Winter Wonderland

With dark night closing in and the weather seemingly forever damp, we can reflect on a last couple of TORQ bursts as the season shakes, shivers and slides to an end. Actually the season never ends, with plenty of muddy fun to be had if you look carefully and of course are eager enough! The last 3 months have gone pretty quickly with the team in action wherever they see an event and of course, as always are not happy unless there’s a splash of Orange & Black on the podium.

Winter podiums as modelled by the mixed TORQ team at D2D

Early September saw some pretty grim storms with what seemingly was a whole year’s downpouring of rain dumped in a couple of hours. Around the same sort of time was the inaugrial, ‘TORQ in your Sleep’ the 12 hour enduro organised by the superb Gorrick team and of course sponsored by TORQ!

Stephen James gets stuck in on the first climb of the TORQ 12:12

While events up and down the UK were facing cancellation due to the deluge, nearly 400 keen riders, armed with sowesters, wellies and a paddle or two (many who had never ridden this type of event before), were prepared to brave the worse to take part in this first Gorrick 12 hr. Luckily the course selected to run the race; at Minley Manor proved to be pretty weather proof although there were a few sections that took on the guise of swamps, most was perfectly ridable, though tough, bringing the phrase, “Moist and Chewy” to mind!

James D’Arcy experiencing one of many ’Moist’ moments…

Out to do us proud were, James D’Arcy, Nick Collins & Stephen James, in the men’s team, with Phil Coad pairing up with Charles Newton-Mason for the men’s pairs. Leaving James Lister and Steve Corbyn to tackle the 8 mile course solo.

Phil Coad cruises home in the dark

Phil’s pair partner Charles Newton-Mason dodging a few puddles.

It proved to be a typical ‘Gorrick’ course, with plenty of fast flowing singletrack, linked by short sharp bursts of fire road plus a few technical ‘surprises’ thrown in just to keep riders on their toes. The biggest surprise had to be the car alarming, ear drum shattering bangs that went of randomly over the day as the Army decided to play manoeuvres in the adjoining field!

It got dark…

TORQ support even in the muddy night.

After 12 long hours in the saddle with the occasional heavy downpour to tackle, the results were in with TORQ racking up two podium spots with both the men’s team and the pairs taking good honest 3rd spots. Meanwhile in the solo, both TORQ riders have had better days in the office, with both having to bale, due to unforeseen circumstances. Lister racked up 9 laps to still pick up 18th spot while Corbyn, only scored 4 laps before he had to disappointedly walk off the track.

Steve Corbyn, happily riding before a mechanical put paid to his race

Next up and it was the 8th Dusk til Dawn. Through the history of this event it has never rained. nothing, zilch, nada. I have been known to stay up all night at this event with little more than a thermal T shirt and a pair of jeans separating me from the elements.

A slightly dark and damp start to this year’s D2D

However, as the whole year seems to have been out of kilter weather wise, so it was at D2D. So it rained some. Actually it rained some… and then some more and just to make sure, it rained even more. 12 solid hours of a virtually torrential downpour. And still they came from all over the UK to take part in this very popular event. Even a little bit of dampness couldn’t put them off. Though canoes may have been a better bet at this race for some.

Definitely moist…

Despite all this dampening down of the trails, turning the flowing singletrack into just flowing streams, the race went on in earnest, with no dampening of enthusiasm, despite the horrendous conditions. Riders exhausted themselves, slipping and sliding around those long 12.3 miles as it wound itself round around the arena, dropping into a number of mission impossible bomb holes and incorporating some wicked soul sapping draggy climbs, which as the night wore on got worse and worse as the rain continued to fall.

it rained a bit…

In amongst this carnage some fierce battles were being played out with TORQ raising the standard for success in the mixed team. Headed by boss Matt Hart, he led a determined team of Rob Barker, Lydia Gould and Matt Loakes to the top step, outmanouvering TORQ fuelled

You didn’t need a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way round…you just followed the groove

Charles Newton –Mason took on the challenge of solo but had to retire defeated after just 5 1/2 hours, racking up 6 hard earned laps along the way.

Dark wet skies, gave way to slightly lighter wet skies in the morning

Matt Hart – Torq/Kona -Mixed Team
I thought it was fantastic, I think Thetford can be a bit boring in the dry, but from a purely riding point of view whenever I ride here in the wet it such good fun, it’s really slidy, but I’m a bit weird like that! Great result for the team they did well and it’s good to see so many riders here at the end of the season is brilliant. Great to go away with a win. My challenge was the climb out of the last bomb hole, it didn’t look like it was ridable, but in fact it was so grippy it rode really well, oh and I just liked riding through all the puddles. It’s always a great event as always, despite the weather, this is just the story of mountain biking in the UK in 2008. Perhaps when the economy improves the weather might follow!

Matt( it is him honest!) looking relieved that his lap is finally over

You can almost see your breath in the air it’s getting that cold, well when it’s not raining that is. November actually started off dry and mild for a change and the first round of the Whyte Winter Series took full advantage. Thetford was due ‘one’ after the horrendous conditions at D2D…

Stephen James races for the sun

600 competitors rallied forth for the traditional start of winter and despite some pretty horrid conditions and a grim weather forecast it all came good in the end, for everyone, including TORQ, who wrapped up a tasty 1st in the 4hr enduro thanks to Billy Joe Whenman pucturing but mainly to all the hard work put in by TORQ rider Stephen James.

Steve Corbyn in action

To say he was delighted after a massive battle with vet Paul Ashby, could I think be an understatment, his grin could be seen as far away as Ipswich. Other TORQ representatives out on the cracking 7.5 mile course that weaved it’s sinuous way through wooded singletrack, leaving no room for any respite were Steve Corbyn who picked his way through a busy field to take 11th in the 2hr race and Ben Murray returning to the sport after a bit of an absence. He was just delighted to be out there whizzing around, I’m sure we’ll see more of him as 2009 unfolds.

Ben Murray fights for a piece of rare winter sunshine.

Stephen goes into warp speed on his way to victory

Stephen James – 4 hr winner
That was a great 4 hr battle out there; it started out really quick, Billy’s (Whenman) fault! Then he (Billy) punctured then came past us. After that I got in quite a nice groove with Paul Ashby, we helped each other along quite a lot, so I just concentrated keeping a nice rhythm with him out there, concentrating on not making mistakes and keeping it flowing and we just kept pushing on as hard as we could. After about another lap we caught Billy again, I think he’d punctured again, I’m not quite sure what was going on in his race, it seemed a bit unfortunate for him, but yeah in the end it all came good for me and I’m so pleased. I just kept stuffing myself full of gels and kept the pedal on the gas. Paul let me go on the grassy climb, just a few minutes from the end, I think he had plenty left but he just said go. It was really good riding with him and thanks to him for a good afternoon and thanks too to my partner Joanna for standing out in the wind and handing me my bottles. The course was fantastic, despite the heavy rains last night, it rode well, it was fast, and grippy and flowed so well and of course this is my local course I know it fairly well. Considering Thetford is reputedly ‘flat’ there were a few killer bits out there, especially the grassy climb, by the 8th lap it started to get pretty heavy going. I’m so pleased this is my first win, so obviously my training is hitting the mark, so I guess I should thank Matt Hart from Torq too!!! I’ve set myself a bit of a high target haven’t I for the rest of the series now!

A delighted Stephen hugs his hard working partner Joanna, Matt got his hugs later…

Finally in November it was the chance to get a ‘Soggy Bottom’ under your belt, as the first round of this popular South West series kicked off. Held in what must be regarded as the spiritual home for XC racing in the UK, Newnham Park, Plymouth, riders were confronted with the best the course could throw at them: a compact 6kms stuffed to the brim with everything you could want, or maybe not! A steep climb rising up into the woods was the first obstacle they encountered and then they hit mud, lots of mud and continued to slip and slide their way along, dipping and diving through masses of fun singletrack, tackling slippery bomb holes, before some fast descending followed by a soul sapping grassy incline, popping them into another fast and furious descent, then it was a quick blast over the river before making their way back to the arena, to do it all again! Flying the TORQ flag were Matt Loakes and Phil Coad, looking keen , eager and a bit cold on the start line of the Expert/Elite race with 5 long laps lying ahead, including 5 cold river crossings…plus Rob Barker keen to put the miles in and show young Barker and ‘Team Small TORQ’ rider Joe how it should be done.

The ‘Soggy’ certainly lived up to it’s name!

Matt chasing hard

Matt and Phil battled hard but Phil didn’t have the best of starts or middle and pulled out after 3 laps, leaving Matt to rally on to finally finish 4th. Senior Barker rode well but could only pinch 10th spot in the vets, whilst son Joe, did one better and grabbed 9th in the juveniles, despite the river crossing trying to sweep him away!

Rob Barker looking forward to a hot cuppa

Small TORQ, aka Joe Barker, fording the river crossing

Expect a TORQ showing at the next round of the Whyte Winter Series on the 7th December, I’m sure Stephen will be trying his hardest to replicate his win. Then it’s into 2009 and with Xmas cobwebs to clear and New Year’s resolutions to uphold I’m sure there’ll be an early flurry of activity of TORQ riders as they start upping their winter training. See you out there!

Photos & words courtesy of Joolze Dymond

TORQ would like to extend a big thank you to all the sponsors of TORQ/Kona (2008). Without you, we wouldn’t be able to get a team together:

TORQ Performance Nutrition
KONA Bikes
USE Exposure Lights
RITCHEY Cycle Components
CYCLEOPS Turbo Trainers