The Three Peaks Cyclocross. A game of three thirds.

photo thanks to Scott Weston

photo thanks to Scott Weston

Anxious to avoid a repetition of last year where I basically did too much, this year I decided to give the summer cross a miss (mostly) and fix  upon a limited number of goals. The first date in my diary is the Derby National Trophy, so clearly that hasn’t happened yet. Conspicuously, the Three Peaks was absent from my goal list this year, although I still entered it because, well, that’s what you do on the last Sunday in September isn’t it?

I’ve not ignored training for the ‘peaks. I knew when it was in the diary, but kept its unique requirements to the back of my mind. I’ve trained for the cross season, and an early showing at Northallerton showed some promise if things keep going in that direction. I’ve kept running over the summer. But, aside from one big day out on the cross bike up to the foot of Blea moor and a run up Whernside in late August, I’ve not done the stuff you really need to do. Good 4-5 hour off road rides over hills on a cross bike. Carrying the bike up steep steps. Partly through ambivalence, partly through my training being largely done on the commute to work. I’m not complaining, I feel pretty good for the coming cross season, but there was always going to be a price to be paid come the end of September, at the foot of Ingleborough.

There are three aspects to a good three peaks ride. General fitness, three peaks fitness and mental strength. I had the first but lacked the second two. Having not given sufficient consideration to the race, I wasn’t ready to meet the challenge that it brings  – and suffered hugely for it.

photo thanks to Scott Weston

photo thanks to Scott Weston

Good bits.

I had a good start. Well positioned after the regulation amount of jostling. It was quite a fast start behind the car. I was well up towards the front, so there were fewer people to get caught behind if there was a crash. Also, it wasn’t as nervous. I managed to get on Doug Hart’s wheel (Ilkley CC). He  is the same size and has roughly the same power output as Stijn Vandenberg, which was handy. Like being motorpaced  by an outside privy.

I was not totally knackered by the time we headed up to the Farm at Gill Garth. As I result, I didn’t lose many places up to the bottom of Simon Fell. Apart from the excruciating pain in my calves going up Simon Fell, I wasn’t noticeably slower that those around me going up to the top of Ingleborough.

The climbs up Whernside and Pen-y-Gent weren’t too bad. By that I mean that I didn’t lose too many places. A few, but at least there weren’t swarms of people confidently storming past me up the steep steps of Whernside. Also, the rideable parts of Pen-y-Gent were ok. Not brilliant, but I was pacing myself pretty well. I did get the sense though, that there were quite a few people breathing down my neck at this point.

photo thanks to Scott Weston

photo thanks to Scott Weston

Bad Bits

I wasn’t ready for it, or up for it.

This meant that :-

I came down off Ingleborough like a bag of washing. I don’t know whether I had no appetite for it or I’m getting scared in my old age, but I didn’t have great flow.

When I got onto the road at Cold Coates  I was fine, but on the road to Chapel le Dale, I let the wheel of the rider in front go. I could have held it for a bit more effort and stayed with that group of about 4 riders  to the rise, but I didn’t have it in me. As a consequence, I probably lost a few minutes. And my chin went down a bit. It’s not that I wasn’t trying, but I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was just getting  ‘round.

There was no flow to the descent off Whernside either. It wasn’t a bad descent. I didn’t have an off and I was only running with the bike three times, but the lack of preparation for riding on slabs, bog and rocky paths really told and it felt awkward. There was also a marshall at the stile who was preventing people using a faster route  down a boggy bank, which put me in a bad mood.

The road section from Ribblehead to Horton is also best forgotten. Again, I lost the group of riders I was with. Again, it was lack of willpower rather than lack of firepower. I soloed to Pen –y- Gent lane and felt ok going up. The descent was generally alright. I found the narrow path above the upper footpath. The steep section off the top path seemed steeper and gravellier than usual so  whilst not exactly tentative, I was not 100% committed as in previous years. Maybe I’m getting less brave in my old age. I had an off half way down. Luckily not a yard sale type off, but a slow speed slip on loose rock that caused a dropped chain and a general cheer in the crowd.

And the cramps. I’ve had a bit of cramp of the road down to Horton and on the road to the finish before, but not like this. It started  at Cold Coates. It wasn’t constant, but was constantly there in my mind, waiting to attack. I don’t usually get cramps doing any other form of cycling or running. But I suppose the three peaks isn’t any other form of cycling or running is it.

photo thanks to Andy Jackson

photo thanks to Andy Jackson

The end

I’ve just reread this and it reads like I didn’t enjoy it. I wasn’t buzzing at the end in the way that I have done in the past if I’ve had a good race, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. I had a blast. It seemed to go by quicker this year, but conversely, because I had some moments where I decided to stop going full gas, I had some brief seconds to reflect on the sheer madness and brilliance of it all. The crowds were absolutely brilliant. There can’t be many experiences in any sport like dropping off Ingleborough into a crowd of cheering supporters and out onto the quiet of the road immediately after. It’s a similar experience at Ribblehead, magnified. There is a wall of sound from the spectators at the bottom of Pen-y-Gent lane that pushes you up that difficult lose stoney section. The offer of bottles of water  and the calling out of your name. They all stay lodged in my memory, even if I had no idea at the time who offered liquid or shouted ‘Dig in, Mike !’. You can’t really enjoy the scenery  (although more than a few have mentioned how they noticed the incredible temperature inversion to the south of Ingleborough this year),  but that’s irrelevant. You are in the scenery. Immersed in it. It’s the constant moving backdrop to the day. After the finish its also great just to sit in the field and relive the race with your  mates. Exchange war stories and commiserate over mechanicals or crashes. And of course after all that is over, it’s time for fish and chips in Settle.

And after all that ?

Two minutes slower than last year. About what I expected given I hadn’t managed to fulfil the triumvirate of peaks prep. I’m fitter than last year, but not in the right way and it told.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Mathieu van der Poel goes to the front and a little part of me dies

There is a shop in Ambleside that sells t-shirts that have ‘Old Guys Rule’ printed on them. Besides prioritising cutting my nails in a Kenwood mixer before being seen dead in one of these t-shirts, the message  is  demonstrably untrue. Especially when it comes to Cyclocross.

mvdp

After the season ended for me in early January, I took a few weeks off to recharge the batteries and get over the illnesses and injuries that seem to arise when you  take your foot of the gas. I’m back on it now, but each year getting back to the training gets harder and the temptation to call it quits half way through a session, or give up on a hill gets harder to resist. You ask yourself what’s it all for ? If I get my training right, I may gain another place or two, assuming the people racing around me stay static in their fitness. After some years I know where I am on the ability curve. Nothing  I do will nudge me along to the Nick Craig/ Ian Taylor level of accomplishment. Even these most talented of Vets would, I think, hesitate before thinking they could win outright in an open competition against the cream of the seniors. Not that they wouldn’t give it a serious go and have the believe in their ability to win that must come with racing at that level.

wva

At the start of the season just gone, there was some talk on twitter about the upcoming season and the inevitable clash between the older generation and the new boys stepping up to elite level. Sven Nys called it the ‘Battle of the Generations’. The early races were fairly evenly matched as I recall (in my clearly  unresearched opinion). Then MvdP won and started winning. Wout Van Aert did the same. Then Sven started dropping down the order, before declaring himself sick (possibly) and heading off to Mallorca and coming back not much better. A fair way into the season, no one was talking about the battle of the generations anymore because the old guys were getting their asses kicked. I watched the Worlds in awe of McdP and WvA. Van Der Poel went to the front and didn’t appear to let up for an hour. I’d love to see his power and heart rate files  from that race, because I didn’t see him taking a break or needing too. If that wasn’t dispiriting enough for the chasers, then spare a though for  the likes of Tom Meusen, Klass Vantournout and Sven Nys. Van Aert crashed badly AND dropped a chain (probably twice) but was able to overhaul all of these world class racers as if they were standing still.

Obviously this was a particular race (although you would have thought it was a race all of the leading contenders had tried to peak for) and I’m sure it’s not over for the old guard and they will continue to win/podium/place next season. But ‘Old Guys Rule’ ? I don’t think so.

Pain Face

klass

If you watch the pro’s, they always look so composed and rarely stressed. The legs might be spinning or grinding, the body working at full stretch. The face ? Nothing. Nothing to suggest that the engine room is working at full tilt and that the mind is making thousands of reasoned decisions.

FullSizeRender (2)

Most of the rest of us have to settle for the Painface. The face is the part of the body that, for normal mortals, portrays and betrays the effort that the rest of the body is putting in. I can’t get rid of mine. It’s an involuntary thing. Before the whistle I’m all nervous banter and bonhomie, but within  minutes of the start until the end I’m cross eyed with pain and open mouthed with desire for oxygen. The facial expression then stays the same for the race, faintly portaying dismay at only 20 minutes gone, and mild determination at the bell.

FullSizeRender

If long steady rides in the offseason are the bottom of the pyramid of training, learning to avoid the painface is right at the top. Absent a painface, the general idea is that you have a massive psychological advantage over  painface users in that they think that you are nowhere near your limit while they are teetering on the very edge of theirs. Basically they are more likely to crack than you, even though you are probably fairly evenly matched. A slight dig from you and they crumble, like the painface dilettante’s they are.

FullSizeRender (3)FullSizeRender (1)

I have an involuntary painface so  I’ve tried to disguise it by concentrating, but I still look like a cross between a goldfish and a stroke victim. During a race, there is a distortion in the space/time continuum. It seems like forever, but afterwards despite it only being 45 minutes or an hour, you have an imperfect recall of what happened. Bits come back to you, but not everything. During the race, you are so concentrating on the ‘the race’  – pace/line/ technique/other competitors, that you feel like you’re in a tunnel. I concentrate so hard that I remember to look at my watch maybe twice during a race. So doing all of that while also remembering to look like your face isn’t showing that your blowing ?  No chance.

Actually, the last post was rubbish. Here is what you really need.

These are the super secret things that you’d never know unless you turned up at all the races and spoke to those in the know.

1. A Van

If you race cross, you’ll be right up there at the sharp end of the field if you have a van. Guaranteed. I’ve looked at the results and cross referenced them with the car park and 9 times out of 10, the top ten finishers have a van. Not just any van either. A Volkswagen T5. And not just any T5 either. there are two distinct groups. The first is the T5 campervan. Not a California – that’s just throwing your money away. It should be done out as a camper van with a pop top and a kitchen and everything. More popular in the Vets as it needs to be practical to fit all the necessary kit in – Jetwasher/wife/spare wheels/children. Extra marks if it looks like a crew cab, with panels instead of rear windows. The second is the basic van or crew cab. More utilitarian, and popular with the younger crowd who can just sleep on the floor on top of the mud and between the wheels/frames/jetwasher/girl/boyfriend. I’m saving up for a van, ergo, I can be a better cyclocross racer. A Mercedes Vito is almost as good, but its like racing on open tubs. Its just not the same.

vw

2. Bobble hats.

These massive sheep based monstrosities have become de  rigueur over the last few seasons, with seemingly sensible people determined to dress themselves up as  colourful tea cosies, sporting the colours of their team or the national bands of Belgium. Or in one particularly sad case; a minion.

bobble1 bobble2

3. Beards

Nowhere in Simon Burney’s seminal work on the art of cyclocross is there a chapter on the recent cyclocross phenomenon; the beard. More popular amongst the seniors (men, generally) even British champion Ian Field was seen to be sporting a significant facial adornment. A couple of right sights were seen at the three peaks this year. Normally on a singlespeed with bright coloured socks. And probably from down south somewhere. The rise of the beard has been inexorable and inexplicable. Have you ever heard a woman say ‘ Well, I tell you what darling, you would look fantastic with a beard !’

beard ian field

4. Swampy

From November onwards, if you haven’t got a swampy, you’re nowhere in cyclocross. Swampy’s are the men and women who look like waterproof vagrants. Their job is simply to be as impervious to cold and water as possible and use their skills with a high pressure lance to clean anything that is put in front of them. They all deserve to be sainted.

pits

5. ‘Getting changed in the car’

Roubaix has its showers. Cyclocross has its ‘getting changed in the car’. In December. In the p”£*ing rain. Actually it’s not always ‘in’ the car. Its normally beside the car with the door partially open, so you don’t get mud on the seats. It you are a pale buttock fetishist, then look for a cyclocross car park near you from October to January. ‘Getting changed in the van’ has a more literal meaning. People actually can get changed in their van. Maybe it’s the absence of  concern about where they are going to get changed, that makes van owners faster (see above)

ten things.

Cyclocross –  an apprenticeship

Someone with talent –  I think it was British National Women’s Champion Helen Wyman  – said that racing cyclocross was an apprenticeship. I agree with her, although I wish she had said how long the apprenticeship lasts because I’ve been racing cyclocross for five years and I’m still right  at the beginning of the arc of learning.

During that time, I’ve made loads of mistakes. I’ve done the wrong sort of training, used the wrong sort of equipment, prepared for a races badly and made every sort of mistake that it’s possible to make during a race.

But I’m beginning to learned from my mistakes. Here is a top 10 of what I’ve learned (So far…)

1. Fitness

All other things being equal, the fittest person wins the race. Being fit isn’t enough though. You have to be cyclocross fit. That means being able to suffer at or near your limit for up to an hour. It means going deep and putting in sharp digs of power and being able to recover quickly enough to dig again. And again. For an hour.

growl

2. Measure your effort.

Fitness is one thing. Knowing how to use it is another. If you know what your threshold heart rate is, you should be at it for all but the first minute or so of the race. They say that the sprint in a cross race is at the start. Train to recover from a hard initial 30-60 second effort back to threshold. Your rate of perceived exertion on a scale of 1 to 10 should be :- 9 at the start, 8 for the duration of the race with digs of 9 when required. A one off 10  may be required at the end if you are sprinting for position. If you go below a 7 on a section that wasn’t freewheeling downhill, and you aren’t lying  in a crumpled heap at the end of the race with a spittle flecked face, you weren’t trying hard enough.

3. Racing cyclocross is a skill.

Being fit will only get you so far. You need to have a comprehensive list of skills which have to be performed flawlessly for lap after lap. You need to be able to corner efficiently, ride short climbs or adverse camber sections efficiently, dismount and remount your bike efficiently (from the left and the right), run over barriers, run up steps, shoulder your bike properly. The list is endless and perfection (in my experience) unattainable. Practice makes perfect. Find a piece of land which has the right type of features and practice until your strava ride map looks like the demented doodling of a small child.

wellens_660

4. Kit

A road bike is only suitable for benign surfaces. A mountain bike can go anywhere but generally has at least front suspension and is forgiving to ride. A cyclocross bike is expected to go everywhere and is not particularly compliant to ride, so you need to ride your cyclocross bike all the time to get a feel for what it can do and how it handles. On road and off.  In all types of conditions. If you become proficient at racing cyclocross and want to further your success, buy a tubular compatible wheelset and cyclocross tubular tyres. Experiment with tyre pressures on different types of surface. The improvement in compliance, grip and therefore lap speed really is a game changer.

5. Preparation

Simple, but perhaps the most overlooked. Arrive at the venue fresh, with a bike that you have already checked to make sure is  working properly. Arrive in plenty of time to register for your race, ride the course a few times, go back to the car to tweak the bike/ kit/ tyre pressures, ride the course a few more times  and do a warm up appropriate to the race that you are about to do. You will invariably need twice as much time as you think you do.

6. Tactics

Be aware of what is going on around you in the race. Work out what you are good at and what your weaknesses are and how that fits in with this particular course. On your ride around the course before the race, think about where the  good passing places are and  how the racing line may change as the course cuts up. If you are technically proficient, you may want to overtake competitors before a singletrack section and force a gap  behind you. In dryer flatter conditions, it may benefit you to sit in a group to recover, or work with a group to bridge up to riders in front or increase the gap to riders behind.

svenness2014-2

7. Momentum

Cyclocross isn’t just about bike racing. It’s about going the fastest you can at any given time in any given situation. There aren’t any prizes for riding as much of the course as you can. Constantly assess the course and the riders around you to determine whether it is faster to ride a particular section or get off and run. Don’t be governed by what the rider in front is doing. Don’t be too up his chuff on a climb, because he might bobble and stall. His loss of momentum will become your loss of momentum. Watch the Pro’s racing and  notice how their dismounts and remounts are so seamless that you often have to rewind and fast forward a couple of times to see when they did it.

86389-large_2013SPGavereMen20

8. Keep Going.

Every so often, during a race, you might just not be feeling at your fittest or you might make a stupid mistake which costs you time. In both situations the riders who you were racing with will dance away from you. You may be dispirited and in pain. Never give up. Try and bridge back to them or keep going at a sustainable pace. Riders in front may crack or fall. You need to make sure that you are able to take advantage of it if they do.

9. Mental strength.

People who are at the limit of their mental and physical capabilities can make mistakes, or crack. Assess the riders around you. Are they at their limit or composed ? comfortable on the bike or all over it ? How do you feel in comparison to how they look ? Could they stay with you if you attacked ? If you attack with confidence and get a gap of 4 or 5 seconds, it may be enough to break their spirit. Conversely, if they attacked and you were able to winch yourself back up to them, that might break their spirit. Or at least put them off doing it again.

nys

10. Enjoy yourself

If everything I’ve written sounds a bit serious, don’t forget that racing cyclocross is supposed to be fun. The atmosphere and camaraderie at races is wonderful and the heady mix of endorphins and adrenaline after the race always makes for lively discussion. You have actively made the decision to race rather than go for a gentle ride. You have therefore voluntarily put yourself under a degree of physical strain and mental anguish. Embrace the pain, Enjoy the suffering. It all makes sense.

Chinese crap

Bloody Hell, another post in the same day ! Well I cant do much else. When I stand up I wobble and fall over. I’ve caught up with  paperwork from work and its Friday at 14.41 which sounds like a great time to start the weekend.

So. Cyclocross bikes then. I’m sure it used to be easier to choose a cyclocross bike. more mud clearance, canti brake bosses and off you go. Now they’re not all called ‘cross bikes any more. Gravel racers, Adventure bikes. Its all a bit confusing to me to be honest. I’ve got two cross bikes, which are almost exactly the same. The only difference between them is that one is set up a my first race bike and the other is a second race bike for the later, muddier races – but also has cross top levers and up until about November has a longer cage on the rear mech so I can run a 32 tooth cassette on clinchers/ landcruisers for biggers days out on the moors and lakeland bridleways and , of course the three peaks.

Both run top end TRP canti brakes with 105 shifters and ultegra everything else.

Both are identical matt black carbon chinese frames. I think if you searched FR601 on aliexpress or ebay you would find them for about £340 and you might get stung for another £30 is they were caught at customs. The FR602  model is exactly the same, but made for disc brakes.

frames

So why did I buy these frames? Well, because they were light, cheap and looked good I suppose. I wanted to build bikes up myself rather than buying a built bike and being forced to take handlebars/wheels/ gears that I didn’t want. I couldn’t afford two frames from a named manufacturer like Ridley, Cannondale or Scott.

What have they been like to buy and ride? I’ve no complaints. I don’t know anything about the design or manfacturing process of these bikes. I presume that they are from an open mould and designed by someone who knew what was needed in a cyclocross frame. The frames look good, appear structurally sound – in fact probably over-engineered. I’ve had one of the frames for two years. That one has done the three peaks twice and been used off road a lot. It has also done two summer cross seasons and one winter cross season as well as being my no.2 bike this year. The second frame arrived in March last year and has done the winter season  this year as my main race bike.

I get a bit annoyed when someone chirps up with ‘ you don’t know what your getting, or where they are coming from. they’re not safe. you’ve no recourse to the manufacturer if something goes wrong. ‘ . It’s true that buying one is a bit of a leap of faith. Not necessarily in terms of parting with your money as you would be covered on Aliexpress or Ebay if the thing just didn’t arrive. I suppose that there has to be an element of faith in the product – the fact that they have been selling them for a couple of years and that they are still available shows that there is a demand. Does that also show that they are a desirable product ? I must admit, when you first unpack them, they are a thing of beauty. matt black, flawless coating. easy to do internal cable routing and set up for Di2 if you wanted it. ( I wish). Not bad for £340.

I’m contemplating getting the FR602 disc ready frame for next year – although this would require quite a bit of extra outlay as I’d need disc tub rims to race and new disc clinchers for general off road stuff as well as new shimano hydraulic 105 shifters and disc brakes.

What are they like to ride ? I’m not an expert on geometry. Actually I’m clueless about geometry, but as I’ve been riding these frames for a couple of years, i can say that they are stable and comfortable. they have a short headtube so you can get a quite aggressive drop to the handlebars for racing which I like. I don’t know if the frame is assisting or impeding me during the race, as I’ve nothing to compare it with. I’ve never raced on another type of frame to be able to tell the difference.

I also race with carbon tubular wheels which are also of indeterminate origin. you can pick 38mm or 50mm section carbon wheels with Novatec hubs on aliexpress or ebay for about £250. I would find it very hard to justify paying more for rims that get so much abuse during the winter season. It makes sense to me to buy a few sets of these wheels so you have different tyre options. Again I’ve never had a problem with them apart from having to true them periodically after hitting barriers or tree roots, but I would probably have to do that with more expensive options. The novatec hubs are also easy to service and spare cassette bodies are cheap as chips and can be ordered from china – taking a couple of weeks to arrive.

wheels

Recently I’ve found myself looking at possible replacements. A friend of mine has the Planet X / On One Pickenflick – that is a thing of titanium beauty and incredible value for money. I’m just a bit put off by the weight (I can build my bikes up to weigh about 7.5kg with tubs) and the wide chainstays making it impossible to run a 36 inner ring (although I wonder if the new batch have resolved this issue).

Also a couple of kinesis crosslight carbon frames would be nice. Although again there is the issue of having to buy new disc tubs and brakes which would add quite a bit to the cost.

Actually there is nothing wrong with what I’ve got. I’m just falling under the spell of the marketing, which I managed to avoid in the first place.

A cracking start to the year.

New year and another attempt at a blog. At least I got onto wordpress this year, which is more than can be said for last January. Being ill is paradoxically my principal motivation as I cant do much else. I’m feeling really sorry for myself. I dont get ill much, and very rarely get a cold. I’ve often wondered if its a side effect of being fit. Not so on the edge fit that you are prone to catch any bug going, but so fit that you have the robustness to fight stuff off. Anyway. Im well and truly ill now. My youngest daughter Imogen had a bad cough over Christmas and half of the schools in Ilkley seemed to be semi populated as a result of the bugs that were doing the rounds. I thought I had got away with it, but after the brilliant Ripley Castle Cyclocross on New Years day, I could feel my throat getting ticklish and by the evening had a full on streaming cold.

ripley1ripley2

 

I should have just stayed in bed, but because it was my last cross race of the season, I went to Todmorden to race in the war of the roses. I’d done a couple of recce laps, and felt ok actually. On the first lap of the race, I had a good start and was about 4th or 5th Vet40 going up the cobbles. I fell on a slow right hander which took me my surprise as It was grippier earlier in the day. I should have been a bit more wary after that, but wasn’t. The descent is very fast and steep, down a gravel path. I tried to adjust my line going around a kink in the path and went down hard on my right hand side. Strava later revealed my speed before the crash at 29.9 mph. It really fucking hurt. The kind of hurt where you stay down for a few minutes trying to work out what happened and the adrenaline hides the pain for a few seconds. Gravel rash all down my right hand side. Skinsuit ripped. Mech hanger bent and handlebars/shifters/stem in a new asymmetrical set up.

So next up. A few nights ago I was feeling a bit better. The cold had got to the stage where the snot was green and coming out in tissue loads – a good sign. The rash was scabbing up nicely and I’d even had a useful hour and bit of physiotherapy to sort out a few of the niggles that had developed during the racing season. (thanks Brit. brittatesportstherapy.co.uk)  I blew my nose and it was like an small explosion in my right ear. I was deaf in my right ear and my balance was all over the place. Then over the course of the evening the right side of my head became more and more sore; a dull nagging earache which made sleep impossible. The next morning I went to the GP’s who looked in my ear and said ‘good god’ or some thing like that. I’d burst my eardrum. Apparently it may need surgery. So I’m now on painkillers and antibiotics, waiting to find out what fate awaits my right eardrum.

This post hasn’t got much to do with cyclocross, but after Tod, I was planning to have two weeks of not doing anything at all. This wasn’t really what I had in mind.