Lovecrossed CX

Today I headed to one of my favourite courses, at Chavenage House in Tetbury. Yes, this is where Poldark is filmed! A class backdrop to a fantastic course, I’d been keeping an eye on the tweets of Lovecrossed to see how different the course was this year. Bits were still the same, although the opposite way, the wooded section was thankfully downhill, although part of the haha was now a lot harder to ride in the opposite direction. They had also filled in the old ditch at the bottom of the wood, previously a horse jump the bottom wasn’t quite solid, as I found out later.

I arrived far too early as usual, with some very faint frost in the ground as I had a mosey around. I’d heard talk to a rather large hill, although I could only see the course stretching out in the distance. 

A warm greeting by both Tangwyn (Lovecrossed is rightly his baby and is growing ever more popular) and Hank (James Lowsley Williams, who’s family own Chavenage)  is another reason I travelled from Surrey to this well thought out event. Lovecrossed was one of the reasons I started getting interested in cx, although I didn’t attend the first year. 

This year a steady rain set in early on, I quickly worked out that it was likely to cut up fairly fast as I did my first recce lap. Riding down through the woods, it was a lot slicker than last year and with the ditch at the bottom being filled in meant it rode a lot quicker too. A quick diversion out of the woods, a drop into the haha and out around the pits. The next part of the course was the bit I was most interested in. A drop through a gateway/ ditch, over some ruts and onto a long off camber. Then the hill. Down was easy on the recce laps, as the course was grassy and grippy. Off camber, to zig zigs and a very sharp drop. Cue laughing like a lunatic and frightening the girl behind me. A long slog carrying the bike uphill before returning back to the main field.

Magnetic grass was back on this course to start with and by the time I did a second lap, it felt tough.

All nerves had gone before the race, I’d stayed under the shelter of the pop up as the rain came down – just what we needed to make this a proper cx race. With the promise of watching the elite mens cx world championship in the ballroom afterwards, I couldn’t wait to get the race done.

We started two minutes behind the Veteran men, but I’d already seen Keith streaming off like a green, yellow and black rocket at the front – slick muddy conditions for him at last! 

The start was uphill with a record 20 women starting, and I settled myself into the rear of the field, trying to get around the fitter novices who’s technical skills slowed them down. Out through the woods and the haha, around the pits and out onto the long stretch of off camber. 

I was right. The grass cut up extremely quickly, but unlike the claggy mud of last year that claimed three rear mechs from Scot ‘One T’ Easter (sadly absent this year), it was slick and slidy. Game on! The downhill had cut up rapidly, and I was quicker and getting away from the ladies around me by running it. The uphill sucked out what energy I had left, and it was a knackered me that dismally remounted without much style. 

Pic courtesy of Verity Banks

Pic courtesy of Verity Banks

Pics courtesy of Verity Banks

It was the hardest most diabolically fun race I’ve ever done. A fast flowing course that had some cracking technical features. Great friends, my parents and a wicked pit crew kept me going. It was that hard that twice I saw stars; the second time after I attempted to ride the ditch for the third/fourth time, bounced over the handlebars and landed on my feet. 
I had my own battle at the back of the field. Annoyed when Keith passed me twice, then three times! But this race was a marker of my progress, technically pretty ok, fitness getting better but not where I want to be yet. 

This time I changed bikes, although I’d forgotten how different the Kinesis is to ride, narrower bars, heavier but equally at home in the mud. Once again Continental CycloXKings giving me fantastic grip the whole way around – when other people are sliding around, I’m still going without a second thought.

I really love this race. Once again a warm and welcoming place, with just the right mix of a very hard course, some cracking sponsors in Saddleback, SCOTT  and Fenwicks to name just a few. Not only is the setting a bit special, but it has more of a National Trophy feel to it with the general bonhomie and good natured heckling. 

Massive thanks to SCOTT Racing’s Keith, Sam and Ellis Murray. Keith forewarned me about the hill and the two lads pitted for me, doing a fantastic job and keeping me laughing. Also Verity, who once again came with me and helped out, and my parents who managed to make it down there.

I look forward to coming back next year, peppering Tangwyn with questions throughout the year and riding better next time!

Congrats to Vets winner Keith, Sam who was second in his category,  Fran Whyte who ran away with the ladies and Griff Lewis who won his race.

Season not finished quite yet, however, London CX Team Champs next weekend.

#keepsmiling 

A CX Winter

Bundling everything in the car and heading off to Shrewsbury, it looked like pre riding the National Trophy course at Shrewsbury on the 10th December could require some wet weather gear. Needless to say it didn’t disappoint. 

Arriving before 2pm, I had a walk around before they opened the course, it was damp underneath, and having kept an eye on the weather, I was sure it would cut up after a few people had been around it – especially if the forecast rain arrived.

After getting the bike out, I was one of the first on. With my relative inexperience, I took it slowly, finding ruts hidden under the slightly long grass, and very bumpy in the woods. Letting people past me as I rode slowly around, considering how to approach each section. Remembering how and when to shift my weight, and how to ride a cx bike! Several times I didn’t approach banks fast enough or with enough speed, but repeating them soon helped my early mistakes. I did sit and watch for a long time at the big bank just before the finish, watching kids and adults find their way around the corner and onto the off camber. It still held the upper line that was trampled into it at the Nationals back in January, although it was slightly overgrown but cutting in quickly the more people rode it. I rode it once, twice, dabbing each time to keep the momentum going. Chuckling when I got it wrong, as did the kids around me. Several times I had conversations about how to approach it with different teenagers and adults. Some rode the high line, some took it wide and went low. I eventually realised I’d be quicker running it. Especially with my remounting needing some (a lot) of work.

Then the rain came. I’d ridden the course a few times. Struggling with one of the off cambers from the tarmac. I still loved it! The course was much more suited to me than the big hill at Cyclopark. However I decided now was a good time to get the worst mud off my bike and pack it away. As I did this the Murray family arrived, so I headed down to see how the more experienced Keith and Sam rode the bank. Even Ellis rode it better than I did! Fair play!

Sam Murray

Ellis Murray #doitforthefamily taking the wide line

Sam and Keith riding different lines. Foot out, flat out

I knew by the time I got to the hotel that I had a cold setting in. Throughout a meal in the evening I felt progressively worse.
Sunday dawned. It’d be raining most of the night. Had I felt well, I would’ve been quite excited about riding a proper muddy course. I felt so flat that by the time the Murrays arrived, I knew I wouldn’t be riding. 

The waterproofs went on and I headed to the pits, where after two laps of the Vets race – Keith was on half laps changes as the course was wet, sticky mud. especially in the woods. 

Gary and I on pit duty for the Murrayator

Next up Sam. Riding his bike down to the pits was a lot easier than his dads! But equally the pits were getting muddier and more crowded as bike change after bike change happened. Paths were trodden between one side of the pits and the other. Everybody equally intent on their rider and shouting encouragement.

I briefly helped Bruce Dalton out, until a crash saw him DNF, and was quickly on bike change duty for both Scott Chalmers and Scot Easter, both far enough apart that I could help out one then the other before heading to the other side of the pits to do the same even half lap.

All too soon, the frantic muddy afternoon was done and I was heading home with a full blown cold.

Calais and East Kent.

I was planning on heading to the East Kent league race on Sunday 18th December, so when Keith mentioned Calais cx on the Saturday, I thought I might as well combine the two as I was staying with family in Deal on the Saturday night.

Taking the ferry to Calais was easy, and cheap. The cx course being held at the Stade du Souvenir a mere 9 minute drive from Calais port. Day was dawning, as I left Dover in thick fog and emerged into a stunning morning at sea.

Arriving at the Stade du Souvenir, I was delighted by the course laid out. And pre rode half of it in jeans and trainers. As you do. This put me in mind of enquiring about races close to Calais just for the experience!

Lots of banks to ride down and run up. Long sweeping grassy turns. It was going to be fast racing. No rain, dry and well laid out. Everyone was so welcoming, the French helping out with bike changes and so much friendliness even though I speak little French! 

Warm and dry, it was great fun helping out both Sam and Keith, and cheering Kris on. Even if mechanicals were order of the day. Snapping a chain downhill is a new one though! Problems aside, it was a great day out!

Murrayator

Low light providing some cracking shots

Kris riding the high line

All to soon I was heading back across the sea to a warm welcome in Deal.

East Kent CX at Ford Manor Farm was a far cry from the day before. Muddy, one blinking huge hill and sections so loamy and soft they were unrideable. One practice lap had me on my knees, and I was hugely glad Phil Booth also turned up – even though getting a bike built on the day is not the best idea!

I managed to get a second lap in before we lined up. Well at least I started warmed up! Three times up this hill in one lap. Thankfully the one off the start was rideable! Mucky and loamy, I had no problem with grip with Conti CycloXKings on, even approaching the long straight downhill at speed. However on the second lap I pulled a muscle in my backside, rendering the last hill walkable in mincing little steps. No thanks to the 40cm planks at the bottom too!

Alright Matt. Stop laughing when you’re taking pictures! Photo credit Matt Nunn

The tight off camber downhills got progressively slicker and I point blank refused to fall off or skid out through the tape!
However this is why I love cx….

Overdressed and too damn stubborn to give up

#keepsmiling 

Because Why Not? Don’t Give Up!

National Trophy? Really? Why? 
Because why not. The women’s race is sadly nowhere near full. It’s a chance to line up with people who I’d never get to race with. A chance to ride better courses, and experience the huge range of conditions and competition out there. even though nearly ever race I’ve done can be hashtagged #whereisthemud? 

To be honest, I didn’t even know I could enter it, but as I was heading up to it, why not?

I will fully admit, after doing two warm up laps, crashing into the tape through the side of the ‘bombhole’ or pit or what ever it was actually called, I went back to my car and very nearly gave up. 

Once again, super coach Caroline Stewart was on hand to respond to my despondent texts. She’s very very good at understanding the complete out of my depth panic I had. Because lets face it, I was totally out of my depth! However, I went and signed on and found the lovely Alison Kinloch. She also bolstered my courage and convinced me to go ahead. 

A fast, dry, mostly grass course with quite a few twists and turns, a pit/bombhole, some rollercoaster ‘lumps,’ a brief sand pit, some very low planks and an in and out through a barn with vendors arrayed around the inside.

I arrived at the start pretty anxious, and was soon joined by Jo Newstead (XRT-Elmy) who chatted away and made me feel more at ease. 

Some of the women and girls lining up had been with me at Cyclopark for the skills day with Huw Williams and Caroline Stewart the day before, and all were super friendly and nice despite getting their race heads on.

Unsurprisingly it was full on from the off, and I hung in grimly at the rear until we got to the planks, where (as Huw had explained the day before) my shoody remounting had me miles out the back of the field in seconds. It was hard, and showed how unfit I was so quickly. But once I’m out there, I can tune it all out, and focus on keeping the strongest pace I can without burning our too quickly. Massive thanks to Nick Craig for reminding me that it was so easy to go into the red so quickly!

Image courtesy of John Orbea


Also being on my own gave me a chance to ride the pit in my own time and power through the rollercoaster sections before the sandpit. Unfortunately it means there is no one to shelter behind, and on the finish I was unable to get out of the saddle and sprint – and just finished in a grim silence.

Lots and lots of thanks to everyone up there; Nick and Sarah Craig, Keith Murray (champion number pinner and chief ‘unit’ grass crit racer), Alison Kinloch, Jo Newstead, Isla Rowntree, Annie Simpson, Charlotte Hayward Mahe.

This leads onto the South East and Eastern Regional champs. A stunningly chilly day with a course that hadn’t seen rain for at least a couple of weeks. Another fast, dry, slightly hillier race. Another race which I was fairly out of my depth. Lining up with the likes of Helen Pattinson, Jo Smith (I know how to beat her in longest lap now), Louise Mahe… the list goes on. Thankfully I had a lot of people I’d class as friends here, all of them I’ve met through cx. 

I was gridded midfield, but from the start my legs felt leaden, and very tired. I couldn’t even sprint with rest like I usually can. I struggled most of the race, apart from the big off camber downhill and the twisty tech section. I couldn’t even run up the hill like I’d half done last weekend at the skills day. 

This time, I had a blow in the ribs from a Vet just before the finish, and having been struggling to breathe anyway – tipped me over the edge again. Hanging over the bars, gasping for breath with tears streaming isn’t the best look in the world.

But. I loved it. I loved every off camber trch section. The feeling of being nearly on my knees and trying my utmost. This is why I do cx.

However the best bunch of women on the start line! 48 of us made for a decent sized field – great to see Helen Pattinson fresh from her 2nd place in the World Masters at Mol racing, along with Jo Newstead who was sporting some seriously impressive bruises. Good racing by all – except that Vet!

Hazel managed to dismount her bike, stand on the wheel and buckle the disc. Impressive even by my standards.

Thank you to everyone, especially Huw Williams and John Mullineaux for such a cracking event!

The friendship, the help, the giggles, the good natured heckling, the attitude of ‘why not?’ The off camber, hammering heart, reckless throwing the bike down hill. The quick chats with all sorts of people with one thing in common. The variety. The travelling. The slow riders and the fast riders. The mud lovers and the cold haters. The inclusiveness. You can be anyone or anything in cx. This is ‘cross

#keepsmiling 

Crosstober at Abergavenny 

Fairly sure I don’t need an excuse to go to Aber, but having seen there was two days of cx down there, with the National Trophy Round 2 on the Sunday, and Keith Murray// SCOTT Racing requiring an extra pair of hands a decision was made.

I can honestly swear I do end up taking every bit of kit I own with the team logo on it. Even having looked at the weather – I still spent two hours pondering what I needed to pack. 

I’d had to get the bearings done on the Kinesis too, and was looking forward to being back on it. Although I took the Colnago too. Just in case. And an extra jacket. And shoes. And another jacket. 

With Bastille and the Chili Peppers to keep me company, I let myself get a tad carried away singing until I saw the look on the persons face in the car next to me at the services. Talk about STFU Elz!

Having arrived stupid early, at least I was able to get an idea of the course and how slick it was going to be. Angharad, Gareth, Griff Lewis and family were there, both manning the Continental tent and some of them racing. Lovely to see such a turnout from Ystwyth CC!

I managed to crash twice on my last warm up lap. 1st time I had too much air in my tyres and the back end skidded out, hurting my shoulder again in the process and leaving me seeing stars for half a lal. 2nd time I dithered too long over running or riding a corner and faceplanted through the crash netting right in front of everyone I knew there.

Thankfully Louise checked my tyres again just before we raced and let more air out – or I probably would’ve been on the deck again!

Watched the Vet 40s go off with no problem picking out Keith Murray and his day glo yellow bike going rather fast along the bottom of the field.

 A crash on the first main corner from the Vet 50s held me back a fair way and I hesitated longer than I should’ve done, allowing a few too many in front of me. Worrying a bit too much, I was a little over cautious in places on the first circuit. 

The Vet 40s caught me on my second lap. And Murray flew past me just before the hurdles – with me swearing to myself he was not going to get two laps on me.

Again, hesitation and crap remounting held me back on the last circuit, until I saw that day glo yellow bike approaching 


as I went past the pits for the second time. Even as I went downhill onto the finish circuit- I put everything into going up through the gears and sprinting for the line. Trying desperately not to let Murray past me 

I failed. Just. 0.10 seconds. And astonishingly quite pleased with myself!

And absolutely loved it!

Only later did Murray inform me I was 6th Senior. I honestly didn’t have a clue.


Pitting on Sunday was easy. And rather chilly. A 50%ish course change and dry overnight. No bike changes, and the biggest most visible bike in the pits. With a few helpful pointers from the other guys around me, I spent most of my time judging how well Nick Craig and Murray were going. Nick won.

I also lent a hand to Chris Macleod for his lads. And briefly later to the Mellors in the Senior race, before retiring to take pictures and shout for various people. 



‘Two Ts’ is definitely the most fun to shout for. Expect a wheelie or face pulling of some description! Lee Shunburne always appreciates it, as does Nick Craig.

Sadly #posterboy ‘One T’ wasn’t at this round, so I was unable to provide the heckling he should have had. No doubt I can make up for it soon.

#keepsmiling #cyclocross