battle weary war horse it is.
I only loose one place and it’s by so little that I spend the final couple of road based miles chasing like a madman to get it back. I fail, finally ‘dibbing’ in at the finish line just a second or so behind my newfound nemesis, but it doesn’t seem to matter. I’m officially decorated as an ‘elite’.
It could be argued I was truly part of the ‘race’ this year, rather than a ‘taker part’. OK so I wasn’t in any danger of getting near the podium but for the first time, if nothing else, I had a walk on part in the war.

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Elite! Finally! #3pcx

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