Race 3: Longridge Rotary Club
Would you believe it, it’s dry………..nah I’m just joking!! It was dry, and then as the day wears on the rain starts falling, and as we head off to the race, the closer we get to the location the worse the weather gets! But like I said last time, the worse the weather the more chance I’ve got so sod it, bring on the rain!
Now this a new race for the calendar this year so my chances of doing ok have already gone up a notch because everyone is jumping into the unknown and the ability to assess a course on the fly has just been made even more of a prerequisite, so all in all I’m quietly positive.
It’s quite funny turning up to this race because you’re driving down a typical country lane and then all of a sudden there’s people on bikes, cars strewn along both sides, and the excitement really starts ramping up! As we turn into the field chosen for this race, we get asked for a pound to park inside the gates, Ste hands over a £2 coin (I honestly offered, I think?!) and says just keep that. But the old guy mustn’t have heard and starts fumbling for change before dropping it all over the road. Then he starts picking it up, meanwhile we’re now helping to block the road completely with cars behind until he finds the all-important 1 pound change! As we enter, there are 2 tractors poised ready for action, or at least look like they are, and it immediately dawns on us that we might be getting towed out after the race, just like the car wheel spinning in front of us will be in the next 5 minutes! So all of a sudden that £1 parking is looking good value now! But we are in a car that Ste assures me is built by French farmers so we should be fine, so let’s get a big shout out to the Renault Megane estate!!
It’s raining, there’s a race going on and my feet are sinking into the mud as we walk to sign on. It’s a pretty flat course overall so doesn’t seem like technical ability will be the main requirement, just raw power that can be sustained for an hour. We watch the Veterans race and see a couple of other Liverpool Century lads racing. In particular Graham Prentice, who is no stranger to a hard CX race and who can put out some pretty good power in general. However he’s running with his bike up a bit of a hill, and I can’t help but think, if he needs to run up that, how hard is this course??
The race finishes and we wander back to the car for the second hardest task of this entire day, getting changed into our race kits! Without causing offense to the public, and without sticking my sock in the wet mud before I put my shoes on. Once they’re on I couldn’t care less anymore, but it’s the principle of doing things in order obviously! The rain continues and I’m actually getting a bit cold, even my legs with the old embrocation oil coating them isn’t doing much good, so I stick my jacket on and we do some laps around a part of field with not much mud. That’s tough as it is, and I’m not really warming up. I’m asked if I want to borrow rollers and I decline the offer. I’ve never used rollers before, but I don’t think they can be difficult to pick up quickly, however for my first time it will be indoors, on my own, and preferably with the knowledge that my missus is down stairs ready to leap into medical mode and help should I fall, or at least have her phone ready to take pictures whiles the tears stream down her face!! It will not therefore be when it’s chucking it down, I’m struggling to keep warm, and my tyre pressures are at an all time low of about 20-25 PSI! Things aren’t helped when we bump into Graham all changed into full rain gear looking totally warm and dry, who says that the course is just a total slog all the way round!
Anyway our race is called, finally, and we line up on a concrete start line. It’s narrow, with potholes filled with water and mud, a recipe for disaster. As I’m trying to hear my name get called for gridding, I realise I can’t hear anything the commissaire is saying because, and I’m going to have my first CX rant here, everyone in the pits is washing their bikes with their little generator and all I can hear is that same ear bleeding humming sound you hear at a camp site when a family of utter *bleeping bleeps* turn on their generator at 7 in the morning in order to charge up their *bleeping* phones and iPads……….but I digress!! So I’m stuck near the back and it’s going to take a big effort to claw my way to the top half, and I don’t remember being that strong so this is going to be tough. The race starts and it’s a full on sprint to the first corner and there’s a crash after 20 meters, which me and Ste neatly avoid and no pleasantries are passed on to the victim, I’m passed caring today! Throughout the race, this section of the course will be the recovery section where the gear actually turns the wheels at more than 35 RPM! I can see a couple of riders which I know I’ve beaten the last two races, and they’ve been ahead from the start due to the gridding shambles at the beginning, and I start getting into race mode with a little bit of anger thrown in which always helps. Its difficult clawing back places in cross, similar to F1 where you have to rely on their mistakes and fitness to ultimately topple them. We get to the first running section and it’s through a wooded area with mud so deep it’s not actually wet, more like a sticky kind of mud, and definitely of the shoe losing sort! So I jump off and run through it, then jump back on my bike and drag myself up the hill before descending a small section and jumping off again to run up a hill definitely un-ridable now it’s completely churned up! I didn’t like that, and the next time round and subsequently every other lap I decide to shoulder my bike and basically go for a about a 100-150m run through the wood, up the hill, down the descent and up the final drag before running alongside the bike and jumping on with about 50 metres before the concrete start/finish section. This was a good move, I must have ran past about 8 riders struggling to keep the cranks turning. So as I mentioned, I used this tactic every lap and closed the gap to the riders I’m after the entire race.
I’m pretty good at pinning numbers on these days, no flapping, just straight and neat, but each race I’ve progressively lost more and more pins on both the back and shoulder numbers, somehow without ripping the jersey. On about the 5th lap I notice my number is flapping in the wind but I ignore it. On the very next lap I notice something lying on the ground, and it turns out to be someone’s number. As I’m laughing to myself thinking glad it’s not mine, it turns out to be my number! So I casually get off the bike, roll it up and stuff it down my back pocket and continue. You have to pay for the number if you lose it so good job I was looking!
As I get to the second half of the lap, the bell goes and I suddenly realise that Giles has only lapped me once! This is my chance to improve big time and finish ahead so I can do another lap after he’s finished, and also the chance to catch those riders I’ve been after all race. I make it through the line before being lapped again and set off for one final leg sapping lap with a bit more grit (literally) between my teeth. I get to the wooded section and see my targets just coming out the other side riding up the hill. If I can get a good run in again I should get them right by the finish line. But in the end I just can’t get them, my legs are wellied and I just haven’t got that last bit of energy! I manage a sprint of sorts up the final straight which on tyres with 20 PSI, is a bit sketchy!!
Overall that was a good race, and one that I felt I was racing. The first two races have been a getting to know the bikes capabilities and limits as well as my own, and although this was possibly the hardest race so far, the lessons and knowledge learnt from the previous two have paid off and I can just focus on the race itself.
Now to THE hardest task of the day, getting changed into normal clothes, free-ish of mud and ready to drive home! I look at Ste and we both just take a second to think how exactly do we get changed?! I opt for the same as last week, just drop my shorts wipe some mud off and chuck my pants on, which would have been so much easier if Ste’s passenger door didn’t keep flaming closing on me! Push it open, try and get a leg in your pants and repeat was my technique, but it didn’t work and probably caused more bruising to my shins than the race itself!!
Next race is Manchester and I swear this time it’s meant to be dry so the next blog will start with a sunny start to the day…………………Hopefully!!
Oh and Ste has just advised me that I’m 14th overall in the league! No idea how, but not bad so far for my first ever go at CX and only after my 3rd race. The impetus of racing as much as possible really is something to think about now, and not just complete enough races to get a final league position. If I can grab a top 10 overall I’ll be buzzing, and might just give it a go next year, if my contract is renewed of course!!
Thanks to Ellen Isherwood for the great pics