Monday, 23 December 2013

2013 Summary

Its that time to reflect on the last 12 months and look ahead to 2014.

The intended highlight of the year was the opportunity to race at the London 2012 Olympic venue. I was already excited this time last year, and the race wasn't until August! Unfortunately things didn't go to plan on the day. It was an extremely technical course and I fell badly during practice on Saturday, breaking some ribs. After an uncomfortable night I gave the race a go on Sunday but had to pull out on my second lap due to the pain. It was a massive disappointment, but at least it is a tale to tell the Grandchildren!

I did manage to get the bike home at Hopton Wood, the third round of the national series. Although it wasn't my best day's racing it'll prove invaluable experience for the national championships which are to be held there next summer.

National Series - Hopton Wood - June
There is no doubt that at the end of the summer I was riding stronger and faster than I probably ever have. Unfortunately a string of race cancellations and mechanical issues with the bike meant I failed to translate any of this performance into decent results. The only occasion this year where I troubled the front of the race was my 4th place finish at the Are You Tough Enough, Army enduro. That is five 4th placed finishes since I last stood on a podium, so I'm desperate to go at least one place better next year.

Away from the race scene I've enjoyed some brilliant rides. Gloriously scenic, epic alpine riding in Switzerland during August. I even took advantage of some quiet French roads while travelling on business. Socially weekend rides now revolve around the obligatory coffee stop. I think Compton Village Stores wins hands down due the quality and quantity of cakes provided!

I would like to take the opportunity to thank South Downs Bikes. Providing not just kit but also assistance with transportation to race events. This has meant I was able to take in more of the national scene than I have in previous years.

Also I am pleased to have continued promoting the Fast Find Ranger personal locator beacon around the country this year. For those that need reminding, click the link on the left of the page. This small GPS distress beacon could save your life if something unexpected should happen to you while out on the trails.

2013 stats:
  • 205 rides
  • 6700 miles
  • 456 hours in the saddle
  • Best Result: 4th

Looking ahead to 2014: January should see the arrival of a new bike so stay posted for that! Race wise I intend to focus on my strengths this year. Looking more towards the longer enduro format of racing.

All that remains is to say, Merry Christmas and thank you for reading my blog. The Ben Races Bikes blogsite has clocked up 19,000 hits over the past twelve months, so I hope you have found it interesting as there will be more of the same in the new year!


Monday, 16 December 2013

Brass Monkeys - Round 2

As a cyclist you’ll have days when you can ride like a train all day, and times when your legs seem to have turned to lead overnight. The strange thing is you know which it is going to be from the first turn of the pedals.

Three weeks ago at round 1 I could just ride and ride! I pushed from the start, attacked the hills and had energy for every overtake before surging to the line. Sunday was the exact opposite; I was struggling from beginning to end!
I didn’t repeat the mistake of the first race. Making a much better start, I slotted in around 20th and avoided the inevitable congestion further back. Over-heating was my initial problem. I was one of a minority of riders who’d opted for overshoes and arm warmers. Chasing around the dry trails in relatively mild temperatures, this looked to be a big mistake.

As expected at Caesars Camp, the course had several taxing climbs. The main hill was seemingly endless, repeatedly kicking up again and again. However, it will be the loose, rocky vertical incline later in the lap that will be forever etched in the memories of the riders.

Over the first lap I gained some places but struggled physically and mentally as other riders zoomed past. Then the wind picked up and it started to rain. The trails became increasingly treacherous and slippery. Finally my overshoes were invaluable as I plunged on through the seven mile mudfest.
Lap three, half way and I was dead on my feet. The thought of even one more trip up those climbs was enough to send me crawling back to the comfort of the car. Hauling myself across the line, the commentator said I was in 16th. Wow! This was the motivation I needed, so I gulped a gel, ate an energy bar and pushed on.

To give an idea of how bad conditions became, my first lap was 37minutes, but by the end I was sliding around in 48 minutes. I’d still made up a position, finishing 15th. Surprisingly three places better than round 1.

It only goes to show that even if you feel terrible it’s worth persevering.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Compton Cakes

After three hours Ian and I arrived at Compton village stores for a Cappuccino and cake. Last time we had ventured this far we hadn't dared to even enter the shop as we were so plastered in mud and detritus. However after several weeks of dry winter weather we reclined in the the chairs outside relatively spotless.

To get here we had ridden up from Oaks on the A27 near Fontwell. Rear lights flashing in the morning gloom, we'd enjoyed the dry singletrack around Whiteways, before winding our way up to Bignor. The climb had warmed us up but it was still too misty to enjoy the view. So we followed the hill past Benges along to the Trundle above Goodwood.

Diving down to West Dean there was still a real chilly nip in the air. However, with the undulating Downland ahead we knew we'd soon be sweating into our gillets! First up was the horrible steep climb after the school, to what I call 'Puncture Alley'. Safely navigated without any deflating tyres it was on to the long climb past the charcoal burners to the South Downs Way.

For a change we thought we'd stay on the national trail through to Harting. As we heaved ourselves over the grassy, eroded Pen Hill we remembered why we often skirt around this section of trail! At least the sun  was now out and we could enjoy the reward of stunning views north to Midhurst, and south to the coast and the Isle of Wight. After Pen there are a couple more testing climbs before Harting Down itself, where we struggled for traction on the greasy chalk.

From Harting it is downhill to our refreshment stop at Compton. We were just shy of 1000m of climbing as we sat and watched the shop owner sweep the remaining leaves from the square outside the shop. 400m of vertical ascent still lay ahead, as we had to navigate Kingley Vale before finally dropping down to Chichester and the flat roads home. For now however, we enjoyed the cake and relished a great December day's cycling.