Imagine you are organising your wedding.
You are Brad and Angelina, Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, Gavin and Stacey. Everyone is dee-bloody-lighted that you are tying the knot. You are the perfect couple.
You hire the best venue – the Taj Mahal / Playboy Mansion / Disneyland / Wetherspoons, whatever.
You get the most romper-stomper, kick-ass skankin’ wedding band money can buy, cast iron guaranteed to get granny flashing her knickers and head-butting the vicar.
You lay on a free bar, Heston Blumenthal does the catering, hot and cold running prostitutes, a class-A drug fountain….
…and still all the guests sit round with faces like slapped arses, determined to have a miserable time and be in bed by ten o’clock. See where I am going with this?
The list of event organisers’ responsibilities, as kindly supplied by the sloping shoulders department at British Cycling, is long but distinguished, and expensive. But the event, and the sport, needs all involved to take responsibility for making these weekends into the cross-country carnival they could be.
Newnham is going to be our final roll of the National XC dice, so here’s how you can raise the roof down in Devon –
To help you plan your noise making journey, here's a spectator map of the course.
There is a worrying trend for course practice at the National XC to follow the following format –
For Round Two, you have options. If you choose not to take any of them, fill your boots but don’t bleat about the queues afterwards. Your options are –
The organisers have enough to do without chasing riders off the course when they aren’t supposed to be there. It’s boring, it’s always the same people, and you aren’t insured to be out there so play by the rules like everyone else.
Gratuitous attempt to get a Tank Girl picture into a blog? Who, me?
For the past few weeks we’ve been using some of the Wickens and Soderstrom products, with them being a supporter and sponsor of the Soggy Bottom Series we thought we’d better give their stuff a run through the wrecking machine to see if it stands up to the South West conditions. With a prolonged episode of intense concentration, I’ve even been able to stop thinking of them of ‘Wickes and Sodastream’ so bully for me.
From Mike the Mechanic, we received some chain lube, some bike wash spray and bottles of their hot-off-the-press tubeless sealant. With a wont to being nonchalant and blasé about such things, my knee jerk reaction was to poo-poo new-fangled chain lube. Going for the ‘seen it all before’, and ‘it’s all the bloody same’ approach, I then put the bottles away in the cupboard where the lube lives in our house. The lube cupboard. It’s a sad life when you have a cupboard dedicated to such things when it could so easily be a wine cellar, but that’s the choice we made, for some reason. Anyway, into the lube cupboard it went and I noticed all the bottle of lube that are in there – some of which we have been given to field test, some of which we bought when away from home, lube-less and desperate and plenty that have been tried for one wet ride and discarded with the words ‘What is this crap? Water soluble?’. So maybe I care about lube more than I care to admit, and am actually fairly discerning. So the Wickens and Soderstrom lube offering has entered the fray, and has done some rides of up to four hours in some pretty foul conditions. I don’t go in for sophisticated methods of lube application, I remember Squirt chain lube from some years back that sponsored TransWales and we all got mid-ride chain cleans and liberal lube from some tight t-shirted Squirt dolly birds in the middle of a muddy forest. The lube was awful, and the explanation was that it needed to be applied to a clean and dry chain, it needed several applications and dried at 90 degrees farenheit etc etc. Life isn’t like that, we give our pour bikes a half-hearted wipe down with a wet cloth, splash on the lube with the gay abandon of 1970s man applying Brut and expect it to work perfectly.
Well, the Wickens and Soderstrom stuff does exactly that, at least it has done so far. It has the right consistency; not so runny that you lose most of it on the floor and you don’t have to shake it out of the bottle like Heinz ketchup. So far it hasn’t attracted tons of crap the way other lube has, making your jockey wheels clog and turning your cassette and chain black. It also wears off at just about the right time. Anything that lasts longer than four wet and muddy hours is going to be a bugger to get off when you finally wash your bike, so I was pleased to hear the tell-tale squeak of a lube-less chain as I pulled into my street.
Being a card carrying member of the elbow grease club, I have rarely used any bike cleaner, preferring to use the cheapest washing up liquid money can buy and the most expansive range of brushes ever assembled. So I’ve been using the Wickens and Soderstrom spray-on bike wash, my bike is clean, it seems just dandy, not very scientific but there you are. The bottles look posh, refills are easy to do, it hasn’t changed my life but maybe that’s expecting too much.
Yesterday I tried the brand spank-me new tubeless sealant on a tyre that had been oozing sealant out of the side walls, due to the fact that it is as old as God’s dog and I am too tight to buy a new one. When it comes to sealant, we are fanatical followers of Stans. We’ve tried everything else in the spirit of diversity, but nothing good comes from experimentation. We have never found anything to rival the reliability and function of Stans, but the Wickens and Soderstrom stuff is looking good so far. Again, the bottle looks posh and wouldn’t look out of place on the shelf in your bathroom. The sealant itself has the consistency just below that of a McDo’s milkshake and has some nice glittery bits in case you want to use it as a foundation. The bottle has got a pretty clever flexible tube that extends from the top cap and makes splurging it into the tyre, either through the valve or straight into the tyre, an absolute breeze. The tyre went back up first time, which is probably coincidental but made me happy, and we had no seepage. Many hours riding later there is nothing to report, simple as that. Really like it, really recommend it.
Mike the Mechanic will be at the Nationals in Newnham in April, so go and say hello and see what killer deals he’s brought with him.
In the past six weeks we have become cross-country ski obsessives. The obsessive part of it is no surprise as we tend towards the addictive, but the fact that skiing has become our target is both a shock, given the horror of previous attempts at it, and also fortuitous as we find ourselves based in a winter wonderland that is as flat as a witch's tit. If it wasn't skiing I might have to have another crack at skating, and that is an experience that should never be repeated in public.
To start with we had a lesson. If everyone who took up MTBing did the same we would be millionaires. And then we bought the shonkiest sets of prehistoric kit from Canada's most boring woman, who talked so much about herself when we met she gave herself a migraine, presumably through oxygen deficiency. We paid £75 each for skis, boots and poles that were left behind when Captain Scott left the Pole, having applied our principle that you can achieve more through practicing good technique and physical capabilities than you can by just buying Gucci kit. And we are notoriously tightwad bastards.
Then, like anything, it's just a matter of putting in the hours. Initially, it was a combination of my two greatest talents - falling over and swearing, and gave me pains in the most surprising places. But as we know, practice makes perfect, or in our case practice makes us as technically inept as ever but much, much faster. Now, when we crash, it's a flailing, windmilling, scrotum-splitting cluster fuck rather than a slow speed, giggle inducing stumble with resulting snow angel.
The xc ski version of the eternally tedious "what tyres...?" question is the "which wax...?" question. But in skiing's case it is really, really, game changingly important, rather than just being anally retentive. On each ski, under your foot, you apply a layer of kick wax. Without kick wax, when you drive one leg forward, the other one, which is on the ground, shoots out behind you, you go nowhere fast, apart from the hospital to have your groin muscles reattached. offensive Anglo Saxon then fills the air and kills all the delicate Canadians. Think an 18 certificate bambi on ice. So the leg that is on the snow has to grip the snow in some way, and this is the job of the kick wax. There is a bewildering array of wax available, they are graded by temperature in five degree increments and also for new or old snow. Now, I am a card carrying cynic, crafted by years of being ripped off by the cycling industry, and I am pretty damn sure that half the waxes are identical, but I am also aware of the times I have got it wrong and ended up,skiing on the spot while the Talking Head's 'Road to Nowhere' played in my head. The other joy of kick wax is that it will also stick like shit to a blanket on any trail debris - leaves and twigs stuck in the wax have the drag factor of a bent disc rotor and if you are in majestic full glide and hit a big enough bit of trail smeg it is like getting a stick in your spokes; stops your skis stone dead and sends you straight out the front door. Always fun.
When you get the wax right, your technique half decent, and you nail the clothing combo, cross country skiing allows you to fly along in some stunning places. Normally with an icicle of snot (snotcicle) hanging from your nose. Its reputation as a kick ass tough workout is well deserved and at no point is there any requirement to do anything gnarly. Even when you are just noodling along on your MTB, there is this niggling thought that you should really go and do something a bit 'Red Bull Rampage' even though you really want to stick to 'Cycling Miss Daisy'. The sun is reflected back off the snow, you can rock sunnies in February and the likelihood of getting hit by a icy monsoon is slim to none. Unlike running, our other true love, there is no pressure to ever do anything competitive. If you take up running, and build up to the point where you can run 10 km in training, the inner Seb Coe in all of us starts whispering "So how FAST can you run 10km?" and before you can say "seven minute miling" you are pinning on a number and queuing at a portaloo.
Times they are a-changing in the Horton house.
In our chequered history of competing in crazy races, running five miles on a frozen river in Canada is right up there with racing horses, trains and the ill-fated egg and spoon incident of '77. We were confidently assured by the race organiser that the ice was 18 inches thick, and easily strong enough to support our combined weight, but having previously confidently assured riders that our MTB races were flat, dry and not very technical; I know that organisers are habitual liars. But I've seen ice road truckers, had spent hours researching the sound of cracking ice and was fully primed to adopt the 'sliding starfish' position at any given second.
Considering Winnipeg is a damn big city, and there are precious few sports event in the Canadian winter, having 100 runners pitch up for a pretty unique race is a piss poor turn out. For all their roughty-toughty image (big cars, big beards, big burgers) Canadian runners and cyclists suffer the same affliction as their UK counterparts - they disappear indoors faster than a vampire at dawn as soon as the winter arrives. They use these amazing filters that help them only notice evidence supporting the value of wrapping your tits in and sitting on the turbo trainer, and ignore all the fantastically functional kit that you can wrap yourself up in to battle the elements, Bear Grylls-style. The weak scuttle into their Ivan Drago laboratories - air conditioned, bacteria free, wi-Fi enabled torture chambers that make you fit while removing your soul, while the enlightened get all Balboa on yo ass. We accept the clothing challenge, howl into the teeth of the gale and can spend the rest of the day extracting our testicles with a warm spoon.
The Canadian winter, I am first to admit, can be a nostril-hair freezingly harsh environment. There are times when I am scared for my life while de-icing the car, driving on ice and snow encrusted roads is a sphincter clenching thrill ride and frozen eyelashes are a daily occurrence. But as my dear departed Granny too frequently said, "there's no such thing as cold weather, just cold clothes." Dressing for a Canadian winter is a piece of cake because IT'S NOT RAINING ALL THE BLOODY TIME! Avoid exposed skin, wear the biggest parka you can find, hat, gloves, boots and away you go. No Gore-Tex, no wellies, no steaming when you're in the pub, no constant pile of muddy laundry and no moss growing behind your ears.
Dressing for sport is equally easy. You just go for full body cover, fire up the amazing furnace that is the human body and as long as you keep it stoking at 80 per cent, you'll be right as rain. Admittedly you'll have to get past the initial ten minutes of "oh shit, I'm going to die" but you'll mostly survive. Be bold, start cold and all that.
A woeful example of the Canadian lack of backbone was our visit to a running club's weekday session. Meeting place was at a leisure centre where there was an indoor running track. All well and good so far, seen such things on the telly, let's go! But this track was basically made of a rectangular corridor that ran round the top of the swimming pool. It was about 3 metres wide, was 250 metres long and had hundreds of people going round, and round, and round it. The 90 degree bend at each corner didn't help your running fluency, the humidity from the swimming pool made for a pretty sweaty atmosphere, and the occasional roof-supporting pillar made it a full dodgeball run. The sane runners bashed out a swift interval session, as best they could, while the mentally unstable just shuffled round the track for an hour, round and round, slowly unscrewing their hips. BUT THE WORST BIT! The worst bit of all was the presence of a walking track on the inside! People pay to walk round a 250 metre indoor corridor! Are you out of your tiny minds? Roughty toughty my arse!
There is a worrying trend towards thinking about winter as dangerous, evil and best avoided. But we know better, don't we? Enduring winter is how we earn the summer.
Winter - it's a state of mind.
Since sticking our heads above the event organising parapet some six years ago, there have been plenty of people wanting to shoot us down.
Trust us, we've heard every complaint under the sun; events are too hard or too easy, too muddy or too rocky, too hilly, too flat, not enough jacket potatoes and in the case of Nationals 2015...too many line choices. Blah, blah, yawn. When you've busted your balls for weeks, and put your heart and soul into an event the last thing you need is some spineless Facebook botherer dripping about it.
One of the frequently contentious issues across cycling, running and triathlon, are the race categories and prizes. It's a race, we know that there needs to be prizes, but before you publicly state your disgust about the lack of a Vet 75 podium at your local 10km fun run, think about it from an event organisers point of view.
Let's examine MTB XC, and the current plethora of race categories. Even with the ditching of the pot-hunting Masters category, from Juvenile to Grand Vet, top three in each category, male and female comes to.....fifty four prizes! Fifty four! At a South West regional race we are lucky if we get anywhere near 200 entries, so one in four people would go home with a prize! Has one in four people at a XC race really done something that deserves a prize? I doubt it. One of our sponsors in the past compared it to Santa's Grotto. Not far off really, is it? When you get into triathlon it's even worse, with their 5 year age categories. The presentation takes longer then the race, the only people sat there are the prize winners, and they are secretly wishing they were already sat in KFC. I was first Vet 40 at a running race recently, and they had a trophy for it. An argument ensued between the vets, each claiming that they WEREN'T first vet, just because they couldn't be bothered to take the bloody trophy home.
So we'd need to find 54 prizes, even before we've thought about the under 12s. Don't kid yourself that sponsors are falling over themselves to provide a prize for the third place in the Grand Vet category, because they aren't. Even when we've been able to snare a prize sponsor, we still spend countless hours batting e-mails back and forth (usually with the line 'HOW MANY PRIZES!?' in there somewhere), then driving round to collect and sort the stash. It all starts well, but by the end someone always goes home with a XXL t-shirt or another bottle of Muc-Off. And the next day we see the good prizes on e-bay. Lovely. How about trophies? For a worthy trophy that won't find its way directly to landfill, you will spend a minimum of a fiver. Then multiply that by 54, and again by the number of races in the series and you get to the kind of a figure that makes your bank manager wince. And that figure is on top of all the other bills that cascade through the door before the dust has settled on the single-track.
'No battle, no victory.'
So something has to give, and unfortunately you are going to upset someone. The slightly offensive phrase that is bandied about is 'rewarding mediocrity' when it comes to race podiums. At the running race where none of us wanted the 'first vet' trophy, it was because we'd rather be recorded as being in contention for the overall, rather than getting a patronising pat on the head for being old. Is it fair that the person in third place in a category with only three in it gets a prize for turning up, whereas third place in a hotly contested category needed to turn themselves inside out for ultimately the same prize? I don't know. Is the person who is training 20 hours a week, mostly at 0500, as well as working full-time and raising a family, the same as the weekend warrior who happens to fall into a category with no-one in it? No battle, no victory. The people that complain about the lack of podium for whatever category they are in will ALWAYS say "It's not about the prize, it's the recognition." But we know that's not true.
For the past few years, we've focussed our energies on the majority 75% of people that don't win prizes but want a kick-ass event. You'll forget the prize within a week, no-one apart from Rain Man ever remembers who won what race, but people hopefully remember the parts of the course that we devote our time to. Who could forget the number of injuries when Derriford Drop first raised its head? Ask people who won the whatever category at whatever race, and even the race winner himself wouldn't know. Ask people if they remember the Bear Pit / Down to Brown / Nod Off and they will all have a photo of it. I'd rather spend hours trudging round Newnham Park with wellies and hand-tools than talking to sponsors with shiny shoes and too much aftershave. These days, when there is a legacy of some really good event organisers in the South West (I knew Martyn Salt was to blame:) - hard act to follow), people expect professionally run events. Well, events run professionally tend to be run by event professionals, and we need to see a financial return for our efforts. Making ourselves bankrupt by providing all the race categories that you would like to see is a quick way to kill the event stone dead.
So if we merge your race category because there's only two of you, take it as an opportunity to duke it out with people you've never raced before. The Soggies will be the usual mass start so you'll be battling with riders between 13 and 60, and my money is on the 13 year old. There's your battle, take the victory and enjoy it for the good day out that we hope it will be. Alternatively, rustle up 54 prizes per round for us and we'll start the presentation now.
I kid you not, the very first bit of foliage the Keela jacket came anywhere near ripped a hole in it.
For a Scottish jacket, with all their blue-faced Braveheart cobblers this is not very impressive.
So if you want a tough MTB waterproof, look elsewhere, but if you want a lightweight jacket for fannying around in, like the tourists in Ambleside, bedecked in North Face gear that never leaves the tarmac, this is the fella for you.
I have been trying to drag the last glimmer of life out of an old Gore Paclite jacket for the past year. The poor pink thing (used to be red) is now so thin it is transparent in places, has so many bramble rips that it looks like Edward Scissorhands' pants and above all, has gone from waterproof to absorbent. To replace it would cost over £200! For something I will undoubtedly shred within a week? No thanks.
Singletrack recently highly rated the Keela Saxon jacket. As luck would have it, local boy Colin from Run Venture is currently knocking them out for £50 instead of the website price of £80. So I bagged one, threw caution to the wind and to hell with the consequences. When it comes to risking the amount we usually spend on a takeaway, I'm a proper reckless bugger.
Straight off, you can see this isn't a cyclists' specific jacket, for one, the arms are the dimensions of windsocks. Like most cyclists I have the arms of a tyrannosaurus rex, along with the legs of a sparrow and arse of a baboon. The Keela's arms are roomy enough for the Hulk's bicep bursting potential, which is great for putting it over a post-ride hoody, but a bit flappy on the bike. You can do up the velcro wrist closure things, but that only makes the arms look like the kind of poofy-armed shirt you'd expect Meatloaf to wear. The arms are long enough to accommodate my extensive ape index, and there are those cute little thumb loops to keep it all in place; which serve no function at all on the bike.
It is nice and long in the body, slim-fit, basically bang on the money. It comes with a non-removable hood that is so impressively voluminous , you can get it over a cycle helmet - instant morale with zero peripheral vision or hearing. The zip comes up to just below your nose for the full South Park impressions, again for maximum foul weather morale. You can roll the hood down to get it out of the way but it makes it really uncomfortable and not worth bothering with. Who rolls down the hood on a hoody anyway? Just go and buy a sensible sweater, C&A man.
A major bugbear for me is the zips on 99% of jackets. The Keela has 2 zipped side pockets and none of the zips have storm flaps. I have an amazing ability to wreck a zip a month, and I know these will be full of grit, worn out and the source of much melancholy before summer arrives. I hope I'm proved wrong, and at £50 it's a gamble worth taking.
The reason I've always gone for Gore Tex is for its 'boil it and tumble dry' care routine. None of this 'wash only with mermaids' sweat on a full moon' bollocks. Life is too short to handwash in pure soap. Among the list of Horton rules (never eat anything bigger than your head, don't buy anything you can't run in) is the one that states only buy clothes that an survive grievous laundry harm.
So the Keela Saxon looks good on and off the bike, will fit you even if you grow Hulk arms, is currently waterproof and cost me fifty squids. It pushes most of my buttons, and pushes the 'cheap as chips' button - the big, red, 'cheap as chips' button, with a hammer. Will it survive the Fully Sussed mangle? Nothing ever has, but I reckon it'll easily do fifty quid worth.
Man, we love mountain bike duathlons, of which The Stinger is clearly universally recognised as the finest example.
There's loads of reasons for it, but one of the main ones is that the final positions are never decided until the winners stagger across the line. We've hosted / watched / feigned interest in cross country mountain bike racing for a number of years. Admittedly, the starts are pretty exciting, occasionally a bit too exciting if you're involved in the bun fight, then everyone finds themselves a bit of personal space and that tends to be the racing over for the day. I remember a local rider telling me of the boredom of circuit racing until the last 20 minute chaos ensues. He always wished he could be air-lifted in for the exciting bit at the end. In cross country, we tend to be racing for about the first 2 minutes, and then doing a solo time-trial for the next hour and a half. Still fun, still exciting to be riding your bike at max chat, but ultimately not really racing.
Barring mechanicals (not so common these days, but as no-one fixes anything any more, game over when they happen), crashes (pretty common at our races), or loss of the will to live (cyclo-cross) once the first lap is completed you can pretty much print off the final standings, do the podiums and start taking in the arrows.
The Stinger was not like that at the weekend, and the first to finish the run is rarely the ultimate victor. Plymouth's Farrer brothers were racing head-to-head, and while Ross was first of them to finish the first 5 km run, as soon as he jumped onto his bike (borrowed) and we spotted that he was using flat pedals the writing was on the wall. In this particular niche sport, it's ALL about the bike. Ross finished sixth in the end while his bro Ben, having served his penance this winter racing 'cross, left him for dead to take the win, despite being 3 minutes in arrears after the run.
So for mountain bikers, a whole load of overtaking is the order of the day, and you have the buzz of banging in flying lap times compared to all the Ron Hill Trackster wearers in front of you. This is the point in the conversation where MTBers generally say the classic "I can't run!" cop-out. Come round to our house, I'll get a bottle of something highly combustible and a box of matches and prove to you that you can run. Guaranteed. If you count yourself as a semi-serious fit cyclist, or even worse a competitive cyclist, but can't muster up a 30 minute jog you should be ashamed of yourself. Bike Motion's Alex Dawson classes himself as a running-hater, but took his man-up pills and watched the whole world run away from him at the start. During the reckoning of the 20km bike leg, he wiggled his way to 2nd senior and took home the goodies, along with several kilos of Newnham Park mud.
We love the planning and preparation of The Stinger. The participants are generally not serious triathletes and don't make us suffer the sight of them running in tri-suits, which always looks like a man doing keepie-ups with a button mushroom. The amount of kit carted into the transition area varies between those clearly packing for an Arctic campaign to those who go for the intimidating policy of travel light, move fast, blow up after an hour. Our favourite has always been the Grand Vet XC racer who carries a shoe horn into transition to help him change footwear 'quickly'. Unfortunately most racers are actually undone by their OCD need to do double knots in their laces, shoe horns be damned.
So how do you carry your stuff? Do you fill your pockets with your spares and snacks as usual, only to have them bounce out as soon as you break into a jog? Do you stoop to a camelbak or (heaven forbid) a bum-bag? The evidence would suggest that you don't ride on flat pedals if you want to be Top Cat, but do you run in SPDs, which Rob Lee chose to do a couple of years ago? I think he'd had a bit of a brain fart to be honest, and the fact that he also ran in cycle helmet and gloves indicated that someone else probably packed his bag for him.
Transition at a duathlon tends to be a hysterical place to be. Prior to the race, it is a beautifully regimented space, with everything lined up ready for kit muster. Riders pace out the distance between the entrance to the zone to their bikes, making 100% sure that all their gear is to hand. Then the race starts, they enter transition for the first time, all sweat, snot and swearing and put their cycle helmet on backwards. They fumble with their buckles, can't get skin-tight gloves on over sausage fingers, forget to take any tools and go the wrong way out of transition on someone else's bike. The once orderly zone now looks like the shoe table at a jumble sale, and while it is reasonably easy to spot your bike in transition when the red mist is down, try to spot your muddy size nines after an hour of red-lining it on your MTB. As I write this there is still a man in Newnham Park, wandering round in a muddy tri-suit, trying to find a left foot Salomon.
There used to be a reasonably sizeable group of folk who used to 'specialise' in MTB duathlons, but as the number of events have declined over the years, so the number of hard-core MTB duathletes has diminished. This is no bad thing and leaves the events wide open for an unexpected winner. No-one loves a pot hunter, and the English love an underdog. MTB duathlons may be the last place where the underdog can finally have his day.
In the history of competitive sport, there have been innumerate refereeing howlers.
Witness the recent Scotland v the Aussies rugby debarkle, the time I was outrageously penalised for cheating at Scrabble, and all those times on the terraces singing "Who's the bastard in the black?" with the masses, as a result of some dodgy decision that I usually either missed, or didn't understand anyway. To be honest, I just enjoyed the sing-song.
It is highly unfortunate that MTBing doesn't have a rich tradition of mass abuse of officials through song. Wouldn't you feel better if you got it all off your chest with a quick chorus of "you don't know what you're doing!" instead of huffing off to your car like a muddy toddler in a tantrum and taking it all out on Facebook?
Now that some time has passed and my fists have unclenched, I am ready to tell the tragically unjust story of a recent decision at a MTB race - the Inter Regional MTB Champs.
For those that still have their head in the sand, the Inter Regionals is the best weekend of MTB racing you'll ever witness, or for most of you never witness, due to the lack of a vet category and the fact that no-one just goes to watch and support racing. Three nose-bleed days of competition - a skills day, a handicap race, team relay, eliminator, and all culminating in the grand finale of the cross country race, over a hundred of the country's best under 16s kicking crap out of each other to win points and glory for their region.
When I wake up in the morning, before my feet hit the floor, I can kid myself that I'm still the same hound dog I was in my mid twenties. Then my body has to fight gravity to get me moving and every ache, pain and bit of gristly scar tissue remind me of my true age which seems to be increasingly measured in dog years. Then I go out for a ride (or even worse, a race) with the young riders and brother, I'm a dinosaur. Put me back in my chair, stick a blanket over my knees and book me in at a Swiss clinic.
We went along as support staff for the South-West squad. Now, take no notice of the presence of Jamie Oliver, the summer visits by random royals and the number of Audis at the beach; the South West is a third world country. Nationally recognised as a deprived area, we are geographically challenged, have the Wurzels as cultural icons and consider pasties and cider as luxury food items. However, until the XC element, we were in fourth place out of fourteen regions! Ahead of Wales! We were beating a country!
'Twas a red-hot and humid day at Hadleigh. The kids mustered their resources (which I suspect were largely down to Haribo) and produced the best cross country race I've ever seen. The boys' race ended with riders, parents and staff whooping, hollering and high-fiving. Then the Commissaires, with the emphasis on the 'commie', announced that they had DQed two riders for...wait for it.....dropping gel wrappers outside the feed zone. I kid you not. Not only that, but these two wrappers were dropped about 5 metres outside the feed-zone among a shed load of other litter that was dropped but not witnessed by the resident fun-sponge official. As dick-swinging competitions went, this was Olympic standard, but more importantly their decision was just plain wrong. No arguments, no appeals, assume the position and take it like a man.
So one of our lads, who like the others had raced himself into the ground, and the eventual race winner, were both disqualified as they crossed the line, having been left to turn themselves inside out for two laps after the alleged misdemeanour happened.
THEN! At podium time, the newly elevated race winner, in the spirit of sportsmanship and solidarity, called the DQed litter-lout actual winner up to share the top step of the podium. The crowd, as you can imagine, went wild. Unanimous applause, cheers and 'for he's a jolly good fellow's. For this action... deep breath... they were both fined £100. All the progress made with engaging young riders was wiped out in the blink of an eye. Tossers.
Now I thought the Red Dwarf boys had a long journey, but the drive back from Hadleigh that day was a close second.
Apparently there is a problem Nationally with retaining young riders. No shit.