While I was busy letting my fitness nosedive amid a sea of mince pies, the redoubtable Rich Mitch was getting his kicks in a sea of mud. Here’s his latest cyclo-cross race report…
New Year’s Day, 2012. As most people my age were nursing hangovers, staggering home or happily tucked up under a warm comfortable duvet, Elli and me packed the car and drove north to Herne Hill velodrome. It was time for another ‘cross race and I was really looking forward to it.
Arriving in really good time (the roads were dead) we found a prize parking spot, stuck on our wellies and walked the course. As well as a cyclo-cross race there was also a New Year’s Day bike jumble around the velodrome. Young hipsters were hanging out with old gnarled cyclists, nodding sagely about inch ratios, smoking tightly rolled cigs, rummaging through old boxes of rusty bits looking for that lost gem, or chain ring for their Gios. If I wasn’t getting ready to race I would have joined them and had a good look, but I had other stuff to think about.
The first thing that struck me was the different layout of the course. Bits from my last race had been missed out and the course seemed a bit more open and a lot less gnarly – it was quicker and faster flowing, with less tape used on the infield to create a few less hairpins. VC Londres, who were promoting the event, had done a fine job and, as my partner for the race arrived with his other half, it was all set for a great event.
I was chuffed to have twisted my clubmate Shane’s arm to join me. In all honesty he needs little arm twisting to come out and race, but I did really appreciate him and Clare turning up, it was New Year’s Day after all! Shane leapt onto his MTB for a quick recon of the course and I pinned on my number, chugged a gel and had a drink. We were ready to roll.
The plan was clear: we would take a lap each, I would go first and try and get away quickly. We would then ‘hand sling’ or just hit each other with an accompanying word of encouragement, and the other rider would take over for the next lap and so on… for an hour. That’s the essence of Madison Cross and as we both warmed up on the track beforehand it was clear some of the hand slings were going to be more effective than others. The decision to just hit each other on the hand, back, arm, anywhere was the most sensible thing we did all day; some riders tried to be flash and failed, costing them valuable speed and time. Keep it simple seemed the best motto.
I got to the start with five minutes to go and soon realised we were not being gridded… I was front row for my first ever race and as some riders tried to get in in front of me they got short shrift and moved back. I was really fired up! The rules of the race were called out and some of the banter with the other riders was great… there was certainly a holiday atmosphere. We clipped in. We were ready… GO!!!
I missed my pedal, gutted… it happens I guess… I was now third row, and as we hit the first corner all my good work getting to the front was wasted. I let out a quick f-bomb and got myself fired up for a fight. I should have clipped in with ease and pushed hard with the big boys and I’d wasted my chance. As we left the velodrome for the first time there were only about 15 riders behind me. My start efforts have got much better recently in training and one slip had made me look like a chump. It still doesn’t sit well with me a couple of weeks later (as you can probably tell) and I’m planning on making sure it doesn’t happen next time.
The first hairpin after the infield and things started to string out. In the initial burst to get off the start line it seemed some had over cooked it and were happy to follow some wheels while they got their breath back. I spotted one rider leap from his bike, take the hairpin sharply and make up some places. I knew this was my chance and did exactly the same, much to the bemusement of some of the riders I suddenly overtook. I’d made back about 10 spots in less than 100 metres and executed my most tactical piece of riding, well running actually, in a race yet. It gave me a huge boost and I started to reel in more riders across the muddy sections, my tyre pressures working well underneath me.
Conditions were not as muddy as I’d expected, which was somewhat disappointing. My tyres (MAXXIS Mud Wrestlers, usually inflated to around 35psi) coped brilliantly with all the course could throw at me. I’ve yet to try tubs (tubular tyres), the domain of the real ‘cross rider. Eventually, with a bit more cash, I think I will take the plunge. But for a first season the MAXXIS, plus a spare set of wheels, have done me brilliantly.
As the lap came to an end I’d managed to get myself back into the race and the hand over with Shane was coming round fast. I called which side I was coming to and slapped his hand and screamed for him to “GET MOVING!” He didn’t need the shout, he was off like a bullet keeping tabs on the riders around us in the race. I rode slowly to the pits, grabbed a swig of drink and stayed warm for the five minutes or so until I was set to ride again. Riders were spread across the course, with the Senior, Vet, Women, Junior and Youth riders all riding together, which made for some great racing.
The race went on and all of a sudden I noticed five laps to go. Rain had started to fall and things began getting pretty damp. I pushed wide on some corners trying to find some grip and it was working well. I started to pick off more riders, I couldn’t recall being passed by any of the leaders but I know Shane took a tumble on the slippery part of the course and we lost some ground. That’s racing, it was a case of getting on with it and making back the ground we’d lost. As the rain fell harder, and legs of the teams around us got more tired, we started to move a bit more through the field.
Shane’s a strong rider, his 2nd Cat status on the road proves that, and seeing him on the rivet made me push harder. The hand overs were pretty good by the end, and soon I heard the bell lap.
We were duelling it out with some young guys from Sutton Cycling Club throughout the race and as I lined up for my final hand over I was shouting for Shane, trying to will him on. The hand over went well and I headed for the grippier part of the course I’d found.
I was up on the Sutton boys, but not for long. I chased the wheel as something blue, white and yellow whipped past me. I wasn’t going to lose it now. As we left the velodrome section, with the bell ringing in my ear, the youngster started to move away slightly, getting a couple of bike lengths. I held this distance and as the mud kicked up around me I knew I could catch him.
We headed towards the velodrome track and at the bottom of the track was the most slippery part of the course. I stuck it in the big ring thinking that it was now or never, the lad from Sutton held back, and through the mud I powered past and was away. I didn’t look around until the final corner. I’d done it, I’d raced with confidence, made a move and made it stick. It was a proud moment for this cyclo-cross novice. I handed over to Shane and he sprinted for the line. We had finished… 28th out of 54 teams.
Not the best result of all time, and with some more things to think about and work on. But a hoot all the same. As I stood with a hose getting a large amount of muck off my bike after the race and with rain reaching places about my person I’d rather not mention, I knew that this is the racing I really love.
Fast, furious, exciting and never the same, even in the same place almost on the same course… I’m hooked on cyclo-cross.