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Glorious mud…

| Blog, Cycling Plus | 03/12/2012 13:10pm

Cycling Plus doctor and former member of Team Cycling Plus, Andy Ward, tells us about his latest attempt at the ‘cross scene…

Cyclocross… where have you been all my life? Only two and a half months ago, the joys of ‘cross racing were completely foreign to me. Now, a “veteran” of three events, I’m totally hooked. My first two forays were great fun, but last weekend saw me take part in the most enjoyable race I’ve ever competed in. My previous criterium, hill climbs and time trials all had their attractions, but they all missed one vital ingredient that Saturday provided in spades: good, old-fashioned, British mud.
My first two cyclocross races had provided a bit of a skewed view of the sport. They were exhausting, challenging and enormous fun, but they both took part in unseasonably dry weather – as one spectator commented, what they needed was more mud. Search on Google for photos of the best ‘cross racers, and you’ll find plenty of them coated from head to toe in dirt. Cyclocross is a winter sport – those bikes have a lot of clearance round the wheels for a reason.
Round 10 of the Notts and Derby cyclocross league at Sinfin Moor looked likely to provide plenty of the sticky gloopy stuff as soon as Britain suffered torrential rain, gale force winds and extensive flooding 48 hours before the event. A quick browse on the Derby Mercury forum on Friday revealed that the finishing straight was under 6 inches of water with just 24 hours to go. A brief respite in the downpours gave some hope and nowhere was the idea of cancelling the event mooted. Cyclocross racers are apparently made of sturdy stuff. When Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny it made up my mind, I was going to race.
When I was a member of Team Cycling Plus, I was able to take advantage of the advice of coach Joe Beer. One thing he drilled into me was the importance of pre-race preparation. Get your gear ready early, leave in plenty of time, get your nutrition right, warm-up well and scout the course. All good advice and all of it went out of the window on Saturday. Leaving at the last minute, I was halfway to the motorway before I realised I’d left my wallet at home complete with race licence and entry fee. A few choice words, a couple of U-turns and I was back on my way, the sat-nav optimistically giving me an estimated time of arrival 15 minutes before the start of the race. The sunshine of the morning was long gone as I approached Derby, horizontal rain now predominating. A glance at the flood plains of the River Trent as I made my way along the A50 made me question my sanity in pressing on, “flood” being the operative word. Arriving at Sinfin, I pulled on my kit and cycled straight to the sign on. After a bit of help pinning my number on, and an embarrassing incident when I managed to rip one of the course marker ribbons, I joined the crowd on the start line just as we were called forward. So much for warming up and scouting the course – that’d be the first lap then!
My coaching manual says that getting a good start is all important in cyclocross. So far, I’ve always managed to get stuck at the very back and my late arrival meant this was no exception. 130 riders all arriving at a narrow, steep slope at more or less the same time leads to an inevitable amount of queuing – an odd concept in any race. Still, the slowing effect of the traffic gave me time to get used to the course and get my legs moving. Across playing fields, through woodland, up and down a few steep banks with a couple of hurdles thrown in for good measure, I was finding the riding entertaining if challenging. The expected mud really was copious and keeping traction took all my concentration – especially on the sharp bends and off camber descents. Some slopes were beyond far stronger riders than me and so I was beginning to become a bit of a dab hand at carrying the bike – once or twice I even shouldered it! Despite all that, I was really enjoying myself – steadily moving through the field and getting better at some of the more technical sections as the laps ticked off.

The weather was really deteriorating now, but I hardly noticed it as I got into a battle for position with a small group of riders of similar ability. The race leaders were starting to lap us, coping with the slippery conditions with apparent ease. I decided to learn from them and successfully followed the line taken by one rider as he tackled a slope that had beaten me on every previous lap – dropping some of my opposition in the process. Approaching the finish I gave everything on the final slope to get ahead of my nearest rival, holding my position on a tricky descent and burying myself in a sprint for…. 91st place.
Cold, wet, exhausted and absolutely covered in mud – I couldn’t stop smiling.
There’s a video of the race here.

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