DISTANCE 31 miles (50km)
MAIN CLIMB Failand
TOTAL CLIMB 530 metres
ACHTUNG! Check the rights of access before going off-road
This is Oli Beckingsale’s favourite weekly bike ride. He’s put it together with another Bristol rider with an off-road past, PCA’s Simon Richardson, and they are constantly refining it to get the most fun they can from two hours on a bike.
It’s training, there is no doubt about that, but the accent is on enjoying it and on discovering the country that surrounds where they live — basically what cycling is all about, when you get down to it.
“I think that this ride has got all the good parts of cycling in it. It’s razzing about in the lanes, sometimes going off-road, and sometimes it’s a bit scary if the tracks are cut up in winter. The draggy lanes are good training, too, and there are a couple of good cross bits and a couple of run-ups for cyclo-cross training,” says Beckingsale.
“I try to ride the route once a week, usually to separate my Tuesday and Thursday road
training days. We add or take away some off-road bits, depending on conditions. When I do it with Simon [Richardson] we ride our cross bikes. Also, it changes in the winter and summer. It’s definitely cyclo-cross training in winter, but it’s more of a road workout in summer,” he adds.
The ride we’re on today has been pieced together over a number of months. Geography graduate Richardson is a sucker for studying maps and adding new unexplored sections. In fact it was Richardson who brought the idea with him when he returned from Sheffield University. “It comes from the Matlock cross rides that I think Tim Gould and David Baker
started when they were racing. They were really psycho cross-specific sessions, two hours long, up and down the Derwent valley taking in as much different terrain as possible. They used be every Wednesday, and were so good that Gary Foord used to drive one and a half hours up the motorway just to go on them,” says Richardson.
The ride starts quite close to Beckingsale’s home on the south side of Nailsea, but there are a number of opportunities to park cars and get out and ride around the route. A lot of the route is also just a stone’s throw from the edges of Bristol, too.
Beckingsale and Richardson both use their cyclo-cross bikes, equipped with knobbly cross tyres. “They don’t hold you back on the road sections, because the roads are narrow lanes and you wouldn’t want road tyres on them anyway. Our big chainrings are only 46s, but that isn’t a problem either because it just stops you having to shift up and down the rings. Anyway, there’s one draggy climb that if I can keep it in the 46 and stay in the saddle all the way up I know I’m going well,” says Beckingsale.
The first part of the route forges through the Gordano Valley, close to Clevedon, where Beckingsale started his cycling career.
“There were no cyclists in my family, but my dad started riding his bike a couple of nights a week with some mates and he took me to the Bristol city-centre pro criterium, where I saw Allan Peiper win.
“I thought it was pretty cool, and right then and there I knew I wanted to be a cyclist. Dad promised to buy me a bike. It was a choice between a Raleigh Mustang mountain bike or a road bike. It was a real sleep-losing decision, but I went for the mountain bike and eventually started racing on it, basically because there were a lot of mountain bike races around then,” he adds.
A cyclist is born
“Eventually I got a road bike and joined the Clevedon club. I started road racing, but it wasn’t to improve as a mountain biker. I raced because it was racing. Even now, mountain biking pays the bills, and everything has to fit around it, but first of all I’m a cyclist. I like road racing, I like razzing around the streets in crits, and I really like cyclo-cross, as well as mountain biking.
“Having a good go at cyclo-cross racing is a box I want to tick some day. At the moment riding cross to a high level doesn’t fit in with my training for mountain bike racing, which is all about the Olympics. I’ve done two and I want to be in the mix at Beijing, but I went to the World Cup cross race at Koksijde last winter on a lads’ weekend, my last blast before starting training again, and the atmosphere was amazing.”
From Gordano the pair flip over the M5 and into the woods around Wraxall and Tyntesfield, where they tackle some gnarly tracks and a couple of step run-ups, before heading for the Ashton Court Estate where there is a plethora of rideable tracks on what is the outskirts of Bristol.
Once there Beckingsale explains: “We can take a few routes through Ashton Court, but we always end up at the bottom near to the Sustrans trail, which is next to the Plymouth to Bristol and then London main line, and that trail goes all the way back to my house.”
So that’s the Beckingsale cross blast. On the map we’ve marked out the road part of it. The off-road bits will present themselves as you ride the route, but check your rights of way before using them.
ROAD RACING AND MOUNTAIN BIKING
Oli Beckingsale has always combined road and off-road riding. “Road racing brings on your form for mountain biking, plus I enjoy it. In fact I regret never having ridden any road races in big European mountains. I really would have liked a crack at some of those Tour climbs in a race. I’ve done some mountain road races in America, but they don’t have the mythical names.
“I like to train in the Alps before big mountain bike events. Sitting on your bike and climbing hard for 45 minutes or more does something that can’t be replicated with any other training. Maybe some of it is the altitude effect of staying in the mountains.”
One difference between road and mountain bike racing is the damage the latter does to your body. “Cross-country is full-on,” Beckingsale explains. “It’s at least two hours at your threshold and dipping just above it every few minutes. Enduro races are easier. You are racing for maybe four hours but you are near threshold or on it, you don’t keep dipping over the red line, which is the killer. I am wasted for a few days after a World Cup level cross-country race.
“If you raced like that every weekend, all you’d do is recover and race, you wouldn’t train. In the end you’d get less fit, so I block off a period for racing, train for it by riding road races for form, and maybe one or two mountain bike races to find out where I am. Then all I think about for a few weeks is racing and recovering.”
YOUR GUIDE: OLI BECKINGSALE
* Age 31, married to Rachel with a daughter, Zoë, lives in Blackwell near Bristol
* Full-time pro rider, sponsored by Giant and part of British Cycling’s Podium Plan
* Multi national mtb race champion. Silver medal in 2006 Commonwealth Games and fifth in the 2005 European Championships
* Holds a degree in recreation management, hobbies include drinking coffee and eating cake
Start at the railway station on the unclassified Blackwell to Nailsea road. Go north through Nailsea and turn left (TL) on the B3130 to Clevedon. Turn right (TR) on the B3124 and TR onto a minor unclassified running alongside the M5, where there are a number of off-road possibilities. TR at Clapton in Gordano on unclassified TL just before pylons and 1st TL on the B3128. TR to Wraxall.
TL on B3130 and TL on B3129 to Failand. There are a number of loops you can do in the woods around here. TR on unclassified and TL into Ashton Court, where again there are lots of off-road opportunities. Loop around the park roads and TR on B3128. TL to Long Ashton. TR on unclassified and join the Sustrans trail at Flax Bourton back