feeling knackered

I think this is what’s called a ‘late season lull’ or something. I’ve been feeling tired for a few weeks now, not the kind of ‘oooh, I feel like an early night’ tired, more like a ‘I can’t really be bothered and I don’t think I’m quite able to go out for a run or a hard training ride today’ tired.

It’s been a great year so far, so I’m definitely not complaining but since the summer 24 hour races I’ve definitely started to fizzle out a bit.

I’m at Dusk Till Dawn this weekend, I’m really looking forward to racing for 12 hours in a pair with Simon cos I know we’ll have a good laugh and we’ll even give it our best shot whilst we’re there. After that, I’m having some rest. No training, just riding bikes occasionally for fun, enjoying the local trails and the changing season, maybe a leg massage or two, eat nice ‘real’ food…for a couple of weeks anyway. At the same time, I’ll make it to a few local ‘cross races to make sure I don’t forget what racing feels like and then get my arse back into gear in preparation for the Strathpuffer in January…

This ‘getting my arse back into gear’ will no doubt involve a return to some proper big rides, some short rides too (following the advice of someone who knows better than I)….but mainly big rides 😉

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3 Peaks Cyclocross 2009

Armed with what I thought was greater scrambling-up-hills fitness, a brilliant new bike from Brant to race on, a checked and double-checked seatpost for non-slippage and most importantly prior knowledge of the race, I was confident I was going to do better at the Three Peaks than my first attempt last year. We even arrived in Helwith Bridge earlier than last time, so all was good so far.

After parking without mishap and an uneventful signing on, I enjoyed an incident-free start to the race alongside Phil, Dave, Simon and Budge where I immediately found space and shot off as fast as I could. After the shock of last year’s start I was ready for it this time and made the most of it.

So did Phil and judging by the way he rode off in front, so did Dave. Phil and I started to take it steady and stayed with a fast group. Soon enough we were riding across the fields towards the first big climb up Simon Fell towards the summit of Ingleborough. The steepness of this climb really can’t be conveyed adequetly to anyone that hasn’t climbed it before, with or without a bike on their back. It just couldn’t be any steeper or everyone would fall off backwards. There are some great photos here that kind of explain things a bit better than words though.

What I do know is that the Rodwell was several times more comfortable to shoulder for long periods of time than the Planet X. This is without padding too. The top tube has got a ‘flat bit’ that does the job really well, surprising really what a difference this makes over a regular round profile.

This hill is ridiculously hard going but definitely easier the second time around. I was climbing well and passing several other people. My ‘very small steps on my toes’ technique was working and I was glad I heeded Dave Haygarth’s advice to remove my toe studs as I didn’t need them. I looked back and I had lost Phil (who I knew was good at this climbing lark) so I was happy for the time being, I was clearly doing ok.

Over the stile and at last it was time to get past a many people as possible. The Rodwell had only been built a few hours before so this was essentially the first ride on it. The bike immediately feeling snappier and easier to get up to speed than my other cross bike, the steering feels somewhat quicker too – less relaxed and fun in a, ‘you’d better be concentrating, pal’ kind of way.

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photo:Wig Worland www.wigworland.com

I was in the big ring as much as possible, passing several other riders (one of which crashed into me and then blamed me) until the constant rattling over the rough ground caused one of the bottle cage bolts to fall out (that’s hasty builds for ya), leaving the cage flopping about with a bottle in it. I stopped, fumbled for the multitool and eventually sorted out the problem but it cost me enough time to see Phil and dozens of other people ride past, people that I had just worked so hard to get past just a few minutes ago.

On the descent of Ingleborough I made up some time again and pulled out all the stops on the road to Whernside.  I was gaining on Phil again and by the time we reached the top of Whernside I was one bike behind him. I’m not hell-bent on beating him, but the fact that I’d caught him again meant that I was still going well. I hadn’t forgot in 12 months how scary the descent of Whernside was and this time it didn’t disappoint; flights of steps follow rock-strewn narrow rutted tracks followed by long stone pavements with wide, deep gaps between some of the slabs. Stone water channels running across the trail at regular intervals have to be jumped over to avoid punctures whilst ramblers and other riders, many of them walking/running, need to be avoided.

There’s a stile part of the way down this hill that requires a dismount. As I was climbing off the bike my right calf started to spasm, I climbed the stile and then couldn’t get over it – by now both my lower legs were in complete rock-hard cramp leaving me straddling the stile with the bike still resting on my shoulder, the air quickly getting a distinct ‘blue tint’ as I struggled to deal with the pain. I’ve not had cramp for 5 years or so. I’ve no idea how to deal with it apart from swear at it (that incidentally doesn’t work). Eventually the cramp subsided and I carried on, quickly gulping down fluid as I had just been reminded that I hadn’t been drinking enough since the start.

I collected another bottle from Deb who was waiting for me at Ribblehead and carried on as fast as I could along the road to Horton-in-Ribblesdale and the final hill, Pen Y Ghent.  It was however now clear that cramp was going to be a constant companion for the remainder of the race – each time I attempted to accelerate or climb even the smallest of hill I was rewarded with more muscle spasms in both legs; every time I tried to pull my foot on the upstroke my calf hurt so I was reduced to pedal-mashing. Not only that, but it appeared to be spreading to my thighs.

I dug deep and eventually I got to within a few feet of Phil again, however I’d used up most of what I had left in the tank in the process. No worries, it wasn’t for nothing if I’ve regained my earlier position, I thought. Eventually Dave then Phil both passed me, already starting their way back down as I was almost at the summit of PYG. I dibbed at the top and started my ascent, exchanging a few words with Simon as he climbed.

The descent was probably one of the most sketchy things I’ve ever done on a bike. I was being bounced around all over the place on the dry, loose gravelly track, eventually reaching the relative safety of the stone slabs and then the bridleway to the road.

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(photo Tim Kershaw)

Just the road now to the finish, legs still doing their new ‘thing’ of trying to make me cry and fall off my bike. I joined a couple of other riders and hung on to a wheel as best I could.

I finished in 4:03, ten or so minutes faster than last year. I’m pleased by that, but at the same time annoyed with myself for getting wrong something so fundamental as feeding properly. Next year will be different.

Ragley Rodwell

Just in time for the 3 Peaks this weekend, the Rodwell arrived in a big brown box yesterday. Last night and much of today I’ve been building and fettling and this is the result…

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The canti brake hanger for the front brake hasn’t arrived yet so I’ve fitted the fork, front wheel and disc brake from the old ‘cross bike but to be honest this is ideal for the 3 Peaks (a brake that works I mean). The Froggleg brake on the back is awful! Maybe I need to spend more time setting that up. I’ll be fitting the Ragley fork and front canti for ‘normal’ cross racing later in the year as I reckon the whole setup will be over a pound lighter at least.

The chainset sports a 50t big chainring, a bit tall for cyclocross racing but again pretty useful for the long road sections of the 3 Peaks.

Once again, a big ‘Yay!’ to Cooksons Cycles for saving the day – this time smashing a rounded bolt out of the chainset so I could get it off the road bike.  

The ceramic Hope BB, ‘peace’ canti hanger and white bar tape are essential items, before anyone tries to tell you otherwise 😉

More pics here

3 Peaks cyclocross weatherwatch/bikewatch/fitnesswatch

I’ve been taking things very easy this week since a couple of hard training sessions last weekend in preparation for the 3 Peaks on Sunday. Usually tapering does my head right in, but this time for some reason I’ve been really enjoying having the evenings to sit down and relax, no pressure to get out for a ride either late at night or really early in the morning. I’ve started to feel like a normal, everyday Joe in fact.

The madness will return soon enough though – I need to keep my eye on the fact that I’m planning to ‘enjoy’ a full cyclocross season this winter, I’m racing in the pairs category of Dusk Til Dawn the weekend after next and I’m also hell-bent on racing solo in January’s Strathpuffer.

Back to the 3 Peaks though – it’s clear that whilst I’m perhaps more prepared than I was last time in that I now know what to expect, I’m not completely happy with my ability to scale steep slopes on foot whilst carrying a bike and it’s also clear that at least 2 friends, one of which is taking part for the first time, will more than likely display their natural talent on these sections as they have done in training. You’ve either got it or you haven’t.

The weather looks like it’s going to stay dry as it was last year. I can’t imagine how horrible a WET 3 Peaks must be. I’m sure Mr H will be along soon to share an anecdote though…!

I will be (hopefully, customs permitting) riding a NEW BIKE on Sunday. The new Ragley Cyclocross bike will arrive sometime this week in all it’s chocolate brown glory. Watch this space for world-exclusive build pics 😉 Assuming of course I can get mine built faster than Twinklydave builds his. Everything’s a race! I am (as I’m sure Dave is) really looking forward to racing on the new bikes in muddy fields this winter.

Isle of man end to end

I’m in a group of about 15 riders, hurtling along a flat road, chasing the leading pack who are also hurtling along at a hell of a rate towards the first climb (and offroad section) of the race. This is quite unusual. First of all, we are all riding mountain bikes, even though up until now this has very much felt like a road race. We’ve been riding for 12 miles with another mile to go and we’ve not yet ridden on any dirt. My Garmin says that my average speed is 23mph. Our group is desperately trying to keep the leading pack as close as possible, but they’re definitely pulling away. We’re all taking our turn on the front and luckily we all seem to be comfortable with riding in close formation and general road riding ‘etiquette’. For that authentic roadie effect, nobody is talking or communicating either, save for the occasional helpful hand gestures to indicate parked cars, potholes and emerging farts (perhaps).

The Isle of Man End to End is a very unusual event. Well, for the first 13 miles or so anyway.

The effect that this elongated ‘warm up’ on the road has on my overall position in the 1062 people that started is a long-lasting one. The lead group of perhaps 30-odd (fairly fast) riders are mostly too far ahead to be caught in the remaining 27 miles of offroad – while any attempt to catch the lead group whilst on the road results in being swallowed up and dumped to the back of the chasing pack so we are all content to keep motoring along like this and wait until the hills sort the men from the boys – whilst I wasn’t going to catch too many people I thought that if I could at least avoid being overtaken I’d finish in a ‘respectable’ time in a similar position to the one I was in at this stage….

The first climb was a bit of a brute. Starting on a narrow tarmac road and eventually following a broken rocky track to the top of the hill, the gradient seems to get ever steeper until many are off and pushing to the first of many false summits. At last I’m able to catch and pass a few other riders who have maybe overdone it at the start…

Once at the real summit, the trail winds down the hillside on a very rocky track that was brilliant fun but was so rocky I can’t say I had chance to look at the scenery much. Despite the rigid fork on the Ragley 29er I was keeping up with the bloke in front who was riding a Yeti full suspension thing anyway. Perhaps I was going to little bit too fast though as a rock flew up off my front wheel and belted my shin. I squealed like a girly. It was a big rock though.

Apart from chucking rocks at my legs the bike was great – I’m running my front 2.4” tyre at quite a low pressure so despite the rocky ride I was comfortable plus I was having no big problems with maintaining control or traction. It was also proving very handy to be able to just stand up and climb out of the saddle without the fork bobbing up and down.

More climbing followed, as did more downhills though forests, open moorland and muddy rutted fields. One climb in particular sticks in my mind for being an utter swine – steep, narrow, rutted and rocky. A real leg-burner and a delicate balancing act between smooth pedalling and maintaining traction (loads of standing up until the back wheel starts to slip then sitting back down again quick, in other words).

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The final descent towards Port Erin in the south of the island (and where we were staying) through a series of fields was followed by a shortish road section with a big CLIMB to the finish line. How nice. 

I finished in 3:18 in 27th place. Pleased to have beaten my 3.5 hours target but a bit frustrated that I couldn’t move even further up the final placings. Next year I’ll hang onto that lead group somehow 😉