Sitting in bed with a brew it felt like the rain hammering on my window wanted to jump in bed and join me. The glass rattled as the hum drum wet played it's Keith Moon-style drum solo. I tweeted my concern. The response came back from road.cc's own Jo Burt that if the weather was crap less people would show up and I was going to get a better result. With those words ringing in my ears I got my routine underway.
The Breakfast Routine Of A Mid Pack Cyclocross Racer:
Weetabix x 4
Muesli bar type thing
Beet it Stamina Shot
Chia Seeds [tablespoon or so] in glass of water till they swell. Then drink...
The last two I'll admit are probably placebo rather than anything else, but I've realised recently I'm a food fad addict when it comes to cycling and if it makes a difference to me in the head then thats all good to me.
Car packed and away... arrived. Stanmer Park is a hop step and jump from home, some races you can't miss. Being this close to home and with a course I loved last year I was never going to bail for a bit of bad weather. My Dad [Paul] was joining me again as mechanic/soigneur for this race, he's a hardy Yorkshire type but even he felt the chill of the harsh wind when we left the car to sign on. I caught up with friends, chatted and put some more kit on. Baltic. Even for a Yorkshire lad "Darn Sarf."
My sighting lap went well, as with a lot of the courses I've ridden them before and the twists and turns through the woodland to the right of the course were brilliant. It was like racing cross-country MTB again, winding through woodland between trees. I also train a fair bit around Stanmer so my confidence was up. I take each race as it comes, never trying to dwell on what's happened before so I was ready to really attack the course and see how far up the standings I could get. The field of Seniors, Juniors, Women and Vets was large, about 120 strong.
It was back to the car for the final Gel, pick up the spare wheels and a quick chat with Dad. We were set. Dad went to put the spares in the pits and I spun my legs around the lower part of course. With 10mins to go I headed straight for the start line, stripped down to my race kit and found my spot. The start was a very very narrow funnel. Stood on the line it was elbows at dawn as riders jostled for every inch, luckily as a skinny lad my elbows are sharp already so I found a fair bit of space easily.
I WILL START YOU IN THE NEXT 15 SECONDS.
The narrow nature of the start meant there was nothing for me to do for the first 30 seconds of the race. I must have been in the 10th row on the grid, but even that took time to get going as there was no opportunity for riders to head wide around slower racers. Finally I was off and motoring.
The course was wet, and the mud was thick and only getting thicker as the race took off. The strong wind was drying things out in a lot of places but the thick mud stuck to bikes, riders and unlucky officials to close to a rear wheel near the start line. The ground cut up fast and mechanicals of all types were happening all over the place.
Riders with too much wind in their tyres slipped into corners and soon felt the cold muck on their sides and faces. My 23psi Grifo's served me well, and my knowledge of the course saw me heading through the field faster than even I thought was possible. By the middle 20 minutes I'd caught a rider I never thought I'd see during a race and it almost caught me by surprise. He spotted me and his face was as much a picture as mine. I sat on.
I followed the wheels of the group we accumulated for as long as I could, around 2 laps. Riders I recognised seemed almost alarmed to be riding with me and it spurred me on. With 2 laps left my lack of miles finally caught me and kicked me hard. I slipped back and lost the final wheel of the group. It was time to dig in and try and hold off as many riders as I could before the bell.
One rider latched onto my wheel as we came round for the last time and with the bell ringing in my ears and no matter how much my legs and lungs rasped I tried to push and hold him off. It didn't last long though and soon the rider kicked like a mule and within a few seconds was away, I was slightly a gast but knew that there was no time to dwell there was only a few minutes left to get a good result in this big field.
My bike must have been three or four times as heavy by this point, the benefits of a second bike becoming more and more obvious as the race carried on. It seems something to consider for the future. But one thing I'll say for the Cannondale CAAD-X is that at no time did mud stop me riding. Throughout the race I passed guys having to stop each lap to systematically clear thick mud from their bikes. The designers at Cannondale clearly know their onions, or 'cross bike design at least.
With a final turn I crossed the line.
As with most races it's tough to tell how you've done, so a wait till the next day told me I was 53rd out 121 riders. With those conditions I was well pleased, last year in the filth I was always 20 places lower so I was definitely moving in the right direction.
A look back at the results since has seen me move to 51st as two riders were subsequently DQ'd for entering the National Trophy and riding locally on the same day, something I had no idea you could or couldn't do. A lesson to us all I guess. So 51st out of 121 riders, for now I will happily take that, my next race is on the 9th of December at regionals as things are getting very busy for me before the festive period. But more on that soon, I'm sure.
See you on the start line.
All photos copyright Gavin Peacock.