Ratha! Supper Cross comes to Framley Hall

August 25, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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Cyclocross is one of the most accessible branches of bike racing. Women, men, old and young participate with equal gusto. However, there is one sector of society that is still under-represented in ‘cross: the upper class.

In the interests of inclusivity, I’m promoting a new event. Ratha! Supper Cross provides an opportunity for ‘cross racing in the beautiful setting of Framley Hall. Course highlights include:

Ha-Ha, Heaton Park - geograph.org.uk - 490439

Shoulder your bike for the Ha-ha Challenge

Rose thorns - 01

Don’t fall off in the Rose Garden


Bunny-hopping ability will gain you advantages in the Vivarium

Rock garden (6172688208)

Sketchy under-wheel in the Japanese Rock Garden

Inspired by the Glyndebourne model, the race is split into three sections, with intervals allowing participants to make the most of their glorious surroundings.

Ratha! Supper Cross begins at 5pm. After fifteen minutes of racing, there will be a twenty-minute interval. (Interval drinks, from High-5 to tequila, should be ordered in advance, and will be handed up in the last lap.) After a relaxing stroll around the course, participants return for a further half an hour’s racing before the ninety-minute dinner interval, where they are encouraged to change into evening wear in the Portaloos and make their way to one of our Michelin-starred French dining establishments (L’Hut Scouting, La Chippée, or our newest acquisition, Le Café Au Centre De Leisure L’Autre Side Du Ring-Road). Alternatively, riders can set up their picnic tables in the grand Ratha! tradition; please bear in mind that prime spots (the Dense Clump Of Trees, the Only Flat Bit Of Grass) may need to be booked early.

Participants then return for the final fifteen minutes of racing. Podium presentations will take place in the Orangery, for warmth: staff will do their best to remove all the tarantulas, but please watch your step.

Ratha logo

‘Cross diary 34: @RaphaSuperCross. Take your mum

November 18, 2013 at 11:20 am | Posted in cycling | 8 Comments
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Entirely coincidentally (cough), we were visiting my Mum in North London when Rapha Super Cross came to Alexandra Palace. Having comprehensively failed to show her what ‘cross racing was like by weeping and DNSing at the last opportunity, I was keen to make amends.

The sun shone; the wind blew; the boys squabbled. Business as usual, then. Ally Pally was looking glorious in fashion-forward Autumn-Winter 2013-14 style. I got the boys signed on, then went for a ride round the course, immediately sliding over in the Spiral of Doooom™ (plus ça change, then). Good course: lots of charging around on the grass, bit of singletrack, out and up into the woods again, and repeat on the other side.


Brilliant .gif of the Spiral of Doooom, by Josephine Hartfiel (@Josi_Hartfiel). Click it if it won’t work.

Primo (8) had one of his legendary meltdowns halfway round his second lap: I’M NOT DOING IT. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME. I HATE CYCLOCROSS. Me: OK then! I carefully ignored him for a couple of minutes; he climbed back on sheepishly and rode off again. He finished the race grinning about his prizes (Hope bottle and quick-release keyring). I tried foolishly to turn this into a Learning Moment. Me: See, it was much better to finish, wasn’t it? Him (immediately grumpy again): NO. Meanwhile Segundo (5) was busy being my CX role model, soldiering on happily despite being unable to ride half the course.

Rapha Super Cross 2013 - Ally Pally-47

Marvellous Sights of That London

We milled around a bit, chatting to @Tiny_Pigeon and @TomStaniford, and looking in wonder at cyclists with BEARDS (rare sight in W Yorks). @iancleverly came over to say hello. @nik_tweet announced her arrival by smacking me hard on the arse as she rode past. I threw all my kit at @spandelles and went to line up. The women were in with the vets AND the juniors this time; they set us off in three groups, with the women going last. A commissaire called out names and women took their places, including the girl I’d just been chatting to; realising I knew her from twitter, I shouted ‘Ooh hallo @fentinator!’ There was no time to ponder how daft this sounded as my name was next. Yes, dear reader, for the first and very possibly the last time in my cyclocross career, I got GRIDDED. I actually got GRIDDED. I looked over to see @spandelles laughing his socks off. It didn’t matter.

I got an uncharacteristically good start and held my place in the middle of the group for ooh, half a lap, which felt very exciting (normally I’m shelled in the first few metres). While I was the only person who foot-dabbed in the middle of the Spiral of Dooooom, I didn’t fall off (as at least one other person did). Got a bit of a shock coming round one corner to find BARRIERS had suddenly appeared, but, unfazed, I managed to get off and back on again without drawing too much attention to myself. I charged into the woods excitedly and slithered around on one corner; the girl behind me said ‘Well recovered!’*

Rapha Ally Pally 2013

Get me, looking all PRO and not falling off or owt

Quite a few people burnt me up on the long hill, but cowbells were ringing and spectators were shouting REMEMBER, YOU LOVE THIS! IT’S WHY YOU DO IT! and COME ON THE WOMEN! and so I had to, really, didn’t I. I got overtaken loads (including by @fentinator, who said ‘Hallo!’ cheerily as she lapped me) but I managed to reel one woman back in over about a lap and a half and finally finished ahead of her. Result!

The rest of the day passed in a happy blur of eating crêpes, riding around with the boys and shouting encouragement at the elites. My mum had a great time; I found her watching the seniors, literally jumping up and down going ‘This is really exciting! Is this on the telly, ever?’ We erred on the side of caution and skipped the fun race to go home; @spandelles cunningly avoided all post-race pit crew duties by going and getting on a train. My mum cooked the boys’ tea, and I washed all three bikes then fell asleep in front of Countryfile. A pretty good day, in anyone’s books.

* get me, with the SKILLZ

‘Cross diary 33: BRIDE of @RaphaSuperCross

October 23, 2013 at 7:29 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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We like Rapha Super Cross. There’s something for everyone: face painting, frites, DJ, mud, terror. Remember the draggy, sloggy, uphill gunkfest from last year? There were a few scores to settle with Broughton Hall. I put my determined face on, and we loaded up the car.

The forecast had been grim all week, but the rain mostly held off. Uncharacteristically, we only took one wrong turn before we found the venue. The boys leapt about excitedly singing the theme from Wallace and Gromit while we unpacked the car. I went off to ride the course (as usual, I had my backpack on; some wag asked me if I was planning a picnic) while @spandelles got the boys ready for their race.

kids on the start line (pic by @spandelles)

They did well; Segundo (5) gave it some serious welly (‘I overtook someone!’) and Primo (8) rode up the banks like they weren’t there. They demolished enormous portions of frites while I tried to read Dutch and chatted to @melaniebbikes and @davewhite99 and queued for the loo and cooled down and generally did all the wrong things.

My turn. The vets went off first, then the women a couple of minutes later. @nik_tweet took a picture of me, grinning unconcernedly.

Me on the start line (pic by @nik_tweet)

I chatted to @alisonkinloch, who was back racing for the first time since breaking her wrist (she eventually came third. THIRD. With a still-painful wrist. I could weep). I got a really bad start, choosing entirely the wrong gear and cleverly positioning myself on the outside of the first turn, and I gradually dropped back over the first lap. It basically just got worse from then on. The course was a lot more fun than last year: tarmac, and steep banks, and twisty bits, and woody bits, and barriers, and thick mud, and bridges. The Rapha chap gave me a highfive as I grumbled past. @antmccrossan called out my name over the tannoy. @bex_love and her kids rang cowbells and shouted for me. But all that couldn’t make up for the despondency of toiling round on my own, watching everyone get further and further away.

Rapha SuperCX 2013 Skipton 21

I *am* suffering. Honest. That’s a grimace of pain. (Picture (c) Jo Allen, used with kind permission)

Soon, of course, I wasn’t on my own any more. The vets were coming. I’m a bit better at being lapped now (‘On your left!’ ‘OK!’), though @crossjunkie did give me a fright (he’s so STEALTH).It was getting hairy in the Spiral of Doom, with tight corners and deepening mud. The spectators were baying for blood, and they soon got it: I lost traction, slid over sideways and just heard ‘NO! YA F*CKER!’ as I landed on the ground with a bloke and his bike on top of me. Oh dear. He disentangled himself and sped off; I picked my bike up and was about to remount when someone yelled ‘SADDLE!’ Narrow escape…

broken_saddle (pic by @spandelles)

Winner of the Most Original Excuse For A DNF competition

So, that was it. I lifted the tape and tried not to cry in front of everyone. Chris Young offered to remove my saddle so I could complete the remaining ¾ of a lap without it. I declined (though I’ve regretted this since; I knew I couldn’t ride the whole thing standing up, but if it had occurred to me to run, I might have had a go). Chris tried to hide his disappointment at my lack of grit. Yorkshire hard men, eh.

Still. Broken saddles turn out to be up there with cute dogs in their knack of getting people to talk to you. I made a load of new friends wheeling my bike about. The chap who crashed into me came over and gruffly offered me a replacement (‘I’ve got loads of saddles.’). We introduced ourselves and made up.

We watched the elites racing, full of awe. Then I demonstrated my true cyclocross skill, which is as a spectator, screaming myself silly at the fun race. DON’T LET HIM GET PAST! CHANGE UP CHANGE UP! GIMME SOME RACEFACE! The sun came out as Wolf Man, Tinkerbell, the MTB tandemists and a motley crew of other hopefuls braced themselves for the wall of foam. It was a fitting end to a great day. And we’ve got Ally Pally next week to look forward to. I WILL FINISH. I will.

broughton hall with 5yo

‘Cross diary 17: This is not just ‘cross… This is @RaphaSuperCross

October 22, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Posted in cycling | 11 Comments
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Avid readers will remember what a jolly time we had at last year’s Rapha Super Cross in Huddersfield. The cowbells! The frites! The commentary! The runups! The pain! So you’ll understand why I signed myself and Primo up for the Skipton round of the 2012 Super Cross series MONTHS ago.

I’d been looking forward to it with a mixture of fear (not sand again, please! Not those horrible zigzags up and down the banks!) and delight (EVERYONE was going to be there) ever since. The night before, I gave myself a proper pro-style CX manicure and got out all my best kit.

We rolled up to the refined surroundings of Broughton Hall in beautiful sunshine and got unpacked. Chirpy families assembled bikes and dug around in kitbags for snacks. Primo hopped onto his brand new CX bike and we rode off together to sign on, @spandelles and Segundo bringing up the rear on foot. The Rapha show was already under way, with the crêpe van and the face-painter doing a brisk trade, and @antmccrossan loosening the vocal cords with a rundown of the day’s racing. A couple of chaps, their jeans artlessly rolled up, pushed  fixies gingerly through the mud.

Primo rode up and down on the grass for a while, then lined up for the under-10s. He got quite a slow start but was picking his way through the bunch by the end, and was thrilled to hear his name called out over the tannoy as he crossed the line.

While the under-12s were racing, I went off to have a look at the course. Barriers! I immediately fluffed the remount; not a brilliant omen. The course wound up, across the soggy grass. And up, across the soggy grass. And through some muddier bits. And down a bit, and up, across the soggy grass. And then MAD DOWNHILL OFF-CAMBER MUD HOLY MOLY OH MY GAWD HELP. And then up, across the soggy grass. You get the idea. Mmm.

Worried, I jumped on and off a bit, then chatted to the lovely smiley chap who counts off the numbers at Yorkshire Cyclocross events. The boys worked their way unconcernedly through posh sausage sandwiches, while I tried to decide whether to keep my armwarmers on or not. I played ‘Where do I know you from?’ with a girl called Camilla (it was a draw; neither of us could remember), and ran into @makepiece by the loos, still in her civvies with twenty minutes to go. (‘What happened?!’ ‘Late.’)


I was awestruck to see @LittleSimo lining up at the front. That’s right: I raced with Annie Simpson. (This is where my grandchildren look up at me, wide-eyed, as I reminisce from my bath chair.) I tried to pick up a few places when we set off, but that was all the racing I managed, to be honest. Oh, it was HARD. I mean, it was REALLY hard. No little technical sections to ease the pain. No jumping off and running for a bit. Nowhere to catch your breath: when you weren’t grinding over the sog, you were gripping the bars for dear life, hoping you weren’t going to skitter across the ruts and bring down someone important. I’m sure the views were magnificent; sadly, all I saw was a self-replenishing two foot square of torn-up lawn as I hauled round, grimly, in bottom gear.

I really did want to give up, about sixteen times a lap. I couldn’t even raise a smile for the cameras. Things that stopped me climbing off in tears included @crossjunkie intoning ‘Go on…’ every time he lapped me, and a family with cowbells on the remotest section of the course, whose little son shouted ‘Keep going! You’re doing really well!’ whenever I went past. Near the end, I was creaking along dejectedly when a sludgy section finally forced me off. I cast a look at the back of my bike; my brakes were hidden in a cowpat-sized block of mud and leaves. Ah. I poked it out, got back on and steamed off, at least six times as fast.

@spandelles said I made up a lot of time on that last lap. Not enough to catch @amyling, sadly, but I finished, of which I’m inordinately proud*. I’m dimly aware that I missed loads of people I wanted to meet, including @PETERSYOUNG (who later tweeted that he’d recognised me by my brakes); happily, we caught up with @bex_love and @mattlovecycling and @melaniebbikes, who’d dug out her INBFC badge specially (I was touched).

We wanted to stay for the fun race, but I was driving, and the grass was starting to look very comfortable. The boys sang LET’S MAKE A CAKE! all the way home, to stop me drifting off. @spandelles cleaned my bike, and cooked my tea, and told me he was proud.

* DieBeforeDNF

(British Cycling report of the day here)

‘Cross diary 3: I race. What can possibly go wrong?

October 16, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Posted in cycling | 7 Comments
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Sunday: We arrived in Huddersfield in time for Son no. 1 (6 years old, hereafter known as Primo) to race in the under 10s. There was Rapha Super Cross bling everywhere, and lots of juniors riding around in team kit looking terrifyingly pro. I took the boys to register; we got in the way, and didn’t know where to sign or what to write, but everybody was lovely anyway. Primo rode off with an impressive field including several kiddies on tiny bikes being pushed by their dads. Segundo (son no. 2) and I rang cowbells and screamed ourselves silly for him. Primo held his position well and was completely thrilled to have raced. ‘I wish they’d had 157 laps!’

Then it was time for me to get nervous. Partner gave my bike the once over and sent me on my way. I approached a very friendly veteran who pinned my number in the correct place for me, on condition that I did the same for him. A marshal pointed me in the right direction and I rode off to recce the course. The first obstacle I hit was a series of diagonal turns up and down a seemingly vertical bank, with hairpins at the bottom and top. No way could I ride that. I immediately felt like crying; I’m not going to be able to do this. But then I thought: sod it. I can just run the whole section. There was another vertical descent later on; I held my breath and took the brakes off and, miraculously, was fine. The course continued through some steep turns (= foot dabs) and then hit a zigzag ascent up the side of a hill. My cornering was definitely not up to it, and I was worried about dismounting going uphill. Solution: get off at the bottom and run the whole thing. Some singletrack through the woods and up and down the grass a few times (those blardy corners again) and that was basically it.

Time to line up. I found a place at the back and did a bit of last minute stretching. Cue cracks from the blokes next to me: Are you psyching us out? My body won’t even do that. They joked with another woman: You’ll be too hot, with that snood on. Her: It keeps me hair out me eyes. I can’t go fast with hair in me eyes. I looked to my right and saw Castle Hill lit up in the sunlight. What on earth was I doing?

We were off. I didn’t dare to mix it with the crowd and found a safer-feeling place at the back, with another woman on a mountain bike. I completed a lap and felt like I was going to die. Heard the commentator saying ‘Well, we’re about 15 minutes into this race,’ and thought, oh, God, that means another 2 laps at least. Help. I seriously considered getting off about 3 times during the next lap, but then found a weird rhythm, and kept going. Getting lapped all the time was worrying; I kept thinking I was going to bring someone down. But everyone was lovely: ‘Rider, on your right!’ ‘OK!’ ‘Thank you! Keep going!’. One guy even said ‘Nice brakes!’ as he went past. The worst sections were the bits up and down the bank, and the zigzag ascent. But even these were still fun, in some kind of worryingly masochistic way. At the top of one vicious run-up, I quipped ‘Where are all the dollars?’ which got a couple of laughs. People took photos of me grinning like a nut. Spectators shouted ‘Keep it up!’. My boys rang cowbells and shouted ‘Go on Mummy!’ So I did.

Partner thought it was funny that I didn’t even realise where the finish line was. I was so massively relieved when I realised I could stop. At that moment, I thought: I am never doing this again, ever. But on the way home, I was thinking: I need to work on those right-hand corners. And find some banks to ride up and down. And I need to get fitter. I thought I was fit, but I’m not. And those remounts… must find someone to help with the remounts. And next time we need to bring sandwiches, and energy drink…

Watch a short video of our efforts here.

NEW: My CX debut immortalised in blingee form by the wonderful @CyclingBlingees !

NEW: Official video of the elite race, and a link to some images on the British Cycling site . Gives a really good idea of what the course was like.

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