The anti-parachuting lobby (if such a thing does indeed exist) tend to pose the question, “why jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane?” It seems a reasonable enough question. Over the past few days, I could probably paraphrase the question most often asked regarding my cyclocross exploits as, “why jump off a perfectly good bicycle?” Which is probably an equally reasonable question.
I’m not entirely sure how cyclocross got its muddy claws into me. I’ve been aware of the sport on a professional level for a while. I watched a few World Cup races online over the past few years but I can probably trace the recent upsurge in enthusiasm to a few specific places. Firstly, Twitter introduced me to ‘crosser Jeremy Powers and his web series Behind the Barriers. Powers is an enthusiastic & engaging American that you can’t help but like and Behind the Barriers piqed my interest & made me look further.
I sought out some YouTube videos of the three big race series in the cyclocross calendar, the World Cup, the Superprestige & the GvA Trophee. Whilst the former purports to be a World event, the latter two make no such pretense, taking place ostensibly in Belgium & Holland, the undoubted heartlands of cyclocross. The Cyclocross World Championships, held in Belgium earlier this year, attracted a crowd of 61,000 and had Belgians locking out the top 8 places in the Men’s Elite class. Cross is BIG in Belgium.
However, what took me from enthusiastic spectator to competitor (ok then, participant) was the realisation that cross was occurring on my doorstep. I knew John & Dave from the Tuesday night chaingang but only picked up on their involvement in the cross scene after they started posting their brilliantly irreverent series of YouTube videos under the Dig In banner. They showed cross as inclusive, challenging, but above all, massive amounts of fun.
So earlier this year, in January, they put on their own race, Dig In Around the Dock, in Bo’ness and “encouraged” everyone they knew to enter. Local races can be undertaken on specific cross bikes, road bikes with mud tyres or mountain bikes. I was happy to stick some muddy tyres on my winter bike & give it a go but a fortuitous search on ebay revealed a Giant cross frame for sale. One of the benefits of being 6 ft 3 is that you are somewhat outside the bell-curve as far as “normal” frame sizes are concerned and so, with very few bids and a very reasonable closing price, the Giant frame was mine. A few evenings in the garage and the cannibilisation of the winter hack saw the bike come together and it was time for me to pin on the race number & line up on the start line.
Cyclocross races, in my limited experience of two, tend to comprise of a first half that sees you racing and a second half that sees you barely surviving. Putting this into perspective, my Garmin told me that my average heart rate for the 52 minutes of my most recent race was 176bpm.
So why jump off a perfectly good bicycle? Well, for those not familiar with the format, cyclocross comprises a number of laps of an off-road course, with steps, barriers or obstacles to negotiate. The “fun” that these obstacles cause, has rarely been more graphically displayed than in the YouTube hit, Joey’s OK. Hilarious, eh?
Finally, why has cross grabbed me & why might it grab you if you let it? Mountain bikers can’t help but love it. One of the joys of mountain biking is riding your bike where you probably shouldn’t! Feeling your bike squirm around on mud, gravel & rocks gives you a great feeling of control (in between the long periods of panic at your shocking lack of control.) Cyclocross, however, gives you that feeling with the added stupidity of doing it on something that is much closer to a road bike. If you’ve never been mountain biking and all your experience lies on the road, cross will blow your mind. Slithering through mud, tackling grassy downhills that you probably wouldn’t choose to walk down, what’s not to love? The steps, barriers & obstacles? These are all just added skills which will provide fun and a certain sense of the bizarre to your bike riding.
Do it – go on, Dig In.
We Brits are a curious lot. We are living through an age of unprecedented national success in cycling but somehow we seem desperate for an excuse for it all to end.
Bradley Wiggins has just won the Critérium du Dauphiné for the second year in a row, in convincing fashion (and we all know that with Brad rubbing neatly tailored shoulders with Sir Paul Smith, fashion is top of the list). He has completed an impressive treble of stage race results; Paris-Nice, Tour of Romandie & Critérium du Dauphiné.
In cycling, it is notoriously difficult to compare riders with their peers, let alone compare them with their predecessors from a different age. Cycling Weekly attempted to do just that & placed him 6th overall. Spurious league tables aside, however, there is no escaping the fact that Wiggins is a superstar. Massively successful, widely recognised, indeed to call him an icon of British sport would not be considered hyperbole by all but the most disingenuous of onlookers.
But for many I suspect the win in the Dauphiné will be seen as the last block in the building-up of Wiggins. What will follow is the inevitable knocking down. Already we have the social media sniping. Rarely is the word “incredible” used with more innuendo than in cycling. Those represent the darkest & most unfair of comments and for my money deserve little of the oxygen that social media provides them. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, I like to think of Brad as a cycling god.
What about the stifling of races by an overly dominant team, reminiscent of the dark days of…etc, etc. Again, the innuendo of this comparison is sickening and all too often spouted by those who appear to have little by way of love for the sport. We can all cheer the plucky Lanterne Rouge, but this sport is about winning and about winners. Wiggins just happens to be among the winningest right now (did I really just write winningest?). It is curious to me that for some fans, the only equation of use in cycling is winning = doping.
However, as the title of this post alludes to, I fear the most destructive knocking-down of Wiggins will begin within the next few weeks. At best, he wins spectacularly, Tour & Olympics (hey, let’s dream big). Likely he will be crucified for one of those classic intangibles like tactics. Or that perennial (though ultimately meaningless) favourite, lack of panache. His performance will be heralded, euphemistically, as “incredible” by those who wouldn’t know their VO2 from their H20 or their EPO from their HP Sauce.
At worst, things don’t go to plan for those three weeks in France and Wiggins is portrayed as the latest in a long line of nearly men of British sport; the plucky Tim Henman, the frustrating Andy Murray, British sportsmen for whom nothing will ever be good enough. Britain has a genuine sporting superstar on its hands (yes, I know, another one – I haven’t even mentioned Cav). He is intelligent, witty, engaging, fashionable, quirky – we could barely dream of a better role model for the plump-fleshed Playstation generation & yet I just know that for some it’s not going to be good enough this summer.
We didn’t build Brad up, so we don’t deserve to be allowed to knock him down. His toil and sacrifice has surely earned him the right to have us look up and admire him – even though he might never win Wimbledon.
..or, Rolls & Responsibilities
On the last pod, we had what was probably our first ever mention of cyclocross. This was on the back of some funny & genuinely enthusiastic videos posted by our pals @McComisky & @Dav_Hamill on YouTube.
Having an hour or so to spare on Sunday, I took wife & wean down to Tranent, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, to view first-hand what this whole cyclocross malarky was all about.
My first impression was,”bloody hell, this looks popular”, as the car park of the Meadowmill Sports centred was rammed with all manner of bike-racked cars and what empty tarmac was left was being zig-zagged by a riot of lycra, knobbly tyres, spare wheels and track pumps. I even saw someone warming up on rollers – it was probably safe to assume this was neither of the aforementioned YouTube sensations!
The layout of the course didn’t really seem to lend itself to spectating but the multi-lap format meant that if you parked yourself in one spot you were always going to be witnessing some action. So I duly parked myself & my camera whilst wife & wean (who, in a fit of post-birthday enthusiasm had begged to bring his own, shiny new bike – of which more later) were dispatched to procure the ubiquitous roll & sausage and bad cup of coffee (this is Scotland, outdoors, in November – it’s pretty much mandatory).
Having missed the start, it was slightly difficult to pick out the leaders from the also-rans but as the laps progressed, purple faces & gasping breaths betrayed those at the back of the field. The support, however, was great. Everyone, no matter their position in the race or choice of bike, got an encouraging cheer & the friendliness of the event was clear to me, even as a curious onlooker. A selection of the photos from the Vets race can be seen here. Most photos are pretty much as they came out of the camera – but @McComisky was given the “heroic Belgian” treatment and having seen them, he “thanked” me for making him look 100 years old! (I thought he looked quite heroic, and indeed Belgian.)
Needing to head off, we took advantage of the gap between the Vets & Seniors race to wander round the course. A large, seemingly artificial pyramid-shaped hill overlooks the course & my enthusiastic offspring set about climbing it on his bike. Having conquered it, he set about descending, which he did in an impressively controlled manner. However, with his head in the clouds like any 10 year old, he road straight on to the course at the bottom of the hill to be confronted by the shouts of 60-odd cyclists closing on him at high speed. Thankfully he scuttled off the course well before any carnage ensued and slunk back to endure the wrath of his father! At this point I considered it fortunate that we had to leave, thus avoiding the sort of repercussions more usually directed at the owners of ill-trained dogs. Suffice to say that he was made to sleep in his kennel that night!
I must say that I am very impressed with sense of community that surrounds cyclocross and I certainly could see this being a sport that I would want to have a go at. The relatively common sight of mountain bikes being used means that there really is no barrier to entry, but cyclocross frames and nobbly tyres look so good – that if I ever did get into it, I rather suspect it would be accompanied by a rapid draining of bank-accounts & a cooling of marital relations.
Now if I could only get my 10-year old son’s head out of the clouds I rather suspect he would quite like a go as well.
The Sausage Roll faction of VCDL (aka BMFW & Stumpyrider) get serious wood and explore damp, dark places.
The potential of a weekend devoid of spousal & parental duties prompted me (BMFW, for ‘tis I) to send out the speculative e-mail that would result in a gathering at the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate at Drumlanrig Castle. Having been visited almost two years ago it was felt that a return to these trails was overdue.
The initial outlook had not been good as within 5 minutes of heading out the door the heavens opened, and remained obstinately open for the whole of the journey south from Sausage Roll City. After an unfortunate navigational error (no names, no pack drill), we made our rendezvous with VCDL regulars Baz, Rosco & Stevie along with once-met-Davie and never-met-Davie. By this time the weather had eased and we headed off on a Black/Red mixture.
Drumlanrig’s trails are defined by the forest – they are amongst the most natural of all trail-centres, with narrow ribbons of singletrack meandering between the trees and over the roots. And it is these very roots which will undoubtedly be foremost in the minds of anyone who rides there. They are ubiquitous and cross the trails at every conceivable angle meaning avoiding them is simply not an option. Dial in the tyre pressure, stock up on confidence and keep rolling – well it worked for me.
Riding at this time of year, with the first of the fallen leaves lightly carpeting the forest floor, one is faced with the lottery of being unable to distinguish the roots from the leaves, resulting in much sliding followed by the “phew” of a lucky escape or the “aargh” of being unceremoniously dumped on one’s arse!
The initial climbing was, of course, rewarded by our first stretch of downhill singletrack. As we eased our way on to the trail you could sense that the words roots, wet & slippery, were foremost in all our minds in one order or another. These conditions require a level of concentration that brings its own reward when the section is completed relatively unscathed – as proved fortunately to be my experience for most of the day. Although there were plenty of panicky dabs, there was no real incident other than a comedy fall from never-met-Davie which, judging by the aftermath that I witnessed, would have been well worth seeing live!
Despite the day having little by way of drama to report, Drumlanrig climbed to very near the top of my list of favourite destinations. The trails reward concentration & technical skill & although I profess to have little, that little which was on display on Sunday resulted in a grand day’s biking which whetted my appetite for a winter of off-road frivolity. Mud, sweat, friends and Mrs Stumpy’s excellent Rocky Road made for a stellar day out. Spring & Summer riding is great for the tan lines but Autumn & Winter riding gives you unbeatable mud-lines.
Brought to you by Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel (It’s all about Jesus, you know!)
BMFW does his best to ruin Franco-Scottish relations
So, the family BMFW took up temporary residence on the Côte de Laffrey for Stage 10 of this year’s Tour de France which took the riders from Chambéry to Gap. After witnessing the unedifying but highly amusing sight of grown men trampling small children underfoot to grab worthless trinkets thrown from gala-day-floats-on-steroids, we settled down to wait for the race.
As the crowds thickened and the level of officiousness of the Gendarmes increased, we were greeted by the surreal vision of Elvis, in full Vegas garb, trudging up the hill on foot. Closer inspection revealed this not to be the reincarnation of The King but, in fact, an Australian tourist with a pretty convincing line in Elvis impersonations. He strolled past proclaiming, “uh-huh, King of the hill, coming through”. He claimed his viewing pitch a few metres up the road & I went over to get a picture, which he was more than happy to pose for.
After the traditional Vietnam-flashback of the approaching helicopters had prompted my hilarious (to me) impersonation of Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now, the race official’s cars were quickly followed by the Bastille Day breakaway of plucky Frenchies and associated anti-French spoilers. This, in turn, was followed by the peloton who moved past, relatively slowly on the 8% grade, in their full glistening, sweaty majesty (apologies for the overtly homo-erotic imagery there!). We waved our saltire at the following team cars and were waved back at by Matt White in the first Garmin car and the unidentified DS in the second Garmin car. We were then blanked by Sean “I haven’t just finished a 5-day bender, I always look like this” Yates and Shane “”insert stereo-typical Australian racist comment here” Sutton in the Sky cars. We surmised that we were “not part of the plan”.
With the excitement of the Tour over, we drove to the town of La Mure and settled down to coffee & Orangina at a pavement café. Two blokes sat down at the next table at which point Mrs BMFW and BMFW Jr nudged me to say, “look who it is?”. Sure enough, there was Elvis. We exchanged knowing glances and nods &, being the sociable chap that I am and acknowledging our common interest in the Tour, I asked “Are you Australian Elvis?” (giving him the benefit of the doubt that the Tour may be followed by several Elvii!). He gave me the international shrug of I don’t understand. Accepting that my accent may have been the issue I reiterated, “are you the Australian Elvis, you were standing just up the road from me?”. Another shrug and a puzzled look to Mrs BMFW whereupon the realisation dawned on her before it dawned on me. This was not, in fact, Australian or any other Elvis. It was a middle-aged, slightly portly Frenchman with a penchant for white clothing and Vegas sunglasses. My ears burned bright red with shame. I mumbled apologies and spent a very uncomfortable 5 minutes staring into my coffee before beating a hasty retreat. I now picture said Frenchman sobbing as he looks in the mirror realising that tourists mistake his sartorial summer chic for Vegas kitsch or simmering with rage and vowing to drive his 2CV at full speed, packed with a volatile cocktail of Pastis & Camembert through the doors of Glasgow Airport in revenge for his humiliation. As I left France the customs official did give my passport a second glance. I fear I may now be on the list of undesirables!
Brought to you, rather predictably, by His Latest Flame, by The King
BMFW salutes those who lever him off the sofa on an all too irregular basis.
I’ll spare you the full history lesson (is that a collective sigh of relief I hear? – Trust me, this is going somewhere). Suffice to say that I cycled during my school years in, as Van Morisson would say, The Days Before Rock and Roll. Indeed it was the selling of a bicycle to fund the purchase of a guitar marked the end of phase 1 of my cycling years and the start of the Rock’n’Roll years.
Phase 2 started when the early 90’s brought a succession of dodgy second-hand mountain bikes, bought for a handful of tenners from a mate of a mate of a guy at work’s mate. They never really saw a mountain & usually fell apart – most notably loosing a crank-arm on a busy roundabout – oh how I laughed as the W.H. Malcolm’s tipper bore down on me with the driver’s profanity clearly audible above the lorry’s air horns.
The purchase of a Giant Boulder Alu Shock in Dale’s sale was to satisfy my modest cycling requirements for years to come (before skinny tyres & carbon fibre came into my life) & marked the period when cycling started to provide me with inspiration (see, got there eventually). A group of us at work started to become hooked on the Tour thanks to Channel 4 & revelled in reeling off the big names of the day, Miguel Indurain, Tony Rominger & the comedy Scrabble high-score that was Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. For the first time in my life I had found a sport that truly inspired me, made me want to get out & attempt to emulate these big names. Ironically the Giant was to get far more road miles than off-road miles & it would be the advent of the trail centre some years in the future that would reverse that imbalance. (A story for another day – if you are unlucky!)
The first real inspiration, after having watched the Indurain era draw to a close, was Tefal-headed, oxygen-rich-blooded Dane, Bjarne Riis. His 3rd place in the 1995 Tour followed by his victory in 1996 seemed super-human to me (oh how naive we were) and his audacious ride on Hautacam, where he famously dropped back in order to gauge the condition of his opponents before attacking, was simply awe-inspiring. Awe-inspiring enough to send me out on the cheap aluminium goodness of the Giant to sweat my way along the local roads, dropping back to gauge the weakness of my imaginary opponents.
Next was Pantani, who nowadays always seems to be prefixed by “the tragic figure of”, but in those days, seeing him take flight on a mountain stage, he was anything but tragic. He was a joy to behold – effortless, fluid, inspirational. In the drops, out of the saddle, accelerating away from the rivals who dared to test him.
There was the added bonus of his air of mystery, Pantani the enigma, his wonderful comments such as his famous quote, “I ride faster so the pain is over quicker”. His displays of athleticism were forcing me out of the house to ride up the modest hills nearby, faster, so the pain was over quicker – with limited success, it would have to be said.
Riis, Ullrich, Pantani and the first of the Armstrong wins – all Tours that I remember watching and getting fired-up by. Most of the Armstrong years, however, are a bit blurry for me. Except for 2003, which I vividly remember, particularly the infamous Armstrong “musette” stage where his riding after the fall was something else to behold and probably represents my most favourable memory of a cyclist who just never really did it for me.
But this is about inspiration and not just the Tour. Most recently I have been in awe of fellow countryman Mark Beaumont and his record-breaking round the world ride. Where do you begin with his achievements. 18,297 miles, 100-plus miles a day, 6-8000 calories a day, bandit country, straight, deserted roads that would drive lesser men insane – his determination and single-mindedness yet again proved inspirational.
He was taking part in the Glasgow-Edinburgh ride one year as was I, and I was determined that if I saw him I would speak to him & let him know how inspirational I found him. I did see him, I made a point of going over to him and, like a tongue-tied teenager, I told him how much I had enjoyed following his inspirational journey. The reward was that he was one of the nicest guys you could meet and the experience was worth all the slagging I get, even to this day, for fawning over one of my heroes.
Back on our screens with his Cycling The Americas expedition I am again revelling in his feats of endurance and adventures and my only disappointment is that such prolific distances are being condensed into 3, 50-minute slots. 50 minutes for the entire length of North America almost cheapens the achievement.
So to all those who have inspired me to feats I never thought possible – I salute you. Could I have cycled 107 miles in the baking heat of Provence, finishing on the summit of Ventoux without their help? I doubt it, I really do. Their inspiration was almost as important as all the months of training; and every mile brought to mind another inspirational figure to push me on. Chapeau, gentlemen – your assistance was and is, greatly appreciated.
Brought to you by “I’m Gonna Do It All” by Karine Polwart
The reason I found the graph really interesting was how clearly it showed the lag in heart-rate that is often cited as a reason why power meters are a better training tool than hear rate monitors. The solid colour is the speed and the red overlay is the heart rate. You can clearly see that as the speed increases, the heart rate follows along a very similar curve but lagging by around 40-45 seconds. In the first set, (the first 6 peaks) heart rate dipped fairly significantly during the rest minutes but in the second set, which was conducted in the big chainring, the heart rate didn’t dip as significantly indicating the body finding it more difficult to recover between sets and in line with a general upward drift in heart rate. I can’t even remember what the last 2 sets were but as I hit close to 180 on the second last set I can only assume I found them hard!
Just some idle geekery for those who are interested, courtesy of Mr Garmin’s most excellent 705 device.
Brought to you by Roxette by Dr Feelgood
BMFW wades in the murky waters of wheel building, and like an ad campaign for Viagra, asks “how hard can it be?”
Clicky, clicky, clicky – my love of the uber-clicky freewheel is well-known amongst my riding chums. To me, clicky equates to mechanical & the noise is a celebration of the art of the engineer who makes something that you can hear working. The last blog post documented the timeline of my exploding Bontrager hub which, after a bit of searching, seems to have been a common complaint for the particular model of hub with which Trek chose to outfit the Fuel EX-8. Having bought a factory XT hub and Mavic rim combination, I was never happy that I had a perfectly good rim hanging up in the garage with a dodgy hub. In retrospect, I can’t even remember my decision-making process when buying the new wheel although I’m sure that time pressures, along with my LBS’s inability to get any repair done within the decade, played a part.
The previously recounted spoke-related shenanigans of my front wheel got me thinking again about attempting to build a wheel. A quiet afternoon at work saw me trawling the web for wheel-building resources, of which there are many. I settled on the e-book The Professional Guide to Wheel Building by Roger Musson. Despite the number of free resources, reading the reviews of this book and seeing some of the extracts convinced me that it would be £9 well spent – and so it proved. I was so happy with the book that I forwarded it to our chums at The Velocast as a Pick of the Week & was delighted to hear it mentioned.
And so to the choice of hub. As alluded to at the start, it had to be clicky (if that makes me shallow, I offer no apology). There seems little doubt that Chris King make some of the tastiest componentry out there but there seems to be a very hefty price to pay for this reputation. As I recently discovered after having to replace the Trek’s headset, Hope offer a very good alternative to the high-value Chris King stuff and it seems to be generally regarded as very well-made kit. I was certainly very pleased with the Hope headset & the innovative Head-Doctor alternative to the star nut. So, given that a Chris King hub was going to set me back north of £300, I uttered a hearty “feck that” and decided to go for the much more reasonable Hope Pro2. Duly armed with e-book, hub, rim, spokes & nipples (quiet at the back, there!) I donned my magicians cloak, sacrificed a couple of goats to the gods of wheel building and set about the challenge at hand.
The first round of drive-side spokes was installed, making sure to align the manufacturers name on the hub body with the valve hole on the rim (preparation, preparation, preparation, as Don would say!). Following the book closely, the remainder of the spokes were laced up to an even tension within a couple of hours at most. A DT Swiss nipple driver (I said quiet, you boys at the back!) saw the tension brought up evenly to a point where I was confident to start final tensioning & truing.
Before this could take place, however, it was time to test my rudimentary joinery skills. The e-book comes with instructions for a home-made truing stand & after raking through the contents of the man-cave salvage yard, the jigsaw & drill were pressed into service & no-one was more surprised than me with the result – a highly useful stand which I am sure will come in handy many times in the future. The truing took a few hours one evening to get to a point that I was more than happy to mount the tyre & ride the wheel & despite that fact that the e-book suggests that you should not require to re-true or tweek well-built wheels I suspect, more for my own peace of mind than anything, that I will re-check the wheel at some point soon.
So, the wheel has been ridden a couple of times, nothing too strenuous, but it seems to be supporting my ever-increasing winter weight without too much hassle. Proper testing should take place soon, with a couple of Glentress opportunities arising, including Owen P’s post-Christmas Tweet-up. This was a thoroughly enjoyable project which followed my ethos which says if you buy the tools and learn how to do the job you will save money the next time you have to do it!
Brought to you by Rock’n’Roll Doctor by Little Feat
The last few weeks have seen a bit of an erosion of enthusiasm for exercise-related activities. Turbo sessions have proved to be the genital-numbing joy-fests that I remember from last winter and it has only been the weekly swim-session and 5k Parkrun that have stopped me morphing into something resembling SuBo.
The spectre of the Glentress Duathlon has been looming large since it was foolishly entered in a fit of madness. 40Something & I even took the rather professional approach of scoping out the route during a mid-week foray to Glentress a couple of weeks ago. Despite getting hopelessly lost on the last part of the bike course, our verdict was that it was not too technical but some of the uphill singletrack slogs could end up rather processional and that any foot-down action would be punished by an inability to remount on such a steep gradient and a long, slow walk to the summit. We foolishly omitted to scope out the run course on the same day. Had we done this, we could have awarded ourselves an extra few hours in bed yesterday as we would surely have greeted its relentless gradients with a hearty “feck that” and willingly forgone the entry fee.
The build-up to the race was somewhat inauspicious. Aware that my front wheel had been exhibiting a wobble recently, I convinced myself that the tubeless tyre had not been seated correctly and all that was required was to re-mount it. Wrong! As I brought the wheel into the warmth of the kitchen to begin wrestling the tyre from the rim I saw a single spoke which had freed itself from the nipple. With a sense of glee I said to myself, “Excellent. Ball on slates. Can’t start the race.” Then the engineer and serial bike-tinkerer in me took over. A similar spoke-busting incident had occurred with my rear wheel a couple of seasons ago. Having been informed by my LBS that my nipples were too soft, they duly replaced them. Shortly after that, the rear hub shat itself & I have been using a cheapo Shimano spare rear wheel ever since. Realising that there was a redundant rim full of shiny new nipples, I set about replacing the duff one on the front wheel. So far so good. However, any attempt to true the wheel by turning any of the original nipples resulted in their disintegration. Long story short; 2 hours later all the nipples had been replaced & the wheel was a true as my modest skills would allow.
The day of the race dawned with fair weather and reasonable forecast. However as 40Something, Don-for-a-Day Chris & I drove through Auchendinny & Leadburn, the heavens opened and the nearer we got to Peebles, the more the rain turned to sleet. We registered in the rain, got changed in the rain & cycled reluctantly to the start line in the rain. A panicking Chris asked for the loan of a multi-tool minutes before the start to fix a dodgy cleat. Given that the starter’s whistle was about to blow, I threw it too him & shouted “keep it”. Yup, you guessed it – 2 words I would regret later!
As expected, the whippets were smartly out of the traps with the mere mortals slogging up the rear. The usual start line shenanigans ensued as riders ahead failed to clip in and riders behind mowed into the back of them – always nice to have a barrage of swearing at the start of a race. Given that we had scoped out the course before, the bike route held little in the way of surprises. One grassy downhill section had become a death slide which caught me out, resulting in a fairly benign looking low-side during which I landed on my right elbow, which dug into my ribs (a style of landing that I unfortunately have previous & painful experience of.) One section of quagmire at the Shieldgreen Centre proved unrideable and as I marched the bike up I decided to select an easier gear in order to remount. I leaned over and spun the cranks & as I pushed the gear lever I felt the cable pull through the clamp at the rear derailleur. Remember the multi-tool? So I triple-speeded the remainder of the course although the gradients meant that this wasn’t the hardship that it could have been on earlier parts of the course. The final section of the bike course proved much better than the hopeless wrong-turning that 40Something & I had taken some weeks previously and after a short jaunt on the fire road past the skills loop, we were into transition and feeling like the pros as the volunteers took bikes from us as we dismounted.
The first 2k of the run was uphill. Seriously uphill. Run, jog, shuffle, walk, uphill. As I approached the summit of the first climb, the lead whippet was barrelling down it on his way to the finish. A left turn just at the top of the Spooky Wood climb saw us ascending again on twisty walkers paths, reaching the exposed summit just as the snow fell. (Given that I have no pictures of this section or the snow, you will have to make do with this image to give you a flavour of the conditions!). Veering into a dark forest section we then had to tackle the sort of gradient that is normally the reserve of goats and daft tourists who end up having to be rescued by helicopters. On the outward section of the course it was downhill and as I minced my way down all I could think was, this will hurt on the way back. And so it proved, but oddly I was now beginning to get into some sort of rhythm, realising that I was more than halfway through and that the relative reward of the downhill finish was approaching. An inelegant slapping of feet marked that start of the last downhill before a final section of walkers’ path and as much of a sprint finish as the legs & lungs would allow. My rib-smacking experience meant that the run was accompanied by a nice double-sided stitch and shortly after the finish, as the adrenaline subsided, the rib pain hit fairly hard.
The verdict on the day’s activities ranged from miserable to brutal to horrendous, but the one positive from everyone was, “I’m glad I did it.” The ribs are currently sore – I live in fear of a sneeze, but I’m sure they are just bruised. The lesson learned was that off-road running on paths with steep gradients is as different to running on the road as mountain biking is to road riding. Note to self – if you enter another of these, do some specific off-road running. Second note to self – don’t enter another of these!
Brought to you by Soap On A Rope by Chickenfoot
VCDL goes international as we welcome a rider from Aberdeen, which none of us had heard of, but is apparently small fishing village off the coast of Norway, famed for its contribution to the noble profession of prostitution but whose population is too mean to pay for it!
Right, that’s enough stereotyping for one paragraph. And so it came to pass that 40Something & I found ourselves in the Glen Tilt car park at 9.45 on a flukily sunny Sunday in October, where the recently re-located Wee Stu was already waiting, having trekked (or indeed, GT’d) down from Aberdeen, presumably after making a few bob down-the-docks the previous night.
(Ok – I lied when I said that was enough stereotyping – but he was out of the saddle a lot!) Stumpy Rider was absent due to a prior engagement – an educational trip to Amsterdam with Mrs Stumpy to sample the delights of hash cakes & fish porn apparently getting the nod over a day with his Velo Club chums in Highland Perthshire. We await the results of the fish porn research before passing judgement on his choices!
Naturally there was a bit of a wait before Baz & Rossco turned up, as there always is, but they arrived bang on 10am (having conveniently ignored the “let’s be on the trails at 10am” part of the arrangements.) The car doors opened simultaneously and the stereo protestations of “it wasn’t my fault, he was late picking me up” etc spewed from their respective mouths. Baz ensured that he was the early victim of the inevitable ridicule by turning up looking like a gay gym instructor. Thinking he couldn’t look any more gay he then produced a headband!
Wee Stu was responsible for the organisation and venue for this outing on a route which he had ridden before and it was decided to tackle the red route which, according to Trailmaps Highland Perthshire Map 3, is a 22km loop with 460m of climbing. Stu provided us with his usual accurate description from the depths of his memory, “It’s pretty much all uphill until the downhill bit”. Excellent – at least we know what we’re in for.
After minimal faffing (surprisingly) and a bizarre exchange of cardboard boxes between Stu & Rossco which has yet to be adequately explained, we were off on the single track road that would lead us to Big Country. Sure enough, it was up. First on a tarmac road which became a gravel road and ended with a gate which, much like Mr Benn’s changing room, would lead to an adventure! But not before some more climbing. Poor Baz had already, somewhat unfairly, been christened “TB” due to his position at the rear of the group on the first climb but we all soon found our pace and, as promised, after yet more climbing, the vista opened up to remind us why we do this.
The southern edges of the Cairngorms were clearly visible with a smattering of snow along one ridge. Uninterrupted blue skies and views which would make the average American jump on the first plane over here, Megrahi or no Megrahi! A special mention goes to Rossco, who was climbing extremely well and looking in fine form ahead of next week’s Relentless 24 Hour MTB Marathon.
Having started at around 150m elevation we topped out at around 600m and, seeing the trail hugging the side of the valley far below us, we knew it was almost time to point downhill and, much like professional cyclists of the 50′s and 60′s, get some speed going. The likely suspects of Baz & Wee Stu dropped like stones in a fine display of “off the brakes” action whilst myself, Rossco & 40Something minced down behind. The valley road gave us the chance to get up some speed, cheerily acknowledge some walkers (a gesture which was not always returned – grumpy c***s!) and spin our way down to Allt Sheicheachan Bothy – but not before comedy moment of the day.
We had successfully forded 3 or 4 rivers and this one looked no different. With four members safely across, Wee Stu produced the camera, the pressure of which would prove to be 40Something’s undoing. In a stunning display of what I believe is known as “target fixation”, 40Something focussed on the biggest rock in the river & cycled straight into it. An athletic dismount meant that only the feet got wet, much to Stu’s chagrin as he was denied the ultimate MTB photo-opportunity. We had a wee nosey around what looked like a very well appointed bothy & headed, still generally descending, along the trail, eventually disappearing into the forest & reappearing on the road that would take us back to the car park. The 14 miles published in the trail map seemed fairly accurate but a quick check on Bike Hike suggests the total climbing may have been around 550m.
A spot of lunch was followed by what would ultimately prove to be an abortive trip around the Orange route. Some serious climbing saw us confronted by a trail, made impossibly boggy by forestry operations, as far as the eye could see. Given the time & our general uncertainty over the exact route we headed back, having done around 12 miles with about 275m of climbing.
So, a great day of biking, a wonderful day of weather and a stunning day of scenery – all in the company of a gay gym instructor. How many other blogs do you think contain that eclectic combination?
Brought to you by Big Country, by Big Country………obviously.