Monday, 27 October 2014

The Worlds Come Crashing Down

I hadn’t had anything like the preparation that I’d have chosen for a 24 hour race, let alone the World Champs.  Forget training, in between family illness and writing a PhD, there had been weeks on end this year that I had not been near a bike at all.   

Home - picture Olly Townsend

But I’m not going to get many chances to ride in a World Championship race in the UK.  Plus some great riding in Canada this year and training out in the French Pyrenees with AQR reminded me that I loved riding my bike and I was fitter than I feared I was.  A month out, I decided there was nothing to lose, so entered and vowed to do the best I could whilst enjoying the experience. 

But in amongst the concern about my physical form and post-PhD rush to sort the race logistics I’d completely neglected any mental preparation and failed to develop the self-belief I would need to get myself through – I’d stuck it in the ‘too hard’ pile and busied myself with other things. 

The calm before the storm - picture Olly Townsend

By the time I was on the start line I’d exhausted myself with pre-race nerves.  Riding the course the day before had drained my fragile confidence.  I’m not a climber and lap seemed to be solely steep hills; how on earth was I going to sit and spin on this?  The fact I was able to negotiate the descents smoothly and safely didn’t register with me.  How was I going to manage 24 hours?

The race started and people seemed to just ride away from me.  I tried to remain relaxed – there was 24 hours still to go – but I just couldn’t settle.  A slipping seat post added to my woes, my tense body and mind were ganging together to make everything hurt and drain away my remaining stoicism.  I came into the pits after just one lap with tear streaks down my face. 

But I didn’t want to give up this easily.  With immense effort from both me and my pit crew, I got back out for lap two. 

And then things started to get a bit better.  Once I forgot to worry about the course I realised the climbs weren’t actually as awful as I had originally thought.  Plus, I was having great fun on the descents – each lap I worked to improve my line, hone my technique or time my jumps a little bit better.  From the first few laps I knew the two girls in front of me were riding hard on the climbs and I had the measure of them on the descents, I just needed to keep tapping it out.  And then I was lapped. I have never been lapped so early in a race.  My regained confidence started to seep away.  I tried to remind myself that this was about me – riding my bike – and kept pushing on. 

Going to plan - picture Olly Townsend

My next lap started well and my pace was up on previous laps.  And then there was a sudden grinding and crunching noise.  My wheel was completely jammed by a deformed rear mech, it was so twisted it seemed to take ages to get it free.  I jogged, trotted, pushed and free-wheeled the second half of the lap.  I thought it would cause me to fall apart but the encouragement from other riders keeping me positive.  In the pits I grabbed my spare bike, lights and some food and got back out. 

As night fell it got cooler and the next time at the pits I grabbed a gilet and headed back out.  But as I passed through the rest of the pits I started to shake uncontrollably from the cold.  I pulled back in at the rear of the pits for a warmer jacket at which point my pit crew pulled me from the course – I have pretty rubbish temperature control at the best of times and no-one was going to risk me going back out on the exposed hills and long descents.  It took me a long time and a lot of food and clothes to get warm again. 

I was gutted.  Not by my physical failure in the cold, but that I had never believed I could do it.  QED.  Physically ability and form is irrelevant when you neglect to prepare yourself mentally. 

I’ll know for next time. 

Big thanks for the support from those below.  Sorry I couldn’t keep to my end of the deal.  
  • My pit crew, their jackets, woolly hats and cups of tea
  • Kate and Ian at A Quick Release coaching
  • The staff of Leisure Lakes Nottingham 
  •  No Fuss Events for a fun and brutal course and an amazing event
  • The other racers and crews in particular Tom and Garage Bikes, and Rickie and Sarah at 559 Bikes

Monday, 10 February 2014


Whilst my current student status provides me with the luxury of lounging in bed until lunchtime, drinking until 3am with no regard to tomorrow's hangover, permission to slouch around in jeans and a beany all day and not comb my hair as well as to have an unadulterated love of value baked beans, it does have its financial downside. As I start to approach the end of my studentship my bike-fund coffers have well and truly run dry.

Having already exhausted the "I'll be earning soon so will be able to afford x" justification - that covered the three holidays / foreign bike races booked already for this year - I have had to resort to other measures to fund my new steed.  OK, I confess, it's actually going to be two, but the principle is still the same and the need more pressing. 

And so the n+1 rule of bike ownership is gone.  

This has been, and in fact still is, one of the singly most faffy and torturous things I have done.  And that includes trying to write up my PhD.  Here's for-why;

1. Any volunteers please raise your hand
First issue was to work out what stayed and what went.  Two frames were on loan from Cotic and AQR so they were first up.  I also accepted that I am unlikely to ever ride again what was formally my best bike but never felt the same once it had been nicked, showcased on eBay and generally bastardised before we were reunited.  And finally, I decided get rid of my former ride-all-the-time training bike in favour of sticking some less fancy stuff on my lightweight version of the same for marmalising in the winter crud.  This would leave me with two bikes for the time being and eventually a four-out, two-in scenario with me feeling amazingly virtuous at levels of bike-quantity restraint.

2. Pick and choose
Knowing what was going and (almost) what was to come led me to several hours of switching and swapping bits on bikes to keep and sell.  Future compatibility was key as was the opportunity to get rid of hard-to-sell (crap) components on a bike build in the hope potential buyers wouldn't notice.  This wasn't the most efficient process - I spent a few hours re-building the aforementioned training bike just to dismantle it again a few days later when I agreed a sale on the frame as no-one appeared interested in the bike.

3. Make hay
I took this as an opportunity to gently suggest that the other-half should clear out some of his hoardings.  He says retro, I say old and knackered.  If anyone knows why you should need five not-quite-working front mechs please let me know. 

4. Girls on film
Clean part, photograph part, re-photograph part as light rubbish, upload photos onto Flickr, re-upload photos onto Flickr as it's playing silly-beggars, look up description of part, attempt to look up value of part, prepare bike forum 'for sale' post, post said post, notice errors in post, re-post.
And wait.
And repeat.
Answer queries.
Don't get annoyed with people who you agree a sale with then never bother to come back to say they've changed their mind.
Resign yourself to eBay.

5. EBay
This is painstaking. And laborious. And tedious. And they charge you for the pleasure. 
However, it never ceases to amaze me what stuff people will pay good money for and sadly, what good stuff people wont pay money for.

Progress so far
Over half the funds needed for the new bike, three bikes that neatly hung on the wall in the garage gone, several boxes of bike components from three bikes on garage floor still to sell, one more bike to rebuild and sell, absence of bike riding and daylight due to spending last two weekends stuck in garage, the OH's mid-90s Hope brakes selling for nearly double what was paid for them (the price tag was still on the box), £80 and counting to the Post Office and couriers, constant amazement at how many 'one day' spares the OH owns and testing of CRC and Wiggles' 365 day return policy (with 6 days to spare).  Oh, and in the meantime the new bike has been funded courtesy of an interest-free credit card.  Thank you Mr Santander.