Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cyclocross in Upper Belgium - 4 years on.

My Singular Kite, a very fun bike.
We are pretty lucky in Wellington, well Upper Hutt actually, with a great Cyclocross series put on by the crew from the Bike Hutt. The series actually started 4 years ago. The first race had but a handful of CX bikes and most of us were on MTB's of some kind. I opted for an old  single speeded Diamond Back until the next year's series where I used my newly acquired  Karate Monkey with Cross tires. It was great fun but the Monkey is a pretty hefty bike to shoulder with discs. The next year I put my back out in the very first race of the series and was knackered for the rest. At the end of that year I took delivery of a proper cross bike frame, a new Singular Kite. I quickly built it up and have done some awesome rides on it of both on MTB trails and on Gravel Grinding rides.

Cross racing is unlike anything else I have done on two wheels, and I have done quite a few different things. It doesn't have the cut-throat style of road racing, or the same kind of intensity as track racing. It doesn't feel as serious as MTB racing and there is a real camaraderie amongst the riders as they battle each other lap for lap, until one of them blows, and they often do blow. There is no sucking a wheel in CX. There is mud, and spills, but injuries are rare. And afterwards there is always a heart-felt hand shake from the competitor you have been racing.

Why Cyclocross is a good idea
1. You don't need to do a lot of training, races are all under 1 hour, doable with a bit of commuting and maybe some running to boost your cardio fitness.
2. It's great to spectate at. Friendly sledging and cheering is encouraged.
3. You can watch the other grades race as well and get to know those riders as well as the riders from your own grade.
4. Because of the flat nature of the courses its very easy to include a kids race into the programme.
5. No matter what bike you ride, you will be welcome. No one will look down their nose at you if you don't have the latest gear.
6. You can be deadly slow but you will never finish more than 1 lap after the winner. (Those are the rules).
7. When you are not CXing your bike will make an awesome commuter and adventure bike. You may even want to do some Brevet style riding on it. It will also pass as a road bike with some slick tires one.

A good thing about the Bike Hutt series is that we have some very good photographers recording the racing and publishing or putting videos on line. 

Craig has also published a Coffee table book of some of his favourite shots from the last two years racing. 2012 and 2013.



Check out one of Ricoh's videos.


The as always immaculately dressed Gav flinches as Marcel
monsters past and roosts all over him.  Awesome shot Ricoh.
Ricoh's Flickr stream
http://www.flickr.com/photos/87550748@N04/sets/72157634518837849/

This year was the first year I have actually ridden a proper CX bike in the races and it makes it a lot more fun. I was actually planning to do a bit of training for the CX series this time around but we sold our house and moved into Wellington so there was basically no time. I had a race entry carried over from last years Night Time Madness night-running race so I thought I could probably train for that instead with a few lunch time runs.

A shot of the Harcourt Park final from Craig Madsen.

Here is my schedule in a bit more detail if anyone is interested. As I said it was a minimalist programme aimed at a running race, not Cyclocross racing.

Basically it was (weather dependant) 3 runs a week, one of them long and 3 commutes by bike on the flat. My commuter bike is a 2x1 with 50/36 - 17 gearing so it was mostly spinning. Before that, for maybe 2 months I was doing pilates once a week with 3 short runs and maybe one ride a week. Before that I was doing some pretty hard cross-fit sessions at lunch with one of my work mates. I am sure the core work is a great help. I think I got a far better return in my cardio fitness from the hill running as I would not have been interested in riding hard at that time of the year. The commuting was just enough to remind the legs that they needed to go around and around hard, once a week at a CX race on the sunday : )


M - Sa shift house
Su CX race 16th California Park


M 50 mins commute x2,
Tu 50 mins commute x2, 1.09hrs hill run
W 50 mins commute x2, 55 mins hill run
Su CX race 9th Moonshine Park


M 50 mins commute x2,
Tu 50 mins commute x2, 1.02hrs hill run
W 41 mins hill run
Th 1hr hill run
Su 2hr hill run

Tu 50 mins commute x2, 60mins hill run
W 2hr hill run
Th 50 mins commute x2,
Su CX race Nats round 9th O/A Blenheim


M 50 mins commute x2, 28mins flat run
Tu 50 mins commute x2, 38mins hill run
W 50 mins commute x2,
Th 2hr hill run
F 25min run
Su CX race 9th California Park


M 50 mins commute x2, 53mins hill run
Tu 50 mins commute x2, 39mins hill run
W 50 mins commute x2,
Th 2hr hill run
F 50 mins commute x2
Su CX race 8th Moonshine


M 50 mins commute x2, 42mins hill run
Tu 50 mins commute x2,
Th 1.38hr hill run
F 50 mins commute x2, 29min run
Su CX race 5th Harcourt Park

A word of caution, Cyclocross is a winter sport. If you put a lot of effort into it you may well find yourself feeling a bit fried at the time of the year you would normally be starting to get serious with some base training for your summer season.

See you next year.




Friday, August 02, 2013

Mainland weekender

A series of coincidences led to a sortee down to the mainland to compete in the Blenheim round of the Cyclocross Nationals on July 21.

De Snor, Alex Revell was keen to head down and asked if he could stay in the Voodoo Lounge. His fellow Revolution Cycles rider Geoffrey Notman had to head down south anyway to take photos for some painting he was doing, so it would have been rude not to fit in the race while he was there as well. For me it was a good chance to catch up with my family and bring back a motor scooter my brother had offered me, and obviously I would take part in the race too.

There was a taste of things to come when on the Friday morning as I was getting ready a particularly nasty quake rocked our house. It was a lot worse at my work where people were getting a bit more excitable, as is there job to. While I was sailing over the Cook Strait on the Bluebridge Ferry later on I got a text from my daughter saying another one had struck.

Alex roosts it up. Image from Sarnim Dean.
http://www.sarnim.com
Things seemed to cool down for a bit that night while my brother shouted us out to tea at the Redwood Tavern. The next day, Saturday, like a couple of gun-fighters, Alex and Geoff rode into town rather than accept the complimentary Voodoo Lounge flat-deck-truck pick-up.

They checked out dads latest "eagle" and made themselves comfy in the Voodoo Lounge. It was the first time for Geoff but Alex had stayed before and after the 2012 Kiwi Brevet..

We tweaked the bikes for the next day's event and after a wholesome meal topped off with a complimentary bottle of wine left over from the Grape Ride three years previous, we hit the sack.

Around 7am on Sunday we were awoken by a sharp quake that knocked a picture frame off the shelf. Hmmm. A bit of a swarm thing going on here.

I had first heard of Mondo Kopua at the inaugural Kiwi Brevet in 2010 and he seems to have taken up the role of introducing CX to the locals in Blenheim. They were very organized and I think they also had a points system for the non-CX class where they got credits for things such as skin-suits, costumes and leg-shavings.

Image from Bike-fit.co.nz
The course had some good technical bits and was quite a bit rougher than the manicured stop-banks and parks we are spoilt with in Upper Hutt, or "Upper Belgium" as its known. I was happy to be on my steel Singular Kite and wondered how much battering Alex and Geoff would have been getting on  their alloy Yeti's as they bounced over the myriad of cow-pocks that were in parts of the course. I don't usually race CX with gloves on, and this day was no exception but by the end of the event I had a very nasty blister from my cow-pock induced death-grip!


My speedy starts seem to be a thing of the past so these days I seem to be relying on a consistency that manifests itself in a 14 second spread on a long 7-8 minute course like this. Geoff and I were both racing vets men 45+ and I watched as he started putting putting a good 10 seconds a lap on me as he rode off leaving me to battle with the fastest ladies. Anja McDonald and Jenna Makgill were both riders I had heard about through mountainbiking and I knew technically speaking both of them would ride rings around me. Downhill, Cross country, fixed gear and Singlespeeding, these ladies have big reps, World champ and National Champs status across all codes, but I had no idea any of them were CXers. 

Me flying my Kite.
Check out the levers.
http://www.sarnim.com
I busied myself at trying not to fall off on the slimy off-camber and after a few laps I managed to haul Jenna back probably courtesy of my running fitness, up one of the grunty walking climbs. It was common for me to come a cropper at least once a lap, and to fail at reclipping into my pedals as my crash point was usually followed by a pocky descent that was bumping my feet off the pedals. Sucks to be a nana!

The race was to be a bit longer than normal at 60 minutes plus 1 lap and eventually I pulled back Geoffrey and started catching a few more riders and lapping a few more. The "other" Mike Anderson from Stoke Cycles was just around the corner and for two laps I tailed him and Anja as Anja's lap times started to blow out. On the last lap I made a move and somehow cleaned the technical bit that was stymieing me, dropped Mike and ran past Anja on the next climb. Great I had it nailed. Unfortunately the last zig-zag proved too much for my nana-skills and I lost the front-end yet again and with my levers getting progressively lower with each get-off there was no way I was going to make the time back with less than a couple of minutes to go!

Somewhere along the way we caught Jut Bishop who I remember from back in the 90's as being the area's top MTBer. Its cool to see him still out there giving it a crack. 

Geoffrey Notman with his racing head on.
http://www.sarnim.com
Alex was having it mostly his own way after his main competition, Logan Horn from Christchurch burped his tubeless tires twice on a firm part of the course, not that it meant that Alex slowed down at all, indeed he came a good cropper on the triple-set of stiles at the start-finish and scored a good haematoma for his efforts. It was great to hear some of Alex's tales from his CX racing in Europe last year.

We were late in starting the race so Geoff and I split ASAP when it finished to get out to his next appointment at Renwick where he was taking some shots for inspiration for his next series of paintings. Alex also took off so sadly missed the prize giving which looked particularly salubrious with some very nice bottles of wine and other goodies up for grabs.

After attending the Renwick Boar Slaying comp we realised what a completely fringe activity Cyclocross is by comparison. Thanks Mondo for lifting the profile!

After another wholesome meal from my mum I was contemplating jumping on my new scooter for its last ride on the mainland, to the ferry, when the next quake hit at 5.09. A 6.5 ! What a monster. I cant say I've ever been scared of an earthquake to that extent in NZ before. Suffice to say it was a busy week at work the next week.

We really enjoyed our brief shaky interlude down south and would recommend anyone to check out the CX events Mondo, Brent and his crew are putting on down there. We travelled via the Bluebridge Ferry which has free wifi and movies. Compare this to the Interislander Ferry where you have to pay for both of these, on top of a more expensive passage fee, plus The Bluebridge people had a half price deal on : )

Thanks to Sarnim Dean for the use of his awesome images on these pages. Check out the classic one below. This is Kim Swan (the one on the left ; ). She is a good friend of my fathers and has written many books on Pig-Hunting and horse riding.  For more on this theme check out Sarnim's pix in his Flickr feed.


Kim Swan, look harder, no, on the left ! http://www.sarnim.com
Results here.