Back to the NW league last weekend. For some reason, I can't think of much more North Western that Burnley. Buuuuuurnley, to give it it's full title and correct pronunciation. A Mill town of huddled, terraced streets hidden between hills that funnel rain directly at it while also hiding those cobbled, faded glamour rows of houses from any sunshine that might try to climb over the high moors. It is - and I mean no disrespect to the people of Buuuurnley here - a bit bloody grim. The CX race, heroically organised each year by CSP, seems to take on that persona each time I race there. The first edition was so cold I'd lost the ability to pull the brakes by the last lap, dropping places due to just not being able to control the bike. The next race at the same venue was so wet (so wet!) it very nearly got reclassified as a fell run, I'd estimate the average depth of any part of the course to have been mid shin deep slop. Riders (and I use the term loosely) lost shoes in the deep mud and I imagine they're still there somewhere. I was, quite frankly, worried we'd be in for more of the same.
Round one had been dry and, well, fast. Great fun even if I had a few chain issues. Round two had been a bit slippery in comparison, but equally as good fun for it. Round three was...also good fun! Mud was again in attendence (though no shoes were in danger of being lost to it this time round) but unlike last time the course remained 100% rideable for the whole race. Super greasy in places, with plenty of opportunity to 'get your slither on' in the corners and to make sure concentration was required at all times and with a fantastic mix of draggy straights, everending spirals, climbs, descents, cheeky treeroots and actually quite a nice view at one point each lap!
I, again, slipped a pedal offf the start and found myself out of the top ten going into the first bend. I knew the upcoming 'spiral of doom' would halt any overtaking for those in the pack so put an effort in to get back up to the front before the cornering began, entering the loooooong left hander just behind Bill Nickson, then put in another push to make the most of my 'fredom' ahead of the bigger group of riders behind.
Repeating the "crashing is slower than cornering cautiously" mantra, I took few risks in the bends (but still had a lot of fun railing the ruts and letting the bike find it's own line in the greasy wooded sections) and just churned out a rhythm on the straights.
By lap 2 I found I had a gap of about 10 seconds and - still chanting my mantra - settled down as much as possible.
The compact nature of the lower field meant there were plenty of places to keep a check on the size of the gap to the riders behind (and actually watch the race going on behind me, which was quite fun!), while still being entertaining, which made keeping the gap I had slightly easier. Not that I was, in any way, "taking it easy". The mud, although not deep, made the grassy sections heavy, holding a gap over a charging Phil Holiwell and a all-the-way-through-the-field-again Rob Jebb is not something you do with soft pedalling. My average heart rate was 180, so there was no shortage of effort required, but I stuck to my plans even as Rob and Phil changed places. I kept the speed steady and ignored the niggling feeling that I should give it everything. I kept enough 'in the tank' in case anything happened and I had to really race...and kept it all the way to the line :) A quick bit of thanks post race to everyone that had helped in the pits for me (just the one change during this race, to protect the mech from the clogging grass) and then a rush home so I could begin the joyous passtime of spending 2 - 3 hours cleaning 30 - 40 minutes of collected mud and grass out of the bikes drivechains. Digging about between the cogs on the rear cassette with an old butterknife, trying to peel away the biggest chunk of unbroken field possible.
A strange perversion, this cyclocross lark... As always, HUGE thanks to everyone who organises these things, everyone else who raced with me, everyone who cheered me on during the race (and then immediately cheered on everyone else too - it's all about the racing, for everyone!), everyone in the pits and of course huge thanks to Lee @ Transition who's made that sort of ride possible. yu all make it so good burnley seemed to be bathed in gold on the way home :-D