Riding In North Wales

Having not sat on a bike for about two months now, deciding to ride in North Wales might seem like a fools errand. I’d persuaded Dad to bring his old road bike up, and had it in my head to ride along the coast road from Barmouth to somewhere… 

Checking the forecast, I knew it’d be headwind all the way heading north out of Llanaber, but we were just planning a steady ride. Not too warm or too cold, but with that cheeky NNW wind, there was a slight nip in the wind when we set off at 10.00.

I know the main villages well along this stretch, many years of staying up this way has drilled the names (and pronunciation) into my head.

Talybont, Dyffryn, Llanbedr.

Dad tells me things he knows or has seen along the entire route. We both know the Ysgethin Inn in Talybont, and the Vic in Llanbedr. 

‘Used to be three petrol stations here.’ He tells me as we pass through Dyffryn. I vaguely remember one of the others, up on the left where some kind of merchant has set up shop.

‘We went in this chapel here a few years back and signed the guest book. Only to see my uncle had been here the week before and signed it too.’

Dad isn’t a 100% where the chapel is, or was, and it was back in the 60’s he thinks.

I love the history we have tied in up here, our family many generations ago owned the Cwm Bychan valley.

‘We can go this way into Harlech.’ Dad stops me and points at a sign to Llanfair. I’ve been sat on the front into that cheeky headwind the whole way, so when we start heading uphill, I overheat so badly I have to stop halfway up and get rid of my gilet.

The road suddenly crests, with the Afon Dwyryd and the estuary in front of us. One hell of a spectacular view, people on the beach smaller than ants, Snowdon veiling itself in the clouds and rain battering down out toward Cricceith at sea.

We drop into Harlech, only to find a dead end – so we scramble down the footpath in the park and come out at the back of the castle.

‘The steepest hill in Britain is here,’ Dad points and shows me the 40% sign. I half hesistate as we start to make our way down, finding the top tube is a better place to sit, until I hear a car behind me and have to scoot into someone’s driveway. We look at each other and laugh, before Dad starts walking down the side of the twisty road. Not knowing the road, and seeing some of the bends already, I scramble down the next bit to the corner. We stop and laugh again, before Dad tells me he thinks the next bit will be fine (I won’t mention that it got so steep coming up to the corner that Dad had to run across the road and nearly crashed into the wall opposite!)

I swing my leg over and clip in, wondering if this is wise after seeing Dad skid – actually skid – to a stop and the back end of the bike rise up off the floor. Then I think ‘ah sod it’ leave one foot unclipped and sit on the top tube as I wend my way around the corner and thankfully find it flattening out enough to get back in the saddle!
This leaves us at the bottom of Harlech Castle, somewhere I definitely will go next week, I may even try riding down the hill again!

We head on towards Penrhyndeudreath, and find a lovely cafe for toasted teacakes and tea, before I persuade Dad we should head on to Cricceith. 
A quick stop in Porthmadog, and then at my insistence, instead of heading through the country roads, we head up the main road, mostly on the footpath as the road is rather busy. 

It’s been good riding today. Perfect weather with a knackering headwind, 99% respectful drivers, astonishingly smooth roads and great company with my Dad!

A Black Dog

Some of you will know, some of you won’t. I’ve dealt with depression the last few years.

A closed book

Unfriendly

Miserable

There’s fewer and fewer people that actually get to know me these days. My confidence in everything has been crushed and eradicated beyond belief. And I mean everything.

That sardonic smile I’ve become too well known for, the fact that wearing my heart on my sleeve hurts too damn much these days.

It’s odd really. Those who’ve seen past the withdrawn facade of my life, actually don’t see that about me, and are astonished that I have this problem.

I know how people judge, too easily. 

Maybe next time you see my slumped, withdrawn posture, my worried or ‘angry’ face, maybe you should just think what internal battle I’m facing today.

It’s rare I foist my problems onto others. I usually find people just turn away, so I talk less and less. I’ve been shot down in flames so many times I’ve lost count, to the point rejection seems the norm.

I’m too scared to ride a bike on the road these days. I can’t face it alone, and the box hill wellwishers are long gone.

I value my true friends above all else. They know who they are, and I’ve let them already know how hard everything is for me right now.

I’d rather be a shapeless face behind a camera/ social media these days. 

Aber Cycle Fest brings me out of that place I mentally retreat to. I actually feel valued, the people I deal with are genuine, direct and yet more relaxed. It helps save me from the yawning abyss that calls everyday, putting my life on edge 24/7.

I’m too conscious of bothering other people, if you don’t share stuff with me, that’s fine. I don’t pry, if an answer isn’t forthcoming, then it’s none if my business.

So thank you Aber, Shelley and Nia especially. It helps heal some of what is too broken inside.

#seethesunshinethroughtherain 

My Review: Scott Solace Disc 10

I’m not one for usually falling in love with a bike, but having already booked a trip to Flanders with unfinished business, the opportunity to take this for a test on some of the toughest pavé in Europe was too good to pass up.
A lovely bright, standout colourway, far brighter than the listed ‘red/ black/ grey,’ sloping geometry and disc brakes all ticked my boxes for a bike to tackle some of Europe’s roughest pavé.

Prepped for cobbles, although I did drop the bars a fair bit

The tough sportives of Paris Roubaix and Flanders already over, I headed back to Oudenaarde with this awesome looking bike to see if it could stand up to the billing.
I know what I need from a bike like this, and it’s got to be stiff enough to give back the power being put into it over the famous bergs in Belgium. I also didn’t want it to be a rattly carbon monstrosity that’s uncomfortable to ride for more than a couple of hours over the rough roads.
An easy spin out from Oudenaarde and over shooting the entrance to the Koppenberg had me wondering how it would react to the cobbles. It rode like a full carbon bike should do, fast and responsive, and the geometry didn’t feel like it was lacking.
An about turn, and a run up, and I was soon on the cobbles. Quickly running down through the gears as the gradient rose, this bike was giving every bit of power back to me as turn by turn and cobble by cobble I clawed my way upwards. The false flat giving me a slight breather before tackling the last rise.

We were in no rush to do the route my friend had planned, but this was an easy descent, with me quickly in top gear and astonished how fast it reacted, I was soon diving off down the unfamiliar road.
A long run into Ronse, a wind through the town and then the climb of the Kruisberg to tackle. Whereas before on cobbled climbs, previous bikes had been too flexible and unable to give back what I was putting in, this again was stiff enough for the power to flow through it, making the climb more of a pleasure than I thought possible.

Riding up the Kruisberg

The road climb of Hotond was next, before a long fairly straight down the cycle lane of the N36 saw me flying but cautious, a quick turn onto the Paddestraat and we were suddenly at the bottom of the Oude Kwaremont. Turn by turn, I was surprised how quick I was up and over the steep section and onto the false flat. Straight back in the big ring, and the immediate responsiveness nearly caught me off guard. I put everything into tempo and worked hard to the top. 

The Paterberg was up next, and it’s easy to see how a stronger rider would get the most out of this bike, I got a lot further than I thought possible!

Still to conquer the whole climb, the Paterberg is a monster!

Sunday was back to France, and down to the Arenberg. I’d yet to conquer this section of pavé, due to crashes in the sportive previously, and I was determined to tackle this hard. Spring greenery blooming fast, it was a different Arenberg to the one I’d been to a couple of weeks earlier. Thankfully the pavé was still dry, although no less fearsome!

We got a clear run onto the famously brutal cobbles, and aiming for the speed that lets you go over cobbles (rather than into them) I rode hard, passing my friend Phil well before the bridge and pushing to get the most out of it, I was soon well away from him. A glance up every now and then as the rise out of the trench began, showed how quickly the barred end of section was approaching. 

‘I couldn’t catch you!’ Phil told me with resignation at the end of the Arenberg

A trip up to Chereng, and the bikes were quickly back out and we headed into a strengthening southerly wind. Warm and dry, and with knackered legs, we headed out over Sector 3 – Gruson and down onto the 5* section of the Carrefour de l’Arbre. This is a section I know the best, and with a strong wind, it makes it harder. A brief trip out to sector 5, and we were soon back onto the cobbled hell of the Carrefour. The midsection is the worst. 

Don’t think! Just pedal hard, the crown isn’t easy to stay on here, and the last slight uphill section with a nasty crossword was nearly unbearable as energy levels dropped so quickly. It’s the love/ hate of the cobbles that brings me back every time, I couldn’t wait for it to be over, yet can’t wait to do it all again. 

Carrefour de l’Arbre

The bike tested is as billed on the website here

My changes were only the tyres, to my own Continental GP GT 28mm, as I love these on the dry cobbles. 
It’s absolutely perfect for hard long rides, and would be in it’s element over the full hard-core routes of the Paris Roubaix Challenge and the Flanders sportive. The more relaxed geometry is perfect for hours on the bike, yet the surprising stiffness let me power quickly away from a stronger rider. The hydraulic disc brakes just add, rather than take away from this bike with fast, precision braking.

The 11-32 cassette is spot on for climbing the bergs of Flanders, never leaving you with the feeling that you’ve run out of gears!

It’s great to have the feeling that everything you put into riding this bike is reflected straight back. That last push to get over the brow of a hill, could seem sloppy with another bike, but due to the bi-zonal construction, it’s easy… and fast!
I’d happily ride this bike all day, every day.

Huge thanks to Phil Booth for driving, organising routes, smashing cobbles, being a great photographer and being such a damn awesome friend. This trip was excellent, and much needed after my sorry state at Flanders with a wrenched back! 

Also many, many thanks to Keith Murray. You, my friend, are a legend!

Roubaix 2017

No riding the sportive for me this year, instead a last minute (one star) hotel booking in Villeneuve d’Ascq, and a flexible ferry ticket back to see my favourite race.

Don’t mention the journey on Friday to me, M25 hell bound. But it did mean a late arrival and empty French roads with Verity, my oldest and best friend, for company.

I’d offered to be neutral support for Phil Booth who was riding the 145km mid distance route, with the first section of cobbles being the erratic, bone shuddering Arenberg. An early drive in misty weather with the promise of a beautiful day ahead, saw us with a prime parking spot just off the Arenberg finish. 

The first few fast riders were just starting to trickle past in one’s and twos as we headed down the dolled off path. Metal barriers for quite some way limited access of cyclists to the much friendlier path, as much as keeping the public off the exit.

We wandered down, watching the rope barriers being set up, and kicking the odd bottle off the middle of the cobbles. A few people were walking about, the odd ‘bonjour’ and us two ‘allez’ing the riders on. A very French ‘Yes. It’s rock and roll’ in reply (pronounced Yace. Eets rack and wrol) had us in giggles for a while. 

I warned Verity a bridge would eventually appear – although neither I or Phil had even noticed it last year when we rode it – but the fog kept it hidden until the last minute.

Punctures and dropped chains were order of the day if you didn’t get through unscathed, although I failed to see the guy fall off his bike in the plough behind me as we finally saw the bridge.

I honestly couldn’t believe how high and out of place it looked in the spring greenery of the surrounding forest. A 15 strong mountain bike peleton was strangely quiet as the shock absorbers did their job over the rough, jilted cobbles. 

A total mix of bikes, it really makes the mind boggle. From full suss, brand new mountain bikes (Scott the leading brand by a mile) to road bikes who’s glory days had been 15 years ago. Most popular road bikes were all types of Specialized. Several Venge Vias and even a couple of candy coloured Cruxs. Castelli and Rapha the unbranded kit of choice, and the huge variety of club colours and makes. 

We removed all the bottles dropped on the ancient cobbles that we saw, and collected the spare tubes and tools that we found – giving the tubes to those who had punctured.

Phil managed to spot my very unsubtle gilet, and waited for us at the end.

Arenberg was very very dry this year, the only damp from shattered and split bottles. 

We saw Phil safely on his was before heading to my favourite section of pavé, the ever degrading Carrefour d’Larbe. Reckoned this year to be worse than Arenberg.

A long wait on the side of the pavé in the sun, a lot of encouragement from us both to the riders both flying and weary. The wait was starting to get worrying, so much so that a song was made up…

‘We’re Really Quite Worried About Phil.’

A WhatsApp let us know that all but one of his chainring bolts had come out, and the mechanics had done a bodge job worthy of GCN hacks. One other bolt and cable ties held it together

I offered my Scott Addict, sat redundant in the car, and even got it out to be ready.

A random meeting with Jon Dibben’s mum, massively proud of her son and trying to find a better place to park the campervan they had took up some time, until finally a white, green and red jersey snagged my attention.

A dusty dry day was taking its toll, and Phil decided to finish on the patched up Felt after he’d got himself together.

L’enfer du Nord

Sunday saw a car pool and a trip to Compiègne to see the start from the Medway Veloians cafe of choice. A table in the sun, coffee and banter. The colourful parrot like flock of the peleton as they passed

Then it was off to Saint Python for the next bit. Chasing the race for the love of it.

Fair play to the Astana bus rocking the Tom Boonen mask in the front window as we drove past!

The heat was cranking up as we made our  way into the village and out on to the cobbles. A high bank and narrow verge granted excellent views, as I chose to stay low for a photo or two.

The arrival of motorbikes and the distant helicopter heralded the arrival of the race. Dust driven up in clouds that a sandstorm would be proud of as the vehicles sped onto the cobbles.

The race was already breaking up. Riders barely glimpsed amid the cars. Terpstra abandoned. Punctures and team cars too far away.

Then it was a trudge up the field and back into the car. Air con a luxury the peleton could wish for. A long drive to Cysoing and a lucky parking spot. Twitter refreshed and the race really starting. Crashes reported, breakaway and a peleton thinning by the minute. Mostly French around us, radios and flags abundant as the temperature rose. A trek up section 7, memories of timed sections surfacing from last year as we found a place to stand. 

Rodonia sang again as I downed the last of the Orangina. Vehicles approaching, Daniel Oss still in front, yellow dust clouds gathering like the storm of the chase behind. Grim, dirty, silent, streaks of brown marring the rainbow hued men as they hurtle past. 

A race split to pieces by those errant blocks of stone, seemingly thrown together by a joker. A dry, hot day ridden at ridiculous speeds that we can only dream of. The main pack is gone. But every couple of minutes another whistle screeches, the crowds roar and part and another one or two or three come streaming through. Faces are strained, there’s not another lot left, and yet still more than 25km to go. The Carrefour awaits not far ahead, and yet they still don’t stop. A ten minute gap, the gendarmerie still vigilant for riders alone. 

Outgunned, unlucky, not their day, as we wait in the sun, envious of the hard men of Roubaix flashing through as Twitter once more is refreshed as they near the end. 

A van towing a flatbed loaded with bikes gives pause for thought. Is that Rowes bike? 

A shock as the three slow and become five, can Stuyven sprint? No. The day is for GvA, a whoop from me and as I look up the road is reopened. But not all riders are through? Of 199 starters, it feels like maybe 40 have gone through. 

Suddenly it’s all done for another year… 

#keepsmiling 

Medway Velo does Flanders

Last Friday saw us heading to Flanders. Having left early, I beat the M25 Friday gluepot and arrived in Chatham far too early! Nearly a whole hour early.

I spent most of the week moving house and getting the bike ready. Panicking that I didn’t have the right stuff or know where on earth I’d packed it all to move, let alone take with me.

I’d decided to ride the Scott Addict CX bike, with an added 52 chain ring  (thank you George Gori), 28mm Continental GP GTs from Paris Roubaix last year and kept my normal Crank Bros Eggbeater 3s so I could wear my Giro VR90s. A whole range of kit was packed, with only a new Castelli base layer my last minute addition.

Running through all of it in my head whilst I waited for Phil to arrive home, I hoped I had all the right gear… and yet still no idea what really lay in store. A frustrated message to the group chat as I enjoyed the sun in the car yielded no joy when asking for Rock Tape. I’d managed to turn my ankle over on the shale path outside the house whilst putting rubbish in the bin.

Rob and Phil had kind of convinced me earlier in the year to do the Flanders sportive, and now that we were nearly there, I’d started to really look forward to it. Checking my last minute Fantasy team on road.cc, I pondered my team choices and decided to leave them. Surely between GvA, Sagan and Gilbert, I should have some chance of points?

All too soon Phil had done some kind of superman, leaving some bewildered schoolkids to wonder how their teacher had beaten them out of school!

Steve was first to arrive, cycling up a hill of the type that I thought existed only in Wales, in casual clothes with a huge bag slung even more casually over his shoulder. He wasn’t even sweating, showing that Zwift and turbo training through the last few months is rather good for you!

Phil was next. Bike already on the roof and stuff already packed. I left the two pro’s to attach bikes whilst I slung my bags in the boot.

Shotgun had already been called by yours truly a week or so before, mostly because I get travelsick.

We had one other to arrive before we set out to search for Matt, hoping that Phil knew where he was going to pick him up.

Somehow we managed to get in convoy with Rob before we had picked Matt up, pure chance rather than millisecond planning.

Quickly through Dover and onto the ferry, time for a bite to eat and to say hello to the rest of the crew; Sparkle (Neutral Service Extraordinaire), Tom ‘Crash’ Kennison, Lord Muir and Roberto ‘I’ve Crashed In Better Races Than You’ll Ever Ride In’ Kennison. Better known as Flandrian.

A late arrival at the hotel, and I got the keys to my room for the next two nights. A nice little room. That smelt of drains. Shutting the bathroom door helped, but not much…

A beer/ wine/ Fanta and plans were laid to be ready to leave at 7.00am. Luckily we convinced the receptionist that we really needed breakfast, and we we allowed to take a selection to our rooms. We also had Canadian Jamie join our gang, he’d picked up our sportive number packs.

Tom managed to break the self serving coco pop machine, but gave me the idea of grabbing a bowl of dried fruit and yoghurt instead.

Anxiety had me up at 6, ready to go by half six and forcing breakfast down. A group chat call for milk had gone out as I blearily opened the door and passed it rather grumpily to Lord Muir. A check outside saw rain, and I made sure my Castelli Sotille jacket was at the top of my dry bag.

Leaving a little later than planned, and after Phil argued with his sat nav, it rained most of the way to Oudenaarde. Or at least to the Stijn Devolder (nope I can’t spell it either!) sportive car park.

The Medway Massive does Flanders

Kitted up, a thousand mixed feelings crossed my mind as we ride down to roll over the start. I thoroughly loved sitting on the front of our mini Peleton chatting to Rob whilst we rode down and up the river on the lovely flat cycle paths.

All too soon we went up a hill, and I was dropped fairly quickly. Phil soft pedalled, being far too patient and waited as the group drew ahead out of sight.

We chatted and pointed, looked and laughed, shuddered at choppers and exclaimed our disgust at the tens of idiots behaving stupidly as we rode. 

The first cobbled climb showed exactly what madness the Flanders sportive can throw. People walking. People getting gears all wrong. Diving up the cobbles and slipping and sliding everywhere. Ahead Phil pulled off to one side and unclipped, but I dropped down the gears and soldiered my way up. Faster riders passing and chopping each other up six ways of stupidity. I held my line and ground my way up until a blockade of swearing Europeans halted me. Trudging the last bit before swinging back on and riding again.

The flat cobbles  were great, although my right lower leg and back felt twingy,  I dismissed it.

Glad I’d kept my gilet on (Scott do awesome gilets!) as it wasn’t as warm as I thought it would be. Every hill was an effort, and the twinges got worse the more I climbed. Stoking off downhill had me grinning from ear to ear, passing a fair few on the cobbled sections had me feeling like I was at home as I stayed in the big ring as much as possible. The first feed zone was a calamity of bikes, riders, a hundred hues of kit and sticky isotonic drinks. 

Oranges, waffles, refilled bottles. We rolled out again, shooting the breeze like only good mates can. The next hill had me nearly in tears, twinges now abhorrent jabs in my lower back. Suddenly we were on the Valkenberg,

‘See you at the top Phil.’ I called, trying to ignore the flare up of pain. It was hard, every downstroke of the right pedal had a white hot poker stabbing me on the back, but I had to get to the top. A false flat as we turned the corner, and I pulled in by Phil knowing that was me done. I could barely put any weight on the leg, and had to lean the bike down to get off it.

A hard decision to call Sparkle put an end to my Tour of Flanders, and I ushered Phil to go ahead and finish. Luckily I didn’t have to wait long, and was soon off my leg and sat in the car on the way to the third feedzone. A million émotions;  frustration, sadness, anger, more frustration. Guilt at leaving Phil to ride on his own after having to wait for me.

We saw the fast group into feedzone 3, Tom finding me some stroopwaffles from the feedstation. Oh my God. I love stroopwaffles! Lord Muir was next, then someone who thought they were at the finish but were at the 2nd feed zone. Phil wasn’t far behind, and we were off to the finish. Eventually I ended up getting dropped off whilst Neutral Service found somewhere to park. 

Hobbling up the street – painkillers had taken the worst edge off – I saw familiar Sigma Sport kit, in the form of the just finished Callum and Rupert from work. Both looked knackered but happy! And then more familiar kit in the form of Hans Stiles Kingston Wheeler kit.

A bit further on, location dropped by WhatsApp, the faster group and Sparkle were enjoying beverages well earned. Banter flowing, Phil was suddenly spotted riding fast past us…

We later found they had stopped at the unofficial finish, and timing chips would show a gap of a couple of hours…

I had to ride back out to the car, the only bit that hurt badly was trying to ride a small hill in trainers on Eggbeater pedals, pressing down with only the left leg. 

Pizza, frites and beer were well earned that night. Even after 9 men couldn’t find the restaurant in Menen…

Sunday was race day. The Medway Velo organisation meeting held in the breakfast room at the hotel had outlines of a plan. Ride into Oudenaarde, watch the women’s and men’s, then head out to the Kwaremont (ish).

Backpacks were not allowed in the town centre, and that and an achy leg nearly had me a meltdown. Sorry guys! 

A ride out to the bottom of the Kwaremont in jeans had me rethinking about wearing them! Bikes locked to a metal gate, all stuff in a carrier bag to get through security and we set up camp on the side of the road by the cafe. 

Leffe Blond and Brun, Coke and Iced Tea. Hamburgers and banter with the good guys around us.

Suddenly out riders on motorbikes, lead cars and the women were there. Noise levels escalated to those known only by cycling fans as languages from all over the globe encouraged them on. 

The noise is followed by quiet. More fans making their way up, us chilling on the grassy verge. Friends checking in from the middle and top of the Kwaremont as we try and follow the racing on twitter. Pictures exchanged. More banter. Race updates from Twitter don’t glean enough information, instead I sit back and we wait for the men’s race to arrive. 

More fans arrive. Flandrian finds his fan club. Everyone is getting lightly toasted in the super weather. Even more fans walk up to the famous spot. Our grass verge starts to get crowded.

The helicopter is spotted, and cowbells start to sing as the first vehicles approach. We know it’s Gilbert and the crowd goes berserk, a noise that’s nearly indescribable, but is many decibels  higher up the road. 

Huge roars in Flemish,  French, English to name but a few. A brief silence, then the chase. Splintered groups of hard men on the road. Sagan, GvA, the names are all there.

Banter and beer resume, until Matt points out we can see them descending behind us, the yellow of oil seed rape a more garish backdrop to the sunflowers of France later in the year.

We watch the front few come past again, before quickly making our way to the bikes and back down the road. I’m first away, having to get nearly in the ditch to let the last of the peleton through. Then we are there, just around the corner from the Paterberg descent.

Gilbert flashes through, we know about the crash by then, before we make our way back to the car. 

My first Flanders done, I will be back, for I feel I’ve left my pride out in Flanders narrow cobbled climbs. A great group of friends and team mates, two great bike races and endless banter. Food for the heart and soul.

I have something to prove, I will be back. Until next time Flandrians and Medway Veloians. 

#keepsmiling 

Helen Wyman CX clinic at Palmer Park 

A trek from cold Oxfordshire to freezing West Berkshire this morning, with flurries of snow on the motorway was a great prelude to a day that never got above 4 degrees with a bitter northern wind. Thankfully there was no snow or rain, but I struggled with staying warm without being on the bike for the morning session.

Whilst led by Helen, Stef has definitely got the louder voice! 

A talk on tyre pressure, for different types of tyres, and Stef, Amira Mellor, Helen and Caroline Stewart went around checking them. I’m still surprised that anyone had more than 30psi in theirs (although if you’ve ridden in on the road, I kind of get it!)

I took notes when Stef and Helen were taking the morning session, but I’m not going to give it all away!

They started with a follow my leader to help shake the edge of cold off, then onto crop circles and figure of eights. Just watching and listening to the four of them gave me ideas of what to practice, and most importantly why.

Then dismounting and remounting, how, when, why, where to get off the bike, and how to carry it. There may have been a slight disagreement between Helen and Stef over how Helen carries her bike! 

Then remounting at the top of the bank… which did see a couple of crashes!

Then onto a session with riding and running a steep, rather slick bank. Riding it, with enough speed and in the right gear was easy. Carrying the bike and running proved rather treacherous, to my amusement as I stood and watched.

The talk of why and what line to choose as Helen, Stef and Amira alternately rode and ran became more apparent as they showed what and why they did what they did.

Lastly onto race starts, what posistion you start in and why, where your pedals are, on the hoods or drops. Gridded starts and Belgian style starts.

I knew our ‘predominately’ women’s session was going to be brilliant, although my dismal remounting actually made me embarrassed to be there.

We had a broad range of women turn up, Suzi Wise who usually races with me at the back of the field, Jo-Anne Perry, two of the 5th Floor girls, and even super Vet Alison Kinloch. Around 30 in total I guess, one awesome turnout!

Slightly chattier than the men had been, we were soon out doing figure of eights, first of all alone – in which both Stef and Amira came to give me some advice. I’d got the hang of always peddaling, but had to learn to put the spurt of effort in as I came out of each bend. Then we were up in pairs, and knowing Alison was faster than me, but also able to give advice, I asked her to pair up with me. It quickly showed me letting gaps in and her through, and I wasn’t quite able to hold the speed of her wheel for long, but it taught me a valuable lesson. 

Remounting was next. I was embarrassed before I’d even started, and eventually Caroline took me off to where Helen was giving Jo some one on one advice. I followed behind, kind of getting the idea. Then it was my turn. Helen had me jumping up beside the bike, but the fear of smashing myself onto the seat post or the wheel had me fearing to jump on the bike. I know how ridiculous it sounds. I berated myself and got rather frustrated.

As the women started practicing remounting at the top of a bank, I used the time to get off and on, off and on, again and again until we went to tackle the bank around the other side. I said of my frustrations to Stef as we rode to the other side of the stadium.

Tackling the bank, when I finally got around to doing it was easy. A bigger gear than I would normally, and speed. the drop didn’t concern me as it was short and had been well ridden in. A quick practice with shouldering the bike and running the bank – yes I am picking mine up weirdly because of a niggly shoulder injury, had me stuck behind one of the other ladies and slipping and sliding all over the bank. I had a right good laugh and later went back to practice it with Suzi.

We finished off with dismounting, jumping hurdles and getting back on before our turn at mass starts, both gridded and Belgian style – wheels everywhere and riders jammed in in every space. It was great, I loved the kick of the starts, with Stef warning us not to go into the red too quickly on race days.

What a fantastic day, with help and tips not just from one, but four coaches all with a fantastic range of knowledge and different ways to approach ideas. Learning how much you need just one hand to turn with, a different approach to remounting, and just how much you can learn from the experts.

I kid you not, it was bloody freezing, and it’s taken me nearly 3 house to get warm!

I swear Helen. I’ll learn to get remounting properly before the season starts!

#keepsmiling 

London CX Team Champs

This year I managed to get my own team together from the guys I work with at Sigma Sport. Thanks to the boss for lending us the Sigma Sport van too!

James Nolan bravely said he’d give it a go on my Colnago, whilst Andy Richardson and Will Bridgman completed the team. 

We were late entering, and as such had to ride in the ‘non sporting’ team champs, with 15 minutes less of racing and after the main event.

A warm up lap with Will and James, showed the course to be not dissimilar to last year with most of the main features remaining the same. A single plank in the wood gave Will a slightly worrying moment as he bunny hopped it and caught his back wheel. However the course was only going to cut up, and I was interested to see what lines would appear after the main Team Champs.

I thought I was more prepared, and certainly was a lot more at home on the course than I felt last year, however a combination of not eating enough, and being started so late/ getting cold meant that I wasn’t at my best. 

The race was still fantastic though, with some hilarious mistakes and falls around me, not forgetting the clever guys with the Benny Hill theme tune playing over the handheld megaphone as we hit the first off camber sections. 

A slow climb into the trees and getting held up at Death Drop Slide, meant I dropped further back, but kept concentrating on putting the most effort in I could. Not easy when the start of the race was 35 minutes later than it should  have been. The slick hill was back, and I climbed it without much issue until the third lap. 

The course was great, with slick mud making fishtailing so easy, falls left, right and centre and I certainly felt more at home in every section, just very flat and without much energy. I also managed to wrench my shoulder again.

James did supremely well on his first time off road in three years, Andy looked totally pro and Will absolutely smashed it round. 

Proud that we managed to get a team together, and proud of the guys for helping make it a fantastic day out!

Thank you guys… baptism of fire for certain! Same time next year?!


#keepsmiling