Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Champs fortnight

Alongside a report deadline at work I have also been getting used to racing on my new (although not so new now) Whyte bike. First up was the Southern Champs at Wasing where I lined up agaist Sally Bigham (Topeak Ergon) and many of the usual racers. I managed to get off the startline fastest but was soon overtaken as we headed up the fireroad climb at the start of the lap. The course was quite varied including a steep, sandy chute and the usual woody singletrack. My legs were not at their best however and my seatpost slipped part way through and I had no way of putting it up I eventually finished after a quick 1 hour 30 minute race in 3rd position behind Sally in first place and Jo Munden () in second both clearly stronger than me on the day.

The racing was really secondary to the socialising however and it was lovely to catch up with all our friends and hang out in the feed zone creche. Chris had a storming ride to finish 8th in the Expert men and Simon Ernest finished 3rd in the Master Men.

Second up was the rather longer National Marathon Championship race in Selkirk in the Scottish Borders. Doing a few more marathon races this year I was keen to try and get a good result here. Particularly since this was to be the first single loop marathon championship in Britain - EVER! I had planned my nutrition carefully and made sure the bike was set-up correctly (thanks to Andew Cockburn and Chris) especially after the seat-post issue of the preceding week. We travelled up the day before and stayed in an apartment in Innerleithen so we were able to do a quick loop on the Innterleithen 7 Stanes trails as a shake down ride - what a shake down ride!

Race morning arrived sunny but chilly. After a bit of a warm up and a chat with Scottish friends we hadn't seen since 2011 we lined up ready for the rider briefing. We were rather randomly girdded - possibly on whether the organisers had heard of us at all since Jane Nuessli, the no 1 ranked marathon racer in the world, and Tim Dunford also with World Marathon ranking points were not gridded! I was on the third row - but since the start was to be neutral for several miles it was not really going to be an issue.

As the whistle blew everyone jossled for position and we charged up the road. I was quiet comfortable in the bunch but some people wanted to be right up the front and charged past on the other side of the road. As we hit the first fire-road climb my HR was already pretty high so I decided to settle in and ride at my sustainable race pace. All was going well until unfortunately my sadlebag undid itself on the first long bumpy descent scattering my tube, multi-tool and tyre levers on the trail. I had no idea this had happened but one of the other girls around me let me know my car key (attached to the bag) was hanging out and I ought to sort it out. I stopped quickly did up the saddle bag again and carried on knowing I could not afford to puncture now!

A couple of girls had passed me whilst I sorted this out and entering the first bit of singletrack it was clear to me I was able to ride it faster than them. I politely asked itf I could pass as I usually do but I was given no room. I understand this and never expect anyone to let me pass, just request space where possible. Clearly one of the girls took offense at this however and was rather rude to me on the next climb. In race mode I saw red and answered back angry that I was being accused of being aggressive when I was simply doing what is normal practice in XC races - in hindsight it wasn't worth it and I apologise to everyone who had to listen!

The next section was a rather boggy mess which we had to run through and then a nasty climb up to the first of a number of trig points. I was still feeling pretty good, eating every 30 minutes and drinking when I remembered. The next couple of hours is rather a blur but I remember the descents were all really good fun, especially those which were muddy and required 'letting the bike go where it wanted'. I started to cramp after about 3 and half hours which given how much I had eaten and drink I was rather disapointed I still had the issue. For some reason I decided that to get rid of it I should eat a High % zero tablet raw (anyone tempted by this - its not recommended). This sort of worked but it was better when I put some in my water at the next feed!

The climb up to the top of Minch Moor (sp?) was really good - switch backed all the way. I was struggling a bit by this point and still getting cramp butI knew it was basically the last climb (thanks to the man that told me this). This was followed by a great bermed descent where I really noticed the maneuverability of my Whyte 20C. Clearly tired by now I managed to flip myself over the bars into a big muddy puddle towards the bottom of the descent just before feed zone 4. I was absolutely soaked. No problems with the bike however so on I went. A bit further on I saw the distinctive green Assos kit of Verity Appleyard behind me - no time to relax then. I went absolutely as hard as I could for the remaining 45 minutes of riding.

 Informed on crossing the line that I had finished second I was very pleased - although you wouldn't have known it at the time since in my delerium all I could talk about was my lost bike computer which had fallen off on the last descent (thank you to Steve Penny who returned it to me the following week). I also realised later when I went to wash my face that I had gel and mud everywhere - it was not a good look. A few minutes to compose myself again and have a wash down and we stepped onto the podium. This was the first time for me on an elite national championship podium and an amazing feeling after nearly 5 hours of racing.

Congratulations to Jane Nuessli (BMC- Fisher) was the deserved winner of the stripey jersey for 2012 and Verity Appleyard ( who took bronze. Thanks to everyone who has supported me especially Whyte for the awesome bike!

Do unto others...

I try to be mindful of fellow travellers. Cyclists when I am in the car and pedestrians and other cyclists when I am on the bike. It seems to me that most other people move around the world in a completely selfish bubble.

Yesterday I spoke to the mother who walks through the Greenwich foot tunnel every morning to take her child to school. In the lift she thanked people who walked their bike through the tunnel. Why did she feel the need to do this? Because on previous occasions she has had to shelter against the wall of the tunnel whilst cyclists zip past at speeds of around 25 miles an hour. Think how terrifying this must be?! The vision of a mother sheltering her small baby's head made me think again and I now walk rather than cycling slowly, even though in my cyclng shoes I do sometimes slip on the wet floor. Other people just don't seem to notice this. In theory cycling is not allowed in the foot tunnel and in my opinion it shouldn't need to be banned. I can however see, given the complete unawareness of most cyclists, barriers/tight chicanes being erected to make them get off their bikes and walk simply to protect the pedestrians.

In the same way I have had numerous brushes with cars where drivers seem to think it is ok to zip past me at speed with very little space between us. Do they not understand I cannot always go in a straight line, or that their presence itself causes my bike to change direction? The interaction between cyclists and car drivers is well documented and a topic of much current discussion. But the question remains, how can we make drivers aware of how their behaviour effects our cycling? If cyclists are not even aware of their effect on pedestrians what hope do we have of changing the behaviour of car drivers?

Please be careful out there however you travel and think about those more vulnerable people around you. If cyclists gave way for pedestrians; motor cyclists for cyclists and pedestrians; and cars for motor bikes, cycles and pedestrians then surely we would all be much better off?