Well the bike’s been hosed down and the kit washed, and with a cool glass of Budvar in hand it’s time to take stock of mine, Gary K and Droppy’s first ‘cross event ever, and Martin’s first of 2011.
We managed not to make too many newbie errors, even removing bottle cages before actually arriving at the venue, some scrubby land in Tong, near Bradford, where the course shared space with some “It’s gripped-sorted!” types slithering around in Mad Max style offroad vehicles. Still there were some PRO cross set-ups – turbos, pergolas, generators, vans that said ‘Dugast’ on the back and even a guy afterwards who’d bought his own pressure washer.
There was also masses of youth in attendance, encouraging for those of us looking to get kids into cycling – lots of young ‘uns cooling down from the 15 min U10 race, with Islabikes very much the dominant brand. My lads will be getting muddy in VC Beverley colours soon!
Despite Martin and my advanced age we decided to go with the seniors rather than vets so we’d all be able to ride together. This didn’t look like such a brilliant idea as the start time drew near -pretty much everyone waiting for the vets to finish looked kinda lean and mean. Lots of cross bling about the place, some very natty carbon canti brakes and exotic tyres too. But my Boardman drew a bit of attention for its disc brakes and general spanky newness. Martin’s livid green Kona can, of course, be seen from space – at least before a race.
Anyway, to the racing. We managed to get a sighting lap of the course, which was a) longer than anticipated and b) a bit jolly technical. The start wound in zigzags up a field, punctuated in one straight by two planks that only the real experienced guys had the skill and bottle to bunnyhop. For me it was a cackhanded dismount, a scuttle and a frantic remount, every lap. Lesson number 1 of cross is that good dismount/remount skills (or whatever the technical cross term is) can lose or gain you loads of time.
The course then snaked up the hill some more, with some really tight turns. Lesson number 2 of cross is that road cornering techniques (leaning in, weight front and over the side) create massive understeer, causing the hapless newbie to bin it. This I did during the race on one occasion. Then we had our first proper ‘portage’ section, a repeat ‘up down’ of an unrideable slope. here I was well impressed with my new Spesh MTB shoes, which dug in nicely up the steep muddy ground. The course then took a gentle downhill, providing time for a quick breather, before a really quite technical downhill wooded section. On the sighting lap we walked the first steep drop but during the race we went for it, weight thrown back mtb-style and alternating front and back brake pressure to try and try and keep the wheels rolling rather than sliding.
In fact an mtb would have been much better here: big fat tyres, super high BB and wide bars would have been just the thing for getting over logs and roots etc. However the Boardman did a great job of getting me up the steep climb to the foot of a nasty portage section. And once back on the tracks and grass the bulk of an mtb would doubtless have slowed things down some more.
So that was the sighting lap. The massed start was a real Gladiator moment and I just opted to stay the f*ck out of the way of any hardmen and find a wheel to follow. In fact it’s surprising how quickly 60 or so riders (I didn’t count but that’s a guess) string out and settle down. Martin tells me that the order of the first guys into the first corner can decide the race.
It rapidly becomes apparent to the cross newbie who’s done road racing that drafting has much less relevance. At the lower end of cross speeds, the main source of resistance comes from the ground and the various obstacles, not from the wind. So lesson number 3 of cross is that you get to ride at your own pace, rather than being compelled to ride at the speed of superior beings. This doesn’t make it easy, though: it’s a hard effort all the time with just the very occasional easy downhill to recover, and Droppy’s wrist-mounted HRM (there’s no use in cross for computers) recorded 1100 cals burned in an hour, which doesn’t seem at all unreasonable.
As the race progressed I got to meet some of the proper quick guys as they lapped me with a shout of “rider!” or “on your right/left”. They were proper quick and the best moment was the really terrifying noise that carbon rims make under heavy braking in the wet. The source of the scary noise came past me in the now near-dark woodland section, doing even scarier grunty breathing like something out of an exorcism film.
Without a watch (too rattly) or a computer (it would have been vibrated off) though I hadn’t a clue how much racing there was left until I started to notice the lap boards. Also in evidence was a really dirty great big black cloud, heading our way. For about 3/4 of the race it had been bright and sunny with reasonably dry ground, and I have to confess to having been a little disappointed by these un-Belgian conditions. But the big black cloud did its thing and the final laps ran in a torrential downpour. Which had its predictable effect, making the course slick and slippy. The woodland descent became a rapid out-of-control megaslide and in the end, gravity won and I binned it again into the mud. Up to the start/finish again in the pouring rain… and it was all over. The winner had finished so it was time to hang out and watch the other remaining riders come in.
No idea about the results yet but I think the VC Beverley order was me, Droppy, Martin and Gary. I’ll post up the results and links to pix when they’re up on BC.
But in summary, cross is an excellent crack. Friendly atmosphere, massive workout, good technical course and some new skills to learn – and it doesn’t hurt when you fall off! We’ll be back for more…
And thanks, as mentioned in the forum thread, to Maffers and Malton Wheelers colleague for shouting us on at the point of the circuit where you really need encouragement.
And finally. Lesson number 4 of cross – wear mitts that don’t have a hole in them. That’s a bit of Martin’s hand, that is. Ouch.