It seems strange to say that the mountain bike season is over - it feels like it never really began with only two cross country races in the bag this year. However, the cyclo-cross season is now here! I tend to take part in a couple of CX races before I hibernate and dive into winter training. This year the first of these races was the Heart of England Cyclo-cross, a stand-alone event organised by the Solihull Cycling Club at the Heart of England Conference Centre which took place last Sunday.
With the continued presence of COVID, the format would be slightly different this year. There would be limited practice time, limited race entrants and social distanced gridding - all hoops that race organisers have to jump through this year, so my appreciation goes to clubs and organisers like Solihull CC for stepping up and putting on some events for the love of the sport!
With my category practice time set for late afternoon I was able to have a lie in and waltz down to the event about midday. Cyclo-cross is renowned for being a muddy affair so I was armed and ready with my mud setup: Halo Vapours kitted with Schwalbe X-one X bites. After parking up and signing on, I went for a course inspection whilst watching one of the earlier races and much to my surprise the course was actually pretty dry. The main line on course was a little muddy where to grass had worn away but there was certainly no need for a mud tyre, so Schwalbe X-one Allrounds it was. Luckily, I had them set up on my spare wheels ready to roll just in case!
Solihull had managed to put together a fantastic course. It featured the usual myriad of grass hairpins, but they had thrown in some steep and off camber banks, and a wood section featuring a steep rutted climb, fast descent and nice big ditch which forced you to get off and do some running. I was stoked and ready to hit the course for practice.
We only had 30 minutes allotted for practice so it was fast paced. Luckily the course was short, even for CX, so I was able to get 3 laps in. I dropped my tyres pressure slightly during practice as I knew the course would provide less traction throughout the race as the lines became more worn in. With practice over, there was only 30 mins till race time; a quick refuel and it was time to get warmed up on the rollers and then head to the start pen.
This race was gridded and unfortunately, I been allocated a position on the penultimate row of five. This was enhanced by the fact this would be a socially distanced grid with 2m gaps between each row! Whilst this was disappointing, I tried not to let it get into my head and focused on getting the best start possible.
I didn’t get my best start personally, but the rider in front of me missed his pedal, stalling my start further and meaning I was unable to head to open space as planned and ended up getting boxed in. This plagued me for the opening lap, getting caught up in traffic on the technical banks and having to unclip, costing me further time to leaders. As we headed into lap two, I had worked my way into open space just outside of the top ten but had used a lot of energy to get there. However over the course of the next few laps I settled into a rhythm and felt pretty on form - my numbers were good, I was riding really well technically and I could see I was closing the gaps to the riders ahead. Throughout the course of the race, I kept putting down consistent laps and made up a number of places ending up in 7th position with three laps to go. By this point though the gaps in the field were too large to close down and I held this position to the finish.
Ultimately this was not the result I aimed for, however there are plenty of positives to take away. I rode really well technically and put in good lap times against a very strong field of Elite CX and professional riders. Who knows what might have been with a more advantageous start position but we’ll never know. What it has done though is get me truly fired up for my next race, the first round of the NDCXL the weekend after next and also the winters' training ahead!
It wasn’t just me racing at this event -a number of my club mates from Dynamic Rides CC & Inflite Dynamic Rides were also competing, keeping me company and bagging some top results, so congratulations to those boys.
With racing done, we were quickly ushered of the race site and it was off to the pub to top off a great day! Congratulations to everyone who got stuck in and muddy, and again thanks to Solihull CC for putting on a great event!
Photo Credit: Stu Harper
Video Credit: Solihull CC