A trip back to the UK…

I hadn’t been back to the UK in almost three years. We we’re due for a visit, an opportunity arose, and we took it. Actually I was a little aprehensive about it. They drive on the wrong side of the road in the UK!!!!

So what was it like after three years away? Well it was an interesting experience…….

The people speak English! – I know that’s obvious, but it felt strange going into a shop and being able to ask for stuff in English, and even stranger that I found myself thanking them in French.

They drive on the wrong side of the road! – Even although I’m driving a right hand drive vehicle, I’ve become used to driving on the right. It seems like the norm now. Also, when I first came to France I remember always looking at the passenger of oncoming vehicles. I’ve got used to treating oncoming vehicles as Left Hand Drive now. So, at first, it really was quite hard work switching back. Roundabouts were especially challenging, and the thing was, getting it wrong in the busy South East UK was potentially more serious than getting it wrong on the quiet roads where I live.

We screwed up at one point. We had some directions to a friends house. We reckon we needed the third exit from a roundabout….would have been correct if we went the wrong was around. Confusing innit?

But, we made it safe and sound to our destination near Malvern. Over the following few days I was able to get out and do a few rides on some of my old stomping grounds. One thing that struck me, was how beautiful the countryside was. Just as I remembered it. For me, Worcestershire, Shropshire, and Herefordshire, have some of the most beautiful and unspoilt countryside in the UK. It’s just so English. If I was going to bring a Frenchman to see England, this is where I’d bring them.

My 2010 S-Works Epic in Wyre Forest
Ride 1 – Wyre Forest. I’d picked up a brand new S-Works Epic from my friends at Pearce Cycles that morning, so headed out to Wyre Forest with my road racing buddy Marcus Walker (Bush Health Care) for an afternoon riding the forest. Those of you who are familiar with Wyre will know how hidden the good stuff is, but I managed to put together a great three hour circuit. Three years down the line it was interesting to see how some trails were showing signs of more biking activity, but right over the back of the forest, the trails were just exactly the same. Just as if I’d only been away three days. Conditions were perfect, and the forest was a beautiful as ever. After the ride we took a beer at the Duke William. It was great to see Daisy, she’s calmed down a bit since the last time I saw her.

On top of Breedon Hill with Marcus
Ride 2 – Breedon Hill. We rode from Marcus’s place on a mission to the top of Breedon Hill. Marcus pushed the pace all the way. I was bloomin glad when he snapped his seatpost bolt. We managed to make an emergency repair, but it knocked the wind out of his sails, and the pace was a little more bearable. Breedon Hill has some great riding on it, though getting on it and off it is tough. We could see where Marcus lives from the top, so we sent semaphore messages to our wives to get dinner on!

On top of Worcester Beacon Malvern.
Ride 3 – Malvern Hills. We parked up near the Gullet Quarry and spent a couple of hours riding to the beacon and back. The views are stunning, and I find it hard to ride there without something by Elgar playing inside my head. It was my third ride on the Epic, and I was really starting to feel at home on here. I’m thinking, best XC race bike I’ve ever ridden.

On High Vinnals with JW
Ride 4 – Bringewood. Back over to Ludlow to meet up with the master of shape throwing that is James. Yep, he took me on a loop of his favourite trails, I was totally out of my depth, hanging on as best as I could, and marvelling a how I could get away with much more than I thought I could and still stay upright. Someone has built some super new trails on the Vinnals side, and we checked ’em out at speed. Blurred speed that is! 😉

Ride 5 – Malvern Again. It was the day we were due to leave. I knew I would be spending the next few days driving back to France, so I made the effort to get up early for one last ride. By 6am I was heading up the zig zags enroute to Worcester Beacon. It was chilly, but sunny. I worked very hard, feeling the good pain. I rewarded my self with a 15 minute stop on the summit while I studied the panorama and thought about the last few days. Who knows when I’d be here again. I wanted to take a while just to replay it, think it all in, savour it. Then I pointed my bike downhill and was gone.

The journey back to France was long and hard. I stopped off to visit my Dad on the way back. That’s a whole other story on it’s own.

10 days, over 1500 miles driven. All the family visited. All the wine drunk, and all the tomorrows turned into yesterdays. It was a great trip, and one that will keep us going for a long time, at least until who knows when.

On the podium in the 18th Fréderic Mistral VTT Raid

On the podium in laFrederic Mistral 2009 - I won the Vet B category

One of the best races of the season. I’ve been looking forward to this one. A ‘full on’ mass start race. One big 42km loop. Raced as seen.

I love this race. It has everything. It’s tough, technical, some of the descents are tougher than some of the climbs, there’s some super fast stuff, and the scenery is beautiful!!!

Preparation for this race started months back with extra training rides in the area. A couple of weeks ago a group of us spent a happy afternoon on the trails pre-riding what we thought was the probable circuit.
A bunch of vets pre-riding the circuit for La Freceric Mistral!

Imagine my surprise then when we’re on the start line, and Antoine of the Guidon Bellachon announces that we’re racing a completely new circuit today!

The start – Counted down from 5 we’re away on 2 ish! A dash down the start field and back before turning onto the tarmac. I’m fully expecting to turn left, we turn right!!! 50 metres then left, for the first climb. Rocky, steep, but rideable, chaos, someone slips, and we’re all off and running. I’m well back in around 30th place.

Over the top and away. I’m managing to move up a couple of places here and there, it’s very tough, and very fast. With about 3 kms done we hit a section of pavé. Jean Claude Sansonnet comes by on my right. I need to keep him in sight.

Through the tiny hamlet of Le Charlet, and onto a wall of a climb. JC is piling the pressure on. By the top of the climb he only has a few seconds on me. On fast rocky trails now, I’m chasing hard, and there’s JC with his back tyre flat! It won’t take him long to fix it, I push on.

We hook up right, a short climb, and we’re on the top of the Monts de Blond. The trail leads along a ridge here, there’s big rocky steps, two riders ahead of me are on foot. I shout to them that I’m coming past. I’m desperate.

Complètement fou! – As we drop off the ridge, I’ve opened a gap on the riders behind me, and I cannot see the riders ahead. Something doesn’t seem right. There’s lots of tyre marks on the trail, but no arrows, or tape. I ease a touch. Right at that moment a bunch of around 20 riders comes towards me. We’ve all gone the wrong way!!! I’ve only lost a few seconds, but some of these riders must have lost a lot more. I make a U turn.

Now we’re back on track, but running into the back of riders who hadn’t gone wrong. The next few kilometres are a bit fraught to say the least. I have no way of knowing what my position is now, but I feel reasonably confident that I’m leading Vet B. There’s no choice but to keep pushing on.

Some of the trails we’re riding are brutal. Some of them I’ve seen before, and some of them are new to me. I keep thinking I know where we going, and then there’s a turning that I wasn’t expecting. I’m in a group of four riders, were going quick, I’m starting to suffer. My own words come back to haunt me…

Any fool can ride a bike when they’re feeling fine fresh and funky. But when you feel like sh*t, and someone’s turning the screw, that when it counts!

With 1 hr 45 mins on my watch I’m guessing that we have about 30 mins to go. We’re on a rocky descent, I can hear a rider behind me. He comes past. I recognise him. He’s the full-sus rider that was first home in the Mandragore earlier in the year. He looks old enough to be a vet, maybe even old enough to be a Vet B, like me. Just when I thought all I had to do was hang on for the finish, now I’m gonna have to raise my game.

I’m sat just off the back of the group trying to come up with a plan. We’re heading down the road towards the Frederic Mistral monument. It’s a run up. I suss that we must pass it, then descend down the far side to get home. I dismount early for the run up and stay to the right. By the top I have a few seconds gap. I didn’t really want to be first down the descent, but I jump back on and go for it. It fast, it’s loose, it’s steep, with some big drop offs, and some tight rutty corners. I make it to the bottom in one piece, still at the front.

A tricky stream crossing, I jump off and run it. I can hear shouting and swearing behind me, I don’t look back. Now a road crossing, then a steep ramp up a trail to the right. I lock my forks out and sprint it. It’s agony. A quick glance over my shoulder. The chasers are on the ramp.

I’m committed now. No fingers covering the brakes, I hold the bars tight and go for it. My S-Works hardtail comes to life, and I rattle over the rocks like a man possessed. We’re almost home, they’re taking us down the way we came out! Down the last rocky descent going for it. Sprinting across the finish field to the dead stop turn 50 metres from the line. There’s no one there. I’ve got it. I hope!!!

Wrap up – I’m 15th scratch, but first Vet B. Turns out that the late arrival was a Vet B. I managed to put one minute into him in that last dash. Not much, but enough.

JC fixed his puncture, but punctured again and had to abandon.

Many many thanks to all at Guidon Bellechon for another superb Fréderic Mistral.

Copy of the results here.

Specialized S-Works BG MTB Shoes 2008 – Lightest and best ever?

S-works shoes 2008 in black
Got some new shoes courtesy of Pearce Cycles and Specialized. They look fabulous, I’m loving the ‘Boa rotary and Powerzone lacing systems’, very easy to use and adjust. They feel very light, so I weighed them. They’re 379g (size 45), that’s some 50g lighter than my old ones. Mind you, my old ones, which have been and still are brilliant, might be holding a little moisture from Sunday’s damp outing.

Fitting the cleats – It can be difficult getting the cleats set up on new shoes, but I’m lucky in as much as I’m staying with the same manufacturer, so all I have to do is copy the setup from my old ones. Also i’m lucky in that I just set the cleats in the middle of the slot, in the middle of the shoe, and don’t suffer any problems. I’m so average innit? However, I do feel more comfy with my left foot turned out slightly more than my right foot. I dunno why.

To help me line my cleats up I use a 12mm spanner. It fits just nice on the back of a Shimano cleat making alignment and micro-adjustments easier. I can see where the end of the spanner is on the old shoe, and set the new one up the same. Simple. I use a little Copaslip anti-sieze grease on the threads of the bolts.

New Shoes tip – Whenever I get new biking shoes I always phase them in. So I’ll wear them on a couple of recovery rides first, then shorter training sessions and so on. I’ll do this over a period of about a month. Legs with a lot of miles in them don’t like change, even small ones.

Scrimpers tip – Shimano cleats are the same for left and right, but once fitted they don’t wear the same. When the cleats start to wear and feel a little sloppy in the pedals I take them off and swap them over, left for right. It’s easy to do because they fit in exactly the same place, and you get more wear for your pair!

New Bike, well and truly Christened…

Christened my new 2008 Specialized S-Works Carbon Stumpjumper HT at the Regional VTT Champs last weekend…….. want to know what I thought of it? OK, but first of all let me tell you how it came to be my weapon of choice.
S-Works Carbon Hardtail Christened
Why a hardtail? – I love the clean lines of a race hardtail, the simplicity, the minimalist functionality, the way they ride. I’ve often found that riding a full-susser just doesn’t give that ‘race bike’ feel, you might be covering the ground just as fast but it doesn’t feel fast. I like to go fast, and feel like I’m going fast, that’s the buzz.

Why a Specialized hardtail – this is my sixth, and i’ve loved each one. From my very first in 1989, grey with Umma Gumma grey tyres, to my latest. I’ve never ridden any other race hardtail that I like as much. It’s the best tool for the job.

So this new S-Works Carbon one – It’s an out and out race bike. It feels special, like a race bike should – light, agile, quick-handling, and rocket fast. I wouldn’t want to just ride it every day. That’d be like using a Ferrari to commute. It’s for racing, for going fast, and the faster you go the better it feels, and the faster you want to go. It inspires, excites, urges you on…..

…to ride the knife edge that is control. The faster you go the sharper the blade. It’s amazing that the brain can control two brakes with fingertip accuracy while positioning the body for perfect balance, while reading and predicting what’s coming next racing down a hillside over rock, roots, grass, and dirt. Not to mention sorting out where other riders are so as not to hit them. You really are just there in the moment, there is nothing else, and nothing else quite like it.

That’s how it rides. Nuff said?

Sans fleurs – I’d only done two short rides on it to bed the brakes and gears in, so I was almost racing it straight out of the box. It performed faultlessly. Not only that, but the day after the race I suffered no unusual aches, pains or strains. That suggests to me that the bike is ‘right’.

Weapon of Choice 2008

At last, after months of planning, weeks of waiting, days of anticipation, I finally got my new bike……
My 2008 Specialized Carbon HT race bike
S-Works Carbon HT Frame
SID world cups.
Spesh seat and seatpost.
XTR wherever possible.
Thompson stem.
Easton carbon bars.
Hutchinson Python tubeless tyres.

Built for me by my good friends at Pearce Cycles. This is my race bike for 2008…

I spec’d it myself, and could have chosen anything. I chose what I think is the best for me, and the races that I do. The forks are my old SID World Cups. I’ve had new bushes and seals fitted. I have some white 2008 SIDs on order. I think the Stumpjumper SID combination is a perfect one. No other frame fork combo that i’ve tried comes close. It’s feels like a race bike should, and is rocket fast.

Thanks to Dai at Pearce’s for building it for me, and thanks to Supawal my bro’ for flying out with it. Amazingly, it was cheaper for my bro’ to fly out with it for a weeked than it was for a courier to bring it…… Well maybe not if you factor in the cost of the booze we drank. 🙂