Thought I would have another go at condensing my year into one of these blogs and have really enjoyed looking back over so many personal highlights during what turned into a pretty good year for me - both on and off the bike.
From February onwards and with a lot of help from Sam, I did try and stick to a more focussed weekly training schedule, rather than just doing lots of miles/hours of riding. Going into March though, after what seemed like a never ending winter of many hours spent churning away indoors on the turbo or the rowing machine, I was not at all clear as to what level my fitness was with my race season due to start.
My first outing was a Surrey League road race on the Dunsfold road circuit and I was in trouble with severe leg pain from the off as my long standing chronic compartment syndrome came back with a vengeance. I get this problem from time to time and can usually ride through it, but sometimes the pain just gets unbearable and I have to stop, or as was the case this time, unclip the offending leg and pedal one-legged! I managed to drag myself over the finish line at the back of the bunch for a painful and unhappy drive back home - not the start I was hoping for. Thankfully though, this was to be the last time I would suffer so badly with this problem for another 6 months.
After getting my legs back together again, I set about following Sam's training plan as closely as I could and started to get some decent results down at Mountbatten. Sam told me to try and be more aggressive and force some moves during these often rather negative races and this seemed to pay off as I started to get into breaks and finish in the points fairly regularly. In April, a good squad of us went up to the MOD test track at Chertsey, which is one of my favourite circuits and I was hopeful of getting a good result. Sadly, the race was marred by a number of bad crashes, which resulted in both Dave Shaw and Dave Mitchell having to go to hospital with various broken bones. Happily, they both made full recoveries after a few weeks rest and were both soon back to their respective best.
The end of April saw us make the annual club trip over to Gloucester for the MBMR, for which there was a great turn out and some excellent support provided by Guy et al from Jon Belfield's van. My day did not start particularly well though, as I nearly had a heart attack when Rob Capel's tyre blew up in my car during the drive up. The lack of any sort of reaction from Rob at the time was both astonishing and (afterwards) hilarious! The ride itself was a tough one for me and I ran out of legs for the last few miles back into Hungerford - should have had another pint at lunch time! My other memory of that ride was Andy Sayner looking like he could have ridden another 100 miles as he seemed to get stronger and stronger whilst the rest of us were wilting. This was easily the longest ride of the year for me, but I do look forward to a new route for 2014 - especially after Paul pointed out we were basically riding between two places infamous as mass murder sites!
Another April highlight for me was my first LVRC road race, which was on a great road circuit near Alton. Clint and I both enjoyed this very well run event and seeing some really fit guys racing well into their 50s and 60s - shows that we are never too old for this malarkey!
Moving into May and after getting third overall in the five race 3/4 Cat Mountbatten series, I started doing some of the Surrey League Vets series races at the Dunsfold Aerodrome. These are always hard races with plenty of good riders around who enjoy ripping the legs off other riders and I was pleased to be able to hang in some breaks with a few of these guys, gathering a few top ten finishes to add to the points tally. For the first time, my mind did start to contemplate the possibility of accumulating the 40 points needed for 2nd Cat.......
The big highlight in May was undoubtedly the trip to Bala in Wales with Kent, Paul and Clint. This is an awesome place to ride a bike and all those who said they were going but dropped out really did miss out on a great trip. Kent is organising a return trip this year, so you really do need to be there!
After a very nice holiday trip to the US and a welcome re-charging of the batteries, the racing continued thick and fast with the build up to what would be my first ever multi-day stage race at the end of June. Sam was also racing in what was now a 1,2,3 Cat event; Matt, Dave Mitchell and Howard Radcliffe were also entered into what turned out to be a superb event run by Poole Wheelers.
The first day was very hard indeed with a hill climb TT in the morning and a very lumpy road race in the afternoon, which was raced at an incredible pace that I eventually had to give in to and roll in with a number of other bunch rejects. The following day, I was both pleased and surprised that my legs seemed to be ok and I posted what for me was a reasonable time in the flat TT. Matt and Sam also posted good times and we were looking forward to the afternoon road race which was on a huge 20 mile circuit, complete with fully marshalled roads, traffic lights we were allowed to cross on red and junctions all covered in favour of the race. My aim was simply to try and hang on to the end in such a high quality field and I was pretty chuffed to manage it, although I almost turned myself inside out a couple of times chasing back on! Matt had a great finish to win the bunch sprint, whilst Sam had been up the road in the break for the whole race. Although I was never going to trouble the leader board in this, I did feel a real sense of achievement in finishing whilst plenty of others floundered.
After another LVRC race, it was time to head off to France and after 800 miles at the wheel in a day, it was a relief to find the lovely woodland campsite near Mont Ventoux where Paul and Wendy were already camped; Dave and Gill Shaw were also parked alongside in their mobile palace - with a welcome cuppa on hand!
After tough but beautiful rides up Ventoux on successive days (in baking heat), we had the pleasure and privilege of watching Chris Froome destroy the field and effectively win the Tour from right where we were sitting in front of Chalet Reynard. We then headed up to Bourg to hook up with all the others for a fantastic week of fun and riding in the Alps, which culminated in watching the tour ride up Alpe d'Huez. What a fantastic week that was!
I really did think that the buzz from this week could not be topped, but the Ride London 100 in August did just that. A fantastic day on the bike with a great bunch from the club smashing it up on empty roads in perfect weather. The adrenaline rush as we hammered up The Mall in front of thousands of cheering onlookers was truly incredible! Fingers are crossed for another entry this year.
After an excellent club barbecue at Hundred Acres, the rest of August was a blur of racing - the Winchester Street Crit and our club road race at Alfold were great events to be involved in and I got to the end of the month just needing four more points to get the 40 needed, so the question was: did I really want them? So, and borrowing the inimitable words of Uncle Dave, I thought about it for about a second or so and made my mind up - of course I wanted them!
With a holiday coming up and the feeling that my batteries were starting to fail a bit, I knew that the race at Mountbatten on the 11th September would be my last outing of the season. So it was now or never and with some good team help from Jon Healey, I finished 5th to grab the last few points that I needed.
After returning from holiday, it was time to back things off a bit and just enjoy some social riding such as the annual trip to the Isle of Wight and some great Sunday tear ups with the usual suspects!
Then in November, we all headed off for our Remembrance Weekend trip to Alfriston, which was memorable for so many reasons. Once again, it was brilliantly organised by Paul with great road support provided by Wendy and Sam - courtesy of Steve's van. Conditions for the ride over were appalling, but everyone just got on with it and the open fire in the pub when we got there was bliss! The ride back was a lovely contrast in weather and made for some magical autumn scenery.
At the end of November, I turned 50 and the day was better than I could have ever hoped for, with a great morning club ride in lovely weather, followed by a fantastic party in the evening with all my family there and lots of club members too - not forgetting some very noisy fireworks of course!
Our annual trip over to Roger's for the Mince Pie Ride saw our largest ever group club ride and this was a great event to be part of as we could all see young Alex making good progress after his dreadful injury in the summer. It is uplifting to see so many people come together in support of Alex and we all hope that 2014 sees him continue to make great strides in his recovery.
So all in all, it's been an epic year for me; it remains to be seen how things go with the racing next year as a 2nd Cat, but I will be giving it everything I have got. It's been a pleasure riding and socialising with all of you and I hope 2014 brings all of us another great year together - both on and off our bikes.