The Rivington 100

Ill. Snot. Sore throat. No exercise. Grumpy.

That was last week. Probably a result of the week before, when I did very little as I’d just won a 24 hour race.

This always happens. A period of training and a peak in form followed by a mad race followed by a big, crashing impact with the earth.

Bah.

On Saturday I decided not to race in the Rapha Supercross, which was pretty disappointing because it looked like it was ace (and I’d already paid). An hour of flat-out effort would probably have done more harm than good though and put me out of action for even longer. I can do ‘sensible’ sometimes, y’see.

I was going to ride the Polocini Rivington 100 sportive the day after though, come what may. The weather for once was blooming lovely, Allen’s events are always top-drawer and Team JMC were sponsoring a feed station (I had all the cake in the van) as well as having several riders taking part so I was determined to drag myself out of the house for this one.

An early start to drop the feed station gubbins off in the van halfway around the route blew the cobwebs away and luckily I made it back to Horwich just in time to get changed, sign in and eat some porridge before the start…

I was planning to ride quite slowly – I didn’t want to make my cold worse and I’d not ridden a bike for two weeks but the pace in the first few miles told me that this was going to be a tough day out…

Leading out the ride, the Team JMC train rumbled through the town centre, took the road to Rivington and hit the hilly stuff. The weather meanwhile had gone from “a bit grey and foggy” to “wow look at how blue the sky is!”.

photo: Cyclesportphotos

The whole time, I coughed, blew my nose, wheezed and generally sounded like a 40-a-day smoker, then I started to lose my voice. I worried that this big bike ride lark might not have been a good idea….

When we eventually arrived at the Team JMC feed station in Dunsop Bridge, I attempted to cure my sore throat by eating one of the chocolate orange and chilli cookies that Budge’s daughter Charlotte had donated.

I realised my big mistake when my already-sore throat started to burn like it’s never burned before…. I’m doing daft stuff so you don’t have to, dear readers.

Five hilly, sunshiney hours later we arrived back where we started and were each handed a complimentary tray of biryani (yes – CURRY at the finish).

The best bit is that despite my sore throat, coughing, runny nose and near-total loss of my voice, a few hours later my cold seemed to just disappear. That might be the medicinal properties of curry….

 

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Relentless 24 2012

Everyone probably thought that Dave and me weren’t really trying, or even that we couldn’t be bothered. Admittedly, two 24 hour soloists spending the entire race riding around the course, side by side, sometimes chatting, sometimes not, while extending their lead over the rest of the chasing pack was a bit unusual but we were getting away with it mainly because we weren’t actually going slowly at all, despite our outwardly relaxed appearance.

The mental struggles one goes through in a 24 hour solo didn’t really have chance to materialise and take hold for any length of time either. No downward spiral of despair, no dark and dismal moods at 3am, no overpowering thoughts of metaphorical mountains to climb.

Just two mates out for a (very) long bike ride. A very long, fast, bike ride. At times, we indulged in a fair amount of ‘Gentlemen’s Racing’….

“After you.”.

“No, after you.”.

“My dear boy, I must insist. After YOU”.

We had a few cups of tea and ‘proper’ warm food in between some of our 25 laps, lovingly prepared by Debbie and Angela who themselves were spending an uncomfortable 24 hours in a freezing cold pit gazebo.

While tapping out laps, we nattered about plans for crazily-long rides we’ll be doing in the near future. We moaned about our combined collection of snotty noses and 3 Peaks Cyclocross-induced bumps, scrapes, sore knees and general fatigue. We rode some bits fast, we rode some bits not so fast.

We enjoyed the tricky sections of the course and (eventually) hated the near-vertical climb with the cobbledy bit at the bottom.

All the time there was the unanswered question about what we’d do at the end. We were both racing in different age categories but there was still the all-important overall win that needed to be taken by someone.

To be quite honest, me and Dave weren’t really that bothered – the category system would mean we’d be on two separate podiums anyway but the race organisers, our friends and partners and probably a large portion of everyone else there were asking, “what’s going to happen to decide the overall win?”. Would there be a mad sprint in the last 100 metres? Would there be a mechanical or a puncture that would decide it? Would one of them attack the other on the last climb?

All of those things would have been fun, but the outcome was much less exciting. With only two hours of the race to go, we both had a five lap lead over our nearest challengers. We called it a day right there and then, recorded exactly the same time (and therefore were equal first place overall) and each claimed the top prize of entries to the World 24 Hour Solo Championships in Canberra next year.

We’ll probably never race “in formation” ever again and I fully expect friendly hostilities to be resumed at the start of the next race we’re both involved in but as a one-off it was good fun and hopefully others will consider it a cool story.

Meanwhile, Team JMC team mates Andy and Budge had been battling away in a proper close race in the pairs and eventually won the vets pairs category. In other words, every category a Team JMC rider entered, they won.

As for the World’s in Australia – it’s a long, long way away from Manchester. Will either of us actually be able to go? Who knows. It would be nice but there’s much to weigh up.

Whatever happens, Relentless 24 was once again a brilliant event in a spectacular setting. The course was superb, the organisation was as slick as ever and the prizes were once again very generous 😉

If you only do one 24 hour race a year, you really should give this one a go.

The last buzz-cut of the year

It’s been an up and down year for UK 24 hour racing. Well, for 24 hour races I’ve been a part of anyway. Going waaay back to January, the Strathpuffer was as ace as ever – unseasonably warm conditions (we’re talking relatively warm here) and I did okish. I dropped out of the race for a few hours with an injured back but then pulled my shit together and rode a few more laps to take the singlespeed win, something like 4th overall, on a brand new Scandal that Brant personally delivered a few days before. Won a voucher and bought some bib longs with it.

Enjoyed watching Phil win.

The UK 12 Hour Champs wasn’t a bad race – it rained a bit but the Newcastleton course was excellent, I had the opportunity to catch up with friendly faces galore but I was full of snot and as a result my performance was pretty crap. Enjoyed watching Dave win the 12 hour European title in dramatic fashion.

The 24 Hour World champs in Italy was probably my best-prepared, well-paced and efficiently-executed performance of any 24 hour race I’d taken part in so far. Despite being completely outclassed by the winner, I’d ridden to second place in a race that comprised some of the best endurance cyclists in the world and even if I never achieve anything as good as that again, somehow that’s fine by me.

Watching Phil and Dave also finish in the top ten in the same race gave us all something to celebrate after months of preparation. We WILL race the Worlds again.

Mountain Mayhem was caught in the middle of the 2012 summer that never began – the mud was the worst in living memory. What should quite rightly be the pinnacle of UK 24 Hour racing was reduced to a comedy slither or grind around a destroyed course for the few that carried on; often the only respite from the spirit-sapping ‘non-race’ was to drop out completely. I had fun – my race saved by Brant offering me a lifeline of a hilarious and surprisingly effective stunt ride aboard a prototype fat bike….

Sleepless in the Saddle suffered the same fate as Mayhem. As soon as it rained most people with any previous experience of that course dropped out. Dave and I (racing in the pairs) dropped out, went home and went for a road ride.

The summer and the 24 hour racing ‘season’ ends this weekend with Relentless 24 in Fort William, Scotland. The race I won last year that gave me the entry to the World’s in Italy and one of the friendliest events with one of the best courses in the country.

The weather forecast, for once, looks like it’s going to be ok, or at least ok-ish. The Fort William “Witches Trail” course is rock-solid anyway and remained completely rideable last year despite it raining constantly throughout the race. I feel ok – perhaps not quite as lean and conditioned as I was when I raced the Worlds back in May but I’ll get round ok and I’m certainly well-motivated.

Dave’s also racing solo and Budge is in the pairs with Andy so as well as our support crew – Debbie and Angela – we’ll have a good laugh, race hard and we’ll erase some memories of the grimy old summer of 2012…..

 

photo: Privateer

3 Peaks Cyclocross 2012

Outwardly, it’s very rare that I look like I’m enjoying myself in a bike race. The mixture of effort, suffering and concentration doesn’t leave much room for smiling and chuckles and at times I suppose I look like a bulldog chewing a wasp. I don’t care though, it’s not as though I’m trying to be attractive or photogenic, I’m just trying to get things over and done with as quickly as possible without buggering everything up, getting beaten by loads of people or hurling myself into the ground (and then getting beaten by loads of people).

The howling winds, heavy rain, waterlogged conditions and general grim-ness of the 50th 3 Peaks Cyclocross brought out some of my finest-ever expressions of dark suffering. Of the five 3 Peaks races I’ve taken part in, this was by far the hardest and according to organiser John Rawnsley was the ‘worst conditions for 30 years’. It was pretty bad. Despite appearances though, I loved each and every grimy, wet and painful second of it….

The day started with me being dropped off in nearby Austwick so that I could meander along the road to the start, get signed on and lined up while Deb headed off in the opposite direction in the car with my spare bike to wait at Cold Cotes, the end of the first peak, Ingleborough.

I was riding an On-One Dirty Disco this year, much lighter and more capable than the bikes I‘ve used in the past in this race but I had the reassurance of my Planet X ‘cross bike available at the foot of each of the three descents in case something went wrong…

My meander to the start became a bit of a mad sprint as the thirty minutes or so I had to ride two miles was eaten up by fiddling with my suddenly-problematic front mech at the side of the road.

Drama behind me I said hellos and howdos to friends I only ever see at bike races and lined up. Plonking myself nearer to the front than I normally do (after some advice a few months ago from a wise man) I waited for the race to start. It wasn’t raining yet. I got ready for a good start.

I had an atrocious start. My usual self-preservation instincts kicking in again I backed off to avoid a crash while others charged forward and lost about a hundred places in about 4 seconds. I spent the remainder of the ridiculously-fast ‘neutral start’ fighting my way back up the field, the amount of space I was enjoying was increasing bit by bit with every rider I overtook. I caught up with Phil, who’d managed to stay reasonably near the front, about a hundred metres from the first offroad section that effectively signals the start of the gruelling ascent of Simon Fell.

It was wet. There was a massive lake in the middle of the farmers field that wasn’t there last year. The rider in front of me rode into what looked like a puddle, saw the water reach his saddle and promptly fell off. I don’t think he was too appreciative of my giggling.

I felt sorry for the riders way back who would encounter worse conditions under wheel (and foot) than this once it’d been churned up.

asleep? singing a song?

photo: Sportsunday

Once the muddy slog was over with, the climb up the fell began – just as insanely steep as I remembered it but with the added bonus of being wet and slippery too. My toe studs were digging into the wet hillside but I was worried about those ahead of me falling down onto my head. Ok, I always worry about that. But this time I was even more worried.

Anyway, I was glad to reach the top. The top, where it’s really exposed and WINDY.

The Wind! It was howling up there and for the first time the conditions went from ‘bloody hell’ to ‘God help us’. Pushing the bike along, remounting when possible, the line of riders reached the stile and carried on towards the summit. I noticed how quickly I was able to get over the stile as a direct result of getting closer to the front on the road and not having to queue….

This was utterly magnificent. After what seemed like a whole summer of drizzle, miserable skies and repeated races that turned into mud-fests, I felt like I was finally alive, willing the elements to do their worst.

The descent of Ingleborough, as usual, was incident-free. Some comedy high-speed crashes had to be avoided but nothing too bad. Everyone was looking forward to the tailwind in store along the road to Whernside. That was a big one and a nice turbo-boost along the road….but it was assistance that everyone was enjoying so I made sure I was still putting out a proper effort and was glad I’d fitted a 50 tooth big ring.

Then the cramp arrived. I think I might have been pushing a bigger gear than I should have on the Ingleborough plateau and one of my calves was rebelling. I downed half of my electrolye drink. It did nothing and the spasms kept coming. This was a bit early in a race for this kind of nonsense but I stretched it as best I could and gingerly rode to Whernside, every surge of power being rewarded with another muscular grumble.

The climb of Whernside is my favourite part of the 3 Peaks and is the reason I was so keen to get closer to the sharp end of the race this time. Back where I normally find myself, the narrow stone steps are often crowded and in wet conditions the opportunities to overtake by going ‘off-piste’ are severely limited. This time though, the place seemed almost empty. With luxurious amount of room and the fact that I wasn’t cramping while on my feet, I trotted up the hill and took a few places in the process. It started to rain. I was exposed to the wind again, but it was mostly behind me and I was enjoying it again.

Reached the summit in pretty good shape and started to ride down the other side….

photo: Ed Rollason 

No messing about dismounting, I rode the stone steps near the top as usual and was clearing the large drainage channels without any problem at all. until I crashed, that is. For some reason I was fazed by one of the larger gaps in the stonework and braked. I realised my mistake about one second later as I pulled myself out of the deep and water-filled bog, my knee smashing into the stone slab my front wheel had just slipped on. That was painful. Properly painful. I felt sick. I stopped for a minute or two, waiting for the pain to subside. It didn’t. I started to run down the steps but that just made the pain worse – my ‘trump card’ of being able to run well was, for the time being at least, in tatters. I remounted the bike and tried to put the crash behind me and rode down as much as I could.

Thankfully, I made it to Ribblehead without losing too much time despite the excitement of the previous few minutes and also the comedy knee-deep raging torrent of water (where once there was a little water splash). More cheering crowds, including Debbie waiting with the spare bike in case I needed it. Back on the road. The return of the cramp. Into a headwind now and starting to feel pretty bashed up (because I was pretty bashed up). My knee was still more painful than it should have been for a crash that happened twenty minutes ago but I got my head down, chucked my Clif Double Shot gel down my neck (never leave home without a Turbo gel, folks) and battled the wind.

The comedy soon returned as the ‘puddle’ near the start of the offroad climb of Pen Y Ghent submerged all those who rode through it. It was ages before I saw the race leaders pass me on their way from the summit to the finish so I assumed that meant I was doing ok and chipped away at the hill.

The final few hundred metres to the checkpoint at the summit was ridiculously windy. I stretched out my arm with the electronic chip around my wrist and finally started my final ascent. The ordeal not quite over. The first part of the PYG descent involved riding with the company of a pretty powerful cross-wind so I grimaced and ran quite a lot until I reached the paved, but still steep, lower part of the hill. My  brake pads were pretty worn by now but the bike was, as it had been all day, eating downhills for breakfast.

photo: Cycling Weekly

I tailed another rider all the way down, he was really shifting and was happy to shout at spectators and walkers on the path all the way down to buy himself room – he upset a few people I think but it was getting us down and to the road in double-quick time. We worked together on the road to the finish as he was pretty exhausted and my cramp had now spread to my left thigh. This had to end and end right now….

Thankfully it did. My finish time of 4 hours and 3 minutes was exactly the same time I achieved last year (when it was much nicer weather) and I crossed the line in 54th place. Grinning. In pain. I’d been through the mill, in fact I felt like I’d punched a hole in it and rode out of the other side.

There’s no other race that I’ll ever do where I’d be happy with 54th, but the 3 Peaks is different. In fact, the improvement over last year’s race has got me thinking…what if I actually, properly trained for the 3 Peaks?

Next year, I’ll be praying for rain and high winds….