Monday, 26 March 2012

A week off!

There was a rare break in the race calendar this week so we took advantage by planning a long training ride across the Downs to QE Country Park.

Four of us met up at Oaks car park on the A27 and headed off towards Eartham. Unfortunately our plans were re-written within 5 minutes when Ian caught a pedal on a stump at speed and took a really hard fall. Eventually we had him on his feet but he was unable to continue so Dave rode back picked up the van and drove Ian home.

Jon and I did a 30 minute loop up to Whiteways and then met up again with Dave for a Coffee at his house. So with much of the morning gone we set off again! The skies were blue and the sunshine made it feel like summer as we rode up to Goodwood via Benges and on over the Trundle. The views across to the Isle of Wight were picture postcard!

Descending down into West Dean we stopped at the recently reopened village store. Settling down with another coffee and some fudge we basked in the sunshine and discussed none of the hot topics of today. The store is set in a courtyard surrounded by old farm buildings, and when two ladies trotted in on their horses and tied them up outside it was the quintessential British country scene!

Jon and Dave enjoy a coffee at West Dean
Eventually we dragged ourselves away and up the horrendous climb that I call puncture alley! No thorns or flints hampered us today and we continued pass the charcoal burners up onto the South Downs Way above Cocking. Again we stopped to admire the view and wonder if there is anywhere better in the world to live than Sussex on a sunny spring day.

Heading back along the SDW we passed a thousand like minded souls enjoying the sun. There was the thrill of the plummet down and then the nightmare long drag back up to Bignor. Followed by the new singletrack west of Whiteways.

By the time I got home I'd been out for 6 hours! 4 hours riding time 4,500ft of elevation gain and 50 miles covered. A nice relaxing weekend for a change but still some good training miles under the belt. Although we won't tell Ian it had been a great day. (Hope you are back on the bike soon mate!)

Elevation Profile

Friday, 23 March 2012

Monday, 19 March 2012

Huffing and Puffing!

The 2012 Southern XC series started on Sunday at the classic old school Checkendon course near Reading.

Apologies if my race summaries are beginning to sound more like weekly weather reports, but it is a critical factor in off-road racing at this time of year! Despite a dry week the rain came on Saturday, so the woodland course was a slippery maze of shiny roots. While most of the UK basked in spring sunshine a torrential downpour just after midday dampened the spirits and made certain sections almost unrideable as there was simply no grip. I can’t remember having to walk a climb on the warm-up lap before!

Unfortunately my Asthma problems had rematerialized during the week and I knew the race was going to be a struggle. However, series points were on offer so shivering and cold I gathered on the grid for the British Cycling briefing you get at these national events. It is hard not to feel intimidated by the lean, shaven legged athletes and glistening bike jewellery congregated at the start. My bike might stand up to inspection but I always feel very conscious of my hairy legs!

Determined not to get held up on the first lap I powered away from the start line onto the grassy opening loop. The guy in front of me dropped a chain and for a second I thought I was going to tangle with him but I squeezed through and he then did an excellent job of holding up those behind. The mad dash to the first singletrack got the heart beat racing and my breathing was soon struggling to keep up. I tried to recover as we wound our way through the trees but once out of the wood and back onto open trails several stronger riders surged past as I heaved for breath.

Then we plunged back into the wood and the nastiest section of the lap. A series of tight twisty off-camber climbs littered with greased roots. Everyone had to take it easy as we fought for purchase on the slimy clay and flints. I cleared the worst section and was probably still holding onto the back of the top 10. Maybe I would be alright!

At the top of the hill I rounded a bend onto a short little upward slope and the front wheel caught a root. The bike slithered out from under me and I was forced to dismount and run the next few meters until I reached firmer ground. Three or four riders came through including Alex from South Downs Bikes! Remounting I pushed to get back into contact with them but the extra exertion really started to stress my asthmatic lungs and I had to pull the inhaler from my pocket and take a couple of squirts –a few more precious seconds gone.

I rode alone into the second lap occasionally glimpsing Alex just ahead. I again cleared the climb and didn’t make the same mistake on the roots as lap one. Having passed a couple of riders I crossed the line only 20 seconds behind Alex but my breathing was worsening. Some of my friends caused quite a commotion, wildly cheering me on and encouraging me to catch Alex who was just ahead. Unfortunately all they did was alert him to my presence! (I didn’t know it but bets were being placed!) Warned of my approach he put his head down and the gap stabilised, increasing slightly back to 30 seconds on the third lap.

For the Southern series the Masters race 4 laps instead of the 3 we get in the local races. Normally I get stronger as the race progresses but illness and fatigue were now taking their toll. I continued to chase Alex, closing on him and two other riders until the steep slippery section. Then the wheels came off and I blew badly. Knowing nobody was close behind I eased back and cruised to the line.  

I know I can do better and my friends, who claim to have backed me on the internal club battle, were disappointed. However,  given how I felt  15th is a decent result and points in the bag for the rest of the season. 

Monday, 12 March 2012

To Close For Comfort

What a difference a week makes. Last week we were contending with snow and frost bite, this week the sun shone and I raced in shorts for the first time since September!
The weather helped bring another stellar turnout for the third round of the Gorrick Series at Crowthorne near Camberley (there were over 600 racers at the previous round). The course was pretty flat, with nice flowing singletrack which lead to some very tight racing. I finished a little over two and a half minutes minutes behind the winner but the racing was so close 5th through to 16th were covered by only 50 seconds! In the end I was pleased to finish 10th, definitely an improvement on 16th at the first round.
Again my start was not the best and I got bogged down with slower riders for much of the first lap. With few hills on which to attack it was very hard to make progress but I did slowly pull my way back up through the field. The Masters race starts a few minutes after the Super Vets and we spend the entire race picking our way through the back markers. Catch one at the wrong time and you can rapidly lose 10 seconds on the guy in front and when the racing is this close that can make quite a difference. As the last lap began I could see a chain of around 6 riders up ahead including Alex from South Downs Bikes. I pushed hard and caught them by the finish but was only able to wiggle past a few before we crossed line. Alex frustratingly finished just a handful of seconds ahead of me yet again.
Maybe I needed an extra lap, which is good because next week is the first round of the Southern XC series and an extra lap is exactly what I am going to get! Generally I am feeling good and seem to be racing well, I just need to be more aggressive at the start.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Specialized Romin Pro Saddle Review

Saddles are very much a personal thing, what one person finds to be luxurious comfort can be perfect agony to another. To give you a bit of back ground I will summarise my recent saddle history, hopefully from this you can draw comparisons to your own experiences.

After a few years of struggling on a range of Selle Italia saddles, I was fitted at a trade show by a Specialized representative by sitting on some memory foam and measuring the distance between my sit bones. (This service is now available at many Specialized retailers.) The conclusion was I should be better suited to a wider 143mm saddle, most Selle Italia saddles are 135mm in width. Initially I’ll admit to being sceptical of another sales gimmick but I walked away with an expensive Toupe saddle. Within the first ride I was completely convinced; despite its scarily thin appearance I found this to be an astonishingly comfortable perch.

The drawback I found with the Toupe was its fragility. After breaking two I switched to the heavier but MTB specific and more robust Phenom. This was several years ago now and I can honestly say I have never looked back. For me the titanium Phenom offers exceptional all day comfort. I have never had any problems even on wet, bumpy all day epics.

When the 3rd Toupe on my road bike split I swapped across the Phenom as on the whole I spend more time and do longer rides on the road bike. I set out to find a lightweight alternative for my XC race bike. There is a new Toupe but my experiences of the previous carnation lead me to the Specialzied Romin Pro. Although 30g more than the Toupe the Romin is still a feather weight 163g. Available in 3 widths, including my favoured 143mm, this saddle features ovalised carbon rails. I admit to trying hard to find a titanium railed version as I was nervous of using carbon in such a high stress area where I have experienced failures before.

The carbon rails are ovalised vertically for strength, so will not fit all seatposts. I fitted mine to an S-Works post so no problems there and to date no problems with the durability either. The saddle shape is very similar to my beloved Phenom, flat with a wide nose good for keeping the weight forward on steep climbs. The pressure relief zone is also nice and large on the Romin if you are planning a family! The slight ski ramp shaping to the rear helps provide support in the saddle when getting the power down. All the edges are nicely rounded so I haven’t had any problem catching the saddle on shorts sliding off the back for steep descents.

Is it as comfortable as my Phenom? No - but it isn’t far behind! I have now completed 5 races including a couple of 4 hour enduros without a single distracting thought of the saddle. The carbon rails do provide an incredibly firm feel and there is very little flex in the body, especially compared to ti railed saddles. As a lightweight race saddle I have no doubts about recommending the Romin. The shape is perfect for me and it ensures 100% of your effort is directed to the pedals. If I was going on a weeks holiday or riding a 12/24 hour enduro I would certainly swap back to the faithful Phenom.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Mud bath!

I had plenty of time to consider the sanity of racing today during the 2 hour drive to Black Park near Slough. The rain was torrential and even controlling the car on the M25 was proving challenging. The thought of stepping out into the down pour and racing a mountain bike was frankly ridiculous!

Wellies would have been useful just to reach the registration tent and having collected my race number I abandoned any idea of a warm up for the comfort of a warm car. An amazing number of hardy souls had braved the elements and it was a strong field that assembled just after 1 O’clock. We set off in the usual frenzy but I soon realised that I needed to ease it back a notch. My first lap was around the 20 minute mark and it was obvious that the conditions meant that we were there for the long haul. Despite the 3 inches of slurry and deep puddles the course still flowed well and would have been an absolute blast in the dry. Instead it was a case of struggling to get the power down while remaining upright!

The rain started to ease but the trails became more and more churned as the laps progressed. The temperature dropped and there was definitely white stuff in the air. Sopping wet gloves lead to frozen fingers, making it impossible to change gear. Luckily braking was already pointless in the slime!

My early caution paid off and as the clock passed 2 hours I claimed back a couple of positions on the final lap to finish 5th, a minute behind the podium places.

After the race the car park was full of shivering, mud coated riders struggling to remove shoes and undo zips. We gathered for a well earned hot chocolate at the nearby café and recounted tails of a race that will live long in the memory!
There is a bike in there somewhere!