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:

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

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

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...........