The View From The Rear: Welsh Cyclocross Series, Round One
It’s that time of year, the haw berries are bright red in the hedgerow, the blackberries are past their best and coffee shops are selling pumpkin spice lattes. It must be autumn. It must be the start of the cyclocross season.
The south Welsh contingent convened at Llanishen High School, in Cardiff, pleased that the wrongly forecast rain was actually a brightening and warm autumn morning. The course wound its way around the playing fields in a sinuous series of hairpin bends and off-camber banks, with one section around the rugby field which was distinctly uphill despite seeming absolutely flat.
At 12.15 the 144 starters in the senior race were off, and the season started in a rush of anaerobic effort. Almost immediately a bunch of riders to my left collided with each other, bikes flying and riders somersaulting. I have never seen such a vicious-looking crash, but nobody was seriously hurt. Two laps later, a small voice in my brain made itself heard through the lactic fug, suggesting that I needed to ease off otherwise I might start bleeding through my ears. Riders caught up in the crash passed me, and I settled in to a rhythm, checking who was around and what state they were in. As my lungs found their racing volume, I slowly started reeling in a couple of riders in front of me, passing a Pontypool racer in a cheeky move as he slowed for a hesitant lapped rider. I nipped through a gap, about an inch wider than my bars with no warning to the rider being lapped, just in case Pontypool realised what I was about to do and blocked me. I made twenty metres and felt guilty for about 30 seconds.
And so the race progressed, a confusion of lapped and lapping riders in a whirl of team colours and bright bikes. Strings of racers inching towards each other or pulling away at snail’s pace. The quick guys caught and lapped us. We caught and lapped other riders. The course was wide enough to allow sensible overtaking and was dry enough to carry speed. The first two laps seemed to take forever but once the bell rang, the last lap vanished in a flash. I managed to keep Pontypool behind me and apologised for my cheeky overtake once we finished. Jonathan Pugh of The Bulls won, Ruby Miller of Hargroves Cycles was lead woman, and I finished firmly mid-field in 74th. Despite the crash there were only a handful of DNFs, but several riders were a lot further down the field than they normally would be.
The first race is under our belts, legs and lungs should be waking up to the season and we can all look forward to the next round in Aberystwyth on 27th September.
Full results on www.cyclocrosswales.co.uk
Photographs by Sam Beckett and Arwel Hughes.