Sunday, September 16, 2007

The First Cyclo-Cross of the Season

Yesterday the Peterborough Cycling Club (aka me) made its first foray into the world of cyclo-cross racing.

For me it was a return to the good old days, with a twist of added sunshine.

We arrived with an hour to spare - plenty of time to get out the bikes (so nice when they don't need to be assembled out of the back of a car) and sign-on for the event.

The only problem is, we could see the course but we couldn't find where to park or register. A 3-point turn in a tight corner and asking some friendly locals finally took us to the water-park and café which doubled up as the finishing point for a local Lukemia research bike-ride. Still, I wasn't sure about that course. From where I was sitting, it looked like a game of cat and mouse around a grassy field - bloody southerners!

I was really nervous. Lots of people looking race-ready made me think that I might have misread the instructions and missed my event. TSK calmed me by pointing out that the other ladies didn't look dirty or sweaty -enough to have raced yet.

I was pleased to see other women there. It's much more fun to race against peers. Taking-part in your own little category just isn't good enough as there's a tendency to pootle a bit too much.

I wasn't nearly prepared to find that there were actually 10 ladies already signed-on making me number 11.

TSK walked down to the course and I went for my warm-up lap. After sheepishly heading the wrong way down a few turns, I finally met the race organiser who pointed me in the right direction and said the words no-one wants to hear on their warm-up lap - "you might not get all the way round because of the Ambulance".

Ambulance duly noted heading for the road, I plunged into the woods over two concrete blocks jutting from the parched ground (I figure he fell on the corner and broke his arm on the concrete). A tricky drop into bottom gear to hop over the lip of tarmac path and back into top gear for a downhill. Note girlie cycling the other way, I completely overshoot the only line on a sharp 90 bend onto a dusty climb. I turn round to have another try at it and realise this is what the other girlie is doing. We laugh that we both completely overshot the line.

She rides it, I rides it, though there's a moment there where, on the 30 degree slope, I come to a dead-stop with both feet clipped in the pedals and only avoid falling over by pulling a wheelie to get myself moving again.

Around the corner there are six people looking into a bomb-hole. A bomb-hole is a fun obstacle. It's a circular dip in the ground. Usually 6 - 10 feet deep with 45 - 60 degree sides. So long as they're smooth they are easily ridden. Riders put the weight over the back wheel by leaning back of the saddle and use their back brake to control the speed so that they don't go over the front. They use their brakes as little as possible so that the momentum from the down hill takes them up the other side and out of the hole. I generally find that not looking at the bomb-hole is the best technique at a first pass, though I approached it slowly enough to bail-out if there were any lumps or bumps that might throw me off. I passed the onlookers and gracefully (and thankfully) popped out the other side unscathed. Behind me I heard swooshs, crash, "Argh!" as the bloke behind me dived over the bars. Red and I were starting to get along just fine.

Some more single-track, a log jump and out of the woods to another straight across the grassy field, down a storm-drain, up the other side and into the second stretch of woods where a series of tight turns on loose soil and tree roots made for a challenging combo of power, speed control and smooth gear-shifting. I popped out of the woods again, grinning and asking TSK if he felt like moving to the Fens for good. These Easteners know how to build courses.

The start of the race was very organised. The first five rows on the grid were made up of people who placed last year in the league. TSK later told me that three ladies were there, although I actually only noticed one. The rest of us made a free-for-all huddle at the back. The organiser asked if anyone hadn't ridden a race before and the lady next to me held up her hand. As the organiser went through some of the rules and etiquette of the sport, I wished her luck and suggested she has fun and then we were on our way.

I had my mark on the lady in the back row of the grid and though a few riders got between us, at the first bottle neck, I jumped off, tossed my bike on my shoulder and cut through the bushes (a legit move) to get myself back in with her group. There was another woman with me.

Gradually, grid-lady (Jen) pulled away from us but we continued to ride together for the first three laps. At that point my race lungs (the taste of blood when breathing hard) got over themselves and I got into a groove which made the most of speed, control and technical skill. I made the most of the men who, determined to pass me, did so on the long grassy stretch into a full-on head wind. I sat behind them, patiently resting until we reached the single-track then attacked and made up the distance each lap but finally, the lady in blue passed me on the fast, grassy section and disappeared into the woods ahead of me.

I continued to keep pace through the woods, always keeping one eye out for her on the twists and turns and finally, there she was, picking herself up having taken a tumble on a gritty corner. She was dusting herself off so I pushed past and, at the start of the windy straight, got myself fast-enough and low-enough to tag onto the back of a faster rider that was lapping me.

And that was it really. I was slightly dogged by a man behind me who insisted on informing me of everything that was going on with the riders coming past behind us. I'd like to think he was being helpful but in some way felt that he was doing it in the hope I'd let him pass me because he was "in the know". I was close to asking him to give up with the commentary when he fell victim to the bomb-hole and spent the rest of the race talking to every stick that dared look at him funny.

A brief sprint for the line got me 50th place out of about 70 riders.

I walked away thinking I was second lady, since I'd only seen Jen ahead of me at the start but then when TSK told me there were at least 3 ladies in the grid my hopes sank to somewhere around 4th or 5th. I'm not sure what made me happier, finding out I was 3rd, or finding out that the lady I was talking to on the start line was actually first! In her first event! So impressed. We both agreed that she had fun. Bizarely she told me she didn't recognise me as I look much smaller on my bike (that's a new one on me).

The highlight of my day was on the last lap, coming round the trickiest corner in the field which teeter-totters at the edge of a dip. As I was on the brink of going over the edge into a mess, the man behind tried to pass on my inside but, not having the line, started to push me of my line. Team effort was required and to save both our asses I grabbed his saddle and gave him a shove to get him off me, somehow, throwing my own body weight back on course and keeping us both moving. As payment I took his wheel into the wind again.

All in all I am extremely pleased with my third place. I feel great this year. I expected to do OK at this race, but never expected to do so well. I said to TSK that 50% of my success was his since he has encouraged me and helped me to develop this year, beyond my wildest expectations. I'm starting to have the life I've been hankering after for the last 5 years.

Next week's race is at Fakenham in Norfolk and after the Open5 at the end of September we go National with the National Trophy in Abergaveny. Pressure's on.

1 comment:

Silver Lining said...

You da girl!!