Richard Mitchelson is a keen cyclo-cross racer and will be charting the ups and downs of the season in his new diary. You can read about his first race at Hog Hill here, his second race in Brighton. Here's the story of race number three which headed to the historic Herne Hill last weekend.
I find sport can be filled with excuses. The team didn't meet expectations, I've been busy off the bike, you know the sort of thing. Normally I try to avoid excuses as they sound like you're not admitting to yourself why things really went wrong. This week I wanted to roll them all out, and probably did at some point in the car on the way home. However, unlike the first round of my season I felt satisfied that I could do no more, even if doing no more meant that I definitely didn't do as well as last weekend.
After going top 50 for the first time last weekend I was really excited about going for it again at Herne Hill this weekend, however my body decided that this was never going to happen. I was hit by the classic early 'cross season ailment of a cold. No matter how much you try to avoid it, sharing a train twice a day for at least 90 minutes with the sneezing, coughing, spluttering germaphobes nightmare that is public transport meant that it was a case of when I'd get it rather than if. I took Tuesday off work and decided to get well, rest and plenty of tea usually sees me right. By the time Friday came around I thought I'd head to the gym to test the legs, not bad, but not right. Ignorance by this point was my only salvation.
Sunday came and Herne Hill basked in brilliant autumn sunshine and my Dad and I were greeted by a huge mass of cyclists all either warming up, racing [in the youth races] or just milling about perhaps looking at the Bike Jumble. It seemed pretty perfect. I signed on and headed back to the car to try and spin the legs and get a bit warm. I was trying to rev myself up for the race, hoping that adrenaline and a bit of get up and go would shake the tail end of snot and lack of lungs I seemed to have. The legs turned and I was warm but I didn't have a lot of punch, some would call it lack luster. It was a bit annoying if I'm honest.
We went to the middle of the track and watched the Go Race Novice 'Cross race type thing that happened before our race got going. It was great to see Rudy Melo of cycling website the5thfloor take second place, he was thrilled and I knew that he'll be back for more having definitely got the 'cross bug. I set out on my warm up laps. The course was good, the infield of the velodrome was set up a little less twisty than I've seen it before, it was open, wide and fast. At the back of the velodrome the course was its usual greasy, brick filed bumpy self with a large run up which was getting cut up even before we started racing. In the end it was best to shoulder and run, but running and pushing early doors seemed quicker for me. Dad told me he'd seen lads ride it, to them I doth my cap... it was bloody steep.
I stripped down to race kit, it's still warm and so just jersey and shorts was best for me. And then made my way to the start. The gridded riders were called and then we were called forward to join them, and join them I did. I suddenly noticed a gap next to a rider I knew from Crawley Wheelers, I took the gap. I was third row on the grid which is the best spot I've grabbed so far. I took a look behind me and was blown away by the number of riders behind me. I knew I had to make my start and first lap count to avoid being swamped by the sheer number behind me. I heard later that apparently the filed was 163 strong. That's a big field in any race, but with that many rider going for a stretch of single track it was going to be a balls out sprint from the gun. The organisers had made the wise choice of taking us around the first hurdle, if we'd all piled over that after one bend it could have been carnage, we would then jump it after the first lap.
A final check of my bike and snot levels and I was ready to go.
"I will start you in the next 15 seconds"
HOOOOOOOOT [this time it was a whining hooter type noise... an interesting change]
I clipped in really quickly, making that my first aim before getting on the power. It worked a treat. I held my position well off the start and as we left the velodrome for the first time I was well up on my start from last week. This was going very well... so far.
We went out onto the greasy single track, tyres squirming beneath me. Out onto the sand and then back down to the faster section, up the new stairs and away again onto twisting mud. The one place I found it quicker to jump off other than the big run up was a tight hairpin covered in roots. Leaping off meant I wasn't gingerly treading the bike round like some people I'd seen and my remounts are improving each race so this was not an issue. The laps of the Herne Hill course are quick, and you know you will start to get into the groove of things quickly because you do a fair amount of laps, normally around eight or more.
I was pushing hard but soon no matter how much I pushed and tried to get myself up and out the saddle sprinting I was starting to move backwards. I started to thank my stars for a good first few laps and position on the start line because soon riders were coming back to me. Fast guys were suddenly picking me off, and no matter how much I tried to jump onto their wheels my legs and lungs were bursting more than normal.
The lap counter came out and I knew I was at about the half way marker, but I was hurting bad and not the normal 'cross hurt which is sometimes an enjoyable place to be because you know your right on the limit. I'd gone too deep and I was paying for it. I'd spot riders I knew I should be beating and as the laps ticked by they finally caught me. I was right at the bottom of the barrel. Thoughts entered my head about how this was probably a bad idea to have raced so soon after feeling ill, and not training through the week. All those negative thoughts fill your head, and the pain you normally push through hurts that bit more.
Finally I heard the bell lap, and mustered something to push for the line for the last time. As the flag waved and I crossed the line I pulled to one side and slumped across the bike. I gasped for air and things went a bit spiny, I mustered myself to chat to some of the lads that had raced near me but I was a beaten man. Dad found me quickly and I necked a bottle to get some fluids on board. I chatted to some of the guys that had shouted me on like Rudy, and Rouleur writer Ian Cleverly, but I needed to sit down. I collected my license first and rolled back to the car.
Sitting in soft warmth of the car I was ruined. I thought it was easily going to be my worse result to date. But, oddly, unlike the first race where I was really annoyed at how I might have got on I knew I had given it my all and that was the only race I could have done given how I was feeling. I couldn't have raced harder, and that's a satisfying feeling no matter how bad the result.
We packed up and headed home into late Sunday afternoon slow south London traffic.
The results were published, I was 86th, out of a pack of around 160+ riders. A shame if I'm really honest, but after feeling so crap in the race I was expecting to be a lot lower. It was a fair reflection on my day and I think that if I'd have raced like that last year I would have been much further down the order. The good start really saved me and got me out and ahead of people early enough for the slight implosion in my form to not have to much of a drastic effect. You can spot me early on in the video of the race, and I even surprised myself how far in front I was on the early laps. If I can match the legs I had the week before and the start I got today the world could be my London League Lobster... I guess I have to wait for the 'cross gods to smile down on me again soon.
The plan for me now is to get well again, and then ready to race at Rapha Supercross at the end of this month. It was one of the highlights of my somewhat brief cyclo-cross career so far when i raced there lat year. The crowds were huge and full of frites and beer, so they were nice and loud. I'm really looking forward to racing there again, and using my new Strada Major Tom wheels with Challenge Grifo Tubs. Using tubs is going to make for a whole new experience, and I know its not going to solve all my issues, but I'm hoping it helps on my journey towards the top fifty and perhaps higher. Who knows. That's the thing with 'cross, it seems if you have a great day and a few other blokes have a crap day you can really jump up the finishing order. See you at Supercross.
Thanks to Simon Lamb, Rudy Melo and Paul Mitchleson for the great photos.