Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cyclo-cross Strategy Win

We arrived at Durham National Trophy in the dry but went to sign on in a rainstorm.  It wasn't an unexpected rainstorm but the outside facilities for Ladies' toilets was a surprise I hadn't counted for so I went back to the car to get changed whilst my bikes were assembled outside by my trusty coach, pit crew and husband.

Wriggling into a skin suit in a car isn't easy.

I managed 4/5 of a lap of the course before realising I still didn't have any pins for my numbers so, rode back to the car, cursing British Cycling all the way.  I hate the pre-race stress of Trophy races, I really do.

At 10-to start time I was chatting to the commissaire about how to get my number pinned on and about chip timing.  Of course, my pit crew was on hand to pin on my number and my coach sent me off to ride laps of the field to stay warm.  I wasn't feeling it, but did as I was told.

They started calling up the grid.  Most people were ahead of me, including Nicki Hartle who I sent forward with a slap on the ass, calling her fancy pants for being ahead on me.  Two of us ended up on the second row.  I know my place and positioned myself somewhere between and behind Alison Kinloch and Maddie Smith.  The gun went and I got the best leadout from both Yorkshire ladies.  Even the lady who has (her words) "a very slow start" shot off the line.  I tried to stay calm but when you're third off the line, it's difficult.  Everyone who should pass me did but I found myself catching up Janet Marsden from WPCC on the first technical section of running up stairs, a fell-runners descent and then a short kicker which no-one else seemed to be riding except me and "Dirty Beast", the newly appointed name for my bike.

We ripped past the pits, Andrew screaming at me to get after Nicola Davies.

Nicola Davies didn't bother me though, as I knew Janet would be back the second we were out of the technical sections and into flat out riding.  I just managed to hold her off long enough to hear Matt, the commentator, say, "It's Rodgers in fifth!".

Sure enough, after that, Janet came back past me and I almost stopped trying but, you have to.  Especially when most of Yorkshire is screaming in your ear.  Big thanks to Sue Thackaray and Rachel Mellor, I gulped in air where I could and made up a little ground on the hurdles.  At this end of the field though, hurdles don't pose much of a barrier to experienced racers and I had to dig deep to stay with Janet.  Up the climb, someone was ringing a bell at us and I used the rhythm and the studs in my toes to propel myself forwards.  Back past the pits again and the muddy, contorted corners.  I held on.

On lap 2, I heard the commentator call 3 laps to go for Amira Mellor, the leader. My lungs were completely spent from trying to make myself and my bike somehow levitate over the sticky goo.  When levitation gave out, I resorted to pounding the pedals until I had no more strength left.  Then it was a run up to the stairs - which were then only walkable.  Bike on shoulder, I held onto the fence post to turn the corner. I could hardly see, the pink mist was clouding the corner of my eyes or was it sweat?

I ran down the deep muddy descent.  Telling myself my long legs were an advantage as they stretched out to the mud ahead.  Each foot sank 4 inches deep into the mud and I had to pull it free at the end before it moved onto the next step.  Back on the bike to ride the kicker then fired past the marshals on the crossing point who were screaming clichés at me like, "pound it out" and "stamp on it".  They were all helpful and I pulled faces at them, hoping in some way to express the gratitude that I could not voice.

We approached the pits.  Janet was just ahead of me.  We were winding a very different track through the corners - she took the racing line, I took the safe option and rode it wide, maximising my time on good ground.  I heard Amira shout, "rider up" behind us, indicating that she was lapping us and needed to get through smoothly.

I went wide to leave Amira enough room to come through.  Just at that moment, Janet slid over and landed on her side.  I was glad to be wide of her so I didn't hit her and just hoped Amira had managed to get through.  There was nothing else to do.  Janet was near the pits so had help if she needed it.  I stamped on it to maximise any gain I could from her misfortune and waited and waited for Amira to pass.  I doubted I could hold Janet off till the end of the race so I needed to make the most of whatever opportunity came my way.  Amira eventually slid past me.

For a while I turned myself inside out.  Around the descent, sliding sideways, controlling both wheels of the bike in a skid then handing my destiny over to the slide and pulling msyelf out of it with as much grace as possible.  We were down on to the flat and winding part of the course so I could look back easily to see where Janet was.  The last time I saw her she was placing her chain back on a chain ring.

I relaxed a little - but you can never relax much in cross and I focused on staying ahead.

I couldn't remember how many laps we'd done.  On the last major difficulty of the day I was slightly inconvenienced by the junior lady winner who crashed into a fencepost as I let her lap me.  The rest was a blur of tongue-out, slidey sideways goo.

I crossed the line screaming for glee and found the first huggable person I could - Sue, followed my pit crew coach husband Andrew, who didn't really want a snotty kiss.

Back at the car, I got changed in the car company of Joanna Rycroft from cxmag and as we're both poor and lacking in campervans, we just walked down to the river Wear for a wash.  Hannah Saville passed by the car and we acknowledged eachothers achievements with the best kind of engineer embrace - a brief nod of acknowledgement.

I was exhausted but felt like strength and vitality had made a mark on my day and for once "experience" was a bonus, not a millstone. Plus, it's always nice to get prize money.

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