Run & Ride: Winter Classic XC

The Lead up

It was a battle between the Matts! This time last year I had just come back from an amazing experience of racing in the Andalucia MTB Stage Race to get up the next day and race the Pembrey Off-Road Duathlon hosted by A Cycling (Matt Page). It was a beautiful day and a really good race, if you ride and run it’s worth a go. This time round, I had the choice of doing that again or heading the opposite direction and going for the Winter Classic hosted by Run and Ride (see what I did there!). Funnily enough there was no running at this one (or so I thought!), all about the bikes. I know myself and I like trying new events and to be honest I haven’t done as much running as I planned, so I may have struggled at the Duathlon, not to say that my biking is much better, but I have put a few more miles in over the last few months, up until the 2 weeks before, where family events and visitors put pause to my pedalling. The problem when I have a couple of days off is that I massively struggle to get motivated to get back on it. The excuses I tell myself come out such as I need to get more rest, I have to go food shopping and then the dreaded lurgy hits too. It’s only in the form of a sniffle and a chesty cough, but it’s enough for me to look outside and see that the weather is rubbish, the turbo was packed away due to the visitors and that was that to simply veg out on the sofa and do nothing, how poor form is that! I nearly bowed out of taking the 2 hour journey to race this because of a little cough and the possibility that it may be a little wet and slippy. What is going on? Thankfully after giving myself a good talking to I realised it’s all a choice, you can choose to get up in the morning and be joyful about the day or choose to roll over and not bother. I’m choosing the forma and hopefully a bit of positivity will shift the cough (it’s not that bad yet!), the sun may make an appearance and it will be a fantastic day. Well one out of three aint bad right!

Mountain Bike Racing For All

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It does exactly what it says on the tin, anyone who wants to can give it a go from the little rippers roaring round on balance bikes, the young racers of the future, the ‘let’s give it a go gang’ to the experienced riders who have done just one or two of these kind of races! The clear aim of the Cannock Chase Winter Classic run by Matt Williams is to have grass roots at the heart. There is simply not enough of this happening, too many trying to focus on getting the pro’s and elite racers catered for and skipping those who just want to give racing a go, race there mates or just test the waters without the pressure or uncertainty that they might not be good enough or that the track is too hard or feel that they are in the way. This isn’t for complete beginner mountain bikers, but those who have done a bit of riding and would like a new challenge or something different to a normal Sunday ride.  For further information on the format of how this race works here check out the Events are on the Run and Ride website.

The low-down of the busy racing schedule

  • 09.30 – U16’s Male & Female (2 Laps)
  • 09.31 – Beginners Men (2 Laps)
  • 09.32 – Beginners Ladies (1 Lap)
  • 10.45 – Fun Men (3 Laps)
  • 10.46 – Fun Women (2 Laps)
  • 12.15 – Under 8’s (10mins)
  • 12.30 – Under 10’s (10mins)
  • 12.45 – Under 13’s (15 mins)
  • 13.15 – Pro / Expert Men (5 Laps) & Enthusiast Men (4 Laps)
  • 13.16 – Single Speed / Fat Bike Men (3 Laps)
  • 13.16 – Elite / Expert Female (4 Laps) & Enthusiast Ladies (3 Laps)
  • 13.16 – Single Speed / Fat Bike Ladies (2 Laps)

Now I think this day of racing really did have something for everyone. It’s not based on your age (apart for the kids) but more on what you perceive your ability and fitness level is on the bike. I know there were some people who were going for value for money, however this doesn’t quite work because once the race leader in your category has crossed the line your race is done too after you’ve crossed the line, even if you only did 2 out of 4! This means go for the most suitable category for you, not on racing time versus the pound! It will be way more fun for you and the others to be with similar level riders. If you wanted to ride more afterwards, there was the whole Cannock Chase area and trail centre to explore!

I always have a problem trying to work out what level I’m at to pick a category on my skills/fitness level not my age especially with cross country races as I don’t really do these shorter, faster events (distance at a steady pace is my ball game), so with this I never place myself in Expert/Elite, they actually train specifically for this, I should have gone for the ‘Fun’ category;

“For those who may of raced before but want to just enjoy it and not really worry about how quick they are. You like to go fast but you don’t spend hours a week on the bike and don’t class yourself as “quick”

The only thing about this one was that it was earlier in the racing schedule and as I was travelling 2 hours to get to this I wouldn’t be sure I would actually make it in time for this, so this left the ‘Enthusiast’ category. I loved the name of it, but it was for those and I quote “who generally rip around” Now I put training into my riding, but covering miles, not speed. Hey, ho, I was there more to see what it was all about rather then get all race serious. This was helped by the really relaxed, fun and chilled (it was pretty nippy) vibe that was being created all the way through. Simply put this was a fun day out for the whole family, if you like biking that is!

Let’s get this show on the road

It had already begun by the time I rocked up. Under 16’s and beginners had already raced. As I was walking over to the hub of activity the tunes were rocking out, the smells of the food stalls and just the buzz of the place was ace. The state of the bikes that had already raced was interesting however…the new mud pack you can get for bikes these days is amazing, I’m sure it brings out the paint job beautifully once it’s washed off and it’s great for the skin right?! It was a muddy one to say the least, but that just adds to the fun I’m told.

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Fun, Fun, FUN!

I just caught the start of the Fun men and women’s races (I might have made it, if I was was ready to go straight out of the van…I was not!). It was a fantastic turnout of ladies looking super excited and keen for the race ahead, which is great to see.

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Fun men! 

Most of the races I have been apart of, there is the comedy 3 lining up with a guaranteed podium position if you just complete it! This one there was real competition in a fun and relaxed way of course! More of this please as it seemed to go down well. It would have been tough for some, a massive challenge for others and some really excelling and realising they maybe could get into it a bit more.

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Fun ladies waiting for the hooter

This is what it’s about, encouraging, inspiring and enjoying mountain biking at whatever the level. Give it a go, you never know what you will get from it! I had a bit of a play on my bike to check out some of the course, take some pics and cheer them on. It was indeed a bit muddy creating what was already quite a tricky course in places, to a little bit more challenging. The faces said it all it was zapping energy as wheels span, tyres slid in the slop to find traction. Love the British weather, just adds that something extra to racing, no such thing as dry and dusty over here!

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and they’re off!

Grass Roots at it’s Finest

The kids races were up next, always an interesting one to organise so it was all hands on deck to ensure the kids went the right way, hope they knew what they were doing (as much as possible) numbers were check and all the times for recorded for each kids and there was a lot of them! (not an easy job!). The U8’s were on a much shortened course around the arena and then a slightly more technical loop taking in more of the main course for the U10s and U13s. There was a massive turnout in all of these races, which meant kids and parents were EVERYWHERE!img_2433

Matt led out the each of the races hoping this would help them find the way second time round, for most this worked well. Some of the younger ones just got a little confused and were determined to go where the track went regardless of the tape or being directed, all good in the end though! It was a little mental, but seemingly went down very well and no kids got lost, which is a bonus. This really was grass roots at it’s finest, balance bikes, single speed troopers spinning away, the cautious and the confident going head to head, just so awesome to be a part of, they were loving it too.

 

The U10’s was a little less crazy, though it took in the ‘whoops and wee’s!’ on the main track, which for some of the younger, only just turned 8 riders was a little bit much, but they got down and up them and carried on with a little help. Then it was the turn of the U13’s, no messing these guys were serious, some on swankier bikes than you and I would be envious of. They meant business and showed off there skills as they shot round the course, game face on. It really means something to these youngsters and they put there all into it. I believe there was many proud parents that day from those giving it a go for the first time to the podium finishers who are set for greater things.

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Such a great turn out!

Enthusiastic is the word!

Oo, it’s my turn! I was really enjoying being involved in the kids/youth races, but realised my race was in a couple of minutes and I wasn’t quite ready. I had got pretty cold whilst watching and encouraging the kids, so a quick jog to the van, chuck the kit on and get the bike out as I heard the hooter go. Not knowing which race it was I set off to the start to find that the guys had just gone and the ladies were just about to set off. Phew, I made it with seconds to spare and the hooter went again, we were off! It was my turn to find out what the course was all about.

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There was definitely a good line choice and a bad one!

It was instantly sketchy as we all sped off into the first few corners jostling for the best line avoiding the mud corners before we caught up with the end of the guys race. Totally could have given us a bit more time (I could have got my Strava running with a couple more minutes too!). It slowed as we entered what was deemed the ‘bomb hole’ a short little slope and then back up the other side, round the corner back down and up the other side either avoiding or heading straight through the mud splash!

After this we funnelled onto the single track where we cruised down before going left up a muddy yet tacky climb where if the track was clear you would make it up with a bit of oomph. No chance on the first lap, it was quicker to jog with the bike until those in front got pedalling again. The terrain of roots and a layer of mud slop was not helping with this. It’s one of those that I managed to over take a few riders get a bit of a flow going, but then just got a bit of a line wrong and stopped and then the riders you just passed filed through whilst you’re trying to get back on the track. It was a tough start. A suggestion would be for an extra starter loop that may help to spread the field out a little, but it may just prolong the inevitable.

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First part rideable, round the corner not so much!

It was a course that you had to keep your wits about you. It spat you out of the forest after another climb and a slidey traverse onto a short wider track climb up towards the arena as other riders were on the other side about to head out on to another wooded singletrack section we were heading for a loop across the grass of the arena’s edge, before following along into the next section as well. This was again single track with a few roots to avoid and actually rode well until it hit another forest track which had a good layer of slop on it. By now I thought a good clear line would have been created, but no it was just slide down any way you could. This was just sketchy and had me off on the last lap, typically – mud everywhere!

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Back into the trees

This then went onto a cosy line through the trees, which didn’t get any easier. Everyone opting to run (or try to) up the short yet slippy mud track where staying upright was tricky. This first lap was taking it’s time, but you couldn’t get by easily so just hoped the rider in front kept going, but a few times they washed out, one even did a 180 after his front wheel pinned him on a stump or something. He clearly wanted to see who was behind him! This course was relentless all because of the mud, it did make it unpredictable and in a strange way even more fun. It was all about staying on, you couldn’t pick up too much speed or you’d slide in a direction you didn’t want to go!

The next section was twisty, rooty and muddy – what more could we ask for. The top sectioned had a nice bit of flow on it, but further down, trees seemed to get closer, cheeky stumps were just in the wrong place and the mud well that was everywhere! I managed to get through it, only one time nearly going in for a tree hug, but I ricocheted of it, slapping it as I manoeuvred round it, a close shave.

Off this track you had a moment to recuperate as it was a solid gravel path, a moment of speed…you needed it as it swooped down, but then went straight back up and then again. The climbs around here are not long like what we have in Wales, but they are short, steep and tough! This then brought you out on a track running alongside the road, getting a nice bit of pace on if you could muster anymore, a little bomb hole again, a few muddy puddles (they were no problem at this point) then you guessed it, back onto a single track line through the trees.img_2431

This lead onto a section that Matt put in previously through a gully with a cheeky shoot, right hander and a low lying tree to avoid, very nice, but then it clambered back up a muddy track. You pedal so far, but by then I was spinning out and it was faster to run it, well think run, actually stomp up slowly only to hop back on to enter another short section with no line, but tracks creating banks of mud before you slid onto a other gravel track. Oh how I like these little breathers. This one in particular as this took you back to the beginning, just a turn to tackle on off-camber roots to tackle (Blaming Paul for that one – you know ‘Mr Olympics!’) and you were home and dry (well ready for lap 2, exhausted and covered in mud!).

Mud, glorious, mud

It was a cracking course, tough and got tougher battling through the deemed ‘tacky’ mud on a lot of the loop, but it was a proper job. Those who had the power, made light work of there terrain, proving it was rideable and many others following suit, hopping on and off the bike when it just got a bit too much. I had no real idea on my position in my category and too be honest I wasn’t bothered I was having some fun, even when I was struggling to breathe because of the chesty cough I have that’s not disappearing (that’s my excuse for not hitting the podium, of course!) Not that the other ladies, were faster, fitter and more skilled on the mud than I was.

Apparently I have got to used to trail centre, hard packed man-made trails, no loosed mud in sight. To be fair that’s true, I need to get back to hitting the local stuff, which in turn will improve my skill level and in turn increase my speed and confidence when it comes to this natural slippy stuff. I could also blame the tyre choice (fast tracks, not quite gripping much) or the lack of mud clearance on the Epic or my spd’s, not behaving, but these are all just excuses that don’t help anyone. The reality is I came 6th in my category and had a hoot the whole day.

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How a bike should be…mud coated!

The provisional results are found here and the many photos can be found here

RESULTS

PHOTOGRAPHS

What a day

Walking the course to take down the tape and struggling to walk down some sections showed that it did become pretty sketchy in certain places. If you found it hard it was, but it was good though! There was over 500 participants from the young to the experienced, braving the cold, enjoying the atmosphere, munching on a tasty good burger, hosing the bikes and racers down and making it the event it was, a cracker!

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The post race pack down

This was all down to Matt from Run & Ride and his team, putting in the hard graft before and after to make it happen. nice one, Matt, until the next one, the Dirty Duathlon on 2nd April. If you want to see more of this happen, it’s time to get stuck in. The message was clear and I second it…

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BIKE SHOPS

…without it they will not survive, so pop in, get to know them. If you want the service and future events to be put on, you’ve got to be involved. From grabbing a set of brake pads, to checking out what your next bike could be, the local bike shop is there for you and they might even offer you a brew…if you bring the biscuits!!!

As I began the journey home, the light was fading and as if a switch got turned on the heavens opened and the rain began to fall. It really was a rather good day weather wise. Thankfully after an easy journey I could curl up on the sofa, of course after cleaning the bike down and myself in that order! (goes without saying really!). The coughing, spluttering and headache continues and is getting worse, but still glad I went.

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How my day ended…Halls soothers, Lemsip and the sofa!

It’s only a few days until at last the final round of the Gorrick Merida Brass Monkeys Series. It’s dragged out a little, but we’ll see how that one goes, bit more of a steady pace as it is 4 hours, but should get faster. I just hope I can shake this cough and cold before the weekend, so far it’s seems quite settled, which I am not amused about!

However I feel I’ll be there, just may not be challenging the podium this time round. I was hoping to get on that third step, but not a chance if I feel this bad in a few days. Come on immune system, WAKE UP. See you there if you’re going, carry on riding if you’re not and have some fun! All I can say now is bring on the summer, I’m done with winter now!

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