2016 review, bring it on 2017

It’s been a great year for me and I feel totally lucky to have pulled off feats I would have never in a million years thought possible. After taking the European 24 hour solo title in somewhat less that entirely satisfying circumstances I wanted to have a good ride in the Nationals to see how I measured up to the best in the UK. Everything went brilliantly and with a bit of luck in some testing conditions I came away with the win, whoop! This was even more incredible given the preceding weeks of life getting in the way. Read about that one here

With the year drawing to a close it’s always the time to work out what next. I’ve had some quite deep and thought provoking conversation with Jon @e3coach about 2017. His obvious thought is to notch it up another level whereas mine was more like how on earth do I maintain that level with all the new life changes on the horizon. Jon proved he understands me far more than I give him credit for breaking down my current mentality and recognising how to harness this. For example it might come as a shock to many that I genuinely don’t go in to races wanting to win as my main goal!

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Jon from E3 Coach

Keeping the fun in riding is important to me and keeping true to why I started riding, getting out there with mates having a laugh. This is increasingly difficult with a busy life and fitting in training but my mates are generally not (that) abusive if I fit in a couple of extra hill reps whilst out on a ride with them!

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5 days before the Euro Champs it was the annual mates BBQ ride…not to be missed

 

So what next then… well firstly with some things that will be the same. I’m mega chuffed to say that I’ll be continuing will long term sponsors M Steel Cycles with some updated race weapons. Bristol’s Community Bike Café Roll for the Soul will be life saving again next year with spannering that avoids me breaking things myself.

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Roll for the Soul workshop support= life savers

 

Exposure Lights will be keeping me lit on the trails again, simply the best lights out there bar none, I can’t actually quite believe how far they are ahead of the competition and there’s a reason why most people’s lights at 24 hour races are supplied by these guys. USE components will be mounted to the new race machine to keep things light and racey. I’ll be using Torq Fitness products again as they are the central element to my race day nutrition strategy and are always good to have a chat to about racing.

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The most important sponsor in action

The main new thing for next year with be joining up with Team JMC. I’ve known and respected some of the main guys behind setting this club up for some time. The experienced racers involved have always been happy to share their knowledge and it’s a testament to our sport that such a strong camaraderie exists between competitors. The club was originally started as a work place thing but has grown and expanded and is now a UK wide group of people who get together with a focus of fun and encouraging members to get involved in races and challenges across different sports. The club’s heartland also happens to be where I grew up so it feels even more special to be signing up. I’m looking forward to getting to know this group even more and pitting with them at races next year.

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Kielder 100 2011 Matt meets team JMC! Jason and Phil using distraction by garmin to avoid my chat

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Team JMC’s newest member

As for races, after packing in way too many last year I’ll be doing a few less but the main goal will be the World 24 hour championships in Finale Ligure with is probably the best 24 hour course out there. The UK 24 hour champs are only 8 weeks following Finale so I’m going to play it by ear as to whether or not I indulge in that one. Other than that I’ll dabble in a few marathon events but we’ve got a DIY marathon on our hands with our new old and in need some TLC house so that will swallow up a fair bit of time. Painting is good core strength work right?

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This this is going to take a bit of work in 2017

Triple Trouble

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It’s been a mad year of races races races. At the start of the year I had loads of stuff I wanted to do and I knew packing it all in would be tough. With the last race of the year, the UK 24 hour solo champs just round the corner I decided to go three weekends back to back endurance racing to get some good hard miles in the legs.

First up was Torq in your Sleep where I wossed out and entered the 6 hour event given the weeks of training and racing ahead. It was awesome to be pitting with the E3 Coach gang and a good chance to catch up with buddies.

 

I went of pretty hard at the start with fast lad Scott Cornish knowing the fast and flowing singletrack fun of Minley Manor which I was riding for the first time could easily see you slip back if you got caught in traffic. Sure enough, I got caught in a bit of traffic but in fairness Scott was too quick for me anyway. I didn’t really know who else I was racing so just cracked on and enjoyed the tight singletrack and reminded myself I should practice more riding this sort of stuff as I struggled to keep smooth and solid momentum at some points. After a couple of hours having settled in, splat I found myself face first in the dirt with a hefty OTB, looking back down the (flat) trail in wonderment I spotted the offending stump I had caught a pedal on. I dusted myself off feeling some pretty sore ribs only to find that I had snapped my carbon railed saddle (ouch on body and wallet!). It was only a third way round the lap so I stood up for the rest of it. Fortunately I had brought a spare bike so my stand in pit crew (thanks Ingrid) and coach Jon quickly helped me hop about back up bike.

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The E3 Family

 

I got going again and pedalled through the pain to a reasonable 4th place. Hey ho, it was the second fourth in a row after the Manx 100 but it was onwards next weekend to my old stomping ground to the Kielder 101. Kielder was a great weekend and truly epic scenery, you can read about that one here: https://www.ukxcnews.com/rider-blogs/matthew-jones-kielder101-2016/

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After another 4th place at Kielder but having had a great day out I was looking forward to finishing things off at the MTB Marathon Ruthin weekend where I would do the usual double night ride and marathon the next day. This time though I had planned to do a double lap of the long course on the Sunday for good measure and to round of the three hard training weeks. After great fun on the night ride testing out the new Exposure Lights Six Pack and coming in second rider back on the shorter course I still felt relatively fresh the next day and was ready to take on a big day out.

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I had laid out all my nutrition and clothes ready for a quick turnaround once lap one was complete. Lap 1 didn’t go to plan though. After feeling good and solid on the first few climbs I was ploughing down a wicked fun rocky descent when I cut my tyre a bit on a sharp rock. After a while faffing with tubeless worms and CO2 I managed to make it down to the road crossing where I stopped to find that the slash was too big for the tubeless stuff to work so I popped in an inner tube and started pumping away with the marshall’s track pump. Up she went, down she went. I love the fact that in every MTB event you learn something about yourself or the kit you are using. The lesson here kids, check your tubeless tyre for thorns before putting an inner tube in…

 

I then had to patch the tube which was now covered in tubeless gunk, by which time all but the back markers had trundled past. Ah well still plenty of daylight left as I wizzed past hoards of riders enjoying the day out to make some progress again. I stopped to recharge at the food stations for much longer than normal and eat loads of fig rolls to cheer me up and give me a boost for lap 2. About half a mile up from the last feed station, that sound appeared nobody wants to here, gush another puncture on the now tubed tyre, FFS. Walked back down to the feed stations, bought a tube, debated how much a lift back to HQ would cost, more fig rolls, carried on again. The day was getting on by this point and given that I would want to sort the tubeless setup out again for lap 2 I was rapidly thinking I should change plans or quit before anything more drastic happened. Still debating what to do on the final road decent, a wasp sting on the face made my mind up, this wasn’t my day! Philosophical I returned to base and after chatting to the organisers earlier about my plans they were keen to find out if I was on for another lap, talk is cheap so I headed back to the caravan for some ponderance and called it a day. We then had time for a much more socialable walk back in the woods where we had ridden through earlier which was a nice change of pace.

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Matt vs Ruthin wasn’t entirely over though and I got up at the crack the next morning to do most of Lap 2 which turned out to be great fun on the excellent course with a real variety of terrain.

So the triple header weekends were completed and I was relatively unscathed (despite sore ribs from Torq) getting some decent miles in along the way.

 

Davos European 24hr solo champs aftermath

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A few more photo’s and things from Davos and the ensuing stag do carnage. The full write up is on singletrackworld here

I definitely had a bit of a blowout after the race drinking loads of beer and accompanying French produce in Morzine and I’ve struggled to rain it in since. I had an awesome time at the Manx100 but only being a few weeks after Davos it was never going to be a full gas event. I really noticed that extra 5kg of blubber! That box of meat I won must have been really fattening (or perhaps it was the daily ice creams…)!

Reflecting on the race it was certainly the most consistent I’ve been and I’m pretty chuffed to have done well on a course that traditionally wouldn’t be my cup on tea. I would have liked to have had some more competition but I guess you can only beat what’s in front of you. I’ve got a few middle ultra distance things coming up if there is such a thing this summer with, Torq 12 6hr and Kielder 101 on the menu. These should be good for keeping the legs on form without creating the same fatigue that a 24 hour beasty does.

 

2 Races 1 day: Endurance training

Whilst training for endurance mountain bike events it can be quite easy to get bored with the same old routine. Throwing in some interesting outings now and again helps to get motivation up for me. So when two events that I had fancied doing for a while appeared on the same day on the calendar I thought I might as well give them both a bash. With the Heaven of the South (HOTS) 75k xc event starting in the morning 30 minutes north of Bristol and the Day/Night Enduro 2 hours drive away at Queen Elizabeth Country park starting early evening it was definitely doable.

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2 races at each end of the spectrum requires 2 bikes

Part 1. The HOTS event was first up. A slightly delayed start time to undoubtedly accommodate those with massive cider hangovers meant I definitely had to get a wriggle on to get round in time to make the Enduro later in the day. An excellently vague ‘rider briefing’ ended with”alright then off we go, now piss off” or something along those lines and so off we went. Although just a big day out in the hills there are always a few of the lycra no backpack brigade out there to give it some beans. Those few including myself found the front pretty quick and headed off in to the hills. The route was a mix of grassy field margins, ace wooded narrow singletrack and some short sharp rocky descents and climbs thrown in. There seemed to be quite a few lengthy tarmac climbs and despite deluges in the week before the trails were mostly dry bar some occasional sloppy traverses. The views were amazing and with the weather booming it was a cracking day to be out on the bike. There was a veritable army of gate openers and marshalls on the first part of the course gleefully encouraging you onwards. A couple of the first marshalls weren’t quite prepared for the pretty fast pace we were tapping out (13mph average) early on expecting a more lethargic cider slowed bunch.

 

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Elbows out

I road with a fast looking chap for the first part before I pulled away from him on a couple of the more technical descents and played the keep the guy behind out of site game putting in a bit more effort to get round the corners and out of sight. There was 50k option and the 75k route joined back with this one at several points causing a bit of a jam in places. Some removed signage at one point meant a diversion off in to the woods and I had to follow some of the 50k riders back on ourselves to try and find where we went wrong. I assumed the guy behind would have gone past during this faff.

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Great views in Kingswood

Getting back in to things again after frustratingly stood still for a while we plunged down a super fast singletrack descent through the woods with a fun launch jump half way down. Shortly after this I went from master of the trail to epic trail rider fail as my chain jammed at 20mph sending my superman style over the bars. By some miracle I only had a sore hand and a few sore ribs but it should have been a breaker. Fortunately the only thing that did snap was my chain so I popped in a quick link, straightened the bars and headed off again in a bit of a daze. Shortly after another chap appeared behind looking like he was cracking on so we road, and got lost together for a while ending up in some grassy cow fields in god knows where off the route. We eventually got back on track and for the last 10 miles I was like Poirot investigating the signs on every junction in detail before heading off. By this time I had thoroughly run out of water and the last feed station was stocked with cider only, after a bit of confusion of asking why I wanted cider in my water bottle I stoked up and headed off again. By now I had left the other guy behind and despite a few cider burps I rolled in first man back apparently. I assume everyone else had similar issues and had probably gotten even more lost! I didn’t finish my water bottle of cider as I was going to be driving off straight after and the dehydration probably wouldn’t have a good impact drink driving limit! A quick ice-cream, stretch and pizza leftovers I headed off for the night enduro.

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This didn’t taste too good from the water bottle…

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There is protein in this for recovery right?

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Part 1 finished!

Part 2. I had been to QE park a few times in the run up to the South Downs Double ride this winter but only on the South Downs Way. I’m kicking myself now for not exploring a bit more as the trails packed in to a relatively small area are great fun. I just about made it in time to catch the end of the rider briefing then quickly went back to the car to get changed and straight out. I had entered Masters Category as this seemed about right given I only dabble in enduro’s a couple of times a year. My start time was fairly early on in the evening so I buddied up with Francie Arthur to spin round at a fairly brisk pace to at least give me time to reload in between practice and the main event.

There were 4 stages, all of which started from the same point at the top of the hill which worked well. The top was like a mini event area itself with hip hop tunes banging out and Exposure Lights shelters with riders firing off in different directions. I would give a full run down of each of the stages but the main things I remember are a gradual increase in amount of pedalling from 1-4 with stage one being pretty techie off camber and stage 4 including some pretty hard going flat sections. Each were lots of fun and the woods looked amazing in the dying sunlight. I was lucky in only needing to switch on lights for stages 3/4 as the weather was so clear. Nevertheless the Maxx D and Diablo combination on full bore lit up the widely taped lines brilliantly. I had a pretty solid race considering my legs were a bit achey and a sore finger and ribs from earlier exploits didn’t hinder too much once the adrenaline kicked in. The transition climbs were pretty steep though and to keep cramp at bay I kept having to dismount and push, oh the shame! I was held up by catching two riders on stage 1 which was a bit annoying, the first chap was well off the trail as I passed him but chap number 2 wouldn’t budge despite some polite enquires which then turned in to more angry words as he was all over the shop po-going along before I literally had to punt past him as he ground to a halt in a loamy berm. Not quite sure what was in his head to not let someone come by and put pressure on himself by having someone up his arse. I caught another rider on stage 3 and lost a bit more time but nothing major. I ended up a respectable 26th out of 150 riders, not bad!

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End to a long day!

No crashes and an earlier than expected finish meant I could jump back in the car and nail it home to a warm bed after a long day.

The caffeine gel I sank before the final stage kept the eyes wide enough to make the 2 hour drive back to Bristol fly by.

All in two pretty decent rides. The next day I followed up with some good old fashioned strength work barrowing and hauling rock around the local trails with the Bristol Trails Group. A leisurely ride there and back finish off the endurance training meant it was a pretty packed weekend of sucking in the fresh air!

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@bristoltrails dig day

Rhyadar MTB Marathon

A good weekend caravaning looking on smugly at the suckers in their tents at Rhyadar MTB Marathon as it pished it down. Awesome scenery round those parts and a really fun course despite some pretty tricky narrow 4×4 tracks around the route. I stayed on the bike all day despite the conditions until hitting a flat corner on the road back down to town too fast and giving myself bloody gravel rash, gravel rash on a mtb ride, what a div! Only felt better when some other chap stood next to me said he did the same thing on the same corner on a ride the night before!

The ride itself had a good stacked field and despite getting caught by a couple of riders on the last climb I had a decent ride and loved the variety of trails. Sore ribs from last weekends adventures didn’t cause too much bother. Just need to loose those couple of kg’s before Bikefest and Davos24 in the next few weeks to drag my ass up the climbs a bit quicker.

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Off we go

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Relief!

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Muddy!

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Start line faff

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Chewing the fat on the start line

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Off we go

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Checking out the Elan Valley the day before

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The hound approved

 

 

 

 

Exposure Lights Big Night Out/ Scott MTB Marathon Round 1: Builth (windy) Wells

My now annual pilgrimage to Builth Wells for the early season MTB Marathon double of the 40k night ride followed by the 65k Marathon the next day as ever didn’t disappoint with some epic trails and challenging conditions.

I just about finished building my bike back up from scratch Saturday morning with the usual lack of time to decide on clothing options resulting in the good old fashioned pack everything approach. For one overnight trip, the car was stuffed full.

The showground at Builth is a great venue with one of the cattle sheds hosting lots of trade tents. It was good to see a few new trade stands pop up as well as the usual’s from Torq, Fibrax and of course Exposure Lights were on hand to loan out lights and talk people through new shiny products. Awesome catering and well stocked bar round up a quality setup. A kids skills area and free excellent camping facilities always add to the family feel.

The relaxed atmosphere is always a nice touch at these events and lots of returning customers show what a popular series this is. Entries were up again for both the Exposure Lights Big Night Out and Marathons the next day. There is clearly a demand for events that can cater for everyone from the beginner to elite marathon racer, more of these please!

I saddled up for the night ride with the industry benchmark Exposure Maxx D and Diablo combo knowing they would see me right on the fast wide open moorland descents to follow. The temperature was due to drop but it was relatively balmy on the start line so I went for some Tenn waterproof arm and leg warmers, overshoes and gilet type of setup. I always enjoy the lead out chat and a chance to catch up with riding buddies. The course profile included one massive climb to start, along the tops then down to the bottom and a time trail back along the road via a couple of cheeky short sharp climbs and short singletrack sections through the quarry.

The first climb as usual blew apart the pack with three riders out front holding a small gap back to another string of 3 riders including me. I was feeling good and some recent strength work helped keep the wheels turning on the steep road climb. We soon got up on the tops and the wind really picked up. This part was really hard work as whenever you looked ahead you could see another fluorescent marker sign somewhere in the distance, always in an uphill direction! I went back and forward with another chap for a while and then pulled out a small gap on a decent. I could see a couple of sets of lights right behind and knew Phil Simcock would be one of them, a guy I know is similar pace to me. I was keen to get to the top of the descents first so I could hopefully make the gap bigger on the descent which worked well as I slid left, right and sideways down the wet grassy double track plummit. At one point a front wheel drift at 25mph made my heart stop I think, that would have been messy!

It started getting really cold, someone said -1c apparently so I made sure I put in lots of effort to keep ahead of the chasing pack and most importantly to keep warm. As ever the spaceship lights helped spot any hidden dangers on the moors. Riders were teased as distant signs on hills far away showed the direction of travel. Once off the tops I looked over my shoulder and knew I had a decent gap but after being caught on the road last year I put in a time trail effort on the undulating return to base. I came back a chilly 4th rider having put in decent ride. The free exposure lights mug was quickly charged with Tea to warm up followed by a plate of pasta and hot shower then a cold night sleep in the car!

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Team Exposure Lights

 

I woke up early a bit chilly in the back of my car knowing the 65k MTB Marathon would be tough given increasing winds and tired legs from the night before. I shovelled some porridge down with a splodge of protein powder in to help recharge the legs. Very quickly the start came round and more chances to chat with friendly faces. The announcement that there would be 65k of tail winds was met with nervous laughs.

The course again offered up a pack sorting climb that seemed to go on forever. My legs were a bit fatigued but was I able to stay somewhere in the top 30 riders whilst I tried to warm up the legs without overdoing it. I tried to ride sensibly knowing that I wasn’t going to be on top form. Once we go up on to the flat moor tops the winds became really challenging, sapping energy levels. I found myself alone on these sections which is never a good place to be in the wind. The wheels fell off at this point big time and I wasn’t able to push on as I would have liked. Crouching out of the conditions I plugged on and stopped at both the well-stocked feed stations to chug some fig rolls and reload with some Torq drink.

A few riders came past me gradually but then a missed junction by a few riders in front meant they had to re-overtake me further up the hill. I wasn’t in a position to put up much resistance but took the chance to take in the amazing views and not worry too much about position or if someone came past. The descents were much easier the next day as the wind had dried out the grass quite a bit. Charging down these at scary speeds is always fun, particularly when overtaking fellow riders and gaining some free time. Seated climbing was still the order of the days as wheels slipped in the damp conditions.

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Ahh sweaty eyes!

 

I don’t seem to recover too well from double days rides despite doing the ‘right things’ but it’s something I’ve worked on a bit over winter and I ended up picking off a couple of riders on the long road drag back to town. This meant I was a pretty respectable 26th man back from 230+riders. The mini league of marathon double riders put me about 2nd placed rider overall of the tired legs gang which was good and a significant improvement from last year in both time and overall positions. Good news for upcoming events and looking forward to the European 24hour championships in Davos in June.

Thanks to Exposure Lights USE for their continued support, looking forward to the next double weekend later in the year.

For the data geeks here are my training peaks files:

ELNBO http://tpks.ws/Hl7x

MTB Marathon http://tpks.ws/UZCA

Great Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbkqfgKfQAE&feature=youtu.be

 

 

This is mountain biking: Mud,Pasties,Chiltern 65k

Making the most of free time in between family and other non bike related life events I’m discovering is an essential part of work/racing/training/life balance. On that theme I spotted an event over in the Chilterns right by Oxford where I was going for a family party. An early morning departure from Bristol got me over the in time for the 9am start of the Trail Break Chiltern Ridge 65k. I hadn’t ridden in the Chilterns before so thought this would be a good chance to sneak in a few hours in new surroundings before family duties later in the day.

Trail Break organise lots of great value days out whether you’re in it for smelling the air and taking in the scenery or getting your head down and tasting pain (the latter not being actively encouraged mind). With three distances offered and feed stations along the route which was well marked and detailed on a really good quality print out, anyone could rock up and have a good day out at these things. Although not races the excellent signage means it’s easy enough to crack on if you want to. I was in the cracking on category, keen to get some hard miles in to offset any beering later in the day.

A very relaxed start with people filtering over the timing matt led us straight on the trails from the back end of the school in Risborough which was event HQ for the day. The trails were a mix of field margins, bridleways through woods and lots of linking road sections. A few sharp ups and downs mixed in kept things interesting but unfortunately a deluge the day before coupled with lots of horse riders meant some of the trails were served up choppy. Still, this was proper old school mountain biking before the days of trail centres. Perhaps a new craze will start up akin to this new  ‘gravel’ riding thing doing the rounds, perhaps it could be called ‘mountain biking’. People will turn up and ride their bikes mostly off road with linking road sections, most just enjoying the downs but a sick few enjoying the climbs as well….etc etc

Anyway, being a keeno I was one of the first to set off and put my head down and basically didn’t see any other riders until catching up with the middle distance riders towards the last few miles. I spent about 15mins faffing with a tubeless deflation realising I had packed some crap bendy cheapo tyre levers that couldn’t get the tyre off to put a tube in (lesson learned). I eventually got it up…but had stop a few times to top up with the mini pump and nurse it down the fun fast and flowing descents. With all the road linking sections the average speed was pretty quick and minus the faff I clocked about 13mph average over the 65k route and was first rider back for the 65k. Here’s the ride:

https://www.strava.com/activities/554521946

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A quick refuel with an excellent chilli pastie in the school canteen then it was off to Oxford. It was my Uncle’s 60th who also happens to run a Le Mans 24hour racing team. Funny how things work out as I looked at their racing machine next to mine considering how odd it was that different family members both ended up in 24hour sports. Le Mans racers clearly cheat though having 3 drivers and a garage full of mechanics, a bit different to my husband/wife team! Talking with my cousin the team manager quickly revealed there is a lot of similarities in how the 24hour races unfold between motorsport and cycle sport. Probably some learning to be had between the two.

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Keeping 24hour racing in the family

After a good refuel with a few of the local ales in the evening the next day was time to get home. I  had decided to ride the 70miles back to get some good endurance riding tired miles in. I only had my mountain bike from the day before so ended up hunched over time trial style in to the headwind for the afternoon. The legs felt good though with the time flying by and I was back in time for sunday night fish and chips. It’s the best race of the year next weekend, the Dyfi Enduro so looking forward to that one.

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Grimdon (Swindon) on route back from Oxford.