Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2017 Cyclocross Season - Race Report

Racing Category 3 Men Aged 45+

NW CX Cup Series
1st - Series Winner
WSBA Cyclocross State Championship
2nd -  Silver Medal
MFG Cyclocross Series

Season Summary:   After being forced off the bike in June 2016 due to a medical condition that still persists.  I was given permission by my doctor to return to training 10 months later.  It was a gradual process of riding checking in with the body and increasing the effort.  I discovered that I was able to maintain the level of pain whilst increasing effort and power, enabling me to set my sights on the 2017 Cyclocross season. 

Having only raced one full season in 2015 returning from a near death mountain biking accident whilst training for the 2014 season and going on to win the CXR Cyclocross series and placed 3rd in the MFG series I had no idea how I would perform in 2017.  As a USA Cycling Category 3 I decided to race Category 3 men in my age group 45+ in the MFG series, self seeding   I decided not to race the CXR series and to target MFG as my B race series and the new NW CX Cup as my A race series.  It was a hard decision as I really enjoyed the CXR series in 2015 however the season schedule favored MFG. 
with the goal of upgrading to Category 2.

With Nationals returning to Washington in 2019 the NW CX Cup series was setup to help riders earn USAC upgrade points and ranking, this aligned with my longer term goal to race Cat 1/2 at Nationals and I know I am going to need a couple of years to be competitive in what is a very competitive and fast field of riders.

The season was without a doubt hard work not to mention long spanning September to December especially having to manage injury recovery on almost a daily basis as I coxed my body onto the bike each day for training.  I used an indoor trainer exclusively so that I could monitor my body and mitigate any warning signs.  In the end despite a couple of hiccups my results surpassed my expectations and I achieved my goal of winning the NW CX Cup Series and earning enough USAC points to upgrade to Category 2.  In addition I placed 2nd in the WSBA Cyclocross State Championship, with a frustrating crash in the last lap and 3rd in the MFG series.   You can follow the link for Race Videos.

Now my sights are turned towards training and the spring and summer efforts that will help get me ready for 2018 and my first Cat 2 races. 

MFG #1
Lake Sammamish GP
MFG #2
Moor Cross
MFG #3
Tall Tyler CX
NW CX Cup #1
MFG #4
Magnuson CX
NW CX Cup #2
Deschutes River CX
MFG #5
North 40 CX
NW CX Cup #3
Ridge CX
MFG #6
Woodland Park  
NW CX Cup #4
Fort Steilacoom Park (Nationals Preview)
NW CX Cup #5
Kayak Point Cross
NW CX Cup #6
States Warm-up
NW CX Cup #7
WSBA Cyclocross Championship

Friday, November 24, 2017

Gear Talk: Rapha Repair Service

Hitting the deck hurts and invariably results in road rash, and to add insult to injury shredded clothing.   That insult is magnified when you are wearing your new kit.  I am sure you know what I am talking about.

When I purchased my shorts from Rapha, I saw that a repair service was available but I have to be honest I did not think much about it until reviewing the state of my new Rapha shorts a few days after crashing in California.  I had literally worn them twice and here they were with holes in them.

When I got home I decided to try Rapha's repair service and I have to say I am a happy customer. Apart from the cost of shipping them to Rapha the service is free.  Sending them was easy.  From there it went dark, I was not sure if they had even arrived so I called Rapha.

Calling Rapha is never the experience I expect from a premium brand but it always works out.  I would like to see Rapha invest in their customer service training in the same way they have invested in their packaging experience.

I finally got put through to the guy who manages repairs and he was really helpful.  He confirmed they had arrived and that they would be sent to me shortly (no pun intended).

He was not kidding, two days later they arrived in the post.  One of my favorite things about Rapha is the attention they place on packaging.  It just feels special opening the packets and the repair was no exception.  It came in its own accident repair musette, a really nice touch.  The patching is well done and best of all I get my shorts back.

While it is not a service I want to make much use of, it is comforting to know that Rapha understands the impact of crashing and is there to support its customers by making the experience easy.  Thank you Rapha.

Until next time keep it Rubber Side Down and MaxLifeOut.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Gear Talk: Track Bikes

If you have followed along with my race reports you will know that I am racing the same track bike I raced when I was a school boy back in England, and that it was purchased second hand from a friend (who I recently connected again with through this blog).

Over the years I have contemplated having it repainted but resisted the urge, it has the patina of time and use which money can't buy.  That is to say to some it looks like a crappy banged up bike. Whilst to others it is retro cool.  At a recent track day a rider outright said to me "I thought I was the only one with a crappy bike, but I've got a new one now" or something to that effect.  I can remember being a little taken aback.  Then moments later I was approached by another rider admiring my ride.

Comments aside, like all good gear heads I could not help but be curious if a new bike would not feel or ride better.  You know how it is, the thought wiggles in and before you know it your are researching your next ride.  I looked at the latest bikes from the likes of Cervelo and BMC and browsed the Internet, shocked at how little information is available.  I got really excited about the Cervelo T1 only to find out that they stopped production in 2012.  I then asked a friend who builds frames to give me a quote for a steel frame, which I reasoned would be a great way to go.  He produced some great drawings and I was almost at the point of pulling the trigger.

Then like all things, reality kicked in and I realized, I have gotten sucked into the new stuff zone without really knowing what I wanted. Sure I could tell you the use but not what I wanted and how it would improve my riding.  Then a conversation with my coach confirmed I needed to rethink my expenditure especially with the cyclocross season just around the corner.  After all if I did get a steel frame built would it really be much different. Well I guess I will find out some other day as for now my old boy is still awesome in my eyes.

Whilst inspecting the bike at the weekend I was horrified to discover that my bar tape had slipped.  I felt like writing to the manufacturer and letting them know that the tape had slipped after a mere 30 years, well I would if I had any idea of the company.  And so came an end to he era of zigzag blue bar tap.  As I stripped it off Sarah gave a horrified cry of "what you doing?" I had to reply it's time, it served me well.

Now one thing I did reason with was the benefit of new wheels, after all mine are 30 years old and going strong but 30 years old all the same.

A little research and there seems to be some benefit to deep dish wheels other than they look cool.  On the track fast wheels help you spin up quickly and once spinning, help you keep your speed.  Here we hit the next challenge, nice wheels come at a nice price and I have hit my gear budget pretty hard this year so I decided to see if I could pick up a second hand pair.  My patience paid off, ok I got lucky at the weekend, and today I picked up a set of Essor Areodash 88cm Carbon wheels from Craigslist at a fraction of the cost.  Yes original owner, with receipt and we meet in a public place.  No shady dealings here.   I am not familiar with Essor but they seem to get good reviews so I took a chance.  I will let you know my thoughts once they have been ridden in anger.

I guess I am just in a curious mood right now but after having ridden 19 and 23 tires I was wondering at the weekend what a set of 26 or 28 would feel like.  One good thing about an old frame is that I have loads of clearance to play with.  Well no decision yet but stay posted and I will let you know what I experiment with as the current tires need to be replaced and all I have are 26 or 28 so one set is going on the new wheels.

I would love to hear your thoughts on track bikes, wheels and equipment, just leave your thoughts in the comments.

Until next time keep it Rubberside down and MaxLifeOut


Friday, June 24, 2016

Gear Review - Bib Shorts

A word on a seriously important subject, ok the title gave it away but I am sure you will agree that good shorts can make or break a ride.  Well that is what all the manufacturers will have you believe and having spent multiple 7 hour days in the saddle I wanted to share my totally unscientific finding with you.

First and foremost I am a big believer in how the kit we buy makes us feel.  We will justify and adjust to almost anything if it makes us feel good.  That at the end of the day is what branding is all about.  We identify with what the product stands for, represents or symbolizes and in doing so we feel great about ourselves through a mix of internalizing the feeling and lets be honest sending a message to others.

So what has this got to do with shorts I hear you say.  Well until this year I had not really thought much about the quality of shorts.  To be honest I still have shorts that I use on my trainer that are 10+ years old and they work just great.  No the padding has not worn out and no I don't get sore and yes they get washed after every ride. 

The only real consideration I had was to make sure the padding felt good and that I liked the design.  As a result many of my shorts turned out to be made by Champion Systems.  Not because I chose the brand but because the kit was manufactured by them.

Then I discovered the dark secrets of high end quality shorts, or did I just get sucked into the marketing hype.  As I prepared for my Tour of California adventure it seemed reasonable and logical that high end shorts would make my time in the saddle more comfortable.  The decision was helped after a long weekend training ride when I noticed that after 5 hours my Champion System shorts were certainly less comfortable. Yes, my bum ached.

With so much invested in my trip I was not going to cut corners with my choice of clothing.  I went on the hunt for the best shorts on the market.  It was then that I was introduced to Assos shorts.  To give you some idea of  my cycling fashion awareness, I had no idea of the elite status of Assos.  Sure I knew it was a well known brand but that was it.  The next shock was how much Assos clothing cost.  The people I talked to and the articles I read all told me that Assos bib shorts where the best in the World and the "crème de la crème" was the T.Championissimo_S7.  They certainly had the best price tag.

I am going to humbly admit that I am just as susceptible to branding as anyone, ok I might be more susceptible than most and yes I like wearing high quality kit that others admire.  There I said it, I know it is vain but no point beating around the bush.   The elitism of Assos spoke directly to my ego and whilst my back was turned, my brain and ego got together to justify the need to own the shorts despite a tiny suppressed voice deep in my conscious yelling "what the hell are you thinking", needless to say I ignored it and helped by an unexpected but welcome discount I was the proud owner of a pair of T-Championissimo_S7 bib shorts.

So what did I think of them? Well they are comfortable and I like the low cut front when it comes to quick pee breaks.  I would love to say I had an "aaaahhhh" moment when I put them on, or when riding but I simple did not.  Don't get me wrong they are comfortable I just did not experience the wow factor everyone talked about.  One thing I do not like is the light color of the pad, lets face it with race nerves and chamy cream, well lets just say shorts need washing after every use.

Despite what you have just read after a number of comfortable rides and the need for three pairs of shorts for my trip I rationalized that having the same shorts would be the best idea so I resolved to acquire two more pairs.  Fate however had other ideas.  At the last minute my order for two pairs went south and I was left hanging.  Despite the cost it seemed that demand was high and I could not find anyone who had availability before my trip.

What to do?  Well I could go with another brand, but which one.  I would love to say at this point that I have experience with all brands.  That would be cool but not true.  The only other brand I had experience with was Rapha.  Rapha is a premium brand from the UK and one that I have mixed emotions about.  I am a big fan of their designs and when they fit I have been extremely happy with them, however the sizing is somewhat hit and miss.  The good news is that they have an excellent return policy which makes purchasing different sizes easy to do if you don't mind going through the hassle of returning the ones that don't fit.  In general the quality is great but I can't say it is hands down better than any other brand I have owned.  It does however feel special to me and I am unashamedly bought into that feeling whilst knowing I am sometimes paying a premium of the design, the name and the feeling I get wearing them.

So with nowhere else to go for shorts and not wanting to try the unknown I opted for Rapha.  I selected both lightweight and brevet bib shorts.  The good news was that they were half the price of the Assos shorts but would that show up in quality and ride comfort.  Well time would tell.

They arrived on time and true to form the sizing was all over the place.  The Brevet shorts were too big but luckily the Lightweight shorts fitted.  I am going to have to say putting them on felt good and I really liked the design much more than the Assos shorts.  The fabric of the Brevet shorts felt really soft and comfortable but alas I would not be able to return them in time for the trip.

So armed with my one pair of Assos T-Championissimo_s7 and two pairs of Rapha Lightweight bib shorts I headed out to put them through the paces over 8 days and 740 miles.  So what was the verdict?  I really could not tell any difference between the Rapha and Assos shorts and whilst I would love to say there was something about the Assos shorts that warrants double the price. For my undercarriage the value just was not there.   The one thing they have going for them is the statement that you are wearing the most expensive and exclusive shorts on the market.  If that floats your boat then they could be for you. 

As a result of my totally unscientific experiment  I discovered that for rides around 3-4 hours Champion System bibs are just fine.  For longer rides both the Assos and Rapha shorts performed equally well while I did notice increased discomfort with the Champion System shorts. 

May you always ride in comfort and until next time keep it Rubber Side Down and MaxLifeOut

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Wednesday Night Track Race Report #4 (Mixed Emotions)

It is with mixed feelings and emotions that I sit down to write this report.  I promised myself when I started to blog I would share the good and the bad and above be honest and objective so here goes.

If you have ever raced you will know what I am about to talk about, but if you haven't well I hope this helps with some perspective.  I love to ride and I love to race but it does not come without anxiety and nerves.  Am I good enough, will I be on form, can I stay upright and a myriad of other doubts and of course the dire need for many visits to the toilet.  Yup racing is the best laxative in the world, just saying.  So when you are stuck in a traffic jam with 30 minutes until the race start you can imagine the state of calm that existed within the confines of my car. 

It took me another 10 minutes to finally get to the car park where I needed to assemble my bike, get checked in, get dressed and warm up.  Sarah had ridden down to see me and was sporting a grazed knee, some friends had turned up to cheer me on and I was like a headless chicken rushing to get ready.  If you are wondering this is totally not the way to prep for a race.  In the end I managed a 10 minute warm up before the track was cleared

The plan for the night was the same as last week.  Ride both the Master B and Cat 4 events to maximize the racing and race intensity for training.  It is hard not to focus on my overall position especially since I was in second place for the Master B series going into the race, but the goal is the long game and so the stage was set.

Master B Point-a-Lap (3rd)

In a point-a-lap race you score 1 point for every lap you cross the line in first with the last lap having 3 - 2 -1 points for the first three riders across the line.  As the first race of the night I wanted to warm up so I stayed in the field and did not go out early to contend points.  As we neared the end of the race I saw the opportunity to grab a few points.  I was however a marked man.  The race leader saw me go and using my wheel managed to come around me in the final few meters, I had done enough however to secure 3rd place and open the account for the night.

Category 4 Point-a-Lap (3rd)

With one race in between I rolled around the warmup circuit and prepared mentally for my next race.  Where there were 8 riders in the Master B field there were 22 riders in Cat 4 and the dynamic of the race was very different.  Right out the gate the Cat 4 race leader went after points but I sat back with a longer game in mind.  Towards the end of the race I saw my opportunity and stole some points in the final sprint doing enough to earn a 3rd place finish.

Master B Miss-n-Out (4th)

A Miss-n-Out also known as Devil take the hindmost is a race of attrition with the last rider across the line being eliminated from the race until there are 3 riders left.  It is a tactical race and this time I got the tactics wrong.  One of the rules of track is once you are in the sprinters lane another rider cannot enter it and you cannot leave it.  The classic trap in a miss-n-out is to be caught in the sprinters lane and have all the riders come over the top of you.  I avoided that trap until 4 laps to go when I was the one trapped.

Category 4 Belgian Win-n-Out (1st)

In a Belgian Win-n-Out there are 4 bells in the race a set number of laps apart.  On the 1st bell the race is for 4th place, on the 2nd bell the race is for 3rd place, on the 3rd bell the race is for 2nd place and on the final bell the winner takes the race.  With 22 hungry riders I settled into the pack and kept a close eye on the race leader who was also hanging back.  He is strong and I calculated that he would probably go for the win, either way I had decided to see the race out to the final sprint and stay true to my goal for the night.  As we approached the 3rd bell he started to move up the field and then to my surprise attacked, I started to go with him then pulled up as he took off for 2nd place.  It was a tactical move but one that was not liked by the rider behind.  I slide back in the field as we jostled for position.  At the final bell I locked onto a wheel and he took off after the win but I was glued in place and as we came around the final bend I put the hammer down and was able to out sprint him to the line to take the race.

Master B Scratch Race (1st relegated to 7th)

The final Master B race for the evening.  A straight forward scratch race with one $10 preme.  We rolled out and from the start the race was one of tactics over speed with no one wanting to put too much work in.  At the bell for the preme I was in a good position and thought way not have a dig.  It worked out and I scored $10 after which I settled back into the pack.  As we approached the final laps the pack moved to the top of the track with everyone on the barrier, you could feel the tension and the energy around you as everyone was waiting for the bell.  At the bell a rider went long and I came in on his wheel, it was a horrible position to be in as I knew everyone was lining up behind me.  The attack came into the 3rd corner and I accelerated to stay with the field as we came out of the last corner I was laying down everything I had and the finish had shrunk to a single point that I intended to get to first.  I took the lead just as we hit the finishing line taking the win or so I thought.  As we rolled out I was first congratulated by the second place rider then three riders in turn rebuked me for not holding my line.  I will be honest I was confused as I had not thought I had deviated from my line but these are good riders and I will always take feedback and be the first to put my hand up and accept responsibility for my actions.  What I did not know was the level of complaint made which resulted in me being relegated for dangerous riding to the back of the field.

Cat 4 Scratch Race (result pending)

I had no time to dwell on the previous race as I rolled up for the last race of the night.  I was tired but fully intended to dig in and have a go as it was my last race of the night.  As we dropped in it was clear that this would be a very different race than the Master B.  I sat back in the field and watched the action not taking part in the premes and not chasing down a lone break.  As we hit the bell I was not in an ideal position sitting around 10th and was forced to accelerate to catch the leaders, I closed the gap on the back straight and went wide in an attempt to come around them.  I ran out of track and finished in the top group.  It was great to find out that a friend had won.  My result is pending.

Coming off the track I was greeted by a very confused and angry Sarah.  She did not understand why I had been relegated and she encouraged me to find out more.   I approached the judges to ask for feedback and was greeted by my second surprise of the evening, I was told curtly that I had been relegated for dangerous riding out of line.  What I wanted was to understand was exactly what had been seen but the attitude I was greeted with left no room for questions.  I really appreciate judges and their efforts to keep everyone safe, what I really dislike is when it is delivered in an officious and disrespectful way, it simply creates the wrong energy.  That by the way goes for riders too.  I totally get that they have to deal with riders with attitude but it is not like we were racing for big money or the world championship.   Whilst it was disappointing to lose the points, it was not the end of the world and I personally had gotten what I needed out of the effort.

I accept the feedback of my fellow riders and will take it to heart so as not put others at risk as I would not want to be put at risk.  The sad thing is that the whole incident left a bad feeling in the air and Sarah and I left on a downer which is not how I want to feel about a sport I love and I certainly don't want to have bad feelings with those that I choose to spend my time with. 

I shared the events with my coach and now with you.  What is past is past and I will look forward to my next evening of racing with renewed energy, lessons learnt, oh and front and back cameras so I can review my racing lines in the future.

Until next time keep it Rubber Side Down and MaxLifeOut

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Wednesday Night Track Race Report #3

One of the most important things I appreciate about having a coach is the help with clarifying goals and helping me take on bigger challenges.  Turns out that racing Master B on the track will not get me any upgrade points and I need to race Cat 4 to earn them.  With that in mind and the objective of getting as much racing in as possible this weeks goal was to race both the Master B and Cat 4, effectively doubling the amount of racing for the night.

Special mention has to be made for Sarah, who without her help I would not have time between work and heading out to be ready to go. 

When I signed in for the night it turned out that I was the current Master B series leader and entitled to wear the leaders jersey, now that was cool, however I could not wear it as I signed up for both races series and therefore had to forgo the pleasure of having a bulls eye on my back.

The other little nuance is that for Master B races there is no gear restriction but for Cat 4 gearing is restricted to 48 - 15.  That presented me with the dilemma of either changing gearing between races or spinning out in the Master B's.  Oh and the Cat 4 field was a complete unknown to me which is always interesting.

The first race of the evening was a Master B 10 lap snowball.  for each lap the first person across the line gets points equal to the lap count.  ie, lap 1= 1point all the way up to lap 10= 10 points.  I had intended to sit in and try to grab some points but the race split apart and I was forced to go hunt points if I wanted them.  I used a slowing of the field to launch an attack after the lone breakaway mid way through the race.  I have to be honest, once committed my inner voice started screaming at me "what the hell are you doing? it is only the first race of the night Matthew, idiot".  I ignored the stupid voice and managed to do enough to finish second overall.

With one race before my first Cat 4 race I rolled around the warm up circle, I breathed a sigh of relief when my gearing successfully rolled out and I lined up for an 8 lap snowball.  The race did not start well with the official accusing me of racing in the wrong category prior (Master B) telling me I would be fined if it happened again.  I was shocked and confused and it really did not help my focus.  I put the incident to the back of my mind and rolled up. 

Having burnt a bunch of matches in the first race I was looking to sit in and spin keeping in the main pack, but circumstances did not allow for that. The riders wheel I was on launched into the first point and I simply followed his wheel.  It was like following a motor bike and I was very impressed with the speed.  I honestly thought we had opened a sizable gap when he pulled up but I did not account for fresh legs.  The group had reacted and what little flame I had from the final matches quickly went out.  I slide back and came in 9th.

Next up was a Master B keirin which would be conducted over 2 heats and a final.  The first 4 of each heat would go into the final.  The Master A's were up first and I felt rushed to change my chain ring in time, a 48/15 with this group would not work.  It turned out that I had 3 heats to change it in but got my timing all screwed up.  At the drawing of straws I pulled No 1.  which meant if no one took the motor bike I was obliged to do so.  In the event I did not get a chance and I found myself around 6th or 7th wheel.   As the pace increased the rider in front lost his wheel and the leaders were pulling away forcing me to bridge the gap.  As I bridged, the rider behind me came up along side and both crowded and blocked me in, with a rub of shoulders.  I was forced to move inside the rider in front to avoid a touch of wheels. 

As we came into the final sprint the same guy was still blocking me in and as we approached the line the rider in front let up the pace knowing he was through, again with nowhere to go other than into a rider in front or to the side I was forced down the inside.   I was not happy and had words with the rider, who espoused his experience and the fact he was holding his line.  He had the cheek to say I looked nervous and I informed him, he made me nervous through his actions. 

The result of my evasive riding caused me to be disqualified which whilst frustrating was a much better result than crashing. 

The disqualification meant I had just enough time to change my gearing back for the Cat 4, 8 lap scratch race.   I sat back in the field and was content to cross the line in 6th.  I watched the Kirien final and then got ready for the Cat 4, 16 lap 4x4 points race.  As we rolled out I was not getting a read on the riders and positioned myself on the wheel of the guy leading the series.  I figured if he wanted to keep his leaders jersey he would have to perform.  I contended the first two points coming in the top 4.  Around lap 10 a rider was away and true to form the leaders jersey went after him to close the gap and I was right there with him.  As he bridged, the rider behind and the one from the first race with a wicked turn of speed attacked.  I was convinced my guy would go after him but to my surprise he didn't.  We only had 4 laps to go and the attack was a great move.  I went after him and was shocked to look back and see the gap we had opened.  The next 3 laps were a pursuit as I slowly realed him in.  It hurt and I had to chant in my head "Winners don't give up", the effort paid off as I hit the bell and was almost on him.  I could see he had committed everything he had and I was closing.  I caught him on the back straight and made my move for the line through turns 3 and 4 taking the race and gaining enough points to win the race overall.  Ok I had a few more matches left.

The last race of the night was a Master B 16 lap 4x4 points race.  After my effort in the previous race I was curious to see how I would perform.  As the last race of the night I could afford to light any matches left so I rolled the dice and mixed it up with each points lap.  I did enough to take 7th place overall and could not spin my legs fast enough in the last sprint lol. 

All up I took 5th place for the Master B Omnium and 3rd place for the Cat 4 Omnium and whilst I was tired I was not recked which in my books was a win.

As always Sarah was there with water, food, warm clothing, encouragement and support.  One rider in the warmup circle said 'wow you have water bottle suport", I could not help but smile and feel pride and a great deal of gratitude for my wonderful wife who gets more nervous than me before every race but is always there no matter what.

Cat 4 points race, making the catch, out of the last corner after a 3 lap pursuit.

Ride hard and fast, keep it Rubber Side Down and MaxLifeOut.



Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ellensburg Gran Fondo 2016

Before I embarked on the Tour of California I added the Ellensburg Gran Fondo I have never done a Gran Fondo and thought it would be something to have on the calendar when I got back.

Like all events is snuck up on me and before I knew it, I had a week to go and I had not checked my cyclocross bike or selected my tires.  In my mind it was going to be as simple as switching the tires from my rain bike to my cross bike, job done.

Before doing anything, I switched the cross tires for a set or 700x28 continentals and took it for a ride.  In my climbing gears I was getting crazy jumping but only under pressure.  A-ha, I have been here before with my road bike a guessed correctly that the cassette was worn.  A change of cassette (from my rain bike) and no more jumping.  Sorted, I thought.  Nope, on the next ride I discovered a clicking noise that could only be the wheels or bottom bracket.  I opted for a wheel switch first.  No dice.  I then dropped the chain off in the stand and spun the crank.  Yup, you guessed it the bottom bracket was shot. 

By now both my rain bike and cross bike are in bits and I have no bike to ride in the event.  I rush ordered a WheelsMfg bottom bracket.  The whole bottom bracket standard drives me to distraction.  I kept my fingers crossed I ordered the right part.

Whilst waiting for the part to arrive I decided to switch the tires.  It turns out that if you use your bike, stuff wears out, go figure. On inspection my rear tire had a hole in it and my front tire had so many small cuts it looked like a crazed pixy had stabbed and slashed at it with a tiny knife.  Damn pixy, now I needed tires.  Having the option of new tires then introduced the dilemma of which ones to get.  With 36 miles of gravel, tread would be helpful however it would be a drag on the road.  In the end I opted for a set of Tubeless Specialized Roubaix's 700c x30/32 as I enjoyed them during the winter and they stood up well to local gravel paths, until the pixy got at them.

On Saturday, before the ride the next day, the assembly started. With only the minimum number of swear words everything went together as planned.  An hour ride confirmed the bike was ready for a Gran Fondo.

An early start of 3:30am is not a time for a person to get out of bed.  It is simply the middle of the night.  Well that was the time I woke up and reluctantly dragged my protesting body out of bed.  The start time for the ride was 8am with registration opening at 6:45am, oh and I am about 2 hours with no traffic from registration.  On the upside there was just me and a few insomniacs on the road. 

I arrived with plenty of time to get my bike ready, change and catch up with a few friends who were also taking on the challenge.  Normally I would have enjoyed riding with them but I wanted to test myself and see what time I could do it in.

After the race briefing at 7:45am we had a neutral roll out behind the organizers truck for the first 3 miles.  For some reason I expected the first half of the ride to be pretty mellow, after all the climbs were not until the gravel section and it was not a race.  I could not have been more wrong.  As the rider in front of me pulled up I started my turn on the front.  I kept a respectable pace of 20-21mph but that apparently was not fast enough.  Not a minute into my pull and attacks were launched off the front with everyone scrabbling to find a wheel.

I decided to let 10 or so riders go before I jumped on the train.  Everyone came back together and the pace was significantly lifted.  What the hell I thought, lets see what happens if I just react.  It was hard work matching all the surges but eventually it settled down at which point one rider jumped away, never to be seen again, well that is never to be seen by the rest of us.  He went on to finish first so I understand.

The gravel is coming, that is 36 miles of it and somewhere in the region of 7000ft of climbing.  Now, I had prepared and reviewed the profile but it still did not prepare me for the monster ahead.  Fortunately, I did not know what I was getting into before I was fully committed and anyone climbing that thing in a compact double with a 28 on the back should be committed.  Wait, I am getting ahead of my self.  The transition from road to gravel was a road climb followed by a gravel wall, well it looked like one.  I had already decided to pace myself and had subsequently started to fall back when I hit it.  To give you an idea of the grade, the rider next to me ran out of gears and keeled over sideways, it would have been funny if I was not fighting to keep my own bike upright.

It levelled out a little and I started to tempo the climb, slowly pulling riders back.  What I did not know was the unrelenting grade ahead that took us up 2400ft in 5miles.  I quickly found the limit of my gearing and was forced to turn the pedals one stroke at a time.  Getting out of the saddle things got even more interesting as my lack of tire tread resulted in wheel spins.  It was a simple matter of embracing the pain and chanting to myself  "I climbed Tahoe, I can climb this" and I did, catching a good number of riders in the process. 

The aid station at the top which I thought was at the top, turns out it was not.  A bunch of false summits later a I was finally on a decent.  If you have never descended gravel on a cross bike with road tires at high speed I can assure you it is a white knuckle ride.  The trick is to keep your weight back, focus on your lines and avoid holes, rocks and loose stuff.  Oh and don't overcook the corners or you are in for an impromptu flying lesson without wings or a soft landing, been there and done that, not good :-).

The trail then proceeded to swoop down hill and then into a climb, followed by another down hill, then another a climb.  It was hard climbing and descending.  My hands and shoulders hurt from controlling the bike on the way down and my back hurt from the climbing.  I was embracing the epic adventure that was the day.

At the midway point was the main aid station and I rolled by opting to fill my water bottles from spare foldup containers I was carrying.  Bottles filled and my bladder emptied, I was back on the bike.  I thought this would be a good time to take on more food as the trail seemed a reasonable grade, that was until I turned the corner with a mouthful of food.  The second big climb was not as steep but not far off and it went on and on and on and on and, well you get the picture.  With food crammed in my mouth I was not having a great time and was relieved when I finally managed to swallow it all.

I summited the climb with one other rider and we headed into the decent.  Now let me ask you, have you ever strayed whilst driving onto the bumpy white line designed to wake you up?.  Well to my horror the corners of the trail had turned into massive wake up lines and hitting them at speed had a similar effect to putting your head in a blender whilst simultaneously driving your man bits up behind your ears.  If that was not bad enough it numbed your hands and made you see double, and all of this came as a surprise as you hit a racing line through a loose gravel corner at speed. 

As the rider in front of me took off down hill it took all of my descending skills to stay in contact and stay upright on the bike, allowing the back wheel a little freedom to break loose and recovering a number of potential front wheel washouts.  I was glad I had both MTB and Cross skills in my toolbox I can tell you.  We flew down the descent and the level of concentration was insane.  I took calculated risks but was not prepared to take stupid ones, opting to stay back in case he went down but not far enough back that I would lose contact.  Our decent worked in our favor and we pulled back two riders ahead.  It was however only a matter of time before the trail claimed a victim and I discovered at the end of the ride that the first rider we caught then went down hard behind us  Fortunately he received flesh wounds and was able to complete the ride.  With his shorts torn up and cuts on his arm and leg I knew it was going to hurt later and I felt for the guy.  I hope he is recovering quickly.

The end of the decent dropped us out onto the road and it felt wonderful to hit the asphalt.  The other good news was that we were now three and we worked together to race to the finish.   With all three of us working we were making good time and soon had a lone rider in our sights.  It was not long before we pulled him back and invited him to join us.  He dug deep and jumped on.  Now we were four and heading for home.

I'm going to say it that the organizers have a twisted sense of humor.  Why? because the last 3 miles or so of the ride were on gravel, we turned the corner and hit a railway grade trail.  "I was not amused".   That said, we put our heads down and raced for the finish, to be greeted with congratulations, a finishers patch and time to fist bump and share stories before heading home.

It turns out that unofficially the four of us finished in the top 10, completing 90 miles (36 on gravel) and 8000ft of climbing (most of which was on gravel) in 5hrs 38minutes.

Epic Day and qualifies for Maxing Life Out.

Here is a short video, not much as I was too busy riding and forgot to film

Remember to keep it Rubber Side Down and MaxLifeOut.