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Dreams and nightmares

I’d laid awake, staring up at the ceiling from the comfort of my bed, swaying slightly as I tried to imagine the way the bike would handle underneath me, until Angela eventually rolled over and told me to knock it off. At which point I closed my eyes and mentally carried on further round the cx course Andy, Dan and myself had gift wrapped in course tape earlier that day, trying to work out where we could add some extra sections to lengthen the lap times the fast lads would set.

The course, as it was, had taken the whole day to create (not including a brief pause halfway for some hot soup and the world’s largest “croutons”, or “a slice of toast split into dunkable chunks” as you might know them…). We were quite chuffed with it – in half decent conditions it would offer a great mix of fast, slow, power based, technical, up, down, off camber, scenic and just plain fun sections and stretched around the hillside it inhabited for a good 1.5km. It was only when a local rider provided some feedback after giving it a go, informing us that even with the mud in abundance he was completing the loop in a little over 4 minutes that we realised we’d have to add some more features to get a reasonable lap time out of our masterpiece. So there I lay, imagining being on board the bike while looking for a good place to turn off what we’d built and find more fun around the edges

It hadn’t been completely plain sailing even to that point. Incessant rain had turned what had been a swoopy, dusty fast arena for a Yorkshire point race a month or two previous into a slippery monster that took no prisoners of those wearing wellies, trying to push a wheelbarrow full of plastic stakes around. Wellies don’t have mud studs in them and that wheelbarrow did not have the right tyres fitted to find any grip. On we battled though, doing our best to avoid ruining the upcoming National trophy course – rerouting the lap away from what would be the Trophy pit area and missing out as much of the pre prepared route as possible. Pits were relocated, new climbs and descents were devised, freshly fallen trees were strategically dragged around to find some less boggy sections and a new start area that wasn’t ankle deep slop (at the time…) were set up. It was only as we were about to pack the van and head off that Andy suddenly realised we’d not actually made a finish line anywhere! Back on to the field in the rapidly failing light we trod, to find somewhere suitable, taking in every age category’s course, to let the racers finish rather than just keep going round until the end of time…

Race day dawned, but by the time it did, several of the HCC crew had already been busy. The coffee vendors were happily set up, portaloos neatly arranged, sign on up and raring to go, timing team suitably settled and a few of us were off adding some of what I’d dreamed off to the sides of the race route. An extra off camber, switchbacky descent, a couple of dead leg turns to brake up one long loop, the stuff of dreams to a cyclocross racer. We were almost finished as sunlight revealed our creation to the commissaires, checking our handiwork for safety and compliance with various rules and regulations. Success was agreed between us as only a few alterations were required to get the official thumbs up. Lucky really, as we were down to our last 5 rolls of course tape (which may sound like a lot, but it really isn’t…) and the first racers of the day were starting to think about their warm ups back a the car park.

The final set up was confirmed just as the super keen first few racers began their pre ride investigations and, within about 30 seconds f seeing their attempts to ride in the conditions underfoot, I’d become acutely aware that – barring a miracle – this was going to be one hell of a tough, off-the-bike-a-lot trudge for many people. There was no time for a complete rebuild of the “facing the pits” section of the course, to be honest there was no time for anything – I found myself running (in wellies, in the mud, which I was becoming quite adept at) here there and everywhere to make sure the courses were ready, everyone was heading in the right direction at the right time and a thousand other things that magically crop up. In the 5 seconds I which I wasn’t charging around I took a brief glance around to see all the other HCC lads doing exactly the same thing. The car parks were rammed, the pre race briefings were coming thick and fast, marshals being marshalled around. It struck me that the slowest moving thing at the event would be the racers, grovelling through the mud while the almost flea like organisers hurtled around at break neck speed from one thing to another.

I barely remember how the day after that went. I know the ground began to dry in places, but in doing so just turned from super saturated, non-sticky stuff to full on clag that jammed wheels and removed humour from those taking part in qual measure. I know some of the under 12 riders cried on the horrible long (to them) climb to the top of the course (that the commissaires suggested they should do, I hasten to add). I know that a few of the V50s came close to sobbing too. I know the fell runners seemed happiest. I know what should have been great riding sections were often just more running (or walking while dragging a jammed solid bike…). I know that we got through a good few more rolls of course tape repairing where riders missed turns (not on purpose) and overcooked racing lines, ending up entangled in the plastic boundary layer and I now know that Craig and I stand a good chance of winning One Man And His Dog together after our spectacular, mid race sheep herding exploits…

By the time Ethan had won the seniors race, framed by the sunset that wasn’t willing to wait for us to complete the day racing, I can happily confirm I was knackered. I could spot from a mile off that everyone else involved was too. This made the speedy course dismantling (on purpose this time) by the extra volunteers that hung around in the gloom even sweeter a sight. It may have been pitch black by the time we’d packed away the last gazebo and bundled up the final roll of course tape, but it was a damn sight earlier than it would have been without their help. I hope the gratitude was apparent on my somehow mud encrusted face.

Huge HUGE respect to Andy and the whole HCC crew for arranging that race. The Horwich Humdinger wouldn’t have taken place this year if so much extra hard work hadn’t been put in by everyone with finding a venue after so many possibilities fell through at the last minute. To coordinate everything on the fly as Andy did is a massive achievement whatever the racing conditions turned out to be and I absolutely loved being a part of it, especially as we did remember to put in a finish line! 😊


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