The end of a new start

Me with this years trophies.It’s the end of my first season racing again. After I broke my shoulder in 2003 there were times that I thought I’d never race again. I even sold my beloved road bike. However, things gradually improved, and after dipping my toe in the racing water in the December 2006 Pearce Cycles runners versus riders I decided to give it a go in 2007.

Well, I reckon it has been one of my best seasons ever. Moving to France and riding virtually full-time may have helped. I’m certainly lighter, and have more miles in my legs since my peak in the 90s. The success that I enjoyed early in the year made me even more motivated, which in turn brought about more success. It was simply fantastic to be racing again, and holding my own in the scratch group. Not bad for an old bloke with a dodgy shoulder.

I’ve already made plans for races in 2008. Got the calendar pinned up on the wall. Even sent race entries off. Big targets for me in 2008 will be – Haute Vienne VTT Departmental Championships, Limousin VTT Regional Championships, and VTT National Championships. Getting a win in one of those would be really something.

To me sporting activity is a celebration of life, and I realise that I’m in a privileged position to be racing at all, part of the reason I want to do really well. I also realise that I couldn’t do it without the support of friends, and the love of my wife.

So here goes, I’m going into 2008 with a mission to celebrate. I hope 2008 goes well for you, and you get to celebrate too.

Bonne année!

I finally get to ride the Cove…

2004 Cove Handjob with Rockshok Rev U-turnsI bought it (mostly), I built it, and finally I got to ride it!

Some background
– When Supawal, my bro’ came to visit us he flew out with his Cove Hummer. Now it’s always a headache flying with bikes. Not only is there the struggle to get the damn thing to the check-in desk there’s also the risk that the nice ‘baggy jandlers’ will damage it. So, the idea was to build up a ‘guests bike’ with second hand bits sourced from our collective collection of bits, and bits from the classifieds on singletrackworld.

The build – we got a 2004 Cove Hanjob frame and a pair of Rockshok Coil U-Turn Revelations from STW as the base. LX shiters and mechs, XT wheels, DMR wingbars and Conrod stem, Spesh chainset, Hayes brakes. The whole thing took a couple of months to put together. Actually it came together in a different guise first with some bits stolen from Carla’s bike, which is why she was the first to ride it.

OK, I’m getting there – not! So, Carla takes a real shine to it. She just rides it. That never happened before. Normally we spend weeks tweaking things until it’s just so. But with the Cove, she just rides it. Eventually Supawal shows up for a flying visit with the Revelations, which are the final part of the jigsaw. So he rides it for the weekend, and loves it, while the stolen bits go back onto Carla’s Spesh, and she rides that. Supawal flies home, Carla goes back to riding the Cove. “But it’s got huge riser bars on, and a blokes saddle”, I say. “It’s fine as it is, I’ll just ride it”, says Carla. So what with events where we both ride, days that we both ride, and serious training days on my own, I never got the chance to try it. Then weeks later, we’re due to go for a ride, Carla decides she hasn’t got the legs, and it’s my chance at last. Change the saddle height, rock the brake levers forward a touch, and I’m set.

First impressions – Haven’t ridden a steel bike in years, first thing I notice is how much lateral flex there is from the relatively skinny tubes. How slow/stable the steering feels with it’s 68deg head angle. I can take my hand off the bars at virtual standstill. I stop and check the travel I have on the forks, 100mm, exactly what the frame was designed for.

Up through the woods, she climbs well, feels light, nimble. At the top of the forest now with a long descent in store. Firing down the first rocky section it feels as though I don’t have enough weight over the front of the bike, maybe it’s the huge high DMR bars. I stop and wind the forks down a little to 90mm. Now it feels just right, and I launch down the second half of the desent, fast. There’s a huge rock, I flick to the left, there’s a low branch that I didn’t see in the late afternoon sun that whips my face. I’m off line, all over the place, into all sorts of ruts rocks wood and mud. There’s a drop off that I didn’t really want to ride. With total lack of style I plop out onto the main trail. I made it, I’m thinkin’ maybe these Cove Handjobs have got something.

I’m musing over the Cove + Revelations combination, and at some point over the next hour and a half I forgot that I was riding the Cove, I was just out on my bike having a great time. So easy to ride, so comfortable, schweet handling, such fun……. maybe I should get one! 🙂

Runner versus Riders

To celebrate the first anniversary of my return to racing I travelled all the way home to the UK to race where I started in the annual runners versus riders at Ludlow. You remember, 10 miles of lung-bursting strength sapping agony. You may also remember that I came second last year after leading for most of the race I was caught inside the last mile, thwarted by my lack of descending skills. Anyway, this year I was back, fitter, faster, lighter, and determined to do well.
First three home in the runner versus riders.
Here’s how it went
I attacked right from the start, to be first across the road into Oak Wood. I had a couple of riders show me their front wheel before I pushed on and was first to the top of the ramp with a small lead. Down the ramp towards the fire road and Marc Beaumont (yes, Marc Beaumont the Santa Cruz sponsored World Cup, world class downhiller) comes flying past. I give chase up the fire road. I’m towing John Gilbert (last years winner), and Gary Brain (last years 3rd) behind me. I pass Marc before we reach the first stream crossing and as I line myself up to go through he passes me again. He’s so fast through the stream there’s hardly a splash.

Up through the singletrack towards Chemical Bank I’m on Marc’s wheel. We re-cross the stream and onto the bank. Its far too steep to ride, so with bikes on shoulders, lungs burning and legs stinging we hike our way to the top. At the summit the four of us are clear, Marc, me, John, and Gary, in that order.

Dropping down toward the pipe track Marc opens a gap. I let John through, he knows this descent well and I feel safer tailing him. Gary tails me. By the time we spill out onto the pipe track Marc has a good 30secs lead. Using John to lead me through the rutted section at the start of the pipe track I then chase after Marc. Just before the first of the huge pipe track dips I re-take the lead.

Descending into the first dip as fast as I dare Marc comes past like I’m standing still. Onto the climb out of the dip i’ve lost 10 bike lengths but I’m gaining. I just get back on terms when we’re into the second dip, and I lose another 10. Bikes on shoulders again we stagger out onto the zigzag tarmac climb to the Ridgeway. John is back with me, and we chase Marc together.

On the long Ridgeway climb I leave John, and catch Marc to take the lead again. I’m trying hard now to get enough gap so that I won’t be caught again on the descent to Monstay Farm. At the top of the Ridgeway a quick glance back, I have a good gap, I hope to keep it. Down the rutted frozen Ridgeway to Five Ways is a nightmare. I make a couple of dabs to stay upright. At Five Ways I’m still clear. I mash on hard, down through Monstay Farm as fast as I dare, straight across the road (thanks marshals), and onto the climb of High Vinnals.

High Vinnals is a climb that gets steeper as you go up. Middle ring at first, then Granny, then running. I keep having a sneaky look back. Nobody in sight. As I crest the climb I take a good look back, still clear. Down across Climbing Jack moor, rattling over the frozen ground. Going into the trees for the descent to the Middle Road, still nobody in sight behind. I’m beginning to think I might have it.

Down to the middle road, a 200 metre dash then dive right. Still no one there. Along the rutted frozen track to Sunny Dingle. With 100 metres of track left Marc comes flying past fast, really fast. By the time we cross the fire road and start to race along the valley he’s opened up a 10 second gap! I chase hard along the valley road, and at the hairpin into the stream crossing I’ve caught him.

Back up the ramp I take the lead one more time. As I go past Marc I clang up a gear and push on as hard as I possibly can. I need as much of a buffer as I can before the final downhill dash to the finish. Marc goes up a gear to and tries to respond. At the top of the ramp it is me who has the 10 second lead.

Diving down left, I go as fast as I can, taking as much room as I can. With 300 metres to go Marc squeezes past Rizla close (you couldn’t fit a Rizla in the gap). At the log dismount I’m on his wheel, right on it, but we’re at the line. I’m beaten again!

Analysis– I’m disappointed not to win. If only the circuit had been 300 metres shorter or even 300 metres longer where it flattens out. I’m full of self-recrimination. Surely I could have found another few seconds from somewhere, did I run hard enough here, did I push myself there etc.

However, I’ve only just been beaten by a world class rider at the top of his game. He thanks me for a good hard race. It can only be a handful of riders that can say that they battled with Marc Beaumont man on man. Add to that the fact that the two of us beat the time set by the fastest runners. The first time that the runners have been beat in as long as anyone can remember. Maybe that’s not so bad.

By the way, Marc is running a downhill coaching day in conjunction with Pearce Cycles on 5th January Maybe I should book myself a place on it 🙂

Final placings and timings…
Marc Beaumont 1:04:24
Steve Bennett 1:04:26
John Gilbert 1:05:22
Gary Brain 1:07 :44
Dave Price 1:08:44
Rob Davies 1:11:57
Jon Brain 1:16:48
Marcus Robertson 1:17:25
Dave Pearce 1:19:44
Alex Florian 1:20:58
Dave Smith 1:23:05
Dave Heath 1:26:36
Matt Pearce 1:30:52
Sean Singleton 1:34:23
Michael Robinson 1:37:21
Phil Washbrook 1:40:12
Mark Povey 1:49:10

11th Raid des Feuillardiers at Flavignac

I’m woken at 4am by the sound of the rain. Peering through the window I can see that it’s hammering down. It just can’t rain much harder than it is. I lie awake for the next two hours listening to the rain, and wondering if the event will even be on, or if i’ll even be able to get to Flavignac. We’ve been having heavy rain showers over the last few days, and more rain is not gonna help.

By 6am I’m up, and having breakfast. The rain has eased, and I’m looking forward to a wet race. Carla thinks I’m mad. Not mad, just compulsive. By 7am I’m on my way. It’s starting to get light. Over the high ground near Cognac le Foret I’m looking out on a huge storm filled sky. But, there are gaps when the sun shines through!

Down the last few miles I’m looking for signs that something is happening. Wondering why I’m not part of a convoy of vehicles on their way to the race. Arriving at Flavignac, the signs are good. There’s a few riders unloading bikes in the car park. There’s activity at the Salle d Fete, riders signing on!

Away from the start - thats me on the far right

There’s a cold blustery wind blowing, a thorough warm up is going to be essential. I’m on my bike well before 8:30 ready for the 8:50 start. At first there’s only three of us riding up and down the start straight, but as start time approaches there’s loads. All the usual suspects are there. 5 minutes to go, and the organiser calls us to the start line. I manage to get a place on the front row. A few words from the promoting club president and we’re on our way!

Hammering up the tarmac and onto the grass. I’m in the first ten, it’s very wet, there’s a bit of shoving and some friendly banter 🙂 Back onto the tarmac to race out of town, I shift to a bigger gear and kick. My chain starts to jump! It’s a new chain, and I had tested it. It’s jumping on the lower end of the block (smaller sprockets). There’s no debris in it. I shift back up to find a gear that works and spin. This is not a great start.

Crossing a small wooden bridge and the St Junien rider in front of me goes down hard! He’s OK, but he’s holding us up, there’s no way around. He’s back on his bike in 10 seconds, but now there’s a 10 second gap to make up. I press on, my gears jump.

Into the real off-road stuff now. Long rocky climbs cascading with water, like riding up a stream bed. Long descents with huge puddles and mud. I’m holding my place, but i’ve lost contact with the leaders. We’re firing down a huge hillside, rocks and ruts hidden by water, the blustery wind not making it any easier to hold line, and now it starts to rain. A sharp left, I grab my brakes, they hardly work, I overshoot, but manage to catch myself on the edge of the trail. This is not going well.

Just when things weren’t going well, they went worse. On a sharp bend I catch a glimpse of my arch-rival Jean-Claude Sansonnet, he’s almost on me. I spend the next twenty minutes trying to lose him and I cant. We pull out onto a tarmac climb, I lift the pace, but I’m going nowhere. Jean-Claude Sansonnet comes past me. For the next twenty minutes it’s Jean-Claude Sansonnet trying to lose me. We’re back in the hills, now it’s raining hard, very hard, it’s turning to hail, I’m cold, very cold, and slowly, very slowly, he’s moving away.

To sum up, at this point – I’m cold, my feet and hands are numb, my back brake doesn’t work, my gears keep jumping, and I’m taking a pasting. Now don’t get me wrong, don’t for one second think that I’m complaining or not enjoying this. I wouldn’t swap a moment of it. I’m privileged, one way or another I’ve come a long way to be here today.

I’m working as hard as I can, but it’s still not enough to catch Jean-Claude, or to keep warm. As I get colder I make the descision to stop and put my cape on. I’m throwing 30 seconds away. Cape on, I push on, trying to limit my loses. I can still see Jean-Claude up ahead. Over the last few kms I get closer, then I lose a bit, and that’s how it ends.

11th place, 10 minutes off the pace, and 40 seconds down on the first Vet B, Jean-Claude. Some 45 minutes later I’m collecting my prize for second Vet B, standing on the podium next to Jean-Claude. It’s a tough one.

L’Isloise VTT Rando

Isle Rando Depart.
With no races on, but a couple of races coming up I rode the 35km rando at Isle. The plan was to ride hard for training, but also maybe get a few pictures, and not take it too seriously. As the riders set off (see picture), I spy Jean-Claude Sansonnet from the Nantiat club hammering away at the front. Now Jean-Claude will be my main rival in the Vet 2 category at the Departmental and regional Championship races next spring. Although I’ve finished ahead of him a couple of times it’s always been dry. This was my chance to take a closer look at him, and see what he’s like in the wet. I shoved my camera in my back pocket and gave chase.

The parkland start was a bit frantic, and Jean-Claude was going really hard, but I managed to scramble onto his back wheel after about 10 minutes. We fired into a tricky singletrack section. Wet leaves, roots and rocks everywhere. Just what I was hoping for. Jean-Claude had the style of an ex-motorcrosser, and seemed unphased by whatever the trail threw at him. He got cross-rutted at one point, but sorted it out with a minimum of fuss. I was right on his wheel watching every move.

Back out onto the tarmac Jean-Claude looks over his shoulder to see who’s there, “Ah Monsieur Bennett”, he says. We spoken many times before, he knows me, he’s probably sussed me as well! Anyway, we exchange greetings and ride on together.

We are joined by a young lad in green on a Cannondale Headshock bike. We turn onto a climb, and the young lad attacks. I go after him, but he’s riding away. I’m far too hot (overdressed), I can’t do it! As soon as I crest the climb and can ride no-handed I whip my lid off, remove my skull cap and chest warmer, and undo the front of my jersey a little. A quick drink of water, and I give chase. The young lad is still in sight.

On the tarmac sections I’m holding my bars in the middle and riding time-trial style mashing the biggest gear my legs will turn. In the off-road sections I’m riding very very hard. Slowly, I’m getting back to the youngster. We’re into the woods again. I can see where the young lad goes. He knows I’m after him. Using every last cyclo-cross skill I ever learned I’m racing over the wet muddy rooty terrain like a man possesed. The youngster makes a couple of slips. Now I’m right on him. He’s offline into a deep muddy puddle and comes to a stop, I shoot by on the right.

Having retaken the lead I push on hard. There’s a couple of short rooty climbs, and with sheer determination, and a little luck I make them both. I hear the yougster unclip. I’m paying so much attention to what’s behind me that I dont see the wooden bridge in front of me until it’s to late. There’s wet rocks onto it, then the wet wooden bridge. It’s too late to slow down, I line myself up and pedal. I’m across it and gone.

I continue to ride ‘au bloc’, I just love racing along the chemins and trails. I pass the ravitalment points without stopping. With an hour and a half on my watch I’m looking for the finish. Can’t be far now as I’m into some traffic from riders doing the shorter routes. Along a valley side, then up , then back along the valley side. I can see back along the trail for what must be a good few minutes. No chasers in sight. Maybe they stopped at the food stop, I dunno. I ease up, and I’m home in 1hr 40mins. There’s hot coffee, sandwiches, and cake at the finish. Just what’s needed after a hard training session.

As I pack my bike into the car and wait for Carla to arrive (she did the 35km as well), it starts to rain. I reckon we’ve had the best part of the day.

Pain and Pleasure

With no races for a few weeks, but a couple of races before the end of the season, I’ve been training hard to try and hold some form………

The Pain – So, I’m out on a three hour ride with two hours done. I’ve been working hard, but now I’m spent. It’s a cold miserable day, and all of a sudden it feels like it’s a long way home. Why do I do this? What’s the point? Pushing and punishing myself in the ultimately futile pursuit of physical excellence in a minority sport. I don’t know, so I push on home to a hot shower.

The Pleasure – Two days later I’m out on a training ride with a bunch of local riders. Were moving fast along a rolling road through the beautiful French countryside. No one speaks as we bowl along, all working together as one. I’m floating, it’s hard, but it’s effortless. I’m just there, in the moment, it doesn’t get much better than this….. I’ve earned it! 🙂