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
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Sunday, November 30, 2014
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
|Photo by SL Images https://www.facebook.com/SL1643|
Trig's BroomAnyone 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 GenesisFortunately, 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 MudI'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|
Friday, November 14, 2014
Looking at my results in the West Midlands Cyclocross League this year, it's clear I am doing significantly better than last time around. In 2013, I finished all my races in the bottom half of my category (Vets 40-49) and more often than not, comfortably so. This year I've reached the dizzying heights of the top 20% in one race and never out of the top half. I'm finding myself in battles with riders who last year easily beat me. Which has left me wondering... why is it I'm apparently doing so much better and how can I build on my improvement to get faster still? Here are my theories:
Towards the end of last season I started using my turbo trainer between races to do interval sessions. This coincided with an improvement in my finishing positions. This year I got the turbo out before the season started. Using workouts from Simon Burney's cyclocross training guide I have forced myself into the garage every week. It's not pleasant, but it seems to be helping.
This year I have managed to get a weekly club cyclocross training session up and running. It started small - just me and a 16 year old girl - but as it said in Cyclocross Magazine "if you build it, they will come". Numbers have increased and we now have the enthusiasm and expertise of Nick Walling to run the sessions. Even the lack of floodlights has not stopped us blasting round the park every week in the winter darkness. My cornering, remounting and all round handling have improved dramatically. Nick's son Josh has helped with "race craft", mainly by riding into me on corners!
No major changes to bike or tyres, but I have got a shorter stem on Nick's advice - down from 110mm to 80mm. The bike feels more reactive on rough sections and I seem to be able to heave it up the hills better. I even wore a skinsuit for one race (it had been gathering dust since I gave up time trialling). Not sure it made me faster, but it did make me feel Iike I had to try harder!
The fields for the WMCross League races are getting bigger - up to 150 riders on the starting grid at times. This makes for a bit more chaos after the whistle, but my improved results have seen me gridded near the front, giving me a definite advantage. Leicester Forest CC has also been much better represented - clubmate Wayne beat me in a pre-season race at Mallory, creating some anxiety about holding on to my Vets trophy. It was at this point I got out the turbo trainer (see Training Harder) He'll not make that mistake again... hopefully.
There may be other reasons - the dry summer has kept the worst of the mud away which probably suits me. Though to paraphrase Greg Lemond, I don't think cyclocross is getting easier, just faster: that post-race nausea is as bad as ever.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
When warming up in the bath after this afternoon's cold and wet ride home, I was alarmed to find a large swelling on the inner aspect of my left knee. Fortunately the power of Knog allayed my fears as the photo shows. The light shines brightly through the swelling, meaning it is full of clear fluid (a technique known as transillumination). It's probably a menisceal cyst caused by an old cartilage injury from my football days and not at all serious!
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
A couple of years ago, I rode the Dunwich Dynamo. If you’re unfamiliar with the event, it’s an overnight bike ride from the East End of London through 120 miles to the Suffolk coast at Dunwich. Things didn’t go ever so smoothly (as reported in Cycling Plus issue 276). Having not fully considered the vagaries of riding rural roads at night, I brought along a 20 year old halogen Cat Eye that seemed bright enough during testing in my back garden. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I discovered the bike light technology of the early 90's to be wholly inadequate. I’m not sure how many lumens the old unit was putting out, but I’m guessing single figures. Were it not for a full moon and the odd lucky guess, I’d probably still be cycling round Epping Forest.
Bring on the new Knog Blinder Arcs. It’s apparent that things have moved on substantially in the last 20 years. In common with most Knog products, these compact units look great and feel well put together. Soft touch silicon is complemented by tough polycarbonate housing with anodised aluminium trim (available in 4 colours). The lights attach to the bike using silicone straps and a stainless steel catch, made extra secure with a small magnet. This strap system features on all Knog’s Blinder range, and there have been reports of the silicone fraying when used on oversized bars etc. Perhaps with this in mind, the straps can be replaced on both Arc units via a small screw under the base. Knog claims that both lights are 100% waterproof and they certainly held up well in a heavy rainstorm. The lights are fitted with lithium batteries, recharged via a foldaway USB plug on the rear.
|Blinder Arc 5.5|
Pumping out 550 lumens, the Arc 5.5 is remarkably bright on its highest setting. The beam pattern produces a good spread on the road ahead and I was able to ride quickly on an unlit potholed track without suffering the sweaty palms of my Dunwich Dynamo experience. Re-joining the road, a single button press dips the light to avoid dazzling motorists. There are 4 settings in all, 3 levels of brightness and a flashing mode. The battery manages a claimed 1.8 hours on full beam and 17 hours on flash. In the box there’s a helmet mount, an extension lead for the USB plug and a spare mounting strap. The Arc Blinder 5.5 has an RRP of £89.99.
|Blinder Arc 1.7|
At 170 lumens, the more compact Arc 1.7 is not quite as blinding as the 5.5, but is still bright enough for me to ride on the unlit track, albeit with a bit more caution. The above photo is for comparison with the 5.5 and really does not do justice to the amount of light produced. The light boasts the same lighting modes, giving a claimed 1.4 hours on its brightest setting, 11.7 on flash. The power is adequate for commuting on unlit roads (or even the Dunwich Dynamo), but if you’re looking to do some night time off-roading, I would plump for the 5.5. The Arc Blinder 1.7 has an RRP of £49.99.
Conclusion: Blindingly good lights, great quality, convenient mount system, easy to use.
Sunday, March 23, 2014
I was asked to contribute to the Local Knowledge section of Cycling Plus. It was all a bit last minute, so I included the club audax for the long route and had a great couple of rides exploring new roads for the shorter versions. The artwork was contributed by Phil Dobson www.magicpen.co.uk although I'm not sure about the inclusion of a tower block in Corby - Rockingham Castle would have looked nicer!