Thursday, 14 June 2012

Ho, cheese scone

It's been a while since I last put something on here.  The blog started as a place to record our process through a cross season but as we all ride most disciplines it seems appropriate to expand the scope of the blog.

So, the cross season finished a long time ago and while the weather doesn't seem to have improved I haven't let that reduce the amount of time I've spent on my bikes.

The biggest change in my riding has been the employment of a coach.  I know that in some circles this is a dirty word, but I've found it really useful. I always knew what I should be doing but I was pretty good at putting it off until tomorrow.  A coach means I have not only the guilt of someone checking on me but also the guilt of not using what I've paid for.

My first mountain bike event this year was the Whinlatter Challenge. This is a great course with technical descents and long hard climbs. I'd been using my coach for about 4 weeks at this point, I'm sure that there will have been no real training benefits in this short period but I managed to knock about an hour off my time from the previous year, not bad for a 32 mile course!
Enjoying sunshine and singletrack at Whinlatter
Second race this year was the Colne Valley, this wasn't particularly technical but it had some horrible climbs and a nasty headwind.  I was going really well but with only 5 miles to go I blew.  I knew I had been pushing hard but I forgot to eat and didn't drink very much, my own fault, lessons learnt.  In the last 5 miles I hemorrhaged places, a personal low light was being overtaken by a rider wearing a Wallace and Gromit jersey who looked like he was an a day out with the family!

I eventually crossed the line to be handed a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich by Rich and Paul - excellent recovery food!  Any race that ends with bacon, tea and cakes is a great race in my books!
First cobble climb at Colne Valley
The third race was the Glentress 7 which is part of the TweedLove festival with Crossclub riders Rich and Rob joining me in the solo category.  The race as the name subtly suggests is a 7 hour race around Glentress.  It was pretty cold as we lined up on the start line for the naturalised start behind a race vehicle, as the car drove up the long climb from the visitors centre to buzzards nest car park, Rich and Rob start to pull away and I settled into my own pace, seven hours is a long time and there was no need to burn out on the first hill.

Differing reaction from Rob and I on the discovery there would be 300+ m of climbing per lap!

The course was brilliant, lots of climbing but well worth it for the fast and technical descent, I'm not a strong climber but managed to make up most of the time I lost on the group I was riding with on the descents.

After a couple of laps I came into the pit area to see Rob just leaving, this was a massive boost to my confidence, Rob is much faster than I am generally, but I think the technical descent and my Scott Spark meant I was not losing as much time on him as usual, although I was still losing time!  In the end it turned out he'd had a bad lap which allowed me to close in, I didn't see him again!

Rich came passed me on the descent on my penultimate lap, I must have been pulling some gnarly sick moves at the time (haha) so I missed him approaching.  Rich announced he was going for another lap which gave me the required kick up the arse to make sure I beat the cut off to fit in another lap as well.

In the end Rich finished with 9 laps and a brilliant 12th place, and both Rob and I finished with 8 laps albeit about 20 places apart due to Rob finishing about 35 minutes in front of me.  All in all this is a brilliant race and I will certainly be back next year!

So, as the year is progressing I feel as though I'm become a stronger rider, I'm still not challenging my Cross Club team mates but the coaching is paying off.  This time next year, they should all be worried!

If anyone is interested my coach is Steve has been a great source of help and advice so if you are in the market for a coach check him out.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Back From The Shadows

A fair chunk of time has passed since the last blog update. Not through lack of want, more a lack of time due to various commitments. Work, moving house, the usual boring stuff but unfortunately the kind of stuff you have to do to be able to ride at all. One particular bonus being able to pay for a cycling holiday in Majorca. Right in the depth of all the crap weather that the UK seems to have in abundance, myself and Rob managed to get away for a week of riding on the cyclists magnet of Majorca. Having never been before with the sole purpose of riding, neither of us really knew what to expect although I think we secretly harboured hopes of great things having read numerous blog entries and training camp diaries prior to leaving. We were not to be disappointed and rode over 400 miles in our allotted 5 days on some of the most impressive roads we've ever seen. This place comes highly recommended to anyone. Truly brilliant. Races have also been few and far between for myself with working offshore to pay for the impending house move and so it was with a hefty bit of trepidation that I entered the Colne Valley Mountain Bike challenge over in West Yorkshire at the start of May with Adam and Paul. I knew full well how tough the event was having raced it the previous year. Ridden over a small selection of the myriad of bridleways, tracks and footpaths around Holmfirth, the relentless headwind made for a tough day. From the start, my lack of race fitness showed with me being unable to bridge across to the leading group, left dangling agonisingly close but just far enough away to get a kicking from the wind. Easing off slightly I had to be satisfied to wait for three guys to join me from where we rode together all the way to the finish, managing to drop only one of the guys a few miles from the finish. The final climb again exposed my lack of race fitness and I was unable to hold the wheel in front of me, crossing the line in a relatively pleasing 15th place. Another top day in Cross Club colours with the kit garnering many a complimentary comment. This weekend saw another belated entrance to the Glentress 7 - a 7hr mountain bike race in the Scottish Borders. This forms part of the ten day Tweed Love festival and attracted plenty of top names including Oli Beckingsale racing as a pair. Top company indeed! Myself, Rob and Adam all entered in the solo category and duly lined up on the start line at ten am with various degrees of excitement evident! The race organisers lived upto their reputation of putting on a brilliant course, taking in parts of the famed red routes but more of the "sneaky" trails made by the local trail fairies and using less than 500m of fire road in approximately 7 miles! Incredible. Each lap was a real test, providing zero time to stop pedalling or eat anything. The start was a leadout behind the race car, effectively stringing out the field. Again, quite predictably, I was unable to comfortably stay with the lead group of around ten riders, again finding myself in no mans land between the lead group and the chasers. Easing off again slightly I sat at the front of the chase group before heading into the first section of singletrack, having to watch Rob motor off with the leaders. I managed to catch some of the leaders in the descents and made up some places coming through the start/finish line a minute or so behind Rob who seemed pretty comfortable. As the race progressed I caught Rob who seemed to have had a bit of an 'off' on a particularly tough descent and knew I needed to make the most of it, more than aware of how well he is riding at the moment! A concerted effort of a couple of hours managed to consolidate my position, hovering around 15th ish position but had resulted in feeling the effects earlier than I had envisaged! Hours 4 and 5 were the obligatory "crap laps" where I felt like I was limping round, constantly clock watching and convinced other solo riders were catching me. At the beginning of the 6th hour I resorted to the caffeine gels. I soon realised I would manage another 2 laps in the allotted time and knew I had to ride hard to make up some positions having slipped to 17th during the "crap laps". Every climb hurt and the descents provided no respite but I felt like I was riding well, descending the best I had done all race. Overtaking solo guys I recognised provided further motivation and on the last lap I rode to a virtual halt, eventually crossing the finish line in 12th overall solo. Pleasing considering lack of race and training time recently. Both Rob and Adam had predictably strong races - their reports to follow soon. Thanks have to go, as always, to the long suffering pit crew of Shonah, Suzanna and Stu who provided much needed inspiration and permanent smiles every lap despite the cold. Promise to get you a proper Ez-Up for the next event. Knackered garden shelters don't really cut it I know! Hopefully we can find a company who will be able to sort one in cross club colours! Next up are some longer "cross club" style rides - following bridleways and roads in the general direction of Carlisle is first up. Looking forward to the usual top company and coffee which always ensues. Then it's down to Mayhem to ride as a team - looks like that could be the enforced deadline we need for the Ez-Up!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Hit the North - from behind the barriers

Cross Club had a run-out today at the infamous Hit the North 2012, in Philips Park, Whitefield, Manchester. Icy conditions and heavy snow made conditions extremely tough for the ~250 riders who took to the course, although it made for fun viewing for the handful of spectators who braved the cold.

I didn't manage to catch up with everyone at the end, but good rides seem to have been had by all.






Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Boxing Day Cross

Merry Christmas Everyone!

A quick report on the CXNE Round 11 at Temple Park, South Shields. The same venue as my first race of the year and just as fast and enjoyable. Some interesting off-camber bits (which began to defeat me towards the end), fantastic high barriers and fast sections. Not to mention a beast of a headwind!
Off camber concentration.

A good field of about 65 riders was an awesome turn out, especially as the proceeds were going to CRY Charity (Cardiac Risk in the Young). This is a great charity and it was brilliant to see some support for it, especially a condition that can hit the fittest of younger people. Brilliant organisation by Jamie Brady, and credit to him. We had some big local 'hitters' in attendance, (such as the NE Chuckle Brothers) and National Champ Paul Oldham filling his boots on the way to a double winning weekend. All in all, a strong field.

I started alright, but fairly early was in trouble. The race had been put back to 13:30 and I hadn't eaten too well; I soon hit a wall and cursed my lack of prep (despite the 7000 calories I had ingested the day previously), but didn't seem to have any energy. Good nutrition is normally something I manage with, but you live and learn. That is my best excuse for my performance!

I (heart) barriers.

I finished a palatable 25th. Tired and hungry. Actually not too bad, as I've hovered around that positioning this year. My 6th position at Dalton Park TLI will remain my best finish of the year, but a 16th at Barnard Castle, CXNE was my favourite - truly a horrible day, but so much fun!

The end of the Cross season is nigh for me, as I am really looking forward to getting stuck into my endurance training proper again. Long rides, long races and goals for next year are being formulated in my head, but cyclocross is certainly a bug I've acquired this season. Coming to the end of my first ever season of all forms of bike racing, it has been a moderately successful one, with highs and lows, but all-in-all very enjoyable. Progress is slow but promising.

The dream would be to have Todd Wells ability; a penchant for cyclocross and 100 mile MTB races. Quite how you acquire that is the challenge! Offroad is the best road however.

Anyhow, all the best to you for 2012. Keep riding and happy racing :) Many thanks to Mark Mather for the pics, I appreciate your efforts.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Van Dessel: Gin and Trombones

This is a post I've been threatening to write for a while, it is a review on my Van Dessel Gin and Trombones.

I've been riding and racing the bike for a few months so I now feel qualified enough to write a bit about it!

The frameset came from the Bearded Man, David was fantastic to deal with and the framesets arrived exactly when he said they would at a brilliant price.

The frameset is beautiful and paintwork has a very definite Flandrian look!! It arrives with a few extras that show Van Dessel know about what is required by a cross bike, the pot of touch up paint is an especially nice touch as is the frame protection tape on the top tube.

With a carbon rear end and carbon forks it feels very very light. The forks are full carbon tapered forks with an appropriate headset supplied with the frame.  I don't have a crown race installation tool but a rubber mallet proved once again it is the tool for every job!  Expect maybe in the case of the BB 30 bottom bracket which I took the the LBS to get fitted.

My build had to be a bit on the budget side but with TRP brakes, 105 shifters, rear mech, ultegra front mech, FSA gossamer BB 30 chainset and tiagra 10 speed cassette it ended up being much better than expected, this is mainly due to team mate Paul and his endless supply of used parts!

Black bar tape, cables, bars, stem, seatpost and saddle finish the build.  Admittedly, I let the Van Dessel down as these should be more gucci, but yellow bar tape and cables are on there way!

I suppose what everyone is really interested in is how it 'goes'.  It goes really well. Really really well!  Partly this is down to the weight, I haven't weighed the bike but it feels light and is probably sub 8.5kg even in this build. Not only is it physically light when you lift it but more importantly when you ride it.  The frame is incredibly responsive and really does inspire confidence.  I've been happy to ride this bike through the technical bits of the local woods and round the powerline trail at Chopwell Woods.  Obviously anywhere outside a race course the brakes feel pretty under powered compared to disc brakes, again this is something Van Dessel have thought of and the frame already has frame mounts and cable routing for disc brakes.

The frame also has fantastic mud clearance and seems to far better than most of the other framesets at the races, with only one cross bike this sort of feature really is important.

All in all, I love this bike, I'm lucky enough to have a few pretty good bikes but since this arrived I haven't ridden anything else.  In my opinion, that is about as higher praise as I can give the G&T.  I think the only upgrade I need to make is to get a second one for race days or maybe a carbon Full Tilt Boogie!

Monday, 12 December 2011

NECCL Round 6 - Dalton Park

The last race before Christmas. A lot closer to home than my last spin out at Barnard Castle - and still easily a 30 minute drive. Plenty of people drive further than that to race though, and I'm glad I did yesterday...

As the only Cross Club rider around this weekend, I was flying the flag. A scout of the circuit showed it was lumpy and draggy with little opportunity to gain momentum - a good cyclocross course you might say - but I like my dismounts and hills! Plenty of off-camber fun to keep me entertained though. With another poor start due to unfortunate positioning further down the grid, I had to fight my way forward and took some risks, running wide once or twice. I managed to clear a large portion of the field but it was a bit late to catch any leaders.

I worked hard to reel in a few riders - saw punctures, crashes and mechanicals knock out others - while keeping my effort up; certainly I need to improve on some aspects of my race, but I know my endurance is good, so I kept up the pace...

Rapha ran a program called 'Cross Clash' featuring Tim Johnson and Jeremy Powers racing each other. One of the things it featured was about 'battles within a race' - if I beat you, I win. There are always riders you have a good battle with, and today it was Ian Jefferson from Infinity Cycles. He got a great start, and once I got into my rhythm I had him in my sights for the majority of the 50'. I worked very hard to close the gap, and managed to pass him at the start of the last lap, in the end winning a sprint against another rider whom I'd battled with throughout as well. Great fun.

I love this about cyclocross; we may not be at the level of the leaders (yet!) but those skirmishes, that changing of position, pushing yourself, your bike handling and the feeling of the chase... well, it really keeps you on your toes, and makes you a better and fitter racer.

From what I garner, I claimed a top-1o finish. Despite a few strong riders missing, including my team mates, it was my best finish of the season - and that was with a poor start! So I'll take it. I worked hard. I enjoyed it. What else matters?

To use another Rapha catchphrase - 'Keep Cross and Clash On'.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

TLI Cyclocross National Championships Gateshead and CXNE Round 9 - Barnard Castle

We've been a bit slow at race reports lately so this is a 2 for 1 deal!

First off Cross Club headed to Gateshead for the TLI National Championships.  Paul, Neal and I headed to a very windy Gateshead, the Met Office had an Amber warning out due to the wind speeds but a decent crowd of about 60 riders still turned up.

Usually I like to write about how much I enjoyed the course, this time, nothing could be further from the truth! It wasn't really the course more the fact that the wind killed me!  There were a couple of climbs into the wind with one particularly horrible climb only to be hit by the wind as you crested.

My awesome Van Dessel ready to role

It was a tough race and it felt like I spent the rest of the lap recovering from the hill.  Neal had a great race and Paul was going well until he punctured and had to run most of a lap.  Luckily one of the Blackhawk riders lent Paul a bike so he could complete the race.

I'm not sure about the results but I think Neal was inside the top 15, Paul was about 18th and I managed a personal best at around 22nd.

So for a tough race it ended up going pretty nicely!

Next up was Barnard Castle last weekend.

This was my first real taste of Cyclocross weather!  Up until now all my races have been dry and I've only needed to wear bib shorts and a jersey.  Barnard Castle brought freezing rain and sleet and along with it arm and leg warmers and a gillet!

After completing a practise lap, the warm up consisted of sitting in the car with the heater on full!

With Paul in Belgium enjoying waffles and beer and Rich racing at the next round of the duathlon series it was left to Rob, Neal and I to fly the Cross Club flag.

The course was great and at 1.7 miles it felt like the longest course this season.  The course had a couple of barriers, some tarmac and some sticky mud!  Just about perfect.

Neal riding it like it's on rails 

With the North East Championships on the Sunday the Saturday was providing an opportunity for some of the big guns to have a practise on the course.  With Paul Oldham showing us all how it is done.
Me following Nev Martin

I had a great race fighting hard with Nev Martin from Infinity Cycles and Dave Charman from Blackhawk bikes.  The three of us battled for most of the race with Nev pulling out a lead in the last section of mud and me getting in front of Dave on the tarmac to the finish.  Next time I think I will let Nev follow me across the line!

Rob and Neal both had great races, with Rob managing to meet the cut off for an extra lap.  This gave me and Neal the chance to recover and then laugh at the pain on Rob's face when he crossed the line.

As a treat I had invited my parents to come and watch this race, the weather made wasn't perfect but it was good for them to see what it is all about.  It didn't take long for my Dad to get the hang of Cyclocross, at the end of the race he even had a few tips.  Basically I need to go faster at the start and then just stay in front of everyone! I suggest you all watch out at the next race as I now know what I've been doing wrong.

The race was also the first outing for the Crossclub kit.  Thanks to the sponsors Apex Acoustics Ltd and Bearded Man.