Wednesday, 9 December 2009

break time

I anticipate a short break in transmission over the next couple of weeks. The Mad Season approaches.

Many thanks to those of you regularly popping in to this little corner of cross geekdom. Don't go away - it's good to have you on board. The cross season is hotting up domestically and internationally so go out and do your own veldridjt and check back in once in a while (or in the New Year) to see if I can think of anything constructive to write about my own cross experiences. And those of the wider cross world too. After that, we can all get excited about the Classics starting.....

Cheers!

Monday, 30 November 2009

a rant

I'm told by those around me that I am a pretty tolerant sort of fellow, and certainly in my line of work, running projects for homeless teenagers, there is a need for a relaxed attitude. However, I'm getting sick and tired of hearing wingeing and moaning about there being too much thick mud and the need for running during a cross race.

What is it with these people?!

Let me point out some facts:

I live and therefore mostly race cross in a region of England that has the highest rainfall of any in the country.

Cross is a winter sport. It is held as an alternative to road racing and time trialling, and now mountainbiking.

Cross has always been about natural obstacles - solid or otherwise.

Cross is held in parkland, woodland and on other soil (or sand) based mediums.

Saturday's NW League race, the Wheelbase Cross in Haslingden was unsurprising really. With a late November date after a month of torrential rain, including severe flooding events just to the north in Cumbria, in a Victorian municipal park comprising 75% grass and 25% woodland, it doesn't take a degree in hydrology, ecology, bio-diversity or any other science, to work out there is going to be a fair amount of mud generated by 140 or so riders round the course.

At this point I need to declare a certain interest in the proceedings, as on the day I was helping out friend and Peaks devotee, Dave Haygarth who was organising the race with the Wheelbase shop and team. I have seen just how much work and effort goes into organising these races. The one thing an organiser cannot do is organise the weather! Dave was pre-riding the course for weeks beforehand with me and several others, and made some last minute changes in an attempt to minimise problems when the course became completely waterlogged the Wednesday before. There was no way on earth that it was ever going to be anything but super muddy, unless people fancied a slippy crit race around the park using the tarmac paths only.

Pic: Jo Hanglebads

I would also like to offer some contructive criticism to those complaining about the level of mud clogging their bikes - pick them up! Seriously, the number of people I saw riding through really thick patches, pushing through really thick patches and generally doing their best to make the problem worse was amazing. Look after your bike during the race and it will look after you. Or do, as some of my team mates did and take a tool/scraper to unclog your cassette and frame as you go round. I enjoyed the conditions and made the best of them to finish 4th Vet (amongst National standard opposition) and 12th overall in a field that started with 120 riders. Things are coming together nicely for a foray into National Trophy racing at Bradford.

Anyway, I am getting away from my rant - whilst European racing tends to be faster and more flowing, they are not immune from weather induced bogfests as the following illustrate (thanks to Dave Haygarth for the 1st clip):





Either way, cross is and should remain a sport of varying challenges - terrain and weather induced. Running is part of cross - embrace it. You don't have to go out and run marathons on the road, just include some short, sharp runs in your training to help out for when there is no other option but to take to your feet. Your summer cycling will thank you too, due to the cross-training effect running brings. If you don't like running at any point, then stick to summer cross and the early season races. Or take up time trialling.... Just quit moaning please.

Rant over. Till the next muddy cross.

Monday, 23 November 2009

where are things up to in the heartland?

WARNING: Contains race spoilers for those that haven't caught up on the DVD action yet!

Post wise, things have been pretty quiet on the Euro cross front. However, my race watching has continued apace with the downloads from Newsbin coming thick and fast.

In terms of English riders in the women's field, things are looking good over in that little house in Tielt-Winge, Belgium, residence to the Wyman's (as well as Gabby Day and Ian Field). They all seem to be pushing each other hard in training and Helen has come up with some cracking results in the really tough races like Koppenberg (2nd) and Namur (3rd). Only a matter of time now before a really big win in a WC or SP race, Helen...........there have been some wins already in other races including this weekend in Germany following a training break in Portugal. Chapeau!

In the Elite men field, the early season left me somewhat deflated as it seemed that Prince Albert was holding court and no-one dared challenge his title. However King Nys has returned to battle for the crown and there is a new pretender to the throne (enough Royal metaphors there I think!).

Certainly it looked like Niels Albert was going to run away with the season after back to back wins, emphatic in their nature. With Bart Wellens going man down with illness as well, the list of possible riders who could challenge Albert seemed thin on the ground - Nys was out of form, Stybar not quite there and Klaas Vantornout and Kevin Pauwels going well, but not well enough.


Albert's trademark tactic of a blistering attack very early on and a subsequent solo ride to victory has been countered by the others, and he has had some problems too at the start in other races. Either way, he looks more vulnerable now and especially on the technical courses requiring either descending or ascending skills or both. He was simply outclassed at Jaarmarkt and Gavere by Nys who remains the best of the peloton at retaining forward motion when the ground gets tricky. Though Albert did win Gavere, Nys looked much the better rider before his puncture.


Stybar took his time to get up to the speed of Albert and at times, Nys too, but after several recent 3 man showdowns in the final stages of the race, it was only a matter of time before he found the line first and this weekend he did so in emphatic style wining the double header of GVA and Superprestige races. Albert was once again found wanting in technical sections over the weekend, and a certain desparation has come into his riding - he is no longer able to break away at will and ride away. It would seem that he is running out of tools in his toolkit at the moment?

Stybar has developed a much more mature style - hanging back much of the time, sometimes giving the impression he is struggling and at times letting Albert (and others) burn too many matches with attacks that are brought back. He is less impetuous, less emotional and at the moment looking the better rider for me. I think he has been observing Nys, who although strong on blistering attacks is no one trick pony, and Stybar I feel has been learning from the old pro. I was pleased, nay excited, to see his wins this weekend as they signal a confirmation for me that this could be turning into the most exciting season for years - Albert, Nys and Stybar are confirmed winners but Bart returns very soon and Kevin Pauwels I feel, could be due for a win when conditions turn rough and the going super technical. Pauwels is super quiet and reserved but super dogged in a racing situation. He picked up a big win last season, and I look forward to more from him.


We are heading into the 'classic race' period with Koksijde, Overijse and Essen and the Christmas race fest to come including the trilogy of Diegem, Loenhout and Baal. Missing in action though to my great disappointment is the monster sand and mud fest that is Hofstade, scene of some epic racing and epic weather. We could be in for a treat if all three raise their game for this campaign and set us up for a superb Worlds in the fozen wastes of Tabor.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

gettin' cross


I love this image from Duncan Here Come the Belgians- it's been inspiring me over the past month to do exactly that. To get out and cross, sometimes alone but mostly in company. And it has paid off. Pushing myself in the company of better riders (thanks Dave H), running through technique with others - it's all helped hone those cross skills still further.

I had the good fortune to be coached many years ago by Ian Small, a legend on the NW cross scene. Ian has been involved with cross for longer than he probably cares to remember, and still competes every weekend in the Veteran Over 70 catagory. When I got into cross, Ian was in the minute (ie 4 members) club I joined, Zodiac. He was also coaching the National Cyclocross Development Squad and kindly ran evening cross sessions in Manchester. Those group sessions were hard - warm up, stretching, runs, technique and mini races. All floodlit and often in the worst of weathers. Those sessions provided the bedrock for good technique - technique which still is hard wired today. I am not the strongest in the mud, not the best downhill, not the canniest racer, but I am as quick as most riders out there at getting on and off, and over barriers or obstacles - those basic cross skills.

One of my recent group sessions included a welcome visit to my neck of the woods by Otley Rich. Though he lives in Yorkshire we can forgive him this indiscretion. Rich is a classy rider - light, very strong and with a smooth style and extensive experience to match. He has a distinct sartorial style too. On every occasion that I can remember last year on the road when we have ridden together, he has rode away from me on the hills, pedalling serenely in a bigger gear. It gets frustrating sometimes but is nonetheless great to watch.


This season in cross races, the roles have been reversed - Rich has been close on my heels but not quite there at the finish to beat me as would be expected on previous form. Training together round my local cross circuit it became apparent to me where I was countering his greater strength and fitness - off the bike, over or around an obstacle, and then back on the bike again. With Belgian Mark, we worked together on barrier technique and on mounting, especially on uphill sections. Like many riders, Rich had a tendency to jump too high, landing slightly heavy on the saddle and losing momentum in the process. Barriers were approached a little too slow and the foot section started a little too early, rather than taking a single stride before and then over the barrier. I enjoyed thinking too about those skills - they were passed onto me and I have taken them for granted over the years. Explaining the little details and the subtle tips to others confirms my own familiarity with the technique. Doing stuff at race pace on a simulated lap or course is also essential. It is one thing to string together a beautiful coast into the barriers, set up for a single stride and mount in a flowing motion when fresh, but when your heart is up in the red zone, your vision blurred and your arms exhausted from previous laps, that smoothness becomes a real struggle. The engrams or patterns of movement that you have hard wired previously become all the more important.

I urge you then, to find a local group, get a few friends together and do some skills work. Design your own course in a local park or wood. You dont need a lot of space, just some imagination and a mindset where you aren't bothered being observed jogging alongside a bike, randomly hopping onto it and picking it up for imaginary barriers that only you can see........

As for Rich, I suspect he will be beating me soon armed with his new toolkit of techniques. But only if he blags his way nearer the front row of the starting grid like I do to ensure a quick get away...........

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Team Here Come the Belgians infomercial......

Shameless plug for the Belgians here - I couldn't resist getting busy on xtranormal, a make your own movie site which conveniently has a range of accents to choose from for your characters.

Enjoy. If you can understand those Flemish accents..........

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

skillsets

Now the dust, or rather mud, has settled on last weekend's NW League race at Brockholes, it feels timely to visit some of the issues raised by this soon to be legendary mudbath.

Photos from the event have given some insight into the problems encountered with a very tough, saturated grass based course, overhung and surounded by trees:


Pic Dave Haygarth

However, with the express intention of starting a bit of a debate, I want to take issue with some of the comments overheard at the event, most of which can be summarised in terms of a moan about the conditions, the amount of running or getting off the bike and a general dissatisfaction about a perceived lack of riding throughout the length of the course.

I should preface this slightly and say that for my 4 year old, the complete bog near the finish was clearly too much and she exited the U12 race somewhat tearfully. Also, that the number of broken rear mechs in the Senior race was well into double figures and Stuart Reid claimed first prize in that category with not one but two Dura Ace rear mechs that met their demise. Some riders were reduced to regularly stopping and clearing out their clogged bottom brackets, brakes and forks. Clearly conditions were on the tough, nay destructive side.

This though is the point - of cross. The necessary skillset of a cross rider is in fact an incredibly varied thing. Cross is not riding fast at all times, without getting off and without encountering natural obstacles. It is not about the steady pacing strategy of a time trial, the smooth fast flow of a bunch in a road race. It is about finding an easier line, a quicker technique on or off the bike, about agility, about grinding it out sometimes.

Cross is also a winter sport. Deliberately. Whilst modern summer crosses can be great fun and useful to keep the body's memory of high intensity, cross's roots can be traced way back to the turn of the century, a time when the Tour de France was more about survival and cross was invented and practiced expressly for 'the physical education of the cyclist'. A fab article by Eugene Christophe from 1921 clearly illustrates this paradigm. Check it out for the photos by way of demonstration.

I dont want to take the discussion down some macho dead end alley, but cross is and should always be challenging. It should throw different challenges at you according to the course, it's condition and the natural or not so natural obstacles along it's duration.



Going back to Brockholes (and I will be, unlike some apparently) the course was heavy. Biblically so in places. It required a minimum of 2 runs. It clogged bikes up and those with either 2 bikes, or God forbid a crew with a jet wash, were at an advantage. But amongst all this, this particular achtervolger rode in the big ring around the entire course for the length of the race. Hardly a bottom gear grind. I did however get off and run quite a number of sections that were (just) rideable. Why? Because it was quicker, and cross is about being quicker than the riders around you. My hours of drills on and off the bike, over obstacles and during off road intervals paid off and I was able to employ the skillset I had developed over time, to it's maximum.

I like most other riders have my preference for certain types of course. I make no bones about saying this was one of them, but equally do not shy away from fast, crit style courses with the kind of tight turns and confined tracks that my 6' 5" frame copes less well with. It's still cross, and I have to be able to cope with whatever comes along. Where I struggle, I work on that weakness and as a result this year my cornering technique has been a lot better, whilst my running and speed off and then on to the bike remains a strength.

Let me know your thoughts - for me it was simply a cross race that required a strategy like any other race, and that strategy required getting off the bike several times a lap. That adaptation to conditions is why, for me, cross is so engrossing. The cleaning up afterwards though was a different matter!


On a purely observational note, I noticed a large number of 'modern' style cross bikes, quite high end models, that were simply unable to cope with the amount of mud and leaves. My trusty, rather old skool Planet X Oom Johan(s) have great clearance, slack angles even and this showed in the fact that they kept going without missing a beat. The clearances on more exotic frames have got tighter, reflecting the trend of the day and what the Euro pros are riding. This however falls a little flat without the pit crew a Euro Pro has and the access to a jet wash every lap or so. Food for thought......

Oh, and Green Michelin Muds on tub carcasses are better than Rhinos in a straight shoot out. Better cornering and less prone to clog (interestingly) when things are super sticky. The positions might be reversed in really sloppy thin mud though. Maybe.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

off the back a little

As followers of the beautifully stylish Velodramatic and Here Come the Belgians blogs will know, the sheer level of other commitments we all have can easily get in the way of a good honest post. Michael from Velodramatic nicely summed it up as being off the back of the race a little and struggling back through the cars....

No exception here with the life/blog balance resulting in a lack of posting (no claims to stylishness included). However, my priorities are in order and I have indeed been out riding veldrijd, in competition and in training. So much so, I thought it would be timely to revisit a post from last January looking at tubs, that bitter sweet obsession that graces this little corner of cyberspace.

Last Jan I directly compared the offerings from Dugast and FMB, something which garnered a surprising amount of interest based on a recent quick Google search and the number of times this post appears to have been referenced on forums, chatrooms and other cross based sources of dispute:

http://crossjunkie.blogspot.com/2009/01/dugast-vs-fmb-tubulars.html

Judging by the number of visits from Canadian and US readers (indeed worldwide readers), it also spread the crossjunkie brand somewhat farther than I had ever intended - a welcome serendipity and the source of something to live up to.

I have been riding different tubs this year so far and thought it would be timely to present my truly scientific and statistically significant findings...........

Preparations for the monumental 3 Peaks Cyclocross centred around some new and relatively untested tires, all from FMB. The trouble is the Peaks is such a unique and unrepresentative race that all data collected by the event is considered null and void when it comes to more traditional mud based riding, over 1 hour and no rocks (well except at Otterspool).


After the Peaks the FMB 34mm Fango Superprestige (sounds like a 70s Italian supercar) have been literally dusted off and relieved of their 60psi to be reborn at 30psi and liberally coated with mud round my secret wood spaces. The Challenge Fango itself (from which the FMB takes its tread) is billed as a mud tire. Despite the fact that FMB casings are much more supple and in the latex walled SP version, capable of running very low without folding over, I have to say I have been unimpressed. The tire that was absolutely superb on the road and rocks of the Peaks has not translated well at all to mud. It's sketchy in corners, causing some heartrate monitor bpm peaking moments, and failes to hook up well on the rear in sloppy, muddy grass. Big disappointment.

Or is it. Perhaps I am being too harsh here, as the Rhino and Green Michelin Mud with which I am comparing it, are true mud tires and this has perhaps cannily been billed as more of a cross-over tire - one to use in a wider range of conditions as pointed out by this article from Velonews. Either way, it doesn't compete with the best mud tires out there, perhaps more so in my FMB incarnation as there is apparently a noticeable and negative difference between the 34mm performance in mud and the 32mm, due to the way the side knobs are elevated on the bigger casing. Despite this, it has been in regular use in training as the less than perfect grip makes riding my more specific mud tires in races an absolute blast. 'For the technique, good is it.' - Yoda, Star Wars:Attack of the Clone Tubulars.


So what is working well this season then? Apart from the ubiquitous Rhino which maintains its spot as mud king, I am running a couple of pairs of old Green Michelin treads on either Dugast or FMB casings. I had hoarded some old Green Mich treads for ages (sending them off to FMB) and managed to pick up the Dugast conversions second hand too. Both work like a dream in the mud, feel solid through technical roots and the rougher sections and run fast on the tarmac too. Shame they are no longer available as I feel they rival Rhinos in the worst mud and handle everything else too......

A brief mid season break from racing is coming to an end soon (did I ever get going enough to call it a season?) and then it's back into the fray for some good solid North West events in November followed by a National Trophy round in December to really put me in my place. The standard of the Vets at National level is somewhat eyewatering to a keen but firmly amateurish enthusiast such as myself. However the turbo is busy, the secret cross circuits are being worn to their winter state and the booze is taking more of a back seat now. Onwards and upwards.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

racing line

Racing at the delightfully named Boggart Hole Clough last Sunday, I realised just how much I still had to learn about the artform that is cross. From the handlebar banging shenanigins (of which more later) at the start, to the endless chasing of brethren from Liverpool, the race provided a rich seam of experience.

Funny, as I have ridden a fair few cross races over time, but the combination of a gloriously varied and challenging track with older but wiley and strong opposition combined to put one over on me - in a way that just left me wanting more.

Former National Cross Champion and double 3 Peaks winner Nick Craig, has oft been quoted musing that cross is his favourite discipline because it is not exclusively the fittest rider that wins, but often the one that shows the most guile in the dark art of cross, rather than bike riding. I have paraphrased him somwehat, but you get my drift.



Pic: Richard Weltman

I love these North West League races - they are full of battles within battles, right the way through the field. Riders come back week after week, not hoping for a win or to be top in their age category, but to beat their nemesis from the previous week, to keep it going for a lap or two longer before being lapped by the leader or a team mate, to finish in the top half, third or whatever of the field.

And this is why I love cross - none of road racing's being dropped on the first lap and slinking back to the changing rooms rather than ride in anonymity and isolation around the course. No lonely furrow, against the clock and the inconsiderate drivers with a roundabout (for crying out loud!) to spice things up. No sir - cold hard racing from gun to tape, at our own level but in company and with encouragement.

In the end at Boggart I was undone by a crafty rider, older and wiser, though to be fair with sronger legs too. Ray provided me with a great 40 minutes entertainment once I had caught him after the melee that was the start. Attacking me up the tarmac climb every lap, I would claw him and his team mate back each time, about half a lap later. Then the process would start again, me sometimes getting away on some more technical sections to be pulled back and attacked again. If we were at the front of the race it would have been thrilling to watch - for me, positioned in the late twenty's out a of a hundred strong field, it was simply great fun. Ray's a bugger though - on catching me he would raise the pace again. It must have hurt somewhat but it sure demoralised me and made me doubt myself. He beat me fair and square, with strength of leg and character too. And I learnt some valuable lessons in the process. Cheers!

The handlebar banging was a relatively new one to me. Cross is competitive, sure. I want to improve as much as anyone else too. But for me, diving up the outside of the first bend at the start, cutting across to bang into me several times and nearly down me in the bunch inside, only to fade and go backwards half a lap later is taking things a bit far. I am to be fair a pretty meek soul, but it would be nice if riders who know they are likely to finish up mid pack or lower would let faster competitors get on with it at the start without forcing their way up and then getting in the way on the opening lap as their pace fades. There were several riders who fell into this particular category..... I was fairly well down too on this first lap but matched pace with riders in the top 15 quite happily for a while as I picked through the field.

I suspect there is the potential for some debate on this one, and given a wide field start then I have no problem with everyone for themselves. However we were gridded on a narrow tarmac climb and as an infrequent rider I have no right to the front of the grid. Neither too though have those who know they will be lapped by those around them later in the race but who still push to the couple of rows behind the front....

Let's see some some self regulation on this one to make it a better race for all. Insults, brickbats and other complaints to

crossjunkieisawhinger@crossjunkie.com

Friday, 9 October 2009

loose ends


By way of tying things up a little, this photo of a tired, strung out Belgian and some other superb ones of Peaks riders on and off Penyghent, appeared after a little pause on cyclingimages.co.uk

The photos of the head of the race as the leading few riders climbed the track above the right hand turn up the escarpment to the summit are particularly good. They graphically illustrate the pain and commitment of riding high up on PYG, at this late stage of the race. The rest of field is captured concentrating and grimacing as they begin the long descent down.

I make no apologies for dragging up the Peaks again, a couple of weeks after things have moved on. I find myself in limbo really - the pain has long gone, the endorphin rush even more fleeting. But it is still there in my head. Constantly. I feel at a loose end and inextricably I find myself drawn to my nice new pair of Inov8 fell shoes, heading out yesterday from of my brand new office on foot and literally straight up the valley side via a disused incline from the quarry above - a replicant of a Simon Fell calf creaser if ever there was one. Next year, lunchtimes will be reps up this industrial age relic, trying to harden those quads up too with the bruising bike laden descents in between.


I can't settle entirely on cross either at the moment - I have some races planned in late October and November but the turbo appeals not a lot at this stage. It's the hills that are still calling, as Autumn sets in properly and the air chills down nicely. Having moved offices too (though only a couple of miles down the valley), I have set about exploring the secret places round these parts. A mini cobbled climb here and there and more importantly for now, a cross circuit in the woods and fields above the office on the other side of the narrow valley. I love nosing around, poring over maps, trying to ascertain what little secrets can be gleaned from the local area - a few lost lunchtime hours ferreting around to hide that hidden gem of a track, or climb.


It really should be back to cross now - reps, intervals, drills. The formality of this style training has yet to fully grab me this year, a hangover from the off-the-wall style of riding that is represented by the Peaks, part fell-running, part mountain-biking, part cross. But it will come - turbo and all. Probably in a big rush too, if previous years are anything to go by.

Oh and after the honour of having a Peaks post printed in the official 3 Peaks Programme, a crafty collaboration between myself and another self-confessed Peaks addict should result in some printed matter over in a magazine on the other side of the Atlantic. We hope. More to be revealed...........

Monday, 28 September 2009

some peak performances


Yes it really is that steep!

Looking over to the Howgills from the summit of Whernside, highlighted in a patchwork of sun and shadow, it began to make sense. A little. Cramp still intruded on my brief reverie, but the moment was not lost. If riding, and what's more riding offroad is your pleasure, then riding on this long whaleback of a hill, overlooking the Lakes, Howgills and Dales, is indeed a rare treat.

Sure, there are many other wonderful places to mountainbike, or crossbike but for 1 day a year, the 3 Peaks Cyclocross allows enthusiasts a unique perspective to ride where riding is not normally allowed. To venture where previously only those on foot are granted access.

This is part of the unique flavour of the event - a one-off chance granted by the vision of one man, John Rawnsley, who has negotiated, promoted and sometimes fought to keep the race a regular fixture.

And it is a race, unashamedly so. As I prepared to dive off the flat section of the summit, down through the broken Shale and Millstone Grit bands, I was back focussing on the quickest lines, the smoothest transition from bike to foot and back to bike. Who was I racing? Whilst there were other competitors in front and behind, like most others, I had an eye on the time. My time. Unless you are right at the sharp end of the race, you are racing yourself - your potential, what has been before and what you want to come to pass. With a good time, comes a good place.

Up at the sharp end, the race was by all accounts gripping. Take one 7 time winner and World Sky Running champion, one Commonwealth and Worlds competitor in several wheeled disciplines and throw them together to fight it out against the backdrop of the Dales scenery. Race reports are to be found elsewhere but it was fascinating to see the nearly-man on so many occassions raise his game and master the discipline where he was weaker. Nick Craig can ride hard and descend with the best of them, but until now he has struggled to stay close enough to Rob Jebb when the course went uphill, as it does so brutally in places. Following a summer incorporating some good fell race results, he set about capping his losses once riding became impossible up the final climb to Penyghent, Nick's split time off the summit and down to the finish, catching Jebby in the process, was simply stunning - something which must have been hugely inspiring to watch. I met Nick a few times when racing many years ago, even buying an early version of Rock Shox off him when there were only a couple of pairs in the country. As a new pro he was kind and generous to a young, impressionable rider... He is respected and liked across the offroad community and his win will be welcomed everywhere.

One other who raised his game to new levels was Dave Haygarth. Dave too has put much of his heart and soul into this race, as rider, as team-mate, as volunteer publicist and it all came together on Sunday. Dave has enthused with me and for me over the Peaks and the fortuity of our geographical locations has allowed me to link up with him several times to ride together. The sight of the new 'white sex' shoes and matching Oakleys hurtling down the track was a boost to my flagging morale as the final ascent unwound. My climb was still a long way off being done but Dave had almost finished the descent, clearly on the ride of his life judging by the very few riders that had preceded him. Dave was rewarded with a 3:18 PB and 9th overall.

My rewards came in the form of a crash and mechanical free ride, in a respectable 4:18. Cramp though had chipped away at that golden 4 hour time, on Whernside's slopes and again on Penyghent. Next year simply has to be cramp free and faster. One day on from the race, tired and sore all over, I have already begun plotting, scheming, obsessing all over again. That is the draw that this race can have on you......

Photo: Wig Worland

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

bikes 1,2 or even 3;check, survival bag;check, whistle;check

There are some who clearly are suffering from nerves or a similar form of anxiety, some who are genetically predisposed to such processes, and those who want to win (or at least outperform themselves or their rivals).

A trip around the forums representing 3 Peaks riders (3 Peaks site, Singletrack etc) reveals a huge collective angst and obsession with what to ride and how to ride it. Maybe it is the fact that the Peaks can be tantalisingly hard to get into as a race, maybe that it comes around but once a year and takes on a huge presence of its own in the calendar, or maybe that it is simply a brutally hard race and loading the dice in your favour just seem like common sense.

Personally, those who know me will point to a genetic predisposition to obsess, about anything really, not just bikes. But bikes is where I am happiest ruminating, and the Peaks bike or bikes is the pinnacle of such persistant thoughts.

This year then, I be mostly running.........

I would like to say 3 bikes, a la Haygarth but my budget and lack of willing helpers currently denies me this option. Next year perhaps......

So,

Bike 1



Planet X Oom Johan XL frame, carbon forks
46/34 chainset with 11-26 cassette
Race X lite tubular wheels with Green Michelin Mud tread on 32mm FMB casings @60/65psi
Bottle cage on seat tube

This will do Ingleborough and Whernside before being swapped at Ribblehead. Green Michelin treads may seem like a strange choice but I have always found the section from Simon Fell to Ingleborough quite greasy and slippy in the early morning mist that is almost inevitable. The descent to Cold Cotes can also be peaty in places and the extra grip over say Landcruisers doesnt go amiss for me.

When coming down the slabs after Whernside these too can be wet in places and the 'sticky' nature of the tread boosts my confidence.

46 x 11 is fine for the swoopy downhills to Chapel le Dale. The bottle cage doesn't affect my carrying on such a large frame and is sensibly positioned very low down to keep it out of the way.


Bike 2



Planet X Oom Johan XL frame, carbon forks with less clearance
48/34 chainset with 12-28 cassette
Front 28 spoke GP4, rear 36 spoke Mavic tubular rims with 34mm FMB Superprestige Fango tubs (latex walls and latex punture protection strip) @65/psi
Double bar tape
Bottle cage on seat tube

This is the Penyghent bike - fatter tires, lower gears and double bar tape to aid tired and sore hands. The Fangos might be billed as a mud tire but they have a good central tread that rolls well on the road and the tread is not that aggrressive so is well suited to the rocky PYG descent. Latex helps any nasty sidewall tears and cushions considerably over a clincher like a Landcruiser.

I'll take a chain tool, latex sealant and gas cannister (for road punctures) plus gels and get bottles handed up at the bottom of the first 2 descents.

Fingers crossed.

This week has been a rollercoaster one - all was fine till Tuesday and then I started with an inevitable sniffle though not a full blown cold. All 3 of my kids have had recent colds and my wife is full of it too. The spare room has been in use this week I can tell you! No riding then for me either to try and stave off a proper infection - so far so good. I think. loosener on Fri and Sat I hope.

The Peaks messes with your head so much - confidence can ebb and flow dramatically if you don't control it as lurking in your mind is the inescapable fact that it is a huge effort even for the fittest of riders. Anyhow, I am ready now, excited and just wanting to get to Helwith for the start line.....

Good luck to everyone on Sunday!

update: dave haygarth's three bike strategy

I have to confess to being slightly disappointed at the circumspect nature of Dave's reply to a question about bike set up for the Peaks. All is clear now as well as forgiven, as this insightful post was obviously up his sleeve or armwarmer.......

http://3pcx.blogspot.com/2009/09/three-bike-strategy-explained.html

Now, I wonder if I have time to build up a third bike for Sunday and rope in another set of helpers?

Monday, 21 September 2009

interview with dave haygarth

Photo: Andy Rush

By way of build up to the Three Peaks Cyclo Cross next Sunday, I thought it would only be proper to find out a bit more about one of the Peaks leading protaganists - Dave Haygarth. Dave runs a seminal blog about this unique event staged in the Yorkshire Dales National Park every year at the end of September. It is the toughest and biggest Cyclo-Cross event in the UK. Period. For Transatlantic readers (who according to Google Analytics currently outnumber UK readers!), think Iron Cross race but rockier and harder with more running/walking. Or so I am told....

I have had a bit of a running joke with Dave about how to address such a luminary of the Peaks - legend, guru, bigcheese, emminence grise have all been tried. We settled on svengali - which is given (by me) in recognition of Dave's commitment, promotion, knowledge and obsession about the race. Dave rides for the Wheelbase team, and as such features in cyclocross races at National level (he was 24th in the last National Cross Champs), as well as being a former overall winner of the North West Cyclcross League. He was the subject a few years back, of a BBC Countryfile video diary about the Peaks and his own preparation, something which helped promote the popularity of the race still further. Dave also rides mountainbikes but had an earlier mishap in the year which left him with a broken clavicle and a bit of a battle to get back to fitness:




How long have you been riding, overall on a bike or specifically cross?

I rode a bike when I was two - without stabilisers I'm told. You had to fit them on separately back then and the story goes that my dad leaned the bike against the garage wall and I just got on and rode it. That's what comes from having an older brother I suppose. Seen it done. My cyclocross days started pretty late - as did my racing in general. My family's background was off road motorcycling so there was no cycling club membership or anything - I found cycle racing for myself really - with friends - about 16, but my first 'cross wasn't until the age of about 23. I was on my Mountain Bike and was in utter awe of riding next to Nick Craig and Chris Young in the race in Sheffield (where I studied). I wanted a 'cross bike so much then but I really had no money left after the booze expenditure.

You ride for Wheelbase – are they the most successful domestic cross team ever? How did you get involved?

I think Ace RT probably are in terms of history. Wheelbase are getting there though. I moved up to the North West from 7 years living in Cheltenham. I'd been very closely involved in Club life at Cheltenham & County CC (co-organising the National Trophy race there as well as a round of the national women's road race series for many years). I just fancied a break from a 'club' when I moved up here and was starting to get a few half decent 'cross results, so I just asked Stuart [Reid - Wheelbase rider and then staff member], and he said he'd sort me out with a jersey. That was it really - we have a lot of fun together in the 'cross season.



Team mate Lewis Craven tries a novel solution to the spare bike issue at the Peaks!

You're always looking at equipment tweaks for the Peaks. What is your ultimate no expense spared Peaks setup – bikes, tire choice, gearing, wheels etc? All the geeky stuff……….

Yep. It's no secret I love the race. I could always go further but try to keep a cap on things. Those SRAM 10 speed MTB groupsets look tidy for a race like that if I had £1500 per bike to spare.

(I note that Dave gave very little away there..... I'll run down my equipment choices later in the week.)

What gets you out of bed at daft o’clock to ride or run? Future glory at races or communing with nature?

Having to fit training round a family life. I never did any early training rides until I had children. If I want to spend time with them - which I certainly do - I have to work out a time to train. It's my only option!

How do you balance work, family, music projects and performing at elite, though maybe not quite Top 10 UK racer level (according to Singletrack magazine!)?

I just do. Most of it's down to very sturdy coffee. I'm not 'that' elite - I just have the balls to ride all the national trophies, that's all. Plenty of 'chipper' riders would beat me if they turned up!

When is someone going to make a classic film about the Peaks – like Sunday in Hell for Roubaix?

You mean that the Countryfile video diary wasn't it?? Sadly, it'll probably never happen. I had a good chat with the people from Fridge Productions who made those three videos (now DVDs) in the late 90s / early 2000s, and they said that it just takes so much money to do properly - they never approached covering their costs. Sad, but there's a certain reality to profitability.

Predictions for Sunday? Record for Jebby, you to improve on your best ever time and placing?

I think Rob's going as well as he ever has and it's dried out a good deal in the last 16 days. Lots (of crap weather) could happen between now and then though. Course records come from being pushed. If Rob knows he's got a four or five minute lead on the top of Penyghent, he'd be mad to push hard down there. If two or three riders were on a leader's tail. then we'd get a fast time.
As for me, I'll be happy with knowing I've ridden the best I can. I had a couple of crashes last year - one of which kicked off a cramp attack and lost me a place and some momentum - I want to keep upright and fast this year. I suspect I'll be about the same time as last year going on all the signs in my training [3:22] - but positions are another thing!


Any other background info about you that people should know?

It's my last season as a senior. I'm maturing in January.



Photo: Leanne Thompson

Watch out for Dave in his new all-black Wheelbase strip next Sunday - his descending skills are a joy to behold (until he disappears from view), combining that warp-speed the best descenders have, with effortless style. I think I offended him when, describing him once as a 'lunatic' going downhill, he gently corrected me with the assertion that it was confidence, not mental health deficiency that allowed him to go down so fast......

Friday, 18 September 2009

man down


Bart Wellens is not so well, I hear. Diagnosed with the 'brother' of glandular fever, Cytomegalovirus, he's going to miss a chunk of the season. Still, look on the bright side - Neils Albert missed a good part of last season, came back and at the Worlds, destroyed a Euro field tired from endless racing across Flemish and Dutch veldrijd with the odd French inondable like Nommay.

I love Wellens - from the preposterous Wellens en Wee, his own weekly reality TV show, several episodes of which I have had the pleasure of viewing (!), to his karate shenanigins at Overisje, he always turns it on and then turns it up, to an adoring and beered up Vlaamse crowd (with one exception as you will see in the vid):

video

He's a fighter, a showman, a natural player - the foil to Sven Nys's seriousness. And the Belgians love him. Some of the Here Come the Belgians think he's great too, including myself.

Sadly there is simply no British equivalent I can think of, though Molly Cameron does her best over in the States to fly the flag of character at a cross race near you. Well, over the pond if you are in the UK. And when visiting Euroland once a year - Bravo Molly!

So enough idle and daft fan based adoration - come on Bart, get this biological nasty sorted and come roaring back to entertain us once again.

Monday, 14 September 2009

counting down....


I went out for my last hard off road ride before the Peaks yesterday - it wasn't designed to be a particularly long one, more a shakedown ride with some hard Peaks specific efforts and a conscious effort to get into a flowing off-road riding style, one that will bear dividends come Peaks day. I am convinced that one of the secrets to a good Peaks time is being smooth - fitness helps too naturally(!), but being able to transition on and off the bike without losing momentum and at the right point can save you minutes. It's that experieence of knowing when to keep riding and when to bail out walking or possibly running. And linking it all together in a seamless fashion. Ahem.

The plan was to get out early on my own but I dragged fellow Belgian Mark with me too at the last minute - he's not riding the Peaks but I sold him a line about a nice offroad ride on our cross bikes. Rather cruelly (for him), we headed straight for Thievely Pike above the Cliviger Gorge via Dean Scout - well known to local fell runners this is a steep, straight up climb, unrelenting on the calves for nigh on 1000ft and with 90% carrying on foot. Pretty similar to Simon Fell then.........





We rolled down and onto the Mary Townley Loop, a semi-classic off-road circuit of nigh on 50 miles around Lancashire, Calderdale and Rochdale, and then over onto Hambledon Hill, famous for - err, a weather station.

At the top of the steep off-road climb up Hambledon, I had the pleasant realisation that I was flying. Not just going OK but actually riding at the top of my (modest) game. A moment of panic ensued then - the Peaks is 2 weeks away and how do I keep this form till then without overcooking or undercooking things?

It was then that the wise words of Wiggo and Shane Sutton came into my head in a bizarre Yoda-like moment - easy, just do a week of steady endurance to protect your form, and then taper as normal. Research has proven it. Really.

A slightly jaundiced reader might at this stage point out that I am so far from a professional athlete, let alone an Olympic Champion that it may be argued that I am getting slightly ahead of myself, carried away even........

But, hey - the Peaks is important to me, emotionally as well as physically and I want to do as well as I can, even if I won't be troubling the top 50 or anything much below 4 hours.

Armed with the satisfaction that I had got myself to the point where I could race the Peaks rather than survive, I promptly punctured. Just a little reminder that the Peaks is never entirely straightforward. We rolled around Hambledon for a bit and headed home for a shower. I know Wiggo wouldn't have, being the consumate pro and all that, but I allowed myself to partake in a pre-celebratory bottle of red that evening. There's good anti-oxidants in wine I hear, good for recovery.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

off to the races

We came, we saw and err....... we enjoyed ourselves. The Belgians were out in modest numbers at our first cross race at Pignut Hill in Team colours - Duncan, myself, Mark and Mark (The Barber).


I'd forgotten what packing up and preparing for a cross race was like - other than being reminiscent of a military campaign. It took 2 days beforehand to assemble kit, prep bikes, faff around and get some semblance of order with things. One can only hope it will get easier with subsequent races.....

I had forgotten what a friendly scene cross was. Well, not forgotten, just missed it since the end of last season. All ages, all abilities, all lumped into one vaguely homogenous group intent on enjoying the challenge of the course and the craic along the way. If cross doesn't become one of the fastest growing types of cycling within the burgeoning two wheeled culture, then I will eat my tub (an old knackered one).

As for the racing, it was intense. As you might expect from cross. Strangely though, for the first race of the season, it wasn't that lung searing battle of mind over body. I actually felt good, sharp even. Even more gratifying was my desire not to hang on, but to actually race. To bridge gaps, to attack riders around me. This was relatively new territory for me really, a blast from the past when I used to be at the head of races rather than attempting to bring a modicum of style to the mid pack. 13th overall from 85 finishers was something to settle for gladly, and confusion over whether I or an ex team-mate graced the Vet podium melted into the post-race glow that only a good hard cross race can bring. I only planned to do a few races this season, but I can feel myself getting drawn in to a few more that I hadn't planned on doing..................

Monday, 7 September 2009

September's mismatch

Guest post over on Dave Haygarth's seminal 3Peaks Blog

Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

team business

By way of bringing things full circle, closing the circle, drawing lose ends together and any other metaphor or cliche for getting it together if you haven't already noticed elsewhere........

Team Here Come the Belgians is here!


The slightly off the wall lovechild of a short but intense internet relationship between crossjunkie and Duncan Here Come the Belgians, the team is a response to our mutual longing for an outlet for our cross and cobble obsessions combined with a gap in the market for a team that is not a team. An anti-team in fact. Something that represents fun, connection and a practical solution to getting out and riding (and not just racing) our bikes with others. We are anything but an elite team (as those of you who have seen me ride will guess) - and we are not regionally based either, though a Northern accent helps. No, the great interweb will serve to keep our kindred spirits connected across veltrijd and kasseien. We will meet up from time to time too.........

So, aided and abetted by friends and riding colleagues with similar though undoubtedly more balanced interests, Team Here Come the Belgians is at last a proper entity, with tribal identifiers like jerseys, caps, stickers and slightly bizarrely, beer mats.


Come and see for yourself over on http://teamherecomethebelgians.blogspot.com/

Thursday, 20 August 2009

cross with running


It seems everyone is at it now - the blogosphere is awash with people preparing for the cross season, thinking about the cross season or simply preparing to think about the cross season. Here Come the Belgians, Molly Cameron, The Service Course - all have carried preparation related posts. Duncan's 'secret place...' resonated so clearly with myself in previous seasons, scrubbing away in lunch breaks and odd evenings, holed up in some woods somewhere, alone and immersed in the business of cross.

Having said that, I am getting nervous about a lack of off road riding at present – I just seem drawn to the road all the time, avoiding the issue probably. Time to get serious and get muddy, or at least dusty.

The turbo too is a draw, bizarrely enough. I guess it seems like a good way to get into gear. Come on, you know this is the future, right? The only way to get close to replicating the hurt box, pain cave thing that racing cross brings. It’s either this or that nasty road racing thing and we all know where that leads……… Remember to do some offroad riding too, or you’ll be a turbo terror - sprinting out the blocks only to wipe out as soon as the course bends or goes through any bumpy and nadgery bits.

But running, erm. Well, maybe. I come from a running background (as a kid at least). Hell, I even had ambitions to do a Bob Graham Round (a loony 24 hour fell running challenge in the Lake District) in a previous life. But age, whilst it brings wisdom, also brings a diminishing ability to cope with the rigours of life on foot. Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike like running - it merely likes me even less. Without the 3 Peaks looming I suspect I would pay it as much attention as my garden - I acknowledge it's role and usefulness but fail to cultivate it with any great enthusiasm. But it is there in any cyclocross training schedule for a reason - occasionally, we have to get off and run. At high(ish) speed and without looking like we sh*t our pants. Running is a means to an end - the transition from bike to foot and back again is where you really gain or lose, but that depends on being able to maintain that speed in the first place.

So I urge you, go for a run - not a long loping perambulation through woods and over hills (unless you are doing the Peaks of course), but a short jumpy, sprinting type affair. Preferably up a steep bank, with an irregular surface and slick with mud. That's what it'll be like come race time and your legs will thank you if they have some advance warning of the whole affair.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

sonnet to the tub

With a little licence from good old Bill........


Shall I compare thee to a roughshod clincher?
Thou art more silky and more smooth.
Rough roads do shake oe’r darling Lancashire,
And summer’s lease do ease to cross season.
Sometime too hard the rim doth hit,
And often his oath be ‘shit’;
And every fair cotton sidewall doth decline,
By chance, or nature’s changing course at Boggart.
But thy eternal grandeur shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair rolling resistance;

Nor shall death brag when thou roll’st thine tub,
When down in A and E thou fester,
So long as men (and women) can breathe or eyes can see,
So long live the tub, and so say me.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

inside an fmb superprestige tub


OK, disclaimers out the way first - this one is about as nerdy as it gets. However, there is a chance that there is even 1 person out there that is as geeky as myself, so in the public interest, here is the inside scoop on the internal workings of one of Francois' finest creations, the Super Prestige cyclo-cross tubular:

En version SSC ou SSC Sprint; le ring en latex de 0,8mm d'épaisseur est spécialement conçu pour absorber les chocs et maintenir un contact maximum avec le terrain. De plus la résistance naturelle à la perforation du latex diminue les risques de crevaisons.


I have argued over the relative merits of FMB and Dugast in a previous post. I got a pair of these SPs some time ago, when John Holmes from Cyclocross Imports offered to ask Francois to make a pair of custom Dugast Rhino treaded Superprestige as an experiment. The result that came back from this 'one-off' was spectacular. With Bentley Racing Green sidewalls in latex, and the standard Rhino tread fixed on to the 34mm FMB carcass, the high quality was evident. The latex bonded on to the standard cotton sidewall has the effect of stiffening the wall, as well as protecting it leading to an impossibly plush and supple ride.




There were murmurs too about the SP being puncture proofed - my basic French discerned that there was a thin strip inside the tub but I wasn't sure whether that meant the sidewalls or under the tread. The untimely demise of one those green specials presented an ideal opportunity to check. Peeling off the Rhino tread for re-use on another casing, I thought I'd have a little look inside.


The blue strip under the tread clearly worked well at puncture proofing them because on peeling off the Rhino tread, there were a couple of nice little thorns that had lodged in the tread, but not got through to the tube.


The latex walls mean that you don't have to bother Aquaseal-ing or Seam Grip-ing the side walls and hence the life of the tire is prolonged. The downside is that they are fairly pricey even in the rarified price point bracket of handmade cross tubs. However, you save on sealant, they definitely last longer than Dugast as they are better made in my opinion, and you are less likely to pay for pucnture repairs. With the increased range of tread choices that FMB offer including the new Fango mud tread there are plenty of options to keep crossistas happy. Take your pick from the range on offer.


I sourced some one-off 34mm SP Fangos in blue from John over the summer which should be absolutely superb for the rocky 3 Peaks Cyclocross as well as any bumpier races this season. Report to follow post gluing......

Thursday, 6 August 2009

molly @ tervuren





Internationale Cyclocross Tervuren from j. dunn on Vimeo.


Jeremy Dunn can be relied upon to produce some great stuff and this vid is no exception. It first appeared a while back but recently resurfaced on Embrocation blogspot. Chapeau to Molly for getting out there and taking the fight to the Euros. Love the fan cards too!


I watched the full race on DVD last night and the speed with which Neils Albert set about demolishing the oposition was frightening. He won the Worlds in similar frozen conditions a few weeks later.................

being a bike rider


I missed my 7am assignation with the turbo trainer this morning. It was an ambitious plan anyway as I have trained/raced for the last 4 days - an unusual state of affairs in my time and energy deficient world. Even more ambitious was the plan to run home over the moors later today after said turbo session. That would have really tipped the balance toward the dedicated obsessive.........there's still time and energy yet for that particular session though.

This resurgent activity has been prompted by the rapidly approaching 3 Peaks Cyclocross, looming large on my mental horizon, part torture, part anticipated treat. Wholely unique. The Peaks has consumed many a seemingly sane person with its blend of the sublime and the ridiculous - it has an aura about it both on the calendar and on the day. It drives me and scares me like no other race.

Yet underlying all of this extra activity through Yorkshire intimidation is what Molly Cameron recently called 'the secret trap of cycling':


Because I am convinced I can progress. Is that the secret trap of cycling? You can always get better, get fitter right?


There is always a new cross season coming, a re-tilt at familiar sportive challenges - a chance to test out that theory. My own plans laid in the Spring around long sportives came, mostly, to fruition. A nod at laying down base miles before moving into more specific cross training as the summer progresses. An attempted devotion to diet (on and off), more 'on' when a goal looms large. Further attempts to get a bit more sleep, to do that stretching routine more than once in a week. All of which are designed to get me to the start of the season in slightly better shape than last year (or at least in the same shape allowing for the ravages of increasing age....).

Being a bike rider is about doing that little extra, that concession to the abnormal that marks us out. Sure we go about our daily lives looking for all the world like fine, upstanding members of the community - jobs, family, wider responsibilities all get our attention but in our minds we are thinking about improving on the next training ride, the next race, the next experience, and if only we could just go that little bit faster or make it feel that little bit easier next time...........

Being (a) PRO simply takes that to even greater heights but without the pressures of earning a living outside of the bike to complicate things. To those that manage an outwardly normal existence (outside of the PRO ranks) but combine this with elite level results - chapeau! For that is surely the ultimate that any bike rider can aspire to?


Monday, 3 August 2009

simple pleasures


The trouble about committing to writing a blog is that there comes a growing pressure to perform, to write something erudite and insightful on a regular basis. I read with envy and respect some of the offerings out there from many of the blogs listed on the right hand side of this page. Writers who are far more informed, opinionated and talented than I can hope for.

However, there is still merit in the first hand account, the occasional flash of inspiration, the documentation of the seemingly humdrum as I would argue that this is where the true human condition lies.

In this vein I can report that this Sunday gone, I dragged Duncan Here Come the Belgians up to Lancastershiretonside (again) for an offroad reunion in honour of the impending season. Part skills session, part 3 Peaks training and (large) part natter about future plans, we sampled some of the offroad surroundings of the Ronde route.

We pondered the recently finished Tour, it's Astana-led machinations, Contador's startling ease in the mountains, Brad's triumph (I'm still wearing black socks in honour) and plenty more.


After a weeks holiday riding on the fen-like landscape of Pevensey, East Sussex it was nice to be back in more vertically challenging terrain. Don't get me wrong, the drained marshes between Eastbourne and Hastings were a super place to ride and a refreshing change - as was the hot sunny weather that the rest of the country appeared to miss.



However, back in the mud was where I was itching to be and it was a joy to be out on fat tires again. Its only 5 weeks now till the NW cross season starts and the Tour seems a distant memory already.

Just before I finish, Duncan has also applied his recently much-in-demand talents to a crossjunkie logo/banner. Whilst juggling his day-job graphic responsibilities with requests from stateside blogs and magazines, he has combined mud splatters and diamond treads to bring to life the crossjunkie marque. Cheers Dunc - much appreciated.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

cross purposes


Despite the Tour's engrossing nature this year and my complete delight in bawling at the telly in support of a Brit rider in mountain stages and summit finishes (something I hadn't done since I was a teenager watching Robert Millar), lurking beneath the surface is the thought of knobbly tires and transitions from bike to foot and back to bike.......

May be it is the unrelenting rain that has softened the ground everywhere, maybe a success in what was the bunfight of gaining 3 Peaks cyclocross entry, maybe this great photo from Janol Apin and his P'tits Velos series.

A recent session (re)sealing tub walls with Seam Grip brought home the impending arrival of all things close to my muddy heart. Gluing follows next, in that now yearly ritual that threatens the waistline with the inevitable Belgian brews that are an indispensable part of the process.

Yep, it is only 7 weeks to the first race on the NW calendar so crossistas, dust off your wheels and get out on those trails. My local offroad circuits are a little overgrown with the verdant growth of June and July but it won't be long before they are back into shape and ready for some good tempo and technique sessions. Practice those technique drills - if you are anything like me, being a natural allround athlete of poise and ability doesn't necessarily come with my genetic make-up and the specific cross techniques of on and off need to be hard-wired into my reluctant physique.

Happy crossing!

inspiration or desperation?


This is Lance's Damien Hirst creation for the final day of the Tour, rolling along the Champs Elysees. Apparently this is no sticker job, the product of a deranged 4 year old girl let loose with a pile of cheap stickers - no, those are real butterflies. Every one!

I suppose it's better than tying a load of Tracey Emin's soiled underwear and bed detritus to your bike and letting it flap in the wind..............

Monday, 13 July 2009

chirps from birds


The defining feature for me of this current Tour de France has not been the internecine team dynamics in Astana (seen before at La Vie Claire), the obfuscation of huge mountains to be climbed followed by long flat run ins to the finish (we can't have a gladiatorial summit showdown every day) or even the now usual appearance of Holywood gliterrati at the biggest VIP shmooze event on Earth.

No, this TdF has been marked as separate by the coming of Twitter. Never before have we had the same insight into what the riders have thought or are thinking, have done or are doing or perhaps are thinking of doing. From their post stage dinner table atmoshperes to the team bus meetings, the massage table music choice to dietary peccadilloes.

The riders are now our riders, in much the same way as celebrities and their culture purport to make the remote all too familiar and the celebs our own property. Except unlike celebrity culture driven by a rabid papparazi and gossip mag industry uninterested in accuracy, what we get on twitter is rider led - their choice in other words.

Styles differ - lancearmstrong gives you a smorgasboard information overload about everything he is up to. Part infomercial, part publicity exercise (doping test #??), part psychological warfare. Twitter has clearly been a blessing for his media profile, allowing him huge control over what information he releases. He has even resorted to throwing the baby out of the pram in relation to main stream media and communicating only through twitter.

bradwiggins gives you a somewhat different take - sparse, dry, often witty and what you would expect from a man who considers what he has to say before opening his mouth.

cadelevans also uses his partly as a fanzine publicity tool, publishing answers to what fans and commentators have been asking him.

There are many others worth checking out - mcewenrobbie, ghincapie to name a couple. Whilst the TV coverage gives you the action, the internet news sites the results and formal interviews, twitter gives you an almost real time impression of the down time of riders, the time we never really see or hear about and the Tour is all the more compelling and fascinating for it. The elite community of the peloton has just become a little less remote and inaccessible. Tweet on.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

mary mary quite contrary


Seeing as everyone and everything is talking about the Tour, I thought I would be slightly perverse and draw attention to the most sublime looking event that took place a few days before the Tour started.

The Retro Ronde van Vlaanderen took place on June 28 and looks to have been an absolute hoot. Old boys, old clothes, old bikes, even old cars bound together with that unique Flandrian atmosphere make this a must see (or perhaps do) event for a lifetime list.

Photos are from the Centrum RVV website www.rvv.be/nl/crvv/activiteiten/retroronde




Whilst we weren't talking about the Tour, I caught an Armstrong interview with Ned Boulting for itv4. LA was laidback, nonchalant but talked with subtle barbs aimed at a certain Spanish pretender to his crown. He is the king of smackdown talk without ever resorting to anything so trashy as actual smackdown talk. On twitter I noticed he subtley patronised Contador saying that they would need to re-lay the tarmac where the Spaniard had done his turns in the TTT. Yeah right - Armstrong was pulling as hard as anybody and Popo and Kloden were hardly soft pedalling. Insincere and false praise indeed.........

I'm loving the conspiracy theories around help from Big George and Columbia to leave LA in the Stage 3 break with all other GC contenders behind the split, the did he or didn't he ease up, to keep Spartacus in yellow and even better the assertion that Contador did that massive turn on the front at the end of the TTT to try and put LA in yellow and screw things up!

I hope the next few weeks are going to be rivetting and unpredictable in a way the previous Armstrong Tours never were.

Friday, 3 July 2009

cav does 'speed talks'


Here's a sneak preview of some stuff you're likely to be seeing as the Tour unfolds. Unashamed viral marketing from a huge global company, but hey, Cav's going to be providing some excitement over the next 3 weeks and good luck to him.
Here's to some titanic battles with a certain Belgian who favours a different Class A..........



Wednesday, 1 July 2009

climate change and cross

Oh yes, crossjunkie examines all the big issues that other blogs are afraid to cover.......

Actually, sitting here in the middle of an 'official' heatwave (ie more than 2 days of sun), a recent comment from Mark Leyland (past NW Cross League Champion) got me thinking. Soothsayer Mark observed that his tire choice in future seasons would be restricted to file tread for the dry early season and Rhinos for the rest of the predictably torrential and muddy seasons.

A bold gamble or a vision of the future we could all do to take heed of?

In true investigative journo fashion, crossjunkie googled a choice phrase and pulled the definitive answer straight of the interweb in 30 seconds flat. Well, sort of.

At this point I need to lay down my credentials for such high class research. After an abortive career as a professional orchestral player I plumped for the most obvious follow up, a geography degree. Missing a trick by not becoming a geography teacher like any other self respecting outdoor loving person, I plunged headlong into a Masters degree in Environmental Change. At a time when even George Bush Jnr's disbelief in climate change would not have stood out, this was radical stuff. I can't remember much about it, though I got my MSc. I do remember having a sense of deja-vu over the past few years as various dire prognostications came to pass, most of which were being touted and summarily dismissed at the time of my degree.

So what of cross, that most rainfall dependent of cycling disciplines (except open air track racing....)?

Well I am happy to report that the future of proper, real, sloppy, mud type cross is alive and kicking, contrasted with some trumped up road crit style dust races at the beginning of the season. Just how will climate change affect cross in the region close to my heart? - witness these nice graphs from that esteemed body, the Met Office:



So, over time the North West will have 13% more rain during in Winter, with a slight reduction in overall yearly rainfall - sounds wet (and windy probably) to me. The average wettest day will also increase 13% - going to be some real downpours out there. Happy days.

And for those of you outside the North West? Don't bother - come and live here. House prices are still low(ish), the cost of living is cheap, pies are awesome and you can get a pint round the corner from my office for less than £2. If you don't mind being battered at some point in the evening.......

Indeed, those Yorkshire crossers will have a pathetic 243mm of winter rain to our 365mm. Pah! As for East Anglia, forget it - 165mm is the best you'll get, though the figure is 14.5% up from the present so it may feel a little muddy by comparison.

London? Actually they will get almost as much as the Yorkshire lot - 237mm winter average and a whopping 16% up on present. Might almost want to make me live in London. Perhaps not.

So there you have it - the North West is officially the best place to be a cross rider. It pisses all the time, and all courses are a mud bath. Except for September when it is too hot for cross.

Of course, these predictions are for 40 years time when even my enthusiasm might be waning slightly. So we might not notice too much difference in the immediate future. I'm still with Mark on this one though and will be running nothing but Rhinos all year even in heatwave July, just in case it rains a bit more. 2050 is still, then, a long way off but we have to think about the kids, right??
Must remember not to turn off those electrical items to standby, the lights, heating etc and get some real change going so our children can benefit from good old fashioned mud action.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

July cometh

1 July has attained a significance in recent years for me - it marks the beginning of the preparation for the cross season in a number of ways.

Comtemplating a season of mud, tubs and washing gear never seems right before this date, despite any summer season cross races that crop up from time to time. Even now it feels strange with the temperature hitting 26 degrees. It is more that it isn't possible (for me at least) to sustain the enthusiasm and dedication to get you through a cross season to January for more than 6 months. Add in the fact that the 3 Peaks entry forms go online on this date, and you have a series of conditions to concentrate the mind, body and equipment for the season of attrition to come.

Any longer than that and even the most obsessive of us can fail to live up to our own expectations. Even 3 Peaks guru :-) Dave Haygarth refused to go out on a cross bike with me a couple of weeks ago - "I know a good 3 Peaks 'loop' for cross bikes but got to leave it till August or I'll go mental if I start too long in advance".

Wise words, promptly ignored by me the following weekend when I went out on the moors and woods with Mark who was also missing the feel of off road riding on skinny tires. Like some kind of forbidden activity, it felt all the better to be doing it when by rights we shouldn't have been. Dave H is sagely restricting himself to a diet of crits and road racing, long the traditional preparation for the hardened crosser. Seeing as I have a phobia of bunch racing and high speed corners it makes sense to throw caution to the wind and get out off road again. Witness a hayfeverish, snotty and sweaty ride across the moors to work this morning........... Must work on those downhills as I currently look like a contestant on a reality TV show who'll do anything however inept to get on TV - 'ride a rocky Black level ski run on a unicycle, blindfold? Sure, where do i sign......'

At least by starting even earlier than 1 July this year I have time to work on those weaknesses........

Also, I can't resist passing on this little story from friend Rich who suffered my whinging and wheezing on an abortive (for me) White Rose Challenge last weekend. Rich mentioned he was starting a club/group called Dead Wren Velo - a cryptic and evocative name if ever there was one:

Dead Wren Velo was named after a ride with Jules, Rob, John and a few others. As Jules and I dropped down to Burnsall, I indicated as a wheel hazard, a perfectly intact dead wren. We then waited for longer than expected for the boys to arrive at the cafe. When they did, John was resplendent in road rash! Robbie had also seen the amazingly intact dead wren and instead of indicating he just slammed on the anchors for a better look with the inevitable result for those following his wheel (John). As always, Robbie was completely unhurt!

Rich is one of those quiet, but always strong riders you love to ride with, but you don't - if you get what I mean in terms of suffering. Always sartorially exact, with an eye not for the latest mainstream fashion, more for what works and works well, in clothing and equipment. He rode alongside me for the first few hilly miles of the White Rose Challenge in Yorkshire, pedalling a much bigger gear and looking like he was working considerably less than me. He was indeed smooth and stylish on a modern steel frame and his own handbuilt wheels, though I noted with some pride as well as consternation that we had picked the same articles of clothing to ride in from the Assos and Rapha stable - the cycling equivalent of not checking with your best girl friend as to what dress she was going to wear at the party. Rich went on to post a very fast time for the WRC despite putting up with me for the first hour while I spluttered and heaved my way up the climbs, before urging him to leave me and tag on to a faster group as it came through. Thank God, I was able to slow down then...............

Chapeau Rich and cheers for the lesson in how not to do it.