The weekend was a mix of emotions, being overwhelmed with the whole experience and racing, which for a middle aged guy is saying something. Last year went I went to see the Tour de France in the Alps, that was a 'wow' feeling, this was different, more absorbing, I was part of it, even if it was just a little. I think at the end of the weekend I had a great regret, I wanted more and would have to wait another whole year.
So to the race. Simply put it was muddy, with some mud and a bit more mud and a touch of tarmac, and a sandy bit. Even in drier conditions I would not have performed well as there were some tricky cambers and bends where I would have struggled. Before our race started I watched the senior vets perform and was impressed again by the quality and speed of these guys! However this and the other races just resulted in the course becoming more cut up and gloopy! It was thick mud that stuck and clogged your bike.
I met up with a friend I had corresponded with for a number of years on a running forum, but had never met in the flesh. So together we set off to do a lap, and half-way round, our bikes were covered with wheels unable to turn. I headed to the pits where Ewa and my brother were helping out with bike cleaning. We started to clean mine down to make it a bit more workable. I have to describe the pits, it looked like Napoleon's retreat from Moscow! Thick deep mud and pooling water, a fine mist of spray from the jet-wash's and a constant drone of engines. Minions clothed in water-proofs busied about, some with grimaces, but most seemed to be enjoying it.
'Twenty minutes to the start' went the announcer, better make a move then. I should have moved quicker! I missed my gridding by about a minute! Mistake number 1! I heard a name of a guy who was not riding and sneaked past the Commissaire. I was at least 3-4 rows further back from where I should have been, I looked behind, not many behind me, shit! You fool!
So let's get the race over with, bang went the gun, whoosh went the hitters, bimble went us at the back! First right hand corner, carnage in the mud and water! I manged to go far out to the right and miss most of it and pass a few. Through the pits and into the woods and the first run up, I zipped up on the left, missed a crunch of riders, passed about 10 on the left and BAM! Someone from the right swerved in the mud and took me out into the tap and down I went! All that effort was wasted as all those riders came past me again. And that was basically the story of the race. Lots of running, in fact I ran too much in hindsight, preferring to stay safe rather than risk a wipe out on the greasy cambers. Well who's to know? The whole race was all about finding a fast line, powering through it taking a few riders and then falling off and going back again! I was like snakes and ladders on a bike, just too many serpents heads for me. I fell when running, I fell when riding, I fell in the sand! My last fall was the worst, in all that gloop at the pits my right foot jammed in the mud and I went 'arse-over-tit' head first into the mud, my calf cramped and I struggled to get up on one leg! Honestly!
Well I finished my first national champs for 21 years and ended up 38th, round about where I expected, and 15th in my age group (45-49), respectable. Nick Craig from Team Scott won the event, nearly lapping me in the process, I could hear him approaching from behind with the commentary. I should mention the sterling work of my 'support team', Ewa and Alan in the pits and having my bike ready every lap, and to Gillian (Alan's wife) and my daughter Zofia for being at the start and finish with warm clothing. Zofia also took these photos as well! And finally all the shouts and encouragement from the CXNE supporters!
We stayed over for the night and had a great time with the folks from CXNE talking and drinking all night. Then up early to watch the racing on Sunday which was great fun. However all I could gleam from watching the hitters race was that they are fitter, faster and way way better than me.
So what did I conclude from all this? I'm too fat, way too fat. Planning helps and knowing the routines at the bigger races. There are a hell of a lot of guys and gals out there taking this damn serious, with all the kit and team back up and a very good level of fitness! I need to up my game over the summer. If you are competing at this level you need 2 bikes and they really need to be exactly the same. I noticed a massive difference between mine two, in weight when carrying and in grip. The Dugast tubs on my good wheels are so much better in the mud, especially at low pressure and I am now riding at much lower pressures and feeling confident about it. And that is the problem when racing on a budget, you have to compromise. Should I have a set of really good carbon wheels and an average pair on the spare bike, or spread the cost over 2 decent pairs? I think the the former, you generally ride the good bike the most and that is where the expensive wheels need to be.
Next race? CXNE round 14 at Durham on Sunday.
So 2015 Champs? Leaner, meaner and faster! Training starts now.
Yer just gotta get back up and carry on......
Finished at last, 38th overall, 15th in my age group.
Nick Craig took another vets title, and went on to take bronze in the senior race the following day. Some athlete!
Our photos of the national cross champs.