Today I did the CVMBC - a race I did for the first time last year. I guess the short conclusion is that my main goal was to beat last year's time, which I did, by 7 minutes. I wasn't too impressed with this at the finish, but maybe I am being hard on myself. More later.
First of all I should say that the CVMBC is extremely well organised and the organisers should be congratulated for this. I've been to a lot of these events over the last 18 months, and this is among the best in terms of organisation, and also in value for money. For the entry fee (£15) you get proper marshalling (i.e. a marshall on every significant route point), a T-shirt and a goody bag with 3 SiS products in (probably worth a total of £3 alone in a typical shop). There is no electronic timing or internet registration, so that may save a lot of money compared to other events, but it doesn't really matter - the system they have is fine for these things - we're not olympic athletes after all. I've been on other events which cost £25 and had not even proper signs, never mind marshalls, no goody bag, no T-shirt, but they did have electronic timing and internet registration. Which option would you prefer? I know my answer.
Anyway, since I've been doing a lot of cycling in the last 12 months, and since I've got a new carbon frame hardtail (well, new this 12 months), I expected to be able to make a dent in my 2009 time of 2h51m (58th out of 345). I also decided beforehand that this time I would go down to the front with the 'big boys', mainly because the start of this race is a fairly long and steep cobbled road climb. The riders queue down an adjacent lane - last year I got stuck on this climb behind lots of people and spent the first section of the course weaving past people. So, this morning I was perfectly placed! On the right hand side (left bend first and second), three rows back from the front. There was some whisper of one the front guys being an international-class competitor. I knew I wouldn't see some of them except in this first 100 m before the bend, but hey, last year I didn't see them at all!
The wait was quite long, but the sun was out so I wasn't cold. Heart rate 105bpm. The whistle went, everyone set off. Literally 5 metres later, a massive pile up in front of me as (I think) someone tried to cross in front of others. Not good. I avoided the carnage, just, glad once again of my choice to ride mountain bikes in flat shoes. Nobody seemed to be hurt, just annoyed, so on I went.
The plan worked at least in the sense that I didn't have to pass people much. It should go without saying I think that those riders less fit and able than me would be behind me the whole course. That is why I guess it is good to be at the front at the start. People want to come past me? That's fine, but there weren't that many actually as I remember.
The first off-road bit is a descent to a river, and I remembered it as a possible danger zone as it was quite rutted and last year someone blasted past me and nearly took me out! Anyway, this year I think that track has been resurfaced to gravel, so no problems, except for the usual when riding fast on gravel. Sure enough, another casualty at the bottom of this descent - looked like a possible collar-bone, but people were attending, so OK.
The next danger point from my memory was in the quarry, a steep slope to go up and down - this was where I knew I must be a better technical rider this year, because it didn't cause me any trouble. Last year I had to get off and walk down it, which I now know was harder than riding! Confidence is everything :)
After that I had it in my head that there was nothing else to bother me, except keeping going and pushing for the time improvement. So it proved. The nasty climbs were all still there, but mostly where I remembered them to be. The steep farmer's field bit after Marsden again had me pushing, but me and everyone else!
It was quite hot and perhaps today I should've consumed more fluids on the way around. I had the same problem again with my bottle - namely that the holder seems to get bent and therefore doesn't hold the bottle in. After a few miles (and having lost it once) I stuck it in my jersey. Have to look at different design of holders. Maybe I'm bending it when get the bottle in and out, or maybe the vibrations of going over bumpy ground are doing it. I've lost 2 bottles recently because of this. And yes, I had replaced the holder :)
The climb up onto Wessenden Head was really beautiful today - lovely light. Also of course brought back memories of the Pennine Way which joins the track about half way up. That last bit up to the road is a real pain - you think you're there and then you're not. Even that time (third time I've done it) was tough.
But off the top of there, you know this course is beaten. It's down down down for a bit, then more tracks around Meltham, and on to Blackmoorfoot Reservoir. Really putting the power on now down into the valley.
After the last drink station (only stopped at one today) you know that you've got two nasty climbs to go and then you're at the end! They're both on road though (OK a little bit of track thrown in!) so not much to fear. Started passing a couple of people by this point - I wondered if that would happen today. Those heavy full-suss bikes finally taking their toll ;)
The final drop down to the finish is a pretty steep path, which I think has had new gravel put on it. I nearly lost it big time into the corner half-way down! What a story that would have been!! But between the bike, me and a bush, we managed to keep me upright. Confidence dented, the last 100m of that path was a bit nervous, but I made it :)
Time for this year - 2h44m - on exactly the same course as last year. Like I said at the top, that's 7 minutes faster than last year, but I was expecting more. Time to look a bit at the differences and reasons (excuses). The obvious excuse is, as I said yesterday, I've had a cold all week. Not a proper cold otherwise I wouldn't have gone, but a rattly cough. That must make some difference to my fitness I suppose. But let's break the course down:
First section, start to first drink station: last year, 53m32s, this year 49m10s. 4 minutes faster. I assume that is due to my start position and not getting stuck behind people. Also, maybe my peak output is higher. I spent most of this section this year trying to control myself! As in, heart rate too high, ease off, ease off. Maybe different attitude towards this race this year. Wanted to go faster, but maybe I already was overdoing it, as we'll see...
Second section up to second drink point: last year 37m56s, this year 34m38s. 3 minutes faster. OK now I'm starting to believe there's been an improvement!
Up to third drink station: last year 32m10s, this year 33m05s. Hmm, now I'm slowing down. This section is a fairly long and fast road descent and then the climb up to Wessenden Head. Didn't feel slower, but clearly it was.
Up to fourth drink station: last year 25m35s, this year 26m17s. Slower again. This is mostly downhill on road, one offroad descent, and level-ish tracks. This result sets me wondering about my tyres. Last year I was on Continental Race Kings. This year I'm on Schwalbe Rocket Rons. The Race Kings probably have less rolling resistance so will be faster on roads. For a fair comparison between my old and new bikes I probably should've done this race on the Race Kings. I did think about that beforehand, but my bike's been behaving so well that I really didn't want to mess with it.
Last section to finish: last year 22m04s, this year 20m51s. Faster. This section is mostly uphill apart from the last nasty bit.
I will put these slower bits down to i) cold, ii) tyres, iii) perhaps not drinking enough.
But maybe I'm being too hard on myself!
Last year my time for today would have seen me take 41st place instead of 58th. For this year I hope the results will be posted in the next few days. I will report back with the position! Looking around at the end, I may have finished in the 30s. Fingers crossed :)
Good course, good organisation, good weather. Legs a bit stiff now as I write this :)
I suppose on a positive note I should realise that doing 30 miles on my mountain bike is no longer a big deal. Bodes reasonably well for the Kielder 100 in September, if I get in...