‘Cross diary 18: I brick it at Brighouse

November 2, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Posted in cycling | 6 Comments
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After the joys of Rapha Super Cross, we were RARING to go again. My mum was up for the weekend, and we were keen to show her what Yorkshire CX was all about. She put on her waterproof and her fleece, and tights under her trousers in that sensible-mum way, and asked good, thoughtful questions in the car. (To Primo: Do you fall off like Mummy does? Primo: No! I NEVER fall off.)

For her benefit, we performed the traditional Yorkshire Points ritual of driving around the park looking for the right entrance: we could see the course tape through the trees, but we made three wrong turns and a circuit of Tesco’s car park before @spandelles spotted the little notice in 14-point saying ‘cyclocross parking’.

that way (i think)

Uncharacteristically, the first person we asked knew where the sign-on was. We trudged up to a Great British Bake Off-style marquee, where some jolly but indecisive chaps were discussing whether ladies paid £10 or £12. The atmosphere of genial vagueness continued as we tried to find the loo; general waving in the direction of the bowling club got us there eventually.

By now the rain had stopped, and @spandelles had the bikes off the car, so Primo and I rode round his course. It was mostly on the flat grass, with one little foray into the woods over a log. The under-8s had their own race again; Primo really gave it some this week, tearing round and overtaking a couple of people. His remount probably lost him about six places each lap, though; like mother, like son…

He got off his bike at the end and immediately wanted to sit down. We congratulated him on his pro effort, and I rode off to have a look at the course. Round the grassy zigzags… my cornering’s improved, so I look forward to these now. Over the log and up into the woods… and a long uphill, shouldering the bike. Oof. Then a flatter bit of muddy singletrack. I was just thinking I might put the bike down, when UP the path went again, at an even steeper angle. OK. Keep going. There’ll be a bit I can ride in a minute. Round a corner and… up again. Oh. Right. Soldier on. The path twisted up and up for another couple of minutes, always too steep to ride. A final impossibly steep KICK and onto a flatter bit. I fluffed the remount (of course) and rode off. Sticky singletrack through the woods, flat but very narrow. (Here I’m imagining all the people careering past me at speed, their handlebars a whisker from bringing me down.) We must be going down again soon… oh. No. You’re kidding. It was SHEER. I climbed off and slithered down the side of the embankment, my bike trying to escape my grasp. My shoes couldn’t grip and I fell over, sliding down the hill on my side for a few yards. Finally I was at the bottom. I got back on, shaking, and looked ahead. The course went straight back up into the woods again.

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So that was my decision made. I pulled the tape up and rode across the field, then stopped to phone @spandelles in frustrated tears. I felt terrible, but I knew it was beyond me. Tong had been hard and MTB-ish, but for me, this felt like it wouldn’t even be safe.

When I found the family, poor Primo was looking white as a sheet. He’d spent the last five minutes trying to throw up. A migraine, then. Poor love. The only thing to do is to get him home and into bed, and let him sleep it off. We gave in his race number and he got his reward sweeties, while the commissaires’ gazebo blew over into the 12-14 year olds as they charged past.

I rode my bike through the ford a few times, ostensibly to wash its wheels, but really because it was fun. The Women’s World Masters Downhill Mountain Bike Champion 1999 gave me a cheery grin. I misidentified a Hope rider as Paul Oldham (he was actually in London at the Ally Pally Super Cross), and had a nice chat with Jackie from Cycle Sport Pendle. We crammed everyone back into the car and I drove home, trying not to cry. My mum said she was happy I’d been sensible; @spandelles said Discretion Is The Better Part Of Valour. I told myself this was the ‘in training’ bit of being a Fearless Badass In Training™.

But I hated bailing. Hope I never have to do it again.

‘Cross diary 17: This is not just ‘cross… This is @RaphaSuperCross

October 22, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Posted in cycling | 11 Comments
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Avid readers will remember what a jolly time we had at last year’s Rapha Super Cross in Huddersfield. The cowbells! The frites! The commentary! The runups! The pain! So you’ll understand why I signed myself and Primo up for the Skipton round of the 2012 Super Cross series MONTHS ago.

I’d been looking forward to it with a mixture of fear (not sand again, please! Not those horrible zigzags up and down the banks!) and delight (EVERYONE was going to be there) ever since. The night before, I gave myself a proper pro-style CX manicure and got out all my best kit.

We rolled up to the refined surroundings of Broughton Hall in beautiful sunshine and got unpacked. Chirpy families assembled bikes and dug around in kitbags for snacks. Primo hopped onto his brand new CX bike and we rode off together to sign on, @spandelles and Segundo bringing up the rear on foot. The Rapha show was already under way, with the crêpe van and the face-painter doing a brisk trade, and @antmccrossan loosening the vocal cords with a rundown of the day’s racing. A couple of chaps, their jeans artlessly rolled up, pushed  fixies gingerly through the mud.

Primo rode up and down on the grass for a while, then lined up for the under-10s. He got quite a slow start but was picking his way through the bunch by the end, and was thrilled to hear his name called out over the tannoy as he crossed the line.

While the under-12s were racing, I went off to have a look at the course. Barriers! I immediately fluffed the remount; not a brilliant omen. The course wound up, across the soggy grass. And up, across the soggy grass. And through some muddier bits. And down a bit, and up, across the soggy grass. And then MAD DOWNHILL OFF-CAMBER MUD HOLY MOLY OH MY GAWD HELP. And then up, across the soggy grass. You get the idea. Mmm.

Worried, I jumped on and off a bit, then chatted to the lovely smiley chap who counts off the numbers at Yorkshire Cyclocross events. The boys worked their way unconcernedly through posh sausage sandwiches, while I tried to decide whether to keep my armwarmers on or not. I played ‘Where do I know you from?’ with a girl called Camilla (it was a draw; neither of us could remember), and ran into @makepiece by the loos, still in her civvies with twenty minutes to go. (‘What happened?!’ ‘Late.’)

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I was awestruck to see @LittleSimo lining up at the front. That’s right: I raced with Annie Simpson. (This is where my grandchildren look up at me, wide-eyed, as I reminisce from my bath chair.) I tried to pick up a few places when we set off, but that was all the racing I managed, to be honest. Oh, it was HARD. I mean, it was REALLY hard. No little technical sections to ease the pain. No jumping off and running for a bit. Nowhere to catch your breath: when you weren’t grinding over the sog, you were gripping the bars for dear life, hoping you weren’t going to skitter across the ruts and bring down someone important. I’m sure the views were magnificent; sadly, all I saw was a self-replenishing two foot square of torn-up lawn as I hauled round, grimly, in bottom gear.

I really did want to give up, about sixteen times a lap. I couldn’t even raise a smile for the cameras. Things that stopped me climbing off in tears included @crossjunkie intoning ‘Go on…’ every time he lapped me, and a family with cowbells on the remotest section of the course, whose little son shouted ‘Keep going! You’re doing really well!’ whenever I went past. Near the end, I was creaking along dejectedly when a sludgy section finally forced me off. I cast a look at the back of my bike; my brakes were hidden in a cowpat-sized block of mud and leaves. Ah. I poked it out, got back on and steamed off, at least six times as fast.

@spandelles said I made up a lot of time on that last lap. Not enough to catch @amyling, sadly, but I finished, of which I’m inordinately proud*. I’m dimly aware that I missed loads of people I wanted to meet, including @PETERSYOUNG (who later tweeted that he’d recognised me by my brakes); happily, we caught up with @bex_love and @mattlovecycling and @melaniebbikes, who’d dug out her INBFC badge specially (I was touched).

We wanted to stay for the fun race, but I was driving, and the grass was starting to look very comfortable. The boys sang LET’S MAKE A CAKE! all the way home, to stop me drifting off. @spandelles cleaned my bike, and cooked my tea, and told me he was proud.

* DieBeforeDNF

(British Cycling report of the day here)

‘Cross diary 16: No sleep ’til Wakefield

September 25, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Posted in cycling | 6 Comments
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All week, Sunday’s forecast was RAIN. Proper ‘cross weather! We packed waterproofs and wellies. I tried (and failed) to source golf umbrellas. But on the day, it was bright and dry as we trundled round the perimeter of Thornes Park, asking car boot sale marshals if they knew where the race was. (They didn’t.)

The signing on table had run out of safety pins, so I did my bit for Yorkshire Cyclocross by donating most of my stash. Back out past the cake stall (which also featured a barbecue churning out bacon sandwiches, mesmerising the boys) and off to find the start of the kids’ race. Sheer numbers meant the under-8s got their own race, which was thrilling. Even more thrilling, they were allowed to go into the WOODS. Primo started slowly, then picked up the pace and started passing people, even sprinting for the line. We cheered him on like lunatics.

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I rode round a kids’ football match to warm up, jumping on and off a few times in case I’d forgotten how to do it (you never know). The recce was fun; twisty stuff in the woods, an uphill drag, a steep bank, some grassy cornery bits, and a mad dash round the playing field. There were a lot of us on the start line this week; a bit of banter and a few nods and grins of recognition, then we were off. Going round on the flat, I remembered to Try Hard and passed a couple of people! Blimey! Then we were into the woods. I tackled a tree-rooty hairpin a bit too confidently, and fell off, instantly losing my hard-earned places. Bah! Back on the bike, I pursued a bloke with an unfortunately-placed mesh insert in the back of his shorts. (We ended up duelling throughout the race; I kept thinking ‘I’ve left him behind!’, only to find him mysteriously in front of me again.)

The long drag out of the woods led suddenly into DOWNabankandUPabank at speed. I got up the bank (HOORAY!) and charged off after Mesh Insert Man. The boys suddenly appeared on a corner, and yelled GO ON MUMMY! (This is why I’m grinning in the photo. I was doing #sufferface all the rest of the time, honest.) I undertook Mesh Insert Man on a corner (HA!) and held him off all round the playing field. Then into the woods again and, you guessed it, SPLAT. Noooooooo! Same corner. A kind spectator disentangled me from my bike while competitors bunnyhopped me. Mesh Insert Man disappeared with nary a backward glance.

I only managed another couple of laps before it was all over. The chap calling out the numbers said to me, ‘Did you enjoy that?’ It was BRILLIANT, I gushed. It was, too. Even though I’m still bumping along the bottom of the results list, I felt like I was racing properly. I got up a steep bank! I passed people! I tried really hard nearly all the time! Progress. And I have the bruises to prove it.

[British Cycling report and pictures here]

Thanks as ever to @spandelles for bike fettling, child wrangling and sausage sandwich distribution. You’re a hero.

Also lovely to meet @nik_tweet who STEAMED past me at about 617mph and came home First Lady. Excellent stuff!

‘Cross diary 15: MOAR racing

September 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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Another Sunday, another Yorkshire Points round. Our routine is improving; the car was packed and the bacon sandwiches consumed in record time. We set off, me already worrying about the MTBishness of the course, and @spandelles helpfully intoning ‘It cost me six Gs/ I crash it into trees…’) The satnav wanted to take us straight past the entrance to Home Farm but luckily @spandelles spotted the fluorescent, hand-inked arrow saying CYCLO-X and we bumped down the track. This venue was a bit different from the schools we’ve got used to: a blow up tent, a coffee concession in the back of a van, and two portaloos comprised the facilities. As usual, everyone was ridiculously jolly. My name was already on the list, which was too exciting for words. Primo reminded me to put him in the right age category this time. Oops. @ianstreet67 turned out to be standing right next to Segundo and Daddy. Great to meet you, Ian!

Primo and I rode round his course. There were BARRIERS! For the under 12s! Primo took them in his stride, of course. The usual mixture of pro-looking pre-teens with miniature SPDs and teeny kiddies on bikes with pink handlebar tassles lined up. One ten-year-old said to another, ‘Do you want a gel?’ After a lap of looking pretty unhappy with everything, Primo got going and did a great job, shouting out excitedly ‘I’m in gear FIVE!’ as he went downhill.

One of my resolutions from last week was to warm up properly this time, so I went and rode round the car park (=field) and practised jumping on and off for about 15 minutes. Then: the course recce. The first sections were great: barriers, gravelly climbs, lots of zigzags on the grass, up and down hill. Then the course disappeared into the woods. Mere words cannot convey the abject terror. A sheer descent on singletrack with a steep drop to one side; roots and fallen trunks and streams to vault; trees to dodge and enormous jolting LUMPS and BUMPS and then a WALL of a runup at the end. Ohmigod.

I compared falling-off-in-public-embarrassedly tales with a woman on the start line. The bloke next to me ventured, ‘I thought you did well, at Keighley.’ Aw. We were off up the hill, round the zigzags and down into the woods. I jumped off and slithered through the soil, gripping the bike for dear life, grasping at trees as I went down. People fell off all around me, to OOH!s and EEEH!s from spectators. One chap stood dejectedly with a severed crank in his hand. I got back on and gingerly foot-dabbed my way round, riding for a few feet here and there. The runup was actually a relief; at least I know how to shoulder my bike. I set it down at the top and leapt back on seamlessly, to the delighted cheers of my family. (I may have squeaked YESSS! at this point.)

As my natural tendency is to take it a bit easy, I concentrated on Trying Hard All The Time. Amazingly, this really worked. I passed a couple of people going up the zigzags, and held another chap off who threatened to pass me but faded on the climb. Hooray! (Of course they all passed me again in the woods, but hey.) I shot up little inclines and cornered fearlessly, doing SUFFERFACE the whole way round (though in the photos I look disappointingly like I have stick-on goggly eyes, one pointing up and one down). Along with my New Improved remounts, I suddenly felt like I was actually racing. Gosh. It was BRILLIANT.

So. This week felt like PROGRESS. I remembered to eat, which (predictably) made a massive difference; ALL my remounts were functional, even when I was dead tired; I tried as hard as I could nearly all the time. I drove home singing ‘Cy-clo-cross!’ to the tune of ‘Ho-lly-wood!’ and fell asleep in the bath.

[Read what @ianstreet67 made of his first cyclocross visit here. Includes some ace photos.]

‘Cross diary 14: I race. Again!

September 11, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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Well. I’ve had a full summer of denial, happily avoiding thinking about how I still can’t ride up or down banks, corner, get any speed up on grass, remount, or get my feet back into the pedals. No matter! The Yorkshire Points round is underway, so on a beautiful Sunday morning we filled the car with bicycles, tools, sandwiches, sun cream and children, and went off In Search Of Cross.

We found it at Oakbank School. The youth race was in full swing as we wandered up to look for the loo. Women from @sparkieturner’s CX training session accosted us delightedly, in between cheering on their boys. Primo was off at 11:30 in the under-10s; I signed up at the same time, fourth on the women/ vets list, briefly entertaining fantasies of riding round with only three rivals.

The under-10s rode round and round the playing field, parents chasing them on bikes yelling GO ON HAVE HIM! Hat tip to the mother who sprinted round the field twice at full tilt in flowered sundress and ballerinas. Primo did a brilliant job, charging up hills and grinding over grass with relentless energy and enthusiasm.

When he’d finished (‘I want a cross bike!’), I went off to recce the course. Ooh. A water crossing? Hmm… LOTS of mud and off-cambers and steep banks, then some zigzags with MORE mud, and more off-cambers, and a sheer descent with a turn at the bottom, and pavement and STEPS (hooray!) and downhill zigzags (help!) and more steep banks and more corners and then a bit of tearing across the grass. I’m exhausted just remembering it all.

I rode around feeling desperate for a while, then went back to the car for snacks. The woman parked next door was jolly: we rode down to the start together, laughing and comparing CX weaknesses, before she let slip she was Masters Downhill Mountain Bike World Champion (1999). We joked amiably with the other women on the start line, who were comparing tan lines and telling unconvincing tales of CX ineptitude.

They sent us off round the field first, to string us out before the woods. To be honest, the rest is a bit of a blur. The sun beat down. It was HOT. The first two laps were ghastly, but then I got into it, though I ran about a third of each lap, too scared to go uphill/ downhill/ round corners/ through mud/ you name it. Oof. I did two passable remounts, then my technique disintegrated and I spent the rest of the time stopping to climb back on. Bah.

At least I’m cooler about being lapped, now; I barely even wobble. One chap muttered ‘What the fook are you DOING?’ when I foot-dabbed on a corner, but everyone else was lovely. One guy said ‘Go on buddy!’ as he steamed past. A knot of riders zipped through, a woman shouting ‘You’re doing brilliantly! And even if you’re not, you look BEAUTIFUL!’ Someone yelled DIG IN! The boys rang their cowbells. People tried to take photographs round me. I could hear spectators talking about lunch as I staggered past. It would have been Zen-like, if I hadn’t been about to keel over.

Like last time, I didn’t know I’d finished. Above a certain HR, my brain just stops working. @spandelles congratulated me, and told me my dismount was terrific; my boys ate their sandwiches, unconcerned that Mummy had just nearly EXPIRED out there what with all the trying hard and everything.

So. In the best tradition of games of two halves, the round up.

Better than last time:

  • Tried A Bit Harder (@spandelles said I looked like I was actually racing this time, rather than just riding around)
  • Cornering
  • Dismounting
  • Getting lapped without shouting ‘Hoo!’
  • Didn’t fall off ONCE

Still v. poor:

  • Need to Try Much Harder
  • Combinations of things e.g. going up banks plus cornering
  • Riding in mud, or on pretty much any kind of terrain
  • Eating enough beforehand
  • Getting Back On (oh dear…)

We got a bit of intel on the next couple of fixtures. One is quite MTB-y, with woods and singletrack and stuff. Mmm. Should be fine then. Ha ha ha! The other is ‘basically haring around on the grass. They all go really fast, it’s terrifying.’ Sounds ideal…

See you next week. Hup hup!

[Proper British Cycling race report and preliminary results here. I’m in the pictures, too. Cake to anyone who can spot me.]

Massive THANK YOU to @spandelles who was pit crew, soigneur, childminder, moral support, satnav wrangler and chief-adjudicator-of-arguments-over-cowbells. You are brilliant.

‘Cross diary 8: I try spectating

December 31, 2011 at 11:54 am | Posted in cycling | 6 Comments
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So, I was ill for the fancy dress charity cyclocross race. Bah! But Primo was up for it, and so was @Psyclyst and his family, so we got our jumpers on, packed our gloves and snacks and cowbells, and went up to Heptonstall.

Heptonstall’s an ancient hamlet on the tops near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire – all winding one-in-four cobbled streets and blackened stone houses, with a 360 degree view of the surrounding moors. It’s all very Wuthering Heights. We splashed across the car park past several Smurfs and a member of KISS, and went into the Social and Bowling Club to sign on. Inside, the place was heaving with serious-looking Yorkshiremen in Elvis wigs and devil’s horns. Ladies in polonecks and slacks dealt out chocolate brownies and race numbers with businesslike charm. I pinned Primo’s number to his policeman’s outfit and he signed his name neatly in the tiny space.

The kids raced first. Fairies, several Santas, a Kick-Ass and a couple of boys with Bieber wigs on top of their helmets battled gamely with a twisty, muddy course, bumping up and down grassy hillocks. We realised in the first lap that Primo didn’t know he was allowed to get off and run. Oops. Once we’d put him right, he was off, and came in about halfway down the field, grinning, barely out of breath.

We went to the windswept little playground for a bit, then it was time for the grownups to line up. Theirs was an extended version of the kids’ course. ‘How’s it looking out there?’ I yelled at a guy from Pedalsport as he rattled past on his recce lap. ‘Bumpy!’ came the reply. We found ourselves a vantage point on a tight corner, got the cowbells out again, and started bellowing ourselves hoarse. ‘DEG EN, SCOATTISH SMURF!’ ‘GWAAN, TANDEM ELVISES!’ Jimmy Savile ground past, cigar gripped between his teeth, bling tangling in his handlebars, to a Mexican wave of yodelling.

I started yelling compliments on everyone’s pro remounts (it’s not easy when you’re dressed as Lady Gaga). An elf rode by in fishnets and bare arms, holding up her low-cut top with one hand and grinning sheepishly.

Halfway through I realised I’d forgotten to bring any handups. Idiot! Luckily, the tandem tankmen were lobbing out mini Snickers bars as they churned round.

LAATSTE RONDE! We cowbelled ourselves silly and screeched encouragement at the kiddyback tandemist, who had stopped every lap to change child stoker and was now visibly flagging. We’re not sure who won, but we know @Psyclyst did an extra lap, just because he could. He was rightly pleased with himself as he’d managed to overtake someone; as he went past, the overtakee said ‘Well done!’ Only in cyclocross…

Back in the Social and Bowling Club, they were dishing out mushy peas and raffle tickets, and laughing about how the race had only lasted 20 minutes. We sat down with coffees and tried to get our fingers to thaw out enough to take our gloves off, but had to leave in a rush when Segundo started fishing balls out of the pool table and flinging them across the room.

It’s an annual event; we’re already cooking up costumes and heckles and themed handups (mince pies? Chocolate liqueurs?) for the next one. Like the Terminator, we’ll be back. Or – hang on! Maybe *as* the Terminator…

Read the British Cycling writeup of the event here.

Some great images from Mandy Parker here.

‘Cross diary 3: I race. What can possibly go wrong?

October 16, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Posted in cycling | 7 Comments
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Sunday: We arrived in Huddersfield in time for Son no. 1 (6 years old, hereafter known as Primo) to race in the under 10s. There was Rapha Super Cross bling everywhere, and lots of juniors riding around in team kit looking terrifyingly pro. I took the boys to register; we got in the way, and didn’t know where to sign or what to write, but everybody was lovely anyway. Primo rode off with an impressive field including several kiddies on tiny bikes being pushed by their dads. Segundo (son no. 2) and I rang cowbells and screamed ourselves silly for him. Primo held his position well and was completely thrilled to have raced. ‘I wish they’d had 157 laps!’

Then it was time for me to get nervous. Partner gave my bike the once over and sent me on my way. I approached a very friendly veteran who pinned my number in the correct place for me, on condition that I did the same for him. A marshal pointed me in the right direction and I rode off to recce the course. The first obstacle I hit was a series of diagonal turns up and down a seemingly vertical bank, with hairpins at the bottom and top. No way could I ride that. I immediately felt like crying; I’m not going to be able to do this. But then I thought: sod it. I can just run the whole section. There was another vertical descent later on; I held my breath and took the brakes off and, miraculously, was fine. The course continued through some steep turns (= foot dabs) and then hit a zigzag ascent up the side of a hill. My cornering was definitely not up to it, and I was worried about dismounting going uphill. Solution: get off at the bottom and run the whole thing. Some singletrack through the woods and up and down the grass a few times (those blardy corners again) and that was basically it.

Time to line up. I found a place at the back and did a bit of last minute stretching. Cue cracks from the blokes next to me: Are you psyching us out? My body won’t even do that. They joked with another woman: You’ll be too hot, with that snood on. Her: It keeps me hair out me eyes. I can’t go fast with hair in me eyes. I looked to my right and saw Castle Hill lit up in the sunlight. What on earth was I doing?

We were off. I didn’t dare to mix it with the crowd and found a safer-feeling place at the back, with another woman on a mountain bike. I completed a lap and felt like I was going to die. Heard the commentator saying ‘Well, we’re about 15 minutes into this race,’ and thought, oh, God, that means another 2 laps at least. Help. I seriously considered getting off about 3 times during the next lap, but then found a weird rhythm, and kept going. Getting lapped all the time was worrying; I kept thinking I was going to bring someone down. But everyone was lovely: ‘Rider, on your right!’ ‘OK!’ ‘Thank you! Keep going!’. One guy even said ‘Nice brakes!’ as he went past. The worst sections were the bits up and down the bank, and the zigzag ascent. But even these were still fun, in some kind of worryingly masochistic way. At the top of one vicious run-up, I quipped ‘Where are all the dollars?’ which got a couple of laughs. People took photos of me grinning like a nut. Spectators shouted ‘Keep it up!’. My boys rang cowbells and shouted ‘Go on Mummy!’ So I did.

Partner thought it was funny that I didn’t even realise where the finish line was. I was so massively relieved when I realised I could stop. At that moment, I thought: I am never doing this again, ever. But on the way home, I was thinking: I need to work on those right-hand corners. And find some banks to ride up and down. And I need to get fitter. I thought I was fit, but I’m not. And those remounts… must find someone to help with the remounts. And next time we need to bring sandwiches, and energy drink…

Watch a short video of our efforts here.

NEW: My CX debut immortalised in blingee form by the wonderful @CyclingBlingees !

NEW: Official video of the elite race, and a link to some images on the British Cycling site . Gives a really good idea of what the course was like.

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