Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Steve - 2014 Nat Trophy, Shrewsbury.

No Excuses.

Back in August when I was mulling over committing to a second full National Trophy, thing’s weren’t clear cut. In practice, no matter how carefully one pursues cyclocross, it’s costly in terms of time and cash. My 2012/13 season had been disproportionately intense and left me seeking a more sensible approach. So the prospect of riding the final round whilst suffering from the after effects of a heavy cold had me resigned to wrapping up,  and I’m about to say one of those things that underperformers say all the time….. ‘Just use it for training’.

Questionably, I thought to myself that perhaps riding would be worthwhile if nothing else to improve my experience and fly the flag.

So to avoid another whole weekend being consumed by a forty min race, it was a 5am start to travel to Shrewsbury. As we joined the A38, a major dual carriageway, the butterfly flapped its wings and the whole day started to be a case study in chaos theory.

As we glided along, silently, suddenly a rapidly unfolding situation became apparent. With cars and vans everywhere, right way up, upside down, it suddenly became apparent that we were doing seventy miles an hour on black ice. We were in the middle of an unfolding pile up. Not good. Perhaps, just perhaps cyclocross saved my life. Brake in straight line, don’t do anything sudden and come of the brakes and go round it…….. The next forty miles were done at a snails pace until we crossed out of Derbyshire and into the land of salted roads. We were running really late now. So late that we couldn’t stop for fuel, just hope for the best. Shit or Bust.

Shrewsbury wasn’t  a good course for me last year. There’s not a single thing wrong with it, It’s just very technical and it doesn’t suit me. There’s a few steeps that I struggle on and with barely time to do a single practice lap, I wasn’t really able to work out the lines or gain the confidence to hit the dodgy bits hard.

Wrapped up, gridded and bang. We were off. My start was OK, no better or worse than usual as we entered the one feature that somewhat sets Shrewsbury apart. A simple starting straight followed by a marginally ridable bank that never fails to cause complete chaos for a seventy strong field. Going into the bank I was forced to dismount and then hit heavily from behind by another rider. It’s funny the things that go through the mind, I can distinctly remember thinking ‘that feels like a Rhino’ as the following guys tread ran up my calf. I came out of the mêlée in roughly 35th place before the white knuckle ride that is a race paced lap on a technical course I hadn’t properly reconnoitred.  

(Photo - Andy Whitehouse)

For all Shrewsbury challenges, it also rewards. Of all the Trophy courses this one has one of my favourite features. An ultra fast off camber bank section running off a wind assisted tarmac section. Try and ride it with anything less than one hundred percent commitment and it’s a big crash or untidy zero speed dismount. Hit it absolutely full on , accept that for two seconds you’ll be utterly out of control and it rewards with both wheels off the ground over the brow. Scares the living daylight out of me. Makes me grin like a Cheshire Cat…

This course is for some reason the epitome of my friend – Andrew Yee, editor of Cyclocross Magazine’s ethos…..”The best designed courses are ones where riders have to make decisions”. So many decisions to make on this course, which pit to change bikes at, to shoulder or to wheel, to run down the bank or not, to remount left or right, or high line or low line. Brilliant despite my constantly getting it wrong and a one hundred percent consistence of pants rides there.

As the race progressed, I managed to pick a few riders off and worked my way up to about twenty fifth position or so. With really muddy conditions, I had my girlfriend red lining in the pits with changes every lap and a half.

At the bell, I found myself exactly where I didn’t want to be – at the front of a group of four behind, I somehow found a strong last two minutes to drop them and come in 27th place. Exactly the same position as in 2012…Given my stronger season this year, disappointing. Given my cold, OK.

So what did I gain from riding? Probably not a lot other than a handful of BC points, a bit more experience at a classic venue, another week of coughing and further confirmation that Shrewsbury is the most technical course of the series. But ultimately, slithering around a cross course is thoroughly good fun and as always, my team mates were thoroughly good company.

Once I’d suffered the indescribable shame of admitting to the AA man that my van had not only run out of fuel, but had done so whilst I was keeping warm in the car park pre race we were away for a McRecovery meal and less eventful drive home.

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