‘Cross diary 32: I both START and FINISH a race

October 9, 2013 at 8:27 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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Yup. I actually made it to the start line. No mechanicals, no illnesses, and no attacks of CBA. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Are you sitting comfortably?

In the traditional Yorkshire Points stylee, we drove around (stunning) Temple Newsam park for about fifteen minutes looking for the right car park. Someone followed us, in the vain hope we knew where we were going. It’s all part of the charm. The boys and I went to sign on; my name was under Vets 40-50, rather than Women (apparently my Here Come The Belgians membership has granted me Honorary Bloke status. Result!).

Primo warming up. I won’t mention the ENORMOUS meltdown he had just after this

The kids’ field was so enormous that the under-8s, under-10s and under-12s all had separate races. Segundo (now 5 years old and racing for the second time ever) gave it some impressive welly, chewing the bars: ‘I overtook three people, but then I fell off in the woods and they all went past me again!’* Primo (8) rode most of the climbs (a New Thing for him), though his newly-perfected remount dissolved under pressure*. While @spandelles tried unsuccessfully to feed them sandwiches, I dodged off to do a recce lap. We didn’t race at Temple Newsam last year, but it’s a belter of a course; lots of singletrack, which was fun but not too horribly technical, plenty of tearing across the grass and up and down little banks, and even a horrible up-a-steep-bank-over-planks section. You BEASTS.

Time to line up. I got chatting to a tester called Jess (‘What kind of pedals have you got?’ ‘No idea.’). I promised Nikola Butler I’d try not to bring her down on the first corner. The field was massive; @amyling and I were worried about being overtaken on the singletrack, but the staggered start (40+ veterans set off first, then 50+ and women) and the initial lap round the field seemed to string everyone out enough that it was never really a problem.

temple newsam in the treesAnyway. You should have seen me. I zoomed over the singletrack! I cornered like a pro! I rode up all the steep little banks! (apart from one, where I fell off into a bunch of nettles, nearly taking @Chipps down with me). I lost loads of places every time we went over the planks, ‘cos I can’t dismount on the right hand side of the bike, but hey.


Friends. Aw! Nikola has promised not to tell anyone she is lapping me, here

My remounts were ALL functional, even the ones where I only had a couple of seconds to get back on! I overtook a few people! I stayed out of the way of nearly everyone who lapped me! (apart from a chap who wanted me to ride over loads of tree roots while he took the smooth line; we bumped each other amiably and both stayed upright). A woman behind me shouted GET OFF YOUR BRAKES! encouragingly as we went down a steep hill; she overtook me at breakneck speed and came off spectacularly on the next corner. (She lapped me after a while, and had the decency to promise not to fall over in front of me any more as she went past.)

I love this shot. How pro do I look? If you ignore the grin, that is

It was hard. Ooh. But it was GOOD. In typical fashion, I started getting the hang of it about three quarters of the way through. Crucially, it also felt PROPER. While I wasn’t giving Annie Simpson anything to worry about, I also didn’t feel like I was just making up the numbers any more. I was Trying Hard**, and doing a good job. As good as I could, anyhow.

Afterwards, I chatted to some of my new HCtB teammies, and rode around with the boiz on the grass in the blazing sunshine. I fell off trying to trackstand, and again trying to ride no-hands. We had some sandwiches, and an ice cream. It was too lovely for words. And when the results came in later, I was ecstatic to see I’d beaten some ACTUAL REAL LIVE PEOPLE. Days don’t come much better than this.

* Like mother, like son…

** I put my Garmin on for the first time in a race, mostly to check that I was really working as hard as I thought. It’s quite funny: my HR is basically a flat line across the whole race, at 92-95% of my (notional) maximum. So, yeah. I am Trying Hard All The Time.

‘Cross diary 18: I brick it at Brighouse

November 2, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Posted in cycling | 6 Comments
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After the joys of Rapha Super Cross, we were RARING to go again. My mum was up for the weekend, and we were keen to show her what Yorkshire CX was all about. She put on her waterproof and her fleece, and tights under her trousers in that sensible-mum way, and asked good, thoughtful questions in the car. (To Primo: Do you fall off like Mummy does? Primo: No! I NEVER fall off.)

For her benefit, we performed the traditional Yorkshire Points ritual of driving around the park looking for the right entrance: we could see the course tape through the trees, but we made three wrong turns and a circuit of Tesco’s car park before @spandelles spotted the little notice in 14-point saying ‘cyclocross parking’.

that way (i think)

Uncharacteristically, the first person we asked knew where the sign-on was. We trudged up to a Great British Bake Off-style marquee, where some jolly but indecisive chaps were discussing whether ladies paid £10 or £12. The atmosphere of genial vagueness continued as we tried to find the loo; general waving in the direction of the bowling club got us there eventually.

By now the rain had stopped, and @spandelles had the bikes off the car, so Primo and I rode round his course. It was mostly on the flat grass, with one little foray into the woods over a log. The under-8s had their own race again; Primo really gave it some this week, tearing round and overtaking a couple of people. His remount probably lost him about six places each lap, though; like mother, like son…

He got off his bike at the end and immediately wanted to sit down. We congratulated him on his pro effort, and I rode off to have a look at the course. Round the grassy zigzags… my cornering’s improved, so I look forward to these now. Over the log and up into the woods… and a long uphill, shouldering the bike. Oof. Then a flatter bit of muddy singletrack. I was just thinking I might put the bike down, when UP the path went again, at an even steeper angle. OK. Keep going. There’ll be a bit I can ride in a minute. Round a corner and… up again. Oh. Right. Soldier on. The path twisted up and up for another couple of minutes, always too steep to ride. A final impossibly steep KICK and onto a flatter bit. I fluffed the remount (of course) and rode off. Sticky singletrack through the woods, flat but very narrow. (Here I’m imagining all the people careering past me at speed, their handlebars a whisker from bringing me down.) We must be going down again soon… oh. No. You’re kidding. It was SHEER. I climbed off and slithered down the side of the embankment, my bike trying to escape my grasp. My shoes couldn’t grip and I fell over, sliding down the hill on my side for a few yards. Finally I was at the bottom. I got back on, shaking, and looked ahead. The course went straight back up into the woods again.


So that was my decision made. I pulled the tape up and rode across the field, then stopped to phone @spandelles in frustrated tears. I felt terrible, but I knew it was beyond me. Tong had been hard and MTB-ish, but for me, this felt like it wouldn’t even be safe.

When I found the family, poor Primo was looking white as a sheet. He’d spent the last five minutes trying to throw up. A migraine, then. Poor love. The only thing to do is to get him home and into bed, and let him sleep it off. We gave in his race number and he got his reward sweeties, while the commissaires’ gazebo blew over into the 12-14 year olds as they charged past.

I rode my bike through the ford a few times, ostensibly to wash its wheels, but really because it was fun. The Women’s World Masters Downhill Mountain Bike Champion 1999 gave me a cheery grin. I misidentified a Hope rider as Paul Oldham (he was actually in London at the Ally Pally Super Cross), and had a nice chat with Jackie from Cycle Sport Pendle. We crammed everyone back into the car and I drove home, trying not to cry. My mum said she was happy I’d been sensible; @spandelles said Discretion Is The Better Part Of Valour. I told myself this was the ‘in training’ bit of being a Fearless Badass In Training™.

But I hated bailing. Hope I never have to do it again.

‘Cross diary 16: No sleep ’til Wakefield

September 25, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Posted in cycling | 6 Comments
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All week, Sunday’s forecast was RAIN. Proper ‘cross weather! We packed waterproofs and wellies. I tried (and failed) to source golf umbrellas. But on the day, it was bright and dry as we trundled round the perimeter of Thornes Park, asking car boot sale marshals if they knew where the race was. (They didn’t.)

The signing on table had run out of safety pins, so I did my bit for Yorkshire Cyclocross by donating most of my stash. Back out past the cake stall (which also featured a barbecue churning out bacon sandwiches, mesmerising the boys) and off to find the start of the kids’ race. Sheer numbers meant the under-8s got their own race, which was thrilling. Even more thrilling, they were allowed to go into the WOODS. Primo started slowly, then picked up the pace and started passing people, even sprinting for the line. We cheered him on like lunatics.


I rode round a kids’ football match to warm up, jumping on and off a few times in case I’d forgotten how to do it (you never know). The recce was fun; twisty stuff in the woods, an uphill drag, a steep bank, some grassy cornery bits, and a mad dash round the playing field. There were a lot of us on the start line this week; a bit of banter and a few nods and grins of recognition, then we were off. Going round on the flat, I remembered to Try Hard and passed a couple of people! Blimey! Then we were into the woods. I tackled a tree-rooty hairpin a bit too confidently, and fell off, instantly losing my hard-earned places. Bah! Back on the bike, I pursued a bloke with an unfortunately-placed mesh insert in the back of his shorts. (We ended up duelling throughout the race; I kept thinking ‘I’ve left him behind!’, only to find him mysteriously in front of me again.)

The long drag out of the woods led suddenly into DOWNabankandUPabank at speed. I got up the bank (HOORAY!) and charged off after Mesh Insert Man. The boys suddenly appeared on a corner, and yelled GO ON MUMMY! (This is why I’m grinning in the photo. I was doing #sufferface all the rest of the time, honest.) I undertook Mesh Insert Man on a corner (HA!) and held him off all round the playing field. Then into the woods again and, you guessed it, SPLAT. Noooooooo! Same corner. A kind spectator disentangled me from my bike while competitors bunnyhopped me. Mesh Insert Man disappeared with nary a backward glance.

I only managed another couple of laps before it was all over. The chap calling out the numbers said to me, ‘Did you enjoy that?’ It was BRILLIANT, I gushed. It was, too. Even though I’m still bumping along the bottom of the results list, I felt like I was racing properly. I got up a steep bank! I passed people! I tried really hard nearly all the time! Progress. And I have the bruises to prove it.

[British Cycling report and pictures here]

Thanks as ever to @spandelles for bike fettling, child wrangling and sausage sandwich distribution. You’re a hero.

Also lovely to meet @nik_tweet who STEAMED past me at about 617mph and came home First Lady. Excellent stuff!

‘Cross diary 15: MOAR racing

September 18, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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Another Sunday, another Yorkshire Points round. Our routine is improving; the car was packed and the bacon sandwiches consumed in record time. We set off, me already worrying about the MTBishness of the course, and @spandelles helpfully intoning ‘It cost me six Gs/ I crash it into trees…’) The satnav wanted to take us straight past the entrance to Home Farm but luckily @spandelles spotted the fluorescent, hand-inked arrow saying CYCLO-X and we bumped down the track. This venue was a bit different from the schools we’ve got used to: a blow up tent, a coffee concession in the back of a van, and two portaloos comprised the facilities. As usual, everyone was ridiculously jolly. My name was already on the list, which was too exciting for words. Primo reminded me to put him in the right age category this time. Oops. @ianstreet67 turned out to be standing right next to Segundo and Daddy. Great to meet you, Ian!

Primo and I rode round his course. There were BARRIERS! For the under 12s! Primo took them in his stride, of course. The usual mixture of pro-looking pre-teens with miniature SPDs and teeny kiddies on bikes with pink handlebar tassles lined up. One ten-year-old said to another, ‘Do you want a gel?’ After a lap of looking pretty unhappy with everything, Primo got going and did a great job, shouting out excitedly ‘I’m in gear FIVE!’ as he went downhill.

One of my resolutions from last week was to warm up properly this time, so I went and rode round the car park (=field) and practised jumping on and off for about 15 minutes. Then: the course recce. The first sections were great: barriers, gravelly climbs, lots of zigzags on the grass, up and down hill. Then the course disappeared into the woods. Mere words cannot convey the abject terror. A sheer descent on singletrack with a steep drop to one side; roots and fallen trunks and streams to vault; trees to dodge and enormous jolting LUMPS and BUMPS and then a WALL of a runup at the end. Ohmigod.

I compared falling-off-in-public-embarrassedly tales with a woman on the start line. The bloke next to me ventured, ‘I thought you did well, at Keighley.’ Aw. We were off up the hill, round the zigzags and down into the woods. I jumped off and slithered through the soil, gripping the bike for dear life, grasping at trees as I went down. People fell off all around me, to OOH!s and EEEH!s from spectators. One chap stood dejectedly with a severed crank in his hand. I got back on and gingerly foot-dabbed my way round, riding for a few feet here and there. The runup was actually a relief; at least I know how to shoulder my bike. I set it down at the top and leapt back on seamlessly, to the delighted cheers of my family. (I may have squeaked YESSS! at this point.)

As my natural tendency is to take it a bit easy, I concentrated on Trying Hard All The Time. Amazingly, this really worked. I passed a couple of people going up the zigzags, and held another chap off who threatened to pass me but faded on the climb. Hooray! (Of course they all passed me again in the woods, but hey.) I shot up little inclines and cornered fearlessly, doing SUFFERFACE the whole way round (though in the photos I look disappointingly like I have stick-on goggly eyes, one pointing up and one down). Along with my New Improved remounts, I suddenly felt like I was actually racing. Gosh. It was BRILLIANT.

So. This week felt like PROGRESS. I remembered to eat, which (predictably) made a massive difference; ALL my remounts were functional, even when I was dead tired; I tried as hard as I could nearly all the time. I drove home singing ‘Cy-clo-cross!’ to the tune of ‘Ho-lly-wood!’ and fell asleep in the bath.

[Read what @ianstreet67 made of his first cyclocross visit here. Includes some ace photos.]

‘Cross diary 14: I race. Again!

September 11, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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Well. I’ve had a full summer of denial, happily avoiding thinking about how I still can’t ride up or down banks, corner, get any speed up on grass, remount, or get my feet back into the pedals. No matter! The Yorkshire Points round is underway, so on a beautiful Sunday morning we filled the car with bicycles, tools, sandwiches, sun cream and children, and went off In Search Of Cross.

We found it at Oakbank School. The youth race was in full swing as we wandered up to look for the loo. Women from @sparkieturner’s CX training session accosted us delightedly, in between cheering on their boys. Primo was off at 11:30 in the under-10s; I signed up at the same time, fourth on the women/ vets list, briefly entertaining fantasies of riding round with only three rivals.

The under-10s rode round and round the playing field, parents chasing them on bikes yelling GO ON HAVE HIM! Hat tip to the mother who sprinted round the field twice at full tilt in flowered sundress and ballerinas. Primo did a brilliant job, charging up hills and grinding over grass with relentless energy and enthusiasm.

When he’d finished (‘I want a cross bike!’), I went off to recce the course. Ooh. A water crossing? Hmm… LOTS of mud and off-cambers and steep banks, then some zigzags with MORE mud, and more off-cambers, and a sheer descent with a turn at the bottom, and pavement and STEPS (hooray!) and downhill zigzags (help!) and more steep banks and more corners and then a bit of tearing across the grass. I’m exhausted just remembering it all.

I rode around feeling desperate for a while, then went back to the car for snacks. The woman parked next door was jolly: we rode down to the start together, laughing and comparing CX weaknesses, before she let slip she was Masters Downhill Mountain Bike World Champion (1999). We joked amiably with the other women on the start line, who were comparing tan lines and telling unconvincing tales of CX ineptitude.

They sent us off round the field first, to string us out before the woods. To be honest, the rest is a bit of a blur. The sun beat down. It was HOT. The first two laps were ghastly, but then I got into it, though I ran about a third of each lap, too scared to go uphill/ downhill/ round corners/ through mud/ you name it. Oof. I did two passable remounts, then my technique disintegrated and I spent the rest of the time stopping to climb back on. Bah.

At least I’m cooler about being lapped, now; I barely even wobble. One chap muttered ‘What the fook are you DOING?’ when I foot-dabbed on a corner, but everyone else was lovely. One guy said ‘Go on buddy!’ as he steamed past. A knot of riders zipped through, a woman shouting ‘You’re doing brilliantly! And even if you’re not, you look BEAUTIFUL!’ Someone yelled DIG IN! The boys rang their cowbells. People tried to take photographs round me. I could hear spectators talking about lunch as I staggered past. It would have been Zen-like, if I hadn’t been about to keel over.

Like last time, I didn’t know I’d finished. Above a certain HR, my brain just stops working. @spandelles congratulated me, and told me my dismount was terrific; my boys ate their sandwiches, unconcerned that Mummy had just nearly EXPIRED out there what with all the trying hard and everything.

So. In the best tradition of games of two halves, the round up.

Better than last time:

  • Tried A Bit Harder (@spandelles said I looked like I was actually racing this time, rather than just riding around)
  • Cornering
  • Dismounting
  • Getting lapped without shouting ‘Hoo!’
  • Didn’t fall off ONCE

Still v. poor:

  • Need to Try Much Harder
  • Combinations of things e.g. going up banks plus cornering
  • Riding in mud, or on pretty much any kind of terrain
  • Eating enough beforehand
  • Getting Back On (oh dear…)

We got a bit of intel on the next couple of fixtures. One is quite MTB-y, with woods and singletrack and stuff. Mmm. Should be fine then. Ha ha ha! The other is ‘basically haring around on the grass. They all go really fast, it’s terrifying.’ Sounds ideal…

See you next week. Hup hup!

[Proper British Cycling race report and preliminary results here. I’m in the pictures, too. Cake to anyone who can spot me.]

Massive THANK YOU to @spandelles who was pit crew, soigneur, childminder, moral support, satnav wrangler and chief-adjudicator-of-arguments-over-cowbells. You are brilliant.

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