My pal and team-mate Richard Mitchelson has been out cyclo-crossing again and this time I was there to witness the pain and suffering first hand (and take the video you see below). Nothing I saw convinced me that this branch of our great sport is for anyone other than total masochists, but he seems to enjoy it.
Here’s his latest race report as guest contributor to the blog.
I have always started early on race days, creeping out of bed trying not to wake the cycling widow sleeping soundly next to me. However, today things were different and it was to turn out to be my best performance to date…
A lie in. On a race day. The two never meet and my body felt odd for it, perhaps too relaxed. As the sun shone on a brilliant Sussex day, the ideas of my first race in the mud left me as the mercury rose to a very un-seasonal 15 degrees. I packed the car alone today as for this race I was to fly solo. The pre-race routine I have established [even including the day before] means getting ready to go is a series of well-timed rituals I could do in my sleep. This keeps stress levels to a minimum and means I can preserve all my energy for the race and not waste it running round like a blue-arsed fly trying to find my racing license or spare bib shorts.
As I drove over Ditchling Beacon towards Brighton’s Stanmer Park I felt perfectly relaxed, excited with a couple of butterflies, but settled in thought. Arriving and struggling to find a parking space was a big surprise: it was 11:20am and I had arrived with time in hand, but as I thought of every option to get as close to the course as possible it seemed every man and his dog had the same idea. Eventually I parked in one of the University car parks and all was good.
I unpacked the car, jumped on my bike and headed to sign in. I entered the raffle, watched a couple of youth races and chatted with other races looking forward to the race. The more I do this, the more I feel at ease. I’ve mentioned it before but everyone is so friendly at ‘cross races that you can talk to anyone and all seem more than happy to chat at length. It’s brilliantly refreshing.
Back at the car I pinned on the number in my typically wonky style [i do try to get it straight… always] stuck a bottle in my back pocket, chugged a gel and rolled up to the course. I had 40mins to go. Perfect.
Luckily the pits were close by, so up the course I trundled like a lot of racers around me, carrying spare wheels in a free hand. Dropping the wheels off, I joined the rest to recon the course. A couple of laps of the course showed it was a great ride, with the right hand side including a lot of climbing and tree-lined, winding single track, while the left hand section was more open with a wider, faster course and a few more climbs just for good measure.
There were no barriers, steep banks or running at all. This may have been a blessing in disguise for me, because it is by far my weakest part of ‘cross so far.
Heading back to the start to get ready I found my team mates arriving to cheer/heckle me on. I located the start line, took one final swig on my bottle and sat there ready to go. It seemed I was alone on the official start line; the other riders congregating at the finish line. I sat as more and more riders appeared about 50 metres in front of me, but I stood my ground, confident that I was right.
Luckily I was, and the whole field, bar a couple of other guys around me, headed down to the now busy start section. The top riders were called up to the start as usual and then it was me! I was third line on the start and it was a real confidence boost to have such a prime spot. I checked my gearing for the start, clipped in, sucked in some air and heard “15 SECONDS TO GO”
Go i did! The joy of starting so far up the field was I had a brilliantly clear run on the first couple of corners; there were no pinch points where I had to wait at all and I was able to try and get as good a position in the field as I could.
It took some of the more established riders longer than I expected to get past me and the first couple of laps felt fantastic. I had made the choice to ‘Big Ring’ it for as long as I could, getting out of the saddle and pushing harder rather than spinning the legs. It seemed to work and, as the race moved into the second half hour, I felt right on the limit.
Eventually, though, the lactic started to get the better of me. As I passed back-markers with about 20mins left, the leader finally passed me and slowly, one by one, the other leaders passed too. On the long climb I tried to spin my legs and with that I lost speed… people started to catch me and I’m sure the last 15mins of the race was my slowest. Perhaps it was too much too soon, but I was determined to hang on as best I could. I sat on others’ wheels on the more windswept sections rather than pushing on, trying to conserve anything I had left in my legs for the final laps.
The penultimate lap was by far the toughest, but the support from team mates and friends made a huge difference: I heard each cheer and it pushed me on towards the end. The last lap bell came and I knew this was it, shit or bust. I opened it up as much as I could, legs screaming, lungs burning, face gurning like some sort of toothless old lady. I was also cheeky enough to shout “rider right” to the guy I was chasing down and once I caught him he let me past! Something I might try again in the future!
The last few corners were hard going but as I hit the finish straight the rider who let me past was back on my shoulder. I went onto the drops, checked where he was and sprinted like I was going for the win. It was a shame that he came past me in the last couple of metres but it was a great end to the race. We chatted after and I don’t think he quite believed he’d let me past when I asked – perhaps he won’t do it next time!
As I found my friends and team mates more and more rides streamed into the finish. I knew I had performed to my best, but i was worried I had felt like that before and not done that well so I knew I had to wait for the results before I could really put a smile on my face.
Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long. When I got to work I checked and as I scrolled down the names there I was…
50th out of 99 finishers!!! YES!!!
Some ‘cross racers would be gutted with 50th… however, this ‘cross noob had just leapt 22 places from his previous best and I’m almost at my target of finishing in the top half of the finishers list… missing it by just one place this time.
So it’s onwards and hopefully upwards; as the weather starts to turn I know there will be a lot more challenges ahead, but with enough training, enthusiasm and technical practice I’m determined to make it into the top part of the table soon.
See you on the start line!