Race Report. Chronomaster RR - A tribute to Richard James Taylor.

The first time I remember really meeting Rick was at a race in North Wales. On the start line it was absolutely pissing it down on the start line and I absolutely didn’t want to be racing in it. Rick made a comment about how this race was going to produce some great material for this blog. That was Rick all over, always looking on the bright side and totally immersed in the racing scene up in the North West. If I was writing about it of course he was going to be reading it. I didn’t know that when I first met him but over the last couple of seasons it’s become clear that it was totally in character. Rick was an ever present at races in the North West, and if he wasn’t racing he’d be holding a flag to stop traffic, or holding a can to toast the lifestyle that he clearly loved.

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On Friday night I was reading about his latest exploits in France, which involved riding an obscene distance over high mountains with a rucksack on his back. On Saturday night I was trying to process the fact that we would never ride or race with him again. Sunday morning and I’m trying to summon the motivation to race on a course that has Rick’s tyre tracks all over it.

 

Pedal dead hard was Rick’s mantra and it’s pretty much the standard answer for everyone on the start line who knew him when asked if they had struggled to turn out today. Not least Rick’s good friend and former teammate, Tom Hanlon, who alongside two of Rick’s current teammates has the honour of leading us out onto the circuit.

 

I’d normally write about the race here but I’d rather just share some of my memories of Rick. Firstly the guy could ride, really ride. I remember sitting on the hairpin of the Tameside circuit for the opening TT of the Manchester Wheelers 2-day in 2017. I’ve seen plenty of riders try and take that corner at Rick’s speed but I’ve never seen any of them remain on 2-wheels. It was like Rick’s bike was on rails as he totally ripped it, if I’d been competing he’d have taken 3 seconds on me in that corner alone. It’s credit to Rick that a lot of the memories I have of him are already in the pages of this blog, he’d never fail to give me something to write about in a race report. Like the time after Stage 2 of a double header of North Wales races, a brutal day in the crosswinds of Anglesey, when most of us were trying to find the strength just to drive home, Rick popped the boot of his car, revealing a big stash of cans, and started banging out the tunes. People normally tailgate before an NFL game, but for Rick after an amateur bike race was just as good an excuse. In a sport sometimes lacking in characters for all the talk of watts and power, Rick stood out as someone that put having a good time well above improving his FTP, and someone who knew you’d be better off if you did the same. Again it’s credit to Rick that despite being the only rider that I know who’d finish a race and start his recovery process with a Lambert & Butler, he’d still regularly kick all our asses. 

 

For all his love of a good time he was a 1st cat rider and was in the field for both the Time Trial and the Road Race at this year’s British Championships. Probably the only rider in the fields who spent the week camping out, barbecuing and just enjoying where life had taken him.

 

For all his skills Rick seemed to forever be suffering with a slow puncture so my tribute to him at this weekend’s race was to have my own midway through the race and have to get a lift back to HQ after a long walk with no shoes on. This is where I can’t quite compete with Rick. Adam Baines (Team Chronomaster) reminded me before the race that the last time he’d seen Rick racing on this circuit the dreaded slow puncture had struck him again, but it was slow enough that not only was he able to ride back to start-finish line, he was able to ride an extra few miles to the shop and back to grab some cans. 

RIP Richard James Taylor

“Pedal dead hard.”

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Race Report. Harrogate Nova Road Race: or Bang Bang

I’ve been dragged from two things for this race. My sickbed and my retirement. The latter has lasted all of 2 weeks since the last race, the one where I wasn’t in the breakaway and where I chose to ride around for half of the race chiding myself for it. Garmin don’t yet make a self flagellation device but when they do I’ll be punishing myself with it and uploading all the data to strava. It might make the “suffer score” more legitimate. My sickbed is something more recent that I’ve been torn from. So much more recent that it’s actually pretty current. I’ve been coughing up my vital organs all week, but with God’s mercy I’m now only producing litres of mucus from my nose. I’m not the best at clearing congestion during a race. When I spit, the rear end of the projectile normally stays attached to my bottom lip, causing the rest of it to wrap around my shoulder like a jaunty but disgusting scarf. This race is going to involve me blowing my nose so it’s in everyone’s best interest to just let me ride off the front so I can be revolting. 

 

One of the motivating factors for racing is that it’ll be the first time all season that I’ve raced with our teammate Matt, that and the team kit has just arrived and I can’t wait to see myself looking like Jack the Biscuit in all the photos. I bet I’m breathtaking. 

 Breathtaking. Yup.

Breathtaking. Yup.

 

The Van’s a crowded place with 3 of us in it. It empties briefly by the side of a field, somewhere in North Yorkshire, so that Phil can talk Matt through how to be pro. Matt’s 18 so he’s never been told when to shit in a field by a former squaddie, until now. Matt handles it like a pro but Phil makes the mistake of going in a field full of young cows. Young curious cows. Young curious hungry cows who think Phil has come to feed them and quickly surround him. If this turns nasty Phil’s not going to be able to get away very quickly, what with his pants around his ankles.

 

Today is the Harrogate Nova Road Race and the field is about the strongest I’ve seen all season. I should be looking forward to this race as it is notoriously hard, and has a couple of bits that go quite a lot uphill. Sadly, having been broken out of my retirement home, and suffering with what I think might be the plague, my enthusiasm is at about the same level as my form, which in turn is about at the same level as one of those weird fish that have all the lights in them. I’m trying to say it’s low.

 

During the warm up I try to commune with my body to understand how it’s feeling. It’s not really got much to say and what it does say is pretty weird and just leaves me even more confused. It doesn’t tell me not to race but neither does it tell me how it’s going to treat me if I do.

 

A couple of laps in and the signals are mixed. At the top of the climb I’m always with the front group, but whenever something requires actual power, I drop back down the bunch. At some point I reach Matt to ask him what’s going on in the race. He tells me that a break’s gone and that they have about a minute on us. This week I’m not bothered. This week we turn a corner and see that they’re about 10 seconds away, and coming back.

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Matt and Phil, my teammates, are both looking strong in the bunch, Matt proves it by chopping me through a corner, chopping me again on something that’s not really a corner, and then almost knocking me off my bike when he takes a toot from his bidon. All this happens in the space of about 3 or 4 minutes. I’ve never felt so on edge since that time when we took one of those legal highs which have all the actual drugs removed and replaced with caffeine. 

 One of the times when I was sort of near the front of the race.

One of the times when I was sort of near the front of the race.

I don’t know how it happens but Phil and Matt both get dropped around two thirds of the way into the race. The next time I see Matt he’s by the side of the road trying to hand me a gel. That would be good teammate behaviour if we weren’t all smashing into the last climb on the way to the sprint. To be fair to Matt, he’s not the only one who doesn’t know that the race is about to end. One of the Prologue riders is going up and down the bunch asking anyone he knows whether we’re on the final lap or not. “Will someone just tell him that this is the last bloody lap” is something I might have said.

 

The sprint is messy. I follow Dave from Chorlton Velo who will probably be among the points. I will to if I can ride his wheel, but unfortunately his wheel ends up in the grass. I have to brake and lose a few places, but Dave finds some clear road and survives. I’m forced to brake twice more whilst trying to unleash my sprint. Two activities that are mutually exclusive which is proved by the fact that by the time I’m up to speed, riders are crossing the line. It’s amazing how you can sprint for seemingly an age when there’s a chance for a good position, but as soon as that chance evaporates, so does your ability to keep putting the power down. I reassure myself that this is the case as I almost grind to a halt in the final 50 meters. Between here and the finish line I’ve got plenty of time to think about retiring again.

 

On the way home I introduce Phil and Matt to a Bang Bang. Not what you think or secretly hope it is. A Bang Bang is where you go out to a restaurant for food and then go straight to another one. We do it with McDonalds and Burger King, but just for cokes. We’re athletes after all.

 

Thanks to Chris Kendall for the ace photos.

And, as always, thanks to Jamie and High Peak Cycles for supporting the team.

 

Race Report. Peter Taylor Memorial: or Over The Top

If you want a clue as to the average age of our team for the 2018 Peter Taylor Memorial Road Race, then the fact that the 2 films we talked about on the way to the race were Tango & Cash and Over The Top. If you’re too young to have seen either of them then I’ll give you a brief synopsis. In Over The Top, Sylvester Stallone wins at arm wrestling by doing this thing where he wiggles his fingers, and in Tango & Cash, Sylvester Stallone drives a custom truck and does a rad dirt jump.

 

I’m motivated for this race because it’s got a significant climb in it. Not even the commissaire reading us the riot act before the race does anything to dampen my enthusiasm. He tells us that the police will be watching our every move and implies that at the first sign of a discarded gel wrapper, they’ll ban all bike racing in the whole of East Yorkshire. I expect this is the same briefing given at the start of the Tour De Yorkshire. Part of me wishes they would ban cycling here, just so that I could write a screenplay for the cycling version of Footloose. I’d get Kevin Bacon to play a struggling fourth cat who always lists the myriad reasons why his race went wrong in the name of his rides on Strava. 

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Incidentally one of the best titles for this ride on Strava is 2 of the worst races I've ever ridden in one week. Cheers to all the chodes who don't have the capacity to ride their own race without following my wheel. You’re right mate, everyone should just let you win.

 

For all it’s having a climb in it, this race is better characterised by the narrow country lanes it goes down. Looking down the line as the gravel and dust is kicked up, you could be forgiven for thinking that this race is an epic. For Jimmy who wins solo after dropping his breakaway companion, that might be true, but for the rest of us it’s just a stodgy mess. It’s cycling porridge.

 

I was expecting the hill to thin things out, to add more water to the porridge, but there’s still a decent sized group of maybe 30 riders going into the last couple of laps. Ryan from THRE Datawolves turns to me in the bunch and expresses his surprise that so many of the bigger lads are still in the bunch. I think about moaning about it in the title when I upload the ride to Strava but I’m desperate to prove to you that I’m better than that.

 

On the last lap and we catch half of the breakaway but the winner is already having his recovery drink having crossed the line well over a minute ahead of us. The rest of us blast up the hill, fighting for a decent position in the sprint that will open up as we hit the false flat at the top.

I wiggle my fingers which means I’m about to do something really special and is a reference to that bit in paragraph one where I talked about Over The Top starring Sylvester Stallone. It’s a brilliant literary technique which is far more effective than my sprinting. 

 

In order to not get boxed in I burst out of the line on the right hand side and can see clear road ahead of me. Unfortunately that clear road also contains quite a lot of air that I’m supposed to move out of the way. Like a plastic bag in a storm I am vanquished by the malevolent, invisible foe that is the Earth’s atmosphere. I end up in the points but one more rider in front of me and I’d have finished in the point, singular. 

 

On the way home we recce the route for the Huddersfield Star Wheelers Evening Road Race. Everyone really enjoys hearing for the millionth time about the day that I won solo on this course. If you’re interested in hearing the story and having me take you, your Institute, Guild or Fellowship on a tour of the roads, then I’m currently taking group bookings for summer 2021.

Thanks as always to Jamie and High Peak Cycles for supporting the team.

 

 

 

Race Report. East Lancs Road Race: or Bare Ankles of Shame

If you’re going to turn up to a race and find out that you’ve forgot to pack your socks, you really don’t want it to be anywhere in the North West. Elsewhere you’ll probably come away from the race having maybe been caught in some grainy mobile phone images. If you’re racing in the North West then your kit misdemeanour will inevitably be captured in high resolution by Ellen Isherwood.

 

Today I’m racing in the North West.

 

Today I’ve forgotten my socks.

 

It’s not like I’ve got no socks on, I’ve got a perfectly functional pair of ankle socks that look pretty dope with trainers and shorts. With cycling shoes and bibs I look like a fucking triathlete. 

 

Amazingly I make it to about the halfway stage of the race when there are only around 25 riders left in the bunch before my faux-pas is pointed out by Ryan from THRE Datawolves. I thank him for pointing out how much of a prick I look. It’s made worse by the fact that Ryan’s pristine white socks are firmly within the Goldilocks band. Once again, fuck my life.

 

Before we got to this point, some of us were in a bike race. I say some of us because most of the peloton have disappeared after the first climb. We’re on the Bashall Eaves (long) course and when I raced here last I did a couple of big turns up the hill when I was working for my teammate. It helped reduce the bunch to 14 riders by the end of the race. I’m not sure if the Crimson Brother riders have been reading this blog but they decide to implement the same tactic on the first lap. All three of them hit the front and by the time we get chance to take a breath and have a look around, half the riders have been dropped.

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We lose a couple more just before we hit the climb for a second time, when a crash takes a few out. I choose to avoid it and head straight for a hedge until a gap opens up that I can just about safely fit my bike through.

 

Right now I want to talk about Hayden Allen from THRE Datawolves. I want to talk about him because he went off the front on the first lap, got caught somewhere on the second lap, and then went off the front again. If you’ve never met Hayden, that’s because he’s probably off the front.

He manages to do this for the entire race, claiming 3 of the primes and taking the win. I’d tell you more about what he got up to but he was off the fucking front.

 Off the front

Off the front

 

I always love racing on the long Bashall Eaves course. It’s got everything including climbs, descents, sweeping narrow bends, and a stretch of course that is only marginally better than the surface of the moon. By the final lap I’ve finally worked out the best way through it. It involves almost stopping my bike and then plotting a line that closely resembles a very fancy signature. It’s not fast or pretty but it works.

 

Today might be the hottest day of the year and so I’ve got two full bottles on my bike. Even on a cold day it’s necessary to take two bottles on this course as you will inevitably drop one of them. I lose my first on lap one when I hit a pothole as I’m trying to put it back in its cage. For the rest of the race I have to ration myself to two small sips per lap. I look forward to urinating again in a couple of days time.

 My sock shame

My sock shame

 

Heading into the final lap, Hayden is caught and then buggers off the front again. This time with a couple of pals. One of them is a rider from Crimson Brother. I don’t know what went wrong for him, but the next time we see him he’s throwing his bike into a bush. He’s not just tossing it aside, this is a proper over the head bodyslam. Wiggins and Dumoulin have done similar things but they don’t have to take their bikes into the shop on Monday morning and pay to get them fixed.

 

At various points in the race the road has been blocked by sheep, tractors, and cars heading the opposite way over narrow bridges. Still riders seem willing to risk their lives for the sake of a couple of extra points as we get to the final kilometres. There are enough races named after cyclists who have been killed that you wonder why riders still take blind bends on the wrong side of the road.

 

It makes little difference as the race bunches together once again on the final uphill before the sprint. I try to go from back to front by following Dave from Chorlton Velo. He makes it around the bunch but the door is slammed shut before I can scrape through. I’m way too far back when the sprint really starts but I go past enough riders to finish 12th. After pointing out my shit socks, Ryan takes 2nd to make it a 1-2 for the Datawolves.

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Later that afternoon I’m staring at high resolution images of my bare ankles

 

Race Report. Wold Top Actif Road Race: or Last Chopper Out Of Saigon

A bike race is kind of like a puzzle. Often there are numerous ways to solve it, sometimes there is only 1. It’s dependent on the course and the riders you are up against. Some of the solutions are beautifully designed, think about Alberto Contador’s attack on the Vuelta Stage to Fuente De, others are totally inelegant, nothing more than hacks. I think I found the solution to the Wold Top Actif Road Race and it was firmly in the latter camp. It was the cycling equivalent of taking all the stickers off a rubik’s cube and then putting them back on so that each of it’s 6 faces is just one colour.

 

I’m riding solo today, without my erstwhile companion and teammate Phil. What the journey to Beverley lacks in chat is made up for in the lack of time spent waiting for Phil to do a shit at a service station/in a lay-by/in my house (delete as appropriate), or all three. Phil and I share a mutually destructive relationship. There are times when one or both of us doesn’t feel like racing, but as long as we’re both signed up, the momentum is unstoppable, and we will inevitably end up on the start line. We’re the Sid to each others’ Nancy. Today I don’t feel like racing, that’s probably mostly down to the fact that heavy rain is forecast in the Hull area for most of the morning. One time I was in Tesco and I’d been soaked through by the rain. My wet hands weakened the paper bag that I was shovelling chocolate raisins into causing the bottom to give way and a tide of chocolate-y ovals to spread all over the floor. Riding in the rain I’m about as effective as that bag.

 

Still, I’m here, parked up in a field, studying the demeanour of 59 other riders. Despite the fact that I’ve got a lot of experience racing my bike, and I’ve even won a couple of races, there’s something about looking around the riders getting set up to race that intimidates me. I think it still reminds me of that first time that you turn up to a road race, where everyone else looks like a pro, and you really don’t belong here. Perhaps other riders think about me like that, though probably not when I’m emptying out the contents of my bag, desperately trying to find my race licence.

 

Thankfully the rain has stayed away and the race starts for me as most races do, I go from on the rear bumper of the lead car to right at the back of the bunch, petrified by the risks some riders are taking to move up a few places. Here at the back of the group there is always a chance you’ll get caught out and dropped before the race has even completed a lap, and there are some riders alongside me who I certainly never see again. Luckily I know I can spend a bit more energy in order to make up any gaps, perhaps I am now one of those guys that I used to think looked so pro after all.

 

At the end of the race mywindsock.com will tell me that we’ve been riding into a headwind for 61% of the time. I still struggle to work out how this is possible in a course that begins and ends at the same point. I haven’t looked but I wonder if we’ve also managed to gain more altitude than we’ve lost. Perhaps we’re racing on a course designed by Escher.

 

The 61% of the time that we’re racing into a headwind consists mostly of an interminable climb that covers the back half of the course. The gradient never gets more than about 3%, but it’s exposed and relentlessly straight and that combination makes it one of the most demoralising stretches of road in Britain. Inevitably this is where the attacks happen. I’ve spoken about how in the rain I’m as effective as a wet paper bag. In the wind I’m as effective as a dry paper bag and yet again chocolate raisins will be spilled all over the floor of Tesco.

 

I’m strong enough to move up in this tough section, all the while hoping that the split will occur on my wheel. I’m not moved up enough when the days break goes on around lap 4 of the 8. There are more than 10 riders in the break and by the time they’ve got around 40 seconds, the bunch starts thinking about things that they’d rather be doing than riding into this pissing wind. This is shit or bust time if I want anything out of the race. I sprint off the front with my sights set on a rider who is flailing in no man’s land. No one reacts and I’m pulling away from the bunch. I catch the rider in front but he is unable to contribute to what I thought would be our chase, but what turns out to be my chase. Several minutes in and I’m within about 15 seconds of the break but I’m so far into the red that yellow is only a distant memory to me. Another rider bridges over and my hope grows but it’s clear to me that we’re not going to have enough to catch a group of riders who are clearly working well together. I sit up seconds before I blow up. I’m going to let the peloton catch me and then I’m going to jack this race in. We’ve let all the points go up the road so we might as well get back home to our families.

 

Out of the corner of my eye I can see another two riders motoring across to me, well ahead of the bunch. I realise that if I can conserve some energy I’ll have the chance to jump on their wheel. Fuck knows what the result will be but it’ll be better than going home to mow the lawn.

 

I latch on and do a total of no turns for the first few minutes, before I start to do token turns, in the hope that I’ll eventually be able to do proper ones. That happens a few kilometres later when we pick up the rider who I left on his own to continue chasing the break.

 

We’re working well, powered by two very strong and much fresher riders. Back on to the interminable headwind, heartbreaking section, and we’re closing in on the break. By the end of the section we’ve caught them. I try to count how many of us are here. The number varies between 13 and 16 because a few riders are sitting on without doing any turns. A group of 16 fills me with dread as I don’t want to be the only one who misses out on getting any points.

 

For 3 laps we cooperate fairly well and there is no sign of the bunch at all. It’s obvious that the win will be contested amongst us. I’ve burned so many matches that I can only hope we get as close to the finish as possible before deciding to kick the shit out of each other. The final lap attacks are inevitable and they come at the worst possible time for me. I’ve just done a turn on the front, into that fucking headwind, when a big attack is launched. 3 riders get a gap and I can only hope to latch onto the final wheel in the group. I make it, like a soldier hanging onto the landing gear of the final helicopter out of Saigon. We eventually get organised enough to start shutting the gap to the front three but by the final corner I’m absolutely gassed and I know I have nothing left for the sprint. I let a small gap go, one that becomes a gaping hole, and I roll in at the back of the group to take 12th. Somewhere along the line we must have dropped a couple of riders but I have no idea when or where that happened.

 

I didn’t win but I got points on the board and confirmation that to get anything out of a race you have to be prepared to gamble and go all in

 

Thanks again to Jamie at High Peak Cycles for supporting the team.

And thanks to Wold Top Brewery and Wold Top Actif Race Team for putting on a great event.