British winters can be pretty miserable. But you get different flavours of misery, and they each present different challenges as to how to keep training. Some people embrace the mud / rain / snow (delete as appropriate) and keep racing cyclo-cross all winter long. Strange people yes, but they know what they like, and that’s racing. Fair enough.
Me, I’m normally pretty knackered by about September after a six-month season, and the thought of racing on through the winter fills me with horror. However, by the time I’ve had a six-week or so off-season, eaten and drunk a lot and felt myself get unfit, I’m ready to start some big rides again in late November to early December. Not much intensity, just plenty of solid time on the bike. Especially since I need to be absolutely flying at the end of March, in order to race the ABSA Cape Epic with a team mate who’ll just have come straight out of an Aussie summer.
In your standard ‘4 degrees and rainy’-flavoured winter, it’s all about those four-hour road rides where you know that by the time you get home you won’t be able to feel your feet or hands, but the subsequent shower and collapse onto the sofa feels all the better for it. (Apparently Wiggo uses cling-film over his socks – hmmm). This year we seem to have a different flavour of winter – the ‘throw-it-down-with-snow-every-two-weeks’ version. While much of the cycling world retreats to the turbo, or maybe to the pub, and the entire British transport network shuts down in protest. I like to be out on the mountain bike.
Some of the best rides I’ve ever had, summer months included, have been in sub-zero temperatures. Semi-frozen mud, frozen puddles, crisp clean air, occasional sunshine. And recently a dusting (or sometimes a bit more) of snow.
This weekend therefore saw a Friday night ride at a temperature around the -10ºC mark; entirely solid ground with a light layer of powder, just enough to loosen up the grip levels in the corners. And almost a full moon, meaning that with the reflected light from the snow you didn’t really even need lights when out in the open.
Then Saturday a four-hour ride, accompanied by four inches of snow while riding. A whole new challenge – imperfect vision, like skiing in a white-out; built-in resistance training from the snow on the ground; and the berms on ‘Barry Knows Best’ (a well-known trail in Peaslake, south west of London) are even more lairy with that little bit less grip. Oh and one broken chain, from the only non-singlespeed bike on that day’s ride… there’s a lesson there somewhere.
Apart from the added difficulty of getting to and from the trails, long may it continue, before we return to normal service and a rainy 4ºC again.