Career break or Bust..

9D4BDB3D-C3B3-4F7D-9ADC-BA322CA5B680There has been rather a lot going on lately… number one thing is IM FREE…!!! NO MORE WORK FOR A WHILE!!!!!!

You could say I’m having a mid-life crisis at 39 and a bit, or you could say I’m a lucky son of a gun.. But one this is for sure I’m going to make the most of my career break and I’m  bounding into every day like a puppy with a new chew toy.

It started a couple of weeks ago with a 360 mile bike pack to Battle on the Beach which is a fantastic race, in fact its Britans only beach race and a mass start of nearly 1000 riders at full chat down a flat beach. The night race added a new element in the addition of spring tides that a lot of us thought we were headed for hard sand when infact it soon dawned on us that people were shouting turn right as encouragement.. because we were actually in the sea… BOTB is always a good opportunity to catch up with people after a winter of hibernation in 50 layers of clothing, or far too much Zwift. The ride over went well and I feel my touring legs should be in the post shortly. Thanks to A Cycling for putting on a great event. After the long ride over it was nice to open the taps up and get the legs stretched even though they felt as empty as a politician promise.

A short hiatus after this for my last week at work. Two days and two night shifts then nothing until October. I’m scared and privileged. But I’m excited.

The next weekend saw a return to Wales (this time in the van), and the Scott MTB Marathon in Builth Wells which is another cracker of an event. This year dry and fast. I had decided before this one that it was going to be a social, as I’m going to have so much time on my own this year. I spent the night ride with a friend having a giggle round the long route. Then the long day as a proud husband when Mrs Teaboy completed her first Full length Marathon looking like she never got out of breath.

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So, two great events in 2 weeks isn’t bad.

Week 3 would be pushing it wouldn’t it?

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The Dales Divide is a new event this year and the brain child of Chris Ellison, taking in some of the best-off road riding between Arnside and the east Yorkshire coast in a self-supported bonanza of trail riding over the Easter weekend. It is a 370 mile mainly off-road coast to coast loop.

My bike had just had its last set of refinements made ready for America. The bars cut down a bit, the in-line water filter sorted and most noticeably a new set of stiffer wheels from the maestro Paul at PT cycles. They have completely changed the handling of the bike for the better with a 30mm rim and a 2.6 ikon .They are stiff and comfy, actually handling the weight of the bike better than the platform I have been using before. I could throw it around a bit too much on the descents and popped the tyre a couple of times. I’ll put that down to that excited puppy.

This was to be my first proper bike pack race type event and I had set myself the goal of riding at Tour Divide pace on a full weight rig. Something that looked like a bit of a mistake at the start line when people were rolling up on much lighter set ups. But the plan was a shake down of my gear and that was all I needed to get out of it right?

Perhaps inevitably the puppy came out to play again and I got caught up at the start in the main group which was still a way back from the leading pair but moving rather purposefuly. People were pushing hard on the pedals early in the day and one guy was cramping at 2 hours in. This wasn’t boding well. I wanted to drop off the back of the group to find some space to settle but like an idiot I found myself at the front of it looking for space.

Once I found it though and got a bit of food in late afternoon, I started to settle, traveling more steadily and reducing stoppage time. I had the goal of making it past York at the 150 mile mark for a resupply and a sleep. I rolled into York late and resisted the urge for a kebab amongst the night club revellers and scantily clad boppers.

Day 2 started after a cold but very comfortable night in my sleeping bag, (Mountain Equipment Firefly), I drank coffee, ate porridge, had a radioactive pee after the dehydration of the heat and set off for the north York Moors. After seeing the North Sea at Scarborough and passing within 2 miles of my mums house, the route then swung inland through some the greatest climbs in Yorkshire through Goathland and other beautiful parts seen many times on films and postcards. Lots of climbs were over the 33% marker!

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The weather was hot and dry and came with a great surprise in it. I thought myself quite well travelled in the UK and I’ve seen a lot of places, but never before have I ridden through the remote moors of Cleveland, WOW !! Mental note made to go back. If you love moorland and gravel, then this would be nirvana to you. (not the band though, more the Buddhist idea of a personal enlightened heaven thing…)

An oversight was certainly made by me and I forgot it was Easter weekend so re-supply was more difficult than expected. This meant a push to get off the moors with a fellow rider and the need to get to Northallerton for a resupply ahead of Easter Sunday. As another rider and I sat on the floor outside a well-known supermarket chain munching pre packed rubbish and laughing about how fast life was moving in a town. It all made perfect sense. I love living on my bike. It all kind of makes more sense in a beautifully simplified way. Even if you are eating tuna from the tin with a tyre lever, a technique I favour over the folded crisp packet trowel method.

Day 3 I awoke from the sleep of all sleeps. The weather was so good that night that I didn’t bother with the tent (Terra Nova Ultra Laser) and just threw my sleep mat (Exped Synmat) onto a groundsheet in the middle of a lush spring hay field. So I awoke to the steadily brightening sky signalling the start of ….. you guessed it… Another day not at work!!!!!!!!! And a bike ride. I was only about 70 miles from the finish and had covered a little over 300 in the first 2 days so apart from a few climbs today should be ok… (they were pretty big climbs but mostly on good ground)

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I rolled into the finish 2ndman home at 2 days 6hrs and 8mins. A long way behind first and a fair chunk before 3rdso I’m pretty chuffed with that for a first effort and the weight handicap I had.

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It been a great first few weeks off and I’ve met some incredible people, made some great memories and I feel like I’m living my dream. Not something many people get to do and I’m savouring every minute.

Next stop Germany!!

 

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Bundling into 2019…

Like most people life has been a bit busy lately with the festive period, so I though it time to write some stuff down so I can empty my head a bit. Its been so full of late I need to clear some space to fit my PIN numbers back into it. I’ve been having to keep my food shops under £30 so I can use contactless.

Since the initial conversations with Matt Jones the idea of Lap of My Mind grew and grew into what can only have been described as a monster of a challenge. 4500 miles round the coast of the UK mainland in December.

I’m blowing a little smoke up here, but the likes of Matt, Budge, Alan and everyone have put in huge amounts of work to make it happen. And happen it has.

With a few hiccups along the way Matt crossed the finish line in style where he handed over the Exposure Lights baton to Alan Colville. Alan is currently descending Aconcagua with it as I’m writing this to hand it over to Jon Ferne, who will carry it back up as part of their altitude training in preparation for the Mind Over Mountain World record attempt later this year. If that baton could talk it could tell some stories and probably educate all of us in some new swear words through tired, gritted teeth.

Needless to say, I was bricking it about my leg which was 430 miles ish from Suffolk to Portsmouth. I was taking over from a triple world champion and handing over to a double British champion. Bearing in mind I used to get the odd sticker from my mum for doing the washing up, I hoped this would go some way to offset the skills gap.

Probably best to just say. “I got it done” it stung a bit in the middle with the driving freezing rain and gale force winds, but I finished in Portsmouth in good time. Thanks to Edward and Stuart for riding with me through some terrible conditions for so long to keep me company. In fact thank you to everyone who helped you are awesome, especially Sally. With the controversial tri bars and leather saddle set up my back and arse were fine, so a single day off the bike after a good sleep and I was back on it. I need to work on the img_3119multi day legs and if this was anything to go by then I am off to a pretty good start.

So, it’s on to the next stage for me which is the prep for a 5 month riding break from work. It had been hard saved for, and on my mind for a number of years. Now that its drawing close though, the excitement has ebbed somewhat and is being replaced by a soupçon of fear. Not the kind of fear that requires a change of under crackers as yet, but my heart is skipping the odd beat when I think of the size of it.

The plan is to take in Battle on the Beach, the Scott MTB marathon in Builth, the Dales divide, Trans Germany, Tour Divide and Cycle tour the USA before heading back to the UK and remember what my long suffering and rather tolerant wife looks like.

Getting my head round the gear I need and more importantly don’t need, has been a real headache so far. I’ve never thought of a full length toothbrush as a luxury item before! Having worked for Trekitt Mountain Sports in a former life I turned to them for help and they have been awesome in helping me out with kit and advice. I certainly don’t plan on breaking any records, but I would like a half decent time.

I’m new to all this long distance bike packing racing stuff and keep thinking the questions. Do I go super light and risk a breakage? or go slightly heavier and more reliable?

The whole journey so far has made me think a lot more about the design on a bike and the parts you fit. Owing to the likely nature of a breakage over in the states at some point there are certain parts like Hope bearings that I just can’t get easily. So I’ve tried to spec everything with readily available parts off the shelf from American firms. Only time will tell if this works or not.

Trekitt have supplied me with some cracking lightweight shelter and warm gear that has shaved about 2 kilos off but I could really do with shifting a bit more.

The last week has seen panic stations.. not your normal oops I forgot my wallet panic stations…  I mean full on HOLY CRAP what have I done panic stations!

I will freely admit I’m an idiot at times… Others would say more often.. This was one of those times… I’ve been checking route cards and planning the route as best I can. I’ve bought the tour divide maps and I have the GPX files but until sitting down I failed to realise that the two aren’t the same..

Shortly after leaving Banfimg_3151f there is a 100 miles ish detour up a hike a bike and completely off the route. Two things sprung to mind, it looks brutal!! and how did I miss this!!!

After cutting caffeine out for a few hours and some internalising of mild to moderate swear words, some perspective came back online. At least I get to see some of wild Canada hey?

I’m now commuting to work on a fully laden bike and it’s becoming a bit more natural to ride. My set up is a bit heavier than the lightweight boys and girls but I am planning to keep riding for a month or so after the finish of the TD back through the states, so I will need a bit more comfort than the sub 20 day elite. (I don’t think my wife reads these things so I will say, “if it goes well and I fancy it I may go back and hit it hard another year”).

The deeper I get into this time off, work to live not live to work, no good story starts with a salad world of clichés, it is becoming more and more apparent that I have had my head buried for years. Although I have met some incredible people, been cool places and enjoyed what I have done in the most part. I can’t help thinking my eyes have been blinkered somewhat and there is so much more to life. I’m on a journey at the moment and this is before I have even started, I can’t wait to see where I end up.

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WEMBO 2018

WEMBO 2018 has been a goal for me since racing the Fort William course back in 2014, in my first 24 Solo. This year it was hosted by No Fuss, who in my experience have always put on a cracker of an event and this year was no exception.

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3 weeks out, absolutely knackered from too many long shifts and starting a second course of antibiotics, it wasn’t looking good to be achieving a lot, but after being told to man up it will pass in time, some forced positivity returned.

I work in a small team of 6 lads who have really looked after me for the last 2 weeks to try and get me ready as best as possible for the race, carrying me a bit and picking up extra work to cover me. Thank you Team 4 Notley!! I’ve been fixing my bike in my lunch breaks and packing the requisite plastic boxes of food and spares ready for the long trip up north.

This was my first WEMBO riding in a JMC jersey and there were 13 Solos!! We had a whole side to the pit. It was like some sort of non-hostile take-over. Or a Death Star Empire type presence if you like. It’s great to be part of a big team with so much riding knowledge and expertise on tap from all the riders and pit crew. Not to mention the guys from Bike Shack Ben and Luke who turned up to spanner for the whole team through the day and night. Thank you, guys, for the super speedy cassette change.

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We got the van to the car park a day early after finishing work and making the pilgrimage up north. By my reckoning I was a good few hours down on sleep, so I was going to do my best to get as much kip before the race as I could. I love an afternoon nap, so this was music to my ears and something I wasn’t struggling to do. Falling asleep seemed to be pretty instantaneous. It was waking up without the aid of caffeine that was proving to be the difficult bit.

If you haven’t been to Fort Bill in the winter before then the key things are, the grip level is still great, but the carpark is the coldest and windiest place on the planet! (second only to the Ambulance bay at Basildon Hospital for those that know). It was dry and sunny when we got there, (something that was going to be short lived). My god was that going to change.

Heading out for a practice lap on the Friday the course had some fave bits from previous years but also had some sizeable changes and tricky little bits that hadn’t appeared on a Relentless before. The course was riding really well, fast and engaging. The first time I rode here my technical ability was only just good enough to get me round and I found it ruddy tough, I’ve put a lot of hard work in over the last few years to try and get a bit closer to the faster boys. (I’m still a way off them but I’m making ground).

Early bed for me again and the 8thmeal of the day. Tucking into yet another of the Torq Snaq packs pasta meals in a 5 to 1 ratio which are great for carb loading. Admittedly it’s not a 3-course gourmet dinner but its balanced, easy to prepare and van friendly so you can fuel really well when you’re living in a car park. The brekkies are worth a look too and now available in different carb to protein ratios. Especially if you’re a shift worker and need to eat on the go. If you haven’t tried them yet do!!

Race morning and I was feeling unusually calm. Perhaps that I had only finished my second course of antibiotics last night and not expecting much, or that I was ready and up for it? The jury was out on this one.

I had a plan to push up into zone 4 for the first climb and foolishly thought this would put me somewhere near the front to miss the traffic on the decent. OOH MY GOD!! I was wrong, the field was off like a shot!! I was running at 175-180 and dropped off the back of the lead group. Then into the second group. Then off the back of the second group. Anyone would have thought this was a World Champs or something. Looking around everyone had their poker faces on. Admitting defeat in an attempt to save the legs I let them go (read couldn’t stay with them without an impending cardiac arrest).

I wasn’t too far back (for a mortal) when I hit the first decent and for me I felt like I was ripping. The course has a great long decent that has you engaged and moving around on the bike trying to carry all the speed you can while avoiding the rocks that were getting displaced and changing the lines in some places lap on lap. I loved it. I felt a bit like a crap version of Danny Hart on the downs and an asthmatic Dyson vacuum cleaner on the ups. This was going to be one tough race.

After the puncture disasters of Italy last year where I was using tyres that were just too light with the thought that lighter is faster, I opted for some much heavier carcases and a bit more volume which not only felt better on the rocky ground, but they didn’t puncture. So, does that mean heavier is actually faster? Or should I just get faster at running?

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Having checked the weather, (not something I normally do) we were scheduled for the skies to open, the wind to pick up through the early hours of the morning and continue the deluge to the finish. Being a creature of the night (not a weird one like a rapist or a drug dealer, more of a night shift worker) it is usually my strong suit. So, I hatched a plan prior to the race of looking after myself through the day in order to push hard, mentally prepared for the onslaught through the night. Sit on a spare change of clothes until dawn, fill stomach with a bacon sarnie then see where I was. Relentless always claims a lot of casualties in the early hours. With the fast start and horrific conditions I was expecting that the night would claim a few victims. (I don’t blame them to be honest and my brain was certainly saying STOP for a little while, however much like the crew room moaning at work I was able to drown it out).

Before the night I was running in 5thwhich is my normal kind of position really and it is a little infuriating to have been stuck there for a few years. All efforts were to be made to change this and push through the night with as many roll throughs as I could manage while still fuelling properly. I made ground steadily and worked myself up to second!! Holy crap. I was a lap down on first and being chased hard from behind by David Carr (Rotor)This man has real grit!! He didn’t give up until he crossed the line. I felt like I was being hunted. Kudos sir.

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The night delivered the bad weather in spades. One corner at the top of the course you could wheelie and the wind would blow you round the 90-degree corner and it was strong enough that you didn’t have to pedal for 30 meters or so. With the addition of rain, it was 2 things. 1. What I was expecting. 2. Like a fairy tale “ GRIMM !! ”

I stuck my first set of clothes out for as long as I could thinking it would be a few changes by race end. A glove change in the early hours before a long change and waterproof trousers at dawn to combat the tired cold fatigue. My medical brain sticks to the premise of less calories are required to ride if you can stay warm when you’re tired. (this may be rubbish but it seems to work for me).

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I crossed the line 2ndin Cat and 21stoverall (that’s second in category not second in a cat. That would be weird. I’ve never been in a cat.. which is good). Which with the shocking build up I had, I’m pretty proud of to be honest. Little old me had his best finish yet and his first WEMBO podium. Next year will see me take a break from WEMBO as I will be having a crack at some Ultra endurance events. Although I have just checked the dates for Relentless and it looks like it fits in so it’s going to be hard not to go back to my favourite 24 HR course.

A big thank you to all the wonderful people that have helped me out. Thank you Wife for your endless patience. Jon at E3 for putting up with me, JMC, Torq performance, Chelmer cycles Trekitt mountain sports and PT cycles you are all awesome!! And to everyone with the snippets of advice through the year. I am very lucky to get the level of help that I get. Cycling has surrounded me with the most incredible people, friendly, helpful and driven. Yes and thank you to the old folks who turned up to support me and ended up pitting for a good friend.

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The road to Pivot

 

 

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I am sat here writing this on a porch of a barn in mid wales staring at some single track and stoking the fire of the hot tub I plan to get into in the next hour or so. I feel privileged, lucky and a sense that I’ve earned this lately after some challenging times.

 

After a sub-optimal European champs, I needed a bit of a focus, so I set myself the task of riding 300+ miles to the start of a 24-hour race to see how my legs were and shake down some bikepacking gear for my big project next year.

 

There have been a number of my hero’s and peers that have done this before and I’ve always wondered how hard it would be. The first endurance race I ever did, I saw a guy there who commuted to it on his touring bike, pitched his tent, took his panniers off and raced for the full 24hrs. Not only riding it but placing well. I remember thinking that if these were the people I was pitching myself against then I had NO hope.

 

 

 

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I foolishly thought I might get a little respite on my night shifts at work before setting off, but I was sorely mistaken. 4.5 hrs sleep in 3 days saw me setting off at 07:00 from work in Braintree and heading for Pivot 24/12 in Plymouth.

 

In my un tired and optimistic head I had set myself a goal of 150 miles the first day, 100 the second and 60 the third so I could recover for the race. (This sounds ridiculous now)

I set off from Braintree full of optimism and lacking in the sleep department, down the Flitch way before joining the Stort Valley way and heading round the dreaded Smokering to Rickmansworth. From there joining the Thames path to Reading. It was baking hot already!! But at least it was dry after my previous run ins with the Smokering.

 

I was making good time for the first day finding some single-track west of Reading that was fast dusty and fun. (mental note made to plan a return exploration journey). I was really looking forward to trying out some kit that Trekitt have supplied me for my adventures. If you don’t know of them then look them up.. Top shop and great people to deal with.

I will be honest I was in a pretty poor state which was probably due to the sleep thing and started to make some bad decisions, so with discretion being the greater part of valour at about 110 miles in I pulled into for a pub for a meal and a shop to pick up some bits and bobs for the morning, before heading towards finding a spot to spend the night.

 

Burger and pint of Coca Cola in my belly I lucked into my best spot yet.

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After a day in the scorching sunshine it took me about 5 mins to set up camp before diving into the river for a dip to cool off. It was just splendid.

 

I got out dripped dry and the next thing I remember was waking up at 08:00 in the morning. I must have slept a solid 10 hours. MEGA…!! and I felt a lot better. When I say I felt better that was after having a 10 min re boot thinking, what am I doing here where am I? that sort of thing. Coffee fixed it though as it normally does.

 

The route took me into Streetly where I joined the Ridgeway to make my way over towards Devizes. It’s pretty fast and good going when its dry so I tried to crack on a bit and pick up the miles. I was on a high at the start of the day and moving well. The Stone Roses were booming from my headphones when I saw two lads walking with their bikes. With the customary “Morning, are you OK?” came back the “No not really.” I asked them where they were going, and the reply came.. “Amsterdam!! First lads’ holiday!!” ooh dear ooh dear.. This was not going well for them.. so, I stopped to fix their mechanical, bearing in mind they already were looking a bit dazed and smelling a little fragrant if you know what I mean.

They were cool lads and I’m sure they will have some big stories to tell in a week or two..(if they make it there that is).

The temperature was picking up and up and by the time I reached Avebury it must have been a million degrees.. So, I stopped in the shade of a pub in the centre of the stone circle for a bit of food and drink before getting straight back to it.

 

Although the day had started well the route planner I was using seemed to be having some sort of brain infarct (that’s a necrotic cell death of brain matter for the non-medical) and was sending me on some ever-stranger footpaths and detours which meant me lifting the fully laden 48lb rig over stile after stile. My sense of humour was cracking. I was trying to do 80% off road but I was never going to make it there for the race at this rate. So, at Devizes I re plotted and started to take to the road a bit more. I picked up cycle routes along the canals and byways which coupled with a tail wind had me rocking along.

 

I say rocking along, but there was a large element of fear incorporated in it. I have just fitted Tri bars as I’m told they are the way to go for the Tour Divide next year and are supremely comfy for your back. However, having never ridden them before and choosing to do this down narrow tow paths was a bit of an eye opener. The only way I can describe it to the uninitiated is that moment as akin when you are running downhill really fast. Then you realise that your body is going faster than your legs can go and despite running as fast as you can there is a sense of impending doom and injury. Much like that.

Waking up the following morning on the Somerset border about 20 miles shy of Honiton I was tired. Previously I have used a Bivy bag and a half matt to bike pack with, but this trip is the first outing for the new tent, the Terra Nova Ultra Laser and Exped Full length matt.

 

In short what a difference. I can sit up in the tent and stretch my hamstrings and it has none of that coffin like feel. At only 560gm ish its hardly a weight penalty. With the full-length matt, it’s the perfect combo for a good night’s sleep and yet again I was out for the count. With the tent being so light and see through I was up with the light which was no bad thing and something I’m looking forward to next year as I will be in it for a couple of months.

 

I realise this isn’t even classed as an adventure by some of you reading this but to me it was. It was me under my own steam riding to a race to go and ride some more. Finding my own shelter and moving at my own pace. I was loving it. I felt like a cross between Ralph Phines and the guy off the Mr muscle advert.

On with the story…

 

I stopped at a bin to dump some rubbish in Honiton high street when out of a Butcher’s shop came said Butcher, putting his board and such like out for the day. Taking the piss, I asked if he did Bacon sarnies.

 

He said, “I guess you would like a tea with that.”

 

I figured he was taking the piss, but I thought I would play along.

 

“That would be champion, thanks”

 

“Is Yorkshire OK,” he replied.

 

Pretty sure he is taking the piss now.

 

“Ooh lovely”

 

“Three pounds fifty please.”

 

Not at all taking the piss… MEGA!!!

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Armed with bacon, which is the best way to start a day, it was off for the hills of Dartmoor.. A few detours and some hike a bike after the route plan went a bit wrong.

Byway turned to sheep track. Sheep track turned to marsh. I had to have a little chat with myself. Let’s just say there were some strong words exchanged.

(this was a lot steeper than it looks and the marshy bit was just delightful)

 

Yet again I took to the road to get off the moors and soon found myself rolling into Newnham park. A bit stinky and hungry where I got a fantastic welcome from Ian and Matt.

 

I only ever planned to make it round this race as I knew I wouldn’t be quick. (I’m not very quick at the best of times, but quick for me.)

 

My wife Sally was on her way down to race in a team but stuck in a bucket load of holiday traffic and making slow progress, so this gave me a little time.

 

It was straight over to the Torq tent to start the pasta re fuel then pitch the tent up for a little extra nap before Sal arrives. (I was still feeling the effect of the night shifts).

 

Race day…!!

 

I set off from the back to let the quick boys and girls go including Matt, Tom and Karen from JMC (that’s my excuse anyway). The course was riding really well to begin with, dry dusty and a fast, with some old favourites like Cottage return back in the lap. I decided to just ride on my heart rate and not get drawn into anything as this level of fatigue racing was new territory for me. I felt good though. I don’t know how but I did. I was peddling nice and smooth and there still seemed to be a bit of power left. This was good news for the Tour Divide.

 

As the day clocked on I was working my way up the field. Partly spurred on by the great cheers from Ian Frew on the mic when I came through the village. Lights on and I was up to 5thand catching 4th.

Then the weather turned. It rained, and my god did it rain. The course got wetter and more slippery. This was ok but having packed rather light for the trip I was a bit shy on clothing. By 03:00 is it was taking its toll and after I started to shiver then stopped shivering I thought it best to come in for a quick warm up. Sal was great and made me a hot drink while I crouched in front of the van heater to try and warm up.

I was going nowhere, I had to change out of these wet clothes.

 

No sooner had I got my head together to get out. (I know it doesn’t look like it in the picture but that was my game face at the time.)

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I was met with the news that due to the adverse weather the race had been stopped. The arena was carnage and rightly the race had been pulled as soon as rider safety was in question. Well done Pivot crew.. great decision and nice to see that the riders are at the centre of your decision-making process. Thank you. Disappointing but thank you.

 

I was hoping to make back up a few places but came away with a 7th. For a normal mortal like me I’m happy with that after the adventure on the way down.

A MASSIVE well done to Tom from JMC for winning it. Matt for his podium and some of the fastest downhill riding I have ever seen. Karen for her podium in the Women’s 24 and to Sal for her first ever 24hr…

 

To answer my question as to how hard it is to ride to a 24 then race it.

 

Hard.. But not as hard as you would think.

 

Would I do it again..

 

YES… it was good fun and I have some great memories from it. Now I can’t wait for the next challenge.

 

Thanks everyone for the support. Trekitt Mountain Sports, E3 Coaching, Chelmer Cycles, Pt Cycles Wheels, Torq Performance. You guys are great.

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BOTB / The end of a week in Wales….

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Its Saturday day and the sun is shining in Pembrey the same way that is has shone on BOTB for the past 4 years. A great event and not one that I have ever been even competitive at as it usually encompasses a week away riding with this year is no exception.

The week started with the Scott MTB marathon in Builth Wells, which was a mega mud fest and a bunch of fun. It has taken in a couple of days in the Forrest of Dean, a ride round the Gap in the Brecons and a mega day round the routes at Afan Forrest.

Needless to say, my legs are hurty, my arms are hanging off and my smile is wider than an American muscle car on an English country lane.

It’s a great event here to catch up with mates and people from the race scene that you bump into through the year.

The course has changed a little from previous years so should make it better for the front runners. I have decided to push a Single Speed 32/15 for the course which will be spinney up the beach and too tall for the dunes and my skinny little legs.

The week had an unfortunate little hiatus on Wednesday when I had to divert into a GP surgery with a rather painful sinus infection. This had been brewing for a while and decided to bite on what has so far been one of the best weeks of the year. Thankfully a strong dose of anti-biotics a good nights sleep and I’m back in the game.

I’m starting to write this sat by the van with the impending bike faff lights debarkle night ride, and looming day race ahead, before heading back to the real world and a nightshift doing something called work? I think I remember what it is… After this week and only managing two showers so far, I reckon I would make a good riding hobo… if not then a candidate for Imperial Leather sponsorship maybe?

The Lezyne Battle in the Dark was the usual stand in a cue waiting for it to get dark, then  MAX HEARTRATE for 10 mins before turning to come back through the single track in the dunes. The ride on the way back to be fair is a proper giggle. No matter how good your lights are you still miss judge a rut or lump (or two), which sends you at full chat barrelling into deep sand with about as much control over your direction as a drunken puppy.

You can’t help but belly laugh a few times on the way round in between fighting for breath at heartrates that look more like oven temperatures than training zones. The race this year took a leaf out of Finales’ book and started you off riding through the Marquis in front of a band which was a pretty cool experience with everyone cheering you off. The likes of most of us it’s a bit of a lift that you don’t normally get at your average race, but only serves to make you dig deeper into your reserves for the spin up the beach. In my first official race with Team JMC I don’t think I embarrassed myself too much.

Through the finish and all focus on what was my time? Where am I in cat? Well I think I was 4thsingle speeder and 20 something open male which will do for me!!

Race morning and the weather has finally broken after a few days of sunshine so it’s going to be a wet pack up and a wet race. I started the week with a mud fest, so this only seems like a suitable way to end it. Besides wet races are fun aren’t they?

The race starts for the mere mortals who weren’t seeded with the usual fast, mad, run, hop on bike, bedlam and carnage that veterans of the race have come to know and love in what I think is the UKs biggest mass start race?

It was evident from the off that a single speed with a 15mph+ tail wind down the beach was going to be a challenge. And a high revving one it was. I must have been going at 120+ rpm for a large part of it and my calves feel like rolling pins. The guys at the front were reporting 35mph speeds down the beach.. That’s Madness!!

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Getting to the first turn at the dunes was a welcome sight and where it was time to make a little ground after the feeling of going backwards like the illusion you get when sitting on a train in a platform trying to figure out if it’s you that’s moving or the train you can see out of the window. I got swamped.

I didn’t know how after the mega week I have had but my legs felt good and I started to pick a few people off including some quick Single speeders. This served to cheer me on a bit and I put the hammer down with all my might.

Second lap and through the dunes I spot Budge from JMC. Only one thing for it. Bury myself and give him a tag on the shoulder as I go through. He was bound to catch me on the beach with the added bonus of gears, a Cyclocross bike and some strong legs. Which he did and graciously tagged me back.

 

The last lap followed the route of the previous year’s normal laps and encompassed not only a bit more of the flowing single track that is in abundance at Pembrey but the one and only Charlie the bike monger serving drinks from a mini bar… EPIC…!! But more importantly I might be able to get the upper hand of a couple of cyclocrossers and riders I had been yo yoing for the last lap or so. I got in front of a few people I was trying to. Now came the work.

Smelling the finish and a cracking way to round of a week, I couldn’t let it go. Don’t get caught and keep head down! I went into full race mode at this point and attacked the dunes in the hope I could open a gap up to my chasers.

About a mile out I got sight of Nick from Blackmore bikes but just didn’t have the legs to get onto his wheel until the final turn where he had the sprint on me for the finish. I held off the chasers and span my legs like a man possessed by the spirit of a Hotpoint washing machine. 5th Single Speed will do me for this year..

Another great race from Matt and the A-Cycling clan. Thanks a bunch and see you again next year to do it all again.

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A man A van & A Dog..

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I’m starting to write this and I haven’t left the house yet. Only a packing mission and two twelve hour night shifts stand in the way of freedom.

I’m sat at home sorting the packing list, and working out how sub standard my prep can be. After the last month of bouncing around like some sort of pinball playing skivvy to Tommy the wizard, the idea of escape has created somewhat of an “it’ll do attitude.”

So the plan is leave work, off to the Scott MTB marathon in Builth, then two days of riding fun, then pick up wife from station, take her riding then head down to Battle on the Beach for the following weekend. Yes thats a whole WEEK of riding and sleeping in the VAN… EPIC..!! (thats why I’m a little excited and have started the blog now.)

The morning before my first nightshift I awoke with a banging headache and burning chest, much reminiscent of a chest infection. As much tried to pretend it wasn’t there I couldn’t deny the fact that it was(Gutted). It’s is my usual tack to deny all knowledge of these things and plough on regardless, but for some reason I saw sense this time.

A number of frantic emails and phone-calls and a big big thank you to some people at work, I was able to re-jig my leave and get my nightshifts covered so I could rest up. Back to bed for me to see if I could sleep it off. What a luxury!

As luck would have it the van was packed on the Saturday morning so it was a man, a van, a dog and a splitting headache off to Builth for round one of the Scott MTB marathon.

I arrived on site nice and early amidst the carnage of people getting vans stuck on the rather soft field, and did the British thing of getting the kettle straight on. NO DELAY NO DEVIATION. Whilst supping the first of many cuppas I was impressed at how the organisers were dealing with the ensuing carnage of stuck vans. As always a great showing from Ian, and the Cycle Tech Crew.

So it was off to catch up with the Husky mad Jon at E3 Coaching and to see if there were any entries left for the event. I had packed, but I hadn’t been organised enough to get an entry in…. Still feeling a bit ropey I was advised to err on the side of caution and begrudgingly sacked in the Exposure night ride in favour of doing the longer day on the Sunday. Taking advantage of the lull in proceedings I put a movie on in the van and promptly fell asleep.

Morning came and so did the sunshine and the passing of my headache. There was no way it was going to match the heat wave of last year but it was a stark contrast to the heavy rain of the last week leaving rivers bulging and fields flooded. It was starting to dry and warm enough for 3/4 bottoms! what more can you ask for?

Due to the tightfisted nature of my wallet and the impending mud fest I opted to ride the day on a single speed and skinny mud tyres to try and get the most out of it.

I joined Team JMC during the winter and there were plenty of riders here flying the Jersey and as always a friendly happy bunch of people. I got the time to chat to most of them and a catch up with Jackie who was also riding the long day.

The event was the same mass start under escort out of the venue and the spin up the road (32/18 spin for me) , my legs were going like the fingers of the lead guitarist from spinal tap. The first climb was mostly on a hard surface so it kept the pace high for the mid pack mediocrity such as myself. The gearing seemed about right for now so it was time to crack on. I settled into a good climbing rhythm and started to reel in the people that had swamped me up the road from the start. The route soon left the hard ground and found the open hillside thats synonymous with this part of Wales.

My heart rate had spiked a little (read a lot.), up the first climb so I started on the gels as soon as I could along the flatter ground.

With all of the rain, the mud had come out to play and although it was to get more than a bit slippy later the beauty of doing a big event is the knowledge that everyone is in it together. When you are out on a training ride on you own for 5 hours you get this idea that you have your own personal rain cloud but an an event it is different. Everyone is in it together.

It was that fun mud, slippery as hell in places, sticky and a total comedy show of slow speed crashes, where the only thing hurt is pride. PERFECT!!

The first feed station came up all too quickly as it meant we were 18km into the route already. Quick custard cream, (I have a belief that if you walk past a custard cream without eating it then something really bad will happen), and some water and straight off again to rejoin the route.

The descents were a total hoot, I was in that internal battle of find the outside line for a bit of grip or stay in the slop? Outside you have no idea where the tumps were and if you were going to get bounced off like a Moto GP rider, albeit at a much lower speed. In the slop you can’t steer or brake. I threw myself down them with reckless abandon, a massive grin and no back brake which was pulling all the way back to the bars with little or no effect. I like to call it notional braking and it comes standard on most winter hacks.

The field thinned over the next hour or so with some people taking the other distance options so there were a few less wheels to pull you along.

I remembered from last year the amount of off camber sheep track on parts of the course and it arrived, ooh dear. This was the dreaded bit, and how I was wrong.

Have you ever watched velodrome racing? Well this bore some similarities to it.

Wheel to wheel riders in tight formation then………. The wild swing off line out of the slipstream, only this time it was with the camber down the hill having slipped off in the sub optimal grip of the mud into the ungraceful dismount of fighting with mud filled clip in pedals. The only question was who was next? And yes I took my turn. Laughing my head off before splatting on the ground. This is one of those rides where you really want to be one of the first through the course as it was getting trickier and trickier.

The rest of the route had the same sort of ups and downs. with lots of the ups on my now tiring legs. (I’m sure there must have been other single speeders there but I certainly didn’t see any). The last third of a sportive route always sees the riders in front looking over their shoulders and starting to get a bit of a race on which makes it fun for the finish.

So with all my gears still shifting perfectly I rolled into the finish in 3hrs 51. About a decade behind the fast boys but a little triumph for me. I beat the lurgy, I beat the mud and beat the hell out of my skinny little legs.

Moody gearing, sunny skies, another great event! Thanks guys and see you next weekend.

Who’s idea was this?

Whose idea was this?

After the disappointment of missing out on the Strathpuffer this year with a busy work schedule and a lot of life happenings I was itching to do something in the post Xmas fug of sweating roast potatoes and mince pies.

So one Gin too many one night and it seemed a good idea to do the smoke ring over a couple of days. There are some amongst us who have punted it out in under 20hrs which seem a tall order for a 200 mile winter single speed ride. In fact that’s a mental time anyway Mr Jones… (Much Kudos)..

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For those of you that don’t know the route it is a primarily off road circumnavigation of the M25 which you can start and finish wherever you like. It does run as a challenge group ride around Feb, there is a website for details and entries.

I chose to start and finish my route around Enfield which is the closest point to my house and I could get the train home from if required. (Which it would be).

The journey started like most others, Music on random, smile on face, positivity in my heart and a full belly. These were all things I would miss by the end.

Enfield came and went, then Rickmansworth and Watford (it’s not exactly the tour divide) however a lot of the start of the route is along canal tow paths which although flat are a scenic break from the town parts. I thought I had learned my lesson from the Trans Cambrian and put an extra tooth on the back to deal with the Surrey hills which is where most of the climbing is on the route.

After crossing a few muddy fields as a reminder that it was a rather wet winter the route comes into Windsor. It takes you down the main road and gives you a nice view of the castle before turning past a chip shop… (It would be rude not to stop wouldn’t it?).

Out of Windsor the route starts one of those false flat climbs for 40 mins or so before joining up with the great park and cycle route 4 which runs all the way from London to west wales.

Things were going well it’s fair to say and the highlight of the route was coming which was in the shape of some trail round Swinley Forrest to enjoy a few corners after the tow paths and roads. Looking back it was here that things were to start to take a little bit of a down turn. Darkness had come which on its own isn’t a problem when you have a Dynamo hub built up by PT cycles on a bombproof set of wheels paired with an exposure Revo but when your Garmin enters Sub optimal mode and you get lost round parts of a Forrest you don’t know two things happen

1 – You think back to the last horror/slasher movie you saw

2- You start needlessly swearing to yourself.

I did both rather well.

After finally finding my way out of the forbidden Forrest the muddy bridleway started and my god..!! I was in for it. What turned out to be nearly 18hrs (including a time out sleep) of MUD MUD MUD…. It’s remarkable how long you sense of humour lasts and when it goes it left me a tad grumpy.

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I had visions of making it to around Leith hill to bivvy out for the night but decided discretion was the better part of valour when I saw what looked like a very comfortable ditch on the side of a field.

Things will look brighter in the morning. (Snigger)

Have you ever had one of those moments where you are lost for the words to berate yourself with? I had one… I’m quite old school in that in times of crisis I turn to the kettle. So I set up the stove for a morning feed and brew to find I had forgotten to replace the lighter that broke last time I went out… AAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!!!!!! I swore a bit more… The sky may not have been blue but my language was….

Stamping on the pedals I set off into thankfully what was a bit of decent riding for a while through some of the ground that the Gorrick series of racing uses. (if you haven’t raced xc here then you should think about it as the riding and events are great).

The joy was enough to get me through to a mega village shop that served fresh strong coffee and homemade pastry. I was served by a lovely lady who even packed me off with “a sandwich for my travels,” how awesome is that? So on a refreshed high, a full belly and vigour I set in the direction of Leith and Box hill. The bridleways were muddy as hell where the indigenous horse owning population had been enjoying them through the wet spells. Not just mud but that sticky tyre clogging frame jamming mud that is about as welcome as a dodgy belly on a bus journey.

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Apart from overtaking a group of roadies (not fast ones) on box hill the next god knows how long was rain, mud, gouge out with hand and stick, swear, mud, rain, gouge out… you get the picture.

Thankfully there is a good amount of road before the ferry from Gravesend to Tilbury. My mood along with fatigue levels were depleting and with dark coming it was time to make a decision to bivvy or ride on. I was about 150 miles in but the day had taken its toll so was erring on the side of a bivvy in Thorndon Park or somewhere near.

Off the ferry I was back on familiar territory (in that I used to work around there), I was mighty thankful for the hard wired exposure flare rear light fitted to the dynamo. That is a cracking bit of kit.  The roads were flat and I was making good progress when I turned into Thorndon.

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It was then that it happened. My bike literally stopped upright in the mud and was stuck. I got off it. It was still stood up. I tried to pull it out. It wouldn’t come. I had to break the suction with a branch I found on the floor. Conditions were now at the worst they had been all trip and was largely un-rideable.

I battled on for an hour or so to the far side of Warley when I had what I can only describe as a mighty shit fit!!!

Looking back it would have been bloody hilarious to witness me shouting at my bike whilst slapping it with a glove like Sir John Cleese the knight spoiling for a duel. I was tired, hungry and in a mighty grump. I knew deep inside that I had to finish this ride tonight as I couldn’t face waking up to these conditions for another day.

Push a bit, fall off a bit, swear a bit, have another Gel. (Testament to Torq and their gels/bars as these still taste great and after many hours of eating them).

Battle on I did and it took everything I had at that time to push on. Especially when I hit the Epping mud. Some locals refer to this part of Epping as a “NO GO ZONE” at this time of year.

Enfield station came not a moment too soon. I had made it though and mile for mile was the toughest ride I have ever done. In its defence in the summer with a group of mates it would be a giggle as the route is littered with pubs and the riding would be fun but for me.

NEVER EVER AGAIN…….

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