Thursday, 22 December 2011

December Update

You might notice that a few things here have changed, behind the scenes plenty has been happening and on January 1st you can be the first to hear who I’ll be riding for by following me on my new Facebook page, the page isn’t live yet but will be Sunday 1st. Facebook Fan Page This blog will continue but the facebook page will be a central hub for posting links to blogs, race news, photos, and videos.

I’m sorry for not keeping you updated more often but once again the winter recovery week creates a little more time for doing things like this. Sponsors are now all confirmed and Christmas started a couple of weeks ago when the first boxes of products arrived.

After lots of work we've created a new kit design and I’m excited to reveal the new look but this will have to wait.

Since the last blog training has continued successfully and today I finished my power building phase in the gym. On the bike miles are clocking up well and I’m well ahead of last years numbers.

Also in the last month I’ve spent some time fulfilling media appointments including a fun photoshoot with MBUK, look out for the article in January or February's magazine.

Thank you for all your support and I hope you continue to enjoy reading my blog, and watching my videos in 2012. Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Haldon Forest Video

So the sponsorship search is almost over, we have all but 1 confirmation and i'm excited about what's been acheived but really the work is just starting. With Novembers training just ending im happy to have logged in the largest number of hours training i've ever done for this month of the year ever. Hope it all pays of next year.

I filmed this next video the day after the final British XC round in September. It features a number of very fast mountain biker friends who stopped off at Haldon Forest near Exeter on the way home from the race.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Mid week movies

After 3 weeks of my first build phase the legs were just about ready for a bit of recovery so as planned I'm now half way through a rest week. Training kicks up a gear from sunday for another 3 week block and i'm excited to ride some more epic loops and find more new trails.

Here's another of my videos filmed in October around the Guildford Downs.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Tuesday night video!

Here is my latest video edit filmed at Dalby Forest a month ago whilst riding the Red and World Cup circuits with Calum Chamberlain, Dan Arbon, and Hamish Batchelor

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Busy and exciting times

Been a pretty busy week since I last booked in, as mentioned previously training has restarted which I’m really enjoying. Logged in my first marathon distance training ride last Saturday with an epic 70 miles in 6 hours 30 ride and ended up finishing the ride in the dark as we didn’t take any lights, ooops!

I’m still spending plenty of time making phone calls and emails trying to round up the final few sponsors for next year, things are looking really good; hopefully I’ll have some news for you soon!

Here’s another mid week video for your viewing pleasure. This film is from our recent visit to the Peak District as we tackled an awesome loop around the Pennines Way.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Back to work!

Over the last 5 weeks I’ve enjoyed escaping from the schedule of structured training. Over those weeks its been fun to tuck into some sweet tasty awfully fattening foods, visit some friends I haven’t seen in a while, play on the bike and not worry about what heart rate zone I’m riding in and visit some fantastic places.

After 5 weeks though I was ready and motivated to get the motor started once again, training plans have been analysed and printed, and I’m now half way through my first week of training. Having completed 1 or 2 fun rides each week through the off season my fitness isn’t too bad so my first phase of training has been designed to really kick start my build up to the 2012 season. My race schedule for next year is looking good with the first big race the Andalucia Bike Race is Spain late February.

Hitting the training hard means I’m already being reminded of that winter feeling most serious cyclists will know – the one when you get home from a long ride and all you need is food and bed! My compression tights and TORQ recovery drinks have been getting plenty of use.

Here’s another video, this ones from the Lake District, it was filmed a couple of days after my victory at the Kielder 100.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Bristol Oktoberfest 15th October 2011

The off season is now well underway, the tan lines are quickly fading, the beard is growing well and so is the stomach, only a few pounds extra weight though, both of these things should help me stay warm through the winter months! The TORQ riders had one last scheduled race, the Bristol Oktoberfest 8 hour team relay on the 15th of November.

The event would be my first ride around the reworked Ashton Court trails which I spent three years training on whilst at university. The trails now benefit from being all weather, they would be great fun to train on but passing places and alternative lines are limited which made passing difficult.

The TORQ team has competition from a very strong Rapha Condor/ Sigma Sport professional road team collaboration who a month earlier had raced the Tour of Britain. The road riders started fast and it took us nearly 4 hours to make up the early time gaps they’d built. On my second lap I caught and created a small gap back into the arena over Simon Richarson of Sigma Sport Specialized. From this point on TORQ rode in the confidently in the lead to edge out a ten minute gap which allowed us the opportunity to fit in one lap more than the road team within the eight hour race time.

We were challenged but the team rode consistently to take another victory. It was a tough race having not trained in the three weeks between this race and the final national. The course made things tricky but it was a fun way to sign off the season.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

TwentyFour12 2011 Video

Another week, another video! Check this out -- a lap with me at TwentyFour12 Newnham Park Plymouth. TORQ went on to win the male 4 team 12 hour category.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Kielder 100 Video

Finally got round to editing some of the video's I took this year, here is the first of them, more to follow over the next couple of weeks. This video is of my victory at the 2011 Kielder 100 mile marathon

Friday, 30 September 2011

British XC Round 5 Plymouth

Away from the national series this year race results have been consistently good but at the nationals bad luck and poor form have demolished the target of podium finishes. However after a huge block of training through August, and race wins at the Kielder 100 and Eastern XC I was excited about the British XC final.

Plymouth is a familiar venue by now but the organisers always do a fantastic job of finding new trails to mix things up. This year was no exception with the inclusion of a couple of new downhill sections which required some extra attention in practice. Unfortunately most UK XC course can be ridden cleanly first time without any previous sightings of the track. However on the rare occasion there is a technical section groups of people tend to gather on practice day, it’s always amusing to ride clean through that section and know everyone is watching what line you’re taking. After my first sighting lap where I stopped at the top of a few sections before riding them I rode the first of 2 technical sections another 2 times and then retired for a TORQ recovery drink.

Image from Vermont Images

After a quick blast in the Team Relay Championship (where TORQ took 2nd place) my legs were ready for the XC the following day. I slept well in our privately rented cottage that night, the weekends preparation couldn’t have gone much better. Was a podium finish possible?

Bang the gun went but I had a slow delayed start with the rider in front struggling to clip into his pedals, this put me amongst the mid pack action. Two riders collided in front hitting the barrier, I was the next person to hit them flying over the bars, the charging riders behind hit my bike and tangled onto the floor. Jumping back onto the bike Calum Chamberlain very kindly gave me a helping push as I clipped in and tried to engage a gear. My mech hanger was bent and the gears were jumping all over the place. Just my luck I thought!

This was the last race of the season though, it couldn’t end like that. The next few laps was spent negotiating through the elite field, on the technical section I lost huge amounts of time as riders in front struggled to ride the slippery rocky descents. On the climbs however where passing was possible I was flying, catching riders with ease and riding straight past attacking to the very top.

Image from Vermont Images

11th place was the furthest I got before running out of laps. April 2012 will be my next opportunity for a national level podium finish. For now its time to retire for the winter.

Thanks to Ali, Hilary, and Connie for the support during the race, was glad you could make it! Thanks to John Newport at Vermont Images for the photos, check out the website for race photos

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Kielder/ Lake District/ France/ Italy/ Essex!

Here’s an update on what’s been happening since my win at the Kielder 100. On Sunday after the race Tim and myself went for a spin around Kielder forest to explore the trails and enjoy the sunshine which had arrived typically the day after when we really needed it! My legs were pretty shot after the previous day’s efforts so after a couple of hours I was more than happy to retire to the café for some very rewarding cake. Tim however being the machine that he is didn’t return to the log cabins for another few hours, what a nutter clocking up 80 miles on a recovery ride!

On Monday after a short car journey we rode another 5 hours around the Lake District. Tim had been raving about the trails here for some time and having only ridden at Grizedale mountain bike centre once I was keen to revisit. After a quick visit to the bike shop for some repairs we hit the hills around Ambleside before heading over to High Wray, Hawkshead, and Grizedale. We then rode back via a spectacular climb and descent to Rydal Water to conclude the best mtb ride I’ve done all year.

After a few days recovery I was back on another flight to Geneva having been invited back to work another week with GPM10. This time we were guiding from Chamonix to Nice over 4 days. This time I drove the van for half days which meant the riding wasn’t so tiring, driving also gave me the opportunity to drive on ahead and complete some interval sessions up the mountains before meeting with the group.

Before returning to England I picked up a bug and felt pretty aweful on Tuesday which spoilt the day which should have been a good relaxing day in Nice. After flying home I still felt ill for a few days and had developed a head cold. I was meant to be racing the ChainReactionCycles Marathon weekend in north Wales but hadn’t recovered so decided to rest and see how I felt by Sunday when there was a Eastern XC race happening in Essex.

After a chilled out Saturday I was feeling much better and decided I would race hoping there wouldn’t be much competition and I could just ride around! On arrival however several top elite riders had thought this would be a good tester before next week’s final national. Today was also a good opportunity to preview a new course they will be using in next years national series. Off the start a lead group formed including Stephen James, Ade Lansley, Steven James and myself. For the first half of the race I didn’t feel fantastic and my throat still felt tight; however as the race continued the pace felt pretty steady. I followed wheels for the first 5 laps before being forced to the front where I rode for the last 2 laps; I didn’t force the pace and tried to bluff on the climbs.

Steven James had a mechanical after 3 laps and had to stop to sort that removing him out of contention. Ade Lansley dropped off the group on lap 5 perhaps paying for all the work he’d done on the front. On the last lap I decided I’d either wait for Stephen to attack and then hopefully counter attack if I could to get a gap or attack on the very last climb half a minute from the finish line, risky perhaps but I hoped I’d be strong enough to pull it off. In the end we both had the same idea and attacked hard on the final climb, Stephen was really strong today but I just had enough energy to kick for a second time and edged out a small gap into the arena. The circuit will make for a really tough national race next year and I look forward to racing there again.

Today was my third top step finish in a row, when will it end!?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Kielder 100

After a little break from racing I’d finally had time to take a rest and rebuild some fitness for what was a huge focus, the Kielder 100. TORQ In Your Sleep a week ago was a good tester and showed some promising lap times even beating the times of our teams full time professional guest rider which was surprising as I’d not been doing much high end speed work, instead I’d concentrated on long base miles and tempo speed work more specific to the 100 mile marathon epic I’d be racing.

My motivation was sky high having completed the hard training and even loosing some unnecessary body weight. The determination reminded me of how I’d felt after training hard for last years National Champs where I won the silver medal; no compromise, no fear.

Unusually for such a big race I felt no nervousness at the start, I was relaxed and ready, even the horrible weather couldn’t distract me from the race ahead. From the moment the lead car pulled off my focus never waivered. Mike Blewitt pulled some good turns on the front of the group along with 2 other racers and myself who reduced the number of lead riders. Throughout the race no one really attacked, instead the weather and steady tempo pace detached racer after racer until there were just 2 of us. I eventually rode the final 35 miles alone to the finish line to take the win in 8 hour 50 seconds.

My post race interview with tells the story

The £1000 sub 7 hour prize fund still stands for next year and I’ll be back hopefully in drier conditions ready to take on the challenge.

Many thanks to Tim Dunford and Steven James for organising the weekend and also well done to them both for achieving their race results.

Video and post Kielder recovery ride blog soon!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

TORQ In Your Sleep 12 Hour Relay

August bank holiday is TORQ In Your Sleep weekend, the 12 hour race which takes place at Minley Manor in Hampshire is an event I’ve raced each year since its introduction 3 years ago. The race which is run by Gorrick has a fantastic course with plenty of fast flowing singletrack; and the relaxed atmosphere attracts big participant numbers each year.

I write this the day after the race still feeling the full effects of post 12 hour race sleep deprivation, my body just can’t cope on 5 hours sleep - the event runs from midday to midnight. TORQ Performance had 2 teams entered with a mixed 4 team consisting of Ben P, Matt, James G, and guest rider Sally. The male 4 team included Sion and Ant, myself, and guest rider Billy Joe Whenman.

The race began with a little comedy off the start line as the lead quad bike which was meant to pace us around the start loop couldn’t engage a gear and was therefore left behind as riders rode past after the start gun had gone off. Well done Mr Howard!

At these team relay events there is always huge interest and anticipation in the arena to see who leads after the first lap. Therefore for the people racing at the front the first lap is always hard fought. After half of the lap a lead group had developed including Steve James, Dave Collins, and myself. I put in a few attacks around the lap but couldn’t shake them and we rode into the arena all together (with me leading)!

The course was very rewarding but changeable weather conditions which hit the venue initially after only 1 hour 30 did its best to make things a little harder. The fireroad climbs became tougher and the singletrack became trickier as rain poured from the sky. Despite the sketchy conditions everyone from the team was actually enjoying the additional challenge and we used this to our advantage, the TORQ male 4 team were increasing their gap over the second place team AW Cycles on average 1 minute per lap. Each lap riders were returning to the pit covered in mud and soaking wet but grinning and eager to tell the others about how they’d save a massive drift, or pinned a bit of singletrack.

Rob from Finely Tuned Ride was doing a fantastic job of cleaning and maintaining the bikes after each lap We had a little scare though around 9pm when our guest rider’s chainset fell off and the male 4 team lost 10 minutes, luckily we already has a decent gap over our rivals and maintained the lead.

The mixed 4 team were having a tough battle with their rivals who were sending out their stronger riders more often, with 3 laps to go TORQ lost the lead but kept going strong to finish a close second. The male 4 team won with 19 laps completed, 1 more than the competition. Another successfully weekend for TORQ Performance, well done to all the team, including the team support.

I guess riding up mountains in the French Alps and doing huge training weeks helps build some extra fitness, the legs certainly felt good at the 12 hours event. I wonder how they’ll feel this weekend at the Kielder 100 mile marathon?

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Touring around the Alps

Its been a while since I spent some time updating this page, sorry about that, here’s a few words on what’s been happening over since the Olympic Test Event.

After a good few days rest following the massive block of racing I’d just completed I felt fresh and fired up for a huge training block which will hopefully give me the fitness needed for my big goal in a couple of weeks. The training block started with a huge week of base miles which included several 6 hour rides as well as a couple of 5 and 4 hour days. Following a recovery day or 2 I completed a few days of specific speed work. Then to finish the 2 and a half week block of training I completed 23 hours of tough Alpine miles in France.

You may remember in my last blog I mentioned that the first thing I did after getting home from my 18th race in 21 weeks was to empty all my kit out of my race travel bag and pack that bag away. That only lasted a couple of weeks as last Thursday I flew with the Kona road bike out to the French Alps to help GPM10 run one of their fantastic tours. This trip would be the ideal conclusion of this big training block. I won’t go into too much detail about the trip but will say this company do a fantastic job and are definitely worth a look should you be considering a training camp. This past weekend was the Grand Alps Tour which is “a four day hors category high mountain tour across the most legendary cols in the French Alps”. Having ridden 350 miles from Alp D’huez to Nice there was a chance for a short ride Tuesday morning before flying home, what better way to complete the trip than to do a 2 hour recovery ride from Nice to Monaco for a café stop. It was spectacular weather all weekend so the suntan was nicely topped up whilst riding some of the very best roads in the world and meeting some great people.

View from Alp D'Huez
View from Monaco recovery ride cafe

This week I’ll be mostly recovering and practising the Minley Manor race track for the bank holiday weekends TORQ In Your Sleep 12 hour team event. Here’s a preview video I helped Gorrick film a few weeks ago.

TORQ In Your Sleep Gorrick 12 Hour 2011 Preview from Ben Thomas on Vimeo.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Olympic MTB Test Event

With 5000 people watching each section of the course there was an electric atmosphere at the venue with Dan Jarvis on the commentary and some techno beats over the speakers helping build up the tension. Following a parade around the start lap so each rider could be introduce to the crowd 50 of the world’s best Olympic hopefuls (plus us) lined up at the start of a technically and physically demanding track. We were moments away from taking parts in the Olympic MTB Test Event!!

The circuit is almost completely man made with all the key features being huge rock garden drops or tight switchback climbs, and most of the course can seen from 1 or 2 locations. We waited on the grid listening to the thumping beats over the radio; ahead of us lay guaranteed carnage either during the short 0.5km start loop or on one of the 3.5km race laps. Unfortunately the reality was that the invited Brits starting at the back of the field would probably be racing the 80% lap time rule but we were there for the experience.

“Your race will start in the next 15 seconds”. BANG, the gun went and we were off, down a very short start straight, right into a loose gravel covered 180 degree corner, before sprinting down the long start loop back straight up the hill into the dust, skid, dab of foot, clash handlebars, avoid a few crashes, back under the start banner, heart rate already at maximum, and then start the first switchback climb. Stop, wait, queue, run until the course clears just before the first rock drop where there are 3 line choices, I opt for the middle line.

Despite mastering the track in practice during the race the pressure is getting to me and I struggled to ride the course’s technical features at any pace loosing time I then had to work hard to make up on the climbs. It was a frustrating feeling because my power on the climbs felt pretty good early on. My heart rate was at maximum for most of the race with very few places to recover but I wasn’t making up any positions. After a few laps I wanted the race to end, the thousands of people were shouting and supporting the Brits in our England jerseys but I couldn’t handle the humiliation any longer. One more lap was all I had to endure, I could see it was my last loop of the start circuit back into the arena so thanked the supporters and threw a couple of TORQ energy gels into the crowd! I rolled home in 36th place, 1 position ahead of where I started.

The race was an amazing experience and I’m hugely thankful to Martyn Salt who gave us the opportunity to participate, however it saddens and frustrates me that I didn’t perform anywhere near my maximum ability. Under my own choice I’ve raced 17 of the last 20 race weekend, 2 of these races have also been stage races. I’ve done barely any training since mid March because each week has been about recovery and tapering, before mid March I was stuck on the turbo trainer for 6 weeks with a broken hand. Perhaps it was the wrong choice to add more races to my schedule but I wanted to re add the Southern XC series to my schedule this year because I wanted the thrill of wining once again, and I wanted to race the marathons and stage races because there awesome ways of seeing different parts of the world.

The first thing I did when I got home yesterday was to empty all my kit out of my race travel bag and pack that bag away. I’m so happy to not be racing until the end of August and cannot wait to finally start a huge block of training this Wednesday. I’m hugely motivated to be successful at the Kielder 100 and the final British XC round so by September I hope to return fitter and stronger. Hopefully before the season ends I can show the kind of strength I’d aimed to show this year.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

TwentyFour12 2011

Each time you return to Plymouth’s Newnham Park you are guaranteed a fun weekend; this venue has hosted endurance events, marathon events, regional cross country races, national XC races, and even World Cups for a reason! The park is packed with a huge mix of fantastic trails which, when linked together, form a tough and thrilling race circuit. This past weekend those trails hosted the 2011 edition of TwentyFour12.

The TORQ Performance team had 3 entries in the 12 hour event with a 4 man team, a 4 person mixed team, and Lydia racing solo. The team had a guest rider, former Olympian Dan McConnell ( from TORQ Australia who is currently in the UK for next week’s Olympic Test Event in Essex before heading over to the next World Cup event and World Champs in Europe. Dan would start the race for the 4 man team hopefully leading out the field.

The course had 2 tough loops with more climbing than normal. The first loop used many trails up on the moors which I’d not ridden before, the course then returned to the campsite before heading back out onto the more familiar Newnham Park trails, and then finally plummeted down the legendary Cottage Return singletrack back into the arena.

From the start Dan took the lead only to be halted by the pace moto who had to slow the flying Australian down having completed the start loop faster than expected and faster than many of the other riders could clear the arena! Once there was a clear track ahead Dan was released onto the normal circuit and he pulled out an early lead. The remaining order of riders in our team was Ant, myself, and then Sion. The 4 person mixed team also took an early lead in their category after a couple of laps, and Lydia moved up into a podium position.

After a weeks rest following Nat Champs my first lap was pretty painful, the body and mind forgets quite quickly how to cope with lactic acid. The course was greasy turning many ‘easy to ride’ sections into areas where full concentration was required. Each lap however the course dried and by the third rotation of riders the course was at its best with riders setting their fastest laps.

By 8pm the teams Exposure Lights were illuminating the darkening forest trails; these lights with their cable free design, and awesome power output are the best on the market and make riding at night easy going as proved by our lap times which only slowed by a minute or 2 from the day laps when we were much fresher and less fatigued. As night fell so did the dew which made the trails slippery and unpredictable.

With lap times around 40 minutes I’d only have to complete 4 laps and was thankful having begun to struggle with fatigue after some strong early laps. In total the team completed 18 laps, 1 more than the nearest competition AW Cycles. The mixed 4 team won their category with 16 laps, and Lydia finished 3rd solo rider with 10 laps.

Another fantastic race weekend was completed with a pre prize presentation recovery ride up onto Dartmoor National Park, then a night at relatives in Wiltshire, and a recovery ride around the Wiltshire Downs.

Photos and hopefully video to follow.

Big thanks to Rob Rowe from for all the work he does to our bikes behind the scenes at all the races. He worked his socks off this weekend and deserves a reward so if anyone in the Wiltshire area needs a bike mechanic he's the man to call!

Monday, 18 July 2011

National Cross Country Championships 2011

In 2010 the TORQ team guided me to some excellent early season success, following this I was targeting nothing less than a gold medal at the National XC Champs. This year having moved up to seniors from the under 23 category and also having struggled with poor form all year the champs weekend was a very different challenge. The goal I set over winter was for a top 5 finish but after the recent struggles my target changed to just finishing higher than my 8th place gridding.

The weather forecast for the weekend looked awful and Saturday morning the rain pouring from the sky proved that the weather forecasters can sometimes get things correct! With Tour de France coverage starting at 12 we decided even if it was raining we’d put on the Gore-Tex and ride over to the arena to learn the track mid morning. Arriving at the arena the site was still pretty empty with all the early arrivals sheltering from the heavy rain.

The first half of the course included several bumpy grass climbs and several wet rocky steep loose descents. The second part of the track had several long flat fireroads split by some very muddy singletrack which has plenty of roots, rocky, drops, and short sharp climbs. To get back to the arena there was a fireroad dash along a long straight bridleway heading into a horrible headwind! The course was really tough and all the races taking part Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning would cut up the course making things worse.

It was obvious that Sunday’s races would have a high attrition rate with riders either blowing having started too fast or others breaking their bikes on the slippery track. For this reason my aim was to let riders ride away from me at the start and ride my own race trying to maintain my laps times pulling back positions in the second half of the race. The race unfolded exactly as planned with my early pace leaving me with fresh legs, from lap 3 I was overtaking a couple of riders each lap.

On the last lap I moved up into the top 10 with further riders within reach just ahead. On the final half of the course I could see John Whittington in 8th place, entering the final piece of singletrack I made up some time but the rabbit had seen the fox and 8th place took off. We both sprinted down the long stretch of bridleway into the headwind but the gap was too big and I crossed the line to finish 9th.

Rolling under the finish banner I still felt fresh with the feeling I could have continued that pace for another couple of laps, it left me wondering what could have been. However top 10 isn’t so bad in my first year as a senior elite rider. I'm now enjoying a weeks rest before the team relay event Twentyfour12 in Plymouth, and then the Olympic Test Event at Hadleigh Farm a week later. Following this I start a big block of training leading into the years main target in September.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Southern XC Round 4

Returning to the Southern XC Series I hoped for a decent result following first and second places in previous rounds. My form all year has been difficult to identify and heading into next weeks National Champs it’s still proving unpredictable. The Southern would give a good understanding of how everyone’s training had been going.

The race took place at Perham Down which is a new venue near Andover in Wiltshire. Many parts of the circuit were newly built and were pretty rough but improved each lap; other parts of the course were more worn in and were great fun to ride. It would be an interesting circuit to race in the wet; the clay soil was pretty slippy in places today so on a rainy day would probably provide as much grip as an ice rink!

Off the start the usual fighting for positions happened with Paul Hopkins getting a particularly good start. Soon enough the race started to split with a group including Billy Joe Whenman, Steve James, Ade Lansley, and myself getting a small gap over a group of chasers. The pace two thirds of the way through the lap was pretty slow with people probably saving themselves for next week. This slower pace meant the chase group caught us at the start of the second lap, I’d seen this happening so hit the front of the race to increase the speed on the first climb.

A couple of miles into the second lap my bike suffered a mechanical issue making it unrideable, stopping to fix the problem riders tore past. After riding comfortably with the leaders now the whole elite category and many of the expert riders passed me as I struggled to fix the issue. 5 minutes later the bike was sorted and the chase began.

I pushed the pace a little too hard on the remainder of that lap and ended up making a few mistakes and was expending too much energy which I regretted later on in the race. It took most of lap 3 before I even caught the last placed elite rider! Despite riding alone and having to overtake many people on the tight singletrack during the final 3 laps I matched the pace of the leaders but couldn’t close any of the time gap I lost during that mechanical.

It was another frustrating day but I’m glad to have battled on to finish the race. Teammate James Gleaves took 2nd in the masters race, and Lydia took the expert win after a sprint finish. Next weekends National Champs should be interesting!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Black Mountain 3 Day Stage 3

The final stage of the 2011 event would be a classic Brecon Beacon mix of terrain including a circuit around the Talybont reservoir before heading up and over the much hyped Gap. The mix of challenging terrains included rocky trails, fireroad trails, wet muddy trails, and off camber sheep track trails. Although the distance of this stage was roughly the same as the previous day the organisers expected a faster finishing time due to the hard pack terrain, however with fatigue taking over after 2 big days of riding anything could happen. We were warned that medics would be on the final descent of the day and photographers would be primed to catch the carnage happen, could it really be that bad?

Once again the faster riders set off from the start arena last; our small group entered the first offroad singletrack section which very gradually climbed 250 metres of altitude on a rough rocky surface. The best approach for this section was to sit down and spin a high cadence whilst pushing a decent pace. Sitting on the front of the group my plans for the day was to get a gap over the top of the climbs so I could be conservative on the descents whilst the riders on their bigger wheeled 29ers motored down the sketchy terrain.

By the top of the first climb Josh Ibbett, Scott Cornish, and myself had gapped the other riders, on the following rocky garden descent my ride almost ended as a stick lodged itself in my wheel, much to my amazement and relief it didn’t do any damage. After a short tarmac section we turned right onto the next fireroad climb, until this point the other 2 riders had refused to do any of the work so I decided that if I was going to be on the front all day I might as well ride alone! Unlike the previous day where I’d attacked away from the group today this time I gradually upped the speed to that uncomfortable effort where you know your making the others hurt. A gap began to appear and seeing this I upped the cadence to create a small lead over the top of the climb.

Over the next 10km’s this gap crew slowly until I could not longer see Josh and Scott, this meant importantly there was time to stop at the TORQ supplied feed station for some more isotonic energy drink. Managing to avoid the attractive looking cake on offer I continued to munch down my favourite Rhubard and Custard TORQ gels which kept me going for the whole weekend.

A few minutes behind Scott had created a small gap over Josh, and a little further back both Matt and Lydia had suffered from punctures. From the feed we started the final climb up onto the Gap, a few miles in and my legs had developed that heavy feeling every cyclist knows, not long after the Guarana gels appeared from the back pocket, these little rocket ships were just enough to keep me going.

As the miles on this climb clocked by the route turned onto a rocky trail traversing the Gap which was a beautiful valley with fantastic views of the surrounding area. It also gave a great opportunity to look behind to see any chasing riders, however with many other riders out for a Sunday ride it was difficult to see who did and didn’t have a number board on. Going over the top I was confident I had at least a few minutes to spare so took my time on the feared Gap descent, on this rough descent I dreamt of riding a downhill bike which would have been far better suited for this gruelling terrain.

Suddenly and much to my surprise Scott appeared behind me, the days fastest finisher was to be decided on the final 6 miles. Just like most cross country racers would do I thought the best method would be to attack immediately, powering away along the tarmac. The gap remained small but was enough as I entered the arena after 2 hours 55 to finish first with Scott a minute behind, and Josh 2 minutes further back.

Post stage recovery watching a small event happening in France

Another hugely enjoyable event in a fantastic part of the world at an awesome event, keep an eye on for details of next years plans.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Black Mountain 3 Day Stage 2

Stage 2 would be the toughest of the race with 65 km’s of Brecon Beacon trails and 1500 metres of climbing. The TORQ team started together at the back of the field along with the other top riders including one rider from Belgium. After a few minutes warm up on the tarmac it was time to get racing so Josh and me took to the front of the group towing along all of the general classification competitors and passing by riders who’d started ahead of us.

After 4 km’s we turned of the tarmac and the fireroad turned upwards as we hit the first climb of the day, it was only a gentle gradient but enough of a temptation for me to put down some power and test the legs of the other riders. As we entered the steepest section of this first climb I gapped the group and forged on ahead over the top of the hill. Turning into the next climb I could see the group still together not far behind working hard to close the gap so I kept my head down and put in a big effort up the next steep climb.

The singletrack today was amazing fun either traversing along the side of valleys with amazing views or plummeting down rocky sketchy descents. The singletrack was a real skills tester if you wanted to ride at speed and the first boulder field descent I’m sure would have surprised many riders.

(All photos from race organiser)

After this descent at around 15 km’s the course turned right onto the next climb, riding in the top 5 at the time Josh missed the race arrows and took a wrong turn loosing time and contact with the group. Another mistake later on cost Josh further time and effort. Elsewhere Matt was riding well until a snapped chain stopped his progress.

Today’s route had a couple of hike a bike sections which sounded like a great challenge, could they be ridden? The first of these sections was pretty rocky and I think if we hadn’t been racing it would be a great climb to practise technical skills on and I think could be beaten. The second hike a bike though which was 55km’s into the stage was overgrown with ferns and too steep to even attempt.

At the top of this final hike a bike was a fantastic view of the Welsh countryside and the final descent back to the arena. This descent was fast, left untapped to allow multiple lines, and had plenty of sheep to dodge! Just like the rest of the stage it was great fun and after 3 hours 14 seconds I rolled over the finish line to take the win of stage 2. In the classifications I hold the overall GC lead, whilst Josh is 3rd under 30, and Matt is top 10 in the overall classification.

Tomorrow’s final stage is another 65kms in the Brecon Beacon hills.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Black Mountain 3 Day Stage 1

The Black Mountain Stage Race kicked off yesterday with a 10.5 kilometre timetrial around the grounds of the Glanusk Estate in the Brecon Beacons. Riders were given no start order and instead could start their timetrial anytime between 5pm and 8. I got there reasonably early which meant the course had no racing line worn in but did have the advantage that the very few muddy patches hadn’t turned messy!

With the last timetrial I completed being that 1200 metre climb up to the mountain top finish in Austria we thought yesterday would be easy. We were wrong! A timetrial is only as hard as you make it as you decide what pace to ride, Josh elected to ride at warp 4 (zone 4) and me at warp flat out! An average heart rate of 181 bpm for 30 minutes gave my body something to think about.

The course didn’t give much time to recover. Riders completed 2 circuits of a loop which was essentially a climb beginning on fireroad and turning onto grassy doubletrack before topping out and spitting you into the rocky, rooty singletrack reward. Along the fireroad climb my heart rate was maxed out and then I hit the steeper grass bit of the climb (can you feel the pain, my legs could). The descent really was a reward though and provided enough incentive to do the climb again. With only 1 tiny mistake I was pretty happy with my time and new I couldn’t have gone any faster.

Josh had a little less luck slicing a tyre on rocky fast part of the descent and therefore loosing time as he stopped to make the necessary repairs. Matt flew off the line looking like a real contender to take a top time, however after a delayed return to the start area it was obvious something has happened. A broken mech hanger has halted Matt’s effort. Matt grabbed hold of the only bike available which was Josh’s extra large full suss with unfamiliar 29er wheels and then the organisers allowed Matt to restart his timetrial.

After all this Matt put in a fantastic time of 32 minutes to take 4th place overall after stage 1. I took the overall lead for the TORQ team with a time of 28 minutes. Today’s second stage is a 65 kilometre race through the Welsh hills.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Black Mountain 3 Day Preview.

Another couple of quiet weeks on the blog, sorry but things have been … um… a little disappointing. This weekend however it’s back to the fun marathon racing as the TORQ team take on the Black Mountain 3 Day stage race in the Brecon Beacons. I’ll definitely be posting twitter updates and possibly even blogs so keep checking here for updates.

The stage race kicks off tomorrow with a short timetrial.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

British XC Round 3 Wasing Estate

After a fun week of marathon racing in Europe it was back to the real job of cross country racing today for round 3 of the British Mountain Bike Series. The series up till today hadn’t gone to plan with round 1 ending in disaster as I faded from a possible top 10 position to outside the top 20 in the closing stages of the races, and round 2 was also a day to forget. However today’s Wasing Estate venue suits my strengths and I was hopeful of matching or improving last years 6th place result.

Rain Saturday evening and Sunday morning making the course greasy and further rain was expected during the race so I opted for the intermediate Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres, these tyres hook up well in the mud but roll almost as well as any dry tyre.

From the start I felt really strong sitting behind the front 5 riders through the first few sections of singletrack, a small mistake though created a gap which proved hard to close. Another rider jumped in front of me but I needed a clear view of the slippery singletrack to have the best chance of catching the leaders so didn’t wait long before making an overtake. At the end of first lap I was just 2 second behind the leading group.

Over the next lap the gap increased slightly but the riders ahead remained in sight, however on the early climbs I could already feel tiredness creeping in. With my current form perhaps I should have known the start pace was unsustainable but top 5 is the target so had to be chased. Paying for the early efforts riders behind began to catch me, each time I tried to hook onto the back of them but couldn’t hold the pace.

Half way through the race the rain clouds emptied upon Wasing turning the greasy top surface into a muddy mess. As further riders slid their way past me I’d moved into survival mode, heart rate levels had dropped and the mission became to salvage the best result I could.

Loosing another 2 places on the penultimate lap was a kick in the back as I dropped outside the top 10 but the end was near and I’d be happy to finish. Over the last 17 minute lap I kept my 12th position and crossed the line relieved to have survived the lovely British summer weather we’d be treated to!

There are no excuses for the poor results this year, I just haven’t found the form I had last year. Its time now to put in the hard work and I’m excited about putting together what will hopefully be a good 4 week block of training starting with a 4 hour recovery tomorrow!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

AlpenTour Trophy Stage 4

After yesterday’s time trial it was questionable whether the legs would ever work again, that combined with my aches and bruises from Friday’s crash meant an uncomfortable first few minutes on the bike. After another extended warm up ride both Josh and myself were as prepared as we could be for another battle with these European mountain goats. Stage 4 started with a neutralised start like stage 1, we were lead out to the early climb, having learnt how sketchy and erratic these starts can be I elected to follow several riders who were riding along the pavement which proved far safer.

The early hills which were small sprints compared to the mountains we’d ridden on the previous days suited both Josh and myself meaning we didn’t loose so many places early in the stage unlike previous days. The day also included some singletrack which was littered with roots, this played again to our advantage and we found it easy to make up places as other riders struggled down the tight singletrack.

Approaching the only mountain climb of the day I’d made my way into a strong looking group with 2 Rocky Roads Orbea Team riders and a UCI Cube Nutswerk MTB Team pro rider. Other riders tried attacking early on the climb but we set a solid tempo and caught many riders who’d blown nearer the top of the mountain. Josh and myself found as the days passed the maximum heart rate we could maintain became more and more restricted. The days high 30 degree temperature scorched us as we rode our way up to the Milka mountain top arch, the organisers as I’d predicted provided a lovely steep kicker right at the top of the mountain just to sap the final energy from our legs.

On the descent I was stuck with a rider who was pretty slow so I lead the way down the slippery gravel fireroad, he insisted though on cutting me up on each corner, if he’d been English he would have received some choice selection of words! This spurred me on to take a few risks and gap the chasing riders, this gap only increased entered the next technical rooty singletrack section.

Up the final sprint climb riders were struggling and this presented the perfect opportunity to make up some final places before the last downhill. After a brief hike a bike section we entered the Schladming World Cup Downhill circuit again. The Fox Terralogic forks had worked perfectly all week but down over the huge braking bumps both Josh and myself suffered with huge arm pump. I was pretty nervous entering the last part of the descent where I’d crashed hard a few days earlier so took things steady.

Today’s stage was the most fun of the race but it felt odd to be finished in under 3 hours, the race was over but I wasn’t quite ready for it to finish. A time of 2 hours 33 meant I couldn’t quite match my start board number in the general classification but successfully beat many pro riders. Josh completed the day a short time later and successfully matched his start number in the GC.

Alexey Medvedev from Russia and Katrin Leumann from Switzerland took the overall general classification wins, the UCI points, and the prize money but at the finish line it was obvious that all the finishers were thrilled to have ridden this year’s event.

Photos from todays stage and previous days can be found here, make sure you check out photos of day 2 Once back in the UK we’ll be uploading some video and photos.

We look forward to returning to the 2012 AlpenTour Trophy.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

AlpenTour Trophy Stage 3

Today the organiser rewarded us with a shorter stage after yesterday’s mammoth day; it meant we could have an extra hour in bed because we didn’t have to be at the start until 11.30. The shorter stage wasn’t really a reward though; it was a mountain top finish time trial, in just 16kms we were to ride up 1100 metres! It was like doing a cross country world cup race after doing 2 of the hardest days riding I’ve ever done! Riders were set off every 30 seconds in reverse GC order so instead of suffering the pain along with other competitors you got to experience racing up a steep mountain route all alone.

Hopefully having read that you’ll have started to understand just how painful today was. 40 minutes of warm up I hoped would be enough to prepare my tired legs for the climb which started immediately from the line. Josh opted for a shorter warm up with the idea of increasing the pace on the climb rather than going flat out from the start.

Having completed the first 3 miles along the riverside there were riders ahead of me I was catching already, had I started too fast? After some fireroad climbing we entered a bumpy slow soggy section through a field, this was tough going and required a second energy gel.

Two thirds of the way through the climb we entered a flatter (sub 10% gradient) section which could be ridden in the big ring. I kept a good eye on the Garmin as it counted up the miles and felt good as the final kilometre countdown signs began. I increased the pace over the final steep section which entered a small flat section which I rode flat out thinking the finish was at the end of the road.

Rounding the corner with 300 meters to go the course kicked up, I had nothing left in the tank and this last section was a painful 25% gradient. I slumped over the bars and turned the pedals, those final meters seemed like miles. Crossing the line I muttered to Josh “that was the worst thing I’ve ever done”!

Josh elected to ride zone 4, apparently saving himself for tomorrows final stage where he’s going to fire his way up the general classification. Josh’s time was 1 hour 4, and I finished in 59 minutes.

Let the eating commence, hopefully the legs can survive one last stage. Oh, the bakery was closed when we got to town!

Friday, 3 June 2011

AlpenTour Trophy Stage 2

What an incredible day stage 2 of the AlpenTour Trophy had in store for us, in just 56km’s there would be 2400 metres of totally insane climbing. After just 2 minutes of neutralised rollout the gun went as we hit the start of first climb, an hour later the gradient hadn’t relented, eventually we peaked out at 1900 metres. Once again the European’s pace uphill was truly insane, Josh settled into his endurance pace, whilst I tried my best but mostly failed to chase down groups which had formed. The Australian U23 and Junior development team are here and it was good to see Euro Marathon Champs and XC fast guy Ralph Naef stop to help one of them fix a snapped chain midway up the first climb. By the top of the climb I’d focused on chasing down Mike Brodwick, another top World Cup rider.

The first descent started with some nasty slippery gravel fireroad, 2 Europeans sped past me so I jumped on their wheel and followed lines, as usual though once the singletrack started the same riders struggled to stay in control. Once onto the flat transition section to the next mountain we caught Mike who’d be dangling off the front of the group for some time.

Now the next climb was truly spectacular reaching over 2000 meters, along the way we climbed on fireroad which turned through hairpin after hairpin for maybe 30 minutes. Following this we hit a section with gradients ranging from no less that 20% to about 30%, this lasted for maybe 15 minutes before we hit the snow line where we were forced to walk through the sludge (rather disappointingly this made a mess of my white overshoes!) Through deep breathing Mike said something along the lines of “this is crazy”. Today we needed XTR chainset’s with a 26 tooth inner ring and a 36 tooth cassette and we didn’t have either so there was no choice but to grind our way up the steep sections, will have been an excellent muscle tension workout though!

Once we’d negotiated the following steep rocky descent which was basically just a huge boulder field we plummeted to 800 metres before one last much smaller climb which both Josh and me smashed our way up overtaking many riders who were suffering from their previous efforts. I pushed the pace pretty hard to the top of the World Cup course and was making up some good time until a mistake lead to a silly crash. It doesn’t look like I’ll be bringing back any prize money or UCI points but there are some good bruises to show off now! Luckily the shiny Kona which is attracting many fond looks remains intact and ready for tomorrow’s uphill time trial. Josh made good use of his excellent technical skills and chased down riders on the tough descent to the finish line.

After today’s stage the plan was to hit the local bakery but we’re both far too knackered so that’ll have to wait until tomorrow!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Alpen Tour Trophy Stage 1

Stage 1 started with a 2km neutralised start which turned out to be pretty dicey as riders jockeyed for position banging horns (bar ends and elbows) until the car pulled off and the pace went ballistic! With the first monster climb starting immediately the riders spread out pretty quickly with one of the Milka Trek riders jumping off the front almost immediately. Both Josh and myself took a little while to adjust to the insane pace and settled in around the top 70 and top 40 respectively.

The weather in the Austrian mountains is as expected pretty unpredictable, a small amount of rain last night and a heavy shower just as we were due to leave the apartment dampened the dusty trails at lower levels but left the trails at higher altitude a little muddy, an extra bit of resistance training having climbed for almost a thousand meters though wasn’t too much of an effort in the grand scheme of things!

The first descent was a little disappointing and several tough short sharp climbs caused some pain too already tired legs. About 35km’s in we’d dropped from the King of the Mountains at 1700 metres to 1100 metres, over the next 10km’s I went through a mid race lull. Josh on the other hand had found his rhythm on the descent and pushed the pace on the following smaller climbs.

On the Garmin the route looked to fall off a cliff at 55km’s and it wasn’t far from that, both us TORQ riders found riding the descent which reached 30% gradients easy enough but dodging the Europeans rolling around on the floor or walking was a much harder task! The next climb also seemed like a cliff face but my legs had now woken and I smashed it past many riders including many who’d blown after the fast start. The TORQ gels and isotonic drink were all we used throughout today’s stage and really gave us an energy boost for the climbs.

By the top of the final climb which we’d both made up a good number of places. Josh got a clean run down Schladaming’s Downhill World Cup track, unfortunately a riders jumped ahead of me entering the descent. After buzzing his back tyre for a few minutes I saw a gap and took the inside line on one of the bermed corners and nailed the remainder of the descent back to the finish line. Results are yet to be confirmed but we think my time was about 3 hours 30 and Josh took 3 hours 45.

Back at the apartment Josh’s obsession with food has only worsened, I can’t understand where all that food fits but I guess having burnt around 4000 calories today and probably the same tomorrow it’s necessary. Foolishly we forgot to buy any cake or puddings, following tomorrow’s stage our mission is to find the local bakery!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Alpen Tour Trophy Pre Race

After months of dreaming about a European road trip the TORQ Performance team has made its way back through the Eurotunnel onto mainland Europe. On Thursday Josh and I will take to the start line of stage 1 of the Alpen Tour Trophy 4 day mountain bike stage race.

First off we stopped by Offenburg to watch the German XC World Cup and to do some training in the Black Forest region. The weather was perfect during the 3 days we were in the area with not a cloud in sight and temperatures reaching the 30’s. Watching the World Cup was fun but it did leave me wishing that I’d raced. Dalby is definitely the best organised World Cup I’ve attended and has a good atmosphere but can’t challenge the amazing atmosphere and awesome course that Offenburg offer. Beer flowing, hot dogs frying, commentators at each technical sector, and a compact course which is easy and quick to walk around for spectators makes this a race I certainly hope to ride again next year. Following a day riding the World Class Marathon loop which had some world class fireroad and not much singletrack we pointed the van south east to Schladming, Austria.

There was some World Class views from the Black Mountain marathon course

Our German home for a few days

After a relatively smooth journey (if you ignore the rather narrow German motorway lanes and random Police search) we made it to our destination. This afternoon we’ve spent our time exploring the town, having fun on some awesome technical steep trails right from our doorstep (including the World Cup downhill course which the stage race uses in a couple of days), and eating a pasta dinner for the third day in a row!

Over the next couple of days hopefully they’ll be some video and photos to upload, keep tuned for the very latest news!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Southern Championships 15 May 2011

After a few good weeks training I was a little more confident and motivated going into this race. The race was to be held at Wasing Park where I narrowly missed out on a British XC podium last year. A few changes to the track meant there was even more rooty singletrack made up of loose loamy soil which would test riders ability to ride smooth and also riders sprint power out of the many tight corners.

After being gridded on the front row I made a good start leading the race around the first lap. I set a reasonably high pace but tried to ride at a comfortable heart rate to avoid blowing later in the race. Leading the lap meant I had a clear view of the track and could pick the lines I wanted to ride. By the end of the first lap there was a group of 4 riders at the front including Ade Lansley, Steve James, Tim Dunford, and myself, with Billy Joe Whenman just a few second further behind.

Over the next lap Ade and myself shared the work and created a decent gap over the chasing riders. The pace mid race felt comfortable and I started to figure out where I might attack and was looking for any weaknesses Ade was showing. Over the next couple of laps it appeared that Ade was slowing on the climbs but they were early on in the lap, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to attack that early on and ride alone to the end.

Going into the last lap we were still together, it was a hard track to drink on so a gel each lap kept up the carbohydrate intake. A banoffee guarana gel at the start of the last lap I hoped would give me that extra kick I needed. Once the early climbs were complete I put in several attacks through the singletrack but it proved difficult to build any time without using too much energy.

I kept the pace high though hoping it would cause my rival to make a mistake and with about 5 minutes of the race remaining that’s what happened. A small mistake was enough of an opportunity for me to grab a few seconds lead and that’s all that was needed to take the 2011 Southern Championship title.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Gorrick 100 Enduro

With the sun shining and miles of dusty singletrack the Gorrick 100 Enduro would be a fantastic day out on the bike. Its always enjoyable to return to the Gorrick events, unfortunately I don’t get the chance to race many of these, however with no Houffalize World Cup on the schedule it meant there was an open weekend. With my desire to race more marathon races this year the Gorrick 100 fitted perfectly and the full 7 laps distance would be my target.

On the start line there was a mix of elite cross country cyclists and several successful endurance mountain bikers included last years 7 lap winner Rory Hitchins. 10 minutes after the start a lead group of 3 had formed including Ian Leitch, Phil Lenney, and myself. On lap 2 Ian increased the pace and his efforts were too much for Phil to follow and he dropped behind. Ian continued at a pace that would be impossible to sustain for the whole 100km marathon so I tried to save energy by following wheels and keeping myself hidden from the wind. There were 3 main climbs all within the first third of the lap, and on the third lap heading into the first of those climbs I gapped Ian. I was sure that he’d catch back on once we reached the next 2 climbs but over the remainder of that lap the gap only increased.

With another 4 laps to complete it would have been nice to have had some company but the excellent Gorrick trails and shouts of support kept me focused. Over those remaining laps I kept a consistent pace with my lap times staying within 2 minutes of each other and built a lead ahead of second of 20 minutes! Well done to Ian and Phil who finished second and third. Im now a happy owner of a rather large trophy, thanks Gorrick!

Fresh after 70 miles of racing!

The TORQ Performance team took several wins and podium finishes across the various race distances, and I won the full 7 lap marathon distance. That was my 4th marathon victory in a row, next marathon race is the UCI S1 classified stage race AlpenTour Trophy in Austria.

Results for today’s race can be found here

Thanks to Mum for being on bottle duty!

Monday, 18 April 2011

British XC Round 2 Dalby Forest

My poor performance at the first national really knocked by confidence, I should have taken away some positive from that race having ridden within the top 10 UK riders for the first 4 laps but instead I’ve struggled to put that day behind me and the negatives are still fresh in my mind. Going into the season I set some pretty high targets and to see them disappear into the distance gave my moral a real kicking.

Normally after a bad race there’s time to bounce back by racking up some decent quality training miles but since Sherwood there’s been events each week meaning there’s not been the chance to do much riding. Leading into the second national the pain and disappointment I experienced at Sherwood was still fresh in my mind.

In a regional race where the competition isn’t so fierce and success is more likely there’s less chance of your mindset being tested. However 10 minutes into this past weekends race at Dalby Forest all those negatives came flooding back. I should have been able to just enjoy riding the awesome track but as my motivation to push the pedals at anywhere near racing speed disappeared so did the race.

On lap 4 I did finally start to have a little fun railing the banked corners on the first couple of descents, and sprinting up the early climb to the arena. Having easily dropped the group of riders who were sat behind me the chain dropped off the outside of my chainset. The chain had twisted possibly during an earlier fall, this was causing the gears to slip under load. As the riders I’d dropped rode back past me my race was over, I saw no point in continuing.

Racing isn’t just a battle of fitness but it’s a battle of mind. What I need to do now is resort back to having fun on the bike, start enjoying training, and then the success with come.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

A few mid week thoughts

If you’ve never seen any footage from Paris Roubaix then I’m afraid you need educating! The classics season largely is ignored by the UK media and in this country the majority of people might only ever see a new article on each summer’s Tour de France. This is a shame because there’s something very special about these 1 day races where man and bike battles THE toughest and most demanding terrain that exist in Belgium and northern France. Viewing this amazing gallery looking for a new desktop I tried to select the very best of the images to make a final choice. In reality I struggled to find a single image I wouldn’t have as my desktop, it’s probably actually pretty difficult to get a bad image of this sensational day! The image eventually chosen shows the HTC rider Lars Bak suffering on one of the many cobbles sectors along the route of last Sundays 258km route. To see the true insanity check out the speed the rider are going on this sector of cobblestones

In my last blog I said a small amount about what a pleasure it was to ride the CRC MTB Marathon at the weekend in the same small group as Nick Craig. At the end of the race crossing the line I was ushered towards the commentator for an interview, however the commentator hasn’t realised I’d just finished first and when I told him the first thing he asked was “where’s Nick Craig”!!! Then once a few more riders had finished Nick and me where having a chat/ laugh about the event when a Chinese fan comes across and asks if he could have a photo with Nick! This chap is a true great, a legend even, and you couldn’t meet a nicer person.

That’s all for now, I’ll try to find time to write again before the weekend.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Chain Reaction Cycles MTB Marathon Round 1 Builth Wells

After a couple of fun days at TORQ HQ in Shropshire (which I’ll cover in another blog) it was time for this weekend’s Chain Reaction Cycles MTB Marathon at Builth Wells. There was a night race Saturday evening but I wimped out of that, my teammate James Lister however was a little crazy and raced around to 6th place having already done a hilly mtb ride that morning and then stood in the sun the rest of the day for the team photo shoot!

After a pleasant stay at a local bed & breakfast I was fresh and ready for the 75km distance and 2000+ metres of climbing that lay ahead. Racing short cross country races most weekends meant I was highly motivated to try out some marathon races. On the start line were a number of the very best UK endurance racers and some cross country racers looking to mix things up.

After 5 miles behind the pace car we were free to start racing, quickly gaps started to appear and groups began to form. After a few more miles things started to sort themselves out; up front were the lead group included the legend Nick Craig, Neil Crampton, Ian Leitch, James Lister, Matt Page, and myself. James picked up an early puncture not long after, losing crucial time and his chance of winning the race.

My plan before the race was to sit in and let the other do the work, however feeling strong I increasingly found myself on the front pulling the group along up the climbs. On the descents I saved energy, concentrated on taking on drinks and gels, and rode carefully to avoid taking risks that could result in a puncture or other mechanical.

After maybe 15 miles Ian was suffering and popped off the back of the group struggling to keep the pace on the long climbs. Matt had also disappeared after suffering a mechanical. Over the next 5 miles Nick, Neil and me shared the work but a group had formed behind and was working well to close up the gap to us. Nick was next to puncture on some barb wire fencing after we veered slightly off course. Whilst Nick fixed his wheel Neil and me were left to hike up what felt like a near vertical climb to the trail above where the chasing group was passing us by.

After that comedy we chased back to that group which now led the race. After a short rest I dropped the hammer and with 16 miles remaining I hit the front of the race, my effort was only meant to test Neil but I got a gap almost immediately, this gap stayed the same until we reached an undulating tarmac road which I nailed. Unknown to me though this road led to the largest climb of the day, luckily the legs held out and produced enough power to launch myself over the climb and open up a few minutes lead which I held to the end to finish 1st.

It would have been nice to have ridden with James for longer as I’m sure he would have been a contender at the end of the race, he eventually finished 5th or 6th. Loosing Nick from the group was a loss as well as he was managing the pace well, creating some good chit chat, and again it would have been nice to have had a clean race to the end with him.

The new Kona Kula Watt was awesome; the new frame is so much stiffer and more responsive. The Terralogic Fox forks are fantastic at saving energy on the ups as they automatically lock out and only unlock when they hit a bump, they were also super plush and stiff on the downhills. The Shimano groupset is great and I’m particularly enjoying using the XTR brakes.

Hopefully I’ll find some time in the schedule to fit another CRC mtb marathon this year. Next weekend the TORQ Performance team will be racing round 2 of the British XC Series at Dalby Forest.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Southern XC Round 1 Checkendon

After last weekend’s poor result at the national I decided to have a recovery week from training; mostly I think I needed it mentally. Having been so focused on that 1 event and for it to go so wrong was pretty demoralising. The decision to race the Southern XC this weekend was not made until Thursday evening, for a few days my mind was shot and it was until Thursday evening when chatting with good mate Stefano that my motivation returned, thanks mate!

Waking up Sunday morning to clear skies and the sun peaked through the curtains, what a perfect day for bike racing. A pre ride of the course revealed a testing track with routes, stumps, loose tight corners, windy open farm tracks, sketchy descents, and steep climbs. What an awesome track; returning to the arena I was excited about racing having loved my pre ride. The track could easily replace any of the National XC venues, well done to the Southern XC organisers.

Having done very few Southern events over the last few years I was gridded on row 2 of 2 and off the start had to burn a few matches to close the gap that quickly opened as Ade Lansley and Steve James rode away to take the lead. Having caught the front 2 I tried to stay second wheel and take advantage of some drafting through the windy open sections. Mid way through lap 3 Ade was starting to drop off the back of the group, Steve James was still leading setting a solid tempo, and I remained on his wheel.

As we reached one of the singletrack climbs the electric Shimano Di2 gears on my borrowed bike started to jump, for some reason still unknown they’d shifted out of index. The bike was almost unrideable in gears 1 to 4 which were really needed on the 3 steep climbs. I stopped to see if there was anything obvious wrong, and this stop dropped me down to 6th place.

I chased back up to second place trying to pass the other riders as fast as possible so they couldn’t get a tow around the track as my chase to Steve began. Chris Minter jumped onto my wheel and it was soon obvious the gap to Steve was too big to close. With my gears slipping and a cleat coming loose it was better to make sure the bike made it to the finish line so I tucked in behind Chris until the start of lap 6 when he fell on a corner.

Simon Ernest wasn’t too far behind so I tried to ride smoothly and keep the gap at the same distance. Every corner or bump I thought the bike would fail or the cleat would fall off, it was a relief to the reach the finish line to take second place on the podium.

After such a fun race I’m looking forward to a big week of training. Next weekend TORQ have a team meeting and photo shoot in Shropshire on Friday and Saturday, and then I’m really excited to be racing the Chain Reaction Cycles Marathon on the Sunday - hopefully aboard my new 2011 Kona race bike!

Thanks once again to Chris White from Mountain Trax for the loan bike.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Disappointment at British MTB Series round 1

After months of winter training there was a huge build up to the first national of the year which created a massive amount of excitement and a huge turn out in all categories.

It was good to gather as a team once again and feel like a unit with our TORQ team setup in the arena. A few practise laps Saturday revealed a very tough lap which would be a true test of race fitness. To suit the new UCI regulations the lap had also been shortened to 4 miles which meant riding through the arena more times which was good as this is where the majority of the crowds tend to gather. However the tight and twisty singletrack sections did result in some congestion on race day.

After a good warm up I was able to make a good start but crucially lost some places going into the first singletrack. Over the next 2 laps I made my way up into the second group of riders battling it out for 6th place. This group including some quality riders including Liam Killeen and several visiting professional riders.

The singletrack was being ridden at a high speed but the pace on the fireroads was crazy! The 2 hour race was a huge interval session with very limited recovery. My body just wasn’t ready for this and I popped going into my 5th lap. Not even a TORQ guarana gel could save me and I slipped from a possible top 10 to 22nd in just over 8 miles.

To say the least I was and still am very disappointed but hopefully I can bounce back strong at the next race.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Survival and relief – round 4 of the Gorrick Spring Series

First race of 2011 complete, what a relief! I was pretty nervous last night and definitely over thought the race. The big question was whether my hand would survive. My determination to lead down the first fireroad descent to the drop off paid off as unknown to me carnage prevailed behind with multiple riders on the floor. My block pass to take the lead before the descent was a little risky but had to be done, I did have the inside line.

After taking the lead 10 seconds into the race I kept my nose in front for 2 laps pushing the pace as practise for the rapid Sherwood speed we’ll see next week. The objective was to start as fast as possible and then survive to the end. Pretty quickly it was just Jody Crawforth sat on my coattails with Ade Lansley, Chris Minter, and Scott Forbes following shortly behind.

The gap to the chasers increased and by lap 4 they were out of site, Jody and myself were still together though despite both of our efforts to drop each other with multiple attacks on laps 3 and 4. Going into the last lap the pace increased and Jody got a gap on a small short sharp climb, his 10 second advantage he created at that point was just too much to pull back. The gap stayed the same till very near the end of that lap where I faltered on a slippery climb loosing traction and any chance of taking the win. I cruised the last few minutes to the line accepting and enjoying the emotions of completing my first race of the year.

Today was a real battle and an enjoyable ride. My hand survived although it’s a little sore and swollen now. It makes me excited about the next 28 days of racing that lay ahead this year! Next up is round 1 of the British XC Series in a week’s time. Thanks to everyone who shouted support my way today and a huge thank you to Chris White from Mountain Trax for lending me his amazing bike.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Start Time

This blogs once again been neglected over the last few weeks, not a lots been happening and therefore there hasn’t been much to write about. After missing Andalucia Bike Race I was pretty determined to have a go racing the Gorrick Spring Series two weeks ago at Heath Warren, however after twenty minutes of pre riding it was clear my hand was still broken!

Fast forward two weeks to today where I finally got a proper taste of riding the mountain bike with two hours of blasting around the trails of Porridge Pot Hill which will host the fourth round of the Gorrick series this weekend. I’m pretty excited to be finally getting the season going this Sunday, all the hard work I’ve been putting in might not completely show this week but I hope with a week of recovery my energy systems will be firing on all cylinders in time for the first British XC on the 27th.

That’s all for now, will check in next week with an update... promise!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Broken Bones

Sorry about the lack of updates but there’s not been much to write about recently… that is apart from me breaking a finger. It all happened one Tuesday morning out on the mountain bike on a familiar trail I’ve ridden hundreds of times. A small slip of the front wheel under heavy braking into a corner sent me flying, I did the correct thing and rolled as you’re meant to do but I also put my hand out to break my fall.

After a lengthy wait in one of our countries marvellous NHS hospitals I was bandaged up and then drove home with a diagnosed broken finger and an appointment for surgery! Surely a finger can heal itself!? Apparently not and there was a chance I’d be fitted with another horribly painful wire like I had 2 years ago when I broke a bone in my left hand.

A few days later I was privileged enough to explore multiple waiting rooms in another NHS hospital. Having waited all day I was then invited back the next day to wait in another waiting room for my operation. Eventually, as all hopes of ever making it onto the operating table had pretty much disappeared, I was called through to get prepped for the reconstruction of my finger. Once in the operating theatre I was asked some final questions including why my heart rate was so slow!

Having been knocked out by the general anaesthetic for a few hours I awoke and felt pretty groggy - like I’d been out drinking at university. However, I wanted to get home as soon as possible so told the doctors I was feeling fresh and awake. They pretty quickly allowed me to get changed, as I climbed out of the bed I almost fell over like a drunken kid but stabilised myself before anyone noticed, phew!

Since then my right hand ring finger has been healing pretty quickly and there’s been surprisingly little pain from the 2 screws that now hold the bone together. Instead my throat has been incredibly sore, an after effect of having an air tube down my throat during the operation so I could breath.

Despite all of the above training has continued. There were 3 forced days of rest between the accident and the operation but I’m now training about 2 hours a day on the indoor trainer and hope to be fit enough to be racing the next Gorrick Spring Series race on the 6th of March. Hopefully see you there!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Testing Time

This past weekend the TORQ team gathered for its first testing and training weekend of the year. The testing would give a clear indication of who’s been putting in the miles and doing the correct training. The test day was made up of two parts, the first being a lactate test that shows the power output the riders begin to suffer from lactic acid and essentially indicates how effective the riders base training has been over the winter. The second test was a flat out 20 minute effort outdoor up a nearby hill where the riders power output is recorded and the average power is taken to indicate how strong the riders legs and lungs currently are!

Having been to TORQ for testing twice last year it meant we had some data to compare these new results with. My lactate threshold was good and matched my best results from last winter, more impressive though was my anaerobic threshold power from the twenty minute uphill effort. In July last year just after National Champs I smashed the record set up the climb, at this point of the year I’d just peaked for my main goal and had fantastic form. Already this year I’m just five watts below that previous power output despite having done no power training through the winter. Both results are a huge moral boaster and show that all the hard work over the last three months are paying off.

The following two days consisted of some epic training rides over the amazing Shropshire hills. Check out the video below taken by teammate Josh Ibbett showing the weekend’s trails and scenery.

Torq training ride in Shropshire from Josh Ibbett on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Brass Monkey 4 Hour Round 3

The first race of the year was the final Brass Monkey taking place near Aldershot in Hampshire. Just to make the start line would be a tough task with our flights landing from Gran Canaria at midnight before the race. Luckily our flights landed on time and I managed to get about 5 hours sleep before the alarm clock started beeping.

Arriving at the race venue the cold temperature was a shock to the system, going for 25 degrees centigrade to 3 degrees wasn’t huge fun! The race once again was a sell out so after my warm up I made sure of a good grid position on the front row by arriving a few minutes early. Having training hard in the mountains of Gran Canaria and after being deprived of sleep it was difficult to tell just how the legs and body would cope with the following 4 hours of pain.

I immediately took the lead up the first climb from the start line leaving me with a clear path ahead whilst the hundreds of riders behind battled it out for positition. Pretty quickly a small lead group started to form including myself, Phil Gale and Gareth Montgomerie. Having pre ridden the course before flying off to training camp I made sure to lead all the singletrack sections, half way through the first lap this fast pace on the tight twisty tracks meant Phil Gale had dropped off the back of our group.

Until lap 4 Gareth and I shared the pacesetting, however on the first climb of the lap the legs were still feeling amazingly fresh and I decided to try a small tester to see how Gareth would respond. To my surprise it was enough to get a small gap over the 2008 XC National Series Champion.

I edged out a lead over Gareth until he was out of sight and for the next 3 laps I rode alone to take a hugely satisfactory race win and overall series win. By the end of the race I’d cycled over 41 hours during the last 9 days, doing 5 to 7 hour rides in the mountains made race day almost seem easy even against some hugely talented competition!

The Brass Monkey race series each winter forms a key part of my winter base training, and the organisers put in a huge amount of effort to build in my opinion some of the best race courses in the country. For this reason I’m excited about returning again for next winter’s series.

One final thing i'd like to add is a little thank you to all the kind people out the course whether racing or watching who shouted kind support my way throughout the event.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Gran Canaria Training Camp January 2011

Last week 9 riders including 3 of the 2011 TORQ riders gathered in Gran Canaria for a weeks training camp. With temperatures ranging from 20 to 25 degrees centigrade it was ideal conditions to complete the third week in our hard January training block. Having flown in early evening we had enough time to unpack, visit the supermarket and beach, and build our bikes for the following days training.

With base miles still the key focus we headed out for a steady 5 hour day to break the legs in. Riding from the beach to the highest point on the island at 1940 metres certainly woke the legs. However the route chosen into the mountains was an easy ride in comparison to what lay ahead in the following days.

Day 2 was a really tough day on the bike, after riding west around the coast of the island we headed inland on the GC200 road before heading upward on the GC210. After already riding for 3 hours through the fantastically stunning mountain roads we choose to shortcut up the dreaded GC606, otherwise known as the Valley of Tears. Standing at the base of the GC606 we had no idea that ahead of us was 11kms of tarmac climbing at a 20% average gradient with sections of 28% gradient! The climb snaked its way up the mountain and with temperatures reaching the high twenties it proved a huge test. An hour later we finally appeared at the top of the GC606, a road we’ll never forget!

Monday and Tuesday we once again completed 5 hour rides with over 3000 metres of ascent each day. A well earned rest day was taken Wednesday where we rode down the coast to a small resort called Puerto Rico where we enjoyed some fantastic strawberry milkshakes in a nice café by the marina.

Thursday was an epic day as we completed a huge 105 mile loop on the island taking 7 hours. The 3500 metres plus of climbing included some steep ascents and proved to be an excellent days training. The descents from the top of the island every day were fantastic fun but today the views on the descent through the valleys were stunning.

On Friday with already sore legs we completed a shorter 4 hour ride up to one of cafes near the top of the mountain before descending down the GC60 which acts as a savour road for any rider staying near Maspalomas. The road descends for 40 kilometres straight down to the southern point of the island and riders can average about 35 miles per hour from top to bottom!

With tired legs and thoughts turning for some riders to Sunday’s race we completed a 2 hour ride with a few intervals to keep the legs moving before packing our bags and heading to the airport.

Along with the TORQ team last week the island played host to riders from the BMC road team, Leopard Trek road team, Bulls mtb team, Ergon mtb team, Rabobank womens road team, Alriksson Go Green womens road team, Cervelo womens road team, and Great Britain team.

Our week long trip to Gran Canaria was a fantastic week of training, laughter, sunbathing and ice cream eating. In total the TORQ riders completed around 35 hours of riding over 8 days.

Many thanks to Tim Dunford, Mel Spath, and Ryan Sherlock for showing us some fantastic routes. Also thanks to Stuart Harvey, Steve Middleton, John Pybus, Paul Hopkins, Ant White and Phil Lenney for joining Josh Ibbett, Sion O'boyle and myself for the week in Gran Canaria.

Gran Canaria training from Josh Ibbett on Vimeo.

Video of Gran Canaria