Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Brownbacks round 1

As part of my highly organised, not in any way just making it up as I go along, 'training' I decided to have a crack at doing the Brownbacks mtb series. I've raced at Lee Quarry before, a few years ago, even winning a prize in the Singlespeed category once, and so I thought I might come out of mtb retirement and have a dabble.
I took Will with me so that he could marshal and also so he could see what it was all about with a view to maybe doing it himself at some point. Slinging bike, gear and Will in the car we blatted off to Stacksteads. It was a glorious day, the sun really did have it's hat on. Once I'd registered and got Will packed off with the reflective jacket crew I sashayed back to the car to get my dancing trousers on ready for the balloon going up. I was quite disappointed to spot somebody else on a Singlespeed. And worse, it was a very racy looking 29 er with a racing snake pilot on board. Rats. There went my chance of unopposed glory!
I sulked off to have a mosey round the course. I knew that some of the JMC crew would be there, Terrahawk was riding over, Twinkly Dave was racing as was Jacqui - Phil's missus, so it wasn't a surprise to bump into head honcho and all round good guy Budge, knocking about. Whilst chatting to him and commiserating with him about his grip falling off I got his views on the course (he'd already ridden some of it). There was a bit of teeth sucking and elaborate arm gestures to demonstrate the numerous steep, rocky and generally life threatening bits which apparently littered the course. Gulp! I went to see.
Following the route markings I did indeed find some steep, rocky technical bits which did give me pause for thought. Hmm. Tricky.
Soon it was time to rack up on the start line. I realised that I hadn't brought a gel with me as I'd intended to and I must say that I am indebted to Jacqs and Budge for providing me with what turned out to be very neccessary sustenance. The start is naturally up a bloody big steep hill covered in loose stones. I remembered being caught here before, trapped in the midst off a lot of people frantically changing gear and faffing about whilst I tried to keep forward motion pushing 2:1 gearing on the SS. I know, I'll run to start, I thought. Brilliant idea. Not. I looked on as the majority of the amusingly titled 'silverbacks' (V40 & V50) riders buggered off into the distance. Bollocks. I jumped on and started thrutching. I managed to catch up with Budge after a while and sat in for a bit so I could shovel my lungs back in. Recovering I managed to nip past him on a chute that he opted to run while I rode it. He had the grace to cheer me on.
Still smarting at being so far back I put the hammer down (it's all relative) and actually manged to pass a few. The course was actually a belter. Tricky technical bits and really fun swoopy berms a plenty. These made up for the painful (on a SS) climbs. A quick whiz down some whoop de doops and a 90 degree right and we're into lap 2. The first one seemed to have taken FOREVER. Proper pedalling through treacle stuff. Now I'd got a sighting lap in and my breathing was fairly settled I got on with racing. There were 2 guys that I seemed to be quite close to so they became the target men. One was a shortish guy with a red and black shirt and t'other a great big long fella on a Scandal.
The heat and the 8 mile hill rep fell run the day before inevitably started to take it's toll and I had to dismount and push up a couple of the climbs including the one to the finish. Bizarrely the laps seemed to pass quicker now (they weren't, of course) despite me getting a bit shagged now. I remembered the gel that Budge had given me and, as I tucked in behind someone on a flattish section I managed to get it down before overtaking. It might have been placebo effect or the gel might have worked its magic but I felt a lot better very soon after. I could tell we hadn't got long to go so I pressed on. There was one bit that had a short sharp and loose climb, a short level and then up again. Only about 20' or so but if somebody slowed on it in front of me I was screwed on the SS. Coming up to it this time there was a guy right in front who obviously changed down as he came up to it. 'Come on, pal. let's get up this!' I yelled. He was that surprised that he charged at it and then faltered a bit on the second climb 'GO ON!!' Fortunately he did. I then shot past him before getting to the bit of the course that I cocked up every time. It was a sharp right hand switchback at slow speed and I just couldn't do it. Finally I ended up jumping off and running round it, shouting 'I think I've mastered it!' to the laughing marshal.
Onto the whoops and round the switchback before reaching one of the (for me) unrideable short climbs. The Scandal guy was just in front. I jumped on and went after him. There was another short loose climb before the straight to the finish line but I just couldn't ride it. I pushed up as quickly as I could to see Scandal crossing the finish line ahead as the chequered flag was waved. Noooo!! If I'd realised we were finishing I would have beasted myself to ride that last little climb. Ah well.
Then there was that bit in a race where it's all over and there's that 'love in'. Everybody is mates and is congratulating everybody else and it's 'How did you go on?' and 'Good race, fella' and 'Did you see that bit...?' I rode down to the car park, got changed and hung around for the presentation. I found out earlier that the other singlespeeder was a guy I follow on twitter - @singlespeedmatt - and we chatted as Will got his free dogburger for marshalling. As there were only 2 of us on SS I knew I'd be on the podium despite Matt racing in Racer and me in Owd Codgers. The presentation went on. And on. And on. And then suddenly it was over. No Singlepeed presentation??!! Matt went and had a word and I tagged along as back up. They'd forgotten the prize and had managed to forget to do the charade of sticking us on the podium. Doh. They quickly humoured us and gave us our moment of 'glory' and took a snap despite everybody buggering off by now. Hey ho. I'm pretty sure they won't be so shonky next time...
So, in summary a pretty good day's racing. I was a bit rusty but that was to be expected. 32:16 was pretty tall for the course so that might need looking at. Brownbacks have a pretty good set up and the course was fun. The competetive element is definitely still in me and I'll be looking to do a bit better than 9th V40 out of 17 next time.
Results here: Brownbacks
Pic by our Will.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Cranking it up

The year has done it's usual trick of suddenly getting nearly half over before I'm ready for it. For a change I've been getting my finger out a bit on the fitness front and I'm pretty happy so far. My goals are to complete, and do well at, the Dashers fell race series and to get in shape for the 3 Peaks Cyclocross race (presuming I get in). So, given all that its reached the time of year when there's some event or other on every weekend. In the last couple of weeks I've managed to get a couple of fell races in and a mtb challenge ride.
The first was the 'Cake Race' in Diggle, Saddleworth.

This was a championship race so was pretty well attended by Dashers. In the car park I couldn't help but think 'Oh, there's Jamie. That's a place lost. Mark Walsh, that's another gone. And Des. Smashing.' I knew that I had no chance against Mark and Des but maybe I could stay in sight of Jamie over the 9 and a bit mile course. That was my game plan. From the start Mark and Des shot off and I dug in on the steady climb. I caught Jamie and passed him. A longish drag across the moor and then down. Jamie shot by me, legs and arms flailing. He got away. I settled in but kept looking ahead to see how far he was in front. Steady away. Eventually we reached the turnaround point at a reservoir. Although he was a good few hundred yards in front I could see him glancing back. Aha. Another longish flat drag and then down a long flight of steps to a dam. Jamie hadn't extended his lead and I knew we were coming to more steps going up this time. Great! I dug in and ran all the 167 steps where everyone else walked. I passed lots of people and reeled Jamie in. By the top I was about 5 behind him. Another look back. Along the side of a Golf course and I did a quick overtake so that I was right behind him. As he crossed a stile he did a big doubletake when he saw me right behind. 'Where did you come from? ' he said. I explained about running the steps. I think his head went a bit then. The next bit of the race is a grind uphill. I knuckled down and concentrated on keeping going. I figured that if I could put a gap in here I stood a chance of holding him off on the descent to the finish. To my delight this actually worked. I think Jamie got a bit disheartened and gave up a little as I was a minute and a half in front of him at the finish. I was bloody pleased with 3rd Dasher and Jamie and I both agreed it had been a good race between us.

Next up was Belmont Winter Hill fell race. I think the last time I did this race was 2007 and although it's only a short 'un - 4.5 miles - it packs a lot in. It wasn't a championship race and I cadged a lift off 'young' Jonathan Bruton and took Dave the Builder with us as I thought he might like to have a run out. George Thompson was already there as we arrived and we saw Des Reilly at registration. A quick warm up and a slash in the bushes and I discovered that Gary 'incognito' Taylor was also taking part. Blimey, a decent turnout of Dashers for a non-championship race! Jonathan and Des were always going to beat me in this but that was ok. In a way it was more of a training run with a load of other people taking part. There's a real brutal start to the race. You run past the Blue Lagoon on the road and it just feels like you aren't moving but your lungs are burning. Somehow it's a massive relief to finally turn off onto the moor. And then you climb. Steep but runnable. Head down and dig it in. Jonathan behind me and Des still in sight ahead. It levels out briefly and then the real climb begins, up the side of Winter Hill. I managed to keep jogging it out for quite a while before settling into the 'fell runners walk', hands pushing my knees down, back bent. Near the top I discovered Dave Woodhead, the organiser of many Yorkshire fell races lying on his side in the grass taking photo's of us all. I had a brief word with one of fell running's good guys and he took a decent pic of me.
Right behind Des by the time we topped out I gave him an encouraging 'Go on Des!' which worked really well as he then took off like a scalded cat! Jonathan passed me soon after and flew down Noone Hill and onto Georges Lane. He was just about in sight by the time we had run along the bumpy track and then begun the nasty climb back up the side of Winter Hill. Along the fence at the top and back the way we came. By the time I was descending I could see Jonathan was a little yellow dot way ahead. A plummet off the moor and then a leg killing run around the paths by the Blue Lagoon. I could hear somebody right on my tail and I was dying. I held him off untill we got near the road and then he got by. A Horwich runner of about my age. Onto the playing field and I thought I might as well go for it. I sprinted. His head went. I beat him. Result! We shook hands. Jonathan has finished about 30 odd seconds ahead of me. Des was well in front. We saw Dave the Builder have his own battle at the finish. George came in later, a bit unhappy.
I had decided to run home as I need to get some miles in. I thought it was quite a way home, it certainly felt it. Strava told me it was only 5 and a bit miles. It was a nice run in the sunshine though and a decent warm down!
The day after I had an early start for a 30 mile mountain bike challenge in Golcar, Huddersfield. I'd encouraged a guy I know to do it on his cross bike as a bit of early training for the 3 Peaks. Laughing Dave was also dead keen on doing it. I was on the Singlespeed, natch. I'd done the event a few years ago with D t B and remembered that it was pretty darned hilly. It was going to be a challenge in more ways than one. Virtually from the off you are climbing a cobbly hill and blowing. The route is a good mix of off road descents and largely on road steep climbs. For the first ten miles or so I rode in complete silence. Everybody around me looked serious and looked like they were in a race. The group I ended up riding with seemed like a binch of miserable gits so I made so witty comment (hard to believe, I know) and that broke the ice. There was a shortish fella on a blue hardtail in his early 50's and he started talking to me then. Trouble was every time he told me about the course it was 'Oh, big climb coming up' or 'Bit of a dangerous descent here.' I started laughing and said 'Bloody hell, it's always bad news from you!' we rode on as a group for quite a while and worked together at times. I dropped them a bit on one of the mahoosive steep climbs and heard one of them saying 'He's doing well on that singlespeed.' which did my ego a bit of good!
Eventually we reached a climb through a valley. I remembered it from the last time I'd done it but given that it still seemed quite familiar. It was only later I realised I'd been there going the opposite way on the fell race the previous weekend. Anyway we ground our way upwards. A bloke I was with said 'Oh are we going to get a tailwind along here?' I said 'I doubt it, its been headwind all the way so far!' And sure enough we got a headwind as soon as we got out of the shelter of the hillside. Doh! Part way along here I came across the Sport Sunday crew. This gave me a boost as they are really good folk who do a great service for so many events. As usual I was snapped whilst flashing my pearly whites. I must say in my defence that I was really enjoying myself and was feeling slightly euphoric.

At the head of the valley we turned off onto the road. Finally there was a headwind. Blimey it got fast! I spun out in no time and got into an aero tuck, the tyres were making a fantastic buzz on the tarmac and my eyes were streaming. Must have been getting on for 45mph I reckon. after a few minutes of this adrenalin fix I was directed back off road by marshalls. This next bit was hard going. I could see the group I'd been with a little further ahead but I could feel my energy levels dropping after so long stood up pushing 32:16 against the wind. I had to stop and get a gel down my neck. I lost time but there was little choice. I had no idea how far we had gone but my Spider senses picked up that vibe in the air, that slight picking up of the average speed that makes you feel you are nearing the end. I think the caffeine in the gel had worked its magic as I began to wind it up. Into a small town and there were 2 riders ahead. I put it in to get on them but as I neared the front one carried on whizzing down the road whilst the other took a left at the route marker. When I caught up he said 'I shouted after him but he just kept going.' Ah well. I bet he'd be upset when he realised. The pace was now nearing frantic and I was glancing over my shoulder at someone coming up fast. He just nipped past as we got to a road junction. We turned left and he got stuck behind a stopping Tranny van as I whizzed past it. 'Unlucky.' I said, trying to keep the glee out of my voice. Hammertime now as the finish line neared. My little legs were going 19 to the dozen as I spun the SS into sprint mode. A turn onto the finish field and the line was in view. I just held him off. The clock gave 2:51. Not bad for a hilly 30 miles even if there was plenty of road. I got changed and grabbed a bacon butty and a brew. Craig on his 'crosser arrived soon and I had a good chat with him about the event and mutual acquaintances. I hung around for a while for Laughing Dave but there was no sign and I had to go. He got 3:37 I found out later but to be fair he had been ill and had hardly ridden his bike for about a month. I was fairly happy with my performance until I found my certificate from last time I did it and discovered I was 11 minutes slower this time! A good day out and a fun ride with some tough bits. These challenge rides are a good work out.
Results here: http://cvmbc.co.uk/2012-results/ 37th/266 finishers will do me.
So, in summary a busy couple of weekends and it seems that giving the old body a battering seems to work ok for me. Can it last? Watch this space.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Singlespeed European Championships 2012

Floressas, France.

This was a roadtrip. Me and Will, the bikes and all the camping stuff off to the Pyrenees to meet, ride and party with like minded loons from all over Europe and beyond. So much happened that I am going to resort to a Gonzo journalism style stream of conciousness info blurt to give just a flavour of what went on. Plus it seems appropriate for a tale that takes in Stone age monuments and cross-dressing Belgians.
 Motorwaying for hours through the brow furrowing, headache inducing spray. On the fly decision to take in Stonehenge as it's only half an hour out of our way. Park. Out. Snap. Snap. In. Go.

Outskirts of Winchester for a kebab van tea. On to Portsmouth followed by a Porsche the colour of a '70's toilet suite. Why the sudden fashion for sticking hazards on when boarding a ferry? I can see, you know! Pint in the bar. Traditional French school trip kids on the dancefloor. Bed. Aaand time to get up. Blimey, Caen already. Next stage on the trip - pilgrimage to Le Mans. First place I ever went abroad, twin town with Bolton. Discussion on places with more than one twin town. How does that work then? Pics of the footy ground and the 24hr circuit.

On, on. Destination Cahors. We'd hoped to meet some Belgies that we met at last year's SSEC who were cycling there from Maredsous. Will had been 'talking' on FB to some Norn Irish lads who were driving down with a caravan and said they might stop there too. Got there. Dead quiet. No other SSers in sight. Into town over the river in search of grub. Impressive old buildings. Finally we find a restaurant that actually had people in. Steak and chips for 2, s'il vous plait. 8E50 each. Bloody superb it was too. Back to the tent for a kip. Early up for me. Lazy arse stayed in his pit while I ran over the river and followed it to the bridge the town is famous for. Pretty cool.
Up and away for the last small part of the trip to the village (hamlet?) of Floressas. it felt familiar as we'd seen the pics on the website. Found the Irish lads, introduced ourselves and pitched tents on the village green near their caravan.
There was a Belgian enclave nearby and a large posse of Catalunyans arrived soon after. Up to the chateau, register, get tickets for bread and croissants and bought a book of beer tickets. Familiar faces all around. some we actually knew - Sheldon Attwood, Ringo, Charlie the fishmonger, Le Dav and Bruno from the Belgians, large contingent of Godiva Trails from Coventry too, including the very gorgeous Lea. In the aftenoon a ride was proposed. That'll do we thought as the night ride wasn't due to go until 10.30pm and we figured we'd be tucked into booze by then. The locals led us off into the countryside, shrouded in mist at first but clearing. Varied trails - clayey fields, rooty woods, technical rocky bits. Not many steep climbs but we must have been high already as it was hard work and sweaty. I crashed. Clattered my knees and managed to knock the back brake. Damn thing started sticking on for the rest of the trip. Bugger. The riders mamaged to get split up. Was a bit worried as Will disappeared with the missing group. Rode back. They had taken the short route.
That night was the traditional pre race piss up. We had taken our own supplies - Will on the cider me on the bitter but soon I was tucking into beer from the beer tent. It seemed to go down very well. best thing about these do's is the people. We talked to loads of interesting characters. I was really pleased to see a really nice French girl that I met last time in Belgium and I spent a lot of time massacring the French language with her and her boyfriend. Usual stupidity. Us wearing Lancashire flat caps. Will riding somebodies mini bike.

Beer flowed as it does and I suddenly realised I was on my last beer token (of 10), therefore I must be bladdered. Bed. Will was happily talking to the Irish Trailbadger guys in their caravan and told me in the morning that I was snoring by the time he went to bed.
BONG!!!! It's surprising how a really, really loud and unexpected noise can come close to inducing cardiac arrest. Or maybe it isn't. BONG!!!! Following 9 bongs the church bells a few feet away then proceeded to go off on a riff of slightly quieter strikes. I was quite surprised. Mostly because it was seven o' clock rather than 9. Must be a French thing. I got up and breakfasted feeling pretty ruined after the night before. Mind you I think I was in better shape than in Belgium last year.

More to come...