Showground Cross Carmarthen – Welsh Cyclo-cross League Round 4
Another weekend, another Welsh Cyclo-cross League race and yet more sunshine. In fact it was a glorious day with wall to wall sunshine, bright blue skies and barely any wind. The dry conditions meant that – uncharacteristically for the showground in Carmarthen – there was very little mud. In fact, the organisers had made a few last minute course changes the day before so as to route the course through a few patches that were at least a little muddy.
When I arrived just before 10am after a nice leisurely morning driving through Wales, the sun was shining, the course was laid and the first races were just about to start.
As usual, the kids races run first and only use part of the course. So, after registering I was able to have a little ride around the part of the course they weren’t using. I’d taken both my cross bike and my mountain bike with me today so that I could leave the mountain bike in the pits in case of a mechanical on my cyclo-cross bike. I therefore rode the first practise lap on my mountain bike. It actually felt quite nice which then had me contemplating riding the race on it. It was comfortable, easy to handle over the bumps, cornered better and just felt easier. In the end I reminded myself that the whole point of doing cyclo-cross was to improve my bike-handling skills, so I’d better not make it easy for myself by using a mountain-bike. The cross bike would be faster on the tarmac sections of course but as yet I hadn’t really ridden those bits.
I registered, paid my entry fee, left my mountain-bike in the pits and then did a partial lap on my cross bike. It was more difficult and the course wasn’t really suited to me. It was flat all the way around except for one steep bank that was unrideable. This was followed by a steep descent that I was able to ride. The rest of the course was mainly on grass with lots and lots of tight, hairpin turns. This doesn’t suit me at all. My cornering is terrible and I just don’t seem to be able to carry any speed through the corners. It doesn’t matter what I try to do I always lose loads of momentum, end up going out really wide and just can’t corner properly. It doesn’t help that my toe tends to knock against my front wheel when turning as well which often means I can’t get the power down out of the corner very well either. I tried all sorts of lines and techniques both on the practise laps and in the race but just can’t seem to get it right.
The schedule is the same each week so my race began at 12:15pm. At 11:45 I headed over to the start area and once the previous race had finished we all headed out onto the course for a final practise lap. It was now that I got to see the second half of the course. Most of it was OK, but there was a tight section through a few trees and a steep, tight, off camber bend as well. It was a toss up here as to whether riding or running that section would be quickest. I decided to ride it, but I don’t think there would have been much difference. If it had been wet then I’m sure running would have been the better option.
With the race almost upon us we were called up to the start line based on our seeding from previous races. I missed my name so ended up a few places behind where I should have been which put me in the fourth row but it looked as though there were loads of people behind us. It was certainly quite a big field today. A few last minute reminders from the commissaires, then the whistle went and we were off. We started with the usual sprint along the tarmac before we made our way onto a track and then the grass. The first lap omitted the steep unrideable bank and drop just so as to avoid too much bottle-necking as it was quite early in the lap. We then settled into the race. I lost quite a few places throughout as people seemed to easily pass me on the bends. There were very few fast sections, just hairpin bend after hairpin bend so it wasn’t great for me. I’m just glad it wasn’t the usual mudfest that the Carmarthen Showground is renowned for as I think I’d be even worse in the corners under such conditions.
I did at least ride down the steep bank on every lap. There were kids at this point shouting ‘ride it, ride it’ to everyone who bottled out of riding it and then a marshall at the bottom commented on my ‘good line’ each lap as I did ride it. I also rode the tricky bend further into the race on each lap as well. I think it was quicker to ride it as I often overtook people re-mounting on the far side of it. That said, I’m usually quite good at the dismounting and re-mounting so it would have been a close call for me.
I did start overtaking people in the second half of the race. Mainly tail-enders from the V50’s and Women I imagine but I like to think I caught a few tail-enders from the V40’s too. I also picked things up on the last lap and retook a few positions from people who had already passed me. I was actually feeling quite good come the last lap. I had plenty left in the tank and I may even have been beginning to just about corner slightly faster too. I still wasn’t cornering well in comparison to others, but it may have been slightly better than before. Too little too late though as the finish line was soon crossed and it was all over. Not a bad race and hopefully it was all good practise for improving my cornering skills. I think I went backwards overall though.
I think maybe I should have a warm up beforehand as well. I don’t really seem to get going until the last lap, and then it’s all over. Really I should be in the flow and revved up right from the start as it’s only a 40 minute race. I don’t want to take it too seriously though, really I’m just there for a good fun race with other like-minded people.
I had a little chat to a guy called Chris afterwards. He had been forced to run half a lap carrying his cross bike and change to his mountain bike in the pits thanks to the fact that his tubular tyre had popped off the rim on one of the little steep drop-offs. At least that reminded me to go and collect my bike from the pits – I’m convinced that I will forget about it one day and leave it there! It was then time to hand in my race number, collect my race licence and of course head to the very impressive cake stall.
Another well organised race, a good course even if it concentrated on my weaknesses and a good turn out. The racing was good clean fun, the marshalling was top notch and the cakes were delicious. What more could you want? The drive home was OK too and I was looking forward to my spicery meal as well. Mmm Mmm.