Thursday, 26 September 2013

Tour of Britain

On Saturday I spent a fun and memorable day at the Tour of Britain. Wiggins, resplendent in his gold jersey, was so close he practically ran over my toes!

Following the pleasant 1 hour ride from Petworth, we watched the race tackle the category 1 Barhatch Lane climb, north of Cranleigh. It may not compete with the Cols of the Tour de France, but it is certainly a tough test of legs and lungs. To reach our intended vantage point we had to first tackle the climb ourselves. Between the high sided banks and over hanging trees  it is quite dark and gloomy. There is no run in, the gradient just gradually increases as you drop down through the gears. Close to the top there is a false flat before the road ramps up evilly before the summit. The pro’s were over the top in around 7 minutes, I undoubtedly took a lot longer! 

We’d met at the same point 12 months previously and the crowds were certainly larger this year. It was particularly good to see so many youngsters waving their flags, hopeful for freebies thrown from the team vehicles. The first riders to receive the wild encouragement of the massing ranks were the late arrivals! Churning away, they had no excuse for not making it to the top of the climb with 100’s of people roaring them on! 

After thirty police motorbike out-riders had whizzed past (why do they need so many?), came a four man breakaway group. They passed unscathed through the throng, as people cheered and banged those deafening inflatable clappers. The noise levels reached a crescendo a few minutes later when the peleton rolled into sight. The big names like Wiggins seem unfazed, but some of the riders certainly looked startled by the size of the crowd. It's quite an experience from the roadside, so I have no idea how it must feel to actually be at the eye of the storm. As the bunch funnelled through the crowd it almost came to a halt, this gave the opportunity for one rider to impress the supporters with a wheelie! Right at the back was  Nairo Quintana, 2nd at this years Tour de France. He actually wheel spun as he powered away. I’d been struggling to even turn the pedals at the same point on the climb! 

Following the race came the convoy of team cars, with row upon row of priceless carbon superbikes adorning the roof racks. Then finally it was done and for a second the road was quiet. Slowly a 1000 amateur cyclists got back on their bikes and set off for Guildford, hoping for time to have coffee and cake before the Tour riders reappeared for the finish up the cobbled high street!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Coffee at Milland

We used to choose the destination of our Sunday ride using geographical landmarks, such as a particularly nasty hill somebody wanted to try. Maybe we’re getting older, but now the route is always based on coffee, and if I’m lucky cake! 

Milland Stores & Cafe
We also used to discuss tomorrows ride on the phone the night before, but now plans can be hatched during the week via email. During last week’s correspondence, Ian happened to mention Milland. Last winter, on a particularly unpleasant and soaking wet day, we stumbled upon the recently opened Milland village store. To our delight it was equipped with a coffee machine and cake counter! We happily spent the better part of an hour talking about a multitude of cycling related topics, while the puddles expanded under the chairs from our soggy leggings.

So for no particular reason we decided to structure this Sunday’s ride around a return visit. Milland is a small village a few miles north of the South Downs east of Petersfield. Not an obvious choice of destination for a group of thirsty cyclists setting out from Bognor. To add to the challenge the ‘Revival’ classic car event was taking place at Goodwood, so the main roads were going to be jammed with queues of frustrated petrol heads.  

With no definite route in mind we set off from our meeting spot by the Oaks pub on the A27 close to Fontwell. From here we climbed via Madehurst to Whiteways at the top of Bury Hill. Conscious of the long ride ahead we deviated from our normal descent into Amberley, instead streaming over the hill along the A29. Diving quickly left at the bottom towards Bignor we wound along the steep banked lanes past stunning country residences, through to Sutton. Here we headed north again, through to Byworth and the market town of Petworth.  

Dodging the traffic we skirted along the park walls for a mile or two towards Midhurst, before following the perimeter of the deer park north at Tillington. This road seems to climb and climb. After each ascent there is a brief chance for recovery before the road rears up again and again. Passing the beautiful pub overlooking the cricket pitch at Lurgashall we continued on to Lodsworth and finally through to Fernhurst. 

With caffeine cravings driving us on into a stiffening head wind, we quickly covered the 3 miles to Milland. Much to our collective relief the shop was open and the cafe aspect of the establishment had obviously flourished over the summer, with more seating now available both outside and in. There wasn’t a cake on the counter so instead I washed down the fig rolls and banana in my back pocket with a frothy Cappuccino. Dave was particularly happy because they even knew how to make a Macchiato! 

We sat on the decking outside and watched the dark storm clouds gathering in the west. Eventually the fear of a dousing before we got home prized us up out of the chairs and back onto the road. The horrid little climb at Redhill Copse by the MTB track was slightly unpleasant on cold legs but we were certainly warm by the top! 

Straight across the A272 at Rogate we continued south to Harting and the big climb of the day. Luckily Harting Hill has been resurfaced, so although the gradient of the road is relentless as it weaves left and right, at least all the effort you put in is rewarded by smooth forward motion. Having dropped down the opposite side we turned right to avoid the main road drag home. Instead taking the picturesque lane through East Marden and on to Stoughton, with the wooded Kingley Vale nature reserve on our left. As we passed the village pubs we started to talk about food, a sure sign that we needed to be getting home for lunch! 

Crossing Common Road we took the secluded route east from Woodmancote through West Ashling into Chichester. Twisting through the back streets of the City and finally out the other side towards Bognor via the Oving Road. 

Four hours, and 69 miles of cycling just for a coffee! It had however been a stunning ride, as well as excellent stamina training. Coffee Shop route planning would appear to be as good a method as any, with the obvious benefits of nourishment and a chance to warm up / dry off should the weather be unkind. Judging by the precarious tangles of expensive carbon fibre leaning up outside the rapidly growing number of village cafes and coffee shops, we aren’t the only ones operating this method! 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Video - XC Racing at Hadley Farm

A great video from the guys at team GT / Muc-Off. Sums up my experience at Hadley Farm last month and provides an insight into the world of XC racing.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Season Finale - Southern XC Series

Wipers on maximum speed, I peered through the windscreen into the torrential rain. Lycra clad forms huddled for shelter under car boots, the burnt brown grass the only remaining memory of the recent Indian summer. Glancing at the temperature gauge it read just 11 degrees! Three races had been cancelled during July and August and I am was still carrying the scars from the National XC at Hadley! So after months of warm and dry weather, but no racing, it was back to slippery roots and muddy faces. To be fair the sun did come out between the showers and the trails remained pretty dry under the trees despite the deluge.

I had arrived at the brand new Avon Tyrrell venue in the New Forrest. Just down the road from Crow Hill (a Southern XC regular), the course was based upon the permanent activity centre trails around the perimeter of the 65 acre estate. The maintained paths featured bridged boardwalks to avoid boggy areas. These were linked together with loamy singletrack, tightly squeezed beneath the trees. The course was fast with several short inclines towards the end of the lap.
As it was the final round, series positions were at stake. After a slow start to the season I couldn’t match last year,  but I knew who my main targets were. If I could put a rider between them and myself by the finish I was still looking at a top 15 place in the overall standings. Ignoring the usual frenetic start I kept my marked men in sight as we swept into the gloomy wood. Working my way past a few riders and up to the wheel of my main competitor I was pushing on, but feeling comfortable. Faster trails do tend to suit me better than slower twisty tracks. We then reached a fork in the trail, where the race route dived down onto a section of boardwalk, but instead of turning into the slope I mistakenly followed the rider ahead onto the ‘B’ line. Still cursing my stupidity we emerged back onto the main path and I found we had actually gained two places! Now in 10th place I passed my lucky guide and was hauling in the two riders ahead.
Towards the end of the lap the course joined a BMX tack. I wasn’t going to be clearing the 'table top' jumps or landing a 'double', instead opting for the leg and arm pumping ‘up and over’ technique. Much to the general amusement and derision of the local youth who were in attendance down the side of the track. As I turned into the final berm the steering felt odd and I began to sense I might be losing front tyre pressure. Up the next climb it was hard to tell but as we clattered over the roots down the other side the tyre was definitely squidgy and then I heard the dreaded ‘psst, psst ,psst’ as the remaining air drained away.
My frustration was surprisingly short lived. With so little racing I was determined to finish, so started the jog back to the start arena. With a little assistance from a few friends a new tube was fitted and I was back underway. Over 10 minutes behind the race, I was now dead last, but you never know what is going to happen! To my amazement I soon spied my main rival in the series up ahead. He too must have had a problem and we were reunited 10 minutes behind the field! Our race within a race ended a lap later when his fault (it looked like a drivechain issue) reoccurred and he pulled to the side of the course. I now knew that I just had to finish. Which I did! Pulling myself back up to 15th on the day and 15th overall in the Southern Series.