Cyclocross 2019 – Rnd 1, Tredegar Park
It’s that time of year again, a new cyclocross season, a new reason to ride bikes around muddy fields and a brand new venue for round 1. And what a race it was – flat out all the way and plenty of close contact racing with a huge field of entrants.
The Welsh Cyclocross Series
With a new programme of events from September through to December there are races almost every week for a few months so plenty to choose from.
Unfortunately for me, the so-called Wales Cyclocross Series has always been very much a South Wales series. There have over the years been events as far north as Aberystwyth, Newtown and Llanerchaeron but this year it is very much a South Wales affair. This is a bit of a shame but as far as I know it comes down to a lack of support and venues for the series from clubs further north. It would be good if the series was a true Welsh series covering all of the geographic regions of Wales but I won’t complain too much about it as the series itself is such good fun. Always well organised, always welcoming and inclusive, but always competitive too. The courses are well thought out and varied throughout the season and it attracts a good bunch of riders.
Tredegar Park, Newport
The first round was in Tredegar Park, Newport which was a new venue for the series. This round was organised by Cardiff JIF CC and masterminded by Simon Nurse. This is probably the furthest of the venues from me and involved almost a 3 hour drive each way. It’s a long way to go for less than an hour of racing but it’s always good to attend the first race of the series and always good to go to new venue as well.
The drive there was fine, but it was clear that autumn was on the horizon. Not only was I heading to a Cyclocross race, but temperatures were hovering around the 3ºC mark, my van beeped at me to warn me of the potential for ice and mist hung low in the valleys.
I arrived as always with plenty of time to spare, found a parking space, which I think became a bit of an issue later on and then started to head over to sign on. It was quite a walk to the event HQ though so I headed back and jumped on a bike instead. When I got to the main race HQ it was a hive of activity with the kids races underway. I wasn’t able to sign on until 11:30 though. I think this was because the kids were using timing chips as well this year so we had to wait so that there would be enough to go around. I’m assuming this will be the case every week so at least I’ll now know that I can’t sign on early. So, I waited around for an hour watching the action in the blazing sunshine. Things had warmed up now and the temperature was well into double figures with glorious sunshine and no wind at all. It was going to be a hot race.
The format has changed somewhat this year. As mentioned above there is chip timing for the kids races as well as the adults races. There is also a separate ladies race that has been added to the schedule and the Juniors, Senior Men, Vet40’s, Vet50’s and V60’s all race at the same time. There are also set times for course practises. I’m assuming this will be the same every week, maybe with a few tweaks as the organisers get to grips with the new format and they receive feedback from the participants.
The schedule is as follows:
9.15 Course practise for (up to U12).
9.40 U6 (6 mins)
9.55 U8 (9 mins)
10.10 U10 (12 mins)
10.25 U12 (15 mins)
10.50 Course practise
11.00 Podiums U6/U8/U10/U12
12.00 Course practise
12.15 Podiums Youths
12.30 Ladies (40 mins)
13.20 Juniors/Senior men/Veterans. (50 mins)
14.20 Races end
14.30 Podiums Ladies/Senior men/Veterans
Quite a packed day and things certainly seemed hectic at Tredegar Park on Sunday. The main HQ was squeezed onto a ridge overlooking the course itself. This provided a good vantage point for spectators where they could see both sides of the course but it was a little cramped. The main changes to the format as far as I was concerned was the fact that we would be on the course at the same time as the Senior Men, that we would be starting quite a bit later than we used to and that we would be racing for 50 minutes plus one lap rather than the 40 minutes plus 1 lap that we had historically. An extra 10 minutes of pain and suffering for your entry fee!
Once I was signed on I dropped off a bike in the pits and spent much of the time chatting to faces that I hadn’t seen since last year. It was good to catch up with everyone, good to hear the usual excuses and good to see so many people there for the first race of the season.
Once the course was open I was able to have a couple of laps practice. It was a bumpy course following freshly mown tracks through rough fields of long grass. There were the usual tricky 180º turns, some steep little banks to ride up, some off camber bends on bumpy, rutted grassy slopes and one or two slightly muddy corners. There was a fast, dusty section along the back end of the course and a steep climb to punish the legs and lungs. I opted for my mountain bike as I tend to have more success on it anyway and the extra suspension and wider tyres means less punishment over the bumps for my arthritic shoulders and sore wrists.
Before long it was time to congregate for the start.
There were loads of us entered. According to the sign on sheet there were 118 pre-entered for the race and loads of others that had entered on the day so there must have been getting on for 200 cyclists lining up for the race. The Juniors and Seniors were set off first followed by the Vet 40’s one minute after them and then the V50’s and V60’s. We were seeded based on the final standings last year so I lined up in amongst familiar faces and was chatting to Micheal Tarling as we got ready to race.
Off went the Juniors and Seniors and then it was my turn in with the V40’s. The start was pretty frantic as always but I got away well, powered up to speed and then pushed hard to the first corner. I gained some places, lost some places and generally had a good start. I was ahead of some of my usual rivals and going well.
It was now time to push hard for the first lap so as to capitalise on the good start. I was riding flat out, pushing hard over the bumpy grassy sections, attacking the climbs and trying to keep things smooth but aggressive through the tighter sections. I certainly couldn’t go any harder and had a few good battles with other riders here and there. At this stage in the race there is no point giving up places too easily as we are all racing against each other so I tried to hold my ground while things settled down.
Onto the second lap and I was still pushing hard. The race was still on and there was no let up. There was a bit of congestion through the off camber bends on the grassy slope and some wheel to wheel racing. Someone’s tyre exploded with a big BANG and he fell off in front of me but I managed to avoid him and kept pushing hard. Usually by now things would string out a little and there would be some respite but with so many people racing there was a group of us all battling it out. I was maxed out, my heart rate was through the roof but I couldn’t ease up.
Eventually by the end of the second lap there was a little more calm. There was still someone on my rear wheel though so I had to keep the pace up but they weren’t always trying to pass so we settled into the race a little more. It didn’t last long though as I was soon locked into a battle with someone else, I think it was Thomas Hadfield from Gateway Racing. We exchanged places a few times throughout the middle of the race but eventually I passed him and managed to pull away.
As far as other people I know were concerned, I was pleased to see that most of them were behind me. I caught a glimpse of Chris every lap as his Scimitar Kit, (the same as mine) was easy to spot. He was far enough back not to be an immediate threat, but he generally improves throughout the race so couldn’t be discounted.
Chris’s wife was cheering me on at the short ramp out of the start-finish arena each lap. I was having issues with this on the first few laps, slipping on the dry loose grass and getting the gearing wrong for the climb so resorted to running up it in the latter part of the race.
Michael who I had been chatting to before the race was a little further back, and Ant was nowhere to be seen. Amazingly I was ahead of Richie and Micheal Greaves. Richie did pass me though but I had eased up a little on the previous lap so had something in reserve for the final lap. I wasn’t going to let him get away too easily, so I sat on his wheel for a short while and then made a last do or die attack going out onto the last lap. I overtook him at pace and then kept pushing as hard as I could for as long as I could. Finally, after half a lap of flat out effort I was able to take a peek behind me at the top of the climb. Richie was a few places back with back-markers between us and wasn’t going to catch me.
I crossed the line having given it my all and having performed better than I had expected.
I wasn’t expecting much going into the race as I haven’t been doing that much training and certainly not much on the bike. I’d had a bit of a flare up of pericarditis a few weeks back so had been taking things easy despite the fact that the doctor said it was OK to keep training and racing. I was also feeling quite fat so was just there to have some fun. I went well but can’t attribute that to any levels of fitness, skill or bike form, it was all down to sheer effort, pain and suffering. My Heart Rate data shows this to be the case. I’m usually lucky if my heart rate gets above 165bpm in even the most intense training efforts that I do. Today it maxed out at 176bpm, the highest I have ever recorded and it pretty much stayed there throughout the race! My average heart rate for the entire 51 minute race was 168pm. and I smashed all of my heart rate records for various timescales as well. A good test for my pericarditis if ever there was one!
Despite my efforts I was still only 19th in the V40’s race which just goes to show what the level of competition is like. The guys up at the front all lapped me and as usual they were flying.
What with that, it was time to hang around for the podiums, the spot prizes and the raffle – I didn’t win anything of course and then pack up and head home. A good start to the Cyclocross season and no doubt my legs would feel it tomorrow.