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.