Monday, 1 October 2012

cx western league round 2 - race report

i completed my second ever cyclocross race yesterday.  my first was at one of the western leagues summer series events back in may where i managed to finish 13th out of 23 starters.  today was a little different in that there were possibly double the number of riders and unlike the previous race the course at purdown in bristol features one hell of a steep muddy hill which really did split the men from the boys.  i will put myself in the second category there.

it was not an ideal race day start with a 5am wake up call from my lovely 14 month old daughter.  i did however manage to fit in another hours sleep between then and the race followed by a bowl of porridge, plenty of water and a couple of shots of espresso.  last time i raced i downed a bottle of sports drink immediately prior to the race thinking it would provide much needed energy which it may have done, but i paid for it big time afterwards with stomach ache for the remainder of the evening. I was not going to make to same mistake twice so kept the nutrition familiar and very simple.

yesterday's venture into the world of cyclocross was a family affair with both betty and bella joining me on my trip to the race. upon arrival i hastily signed in, paid my £11 fee, and headed out on my sighting lap followed by a 10 minute spin on the rollers.  the sighting lap really did bring home the difficulty of the course which was actually ok apart from a bloody great big long steep muddy hill.  i am sure the courses in belgium are not that hilly!  maybe not but this is england where the hills are a little bigger than the lowlands and all i could do was consider what strategy i should adopt.  i settled on survival.

at the start line fellow velo club walcot team mate mike and i got ourselves as far to the front as we could figuring that every little bit of help would count.  at approximately 11.30am the starter waved his flag and shouted go, we were off.  the start is always highly pressurised as there are riders all around with plenty chomping at the bit to get past.  i managed to hold a reasonable position as the group immediately started to string out into a long snaking line.

although i started off hard i made sure i had just a little extra in reserve, drawing on experience from running events i have raced in the past i figured i would pass a few people later down the line as their strength waned.  i also did not really have a choice but to hold back with the big hill hitting us like a muddy wall almost straightaway.  i rode up it's grassy base as far as i could go before dismounting, placing my bike over my shoulder and slowly jogging to the top, then a quick remount and onto the pedals for a couple of flatter sections of single track. 

the course then led us down into a lower field, around a tree before heading back up into one of the previous fields and a dip down into a technical narrow wooded section full of mud and gnarled tree roots.  mike had advised me to push hard through this section and to not use the breaks which i did successfully. momentum and traction carried me through unscathed for the entire race.  once out of the woods there were a couple of fairly quick grassy sections with a few turns bringing us back to the start line before it all started again with the dreaded hill.

with the race half completed i realised i had forgotten to start my computer so do not know exactly how long it took to do a lap although i calculated it to be roughly between 6 and 8 minutes.  my perceived effort level, no heart rate monitor either (fancy shipping me a new one, garmin?), was somewhere close to absolute maximum for virtually the entire race.  there were a couple of sections that allowed for slight recuperation but i would not be surprised if my average heart rate was close to max threshold at just over 180bpm.  that is a shit load of effort for nearly an hours racing and something i will have to get my body used to through more racing, hard training sessions do not come close enough.

i had found myself to be alone for a large share of the race with riders either intermittently passing me or me passing them.  there were also some occasions where there was a small group of between two and four of us battling each putting in hard bursts with the intention of dropping each other wherever we could.  i found myself identifying key points on the course i favoured as the best places to overtake.  my primary overtaking point was near the top of the muddy hill where i passed riders on a number of occasions at a surreal slow motion walking / slow jog pace, the gradient not allowing for anything more, except for the few who continued riding up the damn thing for the entire race.  i thought i was fit but wow some people are on a completely different level, impressive.

i started to feel some relief when the bell rang for the final lap, i pushed on as hard as i could although i did manage to get overtaken by another rider who i had overtaken early but who had managed to hang on to my wheel.  he shot off past me as we remounted after the hill and was gone. i thought bloody hell where did that burst of energy come from?  i was not going to catch him and looked back to see if anyone was behind me. there was one other person not too far behind but i was determined to hold my position.  i pushed hard where i could and focused on the technical sections and corners.  as i arrived close to the line i could see somebody else slowing down and i raced as hard as i could and think i may have lost out to him by a wheel length.

race over i collapsed on the floor gasping for air.  a few minutes later and a little more composed i felt good, the race had been a great experience and we were all lucky with the weather being dry.  my goals for the day had really been to learn and to try to not fall off, this was only my second race after all.  i certainly achieved my goals, with every race being a learning experience i am sure i will continue to see technical improvements in the way i race my bike and i did not fall off!  i know that is a goal though that i will sooner or later fail on.  no matter,  in hindsight i can say it was a fun experience and one that i will look forward to experiencing again albeit in a different guise when i race at round 5 of the western league in stroud on 21 october.  before then though there is the velo club walcot hill climb to contend with!

i do not know my race result yet as i am still waiting for british cycling to update their site.  as soon as they have i will post the result here.

(* 03/10/12 - Finished 28th from 46 starters. 8th in the vet 40-49 category)


Andy said...

Great write up Jason and great pictures Betty, captures the spirit of 'cross perfectly. Accessible, Hard but Fun ;-)

The four leaders were shifting incredibly quickly, sub 5 minute laps mostly, they lapped everyone at least once.

Purdown is one of the great 'traditional' cross courses - a scrubby bit of land close to the city with a nice steep bank that (for most of us) means a dismount and run up.

I remember about 10 years ago, one particulatly miserably wet and cold Sunday.. a young Welsh woman showed up from 'over the bridge'. She proceeded to tear off the front, open an unassailable lead and won by minutes. Turned out she was called 'Nicole Cooke' ;-)

Jason said...

Hi Andy,

Many thanks for leaving a comment and what a great story. I can just imagine Nicolle ripping the legs off everyone. I bet she didn't have any need to dismount!

Do you race in the Western league?


Andy said...

Me again, you might have heard that Bristol City Council are effectively preventing Purdown and other courses being used for CX racing :-( More news here

No me racing this year sadly, I had a major 'off' at the end of March and am only just back riding. Hope to be back next year though :-)