2022 SCX#4 Irvine Beach

Today was round 4 of SCX series at Irvine Beach. The course is all about elevation changes and sand. I enjoy the climbs and descents, but hadn’t done sand since Irvine in 2018 (the horizontal snow race).

The course is symmetric. On each side, there’s a steep up, fast down, steep up then some twisty offcamber stuff. In the middle there’s flat windswept plains punctuated with sand. Repeat four or five times and you have a race.

The steepest ‘up’ was something I could’ve ridden with clean tyres and fresh legs, but had to run it in the race. I realised this was the case during my sighting lap, and then also realised I had forgot to put studs on my shoes. So I abandoned the lap and sprinted back to the car to install studs, and got back in time for gridding.

The other ups were rideable, and recent Glentress trips were good mental training for keeping on pushing even when legs are tired. The offcamber and twisty bits were all pretty tame – despite the morning rain the course was grippy everywhere.

The long sand section was a lot of fun. The first few laps were sketchy (I fell once or twice) but later in the race a nice initial rut formed, and with great encouragement from a marshall (“keep pushing the pedals, you’ve got this”) I made it through the whole thing on the last two laps.

I totally failed the fast downhill then right on the section after the rollercoaster. I kept target fixating on the outside barrier and drifting wide. After an ‘exciting’ moment on lap 3 where I lost the rear end but manage to hold the slide, I fixed my error on the last lap by simply looking further up the course.

Final result was 30th out of 43 starters in vet40, or 70th percentile – so better than 78pc last time out. I could not have pushed any harder – in the red on the ups and recovering on the owns. I was closing in on the rider ahead of me on the final lap, and even tried a stealth sprint but was still a few seconds adrift at the finish line. Still some way to go to get up to the 50pc I managed pre pandemic.

Tyres today were still the default ones that came with the bike, and ran 35/35psi (with tubes) since it was a smooth course. No punctures, and grip was fine. I’ve punctured at 33/33psi in the Pentlands before (at end of Green Cleugh) so wary of going lower. I have yet to rebuild my tubeless rear wheel, so that’s a job for some dark winter evening, but they’re much better for properly muddy courses.

2022 SCX#2 Lochore Meadows

Not the most auspicious start to my resumption of cyclocross racing – I snapped the chainstay on my race bike less than two weeks ahead of the first race. I initially looked at just replacing the frame like-for-like but the equivalent frame now has through-axles not quick-release, so piling on the cost of new wheels meant that it made more sense to get a new bike. Thankfully PlanetX put it together quickly and I had it a few days ahead of the race. My test ride revealed I hadn’t tightened up the seat clamps enough. That would’ve been exciting to discover during a race!

Lochore Meadows is flat and often muddy. Rain fell on Friday and Saturday but the sun was shining on race day and the surface held up quite well. No real mud, just ‘brown grass’ on the spiral. I decided to stick to the vanilla tyres that came with the bike rather than switch to mud. There was a fair amount of hardpack and tarmac outside of the spiral to clear tyres. And in fact it wasn’t a very grip-limited course.

Everyone was gridded (first time I’ve been in a race where that happened), and the bottleneck going into the woods for the first time was less of a bottleneck than usual. I made up a few places as people slid out or fluffed gear changes, but quickly settled down to my own pace.

I had a few back+forths with people who’d pass me on the spiral but then be slow through the more technical bits – barriers and steps. Taking a few extra running steps after the stairs and barriers was good idea, let the bike stabilise after you’ve put it on the ground.

On the final spiral (although I didn’t know it was final time) I got fed up towing people, so I slowed to encourage one to pass, 2nd person also slowed, then 3rd person sprinted and I then had to chase their wheel. Unfortunately for me, they were just faster than me and I couldn’t stick. I guess that confirms that they were just sitting on my wheel saving energy waiting to race away at the end.

Was flat out all race, pushing on to close up on a wheel in the spiral, or to pass someone before a narrow section.

Finished 43rd out of 55 starters, 78th percentile. But back racing at last! I couldn’t have went any faster in the race – it was a power course and I lack power. What would’ve made a difference? Just stronger legs – the fast guys are x% faster than me on all sections of the course. I’ve mostly been doing zwift races, Arthurs Seat laps and Glentress to regain fitness. Probably doing some structure intervals would be a good idea (but I much prefer doing zwift races in my practise time).

Next race will be SCX#4 at Irvine.

Cross Returns

After a few covid-induced years off, I’m planning to get back doing some cyclocross in 2022.

As ever, prep for the season is a mixed bag. I started doing some “proper training” in June with a mix of jogging and some longer bike rides, then got back into MTB’ing at Glentress and back into Zwift once the evenings started getting darker. But on the flip side, there’s been Yet More Covid to deal with and I also managed to destroy the chainstay on my race bike with a low-speed tumble onto a sharp rock in the Pentlands the other week.

This was a sign from the gods that it was time to replace my well-worn race bike, and since the Planet X bike I’ve had for years had been fundamentally solid (until the Pentlands Incident) I decided to replace it with a 2022 equivalent. Similar bike, but single chainring upfront – which seems like a good idea since the primary contribution the ‘big ring’ has made in my prior race has been to injure my shin badly when I landed on it. No 2nd chain ring == less spiky metal bits to fall on! Sadly, the world has also decided that QR wheels are passe and the new bike has thru-axle, which means wheels are all incompatible. I also managed to dent one of my tubeless wheels during covid, and thanks to a stockroom mistake by SJS Cycles (their packets of 282mm spokes didn’t contain 282mm spokes…) I’m behind schedule in rebuilding that wheel, so I’ll be doing the first race on tubes again.

I couldn’t make the first SCX round, so will begin the season at round 2 at Lochore Meadows. This is historically a pretty flat “power” course. I snapped a derailleur once there – a good reminder to be cautious whilst shifting and/or stick to one gear later in the race.

It’s hard to recreate “race pace” during training. This is where Zwift is particularly useful. Since getting dropped by a bunch is a downer, there’s a big incentive to put in some extra effort to try and catch up – even if you’re already tired. So I’ve been doing a good few Zwift races recently and hopefully that helps with keeping up the power for the full race.

The CX that was

That’s cyclocross season over for another year, only 8 months before it all kicks off again! Here’s my season summary.

Firstly, in the vet40 category for the SCX series I finished 42nd overall out of 227 riders who competed (final standings)
* SCX1: Cally Park: 42nd out of 131, 32%. (mudfest)
* SCX2: Irvine Beach: 87th out of 123, 71% (injured, couldn’t walk for days after!)
* SCX3: Dunfermline: 49th out of 132, 37% (rode last lap with rear puncture…)
* SCX4: Strathclyde Park: 23rd out of 98, 23%. (best race result of all time!)
* SCX5: Lochore Meadows: 55th out of 119, 46% (power course)

I did one non-series race, lots of up/down which suits me:
* Plean: 17th/55 racers, 31%. (lots of hills!)

Then this year the Superquaich series consisted of three races with A/B format rather than age/gender categories. Last year, I was either at front of the B race or the back of the A race. This year was definite progress – put into the A race in all three rounds, and safely in midfield rolling over the line. Overall, I finished 40th out of 244 riders (final standings).
* SQ#1: Rozelle Park: 58th out of 89, 65%.
* SQ#2: Irvine Beach: 49th out of 87, 56%.
* SQ#3: RGCX: 54th out of 85, 64%.

I’m pretty pleased with all that. Cyclocross is a lot of fun, and the races and racers are a very friendly bunch. But at the same time there’s serious talent in the field – Davie Lines, Eileen Roe, Anne Ewing, Jane Barr, Kerry MacPhee are all Commonwealth Games riders, and Isla Short will be joining that list this year. So, for me to finish 42nd overall in SCX and 40th in Superquaich is no mean feat!

So now for a bit of chilling out …

SQ #3: RGCX @ Rouken Glen

Final race of the 2017/18 season was Rouken Glen this year and the Albannach delivered a great course for racing and great weather too!

Got to the start line early, and thought I had a decent spot but by the time the gridded riders got pulled forward, I was closer to the back than the front for the mad dash up the hill. I happened to end up next the guy I’d race with back at round 1 in Cally Park, across from Bryan Hutton who’d had a stonking race last time out and, as it turned out, the guy to my left would be the guy I’d be sprinting to the finish line against!

It was the usual can’t-hear-the-briefing followed by surprise start-hooter and then we were off flying up the narrow hardpack up the hill. No traumas this time, always wary of the big ditch just to the right of the track! Then left into the slippy slidy woodland section and everything got more chaotic with riders starting to fall off and get snagged up left right and center. As we exited the woods, a rider fell broadside two ahead of me, which always get lots of sympathy from other riders (read: none at all) and I had to half bunny hop to avoid him. Around the hairpin and I manage to quip something to Bryan about “surviving the chaos” before piling down the big dipper and up into the woodland singletrack.

The course had several short-but-steep climbs, which are one of my stronger points. I was also continuing my “decrease tyre pressures by 1PSI each race” and with 27/29PSI the tyres were sticking to the climbs well and the spectators were giving plenty of encouragement for riders willing to ride rather than run!

Rouken Glen is great for the fast downhill off camber stuff, so lots of foot-out tripod’ing with the bike under and oversteering all the way down. The run in to the switchbacks was particularly fast, with the offcamber sucking you down towards the left side. The first few laps were fine, but on lap three I had a high speed (~20mph) off as the front end let go and the bike and I parted company. I picked myself up, checked my arms were still attached and then looked at the bike. Hmm, rear wheel no longer attached. So I tried to get it back, but it doesn’t want to go. This is weird because I put the back wheel in and out every time I use the turbo so I’m unlikely to do it wrong. Then I spot that the chain is also off, but also realise I’m sitting on the race line. So I shuffle up the hill to continue my repair – getting the chain unstuck and back on, which finally lets the wheel back in. I figure it’s worth spending another few seconds double checking everything, since I don’t want to ride that same hill next lap with any doubts about the bike. Then I’m back on the bike to see how both me and the bike are fairing, and within a few corners it’s back to racing again. Unfortunately, I was stopped for nearly two minutes and all the folk I was racing against are long gone. Still, could easily have been worse, and there’s plenty of laps to catch back up.

Each rider has different strengths and weaknesses. I might gain places on the technical climbs, but I’ll often get re-passed by riders who have better raw power on flat sections. But this makes for fun racing, as people go back and forward throughout the lap. I made a repeated tactical mistake by not pushing into the red before the woodland singletrack; this meant I’d often get stuck behind riders unable to pass them – frustrating because I’m reasonably strong on sketchy terrain and also it’s a lot harder to pick lines when you’re unsighted.

In the last lap, I passed a Montevelo rider before the big dip but then got clogged up in the singletrack section and so emerged into the last few corners as a group of four. I came round the sweeping right hander at speed with another rider inches to my left, but since the final turn is a left-hander he had the better position. As we turned, I tried to duck underneath and sprint but ended up lightly tagging his wheel knocking him into a bit of a slide. He caught the slide, but since we were only a few meters from the line my sense of race etiquette kicked in and I followed him over the line (didn’t want to gain a place through a last-corner collision).

In the end, 54th out of 85 (64th percentile). On lap two I was 45th, then after crash I was down to 60th before ending up 54th. Two minutes further up (ie. without the crash) would’ve seen me squeezing into the top half around 42nd place. Pretty happy overall with the result and despite the crash I had a really fun day out and loved the course and its technical challenges.

SQ #2: Irvine Beach (redux)

Superquaich round 2, and the forecast is promising 1C, 30mph winds and snow. And it didn’t lie!

A new course this time, which will be used for the National Trophy CX series in the autumn. After watching the pro cx racers at Valkenburg I was rather hoping for a more-technical-than-average course, and I wasn’t disappointed. Proper short/sharp climbs, fast steep descents, offcamber switchbacks, sandpits, muddy steep offcambers, runups, the lot! A proper challenge, especially over the 1h race duration.

Still, come race o’clock, the weather had other plans. A blizzard flew in just as I was heading to the line, horizontal snow/sleet/ice, hard to even keep your eyes open. I overheard someone say there was a delay, and so checked with the timing dudes and sure enough, race start delayed due to bad weather – first time that’s happened.

So rush back to the car and watch the storm until it blows over. Still, it’s a tough call of how much gear to wear. When the snow stops, it’s a cold but sunny day. It’s tempting to go for normal race gear, but if another blizzard hits it’ll be carnage. In the end I decide to plan for the worst and change into long leggings, and wear a hat and a buff/scarf and full winter gloves. I definitely felt overdressed at the start line – other people were in short-legged skin suits. But come the final lap, I was soo glad of my choices!

I started somewhere near the middle of the pack, and made a few good moves on the first few corners to end up around 30th in the first part of the lap. I had preridden the course, and sussed out lines which let me ride some of the steep sections others were running. But, this being an “A” race, 30th is beyond what I can reasonably hope for. And so the story of the day was gradually slipping back down the field to my eventual 49th place (56th percentile). But that’s fine, it means I definitely wasn’t compromised by starting too far back. If anything, I probably overcooked the first lap in my keenness to be ahead of the tangles, and suffered a bit with a sore back later in the race.

I started to struggle round the long offcamber on lap 2, which let a train of 4 riders past (including the Two Wheel Army). I tried to up my pace to hang on to them, but just didn’t have the legs, and could see them pulling away for the rest of the lap. My strongest point was probably the climb near the start of the lap, which I rode every lap. Each time I got passed by a rider, I’d see where they were making time on me, all useful information. Mid-race I got lapped by Davie Lines (eventual winner) on the flat grass and it was phenomenal to see how fast he goes on the flat!

Coming toward the final lap, the weather was shifting again and then suddenly we were back in another full-on snow storm. Now I was super glad of my earlier choices, able to pull my scarf over my face, and my sunglasses protecting me from the ice. The glasses fogged up as the temperature dropped, so I could only really see the course tape and little else – but on the last lap of a race you don’t really need to see much more than that! I used the Force to navigate round the rest of the lap, pretty exhausted, before making it across the line in 49th. It was like a warzone, with lightly dressed cyclists scattering for cover.

So, takeaways? I found the muddy offcambers hard once they started getting chopped up; don’t think I’ve sussed the best technique out for that. I lost a lot of time in that section over the race, crashing one lap, having an uncontrolled downhill slide on another. My tyres seemed to clog badly in that kind of mud, and despite running lower pressures than ever (28/30psi) I had to run/slide much of the section. It felt like a course that rewarded good technique, but with the weather, there was limited opportunity to preride the course and so I didn’t get everything nailed. Also, there was a lot of flat power sections which I’m always behind-the-curve on.

Still, 49th out of 87 (56%) is actually my best result in a Superquaich A field (vs. 65% at Ayr). So even though I spent most of the race going backwards, it’s actually a step forward.

Bikewise, I’ve finally decided to switch out the rear derailleur. Through various falls, I’ve taken chunks out of the metal body near to the hinges – and since that’s where my previous derailleur failed I don’t want to take chances. Also, the jockey wheel are worn down to points, and there’s abrasion on the inside where I can only assume it’s somehow been rubbed against spokes. Cyclocross is brutal on bikes! Also, I’ve got fed up with eggbeater pedals – partly because they’re not as clog-free as originally seemed, the cleats wear fast, the pedals themselves are hammered after a couple of seasons, and the igus bushings are a nightmare to remove even with the refurb kit. So, I’m flipping back to Shimano SPDs – as used by most european pro cx riders.

Next week is the final race of the season, bringing this run of 4 races in 4 weeks to a close. It’s back at Rouken Glen, where last year I was mere “B race” material and got 9th. This year, it’ll be more “A race” action. Rouken Glen is more about the ups/downs and woodland and less about flat power, so I’m looking forward to it – and currently the forecast is a balmy 8C and dry!

SCX #5: Strathclyde Park

For some reason, Strathclyde Park race was delayed from last November and landed on February 4th instead. It’s a good course, so I was glad it was back and also looking forward to a 40 minute blast in the vet40 category than the 60 minute Superquaich races!

It had started off a chilly day but once the sun came out it warmed up. In the car park, I had set up my “warmer weather” clothes but then went for a test ride along the road and found that although the sun was warm, the air was still very cold and so I hurried back to the car to move my race number across to my warmer top! The earlier races were all running behind schedule, and the previous race was just finishing so thankfully I had time to remedy this mistake.

However, by the time I got to the start line everyone else was already there. D’oh, dumb way to make your race harder! I lined up 80% down the field, and we all had a merry wait in the sun as the organizers tried to figure out where the last few vet50 racers had got to. Then suddenly the whistle goes (you can never hear the 30s warning from the back) and we’re off.

The first lap winds down through a field before joining the main course mid-lap. I made up a load of places, surging forward into gaps as they appeared. But I’d forgot to scout out the lines, and so as the course veered left, I got stuck out on the right side of the bunch miles from the tape and almost had to turn 90 degrees to get back. But still I had plenty of momentum, and the bunch parted just ahead letting me straight-line it down the hill through lots of icy puddles onto the hardpack. Here it’s narrower, but every was in processional mode and I was able to sneak another place riding right at the edge. Then it was onto the (infamous?) red gravel climb, a punishing grind uphill. Someone fell/stumbled and nearly collected the rider on front of me – I had to briefly track-stand and rebalance before scooting around them. Towards the top of the hill were mud sections, rideable on the first few laps but getting gradually harder as the race went on.

Round the corner, and it’s time to fly downhill again toward the bridge. I’d watched the women’s race and saw the large rut which had been cut by running water sucking people offline. I passed one more rider, but at the cost of nearly getting sucked into the rut. At the bridge run-up, I stuck close to the wall (it was good enough for Kerry MacPhee in the earlier race, I figured it was good enough for me).

Then lots of woodland singletrack. Now that I’m on tubeless, I’m gradually dropping the tyre pressures and was running 29/31. This meant I had plenty of grip, unlike last year when I struggled to hold my line through the woods. Towards the end of the lap there’s more sustained climbs, more opportunities for progress, before the final downhill muddy chute which was great/chaotic fun every lap.

After the line, the lap went through a muddy field. Given my experiences in the mud at Rozelle Park, I decided tactically to run most of the mud section and also ride through as many of the puddles to clear the bike. This paid off bigtime – 25% of the field DNF’d – and whilst I had trouble with my lower gears (stone stuck in cassette) there wasn’t the appaling level of mud build up that I’d had in Ayr.

So, after starting in perhaps 80th place, I was up to 30th place by lap two, and by the end I was in 23rd place (out of 98 starters). Which, by far, is my best result in a top flight race.

Very pleased with the result, possibly the pinnacle of my cx career! Not sure that there’s anything I’d change about my approach, apart from getting to the start line earlier. I made full use of the course layout, pushing hard on hill knowing there was a ‘rest’ opportunity afterwards. I probably should’ve started running the red hill mud sections after lap 2 rather than trying to run them. But the decision to run the whole back field was a solid plan.

SQ#1: Rozelle Park, Ayr

As forecast, SuperQuaich #1 was a mudfest. A proper mudfest. Maybe 20% of the course was faster to run than ride. Should’ve done less cycle training and more running training. Even with my Cunning Plan of being careful to avoid mud-build up and even taking time out to clear mud from the frame, by the last couple of laps I think my bike weighed double it’s normal clean weight. Which, when you’re carrying it for 20% of the lap, is a pretty substantial addition. Each time I came past the pits and saw someone emerging with a clean bike, I was rather jealous! I dropped my chain mid-race after the rider on front of me baled out on the camber entering the first field which lost some time (would’ve been more time, were it not for a kind spectator who pointed out why my chain-re-attaching efforts weren’t working).

No close battles this time, the tough conditions meant people were either going forward or backwards – although I noticed Brian McCutcheon once again me passing mid-race with his winning formula (he starts slower but stays consistent, whereas I start fast and then slow). But the course had plenty to keep the mind occupied. Amongst the muddy fields were some rideable uphills, some non-rideable uphills and fun offcambers. I enjoyed the couple of fast woodland excursions, and the short/sharp ups.

My lap times were around 10 minutes, which made the mental maths easy for a 1h race. Mid-race, I was lapped by Dave Duggan, Davie Lines etc, and so when I saw “2 laps to go” I thought there was a decent chance I might be caught by the leaders again before the end. And shortly after the hairpin near the end of the lap, I caught sight of Mr Duggan coming the other way. “Phew” I thought, he’ll pass me and this’ll be my last lap. However, as I got to the finishing straight, I looked behind and saw that he was still a decent way behind and consequently I was going to be one of the final people “lucky” enough to do an extra lap. Karma.

The group just ahead of me were pulling away, and there was noone now behind me, so it was a case of surviving the last lap with my mud-laden 20kg bike. I chased down a couple of riders, but turned out I was lapping them so didn’t gain any place. In the end, my final lap was a 16 minute epic (vs 10 minute first lap) so total race time was something like 1h16m – quite a shock to the system after the 40 minute SCX vet40 rounds!

In the end, I finished 58th out of 89 starters, 65th percentile. Almost exactly where I finished last year. On paper, that look lower than my other season results. But the “A race” has the fastest 100 people from across all age categories, so today I was racing against the best senior/vet40/vet50/females all together.

In races like this, it must be night-and-day between those who have one bike for the whole race vs those with two bikes and/or pit helpers. It was incredible how much mud + grass was stuck to my bike, how much weight and drag it added, and remarkable that it continued to function until the end of the race. Although, given the time it took to clean one bike afterwards, on balance perhaps it’s just as well I don’t have two!

Next weekend is the (delayed) SCX Strathclyde Country Park round. I like the course there, big hard climb then swoopy woodland section. After today’s race, it’d be nice if we didn’t have another mud-fest field to contend with, but given the recent weather that’s probably a bit of forlorn hope.

Plan for the week is a day of rest, a couple of Trainer Road sessions, and some Arthurs Seat loops to simulate the Big Red Climb of the next race. Last year’s Strathy Park was torrential rain, surely the weather can’t be any worse than that?!

CX, part deux

It’s SuperQuaich time, starting at Rozelle Park in Ayr tomorrow. The number crunchers at Quaich HQ have decreed that I’m ‘A race’ material again, which means I’m with all the Proper Fast people. Like last year it’s going to be a wet + muddy course rather than a Bo’ness style powerfest. Last year I managed 64th percentile (52nd out of 81), suffering somewhat from a mud-clogged bike.

Prep hasn’t exactly been ideal; various winter bugs (as ever) plus a firewood-carrying injury which I think has just cleared in time to be fit to race. But Rozelle Park marks the first of potentially 4 consecutive weekends of cx racing so I’m keen to get back into the swing. Last time, the mud clogging the frame was a problem on the last couple of laps. It was exacerbated by an area of wood-chip at the top of one of the run-ups, which mixed with mud to form a crunchy abrasive paste. My plan this year (if the course remains the same) would be to do more bike carrying early in the race to try and preserve the bike for later on.

Stats-wise, so far I did 4 rounds of the SCX championship plus the race at Plean:
* SCX1: Cally Park: 42nd out of 131, 32%. (mudfest)
* SCX2: Irvine Beach: 87th out of 123, 71% (injured, couldn’t walk for days after!)
* SCX3: Dunfermline: 49th out of 132, 37% (rode last lap with rear puncture…)
* SCX5: Lochore Meadows: 55th out of 119, 46% (power course)
* Plean: 17th/55 racers, 31%. (lots of hills!)

So on average, around 46th percentile for series races, a moderate improvement on last year’s 50th percentile finishes.

SCX #4: Lochore Meadows

Say the words ‘Lochore Meadows’ and I hear ‘mud and broken bikes’. It’s not been the kindest course to me, snapping my derailleur in 2014 and then grinding through the mud in 2015 to a 73rd percentile finish.

But this year is going to be different. Cold weather makes for a crunchy start to the day, with the course holding up pretty well during the early races and only modest amounts of mud. I’ve also managed to up my power levels a bit, so hopeful that I’ll do better on the flat/power terrain. A few warmup laps reveal addition to the course: a staircase. I like! With my long legs, hurdles and stairs and climbs are all features where I make up places.

The vet40’s are a canny bunch, and even when I try to get to the starting grid early there’s already a huge crowd there already. So I shuffle in somewhere midpack and hold my ground as everything shuffles around. The whistle goes, and I give it all down the left side to gain position before the first bottleneck, dodging a crash on the way. It’s all stop and go through rest of lap 1, and things only settle down when we get to the spiral for the first time.

The “spiral of doom” is the big feature at Lochore Meadows. With good conditions underfoot this year, I really enjoyed it. The outer part is fast, with two possible lines – inside is shorter but muddier, outside is longer but grassier. I tended to stick with the inside line, since I wasn’t worried about grip but with hindsight I paid the price with lots of mud buildup in the last laps. Towards the middle, the spiral tightens and so transitions into a more technical grip limited surface. Then a flipflop turn to head back out again and the long drag round the grass to the start line.

I quickly settled down chasing rider #14. He’d pass and drop me going into the spiral and I’d be at threshold just to stay vaguely in touch around the spiral. But then I’d pass him on the infield course, often by running rather than riding. And so we passed and repassed each other lap after lap. At one point I thought I’d dropped him, but then he flew past again. A couple of other riders came past, but they too ended up in this elastic group switching positions.

It was only in the last lap that they got away from me. I felt I was still giving out the same power, but I just wasn’t as fast. My bike was getting very clogged up with mud. A few riders flew passed me at speed (did they have clean pit bikes?) as I dropped a few places. I tried to hang on, even tried to catch one on the last half lap, but it wasn’t to be.

In the end, I finished 56th (47%) – having been up to 44th on lap 3. Thanks to chasing #14 throughout, I know that I pushed as hard as possible. I also did as many ‘smarts’ as possible – running rather than riding, surging to take a position before the track narrowed to singletrack. Maybe if I had a pit bike I could’ve sustained my 44th place (after the race, I tried to spin my wheel and it would barely do a single rotation). But two bikes is a level of seriousness beyond what I’m going to do!

Still, although not in the points, I finished in the top half, and on the lead lap again unlapped. My fastest lap time was +14% on the winners fastest. It’s not so long ago that I was being lapped twice, and having lap times 50% slower than the winners!

Next weekend’s race is Plean. Back in October 2011, I did my first ever cyclocross race at Plean (back then, my lap times were twice as long as the winner!). The weather this week has been constant rain, and the forecast is for dry and cold. From 2011, I remember mud. Muddy downhills. Muddy uphills. Muddy flat sections. But it was fun!