Monday, 29 August 2011

The Other Side of the Fence

“3 scoops of energy powder per bottle with a gel, and an electrolyte bottle every 3rd lap with 2 gels.”  The pre race briefing for Torq 12:12 was very detailed as meticulous notes were taken.  Having ridden this race solo last year, see report, I knew the challenges that lay ahead for the riders.  This time, instead of riding I was staying in the pits providing support.  Involved in the race from a completely different perspective was a new experience.

The AQR / Cotic race team had 2 solo riders, Rachel and Simon, and a team of 4 consisting of Ian, Rich, James and Kate.  Another Ian was the chief mechanic, Ant did everything including taking photos, and Carole was ‘Pit Mum’ an essential role for keeping everyone fed.  I took on the role of Simon’s buddy to ensure he had everything for his solo ride.

Although we all had our roles, we all did everything.  The well oiled pit machine was able to turn a rider and bike around in about a minute.  Having experienced this frenzy of activity on the Exposure 24 ride in May, it was very interesting seeing how it all came together.  The ETA of each rider was calculated and as the time approached someone was on lookout duty to spot them ride across the hill, giving us a 2 minute warning.  Prepared bottles, gels, clothes, mug of tea, bowl of warm water and flannel were all on hand for the rider whilst the mechanics were armed with the pressure washer, lube, spare lights and a spare bike.

As the rider approached, rapid instructions were given for what they wanted which were immediately produced by the swarm of busy pit crew surrounding them.  The warm flannel for the face wash was never requested, but always appreciated.  Notification of their race position with the lag and lead times was provided before the rider was cheered back on to the course.

Whilst clearing up the aftermath of the pit stop, notes were taken on food intakes, lap times and any other useful details, before the preparations started for the next time.
As the day progresses there were numerous tasks to occupy us between the laps; preparing the pit area lights for the night time, modifying the gazebos to cope with the heavy rain, refilling water bottles, drying clothing, checking race positions, updating Twitter and endless bike maintenance.  In addition to this Carole provided us with numerous cups of tea and food to keep us going.

7 hours into the race, I realised that I had hardly sat down.  There was barely time to get a 5 minute rest before Simon was due in again.  The 5 minutes, however, was just enough to keep me going until the finish.

One the race had finished, the riders still needed feeding and sorting out so they were warm and dry.  Cracking open the beers and firing up the barbecue with tasty burgers and sausages was especially satisfying. 

The celebrations were well deserved with Rachel winning the Female Solo, the team came 4th in the Mixed Team and Simon had to retire after 8 hours from 6th place.

The next morning after little sleep, bacon butties washed down with tea, provided the energy to pack away all the gazebos, tents and other equipment.

The AQR / Cotic team presented such a friendly atmosphere with uncompromised support to their riders.  Receiving such effective race assistance makes a huge difference to riding the race, whatever the weather.  It’s not surprising to see that AQR / Cotic have gained podium positions at all the many events they have attended this year.  I was delighted to be involved to see how it works.  Thanks for an amazing experience.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Big Dog – Throwing away the rule book

As the trees parted revealing the dry twisty trail, with the wheels gliding over the knobbly roots, I found an incredible sense of unity with the bike. Flying round the blind corners looking to catch the next rider, a sense surrounded me that this was the moment. The moment for which riding is all about, giving your all for the buzz, the excitement and the passion of racing on two wheels.

The Big Dog race was such fun with a wonderful course, the thrill of riding was evident all over the park. Loads of top names jostled for position as a sea of prizes flowed from the numerous sponsors. The air hummed as riders completed their lap on a high, to pass the honour onto their team mate to enter magical woods.
Spot the Redhill CC gazebo
Pausing between laps was a novelty for me as normally I ride solo. The burst of energy with your heart rate predominantly above 90% for the 45 minute lap got the juices flowing. I was also much more relaxed beforehand as I had no race plans, no lists of equipment, no nutrition schedules and no timing sheets. After throwing all my kit together at the last minute the night before, I sat back with a beer, which I normally bann before a race.

The shock of the first hill on the course was quite a wake up call as I had hardly warmed up. Hitting the single track trails for the first time took a while for me to get my eye in. The trees bent together with barely enough room for the handlebars to squeeze through, and the roots caught my wheels trying to trip me up. Fighting with the off-camber corner the other side of the A27 reminded me of the wasp nest disturbed 2 years ago. An attack from the blighters coupled with a reaction, brought my race to an abrupt end. This time there were no angry bullets as I climbed the rooty trail.

Picture by Alan Gayle

The fast flowing single track on the second half brought a smile to my face before I was spat out in sight of the finish line.
It was just the 1 lap, then I could rest. What a luxury, what do I do? This novel experience felt quite odd, perhaps I should be out doing another lap?
Relaxing with a cup of tea and wandering around the stands of bike goodies, I soak up the atmosphere of the arena. As my turn approaches and I hit the trails again. Wiser with the roots, I pick better lines and climb the hills. 20 minutes in with my heart thumping, the feel good factor overwhelms me. This is awesome! I tear through the single track with the trees giving way and power up the hills overtaking anything in sight. What a feeling of delight as the wheels skip over the roots and hold tight round the corners.

Coming to an abrupt end, the finish appeared leaving that buzz of excitement resonating in my bones.

A fantastic day, thanks to my team mates Gareth and Alan, the Big Dog crew and all those involved.