Another Saturday, another race. Another Friday, another long post-work drive. I sat in traffic, listening to the rain bounce off the wind-buffetted car, and struggled to muster much enthusiasm.
Fast forward a couple of hours and I was sat in my car, drinking beer at the campsite, waiting for the others to arrive.
All I could do was cling to the hope that the weather forecast was correct, and Saturday would dawn dry and bright. Mikey and Katie were first to arrive, after a similarly long drive, up from Penzance. Not that you could tell by their Lancastrian accents. It was the first time I’d met both, and a pleasure to meet the informal Directeur Sportif of VeloCake and a fell Lego lover. We set-to putting up tents. 2 minutes later, my Decathlon pop up number was up, pegged out and filled with a thermarest, sleeping bag and pillow. Mikey had nearly finished putting the poles together. Another ten minutes later, we were taking the poles out of the incorrect sleeves, and starting again. It was in my interests to help. Mikey and Katie had a porch!
We lazed around inside the tent, as the summer sky finally darkened. We sipped a few beers, ate some pretzels and kept our eyes peeled for Piers, who had travelled down from Penrith. It was properly dark by the time he arrived, but it wasn’t long before he was sat in the tent porch joining us drinking, and even supplying some very tasty sloe gin. Hmm… the theme for the race tomorrow had already been set. It maybe wasn’t textbook preparation.
The one sad note was that Mikey Summers had a delayed flight, so would miss the race. We were prepared to take on the opposition as a mighty threesome, but Dave Jevons stepped into the breach at short notice.
The sun was indeed out for the 9am start the next day. The wind was still up, and it wasn’t hot, but I wasn’t complaining. No time for a practice lap, I headed down to the start (for I, lucky old me, had been nominated to start. Sommat to do with running occasionally). I dropped the bike somewhere near the side of the course and continued walking down hill, ready for the Le Mans style start. At which point, I bumped into Lee Eaton, who was racing solo for Team JMC. We had a catch up, and were so engrossed in conversation, that we may have missed the countdown to the start, and were taken somewhat by surprised when 3, 2, 1, GO! Was shouted out. A less than marvellous get away ensued, but I did get away, found my bike without too many problems, and set off. Then was forced to trackstand. Then got away. Then got barged. Then got away. It was all a bit manic, but good fun.
The course was utterly fantastic. It genuinely was all-weather, with no real muddy sections, and fast rolling combination of gravel and limestone finishing. Not only that, but there were berms and jumps galore. Generally, I settled into a familiar pattern… bury myself overtaking people on the wide climbs, tuck in and recoup some energy by maintaining flow down the singletrack. Tag onto the end of a train of slower riders, then bury myself to pass them when the trail opened up. All round good fun.
My two laps were over all too quickly, and passed the baton (or hair bobble in this case) on to Piers. Now, this was new ground. I’ve not done an endurance race in a team before. What am I meant to do now? Well, turns out it was quite easy to fill the time. I had a coffee and a bacon butty. Bumped into Dean (who got 3rd in the singlespeed pairs category on his Jones spaceframe), said hi to Shaggy, chatted with folk, heckled the other VeloCake team and generally enjoyed the sun. Dave was up next, then Mikey, who sported the best race face I’ve seen for a while.
Before too long, I was back out again, and having even more fun. The trails were less crowded, allowing me to carry more speed round the course. This is what racing should be like. POP, pssssssssshh. Oops. I had been getting a little carried away and after nosing my front wheel into a berm a little clumsily, I rolled my tyre, and broke the tubeless seal. I quickly banged a tube in, but it cost me 5 minutes or so, and I was annoyed. I then had to stop at the pits and add more air. Grrr. Lap two was without incident, but I just wanted to keep on riding!
More socialising, eating, watching, sunbathing, chatting followed. Maybe I could get used to this.
I headed out on what I thought was to be a single lap, with Piers to go out straight after, in a bid to keep our lap times short. And I made the most of the one lap. Arriving in the pits breathless and sweaty, I looked around. There was no Piers. Oh. Only one thing for it. I went back out. And actually, despite feeling a bit hanging, did an alright time, and enjoyed myself. Dave took over from me for a lap, and Piers finished off, with around 20mins to go. Sadly not enough time for us to go back out for a final flourish. Probably a good thing. I had already opened a beer.
The other VeloCakers had been busy too. Matt, Andy, Phil and Dan smashed out the laps and looked to be enjoying themselves, apart from Matt who always looks a little grumpy… (sorry Matt )
Those of us who could stay the night met back up in the beer tent and enjoyed a few drinks, planned some new adventures and drank a little more.
Oh… p.s. we came 26th in the end. Not too shabby. And VeloCake/3 Counties came 40th… very respectable too.
And double p.s. on my third lap, pre-puncture I made a slightly clumsy overtaking manoeuvre and clipped another rider. I did shout out sorry, and got an insult for my troubles. Fair play, it wasn’t a great place to try and pass. So, to whoever you were, sorry again. No need for the swears though hey mate?
45minutes. That’s all. 45minutes.
Why is it so damn hard? And why am I (relatively) so slow in comparison to longer races? Frustrating. But addictive.
For the first time, I actually got a really good start, a flat sprint across the playing field before a tight right turn into the course proper. It was all a bit of a blur, but I got clipped in cleanly, and had a convenient gap open up in front of me, and took the opportunity. Round the first corner, holding my place… maybe 15th? Then into a series of straights and hairpins, and I gradually fade back. Fellow Velocaker Tim passed me, unsurprisingly, as he always beats me, and I tried to settle into a steady pace. But, my legs felt heavy, I felt sluggish, and just kept going backwards.
Maybe this was down to mountain biking the day before, maybe I was feeling a bit under the weather, maybe it was that I’ve been training for long endurance events all summer, maybe it was just one of those things. I think I eventually came in around the half way position, maybe a little further back.
On the plus side, it was a beautiful day, there was a wonderful atmosphere, I met up with lots of friends, both old and new AND got to have a few swigs of Duvel after the race (and could have had a hell of a lot more if I wasn’t driving). I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon than racing, chatting, watching more racing, more chatting and laughing with lovely people.
Jo Allen got some great snaps (including one of me pre-race)
As did Cheryl King
I’ll be back at the next week. I’ll keep racing cross, it’ll always be “a bit of fun”, I’ll always want to do better though!
Here come the cakes?
Either way, they’ll both be worn lots over the next year.