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Because Why Not? Don’t Give Up!

National Trophy? Really? Why? 
Because why not. The women’s race is sadly nowhere near full. It’s a chance to line up with people who I’d never get to race with. A chance to ride better courses, and experience the huge range of conditions and competition out there. even though nearly ever race I’ve done can be hashtagged #whereisthemud? 

To be honest, I didn’t even know I could enter it, but as I was heading up to it, why not?

I will fully admit, after doing two warm up laps, crashing into the tape through the side of the ‘bombhole’ or pit or what ever it was actually called, I went back to my car and very nearly gave up. 

Once again, super coach Caroline Stewart was on hand to respond to my despondent texts. She’s very very good at understanding the complete out of my depth panic I had. Because lets face it, I was totally out of my depth! However, I went and signed on and found the lovely Alison Kinloch. She also bolstered my courage and convinced me to go ahead. 

A fast, dry, mostly grass course with quite a few twists and turns, a pit/bombhole, some rollercoaster ‘lumps,’ a brief sand pit, some very low planks and an in and out through a barn with vendors arrayed around the inside.

I arrived at the start pretty anxious, and was soon joined by Jo Newstead (XRT-Elmy) who chatted away and made me feel more at ease. 

Some of the women and girls lining up had been with me at Cyclopark for the skills day with Huw Williams and Caroline Stewart the day before, and all were super friendly and nice despite getting their race heads on.

Unsurprisingly it was full on from the off, and I hung in grimly at the rear until we got to the planks, where (as Huw had explained the day before) my shoody remounting had me miles out the back of the field in seconds. It was hard, and showed how unfit I was so quickly. But once I’m out there, I can tune it all out, and focus on keeping the strongest pace I can without burning our too quickly. Massive thanks to Nick Craig for reminding me that it was so easy to go into the red so quickly!

Image courtesy of John Orbea


Also being on my own gave me a chance to ride the pit in my own time and power through the rollercoaster sections before the sandpit. Unfortunately it means there is no one to shelter behind, and on the finish I was unable to get out of the saddle and sprint – and just finished in a grim silence.

Lots and lots of thanks to everyone up there; Nick and Sarah Craig, Keith Murray (champion number pinner and chief ‘unit’ grass crit racer), Alison Kinloch, Jo Newstead, Isla Rowntree, Annie Simpson, Charlotte Hayward Mahe.

This leads onto the South East and Eastern Regional champs. A stunningly chilly day with a course that hadn’t seen rain for at least a couple of weeks. Another fast, dry, slightly hillier race. Another race which I was fairly out of my depth. Lining up with the likes of Helen Pattinson, Jo Smith (I know how to beat her in longest lap now), Louise Mahe… the list goes on. Thankfully I had a lot of people I’d class as friends here, all of them I’ve met through cx. 

I was gridded midfield, but from the start my legs felt leaden, and very tired. I couldn’t even sprint with rest like I usually can. I struggled most of the race, apart from the big off camber downhill and the twisty tech section. I couldn’t even run up the hill like I’d half done last weekend at the skills day. 

This time, I had a blow in the ribs from a Vet just before the finish, and having been struggling to breathe anyway – tipped me over the edge again. Hanging over the bars, gasping for breath with tears streaming isn’t the best look in the world.

But. I loved it. I loved every off camber trch section. The feeling of being nearly on my knees and trying my utmost. This is why I do cx.

However the best bunch of women on the start line! 48 of us made for a decent sized field – great to see Helen Pattinson fresh from her 2nd place in the World Masters at Mol racing, along with Jo Newstead who was sporting some seriously impressive bruises. Good racing by all – except that Vet!

Hazel managed to dismount her bike, stand on the wheel and buckle the disc. Impressive even by my standards.

Thank you to everyone, especially Huw Williams and John Mullineaux for such a cracking event!

The friendship, the help, the giggles, the good natured heckling, the attitude of ‘why not?’ The off camber, hammering heart, reckless throwing the bike down hill. The quick chats with all sorts of people with one thing in common. The variety. The travelling. The slow riders and the fast riders. The mud lovers and the cold haters. The inclusiveness. You can be anyone or anything in cx. This is ‘cross

#keepsmiling 

Guest Blog – Rob Kennison – Finish Manager of the Tour of Britain and Women’s Tour

One of Rob Kennison’s favourite sayings; ‘I’ve crashed in better races than you’ll ever ride in!’
Rob is also a prolific winner of the ‘Mug of the Day’ award given out daily at the finishes at both the Tour of Britain, and Women’s Tour. I believe he actually won it twice in one morning last year.

“But what do you do for the rest of the year?”

It’s a familiar question when people find out that I’m Finish Manager for the Tour of Britain and Women’s Tour. Believe it or not it is what I do all year round. These races don’t just arrive in town!

Planning starts immediately after the previous Tour finishes, and as venues are confirmed I head off to recce the proposed venues with Race Director Mick Bennett. We have numerous criteria that have to be met to ensure we reach the criteria necessary for a UCI HC (Men’s) or Women’s World Tour event.

The finish straight needs to be at least 8m wide, straight and with a good surface free of cats eyes etc, sometimes we have to ask for street furniture to be removed or the surface to be improved. Team parking has to accommodate at least 20 team coaches plus another 40 team vehicles and 60 escort motorcycles. We also require parking for all of our Tech. vehicles, and space for Hospitality, Judges Unit, Race Office, Podium, Anti – Doping and the SweetSpot Death Star where we hold strategic meetings.

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Rob about to leave after the final stage of the Women’s Tour 2016

Once we are confident we can build our finish at a given location I liaise with Route Director Andy Hawes to join up the route and final 3km, sometimes there can be quite a lot of restraints so this is not always straightforward.

In the months leading up to events I have regular meetings and site meetings with venues, these usually have a tight agenda to address items such as Emergency Services liaison, road closures, event schedule etc. I also attend Safety Advisory Groups to ensure plans are in place to cover any eventuality, unexpected road closures, Emergency Service call outs as well as arrange for licences for our promo zone and temporary structures.

A month before the Tour we publish our Race Manual so it’s important that accurate maps, profiles and schedules are ready so that teams can check out the routes and are prepared for their on race briefings.

Race day usually starts with an alarm at around 04.30, a quick coffee and bacon roll and I’m on site at 05.00. Our first job is to position our large infrastructures, hospitality unit, Judges unit, podium and power generators. Signage teams set out to position the last 1km signs and branding team get to work.

The gantry is erected and at 08.00 the Fire Service rock up to fill the water ballast tanks, shortly after this we have another breakfast cooked by the amazing Charlie’s Angels followed by a Finish Crew meeting to go through any information that needs reinforcing. At this meeting there’s always some banter around the “Mug of the Day” award, presented to the person or persons who may have cocked up in any way. By eleven everything is ready for hospitality to open and receive guests at 11.45, shortly after this, depending on how far they have to drive, the Team Coaches start to arrive in convoy from the start, the parking team position them allowing plenty of space for the team cars that will arrive with the race.

Live TV starts at 1pm and the show is 4 hours long with the finish usually around 3.30. We get regular updates from the race via our Race Control situated at the finish line, and final road closures are placed to allow the 1km inflatable to be erected. The tension builds in the last hour with Team soigneurs and media crowding the finish area, usually trying to keep an eye on the big screen to see how their boys or girls are doing, when they can’t see the screen all are glued to their phones following the excellent ToB Twitter feed. I position myself about 100m after the line where I ensure soigneurs are safe and won’t be hit by the riders as they finish, I direct our H & S team so that they are able to park the Race Controllers’ and Commisaires’ cars. The anti-doping team arrive and inform soigneurs which riders are required to report for testing. I gather the “catchers” to make sure we are ready to catch the correct riders to chaperone them to the podium for the presentations. Generally the race flies into the finish and riders come to a stop with swannys to grab a drink and directions to team parking, the leaders go to the podium and as soon as the broom wagon has passed our teams start to dismantle everything. I attend a couple of meetings before heading off to my hotel close to the next day’s finish, this can be up to a two hour drive so sometimes we don’t arrive until quite late. I usually have dinner a quick G&T and head for an early night ready for the next stage when we repeat it all again.

Once the Tour finishes I have a bit of down time before we begin on planning for the following year. It’s a good time to spend some time on my own bike and to try to regain some fitness. This year I decided at the last minute to ride the Master’s World Track Championships just three weeks after the Tour, not the best preparation but I was satisfied to make the finals of both Scratch and Points races. Next year I’ll be once again focussing my racing on track and grass track  and promoting a couple of meetings myself.

@Theo Southee photography

Picture credit Theo Southee

 

Some of Rob’s greatest crashing palmares; Junior Worlds 1982, Amatuer Paris Roubaix 1983, Tour of Belgium 1983, Ster van Brabant 1983, National Madions Champs 1986, Lincon GP 1985

 

I’d really like to thank Rob for convincing me to tag along with Medway Velo last year, doing the Not The Tour of Flanders sportive with them (I managed to lose everybody, but finish eventually), then joining in with their trip to Paris Roubaix. He also talked me into attempting grass track, and through him and the others; Sally Smith, Phil Booth, Alex Cook, Tom Kennison, Matt Nunn, and Steve Smith, they have bolstered my confidence no end! I’m a proud 2nd claim member to Medway Velo, and can be found as a stand in DS/ Soigneur at track meetings in the summer. 

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Racing At A Racecourse 

Whilst that may seem an innocuous title, racing a bike at Kempton Park Racecourse would have never occured to me.

A background in horseracing (for those who don’t know – I rode and worked with racehorses for nearly 15 years) I’m fairly familiar with Kempton’s All Weather circuit. I’ve galloped (not a race, think of it as race training) a fair few around there – especially an obnoxious chestnut (ginger!) nicknamed Shantou. I’ve been racing there more times than anywhere else except Lingfield. 
However, when I saw Central League were heading to here, I wasn’t going to turn down a 15 minute drive. Happy Valley was the London League venue in….. Brighton.

Ironically, I looked at the women entered and nearly put myself off. Had it not been for Fran Whyte, Claire Richardson, and Phil Booth, I wouldn’t have raced. 

Self doubt is a wonderful thing. And I guess people don’t realise how badly a newbie to cx suffers it, especially one that hasn’t really done any training. Having these three just to say the right thing helped more than ever anyone could know.

Turning up, I’d stopped thinking about it and was more interested to see what they could do with a flat course. A fair few turns, the bumpiest ground I’ve come across and the inclusion of magnetic grass and a bank about a foot high. A warm up lap had me gasping for breath like a fish out of water. However the novice and vet 40s managed to smooth out the course a bit.

I had one aim. Not to let Fran Whyte lap me. I got stuck behind someone who couldn’t clip in at the start, and saw the field string out in front of me. Somehow I got myself in a workhorse rhythm and manged to reel in Claire Richardson after a couple of laps. Only to get passed by another woman who had done the same to me. 

Tunnel vision. Focus, let the bike roll around. The more I rode, the easier I found it, swinging the bike through corners without a second thought. Loosing a fair few seconds remounting. Pulling inexorably away from Claire and realising after another two laps that I was on the final one. Tiring, with legs feeling drained, I forced my lungs to work harder. Then a glimpse of blue kit and the lead woman lapped me. Balls. Not far off the finish, I then saw Fran and Mathilde battling out 2nd coming up behind me. Only a few turns from the finish and they passed me before the small bank. A tussle and shouted words ensued as Mathilde tried to go up the inside on a corner. 

Pic courtesy of Steve Moakes

Once again, I was able to hit the tarmac finish and move up through the gears to sprint on the drops. I finished happy but completely empty. 

By far the best race I’ve had, although it’s all still dry. London League CX tomorrow is at a last minute change of venue now at Bethlem Hospital. But first my second visit this week to Rouleur Classic courtesy of Freestak!

#keepsmiling 

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Crosstober at Abergavenny 

Fairly sure I don’t need an excuse to go to Aber, but having seen there was two days of cx down there, with the National Trophy Round 2 on the Sunday, and Keith Murray// SCOTT Racing requiring an extra pair of hands a decision was made.

I can honestly swear I do end up taking every bit of kit I own with the team logo on it. Even having looked at the weather – I still spent two hours pondering what I needed to pack. 

I’d had to get the bearings done on the Kinesis too, and was looking forward to being back on it. Although I took the Colnago too. Just in case. And an extra jacket. And shoes. And another jacket. 

With Bastille and the Chili Peppers to keep me company, I let myself get a tad carried away singing until I saw the look on the persons face in the car next to me at the services. Talk about STFU Elz!

Having arrived stupid early, at least I was able to get an idea of the course and how slick it was going to be. Angharad, Gareth, Griff Lewis and family were there, both manning the Continental tent and some of them racing. Lovely to see such a turnout from Ystwyth CC!

I managed to crash twice on my last warm up lap. 1st time I had too much air in my tyres and the back end skidded out, hurting my shoulder again in the process and leaving me seeing stars for half a lal. 2nd time I dithered too long over running or riding a corner and faceplanted through the crash netting right in front of everyone I knew there.

Thankfully Louise checked my tyres again just before we raced and let more air out – or I probably would’ve been on the deck again!

Watched the Vet 40s go off with no problem picking out Keith Murray and his day glo yellow bike going rather fast along the bottom of the field.

 A crash on the first main corner from the Vet 50s held me back a fair way and I hesitated longer than I should’ve done, allowing a few too many in front of me. Worrying a bit too much, I was a little over cautious in places on the first circuit. 

The Vet 40s caught me on my second lap. And Murray flew past me just before the hurdles – with me swearing to myself he was not going to get two laps on me.

Again, hesitation and crap remounting held me back on the last circuit, until I saw that day glo yellow bike approaching 


as I went past the pits for the second time. Even as I went downhill onto the finish circuit- I put everything into going up through the gears and sprinting for the line. Trying desperately not to let Murray past me 

I failed. Just. 0.10 seconds. And astonishingly quite pleased with myself!

And absolutely loved it!

Only later did Murray inform me I was 6th Senior. I honestly didn’t have a clue.


Pitting on Sunday was easy. And rather chilly. A 50%ish course change and dry overnight. No bike changes, and the biggest most visible bike in the pits. With a few helpful pointers from the other guys around me, I spent most of my time judging how well Nick Craig and Murray were going. Nick won.

I also lent a hand to Chris Macleod for his lads. And briefly later to the Mellors in the Senior race, before retiring to take pictures and shout for various people. 



‘Two Ts’ is definitely the most fun to shout for. Expect a wheelie or face pulling of some description! Lee Shunburne always appreciates it, as does Nick Craig.

Sadly #posterboy ‘One T’ wasn’t at this round, so I was unable to provide the heckling he should have had. No doubt I can make up for it soon.

#keepsmiling #cyclocross 

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Wessex League CX. Reading

I had a bit of a crash on the road on the 6th October, bike was fine, luckily. I was ok. Well. Lost a bit of skin here and there, stitches in my knee, separated shoulder and torn ligaments around my thumb. Rather annoyed to be honest, especially when I figured out (after having been told) that I couldn’t ride a bike. Or go jogging. Or get the stitches wet. Mutinous at home, cranky wasn’t the word, hence why I headed off to Derby to see the National Trophy Round 1 on the 9th!

Anyway. I took my own stitches out in the end. Determined to get back to jogging, they were rather uncomfortable. But get back I did. Not very far the first time, but I felt so much better for it. Then on my bike, figuring out that bumpy terrain wasn’t an issue, but lifting it might be! It was getting better day by day, but I found myself apologising and getting annoyed with myself at work more than anything. Believe me, hefting turbo trainers around just did not happen. Or anything over approximately 1 kilo. Well, for a time, it might have been half a kilo!

I knew Reading was on, and it was a fair bit closer than the LCCA round, so thinking my coach Caroline would be there, I headed off prepared for the rain forecast most of the morning.

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What I didn’t expect was Caroline to not be there (she was ill), and the hardest course I’d yet faced. Whilst not totally on my own – the only person I knew there to start with was the photographer Graham Robins – I was at a bit of a loss. Eventually I hopped on the course for a warm up. Some nice twisty bits after the pits, all beautifully slick and slippy, around into some twisty bits in the trees (still slick but a decent covering of grass), over a mucky hill and into some lovely wet grassy parkland. I followed the course, paying more attention to the bits about ten foot in front of me, than looking around. Then a marshal warning me about the hill ahead. I looked at him, raised an eyebrow and went around the corner. I did stop fairly quickly. Extremley slick, and already starting to get muddy, it was long and steep. I watched a couple of guys ride it and both came off in different places. More worried about my shoulder than anthing, I edged down it on my feet. Then the climb back up. My god. Steep and very muddy. Ten minutes later after I’d climbed it stopped yakking to the marshalls, I rode the last bit of singletrack and back out into the stunning sunshine and the start area.

I’ll just say, I didn’t do too well. Worried about crashing on an already injured shoulder, I was probably overly cautious. But do you know what? I absolutely bloody love it!

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Seniors eventual winner Mike Cotty in the middle

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I’m just over a third of the way down this hill

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Leg warmers, shorts and wellies. Best combo ever

I just wanted to get back into it! I left feeling a bit frustrated, but at least I’ve got a better idea of where I stand now

Plus points…. I carried my bike like a pro. And I’m off to Abergavenny next weekend. Race Saturday, pitting Sunday.

#keepsmiling #tougherthanilook

 

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