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

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.

Monday, 26 May 2014

A little later than normal for a team introduction but here it is.......

Cotic AQR Holidays and Coaching Race Team 2014

There has been a Cotic A Quick Release (AQR) Holidays race team for seven years now. Over that time there has been a steady change in riders, but some of the ‘old guard’ still remain in James Dymond, and Matt and Kirsty Prior, complemented by newer faces. Whilst individual goals are supported, the team philosophy is all about what we can achieve when we come together as a team. This can be seen through podiums at a variety of team events including but not limited to Bristol Bikefest, Twenyfour12, Torq 12 and many others. There are a surprising number of riders on the team, however being spread across different disciplines means we are rarely ever all in one place at one time; but boy is it a hoot when we are! Below and over the next few posts to come is your guide to the 2014 Cotic AQR Holidays and Coaching Race Team line-up.

Keep up to date with the team via Twitter, Facebook & team blog.

The Owners, Guides & Coaches

Ian Potter

Time on AQR team: Since concept - one half of the creative brains behind the team.
Discipline: Owner, guide, skills coach, mechanical guru.
Weapon of choice: Cotic Rocket

Ian is one half of AQR Holidays and Coaching. When not guiding guests in Luchon he is assisting in the creation of AQR Coaching plans, no doubt rubbing his hands together in glee at what will be dished out to riders in the weeks to come. He is not only a highly experienced rider but also holds a Mountain Bike Instructors Award (MIAS) Level 4. When time permits, Ian returns to the UK and holds a number of skills sessions which most of the team take advantage of in order to progress their skills further; you never, ever can get the words ‘heels down’ out your head ever again however. Ian’s other major skill is when it comes to all things mechanical, he is the ‘go to’ person for anything relating to bike specification or bike set-up.

The Potters

Kate Potter

Time on AQR team: Since concept - one half of the creative brains behind the team.
Discipline: Owner, guide, coach, nutritionist.
Weapon of choice: Cotic Solaris.

Kate is the other half of AQR Holidays and Coaching. She is an exceptionally talented rider, having spent 10 years riding Cross Country/Marathon/24hr disciplines which included representing Australia at the Cross Country World Championships in 2009 and 2010. Kate set up AQR Coaching in 2008 in order to help others achieve their goals, be it general weight loss and fitness to racing bikes of any type. Kate also holds a number of diplomas related to nutrition, cognitive behavioural therapy and allergy testing, but is currently studying hard for a degree in clinical nutritional therapy in her spare time (if she actually has any?!). Kate is the team’s one stop shop for all things training plan related; it is with fear that you check your newest training plan to see what devilishly hard sessions she’s put in place for you this time around. Somewhere in all this Kate also manages to guide as part of AQR Holidays and is in the process of completing MIAS Level 4 qualification!

Follow me on Twitter: @KPotterxo

Keep your eyes peeled for the next instalment of the 2014 team introduction covering the first trio of endurance riders. 

Thursday, 8 May 2014

BMBS Round 2: Wheal Maid

Cotic - A Quick Release Holidays and Coaching's newest teammate, Kathy and seasoned racer Emma headed down to Wheal Maid in Cornwall last weekend for the second round of the British Cycling XC race series. 

They've written a blog about their races which is featured on the UKXCNews website - have a read!
Cotic - AQR Holidays and Coaching: Wheal Maid Race Report

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Fevered Ramblings of an Andalucian Pit Bitch

Mountain bike stage racing is a real test of rider and bike, sometimes pushing them both to their limits.  Rach and Rickie had entered the Andalucian Bike Race (ABR) and I had offered to provide support to them both, as I had been lucky enough to have similar support from my friend Carole when I raced the 2012 Trans Pyr stage race.

The girls had done the training, were well prepared and all was set for a good six days of racing. All I had to do was look after them off the bike. The idea was for all their efforts to be focused on riding hard and fast during each stage, then recovering as well as possible each evening before the next day’s racing whilst I spent my time spannering, cooking and reading them bedtime stories.
We had crammed a travelling tool kit and as many spares as we could into our 30kg bike bag allowance.  I had brought along my Cotic Solaris to both ride during my down time when the girls were racing (this was a holiday for me too after all) and to cannibalise for spares if necessary – I was hoping for much of the former and little of the latter.

Concentration on the start line

ABR is no winter training camp or pootle in the southern Spanish sunshine. It’s a full gas mtb stage race and with UCI ranking points available the pace and racing is fierce and all of the big name European marathon teams attend. The technical support on show was first rate – with SRAM giving similar tech support they provide at world cup events to any rider running SRAM kit, under the watchful eye of Todd Anderson who was good enough to give me a guided tour around the awesome F1 inspired SRAM race support truck.  With such high levels of professionalism on show this pit bitch was going to have to raise his game! 

All ready for their return

Whilst Rach and Rickie were doing battle each day any illusions of having significant downtime during the day were shattered. After seeing them off at the start of each stage the girls speedy riding meant I had only 3 to 4.5 hours to fit in my long marathon training runs, the chores and a siesta. Running 80km of the 400km course over the 6 days gave me a flavour of the trails. Some of the terrain was pretty brutal even on foot and I though the rocky trails would take their toll. I fitted in a couple of rides on the trails before lending my Cotic Solaris to Grant Leavy for stages 3-6 after he broke his carbon fibre framed bike. He went on to ride the reliable steel steed to an impressive 32nd elite male placing. 

Grant enjoys the Solaris steel is real feeling

My rear brake also went to keep Mark Spratt in the race after his brakes totally failed before the start and his quickly bought replacement brakes caused i-spec shifter compatibility issues. Us Brits have to stick together and I was glad that the spares that I’d brought were put to good use. Luckily the girls bikes worked spot on and only needed a wash down and check over each day which made my spannering life much easier although I made use of my SRAM contacts in tuning Rach’s bike so I could concentrate on my siesta-ing.
Rach puts in a big effort to make sure her finish line tea doesn't go cold
The apartments Rach had booked were top notch – a washing machine in each making my pit-bitching life so much easier. Clean fresh kit for each day was guaranteed. The traditional Spanish family decorated apartments did look more like a hybrid Chinese laundry/ bike repair shop at the end of some days though.  The apartments kitchens also meant that the girls were able to eat exactly what they would normally choose after a hard days biking and importantly when they wanted to rather than rely on hotel menus, portions and opening times.

The days were generally balmy – 10 to 15 degrees meaning ideal riding conditions save for the second stage out of Jean were the overnight rain continued throughout the stage and Rach and Rickie revelled in the UK-esque mud.  

Mud is mud wherever you ride

Though the other days were more sunny-Spanish conditions they still took their toll. Overall we heard of the British-speaking contingent over the race accumulating two broken frames, a set of broken forks, failing brakes, a seizing bottom bracket and a fair few punctures. I saw a pedal ripped out of its crank by the trailside and one plucky pair giving a backie to his teammate who shattered a rear wheel. The trails took their toll on the riders’ bodies too, with everything from the usual trail rash to separated shoulders to Rhabdomyolysis (the same condition Craig Gordon infamously suffered in the 2006 24Solo worlds).  

It's a long way home

So all in all Rach and Rickie did well to maintain their form through out the week to gain 6th place in elite female – I like to think that this feat was only possible with my pitting skills. It was only on the last day that the dreaded race sniffles started for us all. Still coming away with the lurgy was a small memento to add to the photos and SRAM truck memories.  Those girls owe me a cup of tea.

Rach goes a little pale when I tell her how much the SRAM truck I now want will cost

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

End of season.

Emma reports from the last few races of the 2013 XC season.

Brighton Big Dog

Earlier in the year I’d agreed to do Brighton Big Dog with AQR teamate James Dymond. As it turned out this ended up being the week after I got back from the Pyrenees and my very lovely holiday. I would either be flying or dying, I had no idea which. Practice didn’t go to well with five of us getting lost and missing out a good chunk of the course!

Lap 1 felt horrendous; had I not been in a pair I may well have thrown my teddies out the cot and got off after that one lap. But no, we were in it together and the race would go on. Lap 2 and my interest in the race went up a bit as James came in really close to another of the mixed pair contenders. I soon caught the rider (Claire I learned later) up and passed her on the really steep initial chalky climb. I’d also reigned in how I was riding and paced climbs as opposed to trying to get up them super quick. During lap 3 I started to get real bad pain in my glutes, however I pushed through it as it would surely make me stronger in the long run right? After the lap I also found out we were in 3rd with 4th (Claire and her partner) just behind us. Part way around lap 4 Claire suddenly went by me on a fireroad and my competitive side kicked in. I dug deep and stayed on her wheel for some of the fireroad, then when the gradient changed and I was into ‘my zone’ I kicked and went. I’m not sure how much time I put into Claire but I had a feeling I was stronger on the singletrack and absolutely nailed it as best I find out right at the end of the lap I’d ridden it mostly with my forks locked out!! I handed over to James happy in the knowledge that I only had to dig deep for one final lap and I was actually looking forward to it in a strange way as I knew it would be a battle to the end, or so I thought. Whilst waiting in the changeover area I was a little despondent to see Claire’s partner come in ahead of James but not to worry I had a Torq Forest Fruits caffeine gel ready to go for some extra zing; and then the bombshell was dropped. James had suffered a mechanical. I don’t need to say anymore on that topic though as he sums it up quite nicely in his own words

I’d never been to BBD before and the atmosphere and weather were great, as was the company of my teams mates (Rach and Martin riding solo, with Ant pitting). I wasn’t ‘feeling’ the course though but thanks to Claire and her partner riding for Cotswold Veldrijden and making it a close race down to the wire.

Olympic Dreams at Hadleigh - BC XC Series Rnd 5

I was so happy to hear that I would be challenging myself on the full Olympic course when I arrived for practice on the Saturday (they hadn’t dumbed it down as feared). At the same time I was a little unsure as I really want to ride all technical sections on a race course and I had no idea how I would perform here. Out on practice I decided to start by riding the B/C lines of sections first to ‘get my eye in’ and then do the A lines. Triple trouble was up first (although only with A or C lines), and I did the C line and really didn’t like it; it was a little too slippy (dryness!) for my liking. I’d already had a look at the A line and knew the theory but riding these things is always different. I rode to the lip first, second time and I was over. It was quite a strange feeling the landing as the bike seemed to land twice; could be the springy Ti. On the way to Deane’s Drop there was a blind entry rock feature to negotiate, again with a couple of line choices. I watched another rider really commit and clear the left hand line, had a look myself and opted for that. Whilst the rocks behind were off camber, I’d recently ridden something similar whilst out in Luchon on holiday. Again, I rode the initial approach and second time I was over.

The approach into Deane's Drop
Now for Deane’s Drop and the infamous ‘this is where Liam broke his ankle’. I rode the B line and hated it; far too loose. The A line was a different matter, a rock based channel that snaked a little and ended with a small drop/chute onto the lower, looser part of the section. Annoyingly I kept stalling and was struggling with the turns in the channel as I kept hitting the sides. I didn’t stop and for once I managed to keep all my toys in my cot, finally clearing the section after about five/six attempts. I got to the ‘shore’ gap jump section but suddenly had a bit of a ‘feeling’ or more ‘wasn’t feeling it’ for this and immediately decided to take the b line as it would lose me little if any time (there’s always next time). From here it was pretty straightforward with  Oak Tree Drop then the Leap of Faith sections easily conquered. At the Rock Garden there were numerous people scoping it out and attempting to ride it. I spent a little time just watching people on the various lines and decided on one that appeared to work for a number of people. Amazingly I cleaned it on the first attempt and was super happy. After a long grassy slog it was into Burry’s Berms; a high speed twisty ride down the hill with some fun jumps in. Back through the feed, up again and then a chute into the arena and round to the finish.

Photo - Andy Whitehouse
Race day dawned and I was feeling a bit weird, no idea why but I wasn’t quite feeling hyped for racing. The start was awful. Because of the multiple categories starting, the loop used for the Olympics couldn’t be used as we’d clash with other categories, so instead we were made to ride up a dreadful, rutted grass area. I didn’t make a great start with my legs feeling a bit weird, and with Triple Trouble avoided on lap 1 the first obstacle we hit was the blind entry rock section. There were riders blocking the lines and I can’t believe I was so polite as to wait for them to clear it, resulting in another rider overtaking me! I got to Deane’s Drop to see someone had crashed on the A line and caused a blockage. Looking to use the B line another rider crashed there causing more of a delay; this is where I need to develop my speed and strength as it’ll get me in front of more riders who struggle with the technical aspects. The field spread out pretty quickly after Deane’s Drop and I was riding around the rear of the category, but I was really struggling with the hills. Something just wasn’t clicking, especially the climb to the top of Burry’s Berms. Lap 2 was better as I had a free run at all the obstacles and was really happy with how I was riding my lines and this continued for another few laps. I was lapped by the leader so knew I would be finishing one lap down and as I went out on the last lap I wanted to ride my best lap. It wasn’t to be though as at the bottom of Oak Tree Drop my front wheel washed out, I hit the deck and skidded along on my forearm. After a brief pause to get over the shock, I checked I could move everything and looked to carry on; I had half a lap to the finish. With my arm covered in blood, bars a little twisted and brake levers uneven I made it round and over the finish line. Next up was a more painful trip to the medics who cleaned out the wound and steri-stripped the gash. I was really happy with most of the technical aspects of my ride, but there is certainly room for improvement. Speed and strength will need to be developed.

Photo - Darren Ciolli-Leach

Belgium MTB Cup - Beringen

Just a week after Hadleigh I was heading to Belgium to race in Beringen. A little background research told me I was to be racing on a slag heap behind the town’s mining museum. My arm had stopped hurting from my crash at Hadleigh, however I still had it bandaged up so was aware I had to be a bit careful also.

My jaw dropped on arriving at the venue; the pictures I had seen had not done it justice as it was super steep with switchbacks snaking up and down the slag heap. One of the younger Belgium riders said it was known as ‘mini Houffalize.’ As I went to go out on my practice lap a marshal warned me to be careful as a rider had been taking to hospital with a  suspected broken neck....not the best thing to hear at a strange, foreign venue. I struggled at the first descent on some very tight and steep switchbacks and trying to get the knack of riding them. After that was the first choice of lines; a jump to a steep landing and fast left hander at the bottom or the ‘B’ line which was a steep chute with two turns in. Had I had more time at the course and not being a little worried about my arm I would like to have spent time on the jump as I’m sure it would have been fine, but I wasn’t quite feeling it so opted for the B line. I had my first taste of the steep switchback climbs which required you to be sat on the very nose to keep the front end down; glad I was riding 26in wheels though as turning a 29er through the turns looked interesting. Most of the course was in sight of the arena, but it went into some woods on the blind side of the heap. This looked a load of fun but I was really quite nervous for some reason and rode dreadfully. Back on the arena side I opted to also avoid the step section as again I was concerned about my control with my arm and instead worked on getting the lines sorted around the steep switchback descents. I have to say that for the descents I was really glad I’d recently ridden at AQR Holidays HQ in Luchon as it is  steep out there and I’d learnt how to control the bike on terrain like this for extended periods of time.

Steeper than it looks!
I was unsure how the race would unfold as it was all quite different to normal. At the gun I managed to stick with the pack and hold onto one of the girl’s wheels for part of the initial climb. Lap 1 avoided the first switchback/jump section and instead went straight up the hill. Unfortunately I couldn’t hold onto a wheel and soon slipped off the back with one other girl behind me. As soon as I got onto the singletrack on the back side of the heap I found I was actually riding much better and started catching up again. This didn’t last as we got back to climbing again however. It stayed this way for the entire race in the end, with me getting lapped by 1st and 2nd only. I was really happy with how I rode technically in terms of handling the steep climbs and tight, steep descents. I was cautious in some areas but with the damage I’d done to my arm only a week before that was to be expected. Racing in Belgium was a really amazing experience and one I hope to repeat in the future.

I’ve got nowhere near my potential this year, but training has been hampered by on-going bio-mechanical issues and a major interruption to my pre and early-season training. Nevertheless, I have seen improvements in my performance even if the results do not initially tell that story. My technical riding has also improved further.

I have to give a massive thank you to Kate and Ian Potter of AQR Coaching for all their guidance, support and advice, and for letting me fly the flag for AQR over the 2013 season. Also to physio Richard Bricknell of Bristol Physiotherapy Clinic who has been straightening me out and dealing with the myriad of ‘issues’ he keeps uncovering. Finally, to Cotic for making amazing bikes that fit me so well and keep me grinning.

Hopefully I can make 2014 an even better year!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Biking... AND running!

Kirsty reports from The Clumber Park Off-Road Duathlon

October.  The leaves are starting to change colour, the nights are drawing in.  My team mates are either enjoying a well-earned break after the cross-country season, or starting to think about base training for the year ahead.  Some are even drawn to the pain locker of cyclo-cross.   I, however, am dusting off my running shoes ready for the offroad duathlon season.

Clumber Park was the first race in the inaugural Midlands Offroad Series, with two more races to follow at Sherwood Pines and Holme Pierrepoint.  It’s great to see more offroad duathlons springing up all over the place, and there was a healthy turnout with some strong competition.
Coming off the back of a 4-week break with virtually no running and riding, I was interested to see how I would go.  Would I have retained my fitness from the Haute Route?  Or had I eaten too many post-race ice creams?!

I had an entertaining evening pre-race.  All my Nottingham-based team mates had deserted me and scattered to various corners of the British Isles, so I stayed at the local Youth Hostel.  It had been taken over for the weekend by the “Rough Stuff Fellowship” – average age appeared to be approximately 60, with enough tales of adventure and misadventure to last a lifetime.

Anyway, back to the race.  For me, duathlon is like a game of cat and mouse.  Running is not my strong point, so the first run is all about limiting the deficit and trying to hold something in reserve for the rest of the race.  Then comes the fun bit… how many people can I chase down on the bike.  In theory, if I can catch them by the halfway point I stand a good chance of staying ahead.  At Clumber, there were 3 girls ahead of me after run 1, so I had 3 main targets to chase (and countless blokes as intermediate targets).  My first catch came early on the bike, the second was close to halfway, and the third was past halfway.  The game then is to put as much time into them as possible before second transition.  It seemed that my week in the Pyrenees was still providing some fitness benefits, and I was enjoying finding my flow on the singletrack sections, so fingers crossed it would be enough.

I led into second transition, only to discover that I had racked my bike in the wrong place (this was the first duathlon I had competed in where there was a ‘right’ place, all the others you simply racked your bike wherever you chose to in the transition area).  I was slightly bemused when the race director asked “Are they your trainers?”!!!!

And so the hunter becomes the hunted.  Have I put enough time into my competitors on the bike to stay away on the run?  At Clumber, the second run was an ‘out and back’.  I managed to hold my lead to the far point of the course, and counted the steps on the way back until I passed my closest rival (who high-fived me… nice bit of camaraderie J).  I reckon I had just over a minute.  Dig in, she’s a good runner but you’ve only got 1.5k to go…  Focus on your own race, don’t look back…
Phew!  That was close.  1st place :-)

Great race in some good company.  Looking forward to the rest of the series.

PS Turns out I narrowly avoided disqualification for racking my bike in the wrong place.  Thankfully no-one complained to the race director so I escaped with a ticking off.  Lesson learned!!!