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Doc on a bike. NHS, Leicester Med School, Cycling Plus Magazine. LFCC Cyclocross Champion (old gits category). Riding's the best medicine. Follow me on twitter @awkwardcyclist

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Here come the 3 Peaks!

I'm keeping a training diary for Cyclocross Magazine. Here's my first post: http://www.cxmagazine.com/3-peaks-practice-beginner-introduction-andy-ward-2015

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


In a previous post I've mentioned the "Trig's broom" nature of my cross bike, with numerous bits and pieces replaced through necessity. I've spent this summer faffing away on the bike entirely through choice in an attempt to make it better. 

First up I changed the handlebars. I realised the old ones were a bit narrow and was attracted to the idea of bars that flare at the drops. The 3T Ergoterras are designed specifically for cyclocross and so far I find them to be a big improvement with less shoulder and neck ache on longer rides. I replaced the Fizik Arione saddle for a San Marco Concor - specifically one designed for mountain biking. I love the comfort of the Arione on my road bike, but found the long "tail" to occasionally get in the way on remounts. Again, so far so good. A Ritchey WCS alloy seatpost has been moved over from my road bike - it's a quality bit of kit and looks great.

The wheels are an eBay bargain - £114 for a pair of Neuvation C50s only previously used on the road. I've added Challenge Limus tubulars after much research and badgering of cyclocross experts. I'm hoping to gain a bit more grip and benefit from the lighter wheels - time will tell.

The drive train has also had an overhaul as I've gone to a single front chain ring in a DIY (and budget) version of SRAM's CX-1. Apex levers - another eBay bargain - replace the old 105 set up, with the supernumerary mechanics stripped out of the left side using this handy guide from Cyclocross Magazine. An X-7 mountain bike rear mech with its rolling clutch mechanism helps chain retention when paired with the Absolute Black narrow wide chainring obtained from a clubmate. A test ride on a rock-hard, rutted bridleway failed to unseat the chain despite rattling out most of my fillings. Last season, badly timed dropped chains cost me hard earned positions in two races, so that's got to be positive. Overall, my modifications have probably saved me about a kilogram in weight without breaking the bank. Hopefully I can take advantage when the season starts at the end of August.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


Another season, another discipline. After the "right time, right place" purchase of this actual Giant Anthem mountain bike, it was only a matter of time before I gave XC racing a try. With the Friday Night Summer Series providing a number of events on my doorstep - I decided to break my small wheeled, knobbly-tyred duck at Delapre Park in Northampton. A new club trophy meant that a number of Leicester Forest riders also joined the fray.

I had a feeling that the racing might be a bit like cyclocross and whilst there were some similarities - the mass start, the duration of the race and the lap format - there were several significant differences. The laps seemed significantly longer than those found in cross - winding deep into the woods of the park. The course was also more technical with more roots and branches to contend with. A few sections would have been unrideable on a cross bike and were to a beginner like me on a mountain bike! One section in particular gave me trouble - I fell off on 4 out of the 5 laps! The feeling of pure exhaustion and nausea at the end of the race was all too familiar though.

So was it  a success? I loved it - off-road riding is my favourite activity these days and a hour of blasting through woods and across trails was marvellous. As for the racing - I generally spend my summers in a lazy, untrained state - this was something of a shock to the system. Riders who I normally compete with in the cross league left me for dead. Still - I will be back - there's a few more events in the neighbourhood and it can't hurt my cyclocross fitness!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ben Sumner's Cross Bike on CXMagazine.com

Great day at the Milton Keynes World Cup. Bumped into Nick Walling at the Team GB camp who let me get some shots of Ben Sumner's bike for Cyclocross Magazine. You can read all about it here: http://www.cxmagazine.com/ben-sumner-specialized-crux-milton-keynes-2014-pro-bike-profile 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Milton Keynes World Cup Cyclocross

Cycling is booming in the UK. Kick-started by the 2007 Tour de France Grand Depart in London and fuelled by success on the track and road, the popularity of what was once a minority sport is soaring. Riders like Mark Cavendish, Victoria Pendleton and Bradley Wiggins are household names, cycling clubs and mass participation rides are growing fast. Le Tour’s return in 2014, this time to Yorkshire, saw 2.5 million enthusiastic spectators line the route. Cycling in the UK has become decidedly mainstream. Cyclocross has been late to the party. Resolutely on the fringes it has yet to seize the public imagination in the same way as its tarmac and velodrome-based cousins. Despite this, local leagues are seeing record numbers taking part across all categories. Established road riders are increasingly looking to Britain’s fantastic network of bridleways and forestry tracks to bring some variety to their weekend rides. Cyclocross in the UK has the potential to become huge and the third round of the Cyclocross World Cup at Milton Keynes could prove to be the catalyst.

Arriving early at Campbell Park in the heart of Milton Keynes itself, it was clear that something special was in the air. With over two hours to go until the Elite Women’s race, a crowd of hundreds were getting behind juniors used to performing in front of dozens. The Expo was in full swing with free cowbells, flags and even bottles of beer being enthusiastically snapped up. Stalls peddling multi-coloured bobble hats rubbed shoulders with displays of high end bikes and handmade tubulars. With the teams setting up shop next door it was clear that this was not a level playing field. The space age Winnebago of Nys contrasted sharply with the busy gazebos of British Cycling and the one car set up of Neon Velo. Fans mingled with superstar riders and mechanics, checking out bikes and tyre choice – a far cry from the cloistered existence of millionaire soccer players that the British public are used to. As race time approached, the crowd swelled to 8000, boosted no doubt by curious townspeople, dragged away from their shopping by the clanging of thousands of cowbells. Despite the large number of Flanders flags being waved, this was definitely a British affair. No Leffe in the beer tent, no frites and mayonnaise – it was British ale and fish and chips all the way. That beer tent was popular, but not the jam-packed affair familiar to supporters on the continent. Pints were of secondary importance as the women’s race started with a large and raucous crowd lining the course.
As the riders hit the first off-camber section they were to become acquainted with another British phenomenon – thick, gooey, slippery mud - and lots of it. Ironically it was local hero Wyman who suffered as the predictable chaos saw her slip off and slip out of contention. Not that it dented the enthusiasm of the supporters. Cant and Compton crossed the line to resounding cheers – despite the fact that most of the crowd couldn’t tell who’d actually won the photo finish. The volume went even higher as Brit Nikki Harris took the final podium spot. Campbell Park was turning out to be the perfect venue, with the Belvedere Ridge providing impressively steep and slippery banks and excellent vantage points for the large and colourful crowd.

And so to the Elite Men’s race. The steadily increasing blood alcohol level of the crowd might have had a part to play as the atmosphere was turned up to 11. As in the women’s race, the muddy off camber section at the end of the finishing straight wreaked havoc. This time Sven Nys came off worse, losing his chain and ending up third from last. Whilst Ian Field benefited from the wildest reception the crowd got behind every rider with gusto, right to the end of the race. Mark McConnell and his beard, struggling at the back, was cheered as vigorously as Sven as the Belgian worked his way back through the field with impressive smoothness. Perhaps inspired by the noise, Jeremy Powers rode rather than ran the tough set of steps at the end of every lap, winning plenty of fans, if losing a bit of time in the process. British Cycling had entered a young team to support Ian Field with teenager Jack Ravenscroft performing flamboyant and wholly unnecessary bunny hops to entertain the crowd. Still buzzing at the end of the race, Jack was amazed by the atmosphere –“I’ve raced in Europe and the USA, but never experienced noise like it”. Another close finish saw Pauwels pip fellow Belgian Vantornout in the sprint with an emotional Field coming in a brilliant 12th to cap a fantastic day.

Where does British cyclocross go from here? Hopefully the UCI will have been impressed enough to come back next year. Hopefully British Cycling will see the potential and take the same approach to investment that has benefited track and road. Hopefully the likes of Ian Field, Nikki Clarke and Helen Wyman can become as much household names as Cavendish, Pendleton and Wiggins. Hopefully Milton Keynes can turn out to be cyclocross’s Grand Depart: we need to find a use for all those cowbells!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On a Muddy One

Photo by SL Images https://www.facebook.com/SL1643

Trig's Broom

Anyone who rides cyclocross will know the havoc it wreaks on your bike. My trusty Cannondale CAADX 5 is not quite 3 years old but is already a bit like "Trig's broom". New wheels (now on their second set of spokes), cassette, stem, seatpost, right STI lever, bottom bracket, three chains, front brake, two rear derailleurs and gear hangers have all been added to the excellent frameset in the last 18 months or so. Some of these have been improvements, but most are due to the accelerated aging process brought on from riding through mud and grit. The most recent casualty was that second rear derailleur. Riding hard up a grassy slope during Tuesday night training I was greeted with the sickening crunch of the rear mech detaching itself from my bike and meeting the spokes. It's a common problem in cyclocross when mud and grass jam the jockey wheels and the chain pulls the mech over the top of the cassette. Initially relieved that this happened in training and not a race, I soon realised that my chance of competing in the Notts and Derby race at Markeaton had diminished somewhat. Despite the best efforts of our coach Nick Walling and his wondrous shed of bike bits, I was going to be without my race bike.

The Book of Genesis

Fortunately, help was at hand from the unlikely source of my commuting bike. I bought my Genesis Day One Disc singlespeed on the bike to work scheme, needing a low maintenance ride with excellent stopping power. I've done a few bridleways on it, but away from the daily commute, it has mostly served time as a winter trainer. With a steel frame and workmanlike wheels, it's no flyweight, but it's sturdy and reliable and I love it. Inspired by this article on Sheldon Brown I decided to save my race. A freewheel was purchased, giving me a 42/21 ratio. New mud tyres were added and the paraphenalia of commuting stripped away, producing a respectable 10.5kg steed. Despite this, it was with some trepidation that I approached race day - would my legs be up to the task?

Mud Glorious Mud

I've spent the season so far riding in the West Midlands league and this was to be my first race at Markeaton. An exchange on twitter gave me an idea of what to expect "the slippiest mud you've ever ridden, and much hilarity". The warm up lap confirmed this to be the case with several unrideable sections and a ridiculously tricky corner involving a slippery bank and a tree:

Photo by Mick Bown

Fortunately I coped with that bit much better during the race, mostly through never attempting to ride it. Not every rider was so lucky as this brilliant set of photos from Mick Bown shows. In the end the singlespeed served me well - it was only in the last lap where the weight of the mud I was lugging round the course finally took its toll. A number of mistakes saw me lose a few places to riders benefiting from bike changes. Still a final position of 20th represented my best result of the season so far... might even ride the Genesis for my next race. I just need to convince Kirsty of the merits of standing in field for an hour with a jetwasher.

There's a chainset in there somewhere