Monday, 24 November 2014

Merida Brass Monkeys Series - Round 1 Minley Manor

Conditions on Sunday were amongst the worst I have ever experienced at a bike race. Every turn of the pedals sounded like I was grinding stones through a mangle. Grit and dirt flooded its way into every nook and cranny of bike and clothing. The churned mud offered no grip, the rear tyre spinning and fish tailing. It wasn’t just forward motion that was a challenge, I had no brakes at all from the end of the first lap after my brake pads ground down to the metal. Rain fell incessantly all day and by the end of the race some of the puddles were deeper than my bottom bracket.
It had rained overnight and was still pouring as I slithered the car into the quagmire that doubled as the carpark at Minley Manor. I wasn’t keen on even getting out of the car and was soaked before I reached the starting line. There is no ‘Masters’ category at Brass Monkeys so I was feeling old as I nudged my way into the huddle of soggy riders. The rescheduled race times didn’t really work from my point of view. Starting 15 minutes after the massive 200 strong 2 hour field, we were almost immediately upon the back markers. In such treacherous conditions many were really struggling and making your way through was complicated by the ruts and puddles which didn’t really offer many alternative lines. 
Unusually for a 4hour race I had a race long duel with a couple of riders. We repeatedly swapped positions over the first few hours, taking turns to slip and slide ahead, occasionally even getting out of sight, but before long we’d end up back together. We started to shout comments to each other about the conditions, trying alternative lines and generally just falling over in the mud! It wasn’t until lap 4 that I made the decisive break and I don’t believe either of them were foolish enough to join me for lap 5!
In a strange masochistic type of way it was enjoyable. At the very least it was an experience and a race I’ll not forget. I added to my run of top ten finishes by slithering home in 8th.

Monday, 17 November 2014

DHB Toe Cover Overshoe Review

Dave has asked for a review of my latest weapon against that old adversary - the British weather. He's asked because on Sunday I was sporting some fetching DHB neoprene toe covers. Everyone else on the ride was kitted out in full overshoes, so it would be interesting to see how these little numbers withstood the elements during 4 hours riding around the lanes of Sussex in mid November.
I originally bought these from Wiggle to keep my feet warm during the winter. They quickly and simply slip on over the toes of your shoes and I haven't noticed with them moving or sliding around. Quick fitment and removal is such an advantage over Neoprene overshoes, which let’s be honest, can be a bit of a pig. I can fight with slippery, muddy overshoes for several minutes, spreading mud around the kitchen floor. All this wrestling stresses the seams which ultimately fail, along with the zip. None of these problems here.
Another issue I have with full overshoes is the inability to adjust your shoes once they are on. The DHB toe warmers allow finger access to tweak ratchets or straps. Full overshoes also give you huge clown feet, which can rub on expensive cranks and frames.
My reason for choosing the DHB option, apart from the very reasonable £7 asking price, was that they covered the entire front of the shoe up to the top of the tongue, unlike some competitors that really do just focus on the toes.
So do they work? Well they definitely keep out the chill on a fresh Autumn morning, although we're not into proper winter yet I'm optimistic they'll be up to the job for everything but the coldest days. Where I have found them particularly useful so far, is on days when the roads or trails are wet, but it isn't raining. In these conditions they do an excellent job of keeping water and muck thrown up by the front tyre, off your shoes and your feet therefore nice and dry. In proper monsoon conditions full overshoes will do a better job of preventing water ingress to your tootsies, but it is relative. Even with full booties the water eventually runs down your legs, soaking into your socks and filling your shoes. So you are only delaying the inevitable.
Back to Sunday's ride and to respond to Dave's initial request. It wasn't cold so the primary purpose of these little black numbers wasn't tested. It also started dry but the roads were wet after showers overnight. The DHB's did an excellent job of keeping the road spray off my shoes perfectly. At this point full overshoes were overkill and perhaps a bit toasty in the hazy sunshine. Towards the end of the ride we did run into some rain, not heavy, but the puddles got progressively deeper. Although the top of my socks started to get damp, when I got home the insides of my shoes were still dry and dandy. So probably the DHB toe shields were the perfect compromise for these mixed conditions.
In summary I'd highly recommend these little slippers. They are so easy to pull on, take off and even store in a jersey pocket if not needed any longer. They keep wind chill off your feet and in many situations provide all the water protection you'll need, with only a fraction of the hassle associated with  full overshoes. They are already an essential part of my Autumn wardrobe.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Last Training Ride

Next weekend ride will be the Merida Brass Monkey at Minley Manor.

Ride Stats:
  • Distance - 107km
  • Time - 4hrs
  • Climbing - 1142m

Monday, 10 November 2014

End of the XC Season - Gorrick Autumn Classic 2

After enjoying the hospitality of the NHS for a few days, followed by a much needed  week away recuperating and devouring Pasta in Rome, I had no idea what level of performance to expect this Sunday at the second Gorrick Autumn Classic. Despite the possibility of embarrassment I had no hesitation in going since it was the final XC race of the year and Gorrick always produce an enjoyable  course. Entertaining cycling was guaranteed!

The organisers struck gold with milder weather than the wintery flavour of the week before and the sun shone all morning. The torrential rain from Saturday meant there were some puddles, and the majority of the trails were covered in a thin layer of mud, but below this was a good firm base, so racing was still fast and the grip was actually pretty good. Even the wet roots didn’t seem to be as scary as they can be.

Crowthorne is a Gorrick classic so parts of the course are very familiar including the famous corkscrew! There were also some new sections too to link it all together, creating a mixture of fast open trails and fun twisty bits. As at the previous round the course was pretty flat, again not providing enough climbing for me to make up for my (lack of) technical skills!

I decided to man up this week and raced in the recently renamed ‘Masters Plus’ category. This basically means an extra lap compared to the regular Masters (30-40 years) race. My thinking being that the longer race should provide a bit more training for the Brass Monkeys series which starts in a  fortnight.

Unlike the previous round there was plenty of space for the riders to spread out as we sped away from the start down the wide fireroad. The only worry is riding in close proximity at such high speed. Round the first bend I counted a group of 8 riders ahead and as the first lap went on I fought hard to keep them in sight. A top 10 finish would be nice I figured! On a strength sapping rooty incline I caught and passed one rider and a few minutes later as we started the 2nd lap I passed another. The rest seemed to have sprouted wings and flown!

The other massive advantage of the Master Plus race was the limited number of backmarkers from other categories to slow my progress. Instead I surged along empty singletrack, only tyre marks in the mud providing evidence that those I was racing existed! Coming up the climb after the Corkscrew I was able to look back and could see another rider 20-30 seconds back. Behind him came the leading Vets who had started a few minutes after us. As a handful of Vets caught me one ploughed through a puddle on his fat bike creating a bow wave like the QE2!

Into the final lap I was hoping I could hold onto my 7th place at the end. Still with nobody ahead I looked back to see the same rider I had spotted earlier, but my heart sank because he had closed. By now we were catching some slower riders and typically I turned into a tight wooded section to discover a lady crawling along, and with trees tightly packed either side there was no immediate way through. By the time I was past I could hear the other rider was now right on my rear wheel and breathing down my neck. Worse still just before the corkscrew on a steep loose decent he slipped past on the inside as I wandered wide. I was determined to make amends immediately, but he knew I was coming and we both sprinted flat out up the next climb as if the finish line were at the top! With the last few turns of the pedals I pulled ahead and turned into the next bend in front. There was no time to catch my breath now and I worked hard on the next flatter section to try and eke out a little gap of a few seconds. I blasted up the second to last climb in the hope it would be job done, but he hadn’t given up and on the final little ramp he was right back on my rear wheel. Twisting down to the finish line, I stuck tightly to the inside of the bends making myself as wide as possible to prevent him finding a way through. He took defeat well and we had a great chat after the race, once I had recovered enough to speak that is!

So another top 10 finish was a nice way to complete the XC racing for the year. The Gorrick course was cracking as ever, producing another brilliant days cycling. Next up the winter marathon races! Last year I was 5th in the Brass Monkeys series, but I had months of solid training under my belt. This year I haven’t completed a 4 hour ride since the Kawasaki 100 on May the 5th