I’ve been busy doing a lot of bike racing since my last blog after the Manx 100, back in July 2017. Here’s a brief catch-up:

Having caught the cyclocross bug during the previous winter, I set about organising myself to compete in the full NWCCA CX series. I joined the league, bought a new bike (a Kinesis CX Race EVO, which is awesome) to pair up with my Kinesis Pro 6 and started to do some CX specific training. I won’t go into too much detail about the races, but it was lots of fun despite the worst winter in years. CX races are completely different to the long endurance races I am used to. Even though I was only racing for 45 minutes each week, there was a lot to learn. I had some good results and some average results, but overall I did pretty well, finishing 11th in the league. I’ll be back in 2018, with more knowledge and a tuned training programme to beat that position.

From racing round muddy fields in January with no endurance training over the whole winter, I was talked into entering a 24 hour race in February by Rich Rothwell! I had competed in the Kielder Chiller 24 the previous year, winning the pairs with Jason Miles. The weather was horrible and I’m sure said I wouldn’t go back. Anyway I signed up, headed up there with a whole group of Team JMC racers and thought the weather wouldn’t be as bad as last year. It was! Despite having the best Team JMC basecamp at a race yet, this didn’t make it any easier. Everyone suffered with the weather, so you just had to crack on. It nearly beat me at one point about 2am in the morning, but a change of gear, a strong coffee and a will to win sorted that. We ended up winning the pairs by a large margin and I had the pleasure of doing the dawn lap, with the hills covered in snow and the sun rising into a clear sky.

Once I had recovered from the Chiller, I set about preparing a training plan for the BeMC – a three day MTB stage race in Belgium, in the middle of May. Jase, Lee Eaton and Rich Lilley had competed the year before and gave it a thumbs up. I have not competed in a stage race before, so was excited by the prospect of doing something new. As part of the training plan, I lined up three races on the bounce in April. Races I had done before, all different, but all would be good training. The first was the Exposure Lights Big Night Out as part of the Scott MTB Marathon Series in Builth Wells, the second was Battle on the Beach and the third was the Dirty Reiver.

I have rode the night event at Builth for the last 3 or 4 years and even though it is not a race, it is always a good test of my fitness. I came into it after a hard block of training, so knew I wouldn’t set the world alight with my speed. I was fifth back after a very muddy and slippy ride, scaring myself silly on the descents with the wrong tyre choice. I was pleased with the position and also the fact that I beat previous times up a number of the climbs – so my fitness was clearly heading in the right direction.

The highlight of the weekend though was riding the 50km half marathon with the girls. They had completed the 25km route a number of times, so we all decided to step it up this year. They were amazing and cruised round the marathon hoovering up the jelly babies at each feed station!

After Builth it was back down to South Wales the following week for Battle on the Beach. A unique event which is not to be missed. I decided to race on the Kinesis CX Race Evo, which from experience, I knew would be a lot faster on the beach section. We turned up on the day with a strong tailwind on the beach, so everyone was going to be faster on this key section, irrespective of what bike you were on. I managed to get seeded (Thanks Matt Page) but messed up the start by running the first section over the soft sand. I had to put a lot of effort in to catch the lead group, who were flying along at 35mph! My nemesis on this course is the start of the return leg over the bumps and turns of the tank tracks. Once again I lost time over this section, losing touch with the lead group. The rest of the race went well – gaining time on the beach and losing it again on the tank tracks. I had a good battle with George Budd over the last couple of laps which livened things up and I came over the line in 45th. Considering the field, I was pleased with the race and position, which I think will get me seeded again next year.

Photo Courtesy of Anthony Pease Photography

The third and final race of April was the Dirty Reiver. A 200km gravel race around Kielder Forest. This was the third year of the race, which gets bigger and better each year through great organisation by the Focal Events crew. My times and position had improved each year, coming in 14th in 2017 in about 8 hours 20 minutes. The plan this year was a top ten finish in less than 8 hours.

We had a great day for it and even though it was cold on the start line, the sun was out and I lined up alongside Dave Powell and a load of familiar and friendly faces. It was good to catch up with a lot of folk who I hadn’t seen since last year. The race started off at a lighting pace, which I had struggled to cope with in previous years, however I was in much better shape this year and handled the speed. We formed a lead group of about fifteen people, with a strong tempo. The first feed stop came and went very quickly and people starting to shed off the back of the group. By the second feed stop it was down to about 7 or 8 riders, with those on cross bikes generally pulling away from those on MTBs. After the second feed stop the group broke up completely. Dave and I managed to keep together, pushing hard to catch a few riders who were up ahead.

Photo Courtesy of SportSunday Photography

In previous years, I had struggled over the last 20 or 30 miles, but I felt good this year and didn’t suffer too much fatigue. I had trained well on the run up to the event, however I was definitely feeling the benefits of doing a full cross season. CX races may be short, but the regularity of the short but intense efforts on a weekly basis over the winter was definitely paying off. The overall speed of the Reiver this year was much higher than in previous years and I finished in 7 hours and 15 minutes – a PB by over an hour. I was fifth rider back and less than two minutes down on second place! A great result which made the beer at the finish even more enjoyable.

So let’s hope this good stint of racing through April will prepare me for BeMC – I’ve heard it’s a hilly one!