Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Cult Racing MegaCross

Only my second cross race of the year, and one where it would be all to easy to make a James Naughtie mistake with the title sponsors. Rachel's thoughts on the experience can be found on here new blog here. My report from the men's race later in the afternoon is below:

Having cheered Rachel along, and even found time to take some fairly terrible pictures whilst wolfing down some Shotbloks (my, what a nutritious lunch i hear you say!), it was all too soon my turn to take to the freezing start line. A small, but “elite” (in BC report parlance) group of ‘crossers assembled on the front row, clearly the appeal of driving to Bradford for a kicking hadn’t been sufficient to keep them from the real competition. After last year’s competitive lay-off between September and March, i’ve been keen not to stop the racing juices completely over the winter months this year, and so took to the line with a mixture of apprehension and satisfaction. I had a hard act to follow, however, with Rachel almost doing a “Spud” and winning her first race for the team!

The commissaire kindly pointed out where we would be going on the first lap, making a particular point to talk loudly and slowly to the non-locals (that was most of us!), and then gave us five minutes warning. Five minutes. Crap – white knees exposed to the winter breeze, the skinsuit was doing nothing for my core temperature when standing next to a frozen lake. I tried to distract myself with memories of Gran Canaria until the whistle went, and i was off for my “lull them into a false sense of security” start (patent pending). Sure enough, i got ritually elbowed out of the way, and ended up some way back of the leading group, engaged in a good battle for the higher single-figure placings. I had ridden around the course and knew that i would be less strong on the “field of tea cups” section at the back of the course – luckily with elbows out and shouts of “it’s just my riding style” i managed to hold position until a cheeky passing manoeuvre from a Cambridge Uni rider woke me up. Not being ready to cede a position to an upstart from my alma mater, i gave what i like to think was a spirited chase. Thankfully for me, he blew before i did, and i picked him off on one of the increasingly greasy and unrideable bank sections.

Coming into the final lap, it was a case of trying to stem the rot, and i quickly became aware of a rider closing fast. In a panic caused mainly by lack of racing, i tried in vain to ride him off my wheel (bad plan) rather than sitting up and forcing him to take up the pace to the line (better plan). He passed me on the draggy grass in the final straight, and i didn’t have the heart to spoil his day (cough cough cough). 9th place was actually a lot better than i was expecting, but i was disappointed to be beaten by a man sporting a fantastically unfetching blue cat-suit. Justifiably perhaps, i received further friendly “abuse” for this on finishing, unable to return fire through the chilling air in my lungs.

Once again i seem to have blinked and missed the 'cross season almost entirely; i had originally had planned to blow the winter cobwebs off with a blast around the Rutland National Trophy, but given that the Belgies tend to turn up to this one i figured i wouldn't get value for money racing around for two laps before being pulled. So i'll be relegated to pit crew and tub-gluer for Rachel for that one, and put what little racing form i have into the last round of the Eastern League at Ipswich on January 2nd.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


I am 28 years old. Since the age of five, barring the last eighteen months, i have been in education; a dedicated task you might think, but i would disagree. At the age of sixteen, it was clear to me that i would be an historian, or possibly a journalist as a career. By seventeen, i had decided that i could change the world for the better by devoting my life to chemistry. On to university, and the endless memorising of rules, coupled with a complete inability to do practical science without spilling things made for a hasty exit, stage left, from the world of chemistry. Through the next archway i stepped, into the cosy world of mathematics, where the only hazard was over-sharp pencils. Unable to even contemplate the impossible infinity of careers that lay ahead of me, i kept going, doing a masters in applied maths, and then a PhD in string theory, each step in a different direction, leading nowhere but taken for the journey, not the destination.

At some point during my early time at university, having been the fat wheezy kid with a note from his mum at school, i decided i would make life more challenging by trying sport. I started with that most Cambridge of beginnings, rowing. And i sucked. Big time. It almost came as a relief when a crash with another boat left me unable to row, and once again i could exorcise the serial malcontent within by trying something else new. I blew what remained of my student loan on a shiny new road bike sitting in the window of the local bike shop, the neat, slick tyres, the tidy sweep of the handlebars appealed to the perfectionist in me. With no idea where i was going, my first few rides turned into grim marches through the windswept fens to the north of Cambridge, where the best reward for an hour’s slog into the wind was ten minutes with it at your back. I loved the purity of the effort, and the freedom it gave, but something was still missing.

And so it was that one afternoon, a few weeks into my fledgling attempts at cyclesport, my next door neighbour pointed out my error. “Looks like a nice bike, buddy, but the wheels are too big, and the tyres are too slick. Take it back, and see if you can get a proper bike”. And so it was that i bought my first mountain bike. The two of us rode out to the local woods, Ash the knowledgeable and competent dirt jumper, and me feeling very much like a fish out of water. In that first session, i managed to crash twice, bending my brake lever and causing my front wheel to resemble a pringle. I spent the rest of the week walking to lectures with a rather uncool swagger from the haematoma spreading over my left leg. But i was hooked – i had become that oddest of beasts, the Fenland mountain biker.

Over the last decade that i have lived here, as you might have gathered from my introduction, things have come and gone in my life, and yet bikes have remained remarkably constant. I have dabbled in cyclocross, cross country racing, road racing, crits, and even tried unicycling, and again perhaps my reluctance to make a firm decision shows through. And yet, never have i considered abandoning two wheels for anything else. Perhaps the pattern of life is reflected in the outlook of the cyclist; in daily life we can be too preoccupied with the destination to enjoy the journey. But really, the journey is everything that we have.