3 Peaks cyclocross 2015: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

Photo by Adrian Nichols / SportSunday.co.uk

I’ve never read The Tale of Two Cities but that incredibly well-known opening line from a novel sums up my 2015 3 Peaks.

Okay – it wasn’t quite the worst of times – far from it – but when things are going really well, it seems to emphasise the problems when they come. And they came. But more on that later. I wanted to gather thoughts whilst fresh in my head as usual. The next few days will be absorbed with the 3 Peaks just like the previous few weeks have been, but it’s good to write these things down whilst they’re fresh on my mind. Continue reading “3 Peaks cyclocross 2015: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times””

Time Trialling: Ten Years Gone

Circuit of the Dales

It’s almost exactly ten years since my last time trial. I had ups and downs in my against-the-clock racing between the ages of 17 and 33, but on an April Sunday in 2003, I rode the local Hilly Time Trial (the now defunct Circuit of Holcombe) and didn’t realise quite how long I’d be hanging my time trialling wheels for.

Ten Years After: I’m going Home

A lot have changed in that ten years; fairly obviously, I guess. Now ten-year-old Lily was literally a babe in arms then. Cycling-wise, I’ve also had a bit of a late thirties flourish in cyclo-cross, in my own relative terms, and ten full years off time trialling I must admit I’d started to get a wee bit intrigued about how it all would feel again to ride against the clock…. so I entered a race that had always taken my fancy – for several years – the Circuit of the Dales. Reasonably steeped in history (since about 1980), it’s a tough course and an event that takes place within spitting distance of Kirkby Lonsdale (where mum lives) and Ingleton (where Katie’s parents live). It’s also, dare I say it, within eye shot of three rather special ‘peaks’ of the Yorkshire Dales. If I was going to time trial again, it may as well be a special one.

Surprise, surprise, there was little fun to be had. Despite the spring finally turning up just in time and that nagging easterly wind finally taking a break, even in chilly spring sun (1°C at the start) it still felt pretty heavy weather. A ‘big push on the back’ start at the top end of Ingleton gives you such flattery for five miles or so to Tunstall. It’s downhill, and I think I even sensed a tailwind… but those things never last. The psychological damage kicked in at Greta Bridge, where you start climbing the Lune Valley. For ages. The roads feel like ‘I should be doing 25mph’ but the actually are ‘I’m struggling to do 21mph’ roads. Luckily, a few rises and falls make this bearable, and changes in rhythm are welcome in this sort of a race (well, for me).

It’s a real relief to start the first ‘real’ climb, from Sedbergh over Garsdale Head. Not that I’m a climber (especially a stone over my September weight) but it’s nice to have something to get your teeth into other than energy-sapping should-try-harder drags and false flats. Though the climb lasted 29 minutes, it was a reasonably ‘fast’ climb (I rode the 800 feet of climbing and 9.8 miles at an average of 18.9mph), but it was a climb. You knew where you stood. You had to ride uphill. That was less psychological torture than the Lune Valley.

The uppy downy descent to Hawes is basically one long anticipation of what’s to come. With only 1,000 feet of climbing over 6 miles, the drag over to Ingleton is rarely steep, but tired legs make it that much worse. I rode a lot with a heart rate monitor in my former time trialling days in the 90s, abd today it was of really good use. It’s so hard to go too hard for a bit (then pay) or lose focus and let the effort drop, 2 and a bit hours into racing flat out, but riding on your HRMs guide is really useful on drags like that.

I’m going home, to see my babe

It was nice to see a few people out chivvying me along… Phil, Angus and Mum predictably chanting ‘Good Boy’ near Casterton and Middleton, and Katie with Jean and the girls at Ribblehead, but strangely, on an innocuous streth of hell, almost 1,400 feet up, it was warm to get a shout from photographer Adrian Nicholls of SportSunday – out getting a few photos in a remote spot. That was near the crest of the final climb (not to be sniffed at and higher than any Lakeland pass!) and an ‘I’ve made it’ moment – with only 6 or so miles of mainly downhill left.

So is there anything I learned? Would I do it again? Am I going back to being a tester?

Well, no, in a word. I knew it was going to be very tough. It was very tough. My finishing place – about 39th from 140 was nothing to write home about. I know how to improve that and frankly aren’t that bothered about the dedication it needs. I’d much rather relish putting training into something I could raise my arms aloft for. I’m a tart. I’m driven by ‘event’, by ‘occasion’, and by the sounds of spectators, in a strange way. Time trialling doesn’t provide any of that. That’s not a criticism of time trialling – it’s a criticism of me, and what makes me tick. Put another way, I don’t have the legs for it….! But, crikey, what a stunning part of the world to suffer in. Give me that over a dual carriageway and a fast time any day.

Thanks to my brother Phil, Nephew Angus, and to Ady Nicholls and his ace people at SportSunday for the photos.

GPS Here on Strava: Circuit of the Dales

Cyclocross: All of the faff

It’s the National Championships at the weekend, and time to reflect as the season approaches its finale.

Cyclocross is a strange sport. It breeds and harbours obsessives. For a discipline that involves belting around muddy fields, there is an inordinate amount of fine-tuning, preparation and finesse… from the meticulously exact tyre pressures for the conditions in the correct tubulars with the correct tread, to the perfecting of the right line on the course recce at 8am in -2°C. The right clothes, the right food, just enough sleep, the right warm-up… the training, the bike fettling, and even the Dirt Bags to make sure we clean off properly after a play in the mud.

This short road movie is about all of the faff of cyclocross for team mate Alan Dorrington and I as we covered the northern half of England in the final three rounds of British Cycling’s National Trophy series.

Yeah, we raced, too. But that was just for a few minutes every fortnight.

Four sleeps

I know I go on a bit about the Three Peaks Cyclocross. It’s nice for me at this time of September to put down a marker as to how I’m feeling. It’s my event and I am going to enjoy myself on Sunday. There are a million things that could go wrong and doubtless scores of things that will go wrong, but I’m a bit above all that now.

I’ve ridden every race since 1995 and learnt that bit more each year. There have been some big lows (including an abandonment with a snapped seat post very early in the 1999 race, and a delayed finish because of a broken collarbone last year) – but I’m above all that. I know things can go wrong and when it all comes together it’s great.

There has been oodles of dedicated training, some fun film making when that all got too hard, and the now customary month on the wagon (recommended!). The bikes are the finest I have ever prepared for the race – ‘cousins’ of traditional cyclocross bikes to the connoisseur – pretty dedicated 3 Peaks bikes in almost every respect.

There’s the usual minor wobbles in preparation too – the things that make it that bit more on the edge – it wouldn’t be the same without those. This year it’s been a cold. The type of thing that wouldn’t normally bother you too much but hit me bad in a race on Sunday. That’s made it hard to finesse any training (something I personally think is under-rated. A lot can be done to form in a final few days). There’s also the weather but that’s affecting everyone. It’s exciting. There will be some adventures had on those hills.

Looking at how I manage to train these days I know I’m not in for a mega result, but really hope a top 30 is on the cards.

Bikes here for the geeks:

They are:

2012 3 Peaks Cyclocross Bikes1. Planet X Ti Prototype
My “First Bike” and the one I intend to race throughout on. With SRAM Red, BB7, 42-27 rings, 11-26 cassette on Hope Pro 2 Evo with Mavic Reflex Rims, Schwalbe Racing Ralph HT Tubulars. Bar top levers fitted.

2012 3 Peaks Cyclocross Bikes2. On One Dirty Disco
A spare bike I don’t intend to use unless there are any mechanicals or punctures on the other bike. Equipped with SRAM Red / BB7 46-34 rings with 12-34, Hope Hubs with Velocity Major Tom Rims, Challenge Grifo tubulars.

I had a fit.

Retul Bike Fitting

I’m 42 and had my first fit yesterday. You might think it’s young to have your first fit. For me, it’s about 26 years later than it ought to have been.

With a mix of health problems cropping up over the last year or so from bad backs to kidney stones to even more bad backs, I took it on myself to see a Chinese Physiotherapist recommended by Alan (crossjunkie). The experience was quite enlightening (aside from the fact that she told me I had a very very weak kidney pulse – prophetic, to say the least, a few days before my diagnosis). One of the major things that Leslie (she herself isn’t Chinese… but the practice is!) mentioned was assumption that I had my bike all fitting me well and I’d been measured up, etc. Time to fess up… I hadn’t. Ever. Been fitted for a bike. Ever.

Time to call Brant.

I’d seen a promotional video about Planet X’s Retul fitting service and decided the time had come for me to arrange a session… ‘just in case’ anything I’d been doing for the last 25 years or so was a bit wrong.

I had indeed been doing things a bit wrong. Well… a bit more than a bit actually.

I called my bike sugar daddy Brant to see if I could book a fitting.

Planet X ShopI’d just taken delivery of a very very handsome Planet X N2A bike so with the brand new bike only a couple of rides old I headed down to Rotherham. Aside from the fitting itself, this whole things was a real treat. Kid in a sweet factory. You get the picture. This is a big shop and a bigger warehouse. Mmmmmmm! The fact that I’ve been riding for Planet X for six months or so but never made the time to get down to their place was playing on my mind, so the fitting made the perfect opportunity.

Last Fit

I was greeted by Chris Last – Planet X’s soigneur and an experienced cyclist who took me through the Retul process amidst a mass of fairly untamed cycling chit chat from both our mouthes. Chris’ experience of local riders over the last few years overlapped a bit of my time in Sheffield in the early 90s and it was great to chat away whilst simultaneously finding out my bike was pretty hilariously adjusted. Watching a stick man of myself on the screen, live, is a strange enough experience, but watching a cramped up one made it very plain to my eyes that something wasn’t really right. Through an hour or so of careful adjustment, bit by bit, we corrected all those bad angles, until everything fell within the right tolerances. New bike or no new bike, I had been riding a saddle that was 35mm too low and it seems I had been for quite some time. Talk about having a fit. Shocking, mildly embarrassing (but I’m bigger than that and I can take it), and all in all a bit of a revelation.

So… one day later, I gave the bike a really good kicking yesterday for 90 mins and over a couple of big climbs in a bloody headwind and crappy drizzle. All held up really well and if I could summarize the change I’d say that I feel like I’m getting the sort of power down that I would have done in the past by standing up. Makes sense really.

What a tit

So once you’ve all stopped laughing at my “discovery”, spare a thought for how this bodes for someone who has suffered from lower back pain. Watch out… here I come. The final word goes to a certain person I know who commented: “It’s a bit like when I went to get myself properly measured for a bra in my mid 30s. I’d been wearing a 36C – then I found out I was actually a 32F”. The minor details count, but the big details count more.

Video below of the experience and if you like my soundtrack you can hear it in full here

Ronde Van Oost Lancashire 2012 – the trailer

Bezzy mate Alan ‘Crossjunkie‘ Dorrington’s ‘own’ ride – the Ronde Van Oost Lancashire – is in its fourth year now and growing exponentially in popularity each time round. It’s on the 31st March this year and I’m getting all little-biy-excited again for a lovely “grovel on the cobble” day out. Especially good this year is that it’s going to turn out to be a bit of a school reunion for me with – hopefully – Phil (brother), Tolly, Rich Bardgett and Rich Hannaford. That truly is a treat and I haven’t ridden with some of those people for 20 years!

Continue reading “Ronde Van Oost Lancashire 2012 – the trailer”

Tod ‘Cross: Good old Yorkshire Chipps and Gravy

Rode the Todmorden Cyclocross yesterday – it’s the fourth running since the event’s revival, and it has earnt its place on the legendary races calendar (it’s currently an imaginary calendar but you get the picture). I’m trying to blog a bit less about every single race I do – I know it gets a bit repetitive and loses any story value if I write the same old but it’s just one of those events I get such a buzz from each year without fail.

Continue reading “Tod ‘Cross: Good old Yorkshire Chipps and Gravy”