On a roll at Rapha Supercross 2015

Back for the usual packed programme of racing, cowbell, foodie and beer fuelled action, 2015’s edition of the now iconic Rapha Supercross, now organised immaculately by Emma Osenton, headed to Shibden Park, Halifax for it’s Northern leg.

Using the large slope, no make that hill, below the Hall of the same name, the meandering course mimicked many features of the legendary Koppenbergcross – swinging off camber turns carving downhill, a bit of tarmac, the mother of all climbs (for a lapped ‘cross course) and all repeated multiple times until sick, dizzy or both.

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Even recceing the course had it’s challenges. Whilst it was worth spending some time looking at line choice round a number of the corners, weighing up wide vs tight and running vs riding, after 3 laps I was feeling quite tired. No matter, a drink, some food and a decent period of rest before warm up and the combined Seniors and Vets race was lining up. Slightly startled and embarassed to be gridded front row (accroding to a criteria of whose name seemed familiar), I acceded to the heckling and muttering from behind from a number of grizzled Yorkshire League veterans, and moved back a bit, off the front row. I shouldn’t have done, as shortly after the whistle went a rider in front pulled both feet out of the pedals and surfing on his top tube, provided an unhelpful mobile chicane for me to get round, losing quite a bit of ground.

Onto the tarmac after a short uphill climb from the start, the speed went up considerably. And a big crash unfolded in front – more delay in getting away cleanly. By now I was much further down the field than I wanted to be, but with such a selective course there was no need to panic as overtaking opportunities on the climbs and wide flowing sections would be plentiful.

My legs had other ideas though, perhaps through a lack of in-depth warm up, perhaps through fatigue from recceing. Either way they felt spectacularly heavy.  I opted to dig in the for the long haul in the hope that they came round a bit.

After a lap, things were looking up and I had been picking off riders around the course, including on the climb. Dropping down into (another) off camber left just after the finish line, I bobbled on a greasy section and dabbed, grinding to a halt. I haven’t done it for years now, and never whilst actually riding, only when crashing. But a rolled tub is a rolled tub and you’re going nowhere fast, especially with lots of downhill to come straightaway after, and that peppered with more off cambers. So that was it, game over. I had elected to leave my spare bike safely in the car – at the time when I wanted to dump it in the pit, which was on the furthest remotest part of the course, it had felt uncomfortably empty with no friendly faces, and in a park open to the public I just didn’t want to take the risk. Perhaps gluing it up fresh the day before at 5am wasn’t such a good idea…

By way of silver lining, my wife and youngest had popped over in a surprise visit so to ease the disappointment I was able to hang out with them, drink coffee and watch Nick Craig destroy the rest of field in a controlled display of powerful riding. The invitational Elite race afterwards was also well worth staying for, with a big battle at the front between the old guard of UK ‘cross, Hope’s Paul Oldham and his younger teammate Jack Clarkson, on flying form. The contrast in styles was mirrored by the contrast in lines and technique through the more technical corners as they each sought to gain an advantage. It’s always good to watch riders at the top of their game and pick up inspiration and tips on how to ride smoother.

Pic below: Jo Allen

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All other pics: Alan Dorrington

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Fluent in Cross road trip to MKWCX

The announcement of a UCI World Cup Cyclocross round in the UK was, for the nation’s small but diehard group of cyclocrossers, as exciting a prospect as LeTour coming to Yorkshire earlier this year. Previously the only way of getting to see Sven and co was with a trip abroad to an obscure Flandrian town or village, or possibly jumping the ferry to Oostend and the iconic venue in the dunes nearby at Koksijde. Whilst Milton Keynes is arguably also relatively obscure as a destination, at least in terms of the UK ‘cross scene, we were now treated to the possibility of seeing the full Euro ‘cross circus without having to find our passports.

And so as the day for the MKWCX round got nearer, the giddiness in the Fluent in Cross camp reached fever pitch. The addition of various FiC supporters and contributors to the road trip only heightened the anticipation and so it was a pretty excited group of 7 that pilled into a people carrier and headed off South to that most celebrated of UK New Towns.

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Suffice to say we had an absolute ball. On arrival, we were greeted by the Junior (non-UCI) race slithering and staggering it’s way across the arguably the wildest, most up and down and off camber course yet seen in the UK. Simon Burney and his team had devised a beast of a lap, barely rideable in a number of places, a real rollercoaster of climbs and descents, technical in many places yet requiring considerable raw power to make it flow. In other words, a proper World Cup course for the very best the sport can muster.

Once the Juniors had finished, dominated by a super smooth and impressive American rider, Gavin Haley, we trawled the team ‘village’ of motorhomes and mechanics looking at the bikes on show. Marvelling at a Fidea mechanic methodically drying recently-washed cassettes and rims with an air hose, before scrubbing up carbon brake pads with a nail file and then air-hosing, the attention to detail that goes into bike prep at World level became abundently clear. Not to mention the huge resources of spare wheels, bikes and kit that a professional cyclocross team carts around with it to each race. Walking back to the course from the village we were surprised by a sudden flash of yellow, red and black as Sven Nys emerged from his encampment and breezed by toward the course for a few training laps. Cyclocross is still small enough for you to be able to get in amongst the riders and teams with only the occasional surly looking Belgian mechanic to scowl at you if you get in the way.

 

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Whilst it was hugely exciting to be able to watch the favoured Belgian and Dutch riders, up close and personal, we were also really excited to be able to support the Flanders-exiled Brit pack of Helen Wyman, Nikki Harrris and Ian Field. We normally only ever get to see them at the Nationals, if then, so we were all well up for shouting ourselves hoarse to support them riding against the best in the world. And shout we did, with the odd cowbell ring thrown in. For us as ‘cross fans, the ability to stand on the very edge of the track and lap after lap look not only at lines, tyre pressures, body positions but the flow of the race as well, was as fascinating as it was entertaining. That we could cheer on the Brits as well as our Euro heroes, was just the icing on the cake.

Now there’s been a couple days to let things sink in, a few particular memories stand out – Nikki Harris riding her heart out for 3rd as the battle raged out front between Sanne Cant and Katie Compton, the different soundtrack the British crowd made compared to Belgian/Dutch crowds (cowbells), Tom Meusen and Bart Wellens cruising by on warm up laps and Bart’s quiet amusement when Tom (not he) was stopped for selfies by female fans, Helen Wyman and Fieldy getting the chance to (emotionally) thank the British fans for their support, Sven’s almost complete lack of pressure in his rear tyre (16psi apparently) and the lessons lap after lap on how to ride cambers and gripless, greasy corners. The riders appeared to enjoy the different World Cup experience as well as the hard, hard course and we can only hope the the Milton Kenyes round of the WC will be back each year for our little slice of Euro racing, just off the M1.

Dave Haygarth took some ace pics on the day so here is a selection:

 

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Joining the dots – race report from Stadt Moers

Pic: Dave Haygarth

More racing action from Alan Dorrington, including in-race tread testing…

“I noticed last weekend, racing the slightly sinister named Stadt Moers round of the NW Cyclocross Association, that sometimes racing ‘cross feels like an elongated session of joining the dots. By that I mean that some courses have specific points that require concentration and commitment at a technical level, separated with sections of much more straightforward (if considerable) effort such that you seek out the next ‘dot’ and progress round the course in that manner.

Not some creation of a former Eastern European regime, but an innocuous Country Park near St Helens, Stadt Moers is usually gratifyingly muddy for its late Autumn slot on the calendar, and one of my favourite events as a consequence. The muddy sections provided the dots, with the 3 tarmac sections and couple of paths in between providing relief technically, though not physically. It made for fast big-ring racing, rather than a slow grind round, and despite my love of all things boggy, was hugely enjoyable as a result.

 

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Pic: Chris Meads

What the mud lacked in depth, it made up for in stickiness. The need to change bikes (as one of the lucky ‘two-bikers’ there) also gave the opportunity to test head-to-head some FMB SuperMuds with the new kid on the block from FMB, the Slalom. Whilst recce laps were completed on Slaloms, I started on SuperMuds for extra security in some of the sweeping, muddy corners and maximum traction up one tricky little riding climb. Run at super low pressures they were bottoming out on a couple of stony paths and the odd root and felt grippy at all times. When offered a bike change from teammate Dave H who wasn’t racing, I fully expected to find the Slaloms a bit more of a handful in the mud.

It was, mostly the exact opposite. The Slaloms (even at slightly higher pressures) felt faster in all but a couple of sections where even if grip was slightly less than with the SuperMuds, it was still more than adequate and didn’t hamper my progress at all. In fast, flat but slippy sections they felt more planted than the SuperMuds and when hitting the paths and the tarmac they felt appreciably smoother and faster. All of which comfirms my feeling that Slaloms are the go-to tread choice for all general mud conditions, only needing to be swapped out for SuperMuds when conditions turn really wet, sloppy and off-camber laden.”

‘Cross from the other side

Fluent in Cross’ Alan Dorrington writes about the recent Cycle Sport Pendle/Hopetech event that he and race organiser and FiC colleague Mark Turner were responsible for..

 

“Organising a ‘cross race is hard work. Organising and then riding in the ‘cross race you’ve put on is harder work still….

I never knew how much work went into organising a race until I helped Mark run our first event 4 years ago, aided and abetted by a large team from Cycle Sport Pendle. As a regular competitor, I had like most others, turned up, ridden my race and gone home again blissfully unaware of the organised chaos behind the scenes. Well, I assume other events have similar organised chaos behind the scenes unless it’s just the way we do things…

Course planning is always a considerable challenge – you have to work with the physical layout of your venue, its contours and paths (or lack of) and then consider how to cater for several hundred cars, riders and spectators at the same time. At Waddow Hall near Clitheroe, the venue for the last 3 years of the NW League CSP Cyclocross, we are blessed with a private estate, ample space and great facilities for spectators and riders alike. It is not however, an overly flat area, and in the spirit of mixing things up and by way of antidote to other flat parkland courses, we are able to make full use of the hill in the north of the estate. The course is a bit over a mile long and it’s surprising how much tape and how many stakes are needed to lay the course out, even using existing features like trees and posts where possible. A dedicated team laying out the course on the day before makes life much easier, and being a private venue, we can guarantee the course is still there the following morning for race day. It’s a day which starts early for all helpers and marshalls and usually involves plenty of running around, parking cars, taking entries, sorting start lists, prizes, checking the course, changing the course for different races, getting said races off on time and generally making sure all goes to plan.

Having devised variants of a tough Waddow course for the last 3 years, with Mark and with help from Dave Haygarth, I had an urge to ride it and see how it rode in race conditions. Running around for 6 hours solid before racing on one of the toughest courses in the NW League is probably not ideal preparation, but I opted to moonlight as a Veteran in the (younger) Senior race at the end of the day, once all the niggles of organisation had bedded in. And it certainly was tough, riding the long climb near the start of the lap multiple times, and ‘enjoying’ the slightly sketchy descent back down to the pits mid lap. Various Garmin traces recorded around 1500ft or more of climbing during the 1 hour race – quite chunky for a sport that is normally based around a flat course.

As a club, Cycle Sport Pendle really gets behind the race each year with big numbers of helpers putting in long hours, and the NW League now provides more than welcome volunteer marshalls as part of a goodwill contract between League racers and the League where folk agree to volunteer at one event throughout the season. Either way, it’s all run by volunteers for the benefit of all, and as being involved behind the scenes can be a lot of fun, I urge you to find your local cross race and volunteer, even just once a season, to help out. In the end, all of us and the sport benefits from this.”

All Pics: Jo Allen

 

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Stately coaching Super Cross style

As venues go, it’s not too shabby really. Broughton Hall, near Skipton, Yorkshire dates back to 1597 and the 300 acre estate has been in the same family for all the intervening time. Extensive and well contoured grassland, good access and a beautiful location make for a very special cyclocross experience.

It’s become a firm favourite on the Northern leg of the ever popular 3 part Rapha Super Cross series, and along with the usual fab Super Cross atmosphere, cowbells, beer, foam machine and general shenanigans, we were very pleased to be doing some free skills coaching organised by Rapha, on Day 1 of the double header weekend of 18/19 October this year. A small but keen group worked on their dismounts, remounts, cornering and carrying technique, several in preparation for racing later in the day. With varying degrees of experience from minimal to extensive, it was good to work on bedding in and fine tuning those essential ‘cross skills.

Coaches Mark and Alan also had a quick turnaround to get onto the start line of the combined Senior, Junior, Vets and Women’s race on an excellent course that threw fast corners, slow corners, off cambers, hurdles and some quite sticky mud at competitors.

First pic: Mark Turner

All other pics: Jo Allen

 

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GP Brabant – filmed ‘tape-side’

We are used to being treated to regular TV coverage of the big Euro ‘cross races, something that has only arrived in the past couple of years but is now easy to find (for example here on the Cyclocrossable YouTube channel).

However, professional coverage has a tendency to sanitise the action a little with high and wide camera angles and long shots in order to cover the full breadth of racing and action. As a contrast, we like this homemade film of the recent GP Brabant featuring many of the top Euro riders as it gives a real feel for the speed, adrenaline and technicalities of racing. A bit like watching a good British ‘cross race. Only faster.

Enjoy this different perspective.

Race report: Mark Turner at NWCCA Heaton Park

The second year now for this venue and once again Mick Style & the Manchester Wheelers had put on a great course. As Alan has already mentioned the course was long, hard under wheel with a good variety of energy sucking sections.

After going hard from the whistle at Horwich and hitting a bad spot around 25 mins my plan was to go a little easier at the start and see if that eliminated the flat spot in performance that I had been experiencing. With a large field and a long grassy drag to start, the easier start seemed like a plan set to fail!

The course in places really suited my riding style and I found that through the technical sections I was closing down riders or passing them, and that the short sharp climbs suited me so that again I did well on those. Where I did suffer was the long drags where I simply didn’t have the fitness levels to push hard on these sections. Frustrating to pass people only for them to sail past on these sections – more endurance required I think.
What was special for this race was Alan’s return to racing – see Alan’s blog post. However, I would like to add another perspective if I may to Alan’s story.

A selfish view

Seeing your mate in pain following a crash is not easy, and along with many others the concerns grew following his visit to emergency care and the subsequent encasing of his neck for months. As Alan has already written, his long term cycling was in doubt, and if the injuries didn’t heal well that could mean the risk of impact would be too great. That rules out such a physically demanding sport as cyclo-cross. Sitting on the outside looking in, it was heartbreaking to see the emotional turmoil Alan was going through. Being physically very active to incapacitated is a huge mental adjustment and difficult to understand unless you have been through it. Compound that with people wanting to offer encouragement and sympathy stating “it could have been much worse, you are really lucky” yes & yes but when you are physically & mentally battered it wasn’t offering much comfort.

We had plenty of coffee’s and discussed turbo sessions and planned rides for when Alan was allowed back on his bike. But following the first check up and the reality dawned that being back on the bike wasn’t going to happen as quickly as we wanted, emotions were pretty low to say the least. Our planned rides faded into the mist of frustration and disappointment. So from a selfish point of view Alan’s crash had robbed me of my Sunday morning riding buddy, cross skills partner and obsessive route planner. I was looking forward to getting back out on the bike with him especially knowing his fitness levels would be a little low, so I could dish out some pain (payback).

Our rides on the road together were great escapes from the usual life stuff and we could talk utter bollocks or put the world to rights, talk bikes and kit without our other halves shaking their heads and tutting and plan rides, races and training. All that has been missing from my life and it’s a big deal to me. So to see Alan back racing on Sunday was a small step on the road to full recovery and hopefully in time the return of our rides out on the road.

As he crossed the line and slumped over the bars I knew how much that race meant and I knew the emotion Alan would be feeling, it’s a huge step nearer to where he wants to be. The downside is the window of butt kicking opportunity has closed and that is a real shame as I was looking forward to that so much.

Race report: NWCCA Round 3 – Heaton Park

It was an emotional return to racing at Heaton Park for Fluent in Cross contributor, Alan ‘Crossjunkie’ Dorrington, following a serious injury earlier in the year.

Alan writes:

“‘Cross is hard at the best of times and the Heaton Park course delivered by Mick Style and his team was one of the more brutal ones. A mostly hard and bumpy surface, with long jarring drags, multiple short sharp climbs and lots of off camber turns made for much expenditure of effort and little rest time. Not perhaps the ideal course on which to make a return to racing after suffering a broken neck and fractured back vertebrae in an accident at the end of March…

But I had set out my stall, mentally at least, and done my best to get fixed and fit(ish) over the past 6 months on a diet of limited turbo, some riding round football fields and recently a little running. As I am still on a self-imposed (well, more wife-imposed) ban from road riding and serious off road, getting any kind of longer steady efforts in had been impossible but the urge to race was for me, even more impossible to deny.

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Pic above: Neil Welsh

Rusty wasn’t the word, riding round the Heaton Park course. ‘Cross requires flow and consistency (as well as fitness) and it simply wasn’t there for me. The start was particularly stressful so I made sure I got away pretty quickly without getting bogged down in the main mass of the 130 or so Vets/Women riders. That meant starting quite fast, not something I was really capable of sustaining, but a necessity on the day. Gradually riders came past me, mostly familiar faces and the game of ‘keep the wheel’  started.  I was losing time through more technical sections and gaining on the more measured physical efforts in a straight line, but there are only so many times you can fight back out from a slow corner before the rider in front simply gets away for good. A few of the pretty fast, sweeping and very bumpy turns also gave me some cause for concern given my desire not to fall off at speed again and caused me to run wide, losing time. But it was an engaging and absorbing course, and finally by the end, I had worked out how to corner better again and whilst my physical reserves were blown, I felt like a ‘cross racer again.

The relief, supressed fear, worry and overall emotion at the struggle that had been the previous 6 months, all came out after the finish and is probably best left there (at least for those around me who must have wondered what was going on) but it’s done now, I’ve raced and survived and moved on. For the most part. Just need to get fit now…”

Title pic: Whiteflyer Photography

Giles Perkins’ first timer report from the 3 Peaks Cyclocross

Fluent in Cross friend Giles Perkins (Here Come the Belgians) rode the 3 Peaks for the first time on Sunday. And like many newcomers, despite preparing diligently and thoroughly, he found it to be a very intense experience….

Fluent in Cross took Giles out for a recce prior to the race which whilst it clearly paid dividends, did not guarantee him a trouble free ride in what is a brutal and tricky race. Here’s how he got on:

Date: Sun. 28th September
Location: Helwith Bridge, Yorkshire Dales
Weather: Still, lightly overcast, warm
Synopsis: HQ early / sign on / Hope hot air balloon / fettled bike / prepped food and drink / gridded 4 to 4 1/2 hour section / waiting / anxious / nervous / 9:30am off / slow roll-out / quickly to 30mph / peleton stringing out / crash ahead left / another crash, centre / settle down / turn off to Simon Fell / through the farm / over the stream / up towards the fell / dismount / trudge / steep / steeper still / drop a bottle trying to drink / step out of a shoe / lose shoe again / zig-zag up the steepest part / don’t look up / don’t look back / over Rawnsley’s leap / ride hard to the base of Ingleborough / saddlebag loose / stop / ride some more / trudge up the rocky path / dib-in on Ingleborough / descend a short while / dismount / scramble down the bank / picking through the rocks / remount / surge down to Cold Cotes / dib-in / fresh bottle / fast down the lane to Ingleton / up the climb / leading a group / fast to the Whernside turn / drink some more / dismount for bridleway / take a cup of water / ride a short while / first twinges of cramp / shoulder the bike / trudge up the staircase / trudge / step by step / no looking up / ride a short while / more carrying / dib-in on Whernside / descend avoiding the rocks / walkers everywhere / down the slabs / over the stile at Blea Moor / take the line through the field / overtake / overtake some more / fast past the signal box / take the shortest line at the viaduct / stop briefly to refuel / banana, fresh bottle, gel / onto the road / take gel / drink water / legs cramp up / slow down to ride it out / get in a group / turn into Pen-y-Ghent lane / ride hard / left line through the rocky section / descending leaders everywhere / push on / forced to dismount by slower riders / turn at the last gate / ride up as far as I can / trudge / trudge / trudge / blister on my left foot / struggle ever upwards / don’t look up / getting slower / finally make the top / glorious views / dib-in on Pen-y-Ghent / descend as best I can / onto the path / hands battered / fast down the lane / no-one around / finally the bottom / onto the road / 2 miles to go / screaming in pain / cramp everywhere / motorcycle alongside / welcome words of encouragement / end in sight / reach the funnel / dib-in / the end / dazed / confused / pale / empty / broken / safe / happy
Result: 4hrs 44mins 48 secs, 409th from 529 finishers, 26 DNFs / 184th Vet40 from 231 finishers, 6 DNFs

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Pic: Andrew Burgess

Race report: NWCCA League Round 2 – Horwich Humdinger – 14 Sept

Fluent in Cross contributors Mark Turner and Dave Haygarth have been racing at Horwich recently. Here’s how they got on..

Mark reports:

Round 2 and off to Horwich’s Humdinger, always a great course, well run and well attended. 108 in the vets & women’s race. The prolonged dry and warm weather meant that the course was going to be dry and fast, it’s cross Jim but not as we know it!!!

One interesting side to the race was that Alan “Crossjunkie” offered to take me, I experienced the pampering of a pro, bike loaded onto the car and a coffee stop thrown in on the way. Honestly I could get used to that. The flip side, Alan is still on the recovery road from a bad crash earlier in the year and itching to get back racing. A fast course, catching up with the cross crowd, tub discussions were both a putting a huge smile on his face but also causing him some inner turmoil. You can take the race away from the boy but not the boy from wanting to race – great news since the weekend is Alan has been given the all clear so be sure you will see him on a course soon.
A couple of laps of the course confirmed the pre race overview, fast crit type cross racing was going to be de rigour. The course was a good mix of wide flat grass, twisting parkland around the trees, short sharp climbs, steep drop into the woods and natural hurdles.

This race was also the first time I had ridden with a single front chain ring, the local crafted ring by Hope Tech is of the fat / thin design meaning no chain catcher required. The set up I opted for was a 38 tooth up front, rear block 28 / 11. I was curious to see if I could displace it, especially as the course was riding hard and bumpy, no such issues. The chain stayed put even through some rapid gear shifting. The next test will be how it copes in the mud.

A good warm up on the turbo and then off to the start, with ten minutes to the off. A wide open start and a big field there was the inevitable crash. For me I got a good start and settled into the rigours of the first lap chaos, being in the first 30 or so had the advantage of not getting too slowed down in any bottle necks.
The racing was fast and furious, the course offered no real rest, you were either, pushing out of corners, climbing a short bank or slogging across the grass into a headwind.

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I managed to keep in the top 30 or so for the first 25 minutes then had a bad lap and lost 15 or so places, thankfully I recovered and stopped the move further back down the field. The advantage of the 40 minutes race is the bell comes soon or not soon enough depending how you are doing. I saved my final push a little too late, I passed several riders coming into the woods and in the section from the exit of the woods to the finish, my legs still felt like they had more to give. The lesson is go hard sooner.

Any disappointment of the bad lap soon evaporated, when several of the riders who had been on our courses came over and enthused about how they had put into practice what they had been taught to great effect.

Average heart rate 164 bpm max heart rate 176 bpm

Distance 8.85 miles
Average speed 11.2 mph Max speed 19.4mph
Position 56th out of 108

Dave Haygarth, one of the Fluent in Cross photographers also returned to ‘cross racing after an extended period off with injury. And promptly openend his account with a 2nd place in the closely contested Vets/Women race that Mark also rode in. Great to see Dave back racing again in preparation for the 3 Peaks Cyclocross at the end of September. Perfect remount technique here from Dave:

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