Monday, 3 October 2011

Random rides

There's a reason I love mountain biking. The sheer joy of riding somewhere you've never been before and discovering new places. Talking to my uncles last week on my birthday, they mentioned a good route to take. Inspired by recent issues of MBUK magazine urging us to make the most of the remaining sunlight after work, I decided to find out just exactly what it was they had been talking about. The best thing about this is it's on the route I take to work, or at least the turn off for it is. Don't get too excited; it's not an exotic destination. It's just Spennymoor woods! As Rebecca is working a late shift tonight, I had no rush to get back home so I thought whilst the weather is good (or at least half decent) before the winter takes hold, I'd go for it. See where I end up. When I eventually found the right path to take, it was great. Single track through the trees, roots to hop over, autumnal coloured leaves falling down and covering the path made it a visual delight. The bike was rolling pretty fast and the adrenaline was building as every unknown corner came faster into view. The good thing about doing stuff like this is not knowing where you're going. It makes it an adventure! I came to a fork in the path, just after very narrowly avoiding hitting a little busted stone bridge. The left went up; the right down. So I went down - descending is much more fun right?! Something didn't feel right on the way down and a quick glance at the front tyre made it obvious - I had a puncture. So now I started to feel a bit nervous. A puncture already, don't know where I am, have I got all the right equipment to fix it? Turns out I had remembered to pack all the tools and a spare tube back into my larger pack for the weekly commute. Being able to repair the bike on the trail is a satisfying feeling. When the wheel was sorted and bike upright, I set off again, twisting and turning and gaining speed until I came to the River Wear. There was a fork again: left was the way I wanted to go but I could see a group of youths on the riverbank with a fire burning. That made me feel uneasy, so I went right. The trail here was quite technical, twisty and about 10-12 feet up off the river. Some sections were precariously close to the edge - I didn't fancy rolling off there in to the river. I'd have definitely frightened the massive swan feeding in the middle of the river. It was huge, at first glance I thought it was a pedalo! (Not really, just a joke). Eventually I came to a path which was made from bricks(!) and was quite the chore getting up to the top. By now I had absolutely no idea where I was, and was thankful of my lights as the dark was coming pretty fast. At the top of the odd-brick road there was a village I've never seen before at all. Turns out this was Tudhoe Village and at last I found my bearings. Shame that after about an hour of riding I was back at work! Still, at least I knew the way back form here along the lines. Tired form an early start and full day at work, really hungry, the thoughts of a tasty banana and a hot shower powered my legs home. It really is exciting to just head off and find new places to ride.I've been on some that were just awful and a waste of time, but it's safe to say I'll be heading back to Spenny Woods for some more exploring! Here's the map.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Belgians and big rings (on their mountain bikes)

Yesterday Sam and I went to Dalby forest to see.some of.the UCI.mountain biking world cup. It's a 3 day event that starts on Friday night with a street race around Pickering town centre, taking in tight alleys, down stone steps and sprints. 4 riders are set off at once; the first 2 get seeded whilst the last 2 are eliminated, hence the name Pro Eliminator! This is a unique way of seeding the main professional race that takes place on Sunday.
The actual world cup stage is set in the forest and is 6KM long, multiplied by 5 laps. It has been redesigned this year and looked pretty gruelling in places. The first point we watched the U23 men's race was at Worry Gill. This consisted of a climb into a wooded area with what looked like a near vertical drop (the photo shows a Belgian rider taking on the drop) into the gulley. This creates a bottleneck as only one rider can get down at one time. There was another, slightly longer, way around that avoided the drop. Although less technical, the advantage was that the riders could gain places/time by not getting stuck in the bottleneck. After heading down the gulley there was a climb back to where the spectators were gathered to a short, rocky, technical climb. Again there were 2 routes; one easy to avoid the bottleneck. A lot of the riders had to just get off and run wither their bikes up due to congestion. One German rider made it up without doing so and punched the air at the top in celebration - a personal victory perhaps?

The next point to watch was a "must-see" according to the brochure; Medusa's Drop. The name suggests some terrifying descent into Hell but wasn't nearly so bad. It was steep, with plenty of tight switch-backs in between. It finished with a pretty rapid straight down descent into the rider's feed station. Apparently the climb to the top of this descent was exceptionally tough, so we headed off to see how bad it was. There were no paths to this point so a little bit of cross-country traversing was required, as was running on the track for a couple hundred meters.
The pain on the faces of the riders coming up here was unbelievable, as it was the last lap and all still pushing to their limits. Sam occasionally offered encouragement, to which there was no reply. In fact, they were so tired, that when one USA rider wanted to overtake his opponent, he could barely get the word "right" out (the side he was coming past on). We found this quite amusing but highlighted exactly how difficult it was.
This is where the title of this post comes in. Every single.member of the Belgian team came up this hill on the big ring of their crank. Others did too, but they were in the minority. Only one Belgian didn't come up on the big ring and this was because his bike was broken. It looked like the rear mech had snapped; presumably from trying to power up the hill in one of the hardest gears!

Sam and I talked about how we would find the course. On foot as spectators we didn't see anything we hadn't tackled before. On our bikes, it might be a different matter. It was a shame to miss out on the Dalby Dare this year. This is 1 lap of the world cup route plus another 19KM of other forest routes. That way we could have really tested ourselves. Big ring up to Medusa's Drop? Maybe next year!


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