Winter Sports In The Summer

Mountain bike racing is a summer sport. We like warm temperatures and dry dusty trails. Cyclo-cross is a winter sport. They like freezing conditions and riding in the mud and pouring rain.

I had only had two completely dry MTB races since the end of 2011 but we were greeted with dusty tracks and blazing sunshine for the opening round of the Lincolnshire Cyclo-Cross League. British weather is a fickle mistress.

This would be my first ‘cross race since 2005, and indeed only my fourth ever. It was held at Ancaster, a course very generously provided to us by Howard from Chandler’s Mitsubishi. This is widely regarded as the best course of the whole league, a flat, fast, open section around some fields to allow space for the start/finish area and the pits, but with the majority of the course in the woods usually used for paintballing. This makes for an interesting course, plenty of tight corners and lots of bombholes with short sharp climbs and the odd tank, amphibious vehicle and wooden fort dotted around. Despite the nature of the weapons used for paintballing it is possible that these are actual bombholes, the area used to belong to the RAF, and indeed the start/finish straight was lined with the landing lights for nearby Barkston Heath Airfield.

Howard had also very kindly lent me a bike for the weekend, my mountain bike would have been a little lacking in the top speed department for this kind of racing, although there were a few people trying it on MTBs. It had been a very long time since I had raced with rigid forks and cantilever brakes, but these seem to be de rigueur for cross racing so that was what I went with, 8 speed too for that proper retro feel. I swapped out a few parts for some Mt Zoom bits off my MTB to bring the weight down a little.
I had been out with my camera while the youth race was going on.
The blur merely shows their speed, rather than my ineptitude with
basic photography. I have no idea who any of these riders are, 'cross
riders use the roadie method of putting the numbers on their backs.
 As I had not raced in the series last year I was not gridded, which is a bit of a disadvantage with 96 riders on the line. I had got to the front of the ‘everybody else’ bit, over on the right hand side, positioning myself to be able to go round the riders on the two rows directly in front of me if they got a slow start, hopefully avoiding the large poles of the landing lights which lined the course. We were given the usual pre-race briefing and got ready to go. The commissaire turned around, there were a couple of spectators on the course so he asked them to clear the way, a few down the far end obviously couldn’t hear him so he blew his whistle to attract their attention. On the whistle half a dozen of us leapt forward, thinking the race had begun, just instinct kicking in, we realised what had happened and stopped. I inched backwards to the start line but appeared to have upgraded myself to a front row start.

It didn’t do me a lot of good though, one thing you can say for ‘cross racers is that they are pretty quick off the line. By the first corner I was down in about 20th place and by the time we got to the bottom of hill probably 30th. I lost a couple more places on the hill up to the woods, but was then able to start making progress. This pattern was repeated pretty much every lap, lose places on the fast bits, and then gain them again in the woods, one step back, two steps forward. As long as I was making more than I was losing this was fine.

I had set myself the target of beating my former team-mate James. I could see him for most of the race, a hundred yards or so ahead of me. He was quicker than me on the fast sections but I was gaining on him through the woods. I eventually caught him about 45 minutes into the race, we were lapping a slower rider as we were coming out of one of the craters (Crater. Noun;  A large hole, as in the phrase ‘Crater Manchester'.) He took the usual line to the left, I went right and managed to find some grip on the roots and passed him into the next turn.  He got me again on the fast field section, just getting in front of some more lapped riders before we turned into the woods, I lost a bit of time getting past them in the narrow bits.

I was up behind him again on the last lap but he seemed determined not to let me passed. There was one running section near the end of the woods, he opened up a bit of a gap here as, according to Howard, I “get on like a girl”. No, I don’t know what that means either.

Going into the last corner he was twenty or thirty yards ahead, there was no way I would get passed him in the singletrack. However, he was trying a little too hard, lost his front wheel on the dust and ended up in a heap. I rode passed him, over the bank and sprinted for the line.

17th. I was quite happy with that, not bad for my first one in 8yrs.

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