Picture the scene, if you will. It’s a cold November evening, the fire is on and I have a cup of tea in one hand and the British Cycling website on the laptop. The enter button is clicked, and I will be racing ‘cross this season. Fast forward a number of weeks and I’m stood in a cold, damp field in Gloucestershire about the give cyclocross racing a go at Lovecrossed, set in the grounds of Chavenage House near Tetbury.
As I am about to set off for a test run around the course I over hear – actually I am down right eves dropping- a marshal and an elite looking racer talking and the phase “definitely not a course for novices”, which is great as novice is exactly where I am at.
So off I go, up the main straight over the finishing line and is followed by a drop and climb into the woods. This section is tight, twisty and technical. It’s also narrow and occasionally rooty. To get out of the wooded section there is a steep drop – with a rut at the bottom – followed by an equally steep climb and a tight left hander before the first un-rideable section – a steep, muddy off camber drop – right hander – steep muddy climb combo.
Once back on the bike and into the open grassland, a couple of left handers a hairpin around a tree and then on to the hurdles. After that, a spaghetti bowl of lefts and rights leading to the second steep down and out before a long off camber out and back with a huge, steep – and quite frankly horrible – terraced decent with a few off-camber corners and a bloody steep run back up the get back to the off-camber return. After that the long drag of a climb back to the start line.
By the time I finish my practice lap the Women’s’ and Veterans’ race is about to start, so I grab a coffee and enjoy the action.
After the Women’s and Vets are done there is just enough time to attempt a warm up in
the in field. Once onto the course, the gridded riders are called forward, then the rest are called forward. I hang back and take up a position right at the back – much at the annoyance of my two kids.
The klaxon goes – I think it was a klaxon, but it may have been a whistle, or even just some fella yelling “go” – and we are off to the soundtrack of shoes clipping in and crunching gears. As the back of the field finally moves on, a gap opens in front of me, and instinctively I go through it. Within the first 200 metres I had already noticed how much the surface had deteriorated. It feels like I continue to pick up places as we drop down and then climb up into the woods. It’s all going well until a moment of inexperience. The rider in front of me has a wobble and I instinctively grab a handful of front brake, as I do it washes out the front wheel and I just about manage unclip and catch it before I fully spill it. Having chatted to another racer on my recon mission earlier in the day, I had been advised to consider running down the technical hills if its crowded. That wasn’t necessary for the down and out at the end of the wooded section, but it was a very definite case of holding my line and hoping for the best. Once out of the trench it was a case of following wheels and trying to keep out of trouble. Once past the traction free, gravity multiplying off camber slime bowl, it is a hard push to the hurdles and then on to the first technical decent, which is now stupendously muddy. I’m still in a crowd, but again I try to ride it having got past it on the practice lap. Once again my inexperience is plain to see and after seeing riders in front slide about I hanker onto the brakes and away I slide. Again I don’t completely fall, but I do feel the warm embrace of the nettles at the edge of the course. I run back up again, remounting without losing too much time. Once out past the off camber out section I have finally given up hope of effortlessly descending so dismount for the final decent of the lap. Once I’m down the hill that grip forgot, it’s a run back up before the steady climb all the way to the finish line. This section of the course seems to suit me as I drop the rider on my wheel.
And on to another lap. As the field spreads out it gets easier to pick lines and find areas where there is more traction. It would seem the couple of weeks’ panic watching YouTube
videos has given me at least some idea of what to do. One thing remained a constant for the remainder of the race is that I ran the two steep technical descents. If truth be told I may have run them even if it was backed dry and had a modicum of traction, but with it quickly becoming the land that friction forgot there is no way I was going to ride them. I was, however, lucky enough to be lapped at the point I reached the last of these descents. Watching this guy just glide down a hill I could barely walk down was unbelievably impressive. I can’t believe I just wrote that I am lucky to have been lapped. That really stings the ego I like to pretend I don’t have. The point being these guys have a grace on a bike that I can only dream of.
As the laps tick by a pattern emerges where I pick up places or close gaps while I’m on my bike, particularly the long drag up to the finish line. But I am losing them on the technical descents, which tells a story of where some work is needed.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day out at lovecrossed, and I am totally hooked on the sport. When the results came out I was a little disappointed – 39th out of 49. On reflection it gives me something to work with, and having started flat last that’s a gain of 10 places. I just need to work on my bike handling, running with the bike and do more intervals work and I could be a contender – well maybe not a contender but certainly quicker.