Monday, 28 December 2015

2015 A Year With The LBRCC

As the clubs fourth year comes to a close, and I sit here with a dodgy leg unable to race in the best conditions of the Christmas break so far, I've taken time to have a  little peek through some old posts and tried to remember all the cycly? things I've done with the club. Not to mention some of the great things other club members did in 2015.
I always think a cycling year starts in Spring, not on the first day of the year. In fact the very first official LBRCC ride was in the Spring of 2011, when a staggering four members turned out. A far cry from todays turnouts, and yes 2011 so we're just about to be five years old.
Like the start of most clubs years the riding is always a bit disjointed while people make plans for the forthcoming year
Though stand out memories are those of Tom preparing to tour the States and Keith getting ready for the Paris-Brest-Paris. Whilst I admired them, I didn't envy them, but I did like to picture the club green jersey on an American black top and in among the thousands of international jersey's riding the PBP.
Some were very busy and hard at work because they'd applied for BC race licences, and the ideas and dreams born in the Black Lion over winter were soon to become reality. Grim reality.
Racing in 2015 really kicked off for the LBRCC with more members racing than ever before. And I was very pleased to see that our racers weren't pot hunting for points in easy short races, the club picked tough races, earned their points, but most of all earned the respect of those around them. Everyone of them was an ambassador for the club.

Whilst green jersey's were rolling across the States, riding non-stop across Europe or battling the peloton, something else was going on.
The day to day life of a club, the meat and bones of riding that bonds all members. Late 2014 saw many new riders join, and by 2015 many of those new members had new bikes and a new enthusiasm. I could tell 2015 was going to be a good year.
My plans were to simply race, a cocktail of tough open road races followed by a long summer on the Criterium circuit.  And throw in as much fun stuff between as possible. The first real fun of 2015 was the Rapha hell of the North, a homage to the Paris Roubaix but with beer and frites at the end instead of trophies.
Something else I noticed as chairman was the quality of the clubs riding, so much better. There were issues, but they were very minor. Behind the scenes it was decided that we'd get the most experienced riders to share their knowledge on the club runs even if it meant upsetting a rider or two, but I know that riders have more fun and enjoyment when they're part of a well oiled machine so it was worth cracking a few eggs.
We also had a 'Race Experience' day were racers old and new from the BC and LVRC shared their experience with newcomers on the safety of a closed road race circuit. That really paid dividends.

So members old and new on bikes old and new settled in for the summer miles. I was confident that we'd all hold our own and do the club proud.
The race lads were well underway. Clubs rides were finally sorted and free from issues for all to enjoy. And a whole host of LBRCC riders were spreading they're wings on the Continent, usually the Alps!
I'd had some races under my belt by the start of summer, but my trip to Belgium with Fraser was the highlight to the start of the year. We rode the Gent-Wevelgem, but then became tourists for the rest of the weekend due to the terrible weather (remember G being blown off he's bike? that was there and that weekend)
Summer 2015 went well for the club. By the end of the season the racers had gained points and moved up categories. Keith had completed his first PBP. Tom was back safe and sound from the US of A. Club runs were leaving the Black Lion every Sunday. Everything was how it should be.
By September my race season had come to an end, and so it was off to the Pyrenees with Fraser and Neil for our customary end of summer week long trip in the mountains. We met Phil there, our host from Belgium earlier in the year. If we weren't fit at the start of that trip, Phil was going to make sure we were when we went home at the end of it. We climbed every day, and there was always a HC mountain thrown in.

October is often a time when clubs wind down, but not us. I have a passion for cross and I was determined that as many other LBRCC members would be forced to share this passion. People that don't like cross are like those that say they don't like a certain food even if they've never tried it. No time for that nonsense, plus a few members had cross bikes sat doing nothing. We were going to have big numbers representing LBRCC in cyclocross.
Sadly it was about this time that the club had it's first bad news of the year. Star LBRCC cross riders Chris and Jules both broke bones. Chris off the bike and Jules in a mountain bike accident.  Similar bad news came later in the year when our youngest rider Nathan was seriously injured whilst out riding in a collision with a car.
When the cross season started at RAF Halton we had eleven LBRCC members racing, and more would later pin on a number.
The season is still underway, and it has gone very well for us, even further respect has been gained. And we've been asked to host a race in 2016.
As the year came to an end the cross races stopped being every single weekend. And it was a chance to all meet up again. I'd been racing solid and hardly knew the members that joined during 2015, so it was great to get out on G rides and actually meet people and be a bit chairman like.
But the ride that tells you it's time to take a break and enjoy the festive season is the 'Sausage Ride' or 'Sausage Rides' a mountain bike sod about in the woods with tea and sausage rolls afterwards. Always fun and open to everyone no matter what your riding background.

So that's about it. Awards at our, and I use the words loosely 'Awards Ceremony' went to all the right folk. A handful of crossers are racing as I type. And some are finishing with a final flourish by doing the 'Festive 500'

2016 is our fifth birthday, and it looks like the party will begin even before the champagne of new years day goes flat. Last few cross races, Lion Of Leighton and the Harp Hilly Hundred anyone?


Sunday, 20 December 2015

Pre Christmas Recovery?

Before it's even started, what a fecking stupid idea.
Problem is I have loads of my twenty one days holiday left, and it's a case of use it or lose it. Though that's not the reason for my recovery week.
I think for the first, maybe second time in my life I've suffered real stress (yeah I can hear you all laughing). I've never given stress any real credence, thinking no one has stress. Not like I'm in the trenches or anything.
But the signs were there, I'll only mention two as the others are far too personal, and I hated the way I was. Firstly there was losing a stone without dieting, and then staying off the road bike for over two months just because I didn't want to ride were but a few, not sure I've ever been off the bike that long?
So I set the week aside.
I fall at the first hurdle. I simply can't face racing. So I decide to ride with the club instead, but I look at the steady ride and it's fifty miles, I just can't do it. So I simply lay on my bed in my cycling kit and just think about riding instead.
I'm clearly fatigued from hardly any sleep the last seven months.
I spend the day cleaning my bike and my kit and think more about racing in 2016 rather than worry about rushing back before I'm ready.
I prep the cross bike and make plans to ride Monday. But hey ho life has other plans and the ride doesn't happen. Determined to do something I jump on the Watt Bike, and though it has a broken data screen it can still be used manually.
I shove Daft Punk on, the sound of the Pyrenees in 2013 and start an old 'Time Crunched' interval training session. Suddenly I feel alive like I've never been off the bike, three minute sessions at max are still in me. Though the Watt Bike is great and playing a big part in things, far better than the Turbo which now seems erratic in comparison. Forty minutes plus warm up/down and I feel pleased with myself. I make a promise to myself to get out on the Ridley the next day.
The next day and life shows up again and I can't get out. The Watt Bike beckons.
After taking my dose of Ginseng and something called Ginkgo I sit down to look at my heart rate, my maximum and average. I've only got a pulse meter, no power meter and it's been about three years since I tested my maximum going up and down the bypass, and I ain't about to do that again. When I did do those tests the result was pretty much the same as the old fag packet calculation for maximum heart rate anyway. So I'm going with that old one now. 220 minus age 56 equals 164 max heart rate.
Back on the Watt Bike, twenty minutes warm up. Forty minutes at 85% and ten minutes warm down. Done.
The Siberian Ginseng and Ginkgo must be doing it's thang. I've never used anything like this before and I'm desperate not to take meds. I hope it's not all hype, the hippy that recommended it seemed certain of it's powers. I said I needed a pick me up to undo seven months of stress and lack of sleep, and these two are what she advised. Also bought loads of ingredients to make up my own bars, and for my back pockets from her.  I'm determined to keep the weight that I lost off, and will be embarking on a good diet from here on in, not a strict one, I don't want to be a bore. Just good enough to actually feel healthy inside and drop the eat anything coz I work and train hard attitude.
So day three, will I eventually get out?
Day three. After two good days on the Watt Bike and supplementary weight training, and the most sleep I've had for nearly a year I've decided to rest and diet. Thursday 'will' be a day out in the hills.

Day four and I'm out. All Belgian'd up and on the Ridley, and heading for the hills.
It's wet and it's windy and my first marker on my ride is a canal side ride parallel to the 'proper' road I'd normally take. The 28c road tyres just hang on, keeping me upright until I turn off and head up Ivinghoe Beacon. As I've been going steady there's no need to drop out of the big ring, instead I stand on the pedals all the way to the top. I'm already feeling good about being out.
I have to put the good feelings on hold as I turn into Ashridge and into a headwind. Gripping the bars near the stem I begin to embrace the conditions and pick up a meandering rider on my way along. Sadly for him I have to turn right and head off for a descent of Toms Hill. Going down Toms today is a bit hairy, my canti's are wide open for cross use and are only just scrubbing off speed as I sweep down over the wet greasy leafy road. So it's with some small relief when I turn off towards Wiggington.
The route from hear is plain sailing, just a small climb up to Wiggington and a series of undulations until the Crong. The Crong was a bastard of a descent today, absolutely filthy and my canti's provided only token braking, I was missing my Campags.
On the Lion of Leighton

Before heading for home I took an off road detour to check the conditions of the route we're using for the upcoming Lion of Leighton. They were okay BTW.
Home and job done. Just a good evening out to de stress even more, Duvel and curry and I'm not paying. The week of rest is working.
Helps wash down the Belgian toothpaste


Day five, bit of a beer and curry head. So time for some basic spannering on the race bike, and an overdue clean up of the mountain bike in readiness for Saturday's XC blast. I've also used all five of my cycling shorts and it's too cold to ride in Speedo's. So the soggy kit means a Watt Bike session later today.
Sessions on the Watt Bike done. Time to get ready for another session, the Black Lion-Pizza Express-Black Lion classic. Or the LBRCC Christmas drink/awards night...awards/drink night? never quite sure. Absolutely great night, all you need is two LBRCC riders and a drink and you have a party. Get a whole load of us together and you have a PARTY. Even the other diners and drinkers got in on our festivities. Top night of the year for me.
It's Saturday and I ain't moving. Pants and flip flops all day long.

Sunday and the last day of my break, and I'm on a long overdue club ride. I have trouble recognizing some of the guys it's been so long. The blasted cyclocross season has put a massive three month dent into my club runs. I've not been very chairmanny.
We also have three rides going out again which is nice. I've opted for G2 with Tom D leading and old route of mine. Forty Five miles on some right ropey roads. We set off on a mixed bag of bikes, modern carbon racers, aluminium winter hacks, cyclocrosser, 1960's clubmans bike and whoahhh a stunning loaded Ridley, my favourite brand. I'm a little bit sentimental when it comes to bikes, but when they're Ridley's I'm just plain mental. If you own a Ridley you are duty bound to ride it and never cut a ride short to head home.
Anyway the route was a little bit sketchy here and there, we had rain, but in the end it all dried up a treat. Even the Crong seemed to be fighting back nature. All in all a good six man ride out to finish off a much needed break.

   Ready for the Festive 500 now. Though I'm not going to bust my balls for a badge. Happy Xmas.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Eric De Vlaeminck RIP

A sad loss, the man and the facial hair


Central CXL Round 9 GS Henley CX

Round nine marks an important time in the CX season. To start with every rider needs nine rounds under his or her belts to get a final standing next year. Out of fourteen rounds your best nine count. That said I don't think any LBRCC racer has managed to complete, well finish all nine. Though a good few are on eight.
The other? it marks the end of a continuous two months of racing with a welcome two week break.

Round nine is in deepest Berkshire. Hosted by local boys GS Henley, it's a course that runs though country park and a derelict golf course.  I'm not sure if this was planned or not, but the sandy Henley race coincides with the day of the famous Koksijde cross race over in that there Belgium. If you know about Koksijde you'll know what I mean.

We arrive on course after a hour and a half drive. From the car the course looks like a little gem, undulating, cropped grass and willows overhanging the lines.
Despite it's locale all the usual suspects are here, along with a strong London League contingent. A nippy race is right on the cards. So how it looks isn't going to factor one little bit when we're underway.
Like the previous week we opt to walk the course and warm up instead on faster paths and roads.
Technically this course is a piece of cake, though not for all.  There are four sand pits, single and double hurdles, a ditch and some changes of under tyre terrain.  The walk once again proves invaluable in particular where to jump off and run are spotted, it's so easy to think that you have to ride everything after all it's a bike race, but this is the cross in cyclo cross.

Next we stand track side to watch Andrew and Colin set off in Vet40. We wait until we've seen them get round lap one safely before setting off to get race ready ourselves.

The air is still, but it's bitterly cold so like last week it's all going on. And a liberal dollop of heat spray and warming oil is applied like undercoat.
After some hill warm ups and sprints track side we saunter off to the start area to await our call up.
Myself Darren and Miles are pretty well next to each other on the grid, with new boy Barry at the back yet to earn any race credits. The thirty second countdown is announced  and we wait ready to tackle the climb that starts right on the start line!
It goes and I get a perfect start. Up the hill I go following the green line. After just a few yards of flat the course heads off on a twisty undulating  path. At the first turn there's a crash, Darren goes past as I trackstand waiting for a clearing in the maelstrom of fallen riders. The crash has put a nuisance distance between us, but it's early days yet. I ride on with Darren and a few others ahead. At the first set of hurdles, the doubles I gain a little. Then at the double deep sand pits a perfect dismount and remount reverses the gap.
Strangely it's not comfortable being ahead. Like the Ickneild race I'm alone and Darren is in a small chasing group behind.
It's not comfortable anyway. I can't find it on this race. Whilst I know I'm handy in the singletrack and the sand offers no problem they're only a small part of the race. I'm like a car stuck in third. No matter how hard I try I can't find any pace.
Darren is however behind, the way I'm feeling I can only hope the status quo remains the same.

The course isn't suiting me. There isn't anywhere I can dig in. It's one turn after another. One obstacle after another. It's pedal brake turn, followed by pedal brake dismount. It is of course the same for everyone. The only place to get some in is on the climbs!

We're coming up to the penultimate lap and bad news. Darren has launched from his small group and is closing at a speed I can't out run. He goes past and I latch on like a heat seeking missile. The wheel is welcome, though I'm sure it wasn't meant to be
We're both having an awkward race. Darren has gone past, but hasn't dropped me. So he's either got something saved or is spent after chasing. I think though we're both just plain old fashioned knackered and can't think straight.
The course has dried out somewhat so that's making life a little easier, but if either of us were to slip or fall off the other would take honours.
Side by side we approach the final hurdle, a real bitch of an obstacle. At the bottom of a descent, hit it too fast and it'll end up messy. It's also high and over the other side there's a ditch to negotiate. Now neither of us are tall fellas and we hit it steady sharing mumbles. My extra 1/2" height advantage gives me the edge clearing the hurdle and ditch in one go. I hold Darren off through a back breaking muddy section, but Darren's back as we hit the climb to go over the line for the bell lap.

Despite the tiredness you have to have your wits about you. And never more so than now.
Locked in a slow motion battle with Darren on the climb, I spot the Rainbow jersey approaching with the eyes in the back of my head. We're about to be lapped with twenty metres to go by the current World Champion. I actually shout across to Darren the exact words 'here we go' as the Champion cuts us in two.
Race over with the chequered flag within smelling distance.

I take honours again, but when the results came out later that night our lap averages were exactly the same Darren and myself both at 11.05 per lap.

Cold and tired and wrapped in all I own I watch the start of seniors.
Just want to say at this point that as the club chairman I have never been so proud. Standing trackside I saw my boys all holding their own well within the first half of the pack. Three green jersey's looking good and business like with some of the very best from two leagues.
I couldn't stay until the end as I was so cold, but well done guys.

 

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Central CXL Round 8 Kettering CC

Be careful what you wish for is all I can say.
Eight rounds have gone under our tyres, and a lot of dry terrain. Previously as I've pottered around the courses prior to racing I've heard talk of 'proper cross weather'  and 'I can't wait for the mud'
Well we're here in Kettering for round 8 and it's just yelled out 'YOU WANT SOME....I'LL GIVE YOU SOME'  Mud wind and freezing rain in abundance.
And yes this is cross weather. The marshal's are just a line of waterproof jackets with eye holes, spectators have buggered off to anywhere else that's warm and not here. And riders are donning kit, then thinking 'sod that' and donning even more kit.
For me it's been the same all season, but today calls for a few extras. Heat spray followed by liberal amounts of leg oil. Knee warmers, arm warmers, casquette and for the first time some gloves and full fingered at that.
With over trousers and jackets over that lot we go off to walk the course. I've decided to warm up around the playing grounds and inspect the 2.2 mile circuit by foot. A technical course in this condition needs careful inspection and walking it you can spot everything. Like the deep mud one side of the track being easier to cut through than the other. The little bit of grippy singletrack to the side of the main track. The tiny stump that could tear a tyre. And so many other odds and ends that'll help.
As usual the LBRCC are representing in three races. Veterans 40, Veterans 50 and Seniors, though with slightly diminished numbers. Andrew and Colin, Miles Darren and Myself. And Neil and Ross.
As per previous posts you'll know we watch the Vet 40's go off, make sure they're underway and safe. And then ready ourselves.

Wrapped up in about all we have we warm up on the playgrounds. I look over to the huge MI Racing-Jewsons-Polypipe contingent. This is their manor and they're not to keen to get out and warm up. My guess is that the race will have to go steady just to get around, and the race speed will build over the duration, or decline now as it's really starting to pour down.
The course is technical, but has good runs as well. I'll often say a course has someone's name on it, and this one has mine on it. There is one major hurdle, well not a hurdle you jump over. This is an off camber descending bend, totally ripped up and close to the start. We saunter over to have a go on it. I come off right away and slide down on my arse, before bumping into Miles who has just done the same! That's a text book 'Pick it up and run' section.
Proper cross weather



Time to get going, the call up whistle blows and we are called up for gridding. Regardless of who's been called up first we all end up huddled together on the grid. It's freezing and the warm up gear has been shed, my knees are shaking and I need to beat Darren here today. What is there to like about cross?
Thirty seconds to go, the commissaire is looking at the watch on his raised arm, the whistle is inches away from his mouth. It draws closer, I take up the tension on my clipped in foot, grip the bars and exhale............it goes and so do we.
The mud flies, but the quality of the riding is exceptional and we manoeuvre the tight muddy corners without incident. Miles passes me using his body to force me into the corner marker, having to slow down and correct myself loses me a lot of distance over Miles.
I  should say that etiquette  goes right out of the window in cyclo cross. Bad language is not accepted and will get you thrown off course, but a fight for a line is a fight.
Miles is ahead, he gets down 'that hill' intact, I follow and settle into hunter mode. If you have a weakness on the course it stands out like an open wound to the riders chasing you down.  Miles though is looking good, strong even. I start to close, but he opens again when he rides a hill I opt to run, chapeau. I close in again, Miles has settled into a pace with another rider. I catch them and attack right away, sometimes attacking a few riders causes more confusion, whereas a solo rider has but only to attack.
I get a good gap and consolidate it by climbing the green line on all the ascents. Just the sand to get through and that's lap one done. This course is for me, and I can out skill far faster riders. Just Darren to out ride now.
It's a shame really because as a team we would do much better, but club honours have become important. Perhaps next year?
When I get a chance to see where Darren is, I find him a bit too close. It's hard not to panic, I did that last week and paid a high price for not racing my own race. Whilst he is close, it's he's task to catch me before he can get ahead. Don't panic.
My laps are getting better despite the worsening conditions, I've really cracked the lines.
To stay ahead I make big efforts to put riders between us, but despite successfully  putting three riders between us at one point he is still closing in on me.
Clean laps, good lines and efforts are needed to stay in front. I'm getting a good race, but I'm also really enjoying it which is a massive help.

I look back on the penultimate lap and Darren is really close. I take a tricky corner I've mastered by removing one foot for balance and pedaling with the other to keep traction, but this time my foot won't unclip and the twisting causes cramp. Now he is breathing down my back.
I dig in throwing a little more caution to the wind, the course from here is very very technical and we can't see each other. We won't until after we've completed this lap.
By the time we get to our unofficial check point Darren has dropped a bit and I think he waves to concede. The final lap goes well and I cross under the chequered flag with Darren following. Neither of us were lapped and the forty minute race turned into an hours racing.
Without a doubt my best race of the year.
After getting stripped down in the car park and putting on any dry stuff we have, we skulk over to watch Neil and Ross go off in seniors. We watch them safely underway with Neil leading, but the weather drives us off back to the cars and home. Sorry guys.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Central CXL Round 7 IRC Houghton Regis

A bit like Standalone Farm, but without the bumps. That's how you sort of summed up this years Icknield Road Clubs race course. But that's before you rode it. What looked a simple enough course actually held some difficult sections, sections where mind and body would need to work.
However for a now an early warm up had provided some misjudged confidence.

Before our race, that's Miles, Darren, Steve, Kevin (absent sir) and myself started we settled in to watch CX virgin Barry have a go in novices. Not knowing what Barry was wearing or what he was riding we yelled out 'c'mon Barry' and rang bells to every rider until 'the real' Barry responded.
Then we saw off Andrew and Colin in Vet 40's before going for another warm up. I nearly came to blows doing loops of the playground, forgetting a mud encased tyre with 25psi in it might not corner too well on tarmac. There were a few shouts of  'well held'.

Our race soon dawned, there was just time for one more warm up lap. It all seemed so easy in warm up. My plan was to ride away like last week. Simple.
You'll go on the whistle, we don't even get a few seconds the whistle goes immediately. It's a balls up from the start, the rider in front is still holding his rear wheel up adjusting his gears. Miles gridded well behind me is off down the straight. Miles had said he was going for this one,  And I was thinking '#### me you ain't kidding' he was off. I set of in pursuit dribbling and suffering stitches. Catching him at one point only for him to glance at me before accelerating again. I was barely marking him and couldn't believe where he was digging this performance up from.
Then on lap two he started to slow, and I eventually caught him, and just as he suffered a marker tape/bike interface.I pushed on pass.
Thinking I was in the clear I was a little surprised to see Darren closing in on me. Plus I was knackered from the two lap chase.
Darren unknowingly had made a superb choice of wheel to follow. Tony Shortland of Trisports  and I go back to the beginning of  of the Central CXL, we've fought year in year out, I've won some he's won some. Tony, if feeling good will chase me down and go for the honours. There's no love lost on the field between us. Tony was chasing me and Darren was right on his wheel, with a first class ticket for the train to winningville. Tony catches and passes me delivering Darren to my wheel. I jump on the Trisport rider and signal Darren to stay on.  For a while all seems good, I start to recover, I certainly won't work. Then after the hurdles Tony powers away and I can't match him, leaving me floundering in the headwind with Darren locked in on my wheel. It's my turn to get done over now. I'm tired, the sort of tired that makes you think there's something wrong with your bike! I have to recover when we reach the main straight, and Darren digs in deep and tears past. Nothing here. He makes a gap in one fell swoop that I can't contain, the best it gets down to using my counting method is six seconds, but seeing a chance to put a rider between himself and me he goes for it, perfectly timed and I watch Darren ride towards me as I'm still trying to pass the lapped rider. My only hope now is physical collapse with a lap to go. I pick a new line for the end of this final lap, annoyed to find is faster. I close in so tight that I'm also in the home straight as Darren crosses the line to complete the last lap. Then the killer blow. The race leader passes me to take the flag I'm about two bike lengths from the line when he passes, so my race is over and Darren has escaped. All I can do now is wrap up and watch.
I see Darren come round for the final time, I have a giggle because it's clear he still thinks I'm chasing him, he looks a bit perplexed when he see's me at the finish.
Well done Darren you bugger.

Next up it's the youngsters. Neil, Ross and Mitchell in seniors.
Their start is a mass brawl, and it's some time before we can see where the first LBRCC senior is. Mitchell comes around first followed by Neil then Ross. By lap two Mitchell has a sound lead and one that grows. Team Green is very strung out. Anyone watching would have put money on Mitchell taking honours in this one. Then the newest LBRCC  cyclocross rider suffers the same fate as the eldest LBRCC cyclocross rider. Neil has latched onto a fast moving group of riders and is now baring down fast. The course unlike any before lends itself well to drafting, and Neil is soon delivered to Mitchells wheel. The constant riding from the front is probably taking it's toll, and the freshly delivered Neil powers past. I take myself over to one of the straights to get an idea of how they're going. Then I see Mitchell standing not moving, he's at the hurdles. I clutch my head in despair, another show stopping mechanical. He rides past sans gears. Neil grabs a great comeback win, and is followed in by Mitchell then Ross.
Camera shy Mitchell in action


It just goes to show how tough, brutal and unpredictable cyclocross is. Neil makes a great comeback, the opposite of he's Hemel ride. Darren turned the tables on me on a similar course to the week before. Mitchell and Miles put in superhuman efforts that upset and then destroyed other riders. We're halfway though the season and none of us can take anything for granted.

Until next week.    

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Central CXL Round 6 Hitchin Nomads Standalone Farm

Pick it up and run

Who remembers last year?  Anyone that raced the inaugural Standalone Farm cross race last year and has come back today is either a total mental, a total hardman or has amnesia.
Memories like running more than riding (well note quite but.....) not being able to ride over the finish line due to the amount of and special qualities of the mud and guys unable to even complete one lap because their bikes just gave up the ghost.
So anyway we're back.
Who have we got? Miles, Kevin, Darren, Andrew, Colin, James, Mitchell and me. Plus Mitchell's mum. And the days 'pit bitch' Ross.
What have we got. Well we have a drier course for a start, but it still has that knobbly gripping plasticine quality I remember so well from many 24 hour solo mountainbike races. I press my toes into it and curse at it under my breath.
We follow the now usual routine. Sign in, wander off to look at the course, chat to other riders and watch the start of the V40's. Andrew and Colin are racing, we watch for a while as if just making sure they're okay then wander back to change and get some warm ups in.
The four of us in V50's practice on the outskirts of the course and the first thing we notice is how bumpy it is. I sack off warming up on this in favour of some faster paths on the edge of the farm land.
Then it's time to get a proper practice lap in as the the V40's have just finished. However the whistle blows to call us in for gridding. I haven't even had a go on the course and I need a piss. What's going on?
I get called up first out of the LBRCC V50 group, though like last week we end up bumper to bumper.
Ah I forgot to say. I'm hung over from a bit to much partying at a rock n roll Halloween party complete with the real Elvis. My bodies a bit shook up (ah ha ha) from dancing and whiskey. So this is racing olden style, olden style pre dating 'old skool' when Watneys Red Barrel was the race day drink of choice and helmets were only worn by soldiers. But I still feel like partying so here we go.
As usual for this season we're not kept waiting, thirty seconds and the whistle goes and so do we.
I get a good start and get past some leaders within metres. This course is all about just riding. There's nothing here today to separate one type of rider from another. So the getaway was crucial.
The course is brutally bumpy, I'm riding three positions to get the best out of each part of the course. In the drops for the only remotely smooth parts, onto the hoods for the bends and on the tops for the long bumpy sections. It's so bad that the wheels leave the ground as I get thrown around.
I start a mantra, it's not as bad as Belgium. I'm certainly not getting whitefinger.
I feel remarkably well settled in early on. My three LBRCC team mates are just behind, From a quick glance it looked like Kevin and Darren were working together. Miles was suffering heavy bike syndrome as his race crosser was still in the LBS.
Midway through the second lap I could see that I had a good lead on the others. The only doubt in my head was rather  like last weeks. It was gearing in Oxford, today it was tyre pressure. I had opted for very low pressure for comfort, whilst Kevin had gone higher. This bothered me because there were two ridable railway sleepers on the course. I was prone to pinch flatting on these whilst Kevin had to suffer the endless thumping though his arms. With a massive grimace on my face I negotiated the sleepers each lap, clenching my teeth as the rim hit the wooden barriers.
But I was loving it out there and my race head was fully screwed on, I began to actually enjoy the relentless bumps and I remembered to keep my head up through the turns.
The final two laps of the race were spent keeping an ever nearing Dan Clemens at bay. I tried to dig deep to get away and for a moment I thought I had. But by the start of the last lap he was back on my wheel. It was inevitable, I do it to others, he just had to mark me and make his move at the right time. The VC10 jersey pulled away at the last switchbacks to put a killer twenty five seconds between us.
When I went under the flag twenty five seconds looked miles away.
Darren trailed me in, followed by Kevin then Miles.
Without a doubt my most favourite race of the season so far, and my biggest margin on my team mates. Loved it.

Time to stand around now and watch the others suffer. James and Mitchell had to endure the course for an hour in Seniors. It's great watching Mitchell adapt to all the courses in he's first season, This one I thought had his name on it. James on the other hand just strong out there, but held back a little by racing an MTB. Both rode well in what was a 'proper' race with the leaders going at each other all race long. It's not often I'm drawn this much into watching the finish, but this was a must see. The two leaders came in at road race speed.
Then James came through blowing a sigh of relief. But where's Mitchell?  we spot him running and running without a rear wheel. Mitchell runs across the line holding his uni-cycle aloft. Turns out that the constant hammering out there and those railway sleeper crossing had finally tore his rear wheel out. Unable to get it back it he ran the rest of the course. Chapeau.  

Friday, 6 November 2015

The Lion of Leighton (recce and guide)

I've been meaning to nut out a ride like this for some time, an on/off road ride. Doable on road bikes, but something that'll have you wondering if you're really meant to be on this road/track/path!
So here's what I came up with. 60 miles'ish  a loop starting from outside the Black Lion. We'll start in groups of five max because of shared path use, and set off some minutes apart.
Heading out of town we'll ride towards Ledburn, turning right, up Well Lane. A road often given a wide berth as it's gravely and broken. From here it'll be out past Wing, Stewkley and heading towards Winslow. Then just this side of Winslow we turn right onto Sustrans 51 for a few miles of strade Bianche, or just plain mud in winter. There's even a section of cobbles.
We leave that behind some miles later turning right, passing Newton Longville and into Stoke Hammond.. Here a sharp left takes you down a lane and over the Grand Union before disappearing into a gravel path. At a fork here we'll go left up a steep loose gravel bridleway (the Gravelberg) then it's right right left and down Bragenham Lane, watch out it's dreadful. Mossy, sandy steep and narrow so beware.....think car!
You get spat out near Rushmere Park so turn left and head toward Heath & Reach. Look out for a narrow lane squeezed between the quarry and tennis courts. We'll head up here, it's the opposite of the dreadful Bragenham descent you just came down, not that it's nice it's just up instead. The top gives you a view of the new wind turbine if you like that sort of thing. Turn right and make your way to Eggington. Passing the huge Redlands plant before turning left into Clipstone and onto the Leighton Road. Pass through Eggington now heading for the bypass. Here might be a place to stop, assuming the Five Bells Of Stanbridge is open?

The route gets trickier to navigate here. Look out for the left turn into what was once a though road before the bypass, that is now a dead end to cars, it's halfway between the pub and the bypass.  This leads you back onto Sustrans route 51. Ride over the bridge spanning the bypass and follow the cycle path that would take you all the way to Dunstable. The path is firm but gravel covered.  Soon you'll come to a timber bridge looking over Sewell, stop or slow down here.
This bit is important to get right. At the bridge to your right you'll see a cutting leading to a very broken chalky road, take this slightly uphill track. Pretty soon it becomes flat wide open cycle path, sort of has a Dutch or Belgian feel to it. Follow to it's end in Dunstable, you should end up on the Tring Road with the Dunstable Downs rearing up in front of you. We're not heading up there today, instead turn right and stretch your legs going out of town. Soon you'll see the London Flying Club on your left, near a speed camera in a dip.  As you leave the dip look right and take care taking the turning into Well End. I'll let you navigate you're own way over this section, but we are heading towards the church on the hill as you leave Eddlesborough and hit the A4146 Leighton Road.  Make sure you include the ford crossing as you approach Eddlesborough, but be careful as the middle has a wheel grabbing hole in it. My GPS route will see you through all of this anyway.

With the church in front of you you'll see a bridleway to your left. Take it and follow this longest section of off road all the way to Ivinghoe Aston at the foot of the Beacon climb. Cross the road and continue off road taking care to bare right avoiding the track to the farm house. The bridleway takes you to Ivinghoe, from here follow the road to Marsworth. Pass over the Grand Union and take the right turn into Watery Lane. A great little road liable to flooding in winter, follow it's twists and turns and turn left at the church yard. Cross the Grand Union for the third time in as few miles. Pass through Gubblecote and turn left at the cross roads in Long Marston. Again take care on this road as it's treacherous in winter, a lethal mix of leaves, rain, mud and red diesel! Passing through the village you come to a very obvious tight left hander, but straight ahead  is a gravel farm track, guess which one you take.

You are now on a series of sectors that form a small loop that will finally double back on itself. Be sure to say hi as you pass your club mate's riding in the opposite direction. But for now follow a fine gravel section that leads to a T junction of paths, turn right. This is probably going to be the muddiest section as it's simply a tractor route, ride or walk it. Soon the rutted path gives way to tarmac and an industrial estate in the middle of nowhere. Follow the road and once again cross the Grand Union, but this time turn left onto it's canal side path. Follow the water way to the next bridge where you'll have to dismount and get back onto the gravel track that'll finish this remote loop. Retrace the way heading back towards Long Marston. At the crossroads go straight ahead towards Mentmore. Follow the arrow straight road before turning left passing Mentmore Towers and climbing into Mentmore itself.
From Mentmore descend passing Train Robbers Bridge to the T junction in Ledburn. We're now on home ground, but there's more. Turning right at Ledburn we head towards Leighton, under the bridge and to another T junction. Turn right here going away from Leighton and almost immediately turn left onto a very narrow path leading to the canal side. Follow the path under the bypass and eventually you'll come out near to Tiddenfoot water park. Ride past Tiddenfoot and the leisure centre and turn right into Mentmore Gardens. This cul de sac leads to a cycle path that crosses the Grand Union once again and onto Grovebury Road. At it's end turn left towards the town, but after about two hundred metres turn left again and onto another cycle path. This cycle path is the last leg. It takes you through Parsons Close recreation Ground and back into town. The Black Lion is just around the corner.

Job done. All that's needed to be remembered is that a lot is shared use path so be courteous to others. Keep the groups small and watch your speed.
I rode this twice, once in sections with Fraser and another time in one hit. I rode it in good conditions and had no issues, in winter it will be tougher. I rode a cyclocross bike with a 46/36 and 25t cassette. My tyres were 28c Rubino road tyres. Fraser used a Pinarello standard road bike with 23c tyres. I think tyre condition will be more important than anything else. Mountain bikes will take the conditions in their stride, but sixty miles is a long way on a mountainbike and not really entering into the spirit of the ride.

Feel free to comment or ask questions here or on the club FB page.


First sector near Winslow

Fork heading up the 'Gravelberg'

Ford near Eddlesborough


The longest sector

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Central CXL Round 5 Zappi's Oxford.

The courses just get better every year, and Zappi's always pull something out of the hat. There was to be no kit staining yellow sand of the infamous Culham Park this year. Instead it would be chalk, nice white slippery chalk.
I was dead keen for this after missing round four due to illness, and I was hoping that my eagerness to race would counter my lack of any riding in recent weeks!
On arrival the course looked pretty sane, I glanced through the trees. Flat course, spiral of doom and the usual Zappi's disco start/finish affair. Thinking that looks okay off I strode to sign on. Past Claud the Butlers coffee and cake, past the bouncy castle (no don't you nearly broke your neck last time)  and into registration. Oooh a goody bag and other bits and bobs. I love the cross scene I thought to myself.
Off we then scuttle Miles and me, goody bags in hand chomping on free energy chews, we head for the car park our open air pits, changing room and workshop all in one. There we meet Mitchell and Colin, and an Andrew all zoned out further down the row of cars. We also bump into the bad news guy 'have you seen the hill?.....the second ones a killer'  erm no 'got it on video' oh great.
We don kit, pin on numbers and squeeze tyres. After much thought I go 25 psi, same as every week.
Off we go. We find Darren and Kevin and we set off on a team green recce. Round the course we go. The flat area I could see is fairly bumpy, but not that bad at all.  Then we head out along broken tarmac, it looks like redundant MOD land, but it's fast here, as in big ring fast.We corner and ahead I see riders warming up on a steep slope, it's tough to get up as it's a bit damp and the Michelins just hang on, then bang bang another climb bigger and wider. We clear them in warm up, but it's clear it'll be bottleneck city when we are racing. Over the top and you hit an off camber slippery chalk zig zag. Technically the hardest section. After that it's all hoon. Down the steepest descent of the season so far and back onto the flatter open section part of the course, slightly down hill so super quick, fast enough to send mud skywards.
Before the four of us race we watch the V40's Andrew and Colin. Andrews chain snapped on the whistle, but he pulled out a great performance regardless.
We get ready to race, James arrives with a matching cough to mine.  Gridding comes and I get called out, but due to the very wide run out the four of us end up together. Miles, Darren, Kevin and me.
We wait, then it's the sound of the whistle. The start is something like a Cat 4 criterium, the tarmac run out which will be closed off after we pass allows for some speeds not usually found in cross.
Kevin is ahead of me straight away, on the broken tarmac I find his wheel and I tail him to the climb. But he pulls out a gearing advantage and rides the climb whilst I have to shoulder my bike and run,
Feeling hammered

the gap he makes is big. He maintains the gap until we start the second lap, when the gearing issue is reversed, but I can only grab his wheel. We climb again and again he makes a gap. It's now a case of who will have the upper hand in the gearing wars. For now Kevin is winning and Darren is on my tail. The pressure is on. On the final leg of lap two  I close in on Kevin, and to my side I see Darren get caught up in someone else's stack. Now is the time to put in an effort. Wait wait wait, then push past in the big ring aiming to put in a gap at the start of the hill that would counter Kevins usual advantage. That part of the plan works, now all I need to do is put in the same effort on lap three to ensure Kevin would have to go some to catch me. Later I would find out that some stray barrier tape aided my plans. By lap three Darren is making ground and I have no idea how he is feeling, my situation isn't comfortable yet. I go for the out of sight out of mind strategy and concentrate on good lines. I block out the feedback from the terrain and press it. By the penultimate lap I see Darren is down from where he was last lap. Feeling it's in the bag regard club honours I press on and give it a little flourish as I go under the flag
When I stop my cough gets so bad I think it's trying to leave my body in one go and I end up wretching like something out of a  cycling Exorcist movie. Cross really pushes you.
Darren follows me in followed by Miles and Kevin,
I didn't feel too shiny, but  we stay to watch the lad, Neil and James go in seniors. I can't say how they felt, but James looked strong. And Mitchell looked happy and seemed to get stronger each lap. Neils always a pleasure to watch, especially in the technical stuff where he's off road pedigree really shines, the way he tackles everything from the drops.....ace.
That was a good course, one that had just about everything you could ever find in a cross race. All the lads did well. Even a non riding Ross came al the way down to cheer us on...

Sunday, 18 October 2015

LBRCC & Café De Robot Pyrenees 2015


For the third year running we were off to the Pyrenees, Bagneres De Luchon to be precise, for our end of year trip/cx training week.
Flying and driving Saturday, the plan had been to ride upon arrival, but much faffage put paid to that. And I had bigger problems. So instead we went to the towns casino to register for Sundays fondo the La Lapebie. As Fraser and myself had already done this two years ago we opted for the shortest option with just the HC climb of Port De Bales to contend with and that's enough believe me....I'd done it twice already. Neil was urged into doing the mid length option that included the Col De Mente and two Champagne climbs. And Phil all the way over from Belgium opting for the full Monty, too silly for me to even look at!
First though I needed to put right the custom frame work carried out by the baggage handlers, So where to get a sheered off mech hanger for a British made 853 frame in the French Pyrenees? Answer, no where. Still the LBS vows to carry out a repair, my frame goes into their cellar workshop and once out of sight all I could hear was the sound of hammer on steel. I needed a beer.
By 4.45pm I had an operational  bike. Time to relax.
Sunday arrives. Phil is off before I'm even up (the long ride goes off first and is timed so all the distances get back together)
I'm up now and looking down at the competitors getting ready for the next wave, Neil's group. Stood there, coffee in hand and Neil getting ready I notice that they seem to be erm well leaving. 'When you off Neil' Seems there's a bit of confusion and Neil goes flying out the door.
Fraser and myself like true gents finish off our coffees and saunter down to the start. We're met by many enthusiastic Frenchmen, some doing warm up sprints.....have a word. We line up and wait for the off, well once the Mayor lets us go. He seems to be enjoying the limelight a bit too much and it all becomes a one man  show. Soon thank God we're off.  This bits fun, it's virtual shut down in town for us. Event motorcycles weave through us horns blaring whistles blowing, Gendarmes and marshals wave us through with those little lolipop signs. It's the sights and sounds of the Tour. Out of  town and onto the valley road and all slightly downhill to the first turn. It's fast and safe 25 to 30mph riding with no hopeless wannabes and crashes inherent in UK sportives. We keep the front of the ride in sight and take the turn together. There's a small gap as we hit the undulations before the big climb, but we're pretty well together. Undulations I should say in the Pyrennees are what one would call a full on climb back home. All too soon we're at the foot of the climb. A bridge over white water marks the spot. So to climb, I've done this before and tempo is best to start with. Tap tap tap, Fraser is still with me. I watch on in wonderment as a few try to hoon past? generally they're hooning only gets them just metres ahead before they slip back into oblivion. We're a little apart but tapping away nicely whilst we're still in the shade of the tree line. However all to soon we're out in the open where trees and streams give way to sun, rocks and lizzards. And it starts to climb, I get gear envy as a rider passes with a cassette the size of a dinner plate, I look down at my 25 tooth cassette and it looks woefully small.....feels it to. Riding these steep gradients makes me look forward to the pass up ahead where years ago there had been a feed station. As I ride the pass, Fraser joins me and I follow his wheel, though my back aches so Fraser pulls ahead. That's at about 3km to go, I mention that as 3km seems to be the point at which I feel I've done it. Fraser ahead I chase a lone Frenchman, when I catch him I decide to ride side by side to the summit with him. LBRCC chairmans version of the Entente Cordial.
At the summit Fraser is waiting, and without a second to even start faffing he suggests we go and try and get in under three hours. Gilets and arm warmers on we plummet off the top. A quick pose for the photographer on the way down and whoosh. It's a long way down off the Port De Bales with a few tricky bits. Then it joins the road off the Peyresourde which is super fast and pretty safe so we try and keep it at 40mph into Luchon. Off the mountain and into town and it looks like we can do it with minutes to spare, but the last marshal sends me the wrong way, luckily I look around to see I'm alone with a Frenchman waving furiously at me and and seemingly thinking I'm the idiot! We cross line inside three hours in a Gold medal time. Neil's day didn't get any better. Phil was Phil riding the monster without batting an eyelid. Then off for the post ride meal. No free energy bar and off you go here. Instead it's a sit down three course meal with wine and waiter service. UK are you listening?

Monday and it's time to conquer my nemesis. Superbagneres. Twice I've tried and twice I've failed. Once simply at the end of a heavy week in the mountains and the second time my back went halfway up. Setting off from the apartment in Luchon you find yourself climbing within minutes, think it was eight minutes to be precise no time to warm up barely time to get even cool! And this isn't an annoying climb out of Leighton Buzzard we're heading for the clouds.  So eight minutes in I'm puffing and panting, this old body needs far longer to get up to speed. And part of me is thinking I'll fail again. I reach the first hairpin that marks the start of the climbing proper. I feel better as the road narrows and steepens and I'm looking for the snow post that would mark the point my back went last year. I pass it and turn for the summit. I feel good now even if I'm off the back. The views change as I leave the tree line I view Luchon down below  and clouds and snow above. Still feeling okay I pass the 3km to go sign, I love those signs. Up ahead is Fraser, and the folly of a hotel that sits on the summit lingering in the cloud. I push on and onto the brute of a straight that'll take me to the top. Suddenly I get chest pain, so I slow and stand carefully monitoring any worsening.  I crawl to the top and cross the imaginary line before rolling back a few yards to meet the guys. The summit is bathed in sunlight but we only stay long enough to grab a Coke and picture the view.
Regards the chest pain, it seems that anything reached over 1500M can cause this, and I'll find myself suffering the same later in the week. We all at some point get a dry throat from the altitude.
With gilets and warmers donned we race off the mountain with a planned lunch of omelette at Chez Manus in our thoughts.
Superbagneres

Sitting in our favourite café we decide that the Artigue will be the afternoons climb. A baby at just over 1200M, no problemo. After lunch we detour around Luchon to get rid of our café legs before we start the climb. I mean the Artigue after Superbagneres a walk in the park surely?. Seems I'd forgotten that this park was the Hautes-Pyrenees! And holy cow this ones steep from the start, thankfully it's short. However I'm hardly moving so this might take some time. The pecking order on Superbagneres has fallen into chaotic yo-yo'ing on this one. So it's all we need when we find the road has been dug up, and is blocked by diggers and trucks. I can't be arsed to pussy foot about and just don't care about ripping my good tyres, I wheel spin in the deep gravel scrape past the digger and clatter onto the tarmac once again.  A combination of concentration and pure bloody mindedness get's me up. The view from the summit is outstanding, we can look down onto the valley floor and up again to see the summit of Superbagneres in the distance. It's not often you can see a whole days ride laid out before your eyes like this.
The Artigue, shortest but hardest climb of the trip

Watch out ladies it's Speedo time! After two full days riding, each summiting a HC climb we head off to the towns natural spa to recover.
Day three is another HC or multiple HC's  Fraser and myself have an easy day of just one climb. Phil and Neil have three in mind. Our day starts in the the beautifully named Luz-Saint-Sauveur. The big ride is to summit the Col du Tourmalet, followed by the Col d'Aspin then the Peyresourde. Fraser and I are just riding Luz Ardiden another HC climb made infamous by the Lance Armstrong spectator/bag crash.  We've planned to complete our ride and then follow the other two back over the three summits to Luchon (in the car). The three climbs are going to be tough, and I admire their courage, I really feel happy I'm not doing it. I've done Aspin followed by the Tourmalet before and it's enough.
So we depart. Phil and Neil head off onto the beast of a drag that takes you to the foot of the Tourmalet, whilst we twist through town and over bridges to the foot of Luz Ardiden.  So,as to what Phil and Neil got up to I'll never know, but for now we're on a peach of a climb, I like this a lot. Narrow twisting with wicked cambers nice. We ride steady together through the treeline, I soak up the atmosphere recalling images of colourful Tour characters racing up here. After a while I need to stop for a nature break, Fraser doesn't need to witness this and presses on. Back on the road again I see Fraser has passed a lone rider and I set off to do the same. Sadly the blokes not going to let another Engleeesh past and continuously monitors proceedings behind him. I nearly have him, but the ski station is reached and that means no more road, Fraser is already up here and filming me arrive, tummy and knees in and a broadside finish just for a bit of a flourish.  Pictures taken we tank back down, Fraser is ahead and I get stopped on the fastest section by a digger clearing fallen rocks which is a shame. At the bottom we um and ah about riding another summit, but decide against it. So we head back to the car and de camp in the heat of the sun.
Luz Ardiden
We head off to find the boys. Up and over the Tourmalet and over the Aspin, then we get the call. 'Come and get us'  Two climbs are enough and it was a late start so fair play. We gather them up and drive over the Peyresourde. The two of them will feel it tonight! They tuck into cow burgers that night whilst we go for Tapas.
Day four and we ain't giving up it's going to be another HC climb followed by two other summits. First the HC Pla d'adet  then the Col d'aspin and finally Hourquette d'ancizan.
Pla d'adet isn't suited to me, just a few gentle metres from the start in Saint-Lary-Soulan and the climb just goes for it. Leaving the others to go on ahead I target the first hair pin where I plan to stop and straighten my back. Just looking down on the town from this first bend I'm amazed at the altitude gained. I'm back on the bike and just feeling a little more dialed in, but still it's tough. I'd like forty minutes of riding before hitting a Pyrenean HC climb, less than four minutes hasn't given my lungs a chance to get out of bed. It's a struggle and it's a bit hot, but look where I am I think to myself, and another part of me enjoys the masochistic pleasure of it all. Then relief comes at a small village on the climb, it's lesser gradient is enough for me to recoup on. I pedal through the village that clings onto a horse shoe shaped col. And then I'm ready for the rest of the ascent and to help I'm riding into a cooling breeze. My pace ups and soon I'm at the summit. The climb has been tough but beautiful, sadly the summit ski resort has nothing to give, just empty brick chalets. We loiter wordless for a bit then tank back down. What was tough going up is now a whoop whoop descent with a few places that you need to take care on, despite a 4000' drop we don't exercise any care at all. Even bunny hopping the drainage gullies at Pyrenean descent speeds probably wasn't the best of all ideas?  We reach the bottom and Phil's raggedy tyre goes. Why do they blow when you reach the bottom? I mean that's great having descended of a very rainy Portilon for the tyre to explode at the bottom I 'll be forever thankful.
Next it's the col d'aspin after we've had a good blast through the countryside to get to it's base.  I've ridden the col d'aspin before from this very same side it's a peach. The early kilometres are easy, and though not a massive climb it passes through stages. At first it's a dark stream lined road. Then the forest thins out before becoming mountain meadow and finally all you have is rock besides you. The summit welcomes me again. It's a saddle that you go up and over. Or wait a while on as we do, but not for long because this descent is even better than the last. We leave together in tandem and stay that way for the entire descent. It works out well as the hairpins come so thick and fast that the last rider can spot vehicles coming up as the first rider hits the turns.
We descend wheel to wheel out of the tree line into the valley.
We'll have a stop here before the next accent. We pick a nice café with comfy loungers and order large sugary coffees......then ice cream.
Our third and final climb for the day is the Hourquette d'ancizan. This has some real steady long gradients, nothing compared to the last two climbs, but after sitting here so long after riding two Tour De France climbs we'll have the mother of all café legs.
We roll out homeward bound, down the valley road and then turning to the mountains. Although the going up here should be easy it's not and it's very hot and you get bears here. I don't like this long long arrow straight climb I'm on. I look ahead at all the mountains rearing up ahead of me and think Christ. But I'm saved, a road appears from the left, it's my road and it's turning away from those looming mountains. And there's a headwind, which in this case is great as I'm so bloody hot. The gradient now is much steeper but my Garmin says I'm going quicker, I know I am. Up and up I go weaving past wild horses on the road. I'm now in a massive col and the gradient marker bearing in mind I'm still climbing says 8% descent, I'll have that. Fraser is with me now on this weird landscape. And we ride together up towards the narrow  cutting that marks the summit and the way down.
Over the top the difference in landscape is stark, open mountain meadow one side and now down though tree lined and gorge like landscape?
Time on the Hourquette

We again descend in a group, this is beautiful and I feel so well tuned in. Cars allow us to pass and enjoy this very narrow laned descent. I really take it all in and knowing all three climbs have been done helps.
We're spat out off the mountain into typical French countryside. The pace along the lanes gets super fruity, but then at the next village I just want to kick back and enjoy the ride home. At a tiny village I wash myself at a fountain before following an avenue back to the car.
They'll be lashings of ginger beer tonight.
It's Thursday Phil and Neil set off for another days riding, whilst Fraser and myself think sod it and head to the spa and cafés.
It's not all about the bike
It's Friday, we go home today but there's time for one more climb and lets make it another HC. And I know what the brutal Port D'Bales. I've done this summit three times and always from the super tough Siradan side. This time though we'd take the wide open Peyresourde climb road and turn off right for the Bales. We set off, Phil ahead because he's doing it another.....harder way. It's the last day, the way is out and back so we all go at our own tempo.
Strangely the Peyresourde road seems easier? I tap away and soon arrive at the right hander I need to take. Holy cow it becomes steep, I can see Fraser ahead, he looks close but I know it's an optical illusion he's probably several hairpins ahead. It's hot as well. On I go over familiar ground, I can see he first of the few mountain villages I'll pass so I know it'll ease off soon. And soon it does.
Then I get a strange feeling. It feels a little to easy, I can't see anyone else and all of a sudden it doesn't feel familiar. I've been here three times, but always descending at stupid speeds. I wonder if I'll end up in the wrong place and have to retrace my steps. I'll press on, the tempo still feels easy. Then finally I recognize a familiar section, a right hand hairpin, straight up then that left hand hairpin that goes past 180 degrees. I see a bunch of Spanish guys in club kit up ahead and my steady tempo takes me past them, because in Leighton Buzzard that's how we roll. Past a Dutchman with dinner plate gears and out into the hot open summit climb.
Tempo tempo tempo and I see the only Km marker on the route and it reads 3km. It's also the point at which Phil descends past me heading for the summit of the Peyresourde.
As I've said above, 3km is in the bag as far as I'm concerned when riding. I spin to the top to meet Fraser and await Neil's arrival.
We talk about doing the Peyresourde ourselves, but nah. Instead Fraser switches on he's Go-Pro thingy as it's superfast downhill all the way to the front door and we are going to give it some for the camera.
Off we go, been down this bit three times and up it once so I know it well enough. I follow Neil and Fraser struggling to descend as quick, but when I find the right position on my bars I'm up and past them. Cars on the lower slopes of the Bales slow us down, and I'm on the brakes all the way to the road that takes you off the Peyresourde and into Luchon. Good job I know it's here!
Then kaboom superfast  wide road to the finish. We play for the camera swapping leads and giving each other the finger with heads down holding out as long as possible for the next turn. Probably not damaging Levi Leipheimers Strava time on this descent.
And brake.
All that's left to do is have one last coffee at Manu's before tidying up to leave.
Another great trip, thanks Fraser. And thanks to you Phil for dragging our arses out of bed each morning to kill ourselves on the mountains, ta.
That was a lot of mountain kilometre,

A few extra images.
Adams Ale



With Fraser topping the Horquette
The guys on the Aspin
Neil. From Superbagneres to the Artigue and all before our eyes

Central CXL Round 4 MK Bowl

MLEH MLEH MLEH MLEH MLEH MLEH MLEH MLEH

Central CXL Round 3 Hemel Hempstead

As above it's racing in Hemel today, quite literally a drive down the road. But when we go off at a tangent I don't question it. You see Miles is driving and clearly the rules of 'magical mystery tour' apply to he's driving. I suggest that if Miles is leading club rides in he's eighties you take a packed lunch wrapped in a paper map.
Anyway we arrive at the venue Gadebridge Park, the hilly one! You can see the course from the road and the sight of the main hill brings on an involuntary 'chinny reckon' We're early despite Mile's detour. So after getting kitted up and signing on we roll over to watch Emma B and Alice in novices. They're having fun and Alice comes away with a Bronze gong.
We go for a warm up prior to the Vet 40 race. God I feel pants. My throat is getting sore and my breakfast can't make up it's mind which way to go, up or down. On top of that the course is an 'old skool' slogger. Feeling hot and sick I settle trackside to watch Jules, Andrew and Colin slug it out.
Watching them get tired each lap I decide I'll just have one warm up lap and wing it.
Anyway Jules and Andrew are neck and neck and going for it. Colin shouts puncture as he passes! The racing looks different today, teams are together Luton, Corley's and LBRCC, and the faces on the front aren't the same. I watch from the same spot to see Jules and Andrew lap consistently and wheel to wheel. Colin doe's have a puncture but presses on regardless.
However this week Andrews bad luck is behind him, and he go's on to take LBRCC honours in the V40 race.
I'm up next with Miles and Darren in Vet 50. This week I'm honoured as I get front row gridding. Though I'm gutted I feel so bad that I'll probably blow the advantage.
We're going to get sent off PDQ like other weeks, fifteen seconds then go. The whistle goes and we're off.
The start as usual is on the only flat straight and after a few metres we'll tackle the main climb. A climb that elevates you so the course can wind it's way back down.
I lose places on the climb and Darren goes past. I keep him in check and we reach the top with a string of good riders. How strong is Darren? I stay behind uncertain. The course drops to the hurdles and Darren falls letting me past. I complete the lap just ahead, but Darren passes on the climb again. The climb is clearly Darren's strong point, again I follow his wheel until I see an opportunity to pass him on a tight turn. I take the lead again and pass the line ahead, but again Darren passes me on the climb. I think I have a plan to beat him. I decide I need to get ahead to make him chase, meaning he'll have to chase and put the extra effort in on the hill each lap. With three laps to go I'm hoping he doesn't have enough to keep attacking on the climb?
Last climb ahead
An opportunity arises just after  Darren passes. Mark Eidem is just ahead, a far faster rider than both of us. I put on a sprint and pass Mark. This wakes him up and he chases meaning that Darren is behind with a rider in between us. Mark is pressing me and a large gap opens up. Looking at the gap I get I think that this will be enough to take LBRCC honours even with this and two more laps to go!However the race isn't over until the fat lady sings. I clear the hurdles and kick my own chain off re mounting. I squat trackside undoing the wedged chain, thinking it's on I set off. But it's not on and comes off again. Darren goes straight past. I'm still there this time calmly re fitting the chain.
Darren's gone and I have two laps to catch him. I make little inroads until the climb, where this time Darren is a little slower he is still ahead. We both get in good laps, but Darren remains ahead. Bizarrely my malfunctioning gears are helping, I can't get my easy gear for the climbs so I have to press hard meaning I'm going quicker uphill.

At the bell I'm on Darren's wheel. I match him on the climb, but for the first time all race I get to the top first. At the top I reach for the drops and hurt myself to make a gap. Now it's a case of executing a perfect lap and not slowing. I'm still ahead as we reach the last little climb before the course descends to the chequered flag. I make a bold statement to myself and choose the big ring for this last climb in readiness for a fast descent.
Job done LBRCC honours taken. Darren's right behind me and Mile's follows in soon after. I look at Darren and think I've woken a sleeping giant and that my days are about to get a little harder.

Seniors next. Neil, Ross and Mitchell. A good course for Neil a superb all rounder, nice hills for Ross. For Mitchell? not much to write home about.
As expected Neil takes an early lead. Ross is second with Mitchell third. Mitchell closes each lap, but the hill where Darren and myself fought doesn't suit him.
Neils lead grows, really grows so all of us spectators assume he has it in the bag. And our attention turns to Ross and Mitchell. Can Mitchell make it up on the technicals? Over the course of the race he comes close, but Ross manages to stay out of reach.
10/10 for style
At the bell Neil flies through. Then Ross and Mitchell.  Green corner develops to see Neil grab the win for honours. In the distance we see the distinctive flash of LBRCC green, here he comes. But hold the front page it isn't Neil it's Ross. Ross takes honours, Neil has 'gone' big time and comes in second ahead of Mitchell. Neil tells me later that he just went, as if he wasn't moving which just goes to show how much effort you put in during a race. I do feel for him, but like my race it's the big picture that counts.

Without a doubt great racing today. Emma B out for the first time. Alice also racing for the first time and coming home with a medal. Andrew and Jules really having a go. Colin racing an entire race on a flat. My ding dong with Darren. Miles racing while his body and mind were still in Holland. Neil's supreme effort. Ross's LBRCC win and Mitchells first year courage on a course that didn't have his name on it.    

Friday, 16 October 2015

Central CXL Round 2 Milton Keynes

Round two marked the first of three visits the Central League would make to the Bowl this season. And like the week before the weather was playing nice, meaning LBRCC attendance was good, though at the time of writing this (3am) I'm having trouble recalling exactly who was there! I do know that Ross and Mitchell rode seniors, Jules, Andrew and Colin were in Vet 40. And Miles, Darren, Kevin, Steve Judd and myself were in Vet 50. And hats off to Steve, one novice race and straight into the vets.
The first wave of LBRCC racers were off in V40. I literally arrived as they were getting ready to go. So before getting into my warm up routine, I loitered around to watch the early race unfold. The race order was the same as last week at RAF Halton, Jules just ahead followed by Andrew and Colin. As I said last week, it's hard to say what exactly happens in their race as all I can see is them passing me lap after lap. I can say that the race order didn't change. And I must confess I was having a little shout at Andrew watching he's re mounts. Though as it turned out he was having issues with the pedals.
Jules went on to take club honours in the category. And after the race whilst chatting with Jules a smiling Andrew came over to say he's pedals were playing up. Jules and myself looked down at the offending Eggbeaters, and I know Jules was thinking the same as me, that they weren't playing up....they were totally shagged. Seems Andrews run of bad luck wasn't going away.

So to my race, grand dads, silver surfers...oldfarts! That said it's a pretty nifty lot, probably because by the time you hit your mid fifties, most of the lets say slower boys have jacked in this racing lark. And it probably goes some way to explain why we have the Vets World Champion resplendent in he's Rainbow jersey amongst us. But hang on, one Rainbow jersey.......two Rainbow jersey's......three Rainbow Jersey's.....three Rainbow jerseys are in my race! Slightly confused, do we have three current age category World Champions here or three guys that have been World Champions?  Never mind, I'm racing with three guys that are or have been World Champions, I guess that's a top three out of the question then. On top of that throw in a few guys with international experience and I think you could call that having the ante well and truly upped.
I get a second row gridding, the others are right behind me. This seasons starts are far quicker, as in the organisers don't have you hanging about. The first key words I hear are 'you'll get the whistle in 15 seconds'. No countdown or anything fancy like that. Whistle, tear off, second foot in and hustle for the corner just metres away. It's a very tight corner that won't be used for the rest of the race, give absolutely no quarter here. Off down the only straight, a baked hard affair that you have to go hard on, your bike bounces about, but it won't break. You then hit the first climb, nice it is and topped by a bend with a hurdle thrown in. From now on we'll go up and down, straights or 'the' straight will give way to tight turns, 180's, steps and wicked off camber twisty descents.
About a third into the first lap Miles passes me, and a glance back lets me know Kevin isn't far behind. When this happens to me in a race I have to assess. Are they strong today or am I weak? are they simply being hot headed? Whatever you don't panic. Miles soon fades and I regain the LBRCC lead, Kevin however is staying at a relatively consistent distance behind. I've assessed and decided how I'll race. It's going to be about getting it right at every twist and turn. And I'll tempo up every little climb. Only the short bumpy straight and short tarmac section before the loamy climb will get my full attention. After two laps my plan has worked, the only thing I need to check on is Darren's race as he's gone past Kevin and is now the closest LBRCC rider to me. However Darren will have to do the chasing. And to make he's life harder the course is drying and my lines are getting better each lap.
Steady on the climb, coached by Keith!

I manage to keep the LBRCC lead. And soon the Rainbow jersey passes me to mark the dying seconds of the race. I go under the chequered flag feeling chuffed. Darren, Kevin, Steve and Miles come in. Darren is going to gunning for me next week.

So to seniors. Ross and Mitchell are head to head. With nowhere on this course for Mitchell to stretch his legs he is going to have a hard time keeping up with Ross, whom for 2015 it's been all about the hills. During the course of the early laps they stay fairly close to each other, but then the constant ascending takes it's toll. Ross opens up and Mitchell starts to labour, he's track style position not looking at home on the grassy slopes. It stays at about 30 seconds +/- a few. Then to my surprise Mitchell is back on Ross's wheel. It's clear though that Ross has slowed, and in fact looks in trouble. Mitchell passes and Ross actually seizes with cramp. Race on!. They disappear and we wait to see who comes out of the tree line first, it's Ross.  Ross has recovered and Mitchell can't produce another effort. Ross takes LBRCC honours.

A good finish to the days racing for the LBRCC riders. So everyone pack up and go home.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Central CXL Round 1 RAF Halton

That's entertainment

So here we are at last, at the start of the long awaited cross season. And what a turn out. Central CX League has grown both in quantity and quality, and LBRCC was in keeping with that upsurge. Thirteen LBRCC members have arrived at today's venue. Probably because this was the opener and that it had rave reviews last year. The course at RAF Halton was is a peach, and sort of has that feeling that her Majesties forces have had a hand in it's build and up keeping.
So who was there? Emma, Steve and Steve Judd in novices. Jules, Andrew, Fraser and Colin in Vet 40. Darren, Kevin, Miles and myself in Vet 50. And finally Neil, Ross and Mitchell in seniors. Present and correct and racing in that order.
Until the point Miles and myself arrived I had been feeling ner vous. However seeing so many friendly faces put me at ease. I sign on and spend and age chatting with old friends, guys I go head to head with for forty minutes, cutting and barging each other only to shake hands with afterwards. It makes me a little late until I realise my start is later than I think, new start times you see.
Miles and me pin on numbers and go for a warm up. Realising we have a while to go, we set off to watch the vet 40's racing. The guys are looking good. Jules leads, Andrew is next and Colin follows as third LBRCC rider. Fraser has had a start line issue, though at the time I thought he was living up to his own motto 'business at the front, party at the back' a mullet reference. The guys finish in that order, though Andrew hadn't been gridded as he should have, don't think he was too pleased.

We're off next, so here's my version of events. Gridding goes well as I get called up early. The other guys are called up soon after. I look over my shoulder only to see them all grinning right behind me, the course is wide so they've ended up right on my wheel. The commissaire doesn't bugger about and we soon get a fifteen second call, on the whistle we'll be off.
It goes and we're off. I get a quick clip in and get away fast, handy here as it's right hander, left hander, left hander and singletrack bang bang bang bang. It's up to the other to catch me now, still that's some pressure with forty minutes to go. A rider from behind hits my wheel and then my leg, but it's him that goes down and I hold firm, bit like riding in Belgium.
For now I concentrate on making ground, and I won't have a clue how the others are going until we complete a lap and I can judge the gap on the switchbacks.
The course is a piece of cake in these conditions. Okay a few exceptions like the deep gravel drive up to the mess, and the blast trench, a technical drop in and out that only requires you not to fall off.
One good clean lap in and it's only Kevin that I see behind me.
And so it goes. Another lap and Kevin is roughly at the same spot when we hit the switchbacks. I'm a little pressured, but then it's him that will have to do the catching up and then pass, but I have a plan already for that scenario.
Now what sounds like something from my dreams turns into a short nightmare. I find myself in the company of two fast women. They hoon past on the straight, but slow me on the turns and dips, acutely aware of Kevins mountainbike skills I expect him on my tail at any moment. Thankfully once shown the open track the two ladies are off, they're F1 and I'm smoky diesel.
He isn't upon me, in fact he's dropped back. Feeling slightly....okay, I decide to bury it on the next lap. High lines on the off cambers, in the drops in the fields, out of the saddle through the mud and dig hard on the gravel.
The bell and finish line is soon after the exit from the woods so when the bell sounds I have to wait to get to the first switchback to see if the hard work has paid off. I conclude it has. I push on realising that even if I finish a minute or more ahead it's placings that count, so I lock in on two riders to put between the two of us. Nice to fill the the gap with two Team MK riders. I get the flag, and pull over to wave the guys in. Kevin arrives, Darren follows and Mile concludes the proceedings with what looks like a XC foot race!
It's a good showing so far.
Next up are seniors. Neil, Ross and race virgin Mitchell. These guys race for twenty minutes more than us, but I couldn't give a toss I raced the hour for years, now it's their turn.
From the off Neil is away and away by a country mile, and on Colins new bike.  Ross and Mitchell are neck and neck, then Mitchell seems to get away lap by lap.
Trouble on the terraces 

The course doesn't have the terrain to suit Ross's strong points, and he struggles with his mojo. Neil is still away and carefree in the technicals. It's easy to tell he's done harder stuff during his time riding fat tyres. Mitchell has that air of a newbie that hasn't raced long enough to know what can go wrong.
And the technical's suit him. The race finishes as it had started, Neil grabs honours with Mitchell second and Ross third.

Overall a good turnout from LBRCC. Next week Steve Judd is stepping up to vet 50. And Ross I expect will be after revenge. It should be good. Andrew will have to get over his gridding cock up, it happens now and then sadly. The guys will have me in their sights, but I'll be on my home ground. Bring it on.