Singletrack Magazine article on Cyclocross

Singletrack MagazineFinally got my hands on a nice little article about Cyclocross from Singletrack magazine that they published in February this year, with a quote from me in (I didn’t write the ‘Top 10 UK racer’ bit by my name!!)

Click here to read in PDF format. Also features some great Geoff Waugh pics.

If you’re from Singletrack Magazine and are reading this, yes – I’m probably breaking some copyright rules here. But the link was free, eh? Here’s another.

In Readiness

My previous post on the Three Peaks Cyclocross blog seemed to make out that it was not about the bike or the gear, but more about the training and fitness. I stand by this in general, but there’s a middle-ground – it’s about all-round readiness.

I’ve been training ‘late’ this year – deliberately (so as not to go insane) and it’s all coming together now really – I got myself a decent base fitness that (only really this week) has turned into what I’d call ‘training’. By training I mean doing things unenjoyable and seemingly unrewarding that hurt and in which time stands still. Hill reps, sprint reps… it’s not really enjoying the outdoors (or indoors, on the flipping turbo flipping trainer), but it serves a purpose I suppose.

With this ‘switch’ to training I’m reminded of two things:

1. There’s no training like racing
If you’re in need of pushing yourself really hard, then you can never do that as well as in a race. Whilst I’ve managed to keep myself going with a few crits on the roads this summer, I haven’t raced since the first week of August. That’s nagging at me. This weekend at the Grizedale Mountain bike Challenge I’ll get that racing feeling again for about 3 hours. Whilst it’s technically not a ‘race’ – but simply riding your bike against hundreds of other people as fast as you can over the same course (!) – it’ll still give me that welcome indicator of what it feels like to really push hard one and two hours into something. You just can’t do that in training (or at least I can’t).

2. The fun is in the result, not the process.
I’m not alone in not enjoying hill reps – if you enjoy them, you’re a mentalist – face it. However, a quote that Chris Boardman rolled out a few times during his successful cycling days always comes to mind… something about getting satisfaction from something but not enjoying it. The satisfaction comes from knowing I’m training my weaknesses. There’s little else to train – if you train your strengths, you’re not really getting better.

Back to my initial thoughts… about the balance between ‘gear’ and training. It’s all got to come under the same roof or ‘readiness’ or ‘preparation’. Two lovely new Cannondale cyclocross frames came into my possession last week thanks to the best bike shop in the world and I take almost as much satisfaction from seeing those built up and sitting in the garage ready for action as I do riding them. The special care that goes into getting the bike(s) ready for the 3 peaks is part of the process. Training, building, tweaking, peaking. It’s the readiness thing.

Fridays in Helmshore – our own little Helwith Bridge

We’ve had a bit of a gathering in Helmshore, Lancs (where I live) the last couple of Friday lunchtimes. It’s amazing how many people who ride the three peaks are within a few miles of here and it made sense to get a few of them together to share the pain of my fairly regular ‘simulation sessions’.

I’ve got a ‘course’ of about 1.3 miles that is a fairly good simulator of Ingleborough – the un-runnable grassy climb, peaty unridable jog, fast-ish but tricky grassy descent – it’s not bad and certainly helps technique.

So Mark Solomon (first timer this year), Matthew Pixton and Carl Nelson (multiple finishers!), Alan Dorrington (Cyclocross Connoisseur and former top ten in the ‘Peaks) and Jason Miles (long distance looney – clue’s in the surname, and finished first ‘peaks last year) and I have all met up over the last couple of Fridays and hammered ourselves up and over Bull Hill a few times.

It’s bringing a new dimension to it to me – subtly making the social aspect of this special race spread itself that little bit further.

-Next Friday’s the final one – details here on UKCyclocross if anyone else local fancies it…

Links to some of these Titans of Cyclocrossery:
Jason Miles
Alan Dorrington

Steve Riley: “the bemused looking bloke, trying to work the shifters”

First timer Steve Riley is under no illusions about the venture he’s setting out on later this September… even though he’s given himself the luxury of things like gears.

So I was thinking why on earth would anyone want to read about an ordinary bloke trying an extraordinary event? Of course, the answer’s in the question. I’m an ordinary bloke, one that makes too much noise on the internet, and the Three Peaks is clearly an extraordinary event. So clearly bonkers, that no race in the country is quite like it. Heck, the world maybe, I don’t know….

Read more on Steve’s blog – furiouscycling.

September’s mismatch

Guest Blog Post from Alan Dorrington:

Less than one calendar month till the 3 Peaks but my conflict has been in full swing for some time now – normal cross vs Peaks. Whilst the Peaks is cross, it certainly isn’t cross as we know it, Jim. It is utterly unique, combining skills sets that borrow heavily not just from cross but from mountain biking, fell running, even time trialling…… The struggle is in training for a one-off 4+hr (for me) event with all these skills when, as a cross obsessive, the calendar is demanding concentration on a sub 1 hr blast over relatively amenable parkland surfaces.

I was attracted to the Peaks from a cyclocross background – back in the early 90s when I first came across the race it seemed it was something that you did as part of your cross season. Why? Because most others did as well. Since then, the Peaks has welcomed mountainbikers, runners, road riders, adventure racers and more to the party and it no longer feels the sole preserve of the cyclocross community. And it is all the better for it.

I enjoyed relative success in my first Peaks in 1991, ending up 14th and 1st newbie. No course recces, no prior knowledge – just some useful tips and mentoring from Zodiac clubmates and Peaks stalwarts, Keith Broadbent, Ian Small and Neil Orrel. A year later, forewarned and forearmed, I improved to 10th. But that is where it finished – the following year was a DNF and it was 12 or so years before I started cycling again, re-entered the Peaks, only to DNF again. Must try harder…..

Reflecting the other day on those rides in the early 90s, I realised what a long way the Peaks has come, and in many ways how much ‘bigger’ a race it has become. Looking at the standard of rider required to finish in the top 10 these days, it has become clear that as more Peakistas have come along to join the ranks of the out and out crossers, that the standard has shot up – particularly in terms of the depth of the field. Put it like this, nowadays there are some very talented riders (myself definitely not included!) finishing outside the top 10. This is not to take away from the acheivements of former winners like Tim Gould and Fred Salmon who were winning impressively around the time I was riding, nor others competing at that time. However, the race simply has got harder, in my view. Call that the Jebb effect, or call it what you like!

I’m back to ride the Peaks again this year, after a slightly chequered relationship over the last few years. The draw is there, strong as ever as the race exerts a unique pull over its participants. For me it manifests itself as a combination of fear and excitement, as it is never a race to be taken lightly, but one which rewards particpants more than any ‘mere’ cross race. And the conflict? Whilst the first cross race of the season is under our belts here in the NW, and the need for turbo sessions of short intervals all very well, they are of little use when staggering up Simon Fell whilst you fight for grip underfoot. Peaks specific training is where it is at right now and where you’ll find me over the next few weeks leading up to the 27th, lugging my bike up and down the local fells, trying to harden up that right shoulder. See you at the end of September!

Gears and gear

Despite being at this game since 1995, I still can’t help but want to tweak with gear in the hope that there might be some ‘holy grail’ of equipment / setup that I’ve missed out on.

I’ve gleaned lots of valuable knowledge in the numerous events I’ve ridden – like anyone who does the race a few times. The early ones were more experimental and gradually you work your way into knowing what works for you. The problem this year is that I seemed to have forgotten that and started reinventing my particular three peaks wheel.

Shimano gearsThis time, it was the gears. I’ve acquired a Mountain bike this year after a gap from MTBs for a few years. It goes well and I love the setup. So being a three peaks junkie I inevitably started to ask myself if there was anything I could learn from this year’s MTB riding. Mistake number 1… I’ll explain why:

Having decided that – being in the lucky position of having three cross bikes – I was going to radically adapt my ‘Ingleborough and Penyghent’ bike. Given how hard the Penyghent climb is after a good dowsing in Ingleborough and Whernside, I seem to struggle on gearing, not being able to turn over the rather small 34-27 bottom gear I’ve used there for the last two editions of the race. So the ‘logic’ is to build up a bike with an easier gear. Given that I’m on 10 speed – and hence limited to 27 on the back – my only real option was to look at a smaller front chainring. Out comes the MTB triple chainset. I was starting to get quite chuffed about my choice of gears… it made sense… on paper. 28-27 would really help in those dire moments on Penyghent… wouldn’t it?

Well… no, actually. You see, I’ve been here before. If there was a medal for riding as much of the course as possible, maybe I’d look into gears as the solution, but yesterday on a long, hard, off road day out, experimenting with my new luxurious gear, it came back to me very quickly. Having a smaller gear just makes you travel slower. The three peaks is a race. Damn. I recalled Penyghent last year, and also recalled a battle with Philip Hinchliffe who eventually finished one place ahead of me. We hit the start of Penyghent together and I was envious of his triple chainset – but by the summit – despite his riding where I could only walk – we crested within 20 seconds of each other. That’s just it really – his more ride-able gear took him up the hill no faster than my walk / jog / push / carry approach.

That’s the hardest bit about coming to terms with this equipment experimentation – I know in my heart of hearts that the training is what’s required. That requires time – not money or technical know-how. Hey ho. The bike now has it’s standard gear on and it’s back to the training. Until the next bright idea.