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 (http://dmac05.com/site/) 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 http://www.finelytunedride.co.uk/ 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 http://blackmountains3day.co.uk/ 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.