Battle At The Back -Cyclocross At It’s Finest 

Since I announced my Ambassadorship for CSCycle Coaching, I’ve been training on the Bkool Smart Pro most evenings to specific sessions, having lost my confidence with traffic on the road. Having ridden on Saturday for 2.5 hours off road, I’ve started to feel a difference already. Spinning in a higher cadence is slowly becoming slightly easier, exactly what I needed for today.

I arrived at Dalton Barracks for the Wessex League round today whilst it was still frozen. It had been minus 6°C driving in, but with forecasts showing a high of plus 5/6. I was there early enough that the top half of the course (not used by the U10 and U12) was still frozen solid. Hardpacked short grass with the usual twists and turns of Wessex League, combined with part of the 4×4 off road test track made for an awesome frozen course of the recce laps. Bumpy, stony and with two excellent strips of sand, it looked and rode like my type of course. 

Then it started to melt. In the blazing sun with rider after rider passing over it, the icy grass gave way to a slick muddy surface that was still frozen hard underneath. The last recce lap with Caroline gave me an idea of what lay ahead as it started sticking to tyres and bikes alike.

The Wessex League women always so friendly, that it’s great to line up with them. Especially those I call friends. A slow start saw me with a couple of riders between me and Caroline, Fran Whyte being miles up at the front somewhere, and Suzi Wise not far ahead.

“Any advice coach?”

The first test track hill caused a problem, Caroline slipping over and causing a massive bunch behind her. But then we were on our way. Women going down left, right and centre as we fought our fishtailing bikes through the slick surface. I gained on Caroline, and eventually got past Suzi. I’d literally forgotten what it was like to ride on mud like that.

Slight clothing malfunction! Gripper has gone! Credit to Verity for taking the pic

Fighting a sliding bike and figuring out how to use it to my advantage after a couple of laps, I ran parts that I was too slow on, finally getting in front of Caroline when she took a fall on the wild steppes of the airfield. A broken stake nearly had me but I managed to ride around it, each lap getting progressively slippier, bits that were rideable became uncertain. Unfortunately I felt my back wheel clog up and Caroline got back past me as I stopped to poke the mud out, running the worsening next few off camber meters. Hitting the tarmac again, I pushed on as much as I could, winding through the whirligigs as best I could until my chain briefly jammed. Apologies for the swearing! I got back on, fishtailing around the next corner, until I was back on the tarmac. One of the Comms called me to move over as they picked up the chequered flag for the men’s Vet winner.
Why I never changed bikes is beyond me though. I was so busy fighting to catch the next person in front of me, and having not needed a second bike for ages, that I actually forgot!

I actually felt a lot more capable riding today. I’m looking at the race differently, using what I can to my advantage. Still some novicey mistakes, but I even feel that I’m quicker remounting. A course like today is capable of teaching a lot. Knowing where the best line is and actually riding it can be two totally different things. Learn to adjust on the fly, run bits if you’ll be quicker than riding it. 

Today was great. Racing with friends, with my best mate Verity pitting for me, and my dear dad coming over to watch even though he was feeling unwell.

Sadly, I learnt shortly afterwards that Charlie Van der Craig had passed away at the weekend, my thoughts go out to his lovely family. Crushing news after speaking to him briefly at the Nationals a couple of weeks ago. 


Wessex League CX. Reading

I had a bit of a crash on the road on the 6th October, bike was fine, luckily. I was ok. Well. Lost a bit of skin here and there, stitches in my knee, separated shoulder and torn ligaments around my thumb. Rather annoyed to be honest, especially when I figured out (after having been told) that I couldn’t ride a bike. Or go jogging. Or get the stitches wet. Mutinous at home, cranky wasn’t the word, hence why I headed off to Derby to see the National Trophy Round 1 on the 9th!

Anyway. I took my own stitches out in the end. Determined to get back to jogging, they were rather uncomfortable. But get back I did. Not very far the first time, but I felt so much better for it. Then on my bike, figuring out that bumpy terrain wasn’t an issue, but lifting it might be! It was getting better day by day, but I found myself apologising and getting annoyed with myself at work more than anything. Believe me, hefting turbo trainers around just did not happen. Or anything over approximately 1 kilo. Well, for a time, it might have been half a kilo!

I knew Reading was on, and it was a fair bit closer than the LCCA round, so thinking my coach Caroline would be there, I headed off prepared for the rain forecast most of the morning.


What I didn’t expect was Caroline to not be there (she was ill), and the hardest course I’d yet faced. Whilst not totally on my own – the only person I knew there to start with was the photographer Graham Robins – I was at a bit of a loss. Eventually I hopped on the course for a warm up. Some nice twisty bits after the pits, all beautifully slick and slippy, around into some twisty bits in the trees (still slick but a decent covering of grass), over a mucky hill and into some lovely wet grassy parkland. I followed the course, paying more attention to the bits about ten foot in front of me, than looking around. Then a marshal warning me about the hill ahead. I looked at him, raised an eyebrow and went around the corner. I did stop fairly quickly. Extremley slick, and already starting to get muddy, it was long and steep. I watched a couple of guys ride it and both came off in different places. More worried about my shoulder than anthing, I edged down it on my feet. Then the climb back up. My god. Steep and very muddy. Ten minutes later after I’d climbed it stopped yakking to the marshalls, I rode the last bit of singletrack and back out into the stunning sunshine and the start area.

I’ll just say, I didn’t do too well. Worried about crashing on an already injured shoulder, I was probably overly cautious. But do you know what? I absolutely bloody love it!


Seniors eventual winner Mike Cotty in the middle


I’m just over a third of the way down this hill


Leg warmers, shorts and wellies. Best combo ever

I just wanted to get back into it! I left feeling a bit frustrated, but at least I’ve got a better idea of where I stand now

Plus points…. I carried my bike like a pro. And I’m off to Abergavenny next weekend. Race Saturday, pitting Sunday.

#keepsmiling #tougherthanilook


Wessex CX Round 2

Whilst the hard people were heading off to the #3pcx challenge today, I was heading off to Swindon. To a golf course no less!

Before you get your hopes up that I’ve given up cycling and taken up golf, I have to tell you that the golf course is decommissioned and I went to cyclocross instead.

LCCA didn’t have a round this weekend, so I planned to combine seeing my parents, with a cx race. It’s still less than a year ago that I started racing, and I need all the experience I can get.

So, whilst I would have preferred to be in Yorkshire cheering on Keith Murray, Scott Chalmers, Scot Easter and Emma Osenton, I found myself moseying around a nicely technical grass course.

The other part of the reason I like the Wessex league, is that it so friendly. With the likes of Caroline Stewart, Chris Macleod and Graham Robins there, they make you feel more than welcome.

Caroline rode a recce lap at my pace with me, and I quickly identified one corner that I found tricky. Just one mind. Off camber, 180° right hander going downhill. Why I’m having problems with exactly the same type of bend two races in a row, I don’t know!

Very, very glad to be riding Continental CX Race tyres. With a course that had such a decent covering of grass, even when the heavens opened briefly, it didn’t properly cut up. Sure there were some damp, squidgy grass, but it was merely suicidily slippery. Not muddy as such.

It took me a while to get into the race. And looking at my lap times, my last lap was fastest again! I need the experience more than anything. Different courses, terrain, and people. I found it a huge learning curve today. Eventually winning the battle at the back with another girl.

The only problem I had was faceplanting over my bars on the second lap. Not entirely sure how I ended up on the floor – but hey ho!

I didn’t enjoy the first lap. But by the second I was back in that love/hate relationship. I love the course. I love riding cx. I dislike that I’m such a novice and so slow. I love the friendliness.

It’s not easy not having the experience or background of years in and around cycling clubs, road races and cross.


Ordinary People, No Princesses

I can’t help but love the group rides that Toria ‘organises’ and leads. Always get a good mix of people, and nearly always someone new to join in. Mostly Kingston Wheelers (bloody great group of people that I’ve met so far), and the odd one like me that hangs on the edges every now and then.

Saturday was no different. Market Square meet in Kingston. Even the mental group chat gave no clue who might be turning up (or going to the dark side on the ‘other’ ride that didn’t happen! Ahem). As one by one people arrived, I started to think of them in the same terms as SurLaJante does, although at least one already got given a nickname a couple of Wednesdays ago. Electro is the first to roll up, followed by the Mountain Goat and Deutschland. A couple of newbies (to me), SG and finally Sorry I’m Late – SiL. Actually my fault, I rang her to see where we were meeting at 09.50, when she was just exiting Richmond Park. More to my surprise that she actually answered her phone…

The above nicknames are in jest only. Toria calls out roughly where we are heading, Brockham, via Epsom and Headley, Cake stop at Denbies and back via Cobham then Claygate.

I’ve ridden with Toria, Simon, Steph and Mark before, all good wheels to follow, so I don’t have much hesitation in starting off near the front. Kingston, and Portsmouth road isn’t great to ride along as a group, and it’s a lot easier if we are tightly knit. Sadly to start with, we are not. Calls for soft pedalling, or my more strident ‘Slow it down!’ (ironically not for my sake, despite suffering with a really crap cold). We wend our way through the back of Surbiton (SG punctures), Chessington (SG punctures again and calls it a day), a bit of Hook, and then the back of Epsom. The Mountain Goat keeps getting in front of me, muttering about mudguards, then talk turns to what objects we point out on the road. I’m of the opinion you should be able to ride your bike over a flush drain cover/small bump on a straight dry road without wobbling madly to one side screaming ‘drain’ whilst dramatically stabbing your finger at a point several feet behind you. And honestly, your bike will go over it without falling apart. Yes, yes, point taken when flying around the bend before the drag up to Langley Vale, I get to yell over my shoulder ‘DRAIN ON THE INSIDE!’ And then ride the hill a lot easier than I should have done.

Deutschland and the Mountain Goat are a fair bit quicker up hills, and so when the Mountain Goat drops his chain near Headley, I manage to mumble something along the lines of ‘see… next… junction’ whilst trying to breathe. I think he knew what I meant. When he takes off from Headley, I manage to stay with him. Consistantly picking the pace up and up, and I’m very aware that I’m not feeling great, but I love a bit of competition. Thankfully when it starts going downhill, my weight holds a much superior advantage and I descend Pebbles nearly as fast as I can (I’ve come very close to coming off there once!), all the way to the level crossing, where luckily I see the queue of traffic before I slam into it. Gleefully I call to the Mountain Goat as he arrives, and we snake our way to the front, soon to be joined by the rest. Setting off again, the group is more gelled, although I find a few times that us two on the front have gone a bit too fast, and have to constantly remind myself (and the Mountain Goat) to slow down. Electro is never too far behind, but one of the new girls was getting dropped every now and then.

I sympathise, knowing how fecking awful it feels to be the one out the back, not quite being able to stay on wheels and a bit nervy of the boisterous banter that flys around.

On the way to Denbies, Deutschland decides to leave us and head off, leaving me doing a solo sprint for the cafe. Just because I felt like it. Good cake and coffee. A water bottle refill, because I’m discovering I sweat three times as much with a cold, and we hit the climb out the back of Denbies. I bloody hate the climb, and riding a 11 -25 isn’t particularly helpful. Onwards, onwards. I get dropped pretty quick after that, literally feeling the energy drain out of my legs. I have half an energy bar, and within 5  mins, I’m ok. This time.

I’ve figured before that I have to fuel about every 40mins on these rides. And without the Garmin (both mounts are on the cx bikes), I’m riding on feel.

I find myself mostly on the front with either the Mountain Goat, Electro or SiL on the way back, having to slow the pace quite a bit every now and then. But it doesn’t matter. I’m very concious of getting carried away with the pace, and it’s not fair if you’re on the edge of your reserves, like I suspect at least one person is.

I call it a day in Claygate, and head home. Clean the road bike (Trek 5500, running Conti 4000s, and a gorgeously comfy Prologo Nago Evo test saddle), and attempt to get some stuff ready for cx.

Luckily for the Mountain Goat, there wasn’t too much crap getting kicked up from the road, I got more on my face sat behind Electro… princesses and mud an all that 😉


Sunday was a rush to get ready and leave for Abingdon, Dalton Barracks (Wessex League, Round 14), near where I grew up in Oxfordshire. Toria is once again pitting for me, Verity is there, and I’m really happy to be lining up with Caroline CSC Coaching.

A quick sign on, some mild panic and we go and recce a lap after the Novice race. A nice little bendy bit after the tarmac start/finish, onto slightly muddy hardcore, another longer hardcore muddy straight with a big dip, some rocky but flattish stuff, then onto soft squishy mud, quick up and down off camber dips and back and forward, longer grassier section, onto tarmac, back onto more of a rollercoaster up and down section (I love riding this on lap 3 & 4), claggy mud through most of the width of all of the course. Big uphill, rideable at speed, but I run it, ‘jump’ on at the top, down, past the pits, tarmac and tight turns, long straight, mud, hurdles, spiral of doom (riding this is ace!) and onto the finish straight.

dalton barracks 3dalton barracks 5dalton barracks 1dalton barracks 4dalton barracks 2

I’m much more confidant with Caroline there, more relaxed in the line up and great to follow her through most of the first lap, before I start dropping off. I eventually do most of the race on my own. It’s hot down the far end on the two long straights. But I can get some speed up there. I get lapped by a few, doesn’t matter. Mum and Dad are there cheering me. Chris Macleod talking me into the hurdles. It’s hard, tough, and despite everything, I’m managing to look for better lines, thinking how to plan stuff coming up ahead. Discarding Plan A when someone shouts out their line. Hitting a couple of stakes. Staying upright and forcing the bike over. ‘Come on Elz’ From Fran as she rockets past me in hot pursuit of another rider. Bell lap. One more. Faster on the tarmac, faster up and over the hardcore track, push. Run up that one incline, back on, not clipped in. I can hear my mates shouting me. Push. Pedal harder. Hurdles. Spiral of doom. Tarmac, crank it up faster, faster, sprint. Try not to die.


The four photo’s above are from the lovely Graham Robins – thank you!

Honestly I couldn’t do this without my friends. But I could have done it better without a cold!

Thanks for the first set of pic’s Verity!