Thursday, 27 June 2019

Wales 500 Part Two

The Sunday dawned dry but a bit overcast so looked good for day two of the Wales 500. Again an early start meant no breakfast at the hotel so we headed on down to the event site and availed ourselves of the services of the burger van.

The plan today was for me to head out to the furthest part of the course where we were to set up a checkpoint. I was introduced to fellow volunteer Rod Jones who was coming with me; we looked at each other and realized we already knew each other! Thirteen years ago we had worked together as cycle commissaires on the Trans-Wales MTB stage race. Rod had led the race on his Honda CRF230 and I had been the sweeper in my heavily modified Land Rover Discovery… small world indeed.

We set off for our checkpoint taking a direct route rather than following the course, to ensure we got there before the competitors. Taking the A4103 towards Hereford the ride started well until a few miles down the road it started to spit with rain, then the drizzle set in, then persistent rain and finally a monsoon like deluge!

This continued all the way to the BP Petrol Station at Ponterwyd on the A44 not far outside Aberystwth (yes we had just completely traversed Wales from East to West) where competitors had a fuel stop at the garage, whilst this might have seemed a perfect spot for our checkpoint with fuel, toilets, shelter from the rain, hot coffee and food it lacked one vital element…. A phone signal!

So our final destination was a remote car park at Llyn Pendam as despite being in the middle of nowhere it was high enough to have a signal but sadly no shelter, food or hot coffee and needless to say “toilet facilities” were of a very basic nature.

At the garage the first two competitors had just arrived as had the Course Openers, Jonny and Stuart and as we stopped for a hot drink, many more piled in and all seemed very reluctant to leave!

We set of up the hill to Llyn Pendam in conditions that were truly grim, the rain was still hammering down and the cloud had descended so visibility was only about 10 metres at times.

A great view... not!

 Arriving at the car park we set up shop to await the competitors, they were doing a loop to the north before passing us so we had some time to wait. After several hours without incident, well apart from a few competitors arriving from the wrong direction! The weather improved, the rain stopped and the sun even came out!

Rod waiting for the sun to appear

We were joined later by Rich from Extreme Medics

Now what was that bit in the briefing about keeping you number plate clean?

Yours truly... but still no sun!

We finally got the news that the course was clear as Jonny and Stuart had swept the loop so all four of us decided to set off to clear the final 200km of the course, including the Tarrenig and Radnor Forests. This was done "at pace" as we knew the course to be clear for some distance ahead of us. 

We had a great ride on forest trails and twisty back roads; I lost touch with the other three after I had to stop for an oncoming truck on a single track road section and soon after came across the last two competitors. They claimed not to have seen the other three but certain I was on the correct route I tailed them along the amazing road down the Elan Valley and eventually into Rhayader where I spotted the others, stopped for fuel. Rod headed for home from there and the three of us continued onwards picking up the final competitors again in the Radnor Forest. From here it was a tarmac only ride back to Malvern and a very welcome Paella from the caterers!

The evening was spent working out the results, awarding medals and having a debrief on what was a very successful event. 

I eventually left for home at around 11.00 pm and soon realized I should have included my heated jacket!

By now the fatigue from the day was setting in big time, with very severe pains in my neck, shoulders and back. By midnight I reached the M40 and realized I needed a stop, Starbucks at Warwick Services providing some much needed rest and caffeine. 

I eventually arrived home at 1.00 am, very pleased that the Monday was a Bank Holiday and I didn’t need to get up for work.

Mind you it was a satisfying feeling rolling up to work on the Tuesday with the bike still stickered and muddied up!

Friday, 21 June 2019

And so to the Wales 500….

So on the Friday afternoon I headed off to….


Yes I know that’s not in Wales but it is where the event is based out of, the Three Counties Showground to be exact.

Seeing as last year I had suggested having registration open on the Friday night to ease the queues on Saturday, I thought I really ought to turn up and help, so set off on Friday afternoon to take a direct cross country route to Malvern, via Buckingham, Aynho, Chipping Norton, Moreton in Marsh, Evesham and Pershore.

 I turned up about 20 minutes before registration started and we were swamped! It seem the majority of the 190 competitors decided to turn up that evening and by the time we closed at eight, 130 riders had signed on. 

The snack wagon had pretty much run out of everything except chips but at least the bar was still open. As I had been booked into a hotel in Great Malvern, I couldn’t really partake but had a good night chatting, then headed off to the hotel.

I was up at 07.00 although unfortunately the hotel didn’t start breakfast until 08.00, I headed to the showground on deserted roads ready for the day. Thankfully the snack wagon had restocked and I was able to grab a bacon roll and a cup of tea. 

After registering the rest of the riders and carrying out a briefing the riders set off on their short 106 km training route, that apart from a short off road section in the showground was all on tarmac. 

The concept of the Wales 500 over those at Kielder and on the Isle of Man being to make it more suitable for first timers. I left on the bike before them to ride to my static marshaling point, the idea was that I would check everyone past then move a short distance up the road to a petrol station where I’d see the riders pass me again on the return loop. Well that was the plan!

On the way out I’d passed signs saying “Long Delays” and a diversion. As it was the weekend, I ignored them and sure enough the roadworks were deserted and the road clear, so I didn’t think there’d be any issues. Having arrived at my marshaling point, I called back to event HQ only to discover that several riders had become confused by the diversion and followed it. Although they eventually got back on route, it was not good as the concept of the event is to stick as closely to the road book mileage as possible. 

I headed back, “making progress” on the narrow country lanes, which was fine until I started meeting competitors coming the other way!

Reaching the end of the diversion, I witnessed a group of riders heading in that way but they had clearly worked out how to get back on route as they were indicating to turn back onto the correct route. I rode round the diversion but didn’t see any more riders, getting to the start I parked up and directed traffic. Certainly a lot of riders were indicating to follow the diversion until I waved them to continue on route. I made a “modification” to the sign, Which was fortuitous as I then got a call to say the route was blocked ahead and a diversion of our own was required.

Again I had to make rapid progress on narrow roads but at least this time all the bike traffic was headed the same way. Arriving at the last turning before the closure, I directed all bikes to carry on as they would rejoin the route a short way ahead were I was assured a rider had stopped to redirect everyone.

After some time the last three riders on course arrived (the beauty of everyone being on live GPS trackers) and I led them off. Unfortunately the rider redirecting everyone had gone and we missed the turning back onto the route, so took a bit of a detour before catching up again at my original second marshaling point. After this I was able to tail the riders back to the finish.

That evening we had the fun job of sorting the results, as we deemed those who had arrived early and worked out a way round the road closure to be on the official mileage but also those who had been redirected would be too despite having done a shorter route. Obviously anyone deviating from the route elsewhere was penalised for it but we had to work out a penalty system to account for those riders who had done one of the two “official distances” so that riders who went wrong elsewhere didn’t appear above them if they just happened to get the correct distance. The competition being judged on route keeping accuracy as well as adhering as closely as possible to the official distance. We had previously discovered that you could take the wrong route but still get the “right” distance!

To mitigate this we had to visually check the track of every rider to verify the results from the tracking company but managed to do so before some excellent food from our evening caterers arrived. Sadly the bar didn’t fare so well and managed to run out of beer only twenty minutes later!!!

For some bizarre reason they had not thought to restock after Friday night. At least there was lots of free wine offered and when they eventually got some more beer delivered, free beer! This was good for me as I was leaving the bike at the showground and getting a lift back to the hotel with John. 

After some more good chat and a few beers, we headed the 10 minutes back to Great Malvern and our beds for the night.
To be continued….

Road books, bicycles and all things French...

On the biking front I planned out the second of my road book training events in the Peak District, essentially last years route in reverse with a few extra green roads thrown in. On Good Friday I headed up to the Peaks for a final recce and surprised myself by managing 10 hours riding on the day. Needless to say I wasn’t in a fit state for much at all on the Saturday!

The following weekend was my annual trip up to Leicestershire and Rutland to assist in the running of the Rutland-Melton International CiCle Classic, now Britain's biggest (and arguably the best) one day cycle race. Now this involves two days of setting out the course and usually involves knocking in dozens of wooden posts for direction signs, sponsors banners, rope and tape barriers etc. This is achieved with a slide hammer but was quite evidently an activity completely at odds with myasthenia! Repetitive muscle movements especially of the shoulders and arms bring on severe fatigue very rapidly so this task had to be left to others and I spent a lot of time driving the van, so at least I got spend a lot of time sitting down!

The race went well with a major change to the route this year that seemed to be a great success and certainly changed the character of the event. 

It also gave me the opportunity to recce some potential routes for the road book training event I have planned in this area for August.

I wasn’t able to take part in the Peak District road book event the next weekend myself as I was off on another holiday. Our friend Mike had arranged a surprise holiday at a friend’s villa near Carcassonne in South West France for his wife Linda and asked if we would like to come along?

Not only did Linda not know where she was going but she didn’t know we were coming too, in fact Mike only announced we had “offered” to drive them to Luton Airport to save the cost of a taxi on the morning we were leaving. We managed to keep the subterfuge going right up to the point we pulled our bags out the back of the van in the car park!

A very different holiday to Italy with relaxation very much the name of the game, lie ins, leisurely lunches, historical sites, picturesque villages and a drop of wine (or two) were the order of the week.



Etang de Bages

Abbaye de Fontfroide

Once back home again I started preparing for the Rallymoto Wales 500, a report on that will be appearing soon 

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Mountains, Myasthenia and Me

Yes it’s me again!

I can’t believe I’ve left it a whole two months (OK nearly three) to update the blog, so what’s been happening?

Last time you graced my blog with your presence, I was just starting to learn to snowboard in preparation for our holiday at Bormio in Italy with friends Jill and Andy at the end of March. 

Well it sort of went OK, a bruised coccyx on the second lesson was quite literally a pain in the arse! Thanks to co-codamol I was able to continue but it took several weeks to heal. Now I won’t say I was transformed into a snowboarding god but I gained just about enough confidence to get down the slope without falling over (too much). The three hour lessons at the snowzone were just about doable as the fatigue due to myasthenia generally kicked in big time at around two and half hours. So I knew how to pace myself when I got out on the real snow.

We arrived in Bormio, sorted out hire gear and were taken to our ski lodge, the Café Rhododendri by skidoo, all good fun! It was quite strange being “stranded” up at 2250 metres in the evenings as the only way in or out was on ski/snowboard or via skidoo. Or on a Piste groomer as it turned out later!

The next day dawned bright and sunny, the late season snow was a bit icy but there was still plenty of it. I headed down on my own to build up my confidence not wishing to have to try and keep up with anyone or hold them up. Jill and Andy (on skis) and Grainne (on her brand new snowboard) set off for Bormio 2000.

After bumbling around on the slope for a bit and getting a bit frustrated as I seemed to have lost the vast majority of my new found snowboarding skills, Andy caught up with me to say that Grainne had taken a tumble and hurt her shoulder but he thought she was OK.

Sad to say she turned out to be anything but OK; after a trip to the local hospital the diagnosis was a broken shoulder, An almost identical injury to that she suffered two years ago on her other shoulder!!!

To say she was gutted was a major understatement, first run of the first day and her holiday was effectively over. She had her essay to finish for her prescribers course so spent the rest of the week doing that, so at least had some lovely scenery and minimal distractions but not exactly what we’d planned!

I booked a couple of snowboard lessons and had to spend a lot of time on my own, punctuated of course by the occasional cappuccino of course. 

I can’t say my snowboarding improved by much and the fatigue was pretty bad at times. The altitude didn’t seem to help either. I think sleeping at 2250m was part of the problem, I remember from my mountaineering days that 2400m is the level at which altitude sickness can start to occur, so we were not too far off that. The Myasthenia has been pretty well controlled of late but I discovered the exertion of snowboarding was a real challenge.

One of the highlights of the week was getting a trip out on the Piste Bully’s grooming the slopes at night. The drivers stopped at the Café Rhododendri every night for their dinner break, so it’s a bit of an exclusive for residents only, Which on most nights was only the four of us!

After our return, life returned to normal for me and recuperation, fracture clinic and eventually physio started for Grainne.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

So enough of all this World Domination rubbish....

So what's been happening in the rest of my world?

Yes how am I getting on with the Sixty by Sixty?

You can see if you check down the right hand side of the screen, except of course if you are viewing on the mobile version of the blog, when you won't see anything! You need to scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “View Web Version” to see it.

Those in red are yet to be done, those in amber have been booked and those in green have been done; yes not that many are there?

The first to be completed was No. 26 Taking part in the Ride to the Wall back in October:

No 46 Going on a Spa day was ticked off soon afterwards, with a visit to the Y Spa at Wyboston

Then we had a short break in Paris and did No. 8 A visit to the fascinating Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

And No 51, Visit the Sacre-Coeur (something I had somehow managed to miss on all my previous visits). 

We had planned to do the original No.7 too, a visit to the Klimt exhibition at the Attelier Lumiere but unfortunately it was fully booked. There could have been a lot more in Paris but I’m reluctant to add ideas that just happen and to be honest a lot of the things we did were not my first time

A day out in London saw us taking a trip on the London Eye complete with Champagne reception (No.1) 

And then an Interactive experience on the Golden Hinde, which was of course drinking Rum Cocktails whilst dressed as a Pirate! (No. 50).

Another (admittedly last minute) trip to London saw us at the O2 to see Michael MacIntyre, No 49 done and dusted!

In January I ticked of the replacement No. 7, compete in a Long Distance Trial when I entered the Clee Hill Trial and then backed this up with an entry in the Launceston Classic Trial in February.

The last one to be completed was No 25. Learn to Snowboard, when I took part in a day long course at the Snozone in Milton Keynes, still some work to be done there but I’ve made a start. This was part of a long standing deal with Grainne, I agreed to learn to Snowboard if she got her motorbike licence, as she passed her test in September 2017, I was lagging behind a bit but I got there eventually.

Yeah of course I can do this already!

I had my second lesson the other day and whilst I made some progress I think I need at least one more before hitting the slopes. Three hours of fairly intensive training was extremely fatiguing and my myasthenia kicked in big time! At least when we go away I can choose to take a break whenever I want to!

That leads us into those that are booked, the snowboarding training is of course in preparation for our holiday in Bormio, Italy in March (No 45).

No 2, A Hot Air Balloon has been paid for as I bought a pair of tickets for Grainne’s birthday last year, we just need to decide when and where and make the booking.

And finally riding the UK leg of the Trans Europe Trail (No. 47), If I go back over my 40 years of trail riding in the UK, it turns out that I have ridden a large proportion of the route at various times, just not necessarily in the right order! So I've definitely started, the challenge will be to fill in the gaps.


Of course my 60 by 60 list was created before either my diagnosis with Myasthenia Gravis or my Heart Attack, so I am in the process of reviewing some of the list to see if they are still possible.

The ones involving climbing mountains will be challenging but not impossible, although Snaefell on the Isle of Man will be OK as it has a railway to the top (I never said I had to walk).

The Lands End Trial may be a challenge because the ACU (Auto Cycle Union) are putting some pretty onerous requirements on me before they will renew my race licence. These will involve having to take a medical and successfully complete a stress echocardiogram, which will cost me over £500 with no guarantee that I’ll be able to reach the required level of fitness. 

At the moment the trials events I’m entering are organised under the auspices of the AMCA (Amateur Moto Cross Association) who have no licence requirement and merely require me to sign to declare I am medically fit to compete on the individual entry forms. The Lands' End however is an ACU sanctioned event, I have decided that the cost is not worth the effort for a few UK Rallies so have asked if the same requirements apply if I only take out a "trials registration" rather than an enduro licence.... watch this space!

The Hellas Rally is not affected as I don’t need a race licence for the class i'd enter but to be honest, whether I am fit enough to compete in a seven day rally again remains to be seen.

And the Lands’ End to John O’Groats combined with the four points of the compass by motorcycle may have to be reconsidered as to do it in one trip is a 2,250 mile ride. It might have to be broken down into three separate trips: 
1. Ardnurmurchan Point, Dunnets Head and John O’Groats. 
2. Lowestoft Ness and 
3. Lands’ End and The Lizard (although I have previously visited the Lizard by motorbike).

And finally a parachute jump might be problematic too as the BPA (British Parachute Association) medical declaration form asks you to confirm amongst a variety of conditions:

1. I am not receiving any regular, repeat medication (I am) 
2. I have never received prolonged courses of steroids or high dose steroid treatment (I do)
3. I have never had fractured or broken bones (I have) 
4. I have not had torn tendons, ligaments or cartilages (yes again) 
5. I do not have any form of heart disease (well clearly I do)
6. I have never had a heart attack (of course I have)
7. I do not have raised blood pressure or hypertension (I do, although it is controlled - see 1 above)

So that’s me potentially buggered on seven separate counts! Whilst it says that many of these conditions may be allowed following a medical assessment, it states that "Ischemic Heart Disease is an unacceptable risk factor". It seems this is not because of the parachute jump itself but the potential effects of flying at up to 15,000 feet without oxygen. Oh well back to the drawing board!

Monday, 25 February 2019

Launceston Classic Trial

So the second round of the completely unofficial, Hertfordshire TRF Classic Trial Challenge Series took place on February 10th in the distant county of Devon, well it’s a bloody long way from Milton Keynes, let alone Hertfordshire!

We took advantage of the Travelodge Sale that was on and all booked  into the hotel at Sourton Cross near Okehampton, only about 15 minutes from the venue and all for the princely sum of £27. 

After driving down on Saturday afternoon/evening, we met up and immediately headed out to the nearest pub for dinner and were offered a demonstration of how a pub in a tourist area fails miserably to cope in the off season! In their defence they did have two groups to serve (yes that’s it just the two of us) to say that service was slow was the understatement of the century! Finally fed and watered we retired to the Travelodge to ready ourselves for the next day of competition and of course for me to finally realise my fiendish plan of world domination (but only the world of Classic Trials of course).

Bright and early we were up and headed off to Lewdown Woods, just down the road, this trial being a bit different as all the stages were contained within the same woodland, so no road work involved. As a side note, this involved passing on the way the B&B in Bridestowe that I stayed in two years ago whilst cycling the Devon Coast to Coast route.

The route into the woods to the start was interesting to say the least, almost a trials section in itself! Arriving at the “arena” we parked up, the van now much muddied, offloaded our bikes and headed off for scrutineering (that was even more cursory than at Clee Hill, “Trials tyres? Yes, Number plate? Yes, MOT? Oh it’s too new, oK that’ll do!” Yes it really was that quick. Then we signed on and went off to fit numbers and grab some breakfast from the burger van.

We were all starting together, Dave first, then Gary, me and Russ bringing up the rear, so at the allotted time we headed to the queue for the first section “Zak’s Track” that conveniently started from the arena. A short hill climb with a stop and restart, we watched all the riders in front successfully start, stop and restart again. It still didn’t calm the nerves much as you are of course thinking “I’ll bet I’m the first to fail” In the event nobody did, the hill wasn’t very steep, there was plenty of grip and the section only continued for another ten yards or so after the restart. All looking good then!

Section two “Raddon Rise” was a bit trickier, a longer, steeper climb through trees with plenty of mud and roots. The technique seemed to be to take it nice and steady, Dave and Gary both struggled early on picking up 11 penalty points (out of 12 remember), as did Russ on his run. I managed to get a lot further up until I lost forward progress scoring a respectable 5 points… the challenge was definitely on!

Until it all started to go wrong!

At the next section “The Short 1” Dave set off and lost grip in spectacular fashion, scoring an 8 but in the process bouncing off a tree and then hitting the ground hard! It was clear all was not well and indeed he subsequently discovered he had broken his collar bone. After making sure he was OK we agreed to come and get him back to the start once we had got back to the arena, as we were now well behind the rest of the bikes and the cars were starting to arrive. Gary had a good ride for 2 points and Russ got a 6, I on the other hand only managed a 7.

The observed test came next and Gary and I were well matched at 21.12 and 21.28 seconds respectively, Russ somehow managed to get scored as a “fail”, not sure what happened there?

The fourth section was unmanned, so resulted in a lot of searching around and after riding up to Section 5, where the marshals didn’t know what was happening, I rode back to 4, where the cars were arriving. It seems they had been told that Section 4 was not being used and we should have been told the same!

Back to Section 5 “Up and Back” and Gary managed an impressive 4, whereas Russ and I collected 8 points each. Stage 6 “Fallow Bank” followed. It looked quite innocuous but in the event was extremely tight and slippery, Gary and I got 10’s and Russ an 11, so not so good. 

Stage 7 “Eastcott down 1” was a doddle and we all got clean runs, as did Gary and I on the next stage “Eastcott down 2” I was lucky as very near the start I put a foot out for balance and managed to clip the bank with it which could have been counted as a “dab” but either the observer was being generous or he didn’t spot it. I suspect it was the latter as Russ discovered he wasn’t being at all generous when he stalled on the line and was refused a re-start, the observer insisting it counted as a maximum 12 penalty. What was even more galling was that he then cleaned the section with ease!

“Tunnel Run” came next and we managed that easily with 3’s all round, “Rip and Roar 1” followed and Gary and Russ both scored a 7, whereas I surprised myself with only a 3. The following stage 11, “Norman’s Stump” proved a struggle for all of us, Gary and I scoring 11 and Russ 12; definitely not our finest moments.

The final section of the first lap was No 12, “Stumps R Us” here Russ struggled and scored 11, Gary did better with a 5 but once again I surprised myself by cleaning the section for a 0.

Returning to the arena, we found Dave sat in the warmth of his van but complaining bitterly of the humiliation of having to get someone to help him get undressed out of his riding gear and back into normal clothes. His bike had been ridden back by a marshal but he had to walk back. The Medic on site examined him and advised him to go to hospital but needless to say, he was reluctant to do this so far from home. Deciding to wait it out and go back with the others at the end of the day and visit the hospital back home. Russ too was suffering having injured his back and took the decision to pull out at this stage.

So it was just me and Gary who set off on the next “short” lap that was for bikes only, actually not much shorter at all than the first lap but with only three sections to complete: 

Section B1 “The Bank” was straightforward and I cleaned it although Gary was unfortunate to get a 1. 

Section B2, “Are we nearly There yet” looked straightforward, although very long but was trickier than it looked, Gary picked up 6 and I got 4 penalty points. 

There followed a long ride to the far end of the woods and B3 “Only Way is up” this was looking very difficult, with the first part very rutted and slippery. We were informed that we would be allowed to dab without penalty as far as the 11 marker as a result, however it wasn’t a great deal of assistance as Gary managed a 9 and I got an 8. Although the guy in front of us fared a little better than us...

We then headed back to the arena for the lunch break but as the cars hadn’t needed to do the extra “short” lap there was a huge queue at the burger van. So we settled for a drink and snacks we had bought ourselves. Russ had now got changed and they loaded both his and Dave’s bikes in the van so as we set off on our final lap, they walked to some nearby sections to spectate.

The third lap consisted of nine sections and seemed to go quite quickly, most probably because we were now familiar with the route around the woods and conditions had dried out compared to the morning, although the sections themselves were still treacherous in places.

Section 13 was a repeat of Section 2 “Raddon Rise” we both rode this easily this time both getting clear runs with 0 scores. Section 14 was a repeat of B1 “The Bank” and this time we both got clear runs. Section 15 was a re-run of B2 ““Are we nearly There yet”, Gary managed to improve on his previous 6 with a 5 but I failed miserably to better my 4, this time being forced to dab at 10. 

A second run of the Observed test saw a reversal of our previous result with Gary getting 18.87 seconds and I got 17.02 seconds.

It was about now that fatigue was really starting to set in, my myasthenia deciding to rear it’s ugly head and it certainly started to show in my results.

That said, the next Section 16 “Eastcott Down 3” was a very straightforward climb that we both easily cleared. Section 17 “Eascott Down 4” was Eascott Down 2” with a variation at the end, a tricky deviation up a slippery bank and round a tree. Once again I managed to clip the bank but the observer definitely saw it this time and I scored an 11, I then failed on the deviation as did Gary but his effort got him a 4.

"Nigel's Nip" saw me get an 8 compared to Gary's clear run, then on "Rip and Roar 2" that contained a stop and restart, we both failed spectacularly to achieve any forward motion on the restart so were equal in gaining a 5.

My decline in performance continued when on "Nearly There" I ran into the bank right from the start, stopping dead for an 11. Gary managed to get a bit further up the very slippery stage for a 7. And finally we got to the last section of the day "Over and Across", I dabbed early for a 10 but Gary managed to clean the section for zero.

So at the end of the day Gary had 90 penalty points to my 115 and we took 10th and 11th places respectfully. So in our unofficial challenge I still lead by a narrow margin on the strength of a first and a second (out of our group) ahead of Gary with a fourth and a first, Dave is third with a Second and a DNF and Russ fourth with a third and a DNF.

Sadly it seems our number will be depleted for the next event, the Golden Valley MCC Match Hare Trial in Gloucestershire on the 3rd March. Dave is out for several weeks with his busted collarbone, Russ has decided to take early retirement from the world of classic trials and Gary has decided not to enter this. So it looks like a sure thing for a win in the Hertfordshire TRF Classic Trial Challenge for me as long as I last the course; maybe World Domination still awaits me?

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

World Domination... maybe next month?

So the day finally arrived for my fiendish plot of world domination and after a stupidly early 04:30 wake up I was on the road to Ludlow by 05:15. After arriving at the race HQ at the Squirrel Pub around 07:30, I signed on, then unloaded the bike and headed for scrutineering, only to find that unlike every other form of bike event I have ever entered, classic trials is different and you are supposed to go to scrutineering first, get a card signed and only then can you sign on! But hang on a second, I’d already signed on? It seems the early hour was affecting everyone! I managed to meet up with the other guys from the Herts TRF, Dave, Russ, Gary and Wayne. Wayne was particularly pleased as he was starting one minute behind me and aiming to follow, as by his own admission, navigation wasn’t his thing!

I ended up in a queue behind a load of cars that were taking forever to check, so had a quick word with the scrutineer and was allowed to jump the queue as my start time was fast approaching. The scrutineering itself was a bit strange as they never even touched the bike? It seemed to consist mainly of a checklist that judging by the number of “N/As” was designed for the cars. Anyway suitably completed I was able to now go and hand in my scrutineering card and sign on, only to cause more confusion as of course I’d already done that. This had all served to make me late, not helped after getting changed to find I had misplaced the van keys. I eventually found them and got to the start two minutes late, not that it made much difference other than there was no sign of Wayne. It later transpired he had decided to follow Russ.

So I got on with the business of getting to the first section, a 15 mile ride up the A49 in the mist and rain…. Great fun! Eventually arriving at the section near Church Stretton; Castle Hill, most of the other bikes seemed to be there waiting but no sign of the other Hertfordshire guys? 

We were queued up at the bottom of a muddy bridleway and I took the time to lower my tyre pressures having pumped them up for the initial road ride. Setting them at 10psi I still managed to spin my back wheel just moving up the queue, so one of the old hands advised me to drop them to 6 psi!!! I was to discover this makes very little difference and trials tyres simply don’t like mud.

You are not allowed to inspect the section so have to ride it blind, all I could see was a gently climbing, narrow track heading up round a bend, so rolled up to the line where I was told that as I was in class B2 I had to keep right when I got to the tree marked with red and white tape, sounds easy enough; if only I had known!

Flagged away, I headed up the relatively easy track and soon got to the tree, only to find the “keep right” actually meant, “leave the track, turn sharp right up a short, steep and very greasy bank around the aforementioned tree” of course I left it too late to get into position, had to turn straight up the slope and immediately lost all grip and came to a halt. I backed down to the main track and rode easily to the top of the section.

I should explain the scoring, in normal trials the aim is to get a “clean” i.e. zero penalty points, these are scored as follows: put one foot down (a “dab”) and you get one point, two dabs and it’s two points, three or more dabs and that’s three points so once you get to three, you can paddle away to your hearts content as you can’t get more than three. As long as you don’t stop at the same time or fall off as that scores the maximum five penalty points. Traditionally just stopping or going backwards was an automatic five but these days as long as you keep your feet up, you can stand still, bounce backwards and perform any manner of athletic maneuvers! I say “you” because I’m clearly incapable of any of this myself!

I was mistakenly believing this was the same in classic trials, so had just scored a maximum five but later in the day I learnt that Classic Trials are quite different. Each section is divided into twelve sectors, starting at twelve and going to zero at the top, these are marked on posts at the side of the section. The idea is that you have to ride feet up all the way to the top to score zero. If you put a foot down, stop, fall off or have to lean against a tree of any other part of the section, you score whatever is on the last number post you managed to pass. It doesn’t matter if you stop, fall off or just dab, once you do, that’s your score at that point. Although on that first stage the instructions said a fail automatically gets you a six but as that’s out of twelve, I guess it’s actually better than getting five out of five!

Until I realised this was how it worked, I was struggling to make it to the top of the sections but once I did, I also realised I could just leave the section or back down as soon as I scored my penalty; it certainly saved a lot of wasted effort.

Once I got to the top I continued up over the Long Mynd, which was cold, misty and with surprisingly large snow drifts all around to get to the next section, which was the “observed test” at Ratlinghope, a timed section designed as a tie breaker. A short rocky climb, with a stop half way up. You sit astride the start line and then when the flag drops you ride as fast as you can to the second line and stop astride it and place a foot on the floor, a marshal holds a flag in front of you, and then when he drops it you set off again and stop astride the finish line. I managed 18.1 seconds in total which turned out to be fortuitous as we shall see later.

The next section “Gatten’s Gamble” was a simple rocky hill climb that I was able to ride up “clean” with no penalty points; although so did nearly all the other bike competitors, so not that hard then!

On the way to the next section I met up with the other Hertfordshire riders and we stayed together for the next few sections that all followed the same pattern apart from one tricky one, Priors Holt 4 that included a stop and restart half way up. I stopped and immediately slid backwards as there was absolutely no grip, so that was a fail and seven points scored. This was the fate of most competitors although amongst our group, Dave managed to get up with only a two scored! I was able to clean the next two sections but thereafter I picked up penalties on all the remaining sections, the best results being a couple of fives, the worst a couple of tens.

There was also a lot of boring road work, with one nine mile stretch between sections that was particularly tedious as it was cold, wet and on trials tyres at 6 psi, restricted to around 40 mph. The final two sections were eventually completed and then another 15 mile road stretch back to Ludlow, by now it was freezing cold!

Arriving back, I signed in at the pub, got changed into clean, warm gear and washed the bike at the convenient jet wash at the garage next door, loaded it in the van and then retreated back to the pub for some food before heading back home, arriving at 7.00 that evening, so not too bad a day.

So did I achieve world domination? Well I guess not but despite the conditions, it was good fun and I was able to keep my myasthenia pretty much under control all day which was good news.

A few days later the results were out and at first I seemed to be 7th in class one place behind Dave in 6th but in front of Russ in 8th and Gary in 9th, Wayne having decided to retire at section seven and just rode round with the others after that.

However in the overall results, I was put ahead of Dave in 12th place, he being 13th, Russ 14th And Gary 15th… surely some mistake?

It transpired Dave and I both scored 60 penalty points but my 18.1 seconds on the Observed test beat Dave’s time of 22.6 seconds so there was clearly an error.

I also noticed a competitor ahead of all of us had entered the wrong class and should have been in Class B1, not B2 with us as he was on a smaller capacity bike. I queried this with the Clerk of the Course as it would we would mean we all move up one place in class. It was confirmed this was correct so the final result was:

Observed test
In Class

So I may not be dominating the world of classic trials just yet but I am maintaining a minor lead in the unofficial “Hertfordshire TRF Classic Trials Challenge”. The next round is the Launceston Trial in Cornwall on the 10th February, all four of us have all entered….  the challenge is on!