Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ted goes to Todmorden


Ted Sarmiento heads West across the vastness of Yorkshire and tackles an event shrouded in myths and legends, not to mention mud and cobbles.

I’ll start with a conversation overheard at the recent Bradford National Trophy:

"I reckon Peel Park has to the best National Trophy Cyclo-Cross course in the country"

"What you on about? It's not even the best Cyclo-Cross course in Yorkshire"

This made me chuckle at the time, but it also tells you something about a) the quality of the racing in these parts, b) just how stupidly BIG Yorkshire actually is and c) the sense of humour prevalent around these parts. Todmorden is proper miles from my part of Yorkshire and genuine contender for the title of Yorkshire's top course. But, however far you travel to reach it, you definitely need to bring your sense of humour with you if you intend to enjoy the experience.

The event enjoys a fearsome reputation and is regarded as something of a “classic” in ‘Cross circles. Not one to be put off by a bit of 'technical' I literally went up hill and down dale to get over to this race and ride for myself.

I'd heard about the mud and cobbles, so I cleverly got my hands on some mud specific tyres. Imagine my shock on the practice lap (I could only summon enough reserves for one) when I found that the vast majority of the race was actually on hardpack paths. But it's not the majority that is the problem: no, it's the minority features that count here.

The first and biggest “minority feature” is the cobbled climb. If there was a saying about the cobbles, it might go a bit like this – “Ride 'em and you'll do well, don't ride 'em and….?” Well you can guess the rest! However, perhaps because most riders are reduced to speechless impotence by this wickedly slippery mosaic of shining stones, there isn’t a saying about the cobbles that I’m aware of. All I can say is that I didn't, or, frankly, couldn't “Ride ‘em!”

The second “minority feature” is the down-hill slop-fests. Now these are Fun, with a capital F. But are they quicker to run? Probably, but aren't we here to enjoy ourselves? Oh yeah, we're here to race, drat.

Finally we have the infamous “minority feature” of the cloying mud on the lower 'veld' section of the course. Again, is it faster to run it? Do you change tactics for the second half of the race when it really cuts up? Decisions, decisions. Oh who cares? Let's race.

So it's off we go for the start loop, a lap of a waterlogged soccer pitch, along with fifty-odd other Vet-40s with the Vet-50s and women chasing us down two minutes later. Another great start and I'm up with the leaders on the first corner, where it promptly gets seriously boggy and my power curve heads South.
On to the course proper and it's more of the same, but something great happens, we get a full musical accompaniment from a drumming group. Fantastic. It almost makes the silly run uphill, when I reach the cobbles, enjoyable. This being a run that makes Bradford's wall look tame, and that's not a good thing.

Then it’s hardpack, cobbles, hardpack, slop, hardpack, steps, hardpack, slop, more slop, pits, more slop etc. In other words, a seriously tricky 'cross race.

Fortunately I had support in the pits with a spare bike and cleaning facilities which allowed me two changes during the race: I was so grateful for these I could almost have wept.

Laatste ronde! Into the final bit of slop and a Harrogate Nova club mate runs past me. It's Tim Evans and as a Vet-50 he's caught me for two minutes! But more importantly – this still being a race - he shows me how to take a few places, by getting off and running downhill! I don't need asking twice and peg it down to the pits and then ride on to the finish to offer my heartfelt congratulations (snagger fragger) to Tim. A terrific race, but brutal by any 'cross standards.

So, how did Tim catch me? Simple: he rode the cobbles. Doff caps in unison!
Paul Lehan, Ted Sarmiento and Tim 'Pave' Evans

Thanks as ever go to pit crew, shouts form the trackside, race marshals, cxmagazine.com, Tidds and Bioracer cycle clothing from Belgium, the home of 'cross. And of course Chipps Chippendale and the YCCA for organising this one. Back next year to ride the cobbles? Maybe!

Race result 25 of 56 (7 DNFs!)

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