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

December 6, 2020

Great disappointment at the first round of the NWCCA league

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 8:00 pm

No two ways about it, I was properly gutted.

Not with my equipment, the bike was still working pretty well for something that you couldn’t see underneath the half ton of mud and grass. It was damn heavy to try and shoulder on the running sections of the course (so I didn’t bother and just dragged it alongside me for those), but it was still shifting gears as requested, stopping when the brake were pulled and heading in the direction I pointed the bars (after a few courseside moments had been spent straightening them after a first lap crash left them skewed somewhat off to the left…).

Not with the course either. OK it was pretty churned up and there was a fair bit of running involved every lap – especially when trying to be conservative with the bike as there were no pits to swap to a second bike – but it was mostly brilliant. Lots of super slippery corners to slither around, some really fun swoopy stuff, a couple of near vertical “run” ups and plenty of opportunity for close racing without having to get too close (covid secure and all that). All you could ask for, with some extra mud thrown in for good measure.

It wasn’t that the racing itself wasn’t very good. Because it was. OK so my stint near the front lasted about 3 minutes but, as has always been the way with ‘cross, it sort of doesn’t matter if you’re racing for 1st or 31st as long as you’re chasing down the riders in front, dropping the riders behind and trying to get each section of the course ridden well enough to exacerbate those two objectives.

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Obviously the first lap, because I’m still near the front of the race! Pic by Ellen

I dropped several places with a couple of silly crashes (I mean, I’d even been advised by Phil which line to avoid before the race and I still managed to cock it up – leading to the aforementioned twisted bars), but I made a few places back up. I got comfortably ‘schooled’ by the super skilled guys who managed to put minutes into me, but I started to get to grips with the lack of grip towards the end. Frankly it was just ace being back racing with everyone again.

It wasn’t even that I’d dressed for the weather that had been around the day before – I was ready to race through sleety, snowy rain, strong winds and sub zero temperatures. All of which were absent, replaced with calm, blue winter skies and the kind of sunshine that makes the views even more impressive. I was soaked with sweat but fine with it. OK by the end of the long run up I felt quite close to death each lap (not a runner, even less a runner that can cope with heat), but frankly if you’re fidning it easy you’re either winning by miles or not trying hard enough.

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Ahh, it’s good to be back racing again 🙂 – Pic by Ellen

No, the disappointment was simply the sound of the last lap bell ringing. I’d lost all track of time, all sense of how many laps I’d done (and it wasn’t even all that many…), I was just…racing. Not brilliantly, but still. Racing.
I even found the spare breath to double check with the timing tent marshals that it was definitely the end of the race. I could happliy have carried on. I would have happily carried on if I’d had the chance (maybe I should have entered the senior race too). We’d not been short changed, the race for me was 44 minutes, which is pretty generous, but like a kid on the 20th of December feeling like it just should be Christmas by now, the idea that I’d have to wait two weeks until round two just seemed rubbish. A huge disappointment, that tainted the overall experience of the day, for at least 10 seconds. Then the whole “end of race experience sharing buzz” thing kicked in (again, in a covid secure way) and we all just got on with looking forward to the next chance to race.

Roll on round two!

October 26, 2020

Eyesight Test

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 11:59 am

Round 3 of the heroically organised No Nonsense CX series came and went last weekend and it’s completely covid secure arrangements seemed like the perfect excuse to “test my eyesight” in these times of confusion, misinterpretation and misplaced stress.
Ongoing and continual improvements to the infrastructure surrounding the race were obvious as soon as I arrived – the (it’s a field) car park had some new matting down to prevent those of us with vehicles that are happy to bury themselves in the slop getting stuck. Hurrah! Or, more accurately, hurrah until you got past the (covid secure) sign on, at which point it was back to “floor it and see ho far your van gets before getting stuck”. It’s a work in progress I think (and is it even really CX season if you’re not getting your transport stuck somewhere in the mire?!), but it looks good so far.

Anyway. A quick stroll away from the beached van, around the once again redesigned course, that rapidly turned into a socially distanced natter to everyone (lovely stuff), during the senior race gave me hope that this round would offer more riding and less running. Not that I hate running or anything, but I don’t spend hours cleaning my bike to carry it round on my shoulder! Once again it looked good, but I couldn’t be sure my eyes weren’t deceving me. The only way to be sure was to race 🙂

After a bit of a warm up back at the van, staring off into the middle distance and chatting to Ben about how ace cx racing is generally I lined up on the front row of the grid, noticing that my race number was the black/white reverse of everyone elses. For a second I thought my eyes were paying tricks on me, then a second later that maybe the organisers had set up a “crashiest rider” award in much the same way as the combativity award in grand tours, noted with a different coloured number, but it dawned on me that it was more likely to be that the number I’d used at the last round was lost forever after one of my crashes, so this was just a replacement.
With all that considering going on, I completely forgot to get stressed about the start and, when the starting whistle went, I just set off without really working out any sort of “plan” for a good get away. Thankfully it had little effect and I managed to remain within the top few rders as we hurtled round the first 180 degree turn, giving me a chance to glance up and back at the speeding blur of everyone thundering after me. Hmm, a bit blurred, further eyesight investigation required. I wonder what it’s like if I keep the effort up.

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Not falling off on that bit this time round! Pic by Bernard Marsden

By the end of the first lap a few of us had moved clear of the main pack, with the lead swapping every few corners. The course was a fantastic mixture of ‘power required’ drags and series’ of corners that really did take concentration to nail – miss the line in the first part of the section and the difficulty of getting round the subsequent few bends would snowball. If your lungs weren’t hanging out on the efforts, your eyeballs were shortly after, seeking out the grip and the fast line as the course twisted and turned around you.
Running was still very much a requirement too, with some of the banking too churned up from previous races to ride through, even though the conditions were drying rapidly. My newly fitted toe studs would be thoroughly tested!

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Toe stud testing. Pic by Dave “about to race” Haygarth

After a lap Chris (on a charge) dropped back and for a short while I found myself what looked like out in front. I’d forgotten what that felt like – it was certainly odd to see empty course tape ahead! James and Ian closed the small gap I’d opened within another lap and, from my vantage point just behind them I was treated to a masterclass in smooth riding in the bends. It was perfectly clear just how much more I was wrestling the front of my bike through the corners than they were. I could see little gaps open up on each tricky section and set about learning what I could about their lines. I had enough power on tap to keep myself in touch through the strength-based sections (I don’t want to say “easy” because that’s selling myself a bit short and, frankly, they weren’t!), so I’d do all I could to close the gaps where I could and try to keep up everywhere else.

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Racing is ace. Simple. Pic by Jacqui “already raced” Simcock

Positions were changed repeatedly over the following laps and those little gaps were stretched, proving that skill can comfortably make up for brute force (and works even better when you’ve got both to play with…). I saw James pull away by a couple of seconds each lap, (not that being able to see it was necessary, as the Port Sunlight lads made sure I was in no doubt about how I was doing…) but kept plugging away as best I could, trying to ride in a calmer and less lurchy way in the corners, eventually crossing the finish line 12 or so seconds back in a best-this-season 2nd place.

I picked the mud out of my thoroughly tested eyes as I unpicked the pinned on “crashiest rider” number from my arm (maybe someone else will get it next race, as I didn’t fall off at all that time!). Once again, and as with every round so far, all I could see was grinning riders crossing the line and immeditaly swapping socially distanced race stories as they made their way off the course. Another successful race for everyone it appeared, no matter what the finishing position. It certainly felt like that for me (and I even got the van out of the car park without assistance, albeit sideways). A job well done. Again.
On to round 4!

October 13, 2020

Drifting

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 9:43 am

“You’ll need to put your foot down a bit”, announced the cheery helper at the entrance to Sunday’s race as I pulled up in the less-than-usual for a cyclocross race loaded van. “It’s a bit firmer once you get further into the car park, but people have struggled to get across the mud on the first bit”

Now, my van shares a few characteristics with a hippotamus – it’s pretty rotund looking, for one, but the important one here is that it loves settling it’s belly down in any mud it can find. Usually leaving me stuck until someone with a towrope or enough bravery to provide a push resuces me. So, in an attempt to not just create a 3 litre engined “no entry” sign, I did exactly as advised and gave it the beans.

OH MY GOD THAT WAS FUN! Visions of Colin McRae flashed through my mind as I swung from opposite lock to opposite lock, the van fishtailing wildly around as it surfed across the slop. An indicated 35mph on the speedo suggested enormous speed across the grass, while the reality outside didn’t quite match, as a nearby cow in the next field lazily wandered along keeping up while still munching on the cud and throwing me a slightly bemused look.
I came to what felt like a natural finish line, facing back down the gentle slope (planned – hoping that gravity would help get me going again when time to leave came round) and looking lke I’d parked up rather than drifted to a 4 wheeled slliding halt. Grin already plastered across my face as widly as the mud was smeared across the wheelarches (and bloody everywhere else too) of the van. You can’t beat a good bit of mud.

At the last minute before setting off I’d flung the 2nd bike into the van. “Might as well”, I’d thought to myself, “it gives me a choice of tyres, muds on this one, intermediates on the race bike…even though I imagine it’ll be drying up by now”.
That turned out to be the best decision of the day as a wander around the race course as the seniors were finishing their race showed that no drying of the ground had taken place at all. Rear mechs had been replaced with brown balls of grassy, clogging slop. Anything less than full mud tyres just looked like massive slicks. The dusty grins from the first round had been replaced with grimey grimaces as bikes complained and grumbled their way round and every few seconds dismounts were required, with mud-heavy shoes being stomped up what were stand-up-sprints last time. I watched Paul Oldham jump off mid lap, leap into a deep puddle and frantically splash about to try and get his drivechain working again, before splashing back to the racing line and resuming the 5mph slog that the race had become.
“Yeah, I’ll not bother doing any practice laps” I decided. “I’ll just spin up and down on the road for a bit to get my legs going” – the brakes needed bedding in a bit anyway, so learning where the corners were took a back seat to just pootling up and down. As a warm up it wasn’t really very good, in fact you couldn’t really call it a warm up, but it used up that awkward time just before a race where nerves would kick in if you gave them a chance (even though these non ranking, laid back, just for the love of it races really don’t require any nervousness).

From the front row of the grid (place number 2 no less, a ranking that made me giggle, if nothing else!) the start went OK. I don’t think anyone had done much in the way of on-course practice so the first few turns were pretty gentle really. Looking back maybe I should have tried to push on a bit more but the idea of sprinting off, head first into the first boggy bit and crashing out like an idiot reigned me in – maybe everyone else HAD done some practice laps and knew something I didn’t.
A few turns late I learned of something everyone else apparently DID know that I didn’t. That being how to run. From “comparitively in control” to “all over the place” within a few footsteps. Not too many people came past me, but I’m 99% sure that’s because it was too amusing to stay back and watch as I flailed about shambolically, with little in the way of forward progress. It’s not that I don’t do any running as part of my training, it’s just “normal cyclocross” specific stuff – run when you can’t ride, rather than run for longer to keep the one bike you’ve got working. And, for some reason, my shoes just weren’t intersted in staying where I put them on the ground, instantly drifting back down any slope they were flung up. PErhaps the rounded off, short studs in them weren’t helping…

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My vaguely steady heartrate lurched into “full on red zone” as I tried to get the seemingly-not-mine legs moving as quickly and as accurately as those ahead of me. Ian, Rob, Phil, Chris, him, that other bloke, whatshisface, I stopped trying to work out who had gone past as I finally got to a rideable section.
No issue there. Gaps were closed without too much fuss while simultaneuously allowing my heart and lungs to retake a more natural position in my chest. I’ll never be the smoothest in slippery corners but I certainly wasn’t losing any time on them, tyres drifted around beneath me, but for the most part their directon was controllable with a bit of restraint. Places were regained and I started to feel a little better about how I was getting on.

Within a lap it became clear that it was a race of two distinct halves – the rideable where I had no problems and the you-have-to-run-now mud where my aim became to not get left too far behind by Chris and Phil or caught by the massing field behind. When on the bike I kept my head in check and tried to think “conservative” about how I was riding – no pits (oh how I miss them!) so just soft pedal a bit and don’t put too much pressure on the muddy drivechain. Get out of the saddle to move about a bit but don’t try to smash it in case everything implodes.
I’d not dropped the tyre pressures before the race after spotting a few half buried bricks / rubble in the mud (I use the Helen Wyman formula and was about 7 or 8 psi above where i should have been for the conditions) so the twisty sections weren’t taken flat out either (as I say, I’m not the best anyway) but everything seemed to be going alright until I failed to choose which line to take on the one section of the course with a drop on it.
In the last race, the fast choice was to take a narrow line round the top of the drop, so I aimed for that only to discover that the lack of grip this time round meant I wasn’t going to stay on the line. Instead of swapping for the “low” line I mithered and ended up dropping off the edge of the cliff (Ok, slight exaggeration), jamming the front wheel into the mud and flinging myself over the bars.

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I may have sworn – apologies to any impressionable children than overheard and to any parents that had to try and explain that swearing isn’t big or clever but sometimes it’s OK when you’re smashing your chin into the ground, your knee into your stem, your ankle into your front wheel and somehow also smashing your back into something massively uncomfortable all at the same time.

It took me a lap or so to get my head back into riding again after that – luckily the crash didn’t seem to have any effect on my running (I mean, how could it!) and with a couple of laps left I’d started to cheer up again and embrace the slither as the tyres wandered round underneath me. I got a bit of a gap on Phil, enough to stay ahead through the running section where he was blatantly and noticable faster and more surefooted than me, eventally crossing the line in 4th. Again.

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Pic by Richard Howes – this is actually from a different race, but yeah, as you can see, running isn’t my favourite part of ‘cross!

Last time 4th had felt like a bit of a ‘miss’, where I new I had more to give, this time round it felt like a bit of an escape. Mainly though, it felt like a LOT of fun. Plenty of great racing, lot of lessons to learn and – thanks to the organisers putting on a whole series – chances to put all that new knowledge to the test. Can’t wait for round 3 🙂

Thankfully the ground conditions in the car park had firmed up a bit and the van managed to extracate itself without too much sideways action. You could easily plough some furrows and plant potatoes in what’s been left at the local car wash, however…

October 4, 2020

Happiness, no matter what

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 8:35 pm

Quite often I’ll get myself all grumpy about how well a race didn’t go. About how well it should have gone, but somehow I mucked it up. Stupid crashes, poor line choices, mechanical blunders or just poor equipment choice. Frequently there’s something wrong.
Not this weekend though. This weekend was just ace. Not because I did particularly well (I didn’t, but it could have been far worse if I didn’t have enough strength to ride my way back out of the depths I flung myself into) but lets not dwell on that. The simple fact is I got to race my bike, in the mud, against the best there is in the country. This year, with all that’s been goiong on, races can’t really be ruined by not doing brilliantly, just getting to take part is basically a win.
The course was great – well thought out given the restrictions we’re all living under at the moment, while still mixing big power straight, leg sapping climbs and lack-of-skill highlighting tricky sections. The running of the event was flawless enough for everyone taking part to not really notice it – not that any of us were being complacent; marshals, commissaires, judges, they all deserve huge thanks at the best of times, right now they all deserve medals and we were (and still are) incredible grateful.

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Pic by Richard Howes

As for the racing itself…well, to blunder into a cliche, you couldn’t ask for more! Fast, close (as in lots of evenly matched riders swapping places as their various strengths came to the fore on different parts of the course) but always fair. No argy-bargy (I guess that would be frowned upon right now) but plenty of battles for the racing line though each corner. Plenty of attacks and counter attacks. In my case plenty of early race mistakes, followed by some frantic regaining of places. Everything cyclocross can be, really, even if there wasn’t a pit crew to swap and clean bikes for you every few minutes. I finished Saturday’s race already looking forward to Sunday’s. No great result had been earned but it didn’t seem to matter, it was well worth repeating.

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Pic By Dave “I did this” Haygarth

Two days of great racing and, just as good, a sense of normality in meeting the extended cx family in a muddy field. Great to see all of you, here’s hoping we can do it all again soon 🙂

Three races done now, in this weird season. I’m sure there’ll be awesome results to shout about at some point soon, but for now I’m just going to keep pointing out how the hard work people put into getting these races going and when they end up as good as this weekend was – even in the current situation – is totally worth it.

September 21, 2020

Measured

Filed under: Uncategorized — dgpowell @ 1:16 pm

I’d given up waiting for it to be time to set off to yesterday’s race by about 10am. The request from the organisers to not arrive until 1 hour before your race made perfect sense to me, but I was in great danger of pre-race fettling the bike, which was already in perfect working order, as a distraction. That never ends well, so I’d packed the van and set off at a gentle pace, aiming to make the journey take just the right amount of time to get there with the full hour to get myself set up and have a mooch around the race course.
I eventually turned up at the race site at 11.45 – a little bit more than an hour before my race, but (I hoped) acceptably close. Based on the cheerful and helpful way everyone greeted me, all was indeed acceptable.

I’d packed the rollers to warm up on (after realising that my new bike’s thru axles weren’t in anyway compatible with the old turbo trainer I had, the evening before!), but, after a quick wander around the course during the senior race, they were left in the van in favour of just getting the legs and lungs going while pre riding. It’s not often you get cx races dry enough to not have to worry about keeping the bikes clean, so making the most of it seemed to be the right thing to do.

A few laps under the belt and a few extra attempts at the little tricky sections on the route comfortably used up the pre race hour and brought me to the HUGE gridding area just in the nick of time. Social distancing was very much maintained as we lined up and I got to see who else was up for it.
Hitters.
Hitters everywhere.
I’d been gridded on the front row, which was nice, until I turned round to get the measure of who was around me only to see a sea of fast people all sensibly spaced but still very much lined up to chase me down. A moment of trepidation quickly melted away into a massive grin. Let’s do this, I thought to myself, as I turned my gaze back to the mapped out but empty course stretching ahead of me, like some sort of metaphor for the season to come.
I felt quite pround of that metaphor for a bit, until I realised it was rubbish and concentrated getting myself ready for the first starting whistle of the season instead.

Any pre race planning about taking it a bit easier off the line as I wasn’t really warmed up ‘properly’, or that I should ‘learn’ the new bike a bit vanished in the first pedal stroke as we charged up the hill, gears clattering, lungs bursting, eyes wide for the slightest glimpse of an overtaking possibility. Within 10 seconds CX season was utterly upon every one us and we were all utterly engrossed. The starting whistle hadn’t even stopped sounding and the season was already brilliant.

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Pic by Jacqui “already raced, now cheering and taking pics” Simcock

Time trialling is, in it’s own way, a very good way to test yourself on a bike and have fun exploring your limits and I’ve quite enjoyed the few I’ve done this year, but it took all of about 3 corners, swapping places, searching for the limits of grip side by side, flicking left and right through the tight corners (flicking the shifter the wrong way and getting bogged down in a huge gear by mistake every now and again, whoops! I’ll get the hang of these new shifters eventually!) to realise that cross is just the best thing since sliced bread.

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Pic by Jacqui “already raced, now cheering and taking pics” Simcock

The race was, frankly, brilliant from start to finish. OK so I managed to crash (I had to work on it though!) and lose a bit of time but I – and I think everyone else around me – crossed the finish line grinning from ear to ear. Dusty, sweaty and absolutely buzzing. It probably showed.

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Pic by Bernard Marsden

It barely seemed to matter what place I’d finished in, as just to have the chance to race was enough, but I was happy with 4th on the day (like I say, hitters everywhere!). By the last lap or two I’d really started to find that race rhythm that becomes second nature by mid season, I’d got to grips with the bike’s handling and – not that I’d really suffered much from any lack of enthusiasm beforehand – was completely back on board with getting fitter and faster for the races to come.

Ladies and gentlemen, the season has begun, I have checked, and it is good! 🙂

Huge HUGE thanks to everyone involved in putting the race on – organisers deserve massive amounts of thanks at the best of times, to put on something during this crazy period deserves even more. You’ve proved it can work and work really well – respect! 🙂

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