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Race Report: Portuguese Cup – Gouveia

So last week saw me enter my first race of the season, The Portuguese cup in Gouveia.
In pursuit of a bit of sunny riding and those all important UCI points, there is a reason Brits head over to Spain and Portugal this time of year.. mainly because our weather is so shit to ride in! and to get up to speed for the year ahead on a fast flowing track.

Weather for the week

Weather for the week

On arrival I was struggling a bit with a virus, which gradually got worse over the week! Gastroenteritis, not nice! low on energy and suffering from De-hydration, things weren’t looking good for the week ahead. To make matters even worse, the weather wasn’t looking to be what it had originally promised. Grey skis with menacing clouds hung around all week, the odd bit of sunshine warmed things up but mixed with the amount of rain and riders meant the track to and unusually quick battering, which for a fresh track, just turned it into a mess as the week progressed!
In terms of food, all I could try to stomach all week was water, and dry ham sandwiches. Breakfast, Lunch and dinner, Dry ham sandwiches, all week. And some biscuits here and there!

This year saw the introduction of a new, fresh track dug into the Portuguese landscape. A lovely looking loamy track with high speed off camber section most of the way down.

Friday was sign on and track walk before an evening of practice. I signed on, then slept on the car for a couple of hours, then attempted a track walk. Half way through and energy levels were so low I had to return to the hotel and sleep. From 15:00 till 07:00 I was out like a light! Before returning to the hotel I did watch this cool train of caterpillars though! It was about all I could focus on.

Caterpillar train

Caterpillar train

Saturday and a full day of practice ahead. I was feeling slightly better after necking a handful of Imodium tablets and headed off for my first run of the weekend. A blind top section was probably not the best of ideas! although the track wasn’t incredibly technical it had the odd section to catch you out, especially the awkward turn to drop to flat to off camber corner which nearly caught me out severely!
I was feeling a little fresher however the lack of fluids and nutrients on my body meant I was unable to fully focus and my mind was way behind where my body actually was on track, which eventually caught me out and I had my first crash of the weekend, a simple error but one that wouldn’t normally happen.
4 runs in and I was done, out cold and back to the hotel for more dry ham sandwiches and sleep.

Sunday race day came around and the weather wasn’t playing ball. Rain mixed with periods of sun meant the track really was struggling, wet bog sections dried up slightly and turned to thick mud, then back to water with the rain, then mud with the sun, things were getting really tough! Not good with no energy!
1 practice run and then waiting for seeding.

As bad as I felt seeding went, I turned out a 19th position, 7 seconds off a top ten. With very little pedaling to conserve energy I was surprised to be in touching distance of a top ten.
Finals came around and big rain shower hit before more sun. This effectively ruined any chance I had of a result. The weather massively deteriorated the track and out of the gate i was done, 2 errors to which i stopped and was unable to move with bugger all leg power.
Everyone seemed to suffer, times were 20 seconds slower from quali to finals and I ended up 23rd.
Not the result I was looking for but given the circumstances there wasn’t a great deal I could do about it!

Fresh kit for the year

Fresh Royal Racing kit for the year

So the season is well under way now and time to focus on recovering fully before hitting the first BDS hard!

Sorry for the lack of photos! not much riding was done!

Cheers to everyone for the support for the season ahead, here’s to the next race!

 

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For Sale: 2012 Limited Edition Santa Cruz V10

So, we are well under way in 2013 and i need to move on my race bike from last season.

Here we have a limited edition stickered SPS powered V10.
FOX suspension and Shimano Saint equipped, Renthal Cockpit, Hope Hubs lased to Sun ringle MTX 29 rims with High Roller 2 tyres.

The bike has been very well looked after, with mechanic treatment throughout the whole race season.
Heli taped to the 9’s to keep that beautiful carbon in top nick.

If your interested, drop me a line;
jswinny7@gmail.com

Snowdon

From a previous trip. Banger by Duncan Philpott

Snowdon

It’s the last week of 2012, the weather is typically wet but abnormally warm. Danny ‘Widehead’ Whitehead (my very good friend who’s been studying in America since the summer), Dave ‘shit line choice’ Camus and myself decided to do something a bit different. After much persuasion and being asked “Are you on crack?” I managed to sway them into riding somewhere that wasn’t a busy trail centre or muddy, boggy local XC loop.

Instead we went to Snowdon.
Why, you might ask, did we choose to do this? It may be without the dust, jumps, tree cover, bright sunshine or chairlifts and gondolas of the alps but for some reason it gives just as good a buzz but without driving for 24 hours and splashing a load of cash.

The Ranger Path is not designed for anything more than plastic walking boots from your local outdoor store so the trail does have a few sneaky rocks which you don’t see until the last second, especially when trying to go flat out and holding a straight line rather than weaving around to avoid obstacles.
There are flat out and wide open sections where you’re hopping over rocks hoping that there’s not something jagged on the landing. Other sections are slower and rockier but still quite wide so staying off of the brakes and skipping over holes is much easier than trying to take each hit as it comes. Other sections have a few flat or off-camber corners with loose gravel but also banked, almost switchback sections which allow you to feel like you’re on a proper track. The very last section, known as Mordor, is much slower and involves picking lines to make it through without catching your front wheel on a gap between boulders and being pitched over the bars.

From a previous trip. Banger by Duncan Philpott

The combination of high speed at the top and slow, tech stuff at the bottom make it feel like you have the variation of tracks like bike parks in France, Italy, etc. Perhaps not quite as much variety but it’s better than nothing. Also, weather conditions can definitely spice it up a little. 50-60mph winds, snow, ice and cloud cover definitely alter the experience a touch as Danny, Dave and I found out on the penultimate day of 2012. As we were pushing up we spotted at least 3 people with crampons attached to their boots and rucksacks full of survival gear, yet all we had were five tens on our feet and sandwiches in our bags.

As we neared the summit the wind picked up, it was the strongest I’d felt for a long time, and we didn’t think we’d be able to ride at all from the summit to the start of the Ranger path. Climbing to the top, we stopped for brief periods when the bikes were almost being blown from our hands and crouched when we were being toppled over. The view wasn’t spectacular although we didn’t plan on staying long as cold and numb hands aren’t ideal when trying to descend a mountain.

Due to the conditions we doubted it’d even be possible to ride. Every attempt at trying to walk with the bike on a slippery surface in high wind would almost put you on your arse. However, once we’d set off and had enough momentum to stay up it was an amazing feeling. Leaning into the wind to stay on course, the tyres having just enough grip to counteract the moment and not disappear from beneath you. Every now and then the wind would pick up an extra 5-10 mph and you’d slide from the left to the right without even steering in that direction. Seemingly easy sections on previous visits were made all that more challenging so the feeling of accomplishment for making it through the top section with just a couple of dabs on the thicker sheets of ice was much greater.

Once we had made it over the railway track and further down the Ranger path we dropped out of the cloud line and there was less ice. The trail was now riding like on previous experiences, still a bit damp but when only making a few direction changes this isn’t much of an issue. The wind speed was still quite high until we reached the lower third of the mountain, until then you had to try and keep both wheels on the ground to prevent the front wheel being swiped away by a side wind. This is more difficult than it sounds though as there are boulders just asking to be hopped off and over. The last section of the main descent is known as Mordor and contains a few surprises with it being a steep, narrowly cut path with rocks of all shapes and sizes littering it. Every time I’ve come to this section I’ve somehow managed to make it through blind. Once we reached the end of it cleanly Dave and myself couldn’t resist a cheesy high five…

‘Mordor’. Banger credit: Duncan ‘Dirt cover’ Philpott

The gradient of the Ranger path levels out so a short pedal is required. To make it back down to correct side of the mountain a short push is required to reach the start of the ‘Telegraph Valley descent’. A flatout section of track with rocky drainage ditches that you’re hoping at around 35mph (according to strava…) and one or two flat corners. This leads you onto a road taking you straight back into the heart of Llanberis.

‘Cause your crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear

26" of Fun

‘Cause your crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear

In 5 years time we all will be riding a 29″ bike. This is not by choice but a simple and unfortunate matter of economics and market choice.

To think I’m a ‘hater’ of the big wheel is probably an accurate description especially when my opinion is not based upon experience. The nausea in the bike industry builds up inside when I hear wheel sizes being the next ‘best thing’, the MTB media, especially journos bark on about how much time you can save on section of track, how smooth the ride is, and how the bike feels slower but you’re actually going faster. In one word, ‘poppycock’.

15 years ago mountain bike tracks were a lot different, and the terrain in which the bikes traveled on differed too. V-brakes were a revelation, more than 53 mm of fork travel was confined to the Sunn-Chippie race team and handle bars were lucky to measure anything more than 650mm. I’m not going to discuss the evolution of DH World Cup tracks here, but the tracks we the common people rode, i.e. you, me, your mates and your older sister, bridleways, farm tracks (like Owen’s Mad Track in North Yorks), 4×4 tracks and the odd bit of homegrown single-track was run of the mill especially when your only means of stopping was in the strength of your fingers. As time went on so did advances in bike technology, hydraulic damping was developed, geometry was looked at closely and disc brakes became the norm. A notable progression in bike technology was being noted, and the way in which previous ‘exclusive’ technology became available on much cheaper bikes meant that the playing field was beginning to get leveled.

The days before Superman II

The transfer of seeking to ride technically harder tracks could be subconscious or it was a deliberate move by riders seeking to push limits, but no doubt the ability to hit bumps harder and to leave braking later was attributed to having a bike that didn’t feel like it was going to implode as soon as the tempo increased. The tracks we build and look at riding on a daily basis are subject to the bikes we ride, I wouldn’t look at a DH bike on a track with intense climbs on it, nor would I expect to perform at Val Di Sol on a XC hardtail. Our ability to ride bikes on difficult terrain at higher speeds, through compressions, rooty off-camber corners and square-edged rock gardens is attributed to the development of mountain bikes through out the last 20 years.

26″ of Fun

With a dwindling world economy especially in the leisure classes of the Western World and a saturated market, bike manufactures needed something else to boost their shareholders wallets? It was a realisation to encourage the emergence of a secondary bike industry already in a marginalised market. “We can sell the same amount if we tweak the market, imagine selling the same bike, the same components twice…a whole range of new tyres, wheels, frames and forks…” Cue the birth of 29″ wheels. All of a sudden a new market within the industry emerges and the profits begin to flourish.

Two Gates in a Field.

Giant Cycles 2013 in Australasia import and distribution program is one of the most cynical catalogues I’ve read in recent memory, only one 26″ bike that’s not a DH bike. No longer do I have a choice of what bike I can ride, I’m being marginalised the outer reaches of what I want to ride and how I want to ride them. Did I ever need more of an excuse not to ride a Giant? Will the Big-S; Scott and others head in this direction too? I hope not, but hope does nothing to exonerate market forces.
The terrain may seemingly flatten out on big wheels, but no doubt in a few years time we’d be wanting more challenging terrain, where line choice is not a simple matter of the size of your wheel’s radius.

However, the media-slaves, which only groom the hype and further poor science, will no doubt prove me wrong with metaphysical data. See the following clip:

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It seems that rational thought was temporarily suspended and replaced with opinions that were grounded through a mixture of dog vomit and cat piss. When will we see the MTB media actually start testing and reviewing on a more scientific basis, rather than the supposed ‘feel’ and then back this ‘feel’ with ‘bad science’? The lapdog journo industry have access to testing bikes that only a few of us dream of owning, yet after extinguishing the smoke and smashing the mirrors, the tests reveal nothing, a void that has been being left gaping open more times than Bella Donna’s fridge door. The ivory towers of reviewing bikes needs to be demolished. How many times have we ridden our own bikes down the same track and all of a sudden it ‘felt’ faster? Has anything changed? Which way is the wind blowing? What did you eat the night before? Have you paid your bills? Did you receive a work bonus? Did you just recover from an injury? All these things no doubt enter our minds when riding, and in many ways we try and leave modern life’s bullshit behind but invariably it catches up with us in one way or another. Take a look at how the pro’s perform, if we were all riding equal, and all capable of 100% accuracy and having a race track dialed then there would be no competition, just a bunch of people on a mountain side that can get to the bottom in the same time. Saying that a 29″ bike is faster than a downhill bike on a down hill section of a trail is nonsense. Was it a scientific test? Did they use the same rider, leaving at the same point, with no wind, no other exterior influences? Or did they use two different riders, leaving at different points, with variable wind conditions and many other exterior influences? Please don’t insult my intelligence.

Does 29″ really give you that much of an advantage? Such an advantage that 29″ bikes are now winning races? No. Was there a top 25 29″ bike in the downhill world cup this year? No. Was there a winning 29″ on a euro-enduro round last season? No. Riding courses where bike handling skills and psychology is prime to top competition there is yet again another void staring right back at us, the advantage that the media has us believing that big wheels are faster are not coming true. The magazines drape the pages with corpses of advertising, and when the results are played out in the real world there is nothing to see. The begging question comes to light, if I bought a 29″ bike would I then be more competitive? Quite possibly yes, maybe I’d nudge closer to the podium, but no doubt the riders that I nudged to get there would be forced into the 29″ bandwagon. If everyone is riding the same wheel size the advantage becomes zero, and we are back to where we started, a bike industry selling us dreams impossible to yield, and another empty wallet.

Even if Aaron Gwin let it slip that he has been testing a different wheel size recently, what difference will that make to a man who has won more World Cups in a two seasons than anyone on the current circuit? Maybe his pay cheque may fatten again with the increased sales in another bike market.

Without the progression in MTB’s we would be riding mediocre tracks in mediocre environments. When all of us are riding 29ers we will be longing for the technical hit, and then suddenly trails will again change. In one hand the emergence of bikes that travel faster over terrain will become more apparent, and in the other hand there will be the trail builders, shovel swingers, course designers and youths in the wood longing to slow you down so line choice, body position is crucial to speed.

Cage Fighting

Cage Fighting

All the Amazing Photos: The PhilPOD (Click on them for full glory)

It’s been a busy old year personally for many good reasons so my race organisation became somewhat concentrated post winter dual. I only put on one mates race series over the summer consisting of 7 races, however, that isn’t to say I didn’t miss it and my mates who attend. With the impending arrival of winter it seemed like we should have a bit of a get together to toast the successes of the Summer Series and fuck about on bikes. Since the outing of the ManWolfs I’ve wanted to do something similar again but those torn denim sleeves and ski masks feel somewhat sacred so I didn’t want to go there again (yet). However, mates, bikes, booze and movies is a heady combo and pretty simple to do.

I’d seen a video edit on Vital a couple of years back of a contest at a skate park that I’d always wanted to try. They called it Foot Down, it turned out Baybutt called it Edging Off. The BMX crew play it competitively each summer on their Southern French pilgrimage and the idea is very simple. Mark out an area on the floor, fill it full of lads on bikes and the last one standing wins. The only rule we imposed was keeping your feet on the pedals after my kicking got a bit ‘breakie’ in the trail run.

Earlier this year I’d chucked in $20 to a crowd funding project which got Shaun Palmers biographical DVD off the ground. This secured me a copy of the final cut and seemed ideal as post riding entertainment. The chosen venue was Hagglers corner in Sheffield, a fairly new enterprise full of workshops, yoga studios and freshly serving cafe. They had a large courtyard, a white wall in the cafe to project on and most importantly were up for the idea of 20 riders smashing the shit out of each other for fun. On seeing the proprietors BMX with 4 pegs and a newly fitted basket on the bars I suspected we’d come to the right place.

The evening rolled around soon enough and naturally, was wet and miserable. As the rabble arrived we assembled in the cafe and dried off, drank coffee and ate the freshly baked cakes. Once all the bikes were stacked and the beers cracked we donned our waterproofs ready for battle to commence.

It has to be said that sometimes I go to the Nth degree when planning mates race activities, other times its more just about the idea and the details tend to sort them self out. This was one of those times. My beautiful assistant, Rich Baybutt, had kindly taped out an area on the floor and we all approached tentatively. After a few minutes of circling around, track standing and few explorative rammings I called order and explained the rules. We were playing Bellend: each time you’re knocked out, that is put your footdown, you had to leave the ‘arena’ immediately and you got a letter. Once we’d played enough rounds and you’d spelt B.E.L.L.E.N.D., you were out. Simple.

We were 17 riders strong plus spectators so with a 3, 2, 1, the arena suddenly felt VERY small. What followed was about 30 seconds of pure chaos with rider smashing in to rider, bike in to bike, elbows out, shoulders charged and several folk on the floor. After this initial carnage what was left was about 3 or 4 riders circling around each other trying to figure out some kind of tactics that might give them an advantage. Once they’d realised they hadn’t got a clue what to do it came down to a ramming-trackstand off- with the odd pull, many saves and lots of kamikaze krashes.

This pattern repeated itself each round with that initial period just being amazing: There were many domino take outs (especially by the two metre Penis who was clipped in on his single speed road bike); Lots of hanging on post footdown to make sure you took someone else with you; wild tail whips which soon became band for bike damaging potential; so many entanglements of things that should not be tangleable; constant howls of laughter, pain and despair; and the growing realisation that the fucking trials riders were winning. Team Splatshop, consisting of Tim and Chris Pearson with their sponsored rider, Joe Spivy, were left standing each round. Chris cleaned up on the first round with the three of them battling it out and leaving the brothers fiercely facing off.

The next round we went back to the school yard. Our two team captains, the Pearsons naturally, singled us out one by one leaving the weakest and least confident behind to face the shame. I won’t be naming names. What followed was a mano-a-mano contest; a faceoff; a battle to the death. Each captain picked their best warrior and sent them in, whoever was left standing remained in the ring to face the next member of the opposite team. The last team in the ring was declared the victor. In the first round of this Rich Baybutt earned his nickname; Slayer. Second in the ring for our team he destroyed the whole of Chris’ squad on his own, almost down to Chris himself. However, The Pearson just survived and we had to rely on our own team captain to take him out. Not before I’d had my own go at him though. I attempted Baybutt’s run up and ram technique which left me with a flat tyre and a bent rotor after the front wheel collision. The noise that emanated was enough to stop me in my tracks, cause a very brief silence which was followed by screams of hilarity.

Chris took the overall in the Summer Series with a total of 185 Gnar Points, I was second with 177, with Timmy taking 3rd, Baybutt storming to 4th and Martin Baker roundedout the Podium. Contested over the best 6 of 7 rounds, it was a hell of a lot of fun and we covered many disciplines some of which were featured on the site (hopefully I’ll get chance to write up the rest). There’s a brief overview included in the animation below.

Post rum we settled down to watch The Miserable Champion, Shaun Palmers DVD. Everyone really enjoyed it despite the mountain bike content being minimal. Peaty had some brilliant cameos in it basically saying what a fool Palmer was for turning down some of his big money contracts. But it showed what a true champion Napalm was at any sport he chose to turn his hand to despite being pissed and just how destructive addiction can be, to anything. Its really worth a watch if you can get hold of a copy and I think Palm could do with the cash from the sounds of it.

All in all another great night at a great venue… but my bike will never be the same again.

Hafjell – PL40

This time last year I was lucky enough to be in Hafjell riding the world cup track with 10 mates over a long weekend which was only made possible by the generosity of our friend, Piers Linney. As part of his 40th birthday celebrations he whisked us all away to paradise, hired us bikes to ride and rented the pimpest pad any of us had ever stayed in. Having our personal chef and life coach, Lars, on hand was one of many added bonuses.

I’ve previously written about our experience but one of the lads, Noel Hines, has just released his edit of the footage he took while we were there. Its a brilliant video but 19 minutes long, so if you’re time pressed check my personal highlights:

  • 0:00 – The Intro
  • 1:30 – Our faces on walking in to Lodgen
  • 2:20 – The beauty of Hafjell
  • 5:30 – First night excesses
  • 6:50 – Rodders look of fear when faced with a angry 2 metre penis
  • 18:10 – Piers managing to snap his boxxers

Thanks again Piers, it truly was the experience of a lifetime.

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