Monday, 31 October 2011

October in the North West



Time to ramble...
It's been a busy month of racing round these parts with 5 rounds of the North West CX League crammed into October. I'd missed the two opening rounds through being away in the equally exotic climes of Italy & Leeds, so rolling up to the start line at round 3 in Bolton I was shoe-ed towards the back of grid having amassed a sum total of bugger all series points. A reasonable start & a mass pile up meant I squeezed my way up into the top 30 by the first corner. It was absolutely lobbing it down making the going fully wet & slippery but not boggy. For a few laps I had a good tussle with Velocake's Tim 'tubs & turbo trainer' Kershaw, chasing each other down & picking our way through the field. Tim finally got a gap on one of the descents that I couldn't reel back in, staying just out of reach until the end. I just scraped my way into the top 20 (that'd be 19th) & got my first league points of the season on the board. Not overly blown away with my performance, but then it was my first cross race for a few weeks & having been doing loads of long steady rides I was expecting it to take a couple of weeks to get up to speed again.

Next stop was up to Winderemere for round 4, incorporated into the Rapha Super Cross. Good to see Rapha making a bit of positive input, giving people who aren't the begrudging other halves a reason to take a look at what was going on. A Superprestige it wasn't, but with hundreds of free cow bells handed out, Duvel being served by the pits & a commentator that seemed aware of what was going on in the race, it was certainly substantially more spectator friendly that usual.

On pre-riding I rather liked the course; there was a stiff little climb in there & some relatively techy bits. The one thing that did stand out was how short the lap was. That caused a bit of an issue at the start - impressively over 150 were on the line but with just 50metres of open field before a hairpin it got a bit sticky. I like a bit of good humored argy-bargy at the start of these things, but that many people manically trying to find a line just causes some to get a bit panicked & others get a bit too aggressive, shitty & plain rude. I can do without that, so decided to calmly pick my way through when the opportunities presented themselves.

All was going pretty well with that tactic for a few laps, eventually getting a pretty clear run at the course. Then two things went wrong.
1: It got claggy. It had been wet, then it was warm & dry. All those wheels churned the mud up pretty bad. As a one bike competitor I felt the effects. Wheels didn't go round very well. Then not at all. I ended up having to stop twice a lap to pull handfuls of clag out of my frame & forks, loosing places every time to those that were able to grab a clean bike from the pits.
2: My gears went all clunky. Just out of alignment enough that whenever I stood on the pedals the chain chunked about over two cogs. It was then that I realised that blundered into a schoolboy error, having built my one & only race bike without any barrel adjusters on the gears. I felt like a tit for that. Quite grumpily I finished a lowly 40th on the day.

Then a change of fortune :-) The following day was round 5 at the fantastically named Boggart Hole. It's properly ace there, one of my favourite courses with loads of off-camber rooty bits (for a cx course), singletrack & a long climb. I rode well there last year, so I was hoping to finally get the season up & running. Another big field started, but thankfully starting around a suitably big field before dropping into the woods. Still un-gridded I managed to razz my way round the inside corners to get into the first singletrack section towards the front of the pack. Stomping on nicely I had time to look up & gauge roughly where I was in the race - further up than I was expecting. Pushing on I was waiting for a stream of riders to come passed, but whenever I caught a glimpse behind no one seemed to be closing. Perhaps I was on for a good one. Eventually Roy 'still amazingly quick for an old fella' Hunt crept through, but that was it. I stayed strong & picked up 10th on the day. It was yet another strong turnout, so I was really chuffed with that particularly after the previous day's frustrations.

Roll on another week & it was back oop north to the home of Hope Technology, Barnoldswick for round 6. A new course to the league & one that rode ok, but when hit at race pace became great fun. A kind of classic British cross course with 5 dismounts a lap: 2 sets of boards, 1 set of steps & 2 slimey banks to run up. Plus a sandpit. And a barbecue, although that wasn't actually on the course.

Once again, missing those two opening rounds meant I was hidden in the bulk of riders on the start. Thankfully I was catching up with my old compadre Ian Wilkinson before the gun went & managed to jump on his wheel for the first couple of hundred metres, getting dragged passed many riders, escaping the inevitable bottleneck at the first corner. Needless to say that was the last I saw of Wilks' wheel as he buggered off to the front of the race. Once again I felt I was riding strongly, right in the mix with a few of the handy NW league riders, jostling for positions, putting in little digs where possible & picking up positions. I struggled a bit on one long off-camber bank, trying to ride it & failing, then trying to work out the best way to run it & failing. Yet I seemed to edge out the others on most other sections of the course managing to stay away & finish 13th. Another good result for the likes of me.

End of the month was racing at a classic NW venue, Otterspool Park. Another course I enjoyed last season, usually really fast going with a good amount of woodland tracks, plus a cobbled climb that is permanently wet. Pre-ride went well & I was looking forward to getting stuck in after the performances I pulled out in the last two rounds. Then.... NIGHTMARE!... In the mad dash of the start loop a rider somehow managed to clip my rear QR. The wheel now loose in the dropouts was forced into the non-driveside chainstay where it wedged & stopped me from going anywhere fast. By the time I'd got off & sorted it all out the whole field of over 110 riders was in front of me. That wasn't the plan. For a moment I pondered sacking it off for the day, by instead I decided to HTFU & get on with it. I spent the next hour riding out of my skin. I ripped through the back makers now thinking that any league points were better than none. After a few laps I started spotting some of the usual suspect I end up racing with. That gave an extra bit of impetus to keep on top of the gears for the last few laps. I wound up moving from DFL to 13th rider home, just missing out on 12th in a sprint for the line. Mathematically not my best result, but definitely my best ride turning round a crappy bit of luck. I feel like I have now earned the right to don the new VCM skinsuit.

It's comforting to know that I didn't have the worst luck of the day... One guy forgot to charge the battery for his fancy-dan Di2 gears!

zonhoven

Irvine doesn't look so hard anymore.

Zonhoven

Monday, 24 October 2011

Indian Summer in the city

This weekend had been ear-marked for a while. Two very different cyclocross events, both individually very exciting and both in London. It was also to be my first cross racing of the year.

First up was Muddy Hell in Herne Hill on Saturday night. Sponsored by Knog and run by the Rollapaluzza guys, this event already has a big reputation for being fun, tough and entertaining. Racing begins around dusk with a flood lit section in the middle of the track and riders wearing lights. It's runs on a unique course that featured a sand-trap, steep drop-ins and steep ups (one very dusty one requiring bike-shouldering) a little tarmac, the ubiquitous barrier, quite a lot of twisting singletrack, a hosed muddy corner (required what with London basking in hot and dry conditions and the course mostly throwing dust up into the riders lights). The most unusual features were a wooden wall-ride and a steep-sided bridge that led straight into a tabletop that the more skilled riders could get some impressive air from (step up friend of VCM, Phil Moore).

Having left entry a bit late, I ended up in the catch-all novice class, but the racing remained hard, hot and fast (especially as I was in a full-body skeleton skinsuit with mask that frequently obscured at least one eye, restricted breathing and kept getting caught on the saddle). Great fun to ride with my good friend Andrew Diprose in his Spidersuit, heckle Mr Blobby and soak up the atmosphere at what is a fantastic event. There was kids' face-painting, roller-racing on mountain bikes and plenty of beer. Make a note for next year. I ended up 18/75.

Sunday was to be treated a little more seriously. The third (and final round) of the Rapha Supercross series held at Alexandra Palace in North London. The weather was highly un-cross-worthy being sunny and very warm with views from the top of the course across all of London and beyond (there's a reason the BBC transmit from here). Ominously this also meant a fiercely climby course. I began to regret bringing the singlespeed as soon as we arrived.

Gareth raced in seniors and I raced vets (my inaugural year among the gnarled and grizzled). Only in Roubaix have I seen a better attended race (I'm sure the weather and views won't have done any harm) and a large group of friends were there to heckle us on our way.

The course was challenging, but fantastic fun, featuring very little flat and a lot of 'interest'; steep tarmac up, loose and fast singletrack, steep and sharp hair-pins, one corner littered with acorns like natures ball-bearings, proper tall barriers, a set of stairs and a looooong grassy climb that left me feeling like I had heat-stroke and T-rex arms.

Despite all of this the course was very compact and with the 'firm going' we did at least 10 laps (I lost count). The hurdle section at one point became almost a tunnel of heckling with friends screaming and cow-bells shaking - I had to smile despite the pain.

The singlespeed worked out for me, I think as the climb remained rideable and there was so little straight that there was little disadvantage to not having a taller gear.

Gareth shot past me first time up the climb and was not seen again, racing whippet that he is and the race passed in that odd way that cross races do feeling both interminably long and over in a flash all at once. Small battles ensued and the camaraderie of the battle-worn was shared at the finish as we saw our own pain reflected in the eyes of others.

Really tough and fantastic fun at the same time. Results aren't in as yet.

Plans are already afoot to do the full series next year.






In the City there's a thousand steps......



A small sample from a great day. I'm sure Gareth and Deano will have some more to say now they're recovered!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Plean: 16/10/11

This year's 'Cross racing has started in earnest now: a HUGE field of riders convened in the Country Park at Plean to fight for the win in the second round of the Scottish Cyclocross series. Conditions leading up to the race had been typical of Scotland in October - wet and windy. The clay soil and stretches of grass and roughly trimmed-back fern were always going to test when sprinkled with a dose of precipitation and on the day, despite dry weather, the battle royale was with the course not one's fellow competitors.



Personally, i saw 9 snapped rear hangers/derailleurs and there were surely many i did not see. A costly and frustrating mechanical which caused many riders to pull. For those who had spare bikes, good luck or (like myself) a singlespeed steed the main issues were pulling great wads of mud and vegetation from the wheels and frame several times per lap. At one point i was jettisoned over the bars as both wheels locked simultaneously.



Challenging conditions, yes. Frustrating yes. It might be said that the marshals could have removed the chicane before the timing tent in order to prevent the ignominy of having to repeatedly dismount and trudge over a 10 yard flat section of course needlessly. Yet it still managed to be a rewarding day in the saddle. Good power to weight ratio is always a winning combination and so it proved for Gareth Montgomerie who was head and shoulders from the rest of the senior men's field. Our own Colin May(this is a rumour. ed) and Andy 'huphup' Wardman put in a super solid effort to claim 3rd and 5th respectively and Greig Walker and Gordy Mac put pedal to the metal for 11th and 14th. I managed to huff and puff my way round for 32nd in my first race back after coming out of semi-retirement. Bitten again by the 'cross bug, i'll be hoping for a little more at Mugdock.



In the vets race, Davie and Simon 'miffae de' Muir slam dunked for 17th and 22nd - not without some incident in the tough conditions - including a catastrophically burping tyre from Simon. The win taken in fine style by Gary McRae by a whisker from John Mccaffery.

In the women's race Anne Murray took the top place despite having Square Wheels, with VC-M's Maddy Robinson taking the 3rd step on the podium and Lyndsey Carson in 10th.

Next stop is Mugdock and let it be known - we are ready to rock.
Thank you to trina for the pictures, and Daisy for not disowning her dad.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

What a difference a week can make.

Just about this time last week I was getting home after a long weekend of grade-A awsomeness in the Dolomites. A group of 17 of us popped out to Cortina for 4 days of riding up & down some of the best mountains in the world, in stunning scenery, fueled by fine wine, good food & banter.

Two relatively easy days sandwiched two of the best rides I've ever been on. First of which was the classic Maratona loop, taking in 7 major cols (plus a couple of smaller, yet still substantial ones too) including the Passo Falzarego, Pordoi & the Giau.

We followed that up with a ride out to Ovaro & then straight up Zoncolan. Now that thing is something else. Relentlessly tough & impressive in equal measures. I've never ridden anything like it. Thanks to the cheeky 11-32 cassette I managed to drag my arse up to the summit a good way ahead of the rest of our group to take our KOM competition :-)

This weekend, by stark contrast, I found myself racing around a wet field in Bolton.


...All good stuff mind.

Friday, 7 October 2011

scx irvine



The first race of the season is always a speculative affair, riders get to lay out their cards in front of their peers and old rivalries get the shake down and pick up the pieces from the previous seasons confrontations. Just like the battles, friendships are rekindled and the whole party begins for another couple of months.

Irvine is arguably the best cross course in Scotland added to Walkers Cycling usual high standard of organisation, it provides a win win way to kick off the calendar. If I only rode one race this year it was going to be Irvine. 

Me (thats not a smirk)

The Vets lined up on one of the biggest start lines seen in Scotland, 81 amassed, mostly vets with a few Women and a couple of Juniors. The start was furious and I found myself on a cheeky line up the inside and into a fairly fast group, by the top of the stairs I knew I was outta my depth and quickly shot backwards where I belonged and that is where I stayed for the next couple of laps until I punctured on the 3rd, very far from the pits. I rode and ran the rest of lap and lost a couple of minutes but picked up my trusty old Bontrager (now SS) and rejoined the race. With the pressure off I could really start to enjoy the course and the flow, in the end I finished 38th, pretty much smack in the middle of the race, not unhappy at all in light of the lost time. Next stop top 20. Elsewhere Simon was chasing the top 10 but the Vets field is so deep now he was always chasing, still 12th is a sterling start to the season. Iain Mellis plugged away for 50th, there's better to come, isn't there Iain?

Simon is trying

In the Womens race Maddie and Lyndsay threw down the hammer and Maddie had a good battle with Genevieve Whitson (Ronde) who eventually overcame her to take the win  but a great start for Maddie, a win is imminent. Lyndsay recovering from a cold stretched out her legs for a 6th place being squeezed by the locals from Walkers Cycling.


Maddie is focussed

Lyndsay is cruising

The senior race was an altogether frenzied affair. VCM's sole rep in this race was carried on the shoulders of Andy Wardman (where were you all?) fortunately he delivered, straight into the holeshot, Craig Hardie (Hardie Bikes) had other plans though and obviously had a clear game plan of, put in a massive effort to gap the field then hold them, which he did with great style, nice work. Behind Hardie though all hell was being unleashed, positions were changing fast and in the end there were some awesome rides, Andy finished 5th ahead of Ben Greenwood (Rapha Condor Sharp) for a great start to his season.

Andy is unleashing


 All photos By Steven and Ainsley Turbitt

The season is go.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

this is it

Cross racing at the pointy end captured brilliantly in 1min 3secs.

Stoemper Presents Ben Berden from Stoemper on Vimeo.



Am a big fan of Chris Millimans photography. Love this short video - makes me all twitchy and itchy to race!

Link spotted on mudandcowbells where they've also got some pics just up of the new Clement LAS tubulars.