Cyclocross: Back On The Bike 

Having not sat on the bike since September, I literally had no idea how I would feel going for a spin around Swinley with Caroline.

Sunday dawned bloody cold, although we seemed to have more frost in Oxfordshire than over there at Swinley. Deciding what to wear when you haven’t been out finessing the art of what lycra to wear at which temperature isn’t easy! 

Setting off at 10.30 with an easy spin up the road, off onto some gravel and onto a very short climb in amongst the bare trees, I think we were both soon warm enough!

Off up the boardwalks through the marshes, somewhere I used to hate getting my front wheel up onto, or dropping off the other end. Experience and good coaching has taught me how to ride these without giving it hardly any second thought, except to mention to Caroline how much I used to be bothered by them! The boardwalks are usually slippery, but as long as care is taken, I’ve never minded riding along them.

Today was not about working hard on every section. Today was about remembering how to enjoy being on our cx bikes on a fine, cold day.

We did ride around the training loop on the fire roads, with plenty of runners, cyclists and dog walkers out and about. The Strade Bianche section wasn’t too bad, but the next section had been done up. A shallow orange sandy mud, that actually was great fun to ride on! Unfortunately my legs started to empty near the end, so I chose to not do another half loop, but rather to head back for a much needed cup of tea.

It’s a hard decision to cut short a ride, but as I said to Caroline, I’d rather end on a happy note, than ride the section home feeling like shit.

It’s done me the world of good to get back out, and now I need to work out how to work training into the hours I work, so I can start again. I’ve had a much needed mental break from it all, and feel like I can start again now.

Kit worn 

Specialized Women’s SL Pro bibtights, Sportful 2nd Skin LS baselayer, Castelli winter jacket and the Castelli CX over trousers. Castelli Gregge 12 socks, Viva headband and a BMC cycling cap… in actual fact I was a little on the warm side, either that or I need colder weather! Usually I’d opt for Castelli Nanoflex legwarmers and Roubaix/ fleece lined bib shorts, but the legwarmers are a little on the big side (insert shock horror face)…

The temperature held steady around 0 to 1 degrees with a rather cheeky biting wind. Perfect CX weather!

CS Cycle Coaching has helped me no end. Giving me the time I need to find my feet again after a big change in jobs and lifestyle. Thank you Caroline!

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’


CX skills session 2 with Caroline Stewart

Drills, skills and technical riding were order of the day, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I’d done roughly 50 miles on Saturday (the day after our Xmas party – not bad considering I’d told everyone I wasn’t going out!) helping Toria out leading and dropping back to keep Sarah company – it’s great to be a stronger rider and I know exactly how she felt out the back.

A very short ride to the park with Caroline on a lovely out of season warm day. Luckily it’s perfect for drills and skills, nice grassy area with two short steep stepped banks. And with an excellent teacher who’s very patient, but superbly good at explaining the how’s and whys of what we’re doing. And what works and doesn’t work.

I started off following Caroline. Trying to ride the same lines as her. It’s a bit daunting purely because I don’t want to fall off and my turning skills certainly needed working on. Then she stood on the flat bit between the two banks giving me the following drills to have a go at:

Riding off camber straight along a bank, 

Turning off camber, up and down the banks,

Figure of 8 up and down the two banks, with sharp turns (more acute turns and coming back on myself)

Tight turns around a bench and a tree, then onto the steeper section of the off camber at an angle to ride in a straight line along it (with Caroline as a human fence post after I *drifted* onto the easy part the first time).

Riding on the steeper part of the off camber kick pushing.

The drills are repeated and repeated. Sometimes I find doing a drill uncomfortable purely because I’m not used to it and again I don’t like to feel like I’m losing control of the bike at the point of no return, but it gets easier a lot quicker. A couple of times Caroline uses herself as a human fence to stop me riding onto the easier part of the bank.
It’s never boring because the more I repeat doing stuff the more I’m learning. I’ve watched a lot of cx, but only when it’s mentioned now do I see how it all comes into play. How shifting your weight on the camber can help you keep going. How and why to power up a bank and bring yourself out of the saddle at the right place just before the top – to power yourself over without spinning out behind.

I absolutely love it. And it’s easy to talk to Caroline who seems happy with my progress  (well I hope it’s progress!).

Then it’s onto how to dismounting and remounting. I’m confident enough getting off the bike – but remounting not at all. I’ve got to remember not to do that stupid hop and since letting my seat down – I’ve found its got easier. More than a couple of times I completely fudge it all up. Unclipping the wrong foot first. Looking down at trying to clip back in. Completely stopping the bike…
Then how to carry the bike and the reasons for doing it different ways. There is no barriers, so a handily placed stick does. Ride up. Dismount. Lift bike – not by the top tube! – shoulder it. Put it down correctly. Get on. Easier said than done. And my clipping in skills were next to non existant today. Especially doing this! #ForReasonsUnknown.

A quick ‘game’ of off camber pursuit (Caroline’s best invention!) which I lost funnily enough! And off through the woods to play on different surfaces. Leaf litter, pine needles (and pine cones!), scree, gravel, roots, hillocks, deepish muddy sections and tree roots everywhere.
I’m struggling to keep up this time. A combination of not much sleep and a long day on the bike yesterday has taken its toll and when I hit a really deep muddy section I don’t have the power to get through it. And have to get off and carry it, jumping over a ditch in the process! But I laugh. It’s all good fun!

Today was a lot harder in some ways – really having to concentrate on the how’s and whys, as well as the surface I’m riding over. I’m used to not thinking too much and just doing it – this has definitely given me more knowledge of what to try!

But it’s great, it’s awesome to have a friend that can coach me and can help me out with what I’m not so brave doing.

Huge thanks Caroline, it’s great to have someone like you who’s so good at coaching, let alone a good friend. So please check out her coaching page or follow her on twitter @swordpanda!



Just a tad muddy!

A good ride captain

I wonder what you think makes a good ride leader? I’ve had experience of very good (Callum Clarke, Toria Jamieson and Louise Wainwright immediately spring to mind) and very bad.

It’s not just communication with others in the group, it’s keeping an eye on/ looking after others, including dropping back to check on others. The odd bit of praise doesn’t go amiss either. Knowing when to call out for pace/directions/stupidness is always good. Common courtesy and manners round it off.

Yesterday (Sunday 8th November) was a perfect example of how it can work. And if I think praise is due I will give it. An organised women’s (and partners if they wanted) ride starting at Sigma Sport in Hampton Wick, heading out via Cobham and West Horsley to the hill at Shere, and back via Cobham. Not far, and in fairly decent weather.
Sod’s law Callum punctured as we headed toward Esher, but great for everyone to see how to change a tube quickly and effectively – even with mudguards on.
Cat (or Kat, sorry if I’m spelling it wrong!) was our other leader, and they both held a good steady pace out through Cobham.
Throughout the ride Callum dropped back to check on the others, calling out quickly if we were pushing a bit too fast.
Everyone waited (like they should do!) at key points, the top of that sneaky climb at Shere or at junctions.
An extra bit through Bushy Park on the way home gave everyone an opportunity to stretch their legs briefly, and then it was back to Sigma Sport at Hampton Wick for coffee and pastries.

Everyone I spoke to really enjoyed the ride(s) and the unusually warm weather helps too.

Rather epic to treat my cx bike to a nice little spin on the road, some nice greasy/leafy sections around Shere made me rather happy for the awesome little rig I’ve picked up!


Plus. I’m a bit in love with my shoes! Limited edition Giro ‘Anodised Red’ CX/mtb shoes.—MTB-Shoe/9ZWU

Oh. And the bike?


Not a terribly great picture, but I’ve been too busy riding it to take pictures of it!!
It’s a Kinesis 5t Disc from Upgrade bikes , with eggbeater pedals from CrankBros.

So much fun….

Even better I have a couple of skills sessions coming up. Caroline Stewart and Bruce Dalton have both offered up their free time to help me out a little. And Helen Wyman has promised a take over clinic.

As usual I can’t thank people enough! You amazingly wonderful people!

Meanwhile, here’s a few pictures from this mornings ride. This is why you should #ridelots






All taken from Kingston Bridge this morning.