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 www.finelytunedride.co.uk. 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 cafĂ© 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. www.gpm10.com

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.