I see what you tried to do, but…
In Belgium and Holland it’s quite common for towns to host mid-week cross races on predominately “urban” courses – it’s a great way to promote cyclocross and get fans really close to the action so I can see what Rapha were thinking (or maybe hoping). However these courses are very carefully planned and most of them have been tried and tested through years of high level racing.
London is probably always going to be a hard place to run a town center ‘cross race. You need a mixture of tarmac, cobbles and gravel/sand – I would have said a better bet would have been one of the many royal parks in the center of the city. Slightly further out of town, Alexandra Palace and Herne Hill are both great places for cyclocross, although according to Rapha both these venues were unavailable. Eastbourne also put on a good town center cross over the last two years,…or how about Tunbridge Wells?…
The single most important thing to a ‘cross racer is grip (even if there is none, but as long as it is predictable) and therefore control. The ability to control the bike in changing amounts of grip is key on muddy, sandy, snowy or even dry courses. The problem with the surfaces involved on Saturday was that they were just completely unreadable. I watched a strong group of six juniors ride into the St.Martins building and the 2nd and 5th riders hit the ground so hard and with no warning – there was nothing they’d done that was any different to the others that stayed upright, they were just plain unlucky. That’s really scary for a racer to watch, knowing that my chances were exactly the same.
On my own sighting laps I found even less grip from the rear wheel than the front – through the corners the rear was losing grip, re-taking that grip and then losing it again. I’m no art student so I’ll reserve my opinions about what they normally design/create, but what was clear is that they are not cyclocross obstacle designers – the childlike humps were really dangerous, have no part in ‘cross and eventually ended the race after a really scary crash. A good set of whoops, steps, a sand pit, hurdles or a safe wall ride would have been great – Muddy Hell has used all of these over the years and gave the event it’s character.
My point is not to knock Rapha – the Supercross has previously been a great day out and I’ve heard lots of riders raving about their other events. The food, drinks and atmosphere is always good (an expensive thing to get right), but this year they maybe lost their way a little.
Really I think the course could have been tried weeks ago in various conditions – it doesn’t have to be marked out, you just need a few riders to ride the various surfaces in various conditions to learn what’s safe and what isn’t. Then closer to the actual race, get the course sorted before you go to bed the night before. A normal course wouldn’t be left until race day let alone a course as complex as the one they tried. I asked Rapha about this and they said that, “the course was due to be set up the day before and tested but high winds prevented this happening”.
In the end Rapha made the right decision to stop the race. The free bar helped, but ultimately we didn’t get to race our bikes. I really hope they get it sorted for next year and I really hope they ask a group of more regular riders to help sort the course out, wherever it ends up being held. There’s been a lot of criticism through various channels which I really believe is down to the fact that we all just wanted to race, we all want it to be safe and we’re all happy to help, we just need to be asked.
(photos of Euan Anderson – The Velo House by Sam Dunn Photography)
Glen rides for the Southborough & District Wheelers. He races Mountain bikes in the UK National XC Points and Eastern XC Series, Road bikes in the Surrey, South-East and Eastern Leagues, TT in the South East Region and ‘Cross in the LCCA League. He receives personal support from Helly Hansen, The Velo House, and THE.ÆIGHT.BICYCLE.CØMPANY. #aeightracer @eightbikeco
 My thanks to Laura who heads up the UK marketing team at Rapha for taking time to answer my email. I’m sure she’s had many emails to deal with this week and I’m sure the whole team will put on a great event regardless next year.