Another round of the NW league yesterday. By far and away the best thing about it (besides the hard work and willingness of everyone involved to spend NYE turning a farm into a CX race when most people were probably eating their Xmas selection box goodies and starting early on the booze) was the distinct lack of ice. After a couple of weekends where I've turned up but not really dared to get stuck in for fear of smashing myself to bits on the unpredicatable, frozen ground some good old fashioned mud was most welcome! A chance to actually get the HR up and get stuck in.
Given the evolution of CX courses over the past few years - essentially, to my mind, they're getting more technical and with an eye to put at least one corner into anything that looks like a straight bit, preferably two - I've been faffing about endlessly to find a way to get my bikes more set up to help my natural lack of talent at getting round the bends quickly/upright (the Vitus, with it's more 'modern' geometry (ie longer top tube, shorter stem, more stack etc etc) seems to be about right now). Yesterday saw more of that with the PX sporting a shorter stem, ever so slightly lower saddle and overall more upright riding position. Sacrificing a bit of efficiency getting the power out as my riding position is further away from the road bikes/TT bikes (and, for those that can remember that far back, even the MTBs!) - small changes but ones that, for a set-in-his-ways old giffer, would still need a bit of re-learning...and what better place to do that than straight into a fast, slippery race!
(And I'm not bemoaning the way CX is changing, by the way, I don't miss those "fling your bike across then jump after it" crazy stream crossings, clambering over dry stone walls or any of the mentalness you find on grainy footage on YouTube from the 60s. It' might be a particularly UK thing, these mega twisty courses, but if it flows and it's fun, so be it!)
Yesterday's course had what I'd class, in my inifinite wisdom ahem, as a good mix of both twisty-turny bit and some faster, more power based straighter bits. A perfect way to get to see if the adjusted riding position could help get me round the bends a bit quicker and find out what sitting upright like a, well, sat up thing, would do when I wanted to be all efficient and get the speed up. It was also properly muddy in a "every bend is a balancing act" sort of way and that's always fun (and gives the pit crews something to do other than just stand around in a field getting cold, so that's nice!)
I wouldn't say it was a great start, I didn't get clipped in instantly and despite the promise I'd made to myself to not let gaps open up straight from the whistle it took me a little while to work my way through the field, by which time the usual suspects had already started to ride away. On the plus side, I did manage to stay rubber side down through the first 'up/down/left/right' sections and make up places and, as my HR climbed a grin spread across my face as I discovered just how much fun the mud was to slither around in.
It took a few laps to get 'on board' with the altered handling but given just how greasy the corners were I was pretty happy with it pretty quickly. It didn't seem to make too much difference on the 'get the cranks churning' straights either. The grin stayed.
An hour of pushing on and just generally enjoying being out of breath later and I crossed the finish line. Zero crashes (despite the opportunity being ever present, we'll gloss over the few dabs and completely ignore the bits where I decided it would be better to run, even if it may have been possible to ride!), plenty of battles (even if most were with riders in other categories - this being 'cross just racing whoever is around you is enough!) and a (even if it was distant...) spot on the podium. A grand day out!
I even managed to get the van, which got stuck in the mud earlier in the day, out without having to pressgang an army of other riders to push, so maybe if CX ever gets dull I could take up rallying :)
As always - but it's alway worth reiterating - THANK YOU to all involved. A handful of people made hundreds more grin like I did, with their hard work and willingness to keep reattaching course tape as people slid out though it whenever the mud won in the battle of skill. Brillliant stuff. THANK YOU to everyone who cheered me - in fact any of us racing - on. It's always a nice bit of encouragement and to know everyone's getting the same support. Speaking of which THANKS also to everyone in the pits - hopefully you all enjoyed having to run around cleaning bikes again :)
And, of course, THANK YOU to Lee at Transition Cycle Coaching for getting me into proper, fast, shape - still bothering the podium even on an unfamiliar bike. Ace stuff! Next up - another bloody long drive to the last round of the National Trophy which, it appears, has a course involving large number of corners. That's handy...