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!