Bristol South CC and West District legend George Keene was telling a story at the bar the other day regarding a near miss. He narrowly failed to add the divisional CX championships to his lengthy palmares.
Back then cyclocross was filthier than a wet weekend in Rhyl; the various events took place on working farms and agricultural estates and riders spent far more time walking than riding.
As he told it, he was in the lead until the fateful moment when he somehow collided with a pig. Steve nearly spat his beer out.
The U7B is my local course. i’ve ridden it considerably more times than any other ten course I know, especially if you factor in club events. Over the past three years I’ve steadily improved through a combination of fitness, form, equipment and pacing. In May 2010 I managed a 22.37 for 7th place in an event won by Jeff Jones. I was 2 minutes adrift.
Today i managed a 20.45 for 2nd place behind the same rider and the gap was 35 seconds. Jeff is the 3rd fastest rider over 10 miles in the history of the event. He has recorded a 18.09, behind Bradley Wiggins with a 17.57 and Michael Hutchinson with a 17.45.
It’s clear progress and I feel pleased with everything. The U7B is a tough course with some really draggy climbs, more so than your average, but i really like it. It’s honest as the day is long and only one person – Stuart Dodd – has managed to go under 20 minutes, with a 19.58 or thereabouts. I’ve gradually worked out how to pace the effort and when i turn up to ride i’m generally relaxed and in a positive frame of mind; this undoubtedly helps. Getting under 21 minutes is generally considered to be very rapid and it doesn’t happen very often. Open events on the course are frequently won with mid 21s.
One of the more amazing things about today was the return of George Keene. He has had an enforced layoff after breaking his collarbone. He couldn’t use the extensions because he was still suffering from the residual after-effects of the injury, but rode round in 30 minutes for a 20mph average. He is 80 years old. George appears in the clips in the two previous posts to this one. He is legendary figure and an inspiration.
Chew Valley Lake is a popular circuit for training; it’s relatively near Bristol for one thing and you can nip down, do as many laps as you want to get to the relevant distance, then nip back again. It’s an undulating circuit which adds an element of difficulty. The only issue is getting there and back involves chew hill and dundry, two of the more beastly ascents north of the Mendips.
The Classic League uses the lake for the bulk of the summer months and on Wednesday i managed to make it back down for the first time this season. In my last ride of last year i scraped under the 19 minute barrier with an 18.59, which works out at a 26mph average. This year i aimed to improve it by a little bit. It wasn’t a particularly fast evening, there was a minor headwind for a bit then cross with a nice tailwind section that helped keep the speed up. The course is short, only 8.3 miles. However, with the hills it’s a curious effort to judge, there is around 300ft of climbing crammed in. This doesn’t seem like a lot but it’s definitely a sporting course.
You have to stay resolutely focused and make sure that at every turn of the pedals you are putting through as much power as you can. There is no room for any drift, those points in the race where your mind wanders and you start thinking about dinner, or where those things might have got to that you are sure you left in the bike tool box but have now disappeared. It’s a tough one, but i managed it. After about 6 miles i realised i was on for a pretty quick time and should go under 19 minutes without too much bother, so i stepped on the gas, but I also eased off on the deadly corners in bishop sutton, and still had enough to stop the clock at 18.25, shaving 34 seconds off last year’s PB. I managed to bag 18 points in the handicap competition because i’d put so much daylight between me and the other riders, in this case beating Andy Legge into second by around 45 seconds. It’s my biggest points tally in ages and it didn’t even need a comp record. I was 15 seconds off the course record set by Rob Pears (who else?) about 6 years ago.
This weekend is the Bristol South CC Road Race. I’d be lying if i said i wasn’t nervous and anxious about this race. I have very little road race experience and also have a 100% crash record. I haven’t raced at a distance over 34 miles yet this year and rarely do more than 18 miles in training. The race is about 55 miles. It does have 8 ascents of Stowey Hill though, which is sure to test the legs. I’m currently undecided as to whether to ride the C-Bomb or the ‘Austin Allegro-Brown Condor’, as Simon Williams recently called it. The Condor is making funny noises, again. I’m thinking that it’s going to be the C-Bomb. It’s what it’s designed for, after all.
On a different note, several generations of the Keene clan were out in force on account of it being George’s 80th birthday. George is an inspiration to all at the club and has been riding for just about all of his 80 years. His name is on several of the club cups from the 1950s right through to the present. And he is still riding.