Last night was the final race in the Summer Cyclocross Series. I was looking forward to the race (not in Croydon!) but also dreading it because it was at Herne Hill Velodrome (my nemesis!). When people think of HHV they think of the track, but that’s not all there is – there’s a cyclocross course behind the track. And it’s tough!!
The forecast was always for rain but in the afternoon it pelted it down, with flash flooding in southeast London. I decided I’d make my mind up on the way to the venue, not wanting to commit but not wanting to definitely pull out. Work conspired against me and I couldn’t leave on time to get to Herne Hill for 7pm – something I wasn’t sure I was entirely unhappy about, given the rain the whole way there.
I got called a chicken by Neil (who wasn’t racing either so had no leg to stand on) and leant on the railings to watch the race. The course started in the track centre with a long sweep over the grass, then up over the track and into the woods, out of the woods and over the mounds, back into the woods, then back down into the track centre for some wiggly grass action and back to the start. It had stopped raining but there was a lot of mud.
There was a mechanical on the first straight, and the race came to standstill on the entrance to the woods, presumably because of a crash.
Within 10 minutes, people could be seen with broken rear mechs. A count was started.
By 20 minutes in, the race looked like the Somme. In every direction, I could see people walking, carrying the corpses of their bikes. 10, 12, 15 rear mechs.
Dave came off a few times and called it a day. He went to join the queue to hose down his bike – the number of people now in the queue seemed almost the same as the number left in the race.
Rich broke his rear mech and joined the hosepipe queue.
It all seemed a bit farcical. 16, 18, 20 rear mechs.
Howard was still racing and I spotted him at the top of the track, fiddling with his bike. He started running, with the bike, pushing the bike through the mud. He kept running, an entire half a lap pushing the bike. Eventually he stopped running and – he told me later – washed off some of the larger bits of claggy mud in a puddle. Then got back on and goddamn finished the race!
The bell went. We congratulated Howard when he found his way over to us and he said “photograph me, to prove I did this!”.
He went to find another puddle, the queue for the hosepipe being too long. I was surrounded by people trying to ghetto their bikes to get home. I was just getting ready to leave myself when Jason told me I should go into the track centre for the prize giving….
It turned out that I came third overall in the Women’s competition! It seems there’s something to be said for turning up every week.
I was super embarrassed but got a cheer and went up on the podium to collect my prize, and later, went back on the podium with all the other winners to spray champagne around!
I thanked Jason for everything – for the support, for the bike, for the prizes – and he suggested the league, which starts next month and runs over the winter. Crazy talk… isn’t it?
Six weeks ago I’d never ridden a cyclocross bike or ever ridden off road. Now… well, I still suck at cyclocross but I’m so pleased I gave it a go. I’ve met some lovely people, tested myself, improved (marginally!) my bike handling and am slowly, slowly, conquering the fear. If I don’t keep doing it, I think I might actually miss it.