For the last few years we have been promising ourselves in the Duckhouse that this year is the year we have a crack at cross! Each year the beginning of the cross season starts and we have been bike-less or with part of a bike or in one instance just a pair of tyres. This year however is the year! We made this decision in March after missing out a bit of racing the previous summer and missing a bit of competition and intensity. Cross for us screamed to be the one, an all-round test of fitness and bike handling and, well, a bit of silliness.
To a casual observer cyclocross looks a bit crazy. What is effectively a road-bike getting ridden around an invariably muddy park, woodland or field during the winter. The fun of mountain biking without a mountain bike. The joy of road racing, without a road!
Normally behind the lens Jon takes an early spill!
Langdon Hills Country Park overlooks the Thames Gateway and indeed has a hill as an integral feature of it. Push Sports had done a great job of putting together the venue, which was to double as a round of Mud Sweat and Gears (a regional mountain bike series) the following day. The site was fully catered and serviced with a presence from Hadleigh MTB club providing some help and coaching for juniors which was great. Indeed cross attracts a great number of younger riders through their clubs; it really is a great way of introducing children to cycle sport.
The course was fortunately open for practise before the race. Some cross courses you can see a lot of from the start/finish, this one disappeared pretty quickly from view so a couple of recce laps were essential. The previous races in the day had been lucky enough to experience dry conditions but it seemed that the Big Man had other ideas for the latter competitors. A couple of short but heavy downpours on otherwise hard packed bridleway made for what some described as an ice rink with those running a heavier gearing (which included your scribe) being distinctly found out on the climbs!
The super talented Ben Tullett on his way to a strong win in tough conditions!
As relative newcomers we were slotted in at the back of the grid, which was good as we didn’t get in anyones way but was bad as everyone else got in our way! In the early laps there were several fallers, one poor lad in particular came a cropper at the bottom of a particularly fast section of a muddy slip and slide only to be skittled by the Blackmore train and those following us as stopping was nigh on an impossibility.
Drafting is not really a thing in cross and as such you are working exceptionally hard for the duration of the event. This makes technical sections even more brutal when tiredness hits you and gives you no hiding place at all. Running sections can be frequent and although this course had no steps, sandpit or hurdles it made up for it with wet roots, the occasional step down and off camber wet corners. Cross is also exceptionally tough on components. Disc brakes are highly recomended, especially when conditions head south as they did today. We didn’t have discs and thus carried around a decent amount of mud about with us which didn’t help our cause. Rear mechs take a real hammering, once they clog they can snap very easily and quickly end your day. At the end of the afternoon the combination of being ridiculously fit, having thought about your equipment, tyres and gearing and being a very good bike handler will see you towards the sharp end of the race. We were solidly mid pack with young Ben Tullett of Beeline Bicycles winning our race overall by nearly four and a half minutes, clearly mastering the tough conditions.
Most riders showed some evidence of venturing onto the deck!
What is clear is that once the winter sets in cross will certainly separate the men from the boys, so to speak. Having said all of that cross is totally inclusive, you can race on a mountain bike and it really is a great form of racing if you don’t fancy bunch racing on tarmac, we can’t wait until the next one! Despite all the mud and falls everyone was smiling (in the end) and that’s what made it great! So if you see us over at any of the Eastern Cross rounds this winter stop by and say hi and feel free to share some tips!
A big thank you to James Lucas for allowing us to publish his photos on here!