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11.002 – A brief history of Cyclocross and a big badda boom

Everything went quiet and slowed down as I took off, flying through the air I sensed everything was about to get interesting! I’d been blinded to the three strips of ice that preceded the hard left-hand corner, by the van which had overtaken me in the right-hand kink, on the wrong side of the road. I was well set up for the corner, with my weight over the back of the bike when the front wheel went really light. The rear started to come around but I’d just about saved it by the time I hit the second patch of black ice. This time the bike jolted down the fall line toward the inside of the corner and it took all of my strength to wrench the front end back up. To be honest the first I knew about that third strip of ice, was after my flight and subsequent landing, whilst sliding on my hip and elbow, looking back at the corner and trying not to get in the way of my now cart wheeling bike! Thankfully no one was driving in the other direction because I slid all the way to the ditch on the other side of the road (about 8 or 9 metres as the bike rider flies)! I’ve fallen off my bike before, but this really was quite a way to start a Monday morning at work!

But you know what they say about horses and getting back on them, so I commuted all week and included a run home on Friday night – my first since yuletide! It felt good to be running again and one week on from the crash I felt strong again – Doctor Kevin had done a fine job on my elbow, my cold had all but gone and my legs felt about the best they have done in January for three years. I put a couple of very pleasing, consistent laps of my local training loop together on the Saturday along with some good pyramids on the Sunday and with one week until Wilmington I was back in the game.

But form and good legs are fickle mistresses and I’ve got to say my Monday night training session ended up being the scariest, most stupid ride I’ve been on for as long as I can remember. Take note: A slick tyred (hard and completely devoid of any cuts!) singlespeed mountain bike in a rainy rush hour, with not enough light, too much glare and standing water, is easily the quickest way to A&E and I count every one of my lucky stars that none of the countless scares or moments became anything worse. A good example was when I found myself descending at 25% into the darkness, trying to memorise where the drain covers were as the car coming the other way shone his full beam at my rain spattered glasses, so that the only warning of the upcoming corner was the faint dark shadows of the Armco that rose up through the black puddles that lined the bumpy off camber tarmac. I now have a new understanding for what the dictionary defines as fear!

Back to the dirt! I spent the next five days training by running to build my fitness, and biking along a disused railway to build my strength. I hate turbo trainers or anything similar with a passion so I decided the time would be better spent on my singlespeed. After a day off I fixed up last year’s race bike for the last couple of cyclocross races of the season – always a good place to build strength and fitness for cross country racing in the summer.

Cyclocross is completely unique in bike racing and is a survivor of cycling’s past. Way back, only the minority of roads were metalled and therefore turned into rutted, bumpy and muddy tracks when winter came around. Back then a bike was a bike and resembled what we think of as a road bike – mountain bikes were a mere twinkle in Gary Fisher’s Grandfathers eye! So when the weather turned foul, the men (who in those days were men) beefed up their bikes with bigger brakes and lower gears. Soon enough the first winter specific bikes were produced with more clearance and tighter angles and when someone first challenged someone else to a muddy short course race, cycle cross (cyclo x) was born.

Nowadays cyclo x is a big money sport in Europe with pro’s being on big money contracts, some of whom never even race on the road for the big pro teams that sponsor them, it’s taken very seriously. Last week our national champs saw guys like Jody Crawforth and Paul Oldham fighting for not just the British champion jersey and the glory on the day, but also the chance to go to the World Championships and race against the likes of Sven Nys  this weekend.

This meant that my race, the 13th and penultimate round of the London League, would be hard fought. Ok, Jody and Paul were off playing in Europe, but everybody else was on fire and from the gun I was desperate to stay on the wheels of the guys who were good tacticians. In cyclo x, like in road racing, the fastest riders were not always the strongest and so, whilst a few guys raced elbow to elbow at the front, I stayed in the main group, conserving my energy. The race was an hour plus a lap and 20 minutes in, our tactic began to pay off as some very tired legged riders, first came back to us and then promptly fell out the back of the pack. With 45 minutes gone I began winding my legs up and took advantage of my technical ability in the woods whilst merely holding station on the flat bits, meaning that I could easily get through the group. On the last lap I went as hard as I could and made up some very valuable places. Not quite as good as first last time out in Devon, but to be honest, with the form some of my peers were showing, and the sheer volume of riders in the race, I was over the moon with that result.

Thanks as always to Cotswold Outdoor for putting me on the start line, to Schwalbe who help to try and keep me upright on any surface and to Adidas for replacing the clothing that the road surface makes holes in. My thanks must also go to Doctor Kevin this month, who patched me up when I dragged my second hand body into work that Monday morning. I owe you a beer!


G x

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