Wednesday, 16 April 2014

MSG Round 2: Carver Barracks 13/04/14

No content for six months, and now two posts in six days. I do spoil you lot! So MSG Round 2 came up pretty quickly, much like round 1. Only this time, I was prepared. Well, kind of. I'd had my new bike for about a week or so, so I was still getting used to it,but that wasn't about to stop me. I am glad I brought the 29er, she's a much better bike for me and I think once I get used to her, I'll be a it faster. Preferably without the back pain :) Kirsty and I travelled down to the event with Tony in his van. Being able to just chuck the bikes in the back with no disassembly was really handy! To settle the pre-race nerves we blasted some Kiss on the way down, which I'm not sure Kirsty enjoyed, she'll get there haha!

We got to Carver Barracks, and it instantly reminded me of the Secret Niclear Bunker. Tony and I both had a really good race there, so we were feeling pretty positive. After parking up, going for a quick toilet break, and signing on we got out to do some practise laps. 

I immediately noticed that the start was start was quite open, and would be a good place to attack; the only problem was it was covered in rocks which meant the bike was skating around quite a bit when trying to put the power down. I could of done with some Racing Ralph's really! Until at least is hit the next grassy area where the Thunder Burt's really came into thier own! There were one or two little tricky bits that could catch you out if you weren't concentrating, but nothing major, until of course the drop and the gap jump... 

On my way to registration I'd spoken to Liam (New Dales) who warned me about the jump "just roll the drop and commit to the jump and you'll be fine" he said. Sounds easy right? But when you're peering down the roll in, which looks vertical standing at the top of it, it's a very different kettle of fish. I was definitely having second thoughts, that was until Joel (EHF) stepped up and showed me how to ride it! Within a few minutes I was hiring it no problem, getting more and more air everytime. I must of done it five or six times, I wanted to get used to it for the race, but mostly because it was just fun!

This is one of the things I love about mountain biking. It's a very inclusive sport, we want you to come ride with us, we don't care what you ride, or how you ride it, we just want to ride with you. Joel is, or will be one of my rivals once I'm back up to speed, he didn't have to stop and help me out, but he did, and without him I probably wouldn't of hit it! So thanks mate! On that subject, I have to admit, I was impressed with all of the EHF riders I've come across. All are friendly and polite, when over taking they communicate with you etc; They're a credit to the sport, and a good example to us all. That is of course, until I beat Joel, and he turns (EHF) green with berserker rage! Any ways, we finished our practise lap, headed back to the van for some pre-race nutrition and sat around talking about bikes until it was time for gridding!

Getting some air on the jump!
This was the first time since round one of last season that I hadn't been gridded. I was gridded in the front row last time which didn't really work out for me, I guess it was just too much pressure and I wasn't ready for it. I was in the third row this time, lined up next to Tony with Ben Reidy one row behind us! The whistle went and off we went. Well, everyone else went, I got the worst start of had in a long time. There was a bit of a pile up on the first bit of single track and I literally had to sit and watch as Tony rode off into the sunset hah! It didn't bother me though, my objective was to finish the race and make it round in one piece!

I was able to claw a few places back over the course of the first lap. There was a bit of confusion in the feed zone when another rider came in between me and Kirsty whilst she was trying to hand me a bottle, which left her with a nasty bruise! I'm not sure what happened exactly, or who was at fault. I guess he was just carrying more speed than me out of the corner and wasn't paying attention or something. I caught up with him and we exchanged pleasantries coming into the next corner. If you're reading this, I apologise for shouting at you, but you did kinda deserve it. Always remember, if you're over taking someone, whether they're in your race or not, it's up to you to pass safely! That's the bottom line.

Coasting round on the last lap, just trying to make it to the end!
The next few laps were pretty uneventful, by lap three my legs were definitely hurting. I got a puncture on my fourth lap, but luckily for me it sealed! Rob at Chelmer Cycles had done his job well! At the start of lap four Ben came past me, and I didn't have enough in the tank to stay with him. I came across the line expecting it to be over only for Matt to tell me that I had one more to go. Righty-ho, time to pull my socks up then! I was well and truly hanging out my arse. I've never raced over this kind of distance before, and definitely wasn't used to it. I foolishly tried to roll the jump and cased it big time. The noise that followed sounded like broken carbon, but luckily it was just my front tire burping! I'd lost some pressure when I got the puncher, and I think that's why I tried to roll it... It wasn't a good idea, but I just about got away with it! 

I finally came across the line, I felt like if been riding all day. I would normally warm down properly, but instead I found the nearest patch of grass and just crashed. I was a very broken man, but is finished the race in one piece, and that is what I set out to do.'

Tony has had an awesome start to the season, and he knows it!
I finished 24th, and Tony finished in an impressive 16th! I'm looking forward to round 3 at Cobham Park! 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

So, here we are. Winter, 26ers, MSG Round One: Rendlesham Forest, and 29ers...

So I haven't written on my blog for a little while now, well not since Langdon Hills actually. It seems like such a long time ago now. To my amazement, it hasn't gone unnoticed. A few people have approached me, asking about my blog, and why I haven't updated it in so long. A complete stranger actually recognised me in a bike shop and starting talking to me about Evo's as well which was awesome! First thing is first, lets talk about winter training, or rather the lack of. 

Winter was a complete disaster for me. It's all a bit of a blur now, all I remember is that I have five spells of sickness starting bronchitis. I tried to train through it, to no avail The bronchitis obviously weakened my immune system and I just kept getting ill after that. In fact, I've literally just gotten over another spell of man flu. So winter was a bit of a write off for me. It wasn't all bad though. I went up to Cannock Chase with the New Dales boys, and although I wasn't exactly feeling great and riding like a girl. It was still a great day out, so cheers guys! I also managed to lay my hands on some proper winter training kit, I brought a Castelli Elemento jacket, and some photo chromatic Oakley Radar Locks. If you don't own and Castelli Elemento, and you're serious about your cycling, then buy one. They're amazing. Especially if you're planning on riding with Darren at 6AM in the middle of November…

Darren's idea of a good morning is getting up at six, and smashing out 60 miles...
 One thing I did manage to do over the winter months, was rebuild my beloved Jessica. She had done me proud in our first season of racing, and I wanted to give her a full rebuild. What started off as a simple strip down and rebuild, escalated pretty quickly. I pretty much replaced every single bolt on her, and touched up every little chip and varnished back over it. I sent my Hollowgram cranks off to be stripped, polished and re-annodized. I spent a lot of money on her and the list of parts brought was quite horrific in the end. 

Why I didn't 'copter tape them when I brought the bike as Ollie suggested, I'll never know.
One of my favourite things I brought was the BOR Germany spider (in Cannondale green of course) and some Tune chain rings. I dropped my Lefty off at Sussed Out Suspension who done a really really good job on it. I really wanted the bike to have that "new bike" feel to it, and she definitely did. She looked absolutely stunning! 

She looked and felt like a brand new bike!
Not only did she look great, but she rode great and just to add the icing on the cake, only weighed in at 16lbs (I will upload a scale shot later) which is crazy light for a mountain bike! Needless to say I was really pleased with the end result. It sounds funny, but it really galvanised me and I started training again. Nothing too hardcore, but I was out on my bike, and that's all that mattered. Tony and I had been riding on and off over winter and I was really struggling to keep up with him on my training bike, but this soon changed when I got back on my race bike. I don't know if the bike is really THAT much faster, if riding her again had changed my mindset and made me pedal harder, or what, but it felt good to be riding again! 

He WONT shave it off….
Me and one of my closest friends, Josh went out on a little reliability ride, I say little it was quite the opposite! My fork needed a little bit of tweaking, so we decided to ride down to Sussed Out Suspension in East Bergholt. What should of been a 30 minute trip, turned into an all-day epic. Foolishly I trusted my iPhone to provide us with directions. The iPhone abused my trust and led us in completely the wrong direction, and we ended up doing an extra 20 miles or so! Still, the sun was out and we were in high spirits. Somewhere along the line, I thought it would be a good idea to take some selfless whilst riding along, which seemed like a good idea at the time. Go forward an hour or so, and my phone battery dies. I had totally forgot how much using it as a sat nav drains your battery. By the time we got to Mistley, Josh's phone was dying, the sun was going in and we had no lights. I called Will at Sussed Out and told him that we weren't going to make it, but he was having none of it. He jumped in the Sussed Out Van and came and picked us up! 

It definitely wasn't a mirage, Sussed Out were here to save the day!
A quick pit stop at Sussed Out (it took Toby all of five minutes to sort out my fork) and they dropped us back off in Mistley and we were on our way home! If you don't know the Sussed Out boys by now, you really should. They're top blokes, know their shit, and won't rip you off. If your forks need some love, they're the people to go and see! Josh was absolutely knackered and was definitely thinking about his dinner ALL the way home. I'm not sure he would of made it otherwise! 

The first round of MSG came round like a holiday; You book it a year in advance, it all seems really far away, but before you know it, you're arriving back home, very cold and wondering where the last year went. This was pretty much how I felt about Renlesham, it was all over in a flash, and I was wondering where winter had gone… I got there nice and early because I had some friends competing in the open (I've moved to sport for this season), so I got there nice and early to watch them race. It was really good to be back, I'd definitely missed the racing scene over winter. It was really good to catch up with everyone. Having time to relax and catch up with everyone definitely took the edge off a little bit, by the time the track opened up for the practise up lap, I was feeling nice and relaxed. The practise lap went alright (ish). I went round with my friends Joel Bilner (EHF Racing) Ben Reidy (Qwerty Cycles), whom I'd met last season and is now riding for Qwerty Cycles. He had also been busy over Winter and converted his Scalpel to 650b (or 27.5 if you speak Giant).  I really enjoyed the course, it was hard, all the lumps, bumps and nasty ruts made it both physically and mentally demanding but I couldn't wait to get out there. There were a couple of short power climbs which I was looking forward to, that was at least until I dropped a chain trying to shift down into my little ring at the bottom of one of them, I got my chain back on in no time and off I went. 

Must remember to give Ben some bike presentation tips...
Now, stupidly I didn't check my bike until I was on the start line waiting to be gridded… I guess having just rebuilt it I was confident that everything was tip top. That was until someone pointed out that my little ring was loose. I  then had to frantically find someone with a multi-tool and do up the loose chain ring bolts. Fortunately someone was kind enough to lend me one, (thank you whoever you are by the way) and I was sorted. Well, not exactly. I was gridded by my overall result from last season, which was 8th, which meant I was in the FRONT ROW. Don't get me wrong, I wanted to be gridded so I could get a good start, but not the front row, not yet at least! I remember looking back at Joel, shaking my head and mouthing "I don't know (how this happened) help me" at him haha! Still, it was a great opportunity, I knew that if I could get a good start, then I could pull a good lead on Ben and Tony and hopefully cling on till the end. I did get a good start, I got passed by a few people. Joel came whizzing past me on his 29er XTC (in EHF green by the way). Actually, hold that thought. Whilst I remember, Joel also did some upgrades over winter, including some new colour coded decals for his rims. Anyone that takes colour coding as seriously as I do, deserves a shout out in my book! 

Anyways, where was I. Oh yes, it was all going really well, until I dropped the chain again, in exactly the same place! Only this time I had some chain suck to sort out. I managed to get sorted and going again, and to my horror, Tony and Ben had caught back up to me. I must of lost ten places! The next ten minutes, were quite literally the most painful that I'd ever experienced on a bike. If you've been reading this blog since the beginning, you'll remember that I was having back issues. Well, they were back, with a vengeance. I had become so distracted and flustered by my little mechanical that I was no longer thinking about my lines, I was stiff, and trying to pedal through everything. Before I knew it, I was experiencing some serious back pain, and in trouble. Both Tony and Ben overtook me as we came through the start/finish and kicked on the fire road. I tried to kick and got a rather nasty shooting pain up my back. That was my race over, I couldn't pedal anymore, I was done. Watching Tony and Ben ride off into the distance was equally painful though. I slugged back to the arena to look for Kirsty. It took me a while to find her, I just remember standing in the middle of the arena and punching my lower back. Not the best thing to do I know, but I was really frustrated. Someone said to me that they wanted to give me a round of applause for paddy of the year, which I didn't exactly take too kindly to. Anyone that doesn't understand why I was feeling the way I was feeling has probably never competed, or when they do compete doesn't put everything into it. I put everything into everything I do, I wear my heart on my sleeve. Winter had been a series of setback after setback, and this was just the nail in the coffin for me… Needless to say, I made a pretty swift exit, I wasn't in the mood to stick around.

I was in pain, lots and lots of pain :(
I'm a strong believer in "mistakes are only mistakes, if you don't learn from them", and after a little post race chat with my team mate Mike, I felt a lot better. I'd learnt a lot from the race, even though it was short. I'd learnt that I wasn't ready, both physically and mentally for racing, I'd learnt that I was still severally lacking in core strength, and that I had to do something about it if I wanted to be competitive.  I'd also learnt, that all those little rituals I used to do before a race were for a good reason. I was so relaxed before the race, that I didn't bother stretching, putting deep heat on my back, or taking pain killers. I also finally accepted that perhaps my bike was too small for me, no matter how much I didn't want it to be (damn you Ollie) Looks like the joke was on me. Still, I spent the evening watching telly feeling sorry for myself, and ordered a Dominos, which after con suing I immediately regretted. Never again. On the plus side, Tony had a really good race and managed to get 20th which was an awesome result! 

So where do I go from here? That's easy. You book yourself a sports massage, do some bloody stretched, sign up for palates twice a week, and buy a 29er! Wait, what? Yeah, that's right. I brought a 29er.





Okay, so maybe I definitely did say that, and I guess there's no way of getting out of it. This is the problem with publishing stuff on to the internetz. It's there for everyone to see, it can, and most likely WILL be used against you. As evident here. Thanks Mike! I had regretted not buying one in the summer instead of my road bike, and when I saw one at MSG 1 ridden by one of the Renvale guys, I couldn't resist the temptation any longer and got on the phone to Jonny at Chelmer Cycles. Now I'm not sure if Jonny loves, or hates dealing with me. Like I said before, I know what I want and am especially fussy when it comes to bikes! The first issue I had was that the seat post it came with was too short (350mm), so I upgraded that to an Enve seat post, and brought the matching bars to go with it. Having un-matching finishing kit is NOT a good look, or remotely acceptable in my eyes. That meant changing the Enve logos on the wheels from black to white. Those stickers were bloody expensive as well! Enve did actually send me a spare set free of charge, with some socks and a hat which I was impressed with! I hadn't finished there though, I swapped the cranks with the SiSL2 cranks off of my road bike, and my brakes off of Jessica (my 26" race bike). I've heard really good things about the new Avid brakes, but I like my Hope brakes and didn't want to part with them. I also slapped some ESI Chunkys on there, in green, and some Thunder Burts. The next step and last change will be to upgrade the rear hub (DT Swiss 350) to one of the new Chris King 1x hubs.

I have a lot of love for Jonny at Chelmer Cycles, he's a top bloke!
I didn't want to make the same mistake twice in buying a bike that didn't fit, so I had the boys at Cycle Evolution look at the geometry. They came to the conclusion that was that medium was going to be the correct size for me. I was reluctant to pull the trigger until Rich had given me the green light. Thanks for your help by the way mate! I was really worried about buying the wrong size bike, and having you look at the geometry and approve it, really took a weight off of my shoulders. Buying bikes is meant to be fun, and it was for the most part, but I tend to worry about the smallest details, and get stressed about it all. Anyways, I took her over to Cycle Evolution and jumped on the turbo in their BG fit room. Chelmer had set up the bike in accordance to my fit notes. I was so relieved when Rich said I looked a lot better on the 29er, in fact everyone I've ridden with since has said that. My leg angle was at exactly 30 degrees and my knee was over the pedal axle. Perfect. My saddle still has a lot of room to go up and back as well. You know, in case I grow. 

Have you met Stacey?
So, how does she ride? Well, NOT like that piece of shit I demo'd last year. The differences are black and white. She accelerates well, she's nimble, mows over pretty much everything, rocks, roots, stairs, children - you name it! She's easy to get air borne too, although I do need to work on my jumping technique! The geometry is much less aggressive, which makes riding over technical terrain much easier. She's frankly a better bike than I had before, and represents "Nu Skool" XCO. I'm enjoying XX1, it shifts really quickly and doesn't seem to mind changing under load. Not having a front mech is simply one less thing to worry about! I've been really impressed with the Enve stuff as well. It's seriously good stuff. The carbon is really hard, it doesn't scratch or mark when you bolt your cockpit to it like most carbon. The new Lefty feels awesome too! I've got to let it bed in, then I'll go and get it dialled by the Sussed Out boys!

I dropped her off on Friday morning at Chelmer Cycles for some last minute pre-race tweaks. Rob was good enough to meet me at Chelmer Cycles at 6:30 to take the bike off of me. I just wanna say a huge thanks for that mate, it's much appreciated. He done an awesome job on my bike too! So my bikes all ready for MSG Round 2 at Carver Barracks, lets hope I am too! Time will tell, my objective is just to make it round and have a good time! If I can beat Tony then that's just a bonus. This was written the night before the race, and I promise I'll write my post-race blog sooner this time! 

If you managed to read this monster of a post, thanks very much. If I lost you half way through, then you lasted longer than me. I write from the heart, and I don't proof read anything! 

See you on the other side guys! 

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

MSG Round 7 - Langdon Hills

I'm going to get straight to it, I'm writing this blog post with very mixed emotions. I finished fourth at Langdon Hills on Sunday, and now I can see why they say fourth is the worst place to finish. The worst part about it was that I was comfortably in third right up until half way through the third lap.

I didn't give the place up easily though, I didn't simply roll over and let the guy (Matt Briers) pass me, I gave it everything I could. I didn't realise until it was too late that I was being attacked and was immediately on the back foot, much like I was in the previous round. I defended for about half a lap before he finally got me and ended up finishing 20 seconds or so behind him.

I was gutted because I really wanted to get on the podium, there's a photo of the two Fitch riders and Matt on the podium which I think is going to haunt me for a little while. I'll be moving up to sport next year, so it'll be a while before I'm challenging for the podium again. With all that being said, I did say I had mixed emotions about finishing fourth and there were a few positives that came out of it.

And they're off! I didn't get the best of starts, couldn't get clipped in!
I spoke to Richard on the line at the start line about the previous race, and him psyching me out. I told him about this blog and his first question was wether he should read it as he thought I might of taken it pretty badly and vented my frustrations. I told him that there was no hard feelings, he beat me fair and square, and taught me a lesson in the process. I knew that I needed to ride more aggressively in those situations, to shift the pressure onto my opponents. Unfortunately for Richard, I'm a fast learner and I immediately used the lesson he taught me to attack and drop him on the first climb. Riding off into the sunset, never to been seen again. I have to admit it, it felt good. Revenge is a dish best served cold. If you're reading this mate, I just wanna say thanks!

Although Richard was taken care of, I had other problems to worry about. Tony and Darren were both on my wheel. We train together a lot and we all know what each other are capable of. Darren had ridden 70 miles on his road bike the day before, and although that's a lot for some people, that's a warm up to him. Me and Tony were both mindful of his threat, and didn't want to give him the chance to attack us. We started fast, kept the pace up, and dropped him within half a lap.

A baggy jersey and bib shorts is NOT a good look, especially with leg warmers!
Tony and I continued to do battle. We were both passed by Chris from EHF coming into lap two. We both attacked him on the first climb and was able to drop him (it was his first race back, recovering from an injury). I remember looking over my shoulder seeing that Tony was STILL on my wheel and thinking "just go away, get off my wheel!". I thought, right if that's how you wanna play, that's how we'll play and I attacked him on one of the long climbs and was able to pull away. Dropping him was a huge relief, I've said it before, there's not a lot in it between us, and he was definitely a threat.

I spent the next lap or so pushing, trying to make the place stick, it dawned on me that I could potentially finish on the podium. I looked over my shoulder a few times and there was no one in sight, at least until half way through the last lap. The next thing I knew Matt was in my wheel attacking me, and I didn't have the energy to fend him off. So close, yet so far! I crossed the line, gutted that I'd missed out of fourth, but pleased with the result. At least I beat Darren and Tony, bragging rights were mine! It's also worth nothing that Matt and Graham once again done another amazing job. The course was really good. I really enjoyed it! Thanks guys!

Tony was rockin' and hot on my heels!
If you would of told me at the start of the season, that I would be challenging for the podium by round six, I would of laughed at you. To finish in the top ten was my goal, and I achieved that at round five. Getting on the podium would have been nice, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter, I'll go into sport next season, push myself and hopefully I can challenge for the podium again, I'd even take a top ten finish at this moment in time. I've already proved that it can be done (improving over a season). I finished 27th in my first race, and here I am, 20 seconds away from a podium spot. There's no denying I've made a lot of progress! Needless to say, next season is going to be a lot harder, but this time I'm ready for it.

As far as I'm concerned, that's my season more or less done. There's one more round left to do, the Olympic course, Hadleigh. Hadleigh is a very technically and mentally demanding course. The last thing I want to do is push it too hard fighting for the podium and crash and break something. So I'm going to take it easy, just enjoy the ride and not take any risks. Call it a victory lap!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Expansion of the fleet, and MSG Round 6

Once again, this is going to be another post all about cycling. I know I promised to talk about my goals etc in my last post but I haven't found the time to do so yet, it is coming though so stay tuned. For now though, it's all bike stuff!

My lonely Cannondale now has two sisters! I purchased a 2012 Flash Alloy 1, and built a 2014 SuperSix Evo Team. I brought the Alloy 1 as a winter/hack bike, my repair bill for my race bike was astronomical last year, and seen as I'm planning on racing at the winter series I thought a winter hack bike was kind of a must. It's also going to improve my training, as it's essentially just a heavier version of my race bike. Not sure what she weighs yet though. I got pretty lucky with her though, built her up, took a step back as you do, and realised she had a 2013 hybrid lefty. I've been told that this could be because it was one of the last 2012 bikes to be imported, and Cannondale may of ran out 2012 leftys (they start producing he new forks before the new bikes). I don't usually get lucky like this, I was stoked. I paid less than half RRP for it as well! Won't be long before I start pimping her up, I've got a Tindra 2 on her already!

A hack bike has been long overdue!
I have also built a 2014 SuperSix Evo Team. Somehow, Jonat Chelmer Cycles had managed to get his hands on two 2014 SuperSix Evo Team frames. Technically, it's a 2013 frame, with a 2014 colour-way, but it's limited edition, looks pimp and in my size too! "SOLD to the man with the exceptional moutain bike, and his unexceptional credit rating!" Sorry, I watched Django recently and loved it! For the record, my credit rating is actually rather good - if you're interested. Anyways, back on point! I spent the next few weeks deciding on what components to use. After talking to a lot of cyclists, this was the build I went with.

I'm still yet to think of a name for her!
2013 Cannondale SuperSix frame set
2012 SRAM Red group set (green)
Cannondale SiSL2 crankset
Cannondale Spidering chain set
Mavic Carbone 40C
FSA K-Force finishing kit (green)
SpeedPlay Zero (stainless steel)
Fizik Arione (braided rails)

I ran out of money, and had to get cheaper finishing kit, ended up putting the Cannondale C3 stuff on there for now. I'll get the FSA stuff as and when. I thought it was more important to prioritise the frame and wheel-set over everything else. Finishing kit makes very little difference in terms of performance anyways. Never the less, the bike comes in at 14lbs 8oz and is therefore therefore UCI  illegal. It's an exceptionally light bike, I've only ridden her twice, but take it from me, she goes like a rocket!

Legalise my Cannondale? Nah - I'm alright.
I just want to take this opportunity to thank a few people who gave up a lot a lot of their time to help me with this build. I can be very picky, especially when it comes to bikes! I know what I want, which can sometimes be a bad thing, especially when what you want comes in the form of Enve rims. 

First and foremost, Ollie - I know you got pretty frustrated at times, listening to me prattle on, but we got there in the end! Jon at Chelmer Cycles, who has been absolutely first class. I spent a lot of time talking with him about various things, I think I spoke to him everyday for about two weeks or so. John was happy to answer all of my (sometimes stupid) questions, share what appears to be infinite Cannondale wisdom, and then do me a good deal. He didn't hang around either, as soon as he got the green light, he had everything done and ready for the weekend, which I was really impressed with. I would recommend Chelmer Cycles to anyone, they really have been a pleasure to deal with! Now, can't forget my local bike shop Cycle Evolution! Namely Paul, Rich and Steven. It took me ages to decide on a wheel-set. It was painful for me, let alone everyone around me. I think at one point
Paul wanted to slap me across the cheeks but somehow restrained himself and (eventually) got me on a set of Mavic Carbone 40Cs, which at the time I was a little unsure about, but upon reflection I'm really pleased with, and glad I brought. Rich was kind enough to sort me out with a fit, and done another outstanding job. If you haven't yet had a bike fit, go and see Rich. He seriously knows his stuff and will get you bio-mechically efficient in no time at all. No bullshit, no selling you stuff you don't need, just wanting to help you ride smarter and enjoy your bike. As I said before, it's the biggest upgrade you could buy for your bike! And lastly Steven, who spent some time with me applying the finishing touches to my shoddy build, adding that little bit of finess I sorely lacked! Like Chelmer Cycles, Cycle Evolution is absolutely first class. Sometimes it's hard enough to find a decent bike shop, I'm lucky to have two of them on my doorstep. I can't list everyone by name who contributed, but you know who you are. Thanks so much to everyone who have up their time to help, even if it was just answering questions on FaceBook and commenting on my various tweets and status updates. 

Now, finally onto racing! MSG Round 6! This is the furthest race away from us, took us like an hour and a half to get there! My pre-race car nerves still get the better of me, this wasn't helped by Kirsty moaning through the first 3 tracks of Daft Punks new album, which I'd put on to calm me down a bit. Still, nothing a bit of Kanye West couldn't sort out! 

I did my practise lap with Charles and his clan. I usually go off with Paddy or Will, but I fancied just bobbing along with them. His wife Donna is having a bit of a nightmare at the moment. She's had a few falls, and has completely lost all of her coincidence. Which is a shame. I can totally relate to her problem as well! When I got faster, I got slower, because I was hitting everything quicker, panicing and then slamming the brakes on. I'm only just getting over it, but still have a long way to go. To ride over technical terrain, you need to be committed, if you're not - it's not going to end well. I'm confident that Donna will get over it, and be back to her old self soon enough! After a couple of practise laps it became pretty clear that the track wasn't technical (at all) and was pretty flat. I knew that if I could get a good start and then keep up the pace, I could equal or even better my previous result (10th).

Just the start I'd hoped for!
As soon as the whistle went I put my head down and went for it and came out in 3rd behind the two Fitch riders (Dan and Stuart). I then spent the next lap and a half doing battle with Richard Matthews, who was trying his best to psych me out. I was doing my best to keep him at bay, but he was eventually able to get past me, only to immediately crashed in front of me, costing us both a place and valuable time! I lead him through the single track, and was becoming more and more nervous with him breathing down my neck and clipping my back wheel etc. He eventually came past me, and I had no reply. I was knackered from trying to keep him at bay. Now, I've learnt a couple things from this. One - Don't ride so defensively, attack earlier and attempt to drop people, rather than defending and attempting to drop them later. It invites unnecessary pressure onto yourself. Two - when people do pass you, stick on their wheel and return the favour, put the pressure back on them! It is only my first season, and I'm still developing my race craft so to speak! It's funny because Ollie actually said this to me after my last race, I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me out of the track, but now I've experienced it first hand, I won't be forgetting it in a hurry!

Me and Richard doing battle!

I spent the remainder of the race in a micro-battle with two other guys. One of which I had never seen before and was doing a fair bit of talking. In fact the first thing he said to (shouted at) me was "get out the fucking way" after attempting to go up the inside round a hair pin. It doesn't matter how good you are, there was simply no room between me and the tree. This worked to my advantage as it reignited the fire and I decided to put the hammer down on him, absolutely killing him on the straights. He was still with me though, and now wanted to work together. So I let him do some of the work. He was pretty slow and was immediately trying to get back behind me, but I just left him out there for a bit, telling him to go faster. Bit cruel really, but I wanted to break him so he could attack me later on in the lap! I passed him shortly after, we were joined by ferret man, not sure what his name is, but he has a ferret on his lid. I've heard this is so his wife can recognise him to give him bottles etc. Anyway, we got to the last little bit of singletrack and I decided to slow the pack right down, preserving all energy for the final sprint. As soon as the track opened up I went for it, dropping the two guys behind me, had to remember that there was a little rut just before the line so had to back off slightly. It was a hard fought battle, and we all shook hands at the end. I would have been gutted if I had lost it, but I held in there. 
I'd already crossed the line at this point, but didn't want to stop!
I finished 6th in the end, I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed that didn't get my head down and stay on Richard's wheel. But I have learnt quite a bit from this race and will come back stronger. I guess that's what this season has been about for me! Next stop, Langdon Hills and this time, I'm going for that podium! 

Monday, 22 July 2013

Homecoming and MSG Round 5

Apologies - this post is a little late, approximately a week or so. My life's been a bit hectic of late, I simply haven't had time to update my blog. As I've said before, I hate writing retrospectively. I like to write my blog whilst it's all still fresh in my head.

Anyways, first of all, Jay is finally home! Seeing him again was a bit surreal at first, but it wasn't long before we were in front of the TV playing games haha! It's like he had never left. He's got so many stories, which I'm slowly extracting out of him. We haven't had a chance to sit and go through his photos yet, but I'm looking forward to that! We've seen quite a lot of each other lately. He came round the weekend he got back, and again the following weekend to watch the race, which brings me on to my next topic, my race report...

I still get awful pre-race nerves... I felt so sick in the car on the way down. In fact, I think getting me out of the house and into the car is harder than actually racing. Once I'm on the grid I'm fine. I haven't chickened out yet, and I won't either. It's one of my season objectives to race and complete every single round (if possible). The training lap was, interesting... The first thing I noticed was that the course was very treacherous. Lots of little holes in blind spots and loose bits. I'd say it was fairly technical actually, for an MSG race at least. I remember saying to Tony that we'd have to look after each other if we rode together and overtake cleanly. I can imagine it would be all too easy to end up in a pool of toxic sludge if you got carried away! 

The race, the race went really really well for me, except from the very start, and the very end. I had problems clipping in, which I think cost me about 10 places or so, Tom couldny believe his luck when he came past me. Unfortunately for him, it was short lived. Me and Tony had grouped up and were making our way through the pack. By the first climb, Tom was history - never to be seen again. Until the end of the race that is! Tony and I were absolutely smashing it, taking turns on the front and working together. We were putting a lot of pressure on people until they eventually cracked. It felt good to be the one doing the overtaking, rather than being overtaken. It proves the training has been doing something at least. 

To say I didn't get a good start was an understatement!
Tony and I exchanged places a couple of times in the last lap. My "oh so great" plan was to beat him to the last bit of the single track, back off a little bit, and then beat him in the sprint finish. I'm a pretty good sprinter, and rarely lose. It was all going to plan, until the last corner. I was just coming out of the single track and about to start my sprint to find a woman on the racing line, I shouted "on your right" and she kinda panicked and pulled out in front of me. Tony couldn't believe his luck, and just went around the outside with a cheeky grin on his face. I'm pretty sure he paid her off lol! I was a bit disappointed, but this is racing - sometimes things don't go to plan. But, I quickly got over it when I found out that we'd finished 9th and 10th! Not bad at all! I was really pleased! My goal for the season had been smashed (to finish in the top ten), three races ahead of schedule. Now I need to push to get as close to that bottom step as possible, but it won't be easy, especially with the last few rounds being so cramped up! Watch out Dan, I'm coming for you!

On it like Sonic yo!
It was nice having Jay with us, Kirsty's mum and dad even made the trip and came down to watch which was really cool! Unfortunately I couldn't hang around to cheer my team mates on this time, but from what I understand Will got second after beating Liam in a sprint finish, and Darren DNF'd after a mechanical. I have told him several times that he should of brought a Cannondale! 

For those of you who follow this blog, but don't really care about the cycling side of it... with Jay being home, I will be accessing my goals, and seeing how I've gotten on in my next post!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Demo'ing a F29 and the (long awaited) Summer Enduro

After seeing the new 2014 F29 Team bike, I was seriously considering buying one. It's truly a thing of beauty. It comes with the new hybrid Lefty and a set of Enve's, which make it very very temping prospect. Unfortunately, it also ships with a set of Avid XX WC brakes, which would go straight in the bin/on ebay if I brought one. Anyways, Chelmer Cycles were kind enough to source me a demo F29 for me to try....

I was quite pleased with the bike they'd sent me. It was mid-range carbon 29er. It definately looked like it had seen better days. The first thing I noticed was a huge scratch on the top tube, someone somewhere had obviously had a nasty crash by the looks of it haha! I've done about 100 miles on the 29er and after much deliberation decided that I simply don't like them. 

Not bad for a demo bike hey? 
The first thing that gets me is the wider bars, they make it handle like a boat and can't fit through anything, which is more annoying than you might think. It's just so hard to manoeuvre! The second thing I noticed is the thing simply doesn't accelerate. Don't get me wrong, once you're moving its easy to hold speed, but getting up to speed seems to take forever. Which makes sprinting, climbing and blasting out of corners much harder. The idea is you carry more speed into the corners, but due to my overly aggressive (in-efficient) riding style it doesn't really work for me. I also don't like the riding position either. I do realise that some of the problems I listed could potentially be fixed with the right stem/bar/wheel set, but I'd literally have to several thousands for a bike that's only slightly better than what I've already got. 

Gav one of the guys I train with also says the same thing. He has demo'd 5 different 29ers and whilst we both agree that 29ers have their place in the market, they don't suit everyone. It ultimately depends on what kind of rider you are. If I brought a 29er, I'd have to sell my beloved 26 to fund a road bike and a winter hack bike, which I'm simply not prepared to do. Call me sentimental but I'd be heartbroken if I had to sell my 26. I think she's one of those bikes I'll keep forever! The good news is, I'm going to get a road bike instead! 

So, onto The Summer Enduro. I had originally arranged to do it with Will. Unfortunately, he left it till the last minute to organise it, then realised he couldn't make it because it was a Saturday and he was working -_- (I rarely use smileys when I blog, but that smiley sums up exactly how I felt about it. I had to pull out - much to the disappointment of the Sunday Crew. Darren and Gav were desperately trying to help me find a partner -  to no avail. On a whim I dropped Paul "Bad Boy" Thomas a message to see if he was doing it, and if he had a partner. Turns out he hadn't heard from his partner either and was looking for a team mate. A match made in Heaven (sort-of), much to the demise of Gav haha! Paul is a very quick rider, and I knew I'd need to really push myself if I didn't want to let him down...

Paul getting in the zone..
This being my first endurance event, I didn't really know what to expect. As always I asked everyone I knew who had done events like this for hints and tips. We decided that Paul would start, simply because he's a better starter than me. Quicker, stronger and much more experienced - which meant he was a lot less nervy on the line, although he later confessed he was a bit nervous on the grid... The plan was to do two laps each to try and get as high up the field as possible. We were hoping to make up some time whilst people were in transition, it also meant we could do two flying laps right off of the bat (the laps were about 9 miles long) which worked a treat. 

Paul's first lap was extremely quick. He completed his first lap in just over 34 minutes, which was rapid. Before I knew it, he and completed his second lap and I was up. We were in fourth place. Unfortunately the first thing I did was concede a place to New Dales. Liam came into transition right on Paul's wheel and within half a lap, his team mate reeled me in and passed me. I did try and stick on his wheel, but I was very conscious of burning myself out too early and let him go. It was blatant that he was a much quicker rider than me and that I wasn't ever going to catch him. I managed to complete both my first and second laps in about 39 minutes. A bit slower than Paul, but on par with Tony and Gav. It was really strange, going out, doing a lap at full gas and then coming back into the pits to cool down. Your body doesn't really get a chance to recover and deciding what to eat and drink is a nightmare. Luckily for us, we were able to borrow a turbo trainer off of Ollie (thanks Ollie) and that really came in handy. 

Plum Buster isn't as much fun going up it...
By lap four I was really feeling it, I quite literally had given it everything, and I had the consistent lap times to prove it. I wanted to get round as quickly as possible to give Paul as much time to complete his final lap as I could. He was definitely feeling it as well. We had toyed with the idea of Paul doing a second double stint towards the end of the race in an effort to fit an extra lap in but he needed to rest up for his final lap. The best thing about the race was that it was great experience, experience that you can't get anywhere else. I got used to overtaking people in tighter spots and had a series of micro-battles which I really enjoyed! Me and Andrew from New Dales literally had a battle for an entire lap. I was finally able to drop him on the last climb, to my relief! I thought I was never going to shake him at one point! By the time I pulled in and set Paul off on his final lap, I was completely broken. I must of been on the turbo for a good 20 minutes before I got off. I made my way over to transition just in case Paul had another monster lap and we could fit in another lap. Looking back on it though, I'm kinda glad I didn't have to do another lap... Either way it was nice watching Paul bring it home. We'd both given it absolutely everything we had, and we'd earnt a respectable 7th place (out of 40+ teams). Safe to say I definitely slept soundly that night...

The obligatory post-race photo! 
The Summer Enduro was everything I'd hoped it would be, it was a really good day all in all! It was really nice spending the day with all the guys and their families. It was Gav's birthday, which made the day even more special, although he didn't want to celebrate it until the day after! Unfortunately Darren couldn't make it down after a family emergency, he was definitely missed, but Julian made a great substitute and rode well! Lastly, I want to give a mention to Ad, who despite splitting his tire carried on and got a good result in his first ever race! I think he might of even broke a sweat (long running joke). Hope to see you at the MSG races soon mate!

Other CSC results: 
Gav & Bob - 15th
Tony & Julian - 20th
Adam & Liam - 30th

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

CSC, MSG Round 4, and Test Saddles....

A few people have actually asked me when I'll be posting next, a couple of which I really didn't expect to even know about my blog. Let alone read it and follow it. I've been told off for starting my posts with "I haven't posted in a while" so I'll try and resist the temptation. A lot has happened in the last few weeks. First things first. CSC.

After a couple of weeks of designing, brain storming, more designing, more brain storming, we finally came up with not only a name, but a jersey design which was ordered last week. The final name is CSC (Colchester Sunday Crew). We toyed around with loads of different names, I was very offended when Darren suggested Colchester Strava Crew. I think I might have died a little inside. It's not an official team or anything, the majority of us race for VCR. I guess you could call it a social training group. We just thought it would be cool to have some custom jerseys. 
Behold the CSC jersey in all it's glory!
I'm really enjoying riding with the guys, it's nice to have some more friends to train with who are about the level as me. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and are really starting to push each other. I haven't ridden with Will or Ollie much recently, but that's mainly because they've both had exams and stuff. I rode with Will a couple of times last week which was nice. It was great to catch up! I've missed riding with them both. It's gonna suck when Ollie goes off to University in September. Bloody students!

Now for MSG Round 4. It seems like ages ago, but it was only last weekend. I still get a huge case of pre-race nerves, I'm usually fine by the time I get there though. I done my training lap with Paddy, which was really good fun. Paddy is an absolute monster on a push bike. I'm looking forward to training with him in the future. Darren came down to give me some support which I really appreciated. I know it sounds stupid but it really does make a difference when you've got people around you who are there for you, and want you to do well. I was really touched that he came down four hours before his race to give some support. He was also there as his nephew was racing for the first time, but he did say he'd be coming down earlier after me and Kirsty stayed behind last round to support him! I'm a strong believer in the power of team work! 

Watch out for us on the UCI pro circuit next year!
The start of a race always sneaks up on me, all of a sudden you're all lined up on the grid and listening out for the whistle. You make small talk with the people around you, but as soon as that whistle goes, it's down to business. I didn't have the best of starts, I'm typically quite a fast starter but the grid was quite bunched up and because we started on a hill, I was finding it hard to break away. Once again I had to come up with some pretty creative lines to overtake a few people.

Getting into the zone on the grid...
I forgot to mention in my previous post about a guy (Matt Mantle) riding a retro Cannondale. He came absolutely stonking past me last race at blistering pace. There was no way on earth I was going to catch him. This time however I was able to pass him coming into the second lap on the climb. Not only that but I was gaining on the front pack. I made a few more places up on lap two and was going well, until I lost cable tension on my front mech and couldn't get into my big ring anymore. I had to make split second decision to either try and fix it on the move, or just live with it. I looked behind me and saw it was just me and Matt and decided I to just defend my current position as there wasn't any fire roads where I could have a fiddle with the barrel. The course was great, you were either climbing, or bombing down single track. The guys at MSG done another fantastic job - huge props to them!

I actually quite enjoyed the hill start!
Anyways, me and Matt spent the next couple of laps fighting it out. I was able to drop him a couple of times but ended up getting stuck behind back markers. Every now and then I'd shout "You still with me Cannondale" and he'd reply "Yep!". It was a good little micro battle we had. It goes to show that at this level, what you're riding doesn't make a blind bit of difference! It's all about the rider! There was a really nice hip on the third and final bomb-hole which I was able to whip on laps two and three which got a cheer from the crowd! No one got a photo of me doing it though which was heartbreaking! I remember on the last lap coming down the last decent into the last bomb-hole thinking "you are not going to pass me! I did not tow you round for three laps for you to pip me at the end!". No whips this time (which was met with a collective sigh from the crowd) I just pedalled as fast as I could over the line! I was not going to be beaten on the home stretch, not again. After the race me and Matt exchanged a few words and he agreed to let me have a photo with him for this blog! 

I definitely wouldn't of been smiling as much if I'd lost!
It turns out I was 17th out of nearly 100 riders, which isn't half bad. I'm edging closer and closer to that magic 10th position. I know I can do it! Baby steps are a good thing, but I wanna get on that podium - if it kills me! I am determined. Anyone that knows me will tell you that if I'm determined, it's pretty much a done deal. This is happening!

Me and Kirsty stuck around for the afternoon to offer some support to the guys. Will and a rather unwell Ollie were racing in the junior category, whilst Darren, Tony and Paul were racing in the sport category. I saw Ollie warming up before the race, and he really really didn't look well at all! Me, Paddy and Kirsty went to watch the race on the third bomb-hole. What a mistake that was, we saw some horrific accidents in the the first lap. The first being Jason Bouttell, who came absolutely flying through, cleared the hip entirely and landed into the next lip on his front wheel which then catapulted him off of his bike and straight onto his head! Some how he not only got back onto his bike, but still won the race! That guy's got balls of steel! I was talking to him after the race and he reckons he hurt himself more when he hit his shoulder on a low branch trying to catch up again! 

There were a few other crashes, a couple of riders were quite seriously hurt which was really painful to watch. Kirsty and a few others actually went around the corner to the start line to watch because they just couldn't stomach any more. Both me and Paddy were cringing every time someone came in a bit too hot or off balance. It's easy to watch crashes and falls behind a computer screen, but it's not so much fun in real life. One guy went down and didn't get up for a few minutes, and I just remember hearing his daughter screaming! Luckily he was okay, he was injured, but still alive at least! No broken backs or necks which was good! Although, I think a couple of people went home in an ambulance that day....

Back to VCR, sorry I went off at a tangent! It's hard to be concise, without compromising the flow of the writing. Ollie decided to give it ago in the end. Unfortunately he only made it round two laps before throwing in the towel, but he gave it a go at least and I take my hat off to him for trying. Will was having one of those days, he's been struggling for form of late and he couldn't seem to get into the groove. Liam (one of Will's rivals) was on fire, but no one could stop "The American". Who came out of no where and was absolutely rapid, there was no catching him. I would have liked to have seen him and Ollie go toe to toe if Ollie wasn't ill! 

Will wasn't having the best of days, but he held in there for third!
Darren and Tony pretty much stuck together throughout the race and managed to earn themselves respectable 25th and 27th place which isn't half bad considering they weren't seeded! Paul was unfortunately disqualified for receiving outside assistance after a mechanical. That's two in a row now for Paul, he's becoming the bad boy of the cycling world! 

Will, Darren, a bit of Tony and myself after the race.
Now, onto saddles etc. I finally got my seat post! All the way from America! The good news is that it was not only the correct set back (25mm), it's 80grams lighter and it matches my bars perfectly! The bad news was it wasn't quite long enough! It's about 15mm too low. Which to be honest I can live with. I think my leg angle is currently about 31/32 degrees which isn't great but it's not exactly game changing. I like to have my saddle a little lower, it makes it easier to move around the bike! For the record, my saddle is currently 560mm from the nose of the saddle to the stem clamp, and 910mm from the top of the saddle down to the pedals. It currently sits nose up at 3.4 degrees. I'm told not many mountain bikers know their measurements, it's more of a roady thing apparently. I personally think it's important to know this stuff! 


I've been trying to get a saddle that supports me properly, which I thought I'd found! I borrowed a Fizik Alliante VS from Cycle Evolution. I supports my bum properly which something the Tundra didn't do. I found it uncomfortable though, I think it might even be slightly too wide for me. One of the good things about it was because it was a relatively tall saddle, the seatpost height issue was negated. I might try a Fizik Gobi next. But I did 40 miles on the Tundra on Sunday and didn't have any issues what so ever, and it comes in green.

That's pretty much it for now. Jay is back from his travels in the next week or so, really looking forward to seeing him again. I've missed my brother! I've got the Summer Enduro coming up on Saturday as well which I'm looking forward to! I'll be posting again over the weekend, probably Sunday. Evaluating whether I've hit my targets that I set when Jay left for Tokyo, and possibly a race report from the Summer Enduro. Thank you to those who follow the blog and have taken the time to read all of my dribble!