Round 4 of the National Trophy. Less of a drive to get there than round 3, less traffic too, which was most odd for the A1 on a Friday afternoon. So free flowing, in fact that a spot of pre race sightseeing was in order, to the Angel of the North. An impressive thing, no doubt, but I still prefer the Gormley sculpture(s) on "our" side of the Pennines on the beach at Crosby (sorry people of the North East, please forgive me :) )
The "getting to be a habit" overnight stay at a Travelodge before the race meant heading out to find somewhere to eat, the nearest place that wasn't a motorway service station Greggs (tempting, for a second or two) ended up being a carvery. Oh well. I aimed for the healthiest option I could muster, loading my plate with veg rather than creamy accompaniments to the genuinely well carved turkey. Overloading, possibly. Probably. OK, definitely. Parsnips aren't fattening, are they?
Stuffed, I had a half decent night's sleep in the overly soft (or maybe it was the extra carvery weight...) Travelodge bed before waking up still full!
A short drive over to the race course as the sun rose presented a huge course, sweeping right across the country park. Plenty of long straights for me to unleash some power (stop laughing at the back) for sure, but was that all? Nope! A hidden from view ampitheatre contained enough sweeping, tight, flowing and just downright tricky bends to keep anyone happy. In fact, a few pre race laps to get my bearings showed that for every power-straight there was a series of bends, drops and (yay!) gravel climbs to match. Something for everyone. except mud. Non of that. some of the off camber corners developed a bit of greasy slide as they bedded in, but the bikes would be going home not needing a wash.
A longer than usual warm up to properly get my legs and lungs ready for what I presumed would be a fast, hard race with little in the way of recovery and then off to the starting grid right in the centre of the vast open space. I imagine in 'proper' winter it's as bleak and as exposed as you'd ever want, but today it was pretty nice, even stuck out on the front row. Not that I was stuck out in the (very much present) wind for long after the starting whistle blew. I'd say it was a poor start, but for me it was distinctly "not as bad as it could have been". Better than the last round anyway, I was still in contention to get among the top ten as the race carved through the first proper series of corners, past the pits and under the bridge (everyone loves a good bridge), safely tucked out of the headwind and settling in quickly.
Places were regained as I carved my way back past a few riders and then, as had happened at the last round of the NW league, Rob Jebb swooped past on a charge. "That'll do" I thought to myself, and hopped on his wheel, essentially using him as a windblock and a nice tow back up to a couple of riders further ahead. Not the sort of thing you can do all that often, so I enjoyed it as much as I could!
After a lap or two we'd formed a group of about 5. I spent a couple more laps sat at the back, watching in case anyone made a big move (the race was fast enough at this point for tactics to start coming into play, which is a rarity for a November CX race!), but everyone seemed to be watching each other, matching speed through the turns and never putting too muh effort into the headwind straights. The gravel climb at the far end of the course seemed to be a diferent matter though, with everyone blatantly smashing it up the hill every time. I absolutely loved it!
With a couple of laps to go I moved to the front of the group - more of a natural drift than any big surge and decided to test everyone's legs a bit.
Not a short attack, more of a prolonged increase in pace out of the corners. to my delight by the last lap gaps had started to appear in the group, so on I pushed!
Rob got ahead through some corners preceeding "the gravel climb of suffering" and was up out of the saddle attacking the climb. I decided to do the same and really try my legs out, managing to get round him and get in front through the next few corners and over the bridge.
People in the pits were shouting about holding it for the last few corners and it was onyl at that point that I realised that's all that was left of the race.
Tactically, being in front on the way to a finish straight sprint is a big no no, but I was enjoying smashing round a big gear, carving the final couple of turns with no let up in pedalling. Final corner taken smoothly enough and chuck it into 2nd from biggest gear (42x11 was skipping for some reason). A few big stomps for the line, hoping it wouldn't be classed as a sprint finish because I was on the hoods, not in the drops and over the line with no-one coming past me. Phew! You'd think from that description that I'd won - I hadn't, in fact the group was fighting for 5th to 9th place BUT that is why cross is so boss. The race for every and any place is just as much fun, I could have been churning and gurning for 75th place and it would still have been as ace.
A brief post race chow down on some frites and mayo (frites and mayo aren't fattening, right?) finished off a great event. 4 rounds down, 4 ace races. Everyone involved has nailed it every time this season and I've absolutely loved it. Huge thanks if you've had any part to play - all your hard work is totally worth it and, (I hope he's feeling smug!) more huge thanks to Lee @ Transition Coaching who's making me think I can close any gap with ease during races and then proving it. It's a brilliant feeling and it's paying off :)