Western Cyclo Cross - Tuffley - 2007
In which I try a new sport and get very muddy.....
The leaders - a pic of me is not available, luckily!
At least twice I've "encouraged" team mate Ed to join me at the Ras Y Mast, which is lovely for runners but involves much pushing & carrying of the bike for cyclists. So, when Ed invited me to join him for one of his cyclocross events, it would have been ungentlemanly in the extreme to decline. Of course, as a pretty inexperienced cyclist, with only a heavy mountain bike to compete on, my only goal would be to enjoy the race and see if I could avoid coming last.
Arriving at a Leisure centre in the outskirts of Gloucester, I found a gathering of twenty or so cyclists preparing to tackle a course around a playing field. Most were on cross-bikes, but I wasn't the only one on a mountain bike, which augured well. The cross-bike fraternity, Ed included, generally had a bike or two in reserve in case of punctures, clogged gears etc., so like most cycling disciplines this is obviously one where you can spend as much as you like (or alternatively just come on a forty quid bike like me!).
The atmosphere reminded me of a fell race - all the regulars knew each other, the passers by were totally mystified by what was going on and it was very friendly and welcoming to the obvious no-hopers and newbies such as me.
I decided to warm up with a lap of the course - from the start the loop followed the edge of the field (with bright markers at the corners - well marked with no chance of making a wrong turn), until it passed back and forth through the hedge and ditch, through gaps just wide enough for my handlebars. The ditch was easy enough on my bike - probably required more skill on a cross bike. There were hurdles a little further round, so I practised jumping off and toting the bike over them - they were only knee high. Next came a gentle looking climb then some zig-zags and a couple of little dips, then in the top corner of the field the course crossed a yard-wide, v-shaped depression that looked ride-able enough but actually caught my front wheel and had me off the bike. "Bit technical there is it?" asked the rider behind me, with a smile. I went back and tried that section again, this time jumping off the bike and lifting it over, which seemed not to waste too much time. Others were doing the same, so I thought it must be the right thing.
The rest of the lap went without incident, then it was time to line up at the start ready for the off. The organiser announced it would be "Fifty plus a lap", which was about what I was expecting (1 hour ish), then we started off around the loop, me at the back cautiously observing. The cross bikes went off fast, the mountain bikes not so fast. The ground was wet and we soon began to churn the mud and get thoroughly splattered. What followed was very intense - the effort felt much like running a 10k - always on the limit. My legs felt like they do in a time trial - just the right side of the pain barrier. It was awesome. I managed to catch a couple of riders too, so both objectives (have a great time, don't come last) were achieved. Ed lapped me not once but twice, eventually coming fourth and winning a bike pump. I was about 17th out of 20 finishers, which was a good result for me. It was tough on the climbs, where my tyres seemed fat and stodgy and my bike seemed to be made of lead, but the technical bits were easily handled even by me (and I am useless at anything technical on a bike). In the through-the-hedge sections I got a bit careless at one point and picked up a few scratches, but I didn't actually part company with the bike unintentionally at any stage. Once the winner had done his last lap, we all got the checkered flag, so I reckon us back-markers did at least two laps less than the top few.
If you've never tried cyclocross, give it a go - I'll be back. I'd rather have a lighter bike, but failing that I may just opt for narrower tyres which should help. As I said before, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and for once the Sri Chinmoy Cycling Team, who are rather spread out, had two entrants in the same race. I was very proud indeed to wear the team jersey.
We repaired to Ed's front garden later to hose the bikes down. Days later I was still picking clods of mud out of the car, and most of my kit had to through the washing machine twice (which also ended up full of soil). By comparison, fell running is a pretty clean sport!
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