Wednesday 31 October 2012

A lap of the Koppenbergcross - rider's view...

The Koppenbergcross at Oudenaarde is one of the oldest, most prestigious and toughest races on the Belgian, nay European, cross calendar.

It has brutally old-school course that features huge climbs, slick never-ending descents and a huge rabid crowd - a combination which, set around the iconic cobbles of the Koppenberg, never fails to disappoint.

Here then is a preview lap of the course for the race on Thursday 1 Nov 2012 - presumably a public holiday in that part of Flanders given the 10,000+ strong crowd....

Tuesday 16 October 2012

The Mud Index - sponsored by crossjunkie

Mud Index for Cyclocross Riders

The original idea for this index came from an article in about 2000 by Dave Carr, a stalwart of the Californian Norcal cross scene. I’ve adapted it for European and more specifically, North West England conditions and changed the classification a little.
For the purposes of this Index, mud is ranked on a scale of 0 to 10 according to moisture content, zero being hard and dry and 10 being liquid water. Other properties include material content, color, stickiness, and so on.

Grade 0 – dry dusty trail. Rare and iconic, this grade almost doesn’t make the classification due to its hugely infrequent appearances, seen only at the occasional summer cross. When it does appear, the smugness of those who have held onto file treads in the forlorn hope they might get some use, is something to behold. Not really fit for purpose in a cross race...

Grade 1 - Damp Earth. Nice and soft, tacky. Makes a pleasant sound as tires roll over it. Fun and effortless to ride on. Ultimate traction. Never separates from the ground, or if it does it doesn't stick to the bike. Your bike won’t need cleaning which is nice, but because of that you forget that your tyres will drop mud all over the house when you move them after it has dried.

Grade 2 – Crosser's Clay. A bad kind of damp earth, with not much more moisture content but a high clay content, found in several regions of the North West. Soft and sticky, it sticks well enough to shoes, but doesn't separate from the ground too easily. meaning it slows down the bike and drains a rider's energy subtlety and mercilessly. Irritatingly too, it fills the pedal cleats on shoes, rendering them heavy and impossible to clip in. Following rain, this type quickly transforms into Grade 3, which is even worse.

Grade 3 - Play-Doh. Water content is up to about 20-30%, leading to major sticking action. Literally jumps from the earth to your bike. Clogs up all treads (clincher or tubular) period, except perhaps an FMB SuperMud tub. Or possibly and old original Green Michelin Mud, clincher or tub conversion. Fills up the spaces between the tyre and frame, and quickly renders your gears to jumping single speed status. Causes the bike to gain 5 kilos in a matter of minutes. Requires pressure sprayer and brush to remove. And a spare bike and pit monkey or 3.

Grade 3F: Frozen Play-Doh. Occasionally frozen conditions in January can give to rise to this living hell for crossers. Don’t even bother racing without a spare bike and pit crew...

Grade 4 – Peanut Butter. Less sticky than Play-doh; more likely to stay on the ground. Moisture content is up to 40% or so. This stuff is sticky enough that one can't really plow through it, yet it's slippery and makes it hard to control the bike. Ruts form which may yield to a tyre, or send the bike careening off in an unanticipated direction. Requires ferocious pedaling to keep momentum – think parts of Leverhulme Park, Bolton. Occasionally a piece sticks to the tire and is thrown into the air, subsequently landing on another rider's face. Good for photographers. 

Grade 5 - Goo. About as thick and sticky as the energy gel you eat during a race, only brown and slightly less tasty, and more likely to be lumpy. Like Peanut Butter, Goo stays on the ground, but is less resistant to the advancing tire. At the now defunct Scorton Cross, large sections of this often included some content of cow dung or rotting flesh. In more pleasant venues Goo may be found on the verge of a wet grassy area where a few tires have passed.

Grade 6 - Slime. This is the level of mud where a rider really begins to have fun. Slime is wet enough that it sticks to everything but doesn't really build up on the bike. Sticks together well enough that it will fly through the air in large masses. Slime often is found in corners where it can wreak havoc with traction, leading to a slide on your butt on the wet ground. Think Avenham Park Sept 2012....

Grade 7 - Glop. This is the wettest consistency of mud that can still hold a shape. When tires pass through Glop, a furrow is left that heals up slowly over time to a smooth surface. Liquid water may come to the top. It's better to have thin 'cross tires to slice through this stuff – yep, old school 28s and 30s. Imparts a shiny appearance to bicycle and body parts but at least cleaning is not so bad if you don’t let it dry.

Grade 8 - Slop. The bottom of a very wet mud puddle that is not refreshed by a stream. Still retains some lumpy qualities, unlike Grade 9  - Soup. Splatters very nicely and stains clothing better than any other type. Those in white kit will moan and their washing machine will shudder. Renders your glasses completely opaque. Remember not to smile at your friends after a dunk in this stuff unless you want them to laugh hysterically at the mud between your teeth. 

Grade 8a – Bog. Specific to 3 Peaks Cyclocross, this is mostly water but with enough organic matter to coat everything and stop forward progress in an instant – see ‘Go on Ian’ faceplant

Grade 9 - Soup. 80-90% water, heavily laden with sand, particulate and goo, but without the lumps characteristic of Slop. Scientists might classify this grade as a "Non-Newtonian Fluid." Typical of a stream crossing where the stream flow isn't fast enough to refresh the mud. Will soak your jersey completely, while leaving the particulate matter all over the front. Doesn't stick to the bike, instead just runs off onto the ground. Aim for this if your bike is clogging with mud elsewhere on the course.

Grade 10 - River Water. Might feature some residual brown colour (peat) but doesn't stick to anything. Just wet and cold without any redeeming qualities other than it may loosen up thicker grades of mud from your tires and shoes. Mainly confined to the 3 Peaks Cyclocross.

Monday 15 October 2012

Ringing the changes - Mills Hills CX Sportive

Never underestimate the nature of the Calderdale terrain - that was my lesson learned at the innaugural Mills Hills CX Sportive. Run in conjunction with a standard road sportive event, Emma Ossenton's and Ali Mills welcome addition of a cx route sought out most of the classic tracks and cobbled climbs of the Mytholmroyd and Hebden area with a good bit of other less obvious stuff thrown in for good measure. I'd recceed much of it with Emma and Ali already but missed riding the last part of the route....

It was probably the 'other stuff' that did for me. A rather too casual approach to eating and drinking saw a fairly major decline in performance over the last half hour of the 4 hour/34 mile ride, as the relentless short, sharp climbs and heavy conditions bit me. The 5,000ft odd of climbing testified to it not being an easy ride at all. Look out for this event next year - friendly and very Northern in flavour it will no doubt soon become a classic. They are also running another unique event, Clifcross next year in April - think of a blend of cyclocross and cross-country running, though not necessarily both together. Sounds intriguing....

Yesterday though, perfect autumn weather, and an eclectic and friendly bunch of crossers more than made up for my relative misery toward the end and resulted in a simply ace day out. Dave chatted as fast as he rode and rightfully claimed the golden cobble on the timed cobbled climb/run.

He also took these great pictures, above and below:

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Geoff Waugh's Peaks film

Geoff Waugh is an internationally renowned cyclesport photographer, who's always taken some cracking shots at the Peaks. I was therefore pretty excited to see his video short of the 50th Anniversary race.

It absolutely nails the mood and atmosphere on the day.

World's Hardest Cyclocross Race from Geoff Waugh on Vimeo.

Friday 5 October 2012

Peaks video selection

Here is a mini selection of visual reminders of last Sunday's epic, from the sublime to the ridiculous:

Rob Jebb Summiting Pen y Gent 30.9.2012 going on to win he was 8 minutes ahead at this point ... from CARL RICHARD SEYMOUR on Vimeo.

I swear the wind got up considerably in the hour or so after Rob summitted,when I and many others arrived up there......

Now the somewhat exhausting Peaks in 3 minutes - check out the wind over the stile on Ingleborough...

And finally, the now 'viral' sensation that is Ian Ashworth's attempt at traversing the bog at the bottom of the Ingleborough descent. I know Ian and will enjoy reminding him of this at regular intervals....

Go on Ian!

Tuesday 2 October 2012

La tempête

I had a little cry to myself as I headed toward the finish at Helwith Bridge. I usually feel a wave of emotion once down off the Penyghent track and heading for home on the last road section, but at the end of this year's Peaks my 'wobble' was particularly intense....

Part relief at being able to finish after all the preparation, part relaxation after several hours of deep concentration, and part a recognition of the almost primal feeling of having survived something quite threatening and at times deeply unpleasant.

Neil Welsh captured a pensive yours truly at the start

I know the Peaks well enough to know what I have to do to put together a successful ride. Even after some experience it still takes a bit of effort and luck to get through unscathed and enjoy the eclectic commentary as you ride up the finish funnel. This year was different though. The wind, the rain, the course conditions were as many observed, the worst they could remember and those with longer memories agreed that they were the worst in 30 or so years.

A quiet, grim mood seemed to grip all as the field hit the saturated bogs of the lower slopes of Simon Fell. There was almost no joking and chatting like in previous years - mostly an eerie silence among the riders. This soon gave way to greater anxiety as little tasters of the wind arrived from the left before morphing into a feeling of full survival mode by the top as the 50mph plus winds threatened to tear everyone's bike from their grasp, and throw any stumbling bodies after them for good measure. It was the same for all, though I claim a little special place in the insanity for riding with deep section wheels that turned my bike into even more of a sail. Muppet.

And so it continued. Wild, sometimes slow-motion but still careering descending in the howling gale down to Cold Cotes, a bike swap to get ride of the carbon sails, I mean wheels and then the relative aural calm of a howling tailwind to Bruntscar. A vicious two wheel slide over the cattle grid on the farm track to wake me up and then a repeat of the process as the wind wound up to maximum speed over the top of Whernside, again from the left but this time with a precipitous drop to right to punish a wobble on the narrow track.

I tried and failed to make the Whernside descent flow, it again proving to be my nemesis during the race. Got some of it right, lots of it not right. Must try harder next year.

Onto to Penyghent Lane in the now cold and heavy rain after a morale boosting cheer from the Cycle Sport Pendle gazebo crowd at Ribblehead, fretting about chilling down and becoming too cold to ride later in the race.

Luckily it eased for a bit, and the Lane passed in it's usual blur of pain with the brief excitement of 'The Puddle' which was indeed rideable down it's centre despite being almost up to my knees. Of course the weather worsened the higher I got as the wind returned for its final mad turn. Back down, praying I didn't make a mistake and puncture or worse, crash and then that slightly surreal feeling of tarmac again. And tears...

In amongst the wind, the bogs, the eye-stinging rain and the wrecked paths the only thing missing was cramp. And for that I am truly grateful. As grateful as to Mark my faithful support crew who turned up where I needed and expected him, without fail and was probably as wet and cold as me at times during the day.

I posted a time of 4:31 - over half an hour outside my recent best, and adrift of some of the riders I would normally measure myself against. Disappointing? A little, but underpinned by a deep sense of satisfaction as to having completed the race on a day that was too much for many folk. The Dirty Disco and the Planet X Ti were simply incredible on a day that tested equipment to the absolute limit. Almost no images of my ride seem to exist as evidence but the memories will be vivid for a long time to come.

T-363 till the next Peaks.