Tuesday 16 December 2008

top 10 pieces of kit i like

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

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

In no particular order:

Vittoria Open Pave Evo CG open tubulars, 24mm

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

Rapha Cap

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

Aldi Gloves

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

Orange FMB Superprestige cross tubs

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

Shimano 105 shifters, 10 speed

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

Endura overshoes

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

Old Mavic GP4 tubular rims

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

Rapha cross bibs

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

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

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday 10 December 2008

nw league 13 - wheelbase cross

Lovely day, hardest race all year?

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

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

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

Pics all courtesy of Dave Haygarth - thanks!

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

Friday 5 December 2008

wheelbase cross preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 3 December 2008

training with mick style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday – Race

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

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

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

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

Friday – nothing

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

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

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

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

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

we apologise for the break in transmission...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 17 November 2008

loneliness of the long distance runner erm, cyclist

Trees near Waddington

I was surprised to see that this English language classic (from Alan Sillitoe) is still on the GSCE list - I remember it clearly from school and whilst I picked up relatively little from it that stuck after leaving school, I did identify with the notion that Smith the central character/narrator uses the space his training sessions give him to think, dreaming up a way in which he can subvert the 'authorities' and get back at them.

I am far too conventional and have insufficient energy to engage in such subversive activities, but I did settle on the concept that long training sessions are good for head space, if not creative thinking. As I do 99% of my training alone (not though choice but through having no training partners within easy reach or on a similar domestic schedule to me), the rare treat of a 3hr ride is a gift for cleansing the soul, if not a muddled head.

Duly fired up by the notion of epic Rapha Continental rides I have been following,

- gentlemen's rides with style and substance - I set about recreating my own mini epic ride last Sunday.

If truth be known the only thing epic about it was getting up at 6am and leaving in the dark before any other fool was up, but I took a camera to record the event and anything I encountered on the way. I also decided to forego the shot of single malt that appears de riguer with the Rapha clad riders, and lone Assos shorts betrayed my devotion to the Rapha Continental concept. Setting off into the gloom I headed out of town and toward the affluence of the Ribble Valley. I was hoping for a dramatic dawn but all that happened was that the light levels slid from dark through varying shades of grey into a gloomy day.

The Ribble Valley is full of beautiful buildings (Great Mitton Hall and the adjacent Church above dating from the 13th Century or thereabouts). It has a great sense of space too, whether along the river flood plain or on the moors that ring the Valley on most sides.

Pendle 'Big End'

Pendle Hill was a feature of my childhood with long summer holiday stays at Grandparents in nearby Yorkshire overlooking the distinctive profile from the North. My ride skirted round Pendle from Whalley, to Bashall (known to those who road race locally) and onto Waddington, Chatburn and Downham. The climb up from the old school Hovis advert that is Downham Village, over the shoulder of Pendle brings great views of the 3 Peaks (and a vague connection for this post with all things cyclocross) before a rapid descent back to the gruff post-industrial landscape of East Lancs.

Soul cleansing stuff indeed, made all the more pleasurable by an afternoon ride with J on his new Birthday 24" wheeled 'proper cross' bike through the local woods. It's good to watch kids on bikes sometimes - no concerns of gearing, tire pressure, fitness and form or results. Just the pure, unadulterated pleasure of riding a bike outdoors in the mud.

Monday 10 November 2008

koppenberg cross - sun 2 nov

Flanders. Heavy rain. Koppenberg cobbles. Biblical mud. Lars Boom, and Sven Nys battering each other for most of the race, prepare for a final lap showdown.

Hardcore Flemish cross at its very best.

nw league 8 - transmission failure

I did not have high expectations for Sunday's League race at the evocatively named Pignut Hill, Northwich. I had been running around doing something every night that week, whether kids activities, shopping or Bonfire parties and had had some late nights too to fit it all in. An inpromptu meal and wine thing with friends on the Saturday night meant I was ill prepared, under rested and feeling a little jaded.

No matter, I am in this for fun, right? So the trek to wealthier climes in Cheshire was made with dire forecasts of gales and rain for the day - perfect cross weather. I like Pignut Hill as a venue - parking close to the course (though the carpet of glass from the car parking till the playing fields start is a puncture nightmare), it has a nice atmosphere in and around the woods and the course is a good cross course with a mix of open grass, tight turns, a tricky descent and single track and that rarity of modern cross, some running. Recent rains had turned what was normally a fast early season race big ring course into a real test of mud plugging and staying upright on slick corners. A course made for Dugast Rhinos and low low pressure in other words (as was proved by visibly better traction than many around me during the first lap).

Pignut Hill in a sunnier Sept 2006

The new gridding arrangements in the NW League have had the effect of sticking me way down the field compared to the people I am hoping to race against due to my pathetic number of events completed so far. All my targets started front row, whilst I was relegated to 3rd row. Inexplicably I got a good start, blasting around the outside of a wet and mud-spray hampered pack. Not even a flying fist sized clod of earth hitting me square in the forehead dented my progress and as we entered the course proper I was up in the top 15 and with my Vet colleagues in easy reach.

What happened next was decidedly unexpected - I began to race and make progress up the field. Making junction with the first 4 Vets, I began moving up toward Mick S and Dave H, the leading Vet contenders and toward the top 10. This was not what I had planned, but I felt good, dare I say even riding within myself. Mick attacked hard on the run up the bank and over the top and I decided to go with him - I got a rapid reminder of how cross is about getting to your max level and pegging your effort just below it. What had felt manageable in terms of effort suddenly bit me back as I went a fraction over my limit and had to take it easier for a short while to recuperate. (Note to self: practice punching hard and getting back up to speed again after dismounts or corners). No matter, I didnt fall apart and was able to pick up the pace again and began closing in on Mick. It was either lap 2 or lap 3 - my pace wasn't so easy that my brain could actually count through the oxygen deprivation........

What happened next was even more decidedly unexpected - my rear mech destroyed itself in a blaze of glory, pinging jockey wheels and springs all over the little tarmac climb after the S bends. I had just passed the point where my spare bike was stashed and was faced with almost a full lap running with a mud-heavy and disabled bike. All hope of a decent finish disappeared in an expensive moment of aluminium fatigue. The decision to bail out came fairly quickly after running for a few hundred yards, but has been the subject of much soul searching since - should I have soldiered on bravely to finish unbowed but much further down the field? Probably, but I was so pissed off and if truth be told couldn't be bothered either with the running, or the cleaning of the second bike just to get to the finish. Falling asleep that night it suddenly dawned on me that perhaps I could have reversed my steps backwards around the course to get the bike running only 10% instead of 90% of the course - I have it in my head though that you are not allowed to do that. (Note to self: check the rules about pitting and the like). It was interesting that although that had never happened to me before, there were a few other similar casualties with the same problem before the race was finished.

Before I am judged too harshly by anyone for giving up, I would like to say in my defence that my fall back position was as team helper so I spent the rest of the race washing bikes and pitting for Dave B who had a fine race to finish 3rd, and some distance up on his nearest overall rivals.

So I am left with a somewhat caged pent-up feeling - not properly tired from a good race, and hoping that this form was not a flash in the pan and is the beginning of real progress. I will have to wait till 2 weeks time to get an answer, but at least I have time to build on some of the sessions that seem to have been working for me over the past weeks.

Friday 7 November 2008

training for cyclocross introspective

Simon Burney's seminal book Cyclocross Training and Racing first appeared around the same time that I got into cross. It became my constant companion and I pored over the pictures of David Baker and his steel framed, Mafac braked, Barum tubbed machine, eager to glean any information about technique and style. The pictures of an unrecognisably muddy Beat Wabel, Dieter Runkel with Look pedals and Adri Van der Poel hinted too at the glamour and power of European cross with its huge crowds and big money, a far cry from the anonymous NW League with its group of friendly diehards that I was beginning to get to know and race with.

As a keen novice, I was also wanting to know how to train to master this exciting new sport (I had previously enjoyed off-road running in its various forms). That first edition of the book left me strangely disappointed, as though I had plenty of time and enthusiasm, it did not seem to deliver more than generalities and not the definitive training sessions that I was looking for. To be fair that was as much about my lack of experience and knowledge as any shortcomings of the book, but it was with satisfaction that I discovered the latest edition had been updated to include detail and generality alike as well as further sections on indoor training and other complimentary activities to build into cross preparation. Trouble was, now the book really delivered, my time had evaporated with the family/work/bike teeter totter. No matter, this post and subsequent ones will look at some of the training techniques and tips that myself (as a previously successful rider still trying) and some of the existing successful NW riders employ to get them round faster on a Sunday afternoon.

I offer up my own training thoughts, not as someone enjoying great success but as food for thought for someone in a similar position to me but perhaps with greater talent........... I found it easy to slot back into cross as a form of competitive cycling after a 12 year layoff, as it is still possible even with advancing years and little time, to train and race in this discipline without a huge commitment of resources (excluding my tub collection!).

Preseason preparation for me consisted this year of a couple of long spring and summer sportives, a half hearted attempt at a local series of 10 mile time trials late summer and some techinique specific cross sessions. Oh and a bit of running. Hardly ideal for a cracking start to the season, so for a more effective and comprehensive approach please watch out for a post soon looking at top NW Vet Mick Style's build up and training.

Now the season has begun, my weeks tend to take shape around the need to get in a couple of interval sessions (1 on turbo, 1 off road circuit), a run (or two), plenty of rest and some limited steady riding. Usually interval days are Tuesday for short sharp intervals and Wednesday for longer threshold type efforts (often off road). That is the theory at least, but I can honestly say that trying to follow any exact schedule is pointless for me. At any given moment, fatigue, work, kids, apathy etc can get in the way, so I pride myself on being flexible and simply fitting in training where I can. I get the most benefit from the few 2 session days I manage, either riding to and from work, or with a run and a turbo in the same day. Total time - usually no more than 1 hour per day, about 5 hours per week. Not enough to shine in National Trophies but enough to have fun, of a weekend in the League.

Favourite sessions giving me the most bang for my buck:

30 sec on 30 sec off turbo in 10 min blocks - 2 or 3 blocks if virtuous or not too sweaty! Mimics that on-off burst thing in cross.

Pyramid intervals on turbo - starting at 1 min and adding 30 secs up to a 3 min max, then back down again. All with 1 min rest.

2 or 3 blocks of 10 mins at race pace on a race replica circuit near work - runs, technical sections, climbs and mud.

The keen eyed will notice the lack of base in there as the hours are low, and even in the off season I rarely ride for more than 1.5 hours. It probably holds me back to be honest, but maybe as the kids grow older and look after themselves more and don't want to hang out with boring Dad, then I will get out more.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

kalmthout world cup, belgium 19/10/08

Kalmthout is traditionally the first of the season long Wereldbeker or World Cup series. Like Neerpelt a week or so before, it is a fast and technical course based around a sandy forest. Tight 180 degree turns and very fast stepped dismounts require absolute precision and finesse.

After an early showing from World Champion Lars Boom, young gun Niels Albert fought (literally at times) his way to the front and took off like a man possessed. Only Sven Nys (riding in the tricolour Belgian national champ jersey) was able to bridge up to him and the 2 rode the last few laps together, both on the rivet keeping a hard chasing group at bay.

The clip picks up at the beginning of the last lap, as both riders prepare for a showdown at the finish.


Friday 31 October 2008

Euro pros - men for all seasons?

I have been subscribing to a newsgroup for a few years now and courtesy of a nice Dutchman called Ed, have built up a fairly comprehensive collection of Euro races from the last few seasons. One of the things I have noticed is the diversity of conditions that cross presents to the rider over the course of a season. Whilst no-one is necessarily at home on all surfaces and in all conditions, to perform at the highest level requires skill accross the board, from the fast criterium conditions of early season races to the mudbaths of December and January requiring finesse on foot too. Something worth bearing in mind as you go about your season preparations in the summer as well as during the season itself as conditions change? The trouble is, this year December arrived in September at the NW League first race in Scorton, perhaps catching a few people out who hadn't spent much time on their feet over the summer. Climate change is definitely making cross more interesting.......................

Neerpelt is the big season opener in Belgium (in early October) and is fast, technical and sandy. The speed of the opening lap in this clip is pretty impressive (though not as fast as the Kalmthout World Cup later in the month) and it doesn't let up for the rest of the race.

Compare that with this from Hamme Zogge (Belgian National Champs) in 2007......


Sunday 26 October 2008

nw league 7 - team spirit

It was blowing a hooly on the 'sea front' at Otterspool on Saturday for Round 7 of the League - the wind whipping off the Mersey felt like the prelude to Hurricane Getrude (or whatever tropical storm takes your fancy). It was the usual Otterspool course - that is, varied, twisty, slippy and full of hidden surprises. Bit like Turkish Delight or a bar of Rocky Road or some other dodgy concoction.....

There were slightly surreal dramas from the outset - mrs crossjunkie nearly had full blown ding dong with a foul mouthed and unhelpful local lady when searching for a loo nearby, and Dave B had mechanicals every few minutes before he even got to the start line involving softening tubs, a broken rear mech and a frantic 5 mins to go bike borrow from Eric T. That was before the scary large Staff type terrier dog had broken free from its owner and chased Adam Palmer into the single track wooded section before being expertly coralled by Mr and Mrs Green (as in Stuart). I expected nothing less of Otterspool and it delivered. The old fishermen from years gone by (see post below), off their boxes on industrial strength snuff would have approved of the spectacle I am sure.

The start was gridded - a sensible approach given some of the recent chaotic starts although Otterspool is actually one of the safest starts around. Unfortunately for me and one or two others, it was gridded according to League points, which are in short supply for me having done only half the races so far this season. This had the effect of sending me back to the mid pack straight away when I was hoping to be challenging for a top 20 place. And so it remained for most of the race - chasing hard and keeping lap times with those in the low 20s but remaining resolutely stuck in the late 20s. I enjoyed Otterspool this time - the bends were more manageable for me and the course fun to ride with plenty of variety and challenges to keep the concentration and interest levels up. I even stayed upright for a change. British Cycling Academy rider Johnny McEvoy came past with ease to lap me on his way to the win and looking very comfortable too. Less comfortable was his bike change in front of me which made my 3 year olds efforts in her school sports day egg and spoon relay race look professional! I unlapped myself and wasted no opportunity in taking the piss as he came by yet again.

Dave B was having the day from hell. Breaking his own bike before the start he borrowed a spare bike off Eric with a couple of minutes to go. This had Vittoria XGs on which I have to say aren't the grippiest tires around (IMHO) especially when they are bald, which these were. Gridded on the 2nd row Dave managed to ride this slick shod misfit to the point where he was challenging Rob Pugh for 3rd. Chapeau! Then the gremlins struck and just after he had lapped me on the last lap, I came across him struggling to get the chain out from between wheel and cassette. I couldn't fix it either so gave him my bike, carrying the broken bike a half lap or so to my spare. I am 6' 5" and Dave isn't. I was curious to see whether he would try and jump on it - he didn't and just about managed to straddle the top tube and start pedalling. As he disappeared round the corner, hips rocking madly as his legs were stretched to breaking point I had to suppress a chuckle. Anyway, a concerted effort by the Horwich team, on and off the bike, meant Dave only lost 1 place and came in a great 5th. I lost a futher 4 places and drifted in a relaxed 33rd. My own League aspirations died a little while ago with the increase of the number of counters from 10 to 12 races, which I will be be unable to make, so it was an easy decision to put Team before Self.

The only thing missing was my mid race chat with Mick S, who being gridded way above me was then able to make his gentlemanly start and still stay ahead of me. Shame, I liked the social element that the old situation use to bring. No matter, I have persuaded Mick to spill the beans on his training regime - look out for his secrets in a forthcoming post.

Friday 24 October 2008

otterspool park, liverpool

Otterspool, on the banks of the Mersey has had a long history dating back to the time of the Puritans who used it as a fishery before it's pools and creeks became the site of water powered mills including a snuff mill.

Since then it has seen better days and the promenade has become used for slightly less lawful practices, including cruising of an automotive and non-automotive variety......

For years now it has also been used, at least in the daytime, by many of the Liverpool based clubs to promote a NW League race or 3. I have always had a love hate relationship with the place. The course is invariably technical, twisty and with protruding branches, roots and foliage - hence I always struggle to get my lanky and unskilled frame around its twists and turns. It also contains the famous Muur de Otterspool - a miniature Flanders climb complete with cobbles, mud and cursing riders struggling for grip.

However, the place has a certain charm and lends itself to a myriad of different course variations that organisers have cleverly used over the years. Actually the courses are often true cross courses, combining steps, runups that can be ridden if strong, mud plugging, technical sections and much more. If truth be known, I only don't like it because I can't ride it very well.

So it is with trepidation (for me) that the League converges on Otterspool this Saturday for the first of 2 visits this season. The forecast is dire with heavy rain and gales forecast - at least that may have the effect of slowing down the course allowing me to catch my breath and grind into the constant bends and corners at a slower and more manageable speed. See you there!

Tuesday 21 October 2008

nw race 6 - back to boot camp

Sunday's Lune CC promotion took on a military edge with it's new venue, Halton Army Camp near Lancaster. Adi Dalgleish and his team had found a great new venue at Halton, being effectively private land and close to the motorway. The course too was close to the car park and having facilities like heated loos (!) and a food tent really helped as the whole family came this time. The course itself had plenty for the strong rider, some good flowing corners and descents to get right and some bits where running was needed unless you were really strong (a rarity these days, the running that is). Luckily we avoided the assualt course nearby.


The start (with over 80) was a bit more dramatic than usual - a downhill off camber tarmac turn was an obvious hazard to the field coming after a couple of hundred yards or so, and was sensibly omitted by pulling the tape back. Unfortunately no one was aware of the 5ft drop off a grass bank that this course change left. The leading few riders must have had a fit when they had to launch off it into the air but landed (just) and carried on. Paul Wotty and Adam Palmer took flyers off the banking and didn't quite land it, crashing heavily though luckily on the grass. I for once had had a good start and was bearing down on Paul as he slid to a stop sitting on his bum and facing the wrong way up the course. Understandably he looked a little concerned as I bore down on him, but disaster was avoided although I believe others came down behind me. Paul went on to ride a great race and finish 2nd Vet and 13th overall. Adam didn't continue but I hear was OK.

Surprisingly the good start left me in the top 10 and latching onto a good size group chasing the 1st 4 riders who had already broken clear. Interval sessions, the turbo, less booze and the previous 3 races conspired to produce actual racing legs in me and I hung in there for the whole race only giving way to a few faster riders who had not had such good starts. The usual mid race meeting and brief chat with Mick Style took longer to come than usual as he carved his way through the field to 1st Vet again. Mick must have the cross equivalent of an Ice Truckers turbo diesel engine - takes ages to rev up but when it does it just keeps on pulling and pulling. Even Chris Young doesn't start that slow before crushing the field! Mick, watch out for a crossjunkie coaching post soon on Starts....

crossjunkie cruises(!) the main climb

Pic from British Cycling website courtesy of Ian McVety

After a consistent race, no crashes and with steady riding, I ended up 19th and 5th Vet - result! Even mrs crossjunkie seemed vaguely impressed and was kind enough to offer up a shout and a bottle each lap that I politely declined. It was nice to race with 2 internationals, Ian Bibby and Johnny McEvoy who took the top 2 spots respectively. It's what I like about cross - a grassroots sport where you can rub shoulders (literally) with riders at the top of the sport. Rob Pugh was the best of the rest and is having a consistently good season. Dave Brailsford was challenging but was unlucky this time, puncturing and then having a mechanical on his spare bike and failing to finish. Martin Woffindin took 1st junior and Sue Clark rode strongly for 1st woman - apologies to her if she felt I was a little too slow at conceding the racing line as she came past half way through. Misunderstandings between riders seemed to be a theme of the race as I overheard a few slightly heated interactions between people - I was guilty of not giving as clear instructions as I should have done a couple of times, but we can all race together without too much friction I am sure, particularly given fields are getting larger this year compared to last.

Pics and report on: http://www.britishcycling.org.uk/web/site/BC/cyx/EventReports2008/20081019_NW_Cross_League.asp

Wednesday 15 October 2008

epic rides - tour of flanders sportive 2008 part2

After the mayhem of the Koppenberg, with Gary riding high after his successful run up through the masses, there was a brief interlude as we dropped down off the hills and on to the Steenbeekdries. Whilst I had obsessed enough to know the exact order of the climbs from memory (for which I got much stick), I hadn't worked hard enough to grasp the exact meterage between them and was caught unawares by a sharp left onto the flattish cobbles that run up to this next horrorshow. Trying to eat a gel and ride Flemish cobbles may be possible for those born and raised in Flanders but it was beyond me and after the choking fit had subsided, I was able to enjoy the gentler gradient up the Steenbeekdries before the monumentally rough cobbled descent down the other side and over the railway line. Having seen crashes there in the race in previous years, a cautious approach paid dividends although cross handling skills must have helped as I was overtaking a fair few, despite not being known for my skills downhill.

A quick burst led on to the Taaienberg 3km later, past the invisible traffic island that was to catch out Angel Gomez in the pro race the next day, leaving him with a broken leg after a sickening crash. The Taaienberg is a lovely climb even in the wet and mud, being tree lined, less steep and with a more relaxed feel. I took to the smoother gutter near the spectators, Flanders hero style and promptly nearly ground to a halt as it was full of mud. Local knowledge must play a big part in the pro race, as most of the local pros know each and every cobble and line on the bergs, having grown up with them.

From then on, there was a long section including 6 tarmac bergs on the way to Geraardsbergen and the Muur, that have the effect of wearing you down somewhat in preparation for the final 2 cobbled climbs. This passed without incident, though the pace lifted somewhat when a Quick Step pro (Steven de Jongh?) tooled by warming up for Sundays pro race. He sat up long enough to admire Gary's Belgian style Rapha winter hat, seeming impressed by his style and panache. He muttered something like 'Chapeau' or whatever the Flemish equivalent is. Wannabes jumped on his wheel while we let him go by and up the road. After 4 hours of rain, and wind the sun came out and the rest of the route was bathed in sunshine, allowing us to dry out somewhat and efffectively baking the Flanders grit on our clothes and faces into a crust.

The run into the Muur in Geraardsbergen is lovely - typical Flanders countryside giving way to the urban build up before the famous motorway bridge that takes you into the bottom of the climb. With no contact from Winkie, even by phone (he had stopped for one of his famous leisurely cafe breaks) we pressed on. Unfortunately the sportive route takes a diversion from the race route at this point taking you by tarmac back roads in to the top of the cobbled market square and onto the cobbles at the point where the attacks tend to go. Nonetheles, it was mighty impressive looking up at the Church at the top and wondering how you were going to get up there. I was suitably psyched by this point, wanting to get up the Muur and Kapelmuur in style and went 'a bloc'. Gary promptly dropped me as he had on every climb so far, though I kept him more in sight than previously. A few dicey moments with the day trippers on shopping bikes and green greasy cobbles and I was powering alone up the final ramp to the church and onto victory - in my mind at least.

Most surprising moment of the day (apart from the size of Winkie's bladder) was the drop off the top of the Muur and through a bizarrely ornamental garden before picking up the road to the Bosberg and last climb of the day.

Whilst the Bosberg is not steep it is still cobbled and is a killer after all that has been before. Photographers wait to catch your 'death mask' grimaces as your legs finally give in and it becomes a battle in your mind to get to the end of the trees without grinding to a halt. I had given my all on the Kapelmuur and the sorry remnants left just about got me to the top without embarrassment. The run in toward Ninove and the finish is fast and twisty and me and Gary enjoyed picking off slower groups in a final push to the end. A drag up through the official finish and grandstands topped off a superb ride of around 6 hours or so. Epic indeed.

Next day we bailed out of the early start and group coach slog around the pro race (good call Winkie) and took a more leisurely train ride to Geraardsbergen to catch the action. Souvenir stalls, frites and mayonnaise and a walk up the cobbles to relive the previous days action led to the inevitable Flemish smoky bar and a grandstand view of the action on tele. After meeting a loquacious Italian on our shared table, whom we nicknamed Asterix, we got into the action on tele and absorbed the atmosphere of watching the biggest race in Flanders, in Flanders and in a bar on the race route. As Stijn Devolder did his thing on the Eikenmolen and went clear, we rushed outside to see him him power into the market square and on to the Muur proper. Back into the bar for the nailbiting 'will he wont he' finish (my legs hurt in sympathy watching him grind up the Bosberg) and his triumphant ride up the finish straight in Ninove. A bar full of Flandrians (and a couple of Brits and Italians) went mad for a Flandrian winner who had appeared the strongest all race, eclipsing even his team leader and Belgian demi-god, Boonen.

Asterix by now was so pissed that he tried to gatecrash the VIP tent opposite, which was full of haughty models and suits, armed as he was with an enormous bottle of potent Italian homebrew/potion of indeterminate origin under his coat. He had previously tried to engage us in the drinking of this potion, a feat we politely declined. The final hurrah of the day came as we staggered onto our tour bus, stinking of booze and fags and only 15 mins late for the rendevous. Yours truly had to do the walk of shame down a packed bus to the only seat left on the back row, past a sea of less than cheerful souls who had been up since god knows when and simply wanted to get home and off that sodding bus. Shame personified.

Monday 13 October 2008

bits and bobs and no racing

I had to sit out the double header of NW League races this weekend - it was a Significant Birthday Celebration both days for mrs crossjunkie. No riding and a rather messy cocktail party can't have helped form, but were fun nonetheless. At least J got in his first Cross-Country race (illegally under age at 7) and was flying in the under-11's. I missed racing though and will looking forward to fresh legs on the 19th.

Race reports are over on the British Cycling website http://www.britishcycling.org.uk/web/site/BC/bchome/home.asp

UPDATE: Congrats to Rob Pugh who knocked out a win at Boggart Hole Clough against some classy opposition following a 3rd the day before to Scott Thwaites and Richard Wilkinson. Must be nice to have youthful legs that recover overnight to race the next day. I can but dream.........

Rapha cross kit - it was almost inevitable that I would succumb, despite complaining about the concept http://crossjunkie.blogspot.com/2008/09/rapha-cross-kit.html

I can report back that the 3/4 bibs that confusingly they call shorts are really rather nice. Plush thermo-roubaix cossets and supports your thigh, they are a sensible length and the insert 'chammy' pad from Cytech feels even better than Assos (at least for my anatomy). Acid test of any short is the 'forgot I had on new shorts' moment which arrived several times during the first couple of road rides. The only downside is that they feel remarkably slippy on the saddle, which can be slightly unnerving offroad and when jumping on, but is great for road rides. I think I'll just use them on the road to avoid testing the durability issue.............

They have also produced Belgian Knee Warmers knee warmers over at Rapha. The blog is already legendary but is now franchising it's own products. Cool. Any offers for crossjunkie clothing perhaps - maybe a fetching cardigan or cloth cap?

Talking of Rapha, I came across Velo Dramatic - a beautifully artworked blog with an eye for expensive kit among other things. Check out this post http://www.velodramatic.com/archives/78

How anyone can spend $40,000 on bikes and kit in 2 years is beyond even me but I am willing to give it a go!

Part 2 of Flanders soon - call back for the gritty climax.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

epic rides - tour of flanders sportive 2008 part1

In these days of economic gloom and dire predictions, I find I am turning to pleasant memories as an insurance policy from the sense of depression and helplessness that can take hold if one listens to the news too much. By way of celebrating events removed from the day to day hum drum and worry of modern living, this series of posts looks at epic rides that still retain that glow, lingering in the memory and sustaining me through the fatigue and stress of earning a living and keeping things going generally. I can think of no better explanation of what I am talking about than a post on Belgian Knee Warmers entitled 'Clarity' from June 2008


Rooted in the complication of Western society, our daily lives lack the now of our ancestors. Days pass into weeks of restrained existence; days spent where our most definitive stroke may be command-S. Tens of thousands of years of descent with modification in our sapient brains tell us this isn’t what life is meant to be. So we go on vacation. And what do we do? We look for the defining moment. Something to restore life to our life.

And so I found myself in Ghent last April with a couple of friends (Winkie and Gary), a bike and a dream that had been hatched some years before almost as soon as I got back into cycling after a 12 year break. Lacking the pioneering spirit of my youth, I had plumped for a package tour to ride and watch the Tour of Flanders, cosseted by organised travel and accommodation arrangements. It was also a good excuse to celebrate my fast approaching Vet status and the official beginning of middle age (not my official definition!) with my 40th Birthday.

Forsaking more than a cursory few Belgian brews the night before (Barbar, Leffe Brune), an early start saw our trio mingling with around 18,000 others at the start in Ninove, lining up to ride the 140km event. If you haven't experienced the organised two wheeled chaos at the start of one of the great European sportive events, it is something to behold.

Baffingly, we missed the official start thinking we were simply riding toward it with a steady stream of others. Gradually it dawned on us that we were already on the course - it didn't make much difference as I felt like a child at Christmas, riding on hallowed roads in the motherland of cycling. Winkie stopped for what goes down in history as the longest pee ever - I swear me and Gary were close to getting the bonk just standing around waiting (Winkie does nothing in a hurry, except running up mountains). The numbers started swelling as large groups coalesced on the road and the pace began to lift a little. The arrival of most of the Sunweb Projob Team livened things up somewhat - only in Belgium would you get the Team Car flying down the centre of a very wide boulevard, all the team members drafting behind with a gaggle of wannabees frantically trying to hang on in the slipstream.

It was on the way to the Molenberg, first climb of the day that the true scale of the numbers became apparent and it was definitely right there in front of us when we turned the sharp right into the cobbles and half of the cycling fraternity of Europe was rammed into the narrow street, grinding to a halt and cursing. I added my English profanities to the collection as I hadn't travelled for over 24 hours to walk my way up the climbs of the Ronde. But walk we did and then the weather started. It pissed down at that point and my mood went from euphoria to something very black indeed.

From then on, the weather for the day was truly Flandrian - all four seasons in a 6 hour period, including sleet, snow, driving rain, drizzle, gales, grey clag and blazing sunshine! With my own clouds darkening my mood we pressed on through the Wolvenberg where we lost Winkie never to be seen until the finish (we did wait honest) and through to the first long section of cobbles.

There is a longish cobbled high street in the gruff Lancastrian town where I work, but they are mere baby cobbles compared to the huge bruisers that the Belgians use. If you have not ridden Belgian cobbles before then you may be forgiven for thinking that graphic reports of their violence to machine and body are exaggerated but you would be wrong in that assumption! Given that I was in a foul mood at this point and needing to vent some nervous energy, I went ballistic on entering the cobbles - a quick look at my pulse meter showed I had hit a new max heart rate of 178, higher than that seen in a cross race. Brutal.

On we rolled, through Flandrian lanes and streets and toward the Oude Kwaremont (steady ride and relief that it wasn't blocked with riders), through the really narrow lanes to the Paterberg (steep as, but ridden with panache) and to the Koppenberg. Like Hardknott in the Fred Whitton, the Koppenberg is simply hardcore and nags away in the back of your mind, increasing it's presence in your mind until the picture gives way to reality and it rears up in front of you.

This was the scene that greeted us (except it was still pissing down for us at that point):

The cobbles were packed, greasy, muddy and very uneven and quickly I had to walk. Incredibly, Gary stayed upright, pinballed off a few beefy Belgians and made it to the top without a foot down. Chapeau, King of the Koppenberg!

The initial major hurdles were overcome and we journeyed on toward the climax on the Muur.........

Tuesday 7 October 2008

nw league race 3

The forecast for Saturday was dire - torrential rain all day with strong winds. Luckily the rain stayed away and conditions in St Helens were surprisingly mild and clement - it warmed up on the way from 8.5 degrees at crossjunkie towers to 13 degrees at the course!

A new course greeted riders at Sutton Manor - fast, gravel based with a couple of muddy but rideable stretches and 3 hard climbs. Comparisons with the Treviso World Champs course from last January were perhaps a little far fetched, but it was clear that this would be a hard, fast course suiting those with superior fitness and power rather than technical ability. That was me out on both counts then.........

After a couple of laps, the crossjunkie tire pressure formula (see below) was beginning to show its limitations - what tire pressure can rail mud and smooth gravel track, as well as dealing with stray rocks and bricks on the surface? I plumped for 34mm Rhino tread and hoped the puncture gods would be appeased by running at 45psi!

An interesting(!?) start, narrow and with a wooden bench and marshall in the middle led straight into the first climb which luckily had the effect of stringing the field out before the dicey plunge down the gravel into a mini and muddy bombhole. One of the good things about cross racing at this grassroots level is that other riders are almost exclusively respectful and easygoing with their fellow competitors and everyone seemed to negotiate the potential bottleneck in one piece. As an ageing family man, I was most appreciative of this....

My race went surprisingly well - a brief flurry with the group containing the top 3 vets, before a graceful and considerably less tragic (than previous) slide down the field. Only 3 came past in the last 20 mins so that has to be considered a result compared to the last race! You see, one has to take whatever positive one can in these situations. I ended up 22nd at the end and 8th Vet, having suffered to lighter and more nimble riders on the 3 steep climbs each lap. But, I was racing rather than surviving, and beginning to get used to the gut-wrenching effort over the hour. Those turbo sessions must be paying off, and a brief break in my relationship with alcohol based substances in the few days before helped too. Some work to be done still though.

Keith Murray lost out in a sprint to a Wilkinson from SIS (Ian or Richard??) with Rob Pugh in third. Back to the glory days of cross when 'amateur' roadies rode the Saturday races and disappeared on Sundays to leave the specialists to nurse their egos? The Horwich boys and girls were well placed overall but a challenger has appeared in the woods for the team prize ........... It is going to be long and hard fought season for overall team honours I suspect. None of which I will be able to influence directly, but one can live in hope.

Sorry no photos or links are available yet.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

the science of tire pressure explained

I've been working on this for a while now, and I believe I have come up with the definitive answer to that thorny problem that taxes crossers everywhere - what pressure to run your tires at?

Pressure P = √ y(m/s) x δm ± NA/¥

y = wind speed in m/s
δ = electrical conductivity of mud in S m-1
NA represents Avogadros constant (6.022±0.00000030)x 1023 mol -1
¥ = the amount of Belgian beer drunk in the previous week

Unfortunately this relationship does not hold true for those running clinchers, but I am working on a different formula for those not yet fully surrendered to the dark art of tubs.

Actually it is amazing to see (or rather feel) the difference in pressures in evidence at a local cross race. From the 'I run'em at 50psi all year round' group to the obsessives striving to geek out even further with a reduction from 28psi to 27psi (just me then), there are lots of contrasting approaches to the same problem - get through the terrain as fast as possible. Without puncturing.

Euro PROs like Nys, Wellens and co, reputedly start recce laps at 27/28psi and reduce as they learn the course and conditions, going down to as low as 24psi in some cases. A hand held pressure gauge and pump allows variations of 1psi. Younger, but awesomely talented riders like Lars Boom and Niels Albert have gone on record to say that they do not have the experience yet to run that kind of pressure, but presumably they are working on it. Check out the flat front tires of the riders in particular Vantornout (on the far right) going up the climb on the Koppennberg Cross, a course with a lot of muddy off camber and sweeping descents.

Either way, it is a case of how low can you go on many courses - bottom out the rim at least once a lap and you are in the right ball park pressure zone.

This brings us to the notorious Otterspool Park (cardiac arrest time for Wellens and co) and some of the other slightly rougher NW courses........

Those relationships simply don't hold true when avoiding broken glass, rocks, tree roots, discarded road cones, stolen cars and other debris including stricken riders. Clinchers begin to sound pretty tempting all over again - at 60psi.

Monday 29 September 2008

a grand day out at the peaks

It was like packing up to go off racing myself - spare clothes,plenty of wheels, tools, track pump, food, spare helmet for anyone who was forgetful, and 2 kids. Only the bike frames were missing. Throw them all in the car at 7.30am and hot foot it up to the Dales with many hundred other hopefuls and supporters for the annual pilgrimage to the mecca of all things tough, off road and cross-like.

We met up with the lads in Settle car park to receive bottles, a spare bike and a long suffering partner to swell the support team. From then it was a whirlwind tour of the Dales and its roads and lanes, punctuated by frantic attempts at finding parking and route marches to each of the rendezvous points. Not the most child friendly of days out but E managed to cadge a lift on my shoulders to every point and J amused himself whilst waiting for the riders by systematically destroying his model Land Rover in extreme off road adventures.

Whilst riding the Peaks is a supreme physical effort, supporting 4 riders is quite hard work too. No really, especially with a 3 and 7 year old who would rather be doing something else. Anyway, all 4 of the lads made it to the finish with only 1 bike change and 1 puncture between them (bad luck Rich!), and the kids enjoyed fish and chips in Settle afterwards as a treat (thanks Winkie!)

The race itself will be well documented elsewhere - http://www.3peakscyclocross.org.uk/ and http://3pcx.blogspot.com/ as well as the British Cycling website.

However it is worth making special mention of Rob Jebb's 7th consecutive win and new course record in 2:52. For me, and by default plenty of others who have been in earshot when I get my soapbox out, Jebby is one of the most unsung endurance athletes in the country. Whilst the great grassroots support that he and his Wheelbase Team get from the Lakeland based bike shop is not to be underestimated, it is worth remembering that he is not a professional athlete, works full time and performs across different discplines with ease (skyrunning, fell running, road racing and cyclocross). Yet he performs year in year out at world class level. The photo below shows the first few hundred yards after the neutralised road section as the field begin the climb of Ingleborough - Jebby has a gap already, and it was I assume, the last the field saw of him for the next 2 hrs 40 mins! Honourable mention too goes to Nicky Craig who finished runner up. Again. 1st woman home, Heather Dawes apparently went into the race with a simple game plan - 'I'm going to win'. She did so in style.

More photos.......

Friday 26 September 2008

armstrong @ crossvegas

Mr Armstrong rode the much hyped CrossVegas UCI race with some success apparently - 22nd overall in a field of North America's finest


A duff gridding position and a heavy crash put paid to a higher position but the media attention on the race threatens to catapult cross Stateside into the consciousness of the sporting public, at least till the adverts come on anyway.

However, not to be picky or anything, but the Armstrongator needs to get his bike set up tweaked a little. He may be strong but 53-39 surely is best left for the road, and given his wealth, I would have thought he could have got some Dugast or FMBs rather than Tufo training tubs............

Thursday 25 September 2008

3 peaks cyclocross preview

The 3 Peaks is a special race. Period. It occupies significant space in the minds of many cross riders, fell runners and mountain bikers, many of whom have acquired a cross bike simply for the purpose of riding in the event once a year. Promoted with unfailing commitment and enthusiasm by John Rawnsley, the race has reached legendary status across the cyclocross world and attracts competitors from Europe and the States as well as a fanatical UK contingent - http://www.3peakscyclocross.org.uk/

Regular competitor, Dave Haygarth's blog http://3pcx.blogspot.com/ documents his own personal obsession with the event beautifully and I suspect mirrors many others' feelings and experiences too. My own relationship with it has been a dichotomy of love and hate. I first rode in 1991, the year of Nick Craig's one and only win (so far). Naive and unaware of what was about to unfold, I finished 14th and 1st novice despite a puncture travelling upwards (!) toward the summit of Whernside. My on-off relationship with the Queen of cross events had begun.

The following year, forewarned and forearmed I came back and went at it with full commitment. 4th over the top of Ingleborough, I paid for the early pace and faded a little to finish 10th. Fred Salmon won in a new record for that course (now changed to include the slabs off Whernside). My abiding memory of that day was nearing the top of the steep climb up Whernside, just before the rideable drag to the summit, to see Fred charging back down again, breathing like a raging bull and with a burning intensity in his eyes that scared me. He had set out his stall to break the record and nothing was going to stop him that day.

Since then, me and the Peaks have never quite seen eye to eye - a DNF the next year, a 12 year break followed by a further comeback DNF led to an epic sub 5hr ride in 2005, laden with cramp from Ingleton onwards (!) and reduced to a crawl on all but the flat road sections.

2007 was to be my year - course recceed, running and carrying done. I was in the best form since...... well a while. Foot and Mouth did for that then. This year, I had an entry but deferred it, feeling that there were others more desparate to ride than I and burdened with a number of changes and commitments on the domestic front.

And so to this year - it would be a brave person to bet on anyone other than Jebby but Stuart Reid and Stu Bowers are my dark horses. Nicky Craig and Lewis Craven will also be up there in the mix and hopefully will have a better run of luck than in 2006. Whilst recent dry weather has eased the mud in my local parks, I suspect it will take more than a couple of warm days to dry out the Dales and conditions may be reasonably soggy in places. That said, path maintanence work seems to be moving on apace in that corner of the world and the course is more and more surfaced each year.

I can't and won't stay away from the race though, even when not competing - the kids will have a mandatory day out, holding wheels and bottles for a few friends and anyone else who needs them. The crowds of helpers, and their charges battling the environment, are part of the unique atmosphere of the event - the course is a great leveller and anyone who finishes gets my respect, regardless of whether they raced or just rode. Good luck and chapeau to all riding on Sunday. See you out there.