Race 2: Northwich
Race number 2, it’s about 9 in the morning and guess what, its already raining again!! I seem to remember a mate of mine, not involved in the madness of the cycling world, asking if any of these Cyclocross races ever get cancelled for weather reasons. I told him the best way to look at Cyclocross is to know that the organiser of each race quite probably performs some kind of rain dance in the days leading up to race day, and especially on the day. The reason being, that the potential of more mud means more carnage, and more carnage means actually you’ve got a fairly decent chance of doing alright in one of these races because you’re all in the same “boat”, or literally require one to get to the start area! Unless of course you’re a certain guy called Giles Drake (apologies to all the other regular top 5 lads, I don’t know you all yet!). He seems to just turn on both taps at the start and forget to turn them off until he finishes, always in first place whenever I’ve seen him from a spectator, marshal and now as a racers point of view! He’s that good, he manages to very politely and calmly advise you that he’s behind you and about to lap you, again!! I can just about manage to grunt a very blue and profanity based language for about 80% of the race!
Myself and Ste make use of the time and decide to ride around the centre field during the persistent rain, and cover our previously spotless bikes in freshly cut grass, but we soon decide to take shelter under the Port Sunlight Wheelers gazeebo, I guess to gather our thoughts of what the race is going to be like, but personally, in an attempt to get dry-ish. Then the call is put out to get all riders to the start area and the usual announcements prior to the start begin, including a caveat around the descents, because there have been a few ‘lacerations’, caused by nettles and bushes! Excellent, so now I might actually go home with the full house of “Blood, mud, sweat and tears”!! This doesn’t detract me though, and my initial thoughts are that I can’t wait to go down these descents! That’s the downhill man in me probably, and thankfully didn’t make me out to be a fool, cos I didn’t fall off once this time!
Next is the gridding of riders based on previous races. I’m stood just behind Ste and my name gets called out, perfectly pronounced by the commissaire I might add, but only for the 4th or 5th row, so I duly oblige and move up…….I’m now just in front of Ste! Some would call that “marginal gains”.
The race whistle goes and the carnage commences with the usual string of riders disappearing in front of me, the mud covering my face entirely it seemed, and my legs beginning to burn almost immediately up the long drag to the first corner. I daren’t look behind because again I feel like I’ve haemorrhaged places already, but as I go round the first corner I notice a pretty big stream of riders behind me, so I’m pleased, but instantly forget about it and crack on with my own race.
Eventually I get to the first descent, it’s a double with a flat section in the middle, I negotiate both with no stress. My tip, is to trust the bike, get down on the drops where I believe more control is achievable, keep your grip firm, but with arms and shoulders loose. This way the bike can go where it wants to go, but subtly you’ll be able to reign it back to where you ultimately want it to go. It will definitely want to throw you off, but you’ve got to remember it’s your bike, and you are the one who tells it what to do!! Unfortunately for one poor lad, he didn’t know this prior to this descent, because the first and only time I saw him, he was sitting in the nettles and thorn bushes just to the left! The customary cyclists concern of, “are you ok mate”, echoed throughout most of the riders going past him, including myself. But I was just more confused as to how he got there!!
Anyway, shortly after the first descent is the first running uphill section. When myself, Ste and Alex from PSW performed some much needed reconnaissance of this section earlier, Alex described this as “Vietnam”, in reference to ‘Apocalypse Now’ I think! It was just a mud hill, mixed with clay and definitely not something you would decide on any other day to run up, especially with a bike on your shoulder!
A string of corners followed this which further burnt valuable matches until the next descent, which was steeper and a bit more concentration was required. But again, using the technique described earlier, successfully negotiated. The final running section immediately followed this, and much to my amazement I managed to find my running legs and managed to claw back a few places, only to lose them again at some point in the near future of the very same lap!
Every time I go past the pits I get mixed emotions. Jealousy, because who wouldn’t want a spare bike cleaned (sort of) and ready to go each lap? Anger, because yes I absolutely want a fudging clean (sort of) bike to collect right now and on every lap! And finally post-race hopes, mainly based around the idea of borrowing someone’s jet wash to clean my bike, and not to mention myself!
After about the 3rd lap, I go to pull my brakes before the first downhill section, and find out there’s nothing there and both levers touch the drops! Excellent, now I’ve got to tackle these descents with no brakes! Fortunately using the tip from before, going down them is no different, maybe a couple of hairy moments but all part of the fun!
The rest of the race is pretty uneventful actually from my point of view, except when running up the “Vietnam” hill on the second to last lap I think, a lad in front of me stops dead with his bike and I’ve got to go round him on the slightly less solid ground, I want to shout something blue and angry at him, but I was by now too tired to care. He did manage to catch me up about 10 minutes later and advised me that he lost his shoe!! I laughed and was glad I didn’t swear at him when I went past, and instead called myself all kinds of insults when I realised a lad basically in trainees and with flat none clipless pedals has gone past me! It’s like a ‘ketwig’ going past in his Nike Air’s, that’s how much it annoyed me!!
So finally I come round the last few corners and the chequered flag is out, meaning I can stop this nonsense and now worry about getting clean. Do I just lie on the field and let the rain try and wash it away or do I actually go to the pits and chuck someone a fiver for a spray of their jet wash!?
Ste had to go round one more time cos he didn’t get lapped twice by Giles! But I don’t remember feeling the slightest bit bad about this, I’d finished and that’s it! Time to head back to the car, but not before a post race photo taken by our swanny for the day, Rik “The Ox” Meadows! Always on hand for a photo in any weather!
I won’t go into detail about how I did get around the issue of trying to get clean. But it basically involved being completely unbothered, and stripping off in a car park……..there was no other way in my opinion!!
So onto the next race exactly 1 week away, and I’ve actually cleaned my bike…………..sort of!!
Thanks to Ellen Isherwood for the great photos