Time to ramble...
It's been a busy month of racing round these parts with 5 rounds of the North West CX League crammed into October. I'd missed the two opening rounds through being away in the equally exotic climes of Italy & Leeds, so rolling up to the start line at round 3 in Bolton I was shoe-ed towards the back of grid having amassed a sum total of bugger all series points. A reasonable start & a mass pile up meant I squeezed my way up into the top 30 by the first corner. It was absolutely lobbing it down making the going fully wet & slippery but not boggy. For a few laps I had a good tussle with Velocake's Tim 'tubs & turbo trainer' Kershaw, chasing each other down & picking our way through the field. Tim finally got a gap on one of the descents that I couldn't reel back in, staying just out of reach until the end. I just scraped my way into the top 20 (that'd be 19th) & got my first league points of the season on the board. Not overly blown away with my performance, but then it was my first cross race for a few weeks & having been doing loads of long steady rides I was expecting it to take a couple of weeks to get up to speed again.
Next stop was up to Winderemere for round 4, incorporated into the Rapha Super Cross. Good to see Rapha making a bit of positive input, giving people who aren't the begrudging other halves a reason to take a look at what was going on. A Superprestige it wasn't, but with hundreds of free cow bells handed out, Duvel being served by the pits & a commentator that seemed aware of what was going on in the race, it was certainly substantially more spectator friendly that usual.
On pre-riding I rather liked the course; there was a stiff little climb in there & some relatively techy bits. The one thing that did stand out was how short the lap was. That caused a bit of an issue at the start - impressively over 150 were on the line but with just 50metres of open field before a hairpin it got a bit sticky. I like a bit of good humored argy-bargy at the start of these things, but that many people manically trying to find a line just causes some to get a bit panicked & others get a bit too aggressive, shitty & plain rude. I can do without that, so decided to calmly pick my way through when the opportunities presented themselves.
All was going pretty well with that tactic for a few laps, eventually getting a pretty clear run at the course. Then two things went wrong.
1: It got claggy. It had been wet, then it was warm & dry. All those wheels churned the mud up pretty bad. As a one bike competitor I felt the effects. Wheels didn't go round very well. Then not at all. I ended up having to stop twice a lap to pull handfuls of clag out of my frame & forks, loosing places every time to those that were able to grab a clean bike from the pits.
2: My gears went all clunky. Just out of alignment enough that whenever I stood on the pedals the chain chunked about over two cogs. It was then that I realised that blundered into a schoolboy error, having built my one & only race bike without any barrel adjusters on the gears. I felt like a tit for that. Quite grumpily I finished a lowly 40th on the day.
Then a change of fortune :-) The following day was round 5 at the fantastically named Boggart Hole. It's properly ace there, one of my favourite courses with loads of off-camber rooty bits (for a cx course), singletrack & a long climb. I rode well there last year, so I was hoping to finally get the season up & running. Another big field started, but thankfully starting around a suitably big field before dropping into the woods. Still un-gridded I managed to razz my way round the inside corners to get into the first singletrack section towards the front of the pack. Stomping on nicely I had time to look up & gauge roughly where I was in the race - further up than I was expecting. Pushing on I was waiting for a stream of riders to come passed, but whenever I caught a glimpse behind no one seemed to be closing. Perhaps I was on for a good one. Eventually Roy 'still amazingly quick for an old fella' Hunt crept through, but that was it. I stayed strong & picked up 10th on the day. It was yet another strong turnout, so I was really chuffed with that particularly after the previous day's frustrations.
Roll on another week & it was back oop north to the home of Hope Technology, Barnoldswick for round 6. A new course to the league & one that rode ok, but when hit at race pace became great fun. A kind of classic British cross course with 5 dismounts a lap: 2 sets of boards, 1 set of steps & 2 slimey banks to run up. Plus a sandpit. And a barbecue, although that wasn't actually on the course.
Once again, missing those two opening rounds meant I was hidden in the bulk of riders on the start. Thankfully I was catching up with my old compadre Ian Wilkinson before the gun went & managed to jump on his wheel for the first couple of hundred metres, getting dragged passed many riders, escaping the inevitable bottleneck at the first corner. Needless to say that was the last I saw of Wilks' wheel as he buggered off to the front of the race. Once again I felt I was riding strongly, right in the mix with a few of the handy NW league riders, jostling for positions, putting in little digs where possible & picking up positions. I struggled a bit on one long off-camber bank, trying to ride it & failing, then trying to work out the best way to run it & failing. Yet I seemed to edge out the others on most other sections of the course managing to stay away & finish 13th. Another good result for the likes of me.
End of the month was racing at a classic NW venue, Otterspool Park. Another course I enjoyed last season, usually really fast going with a good amount of woodland tracks, plus a cobbled climb that is permanently wet. Pre-ride went well & I was looking forward to getting stuck in after the performances I pulled out in the last two rounds. Then.... NIGHTMARE!... In the mad dash of the start loop a rider somehow managed to clip my rear QR. The wheel now loose in the dropouts was forced into the non-driveside chainstay where it wedged & stopped me from going anywhere fast. By the time I'd got off & sorted it all out the whole field of over 110 riders was in front of me. That wasn't the plan. For a moment I pondered sacking it off for the day, by instead I decided to HTFU & get on with it. I spent the next hour riding out of my skin. I ripped through the back makers now thinking that any league points were better than none. After a few laps I started spotting some of the usual suspect I end up racing with. That gave an extra bit of impetus to keep on top of the gears for the last few laps. I wound up moving from DFL to 13th rider home, just missing out on 12th in a sprint for the line. Mathematically not my best result, but definitely my best ride turning round a crappy bit of luck. I feel like I have now earned the right to don the new VCM skinsuit.
It's comforting to know that I didn't have the worst luck of the day... One guy forgot to charge the battery for his fancy-dan Di2 gears!