Cyclocross 2019 – Rnd 4, Llandysul
Another weekend, another round of the Welsh Cyclocross series and with wet weather all week in the lead up to it things were looking decided ‘cyclocrossy’. In other words, rain, mud, sweat, blood and tears were likely, along with additional lashings of mud!
As the Llandysul round was the nearest of the series to home I only had a 1hr 20 minute drive. Coupled with the later start times this year there was no need to rush off early so I set off around 9am and drove through disgusting conditions. Pouring rain, high winds and standing water everywhere. There was flooding in many places and I had to pop into the railway station to see if the trains were running as Anna might have to head off to Manchester to escort here Mum home from hospital later in the day. There were no trains due to flooding between Machynlleth and Newtown.
I took it easy on the drive down and arrived to yet more pouring rain. I donned full on waterproofs and wandered down to sign on then headed back to the van. The weather was so disgusting that I decided against an early recce of the course and instead sat in the van reading a book. I then dropped off my CX bike in the pits and finally got a little motivated in the end and did at least get changed. It was still pretty horrible out there though so I stayed in the comfort of the van for a little longer but then heard over the tannoy that the course was open for practise. I decided that I’d better go take a look at it – especially seeing as I have never raced here before.
I headed out on my mountain bike and started the course just after the finish line. After a few meteres of tarmac and gravelly car park it headed into a grassy field. Here the course traversed backwards and forwards across a grassy slope with 180° turns at each end and a little bumpy dip in the middle of each straight. There was a bit of grip from the grass but it was very wet and likely to get muddier as the races progressed. At the bottom of the slope there was a little downhill through a boggy section of grass with a number of ruts to choose from before a couple more switchbacks up and down the slope. We then went through a gateway and off into another field were there was a very muddy bank for us to negotiate. It was entered at an angle and already so muddy and cut up that it wasn’t rideable. Time to dismount for a run up and down the bank and then back up into it and along the top. This bit was rideable but there was quite a drop off the end of it so running the whole length of this looked like the better option.
Off the bank and through another gate into (yep, you’ve guessed it) yet another muddy field. This one had a very muddy little rise up towards the pits and then more switch backs traversing a downslope. The mud here was deep and the going slow. There was then more mud and finally a little respite along a mud covered forest trail that was at least a little easier. It did seem to be into a fierce headwind though.
Next there were a couple of up and overs between a row of trees. Nothing too difficult just a little ridge to ride over followed by sharp turns to ride over it again. The final one was a little higher and more difficult so would probably be best negotiated with a dismount during the race. A short stint on a track alongside a log pile saw us turn into yet another boggy grassy section and the onto a very muddy set of three steps made from logs. These would have been more than rideable on a MTB in the dry but with so much mud another dismount was the wise choice. Back on the bike and it was off around more log piles on a track before a slight climb and then off into a muddy chicane followed by a water splash. I took the left hand side of this ad made it OK. I later heard of other people taking a bit of a swim having chosen the right hand side so decided that left was the way to go.
We then headed into another grassy field for yet more traverses with downhill 180° bends at the end of them. This dropped us back down to the bottom of the venue and was followed by a steep tarmac climb up to the pits, a short stretch along the top of the pits and another steep climb up to the finish line to complete a lap.
Testing stuff, very wet, very muddy and very slippery with no chance of a rest anywhere. After my poor showing once things got wet and muddy in the second half of last weeks race I’m not ashamed to say that I wasn’t really looking forward to it. I lose confidence once I start losing grip and just end up going slow and losing places. The recce had only shown me that it was wet and slippery everywhere. Maybe not ideal for me!
Well, I was here now, my bike and kit were already muddy so I may as well do it. I was a little too muddy to get back in the van though and still had about an hour until the race started. There was nothing much to do other than ride around the car park and chat to friends. Both Chris and Gethin were there so there were three of us from Team Scimitar, along with lots of the usual suspects.
The Youth race finished and we were all allowed on the course for a practise lap before the start of our race. Things hadn’t changed. if anything they were muddier than before and there was even less grip. The boggy areas were more boggy and the banks were even more cut up.
After the practise lap we then assembled near the start ready to be called up into our seeded positions. It was pretty chilly stood there in the wind wearing just a single layer of damp skin-tight lycra and to make matters worse it then started to rain a little bit again. From Team Scimitar, Gethin was called up first. The seedings and start positions on the grid are based on your average points from races so far in the series. Chris was called up a few places and a row behind Gethin and I was called up a couple of places behind Chris but ended up next to him on the grid as those between us had opted for the end of the lines. There was the usual banter on the start line and before long the Senior men were off. We (the V40’s) start one minute behind them with the V50’s and 60’s going off behind us.
The start took us straight into what would be the final series of grassy traverses of the lap and then up the little climbs to the finish line where we would start the first full lap proper. It was only a short run in to the first turn but I got away from the line well, made quite a few places and then slotted into the mayhem on the first bend. Things went into single file around the second bend and I got a good run out of it and then dived down the inside on the next one to gain a few more places. I’d had a good start and both Chris and Gethin were now behind me. Richie was just ahead.
Things got strung out a little on the climbs and then we were off into the muddy fields once again. As usual I’ve probably lost track of exactly where and when things happened but as we approached the tricky bank and dismounted I was right on Richie’s tail and could have overtaken him but I was boxed in and unable to do so. I took my opportunity on the muddy climb up towards the pits though and passed him through the deep mud. This mud was both speed and energy sapping and my heart rate was now maxed out as I tried to keep him behind me. I managed to keep him there for most of the lap but he passed me again and we started the next full lap as we were before with me on his back wheel. There was an action replay on the next lap as I overtook him on the muddy slope up to the bottom of the pits. I think Richie dived into the pits here for a bike change and I therefore opened out a bit of a gap on him.
Behind me I could see both Gethin and Chris not too far behind but they didn’t seem to be gaining. I eased up just a touch here and there trying to get my breathing back under control. What I didn’t realise was that on his MTB Richie was now flying and closing the gap to me easily. He soon passed me on the next lap and then disappeared off ahead of me. There was no way I could go with him.
I could see that Chris was closing in on me now as well and before long I could hear his distinctive (slightly wheezy) heavy breathing behind me. I had things under control effort wise now though so decided to let him pass and ride my own race which would mean I had something left in reserve for the final lap. I was now running through the speed and energy sapping mud below the pits each lap. It wasn’t any faster, but it wasn’t slower either and it was a lot easier.
As it happened Chris didn’t open out much of a gap on me once he was in front and I wasn’t far off his wheel as we went onto the last lap. Going into the first field I had a massive two wheel drift and nearly lost it. Fortunately both tyres dug in and hooked up just as I brushed the tape and I stayed upright. I’d lost a bit of ground but now was the time for my final lap effort. I closed in on Chris and then overtook him whilst running through the mud below the pits. I then kept the effort high for another minute or so and opened out a bit of a gap. I put a few back-markers between us through the next few section and had enough of a lead as I went through the water splash for a final time to hold onto it. I continued to push hard up the final climb but there was no need for a mad final sprint against Chris. Phew, it was over and I’d actually done better than I thought I would.
Not only had I ridden fairly well and put in a hard effort but I had coped with the muddy’slippery conditions that are usually my nemesis. On top of that I was ahead of Chris and Gethin. I feel a bit of an underdog in Team Scimitar so beating them is always good. Positions, placings and series point are always good but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. No one judges you on where you came in the race. Whether you finish 5th, 15th or 30th no one thinks more of less highly of you. What really matters is that you were there, taking part and giving it your all. We all want to beat each other and it’s good to have friendly rivalry but the actual result isn’t that important – at least, not in the middle of the pack it isn’t. Things may be different at the front.
Getting out there, racing the best that you can and testing your skills, fitness and to a certain extent luck is what it’s all about. As usual, this race delivered. The course was certainly testing. It demanded concentration and hard work all the way around and had plenty of variety to test all of your skills. The racing was hard and at times close fought and of course there was plenty of mud! Everything seemed to run well so as usual there’s a big thank-you to all of the organisers and volunteers. There may have been times as we battled to keep moving on each lap that we hated you but afterwards there were big smiles beaming from our muddy faces.
I packed up took a few photos to prove how muddy it had been and then started to drive home.
It was only now that I noticed my knee was quite sore. I vaguely remembered bashing it against something (my frame, bars or maybe something else) during the race but hadn’t really noticed anything untoward. It was now pretty sore though and starting to swell. up. I stopped off at a petrol station for milk and got some Ibuprofen in an attempt to reduce the inflammation. It was still painful by the time I got home.
At home, Anna was still there, the sun was shining and the wind was blowing. No rest for me yet though as I spent the next hour or so washing and lubing my bike and hosing down my cycling kit before it could go in the washing machine. Eventually I was able to put my feet up and apply an ice pack to my knee. Roast dinner, more icing, more ibuprofen and an evening on the sofa watching the Grand Prix were now in order.