Monday, 30 December 2013

Cog Café Mini8 Sportive

Never mind rule #5 or remaining a die hard Flahute, Sunday 29th December at 7.45am wasn't the best time to be setting out on a road bike. The roads were covered in ice and the sun was still behind the rooftops. If it wasn't for the fact that I was to meet ten of my fellow club mates at the Cog café in Tring, I'd have probably taken the mountain bike out on a massive XC loop or a session on the cyclo crosser followed by a session on the turbos. However as a man of my word I set off to meet them. The roads were un-gritted and treacherous and the twelve mile ride became a scary epic mince. The cars on their roofs and the one that had gone over the edge of Ivinghoe Beacon were a reminder to go easy.
So I was pleased to arrive safely at the Cog, and even more pleased to see a full contingent of club mates had made it.
Due to the conditions I was in no hurry to set off, it was clear that the sun would eventually come up and work it's magic on the roads, but my club mates had other ideas and were already up the road whilst I was still figuring out my newly acquired Garmin, my first ever computer!
I followed, quickly catching up with Iain and Chris. The others were way ahead setting a high pace. I said to Iain 'I suppose you're wondering why I'm staying back'  Well I'll tell you. First I'm still getting over Bronchitis, and I don't fancy sucking up frozen Sunday morning air. Second, I've got one more race this season and I don't want to jeopardise my overall standings because of bumps and bruises. And thirdly I'm two and half teeth down already due to 1970's Winter rides before we all wore helmets. So steady Eddie.
Less than ten miles down the road we came across our first fall, it was our group. I said we need to spread out, we need time and space to react in these conditions. I pressed on.
At about fifteen miles I was alone and wondering what had happened to my club mates, I felt a little guilty about pressing on, though I felt safer to be alone and that over rode the guilt. It was then that two Tring Velo riders came by, they looked far more comfortable than me on the ice and I was happy to see them ride off into the distance.
By now the roads were very unpredictable some were wet, some were dry and some were still ice. I was however getting my mojo back by now, that is until Winslow. The slow moving traffic in the towns back streets had turned the place into an ice rink. So taking a page from racing in Belgium I hopped onto the pavement to avoid the hazzard, job done and back onto the main road. I left Winslow knowing I had to turn off to head towards Stewkley, but I couldn't see a sign. I knew I had to turn here, but went straight on down the busy main road. At this rate I would end up back in Whitchurch. Finally I found a left turn and doubled back to were I should have been. In the end it only proved to have been another two and a half miles added.
I was now on familiar ground, and ground that was drying out. I fell into the drops and gave it the berries to Wing. I was feeling pretty happy, only six months ago this was the road were I had been dropped in the National Road Race Championships, I hadn't felt so happy then.
In Wing I came across another rider! who hadn't been able to spot the next sign. I didn't need route markers from here on and pointed out the way. We were just about to hit Mentmore when we came across a very icy bend, my fellow rider seemed to speed up before he quite literally hit Mentmore. I couldn't stop, but I yelled out to check he was okay, he was so I pressed on up the hill. I saw the photographer on the bend at the top, but I forgot to tidy myself up; I have the most bandy legged riding position you'll ever see, and it looks dreadful in pictures. Round the corner to the cake stop.
At the stop the two Tring Velo riders were just getting ready to leave. It's funny how you can get so far ahead, but when you stop it only seems like seconds before the slower riders you left behind miles back soon appear? As I was scoffing a couple of lovely Magdelena cakes Miles came into view with another Tring Velo rider in tow. It was going to be nice to have company for the remaining twenty miles. However it seems I got ahead at the lights on the bridge at Cheddington and I never saw Miles and the TV rider again.
Things were now about to get all pointy. First we had Ivinghoe Beacon to contend with, the tougher way up from Ivinghoe Aston. Up the first part of the climb, past the rescue of the motorist that had gone over the edge, and then a left turn up to the summit. That was followed by the fast run from the top all the way to Toms Hill, which thankfully was free of ice and allowed for a fast descent into Aldbury.
From Aldbury you had a further flat run to the next climb that would take you up to Wiggington. By this point, thanks to my newly acquired Garmin thingy I realised that I was on my slowest ride of the year. Slower than my mountain bike 100km and half an hour slower at nearly fifty miles than I would do a 100km on my road bike. With that hitting home I just whacked it into the easiest gear I had and pootled to the top.
At the top in Wiggington I was glad to get back into the big ring and head for the finish. Down towards Champneys, past the lad on the BMX and left turn towards Hastoe? In all my years I'd never ridden this road, certainly not in this direction, and it seemed bloody heavy. I actually looked back over my shoulder convinced the BMX lad would be on my wheel. I pressed on as I knew this would lead to a downhill finish. Even with that in my mind the road was tough going, and I'm sure I wasn't climbing as it looked so flat. Finally I recognised the fork in the road that marked the downhill to the Cog....Yeehaaaa.
That was a great little ride, thank you.
Back at the Cog my club mates were waiting after cutting it short in favour of bacon sarnies at another well know cafe. We sat around the table catching up on what had happened whilst we waited for Miles who was still on the road. I think under the circumstances anyone who braved the conditions to ride no matter how far they rode are true Flahutes.
Miles arrived soon after and we both congratulated each other over a gratis coffee and a slice of bakewell tart, classic.
By now I was warmed and feeling slightly stewed and the last thing I fancied was another ride home. Thankfully Miles had driven over and was able to offer me a lift home. I can't tell you how nice it was being chauffeured back home past all the pink waymarker signs.
It was ironic that after all these years I finally bought a computer, and the first time it was used was to record the slowest ride of the year. A shame it can't record the fun I had.

Mentmore. Thanks to Simon Gill.


Sunday, 22 December 2013

Twelve months on two wheels

Okay there are a few days shoot me. Actually the way I've felt these last three weeks I wish some one would. Sadly a bout of Bronchitis has robbed me of my last few weeks of riding and racing in 2013, but I've got a fair bit to look back over.
To summarise. 29 races started. 3 races I didn't get to. 3 races where I got a great big DNF. I had one win, three 3rd's and a shed load of top tens. Five reliability trials. Four sportives and one Audax. I rode in three other countries. I went to see the pros race on the Continent. I pedaled over the pavé and I pedaled over the Pyrenees. And I pedaled up and down this green and pleasant  land. I rode through wind, rain, snow and sunshine, I even rode for hours in my garage! I raced my road bike, I raced my cyclo cross bike and I raced my mountain bike. I cemented old friendships as well as making new ones. I smiled, I grimaced, I felt euphoria, I felt pain, I lost sweat and I lost blood. And all fueled  by coffee cake and beer.
The highlights of the year? The win has to be up there, even if it was a depleted field in the pouring rain, I still had to battle for it.
Then the Pavé. Surprisingly in the four decades I've been racing I'd never been there. I can recall that upon seeing the sign for the Arenberg I got a shiver down my spine. I conjured up  images of Eddy, Roger, Bernard and Greg, the sense of being 'on' cycling history is immense. The surrounding areas are perhaps best appreciated only by the cyclists, not one for the family.
The most memorable trip was the one to the Pyrenees with Fraser and Philip. Trips away are always great, but this one was made better by staying at Frasers second home in Luchon. Quite simply a riders heaven. Wake, coffee, Patisserie, ride, thermes and walk to the cafés, arrange chairs to admire the mademoiselles drink, eat and repeat.

Perhaps the downside of the year was the National Road race Championships. The race itself was second to none, but I was training hard for half the season for something that was out of my league. I did my best, I obeyed the rules, but in the end I didn't have the legs or the attitude. I remember getting angry at all the riders I'd drop eventually catching me up by riding over the white lines all the time despite the commissaires constant warnings, I couldn't bring myself to what is effectively cheating, could I have stayed in longer if I had? After the race I had a long hard think and decided I didn't have the time or desire to work any harder to reach the levels I'd need to be at to compete at that level. In a way it was a weight off my shoulders, and it'll free up a lot of time in 2014. Perhaps the 3 Peaks or another mountain bike 24 hour solo?

So back to the end of 2013. And a season of (as yet unfinished)  cyclo cross has gone pretty well, I managed to cling onto 3rd overall in age for the first nine races, illness probably means a final standing nearer 6th?
I haven't let this get me down too much though, and decided to marshal when I could. Wrapped up like Scott of the Antarctic I marshaled the local round of the National Trophy. Field was amazing, watch out you Belges.  And I had a chat with Roger Hammond, which was nice! and it sort of took things full circle as I remember going to Leeds in 1992 to see him take the World Junior title, and now here he was managing a team.of his own.

So there we have it, just a few words, but it doesn't go anywhere near capturing the entire joy riding and all it entails brings to me, wrapping handlebars, fitting tyres, hitting the buy button, getting lost, cutting rides short, training, racing, talking bollocks, beasting your mates, getting dropped, getting in a crafty one after work, the wind on your back, just everything, good times or bad times without one the experience isn't complete.
On the Arenbergs pavé
Summiting the Tourmalet 

cyclo cross action

Criteriums at the MK Bowl
In readiness for 3 hours of XC racing
Audax with Fraser and Keith
Riding for the hell of it