Another trip south to Sheffield this time to race on the somewhat more technical Graves Park course. Mark was sidelined due to injury concerns, finally succumbing to common sense he'd decided to rest and spectate. Yes Mark when your back hurts so much you can't bend over and your shoulder is strained to the extent you can't lift the bike 'pushing through the pain' is not the best stratagem - it's alright the Christian Brothers aren't watching you anymore ;-) The course itself looked beautiful but conditions could best be described as 'taxing'.
With everything from snow, ice, mud, rocks, roots, loam and leaves the course designer had as always here done a good job - Mark reported that he heard him chuckling though, in expectation of the ensuing fun! A practice lap soon confirmed that the biggest challenge would be braking and getting clipped in as the combination of mud and vegetation in the woodland added to the low temperatures and snow over the rest of the course meant that mud compressed into the pedal cleat interface froze into a concrete like substance. Everyone suffered to some degree, some worse than others, I certainly felt that I was on the 'worse' end of the spectrum!
Another decent start but I was unable to hold onto the lead three as Mike Young (in shorts!) Chris Taylor and Chris Ledger rode away leaving me to tussle with Justin from Pedalsport for fourth place. Justin was proving the better/smoother rider through the technical sections most of the time but I was speedier on the simple stuff - if I could only get clipped in! It felt like I was banging my cleats on the pedals for half of every lap, mostly to no avail. I'd sprayed them with WD40 to prevent freezing but some folk seemed to enjoy more success with anti-freeze. Nick, riding for Clifton CC but sure to turn Belgian sooner or later ;-) was having similar pedal engagement problems as well.
Jo didn't get her usual quota of photos as she got distracted helping a rider who fell quite heavily early on and then she very kindly held my pit bike up a couple of laps from the finish having noticed all the pedal banging! Mark and Rachel shouted encouragement at several key points whilst being on hand to witness the requisite bobble/fall as I forgot the diminished braking ability of snowed up blocks/rims! I think Justin had a similar 'bobble' as I had a reasonable gap coming into the bell lap and it remained that way till the finish.
Looking forward to Brockholes and a good Belgian showing. If this cold snap holds it will be interesting, very different to the mudfest of last year - I'll have to consult crossjunkie regarding tyre choice. Ah, apparently for me it will be Rhinos or Rhinos ;-) I like the idea of the white file treads, white overshoes ensemble but I think Al missed a trick with no white gloves (crossjunkie) or would that have been a 'Micheal Jackson' step too far?