Friday, 31 August 2012

So we (Lucy and I) are sneaking off for 6 days of mountain biking and general chillin in Wales.
I had a few routes in mind that I've wanted to do in while and then a few 'classics' .
After work we literally threw our kit in the van and headed to do the Blorenge in Abergavenny, just a couple of hours of really enjoyable riding.A perfect way to start.
The next day we headed into the Black mountains and they never fail to put a smile on my face. I love that long grass climb that slowly takes you up the valley and rewards you with a fast rocky descent the other side, follow that with the climb up past Llangors lake snaking up onto the beacons way flying down to Bwlch-What a great day.
The next day we did an easier ride around the mountains surrounding Builth Wells and it rained hard all day so after the ride we settled down in the back of the van with some nice coffee and Lucy had a hot chocolate and we just read and chatted and planned our Elan valley routes  for the next couple of days.

Now I have a habit of getting a bit carried away with route planning, I get a bit excited when I see a page of pink bridleway lines surrounded by green bits and blue lines and I'm a bit old skool and actually like a o.s map over a gps unit anyday.
In  homage to Iron bike I even accidently threw in a nice tough opening hike a bike section. Followed by a splash of bog trotting.the marsh grass was higher than my head and a giant big bummed spider was sat on my chest. Thank godness the next section was excellent rocky and technical with mutiple lines and lots of water.
When I first came to the Elan valley(on a road bike) it made a lasting impression on me it is so beautiful.
Huge rock faces,purple heather, vast dams, red kites soaring above, waterfalls and most importantly sweet natural singletrack one of the best places in Wales to ride.
Had a scary day today massive thunder and lightining storm then in blew a hail storm and we had got stuck in a peat bog on the wrong side of a rising river, it was a think quick get it right moment. We found a barn and ran in through the cow shit then turned round and ran even faster out of it -collie dogs- I'd rather get wet.
We battled on back to the van that was a tough 5 hrs although still appricated the enviroment.

On our final day in the Elan valley we managed to piece toghether numerous excellent sections the camera was out every 5mins and the final descent into rhyader is my favourate natural descent  fast, rocky steps with some roots and spashes and a splendid view all around. Just sheep for company.
On the way home we just had to squeeze in another 'classic' The gap road in Breacon. It is a must on any cyclists list.
We have induldged on nature finest and are full of great views and stuffed with riding happiness.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

IRON BIKE " the worlds hardest mountain bike stage race"
21st- 28th July
Limone Piemonte - Sause d'oulx (Italy)

I was more than apprehensive of this race the stats were intimidating and from what I'd heard this was an epic race with a very high drop out rate , time for me to get stubborn.
The initial prologue was around a classic Italian town. Cobbled , twisty streets with narrow archways .The town had come out in force to watch the spectical of a town prologue.
There was a lot of tanned euro legs on show I felt undertanned and very british!
It was a case of being overly aggresive to get a good position into the tight sections , I've often been accused of being a bull in a china shop so applyed that to my riding style complete with my grr race face. 2 caffine cliff gels hyped me up.
I was happy to wear the leaders jersey for the first proper day..... and what a long day it was.
139k is not overly far It's just the sheer amount of climbing and decending over such harsh , rough terrain that makes it take 12hrs. I was kind of shell shocked after that day ,I questioned how I would cope with this.
Technically it was  quite frankly scary,  now I like hard sketchy climbs and decents but you could actually die if you make a mistake here and being scared uses energy so I had to give myself a good talking too.
"You are wearing the leaders jersey now act like a leader , don't be a wimp".
Day by day,  new day new legs , new head same jersey let's go.
Fabritzio the head Italian kindly told us "there are no danger signs because we would have to put them everywhere it's all dangerous".
The helicopter filming the race came so low you could feel the down draft it added an extra element to the race and he flew that onto small ridges and off  the edges of mountains like it was a toy .
One day after a particularly long hike a bike and by that I mean bike on shoulders scaleing over rocks that I could barely get over for hours , I thought I had missed the 12hr cut off . I was 10k away from the finish at 11hrs and I had pushed so hard on the climbs to try to get the time then at the final feed I was told that it was 1hr 15 mins to the finish.  I was heart broken , how would I face everyone? maybe I just curl up in the woods and not go back. I was angry I' d just lost the race because I hiked to slow I then went over the bars becuase I was trying to take the risks to get me in on time. I had a good cry, like a baby, in the woods in the middle of Italy and I full let it out swear words aswell.
As I exited the woods Ben and Lucy were there "c'mon its not over chin up" I climbed up to the finish and was 9mins out then along came Fabritzio "your in on time" . The fastest men took an hour longer so they added an extra 1hr to the time -RELIEF!
Food , bed , can't speak too tierd.
I woke up in the night from the pain in my legs even lying down hurts now, Lucy's first job was too cut my blister 's and try and patch them up , I had to switch the pain off and block it out.
Every day I had to remind myself to look at the view and really take in this amazing enviroment this is something special and I am so lucky to be part of it but hell it hurts.
Riding as fast as you can down a mine shaft between the tracks in the dark is a crazy buzz . At the entrance stood a geniune miner complete with a proper caving head lamp "Attentiona Attentiona" pointing at the cross section of tracks. Where the tracks meet you have to try and hop the junctions  they were very slippy but you could not jump too high , the mine was low , although I am short so had extra head height. What a rush, then you could see a tiny speck of light ,the exit quick quick. Ironically the fastest man and woman through the mine was Matt Page and I who are both welsh! All the brits placed in the top 10 in the mines and we all had exposure lights need I say more.
I started to measure the climbs in hours not km's as the terrain was so hard that I couldn't relate my usual average speed to the distance plus when I was on foot I was frustratingly loosing time.
Spending the night at 2400m at a refuge was a real treat although to get there we had a 5am wake up call raceing started at 7am I arrived at the refuge around 4.30pm so it was classed as an easier day,my legs said otherwise. It felt like we were inside the mountain it surrounded us towering above us, it glowed in the evening light , the jangle of the cow bells ,the bark of a pair of rouge dogs, wild long haired horses and us- tired driven mountain bikers all huddled in this theatre of mountain bike dreams.A moment of clarity during a week of pain driven delusion this is why I ride.
The next morning we knew this day was going to be brutal. The first timed section was a descent of 4000 steps down a fort. When your legs and arms are already sore you just dred the thought of these stone steps.
My eyes were bouncing around in my head I could hardly focus dud dud dud dud dddddddddddd (the noise of wheels clattering down) I just had to walk some of them they were such long sets you had no where to scrub your speed and the turns between each set were 90degrees (check out Matt Pages GO pro footage on you tube).
Later in the day we had to take a chairlift,as I sat there I thought "Blimey I wish I had a safety bar" then I looked at the guy behind he had one , I looked up and there was my safety bar "Shit,keep very still" I couldn't reach it so it went from a serene relaxing chairlift ride to don't swing ,don't move don't look down, get me off ride!
We then had to descend a proper Dh track near Sestrere I adopted the hang your butt off the back position and held on for dear life , I wasn't very graceful but I was over taking people so I must have been going resonably quick I recklessly over took a 4 person bunch and thought I better not get too cocky , it takes a close shave to remind you that you shouldn't get complacent in these surroundings . Thankfully I was getting a lot of grip from my Racing Ralphs in the berms so I knew I could trust them when things got"loose".
Then came CHABERTON 3000m climb up to a fortress it looked so far away. I grinded it out for what seemed liked a lifetime, loose rock forced you to stay seated which made it even harder as I wanted to stand but needed to weight the back down. As I began hiking to the top I could see and feel the storm moving in , the wind became violent and the icy rain hammered into my face " c'mon then is this all you got you will not beat me" I shouted at the mountain every one had there heads down it was hurting us all.
I caught a brief glimpse of the surrounding beauty but I was time to get off this exposed mountain before this turned for the worse it was getting dangerous quickly .Dropping off wet loose shail when your legs are folding from exhaustion is very difficult, keeping your focus when you just want too close your eyes takes something deep inside you to push on .
The day was not over we had to descend a gorge, all the steps had colapsed into the gorge so we had to gingerly balance over crumbling rock and cross delapedated log bridges.The final climb back to Sestrere was so painful I was in a bunch of the 3 and someone called a sprint - well why not.
The only time I can win a sprint is after 12 hrs it hurt -that was one of the hardest days riding of my life.
The final day included another lively DH track which I absoulutly loved followed by a steep long climb the next descent was super steep and twisted through the woods caressing some roots with splatter of rocks to keep you switched on. These descents are as hard on the body as the climbs and they scare the hell out of me but I just can't help but enjoy the feeling they give me.
As I climbed that final climb into Sause D'Oulx with a motor bike lead in I felt I had conquered the world.
To finish this event took more than I ever knew I had , to win it was just a dream . This event is more than just a bike race it will take you to the edge and throw you off then dare you to climb back for some more.
The hardest mountain bike raid in the world is a big claim- a justified
claim for sure.

Less than 50% of people entered will finish this.
It is EPIC.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Wiggle Mountain Mayhem 2012
Mountain Mayhem has the prestigous title of the largest 24hr bike race in the UK with literally 1000's of riders pitting themselves against each other.
This year I had the privalage of being in a team with Matt Page, Josh Ibbot and Rich Rothwell together we formed team Wiggle / Exposure in the expert catergory.
Due to the adverse weather conditions, tyre choice would play a crutial part on lap times.
I used 1.5inch Schwalbe Black Shark mud tyres and they were faultless cutting through the mud and holding in the sloppy corners .
Matt lead us out with a solid run and a 1st swift lap. Already the ground was sodden and with such heavy traffic it was only going to get worse. Full suss out, hardtail in.
Josh and rich continued the theme with consistant laps, we all knew that these conditions favoured us as we are all 24hr racers used to slogging it out through the night.
At 1am when Rich arrived in the pit we didn't even recognise him all we could see was his white teeth it was hilarious and then I realised I would be out in it soon enough.
Ben (mechanic), Nia (Matt's amazingly understanding wife) and Anne the physio ( all worked  incredably hard. cleaning the bikes every lap and Anne worked on each of us every lap, it was such a treat having such a professional and efficient team everything was ready without needing to utter a word, I couldn't think of a better team to work with.
I was glad of the heavy rain because wet mud is better than slightly claggy mud, I am now offically a mud connoisseur, sometimes the river of mud is a better choice than the obvious line.
Every member of our team just got on with it, I guess together we have a fare few years of expierience when it comes to managing pain and pushing on, we just knew we could rely on each other- no worries, there are no quitters here.
thanks to the exposure lights riding at night was great they stood up to the insesant downpours and lumps of crap.
As the sun rose the nights deluge was very apparent the track was as wide as a motor way with riders trying to find dry lines, some puddles were hub deep and all the roots were submerged beneath a carpet of brown sludge, cascades of brown water slid down the hill side it was carnage, it was a bit funny really.
Josh wrapped things up nicely with the final lap and his tall slender figure slid around tthe final corner and we all stood in the finishing straight cheering him on through the finish.
 finishing 3rd, we could leave content . Everyone who stuck it out then had to face the mountain of dirty washing ahead that in itself was a test of endurance!
Happy days ;)

Monday, 28 May 2012

World 24hr Champs 2012

When you stand on that line side by side knowing that what lies ahead will test you, it creates a nervous tension that rises up out of your heart and you can barely control it. You force your heart rate to stay low and you respect your fellow racers wishing them the best but wanting yourself to be the best .

Standing next to Jessica Douglas I certainly had major respect for her,When I first met Jessica in Canberra I didn't even know you could ride that hard for 24hrs, I say met her but all i saw was the back of her the numerous times she lapped me! that inspired me to try harder.
I thought I 'd just have a go at sticking with her for a while, watch her lines, watch her cadence, see where she takes a drink. I mean this is one person who knows how to get it right, to me it was like playing football with Beckham sooo exciting.
Those first 5 laps we both just got on with it, she was smooth. We were flowing and it felt good.  I went too hard into some bermed switchbacks and the ground was a bit loose, it was a silly mistake and I lost the front wheel it slid out and I had a lie down on some rocks.

Just a few cuts but all good, swapped bikes and had my hanger replaced. I started to question my ability to be able to hold this speed so did a couple of slower laps, that was my second mistake .
The coarse was steep and challenging in the day so we entered the night with apprehension. I love the night it cools off and with exposure lights its like riding in the day.
Sun sets and sun rises are so special in these moments especially as we had the Italian riviera as our back drop. Despite the turn in the weather, thunder and showers, i was still warm. my schwalbe racing ralphs delt with the wet roots and rock incredably well performing predictably, just what I neeeded. Jane Chadwick and I must have been the only two who were glad of the britishesque weather! The rain also limited the dust which was giving me a consistant nose bleed- not a good look-looked like we had been boxing not bicycling.

As the sun rose I felt good "stay strong rick, its what you do now that counts, every one who says no show them what you got, empty yourself here, don't feel sorry for yourself just get on with it".
No matter what I put in Jessica stayed strong and sat in the hot seat(1st position) nearly the whole time it soon became clear that i wouldn't catch her, no matter how many caffine cliff gels I ate, but hey I had a great time trying!
That final lap I ticked off section by section counting down all the steep climbs and just one last time I savoured each epic view knowing that what I had worked for all winter was almost coming to the end.
Crossing that line is a feeling i savour every time. All over I hurt but I still have a wry smile knowing that one day I want to win this it would feel so good, how do I get there?
Major thank you to Lucy my long suffering girlfriend, Shane Dickenson (mechanic) long suffering friend, THE Andy Chadwick and congrtulations to the rest of the almighty british riders.