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 

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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 

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

#keepsmiling 

Wessex League CX. Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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Seniors eventual winner Mike Cotty in the middle

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

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Leg warmers, shorts and wellies. Best combo ever

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

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

#keepsmiling #tougherthanilook

 

A two man race and 648 mobile spectators… Keith Murray on #3pcx.

Collegues, CX riders, and rivals… SCOTT sports Keith Murray takes time to talk about his battle with Scot Easter on #3pcx

Keith Murray

The 3 Peaks Cyclo Cross has always been something that had grabbed my attention, as a kid and a cycling fan I’d heard and read about the crazy race that was a mountain bike parcours that you had to ride on a CX bike. Continue reading

London CX Team Champs

Finding out the night before that there was no entry on the day was a bit of a downer. Although there had been an odd message or two that suggested there was an outside chance of joining in with the fun, so a decision to rock up with the two bikes turned out to be the right one.

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Dave Spragg suggested joining in with the Kingston Wheelers composite team, as they only had three riders; Matt, Tim and Jumpei. So I took a leap into the unknown (not having met my teamies before), and signed up.

Despite problems with registering the tags, I thoroughly approve of Crawley Wheelers event. Probably because I got there early enough to avoid the huge queues!

A warm up lap made me well aware of the sections that might prove tricky. The first section into the woods was the only one I’d thought might get tricky, but didn’t. The others; Tree Root Central Part One, Death Drop Slide, Slippy Hill, Brake Hard Corner (they spray painted that on the track!) MTB dip, Woodchip Mud, Tree Root Central Part Two all had their fair share of spills!

As they called us to line up, I discovered I couldn’t find any of my team mates (I’d met Matt by then), so hung around wave 2 until I saw Barry Hyde (another lovely Wheeler in a different team). His suggestion to stay in wave 2, was probably the right one, Matt eventually showed and started in wave 3, Jumpei in wave 1 I think.

Then a completely nuts start. As everyone; Seniors, Vets and Juniors, Male and Female, all started together. Jumping on Barry’s wheel was the best thing I did, following him until the sheer press of people made it impossible to stay there. I think I did ok on the first lap, riding Death Drop Slide was impossible as there was just too many people.

However, as the press of people thinned out, it didn’t actually get much easier. I decided to stay on the Kinesis as the mud wasn’t sticking too much. 2nd lap was harder, I totally blew up after riding Death Drop Slide and had to run a couple of sections, which helped me get my breath back a bit. I walked/jogged Slippy Hill, as the first of the guys started coming passed me – one of them even complimenting my gorgeous ‘anodised red’ (orange) Giro’s (the most ridiculously comfortable shoes ever – and of a colour even Scott Chalmers would approve of!) The course was chopping up by then, and I had a couple of worrying moments at Tree Route Central Part Two. I did admittedly snap at a few vets and seniors, four of which didn’t call a line, and hit my front wheel when chopping in front of me.

Quite a few people racing actually called out with various ‘Go on Elz,’ ‘Keep going Elz,’ etc, it’s a right boost to be honest, half the time I have no idea who you are though!

Which cheeky fucker told me to stop chatting?!?!!

Brake Hard Corner had a few people off in front of me, and I was far too cautious riding down to it, thought I did ok, then rode a bit too hard into MTB dip – and completely face planted. I’m assuming Jon Baines has a hilarious picture of me rolling in the mud!

A decision to change bikes on the third lap was good/bad/neutral. The Colnago is quite different to ride, a bigger frame and different geometry, but hell is it pretty! I was tired by the fourth lap, and a couple of silly mistakes almost, ALMOST had me down, but I managed to stay fairly upright and still attached to the bike.

And I’m fairly certain I was smiling still when I crossed the finish line! I really enjoyed it, such a great community of people out there.

Massive thanks to the Kingston Wheelers, especially Toria pitting for all of us today, Dave Spragg and Barry Hyde. All of you have really helped me find a bit of faith in myself, and get more confident!

Super to see all the Brixton Cycles girls, David Barnaville (good to actually meet you, rather than brief phone conversations with Saddleback) Jody & Stu  and the various others that said hello.

#keepsmiling