Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Race Report: Thetford Winter Series Round 4

Excellent photos from
The last round of Thetford Winter Series was held on Sunday 22 February 2009. This is a very popular MTB race series at one of my favourite off-road riding locations – Thetford Forest. I’d managed 15th in the first race (out of 211), 11th in the second (out of 195), but crashed out of the third race (at Rendlesham in Suffolk) in a start line pile-up in the freezing cold and pouring ran that left me with a badly bruised leg and a sliced kneecap (leg subsequently went an alarming shade of yellow, nut fortunately remained attached).

This time I was looking for payback and a good solid result to count towards the best 3 results that make up the series rankings. Still standing 21st overall despite only finishing 2 of the 3 previous races, I was gridded near the front. Fellow London Phoenix rider and riding buddy Stuart blagged his way to the front with me, and went on to overtake me following the start (cheeky beggar). I was deliberately being a bit cautious as I didn’t want to get caught up in any more accidents! Stuart stayed in front for part of the first lap, and I narrowly avoided another crash in the first singletrack section.

The course was absolutely superb! Pretty much dry (apart from a few areas) and offering just the right amount of grip to rail through the many bermed corners between the trees, ‘speeder-bike’ style (think Star Wars: Return of the Jedi). Throw in some fireroad sections, add a couple of short but reasonably demanding climbs, and the course had just about everything (other than the usual ‘bomb holes’). My lap times for the 7.6 mile course were all in the 33-34 minute range, and after the slowish start, I started to move through the field a bit. Traffic on some sections was an issue, and number of times my earlier efforts to drop other riders came to nothing as I got stuck in a traffic jam in the very narrow sections. By the last of the 4 laps I was battling with 2 other riders who had overtaken me on a fireroad section and were clearly on a mission. Sitting ‘third wheel’ and coming into the last climb, the bumpy ‘Plumbuster’, I overtook one of them and then halfway up the climb went past the other, managing to slot in 3 backmarkers between us by the top (a good security measure). The last 2 short sections were much wider, so I put the hammer down up the last uphill section to come in 14th (out of 183). Pretty happy with that, but most of all I had a great time on the bike (which performed perfectly as usual).
Honourable mentions go to all my team mates, including Matt Webber who, with the help of some Go gels, passed me on lap 3 to finish 10th and Stuart Lockyear, who was a very creditable 10th in the Vets.

Friday, 6 February 2009

REVIEW: Victory Circle Graphix decals

I've used Victory Circle Graphix in the past for frame stickers, having seen them on some bloke's road bike at a local race in 2005. I quickly ordered some nice black 'Discovery Channel Team' style ones with my last name and the Union flag on one set, and the Stars and Stripes on the other (I'm a dual national). Even my kids' bikes have them! The company actually supply frame stickers to a number of the pro teams, including Astana and Bissell.

I thought it would be good to get some for my Club,
London Phoenix, so put the word out to see who was interested. Initial feedback was good, so I asked the folks at VC Graphix to design us some custom stickers using our club logo instead of a national flag. With a bit of feedback and fine tuning, we soon had a great looking design (no extra charge), and ordered up about 20 sets. Feedback on the club website has been very positive, and the service from VC was brilliant. They also offered a good deal on the order as it was reasonably large.
The stickers are extremely durable (they are not thin) and providing you clean the frame beforehand (I use a little isopropyl alcohol), they will stay firmly put. They even seem to resist mild jet-washing (although not the kind of jet-washing my riding buddy Stuart does, which tends to remove the paint!). No signs of UV fade either (some of my original ones are over 3 years old now).

All in all, a great service, well priced and best of all it makes you look like a Pro (alas, no performance enhancement noticed yet). If you want some, email Holly ( and she'll get you sorted.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

First visit to Hog Hill and I won!!

Hog Hill from the air.

I made my first visit to the Redbridge Cycle Centre (a.k.a. 'Hog Hill') on 31st January 2009 to try out the road circuit by racing in the Cat 4 race. I'd been following the banter on the London Phoenix forum for a while, and there had been plenty as this was the 8th race in the series. Unfortunately I hadn't managed to make it to any of the earlier races due to a number of frustrating circumstances, including kids' swimming lessons, waiting for parts for my new road bike, and generally not wanting to push my luck too much with my long-suffering wife when I had another event on the following day!

I got the all clear to go this time provided I took my five year old and here pal to a gymnastics party in East Ham(!) later in the day. Sounded pretty fair to me. Luckily the weather gods were smiling, with blue skies but a fairly brisk cold wind. I was seriously impressed with the facilities at Hog Hill. It felt very strange to be at a cycling event where the toilets were actually clean, and the rooms warm. Race numbers on (very fiddly), I did a couple of practice laps in the 'direction du jour', anticlockwise. Immediately apparent was the strong headwind going up the first rise and down the main descent. Serious effort would be required to break away down the hill. Next, through a series of tight, swoopy corners, and back into the wind for the run up to the fabled 'Hoggenberg'. From some accounts, it almost seemed as if someone had made a serious miscalculation with the plans by putting in a "really nasty" climb on a relatively small circuit. As it turns out, I found it a little anti-climactic. OK, the top bit kicks up a little, but it was not too bad. In fact, I kind of liked it!

Off we go then! The first few laps were fairly uneventful, and I stayed out of trouble while I got used to the course. Soon though it became clear the wind was going to cause a few problems, particularly on the climb out of the top part of the circuit to the long descent (not to mention the 'Berg). Sure enough, pretty soon the field had splintered, and a group of 20 or so out of the original 32 formed at the front. There were a few half-attempts to attack on the 'Berg', but I got the feeling these were just testing the legs (and the field). Anyway, I made sure I was near the front on each ascent, and felt pretty comfortable considering my bruised (and curiously yellow) knee from last weekend's crash on the MTB, and the 2 bottles of Bordeaux my Dad and I had shared the night before! I think a few more people dropped off over the next 20 minutes, leaving a group of about 12-15 riders. We started to lap a few of the slower riders once the '5 laps to go board' came out, and I started to feel reasonably confident of a good placing. I was finding the 'Berg to be no problem and was riding it in the saddle most laps while the guys beside me were huffing and puffing a bit.

At the start of the last lap, somebody tried (there's always one!) to break away on the rise to the long descent and powered down the hill into the wind and got a bit of a gap. I was near the front and had to decide whether to be the sucker to chase him down (and drag the rest of the field up to him) or hold my nerve. I held back though as I needed to have the legs for the last sprint up the 'Berg, and someone else took the plunge. I immediately latched on and we made the catch, although, he didn't get too far to be honest. We all regrouped after the curves, almost forming an echelon against the wind, and again I resisted the instinct to hit the front. Going into the last climb we were three abreast, and I positioned myself at the front on the right to allow myself the tightest line around the right-hander to the finish line. We all watched each other closely. My heart rate monitor had given up the ghost by this point, but I could feel my heart anyway. Suddenly I sensed someone moving up on my right so I hit the gas, all out, with just 50-60m to go. Out of the saddle, my back wheel skipped a few times as I gave it everything I had. I looked back and could only see one other rider within striking distance (see below), and luckily the line appeared quickly (unlike the old Eastway, when it seemed to take an age to arrive up the last drag). Phew! I then saw we were just about to catch another London Phoenix rider (Paul Wixon), so in my excitement I blasted up the next climb to tell him the good news, before peeling off to head back to the clubhouse!

The sprint for the line!
Photo taken by Taka Wu. For more visit
I think I won a couple of novice road races at Eastway in 2005, one of them with a similar tactic, and one on a solo break, but I had forgotten how good it feels. It felt even better because it was on my first visit to such a great new facility, and there were actually a few people watching! And.. (apparently) I have now been upgraded to a Cat 3 Licence. Woo hoo! I think.....?