Monday, 30 January 2012

Ice breaking with Dirty Harry

Dave Haygarth put on his baggies on a crisp winter's day last weekend and went for a blast on the new Planet X Dirty Harry 29er mountainbike. Here's what happened.....

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Ronde van Oost Lancashire 2012

Calling all Ronde-istas......

The Ronde 2012 will be on Saturday 31 March.

Expect good riding, good chat, pics and awesome cakes from SportSunday

Please check back in for further details nearer the time.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Zolder WC with Petites Reines

Bit slow off the mark but here is another intimate and revealing Petites Reines film from the Zolder WC on Dec 26th last year. Shows just how hard that course really is when seen from a different perspective from that portrayed on the TV coverage.

5ème Manche de CDM cyclo-cross from Petitesreines on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

2011/12 Retrospective

That's it. Done, over, finished for another year.

2011/12 cross season put to bed.

Not a vintage year racing wise, but a significant one nonetheless......

Plenty to work on for next year - a quicker Peaks time, power, core strength, maintaining speed through technical sections. All good stuff to inspire and motivate. Cross racing this season has felt harder and faster - and that's because it was. There are many more good riders coming in to cross from other disciplines, as well as others starting up and improving fast as they find the passion. Fields are considerably bigger across the country, with talent in depth amongst them. All in all, I feel it's been a bumper year for cross and the sport has been/is growing.

I started the season on cantilever brakes and finished it on discs. I still can't promote the advantages of discs enough and have hugely enjoyed being part of the 'first-mover advantage' of being disc-ed up. There are still a surprising number of detractors out there, most of whom clearly have not ridden discs on a cross bike but have made assumptions and arguments that are not entirely in possession of the facts.......

Discs are not perfect yet, but here is my central point. If my experience of riding on a purpose designed bike with 'only' cable/mechanical discs (not hydraulics), with technology 'borrowed' from existing mountainbike setups, has been so overwhelmingly positive, think how good it will be in a short while when systems that are purpose designed for cross come in to play. Systems that address the standard criticisms of weight (not overly relevant for average folk), modulation (also not a problem in my eyes), rotor size and suitability and so on. I've played a little with hydraulic systems and to be honest prefer the crisp, light action of my standard SRAM/Avid BB7 cable set up. Light, predictable, plenty powerful  and faultless in operation. I'm not sure I would ever want a hydraulic system for cross as things stand.....

However, I can't wait for the new ideas around hydraulics, the work on rim and wheel technology specifically for disc setups not to mention the avalanche of ideas and development that will come when the road market finally wakes up too.

My only worry is that I'm going to have to work even harder to keep up there in races once everybody else has caught up in the technology stakes.......

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Soul riding

All pics thanks to Dave Haygarth (he's got a better iPhone than me)

It wasn't an auspicious start. Rolling in to the car park at the local Sports Centre for a lunchtime cross session with Dave, the faint drizzle that I left work in had strengthened beyond a Peter Kay-like "It's spittin'!" to a proper wet, dousing rain. The ground around the banks, wooded fringes and pitches we train on was saturated from previous rain and I though I might be getting a sore throat.

My motivation, mojo, whatever you want call it was sorely lacking. Dave, as ever thinking outside the box suggested we go up to the local park where a couple of years ago, he had organised a legendarily muddy cross race. I opted for a roll round and think about it approach, while Dave set about beasting himself on the imaginary course from that race. Dave's a bit old school like that - if it isn't hurting, it isn't working is his mentality and it certainly works for him with his ability to bounce back from tough sessions and pile more work on top.

It was as I rolled around in his wake that it began to happen. The ingredients were simple, akin to the principle of making most soul food - take a small piece of Victorian parkland, add a cleverly designed cross course making use of the natural features and contours, blend with some muddy, sloppy woodland and grassland and finish with a cracking bike perfectly suited to the terrain and conditions.

Not up for a big effort and mindful of staying healthy for the forthcoming weekend's National Trophy race, I rode around enjoying the feel of the slip and slide of the tires, the challenge of going quicker through slick corners, the jinking in and out of trees and just the simple sensation of riding outside in the rain, with no pressure and the sole aim of enjoying myself.

The park and wet conditions presented a great opportunity to work on some of the technical aspects of cross - choice of line, hand position on bars, weight distribution in muddy corners, accelerating out of them and so on. All those little nuances that get lost when your breathing becomes ragged and you teeter on the edge of losing control of the bike and your lungs whilst pushing hard. Dave popped up along the course or in view in and out of the trees from time to time, pushing hard and doing his thing. My sense of serenity contrasted with the big, powerful efforts he was making to push the bike along at maximum speed.

And toward the end it dawned on me - I hadn't had as much fun on a bike in ages. Sure I'd enjoyed races, enjoyed really hard training sessions too but this was different. It was getting back to the roots of why I and probably many others ride - freedom. That serenity was the product of a little snatched moment in a day pressured with family routine, work and all the other essential things in my life. A moment in which I reminded myself that for me at least, there is nothing more satisfying than throwing a bike around in the mud and simply playing.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Todmorden Cross

Some fixtures on the calendar just stand out. At National level, Bradford and Sutton Park stand head and shoulders above the rest for course quality, atmosphere and simply creating a buzz. A step down from that rarified level, and moving into local League territory, the Todmorden Cross has carved it's own legendary position. After just 3 years in the running.

That said, cross is not new to Todmorden's Centre Vale Park but it had long been absent on the cross calendar till mountainbiker and editor of Single Track magazine, Chipps Chippendale set about restoring that iconic cobbled climb to it's former legendary status as part of the tough Yorkshire Points League. Add in some vertiginous terrain, big knowledgeable holiday crowds and a dose of Belgian-cross fairy dust in the form of free Duvel beer for finishers and voila - there's Tod Cross in a nutshell.

Dave cleaned the cobbled climb each lap. Strong. Pic: Christine Balshaw

Previous editions have been reasonably muddy, or iced solid depending on the winter, but torrential rain for days beforehand meant only one thing - a real mudder. A Planet X trio of last year's Vets winner Dan Cook, last year's 3rd place finisher Dave Haygarth and myself lined up for a (predictably) 120+ strong Vets field. Dan and Dave set about tearing off the line and getting themselves onto the podium again while I made a bit of a schoolboy error and picked the boggiest part of the starting line to make my spectacular starting effort, involving much wheelspinning and little forward momentum.

Dan grits his teeth on the big climb. Pic: Chistine Balshaw

Luckily Tod is a course where you can recover from a bad start to a large degree, it consisting of a couple of huge efforts, including the infamous cobbled climb, and some wide tracks for overtaking and descending whilst you recover.

When the mud is as thick as it was, the racing becomes dominated by momentum - gliding from one bog to the next, and finding subtle lines of least resistance or the perfect place to run rather than ride. I positively enjoy the on-off nature of a real mudder and opted to run many short, and even longer sections where others struggled for grip and momentum. As a result, I moved up from somewhere in the 60s to 22nd by the finish, whilst Dave stormed through to 3rd again with Dan pushing hard behind for 5th.

Probably best to keep your mouth shut when the mud is flying.... Pic: Christine Balshaw

And on a course that contains more vertical height gain per lap than some courses have per race, the disc advantage of the Dirty Discos was abundantly clear. Tod has some fast and swoopy descents and it gave me great satisfaction, and provided some amusement for me, to hear others braking long before I even considered reaching for the levers, diving through under braking to take another place. One fellow rider even shouted 'easy when you've got bloody discs' as I shot past him into a particularly slippy bend. The Discos didn't present a clogging issue at all either despite the thick mud - Dave riding his starting bike all race without changing, and me only changing once to keep my pit crew amused.....

The glow of the complimentary Duvel has long since faded, and my kit has just about come clean. But there's a little Tod Cross sized hole in my life now, waiting till Jan 2013 to be filled.

Check out this great little video from Benji Haworth too. Lovely

Todcross from Benjamin Haworth on Vimeo.