Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Know your Bike.

I've Got The T Shirt

I'm a cyclist, and presuming you read the title, I guess you are too.
In all likelihood you've ridden your bike loads more than me this year. But hey it's not a competition is it? Well no, it's not, we ride our bikes for fun if and when we can. That's good.

Now lets say you race bikes, that's different. I used to race lots, I put in the miles for training and by my standards did OK. This year has been different, my work as a photographer has meant when I would have otherwise been racing, I have been taking pictures instead. Which is also fun.

On July the 1st though, I submitted an entry for what I and many others consider to be one of the toughest races one can do on a bike. The Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross. So of course I should have done lots and lots of training, but yes you guessed it, I hadn't.

So back to the title of the piece. With only a few weeks to go and few miles under the belt, I knew that going out and doing crazy miles was unlikely to yield much in the way of results on race day. So instead I opted to learn to ride my bike. I've had my Lemond Poprad for maybe three years now though as I also have two mountain bikes, and a shiny carbon road bike, it only occasionally gets used. I was going to learn it's strengths, it's foibles and I hoped that maybe this knowledge would save the day.

I rode it on my occasional morning road rides, and most importantly I took it places that cyclo-cross bikes don't usually go. I found the loose technical climbs, the boulder strewn technical descents. Oh yes, and I crashed lots. Pushing the bike until I knew precisely what Poprad and I could achieve together.

The night before the race though, I still felt that my lack of fitness would be my undoing. A few weeks earlier I'd attempted the Kielder 100 which after 35 miles, I'd pulled out of due to a combination of a niggling injury, and general knackeredness. I was tempted to not even start the race. Nick spurred me into action about eight that evening telling me how busy he had been getting everything ready for the race. After I put the phone down, I amassed my cycling kit in 10 minutes, chucked it into an Ikea bag along with a bag of jelly babies. I too was now ready.

Race day at 6:30 am I awoke. I ate a tin of rice pudding for breakfast, then chucked everything in the car. Game on. I'd borrowed my mother in laws posh Audi for the drive up. Luxury, and speed too if needed. That is until the engine decided it didn't want to work properly. There had been a fault with the turbo previously, which apparently had been 'fixed'. Well near Blackburn, it decided it wasn't fixed, it was broke. This meant the engine went into safety mode, it went, but slooooooowly. Maybe this was the excuse I had been looking for. "Sorry busted car, couldn't make it". So there were now four possibilities, involving direction of travel, and the likelihood of being stranded on the hard shoulder.

I drove on towards Helwith Bridge, and made it.

Lining up for the race I skulked towards the rear of the start line. I wasn't going to get in the way of the racers. For me it was about getting round in one piece.

Then we were off. I took it steady at first on the road, then as folk started to get away from me I reeled some in and passed them. Still I was cautious not to give it too much as the hard bits were lying in wait. Once off road I easily rode most stuff to the bottom of Simon Fell flicking the bike round and over the damp limestone rocks on the way.

I was dreading Simon Fell, memories of burning calves, were burned into my memory. My tactic was not to look up, the enormity would be demoralising. Instead I elected to take it one step at a time. Fantastic, before I knew it I was there at the top, and then back on my bike. On to Ingelborough which involved plenty of riding, and just a little push and carry.

From the top I knew that I could make time if I descended to Cold Cotes fast. I'd learned along with Poprad, that if one wishes to descend fast, one does not use the brakes. We passed many a sqwealing bike and rider on the way down that hill.

From Cold Cotes to the foot of Whernside I did a combination of caning it to jump to other groups of riders, recovering in their slipstreams, taking my turn at the front, and then pushing on again.

I treated Whernside as I had the first carry, focussing on what was just in front of me, and passing banter with some of the other competitors.

The descent from Whernside has to be one of my favourite parts of the course. Technical rock infested nadgeriness, where bikes with less than four inches of suspension ought not to be really. In the past i've ridden it all top to bottom, but my time spent with Poprad had taught me that, some bits are faster done on foot, than astride the saddle. However that did not stop me shouting "Rider" to clear the way on the bits that I knew I could assail at full speed.

More road from Ribblehead this time in a speedy team of three all taking our turn so on our arrival at the foot of our last obstacle we weren't too worn out. Well actually the other two obviously weren't as they quickly rode away from me as we rode up towards Pen Y Ghent.

It's somewhat demoralising this part of the race, as if you're of my ability, as you are heading up the hill, the fast people are on their way back down. I see a mate Neil a little way up who informs me that Nick has won. Fantastic news. He'd only said the previous day that he was looking forward to the race, but without the pressure to win as he was now a vet. Looks like that relaxed attitude had paid off.

It was all beginning to be a bit of a slog now. Ride a bit, push a bit, and the final carry to the top. On the way back down I walked more than I would have liked. My hands, especially my left hand had developed blisters on the palms of my hands which made using the brakes very painful. Occasional screams of pain may have been heard on my way back down the hill.

The last part of the race is on the road, and the guys who were with me decided we should do this as quick as is possible. As we turn right towards Helwith Bridge it becomes clear that we will be partaking in a sprint finish. I push on a little to make a gap as we crest the bridge, job done, but no, he comes back. I push again this time hard, but he's still coming. Into the finish loose stone chipping under tyre, I give it everything. Well at least I won something that day.

Poprad and I amazingly bettered our last time by some 7 minutes.

We will of course be back next time to do even better, hopefully with a race fit rider.

"It's not about the bike" said Lance, maybe, but it helps if you know the capabilities of the one you have.