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 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...