Looking back at 2013 and ahead to 2014

On January 15, 2014 by Alan

It’s three years today since my road traffic accident. I’m marking this anniversary by taking a fond look back at 2013, and casting an eye ahead to this year, when I plan to go big!

I have treasured memories form 2013. It was the year we got a Summer. In 2012 I wrote: “I’m already thinking about 2013 and riding some superb courses as part of the National Series, including Hadleigh Farm, the London 2012 venue. My aim for next year is simple:

  • Go faster
  • Be fully committed
  • Train and race smart
  • Enjoy it”

Truthfully, I can say that I achieved these aims. I’ve also had a great time getting to know new rivals and making new friends. Hadleigh Farm didn’t disappoint. It was a thrill and a privilege to race there, and one I hope to repeat. Whilst the tan lines may have faded, I wear the scars of 2013 with pride. I wear them as a souvenir of the good times. I’ll add them to my memories of worn out dry weather tyres, dusty trails and blisteringly hot racing and weather.

My focus for 2013 was the Vets category in the National Mountain Bike Series.
I do the national series because it’s five rounds of great racing, at the best venues across Britain. I have no chance of ever winning a race in the series. That privilege is for a few talented riders. Replacing the winning feeling is the deep sense of accomplishment and the thrill of great, highly competitive racing.

National mountain bike series 2013

My year started slowly. With a new business, family holiday to Florida and my brother’s wedding in Ireland, I didn’t race until April. This late start meant I missed the first round of the national series. Without points from the first round, and a points based grid system in place, I started far down the field for Round 2 in Wheal Maid Valley, Redruth. Redruth proved to be an excellent venue and one that appears again in the series for 2014. Essentially, it’s a huge quarry, which you descend into and climb out of six times, which was more than enough. I limped home in a lowly 36 position. My lowest national series result. Ironically, my family, who rarely attend were there to witness the humiliation. That said, I still loved it.

Undeterred, Round 3 was held in the beautiful Hopton Woods, Shropshire. As a 65kg climber, it’s a course that suits me. Hopton is simple – a great big climb right from the gun, following by a big decent. I felt and did better, coming home in 26th, narrowly missing 25th in a sprint finish. Hopton is to be the venue for the 2014 British Cycling National Mountain Bike Cross-Country Championships. Again, although my placing was low, I was really enjoying my racing, and knew I’d improve.

Next came the mighty Margam Park in Wales, which I’d been looking forward to, having raced well there before. I knew this round would be one for the climbers, who can handle the technical, rocky stuff, which there was plenty of. It was a sweltering 30 degrees on the day. I was unsure how I’d go in the heat, being Irish. The only certainty was that I’d be lobster red by the end of the day. I started on the 4th row of the grid, in 30th position, making a change from previous races. I was soon picking off riders on the big hills. Unfortunately on the final lap of six, disaster struck when I exploded my rear tire with 4km to go. Damn you Schwalbe! Frustratingly, I was in 13th at the time. The race marshals I’m sure had never heard the words that came out of me after I punctured at the bottom of a rocky decent, whilst taking the less travelled line on grass to avoid the rolling rocks. Some of the words were new to me. With my tyre beyond repair, knowing I was doing well, and with energy still in my legs, I decided to run the last 4km. Seemed like to only thing to do to avoid accepting the disappointment. My run was not in vein, as I came home in 22nd. Not a total disaster after all. So happy I didn’t throw in the towel, but 13th would have been precious. I vowed never to race on a Schwalbe tyres again. Whilst they are light, they tare too easily and now I’m back on Maxxis, which have always served me well.

All out at Margam Park

All out at Margam Park










Which brings me to Round 5, the final round at the dramatic Hadleigh Farm, the Olympic venue. I’d watch the Olympic mountain biking from Hadleigh on TV. They made it look deceivingly easy. There’s no let up at Hadleigh, with swooping downhills immediately followed by technical climbs. The course has everything from hearth in mouth rock drops, rock garden’s, a north shore gap jump, brutal climbs and even a tunnel, all specially constructed for the highest level of racing. Right from the gun, it’s straight into a lung busting grassy climb, quickly following by a technical rock drop, pictured below. To understand just how technical it is, take a look at this video of a practice lap and imaging hitting any of these sections at pace, with someone close of your wheel, while to chase down the man in front like a dog.

Hadleigh rock drop

Hadleigh rock drop










I started on the 4th row of the grid again, this time in 26th position. I was used to the frenzy of the start now. I’ve learned that the start is only about you. Thinking about anyone in front or behind is a pointless distraction. My strategy was simple, and I stuck to it. It was to take the hardest A lines the whole way round, avoiding the extra time incurred by taking the B and C lines, or chicken runs. Unlike other courses, taking the B and particularly the C lines really took longer. With the A lines came risks as you are funneled into narrow corridors lined with jagged rocks. I saw some bad injuries that weekend. Luckily, I stayed on board throughout. I came home in 14 reinforcing my good form. Annoyingly, I made a school boy error on the day, which was again hot, by not taking on enough fluids. I cramped the whole last lap, and had to drop two positions, which I had worked so hard to gain. Still very happy given my lowly 36 only two races before.

So a good end to the national series, which I enjoyed immensely. Thanks to British Cycling for organising consistently enjoyable and well run races. I can’t wait for the 2014 series, which has some new venues to check out.

Finally a first place

Away from the series, there were some other highlights. Firstly, pairing up with Scott Cornish, physio, Tech Ed for Cyclist No 1, and endurance rider for Gore Bike Ware, we brought home some silverware at the Bristol Bikefest sponsored by Ritchey Components and Stans Notubes. Read more about this even here. We did the double at Stans Notubes Octoberfest – the Bikefest’s twin event – again taking top spot in the vets pairs, which made for a nice end to the season. Here’s the video. These two races were significant milestones for me as they were my first ever race victories, having been 2nd and 3rd far too often.

So, what of 2014?

This year I’m going long. Instead of one day races of no more than two hours, I’ve entered a six day stage race in Spain. The Andalucia Bike Race takes palce on the 23rd Febuary. It’s a First Class UCI race. The 9,745 metres of climbing hasn’t deterred the 700 entrants. Here’s the video trailer. Stages will take 4 to 5 hours, bringing the new challenge of endurance. You may ask why, for my first venture in stage racing, I’ve chosen a six day race? I’ll have to get back to you on that one. I’ve needed to train throughout the Winter, which thankfully has been mild. Normally winter consists of long slow rides with friends and wonderful cafe stops, my favourite being Brockweir Village Shop. This Winter I’ve needed to be more energetic, as I transform myself from xc racer to endurance rider over three short months. I’ve found myself out of sync with everyone else, who’s seasons start later, and are still enjoying the cafes. Luckily, in Bristol, there’s never a shortage of cycling companions to make the miles more enjoyable.
For company I’ve had Llewellyn Holmes, elite, Xterra athlete, who along with fellow Strada team cyclist Kit Stokes and Cadence rider, Phil Marsh have made the Winter very pleasant indeed.

The only way to enter The Andalucia Bike Race is as a team of two. My partner for the race is again Scott Cornish, after two successful pairings last year. This will be Scott’s third attempt at this race, with previous attempts ending through illness and injury. I’ll need the luck of the Irish to help Scott overcome his nemesis. Scott has written an excellent account of his experience of this race.

In addition to the six back-to-back stages, there also the team element, which is an unknown to me. In a 2012 issue of Privateer magazine, Will Hayter wrote the ingredients of a good team are:

– A lack of ego
– Common goals and expectations
– Relatively close levels of ability
– Honesty and willingness to adapt

Scott and I will be hoping that this can be true for us, but only time will tell.

Training for a stage race
I have no idea how this race will go. I suspect holding Scotts wheel will be a challenge in itself. All I can do for now is ensure I’m in the best possible shape.
I’ve trained hard over the last three months, following my own training plan, inspired by The Mountain Biker’s Training Bible by Joe Friel. An old but comprehensive and useful book. My weekly plan broadly looks like this:

    • Strength sessions – weights, kettle bells, and body weights, with a little Crossfit for good measure
    • 2 hours mountain bike skills session
    • 4 to 5 hours long slow ride
    • Interval training on my turbo in my garage
    • Yoga – thought to me by my beautiful wife, with a dash of Bikram every so often
    • Running
    • Commuting 5 days a week, totalling 70 miles

Using basic Periodisation principles, the aim is to peak for the week of the race. To accomplish this, I’ve divided the month into the following weeks:

  • Build week
  • Build more
  • Push hard
  • Rest

The main differences from how I used to train is that I’m teaching myself to get used to cycling tired. Most weeks I’ll be on the bike every day. Some weeks I’ll do back-to-back long rides. More recently those long rides are on the mountain bike. The aim is to simulate the distance and the terrain (as much as possible) to get my body used to how it will be. If you’re interested in the detail of training for a stage race, just get in touch and I’d be delighted to share my approach. I’m planning of writing a full race report once and if I finish.

New year, new bike
So, what’s my trusty steed for the Andalusia Bike Race? I’ve welcomed in the New year with a new bike, swapping my weapon of choice for a Scott Scale 710. The 710 is a 650b or 27.5 inch wheel. So far, I’m impressed with the bigger wheels, which suit me as a shorter rider, more than a 29er. The 710 came with Syncros wheels, which I swapped for America Classic Race 2014, making the bike under 10kg, super light and super fast. If I don’t do well, it can’t be down to the bike, so it must be the rider.

It’s a big start to the New Year. I’ll keep you posted in the lead up to the race, during and after, if I’m still in one piece.

Ride easy in 2014!

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