Welcome back

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It has now been over two months since I last rode a mountain bike. Not just any two months either. It has felt like every day has dawned brightly, skies have permanently been blue, the weather always mild. My mind has fizzed with frustration, gradually eased by running, and more recentlyriding on the road (even if I did get carried away immediately take the Kinesis Pro 6 off into the woods). The reality of summer in Leeds so far hasn’t been quite so stunning, although we do seem to have faired better than recent years.

My shoulder never really hurt, at least not after the initial aches of the surgery. I have felt it get stronger by the week. This has fed my frustration, as I have had to deliberately avoid my bike, make the conscious decision not to ride, rather than be physically limited. It is still technically too soon. I have another x-ray tomorrow, and will hope for good news.

I was in the Yorkshire Dales, camping in Grinton, next to the brilliant Dales Bike Centre. Jenn was racing the ‘Ard Rock Enduro, so I thought I’d keep her company, but do my own thing while she raced. I was willing to take a calculated risk and have my first mountain bike ride. I think racing a gravity enduro would have been somewhat foolish, even if the FF29 wasn’t in rigid mile-munching mode. I must be getting sensible in my old age. Garage Bikes team mate Joe Roberts was there though, and bagged a very respectable 7th in his age group.

The FF29 was looking in fine fettle. I’d fitted some lovely new Kinesis Strut bars – the crash was heavy on my USE bars, and while I probably trusted them, they have always been a little too narrow for my taste, especially when hauling on the singlespeed. The Struts add an extra cm each end… not a huge amount, but noticeable. While fettling, I also added a nice new Charge Scoop saddle to test for Singletrack (I’ve always been a fan of the Spoon, so I have high hopes for this) and swapped my 32t front ring for a 34t Renthal offering (thanks Garage Bikes). Maybe not the best timing, as my legs aren’t exactly full of miles after the recent lay-off, but the FF29 is so light the previous 32-18 ratio always felt a bit spinny. The added benefit of a “magic ratio” and doing away with the tension was a bit of aesthetic win.

Swaledale has some impressively steep climbs, made even harder by the gale that was now blowing through the valley. Much of the morning seemed to involve cranking out of the saddle, with my nose glued down to the stem, sofa-softened legs getting a harsh wake up. The gradient/terrain never got so hard that walking was necessary, but I slowed to a trackstand in places, before finally turning over the pedals and recovering a mite of forward motion. It felt odd to be by myself having been in the company of hundreds less than an hour ago, but it felt right for the day. I think I’ve missed the solitude.

Climbing into the wind had its pay offs, as I whipped down wide grassy carpet-like descents at warp speed, trying not to think about the consequences of a hidden dip or gust of wind. Singletrack was a rarity, but the little of it that I discovered was superb. Dry, twisting, flowing, exaggerating the sensation of speed, rewarding the conservation of momentum. The FF29 revels in conditions like this. The carbon fork has enough twang to take away the immediate sting of small vibrations, it tracks well as the tight rear triangle transfers power brilliantly. Short stabs of power are rewarded with quick acceleration, belying the usual 29er criticisms.

This was a day for one-more-hill-ism. While the wind was ever present, the sun had burned through morning grey. I linked up familiar trails with new ones, found new views across known landscapes. It was the kind of mountain bike ride that I have done since I first ventured out. Bridleways, tracks, distance. Little technically challenging, or adrenaline fuelled, but just out there. It felt good, and I lost myself in riding, checking the map, and riding some more. As the ride came close to its natural conclusion I eked out one last climb/descent and rolled back into the garden at DBC, where Stu had a barbeque on the go, local beer was being served, and riders were sunbathing, full of excited tales of their day.

I wasn’t quite ready for the crowds, and could have happily turned round and headed out again. The smell of burgers cooking, and smiling friends convinced me otherwise though…

Welcome back mountain biking. How I’ve missed you.

New Garage Bikes team kit!

It has taken a bit longer than we hoped, but the Garage Bikes kit has finally arrived, and very splendid it looks too…

Here I am, sporting bibshorts, LS jersey and gilet.

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And here is Joe Roberts, the Garage Bikes downhiller, and part time mechanic.

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GarageGarage have got some kit for sale, so get in contact if you’d like your very own understated riding gear.

Glentress 7

I checked my watch again. I’m sure time was speeding up. I had 20 minutes to finish the lap. I needed to keep pushing hard if I was to stand a chance of getting out on another lap. 16.30 was the cut off time. 16.10, and I was still climbing. I felt tired, but not exhausted, but I just couldn’t eke out any more speed from my legs. A hastily downed gel at the wrong time didn’t help and I coughed most of it back up on “Rue de Souffrance”. Damn, this was going to be tight. Liquid crystal bars flicked off and on, counting off more minutes. I kept on riding.

Marathon or a sprint?

Seven hours is not a short race by anyone’s reckoning. It is a lot shorter than anything I have attempted this year though. The Glentress Seven was an event I really enjoyed last year, and it was one of the first I entered at the start of 2012. The sentiment was the same for last years winner, Rich Rothwell. It was a real shame then, when I bumped into him pre-race to find out he had broken a rib during the week and had taken the sensible decision not to ride. I carefully laid out my pre-prepared bottles and gels in the solo pit area. I was by myself for the weekend, and wanted to make sure my pitting would be as smooth as if I had a support team. The plan was to stop for no longer than it took to remove my old bottle and replace it with a fresh one, with gel ready elastic-banded to it.

The weather was colder than I would have liked and I was aware that I was wrapped up in virtually all my clothes before the start. I finished last year’s race with borderline hypothermia. This wasn’t an experience I wanted to repeat. At least it was dry for the time being, and the overcast sky was not particularly threatening.

I enjoyed the ceremony of pulling on brand new, fresh kit. I felt the part, and looked the part. Lou at Patisserie Cyclisme had sorted me out with their lovely new shorts and jersey, and I stopped off in Lancaster on the way up to Scotland to pick them up in person. Good news for Lou was that I got lots of compliments about it over the weekend, so I’m sure her next batch will sell like hot cakes (pun intended). I’ll keep racing in the kit until the Garage Bikes team strip is ready, later this year. Only problem is, a white jersey leads to lots of time with the Vanish, post race!

I finally managed to get my stiff legs warmed up, and it wasn’t long before I took to the start line. Near enough the front to guarantee a clean get away, far enough back to make sure I didn’t get in the way of the genuinely quick boys. The start was pretty unpleasant. Fireroad climbing all the way up to Buzzards Nest. Nearly warm legs complained. Lungs felt restricted. Not long after I was descending and dropped my chain. Grrr. I was getting flustered. Deep breath. Replace chain (it didn’t drop again for the entire race, but I’m tempted to try out a Shimano clutch rear derailleur). And settle down. Climb with composure. Descend with a smile on my face. This is more like it. I was still near enough to the front to not get held up, and no one was passing me.

In fact, the first two laps followed this pattern. I was riding almost by myself. By lap three, the fresh legs of some of the team’s third riders started catching up to my less-spritely pins, and I had more company again. One of the things I really like about endurance racing is the politeness and friendliness of people out on course. Not once did I have a problem overtaking with a quick “on your left please”, or “can I pass when it’s safe for you?”. Not once was I subjected to anything less polite myself.

And the laps kept ticking by. I was tiring, but felt comfortable. I was aware that I wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be, but whenever I attempted to pick up the pace, my legs just didn’t seem to have the answers. I knew this was a likelihood. I just haven’t given my body much chance to prepare for the intensity of shorter races. For this year, I have just had to concentrate on getting a solid base fitness to make sure I can keep on going for the duration of endurance events with minimal performance drop-off. So, I settled in. I kept half an eye on my lap times, but without much seriousness. I made sure I kept pushing. Then, come the end of Lap 6, I started doing sums. It was probably going to be tight for me to get through the cut off of 16.30.

Nearing the highest point of the course (conveniently flagged up as such), I checked my watch again. My instinct told me I would struggle to make the cut off. I couldn’t ease up though. I had to at least try. I hit the downhill sections with more aggression than I had for a while. I took more risks. I ignored the painful need to pee. I took the short climbs as hard as I could. I descended again. I peed in my shorts. I knew I had no time to spare. I did not look at my watch. Just keep on going. One last time down the drop. Jink through the trees. Lock up. Mess up a corner. Crap. On to the last grassy dual-slalom descent. I know I haven’t done it. But keep on riding. Click down the gears ready for the tight turn into the start/finish. And… 16.33. Race over. 8 laps.

Disappointing, but not the end of the world. I drink a chocolate milkshake, watch others come in. Put on layers and pack away my kit. I chat to a few others and eat a burger. I feel so fresh still. I could do another few laps, but only at the pace I’d be sat at all day.

Eventually, the knowledge of a long drive home, and the desire to meet up with friends before last orders pulls me away, and I fire up the car. With plenty of time to reflect on the drive home, the disappointment magnifies. I hate not doing as well as I know my body should. Despite the logical reasons why I didn’t, despite a reasonable result (17th senior), it isn’t good enough.

Luckily a few drinks, some good friends and a whisky nightcap ease the negative thoughts, leaving determination to keep training, to train smart, to learn, to race hard. It’s all part of the journey.

I was very lucky that Jamie Hunter was in attendance, and got these great photos of me. Particularly like the “race face” one above. Why not take some time and head over to his website and flickr pages.

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!

Crayons

Team kit designs by Sarah at Garage. Luckily Endura “professionalisimicate” for a non-felt-tip look. (Sorry Sarah) 🙂

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I have seen the light

I’ve already mentioned how impressed I was with the USE Exposure Joystick and 6 Pack at 24 hours of Exposure.

I was so impressed that I decided that I wanted a Joystick for myself. Chatting with Al at Garage Bikes, he very kindly offered to order me one, as a perk of being sponsored. Wow. Not only that, he arranged for it to be engraved with the Garage Bikes logo, and this here website address. Double wow.

I collected it last week, and it is now fitted to my helmet, waiting to be used in anger this weekend.

Luxury

One thing that I haven’t need to worry about is my bike for this weekend. The Planet X Dirty Harry is nicely up to the challenge.

Even better, Al at Garage Bikes has given ‘Arry a once over, to make sure he is running sweetly and smoothly. The FSA headset is already on it’s way out. Bit disappointed with that to be honest. It is apparently a £75 unit (it was fitted as part of the full build). I’ve only had the bike since Feb. Admittedly, I’ve done a lot of miles since then, but not that many?

Ah well, here is a photo from Garage Bikes of the fettling in progress.

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