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 .