Thursday, 7 February 2019

On our return from New Zealand, I only had a week to get myself ready for a crack at the national championship. We had not suffered much with jet lag going out to New Zealand, but coming back was a different matter! Wendy and I felt dog tired by 3pm each day and we were waking up at 4am!

I managed a few good rides in the week before the race, and I felt surprisingly good and strong.

Mark Doorbar had again kindly agreed to support me at the nationals as Mick Shakespeare was still not up to joining me. We decided to get up early on the Saturday to go down to the Cyclo park in Gravesend, rather than going down the night before. The early start wasn't too bad for me as my body was still half on NZ time! With the race at 11am, we had to set off at 5 and Mark kindly did all the driving. We arrived in good time and I immediately got on the course, which proved to be rock hard ground and super fast, with some quite technical twists and turns. Fortunately after much lobbying by myself, I had persuaded the BCF to start the over 60s off 3 minutes  in front of the over 50's, on the basis that we are a smaller field and this way round, there was less chance of our race interfering with the much bigger over 50's field .

I was drawn on the front row of the grid and got off to a great start and was well placed on first lap behind Kirby Bennett (winner of season long national trophy series) and Pete Harris. Towards the end of lap 2, I had moved in to second and on the one steep climb on the course, attacked Kirby going over the top and managed to establish a small lead. Gradually after that I managed to increase my lead, little by little each lap. I tried to avoid trouble, but on the last lap, with less than a mile to go, I was brought down by a lapped rider and for a moment, I thought the day would end in tears. Fortunately though, I managed to straighten my handlebars and saddle and get back going again and  finished the race 25 seconds clear of the field.

The elation was immense, I was so delighted to have managed to bring off the win and it was more than compensation for the loss at the worlds. I managed to beat both the reigning over 60 and over 65 world champions to win my first national title for 37 years! 

The big question is now what happens next! Wendy isn't keen that I defend my title, as it would mean another serious regime of training, but I am loathe to lose my fitness. I have some ideas which are coming to fruition, but in the meantime, I am enjoying the great feeling from the win and enjoying a little downtime after the intensity of the last 18 months.

Nicola Guiver from getting my legs back into shape after flight back from New Zealand

The week after the worlds felt quite flat, I was busy at work, so didn't have too much time to train or think about my plans. On the Thursday I went to the Pickwick Bicycle Club's (of which I am a member)  Xmas lunch at the new Connaught Rooms in London. Liam Killeen came with me , along with several friends and we had a good day out.

An idea had begun to take grip on my mind, that I wanted to carry on training until the end of the season and have a go at winning the national championships. I still felt some what thwarted by the world championships and still felt I had something to prove and achieve. The problem I had was that on the 13th December, I was due to fly out to New Zealand for a 3 week family holiday over Xmas and new year. If I was to have any chance of keeping my fitness, I was going to have to take a bike with me! With Wendy going along with my plan, I packed up my mountain bike and  with the promise to the family that the biking would be definitely a secondary consideration, we flew out to New Zealand to start our family adventure.

 Wow what a holiday  we had! We landed in Christchurch on south island  and the plan was to spend the 3 weeks touring the island to see the sights with lots of hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking thrown! Wendy had done a great job planning the accommodation and she had arranged a perfect balance of travelling, rest and recuperation and activities. Jack was the first of the 'children' to join us after 2 days and then Katie after a week and then finally Sam after 10 days, with his girl friend Suzie  joining us from Melbourne over new year.

In New Zealand there is a new fantastic sight round every corner and we were blessed with great weather and we could not have wished for a better holiday. I managed to find some great mountain bike trails, especially round Wanaka , Arrowtown and Hokatika and even managed to ride in a 65 km mountain bike race in Bannockburn. Apart from the race, the riding was not super intense, but I felt I was keeping my form and loving the warm weather riding. The main things was it was a great place to get the family together and we had a great time catching up and enjoying each others company.
Above at the Pickwick bike club and below memories of New Zealand

It was finally the week of the world championships in Mol Belgium. I drove out there on the Wednesday with Mark Doorbar, a great  friend of mine from Worcester and Wendy and about 20 friends were going to join us the following day.

We arrived late in the day on the Wednesday and were staying in a nice hotel in Lemel about 10 minutes from the course. After booking in, I ventured out on my bike for a 45 minute ride in the dark, just to loosen the legs after the long drive and felt more relaxed when I got back. After a good meal in the hotel, an early night was in order.

On the following day, we drove out to the course. I already had some idea of what to expect, having seen the park area when I had visited it on my way back from the disastrous European Champs the month before. In a nutshell, the course was a series of long runs in the sand and then some fast sections on the bike on the hard parkland woodland trails. I can hardly say it was my favourite course, but having recced it the month before, I had at least been able to put in some specific training on the local Hartlebury common near to Worcester.

Three good laps was enough for me to test out the course and then after signing on I went back to the hotel to rest. One thing which I had been dreading about the race was the gridding protocol, which was a complete lottery. Supposedly it was done completely randomly, but when I was drawn 28 out of 28 I felt rather despondent, especially as the reigning world champion Robin Delve was first on the grid. I was perhaps lucky in that there were only 28 in my race, so at worst I was likely to be on the 4th row. In the over 50s race, with 80 riders, I could have been on the back row of 10.

My supporter team had begun to arrive and so the gridding disaster was soon forgotten and  after discussions with Liam and Mick Shakespeare, I realised that anyway the gridding should not prove to be too much of a handicap. On the Thursday night I enjoyed another good meal in the hotel with my team and then another early night.

The day of the race proved to be cold but dry but I felt good and was looking forward to the race.

When I was called up to the line, I in fact managed to manoeuvre myself up to the second row, so felt really good when the gun went off! By the end of the first lap I had got through to the front of the field and briefly led the race, but a couple of spills in the sand saw me fall back to second behind Delve, who seemed to be lapping up the sand running again. With a lap to go I was still second, but then  my gears seem to jam in the lowest gear, which I later found out was due to sand getting into the Sram gear/brake lever. I changed bike in the pits but had already slipped to 4th, only then to find the same thing  happened on my spare bike. I was simply pedalling frantically but getting no where! I finally finished 5th only 4 seconds off a medal, but had the feeling that it could have been so much better.

Robin Delve should be congratulated for retaining his world title who won from fellow Brit Pete Harris and it should probably have been a one two three for Britain.

That night I partied with my friends who had so kindly come out to support me. It had been an incredible journey over the 18 months. I am so very grateful for the support of friends and family, especially my wife Wendy. I had to dedicate hours of my time in training and then going to all the races and she was very tolerant of this and my alleged grumpiness when I got tired! For the first year of my comeback, my body complained like hell at what I was asking it to do, but gradually it responded with better and better results. I certainly had some bad luck over the 18 months with mechanical trouble, but my body actually coped very well. The back was sometimes sore, but generally held up well and I managed to keep free of injury or illness.

After having spent 18 months so focused on this one race , I now have to decide what  to do next , but that is for another day. The day after the race, Wendy and I headed for Bruges with our group of friends for some rest and recuperation before returning home .



Friday, 23 November 2018

The first round of the National Trophy was at Derby and the drive up there was in driving rain and it looked like typical cyclo cross weather. The conditions though on the course when we arrived there were surprisingly good and fast. There were several ramps and many twists and turns on cambers, so it was quite a technical course but generally I liked what I saw.

There was only one race before ours, so I did not expect any big changes, but by the time our race started, the corners and cambers had become quite treacherous. I had a good start and was with Pete Harris and  Kirby Bennett on lap one, but then had a series of spills on the corners and lost contact, even getting caught by other riders, with again spills making me lose some confidence on the twist and turns. I ended up only 5th and left rather deflated.

On reflection I realised that courses have changed quite a lot since the old days, instead of wide open spaces and courses offered more power riding and running, courses are now more technical with twists and turns and cambers and generally very little running. This is something which I will need to take back to my coach to start practising in training.

On 14th October came the West Mids league race at Baggeridge, in awful wet and cold conditions. The conditions on the course were surprisingly fast, despite the rain and again after a fast start I lost contact with the 2 leaders and then ended in a tussle with Glenn Coltman, who unfortunately managed to get away from me when we both tangled with a lapped rider. I ended up 4th and won my over 60s category and beat Pete Harris, so a useful scalp.

Liam Killeen has been really putting me through my paces in training and it has been super motivational that he has been able to come out and train with me several times a week. The training has been a combination of  road sessions over the Malvern's, with major efforts of 4- 5 minutes on the climbs, with sustained power efforts over 350 watts and heart rate in the anaerobic zone and then fast and technical cyclo cross sessions, interspersed with intense interval sessions to simulate races. I have also started  joining Liam's Thursday late afternoon technical training sessions which he organises for the local youngsters and this has really helped my technical riding.

On 21st October, with no West Mids league race I headed down to Stroud for  a Western League event . The conditions were warm and dry compared to the week before and I rode strongly finishing 3rd in the over 50s in almost the same time as the winner and comfortably winning my category. I really felt as if the form was coming.

The next week was the next round of the National Trophy in Irvine Scotland. Mick Shakespeare and I went up the night before the race, in what turned into a nightmare journey, taking over 8 hours with terrible traffic. Mick threw me out to ride the last 10 miles or so in the dark, to loosen up the legs. It certainly helped the legs, but it proved to be quite a scary ride on dark lanes with too many close calls with passing cars!

The next day was cold but beautiful sunshine and the course was  super fast  close to the beach in Irvine. I felt good despite the long drive and was determined to show my best.  As in all National Trophy races the over 60s started a minute behind the over 50s and after a great start, I already had built a good lead over the rest of the field. Threading my way through the tail enders of the over 50s though was a challenge as no one really liked giving way and most were unaware anyway that we were in a different race! I came across a group of 5 and getting passed  them proved really difficult, as no one wanted to give way and as a result Robin Delve caught me. As soon as he caught me my rear tubular tyre rolled over on one of the cambers   and by the time I had put it back on and gone through the pits for a change I had fallen back to 3rd which is where I finished. I was very disappointed in the result but heartened that the form felt good. I was also rather disappointed that the tyre, that was only fitted 2 weeks previously by a local well known bike shop, had rolled off ! 

The good thing was though that my form felt good, so when I headed off to Holland on the following Wednesday for the European Championships, my hopes were high. Little did I know at that time, what disaster was to follow, not on the bike but off it!

I was delighted that Mick Shakespeare was again with me to share the driving and to give me his valued support and advice. After the drive to Scotland, the drive to Holland was relatively uneventful, apart from arriving in Folkestone to find that I had some how managed to book the Eurotunnel for the right time, but for the week before! After shelling out a few more pounds we were on our way!

The course in Herzogenbosch was fast and technical, with many twists and turns and several sand runs and steep banks. I liked what I saw, the only thing which prayed on my mind was how the gridding would be done. There were only 25 riders in our race, but with starts so important, I didn't want to be handicapped by a back row gridding. As it happened I never made the start!

On the following morning, after a good meal out the night before and a good night's sleep, I felt excited at the prospects of riding in my first major championship in 34 years. We had been staying at a nice B&B in the town, which had some very steep and narrow stairs up to the kitchen and bedrooms. The night before we had commented that they were not stairs to want to climb after a few beers! That morning though, while I discussed breakfast with our hosts, Mick went to the car to take down some bags. He disappeared from view down the stairs, then suddenly I heard a terrible crash and then silence. I rushed down the stairs to find Mick lying almost upside down, his head in a pool of blood. I immediately knew it was serious and an ambulance was called, which was there in minutes. Mick was conscious but clearly stressed and disorientated. He was saying I had to go and ride the race, but I realised this wasn't the priority. By this time the police had arrived too and a second ambulance and we headed off to the local hospital. After reaching the edge of the town, we pulled over as they had called out an air ambulance with a neuro surgeon on board to assess Mick's requirements. It was serious enough for us then to be diverted to the specialist neuro hospital in Tilburg 30 minutes away.

The last thing on my mind by now was the race, this was serious and my priority was to be close at hand to support Mick and liaise with his family. The Dutch medical care was superb and he was immediately put into intensive care, so they could monitor him, as he had a small brain bleed. As it happens by son Sam is a registrar in neuro surgery, working in Melbourne and he was able to speak to the specialists and help interpret what was being done and why. By the time all the appraisal had been done and his family briefed my race had been and gone. The good thing was Mick was in the best possible hands and his wife and daughters were flying out immediately to be with him.

Once I was sure there was nothing  more I could do, I decided to start the long drive home. I was feeling emotionally drained, but decided to make the most of the trip to drop into Mol in Belgium on the way back to do some laps of the world championship course. This proved invaluable as it included some long running stretches in soft sand, so it gave me some pointers for training over the next few weeks.

Mick remained in intensive care for 2 days to make sure the brain bleed did not cause problems but was then released into a normal ward for several days  before being allowed home. He is on the road to recovery but it will take several months of convalescence to be fully right again. Thankfully though he had had great care but it meant I had lost my friend and helper at the races for the foreseeable future.

Having not had a race on the Friday , I decided to race at Blackwell in Bromsgrove the day after I got back. I must have been riding on adrenaline, because I rode quite strongly finishing third and beating Kirby. The next week though I suddenly felt very tired and when it came to riding at the next round of the National Trophy in Crawley the following week, I was spent and exhausted. I was with the leaders early on, but felt I had no power and came in 4th. I think the stress over what had happened in Holland had caught up with me.

The following week at Stourport I felt refreshed again and road very strongly. Although I lost touch with the 2 leaders in the over 50s, I road strongly to ride away from 2 other riders on the last lap to finish 3rd and win my category, only though to be told I had been disqualified for allegedly riding through the pits and not changing my bike. Even though I told the commissaire my bike was not ready so couldn't change it he refused to change his mind. Less said the better at this stage, as I am still appealing and questioning the rules, but needless to say it marred what until now had been an enjoyable comeback!

It is now only a week to the big race, my main training is done and all it needs is for me to start getting my mind focused on the matter in hand. I have the next round of the National Trophy in York on Saturday and then I head out to Belgium next week. I will be without Mick but I will be riding for him. I do have a band of about 20 friends and family coming with me, so I will not be alone! I will keep you informed of my progress!    

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Wow what a difference a year makes! It is less than a year since I had my come back cyclo cross race after 33 years away. The sport has been transformed over the years. The races are well organised and the number of racers, over so many different age categories is amazing.

My decision  to make a comeback, was some what off the cuff and to be frank I did not realise how hard it was going to be. The body complained a lot at the beginning and still is, but the more I have got into it, the keener I have become and my approach now is probably as professional and focused as it was all those year's ago.

I have made sure I have the best equipment and I am very grateful to my sponsors for their ongoing support. Dave Loughran at Planet X has been a good customer of mine and he was quick to offer me bikes, when I told him what I was planning. Additional support from Gipiemme for carbon wheel, Vittoria for Graphene tubular tyres and MRP for their magic Wave chain ring and chain guide, has made sure I am  perfectly equipped.

With only 8 weeks until the big race, my focus is greater now than ever. Liam Killeen has been brilliant with his coaching and being able to train with him several times a week, has been both an inspiration and great experience.

Since my second in the first race, I felt I plateaued some what over the next couple of weeks. In Coventry Steve knight won again and I let Glenn Coltman and Kirby Bennett get the better of me on the last lap to come 4th in the over 50's. A week later I came in 5th in a race in Henley in Arden in which I perhaps should not have started. I had a bad eye infection in the days before the race and couldn't wear my contact lenses and this proved a bad distraction. I had to wear ski goggles over my glasses, which sort of worked, but I had to throw them off half way round when they steamed up! A week later I felt in better form in Shrewsbury . I was determined to get on Steve Knight's wheel at the start, which I did and was with Steve and Kirby Bennett for the first 2 laps, before I slipped my chain and lost contact with them. I did fight back though and catch Kirby who punctured, so a 2nd place felt much better.

Training has become very intense and although the racing at the weekend is important (it is the first national trophy race tomorrow in Derby), ultimately all the raining is geared round peaking for 30th November.

Liam, has given me some good advice on nutrition and although I have already lost 10 kgs in a year, I am trying to lose a couple more , but at the same time maintaining my strength and energy levels for the training.

I am now enjoying the journey and a year on beginning to see the results. Tomorrow will be my first race against the best 60+ riders in the UK, so this will be a good measure of where I am in my preparation. Fingers crossed...!
 Felt strong in Coventry
 Throw back to 1973 when winning the British School boys championships in front of Gerry Taylor and Adrian Longland
 The start at Shrewsbury
           Felt strong and finished second in over 50's at Shrewsbury

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Sorry again about a gap of a few months, but much has happened and I am still as focused as ever in my training and ambitions. It is now though only 10 weeks until the World Championships in Mol, Belgium and with the weather still mild, it doesn't feel as if the cyclo cross season should have started!

When I last blogged, the mountain biking was still my focus and the climax of the season was still to come. I benefitted from some good technical coaching again from James Richards and having trained on the national championship course, at the Olympics track in Hadleigh, I approached the nationals with optimism. As it happened though, things didn't go my way. I was with the leaders Pete Harris and Kirby Bennett  for a couple of laps, but then lost contact after being brought down by a lapped rider and then blew trying to chase back. I got back going but the race was by then lost and then finally had to abandon with a broken chain with a lap to go.

The final round of the National  Trophy in Builth Wells, almost ended in disaster too, when my frame broke again in warm up and only due to the generosity of the event organiser, John Lloyd, who lent me his bike was I able to start. I managed a good start but lost a little ground on the leading 2 and came in 3rd behind Kirby Bennett and Pete Harris but picked up 3rd place too in the overall series. I was reasonably pleased with my first MTB CX season, as I had developed some good technical skills and built a good base fitness for the forthcoming cyclo cross season. In terms of results though, broken frames and chains marred the season and although winning silverware wasn't the main objective this summer, it is never nice to lose in these circumstances!

I have been very grateful for the mechanical support from Paul at Back on Track in Malvern, who has always found time at short notice to help me get my bikes back on the road!

Charlie Evans, my coach was in July given the chance of a fulltime contract with the Olympic games organisation, so suddenly with only 4 months to go until the world championships, I was without a coach! Thanks to an introduction from James Richards, I have now been very fortunate to have started working with Liam Killeen. Liam has been one of Britain's greatest off road riders over the last 20 years. Liam is a multi winner of the British MTB XC championship and has been national Cyclo cross champion too only 2 years ago. He was Commonwealth games champion in 2006 and then tragically broke his ankle when riding in the London Olympics. Liam is also local to me,living in Malvern, so in many ways this link up has been very fortuitous and I have already benefited hugely from his coaching and  advice on nutrition etc. Being able to go out training with Liam too, has been hugely beneficial. Liam has got me training using a power meter and this dimensions, makes measuring my efforts more meaningful. 

The cyclo cross season has now started and with 2 rounds of the West Midlands league already under my belt, I have made huge gains on last season. I made second place in the over 50's first round at Redditch, behind Steve Knight and was 4th in Coventry last week, but I feel I am now finally competitive. Bearing in mind I am nearly 60, I am comfortable with where I am but clearly there is still, work to be done!

Mick Shakespeare, my former mentor has kindly come back to support me at races this season and his loyal support and extensive knowledge will I am sure pay dividends in the weeks ahead.

Today is Wednesday 19th September and I am just back from 2 hours training with Liam. 4  x 5 + minute efforts of climbs over the Malvern Hills, with winds gusting at 70mph + it was not easy but I never expected it to be. the good thing is though that I am thoroughly enjoying feeling fit again. I have lost 10 kgs in weight and am loving the racing!

Even Wendy my wife has finally got use to the life of a biker's widow, but is still adamant I will be retiring again come the end of the season!
 Training session with James Richard at Cannock Chase
 Delighted to have linked up with Liam Killeen, as my new coach
 3rd overall in National Trophy MTB XC series
 With winner and rival Kirby Bennett
 Broken frame almost marred last race in MTB season
 Scott marathon in the Peak District. 7000' of climbing in 4 hours, quite a ride.!
 Great to have mentor and friend Mick Shaespeare back on the team for the CX season
 Getting to grips with the supplements, thanks to advice of Liam Killeen and Matthew Cook of Worcester University
 First CX race of the season!
 Too warm and dry for cross, but good to get back to the racing!
All packed up and ready to go. Even Lola is out there to wish me luck! 


Friday, 6 July 2018

Summer of 2018 MTB Cross country racing and training

First of all my apologies for not continuing my blog after the end of the cyclo cross season. Maybe no body noticed, or you simply thought I had thrown in the towel! My wife, Wendy for sure has struggled to cope with the new focus in my life, as it has certainly impacted on her! I have reassured her that she will get my full attention back after 30th November, but in the meantime, she has agreed to try and cope with my minor distraction!

When I stopped racing back in 1984, mountain bikes did not exist and so over the past few months, I have been discovering a whole new biking world! From my time working as Whyte bike's export manager, I had acquired a nice  new full suspension 29er, the M109 and for the past 4 months I have been loving training on it and racing in cross country events, up and down the country.

Charlie Evans my coach saw training and racing MTB cross country races as being the perfect preparation for the next cyclo cross season and to be frank, I have thoroughly enjoyed both the training and racing. My main training ground has been the Malvern Hills or the Wyre Forest, often with my mate Andy Nott and his son Nat, but I am often down at the Forest of Dean, or up to Cannock, Hopton Woods or Eastridge. I can't get enough of those single tracks!

Technically I had a lot to learn. Despite not racing cyclo cross for 33 years, I did instinctively have some pretty good off road bike handling skills, but the ups and downs and twists and turns of mountain biking takes things to a new level. Charlie has taught me a lot and more recently I have benefitted from some great local coaching from James Richard and I am looking forward to another session at Cannock Chase with him in the next couple of weeks.

The training has been hard this summer, because the period between when I first started my comeback (last June) to when the world champs takes place on 30th November is quite short. I have needed to put the hours in, in order to give myself a chance of getting competitive.

My racing has been focussed on the National Cross Country Trophy series and I have been pleasantly surprised that my results in the first 4 rounds, have always seen me in the top 5 in my age group. Annoyingly in the last round at Phoenix park in Suffolk, I was leading by a good 2 minutes with a lap to go and then my chain broke! I had to scoot round last lap or run and ended up only 5th! The good thing was though that the form was beginning to come.

Last week, I was similarly fated when riding in the Scott marathon over Exmoor, when my frame broke after 35 miles and I had to abandon!

The next race is the national championships down at the Olympic park at Hadleigh on 22nd July. I went down there a couple of weeks back on a recci, which was well worth it, because there are quite a few big drops, which I was able to try out and this has helped my preparation for that event.

My daughter, Katie, who lives in Hong Kong is an avid Crossfitter and she has been rabbiting on at me to take my nutrition more seriously. Back in the 1980's when I raced professionally in Italy for Bianchi, nutrition was far from being a precise science. She has encouraged me to take this side of my preparation very seriously too and it now seems common sense that fuelling the body properly has to be so important. I have now engaged the services of top rider and nutritionist Annie Simpson to help me to eat and drink the right things, in the right quantities and at the right time! Our collaboration is at its infancy but I am excited about the prospects and what I can learn.

On Sunday I am off to the Spanish Pyrenees near Girona with Wendy, to meet up with Katie, who is over from Hong Kong and I am looking forward to getting out for some training in the mountains .

Now that I have picked up the habit of blogging again, I promise now to keep you up to date with what I am up to. Please do get in touch if you want to know anything or have any questions. It is now only 4 and a half months to the world championships in Mol, Belgium on 30th November, so really not a huge amount of time left to get my self properly ready!

Watch this space!

 Getting some mile in in Guilin southern China. Amazing scenery
 Guilin, China, put it on your bucket list!
 Great ride round Hong Kong island with Benje and Clive
 My regular riding mates, Andy and Nat
 technical session with James Richard
 I love my office!
 A morning run in Sestri Levante, Italy. Beautiful!
 Back together with my former coach and great mate Mick Shakespeare
 Scott marathon on Exmoor
 Premature end to the Exmoor marathon!
2 minutes up at Phoenix park and then this happened!
Down at the Olympic Park for some training