Monday, 13 April 2015

New Legacies

This weekend peaked on Sunday for bike riding. The much anticipated Paris Roubaix, supposed to be a final win for Bradley Wiggins for Sky was dry and hard racing, momentarily split by a train and with Wiggo featuring in an attack with 20miles to go, it was a race that would not see the fairytale ending.

Wiggins couldn’t stay with the final attack of the day, finishing 18th and beaten by Sky team-mate Luke Rowe who claimed eighth behind the winner John Degenkolb.

Almost straight away it was off to the other end of France for the first round of the Downhill World Cup at Lourdes. The women’s race was more competitive than ever, with Tracey Hannah qualifying first but crashing on her run to not challenge winner Ragot and second place Rachel Atehrton. Manon Carpenter was noticeably absent from the podium, perhaps feeling the pressure of being World Cup and World Champion.

Qualifying crashes would set the tone for the men’s race, as Gee Atherton broke his wrist and finished the race well down in the 40s. Aaron Gwin’s crash meant he had to rely on his protected-rider status to race the final and he put in a blistering run very early on in the day. This remained the time to beat all day and solid runs from the top names couldn’t touch him, although it was encouraging to see Josh Bryceland back from his ankle destruction and racing on pace, even if not managing to hit the podium. Second place went to Loic Bruni the local favourite, but possibly feeling the expectation from the top and his run never really recovering from an over-cooked first corner. Surprise of the weekend goes to British Chain Reaction Cycles Rider Michael Jones who came down his first elite race to finish third and bring all eyes on him.

If you’re worried about British performance, don’t. Behind the two top placed finishers were six British riders in a row, even with some of the best known riders missing this week.

See for yourself here.

Talking of top level riding there had been little news form the Olympic course at Hadleigh Castle so I headed out to Essex to see what was going on there, and also enjoy the sunshine. I can report that things look very close to being open. The trails are in place and look pretty fun, with the Olympic lines a definite challenge I’m itching to get on. I didn’t take a bike this time, but people were riding there, and the infrastructure is in place, with carpark pay-machines ready to open and the cafĂ© open, if not yet taking cards. I guess things aren’t 100% ready and there is little control on access, so a number of dog walkers roaming over the trails, which will definitely get dangerous when trails are being thrashed. I’m planning on when to get back to try them out as soon as I can but in the meantime here are some pictures to give you a flavour.

These black-graded “Olympic” lines look like a real technical challenge that I can’t wait to get on.

Here's the map of the area.

And the trails.


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Easter Riding.

The long weekend provided plenty of opportunity for cycling. The pros were in action on the road in Flanders where Geraint Thomas failed to win a race that was marred both by crashes and by accidents involving cars including this nasty one caused by the Shimano neutral service car:

No idea what the car was doing there at all.

Let’s talk mountain biking as well. The British Downhill Series kicked off with wins for Gee Atherton and Manon Carpenter. This year will be fascinating in on the world scene for both the men and women as competition will be fierce, not least between Carpenter and Rachel Atherton. Josh Bryceland was also in action, back from his injury at the end of last year.

You might have also seen an incredible picture of MacAskill at the eclipse, which some people have suggested was faked. Have a look at this to confirm that it wasn’t and is just the latest awesome image from the trials rider.

The progressively better weather of the weekend allowed some of my own riding. Saturday seemed like the perfect time for a bit of exploration and an epic to work out the stresses of the winter. The plan was to combine two rides into a solid 50KM loop up and along the Ridgeway, looping back over some new areas and building on the database of good trails in my head. It was muddy. Really muddy, to the extent that the ride became something of a slog, with flat land feeling like a constnt climb. The upshot was well over four and a half hours ploughing round, two navigation errors, dropped ride directions requiring a back-track and a certain amount of frustration.

Strangely even as I swore and dragged myself and the bike through the gloop by the time I made it back to the car I was more chilled out and happier, although the bike would need some work to discover the frame under the liberal covering of clay.

Having suffered in the mud more than anyone should have to I was up for some unadulterated, well drained fun on Sunday. Swinley was just the ticket for this with sandy soil and maintained trails that are always begging for a good hard thrashing. There are sections hidden in the woods that are amongst my all time favourite trail centre bits as they twist between the trees, climbing and descending as fast as you dare. Even better, I discovered the right way to ride the bits that I managed to miss around the forestry work, even if it meant double back to eventually find it.

Monday dawned as one of those perfect Spring days for riding, cool, but dry and sunny and frankly everything that can be great about the UK. Fighting that feeling of not being bothered I dragged myself out of bed and onto the bike again, and as ever I was so very glad I did. Two pedal strokes in and it was a ride that fell together under my wheels, flowing away, with climbs that I beat the odds to clear and revelled in the weather that hold so much promise for the Summer.

This last ride of the weekend took me to as near as needs be to what I’m claiming as a solid 100KM of riding which is strangely satisfying and lets me head into the week almost ready for anything, albeit with tired legs.


Thursday, 2 April 2015

P-R Preview

It must be spring. Hopefully you too have managed a ride or two home in daylight, there are new bike launches all over the start of the race season for the downhillers and there are some dramatic races in Europe at the classics.

In some ways the early season builds towards next Sunday’s big cobbled showdown at Paris-Roubaix. This year the race seems especially interesting.

Just as I was mentally preparing a post about how Sky Procycling were a solid stage race team at the expense of drama and one-day racing thrills when they go and prove me thoroughly wrong. And this sets up a very interesting Hell of the North. The story was always going to be a strong win for Wiggins in his last race for Sky, where he would fulfil a childhood dream and win on the cobbles. To that end he has been recce-ing the course and working to build a heavier body shape to power over the race. This fairytale might be spoilt by members of his own team.

At the start of the season Ian Stannard smashed through to an awesome solo victory and he is still a definite contender to challenge at Roubaix, but there is clearly even more of a threat form the stunningly on-form Geraint Thomas.

Thomas won at E3 Harelbeke, a tough race in itself and even more impressive as he dispatched his breakaway companions, Stybar and Sagan who would surely have been favourite to take the race in a sprint.

He then followed it up with a third-place after being blown off the road at Gent-Wevelgem:

G is second only to Richie Porte in the UCI World Tour rankings and seems to be finally realising the potential he’s shown for years as a solid, selfless super-domestique, riding for his leaders even when heavily injured. He looks to me like the Classics rider to beat this year.

If nothing else the Sky trio should be a force to be reckoned with in Paris-Roubaix and II have to say my money is on Thomas to claim his place as an honestly talented rider who has earned his wins the hard way. That is, of course, unless he's riding for Wiggins.


Monday, 23 March 2015

Drying Out

The Spring classics are in full flow along with the early season as Richie Porte won a third Paris-Nice, Froome beat Contador to the Ruta del Sol race win, and Quintana won Tirreno-Adriatico, setting all the big names up for a firecracker season.

This weekend was Milan San-Remo, which was a big target for Cavendish. Unfortunately he failed to feature and some gutsy attacking let by Thomas for Sky didn’t result in a win either, with the race going to John Delankolb. Geraint Thomas has had a stunning start to the season, with an overall win at the Volta ao Algarve.

Elsewhere the Spring has dried out the trails beautifully in a matter of weeks and they are fast and skittery rather than the mud fest they were recently. I’ve been riding them.

I managed to connect a missing link in the loop around Hertford and Ware I’d explored between, using the canal towpath on the Lea which gives a car-free and often off-road route straight through the middle of Hertford. After that it was back on the tracks and lanes north of the town which are less technical but great for a fast long blast.

The week later I headed back to the North West of the town and hit the best of the trails up there, with a long run in below town to get warmed up.

The Global Cycling Network has been producing quality video magazine shows about the road scene for a while and they recently launched a Mountain Bike channel headed by Martyn Ashton and Rob Warner.

You can find the channel here, and the preview to when your appetite here:

On the subject of videos, do you want to work here?


Thursday, 5 March 2015

More Spring Classics

While the road pros rode their early spring classics I took the opportunity to ride a couple of my own. I had a weekend to play with and wet ground meant a careful choice of route was needed. I was not about to repeat the clay-clogged nightmare of the Hertfordshire fields.

First-up a blast at Swinley.

You’ll notice I missed a large chunk. This was due to a diversion in place because of forestry work, and I have a feeling I shot onto the trail early rather than sticking the diversion out. I joined a t point 11 which might explain my good (for me) performance on the later sections of the route I’ve ridden many times before. The sandy base soil drains brilliantly and the ride is fun and fast in wet weather as much as it is in the summer.

On Sunday I went for the Mendips, hoping the mud would be restricted to small areas. It really wasn’t as bad as I feared, even as my heart sank heading onto Blackdown through a deep mud section. The ride was a pretty standard loop that I’ve done before many times. Looping round, climbing on fireroad, dropping through the semi legal bits, and then climbing again. This time I went further and dropped into Cheddar on a track I’ve not gone down for years. It was worth it with a rocky blast all the way to the bottom of the gorge. The payoff is either a road slog, or a brutal climb on a bridleway onto the edge of the cliffs opposite and I elected for the latter. Pushing for far too long became worth it as the descent back to the road was another technical challenge.

A long road slog put me back on top of Blackdown and then it was the rollercoaster favourite back to the car.

Want an idea of the best bits? I think this covers it.