11.019 – Time to get Cross
Cross. Maximum heart rate, basic rigid framed road bike, partly off road, partly hard pack gravel, throw in a load mud, some knobbly tyres, cantilever brakes and lots of mud and chill for one hour. You’re probably thinking that it sounds awful – you’re right.
What happened to the Summer? It feels like a month ago when I had fifteen odd races booked up and a fresh pair of legs. We’ve had our fair share of British weather and lady luck has shown her face once or twice, but it’s time to service the XC bike now and hang it up for the winter – it’s now time to get cross.
I was supposed to be racing the last round of the National Points XC Series this weekend, but it’s been a long season and I felt that I’d got what I wanted from the Newnham race track. Also the long drive down to Plymouth didn’t make much sense as I’m not fighting for an overall position in that championship this year so I opted to drop in on Brighton and get some practice on my cross bike in the third round of the London League.
The London Cyclocross League is one of the best and most hard fought cross series in the UK. The sport started early in the 20th century as a way for road racers to sustain their fitness through the winter, often on very poorly conditioned roads in France, Belgium, Holland and the UK at the time. They modified their bicycles with more clearance for the brakes and treaded tyres. Much more recently the mountain bike has meant that many off road riders are able to ride the same bike all year round, but cyclocross has maintained its appeal in the road fraternity thanks to its speed, excitement, traditional values and close racing. If you’ve never seen it take a look, or better yet come and be a spectator – you won’t be let down. It’s also a great day out for the family as all ages are made welcome.
The race this week takes place in Happy Valley, just outside Woodingdean, near Brighton. As with many of the cross races it’s based in a park, the difference this week was that unusually for cyclocross there were no obstacles and no change of surface. It was very hot, one hundred per cent grass and only included four and a half climbs, so it would definitely not favour a mountain biker who likes to spend hours in the rain and mud! It was a flat out road race and my summer enduro bike was never going to work…so I needed a new bike!
Luckily Kona have built simply the best cross bikes in the world bar none for many years now. The Jake project takes its name Jacob Heilbron, one of the two top dogs at Kona. It’s a project that is deep within the very heart of the company which itself is more of a family. See, Kona do things a little differently from most – they aren’t afraid to experiment and only build bikes that they themselves ride. For instance, a modern 1 1/8th inch headset on their steel framed road bike would make sense structurally and cost less to machine, but one of the guys in the office who’s idea the bike was, just thought that a 1 inch headset was more in keeping with the bike and that it would look nicer, so that’s what they went with! That’s rare in such money driven times, but it’s why Kona riders love to ride their bikes whilst other riders just pedal machines. Oh, and the steel framed road bike with the wrong size head tube?…sold out three years running now!
I got to the race site early on Sunday, went to sign on and was given plate eight – had to be a good sign right? My first practice lap confirmed all my worst fears and after my twelve hour epic last week I didn’t really feel like a flat out road race, but I went through all my normal pre race routine anyway and hoped for the best.
The race started with lots of faffing around, but eventually we were all gridded and ready – the gun went and I started as I would in an XC race taking two or three riders straight away, before my chain came off and startled everyone around me. I kept my cool and down shifted to get everything back where it should be and when I looked up I hadn’t really lost any ground, so I knocked it back into the big ring and powered round the outside of as many riders as I dared into the first turn.
The pace seemed low for the first two laps so I figured I’d make some hay, passing many of the riders who’d been gridded ahead of me. There were a couple of riders on my tail, but I didn’t really mind doing the work. In fact when I did make them come through on lap three they just held position, so I figured I’d let them get me through the wind on the back straight and then leave them behind, which is what I did. The final part of the lap included the only climbs and everyone seemed to be struggling with the short steep switchbacks, so I gunned it and left the other two behind.
For the next two or three laps I knew I had to hold my pace a little if I was to have anything left for the end so I merely picked one or two riders off per lap. Some faster guys were lapping at exactly the same speed because I saw them at the same point in each lap so I knew I was riding well. I was also keeping my eye on a very strong Crawley Wheelers rider just behind me and together we held position until three laps to go.
This was when I had to pull the pin, so I popped a carb gel as the Crawley Wheelers rider came through, he knew that to beat me he’d have to go straight away, which is what he did, but since the start he’d been the only rider to come past me so that didn’t really matter. With one lap to go I had a few riders stacking up behind me so I raced the entire lap flat out. I didn’t even look behind I just went on maximum attack. I must have made it past three, four or even five riders on that crazy lap including a Lewes Wanderers rider in a sprint finish at the end. I was going so fast I even managed to hold the wheel of the third place rider for about half a kilometre as he came past with about half the lap to go.
I scraped into the top third of the results which was what I was hoping for with a 33rd place finish out of 99 top class cross riders, which had made all the effort on the bike worthwhile. The bike that I’d re-built from two years ago had taken a lot of time to craft into a competitive machine and I’d only had limited testing time with it. It was only finished with two days to go and only tested with one day in hand, but one thing was for sure – when I needed to, I could more than count on Jake.
Thank-you to the guys and girls at Preston Park Cycle Club who put such a great event on and to everyone at Kona for building fast stuff with their hearts – long may it continue.
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