Thursday, September 11, 2014

Stumbling across Cyclocross Joanna Rycroft

Stumbling across Cyclocross Joanna Rycroft

My first ever 'cross race (photo by Neil Hendry Ph-Mas Racing Team)
As this marks the start of my ‘blogging’ I thought I should give people a little background to which led me to pedalling like fury around fields… for fun.

I'm just about to start my second year at Leeds Uni, studying Sport Science. Other than the odd family bike ride at home, cycling has never been a competitive sport for me - I’ve always been a runner and a hockey player through school. I took a year out after school to work and travel and decided I fancied getting a road bike. Ending up in the Specialized Concept Store one day, I bought a bike on the spot… best money I’ve ever spent.

By the time Uni came around I had spent more and more time pottering around the country lanes at home and had ventured out on the odd ride with my Dad and his fellow MAMILs. Joining the Uni cycling club gave me a perspective on how big cycling really is and introduced me to a great bunch of people to train with. Cyclocross was first mentioned at one of the pub socials and I was asked if I fancied doing the BUCS (British University Championship Series) race… having never even heard of cyclocross I agreed thinking it would be a laugh. Its fair to say my first experience of ‘cross wasn’t a very successful one, but I came away wanting to do more.

We were very lucky to have Chris Young, Mark Thwaites and Ted Sarmiento come to Leeds over the Spring term to do some cyclocross coaching. The sessions covered all the basics and provided a great platform to get into racing.

Standing at the start of my first race in Huddersfield, I was more worried about getting round the first corner in one piece than anything else. I loved the intensity of the race and came home already thinking about the next race. Results were released, with me 101st out of 156 finishers. Whilst I was told its all about getting experience to begin with, my competitive instinct was left feeling a little disgruntled by how many not-so-aerodynamic MAMILs were ahead of me! I then made it my aim to get further up the order with every race, and chase down the leading ladies.

After a few more races, I was asked to join Cyclocross Magazine Racing Team and jumped at the opportunity. The black and orange skin suit has definitely knocked a few seconds off my lap times. Ted and Steve’s enthusiasm is infectious and I’ve already learnt so much from them both.

BUCS mountain biking was the next race in the calendar, so a trip to Dalby forest with the CX mag team was organised. Turning up with my mountain bike it didn’t take long before I realised there was still SO much more I needed to learn about becoming a competitive cyclist. Mudguards on mountain bikes are NOT cool; not wanting to show up my new teammates, it was removed before we’d left Ted’s back yard. What followed was nothing short of a baptism of fire… following Edwyn to the black route trail signs, I assumed we were heading in the wrong direction... we weren’t. By the end of the day I was riding the bike more than I was pushing it so the day was deemed a success.
BUCS MTB XC race completed, Team Gold in the bag
A week later, it was time for the real thing. This time my bike was stripped of its reflectors… but the bell still stands. The course was a mud bath from start to finish, and that was before any racing had taken place. As the gun went, Sarah flew off into the trees, never to be seen again till the finish. I got myself into second and managed to stay there, despite opting for the belly slide instead of cycling on one part of the course. Team gold for Leeds, hooray!

My first breakthrough in the summer series was in Killinghall, when I finally managed to catch Marie and Sophie to finish second lady. I struggled to get anywhere near Sophie in the next two races, until my final race of the summer in Leeds, where it was a sprint for the women’s race win. My bike crossed the line first, barely a meter between us both, and it was great to finish the series on a high. This left me placed 3rd woman and 65th overall for the series.
In the Alps training for 'cross (3 peaks style!)
Next up... the 3 peaks! Living just 10 minutes from Ingleborough, it was too tempting for me not to enter. I guess we’ll find out in two weeks time if that was a wise decision or not! A fortnight of running and cycling in the Alps has put some much-needed miles in the legs, and the fuel tank is stocked up with pastries galore! Good luck to all others racing… the day will no doubt be a memorable one! 

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