Sunday 19 September 2021

Photo of the day - 19: Cyclocross season opener at Ardingly

Photo: Dave Hayward

After yesterday's fun-packed day of a hill climb race in the morning and Swim Serpentine in the afternoon, I was feeling a bit tired and not really in the zone to be doing a competitive bike ride. But today was the day of my first cyclocross race of the year, the London and SE League race, organised by Dougie Fox of Crawley Wheelers.

Cyclocross racers wait impatiently and avidly all through the spring and summer for the season to begin. While other folks begin to bemoan the rapidly disappearing summer (or the UK version of summer) cyclocross racers get more excited as the weather turns greyer, colder, and damper!

I had paid up for this event, and had had it marked in the diary for a few weeks, so I really wanted to go. Also, we barely had a cyclocross season last year due to the pandemic. So I wanted to make up for that this year. The only problem was that I was feeling quite sluggish and felt more in the mood to admire the nature as I tootle around, rather than eyeball my rivals through eyes of fierce competition as I pedal in anger.

In any case I went through the motions and got in the car to drive to the South of England Showground, Ardingly, where the event was taking place.

At moments like this when you aren't rearing to go your brain picks up on it and you end up getting things wrong. Firstly, I got the venue too late to be able to do a recon of the course. In fact I got to sign-on 10 minutes after it officially closed. 
Secondly, I failed to put my helmet on. I think the fact that I was wearing a hat led me to falsely believe I was wearing my helmet. When I realised the error, we had less than 5 minutes to go before the 12.30 start. I pedalled like mad back to the car and put on the correct head gear. Looking at my watch as I rode back to the start line I thought I was doing okay for time as it was 12.27 I would be able to reach the start line within three minutes. However, at 12.28 I heard the whistle go and the pack sprinted off in the distance, while I was still 50 metres from the start line! Whoops!

I think that was the adrenaline kick that I needed to get into the race, given that I was well behind the field. I didn't panic, but just rode at a steady high pace, and focused on not getting my racing lines wrong. Thankfully my summer gravel rides had helped improve my bike handling, and I was able to get over the various mounds and drops on this fast flowing course without too much problem. 

As it was a first race I just hoped to get around cleanly and not really focus on the result. I did manage to catch a few women - Monica Zamojska from Brixton Cycles, helped by the fact that she crashed on the hurdles; then Elaine Owen from De Laune CC. There was another De Laune CC woman who I caught right in the finish straight, but she was better at getting over the hurdles than I. In any case, I was pleased with how my race went, considering my rubbish start. 

For me, the main thing was how good it was to see the old faces again - Liz Orr from Kent Velo Girls, Emma Porter from Penge CC along with Wendy, a new Penge CC rider who I also saw yesterday at the hill climb. I did manage to say a few words to Caroline Reuter of Dulwich Paragon, who is still queen of the London and SE league. I had hoped to chat a bit to my old sparring partner, Suzie Wise of C&N Cycles, but she has made so much progress since the last time I saw her that she was way off in the distance. And after the race, we both got caught up talking to different people. Hopefully I will catch her (in the race and after the race!) next time. 
All in all, it wasn't a bad afternoon out, and I am actually looking forward to the next race.

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