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Aim To Achieve 

Finally I can announce that I’m to be an ambassador for CSCycle Coaching. I’m really quite excited, as this gives me the ways to achieve more than what I can do on my own. 

This means more guidance in what I’m doing, more idea of how to train, coaching on my novice skills, where I can aim for and ideas of how to go about it. I’ve had sessions with Caroline before, usually over around the fire roads of Swinley, or pre riding some cx courses with her.

Why do I need coaching? Because I want to get better, and be more competitive at cyclocross. Skills sessions take me through putting ideas into practice, to see if I’m learning from being taught. It gives me new ways of looking at issues; remounting and why I’m doing it the way I do, relaxing and learning to focus on riding lines, when to commit.

Sessions around Swinley help with aerobic training. Especially today with some nice short sharp hills on hardpack gravel/shale mix. It’s always different conditions there too, with the wind funnelling along the fire roads it makes for some cutting headwind especially at this time of year. Twice today I caught myself out, firstly with not committing to a line that I was on, secondly also not commuting to a line that looked like it ran into deep mud (it probably was rideable but I got a nice soaked foot when I braked and put my foot down whilst laughing my head off). Caroline questions why I did what I did and gives me more helpful advice on how to ride it. I know I’ve got better than I was last year, especially with following lines.
There’s a massive variety of terrain in a fairly small area, several sections that can get very boggy, and lots of trails to ride around it too. It’s always fun, but I always come away from it feeling like I’ve had a good workout and having learnt things. I like to question myself on why I’m doing things like I do, and it helps hugely to have a coach who understands this, as well as answer my endless questions!

Off camber grass banks – pic by Caroline Stewart

So. What’s next? Some turbo time (kindly lent for a breif period of time to me by i-Ride). Cadence sessions (currently I’m terrible, always grinding away in a bigger gear) and attack intervals. It’s a lot to work on for someone that is still a novice but whereas before I would do stuff blind with not much of an idea, at least now I can use what I’m learning to my advantage.
I’ve got the last few races of the season coming up, Lovecrossed, Abingdon, London CX Team Champs, and strangely, Battle on the Beach. Helen Wyman’s clinic and the Tour of Flanders sportive round out the rest of it before the end of spring.

Lots to work on, lots to do. I’m always keen to try new things, and it helps that Caroline understands that.

Fingers crossed eh?

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Work On It

Tues 27th Dec saw me racing at Lewisham Yulecross, a brand new event in Beckenham Place Park on a decommissioned golf course. It dawned frosty and cold, but by the time I arrived the temperature had risen nicely, although the frozen white grass was slow to retreat at the top of the course. 

After pre riding the top half of the course, I guessed it would be a fast race and with the Vet 40s, Vet 50s, Women and Go Cross all on course at the same time.

I played around with the off camber bunkers with Suzi Wise for a while before we were allowed to ride the entire course, although I didn’t manage to ride straight over the edge into one like she did.

Lots of long grassy straights, some proper rough grass and bunkers used as sand pits. With one blinking hard hill up from the start. I crawled up it every lap, with murderous thoughts getting more prevalent each time. The entire course, with the exception of the hurdle into the sand pit was eminently rideable. However I managed to let Suzi get away from me this time, after she gave me a face full of grassy mud climbing the cliff just after the start. Grim and annoyed, all I can say is that I tried. I did end up 3rd Senior, but as we all know that doesn’t count.

Weds 28th saw me heading over to Caroline Stewart and a skills session in the park, with me finally cottoning on to a few very simple things, but not very able to put them into practice… yet. I find Caroline ‘gets’ my explanations. Especially when I’m not doing thing particularly right. But she’s equally as good at talking through and explaining what I need to know to try and do it better. Sometimes it’s just things from a different point of view. I always come away from a session feeling like I’ve learnt something. And that, to a novice like me is invaluable.

A very foggy start quickly gave way to a stunningly beautiful day. Actually wish I had taken more pictures!

Working on tight turns and off camber banks. Pic by @swordpanda

More off camber work. Also kid and dog avoidance. Pic by the mighty @swordpanda

A ride over icy boards and around the looming monstrosity of Broadmoor, I felt like I had got the hang of more technical riding, but the tail end of a stinking cold that prevented me riding Shrewsbury had me half wiped out by the time we hit her training loop. 

Honestly nothing to do with the fact I raced the day before!

A quick loop round, with my favourite section the Strade Bianchi like stretch (not really surprising!) and a steady ride back for a cuppa. Much needed!

Caroline with ‘Jake’ and ‘Scott’


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A CX Winter

Bundling everything in the car and heading off to Shrewsbury, it looked like pre riding the National Trophy course at Shrewsbury on the 10th December could require some wet weather gear. Needless to say it didn’t disappoint. 

Arriving before 2pm, I had a walk around before they opened the course, it was damp underneath, and having kept an eye on the weather, I was sure it would cut up after a few people had been around it – especially if the forecast rain arrived.

After getting the bike out, I was one of the first on. With my relative inexperience, I took it slowly, finding ruts hidden under the slightly long grass, and very bumpy in the woods. Letting people past me as I rode slowly around, considering how to approach each section. Remembering how and when to shift my weight, and how to ride a cx bike! Several times I didn’t approach banks fast enough or with enough speed, but repeating them soon helped my early mistakes. I did sit and watch for a long time at the big bank just before the finish, watching kids and adults find their way around the corner and onto the off camber. It still held the upper line that was trampled into it at the Nationals back in January, although it was slightly overgrown but cutting in quickly the more people rode it. I rode it once, twice, dabbing each time to keep the momentum going. Chuckling when I got it wrong, as did the kids around me. Several times I had conversations about how to approach it with different teenagers and adults. Some rode the high line, some took it wide and went low. I eventually realised I’d be quicker running it. Especially with my remounting needing some (a lot) of work.

Then the rain came. I’d ridden the course a few times. Struggling with one of the off cambers from the tarmac. I still loved it! The course was much more suited to me than the big hill at Cyclopark. However I decided now was a good time to get the worst mud off my bike and pack it away. As I did this the Murray family arrived, so I headed down to see how the more experienced Keith and Sam rode the bank. Even Ellis rode it better than I did! Fair play!

Sam Murray

Ellis Murray #doitforthefamily taking the wide line

Sam and Keith riding different lines. Foot out, flat out

I knew by the time I got to the hotel that I had a cold setting in. Throughout a meal in the evening I felt progressively worse.
Sunday dawned. It’d be raining most of the night. Had I felt well, I would’ve been quite excited about riding a proper muddy course. I felt so flat that by the time the Murrays arrived, I knew I wouldn’t be riding. 

The waterproofs went on and I headed to the pits, where after two laps of the Vets race – Keith was on half laps changes as the course was wet, sticky mud. especially in the woods. 

Gary and I on pit duty for the Murrayator

Next up Sam. Riding his bike down to the pits was a lot easier than his dads! But equally the pits were getting muddier and more crowded as bike change after bike change happened. Paths were trodden between one side of the pits and the other. Everybody equally intent on their rider and shouting encouragement.

I briefly helped Bruce Dalton out, until a crash saw him DNF, and was quickly on bike change duty for both Scott Chalmers and Scot Easter, both far enough apart that I could help out one then the other before heading to the other side of the pits to do the same even half lap.

All too soon, the frantic muddy afternoon was done and I was heading home with a full blown cold.

Calais and East Kent.

I was planning on heading to the East Kent league race on Sunday 18th December, so when Keith mentioned Calais cx on the Saturday, I thought I might as well combine the two as I was staying with family in Deal on the Saturday night.

Taking the ferry to Calais was easy, and cheap. The cx course being held at the Stade du Souvenir a mere 9 minute drive from Calais port. Day was dawning, as I left Dover in thick fog and emerged into a stunning morning at sea.

Arriving at the Stade du Souvenir, I was delighted by the course laid out. And pre rode half of it in jeans and trainers. As you do. This put me in mind of enquiring about races close to Calais just for the experience!

Lots of banks to ride down and run up. Long sweeping grassy turns. It was going to be fast racing. No rain, dry and well laid out. Everyone was so welcoming, the French helping out with bike changes and so much friendliness even though I speak little French! 

Warm and dry, it was great fun helping out both Sam and Keith, and cheering Kris on. Even if mechanicals were order of the day. Snapping a chain downhill is a new one though! Problems aside, it was a great day out!

Murrayator

Low light providing some cracking shots

Kris riding the high line

All to soon I was heading back across the sea to a warm welcome in Deal.

East Kent CX at Ford Manor Farm was a far cry from the day before. Muddy, one blinking huge hill and sections so loamy and soft they were unrideable. One practice lap had me on my knees, and I was hugely glad Phil Booth also turned up – even though getting a bike built on the day is not the best idea!

I managed to get a second lap in before we lined up. Well at least I started warmed up! Three times up this hill in one lap. Thankfully the one off the start was rideable! Mucky and loamy, I had no problem with grip with Conti CycloXKings on, even approaching the long straight downhill at speed. However on the second lap I pulled a muscle in my backside, rendering the last hill walkable in mincing little steps. No thanks to the 40cm planks at the bottom too!

Alright Matt. Stop laughing when you’re taking pictures! Photo credit Matt Nunn

The tight off camber downhills got progressively slicker and I point blank refused to fall off or skid out through the tape!
However this is why I love cx….

Overdressed and too damn stubborn to give up

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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

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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!

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