Day 1: Redgrave
I tried to give myself a bit more time for my drive up to Redgrave at the weekend, remembering my last journey to Diss, when I skidded our overheating campervan into the car park with 5 minutes to spare. I made the race – just – but, without the benefit of a pre-ride, I missed a corner on the first lap and by the time I’d doubled-back my race was over…
Never one to learn from my mistakes, I left the house later than I’d planned on this occasion, too – but this time, it saved the day. An accident on the M11 saw the road close as we approached the Stansted junction, meaning we were just able to veer off the motorway (carefully, and observing the mirror, signal, manoeuvre protocol), narrowly avoiding what looked like an all-day type of traffic jam.
We rolled sedately into the car park this time and had plenty of time to scope out the course and the cakes before the whistle blew.
The Redgrave course is great, but if you were to look at the venue before the red and white tape gets rolled out – a perfectly pleasant village playing field – you’d be hard pressed to imagine it being used for a cross race. Somehow, though, the organisers (Diss CC) weave their course-marking magic and conjure up a million off-camber bends and enough can I?/can’t I? challenges to keep us entertained and working hard. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love this course.
Paul Groombridge (Push Sport/Barford Van Hire) made a customary fast start and had us worried for a lap as we fought to stay on his wheel. But things calmed down quickly and, just after the hurdles on lap 2 I decided to have a go, passing Paul and my teammate, Roger Maidment, and taking the lead just before the off-camber sections.
Photo: Stuart Ashwell
Roger was on his Crossley Metal single speed, as was Ben Lewis – and the two of them were struggling to keep their momentum up through the switchbacks. Single speed bikes are great when it’s muddy, but when it’s mainly dry and there’s lots of stop/start turns, things get tough when you don’t have options…
With the benefit of all the gears, I managed to get a lead and was able to eke it out over the course of the subsequent laps, taking the win just ahead of Roger, with Ben in 3rd place. As we warmed down afterwards, I tried riding some of the course using the gear that Ben was pushing for the whole race. I’m not sure I’d have finished, let alone come third.
This was our third Eastern League 1-2-3 in as many weeks and my 6th win of the season.
Day 2: Gravesend
The fourth round of the HSBC National Trophy took place at the Cyclopark in Gravesend on Sunday and, although one race in a weekend is usually enough for me, when a BIG race is on your doorstep you really have to make the most of it.
Gary Lingard and I arrived early so we could soak up some of that big race atmosphere and to get some much needed practise; It was a phenomenal course, ridiculously difficult in places, rewarding technique, bravery and a good tyre choice.
Ben, Gary and I all got a good start and found ourselves inside the top ten as we hit the first of the technical challenges, a steep off camber bank that immediately wiped out any advantage that I’d gained from a good starting sprint. I couldn’t get into the only rut that was available at the top of the bank, so I slid to the bottom, where I shuffled along using my bike as a zimmer frame, trying to mitigate the damage done by other riders as they slid down too. The whole sorry spectacle can be seen here. Lack of technique: punished.
After this little episode things improved and I started to take back some of the places I’d lost. Ben was having a storming race and I could see him up ahead, battling for 3rd, with cyclocross legend Nick Craig on his wheel! My teammate had his gears on today, and he certainly seemed to be using them. Competing at the sharp end of a Trophy race is quite an achievement.
On I went, gaining a place here, losing a place there. Things were drying out and I was getting a handle on the trickier bits, improving as I learnt the lap, but becoming more ragged in places too, as fatigue began to kick in. The cheering of my kids and my wife gave me a boost each time I climbed to the top of the course, but the legs were fading on the long drag up from the far side and I was looking forward to the bell lap.
Ben was behind me now, an incident up front having put him onto the tarmac, and we started the final lap together. Smoothly round some back markers, hit the steepest climb hard and – pop – the familiar sinking feeling of carbon rim on flattened latex on rutted soil. Just two corners left and onto the finish line with lungs and legs burning as I run the bike home, Ben ahead now but pausing at the line as I cross and slump to the floor. He’s waited and let me finish ahead. ‘Can’t take a team mates place on a puncture so close to the line’. What a gent!
7th for me, 8th for Ben and 18th for Gary in his first National Trophy race since 2011
A big race is a thrill, but the added buzz of riding better than I’d hoped has given me a much-needed kick up the chamois for the last few weeks of the season. Maybe I’ll have a crack at the National Championships after all.
Regional Championships this weekend.