Cross Is Coming… 

With CX season nearly here, and me missing several months of riding the cross bike, tonight was a chance to restart. Yeah, I’ve left it late, but now I’m out of Surrey and back in Oxfordshire/ West Berkshire, I’m more comfortable being back on the bike.

This evening we met at Palmer Park, where Chris Macleod was in charge of coaching, backed up by my coach Caroline Stewart (apologies, I’ve forgotten the third coaches name!)

A nice little course was laid out, with plenty of corners… or chicanes… in fact tonight was all about cornering.

I’ll freely admit I had absolutely no confidence going around to start with, and only when Chris went through cornering techniques, did I start to remember what Helen and Stefan Wyman had said earlier in the year. I had remembered to keep pedalling through the corners, but as Caroline had pointed out; I was going in too sharp and coming out too wide.

When Chris, with the help of Callum, showed us actually how much grip we had on the grass with the tyres, and about shifting the weight around, did a few things start to fall into place. 

I started to hold a few people off on corners, those faster than me, and gradually rode more fluidly throughout the course. It might be a minor milestone, but it’s a step back in the right direction. Having a group of people to practice with from all ages and abilities is a huge help!

Lastly we had a Devil Take The Hindmost type race, but with every lap, having to wait by trackstanding in the start box. Hugely good fun, and I was out through my failure to trackstand rather than being slow!

A couple of crashes out of the start box

Massive thanks to Chris and Caroline for this, it’s really made my week!

#keepsmiling #crossiscoming 

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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 

Lovecrossed CX

Today I headed to one of my favourite courses, at Chavenage House in Tetbury. Yes, this is where Poldark is filmed! A class backdrop to a fantastic course, I’d been keeping an eye on the tweets of Lovecrossed to see how different the course was this year. Bits were still the same, although the opposite way, the wooded section was thankfully downhill, although part of the haha was now a lot harder to ride in the opposite direction. They had also filled in the old ditch at the bottom of the wood, previously a horse jump the bottom wasn’t quite solid, as I found out later.

I arrived far too early as usual, with some very faint frost in the ground as I had a mosey around. I’d heard talk to a rather large hill, although I could only see the course stretching out in the distance. 

A warm greeting by both Tangwyn (Lovecrossed is rightly his baby and is growing ever more popular) and Hank (James Lowsley Williams, who’s family own Chavenage)  is another reason I travelled from Surrey to this well thought out event. Lovecrossed was one of the reasons I started getting interested in cx, although I didn’t attend the first year. 

This year a steady rain set in early on, I quickly worked out that it was likely to cut up fairly fast as I did my first recce lap. Riding down through the woods, it was a lot slicker than last year and with the ditch at the bottom being filled in meant it rode a lot quicker too. A quick diversion out of the woods, a drop into the haha and out around the pits. The next part of the course was the bit I was most interested in. A drop through a gateway/ ditch, over some ruts and onto a long off camber. Then the hill. Down was easy on the recce laps, as the course was grassy and grippy. Off camber, to zig zigs and a very sharp drop. Cue laughing like a lunatic and frightening the girl behind me. A long slog carrying the bike uphill before returning back to the main field.

Magnetic grass was back on this course to start with and by the time I did a second lap, it felt tough.

All nerves had gone before the race, I’d stayed under the shelter of the pop up as the rain came down – just what we needed to make this a proper cx race. With the promise of watching the elite mens cx world championship in the ballroom afterwards, I couldn’t wait to get the race done.

We started two minutes behind the Veteran men, but I’d already seen Keith streaming off like a green, yellow and black rocket at the front – slick muddy conditions for him at last! 

The start was uphill with a record 20 women starting, and I settled myself into the rear of the field, trying to get around the fitter novices who’s technical skills slowed them down. Out through the woods and the haha, around the pits and out onto the long stretch of off camber. 

I was right. The grass cut up extremely quickly, but unlike the claggy mud of last year that claimed three rear mechs from Scot ‘One T’ Easter (sadly absent this year), it was slick and slidy. Game on! The downhill had cut up rapidly, and I was quicker and getting away from the ladies around me by running it. The uphill sucked out what energy I had left, and it was a knackered me that dismally remounted without much style. 

Pic courtesy of Verity Banks

Pic courtesy of Verity Banks

Pics courtesy of Verity Banks

It was the hardest most diabolically fun race I’ve ever done. A fast flowing course that had some cracking technical features. Great friends, my parents and a wicked pit crew kept me going. It was that hard that twice I saw stars; the second time after I attempted to ride the ditch for the third/fourth time, bounced over the handlebars and landed on my feet. 
I had my own battle at the back of the field. Annoyed when Keith passed me twice, then three times! But this race was a marker of my progress, technically pretty ok, fitness getting better but not where I want to be yet. 

This time I changed bikes, although I’d forgotten how different the Kinesis is to ride, narrower bars, heavier but equally at home in the mud. Once again Continental CycloXKings giving me fantastic grip the whole way around – when other people are sliding around, I’m still going without a second thought.

I really love this race. Once again a warm and welcoming place, with just the right mix of a very hard course, some cracking sponsors in Saddleback, SCOTT  and Fenwicks to name just a few. Not only is the setting a bit special, but it has more of a National Trophy feel to it with the general bonhomie and good natured heckling. 

Massive thanks to SCOTT Racing’s Keith, Sam and Ellis Murray. Keith forewarned me about the hill and the two lads pitted for me, doing a fantastic job and keeping me laughing. Also Verity, who once again came with me and helped out, and my parents who managed to make it down there.

I look forward to coming back next year, peppering Tangwyn with questions throughout the year and riding better next time!

Congrats to Vets winner Keith, Sam who was second in his category,  Fran Whyte who ran away with the ladies and Griff Lewis who won his race.

Season not finished quite yet, however, London CX Team Champs next weekend.

#keepsmiling 

Battle At The Back -Cyclocross At It’s Finest 

Since I announced my Ambassadorship for CSCycle Coaching, I’ve been training on the Bkool Smart Pro most evenings to specific sessions, having lost my confidence with traffic on the road. Having ridden on Saturday for 2.5 hours off road, I’ve started to feel a difference already. Spinning in a higher cadence is slowly becoming slightly easier, exactly what I needed for today.

I arrived at Dalton Barracks for the Wessex League round today whilst it was still frozen. It had been minus 6°C driving in, but with forecasts showing a high of plus 5/6. I was there early enough that the top half of the course (not used by the U10 and U12) was still frozen solid. Hardpacked short grass with the usual twists and turns of Wessex League, combined with part of the 4×4 off road test track made for an awesome frozen course of the recce laps. Bumpy, stony and with two excellent strips of sand, it looked and rode like my type of course. 

Then it started to melt. In the blazing sun with rider after rider passing over it, the icy grass gave way to a slick muddy surface that was still frozen hard underneath. The last recce lap with Caroline gave me an idea of what lay ahead as it started sticking to tyres and bikes alike.

The Wessex League women always so friendly, that it’s great to line up with them. Especially those I call friends. A slow start saw me with a couple of riders between me and Caroline, Fran Whyte being miles up at the front somewhere, and Suzi Wise not far ahead.

“Any advice coach?”

The first test track hill caused a problem, Caroline slipping over and causing a massive bunch behind her. But then we were on our way. Women going down left, right and centre as we fought our fishtailing bikes through the slick surface. I gained on Caroline, and eventually got past Suzi. I’d literally forgotten what it was like to ride on mud like that.

Slight clothing malfunction! Gripper has gone! Credit to Verity for taking the pic

Fighting a sliding bike and figuring out how to use it to my advantage after a couple of laps, I ran parts that I was too slow on, finally getting in front of Caroline when she took a fall on the wild steppes of the airfield. A broken stake nearly had me but I managed to ride around it, each lap getting progressively slippier, bits that were rideable became uncertain. Unfortunately I felt my back wheel clog up and Caroline got back past me as I stopped to poke the mud out, running the worsening next few off camber meters. Hitting the tarmac again, I pushed on as much as I could, winding through the whirligigs as best I could until my chain briefly jammed. Apologies for the swearing! I got back on, fishtailing around the next corner, until I was back on the tarmac. One of the Comms called me to move over as they picked up the chequered flag for the men’s Vet winner.
Why I never changed bikes is beyond me though. I was so busy fighting to catch the next person in front of me, and having not needed a second bike for ages, that I actually forgot!

I actually felt a lot more capable riding today. I’m looking at the race differently, using what I can to my advantage. Still some novicey mistakes, but I even feel that I’m quicker remounting. A course like today is capable of teaching a lot. Knowing where the best line is and actually riding it can be two totally different things. Learn to adjust on the fly, run bits if you’ll be quicker than riding it. 

Today was great. Racing with friends, with my best mate Verity pitting for me, and my dear dad coming over to watch even though he was feeling unwell.

Sadly, I learnt shortly afterwards that Charlie Van der Craig had passed away at the weekend, my thoughts go out to his lovely family. Crushing news after speaking to him briefly at the Nationals a couple of weeks ago. 

 #cyclocross 

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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#keepsmiling 

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’


#keepsmiling