I have been talking about giving cyclocross a go for years. I have several friends who are evangelists for riding their bikes through the muddy wintry woods, and I have always thought it looked like fun. I confess I have been a little intimidated in the past, partly through lack of the correct equipment – I only had a (very heavy) mountain bike.
This year, I have invested in a Boardman cyclocross bike, and have spent the last two weeks seeking out the muddiest, most obscure paths I can find to satisfy my growing passion for off road riding. Having raved about my new found love for trails, it was inevitable that I would end up at a cyclocross race sooner rather than later. This weekend, a cancellation of The Boy’s football match left me with a rare free Sunday, and a hot ticket to Bradley Woods.
Pleasingly, sandwiched between the junior races and the main adult race, the organisers had put on a three lap Novice Race. Perfect. There were sixteen of us on the start line for this taster event, including five clubmates from Wakefield Tri Club, all taking part in their first or second race, and happy to act as a warm up for the more experienced boys and girls in the main race to follow.
We started uphill, and I was knackered within thirty seconds. Even though the gradient wasn’t all that great, the slippery surface and boggy patches meant that progress was difficult. I had taken up a position behind Paul Dumont, which made it tricky to see the terrain ahead, but I certainly didn’t have the strength to go past him. When we reached the top of the hill and turned to descend, this gave some respite. But honestly not all that much. Even the downhills required a lot of concentration, and I had to keep telling myself to relax.
I managed to get past Paul, but the tiny burst of speed took me into the next muddy corner a little overcooked, and I very nearly slid out. Fortunately I held it together, and we went up into the forest section. This was where the real adventure lay, with steep banks testing the legs and the handling skills, sharp descents testing the nerves, and even a log to bunny hop.
The highlight was a big hole that had been created some time ago by the roots of a fallen tree. We cycled headlong into the hole with the aim of carrying enough speed to take us up the other side. The first lap, I just got off and pushed. The second lap I tried to ride it, failed, and ended up flat on my face in the bank. The third lap I made it! Unfortunately, the effort required left me so knackered that I could do little more than freewheel for the next minute or so.
Paul had gone back past me before the end of the first lap when I had managed to fall over my handlebars on a relatively innocuous straight, my front wheel stuck in a rut. In total I came off four times, with varying levels of spectacular drama, but the beauty of riding in the mud is that there’s no bruising to be had when you land on soft leafy soil.
Towards the end of the third lap, only twenty minutes in, I was absolutely exhausted. Paul was now too far ahead for me to catch so I took it easy for the last couple of minutes rather than push harder and have a coronary. I think I need to do a little more work on pacing next time.
There will be a next time. My love affair with cross continues apace, and I am looking at the calendar to see if I can insert myself into any other races before the season is over.