Ride with Brad Sportive

Another Sunday. Another 5am start. I’ve come to the conclusion that having a lie-in on a Sunday morning is a complete myth, or it’s something that only teenagers do.
I arrived in Barnoldswick early for the Ride With Brad Sportive to 1) Buy tickets for a ‘photo with Brad’ (for the kids mainly, honest) and 2) To meet up with Dave and get an early start to avoid congestion – it was going to be a busy ride with a rumoured 2000 people taking part. The photos with Brad idea was abandoned by the organisers, unfortunately. Something to do with Bradley wanting to ride his bike instead or something.
After a quick chat with Brant, Ali and Emma at the start line queue while listening to some strange questions Brad was being asked on the stage, I waited for Dave to arrive and get signed in. We set off a few groups and half an hour or so from the front. We did the usual ‘sportive thing’ from that point on really. Tapped along at a nice speed, joined the odd larger group here and there, had a chat, looked at scenery, watched as others ‘attacked’ on climbs, chatted a bit more….it was a nice day out. It wasn’t even raining yet.
The big difference this time though were the large crowds of people in every town and on the top of the bigger hills, cheering, waving and clapping. No doubt they were all waiting for Wiggo to make an appearance but for now, we were the warm-up act. The cheering was truly the best thing about the whole event; It’s amazing how much easier a climb can be when you’ve got a crowd of onlookers shouting encouragement and I’ll miss the noise and flag-waving for at least my next couple of training rides.
Caught up with Brant, Ali and Emma. Had the briefest of conversations and before long we were at the foot of the first timed climb. “Electronically-timed section, Dave. Prizes. Get on with it. Wait for me at the top.”. And he was off up the hill like a scalded cat. Eventually I arrived at the summit of the big hill where Dave was waiting patiently and we carried on – until the next timed climb and he was off again. I eventually arrived at the summit and we carried on.
That was pretty much it – big Lancashire hills, nice weather that eventually and somewhat inevitably turned to rain, a short stop at a feed station and eventually we arrived at the finish just over 6 hours and 101 miles after we set off in a satisfying 26th and 27th place.
The cheering crowds at the finish line were huge, every rider being cheered as they crossed the line and each one of the spectators standing for hours in the rain to catch a glimpse of Bradley Wiggins who eventually rode across the finish line to rapturous applause.

The rough and the smooth

Following on from the less-than-successful-but-very-nice-to-have-a-laugh-with-my-mates weekened of SITS, it seems that the mediocre showings at races have continued. In the last week, I’ve rolled up to the start of another two races, the first of which was a local cross country MTB race. The ‘Midweek Madness’ series is six races-long and takes place in various locations within a 10 mile radius of my house.

Despite the location, I made my series debut on Thursday in race 6 (of 6, remember). Dave drove to mine and we rode the 4 miles or so via some urban singletrack parallel with the M60 to the start.

I snapped my chain on lap 1. I had to wait until most of the pack had ridden past before I could retrieve my chain to repair it, as everyone was riding over it. Mended the chain. Consoled myself with the fact that I could probably catch quite a lot of people up and it was a lovely summer’s evening.

Rode another lap. Overtook loads of people. Starting to find my rhythm again.

I’ve been experimenting with some tubular MTB tyres after PlanetX sent me some gorgeous Clydesdale carbon wheels with my new cross bike. The wheels had been fine for a couple of weeks prior to this race – they’re really stiff and light, a noticeable difference over my usual (and already silly-light) tubeless clinchers –  but on lap 3, I pushed the front wheel hard into a bend and WHUMP the tyre came flying off the rim. Completely off. I’d attached them with ‘tub tape’ instead of glue and it’s safe to say I won’t be recommending the sticky tape method to anyone in the future…always use glue kids.

In contrast, Dave did really well.

Once I’d finished my short flight and then picked myself up off the ground I started the walk back to the start/finish area. That in itself was an adventure when a local kid rolled up on his scooter to ask me how much my bike was, how many gears it’s got and even offered to carry my front wheel back for me. Naturally I didn’t take him up on his kind offer.

I was then followed by a surprisingly fast-walking drunk, recounting his tall tales of derring-do on his bike around Cheetham Hill.

In spite of chains, drunks, thieving little gits and rolling tubs, the most exciting part of the evening was riding home on the road with a front tyre held on the rim with nothing more than some spit and a load of air pressure.

So that was my XC race.

So I went to a road race a few days after that, a 60K race on the Dolphinholme road circuit near Lancaster.

For whatever reason, I was regularly finding myself at the back of the pack, the changes in pace catching me out and forcing me to bury myself repeatedly to stay in touch. Then I got a puncture and put a hole in my rear road tubular (there’s a theme here) that was too large for the sealant inside. So I rode 6 miles on a flat and recorded yet another DNF.

an unhappy bunny

In contrast, Dave did really well.

Erm…onwards and upwards then. Putting the last couple of weeks behind me, I’ll be concentrating on the ‘big stuff’ starting to appear on my horizon – the 3 Peaks Cyclocross at the end of September and Relentless 24 the week after that. There are a few epic rides and all sorts of races before then (both on wheels and on foot) and once again it’ll be a lot of fun trying to train specifically for a mountainous cyclocross race and a 24 hour solo mountain bike race at the same time.

Sleepless in the Saddle 2012

It all started so well. Dave and I had entered SITS in the pairs category – it’s pretty safe to say that neither of us would entertain the idea of riding solo at Catton ever again but having a rest after every fast lap seemed like an idea compromise. If our previous antics in the world of 24 hour pairs racing was any kind of benchmark, we should do pretty well.

The race started with Dave charging through the run and finishing his first lap in around 4th position. He came tearing into the changeover with a large grin on his face, gleefully proclaiming that the course was “nice and fast”. Ace. Here we go.

He was right. Carving around corners, swooping along tree-lined narrow singletrack, stomping up the short climbs, big-ringing the fireroad sections, I returned to hand over to Dave absolutely buzzing. I was probably going a little bit too fast and putting a bit too much effort in for my own good, but this was brilliant fun and I was more than prepared to bury myself for 40 minutes, have a nice cup of tea and a sit down and then repeat.

Another changeover. Another lap. Faster, smoother this time, the various bends and nuances of the course being logged and committed to memory, less effort needed to get around the lap in the same amount of time.

We were in the lead and after just three laps we’d gained a 5 minute gap. We were hammering this race.

Wind was picking up. Ignore it. It’s going to stay dry.

Dave came back in, still grinning. I set off on another lap. Faster still. This was starting to pan out like Gisburn. Maybe we should race in the pairs more often. A wasp flew into my half-unzipped jersey and stung me twice on the shoulder. Had a bit of an arm-waving fit but kept riding. Handed over to Dave, got back to the tent for a cuppa and a sit down…….and it started to rain. Hard.

In hushed tones (and emails) before the race, we’d pretty much decided that if it rained, the beer would come out and we’d sack it off. That sounds like a terrible way to approach a race in which we had a sponsored entry, but having had the Damp Catton Park Experience many times in years gone by we both knew that once it’s rained it’s always a thoroughly unpleasant experience. While it rains it’s super-slippery and once it’s stopped raining, the trails become claggy and sticky. It’s not racing, it’s spirit-sapping, abject misery.

Dave came back to the changeover. Peering over mud-splattered and misted-up glasses, the grin had gone. Grimly, I set off on my lap. The rain started to hammer down. The course was starting to become waterlogged and I was soon coated in wet mud. Walked a couple of off-camber sections but on the whole, the lap wasn’t too bad. The race was effectively over from that point on though. Now the event was a test of who was prepared to tough it out and who would be prepared to spend the next 18 hours or so dragging a mud-encrusted bike around the course.

Not us. Life’s too short. We’d already decided that if we packed up and went home now, we’d each be able to have a good night’s sleep at home and then have all day on Sunday to do something more rewarding. Such as RIDING a bike. Or not being grumpy.

Dave rode one more lap, we handed over and I rode about 200 yards of a lap before climbing over the fence back into the campsite – the sight of other riders either walking with their bikes or sliding down the first hill on their backsides just brought back all the memories of SITS past. Despite both having a full compliment of mud tyres and even narrow cyclocross tyres, neither of us were in any hurry to fit them to the bikes and crack on with the misery. Not again. Time to go home.

(no idea what happened to the results either – looks like a few of our laps have been combined! oh well)