Friday, January 17, 2014

Steve: 2014 Nat it turned out

And so it came to pass….We arrived with a leisurely three hours to spare, signed on whilst the pit crew set up. What I’d anticipated was confirmed when Tommo (James Thompson) said “it’s a shitfest, you might get away with changing every lap….at a push”. We rode the course. Once. It was.

In such a situation, I’m not entirely sure that there’s anything to be gained by riding lap after lap in practice. If a four metre wide course is like a ploughed field (no exaggeration) from tape to tape over eighty percent of the lap, there’s not a lot to be had in terms of marginal gains. In fact, seeing the marshals pushing a half full water bowser to the pits after half of the first day, I had it pretty clear in my mind that having plenty of water would make more difference than anything.

Back at the van, we discussed a pit strategy. Which is a posh way of saying that the four of us discussed how two bikes could be washed in four minutes and 100litres of water could be made to last twice as long as it actually would. The cyclo-cross equivalent of ‘Feeding the Multitude’…..It was clear we were going to struggle. Being most likely to pit before Ted, if I took bikes every half lap, four things would clearly happen. Firstly the pit crew would struggle to service Ted, then they’d probably miss me coming through the second time… thirdly, we’d run out of water after about twenty minutes…..And then the whole job followed by my rear mech would fall apart. I thought it was better to change once a lap. That was the plan, stick to it and hope for the best.

Gridded up, about five rows back and away we went – a big field of 115. Hell for leather. Into the first right hander all hell broke loose on the flooded inside with bikes and bodies everywhere, before going into the technical stuff. Award of the day went to Brian Johnson who overtook me like a train and piled it right in front of me. Even more remarkably, he managed to remount and got back up with us in what seemed like about twenty seconds.

Now as is the way with my blog, I often talk about ‘settling in’. None of this today. The whole race was just pure attrition, ride, nearly fall off, ride some more, dismount at a near standstill, remount untidily. No rhythm, no consistent lines, horrible. Despite the pit crew doing a magnificent job, each lap my 16lb bike was weighing a good 30lbs as I shouldered it and did myself in attempting to run. Such was its weight, the top tube literally felt like being beaten with an iron bar. And goodness, there was a lot of running.


As we approached the bell, I had gapped a small group of four by mashing it through the 4”deep gloop by the pits when Nick Craig came literally flying past. The first time I’ve been lapped this year, and goodness he was impressive. Whilst no one likes to be lapped, this was perfect timing….I hung on for the last lap knowing that this, the most attritional of race of 2013/14 was virtually over.

As I crossed the line, I didn’t even stop. It was straight to the van, grab a rucksack and then straight to the pits to drop my bike before a bin bag job and cold shower. My 48th was OK. Frankly I’d struggled with clumsy remounting and commitment. I’d be the first to admit that I ride cross very much on my aerobic capacity rather than technique. But I suppose to finish 48th in an event that had four hundred entrants wasn’t so bad.

Coming away from the event, I certainly felt that I’d had enough and it was very much a case of ‘job done’.

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