This weekend had been ear-marked for a while. Two very different cyclocross events, both individually very exciting and both in London. It was also to be my first cross racing of the year.
First up was Muddy Hell in Herne Hill on Saturday night. Sponsored by Knog and run by the Rollapaluzza guys, this event already has a big reputation for being fun, tough and entertaining. Racing begins around dusk with a flood lit section in the middle of the track and riders wearing lights. It's runs on a unique course that featured a sand-trap, steep drop-ins and steep ups (one very dusty one requiring bike-shouldering) a little tarmac, the ubiquitous barrier, quite a lot of twisting singletrack, a hosed muddy corner (required what with London basking in hot and dry conditions and the course mostly throwing dust up into the riders lights). The most unusual features were a wooden wall-ride and a steep-sided bridge that led straight into a tabletop that the more skilled riders could get some impressive air from (step up friend of VCM, Phil Moore).
Having left entry a bit late, I ended up in the catch-all novice class, but the racing remained hard, hot and fast (especially as I was in a full-body skeleton skinsuit with mask that frequently obscured at least one eye, restricted breathing and kept getting caught on the saddle). Great fun to ride with my good friend Andrew Diprose in his Spidersuit, heckle Mr Blobby and soak up the atmosphere at what is a fantastic event. There was kids' face-painting, roller-racing on mountain bikes and plenty of beer. Make a note for next year. I ended up 18/75.
Sunday was to be treated a little more seriously. The third (and final round) of the Rapha Supercross series held at Alexandra Palace in North London. The weather was highly un-cross-worthy being sunny and very warm with views from the top of the course across all of London and beyond (there's a reason the BBC transmit from here). Ominously this also meant a fiercely climby course. I began to regret bringing the singlespeed as soon as we arrived.
Gareth raced in seniors and I raced vets (my inaugural year among the gnarled and grizzled). Only in Roubaix have I seen a better attended race (I'm sure the weather and views won't have done any harm) and a large group of friends were there to heckle us on our way.
The course was challenging, but fantastic fun, featuring very little flat and a lot of 'interest'; steep tarmac up, loose and fast singletrack, steep and sharp hair-pins, one corner littered with acorns like natures ball-bearings, proper tall barriers, a set of stairs and a looooong grassy climb that left me feeling like I had heat-stroke and T-rex arms.
Despite all of this the course was very compact and with the 'firm going' we did at least 10 laps (I lost count). The hurdle section at one point became almost a tunnel of heckling with friends screaming and cow-bells shaking - I had to smile despite the pain.
The singlespeed worked out for me, I think as the climb remained rideable and there was so little straight that there was little disadvantage to not having a taller gear.
Gareth shot past me first time up the climb and was not seen again, racing whippet that he is and the race passed in that odd way that cross races do feeling both interminably long and over in a flash all at once. Small battles ensued and the camaraderie of the battle-worn was shared at the finish as we saw our own pain reflected in the eyes of others.
Really tough and fantastic fun at the same time. Results aren't in as yet.
Plans are already afoot to do the full series next year.