oneeighteight – making hay

It seems like every weekend I’ve been racing recently. If I haven’t raced I’ve been helping someone else at a race. In fact in the last ten days I’ve raced 5 Mountain bike races and I’m loving it – who says there aren’t events in the South-East?…

At the end of May I raced the regional champs – the MSG Eastern Series organisers had very little to work with at Carver Barracks but I thought the course was bloody brilliant. A couple of really fast gravel roads and then plenty of tight twisty singletrack made the tracks a little like a cross course and a lot of overnight rain helped me feel right at home – I love both wheels moving around under the bike and plenty going on – I came away with 6th which doesn’t sound like much but it was against some proper fast boys so I was happy and it boosted my confidence.

Beastway, on the other hand, has thrown me some real curveballs this year with crashes and punctures – It’s such a great way to get into mountain biking so I don’t know why more people don’t do it – as they say you can lead a horse to water, but the bugger doesn’t have to do anything once it’s there. I was trying really hard, but finished nowhere at round 5 due to a crash that winded me pretty bad – I made up for it the following week by coming 3rd.

Then we went to Suffolk for the 4th round of the National Series – I wasn’t really feeling the dry dusty course and I couldn’t get my head around the big drop off, but I was still pretty fast. My laps were consistent and out of the five riders that I was really racing with I beat four of them so I was happy with 18th place and it means I’ve now got three good solid National results with one race to go.

I did a club TT before another two rounds of Beastway – I think I was third in the club TT which I think is okay for a mountain bike racer. It would be interesting to see what some of those boys can do off-road…

One of the best races of the year is the Bedgebury 6 hour – there are no points, no prize money and no bullshit. You all start at the same time and the most laps in 6 hours is the winner, its dead simple. I won it solo two years ago beating all the teams as well, but last year Jon Dennis came along to give me a proper race – I had a 24 hour race in my legs but I’m not making excuses because he played it brilliantly, letting me ride off for the first 4 hours and then reeling me back in to win. I’m not sure if that’s what happened this year, but seemingly lightning does strike twice because a guy from the local club beat me the same way. Fair play to him, because I was feeling strong at the halfway mark and he seemed to come from nowhere with a heap of speed – he must have trained hard for that.

The following day I raced the Southern XC Series race at Pippingford because it’s local so why wouldn’t you? I was plenty tired but my lap times weren’t atrocious and I finished 9th. My mate Ed raced too and finished 9th in the Vets – after the race we were chilling out in the pits in the sun and Pip asked us dryly, “why do we race ‘cross in the Winter?” Sitting there in the sun I pondered the question for a bit – I mean, I love ‘cross but this was good too.

The following Wednesday was the final round of Beastway and I was on to win the Elite/Expert Overall – some folk were laughing at my spare wheels but I was taking no chances. Michael Butler soloed round for the win and claimed 3rd overall, Joe Peake didn’t fancy it but showed up to stand on the podium with us which I thought was mint – we’re not mates but I respect him for that. And I almost threw the whole job in the bin when I wrapped a load of course tape in my rear cassette on the last lap, but I stayed calm, finished 6th and that was enough to stand on the top step overall. One of my secret pre-season goals ticked off and the second time I’ve won it. Now it’s time for a week off – kind of.

#aeightracer

Photos by “Roots and Rain”, Pip Jenkins and Glen Whittington. 

 

Glen rides for the.æight.bicycle.cøllective and Southborough & District Wheelers. He races mountain bikes, road bikes, TT and ‘cross at local and national level and is currently racing his 15th  season. He receives personal support from Helly Hansen, the.æight.bicycle.cøllective, Wildside Cycles, Four4th Lights, Praxis Works, VeeTireCo, Schwalbe, Lazer Helmets and CeramicSpeed.

@eightbikeco #aeightracer

GOT WHAT IT TAKES TO RACE WITH US?

For 2018 we’re looking for one or two other riders to be on our race team. The Cøllective is about doing things a little differently. We’re looking to kit our riders out with steel race bikes made in Sussex. Whether that’s for ‘cross, road, crit, TT or mountain bike we’re offering the chance to have a custom steel bike made for you to race on – not just put together, but fully bespoke.

The best part is that we’re not asking you to leave your team or club and that includes racing in club/team kit. We’ve got certain brands that we’d like to work with, but we’re open to suggestions and maybe you’ve got a sponsor or support that you could bring to the table? We have some strict qualifying criteria but don’t be put off by this – if you’re interested in being part of our c ø l l e c t i v e then please get in touch by emailing your racing CV to eightbikeco@gmail.com

 

t h e . æ i g h t . b i c y c l e . c ø l l e c t i v e

t h e . æ i g h t . r a c e r . i n s t a g r a m

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oneeightseven – smiles per miles

One small problem with mountain bike racing is that in the South-East we’re slightly short-changed in the mountain stakes, which means that the bigger races often attract a few more air miles. The positive side of this is that you get to see some fantastic places…

After a great few races in block one, I enjoyed a rest week (which to be honest doesn’t differ very much from a racing week) and then got ready for my second National Points race at Dalby Forest in Yorkshire. A 550 mile round trip was a long trek to make in a single weekend, but I was confident of some good results and so it was worth it. Course recon took place on the Saturday and returning to Dalby after a break of seven years was great fun, with all the same features having been retained from the old World Cup course.

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I felt good after the morning warm-up on the Sunday and had a good grid position from my round one result – the first section out and around Adder rock went to plan and I’d gained a couple of places to be in the top 15. And then, “pppssssstttt-sttt-sttt”, said my rear tyre as I came up short on a blind drop off, “fuck”! Riding on the rim (and running up the climbs) back round to my spare wheels was shit, but in the end I road two more laps of the course to finish – 8 points being worth more than nothing and hopefully they’ll prove crucial at the end of the season! Death before DNF!

Putting the disappointment of Dalby behind me, I headed out to Houffalize in Belgium to compete in the three day Roc D’Ardenne Trophy which is made up of a 27.5km Night stage, the 59km “Roc D’Ardenne” itself, and finally the 84km UCI Marathon race. You can enter the events individually or as a complete three-day trophy. I managed to finish 21st in the night race which ended up being my stand out race of the weekend.

The Saturday race was brilliant and featured many of the same climbs and downhills as the World Cup used to be raced over – brutal amounts of climbing, a terrible start pen and a bit of tiredness were taking their toll but out of 1300 riders I managed 104th so well inside the top 10% and moving up a couple of places in the Trophy. This qualified me for the 1st pen on Sunday so I serviced my bike, ate all the pasta I could find and got an early night!

An early start on the Sunday saw us roll out from Houffalize in the rain, before the trails started to dry out again. I felt good for the first few hours, 2400 meters of climbing and two previous days of racing were always going to make today tough but I kept everything rolling and rode to my advantages on the climbs. In the end I was pleased with another 104th place (bit spooky), this time against some of the world’s best racers in the official UCI race – first one I’ve done for a few years. But my aim for the weekend was the Trophy where I finished 16th overall and was the first Brit – such a great weekend away and well worth a 700 mile round trip.

Glentress will be the second longest road trip of the year at 900 miles and was the destination for Round 3 of the NPS – 2150 miles in the van and so far, lots of smiles but not so many points, so I had to make Glentress count. The track was way out of my comfort zone and my first practice lap was a white knuckle ride! There were six A/B lines and I wasn’t confident on a couple of them – another 2 practice laps and I was starting to feel a little more at home!

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Sunday’s race was not until late afternoon so it’s always difficult to time everything perfectly but I got my warm-up nailed and I’d eaten well. The first lap was super quick and we were all fighting from the gun for every single corner. I was making all my time on the climbs, but losing out on the techy downhills – I really need to work on that! My second and third laps were much better and I was starting to find a rhythm. In the end I found all the best lines and that enabled me to take a few places back on the final lap, eventually rolling across the line in 21st place – big miles and big smiles at the end of block 2!

#aeightracer

Photos by “Roots and Rain” and Glen Whittington. 

 

Glen rides for the.æight.bicycle.cøllective and Southborough & District Wheelers. He races mountain bikes, road bikes, TT and ‘cross at local and national level and is currently racing his 15th  season. He receives personal support from Helly Hansen, the.æight.bicycle.cøllective, Wildside Cycles, Four4th Lights, Praxis Works, VeeTireCo, Schwalbe, Lazer Helmets and CeramicSpeed.

@eightbikeco #aeightracer

GOT WHAT IT TAKES TO RACE WITH US?

For 2018 we’re looking for one or two other riders to be on our race team. The Cøllective is about doing things a little differently. We’re looking to kit our riders out with steel race bikes made in Sussex. Whether that’s for ‘cross, road, crit, TT or mountain bike we’re offering the chance to have a custom steel bike made for you to race on – not just put together, but fully bespoke.

The best part is that we’re not asking you to leave your team or club and that includes racing in club/team kit. We’ve got certain brands that we’d like to work with, but we’re open to suggestions and maybe you’ve got a sponsor or support that you could bring to the table? We have some strict qualifying criteria but don’t be put off by this – if you’re interested in being part of our c ø l l e c t i v e then please get in touch by emailing your racing CV to eightbikeco@gmail.com

 

t h e . æ i g h t . b i c y c l e . c ø l l e c t i v e

t h e . æ i g h t . r a c e r . i n s t a g r a m

oneeightsix – first ride of 2018 pt.3

Whilst ‘cross and road events were being cancelled left, right ad centre, the start of my fifteenth season was blessed with dry and dusty trails…

I’ve split races up into blocks like normal this year to allow a bit of recovery between them, so my first block consisted of two Eastern League races and a National, which meant quite a bit of travelling, but that’s mountain biking. It was the first time I’ve ever raced at Hadleigh Park in Essex which was the site of the Olympic XC race in 2012. For regional riders it’s quite important to train on this course as it’s the site for the National Champs later on in the year so I was keen to grab some experience.

Biting cold wind straight off the Thames estuary ensured that the sandy soil stayed dry for the whole weekend and I found a good setup straight away. Tyre pressures are crucial on the loose gravelly man-made trails and I was comfortable quite quickly. At the start of the race I followed some good wheels down some bonkers lines and felt strong on the climbs back up to the top. A big Elite/Expert field ensured some top notch racing and I was really pleased to roll over the line in 12th, putting my first points on the board for 2018.

A fairly epic dump of snow later and we headed up to Suffolk for Round 2 of the Eastern League at Henham near Southwold. It must have been about the only part of the country not in chaos due to the white stuff and even remained quite dry, albeit ridiculously cold again – I spent the whole ‘cross season in shorts and now I was putting leg and arm warmers on for XC!

After the first round I’d been getting a lot of riding in and despite a slight lack of raw power I was feeling great at Henham on the mostly natural course – the MSG lads had built a fantastic course and once again a big field made the racing fast and close. I started well and then settled into a small group racing for 6th place. I dropped back for a while but didn’t panic and started to find more pace in the techy bits. With two laps to go I worked back up to 7th and on the final lap went attacked the other rider in our group to take 6th place. The long trip to Suffolk had been well worth it.

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An even longer trip up to Nottingham for Round 1 of the National Points Series was the last race in block one for me and this time I had the luxury of being driven up by a team mate who was racing the Vets race in the morning. We left super early to sneak in a practice lap on the Sherwood Pines course, which I last raced 11 years ago – it hadn’t changed a bit and I was loving it from the start.

A great warm up saw me grab a good start from the back of the grid and move straight up into the top 20 places. Quite a bit of jostling and elbows out in the first two laps saw me move a few places higher and then we started caching the Juniors, quickly at first, but then I found some really good riders to work with. I moved a final few positions up to 17th place and finished my first block of racing ranked 6th in the UK – a massive confidence boost ahead of my first recovery week.

#aeightracer

Photos by Basil Thornton and Glen Whittington. 

 

Glen rides for the.æight.bicycle.cøllective and Southborough & District Wheelers. He races mountain bikes, road bikes, TT and ‘cross at local and national level and is currently racing his 15th  season. He receives personal support from Helly Hansen, the.æight.bicycle.cøllective, Wildside Cycles, Four4th Lights, Praxis Works, VeeTireCo, Schwalbe, Lazer Helmets and CeramicSpeed.

@eightbikeco #aeightracer

GOT WHAT IT TAKES TO RACE WITH US?

For 2018 we’re looking for one or two other riders to be on our race team. The Cøllective is about doing things a little differently. We’re looking to kit our riders out with steel race bikes made in Sussex. Whether that’s for ‘cross, road, crit, TT or mountain bike we’re offering the chance to have a custom steel bike made for you to race on – not just put together, but fully bespoke.

The best part is that we’re not asking you to leave your team or club and that includes racing in club/team kit. We’ve got certain brands that we’d like to work with, but we’re open to suggestions and maybe you’ve got a sponsor or support that you could bring to the table? We have some strict qualifying criteria but don’t be put off by this – if you’re interested in being part of our c ø l l e c t i v e then please get in touch by emailing your racing CV to eightbikeco@gmail.com

 

t h e . æ i g h t . b i c y c l e . c ø l l e c t i v e

t h e . æ i g h t . r a c e r . i n s t a g r a m

collectiveriderblog/oneeightfive – first ride of 2018 pt.2

Cameron fills us in on his first successes of 2018…

I After a couple of windy winter circuit races at Cyclopark in December and January, my road race season officially started late February with the South East Road Race League cat 3/4 season opener on the Cranbrook-Benenden course. Our race was shortened due to ice so went off quickly with riders dropping off the back pretty much straight away. I stayed in the wheels and followed a couple of attacks throughout the race helping to keep the pace rolling on the front of the bunch.

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With signs of cramp when the bell rang for the last lap I tried to ease up a tad and save myself for the sprint, but at that point everything is pretty much flat out. It was a slight uphill finished which I thought suited me but didn’t know how my sprinting would compare to others in the race. I timed my sprint well and came across the line to place 3rd, a great result for me this early on in the season and a good indication to how the winter training has paid off.

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My second road race was my first experience at a category 2/3 level. It was a blisteringly fast race averaging at 26.1mph for over 2 hours. I managed to stay in the bunch, for the whole race, finishing in the middle of the field – another result I was really pleased with as I’ve never raced that category before and had no idea how I would get on or how quick everyone would be.

The most recent road race I did was the SERRL Tour of the Marshes cat 3/4. A grim day with wet roads meant a cold and unpleasant race, however my legs felt good and again I helped to control the pace at the front of the bunch. A group of four riders broke away, three of which we caught but one stayed away for the remainder of the race claiming a solo win with a decent gap over the bunch. This finish was quite a long drag with lots of riders sprinting too early – I kicked at just the right time to claim fifth in the bunch, so 6th overall. I now have a block of training and a week riding in Mallorca before competing again at the end of April.

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Photos by Dave Haywood and Cameron. 

Cameron rides for the Southborough & District Wheelers. He races  road bikes  and ‘cross at local and national level. He receives personal support from the.æight.bicycle.cømpany.

t h e . æ i g h t . b i c y c l e . c ø l l e c t i v e

t h e . æ i g h t . r a c e r . i n s t a g r a m

collectiveriderblog/oneeightfour – first ride of 2018 pt.1

Pip tells us about her first 4 races of 2018 – a total of 6.6 miles of racing…

I entered four early races this Spring to get started before the serious racing begins. When the first one was cancelled due to snow it was annoying and then when the second one was cancelled for snowmelt I knew it wasn’t my weekend! So I spent some time preparing for the following weekend’s 10 mile TT which was promptly called off due to potholes! Luckily the following weekend was dry and sunny so nothing could go wrong.

So when I got the email Friday night saying the Q10/22 had been shorted to 6.6 mile I questioned why I would drive one and a half hours to race for 20 minutes and then head one and a half hours back home again. But even a shortened VTTA 10 mile would be good mental prep for my season. The first race of the year is always difficult for me, I’m out of the routine will always forget something. So this year I decided to enter a few early 10 mile TTs to get back in to the swing of things.

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It’s important to prepare for more important races and flicking through the start sheet I was surprised by how many quick rides (and especially females) had entered – it would need to be a quick ride to get a good result – all out for less than 20 minutes. So I packed my bag, got an early night and woke up at 4:55 for breakfast. Arriving at the HQ as it opened and with plenty of time to faff I surprisingly found that I hadn’t forgotten anything from last year.

In Kent races you can’t use a trainer to warm up near the HQ so I got changed and hit the road to warm up. I’ve found warming-up difficult to get right before so I gave myself a good 25 minutes before heading to the start. It was a lumpy out and back course with a downhill finish and with the shortened distance you could pretty much go flat out from the start. With a slight headwind on the way-out it made it feel slow but I kept pushing up the ramps.

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Fuelled by the message taped to my Garmin, on the way back I was motoring except for a few cars slowing me down, but that’s the same for everyone – back on the gas I worked hard and pushed down to the finish to clock a time of 16:03, taking first place in the Ladies race by 2:17 (15th on the overall). I was pleased to have gone relatively well so early on in the year and on such a cold day. I feel much more confident about my first few proper races now which begin at the end of April with a 25 miler.

Photos by Dave Haywood and Pip. 

Pip rides for the Southborough & District Wheelers. She races  road bikes, TT and ‘cross at local and national level. She receives personal support from the.æight.bicycle.cømpany.

t h e . æ i g h t . b i c y c l e . c ø l l e c t i v e

t h e . æ i g h t . r a c e r . i n s t a g r a m

oneeightthree – aieghttech – long term test bike pt.2 – S-Works SL6

After riding the Flanders Cyclo-sportive on the Saturday we were excited to see the Pro’s race the real deal on Sunday – Thanks to our friend at KBC we lucky enough to get the chance to do it in style…

We woke up only slightly later on the Sunday and jumped back in the car to Antwerp for breakfast, to see some bikes and there riders. Driving through the beautiful streets of the start city we were amazed at just how well organised everything is – before we knew it we were on the shuttle to the Team’s Start/Parking area and then getting up close to all the coolest kit.

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Out of all the teams, Quick Step run the most similar bike to mine – there are rumours that one or two riders have fully custom lay-ups, but the majority of #thewolfpack were definitely running the same Ultralight S-Works Tarmac SL6 as you or I can buy in the shop (unless you’re lucky enough to borrow one). They also use identical Roval carbon clincher wheelsets to mine for training on, but for the race the mechanics prepare the tubular version  – both wheels feature Ceramicspeed bearings like mine.

The team were all running the Dura-Ace crank, some with the Specialized branded 4i powermeter and some with the Shimano version – some opted for no power at all so I’m guessing they’re still testing options out. Officially the team are sponsored by Pro for finishing kit but I saw quite a mix of S-Works equipment and Pro bits, which probably has more to do with the riders individual bike fit than anything – the blue K-Edge chain catchers and Garmin mounts made the bikes look super neat and as Niki Terpstra, Philippe Gilbert and Yves Lampaert head off to sign-on they had the look of a team which were about to go and get the job done.

Specialized has also set about getting to work on an already great bike in 2018 – The “rider-first” sizing means that the Tarmac is 20% lighter than the previous version across all sizes. The paint weighs in at 10 grams and the whole FACT 12R  frame ends up at 733g. Ceramicspeed bearings are used throughout by both factory male teams, on the Boels-Dolman womens team and on the customer S-Works bike. Integrated dual-mounted brakes make everything super stiff and may be one of the reasons why riders like Sagan have opted for the non-disc version.

Bora-Hansgrohe’s K-Edge mounts were clutching onto Wahoo computers which were again mostly linked up to the new Dura-Ace crank with a Specialized-branded powermeter – interestingly on Sagans bike there was some kind of sensor on his front Roval wheel which looked like it could be an integrated speed sensor (but I also wondered if it might be a data logger for measuring something wheel/tyre based – a rep from Spesh told me that it’s common for them to fit sensors to athletes bikes instead of brass weights so they can learn as much as possible). He was also running cable operated gears and brakes rather than Di2 or discs – it’s odd as the di2 front mech definitely works better on the rough stuff as I’ve found on the ‘cross bike, so it must just be personal preference.

One thing that really impressed me was the way Sagan took time before the start to talk to fans – one lady stood there for half an hour with a World-Champ hat and a pen and quietly I wondered if it might be in vain, but when the team emerged from the bus Sagan walked straight up to her and started chatting before taking selfies with just about everyone there – in comparison another rider who I’ve always liked, looked straight through a fan who was after an autograph on a jersey and then disappeared into his camper. I’ve not always been Sagan’s biggest fan but I realised then why people love him so much.

As the riders headed off to the Start in downtown Antwerp we jumped back in the car for the trip down past Oudenaarde to Ronse. To give an idea of the speeds involved I rode from Antwerp to Zottegem in just under three hours the previous day, in the car it had taken over an hour on the motorway, but the pro peloton covered the distance in just a little over 1.5 hours at a staggering 46.6km/hour. It made my 30km/hour look like I wasn’t trying! Once they were down to the hellingen they set about ripping each other to bits.

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We saw the male race come past at the western end of the Hotond before walking down to the eastern end to see the women’s race which had been kept equally fast by some great Boels-Dolmans teamwork. Just before we saw them Anna van der Breggan had made her decisive attack on the Kruisberg on the way out of Ronse and made short work of the 21km home from there via the Oude-Kwaremont and the Paterberg. Unfortunately the women’s race didn’t seem to get any airtime as we retired back to the KBC tent to watch the action on the big screen, but the men’s race was now in full flow on the slopes of the Muur-Kapelmuur, being led by Tiesj Benoot.

Next up the riders headed for the finishing loop proper with riders chasing down the early break – two Dutch riders and the Danish champ, Mads Pederson got the best jump on the rest of the bunch before Nibali tried to get across and then Niki Terpstra counter attacked on the Kruisberg pretty much in front of us. Terpstra made it neatly across the gap and only Mads Pederson could go with him on the Oude Kwaremont, albeit a few seconds behind and crucially missing the slipstream.  The first Dutch winner for 32 years never looked back from the Paterberg to the finish, but impressively Pedeson didn’t give in either to score 2nd place in his first attempt at the race. Last year’s winner, Philippe Gilbert, out sprinted the rest in to finish 3rd, making it two Tarmac SL6’s on the men’s podium and two in the women’s too – Great work from Boels-Dolmans and #thewolfpack.

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Thanks again to Wildside and Specialized UK for the bike support and to Helly Hansen and Lazer for the kit. Massive thank-you again to Wim at KBC for driving us countless miles – his local knowledge got us to the perfect places for the sportive and the race and he really made us feel welcome in Flanders. Watch out for some more technical blogs to follow on some mods that I have planned over the next few months.

#aeighttech #aeightracer

Photos by Glen Whittington.  

 

Glen rides for the.æight.bicycle.cøllective and Southborough & District Wheelers. He races mountain bikes, road bikes, TT and ‘cross at local and national level and is currently racing his 15th  season. He receives personal support from Helly Hansen, the.æight.bicycle.cøllective, Wildside Cycles, Four4th Lights , VeeTireCo and CeramicSpeed.

@eightbikeco #aeightracer

GOT WHAT IT TAKES TO RACE WITH US?

For 2018 we’re looking for one or two other riders to be on our race team. The Cøllective is about doing things a little differently. We’re looking to kit our riders out with steel race bikes made in Sussex. Whether that’s for ‘cross, road, crit, TT or mountain bike we’re offering the chance to have a custom steel bike made for you to race on – not just put together, but fully bespoke.

The best part is that we’re not asking you to leave your team or club and that includes racing in club/team kit. We’ve got certain brands that we’d like to work with, but we’re open to suggestions and maybe you’ve got a sponsor or support that you could bring to the table? We have some strict qualifying criteria but don’t be put off by this – if you’re interested in being part of our c ø l l e c t i v e then please get in touch by emailing your racing CV to eightbikeco@gmail.com

 

t h e . æ i g h t . b i c y c l e . c ø l l e c t i v e

t h e . æ i g h t . r a c e r . i n s t a g r a m

 

oneeighttwo – aieghttech – long term test bike pt.1 – S-Works SL6

Inspired by Philippe Gilbert’s victory on the Flemish cobbles in 2017 I lusted after a Tarmac SL6 for nine months – when the chance arose to ride one for Wildside Cycles in Kent as a long-term test bike I knew I had to get stuck in – Then a friend of mine asked if I wanted to bring it out to Flanders for the 2018 race – an offer too good to miss…

They say that the Ronde van Vlaanderen is the biggest bike race in Belgium, but to Belgian’s it’s the biggest race in the world and I think that just about hits the nail on the head. The TV cameras and press descend upon the tiny region along with the biggest teams on the planet for around a month, but crucially one major day.

A Cyclo-Sportive with 15’000 other riders wouldn’t normally be on my list of things to do, but there’s something about the carnival of Flanders that drew me in – a friend of mine in Belgium offered Pip and I a lift to the start and said he’d sort out the plan for the Pro-race too so we signed up without knowing exactly what to expect. It became one of the best weekends we’ve had complete with classic vlaandrian weather, some amazing food and really close access to the race typical of the Belgian style of doing things.

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After a few months of prepping my own SL6 for the riding I took it out for a 50km shakedown on the Friday morning. A route that took in the Oude-Kwaremont, Paterberg, Koppenberg, Mariaborrestraat and the Kruisberg proved that my set-up was ready and my les seemed willing too – lunch in Ronse and then Flemish Steak and frites for dinner rounded off out recce day nicely.

I’m basically running the standard set-up of the Ultralight S-Works SL6 Tarmac which has a Dura-Ace R9150 Di2 drivetrain, Roval 50mm carbon wheels, and S-Works finishing kit. The bike weighs in at 6.8kg including pedals, cages and Garmin. Due to my Retul bike-fit I run an inline seatpost, Specialized Power saddle and a fairly low 120mm stem but I’m quite unusual and I whilst I wouldn’t recommend the set-up for most riders, it works really well for me – proper bike fitting regardless of experience or ability is very important before buying a bike like this and that’s why most of the pro-teams invest in the technology.

The next day we were picked up at 6am for a transfer to Antwerp where I’d be dropped off to start the 229km sportive, whilst Pip continued on to start her 174km ride from Oudenaarde one hour later. This meant I had a one hour head-start but 55 km to catch up – the race was on! People had warned me of 3 hours of boring roads until you get to Zottegem – the reality was some of the most beautiful farmland imaginable at dawn with virtually no traffic, which pretty much made it heaven in my book – I absolutely loved every high speed second of that blast across Belgium and for me it made the ride complete. It also gave me a true taste for real riding in such a beautiful country before all the noise and excitement started.

And then it started!… The full Flemish circus began on the Lippenhovestraat (1300m) where my bottles made their first bid for freedom, followed up by the Haaghoek which at 1700m was a long hard section for a small climber like me to sustain a decent tempo. The long ride down to Geraardsbergen was rewarded by one of the greatest climbs in the races history. Fabian Cancellara attacked Tom Boonen here in 2010 to win the race on his Specialized Tarmac and it’s one of my favourite bergs, especially the section just below the top which always stays greasy and provides a proper challenge before the cobbles open out toward the famous chapel at the top.

Back to Oudenaarde via the Valkenberg and the Eikenberg I managed to maintain a good solid pace slightly below my 30km/h target, but a couple of punctures slowed me down – my fault really as the Specialized Turbo Cotton tyres have been so brilliant in training that I’ve basically worn them out and I should have stuck some fresh rubber on before I started – overnight rain had washed a lot of debris onto the tiny Belgian roads and this would also plague the pro-race.

Now we headed to the Koppenberg, a melting pot of Flemish history as well as the meeting point for all four of the sportive routes, which could only mean one thing! Mustering all the ‘cross skills I could find and (politely) shouting to be allowed through, eventually one rider too many put their foot down and I was forced to do the same – a short run and a remount that WvA would be proud of saw me quickly back on the bike but I think it’s the one part of the route that the organisers need to rethink slightly as it’s such a great climb when you’ve got a clear run at it – notably in the pro-race only the top 15 or so top riders made it through before the same problem hit them which made me feel better about myself!

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Onto the punishing 2km stretch of Mariaborrestraat which I always get a masochistic kick out of and then onto Taaienberg, Kaperij and Kanarieberg before dropping down into Ronse on the Flemish/Wallonie border – one of the nicest places to find lunch or a coffee. This time for me, after 7 hours and 200km, it was time for me to stuff my pockets with the last few waffles and gels and make a beeline for the famous finishing loop. We climbed out of Ronse on the Kruisberg (1800m at up to 9%) before looping back down to the mostorus Oude-Kwaremont (2000m up to 11.5%) where Philippe Gilbert attacked to win the race last year on the most important early win for the new Specialized Tarmac SL6 . I really love the section after the cross-roads where you can shift up to the big ring and give it the beans, but notably on the pro-race they do the whole thing in the big ring which in most cases is a standard 53 tooth ring.

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And then, the final obstacle – 400m of up to 20% – the Paterberg is the jewel in the Flemish crown and is well known as the final place to launch a race winning attack like Peter Sagan’s in 2016 on the Tarmac SL5. As you descend a tiny inconspicuous Belgian lane you turn 90 degrees at the bottom and suddenly the wall of cobblestones rises up in front of you allowing only the strongest Flemish lions to ascend the final barrier before the long 9km time trial to the finish line in Oudenaarde. After 8 hours I was ready for a beer!

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Look out for part 2 of this blog for a full run down on how the pro’s race the same course… A massive mention to my friend Wim and KBC Bank in Belgium for looking after us during our stay in Flanders, he made it a really great weekend for Pip and I. And thank-you to Wildside for loning me Phil’s bike!

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Photos by Glen Whittington.  

 

Glen rides for the.æight.bicycle.cøllective and Southborough & District Wheelers. He races mountain bikes, road bikes, TT and ‘cross at local and national level and is currently racing his 15th  season. He receives personal support from Helly Hansen, the.æight.bicycle.cøllective, Wildside Cycles, Four4th Lights, VeeTireCo and CeramicSpeed.

@eightbikeco #aeightracer

GOT WHAT IT TAKES TO RACE WITH US?

For 2018 we’re looking for one or two other riders to be on our race team. The Cøllective is about doing things a little differently. We’re looking to kit our riders out with steel race bikes made in Sussex. Whether that’s for ‘cross, road, crit, TT or mountain bike we’re offering the chance to have a custom steel bike made for you to race on – not just put together, but fully bespoke.

The best part is that we’re not asking you to leave your team or club and that includes racing in club/team kit. We’ve got certain brands that we’d like to work with, but we’re open to suggestions and maybe you’ve got a sponsor or support that you could bring to the table? We have some strict qualifying criteria but don’t be put off by this – if you’re interested in being part of our c ø l l e c t i v e then please get in touch by emailing your racing CV to eightbikeco@gmail.com

 

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