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Mud, sweat, tears and beers! Featured

Reflections on El Presidente's 2017 CX race season!

Our club has celebrated lots of racing successes this year which is brilliant to see. We’ve dominated the Oxfordshire Road Race League, seen an incredible ladies team win at Silverstone and the Ben Owen Memorial TT, plus seen many riders going up Cats and even winning races!

But I’d like to share some of my racing experiences from the lower end of the spectrum. Because success can be measured in lots of different ways, not just podiums or BC points :)

I’ve done a few cyclo-cross (CX) races now over the last couple of years. For those of you who don’t know what CX is, think knobbly tyres, mud, grass, sand and sweat. Some have been in the summer (dry and scary), others in the winter (muddy, cold and scary).

For a long time I've been the lanterne rouge, which is the fancy way of saying ‘last person to finish' aka 'slowest rider'. And for the most part I don’t mind. It’s quite different to a crit race where the pack zooms off without you and you spend the next half an hour time trialling (with an occasional spurt when passing some spectators, especially if they are wielding a camera). It’s a bit soul destroying when you turn up and are immediately dropped like a hot potato. But with CX I don’t mind. Because I’m so busy trying to just stay upright, or not hit that tree root, or heave myself up a hillock, that you don’t have the time to worry about anything else. It is totally ‘living in the moment’ and just praying to hear the final bell before you run out of steam.

I’ve fallen over lots of times, bottled scary things and conquered scary things. You can probably sense a big theme for me is fear! It’s actually not that bad, I just get afraid quite easily in those situations.

So anyway, back to racing. Here are my recollections of 2017 with some landmark moments and massive improvements!

The Circle, New Year's Day, Newbury

For some reason I thought it would be a great idea to kick off the year with a cross race. It meant driving back from Portsmouth at the crack of dawn after a great NYE at Spinnaker tower. It was a fun, informal setup, so I donned my Spongebob Square Pants outfit (as you do), barged through the wall of foam and had a go at the three challenges. The scratch race (20 mins, felt so awful), the sprint time trial (25 seconds, could have walked quicker) and the elimination race, which I was first to be disqualified from because I went too slowly and put my foot down. But what great fun and a brilliant way to start 2017!

2017 Cheryl spongebob

Battle of the Bowl, Winchester

This was an Open race that anyone could enter. It was billed at 20 miles / 5 laps. I didn’t realise how enormous this 'bowl’ was and it took muggins here 1 hour and 40 minutes to do 4 laps at which point it finally ended. It felt horrible from start to finish and I got seriously trounced by the other 2 ladies that turned up. But as there were only 3 of us it meant I came third and, to my utter astonishment, ended up on a podium holding a trophy. 

2017 Cheryl BOTB

Banjo Cycles Summer CX Series, Newbury

The first few races at Newbury I’d pootled around at the back, doing my own thing, wearing sleeveless. But in Race 5 something different happened.

I’d been to London that day to celebrate a friend’s birthday, so had a couple of drinks. I was feeling quite tired and wasn’t planning to try very hard. But some new ladies turned up who had never ridden CX before. So I thought, hmm. Maybe I’ll give it a go.

When the whistle went and the pack sped off, I put my foot down and found myself right behind someone. I had to work really hard to keep up, but I was there on her wheel. There’s a big hill on the course which the route took you up twice per lap so I’d dig in deep and recover on the way down. After about 30 minutes, she started to get tired but I still had something in the tank. It occurred to me that I might be able to overtake her. I had never been in this position before and it was a complete novelty. How scary! How exciting! Oh my god I’m actually racing! Where should I do it – on the hill or on the flat? What happens if I go too soon and she catches me up? But I thought it was worth the risk and on the last lap I put my little hammer down and managed to hold on. It was the best feeling.  I even managed to overtake another couple of ladies, I don’t know where or how. It’s all just a happy blur!

The same new ladies turned up the following week and so I decided to go hard right from the start and managed to stay away. KTFU.

Race 1 result: 14/14 (lanterne rouge)
Race2 result: 13/13 (lanterne rouge)
Race 3 result: 16/16 (lanterne rouge)
Race 4 result: n/a
Race 5 result: 13/16 (hurrah!)
Race 6 result: 12/15 (hurrah!)

2017 Cheryl banjo

Take3 Summer CX, Dalton Barracks

I can’t remember much about these except they were great fun and I could now get up the steep mounds that I couldn’t the year before. This was a big step forward for me.

I'd been so worried about falling off and disrupting the race for other people around me that this particular hillock turned into a bit of a monster in my mind and took a lot of courage to even try to ride it. But I gave it some welly on the practice lap and somehow I managed! This was a huge achievement and meant I didn’t lose lots of time trying to walk myself and my bike up, clinging onto foliage and relying on spectators to push me from behind.

Here are my Strava ride titles from that series:

  •         nailed that hilly sh*t
  •         having to work hard with Lucy Wicks breathing down my neck!!
  •         loved every minute of that! felt strong and didn't fall off
  •         stayed upright, overtook a small child

2017 Cheryl take3

Wessex CX League

Now we get to the business end of CX – the local winter league. It’s all well and good riding on dry grass but it’s a different ball game when the weather turns....

Droxford

This was a motocross course so lots of interesting technical bits. Big patches of mud here and there. On one climb I picked a bad line, ran out of momentum and slid back down the hill. Still, I managed to fare better than some others and one lovely lady gave me some great advice about unclipping for a tricky corner. A good day out.
Result: 30/36

Basingstoke

I can’t remember much about this one because it was the night after the AGM. Probably stayed upright.
Result: 34/37

Sparsholt

I got a fright on the sighting lap when I turned the corner and saw a steep climb I knew I wouldn’t manage. Got off, dragged myself up but the descent was just as awful. I could just about walk down, let alone ride down. This really threw me and for some reason I the tears started flowing. Managed to get round the rest, which wasn’t too bad, though there was one more muddy climb I had to dismount for. I very nearly went home but by the time I got back to the start the race was about to begin. So I thought sod it and carried on. Spent the next half an hour crying (!) but then cheered up towards the end.
Result: 31/31 (lantern rouge)

Harcourt Hill

Got off to a good start and only stacked it once in the ditch. I bottled both the log and the mini boards as I was too afraid of falling off. I also got stuck in an epic race with Lucy Wicks again - I had a slightly bigger engine on the day but she had way better bike handling skills and beat me on the line. So proud of us both - never worked so hard and legs were totally shredded! The post-race Leffe at Condors Corner helped ease the pain.
Result: 34/40

Southampton

Took it easy because my legs were tired and the course was totally covered in mud. When it’s quicker to get off and walk than it is to ride through you know it’s bad. Managed to stay upright and got round two laps. Also managed to ride the steep descents which I found quite terrifying, thanks to a kindly Vet who encouraged me on the sighting lap. The laps were taking me so long (20+ minutes) that I really didn’t fancy doing a third so waited near the finish line for the Vet male leader to come past and take the win. I learned a new word that day – sandbagging!
Result: 34/34 (lanterne rouge)

Droxford

Again, legs were tired so didn’t put any real effort in. Focussed on my cornering and managed to get down a tricky s-bend descent twice. Unfortunately there were no Condors present to witness those attempts, they only saw me bungling it, but it definitely did happen! Overall another great day.
Result:  38/38 (lanterne rouge)

Wantage

Legs felt fresher and did really well! The course was flat but really bumpy with a lovely long section through the woods. Don’t know how I managed to pull that result out of the bag. I even ended up sprinting against someone for the finish line! She beat me of course, but I still had a smile on my face for days afterwards :)
Result: 18/27 (hurrah!)

Dalton

This was the Regional Championships for anyone holding a Central license. After double checking that any Tom, Dick or Henrietta could enter (yes, phew) I put my name down and got ready to face the course I'd got round successfully during the summer, with the infamous hillocks. Would I manage it in winter in muddy conditions? The answer is YES.
After a few nervous moments on the recce lap, and fighting a short spell of nausea (possibly caused by being out on the sauce the three previous nights) I managed to get round a slippy course, only coming off once because someone else stopped in front of me on said hillock. I even ended up in a battle with Kristen Lovelock (!) and we had great fun fighting it out on the last lap. Taking a risk, I went for a big sprint and overtook her before the technical section in the woods. I managed to stay away and even pick off another rider. Amazing!
Result: 5/8 senior ladies, and 13/20 overall (hurrah!)

2017 Cheryl finishing
photo credit: Richard Raynor

The most important thing I haven’t mentioned

The support from other Condors at the CX has been amazing. They’ve listened to me worrying and moaning, cheered me on during great moments and cheered me up when it’s all gone horribly wrong. In particular, I’d like to thank Andy Haines, Brendan Schofield, Tim Jones and Pete Smith who’ve been there for large chunks of my journey. The ladies have been great as well – big love to Val, Lucy, Kristen, Becci and Kat! - but most of the year I’ve been out there on my own with the chaps for company. They have been brilliant. Thank you so much.

I am also very grateful to all the organisers who put these events on for us and everyone who has helped with skills sessions. So much hard work goes on behind the scenes, and I hope one day to give back when I have more time on my hands.

So, what’s the moral of the story here?

  • Racing can be fun!
  • You don’t have to be a strong rider to get involved
  • Battles at the back are just as important as battles at the front
  • Until you try, you have no idea what you are capable of
  • If you keep doing it, you'll get better
  • Condor supporters are the best
  • Cross is Boss     

Come join us!

I'll be kicking off 2018 again in style at The Circle - Monday 1 January, register here. Fancy dress encouraged!

Loads of Condors have already entered the final round of the Wessex League - Sunday 21 January, enter here or come along and cheer us on!

If you're on the fence, please just give it a go. Even if you're the slowest you will definitely have fun, and you might accidentally end up on a podium ;)

Last modified on December 04, 2017
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