After a week on the road, eating pub dinners and being away from my bike I couldn’t wait to get my teeth into a brand new ‘cross course at Plumpton, but it was never going to be that simple…
Nestled into the quiet chalk hill, Plumpton Agricultural College feels warmly familiar to me after having spent a year here learning welding, blacksmithing and fabrication. Skills that had helped me in the last week to build my first custom road racing frame using 853 tubing, cast lugs, brass/bronze brazing and silver solder. But the focus of today was very much on finding the skill and precision to race on the fantastically slippy ‘cross circuit, located in the pastures behind the machinery sheds.
I started the race on a pair of Schwalbe Racing Ralphs which seemed to be pretty grippy in practice. The persistent rain that followed warm-up and dogged the vets/junior/women’s race had now soaked the hard Sussex dirt and flattened the long grass on the racing line. The racing line itself had become slippery as an ice rink and where the longer grassy shoulders had disappeared, the singletrack now resembled a constant flow of off camber corners waiting to lure your weight to the ground.
I got a fairly good start and settled into a good rhythm in the first lap racing with Dan Braid and James Connell. In that first lap Russell Short became the first rider close to me to suffer the dreaded grassy low side crash, where the front wheel loses traction mid corner and the rider finds himself sliding along the grass on knee and elbow. Russell was instantly back on his bike and back past me. He suffered later in the race, but the realisation that you need to be quickly back on the bike and racing again is a key ability in a ‘cross racers skill set.
Something that James and Dan would realise on the second lap when right in front of me James hit the deck only for Dan to have no option but to ride into and then fall onto James, to cries of “easy mate, steady”! Three corners later it was my time to taste the dirt as I caught the edge of a sideways rut with too much of my weight too far back on the bike to be able to recover the slide. Before I’d stopped sliding I’d begun to pull the bike back upright and then leaped back on even remembering to wipe my muddy gloves clean on my hip.
With James and Dan in hot pursuit I couldn’t allow myself to make the same mistake twice so it was with some surprise that on the third lap, on the same corner, I was ploughing the same rut with my elbow as the two of them carefully rode past. With my new found respect for Plumpton’s cattle paddocks, I approached the next few laps with a little more caution and focused upon looking for better lines. Many of the corners were well rutted by now and especially bad on the exits so a wide line in a tight line out started to win me back time on quality riders like Chris McGovern and Russell Short.
Passing riders stricken with punctures after [what we were now referring to as] “pigshit corner” also served to move me up the standings and I was well inside the top fifteen at half distance. I was now completely covered in mud and the front brake had begun to protest. There was so much mud in my eyes by this point I was keeping, at best, one open at any one time.
With a few laps to go I was making up bags of time in the tight farmyard switchback section as well as in a set of very fast esses at the bottom of the course. Dan had dropped off the pace after a week-long illness, by my own lack of training didn’t seem to be treating me too badly and James and I were racing a close race.
The penultimate lap brought my own bad luck again when my rear tube quit the race early, but with a short ride to the pits, I had a new wheel in the bike in no time and was back out for the last lap in sight of James and with fresh air behind me – I made the decision to go all in and risk everything for the place. I knew I had to be in front for the last bumpy there-an-back section which was just like riding in treacle unless you were on a very narrow line. So going through the farmyard I made my way back to James wheel.
Racing onto the grassy switchbacks I rode super aggressively and with my inside shoe on the ground I stuck it up the inside of one of the slippery corners and forced him wide to the joy of a group of cheering Crawley Wheelers. As usual the support from them was fantastic, as it was from John, Stuart McGhee and several others that couldn’t see through my now saturated muddy eyes. James came back going down to pig-shit corner, before I attacked going down to the fast esses.
The next thing I knew was that my rear wheel was in front of me and I was now ploughing the ground not with my elbow, but with my back. Having successfully allowed James back through, due to pioneering use of mud-lugeing it was now clear that I was going to have to settle for 12th. With the front brake lever pulling all the way to the bars due to the lack of brake pad left and my three falls, one wheel change, five pub meals and no training I was fairly relived to have brought her home in the top fifteen for the fifth time in seven races so far this season.
Massive thank-you to Pip for standing in a wet muddy field taking pictures of me riding my bike into the ground for an hour!
1 ANDREW TAYLOR Jedi Cycle Sport @54:47
2 JACK FINCH PMR@cing @0’10”
3 MICHAEL BUTLER Activ @0’19”
4 JULES BIRKS VC Londres @1’05”
5 MATT HOLMES Arctic SRAM @1’19”
6 CHRIS HERRING East London Velo @1’42”
7 STUART SPIES London Dynamo @1’56”
8 DAN DRAKE VC Deal @2’13”
9 ROB PURCELL Neon-Velo @2’54”
10 PHILIP DEACON Kingston Wheelers@3’20”
11 JAMES CONNELL Brixton Cycles @3’34”
12 GLEN WHITTINGTON Bike Science/Boardman Elite @3’51”
13 ALEX PETTETT Cadence @4’23”
Photos by Pip Jenkins.
Results published by ukcyclesport.com.
Additional photos and video by John at UKCyclesport.
Header Image by Pip Jenkins.
Glen races a pair of Boardman Elite CX Pro‘s which are available via Tribeca Sport. He races in the London CycloCross League and is supported by Bike Science and Helly Hansen. All views and opinions are personal and should be taken with a pinch of salt – This blog is not for cissies or cry-babies.
Glen runs THE.TRIBECA.SPORT.WØRKSHOP which is based at 28 London Road, Southborough, TN4 0QB – 01892 533 339 – firstname.lastname@example.org . The shop specialises in precision servicing, race prepping, 3D Bike Science bike fitting and high quality bikes and equipment. Drop in, give us a call, visit our Facebook page or browse our website for more details. He also runs the shop race team and club as well as racing ‘cross, road and cross-country nationally.