Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Red Kite Winter XC Series Round 4: Eating yellow snow

Star date: 19 January 2015
Location: Coed Trallwm, Mid Wales
Event: Red Kite Winter XC Series Round 3
Weapon of choice: 29er hardtail with semi-automatic transmission
Greatest strength: Persevering
Greatest weakness: Chain
Result: 5th

Finally a spot of proper winter weather and a chance to angst all night about whether I'd make it to the race at all. In the end, though, the main roads were as over-salted as your average bag of chips - other than the odd patch of ice and slush it was more like driving on the beach.

Coed Trallwm, on the other hand, had been transformed into a magical winter wonderland. Glorious sunshine, a three-inch carpet of fresh snow, Bambi off in the distance frolicking with some polar bears, stunning.

Q. How did King Wenceslas like his pizza?
A. Deep and crisp and even.

Photo courtesy of The Frozen Photographer. Another 347 photos of the event here.

Messing around on bikes in the snow is just the best, like going sledging. You slide and skid about, not caring about your speed or the cold, and taking risks you never normally would, confident that if it does all go tits up at least you'll have a soft landing.

Racing in the snow is a different matter, generally progressing from tough to fun to scary to horrid as the race progresses. On the first lap, you have to contend with the unparalleled energy-sapping qualities of virgin snow, which really ought to have military applications. Even downhill, it can be like riding uphill through treacle with the brakes on - while pulling a freight train. On the second lap, the snow is nicely compacted; let the fun begin. But after that the course tends to mutate first into an icy luge track and finally into wet, cold, sticky, slimy, brown slush from hell. Apart from that brief interlude of perfection on the second lap, racing in the snow is best described as character-building.

Today, though, with a much-depleted turnout and the right kind of snow, it was surprisingly good fun to race on throughout. The packed snow/ice left by the organiser's 4x4 on the main climb offered surprising traction; the section of fluffy virgin snow at the far end of the course was short enough to be a fun challenge rather than a tortuous ordeal, the steep bits at the top becoming increasingly rideable as the race went on; and the snow offered surprising support and grip as I careered round the flat corners unclipped on the black descent, although I did have a couple of speedway moments. It was snow-free under the trees, though, which presented a challenge in itself as you dived into the gloom to find yourself worryingly snowblind. But ultimately I had more issues on the A483 than out on the course.

With neither Enduro Man nor Jon Roberts in attendance, I got to the start thinking victory could finally be mine. Don't I ever learn? Three riders shot off alarmingly quickly up the opening climb; I followed warily at a distance, assuming they'd run out of puff; which they didn't, so eventually I had to speed up, catching them near the top to form a mini-peleton. It was shaping up to be a five-way battle for supremacy.

Photo courtesy of The Frozen Photographer.

The cast:

James Pritchard 

 Scott "I live 17 miles south of Brecon" Cornish

James Joyce

The weakest link? That'll be me then.

And Hereford's Nick Reese, lurking sinisterly in the background

Predictably, the Karate Kid shot his load too early, confirming every prejudice we have about teenagers, and ran out of steam on the second lap. F. Scott Fitzgerald had a good stab at writing his name in the history books to finish a strong third, while Andy McNab was readying his grenades for a final murderous push for victory when Merthyr Man heard one of his neighbours had been spotted in the car park. Fearing for his stereo, he flew off to finish over a minute clear.

And the weakest link? Well, I struggled with the pace from the off. After getting held up by a couple of the others on the early singletrack sections (a novelty that soon wore off), I eventually gave the Karate Kid the chop but just couldn't close the gap on the others to less than 100 yards. And then, at exactly the same point on the course as in round 2, my chain did a runner. I managed to fix it at only the second attempt and in less than half the time it took before, but combined with a mysterious flat tyre half a mile later, intermittently frozen gears that I'd naively done nothing about since the Frozen Devil, a saddle that wouldn't stay up, issues with ice in my cleats on the snowy top section, and general knackeredness... I was a spent force, once again suffering with cramp and limping round the last two laps to finish fifth, only just avoiding being lapped. All horribly reminiscent of round 2. A part of me really wanted to give up and go home - but then the rest of me just wanted to get back up the top and play in the snow some more!

Photo courtesy of The Frozen Photographer.

Competition time!
Solve the Mystery of the Flat Tyre and you could win ... moderate gratitude from me and the adulation of both my readers. The scenario: All the air leaks audibly out of a nearly new tubeless tyre over a period of say 30 seconds while I'm riding on packed snow up a smooth fireroad. There are no tears in the tyre, the bead is still seated in the rim, the top of the valve is screwed in properly, and once reinflated the tyre stays up for the rest of the race (and has been fine ever since). So what happened?
Answers on a postcard please...

See you at Coed Trallwm on 22 February for the final round of the XC series. And I really will be taking the singlespeed next time; I just don't know what's come over me of late.

The top 5:

Time Lap 1 Lap 2 Lap 3 Lap 4 Lap 5
1 CORNISH Scott Vet 2:16:23 22:06 28:36 0:28:35 25:15 29:13
2 REESE Nick Senior 2:18:08 21:51 28:38 28:56 28:12 30:28
3 JOYCE James Vet 2:19:27 22:09 28:41 28:37 28:40 31:19
4 PRITCHARD James Junior 2:35:39 22:16 32:58 32:00 33:44 34:40
5 SCHRODER Chris Vet 2:16:03 22:12 29:57 48:54 34:59


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