You Wait for Ages and Then They All Come at Once!
Having not raced at the Strathpuffer this winter, it seems a long time since my last bike event. Having properly enjoyed Christmas this year with too much eating and drinking and very little cycling, I started training again in earnest in the New Year. It was tough. I can’t remember feeling that unfit and slow before but I’m sure it was all in the mind!
Fast forward three months after lots of dark, wet and cold miles; the daffodils are here bringing with them the longer days and at last some bike events to do!
First up was The Gravel Rush sportive organised by the Green Jersey, a fantastic little bike shop in Clitheroe with a great café and lovely coffee. The ride was a mix of road and off-road sections over sixty miles in and around Bowland and was perfect to bring the legs out of hibernation. Including the ride there and back, it made for a nice big day out. Jase and Dave both rode as well and lots of other friendly folk made for a great social day out. Managed to open the taps for some sections of the ride and the legs responded. So maybe having a year off from the Puffer was a good thing!
[Not much Gravel to be seen!]
Next up and quickly becoming one of my favourites was Battle on the Beach. A very different race from any other on the calendar. The race starts on the beach with a long, fast and hard stretch on the sand. Last year I failed to reach the lead group and suffered as a consequence. This year was going to be different. I lined up just behind the gridded front row and was ready. The start is a short run through soft sand, then a quick mount, head down and pedal hard. It was fast but I had worked hard on my short intense efforts, which paid off and I soon found myself surrounded by about 50 other riders in the lead group. From there the first stretch along the sands wasn’t too bad. I just tried to gain as much shelter as I could and avoided a situation where someone would take me out.
As we approached the end of the beach and the turn off inland, I put in a little effort and got myself into 5th or 6th position ready for the race around the double track and woods. This didn’t last long. We hit a bumpy and twisty double track and my legs failed to respond. People started flowing past me and I couldn’t respond. I’m not sure what the problem was. I may have put more effort into the start than I thought or maybe I just wasn’t practiced enough on the mountain bike – I had been riding on the road all winter! Irrespective, after a couple of miles I started to maintain enough speed to start to keep my position.
The rest of the race unfolded pretty much the same. Very strong on the flat stretch on the beach and then struggled for strength on the off-road bits. My endurance levels kicked in on the third lap and I managed to claw back some places and finished in 40th place, 17th Vet. Much improved on last year, which should hopefully mean I’ll be gridded next year. More improvement necessary but I know what to do. The race is definitely as addictive the 3 Peaks Cyclocross!
No sooner was I back from the monster drive home and my thoughts were on next weekend’s event – Clifcross organised by Emma Osenton. Emma’s events are always well organised, tough and good value. I had rode the Clifcross a few years before so knew the route. The weather forecast was due to be foul in the afternoon, so the plan was to get round as quick as possible. I met Dave there having both rode over to warm the legs up and then we headed off at a silly speed up the first very steep climb. This was a quick reminder how tough this route was. This year, Emma had also thrown in a few timed climbs, just to make sure no-one was slacking!
Me and Dave managed to stay together, did a few wrong turns, added some extra miles and climbing in and then managed to get back in the dry. No sooner was we scoffing on the Hog Roast finishing sandwich and a crazy hail storm came over. Anyone that was still out there would have suffered. I was glad it was not me.
A bit of a theme in my Spring time events had now started to emerge, maybe due to a little ride in April called the Dirty Reiver – a 200km gravel race in Kielder. So the next week I joined Greg May on the gRVOL. This was Greg’s version of the Ronde Van Oost Lancashire, a ride originally devised by Alan Dorrington in search of Lancashire’s finest cobbles. Greg’s version was longer, hillier and had more off road sections. Myself, Greg and Giles set out on the ride with Greg on his mountain bike, prepped for the Tour Divide, and myself and Giles on CX bikes.
[Greg surprisingly happy at the top of a tough climb]
The morning started murky and damp but it soon dried up into a lovely spring day. The trails were reasonably dry and the route was spot on – good work Greg! It turned out to be a big day in the saddle which is just what I needed to improve my endurance.
This then brings me to last weekend’s event, which was the first Scott MTB Marathon of the year in Builth Wells. The whole family rides at these events with me doing the 40k night event on the Saturday, Jaqs doing the 100k marathon the next day, with me and the girls doing the shorter marathon. The night event, sponsored by USE Exposure, is a couple of hours blast over the hills just as its going dark returning to a post-race party back at the HQ.
[Team Simcock before the Scott MTB Marathon]
I decided to take it easy as I was suffering from bad back pain after a recent marathon stint of DIY and it didn’t seem to be getting any better. That thought lasted all of a minute, as we all raced up the first climb. I managed a reasonable pace even though my back was screaming at me. I felt as if I had the strength in my legs but couldn’t put any power through the back. As we hit the top of the first big climb and the course leveled off, I managed to recover and partially stretch on the move, which helped. The longer the ride went on, the pain became more manageable.
As night had fallen, so had the temperatures. A quick look at my Garmin told me it was below freezing. I definitely didn’t have the right clothing on and just hoped I didn’t get a mechanical. After lots of ups and downs across the moors, the route headed steeply down back towards Builth along some very sketchy tracks. After losing control a few times, I slowed down and decided that was enough racing around for one night – the girls wouldn’t be happy if I couldn’t take them on the ride the next day. All in all, a great ride apart form the back and well organised as usual.
Now just need to get this back sorted in time for the Dirty Reiver on Saturday. It’s going to be memorable!