The cyclo-cross season’s back upon us

Ahhh – what a lovely feeling – the nights start getting longer, the mornings are dewey, and two bikes are on top of the car – we’re heading for a small parkland on the edge of a housing estate in Northwich, Cheshire, for the first race in this year’s North West Cyclo Cross series.

I won the league last year (ten races count) but won’t be going for the NW league this year because I’ve got to ride a few more national series races for Wheelbase and Gore Cycle Wear – my sponsors.

So it was a reassuring start to the season when I rode well and won the race. I should have done – on paper – because of who else was (or wasn’t) racing – but still – it’s a really satisfying feeling. Nicer still was the weather – although it was too hot for cyclo-cross racing (you don’t travel much faster than 20mph at the most so you don’t cool down with the breeze as much) it was just right for Katie and Lily to come and watch me – and cheer me on. I’ve only won two ‘cross races before this one – but this was the most special because it was the first with family watching.

A good day’s work in the north pennines

Had a great day out on the bike with my brother Phil, taking part in the 105 mile Cumberland Cycle Challenge. A challenging but rewarding route with just under 3,000 metres of ascent, based around Brampton near Carlisle. There was weather to put most Belgian cycle classics to shame – including about two hours of hard, driving rain and very strong westerly winds. The event was very well organised (by Border City Wheelers) and I enjoyed riding with Phil all day – a real luxury to spend time like that with your brother and true bonding.
In cycling terms, I was really pleased with how I felt, and it’s the start of my finishing touches to this year’s Three Peaks cyclocross training.

Injured Back


Injured Back
Originally uploaded by Dave Haygarth.

I did my back in on Monday and it bloody killed. You realise how prescious these little bones we carry about are – it affects everything I do and I would give everything to know it’s not going to happen again. I went to see an osteopath for the first time in my life because I was convinced I had done some major damage, but it was quite reassuring to know I’d get through it with a bit of time. Bang goes the training for a bit but there’s more to life. I also found out that my right leg’s a centimetre longer than my left leg, which is quite a difference – and the osteopath told me I’d probably suffer from back problems in later life compensating for that. He also told me that fell running would be better for me than road running in the circumstances because of the wider muscle groups used rather than rpeptition of the same ones. I liked him for that.

Windy Whittle Pike

Whittle Pike RaceHad the great pleasure of doing the Whittle Pike race on Wednesday evening. Whilst it’s not a towering Lakeland peak, it’s a classic fell race, incorporating the most formiddable steep climbs and descents you could manage on a relatively small Rossendale hill. There was a good field and a had a really good race – finishing thirteenth out of 112. I lost a couple of places after a nasty ankle twisting incident before a crucial ‘brakes off’ descent near the finish, but I’d done a great run and was really pleased with how fast I went. My fitness is still there even though I’m about four pounds heavier than twelve months ago.

Clitheroe Grand Prix 2006


Clitheroe Grand Prix 2006
Originally uploaded by Dave Haygarth.

The Cliitheroe Grand Prix race is on a bugger of a circuit and saps you. This year’s race was on roads wet from torrential rain. I got into the leading group of six and we made good progress – but then I crashed on a slippy hairpin bend whilst attacking the leaders. (I was a few yards off the front so didn’t bring anyone down!) and fought a frustrating battle trying to get back on to the leaders for the remaining 20 minutes. I finished 20 seconds down in between the five leaders and the unorganised chasing group. Loved the fight though.

Colne Grand Prix – hot, hot hot.

A 7pm evening crit after a mad dash from Sheffield (working) and surreal temperatures (still over 80 degrees on the start line). The race itself felt pretty fast (but that may have been the heat) and was dominated (spoilt?!) by Aire Valley RT riders protecting their sprinter and pulling back every move that went up the road. In the end, and the inevitable sprint, I was eigth, which isn’t bad for someone who’s never been able to sprint. Great race. Bitter? Moi?

Back on the road

First race on the road this year (if you don’t count a duathlon), the supporting 3rd cat and Juniors’ race for the National championships at Horwich (nr Bolton). I was disappointed a bit – I’ve got high expectations of myself – but I finished in the middle of the whittled-down bunch on a wet but fast course. Probably about 20th place – but the results will confirm that. Sprint finishes in bike races are a bit out of my territory and I was looking for a break to get into instead, but it was too fast a course with easy corners – so there wasn’t much jumping about into and out of tight bends (luckily – the roads were wet!).

Having made my excuses, I must say that I just am not up to that speed of racing yet (26.5mph) after commuting and riding steady since the last cyclo-cross race in January. I’ll get there – as I ride the races at Colne, Clitheroe and Rochdale later in the summer, but I’m going to have to ride more strongly as well as intelligently if I’m going to repeat my podium place at Colne in 2005.

The races themselves were well put together (by Horwich CC) and it’s always much more exciting racing in front of a good crowd. British Cycling’s report here.

Bart Wellens – kickboxer.

A lovely Belgian Cyclo-Cross moment when the former world champion decided it was time to retaliate against an abusive fan. Footie fans: this is a bit like the Cantona moment, but unlike a fottballer, he just carries straight on with his job afterwards. Click piccie to watch the video.

The Fred Whitton Challenge – the ups and downs of cycling

I had a great time in the Fred Whitton Challenge. I think it’s probably the hardest shorter distance cycle ‘sportive’ in the country – there are a few 300km rides and such like but they’re for nutters… but the Fred Whitton ride is, in summary:

A ride over all of the (tarmac) Lakeland passes.
114 miles
Approx 4,100 metres of ascent and descent
Very polular (500 plus riders)

I did a respectable ride and finished in 6 hours 38 minutes. I was the 34th finisher from 516 finishers (and quite a few more starters), and was pretty pleased with the result. I’ve never been a good climber so the challenge was always going to be interesting for a 13 stoner. I used the right gears (39 tooth chainring on the front and a bottom gear of 32 teeth on the back). The tiny gears seemed ridiculous at first but as soon as I hit Honister Pass at 48 miles I knew they were a wise choice. Quite a number of people had underestimated the steepness of the climbs and were in for quite a bit of pushing the bike and a long day in (and out of) the saddle.

Fred Whitton ChallengeThe climbs of Newlands Pass (after the first feed at Buttermere) and then Whinlatter Pass were both rhythm climbs which suited me much better than the uneven gradients of the others. I had a good leg from there to the final feed at Gosforth (86 miles). Going on from Gosforth I was starting to get into dodgy territory – the gorgeous surroundings of the lower Eskdale valley were no distraction from the worry I was about to cramp up. I saw the zig zags of the one-in-three climb of Hard Knott pass (101 miles and the highest point on the ride) dotted with people pushing bikes ahead of me and was resigned to a tough climb.

However, to my surprise, riding on my own, I managed to get into some sort of a rhythm and, apart from the stench of burning clutches from all the slow passing cars around me, I felt surprisingly comfortable. The descent of Hard Knott is viscious – with no time to look at the views, and constant braking as you screech down the staircase-like hairpins. The Fred Whitton Challengefinal climb of Wrynose pass is a mere two miles up the valley and I had no problems with my easy gear on the easier side of this high pass. I’d ridden this side of Wrynose with Richard (Hannaford) in 2005 on a bottom gear of 42-23, so I knew I’d be fine.

The final run-in is deceptive, and with about 600 feet of climbing over to Coniston is not to be sniffed at after 107 miles. Still – with so many mountain passes in the bag it was an easy spin and a lovely power ride over the last couple of miles.

Links:
Results 2006
Official website
Blogs of note:
Mark Wilson, Southport CC (2003)
Mike Inder (2005)
Someone from Thames Velo (2003)

Time for some sport reports

Haven’t had much sporty stuff on the blog for a bit – time for an update about what I’ve been up to and why I can’t walk faster than a snail’s pace today.

I had a pretty good run in the Three Peaks Race yesterday. It’s not the hilliest fell race there is but at almost 24 miles it’s a hard, hard endurance event. I’m sure there are tougher things to do, but it’ll do me for now. Key headline is that I finished ten minutes quicker than my first one (last year), with a time of 3hrs 44:59(click for split times). My cycling team mate Rob Jebb won for the second year running with 2:54:15 – a four minute improvement on 1995. Somehow, because of a stronger field, I guess, I finished five places further down the field than last time….

The story.
Managed to prepare pretty well but the main worry was that I’d been cycling a bit more than I should have been. There’s not much substitution for running as training for this distance, with the 4,500 feet of climbing and (importantly) hard descending. The main ‘lesson’ I took with me from 2005 was to go out a bit more gently and leave plenty in the tank for the finishing 10 miles. That said, I somehow managed to get up the first mountain, Penyghent, two and a half minutes quicker than 2005. Ooops.

The long stretch after descending the fast track from the summit didn’t seem to take its toll too much – I reached Ribblehead knowing that I hadn’t over-stretched myself a full five minutes quicker than last time. Although I improved on every split, things just got so much harder after Ribblehead. I was starting to get very tight calf muscles (all than non-running training!) and the decline in my wellbeing was compounded by a nasty fall on an innocuous bit of rocky track next to the Settle-Carlisle railway. A lamb ran out in front of me and I just caught a rock with my left toe and went straight down in a heap. Sitting there for 30 seconds or so I was in quite a bit of pain, but made what was to be the right decision in getting up and seeing how I felt. Three or four minutes of limping and nursing a bit of a bloody knee was all it took before it soon mingled in with the rest of the pain and got pushed from my mind.

From the summit of Whernside, the highest and steepest part of the race, I started down the next descent a little bit more cautiously. Partly because of the fall, and partly because of the nagging signs of cramp in my calf muscles. I had a nasty spasm of cramp that I quickly dealt with by belting it with my fist (!), then continued down the steep track, fingers crossed that all the flat tonic water I’d drunk during the race (quinnine reduces cramp, apparantly) was working.

By the time I reached the Hill Inn (the last point you can logically pack in!) I knew I was going to get back in one piece, but had to slow my pace – drastically, to keep the cramp at bay – in would have stopped me dead in my tracks and I knew it – so I had to be wise and mentally strong in letting people run past me. The competitive urge is hard to overcome, but I was right to lay off for a bit. The climb of Ingleborough was satisfying – the end’s almost in sight and although there’s an attrition on the legs that you can’t describe unless you’ve experienced it – you know you’ve done it.

The four mile descent back to Horton in Ribblesdale is a bit of a cruel one. The gradient is gentle, but an uneven path surface is cruel on tired legs and aching feet. Again, I had to let people pass me, knowing that if I tried to stay with them, I’d be rolling on my back in the side of the path with cramp for five minutes. The final false-flat passes excruciatingly slowly, then, ‘you bloody beauty’ – I can see the road only a few hundred yards ahead.

After I came over the line I got a great hug from Lily and it was ace to have some family in support. I really seized up afterwards and have been hobbling about for 24 hours since. Well worth it though.

Mates
Matthew (Pixton) defeated his demons, having had to pack in 2005, and overcame some horrible cramp to finish in 4 hrs 49 – will “never do it again” (my words, 2005 – maybe he’s got more conviction than me though!). Carl (Nelson) was not so lucky at his first attempt and blisters got the better of him. His long walk down from Whernside to the bus back to safety added insult to injury. Mike (Cottrill) soldiered round in 5:03 – a hard day out, but got a good finish under his belt.
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