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DOACC – All hail the mighty pit crew

Firstly apologies for the gap between DOACC updates. We’ve been racing! Racing National Trophies no less. Both were true winter races and believe it or not I think it takes us at least 4 days to get through the mound of laundry, cleaning and general de-mudding from each race. I’m sure we have more than double the level of clean-up one racer has. But enough of my moaning.

As I said both Milton Keynes and Bradford National Trophy rounds were muddy affairs which means only one thing – you need a spare bike and pit crew. In the last DOACC I suggested that regional racing should be possible without the crazy amounts of kit people have. For national racing this is completely impossible and frankly without a pit crew, you are nowhere. Very rarely do these guys get much credit, but boy do they deserve some.

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So, I hear you ask, what exactly do they do? For the racer the process is simple, they ride into the pits, jump off their bike and hand it over to one helper they then grab the other bike from their other pit crew and ride off. Then comes the hard part, the pit crew run (preferably carrying the dirty bike lest it get more muddy) to the jet wash area, rinse down the bike and then run back to the handover area carrying the clean bike. It sounds, and looks, absolutely exhausting and there is immense time pressure. Pit crews are absolutely soaked in water within minutes and probably end up more mucky than the riders with the spray from the bikes.

Now a good pit crew won’t win you a race, but they can certainly hamper your chances. Chris and I are unfortunate in both being senior racers. Couples with a veteran man in the mix can easily pit for each other since (at Trophies anyway) the vet’s race is first thing in the morning with the kids racing in between them and the women or senior men. Our races are back to back and its a nightmare. Either Chris doesn’t get to prepare properly or warm up, or I go without a pit crew. I always have to run from my race finish straight to the pits, often without getting changed and very often without eating anything (I have started packing myself a pit-packed-lunch!). It is definitely a challenge.

Dash to the pit lane

For Milton Keynes I decided I would tell Chris not to worry about me at all and to focus on his race. I handed my spare bike to Crispin from Hargroves RT and not wanting to impose asked if he would simply chuck it at me when I asked. I only planned to do one change in the race. Unfortunately the Milton Keynes mud was sticky and so by my third lap or so my tyres had clogged and I literally could not stay on my bike. I grabbed the old faithful spare bike but before long I was having the same issue. I wished I could have changed bikes more often. I did my best to make sure Chris had a few more bike changes, but it was hard work with my bucket and brush and I was madly jealous of all the guys with their jet washes.

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The proper crews have a much better and more efficient set-up; bikes go in a stand an are then jetwashed down, tyres, drivetrain, the lot. Water is a much sought after commodity with wheelie bins and other receptacles rigged up to keep feeding the hungry jet washes. Most of the national races have a bowser on hand, but at the muddy ones this tends to run out by the end of the day. At the Milton Keynes World Cup the 80 professional racers’ crews got through 16,000 litres of the 20,000 available in just two races and warm-up laps. Cross is clearly not a sport for those worried about water shortages.

It looks rather like a war zone at times

Queuing at the bowser

The National Trophy at Bradford has a reputation for being a mudfest so we knew we were going to need to do pitting properly. We both had two bikes, we had the brush and bucket ready, but we were still lacking time between our races. We roped Crispin (thank you!) into help properly this time and in return Chris got to experience the full-on pit experience helping the Hargroves super team in the pit for the veteran men’s race. I’m sure he’ll agree with me it was an exhilarating and exhausting experience. So it was that I got to experience racing with a clean(er) bike every lap, it was revolutionary I have not raced as hard in a long time – no excuses! But it’s true to say that the boys worked as hard as me, if not harder just keeping me on my bike.

So this Christmas lets raise a glass to the unsung heroes of cyclocross – the pit crews.

And Santa, if you’re listening, can you send me a jetwash, and a bigger car and an endless supply of water? Thanks!

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