Thursday, October 15, 2009

The 2009 Brompton World Championship

So here goes... my report on the Brompton World Championship, October 4th, 2009.

I first learned of the event shortly after bikes@vienna became a Brompton dealer. In with all the various catalogs and promotional materials we received a poster advertising this rather unusual race in which all riders rode Bromptons and were dressed in business attire... jacket, tie, and collared shirt. I have to admit, it appealed to me immediately, largely due to the offbeat nature of the race... and the fact that it was all Bromptons... but I never thought I'd really get the chance to participate.

Then this summer, when I mentioned it to John, owner of bikes@vienna, he said he thought it would be a good idea, and might even be an opportunity for us to get the word out on Bromptons if I were to ride in the BWC! So off I flew to England on September 29th, arriving in London on the morning of the 30th. I'll write other posts about other aspects of the trip, but right now I want to focus on the BWC.

The morning of the event was a bit harried for me. I'd left myself a LOT of time to get to the Brompton factory, since I really wasn't that knowledgeable about London's public transit system. Brompton had coaches (what we'd call a bus, such as Greyhound) arranged to transport riders to Blenheim Palace, so I didn't want to be late for that. Based on spending some time on the official London transit website, I'd mapped out a pair of buses that should get me to there in plenty of time.

Well, the best laid plans... Making a long story short, I missed several critical connections and had to adjust my plans on the fly, ending up on entirely different buses, but I managed to sort it all out, making it to the factory in time. In fact, I even had a moment to pose for a couple of photos in front of the factory.

Then it was time to box up our bikes and stow them in the baggage compartments of the motor coaches. Fascinating to see about 80 folks stuffing nearly identical folding bikes into identical boxes. Note that some folks are already decked out in the required shirt, tie, and jacket. At this point I had my fingers crossed... I had neglected to pack my "outfit" and was relying on one of the Brompton people, Nigel, to bring me some clothes to borrow! He was traveling to the event on his own, so I wouldn't know for sure that I was all set until I got there.

The coach trip took about an hour and a half, I think. Time went pretty quickly as I spent the ride talking to Ed Rae, the new U.S. agent for Brompton. He's a nice guy, and very informative. We mostly chatted about Bromptons and some of the ups and downs of being a dealer in the U.S. It was a good conversation and left me feeling glad they decided to hire him for the job.

On arrival at Blenheim Palace (birthplace of Winston Churchill), we all made our way to the registration tent and picked up our timing chips and number cards, both of which were attached to the bike. I did a little racing back when I was in college, but that was long ago, and I honestly never imagined I'd have a timing chip fastened to my bike! Least of all, a folding bike!

Once all that was taken care of, I tracked down Nigel, who true to his word, had the clothes for me... a blue shirt, blue tie, and a maroon jacket with the Brompton logo prominently displayed in several locations! It was the same jacket their team was wearing, so I caused some confusion when folks would ask me questions and I had to confess I didn't actually work for them, I was just borrowing the jacket!

Before the start of the race we were instructed to place our fully folded bikes on a spot that was marked with the same number we were issued at registration. Next we were given a briefing that explained the basics of how the race would go. There were a total of 600 riders, so we were divided up in groups of 100, and guided (herded!) to a series of roped off "pens" where we were to wait for the start signal. There was a lot of good natured joking and talking as we waited, along with some sheep-like bleating to go along with being herded and penned.

We had all been told that once the horn sounded for our group, and the rope was dropped, we were to walk or run to our bikes, unfold them, then walk them to the road and mount and ride, crossing the official start line which would activate the timer when our chip crossed the line. Obviously that means that the speed with which one got to their bike and unfolded it and made their way to the road didn't affect your official time.

Regardless, once the horn sounded, most of us made a mad dash for our bikes, unfolded them rapidly, and raced to the road, some walking, some running and some mounting their bikes right away and riding to the road! I guess it's just the adrenaline rush of a start signal, combined with the mindset of a group competition.

The race consisted of two laps around a lovely, narrow, rolling road that wound around the grounds of Blenheim Palace. Each lap was a bit more than 6.5 km, making the total distance around 9 miles. We all started off very quickly, with the first stretch leading to the gates of the palace, where we took a sharp turn around the building and down a nice hill. Not quite half way into the lap there was a pretty challenging climb that took me a bit by surprise, and honestly took more out of me than I expected. But the bike and I soldiered on and I recovered my pace as I came back around the palace after crossing a small stone bridge. All in all, it was a beautiful setting, although I confess I didn't fully appreciate it until I took a relaxed lap AFTER the race! I'm not the most competitive person in the world, by any means, but in the rush of actually racing, I really didn't admire the scenery so much.

In the end, I finished the 13+ kilometers in 32 minutes, 50 seconds, right smack in the middle of the field, placing 338th out of 600. That's pretty much where I expected to place, so I was pleased. My worst worry was that I wouldn't fall into the "30 to 40 minute" range that I had predicted when I signed up. I had no illusions about actually competing for a high placing... for a frame of reference, the winner, 3 time Tour of Spain winner Roberto Heras completed the race in 21 minutes, 45 seconds! But it was a lot of fun, and I have to admit the adrenaline rush of competition was fun to feel for the first time in a long time.

After the race the kind folks at Brompton provided tea for the competitors... for the Americans reading, that means not just tea, but tea, small sandwiches, and small cakes. I have to admit, it's a very civilized custom that I kinda wish we had in the States! And it really hit the spot after the ride. The rest of the afternoon was spent chatting and getting acquainted with Brompton fans from all over, which was a lot of fun. In many cases, it was a chance to put faces with names I had grown to know through the internet, which I always enjoy. I even had the gratifying experience of someone telling me they've read this blog (Hi Steve!)!

Before re-boarding the coach to return to London, I took some time to explore the palace gardens and grounds, which were lovely, and to ride around the race course one more time, slowly. What a beautiful setting! And a gorgeous day!

You can see more photos of the event and the course, as well as a few of the palace, in my BWC 2009 set on Flickr. While you're there, you can also check out some of my other albums from sightseeing in London and Cornwall.

There I am, borrowed clothes and all, leaning into a curve, racing around Blenheim Palace on my Brompton. Even I have to admit it's a somewhat comical sight!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Here's one of the photos from the official photographers, showing me zooming past Blenheim Palace, decked out in the official Brompton jacket. Despite the look of "grim determination", I was actually grinning like a schoolkid inside! It was just so fun to think that here I was, in England, with 599 other people, racing folding bikes around the palace where Winston Churchill was born. Besides, it was such a beautiful setting... rolling fields, thick groves of trees, sheep, pheasants, dove... a lovely place. I didn't really pause to enjoy the scenery so much during the race, but went on an additional lap afterwards, when I stopped and took photos along the way. Look for them in my BWC folder on Flickr.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

BWC Photos on Flickr!

Okay, I haven't captioned them yet or anything, but I put my photos from the Brompton World Championship in a set on my Flickr site:

Basically a bunch of before and after shots, since I couldn't race AND take pictures at the same time. Reportedly one fellow who tried that crashed as a result. We had two
crashes in the race, both in the same location.

More to come!

Back from England!

...and the official results of the Brompton World Championship are in! And I'm still a bit tired, so it may be a bit before I get cracking on writing in detail about the trip.

But, I wanted to post how I did. About where I figured, actually, smack in the middle of the field. Overall, I placed 338th out of 600. In the Men's catgegory, I was 315th, and in the Male Senior (adult under 50) 247th. My time for the whole race, two laps, was 32 minutes, 50 seconds, split as 15:41 on the first lap 17:10 on the second. Yes, I know the math doesn't work, but that's what the official site said. Clearly the first lap took a lot out of me. Thinking back, I probably hit it too hard on the first lap, not realizing there was a pretty sizable hill about halfway in the lap, which really knocked me for a loop. Now that I know the course better, I could probably do a little better, but I'm happy with my time. Roberto Heras has nothing to fear. :-)

I also wanted to take this opportunity for thanks... most of all to John, for making it possible for me to take this trip, as well as helping keep you all posted while I was gone. And thanks to all who have been following along. I'll post more soon, about the BWC and about the rest of the trip. Watch here and on the bikes@vienna blog From the Pocket. If you check out that link, you'll also see some of the photos I took of the event and while exploring England. More photos will appear on my Flickr site as well, soon.