Pain Face


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.

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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.


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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.  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.