Friday, 27 July 2012

Whisky Galore (don't try this at home)

Last weekend I discovered that the ribs I'd broken when racing in Chamonix weren't quite ready for mountain biking. However, the boys at Ronde were putting on a summer cross race, Haughcross, on Sunday evening as part of a local festival week and Chris was doing the timing, so I figured I'd join the fun. Afterall, cross isn't as bumpy as mountain it?

I spent the afternoon helping out with sign on and being quiet impressed with the number of quick riders who'd turned up for this, non series, race...James McCallum of Rapha Condor, Davie Lines of Endura Racing, Craig Hardie of Hardie Bikes and Helen Wyman...yes, the Helen Wyman!

We closed sign on just in time for me to quickly get changed and grab my bike for a lap of the course and then I had to get straight to the start line.

I didn't ride much cross last winter because I was still recovering from my nasty face smashing incident, so the racing I did do  was a bit disappointing. Although I've done tonnes more riding this year, I'm still not really feeling as fit as I'd like, so I expected the race to be 40 minutes of pain and not much fun.

There wasn't a huge field of women unfortunately, but since we were racing with the vets and juniors, there was a reasonable turnout on the start line when the gun went and we charged off.

I managed to get my elbows out and through the bottle neck on the first corner. Since the event was part of a local festival, there was quite a crowd outside the beer tent all cheering us on (or sometimes giving us abuse for riding like a girl!).

After the first 4 laps, the stream crossing had turned into a bit of a muddy slog and the big puddle at the top of the course had turned into a proper cross style bog, but, since it's summer, the rest of the course was dry (ish) and fast....very fast! But the 3 sets of hurdles per lap were starting to make my broken ribs pretty achy and I knew the grimace wasn't fooling anyone.

As luck would have it, that's when I found out there was a whisky shortcut!

Now, I'm not a whisky fan at all, but I figured it was a fun event and it might just make my ribs a wee bit less achy. So, as I approached Jim the Whisky Man, I got a shot handed to me, which didn't quite reach me in 1 piece ... whisky flavoured gloves, tried to take a slurp, whisky dribbling down chin, all down my front...but the cheer and the laughter from the crowds watching my face screw up with the taste was a bit of a giggle.

Whether that tiny dribble of whisky helped or whether it was just my imagination, my ribs were a little less achy for that next lap, so when I got back round again to Jim the Whisky man, I figured I'd try another one...less successful this time and more whisky smelling gloves and jersey, but I managed a wee slurp.

Not being a whisky drinker, those two slurps did the trick! My ribs weren't as bad, but the hairpin corners were more challenging!

The finish came round quickly and I realised that I'd really enjoyed the race and I actually felt that I'd raced pretty well. I felt strong and comfortable (which apparently means I wasn't trying hard enough!).

The final race was the open race, which Helen had decided to race in, so as not to show the rest of us girls up too much! The racing was as nail biting and exciting as any series race with the top 4 places changing almost every lap. There were also far more people taking the whisky short cut option, keeping the crowds entertained!

I'm sure whisky shortcuts aren't going to make an appearance in the British Cycling rule book any time soon, but I reckon they'd be a welcome sight at some of those cold, wet, winter cross races and they'd provide a little bit of entertainment!


Monday, 16 July 2012

Electric Assistance

As previously mentioned, I'm up the duff. And at now 5 months preg, our long-planned holiday of cycling up Cols in the Alps & Pyrennees was starting to look less idyllic. Yes, I'm still cycling to work, but my stamina and fitness are no longer what they were. Indeed they are now rather more like my mother's.  Rats. And much of the advice around exercise in pregnancy says :
1) do not get overheated
2) do not let HR get over 145 for extended periods.
The likelihood of me being able to get up Cols without ignoring either / both of those bits of advice was looking somewhere between slim and bugger all. So we left my bike at home. SOB.

The views of mountains were lovely. I hiked some small trails. I swam in the lake (brrr...). I read some books. All good standard holiday fare but I got very gloomy looking at all the cyclists going up glorious cols. And THEN I saw a "Velo a Assistance Electrique" for hire in the local Intersport.

Now THIS, I thought, would be the perfect answer. I had visions of sitting, feet on handlebars, teasing  and chivvying the boyf as he sweated alongside as we went up a Col. I would beat him to the top, comfortably, for the first (and only) time in our relationship. It'd be brilliant.

Only, of course, the reality didn't quite live up to my dream. The man in the hire shop explained that :
  1. It's "assistance electrique" i.e. it assists you, it doesn't replace you. Bang went my dream of feet on handlebars and smart remarks a go-go.
  2. Whilst the range said 98km, it would reduce depending on how much assistance I required. 
  3. The bike weighed 25KG and thus I would be wise to never run out of assistance. 
We set off. I faffed around playing with the various levels (power level 1/2/3 and within those Eco / Tour / Sport and Speed) and discovered that on a nice 10% stretch, me on power level 3, with Speed Option, the boyf was seriously, seriously, sweating to keep up (and he's a Cat 1 racer). But I would only have a range of 8km and thus wouldn't get to the top. Rats.  I had to resort to much less assistance than I would have liked, to ensure that I actually got to the top (which ended up being power level 1, Eco or Tour). It was a very tough Col. I was absolutely, properly exhausted and had to stop twice on the way up for water and sustenance. It took 1h15. No records were broken and I didn't beat the boyf. :-(

But I did make it to the top of the Col des Saisies. :-)

Friday, 13 July 2012

That was lucky!

Last weekend Chris and I headed over to Chamonix to visit Dan and Jo. The plan was to ride Dan's new local trails and get some sunshine, but a few weeks before we were due to head out, we got an e-mail from Dan asking if we fancied doing a race while we were there. The race was an enduro in the proper Euro style, which formed part of the VTT MB Race, a weekend bike festival of races.

It sounded interesting, so we figured we'd give it a bash.

Unfortunately, the race website was all in French (obviously) and neither Chris nor I speak French. We could see from the website that there was an enduro, a street race, a 25k, 50k, 100k and 140k (with 6,6oom of climbing - eek!), but when we tried to find the right entry form, we weren't quite sure if we entered the right race!

The weekend finally rolled around and Chris and I flew out to Geneva with the DH helmets and pads, which are obligatory for French enduro races, as well as our XC helmets...just in case we'd entered the wrong race (and we were planning to do some normal riding too...if we survived the race!).

We arrived in Chamonix late on Friday afternoon to weather not to dis-similar to home, drizzly and grey, but quite a lot warmer. So we unpacked bikes and Dan took us out for a quick ride before tea.

2 minutes from the front door and we were on some lovely rocky, rooty singletrack and I had already hit my max heart rate! The mixture of trying to keep up with Dan and Chris so that I didn't get lost and the altitude and heat were playing havoc with me!

Anyway, the trails were too much fun to worry about my body not coping, so I just wheezed my way along, taking in the fantastic trails, just minutes from Dan and Jo's apartment. Lucky things!

The weather gods decided to make us feel at home by treating us to a monumental down pour. Within seconds we were soaked to the skin and at the furthest point. Hey ho...once you're wet, you're wet.

We knew we had an early start to get to the race on Saturday morning, so we bimbled back, ate tea and had an early night.

We were up and out by 7 the following morning to drive along to Combloux where the race weekend was. The skies had cleared overnight and we were treated to some fantastic views of Mont Blanc and the surrounding mountains, which we hadn't seen at all the day before.

Luckily, we had all signed up for the right race (luckily!) and with a little help from Jo, I managed to sign on, pick up my goody bag of swag, and get my start times for each of the 6 stages.

The rider briefing was all in French so we and the handful of other British riders just smiled and nodded each time everyone turned round to look at us.  Then I heard my name called and I was whisked off to the uplift bus and the day started.

Stage 1 maybe lulled me into a false sense of security with its trail centre feel, but stage 2 gave me a bit of a wake up call when I took the first 2 of my crashes of the day and managed to do a bit of damage to my shoulder and ribs and lose my bracelet (I was more concerned about my bracelet being smashed to smitherines all over the trail than myself at the time). But the first 2 stages went okay and I was comfortably in the middle of a very small pack of female riders.

Stage 3 didn't go quite so well...about 2 minutes into the run I got a puncture in my front tyre which sent me flying into a tree. The crash wasn't a biggie, so I dusted myself off and decided to try to run the rest of the stage since the other two had been pretty short. Unfortunately I was still running 35 minutes later! It was the longest stage of the day!

So my race was over, but there were still 3 more stages to ride, so I fixed the puncture and pedalled as quickly as I could to get to the next chairlift (yes! lift assisted enduro racing is the way forward!). I expected all the other girls to be gone by the time I got to the start of stage 4, but the whole race had been held up, so I hadn't lost my slot after all.

Stage 4 was super short and I was back in the lift again before I knew it. Then one of the marshalls shouted on myself and one of the other girls to hurry up to get to the start of the next stage, so we pedalled off in what we thought was the right direction...unfortunately it wasn't and we ended up riding up the 500m climb to the start of the next stage, when everyone else took the lift up AND got lunch! So we missed lunch and were slightly pooped from the heat when we caught up with everyone else.

Stages 5 and 6 took us back down the mountain towards Combloux with stage 6 finishing on the town's BMX track and then through the streets to the finish in the town square with masses of people cheering us on.

Chris and Dan rode in to town an hour or so after me and we all collapsed with a beer and recounted tales of crashes and heroics with the new friends we'd made during the day.

My puncture and decision to run rather than fix it cost me 3 places and put me into last 8th place, however it was a great day and a fantastic experience to ride some new trails.

On Sunday, since we were all nursing wounds of some shape or form, we decided to go for a local ride, taking the cable car up to a col and riding back down in time for tea. Dan and Jo had only ever skied the route we were planning so we weren't sure how it would work on bikes, but it turned out to be a great ride over the border to Switzerland and back barely seeing another soul. Jo and I both surprised the boys by riding bits of trail they didn't think we would want to try, so it was pats on the back all round by the time we got home.

Then it was Monday  and time to come home, but not without one more ride in the morning on another of Dan's local trails with a 45 minute climb from the road followed by a 30 minute descent right back to the front door.

Riding in new places is great, but now I'm back at home, nursing sore ribs and shoulder from the race and looking out the window at the Pentlands wishing they were just a little bit more like the Alps. Time to start planning the next adventure.