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.

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,