Friday, 19 October 2012

Auchentoshan.

Embarrassed to realise its the first cross race for ? two years ?

Ulp.

Recent rain, but dry and sunny. My baby girl playing with the leaves and puddles. Exactly what i aim to do.

Classic course, familiar faces. Nervously get ready after struggling with the light and my point and shoot for the vets and womens race.

No warm up, too unfit to benefit.

Gun goes off and a bunch redlines round the grassy field and into the barriers.

Form showing, some smooth, some stuttering. Slide around the roots and bomb holes much more than in years gone by.

Thick mud and the drop through the stream tricky.

(Lyndsey in fine form. Photo: from my flickr set here)

Never easy, the climb out is a task. Follow by a run up a greasy slope and slog through the mud before popping some air down a grass bank and pumping the big meat up.

Round the grass again completing the loop and a quick shimmy with some squared off corners gunning it out again.

Repeat.

Taste blood. Keep the pace high, thighs burning.

Half way through and digging very deep.

Near the end and a shout to a dancing Andy W as he cruises by, super relaxed. Apologies as my flailing leg catches and momentarily slows him. Reflect on his poetry in motion....sooo beautiful to see a fine rider showing me how it is done.

Finish after a couple more laps, smiling as Jammy calls out my fluoro green socks as 'trendy'.

Hey! i come correct.

Another call out from an old friend 'return of the mac...!'

Maybe, maybe not. So good to go out and hurt yourself on a cross bike.

 
Mark Morrison - Return of the Mack from Gilach on Vimeo.

North West CX League So Far...



It's been an improving picture through the first four rounds of the NW CX League.  It started pretty badly for me at the opening round in Preston and then got substantially better.  I'd only come back from that trip through the Pyreneese two and a half days earlier, so in hindsight I shouldn't have been expecting great things.  Over 700km of long, mountainous miles in the legs the week before certainly isn't the greatest prep for cross.  That and it was bloody cold and wet & I'd grown rather fond of nice hot weather.

We had a big strong turn out with it being a Cat A event at the start of the season.  Paul Oldham won and made everyone else look pedestrian on a pretty challenging course - very wet, with lots of off camber bits and loads of turns.  Far, far behind Paul my race was a bit crappy.  I started ok, but then drifted slowly backwards seeing the guys I know I should be competing with pull away from me.  I couldn't respond and found it hard to get into any ryhthmn.  I finished a slightly grumpy 22nd.

After that I made the mistake of panic training.  It took a couple of days for me to stop digging myself an even deeper hole and take it easy for a bit.  Had to remind myself that the first race is always the hardest and I was bound to get sharper with a couple of races under my belt.

That theory was proven the following weekend at round 2.  Another Cat A event, another big field of about 150 and another good course near Bolton.  I've enjoyed racing at this venue before and found myself getting stuck in at the pointier end of things from the off.  Feeling a lot more like I would have hoped for the first two thirds of the race, I was in a good position.  I did tire a bit towards the end but only dropped a couple of placings.  Nick Craig won this one.  I ended up 11th, which by my maths is twice as good as the first race.

There wasn't a race the next weekend, so I nipped out and won a little local hill climb up (the easier side of) Mow Cop.

Similar pattern for round three of the series: Cat A, 150ish starters, good course and a better result.  This one was held in a park around the back of the Manchester Velodrome, which I had no idea existed.  On the day the sun was out and the temperature was unseasonably warm, but during the previous week it'd rained loads leaving the course really muddy and slimy.  It was a very short lap, could have done with being twice as long, but I liked it.  Found it all rideable even the steeper, more techy sections that many were running.  My start wasn't great, but I soon worked my way up through the field and had clear sight of the course ahead by the start of the second lap.  Nick Craig was again the winner on the day, I was the last of the riders to finish on the same lap crossing the line 7th.  Later on it was pointed out to me that I was actually the first senior finisher (1-6 being either Vets or U23).  So I'll count that as a win!...  Of sorts.

Roll on to round 4 at the fantastically named Boggart Hole Clough.  I've always liked this course, always seems to suit those with a bit of MTB background - a good bit of up and down, plenty of roots and the like.  The place lived up to its name, being badly affected by the nasty wet summer and the downpours of the previous week.  On pre-riding it I thought it was horrid, all claggy and boggy and wet.  Once the whistle went and it was hit at race pace it came to life.  Loads of squirming all over the place and fighting to keep the bike going in roughly the direction that you had planned.

Moving up through the field on the two start loops and then into the lap proper I felt good and strong.  I got into some of the boggiest sections before the bulk of the riders, had to do some running but at least I wasn't being held up.  I squeezed passed a couple more riders then realised I was up to third place.  Quite an unfamiliar place for me to be. Another technical section down and I'd managed to close in on Paul Bethell.  More rooty and slidey bits and I'd got a bit of a gap. I was in second spot with a little room.  I didn't know what had come over me!  Towards the end of lap one I even got up to the wheel of eventual winner Giles Drake.  That didn't last long though as he cruised off into the distance.  Paul caught me again by the end of the opening lap and I started to think I'd gone off waaay to hard and was going to drop back stone-like.  But I stayed with him for the next lap chopping and changing positions a few times.  Eventually he proved much stronger than me and pulled away.  Another strong looking guy passed me on the next lap.  Still 4th though and I was hanging in there.  Then I briefly dropped down to 5th as one of riders I've had a few close races with got infront of me.  This time I was able to respond and attacked straight away establishing a good gap again.  

Mid-race my bike was so heavy with mud and my gears with jumping all over the place being completely clogged.  But without the luxury of a spare bike/pit bitch I plugged on, grabbing handfuls of mud out of the bike whenever I was having to shoulder the bike.  With two laps to go I spotted the chap in 3rd spot on the side of the course trying to poke mud out of his bike with a stick.  Ha! Third again!  Every corner I checked over my shoulder for chasing riders, but every time there was just clear space.  Emptied the tank on the bell lap, nearly came a cropper on a number of ocassions, spending lots of time sideways or dragging my limbs through brambles in the undergrowth.  Stayed upright all the way though and secured 3rd place.  By far my best cross result to date.  Quite chuffed really :)

Monday, 8 October 2012

Big Day out in Yorkshire.

Three Peaks Cyclocross. September 30th 2012. What a fantastic event. Very (very) wet, windy and the sort of day I'd normally want to stay inside. Waking up at 6 am though, the last thing I wanted to do was stay in bed, I was itching to get out and have a good day on the bike. Long before getting to the start line I'd made up my mind this would be a fun day. 

For me the race was pretty uneventful, as is often the case when you have a good day, little went wrong and I just got on and pedaled/ ran/ stomped as hard as I could round the three hills. Part of this must be attributed to having a crack support team. It's more than possible to get round this event with a pack and some spares but having some helpers is invaluable and was particularly welcomed on such a foul day so cheers guys! Also thanks to James and Christine for the Chocolate Croissant pudding (double helpings on Sat night definitely paid dividends on Sun) and pictures in this post. 

There were some amazing performances at the 2012 Three Peaks but the biggest shout must go out to John Rawnsley and the many volunteers who made the race run faultlessly despite appalling conditions. Obviously it's been said many times but it cannot be underestimated the level of commitment these people put in. The race was organized by a man aged 75. One of the marshals on Ingleborough was a local lass of 83. The oldest competitor in the race was 77. More than enough evidence to prove that the people of Yorkshire are a different breed- properly hard. 

These two pictures sum the race up nicely. The second being a 'still' doesn't highlight the fact that within minutes of finishing I started shivering like a mad man- those orange bags really aren't overkill- I'm just glad I didn't need to stop out on the hill.





Long may the Three Peaks continue, I hope I'm still able to get round at 77!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Trans-Provence 2012




Waking in the darkness, usually before the alarm as the  incremental cacophony of sleeping bag and tent zips being un- and re-done triggered the first blush of consciousness.

Wriggle into todays riding clothes and bung on a jacket  grab tooth brush and shuffle off through the campsite to breakfast, past the some dark and some blue-glow tents with other racers getting up and at'em.



With Breakfast done and the first fingers of light replacing the head torches the daily miracle of herding the first wave of 35 or so mountain bikers from campsite to uplift drop off begins.  Timings are a little loose on some days but it always happens, and no one and no bikes are left behind. Not always the same happy outcome for timing tags or lunch baguettes...



Wave One - mainly the 'amateurs'- we get a brief briefing from Race Commander-in-Cheif Ash.  He usually points out any pertinent danger-of-death aspects of the day's liason or race stages and bids us bonne chance as we commence the bike or foot based climb to the first stage of the day.

Some days the first stage is a few short km away, and these can be difficult to hit cold [in all senses].  Some take the best part of 3 hours of portage and amazing remote, undulating alpine ridgeline riding before arriving at the first mountain balise [balise: a marker, or station in French and the name given the SportIdent dibber stations used to bracket the stage timing].



Despite the internal chats and pep-talks before a timed run to 'take it easy', conserve bike and body, The Beep! of the balise immediately triggered the red-mist and each rider sets off on an wild ride ITT for the next few kilometers [sub 2km was the shortest to the 8km+ of Donkey Darko]. It was a wild white-knuckle ride of red-line heart rate and gambling on what will be around the next corner [and whether you can brake in time or survive it if you decide to let it run]. All until you spy one of the mountain staff [Ed, Shaggy, Phil & Rich] who will put themselves in the way of a speeding mtb-er to try and get your tag registered on the Valley balise.



The riding was truly amazing - superb high speed, high quality, high intensity, high penalty, high reward singletrack. The Racing aspect make the rider attack the trails - sometimes the gamble did not pay off, especially on the last day when  a few folks succumbed to tiredness, treachery of the conditions or just bet all on red, when black won.

Oh, and there were switchbacks.  So, very many switchbacks.

All riders are different, and each enjoy different types of riding so some of the special stages polarise opinion like marmite, some stages drew universal praise [or fearful dislike]. For the 'amateur' riders it was heartening to hear that the Pro boys & girls sometimes found the same bits of trail just as challenging/fun/terrifying, even if they found them so at much higher speed...

To get a flavour of the trails check out all the videos.  To understand them you would need to get out there and ride them.

One thing that shone strong through the week was a true sense of camaraderie - from the riders, the mountain staff, the camp staff, masseurs and the glowing fuel-cell of the week - The Caterers. Not in the sense that it was a full on love in - there will always be little bumps, grumps, cliques and freaks at any gathering of humanity. Yet irrespective of any noise there was a relentless energy, a pervading sense of keep calm and carry on (fully pinned), and don't forget to bloody well enjoy it.

Life affirming.



The amount of work put in by all the race staff is immense and deserves special mention for keeping a very challenging show on the road and on track for the week.

Also, the tech support offered by the Mavic guys and by Paul & Amy at Fox Mojo was much appreciated and kept a lot of wheels rolling through the week. Oh, and Paul is a star for letting me have his lunch the day I left camp sans baguette...

This years edition had a couple of twists mainly provided by Mother Nature.  There were two days of monstrous, roaring, hariy-arsed thunder and lightening storms that were way more terrifying than most folks would care to experience.

Most of the Wave 1 riders narrowly missed a dowsing by the Day 2 storm by arriving at the lunch stop just as a two hour long horror-show kicked off. Minutes earlier we had barely wetted tires crossing a dry creek to dib out of the 2nd stage of the day at Shaggy's Valley Balaise.

Check the day 2 video for  what it looked like around an hour later...

Little by little the shellshocked ghosts of the second wave of riders shlepped in and hid in the Mojo Fox van, under the Mavic Van canopy, or in the glamorous municipal bin-hut bringing with them tales of genuine terror from being on a bare 2000m+ hill top in the storm cloud with lightening sizzling and thunder booming around [whilst holding a big metal thing]. Last years winner was in such a rush to get off the hill he had a massive crash which ripped his trousers off. Really...

Day 7 started wet but but by midday turned sunny until most folks had beeped off the course at the last Valley balise manned by Mr Oxley [of Great Rock, and greater beard].  We also found out that the Monegasgue Polis had decided in their infinite wisdom that a bunch of grubby, bleeding, stinking and relatively low-net-worth ; ) mountain bikers were not welcome on their patch and would arrest anyone who dared cross the border. So we would drop down to Menton next town along the coast, and where the final campsite was, anyway.  As the assembled throng firstly removed race numbers from bars and started down the switchback trail to the road the heavens opened. Thunder rolled and roared around the hills, the temperature dropped, so very much  rain shot from the now steely grey sky and the lightening started zapping metal things on our ridgeline - like the power pylon about 30m away from where I was hunkered down trying to get my waterproof on.  There was an immense noise and white flash even with my eyes tight shut. A couple of other members of 'Team Scotland' were riding just below the pylon when it was zapped and commented later that it was 'quite exciting' or words to that effect.

The storm put paid to any ideas of a swim in the sea, too - there was a 5 foot swell smacking into a steeply shelving pebble beach that did not look too inviting.

Almost everyone made the finish in one shape or another , although one unlucky soul - Sven Martin - had to make use of the helicopter extraction feature of his insurance to get off the top of the last days first stage with concussion and a bad arm break - leading to slightly subdued feeling at the end of the day.

The last 100m of the final stage also claimed a couple of others - a bit of ankle twisting damage, a leg-brace and a pair of park-tool blue crutches for SRAM's Jon Cancellier and a likely fracture for Jac's scaphiod.

The rest of the week had been relatively incident free, much to the appreciation of the race doctors. A few riders had narrowly avoided a nasty eye gouging from a branch early on, and one of the Brits had an unfortunate tumble on a day two liason which he survived unscathed until his bike landed on him cracking a couple of ribs and ending his race.

All in all testament to the skills, strength and determination of all riders that stepped up to take part.

Again?  I am happy to have done it. I don't have any demons to slay with the race. At least once each day I felt like doing a Moitessier and removing the number from my bike and continuing the ride which, I think, was kind-of the point, anyway.  : )


Kit chat:

Bike was a Transition Bandit 29 - pretty much bang on for the job.  An upgrade to bigger disk rotors stopped me overshooting every switchback... Everything worked. Only breakages were a small cut in the back tyre and I  broke off the wee clutch lever thingy on my rear mech... and a few rim dings but no punctures.  All day comfortable and totally happy on the descents and climbs, and not too much of a burden on the portage sections. Reverb dropper post was a boon and blessing.