“Going playing in the woods, that’s what I say – I’m going on a training ride, but to me it’s just playing in the woods. Living where I do, in the winter, it’s wet and miserable, but we enjoy it and that’s how we train for world cups.”
Blasting past two riders and through the rough, rooty section just past “the troll cave” the trail rises to its highest point and then violently drops away. Standing up on the pedals you feel about 18 feet tall as you plummet into the mud and across the concrete bridge which seems to narrow as you get closer. The four kids sitting on the steel fence either side of the bridge can only be about ten or eleven, but in my peripheral vision I can see their grins as I power through the rutted clay. I can hear one of them crowning the moment with a long “wow” and I can’t help but whoop as I smile to myself, hoping that one of them, one day, writes something like this down or at least understands how it feels.
“I look out the window and it’s a cold, miserable day and I think about Greg Minaar in South Africa, Sam Hill and Rennie in Australia, all the guys in California – they’ve got this nice weather, they’re out riding their bikes, sweating and getting hot – it’s a bit harder for us guys here in England. But that’s why we’re tougher than those boys.”
Sometimes it’s hard and lonely going out training after work on a Friday night, when it’s dark and you’re in the pissing rain, but after an hour or so you can head on home satisfied that you’ve done some worthwhile mileage. After a shower and as it’s a training weekend and not a racing weekend then maybe I’ll head out to dinner with some mates, or cook at home, but either way there will be lots of food! Then it’s time to check my list of things to do that have built up in the week and get on with any spannering. Once that’s complete I’ll spin the bike up on the turbo until I’m bored of that.
Therefore five to ten minutes later I’ll be ready for bed!
Good strong coffee is the only way to start Saturday, especially as my dinner last night blatantly preceded a beer or two in the local, rather than the to-do-list option. Then after actually doing the to-do-list bit I can get out on the bike for a few hours. Being winter I’ll chuck some hardpack trails into the mix along with the mud so that I get some proper miles into my legs. The beauty of training in the clay of Sussex, however much it tests your sense of humour at the time, is that it’s such hard work that you can make real improvements really quickly. A loop that may take less than an hour in the summer can take over two at the moment, as well as taking about the same to clean and prep the bike for next time.
Some late lunch comes just before more work in the workshop. It might be building wheels, bleeding brakes or servicing suspension – basically anything that’s broken or worn out in the week or perhaps something I want to try or improve ready for racing in the summer. Not all these experiments work, but if one out of ten of them helps me go faster, then learning each lesson will have been exponentially valuable, just like training in the clay.
Sunday, it seems, is the day that all of the world remembers that they have a bike gathering dust in the garage and that their fitness regime isn’t going quite as well as it could be and so I like to get out early to avoid the masses. As the mist rises from the tarmac and the first florescent jackets join me I’ve already put in a decent turn on the road and once you’ve found your rhythm no amount of wavering riders on your left or suicidal vehicles on your right can put you off.*
“All the hours that you train in the winter, that’s where they come in – [in the summer, when] you’re riding a long track and you’ve got to be strong all the way to the finish. You’ve got to be on the pedals, on the gas, wherever you can. If you’re breaking into a wooded section you’ve got to be pedalling out of it and back up to speed as soon as possible.”
And by the time I’m eating my Sunday afternoon lunch I’ll have either won a race six months down the line or done enough to finish in the top twenty on natural talent. Only time will tell, but it really is that simple – it won’t feel like it at the time – in the cold drizzle or in the icy woods, but this is where hot, sweaty summer races are won and lost. Sharp elbows and mental toughness play their part, but if you don’t have those winter miles in your legs and those chilling gasps in your lungs, you’ll never cut it six months down the line.
Every time it’s piss wet, your glasses are fogged up, your body aches and your head starts to say no, you just have to remember that eventually Summer comes back around.
(Footnote; Quotes come from Steve Peat who introduces the Winter and Summer segments of the Collectives third DVD – Seasons.)
*it never fails to amaze me how car drivers (and especially taxis and school runners) will overtake me on blind corners. Forget the fact that I’m on a bike for a moment and think of it this way – You have your son in the backseat and you come up behind me travelling at around 30 mph. You can’t see around the right hand bend and you’re on a country road so to overtake you must be fully on the wrong side of the road. To overtake me at 30 mph you must be travelling at around 40 – 60 mph and if there were a car coming in the opposite direction it could be legally travelling at 60 mph. That’s a combined speed of 120 mph!
So you now have two options and pretty soon either I’ll be smashed all over your windscreen and possibly dead, or your sons head will be smashed all over yours and possibly you’ll both be dead, along with whomever was travelling in the oncoming car that you hit, and also probably me as well.
So maybe that’s the worst case scenario, but seriously, on paper you wouldn’t make that overtake so why do you make it every time in the real world. It seems insane to me, especially as, if you wait for 20 seconds and then overtake on the next straight bit you’ll get to the school gates/office/gym/cafe/meeting/dog walk exactly 20 seconds late (or maybe no later at all, by the time you catch up the next car), but we’ll all be alive and happy. Is 20 seconds worth my life, your life or anybodies life? I think not.