The aftermath of a filthy ‘cross race resembles an explosion in a garden centre…
The 7.30am meeting at High Performance Hallam wasn’t as bad as it could have been thanks to 9hrs solid sleep. However, the mobility drills and plyometric squats used as a meeting ‘wake up’ were rather tricky with Monday morning legs that did not want waking up.
Watching the European Cyclocross Champs on the Saturday provided a rare opportunity to watch the best of the best up close. However, it was with a tinge of disappointment that I stood clanging my BMX forks with my non-descript piece of metal. Being so close to racing an International Championship and yet not quite getting the call-up is as encouraging as it is frustrating. I’m not a person who really needs fuel for the fire as I race because it’s immense fun and, quite frankly, a comical sport – I ride on joy. But maybe, just maybe, now that I’ve seen what’s required, I can work on getting closer and closer each day to becoming faster. And really, faster is only going to add to the fun! So if I can be inspired, surely those who are yet to dip their toes in the icy bog of ‘cross must be tempted…
The National Trophy on the Sunday was wet and cold. I made the schoolboy error of beginning my pre-ride without waterproof trousers on. This was a huge mistake as within minutes I was so cold I was unable to change gear. Back to the car and adding layer upon layer, I headed out again. I even went to the trouble of wearing latex gloves under my windproof ones in a desperate attempt to remain dextrous.
I’m still getting to grips with using tubular tyres, having only ever raced on Michelin Mud 2s before, so the dark art of treads and pressures is slowly unfolding for me. I began the race on Challenge Limus – knowing the course had chopped up even more since pre-ride, so I figured I’d go for maximum grip and play it safe. This was a costly decision. Yes, grip was fantastic, but they dragged awfully. I chose to bypass the first pits as I wanted to be clear of too much traffic through the off-camber corners where I knew I could make up some time, but the following grass straights felt like wading through treacle and it was like taking the brakes off when I swapped to my spare bike that was running Dugast Rhinos.
The course was actually rather good fun – the off-camber corners, the woods and the short descent after the finish being the highlights. The mud caught in the front mech early on so I was without a big chainring. Luckily the course was running heavy enough for me not to need it. Perhaps a single-ring set up like Paul Oldham and Louise Robinson use is something I’ll look into. Happily, despite the mud (and the predictions of some sceptics), the disk brakes didn’t clog at all – and on the rare occasions I did use them, they were reassuringly predictable and effective.
Yes, the racers should be noted for their hardiness, but the real heroes were the marshals, volunteers, pit crews and organisers who gave up at least a weekend of their lives to get trench foot and hypothermia in order for us lycra-clad clowns to race in circles in a muddy field. For that, I thank you!