Back on the horse – Mid winter miles

The fifth of January marked the end of my sloth-like Christmas. Three weeks of binging on cake and drinking endless cup of tea had to eventually cease. I started riding again this week, and the weather in Boulder has treated me very well so far. We’ve had a mixed week of snowy nights and dry days. I’ve ridden outside every other day, and found enough entertainment to keep me busy whilst riding the rollers inside.

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The Balancing Act

Bike riding is fun. You know that already. For some of us, racing bikes is just as fun as riding bikes. The rush of pinning on a number, sharing conspiratory glances with competitors on the start line, and drinking the best tasting beer at the end adds another level to why we’re in the cycling community. But then comes the urge. The urge to get faster. Somewhere in there, riding around mid pack fails to satisfy you. You want more. You think about that dreaded word “training”, and decide to stop waving at fellow riders travelling in the opposite direction. It’s a terrible spiral.  For those of us who live in the cycling mecca of the Front Range, we’ve lost a lot of friends down such a tortuous pathway. At some point, when you’re hammering straight past another awesome photo opportunity while struggling to stay attached to your riding ‘buddies’, you realise something is wrong. Really wrong. But it’s OK. There’s a balance to be found. Training to become a cool person who takes photos and still wins races is a difficult balancing act, and it takes way more dedication than just chugging the occasional protein shake and weighing out your quinoa every morning.

To be outside at the nicest of times, when the sun is shining brightest, you have to suffer through a few thunderstorms first.

To be outside at the nicest of times, when the sun is shining brightest, you have to suffer through a few thunderstorms first.

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A Year in (more than) 12 photos: 2014

Thinking about 2015

The arrival of December marks the end of the cycling calendar for most people, me included. I can’t race US National cyclocross champs, and because I’m staying in Colorado this Christmas, I won’t be racing UK nationals either. With no more racing to do, it’s time to start thinking about next year!

I’m very sad to say that the Red Ace Organics MTB team won’t be continuing next year. As with every sponsorship agreement, it was going fine until the plug got pulled. Hopefully at some point I’ll be able to fill in the details more publically. I will be riding in Boulder Cycle Sport colours for 2015 and beyond, and I’m very happy about that.  BCS has given me some solid tasks to pay my way. I will be helping to manage and coordinate their club mountain bike team, which is an enthusiastic bunch of local racers. Part of this will be leading group rides, teaching beginner and intermediate level skills clinics, and helping newer racers with how to prepare for races around Colorado. It feels like a solid and tangible plan, and one that can be measured easily by Boulder Cycle Sport and me. I’m excited!

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An escape to the desert

Colorado: the Rocky Mountains slice the state in half. The east is a never ending expanse of grassland rolling for hundreds of miles towards Kansas: an unknown land not explored by most who live on the Front Range. To the west of the Rockies, the high desert sprawls in sharp red sandstone mesas towards Utah. The Colorado river cuts a clean line through the arid countryside and forms a playground in the sand. That was our destination. We were in Edwards for the week – in the middle of the mountains. It cut the drive to Fruita in half. It would have been rude to not take advantage of a quick trip to the trails. Two hours from dumping snow at Vail to ripping dry trails in the desert.


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Playing the rabbit

Cyclocross is its own nature. The animals found between of the course tape on a saturday live according to their own set of darwinian rules. An ecosystem of it’s own. Sculpted by the evolutionary force of lactic acid pulsing through the veins of the chased and the chasers.

I played the rabbit this weekend. Chased by the cunning fox behind. It’s a law of averages: the higher ups in the food chain normally win. But the prey has to give it a shot to survive. Sitting and waiting to be caught is only for the weak. I bolted from the gun. Scared. Eyes dilated and lungs shocked into action.


Brady Kappius played his typical game; get to the cameras first. An obstacle in their own right, the photographers mark the trickiest sections of the course. They’re the thorns that we run through, hoping to emerge without fumbles and falls caught in their boughs.

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The Last Ride

The weather in Colorado is anything but ambiguous. More so than most places 40 degrees from the equator, Colorado swings wildly from summer to autumn to winter, marked by huge weather ‘events’ (as the Americans like to call storms). Summer ended a long time ago – the weather bringing about the Golden transformation of the hills that I wrtie about so often. Then we entered November – a normally cold, dry month in Boulder. But the temperature didn’t dip. The weather held. We held our breaths. Riding trails that are normally buried under the white stuff already. Finally word came that the storms were building. The internet buzzed with record breaking temperature changes. We braced for the end of the mountain bike season. After racing on Saturday, we headed into the hills one last time. The unambiguous forecast for the next day told us snow was coming; the cold was coming. This would be it. No exceptions.
DSC02493We were in short sleeves from the get go. The wind was still, the sun exercising it’s legs for the last time.


The top is always a subjective place: you can go as high as you like in Colorado. Today’s ‘top’ was just over 9000 feet (about 2700 metres). From it’s sandstone ledge, we could look southeast towards the great expanse of Denver and it’s sinuous suburbs. Boulder (perhaps itself a suburb) was just hidden in the lee of the foothills. We could see the prescribed burn happening at Heil ranch; the foresters making the most of the impending cold to burn off some old growth with a safety net of weather to enclose the flames.

What rides down must find it’s way up. Not all the trails on the front range are amazing. Often, the well built and flowing trails are interspersed with flood damaged scree slopes. the fragile top soil scoured off to leave just a scree slope of rocks to climb up. Making a good loop involves finding the most fun way down, and sometimes that means taking the direct route to the top. It’s always worth it.




The good races

It’s always so much easier to write about the good races. The successes. Words flow onto the screen as I scrutinise each detail; I can elevate the minutia into a blow-by-blow account. Saturday was a success, so I expect the following post will be exactly as described above.

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The Late Bus


There are multiple ways to spend an evening. Spring days herald the first long rides into the dimming light. A summer’s night is spent riding late, eking out the hours of cooling temperatures as the sun drops below the mountains to the west. The Autumn gets overlooked. The light is fading; by 5pm the sun has recessed from shining over Boulder, leaving a blue shadow and plummeting temperatures. It seems stupid to use this time to ride bikes. But it’s the best time. The 4:40 bus from Boulder up to Nederland is the last chance – the last shot at a singletrack fix on a Wednesday. Each week could be the last time before the snow permanently sticks to our trails.


Arriving in Nederland is always a shock. The chilly breeze from Boulder is replaced with a bitter gale blowing off the indian peaks. The sun is all but forgotten, slowly turning the clouds a shade of pink, then orange, before it’s just alpenglow keeping the sky alive.


We ride out of town – any direction will do: there’s singletrack everywhere. The ride plan is pretty simple, and involves making a straightish line back to Boulder, whilst hitting all the local favourites. Commuters pass us on their way home, and we quickly  dive off the road and on to trail.


The light goes quickly. The residual glow from above is blocked by the trees, depth perception suffers, and sooner than you thought, lights are needed.


The late evening, in the late Autumn. The hills are empty. You skirt neighbourhoods; brief voyeuristic glimpses through the huge windows of mountain homes dotted about in the forest. As we make our way back towards Boulder, suddenly the Front Range becomes visible on the plains below. The lights are dazzling and scary. The lines of cars exiting Boulder back towards Denver makes a bright yellow and red cut across the landscape. The end of the horizon is filled with light – the clouds have lost their warm sunset glow and it’s now replaced with the permanent burn of human light. An eery dark purple hue to something that should, needs to be black.


The bigger picture is lost in the task at hand. We descend on a mix of old mining roads and more modern singletrack. The most mundane and well ridden trail becomes new again – refreshed by the light on my bars. Speed has no relation to velocity, but it’s more akin to the blur at the edge of your eyes; foliage, trees and dirt rushing past faster as it exits the narrow beam of your light. It’s awakening.


A cyclocross update


It’s been a couple of weeks since I last updated the race results. The cross of the north series was fantastic, with two good races over two days, and then some family time with Christa’s grandparents too. Since then, I’ve raced at Valmont here in Boulder, and also two days this last weekend in Broomfield and Longmont. Those races have rekindled some enthusiasm; I haven’t driven more than 25 minutes to a race, I’ve seen a lot of good friends, and I’ve been catching up with work and relaxing on the weekends too. I’m fitting everything in at the moment, and it’s been a nice change to the summer where sometimes I feel like I’m a week behind on life.


The race at Valmont didn’t go very well: I didn’t finish. The start and first half were great. I got into a select lead group with Mitch Hoke and Danny Summerhill, and we pulled out over a minute on the chasers. I wasn’t feeling 100%, but I was happy with the pace. Then I flatted: a sprinkler head right in the middle of a corner put a tiny hole in my tyre, and it popped me from the lead group. It didn’t seal, so I pitted and got on the cannondale. Something happened to my front brake on that bike though, and it made riding impossible. I found out afterwards that the tension spring had popped out of place, leaving me with an unrideable bike. I was so frustrated to DNF.  I did everything right, was riding smoothly, and there was a good sized local crowd around too. On top of that, getting on the podium each weekend has been keeping me in groceries, and instead I’d be left empty handed. Altogether, it was not ideal.

I generally kept my frustration quiet after that DNF, but negative feelings have a way of spreading. By the middle of the week, my team had rallied around me, getting me a new set of race wheels to use (Thank you Brandon!) and the back-up of another (identical) pit bike (Thanks Chris Case). I had no excuses coming into this weekend, and it also meant I was confident that the fire I had building up could be put to good use.


The race at Interlocken on Saturday is one of my favourites: heavy grass, leafy off camber corners, and a sand section surrounded by unrideable barriers. I got into the lead group with some very fast riders (who normally race nationally, not locally). I was comfortable following lines, and had no desire to burn any matches before I needed to. Unfortunately I got tangled with Spencer, another local rider, during a remount which left us both chasing. We got back on to the lead group, just for another tangle with Spencer to occur. I was pretty annoyed, as I didn’t instigate either crash, but was left worse off by both. I finished out the race riding in alone for fifth, about a minute back on the winner. I put both crashes down to innocent mistakes in the heat of the race – cross is not an individual sport. It taught me that I need to be the one enforcing my own space when I’m in a group. Anyway, I squeaked onto the podium, which is what matters at the end of the day.


A small note of complaint: Two Without Limits events in a row (Valmont and Interlocken) had sprinkler heads in the middle of corners, and really poor course maintenance (lots of course tape broken and flapping in the wind). It’s lazy course marking. I made a comment to the promoter after Interlocken, but he dismissed me without seeming to acknowledge what I was saying. It’s hard to complain as an athlete.


Day two was at the ‘Colorado famous’ Xilinx course in Longmont. A contrast to the day before: mainly dusty dirt, a long road section, mountain bike like turns and not many obstacles to get in the way. I got the holeshot, which always feels good, but got a little complacent in the first 15 minutes. I was sitting 5th or 6th wheel when Russell Finsterwald attacked, and I ended up chasing 1st and 2nd places for the next 30 minutes. I didn’t get anywhere, and had to settle for third. I felt a little ‘too good’, and I think it made me relax too much. I wasn’t alert, and learned my lesson the hard way. I don’t know whether I could have stuck with Danny Summerhill and Russell to the end, but I don’t need to be giving them any advantages either. I held the gap at 15 seconds for most of the race, and only faded in the last lap. It was a positive result for me, as I know I can do better physically. Also on the plus side, I felt so comfortable on my bike, and had an error free race. A relief after Saturday.


Next weekend: a big old Mountain Bike ride on Saturday, and then the Feedback Sports Cup in Golden on Sunday.


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