Monday, 30 April 2012

April Summary

Miles:                      506.5
Riding Time:             35hrs 45min

Highlight: Leading the race at Frith Hill for two laps!
Low Point: The weather

At the end of April, after three more hard fought races, I can look back with considerable satisfaction. I have had two more top ten finishes and I am currently sitting 5th in the Southern series. My results in the Gorrick events indicate a step up in performance from this point last year, when I was targeting top 20 rather than top 10.

The racing has been fun and slowly during the month my health has also improved. I am now beginning to feel more like my normal self and I can at last push myself harder on training rides. Unfortunately the weather hasn’t been kind over the past few weeks. The winter clothes are back out and my shoes are spending most of their time in the airing cupboard drying out!

There are some big events coming up so I am pleased my strength seems to be returning. Today I rode my standard midweek training loop up over the Downs at Goodwood and back through Halnaker. It is a route I must have ridden over a 1000 times in the past 10 years. An initial flat 5 mile warm-up leads into the long climb, then there are a few ripples in the middle before the final flat out blast home. This evening I rode the 20 mile route quicker than I ever have previously, averaging 19.5 mph. My previous best was in 2009, on a hot summers day when conditions were perfect. A nice little extra confidence boost!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Fast Finale

Sunday is an example of why I race mountain bikes! The Gorrick team had put together an absolute belter of a course. In complete contrast to the slow, slippery slog we encountered last week, the fast and flowing course at Deepcut created close, adrenalin fuelled racing. The 4 miles of sinuous singletrack, included a couple of nice bomb holes and two strenuous climbs to test the legs, providing very little opportunity to relax!

This was the final round of the series, which brought added pressure. Having just failed to score points in the first round, I needed to finish in the top 15 to be classified with a series position. Riders require 3 points finishes to be eligible.

I made a good start as the pack charged through the remaining puddles down to the first corner. Alex from South Downs Bikes just squeezed down the inside as we turned into the first technical section. I was about 10th and faced with a view I am becoming overly familiar with – Alex’s rear tyre! However, he snuck past a faller at the first steep, rooty section, while I was held up and had to dismount. Back on the bike and I was on the wheel of Matt Field, with whom I have had several closely fought battles. Our best was at the same Deepcut venue last year where he pipped me to the win after 4 hours of neck and neck racing.

We were riding flat out, swooping between the trees and sprinting hard every time the course briefly opened up. It’s as close as you can get to flying a Star Wars speeder bike on Endor! Tunnel vision ahead as you twist left and right, brushing the branches on either side, taking the straightest line possible. The bike rattles across the roots, your arms and legs pumping as they attempt to smooth out the path and power you forward. On the flatter sections he would gain a few yards but I would pull back on the hills and damp parts of the course. The mud tyres I should have fitted last week coming into their own on the loose surface. As we went into the second lap Matt slipped away slightly and I was caught by a couple of riders. Eager for a rest I let them through and then sat on the wheel, letting them tow me back to Matt.  Easing past I stuck with Matt on the next climb as we dropped the two newcomers. Going through to start the last lap the commentator announced me in 10th place. Excellent news!

Then I felt that sinking feeling.  I could feel the rear rim striking roots and a quick glance showed the tyre had deflated. I don’t normally carry any spares but given the importance of finishing this race I had taken a CO2 cartridge. A quick dismount, a squirt of gas and I was back on my way charging madly after Matt. I almost caught him by the line, and despite the stop, my final lap was only 7 seconds slower than my first. This is probably more a testament to the drying course.

My third top 10 finish moved me up to 11th in the series overall. Compared to last year where I didn’t score a single point I am very happy with the progression. A satisfying result at the end of a perfect days racing.

The Gorrick series continues to be one of the best XC racing series in the UK. XC racing is flourishing as the moment, as demonstrated by nearly 600 entries at the 3rd round! Certainly Gorrick are the standard by which other events should be compared – a superb variety of courses and different venues, always meticulously well organised. Next up their 100km Enduro in two weeks time. @gorrick

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Series Points

Southern series leader board after 2 rounds
1Paul Lloyd

2Simon Butler

3Alex Taylor

4Stefano De Tomaso

5Ben Connor

6Rupert Silman

7Matt Steven

8Crispin Doyle

9Dan Howe

10Aidan Bishop


This should mean I am gridded 5th at the Southern Championships in a few weeks!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Southern XC - Round 2

I laid on my back in the mud, pre race optimism soaking away into the cold clay. The week had started positively. My ride to work on Wednesday was the first time since December I had ridden a bike without having to use my inhaler. Asthma problems seemingly behind me I had tapered my training nicely to leave me fresh and ready for Sundays race; the 2nd round of the Southern XC Championship.

That’s when I picked up the latest office bug, a proper streaming nose, aching limbs strain of man flu.

Not to be deterred the sunny skies perked up my spirits on the scenic drive along the South Downs to Pippingford in East Sussex. An icy breeze met me as I opened the door and looked around the car park at the grumpy and miserable, mud covered riders. Those who weren’t complaining about the conditions out on the course were busily fitting mud tyres to their clay covered bikes.

While back at home a couple of days of sunshine had dried everything out, the clay of Pippingford had trapped the previous weeks rain. I had only brought my semi-slick summer race tyres, in hindsight a monumental mistake. On the warm-up lap I was unable to ride large sections and with no grip took several tumbles on the greasy surface. So I lay on my back in a puddle imagining the look on my 7 months pregnant wife’s face if she had to collect me from A&E.
Having dragged myself back to the start I was gridded on the front row. I got away well and we were soon into the steep quarry section. This comprised three steep drop-offs, one after the other. I took the chicken run on the first two before braving the third. Actually almost all those around me did the same and even then I still got held up by a couple of fallers!

We slithered on, often running as much as riding. Riders sliding to a halt, then coming back through as others became bogged down. It was slow going and in places fairly scary. There was one section where the course funnelled down a steep gulley and with no alternatives you were forced to turn in and hope! In five attempts I didn’t manage to stay on the bike once!

With my slick tyres spinning as they struggled for grip I felt like I was riding twice the distance. Apart from the mud the course was defined by a long climb, but at least that was on a gravel fire road so actually it offered some kind of respite.

Although totally exhausted sheer persistence paid off in the end; just completing the four laps meant I finished 12th on a day when many packed up early.

So again points in the bag, but I am still looking forward to sitting on a start line, feeling fit, 100% prepared and ready to race. Meanwhile I’m off for another Lemsip.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Maxxis Ikon Tyre Review

I have been using the Maxxis Ikon 2.2 as a front tyre for just over a year. The tyre weighs a competitive 520g on my scales. I have the lighter weight "3C eXCeption" series, which has thinner side walls. Despite this I have been running it tubeless with no problems. Although this is tempting fate, I have only had one puncture in 12 months. While talking about tubeless set-up, the first time I tried to seat the tyre I did need a compressor but I fitted it again last week and it went up first time with the track pump. This is using my Stans Crest rims.

From the fact that I have continued to use the tyre for 12 months you will have guessed that I am a huge fan. Despite its low profile tread I found it works in a range of conditions although like any tyre of this type, dry hardpack is where it really excels. There is an amazing amount of grip from this tyre even leant over hard into a corner, and best of all this grip is consistent. It doesn't suddenly break away or try and catch you out by tucking under you. The advantage of the low profile is that it also rolls fast and the weight means they accelerate quickly too.

Over the winter I did briefly swap it out for a Rocket Ron but I am back now with the Ikon. Despite the spikey tread and larger volume of the Ron, I immediately had so much more confidence with the Ikon. Diving deeper into the corners even in less than perfect spring time conditions. Obviously in mud the low thread can become overwhelmed but mud will defeat most race tyres and usually requires something more rain specific.

The perfect race tyre and more! Highly recommended, probably the best tyre I have ever ridden! (Trust me I've tried a few in my time)

Friday, 6 April 2012

March Summary

Miles:    553
Riding Time:    37 hours   43 minutes

Highlight:      5th at Black Park XC
Low Point:    Struggling for breath at the Southern XC

3 races in 3 weeks provided a broad range of challenges from sloppy mud and shiny roots to bone dry dusty trails. I do generally ride well in adverse conditions and 5th at a sodden Black Park race provided my best result so far this year. The top 10 finish at the second Gorrick race also provided evidence of how I have progressed since this time last year. The first major event of the season was the Southern XC at Checkendon where I was pleased with 15th on a day when I was feeling far from healthy. All these results are generally positive and show progression from 2011, but the good thing is that I know there is still more to come.

In terms of training the weather has been kind, so I haven’t had to sit out any planned sessions. We sold my wifes’ car so I have been cycling to work more than usual, trawling the 18 miles backwards and forwards to the office. As I have mentioned Asthma has been plaguing me for several weeks and stopping me from putting in any high intensity work. Some interval sessions would certainly help my XC race form, so hopefully I can pick this up again as my breathing improves. With only one weekend when I wasn’t racing, almost all my rides have been less than 2 hours. This probably isn’t a problem for the XC races, but my best results normally come in the longer enduro events, so I do need to try and fit in longer rides when possible.

The clocks have changed, the evenings are longer and summer is on the way. So motivation to get out on the bike shouldn’t be a problem. There are 3 more events in April. All being well my Asthma will clear, my form will continue to improve and I can build on March’s solid performances.

Monday, 2 April 2012

April Fool!

The 4th  round of the Gorrick Spring Series was a weird race, well suited to April fools day!

Frith Hill near Deepcut in Surrey basked in sunshine but the shade under the trees was still chilly as we huddled together before the start. Last year at this venue I only made it 100m before I punctured, so there was a sense of relief as I rounded the first corner and plunged down into the forrest in about 10th position. I hate to make excuses but my asthma is still not perfect and the riders in front of me started to pull away despite my best efforts. Before I knew what had happened they were out of sight.

I pushed really hard but even when the path opened up I couldn't see anybody ahead. My enthusiasm was beginning to drain away - little did I know but I was actually in the lead!

Into the second lap and I was caught by a couple of riders who I rode with for a while until they too started to slip away. This wasn't going well I thought and sometimes your mind can be as important as the legs and lungs. I rode on, maybe I was still in the top 15? Not the result I had hoped for but at least I might get a few series points. As I crossed the line to start the last lap I was surprised to see quite a collection of friends cheering me on - why were they bothering I wondered? I couldn't hear the race commentary but they had....

Riding on my own I settled down for an easy ride to the finish but then I heard riders behind and suddenly realised that I had been caught napping! A couple whistled through and a third was buzzing my rear tyre shouting for me to let him through. Not a chance we're racing! He finally pulled alongside on a climb and with another torrent of abuse landed a nice punch on the top of my leg. Thoroughly depressed I seemed to be dropping places hand over fist. What was going on? I must surely be about 20th by now? I disconsolately crossed the line and headed to the stewards caravan to make a complaint about the angry rider.

Only when I emerged was the entire situation explained to me. On the opening lap the lead rider had taken a wrong turn and the chasing riders had followed the wheel in front, heading off into the woods in the wrong direction. Although totally unaware this had left me at the front of the race! I was still a close third when race commentary picked me up at the end of the second lap, causing the excitement amongst my friends at the start. Then close to the finish I had been caught by the fastest riders recovering from their earlier detour. (This explains, although it doesn't excuse their bad manners!)

I had actually finished 8th which on a normal day is pretty good, although it might have been even better had I not relaxed. If I had known I was leading maybe I would have found a little extra energy, fought a little harder? We'll never know but in the end 8th is 10 points to take to the final round in 3 weeks time?