Belgian Mountainbike Challenge

“There aren’t many people with the opportunity to do things like this” I kept saying to myself, trying to reinforce the fact that I am, in essence, a Very Lucky Lad to be able to travel overseas to ride my bike. It wasn’t making the experience any less painful.

I think the entire world knows by now that I had a stupid crash on my bike a couple of weeks ago that left me with nettle stings all over my arse and a cracked rib. I’d like to say I don’t moan about such things very much but honestly, I’ve droned on and on and on about it. There’s nothing worse than the guy that highlights his apparent handicap (hard training week, hard work week, broken bone, cold, wrong tyres, I’ve just won a baby in a raffle and it kept me awake, I accidentally brought a singlespeed/fatbike/unicycle, etcetera…) to everyone before every single race but for the past couple of weeks I’ve (admittedly self-consciously) been That Guy. Sorry everyone BUT IT REALLY HUURRRRRTS.

Debbie even offered me a number of Get Out Of Jail cards in the week leading up to the big trip to Belgium for a stage race. It’s always easier if someone else decides to drop out of a race for you. I declined the escape route though, like I said – “There aren’t many people with the opportunity to do things like this”. Besides, we were meeting Lee and Rachael there and even if the race was a disaster we’d be guaranteed a weekend-long bloody good laugh with our friends.

So off we went. A 600 mile drive south to Belgium. Lovely, pan-flat Belgium. Home of waffles, fine beer, chips swimming in mayonnaise and other stereotypes.

Actually parts of Belgium are full of wartime history, steep (STEEP!) valleys and people who don’t speak any Flemish, nor do they seem to sell waffles.

Not flat though. Very, very, very not flat. Not mountainous but trails like a dragon’s back. Up and down and up and down all day long. The first 80-something kilometre long stage was a killer with one 20 percent climb after another and  by the end I was in a fair bit of discomfort – the rib injury-induced shallow breathing of the previous week had returned and even though I only brought it as a precaution, the co-codamol came out that evening so that I’d get some sleep.

The second stage was longer and while I’d have loved it to have had climbs that were less steep, I was to be disappointed on that score. It was 100 kilometres of up and down and up and down all day long. That one took me ages and ages to finish. Longer than everyone else I knew, in fact.

I had a long lie down and dreamt of the easier final stage. 77 kilometres of smooth, flat trails with an ice cream van situated every 5k.

That was a dream, obviously. This last stage, despite being shorter, was in reality even harder than the previous two horrors. Sat at the start line, having a jolly chat with Lee before he disappeared up the first climb, I felt like I’d been in a pub fight every day rather than a bike race. One of those fights where your opponent is a sneaky bastard and concentrates his punches and kicks on your obvious weak spot. I was in a codeine-induced daze too. I was having so much fun!

“There aren’t many people with the opportunity to do things like this”.

Up and down and up and down all day long. Again. No ice cream vans.

20K from the finish of the third and final stage, I punctured my rear tyre, couldn’t get the tyre back on the rim with a tube in it (this had happened to me before), snapped three tyre levers. One of them didn’t even belong to me. Started to walk to the nearest road with my bike on my shoulder. Not what the bone doctor ordered.

Watched the time cut-off approach and then elapse as I tried to describe to Debbie where I was. “I’m on a road near a village….erm…somewhere”. She didn’t know where she was either, but eventually we ended up in the same place.

Bike in the car and the Drive Of Shame back to the hotel. Even though I was keen to tell a race official that I’d retired from the race, she didn’t seem that interested. “What would you like me to do with this information?” she said. “Errrr well why don’t you send a helicopter out to look for me or something?” , I replied, expecting a kick from Deb for being a grumpy git.

“ahh yes. What is your number?”. She got the message in the end.

I just wasn’t in the mood.

A few hours of eating pizza and drinking red wine was needed. So that’s what we did!

The Belgian Mountain Bike Challenge is a 3 day mountain bike stage race in the Ardennes region of Belgium. It’s very, very hard. There are around 600 participants and nobody is a messer. It sells out in a really short period of time and while I would recommend you took part, you’re probably better off turning up well-rested and injury-free.

See? I do these things so you don’t have to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belgian Mountainbike Challenge weatherwatch AKA ‘Excuses Corner’


For  second year in a row I’m taking part in a stage race. Not Sri Lanka this time, this year I’m making the short(er) journey to the south of Belgium for the Belgian Mountainbike Challenge – 3 days of mountain bike racing in the Ardennes. Loads of climbing. In Belgium!

“Rugged terrain” it says on Wikipedia. “The Hardest Mountain Bike Tour in the Benelux” it says on the race website. I think it’s going to be quite hard then.

Anyway, it doesn’t seem like 10 minutes since I got back from Belgium but this time I won’t be hiring a tandem. Nor will I be drinking loads of beer.

I will however be taking an injury with me, which doesn’t happen too often. It’s a stupid self-inflicted, painful niggle that will hopefully fade between now and the start of the race.

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That’s not curry

I did something to my ribs when I landed heavily after a silly crash while out on the bike a week or so ago. I’ll take strong painkillers so that I can sleep then a couple of days later it won’t feel too bad (unless I breathe deeply….) but then I’ll do something like pick up a rucksack or reach for something in a cupboard and it’s back on the painkillers again.

Oh well, no excuses. I won’t be the only old giffer there with some kind of issue and besides, we’ve ploughed a few hundred quid into this trip already.

I’ll be trying to keep up with the in-form, man-of-the-moment Lee Eaton while our wives make light work of the local delicacies. Chocolate, beer and waffles, basically. Maybe pate.

I wish I’d not looked at the weather forecast for Belgium next week. Chucking it down with rain!

Dirty Reiver 200

Some people, who claim to be sensible people, absolutely avoid at all costs taking a brand new, never-ridden bike to ride in a bike race. A very long, hard bike race in a remote location with no mobile signal.

Those are people who are obviously lacking in moral fibre. Taking a bike that’s been checked, double-checked, ridden, checked and ridden again? Give over. Just sign for it, whip it out of the box and ride the bugger.

You would though, wouldn’t you? Look at it!

I spent a couple of hours on Friday night swapping the tyres on my new Santa Cruz Stigmata for some wider, more-gravelly ones as well as adding a couple of bottle cages, some pedals and adjusting the seatpost so that it fit me. Sort of. It was a bit of a rush job and the front brake was rubbing a bit (brand new pads and I put the mechanic at Jungle under a bit of pressure when I asked for the bike at the last minute) but time was getting on and I had to drive 150 miles north to Kielder to take part in the Dirty Reiver 200 at 7am the morning after.

I slept in the Mighty Passat that night, the Stigmata (worth approximately 12 times more than the car) at the other side of the bed. At 5am I got up again, built the bike, drank a nice coffee that Dave had made in his motorhome and headed to the start.

200 kilometres of gravel on an amazing bike, in nice weather, in a stunning part of the country, with a large portion of all the coolest people I’ve ever met since I started racing about 100 years ago? These are weekends made in heaven.

And it was bloody brilliant. Miles and miles (I’ve done the kilometres thing now, thankyou) of dirt roads, massive views, blue skies and friendly (if a bit breathless) chatting with friends old and new.

I never did stop that front brake rubbing though, and the tyres that I fitted the night before were just being a pair of rebellious idiots all day long. By the time I’d arrived at the bit where the course split – where the madras/korma – blue pill/red pill – long and short options were (there was a 130 kilometre route as well as the 200), I’d re-inflated my front tyre 5 times and the rubbing front brake was really starting to make its rubbing-yness felt in my legs so I decided to take the blue pill and bail out on the shorter option. I decided that I could still go for another ride the day after rather than spending the next week recovering and at this rate I was going to finish the long route on Wednesday.

 

There’s more gravel racing (and less last-minute faffing) in my future….

Hit the North 5

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I’ve had time to clear up the course tape, signs and discarded gel wrappers (ok there were only three of those, and they blended in with the usual burnt-out mopeds and dog poo bags anyway) after Hit the North 5. I’ve also had time to go on holiday for a week, publish the results and start planning the next one.

Those that were there to witness the return of Hit the North a couple of weeks ago will know how great it was. I’ve no idea how though. All I do is mither people on the phone for stuff, decorate the woods with signs and hire toilets. 200 or so riders paid to enter and didn’t seem to mind the stupidly-steep bits, the stupidly-muddy bits, the funny-smelling bits and the lack of music at the start/finish (broken generator). In fact, everyone who took part or helped out loved it.

I loved it. I loved organising it.

In fact I enjoyed organising this one more than any other HtN that I can remember and that’s not because it was easy (it was far from easy, thanks to….oh never mind), but because in the years since the last event, I’ve genuinely missed it.

So twice a year then. I’ll keep on doing it until everyone gets bored of it or I get bored of it.

Massive thanks to – Debbie, Simon Fox, Warren Edmond, Rob Allen, Karen Long, Jackie Aspden, all the staff and parents from St Mary’s CE Primary (Prestwich), John Moore, Andy Smith, Mike Sudder, Jess Wain, everyone else who marshalled, all at Singletrack magazine, Laura and Dave Bradshaw, Allen Bridge, Bury Council, Phil Lee from the Forestry Commission, The Nice Weather, Jo Allen, Joe from Bite Café, Carl Salisbury, Budge and anyone who I might have temporarily forgotten.

Most of all a HUGE thanks to all of you who paid money to take part and kept the faith. See you all in October eh?

hit the north jason miles xc

Kielder Chiller 24

I don’t know why, but I expected a broken nose to hurt more than that. Maybe it was the below-zero temperatures or the rush of adrenaline that you tend to experience when you’ve just landed on the ground on your face. Once I’d crawled up off the floor, moved my bike out of the way, I had a sit down.

I love sitting down on the ground at 5 in the morning. It’s great.

I could hear my nose clicking as I moved it side to side. I probably should stop doing that in case it comes off in my hand, I thought.

The weather conditions at the Kielder Chiller 24 hour race were pretty-much the same as they had been the last time I rode a bike there – in fact the last time I rode there the weather was just as wet and cold and I was engulfed in a thick cloud of abrasive mud. My brake pads disintegrated and I ended up in a bush. I said I’d never return but I did return and once again I was engulfed in a cloud of abrasive mud and my pads disintegrated.

Once again I pulled on my brake lever and apart from a loud metallic noise, nothing happened.

I didn’t land in a bush this time. If I had it might not have been so dramatic. This time I rode down a steep section of singletrack, unable to slow down. I rode off the side of the trail as it bent around to the right and was launched into the air as my front wheel suddenly encountered a large enough object.

I was racing in the pairs category with Phil, thankfully. We were winning too.

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With only a few hours of the race left and a nice 2 or 3 lap gap to the second-place pair I was able to hand over to my super-dependable team mate and let him get on with finishing the job while I sat in the Team JMC pit, nursing my face. Eventually I went to sit in the car with the engine running and the heated seat on. The car subsequently filled with mud.

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A win is a win, regardless of a broken bone and a very sad and now-in-need-of-serious-maintenance Santa Cruz Highball.

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A massive thanks to Lisa and Mel who made me cups of tea and fed me painkillers. Also thanks to the ambulance man who decided not to send me to A&E, which was probably hundreds of miles away and full of drunken people with no tops on.