Big Guns

Bristol South held an open 25 Mile time trial today near Falfield. It’s often a quietish race with about 30 or so riders and can be a good opportunity to place highly. For some reason a large field of 70 took to the start with several very quick roadmen hidden in the pack. The silver medallist at the junior National Championships in last year, Seb Baylis, looked resplendent in his Madison Genesis team kit. The team DS is one of the legendary British roadmen of the past decade, Roger Hammond. Seb emerged out of the MDCC club where Colin Lewis cracks the whip and Tiernan-Locke cut his teeth. .

Also at the sharp end was Will Bjergfelt; an international mountain biker turned roadman, now employed by MG Maxfuel and riding the tour series and premier calendar.

It’s unusual to see such established riders at a local time trial. I spoke to Will afterwards, he’s very friendly. He started to tell me about his training regime after I mentioned how i like to ride before and after work. He does the same, but with some minor differences.

My hard training day: 16 miles before work, 25 miles after with a couple of hills thrown in at a 17mph average.

Will’s hard training day: 45 miles before work, 90 miles after, up and down the Mendips and all over the place at ridiculous speeds.

I started to feel slightly unwell but i think i managed to hide my incipient queasiness. Will came past me during the race on the two lap section of the course. He was putting out the power on the flat and then easing off on the climbs before absolutely smashing it again. It was interesting to watch, i normally just annihilate myself all the way round. He turned in a 54 something, Seb Baylis did a mid 55 along with Ben Anstie, and I got pipped by one second by Richard Spink who had an awesome ride, turning in a 56.06.

The U18 is a very tough course, rolling up and down and quite exposed. I like it, but it’s a challenge and going under the hour is quite a feat. I was aiming for a 57 so felt pleased to get a PB. Perhaps I could have gone a bit harder, it’s difficult to know. Next time I’ll have to aim for a 55. All of this is rendered academic by Rob Pears’ startling 52.47. This is the sort of time people look to nail at the Welsh course, not on an undulating (800 feet of climbing), draggy, lumpen road surface near Bristol. It’s possibly the best ride I’ve seen outside of Hutch’s two comp records last year.

All in all, a very fast day. In fact, 2 and a half minutes quicker for me than when I rode there in February. I’ll settle for being within spitting distance of the professional riders.

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Scratch

The startsheets are coming thick and fast. This weekend is the Severn 25 and the weather looks and feels unspeakably cold. It will take all of my mental fortitude to make my way out to the push and ride this event. I have no desire to tackle the U17 in minus temperatures. However, it’s a key part of my training for the more serious stuff in March. we shall see.

Speaking of the more serious stuff, the startsheet for the Chippenham Hilly is out. Last year it was run off in the kind of temperatures that did for Captain Oates. Everyone is hoping for milder weather. The big beasts are out in force: including big Jeff and big Rob. Both are national champions.

Big Rob, the fastest dentist (and 49 year old) anywhere in all of the world

I scanned the list of riders and had a moment of genuine panic when i couldn’t initially see my name in amongst the field. I’d expected it to see it with the seeds in the middle somewhere but it wasn’t there. A closer inspection showed I had somehow, for some reason, been made the scratch rider. Normally I wouldn’t mind and there’s always a bit of latitude with these things, but on this occasion I was unnerved to be ranked (ostensibly) ahead of the two top guns. I asked the organiser why this might be. He’s a really nice chap. Apparently he calculated the speed of various riders by using a formula that factors up results in a hilly 24 by 1.16 in order to level the time with a fast 25. This was new to me, i’d always gone on the previous year or like for like times.

All of which doesn’t change the fact that I’m the scratch rider. This has happened before but generally it’s because I happen to be the fastest rider on paper and in the event. I’m looking forward to it and hope that I get a good result. There’s no genuine pressure because everyone knows the real order of things and that i’m not as quick as the seeding suggests.

I’m looking forward to the first real hilly. It’s time for the real racing to start. I’m also excited to see lots of BSCC on the startsheet.

 

 

A Small Good Thing: John Kempe

This year’s Burrington Hill Climb sees an enormous field of 72 riders taking part. In amongst them, taking up a large part of the field, are 28 members of the Bristol South Cycling Club. It’s the culmination of a season where new members have come into the club and really helped to forge the identity of the South as a club that rides. Whether it’s road racing, the classic league, time trials, the ever-popular club run or hill climbs, Bristol South Cycling Club Members are there at the front in the red and gold.

John Kempe in Hill Climb mode for the red and gold

Many of those members have come into the club because of the warm welcome offered to new cyclists. They recognise the camaraderie of cycling and see that the fellowship of the road is alive and well in the West Country. This is what makes a cycling club different to all other organisations: the fellowship of the road. I have close friends who have joined this year and ridden in road races. They were diffident and initially unsure of what joining a club entailed, perhaps even fearful of the implied ‘loss of identity’, a vague worry that a cycling club might be a borg-like collective that thrives in mediocrity of the masses, rather than individual freedom of expression. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Within the club there is no hierarchy, only the formalities of doing things by committee.  This exists in the background and functions only to uphold the name and identity of the club and to support the pledge made in a Totterdown coffee tavern on Hill Avenue in 1893 – constancy of purpose is the secret of success. It is an amateur affair with strong roots in Bedminster and it is an inextricable and fundamental part of the social fabric of the city.

Two days ago our club president John Kempe died. I ride regularly with his son, Dan, and his grandson also races with the club on occasions. Photos of John racing show a bike rider in full flow: souplesse, elegance and speed. In 1961 he was a part of a Bristol South CC team that came first in the National BBAR competition, with Chris Holloway coming third in the individual event and Jeff Fry the third counter.

John Kempe: souplesse

Every club has at least one John Kempe; a figure who lives and breathes for cycling, who is both the witness to and a catalyst for the ceaselessly benevolent effect the sport can have on people’s lives. I’m not sure John Kempe would hold himself up as a paragon of virtue, or any other kind of saint, he was someone who did what he loved and gained great enjoyment from doing it and from seeing other people enjoy it.

style and panache

It’s easy to fall into a cyclical way of thinking in these fickle modern times, that everyone has a book in them, that everyone has 15 minutes of fame, that we all need to achieve something stellar in order to create a lasting impression and somehow overcome our insubstantial and omnipresent mortality. It’s the opposite. No-one is destined for greatness, the only thing we are destined to do is live and then die. But there is a profound and significant meaning in making small but positive differences to other people’s lives, and it’s something I try and remember. We strive to make a significant difference or to have some kind of lasting and profound impact, when in reality the profound impact we have is often not even noticed by us when we do it, it’s something small and almost insubstantial, it’s the accumulation of small things and the positive and lasting legacy we can have on others, both in our lifetime and outside of it.There’s a Raymond Carver story called ‘A Small Good Thing’ that articulates this kind of thing better than I can.

Timelessness

John Kempe achieved many impressive things. His legacy lies in the sustained success of the club and in the shared values of each person who joins. This year’s record entry for the Hill Climb is a fitting tribute and I will be riding with his presence uppermost in my mind. As John Legge put it succinctly, ‘he was a true gent’.

Hell Climb

Dundry Hill sits silently on the outskirts of Bristol, luring unsuspecting cyclists to their doom. It offers up 4 different ascents of varying degrees of steepness. The climb up from Queens Road is the beast of the litter. It’s known simply as ‘the steepside’, but is also called ‘Broad Oak Hill’, and it pitches up alarmingly. East Dundry is reputedly even worse, with a scarred and pitted road surface and a savage gradient. I have fond memories of trying to ride up it on a 60″, but being unable to sit down because it was too steep, and unable to stand up because of the most ridiculous wheelspin. It didn’t help that the tyre tracks looked like they’d been carved by chariots and the road was smeared with cowshit. In stark contrast, the ‘easiest’ takes in Highdridge road and climbs gently for about a mile before throwing in three short, sharp ramps and a nasty bend. This last one was the setting for an atypical ‘guerilla’ hill climb this afternoon, laid on by the mighty Hamilton Wheelers.

Tim Wilkey of the Hamilton Wheelers. The bins in bishopsworth are wifi enabled.

It attracted around 45 riders, divided into 3 categories: pros, bros and girls. To qualify for the pros you had to have ridden either a CTT or BC race at some point. It’s a loose interpretation of the word ‘pro’, but with my palmares (audible chortle) I was happy to ride with the other ringers. It was essentially a hillclimb with riders off at minute intervals. There were some added bonuses, including some hand-ups along the way.

Hand ups. Bank of Hell.

 

This is a great idea and tends to be something you see more at cyclo-race races. The Muddy Hell event at Herne Hill has a shortcut which includes the enforced imbibing of a shot of tequila. Incidentally, Muddy Hell was responsible for some of the most inspired and impressive fancy dress bike handling ever seen.

I was off near the end with the other pseudopros (sounds like something taken as part of a TUE). The weather was lovely, in fact it’s been a particularly lush weekend to be out on the bike. Despite yesterday’s races, or perhaps in spite of, I felt really good and the legs were working well. I went out fairly steadily on the first bit where there isn’t much of a gradient, there’s only so much you can do with a 65″ gear before the bike transforms into torture device. I waited until the left turn for strawberry lane, maybe a bit before, then i went full gas. I grabbed a dollar and felt really pleased with myself for doing so, then carried on up to the finish where a stonking great crowd had amassed to watch the riders. There was a surge of noise and it was all over in about 5 minutes and 40 seconds.

Mark kept his race face on. Not for him the indignity of racing for socks.
No such issue for me. I wanted that dollar. And those socks.

Lucy Walker absolutely blasted up to take the girls’ prize with a savage 7 minutes something. She will go well on Burrington. Dan Alford took the bros’ category with a pre-meditated assault on the climb and a time which would have got second in the pros, coming in with a 6.45 or thereabouts.

BSCC chairman Dave Braidley looking resplendent in his ‘Hell Climb’ jersey

It was a fantastic end to the weekend and great fun. Events like these, run slightly surreptitiously and open to anyone, represent the first steps in competitive cycling for many people and it was clear that some people were getting the bug. In fact, my first race of sorts was a hilly alley cat three stage thing in Bath. Having had some completely unexpected success i figured i may as well enter CTT hill climb. I then had a further bout of completely unexpected success. I have had three years since where competitive cycling has been a defining feature of my life and a constant source of happiness and wonderment.

Just when you’re thinking about hitting up Wiggle for a winter gilet, you win this badass piece of technical fabric. BEST PRIZE EVER.

 

The Hell Climb is grass-roots and community based, not because that’s necessarily what Tim, Ed and Christian set out to do, but just because it is. Above all, it’s hugely enjoyable and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Right now, with a miasma of deceit, lies and denial swirling around the professional sport in all its forms, grass-roots and amateur cycling is where it’s at. A huge pile of real-life kudos to everyone who rode today.

Hup, Hup, Hup.

 

 

Etape De La Défoncé

Adjective

défoncé m. (f. défoncée, m. plural défoncés, f. plural défoncées)

  1. (slang) fucked, wasted, high (on drugs)

Verb

défoncé m. (f défoncée, m plural défoncés, f plural défoncées)

  1. Past participle of défoncer

Yesterday was the final stage for two of the most important stage races in living memory. The Tour De France and the Etape De La Défoncé. Unfortunately i couldn’t ride both so i opted for the latter. I came home after the stage race to watch the former, and marvelled at Wiggins performing the leadout, giving it a flick of the elbow on the last corner of the Champs-Élysées, leaving Cav to power up the straight to take his 4th win in a row. Later on the podium, Wiggo unleashed another impeccably timed one-liner; “We’re just going to draw the raffle tickets now”.

Cav and Wiggo get ready for the Etape de la Defonce
Wiggo re-enacts his fist pump for the EDD crowd.

I’ve been utterly overwhelmed by this year’s Tour. There’s not an awful lot more to say. My Mother rang me to discuss Both Wiggo’s and Cav’s victories yesterday. My Mother-in-Law cites Bradley Wiggins as her new hero. Everyone at work is talking about it. It’s on the front cover of The Times as a special wraparound poster – there is nothing else apart from the spectacular sight of the yellow jersey in full flight.

astounding

Whilst the Etape De La Défoncé may not have seared itself into the collective consicousness of a nation in quite the same way, it has left an indelible impression on the psyche of the participating peloton. It’s a terrific race, but pretty tough on the legs. I felt much stronger yesterday and rode much more conservatively at the start, despite us defending a slim lead. I rode in the bunch and did everything i could to avoid expending any energy.

John forgoes the team talk in favour of a team ‘stare’ instead.

John was in yellow and having a great race, things were getting spicy when suddenly a car came across a roundabout and he swerved onto the raised lip, knocking his gears out and ending his race. One of the amazing things about racing in Wales is that the Marshalls and NEG have the power to stop traffic. This leads to all but closed roads. Occasionally someone squeaks onto the course and causes problems. The NEG do an amazing job.

the red and gold reflected in the glorious weekend sunshine

When it got to the first major climb the race just exploded; riders started going backwards. One of the Kingston Wheelers took it on from way out for the time bonus and it just went mental. I found a tempo and rode back across. For the first time in a road race i found myself overtaking lots of riders and holding my own right at the front of the peloton. I began to bridge across to the main group, riding cautiously on the descent before tacking back across again, meeting up with Tom Ilet who was having a terrific race in the red and gold. Christian also was hurting himself recklessly and doing damage to the bunch in the process. It was exciting. I then went for the little ring to spin over the top and ride on with the break. It didn’t quite work out, the chain unshipped and wedged between the seat stay and the chainring. I couldn’t flick it back on so had to stop. It took me ages to get it back on, by which time riders had come flooding past and the break had gone. I was left in a futile chase across the valley to try to get back on, but didn’t make it. Again, i thought i must have been a long way down, but there were big groups behind me on the road. I got in with one of them, but wasn’t quite on their rhythm so succeeded only in disrupting their smooth chaingang until i managed to get in sync. Then my chain came off AGAIN. And that was it, i came home further back.

Strada Cycles holding onto yellow… by one second

It was a missed opportunity really; i wouldn’t have won or anything, but i definitely could have ridden for/with Tom and Christian and held on at the front, there were a number of big climbs to go. Tom took 5th overall and Christian bagged points to move up to 3rd cat. Sam had a tasty crash, but luckily somersaulted into a soggy and grassy ditch, rather than the unforgiving tarmac.

I’ll have to go back next year, it’s a brilliant race and is amazingly well-organised by Will Pring and his team of volunteers. I went from the euphoria of the stage win, to the slough of despond that is getting dropped, then back to the giddy heights of mixing it up on the climbs and seeing other people go backwards, then back down again, before finishing on a high because of the camaraderie and support from all the riders in the race. Riding with the Strada chaps was a blast, they are gentlemen all.

It was an amazing weekend to be riding a stage race with a rider in yellow.

Tomorrow We Ride

Road racing on the bike is a very different beast to time trialling. This is a truism, but it certainly becomes apparent very quickly when you make the leap into the dark side. Today was the Bristol South Road Race, taking in 8 laps of Stowey Hill near Bishop Sutton, with an 80 strong field. It was very hot indeed. I took one bottle, which may or may not have been an error. There was a KOM competition on Stowey Hill; on the first lap i sat back and let it go, waiting to warm up a bit. On the second lap i moved to the front and rode hard, and may or may not have been pipped on the line by an Exeter Uni rider who was full of beans. He was on the right and i was looking to the left – another schoolboy error.

After the climb i sat up a bit, only for a team-mate to come through and ride hard on the front each lap. I didn’t really want to ride hard on the front but couldn’t really stop him. He got in a bit of a ding-dong with the Exeter Uni rider about his overshoes. It was like two bald men fighting over a comb. ‘Overshoes are illegal’, said the Exeter guy. ‘They’re aerodynamic’ said the team-mate. I don’t think it makes the slightest bit of difference either way, and i don’t think the scrutineers could really give two shits, but i kept my counsel. Nevertheless, it was typical of the dialogue in the bunch that crops up from time to time for no particular reason. Where’s Le Blaireau when you need him.

On the third lap i held back a bit and then moved through the bunch to line up for another pop at the climb and was feeling confident. A large car with an even larger caravan came round the corner – the front part of the bunch passed through ok, but as it rounded the corner it nailed first one rider then the others fell like dominos. The combined sound of aluminium caravan meets carbon fibre meets skin and bone was jarring and the crash left a scene of chaos. There were 3 BSCC riders taken out immediately and one Bath Uni rider, possibly some others. The front of the bunch slowed up and we neutralised the race. I rode on ahead to check with the marshals at the top of the climb what was happening, they told us to race on and listen out for the commissaire. As i passed the message up from near the very back – after talking to a fairly damaged looking rider and suggesting he might retire -the bunch got rolling again, but one rider took the ‘opportunity’ to attack and immediately rode off the front. i was at the back at this point having only just got back on. I was distinctly unimpressed. I guess it depends how you see the race and what you think is acceptable or not acceptable, and how much you want your points. As we looped back around the course past the crash site the section was neutralised and there was a rider lying on the road in a BSCC jersey. This was enough for me. Without even thinking about it I climbed off the bike and went back to the HQ. A number of other riders did the same. On each subsequent lap the race was neutralised past the crash, which was essential but effectively prevented there being a real selection or a timely break and meant the race came down to a bunch sprint – anathema to climbers like me.

In hindsight, the race was fantastically well organised and the commissaires have to make a tough decision when there is a crash on a looped circuit. They chose to continue, which was probably, on balance the right one. I chose to climb off, which was also probably the right one.

Lessons learnt from Rocky 1 to Rocky 5

–       Road racing requires a bit of a freaky mindset.

–       it can be hard to summon up the motivation to ride tempo in a bunch that undulates and shifts like the stinging tentacles of a portugese man of war, and it’s particularly hard to ride hard to the finish if you struggle with some of the more existential questions that tend to pop up in the race; i.e why are we riding when three riders have just been reduced to angles of limbs and blood on the tarmac by an enormous motor caravan? i struggle in that respect.

–       if you’re going to road race then that means riding 3rd and 4th category races. That means crashes, smashes and the pain of fractured limbs, torn face and mouth, road race and abrasions, missing teeth, broken bike parts and torn clothing. Frequently.

Lastly, it made me yearn for the simple pleasures of riding my bike in the countryside with friends, connecting with the landscape around me and enjoying the flow activity in all its infinite glory.

nb: i’ve edited this post a bit after going out for a walk in the evening sunshine. it’s softer than it was.

Up the League! (The Bath Cycle Races)

it had to happen sooner or later. Finally, at the ripe old age of 35 years young, i made it onto the start sheet of a massed start road race. i couldn’t escape the need to get some bunch racing experience ahead of the BSCC road race at the end of the month, so signed up for the Bath Cycle Races, a short blast around Victoria Park with 40 or so other crazed roadies. I’ve entered others but generally been rejected – i didn’t get a ride at Mike Rutty or Betty Pharoah. it’s been quite frustrating really.

the weather was perfect for it, not much wind and glorious evening sunshine. it could have been a touch warmer, but there you go. putting it simply, it was a brilliant event and i had a whale of time. i rode hard on the front and really enjoyed being in the bunch and mixing it up. Time trialling consists of getting your head down and riding fast until you’ve finished. Road racing is similar, but with a thousand other considerations at any one point in time, running through your head in an infernal internal monologue. Early on I was worried about being too far back as the bunch got moving, then i was worried about being on the front for a while, even though i quite enjoyed it, then i was worried about slipping back and losing wheels, then i stopped worrying and just kept riding hard. I had an idea about what wheels to follow so when Mike Kiss went i decided to go after him, thinking we might get the gap. It was a real laugh, but very intense. I had no problem with the surges and this is generally seen as a pretty full-on race. in fact, the fastest lap of the evening was done by the 3/4 rather than the elites. i think because it’s half an hour everything thinks they have to pedal like madmen, there’s no time for an ebb and flow, it’s utterly relentless. My kind of race.

One of the reasons i’ve not done any roadracing as yet is because i don’t want to crash, and it’s a well-know fact that 3/4, or particularly 4 road races are crashier than a demolition derby. the bike handling on show at Bath was pretty sturdy and people were generally polite. i was expecting to be shouted at and abused by foaming roadies. it didn’t happen. It’s ironic therefore, that i managed to crash out in my first road race. When chasing Mike out of the corner he grounded a pedal and wobbled like a plate of jelly. i was accelerating out of the hairpin and had nowhere to go, apart from left and into the kerb, and then over the handlebars.

it’s crazy how one minute you are absolutely on the rivet, the next second you’re on the floor, with heartrate still working at around 175bpm, muscles warmed up, adrenalin coursing through the bloodstream. i took some road rash and am pretty sore today, i couldn’t get out of the saddle to ride uphill. in a fit of funny arrogance i thought to myself ‘this is how regular commuters feel every day’.

the pictures of the crash are completely hilarious. they have extracted no sympathy, only riotous laughter. I’m actually flying. there was another crash at the end, a chap looked to have the win, looked over his shoulder and went down quite hard. Kieran and Christian were also riding for BSCC, with Christian taking 7th for some more points. I’ll be back next week. i think.