I'd spent the past few weeks getting used to my new cross bike, a Felt F95X, (Sora finishing kit, mini V-brakes and aluminium frame) with a mixture of commuting and a few rides around Sherwood Pines. I was now really looking forward to testing it out in it's first race, and just seeing how both I and the bike would do.
My rational behind choosing Cyclopark, apart from being free this weekend it was quite easy to get too, and my thinking was that quite a bit of the race will be on the man made mountain bike trails they have built there, so hardpack gravel and surfaces that drain well, and wont be that muddy... Ow how wrong I was!
I rocked up with Lucinda supporting, and with plenty of time to sign on and do the usual faffing and bike sorting out. As it happened I didn't really know what I was doing having never been to a cross race before, but how hard can it be. Not very hard it turns out, everybody is very helpful and I had enough time to watch the Vets finish their race, all of whom looked very muddy... Whilst standing around there was a lot of tyre deflating, people checking pressures and what seemed to be last minute nerves. My pump doesn't show pressures that well, but i had opted to run around 30psi on Vittoria Cross XLs, which from a report I have read seemed around right. As the vets race finished I managed to grab a few words of wisdom from some of the finishers, all said it was rather muddy out there, their bikes, brakes and drive-trains seemed to agree!
The Seniors were now allowed onto the course for a practice lap before the 1:45pm start time. The start was on the small tarmac drag up past the sign on building and cafe, you were then chucked into a series of tight twists and turns on the grass, traction was limited at best and I was all over the place, how was I meant to race on this? This was just the practice lap. Never the less I ploughed on (literally) and slowly made my way around the course, each section offering a different challenge, and the option of whether to walk or not. I made my way around to the start and pits area, it was now time to race.
Around 70 riders lined up, a few names and faces that I recognised from summer and spring crit racing, a few clubs i've never seen a few people on mountain bikes. The BC commissioner then started to call people through based on current league position and therefore points, needless to say i wasn't in this list, and as such around 40 rides remained in the group that hadn't been called forward. We then all edged forward and the countdown began. Now before the race i had asked a few mates and Twitter for some tips. The main point was concentrate on the start, so with that in mind as the whistle went I powered off the start line, as did everybody else surrounded by a rumble of tyres. We all hit the grass and I was maybe 40 from the front, which means I wasn't last, but also not a great position. The first lap consisted of trying to stay upright and not run into people, especially hard in the first section where many of the turns were 180 degrees, and very tights. Through this section was a grassy downhill into an off camber longer and shallow corner, a place that surly catch riders out,foot out the pedal to help with balance and I was through. the next section was fun, and you could build up some speed, all be it the section was slightly uphill but on compacted man made trails with tight berms so pace and heart rate were both high! You then shoot down the back of the course, along a long flat-ish grassy section, then into some bumps on more man made trails before you hit a sharp left turn effectively straight up a bank. Impossible to ride so I jumped off and ran up, quickly managed to get back n and carried on, down some steep and tight sections, but overall seeming to handle these well, clearly my mountain biking skills were paying off (as I had hoped!) Next section was back onto very soft and very wet (think clay) mud, going p and then down a few small banks with tight turns at the top, again, managed these ok before being taken across the tarmac and onto a long grass section to the other end of the course. At which point you were sent upwards onto a bank, covered in small tress and bushes with a small line through the middle, progress here was painfully slow, and many opted to run, I decided to ride, which may or may not have been a mistake, i'm till unsure on this. This section then lead onto a section which I seemed to a hate, a slight uphill drag on the grass, I seemed to hardly move, but thankfully this was short and then onto a faster gravel section, by now the bike and me were both very muddy, but not the kid of mud that comes off, the kind of mud that just sticks to you, sticks to your bike, and worst of all sticks to your frames, brakes and drivetrain! This was made worse by the next section being really quite tough and up and down some steep banks with tight twists. Nevertheless I was riding them all, and feeling confident, people were dropping off the back or pulling out all over the place, this however was mainly down to mechanicals! snapped mechs seemed to be the order of the day!
Now onto the second of 5 laps, each lap is only 2 miles long, but that's plenty I think... Now getting the hang of the course a little better and not being surrounded by other riders and started to make my way through the field, and by the time I had reached the second half of this lap Lucinda told me I was likely top 20, surprising! A good battle emerged between myself and two other riders on this lap, with me eventually getting the better off them both on a steep climb coming into the pit section, they both ran up, and I rode, this meant I had enough momentum to carry on at a decent speed. Out onto the third lap and the bike was getting heavier and more clogged up, through the first couple of sections with no issues, seeing a few people kicking their bikes due to snapped mechs and then carrying them to the finish or pits. I then had a brief moment where I ran out of skill & Control hitting a section of course tape, no issues I thought, until it found itself jammed into my rear wheel and brake! Gutted, off I get and try and free the mess, managed but loose a few places in the process, but still back on and moving, dislodging some of the mud in the process! Now riding on my own, I can see riders in front, and do seem to be catching them, whether they are lapped riders though i'm not sure and i can imagine the officials have a hard time of keeping track of positions. Onto the penultimate lap now, and bike is so clogged up when i get off the wheel doesn't move, maybe I should have stopped and cleared this? I didn't though. Next ting I know I hit the deck, making a tight turn on one of the banks I loose momentum and fall, nothing bad thankfully and actually quite good fun, back on and power up to finish the 4th lap. Cross the line and onto the final one, I was hurting now, legs, arms, bike, heart, but it was so much fun. Think the endorphins helped and I set a quick time, and in the process catching a few more riders, but to say the least i was happy to cross the line! Absolutely no idea where I came but it was amazing fun, and a really insight into my first cross race!
Turns out I came 25th out of 68 starters. So not too bad I don't think. I learnt a lot, however almost too much to post in this blog post, so think that will be separate post!
Strava link: http://www.strava.com/activities/219973111
Thanks to the organisers, Cyclopark, people cheering, Lucinda, Dave Haywood for the Photos and all the competitors. I'll certainly be back!
Thanks for reading!