Tuesday, 15 July 2008

France encore

Well you may or may not have noticed that I didn’t write a blog last week, if you did then well done, if you didn’t then you aren’t paying enough attention. Anyway I decided to take a rest week for various reasons, mainly because there wasn’t much to write about. After my nationals race I planned to take a rest week, so what did I do? Went out training, that’s what. Mainly due to boredom and having nothing else to do, I ended up doing quite a lot when the weather was nice although nothing too intense. But on the weekend my relaxation began, first with some drinking of my favourite alcoholic beverage in the world, Bathams, with some friends. Then on the Saturday evening it was down to my auntie and uncles, who were having a big 25th wedding anniversary party....with a free bar. The best ale on tap was Spitfire, so many a pint of this was drunk to while the night away, many awesome dances took place and much buffet food was stuffed down.

On returning home I didn’t ride much due to bad weather and getting ready to go back, although I managed to sneak in a quick couple of hours. Unfortunately on the day I returned back to France our dog, Poppy, had to be let go after a tumour was found on her liver. This hit all of us pretty hard, and so it should have as we had all grown up with her around. It made my departure even more depressing although my family knew they’d be seeing me again soon when they come to visit for a couple of weeks later on in the month. We got back without a hitch and the weather was instantly blazing, be it only for a day. The next day we went out for a leg loosener which was great for the first half, but as the ride progressed we found ourselves moving the direction of a rather large, rather dark cloud. This happily dumped its contents on us all in one go with some pretty big rain drops. Fortunately it was still pretty warm and the rain was actually rather refreshing. We then got a nice longer ride in with a nice big hill to prepare for our first race back on Bastille Day.

This race was to be a particularly hilly affair with two climbs of 5km plus. Obviously being a climber, (6’4”(possibly more now I haven’t measured myself for a while)) I didn’t mind (that’s a joke by the way, although you might not have realised because I broke the sentence up so much with other sentences in brackets.). After not having raced for two weeks, I really didn’t know what to expect. I had done that training after the nationals, but however hard you go, training isn’t racing. I also felt like I was in a bit of a trough during the rides previous, I felt fit but not fast.

But during the first part of the race I felt good, I sat in until it went uphill and was able to follow the accelerations on the smaller earlier hill closing gaps that had been left with a smile on my face. I followed a few moves and went on my own a couple of times but nothing came of it. We then got towards the first big climb of the day, it rose steadily for a long time and here a few attacks were made that caused my legs to hurt. It turned onto the main climb and I was ok and near the front although my legs were beginning to hurt. I seem to have a problem with hills where I can’t see the top while racing, I lose my will to hurt myself more as I know it will just lead to even more pain. This is something that hit me again going up the climb and I started to slip backwards, the trend continued until about 1km from the top where a group caught me and let me stay on the front. Just before the top I put in an effort to get the speed going again to try and start catching everyone else and ended jumping away, catching the lead group with some others including Tom about 5km before the chase group. Going backwards made me start to doubt what I had in the tank, I held in easily enough but things were starting to hot up and I was beginning to cool down.

We then got onto the 2nd big climb which wasn’t too steep at all for the first few kilometres, but it was steep enough. Immediately some attacks came and I managed to hold onto the initial ones but was too far back if things really decided to kick off. When they did I realised I was too far back and was one of the last to miss the front group, but my legs thanked me for it. I was one of the best going up the climbs in the chase group which doesn’t count for anything, but I felt that with some racing in my legs I should have stayed with the front group. We ended up taking it easy to the finish, where put in an effort at the front. I wouldn’t have called it a sprint as I never got out the saddle, I just got slowly faster although I forgot where the finish was a lost a couple of even more minor placings, not that it really mattered at this point. So it turned out I couldn’t rob the French of another win on quatorze juillet, but one of the guys from the team managed to get 2nd so my poor turnout was largely ignored, luckily.Next Friday evening we have a local crit, very local

in fact, it’s in Haguenau. So the team will be very motivated for the win, in fact I’m sure that if we don’t win they’ll be a few words for us all afterwards...good times.

Until next time,

До Встречи

Obituary to Poppy (affectionately known as “poppydog”)

So you can know why she was the greatest.

Poppy was first picked up from a rescue home back in early 2000, she was chosen because she was the only one that rolled over when my family went to stroke her. They named her while driving past a field full of poppies. For me she was a surprise as I was away on a school trip to Germany. She was a wired haired terrier and quite small.

At first all she wanted to do was run away and, as we later learned, eat other animals. It was because of this that all walks were to be taken in the dead of night or in remote locations. Despite this she had a great temperament around people with a great personality that everyone enjoyed. She liked playing tug of war with her toys, which unless were indestructible, she usually chewed up into small pieces. During these tug of war games she would hold on for all she was worth and you could lift her off the ground and swing her round she was so determined. She also enjoyed sitting on the upstairs window ledge and barking at any dog that came past in what was my brothers, then mine and what is now my younger brother’s room.

One of her less appreciated habits was relieving herself on the same piece of carpet, but her brown eyes stopped you from holding any grudges. She grew up with all four of the Carr children and was there when I decided to start cycling at the age of 16. Many of the riders in and around the west midlands will have seen her there with my dad during my races wandering round. She has done the occasional lap of Darley Moor and Castle Combe (quite a distance).

On 99.9% of her walks she was taken by my dad who occasionally complained that no one else wanted to do it, but secretly I think he enjoyed the exercise he took with poppy.

In her later life she got a bit slower and she couldn’t jump and catch birds anymore, she also appreciated sleep more especially after an epic walk and it was nice to watch her relax.

She was always there waiting for some fuss, never holding grudges and never passing judgement.

Unfortunately all great things must come to an end and on the 9/7/08 after over a week of being very ill, during intrusive surgery the vets found a huge tumour on her liver and took the decision she would be more comfortable staying asleep.

She leaves behind one very sad family, an assortment of chewed up toys and many fond memories.

Rest in Peace Poppydog, you will be sorely missed.

Pictures of poppy

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

The Nationals

After catching up with everyone back in the UK I was soon racing again as the days seemed to go quicker. I decided to partake in my local road race league on the Thursdays night to get myself warmed up for the weekend’s national road race. Unfortunately it was quite cold and decidedly wet when we got there but I decided to forge ahead and race. The South Staffs and Shropshire Road Race League (SSSCRRL) is great handicap race series that I’ve done all three seasons I’ve raced for and is great for beginners looking to start up racing, to seasoned pro’s who want a bit of training. On this particular evening there weren’t many of the big boys riding as they were either put off by the weather or up north doing the Otley Criterium. This suited me fine and I ended up a happy winner of the short race, taking full advantage of finishing on my own by pulling off a hardcore victory salute. The win was satisfying and gave me a little bit of confidence for the big challenge of the weekend and what a challenge it would be.

We drove down on the Friday evening and I stopped with my brother who lives York while my parents stayed in a B&B. On the Saturday I met up with Tom to ride the two circuits the race would incorporate. They were grim, constantly up and down sapping the legs with the wind always taking its toll. I had visions of riders in small groups grovelling round in the hope of finishing after riding round both the circuits and wasn’t looking forward to the next day...especially as my legs hurt and I hadn’t even started racing yet. I watched the women go through for their first lap and then headed back to rest and eat. We couldn’t decide what to eat as no one could be bothered to prepare anything, so we ended up ordering Chinese take away. Not Ideal to prepare for a 200km race the next day but certainly tasty. I ate as much fried rice and soft noodles as I could in the hope that they might at least have a few carbohydrates in them, if they didn’t, I also enjoyed the chopped chilli beef and chicken and the sample of chicken chow mein.

The next day was the race I had come back to do, the national champs, I was looking forward to riding with the well known pro’s but dreading the pain I knew I would have to experience in order to keep up with them for anything like a respectable time. I was planning to try and finish and in order to do this I would have to save as much energy as possible and sit-in to the max not showing my face at the front once. At the start it was strange seeing all the riders I had read so much about over the past few years, David Millar, Mark Cavendish, Roger Hammond and Jeremy Hunt to name a few. I felt pretty small, but caught up with a few riders I hadn’t seen for a while on the ride to Duncombe Park. The weather was initially pretty chilly but by the start wasn’t too bad and I was hoping it would hold out like this so the day wouldn’t be made any worse, if that was at all possible. We were soon off and away racing and I was happily sticking to the plan of sitting in for all I was worth. I watched small groups chip off the front that were instantly brought back by a big attack by one of the well known riders. This happened many times as we moved onto the first of the two circuits and I was well positioned to see all of it being in and around the front (one of the things I’ve learned from racing in France is how to ride in 120+ riders bunches).

The circuits seemed a lot easier sat in the large fast moving bunch and I was starting to get a little excited by being next to the big names. I started to get involved in some of the moves, following the occasionally counter but never initiating my own attack. I started to think that maybe what I was doing wasn’t going to help me in the long run but I couldn’t help myself. Then, after the first lull in pace for a while I followed a soft move by Jonny McEvoy, thinking that I might as well make the effort to go now as I would have to make it later if I didn’t...It was the start of a long day. We ended up getting something of a gap and looked at each other deciding just to take it easy as the two of us weren’t going to ride away any time soon. We kept going for a couple of miles until we got to the sharp climb lined by spectators, here Tom Southam (twice second in this very race) caught us and we started to ride a little quicker. The bunch obviously weren’t interested and we quickly opened up a 50 second gap on them. We caught and dropped Ian Wilkinson who had already been away and had a terribly pained look on his face. After a lap of freedom we were finally caught by a small group that had come across including Matt Stephens (a former winner) and Ben Greenwood (former U23 winner). This added some much needed fire power and the pace instantly lifted to something verging on painful, although we struggled to get organised. Then, a few miles later, Rob Hayles (Olympic medallist) rode past...hmmmm...where’d he come from. A few moments later, Dean Downing (Legend) rode past...oh dear. Following him was Dan Lloyd (second last year)...s*%t. As well as these were Peter Kennaugh (junior winner last year) and Kieran Page (Pezula Pro)... things just got a lot more painful.

After the initial shock of realising exactly who I was riding with we started to get down to some proper riding...this proved to be hard. The through and off we were doing was steady but fast, a pace you can just about hold on the limit of comfortable. But this was interspersed with lots of short sharp hills that made things even harder. Luckily I could cope with it and started to get time checks...we were pulling away from the bunch. By this point we moved onto the second circuit, this had two long drags that occasionally got steeper and were particularly hard, but we were still pulling away and at one point had just under four minutes on the peloton. It also had a couple of fast downhill sections that me and Tom had joked about the speed Rob Hayles would be powering along them the following day. Well now I was there on Rob Hayles’ wheel and Jesus did he go fast! I was hoping the downhill would give me a few moments of very necessary respite, but no, this wasn’t the case. He must have been powering along at near on 50 mph as I was looking for more gears to push before realising I was already in 53x11. It hurt so much; Dan Lloyd had to push me so I held the wheel. Dean Downing then rode past jovially laughing “He loves it doesn’t he!” How was he laughing?! I was nearly in tears! We continued to tap through and off round this circuit of which we were meant to do 4 laps, but things were starting to get painful. I was struggling to do my turns up the hills and going 100% at times to close small gaps, we were getting towards the 100 mile mark, the longest race distance I’ve done, I’d been away for nearly 75 miles and the turd was about to hit the fan.

The first attacks started on the flat section just before the smaller drag on the 3rd of 4 laps, the pace was furious as I watched the front riders making it so much harder. I was holding it for a while but about 2 metres off the wheel before finally getting back. Then it went again, things got tough, a gap was left somewhere and suddenly four of us had been gapped. I knew it was going to happen sometime or other, but it’s always disappointing when it does. Three of us carried on riding a little bit but we quickly lost time and were eventually caught by the bunch being led by David Millar. I rode in here for a little bit, but I was in serious trouble. As soon as we got to the main long drag I went out the back of the front peloton, crawled my way through the feed zone probably looking like a commuter riding up Alpe d’huez, was caught by the second peloton, immediately went out the back of this group and settled riding with a few people happy to just to get to the HQ.

By this point it had started to rain and any thoughts I had of attempting to finish were literally washed away. I met my parents driving the opposite direction, got in, drove back to the HQ, showered and waited for some results. It turned out that 5 of the break had managed to stay away, with Rob Hayles taking the win. The rest of the original break had popped the next time round and apparently gone backwards in a not to dissimilar way to me.

At the finish I was pleased that I had got in the Dominating break of the day, but even though I knew I had given it 100% and couldn’t have done much, if any, more, I still felt a pang of disappointment when I heard some of the break had stayed away for the win. But there aren’t many riders that can say that they’ve held a three and a half minute gap over a peloton including David Millar, Roger Hammond, Mark Cavendish, Jeremy Hunt and Ian Stannard amongst others. I can be pleased to look back on that.

Until next time,