Sunday 16 September 2018

One day one photo - 16: Cyclocross is boss at Crystal Palace

Cyclocross is back for the 2018/9 season (in case you hadn't noticed), and the second round of the London and SE cyclocross league was held at Crystal Palace. Yes, Crystal Palace Park in South London, close to where I live. We are accustomed to seeing road racing on the tarmacced paths there on Tuesday evenings during the summer. But cyclocross on the Crystal Palace turf is something else. I had never thought I'd see the day that Bromley Council would allow this!

Crystal Palace was the site of cyclocross racing in years gone by, right up to the mid-1980s. In fact the World Cyclocross championships were held there in 1973 and you can find vintage footage of it on You Tube.

Addiscombe Cycling Club had attempted to revive the venue for cyclocross racing about 10 years ago. Bromley initially granted permission, probably thinking it would be just another road race like the Tuesday night criterium races, or even the Tour of Britain professional race, which was held there one year. But then when someone in their parks and leisure department looked up what cyclocross actually is, they changed their minds and asked for a huge amount of bond money that the club could not afford to pay. So the plans for a cyclocross race at Crystal Palace were abandoned and venue for the league round was moved back to Penshurst Off-Road Centre, in Kent.

So when we heard that Max and Caroline Reuter had managed to secure the venue this was met with much excitement and anticipation. And the race did not fail to disappoint.

Firstly, the sun came out for us, which is always a good start - even if it's not proper cyclocross weather! But that meant that there were quite a lot of spectators who had picnics while cheering, jeering and heckling us on the tough sections!

Negotiating a tricky corner at Crystal Palace (Photo: Phil Jones)
The course was long, and a real merry-go-round. There were a few series of off-camber zigzags to negotiate, plus a spiral of doom which at times made me slightly dizzy.

The long straight sections where you could bash the pedals hard and get up some speed were pretty bumpy and threw me about a bit.

As with most cyclocross races there were hurdles to run over, but these ones were especially high to stop the showboaters from bunnyhopping them.

One have-a-go-hero did attempt to jump over the hurdles while in the saddle, but embarrassingly faceplanted right in front of some Dulwich Paragon spectators - much to their amusement.

Another section had a steep descent followed by a sharp right-hand turn at the bottom, and a steep climb which all had to be done all on foot. It's not uncommon to run up a hill with your bike, but I don't know of a time when I have had to run downhill with my bike.

It was tough work, and a bit of a balancing act, as well as taxing on the knees. Then the uphill was even tougher work. This area was known as Penge CC corner, where my non-cyclocross racing club-mates took pleasure in shouting at us, sometimes cheering, but just generally willing us along as we crawled and heaved our way up the hill before tackling and another technical descent on a camber. Oh, and did I mention that we also had a flight of steps to run up as well?

Yes, this round of the cyclocross was not boring! Funnily enough, I didn't crash at all. I had a few moments of brushing up against other riders and somehow managed to hold my space even if it meant leaning into them to keep my balance!

My race progressed in the usual way - starting off pretty much at the back, despite being gridded further up the field, using the first couple of laps to get into my stride, while riding around with an anxious face, and then half way through I become emboldened and begin to catch people, finally finishing mid-pack.

The same thing happened today, except that I caught Les Filles rider Tracy Corbett, aka TC, and just couldn't get passed her. TC seemed to have that 6th or 7th gear, to put on a spurt and stay ahead of me. Perhaps, deep down I had a thing about overtaking her, and psychologically I didn't feel comfortable about passing this rider I have known for many years and have a lot of respect for.

Every time I got close to TC I would make a mistake in my gearing or something and that would set me back. So in the end she managed to use her explosive power to get ahead of me on the straight section in the closing stages of the race, and that was me done. But it had been a nice sparring match. (Mental note to work on my psychology for next time.)

It was a good day out though. London cycling legend and cyclocross aficionado John Mullineaux was there and he captured the day's events in his write-up. Lots of folks were out photographing us too, and I like this one that Phil Jones took of me just when I was negotiating a deceptively tricky spot, on which I am proud to say I didn't stack it! Thanks Phil!

Thanks also go to Caroline and Max Reuter, plus the guys from London Phoenix and all the other volunteers who helped to put on this event, as well as ID Verde and Bromley Council for granting permission to hold this momentous event.

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