Team VeloCake take on Bristol Bikefest

Another Saturday, another race. Another Friday, another long post-work drive. I sat in traffic, listening to the rain bounce off the wind-buffetted car, and struggled to muster much enthusiasm.

Fast forward a couple of hours and I was sat in my car, drinking beer at the campsite, waiting for the others to arrive.

All I could do was cling to the hope that the weather forecast was correct, and Saturday would dawn dry and bright. Mikey and Katie were first to arrive, after a similarly long drive, up from Penzance. Not that you could tell by their Lancastrian accents. It was the first time I’d met both, and a pleasure to meet the informal Directeur Sportif of VeloCake and a fell Lego lover. We set-to putting up tents. 2 minutes later, my Decathlon pop up number was up, pegged out and filled with a thermarest, sleeping bag and pillow. Mikey had nearly finished putting the poles together. Another ten minutes later, we were taking the poles out of the incorrect sleeves, and starting again. It was in my interests to help. Mikey and Katie had a porch!

We lazed around inside the tent, as the summer sky finally darkened. We sipped a few beers, ate some pretzels and kept our eyes peeled for Piers, who had travelled down from Penrith. It was properly dark by the time he arrived, but it wasn’t long before he was sat in the tent porch joining us drinking, and even supplying some very tasty sloe gin. Hmm… the theme for the race tomorrow had already been set. It maybe wasn’t textbook preparation.

The one sad note was that Mikey Summers had a delayed flight, so would miss the race. We were prepared to take on the opposition as a mighty threesome, but Dave Jevons stepped into the breach at short notice.

All-weather trails

The sun was indeed out for the 9am start the next day. The wind was still up, and it wasn’t hot, but I wasn’t complaining. No time for a practice lap, I headed down to the start (for I, lucky old me, had been nominated to start. Sommat to do with running occasionally). I dropped the bike somewhere near the side of the course and continued walking down hill, ready for the Le Mans style start. At which point, I bumped into Lee Eaton, who was racing solo for Team JMC. We had a catch up, and were so engrossed in conversation, that we may have missed the countdown to the start, and were taken somewhat by surprised when 3, 2, 1, GO! Was shouted out. A less than marvellous get away ensued, but I did get away, found my bike without too many problems, and set off. Then was forced to trackstand. Then got away. Then got barged. Then got away. It was all a bit manic, but good fun.

The course was utterly fantastic. It genuinely was all-weather, with no real muddy sections, and fast rolling combination of gravel and limestone finishing. Not only that, but there were berms and jumps galore. Generally, I settled into a familiar pattern… bury myself overtaking people on the wide climbs, tuck in and recoup some energy by maintaining flow down the singletrack. Tag onto the end of a train of slower riders, then bury myself to pass them when the trail opened up. All round good fun.

My two laps were over all too quickly, and passed the baton (or hair bobble in this case) on to Piers. Now, this was new ground. I’ve not done an endurance race in a team before. What am I meant to do now? Well, turns out it was quite easy to fill the time. I had a coffee and a bacon butty. Bumped into Dean (who got 3rd in the singlespeed pairs category on his Jones spaceframe), said hi to Shaggy, chatted with folk, heckled the other VeloCake team and generally enjoyed the sun. Dave was up next, then Mikey, who sported the best race face I’ve seen for a while.

Before too long, I was back out again, and having even more fun. The trails were less crowded, allowing me to carry more speed round the course. This is what racing should be like. POP, pssssssssshh. Oops. I had been getting a little carried away and after nosing my front wheel into a berm a little clumsily,  I rolled my tyre, and broke the tubeless seal. I quickly banged a tube in, but it cost me 5 minutes or so, and I was annoyed. I then had to stop at the pits and add more air. Grrr. Lap two was without incident, but I just wanted to keep on riding!

More socialising, eating, watching, sunbathing, chatting followed. Maybe I could get used to this.

I headed out on what I thought was to be a single lap, with Piers to go out straight after, in a bid to keep our lap times short. And I made the most of the one lap. Arriving in the pits breathless and sweaty, I looked around. There was no Piers. Oh. Only one thing for it. I went back out. And actually, despite feeling a bit hanging, did an alright time, and enjoyed myself. Dave took over from me for a lap, and Piers finished off, with around 20mins to go. Sadly not enough time for us to go back out for a final flourish. Probably a good thing. I had already opened a beer.

The other VeloCakers had been busy too. Matt, Andy, Phil and Dan smashed out the laps and looked to be enjoying themselves, apart from Matt who always looks a little grumpy… (sorry Matt :-))

Those of us who could stay the night met back up in the beer tent and enjoyed a few drinks, planned some new adventures and drank a little more.

Oh… p.s. we came 26th in the end. Not too shabby. And VeloCake/3 Counties came 40th… very respectable too.

And double p.s. on my third lap, pre-puncture I made a slightly clumsy overtaking manoeuvre and clipped another rider. I did shout out sorry, and got an insult for my troubles. Fair play, it wasn’t a great place to try and pass. So, to whoever you were, sorry again. No need for the swears though hey mate? 🙂

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Racing season hotting up

I have a hectic month of racing ahead of me.

I have 3 races in June. Each of them has their own challenges and will require a different physical and mental approach.

Let’s take them in chronological order, starting with Glentress 7, this Saturday 2 June. It is a pretty straightforward format. Start at 10am, complete as many laps as possible within 7 hours. Most laps/quickest time wins. I came in the top 20 last year, while singlespeeding. Theoretically, I should do better this year. I’m fitter. I have a bike with gears (which should be a real advantage on a course that has a large amount of up and down per lap). I’m more experienced, and feel back into the swing of things as far as racing is concerned.

Weirdly, compared to the last couple of months worth of exertions, a seven hour race feels rather short. I’m under no illusion that this is no sprint, no walk in the park, no other stock expression for “easy”. I want to do well. It will be hard, relatively fast racing. To add to the challenge, I’m working all day Friday, and driving up after work. I will be “solo” in the purest of terms. I’ll be camping, and I don’t have a pit crew. All my bottles will have to be made up (by me) in advance, and I need to make sure my mini pit (luckily there is a solo racer’s tent) is suitably stocked.

I’ll be dropping my bike off with Garage Bikes tomorrow for a quick once over. ‘Arry is beginning to show the signs of well over 1000miles use since February. The lower headset bearing needs replacing, I’ve worn through a set of tyres, and the BB area has developed a familiar creak. Luckily Al knows his business. It makes a huge difference to my self-confidence knowing that I can depend on the bike.

The following weekend, I will be donning my VeloCake jersey, and it will be a new experience for me… I’ll be taking part in a mountain bike race as part of a team. Bristol Bikefest sounds like a great sociable event. I had originally hoped to race solo, but numbers mean it is far more sensible for me to join a team. Another “as many laps as you can” event, this time in 12 hours. It introduces some new challenges for me… going flat out for a lap, then sitting around for a while, then doing it again. Could prove difficult. The team I’m in will be trying hard, but not taking things too seriously. It will be all about just doing our best. I’m looking forward to meeting up with some old friends and turning some “twitter buddies” into real life acquaintances, especially Directeur Sportif Mikey Mullerton.

I then have a week off from racing, and I’ll be taking things (not so) easy with a lap of the Mary Townley Loop with my friend Peter. I’ve done big parts of the loop before, but never linked it all together into a single ride. It may not be the best riding, there may be a million gates, but I still feel the need to get it ticked off. It will also be a great opportunity to catch up with a guy who I don’t get to see very often.

Finally, into the last week of June, and Original Source Mountain Mayhem. An all time classic in the mountain biking calendar… and event that has all but passed me by. I’ve never been, but I’ve heard all the horror stories from the bad weather years. I will have my fingers firmly crossed for a dry weekend. Again, I’ll be competing in a team, with Jenn and Tim, amongst others. Tim is doing rather well in the summer CX and is a bit quick in general, and Jenn is bloody rapid. I don’t want to let the team down, so I’m glad it won’t be my first team racing experience.

I’ve been working on trying to find a bit of speed in my endurance legs… lets see if it pays off this month!