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Off to Rome!

Holly and I are off to Italy on Monday to for a few days R&R and then 3 days of racing around Rome.

The Sunday Urban is around the ancient centre! for more details

World Games 2017 Sprint – Wroclaw

Randomly we found ourselves in Wroclaw for a couple of days at the same time as the World Games – completely unplanned! The World Games is full of sports that don’t quite have the worldwide oomph to get on the Olympic Stage! On the Monday night we tried to get tickets to the men’s synchronised trampolining but in the end saw a couple of ‘ends’ of boules as the tickets were all sold out! There was all sorts else on – from tug of war to speedway and sport climbing!

Tuesday morning however brought the sprint distance orienteering races from a square in the old town of Wroclaw! First up were the Women, with Brits Megan Carter Davies and Tess Strain separated by a few minutes in the start list. We hung around the start finish zone and watched them both start and then again as they came through the spectator control before finally seeing them come in for the final time after the final loop. The finish area was surrounded by fairly grotty flats, in total contrast to the gorgeous main square where we knew from the GPS tracking the competitors went on their second loop.

So as the final few women started we headed for the main square and were treated to Maja Alm flying through before we took a well-earned break in a café before the Men started to appear in the square.


We moved about the square managing to see the same competitors a few times as they looped about, also keeping one eye on the Live O app which showed us the GPS tracking. Peter Hodkinson and Ralf Street were running for GBR. Ralf had a cracking run taking a great 7th place overall. I also got an interesting photo of Jerker Lysell being photobombed by a pigeon!

The courses looked relatively easy but we did see a number of people making mistakes – the sheer speed of the competition and the winning margins being so tight you had to run clean.

The World Games has a Middle Race tomorrow and a sprint relay following but we are now off to the Bohemian 5 day in Czech!

Ride Staffs Sportive and Cycling Festival 2017

I’ve never done a sportive before, the thought of paying to ride around some open roads to be honest hadn’t appealed to date but I thought I should be it a go and it was another chance to show off the #pichampion kit 🙂

The event was based out of Chillington Hall, a location I know well from planning an orienteering event earlier this year, the courtyard in the model farm is a great start finish venue. I started at 8.35, fairly late I think for the long route, and set out to the major climb of the day (its quite little really) up on to Cannock Chase. The route as far as Hixon I know well, from a combination of Mammoth Monday night rides and my normal training loops.  I’d decided to use a camel back with just over two litres in, a couple of bars and a jam roll and eat and drink on the ride rather than stop at the feeding stations so whizzed past the first at Wolesley Bridge. The Medium and Long routes were common as far as Great Heywood and lots peeled off towards Tixall, heading form home.

I think I went out a bit too fast so on the route to Uttoxeter I backed off a bit, enjoying the quiet lanes and pretty Staffordshire villages. I spotted a couple of nice looking pubs I might go back to!

Winding through Uttoxetter took us to the second feed stop but I rode on past confident I had enough liquid in reserve. It was then out along a rolling B road to Stone.  I had 3 enforced rests in Stone, first the railway level crossing, then the traffic lights in the middle of town and then again on the climb out at some 3 way roadworks – all very frustrating. We had been fighting a head wind as far as Stone but as we turned for home the wind was behind us and I knew there were  no more significant climbs. 

I dug deep for the next hour, slowly overhauling small groups of riders before coming into the back gate of Chillington. Knowing the site I new what to expect, the track is very rough, I was fine but there were a few grumbles coming from people on expensive machines and a couple of grumpy people walking in with punctures.

The finish was beautiful, up the hill across the estate’s parkland towards the house – I took about 4 hours 20 min for the 70 mile route and was all in at the end.  The atmosphere afterwards was great, munching a Freshwood Pizza and enjoying a beer in the sunshine watching the #TDF in the courtyard.
So would I do another – probably, I went much faster  much further and dug deeper that on a training ride. 

ridestaffs results 2017 here

#pichampion # endureandenjoy365 

Poland Cup – MTBO World Masters Series – Long

The long race was to the north of the previous 2 days, characterised by very steep sided  valleys and spurs and a complete mix of track ride-ability from flat out to a shoulder carry. After my middle epic of over 90 minutes I was prepared for a long one out in the hot sun – with my camel back full and even a couple of bars tucked away just in case.

We started down hill, the full sus bike was a great platform for map reading at speed but even then I could only take snatching glances, the track was really sketchy. I cut through the trees to #1 and rode well to #2 but missed the tiny turn off and had to cut through the woods after turning round. At #3 I was lucky that a stray dog took off after another rider, rather than me and at #5 I missed a single track and ended up running down a slope, digging my heels in. It was so steep if I had simply dropped the bike it would have ended up at the bottom. The climb up to #6 was awful, the map says 60 meters straight up but it felt like soo much more with the sun on my neck!

The big route choice legs that are the hallmark of the long course then began as we worked our way around the valleys before dropping down at high speed for a couple of kilometres losing 8 index contours (200 metres). Trouble was I knew from looking ahead I’d be coming back up it later!
After a couple of controls in grassland, in the valley, the climb back up was brutal. I was careful to keep well over to the right in case someone was rattling down but ended up off the bike a walking a couple of times and Peter Simmonds who started 6 mins after me came storming past as we crested the hill. We turned for home and the decent back to the finish. I opened up the suspension lockouts and managed to just catch Pete on the finish line but he had beaten me by 6 mins and I was down in 5th.

Surprisingly it was not too long in the end  ( more of a middle long) and I was only out for 99 mins but the winner took 25 minutes out of me!

Polish Masters Sprint Championships 2017

A hot afternoon brought us back to the same start as the middle earlier in the day. We watched as most starters turned right up the 60 metre climb and wondered how ‘sprinty’ the event was going to be. Apparently the organisers bounced in and out of permissions to use the touristy parks which would have been amazing but in the end we ended up back in the same forest as the middle race.

The route to number one had me off the bike, pushing and then the bike up and on my shoulder as I negotiated a really steep rocky gully. I was drenched in sweat at the top! The course was fairly straightforward with a lot of climb but there were some good route choice options including #5 to #6 where I took the ridgeline, a fantastic singletrack, whilst fellow Brit Pete Simmonds took the southern route. The decent into 7 was sketchy and fun before the road crossing onto the last couple of controls before the finish. I had to pause at the junction to double check the route out and then made a little error forcing me to cut through the trees for 50 meters to #13. I think with so much doubling back in the last few controls, if there were more competitors, it could have been dangerous but it was fine.

I finished well, enjoying the SI Air contactless punching which saved significant time on some of the legs but was 17 seconds down on Pete who won.

The numbers were low but the M40 and M45 age classes were combined and we were surprised at the prize giving that we qualified for the Polish Masters Sprint Championships  – Brits taking Gold and Silver….  The medal is lovely, almost a piece of artwork.
Not really a sprint, more of a short middle – but enjoyable all the same!

600th post

I’ve logged in tonight to post a couple more posts about Poland and I’ve noticed another milestone has passed – this is my 601st post since starting this blog way back in November 2008 – if you want to read that post click here for the link!

Yikes – just did the maths – that’s 9 years!!!

Poland Cup 2017 – World Masters Series – Middle

The start overlooked a classic central European wooded valley with the town of Polanica-Zdroj nestling in the bottom. From there it was straight up – 65 metres of climb off the bike and pushing 🙁  but once up it was a reasonably dense track network with lots of route choice around steeply sided valleys.

We were allowed to ride (or carry / push) in the forest too so a few of the legs saw me diving into the trees (mostly downhill) cutting through between paths rather than riding round. I think this worked for me sometimes and not others.

I was riding OK, struggling with the physicality (500 metres of climbing) but eventually blew up at 3/4 distance, sweat in my eyes and not thinking straight a made a stupid mistake at #18 losing about 7 mins. I was really tired and hot after that and continued to lose a few seconds here and there all the way to the finish. 

The decent into the finish was fun but it was a long one for me – 100 mins….

More moo cows and fences coming to Cannock Chase?

 Hednesford Hills (Cannoock Chase DC)

Cannock Chase has a few owners : Staffordshire County Council, Forestry Commission, Cemex Quarries, etc.. and soon the RSPB. The County Council own most of the heathland – the bit mostly covered in purple heather if you know the Chase – Sherbrook Valley and Brindley Heath.  The heathland is apparently a man made landscape, caused by years of grazing by animals on the common land in conjunction with the poor free draining gravely soil. During WW1 the whole area was large Army camp which also seemed to keep the heathland in place, despite the lack of grazing! Nowadays although many deer roam, the heathland is under threat from the development of trees in the form of naturally occurring silver birch (A Level Geography – Pioneer Species, Natural Ecological Succession I assume) bracken and  wind blown pine from nearby Forestry land. With no grazing sheep to keep the young shoots under control up they come, together with eventually bramble. The natural succession I understand would take the landscape back to climatic Oak woodland as per Brocton Coppice but it would take a a very long time.

Because the area is a SSSI (site of special scientific interest) the council are required by law to notify Natural England of certain activities (including recreational events) and also do nothing to endanger the flora and fauna on the site. Because some of the birds are protected it means they are I understand duty bound it seems to keep the heathland as is.

They have tried all sorts over the years, cutting and bailing the heather, spraying the bracken, burning, selective cutting down of pines and silver birch and clearing bramble and the latest thinking seems to be to re-introduce the grazing. The trouble is it’s a recreational area very popular with dog walkers – dogs and sheep don’t mix and sheep are also a little high maintenance. After some work done by Natural England with some environmental consultants and some experiments on Forestry artificial heath land corridors, Chasewater and Hednesford Hills the County Council now want to introduce docile cattle across the Sherbrook heathland – but how to stop them walking off? – fencing!

Now they have decided their preferred route to preserve the landscape for the future is cattle, they need to consult on installation of fencing around the whole of the Sherbrook valley as understandably many people are up in arms even if just because its ‘change’. What’s proposed is a combination of traditional stock fencing with pedestrian, equine and vehicle gates, cattle grids etc and what is known as an invisible fence down the middle of the Sherbrook valley and cutting across to Seven Springs. This invisible fence consists of a buried wire which transmits a frequency which collars on the cows pick up, giving them a little shock if they get too close, keeping them in!

See map (linked from the official website)

To be honest the fencing doesn’t worry me, as long as the equine gates also allow mountain bikes and runners to pass easily and quickly I don’t think visually they will be a huge issue looking at the consultation map. To me though it’s the wider cost to try and keep what is essentially an artificial man-made landscape as it is now… I am not sure how it is being funded but essentially whatever method – EU, Central Government or Local Government funded, well over 13 KM of fencing is going to be an expensive and disruptive CAPEX and the upkeep of the cows and continuous other activities to maintain the fencing and keep down the silver birch and bracken will be an ongoing OPEX cost too. The fence will probably also need replacing every 25 years too.

The impact on recreation also worries me, the reports states I think that they have not considered the effects on recreation and reading through it the archaeology lobby seems to have had more of a say than other stakeholder groups (worries of cows trampling and fence posts damaging WW1 camp remains)

My view is the opportunity cost to other currently underfunded issues such as youth work, health benefiting recreation and social care funding etc. etc. cannot be balanced with the protection of an artificial landscape and a few species of ground nesting birds, no matter if they are protected. I know the Council is looking for volunteer organisations to take the load off the OPEX costs but again the volunteer effort comes with an opportunity cost. I think the natural succession back towards birch and then ancient oak woodland (which is also a valuable and protected habitat) should be allowed to progress over time – you only have to look at how the area around Milford Common and Marquis drive has regenerated in the last 50 years or so back to beautiful woodland.

The reports, maps and a survey are all available

Whatever your position – have your say! – take the survey 

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