This year i'll be riding in the Central League. I'll perhaps also do a few other races and trips over winter. They'll be plenty of mud though (I hope)
I've also got the support of Eastway Bikes & Wiggle this season, who have provided me with their top end Balun C1, a properly brilliant bit of kit, full 105 drivetrain and hydo discs, lightweight & super stiff Alu frame, Mavic Aksium wheels, it's a dream to ride.
Infact the Balun's first ride was actually 3 Peaks, and that was the start of my cross season, you can red my blog post on that here:
So, what happened in October?
Rd 2 - Milton Keynes
Because of 3 Peaks I missed round 1, so this was my first race in the league. I'd ridden MK last year, the day before teh National Trophy actually. It was freezing that day, snow on the ground, and as a result very difficult conditions, especially given the majority of this course is either going up, down or along off camber sections.
This year there were a few new riders in the league (now over 600 in all categories!) but alot of the regulars from last season as well. I had my eye on a few of them, namely Gavin Howell of team MK who I had a good battle with and beat me here last year.
As the day progressed conditions were getting better and the first 2 laps were good, the mud was drying and it was getting better under tyre.... Into lap 3 and it rained. Not just a light shower, but a full on heavy storm, for about 10 minutes. After that conditions were less than easy, and every off camber section was a leg out tripod affair, especially that steep off camber down hill, if you were there, or have seen th pictures, then you'll know... Now with 4 laps to go I had moved up to 6th or 7th and had a good battle with a couple of rider. Got the better of one, and was dropped by the other. Last 2 laps and I was in 5th, a few sketchy off camber sections with the words of Rob Warner watching Danny Hart's WC winning DH run in my head "stay on your bike" and some extra concentration I crossed the line in 5th.
First race of the season, tricky conditions on a hard course, i'll take that.
Rd 3 - Hemel Hempstead
I'd not done this course before, it looks pretty good though, with the course taped out onto the side of a hill, so a bit like MK you were either going up or down, and from the practice lap it was quite twisty with 2 hurdles to run/jump.
Chris & Neil were commisaires today, so i was gridded number 1, in addition to this, Steve thought I could win, and on top of all of this it was the National trophy weekend, so some of the ususal top riders were not here... No pressure there then. Conditions wise it was bone dry and pretty warm, meaning that lap times were going to consistantly less than 6 minutes. A real grass crit.
Annoyingly didn't get a great start, maybe top 10 into the first corner into the long hill, no matter, i'd work my way up hopefully. Well, I would have done had I not taken a subsequent corner too wide, handele bars under the tap, and faceplanted at quite a speed. I watched as 5/6 riders went past, I picked myself up and pushed on, frantically trying to regain some places. Safe to say the top spot was off the cards today, but over the next few laps I managed to move back up to around 7th, and with 4 laps to go had a great battly with 5th & 6th. Problem was they were bunny hopping the barrier, including a fast one on a descent. I wasn't. So was loosing quite a bit of time here, and although i'd generally cach them on the hill climb, on the descents I was lost again. Very annoying. 1 lap to go and I knew I couldn't match 5th or 6th, so rolled over the line in 7th. Not too bad I guess.
What did I learn from this? Well relearn how to bunny hop!! Ow, and get a good start...
Rd 4 - Leighton Buzzard
It was a wet old morning this Sunday, heavy rain, but fairly mild temperatures meant I opted for a set of 30c mud tyres (CX Pros), however by the time we arrived the sun was out and the course was drying out quite nicely (well quite annoying actually) I didn't have any other tyres, so just hoped they wouldn't make much different, or that it would rain.
On the practice lap the course looked fun, fairly tight and twisty, but pan flat, a couple of barriers to jump as well... I was gridded front row again, but yet again I managed to get quite a poor start, and again, maybe 12th into the first corner. Right from lap 1 I didn't feel like I was riding as well as I should, and over the course of the next 3/4 laps, riders that I would usually catch seemed to be pulling away. I'd lost count of my position now, probably just outside the top 10, I was getting annoyed at myself, so making silly mistakes, sliding out etc... 2 laps to go and I was still pushing on, heart rate sitting fairly high and around 175bpm, but legs felt empty. Last lap and a bit of a battle with a few other riders meant I crossed the line in 13th.
Think i'll file this race under: Should have done better.
After this race I went away, built some barriers in Ally Pally and practiced. Whilst I know I could do it I seemed to have "the fear" so spending 45 mins jumping over logs was just what I needed, and allowed me to get my confidence back! Now just put put this into practice...
Rd 6 - Kempton
Having a cyclocross race in the middle of a racecourse is a pretty good idea, however, what this did mean is that you have a course with zero elevation, and zero natural technical elements (off camber, roots, singletrack etc...) That said, it was actually a pretty fun course, and at least there was some barriers for me to try out my new skillz... Being a fairly central race, and easily accessible, there was quite a large field, thankfully I was still gridded on the front row, and managed to get a great start. A long tarmac sprint, followed by a fast and wide right hand bend saw me in around 9th position, not too bad.
Over the next two laps the front group actually managed to stay together, consisting of around 7 riders. Third lap in and Joe & Jon managed to get a gap, and we couldn't quite close it. The group had also been split further and I was now in a chasing group of 3. It was actually really good fun to have a proper race, rather than ride around in TT mode on your own. Over the next few laps we all exchanged places various times, I moved up to 3rd and we managed to drop 5th. 2 laps to go and somehow 5th got back on. I was pretty cooked at this point, so couldn't quite react when 3rd attacked and managed to drop me and 5th. Last lap now and 5th attacked and passed me, I annoyingly just didn't have the legs to catch him and rolled over the line in 5th.
I was pretty pleased to be honest after the previous weeks race, and really needed this to get some confidence back. Bunny Hopping the barriers certainly helped me here, and I gained time on both of the riders I was with as they ran over them.
So 4 races done, a bit of a mixed bag in terms of results, technique has improved, weather hasn't been that bad, the Eastway has been awesome, and i'm looking forward to some serious mud (apart from Hillingdon...)
Thanks for reading as always. Massive thanks to Eastway Bikes and Wiggle for the support this season, Keith Perry for the photos and Neil, Chris, Steven, Damian & Mark all of London Phoenix for the shouting, support, tips and comms duties.