Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Central CXL Round 8 Harlington

Seven rounds to count, seven rounds have taken place and seven rounds have been raced. The hard work has been done, leaving three more remaining rounds left to improve your overall standings. So today is round eight, a brand new venue and possibly a chance to do well.
I have arrived at the new Harlington circuit feeling like I've shaken off the bad cold I've had. i take a walk up to the circuit and I'm delighted with what I see, well clipped grassy off camber banks, a long hill... longest I've seen in a cross race actually and two Somme like run sections. I walk back down to registration feeling pretty good.
However looking at the sign on sheet I see what is the biggest field of the year so far. darn. Number in hand I  go to get ready. I huddle behind the car quickly putting on my kit, I don woolen gloves and rain jacket and apply warming oil to my legs to fend off the freezing wind before making my way back for a practice lap or two. On my way to the circuit I meet Neil and Alan from my old club the LBRCC, they've just completed the novices race. I'm in a hurry and all I can say is 'Hi' and 'it looks grippy' All I hear in reply is hmmmm.
I dip under the tape and set off.  Feels okay, a little windy perhaps, but my tyre pressure feels spot on. Around what is the trickiest bend on the circuit and onto a long stretch of off camber zig zags, awkward but okay. Along a fast flat and into some very 'mountain bikey' ups and downs. Out of those and into a series of muddy drops followed by muddy climbs that call for a running dismount. Another drop into a waterlogged field. I can't help think of the 'fast Shows' 'bottom field' then a final dash to the long climb before hitting the finishing area. Phew, not easy going.
In trying to force out my cold I did a max heart rate session on the turbos the day before and my legs feel dreadful. Double darn.
We just all LOL'd

Nothing left now but to race. I get gridded which gets a round of applause after being left at the back the previous week. We get held up at the start waiting for the electronic timing system to sort itself out. We're freezing and soon the race faces disappear, and we start to fool about to keep warm. the Commissaire gets some stick and Chris slopes off to join the Juniors race. We talk about the start, is it a gentlemen's start?   are we having drinks pre or post race before Christmas? All to soon we're given the thumbs up, then we get the ten seconds to go, lips have gone dry and chests are heavy with pent up energy.
The whistle goes.
It's fast and single file right away. I hit the first and trickiest bend in fourth and come out fourth. There's chaos behind me at the corner with riders on their feet. If I was a good rider I'd have a great lead, but I'm not and all too soon better riders are on me. My legs are heavy and a group of seven are pulling away on lap one, but I'm still ahead of a few of my peers. I haven't got the legs to go hard, and by the second lap Tony is on me. I have to race a canny race from now on.

Run Oldgit run

During  a race isn't the time to think about ifs and buts, am I still carrying a cold, am I loosing fitness, are the others getting stronger? they've certainly turned the tables on me these last two races.All I can do is the best I can, which I know isn't the best I can do. Get every corner right. Get into the drops on every straight. Run like hell on every run section. Doing my best stabilizes my position roughly halfway  through the race, though with vets now on the course I have no idea where I lay.

I see a bunch of fellow V50 riders behind me, and I vow to stay ahead of them. Over the last lap the pressure of holding them off causes me to flap and I put in my most messiest lap of all. My Mojo has gone and I rely on brute force to keep ahead. I trail in to finish towing ten metres of barrier tape behind me.
I think I've done a lot better than the final results will eventually show. New riders caused me to get a little confused. Peers like Tony who beat me last week were just ahead. Chris I last saw in trouble sat on the track side, and multiple series winner Steve has just come in ten minutes later carrying his bike. Pete has won his first race fresh from  breaking his ribs and puncturing his lung at the 3 Peaks, staggering.
The results later show I was 15th, the worst finish ever. I now have three weeks to sort myself out, sort of make or break time. Looking back I was far too cautious, too worried about staying upright when less P.S.I and more risks would have paid dividends. Three weeks time we'll know when we are back in London.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Central CXL Round 7 Icknield Cross

Icknield my favorite cross course, and race number seven. Here in the Central league your best seven races count for your overall standing, so completing this round gives you your seven, it also gives you a chance to look back over your performances and maybe do something about it in the final four rounds.
So it's my favorite course, why? well it's super fast, it's well cut firm turf. The technical sections just call for good timing and old fashioned cyclo cross skills, rather than 'skilz', but today was a bit different. The main technical feature was a series of grassed over air raid shelters, sadly these weren't in use today. I actually thought I'd arrived on the wrong day as the familiar sight of the taped shelters was missing. Instead we had a very hard series of switchbacks which involved descending wet grass and turning sharply on greasy paving slabs before climbing back up again. The whole speedy aspect of the course had also been changed slightly by a very slippery surface, it was wet but not wet enough to cut up.
I had a good warm up, most of the course was the same old version so I spent a bit of time mastering the new technical section. Once happy I went off to warm up some more.
Now it was time to race. I waited eagerly to be called up, but nothing. This was the second time I was put right at the back despite my laying third overall. At the last race the commissaire had apologized  afterwards for the previous oversight, so I was surprised it happened again. hey ho.
The whistle went and so did I, in fact I burnt most of my matches in those first few yards taking myself from last to fifth before the first turn. the race was very quickly single file so I settled in where I was.
Before I go on I need to lay my excuses down!
I hadn't ridden for two weeks. First of all my Nan died not quite making 100, so that called for a lot of family  commitment. Then I came down with a heavy cold that floored me. Basically I couldn't ride for two weeks. Did I mention I hadn't ridden for two weeks?
So anyway I'm riding along, and the inevitable happens. I get passed, I go down to 6th then 7th then 8th then 9th then 10th. Then I think 'okay I'm not on form' but this is taking the piss. I decide enough is enough. The rider in front of me has clearly overcooked it to get ahead and is flapping on the bends. I bide my time and pass on one of the tightest corners and pull away 9th. The next rider is more savvy and we become locked in battle the entire race. He can corner far quicker than me, but I can pass him on the straights and we exchange leads all race. The key will be riding perfect laps, pace and timing. Then on the penultimate lap, just after the technical section he goes down. I pass and I dig deep to get a good gap. I'm holding the gap, but sweating like a pig with nervous energy. I'm racing to the technicals knowing that managing them well will see me to the line ahead of him. I clean the section and grab 8th.
Bitch slapped by a sapling 

It was another good race, a few were pleased to beat me for the first time, but I'll be back for vengeance  next week. I shake hands with the man I've been racing and we analyze the race 'bloke in the pub style' we were so caught up in our own in race that we didn't think about working together. Only seconds separated us from higher positions, we probably could have grabbed another place at least.
Still a great race, a superb course and a great crowd. Roll on next weeks new venue.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Central CXL Round 6 A5 Rangers Northampton

I wasn't sure how I'd go this Saturday after last weekends mauling. It had been a poor race and a painful fast club run the day after so the following day I decided.....risked taking a whole week off from any cycling.
Come the day  I certainly felt rested, and a quick practice on the course confirmed that at least I was no worst.
So the course? well we had off camber wet grass, more off camber ups and downs than you could shake a stick at, some mud 'steps', gravel, tarmac and a fine selection of half buried barge board that would have to be taken at a jaunty angle to enter various sections. Our initial thoughts would call this a slow course....errr!
We were called up for gridding, I was called up fourth man, which was good because the course just about took five men shoulder to shoulder. However I'd decided not to bolt for it this week, and I was going to fall back and watch the competition. When the gun went though I didn't have to make that conscious decision, the pack went off like an explosion. Just keep calm, keep an eye on those that matter. Sam, Chris, Tony forget Steve he is way up the league. Chris's Palmer Park yellow kit was the only one I could see, so upon hitting the first straight I floored it to gain my place behind them. Even though we hadn't completed a single lap we soon fell into the weekly race pattern. Sam had gone. Steve looked like he was having issues, but still kept ahead. Chris was just moving away steadily. That left Tony with a Long Eton interloper in front of me.
I should say that because this was a Saturday race we had a lot of class riders from other leagues among us, either training or building points, regardless of that they were lifting the pace. Because of this everyone's game was raised.
This race felt like a race, sounds daft but the course called for your best riding and the open sections  meant that tactics could come into play. At one point the Long Eton rider went down leaving Tony in my sights and in check. sadly I didn't have the strength to open the advantage on the fallen rider, and he went on to pass not only me but several other riders.
As the laps went by the course changed, clever riders  would take new lines to avoid the greasy cambers. And if you could bunny hop or wheelie even better otherwise the barge board marking the exit/entrance to sections must have seemed daunting?
I was having a good ride even if the days stronger riders had now since long passed me. I was upright and quite pleased with my efforts.
Then the bell which seemed to have come very early....how time passes when you're having fun. And with the bell another surprise. I'd been chasing Tony but was now right on his wheel with less that a lap to go. And I mean right on his wheel, all I had to do was draught him and pop out for the points. Proper racing.

However someone else had other plans. A rider from the vets race came through on a bend and tried to get into a gap that wasn't there. I braked hard and the gatecrasher rode straight into Tony's rear wheel. We all kept upright. I wasn't happy, yes it's all racing but I wouldn't deliberately take out other riders, I certainly wouldn't arrive unannounced. Now I had the man in yellow blocking a potential finish line sprint out. Then our man in yellow slowed down too much for the final techy section, and without enough speed he went down taking us with him. Tony escaped the tangle first and what was only a few seconds back a few inches separating us had now become a hundred yards. It was game over Tony was heading for the flag while I was still running with my bike.
Regardless of the last minute debacle this race was the best so far, an opinion universally shared. The course bought out the best riding (in most of us) The Saturday interlopers brought class and pace to the proceedings  and in doing so gave us a race to remember.
I didn't fare well overall compared to my fellow V50 racers, but as far as the central league riders were placed I was where I should be. My overall placing slipped from 3rd to 4th last week, but even that flatters me. 6th would be a fair final standing, unless I can pull something out of the hat on my favourite course when we resume racing in two weeks time.