I really wanted to write this post in the middle of last week, when I was at my lowest ebb, but as per usual my instincts overrode any negative self-indulgence and forced me to get through the weekend as I had a funny feeling I would have some positive self-indulgence to write home about instead.
But let’s rewind a couple of weekends.
My racing season started with a 200 km off-road gravel event/race. It’s not a race, apart from the top 20 fastest get a prize. And it’s timed. But then you are set off in waves like in a Sportive. Me confused (easily done). Whatever it is, I decided to enter it for a number of reasons. One; I feel I needed a long day in the saddle. Two; it’s a proper challenge, both mentally and physically. And three; I had coerced a number of my coached clients to enter it – and as I you know, I like to practice what I preach.
And so the Dirty Reiver was a grand day out. Great weather, great to catch up with my Team JMC buddies and great event. What wasn’t so great were my guts. The Jedburgh chippie from the night before reminded me to take it easy, which was the plan, but when Keith Forsyth goes out of the traps like he’s been shot out of a gun, it’s very hard not to be tempted to get the race face on.
But it isn’t a race I told myself, so settle down and stick to the plan (you silly sausage Entwistle).
I got to the first feed station pleased there were more “facilities” than a table full of carbohydrate. That said, I stayed a little longer than planned as I decided with a National TT the next day, fasted riding for today was off the cards. I was coaxed back on to the bike, when a familiar accent in Team JMC kit shouted “Come on Jon or you’ll just get fat!”. And so for 20km I rode with fellow JMC teammate Jason Miles, chewing the fat I was trying to burn (now that the chippie supper was out of the way and I was beginning to feel better) until his back tyre went flat (again) and for the next 130km I rode basically on my own.
And it was mentally tough. Long drags, longer views, but my mind wasn’t really in the groove and I found myself stuck in one gear, albeit a very efficient aerobic one. So I devised a new strategy at the half way point, to eat two Haribo every 5km. And from that point the ride started to accelerate and I was really enjoying it. But the course was sketchy, because it had quite a bit of yes, you guessed it, gravel. I decided to overinflate my tyres prior to the event as I’d suffered a recent spate of punctures of late and fixing them in situ makes me a bit grumpy. But the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh and I found descending around corners at speed and staying on the bike quite nerve-wracking and amusing at the same time.
Which was merited as in the last section when unfortunately I found a female rider I’d been yo-yoing with all day, Amanda Nauman on the deck. Arm covered in blood, gravel rash and a non-functioning Di2 rear shifter meant she had two gears to work with for the remaining klicks. I was more concerned about head injuries, so I rode with her without making it look I was chaperoning Amanda and after an hour she seemed fine if pedalling gingerly, so I subtly got out of sight as the afterburners were finally starting to light and I found a range of aerobic gears to click through - only eight hours into the ride. Ha ha!
After a little over nine hours of riding. Job done. Now time to recover, hydrate, feed and get ready for the real race – Scottish National Olympic distance TT (aka Tour of the Meldons). So, once my co-traveller and Reiver rider Rob had got his bearings together and could remember his name (he’s an Ironman, he recovers quickly), we bombed up to Peebles to refuel in diesel, curry and Belgian beer and I started to focus on my first proper race of the year.
I wasn’t planning on doing two big efforts back to back. It was a consequence of poor planning. But I’m always curious as how my body responds to any stress it is put under and I’ve noticed after big endurance efforts like the Puffer, I’m often in great condition the day after. Omegawave once did some detailed heart rate analysis on exactly this and confirmed as much. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to test out the legs in a hilly time trial that lasts under an hour and guarantees a world of physical as well as mental pain. Double bonus!
Once Sunday morning arrived I decided to exorcise a demon I had in my head overnight. Could I manage the cruel sting in the tail of a 13% sharp hill climb up to the Barony Castle finish line with my new 60 tooth single chainring? It would also be a good test of the legs to see if they were willing to play ball.
No problem. Doddle. Next, race preparation.
Slowly riders started to appear in the parking area outside the village hall in Eddlestone. GTR teammates Chris and Lewis along with the ProVision gents and good natured banter started to flow as tyres were pumped and the riders battled with getting into their skinsuits. Although I’m sure I heard someone say to me in jest, “Hope you get a puncture” as I got ready to join the diminishing starting queue over the bridge.
Being seeded, I was one of the last to start and the traffic was starting to build exponentially. I always look forward to the line up at the start line as I enjoy the chat with the time keepers, Commissaire and officials as it stops me from getting too excited. This time the topic was about my namesake bass playing legend and someone pointed out that my number 113 might be lucky. Being seeded meant I had two minutes once John Archibald had disappeared up the road, but it soon goes quickly and as the countdown started from 10 seconds, it was time to flip the switch into race assassin mode.
This is more like it, yes legs, go go go! I was just about getting into position before the big huck of the first challenge – the Middle Burn climb, when I got slightly distracted by someone passing in a car yelling abuse, but that wasn’t the reason why I hit one of the many potholes hard, there were so many it was like the Millenium Falcon negotiating the asteroid field in The Empire Strikes Back. One hole was so big I was convinced lava was about to pour of it!
Bang. Oof. Ouch. I cursed myself for not seeing it, too concerned on aero position rather than focussing on the terrible road surface. No excuses, I should know better, I’m a mountain biker in disguise for Pete’s sake. I was just relieved to get away without another puncture.
As the Middle Burn climb approached I clicked down the gears and cranked up the power to attack the first hill into an unforgiving headwind. This is my territory. But I ran out of gears quicker and I felt I was decelerating despite the legs being on fire. How? Erhm, what’s happening? What the…
I looked down at my wheel and saw the problem. Puncture!
Damn it. First time ever I’m not going to be on the podium in a Scottish national TT. I guess it had to happen sometime? I decided to turn my attention to the remaining riders. Kyle Gordon was up next and seemed baffled as to what was going on. “Just smash it mate” I urged him. Next up was the winner for the past two years and teammate Chris. As soon as he saw me, he knew. My heart sank. Any whiff of a GTR team prize was gone and we both knew it.
Once Chris had disappeared up the aptly named Middle Burn which is a highway to certain hell, I spotted a photographer on the crest of the hill. I figured it was Martin Williamson from VeloVeritas and as I’d never met him before I decided to go and have a chat. But before I could open my runaway mouth, he had already offered to give me a lift back to HQ before heading up to the finish to snap the faster riders. What a Godsend and thank you very much Martin (former winner of this race) for the lift. Our chat in the car kept my mood upbeat. These things happen, of course they do.
I wandered up to the castle to see the last riders come home and meet up with my cousin’s family who seemed somewhat baffled to see me walking with my bike. “That’s racing” I replied, law of averages and it was my turn for a DNF! I was quite philosophical about the race and it was warm and sunny so I decided just to chat with various people. John Archibald who smashed Chris’s course record and won by three minutes on my teammate seemed a bit perplexed on his return from the finish and wondering why I was standing in cheap knackered Crocs and super expensive aerodynamic skinsuit. It must have been some sight!
But it is what it is and I reminded Rob Friel (who finished on the podium with a superb bronze) that I got further than he did last year as the cheeky banter started to flow again in the car park as bikes and wheels were getting dismantled and loaded into cars and on bike racks. There’s always next year. And there’s next weekend…just need to stop puncturing!