This weekend saw the first round of the West Midlands Cyclocross League (WMCCL) take place at Abbey Stadium in Redditch. I’m not a regular CX racer so I don’t have a bike but I pimped out the Halo Vapours with some 33s and gave it a go!
I was really looking forward it actually as a lot of my fellow cycling club members from Dynamic Rides were taking part, and many more coming to watch, so it was set to be a good day. I rocked up about midday, expecting rain, but it was absolutely scorching - almost too hot but I’m not going to complain because there will be plenty of cold wet races to come this winter!
After signing on and grabbing my number board, it was time to get the bike ready. It felt pretty odd putting wheels fitted with 33mm tyres onto a mountain bike and it looked absolutely ridiculous but I can tell you they are essential. I did a couple of the East Midlands league last year with 2.2s, the drag was enormous and when its wet/muddy they don’t cut into the mud they just skate across the top.
Once I was ready to roll I found my club mates and we hit the track for a couple of practice laps. The course was predominantly flat, with a few punchy climbs and off camber sections and a lot of hair pin bends. It took a little while to get used to the feel and cornering of the narrow tyres compared to mountain bike ones but I quickly got the hang of it. The mountain bike bars and geometry helped provide some extra control I am sure. The part of the course giving people the most headache was the logs/barriers, two logs about 10 inches high with about 10ft spacing in between. Most people were getting off and walking over these - a skill most CX regulars have dialled. I however being an amateur, with the leg coordination of a giraffe, didn’t. Not to worry though, because I was on a mountain bike I could just bunny hop them, and that made this section of the course my ace card.
With practice over rather quickly, as we only had 30mins, it was back to the car for some body fuel. The sun was still blazing so getting enough fluids down you was key. Most CX guys and girls don’t ride with a bottle but I choose to take one due to the heat.
The race was due to start at 14:30 and similar to mountain biking the gridding would take place about 15mins before. Being conscious I would not be gridded having not done a round before I knew it would be important to be up there early to get the best starting spot I could. With this in mind lunch was kept pretty short as I headed to the start/finish area to warm up about 14:10pm.
This tactic worked, allowing me to get on the first row behind the gridded racers, joined by fellow club member Ash. The race start was indicated by the blow of a whistle and we were off. The pace for the first few laps was higher than I am used to from XC and starting is not my forte in XC either so this was a shock to the system for sure. Despite this I dug deep, knowing it would be easier to pass now when everyone was bunched up than later on in the race. I managed to pass quite a few people, particularly over my trump card, the log section. I made up as many places as I could but eventually the pace was too high to move any further forward so I tried to settle in to my rhythm. It was hard to tell what pace I should be running as I haven’t much experience of a 50min race scenario, as XC races last 1.5 – 2 hours. About half way through I was having a decent battle with one racer. We were faster in altering sections; he was better on the flats being on a CX race machine and I was better on the more technical sections so we traded places multiple times. However, throughout the duration of the race his pace faded and mine actually increased due to the longer durations I am used to competing over. I felt pretty strong at the end of the race, maybe a sign I didn’t pace it quite right, although I know I couldn’t have gone much faster at the start as I am not used to that level of intensity. Regardless, with 9 laps done I crossed the line and managed to place 7th just behind fellow club mate Gary, albeit he was a minute up the road!
I was pretty happy with that performance though, being relatively inexperienced at racing CX and being on the wrong bike so I’ll take it and learn.
All in all, I really enjoyed the day. The weather was great, the course was fun and racing with and being supported by fellow club mates made it for me. Shout out to all the guys who came along to support, your shouting and yelling certainly helped me! And of course, congratulations to all the other racers from the club who all nailed their races, strong performances all round.
Looking forward to next one!