Surviving the Cyclocross…

Western League Cyclocross Round 4 Cheltenham and Round 6 Hengrove

So another 2 rounds of cyclocross have happened and I’m starting to see a bit of a trend! It hurts every time I ride and I don’t mean in the saddle area! I knew it was going to be physically demanding on the legs but the lungs are getting the real workout.

Round 4 at Cheltenham wasn’t my best, unbeknown to me I was competing with a viral infection and as I just mentioned, lung capacity goes a long way in this sport. My legs were heavy and I just went backwards from the start which ironically was my best ever. I was probably in the top dozen riders going into the first turn but faded from there… Eventually finishing in 27th out of a field of only 43 riders in my category, disappointed and wondering why the engine hadn’t worked and I felt completely wiped out. The following day was a write off and so began a 2 week layoff due to illness. Not ideal prep for the league, so Round 5 came and went as I was too ill to compete.

Round 6 at Hengrove was a better result and even though I’m still not 100% I can see a little bit of improvement creeping in. Maybe the 2 week lay off has done me good? The course at Hengrove was flat with only a small section of technical riding in the woods for about 200m. I normally don’t like these courses as the stronger riders tend to power away from me on the flat parts of the course and I catch them in the technical areas due to my mtb skills. That said I did alright and seemed to hold my own on the flatter sections of the course this time even using the tarmac section leading into the woods as an ideal place to take some places. Arguably I had my worst start this season, getting swamped into the first corner and coming out of the melee somewhere in the 40’s! The first lap then consisted of being caught up in bottlenecks at every corner. This resolved itself after the first lap and a bit of space was starting to appear allowing for easier overtakes (more of this later)! The next couple of laps went without incident and I continued to pick places up as we lapped round.

On about lap 4 an individual tried a rather optimistic overtake on the inside of a 180 degree corner, pushing his way up the inside, failing to stop and then falling over right in front of me. All momentum lost we both lost places which we’d fought so hard to gain. The choice to overtake there was ludicrous and also the shout of ‘rider right’ when there was only space for 1 rider was also ridiculous, but some believe that by just shouting, riders should automatically move out of the way (more of this later).

So once I was back on and riding again I steadily picked up a couple of more places over the next lap, then I was aware of a rider behind who was sitting on and he had another rider behind him as well. So for the next lap or so I dragged these 2 around, I could see them on the switchbacks and they were evidently lining me up for an overtake on the last lap. We entered the last lap and I was waiting for the overtake, maybe I could sit on them for a lap (1 of the riders poked his wheel up the inside of a couple of corners which I shut down immediately and then took a defensive line into the next corner or so). As it happens as we entered onto the 300m tarmac section before the final technical tree section I was still ahead and I could see a rider just in front of me. This was my chance to get into the trees before my 2 followers and get the slower rider in between us. I timed it to perfection hearing the shouts of ‘rider left’ and ‘rider right’ behind me followed by ‘not here mate its only big enough for 1’… I thought you’ve got this, but I’d put myself in the red trying to get into the woods first so had to try and recover knowing that once out of this section they were both going to be gunning for me. As we entered into the last 400m, the rider who had been sitting on us both shouted ‘rider left’ and tried to come up my inside (there was no space as I was riding on the racing line next to the tape). He shouted again and next thing I knew he was elbowing me and leaning on me in order to get me out of the way! This I wasn’t happy with and followed him over the 3 wooden boards before remounting and turning up the inside of him and overtaking him (off the racing line in the thick grass and without shouting ‘rider left’ ) getting into the last corner first and sprinting 50m and beating him to the line.

It felt like a victory (it wasn’t) but at the time I’d won my little battle to finish 24th out of 53. The interesting thing was that the rider who’d muscled his way past me didn’t hang around to shake hands, but the other rider who was sitting on for a lap said he saw the incident and was in agreement  with me that I hadn’t done anything wrong.

On reflection the race was a good one and I really enjoyed the tactical element, however I still believe that when you’re racing for position (regardless of whereabouts in the race) you shouldn’t  just have to give up the racing line just so another rider can move past (different if you’re being lapped by the race leaders). I believe that if they want to pass me then pass me fairly on the outside (or inside as long as you stay upright). In no other sport would you see another competitor move out of the way to allow another rider, runner, car or motorbike past so why would you expect that in cyclocross!

So I’m learning with every race and if I look at the results from Round 4 and see the individuals who I am now competing against and beating I would of been inside the top 20 in that race. That said conditions vary as do the courses and so do the riders and thats why cyclocross is fun!!!!

Get involved and maybe I’ll see you and be shoulder to shoulder with you in the next race battling for position!

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