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 - and 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 -

Regular competitor, Dave Haygarth's blog 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.

Wednesday 24 September 2008

for an exquisite training experience

This wasn't quite the scene in crossjunkie towers last night, but I did do my first ever turbo interval session, albiet without the sexist 80s styled model lounging in the foreground (I asked mrs crossjunkie but got a short and painful reply.....).

Actually it was suprisingly good fun. A hectic day of delivering work related workshops, domestic chores, homework help and ferrying J to and from his athletic session meant I did not stop until 9pm. No matter, armed with a Simon Burney interval session, a high def DVD of the World Cup cross race from Tabor last year and my shiny new CycleOps, I ventured into the murky world of pain and sweat for the next 40 mins or so.

And sweaty it was too, but strangely satisfying. Perhaps it was the notion of a training session stolen from the jaws of apathy, or the thought that I might become some kind of uber-cross hero with unlimited power (unlikely), but I enjoyed it a little too much.

There was even some kind of bizarre connection thing going on with the DVD too - everytime Nys or Wellens layed down a blazing attack in the race, I could feel their pain. Well, actually my pain which was reasonably acute. It's not right though, sitting in a room, sweating like you're going to get heat stroke and hammering yourself into semi-consciousness. I am told it is effective by those in the know. They better had know, because if I get any slower having gone through all that I am going to come looking for them and stick a Rhino where the sun don't shine...........

Monday 22 September 2008

rapha cross kit!!!

Much excitement in the crossjunkie household last week. Well, for me at least. Purveyors of stylish cycling apparel, Rapha have announced their autumn range, including cross-specific jerseys and 3/4 bibs. Previous readers will alread know my views about Rapha - see

As the news sunk in, the excitement waned a little. Rapha, cross, mud, grit - not an ideal combination given a jersey and 3/4s would set you back over £250! Could buy 5 FMBs or Dugasts for that and they would probably last and look better for longer.

Then I realised as I looked at the marketing pictures - this was cross kit for the West Coast US of A type of crosser. Kit for where it doesn't rain too much at all and races and training are conducted in dry dust bowls for most of the year. No soggy woods, and boggy playing fields for them. No, one can go training resplendent in one's new Rapha kit and come back looking just as immcaulate instead of looking like a new recruit who's just staggered round an Army assault course in full flood.

Nice idea then, just wrong climate over here?

Pics respectfully lifted from

spanish inquisition - nw race 2

They say time trials are the race of truth - I would argue that it follows that cross is more like the Spanish Inquisition, using any means at its diposal to get to the heart of the matter. The 'heart of the matter' being whether or not you have got it in the tank. Or not, in my case.

Leverhulme Park was balmy. Correction, hot - 22 degrees in fact. Any prospect of real mud had evaporated over the course of Friday, Saturday and then on race day. There was still some residual softness in the ground, that resulted in slowing down the speed of the course a little rather than any mud that stuck to tires or bike. There may have been some softness, but the course was still brutally fast - big ring all the way which is unusual for pack fodder like me in a North West race.

With a Trophy race in Wales, there were fewer big hitters present. It was a good field of stalwart North West regulars on the start line as well as a fair few irregulars and newcomers. A fast start leading into single track was always going to cause a bottleneck at some point, and a botched pedal hook up left me well down. I've been practicing that recently to the point of nailing it every time, except when it counts obviously!

The crash came later than expected and it was 2 riders in front of me. Sorry Mick S, about the Rhino tire tread on your backside, inflicted as I squeezed past on foot! It didn't hold me up too much but left enough of a gap to the next group to need some chasing. This went well and after a couple of laps I was on the back of a reasonable size group with most of the other leading vets in sight. A few slower starters came past after being held up in the crash, including Mick who went on to produce his usual Chris Young type effort and rode through the field with aplomb.

It was then, at about 25 mins in that the Investigators came to call. I was found guilty as charged - of having dwindling power, strength and general smoothness. Cross is all about momentum, and on a fast, largely untechnical course, smoothness through individual sections and bends is paramount. My technical abilities are suspect at the best of times, but as the feebleness set in, I was losing a couple of seconds here and there on riders in front through every turn. The loss of strength was compounded by an almost complete inability to get out of breath toward the end and make any kind of hard effort.

The net result was a tragic descent through the field from 15th to an eventual 27th. Excuses? I have a barrel full, but the only one that counts was that I was simply not prepared for the intensity that a cross race imposes on your system. A crashing sore throat and cold came on later in the day and overnight, and this may not have helped the earlier race effort, but I was cruelly exposed on the day in the way that only cross can. Some work to be done then............

Keith Murray won, for the record, with his White Sex file tread Dugast and White Sex gloves. Very stylish.

PS Thanks to everyone who came up and mentioned that they read the blog. Keep in touch!

Thursday 18 September 2008


Simon Burney was the inspiration. And I'm not talking about stretching. There is a sentence in his book, Cyclocross Training, that suggests time pressed individuals can fit in 2 or 3 sessions a day if they plan specifically to cram bits of training in here and there. It caught my eye and got me thinking.

It seemed far fetched at the time of reading, and to be fair I haven't the energy or sufficient access to the washing machine to get 3 sessions done. But 2 are doable, and need be no more than a 15 min run before breakfast, followed by a 45 min interval session on or off road during a lunch break. Two good sessions done, and minimal disruption to other responsibilities like kids, partner or even work!

The downside - I never get much distance or base work in, either before the season, let alone during it. However the literature is full of research on junk miles vs sweetspot training and the like. Rule of thumb to be gleaned? Ride/run either dead easy or dead hard. Coast along or blast out some intervals. It is possible that I struggle to hang on in the last 15 mins of a cross race as my base fitness fails to support my overall pace, but I usually get away with it.

This morning was a case in point. Faced with a day of work based training followed by an evening birthday present shopping, the only solution was an 8.30am rendezvous with the local football fieldsnear to work. A 10 min warm up, stretching, dismount/mount drills, 5 practice starts with 45 sec flat out efforts with 2 min rests, and finally more start and dismount drills gave me a 35 min session that incorporated both technical work and inerval efforts. A 15 min run would top it off nicely this evening...........

But this is the beauty of cross - 1 hour of gut wrenching effort that can be trained for in a finite amount of time, requiring lots of rest after races and between hard off road sessions. The ulitmate form of cycle racing for those walking the 3 part teeter totter of family/bike/work and this is why I love it.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

mudandcowbells scoop and footwear tip

Fascinating piece for geeks on the development of the new Challenge Fango tubs and clinchers over on
Fab stuff from this ever reliable blog.

Also from the colourful
A great tip for eliminating fluffs getting into the pedals cleanly everytime. Gluing old tubular or clincher tread to the middle part of the bottom of your often smooth cross shoe soles. Sounds wacky? - take a look.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

dura ace electronic wins cross race!

As posted on weight weenies and - Neils Albert won the Erpe-Mere race in Belgium last Sunday using electronic shifters (and a normal 7800 chainset). And yes it was dry and sunny and not muddy.

I can feel a chorus of "can't see that catching on up 'ere" coming on from grizzled Northern crossers reeling after Sunday's mudbath. Then again I may be as mistaken as the erstwhile record executive who turned the Beatles down for being commercially unviable.........

Photo courtesy of

this season i be mostly riding ............

2x Planet X Uncle John frames and carbon forks - size XL as I am lanky as. Cheap, light-ish, strong, with good mud clearance and no frills except bottle cage mounts which are surprisingly useful. Not the raciest of geometries but good enough for me and they make an excellent long/rough sportive bike too as they are really comfortable on the road.

105 shifters and Ultegra mechs - consensus seems to be that new 10 speed 105 is as good as Dura Ace from a few years ago. Good enough for cross then.

Frogglegs brakes - utlitarian, effective enough to slow you down rather than stop you dead. Cross is about keeping momentum so you don't want brakes that are too good!

Mostly Planet X stems and seatposts, light Cinelli bars too. Compact chainsets - 46 and 48/36 with an Ultregra 25 cassette on both. Shimano pedals - long lasting and dont clog too easily.

Wheels and tubs - where I have spent my cash and treated myself:

2x aluminium - 1 set GP4 with 32mm FMB Orange SP and 1 set Race X Lite with specially made FMB Green SP with Dugast Rhino tread 34mm.

2x carbon with Dugast Rhino 32mm on front and 34mm on rear - better grip due to larger footprint.

I have a couple of old green Michelin muds on FMB and Dugast carcasses too for occasions as yet unspecified or for when I can find even more wheel sets!

Those wheel choices cover all the bases - mud, grass, rough track, fast and slow courses. Francois at FMB makes the most incredible tubs - top quality, true every time and with high performing tread and longevity. Dugast are great too but perhaps not as robust as FMB though the Rhino tread is hard to beat in North West conditions.

There are tons of items out there that are lighter, flashier and more bling-tastic. However, the stuff I use works time and time again, doesn't let me down in races, requires minimal maintenance and doesn't break the bank.

Monday 15 September 2008

1st race of the NW season

The Scorton Scramble was the season closer back in January of this year and was accepted by most as the muddiest and hardest of the year. Back for 2008-2009 and featuring the same course, it did not disappoint, being only marginally less muddy but probably stickier than earlier on this year. Sunshine and warm conditions were welcome and the cancellation of the Yorkshire points Silcoates Scramble and the looming National Trophy next week led to a large influx of 'foreign' riders. Non NW raiders Stuart Wearmouth and Matt Denby sandwiched unsung star Lewis Craven into second place this time, only 20 secs or so down in a field of 73 starters.

J rode his first under 12 race of the season too and coped admirably with conditions so heavy that he could not physically push his (mountain) bike through the clag and maintain forward momentum in some places. A cross bike would seem in order for his birthday.......

My own race..........urm, well it didn't materialise as a gamble with the domestic arrangements for the race saw J unwilling to hang out in a field with a bunch of strangers while his dad rode round for an hour becoming increasingly unrecognisable as the race wore on. Seeing him sat on his own behind the start/finish tent looking totally lost and lonely was too much for even a cross obsessed Dad to bear and the only course of action was to bail out before even taking the start. Gutted, though at least his medal for top U-8 finisher made his and my day. That three part teeter totter (family/bike racing/work) that Greg Kellor talks about just didn't come off for me today. At least there is next week to come......

Wednesday 10 September 2008

new challenge mud tub - fango

The Dugast Rhino has a challenge (sic) - in a coup reminiscent of Hello magazine and coverage of Wayne and Colleen's nuptials, have just revealed the new mud tire from Italian firm Challenge (pre-production model).

Whether this will perform better than the Rhino, the 'industry standard' for specialist mud tubulars remains to be seen. It is likely to undercut it on price though, if the Challenge Grifo is anything to go by as they are around 20% cheaper than offerings by Dugast and FMB.

The marketing centres around the scooped central knobs that give 2 contact edges akin to 2 separate knobs but without the propensity to clog in between. Aggressive side knobs help grip too. Not made in a shed in Brittany by one man and his beret (Francois at FMB) or owned by cross legends the Richards Groenendaal and Nieuwhuis (Dugast), but made in Thailand in a factory. Draw any conclusion you like from that - artisan vs mass produced, snob value vs real world prices?
Either way, the dark art of cross tubs just got a little bit more competitive and a little more exciting.

course design

So team training at Leverhulme last night turned into an exercise in course design. Some hard efforts and a couple of flying laps as intervals ensured that there was enough to tax the legs and build form for Sunday's first race, but it was a more cerebral outing in many ways.

Course design, for the uninitiated (ie me) is a fascinating area of cross to be involved in. What looks good visually is not necessarily good to ride and vica versa. What feels good at warm up pace doesn't always work at race pace. The overall flow of a course can only be experienced at speed and over multiple laps. What the course starts out as will never resemble what it looks like after 100 riders have ridden practice laps and the first few laps of the race. The guys had already been busy building a challenging course that avoided out and out mud plugging through bog but was not so tricksy as to frustrate. Last night was an exercise in tuning. And avoiding dog crap.

It was tempting to try and influence the course to one's own strengths or to reduce one's own weak areas. My own bete noir, tight turns, would have been ruthlessly pruned or at least opened up, but actually a good course needs a balance of tight, open, and flowing bends where maintaining speed is to be achieved a variety of ways. Nor can it contain endless running, though some would be appreciated!

Balancing topographical constraints, environmental hazards (mainly saturated grassy bog at present) as well as health and safety is not as easy as it looks. Next time you moan about a course, spare a thought for the organiser/designer. What might you have done different and would that have upset somebody else instead? If your club is putting on a race, get involved . If not, why not start your own race! Just don't design the course to suit you and you only..........

1st euro cross of the season is a mudbath

Seems the Belgians have had a bit of rain too - the seasons first cross in Dudzele, was characterised by 'hectometres of running'. I assume that means lots. The shape of things to come both over there and here?

Klaas Vantornout won from Sven Vanthourenhout, both riding for Sunweb Projob, but there were only 3 pros competing so it doesnt tell us too much about form this season, other than Klaas can run a bit. Well, a lot. Reminds me of that Colemanball from years ago about Alberto Juantorena - 'Vantornout opened his legs and showed us his Klaas' .......... Full report on

Tuesday 9 September 2008

3 towers

Final preparations for some of the 3 Peaks cyclocross riders were underway last Sunday with the Lancashire version of the Peaks, the 3 Towers. Held as an informal ride rather than a race and organised by Horwich CC, last Sunday's edition saw a sizeable group enjoying the Lancashire moors on cross bikes, mountain bikes and foot.

The route covers Winter Hill twice and Peel Tower, Ramsbottom and was led by 25 times Peaks finisher Eric Taylor. Good training was had by all (so I hear) and serious Peaks devotees hopefully found their running/walking legs in time for the end of the month. Photo Mark Leyland.

Monday 8 September 2008

less than a week to go

Tension mounts as the clock ticks to Sunday - group cross training tommorrow night with the team so watch this space.
This season's start must have the potential to rank as one of the muddiest - last year I had file tread on for the first couple of races. Seems somewhat far fetched at the moment........

Our brethren over in the Notts and Derby League have already had a fun start - pic courtesy of Richard Robotham/British Cycling.

Monday 1 September 2008

kirkstone pass in the evening

Not exactly cross relevant, but good training nonetheless, I had the opportunity to do a couple of rides in the Lakes during a 2 day work conference last week.

After being cooped up indoors all day, it was great to unwind on the gradual continental style, smooth tarmac climb up the Pass from Windermere and the blast down to Ullswater. A rapid reassessment of available light and time and it was straight back up the much more British 1 in 5 approach that I had just come down.
The following day Great Langdale and Little Langdale were a suitable backdrop for a short but sharp ride, the low cloud and mist swirling ominously around Harrison Stickle and the Langdale Pikes as I passed through. The Lakes is a sensational place to ride and whilst the climbs are not as big as in high mountains, they are just as memorable in many ways.

The seeds of a do at the Fred Whitton Challenge have begun to take shape............