Monday 30 November 2009

a rant

I'm told by those around me that I am a pretty tolerant sort of fellow, and certainly in my line of work, running projects for homeless teenagers, there is a need for a relaxed attitude. However, I'm getting sick and tired of hearing wingeing and moaning about there being too much thick mud and the need for running during a cross race.

What is it with these people?!

Let me point out some facts:

I live and therefore mostly race cross in a region of England that has the highest rainfall of any in the country.

Cross is a winter sport. It is held as an alternative to road racing and time trialling, and now mountainbiking.

Cross has always been about natural obstacles - solid or otherwise.

Cross is held in parkland, woodland and on other soil (or sand) based mediums.

Saturday's NW League race, the Wheelbase Cross in Haslingden was unsurprising really. With a late November date after a month of torrential rain, including severe flooding events just to the north in Cumbria, in a Victorian municipal park comprising 75% grass and 25% woodland, it doesn't take a degree in hydrology, ecology, bio-diversity or any other science, to work out there is going to be a fair amount of mud generated by 140 or so riders round the course.

At this point I need to declare a certain interest in the proceedings, as on the day I was helping out friend and Peaks devotee, Dave Haygarth who was organising the race with the Wheelbase shop and team. I have seen just how much work and effort goes into organising these races. The one thing an organiser cannot do is organise the weather! Dave was pre-riding the course for weeks beforehand with me and several others, and made some last minute changes in an attempt to minimise problems when the course became completely waterlogged the Wednesday before. There was no way on earth that it was ever going to be anything but super muddy, unless people fancied a slippy crit race around the park using the tarmac paths only.

Pic: Jo Hanglebads

I would also like to offer some contructive criticism to those complaining about the level of mud clogging their bikes - pick them up! Seriously, the number of people I saw riding through really thick patches, pushing through really thick patches and generally doing their best to make the problem worse was amazing. Look after your bike during the race and it will look after you. Or do, as some of my team mates did and take a tool/scraper to unclog your cassette and frame as you go round. I enjoyed the conditions and made the best of them to finish 4th Vet (amongst National standard opposition) and 12th overall in a field that started with 120 riders. Things are coming together nicely for a foray into National Trophy racing at Bradford.

Anyway, I am getting away from my rant - whilst European racing tends to be faster and more flowing, they are not immune from weather induced bogfests as the following illustrate (thanks to Dave Haygarth for the 1st clip):

Either way, cross is and should remain a sport of varying challenges - terrain and weather induced. Running is part of cross - embrace it. You don't have to go out and run marathons on the road, just include some short, sharp runs in your training to help out for when there is no other option but to take to your feet. Your summer cycling will thank you too, due to the cross-training effect running brings. If you don't like running at any point, then stick to summer cross and the early season races. Or take up time trialling.... Just quit moaning please.

Rant over. Till the next muddy cross.


Mark said...

Nice rant Alan.
Obviously Dave made the mistake of not booking 25 degree heat and a dry course, how foolish of him to forget that bit. At least he remembered to cancel the snow that had been forecast and book some nice winter sun for the seniors race.
£4.95 for the tool that cleared my rear cassette and help remove the mud from various parts of the bike. It weighs next to nowt (certainly less than the mud it removed) and sat in my jersey pocket with ease.Bike only clogged up badly once and that was when i tried to push it instead of carrying it!!
hats off to Dave for getting a course set out after such a dreadful month of weather.

Carl (downstairs) said...

Here, here, well said Alan!

We were blessed with sunshine, unlike yesterday...
I actually think the conditions helped me to my highest-ever league finish. So I'm not complaining as I thoroughly enjoyed the day.
Well done to Dave for making it happen.


Agree Alan being new to the sport I expect this as you say it's winter,and Sudays course was changed so there was no real picking up and running as such,which means if it had been a dry course it would have not really been a cross race does that make sence,I know what I mean anyway.

Traildog said...

I agree. I personally hated the now famous Brockholes course and I don't much enjoy running. But I thought Dave had created a good course and the most was made of the conditions, which could not have been planned for.

The course favoured good runners more than most do, but there were still lots of sections where strong riders had an advantage over the runners. This made for some exciting racing as different groups pulled away on some sections only to be caught on others.

You had to look after the bike and keep it out of mud and you were rewarded with large sections of the course which were ridable and fast(ish).

Personally I lost out because I'm not a good runner, but that's life. Moaning about that is like moaning that courses are too difficult if you are a poor bike handler, or too much climbing if you are a poor climber. Different courses favour different skills. I just need to improve my running.. :(

Having said that, Paul Oldham came flying past me riding a section that everyone around me was running and that appeared to be almost un-ridable.

Well done to the organisers and congrats Alan on great result!

trio said...

I think one of the hard things about such a muddy course is that it really favours people with two bikes/ability to get two bikes there/someone to wash said bikes. I know this is part of cross racing but it is probably my least favourite part. Maybe as I will never have the funds for that and I see cross as a cheap(ish) way of getting some fun racing in during the winter months.

I love cross races, although it has taken me till yesterday to get back into it this year. I will never be good at the sport as I am rubbish at getting on and off the bike and such a poor runner. But I enjoyed saturday, even though I punctured and finished last.

I carried my bike more than I rode and I still clogged up terribly. My shoulder was sore from it. But I expect some courses to have more running than others. As such cross would never be my main love. That is riding a bike!

I had only heard positive things about saturdays races though!

crossjunkie said...

You are absolutely right, trio that 2 bikes let alone 2 bikes and pit crew gives you an advantage. That said, I only changed for the last 3 laps, sometime after half distance and then only to cut the weight a bit. My 1st was still going strong, no problems with gears or blocking.

There are lots of little things you can do to prevent clogging if you are on 1 bike - bigger clearances help (Planet X Uncle Johns are great), clean your bike after warm up and before racing (lots of dirty bikes on the start!)get your straddle cables correct for the brakes and the type of brakes right, use no more than 32mm tires and as I said ride conservatively.

Junmping on and off is where massive gains can be made in those conditions - I can feel a crossjunkie cross clinic coming on prior to next season ;-)

trio said...

I had enough problems finding a bike small enough in budget - Uncle John was just too big! But yes I think my huge tyres are a problem, but that is what came on the bike. I clogged straight away. As I am going slower my bike clears less as well.

I didn't pre-ride the course after looking at it, I would have struggled to clean my bike between a pre-ride and I didn't think I would benefit much from pre-riding.

As it turned out I somehow punctured and finished last so it didn't matter.

Although it plays to all my weaknesses I would race the event again. For me what makes cross races is the people and the chat, something I felt missing at a lot of races this year. This weekend both races have had it.

I think I need to learn the getting on and off bike technique, especially getting back on, I could see everyone pulling away from me as I struggled to find pedals on sunday!

Mick Style said...

And good ride too Alan - you go really well when the going gets muddy! Agree, carry the bike when it's that bad, I got arguably my best ride/run of the season with no bike change, although the clearance on my Focus ain't great even with 30mm tyres. What other brands have better than usual clearance? (I may be upgrading for 2010!)

Dave Haygarth said...

Great post Alan. You missed a good muddy vid...

I really enjoy reading through the comments.

Maybe there ought to be more winter MTB races for the likes of Amy who like a one-bike level playing field (seriously). I have to feel for those with one bike though. Like Jonny McEvoy - comfortable in 4th place. ;-)

Look after your bike and it looks after you. I've had a few mini disasters this season (flat tyres, rolled tubs) and I can safely say that all of them were due to bad preparation, taking a bad line, or just bad riding. Mud, as Alan points out, is just a condition that can be catered for by those with the skills.

Mark said...

Some good points raised and interesting to see a thread developing.
Bike set up and prep are critical in cross - the junior winner had one bike and stated his tyre choice had worked well for him.
Having over the years coached many athletes from various sports one thing can be seen as a common traight - we like to things we are good at.
Relate this to cyclists and you will find the good climber likes to climb, sprinter likes to sprint etc and this forms a high percentage of their training. Things they dislike get left out or done when fatigued instead of piroritising the weakness to elimate them.
This manifests in negative comments post race i.e. too much mud, too much running, too much climbing etc - courses highlight weakness, the rider that has fewer will place higher up the results.
So identify the weakness aim to reduce it and see your results improve.

trio said...

Some people do work on their weaknesses though. I used to be the worst climber out of everyone I knew when I started riding. But I rode up and down hills loads. I'll never beat a climber up hills but I go mountain biking now and the same friends can't drop me.

I can't imagine ever having two cross bikes, but I find it even odder that some people keep the bikes just for racing. But I know some people find it odd that I ride to races. I guess everyone is different!

I did enjoy the race and would go back to the same conditions next year. An hour of that is only going to make me better! I haven't read anything negative about the race, I must be looking in the wrong places!

Was it more or less muddy than the one up in Windermere? I've heard lots about that! After Hit the North 2008 I will never moan too much about mud - that was crazy my mountain bike weighed more than me at the end of the race!