My plan of riding all of the Red Kite winter xc races stopped when I was laid low in late January and most of February. This was due to over training, under eating and relentless rain.I’d missed two races since round 4 in January.
To sum up the previous few months: for 95% of the time it was either raining or not sunny. For the rest of the time a plurality of water droplets fell from the sky. Most of this water landed on the ground and wetted the soil to create a muddy slop. Because it was winter it was also cold. A sort of boring, miserable, chilly, damp cold. Not the interesting, fun cold that leads to snow.
Saturday was different though: when I walked out of the house I immediately noticed that 1) no water was hitting my head 2) my head was warmed from a heat source that seemed to be in the sky. This put me in a positive state of mind. I was feeling upbeat following some morning yoga too, a new experience for me.
I had some newly reconditioned forks to fit to the Stump Jumper. I’d wrecked these via a lack of maintenance and LocoTuning had rebuilt them with new uppers for me. Whilst they were off the bike I’d fitted some new Rockshox Revelations. These had been great forks for the few days of riding before the lock out failed. They lost interest in functioning after that and they were being sent off to TFTuned under warranty.
There was no way that I could fit these shiny new forks with a clear conscience in the middle of the dump that was my garage. An early spring morning was an ideal day for a spring clean. After several hours, a trip to the recycling centre and with a charity shop box full the garage was approximately tidy. I proudly surveyed the scene: I could see the walls and the floor and it made me feel good. The time management part hadn’t gone so well though – it was 3pm and I needed to leave for Wales. I decided to take my trusty 2011 Camber comp and leave the forks for another day. The Camber had last been ridden in December and I remember having issues with the dual air forks and possibly the gears. Apart from that it was fine.
After my recent hunger pangs and weakness at races I loaded myself up with food – another massive veggie pizza, flat bread and falafells.
The great weather continued until Sunday but changed back to rain just before I woke up. I had time for some pre race yoga and a very leisurely breakfast. Heavy rain fell during the short drive to Coed Trallwm. It looked sort of wet and cold.
At the event registration I found a cheery bunch of racers making the most of the situation. The car park had a new pond in it and the ground looked soggy. Neil from Red Kite events said to me “you want to do the four race don’t you Tom!?” and I couldn’t think of any excuses in time. Four of us were doing the long event, the rest were doing the regular two hour race.
At 10:30 we set off up the all too familiar first climb. As usual I watched the crowd creep away from me up the hill. The ground was wet and draggy. My energy levels felt a bit low and I adjusted my pace to suit the four hours ahead. I caught a few riders half way up the climb which was encouraging.
At the top the route took the tight option through the trees on a narrow and slippery path. This was holding up really well. The first mud ramp wasn’t in bad shape considering the recent weather. I turned the wrong way at the bottom though – I always turned left here! I didn’t realise that I’d gone wrong until I ran out of sign posts. That cost me a few minutes.
The lower section was a lot more slippery with wet roots just before the second ramp. The rest of the descent was familiar but wetter than normal. After passing the trail centre the route went through the trees and then climbed up the blue descent and down the climb. After crossing the road it used the same trick of up the descent and down the climb. It then crossed over itself by the trail centre to link back to the start.
The bike felt awful.The front was really bumpy and harsh and a handful on the slippery descents. The gears mainly worked but weren’t always keen to change. The dropper post was heavy to operate and slow to rise. I decided that after this race I was going to throw money at fixing the bike. It was just another thing that was annoying me.
I didn’t feel amazing either. I seemed to lose energy really quickly on steep climbs. The wet slate of the climbs was a real challenge on the steep bits. Over the whole race I managed to ride up all of them at one time or another but have to bin the bike and walk up a few from quite early.
I’d love to say that I just knuckled down and powered on because I’m tough. The truth is I had a really good rant about it all out loud.
- “f**king bike, heap of crap.”
- “Why the f**k am I doing this?”
- “Four hours? I’m still ill, I should be sensible and stop”
- “I’m not riding in the rain again this year. It’s crap. I’m bored of it”.
- “I’m going to turn round now, roll back down the hill and abandon the race”
At the top of my second lap I let air out of the front tyre and the forks. That improved the handling a bit but the fork was a bit too soft now and bottomed out easily.
I was lapped by the fastest rider three quarters of the way round my second lap! I had to start making my excuses: four hour race…pacing myself….I’ve been ill…the bike’s crap.
One thing that kept me going was was trying to ride the muddy, rooty singletrack cleanly. I whooped when I cleared parts of it. Getting up the steep rock ramps also cheered me up. Even the muddy track descent was entertaining when I concentrated on looking ahead and cornering properly.
I’d started my third lap before the two hour point. I knew I could easily fit two more in. On the fourth lap I was on the first climb and my energy was dropping off quickly. I stopped dead and rested. Maybe I should bin this off? No, I was doing the four hour race. I started pedalling again. At the top I sat down on a tree branch and ate a Mule bar and a Carman’s muesli bar. I couldn’t stop for long because the damp and cold got to me.
My lap times were increasing. My first had been about 47 minutes and now they were taking an hour. I considered stopping after four laps but reasoned that it was only another hour at most. Once I’d made it to the top I only had one more climb to do and then it would be over. As I passed the trail centre for the last time Neil from Red Kite events shouted over from the cafe. I couldn’t make out what he was saying but eventually guessed that he was offering me the chance to finish early. I couldn’t take that option – I had to finish the last lap.
Half an hour later it was all over and I had a well earned rest on the cafe with tea and sandwiches. I left a big pool of muddy water on the floor when I left. Thanks to Christine for the bonus sandwiches and not complaining about the mud.
I didn’t bother cleaning the bike; I just needed dry clothes and warmth quickly. The bike was knackered anyway.
- Fix the bike to lower the moaning excuses.
- No more knackered forks. They ruin the riding experience.
- Keep resting. I’m clearly still not totally well.
- Keep riding. Most people would be quite happy with 45km and 1600m ish for a day out.
Despite all of the above I did, on average, enjoy the experience. The route stood up really well considering the weather. None of it was an unrideable bog. It was just tough and draggy and went on for a long time!
I ended up with 43km, and 1550m of ascent. That’s not too bad for 4.5 hours of riding. That’s not that far off The Frozen Devil which was 47km and 950m in 4 hours. I spent 30 minutes resting on the Frozen Devil and only 10 stopped on the xc race. Another way of looking it at is that I cycled up Snowdon 1.5 times over the course of the race.
Event photos will be uploaded to cac photography.
|Oct 2013||Nov 2013||Dec-13||Jan 2014||March 2014|
The route was approximately the same distance and elevation gain as in January. I set out at a slower pace but my third laps were identical for both races. The rate of drop was very steady – about 3 minutes per lap. I was about 5% slower for the first three laps this time compared with January, but I had to cover 66% more distance.
The official results didn’t quite match the Garmin numbers. No idea what’s going on there. I was thoroughly trashed by the other three riders in my category – their lap times ranged from 33 to 47 minutes. My fastest lap was 47 minutes. I don’t think I can blame the bike for this; it was more about me.
I’m doing the Hereford Devil Sportive later in the year. I won’t be able to moan about mud on that. Potholes maybe. Red Kite events said “We will be building over the summer to bring some new tracks and also improving the existing ones.”
A year earlier…