Sometimes it’s not about who you beat, it’s how you beat them. Stanmer Park in Brighton was the arena that we did battle in for round eight of the London League!
I listened out for my name as all the fast riders were called up to the grid, but once three rows were full I’d either missed my shout or it hadn’t been called. So stuck way back in the pack was where I found myself. I shook my team-mate’s hand and put my race face on. First objective would be the race through the pack!
I must have started in about 65th position because at the top of the first hill I was in 50th place after some epically lucky moves. The tail end of the group seemed to be cautious of the slippery grass corners, but I dug my Schwalbe CX Pro’s into the inside line and leapfrogged a good bunch of my opponents on the wide switchbacks that led to the first wooded section.
A fast sprint to the first technical bit and then a final kick to the top of the course saw me cruise past another fifteen or twenty riders by the end of the first lap to step up to the top thirty. Now in the kind of position I should have started in, and with some space to race in, I set about improving my standing.
The fast start had warmed my legs up well and after a disastrous morning sighting lap, I was just pleased that my legs and bike seemed to be working as planned. Due to the lap looping back on itself I was able to still see the front of the race, but more importantly select targets. I knew that if I could just pick one or two riders off per lap I would be on for a finish in the low 20’s. I recognised a Dulwich rider and one of the Crawley Wheelers up ahead and to my surprise I passed them both easily. Next came Andy Seltzer and Simon Scarsbrook, both of whom were more difficult, but with persistence I got them.
This led me up to a very strong group of riders who I only recognized from the results sheet – these guys were way out of my league, but I passed two of them. Martin O’Grady, a well seasoned racer, was having none of it. As we approached the fastest point of the course – a 35/40mph left hander on slightly damp grass – he came round the outside of me, before cutting in and defending the line into the next 180 degree corner. These guys were racing very closely and weren’t too keen on having a young pup like me on their wheels, but I love to race close and I reckon this may have been the toughest, hardest and strongest racing I’ve ever been involved in – I couldn’t get enough of it!
After a few more hard moves I’d learned my lesson and decided that they may have another few things to teach me so I sat on the back of the group for one lap, before rolling the dice! I knew where I was going to go and had to go “all in” so I built up my momentum for the final kick to the top of the course, before “big ringing” my way to the summit and claiming ten crucial meters. I looked back and each of the four looked angrier than the last – now I had to make it stick!
I didn’t dare look back again, but instead focused on trying to get to both safety and the rider in front, James Wilson of LaFuga/Sigma. I have to admit that I put a lot of pressure on James for over a lap, but I could sense the group behind us trying to bridge the gap to and it was my only chance to rest so he did all the hard work. When I finally came past he looked at me with tired eyes and I felt bad for sitting on his wheel, but he didn’t lose any further positions so he can’t have been that drained!
Now with one lap to go I had a rider in between me and the group I was running from. I’d popped a gel two laps ago and this seemed to just give me enough energy for the final push. It was a lonely, scary last lap and I kept worrying about losing the front end on the slick grass or slipping a gear on one of the climbs, but I nailed it, even passing one final rider on the way to the line and 16th place!
My best ever cross placing was made all the more valuable by the strong riders that I’d had to beat to get it. I’d started with everything against me and I’d dealt calmly with all the little battles on the way through and with all of the pressure. The confidence I’ve gained from such a result is immeasurable and I left the setting sun on “the hill” a very happy man!
Big respect also to my team-mate, Jonny, who finished his first ever cross race in a worthy position and with a ton of fresh racing experience. Check out THE.BØY.R4C3R page for his view on things and watch out for him in the future. Jonny, like me, is supported by THE.ÆIGHT.BICYCLE.CØMPANY
Any potential sponsors looking for a rider for 2012 should email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ring me on 07541 725 606. I like riding my bike fast, I can fix my own stuff and I make great tea, so I could be the winning package for you?
“83VØLUTION”, “THE.8.RAC3R”, “THE.BØY.R4C3R” and “THE.ÆIGHT.BICYCLE.CØMPANY” all appear courtesy of, and belong to, Glen Whittington.