Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What a Season: Sarah

December (if you can remember that long ago!) is in many ways the apex of the cyclo-cross season. The races come thick and fast, everyone is going that little bit quicker and it's generally freezing, which unfortunately seems to be a necessary prerequisite for "proper" 'cross. Unfortunately I picked up a cold towards the end of November which I didn't manage to shake until mid-December. Note to self: book a holiday next year!

Ploughing through the Boxing day mud

Coming in to the 5th round of the National Trophy at Bradford I hadn't been able to train as much as I would have wanted to so I wasn’t optimistic about doing particularly well. However I'd watched the nationals on the same course in 2013 and I knew it’d be worthwhile because, if nothing else, the course looked like great fun.

I was gridded on the front row for the first time which was both exciting and daunting; I knew I had a real chance of doing well but if I didn’t start well then I’d be holding up everyone behind me up. As it happens I got a really good start and by the end of the first lap I had established myself in about 8th position, in a group with Delia Beddis and Amira Mellor.

We remained together for the remaining laps until Delia managed to power away, leaving myself and Amira Mellor battling for the 7th spot. On the final lap, I managed to sneak in front on the final run up before the finish straight and sprint away for 7th place. I was super happy with the result considering my training prior to the event. I would like to thank Dave, Alison, Ted, Steve, Heather and the Cyclocross Magazine gang for all the help!

After the race I left my Yorkshire student digs and headed back to the Newcastle homeland for Christmas. Next up on the race calendar was Cyclocross North East in Carlisle on the 22ndDecember. What is usually a pleasant drive across the A69 became a battle with the driving rain. The only description which comes close to doing it justice is biblical and even that’s an understatement. To give you an idea the fastest mode of the windscreen wipers wasn’t even keeping up! A standard day up North right?

To ride or to run? That is the question....

A “quick” lap (about 10 minutes in actuality!) of the course was enough to realise it was going to be nothing other than a slog fest. Again I got a good start, cemented my lead which, with much hard effort and multiple bike changes I was able to maintain to the finish. 

Four days later it was time for the South Shields Boxing Day cross. It was a beautiful crisp morning, a bit frosty and a low winter sun. Conditions were perfect for cross and the mud was just about right. Again, a good start, pushed me well up the field, which I managed to maintain with some camber riding I was quite proud of! Two great CXNE courses and two top steps of the podium served as a lovely confidence booster heading into the headed into the final round of the National Trophy in Shrewsbury.


Coming into the final trophy round, I was lying 9th overall in the series, just one race away from my top ten goal at the start of the season. A super early start from Knaresborough began the mammoth commute to Shrewsbury in treacherously icy conditions. After a significant detour, we arrived running purely on diesel vapour – sure enough the van ‘konked out’ just as we were parking. But at least we made it! Getting petrol back in the car and back on the road (that minor, trifling issue) was something to be confronted later, right now it was race time.

I picked the less favourable side of the grid (although I made the front row again, whoop) which set me up on a dodgy line up the first steep camber. A great start placed me about 4ththen after an unplanned dismount I settled into 6th. Then before I knew it, I went over the top of two girls who had crashed. Picking myself up I started again quickly but I had lost so much of my hard earned advantage from the start. Into the woodland section of the course, I worked my way up a few places into about 8th, but then second lap I punctured. This wasn’t a major problem in the deep mud of the tree section, but it was a total nightmare and practically unrideable on the fast tarmac straights. I lost a further 3 places and to add insult to injury and through no fault but my own I missed the pits so had an extra half lap on the rims. To cut a long, frustrating story short I finished in 11th position and moved up the rankings into 7thoverall. Having not had the best of luck this made the long drive North considerably more pleasant. I was over the moon to finish 7th in the national trophy in my first season racing ‘cross - happy days!

The final race of the season was the National Championships in Derby. I spectated the veteran’s race on Saturday then attempted to ride the course afterwards. My findings from this research excursion can be succinctly summarised: absolute mud bath! In the hour I practised I almost managed to ride one full lap; almost. Amidst the enveloping darkness I retired for the night, with some serious bike washing to be completed before the big race and the even bigger problem of working out how I was going to get round.

Race day, was unusually quite relaxed! With a hotel 8 minutes from the venue, we arrived with plenty time before the race. After a proper warm up for once, I took to the start line with an excited grin on my face. Gridded second row, I slotted in just behind Wyman and Harris assuming they had a good start in them! Luckily they did and I clung to Harris’s wheel into the first corner following her presumably well researched line. I held onto 5th place all the way until the sandpit, where a bad line took me down. Although the cameras did catch me and it was deemed worthy of a replay on the Eurosprt highlights, about ten minutes in, check it out! Anyhow, this meant I lost 3 or 4 places. However I got back on the bike and settled into a rhythm. The battle with the mud took its toll on me and my bike. It may as well have been made of lead, I could hardly lift it onto my shoulder and that was with changing every half a lap!.

Crossing the finish line at 40 minutes, I heard Wyman joining the finish straight behind me. Oh well, just another 10 minutes to suffer! With one rider just ahead and another behind, it was going to be tough lap. Places 13 to 15 were to be decided here. Sitting between the two riders, I just tried to stay upright. Finally my moment came at the boggiest section of the course, the rider in front slowed and started to run, whereas I managed to stay on the bike and plough slowly through it, which must have looked like a battle of snails! I managed to open a good gap so it was just a case of staying upright to the line, which is a lot easier said than done. I managed to get round the last lap relatively unscathed and I crossed the line in 13th.   

One of the many tough climbs at Derby

So to conclude what has been a pretty whirlwind season. I started of looking to dabble in a few local races whilst being pushed to enter maybe one Trophy and see how it goes. A season later, I won every CXNE race I entered, won the British University Cross Championships, finished 7th in the Trophy and 13th at Nationals. When I look back to Abergavenny in October and remember how it felt to be the last gridded in the rain on completely the wrong tyres, I can see how far I have come in just one season. I was gridded front row in Bradford and Shrewsbury which was an amazing experience

I could not have moved from the back to the front of the grid without the help I have received this year. Such people include ‘Coach Ted’, DS Steve and Chief Cowbell ringer Andrew Yee at Cyclocross Magazine, who have enabled me to race a full season in quality kit. Big thanks also go to the awesome guys at Bioracer for the great kit and Tidds for all their help too.

Further mentions should go to all the gang at CXNE who put on amazing races week in, week out and all the lovely people I have met as a result of racing ‘cross of whom there are too many to mention. I would like to thank everybody who has helped me this year in the pits, Scott, Dave, Alison and Heather. And finally I am grateful to Jamie Brady and Tony Glover for their invaluable cyclocross tips and advice, I don’t know where I’d be without the help!

So thanks everyone and see you in August for some good old summer ‘cross!

Moment of fame

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