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

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Wiggle Mountain Mayhem 2013: the same but different

Ant reports from the changed Mountain Mayhem:

Out on your own - photo credits Augustus Farmer
Like many riders Mountain Mayhem was my introduction to the world of 24 hour racing. My first Mayhem in 2006 got me hooked, and I had duly made the annual mid summer pilgrimage to Eastnor to ride as part of a fun team. But this year it was going to be very different indeed: a new venue, a new course, even a different weekend of the year and most differently, this time I would be riding Mayhem solo.
After riding five previous 24 hour solo races I have found that as a mere mortal I cannot race more than one or two in a season, so the build up to one of the few big goals of the season seems even more intense, as there isn’t the opportunity to do another one for a long while until you are fully recovered again.  So in the preceding weeks I became drawn in by the snippets of information realised by Pat & his team, by rumour and tattle on the forums and then in the last week by the BBC weather site. The main question was how would it compare with Eastnor and would we get a dry one?

The Gatcombe park campsite was smaller but had the same atmosphere about it. The trade area, similar – smaller, but with the same feel as last year. Our AQR pit was the same organised and efficient haven as usual, but this time crewed differently by fellow AQR team mates Matt and Kirsty.

AQR pits
It was the same elbows out mad cavalry charge run at the start and charge into the first Kenda Koffin descent.  I quickly settled into my pace trying to find a flow on the downhills and singletrack and follow wheels along the double track. It was all going to plan. Then, after two hours the rain came. As most of the course was under the tree canopy it didn’t seem too heavy, but it changed everything. The just ridable climbs became pushes and the descents real testers of cornering skill. As the course started to dry some of the sections of liquid mud became super tacky  - like the famed plasticine woods of Eastnor. But on the whole the course held up reasonably well and I concentrated preserving momentum and eeking out as much speed as possible. But it was tough. 
Kenda Koffin descent - photo credit Singletrack
Seven hours in I had the usual “why am I doing this” thought, but after an on-course pep talk from fellow rider Rory Hitchens I perked up and ploughed on through the night. Chatting to other riders kept the spirits up whilst plodding up the climbs, whilst all the time picking off other solo riders and gradually climbing up the leader board. 

Dawn came and as the course continued to dry the trusty mud tyres were swapped for faster rolling Ikons and from 20 hours in I was in a battle for a top five placing. My pit crew were getting increasingly excited and I did what I could to pull the gap to 4th place back to just 4 minutes.

It's all a blur
As I came through the lurking zone after 23hrs 50mins I realised only had a very slim chance of catching 4th place, so decide rather than beast myself with one final effort, that 22 laps was enough, and rolled across the line with the fellow lurkers after the 24 hours were up. 24 hours of riding may sound like a long time to ride, but it really was over in a blur. 

My aim was a top five placing, so 5th after approximately 165 miles and 7000m of climbing was something I was delighted to have achieved.
And relax...And sort out helmet hair

It was the same fantastic pit support from AQR teammates I have received in the past but this time from Matt and Kirsty aided by Rach, Ruth & Mat. I really can’t thank them enough as they tirelessly worked through the entire race.  Unfortunately Rach had a rather different race experience, here's her report.

So all in all Mayhem 2013 was different in many ways but the same in others. It was a brave move to use a fresh venue, but the Gatcombe estate really suits the event, and Pat and his team put on yet another outstanding event. It still had the same unique feel and camaraderie as previous Mayhems and I think it can only get better as it settles into its new venue and eventually gets the dry weather it deserves.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

British Cycling National Cross Country Series - Round #3 Hopton Woods, Shropshire

Emma has been at it again, more racing and more blogging...

A busy few weeks before had seen me do quite a bit of riding and I felt like I was definitely making some improvements in terms of my ability to perform over full race distance. With its full on and up front climb, Hopton would be one hell of a test.
Thankfully, Pearce Cycles had once again arranged some amazing weather; not quite as hot as last year but at least it was dry, bright and warm. I headed out for a practice lap and it was basically up straight off the start line, with the gradient of the climb being the only thing that varied. For a change, I’d also opted to put a Schwalbe Racing Ralph on the rear since it was dry and I reckoned I could handle it; I tend to prefer having the grip level that the Schwalbe Rocket Rons give me normally but thought I’d see how  the Ralph went. The majority of the first climb was the same as the year before, however whereas previously we’d made a right turn near the top, this time we went left. This led to a really wicked little rooty downhill singletrack which offered up multiple line choices and some jumps before spitting you out onto a fireroad at feed zone 2. It also had these great root ‘nests’ that looked like a mass of snakes. After some more fireroad climbing you sped downhill into more singletrack, with a cheeky switchback into a little rise that caught you out (if you hadn’t been pre-warned)  then more twisty, rooty singletrack.  Even more singletrack (got to love it!) after that, where I found having the Ralph on the back called for a bit of skidding the back end round the corner (getting the hang of this more and it makes for getting round the corner a bit quicker). One more section of fireroad climbing before it all went downhill via various singletrack sections, some hard packed, some fresh cut and rooty, and a fast slightly damp fireroad. The last section of singletrack was carved into the edge of the hill with a loamy base, some small drops and which eventually led you to the last tight berm section and a tabletop to ping you into the arena. My hardest decision was whether the course this year was more or less fun than last year!

Race day dawned and we were soon lined up. I decided that a full on race start wasn’t needed as there was no dash for the singletrack due to the climb we were to face. The aim today was to pace up the climbs and keep people in sight. From the off I was able to keep relatively close to a small group of girls. They managed to open the gap out a bit as time went on over the first lap but what helped me keep pushing was that I could see Anna (my Erlestoke12 partner) who wasn’t that far in front of me. Coming through after lap 1 I was behind Anna with AQR team mate Ruth chasing me. I seemed to pull away up the steeper climbs but Ruth was stronger on the fireroad aspects and caught me part way around lap 2. In a bid to stay with her I came in quite hot to one of the sections where I’d been skidding my back wheel around only to find that it seemed to have become really polished; the result being I almost got the bike through 180degs whilst it deposited me on the ground. I was soon up and running again although had to take a brief breather whilst my arm came back to life. I tried to chase Ruth back down and on the start of  the lap 3 climb I seemed to once again be making in-roads and closing the gap. However, just to highlight the effect of a moments inattention I made a mistake in the rooty downhill singletrack and went down hard on one of the rooty ‘nests’. I also discovered I’d broken my fork lockout lever too. After making sure I was alright, tucking the now loose lockout safely away and making sure my bars were straight I once more set about the chase. I could see Ruth on the fireroad ahead, but unfortunately I was too far back by now. For the remainder of lap 3 and all of lap 4 I was mostly on my own (apart from lapping some of the slower girls in other categories), but when I came across the finish I had a huge grin on my face.

I was so happy with my performance even though I was still the last rider home (one DNF’d). The difference between here and Wheal Maid was tremendous. I was no longer grovelling up the climbs but riding, even though the last lap hurt like hell. I was also able to ride a decent amount of the race with other riders in my category in view. I also felt like a racer again and had done full race distance at a national for the first time this year. This really is a great step in the right direction, and I aim to build upon this and get stronger as the season goes on. AQR Coaching’s Kate Potter is carefully tuning me in a way that allows my body to adapt to the higher intensity exercise and not aggravate my knee at the same time. No rest for the wicked though, Sunday 9th June brings on a 6hr mixed pair at Britsol Bikefest, this time with AQR teammate Matt Prior.

Photos courtesy of Darren Ciolli-Leach and Neil Hendry 

Monday, 10 June 2013

AQR Skills Day, Southern XC Regional Champs & the SPAM Erlestoke12

Emma reports from a busy few of weeks racing and training

A couple of weeks after the last national round in Cornwall I had some domestic issues to sort oop North. Some good friends of mine agreed to put me up mid-week whilst I did some house faffing. However, I ensured that the house faffing was relegated to predominately the morning and early afternoon to enable some biking fun to be had. Whilst the faffing wasn’t good for me in terms of maintaining proper hydration and nutrition, the riding was superb; the new trail at Gisburn Forest one evening followed by a trip to Lee and Cragg Quarries on the Friday afternoon (well it was sort of on the way to Nottingham!). I have to say that the amount of time and energy that has gone into both areas is amazing, hats off to all those volunteers who made my rides fun (even though the weather tried to put a dampener on things).

A small traffic nightmare later and I was welcomed with open arms by my team mates Rachel Sokal and Anthony Jordan. I’m not sure which one was worse off from the effects of 24hrs of Exposure; the rider or the help! Rachel was doubly awesome in that when I came down early Saturday morning to get my bike washed she’d already done most of it; thank you Rach (and Ant you were great in your heckling role!).

I (or Rach) was washing my bike at silly o’clock in the morning as firstly I was knackered/hungry the night before, and secondly I couldn’t possibly show up to my AQR Skills day with a dirty bike (what would Mr Potter say?). I was joined on the day by fellow team mates Matt and Kirsty Prior, it was just us three and Mr Potter since it seemed some of the others had been scared off! Today we were doing some Advanced Skill  work aimed primarily at maintaining speed through the twisty stuff. We sessioned sections of Sherwood’s singletrack, either following the leader or with Mr Potter behind and observing what each of us was doing. It was also quite interesting observing and then critiquing other rider’s styles. I did have one instance where implementing the ‘more haste, less speed’ philosophy was blindingly obvious as I almost careered off the trail into an angry looking rock. Overall  I had a really good day and came away with a few points that I need to work on to help me get that little bit quicker; push the bike into the trail more and more ‘zip’ when switching sides on the bike.

In action at the Southern XC -

My mad few days of travel wasn’t over and after my Skills session at Sherwood I hit the road and headed south again. Another early morning and I was at Crow Hill, a fun, twisty, rooty Southern XC course. It was also Southern Champs time. I’d missed round one as I really wasn’t ready, however I love Crow Hill and really wanted to ride and test myself. A good turn out of 10 elite girls meant the front row was full, plus a really good showing in the other categories gave a decent start field. The drawback was that, at the start, myself and another rider had a bit of a coming together, then got partially engulfed as we tried to navigated the sweeping 180° turn and the entire field tried for the shortest line around, i.e. the inside line that we were on. I’d gone well back at this point however the field opened up again and I put the power down to take as many riders as possible before the first section of singletrack. I was told by one of my friends I looked as though I’d been kicked the speed I came past her (helped by a downhill I pedalled rather than freewheeled down). I managed to maintain contact with a decent group of girls for a period of time however once again as soon as the going got tacky and some more power was needed I just didn’t have it. I came through in 8th after the first lap, got caught by another girl and unfortunately didn’t have the power to even stay with her.  The start of lap 3 was interesting as the Open Men had just set off and as I approached that first singletrack section I could see them queuing out of it. Perhaps my politeness of Cornwall had worn off as I just  muscled my way through (with some ‘pleases’ too of course) and worked my way around some of the guys until things got moving, a really good overtaking practice session I thought (we won’t mention the small departure onto the floor when I reached the limit of the grip envelope). In doing so I must have also overtaken 8th place briefly as she passed me again, much to my confusion, on the next fireroad! Muscle fatigue was certainly setting in as the race progressed and the course degraded, however towards the end of the race I started to see another rider getting closer. I tried my hardest but couldn’t catch her, finishing in 9th in the end and just under 2mins behind 8th but with almost a 6min gap to 10th. Although I was absolutely shattered I was really happy with how I’d ridden, feeling once again like a racer. Throughout the singletrack I had also been thinking about the skills session I’d had the day before and was really enjoying trying to put those aspects into practice when the course allowed. My speed and power will eventually come as my training slowly ramps up. I said in my previous blog I would be looking for little indicators and I felt that this race was a really good indicator of progress. 
Anna in action -
 The few days after the mad dash around the country and I was super tired plus my knee was complaining, so I opted to rest it up. Thankfully the knee was really just feeling tired and perhaps a little swollen but there was fortunately no real pain. A few days later and I was feeling as good as new. With the rest of my team mates otherwise engaged I was looking around for a pairs partner to tackle SPAM Biking’s Erlestoke12 (although the 6hr not the 12hr race). Finally, about  16hrs before the 1200 start time I managed to talk Anna Cipullo, an MBSwindon/Hargroves Cycles elite rider, out of a solo ride (she thanked me for it afterwards!).  Anna, as the faster rider, started; although the start was a bit of shock being 8mins early and she’d barely gotten her wheel swapped back over after getting off the turbo. We actually had no other real competition as there were no other 6hr Female Pairs. However, our mission was to at least beat the 6hr Female Team and finish as high up in the other pairs categories as we could, bearing in mind we might find ourselves merged into one of them. Anna came through after Lap 1 with only the 12hr Female team of Four4th lights in front. I started a bit hard and paid the penalty on certain parts of the course but it was a fun course so the small torturous bits were just about bearable. It was dry, there was dust, the singletrack was rooty and twisty (more AQR skills practice), steep little ups, fun downs (even a Redbull timed section) and one hell of a grass slog (thankfully dry too). With laps around the 40min mark for us it ended up with us both doing 4 laps. Anna was pretty consistent throughout, however my lap times did drop off a little more as the day went on but I maintained as high a tempo as possible on all laps, even when my legs were screaming at me; I was however very glad I wasn’t soloing. SPAM were very kind giving us our own podium in the end (you’ve got to be in it to win it), however we were more chuffed with having beaten the female team, come 4th in the mixed pairs and 10th in the Male pairs, not too bad really. I really am so very thankful to Anna for agreeing to partner with me, it meant that I did one hell of a hard interval session which will help make me stronger in the long run; of course no more friendliness as battle once again commences at the next round of the British Cycling Cross Country Series at Hopton! 
A successful couple of weeks

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

All in a day's work

Team rider Matt reports from his relay triathlon last weekend 

What better way to spend a day at work than riding my bike around a big lake in the sunshine with a few hundred other people?

 A few weeks ago I took park in the Jones Land LaSelle Property Triathlon as part of my work CRBE Triathlon relay team. Donning a combination of CBRE and AQR kit (great colour clashes!), I set out with a personal goal to beat last year's time for the 20km bike leg of 36 mins 41 secs. Well, I didn't just beat it, I thrashed it by almost 3 minutes with a time of 33 mins 56 (stats from Kirsty - that's a 7.5% improvement!!!)

My team finished the top CBRE mixed team and my bike time ranked me within the top 20 for the cycle leg, finishing in the top 1.5% of all riders! Including some of the 'pointy-helmet' brigade ( you know, the ones that ride full-on time trial bikes!) Pretty impressed with that and it is clear that with personal ambition and aim together with expert coaching from the Potters that results can be achieved. Those times when Kate's punishing coaching drills have pushed me to the limit were worth it - thanks Kate and bring on next year's race!