Cyclocross: All of the faff

It’s the National Championships at the weekend, and time to reflect as the season approaches its finale.

Cyclocross is a strange sport. It breeds and harbours obsessives. For a discipline that involves belting around muddy fields, there is an inordinate amount of fine-tuning, preparation and finesse… from the meticulously exact tyre pressures for the conditions in the correct tubulars with the correct tread, to the perfecting of the right line on the course recce at 8am in -2°C. The right clothes, the right food, just enough sleep, the right warm-up… the training, the bike fettling, and even the Dirt Bags to make sure we clean off properly after a play in the mud.

This short road movie is about all of the faff of cyclocross for team mate Alan Dorrington and I as we covered the northern half of England in the final three rounds of British Cycling’s National Trophy series.

Yeah, we raced, too. But that was just for a few minutes every fortnight.

An amazing few years – thank you, Wheelbase

Wheelbase Cycling Team

I joined Team Wheelbase in 2005 and will be racing for another team very soon (more on that will follow shortly). It’s the strangest feeling to move on from wearing the black and green kit – there have been some amazing highlights in the last few years and I just wanted to reflect a little.

Basically, when I moved up to the north west again after living in Gloucestershire for ten years, I wanted a break from cycling clubs. I had worked pretty hard at times as a race organiser for a race secretary – as well as a bit of a domestique in road races (translation: I didn’t really get enough results so rode on the front a bit too much instead.) I moved here and said that I wasn’t going to join any club or team – but started to get into the top 5 in some local cyclocross races and suddenly felt like being part of things a bit more.

I joined the then “Wheelbase / Ron Hill” team in autumn 2005 and had to pinch myself riding alongside 3 peaks hero Rob Jebb as well as two team mates who have turned into real chums – Lewis Craven and Stuart Reid. I was the bottom of the pile but being part of a big name really motivated me. Some personal highlights that followed in the following years in my Wheelbase kit:

  • Recorded in a video diary on BBC Countryfile about the 3 peaks cyclocross
  • Won the North West Cyclocross League
  • Rode a few years of British Cycling National Trophy races – my highest position being 17th and the ultimate highlight witnessing Rob win the National Trophy at Bradford
  • Belting along Lakeland lanes, legs delving into the bottom of the sore drawer for the first 45 miles of the Fred Whitton Challenge with Lewis – stringing out 50 other rides, helping Rob to take the event record
  • Organising various races (mainly won by Stuart Reid!) including one in some fairly extreme snow.
  • Was on the podium as part of the winning team – and a gold medal from British Cycling for the National Cyclocross Championships in Birmingham
  • 9th place in the 3 peaks – my lifelong top ten ambition achieved
  • Various podium places in Lancashire’s rounds of the British Cycling Town Centre Criteriums, including a win in the support race in the Blackburn Grand Prix
Those are things that really stand out as highs but where I will miss things most is the craic – the banter – smalltalk, the overnighters in Premier Inn with three lads whining about how tomorrow’s race will be stuffed if they eat the wrong toast at breakfast… those are the things that made this a rounded, enjoyable experience.
Finally, Thank You to Toby, Billy, Matt and the other people who jetwashed my bikes whilst I waltzed round in the mud like a prima donna.

Derby National Trophy – the cyclocross season ends

Sunday was the last race in the 2009 Cyclocross National Trophy series, where I finished 21st overall… my best ever. It’s more a case of lies, damn lies and statistics though when you look at it. I gathered very steady points (apart from the first race in Abergavenny where I had a bit of a mechanical), and all around me people seemed to have poor or inconsistent seasons. Continue reading “Derby National Trophy – the cyclocross season ends”

Cyclocross National Trophy round 5, Rutland Water

Leaving the house for a day seemed even harder this time round given that Lily had spent almost all day in bed on Saturday and Elsie was up about six times on Saturday night… cyclocross is tough on family life this year for us and I haven’t been able to really get into the training as a result. However, Katie was quite on top of things at home when I left (even if I wasn’t) and once in the car I got my head into racing mode.

The course itself was just the best cyclocross course I’ve ridden in many ways. It was a good mix and required so much concentration from start to finish. The grass was slippy and muddy, but there was only one real short running section.

I also got on top of things right from the moment the gun went – holding my place (for a change) after the start and picking my way past a few riders on the technical sections – of which there were plenty. (So many people seem to use their brakes on these muddy courses on corners – losing time and making themselves skid!). The field was a lot better this time round too and it was nice to see Nick Craig, Oli Beckinsale and Ian Bibby back in the top cyclocrosses.

I finished pretty much where I normally finish in terms of positions – 24th – but in a larger field I know I did a bit more of a ride this time. It’s really odd though – preparation was dreadful in the two weeks before with almost no training and disturbed sleeps… I just don’t know how to predict these things any more! Lewis also did a blinding ride for 7th after similarly rubbish preparation (stomach bug!).

Cyclocross National Trophy round 4, Mallory Park

Things seem to be going along fine for me in the big cyclocrosses this year; nothing stunning happening but I feel that little bit stronger than last year and my training’s a bit more focused and targeted.

The Mallory Park venue has mixed memories for me; in 2006, I had just about my worst ever cyclocross race and started to question what I was doing it all for. In the 2007 race there I revelled in the filthy and freezing conditions to finish 24th and really chuffed not to be lapped by the flying foreigners at the race.

This year’s was a great new course with a series of really awkward adverse cambers and a sticky, wet grass course that became much more adhesive as the day wore on. I had a slightly dicky start, with someone hooking up their bike to my spokes, and as a result had a bit of a battle trying to pass a few people on the first lap. This in turn sent me into a bit of strength debt and I only settled in about ten mins into the race.

I stayed upright and rode well. The Cannondale CX9 was just a dream once again and I decided not to change bikes, as the mud was keeping out of my gears, etc.

The only down side was that I was lapped on the final lap by the French race winner who was on a bit of a flyer. Finishing @1 lap is never a nice feeling. I’m looking forward to being the one who’s doing the lapping next year again when i start to ride the NW trophy races again.

Results and British Cycling report here.

Cyclocross National Trophy 2008 round 3, Chantry Park, Ipswich

For the third year running, the National Trophy went to this rolling park on the western side of Ipswich, and my experiences there have been mixed. Thankfully, this was the best year for me and I’m in no doubt as to why; this year, we were given the gift of mud.

The course is so different in the slippy mud and although last year’s was slimey on much of the course, this year’s was a gloopy test on all of the course. Although I’m in no danger of rising up the ranks to take a surprise top ten or anything, I know what I like and what my riding style likes, and it’s brown, sticky and wet.

The course also had some interesting new features this year; a run-up with some makeshift steps (way too high each step but a nice thought!) and even a fancy bridge so the course could do a neat figure-eight in the paddock area.

I finished 23rd after a truly shocking start. The woods are a bit narrow and I was brought off on the first lap and then made my own errors panicking may way back up the field, meaning I was down in 35th or so after a lap. Once I settled in though, I started to make my way gradually past people and really enjoyed the course and the day out.

British Cycling’s report here.

National Trophy anticlimax!

It’s a bit of an odd one this year… I’ve been intensely focused on the preparation for the Three Peaks this year – almost always the first big race of the season, when all of a sudden, they add another National Trophy race to the calendar. Just on a weekend when i really should be trying to do three hour slogs up hill and down dale, I’m called upon to whip myself round a very fast circuit in boiling hot conditions for an hour. Whilst it’s great training and in itself a fantastic race, my heart’s not exactly in first-round-of-the-national-trophy mood.
Photo by Joolz Diamond

It was 23° when we set off at 2:15, but still a good warm-up was needed. I was glad I sweated it out on the turbo trainer for 20 mins beforehand as I found I got myself straight into racing. The new bike felt absolutely spot on and I got myself into – for me – a good position of 27th, as the race settled down. Rather than my normal feeling of resignation, I was keeping on chasing hard after the guys in front, and had only lost 20 seconds to team mate (and recent world firefighter road and MTB cycling champion!) Stuart 20 mins into the race when it all went pear-shaped. I flung it too hard into a fast corner and braked too late. The resulting broadside skid yanked my tyre off the rim and with the pits a seemingly endless half lap away from me, I did my best to keep my spirits up whilst running with the bike on my shoulder. When I eventually got to the pits I’d dropped 14 valuable places and was almost in last place.

Image by Joolz DiamondI kept slogging away however, and used the rest of the race to keep myself in training – taking in valuable technical experiments with various cornering lines etc, whilst the inevitable lapping came with ten minutes from the end.

Never mind.. 6 hours in the car for 50 minutes’ racing and a poor result, but nevertheless an enjoyable day. Six days til the biggie.