Archive for the 'Bike' Category

Qualifier

This isn’t right. I’m getting nervous. I wasn’t expecting the nerves.

It might have something to do with where I am. 2800 metres above sea level, on my bike, lined up amongst 200 other riders. We’re ready to start our qualification race for the 2008 Megavalanche Alpe d’Huez.

The top 51 finishers go through to the main Megavalanche. The next 40 go into the Promo (or B final). The rest don’t count.

It’s all good though. I’ve ridden the whole course. I know the fast lines. I can do this. What’s more, I’m lined up next to Alex Marshall. He’s done this before and he’s quick, too. Just tag on and follow him down. It’s all good.

There’s the waiting. There’s the briefing. There’s the helicopters. There’s the mad techno playing over the huge speaker system. Thirty seconds to go. Alex and I wish each other luck and put on our goggles. Bike’s ready. I’m ready. Everyone tenses.

The tapes go up. Two hundred riders charge at once. This is complete madness! Sublime, brilliant madness.

Start of the qually

I pedal hard, change up a couple of times and slot in behind Alex. There’s riders everywhere. We go around the outside on the first corner and make up a lot of places. Somehow I stay with him on the inside through the next few hairpins before being barged off my line on the way into the final one. I’m forced around the outside and lose loads of time. Still, I pedal like a nutter down to the first of the snow and get through there in one piece. Alex is long gone. Plan B: Go it alone.

Suddenly I’m reminded of the altitude. My body is screaming that it needs more oxygen. Breathe deeply. This is really bloody hard and it’s only the beginning.

I pedal as hard as I can across the rocks. Follow Charlie’s line up and around the worst of the snow, missing out the utter carnage happening over there, then pedal hard again, across the rocks and onto the fireroad.

I want to push harder but I can’t. My body won’t let me. I pass one, maybe two people.

I reach the first of the tricky trialsy sections at hyperspeed. I don’t quite understand what’s going on here. Clearly someone up ahead can’t ride it, but just about everyone behind them is forming an orderly queue. Don’t they realise it’s a race? I ride past the lot of them, jump off the bike, run through the chaos, jump back on and head into the next section like a man posessed.

It’s a big rock field. Everybody’s going straight through the middle. I know better. I stick to the extreme right, hug the edge and come out onto the fireroad at roughly a million miles per second. I pass two people going up into the next section and dive into the rocky singletrack corner faster than ever before. Nailed it.

From here down, the trail goes mental. It was probably a nice singletrack down the side of a mountain once. Today, it’s a technical, rutted jagged rockfest. Exactly what this bike was built for. It’s all going fantastically until that nasty double-drop. I take the left line, something goes wrong and I’m flying over the bars. GARGH!

Stand up. Pick the bike up. Everything’s in one piece. This is still a race. People are squeezing past. Get on. Breathe. Ride. Get your head back in shape.

More rocky singletrack madness. I’m hitting it pretty fast and the flow’s coming back. The field’s spreading out a bit now. I pass a couple of people, a couple of others pass me. More of the sublime madness.

Eventually we hit the fireroad climb of death. Nearly everybody’s off and walking. I’m stood on the pedals grinding a 45lb downhill bike up there. This hurts. A fellow rider mumbles something about some people being too fit as I pass. There’s pretty girls cheering us on here, so I pedal harder. This really hurts.

At the top I hit the traverse. This should be a nice opportunity to rest — it’s a simple, fun downhill singletrack. Except we’re in a race, I can see riders ahead and I’m going to catch them. Oh, and I can see the base of the valley, a good few hundred metres below me — and nothing in between. It’s very fast and proper scary, until the trail suddenly zig-zags right. Scrub off speed, turn in early and I’m on someone’s tail. No way past here, so I follow them into a steep and gooey bit. A dopey english rider shouts “Allez!” from behind us. Nothing I can do but laugh as he slides off the bike and into the hedge.

Now it’s the switchbacks. I’m being held up now (unusual for me). I wait for a bigger corner, see the rider up ahead go wide and throw the bike down the inside. It’s messy, but it worked.

I’m passing loads of riders now. They’re all pulled over with mechanicals, punctures or they just plain can’t hold on anymore. These switchbacks go on forever and ever and ever and ever and WHOA! I get one wrong and nearly ride off the side of the mountain. There’s a whiff of hot brake pads around here.

Eventually the trail straightens out a bit. I catch another rider in the singletrack. I know there’s a fast fire-road section coming up though, so I’ll try and pass there.

No chance. They block every attempt.

I’m getting really tired now, but I know it’s not far to the end. Keep on pushing. I’m following the unpassable rider down a fast old cart-track. What was once a smooth stone road has become a veritable rock garden: BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BAMM! We both get through unscathed, then cross the bridge and onto the final section. It’s fast, except for the mad straw-bale chicane (which nearly claims me), a few scary steep drop-ins (one of which claims the unpassable rider) and a fast corner to the finish at Le Bessey.

I cross the line to find there’s absolutely loads of riders here already. I feel instantly dejected. I thought I’d done OK, but judging by the amount of people down here there’s no way I’ve qualified. I find Alex, who had a good run down, beating some big names.

I chat to an aussie in the bus queue and we agree that it’d be nice to qualify at all. We get on the bus up to Oz where lunch is waiting for us. I find the results, scan down them and go from dejection to happiness and then frustration. I finished 55th — good enough for the Promo, but just four places shy of the main event.

Bacca, Charlie Alex, and Rich made the main Megavalanche. Garry, Anton, Brett and Jez were joining me in the Promo. Now, to prepare ourselves and our bikes for the main event.

An ice-cold stream

Well that was expensive. I burned through a set of disc pads, put a hole in the side of my shoe and to top it all off, I somehow punctured my camelbak’s bladder. That’s a comfortable feeling, let me tell you. A slow but steady stream of ice-cold water running down the centre of your back until… well, you can guess where it goes from there. Then there was the unceasing headwind which somehow faced me no matter which direction I rode.

Despite all that, I had a bucketload of fun. I rode trails I’d not ridden in ages. I discovered an enchanted cottage hidden in the woods. I had a bleating match with a freshly shorn sheep. I blasted down the sides of fields, along fire-roads and though twisting technical singletrack. I sprinted up climbs with Rage Against The Machine shouting through my earphones.

I got home feeling better than I did when I left, and that’s what it’s all about.

Tarw

Coed y Brenin rocks, quite literally. I spent the weekend up there with a bunch of friends, old and new. The trails are rockier than just about anywhere else I’ve ridden in the UK, save perhaps Fort William. It’s the sort of terrain the current breed of “all mountain” bikes were built for.

Me on Pins and Needles

We started with Temtiwr, which is the shortest of the trails. A mere 9km or so and sadly too much of that is fire-road (this is a running theme). The Dream Time section is fantastic though — so much so that we went back to ride it twice.

After a hearty lunch we took on MBR. Again, too many fire-roads, but the singletrack was a great pay-off. Brutus is one of those incredibly technical climbs that you’re happy to get to the top of without putting a foot down, while Cain, Abel and the legendary Pink Heifer are all fantastic descents.

On sunday, Brett and myself had a go at the Tarw trail. The fire-road theme is all to evident here too; The bit after Heart of Darkness was particularly disappointing because it’s all downhill! Luckily, the singletrack on offer is nothing short of brilliant. Hitting Snap, Crackle and Pop at high speed is like tackling the dragon downhill track at Gethin; rocks everywhere and no easy way through it. Keeping momentum through there is a challenge in the best sense, while the slightly smoother Rocky Horror Show is absolutely flat-out fun.

There’s a few more photos on flickr. Thanks to Andy for organising it, and to Brett, Neil, Ash and Darren for making it such a good weekend. Fire-road be damned — I want to go back for another go at all that singletrack!

Voodoo people

Let’s rewind a few weeks. My Cannondale was unridable (everything was falling off of it), my Cove was just plain unsafe (and still is) and there was no way in hell I was going to ride cross-country on the 222. Thankfully Tim came to my aid and lent me his old Voodoo hardtail for a couple of rides.

Now, going by my current set of bikes, I really ought to hate it. They’ve all got long-travel forks, short stems and slack geometry. Not the Voodoo though. It’s an old-school XC missile: Steep angles, short travel forks and a long stem. It’s completely wrong for me.

And yet it’s so very, very right. Remember how I called it a missile? I wasn’t exaggerating. Point at a climb and you can’t help but attack it. It’s a joy on the singletrack too, so light, agile, flickable and always urging you to go faster. It’s got that indefinable feeling of rightness. Really, it’s only when the trail becomes completely torn up and rough that it can’t cope — every bike has it’s limitations. I didn’t want to give it back, that’s for sure.

Fast-forward back to today. The Cannondale is back on it’s wheels. I set off up the road and wound the forks down to their shortest travel setting for the long opening climb. Normally I’d wind them right back up at the first sniff of a descent but they stayed short-travel today. Clearly that Voodoo has had an effect.

I tore through the tight singletrack, loving the steeper head-angle and pumping it over the roots instead of letting the forks do all the work. I hauled it up those long fire-road drags, glad of the lower front-end. I pinned it through those fast corners, loving the stability that comes with a lower bottom-bracket (even if it meant I kept clouting my pedals on tree-stumps).

In fact it was a good 20-odd miles before I wound them back up again. Even then it was only because I ran into Charlie and G-Dog — they dragged me up for a quick play on the downhill tracks.

Finishing up with old tramway was fantastic as always. I don’t think i’ll never tire of going full-tilt down those rooty steps at the end of a ride. Coming home to a nice cup of tea and basking in that post-ride glow is always nice, too.

The return of the Prophet

A little over a month ago, I bought some replacement shock bushings for the Cannondale. I took the bike apart only to discover they were the wrong size. GAH! The following day, a replacement for the knackered headset arrived. I took half the old one out, then hit my thumb with a hammer (the moral here being to use the right bloody tool for the job), threw a bit of a strop and gave up for the evening.

It’d been hanging on the work-stand, looking sorry for itself for weeks. Yesterday I finally caved in and finished the job. The bushings are still wonky and I still haven’t adjusted the front mech to allow me to use the granny ring, but it’s bike shaped again. So today I went out for a quick spin up Leckhampton.

All that time off the bike, combined with the excesses of christmas have taken their toll on my fitness. I was painfully slow and my legs were screaming WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING!? all the way to the top.

It was worth the pain though, because the descent back home was ace. I wasn’t riding especially well, or pushing the outer limits. Nope, it was just plain mud-splattered, two wheeled fun. I rolled off the top, boosting down the rocky chute, before jumping into the steep trails down to the lime kilns, getting mighty sideways down a new trail near the s-bends, bursting out into the open and flying off the natural rise in the grass before rolling down to the car-park and onwards to the old tramway.

I nearly lost it on the roots at the top (as per usual), before pinning it down the steps, racing through the switch-back, holding it high out of the rut, dropping back in and nearly high-siding into the hedge. It’s a good job I met the smiley lady jogging up the trail where it widens out or it could have been messy. Now, fly off the step and pinball down the rest of the trail.

Fun. My legs hurt.

Réunion

The time had come. No turning back now. I was set for a front row start in a race format I had never entered before. There were 160 riders all starting at the same time on a 50-minute downhill.

Andrew “Needles” Neethling looks back on Megavalanche Réunion Island.

Ah, Megavalanche. It’s one of those events that most people see as complete insanity. The organisers plot an hour-or-so long route from the top of a mountain to the bottom. It’s off-road for the most part, taking in the most challenging downhill terrain they can find along with a few nasty climbs for good measure. With the course all marked out, they ferry hundreds of mountain bikers to the top and get them all to race to the bottom. At the same time. Cue carnage.

Needles took fourth spot on his first attempt, finishing behind Nico Voullioz (the best downhill racer of all time), Remy Absalon (former winner of the event) and Rene Wildhaber (winner of Megavalanche Alpe D’huez this summer). Not bad going.

Far more importantly though, our own Garry Higgins and Charlie Williams were flying the flag for local team The Hills Have Eyes. Charlie finished 46th overall, beating mountain bike legend (and new friend) Eric Carter in the process. Meanwhile, Garry grabbed his second Mega podium this year, finishing third in Masters II (he took the Masters III win in Alpe d’Huez). Very nice work lads.

The full results are up on the Avalanche Trophy site.

The chase

It’s the middle of the night. It’s cold; I can see my breath on the air. Yet here we are, deep in the forest, cutting a swathe through the blanket of leaves. The three of us, lights burning away the darkness, tyres slicing through the singletrack.

We reach the shrine and stop for a breather. The trails are fun from here on down. Garry pedals off into the dark, followed by Brett. I ride down after them, with nothing but the the noise and the glowing red beacons on their backs to follow. The trail soon cleaves in two, Garry going to the right, Brett and myself the left. Brett loses the path within three corners and slows in a cloud of branches, leaves and swearing. I spy G’s lights through the darkness and set a course for where I think he’s heading.

I’d never do this during the day. I can’t see the dangers now though, so I just straight line it, ragged as hell.

I’m really moving now, leaves and twigs cracking below me, ducking and diving through the overhanging branches. WHOA! Hop the front wheel over the fallen tree and let the back of the bike clatter through. Really must learn some technique one of these days. Not now though, I’m gaining on Garry.

BOOSH! I’m back on the trail! Keep it going, stay with him, up here, around the tree, dive down, now pedal like a bastard. Pump through the dip, then hard left, then ARGH! I’M BLIND! Brett and his powerful lights are coming in on a collision course. I’m not having that though, a couple of extra pedal strokes and I get in ahead of him. I’m right on G’s tail now.

WAHEY! His back wheel steps out on a root, but he carries it off as if nothing’s happened. I hit the same root, and the same thing happens. Keep it loose, no problem.

Next corner, Garry cuts in tight and he’s through, smooth as silk. I can take it tighter though. Lean it in, get off the brakes and BOOSH! High-side! The back wheel catches a root, leaps sideways and tries to overtake the front. Garry disappears off into the dark. Brett cuts inside and is past. I’m left jumping awkwardly across the trail, straddling the bike.

The chase is lost.

Next time, G-Dog. Next time.

Earthed 5

The first four of Alex Rankin’s Earthed mountain bike films have been consistently ace. The fifth in the series is due out in mid-November. Here’s the trailer:

You can pre-order it here.