Thursday, 30 December 2010
CXNE RD9 was a local affair.. only 10 miles from my house.. the event had been upgraded from a fun race to a league event and I had convinced a visiting friend, Ian, to race on a borrowed bike.
The course I had pretty much ridden a few months prior but the sloppy mud had been replaced snow and Ice... the car park was filled with riders having ridden a lap putting more pressure into their tyres.
The start was one of the best I have ever had.. although the front rows were gridded I found a cheecky hole in the middle and was up into the top 10 off the start and holding the pace well.. by the end of the first lap the top boys superior bike handling had seen gaps opened.. a rushed mount after a short run up saw my unship my chain and lose 5 places trying to wrestle it free from the chain device :(
The rest of the race saw me clawing back the places I had lost seeing me finish back in 12th ... Paul Oldham took the win chased by Steven Ward.. Ian Bibby after a heavy first lap fall was back in 6th.
After the race I packed up the car.. fired home.. put more bags and the whippet in the car and drove to meet Grace at her parents in Manchester.. as well as the excellent meals and coffee's on offer at her parents it gave me chance to fit another race in just a few days later.
The Macclesfield Monster is the first race in the North West leauge after Christmas so the turn out was good... as well as a leg stretching it offered a chance to catch up with a friend I hadn't seen for 10 years.. Duncan Astle.. creator of Here Come the Belgians.. after a quick chat we lined up for another kicking.
The conditions at Macc were the opposite of CXNE race.. raining, sloppy mud and greasy corners... the course was fantastic.. some great little climbs.. boards up for dismounts and run ups and some off camber corners from hell :)
The gridding at this race went league top riders first then national points leeaders so I was a fair bit back... with the National Cross Champs looming alot of the big hitters were out.. Oldham, Bibby and Craig to name but a few.
Straight into the race I was into a battle with 4 other riders as we switched places so many times I lost count.. and when I thought I was clear the slightest mistake and a rider would pop past..
My first mistake was a late dismount before a board and I slid shin first into it.. ouch!! ... I still maintained contact with the little group I was riding with.. next I washed out my front wheel on a corner and unshipped my chain again although this time it went on quicker but a gap had opened.
As the race progressed I noticed that I was running wider and wider into the turns t bottoms of descents.. my brakes were almost non existent.. with 3 laps to go and just before I was lapped by Nick Craig as he rode to 3rd place I started a little descent that went into an off camber 45 degree left.. Nick Craig railed it.. I went for some brakes to check my speed and both levers came to the bar and I accelerated into the corner.. I briefly held the drift before the front wheel washed and I was left comically sliding down the hill on my back.. wet grass offering no resistance to slow me down.
At that point I called it a day and accepted my second DNF of the season.. too many cheeky descents to ride with no brakes.
Not the most productive races with a 12th and a DNF but entertaining all the same.. the only downside being a sore throat and cough I have so training will be minimal and hopefully I will be good to race again on Sunday 2nd :)
Tuesday, 14 December 2010
Wasn't sure how I was feeling before this one... training is going pretty well.
The venue, Dalton Park, was almost free from snow but in leaving it left behind a pretty soggy mess so full mud tyres were perfect.
The course wound its way front and back of a big hill feature with a section along an exposed top... the climbs were pretty short, the descents nicely off camber or slippy.. all good cyclocross elements.
The start was on a narrow path on a slope only a few riders wide so the field spilled onto the grass either side and as we set off I was nicely cut up by a guy that came from above me.. with the anger of that move I was out the saddle on the first short climb and up into the top 5.. by the back half of the lap I had moved into 3rd with a clear view of 1st and 2nd riding away.. the severity of the start strung the field out quickly leaving myself and 4th place to battle out most of the race with 5th a comfortable distance behind and the guys in front now out of reach.
I love the intensity of cross racing... its something you don't get in endurance events... you ride the whole race with people breathing down your neck.. the pressure never lets up.
Towards the end of the race I notice 4th place wasn't there anymore and I got to relax a little and just maintain a gap... then the bell lap came and then it was done.. first top 3... now i just have to do it when there is no national on and the field is at its strongest.
Monday, 29 November 2010
The recent cold weather had seen a good foot of snow dumped over the week and there was no more putting off my first snow cross experience.
The first challenge was digging out the car... the next negotiating the various driving styles I encountered on the hour drive to the race venue.. afterthis nothing would be a problem.
The car showed todays was racing would be in a very manly -5 degrees ... the event car park park was already filling up as I arrived... you can never underestimate peoples desire to get out and ride :)
Near 60 riders and a few fields wiith 8" of snow covering the race was going to be amazing... made better still as although last week was my first sign on for Velo Club Moulin this was my first week wearing the colours...
The course had some really tough sections but on the flipside also had some compacted sections were you could get good speed up but overtaking would mean coming off the good line and fishtailing through deeper snow... doesn't get any more fun than this.
My start was less than ideal... 50 metres of clambering to get both feet in the pedals then riding squarely into a plastic marker post saw me distinctly mid field with lots of work to do.. seems like this is becoming the norm for me every week so it didn't worry me.
The racing went... sit in on the deeper snow sections into everyone elses groove... pop out on the wider compacted sections and steal a few places.... repeat.. any foot down on the floor would lead to you not being able to clip back in so running any sections was avoided.
I cut my way up through the field and could see a group of 4 riders ahead.. then I heard the commentator announce they were fighting for 4th place so the chase was on to get across to them... when I did we had a great battle.. everytime I got up and past I would panic a corner and dab loosing the ground and places I had made... I ended up sat in 5th place on the bell lap.. just behind 4th place.. as we got to a steep climb 4th place went to the side to look for the better line and I gambled and smacked it straight up the middle through the crap or mud and snow... both of us coming to the top close but I had a half wheel and nipped through... a quick blast out the saddle and a few turns later saw my best result so far with 4th place.
The power of Velo colours is great :)
Next week Northen CX champs.. weather and roads allowing i'm hoping to break the top quarter of the field.
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
The Stainton venue was windy and cold... watching the Junior race from the comfort of a warm van the motivation to get changed and get riding was low.
With no National Trophy race on the field was stacked with some top quality rider... Oldham, Ward, Murray, Moss, Nixon.. the list was extensive so today wasn't gonna be easy.
First sign on for my new team for 2011... VELO CLUB MOULIN ... after other new Velo rider Dave Crawley's 1st place on his first outing for them the pressure was great :)
After a quick change myself and Neal, who'd come for his first cross race experience, pedalled out onto the course... to not long after turn around and head back to the van.. I had changed rear wheels and forgot to fit a spacer to inside of freehub so cassette was rattling.. luckily I had other wheel with spacer with me and was able to borrow tools and sort it.
The course looked pretty awful but once on it it rode really well... plenty of turns, a nice climb, transitions from dirt to tarmac which were only surpassed in their bike sliding ability by a set of off camber bends which were really tricky.
Just before start Neal decided that he had a rear flat so made for the van only to make it back in time to get going... I was mid field on the start line and spent the first lap executing some high risk dubious cornering overtakes to cut my way up towards the top 10.
On a set of low boards that could be bunny hopped I saw new team mate Dave Crawley standing with his bike, later found out a snapped rear mech... I feel your pain Dave!!!
The race was excellent... I had a great battle for most of the race with the same Malton Wheeler rider as we exchanged places two or three times a lap... He would be a little quicker through the turns but I would get on the gas on the climbs and take position back.
About 45 minutes in I was overtaken by the leader ... Paul Oldham... no great shame as the form he has at the moment I was surprised it didn't come earlier... another 40 seconds later then Steven Ward came through... a North East rider having a great battle with Oldham and squeezing out the other Hope factory boys for the second place spot.
A lap to go I was just behind my Malton Wheelers rival on the start finish climb so I rode hard past and then buried myself for the rest of the lap.. in doing so I caught and lapped Neal who looked to be enjoying himself too much... one final out the saddle effort and the race was done... 13th place in a good field of riders... I know I have a more to give so looking forward to North of England CX champs in a few weeks.
Picture courtesy of Lee Adeola (http://www.flickr.com/photos/leeandamanda/)
Videos of the race can be seen here;
Monday, 15 November 2010
Thursday, 11 November 2010
The course here is an excellent mix.... short sharp climbs, wooded singletrack and wide grassy drags for losing or gaining places.
As a change for this race the course was altered slightly and ran in reverse... this coupled with a heavy downpour the day before leaving the grassy sections wheel suckingly wet it made for a challenging course.
So to keep with the theme of change I had opted to strip my bike of its front mech as I had rarely used it in any of the races.. with this change I upped the front ring to a 38t leaving the 12/25 out the back.
I've identified that i'm not the best starter in the world.. in fact i've had awful starts every race so far and with such a short race every little helps... this time round I wasn't taking any chances so pre start I stalked Alan Nixon (Blackhawk Bikes)to the start line and pulled right up next to him... front line and a clear field ahead no excuses.
As the race started I was immediately in a better position although still not the best start it was infinitely better than previous efforts and I was about 10th going into the singletrack muddy descent.. this descent fired the riders into a sharp left hander and then it was into some slippy singletrack.
By the time we had reached the section where the course double backs on itself I could see that the lead group had a little gap already.
It was immediately clear on the first lap that the new gearing was maybe a little steep and I really had to mash the pedals hard to make the slippy climbs.. that being said I wasn't losing any places and was gaining on the riders in front.
The wooded singletrack was nice and twisty and passing was best left till you were out of it but as we caught the back of the field quickly there was no option but to try and weave through best you could..
The racing was very close and I was pushed from the start... about 40 minutes in I was caught and dropped a few places... although the riders never pulled out a very big gap and I would get those places back not long after and hold them to the end.
The mud had started to gather around the wheels and I was glad of the extra clearance the disc brake set up allows me although it felt like I had gathered a fairchuck of the course on my bike and was now carrying round with me for extra training effect.
On almost the last lap I saw Alan Nixon running off the course... broken mech.. I was happy that my bike was still working well but as the race entered its final lap I was pushed hard by a rider from Malton Wheelers who stuck a pass on me as I had to dismount and run a climb when my rear wheel broke traction and I span to a stop... as we started the final drag up before the start finish field I passed him again and this time when we enetered the field instead of diving for the sides and seeking an easy line I just gave it all straight down the middle.
Another great race and a satisfying 6th place.
The race was won by Dave Crawley (Velo Club Moulin) who looks to be taking his place at the front of the field for the forthcoming events.
New wheels and a 11-28 cassette this week in preperation for sundays CXNE race :)
Friday, 5 November 2010
In my effort to improve my cross racing I am taking in not only the CXNE BCF run series but also the NECCL TLI run events:)
Last Sunday saw RD3 of the NECCL series and although I have missed 2 rounds already the overall series is based on best 5 out of 8 events so an overall decent position is still to play for.
Hetton Lyons Park is a popular cross destination featuring some good sharp little climbs and off camber muddy descents... the weather decided that after previous weeks of easy going that it was time to get into the 'Real' cross season and let rip with a good level of rain for the duration of the event but when you are breathing hard and tasting blood the weather doesnt even register.
After a pre ride of the course tyre pressures were lowered... not since Arrowhead snow race have I dared run such low tyre pressure... numerous times I felt the rim hit a root or rock.
The start was on tarmac for a good 100m before firing into an S bend... again I struggled to get a decent grid position on the start and I had to spend the first half of the race picking my way through the field of over 80 riders before settling into the natural order of the race
The leaders were out of sight and I was left chasing the same 2 riders for probably the last 20 minutes of the race... we were very evenly paced so the gap never seemed to decrease... as the final bell lap came I sprinted the start finish straight to try and finally bridge the gap.. in a narrow singletrack section which climbed steeply I caught onto the back of them then on the next straight section made a move on the outside and past.
The next corner was hard left straight onto a muddy short climb.. I washed my front wheel out having to dab a foot and allowing the rider I had just overtaken to pull alongside.. I put in another effort and squeezed just in front as we hit the singletrack straight immediately apologising for the abrupt overtaking manouevre.
I pulled away leaving with a comfortable gap at the finish.
9th place... I am gradually creeping my way further up the finishing list.. I started the year aiming for top 15 finishes but now want to push myself harder and get into the top 5.. as conditions worsen I think my chances of getting there will grow.
NECCL RD4 this Sunday :)
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
As predicted this one did not dissapoint.. with no National Trophy race on and this event being a category A race so big points on offer the field was strong.
Dave (Ramsay) again was kind enough to support and this time friends Rich and Rob were racing too to sample the pain that is cross.
Pulling into the sports centre car park the Hope motorhome and Scott van gave a hint as to the quality of riders that were there.. the first rider we saw was Nick Craig.. a hard day was on the cards for sure.
The course was longer than the previous weeks but definately a more traditional cross feel to it.. alot of muddy grass with off camber stuff and necessary boards to dismount and jump.. not only that but the race was the full hour plus a lap.. a mere ten minutes more than I have been racing.
After the cold start to the day a few laps and I was down to short sleeves... first mistake of the day was leaving my waterbottle in the car so no mid race drinking for me:(
The start was gridded so there was already 2 lines of very fast riders in front of me before the usual scrabble for position... as the race started the rider in front of me managed to snap his chain on the first big push of the pedals meaning I was a little held up before I could start battling for position in the long sprint down the length of the main field before we dived onto the course.
The field was quite deep at around 90 riders... the first lap as always was a mess of ducking in and out of riders and fallers and making my way up the field... as the course looped around it was possible to see the lead riders come through after completing a short loop I was about to enter.. Paul Oldham (Hope Factory Team) had already after half a lap opened a sizeable gap.
The first lap saw a rider 4 or 5 places ahead of me slide out and putting down a hand promptly broke his wrist.. or I assume by the screaming that was the least he had done :(
This race was super tough.. as well as the wheel sucking grassy muddy sections there was towards the back of the course a horrendous headwind that made pedalling even downhill a big drain..
As always I was stuck in battle with a few riders and we swapped places as the race went on.. some riders were easier to drop than others... I saw Rich as he was riding in the opposite direction and he looked like he was enjoying himself as we exchanged encouragement.
Cyclocross is still very new to me so I am still getting to grips with bike set up and I was struggling on the off camber sections as my tyre pressure was way too high.. I had to pick a very careful line though these sections... I am getting better at handling the bike but I still have alot to learn.
The race unfortunately had lap boards so unlike usual I couldnt just bury myself till the last lap bell I actually new how many laps I had to ride.. with 2 laps to go I started to feel the pangs of hunger.. no energy drink and no food available there was no option to play a little safe and although I had was currently ahead of the 2 riders I had been battling with I had to leave it till the last straights before giving it all to secure the place.
I ended up with 20th .. the field was strong but I was still a little dissapointed.. I now realise the importance even in these short races of drinking and a gel before start.. bike set up needs to be spot on and my starting and handling needs alot of work.
I'm keen to progress in this discipline so will be working hard at it :)
Thursday, 21 October 2010
A local round this time at Whickham Thorns allowed us to enjoy a much more leisurely start to getting over there, as before Dave (Ramsay) was the means of transport and race support while I was there.
The course was great... another departure from the typical 'race around a field' style events I had come to associate with cyclocross.. a gravelly track took us to a sharp S bend into a few turns around some assault course obstacles then up and onto the bmx track.. fired off this into a field section with a few turns.. then an off camber slippy straight which saw you fishtailing your way down this... some steepish grassy descents.. a few flatout sections then the climb/run back to the top of the course.. tough but interesting enough.
The race start was temporarily delayed as the first and only casualty of the day.. an unlucky fall in practice... was scraped up off the bmx track and unfortunately sent to hospital... this led to a section of the track being removed but it didnt detratct from the appeal of the course.
The start was a typical flat our sprint down a field to a turn then back on ourselves before joining the course... I as before didn't get a great start and was back in the 20's by the time we entered the course.
I capitalised on every opportunity to jump a few places and snuck my way back up when any flat or climbing section allowed... Dave was doing well with the motivation and handing up my bottle everytime I needed it... makes a big difference.
One of the race favourites .. Steven Ward.. unluckily had snapped his lever on the first lap and I had seen him standing next to the track so it was a surprise when mid race he came barreling past me in full flight... really a league apart and showing me what I have to build to if I ever want to master this discipline.. He came past just as we got to where Dave was standing and although I was encouraged to hold Ward's wheel without the aid of a rope and grappling hook I had to let him go ( to eventually finish 3rd!!!).
I had settled nicely into the race and was involved in my own little battles... Dave letting me know I was holding good place and steadily creeping forward... Just as I though it must be nearly 50 minutes of racing I was caught by the race leader Tony Fawcett literally 20m before the line so although it then meant it was the bell/final lap and he had saved me an extra time round I really want to stay on the same lap as the leaders.
All in I managed to get a 10th place... a considerable improvement on the last outing and I know where I need to improve for the next.. the course was tough and saw 19 bikes retiring with snapped rear mechs/hangars.
Next is South Shields on Sunday with the promise that the Hope Factory team are turning up to school us should be an interesting day... I'm already eyeing up spare bikes and Dugast cross tubs.. Loving this Racing :)
More deatils on the results and the series are here CXNE
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
I hadn't fallen out of love with riding.. in fact the exact opposite.. I got back to just riding for ridings sake.. when the weather was good i'd just spin down the local woods.. when friends were free we'd pack up and go a bit further.
Well this time away from training has really given me a renewed enthusiasm to get back on it 100%.
This mindset has coincided with the start of the cyclocross season, delivery of a new bike and the arrival of some pretty fancy race kit from Ryan at AYUP Lights.
First of all lets deal with the kit...
Ay Up lights were the first 'real' lights I rode and raced on over 3 years ago now.. they are exceptionally light (no pun intended) and really well made... I am really happy that they are going to be supporting me for 2011 as its a product I love.. If you spot me at a race come say hello.
The bike... taking full advantage of the Cycle 2 Work scheme I decided to build myself somethinf for the winter.. a Kinesis Decade Tripster.. a cross bike/fast tourer I built it up as the former with a good mix of 105 and Hope, added bonus with this bike is the disc brakes which should fare alot better when the cross season really gets muddy..
It needs a few tweaks but has already been in action.
Sunday saw the 3rd round of the North East Cyclo Cross races.. and the start of my Cyclo cross season attempt. As a self proclaimed endurance racer Cyclocross racing is as far removed from what I do as possible.. the racing is over an hour at best.. the starts rival a road race sprint finish and the courses are super short and favour big power riders... what is great about it is its low key... you turn up, you chat, you race, you taste blood, you finish .. I love it.. and every week I hope to be putting on a number and creeping up to the top 10.
The best addition to my Kinesis so far is courtesy of Jason Mahokey and XXC mag and I think sums up cross racing in a simple sentence...
Busy week this week...
Been asked to look at a new challenge for next year so training is being modified, meeting the Bearded Man in the Lake District friday to scout a route for an event organiser, hill climb saturday and then another stab at cross racing sunday..
LIFE IS AWESOME
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
The race is 2 laps of a 16 miles ish lap.. taking in a little of the North Face trail but mainly visiting alot of the great natural trails in Grizedale Forest.
The weather was less than perfect... in fact it was up there with the worst i've ever raced in.. most lining up at the start in full wet weather gear..
The pre race prep didnt go to plan with having to fix a puncture that had surfaced from the previous weeks riding... made worse by the unbelievably tight Stans rims I eventually had to admit defeat and borrow a wheel from Ryans Fiancee Marnie's cross bike.. thanks Marnie :).
The start line saw me on the front line... thats as close to the front as I would get for the rest of the race.. as we set up the paced wasn't crazy but i soon found that my lack of training shone through and I resigned to letting the first 5 guys go up the road.. Ryan included.
I soon settled into a good riding rythmn and seemed to be locked into battle with the same few riders who would pass me on the descents as I struggled to hold pace on my rigid bike amongst the rocky singletrack but then as we got into the climbs I would catch and re pass them.
The course was holding up to the number of riders and continuing downpour.. weather was ignored as once you are wet you are wet and it wasn't cold.
As is struggled on my lack of recent training and poor race prep was shining through.. I lost a few places due to poor descending.. I lost more due to poor pre race nutrition and vastly underestimating the time this race would take.
I only took 2 gels and as the first lap took 1.40hr I knew I should have had more food.. and as soon as you know you didn't bring enough the body wants more.
The course was such a good mix of riding.. I felt good on the fire road climbs and really enjoyed the typical Lakes rocky tech singletrack descents with some narrow escapes as enthusiasm overtook skill.. luckily or not the worst incident of the day was taking a huge branch and pine needles to the face that the guy in front had unleashed from its full extent cutting my nose and scratching my eyeball :(
By the time I had reached the mid point of the second and final lap I was actually feeling pretty hungry... the worst possible thing mid race so I had to concede to damage limitation and just get myself to the finish.
The race was excellent.. I managed to scrape a pretty awful 19th place but I enjoyed being in a race again.. Ryan who was within sight of catching the leader and riding well within himself had to pull out as his brake pads were totally shot.. unfortunate as his bike continues to stop him showing what he is really capable of.
I took away more valuable lessons as always.. I need to prep better, I need to actually start proper training, I need to try this suspension fork lark and see if it makes a difference to my riding ..
Decided that in my current form driving to Dusk till Dawn is a waste of my resources so I'm gonna settle back into training and start doing some winter epic trips :)
Pictures used were courtesy of Sportsunday.co.uk , Thanks for the support.
With Montane clothing backing this event there was again the opportunity for me to get involved with a little presentation and questiona and answer session.
As I managed to get off stage alive at the Keswick Mountain Festival I wasn't overly concerned... a smaller audience and some initial technical hitchs made for a more relaxed atmosphere and I enjoyed the time under the spotlight again answering more good questions but also getting to watch the presentation slideshow Col at Alpkit made for me has got me fired for more adventure.
Other speakers were Ian Almond talking on his 3 month climbing trip to Patagonia which had some great photos and Marc Laithwaite an endurance runner and second place at this years Lakeland 100.
Hopefully I will get asked to do more of these style of events .. hoping that I can get more trips under my belt to have something else to talk about :)
Monday, 16 August 2010
To race the Coldest, Hottest and Highest races in the World.
.. with good sponsor backing the start of the year was fierce.. by March I had already completed the Arrowhead 135 and the Yak Attack ticking off 2 of the 3 challenges.
This only leaves the final challenge of the Hottest race in the word... The Simpson Desert Challenge.. the race venue being known as Satans Velodrome.
Unfortunately due to financial constraints this last one is one hold at the moment... it may get done next year.. it may take a few years but it will get done.
I've had such great experiences this year I am pretty eager to have more... next year is wide open at the moment with nothing set in stone but i'm pretty sure as always something will come out of the woodwork and once again i'll be challenged with riding to my limits.... would I have life any other way??... Never :)
Thursday, 5 August 2010
Although I didn't blog it i have been over to Austria to meet Ryan Hawson of Ayup Lights and whilst there we did some riding and i foolishy rode the Salzkammergut Trophy race again.. although this time i took 9 gears and entered the 119km event.
The race was tough and it was more of a 'ride' than a 'race' ... I was quickly into survival mode and got round the course and all 3900m of climbing in a sloth like 8 hours.
This event has spurred me on to get back into training a proper and get some races entered.
Austria also saw the first outing on a 29er since leaving XC Racer/29ers ... this outing marked me leaving my sponsorship by Genesis Bikes.
I have enjoyed riding for Genesis/Madison and they afforded me the opportunity to race some pretty unique events but I felt it was time to move on.
At the moment I am still with Alpkit and Montane with new sponsors on the way.. i'm even toying with the idea of riding under the Shoestring Racing banner and getting some team kit made for myself and any like minded souls.
All in i'm still searching for the perfect bike to use but i'm very motivated to get out and ride as always.. new snow bike on its way already:)
INVENIAM VIAM AUT FACIAM
Monday, 31 May 2010
In this instance it was finding a small article on some site about the new East Highland Way in Scotland... a linking piece of trail that joined the West Highland way with the Speyside Way allowing a pretty sizeable coast to coast off road experience... a quick estimate was 240ish miles of off road riding.
After the texts went out the only taker was Mike Mcfarlane(www.mikemcfarlane.co.uk), I had met Mike through working at Ride Cycles and he was now working at a local outdoor store but had taken a big chunk of time out so was free for the trip.
Amazingly Mike didn't seemed phased by my optimistic time scale of 2 and a bit days.. after some shifting of dates we decided to get the train on a Sunday morning to start riding about 3pm in afternoon, then a return train at 10am on the Wednesday... with trains and times booked we had a rigid timescale to work with.
I decided to go very light.. or as light as I could as from past experience I always ended up taking a world of crap i didn't need.. with all gear on the bike it still felt pretty rideable...
As I left home on the Sunday morning the sun was shining and it looked to be a pretty warm adventure although forecasts predicted showers i couldn't see from where.. as i arrived at the station Mike, his Wife Susan and dog were waiting... me and Mike had chosen fully rigid singlespeeds and after the goodbyes we were on a train filled with alcohol fueled Scots.. we lucked out with seats booked in the quiet carriage:)
After 3 hours of train we arrived at Milngavie and the start of the West Highland Way..
it wasn't long before the WHW signage had us circling Mudock Castle looking before finding the way out and being sent on our way...
the first section was easy undulating bridleway and Tarmac.. navigation was easy and the sun was shining... it wasn't long till we reached the shores of Loch Lomond.
We made good use of the pub on the shores of the Loch to sink some fluids as the weather was still amazing and showed no signs of letting up.
When the singletrack trail started a proper it wasn't long before we were into the hike a bike section that all who have ridden the WHW will remember..
progress became very slow as we rode short sections and carried longer ones.. just as we were both looking forward to a good feed and the light was fading we rolled into a campsite with a bar and a restaurant which although was closing still rustled up some lasagnes!!
The nights accomodation was the campsite in the bivvi bags with a tarp rigged up from a fence as the weather definitely looked alot more overcast.
We woke and were on our way by 7am... with an estimated 40 miles done on the first day we looked to do 100 miles a day for the next 2 days to get the job done... we rode to the top of the first rise and enjoyed a breakfast trailside with the sun warming the air around us.
The trail now was pretty variable.. double track.. jeep track... singletrack... grassy. rocky... dirt.. every trail was undulating but for at least the first part of the day there were no serious climbs and there was some awesome descents.
After some decent pushing we got to the first real rideable sustained climb of the trip up onto Rannoch Moor with a pretty long wide dirt track...
Luckily it was just about right for mine and Mikes singlespeed gearing although i chose to sit and grind it out while Mike chose to get out the saddle... the trail levelled out and then eventually we got our reward with a great rocky descent.
We spun into the car park of a hotel in time for some wild deer who were mooching looking for a feed :)
As we finished the descent the trail hugged the road on a grassy trail... so we cheated and bashed some tarmac for a few miles till we headed right and onto the Devils Staircase... a full on hike a bike which would take us up and over then down to Kinlocheven.
After a snack at the top we began the more down than up trail to Kinlocheven... one feature of most Scottish trails are the water brakes.. nice channels running across the trails formed of bits of rock.. these have to be hopped or rolled... just as i was hefting my rear wheel over one i unclipped a foot and to avoid a headfirst fall i chose to throw my weight backover and ended up coming off to the side with a pedal square to the calf muscle!! ouch.. luckily no more damage than this.. now with an aching calf muscle i couldn't stand to pedal.. to make make matters worse i puncture a mile or so later on another water brake!!
Now time was getting on.. it was 4ish and i had expected to be in Fort William by now but we were only in Kinlocheven with another sizeable up/over/down to get under our belts to finish the WHW.. all the tales of how hard this route was were proving accurate... still we carried on but i had the doubts of my timescale creeping in and had already started formulating plan b,c and d in my head... getting out of Kinlocheven was another push and carry and where we thought we would top out and be able to see Fort William all we could see was more double track stretching as far as we could see:(
The double track continued and every crest of a rise just allowed us to see more double track stretching out beyond us... this was starting to wear thin as i really wanted to put the WHW behind us knowing even when this was done we still had 150 miles to go.
Finally we descended to a junction where the WHW met a military road and the signboard indicated that the military road was a 2 mile shorter route... so we took it to try and start clawing back some time.. although tarmac the road delivered some very cheeky climbs until it finally gave up and spat us out into Fort William at around 5pm it had been a long time getting here.
When faced with huge distance to cover and limited time to do it in the only thing a rider can do is... buy fish and chips and sit in the sun and ponder the situation.
We had looked at plans b,c and d and all involved multiple trains and expense neither us wanted to get involved with so we turned back to finishing what we had started... from experience on the WHW we decided that an attempt on the East Highland Way at this point would probably leave us miles from our destination as our train departed on wednesday morning so we decided to take to the tar and at the end of a 60 mile off road ride we decided the best course of action would be a 40 mile singlespeed road ride!!
Strangely although my calf was still aching the road riding was quite pleasurable.. we had spent so many hours riding and hiking to only make the smallest amount of progress and now the miles were flying by... the first 12 miles to Spean Bridge went quickly then we set our sites on Laggan as a spot to stop for the night.
We pedalled on and as i had the better road gearing Mike sat in and basked in the wind free environment.. we soon were at Laggan Wolftrax although we both thought better of a quick lap and after this Laggan.
I had hoped for a scenario similar to the previous night where we would roll up to a bar or restaurant but unfortunately Laggan could only offer a disabled toilet, playground and a picnic area... none of which were very appealling at all so we pressed on a further few miles down the road and headed off the tarmac up a trail to where we found a good spot for a bivvi and while i set out my gear Mike took up the role of chef and we dined on dehydrated meals and cups of tea.
We woke on Tuesday morning with a more optimistic outlook on the whole adventure...
I don't think Mikes belief in what we were doing had wavered but i am known for large bouts of negativity in the face of adversity:)
The plan now sat at more road work to Aviemore... good breakfast.. visit Bothy Bikes (www.bothybikes.co.uk) .. find the Speyside Way and ride to Keith where we would find a good spot to sleep and then train Wednesday morning.
The morning was really cold and it took a fair few miles for the feeling to come into my hands... when it did the miles passed easily.. i had a figure of about 30-40 miles to Aviemore in my head so when we saw the 12 miles to Aviemore sign spirits were at an all time high and i pressed the pedals even harder with the thought of a good breakfast within my grasp.
Getting to Aviemore we went to visit Bothy Bikes first... what a great shop, i had heard of them as they are a Genesis dealer but thats not all they sell.. they had such a good selection of bikes and parts and the guys were very friendly and you got a sense that they just rode, rode and rode bikes.. i look forward to getting back and doing some local rides.
A quick ride via a cash point saw us sat in a cafe enjoying a huge cooked breakfast... we didn't even give prices a second glance as we filled our boots with great cooked food, orange juice and latte's!! we even stocked up on a cake each for later.
The Speyside Way started behind Aviemore station and after riding through th back streets of Aviemore and quieter roads started out on a very wide well groomed trail.. fast and flowing... it then dived into some woodland for some singletrack before out onto a quiet country lane then onto a nice grassy disused railway.
We knew that this was going to be the easy section of the trip with not a great deal of elevation to it and mainly well groomed trails all rideable.. although it was not without its surprises as we found ourselves first in a field with 2 bulls shortly followed by in the thick of a wood with no trail in sight as the person that had signed the route overlooked a 4 way junction with the SW being the less obvious of the trails to follow... they did however manage to place a number of signs mid track when there was no option but the drection you were going in... not so helpful.
The route was punctuated by map boards indicating what section of the trail you were on and everytime we stopped at one we had made much more progress than we had thought although i was not keen on giving up the idea of just going straight to the railway station to avoid any unnecessary missed trains... the alternative was ride to the beach then ride to the station but it is a little known fact i hate sand and therefore have no desire to be anywhere near it.
As we came off the official SW route we headed towards Keith on road again.. this time alot more hilly as we left our valley bottom behind and climbed out and over.. again progress was pretty quick and the ten miles on the road passed quickly with us arriving at Keith around 6pm.
We pedalled to where the campsite signs directed us but all we found was a park home site surrounded by some rather uninviting wastelands... we rode to the station and again nothing of worth there.. we had never really planned any spots to sleep.. i was getting a little fed up as i was ready for a pint and a good meal... Mike however unphased by my ever increasing bad mood in a moment of extreme bravery suggested that we just ride to the beach and sleep there!!
Amazingly i agreed but under protest and said i would be getting myself there as quickly as possible... which Mike let me do and as i tortured my legs in an insane ten mile singlespeed fully loaded with luggage time trial its started to rain.
Luckily as quickly as it started the rain stopped and i arrived at Buckie... the end of the SW.. unfortunately Mike headed for Spey Bay... after a few phone calls we manage to find each other and settled into a spot on Spey Bay (only as its a shingle beach no sand!!)... dinner was a less apertising pot shot noodle thing each with some beef jerky... we rigged the tarp and bivvi'd for the night... well almost as the wind pcked up the tarp took on the form of a sail and threatened to carry our bikes down the beach so Mike took it down.
Wednesday morning only required a 14 mile ride back to Keith and luckily they let us catch our first train early... the dirty riding clothes were packed and i rewarded myself with a fresh long sleeve.. Aberdeen station were less so accomodating with earlier trains so we settled into a Costa marathon punctuated by charging of iphones in the apple store:)
All in a great trip... my calf is still sore... my bike a little unridden since getting back... i had alot of doubts as to whether living on a diet of only Singlespeeding is healthy so i have come back with a fresh desire to get some gears and see what has changed.
Big thank you to Mike as he endured all my various mods and still came out smiling and pedalling at the other end:)
Credit for all images to Mike Mcfarlane
Tuesday, 11 May 2010
As soon as i got back i got my Genesis Aether road bike out and enjoyed some good riding on the road.. enjoying the great coastal views living in Newcastle affords me, mountain biking has been a few trail centres jaunts but mainly riding out from my door and riding local trails... in general i've just been really enjoying my riding.
Off the bike life has been pretty busy too.. after my post requesting challenges for the future i got contacted by David Warren or as he will be known the 'Bearded Man', organiser of the Blackmountains 3 Day (blackmountains3day.co.uk). After some chatting i am now involved in the planning and organising of this event and lending my full support to it as it is close as damn it to my perfect event... not really racing so no attitudes but nicely hard challenge riding.
I will try and mirror all Blackmountains updates here but keep an eye on the event website.
Next on my social agenda is the Keswick Mountain Festival, in particular the bike night where I will be doing a question and answer session on i assume what drives me and my riding although i haven't got the questions so it could be on anything:)
On the riding front life wouldn't be the same without a good challenge so shortly after the Keswick mountain festival i'll be packing the bivvi bag and with my friend Mike Mcfarlane we'll be taking on the West Highland way... then the East Highland way.. then the Speyside way.. a nice little coast to coast over a few days:)
I couldn't write this blog update without mentioning that the 'Rhino' Ryan Hawson and his wife Marnie dropped in last week as they prepared to start their 6 month brand awareness trip around Europe for Ay Up lighting... i am looking forward to going to meet them in Europe in July and having them back to stay when they get back to the UK in August... take it easy guys and have a great trip!!!
With all this new energy around me and things happening i met a man who could fulfill a desire of mine that i have had for a while now.. to get a representative tattoo sealing in ink what i believe in and what i stand for... tattoo's aren't for everyone but they are definately for me.. Martin was given free reign to design whatever he wanted with me giving him a few clues to how i live my life.. the work is started.. maybe finished.. and i'm loving it.
Answers on the back of the postcard if anyone knows what it says :)
Tuesday, 20 April 2010
I've checked out the site and the event looks right up my street, so much so i have decided to give something back and do some volunteering.
I asked David to give me a press release as i feel that this kind of event is the direction in which i would like to see the endurance scene in the UK going, this is what David gave me;
Black Mountains 3 Day Mountain Bike Stage Event
How does three days of testing yourself in the saddle with rocky descents, huge climbs and Welsh forest riding sound? Well it’s going to exceed all expectations, so clear some space in your summer diary for the Black Mountains 3 Day.
Black Mountains 3 Day is a 3 day mountain bike stage endurance event running from 30 July – 1 August 2010. Set in the stunning Brecon Beacons National Park of South Wales, it will be a tough but rewarding ride through unforgiving terrains and tough technical trails.
To reward all your hard work during the day everything else is going to be as comfortable as possible. The Black Mountains 3 Day is a fully serviced event providing hot showers, massages, tailored nutrition and lovely tented villages to rest your exhausted body. There’ll also be mechanics and bike wash facilities on hand so your bike's as well cared for as you.
Brecon Beacons National Park is renowned for its incredible scenery and amazing sense of remoteness and it's popular with walkers and riders. Over the 3 days you'll be experiencing all the best aspects of riding in the National Park, and will be passing through a number of friendly local communities.
So get involved with this incredible experience, whether you are riding alone or with a buddy and whether you are a seasoned stage racer or a first timer. We've also got packages for family and friends to come along and support the riders, so you don't have to suffer alone.
Official registration is now open on a first come first served basis and you can register at http://booking.blackmountains3day.co.uk/registration/ .
Be part of a mountain biking event that is bound to become legendary. Visit www.blackmountains3day.co.uk for more information. Or check out http://blog.beardedman.co.uk for updated news about routes, suppliers and the website.
General information about the event
• Day 1 - 101kms, day 2 - 91kms and day 3 - 88kms
• More than 8,000 metres climbing over the three days!
• Very challenging terrain in the dry – if its wet then quadruple the challenge
• Expect to carry your bike up very steep ascents and unbelievably on a descent or two
• Expect a mix of single track, jeep track, fire road, natural tracks and a tiny bit of farm road (this is needed to link sections together)
• All routes will be marked and signed. There will also be .GPX files available a week before the event.
• All routes will be marshalled and there will be full medical support pre, during and post each day's ride
• Feed stations stocking Torq products will be available on each stage
General information about the tented village
• Tents will be supplied and erected by Bearded Man on a shared basis (3 man tents for 2 people) – there is a single supplement available
• Food (breakfasts and dinners) will be supplied by the legendary Drop Off Café. Lunches will be available to buy at the tented village after the day's riding. Lunch will be supplied by the local communities and will include food such as BBQ, sandwiches, cakes etc.
• Optional extras will be available including massages and there will be a bike maintenance team that charge standard rates to fix bikes.
• To get the most out of the day 2 route, the tented village will remain in the same place for the second and third evening.
I'm hoping this event is gonna be a great success and look forward to getting involved.
Thursday, 15 April 2010
The year so far has been pretty full on.. i have spent half this year away from home but now with a break until later in the year when i tackle the hottest race in the world i have time to sit and look for another challenge to bridge the gap.
I have found a few events but all are towards the end of the year.. that said this year may see my debut on the ultra endurance road scene... we will see how i feel.
So what next?? Any ideas??
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
The day started not so well as not long into the first jeep track descent i noticed my forks were sitting almost at the bottom of their travel and with no shock pump there was nothing i could do to try and remedy this... maybe an issue with altitude.
So now riding what was essentially a fully rigid bike (i suppose i should be used to this) i made my way down the first descent to the first flatter section of the day... a ride along the dry river bed to Jomson... at this point i past the Swedish guys.. Andreas and Martin.. who had suffered a flat on one of the many cobble we were riding over, Andreas had gone off super fast making the most of his very well trained bike handling skills but had slowed mid downhill so himself and Martin could ride out the last stage together.
Passing through Jomson the trail maintained to be super dry and dusty Jeep track.. not particularly nice to ride with the constant dust drying out your throat... the track was very uptulating with short climbs and short descents and the odd diversion across braided channels of incoming streams to this very wide and flat valley.
As the trail continued the valley began to narrow and we etered the deepest valley in the world being flanked either side by 7000m plus peaks... as the valley barrowed the trail steepened and became now very fast and rocky... fear of dropping the handlebars increased as my arms and upper body took on the job of my non functioning suspension.
The target time for the locals for this stage was 3 hours and i was pretty glad when the 3 hour mark came and past meaning i must be getting close to the end.
Quickly the finish came through a narrow street and the sight of Phil Evans, Race Organiser, sat under the finishing banner was a welcome one.
A cold Everest beer was ordered and i could now truly relax.
The evening was spent enjoying the hot springs and more beer... a fitting reward for completing the highest race in the world using the least amount of gears.
The next day was jaded by the haze of the previous nights drinking but still with only 22km of riding to complete the challenge was not a big one.
With no racing today i rode in baggies and Jonny Cash t shirt and spent most of the ride trying to out 'pump' Andreas through the undulations to gain as much free ground as possible and taking any opportunity to pop off a lip or small rock... in less than a few hours we reached Beni and enjoyed a motorised transfer to Pokara.
Its impossible to convey the awe and amazement i have encountered riding this event... with my year so focussed on completing the challenge i have set myself i lost sight of the individuality of each event i would ride but each and every pedal stroke or metre carried in this event wass done so in the most amazing place i have ever been in my life... the people, the culture, the scenery all contributed to a fantastic event... its not easy but it is more than achievable for most people and a worthy challenge to add to anybodes wish list of events.
I would like to thank Phil Evans who with the help of Chhime Gurang makes this event possible, i wanna thank volunteers such as Snow Monkey and Rattaman who gave endless support throughout this event and i now consider great friends.... i would like also to praise the local competitors Ajay, Mangel, Kaji and Chandra, 4 of the best riders i have ever raced against in my life and i pray they never leave Nepal as life racing these guys would be just too hard:) Not only did the local competitors race but at the end of everyday made sure the international competitors were looked after eventhough they had just also ridden the same arduous stages that we had.
I have to say i love this country and the people... i can't wait to race here again.
Huge thanks goes to all my sponsors as always.. Genesis Bikes, Montane Clothing and Alpkit.
A special thanks goes to Col Stocker who has to be credited not only for all the images of this trip and eduring long days walking on the trail but also for leaving a new daughter and family at less than a weeks notice to help support me.. thanks Col it was hugely appreciated.
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
After resting in Manang and having a good walk up a nearby hill my altitude related sickness had cleared and i felt pretty good... after a few pedal strokes into the Manang to Thorong Phedi stage the lack of oxygen kicked in and my legs instantly started to burn and my breathing was hard.
The stage started through the streets of Manang heading out the older parts of the town and straight into a hike a bike upto a village higher up on the hillside... for the walking part i could still stay with the Nepalese but soon as the trail became vaguely rideable i was again treat to a lesson in hill climbing... the slopes were so steep i couldn't even imagine riding them.
The days finish lay 972m of ascent higher up the valley and the trail was amazing to ride... very flowing and it was great to spin the pedals rather than grinding them.
The skies were filled with Ravens and Vultures and the peaks bounding the trail were spectatcular.
With all the non Nepalese riders behind me on the trail and the Nepalese guys far ahead i was left alone to enjoy the the scenery and the trail.
The stage itself was pretty short at 17km but the altitude and climbing made sure i got my moneys worth finishing 2hrs 41mins later.
Thorong Phedi was busy with trekkers, everyone getting ready to up and over early the following morning across the highest pass in the world, Thorog La at 5416m above sea level.
Arriving at Phedi i could feel the altitiude again so started on a few painkillers to cure the dull headache.. later that evening i took a diamox, diamox masks the symptoms of altitude mountain sickness, as i wanted to make sure i could get over the pass as quickly and painlessly as possible.
The next days stage was the one that most riders had dreaded... 17km in length but including the 5km climb up to the Thorong La pass.
This stage started at 5am to make sure conditions were at best for crossing the pass... the 5km would be entirely unrideable due to a combination of altitude and steepness of trail.
At the start i paced myself with the last Nepalese rider, Ajay, race leader but walking isn't his strongest discipline so he was just out to minimise his losses to Kaji Sherpa, a high altiude specialist and a man that will be travelling to summit Everest for the 4th time 3 days after this race finishes... believe i'm in good company here.
As i paced Ajay up the slopes in the dark, headtorches above us highlighting how far we had to climb.. and this was only the portion of the climb we could see.
All was going well as we walked together until we reached an off camber snow covered section and as Ajay strided away i slipped and slid at every step and eventually had to slow my pace right down to try and stay on my feet.
Dawn broke and headtorches were extinguished.. the trail still stretched further and higher with no sign of the end... luckily my pace remained consistent and i felt no ill affect to the accumulating altitude. The trail turned from rock to mixed ice and rock to then snow in its entirety.
After 2hrs 16mins i reached the high point of the pass and after a photo opportunity with the signpost i swapped from big mittens to lighter gloves and donned my helmet, this may have been a little optimistic as the descent was initially snow and ice and too steep to ride... my hands in the thinner gloves quickly froze and i was forced to stop to try and drive some warmth into them but after the exertion of the climb i could hardly muster any energy and i had to sit down and had a little moment to myself as i embraced the pain of freezing hands and still a long descent to negotiate.
With the feeling coming slowly back into my hands i stumbled slowly down through the snow until i past the snowline and the rocky trail was now underneath my tyres.. after a few attempts at riding the trail it just wasn't happening.. the trail was very loose and very steep so any attempt to bring my speed under control was futile so i was forced to walk downhill.
This section seemed to stretch on forever but i was happy to be able to feel my hands again and as i reached a few small buildings on the trail the slope slackend off and i got to ride an awesome piece of singletrack.. nice and rocky with well placed rocks to aid railing corners.. this flowed into a wider smoother trail around the back of the finishing town, Muktinath, and eventually the stage finish.
Only one stage left.. 70km mainly downhill to Tatapani and a well deserved dip in some hot springs.
Monday, 15 March 2010
The last 3 days have gone like this;
Besi Sahar to Tal, 43km.
This stage started on jeep track from Besi Sahar, with 27km on jeep track then 16km carrying/climbing it didn't look like a bad day for singlespeeding on paper. The start was fast as usual with the Nepalese guys going off the front, Aussie Phil chasing then me.
The climbs initially were short and sweet but as the stage went on the climbs lengthened and the surface became more and more dusty till eventually i couldn't get any grip to turn the gear and back to walking.
After about 15km i glanced back to see another rider coming quickly... thinking it was maybe Andreas, a fast swedish rider, i was surprised to see it was Aussie Phil.. apparenly he had taken a wrong turn and was trying to make up lost ground.
As the jeep track seemingly went on for ever the temperature as always was pretty hot until eventually as expected the jeep track ended and the carry/ride section started... this short carry was pretty steep but ended in a water station.
After the water station it was a mix of carry and short riding sections along the side of a cliff.. passing numerous trains of horses.. some going in the same direction which caused delay until a suitable passing point was found.
The trail wound along the base of the cliff until the final carry came into sight.... it looked pretty steep but not so sustained... the carry was slow and steady until Col from Alpkit.com came into view nearing the the top taking pictures..
cresting the climb Tal came into sight.. sitting on a flat wide valley floor just a short ride and carry down to the flat then a short ride saw the end of the stage...
In the evening the skies opened and it rained hard but luckily before going to bed the skies were clear and it looked good again for the next days stage.
Tal to Chame, 23km.
Another lightening quick start from all but unusually quick start from Andreas who was quickly out of sight leaving all chasing as we quickly entered sections of carrying over rocks.
The crux of todays stage would be a lengthy carry through some woods just before the half way point... the carry was very very slow as i tentatively took every step bike perched on my back taking shallow breaths not knowing how long this climb would go on.
Finally the climb ended at a water station and from here on in the rest of the stage should be rideable. It wasn't long before another push up a dusty climb started but the riding that came after was worth the effort.. the trail was nicely packed and not dusty and very fast.. reminded me of riding through an alpine forest.. getting on top of the gear on my bike on the flat felt great.
The race went through numerous villages with rock paths and steps to negotiate dodging the usual mix of animals and children.
The stage end came pretty quickly as the pace quickened on fast trails, the weather again remained consistent with rain coming a few hours after the finish but relenting before it was time to sleep.
Surprisingly no Andreas at the finish, turns out he Swedish had been playing practical jokes and while the field chased him down Andreas was back riding with the our Rockstar the other Swede Martin, shortly after his lightening start he had found a good hiding place and let the field chase down a ghost :) .
Chame to Manang, 30km.
I think this was my best stage yet.
After the start i was mid pack and stayed up there with the fast guys until the first granny ring climb where i slipped back into my own riding rythmn. The trail wound on the edge of a landslide in places and demanded a good level of concentration... after a section through some woods i caught sight of Aussie Phil changing out his shoes after getting his riding shoes wet his feet had got cold so he decided on walking boots before the carry.
I led the carry up through the woods.. snow now present on the ground a reminder that we were gaining altitude... surprisingly as we got to the top of the carry there was no sign of Phil so i made the most of this advantage and pushed on the descent into Pisang. At the water station i just took a quick mouthful of squash and continued trying to make the most of my advantage... going through the village Col was there taking pictures and then he managed to run past me on a short push to take some other shots while i rode past a set of prayer wheels.
The trail was really singlespeed friendly and flowed very quickly so i pushed as hard as i could... when we reached a steep switched back climb i was mindful that Phil was riding up behind me where i was forced to push.. cresting the climb we were side by side and as i remounted i let Phil lead down the snow covered descent back down to the flat but the difference being the previous nights rainfall had left the trail a muddy hell and with no option to downshift i had to slowly grind across this flat watching Phil spin away.
I could really start to feel the effect of altitude with a dull headache coming on and when i could ride it was very very slow... Manang crept into sight and the last slow ride up the high street took an age.
After suffering from Altitude induced headache for the rest of the day i opted for an early night as snow fell heavily from the sky.
The nights sleep was patchy as my headache persisted, finally i succumbed to painkillers.
The weather now in Manang is sunny and clear.. going to take a tour of the village then do some bike care and attention.
(all grammatical and spelling errors can be attributed to altitude mountain sickness)