Welsh Cyclocross 2018 – Round 4 Pembrey
I had no excuses this week. No long mountain walks the day before, no Quadrathlons the day before, and unlike previous years I hadn’t done the Tide to Tide MTB event before the Pembrey Cyclocross race either. I did have a fairly busy Saturday with an early morning mountain bike ride, a surf ski and a late night but at least I wasn’t sore and aching as I made my way south to Pembrey for round 4 of the 2018 Welsh Cyclocross Series. My only excuses were not enough skill, not enough fitness and more weight around my mid-rift than should really be squeezed into lycra. Nothing new there these days.
It was a lovely day too, no wind and plenty of clear blue skies and sunshine. That said, it was cold. 1ºC most of the way and I’d had to scrape ice off the van windscreen for the first time this year. I made good time and arrived early only to have to sit and wait for the park to open. I think the gates are usually automated but I guess the swapover from automation to manned for the day takes some time so there was a queue to get in.
Preparations were the same as usual. Sign on, chat to plenty of people, get changed and then head out for a few easy sighting laps around the part of the course not being used for the junior races. Notable today was the fact that Steve was signing on to race. I’d been ‘encouraging’ him for over a year to do so and he’d had an excuse every week. My persistence had paid off though, he had finally ran out of excuses and signed his name on the start sheet.
The course was run in the opposite direction to usual. It started with some twists and turns across a shallow grassy bank. This area was being used for the junior races so I couldn’t ride this yet. It then took us over two very high hurdles which definitely required a dismount. I don’t think even the best would be bunny-hopping these. We then headed into the trees along a section of single-track and through a gravel trap. Next was a long straight with a few slippery tram-lines. I managed to avoid incident on these, but Steve said he nearly came off on them on a practise lap and Ant almost crashed right in front of me on them too. Hazard mentally noted, I’d be cautious here.
The next part of the lap consisted of more singletrack a few sandy bends, some more long straights, the odd hairpin and some fast corners too. There was nothing too technical here and it was all dead flat. Dead flat that was until we were faced with the giant sand-hill.
Another dismount was needed here. Bike shouldered it was time for an energy sapping, lung-busting quad pumping run up a sand-dune. Sand-dune running is one of the toughest things to do any any time. Trying to do it in the middle of a full gas cyclocross race with a bike on your shoulder in stiff carbon soled cycling shoes just adds to the fun! Not that I was running it on the practise laps but it was clear this was going to be a challenge at race pace.
There was a short area of singletrack at the top, just enough room to place you bike back on the ground, remount and get into your pedals before you needed a little bit of power for an uphill bend onto some sweeping singletrack with a few roots. The elevation gained on the sand hill was lost on a fast descent into a sweeping series of bends. A section of single track, a slightly slippery bend and a sandy turn then took us onto the long tarmac straight back to the start finish area.
Other than the sand hill it was all dead flat. There were no really technical bits, the surfaces were good throughout and the only squirmy bit was the gravel trap. It was going to be a fast and furious race with no let up
The seeding was worked out differently this week. Usually it is based on your current standing within the series. In previous years this had put me up close to the front by this stage of the series. Having competed (actually, that should read ‘completed’ as ‘competing’ would suggest more speed and skill than I possess!) in all of the races up to this point I had often accrued more points than some of the faster riders who may have missed a race or two. To make things more realistic the organisers had decided to base our seeding on our average points so far. This meant that someone who may have only done one race but had won it would be at the front where they belong. They may only have 70 points in total but their average from the single race they had done would also be 70. Someone in the middle of the field such as me usually gets around 40-50 points in a race. Having done all three races so far that might give me a total of around 135 points which would in the past have put me much higher than the guy with 70 points from a single race. Not so using the average system as my average would be 45 points which puts me in the middle of the field where I belong.
It does make sense, but gone are the days where I could gain a little bit of an advantage by starting further up the field than my abilities dictate just by taking part in all of the races. Loyalty to the series is no longer rewarded, instead we should be seeded on ability alone. Of course, it does mean that consistency is important now as well. One bad race early in the season, or worse still a DNF or mechanical, will adversely affect your start position for quite a few races. It does mean that we tend to start with people of similar abilities which is safer and fairer all round.
I therefore lined up on the third row amongst familiar faces. The third row may sound quite close to the front, but I should point out that the rows were quite wide!
The course was set, we were all in position and the whistle blew. We were off. I didn’t have the greatest of starts, struggling to get my left foot into my cleat as people sped past. I got going and then made my way through the bottlenecks of the first few bends. It felt as though I was getting boxed in and held up here too but I think it was the same for everyone really and very few places were lost or gained through these bends. It was all clean, close contact racing. For the sake of safety we missed the hurdles on the first lap so soon flew into the first bit of singletrack where we started to string out.
As usual, I can’t remember the exact details of when and where everything happened. I can’t even remember what lap things happened on, such is the dynamic nature of cyclocross. Not to mention that fact that the concentration needed to keep the effort levels high and the bike the right way up mean that the exact order of things get forgotten. The first lap was a close run thing of course as no real gaps had developed. I followed Nick and Ant into the singletrack and we stayed in the order for the outer part of the lap. I managed to overtake them both on the run up the sand-hill and then dropped my chain on the remount. They caught me back up and I then had them breathing down my neck for the rest of the lap. Ant rides for Abergavenny RC which always has a good showing at the CX series. It also means that there is a lot of support all around the course with people shouting “Go on Ant” the whole time. I might not be able to see him when he’s right on my wheel but I certainly know that he is there and I haven’t managed to drop him!
As we headed into the second lap I could see Richie (also from Abergavenny RC) just ahead of me. He’s usually quite a bit faster than me so that was a good sign. According to the results I was in 21st place at this point which is indeed respectable for me. I was now in a battle with Nick though. He overtook me through the twists and turns just after the start-finish line and then opened out a bit of a gap. I closed this down and overtook him over the hurdles and headed out onto the second lap with him right on my tail.
I had to keep pushing hard to keep him there. I think I heard someone behind us crash through the gravel trap around this point. Up the sand hill run I opened out a bit of a gap on Nick but my effort to keep him behind me was starting to take its toll and he closed it down again and then overtook me along the tarmac straight. I spotted Steve along here and lapped him as he was pushing his bike. I checked he was OK (I had after all told him before he started that if was having a heart attack on the course I’d stop and help!) He was OK but had crashed and punctured so his 1st ever CX race was over after only half a lap.
I stayed with Nick along the straight but this time he opened out a bigger gap through the grassy twists and turns. I caught him again on the hurdles but didn’t manage to overtake him this time and was then unable to stay on his wheel through the trees. I was now down to 22nd but had at least opened out quite a gap on Ant behind me. I was able to see him through the grassy twists and turns and could see that he’d lost a bit of time.
I had a sketchy moment on one of the sandy turns as one of the faster V50’s overtook me. I was now catching and lap back-markers from the V40’s and women’s race. It always feels good to be passing people even if they aren’t people you are directly racing. I kept pushing hard, especially up over the sand hill and started to get a feel for some of the faster corners too. Richie was now long gone quite a few places ahead of me and I’d lost sight of Nick too. Ant meanwhile had kept the gap between us about the same as we headed out with two laps to go. Time to put in a bit more of an effort so that he didn’t start getting any ideas of closing me down. It may have felt like more effort but lap 5 was virtually the same time as lap 4 for me as fatigue started to take it’s toll.
Steve Smith (racing in the V50’s) overtook me somewhere around here and then left me behind, but so far I hadn’t been lapped by the leaders of the V40’s which is always a good thing! Maybe I’ll have to start working on keeping keeping Steve behind me even if he does start 2 minutes after me.
I kept pushing hard for the final lap as I knew the pain was all but over. I hit a concrete kerb a little hard at one point as I overtook a back-marker and felt it hit the rim of my wheel. I thought that maybe I’d punctured and would have to ride the last straight on a flat tyre but all was OK. I finished in 22nd place having had a good lap. I couldn’t have done much more.
There was the usual after race talks and recaps. Steve was already queuing for pizza, not that he rally deserved it having only done one lap so he gave me a slice. I then packed up and headed home for what turned out to be a slow drive back through Wales with lots of traffic. I did resist the urge of stopping for a burger.
22nd is a good finish for me and adds a few more points to my tally this year. My shoulder is quite bruised from carrying the bike up the sand hill but other than that I survived another round unscathed.
Looking at the results and doing some spreadsheet trickery I’m guessing that this puts me about 13th overall at the moment. However as I said in the section about seeding, lots of the faster riders won’t have done the full complement of races so far and with only 6 to count for the series they’ll overtake me at some point. On average points I’m 31st which puts me in the middle of the field where I belong for the start of the race next weekend.