Monday, 28 November 2011

TLI Cyclocross National Champs

The previous weeks races have seen varied fortune on the results sheets, from a 7th to a 25th, but I definately feel like the relentless training is starting to pay off as I creep up a few places every week or manage to hold wheels which had ridden away from me at the start of the season.

The TLI national champs took place at Gateshead International Stadium, only 15 minutes down the road from my house.

The course was top quality ... the howling wind was doing its best to tear down the course markers as the under 12's battled round a shorter version but to the testament to the race organiser and those that helped put this event on the course was repaired as quick as mother nature tried to pull it down.

The course was very similar to previous editions of racing at this venue, running boards, off camber, short descent ... the new addition being a steep climb straight up to the highest point of the course .. just manageable in the big ring afforded by tufo tubs and very low pressures.

The start was along along a wide gravel track ... as always my start would best be described as lethargic as I watched the world ride past me till I woke up mid first lap and started to make a move up the field.

The races within a race started early on but I found as faster riders moved through the field I could grab their wheel and move up with them until I found myself battling for 7th spot with a decent gap behind but a similar decent gap up to the next rider ...

... a quick glance at my watch showed that I only had a couple of laps remaining ... coming up off the gravel road not far from the start finish the rear tub let go of what little pressure was in it and I had flatted.

As I began to walk back to the pit I wondered how much gap I had created back to the riders behind me so got back on course and started to run the rest of the lap back to the start/finish in the hope I could grab a wheel.

Fellow Cross Club rider Adam Cooke who I had only just managed to lap took his lap back and kindly offered me his bike but I knew I had lost the battle for a top 10 so let him finish out his race, close to the start/finish another Cross Club rider Neal Wesley overtook me .. in the pits I was kindly offered Alan Nixon's spare bike so I took off trying to make back a few places.

Not long into the final lap I misjudged a corner and managed to take out one of Alan's team mates ... bending his front mech in the process :( So I loaned out my loaner bike so the guy could finish his race .. I managed to wrestle the front mech into a workable position so set off on a bike 3 sizes too small for me to catch the guy up and give him back his bike.

I managed to return the damaged bike back to its owner on the long climb of the course then rode with him to the end making sure he took the position ahead of me.

All in an eventful race ... I felt good ... the racing was close ... a few weeks off now as I have a short holiday to Brussels with Grace .. but then racing will get busy over christmas with Boxing day cross race and the Macc supercross .. oh and a new bike is being built :)

All images courtesy of Ed Rollason Photography

Monday, 7 November 2011

Day of the Derailleur

So far this cross season courses have reflected the lack of bad weather we have had, firm and fast would be good descriptors for the courses up until last weekend.

Whickham, RD3 Neccl, changed all that … although the weather on the day was fair, no rain and mild, the fact the course sits nicely on a hillside and previous days of rain gave rise to the usual sticky mud that this course is known for.

The course itself was a great mix of a slippy long descent with switchback corners to try and negotiate … a long drag/run back up to the bmx track then even a section of wooded singletrack before a ride back to the pits and a slippy set of corners before starting the descent again.

What Whickham is really famous for is the course mix of sticky mud and sections of gravel which tears off mechs and hangers at will !!

Unfortunately the first victim of the day was Cross Club rider Rob Walker, snapping a rear mech on his practice lap so was resigned for the first time this season to the sidelines and took on the role of team heckler.

I managed to get a good start but a lead group formed ahead of me that I just couldn’t get across to… I need to work on this … Soon enough the race began to develop at a fast pace as the course started to take its toll quickly on bikes.

Quicker than I could reel riders back the course was tearing their bikes up … as the laps went by the lead group had been decimated by mechanicals and although I lost a few places later in the race I still found myself in 5th place at the end.

I would like to take this placing as a move forward in terms of fitness but in reality the field was thinned by the course devouring their bikes, I prospered on this occasion as the trusty Fuji held together although it had gathered its own weight again in mud during the race.

Photographs thanks to Grace and Jay

My weapon of choice

I feel a degree of loyalty to this machine as it was the main facilitator allowing me to get back out on a bike after breaking my knee cap … far easier than pushing a singlespeed gear everywhere and off roads where I could potter along at my own speed.

The bike is a loaner … gratefully sent to me by the kind folk at Evans Cycles just to get the Fuji name out and about.

The bike remained stock for a few months as I used it for riding and training but as racing loomed the itch to ‘spice’ it up set in and I finally started to lavish some time and money on it.

First to get replaced where the stock wheels, although clinchers are fine and good nothing beats cyclocross tubs when it comes to grip… I had a set of Zipp wheels mooching around the garage so after a friend, Rick Perry, gave them the once over and fettled any little cracks that had began to surface I had a local shop glue on a set of Tufo Cubus tubs tyres. The Cubus is an out and out mud tyre with great grip in the worst of conditions.

Once the wheels were set the brakes came next … a bargain find set of TRP Euro carbon canti’s where had when a shop misplaced the box and fittings … a set of Swiss stop yellow pads later and I had brakes that worked enough to be useful.

Drivetrain was changed as the bike had been used and abused by journos as a test bike before me so new chainrings, 46/36, and a new cassette, 12-28, were fitted along with a new chain.

My final finishing touch was to remove the not so mud friendly white bar tape and replace it with black … and for true US styling added the shotgun cartridge bar end plugs ..

So far the bike has had a few outings although with my fitness still lagging behind the bikes capability there has been no stand out races… I hope to remedy this by the new year if not before.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Broken :(

well cracked ... my knee cap that is ...

Been in cast for a little over a week now .. another week then back to the hospital to see what progress has been made.

Stupid fall whilst checking the route signage at the Black Mountains 3 Day ... really slow.. couldn't unclip ... knee to rock ... end results were a painful 20km back to the campsite, a bill to repair Sam from Singular's bike I was riding and a cracked knee cap.

Unsure what this means for the rest of the year but will definitely be trying to get riding as soon as possible :)

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Grenzstein Experience

" A Political border does not take into consideration the topography of the land which it crosses, the surface upon which it travels or the need of a rider to eat and drink" .. Paul Errington, 2011

I couldn't find a quote which summed up my feelings towards the 2011 Grenzstein Trophy course so I quoted myself ;)

The short story to this adventure is I went to Germany .. I started the event.. I rode 700km in 3.5 days .. I called it a day and came home.

For those that need more detail than that it went like this...

I flew out to Germany and met up with fellow Grenzstein rider and an American living in Germany ..Phil Fogg .. Phil is an awesome guy that even though we had never met went out of his way to help me out with this trip ... Huge thanks first of all to you Phil.. I can see many more adventures for us in the future .. also thanks to Phil's son Eric for helping with both the drive to the start and my lift from where my Grenzstein ride ended.

After the long drive up to the north of Germany to the start in Priwal we met with other riders at a pre race dinner ... we soon realised our 8 day time limit was going to be a stretch with most guys shooting for 10 days plus ... from the start we had our work cut out.

The next morning saw some group photos being shot on the beach before a 9am start ..we started on the beach with some pre race pics of the riders ...


later than we would have liked but we were at last underway and the relaxation of if I had forgotten anything now it was too late so why worry... myself and Phil seemed to be on the front of the pack ... the 2 singlespeed riders setting the tempo for the geared boys ..


until an error in GPS reading saw us back in the comfort of the middle of the pack.


The first few days of the Grenzstein we were told were pretty flat so plan of attack was to knock out some big miles.. sorry Europe...kilometre's in the first few days to take the pressure off when the course got hilly.

200km seemed a realistic target for the first day so that's what we went for.

The first few km's of day one were as expected ... nice wide gravel track with sections of sand to keep you on your toes but then we fired straight into singletrack ... an unexpected surprise .. the riding was good... the temperature was hot... happy days.

We rode mainly gravel and some tarmac but also got our first taste of the infamous Grenzstein Trophy tank plates... these concrete sectional plates laid to allow tanks to patrol the border... each section a few metres in length.. each plate punctuated with brick size holes which were orientated length ways on the flat and across on steep slopes... riding had to be done on the flat strips between these holes or a teeth rattling vibration would be produced.

One thing that was immediately apparent on this route was that opportunity to replensih food and water without going a way off route was limited... in fact as we were mainly reliant on a GPS route we had no idea if venturing off into nearby towns would bear fruit ... so when we could we stopped and stocked... this meant our first stop came at 140km when a small town bakery provided some welcome breads, cakes and drinks and a 10 minute time out from pedalling... the flatter nature of these initial days were tough on singlespeeders as we were having to turn a pretty high cadence to keep the few faster geared boys within touch.

After our late afternoon break we no longer had any riders in sight in front or behind so could settle into a more natural pace on the bikes... wasn't long before the 'flat' first day got a little hilly with a section of steep rolling hills within a forest which were a push up and then pedal as much as possible on the backside to allow you to gain the most amount of distance up the next climb... this went on for a few km's.

As the evening drew in we took dinner at a burger place... this is where my introduction to the drink Vita Malz was made... alcohol free beer of sorts... extra sugary and everything a rider needs after 12 hours plus of riding.

After burgers we made a final 7km section to a campground... 195km ridden... 5km short of the target but the opportunity of toilets etc was too good to pass up.
As we settled into the bivvi bags for the night the mosquito's descended ... I was using a head net but the noise of the little fellas buzzing around my face was keeping me awake... then as a light rain started I saw Phil get up dragging his sleeping set up off in the direction of the toilets... no more than 20 minutes later I set off in search of his hideout.

I circled the toilet block... confused to not find him in the warm shower block as that would of been my spot of choice... I shone my headtorch into the communal recreation room but couldn't see anything... as I opened the last door to try into the communal kitchen area I found Phil startled looking like he had just been busted :) ... good find by Phil and it at least allowed some sleep away from bugs and rain.

Day 2 was approached more business like... alarm at 4.30am.. we were packed and moving by 5.00am.


The riding in the morning featured alot of equestrian trail... this means sand.. lots of horrible dragging sand... there is no real technique other than to soft pedal through this stuff.. impossible on a singlespeed so these sections were torture.

Another ominous highlight of the morning was riding past the Gorleben salt mine... now used for storing toxic materials... the huge structure of the mine towering out from forest that surrounded it... guards with alsation dogs patrolled inside the high wire fence.. I was happy to pedal on passed this particular landmark.


Our early start had put us on the route in first place overtaking those that had decided to catch a few extra minutes of sleep that morning... as we pondered the logic of following the gps track through the middle of a corn field we were caught up by course record holder Rene ... he let us know of a spot for breakfast so 10km later after riding a total of 70km that morning we got to have some breakfast... Vita Malz and Schnitzel :)

Soon after breakfast and back on the trail Rene rode away from us leaving me and Phil again to ride our own tempo ... the track was severely overgrown in places with more than a fair share of nettles to keep myself and Phil yelping for a few kilometres.

The lack of opportunity for food and water was again proving a real difficulty to deal with... temperatures were pretty hot so drinking plenty was a necessity ... we must have passed through 6 villages with not only no sign of a shop but no sign of any people !!!
Eventually we spotted a women getting into her car and before I could react Phil was out the saddle sprinting and performed a highly dramatic skid alongside to emphasize our need for water :) Although in general a very reserved nation of people their willingness to assist never came into question and we were soon riding with full hydration packs and water bottles.

Mid afternoon we came to another confusing section of gps route forcing us through the centre of a copse with no obvious route on the road... at this point we met Gunnar the race organiser who himself was circling trying to figure out what the hell was going on with the course.

Our now group of 3 enjoyed the quiet roads and good weather... taking time out to grab a pizza by a canal.

By the time we hit 200km we had picked up another couple of riders, Edward and Stefan, and the search for a spot to bivvi started... 20km later we were down to a group of 4 riders and by the time we actually found a spot to sleep we had covered 230km. The bivvi spot however was superb ... located back off the road a local school had a sheltered walkway around the edge of the building and the trees and bushes at the front of the building meant we were out of sight to passers by ... a good opportunity to dry out some kit after the few showers we had had towards the end of the days riding but also break out the stove and have a hot drink ... little pleasures in life :)


The start of day 3 was the same deal as day 2 ... 4.30am alarm and away by 5am.

This time we were straight onto the tank plate ...


then off for a short while then back on for what was the longest straight I think I have ever ridden .. sure it was 3 or 4 km long.
Gunnar had warned us today was the start of the 'real' Grenzstein ... kicking off with the 1100m peak called the Brocken... we would pass through the Harz mountains that day and the hills would start.


We made the first 50 or so km pretty easy ... found a guesthouse for coffee and a coke..


after coffee we started the 7km ish climb from around 200m to 1100m ... the climb started nicely through woodland on gravel ... then onto tank plate ... a brief break from climbing on a rocky fireroad descent then back into it with the final 3km being a push up 20 % plus gradient tank plate... nearing the top the weather was raining hard and misty ... a mast appearing out of the mist signified the top..


I knew Gunnar was ahead but when I reached the top and circled the many little cafe's I couldn't locate his bike... guessing he didn't wanna stay up there long I descended off the top in pursuit.. the descent chilled me and it took a while before feeling came back into my hands... I rode pretty hard for an hour with no sign of Gunnar ahead of me on the trail.

I kept riding until I reached a section crossing gravel ... here tyre tracks were obvious and there was only one which must have been Rene's ... I decided to stop and wait for 10 minutes... then 20 minutes... then 30 minutes... when 40 minutes passed I switched on my phone to receive a message from Phil to let me know that he had met with Gunnar at the summit of the Brocken ... somehow I had missed them ... I waited getting Grace at home to try and track them down using the Spot trackers we carried... after an hour they showed up and we were back riding as a group again.


The weather continued to get worse after descending the Brocken and we were riding in pretty miserable rain, after 125 ish km ridden we reached a small town, Neuhof, the guys managed to locate a guesthouse... it was only 4pm in the afternoon so I wasn't keen to stop but was keen to eat so we stopped in for food... after a while it was clear that Phil and Gunnar were not keen to continue riding in the rain... as a Brit rain is our thing... we always have it so always ride in it... I toyed with the idea of continuing alone but knowing myself decided I would fair better in a group so stayed.

Gunnar suggested that night a possible alternative to the set course... some 300km shorter... I really wasn't keen to go down that road so was happy when it seemed this idea had gone and we were focused on getting this thing finished.

Unsurprisingly the next morning started at 4.30am .... riding out at 5am I felt a little more comfortable having had a shower the night before... the previous days I was struggling to find a comfy spot on my saddle.

With little messing the track dived straight into tank plate and then the rolling hill started and a pattern of roll down and push up emerged... the tank plate was too wet to really let your bike get shifting down it so the first 20km came pretty slowly... at the peak of a climb Gunnar stopped and suggested again the alternative route cutting 300km off the course... Phil was easy either way but I was committed to getting the event finished ( or so I thought).

Gunnar and Phil decided to take off and do an alternative route ... I was on my own.

The route soon got alot easier... climbs were rideable and rewarded with fast tarmac or gravel descents ... I was making good time... by 11am I had covered 70km and found a filling station... only the second one I had seen in 600km !! I stocked up well and what I couldn't fit on the bike I stuffed down my throat :)

I was feeling pretty positive... I continued to ride all the time doing the mental arithmatic... division is well utilised skill for any endurance rider we divide all the time... km's into days... laps into hours etc... anything to make the task ahead seem much smaller and manageable :)

The hills started to get pretty serious ... each gradient well over 20 % and resembling more a ski jump than a track you would want to ride on... the seriously steep up's were equally matched by the horrendously steep downs as I caressed brakes making fine adjustments as the combined weight of myself and a fully loaded bike tried to break free of the grip of a pair of brakes and send me at uncontrollable speed down the hill.





The course became unrelenting but worse than that it would continually route around villages... you would come close to a settlement ... but just before would veer off at right angles only coming back to the road you were on when you were passed the village... I was good for supplies but a little interaction with people would have been nice... I had been riding for 12 hours and not really seen anyone.

As the hours passed the doubts started to creep in... I had at least another 3 days of this riding ahead of me on my own ... I was in second place holding a consistent gap of 3 hours to Rene in front but to wait for riders to catch up for company would leave me without enough time to complete the course before my flight ... I had ridden 700km in 3.5 days achievement enough in itself and then I couldn't see the point anymore .. I had ridden a lonely 140km ... the fun had gone... my head had gone.. I sat on a roadside bench and ate a full bag of Haribo ... then I picked up the phone and text Grace to tell her I was quitting... then I called Phil who had made it home abandoning his alternative route for a ride.


I had ridden pretty well, I was well prepared, my legs were and still are the best they have ever been, yes I had a niggling painful knee but it would have held out.. in the end the body was more than willing but again the mind was weak...

I came away from another event with another event with another DNF to my name... I enjoyed some of what I experienced in Germany ... but more importantly I learned again that I am not designed to be alone... some can function in this manor with little or no human contact I am not like that... I really enjoyed riding with Phil and have no doubt if we had stayed together we would have made it to the finish ... we are already planning to get together for another trip as we both realise we share the same character trait of the need for company when we ride.

Moments after quitting I was ready to give up riding and look for something else in life to fulfill me... now I have a set of ground rules which I aim to follow to maximise my enjoyment of the sport and to make sure I can still challenge myself.

New bike frame is on the way and new challenges have been identified but now it will be Paul and Co. ... Solo multi day projects are not for me.. I will push out long non stop rides but when it comes to multi day riding I am open and honest with myself in saying I need company on the trail ... I am also lucky enough to have people that I want to go do these challenges with.

... I have just heard that for 2012 the Grenzstein Trophy route will be changed to take in more rideable tracks :)

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Grenzstein Trophy 2011

Bike packed.. bag packed... feeling pretty stressed..

The event starts this friday .. 800 miles to ride... got a schedule to ride too .. lets hope the legs and the mind decide to play ball and all goes well ...

Follow me here..

details of the event for all German speakers here... Grenzstein Trophy 2011

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Welsh Ride Thing 2011

Multi day mountain bike events usually involve marked race course and tents or even better hotels :)

The Welsh Ride Thing contained neither ... the event is best described by organiser Stuart Wright of Forest Freeride ...

"The WRT is a 3 day and perhaps more importantly 2 night ride through and around mid Wales. You'll be expected to be self sufficient, carrying everything you need and sleeping out in or under whatever you think best. It's not elitist, entry is open to anyone who wants to try it. All the money raised by the WRT goes to the Wales Air Ambulance charity"

The route .. well there isn't one... at least not one for all the follow. Part of the challenge of this event is in the route, Stuart provides a set of co ordinates, from which you have to get to a minimum number... the way in which you achieve this is upto you .. factor in you may need to resupply on food if you are riding light and you also may need to plan good areas to spend the night then devising a route takes some doing.

First stop on this adventure for me was Alpkit head office in Nottingham to pick up Nick and Ken but also to do a little last minute packing of my own... something the guys clearly weren't that bothered about as the big pile of gear to go in the van grew larger and larger .. Ken and Nick were taking kit options on their options :)

The friday night was spent quite luxuriously in an Alpkit 6 man tent on a plush Welsh campsite after dinner and drinks in the local pub joined by John 'Shaggy' Ross and partner Mel ... always good to see these guys.. Shaggy had already put 90 miles in on his bike that day with a planned 100 plus miles on the Cambrian Way the day after.

Saturday Morning, heavy rain which had started in the night hadn't relented.. a bus shelter was found so the guys could pack their bikes... and Nick could bleed his brake :) The plus side to their last minute packing was that by the time they had done the cafe was open so a full english breakfast could be consumed.

Arriving at Stuart's place the gathering of bike packers was growing.. familiar faces like Aidan Harding were about to chat too while the bike weighing comp took place... much to the amazement of the minimalist crown Nick from Alpkit took first prize.. a Ginsters Pasty !! result !!

The rain stopped signalling it was time to get underway ... our route saw us head in a direction less riders had chosen opting to tackle the check points anti clockwise ... this guaranteed us quiet trails as we would our way up the hillside ticking off the first checkpoint before starting the fast fireroad forest descent.. at this point I would just like to say that although I will call them checkpoints at each supplied co ordinate all you could hope to find was a standout natural or man made feature to photograph as evidence of you being there.

Into the next valley all that you could do was climb back out to the valley top .. we did this along an initially steep track with levelled out into a grassy undulating trail with great scenery toward another check point followed by another descent.

The further we rode that day the bigger the hills got ... the weather had luckily held all day ... the last climb of the day would see checkpoint 3 ticked off ... we eventually reached the checkpoint near a small lake but not after a long fire road climb followed by a rocky push followed by a push through the forest where we discovered a secret downhill track with a very intimidating 8 foot ladder drop .. we were well rewarded by the presence of a log cabin.. although it was locked there was a sufficiently sized porch area to shelter all 3 of us.. well almost.

After a broken nights sleep as an unruly tarp tried to escape all night we woke to rain ... our luck had ran out so nothing left but to face it .. we negotiating the maze of forest fire road trails and popped out onto the road at the bottom of the valley and true to form we had another climb .. steep tarmac this time which saw my first lot of pushing the bike on the trip ... we would have to descend and climb again before we would tick off our 4th checkpoint.

The 4th checkpoint was an out and back ride coming back to the road we had started on but another checkpoint only lay a few kilometres down the road.. followed by a bridleway descent then some quiet lanes to the first and only pub dinner of the trip ..

The rain had stopped so Ken made good use of the pub beer garden to get out his soggy down sleeping bag and dry and dry it.

After the pub the biggest climb of the trip lay in wait... Tarren Hendre at a around 640m was gonna be a ride and a push on the loaded up singlespeeds .. it started steep .. then was rideable... then was a push ... as we reached the summit of the climb the weather was awful. winds were high and visibility was low.

The upside to all the effort was the fantastic ridge line ride that we had to complete before reaching a suitable point to think about the nights bivi..

The ridge line was mostly rideable both up and down .. with the exception of a slight course correction which required a straight line through a copse.

The Sunday night was spent in a country park car park .. with about a billion midges... although we did have some good shelter.

Monday morning still didn't bring any better weather so it was on with the spare dry socks, make some breakfast on the ti stove and off up the first climb

The riding was just fantastic ... trails were great and the scenery was always inspiring... occasionally we had to do a little improvisation on the route when the trail wasn't obvious..

With a 12 midday finish and still 2 checkpoints to get Nick decided to let me and Ken go off alone and tackle a few remaining climbs ..

The last 2 checkpoints involved winding our way up to the top of the valley through a forest to pick them off then a fantastic descent back to Stuart's place where his wife Dee had made some amazing cakes ... coupled with tea a just reward for the effort of the previous days riding

Big thanks to event organiser, Stuart Wright, Forest Freeride ... I hope there will be many more.

Thanks also to Kenny and Nick from Alpkit for inviting me along ... credit to all images goes to Kenny and the route was the handiwork of Nick .

Monday, 2 May 2011

A sense of direction.

Cycling to the non cyclist is just riding a bike... to a cyclist its riding on the road riding, mountain biking, track racing, multi day epics, endurance racing etc etc .. in short its a diverse sport.

Just looking around my garage is evidence of the variety of riding just through the number of different bikes I 'need' to own.. a road bike, a winter road bike, a singlespeed mountain bike both 26" and 29" wheel, a cyclocross bike, a hack bike.. so if I had to define myself as a rider I would say I was a road, cyclocross, endurance racing bike packer with a love for endurance based events and short time trials.

This lack of clarity in my riding has often caused issue and seen me riding something I just didn't want to as I got caught up in the thinking that I needed to go and do something .. this was the case recently with my 'attempt' at the West Highland Way double .. I say attempt as the bike was packed, I was physically good, I was even near the start but no pedals were turned.

I had managed to convince myself that I wanted to ride the double.. I had kept the attempt under the radar.. I got well prepared and was physically ready but when I arrived at Milngavie and sat in the campsite I questioned my motives for being there.. would I enjoy the ride? would I return from it a better rider? why exactly was I there and for who ?? I couldn't answer any of these questions with any real conviction that would warrant the 35 hours plus alone in the saddle.. so I packed up and without a pedal being turned I came home.

Unsure of what had beaten me left me contemplating this situation for a few days... the duration of the ride was not an issue.. at Arrowhead I sat out there for 32 hours... I've previously ridden 270 miles in one sitting so the distance didn't deter me... I think I was beaten by the fact I was there on my own.. hardly the ends of the earth and no doubt there would be people on the trail but I had no desire to spend that time riding by myself and I think in this I have realised a key weakness that I guess I knew was there but didn't want to realise it as a sign that it could limit what I would like to achieve on a bike... this weakness is one I may go on to work through or one I may just accept and avoid these situations.

So from this non starting event I came away with some sense of clarity and furthermore direction ... I have always had a desire to compete but I can satisfy this as I have just done with a good cyclocross season... my desire to explore and be adventurous can be done so in the companionship of like minded souls or at mass start events where the knowledge that there are other people on the trail enduring the same experience in itself is comfort enough... this sense of direction leaves me even more motivated to do what I want to do and in a more prepared state for when I get there.

So what I was left with after not starting the WHW apart from an empty fuel tank in the van was time and good weather... so as not to waste either I made the most of what I had been gifted.

Friday saw one of the longest road rides I have ever done... The good road bike came out and with 4 other friends we took off onto the quiet country lanes to complete what was a very hilly 120 miles ... the simplicity was great... the weather was good so short sleeves and a gilet were all that were needed.. a pocketful of money meant extra food and drink was bought en route so pockets weren't bulging ... climbs were raced and descents were taken at full throttle... nothing makes you more alert than a cross wind on deep section rims on a 50mph descent... a fantastic day out.

Saturday gave me a chance to ride the bike that had been fully packed for the WHW... the Singular Swift I bought from Aidan Harding is an absolute joy to ride.. feels like you could just ride it forever.. Aidan pretty much did at last years Tour Divide. I rode from home out on the sustrans C2C route stopping in Consett to meet friend Martin ( the man responsible for all my treasured tattoos) .. from there we continued out on the waskerley way and after that stopped just overlooking Rookhope at a choice little bivi spot...

Dinner was made using the solid fuel ti stove 'walled' in for extra efficiency with a few stones.. the view was superb..

We were treated to a fantastic clear and star filled night.

In the morning we rode back to the waskerley way treating ourselves to a few latte's and a cooked sandwich before riding home... a great relaxed way to enjoy the bike.. I am sure me and Martin will get many more good trips in this summer and beyond.

Now after such a revealing weekend I am going to put training on hold for a few weeks and just ride when I want, run some, take Jay for some good long walks and get my business in order then it'll be time to go do the Grenzstein Trophy .. make some new friends and love the bike even more.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Cobbles, Cobbles, Cobbles... Tour of Flanders Sportive

Its taken me nearly a week to find the time to sit down and write this blog post...

After the madness of the Flanders weekend I came home to England to the best week of weather I can remember for a long time so every spare minute has been taken up with riding :)

The idea to go and ride the Tour of Flanders sportive had been brewing for a while.. work has an office in Brussels and one of the guys that worked there was a cyclist so the opportunity to organise some inter office training and combine it with a weekend of riding was not to be missed.

This was my first trip to Brussels and it didn't dissapoint ... it wasn't all waffles and frites as I had been lead to believe but the first few hours riding there after work on the thursday before the sportive gave a taste of the cobble and climbs to come.

The weather for the sportive was immense.. 25 plus degrees... 7am start from Bruge saw us roll out with hundreds of riders..

Without giving a blow by blow account of the ride the day was fantastic... for some reason I didn't figure on the long flat cobble sections that would have to be ridden.. make no mistake pro's make it look easy but cobbles are brutal and can only be tackled in the big ring and with best choice of line.. when in a bunch of riders you take the line you are given.

The sportive is race distance at 260km ... but you don't really get into the thick of the cobbled climbs until 170km in when you hit the Pattenberg.. then the Koppenberg... both 20% plus climbs and luckily the extra distance had thinned the field so myself and work colleague Bruno got to ride them .. unfortunately the other guys riding the 150km had to walk them due to traffic.

Rate this as probably one of the best days in a bike i've ever had.. the sun was out.. new bike was flying.. the course was amazing and the company was good.

Huge thanks to Bruno Stuyts, a work colleague, friend and all round good guy who helped out with all logistics even setting up free accommodation for a few nights.. hoping to get back to Belgium soon for more riding.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Whinlatter Challenge 2011

A few years back I rode the Whinlatter Challenge... I rode it singlespeed and fully rigid and I remember it being a pretty tough day on the bike... this time I turned up with suspension forks and gears and hoped it would be an easier day.

The event was as always well subscribed with well over 300 riders taking on the challenge of 2 laps totalling 30 miles .. lot of climbing and the reward being lots of switch backed descending that every good trail centre should have.

The start was crowded.. as always I assumed my crappy starting position well back off the front row, good chance to have a chat though and relax into the event.. I have such a varied calender of races and challenges this year and after a winter of cross racing I have eased up on the pressure of racing as there always is next week or next time if this one doesn't go your way.. with that attitude you don't waste energy worrying or placing yourself under undue pressure..

As the race started I got to work cutting my way up through the field.. a small comedy moment as I went well off line to do some overtaking but found myself on a mini pump track running parallel to the fireroad :( oops

The start climb brought back memories of Salzkammergut Trophy with an epic long climb to really try and thin the field which it did.. the pass wasn't flat out from the start and the climb did its work at restoring the natural order.

Fireroad climb flowed into switch backed singletrack climbing which gave into fireroad descending firing you into singletrack descending ... this was how it was for the whole course,, the climbs were plenty long enough to get into a rythmn but never steep enough I had to come out the 40t on the front.. years of singlespeeding have done their work in reducing my cadence to be able to push any gear :)

I was loving the course .. Loving the descending which is unnatural for me.. the Sanderson Breath was so much fun.. steel hardtails lap up this kind of flicky singletrack descending and I found myself looking for the lips to lift the bike off the floor or the slopes to nose wheelie down... probably not the most productive approach to racing but you gotta enjoy your riding.

After my nutritional error at Hit the North I put a few extra snacks in my pocket but 2 hours in found myself hungry and with nothing left to eat so I just settled in for a suffer till the end.. this is definately lesson learned and I will be stuffing my pockets with food from now on in.

I finished in 2 hours 43 minutes... 17th overall .. not the finest result and there is room for improvement but a good course, a good first race outing for the Sanderson and more lessons learned...

Thank you again to Ed Rollason for the images, great to meet you on Sunday Ed :)

Sunday, 6 March 2011

2011 Racing and Sanderson Bikes

New start for Shoestring Racing in 2011 with the arrival of a new frame sponsor.

Toward the end of 2010 I left Genesis with the decision to get back to a more rounded approach to my riding and racing.

2010 was by far the best year in terms of diversity of riding to date.. I snow raced.. I raced at altitude.. I did multi day bike packing.. I did one day marathon events.. but I really felt little desire to apply myself properly to my training so although I enjoyed every moment there was always a wonder of what might have been if I had had the fitness of years previous.

Towards the end of 2010 I decided to do some race prep by just getting as many races under my belt as possible.. It was late in the mtb season so that left cross.. and I went for it .. soaking up every opportunity to race in the cold and the mud and it was immense!! I got some decent results.. I placed well overall and for 2011/2012 I will be trying my hand at a few nationals .

With this new found enthusiasm to race and a seeming glimmer of some ability to ride the shorter races I have structured 2011 to be more short events with a few longer ones rather than the other way around.. I will take in as many National XC races in the Master cat.. will see at least one road race a week once the season gets underway.. will ride at least 2 12 hour races.. might even take in a team 24.. and when there is a break in the racing I will travel to ride or bike pack.. Its going to be a busy year but its the building blocks for the next cross season and then 2012.

To race with this intensity lots of riding needs to be done.. lots of time on the bike equals lots of wear and tear and therefore without bankrupting myself ( I near managed that last year) a sponsor or a few is always useful.

I wanted to continue my use of smaller brands as to date this has served me well allowing more personal relationships to be developed and everyone happy at what they get from the deal... with this is mind I was excited to be informed by Jason Miles that he had seen Sanderson Cycles were trying to find a team to sponsor.. a few emails later and although I wasn't a team I guess they could see some value in what I could offer the brand so Steve at Sanderson sent me a few boxes to get me started..

Unfortunately my bike set up skills are lacking so luckily Billy at Edinburgh Cycles in Newcastle was able to build them up.. and a fine job he did..

Firstly the Breath, Japanese double butted Cro-mo, this is my geared race machine.. i'm still playing with the set up but the 40/29 front ring set up is perfect and allows me to ride 99% of trails in the big ring for that extra mental lift :) Bars will be swapped out for flat bars and tyres will be Schwalbe.

Next is the Singlespeed Soloist.. I will never be without at least one singlespeed in the garage.. Once you have ridden one then the simplicity is something difficult to give up.. the same Cro-mo as the Breath the Soloist has a nice eccentric BB design which is adjusted with some nice looking gold lockrings.. Ritchey Dropouts as per the Breath are also a nice touch..

Now I have a bike for every occasion and already a boat load of race entries in.

Having spent last week in Fort William the Breath got a baptism of fire but straight away handled well and inspired so much confidence.. 2 weeks to Whinlatter Challenge and its first race outing :)

Next on the to do list is to finish a website which will hopefully expand on the ramblings of the blog allowing some third party input from riders I have alot of respect for and also news from the people kind enough to support my racing and riding.

Spring !!!!

I am pretty sure that spring is here... thats 3 rides now within the past week i've had to take gloves off and ride bare hands as my hands were too warm.. taking that as a sign that we are on the path to better weather, lighter nights and epic rides..

.. its a good news day :)

Monday, 14 February 2011

Doubling Up

With the cross season closing out I wanted to take full advantage of any remaining events left to race the cross bike before it gets hung up till probably September.. with this in mind I opted to do a back to back weekend of racing ... but not only double up on the racing but double up on the normal distance :)

Saturday would see Hit the North in Manchester.. Sunday the Super Enduro at Hetton Lyons.

Hit the North is a CX vs MTB 2 hour race organised by Jason Miles of JMC racing... the course was a mix of cross style riding but with mtb singletrack and technical descending thrown in... add a large field of riders (near 200) and you have yourself a fantastic event.

My Saturday started at 5:30am .. up for breakfast then out the door by 6am for the 2.5 hour drive to Manchester from Newcastle.. Ipod full of tunes in the car and some energy drink and life was good.

The weather started in the North East as wet and miserable but gradually got better as I headed West.. by the time I got to the race venue the conditions were mild and the sun was trying to come out... after signing on and catching up with friends I got changed and did a lap of the course... there were some fast flowing singletrack sections, rock gardens, hellish bike carries and even a stream crossing to contend with.. dull this course wasn't and it kept you on your toes the whole time.

At the startline I assumed my usually rubbish position of 4 or 5 rows back .. we started up a tarmac climb .. I picked off as many places as possible before the inevitable bottle neck and then the procession through the first singletrack... out onto the wider trail I was out the saddle sprinting to make up some lost ground before a dismount and carry up some steps.

My first off of the race came quickly heading down the 'chute' of mud.. as it kicked into a steeper drop I wiped out the front end and into the dirt.. straight back up into a climb. Into the fast flowing singletrack it wasn't long before I came across Rich Rothwell with a mechanical and not longer after that Ian Leitch with a nasty looking broken seatpost :(

As the first lap ended the order had been sorted seeing me back in the back half of the top 10 ... a few people around me constantly exchanging places.. the mountain bikers would drop me on the descents then I would take ground back on the flat and the climbs.. I was so focussed on the constant exchange of places we were 80 minutes into the race before I had taken any food or a great deal of water :(

By 90 minutes I was fading.. I had a gel and before it could kick in I dropped a few more places just clinging onto the top 10... the gel kicked in and it was 'Go' time... I retook 3 places and approaching another racer my high of the gel turned into a low and it was back into limp mode.

By the start of the 6th lap I was fading.. luckily the nearest racer to me was also and an agreement was made that if I didn't turn the last lap into a head kicking competition he would concede the place... sensing no further need for survival my body really gave in and I struggled round the last night driven by the thought of finishline snacks.

6 laps in 2 hours and a 10th overall..

I think I could have finished nearer the top 5 but I learn't the lesson of nutrition the hard way after a fair few months of 50 minute races needing no food or water.

Sunday was an easier start to the day with the event being local and already having driven 300 plus miles to Manchester and back the previous day.

The Super Enduro is a cross race to see out the end of the local TLI cross races.. a one off non league event there was no pressure.. the legs definately felt jaded after the combo of the previous days racing and driving so expectations were low.

Unfortunately the field of riders was low with the extra distance to be covered and the rubbish wet weather only bringing out 20 riders or so to start the race.

The race started down a stretch of tarmac into the wind and it wasn't long before I realised that my position at the front of the field was one of a windbreak for everyone else so I eased up and rolled onto the first dirt of the course.. Unlike Hit the North this was more a true CX cross.. no need to dismount and nothing too technical.. a horrible long drag to the top of the course being the worst section and a dicey straight muddy descent into a sharp left hander being the highest risk manouevre of the course.

Very early on in the first lap I had to watch Steven Ward ride comfortably away into the lead... I then similarly had to watch 2nd and 3rd spot leave me fighting for 4th.. there was no snap in my legs so I had to look to play the longer game.. I was caught up with 2 other riders in the battle for 4th.. every chance I got I put in a little dig just to test the other guys.

As the hour mark passed I took on a gel and took the lead to our group of three riders.. on a sharp short climb I pulled out a few metres so decided it was a good time to get going if i could.. I pushed on the pedals a bit harder into a flat section then as I got out of the saddle for another short climb I felt my bars shift.. as I looked down my bars had bent.. I stopped and as i took hold of the bars they snapped :( disappointed that my race was over was being balanced by relief that they had gone on a climb and not a descent.. the race was over.. as it was Steven Ward won comfortably lapping the whole field!!

Thats the cross season done and dusted for good.. this week should see the arrival of my new sponsor mountain bike frame for 2011.. pictures as soon as it gets here :)

HTN pictures courtesy of Ed Rollason