Saturday, 31 January 2015

Nine Years!

Gorrick 2006
January 2007 - Shorts!
Southern XC - 2008
National Marathon Champs - 2009
Chichester Challenge - 2010
Gorrick 100 - 2011
Gorrick - 2012
Erlestoke - 2013

Friday, 23 January 2015

Masters Category Axed for 2015

Quote from British Cycling:
“There are one or two changes to the (British National) series in 2015, principally the absence of a separate category for masters.”

In summary riders aged 30-39 now fall back into the ability based classification system of Sport/Expert/Elite. “The Commission has felt for some time that riders of masters age (30-39 years) are still competitive in the ability based categories”, a British Cycling spokesman said. 

While this is undoubtedly true for the leading Masters, riders like myself are now plunged into a Sport category field undoubtedly swollen as a consequence of the merger. 10th or 15th Master in the country sounded pretty good and achieving this goal was something to strive for. I am not inspired by a national Sport ranking.

There may still be a Masters category at the National Championsips in Essex, which is good because I have unfinished business at Hadleigh farm. Two years ago I crashed while practicing the course on the Saturday, breaking two ribs, so was looking forward to actually racing at the London 2012 Olympic venue.

I’ll admit as a 37 year old this news has come as a bit of a blow to my motivation for the year ahead. The recently released Southern XC venues and dates had inspired me to target series points. Some readjustment will now be necessary to my plans and goals for 2015. Perhaps this even means moving my focus purely to the longer marathon races before turning 40 in a few seasons. It might also be an opportunity to focus on personal cycling goals outside of racing.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Happy 3rd Birthday Miss Madone!

My Trek Madone is celebrating becoming my most travelled bike! The first commute of the new year took it beyond the 14,000 mile mark and it is still going strong.

I bought the bike from South Downs Bikes in Goring at the end of January 2012. Averaging 400 miles a month it has stood the test of time and is still ferrying me backwards and forwards to work 3 or 4 times a week; plus holding its own during regular weekend social rides. It has dabbled with timetrials, a road race, several Sportives and century rides. It’s tackled local roads as well as trips to Tenerife and France. Admittedly apart from the frame a lot of components have been replaced or upgraded, but the heart of the bike is the same. Amazingly the original bottom bracket is still going strong, despite fording floods and swollen rivers several times over the years. 
Back from another evening commute!
The Madone was one of those bikes that just felt immediately ‘right’. Even a professional bike fit only subtley tweaked the set-up by a few millimetres.  As much as I love riding it, truth be told I can’t bring myself to spend money on what I view as the commuting bike. Although the Shimano 105 groupset has just about survived intact as parts wore out and were replaced, the wheels are a very cheap and equally heavy (robust!) pair of Campagnolo CX’s. The contact points match the mountain bike, so Eggbeater pedals and a Specialized Romin saddle, which just seems to suit me perfectly. The bike fit did move me to a longer stem and lower bar height, leaving the Madone feeling like an old comfy slipper, getting on with the job of efficiently moving me from A to B.

The Trek is beginning to look its age, with a scuffs from mudguards on the seatstays and cable rub marks around the top of the forks. When it does finally come time to say goodbye a switch to disc brakes is about all I’d want to really change.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Schwalbe Durano Tyre – Quick Review

This is sure to be the kiss of death but I felt compelled to post a quick review so impressed have I been so far with these tyres.

I’ve ridden my fair share of tyres but in the past, come the winter, I usually fall back on the ever popular and reliable Continental Gatorskins. This year however, back in October as I was preparing my road bike for the winter ahead, I was lured instead into buying some Schwalbe Durano tyres. It was a decision based on a special offer at Chainreaction and a glowing review on Bikeradar. Since then I’ve been commuting the 35-40 mile round trip to work at least  3 days a week in all conditions, most of them wet! The bike then gets cleaned on Saturday and regularly called into service for the 3 hour Sunday social.  According to Strava the tyres have just cleared 1500 miles and to my utter amazement I am still waiting for my first puncture. 

From past experience I would normally have expected to have been wrestling with tyre levers several times by now. Undoubtedly luck has played its part, but it is still impressive performance from the Durano’s. Wear seems good and the tyres aren’t littered with the little cut marks that the Conti’s usually seem to pick up. Best of all is the grip and cornering confidence that these tyres offer even on damp roads. The Durano’s handle more like a summer tyre such as the GP4000, which may be due to the dual compound construction, which provides softer rubber on the shoulders of the tyre. Rolling resistance seems to be on a par with other tyres. 

So far I’ve nothing but good words to say about the Schwalbe’s. Although that’ll probably all change on the way to work tomorrow now I’ve posted this blog!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Merida Brass Monkeys Round 3 - Deepcut

Doing well in the Brass Monkeys winter series requires stamina and speed on the bike, but also a helping hand from lady luck. The bikes take some serious abuse from the rough trails and the onslaught of torrid winter conditions. Surviving 12-15 hours of racing without a mechanical failure or puncture can't be taken for granted. A cold or illness, which are so prevalent at this time of year, can also wipe out a race result. In 2012 I was gridded first at the final round based on points accumulated, but was so ill during the event I had to call it a day. This year the bike has worked flawlessly at each round, but today I was seriously bunged up and coughing relentlessly. Nevertheless points were on offer and we all know that points mean prizes!

A thick frost covered the carpark in Deepcut for the final round of this years series. The popularity of the races ably demonstrated by the traffic jam to get in! The Deepcut course is one of my all time favourites, but the trail planners had been busy switching things around and adding new sections to mix it up a little. As well as freezing cold, conditions on the ground were also extremely slippery during the opening 6.5 mile lap. Riders fish tailed and drifted through the undulating trails. I was about 10th and enjoying the bursts of power required for the brutal little climbs, followed by the flowing singletrack back down.

If I have a complaint this year, it is the revised start times that send the massive 2hr field off 15 minutes before the 4 hour race gets underway. Particularly on the second lap I spent what felt like an eternity cruising along behind back markers looking for a way past. It is the same for everyone, but it is hugely frustrating and makes it very difficult to escape the clutches of riders behind. Often a serious effort to pull out a gap is wasted when you come up to the next group of slower riders at the bottom of a narrow climb.

The worst example of this was on my second lap. Five riders were seemingly attached to my rear wheel, flowing along in my wake. We caught five back markers from the shorter race and I quickly picked my way past the first four before the others had a chance. With a long fireroad ahead I hoped I might be able to squeeze past the last rider, stretch the gap to those I was racing and slip away. In my eagerness I sneaked down the righthandside of the path to overtake, just clipping the undergrowth. A long sinuous length of twig wrapped itself neatly around my cassette and through my rear mech. I was lucky nothing was damaged, but after stopping to pull the majority of the offending branch free, all 10 riders had passed me and the faster guys I was racing were now infront the backmarkers. I conserved energy and didn't chase wildly but it was over a lap before I had negotiated my way back to the position I had been in before my mishap.

In my mild panic I did however forget to take a drink on the fireroad and with little opportunity to grab a bottle I paid the price on the next lap, as my concentration faltered and leaden legs set in. Luckily I kept eating and a huge swig of water at my next bottle stop helped bring me back to life.

Into the 6th and final lap and the mud had been moved aside by the passage of a thousand tyres and the course was now running grippy and fast. I was racing two guys on Fat bikes. Fat bikes are apparently 'THE' trend of 2015. The huge oversized tyres clearly providing endless grip in the technical sections, but the extra drag and weight began to tell as the race wore on and both riders tired while I forged on. I crossed the line in 7th, which should be good enough for 5th or 6th in the series overall (TBC later this week). Although I was 5th overall last year my results in the individual races this season show a significant improvement. Maybe all that commuting to work finally paying off and its a great start to 2015!

Series Results:
  • Round 1: 8th
  • Round 2: 11th (I was dressed as Santa!)
  • Round 3: 7th
The Brass Monkeys races are particular favourites of mine. They occupy a time of year when there isn't generally a lot of good mountain biking on offer. I enjoy the arduous nature of the events and the often inclement winter weather just provides an added challenge. From the flat mud bath that was round one, to the frozen hills of round three it has been a blast! Like Christmas its sadly all over for another year.