I haven’t kept count of all the hours and miles done in the dark over the years, but it’s safe to say that there have been lots. However it doesn’t seem to matter how many times you train in the same place, on the same lap and through the same sections – there will always be things to trick you and lessons waiting to be learnt.
The dark can concentrate you – when you’re focusing on a single beam of light there is only one way forward, but it can also allow your mind to wander. Hours spent with only the moon for company allow many things to flow through your brain, including self doubt. An insignificant hill in the daylight can turn into a steep wall in the night riddled with foot high battlements waiting to thwart all but the strongest rider. But it’s not always physical strength that’s tested, sometimes its mental toughness.
Up the first step and up jumps the rear wheel as I mistimed my bunny hop. Frustrated at myself I stop, turn around and roll back to try the climb again. So I pedal through the corner for the second time, pull up the front wheel, shift my weight forward and nail the first step only for the rear tyre to slip on the second and once again I come to a stop. I look around in disbelief and roll back down to try again. The third time was truly unlucky and I ended up bending my chain ring and running to the top of the tricky section. Mentally I was broken and just wanted to go home so I jumped on and rode, but something in me wasn’t quite done. A kilometre further on I stopped in my tracks, told myself out loud to “f$%king sort it out man, what’s wrong with you”? That was it, I knew I could physically ride it and now I’d convinced my head too – I stopped for the third and final time, turned around and rode back to the climb. “No thinking, just ride it”, I said to myself and with that I sprinted over the big first step, hopped up the second, smiled to myself over the third and cheered my bike as we nailed the forth and crested the climb. Now, and only now, it was time to go home and fix my bike.
I had only ridden a few times last year and I came to Penshurst to take photos and to get a better understanding of cyclocross. There was snow on the ground and the racing was close, fast and exciting. It confirmed to me that cyclocross should be a fixture in my 2011 season. This year I came back to Penshurst for round ten of the London League – the snow had gone but the racing was just as good.
I once again took my place on the start line back in the mid pack, due to not being affiliated, but that wasn’t to matter. I’d gained a lot of confidence over the last few races and my training had gone well since Stanmer Park so I had my sights firmly on the riders that I now knew I could fight with. Also the narrow technical course was going to be a nightmare if you had slower riders in front so I sprinted hard up the first fire road climb which rose from almost the bottom of the course to the very top. I told myself that at least the first battle had been won by the top and I settled into my position happy to descend with some quality riders.
There is almost no grip on wet grass, but when a hundred riders warming up squash it all down into the clay the grip drops to zero. Add the deep narrow ruts that cross tyres cut and you have a recipe for what can only look like amateur ice skating. Some riders were very slow and cautious, some were fast and were hitting the deck as either their front or rear wheels failed to find the required cohesion and some kept cool heads and held position. I found myself in a smart group with Craig Joy and Jon Lyons.
It quickly became evident that the downhill would be where I found some advantage and sure enough some of the strong riders came past me as we climbed back up to the top, but I kept sight of them and as we descended for the second time I came back to the same position. I was racing closely with some old shadows and as the riders trickled past me again on the climb I had a moment of self doubt and as I reached the top I could no longer here the shouts for the riders I’d been fighting with – this meant that they must have put serious time into me. By the time we started the third lap I was down, but not out.
I rode two laps with a very quick Junior rider called Chris McGovern and we really spurred each other on – we had a chance to improve both of our results if we worked together and so I took control and shouted out to him who are targets were. He nodded and off we went, climbing side by side and descending like madmen. I went ahead on the bits that I knew I could nail and showed him the lines to ride and everywhere else, Chris used sheer guts and determination to show me the way. Sadly he faded toward the end, but he had ridden several times harder than I could when I was his age – chapeau fella!
What our hard work had achieved was once again the sight of the riders that I wanted so badly to beat. Making the time up to my team mate at THE.ÆIGHT.BICYCLE.CØMPANY, Jonny Young, also fired me on and we encouraged each other. With three laps to go my legs were tired, but my heart was ready for a little bit of suffering. I wasn’t going to let those riders back through with three to go and I big ringed it most of the way up the climb to start the downhill with a small advantage.
That was all I needed and I put the final nail in the coffin of the fight with the riders I’d wanted to beat – now there were new targets up the road. As with last time out in Brighton the racers I was now with were not afraid to fight for themselves. Each time though when the punishment was dished out I replied with the same sharp elbows and wide lines that my teachers employed. One rider tried to break me down with words (and not kind ones), but I held my nerve and waited. When I was ready to attack I rode past and quietly but firmly told the guy to concentrate – I didn’t look back down the final descent and by the bottom I had the ten yards or so that I needed.
As we both rode faster and faster up the final climb I hit the short run section in complete oxygen dept. The thick mud wedged itself in my cassette, my lungs were screaming and my brain was telling me to stop, but my heart proved big enough to force my wrecked legs to the finish – so I figured halfway up I’d better make sure of my placing. I could see a whole train of riders behind me waiting for me to fail, so I clicked my chain into the big ring with a little prayer and kicked as hard as I could! I’d come across the line wheezing like old man, but my young heart was pumping pure bliss through my veins and I left Penshurst a satisfied racer.
THE.8.RAC3R is supported by THE.ÆIGHT.BICYCLE.CØMPANY
Photos courtesy of Annik Pauwels Photography
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.