Friday 30 November 2007

London League ??

You may have gathered that the bulk of my cyclo cross races form part of the London League. However, of the 18 races, including the team championships only 2 of them are actually being held in London (2 rounds at Herne Hill Velodrome and 1 at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit). Fair enough, it wouldn't be very practical to hold a cyclo cross race in Hyde Park, and gaining permission to race in the Royal Parks is not an easy task. But what's the deal with organising events in deepest Kent and Sussex ?? The last 2 rounds we've done were along the Sussex coast - almost 50 miles away - and we'll be back on the coast again next week when we race at Stanmer Park, Brighton. Even the round held at Lydden Hill, nr Dover was actually nearer to France than London !!

Don't get me wrong - some of the venues are quite nice and I still appreciate the effort that organisers put into staging an event. What irks me though is the fact that this is called the "London League" and yet we race nowhere near London. It's not doing what it says on the tin. In fact the South East Regional Championships are being held in.......Fakenham, North Norfolk. My schoolgirl geography tells me that's Eastern England - about a 3 hour drive away. Why the hell are they being held up there ?? Naturally many London based cyclists have voted with their feet (or even their wheels) and won't be making the trip up there.

Ok just ranting 'cos I'm having a bad day, feeling tired and not relishing the whole of yet another Sunday being taken up going to do a race I can only hallucinate about winning !

Still, I'm really happy to have the chance to race in the league, and this year in particular there's been a good group of women getting out regularly - so whatever it's called the London League must be doing something right. At the end of the day who cares what we call it !

Cyclo Cross Round Up - The Hapless Rider !

The last couple of London League rounds have been in Sussex. I don't ride there very often so didn't really know what to expect. What I did notice was how hilly the courses were - just at a time when I was distinctly disadvantaged !

This was a bit of an ordeal. Having fallen and badly hurt my arm the previous day I was not in a position to ride particularly strongly. In fact I was unable to hold the bars of my cyclo cross bike so ended up using the mountain bike. So a painful arm and a chunkier bike which did not compare with the slick machines of my fellow competitors was never going to bode well. Still, I wanted to give it my best shot, hence I showed up at the start line.

The warm up had been a very hot affair, given the hill and the fact that I was still in my warm up gear. Realising that I was going to have to work harder than the other women just to keep level with anyone I decided to remove my long sleeves and race in fingerless gloves to reduce any risk of overheating during the race.
After 3 laps my arms were freezing, my fingers were even colder, and the brisk cold wind brought with it a blast of driving rain and sleet. By the end of the race my fingers were shivering so much that I couldn't operate the gears. Mistake number one.

I took it easy going up the hill on the early laps and spun a low gear, thinking that although I was at the back, as the race progressed I would eventually catch someone whose fuel level would have run low. No one got tired, in fact the wind probably whipped riders up into an even speedier frenzy just to keep warm !! I only began to put in more effort on the penultimate lap, but it was too late by then. Mistake number two.

I wore my pink kit for this race on the premise that if I couldn't win, at least I could look stylish. I even lost out there ! The ladies' winner, Jenn Hopkins was not only the fastest, but in her Minx-Girl colourful skort and jersey suit she definitely looked the most stylish.

Immediately I crossed the line I dashed back to the car to thaw out and put the race the behind me.

My arm was slightly better for this one, but still not recovered enough for me to use the cross bike. I was resigned to taking the mountain bike again, but more resigned to not making the same mistakes as before. I'd dress appropriately, set off hard, and just wear my no-frills blue kit.

The weather was incredibly mild for November, so I just wore shorts and my short-sleeved jersey. I know I got that bit right. The hill was so much steeper, and longer than at Stanmer Park. But I wasn't afraid - I was going to power myself up it - ride my first lap like it's my last, really develop a killer instinct, ride like an animal etc. etc.

Immediately the whistle was blown the hard work began. Straight up a long steep hill. I powered along, a fellow competitor shouting at me "spin, woman, change down!"
I just ground away on a hard gear. My quads were burning, but I didn't mind because I was in a bunch. However, the downhill that we eventually got was not much of a reward for me. It twisted very technically through the trees, and the wood chippings made it rather slippery. In fact I found it rather frightening. I soldiered on nevertheless, with my rivals right on my tail. As soon as we hit the more open descents they overtook me. The numerous false flats really drained the energy out of my legs, and I began to pay for the mistake I'd made with my gearing early on in the race.

Still, I was determined to catch my rivals even as they sailed past me and I steadily drifted backwards. But alas, my pedalling became more laboured as I began to suffer from general fatigue. When I realised I was too tired to be able to control my bike on the tricky descents I started pulling into the side to allow faster riders (practically the whole of the field) to get past me. Naturally I lost even more time on my fellow competitors and waved goodbye to any chance of moving up the women's rankings. A couple of people fell, including one guy who had a nasty collision with a tree stump. In spite of that I was still unable to catch anyone.

Finally, I decided to change down to a low gear and just easy-spin my way round. That gave me time to recover, and on the last lap I even managed to overtake a 60-year-old man I'd been sparring with throughout the race ! I'm not sure if that was meant to make me feel better.

Ok, so two races in which I tried different approaches - neither of which worked. But it's all in the learning as they say.
This weekend we'll be back at Stanmer Park, and I shall be on my cross bike. Hurrah ! Who knows, I might be more fortunate next time around.

Photos by Kevin Knox and Joanne Upton

Thursday 22 November 2007

Thanks !

I know I'm not from the right side of the pond to be tucking into roast turkey and celebrating Thanksgiving, but I thought I'd just still put in a word to show my appreciation of the good guys in local cycling.

So thanks to all the guys who give up their time to promote cycling in London and the South-East; who work tirelessly to arrange venues and funds to promote the various races and leagues - Herne Hill, South Circuit, Cyclo cross, Surrey League, Crystal Palace, Hillingdon, Beastway, plus many others; thanks to all those around who have given me encouragement and training, plus the teams and clubs that have trusted me to don their jerseys without embarrassing them in the races !Toks Adesanya, Abigail Armstrong, Janet Birkmyre, Charlotte Blackman, Judith Bonner, Hannah Bussey, Bill Butterworth, Maurice Burton, Keith Butler, Peter Cattermole, Phil Cavell, George Clare, Tim Coales, Doug Collins, Tamar Collis, Dave Creasy, Jo Denman, Jake Dodd, Rohan Dubash, Glyn Durrant, Helen and Steve Ellis, Marco Faimali, Jo Foster, Sylvain Garde, Geraldine Glowinski, Lois Gosnay, Florence Hallett, Nicky Hughes, David Jack, Kimberley Kabatoff, Keith Knight, Sue and Tim Knight, John Leitch, Ben Lockwood, David Lombari, Hanna Mayhew, Jon Miles, Jen Mitchell, Andrew “Monty" Mongomery, Mosquito Bikes, John Mullineaux, Eddie Mundy, Phil Nash, Alex P, William and Guy Pearson, Sophie Perez, Melanie Prentice, Chris Reed, Bob Ruszkowski, Dennis Sackett, Dudley Samuels, Lisa and Chris Scarlett, Doug “Snoop Doug” Shaw, Chrystelle Sheldon, Belinda Sinclair, Joyce Smith, Warwick Spence, Stanley, Bryan Taylor, Jackie Townsend, Paul Tunnell, USE seatposts, Corrine and Steve White, Nicola Wadham, Chris Watts, Keith Wawman, Whitton Timber, Huw Williams, Mel Williams, Eddie Wingrave, Emma Wood, Richard Wood, Susan Wood, Paul Wright, plus many others.
And long may cyclesport continue !

Wednesday 21 November 2007

Autumn in my Manor

I'm not werking - I've broke me arm - can't ride me bike - it's all cold an' wet - by 'eck it's grim down south !

Still, I'm glad I captured some images from that sunny by-gone era - last week at Crystal Palace.

Monday 19 November 2007

Aaagh ! This is not what I need !!

I finally made it out on an off-road ride with Stanley last Saturday. It was a nice sunny morning, and I was enjoying the trails - especially as I could see an improvement in my efforts (cross racing must be helping).

However, what should've been a 4 hour ride was brought to an abrupt end after an hour and a half. I took a tumble on a chalky descent, just before Box Hill, at Juniper Hall. It wasn't the impact of the fall itself that did the damage, but the impact of my arm hitting the frame of my bike as I went down.
Normally when I go down I get up pretty quickly afterwards. But at that moment I sat for a few minutes clutching my elbow. Stanley had to wheel my bike down the rest of the slope while I walked.
The pain was too much for me to be able to operate the gears and brakes of my cross bike so we headed back by train.

We then spent Saturday afternoon at St Helier's Hospital A&E. Diagnosis is a suspected fractured radial head (though X-rays aren't conclusive).

Whatever it is, I can't do full activities as before for at least the next month. Right now, it's too painful to ride the cross bike, and the road bike will throw up the same problem, as the levers are operated in the same way.
I can use the mountain bike (which is what I used at the cyclo cross race yesterday). The last remaining cycling option is the track bike - no brakes to operate so no problem - as long as I don't fall on that arm ! I am due to go to Calshot next week. We'll see how my arm feels then.

It's all very annoying really. My cold had kept me out of full action over the previous two weeks, and Saturday was the first day I felt healthy while riding. Ironically I chose to ride the trails so as to avoid the risk of falling on the icy roads ! Sods law eh. Ooh it's so frustrating !

Thursday 15 November 2007

Reed Court Farm - bumpy furrows suitable for all !

Reed Court Farm played host to Round 7 of the London Cyclocross League last Sunday. Last year was the first time this event was being staged here. My recollections of the event then were firstly of how technically easy the course was, and secondly the difficulty of finding the venue - which probably led to the unfortunate incident in which Jody Crawforth (Evans RT) leading the pack, collided head-on with a belated rider, Rebecca Stubbs (CC Giro) while she was hurrying to the start.

This time I was a little more familiar with the route to get there, even if I was still a little short on time. The organisers had changed the lay-out to avoid a collision (though not all were convinced this was an improvement on last year). Jody Crawforth was there again with his Evans team mates, though Rebecca wasn't. As for the course - well, it hadn't changed, but something had changed in me.

With a course that essentially ran around the perimeter of farm fields plus a few tight switchbacks through the odd bit of woodland, this made for something largely untechnical. In fact, last year I found it a joy to ride - no worries about riding up steep banks or tackling fearsome descents. Nothing especially muddy - even the single-track was pretty wide. So really there was nothing to it - just a bumpy Sunday ride around the fields. Great course for any beginner.

However, what made the difference for me this year was that I actually raced it. My mountain bike had been swapped for a cross bike, my smiley face was replaced by a grimace - ready for fierce competition - as I powered my way around the course on the big ring. My pulse rate was close to the red most of the way round, and all my faculties were channeled into riding as fast as I could - no senses to do much else. That will explain why I was thrown off my bike in the start/finish area after failing to see the muddy mound, and the bike suddenly skidded. The medics wanted to stop me and check that I was okay, but in those states it's difficult to stop anyone when they are forging ahead with a one-track mind !

At the end of the race my lungs were burning and I was coughing and panting for several minutes afterwards. I began to realise what people meant when they'd been saying last year that this was a hard course. It's not just how technical a course is that makes it hard. It's also down to how energy sapping it is. Riding over dried bumpy furrows at speed, at times with a head wind to contend with, and negotiating an uphill drag is extremely taxing. The body burns calories upon calories just rolling over every bump and keeping a smooth action on a fast moving bicycle. What the course doesn't request of you in technical know-how, it more than demands from you in speed and power ! And I was glad to have taken on this challenge.

On balance, this is more my type of course, and the result showed this as I crossed the line right behind Katharine Mason (Sussex Nomads) who is normally streets ahead of me.
I would still say that this is a good course for beginners as it isn't technical and the paths are wide enough to allow for easy overtaking by the lead riders.

The rankings have not been published yet, but it'll be no surprise to see Nicky Hughes (Activ Cycles) as the league leader. I might be in second place, but it'll be by a long way - I don't think Nicky will be troubled !
Still, it's good to have a standard to aim for.

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Why I don't like Autumn - bugs, bugs and bugs

Bloody hell I've got this virus that won't go away !!

It cursed me for the hill climbs, so I had to miss those. I thought I was better when I did the Penshurst cyclo cross, but I realised it still had a hold on me. I've managed to get myself out for a couple of other cyclo cross races but this bug won't fully leave me alone. It still insists on making it's mark on me.

Hence I wasn't able to ride last Saturday, I spluttered my way round Reed Court Farm, and I've been coughing around since. The bug even has the audacity to play tricks on me. Just when I think it's gone I start to train in earnest, and then the bugger rears its ugly head and revisits me !! So with all this extra activity I've done while the virus was still hiding, I've ended up wearing myself down even more, meaning that it takes twice as long to get better ! It won't be surprising if I end up with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Okay, so it's only November and my first road race won't be for another 3 months, but time flies. November marches on quickly, then you wind down for Christmas and it's all mince pies and turkey, then it's the slow burn to get off the calories in January. Then bang, before you know it your first road race is in 2 weeks and you are completely underconditioned !

And autumn is when it all begins - it's in October, when there's talk of this "bug that's going round". An over-dedicated office worker who's keen to get a decent end-of-year appraisal turns up for work while feeling under the weather. Spreads it around his office, someone else spreads it around another office, then round their home, among friends and family etc and the story goes.
Meanwhile all us amateur cyclists have to try and stay fit and well. Actually, it's not about staying fit - it's staying well that is the challenge. A real exercise in infection management ! And that's what I don't like about autumn.

Why I like Autumn

When the trees their summer splendor
Change to raiment red and gold,
When the summer moon turns mellow,
And the nights are getting cold;
When the squirrels hide their acorns,
And the woodchucks disappear;
Then we know that it is autumn,
Loveliest season of the year.

by Charlotte L.Riser

Okay, not that I can put it as eloquently as Charlotte, but I certainly agree that autumn is the loveliest season of the year.

In my current situation of temporarily being a "lady of leisure" I get time in the middle of the day to go out for a quick spin.

There's nothing nicer than being out on my bike rolling through the lanes around the North Downs on a crisp, sunny autumn day. I love the section where I cross Skid Hill (West Wickham) and go out towards Hessiers Hill. On the left there's a great view of the lane that I'm shortly to take, plunging down towards Beddlestead. On either side of the lane are farmers fields, glowing in the autumn sunshine. The landscape is bordered by trees with leaves of various shades of green, brown, gold and yellow.

It may be a working day, but not much happens in these lanes - there's barely any traffic, and it's possible to ride this 3 mile stretch without seeing a single car. There's just my trusty steed and me, with the squirrels and the birds for company.

The sight and sound of the traffic to Westerham marks the end of the peaceful climb up through Beddlestead. But even though I end up on a fast B road the ride still feels pleasant - just the sight of the oak and sycamore trees around, with the sun smiling down on me makes me feel good. At this point I usually see and greet other club cyclists who are zooming past on this fast stretch of road. I'm not the only one who likes to make the most of these autumn afternoons !

I don't stay on the fast downhill stretch for long as I shoot up Church Hill and head off towards Tatsfield. Another part which I enjoy - the road may show more signs of life - houses, farm buildings, a community hall etc. but it still has a very peaceful feel about it. It is narrow and twisty, but not many cars take this route so I can really make the most of the riding experience. I spin through the lanes at speed under the watchful eye of the horse chestnut trees that surround me on this less exposed section. My route is lined with leaves of gold, brown, yellow and green all along the wayside. As I continue, more leaves are blown along the way, some quite close to my face - almost like bunting marking my arrival !
Well, it is at moments like these that I want to celebrate the beauty of nature. If only all my bike rides could be like this.

Once I get home I feel glad to have been out and made the most of such a beautiful afternoon. Fingers crossed there can be more rides like this before the really cold damp stuff sets in.

Thursday 8 November 2007

Cyclo cross weekend roundup

Last weekend was a good weekend for cross - with the Herne Hill race on Saturday and the Inter-Area team champs on Sunday I ended up getting a double fix of the muddy stuff.

Although we were into November, conditions were really mild. The sun shone and in fact my bike didn't collect much mud at all. More mud was collected at one race in Penshurst Off Road Circuit in October than in these two races on the first weekend of November !

Saturday's Herne Hill race was fun and well organised. It was a nice low key event being held just down the hill from me. It's always good to be able to ride over to your race an hour before. I actually did the race on my mountain bike as I wanted to save the cross bike for the important Inter-Area champs the following day. Also the race was more about me practicing my bike handling skills than about doing anything speedy.
Julene, a rookie to cyclo cross, from Dulwich Paragon beat me convincingly. She rode really well. It would be easy for me to say I was just on a mountain bike and not really pushing myself. However, to be honest there's no guarantee that I'd have been faster than her if I'd ridden at race pace. With a high ranking league rider for a husband, she'll be getting some good training from him. I'd better watch out when we do Reed Court Farm this Sunday !

Sunday was a more formal affair. We had an early start in order to get up to the stately surroundings of Misterton Hall (Leicestershire) for our lunchtime race.
With big hitters in the shape of Rebecca Thompson (Evans RT) and Nicky Hughes (Folkactiv Cycles) our London team looked very competitive. Emma Wood (London Phoenix) was our third counting rider, and I was fourth on the gridding, acting as the sweeper in case one of our top 3 counting riders dnf'd. It was good to know there wouldn't be any real pressure on me during the race, but I was still determined to race as fast as possible.
My limiting factor in cyclo cross races comes down to how technical the course is, and how quickly I can dismount and re-mount my bike.

Reccing the course, I was relieved to see that it was 100% rideable - not even any planks or steep run-ups to contend with. I bet some would've found it disappointing ! Stanley had lent me his mud tyres, so even the sticky sections were okay for me. The main difficulty for me was the sharp left hand turn at the bottom of a descent, and over some rocks. It's funny how the very things I want to avoid are the objects that I end up focusing on and tripping myself up on - story of my life !

Still, immediately the gun sounded I and my team-mates raced our hearts out for the London Team. It wasn't a massively technical course, but the undulations and sticky muddy sections made it hard work. Rebecca came 2nd - pipped at the post by Isla Rowntree (West Midlands), Nicky came 11th, Emma was 20th. The day ended well with us being awarded 3rd spot and getting photographed on the podium in our medals. We went home happy.

But then Monday, was the real anti-climax. We then read in the race reports that we had been nudged off the podium by Eastern Region who had apparently had their riders finish 8th, 10th and 12th. And even worse for me - I didn't even get a result. I had a big DNF after my name. I know I wasn't a counting rider, but I still wanted to see where I finished in the field and what my lap times were. After a couple of plaintive emails I was awarded 22nd place. I won't ever know my lap scores. We'd been hoping to be re-instated to 3rd place, but the maths won't allow that. Still, we've got medals so our day wasn't completely wasted !

Thanks to Emma for getting us all together, and co-ordinating a great day out for us. Thanks to Neil S for driving us up there, and thanks to John Mullineaux for providing us with our stylish London Cyclesport T-shirts. We'll do our best to get a real podium place next year.