This blog entry is dedicated to the dogs of our world, for no creature on earth seems to have such a strong affinity for the front wheel of a push bike as does man’s-best-friend.
Kent. The Garden of England. Autumn has finally brought her orange tones to the warm vineyards and patchwork fields of this busy corner of our island, but the late summer sun still held its firm grip. The ban on handing up drinks had once again been relaxed due to the balmy temperatures that settled upon the little village of Chainhurst, near Marden, for round five of the London Cross League.
Having raced here before, I knew that the tiny farm had a certain charm about it. I was hoping that we’d get off to a more relaxed start this time though – on my last visit one of my friends was caught up in a massive start straight pile up that ended his most of his season. The course was laid out differently this year so I got on with learning it.
A couple of practice laps and a lap of the start loop and I was ready for a nice calm start, but the grid was chaos. For some reason the organisers had no rider ranking list and so called up the riders that they recognised! After waiting 48 hours last week for a provisional result and being told that my 19th place (out of 140) was a “minor position” I felt that maybe something was lacking from the normally faultless organisation. Maybe that’s over critical, but the end result was that I and many other riders were sat two or three rows further back than we should have been and behind many recognisable, but slower riders!
I kept telling myself that the cream would rise to the top any way and set about angrily sprinting down the left hand side of the pack when we set off. My recon of the start loop had paid off and I made my way past several riders in the three sweeping corners that led back to the finish line. By now I’d started to settle into a rhythm, but as we headed into the first narrow section a rider in front managed to take down three others and once again cause chaos. This also caused a big split in the bunch and it was going to be hard to make up places now. A few of us ran past, hopped back onto our bikes and formed a small chasing group.
I’d heard riders on the start line talking about the stepped section which led out of the second wooded area being, “un-ridable compared to last year”. In my warm up I’d just taken for granted the fact that this was meant to be run section and had practised leaping back on at the top several times, but as I ran the obstacle on the first lap, my friend Matt came storming up the inside, riding the impossible! I’ve learned most things I know about riding by watching others and so with the seed firmly planted in my head I built up some momentum on the second lap and launched myself at the steep wet grassy bank. It worked and I instantly made up two places so I employed that trick on every subsequent lap.
Where I gained 5 seconds with skill I lost the same or maybe more through lack of power in the long rough sections. It’s been a running theme in the latter stages of this year. I guess a full year of racing just starts to catch up with you and I’m really glad to be taking a week out after three hard races. I’m pleased with the speed I’ve managed to get into my legs and endurance has never been a problem for me, so my goal for the rest of the winter is to look at bulking my core power up a little. I don’t want to put too much weight on, but I’m definitely not on a level playing field at the moment with some of the stronger roadies.
Having said that after the first lap I was only ever moving forward. I had to work very hard to stay with riders on the windy, bumpy field edges, but I used a stepping stone technique to move through the now strung out bunch – I put in lots of effort in the technical sections and then sat in the slipstream on the open bits, before attacking and moving forward to start the process with my next target. It wasn’t easy but I made one or two places each lap.
This was fine until the bloody massive brown bull terrier decided to run away from its owner and right out in front of me, taking out my front wheel and sending me over the bars. Two other riders very narrowly avoided both me and my bike as I grabbed my bars and stuck my chain back on. I got a good push from one of the other spectators and I guess the whole thing maybe only lost me 20-30 seconds, but I was furious. My right hand was hurting, but everything else seemed okay and my bike was fine, so I got on with making back the time and trying to calm myself again! (I did also check the dog was okay, by the way. In fact it seemed very pleased to see me! The owner also apologised,..lots!)
With two to go I began to work a little harder still, to drop one of the riders who’d stuck with me for a while. Matt had had a technical problem and lost nearly a minute so even with my crash I was surprised when he came storming past again. I dropped a few cogs and sprinted after him to catch his wheel. We both hammered around so quickly and those two laps must have been my fastest – we lapped plenty of riders, but also made lots of places up at the same time in the chaos.
I lost contact with Matt with around half a lap to go – a backmarker had dropped his bike on a sharp left hander and Matt had carefully squeezed up the inside, whilst I took the wide line. That didn’t really matter though, there was too big a gap for my empty legs to bridge to the next riders and it would have been cheeky to use his speed any longer without doing a turn on the front so I checked for riders behind me and worked as hard as I needed to hold position. I actually made it back to two more riders, but could only beat one of them in the sprint for the line.
All in all, I’ve had three very successful races and I’m going into a week off feeling great. My Kona Jake is working faultlessly, my speed and stamina are good and the results are all better than last year. I’m going to make full use of my rest and try to come back even stronger. I’ve also got a nagging injury that will finally get a little time to heal and the bruises from my run in with the dog should pale within a few days hopefully – I think my hand is okay. Which is more than I can say for the dog’s owner, who was receiving a proper telling off from one of the other spectators, who had put me back on my bike and pushed me back up to speed. At least someone was looking out for me!
Photo courtesy of londoncyclesport.com/cross-crazy.com
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