After getting hooked on the idea of cyclocross earlier in the summer and making contact with Duncan through our mutal friends at Shutt VR, today saw me line up as a Belgian for the Central CX League race at Icknield near Luton. Despite losing 3 recent weeks of training due to illness, my 'proper' CX tyres not arriving and generally being afraid of making a complete idiot of myself, I got my act together and decided today was the day I lose my cyclocross virginity!
Icknield School was the venue, with a course winding back and forth across their playing fields, up and down a near vertical grass bank numerous times with off-camber drops and turns and a section of horrendously bumpy singletrack through the woods. It was a pretty small field of about 40 riders for the main race so I thought I'd be safe at the back to start, but the race marshall had different ideas when he lined us up and I found myself on the end of the 3rd row surrounded by fit and experienced looking 'crossers. Oh shit....
Then we were off, my heart was thumping and I was chasing the pack across the playing field. The leaders quickly did a vanishing act with the super-fast Corley team boys showing everyone how it was done. Before I knew it I was at the barriers which I had never even attempted until a few minutes before on the recce lap (when I nearly fell flat on my face in front of a group of spectators!) and I was off, running, jumping, running, jumping and back on again. I was holding my own and nobody was coming past me - unbelievable! I caught a guy from Team MK that I was talking with before the start and held his wheel for 2 laps before deciding I could push harder, and dropped him. Next up was a Welwyn guy in a bright green kit that was 50m ahead and just begging to be reeled in. A lap later and he was done along with a couple of others. The leaders blitzed past me somewhere during all that as well but I kept safely out of the way and didnt cause them any trouble. Every lap I gained skill on the technical bits and confidence to attack corners harder and things began to come together.
40 mins into it and I was really feeling the pace. Sportives, group rides and the compulsory lamp post sprints against the lads are one thing, but flat out lung-busting laps of pain like this are quite another and it was beginning to tell on me, especially with the illness-hindered training I had managed since the summer. I inevitably slowed in the last third, but it seemed most others did as well and I kept everyone behind until the Corley boys came out of nowhere and stuck a second lap on me (and almost everyone else it seems) and even gained another scalp who was not happy to see me pass him on a technical section. Then it was the bell and one of the most beautiful sounds imaginable as I realised only one more lap of hell was ahead of me. Best of all was the fact that the bell was ringing for what seemed like a lot of people well behind me - that was a real confidence booster. There was nobody around me and nobody to chase for the final circuit so I did my best to give it 110% all the way and finished with absolutely nothing left, a very happy boy!
I've no idea where I came, although it was clearly well down the field, but I had more than achieved my goal of not being last (or too close to it) and had passed enough people, and kept them behind me, that I rolled back to the car a very happy Belgian. For now I'll forget about the luck I had with no mechanicals, and a relatively simple course that was far drier than it should have been after the last 48 hours of rain, which allowed my 'wrong' tyres to work perfectly and the fact that I rode my recce lap with a former junior national CX champion who shared no end of tips with me, and I'll just bask in the warm feeling of being a 'racer'. Somehow things will never be the same on a bike again.
Same again next weekend. Damn, this racing thing is addictive!
I got this guy and he wasnt getting past me again!
More pictures courtesy of Fraser K here