Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Milton Keynes World Cup weekend: A cxmagazine.com Racing Team special

Milton Keynes World Cup weekend: A cxmagazine.com Racing Team special

Well at last we’re here at a Cyclo-Cross World Cup in the UK and more specifically MK. We were one of the first to arrive to get our Junior club-mate Dylan Flesher (Harrogate Nova) signed on and ready for his race in the morning, ahead of Sven, Nikki, Helen, Kevin, Sanne and the rest of the World Cup racers in the afternoon. What a sight greeted us, not unlike our experience of visiting Hoogerheide last year! It was massive: Trucks, TV, overhead gantry, dual language commentary (American and English), basically the works. And as Dylan was about to find out, a super technical world class course, not for the feint hearted. As we mere mortals were not allowed on the course there was nothing I could say to advise our youngster, he just needed to go out there and do it. Clearly the first off camber mud/grass drop-off at the end of the tarmac the start straight was critical, and it proved decisive in every race. It was also clear that pitting and bike changing were also going to be decisive, as the mud was of the “I’m gonna clog your bike” variety. Edwyn joined me in the pits to take care of bike cleaning and having two of us made the job swift, but still challenging, and by the end of the race we were spent and a highly credible 30th place shows what a talent Dylan is.

Then we cleaned the bikes and headed back to the van, parked up next to a Belgian motor home which turned out to be HQ for USA legend Jonathan Page, who had an excellent weekend both in the World Cup (14th) and the following days National Trophy (3rd). His Belgian mechanic gave me the low down on tyres and pressures (low and down).
So now it was time to enjoy the show. We wandered around among the Telenet, Sunweb, Crelan motorhomes and warm up zones. What a great day: the whole UK ‘cross community seemed to be there, plus some overseas pals like Angus Edmond the one-man marketing machine for Malteni beer, a top guy and great rider (that’s gotta be worth a slab?), all making for a non-stop social.

First up was the women’s race. My money went on Sanne Cant which was maybe a bit un-patriotic but there was an overpriced beer riding on it. What a race, the lead changing so many times on the last lap and it seemed certain Katie Compton would win when she arrived on the tarmac first (foreshadowing #1, #2 and #3). 
photo: Ian Davidson CXNE
Then it was the men and again my cash went double or nothing on the cool ruler himself Kevin Pauwels. Finally we saw how he does it, on lap 3 as he drives along the finishing straight the glasses coolly come off and are pegged onto the helmet. All riders note: this is KP saying he doesn’t need to keep the mud spray out of his eyes anymore. Another close sprint (foreshadowing #1) but KP kept his cool and took the win, and behind him our own Ian Field pulled out a fantastic 12th spot, just beating our new neighbour Jonathan. Day 1 complete, onto Day 2.
KP - The Cool Ruler  photo: Phil Ingham
Day 2: National Trophy (on the World Cup course)

Once again we were almost first on scene as my race was top of the schedule, and we got parked next to the finish, more or less less where the oversize Crelan motor home was the day before. Bikes out and pressures set as per the Belgian instructions. Today was also about testing out the new Vittoria Cross XL 33mm tubulars, so I took my Scott CX Addict out for a practice lap with the new tyres on. First up was the off camber drop off. It seemed there is no tyre yet made that could cope with this terrain and the race organisers quickly set about a course change to take the now un-ridedable and un-walkable section out for safety reasons. I love serious technical challenges, but here the race organisers got it spot on.

So onto the rest of the World Cup lap and one thing was obvious: bike changes were going to be decisive. I rode round the rest of the course, doubling back just to check sight lines into the pits. Then onto the now super greasy amphitheatre rises. I figured if Kevin wasn’t riding the corners I didn’t have to but with the Vittoria’s I was easily able to ride up with grip to spare it seemed. They were hooking up nicely. Another decision made. We had also decided to use the on-site jet washers but they had dried up (literally run out of water) and there was no more to be found. So it was plan B: our own petrol versions and the water we’d brought from home, with extra top-ups from the nearby pond, all masterfully organised by the DS: Steve, Heather and Dave & Sally Morris. (But BC please note: No water at a National Trophy, again!).

At the start and a decent gridding for me, but still two-thirds down the field so carnage ahead was likely and so it proved. Riders were falling in places I couldn’t imagine it was possible to fall, as well as those I could. It was a warning that conditions were testing. Past the first pit and onto the second pit, still on the first lap and bike swap #1 completed. Then the two running climbs, but with a clean bike on my shoulder I was in an advantageous position.
Clean bike on the shoulder. Photo: Andy Whitehouse
Three climbs meant three greasy descents, but all managed with minimal slides, then onto the amphitheatre to show Kevin how to ride it (in slow motion). Up the stairs and lap #1 complete. The course was so thick with mud in places that rides became runs but I stuck with the one-lap bike swaps and it proved good. I’d promised the DS I would stop grabbing the fenceposts on the 180 degree corners due to an incident in practice at Durham resulting in a new rear shifter, but in the race I just couldn’t resist it, and I made up time too.

The two drops over the footpaths were catching a lot of riders out and finally it caught me too on the last lap and I came crashing down helmet first. After a moment of stunned hesitation, I confirmed to the marshal I was OK (I had no idea if I was) and back I went to finish my race. Then my moment of stupidity or whatever (foreshadowing #2). I got onto the tarmac, looked behind and had a decent gap to the next rider. But not wanting to take anything for granted I set to until I thought I’d done enough. Another glance round and I got a shock, the rider behind was coming full bore and without enough tarmac left he got past me. Schoolboy error after 40 odd mins of getting everything mostly right. I should know better. I hope Kevin wasn’t watching. But overall a hugely enjoyable race and once again the support from the side-lines was tremendous too. I tried to glance up to see who everyone was, and thank all of you.

Next up for our team (and family) was the women’s race. With a few of the big guns staying on for this race including, on the start sheet, Katherine Compton this was going to be interesting for our riders Sarah and Joanna. Also going today was my wife Alison and conditions were so tricky I set up both her bikes with my best tubs, a dangerous precedent. As usual by now there was another great start by Sarah with Joanna not far behind. Our view of the race was from the pits and we were next to KC’s pit crew holding three sparkling Treks with pink FMBs.
Sarah drives through the mud, photo: Richard Bennet
With our three riders on the course the bikes were coming in thick and fast, thick with mud and needed cleaning fast. No problem for the DS: we managed to get most bikes back out on the short side of the lap (which was very short) and with Dylan acting as spotter, all our riders knew when their bike was ready. Not much more we could do to help, out on the course it was up to them. Sarah’s race was packed with thrills and a lot of spills while Joanna was in full on chase mode as she closed the gap, drafted, caught and passed Claire Beaumont (Vicious Velo) only for her to rip her rear mech off as she hit the tarmac finish (foreshadowing #3). Seriously bad luck, but that’s ‘cross. Final result:  winner Katherine Compton Trek Factory Racing Team, 14th Sarah Murray www.cxmagazine.com and 20th Joanna Rycroft www.cxmagazine.com with both our riders comfortably surviving the dreaded 80% cut-off rule. Alison also survived the race but not the cut-off, getting in three laps to Katie’s five.
Joanna and Claire Beaumont, photo: Andy Whitehouse
Final race of the day and I was able to mainly watch as Dave Morris (Harrogate Nova), Angus Edmond (Malteni) (now 2 slabs?) and Simon Maudsley (Team Vertex) were all given the cxmagazine.com Racing Team red-carpet, pond-water bike wash treatment. It was a cruel race with Marcel Wildhaber, David van der Poel and that man Jonathan Page again culling riders from the large Senior field. Ian Field placed behind these three in fourth spot. Overall a great weekend of top class cyclo-cross racing and there’s much more for the team to look forward to with Bradford, Derby and Ripley Castle Cyclo Cross all coming up.

Well that just about wraps it up, but if you’ve got this far you probably are interested in comments of the new Vittoria Cross XL 33mm tubulars. I had FMB Super Muds (same as Katie Compton, mine were not pink though) on the other bike so tough competition in any test. In the heat of the race I can’t say I noticed a great deal of difference between the two, both tyres squirmed on the tarmac at super low pressure and hooked up in the mud on the greasy corners, cambers and chutes suggesting that the Vittoria offering is a great tubular for these kinds of conditions. I’m greatly looking forward to more testing next weekend in South Shields.

Finally, if you’ve noticed that this blog is occasionally quite readable, it’s generally due to the brilliant advice I get from a real writers like Phil Ingham and Andrew Yee and if you want to read some of their work you’d do well to get your computer onto the free issue of Cyclocross Magazine which contains a full article about the MK race bid and other top CX stuff. Go to www.cxmagazine.com/ukfree

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