Tuesday, 16 December 2008

top 10 pieces of kit i like

In the spirit of those Top 10 Christmas lists that surface this time of year and some potential last minute Christmas shopping, I thought I would run through some of the cross and non-cross things that put a smile on my face through comfort or functionality and ensure their place in my kit bag or on a bike on a regular basis. Who knows, if you get your significant other to read this, they may even turn up in your Christmas stocking........

There was a danger that this might turn into an infomercial for Rapha but I have resisted the temptation, and there are some perhaps surprisingly economical choices in there as well......

In no particular order:

Vittoria Open Pave Evo CG open tubulars, 24mm

I dont know why but I have always gone a bit gaga over these fat green and black clinchers from Italy - maybe it is the association with Roubaix and the other rough classics, or maybe because they bridge that gap between riding on smooth roads and riding on rough surfaces, cross style. They are supremely comfortable, perform on the worse roads imaginable (mostly round where I live) and got me through the Flanders sportive at 5.5 bar with grip, comfort and no punctures. They seem pretty puncture proof apart from one terrible week where I punctured 4 times in 5 days and nearly threw them away - bizarre considering they dont puncture any other time really.

Rapha Cap

Warm when cold, cool when hot. Wicks sweat beautifully. Washes time and time again and retains it's shape every time, rather than retaining as much integrity as Nora Batty's stockings after a few washes. Worth every penny, depite mutterings from some about paying THAT much for a cap.

Aldi Gloves

Crane Sports manage to do technical sporting gear, sold by Aldi, at ridiculous prices. For example I picked up a windproof winter jacket that directly copied my Assos Airjack for about a 10th the price. And it works well too. My Aldi winter gloves fit well, wash well, wear well and cost £3. Not quite Rapha styling as they say 'Biking' on the back but who cares when they work as well as £30 gloves. Seek them out, I dare you.

Orange FMB Superprestige cross tubs

I actually didnt use these much in the few races I did this season, preferring to run Dugast Rhinos as it was always really muddy. However, they are simply the mutz nutz when it comes to cross tubs. Geniunely artisan/hand made, rather than Dugast hand/machine made, covered in latex and weatherproof they have the most incredible ride, seemingly absorbing much of what the terrain can throw at you. Grip is brilliant in all but the worst mud and on a pair of Mavic GP4s they feel utterly bombproof and reliable. I took the file tread version all over Nidderdale on a 7 hour off and on road extravaganza last year (in lieu of the 3 Peaks) - no punctures, great grip and super comfort on hard rocky tracks.

Shimano 105 shifters, 10 speed

Why buy Ultegra or Dura Ace when these are as good as the previous incarnations of Dura Ace? Maybe because I spent up on FMB tubs.......... I rest my case though.

Endura overshoes

Wetsuit-like, shiny rubbery with an inside that matches my Rapha cross bibs. They are incredibly warm, reasonable in the pouring rain and have kevlar stuff on the bottom so they dont rip on the studs and tread of my cross shoes which I also use on the road all the time.

Old Mavic GP4 tubular rims

The yellow and purple ones with quite tall sidewalls. Bombproof, repairable, stiff, good for braking in the wet and mud. Everything that my carbon wheels are not. Note to self - use these and not carbons as they work better. And now it is stylishly acceptable too as the Euro pros are ditching deep carbons like they are going out of fashion......

Rapha cross bibs

OK, there was always going to be a homage to Rapha, but these are simply brilliant. Snug and supportive with no baggy bits, and with a great pad insert they have kept me warm on some close-to zero or sub zero commutes in the last couple of weeks. They were great off road too in the Wheelbase cross, even if they did put a target on my back (?!). Even the bib thing doesn't slip off my slopey shoulders as I ride. If wear is anything like the other Rapha stuff they will be a worthwhile investment for sure. Not sure about the usefulness of the matching top which has 1 small pocket though.

The eagle eyed or those who have read to this point without surfing off to more titillating websites will have noticed that there are only 8 things in this top ten. So be it, though honourable mentions would go to my growing collection of Euro cross DVDs now spanning the last 5 seasons and my compact chainsets which have enhanced my cycling pleasure over the last few years as hills officially get steeper in line with global warming.

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

nw league 13 - wheelbase cross

Lovely day, hardest race all year?

Looking elegant, composed and may I say quite alluring...

The numbers were a little lower this time round, given the date deep into the season and the recent snowfall and ice. Those who did make it were rewarded with a beautiful day and possibly the hardest course all year. Warming up early doors began the process of cracking through the crust on the snow and it was obvious that this was going to be a long slow slog through either snow, slush or the thick mud that lurked beneath. One for the runners amongst us.....

After 2 and 1/2 weeks off the bike I had decided the best way to ease back into things would be to race - and given the tough nature of the course, paid a predictable price. Drowning in snot, I plodded round, slower and slower before a spectacularly pedestrian finish up the last climb of the day. No matter, it was good just to be out riding, only 15 mins from home and in conditions that were definitely interesting, even novel, but thankfully not regular for the NW series. Job done, and I didn't get ill afterward either. There were certainly a good few others who had been ill as well, in particular following the epic, nay Biblical Stadt Moers race - not my excuse as I succumbed before that race even took place!

Pics all courtesy of Dave Haygarth - thanks!

There is a race report on http://www.nwcca.org.uk/ and on British Cylcing with some great photos - thanks to Dave Haygarth and his team/entire family for putting on the race in challenging conditions. And no I wasn't 28th as the draft results flatteringly indicated......

Friday, 5 December 2008

wheelbase cross preview

Cross comes to Rossendale! I am not sure if and when the last North West League race was held in Rossendale, but it has to have been a while back. By way of explaining my excitement, I work in and live very near to this post-industrial valley that sprawls eastward, 20 miles or so north of Manchester. Wheelbase's promotion tommorrow is being held in the centre of the Valley, in Waterfoot.

Waterfoot was once the heart of the area's footwear industry. It still boasts a splendid Victorian shopping arcade and is the base for the championship producer of one of Lancashire's best delicacies; black pudding. Oh yes, it doesn't come more traditional than this.

Regular organiser, and former NW League winner Dave Haygarth (pictured below and not above!) has designed a compact course making use of all the space in one of the areas old Victorian parks, set on a hillside overlooking the moors. Dave has always produced tough, well thought out and challenging courses (best described as traditional?) and this looks to be no exception. Particularly as it has snowed heavily here over the last couple of days. The course uses the natural contours of the park in a direct fashion - in other words there is a big climb up and a big descent back down, broken up in places with some good meandering around natural obstacles.

Despite the weather conditions, the race is very much on as this update from Dave on the NWCCA website indicates;

We’ve had a few queries about whether the event is still on - yes it is. The course may well feature some residual snow and almost certainly ice with the current forecast, but we will deal with this to make a safe course. It’s also likely to be muddy too. All the fun of winter racing in one go.

Cycling Weekly have published the venue as an old venue that was originally in the BC handbook - the event takes place at Edgeside Park, Waterfoot, about 2 miles from Rawtenstall.

There’s still quite a bit of snow and ice that may make local access to the venue at Edgeside Park slow going - but please use the allotted parking marked off Wales Road - please do not park on the road side.

Come and support this well organised and well-prized event!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

training with mick style

This post has had more false dawns than a Government plan to rescue the economy, but unlike a recovery from recession, here it is at last.

I spoke to Mick Style of Manchester Wheelers a while ago, quizzing him on his training methods, mainly because he, as a fellow Vet was beating me hands down every race, even with his trademark gentlemanly start. No altruistic motive really to spread knowledge and experience throughout the cross world - more an attempt to get a jump on him and catch him up.

Mick was NW League Vets Champion last year and is vying for that spot again with Dave Headon of Horwich CC. Mick kindly took the time to explain his build up for the season and it made my eyes water in terms of the amount of riding he was doing (and went some way to explaining why he was substantially faster than me):

Well first of all I just love riding my bike which can be a great positive for training – getting miles in, getting out in most weathers, jumping at the chance of a ride, chain-gangs, road racing, time trailing, mountain biking, getting together with the Club.......

Coming off a good cross season, I had a modest break, skiing etc but should have rested a bit more I reckon. Anyway, on top of the usual miles in March, a couple of long rides – the Cheshire Cat c. 6h– for a steady long ride and the Lakeland Loop for a longish ride c. 4hr with tough climbs, Hardknott and Wrynose at the end. Add a great week in Majorca, rest for a week, and I was set me up for a cracking ride in the Fred Whitton, 6h29 and 27th overall. First objective and season milestone achieved by a mile – I was hoping for sub 7hr!

Quite well planned out in training sessions/periodisation from early March for 8 weeks. May and June I went mad and did as much as poss – 10’s, 25’s, summer cross, road races, mountain mayhem doing 12 races in two months! Felt strong in some races, bit tired in others but work/home life made it possible so I was ‘mad fer it’ as dear Liam would say. Should have had an easy week or too but didn’t! Looking back that gave me a great base but left me knackered and completely unmotivated all August where I did no races except a couple of Club 10’s....the typical mid-season blues.

An August of too many late nights with no sleep and too much beer at a couple of festivals and a week in Ibiza kept me off the bike long enough to recover a bit from possible over-racing/training. Hardly ideal rest and recovery eh but certainly the intensity and duration of rides came down! A couple of weeks of short, sharp rides in early September, Scorton and Horwich cross races where I was going well then a stormer of a Three Peaks ride for me in 3.50 and second big objective of the season achieved – a sub 4 hour ride! Getting to the 3 peaks rested enough but with good base fitness was more by accident than design I reckon! But it shows its better to get too much rest than not enough maybe?

During the season Mick balances the significant demands of regular cross races with his job as MD of a big media agency in Manchester:

My in-season training is always a bit of a balance between racing, rest, recovering from the odd cold and trying to get a couple of quality sessions in and I think I’m not quite managing it. So with that in mind, my typical week during the cross season is:

Sunday – Race

Monday – 30/40 mins very easy recovery, generally on turbo

Tuesday – If I’ve recovered sufficiently - 45/80 minute ride with intervals – mix of seated and out of saddle. Some 10”, 20” to 30” x 15-20 sessions one week and 1-3 min x 5 efforts the next. Tends to be shorter ride as season progresses and light goes. I do this on flattish road circuits, not ideal but there’s no suitable hills in quick reach of Chorlton. Or do circa 40 mins on turbo instead if wet or too cold!

Wednesday – probably nothing, or do Tues session on a Weds and nothing Tues if I’m still tired on Tuesday (about 50% of the time)

Thursday – SQT on track if I can get on which is realistically 1’30” riding of which 80% will be steady and 20% efforts – sprints/pursuiting/ints etc. If I feel lively I’ll go hard, if I’m a bit weary I only do a couple of short efforts and cruise round the track during the ints. Alternative – easy or ints on turbo as I feel.

Friday – nothing

Sat – 40 mins to 1 hour ride with few efforts though not at 100%.

So I reckon that’s about it – 5-6 hours a week which doesn’t really sound enough does it? I think I would find it difficult to get much more in – longer rides are too boring on the turbo and just not much fun/dangerous training on the road at speed at night. If the race is on a Sat, I would probably do a two-three hour club run which would put total hours up to 7-8 maybe.

I suppose the key for me is making sure that my endurance, speed, power and rest are all in pretty good shape come September - there’s nothing quite like racing to push up your lactate threshold a bit - and hold form for as long as I can.

5-6 hours during the season may or may not seem that much in itself, but Mick clearly has a great base from lots of varied summer riding, and for all us with jobs and commitments is probably plenty enough if part of a regular racing schedule that requires considerable rest in itself.

I'm no coach but the combination of great base and short quality sessions with lots of racing during the season definitely works for him, as his results this year show. Many thanks to Mick for his time and good luck for the rest of the season.

we apologise for the break in transmission...

Sorry for the recent gap in posts - I got sick 2 weeks ago and in a fit of pique and general grumpiness, couldn't bring myself to write anything vaguely related to cross.

Actually I was properly ill for a week or so, not man-flu but a bone-aching, feverish and energy sapping virus that felt like a living hell for a while. It meant I missed 3 races, with a 4th this weekend under review and lost any chance of a NW League overall finish. Consequently I got a real cob on.

However, I was not so ill that I wasted an opportunity to catch up on some of recent the Euro cross races. Early season races seemed to be dominated by the same trio of Boom, Albert and Nys with Wellens, Stybar, Klass Vantornout and Sven Vantourenhout making up the minor places. Vervecken has seemed to be over the hill and out of the picture and only Rob Peeters (Nys teammate) has made a big leap this year. The new guard (Albert, Boom) seemed to be poised to over take the old (Wellens, Nys).

Mid season and it is all change - Albert crashed and ruptured his spleen at Gavere, Boom got blood poisoning and Wellens has started podiuming and winnning. So too has Klaas Vantornout and even the ageing Vervecken got a WC win at Koksijde! Nys continues to win in his old ways with some classy displays of last lap power that the others cannot match.

On the Euro fashion front, mullets are in - Boom, Albert and Stybar sporting them proudly, and deep dish carbons largely out. Nys has been using Mavic R-Sys a lot, particularly on the front, with Albert too using 24mm rims even in the deepest mud. Wellens has apparently bought his own low profile Lightweights at some eye watering cost and been using them when the mud is up though some have attributed this to a back problem that is excerbated by rigid deep carbon hoops.

Hot for this season, cross fashionistas, are TRP Euro X brakes in magnesium. As sported by Albert, Nys and co. Only £200 or so a pop. Horwich team mate Martin Jones showed me his a little while ago and I nearly wet myself - white Euro sex adjustable brakes with toe in. No sqeaky Froggslegs for him. Martin imports them along with very tasty Colnago frames so give him a shout if you fancy some Xmas bling

Whilst I missed out on all the fun of racing, NW stalwarts enjoyed some really testing conditions over the past few weekends races - from hypothermia inducing sleet at Stadt Moers to a frostbite risk at Leverhulme. Well done to all those that have kept their health, their motivation and their extremities over what has been some reasonably extreme conditions for cross. Ahh, nothing though like the legendary Beast of Bolsover race I did last December on a quick trip accross to the Notts and Derby League............. I shiver just at the thought of that grim experience.