Sunday, 30 November 2008

Just pootling - up North

This post could have been about doing a cyclo cross race in Yorkshire, near my folks - talking about how they do things up there compared with in the London League, what the level's like and generally seeing if there is a North-South divide in the world of cyclo cross.

But it's not going to be about that. The race I'd been hoping to do, at Bishop Burton College, was cancelled. Must admit I heaved a small sigh of relief as I was not relishing the prospect of wrestling with a muddy bike once again, and then having to take it on the train back down to London with me again - or even worse, risking having a broken up bike that would be in no fit state to get me across London once I got off at King's Cross !

So I took my road bike and pootled around in the cold, frost and fog instead. There's something qute refreshing about having a full weekend where you can just be on your road bike and build up some winter miles. No worries about getting your cross bike ready for another race, or having to save your energy for the competition ahead.

Just get out your road bike, don your 6 layers, overshoes and helmet, and just pootle.

Here's where I went.

Saturday: Hull - Beverley - Wetwang - Sledmire - Driffield - Beverley - Hull: 52miles
Terrain: flat/gently rolling
Weather: sunny, very cold, frosty

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Sunday: Cottingham - Little Weighton - North Newbald - Market Weighton - Holme-upon-Spalding Moor - Howden - South Cave - Riplingham - Eppleworth - Hull: 58miles
Terrain: undulating/flat
Weather: very cold, misty, frosty

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Tuesday, 25 November 2008


What can I say - I helped the guys from Addiscombe CC to set up the course last Saturday. It was mainly dry and 99% rideable...............we were even worried about the course not being interesting enough !

But what a difference 24 hours makes ! Snow, sleet, rain and every other type of precipitation dumped itself on the grounds at the Penshurst Off Road Cycling Centre.

So by lunchtime on Sunday everything was nicely muddied up ready for our race in these scenic grounds in the heart of the Kent hills.

It was tough just ploughing through thick mud the whole time. The course, which is essentially on the side of hill was tricky. The descents gave a bit of respite, but demanded concentration as there were some gravelly corners which interspersed the very muddy corners.

Going around the corners sent you and your bike all over the place. One particular 180 degree turn was the scene of a 1 hour long crash fest - great entertainment for the race marshals !

Once you'd negotiated the downhill, you then had a long slog back up the various muddy switchbacks to reach the start line.

Oh, and if that wasn't enough, there was also a mini BMX circuit thrown in for good measure.

Anyone who moans about racing around wide open fields that don't have much variety should get down and do a cyclo cross race at Penshurst. Well, you'll have to wait until next year now. Sunday was the one and only round happening there this year.

Pictures by Marky Mark of Addiscombe CC (

Monday, 24 November 2008

My Least Favourite Time of Year........ now - that November/December period.

The low temperatures, biting wind and short days are bad enough, though we learn to get used to that.

The long summer days are now a distant memory, and Christmas festivities are just that bit further way.

So where do we find ourselves - in that awkward in between stage where there's nothing really exciting happening. It's all about coasting through an impasse - rapidly reviewing the year, and seeing what we can salvage of it, or just resigning ourselves to the lot we've got and just grinning and bearing it, while saying "next year, next year will be the year when it all happens."

So while I wait for this "blah" period to be over I intersperse the London drudgery with cycling !

Not that easy. For all the road races I've done in the pouring rain, and the mud-fests aka cyclo cross races, I still consider myself to be a fair weather cyclist. I hate rain, cold and wind. It makes me cross and anxious and it affects the way I ride. It's always a massive "getting out of my comfort zone" exercise.

I just about manage to cross the comfort/discomfort line between January and October. But November is always that bit harder. It's damp, it's cold, it's grim and I'm generally in that unpleasant phase of not quite having a cold, but yet not being fighting fit. The echinacea, the zinc, the Vitamin C are on full through throttle during this time and I can't go out of the house with fewer than 6 layers on.

So riding my bike becomes a balancing act between riding well enough to get a training benefit, but not working so hard that my immune system gets depressed further. There's a fine line between the two, and most of the time I don't know where the line is. Training but not training at the same time. Just battling against the dreaded bug, that's lurking around. I don't know exactly where it is and if or when it will give me a body blow, but I have to be ready. I need to be putting on the fighting talk !

If I get through this period without being struck down with the virus, I see it as an achievement. Any riding benefit gained is just a bonus.

So for the next few weeks my riding will be rather akin to when I was a small child going through the Ghost Train. I'll just have to hold on tightly to the barriers, close my eyes and grit my teeth as the ghouls and demons get dangerously close to me, but I know that as it's only a short ride all will be over soon and I'll re-emerge at the other end, unscathed and in pleasant sunshine.

Roll on 2009.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

In Dublin's Fair City

Our first non-biking or even non-sporting trip away this year - and what a great place to do it - whisky in the jar, tasty Liffey Water, and a great craic too !

Sunday, 9 November 2008

The Mud Thickens - Lydden Hill

After a 2 week break I was keen to get in my fix of cyclo cross. I wasn't that keen to put in a 90-minute journey down the A2 to get there, all with the prospect of racing in the pouring rain, and muddying up my newly cleaned and serviced knobbly steed.
To compound things further I'd had trouble getting out of bed before 10.30am and my head hurt - all due to having been on a bender with Fred last night.

Well, after weighing things up I realised that I had no choice but to go - especially as I was going to miss a couple of London League rounds due to upcoming weekend trips away, and I wanted to build on my healthy points tally in the league.

So when George pulled up at my house to pick us up we hurriedly scrambled our bits and pieces together and boarded his big van, Doverbound.

When we got there, I realised I hadn't factored in just how muddy it was going to be. We'd had rain all day on Saturday, and even as we arrived we had a heavy downpour. I penned myself into the van, hoping that the rain and wind might subside. Eventually it did, and the sun even made a tentative appearance.

Five women signed up, which was a healthy turnout considering the bad weather. At these races I tend to limit the amount of time I spend riding around the course as I prefer to start the race on a mud-free bike. I couldn't avoid this hitch though. I did my recc'ing on the trickiest and muddiest section of the course.

Having so much guey stuff to ride through tends to level out the playing field. In fact the five of us were never really that far apart.

I was madly chasing down Claire (London Dynamo), while Helen (Crawley Wheelers) and Abi (London Phoenix) were madly chasing me down, followed by Nicola (Kingston Wheelers) who battled to chase down the 3rd and 4th placed women.

It was a very unpredicatable race, with all of us falling at some point or other. One of the climbs quickly became unrideable as the mud on the slope was so churned up. For a few people, myself included, it even became unwalkable. Many of us slid around on all fours struggling to keep hold of their bikes and get some upward motion. We might as well have ridden up a custard covered slope - at least it would've tasted nicer !

In my mad attempt to chase Claire down I made a few bold moves on the obstacles. On one short steep mound I approached it at full throttle hoping the momentum would carry me up and over it. In fact I went so hard at it that me and the bike got airbourne and I landed with a splat in the mud. At least I managed to provide some entertainment for Helen, behind me as she couldn't help but giggle !

Sadly, Helen soon stopped giggling when her rear mech snapped and it was game over for her.
I continued on my soggy way, wriggling through the mud and skidding around on a few of the gravelling turns. As the race wore on, I fell more and more frequently as I was getting too tired to wrestle with my bike which at times had a mind of its own!

Then, just when I was calculating my final moves on how I should catch Claire, I heard "snap" as my pedalling motion was abruptly stopped. I looked down, and there was my rear mech in the spokes - bugger !!

So with a sorry heart, my race ended. I almost came second, but now I was nowhere.
Although there'd been a good vibe at the race and overall it had been fun, you always get a real feeling of futility. All that travel and effort for nothing.

True, the muddy stuff adds to the fun of cyclo cross but sometimes that fun goes a little too far and things just get a bit frustrating.

So in the end, Claire won, Abi was second, and Nicola finished third.

Well, I've got another break as we're off to the (cyclo cross free) Emerald Isle. Hopefully, my knobbly steed will show me that it can get the better of the mud in a couple of weeks time at Penshurst.

Top 2 pictures by Fred, bottom 2 pictures by John Mullineaux @

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Riding into History

Congratulations Mr Obama, and thanx to the American people for voting for change.
Much respect.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

London Women's Cyclo Cross Team - Doomed

D'you ever get the impression that something just wasn't meant to be ? You try hard, but you can't make it work.

Well that's what happened with our women's London Cyclo Cross team for the Inter Area Championships. We were meant to race there today but we couldn't quite get it together.

Our entry for the race had our team listed with four riders and two reserves. In actual fact neither of the reserves were able to ride. Katharine was unavailable and Emma couldn't ride for health reasons.

So we just had the four riders. That was ok. We only needed four to make a team and the results of the first three riders was what would count towards our ranking.

Unfortunately, though, Nicky became ill with a stinking cold and announced last Friday that she wouldn't be well enough to race. That left the three of us to make sure that when we raced we all finished.

The problem was that Helen had been relying on Nicky for a lift up to the venue which was about 100miles North, in the Midlands (Lutterworth). So there were lots of phone calls made backwards and forwards to see how we could get Helen up there. To compound things even more, Claire, who I was to travel with had a problem when her car broke down on Friday so it looked like none of us would be able to get there.

Finally, help came in the shape of Claire's boyfriend who was going to drive 30miles up the road from Woking to Crystal Palace to meet us and take all 3 of us to and from the race.

This meant that Helen would have to set off at 7 o'clock in the morning from her home in Haywards Heath to meet us at Crystal Palace so that she could get a lift to the race in Lutterworth.

That was a bit of a tall order for her, and it was going to cost her quite alot in petrol and babysitting fees.
And for all our travelling up there the women's cyclo cross race would only last 40minutes.

Don't get me wrong, the Inter Area Champs are good fun and it's a good day out. It's also a chance for team bonding. In previous years London has even fielded 2 teams.
But this year things seemed tougher for us. Bringing the championships forward to November from the original date in January is meant to encourage greater participation. It does generally, but the problem is that because the deadline for entry is only a few weeks into the cross season it makes it difficult to contact all the riders and invite them to join the team. Some riders are still busy wrapping up their mountain bike/road race season to think about entering national cyclo cross races.
So due to these difficulties we could only field one team.

Despite all the setbacks mentioned above, all three of us were still determined to make the trip up to the Inter-Area Champs...........until.........

I went to pick up my bike from Fred's flat last night. As far as I was concerned my bike was ready to ride, apart from a quick lick of oil on the chain and a bit of air in the tyres.
But when I began to ride it to the station I found that it was almost impossible to turn the pedals, and I couldn't change the gears. I would love to have done something about it, or take it to a bike shop but it was 10pm.

Disaster - I was really disgusted. My bike doesn't normally let me down like this. We'd had very muddy conditions last week but the bike had been washed the same day and I had ridden it after the event, and everything was fine then. Things were well and truly doomed. I could have opted to take my mountain bike, but that was locked in Fred's garage and he was away for the weekend.

Emma was going to look for a bicycle for me but my record of riding unfamiliar bicycles in a race is not good and I couldn't guarantee I'd be able finish the race. If only 2 riders finished we would have either been placed last, if we got a placing at all. For Helen and Claire this was going to be their first experience of doing the inter-area champs and it could have ended up being something they wouldn't want to do again. I didn't want to be responsible for that.

So, for the first time ever, we were unable to get a London team up for the Inter Area Cyclo Cross Championships. I am sorry that it didn't happen. I really would have liked to race against the other women from other parts of the country, but this year things just seemed to be doomed.

We are determined to get a London women's team to the champs next year and make a full and worthy account of ourselves.