Saturday, 4 February 2017

The Cyclocross Diaries: January

Well there we go. It's over. The cyclocross season seems like quite a few months ago now doesn't it? So here is my diary on the final 3 rounds at the Central League.

Round 13 - Corby
It was raining, it was pretty cold, and it was bloody miles away (around 2 hours North) but I had to do it right? First thing you see from the carpark is a tasty off camber uphill section towards the pits, nobody was riding, it was instead a running and carrying your bike race. Cool. That said, I quite like these races, so was looking forward to getting going and surviving.
The start was pretty funny really. The whistle went, and we slowly moved off, in a sea of mud and rear wheel spin, I had a pretty bad start, loosing quite a few places, but once upto speed (eventually) I managed to pass quite a few. The field as always was quickly split, and I settled into chase mode at around 10th. If this was dry, it would have been very fast and great fun. Instead it was hilariously muddy and slippy. Just coming onto my second lap, having made a few more places I reach he section furthest away from the pits, crunch, my mech is in my wheel... Nothing for it but to run now. This was rather miserable, but thankfully I had a spare bike, so after loosing a few places I got my old Felt. 30c tyres meant I had more grip, and was riding quite well. I say that, but I hit the gravel section and crunch. ANOTHER snapped mech. FFS. Race over, having ridden around 5km. Guess that's cyclocross isn't it? Bloody stupid sport.

Round 14 - MK Bowl
Another round at MK bowl, it's a good venue, easy to get to and often quite a challenging course. As is often the case this course was slightly different to the others there. Perhaps more climbing/running this time, which I didn't really mind.
Given last week's race and the broken mechs I was on the mountain bike (2.3 conti mountain kings good cx tyres?) and having managed to bodge my Felt back together with an old 10 speed mech (I run 9 speed on that) and a bent chain, I wasn't feeling that confident...
I actually had quite a good start, the mud was, as is often the case here, pretty bad, but the mountain bike seemed to be coping well, and offered plenty of grip, but just not plenty of clearance thanks to the tyres... End of lap 1 I had an off, bent the bars and lost a place having previously been in around 6th... then the bloody chain got stuck between the frame and chainring! No amount of pulling would release it, so it was a run to the pits, and loosing a few more place. I felt like sacking the whole thing off at this point, couldn't be bothered, but I got on the Felt and push on, encouraged by Lucinda shouting at me, telling me not to quit. Long and short of it is I got around, the bike was running, well, awfully, gears hardly worked and the chain slipped. Managing 9th without another mechanical was quite an achievement!

Round 15 - Miserton
Talk about saving the best till last. This was an awesome venue, a technical but fast, and more importantly, fairly dry circuit on grass and in woods on singletrack. It was such good fun. Perhaps made even more fun by the fact I had the new 2017 Eastway Balun, it's had some significant changes over the 2016 model, lighter frame, thru axles, 1x SRAM Force and lighter Bontrager wheels. It rode like an absolute beauty.
After the tragic death of Charlie Craig there was a minutes silence on the grid. A touching tribute indeed, and well done to the BC comms  and organisers on this.
Another up hill start, pretty difficult, and yet again, didn't get a great start, maybe going into the first singletrack section 12th. It was pretty narrow, so difficult to overtake, but thankfully opening again on a hill, so made some progress there, and distanced myself from a few riders. The front group were gone, so I was chasing Graham Knight and a few others for top 6/7/8 places. I was gaining and generally feeling great and with 4 laps to go passed Graham and moved upto 6th. We had a good battle for a lap or 2 and then I managed to pull away. No sign of the guys in front so settled into trying to maintain 6th. Well, that didn't happen. A crash with 2 to go saw me lose time, and 6th to Graham. Not sure what happened but after that I couldn't put any power down, felt in quite a bit of pain. I just managed to hold of 8th, through gritted teeth, and finished 7th.

Final Standing
With your best 8 races counting for the overall league position I had managed to finish 5th Senior. The original goal was 3rd overall, but quickly learnt after a few races that the field had not only got better, but bigger as well. So yeah, 5th, i'll take that.
Full top 10 below:
1 Joe Peake CC London
2 Neil Ellison WDMBC/Specialized Ruislip
3 Jonathan Dennis Kibosh SMA
4 Gavin Howell Team Milton Keynes
5 Will Beresford London Phoenix CC
6 Graham Knight Equipe Velo
7 Joshua Jones
8 James Norris SD Racing Team
9 Leigh Smith Equipe Velo
10 Paul Elcock G.S. Henley
Huge thanks to Wiggle and Eastway for their support this season. Both Balun's have been amazing and I can't wait to continue riding them, and look forward to more developments for next season.
Thanks also to Keith Perry and all the organisers at Central CX. Such a great series of races and superbly organised.

Looking forward to 2017/18 already.
Thanks for reading.

Monday, 2 January 2017

The Cyclocross Diaries: December

Typically, cyclocross leagues in December don't have many races, the organisers have a much needed and well earned rest before the Christmas break and new year push to the end of the season. The Central League is similar in that respect, with just two races. Which to be honest, I'm kind of pleased about. It's been a long old year of first road racing and then cyclocross.

Round 11 - Hillingdon
If you know, you know. Hillingdon was a shocker last year. I'd hazard a guess more people lost/snapped mechs than didn't, myself included. Not only was the mud bad, but the course went over freshly cut bushes and plants, meaning you end up carrying a bike a half a thatched cottage roof around on your lap. Truly painful.

This year however it was dry, it was sunny, and although a little bit of mud, the bikes didn't even need cleaning after the race (a true win) I've been getting better and better at starts, and this week was no exception, still not quite upto James Norris levels of self propulsion, but never the less better. First lap and I settled into things around 7th, picking a few riders off over the next few laps till I was 4th, and closing down on Graham Knight, over the next few laps I got close, but Graham clearly found something extra and managed to pull away again on the final two laps. Nothing much else really happened to be honest, no other battles, no close calls and no snapped mechs. I push right until the end, because you just never know and crossed the line 3rd. I had thought I was 4th fr the whole race but 2nd place had punctured and pulled out. Happy days (sorry) another podium, and night and day to last year here!

Round 12 - Berkhamstead
The week leading upto round 12 Lovello (the organising club) and the Central League had been doing a lot tweets/FB posts about a bridge, and other general festive fun. Well, they were right, there was indeed a huge bloody bridge on the course, made out of scaffolding and two way, and to be honest, pretty bloody steep...

It was also wet, cold and generally not nice. However the course (inc the bridge) was fun, a sandpit, some hill reps, some singletrack. It had it all, and had it have been dry (i know) it would have been very fast indeed.

I know i've been saying my starts have been getting better, well not today they weren't. 2nd row gridding for a start, but more importantly I missed the whistle, meaning that I, well, was engulfed at the start and into the first corner. Sitting now maybe 20th. Ow dear. I picked my way through the riders and over the course of the next few laps moved up to maybe top 10. I was starting to feel the burn, and seemed to be loosing time to some of the riders in front, not that it mattered, as the next minute I had a puncture. As with before I tried to ride it for a bit, but resigned myself to another half lap run. Thankfully this time I had my second bike, and was onto the Felt for the final few laps. I was pretty annoyed with myself, wasn't my fault I knew that, but couldn't help it. I pushed on for the next few laps just wanting to be done, had a few good battles along the way, picked up a few more places and crossed the line a slightly annoyed 13th.

As i've already done 8 races, it's now only the best 8 that count, so really need to find a few top 5 finishes over the next races to make an impact and keep my position in the league, which, for now, is 2nd...

The Cyclocross Diaries: November

Perhaps the main thing to note about November is that it really hasn't been that muddy. So far, we've got away with some fairly tame conditions. It's been cold, but the mud and the need to swap bikes every lap has not yet arrived. Kind of a shame, although i'm sure it will arrive, and i'm sure i'll look back at this relatively dry period wishing for it to return.
Anyway, onto the races.

Round 7 - Suttleworth
This was a superb setting within the grounds of Shuttleworth Collage. The course looked fun, with a long climb to start with, followed by a series of sweeping corners and descents back into the start area. Unfortunately no barriers, so no requirement for me to put my new skillz to the test.
By the time the Senior race was on (2:15pm) the temperature had dropped, and the freeing rain had started. I've never wanted a race to start so much as I had sitting on the start line. After what felt like forever (not 30 seconds) we were off. A very long starting straight, into a nice S bend, with a hill to follow. A good start and I was around 8th onto the climb, passed a few by the top and got into a good group of 3 (4th/5th/6th/7th) We all stayed together for most of the race until the last few laps. 4th manage to get a gap and the group just managed to drop 8th. Last lap and it was 5th (Josh Jones) and myself, He kicked and I just couldn't quite stay with him, managed to hold of 7th and crossed the line 6th.

Round 8 - Henley 
Onto round 8 at Dinton Pastures near Reading. Good weather, dry course apart from one section that was a total mud bath (ie, get off and run) Loads of different sections on this course with plenty of off camber bits, sand pits, twisty sections. It was looking set to be the best course of the season so far.
As is coming a bit of a tradition Joe set off at an alarming pace, meaning the rest of the field was battling for 2nd place... I spent the first 2 laps chasing Gavin & Neil who were in 2nd & 3rd, they were working well together, but I was feeling great and managed to get across. feeling on a bit of a roll I didn't rest, but carried on. Neil and myself managed to drop Gavin and spent the rest of the race battling it out. I'd do a lap, Neil would do a lap, that kind of thing, we both kept on trying to drop each other, but neither succeed in doing so. I was quicker on some sections, but perhaps more importantly Neil was quicker in the final S bend section just before the finish... Last lap and I was on the front, rather be here than try and make the pass, coming into the S bends, and it was proper elbow to elbow stuff, but Neil made the pass, and in the process I also took out 2 lapped riders. Neil was now leading, but I was still just on his wheel. Final corner and sprint for the line, I just missed out by maybe half a wheel to come 3rd. Absolutely brilliant race, great fun and a proper battle. Great ride by Neil.

Round 9 - Kettering
Now I did this course last year. It was the final race of the season and I think there were around 12 senior riders, it was freezing and conditions were grim. I snapped my mech and then punctured on Lucinda's bike. Wasn't great.
This time round it was a fair bit dryer, probably a bit colder and on a similar course to the previous year, bar a 15ft high bank to ride up and over (or run). It's a really fun course actually, plenty of off camber sections, some twisty bits and a nice long steady mud/grass climb... However, didn't all go to plan really. Lucinda got a puncture on her warm up lap, so borrowed Joe's bike for half a lap, got the puncture fixed, and then got another puncture so had to go out on my bike. Thankfully it wasn't really muddy enough to require a wash...
A fairly good start saw me settle into a battle for 6th/7th/8th place with Graham Knight and Gavin Howell. I was feeling pretty strong, and fancied my chances in this group. 2nd lap in and I made the pass into 6th place with Graham and Gavin on my wheel, I think I was pulling away (slightly) when I felt my front wheel, it was flat. At least the pits were close, ow wait, they weren't... I tried to ride it for a while, that didn't really work, so I ran probably best part of 1.5k to the pits. No spare bike, so I tried a wheel, rim brake only! Offered another bike, time pedals, finally (after having a strop) a chap offered my his Crux, slightly too small, but i'll take it! (huge thanks!) Now I don't know how many riders passed me, maybe 15? but I was pretty annoyed. As I left the pits somebody shouted, ride angry,so with that in mind, I did. Despite not being used to this bike I have to say I rode pretty well, nothing to loose I guess, so didn't hold anything back. Was feeling good still when on the last lap I could see Josh Jones, now he sits 3rd on the league, to my 2nd. I had to pass him. 500 or so meters from the finish I did, and managed to come back to an overall 9th position. Given the circumstances, i'm pretty pleased with that!

Round 10 - Welwyn
What a beautiful day, the kind of day that as a cyclist, you tend to spend all day in the saddle, admiring the countryside, enjoying a long coffee stop. Or, racing around a field for an hour. Just as much fun i'm sure?
This was going to be hard, lots of hill repeats, a big field and pretty dry meant a grass crit. Usually I tend to do quite well as these, so we'll see. Straight away a 4/5 riders managed to get away and I couldn't quite match the pace, I was in a second group of around 5 riders, of which this seemed to stay together for a lap or two. Over the next few laps the group fragmented a bit, and I found myself chasing down two riders (7th & 8th) I was really starting to feel it though, not really sure what was up with me but I couldn't catch them, and riders behind seemed to be closing down. Thankfully this happened towards the end and I managed to cross the line 9th. Given the field, a good result I think. Should have done better, but then that's racing I guess.

Monday, 14 November 2016

The Cyclocross Diaries: October

Nobody really wants to a read a race report after every single cross race, it's a bit too much, so over the next few months i'll try and cover off my races a month at a time, as well as anything else i've been working on, like remembered how to bloody bunny hop!

This year i'll be riding in the Central League. I'll perhaps also do a few other races and trips over winter. They'll be plenty of mud though (I hope)

I've also got the support of Eastway Bikes & Wiggle this season, who have provided me with their top end Balun C1, a properly brilliant bit of kit, full 105 drivetrain and hydo discs, lightweight & super stiff Alu frame, Mavic Aksium wheels, it's a dream to ride.

Infact the Balun's first ride was actually 3 Peaks, and that was the start of my cross season, you can red my blog post on that here:

So, what happened in October?

Rd 2 - Milton Keynes
Because of 3 Peaks I missed round 1, so this was my first race in the league. I'd ridden MK last year, the day before teh National Trophy actually. It was freezing that day, snow on the ground, and as a result very difficult conditions, especially given the majority of this course is either going up, down or along off camber sections.

This year there were a few new riders in the league (now over 600 in all categories!) but alot of the regulars from last season as well. I had my eye on a few of them, namely Gavin Howell of team MK who I had a good battle with and beat me here last year.

As the day progressed conditions were getting better and the first 2 laps were good, the mud was drying and it was getting better under tyre.... Into lap 3 and it rained. Not just a light shower, but a full on heavy storm, for about 10 minutes. After that conditions were less than easy, and every off camber section was a leg out tripod affair, especially that steep off camber down hill, if you were there, or have seen th pictures, then you'll know... Now with 4 laps to go I had moved up to 6th or 7th and had a good battle with a couple of rider. Got the better of one, and was dropped by the other. Last 2 laps and I was in 5th, a few sketchy off camber sections with the words of Rob Warner watching Danny Hart's WC winning DH run in my head "stay on your bike" and some extra concentration I crossed the line in 5th.

First race of the season, tricky conditions on a hard course, i'll take that.

Rd 3 - Hemel Hempstead
I'd not done this course before, it looks pretty good though, with the course taped out onto the side of a hill, so a bit like MK you were either going up or down, and from the practice lap it was quite twisty with 2 hurdles to run/jump.

Chris & Neil were commisaires today, so i was gridded number 1, in addition to this, Steve thought I could win, and on top of all of this it was the National trophy weekend, so some of the ususal top riders were not here... No pressure there then. Conditions wise it was bone dry and pretty warm, meaning that lap times were going to consistantly less than 6 minutes. A real grass crit.

Annoyingly didn't get a great start, maybe top 10 into the first corner into the long hill, no matter, i'd work my way up hopefully. Well, I would have done had I not taken a subsequent corner too wide, handele bars under the tap, and faceplanted at quite a speed. I watched as 5/6 riders went past, I picked myself up and pushed on, frantically trying to regain some places. Safe to say the top spot was off the cards today, but over the next few laps I managed to move back up to around 7th, and with 4 laps to go had a great battly with 5th & 6th. Problem was they were bunny hopping the barrier, including a fast one on a descent. I wasn't. So was loosing quite a bit of time here, and although i'd generally cach them on the hill climb, on the descents I was lost again. Very annoying. 1 lap to go and I knew I couldn't match 5th or 6th, so rolled over the line in 7th. Not too bad I guess.

What did I learn from this? Well relearn how to bunny hop!! Ow, and get a good start...

Rd 4 - Leighton Buzzard
It was a wet old morning this Sunday, heavy rain, but fairly mild temperatures meant I opted for a set of 30c mud tyres (CX Pros), however by the time we arrived the sun was out and the course was drying out quite nicely (well quite annoying actually) I didn't have any other tyres, so just hoped they wouldn't make much different, or that it would rain.

On the practice lap the course looked fun, fairly tight and twisty, but pan flat, a couple of barriers to jump as well... I was gridded front row again, but yet again I managed to get quite a poor start, and again, maybe 12th into the first corner. Right from lap 1 I didn't feel like I was riding as well as I should, and over the course of the next 3/4 laps, riders that I would usually catch seemed to be pulling away. I'd lost count of my position now, probably just outside the top 10, I was getting annoyed at myself, so making silly mistakes, sliding out etc... 2 laps to go and I was still pushing on, heart rate sitting fairly high and around 175bpm, but legs felt empty. Last lap and a bit of a battle with a few other riders meant I crossed the line in 13th.

Think i'll file this race under: Should have done better.

After this race I went away, built some barriers in Ally Pally and practiced. Whilst I know I could do it I seemed to have "the fear" so spending 45 mins jumping over logs was just what I needed, and allowed me to get my confidence back! Now just put put this into practice...

Rd 6 - Kempton
Having a cyclocross race in the middle of a racecourse is a pretty good idea, however, what this did mean is that you have a course with zero elevation, and zero natural technical elements (off camber, roots, singletrack etc...) That said, it was actually a pretty fun course, and at least there was some barriers for me to try out my new skillz... Being a fairly central race, and easily accessible, there was quite a large field, thankfully I was still gridded on the front row, and managed to get a great start. A long tarmac sprint, followed by a fast and wide right hand bend saw me in around 9th position, not too bad.

Over the next two laps the front group actually managed to stay together, consisting of around 7 riders. Third lap in and Joe & Jon managed to get a gap, and we couldn't quite close it. The group had also been split further and I was now in a chasing group of 3. It was actually really good fun to have a proper race, rather than ride around in TT mode on your own. Over the next few laps we all exchanged places various times, I moved up to 3rd and we managed to drop 5th. 2 laps to go and somehow 5th got back on. I was pretty cooked at this point, so couldn't quite react when 3rd attacked and managed to drop me and 5th. Last lap now and 5th attacked and passed me, I annoyingly just didn't have the legs to catch him and rolled over the line in 5th.

I was pretty pleased to be honest after the previous weeks race, and really needed this to get some confidence back. Bunny Hopping the barriers certainly helped me here, and I gained time on both of the riders I was with as they ran over them.

So 4 races done, a bit of a mixed bag in terms of results, technique has improved, weather hasn't been that bad, the Eastway has been awesome, and i'm looking forward to some serious mud (apart from Hillingdon...)

Thanks for reading as always. Massive thanks to Eastway Bikes and Wiggle for the support this season, Keith Perry for the photos and Neil, Chris, Steven, Damian & Mark all of London Phoenix for the shouting, support, tips and comms duties.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Trip Report: Mont Ventoux x 3.8

I think it was probably back in August when I was chatting to Owen and he mentioned about a trip being organised with some guys from London Phoenix to ride Mont Ventoux 6 times. Yeah, 6 bloody times. Of course the first thing I did after this was book the flights, this sounded like a trip that I could't miss out on. There were however a few minor points, the first is that perhaps riding upto just below 2,000m in October might be quite cold, and secondly, there isn't that much daylight in October, Nevertheless it's meant to be hard isn't it?

The plan was for the 5 of us (John, Paul, Sean, Owen and myself) to fly out Friday morning, drive upto Malacene and tackle Ventoux on Saturday, "recovery ride" on Sunday and back home on Monday morning. We needed a plan, so we met at the Flask in Hampstead the Thursday before and came up with a few ideas. John & Paul were only up for doing 3, they had no interest in 6, Sean and Owen wanted to do 6, and I felt a had to do 6... Great.

So then, the route. We'd leave at 4:30am from Malaucene and tackle the first ascent at 21.2km and 7.5% average. Then down to Bedoin and back up at 21.1km at 7.5%, then back down to Bedoin and do it again, before doing the Malaucene ascent again. That would be the 4 hardest done, we'd have lunch in Malaucene before tackling the Sault ascent 2 times, which is 25.8km, but only averages 4.7%. All sounds quite easy doesn't it...

Kit wise I was wearing this:
 - dhb merino socks and oversocks
 - dhb merino LS 200 base layer
 - dhb regulate knee warmers
 - dhb Aeron bib shorts
 - dhb Aeron Full Protection Jacket
 - dhb ASV Thermal gilet
 - dhb Neoprene gloves
 - A buff
 - Rapha headband
 - Karrimor down gilet
 - dhb Tempo waterproof
 - Alpkit 13L drybag

The down gilet and waterproof jacket were for the descents and along with food, gels, another hat and some more gloves these were all stuffed in an Alpkit front bag, and I kept this on throughout the ride. Very light, and secure.

We (Sean, Owen & myself) left the cottage just after 5am. It was freezing, and this was at about 300m elevation. We were only a few km away from the start of the first climb out of Malaucene. Couple of KM in and Sean decided to drop back, and pace himself for the day, Owen and I carried on and racked up the KM. We had aimed to climb each ascent in around 2 hours, which included some time for general faff and kit changes and eating. Upto 10km it was all fairly easy, the gradient wasn't too steep. The next 4km however averages out at 9.5%, hard on a summer's day in lightweight kit and without a bag, with winter kit and a bag it just wasn't fun, and I was starting to hunt for a compact on the front... The following 7km were not much easier, and as we rode higher, the temperatures dropped. There was a heavy frost on the rode, and part of me wondered if we'd even be able to carry on! Last few Km and the sky was jet black, all but for a thin orange line on the horizon, the sun was coming up, but we'd still be descending in the dark. Finally at the summit and it was too cold, although I had been fine climbing temperature wise, and all the kit was working very well, as soon as I got off the bike at the summit I started to get cold. We got the obligatory selfie at the summit, put extra clothes on, and then headed off down to Bedoin. 

Owen shot off at quite a speed, I was being a bit more careful, the last thing I wanted was an off. This did however mean the descent was long, just over 25 minutes in total, with a few stops of the way down just to get my circulation going again. Got to the bottom, bloody freezing. I wasn't waiting around, so headed straight back up to the summit from Bedoin now. The first 5km were easy, nothing more than 5.5% which was good really, as the following 7km had nothing less than 9% and the entire climb nothing less than 7%. I was on my own at this point, just tapping out a steady rhythm. It was a stunning climb, the colours from the trees were amazing, and the sky, now clear blue provided some much needed beams of sunlight through the trees now and again. However, up until around 7km to go it was still in the trees, and as a result, pretty bloody cold. There was still frost on the ground, which certainly made me think i'd have probably ridden down even slower if I could have seen that... I got to Chalet Raynard and waited just up the road for Owen, where we rode the next 6km together, stopped for some photos, and also to comment on the frost...

We arrived at the summit, not a cloud in the sky, a fair bit of wind, but we managed to find a sheltered section to change and eat. The plan was to now go back and do Bedoin again... We'd already seen Sean on the ascent and he was coming down, we stopped, and he said he was doing 3, no more, certainly not 6!

It was now 10:30am, we'd ridden 66km and climbed around 2,750m, and it had taken us just over 5 hours 30 minutes. I'm not really sure of we were on target time wise, but I know that it was harder than I was expecting, and we were certainly stopping more than I thought we would. But then you had to really with all the constant changing of kit. We set off in the direction of Bedoin, which thankfully is also the same direct as the 3rd climb, Sault. We saw John, Sean & Paul just near the summit, so decided to all head to Sault, so at the point, slightly off plan, but Owen and I had resigned ourselves to the fact that we'll probably not be doing 6 today, we'll save the for the summer.

Sault is stunning, positioned on a small hill overlooking a valley and the mountains, really quite French. We sat in a bar on the village square, drank and coffee and hot chocolate and formulated a revised plan. John and Paul were one down on us, so they needed to do the Malaucene climb, Sean just the Sault climb. We all set off knowing this was the easier climb of the 3 at just 4.5% but 28km long, and fueled on coffee and hot chocolate, and with renewed knowledge that this might be my last ascent I set off, this was a brilliant climb, you could really get into a good rhythm and speed, and the road the empty and smooth, with just the sound of the occasional gear change to break things up. We regrouped again at Chelt Raynard (toilet stop obvs) and although it was a pleasant 17 degrees down at Sault, it was not that warm here, Garmin suggested around 5 degrees... The next 6km we had done before when climbing Bedoin, so I knew what was in store, it was perhaps even more annoying that I then bonked at about 3km to go. Stomach felt empty, I knew I hadn't eaten enough. Arrived at the summit, put the warm clothes on again and ate a pack of wine gums. We'd done it. 3 ascents on Ventoux.

So just after 2pm. the Weather was coming in, and the summit was now in cloud every now and again. Time to get off the mountain. Waoh, what a descent, this was awesome, sweeping corners, straight fast sections, this had it all. Of course the last time we were here it was pitch black... We all arrived in Malaucene smiling, and also quite hungry. We settled down for a lunch of omelette, chips and coke, the dream. In hindsight, maybe a 1 hours 15 minute lunch was longer than was needed, but at the time it felt required.

The next stage, well, Sean was done at 3, John and Paul still had 1 more ascent to do, and Owen and I felt it would be rude not to do at least 1 more, so Paul, Owen, John and myself set off up to the summit again at around 4pm. It kind of dawned on us that we'd be descending in the dark, and furthermore that weather we saw earlier had well and truly arrived, the temperature had dropped some more and there was no sun. A clear indication that we would not be doing 6. I was on my own again and hit that 4km section of 9.5% average, sections were 14%, which after 148km and 5,000m climbed was not enjoyable. This section just dragged and dragged and was very pleased to finally, after what seemed like a lifetime reach Mont Serein, where it was almost flat for 300m, a much needed rest. I pushed on, not really sure if the others were following or not, I kind of assumed they were. The rain and mist started to fall even more now and the roads were wet. I could feel myself wanting to turn around, but I kept going. With about 5km to go I was cold, I had taken my gloves off and undone my jacket and gilet, but I was getting rained on. I even put my down gilet and waterproof on for the climb, knowing that if we do summit again I'm not going to be hanging around at the top at all. Down the hill I could see a light, it was Owen. He pulled up, we had a quick chat, and thankfully he was also fairly keen to get off the mountain.

So that was that. We headed down having done 3.8 ascents of Ventoux, arriving back at the cottage pretty bloody pleased. Maybe we could have pushed on and done 4, but we were not going to manage 6, and we'd done the 3, so really, we may as well finish... Not a bad day in the saddle, great fun and great company.

What would I do differently? Well for starters I wouldn't go in bloody October. My body just spends to much time trying to keep warm, and although the kit I had was awesome, and worked flawlessly (Thanks dhb) nobody could deny it was too cold for such a challenge. I'll come back and do it again, and this time i'll do it in the summer when the days are longer and the temperatures a little warmer.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Race Report: 3 Peaks Cyclocross

Firstly, well, that was a proper race. That, was awesome.

The 3 peaks is a race i've admired from a far having only actually bought a cyclocross bike in 2015, I applied last year, but didn't get in, so was pretty pleased when the email came around confirming my entry into this years event. My first 3 Peaks.

The Prep:
This will be with most big events I didn't really do any specific training, and despite Lucinda telling me to go running more I probably only went for a total of about 4 runs... I did some more focused cx riding up and around Alexandra Palace in North London and some longer rides into Hertfordshire, these were useful, but more just about building up general cx fitness and skills rather than targeting the 3 peaks...

The Kit:
I am fortunate enough to have the support of Wiggle & Eastway bikes for the 2016/17 cyclocross season in the shape of a Eastway Balun C1. Eastway's flagship cyclocross machine. It's a stunning bit of kit, super stiff aluminium frame, Mavic Aksium Wheels, Shimano 105 Group set including hydraulic discs, glittery paint and Ritchey & Fizik finishing kit. One addition or rather change to the bike for 3 peaks was a set of bombproof and bombweight Schwalbe Land Cruiser tyres. These were slow, they were heavy, but they were/are a 3 peaks essential...

As with most endurance type events the weather plays a big part in how much you enjoy it (well it does for me) so making sure your clothing is right is pretty essential. Leading upto race day the forecast was getting slightly better from biblical rain and wind, to a medium to high chance of a soaking. I played it safe and went with my London Phoenix skin suit, a long sleeve dhb merino base layer, another Phoenix SS jersey and finally a new dhb Aeron rain jacket (Jersey over the skinsuit for extra pockets you see)

The Race:
I'd spent the Saturday staying with my mate Tom, just outside Leeds and was planning on camping Saturday night, however given the forecast opted to not do that (thankfully)  and just drive over on the morning of the race.

Arriving with the standard 2 hours to kill, we sat in the car whilst I faffed with my bike and kit, and despite having already decided what to wear, rethinking that, all whilst trying to make coffee in a windy field. Ah the weather? Well it was a bit grim, I mean it looked bright "over there" but persistent and heavy showers meant that everything was getting wetter.

Onto the start line and only 10 minutes to go. When I applied I clearly hadn't looked at previous times or had not felt very confident as I had positioned myself in the 4-4:30 time slot, meaning i was probably a good 250/300 riders back from the start, not ideal... However what was ideal, was that the sun had just come out, the rain jacket came off, stuffed in my pocket.

And we're off. The first 3 miles were all on road, allowing me to move up and gain some valuable places, I passed probably 100 people by the time we hit the climb at Gill Garth and onto Ingleborough. This is the first of three climbs and probably one of the most iconic images of the 3 Peaks as a long snaking line of riders make their way to the summit. It really was quite a sight. It was also pretty tough... We hit the grass and lower slopes and people almost instantly started to shoulder their bike and run, I was perhaps expecting to ride the bike for a little bit longer than this, but it simply wasn't possible as the long slog started. What also wasn't really possible was being able to run at any kind of pace. I mean, i'm sure Oldham, Jebb and Craig all managed this, but it was not easy! The gradient ramped up and the pace dropped even more, this was now basically a walk with my bike, it wasn't that comfortable despite padding on my shoulder, and the weight on my back meant this was painful. At this point I wasn't quite sure how i'd finish, let alone in a competitive time! Reaching what I thought was the summit in thick mist and damp air I was delighted to see riders in front of me going up again, and walking with their bike, again... Finally reaching the summit, and dibbing in at the checkpoint in 100th, taking 58 minutes in total.

Onto the descent and thick mist mean I wasn't really sure where I was going, where the path was, or indeed how difficult this would be. As it happened pretty bloody hard. I followed 2 other riders as we essentially took the most direct route from the summit, and down a near vertical grassy bank, off the bike again upto a much more defined path. I was foolishly thinking maybe i'll be able to rest on the descents, how wrong I was... total concentration, bunny hopping bogs and maneuvering around rocks and other stuff meant it was hard going. The relief when I joined the smooth (ow so smooth) tarmac as we headed to the 2nd peak, Whernside. I rode with Dave Powell of JMC on the road section, and worked well, exchanged a few words, one of which was that this was Dave's least favorite climb. Cheers. I understand why though. It was very rocky, and really steep and just to add to the excitement the weather came in and pelted us with some more rain and wind. Progress was now best described as a slow walk. It leveled off at the top, and as a result this section was ride-able, not quite sure how long this bit was as I kind of blanked out and just focused on getting to the summit. 2:07 to the top, and going well, I think. This descent wasn't fun. Basically a long line of solid flag stone steps. some rode down at what appeared to be a worrying lack of control, others ran through the knee high bogs either side. I did a bit of both, but was worried about a puncture, so in the end opted for the run, on a descent... A few river crossings at Blea Moor and the track opened to a much wider gravel fireroad, progress was much quicker now and as we headed over to Ribblehead Viaduct I could see the next road section.

I made up time and places on the road section, I felt good, had a few gels and focused on what was the final climb upto Pen-y-Ghent. The only hill i'd been up before, albeit not for many years, and not on a bike. I knew that most of this climb was rideable, so was hoping to make up some time and places, which I did. About 10 minutes into the climb and Rob Jebb & Paul Oldham come flying down, closely followed by Nick Craig. That'll be the leaders then, awesome! I concentrated on my climb and managed to drop most of the riders I was with or reached, until I heard one spectator say "nice beard" obviously referring to Neil Philips, who passed me. I was thankful for this, it spured me on, and made me climb quicker, cheers mate! Although on fresh legs the upper section was rideable, it wasn't now, and we entered into possibly the slowest ever overtake as I passed Neil, both walking, both looking tired. I knew the summit was close as we turned the hairpin, and the terrain got rougher, I also knew that Tom & Lydia were there to give me a fresh bottle and some friendly encouragement... One final walk/push to the top, and I could see the dibber's flag! I ran (actually, more a quick walk) and reached the summit, all downhill from here! 3:25 at the summit. Excited at the prospect of a Sub 4 I began the descent, it was pretty good fun, all rideable, and pretty quick. Neil managed to pass me, and I couldn't live with him, and whilst the top section was fun, the lower section was torture on my hands. The ground was so rough, with no smooth line you just kind of hand to hold on for dear life and pray for no punctures. I got through, reached the bottom, and reached the road. Just 3 miles from here! Again, managing to make up some time thanks to the fairly uncomfortable 80psi I headed to the finish and crossed the line in 3:47:43 and 85th. I was chuffed.

So that's it, done. What did I learn, and what will I do different or the same next year?
 - Well, first of all it was epic. Proper crazy, stupid kind of fun, and although hard, one of the best races I have ever done
 - Disc brakes probably saved me quite a few times from some nasty crashes. These were superb, and especially given the conditions and weather. My old cantis simply would not have worked.
 - Schwalbe Landcruisers were heavy, slow and didn't offer that much grip in the mud. I'd still run them again though because I do not want to change a puncture at the top on Ingleborough.
 - 80psi might have been too much. 70psi seemed to be the average. 80psi was just so bumpy!
 - Shoulder padding was very useful. I cut up a foam camping seat and jammed it into my skinsuit & jersey. Didn't move and offered a bit of extra support. Extra bike padding might have helped again
 - I wore more clothes than I thought i'd need. I would do the same again. If you fall off or get a mechanical on the tops it's bloody cold.
 - Lucinda will no doubt laugh, but i'd do more running before. 1 or 2 times a week. I'll listen next time.
 - Core strength and back strength were things that I suffered from. To be really competitive i'd need to build on this (sounds boring)
 - Actually walking up hills. I don't mean Ally Pally, I mean go on a 30 mile ride around Peak District, Scotland with the cross bike and carry it for 30 minutes. Then you'll know what it's like...
 - I fitted metal studs into my shoes. They worked well on loose and muddy stuff, not that well on rocks. That said, I think i'd still use them again. I bought rugby ones as they're massive!
 - Final thing is i'll try and start near the front next time, If I get in of course...

Huge huge thanks to all the marshals, mountain rescue, ambulance staff, organisers, BC Comms, motorbike NEG riders and anybody that made the 54th 3 peaks happen. It was my first, but it wont be my last. Hope to make it into that V80 cat one year...

Thanks to Wiggle & Eastway for continued support, Joozle Dymond for the Ribblehead Viaduct photo (that's going on the wall!) and Tom & Lydia for supporting and getting me a chocolate orange at the finish.

Thanks for reading.