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

October 28, 2019

The hamster wheel learning curve conundrum

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 5:08 pm

Leg speed! Leg speed! Leg speed! I chanted to myself as I scrabbled my way through the first of two sand pits on Irvine’s National Trophy ‘cross course. I’d dismounted and begun to run through the fake beach (real beach located just over a set of sand dunes to the right, providing a scenic backdrop tot he race for photographers willing to brave the chill wind up at the top of the banking) because, well, the rider in front had done. I’d learned on the last lap that, if the person in front dismounts, you have to. Despite the course being regulation width between the tape, once off the one racing line in the sand you weren’t overtaking anything. Off, sprint, remount and ignore the spike in heart rate the run had brought on as you dish out as much power as possible. Like a hamster getting on and off it’s wheel.

The course was covered in these little learning opportunities, despite it’s apparent simplicity. In fact, maybe BECAUSE of it’s seeming simplicity. Sometimes making race courses so continually technical removes an element of strategy for people racing them, you’re not really racing those around you, you’re just focused on getting through/over/round the obstacles. I’m not saying take all the fun out of courses (or, worse, turn them into something resembling a zwift race…or hamster wheel contest) but get a course just right and riders will find ways to use the trickier bits to their advantage. They’ll learn as the race progresses and the course conditions change and they’ll love it. I was.

Pic courtesy of Richard Howes Photography – @askRHPhotos

I got a decent (for me) start. From the 2nd row I’d pretty much held my own along the start straight gallop and avoided any 1st lap bottlenecks. The start in ‘cross is massively important and I’d been learning to get on top of it. Keep the legs turning after a decent warm up for as long as possible, keep the blood going and the heart rate elevated a bit to reduce the shock of those first few frantic moments.
From watching the race sprint off at round 1, stuck at the back waiting for people to get on with it, to getting caught up in the human knot in the middle of the field at Round 2 and having to work round the inevitable traffic jam to holding my own at the business end at round 3. That learning curve is steep, but climbable.

Just like that hamster happily scampering away on it’s wheel, I’d kept my pace up as close to the start sprint as possible and had managed to work my way up in to the top ten. With the endless enthusiasm “Hammy” (for that is what we will call our hamster on it’s wheel) has, I kept my chin up as the laps flew by, thoroughly enjoying being able to rail the bike round corner after corner, chasing riders in front and dropping anyone behind. It’s kind of funny, when you take a step back from it all, to think about how much fun you can have going round and round in circles in a park on a weekend morning with your bike. In the grand scheme of things you’re not really getting anywhere but at the same time you’re learning more and more. Getting better, faster and just generally loving the feeling of racing.

Railing corners, yay! Pic by Iona Simcock

Going in to the last two laps myself, number 13 for this race and number 12 were trading places every few corners. This seemed to please the commentator, who delightedly announced that ‘our’ race was going according to the gridding we’d had. Dismounting mid way through the second sand trap and keeping that leg speed up, despite any fatigue I may have been feeling, we arrived at firmer ground side by side. The unmistakable sound of race shoe slipping across pedal without clipping in from number 12 echoed almost deafeningly in my head.
I was clipped in and able to put down a burst to get in front and open enough of a gap to stop him hanging on to my wheel.

Pic courtesy of Richard Howes Photography – @askRHPhotos

You learn, very quickly, that in the Trophys you can’t make any mistakes or you’re punished for them instantly. I kept that in mind and, rather than just frantically try to sprint away, I concentrated on really nailing my lines. I’ll never be the greatest bike handler in the world (or in the room, if there’s anyone else in said room…) but I made the most of every single piece on information I’d taken in during the race. Where each little patch of sand was, which corners to take slowly to give a faster line through the next section, how early I could start pedaling on the exit of each bend without slipping. Clever, rather than clattering about crazily.
It seemed to work and the gap opened over the final lap. In fact it worked so well I made up a huge amount of time on the riders on front of me, crossing the finish line 7th, just 20 seconds back on 5th place…hmm, a new lesson to learn there. The learning curve continues upwards!

October 21, 2019

Hand Shakes

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 4:48 pm

One of the best parts of Cx racing (Ok, it’s not limited to just cyclocross, or indeed the sport of cycling alone) is that few moments after crossing the finish line, gathering in the wheezing cacophony of sweat and rising steam in the chilled air as heart rate slowly begin to drop, snot is wiped from faces and heartfelt handshakes/high fives/fistbumps/manhugs are flung around with endorphin fuelled enthusiasm.
The person who, just a few moments earlier, was your wholehearted enemy who must be caught and passed/dropped instantaneously becomes you best mate for a while as you trade stories, congratulate brilliant saves, apologise for mid race mistakes and generally all agree that a jolly good time was had by all.
I love those minutes, the flip change from agressive racing to agreeable giggling, the mutual respect and admiration, no matter where you’ve finished, they’re brilliant.

Sunday just gone I didn’t get a chance for any of it though. Deciding to “double up” and race in the Senior/Junior category immediately after the V40s was a GREAT idea at midday, with the sun shining and nothing but a few sighting laps in my legs. Reality though…

The V 40 race started typically…by which I mean from being ranked #1 and having the pick of the spots on the front row I managed to end up back in about 10th place by the first corner, my backwards sprint in full effect. So i had some work to do. I watched Tom Pidcock race the day before, working his way back from about 10th up onto the podium in a Superprestige race and decided I’d have a go at doing that. No panicked sprinting and crashin, just ride up through the field as calmly as I could (“calm” at way above threshold, obviously!).

Pic by Ellen

What I got, not for the first time this season, was 40 minutes of truly brilliant racing. I kept my cool on the corners and exercised caution over bravado and unleashed as much power as I could in between and, well, managed to get to the front and get clear. Purposefully forgetting that I needed to save some energy, just giving it the beans whenever possible while ensuring I stayed upright. Happy days and a bit of a ‘punch the air in delight’ as I crossed the finish line as the winner. Lovely stuff. 🙂

Pic by Ellen

The only downer on the win was having to immediately bugger off from the finish line. No revelry, no heart handshakes or chances to catch those mid-race stories as everyone crossed the line, just a rush back to the pits to swap race numbers, get a clean bike and get back to the start line.

I poured a can of cola down my neck and stuffed a gel up the leg of my shorts to guzzle mid race, expecting the last 40 odd minutes of full on effort to hit me at some point during the next 50 minutes of effort and lined up once again.
2nd start seemed to go better than the first – maybe I was better warmed up (well, the muscles definitely had enough blood going through them by that point in the day!) – I;d not placed myself too far foward but maade up quite a few places in the first series of corners. I felt fine so, ignoring the discussion I’d had with Dave Haygarth about pacing strategies, I pushed on as hard as I could and kept fighting for every place.

By about 4 laps in I’d got myself up to the top ten, just passing Paul Upton as I passed the pits and joked to Angela and Cam who were pitting for me about it starting to get tough. Those words almost instantly became prophetic as, within half a lap, the ‘pop’ my legs had out of each corner faded. Paul retook his place and I started to lose the strength to hold his wheel. Another half a lap and I was dropping gears at most parts of the course as my body finished off the sugar from the can of cola. suddenly I was really fighting to make it up the slopes and even hold concentration on the tricky sections.

Pic by Ellen

I remembered the gel stuffed up my shorts leg and tried to get it into my mough on a fast, straight section at the back of the course, but by that point my hands were actually shivering with the lack of energy and all I succeeded in doing was burst the wrapped and squeeze it across my chin! I muttered a few swear words and hunkered down for the last two laps as best I could. To everyone behind me I was a sitting duck. Unable to offer any resistance as riders I sprinted away from earlier on caught and dropped me, my pace falling away almost hilariously.
I’d just crossed the line for the last lap as Giles took the win, so I had the small consolation of knowing I’d not lose any more places, but by that point the metaphorical wheels were well and truly off my wagon.
Someone I was lapping (really sorry, I wasn’t paying attention by this point so forget who it was – but thankyou!) took pity on me as I imploded right alongside them, allowing me to shelter on their wheel until we got to the finish line, where I promptly missed the whole handshake/chatting moment for a second time to go and find something to eat/drink before I fell over!

Here’s hoping for the ‘supercompensation’ by my legs in time for next week’s National Trophy up at Irvine Beach Park. Last year it was utterly brilliant and I’ve all my fingers and toes crossed for another sunny, dry, fast, swoopy race with stunning views. 🙂

October 14, 2019

Pedal Dead Hard

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 9:04 am

Pretty much sums up the good bits of any sort of bike race, that phrase. One of the great things about cyclocross is that the phrase sums up the entire thing: Someone says “go” (or blows a whistle, sounds a hooter, or whatever) and those three words should sum up all you try to do until someone waves a chequered flag at you. Little is required in the way of tactics, there’s not much point in pacing yourself (and, quite frankly, if you try and “pace” the first minute of a cyclocross race you’ll get a good view of everyone else disappearing off – so get stuck in!), just stay upright and keep telling yourself to pedal dead hard.

I did. It seemed to work. Off the start line at the last NW round I’d picked a slightly bigger gear than normal and, for a second or two, I could feel the rest of the V40 pack starting to surge around me. Pedal Dead Hard and hold your position in to the first corner as you get on top of that big gear was the plan and it seemed to pay off. Frantic gear changes around me were left behind through the second and third corners as 4 or 5 of us opened a slight gap. Bill Nickson was hanging off the front by a few bike lengths. Pedal Dead Hard and get on his wheel. Sorted. We start to stretch the gap back to 3rd as we climb past the pits and begin the “still have to pedal dead hard because of the mud” descent.

I decide discretion is the better part of valour through the wall of sound (a great atmosphere created by the hecklers at the top of a steep slope) that encompasses the bombhole climb and Run Dead Hard out of the dip – it still counts the same in ‘cross.

We don’t use file treads very often in the NW league…

By lap 2 we’ve got a decent little gap so, as we start the horrible dragging climb back from the bottom of the course towards the pits, I decide to push on hard, in case anyone behind makes a move to get back on terms with us. Head down (as much as possible when you have to keep an eye out for the constantly changing ‘good line’ through the ever present mud!) and, yep, Pedal Dead Hard.
Through the pits I open a gap on 2nd and there’s only one thing to do when that happens – keep going. Focus on picking the right lines through the tricky sections and always get the power down as early as possible.

40 minutes of that and, hey presto, someone hands you a beer on the finish line as you roll over the timing mat for the win. Lots of training, lots of time spend making sure the bikes work, lots of support in the pits (on this occasion not needed, but to know they’re all there for you makes a huge difference) and encouragement from marshals/spectators round the course all hidden behind a muddy grin earned by simply pedalling dead hard. Job’s a good ‘un.

October 6, 2019

Two rounds of the National Trophy down, three seasons raced in, conditions-wise

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 11:00 pm

Round One of this season’s National Trophy Series was Derby. A well tested, almost classic venue. Apparently. I’d never raced there. In fact I’m struggling to think of any time I’ve been to Derby for any reason.
A stupid early start to get there gave chance to watch a glorious sunrise as summer made a brief appearance. Barely a cloud in the sky and a complete lack of mud under the wheels. Dust, in fact, was being kicked up as the frantic-first-lap-of-the-first-race-of-the-season hurtled into the never ending ribbon of corners for the sake of corners.

I know because I saw it. Way off in front of me. BC’s seemingly random allocation of gridding position saw me completely at the back. As in there was no-one behind me and I couldn’t even see the front couple of rows of riders. Crap. “Good job cx races aren’t all about the vital fast start eh!” joked a spectator.

Amazingly, I got a good start and found myself swooping though the field almost instantly. The front of the race was already kicking up that dust way ahead (it’s not like they need a head start!) but I was on a mission and by the start of lap two my rough estimate was that I’d made up about 30 places while everyone was still fairly closely packed together. Brilliant.

Sadly a crash saw a lot of that work wiped out and the rest of the race was spent getting those places back for a second time. A tougher ask as the laps passed as groups formed (getting up to and past one person isn’t too big an ask, but groups of 5 or 6, all busy battling each other become mobile roadblocks in effect – too long a line of riders to power past on the (infrequent…) straights without a response from at least one of them, and too busy taking all the possible lines on the corners to rail round.
Enough of the negativity though, I regained all the places I’d lost and more besides, finishing 30th. All that mattered by that point was making sure I’d get a better gridding position for round two (and getting a cold drink, as the combo of dust, sun and 25 degree temperatures was a proper throat dryer!)

Round 2. Home. Nearly. Westmorland Show Ground. Venue for rounds of the NW league before now (and a good venue at that). Close enough to pop over to on the Friday to help out with setting up the course. OK I only tapped in a couple of stakes and ziptied a sliver of catch netting, small fry to the scary long hours lots of the NWCCA lads and lasses have sacrificed to get it going, but at least I had something to concentrate on while racing: Don’t crash and wreck the bit’s I’d put together!
For this round I was gridded 20th – this would have been brilliant, but I completely lost track of time before the start and missed getting a proper warm up done. A few sprints up and down the road next to the venue meant I wasn’t likely to actually ‘hurt’ myself, but I didn’t get the same sort of launch off the line as occurred at Derby. (You can see how far back I was in this vid: )
Back to about 35th by the first corner and a telling off when I got home about concentrating on getting myself sorted and leaving the bikes to the Horwich guys who really are happy to take care of the behind-the-scenes stuff for me!
Another unneeded head start handed to the top guys and a lap spent waiting for the legs and lungs to catch up with my race head.
I soon got up to speed and, on what can only be described as the perfect mix of technical sections and flat out bits, I got to grips with fighting back towards the pointy end of the race.

Roost! Pic by Ellen

The more I raced, the more I loved it. The course, the way I felt, all spot on. Even the conditions – enough mud for ruts to form on the off camber sections and make some sections faster on foot, but still offering enough grip to really hammer it – were ace. Every obstacle seemed to have someone cheering me on attached to it, which just spurred me on more.
11th by the end. Still riding strong and feeling great, wishing for more laps so we could all carry on (oh how’d I’d learn…). I’ll get up to the fast lads and get a decent result, everything’s there.

Sunday ignored the pleasant autumnal conditions of day one, utterly. Rain rain rain and more rain overnight turned the course from techy fun to ferocious. Normally I;d be settling back feeling smug at having already done “my” race, but a deep down desire to just race bikes all the time meant I’d entered the elite race as well, so back to the Showground I went.
I did the sum total of 1.5 practice laps (plus a couple of goes at the “drop of doom” which, while rideable, was damn uncomfortable, so I decided to run (slide on my arse) down it during the race.) and set about begging the Port Sunlight guys for help in the pits with their jetwash.
OK, that’s a lie, they’d already offered as they’re properly nice people. I don’t know how they managed it, but they seemed to be looking after half the race – and we all got clean bikes when we needed them. Chapeau!

I didn’t mind being gridded quite far back for this one (understandable, seeing as I’ve raced once in that age category this season), I was in it for the fun of it. And by “fun” I mean it was a great chance to get some skills practice and flat out riding done. In the mud. A bit of trench warfare. But (and it’s a big but) don’t bin it and get hurt. Conservative racing, whatever that is (I may have just made it up).

So slow Adam appears to have fallen asleep… Thanks to Graham for the pic

Not a great race, given how surprisingly fresh I felt at the start – I had expected some fatigue, but everything was just…working! – but I started in 49th and finished 39th. A few chain issues cost some time and I know full well I could have pushed harder here and there, but it was still, strictly speaking, a net win. Plus it left me in no doubt about just how brilliant everyone involved with the NW league is. I mean, Sarah came over after the race to apologise about not being in the pits on my last lap, thinking I’d already been pulled from the course – despite the fact that she’d dived in to help completely off her own back (and it would have made 0 difference!). A demand for payment would have been more appropriate than an apology! And, if you think I’m ever exaggerating the amount of cheering people do for me from the sides of the course, this time round it actually became the topic of (out of breath, gasping) conversation a couple of times with other riders, while racing! Just brilliant people.

Ayr next (for the Trophy’s, we’re off to Beacon Park for the NW leaague again ext weekend). Last year it was stunning, here’s hoping for even more this time. 🙂

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