We caught up with Jon Webb at last night's Beastway, the London race series sponsored by Brixton Cycles and MadforMountainbiking. Here's what he had to say about racing at the front of the expert class. And don't forget, if you're racing in the series we have several photos of you.
Jon, we're aiming to get a sense of what's going through your mind when you're racing Beastway. Can you talk us through the race as you see it?
The most important bit is probably the first 2-3 minutes at Beastway, it's far more important than any other race to get the start right. If someone goes off the front you can be stuck behind 5 other people going flat out, even some of the "sport boys" can go quick for a few minutes, so it's possible for someone (eg. Warrick) to pull out a big gap quickly while I am stuck in a crowd.
If you can get away though, especially with say one or two fast riders, it's possible to open up large gaps at the beginning. You can get right out of touch from the chasers on the first lap, then it's just between two or three of us... much easier! If you are off the front on your own when you start lapping people (usually after about 10 minutes), it's a big advantage ....if you're careful!
So how do you pace yourself off the first lap - do you set mental targets?
Generally I will just go flat out from the start. If I get to, say, 2nd or 3rd place right away then I might sit in and take a breather, If I get a gap then I will just go for it and try to stay away. Usually I do not pace myself as such, just go as hard as I can. The race is only an hour, I know I won't blow up as such in such a short time.
Tell us a bit about the groups of riders you go through, what they're like to overtake, and is there a point where you've lapped everyone and the going gets clearer again?
Usually we catch up to the tail-ender sport women first, because they set off last. Most people are very good at moving over, lots do more than they need to and end up going into the stinging nettles! I try to tell people which side I'm going to pass on well before I come up to them, though often that can be confusing, as sometimes by the time I actually get to them a few seconds later, it can be impractical to pass on that side. So I try to memorise the course, and then I can suggest passing spots ahead.
The overtaking never stops because riders get spread evenly around the course, and sometimes we lap people a couple of times. Longer courses are better too, as we don't catch the tail enders until say the third lap, whereas sometimes we catch riders on the beginning of the second lap if it's short!
I guess if you make that clear - you'll destroy their ego!!
Hopefully inspire them to try harder next time! Sometimes you can get people to slow down right at the end by telling them that if they let me by, they won't have to do another lap!
So there's no one point, say lap 3, when the overtaking is at its most intense? Isn't it annoying to have to pick your way through a mixed field of ability? Do you get frustrated?
It gets frustrating if I've just put in a big effort to open a gap, and then run into 5 people going slow on some singletrack... but then that's Beastway for you. It works both ways, if I'm chasing then sometimes it's a help, sometimes a hindrance if there's a blockage. Gaps can close up really fast at Beastway, even being stuck for 10 seconds means someone who was out of sight comes right up behind again.
Is there a point when it gets really painful?
Sometimes about 20-30 minutes in, I think there's no way I can keep up this pace for an hour! I have to be careful then, it is very easy just to ease back and within a minute I will be caught by someone. But if I just keep hammering away, then before I know it, that's the final lap bell.....
It gets painful when the person I am with puts in a big attack, and I know that if they get away, I'll have to settle for second (or third, or whatever...). I just think to myself, I know I am faster than Paul/Jon Cruickshank/Warrick (actually, not Warrick) as I was quicker than them in the last Gorrick or NPS or whatever. Then I know they are feeling it as well, it makes me try harder.
Yep, that's an interesting thing to think about, exactly how do you stop yourself just easing back, it's easy to chase someone but isn't keeping ahead psychologically much harder?
And how about when you are trailing? How do you hunt people down? Do you plan an attack? Do you hang on their tail and haunt them?
As long as I can still see the huntee, it is easy, I just concentrate on getting past people smoothly, even if it means slowing up for a section for them to get through it. Plus I concentrate on staying off the brakes on the corners, it is possible to gain on people very rapidly through twisty sections/drop-offs/etc.
If they are not just in front of me, I can usually see them further ahead, as the track is so twisty, then I can time the gap to them each section, and see it coming down (or, er, going up)
What do you think of the series generally? Do you think of it as training, an important part of your racing or just fun?
It is important to treat the Beastway series as fun, as that is what 99% of the people are there for. After all, they have donuts and cake after. But it has to be said that it is excellent training for big races (I use that term loosely since there are about as many people at Beastway as at an NPS, and far more spectators), it is just like a good hard L5 training session, much easier to race than trying to keep up that sort of pace on my own.
The courses are always really good fun too, apart from the stingers.... It's amazing what you can fit into such a small area. The road/trail mix is good, it keeps the average speed up anyway! It feels good to wind it up to 30mph or so for a short section.
Also of course the people who run it are excellent, they give up a lot of their spare time, getting there at 3pm to strim/set out the course/move dumped cars! So thanks to John, BIll, Tig, etc who run it. Oh and thanks to M4mtb for supporting it too and BM for putting up loads of photos of everyone.
Jon Webb, 25, is sponsored by Kona and Nirvana Cycles in Westcott near Dorking. Nirvana have just launched their brand new website, though we question Jackie and Simon's judgement leaving their two year old son, Joe, to answer technical questions!
BIKEmagic's photo search engine, has several pictures of everyone racing at Beastway, please tell your mates.