Another frozen ground race last weekend, a National Trophy even closer to home than many of the NW races. I rode in a similar way to the frozen Ulverston race, with a mind to keep upright, rather than slip out and have a horrible "rock sold ground is unforgiving" crash and to that aim was successful - zero crashes (a couple of dabs on the tighter corners, but they don't count) and for two weeks in a row I've not had to ease out any sore muscles/post-crash aches on a ride the day after the race, which is nice...I suppose.
Annoyingly, I was way too conservative with my speed and effort - the saying "slow is smooth, smooth is fast" has it's limits and I essentially watched the race ride away from me while I cruised round in 2nd gear (as an example, at Devon a few weeks back my HR averaged 179bpm, topping out at 190 - this time round I averaged 165bpm and only topped out at 179, so I peaked at the last round's average. Essentially, that's the level I'd sit at for something like a 50 mile TT!).
Compounding the issue, it was utterly bloody freezing. On the start line, as people started removing pre race kit I was tempted to nick it and start putting it all on! Thermal bibshorts with leg warmers underneath, plastic bags over my merino socks in my shoes, two baselayers under the stretched-to-the-point-of-hulk-like-explosion race jersey, waterproof gloves, a woolly skull cap under my helmet - it's a surprise I actually fitted between the course markers, so trussed up like the Michelin man was I, but it made no difference when riding round at too easy a pace. I got cold quickly and lost the feeling in my hands (not just 'fingers', entire hands!), which made braking a bit hit and miss, within a lap or two and just continued to seize up as the race went on until, by the end, my physical coordination was utterly shot - braking, gear shifts, "feeling" the level of grip on offer (which was improving as the event went on) were all just guesswork!
Weirdly, despite the miserable tone to this post so far (soz!) - riding round was ACE. The course was brilliant fun to race on, a perfect mix of testing slower sections, fast swoopy stuff that, in your head at least, made you flow round like a pro, a few sections were power was key, ups, downs - everything you could want. It rewarded "thinking" rather than just muscling round and genuinely had everyone (well, me at least) looking forward to trying to get each section/tricky bit ridden smoother/cleaner, even if the sleety rain kept trying to turn off the feeling in every part of the body! Looking back I really wish I'd pushed myself more as I know I've got more to give than my result suggested. Here's hoping the venue/course designing team do it again next year!
With no Angela in attendance this time round, before the race I was slightly worried about what I'd do if I needed to swap bikes during the race. Had the frozen ground thawed in the (very present...) rain, it could have been one of those "bike swap every lap" style super muddy affairs. It was a bit stupid of me to worry, as it turns out. Before we'd even started the pre race practice laps, Phil had already volunteered himself to help out straight after his own race (admittedly he was still warm and dry at that point!) and despite the properly grim conditions he was straight back out into the weather after his ride to help.
I'd hung my spare bike again some fencing in the pits before the race, in case anything happened and he couldn't get there in time, so I'd have at least one bike change available, but by the halfway point of the first lap I saw (and heard!) Keith holding it up, ready for me to swap to. It may have been bloody freezing riding round, but it was a properly warming feeling, realising that people were so willing to help out at the drop of a hat. I've said it before but it's worth repeating over and over - the NW crew are brilliant. All of them. Everyone I race alongside. Everyone who spends their time in the pits supporting us all. Everyone who (quite rightly) pointed out that my armwarmer had slipped down, leaving a disgraceful gap between the top of it and my jersey. (You'll not be getting away with these fashion faux pars with this lot looking after you!)
Many beers are owed :)
Post ride and post getting changed into many, many layers of warm clothing (shout out to the random v50 rider at the car park who helped me get my van keys out of my pocket, when my shaking with cold and numb hands left me flailing round uselessly!) I hung around and spent a bit of time just randomly chatting to people, while huddling round the communal fire pit (a nice touch!) and drinking coffee. I don't often get to do that, what with the journey home usually being so long, but it was nice to just 'hang out' and find out how everyone's ride had gone. The weather stayed grim but everyone was still cheerful - they're a tough bunch, this CX lot!
A week with no racing now (Christmas, apparently, whatever that is...), then a nice little 3 week block of NW/National Trophy/National Champs. With no post-crash sore bits to work around, I'm looking forward to getting properly stuck in to some training and then racing - I know Lee has got me in fighting fit shape to hang on at the point end, so no more mincing round at cruising pace during races from now on, they're there to be hit as hard as I can :)