Monday, 5 September 2016

Cyclocross Summer Series

Right, so yeah, it's September... Well, the good news is that means the cyclocross season is starting this weekend for most racers across the country, although, not for me and the participants of the Central League, this doesn't start till 26th September, which is also the weekend of 3 Peaks...

With that in mind i'm casting my mind back to warm summer evenings, dry grass, no mud, dust and the pure pain of racing for an hour much faster than you should be able to off road...

The Summer Series was this year organised by 5th Floor, with support from Kinesis and various London & SE based clubs. There were 3 rounds accorss London in the same locations as the previous year (2nd round at Hog Hill unfortunatly got cancelled).

Round 1 - Addington Park
This is classic course where both the Summer Series & London League hold races. The course was similar to last year, basically brutally fast, not very technical and this time no hurdles to jump over... When I turned up last year I had no real idea what I was doing, this year I positioned myself on the front, with various people that were much quicker than me... As soon as the whistle went a group went off the front, consisting of 7 riders. I just missed this and didn't quite make it over. To be honest, there isn't really much else to say from this race, the group of 7 stayed away (minus Alex who had a mechanical) I was on my own for the whole race, the gap to the riders behind was pretty constant, they were not catching me, but then I wasn't catching the front group. I crossed the line in 7th, overall quite pleased I think, first cross race since winter and the pace and effort was good.

Round 3 - Morden park
Probably my favorite Summer Series venue, a big circuit at 1.8 miles, some hills and a nice technical "mound" which is quite high and requires you to either run over, or nail the line and ride it, like a boss. Again, I positioned myself on the front grid, the usual hitters from the previous race were there, so knew the wheels that I had to follow/hang on to. A pretty poor start meant I was around 12th on the first lap, but the pace was pretty relentless, and this thankfully meant that by lap two a few had dropped off. This pace also forced a split in the front group, with 3 up the road/grass, and me now in a chasing group of 4. This continued for the whole race really and my group of 4 seemed to work well together, that said, we were not catching the front 3. Bell lap and just after the mound there was an attack, I couldn't quite match this, so let it go, now in a group of 3 and coming upto the hurdles (which I managed to bunny hop after my first lap run, which lost me time...) and there was another attack, this went clear and I was on my own, maybe 10 meters back and crossed the line in 7th (again) A great race, and another result i was pretty pleased with. I maybe could have gone harder if my start had been better? Who knows really, it's just a bit of fun anyway...

Round 4 - Herne Hill
Herne Hill, otherwise known as the place where downhill riders come to shakedown there bikes over the rough ground. Ok, so that's not true, but the ground is very rough, the singletrack is tight, the grass unforgiving, but, it's a hugely fun course! This is now my third time on this course, having raced the Summer Series & London League last year, I knew it well, and fancied another good position, maybe 7th... For those that don't know, Herne Hill is in Dulwich, which is only about 3 miles from Central London, the result of this meant a very big field, maybe 60-70 in the Senior cat? Again, the usual hitters were here, along with new, fresh hitters... Ow we go, well, everybody else did, apart from me as I completely messed up my start, maybe 20 riders passed me, not that start I wanted. I spent the first lap just trying to move up, not helped by getting a branch stuck in my wheel meaning I had to stop, and let a few more riders past. This still wasn't going to plan. Over the next few laps I managed to claw back a few places to maybe a top 15 position when I suddenly dropped my chain (facepalm) Of all the times,.. Stop, put it back on, and off again, only loosing 1 place this time, but we were having quite a good battle. 2 laps to go and people were starting to fade, thankfully, because of all my stops I was still feeling good and pushed on to gain a few places, finally crossing the line in 13th. Not really the result I wanted, but, as David Millar would say, "that's bike racing"

Well, that's it. Another Summer Series finished. Some good results, 1 not so good result, but form is good, and I was beating or finishing with some very good riders, probably wouldn't have been able to do that last year. Huge thanks to 5th Floor for organising an awesome series, with the help of Kinesis and various local clubs, not to forget the marshals and BC comms!

Photos by Tom J Powell:

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

It's Not That Bad You Know?

The recent video emerging of Jeremy Vine's Road Rage incident, and the subsequent comments from riders about this happening "all the time" and "being an every day occurrence" got me thinking... I don't usually blog on this type of stuff, there are enough people our there who know alot more than me about cycling/traffic incidents, and can get their message across far more eloquently than me, but I honestly think the negative comments and publicity of cycling journeys and how cycling is portrayed as a means of transport and the risk associated is having a negative impact on the number of people getting on their bikes.

I've been cycling forever, well not forever, but over 20 years, road cycling for the past 7 of those and 5 of those in and through London, every single day, commuting and riding. I've clocked up over 60,000 miles and I can probably count the number of times I have experienced road rage or an incident on one hand, and certainly never to the extent of Mr Vine. People, whether they are in a car, on a bike or walking need to understand their surrounding a bit more, chill out. If you're driving 6" from a cyclist, you'll probably get a reaction, just the same as if you cycle 4 abreast. (This isn't a dig at Mr Vine btw, he was 100% in the right)

Now I'm not excusing the driver in question for their actions, or even suggesting that people should not be prosecuted for their actions, but it's this constant portrayal in the media, Us V Them, and this in turn is impacting people's perception of cycling and the associated risks with making a journey by bike. This needs to change if we're to see more people saddle up.

As soon as I mention to a colleague, friend or family member that I ride through London, you can guarantee their next phrase will be something along the lines of "ow that's so dangerous, i'd never do that, you're mad" my stock response is that it's actually perfectly safe and they should give it a go, not quite sure how many i've convinced, but it's an ongoing project...

Anyway bit of a ranty blog, but next time you're out riding or talking to somebody, just think, it's really not that bad you know, cycling is actually quite safe, superb exercise, fast, great fun, and means you can eat too much cake.

Manchester Wheelers 2 day Stage Race

The August Bank Holiday weekend meant it was a trip up the M1 and M6 to Ashton Under Lyme for the Manchester Wheelers 2 day stage race. I did this last year and really enjoyed it, so felt it was only right to give it another crack and better my result (13th GC).

It was a 3 stage format over 2 days, a 1km TT Saturday morning, a 35km (ish) Crit in the afternoon and then a hilly 90km Road Race on Sunday (this was the main event really...)

Stage 1 - 1km TT
The circuit was the same as last year, so I knew the course, and knew the time I wanted to beat: 1:19. I've had some good results over the past few weeks, and generally felt "better" than last year. Conditions were broadly the same, perhaps a bit more wind. So was hoping for a good time. That wasn't to be, I messed up a few corners, entering too fast and scrubbing off too much speed meaning I crossed the line with the same time, 1:19. This put me 34/50 and 6 seconds down, wasn't ideal to be honest...

Stage 2 - The Crit Race
Looking through the field I knew there was plenty of tasty riders here, and the TT earlier that day proved that. However I was kind of expecting a similar race to last year, where it stayed together for most of the race, with a few getting away at the end. Well, today, that wasn't to be the case. Almost instantly the pace went pretty bonkers and the race was strung out. After a few laps a break of 15 or so riders managed to get away, and nobody seemed to be that bothered? I bloody well was! So I sat on the front and pretty much emptied myself to try and get across. Probably took me 5 or so laps, but I closed the gap of around 15 seconds. Unfortunately I managed to bring at least 10 riders along with me, so the front group was now probably 20/25 riders, I had a "rest" for a few laps and moved up, making sure I was in the right position. 35 laps in total. 10 to go and there were more attacks, nothing really managing to stay clear, and most of the depleted bunch were still there. 5 to go and I was still in a good position and felt strong, 3 to go, and an attack went up the road, I tried to get across, maybe I was just too far back, but I couldn't quite manage it, and on the bell lap the race was in bits, I didn't have the legs to move up or sprint for the finish, I finished 15th in a group of around 6, which to be honest, I was pretty pleased with. So coming into Stage 3 I was sat at 20th total time of 47:59 and the current leader on 47:41. So only 18 seconds to find...

Stage 3 - The Road Race
Now this I was looking forward to. Such a great circuit, around 90km, 5 laps and 4,000ft of climbing. A course that I should do quite well on, given it's pretty much either up or down, very little flat, as you can see...

A 5k neutralised section brought us onto the circuit a few km after the finish line, so straight onto the rolling hills leading upto the main climb, which was 1.2 miles at 4%, doesn't sound too bad, but the final ramp was 15% leading to some tasty false flat. First time over and the bunch seemed to have thinned down a bit, at maybe 35/40 riders. I knew the place to get away on this circuit would be the hill, or just after on the false flat section, and with that in mind I made sure I was up the front ready to follow any wheels that went... There was a rider from Sheffield Uni up the road, the pace was pretty fruity, with plenty of attacks and counter attacks, but nothing was sticking. I'd eyed up 10 or so riders to watch, some of these were out the back door on lap two, so that made my job slightly easier, second time up the hill and the two lads from Sheff Uni attacked just over the summit of the climb, I went with them, along with Andy Harrison from Finchley RT and 1 other. The Two Sheff lads had a good gap onto the descent though, and Andy decided to join them doing some pretty crazy Froome style top tube action, pretty awesome to watch! I wasn't (couldn't) do that so settled into my best aero tuck. These 3 now had a good gap, and although the reduced bunch could see them, they were pulling away. I was pretty keen for this race to not finish in a bunch sprint like last year, and I was also pretty sure that there was a good selection of riders in the bunch that could lead another attack to bridge across. Also with a chap from Manchester CC and Evans Cycles, I spent the next two laps trying to organise this, driving the pace, shooting off the front, but to no avail and nothing seemed to really work... We crossed the finish line and got the bell, the breakaway of 3 riders now had around 1:50, they were not getting caught, the "bunch" however was now about 12 riders, the rest getting shelled over the past few laps. This was better as far as I was concerned. I was pretty cooked at this point to be honest, heart rate was struggling to get higher than 170 and my legs were hurting. The pace however was pretty slow now, and nobody really wanting to work, myself included... Which made for a great attack from a lad from RP Racing, he managed to get a minute on us and stayed away, looks like a sprint for 5th... Final time up the climb, the reduced bunch still together, and then, as predicted there was an attack on the false flat from a rider from Harry Middleton, I went with him, along with 4/5 others and we had abit of a gap. This attack managed to shell a few others from the group, so we were now at 8. Final few km was a descent and the final 1km was down, following by a sharp left onto a 300m sprint. A few sketchy corners before and some "confident" descending meant I was on the front and seeing gaps appear, 1km to go and I didn't even care I was on the front, i'd just have to go for it, 500m round the bend, and what was this?!!! A bloody car stopped at the junction!! Shite! I went on the inside, through the dirt, other opting for the outside... Full on sprint mode now and the lad from Evans getting past, along with one other from Rhos on sea, the gurn was strong, and I thought I clawed it back from Rhos on sea by a tyre width, results say otherwise. I crossed the line, empty, but in 7th. Absolutely chuffed to bits with that result, in what was a truly solid race.

Final GC results in and I climbed upto 11th overall and 3:48 down on first. Very pleased with that, and glad to see the form is still here, just in time for 3 peaks and the cyclocross season...


Thanks to Manchester Wheelers for organising another great event, the marshals, volunteers NEG and first aid and finally Ellen Isherwood for the photographs, 

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Rapha Road Race - Report

So this weekend was the Rapha Road Race (ERRL 2/3/4) in Great Chesterford, Essex. I was feeling pretty good going into this, had two pretty big weeks of 20 + hours and then a 10 hour week and a good result at Crystal Palace. That said I hadn't done a RR since the RAS de Cymru, and not one this long since the London Phoenix RR.

Rather uncharacteristically for an ERRL race it was fairly lumpy over the 10 mile lap, with a 1 mile climb at 4% upto the finish. Doesn't sound much, but it had a few ramps at 8% to really kick you in the head. Total distance was to be 70 miles, so 7 laps, and actually 8 times up this climb...

We had 4 miles of neutralised to get onto the circuit which then started on the finishing hill, maybe I didn't warm up enough but the pace up the so called neutralised section of the hill seemed quite hot... After this, nothing much really happened for the first half of lap 1 as riders got used to the course and others in the 60 strong field.  We had just climbed what was the 3rd "hill" of the circuit, feeling good and eager to see what was what I opted for the classic 1st lap solo break, I actually managed to get a pretty good gap, and held off the bunch for about a lap, they probably all wondered what was this idiot doing? They'd be right really, but as we came into lap 2 I was joined by 2 other riders and we worked together, although I knew this would never stick when one chap remarked that if I slow down he'll be able to get past. We're in a break mate...  All good fun though, and nothing quite like a chasing pack of riders to keep you going. Got to practice my TTing anyway...

The bunch caught us just over the hill into lap 2, I was determined to stick near the front, follow attacks and try and get in another break and make it stick. Over the next few laps there was plenty of attempts, but there wasn't enough people working to make it stick. I think It was probably at the top of the 3rd time up the climb that a break of 7 went, including Feathers Cycles and Richardsons Trek. A strong move which included the right people. Not sure what I was doing, but I missed this. Que plenty of attacks to get across to the break, and whilst we kept them in sight for a lap, we couldn't get across. I was perhaps doing too much work really, a few more solo break, but with nothing sticking and only 3 or 4 riders doing any turns over the next few laps the break had this. With 2 laps to go and the 6th time up the hill I was feeling it now, to be fair I think the rest of the bunch were too thankfully. We descended down off the main climb and are stopped by the comms car, what's happening? A crash? Nope, a group of deer on the road... The break also stopped up the road. They set off. and a minute later we were on our way again. Slightly annoying as 5/6 of us had a gap at the top of the hill, ah well.

Coming into the final lap and up the climb for the 7th time the pace had built up, my legs were in bits and I wasn't quite sure what i'd have for the final time, only 10 miles to go and I needed to concentrate on being in a good position coming into the final climb... Last lap, and after the 3rd hill on the circuit it was a long twisty road, slightly down hill and a slight tailwind. The pace was high now, with riders appears on the front out of nowhere, going to be one of those finishes is it... With 7 still up the road it was likely to be a bunch sprint for 8th, we got onto the bottom of the climb, the final time and essentially a hill top finish (glamorous eh) I was the first rider and at the front, great. I wasn't really sure where the best place to go on the hill was, a mile is quite a long distance to sprint, and the false flat upto the finish would be difficult to judge. With that in mind I tapped it out on the front, not in the red, but bloody close, nobody came past, halfway up the hill and still nobody, I couldn't quite understand it... It flattened a bit and I kicked, still nobody coming past, I must have gone too early? With maybe 100m to go 3 or 4 riders passed me, I managed to drag one back and held on for 12th! Ok, so it wasn't a win (or even top 10 - points to 15th though) but given the amount of work i'd done and the quality of the field I was pretty pleased with that. I was cooked.

A very well organised race by Rapha, loads of spectators, can of coke at the finish and loads of food back at HQ. A quality event. Next weekend is the Manchester 2 day stage race, and Palace on Tuesday, so think i'll have a few easy days on the bike...

Thanks for reading guys.


Thanks to Dave Haywood for the photos:

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

RAS de Cymru: Stage 6 - The Tumble

So it's here, the final stage of the RAS. Similar to last year, in that it was fairly flat circuit, with a mountain top finish. All pretty epic really. Although similar to last year, this stage was held on a different circuit which was based around 3 laps of a 17 mile course and then finishing on The Tumble. I'd never ridden The Tumble, i'd heard it was quite tough at 2.6 miles and 8%, around a 15 minute effort, so my aim was to stick with the bunch and be in a good position for the climb, and then hopefully, make up some times/places on the climb.

We rolled out of Abergavenny, with all the riders looking quite tired now, myself included. Out of the town, and after a 3 mile neutralised section the hammer went down, at precisely this point I herd the unmistakable sound of carbon and wheels hitting the floor. There had been a crash at the back of the field, around 10 riders down perhaps, I didn't want to look over my shoulder too much... apart from this the bunch rode quite well, the pace certainly was too hot and for the first of three laps nothing much happened. A few attacks and sprints for the KOM and sprint primes, but nothing else really. I stayed in a good position, and coming into lap two felt strong. As with previous days my heart rate was getting lower and lower, with an average of around 138 for the 3 laps. I was pretty fatigued now. Again, nothing much happened on lap two really, people saving themselves for the final lap and final climb. Onto the final lap now, I was feeling good, rode well upto the KOM, but certainly kept some energy back...

3 laps done and we were on the way to The Tumble. The pace was high now, the road wide and riders were jostling for position, all the usual shouts as somebody touches their brakes were heard. Just before the climb we touched the village of Govilon, I was in a good position now, maybe in the top 30, riders were already starting to peel off, clearly having done the work for the team. Now onto the climb, the bottom sections are steep, and two hairpins and subsequent ramps around 12%. There was a flurry of attacks, all of which I managed to stay with. 3 riders had a pretty large gap at the front, a few bridged over to join them, but I was concentrating on distancing myself from the bunch and trying to make up some time. I was riding well, it bloody hurt, but I was reeling people in, who dare I say it, had gone out far too quick. I was on my own now, and could see a group of 5 up the road, I had to pass these. The climb opened up and we were on the moors, I passed the 2km to go mark and just after passed the group of 5, they jumped on my wheel, but i'm pleased to say they were dropped! 500m to go now, there was another group of 5 up the road, but I didn't have the legs to get across. I look around and see an NFTO rider on my wheel, where did he come from? I clicked down and sprinted within the last 200m and distanced him. Crossing the line I was empty, had nothing left and proceeded to just stand there in a daze. Great ride by Paul Double who got the stage win, very impressive climbing.

That's it. The RAS is done for another year. I'd done better than I had thought, thanks mainly to the TT and this final stage. On Stage 6 I had placed 20th, which rewarded me with some valuable time on GC. I finished in 17th overall on GC at 2:49 to yellow. The RAS has a reputation for being seriously hard, and this year was no exception, the number of junior & U23 teams is impressive as is their ability. I did wonder if after 5 stages some might crack on stage 6, obviously not the case! 17 of the top 20 in GC were either juniors or U23, serious riding ability.

Thanks again for reading and hope you enjoying following my posts. Huge thanks finally to all the BC comms, organisers, NEG and static marshals, timing judges etc... you were all brilliant, the race was a huge success.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

RAS de Cymru: Stage 5 - Glasbury

I was starting to feel it a bit now, and despite going well in the TT yesterday I knew today would be hard, mainly because I rode the course last year, and the main hill is pretty painful, only 0.6 miles at 5% av, put peaks at 12%. We had to do this 6 times. 

60 miles in total, with 6 laps and a final turn off for a flat sprint finish. Probably not a stage I was going to contest. Today for me was about keeping our of trouble, saving some energy and more importantly not loosing any time on GC.

It was quite a twisty, technical course, with plenty of road hazards, bollards, parked cars etc... certainly a course where you had to pay attention. First time up the hill, and as expected it hurt, I was perhaps poorly positioned in the back half of the peloton, so couldn't really get into a rhythm. The next section of the course was flat and fast as we turned into Glasbury, I seemed to make quite a few places on the B road toward LLyswen, and found myself near the front on the 3rd lap, I knew the sprint was coming up so attacked, taking one rider with me. It felt like I was out there for ages, reality was it was probably more like 20 seconds, but as the sprint came into view I got swallowed up by riders, who attacked again. Much like yesterday I didn't have much in my legs to respond, so latched onto a few wheels and then made contact with that small front group. The peloton however now all back together. 4th time up that hill, and it probably hurt the most, plenty of people getting shelled from the bunch, some managing to rejoin on the fast descent after. The pace was picking up a little now, some nervous riding and of course, the inevitable happened. A high speed crash, around 5 riders in front of me when another rider tried to cut in front of a bollard... I somehow avoided it, 4 other riders not so lucky as they were strewn across the floor, not nice. I was distanced a little from the bunch now, but chased back on with about 20 other riders and we were all once again back together. Final bloody time up that hill, and I was keen to get in a good position, put in an extra dig and was perhaps top 20 going over. I knew that if I could hold this position I maybe had a chance in the sprint as it seemed most other riders were knackered as well... Unfortunately at 3km to go there was another crash, this time right in front of me, another bollard/rider collision, no real idea how, but I managed to stay on the bike... We turned into the finishing straight and I had caught back up with the bunch, wasn't really sure what I had for the sprint, and given there was no time gaps to be awarded I kind of just  rolled across the line, maybe top 30. Save myself for the Tumble tomorrow. 

Unfortunately Simon had a crash whilst instigating a break on the 2nd lap, hitting a car and a wall. He's ok, snapped forks and some road rash means he couldn't finish and is out for tomorrow's stage, gutted. 

GC wise I didn't loose any time, but I didn't gain any, so i'm still 19th at 1:49. That's going to be some effort up the Tumble...

Friday, 1 July 2016

RAS de Cymru: Stage 4 - TT

This is the double day, this is the day you do a bloody TT in the afternoon. We hadn't ridden the course, instead deciding that sitting in Cafe Nero was a better option (probably was really). I was off at 4:10, with the rest of the team at 1 minute intervals. The course was 4.6 miles with 400ft of climbing, so i guess you could call it sporting. A 0.7 mile climb to start with at 5% followed by a rolling A road and small B road.

I like TTs and I like hill climbs, so in theory this should be a good course for me. In practice though I could tell I was quite fatigued, and I wasn't really sure how i'd feel.

Off I went, basically sprint up the hill and settle into a rhythm. Actually, I felt quite good, the climb went well, heart rate seemed quite low at around 175bpm though. Onto the A48 and I could feel a good rhythm setting in, aiming to get as aero as possible, and maintain my low cadence riding. The A road was quite "draggy" some some rises kept it interesting, and the speed changing a fair bit, but the key thing was my heart rate was stable. 

I passed the 3km to go sign, just before the turning onto the B road. I misjudged the corner and wasn't sure just where the turning was, so lost a bit of speed there, but got back on the hammer and smashed those pedals. There was another small rise at 1 mile to go, nothing long and less than a minute of effort, but I felt like I was going backwards here. Final push as I go past the 1km to go sign. Cross the line with a time of 11:26.7 (official).

I'd no real idea if that was good, I mean it felt good, and I couldn't have pushed much harder. But we shall see. Back at HQ and results confirmed as me in 8th. Very pleased with this indeed and moved me upto 19th on GC at 1:49. Kudos to the winning time of 11:12 by Paul Double.