Here’s the latest race report from my cyclo-crossing buddy Rich Mitch!
At the start of the season it was something I couldn’t wait to get stuck into and after last winter I knew it would only be a matter of time before the heavens opened and I would be slipping and sliding with the real ‘cross riders. The fact it’s taken until mid-December for me to turn a mudded wheel in anger shows how mild it’s been down in the south, and also the fact I sadly missed the race at Penshurst which looked like a brilliant muddy test.
The rain came, the frost bit and as race day came around with temperatures just above freezing I knew I was about to encounter real ‘cross conditions. The heaters in the car blasted hot air and the Jeremy Powers inspired dance beats were cranked up as I drove towards today’s race venue: Herne Hill velodrome.
Park, rug up against the cold, sign on, say hello to the ever friendly ‘cross racers and get my shit together… It’s become a brilliant routine I enjoy, just like the usual slight wonkiness of my race number. But I don’t mind, I’m here to race, put it down, light it up, Dig In and give it my all.
My first taste of the course was an eye opener; super steep, super muddy banks to run up, ride down, hurdles, a small sand pit, off camber sections and technical single track… This course had everything – Ben Spurrier and the rest of the Vicious Velo crew had done a fantastic job creating one of the most challenging and enjoyable courses I had ridden on. On my warm up laps I tried to hit the tricky sections four or five times, just so I could feel confident heading into them at speed during race time.
It was then back to the car, get the race kit on, try and get as much warmth out of the vents as possible before I went to warm up around the newly re-surfaced velodrome and drop off my spare wheels in the pits. Then we were called to the start section, for the first time… I had a pretty good spot on the grid and, as the flag came down, I clipped in and started to move around people, feeling confident. Then, just as we’d started, we stopped.
It turned out we’d been sent in the wrong direction and riders were all over the place, lost in a sea of tape and hairpin bends.
“BACK TO THE START PLEASE EVERYONE!”
There were a few F-bombs dropped around me, but frankly it wasn’t the end of the world. What it did mean, though, was that for the re-start I lost the top position on the grid behind the seeded riders. I came to the conclusion there was nothing I could do about it, I simply had to re-focus and try and get a really strong first lap under my belt.
I chose the grass line on the slight outside and moved up and out of the infield towards the steep muddy drop I had tried to practice on my warm up. However, I met a queue, much like that at Reed Court Farm. A bottleneck is common on the first lap, but this one was a real stinker, with riders queuing the full length of the single track. I made some jokes and took my place in the line. The width of the section meant it was impossible for riders to do anything but wait, single file. [this log jam cost me 3mins on my first lap... and I’m sure a large amount of places... but I couldn't do anything about so I’m not dwelling on it... I have to aim for the Hole Shot next race...]
Eventually things started to move, but walking that section made me realise that running this whole part of the course was going to be quicker than riding it and if I really pushed it I could make up places on riders in front. But I was going to have to run hard.
Once racing got back under way I tried to stay as consistent as possible and as the course got more cut up, the mud thicker, gloopier and stickier I started to really enjoy it, picking out cleaner lines, trying to hold my nerve when the bike squirmed underneath me and, as always, pushing on hard.
The atmosphere in the infield sections was fantastic. Vicious Velo rider and sharp-tongued MC Claire Beaumont whipped the hardy souls watching into a bit of a frenzy with updates on the race, comments on other riders and offering US ‘cross style “hand ups” during the race. The picture you can see is me whipping my first ‘cross prize: a Curly Wurly, of which I bagged TWO!!! This, along with awesome beats and riddims from drummer extraordinaire Geoff Waugh, kept racers smiling through their gritted teeth and muddied faces. It really made the race for me.
The hour flew by and soon I heard the bell and pushed on for home. I sprinted the final running section and my re-mount was one of my best. This race was a real learning experience, the course providing everything you needed to test yourself technically whilst sticking a grin on your face with the great additions made by the Vicious Velo crew.
I crossed the line and looked around me; there were a fair few riders finished but as I didn’t know what lap they’d been on it was tricky to work out how I’d done. In the end I finished 80th… about 116 riders finished and at least 24 were DNF. To finish should be enough in a race like that but I’m hungry for more and disappointed not to have finished better. I can’t wait to take on the Herne Hill course again.
Thanks to Vicious Velo and all who made the race so awesome. And thanks to Gemma Atkinson for the photos, they’re fantastic!
Until next time.
- For more cycling news and great photography, check out Gemma Atkinson’s blog by clicking here