- Posted by Stu Bowers
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The big day has arrived for CW's Stu Bowers in a cold and icy Tabor, but it's unusually quiet for the GB mechanics in the pit lane.
Sunday: The day I'd been looking forward to for ages and it came and went in the blink of an eye. It was really a day of just getting on with the job. When riders are only moments away from the most intense cyclo-cross battle of the year, tensions obviously run high, and as a mechanic you'd be lying if you said there weren't times when you felt like strangling a rider for the umpteenth change of mind on tyres, to-ing and fro-ing, on pressures and often ending up back where you started anyway. You just keep a smile and do what's asked; that's the role your there to play.
Amongst the favourites, there's an entirely separate competition going on before the race has even got under way - who can have the biggest and most bling motorhome. Sven Nys is renowned for his, and plenty of others were out to strut their stuff too. Stybar's is something else, and we'd lost count at thirty or so pairs of wheels racked in the back, with half a dozen spare bikes. In this playground, CX has an almost F1 feel about it.
The weather decided a fresh dump of snow was the order of the day, so life in the pits was, by all accounts, going to be a breeze compared to what could have unfolded in a sea of mud. Bikes stayed much cleaner in the frozen conditions and really the only need to pit was for frozen components. There's two ways of looking at it; Pete's way...relief that we weren't going to be rushed off our feet and under pressure, or my way...mildly disappointed we weren't going to get the full blown frenzied pit experience. At least it meant more of an opportunity to observe what goes on amongst the other teams, and actually keep an eye on the bike races.
The atmosphere was incredible for the Elite men's race. Local boy Stybar, being the hot favourite, meant the Czechs were out in force to make their presence known. He didn't disappoint them either and he was vigorously cheered all the way to the rainbow jersey. It's hard to put it into words, but the wave of noise that followed him must have been like riding with a tailwind. I'm certain he wasn't able to hear himself breathing.
All told the feeling in the Brit camp was upbeat. We'd had a pretty good showing. Especially the ladies; Annie Last and Nikki Harris impressed, starting from way back on the grid, in Annie's case the second to last spot. She made it up to 11th, with Nikki hot on her heels. Ian Field was first Brit back in the Elite race in 35th position.
So what we'd been working towards all week was suddenly done and dusted, which meant the start of a race of a different kind... the mechanics race. Not on bikes, as such, but more like everyman for themselves to pack up the team trucks and get the heck out of there. Mechanics literally barging through the crowds, bikes on both shoulders, wheels in hands, frantic jet washing and dismantling. The team parking area - which was, shortly before, a bustling colourful, blur of activity - was reduced to a few white vans and a couple of campers in next to no time. The CX circus had left town. Just a two-day drive home to look forward to now...
- Posted by Stu Bowers
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Cycling Weekly's Stu Bowers is busy fettling in the Team GB pits in between listening to Dire Straights and celebrating Happy Hour...
Friday: More hectic day today, another day closer to the big day for the riders and all the riders training on the course at one time or other. The indecisive weather sure is keeping us busy and the riders on their toes. Course changes by the hour as the temperature creeps up above freezing and the snow turns to slush and mud. Obviously, all riders return to mechanics for tyre swap and plenty of umming and aaarring over pressures. Just get that lot sorted and back on the course before the sun disappears, it all starts to freeze over again, then it's all back again for another tyre rethink, and more pressure shenanigans. All good fun and games, and of course we get there in the end, and everyone goes away happy.
Mud means bike cleaning but all outside taps at the hotel are, of course, frozen up. Luckily the hotel caretaker has a plan and sorts us out with a hose from an inside tap. Costs me my GB woolly hat as a thank you for his ingenuity and help. Starting to really enjoy the banter and atmosphere amongst the mechanics as we hide out in the bike room, fettling, until late at night. It soon became obvious Pete Hargroves had ripped off his son's iTunes playlist for his iPod - these were clearly not the choices of a 52 year old man, although the occasional Dire Straights or Pink Floyd tune was more like it. Anyway, mood is positive and spirits high. Not in price I might add...nor the beer. Less than a pound a pint, for the Czech Budvar (the original Budweiser). It's happy hour all the time here.
Saturday: Here we go then. First day of competition and it's the Juniors strutting their stuff first. Final preparations had gone well, apart from a minor last minute hurdle to overcome - no drive on the rear wheel of one rider; the freezing temperature again taking its toll on the equipment. This time a frozen freehub body. Out came the de-icer again. Problem solved, and off to the pits in plenty of time to set-up. So this was it for me. Virgin territory; up until now everything was ‘everyday stuff', fixing bikes I can do in my sleep, but this part is a whole new world - the pit lane at a World Champs. Excited and just a little on edge about what was going to unfold in the next hour. As it turned out the frozen course proved much more difficult for riders than mechanics. Only one bike change from crash damage, so we had it far easier than the guys out there breathing lung full s of freezing air, and slipping and sliding all over. Only one within-pit ‘incident' to report too, and a lesson learnt - when there's a big, overweight, foreign bloke impeding the progress of your rider in the pit lane, there's an international sign which signals he needs to move out of the way...two hands shoving firmly in the chest, whilst shouting "excuse me please" does the trick. Thanks for schooling me Pete.
That was pretty much all the excitement from today. An afternoon, spent much the same way as Friday, playing the tyre pressure game with the weather, albeit now we only had the Elite men and the Ladies to satisfy. With no riders taking the start, we even managed to steal half an hour or so, to watch the U23 race, with ‘frites' in hand - in proper CX style. I've seen some amazing contraptions for making noise. Besides the biggest cow-bell on earth (it took two fully grown Dutchmen to ring it) there are even guys that walk around with car batteries strapped to their back to power some of the loudest claxons and air horns imaginable. Tomorrow's Elite race is absolutely going to blow me away for sure, as tens of thousands of equally crazy, mostly intoxicated supporters will descend on the Tabor, scrubland venue. Can't wait.
- Posted by Stu Bowers
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Cycling Weekly tech guru and accomplished 'cross rider Stu Bowers mans the pits for Team GB in Tabor this weekend.
I wasn't really looking forward to the two day drive - who would? Still I like a challenge and a few feet of snow and temps down to -26 should keep us on our toes, especially in the dark. At least the German autobahns would be something to look forward to. It's not every day you get to drive without speed limits. It didn't quite turn out all that exciting - the Sky GB van maxed out at 80! Gutted. Plus, the snow covered landscape that had looked pretty and scenic to begin with, was nothing more than an endless strip of black tarmac, bordered by a white out, as we passed through the fourth country in a day.
Remind me again why I thought this was a good idea? Oh yeah, in a few days time I'll be right in the thick of the scrum that is one of the most amazing spectacles in cycling - the World Cyclo-Cross Championships - and I'll have the best seat in the house in the pits. The thought alone makes the hair on my neck stand up. That's why.
It's amazing what you learn when you have so much time to kill. Turns out that Peter Hargroves, owner of Hargroves Cycles, showed very early signs of his entrepreneurialism by making a killing organising his school ‘end of year' disco, then made a tidy packet selling his homemade sandwiches to the masses queuing to get tickets for a Deep Purple concert! Who'd have thought?
What else have I learnt so far? Well, pretty much anything on a bike freezes at -11. Pedals and headsets barely turn as the grease becomes so thick, chains need to be lubricated with de-icer, not oil, and it's a good idea to cover your shoes and cleats in de-icer cleats too, if you want any chance of being able to release your feet.
We decided to head out for a bit of a leg spin earlier today, which lasted all of 20 minutes - if you rode fast enough to stay warm the windchill on your face was unbearable, and I couldn't feel my fingers at all after just five minutes. It's no wonder Stybar is favourite to take the World title in a few days. He lives just outside Tabor, so not only has he got the home advantage, these conditions whilst a big shock to most, are just the norm for him.
Snowed a good three or four inches more last night, but temperatures have been a bit warmer with the cloudier skies. Been at the course today, and it's possibly the least likely venue you would ever expect a World Champs to be held on. The course is shoe-horned onto some waste land between a supermarket and a row of pretty dismal looking tower blocks. That said, it's more than testing enough to produce a worthy champion, with the mix of snow and ice, and a surprising amount of climbing. It'll test the best for sure. Standing on one bend we witnessed some of the World's top riders, including ex-champion Richard Groenendaal, having a little unplanned lie down in the snow. All's good and positive in the Brit camp though.
- Posted by Andy McGrath
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The country's roads are in as bad a state as we can remember. In the aftermath of the 'big freeze', races are being cancelled, rims are getting wrecked and riders are coming a cropper.
And potholes are to blame - big ones, little ones, treacherous sunken ones, repeated rutted ones, cavernous and unapologetic ones.
With over 27,000 reported in the country and a record 2,700 complaints sent to the CTC's FillThatHole campaign so far this month, Cycling Weekly has decided to take its own inimitable action - by reporting and adopting our own pothole.
CW's very own pothole. Notice the ironic roadworks in the background.
We'd spotted a yawning hole just a minute from the office during a lunchtime ride, just crying out for adoption. Closer inspection on foot confirmed that, given time, this blighter has the potential to be big.
Really big. Swallowing-small-children-and-domestic-animals big.
There wasn't a minute to lose. We reported it to the CTC's FillThatHole website; they have christened it Hazard 27310 and subsequently reported it to the Highway Authority.
All that's left is to sit, wait and see how long our pothole takes to get filled - and how large it grows.
An in-depth view of Hazard 27310. Aka Percy the Pothole
The vital statistics
Measurements: 25cm horizontal x 23cm vertical
Situated: On the junction at Coombe Road and Park Lane in Croydon, fifty centimetres from the kerb and just in front of the stop lines.
CTC file: http://www.fillthathole.org.uk/hazard/27310
Status: Reported to the Highway Authority
Day 1 observations
The pothole itself contains lots of tiny fragments of tarmac and stone, where the road has been worn away. It's difficult for cars to dodge - and a fair few don't want to risk busting their axles on it - and even harder for cyclists.
As you will see in the first photo, it is, ironically and frustratingly, positioned mere metres from existing roadworks.
The CTC's offering of Hazard 27310 doesn't quite have the right ring to it, so we need a warm and cuddly name for it. Alliterative suggestions such as Paul and Percy are currently gaining support at the moment.
Situated at a busy crossroads, the amount of traffic means that Paul/Percy has the potential to grow with ominous speed.
We will be following developments very closely in the next few weeks. Will it grow bigger and deeper? Will it get fixed? Be careful out there and stay tuned for the next installment from CW's rim-wrecker.
Have you clocked a giant pothole in your area? Take a photo and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Posted by Robert Garbutt
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It will come as no surprise, but this is the worst month ever for potholes. A staggering 2,610 road hazards were reported on the CTC's www.FillThatHole.org.uk website in January, compared to 699 rim wreckers last year, and the month isn't even over yet!
Yes, we all know it snowed more than usual this winter, but I can't remember the roads being in such a bad state in all my three and a half decades of bike riding. The problem was that the overall condition of the UK's tarmac was already pretty shoddy, and the big freeze was just enough to finish it off.
It makes the CTC's site invaluable, and if you haven't already taken the plunge, give it a try.
As the CTC says: "You spot it, you log it, they sort it." The site has been a phenomenal success, with a further 40 holes reported in the time it has taken to compose this column, and the grand total now stands at 26,726.
With the CTC quoting one pothole every 11 metres, we're all going to have to keep our wits about us in the coming months. Take a tip from the editor and watch it on the descents, particularly if there's a bend or two and you can't see too far ahead.
There wasn't a gaping chasm at the bottom of that hill last week, but there sure was come Saturday.
Robert Garbutt is editor of Cycling Weekly