Wednesday, October 21, 2015

London Cyclocross League Rnd 6- Foulmead Country park- Edwyn

Round 6 of the London Cyclocross League was a muddy affair- the first mud bath of the season. Welcome the: bike changes, grit in your eyes and the roar of petrol powered jet washers. So long to the grass crits, and hello to proper cyclocross: mud, sweat and gears. Time to get down and dirty.
Foulmead Country Park, near Deal in Kent, was the location for round 6 of the London Cyclocross League. It was a location and a league that I had never raced at before; thus, I went into the race with little pressure, with no one to judge me if I fell flat on my face (literally or metaphorically). Only recognising a few faces from the previous week’s National Trophy, I could ride at my own pace and let the race unfold from that.
After a few practice laps, I got the hang of the varied nature of the course- my brain eventually remembering how to handle a bike in such muddy conditions. As a course, it contained a helping of pretty much everything: an arrow straight stretch of tarmac, a series of barely rideable steep mud banks, some tight-twisting, slippery woodland singletrack, a set of hurdles going directly into a sharp bend and up another mud bank, as well as many other technically and physically demanding features. Overall, it was a fun and well planned course, allowing each and every rider type to find strength in some area. I was looking forward to battling around it.

The Somme
Joining me for the day was my newly trained pit crew/support team, my girlfriend, Ellie, ready in the pits for bike cleaning/changing duties, which was much needed in such wet conditions. Not every person’s idea of a dream Sunday, stood in a muddy field, but so incredibly useful, and so I am incredibly thankful. No pit crew equals one bike. One bike plus mud equals a very heavy bike, lots of resistance and the possibility of a torn rear mech hanger. Overall, a not very fun race.
Unfortunately,  coming into the race I knew that I wouldn’t be on my best form; a lingering illness during the week had a left me a little run down, but I didn’t let it hamper my focus. I managed to get a great start, keeping up with the leaders for just over half of the first lap- hanging in there and hoping for the best. With the elastic starting to stretch, I pushed on. The leading riders were slowly splintering the already select field on their tail, me included.

The driest line

For the next couple of laps, I lagged slightly. A mixture of going off a little too hard and slightly stale legs led to me slipping back a few places. For a short while, I found myself deep into the red, trying to cling onto the passing riders; all that I wanted to do was stop.
Eventually though, I found a rhythm and clawed myself out of the red, now battling for a top 10 position. Together in a group was me and a rider from Pearson Cycles, attacking each other where each of our strengths gave us an edge. For a couple of laps, neither of us could shake the other; each of our strengths seeming to balance out the other’s. One attack did finally succeed, as I ramped up the pace going into the woodland section, where my superior bike handling skills and supreme grip, from my Vittoria XL tyres, allowed me to go clear. There was now clear daylight between us.
Unfortunately, it was not just plain sailing from there. After dropping the Pearson’s Cycles rider, I soon found other riders snapping at my heals, around dozen seconds behind. I held on the pressure, and, thankfully, my time cushion was maintained all the way to the line.

Battling through the slop

In the end, I finished in 9th place, bagging myself a top 10 in the Senior category. It was a result that I was pretty pleased with. Although it was hard to compare the position against past performances, my average heart rate and general exhaustion, post race, was enough to say that I had done my best. It was a job well done, and, as a bonus, it was great fun too!

I would like to say a quick thank you to Ellie, for being impeccable in the pits for me. Also, a thank you to Raleigh bikes, Vittoria tyres and American Classic Wheels for providing equipment that coped so well in the harsh conditions. I can safely say that I give them my full trust for the rest of the season.

Rapha Super Cross Weekend

Rapha Super Cross Weekend

You’d think racing the same course two days in a row wouldn’t be particularly exciting, but if you’ve never raced a Rapha Super Cross Weekend you’ve never had the joy of seeing how differently two races can pan out. 

Shibden Hall was an iconic setting for last weekends racing, set into the hillside, even the Under 12’s course looked tiring and difficult, while the full course consisted of a twisty, off camber downhill and a long up hill drag to a stairs run up. 

The first race was dry meaning the course wasn’t particularly technical playing into the strengths of the road riders. Lets just say my start could have been slightly better for this race, after slipping my pedal after 20 yards I ended up dead last, I wasn’t particularly phased at this, more irritated that I’d slipped a pedal. After picking myself up I set off through the field working my through the other riders, the course was wide all the way round so I had no problems passing anybody and eventually I made it into 6th position after 1 ½ laps, I then managed to pass Janet Marsden and Alison Kinloch, the leading vet ladies to move into 4th overall, at this point I was starting to tire and I didn’t manage to move up any more places. I was pretty pleased with my placing despite my terrible start, and things could only get better on the Sunday.

Sunday morning and it was evident that today's race would be a completely different ball game, overnight the course had become slippery with the off camber corners claiming victims in the Youth and Senior races, many getting off to run the corners to avoid coming a cropper on the mud. After a couple of practice laps I was feeling pretty confident with the technical aspects, although my legs were protesting on the long drag up to the finish. I managed to get off the start line without hitting the deck and no crashes on the fast and furious tarmac section meant the race was off to a good start. 

I felt pretty good and when Becky Womersley came past I managed to latch onto her wheel and while Becky was clearly the stronger of us on the climbs I could make up time on the off cambers and descents. A first just wasn’t to be though, I couldn’t keep the pace on the uphill aspects of the course and Becky pulled away, but I still managed 2nd, which I was pretty pleased with considering I’d raced the day before. 

As ever thanks to, Raleigh bikes UK, American Classic wheels and Vittoria tyres for helping to keep me 'off' the road this season.

Photos by the talented Jo Allen and Russ Ellis. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Edwyn's Three Peaks Cyclocross 2015

The 3 Peaks Cyclocross: the name says it all. A shade under 40 miles of gruelling steep climbs; rocky petrifying descents; and fast and furious road. The 3 Peaks takes all the constituents of cyclocross and puts them on steroids. It’s a discipline in itself, and calling it a cross race seems a bit like an insult. Overall, it is a challenge; for man, bike and mind. And that’s why I love it.

2015 is the third time I’ve competed in the 3 Peaks CX. It would have been my fourth, but a broken knee last year ruled me out. This year, the race fell right at the end of my freshers week at university. For those of you that don’t know, fresher’s week is strongly associated with drinking, late nights and lots of noise; not the best race prep it has to be said. However, I stuck to my goals and made it through most of the week without any alcohol inside me. I woke up for the race, early Sunday morning, feeling pretty fresh.

Pre-race prep (

My start was good. I kept with the main group all along the neutralised road section, famous for being fast, tight and full of many nervous bodies. Much of the time I stuck close to Rob Jebb’s wheel, knowing that he’d almost certainly be in prime position for the off road section.

As expected, when the lead car pulled off, the race intensified. Within seconds, the race was strung out and there was no group to hide in. I maintained a reasonably high position along most of the rideable section; but, when we emerged at the wall of Simon’s Fell, the men were separated from the boys. The section is so steep that when ‘climbing’ it, bike mounted on shoulder, your front wheel touches the ground in front of you.

I lost a couple of positions on the ascent of Simon’s Fell/Ingleborough; my fitness levels seemed to be lacking ever so slightly, possibly due to a small bout of “Fresher’s flu”. Anyway, I made it onto the lunar summit of Ingleborough with the confidence that I would make up positions on the steep grassy descent down to Cold Cotes.

My descent started well, navigating the rock gardens with precision and ease, making up a few positions in the process. However, the second and longer section of the descent did throw a few things at me. The ground was much wetter than anticipated, this created many hidden bogs, which lurked, undetectable, ready to grab your front wheel and send you flying over the bars. As you might have guessed, I was victim to one of these traps, which caused me to heavily face plant, leaving me dazed and with a slightly cracked helmet. But, as you do in a race, I got on my bike and cracked on with the job in hand. Although, as I found out after the race, I did appear zombie-like at the first feed point at Cold Cotes.

Support crews waiting at Cold Cotes (

I managed to get myself into a small group on the road section to the base of Whernside; riding it solo  would just have been a waste of energy, with two peaks still to go, even if it did mean waiting for a couple of riders to work with. Nearing the start of the ascent, the pace eased, as we all prepared ourselves for the ordeal ahead.

It was a hot and strenuous climb up the steps of Whernside. Many, including myself, unzipped jerseys to try and cool off and reduce dehydration, made more important with such a little supply of water on board our bikes. Calves burning, it felt as though the pain would never end; as the steps continued high above. But, I made it to the top having maintained my position and in control. It was a huge relief to see the marshals standing at the top, ready to take our numbers and dib our SI chips.

On top of the world (

Bar one small crash, my descent of Whernside was largely uneventful. After my crash coming down Ingleborough, I descended down to Ribblehead much more tentatively than I usually would; running sections that I would normally ride. It was a little frustrating at the time, but the faceplant had most certainly knocked a bit of confidence out of me. So, again, instead of making up positions on the descent, I merely maintained my position. It didn’t look like it was turning out to be my best three peaks. But, on the plus side, I hit the road section to Pen-y-ghent feeling relatively fresh and unscathed.

The first two times I rode the Three peaks Cyclocross, the ride from Ribblehead to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, at the base of Pen-y-Ghent, was daunting. With your legs alreading burning, the last thing that you want to do would be ride/run up another 700 meter fell. It’s serious ‘pain cave’ stuff! However, this time, I had a little sparkle of freshness and led the group of riders, that I’d been with on the road, onto Pen-y-Ghent Lane. I set a fast tempo and, not only dropped the riders in the group, but also made up about half a dozen places.I kept a strong pace all the way up the peak, I flagged mid-way, but was aided by a gulp of Lucozade provided by Rick Crabtree (life-saver).

The final 'trudge' up Pen-y-Ghent (Patrick Frost)

One of my goals, before the race, was to break 3 hours and 30 minutes and achieve an Elite class time. In order for me to do this, I needed to be at the summit of Pen-y-Ghent by 3 hours and 10 minutes at the very latest. A sub 20 minute descent would be doable, but wouldn’t leave any room for error, mechanicals or cramping up. The race was on.

At the start of the descent, you feel on top of the world; there is very little below you and you feel vulnerable and exposed. Hurtling downwards, on rough terrain and on pretty narrow tyres, does not help the matter. But you have to block it out; your brain can only focus on one thing, the ground in front of you. One slight lapse of concentration and you could find yourself headfirst in a bog, splayed out on a field of rocks or, even worse, tumbling down a sheer hillside. Focusing on that Elite class time, I managed to put in my best descent of the day, picking off another clump of riders. Not only that, I managed to ride the entire descent, successfully navigating the sharp rocks on the exposed mid section of the mountain. I emerged at the bottom, puncture free and full of adrenalin. 5 minutes on the road later, I reached the finish line.

3 hours 28 minutes 55 seconds

I’d broken the three and a half hour mark. I was ecstatic. I had somehow managed to salvage a mediocre ride and achieve one of my goals. Not only that, but I had bagged third place in the Men’s Under 23 category, only realising while browsing the results. Another goal achieved. However, I must congratulate Sam Roper, who would have taken third spot on the podium if he had not punctured on his descent of Pen-y-Ghent.

Under 23 Podium: 1st Jo Moses, 2nd Ben Cooper, 3rd Edwyn Oliver-Evans (

Also, after the finalised results had been released, it became clear that my dad and I had won the father and son category, beating the race winner, Paul Oldham, and his father. So, all in all, a pretty successful race.

I couldn’t however, have achieved my goals without my support crew, they were there at all the crucial moments to hand me energy gels and hydration to keep me going, and to carry a spare bike that thankfully, wasn’t needed.  So thank you to my Mum and my Nan. Also, a huge thankyou to Raleigh Bikes, American Classic and Vittoria Tyres for supplying the equipment that helped me successfully navigate around the Three Peaks Cyclocross. And finally, thank you to my team for the added support for the event and cross season.

Now, back to being a student. Until next year...

The race weapon (

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Milton Keynes World Cup weekend: A Racing Team special

Milton Keynes World Cup weekend: A Racing Team special

Well at last we’re here at a Cyclo-Cross World Cup in the UK and more specifically MK. We were one of the first to arrive to get our Junior club-mate Dylan Flesher (Harrogate Nova) signed on and ready for his race in the morning, ahead of Sven, Nikki, Helen, Kevin, Sanne and the rest of the World Cup racers in the afternoon. What a sight greeted us, not unlike our experience of visiting Hoogerheide last year! It was massive: Trucks, TV, overhead gantry, dual language commentary (American and English), basically the works. And as Dylan was about to find out, a super technical world class course, not for the feint hearted. As we mere mortals were not allowed on the course there was nothing I could say to advise our youngster, he just needed to go out there and do it. Clearly the first off camber mud/grass drop-off at the end of the tarmac the start straight was critical, and it proved decisive in every race. It was also clear that pitting and bike changing were also going to be decisive, as the mud was of the “I’m gonna clog your bike” variety. Edwyn joined me in the pits to take care of bike cleaning and having two of us made the job swift, but still challenging, and by the end of the race we were spent and a highly credible 30th place shows what a talent Dylan is.

Then we cleaned the bikes and headed back to the van, parked up next to a Belgian motor home which turned out to be HQ for USA legend Jonathan Page, who had an excellent weekend both in the World Cup (14th) and the following days National Trophy (3rd). His Belgian mechanic gave me the low down on tyres and pressures (low and down).
So now it was time to enjoy the show. We wandered around among the Telenet, Sunweb, Crelan motorhomes and warm up zones. What a great day: the whole UK ‘cross community seemed to be there, plus some overseas pals like Angus Edmond the one-man marketing machine for Malteni beer, a top guy and great rider (that’s gotta be worth a slab?), all making for a non-stop social.

First up was the women’s race. My money went on Sanne Cant which was maybe a bit un-patriotic but there was an overpriced beer riding on it. What a race, the lead changing so many times on the last lap and it seemed certain Katie Compton would win when she arrived on the tarmac first (foreshadowing #1, #2 and #3). 
photo: Ian Davidson CXNE
Then it was the men and again my cash went double or nothing on the cool ruler himself Kevin Pauwels. Finally we saw how he does it, on lap 3 as he drives along the finishing straight the glasses coolly come off and are pegged onto the helmet. All riders note: this is KP saying he doesn’t need to keep the mud spray out of his eyes anymore. Another close sprint (foreshadowing #1) but KP kept his cool and took the win, and behind him our own Ian Field pulled out a fantastic 12th spot, just beating our new neighbour Jonathan. Day 1 complete, onto Day 2.
KP - The Cool Ruler  photo: Phil Ingham
Day 2: National Trophy (on the World Cup course)

Once again we were almost first on scene as my race was top of the schedule, and we got parked next to the finish, more or less less where the oversize Crelan motor home was the day before. Bikes out and pressures set as per the Belgian instructions. Today was also about testing out the new Vittoria Cross XL 33mm tubulars, so I took my Scott CX Addict out for a practice lap with the new tyres on. First up was the off camber drop off. It seemed there is no tyre yet made that could cope with this terrain and the race organisers quickly set about a course change to take the now un-ridedable and un-walkable section out for safety reasons. I love serious technical challenges, but here the race organisers got it spot on.

So onto the rest of the World Cup lap and one thing was obvious: bike changes were going to be decisive. I rode round the rest of the course, doubling back just to check sight lines into the pits. Then onto the now super greasy amphitheatre rises. I figured if Kevin wasn’t riding the corners I didn’t have to but with the Vittoria’s I was easily able to ride up with grip to spare it seemed. They were hooking up nicely. Another decision made. We had also decided to use the on-site jet washers but they had dried up (literally run out of water) and there was no more to be found. So it was plan B: our own petrol versions and the water we’d brought from home, with extra top-ups from the nearby pond, all masterfully organised by the DS: Steve, Heather and Dave & Sally Morris. (But BC please note: No water at a National Trophy, again!).

At the start and a decent gridding for me, but still two-thirds down the field so carnage ahead was likely and so it proved. Riders were falling in places I couldn’t imagine it was possible to fall, as well as those I could. It was a warning that conditions were testing. Past the first pit and onto the second pit, still on the first lap and bike swap #1 completed. Then the two running climbs, but with a clean bike on my shoulder I was in an advantageous position.
Clean bike on the shoulder. Photo: Andy Whitehouse
Three climbs meant three greasy descents, but all managed with minimal slides, then onto the amphitheatre to show Kevin how to ride it (in slow motion). Up the stairs and lap #1 complete. The course was so thick with mud in places that rides became runs but I stuck with the one-lap bike swaps and it proved good. I’d promised the DS I would stop grabbing the fenceposts on the 180 degree corners due to an incident in practice at Durham resulting in a new rear shifter, but in the race I just couldn’t resist it, and I made up time too.

The two drops over the footpaths were catching a lot of riders out and finally it caught me too on the last lap and I came crashing down helmet first. After a moment of stunned hesitation, I confirmed to the marshal I was OK (I had no idea if I was) and back I went to finish my race. Then my moment of stupidity or whatever (foreshadowing #2). I got onto the tarmac, looked behind and had a decent gap to the next rider. But not wanting to take anything for granted I set to until I thought I’d done enough. Another glance round and I got a shock, the rider behind was coming full bore and without enough tarmac left he got past me. Schoolboy error after 40 odd mins of getting everything mostly right. I should know better. I hope Kevin wasn’t watching. But overall a hugely enjoyable race and once again the support from the side-lines was tremendous too. I tried to glance up to see who everyone was, and thank all of you.

Next up for our team (and family) was the women’s race. With a few of the big guns staying on for this race including, on the start sheet, Katherine Compton this was going to be interesting for our riders Sarah and Joanna. Also going today was my wife Alison and conditions were so tricky I set up both her bikes with my best tubs, a dangerous precedent. As usual by now there was another great start by Sarah with Joanna not far behind. Our view of the race was from the pits and we were next to KC’s pit crew holding three sparkling Treks with pink FMBs.
Sarah drives through the mud, photo: Richard Bennet
With our three riders on the course the bikes were coming in thick and fast, thick with mud and needed cleaning fast. No problem for the DS: we managed to get most bikes back out on the short side of the lap (which was very short) and with Dylan acting as spotter, all our riders knew when their bike was ready. Not much more we could do to help, out on the course it was up to them. Sarah’s race was packed with thrills and a lot of spills while Joanna was in full on chase mode as she closed the gap, drafted, caught and passed Claire Beaumont (Vicious Velo) only for her to rip her rear mech off as she hit the tarmac finish (foreshadowing #3). Seriously bad luck, but that’s ‘cross. Final result:  winner Katherine Compton Trek Factory Racing Team, 14th Sarah Murray and 20th Joanna Rycroft with both our riders comfortably surviving the dreaded 80% cut-off rule. Alison also survived the race but not the cut-off, getting in three laps to Katie’s five.
Joanna and Claire Beaumont, photo: Andy Whitehouse
Final race of the day and I was able to mainly watch as Dave Morris (Harrogate Nova), Angus Edmond (Malteni) (now 2 slabs?) and Simon Maudsley (Team Vertex) were all given the Racing Team red-carpet, pond-water bike wash treatment. It was a cruel race with Marcel Wildhaber, David van der Poel and that man Jonathan Page again culling riders from the large Senior field. Ian Field placed behind these three in fourth spot. Overall a great weekend of top class cyclo-cross racing and there’s much more for the team to look forward to with Bradford, Derby and Ripley Castle Cyclo Cross all coming up.

Well that just about wraps it up, but if you’ve got this far you probably are interested in comments of the new Vittoria Cross XL 33mm tubulars. I had FMB Super Muds (same as Katie Compton, mine were not pink though) on the other bike so tough competition in any test. In the heat of the race I can’t say I noticed a great deal of difference between the two, both tyres squirmed on the tarmac at super low pressure and hooked up in the mud on the greasy corners, cambers and chutes suggesting that the Vittoria offering is a great tubular for these kinds of conditions. I’m greatly looking forward to more testing next weekend in South Shields.

Finally, if you’ve noticed that this blog is occasionally quite readable, it’s generally due to the brilliant advice I get from a real writers like Phil Ingham and Andrew Yee and if you want to read some of their work you’d do well to get your computer onto the free issue of Cyclocross Magazine which contains a full article about the MK race bid and other top CX stuff. Go to

Monday, September 29, 2014

3 is the magic number...

Today's blog is brought to you by the letter P and the number 3. But it's not kid's stuff.

There are three distinct stages in the life and times of a cyclo cross racer. There's before the 3 Peaks, during the 3 Peaks and after the 3 Peaks. Let me assure you, the place where you want to spend as little time as possible is the middle one, it's by far the hardest of all three. I am now in the third one, and having completed the course I am now fully qualified to dispense random advice about how to conquer this race. That said, if you're hoping to get yourself under 4 hours I'd suggest you find yourself another blog. I didn't even manage my goal of under 5, but we'll get to that later.

Let's rewind the clock to that other slightly worrying state, before 3 Peaks. I've blogged about my preparation already, so no need to bang on about all that. What I didn't mention was that I'd also spent the last year or so, well exactly the last year, asking anyone and everyone for advice about how to race this event. Fortunately for me, our club and team have huge experience in this department and are happy to share. To mention just a few, let's start with the DS of course (Steve), then there's Edwyn who despite his tender years is rapidly becoming an expert, Sarah who bagged the U23 last year, Tony Mills (York Cycleworks), Ian Caswell, Tim Evans, Paul Lehan (all Harrogate Nova), Simon Pateman (Saddleworth Clarion) and Phil Ingham (Pedalsport). Alongside these veterans of the race I've enjoyed long conversations with other newbies about gear and strategy. Put it all in the mix and I kinda knew what I was in for, I just didn't realise quite how challenging the reality would be (very, no make that ridiculously). Technical bike details at the bottom.

Fast forward now to 'during'. So I'm on the start line with 650 cyclo cross riders. Yes it's a MASS start. Off we go, I've been warned that the first road section is fast, as all the riders are trying to get to the first pinch point like, you know, first. Just like a regular 'cross, only with 650 of 'em! Crashes are also a hazard here, and we had some, but the squeal of canti brakes was ample warning to avoid these from mid pack where I was. I offered to pull team mate Joanna along but she soon got bored of that and let fly on up the road. Next time I would see her would be on the last descent after an unplanned over the handlebars incident.

Then left turn, onto the dirt and up we go: peak #1 Ingleborough. Following some great advice I took a look around me. A long string of riders (now walkers) carrying bikes up a very big, and very steep hill. How steep? I needed to pull myself up using the farmer’s fencing and dry stone wall. The strangest thing is the silence, all you can hear around you is deep breathing, no gears, brakes or shouts. It was probably one of the hardest ascents I've ever done (with a bike on my shoulder), and worryingly only one of three. As the Spanish say, poco a poco was my method, and bit by bit I did finally get to the first checkpoint. 

A big, steep hill
[Photo: Jack Chevell  @jackchevell]
Riding the bike again after such an effort is tricky, but you need to keep your wits about you 'cos there's all sorts of hazards. Nonetheless after a rip roaring descent (I think I was smiling at this point) I reached the Racing Team support crew at the base. Slick is the best way to describe this, a bit like an F1 pit stop I was fed, watered and off down the road chomping an energy bar and doing 30mph when I was stung on the leg by an insect of some description. I pulled over but the creature was long gone leaving a searing pain in my left leg. I re-joined the race, hooking up with the eventual Dad and Daughter winners for the road section to, you guessed it, peak #2 Whernside.
Happy days (Photo by John McCann)
Well, they say it's not as steep, but it's longer and the endless stone steps make it harder. Poco a poco once again, I made it to the top. It was not good though, I was slow. On the plus side the searing pain in my leg took my mind of the pain in my legs. On the downside the insect bite seemed to trigger a severe bout of cramp, and I had to stop at one point on the way down as dismounting my bike became impossible. Lots to remember on this descent, I think I used the Caswell escape routes once or twice, and best of all the DS was on hand to wave me away from the lethal stone steps where I would surely have perished. Another F1 pit stop, this time Heather dug out a life-saving bag of crisps as I thought salt would cure the cramping. 
Tireless (tyreless?) CXM support crew: Heather, DS Steve, Alison 
[Photo: Jack Chevell @jackchevell]
Back down the road I found some more riders to work with, but dropped them before Horton for the start of peak #3 Pen-Y-Ghent. This one is different in that it's the same route up and down. Different in this case equals danger with riders flying down at 20+ mph occasionally in control, but mostly not. But now you get a sense of how you are going as you see all the riders you imagined you might be close to come flying down knowing that you're still 30-40 minutes from the top. This is where I saw Joanna, and she tried to tell me she'd crashed but all I could see was a rider on her way down while I was still on my way up. By now I given up on my dream of sub-5 hours and set about just finishing. At the top one last gel and away I went, me too on the last downhill. A tricky one this, stone drainage ditches, loose surface rocks all make for an engaging time, but finally I reached the bottom where the support crew had sportingly stayed on to check I was OK.

I pinged off on to the tarmac and chased down two riders ahead, got on the wheel only for full blown cramp to set in on both legs and forced me off the bike a couple of times and pedalling with one leg at others. But after a few very dodgy moments when I thought I may not be able to ride on I found myself at the finish where Tony was changed and ready to greet me. Job done. Time? 5:04. '04! First question of course was about next year. Regular readers will know this was a one off. But '04! (?)*

Always an upside to everything, finishing a little further down the field meant the queue for the bar was acceptable so with pints in hand we politely applauded this year winners but of course went crazy ape for the U23 female winner, once again from Racing Team, this time Joanna Rycroft. A super nice way to end the day.

Joanna mildly concussed and blissfully unaware she's about to be called to the winner’s podium  
[Photo: Jack Chevell  @jackchevell]
So now I too get to bask in the glory of being a cyclo cross racer in the 'after 3 Peaks' phase of life. This is a pleasant place to be, the huge effort behind me, so my advice is to put all your efforts into the phase before, and train properly. Forget your bike, you need to be able to ascend, that's what'll get you (me?) round in the magic number: under 5.
Clutching that all important timing chitty: 5:04:12
[Photo: Jack Chevell @jackchevell]
* Weather conditions this year were perfect: warm, cloudy and best of all almost zero wind. Course times need to be factored against this.

Bike details:
Scott Addict CX carbon
Hope pro3 hubs, 28h Mavic open pro rims, handbuilt wheels
Shimano dura ace 10 speed old style shifters
Mix of TRP mini V front and Avid rear brake, Swisstop pads
Shimano 105 triple chain set using only the 30 and 39 chainrings
11-32 rear cassette, 105 short cage rear changer
Vittoria cross XG 34mm tyres, Conti 'cross inner tubes, 70psi

Spare bike: Unused
Punctures: None

Marks out of 10 for bike: 10
Marks out of 10 for rider: 7

Discs or cantis? With all the attention at the moment over brakes I'll share my thoughts. At no stage on this race did I feel I could have gone better with different brakes, they simply were not the defining issue for me. But it was dry, mostly. I'd put it like this, I'd happily have a disc brake equipped bike if it was not one single ounce heavier. That'd be my trade off benchmark. It's the deadweight going up that defined this event for me. You may be different. Yes you, get yourself entered and start a new phase in your 'cross life.

Clearly a massive thank you is due to the support crew of Alison, Heather and Steve, the many advisors and supporters both trackside and other competitors out on the route. 
Finally a quick thanks to the guys from OTE and Zipvit who took pity on me at the bike show when I mentioned I was doing the 3 Peaks and sent me back to Yorkshire with a stash of energy bars and gels. And to Jack Chevell and John McCann for the nice pictures. All much appreciated.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Stumbling across Cyclocross Joanna Rycroft

Stumbling across Cyclocross Joanna Rycroft

My first ever 'cross race (photo by Neil Hendry Ph-Mas Racing Team)
As this marks the start of my ‘blogging’ I thought I should give people a little background to which led me to pedalling like fury around fields… for fun.

I'm just about to start my second year at Leeds Uni, studying Sport Science. Other than the odd family bike ride at home, cycling has never been a competitive sport for me - I’ve always been a runner and a hockey player through school. I took a year out after school to work and travel and decided I fancied getting a road bike. Ending up in the Specialized Concept Store one day, I bought a bike on the spot… best money I’ve ever spent.

By the time Uni came around I had spent more and more time pottering around the country lanes at home and had ventured out on the odd ride with my Dad and his fellow MAMILs. Joining the Uni cycling club gave me a perspective on how big cycling really is and introduced me to a great bunch of people to train with. Cyclocross was first mentioned at one of the pub socials and I was asked if I fancied doing the BUCS (British University Championship Series) race… having never even heard of cyclocross I agreed thinking it would be a laugh. Its fair to say my first experience of ‘cross wasn’t a very successful one, but I came away wanting to do more.

We were very lucky to have Chris Young, Mark Thwaites and Ted Sarmiento come to Leeds over the Spring term to do some cyclocross coaching. The sessions covered all the basics and provided a great platform to get into racing.

Standing at the start of my first race in Huddersfield, I was more worried about getting round the first corner in one piece than anything else. I loved the intensity of the race and came home already thinking about the next race. Results were released, with me 101st out of 156 finishers. Whilst I was told its all about getting experience to begin with, my competitive instinct was left feeling a little disgruntled by how many not-so-aerodynamic MAMILs were ahead of me! I then made it my aim to get further up the order with every race, and chase down the leading ladies.

After a few more races, I was asked to join Cyclocross Magazine Racing Team and jumped at the opportunity. The black and orange skin suit has definitely knocked a few seconds off my lap times. Ted and Steve’s enthusiasm is infectious and I’ve already learnt so much from them both.

BUCS mountain biking was the next race in the calendar, so a trip to Dalby forest with the CX mag team was organised. Turning up with my mountain bike it didn’t take long before I realised there was still SO much more I needed to learn about becoming a competitive cyclist. Mudguards on mountain bikes are NOT cool; not wanting to show up my new teammates, it was removed before we’d left Ted’s back yard. What followed was nothing short of a baptism of fire… following Edwyn to the black route trail signs, I assumed we were heading in the wrong direction... we weren’t. By the end of the day I was riding the bike more than I was pushing it so the day was deemed a success.
BUCS MTB XC race completed, Team Gold in the bag
A week later, it was time for the real thing. This time my bike was stripped of its reflectors… but the bell still stands. The course was a mud bath from start to finish, and that was before any racing had taken place. As the gun went, Sarah flew off into the trees, never to be seen again till the finish. I got myself into second and managed to stay there, despite opting for the belly slide instead of cycling on one part of the course. Team gold for Leeds, hooray!

My first breakthrough in the summer series was in Killinghall, when I finally managed to catch Marie and Sophie to finish second lady. I struggled to get anywhere near Sophie in the next two races, until my final race of the summer in Leeds, where it was a sprint for the women’s race win. My bike crossed the line first, barely a meter between us both, and it was great to finish the series on a high. This left me placed 3rd woman and 65th overall for the series.
In the Alps training for 'cross (3 peaks style!)
Next up... the 3 peaks! Living just 10 minutes from Ingleborough, it was too tempting for me not to enter. I guess we’ll find out in two weeks time if that was a wise decision or not! A fortnight of running and cycling in the Alps has put some much-needed miles in the legs, and the fuel tank is stocked up with pastries galore! Good luck to all others racing… the day will no doubt be a memorable one! 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Less than a month to go (before 3 Peaks of course)

So with less than a month to go (!) before the big race it's time to summarise my 3 peaks run up. I did indeed get the running shoes out and entered and ran a full 10 kilometre running race on a course that I know well on our local farm tracks that I use for CX training. Suffice to say I completed the run, but I didn't worry any of the local club runners other than finding my way to the excellent tea and cakes well ahead of the 'faster' competitors. Always thinking!

I also managed a walk up the final hill of Pen-Y-Ghent (hill of the wind) and by golly it was. That's when I realised I needed to either A) bail out completely or B) get radical with my CX bike gearing. I've gone for option B for now. Local gal Joanna Rycroft recommended Ye Olde Naked Man Cafe in Settle for post fell recovery.

I then retuned to Horton in Ribblesdale a few weeks later to take part in the excellent 3 peaks training day organised by the legendary John Rawnsley which was truly epic. Horizontal rain, a broken front brake, and some of the trickiest terrain I've ever encountered on a 'cross bike. And we didn't even go up any of the fells! Coffee and an abundant supply of cakes courtesy of Phil and Nora Thackray saved the day (seems like a theme developing here.....?).

In the mix also I've 'competed' in our club time trail league (slashing a whopping 35 seconds off my 25 mile PB) and combined that with a few of the local summer 'cross series (although a cynic might say that by combining these two I deliberately avoided a series ranking in either). Still, all good fun. And did I mention the little training ride we took with the entire IAM Cycling Team who we found lost in Harrogate looking for the sumptuous Rudding Park hotel where they'd been billeted for the start of the Tour de France. 

I even dug out the old MTB to take part (race?) in the final round of the Nutcracker MTB series on a seriously challenging course above Reeth in the Yorkshire Dales, persuaded by Tim Evans that it'd be good 3 peaks style terrain. It was just that. This time I didn't take any chances and brought along some Eccles cakes from our local baker but I needn't have bothered, the organisers had a full on BBQ on the go so it was burger and salads all round after the racing was done (with a latte to wash down the cakes).

Then the real training began, after an excellent (for me) sub 8 minute Norwood Edge hill climb I began a week of intestinal issues that saw me drop 3 or 4 kgs and become weak as a kitten. But I'm down to 3 peaks fighting weight, only with a serious lack of power and endurance. Oh well, one out of three ain't bad?

So like a naughty schoolboy I'll be cramming for my exam now just a few weeks away by taking a trip to Majorca to see if I can find some of that elusive strength and/or endurance. But most likely I'll find some cafĂ© con leche and tarta de almendras. ¡Que bien!

Finally, assuming all goes well and I find myself on the start line I'll be thinking of club mate Darryl Varley who has been seriously injured while out riding his 'cross bike in preparation for the peaks race.

For more cyclocross in your life head over to Cyclocross Magazine where you'll find a free (yes Yorkshire folk, you read that right) digital edition of the magazine including an excellent article on the upcoming Milton Keynes World Cup race.