Epic Blast 2010

November 4, 2010 by

This can only be described as Ireland’s answer to the Megavalanche. The event has been held in Ballinastoe Woods every year in September since 2005. Organised by Richie Byrne the Godfather of Irish mountain biking from Club EpicMTB, Ireland’s premier dedicated mountain bike club, this has to be the event of all events in the Irish mountain bike calendar, to decide the the title of “Deadliest Mountain Biker in Ireland”. It turned out to be a soft Irish day, ensuring that those who thought they had made a mistake by skipping a day at the spa to get mud facials, were in fact well catered for in the healthy mud bath that ensued.

The past three years saw Niall Davis of Biking.ie notch up an impressive hat-trick of wins and was one of the hotly tipped favourites once again. Among other notables who turned up, were none other than DH/Freeride legend Glyn O’Brien of First Tracks, podium finisher in the 2003 legendary Red Bull Rampage freeride competition, certainly also a top rider never to be discounted.

Niall Davis (front right) and Glyn O'Brien (centre) happy with the day's racing.

Niall Davis (front right) and Glyn O’Brien (centre) happy with the day’s racing.

Racing was held in two separate formats. The morning saw heats of no more than 10 riders race each race each other with the afternoon dedicated to the main event, the mass start Epic Blast. The initial heat was to seed the racers into groups of similar ability, with all the winners racing each other in the second set of heats, all second placed riders against each other and so on. A poor start meant I had to battle my way up through the field. A collision with another rider on an overtaking manoeuvre didn’t help, but I was up as quickly as I had gone down and one by one I picked off the riders in my heat to emerge in the lead about 2/3 of the way down. A poorly marked junction led to me taking a wrong turn and off course and with that any chance of placing well in my heat. I was not the only one to do so, as on my return to the same junction, I crossed at least a dozen other riders coming against me one by one. I eventually made it down to finish in 7th in my heat. The bright side was I would have an easier second heat.

The second heat went well compared to the first one and I made a point of pulling what most people described as a spectacular crowd pleasing no-hander off one of the drop-offs, ending in a safely controlled dismount from the bike. In the end Niall Davis won the ‘winners’ heat, followed by Glyn O’Brien in second and Conor Campbell in third, but the real Blast was still to come.

 

After the exertions of nearly 4 days on the road with only a few hours sleep during the Race Around Ireland during the week, I was simply too exhausted to participate in the main “Blast” event, preferring instead to watch the action from the track side. In the end it was Greg Callaghan who battled his way down the slippery course to take a deserved win for the title of Ireland’s “Deadliest Mountain Biker”! Niall Davis followed by Glyn O’Brien claimed the two remaining podium spots.

Greg Callaghan getting the winner's mud special deluxe therapy to make the title of Ireland’s Deadliest Mountain Biker official!

Greg Callaghan getting the winner’s mud special deluxe therapy to make the title of Ireland’s Deadliest Mountain Biker official!

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Race Around Ireland 2010 – Team Wheelworx/Boards.ie

November 3, 2010 by

rai logoThe second edition of the Race Around Ireland took place in the second week of September 2010. It is part of the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association (UMCA) World Cup series which includes other huge endurance races such as RAAM. The task was straightforward enough, yet certainly not easy: A non-stop 2100km ultra distance marked route anti-clockwise lap of Ireland. Solo riders and 2 man teams departed Navan on Sunday 12 september and had 132 hours to complete the race, with 4 man and 8 man teams leaving on Tuesday 14 September and having only 96 hours for the same task.

I had been asked only weeks before, if I would like to join Team Wheelworx/Boards.ie as a support crew member. I accepted the challenge without a moments hesitation. Along with a couple of riders from Swords CC, brothers Aidan and Peter Doyle, one from Orwell Wheelers CC, Tom Blennerhassett and Kevin Leavy (unattached), a total of 6 crew members joined the adventure. Click here for facebook page.

Chasing Peter down a seemingly endless road

Chasing Peter down a seemingly endless road

The full team assembled in Navan late Tuesday morning for sign on and race safety debriefing. Everything was ready to go and riders readied for the 20:00 start. In the early stages the Team settled into 2nd position on the road and would not relinquish this for the duration of the race. Things got interesting in the early hours travelling along the north coast of Ireland as the wind picked up considerably. By the time the riders reached Malin Head, the winds were blowing at gale force strength making progress difficult. The next challenge encountered was in Clifden around about midnight where an unintended delay during a change-over saw the 3rd placed team make significant gains and come within minutes of us. Thankfully this was the last they would sniff of our trail, as all the riders really put the hammer down and by the end of the night the team had pulled out an even bigger time gap than ever before.

I will not attempt to recount every detail of the adventure, yet one thing that has stayed with me since the trip is the the incredible scenery I witnessed along the way, as the route travelled through some of the most beautiful landscapes Ireland has to offer, so much of which I had never seen before.

Racing through the night

One of the biggest psychological hurdles was overcome as we reached the point where the journey turn in a northerly direction from Kilmore Quay and back up towards Navan. Although very tired from nearly three days of straight riding, this seemed to give the riders the necessary boost for one last drive towards the finish line. The Wicklow Mountains provided the ultimate test of the journey, but seemed to have little effect on the cyclists as they continued to deliver what can only be described as super human efforts.

Just before the arrival into Navan, all four riders saddled up to ride in unison and after 3days 5hrs 20mins crossed the finish line together, as a symbol of what had allowed them to achieve an incredible 2nd place overall: Ex unitate vires.

An exhausted, yet elated Team Wheelworx/Boards.ie after finishing 2nd overall.

An exhausted, yet elated Team Wheelworx/Boards.ie after finishing 2nd overall.

Third Coast Bicycle Festival including the 5th Annual Fixed Gear Symposium and the 3rd Annual Cherry-Roubaix Classic

November 1, 2010 by

The last weekend of August saw Annual Fixed Gear Symposium in it’s 5th edition and the Cherry-Roubaix Classic in its 3rd edition take place in and around Grand Traverse City, Michigan, USA as part of the Third Coast Bicycle Festival.

The programme involved a multitude of different disciplines making sure everyone had something to look forward to. A breakdown of the main events are detailed below.

– 27 August: Hill climb

The Hill Climb was held up Wayne Hill on Friday afternoon under the blistering sun, with local pro rider Larry Warbasse from team BMC (2009 World Road Race Champion Cadel Evans’s team mate) taking a commanding win as he stormed up to the top on his fixie, finishing over half a minute ahead of second place and setting a new hill record in the process. Marcus Bush took victory in the Men’s geared bike category.

Larry Warbasse (BMC) on his hill climb winning fixie

The woman’s victory in the fixed gear category went to Tracy Halsinski as she took her third straight win in as many years. Local rider Johanna Schmidt from Hagerty Cycling Team took 1st place in the geared  bike category.

Downtown Sprints

Friday evening witnessed a new event for the first time as part of the Cherry Roubaix Classic’s programme: Sprints in the form of drag races, i.e. standing start sprints. This proved to be a hugely popular event with both riders and spectators. Both geared and fixed wheel riders were catered for. The highlight of the event was without a doubt a local bicycle mechanic on his bmx who turned up to race against the swarm of lycra clad roadies. Not only did he handsomely hold his own, but he beat many of the riders he went up against, which was a huge crowd pleaser in every way.

DowntTown Sprints: Bmxer drops roadies from the gun

Event clip

– 28 August: Criterium

Saturday afternoon saw the first of the two big events of the 3rd Annual Cherry Roubaix Classic take place. A 1.22km (0.76ml) course through the old town, including cobbled sections like in the Paris-Roubaix, had been sectioned off and was to showcase the criterium race. This was also to prove a very spectator friendly event, as the riders would pass by frequently and often. The format was based around a set time rather than number of laps, plus one ultimate lap after the set time had elapsed. Larry Warbasse confirmed his status as pre-race favourite, firmly stamping his authority on the race. He took overall victory in the show topping Men’s Pro 1, 2 race, riding smart during the entire time before finally turning the screws and making the race winning move in the last lap to pull clear with his two podium standing adversaries who both finished barely a second behind, yet well ahead of the chasing pack.

Larry Warbasse (BMC) on his way to victory in the 2010 Cherry Roubaix Criterium (Mens Pro 1, 2)

– 29 August: Road race

The showdown was staged on Sunday with the road race tracing a 13.7 mile (22km) circuit over the rolling hills of Leelenau County, on a slightly altered version of the 12mile course used for the late 80s Michigan State Road Race. This time Larry Warbasse was a marked man from the gun, having to withstand one attack after another from every quarter. While in the end it proved too much due to the fact that he had no team mates to support him and was therefore racing alone against a plethora of well organised teams, he still finished in a very respectable 4th place.

However the real race I had come to watch was the Cat 4 Women’s one, staring one of the new 2010 stars to the Hagerty Cycling Team, Grand Traverse City local Barb Beauregard, along side her more seasoned team mate and climbing ace Bridgett Widrig. I would not be disappointed, as together they decimated the field, both simply riding away from the peleton from the first KOM, making it a superb display of dominance through positive team work and sealing a deserved and undisputed 1, 2 for Hagerty Cycling Team. Over four minutes separated them from the trailing 3rd place rider.

Bridgett Widrig and Barb Beauregard (Hagerty Cycling Team) following their impressive 1, 2 in the Women Cat 4 road race.

 

Red Bull Road Rage, Israel – Back on track with 4th place

July 3, 2010 by

A view of the course

Ready to put the disappointments of Latvia behind me, it was off to round three of the 2010 Red Bull Road Rage season. Another first in terms of venue, this time it was off to Israel. The venue could not have been better chosen, with the steepest road in Israel the course. A spectacular twisting descent including no less than 7 switchbacks along the Syrian boarder down off the southern Golan heights towards Jordan far below, would test the skill and nerve of every rider brave enough to take the high speed plunge.

Early morning sign-on

It was a 6 o’clock start to try beat the imminent afternoon summer heat that opened the day’s proceedings. The list of riders read like the “Who’s who” of Israeli cycling, with many past and current national road racing , cross country, marathon cross country and downhill mountain bike champions present. As an Irishman, I was the sole foreign rider to venture over for the event and was made feel most welcome from the outset. A pre-race safety briefing was held, with the most important information kindly translated from Hebrew for me by some of my co-competitors, including the following: “To the left of a road is a fence, behind which lies a mine field. If you land on the other side of the fence, don’t move! We will come and get you out. To the right of the road is a cliff with over 100m drop. Stay to the left of the barrier. If you fly out, you will truly fly. Just take care!”  Ironically the flying reference was not linked to the ‘Red Bull gives you wings’ slogan, although one might wish for those wings in this situation.

Pre-race safety briefing

Next up was a controlled pace course inspection and safety run, with scheduled stops to point out the most dangerous spots, including the signs that warned of mines and the tank crossing point where the road had been slightly damaged. Nothing was left to chance and every potential danger was address. Once done, it was time to start with the official practice runs, of which I got a couple under my wheels to properly familiarise myself with the course. It wasn’t long before it was time to get ready for qualifying. I was first up and so took up my position in the start gate. Heart rate sitting at 151bpm, my mind had informed my body of what was to come and yes, I was evidently ready for action! 5 beeps, the gate dropped and I was off.

Giving it all in qualifying

After qualifying, I waited in the racers paddock at the finish as the riders came down one by one. My time held for a long time until one other rider was finally able to snatch the top spot. It remained so until the end of the qualifying session, after which we were all bussed up to the start paddock again. It was decided to hold some pre-qualifier 4cross heats for the slowest riders only, to whittle it down to the desired 32 fastest riders. The top 16 fastest riders were able to rest as the others fought it out for the remaining 16 spots. This way it still gave everyone the chance to ride at least one knock-out round before the real racing would begin in earnest.

Ripping a hairpin bend.

Through the early knock out stages my tactic was simple: Use my power coupled with a 54-11 conversion to blow out a gap early on and then sit on that advantage conserving my energy for the next rounds. It worked well and I was still as fresh as an Irishman can be in the wilting 35°C heat by the time it came to final. With no weak riders left I really needed to be on top of my game to ride this one to victory. I sat in amoung the bunch watching for the danger men before I timed my attack in the chosen location. It stuck as I blew out a gap of 30m within a matter of seconds. So far so good! Around the next hairpin and down the steepest part of the course at 18%, around another couple of sweeping bends and into the next hairpin. Still holding my advantage I tackled one of the slight uphill transitions bringing me to another hairpin. As I entered it, my rear wheel monetarily lost traction as it slipped on the white line and out from under me forcing me to release the brakes and counter-lock the steering to catch myself… Saved! I desperately tried to get around to the exit of the bend, but the momentary releasing of the brakes had meant I was off trajectory and couldn’t avoid rolling with my front wheel into the gravel on the outside verge. The inevitable happened as my front wheel washed out on the ball bearing-like gravel stones and I was caught up by the protective straw bail that blocked my path to the guardrail and over the other side 100m down into the ravine. As I jumped back up onto my bike, I watched as my three competitors raced by. I started pedalling frantically, only to realise I had derailed, costing me an additional few seconds of valuable time. By the time I got going I was about 100m behind and faced an uphill battle if I was going to pull this back. Out of my rhythm and my concentration disrupted I mistimed the following right hand hairpin on the exit of a blind left hander. This cost me more time which didn’t help my cause. I gave it my all, but only managed to halve the gap before the finish line and so it was not to be this time as I took 4th place in what has to be the best Road Rage I have ever ridden.

Red Bull Road Rage podium, Israel (l-r): Janos Köhler, Daniel Eliad, Ohad Ben Hamo, Eli Wexler.

The prize presentation took place down in the valley, just across the Jordanian boarder in the hot water spring resort of Hamat Gader, where riders had a chance to refuel, refresh and relax. What a fantastic day!

Red Bull Road Rage, Latvia – One for the learning curve

June 11, 2010 by

Warning signs on the approach to the first bend.

Only a week after the Belgian Road Rage, it was Latvia’s turn to host the next event. This was to take place in the picturesque town of Sigulda about an hour east of Riga on the edge of the Gauja National Park. The venue was to be the national luge and bob sleigh track, with the service road being used as the race track.

70 riders turned up to try their luck on this technical, narrow and twisty yet short track. At only 700m, it was the shortest Road Rage to date. The road surface was less than ideal, with many dangerous imperfections, including cracks, developing holes, uneven drain covers, ripples and gravel in some corners. The track had obviously not been cleaned, even swept as a thin film of sand-dust was also present, which could be seen from the tell-tale signs picked up on the tyres. This did not bode well at all.

A briefing was held, followed by a controlled pace safety reconnaissance run. Next up was practice, with gate starts in the 4cross format. A couple of these were accorded all competitors and was enough to alert me to the inherent unsuitability of this dangerous track. Grip was at times nearly non existent as the thin film of sand-dust which covered the unswept track acted like micro ball bearings beneath the rubber. Qualifying was next and held in the traditional time trial style. I settled for a rather safe than sorry approach, clocking in a solid equal 6th place. Times were very tight and less than a second separated the top 7 fastest riders.

After a short break, it was time for the real racing to begin. I ran out a comfortable heat winner in my 1/16 final heat to progress to the next round. The round caused little difficulty, as I clocked the fastest time of the 1/8 final heats, a time which was not bettered again until the 1/2 finals. Things were looking promising, yet the course was beginning to notch up the crash victim count rapidly, mainly on the first tight right-hand bend where a huge crowd had assembled at this stage. With little room to manoeuvre, in terms of line and time, it was essential to get a good start. I did just that in the 1/4 final, getting my best start of the race so far. Down the first straight and around the first left-hand bend, where I suddenly lost the front end as the tarmac transitioned from smooth asphalt to a cracked uneven patchwork. I went down heavily, with the rider behind me ploughing straight into the back of me, unable to avoid me in the surprise developments. The other two riders also scattered left and right in a desperate attempt to avoid us. I jumped back up, but my front tyre and blown when it got ripped open, the handle bar was twisted around and the brake levers were broken off. I knew my race was over, as I picked up what remained of my bike and started to walk back up to the start. My worst fears had been realised in relation to the atrocious state of the track and it was absolutely no surprise to see only mountain bikes present from the semi-finals onwards, for the first time in Road Rage history.

A hotly contested all Latvian final played out under the afternoon sun with John Balēvičs running out as the eventual men’s winner and Ivita Krumins taking top spot in the women’s final.

Red Bull Road Rage – Cycle Inn / Trajectoires Cycles rider Janos Köhler victorious in Belgium

June 10, 2010 by

La Redoute

La Côte de La Redoute in Aywaille, Belgium saw the opening of the Red Bull Road Rage 2010 season. This steep hill features in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, often used for the decisive move of many eventual winners with attacks coming at the steepest 22% gradient section about halfway up.

About to disappear over the edge of the 22% drop

Saturday 22 May was D-day. 80 riders turned up to test their descending skills and athleticism in the quest to become Belgium’s first Red Bull Road Rage champion. The weather was brilliant and set the atmosphere for the showdown. Sign-on ran smoothly, followed by the customary practice runs. For the first time, qualifying took place in a 4cross format, rather than the usual individual time trial. After putting in a solid run it was back down to the race paddock to wait for the results. Finally the moment of truth arrived and the news broke of the top four seeded places all being occupied by four veteran Road Rage friends: 1. Janos Köhler (Cycle Inn/Trajectoires Cycles, Ireland); 2. David Lacoste (Cantal Team Road, France); 3. Guillaume Gualandi (Cantal Team Road, France); and 4. François-Xavier Plaçais (Trajectoires Cycles, France).

Next up, the customary 4cross format knock-out rounds were held, with the top 32 qualified riders going head to head in groups of four, two riders progressing each time and the remaining two riders retiring from the race. All the top seeds had comfortable wins and progressed to the quarter final round. Again as expected the top four seeds ran in as winners of their respective heats and progressed to the last eight.

Power slide with counter lock through the chicane

The semi-final saw some drama unfold, as I punctured about a third of the way down hitting a bar of uneven road. As I came through the chicane halfway down, I could feel the back end starting to squirm and knew I would need more than just skill to reach the final. I continued to hammer down the mid-section straight towards the last corner, as the rim started to make more and more contact with the road. I brushed off a significant amount of speed approaching the last corner hoping to gently nurse my bike into the home straight. As I fought the back end around the corner, trying to stay upright, F-X Plaçais tore by me on his way to take the semi-final round victory. Little did I know that the next rider was breathing down my neck, but I had not need worry as he completely overcooked the corner and ploughed into the hay bail barriers (see below) to give me the chance I needed to clinch that last spot and qualify for the final. The other semi final saw the first top 4 seed fall, as Guillaume Gualandi was eliminated by 7/100th of a second at the hands of German ex-professional road and track racing multiple Olympian and former world champion, Christian Lademann (Wiki article Eng/De).

Fighting a punctured rear end through the last corner with crash sequence during the semi finals

The moment had arrived for the big final. The tension had risen to unparalleled levels, as we all knew there was only one chance now. The countdown kicked off: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go! The gate dropped and we tore off like thoroughbred race horses out of the box. F-X got the best start as he nosed ahead of me, using his extensive 4cross start experience. I bit down hard and pushed forward with everything I had pulling level with F-X. Around the first right hand bend neck and neck we raced. I was at an advantage sitting on his left hand side with the next bend giving me the inside line. I made it count as I pulled ahead and into the lead. The 22% chicane was upon us in no time and a sharp, quick, short engagement of the brakes brushed off just enough speed to safely negotiate it. Immediately again, it was head down and full on the power. The last bend approached with a rush. Just go for it! Full tilt, holding on for dear life right on the limit. Into the home straight, now only 150m to go. A quick flick over the shoulder informed me I had done it, with my rivals trailing 20m behind me. This was the moment I had waited for so long, as I raced towards the finish line raising my fist in victory, punching the air. I was overcome with sheer ecstasy. Behind me 2nd and 3rd place were decide by the closest of margins with Christian Lademann beating David Lacoste by 2/100th of a second! F-X who had unfortunately derailed through the chicane took 4th place having fought like a real champion until the end.  As F-X caught up with me he threw his arms around me and said “We won!!!” Indeed, this was Trajectoires Cycles best road Rage yet. I went immediately to congratulate both David and Christian on their podium places, before we were ushered up by the marshals and Red Bull organisational crew for the podium presentation. It was quite simply such a moving experience. Photo shoot and interviews followed the champagne fuelled podium celebrations.

Podium Red Bull Road Rage, Belgium: (l-r) David Lacoste (F), Janos Köhler (IRL), Christian Lademann (D), François-Xavier Plaçais (F)

Full list of results here.

Revolution Cycle: Around the world by bike – The Homecoming

June 10, 2010 by

Homecoming Flyer

In November 2008, two young Irish men from Greystones, Simon Evans and Fearghal Ó Nualláin, embarked on an epic around the world bicycle trip – The first Irish circumnavigation of the world by bicycle attempt to date. Equipped with a KTM mountain bike each supplied by Mike Jordan in The Cycle Inn, Tallaght, Simon and Fearghal set off to complete at least 30,000km.

I will not attempt to recount tales from their journey as I would not do it justice, but instead invite you to visit Simon and Fearghal’s Revolution Cycle website where you will find more information. I was however present on Saturday 15 May for the homecoming, as a member of The Cycle Inn Support Team for the last official leg from Blackrock College to Greystones, which heralded the end of this spectacular journey.

A good 100+ strong group of family, friends and followers was present to welcome these heroes back home, with full Garda escort, an ambulance and The Cycle Inn Support Team van completing the cavalcade. Bar a couple of minor incidents, everybody made it to Greystones safely where the official welcome party was set up in the Greystones Rugby club. The bubbly was popped, speeches were held and food and drink was served.

A video clip of the arrival can be viewed by clicking here.

Dream start to first ever road race

May 8, 2010 by

Thursday nights are traditionally known as club race nights for Bray Wheelers Cycling Club members, the club of which I am a long-standing member on and off since 1992. Despite this, until Thursday gone by, I had never competed in a traditional road race, having always preferred off-road riding and more recently the thrill of the Red Bull Road Rage competion.

Sign-on was held from 19:15 and the racing began shortly after. As a handicapped race, I was placed several groups back, yet not quite in the scratch group. The course, a 30km out and back round trip, was relatively flat with a couple of drags along the way. It took me a while to settle down as the complete novice, but with a few friendly tips from fellow riders I integrated well and the group worked seamlessly maintaining the Belgian circle in fluid motion.

Nearing the turnaround point the earlier groups of riders came against us. It would only be a matter of time before we would catch them on the return leg. The pace picked up and caused a split, with a few of the weaker riders unable to maintain the increased effort. As the race continued to near the finish, we managed to integrate into the front running groups. The nearer we approached the finish line the more frantic the peleton became, with attacks being launched ever increasingly. None stuck, but pulled the main group apart, stretching it back down the road.

I sat awaiting the moment of destiny, positioning myself to strike when the time came, as we pulled around the last bend and into the long finishing straight. Watching, waiting, watching… Then the decisive attack was launched and I somehow instinctively sensed it was now or never and pounded into the pedals with what I had left, head down going for the line. I surged by the the initial protagonist of the move and suddenly found myself out front. A final burst for the line and I was able to start my road racing career in a fashion I could only have dreamed of moments before.

Taking victory in the sprint during my first ever road race

2010 Dyfi Enduro – Machynlleth, Wales

May 6, 2010 by

Dyfi Enduro singletrack downhill

On Wednesday evening 28 April, I received contact from my friend and regular cycling training partner, Michael McCutcheon with a call to arms to step in for his team race partner.  Due to a last-minute change of circumstances, he was unfortunately not able to make the Dyfi Enduro race scheduled for the coming Sunday. With only three days notice, no targeted training and only a 40lb free-ride/all-mountain bike to ride, this was a challenge I was not about to shy away from. At this stage I hadn’t the faintest idea of what I was letting myself in for.

Saturday morning involved a 6 a.m. start. A quick shower, followed by some breakfast shovelled down in a hurry and it was on the road to catch the 8:20 Dublin ferry to Holyhead. A four-hour train journey followed to deposit us both just outside the southern edge of Snowdonia National Park, in the sleepy village of Machynlleth. It was only few hundred yards more to the camp site from the train station, where the tent was erected upon arrival.

As part of the camp site entertainment there were two marquee tents, one housing a cinema, where 3 different bike films were running on continuous loop and a second adjoining one where delicious food and drink was served to the sound of music in the form of a Rasta DJ spinning some chilled 7″ 45 rpm reggae tunes and later in the evening some live bands. At midnight the music came to an end and the camp site gradually descended into silence as the temporary residents retired, providing the calm before the storm.

By 8 o’clock the following morning, the camp site was buzzing again, with the sort of nervous energy prominent before a big race. Both Mic and I consumed multiple breakfasts. A race debriefing was held at 10:30, after which riders commenced uptake of positions on the start grid in anticipation of the 11 o’clock start. A rolling start from the exit of the camp site ensued for the 650 competitors on the strike of the 11th hour just as planned and was led out of the village towards the hills by a team of marshals in a van and on moto-cross bikes. While I managed to start near the front, I struggled to maintain position on my 40lb Kona Coiler Deluxe and steadily started going backwards as soon as the climbing started, as riders on bikes about half the weight of mine cruised by.

The first climb was a non-stop 5km fire road drag of just over 300m ascent. 3/4 of the way up, my team partner Mic who had started much further back in the grid, passed me as he made steady progress uphill. Mic would spend the rest of the course passing competitors on his way to a formidable 61st place finish. While I slogged it out up the seemingly never-ending climbs with countless riders passing me, when the gradient reversed, I made the extra weight and stability of my freeride rig count for everything it was worth, blasting down past the very riders who had passed me not so long ago.  This pattern was to become the order of the day as it drew on into the race.

Three more monster climbs ensued, each followed by unfortunately what seemed like only very short downhills were I gave it my all, before a very welcome feed station greeted riders at about 3/5 distance, or 31km.  At this stage I could already feel the significant strain of the unaccustomed effort I was subjecting my body to, but after a short refuelling I swung back into action. I would have to crest 6 more significant climbs before I would reach the finish after a total of 53.44km including no less than 1860m of vertical ascent. Crawling up the last big climb of the day, another competitor on a single speed greeted me saying he remembered me passing him on the 2nd descent of the day. According to him, as I passed him he said he tired to jump on my back wheel and added, “but after 50 yards, realised it was a really silly idea”. It was just the sort of compliment I needed to hear at that stage, to give me that much coveted second wind as the climb dragged on mercilessly.

As the end neared, marker signs appeared trail side detailing the remaining distance, as if to encourage the tired riders on, first with 10km and then with 3km to the finish. The first 200 riders were sent on an “extra” loop which added ca. 5km to the full race distance. The remaining 450 would be sent the “short” way. As I passed the marshal taking count, I and the other riders in my group were informed we were in about 150th position – Long course for us in that case! I lost a handful more places and clawed a few back in the usual manner on the remaining up and down hills respectively. After 4h18m49s I finally cruised into the finish in 165th position, covered in mud, but elated to finally arrive at the desired destination in one piece, where I met Mic who had been waiting for about 30mins at that stage. As we stood around clapping in the next few riders including a team on a tandem, another competitor came up to me and said, “Hey, I recognise that jersey”, pointing to my Trajectoires Cylces Team jersey, “You passed me at an absolutely ridiculous speed on one of the downhills!”. This was the perfect comment that summed the day’s racing all up for me.

It was then time to make the way back to the campsite, which was still a full 10km away, but thankfully downhill for the most part. Depositing the bikes and the muddy bike gear at the tent in exchange for a towel and clean set of clothes, it was off to the leisure centre next to the camp site. £1 bought us access to what I can only describe as what felt like the best value and most appreciated shower I can remember in a long time and capped off the day’s riding in perfect fashion.

Standing beside the central social area beside the main marquee, I spotted a fellow rider just arriving back from his ride, cycling by on a Jones 3D SpaceFrame. I hurried after him across the field to catch him for a chat and geek out over his titanium bike. The simple yet unambiguous ice-breaker of “Nice bike” was employed to launch the conversation, followed by much more in-depth admiration, tech talk and titanium bike stories exchange.  A test ride was accorded me upon request and I was finally riding my dream bike for the first time. The ride has to be experienced to be believed, as it is unlike anything I have ridden before.

Finally it was time to indulge in some of the tasty food served in the main marquee. Both Mic and I enjoyed two full dinners as we attempted to replenish some of the several thousand calories consumed that day. More music and socialising with fellow riders ensued until one by one we called it a day, falling into our tents completely exhausted yet more than happy with the day’s memorable events.

7Stanes – Scotland’s biking heaven (Part 4)

April 25, 2010 by

A mid-week stay in Stirling presented the golden opportunity to revisit some of my favourite trails from my uni days. As fate played out, Pete an old classmate from uni has recently set out on an adventure in the form Flying Fox Bikes, in the small town of Alva nestled on the edge of the Ochil hills only a short distance from Stirling. I visited the impressively stocked shop for the first time since its inauguration. The last time I visited, I had witnessed the final touches being administered for the grand opening.  Pete aka Pedro informed me that he would be leading a group of local mountain bikers around the trails behind the uni and up the back of Bridge of Allan after work and I would be most welcome to join them. I accepted without hesitation, since my memory was a little hazy regarding the trail networks I had last ridden nearly a decade ago and this would be a great opportunity to take the guess work out of navigation.

A 7 o’clock start led from the university grounds up into Hermitage Woods, a magical little woods clinging to the hillside overlooking the campus. From there it was on up into Pendreich Woods overhanging Bridge of Allan, where more fast, fun, flowing single track awaited us and awakened fond memories of former bike trips from days gone by. As light began to fade, the challenge level increased, especially at speed. Deer were a plenty, with regular sightings along the trail, but thankfully none decided to jump out into our pathway.

The following morning I decided to cycle up Dumyat for old times’ sake, one of the Ochil hills overlooking the Forth valley and the Firth of Forth. Standing at 417m, it gives a climb just short of 400m total. As I ascended I spotted a couple of mountain bikers up ahead and set out to chase them down. As I finally summited Dumyat, it turned out to be none other than the main man at Flying Fox Bikes, Pedro himself on his titanium On One hardtail with a friend out for a morning spin. We descended together back to Hermitage Woods and went our separate ways, as I had plans to ride in Glentress later that afternoon.

After lunch it was back on the road and a short drive down to Peebles and the 7Stanes Glentress trail centre. Never one to do anything by half measures, I naturally went for the 30km black graded trail which included 80% on single track. A small section of the trail was closed due to the large number of fallen trees blocking the trail and thus resulted in a slightly shorter distance of 27km covered in just over 2 hours. Snow drifts remained from the harsh winter and still lay deep between kilometres 14-15 along the ‘Boundary Trail’ section and together with more fallen trees, made riding a distinct challenge of a more unusual nature. With over 800m of vertical ascent over the full distance, there is no other way to describe it, but as an epic ride. I can categorically state that Glentress is without a doubt my favourite 7Stanes trail centre of the lot!

Some Glentress single track