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

January 26, 2020

Angels with dirty faces

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 9:29 pm

“Ahh. I’ve gone the wrong way. That must be it. Why is no-one shouting at me about it?”
I think to myself as the final off-the-start-line flourish of the season gets underway.
It’s so quiet. So empty. There’s no flashes of colourful kit exploding around me, no rasping of heavy breath encompassing me (I always thought it was my own I could hear!), just a silent expanse of green flowing faster and faster underneath my rocking shoulders and thrashing legs.
I roll my eyes upwards in my down turned head. The coursetape is still in my peripheral vision on both sides. I’ve not sprinted off in a random direction like a mis-pointed firework, I’ve got…a good start!
I’m still in a delighted bubble as the comet-like Nick Whitley fires past me on the right hand side through the first corner. By the second corner I’m in third as Ian Taylor glides past. I’m surprised those in the timing tent are still upright and not fainted in shock as we pass.

I’m also delighted that I’m not having to out brake people into the first few tighter turns, because I’ve not got any.

OK, slight exaggeration. I’ve got one. The front one. I’ve no idea what’s happened to the rear. I’m sure it was fine when I put the bike together the evening before the race, but rolling down to the start I’d pulled the lever to be met with nothing in return. Not “poor quality” braking. Not “a progressive slowing rather than an anchor”. Literally no effect. No noise, no slowing, nothing.
I’d ridden around for as long as I could with the lever pulled hard, hoping that I could build up some heat to burn off whatever contaminant had stolen all the friction, to no avail. For the duration of the race, the left lever was to be nothing more than a comfort blanket to hang on to.
I decided to look at it in as positive a light as I could – the off camber sections of the course (of which there were MANY!) were grippy enough if you didn’t hassle your tyres by trying to brake and hang on at the same time. I’m terrible for touching the brakes mid corner (and thus hassling said tyres), so, today, problem solved…at the back end anyway. I can haul on the lever as much as I like, at all the wrong times, without unshipping myself. Hurrah, right?!

I can hear the thundering, the mechanical clacking, the gasping, scuffling thrashing of the rest of the race just behind me as we head towards the pits for the first time, but that’s where it’s staying. “Just ride smooth” I remind myself as we drop into the lower field of a million corners “surge when the course opens up and trust the grip in the bends”. No places are lost as we all drop down through the first few hundred thousand turns and slight gaps begin to open as we retake the height we’ve lost.
I try to keep an eye on Ian and Nick, who flow round the bends so smoothly. I try to emulate the lines, weight balance and speed as much as possible. This Mario-Cart of a race track should be my Nemesis, with nowhere to lay down any power for extended periods, just a constantly weaving line of berm/off camber/up/down/left/right/grippy/greasy bends, but for some reason I’m loving it. Less flailing, more composure, even trying to keep my feet clipped in and balance the bike round the turns on the slippery surfaces.

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Wish I’d wiped my nose! Snotty face! Pic by Ellen

I’m able to get past Nick on the one straight bit (OK, exaggeration again, there are at least three straight bits…). I keep trying to match Ian, as we tick off another lap. The gaps between us aren’t shooting up and when the course allows, glances forward and backward show we’re still all close enough for the flecks of mud on chins, the corner-of-mouth spittle, to be visible.
By the third lap, Ian’s smoothness has moved him further ahead, my clumsy but fun thrashing in the straights has gifted me a bit more space to Nick. I have to mentally slap myself a little when I start to give up the chase – Ian is no further ahead of me than I am to Nick and I’m worrying about getting caught. I take some of the worry and try to mash it into more positivity. Ian is only one mistake ahead (unlikely, based on how he usually rides, but you never know) and he’ll be as aware of where I am as I am of him. I’m riding well enough for once to not be making my usual mistakes, so Nick’s got to speed up to get back on terms. The race stays on until the chequered flag (A cliche, but I’m mid race, so you’ll have to forgive that one).

By the time we finish, the gaps forward and backward are around 25 seconds either way. I have brought myself to a stalling halt on one corner with a poor line choice, but unleashing what feels like a million watts with the one foot attached to it’s pedal somehow stops me throwing all my advantage away. Obviously you always want to be first across the line, but on this particular course, with it’s endless turns, I’m in no mood to be disappointed with second.

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Off camber skills being appraised mid race by Adam…

Mud and sweat plastered grins begin to fill the area just past the finish as I catch my breath. Everyone seems to have enjoyed it today. It seems like a fitting end to a season that’s mixed an eternity and the blink of an eye. From the dust of Blakemere in September to the mud of…well, everywhere else after that really, every face I can see has done themselves proud. It’s probably a slight oxygen debt that makes me think that we’ve transcended a mere collection of bicycle races and become part of a far higher ‘scene’. Actually no, it’s definitely a slight oxygen debt. But it’s been good, all of it. I’ve loved it. I can’t wait to get it all underway again.
As I’m fighting the badly pinned on number off my arm, James Dalton nudges me. “This’ll be yours next season” he smiles, pointing at the race number he’s dropping into the tub we’re all taking turns returning them to.
1.

January 19, 2020

Deeply grounded

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 7:52 pm

I think the North West cyclocross scene is almost overly blessed with wet conditions in which to race. I quite often watch the Belgian races wondering if they get bored of all the fast, well drained, almost bone dry courses that seem super buff on my HD laptop screen. I bet the white sock sponsors love it.
Far, far away from all that nonsense, Marl Pits provided all who chose to race there with an almost overly friendly hug. Another race that you took home with you and scraped into neat little piles in the back yard / shower. Another course that seemed to be scared you might leave and clung at your ankles with every footstep screaming “Don’t go! Stay here with me!”, refusing to let your foot move as you tried to step forward. And that was just the bit past the pits.
Combined with an unrideable (and unRUNable, to 99.9% of the people there) steep climb and some ‘proper’ descending in the woods what we were offered was some brilliant old skool ‘cross.

Marl PIts cx
Pic courtesy of Graham Dean

The racing was close. By which I mean Rob Jebb and Rob Hope ran away and that was that. But it was close elsewhere in the field. I had a huge amount of fun throughout, trading places and just generally getting ‘stuck in’. It was bloomin’ brilliant.
OK so I stuffed up the steep drop (and figured out why all the mountain rescue people were stood there at the same time…), which doesn’t feature in the Big Book Of Racing Well, but even that felt like part of the old skool vibe. It wasn’t until my 3rd lap that I realised I was taking it too steady and put in a bit of a push to see if I could close the gap to Rob Hope at all (nope), after which I settled in to just enjoy the racing and appreciate the enthusiasm being offered by those at the side of the course.

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Pic by Ellen

A ‘distant to 1st and 2nd but close to 4th and 5th’ 3rd place in the end. That was a lot of fun. Here’s hoping Salford offers more of the same close racing next week 🙂

January 12, 2020

No. Positivity.

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 8:34 pm

The whistle goes and to my delight I feel my left foot clock positively into the pedal before it’s even swung through 45 degrees. I get, for once, for me, a decent start. In most races it would be a great start, but the National Championships is a big race for most people and everyone’s at their best, so I find myself pretty much holding my own – still just about second row as the speed briefly maxes out down the short tarmac start straight.

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Another rider has got alongside me and, having the inside line for the first corner, is edging ahead. He veers across in front of me and I hear the terrifying TWANG TWANG TWANG as his right foot starts to make contact with the spokes of my front wheel. In my mind I can already see the world pivot wildly to one side, accompanied by the hideous sound of aluminium ripping out of carbon fibre. The crunch of rider hitting the floor at full pelt, the howl of panicked braking from immediately behind and the crack crunch of bikes hitting the floor as the ripple of a huge start straight crash ends my race in the most painful way.
No.
I’m not having that.
Somehow I manage to flick my front wheel away from his heel as it drops and stop any damage. It robs me of some speed at a hugely inopportune moment and sees me swerve slightly towards Nick Whitley, who is thankfully able to lean on me to get past. I hemorrhage more places as I find myself away from any lines I’ve pre-ridden and unsure of levels of grip where I am, but I snap myself back into race attitude as quickly as possible.

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Working on the assumption I’m in about 20th I set about finding some positives and doing the best thing you can do – race yourself back up through the field. I was gridded 14th, so I’ve not thrown away the whole race (OK it would be fair to argue that it’s not like it was exactly mine to throw away in the first place!), I’ve just given myself more to do. Best crack on with it then!
The ground conditions are ‘heavy’. You need to deliver a lot of power on the straights to make progress. I can do that. I can churn with the best of them. Smooth, diesel power!

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4 laps in and I’m back up to about 11th. The woodland section of the race course SHOULD be great fun. Although the course tape is wide all the way through, a single line that resembles a piece of the best ribbony singletrack has formed through most of it. It SHOULD be all about flicking the bike through with a (max heart rate tainted) grin plastered across my face, but I’m not riding as smoothly as I can (OK it would be fair to assume this means I was riding pretty rigidly!). I fail to spot a tree root facing diagonally across the apex of a tighter corner and learn about it’s existence as it spits my front wheel out from underneath me. To underline the stupidity of my momentary lack of concentration, I feel my right pedal harshly scrape up my calf, adding a physical sting to the 3 hard won places I lose scrabbling to get up.
No.
I’m not having that.

Back up and one deep breath as I remount. I’ll just have to get those places back straight away. Back to chasing people down, getting past and heading straight for the next victim to catch!
Realising I’m not riding very smoothly I resort to just staying upright on the “course features” and issuing forth as much power whenever the chance arises. I have more than enough and I’m able to open gaps as more laps pass by.
I know the race is reaching it’s conclusion because those around me (including in the pits!) look tired. I don’t want it to stop! I’m vaguely aware that I’m hovering in or around 10th and that there are at least two more places only a handful of seconds ahead of me.

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I see what I hope to be the ‘next catch’ just ahead as we ride through the 2nd passing of the pits. The gap is shrinking as we approach the freshly constructed bridge and dismount to clamber up the almost-knee-high steps. He stumbles and trips as he reaches the top. The gap is barely there. We almost dismount in unison to run through the muddy zig zags before the finish straight. He remounts earlier than me and gets bogged down with wheelspin and I’m alongside. I hurl myself back on with all the subtlety and smoothness I can muster, only to discover a usually insignificant speck of gravel has embedded itself in the space between my left cleat and the shoe. I can’t clip in.
I roll across the line a few seconds back and smack the shoe against the pedal a few times, not in frustration, just in acceptance that it could have happened to anyone.

10th.
I find it funny, in all the post race chat (slowest moving thing in the universe: a cyclocross racer heading back to their car/van past all their friends and adversaries. Never more than 3 steps taken before another stop to chat, enthuse, exaggerate, play down and offer opinion on every minutia of the last hour), that so many people are impressed with the result. I’m delighted with how fit I was, but disappointed with what I’ve missed out on.
No, I decide as I start to repack the million and one things that seem to be required for cx racing nowadays.
I’m not having that.
It was a decent showing and a great place to beat next time round. I raced against genuinely talented people and found a way to match them. Now I have to go one step further. Lets crack on!

January 5, 2020

Even Flow

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 10:01 pm

The neck check: if your symptoms go below your neck, affecting your breathing, stop. Rest. Make sure you’re getting all the vitamins, minerals and hydration you need and do not stress your body.
If, however they’re all above the neck, use your discretion to figure out how much you can keep doing. A bit of a sniffle might get blasted away with a good workout.
With my lungs clear but what felt like a bit of a cold creeping up, I based my decision on whether to go to Saturday’s NWCCA race on just how snotty I was when I woke up on that morning. A gentle, even flow was deemed fine. I knew I wouldn’t be gaining any more fitness before next weekend’s National Champs, but Lee had told me my training block should have my legs bouncing back from the fatigue I’d carried over through last week’s race and that sounded like something to go any play out with!

Given just how wet many of the NW races have been this season (case in point being Burnley’s 80% running laps), I was under the impression this race would, as it was based at an agricultural showground, be another slow, muddy, probably lots-of-runny affair. It’s all good, of course, it’s all racing and cyclocross isn’t track cycling – the conditions are part of it – but a bit of a grin did spread across my face while wheeling my kit trolley over to the pits. It didn’t sink into any axle deep puddles, or grind to a halt in thick gloop. The course was, apparently, quite dry!

A pre race ride around the course confirmed that, with the exception of a few short sections, the ground was firm, grippy and completely un-January like! I was just as happy to find that big, open sections were the order of the day, with few slow corners and more emphasis on overall power. Ace, something to open the legs up on with little risk of breaking anything the week before the champs. 🙂

My tactics didn’t stretch much beyond “find a decent pace and sit at it. Open the legs up a bit but don’t thrash yourself into the ground. Burn off the sniffles without burning yourself out.” So I did that. Steady off the start, find a rhythm as quickly as possible and don’t get too caught up in how the race was going. To my delight this saw me ride back up to the leading pair as we crossed the finish line for the first time, go to the front and then sit at a pace that allowed me to get away for the win. I took as few risks on the corners as I could (Ok they weren’t massively technical, but this was a legs and lungs test – I know the bikes are working!) and just concentrated on keeping myself “in the zone”.

NWCCA Rnd 9
Pic by Elsie “youtube sensation” Haygarth.

A wave of thanks to the marshals and a slightly delayed drive home to do some cheering on of Craig and “Look I’m in 5th!” Ben in the senior race and that was that. Legs feeling good, nose clearer at the end of the day than at the start and the chance to get some power down on a dry (mostly) race course in the middle of winter fully taken, can’t ask for more than that! 🙂

Somehow I don’t think people will be swapping to Griffos and adding pressure to their tubs for speed on Saturday at Shrewsbury…

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