So, I did my first cyclocross race at the weekend and it was everything I thought it would be and more! I arrived nice & early, in fact a couple of hours before my race – I wanted to soak in the atmosphere. After parking, I wandered down to sign on & found myself in the middle of what seemed like hundreds of kids riding the u10/12 race. The noise of cowbells & cheering parents was brilliant & I was hooked.
In the queue to sign on, I bumped into Bill Young of Pedal Power – Bill has become a good friend online, although we’d never actually met! It was good to finally shake hands and be able to say thanks for all the advice & encouragement as I took my first steps in the world of ‘cross. Turned out that Bill was parked only 2 cars away from me, so I was able to ask a couple more ‘newbie’ questions before the race. Cheers Bill!
After getting the bike setup & my kit on, it was time to do a couple of practice laps. It was great to finally be on the course after weeks of training in the park – it’s totally different. The bomb hole scared the crap out of me, but I managed to ride through it. I also noticed that most people were running down the muddy hill, through the burn & then up the muddy bank, so all thoughts of riding down went out the window (which I was quite happy about!).
The muddy bank
After this I did a quick warm up on the turbo, as Craig Hardie had advised, and I was ready to go. It seemed like there were hundreds of guys in our race (the vets 40-49) and everyone wanted to be at the front of the grid. The gun went off and it was no surprise that there was a big crash on the first tight corner – there simply wasn’t enough room for everyone to get through first!
My race plan was simply to gain experience, so I was content to start at the back and just get used to racing on the course. I turned round at one point on the first lap and was surprised to see that there was no-one behind me. Shit, I was last! Pretty quickly I pushed harder on the pedals and moved up a few places. Thing is, I have the fitness, I just don’t have the experience or race skills yet. With each lap I got more confident, and as my strava file showed afterwards, faster. By the last couple of laps I was much happier and despite being lapped by a handful of riders I was still moving up through the field. I was best on the flatter sections and got past people fairly easily, I’ll just need to get better at riding up / down hill and through mud!
In the end I finished 52nd (out of 70 starters) – I had Gordon Watt of Deeside Thistle in my sights, but I just couldn’t catch him, finishing 10 seconds back. I was content with this – as I said it was all about experience. Racing for places will come in the future.
It was also good to have one of my new team-mates from COG Velo there as well. Pete was riding the seniors race – his first ‘cross race too. Pete had pretty much the same experience as me, although had to ride for 20 minutes longer. I can’t imagine what that must have been like, especially after being out the night before. Chapeau!
My learnings from the race?
- Start position is everything & you need to fight to hold your position. It’s not like a road race where you can move up & down the bunch. It’s much harder in ‘cross once you slip back.
- I need to work on my trail riding – I was too tentative, particularly on the downhill sections through the forest.
- I was okay on the off-camber sections, but need to learn to ride them faster.
- I need to push myself to ride harder in the race. My average HR was 163 – I know I’m capable of pushing that up towards 170.
- Someone said ‘cross is like doing a time trial. That’s bollocks! In a TT I could pace myself to ride at a certain power and could pretty much predict what my time would be. In cross it’s eyeballs out and you go from threshold to above threshold a lot! It’s nothing like a TT at all….
- My running is pretty good – I made up time & moved ahead of guys on the running & banking sections.
- Cross is hard, but great fun with brilliant banter!
- You really appreciate the support from the crowd. Hearing ‘come on Ali!’ drives you on (thanks everyone!)
- Mud gets *everywhere*
Finally, I can’t sign off without saying a big thanks to the legend that is John McComisky. We’ve spoken a fair few times on twitter, and having watched a load of the DigInMate videos on You Tube, I already felt like I knew John pretty well, but this was the first time we’d met. John’s shouts of encouragement & friendly banter as I raced round the course were great and just what I expected to be on the end of. Loved it mate!
And so we move on to round 2 at Falkirk on the 20th, when there will be at least 5 of us from COG racing. Between now & then I’ll be training harder, running more and getting in some sessions on the trails. I might not be race-ready by then, but I’ll be a lot better & wiser than I was at the ‘Tosh. Bring it on!