Saturday, 29 June 2013

FNSS Milton Keynes 3 Hour Enduro

I had been looking forward to this race for a while now, especially after missing last months round at the Bowl. After Tuesdays road race I'd hoped this race would be bathed in sunshine and that the singletrack would be dry and dusty, but that was Tuesday. By Thursday the rains had come and didn't relent until shortly before Fridays XC race.
So we had a wet, muddy highly technical race on our hands, we being Nick and myself. I should point out at this point that the Milton Keynes course is a tricky little bugger, people sneer at the thought of XC in Milton Keynes, but they soon have that sneer wiped of their faces at the first off camber tree lined clay track. The Bowl is a huge amphitheatre, a huge crescent of earth with a tree lined top hiding a continuous drop back down to it's original level. The race uses this man made climb and decent zig zaging back and forth, then it throws in a long stretch of off camber as you traverse the Bowl through the trees. The other part of this course is over the spoils of the Bowls construction, which nature has long since taken over, a rider was bitten by an Adder there last year!
So to the race. Not the usual 45 minute XC race start, far steadier. As XC isn't my forté I was going for the steady approach thinking three hours would be enough to reel other riders in. However lap one was a disaster. At the first switchback that led into the trees and a climb my jersey caught  a tree, taking me down and ripping the shirt off my arm. I was last man riding by the time I got going and my Mojo was in a place nowhere to be found. I was floundering like a fool, slipping at every turn. So I stopped, let out a lot of air and pressed on, much better.
My fitness was good, but I couldn't make the most of it as I couldn't get my XC head on so steady I went. The course was hard and slippery so you had to memorise each and every part of the circuit. Where to change gear, where to go wide, when to stand, where to sit. And where in the name of God was I going to be able to grab a gel or drink? One place, a short stretch of gravel between the amphitheatre and the woods.
With the course etched on my mind and the 10 second food stretch sorted I slowly gained momentum. My times were improving and I started to pick off a few riders. Though every now and then I'd lose it and skid or hit yet another tree. After a few hours the course started to dry and some of the undergrowth that had slowed me earlier had now been cleared by the constant passing of riders.
By 9pm I was riding on lights, the woods and overcast skies weren't letting in any light, but strangely following the beam of my L&Ms helped a bit, I suppose I was looking further ahead as you should do.
In the last dark hour I seemed to be alone, wondering if an Adder was going to have me for lunch tonight. Or would anyone find me if I cam off on the 100MPH downhill gully?
I couldn't read my watch, but I completed a lap and was told 47 seconds, which meant I got in 47 seconds before the three hour cut off and could start another lap...whoopee. Off I went, and this time I was alone, so no mater how fast I went I'd not improve my overall standings. With the last lap underway it started to rain again, I counted my blessings that it had remained dry all race and crossed the line to finish 17th overall. Though entered as a Grand Vet I don't think they divvy up the results. I finished feeling pretty pleased, shame about the ruined club jersey and the arm covered in claret and Nicks practice lap bent hanger, but that's XC.
One week two races.
Post race, still clean and intact

LVRC/MKCA Circuit races Round 7

Round 7 was hosted under the clearest skies of the series so far, and the wind was noticeable by it's total absence. It's always nice to race in these conditions as it removes the need to think about where you need to be for attacks and turns on the front.
This week I was again joined by Andy, as well as Simon and Vince who were racing in my age group for the day.
Things got off to a steady start with a solo rider going soon off the front. he seemed to be staying out front for an age, so rather foolishly I went to the front to reel him in. I had expected another rider to come through after completing a whole lap out front on my own, but no. So I upped it another notch and we started to close on the lone rider.
Then as I/we were about to make contact all hell broke loose. A small group took the opportunity to break away. I managed to hang on to the back of the small group, I counted twelve, but my previous turn had tired me. I thought that if I could stay in this group and keep out of trouble I might get a good position. However a few big efforts had me yo-yo'ing off the back and finally I fell off the back. At 43 minutes I was on my own.

Trying to outrun the bunch
I looked back to see the main bunch in the far distance so I settled into position to keep away, but the effort of being on my own was starting to tell and pretty soon all the tarmac felt like it was going uphill. I could see Simons green shoulders bearing down, so I eased off a bit to be able to ride the final four laps with company. I sat in where I wanted and recovered a little and then moved up into third in the bunch. Then for some crazy reason I decided to lead out on the bell lap, of all the riders in that bunch I was the least likely to be fresh enough to grab an honour sprint. But off I went and with the flag in sight I climbed out of my saddle to go for the line. As soon as I thought I was close all and sundry came past me.
As they say 'Die trying'

Thursday, 20 June 2013

LVRC/MKCA Circuit races Round 6

It should have a been a good night for racing, but the phrase about being in the wrong place at the wrong time would prove to be very true.
It was warm and windless and the race was seventy men strong, so was guaranteed to be fast as. And it was. From the gun a group tried to make a break for it, it wasn't the usual inexperienced rider thinking 'this is easy' before dying a death. This was a group that could stay away, and ten minutes later I was in the unenviable position of bridging the gap for the bunch. I had a momentary thought about going with them, but when I got on the wheels of the leading group I was cooked, so I sat in and looked back. We were one again. This cat and mouse game went on for the duration of the time that the race remained within the gates. It was hard, but no one was going out of the back. To add to the 'fun' I had a rider beside me who seemed intent on cutting me up at every change of pace, there's no way he couldn't have heard my 'for fucks sakes' unless his hearing was as bad as his eyesight.
leading out through the gates
At thirty minutes we received the notice that we would be going out the gates on the next lap. determined to drop my meandering racer menace and avoid any carnage as we funneled through the narrow gates I moved up into third place for a clear run. That part went to plan.
'Wrong place wrong time' Just as I sat up to recover the A/B race lapped us. Etiquette dictates that passing riders shout a warning of coming through left or right, and everyone files past. However this time it was shouts of both, and to add to the confusion shouts of MIDDLE.  The chaos caused decimated the race, and I was left far out the back. I raced solo for a whole lap and just got on only to find the rider I'd just attached to sit up and bail out. So another solo lap, and almost on when a poor change on a fast corner sent my rear wheel hopping across the tarmac. I sat up.
I looked behind me to see a few souls pushing on, so we formed into a small but coherent group. Lap after lap we picked up more and more riders, until we had a good race going on. The leading bunch from which the winner would come was now beyond reach so we were racing for honours.
It was clear that three of us were stronger, so we worked to keep the pace high.......until the bell lap. then it was all stares. I didn't want to lead this out, nor did anyone else. We slowed to the next bend, where I took a bad line on purpose so I could fall in behind the others. I slipped in and stayed in tight so as not to be seen. Round the bend, along the straight, up the climb, around the tight corners and then with the line in sight I pulled out for the sprint. I passed wide and noticed the lead rider glance at me before reacting, and the sound of his late gear change confirmed my attack had worked.
I would rather have paid my dues in the main bunch, I felt I had the strength to do so. Perhaps next week?

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Arenberg June 2013

A strange place to ride, not the Arenberg itself, but the area. I was somehow  expecting very rural lanes, but instead you find yourself amidst Frances industry in particular the mining industry. That said industrial landscapes offer an interesting change, and I found myself often looking across my shoulders at the working mines, places I'd only seen in images usually with Merckx in front or on the labels of strong beer.
It was also pancake that's why they wallop on a 42 ring for the famous race that passes through here.
Still I was very happy just riding along, as I always am when riding in France. And beautiful lanes and villages did come and go to add to my pleasure. We covered a good thirty miles before I saw the first sign for the Arenberg, that little sign sent a shiver down my spine, much in the same way the thousands that travel to the Alps would experience upon seeing the first sign for Mont Ventoux. Right then I wanted to be with all my mates that really understand cycling. Then we passed the red brick mine that tells you that the start of the Arenberg Forest pavé is nearby, then a look up ahead glancing past the tight bend you see the old railway bridge that passes over the cobbles.
We're here. The racers wouldn't have to negotiate the steel gate that keeps the cars out. And they certainly wouldn't stop to take pictures and just gawp at the ground beneath them. I've ridden on cobbles before, but these ones are something special. Laid in the days of Napoleon and without as much as a single thought for the riders that would race these roads a century later. I placed my bike on what looked like the smoothest part HA HA HAAAAAAA and pushed off. Holy fuck this is stupid hard, no way is my bike going to withstand this. My bottle cage sounds like it's going to rip out of the frame. The wheels are banging over each cobble like hitting the kerb. The tyres are surely going to explode, but things are hanging on. Then my bones start to hurt. Oh you tit, now concentrate. remember bar centres, not the hoods like you are doing now. And not tight, loose. Sit back on the saddle, and pedal fast. I'm off I'm covering ground, I'm getting the hang of it just before it all ends. We regroup and pay respect to the guys that race that hard. I wait for my temporary whitefinger to clear and set off for food.
The suns up and strong now, and my pockets are full of redundant clothing as we hit a countryside and more pavé. We pull up in Orchies for a welcome beer and the best Salmon Galette I've ever tasted, we spend a bit too long here in the sun so have to get a wiggle on soon after our last coffee.
Initially our way is fine lanes and avenues, but they soon give way to the industrial landscape we left six hours ago. I'm always happy if I'm on a bike and the sun is shining so even the dual carriageways that mark the closing stages of our ride do nothing to deter me.
Everything pans out just right, we've ridden where we wanted to ride, we've eaten great food and my water bottles have just been emptied. We roll into Sin Le Noble to finish our ride. We stand in a hot dusty car park putting salty cycle kit into bags and don fresh cotton shorts and tees, and knock back fresh fruit and water before heading home.

LVRC/MKCA Region 7 Championships

Just couldn't race today after losing my dog Toby my friend of fourteen years.

RIP Toby

Me old mate

Saturday, 8 June 2013

LVRC/MKCA Circuit Races Round 5

Back again after marshaling duties and a bad chest. And what an evening to return to racing. I had already decided that I was going to take it steady after a few weeks off. I got all my kit ready the night before so I could get away in good time, however Mrs Smilerbiker was late getting me from work, so I had to run home which isn't an ideal way to ready yourself for an evening race.
Anyway I was soon at the Bowl, signed up and warming up. Although it was sunny there was a hell of a wind effecting a large part of the circuit. Luckily though there was a very very large field so plenty of places to hide for my 'steady' race.
Once under way I wiggled my way into the middle of the forty man bunch. It was bloody hard work not going to the front of falling off the back, but I managed it. When the twenty minute mark was up the marshals opened the gates to extend the circuit. And I remember thinking what an easy ride I'd had so far.
However once onto the full circuit things started to hot up. After the six turns the bunch was lifting the pace into the headwind, if you didn't manage to lock onto a wheel you'd be left struggling in the strong wind.
Now some don't like the turns and 'gates', but I love them, and started to claw back a spot or two each lap whilst going through the twists and turns. This meant I was in a good spot to grab a wheel when the pedal went down.
Once I felt I was in a comfortable spot I settled in and each lap became routine. To be honest I thought there were a few off the front and that our bunch was just racing for honours. So when the bell lap came I was more than happy to let riders come through. And when the line approached I didn't bother to contest the bunch sprint. However to my surprise I saw a rider just yards ahead throw his arms skywards to take the win!
Oh well I probably didn't have any top end anyway, but I was more than happy to find myself finishing so close after a few weeks illness. Now I'm looking for steady progression up to the Nationals, though that won't be an hour plus five, it'll be 70 miles of open road.
Flanked by ex team mates Andy and Simon.

Finished off the week with a superb mountain bike night ride and an intense turbo session.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Trek X-Caliber 29er test run

After missing yet another race due to this persistent cough I decided to take my newly acquired Trek 29er for a shake down on the Woburn circuit.
There wasn't any need to wake early, best lay in and wait for the midday sun! and take the pressure off my chest. So at just about 12 noon I set off, of course far too fast. Wheezing slightly I slipped off the road and onto the first trail, a nice uphill mud and cuttings slog. The first thing anyone jumping on a 29er notices is the ability to ride off cambers and wet slippery roots without consequence.
Another short road section calls for some lock-out action, then release it to climb the second section and another uphill one at that. Over the top and I have an arrow straight downhill. Usually you need to be cautious about the rock hard 4X4 ruts under the deep grass, but not with this baby, though I do feel the back end start to get harsh.
Road plus lock-out and I'm onto the Rushmere park trails and into the granny for the first time. Climbing this bike isn't like climbing on my old lightweight XC bike, there seems to be no reward for hooning out of the saddle. It's best to sit back and push, the stays feel short on this big bike which I like.
I'm now in Woburn Woods and the bike is faultless, so I have plenty of time to think about the pros and cons.
The acceleration IS slower, BUT the ride overall is quicker and smoother and the big wheels give you more line options.
Climbing took a while to get used to. I'd just hammer a climb out of the saddle on the old bike, but with this one it's best to sit and climb, unless the fork can be kept active then you can get over the front.
And apart from clipping a tree...wide bars you see, all seems to be better. Even the extra 4lbs didn't make itself felt. A good bike for a solo 24 hour if I ever do another.
The only hiccup was when descending in deep sand. If you don't do sand you won't believe how hard it becomes like soft cobbles? when riding it fast. I was just thinking how smooth the bike was making things on the yellow stuff, and was upping the speed. Sadly the tight deep soft bend wasn't having any of it and down I went. I stood there brushing off the sand and inspecting the damage to my that's what a power sander would do to your skin! And of course only then did any other MTBers appear, looking at me covered in sand and casting an eye over the 'snow angel' I'd made in the sand.
After the usual quick hop and hobble I set off for home.
I got back from this ride far fresher and quicker than any other time I've done it, so overall I'm happy and sold on the 29er idea.
The back of Ivinghoe Beacon on the Ridgeway LD path

 I've had the bike a few months now, so I thought I'd give a few more words ( I know a few folk have looked here for info). Well since it's purchase I've had a good few fast XC blasts, some long four hour plus rides and a 3 hour evening XC race.
Quite simply it's performed superbly. During the longer rides I felt I could just go on and knock out a steady 24 solo. It's the first mountain bike I've had that actually makes me want to ride more. One one supposedly hour long local blast I actually came back five hours later, on a single bottle and one banana!
In my 3 hour XC race I got 3rd Grand Vet. So plenty of reasons to be happy.
Downsides, or downside. It gets pretty harsh at the back end. The factory fitted hardpack tyres require fairly high pressures, or so they say. However better handling and greater comfort come with reduced pressures, but so do flats. Here in the UK we share most trails with horses, and the constant changes in the weather turn the trails into a clay version of the Belgian cobbles. So I think tubeless is the way to go, and luckily the X-Caliber comes tubeless ready, not UST so get some jollop in there.
The high end and ultra wide bars caused a few issues. In my race I had to dismount and man handle the bike through one part of the course as the bars wouldn't go through. removing 20mm off each end sorted that. I also lowered the stem and flipped it at the same time - sorted.
Ditch the grips, okay they're race grips, but I've been racing near on forty years and these are too hard.
That's it really. A quick fettle, convert to tubeless and stick on some ESI grips and you're good to go.
Recently back from a 66 mile sportive on the X-Caliber. Not an off road one, but pure road. It's a credit to this bikes ability as I did it without any changes, that includes keeping the knobblies on. In fact I've still not made any changes. I still haven't converted the 'Tubeless ready' wheelset and those hard grips still remain, even if they are wearing rapidly. Soon I expect the British winter will dictate the first change of tyres.
For the record it got me round the 66 miles in the top ten percent.
Edit; Cow bell from my trip to the Pyrenees fitted.
It's still going strong and still no changes a year later despite riding it day in day out, commuting, racing, sportives, night time training rides, mid week blasts with the mates. Next I plan to ride some winter Audax events, though I might concede to road going tyres for those.
Hell Of The North Cotswolds, stock guise