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

First loser. A big win.

Tunnel Vision

Everyone knows that second place is the first loser. I’m happy with that. Three weeks and a day after a general anaesthetic, a night in North Manchester Hospital and a few painful days of ‘peeing red’, most people would be happy with just riding their bike. That’s why I’m happy as I’ve been in a long time. This short page in my cycling book has been a pretty turbulent one but it seems to be creating a happy ending a bit sooner than I’d have thought.
Continue reading “First loser. A big win.”

Cart, sleigh & horse: Cyclocross season reviewed

I’ve been a bit low on finding the time to blog the last few months. In some ways the world’s moved on. I don’t need to paste a link to a video or anything on this blog anymore because the sharing thing’s taken care of by Twitter and Facebook really. But there are some things I need to record on here for my own purposes and get off my chest and into print. (Well… webby print. You could print it if you wanted – you know what I mean) Continue reading “Cart, sleigh & horse: Cyclocross season reviewed”

The Autumn of my Life

Had a wonderful few reasons to reflect on this time of year in the last few days. Autumn’s a strange time of year in its gentle onset of cruelty, as we lose the evening daylight, and the warmth of each day dies out. But it also offers so much too. The first warm fires to make an hour by the TV seem like the best thing to do rather than a waste of time… the orange Alpenglow that makes otherwise drab scenes more paletable; and above all, the start of the proper cyclocross season. Continue reading “The Autumn of my Life”

Derby National Trophy – the cyclocross season ends

Sunday was the last race in the 2009 Cyclocross National Trophy series, where I finished 21st overall… my best ever. It’s more a case of lies, damn lies and statistics though when you look at it. I gathered very steady points (apart from the first race in Abergavenny where I had a bit of a mechanical), and all around me people seemed to have poor or inconsistent seasons. Continue reading “Derby National Trophy – the cyclocross season ends”

Lily at the Todmorden Cyclocross

LilyLily’s second race was another moment of intense pride for me – and for Katie. Again, she took te bull by the horns and rode flat out from start to finish on what was a ideal course for the Under 12s. There was a large field too, and she did herself proud. The Dad running round with her was largely just that this time – holding and pushing her on the dodgy bits of the course was kept to a bare minimum and she pedalled her little heart out. Eventually she finished 18th out of 28 under 10s – quite an achievement for a 6 year old.

DaveI rode the senior race and really enjoyed (and hopefully benefitted from) the outing on a tough but really fun course just one week before the national champs in Bradford.

Elsie managed to kick her legs a lot during the whole thing in a combination of enthusiasm, mimickary and sympathy.

A really ace event organised by Mountainbike Guru Chipps Chippendale and we’ll no doubt be popping over to Todmorden next season for another hammering round the park.

Photos here
Results here

Cyclocross National Trophy round 5, Rutland Water

Leaving the house for a day seemed even harder this time round given that Lily had spent almost all day in bed on Saturday and Elsie was up about six times on Saturday night… cyclocross is tough on family life this year for us and I haven’t been able to really get into the training as a result. However, Katie was quite on top of things at home when I left (even if I wasn’t) and once in the car I got my head into racing mode.

The course itself was just the best cyclocross course I’ve ridden in many ways. It was a good mix and required so much concentration from start to finish. The grass was slippy and muddy, but there was only one real short running section.

I also got on top of things right from the moment the gun went – holding my place (for a change) after the start and picking my way past a few riders on the technical sections – of which there were plenty. (So many people seem to use their brakes on these muddy courses on corners – losing time and making themselves skid!). The field was a lot better this time round too and it was nice to see Nick Craig, Oli Beckinsale and Ian Bibby back in the top cyclocrosses.

I finished pretty much where I normally finish in terms of positions – 24th – but in a larger field I know I did a bit more of a ride this time. It’s really odd though – preparation was dreadful in the two weeks before with almost no training and disturbed sleeps… I just don’t know how to predict these things any more! Lewis also did a blinding ride for 7th after similarly rubbish preparation (stomach bug!).

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!