Cyclocross National Trophy round 4, Mallory Park

Things seem to be going along fine for me in the big cyclocrosses this year; nothing stunning happening but I feel that little bit stronger than last year and my training’s a bit more focused and targeted.

The Mallory Park venue has mixed memories for me; in 2006, I had just about my worst ever cyclocross race and started to question what I was doing it all for. In the 2007 race there I revelled in the filthy and freezing conditions to finish 24th and really chuffed not to be lapped by the flying foreigners at the race.

This year’s was a great new course with a series of really awkward adverse cambers and a sticky, wet grass course that became much more adhesive as the day wore on. I had a slightly dicky start, with someone hooking up their bike to my spokes, and as a result had a bit of a battle trying to pass a few people on the first lap. This in turn sent me into a bit of strength debt and I only settled in about ten mins into the race.

I stayed upright and rode well. The Cannondale CX9 was just a dream once again and I decided not to change bikes, as the mud was keeping out of my gears, etc.

The only down side was that I was lapped on the final lap by the French race winner who was on a bit of a flyer. Finishing @1 lap is never a nice feeling. I’m looking forward to being the one who’s doing the lapping next year again when i start to ride the NW trophy races again.

Results and British Cycling report here.

Cyclocross National Trophy 2008 round 3, Chantry Park, Ipswich

For the third year running, the National Trophy went to this rolling park on the western side of Ipswich, and my experiences there have been mixed. Thankfully, this was the best year for me and I’m in no doubt as to why; this year, we were given the gift of mud.

The course is so different in the slippy mud and although last year’s was slimey on much of the course, this year’s was a gloopy test on all of the course. Although I’m in no danger of rising up the ranks to take a surprise top ten or anything, I know what I like and what my riding style likes, and it’s brown, sticky and wet.

The course also had some interesting new features this year; a run-up with some makeshift steps (way too high each step but a nice thought!) and even a fancy bridge so the course could do a neat figure-eight in the paddock area.

I finished 23rd after a truly shocking start. The woods are a bit narrow and I was brought off on the first lap and then made my own errors panicking may way back up the field, meaning I was down in 35th or so after a lap. Once I settled in though, I started to make my way gradually past people and really enjoyed the course and the day out.

British Cycling’s report here.

Cyclocross National Trophy 2008 Round 2: Bicton Arena, Devon

CyclocrossI’m a bit late in blogging this; I should apologise really – I’ve been working… a truly dreadful thing and I really ought to get my priorities right.

The 2008 national trophy series got underway in really bad style the other week in Abergavenny as documented; I was determined that the next round – with the three peaks out of the way – was going to make amends. Bicton Arena was a really long travel and necessitated the only cycling night away from the family, which is a bit of a chore, and I spent all of the run-up to the event thinking that it better bloody well be worth the travelling and expoense for a one hour race.

It was. The course was just great – a true mix of most good things in cyclocross barring some stepped run ups and a sand pit! The sandy mud dried out as we raced and after 40 minutes it started to really get sticky, so I needed to change the bike once. The change was worth it and I put in a big spurt towards the last two laps as a result of the clean gears.

I finished 25th overall which, with two good foreign riders, meant pretty much near my best in any National Tropy race. This is a relief after the Three Peaks which has previously left me a bit flat in the faster traditional cyclocross races.

To add to the day being overall worthwhile, it was brill to see Phil’s whole family and have the boys cheer on uncle Dave and Phil advising me to pull my finger out. Great to have some support – it really boosts you. Add to this the fact that Phil took some really ace pics of my and the whole race, and it was a great day with a great momento to boot.

View a slideshow of my fave selected snaps of the day here – thanks Phil!

2008 Three Peaks Cyclocross

I had a great day out yesterday doing the event that I go through in my head for 364 days of the year. In my sporting life, it’s the absolute pinnacle of the year. I essentially had a ‘clean run’ with no punctures, indeed no mechanicals whatsoever to talk of. A first, I think.

The dry ground was a bit of a surprise. A recce ten days before had left me thinking it was going to be a soggy, hard day out. The speed at which everything dried out with no rain at all during those ten days was quite a shock.

For the second time, I used a three-bike strategy that worked really well for me. Having some faster, more expensive and more fragile carbon wheels for the road sections gave me a lovely break from the utilitarian and a bit sluggish Maxxis Locust tyres that cope so well with the rocky parts of the course. Tolly and Simon were great with the changeovers and it’s so reassuring to know that if something did go wrong, there’s a bike and helper not too far away.

The detail
Peloton in HortonIn near perfect conditions 446 riders set out all together in an enormous, stretched out bunch from Helwith Bridge at 9:45 exactly. The unmistakable sound of Roger Ingham announcing the race was approaching sent a shiver down my spine – I’ve been here so many times before but I was very, very edgy, and was finding it hard to turn the pedals. When we’d done two of the 3.3 miles ‘escorted’ road section, my GPS told me that we’d averaged almost 25mph. The neutralised section was, thankfully, not very neutralised, as the speed helped to keep the riders strung into a longer, thinner bunch.

By the time we reached the ‘proper’ start at Gill Garth, I was struggling to stay in contact with the front of the race. I was feeling decidedly sick and not at all comfortable. In my heart of hearts, I knew that this was nerves, and just had to keep myself plugging away. I was in around 60th place as we got onto the first open field and onto the fell. I was feeling slightly better but my pride was dented and I had to bide my time and just get over it.

As the climb of Simon Fell got ever steeper, I managed to start picking my way slowly through people. I started to feel much more like my normal self as we re-mounted on the slow terrain on the ridge to the North of Ingleborough. I reached the summit checkpoint not knowing where on earth I was placed, but feeling like I had my work cut out to better my previous best position of 15th (in 2006). A later found that I was 30th over the top, (thanks to the excellent electronic event timing!).

I consolidated on the descent taking a number of places from people who are clearly better at running up hills than riding down them (thank the lord for such people). By the first bike change at Cold Cotes, I was feeling pretty good, and linked up with Keith Murray (a good reliable workhorse) and someone who’d had to run quite a bit of the Ingleborough descent and was in no mood for working. Keith and I were spurred on to try and make contact with Stu Bowers, who we could see just ahead (and did just catch at the foot of Whernside).

Simon made his first ever bike change for me(!) at Chapel le Dale and soon I was dismounted and alternating between running and walking up the steepening path of Whernside. By the summit, I was starting to get the first feeling of fatigue in my legs. I’d been going for 1 hr 45ish and had averaged 170bpm on the heart rate monitor, so it was okay to start feeling tired… I just had to keep fluids and minerals coming into my body and not over-exert myself.

The track over the summit ridge was pretty much as it has been for a few years now. Fast and with good traction, it’s one of the areas of the course where a good climber will make up some ground. Not being a good climber, I managed to limit my losses and kept the cadence pretty high on the bike, and hit the summit 21 seconds ahead of me. I soon made this up on Keith who was going through a bit of a doddery moment on the top part of the descent (we all have them!). We headed down together catching once again those nimble little fell runners who descend like the light boys that they are. (I’m just jealous of their weight!). I took a dramatic trip over the bars and enjoyed an incredibly soft landing at one of the gnarlier parts of the descent, but when i looked back, it seemed that Keith had gone the same way – he was nowhere to be seen. I had to plough on to Ribblehead making the most of my fairly good speed on the flatter, faster dry mud track.

As I dropped down to the viaduct and headed up to my bike change (thanks again, Simon and the lovely Katie), I made contact with two other riders for the valuable load-sharing on the fast road section to Horton in Ribblesdale. I pulled ahead of Phil Hinchliffe and Steven Macinnes inadvertently (I didn’t want to be on my own on the road!) so managed a quick banana and a good slurp on my Science in Sport ‘Go’ drink in the bottle, before being rejoined by them and we shared the work fairly well on the way into Horton, where Tolly was waiting for me with the bike for Penyghent.

Another smooth change and I was on my way up the rocky scar road. It was nice to spot Andy Rushforth snapping away. I was unsure whether he’d be out and about as he had some visitors over, but it’s great that he found the time and got a great set of pics, as usual. The climb of Penyghent seemed pretty much as I expected. I kept a sensible cadence up making the most of my bottom gear of 34 x 27, and didn’t panic when I quickly lost contact with Steven Macinnes, who clearly was going to climb way better than me. I stayed with Phil Hinchliffe on the climb and kept alternating between a walk and a run up the evenly graded track. I surprised myself a couple of times with how fresh my legs felt when I ran, but fatigue was quick to catch up and I had to walk every so often.

It was great to see Rob’s lead looking so utterly unassailable, and also a good morale boost to see that Lewis and Stu had both had seemingly good rides. Things had gone with form and it was reassuring in many ways to see Stuart ahead of me again after his dreadful ride in 2006. He’s a quality rider and as a team mate I genuinely share in their success. Talking of team mates, Damian Smith – relatively new to Team Wheelbase and an unknown quantity to me was closing in and only ten seconds or so behind me by the summit of Penyghent. I have appearances to keep up and needed to get down there pronto. On top of that, I was under the impression (misguided as it happened) that I might have been on for tenth spot if I got my backside down there quickly.

I went off like a bull in a china shop down the fast top bit of the descent. A few hairy moments but I was seemingly getting away with things, but I suddenly hit the deck whilst trying to overtake Ian Taylor – a fellow seasoned three peaks campaigner. I took a daft line and lost my front wheel down a pothole. I was quickly back on and caught Ian again before we hit the scar track, where I later found out he punctured.

I was in no mood to slow down now so near the finish. I took the track recklessly and paid the price when I took a high line way too fast and caught my front wheel on a rock. I went down hard and fast and my shoulder took a pounding. Adding insult to injury, I went into immediate cramp and had to nurse my hamstrings as I tried to retain my disturbed momentum. Not a good moment. I was a bit shaken and sore from the cramp now. The easiest bit of the descent followed, but my flow was well and truly broken and Phil Hinchliffe caught me near to the bottom.

Descent of PenyghentWith cramp a clear and present danger, I made the decision not to change bikes in Horton for the last couple of miles. Despite my best efforts, it caught up with me as it did three years ago on the otherwise fast and easy run in to Helwith Bridge. I had to let go of the valuable wheel in front of me and swore very very loudly as I was unable to move my legs in any cohesive way. Watching someone just ride away from you after a hard day out is soul destroying. What made matters worse was that I could see Phil cramping up 100 metres ahead, but as I recovered, so did he. I was once again strong again to close the gap but it was too late, and I rolled in a couple of seconds down in what turned out to be 13th position.

The time was good enough for a PB after eleven finishes in the event – shaving a fairly healthy 4 mins 59 seconds (irritating, huh?), coming in in 3:22:24.

Related Links
My Three Peaks Cyclocross Blog
Official Results 2008 (Detailed Results incl Checkpoint times)
British Cycling’s event report
My 2006 blog of the event
My 2005 blog of the event