Right CX fans, a new guest writer for CXAddict. You may have seen some excellent photopics of Scottish CX races from Anthony Robson aka BlackPuddinonnaBike, but he has stepped up, pinned a number on and had a go at racing. Equipped with a new bike, he lined up at Dig in at the Dock. Here is his story.
I’m slow. This is in no way a call for contradiction, simply a statement of fact. I’ve only ridden three cross races in the last two years, and having attended many more it’s clear my talents lie more behind the camera lens when it comes to any form of cycle sport. But the problem is… I enjoy riding in these races. Okay, so my run of results has read 2nd last; 3rd last; 5th last in, respectively, the 2012 Haughcross and Irvine Beach Cross round, then the 2014 Dig in at the Dock. And in those races after the first 15 minutes I’m completely uncertain as to whether I’m going to make it to the end. But still I do end, and do so with a smile on my face.
There’s just ‘something’ about cross racing that pushes every available button, even for a slow plodder like me, and it’s because of this that I really want to ride some more. But I also want to get faster. It’s not a pride thing, more simply that I don’t think I’m doing myself justice. You see I do actually have some things going for my cycling ability, despite my self-deprecation above. A long-past mountain biking adolescence which drags itself from my memory, and a few years commuting fixed (before it became famous, and before I saw the geared light), mean the handling skills aren’t too shabby. I’m happy bombing down steep bumpy banks, or correcting little slips of the back wheel, or picking up pace in short sections of singletrack.
Added to that I remember, before my first race, the sage words of my Mr Miyagi, Jon McComisky, telling me there is time to be gained if you can dismount and remount properly. I checked out some videos on YouTube, had a few practices in the street, and realised that, quite frankly, it was a doddle. In that first race there was a downhill, followed by a 180 degree turn and hurdles immediately after going uphill. On the first lap I rode to the turn, then threw in the dismount. It was slow. Every subsequent lap I unclipped the right foot and swung the leg over to the wrong side of the bike at the start of the drop, skidded the bike round 90 degrees as I hit the bottom, got the tyre to bite to throw me off as I unclipped the left and ran the hurdles as fast as my breathing allowed. So you see, those little ‘technical’ aspects are virtually second nature (though always subject to improvement).
What I lack is a serious amount of ‘oomph’, combined with undying politeness and naff all group riding skills. The lack of oomph means (as I found out at DIATD) that any gain on the hurdles or the steep slopes, was lost as I had to engage the thighs again in the search for speed. The grass sections sapped me, the headwind destroyed me. I wasn’t gasping for air, and the legs weren’t burning, but everything, just everything, was leaden. This fitness lark is something I’ve never had, but it might be just about time.
The politeness simply means that I wait until a nice wide, perfectly clean, opportunity to go past anyone. I’m not saying cross racers aren’t polite, quite the opposite, the amount of thanks from riders as you get lapped is astonishing, and I’ve never come across a better group of racing cyclists. But rather I go out of my way not to cause any offence. I get waaaaaaay off the racing line if I see faster riders coming from behind, and I avoid diving for that gap that I know is attainable, but might cause someone to have to divert off their own line. So I need to get meaner.
As for group riding? I just need to man up. Pure and simple. I tend to start rides at the very back, and if I happen to be faster than anyone then that’s fine. It’s partly knowing I don’t have the fitness, knowing I’ll hold people up as things narrow (which taps into the politeness), but also a deep worry of being a rabbit in headlights in amongst a swarm of bikes. I could put it down to coming off a few years back riding Cycle Speedway. The arm went out to break my fall, and instead I broke the arm. Badly. But really that’s just an excuse, and something I need to get over.
So anyway, why this outpouring, this examination of my shortcomings from a mere toe dip into the world of cyclocross? Well I have plans, aims and aspirations. Mainly I want to ride more in the next series (as well as throwing in DIATD ’15 of course). This year I’ve made the time to get to a number of rounds with the camera, next time I need to do it with the bike. But, as mentioned above, I want to be faster. I’m never going to be ‘competitive’, that’s pie in the sky, but in the right conditions, on the right course, having eaten the right Weetabix…. Is it possible for a tail-end duffer to transform himself with 10 months of training into a top half finisher? Maybe it’s time to find out.