Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing Day Update

Well it’s Boxing Day and it’s raining outside as it has been for what seems likes weeks. Luckily I’m on a recovery week so training hours are a little less than half the number I’d normally be doing. The gym is also closed because of Christmas so the extra available time is being used wisely. Now that sponsor negotiations are over, the team has been announced, product orders have been placed, and race schedules have been decided we can start to think about the logistics for our calendar. With this comes a long list of things to organise: airport parking or transfers, flights, car hire, hotels, race entries, support staff…. The list goes on.



Thankfully I enjoy this kind of thing and am thriving off the extra motivation the new team has given me. The training quality has improved immensely and the number of hours I’m spending on the bike has increased. Hopefully this will mean better results once the season begins.



Over the last few weeks I’ve enjoyed some fantastic training rides, sometimes alone in the countryside with just my thoughts and my iPod, and other times with my teammate Tim and other friends. It’s been incredible how quickly the weather has changed from one extreme to the other - we’ve had torrential rain one week, then freezing temperatures and icy roads, and now back to rain and floods. Despite the testing weather I've managed to stay healthy thanks to the products from our new nutrition sponsor USN.



Last week Tim and I ventured out during a particularly wet Sunday for a 5 hour training ride. Many of the roads had turned into rivers and many trails were under water. At one point the route was completely blocked by flooding, we could have found a different route but Tim was eager to get home for tea so it was decided he would be the first person to attempt to the water crossing. The water was over the wheel axels and still rising by the mid way point. Tim made it through just about proving it was safe for me to follow, that’s what teammates are for, right?

Here's a few photos from some of my recent training rides.



The sun rises over flooded fields. Waterproof trousers and jackets have become this years winter essentials along with my Exposure lights.


Another sunrise this time over frozen hills.



George showing off his nutritional strategy.





Thanks for reading! Happy Christmas!





Without the support of our team’s sponsors none of this would be possible.





Monday, 3 December 2012

2013 Team Launch!

Here's the official team press release...




It’s been months of hard work but now the Mountain Trax – Vauxhall Motors Cycling Team can be revealed!


Mountain Trax – Vauxhall Motors Cycling Team is a new fresh exciting mountain bike team specialising in endurance racing. The riders Ben Thomas and Tim Dunford have risen to the top of the sport in the UK and in 2013 they look to cement that position whilst also aiming for big results at some of the world’s toughest endurance events.

The team is pleased to announce its new sponsorship agreements with Mountain Trax, Vauxhall Motors, Little Knocks, Champion Systems Clothing, Exposure Lights, Syncros, Minoura, Fenwicks, Schwalbe, Lezyne, Hope Technology, USN, Fox Suspension, Vermont Images, Sapim, and Bont. The support from these fantastic sponsors will provide the team with the perfect base to launch a successful race campaign.

Ben has had a long term connection with Mountain Trax with the shop helping him out with sponsorship even when it wasn’t their brand on the jerseys. The Wokingham based store which first opened in 1995 now attracts people from all around the UK and has become known for its expertise in building custom built bikes. John Newport from Mountain Trax and Vermont Images takes up the role of Logistics Manager running technical and feed assistance for the team. John had this to say about the team, “Last season we managed to secure the services of Ben Thomas with his own brand identity and personal sponsors to run along side our existing team, this was a major step to achieving some of the bigger goals we’ve set our race team. The year has turned into a pivotal year with some major success, notably a Mountain Trax sponsored rider not only in the British Team but racing at the World Championships with the Mountain Trax support crew in close attendance. In 2013 I have the honour of helping, assisting, driving, listening and generally looking after a great team which will this year include not only Ben Thomas but the new to the team Tim Dunford. Ben and Tim together will make a formidable force on the mountain bike race circuit.”

Vauxhall supports an array of activities and events, we are very proud to have them on board as the second title sponsor for 2013. “We’re delighted to sponsor this new mountain bike team,” said Sandy MacRitchie, Vauxhall’s Commercial Vehicle Marketing Manager. “The fuel-efficient Vauxhall Vivaro, which squeezes out up to 42.7 miles per gallon on a combined cycle, is the perfect van for endurance athletes like Ben and Tim. The Luton-built Vivaro is no stranger to elite competition after winning the Fleet World Miles Per Gallon Marathon and hopefully this new mountain bike team can continue this winning run.”

Over the last few years Ben has become a regular visitor to the top step of the podium at elite category events in different parts of the world. Ben has ridden World Cups, the London Olympic MTB Test Event, the world’s largest stage race the Absa Cape Epic, and the 2012 World Championships. Ben has been silver medallist in the Under 23 National MTB Championships, won the UK’s biggest marathon race the Kielder 100 in 2011, and in 2012 was fourth in the Senior National MTB Championships and finished 31st in his first European Championships. Scott Bikes will sponsor Ben with their fantastic Spark 29er full suspension, and Scale 29er hardtail frames; the brand will also provide the team with helmets and additional training equipment.

Ben had this to say about the team, “2012 was a great year for me with some fantastic results but with the support we have for next year I know Tim and I can ride to even greater success. Pulling all the sponsors, equipment and calendar together has been hard work which started way back in the summer months but it’s been super rewarding to see the positivity from all the sponsors who want to be involved. It’s great to have Tim on board, we’ve known each other for years and train together regularly. We also have similar racing ambitions and I think we’ll work very well together at multi-day pairs stage races. Mountain Trax have exceeded all my expectations in terms of support this year so it’s fantastic to have them on board as title sponsors of this team. With Vauxhall’s support we can travel in comfort and style to races all around Europe.”

Tim’s results have shown huge progression in 2012 with highlights including winning the Kielder 100, TORQ 12 hour, and the UK Endurance Series. Like Ben this year Tim has moved his focus towards marathon distance events. Following his successful year British Cycling rewarded Tim with a place on the GB Team for the World Marathon Championships. Tim has ridden Cannondale Bikes for several years and this continues in 2013 with Tim riding the new Scalpel 29er full suspension and Flash 29er hardtail.


Tim is equally excited about the year ahead, “Ben and I have been racing each other since we were in the Expert category back in 2008. More recently we have both focussed more on the longer marathon events and have had some great battles over the last few seasons. Next year we will be teammates but I’m sure there will still be some healthy team rivalry! Our plans for 2013 are now coming together and it’s going to be an amazing year. We are very fortunate to be receiving fantastic support from Mountain Trax, Vauxhall and all our other team sponsors -without their backing all this wouldn’t be possible. I’m super motivated to get the new season underway and currently putting in lots of rather damp winter miles to be in the best condition possible for next year.”


The team’s goals for 2013 are to medal at the UK National Marathon Championships and to win the champions jersey, retain Tim’s UK Endurance Series title including winning the UK’s toughest marathon the Kielder 100, finish top 20 at the European Marathon Championships, and top 30 at the World Marathon Championships. The team’s full event schedule will be published shortly.


British Cycling realised Ben and Tim’s potential in 2012 by sending them both to represent the Great Britain Team at the World Marathon Championship. With the support of the team’s sponsors the riders have the extra motivation needed to make a big impression in 2013 and both riders are looking forward to successfully showing off the Mountain Trax/ Vauxhall Motors Cycling Team kit around the world.


Look out for our red, black and orange Champion Systems designed kit out on the trails and be sure to say hello. You can keep up to date with all the Mountain Trax – Vauxhall Motors Cycling Team’s news by following and clicking the Like button on our Facebook page –

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mountain-Trax-Vauxhall-Motors-Cycling-Team/330790256947713



Saturday, 24 November 2012

Season Summary

This blog has been a little neglected since my last update back in October. Thanks to those of you who’ve continued to check the site, for more regular daily updates you can check the Twitter and Facebook pages where there’ll be some big news coming next week about our plans for the 2013 season. Please follow and like the pages:
https://twitter.com/benthomas88
https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Ben-Thomas-Racing/330790256947713

Since Roc d’Azur I’ve taken some much needed rest away from the bike and the training lifestyle; it was good to enjoy some nice foods (a few more cakes than I’d normally be able to indulge in) and I even ventured back to the local night club I promised never to return to when I was in college! Plans were already coming together for next year so much of October and November were spent at the computer sending emails and making phone calls.

Training started at the beginning of November. There’s a long build up to the first big races of 2013 but it’s important for my preparation to start building a solid base fitness this side of the New Year. My first 3 weeks of training have just concluded and my training files reveal a successful month: the commitment from sponsors for next year has been a really big motivation. Waterproof trousers and jackets have become my most regularly used items even on the road, it might not be very aerodynamic but it keeps you dry.

This year has left me with some unfinished business after bad luck and poor planning ruined several opportunities for big results: National Cross Country Champs sticks out as the major disappointment but I’ll turn this around as extra motivation for the 2013 race. Andalucia Bike Race, Kielder 100 and National Marathon Champs are 3 other big events I’ll look to improve at next year and hopefully we can make this possible with the changes we are making this winter.

I’ll remember several highlights from this year: 31st place at the European Championships; 23rd overall at the Cape Epic; being selected for the World Championships; plus many memorable stories from epic race trips with many fantastic friends.




Thanks to the followers of this blog, the Facebook page, and Twitter for all the support this year. There’ll be another update on Monday 3rd of December when we’ll be launching our team for 2013! Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading.
Ben Thomas

None of this would be possible without the help of my sponsors

Mountain Trax www.mountain-trax.com
Santa Cruz Bikes www.santacruzbikes.co.uk
Montane www.montane.co.uk
Fox Suspension www.mojo.co.uk
Hope www.hopetech.com
Rapid Racer Products www.rapidracerproducts.com
USE www.use1.com
Exposure www.exposurelights.com
Vermont Images www.vermont-images.co.uk
Lezyne www.lezyne.com
Jagwire www.jagwireusa.com
Kenda Tires www.kendausa.com
Phenix Metabolic www.phxmet.com
Crank Brothers www.crankbrothers.com
Clif Bar www.clifbar.com
Scott UK www.scott-sports.com



Sunday, 28 October 2012

ROC D’AZUR 56KM CROSS COUNTRY

FREJUS, FRANCE
44th OCTOBER 2012
RESULT: 14th in age category/ 44th overall

Following World Champs and Roc d'Azur marathon (see previous reports) I was even more motivated to have a good ride at my final race of 2012, the Roc d'Azur 56km cross country. This race is the main event of the festival with thousands of people taking the start line.

After being ill on Friday I had an easy day Saturday and was feeling much better by Sunday morning. Another clear blue sky welcomed the riders at the start with temperatures expected to rise to the mid 20's. The start line was pretty crazy, with around 20 people per row it was some sight to see the thousands lined up. I was on the sixth row with my sight set on a decent start; I catapulted straight into the start madness looking for gaps like Mark Cavendish would do to position himself near the front of the peloton for a sprint. I didn't quite make the front which included all the World Cup XC regulars but I was in a good group as we started the first big climb.

I rode more conservative than maybe I could have done on the descents but was making good progress everywhere else making up places regularly. There would be the odd rider who'd catch me on the descents including one Spanish guy who looked completely out of control. Turning the next corner my theory was true, he was a little too out of control and hadn't made the corner instead going straight on into the trees and shrubs.


Once again, like Friday’s marathon, the trails were super fun and were really dusty from the hot dry weather. Today though many spectators had gathered on the descents, and on some of the technical climbs. The biggest crowd however had gathered on the road climb up the Col de Bougnon where three deep the crowds cheered and shouted leaving just enough room for the riders to pass, the tunnel of noise was even bigger than anything I've experienced at a World Cup XC.

The sea views were now ahead leaving the final descent and then the dash along the beach to the finish. On the first beach crossing I caught some chap in Quick Step kit, once past him the crowds were going mad shouting 'allez allez allez Sylvain Chavenel'!! I forged ahead but on the long stretch back to the venue a group formed of around 10 riders, we entered the arena all set for a sprint, the commentator was loving it! I was fourth in the sprint (finishing just ahead of Sylvan), 21st in age group and 44th overall. The top 25 was only 5 minutes away, not bad in such a strong field, next year that'll be the target.

Every keen mountain bike racer should visit the Roc d'Azur, there's nothing else quite like it with 18,000 people pinning a number board to their bikes and taking over the hills above Frejus. Put it on your calendar next year and I'll see you there!



What a race, what a week, what a month.... what a year it’s been. There's been many ups and downs; the downs just make you stronger and the ups create stories you'll be telling for years. It’s been a great year and 2013 looks like its going to be even better. The level of support this year has been truly fantastic, especially from Mountain Trax who do everything they can to support me. Thanks to them, John Newport from Vermont Images, and all my other sponsors who've made this year possible.


Thanks for reading.
Ben Thomas

None of this would be possible without the help of my sponsors
Mountain Trax www.mountain-trax.com
Santa Cruz Bikes www.santacruzbikes.co.uk
Montane www.montane.co.uk
Fox Suspension www.mojo.co.uk
Hope www.hopetech.com
Rapid Racer Products www.rapidracerproducts.com
USE www.use1.com
Exposure www.exposurelights.com
Vermont Images www.vermont-images.co.uk
Lezyne www.lezyne.com
Jagwire www.jagwireusa.com
Kenda Tires www.kendausa.com
Phenix Metabolic www.phxmet.com
Crank Brothers www.crankbrothers.com
Clif Bar www.clifbar.com



Monday, 22 October 2012

Roc d'Azur 85km Marathon - 12th October 2012

RESULT: 14th in age category/ 40th overall

Written Saturday 13th October

Roc d'Azur is an iconic cycling festival which takes place each year in Frejus, France which is an hour’s drive west of Nice. The areas pleasant 25 degrees centigrade autumn temperatures, the fantastic trails, the coastal resort, and carnival atmosphere is what brings 18,000 people to the town for one October week. There are an array of different competitions taking place over 4 days including the cross country, marathon, endurance downhill race, dirt jumping, and tandem race (which we ARE doing next year! We just need to find a bike).

Tim Dunford has been raving on for as long as I've know him about how good Roc d'Azur is. With Worlds the weekend before it made perfect sense to make a 2 week trip and drive another 400 miles south to the coast. So it was decided perhaps foolishly that we'd race Worlds, pack the car and drive south that evening... arriving at 2am in Frejus wasn't so glamorous having raced for 5 hours and then driven for just as many (sorry, Tim had driven, I'd just fed the driver with sugary food to keep him going).


After a goods night sleep I went out Monday midday to ride what I thought to be the 85km marathon track, with some techy trails I thought it would be an advantage to know the terrain. 5 hot hours later I was back home having ridden a route which was completely wrong! It was good to be in the sun though and in the pretty hills above the coast so it wasn't all bad. It now being 5.30pm the shops were all closed apart from the bakery were I chose dinner from their delicious cake selection.

Tim had been nursing a cold virus all of last week in Ornans, staying in the same room and travelling with him I'd avoided catching anything but then Tuesday night I had a chesty cough. Otherwise I felt ok so it was a surprise pulling off the line at today's 83km Roc d'Azur marathon when I started wheezing, coughing and had no power. It felt like someone was holding onto my seatpost or someone had let my tyres down. Normally I start well but not today, Tim rode past and asked if I was okay, no was the answer!

I moved up a few places on the first climb but my heart rate wouldn't rise to anywhere near race pace. After the first hour where I'd been loosing places rather than gaining them like usual I admitted to myself that I just needed to finish the race by riding around admiring the view and having fun on the trails. There were some amazing views out there especially in the last hour where you rode back towards the coast and could look out over the beaches to the shiny blue sea. The trails were pretty awesome as well, lots of sweeping twisty sections and even more steep rocky descents.

I'd seen Tim a few times during the race, the final part of the race goes along the beach before following a rocky footpath along the beach front, I was worried Tim would catch me so kept looking behind. Riding along the beach was really good fun, I made it through the first stretch but then on the second my bike got stuck and I fell over still clipped into the pedals much to the amusement of the crowd which had gathered.


I made it to the finish 14th in category and 40th overall which was a pleasant surprise considering the world class level of competition and how ill I was feeling. Now there’s just one more race before the end of the season.


Thanks for reading.
Ben Thomas

None of this would be possible without the help of my sponsors
Mountain Trax www.mountain-trax.com
Santa Cruz Bikes www.santacruzbikes.co.uk
Fox Suspension www.mojo.co.uk
Rapid Racer Products www.rapidracerproducts.com
Vermont Images www.vermont-images.co.uk
Kenda Tires www.kendausa.com
Phenix Metabolic www.phxmet.com
Crank Brothers www.crankbrothers.com
Clif Bar www.clifbar.com

Friday, 19 October 2012

World Marathon Championships 2012

Written Monday 8th October

Its not every day you get to represent your country, pulling on your countries colours is what enthusiastic sports men and women dream of all around the world. Only one level below the Olympic games there is the World Cross Country Championships and also World Marathon Champs, each of these events decide who will wear the coveted World Champions stripes for that particular discipline.

This past weekend in very wet but beautiful Ornans, France the Marathon Worlds took place across a tough technical hilly 85km circuit. Rain had turned an already super technical track into a greasy messy bike trashing war zone! Even the most experienced riders were saying this would be the hardest Marathon Worlds ever!

Practise on Thursday was pretty fun sliding around the first and last parts of the circuit with my old teammate from Australia Andy Blair. It was great to have some time to catch up with Andy having not seen him for a couple of years. He's not lost any of his technical skills and it was pretty amusing following him down the muddy descents. On Friday Tim Dunford and I went to practise the middle part of the circuit, this 40km section was the toughest part of the track. There was everything from slippery fast rutted fireroads, out of control steep descents, boggy fields, tough rocky ascents and off camber cliff top trails which almost had me needing a parachute!

The mud on some trails was drying causing awful mud clogging, when it rained Saturday night before the race it was almost a relief to the riders as the rain would stop the mud being so sticky. With the rain tip tapping on the apartments balcony Sunday morning we nervously ate breakfast and prepared ourselves for the challenge which lay ahead.

To make things easier John and Chris from Mountain Trax had flown out to France to run technical and feed support. At the start they were there to take extra clothing which we peeled off at the last possible moments, this was much better than standing around for half an hour in short sleeve jerseys and shorts whilst it rained like some riders were doing! There were 7 tech zones all in different locations so they were kept busy and they worked the hire 'rally' car hard.

After a soaking down the 5 minute puddle filled start fireroad we turned sharp right onto the first climb. I didn't have the best of starts but once we started ascending I quickly began to make up places, the hill power training I've been doing at home had obviously worked. Reaching the top of the climb I found myself riding with the Trek World Racing Swiss riders the Flukinger brothers. I followed one of them down the first big descent making up loads of places matching the top 15 World Cup racers lines.


As the race continued I settled into a decent pace riding with another Swiss rider leading him up the climbs and then following him down the descents. Reaching the half way point I was feeling strong riding myself towards a possible top 40 finish.

Coming into feed zone 4 having successfully negotiated the most technical descent of the race I entered a series of fast fireroad descents which had become greasy with mud and rutted from the rain. On one of the steeper fireroad descents I struggle to control my speed and hit a rut which threw me from my bike and sliding down the hill on my side. No problem until my hip met with some big rocks, ouch! After a few choice words I climbed up, found the bike, straightened the bars and seatpost which had both twisted when I crashed and then got going again.

I'd lost about 10 places and something didn't feel quite right but I continued through the feed zone onto the next climb. Once ascending I couldn't put out any power through my left leg, I'd landed pretty hard on my left quad muscles and they now refused to work. I struggled to the top of the climb but was only just moving in my easiest gear almost resigned to walking, riders streamed past including first Tim, then some of the GB girls.

By the top I was in pain and was loosing body heat, it’s horrible to abandon any race let alone a race as special as this especially when you're going so well but I couldn't have made it up the next big climb.

It was a privilege to represent team GB, I learnt so much from the race and hope the 2012 World Champs are the first of many I get to attend. Thanks to British Cycling for the selection and all my fantastic sponsors especially Mountain Trax for coming all the way to France to support the British riders. Well done to the GB riders who all rode fantastically.

I write this in Frejus on the southern French coast where I’ll race my final 2 events of the year, the Roc d'Azur Marathon on Friday and Cross Country on Sunday.

Thanks for reading.
Ben Thomas

None of this would be possible without the help of my sponsors
Mountain Trax www.mountain-trax.com
Santa Cruz Bikes www.santacruzbikes.co.uk
Fox Suspension www.mojo.co.uk
Rapid Racer Products www.rapidracerproducts.com
Vermont Images www.vermont-images.co.uk
Kenda Tires www.kendausa.com
Phenix Metabolic www.phxmet.com
Crank Brothers www.crankbrothers.com
Clif Bar www.clifbar.com

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Gorrick 12 Hour Team Win!

If you’ve been reading my reports for a while you’ll know just how much I enjoy riding marathon and endurance events. This year I was especially looking forward to the Gorrick 12 hour which is sponsored by my team’s title sponsor Mountain Trax. The event takes place around an 8 mile circuit I know pretty well so when the heavens opened the day before the race I was fairly confident it wouldn’t be a complete mudfest like many other 12 or 24 hour races. The venue and much of the surrounding area has a loamy surface which quickly absorbs water keeping mud to a minimum. The track is made up of some super fun rooty singletrack and a few short, sharp climbs which perfectly suit my snappy power. The rain stopped on Saturday evening, come Sunday morning riders woke to blue skies and breezy conditions which would quickly dry the track as the last of the summer sunshine beamed down onto Minley Manor.


With a central base in the arena Mountain Trax had the perfect setup for its riders which included the race team, its shop staff, a few select customers, and a couple of guests. In total Mountain Trax had 4 teams - including the customer team. I’d be racing with Will Simmons, Scott McCarron, and Calum Chamberlain who was racing his final race in the UK before moving to New Zealand.


The aim from the start was to lead the race out trying to crack the strong opposition which existed in particular from my former team TORQ Performance. From the gun the race followed the lead quad bike in a loop around the arena field, the idea being riders would spread out before being let loose on the full lap and into the tight singletrack. As soon as the quad pulled off after the start loop I took the lead allowing perfect vision through the first twisty trail. Exiting this trail I had a small gap and capitalized by attacking up the next hill and along the next fireroad section. Quickly the elastic began to stretch, soon I was alone thrashing through the trails on my Santa Cruz 29er having huge amounts of fun. Although the track was drying quickly there were a few slippery patches which meant you needed to stay aware; the Kenda Karma tyres found the grip though and kept me going in the right direction. Entering the arena after the first lap in one of these 12 or 24 hour endurance races is always a thrill because the crowds in the arena gather to see who will be in the lead. First lap glory with 2 minutes lead over 2nd place at Mountain Trax’s home race was a pretty special but in reality as Calum headed out onto the next lap there was still over 11 hours to go.




Between laps there was some great banter, laughter and general comedy at the Mountain Trax tent which made the 12 hours pass by quickly. After Calum completed his lap he’d extended the lead over second place TORQ. Will and Scott then put decent lap times but TORQ’s strong 4 man elite team were piling on the pressure bringing the gap back down to a minute. As each hour passes the gap to second would increase and then close back down. Cracks eventually appeared over at TORQ and at this point we finally began to pull out a few more minutes, the gap never really became comfortable though, a puncture or crash would flip the situation completely.


As darkness fell over Hampshire the Mountain Trax team strapped on their Exposure Lights ready to illuminate the dark forest trails. Evidence of how well these lights work was proved by the lap times, my dusk lap time was just as fast as my previous 2 daytime laps, my final lap at night was just a minute slower around a tight twisty rooty 35 minute track!

As the 12 hour mark approached riders, family and friends gathered in the arena to cheer home the rider’s still racing out on track. The race organisers from Gorrick had pulled off another fantastic race and under clear skies team Mountain Trax crossed the line to take the win by 16 minutes.


Thanks for reading.
Ben Thomas



None of this would be possible without the help of my sponsors


Mountain Trax www.mountain-trax.com
Santa Cruz Bikes www.santacruzbikes.co.uk
Montane http://www.montane.co.uk/
Fox Suspension www.mojo.co.uk
Hope www.hopetech.com
Rapid Racer Products www.rapidracerproducts.com
USE www.use1.com
Exposure www.exposurelights.com
Vermont Images www.vermont-images.co.uk
Lezyne www.lezyne.com
Jagwire www.jagwireusa.com
Kenda Tires www.kendausa.com
Phenix Metabolic www.phxmet.com
Crank Brothers www.crankbrothers.com
Clif Bar www.clifbar.com
Scott UK www.scott-sports.com

Monday, 27 August 2012

6th at British XC Series Round 5

The cross country schedule I’ve followed this year has produced mixed results with some excellent results regionally, however my rides at the national series have been blighted by bad luck and fatigue. Bad luck can’t be helped, the fatigue however could have been avoided but sometimes you have to pick and choose which races you want to focus on, this is often to the detriment of others.

After the bad luck struck at National XC Champs in July I began to focus on my next big target the Kielder 100, this meant longer rides and less intervals so I wasn’t sure how the final National XC Series round would go. The course was a fast 6km circuit with short sharp uphill climbs and tight twisty singletrack.


Having only completed one National XC round this year I was gridded back on the 4th row. Off the start riders ahead made a slow start meaning I soon found myself at the back of the field. The open wide climb allowed for overtaking and suited my strengths so I quickly began to make up places. Lap by lap I passed a few more riders until I was inside the top 10, by now I was racing riders selected for the World XC Champs and most are full time cyclists. My third lap was the quickest of all the elite riders and my fourth lap was the second quickest.


Once in a group with brothers Seb and Hamish Batchelor I wasn’t sure how I’d outwit the pair and escape without pacing them but the course naturally split up groups as the climbs were so tough ridden at speed. After a lap I made my move escaping with Paul Oldham who was riding well, Paul gapped me toward the end of lap 5 as my chain slipped on a worn chainring. The worn chainring slowed me down slightly on that lap but kept my pace steady as I was forced to ride smoothly to avoid damaging the bike.


Laps six and seven were ridden alone but with my lap times again getting faster I moved up into sixth place. Paul Oldham went on to close in on the top 4 leaders finishing just behind them in fifth taking the final podium spot; I wondered afterwards if we’d been able to work together whether we could have caught the leaders.


After loosing all my world ranking points this year it felt so good to be back in the points and the money! A strong finish to the series is just what I needed and hopefully next year I can get back on the podium at a National race. To have finished on the podium would have been a fantastic way to say thanks to my sponsors but there’s still time this year with the Kielder 100 and a couple of races in France in October!


Special thanks to my sponsors John from Vermont Images and Chris from Mountain Trax for their fantastic support providing technical and feed support at events.




Thanks for reading.

Ben Thomas



None of this would be possible without the help of my sponsors

Mountain Trax www.mountain-trax.com
Santa Cruz Bikes www.santacruzbikes.co.uk
Montane http://www.montane.co.uk/
Fox Suspension www.mojo.co.uk
Hope www.hopetech.com
Rapid Racer Products www.rapidracerproducts.com
USE www.use1.com
Exposure www.exposurelights.com
Vermont Images www.vermont-images.co.uk
Lezyne www.lezyne.com
Jagwire www.jagwireusa.com
Kenda Tires www.kendausa.com
Phenix Metabolic www.phxmet.com
Crank Brothers www.crankbrothers.com
Clif Bar www.clifbar.com
Scott UK www.scott-sports.com



Monday, 6 August 2012

Brighton Big Dog Win!

The last couple of months have been all about the build up to National XC Champs, it was a big focus of mine and I wanted to put behind me the uncharacteristic performances of previous National Series rounds and show everyone what I can really do. Weeks of training passed perfectly and on the 22nd of July I was in ideal form to fulfil my target result. Off the start I found myself in the lead group of 5 but on lap 2 bad luck struck as my bike suffered a mechanical. It was pretty emotional at the time: having put in so much hard work it was tough to cope with it all being snatched away.

I’d planned to take a week off from training after National XC Champs; a week’s holiday was perfect as it gave me time to forget the disappointment and refocus. Last week was spent logging in the miles topping up the base fitness ready for a new focus which will conclude my season…

On Saturday it was back to the race day routine as I took to the start line of the 6 hour Brighton Big Dog marathon. It was my first time at the event but the competition was familiar, at the start I lined up next to my Gorrick 100 rivals Tim Dunford and George Budd. After a quick start loop we were off out onto the race track which was made up of super fun rooty and rocky tight singletrack. There was plenty of climbing and descending so this would be a different test to the flat trails of the Gorrick 100 in May. The trails were slippery so I decided my best option was to be near the front of the race staying out of trouble, despite there being teams of 3 and pairs racing I was the third person through after lap 1 with George right behind me. Tim had been dropped pretty early so George and I had a comfortable gap and settled into what felt like a steady pace. George was pinning the slippery singletrack taking a few more risks than I wanted to and was wasting energy on the climbs standing up out of the saddle while I remained seated spinning smoothly away.

On lap 4 I dropped George much to my surprise, I hadn’t expected to be out alone so early and with a possible 5 more laps to go it was going to be a long race. Later on that lap George then suffered a mechanic leaving me with a gap of a couple of minutes. The trails by now were pretty dry and I loved the rooty descents, especially the last couple of downhill sections to the arena where spectators had gathered to cheer on the riders.

Once out alone it’s always hard to maintain focus and not think about other things or start to worry about what could go wrong. I was being given no time gaps back to 2nd and 3rd so on lap 6 I started to panic that George was catching me. I was asking other riders what the gap was but the responses were all very varied. All I could do was keep smooth, refocus and maintain my speed, my lap times were pretty consistent throughout the whole race and overall I felt comfortable and in control.

The race atmosphere was fantastic and the course one of the best I’ve ridden in the UK. Crossing the line in first was a real pleasure and receiving the winner’s trophy was a pretty good birthday present!





Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Twentyfour12 2012

Severe weather warnings, torrential rain, road closures, and floods greeted riders on Friday evening as they made their way to Twentyfour12 in Plymouth this past weekend. A pre ride mid afternoon Friday presented a damp slippery track which included the very best of Newnham Park’s mountain bike trails. The weather that arrived that night would transform parts of the course from slippery but manageable to dangerous and unrideable. The whole event was put in danger by the rising water levels in the river which runs alongside the camp sight.

After a peaceful night’s stay in a nearby hotel team Mountain Trax arrived at the campsite Saturday ready for action. I’d be teamed up with Calum, Scott and Martin to race the 12 hour in a team of 4. Also racing from Mountain Trax was Kathy who was riding the 12 hour solo. Team Director John would be supporting us during the race. The decision was made that I would start and would therefore have the opportunity of going for first lap glory. There were some strong riders on the start line, including former teammates from TORQ. The wonderful British summer weather had improved after Friday’s heavy downpours but the course remained pretty waterlogged.

The race begun around a short start loop which returned us to the arena before we headed out on a full lap of the track. A quad bike led us around the start loop, as we exited the arena I leapt into the lead determined to force the pace and create a time gap to our rivals early on. After the 5 minute start loop I’d already created a 30 second lead and didn’t back off the power until I entered the trails. I knew after all the rain we’d had that the singletrack would be slippery and it would be easy to make a mistake leading to a crash. Being cautious on the trails and then pushing hard on the climbs or fireroad would be the strategy for the race. After slipping my way down the last descent into the arena I handed over to Calum with a lead of a few minutes. The organisers had done a good job of re-routing parts of the track following the rain we had on Friday night, leaving a track which was good fun and completely rideable.


On our third lap we lost the lead as Martin suffered a puncture on the rocky trail called Cottage Return, with the tyre not sealing he was forced to fit a tube. This cost us 15 minutes and the opportunity to chase TORQ and Southfork Racing as they rode past us fixing our mechanical. We weren’t going to give up easily though and over the next few hours we chased hard hoping our luck would change.

As the laps passed by the course conditions worsened, after my second lap the course was shortened as sections did become unrideable. Again later on in the evening the organisers did a good job of changing parts of the course to keep the race moving and riders happy.


Each rider from the team was riding consistent lap times keeping us in third position. Between laps there was plenty of laughter and fun at the big orange Mountain Trax eazy-up tent. We had a good position in the area where we could view both the last descent and also a jump through the campsite which caused many comedy moments. After the half way point the mud began to thicken which meant it stuck to bikes weighing them down, luckily we had John who was doing a fantastic job cleaning the bikes after every lap.

For the night time laps the team had a range of fantastic lights at its disposal from my sponsor Exposure Lights, the huge power of the Maxx D and Diablo lights illuminated the greasy rocks and roots. During my night laps I’d often pass riders thinking they were riding without light - such was the power of my Exposure LED’s!


Going into the latter stages of the race it became apparent that we would be tight on time for Scott to start his fourth lap before the 12 hours elapsed. Rules differ at different races but at Twentyfour12 riders can complete any lap they have begun before the 12 hour mark. Martin knew he had an hour to complete his last lap so that Scott could start his lap. Like a couple of cheeky school kids Calum and myself armed with horns and bells wandered over to the finish line to wait for Martin and to cheer on Scott. The minutes ticked by, then the seconds ticked by, it looked like Martin wouldn’t make it but then with 3 seconds to spare he sprinted over the line to pass the baton to Scott. In reality Scott didn’t have to go out on his fourth lap as the team behind us couldn’t have overtaken us but it was good fun and Scott wanted to do his second night lap.


After 16 completed laps the team finished a fine third place and Kathy finished a brilliant second place in the solo category. The podium presentations completed a fun packed weekend of racing. The organisers put on a fantastic event as always and successfully beat the weather which tried its best to ruin the race. Get yourself to Twentyfour12 next year, you won’t be disappointed, it might even be sunny!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Win at Southern XC Series Final

This past weekend the 2012 Southern XC Series came to a close with the fifth and final round at Frith Hill in Surrey. Having ridden three of the previous four rounds I stood a good chance of securing second place in the series but was yet to win a round this year, I was determined to make amends at this final round.

On Saturday I joined Calum and Scott from team Mountain Trax for a practise of the race track. The lap was a real power course and could be ridden entirely in the biggest chainring, just how I like it! There wasn’t anything too technical but the singletrack was great fun and there were plenty of tight twists which could easily catch riders out as they tired during their final race laps.


A little rain around midday Sunday created only a little mud on the first singletrack descent, the rest of the track remainder loamy and dusty. A combination of Kenda Karma front tyre and Small Block Eight rear was perfect for the course conditions.
My start sprint was good and put me just behind Ade Lansley into the first descent, entering the first climb we both sprinted for the lead which opened a gap to the riders behind. Ade was keen to stay ahead and blocked my progress. He couldn’t stop me though and as the trail opened back up on the second part of the climb I sprinted past into the next bit of singletrack and didn’t look back!

It was unexpected having trained so hard during the days leading into the race but my legs felt great and the gap to Ade began to open. I added time on each climb or open fireroad and took it steady on the singletrack making sure I hit my lines, saving energy, and looking after the bike.

A few days before the race Mountain Trax had very kindly fitted the new Sram X0 ten speed grip shifters to my bike. I was super keen to try these new shifters and they’re a great addition to the Sram XX groupset I have. The older triggers were good but these are even smoother and quicker to change through the gears, even letting you change multiple gears in one go. Despite only having one day riding with the new grip shifters before the race it was easy to adjust and I’m sure they helped me win the race.

By the end of the first lap I had a fifteen second lead, it wasn’t much and a small mistake would have put Ade straight back onto my wheel but I kept up the pace. My next three laps times were within three seconds gradually getting quicker each time around. This was enough to crack the opposition and open up a decent lead on the fourth lap. I was then out of sight but still felt good and was enjoying racing my bike around the fun trails the venue offers.

After just over one and a half hours I crossed the line with my arms aloft taking the win with a gap of nearly three minutes on second place Ade Lansley and a further minute to Ben Sumner in third! The points acquired from the win were enough for me to take second place in the series.

Last week was a big training week and the strength of my legs during the race was a little unexpected but a pleasant surprise with just three weeks to go until National XC Championships. With another two big weeks of training hopefully I can make further progress and collect a decent result at Champs.


This weekend I join team Mountain Trax for the team event TwentyFour12 at Newnham Park in Plymouth.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

European Marathon Championships

Today Europe’s very best marathon racers gathered in Czech Republic for the 2012 European Marathon Championships. I arrived by plane flying into Prague on Tuesday, this gave me the opportunity to practise the course and recover from the stresses of travelling. An early flight and a quick exchange of car keys at the car hire meant I was driving north towards our accommodation at a decent enough time to have the chance to ride the first 35 miles of the track Tuesday afternoon.

You can see my pre race video here


The course started at Jablonne v Podjestedi town centre, passed over the German border, passed back into Czech Republic further West, before finishing up on a golf course in Hermanice v Podjestedi. There was a real mix of trails including fast open fireroad, grassy farm tracks, super rocky jeep track descents, loose steep rocky uphill climbs, and rooty singletrack. It was great fun to ride and practising the track for a few days before the event was a huge benefit on race day.

You can see my preview of the Euro Champs race course here


Race day dawned following some huge thunderstorms that rolled through the mountains surrounding us the previous night. The trails remained largely dry though thanks to the high temperatures in the previous few days. A fourth row call up gave me the opportunity for a decent start slotting onto the back of the lead group as we entered the first offroad section. The 10 kilometres were very fast, after the lead group split I chased back across to the leaders only for the group to split again on the next climb. Sitting in the second group there was a good tempo and we were quickly progressing through the kilometres.
The real hills started at 45 kilometres after we passed through Oybin in Germany. By this point though the race had split apart and riders were well spaced out. There were limited position changes after this point, only riders who’d started too fast fell back through the field changing the race order.
After Oybin two of the riders from the Team Bulls professional mtb team caught me, they sat on my wheel for a while until I realised there were two of them. I then let them do some work and we rode together until about 15 kilometres to go where I slipped on one of the final steep uphill rocky sections which was damp and slippery after the previous nights rain. I chased but couldn’t get back, these two went on to finish just a few minutes in front of me, if I’d stayed with them a top 25 finish would have been in sight.
Although I wasn’t strong enough to catch those Team Bulls riders I did catch a couple of others who were now struggling. I still felt really strong at the end setting a strong pace all the way to the finish line to take 31st place.
31st best marathon racer in Europe in my first year of racing marathons, not too bad! I think I’m still learning the best pacing strategy for these marathon events and with more race experience I’ll improve and my race results will improve. I hoping that with a decent result at European Marathon Champs I’ll be selected by British Cycling to race World Marathon Champs, we’ll find out at the end of July.
You can see my post race video thoughts here

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Southern XC Round 4 Crow Hill

Having 5 races on back to back weekends is a tough ask both physically and mentally. How do you plan your training around this kind of schedule, how do you maintain your form, can you recover quickly enough, and can you have the mental strength to push your body to its extreme each weekend. In previous years I’ve struggled with this kind of race scheduling but when the season is as compressed as it is this year it’s a problem that’s hard to avoid. I cracked mentally the week after National Marathon Champs, being the 4th best marathon racer in the country is a great achievement but I’d gone to Scotland to win a medal, driving home without one hurt. I couldn’t get my head back before last weekends National XC race which meant a none finish, my head just wasn’t in it from the start. The only way to resolve the issue was to have some fun on my bike and enjoying riding again forgetting the tough training regime of intervals and zones elite riders religiously follow.

Last week I enjoying riding some awesome dusty dry trails and logging in some good miles, just what the doctor ordered. On Saturday after a fun 4 hours mountain biking I was repacking the race bag for another race, the Southern XC Series round 4. It had been about 3 years since I last raced at Crow Hill but I had fond memories of the circuit, it’s a tough one with plenty of short sharp climbs, loamy loose corners and bone shaking roots.

Off the start I jumped into second place following Ade Lansley into the first singletrack, Mike Cotty took over second place for a couple of minutes but I was keen to keep the rear wheel of Ade in sight. A lapped rider in a different category then came between us on a tight bit of singletrack with Ade managing to jump in front of him at the last opportunity. By the time we exited the trail Ade has a gap which I failed to shut down quick enough.

The gap opened slowly over the remainder of the race with me happy enough to take things steady and not risk loosing second. Ben Sumner caught me at the end of lap 2 and took over the pace making. At the start of lap 4 I attacked on the early climbs where I felt stronger than my rival, the gap developed to over a minute by the end of the 5 lap race. Ade took the win, I was second, and Ben Sumner took the final step on the podium.


Thanks to John from Vermont Images for doing my bottles and taking photos

My legs weren’t particularly fresh having trained hard during the days leading into the race, it would have been good to have challenged Ade for the win but I was happy to be back on the podium and secure some decent series points. That’s 2 second places in the last 2 Southern XC events; I’ll be hoping to take the win at the series final in a few weeks time.

On Tuesday 12th of June I fly to the Czech Republic for my next race, the European Marathon Championships!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Marathon National Championships

The 2012 Marathon MTB Champs took place this past weekend in Selkirk, Scotland, after a two part journey we arrived at the venue midday Saturday. We signed on, tried to figure out the feed zone locations and then went to practise the lower loop of the figure of 8 race circuit.

This weekend I was travelling with Mountain Trax team manager John Newport, and Cannondale rider Tim Dunford. Whilst Tim and I went riding John went to buy a map of the area so he could have a better idea of where each feed zone was. The course was either climbing or descending, 4 big climbs were to be ridden over what was supposed to be an 85km course. On Saturday we rode the first of those climbs and the final descent, it was a worthwhile ride as it gave us a good idea of conditions.



Sunday morning the race began at 10am behind a pace car which led us down the tarmac road at the start until we turned offroad through a private estate. Having practised this section I knew I wanted to be on the front just so I wouldn’t get soaked by the rider in front flicking up water from the waterlogged trail. I stayed comfortably within the lead group to the top of the first climb, down the first descent and along the tarmac road to the first feed zone at 16kms.

Going into the next climb the group split through a slippery singletrack ascent, the rider ahead of me let a gap open between him and the front 3 riders, with nowhere to pass it allowed Dan Fleeman, Nick Craig, and Lee Williams to break away. As the climb opened onto the moors I was forced to chase but these three leaders weren’t going to let anyone ride back to them.

I chased hard and the legs felt great but on the descents I was losing time and the time gap would increase again. Entering the first of the technical downhills I crashed twisting my handlebars and landing on my ankle. The pain from my ankle was pretty bad and I was shaking so much I couldn’t undo my stem with my Lezyne multitool. After a few deep breaths I was back on the bike but had lost 3 minutes and slipped from 4th to 7th place.

It didn’t take me long to catch back up and overtake 5th place but I didn’t catch 4th place until just before feed zone 4 at the 60km mark, he’d used too much energy early on in the race and was now suffering. I still felt strong and was flying up the hills, but still felt out of control on the descents. I recognised the top of the last climb where we’d ridden to on Saturday, I increased the pace still hoping that I might be able to catch 3rd place on the descent back to Selkirk.



Unfortunately the gap was too big and the race over all too soon. Crossing the line after just 71kms and 3hrs25 seemed like more of a sprint than a marathon. Having trained for a 5 to 6 hour race I was left disappointed that the race was over, I still had more to give and could have kept the same pace going for another few hours. The front 3 riders were deserved podium finishers but I think the result would have been different over a more suitable distance and that I could have achieved my goal of a podium finish. As usual the Santa Cruz bike performed perfectly, the bike was a pleasure to ride even if I had pumped the tyres up too hard using an unfamiliar and inaccurate pump!

4th place is my best Senior National Championship finish so far and I’m hoping to build on the form I have now for my next big targets, the European Marathon Championships in June, and National XC Championships in July.

Thanks to John Newport from Mountain Trax and Vermont Images for all his help, support and photos.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

2nd place at Southern Regional XC Champs

Southern Champs was a big target of mine, last year I won the elite title. Sunday morning my focus and determination was sky high, I wasn’t going to lose the title without a fight. A pre ride of the course revealed a familiar track through the bluebells of Wasing Estate. On race day you know fairly quickly how your body is responding to the efforts, even during practise, on Sunday riding the track felt almost effortless.

You can see my video from practise here:


A strong field of elite riders had gathered including the regular Southern XC Series competitors plus a few additional extras like John Whittington and professional cyclocross star Ian Field. From the start gun I leapt into the lead along the first flat fireroad drag, I never looked behind but could still hear people on my wheel. Taking the left hand turn into the first climb I accelerated again, hoping to cause my rivals some pain and knowing if I was first into the singletrack I could recover before the next climb. Out of the singletrack I put in another big effort.

During this race I could feel that my training was beginning to work, the pedals kept turning and as a result the gap to my rivals grew. Eventually I looked over my shoulder, Ben Sumner had joined me. Going into the second lap I let Ben take the lead, only for a short while though, I wanted to ride this race at my pace. Half way through this lap Ben Sumner crashed on one of the many tough rooty sections. It was a little too early to be leading this one out alone but I had no choice.

Onto the third lap and the red and yellow colours of Ian Field could be seen steadily closing the gap. A little mistake was enough for him to close up on me and take the lead. His 29er full suspension bike was making easy work of the rough trails but I was making back time on the open fireroads and climbs. Eventually on the fourth lap the elastic snapped, a 10 second gap grew and Ian could be seen ahead managing the gap.

With a big lead over third place I slowed the pace on the final lap beginning to think about the following weekend’s race. Crossing the finish line Ian had a 30 second lead, and I was a further 1 minute 30 up on Ade Lansley in 3rd. To lose the Southern Champs title was a disappointment but the form is good, the motivation is high, and this coming weekend there’s a National Marathon Championship title to fight for.

You can see my post race video thoughts here:


Monday, 7 May 2012

Gorrick 100 Report

This past weekend was the Gorrick 100 enduro at Swinley Forest. Last year I won the big 7 lap distance and this year I was returning to retain my title, win the race in my new race colours, and test my form ahead of the National Marathon Championships. The 10 mile lap was surprisingly dry thanks to the excellent work of the race organisers who built many of the weather resistant trails in the area.

I filmed a little preview video you can watch here

Lining up on race day the field was smaller than in previous years, probably due to the recent poor weather putting people off. The numbers may have been down but the level of competition was high, within 10 minutes from the start there was a lead group of 4 which included Tim Dunford, Jamie Newall, George Budd and myself. Behind us were the likes of Ant White, Josh Ibbett, and Jay Horton who were chasing hard.

George and myself rode a strong pace splitting the group, leaving just the 2 of us in the lead. George was attacking the climbs making me suffer but I held on knowing there was only so long he could ride the climbs that hard. Our first 3 lap times were faster than anyone else could manage, including the much shorter race distances; this left us with a decent gap to 3rd place so on lap 4 we eased off the gas. By lap 5 I was suffering from the early pace we’d set but it was clear George was suffering more as he was noticeably slower on the climbs.

On lap 6 George was hurting and no longer able to assist by doing any work on the front in the wind. From this point on he was a passenger holding on for as long as possible edging out a gap on Tim who was still chasing in 3rd. Mid way through that lap the elastic snapped, the gap opened and I was alone in the lead with 15 miles to go. On the remainder of the lap I increased the pace testing my strength and setting a faster lap time than the previous 2 laps. The last 10 mile lap flew past, I knew once I’d ridden the steep climbs on the first third of the track it was almost mission accomplished.

Congratulations to George for finishing second and fighting for the victory and to Tim Dunford who finished third.

You can watch my race video here

And my post race thoughts here

Training has been going well over the last few weeks and this race win gives me good confidence ahead of the National Marathon Championship in 2 weeks time. Before that I’ll be attempting to retain my Southern Championships title at Wasing Park this weekend.





Gorrick 100 race video filmed on Mountain Trax's demo GoPro

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

British National Cross Country Series Round 2

Over the last few years I’ve always been a little bit nervous heading up to Dalby Forest to race the World Cup circuit. However this year none of that nervousness existed; this has its positives and negatives. The positives were that I wasn’t scared of the circuit, its technical features were no longer an issue and Saturday practise went smoothly without any problems. In practise I was feeling strong and confident ahead of the race. The negatives of having no nervousness is that perhaps I was a little too relaxed about what lay ahead, even the heavy rain and wet slippery conditions couldn’t phase me. A little nervousness is also sometimes good for getting the adrenaline going.

Wet skies greeted us on the morning of the race but the team were well prepared with shelter for race preparation and warm up already in place by the time I arrived at the arena. Race warm up went well with the heart rate achieving good levels and the legs feeling light on the pedals.

The worst of the course was around the arena field which had turned into a proper mud fest. The large elite field sprinted into the first corner but the scene was more like a car drifting scene with everyone going sideways as any grip from our back wheels disappeared. I lost some positions during the start loop being boxed in around the first corner on the field. A quick start is crucial at Dalby with the tight singletrack making it very difficult to overtake, queuing through the first few trails was frustrating and not where I wanted to be.



During the early laps conditions around the rest of the course weren’t too bad apart from the isolated spot. On the early climb I was riding well making up time overtaking riders. On the descents the 29er wheels were making easy work of the rocky terrain; however it was impossible to overtake and make any real progress. The time I was making up on the early short ‘sprint’ climbs wasn’t enough to counter the time lost on two longer climbs at the back of the circuit. On the longest climb I really suffered, some seated high intensity climbing work needs to be done before the next hilly race!

It was great having support out on the track, Mountain Trax rider and Dalby local Calum Chamberlain was out in the forest with friends shouting much needed encouragement. Also team director John Newport did an excellent job in the feed zone providing me with nutrition throughout the 2 hour race. Over the 5 laps the course conditions deteriorated but the fine setup skills of the Mountain Trax mechanics meant my Santa Cruz bike was in the best possible condition to tackle these difficult conditions. Unfortunately my legs weren’t as well prepared for the day’s racing; positions and much time were lost on the 2 long climbs.

27th in a stacked international field full of full time athletes chasing the UCI points from the category 1 race was the best I could achieve on the day. Combining training for both cross country and marathon style racing is difficult, however I’d still hoped for a better result. 27th was not where I’d imagined finishing, and not where I want to be again this year. Lessons learnt, training plans set according, look for progress at an XC race near you in the coming months! Until then we have a marathon race or two, my preferred race distance. Next up is the Gorrick 100 in two weeks time where I return to defend my win from last year.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Cape Epic 2012

The Cape Epic South African bubble has burst and less than 24 hours after crossing the final finish line in South Africa I was back home in the UK. It’s impossible to avoid getting swept up in the whirlwind tour of a stage race such as this. The Cape Epic itself for many is just about surviving and this year was no exception with 2011 being dubbed as the hardest ever edition due to a combination of the longest stage lengths and unusual weather conditions.



Arriving in Cape Town a few days before the race began gave us the opportunity to acclimatise to the heat, explore some of the Western Cape coastline including Table Mountain, and prepare for the 8 days of racing that lay ahead. The superior organisation of the race was immediately obvious even before registration day with the race taking over the Cape Town Waterfront area. I made a little video about registration day.



The Cape Epic is a pair’s event, I would be racing with my Andalucia Bike Race partner Josh Ibbett. On Sunday morning we travelled from our pre race apartment to Meerendal Wine Estate where the 27km prologue would begin. Opting not to be registered as a UCI team meant we were eligible for an earlier start therefore avoiding the scorching midday heat which reached 40 degrees on the first couple of days. The prologue went well for us, the traffic in the singletrack cost us some time but we still managed a pleasing 28th place result on a day which didn’t really suit our strengths as a pair.

The real race began the following day from the first race village in Robertson where we spent the first 3 nights of the race. Stage 1 was a real kick in the teeth introduction with some huge mountain climbs, the high heat also added to the difficulty of the race. On stage 1 and 2 we took a little time to adapt to racing as a pair but eventually we began to work well together moving us into 29th in the general classification after 3 days. On stage 2 I’d picked up the stage racing tummy bug, everything that went in quickly came out the other end! I raced this day on an empty stomach and was glad of Josh’s work sitting on the front protecting me from the wind. I did some work when I could and we tried to save as much energy as possible by sitting in groups letting others do some work. On stage 1 we experienced our only mechanical of the event where my front mech twisted, swift action meant no damage occurred and we could continue without issue.

Following our stay in Robertson we had the 147km transfer stage to our next race village in Caledon. The stats for the day scared most, it was not only the longest ever stage in Cape Epic history but the stage also had 2900 metres of climbing. Fortunately that day my legs felt amazing and I was able to put in plenty of work on the 6.5 hour stage helping us move up the standings by a couple of places. The first days around Robertson have huge inch long thorns littering the trails, I must have pulled maybe 15 thorns out of my Kenda tyres at the end of each day but the Slant Six’s sealed immediately with sealant and we didn’t suffer any punctures.

Stage 4 the wind picked up and huge winds turned the last 30km’s from a fast finish into the arena into a slog battling against a headwind or crosswind. Echelons formed across the gravel roads spitting out riders who left too much of gap to the rider ahead. It was a tough day and blew the race apart. The weather conditions may have been tough but Josh and me achieved our best performance so far finishing 23rd.

Following stage 4 the winds receded but worse weather quickly followed. Caledon was drenched with huge downpours which turned stage 5 into a proper day of survival, Kielder 100 2011 style! Bikes took a battering from the sandy conditions right from the beginning, after 119kms and 2350 metres of climbing you can guess how bad they got, brake pads were in popular demand at the finish line. Whilst the bikes were abused so were the riders, many getting hyperthermia. We used our skills and mindsets built from years of muddy wet horrible British winters to pull us through the day. There were a few little comedy moments including reaching the first muddy bit of singletrack with summer slick tyres and steamed up sunglasses. Following this though we rode well to 18th place on the stage! The day’s result was a good consolation for the carnage which we’d survived and still had to negotiate - as life in a flooded camp site living in a tent can only provide.



The morning of day 7 began with the usual 5am Scottish bagpipes wake up call. To the relief of everyone the sun rose into clear skies as the stage began at 7am revealing the magical mountainous scenery that Oak Valley Wine Estate is surrounded by. The final 2 days were shorter. Day 7 was a tough one though with 2200 metres of climbing crammed into 85kms. Out climbing Josh on the steeper climbs did have its benefits, I could admire the beauty of the area with the few spare moments I had at the top of each climb. There were some pretty special views that day out over the coast. The crazy climbs at the Cape Epic were often followed by steep rocky boulder field descents which didn’t provide any rest, however my Fox Terralogic forks and 29er Hope wheels helped me put time into many other riders on these sections. The views and also the trails around Oak Valley are what all previous participants of the Cape Epic talk about, the singletrack was fantastic and left riders with huge smiles at the end of the stage. We were 23rd on stage 6/ day 7.

The final day of the Epic was suddenly upon us, it was weird to think that the routine would soon come to an end. First though we had a 65km blast from Oak Valley to the final finish line at Lourensford Wine Estate. Although the stats suggested an easy day participants were reminded at the briefing the night before that there is no easy day at the Cape Epic! The pace from the start was much faster than previous days with riders keen to still grab a few extra positions on the general classification. The terrain was rolling with a couple of ‘small’ 200 metre climbs to sprint up, followed by a 300+ metre climb, and then a downhill hike a bike followed by a few more undulating hills along the Lourensford singletrack trails. We motored along through the stage to the huge grand finale celebrations; we retained our 21st position on the overall results, and successfully finished our first Cape Epic, hopefully the first of many!

Whilst the pro’s spent many tough hours in the saddle it was incredible to see the ‘weekend warriors’ who rode in just under (and some unfortunately just over the stage time limits) which on many stages was as much as 11 hours! The race organisation was fantastic throughout thanks to an impressive army of employees it has on hand for the race. I would suggest that every mountain bike racer should do this event at some point, it is the biggest and best offroad event in the world, the Tour de France of mountain biking.

Our Santa Cruz Bikes UK team was one of the youngest pairings at the event, however our result was a huge success and one we can be proud off. With neither of us peaking our training for this event like many do I wonder how well we could do with a little better preparation, the experience of one Cape Epic already under our belt, and a mechanic/ supporter and campervan to live in - top 15? top 10? I hope to return in a couple of years to find out.