Monday, 11 August 2008
The sun was bright down there (photo by Caspar of Rollapaluza)
Stuart awaits the start of his qualifying round
Check out this movie link to get an idea of the atmosphere.
Sunday, 10 August 2008
The Masters line up for Round 1 (photo by Rikk Cahill)
One change for this year was that the series was reduced from 10 to 5 rounds, with a race only every other week. May 21st was the first race, and the sun was shining. 132 riders were on the start line and I felt pretty good from the start, coming in 3rd behind Richard Craven (Ford CC) and Paul Delahunty (London Dynamo) in a very convincing 1st.Round 2 approached, and the forecast was not good. Rain was expected and a slight overreaction on my part saw me lining up with 1.7” mud tires. The draggy grass sections were waterlogged, but under the trees, my narrow tires struggled to find grip on the wet roots. Combined with the appearance of very fast displaced Frenchman, Sylvain Garde (Addiscombe CC), I only managed a rather disappointing 8th place.
Round 3 was dry again, and a similar result to Round 1, coming in third overall, behind Gavin Williams in 2nd and Paul Delahunty in first (again). Richard Craven had a crash during the race and had bent his rear disc rotor. As I result, I passed him during the last part of the last lap and put the hammer down to make sure he couldn't come back at me.
Round 4. Instead of my usual 13 mile ride from work to Hainault, I saved some energy by driving out to the race, having taken the day off to attend my daughters' school open day. I don't know whether its better to save the energy or get a good warm up, but it was certainly nice not to have to ride home 16 miles afterwards. Although the weather had looked a little iffy, the race was dry and I was battling for 3rd with William Jones (CPH), swapping places a number of times. Towards the end of the penultimate lap I made my move on a short technical climb, and had pulled out 20m when I lost the front wheel in the soft soil on a tight left-hander. Other than a few scrapes, the bike and I were in one piece, but now I was 30m back and I just couldn't close the gap. 4th, but this time 1st and 2nd places were taken by riders who hadn't appeared in the series yet. Delahunty and Craven were on their hols, and Williams DNF'd.
Round 5. With 4 reasonably consistent finishes so far, I was sitting in 1st in the rankings by some margin, but my closest competition of Delahunty, Craven and Williams had only finished 3 races (best 4 out of 5 are counted in the series). A bit of rough arithmetic showed it was going to be pretty close. With a CO2 inflater strapped to my seatpost (just in case), I took to the staring line and looked around me. All of the usual suspects were there, including the 1st and 2nd places from Round 2, making their second appearance. Delahunty, Craven and Williams were all there, as was Jones. The objective was to improve as much as possible over my 8th place in Round 2. The race was very fast from the start, and I sat in about 6th on lap 1, having overtaken a couple of fast starters. However, my 3 nearest competitors were ahead of me. Delahunty finished first (again) and Williams came in one place ahead of me in 4th. Most significantly, Craven seemed to have faded half way around to 8th place.
The Masters line up for Round 5 (photo by Christian Pratt)
When it was all over, I improved on my 3rd overall last year to 2nd this year. I was very happy with that, and I enjoyed the close competition a lot this year. Bring on Beastway at the new Hog Hill Circuit next year!
Monday, 23 June 2008
I think most keen cyclists/ cycling fans have witnessed the pros tackle Paris Roubaix. It is the stuff of legends. I was keen to sample it myself, so decided to do some research on equipment. I knew the pros often use different bikes for Paris Roubaix. Some good examples of this can be seen in this Cycling Weekly article about the 2008 event. This article shows some riders chose to use cyclocross frames instead of their usual road frame. Partly out of a desire not to destroy my Giant TCR Composite (see below), and partly because I bought a CX bike in at the beginning of the year, I decided to use this. I will add some posts about what I did to prep it for the big day, but it was nothing too dramatic. The homework paid off, and the bike performed brilliantly. This may sound strange, but I now feel I have a bond with it after it got though such harsh conditions without a complaint (OK the headset feels a little notchy, but that's about it). This is what the bike looked like after the race (safely back at home) -
My research also included obtaining a copy of the excellent film of the 1976 Paris Roubaix. You can see a clip of it here. Very 1970s, and I took it with me on the trip so we could watch it on the coach. The commentary includes the following rather alarming words "Year after year this hell is the setting for a veritable Dante's Inferno, with incredible tortures and even martyrdom." This seemed to upset some of the coach party!
So how did it go? It was a truly fantastic day all in all - probably the best day on a bike I have ever had. After a very early start I completed the 260km distance in 10hrs 23mins, which included a couple of quite lengthy stops at the first 2 feed stations (there were loads, and all excellent) while we waited for various members of our group. I got more and more anxious to get on with proceedings as the day went on, and once I gained confidence over the cobbles, I set out on my own to tackle the last 100km. I felt great, and swinging into the Velodrome at Roubaix was such a great feeling.
I have to admit though, the cobbles were absolutely terrifying at first. The first section (Troisville) was still wet and muddy from the previous day's rain. And this was supposed to be one of the easier sections (according to my nerdy colour-coded chart - see below). This really was "Shock and Awe" - my shock at the severity of the cobbles, and awe at the pros tackling them at race speed. It was clear that if you were riding at race speed on this surface and you lost it, a serious injury was highly likely (as a few people discovered). Downhill on wet and muddy cobbles was clearly a serious challenge.
One of the great things about this event is that you can cover 100km on nice French roads and then the rest of the distance is so broken up with the 28 sections of pave, that you never really get bored. The technique I adopted (which seems to be the most commonly used) was as follows -
- use the margins and edges where possible, otherwise stay on the smoothest part available (usually the middle) - don't be a hero;
- push a big gear, hold the top of the bars and power across at a reasoble pace (I aimed for 24-28km/h); and
- respect your equipment - don't abuse the bike if you don't have to, but equally don't pussy-foot around - be confident.
And being so close to the Belgian border, the frites were good and came with plenty of mayo!
More stories here.
Friday, 21 March 2008
The hilarious selection of trade stands were present as usual (15 year old knackered rear mech or dayglo jersey advertising some local metalworks anyone?!). I did, however, manage to pick up a neat French bike stand called a "Loby's Foot" for a tenner. Anyway, lot's of entertaining action and a great atmosphere. Once again, the event battled and won the battle with the weather. My plan is to be there on the track next year!
About a month ago, I felt it was time to make a few upgrades to my trusty road race bike (see below). When I built it up a couple of years ago, I did so with a limited budget, and sourced some of the finishing kit (bars, stem, post and carbon cages) from Planet-X. Their kit is light, fairly stylish and very good value and, to be honest, has never given me any trouble. However, when I decided to build up a new commuter/ CX bike I thought I'd transfer a few of those parts and use it as an excuse for some upgrades to my race bike.