Report by Matt Pumo

Sunday 18th March saw the Verulam Racing Team in action for the first time this season, with 4 of the 10 member squad oiling up their (proudly unshaven) legs for action.  Matt “Raw Power” Reader, Big Johnnie “Nails” Hall, Paul “The Columbian” Cackett and Matt "Le Puncheur” Pumo lined up at the start of an undulating course in Essex.

Reader and Pumo set off at 10.00am with a field of 65 riders in the ABC race.  Similar to the early stages of the Tour de France, the riders were anxious and twitchy from the start of this early season race.  From the moment the riders exited the neutralised zone the attacks started and the pace was fierce.  Being the more experienced racer, Reader sat in towards the front of the bunch biding his time.  After about 30 minutes of sitting towards the back and being whipsawed around the bends and climbs, Pumo moved up and made the mistake of covering many of the early breaks, thinking one might get away.  This was an early, energy sapping mistake.  On lap 3, Reader used his tactical genius and got into a 6 man break which got about 500 meters off the front and looked like it might stay away.  Wanting to support his team mate, Pumo sprinted off the front, ensuring that no one was on his wheel, and bridged the gap after a tortuous few minutes that seemed like hours.  Verulam RT was now in a perfect position with both riders in the break.  But sadly they didn’t have the legs to stay away and were reeled in a few minutes later.  As Reader commented post race, “after Pumo bridged the gap he was completely useless and couldn’t contribute anything to our breakaway”.  After another 45 minutes of failed attacks and fierce racing the bunch settled into a more relaxed pace, knowing it would end in a bunch sprint.  The cowbells and cheering crowds indicated the last 8 mile lap had started - this is where things heated up and the pace of the bunch shelled out half the remaining riders.  With one kilometre to go the race went into overdrive.  Pumo moved up the outside, passing fading riders in an effort to reach Reader.  With Reader in sight Pumo shifted up a gear and as he passed Reader shouted “jump on”.  The experienced Reader quickly saw the opportunity and grabbed his team mate’s wheel.  The pair then moved up the bunch towards the front and put the hammer down.  At this point, riders started to blow.  A gap opened up through the middle and Reader, using his raw power, jumped off Pumo’s wheel and drove towards the finish line earning a well deserved 9th place, with Pumo finishing just behind in 10th.  Sadly, unbeknownst to Reader and Pumo, a 7 man break had got away on the 6th lap and came in about 25 seconds ahead of the bunch – moving the Verulam rider placings to 16th and 17th.  Confirmed results tbc.   Lessons have been learned. 

Meanwhile, in the DEFG race that began 5 minutes later, Big Johnnie and Cackett had their hands full with some classy ex pro riders and a field of 45 seasoned racers.  According to Paul’s wife he was the pre race favourite and accordingly Cackett went bagging off the front as soon as the bunch left the neutralised zone.  Big Johnnie was too far back at this stage or no doubt would have been there next to his team mate.  It’s this sort of attitude that has earned him the reputation as one of the most selfless riders on the peleton.  Cackett’s break didn't last too long and was soon reeled in.  But a short while later Cackett’s breakaway companion went again with another rider, who Big Johnnie knew was a good TT rider.  Ever astute, Big Johnnie knew this was a dangerous break. The other riders did not recognise this and did not seem prepared to react.  Big Johnnie tried to talk the front riders into action but most of them seemed happy to sit in.  So he had a couple of pops along with two other riders and no one chased them down.  The three of them buried themselves in a precision through and off for 2 or 3 laps of exquisite agony.  The only thing that kept Big Johnnie from letting his burning legs get the best of him was the prospect of a top 5 or better placing.  It took 2 1/2 laps to catch the front two and the prospect of more rest and less pain as duties were to be divided between more riders.  But the pace seemed to quicken and Big Johnnie had been "cooked" (well done, burnt to a crisp, frazzled) for some time and after a spell on the front followed by a slight climb the big man popped.  So for a lap and a half he tried to TT to avoid getting caught by the bunch who were said to be 1 1/2 minutes back.  But it was not to be - when the motorbike flew past he knew it was over.  He kept quite a good position on the last couple of kilometres into the finish but once it wound up for the gallop he simply went backwards.  Considering the work the big Verulam rider had done, it was not surprising.  Cackett was, as ever, the consummate team mate and when it became clear that Big Johnnie’s break was away he spent the rest of the race policing the front of the bunch for any attacks. 

The pre race goal was to simply start the race and have a good time.  With the team getting into a few breaks (one that nearly won it for Big Johnnie) and mixing it up throughout it was a tremendous success for all involved.  With a few more races and a full complement of Verulam RT riders on the start line the results will no doubt come to this young but ambitious team that is already punching above its weight out there.

It was a great day out and the other riders were all extremely welcoming and friendly.  The racing was hard and competitive to be sure (having done one BC race before, my limited experience supports the widely held view that the LVRC races are certainly at a higher standard than the average BC race) - but there was also a real sense of camaraderie throughout.  Lining up at the start one competitor noticed my race number wasn't clipped on properly and he got off his bike to pin it on for me.  Riders called out any obstacles during the race and looked after each other and kept it all safe.  When people were passing and it was tight there was always a sharp but polite "on your right" called out.  And of course it was all smiles and handshakes at the finish. 

I highly recommend trying a race - the league encourages all abilities so if you are unsure about your fitness level they even encourage you to race in a higher age band to start with.  If you're interested in racing please send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.

A few of us are doing some road racing this year.  The LVRC is a racing league open to cyclists over 40 years old.  This will be my first season racing in the LVRC but I'm told by other riders that the races are safer than BC races, and can be more competitive.  This is because the riders are more experienced.  There are six of us (that I am aware of) that have joined the league and entered some early season races.  It is my intention to get a group of VCC riders together to participate in road races and do some race specific training together.  This would involve, for example, a weekday evening chain gang, or specific training rides on Saturday or Sunday when not racing.

What you need to know:

  • The LVRC racing league is open to riders 40 years of age and older.
  • Riders race together, but on the scoresheet will compete against others in age group (Band A:40-44, B:45-49, C:50-54, D:55-59 etc.).
  • To encourage all abilities, riders can enter to compete in a different age category and race against others of a similar ability.  For example a 42 year old can choose to compete in the 50-54 year old age group.
  • League membership is £20 annually.
  • Each race is £10.
  • The league is open to both male and female cyclists.
  • Closing date for entry is 2 weeks before the race, but races are popular so 4 weeks in advance is encouraged.
  • Entries are accepted on the basis of first received, first accepted.
  • Entry forms must be accompanied by a £10 cheque to the organiser and a self addressed stamped envelope (although some races will issue start sheets by email and no self addressed envelope required)
  • The league is organised regionally - we are in Region 9 but can race in any Region. Some races in Regions 7 and 10 are quite close to St Albans for example.
  • Most of the races we are doing are within about an hours' drive from St Albans.

What you need to do now:

Join LVRC - you can join and pay the membership fee online.  It takes about 3 minutes to do.  The link is:  www.lvrc.org.uk/online%5Fmembership/

  1. Email me to confirm that you have joined the league and will be racing this year. I'll then create an email distribution list.  My address is:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  2. Enter some races:
    • Complete a race entry form (also available on the LVRC website under the Event Org & Safety tab)
    • The 2012 calendar of races is on the LVRC website under the Racing tab.  Link is  www.lvrc.org.uk/documents/2012/LVRC-Domestic-Calendar-2012.pdf
    • Races that we have entered so far are:
    • 18 March Ciclos Uno Spring RR in Blackmore, Essex
    • 1 April South Western RC Follicly Challenged RR (MSTINA Jersey series 1) in Surrey
    • 15 April GS Vecchi Spring Classic RR (MSTINA Jersey series 2) in Basingstoke
    • Remainder of our races TBC

I'm happy to:

Facilitate the training rides (eg. weekday evening chain gangs etc.) but these will only be open to those actually road racing.

  • Communicate to the "VCC racing team" the list of races that we propose to participate in.
  • Let you guys serve as my domestiques and lead me out for sprint finishes.

The obvious question is why are we not riding the BC races.  Because as a club we do not organise and promote a BC road race ourselves and we are not a member of a BC league and therefore it is extremely difficult to get into the BC races.  For example a few years ago I entered 7 BC races and did not get into any of them.  Additionally, the LVRC races are safer and at least as competitive.

We have a group of strong riders in the Club, as evidenced by our success on Sportives and club runs.  It would be great to put some of that fitness to good use and race this year. 

Many thanks
Matt Pumo

Report by Doug Driscoll

One week on from our epic ride of The Ridgeway Trail, Suzannah and I took part in a South Downs Way event called 'The Lemming Trail' (because it ends at the top of Beachy Head. Get it?). Fully supported by Trailbreak and split over 2-days - stopping overnight at Shoreham-by-Sea Youth Hostel (or camping).

We rode this event on the tandem last year. 100-miles off-road from Winchester to Eastbourne doesn't actually give justice to just how hard this ride is. Think of riding up Ditchling Beacon - off-road - up and down, up and down, non-stop for 100-miles. Now you're getting the idea!

For anybody into mountain biking, this is an absolute 'must do'. I've seen some reports saying it is one of the best MTB rides in the world. And I wouldn't disagree. Stunning views all the way, mega climbs, awesome descents and I reckon it must be 98% off-road. Forget cafe stops. You are on your own up there. It's like a different world. Love it!

There are around 200 riders each year and some really good camaraderie. The tandem is always good for generating attention. It goes like a bullet on the descents and causes no end of expletives from other riders grovelling along on their lightweight carbon, full suspension exotica :)

However ... this was not be our year. The dream is over and the tandem is dead (RIP). We had only gotten a couple of hours into day-1 and were getting a little over-zealous because we were running in 2nd place. Giving it full welly on a gritty descent at around 30mph, the frame split in half. One moment we were full gas in top gear and the next we were lying in a heap - both fairly concussed. Miraculously Suzannah lept to her feet with obvious concern for me: "Wicked!" she said. "We've killed the tandem!". I, meanwhile, had to stay laid out for a couple of minutes whilst I tried to ascertain how many bones I had broken. My wrists were in agony and I was convinced they were both broken. And I kept coming close to blacking out. 10-minutes later though, other riders were arriving and I was back on my feet.

Our next challenge was what to do next? I didn't have a clue where we were and my Satnav had disintegrated in the crash. I called the event organisers and thankfully Martin (who I spoke to) worked it out from my description of the last climb and the surrounding scenery. Impressive! Turned out that we only had a 1-mile walk to a road crossing. We then had to suffer the indignity of around 100 riders catching us up and gaping in disbelief as we walked on carrying bits of the tandem.

Martin picked us up, but as he had 200 other riders to support, we had 2 choices. 1) Sit in the sag waggon for the next 2-days or 2) Pay for a taxi to get us back to the start and our car. £40 later ...

I'm glad to report that we are both well. Suzannah took a thump on her head but her crash hat saved the day. My wrists swelled up to the point I decided I'd need to go to hospital. But by the time I got home and cleaned up, the swelling was already starting to go down. I'm a lucky boy!

So that would seem to be the end our tandem days. Suzannah is too big and ugly for it now anyway. Next year she's on her own bike :)

Article by Doug Driscoll. Photos by Richard Marriott. Ride: 10-Sep-2011

5 VCC riders headed down to Dorking last weekend for a "killer loop" (according to MTB Rider magazine) across the North Downs:

The handsome chap in the middle is me, flanked by Miles Allen (left), Hazel Davies (back) and Justin Neville-Rolfe (aka Splasher) - right. Photo taken by Richard Marriott ... and yes, we did ride down those steps behind us!

We started off with the classic Box Hill climb. I rode this off-road a few months ago and was disappointed. In typical biker-friendly style the trail had rescently been relaid with shingle; Plus, the route was closed in with no views. So this time - following the published route - we went up the switchback road which will be used for the Olympic road race next year. And ... I was disappointed again. Nice views this time and a nice Alps feeling about it, but "oh so easy". Trust me, Mark Cavendish will have no problems getting up there.

Then we headed off-road for some fun. Plenty of single track and woohoo descents. Time was spinning by and we'd clocked up some serious altitude gain, so a stop was needed for our favourite cyclist's feast: energy bars & gels. Yummy!

 

We then started Holmbury Hill - a favourite hangout for mountain bikers. Trails galore and quite easy to get lost ... so we discovered! I always advise the group to keep straight ahead if they fall behind because I will always stop if we need to take a turn. Well, guess what happened? Seems Richard decided that he would rather follow two fit young ladies that crossed our route rather than follow me (said he thought it was me & Justin. Hah!), and led Miles & Hazel with him. Unaware of all this I then rode all the way down Holmbury Hill to the bottom (where I last saw them) and then had to ride all the way back up again. Thanks Richard! We had mobile phones but the signal came and went. From the top I finally made contact and we arranged a meeting point. Thank goodness for mobile phones.

Next and final challenge: Leith Hill (the second highest point in south-east England at 965ft). I nice climb, rewarding views, and best of all, a cake shop! After 4hrs of riding we felt we deserved a treat and made the most of it. Some took a trip up the tower which gets you to 1,000ft and above the tree line, hence magnificent views all round.

The descent is fast-and-furious and we supplemented this with a bit of off-piste. Jolly good fun but a bit of over excitement from some left them 'wrong-way-up'. We're made of tough stuff us mountain bikers though, so no harm done.

We managed to lose each other again on the way back, but were soon back together for the final slog back to Dorking. 5hrs of hard riding and we were all feeling it at the end. What a great day though. If you haven't ridden the North Downs then put it on your to-do list!

Report by Doug Driscoll

It has long been an ambition of mine to ride the full length of The Ridgeway Trail – 87-miles from Avebury to Ivinghoe Beacon.  I’ve seen a few organised events come up over the years, but they all focus on the Avebury to Goring section (half way) - because this is the only bit you can actually ride!

Sadly the local officials at the Invinghoe end decided it would be far too dangerous to allow cyclists along the trail and banned them about 10 years ago. It’s still Bridleway for the first 10-miles or so, but CYCLISTS ARE NO LONGER WELCOME. So a nice 45-mile stretch of Ridgeway is now overgrown and only sees the occasional man walking his dog or the odd runner.

Fortunately I had a cunning plan: If I were to leave from Ivinghoe Beacon at sunrise (6:00am) I could sneak along the first 20-miles or so before anybody noticed.

All I needed next was a companion … So allow me to introduce my daughter Suzannah. We have had more crazy adventures on our MTB tandem than I can recall here – including riding to the top of Snowdon, the full 100-mile South Downs Way trail and some challenging 100-mile Sportives. So the Ridgeway trail; as Jeremy Clarkson would say: “How hard can it be?”

I had a free weekend at the end of Aug 2011 and decided with just a few days remaining what a wonderful idea this would be. However, the weather forecast looked bad, we had had several days of heavy rain and I was just getting back in the saddle after several months off with a twisted spine. But Suzannah would have none of it.

Next: some bribery and sweet talking to my dearest wife and we had a drop off arranged. I originally planned to cycle to Swindon at the end and take a train home (more later). This idea was fraught with risk because tandems aren’t really allowed on trains. All depends on whether the station master is having a bad day or not! So I packed a couple of cable locks just incase he was having a bad day and we needed to leave the tandem at the station.

Up at 4:45am, force down a breakfast that we really didn’t want, and off we set to Ivinghoe Beacon. We arrived just at the sun was rising and cycled up to the top of the Beacon for some mandatory photos. Then we set off feeling full of enthusiasm at around 6:15am.

The first 10-miles were great. Why this section is closed to bikes is beyond me. The trails are wide, open and beautiful. However, all good things have to come to an end. We were then introduced to the joys of “We hate cyclists. Just try and see if you can get past this gate!”  Well, on a normal bike this wouldn’t present too much of a challenge. But with this old dog of a tandem plus panniers it must weigh around 70 lb. And as I mentioned earlier, I was just recovering from a back injury. But not to be deterred, we pushed and heaved and shoved and finally managed to get the beast over. “Hah!” said I.

Feeling smug for the next few hundred metres we then slowly began to realise that this wasn’t such a great idea. These trails are hardly ever used and they were overgrown, bumpy, loose surface, narrow and really difficult to ride. But we were there to ride the full trail, so on we persevered. It was really slow going and we then came to discover problem number two: The Ridgeway Trail is a nightmare after a bit of rain! It just turns to gloop and gets incredibly slippery. I had planned to do the ride in around 10-hours (9mph average) but we were managing nearer 4mph. Several miles of riding “downhill” on the granny-ring with the back wheel slipping really isn’t much fun. Riding uphill was not even an option.

There were some nice sections (e.g. Coombe Hill) but some 20-odd anti-cyclist turn-styles later we had had enough. Plus, it was getting near to 9:00am and I knew we wouldn’t be welcome on footpaths for much longer. Then, just I started to think this might be the case … along came Farmer McGregor to give us a long lecture about what a danger we presented to other walkers (zooming along at 4mph)! No point in arguing so we just set off on the only alternative route possible – which added an extra 3-miles – and decided that enough was enough. It was only a few more miles to Goring, it was raining and our tummies were rumbling, so we stopped off at a lovely bar/restaurant in town for some well-earned scoff.

It was at this point that I came to realise that we were about 3 hours behind schedule already. And what with the bloody gates, tough riding through the gloop and miles of pushing up the hills we were both wrecked! I was still confident we could finish before dark, but it would be asking too much to finish, then ride another 10-miles to Swindon, and then make our way through London to the Thameslink and home. So time to call MUM Rescue. It is SOO much easier when you can play the “your poor daughter if feeling tired” card :)

30-minutes later - after what would be our one and only stop of the day - we set off for the second half of our journey. We had already ridden hard for 7 hours and we were really feeling every one of them getting back in the saddle. This was the first of my "are we going to make it?" moments. 14-hours of this would kill us!

Fortunately the trail is all rideable from Goring to Avebury. Unfortunately the rain had left its mark. The chalky surface was unbelievably slippery and it is really hard to keep a tandem in a straight-line when you have no front-wheel grip. The other problem is the ‘tram lines’. Deep ruts each side of the trail which cause the pedals to deck out (low BB height on a tandem). We also had many many miles of grass which had softened to give a nice gluey feeling to help slow things down even further. And it was a bloody headwind all the way. Such fun!

The hours just slipped by and we soon realised that we would be lucky to make the finish before dark. MUM Rescue was on its way but we had already ridden for 12-hours and still had 20-miles to go – and it was raining hard. Character building stuff!

Sure enough, with about 5-miles to go, it started getting dark. The trail just went on for mile after mile with no road or civilisation in sight for the last hour. Then my Satnav died (can’t complain after running it for 14 hours), then we ran out of drink ... and we were absolutely cooked. 30-minutes later, just about pitch dark, we finally saw a road ahead. Plenty of Homer style "‘woohoos!" at that sight. I have to admit that without my Satnav I wasn’t actually sure if this was the end of the trail and wasn’t sure we could go on any further anyway. Fortunately it was the end! What a day. 14-hours of the toughest riding I have ever endured.

All credit to Suzannah. She had been away in Bolivia for the past month and has never really cycled that seriously. And not a single moan or complaint.

So what have I learnt: a) Forget the Footpath trails. It is not legal and they were mostly crap anyway. If you really want to ride the full length, do what we did (starting at sunrise so as not to upset anybody) and ride the first 10-miles or so from Ivinghoe Beacon. Then find a mix of Bridleway and road to get you to Goring. b) Avoid the Ridgeway if the conditions are bad. It just turns to gloop and is like riding in quicksand. c) Focus on the Avebury to Goring section. Fantastic views nearly all the way and I’m sure it would be fantastic in the right conditions. d) As Mrs Rabbit would advise "Stay out of Mr McGregor's garden. If you get caught you'll end up in a pie like your father!"

So … what next?