Welsh Cyclocross Series Round 9 – Gunpowder Classic, Swansea
With cyclocross season well and truly in full flow, it was off to Swansea this weekend for round 9 of the Welsh Cyclocross Series. I hadn’t raced here before so didn’t really know what to expect from the course, but as always there were trophy points up for grabs. With a couple of poorer results from previous rounds and 7 races to count I could still add to my overall tally with anything higher than a 32nd place finish.
It’s quite a long drive to Swansea from our house so I set off early for what would be a full day out. The weather wasn’t looking too good. Dark, grey and at times driving rain, all accompanied by howling winds off the sea and temperatures in single figures. Once in Swansea things were looking a little better. The wind was nowhere near as vicious but gusts were still swirling the fallen leaves in the car park. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining. The race venue and car park were separated by a kilometre walk so I rode up on my mountain bike, signed on and then left my bike in the pits before walking back to the van. I got changed and then chilled in the van for 20 minutes while a heavy shower rattled on the rooftop.
Once the shower had eased I rode back to the race venue on my cyclocross bike and watched the youth and novice women’s race take place. Some of the youth riders are pretty good – no fear, plenty of skill and loads of energy!
With their race over there was just time for a couple of quick laps to recce the course then it was time to take off a few layers and line up for the start. The showers seemed to have eased, the wind wasn’t too noticeable here and it was warming up in the sunshine.
Cyclocross Race Time
My position in the overall standings is gradually dropping as more and more people complete the full complement of 7 races. I was therefore on the 2nd row this week as we were called up to our starting positions. I know more and more people now as well so there were plenty of familiar faces and some good banter. Richie was still up on the front row and would disappear out of sight within no time. Chris was behind me but would soon over-take me and also leave me behind. The people I tend to be racing such as Will, Ant and Des were nearby. The race was on.
After a fast and furious start, where I lost quite a few places as usual, we soon settled into the race. It’s not a photo of the V40’s race but this is the train of V50’s and women that were chasing us down.
Will, Ant and myself headed into the first few bends together. Unfortunately Will lost his tub on one of the tighter bends and was forced to run half the lap to get his spare wheel. That put him out of our little battle but he did go on to finish the race and placed 30th so still gained some trophy points. That’s the beauty of series races, the occasional mis-hap or bad race isn’t the end of the world.
Meanwhile, Ant overtook me and pulled out a bit of a lead but I gradually clawed this back over the course of the next couple of laps and then overtook him. It was now my turn to pull out a bit of a lead over him. We were now catching and lapping the back-markers too which always adds to the fun. The course itself was varied with some fast slippery grassy off camber sweeping bends, plenty of grassy 180º switchbacks, some little bits of muddy singletrack, some slippery bends between the trees and one or two technical rooty steps ups, drop offs and ditches. All of it was rideable. Although, the ditch wasn’t rideable by me so I dismounted here each lap. There was also a steep, slippery bank which although rideable didn’t have much traction so after the first couple of laps I started to run this as well as it was quicker.
The setting of Singleton Park was perfect and the moody skies above provided a decent backdrop. here are a few photos of the Senior Race from http://www.sportphoto.wales
As we came into the final couple of laps I could see that the lead I’d pulled out over Ant was being eroded. He could see it too and soon started to close the gap quite quickly. As I got held up a little behind some back-markers and made a couple of small mistakes through the trees he was closing fast I put. I put in a bit of an extra spurt but going into the last lap he wasn’t far behind at all. Rather than pick up the pace to try to hold him off I actually did the opposite. I eased up slightly hoping that I’d then have plenty of energy for a final hard push towards the end of the lap. It seemed to work. Ant was pushing hard to catch me, I was having something of a slight rest so that when he was finally on my wheel I was able to pick up the pace considerably and keep it going to the end of the lap. Having pushed hard to catch me he wasn’t able to respond. Not only did I open up the gap again but I caught Lee in front of me and passed him going onto the finish straight, gaining a final place in the last few seconds.
A good course, good conditions and some proper racing. According to the unofficial results I was 19th. A top 20 finish is always good and that discards my result from Abergavenny where I came 33rd in a stacked field. That’s 14 extra points on my overall tally but with 3 more rounds to go it’s still all to play for.