Adventures of the Cotic - A Quick Release holidays mountain bike race team

Sunday 3 January 2016

The Final Part of the 2015 Season

After a good break between the first half of the season, which also included two weeks with AQR Holidays in Luchon in the French Pyrenees, it was back to racing.

Took a AQR hire bike for a spin whilst on holiday

Cannock Chase - August 2015
After bring pleasantly surprised by the course in 2014, my initial enthusiasm was dumped well and truly on the ground. No additional technical features had been added, and even worse it had been dumbed down by removing the drop that apparently troubled everyone in 2014. I finally discovered that after two weeks riding on 710mm bars, my XC ones were way too small and I struggled all weekend to get used to riding narrow bars again. Zero sprint power in the legs so I once again hung on in there and finished the XC season with a 100% finishing record.

Ae UKGE - August 2015
Having recently returned from two weeks in the Pyrenees I had a new mindset to pursue following my previous two UKGEs; it worked a treat too! The event used a load of the downhill trails however that did mean becoming particularly familiar with the one main fireroad climb. At the top of Stage 1 I felt my suspension seemed to be quite soft until I discovered it was my rear tyre that was soft; I'd left it too late to do anything so rode S1 in mild fear of rolling it off the rim. I had to back off a bit but managed it and the steep muddy chute at the end. After seeing if just more air would be the answer to my problem I eventually had to tube the tyre which I wasn't thrilled about as I knew what was to come. S2 was more an XC affair so that was fine but following was the gnarliest stage. S3 was my favourite; steep, slippery and scary, and whilst I struggled with getting back in the pedals occasionally (did I mention this race also suffered from rain?!), for the first time ever I caught the rider in front. Alas, a slip right at the end and having to run in the last 10m over the line meant I wasn't able to cash in on my catch that time around. Again during S4 I caught the rider, but again I tried too hard and made a silly mistake which cost me time in the end. By S5 my arms were killing me and it was pretty much all I could do to hang on at the end. This race for me made one thing crystal clear; XC was dead, long live enduro/DH!

On a flat tyre - Photo Credit: Doc Ward

Dyfi UKGE - September 2015
Yep, you guessed it, more rain! So much so that the initial part of S4 had to be neutralised as it was near impossible to walk, let alone ride. This was a big ol’ loop and as such tactical practice meant missing out practice on S2; I barely made it back in time for seeding! Seeding/S5 was a super fast, fun, off-camber grassy trail with natural drops in it. Fortunately the weather had held off for us a little so at least the grass was relatively did then rain more. S2 was the blind stage for myself and a number of others. It was trail centre track so likely to be the least ‘surprising’; that changed about 100m in when cresting a blind rock rise I found myself looking at a particularly painful looking jaggered landing. Fortunately I’d gone off full gas and momentum and looking ahead carried me clear. Part way down S3 I glimpsed the girl in front; this time I remained calm. Hitting the fire road I sprinted to the next section and went in fast and got on the back of her wheel. As there was little passing room I opted to sit on her wheel rather than push it. Eventually the trail flattened off then widened and I passed. Making it down the final steep section I was overjoyed to have finally caught and passed a rider! The same happened on S4, although the rider in front was very unlucky to end up with a massive branch through her wheel which significantly slowed her down getting back on her bike! S5 saw the beginning of more rain, but we all made it down before it really opened up thankfully. I was really pleased to find out I’d also gone faster than seeding. This was my best result all year seeing me finally make it to 8/10 as opposed to bringing up the rear!

Into the dark woods - Photo Credit: Doc Ward

Plans for 2016
2016 sees me back to school for the entire year. I can’t commit to a rigid training schedule or to racing (plus if I break myself I would fall too far behind on my course) therefore I’m on a ‘racing break’ (that doesn't mean I won't be riding bikes though). That said, I want to squeeze in a challenge in my ‘summer hols’, it just needs firming up first. Otherwise, 2017 will be when I get back on the MTB circuit where I’ll be looking to take on rounds of the British Enduro Series on board my awesome Cotic Rocket, as well as hopefully some Pearce Cycles DH races (of course I’ll need a new bike for those ;)).

Rocket power for 2017 - Photo Credit: Jon Edwards

Thank Yous
Whilst I’ve not set any races alight this year, there are a number of people who have continued to support me throughout the year and I owe a debt of gratitude to them: all those who’ve helped me at the various races, either XC bottle feeding duties or enduro practice/racing where I’ve made even more friends; Cotic for the amazing Soda, Soul and BFe hardtails I've been using and for the new Rocket firepower which will hopefully serve me well in future enduros/miniDHs; AQR Coaching's Kate and Ian Potter who have been invaluable as coaches (including for the head), especially during my two weeks at AQR HQ in the Pyrenees; and my long suffering other half Rob Rowe aka Finely Tuned Ride who has always ensured my bikes have been in tip top condition pre race.

Saturday 2 January 2016

Looking Back on the 2015 Season.....Mixing It Up

2015 didn’t quite go to plan. I had a nemesis this year and that was work. I’d gotten home late, eaten late, gone to bed late, gotten up early doing it all again, working long hours including weekends at times, been away from home often and coming under significant pressure at times. Fitting in consistent training had been problematic; I may have managed three weeks in a row at one time but that was a rarity. Whilst I entered the British Cycling Cross Country Series knowing race one was going to hurt and I wouldn’t be in a good condition, I hadn’t expected to be in a worse condition come the end of the series. Instead of finishing positions and rating performance, I had to set other goals. The first was that, no matter how awful it was, I had to finish. Secondly, I had to ride my absolute technical best.

To mix things up I had also decided to race a few of the UK Gravity Enduros (UKGE) plus Steve Peat’s Steel City Downhill after having a really good winter at the 661 MiniDownhills.

Here’s a quick run-down of how the first part my season went:

Sherwood Pines XC- March 2015
It rained. It was muddy. It was cold. People seemed to overcook lap 1 and a number either crashed or had mechanicals. It’s not an overly technical nor interesting course, but the conditions made it more slippery and therefore challenging. This race was more about looking after body and machine and I managed this unlike some others.

Newnham Park XC- April 2015
It was sunny, hoorah, but chilly. The course was an outstanding technical feast and I loved it. It also had two stiff and longish climbs which my legs really did not like. In the lead up to this race I’d been struggling with fatigue and couldn’t clear it so come race day I knew it was going to hurt. Zero power to put down meant I was left behind fairly swiftly. Through lap 1 I would come back into contact with some of the girls though my use of the A lines. This didn’t last though as I struggled with each steep climb. Once again, a finish and happy with the technical aspects. A worthy XC course and also amazing spectator support made this the best XC atmosphere of the year for me.

Steve Peat’s Steel City Downhill - May 2015
After 2014’s fun I had to go back for more aboard my Cotic BFe. Due to high female entry numbers we were split into age categories and so I would be up against 29 other master girls. I came with the goal of finishing in the top 10 as well as clearing the gap jump which I’d wimped last year. On inspection, the gap appeared to have increased (to about 8ft) but the run in was less bobblely. I wimped it again on my first two practice runs, but a stop due to a crash at the end of practice gave me more time to look at it and then go for another practice run. No hesitation this time and I was over! If only I’d committed the same on the doubles and cleared them! As ever a superb atmosphere (even if the weather did try to hamper things) and I was super happy to come away in 10th having cleared the gap on both race runs.

Steel City - Photo Credit: Darren Ellis

Triscombe UKGE - May 2015
Land issues meant a slight re-jig to normal with two stages being raced Saturday and four Sunday. Only arriving on Saturday meant a tactical practice, however two stages were used multiple times which helped massively. It had rained on the lead-up to and also during the event, this meant there was a fairly muddy theme to most of the runs. Natural, rooty, slimy, off camber trails; it was brill, I just had never ridden stuff of this calibre so spent quite a bit of time on the floor! I loved it and even though I brought up the rear of the category I did it with a smile on my face, going away with plenty of areas to improve on.

One of the grippy bits - Photo Credit: Liam Mercer

Fforest Fields XC - May 2015
I was worried this was going to be a tour of farmers fields but I was pleasantly surprised; two good, stiff climbs, some fun singletrack and off camber, rooty trails. I actually felt good for my fitness level and enjoyed the race, I was just gutted I didn’t have any fire power.

A dry race for a change - Photo Credit: Bikesoup

Cathkin Braes - June 2015
My second visit to this course re-iterated my disappointment in it. For a Scottish course I feel it is technically weak and I would much rather be sliding around half scared at places like Innerleithen than race Cathkin. I discovered the first third of the course was my strength with the remainder requiring power over technical riding ability to make decent progress. I also managed to go over the bars on lap 1, twist them and not be able to straighten them. For the first time ever I ended up with a stop in the tech zone to get things straightened out before carrying on. I was just glad when it was all over as I had a week off work and much more fun, technical riding to do.

Grizedale UKGE - June 2015

A whole different kettle of fish compared to Cathkin! One word pretty much summed up the weekend: muddy. I was returning after my 2014 debut here but to a different start arena which meant a few different trails also. Fun, rocky, rooty with stage 5 being hilariously scary once you got over the XC start sprint. I loved it, I just wish I could have managed to stay upright a bit more. Out of my depth pushing it in the mud meant too many mistakes and offs; the upside was that I wanted to improve even more.

Seeding was at least dry - Photo Credit: Doc Ward

I opted not to race National XC Champs this year due to fitness so had a nice long break between races; I'll cover those last ones in the next instalment!

Thursday 15 October 2015

European Cross-Duathlon Champs - Castro Urdiales - 10 October 2015

Kirsty reports back from a well deserved cross-duathlon on to find out more.

What a stunning location for a race - beats my previous Spanish racing experience (Alcobendas / Alcy Benders / Alc Horrendous as it's variously now known) hands down.  Pretty coastal town with golden beaches, fishing boats and an impressive castle.

Met up with some of my GB teammates at Heathrow - there was a great team atmosphere throughout the event.  Fairly late arriving into Castro, so after checking out my enormous room at the Sercotel Las Rocas, time for a quick glass of wine (rude not to), snack then bed.

Friday morning... beach time then bike-building... seemless until I managed to fully deflate one of my tubeless tyres, dammit.  The track pump just wasn't man enough.  I eventually located a CO2 canister...  2 minutes later all sorted, then time to head down to the race village for registration and a recce of the bike course.

The bike course was so much better than I expected - rocky fireroads, with 3 technical pitches and a fun descent.  The climbs were do-able, but likely to be a lot trickier with all the race traffic.  Great gnarly descent - plenty of line choices - then a fast, straightforward couple of km to the end. With 300m+ of climbing each lap, 3 laps were going to be brutal!

Registration - in typical Spanish style, 2 hours later than planned - rolled into pre-race briefing, then dinner.  Great chat with a few of the team - I am now honoured to have met (one half of) the world record holder for the 3-legged marathon!  Awesome :-)

Race day...  bring it on!!  Contrary to most duathlons which have a ridiculously early start, today we were starting at 4:20pm which meant a lie-in and chilled morning.  At 2pm, we had an easy spin over to the start.  Racking was the usual British affair (i.e. lots of queuing). Time to warm up, then into the transition area ready for the start. There's always a bit of a wait while the different races start, so I kept warmed up with leg swings, dynamic stretches and a few tuck jumps (if it helps psych the opposition out, that's cool).

Kirsty focussed on the start line (Photo credit ETU Triathlon)
Finally we're called to the start line, the hooter goes and we're off.  6km run in what felt like oppressive heat... 2 laps along the coastal path.  True to form, I led from the gun, so I could see who came through (my targets on the bike!).  I made the tactical decision to slow to a fast walk for a couple of the short climbs, as it was so hot and energy-sapping, and it was going to be a long race.  Hoping this would pay off later on.

The run was so hard - not helped by a short stretch along the beach which sapped any remaining energy - I was incredibly happy to reach transition (apparently "in the medals") and hit the bike.  Into my element, picking off people throughout the first lap.  Too much traffic on course to ride any of the techy climbs, but I thoroughly enjoyed the descent.  The course got better and seemed shorter as each lap passed.  Fantastic support from the GB crowd.  By the third lap, I had a feeling I was in the lead, but couldn't be 100% sure as there were lots of different categories and I had lapped at least one girl in my category.  The third lap flew by; loving that descent, whooping and grinning, taking in the sea view.

Into transition - no other bikes in my area... always a good sign.  Just the little matter of a 3km run. Thankfully the temperature had cooled a little, and I focused on always looking forward.  I took it steady at first, but started to stretch out towards the end and gave it a decent sprint finish.  I crossed the line pretty sure that I had done it, but it was a good 20 minutes before the results were up and confirmation...


Top step for Kirsty & flying the flag for GBR (Photo credit Harold Abellan Photography)
I also had the fastest overall age-group time, until I discovered that a Dutch girl had dropped down from Elite as this was the only way that she would be allowed to act as guide in the para event.  What a ridiculous policy.  She was effectively forced into a decision between her race and her partner's, and was never going to let her partner down.  She was in a different league, a clear 10 minutes faster than me, and would have been up there in the elite race despite having already done the para race earlier in the day.

The course was truly worthy of a European Champs, and claimed a good few competitors who DNF'd.  Team GB put in a great effort, achieving 5 medals overall including a silver for Louise Fox in the elite race... awesome!!!

GBR girls & their medals
So happy to get gold.  I was so close to a medal at the European sprint duathlon champs earlier this year when I punctured.  This one means so much more as it was the inaugural European cross-duathlon champs... road duathlons are fun, but you can't beat the trails  :-)

Saturday 11 April 2015


ChrisRoberts and his team consistently deliver a well oiled and fun race series that runs from Dec - March over the winter season. It’s run at the Forest of Dean where Pedalabikeaway’s facilities mean there is hot food and drink, a bike wash, bike shop and workshop facilities, as well as plenty of hot water in the loos to wash your hands with which is glorious when it is cold. This was my first full series after getting hooked in Jan 2014. You can read about December’s race in my previous blog entry. Here’s a round-up of the remaining races from 2015.

A return to the track that I popped my MiniDH cherry on! I pretty much knew what I was getting into with this one this time. A flattish, but twisty, rooty, pedally section starts you off before crossing the top fire road. It’s then into a more jumpy, flow section before you find yourself faced with the multiple line choices across the roots. After a couple of attempts I nailed the line which drops you onto the middle fireroad. After dropping into the lower section comes the hardest part of the trail on the hardtail; it’s quite rough, but once over that and after clearing an off-camber root is a pedally, slightly uphill section which makes your thighs burn. This leads to a bit of a chute, but watch your aim as you don’t want to catch your bars on the trees either side. Into some jumpy berms and then it was a bit of a surprise to find two new small step downs and a small rock garden (thanks to the trail pixies) before the penultimate berm. Once safely through the bottom berms it’s a sprint to the line including a re-shaped short jumpy section.

Safely missed the trees - photo credit Martin Beech
Run 1 got off to an ok start, but crossing the top fireroad I made a mistake and ended up on the wrong side of the track to what I wanted and had to slow a bit to get things back under control. I managed to get lined up and crossed the large root section without a problem. Dropping into the lower section I saw Karen Spray, the rider in front of me, so had a target. I couldn’t rest on my laurels however as I had experienced rider Lindsay Handley behind me and I didn’t want to get caught. I got a little squirrelly on the step downs and rocks but managed to hold it together. I didn’t catch Karen and thankfully Lindsay didn’t catch me! Run 1 saw me in 4th place.

For run 2 I was on a mission to get my lines right. With Emma Braithwaite 5secs ahead in 3rd it was a big ask to even get that time. I crossed the top fireroad and hit my line which set me up much better for the next section. I crossed the roots in one piece then on down into the lower section of the course. Here I put a bigger effort into trying to jump the off camber root and just about pulled it off; the rear wheel caught and slid but I hung on in there. Fortunately, with a bit more speed behind me the small uphill was painful but more doable. I rode the bottom section much better and sprinted as hard as I could to the line. I crossed just about 2secs quicker and was really happy with my run. I was still 4th but super happy with my performance.


Another track I was already familiar with. It has a super fun jumpy top section (my Cotic BFe loves to get airborne!), before crossing the fireroad and into the gullied, rooty section. During practice I got more and more comfortable on the jumps up top and where last year I was trying to squash them, this year I was giving them my all and feeling more comfortable doing so. First run through the roots was rubbish but as I got used to them again and added more speed it got so much better, as did my lines.

Top section jumping - Photo Credit Shimma Photography
Once again during run 1 I had Karen in front of me and Lindsay behind to keep me on my toes. I sprinted off from the top of the table we were starting on and was fairly happy with my top section lines. I crossed over the fireroad and hit the roots, looking ahead I could see Karen just going over the rooty drop, eventually just catching her after the berm but in the gulley. There are not many alternate lines on corkscrew, however right at the bottom I had watched others ride, but not ridden myself, a slightly alternate line choice. I decided to try this but knew I had to flick left slightly before crossing behind Karen to get on this tighter inside line. I managed it and as I rejoined the fireroad we were neck and neck, I just didn’t want to take Karen out! We were both sprinting but I made it over the line first, just. Not far behind was Lindsay who thankfully didn’t catch me! I was in 3rd at this point and 4secs off 2nd so I had my target.

Roots & Gulley - Photo Credit Craig Hinchliffe
Run 2 I went much harder on the top section and dropped fairly hard onto the fireroad and across. I let the bike go as much as I could and was really happy with my lines, before the final sprint to the line, just keeping out of the soggy mud off to the left of the fireroad. I felt really good and took a good chunk of time off but not quite enough; I needed a mere 0.66secs more to have taken 2nd!! Super close and exciting racing, but more importantly loads of fun with really good banter between everyone.

Final gulley to the finish - Photo Credit Josh Stone


A complete and utter unknown trail for me. I firstly have to thank Toohula Moomin, along with Ieuan Williams...without whom I’m not entirely sure I would have found the start so easily.

The short top section was a pedally, flip-flop loamy-ish affair; it felt like doing slalom to start with as you had to be quick with the direction changes. After a few wider corners there was a  steepish rolldown to the fireroad. You dropped onto it, had to sweep right and then flip left into the next section of the trail. The only problem was the fireroad surface was super loose, and with even more riders riding it ended up becoming more like a sandpit. The next section required a decent amount of attention as it was a multiple-line rooty, switchback section. It took me quite a while to decide my lines and then get them dialled in; this included pulling off what looked like an impossible line due to crossing some roots that dropped away and then not ploughing into a strategically placed tree stump, and this was only the first turn. Most of the other turns weren’t as tough being mostly loamy. The final, and quite rooty turn started you on your highspeed journey heading out of the trees and onto bottom section; jumps, drops and a road gap before the final table top coming into the finish.

Due to a number of the usual girls being away at another event, for run 1 I was last down. Karen was once again in front of me, so I was chasing her. The top section went well, but I probably slowed a little too much on the fireroad. Another taking the first rooty turn well, on the second turn I dropped too low into a loamy part and lost momentum. I got back up to speed and started catching Karen on the very bottom section but didn’t quite have enough to make the catch this time. Based on my mistake I had a mission for run 2 which was to go harder and make sure I didn’t screw up. On the plus side, I was for the first time finding myself sat in the number 1 position. On that basis I knew I would be last down again, so it was quite a surprise to be called first in the category for run 2; no idea why! I knew I had to go hard, but not having someone to chase felt a bit odd. I felt like I did the top section well and maintained some really good speed on the fireroad this time, having taken a slightly different line. I also nailed the corner I had an issue with before. But I got caught again and on the penultimate rooty turn I once again ended up too low and it was much harder to get the speed back this time. I then tried to go as fast as possible on the lower section, railing the berms but my main issue was having to scrub speed for the jumps and drops as I still am not 100% with controlling my bike in the air; something to work on more over the nicer weather. In the end I was about 1sec slower for run 2, however run 1 was enough for me to take the win by 7.5secs.....I was still annoyed though with having made mistakes on both runs; I must return!

Top step at last! - Photo credit Chris Roberts
I’ve had such an amazing time racing the MiniDH’s and a massive thank you must go to Chris Roberts and crew. I also know I have come on leaps and bounds since my first foray into miniDH in Jan 2014; I really feel that my time riding out in the Pyrenees with AQR Holidays and being coached by Kate and Ian Potter of AQR Coaching has played a big part in this. Finally, I’m not sure I would have had as much fun if it wasn’t for my awesome XS Cotic BFe, lovingly maintained by my other half Rob, aka Finely Tuned Ride

Sunday 14 December 2014

Dabbling in other disciplines - part 1

In January 2014 I took my first tentative steps into the world of downhill; ok so it was MiniDH but I did say tentative! Here's a round up of how the three 661 mini's I've done have gone.

January was round 2 of the 661 MiniDH Series at the Forest of Dean (FOD) and I managed to scrape an entry, just, as it sold out. I was seriously nervous but I was helped enormously that weekend by strangers at the time Rachael Gurney and Adam Wight. They took me in under their wings all weekend and made me feel right at home; to be honest I wouldn’t have found the start of the run without their help.

I practised on Saturday and was plunged into a whole new riding experience. The run for the weekend was Sheepskull. Riding my Cotic BFe Hardtail and trying to follow Rach on her Rose DH rig was challenging to say the least. I very quickly learnt however that 160mm of travel at the front means you can ride rocky sections more easily compared to trying it with 100mm XC forks. The biggest challenge on the track was a big rooty nest just before a small drop to the fireroad. I should also add it was wet, and only got wetter, and that just made it even more interesting. I think I cleared the roots about three times in the entire weekend!

Come Sunday and it was chucking it down but surprisingly the rain was actually helping with grip. I got a complete Run 1 in so was very chuffed. Back up to the top for Run 2 but by now I was getting really tired and was struggling to hang on to the bike in the bottom section, in the end being 2 secs slower. I was really chuffed though coming 20th overall and 5th in Master Women. I was now entirely hooked and took away a load of learning points too. I felt bad for Rach though as after all the help she gave me,  a racer in front on run 1 caused her to crash and taco a wheel, then after borrowing another wheel had another off during run 2; not a reflection of her true ability.

Round 3 of the 661 MiniDH was entered nice and early this time and I was chuffed to be joined, in support, by AQR team mate Kathy. Just to make things more challenging we did an XC ride of the Verderer’s and Freeminers trails first before I cracked out the BFe and the armour, headed up the hill and tried to find Rach and Adam again. This time we were using part of Corkscrew and it was so much fun! The BFe was loving the top section, which was quite pedally and jumpy before crossing the fireroad when the roots well and truly made themselves known. There were some steepish rooty steps which I was little worried about but on my first time down I was straight down them and more than happy with those; it was the rest of the roots I had to watch out for. As ever in winter in the UK it was wet, but thankfully not raining during the time on the course!

As ever, steeper than it looks! - photo credit: Craig Hichliffe
On race day I got a good run 1 in and unlike last time made sure to eat something in between race runs to help with energy levels. I was hyped for run 2, and since I was more confident on the top section planned to do that section as hard as possible and then just ride as smoothly as possible on the rooty bottom section. The first part of the plan worked really well. As I dropped onto the fireroad and then into the next section I got a little off line and ended up heading off-piste however. I managed to pull up just before a tree, but my momentum was gone. I got going again but was 9 secs slower then run 1. I’m pretty sure I lost more than that whilst trying to sort myself out and get back up to speed so was a little annoyed. This time though I was 10th overall and 2nd Master Woman. Rach stepped up and raced in the Pro-Am category coming 5th with tough competition in Tracy Mosely and Forest of Dean local Katy Curd. Team mate Kathy was a star all weekend making sure I was eating/drinking/had everything I needed and she even cleaned my bikes all whilst fitting her own training in; top team mate!

Roll on 10 months (10 months??!); the XC season was well and truly over, I’d had two weeks riding with AQR in the Pyrenees during late September, followed by an enforced two months off the bike due to work being silly crazy and hoorah, the 2014/15 661 MiniDH series was back on.

I rocked up to FOD for the December round and once again did some XC training in the morning on the Saturday before checking out the trail; ski run. Walking up, the run didn’t look too bad. It deviated slightly from the main run in places to mix things up a bit, including an off-camber root section which would offer the quickest line. As I started on my first practice run I instantly knew something was wrong by way of the lack of speed control I had. I managed to get through the top section just and onto the fireroad. Thinking I just needed to get the pads worn in a bit more after a few months of non-use I tried some bedding in techniques and another run on the top section but still the same. As I tried to make my way down the rest of the run it was dreadful, my arms were cramping up trying to control the speed and I had to stop twice just to make it down in one piece. After asking a bit of advice it  was suggested a rear pad change may solve the problem. I did this, so glad I had spares, then headed back up, aware by this time that it was getting later and I still hadn’t really got to grips with the course. Once I’d bedded the new pads in I did the top section again and it was a whole different kettle of fish; speed control at last! With confidence back I decided to do more of the course. The second time over the roots weren’t as good however when I touched the brakes and went down. After a chat with one of the girls, my new mantra for two parts of the course was ‘stay off the brakes’, and it worked.   

Made it through the off camber roots in one piece - photo credit: SC Ross Media
Sunday started wet, but on getting to the forest the rain had stopped and it was also warmer than it had been the day before. The course was running really well and I was feeling calm, which is odd. The women had been split into senior (29 and under) and masters, which I was racing in. There were six of us in the category, so I thought there might be a slim chance of getting a podium if I was really lucky. We went off in reverse number order for run 1. I went ok I thought, stayed off the brakes where needed and went into the bottom table top with decent but not too much speed. I definitely had an incentive to get down though as I had Lindsay behind me who I thought would be odds on favourite to take the category win. I finished, out of breath, but beaming as I’d had such a good, fun run. I’d also managed to avoid being caught my Lindsay. After a bit of a wait I then discovered I was second too!

2/3 of the way down - photo credit: Craig Hinchliffe
There’s about 2.5hrs between both runs, so there was a bit of waiting around, during which the heavens opened once again for a brief period, and some warming up done in the Pedalabikeaway cafe. Then it was back up the hill for run 2. In the past I have really struggled with my second run. Whilst trying to go harder and faster I’ve invariably gone off line or crashed, so I really wanted to put that to rights. I was the third to last off as we were now seeded with fastest last; except Gayle who prefers to not have the pressure on her and is always last rider down in the category (the beauty of a friendly race series where chopping and changing is accepted). Once again I had Lindsay behind me which put some good pressure on. I felt good on the top section, took the roots really well, but had ‘a moment’ on the small ridge, managed to hold it together and just went as hard as I could, taking more speed into the table top and feeling a better jump as a result. I crossed the line once again hugely out of breath but with an even more massive grin. To top it off, it not only felt good, I’d gone about a second faster and by doing so retained 2nd place by about a second, as Han in 3rd had put in solid run 2 to beat my run 1 time. I couldn't believe that I’d come 2nd it was such a good feeling. I really do reckon my two weeks riding in the mountains with AQR helped a lot, even though it was back in September. Out there was plenty of steep, rocky terrain so in comparison FOD is relatively ‘flat’. It was near darkness during the podiums but it still allowed us all to have a good catch up and laugh whilst waiting around.

Not bad but could still get higher! - Photo credit: djd-photo
661 MiniDH is a really friendly race series. All the courses are rollable or have alternative easier lines as the idea is to introduce beginners into the sport. You get a complete spectrum of racers at the events, with Tracy Moseley and Danny Hart having raced at the start of the year. One thing you can almost be sure of is 4X World Champion Katy Curd will usually be found racing since it is her local patch and she’s always willing to share knowledge and guidance on lines etc (well for  the girls at least ;)).

Roll on 2015 and many more 661 MiniDH’s as I’m well and truly hooked. Massive thanks to: Chris Roberts and the team for making an amazing series; to Cotic for making the BFe such a great bike to race the mini's on; Rob my other half for maintaining said bike; and finally to Kate and Ian Potter of AQR Coaching for the time and patience required to hammer the necessary skills into my arsenal.

Podium in the near dark! - Photo courtesy of Chris Roberts

Tuesday 28 October 2014

World 24hr Solo Championships

Here at AQR we'd been working towards the 2014 World 24hr Solo Championships in Scotland for some time - Kate and Ian were busy getting the riders and bikes ready, the pit crew were honing their tea making and whooping skills and the riders were busy carbo-loading.

On a course most regularly described as 'brutal', Ant, Martin and Rach all put in fine efforts.  Things didn't always go to plan, but that's 24hr racing for you.  Nevertheless the team managed 13th place in male 40-44 years, 21st in elite men and 11th in elite women. 

And of course, the AQR pit was in fine form.  Not only looking after the three riders but also supplying tea and cakes to half of Fort William.

Thanks to Olly Townsend for capturing the event - enjoy his photos.  If prose is more your thing, you can read about Rachel's and Martin's races over on their blogs

See you next year in California!

Saturday 30 August 2014

Finally, those Cross Country Racers......

Quite possibly the longest introduction to a team, but there are quite a few of us! Here are the final three (although you'll only have seen two of them at the races this year).

Katie Collins

Time on AQR team: Since 2010
Discipline: XC Racing
Weapon of choice: Cotic Soda

I've been with AQR since 2010 and really enjoy racing in such a committed, supportive team environment.  I'm currently coming back from injury which you can read all about here, but once back in action I will be focusing on racing XC events in Masters (British/Scottish nationals) along with my all-time favourite event, the Tour de Ben Nevis.

Katie complete with what is most likely Scottish mud.

Emma Bradley

Time on AQR team: Since 2012
Discipline: XC Racing plus a little DH
Weapons of choice: Cotic Soda/BFe

Since coming onboard in 2012 things haven’t exactly gone to plan. A blood test early in 2012 showed a severe Vitamin D deficiency which explained why I was wanting to sleep more than ride and had zero strength. The support from my local medical community was absolutely rubbish and it was Kate who directed me in the right direction. It took all of the 2012 season to ‘wake up’ but I had high hopes for 2013 with my newly discovered energy levels. 

2013 also turned into a bit of a downer as soon after Christmas I developed knee pain, at times not being able to ride for more than 10mins. A badly asymmetric pelvis combined with weak glutes and the angle of dangle of my feet being quite severe was putting my knee under more and more strain; it was also seriously affecting my ability to train. It took most of that season to get to riding pain free. 

More energy and more alignment meant I went into 2014 with high hopes and early on things looked good until the knee raised its ugly head again. Finally, it was discovered it was in fact a back muscle that was causing all the problems and again most of 2014 has seen me doing remedial work and only very light (for elite ranks) training. Fingers crossed, with maintaining the stability work I’m prescribed, I can start heading in the right direction finally and hit the gym this winter for some good strength and conditioning work. I’m hoping 2015 will see me making a marked improvement in my performance within the Elite XC ranks, taking on the British and Southern XC Series as well as the British National’ll be a lot better than feeling broken all the time!

I’ve also been expanding my repertoire in 2014. I love technical races and so to push myself more technically I’ve been doing a number of mini downhill events including 661 miniDH and Steve Peat’s Steel City DH. I will also be taking part in the last round of the UK Gravity Enduro series in the Lake District. I’m loving mixing it up and playing on some bigger bikes!

Emma dropping into the final Steel City DH bombhole
Follow me on Twitter: @girlonhercotic

Kathy Beresford

Time on AQR team: New for 2014
Discipline: XC Racing
Weapon of choice: Cotic Soul

As the newest member of the Cotic AQR Holidays and Coaching team, this year has been all about getting back into cross country racing after riding endurance races for two seasons post-injury; a crash in warm-up at a Southern XC led to an air ambulance, a fortnight in hospital, major surgery for a fractured hip socket, a month on crutches and a change of plans for a year or so. I’m working on improving my riding confidence and having fun racing with my team mates. In the three years since I broke my hip socket, I've regained fitness from scratch, gained riding confidence again, raced a 24 hour race and some other races. Through late 2013/early 2014 however I again lost some confidence, lost some fitness and had a really tough winter. With AQR and my great teammates behind me I've finally gotten my mojo back, found some racing form, and survived my first season racing XC in the expert category. Most of all though I’m enjoying riding my bike - because that's what it's all about.

Kathy conquering one of Wheal Maid's long drags
Follow me on Twitter: @drfaffy

So, that is the full 2014 roster at last! 

Sunday 10 August 2014

The long, winding road to recovery

You probably won't have seen Katie riding her bike this year, she's certainly not competed, but there's a reason for that. Here's what she's been up to:

Sofa time following injury gives rise to a whole host of proverbs... taking time to smell the roses, making you thankful for what you have, good things take time...  In my case - patience, tolerance, and diligence (in the form of nightly shoulder presses). TV ads take on a whole new meaning when they become your signal for shoulder strengthening time - 30 seconds and collapse! Ad breaks have never seemed so long...  

After crashing at Margam Park in round 4 of the British Cycling National XC Series last July, I've not been able to ride much without lots of shoulder pain. On the grand scheme of things it's not too bad - no broken bones - but a couple of spinal fractures, whiplash, nerve damage and concussion. However, my right rhomboid muscles stubbornly refuse to rebuild strength at the pace I would like. Or rather, it's two steps forward and one step back - because my shoulder seems to wrench itself all over again every time I reach for something like a door handle! And takes a week to recover each time.

My right side is still much weaker than my left, partly because the right rhomboid was so painful after the crash that it took an extended holiday from doing much at all for months. And while the initial osteo was good at pain relief, it wasn't so good at identifying what was causing the pain. It took a while to get referred to a specialist and get an MRI booked in to diagnose the damage. So while I waited, the weakness and imbalances got worse. Lesson - start on the referral process without delay! Together with all the underlying muscle weaknesses and imbalances, riding again has been like trying to tame a sack of potatoes on a bike.

I have found a great physio who has taught me a range of shoulder exercises that work in tandem, rather like in a stepping stone direction. Master this exercise before moving to this one. Patience & discipline will be rewarded. It's amazing how all the shoulder muscles work together in harmony. Press top of neck in - arm goes up smoothly. Magic! My neck has been yo-yo-ing in all directions but is finally staying in more than it goes out. 

The next stepping stone is the pull-up bar. I'm still unable to pull myself up to chin level and just hang there like said sack of potatoes. I'm sure it's harder to pull up with long arms! But today I discovered a great shoulder exercise in the car... the ceiling handle inside above the driver's door is the perfect pull-up proxy. Just think, I could have been buff by now with all those miles I drive! Together with my chin presses/neck stretches at the traffic lights, I am THAT driver bopping to her own tune :-) One potato at a time... It will all be worth it to ride all day like I used to.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

The Endurance Riders 2014 - Part II

Following on from the second Cotic AQR Holidays and Coaching Race Team 2014 post, here is all you need to know about the second trio of endurance riders.

James Dymond

Time on AQR team: since 2007
Discipline: anything goes but mainly pairs/team events!
Weapon of choice: Cotic Solaris

My relationship with AQR began back in 2007 (wow, 7 years ago already!) when I first met Kate and Ian on a holiday with AQR in Luchon.  After a fantastic week during including a steep learning curve on ever steeper and tighter switchbacks, Ian I got chatting about the race team that he & Kate were plotting.

The rest is history, as they say... the team was formed, races entered, Cotics raced, lots of podiums achieved and a fantastic group of riders (and some outstanding team support crew too) brought together.  A few faces have changed but the core remain.

James showing off his skills
Having taken on the role of team manager for the last few years, I've stepped back for 2014 mainly due to the arrival of mini-Dymond in January!  Thanks to a very understanding wife, my riding hasn't suffered too much though, so I'll still be appearing at a few races this year, including Bristol BikeFest 6hr, TwentyFour12, Torq12 and Tide2Tide.  The rest of the time, you'll find me on my Solaris enjoying Nottinghamshire's finest singletrack as well as time on my road bike and 'cross bike.  If it's got 2 wheels and no engine, I'm game!

Follow me on Twitter: @JamesDymond

Kirsty Prior

Time on AQR team: Since 2008
Discipline: 12/24hr team/XC/stage racing and duathlon
Weapon of choice: Cotic Soda

I’ve been racing, training and playing in the mountains with AQR for several years now.  In that time, I’ve toyed with a few different ‘disciplines’, with varying degrees of success…

  • 12 and 24 hour MTB events – my introduction to racing – I’ve enjoyed racing in teams and pairs, but the nearest you’ll get me to the crazy world of the soloist is pit crew duties!
  • MTB XC – including a few battles with my team-mate Miss Bradley at national races, and a fun road-trip to race in Belgium.
  • Stage racing – from 3-day MTB races in sunny(?) Wales, to the dizzy heights of the Tourmalet on my road bike during the week-long Haute Route Pyrenees.
  • Off-road duathlon – after an unexpected win at my first duathlon on home turf, I decided to give this a whirl.  There are more and more races coming onto the calendar, as the sport attracts runners, bikers, triathletes and duathlon ‘purists’.  Maybe I’ve found my niche!
Whist I never want to venture too far from my MTB roots, 2014 presented a new challenge… qualifying for and competing in the ITU Sprint Distance Duathlon World Championships.  My first foray into the world of disc wheels and pointy helmets! [Ed’s note: she only went and finished 5th.....podium next year?!].

Kirsty takes a well earned 5th at her 1st World's
Later this year it’s a return to the mountains and stage racing – this time in the Dolomites. I’ll be watching the Giro d’Italia with great interest!

Follow me on Twitter: @KirstyMTB

Matt Prior

Time on AQR team: Since 2008
Discipline: MTB Endurance/Team racing, Road Sportives/Endurance Events
Weapon of choice: Cotic Soul

Having gained a reputation for wrecking wheels I was very fortunate to be allowed to ride for AQR! Time and training has resulted in me spending a lot less money on wheel repairs and now being a core member of the team. I’m happy to mix it up across road and MTB, as long as there’s a hill involved, and I have even been known to dabble in the odd duathlon.

Recent key achievements for me are:
1st Bristol Bike Fest 2013, 6 hr pairs
4th:Torq 12 2013, 12 hr mixed team 
5th Oktoberfest 2013, 4 hour male solo
7th Abbeyfields- Duathalon 2014

Matt during the TransPyr 2012......with Ant not far behind
August 2014 will see me heading to Italy with Kirsty where we will take on the Haute Route, Dolomites (7 day stage race). My ambition for that event is being in the mix with the fast group.

Overall, the best way to sum me up would be: Willing to give anything a try….once! 

Keep your eyes peeled on the blog for the next instalment introducing the XC riders; coming soon!

Monday 2 June 2014

The Endurance Riders 2014 - Part I

Following on from the first Cotic AQR Holidays and Coaching Race Team 2014 post, here is all you need to know about the first trio of endurance riders.

Rachel Sokal

Time on AQR team: Since 2011
Discipline: 12/24hr Solo & Stage Racing
Weapon of choice: Cotic Soda

In my previous seasons with AQR my main race has been early in the year. In 2014 things are a bit different as the World 24hr Solo Championships are not until October, so there’s plenty of time for other races and challenges this year.  

After venturing into stage racing in 2013, this year I’ve already been back to Spain to race in my second successive AndalucĂ­a Bike Race, coming one better and finishing sixth in the female pairs.  My next big multi-day event will be in July when I head to the BC Bike Race in Vancouver with team mate Ant Jordan.  The race is renowned for its amazing singletrack and technical trails which will be a fair contrast from last year’s Transalp.  

Rach trying out foreign mud.
As I’ve only actually raced over a couple of years, and previously stuck to longer distances, it means that I still haven’t ever done that many events. This year I plan to change that and have lots of bike adventures – on and off the race course. I’m planning a few shorter races including some XC, team events and one or two over marathon distance, plus trying out the odd road race, all before October’s finale at Fort William.  
Follow me on Twitter: @24hrSokal
Read my blog:

Anthony Jordan

Time on AQR team:  since 2011
Discipline: 12/24 hour and Stage Racing
Weapon of choice: Cotic Soda

I’ve loved riding bikes of any kind for as long as I can remember. Marathon running was the main focus for me for many years, whilst playing around on bikes trying to find the ‘perfect singletrack’ was the aim of many trips both near and far. In 2007, after 10 years of fun trail riding with friends, I entered 24 hour competitive racing as part of a team at Mountain Mayhem, going on to gain a top ten placing in my first 24 hour solo in 2008. Bitten by the 24 hour solo racing bug I travelled to Australia for the 2010 24 hours of Adrenaline World Champs.  Focused coaching from AQR has enabled an ‘average Joe’ rider like me to climb onto a national podium at the 24 hours of Exposure Champs in 2012. Over the past couple of seasons I’ve dipped my toe into the world of mtb stage racing completing Trans Pyr and Trans Alp, and over the winter won the mixed pairs Trailquest mountain bike orienteering series with my partner Rachel Sokal.

Ant showing he loves the  UK mud.
The 2014 season will comprise some marathon cross training, rounds of the Midland XC series to sharpen me up, a fix of foreign singletrack at BC Bike race, and selected enduro and 12 hour events, all building up to the WEMBO World 24 hour World Championships in Fort William in October. I still have a perverse hankering to run a sub-3hour marathon and eat my own bodyweight in cake though…

Follow me on Twitter: @Yet2Tamer

Martin Smith

Time on AQR team: Since 2013
Discipline: 12/24 hour Solo
Weapon of choice: Cotic Solaris

I like riding bikes - so much so, I choose to do so for  24 hours without stopping every now and again! 

My history with the AQR Race Team is pretty short compared with the rest of my teammates. A move to Nottingham in 2011 saw me hook up with James and Rachel through mutual riding buddies. Slowly I realised that James had incredible local trail knowledge and was a hell of a lot of fun to chase, and Rachel was just plain mad and loved the thrill of training and hill reps! They told me all about AQR as a coaching and holiday company and I decide to invest some money in personal coaching from Kate. This made me faster, James had to start chasing me every now and again and Rachel had company on her silly early morning training sessions. A 2nd place at Torq 12 in 2012, Top 20 at Keilder 100 and 3rd in the UK endurance series saw me get an invite to the team for the 2013 season, the highlight of that season being an above expectations result in my first 24 hour event, finishing 3rd at the UK and European Solo championships

2014 is all about the 24 hour world championships (WEMBO) at Fort William. Hailing from Bonnie Scotland, this is one of the first places I ever rode real mountain bike trails, so it's a bit of a homecoming for me! The aim is to race hard for 24 hours. The result really depends on who is on the start line but I believe a top 10 isn't beyond reach; the closer it is to the winner, the happier I will be!

Martin staying clean unlike the others.
In the lead up to that I'll also be lining up for the Torchbearer 12 hour solo race at Bontrager 24/12 but not before joing my AQR teammates in a team of four in the first 12 hours. It's a "training" thing! Liege-Bastone-Liege sportif, a 12 hour race in Germany (my new home country - Ich bin ein Berliner!) and a 4 day stage race in Poland are also in the diary.

The best thing about riding for AQR is the team spirit. There are no expectations around results - just do the best job you can do, but be a happy rider while doing so. And being unhappy is impossible with such a good team around me. Solo endurance riding is not just about the rider - I need to be fed, watered, cleaned, maintained, kicked up the arse. They are always there for me, whether it's 2:00am in the morning during a 24 hour race or on the end of a phone call, text or tweet during a tough phase of training.

Follow me on Twitter: @martinsmith86
Read my blog:

Keep your eyes peeled for more team introductions coming in the near future covering the second trio of endurance riders.