Monday, 28 November 2011

TLI Cyclocross National Champs

The previous weeks races have seen varied fortune on the results sheets, from a 7th to a 25th, but I definately feel like the relentless training is starting to pay off as I creep up a few places every week or manage to hold wheels which had ridden away from me at the start of the season.

The TLI national champs took place at Gateshead International Stadium, only 15 minutes down the road from my house.

The course was top quality ... the howling wind was doing its best to tear down the course markers as the under 12's battled round a shorter version but to the testament to the race organiser and those that helped put this event on the course was repaired as quick as mother nature tried to pull it down.

The course was very similar to previous editions of racing at this venue, running boards, off camber, short descent ... the new addition being a steep climb straight up to the highest point of the course .. just manageable in the big ring afforded by tufo tubs and very low pressures.

The start was along along a wide gravel track ... as always my start would best be described as lethargic as I watched the world ride past me till I woke up mid first lap and started to make a move up the field.

The races within a race started early on but I found as faster riders moved through the field I could grab their wheel and move up with them until I found myself battling for 7th spot with a decent gap behind but a similar decent gap up to the next rider ...

... a quick glance at my watch showed that I only had a couple of laps remaining ... coming up off the gravel road not far from the start finish the rear tub let go of what little pressure was in it and I had flatted.

As I began to walk back to the pit I wondered how much gap I had created back to the riders behind me so got back on course and started to run the rest of the lap back to the start/finish in the hope I could grab a wheel.

Fellow Cross Club rider Adam Cooke who I had only just managed to lap took his lap back and kindly offered me his bike but I knew I had lost the battle for a top 10 so let him finish out his race, close to the start/finish another Cross Club rider Neal Wesley overtook me .. in the pits I was kindly offered Alan Nixon's spare bike so I took off trying to make back a few places.

Not long into the final lap I misjudged a corner and managed to take out one of Alan's team mates ... bending his front mech in the process :( So I loaned out my loaner bike so the guy could finish his race .. I managed to wrestle the front mech into a workable position so set off on a bike 3 sizes too small for me to catch the guy up and give him back his bike.

I managed to return the damaged bike back to its owner on the long climb of the course then rode with him to the end making sure he took the position ahead of me.

All in an eventful race ... I felt good ... the racing was close ... a few weeks off now as I have a short holiday to Brussels with Grace .. but then racing will get busy over christmas with Boxing day cross race and the Macc supercross .. oh and a new bike is being built :)

All images courtesy of Ed Rollason Photography

Monday, 7 November 2011

Day of the Derailleur

So far this cross season courses have reflected the lack of bad weather we have had, firm and fast would be good descriptors for the courses up until last weekend.

Whickham, RD3 Neccl, changed all that … although the weather on the day was fair, no rain and mild, the fact the course sits nicely on a hillside and previous days of rain gave rise to the usual sticky mud that this course is known for.

The course itself was a great mix of a slippy long descent with switchback corners to try and negotiate … a long drag/run back up to the bmx track then even a section of wooded singletrack before a ride back to the pits and a slippy set of corners before starting the descent again.

What Whickham is really famous for is the course mix of sticky mud and sections of gravel which tears off mechs and hangers at will !!

Unfortunately the first victim of the day was Cross Club rider Rob Walker, snapping a rear mech on his practice lap so was resigned for the first time this season to the sidelines and took on the role of team heckler.

I managed to get a good start but a lead group formed ahead of me that I just couldn’t get across to… I need to work on this … Soon enough the race began to develop at a fast pace as the course started to take its toll quickly on bikes.

Quicker than I could reel riders back the course was tearing their bikes up … as the laps went by the lead group had been decimated by mechanicals and although I lost a few places later in the race I still found myself in 5th place at the end.

I would like to take this placing as a move forward in terms of fitness but in reality the field was thinned by the course devouring their bikes, I prospered on this occasion as the trusty Fuji held together although it had gathered its own weight again in mud during the race.

Photographs thanks to Grace and Jay

My weapon of choice

I feel a degree of loyalty to this machine as it was the main facilitator allowing me to get back out on a bike after breaking my knee cap … far easier than pushing a singlespeed gear everywhere and off roads where I could potter along at my own speed.

The bike is a loaner … gratefully sent to me by the kind folk at Evans Cycles just to get the Fuji name out and about.

The bike remained stock for a few months as I used it for riding and training but as racing loomed the itch to ‘spice’ it up set in and I finally started to lavish some time and money on it.

First to get replaced where the stock wheels, although clinchers are fine and good nothing beats cyclocross tubs when it comes to grip… I had a set of Zipp wheels mooching around the garage so after a friend, Rick Perry, gave them the once over and fettled any little cracks that had began to surface I had a local shop glue on a set of Tufo Cubus tubs tyres. The Cubus is an out and out mud tyre with great grip in the worst of conditions.

Once the wheels were set the brakes came next … a bargain find set of TRP Euro carbon canti’s where had when a shop misplaced the box and fittings … a set of Swiss stop yellow pads later and I had brakes that worked enough to be useful.

Drivetrain was changed as the bike had been used and abused by journos as a test bike before me so new chainrings, 46/36, and a new cassette, 12-28, were fitted along with a new chain.

My final finishing touch was to remove the not so mud friendly white bar tape and replace it with black … and for true US styling added the shotgun cartridge bar end plugs ..

So far the bike has had a few outings although with my fitness still lagging behind the bikes capability there has been no stand out races… I hope to remedy this by the new year if not before.