Monday, January 6, 2014

Ed's Todmorden Race Report

TodmordennounA town in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.A permanent mud bath, where crazy cyclo-crossers grind up cobbles, battle through mud and run up steps each year.
Every time I have raced at Todmorden, except once, there has been deep mud; thick, sticky mud that makes every inch of the course a leg busting slog. For that one exception, the course had frozen solid, which turned it into a skating rink, with some of the course removed for being too dangerous. I'm not sure there has ever been a race a Tod with dry, green grass, even for the summer series race it was a mud bath. For the final round of the Yorkshire Points Cyclocross series, it was no exception, with much of the course unridable or quicker to run, due to thick, deep mud.

After getting to the race early, I sat in the van and thought why the hell I was there. Outside, it was only just above freezing and I'd have to go and prance about in deep mud for an hour, whilst freezing my knackers off. I began to think what I could get from the race: the satisfaction of races, the ability to indulge in large quantities of food afterwards, complete my set of 7 races to count for the series, maybe get a great result… the list goes on. But, all I could think in my head was of the warmth of my bed, that I had dragged myself from to come to this muddy and cold park in the depth of the Pennines.

However, I soon realised I was being a complete wimp, pulled on my cycling gear and headed out to the course.

There weren't many changes to the course compared to previous years. The start loop took you around two waterlogged football pitches, as if to say "if you weren't cold on the start line, you sure will be now!", and then joined the proper course just after the finish line, the start of the upwards struggle. Although the first section was pretty flat, the deep mud made it feel like a 20% gradient, with it only marginally quicker to ride, over run. After a quick 'break' on the tarmac path, you hit a wall of sheer mud, deep enough to engulf your shoe and ankle, which took you higher up the valley side. Sadly, this resulted in your feet turning into two balls of mud, which made clipping in for the following stretch of path a nightmare. This path was the calm before the storm, or the hill before the mountain. After taking the sharp right hand bend at the end of the path, you are faced with "The Chimney", as it is called on Strava. A few hundred meter section of cobbles, with an average gradient of over 20%; not hard enough for you? Add in the fact that the cobbles are as slippery as ice, meaning standing up is not an option. Running is also not a good idea; there is very little room alongside the cobbles, and cycling shoes definitely won't grip them. When the suffering does end, and you reach the top of the cobbles, there is a slight relief that the course is pretty much downhill from there. The top section of the descent incorporates a tight chicane, and then small a set of steps, made possible by the course coming back in itself. From there to the pits, it was nearly all mud, which mostly was quicker to run, even with the downhill gradient. Then, after a definite bike change, you negotiated the small maze of slippery hairpins, before crossing the finish line.

Tough, but fun. Any thoughts of my nice warm bed had now long gone from my head. Time to race!

I sat on the start line cold, but focussed on a good start off the line, which is actually what I didn't get. I set off, but my legs seemed to have no go. I tried to power on, but people just kept coming past; this wasn't a good sign. I kept powering on and eventually I stopped slipping back places and actually made some advancement. I made up a few places on the boggy slog, and then nearly half a dozen on the 'wall of mud' run up. Finally I was finding some speed! After a little bit of a let up on the path, we hit the cobbles. I rode them nearly all the way to the top, but a rider in front had slipped, forcing us all the get off and run. Everyone decided to jump back on their bike pretty much straight away at the top, but I decided to run that little bit further. This gained me about another 3 places, and I was finally among my usual rivals.

The infamous cobbles
For the start of the next lap, I was alongside Ben Cooper, who I'd been very close to in previous races. On one of the running sections we joked "what a nice day for a run it was" (obviously not trying hard enough). I was with him until the cobbles, where I managed to dig deep, avoid slipping and ride all the way to the top of them. I'd managed to open a gap on Ben, and, so, set to work catching James Dalton.

I eventually caught James, and stayed with him for a few laps. Then, like I did with Ben, I managed to drop him on the cobbles. I was free to keep pushing on, with the next rider in my sights being Jon Hopkinson.

I measured my gains on Jon with the top section of the course, where it loops back on itself. I was hardly catching up with him though, and, behind, Ben Cooper was making his way back up to my wheel. I checked my watch- 45 minutes of racing gone. The bell can't be far away!

I really dug deep for the last two laps, and began to see I was starting to catch Jon. I powered up the cobbles for the penultimate time, and pushed on to the descent. That was where disaster struck; my tub rolled on the first corner of the chicane. I pulled it back on as quickly as possible, but by this time Ben had caught be up and powered on ahead. I was able to ride on my tub, but I had to take it carefully on all of the corners, which meant Ben's gap only increased.

I changed bikes in the pits, just before receiving the bell, for the last lap. Ben now had a large gap, and there was little chance of me catching him. Naturally, my pace eased slightly, and I carefully made my way around the last lap, trying not to make any last minute mistakes.

I crossed the line in 7th place overall, which was one of my best results of the season, and pretty commendable considering my start. But in my head all I could think of was the 6th place and potential 5th place I could have had, if it would have not been for my tub rolling with a lap and a half to go.

7th place though, I have to say, was still a pretty good placing, which was made even better when I found out that it had pushed me up to 5th overall in the Yorkshire Points series. 2 points ahead of Dave Morris, who I'd had many battles with though the series.

I'd like to thank my amazing pit crew, who had to work none stop for this race due to the mud. My next race is at Ripley Castle on New Year's Day; perfect for starting 2014 with.

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