The most fun cyclocross course in a flat grassy meadow.
After my third place finish in my previous cyclocross race, I was super motivated to get another podium finish today. I did a course recon (as per usual), a good warmup, and some visualizations of how to tackle the muddy corners. There were only four of us in elite and I’d beaten two of them previously so I was feeling confident.
It was a pretty classic cyclocross day – the frequent rain showers I could cope with, but not long before our start the wind picked up and it was bitingly cold! So we were all standing on the start line shivering, thinking: why do we do this?
Then I had the worst start! I didn’t clip in on my first try, or my second, and by the time I got both shoes clipped in the other three women in my grade were 10 m in front and my opportunity to do an aggressive sprint finish had gone. I kept working hard to try to catch them, but I wasn’t making up any ground.
The course layout in general: the barriers were right near the timing tent, after the finish line and a couple of corners. Following on from the barriers, there were more corners with muddy grass, a couple of large trees that we rode around, a steep bank that we had to go up, zigzag up and down a couple of times, then go along the bottom of, before going back up an even steeper slippery section of the bank. There was also a section of deep mud under grass.
Then towards the end of the circuit came the proper mud – deep, slippery, and covered in muddy water a couple of inches deep. I had ridden this section twice in my recon lap and still not managed to figure out how to get around a hairpin bend in deep mud. Nevertheless, I tried again on my first lap – and my front wheel got bogged and I came to a standstill. I tried to remount and just got bogged down even more, so I had to run until I came to some firm ground.
The next section was firm but really slippery mud, I quickly learnt that the best way to ride this was to accelerate and pedal with a low cadence, and not to brake too hard at the end of the straight.
So I got through the first lap, and the other A Grade women were out of sight. So I just settled into solo race mode, pushing hard but not really pushing myself. However, I couldn’t slack off too much because I kept catching glimpses behind me of the leader in B Grade – I’m sure she would have passed me if I hadn’t had a 30 second head start off the start line.
I didn’t care though because I was having the best fun! There is something so great about a sport that involves playing in mud and drinking beer while participating, with people cheering you on.
The highlights of my race were:
- Getting the knack of riding through the deep muddy puddles on the second lap, and riding the whole way through for each of my remaining laps – I took a wide line into the corner and out of the corner and just managed to make the turn before hitting the fence each time.
- Getting the knack of riding all different kinds of mud, and keeping myself upright even if I was going pretty slow.
- Realising that I was unclipping my right foot (as for a normal dismount) but dismounting on the right hand side of my bike for the steep banks. This was uncoordinated and required coming to a complete standstill. After two laps of doing this, I remembered to do the left foot unclip for right side dismount, and gained a few seconds of time – and much more gracefulness!
After a few laps, coming towards the finish/timing tent area, I saw the fastest rider in A Grade walking her bike. It turned out she got a stick caught in her rear derailleur which tore it off her bike! She managed to borrow a bike and finish the race – but I had gotten far enough in front of her that I finished third! It is always so satisfying when my focus on skills and staying upright means I get a better result, even though I was the slower rider.