Whatever transpired in my cycling calendar this year has been totally eclipsed by two monumental life changing moments. One was, and still remains, the saddest event of my life. The second was the happiest.
In April my mother died, following a relatively short but horrific battle with cancer. What she endured in those horrible months was unthinkable. The selfless bravery she faced the hopeless situation with was incredible; I saw qualities in her I never knew existed and very few possess. RIP Madge - we lost an amazing mother and many others lost a great friend.
Perhaps the greatest sadness for her, myself and Charlotte was that our son was due at around the peak of the crisis and sadly they did not meet. In the emotional roller coaster that was 2011, the high followed the low and James was born. I hope he inherits my mother’s easy going and open personality. Already, at 5 months old, he smiles and laughs a lot… That’s a good sign!
Of course, this all happened in the run up to the UK24. Through the haze of emotions (and the trips too and fro from my mother’s home in Spain) I continued to train hard. In retrospect, perhaps too hard…. I buried myself in riding; maybe it helped me cope with the iceberg my mother was heading for. Alongside supporting Charlotte in her pregnancy I put in ridiculous hours on the bike (and often at ridiculous times of day or night!). My mother passed away 2 weeks before UK24 and despite my better judgement, I did it anyway. I was disappointed with my performance, (and I mean no disrespect to anyone ahead or behind me in the field) but it provided me with a catalyst for change.
I decided to peg back the training and really concentrate on focused quality riding. The Glentress 7 was raced on the back of UK24 but on very little volume riding (and one week after James was born!). I was delighted to win, simply because it was a superb course that rewarded ‘mountain bikers’ as oppose to pure fitness machines. And I didn’t win by much… meaning it was tense right to the end. Just the way a good race should be!
I was also pleased with a fast finish in the 106 mile Northern Rock Cyclone soon after. Despite soloing it the whole way I made the 5th fastest time, only a few minutes adrift of a bunch who had worked together. The focus on quality was paying dividends as I got stronger as the year went on.
There was also The Whinlatter Challenge in March, where I took a closely fought 4th, and there have been some great Kielder Marathon races throughout the year which, whilst not producing deep fields, have produced some great courses, some hard efforts from me and a couple of wins.
Selkirk CRC Marathon was another great day. Beautiful sunshine, AMAZING course and happy legs produced one of my better rides that was frustratingly scuppered by cramp and a snapped chain. Despite these issues, I pulled it back to 4th finisher and thoroughly enjoyed the epic riding.
My second LOOONG target of the year was The West Highland Way Double. What a beast of ride! And I nearly cracked it, only to be undone at the eleventh hour by some poor decisions and an unfortunate chain of events. Still, an amazing experience and a challenge I will return to and complete next year. All of that riding will be done again, JUST to bolt on the last tantalising few easy miles….
This was the last big one before the Kielder 100 which I really wanted a good result in. I got it, taking 5th overall and winning the vets class. This was especially encouraging because, not for the first time this year, areas for improvement were glaring in retrospect and lessons have been learnt.
So that was 2011. Of course there are much bigger things in life than racing bikes – like making sure James has the best start in life…. and that Charlotte gets through the start! But the thing I love about riding and racing is it’s there when you are happy and it’s there when you are sad. A bit like alcohol but without the payback.
Onwards and upwards. I’m feeling in great form and hope to build on what was probably my most rounded season. The new season will open quite shortly actually… In February I’m pairing with Ant White and racing the Tour of Andalucia mountain bike stage race. Wahoo! Can’t wait!(It’s also doubling up as a first family holiday. No Disney Land nonsense for James!)
Such a shame we won’t be able to drop down to the Costa and share a brandy or three with Madge afterwards. We will definitely be raising our glasses though.
Thank you to my excellent sponsors and supporters for some superb equipment and assistance this year:
M Steel Cycles
Enigma frame builders
Union Room web design
Bertie Maffoon’s Bicycle Company