Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Grinning of the Cheshire Cat

I had quite a fun day out on the road bike this Sunday. Iceni Velo, Norwich's finest cycling club had a mass exodus up to Cheshire to ride one of the most popular sportives in the UK. This was only going to be a training ride for me, and it was also my girlfriend's first ever 100 mile ride.

Considering we did our first road ride together in mid January which was only 30 miles to Aylsham and back (with a beans on toast stop off at her parents), and Rachel was destroyed by the two little hills coming into Spixworth. So to complete the Cheshire Cat a few months later is pretty hardcore in my book. Rachel's training was a mixture of increasingly long rides at the weekends (initially just 30 miles, 50, 60, then finally an 80 miler just 2 weeks before the event). During the week, she was doing either spin class, and 4 weeks leading into the event, we did a 2 week intervals torture session. Starting off with 20 minute efforts, then incrementally increased them over 2 weeks until it was 15-30 seconds of flat out sprinting with 2 minutes rest.

I had looked at the route map leading into the event, and could see that the first 40 miles or so was "pesky", then it flattened out after that. I didn't quite get a picture of just how much climbing there would be! My objective was to get up Mow Cop. For months people had been telling me to get either a compact chainset or a dinner plate cassette to get up it. I opted for a rare approach and just did specific training ;) Interestingly, a lot of riders I know seem to be immune to scientifically proven forms of training and use the "just riding" method. It's a brilliant way to remain at exactly the same level year in year out.

So Mow Cop hit us after just 15 miles. You go over a railway crossing, and the gradient starts to ramp up. The road twists round to the left, passing some trees, as the steepness really starts to bite. There were already "riders" getting off and pushing their bikes at this point. But I just kept turning the pedals, feeling the affects of my training (steady, measured 50-60rpm efforts). At one point, I got out of the saddle to make it a little easier, and the back wheel started to lose traction! We've all had this happen on loose terrain whilst mountain biking, but on a dry road - it was a little unnerving. I decided to keep my backside on the saddle. Once round the corner, the road started to ease off a bit. Rachel was doing well, and even seemed to be leaving me behind! She had been suffering from a chronic knee problem in the week leading up to the event, and wasn't sure if it would handle Mow Cop. So far so good! I eased off the pace on the slightly easier section and took it as a "recovery". Ahead, we could see all the crowds of spectators waiting to see the faces of pain as riders try to get up the 25% section past the pub. From the distance, it really didn't look too bad. But as you get closer, you see "the wall". But, I kept relaxed, and plugged away. I even switched to a higher gear, so I had somewhere to go. This was it - do or die! With the taste for the medal at the top, I was keen. So was Rachel. She said she wasn't too worried if she didn't get the medal, but her only concern was if she stopped, she might mess up someone else's chances of getting one. But so far, we were both going strong.

Then the 25% kicks in. I have never ridden so slow on a road bike! Got a few metres up. I kept myself clear of people in front, in case someone stopped. Then a clatter!! *Someone* fell off in front of me. Opps! Having pushed my legs this hard, I wasn't planning on stopping. On the 25% section, I was getting wheel spins whilst IN THE SADDLE! One section of the road was smoother than the others - didn't hang around on that too long! The road didn't just flatten out, it eased off to something closer to 10% and you had to still ride through it in order to qualify for the medal, but the work was done. The only problem was avoiding the spectators. Kinda felt like Alpe D'Huez in July :)

After Mow Cop, we had some very steep descents, then back on to a set of hills, a feed station just in time to get the energy to tackle Gun Hill. Made famous by recent editions of the Tour of Britain.

The views were stunning and I even have tan lines to remind me of how good the weather was. Highlight of the day for me was seeing Jodrell Bank Observatory, had wanted to see that for a while and didn't know it was on the route.

It was fun, but for some reason, I still prefer playing in the mud.
Monday, 19 March 2012

Famous last words

With last weeks closing words berrating my hill climbing abilities fresh in my mind it was with a small amount of fear that I agreed to join LOCO engineering’s Gareth Hayes and Johnny Williams on one of Gareth’s infamous Margham/Afan rides, the last time I rode with these two was up in the lake district in January and it would be fair to say that we were fairly evenly matched – Gareth has had a winter spent training hard, and I well, haven’t. It was going to be an interesting ride for sure…

Bright and early we set out from a small village that I cannot pronounce, after a week of trepidation the weather was actually looking good for once (I think we got rained on once in 8 hours which has to be a record for Wales…). Having lived in the area I roughly knew what to expect but too long spent in the flatlands of Bristol has obviously made me soft...

57 miles, just under 3000 meters of climbing and a whole bag of Haribo just went to prove how soft I have become, something tells me I should be spending a bit more time in Gods own country from now on!
Monday, 12 March 2012

Wentwood 50k Race Report

Honestly that was one of the best events I have done for ages, the combination of warm sunny weather and one of the best endure courses this side of the channel and it was bound to be a bit special.  Being just over the water between Chepstow and Newport meant a nice (relativity) lazy start for me, the 10.30 start meant we had time to waste in Ian’s Dropoff bus, although the bacon and egg butty would come back to haunt me it was certainly exactly what was needed at the time…

Lining up near the front of the line with Rickie Cotter and last years joint fastest rider (The sprint finish was agreed to be a dead heat by all involved) Bikeshed Wales’ Simon Smith I was a little concerned as to whether I had the legs to be this far up – glancing back down the country road it was clear that being any further back would have involved some rather enthusiastic overtaking before having a clear run at the descents. As the gun went off the sun broke through the clouds and a long and rather fast spin up through the village ensued, within a mile or so all the riders had strung out with Si and the Torq boys charging off into the distance and me playing cat and mouse with the following group, catching them on anything that wasn’t a hill (mental note. Must do some hill reps)

Petty soon the tarmac broke away and we were on to some of the nicest single-track this part of the world had to offer, being fairly near the front I had a pretty much unimpeded run at most of it, the new Planet X Dirty Harry frame being thrown from line to line with very little complaint. The size of the event meant that some very nice and quite cheeky trails could be used, something that I think can be lacking from some of the larger event – this did mean you had to stay on your toes making sure to catch all the signage arrows (More than once we would take different lines only to re-emerge at the same spot) but as far as I’m concerned this is how mountain biking should be!

Just over three hours later I rolled back into the carpark, most race courses you can look back on saying you enjoyed it; this is one of the few where you couldn’t help but whoop and holler on the way round – I don’t want to go into detail about every thing that will stick in my mind simply because id be here all day! Suffice to say it’s already in my diary for next year and I think it should be in yours to.

The official photos should be out soon but just to give you a taste of what it was like - heres an image from last years event...

Two things that became very apparent during the race is how fast the Harry is when climbing, and how good the brakes are – the new hope evo’s are absolutely stunning even with the 160 rotors and bigger wheels. The other and slightly more worrying thing is that I seem to have lost some of my hillclimbing nouse, I’m blaming not living in Wales anymore although some might say it’s the lack of time in the saddle…

Next big race will be the Gorrick 100 in may although before that I have a charity 24hr ride taking in the whole of the Wessex way, that’s now a little under three weeks away, to say were a bit unprepared would be putting it politely but knowing the lads like I do I’m confident we’ll pull through, ill be putting some words down about that soon so watch this space!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A week of christenings

Well its here, and by golly is it light…  A Planet X Dirty Harry frame with full XO and some spangly bontrager scandium wheels was never going to be heavy but even I was surmised when the Mud Dock scales registered a scant 23lbs!  First ride was last Sunday around the wilds of Cambridge a combination of back roads and bridleways proving just how fast a lightweight 29er can be!  Tuesday evening saw her maiden off road voyage and again rapid is a very apt word, taking Ashton court and various other local bits in her stride only really getting over faced at the things you really shouldn’t take a 23lb carbon hardtail down.  Oh and she’s been christened ‘Faline’ after Bambi’s girlfriend…

Working in Glouster is giving me a very nice commute back down to Bristol, ranging from 35 to 60 odd miles depending on which way, the one constant is the headwind – I’ve named her Harriet. I don’t like Harriet. She is however is giving me a good workout which to be honest with the shocking amount of miles ive been getting in of late I need!  Im supposed to be racing on Sunday at Wentwood (Just outside Newport), I say racing its more likely to be a lesson in how busy/lazy/pathetic ive been. Oh well whats the worst that can happen!

Ill let you know how it goes ;-)

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