My second race of the cyclocross season was not one that I had planned to race. With Velo South being cancelled and the league confirming it was 99% certain the cyclocross race was going ahead. I decided to enter and on the day the race went ahead as planned. It was wet and windy in the morning, which meant proper mud, for the first time in the season. But, with the prospect of sunshine in the afternoon meant for some ideal conditions (or so I thought).

Preparing for the cyclocross race

Having signed on, I got my bike ready. I headed off into the field of Leeds Castle in Maidstone for a “warm-up” in the rain. After completing the warm up I did a practice lap of what is, a notoriously difficult course. Whilst waiting for my name to be called out for the start and I was taking off more and more layers. Eventually, I was just in a jersey, a big change from the layers I was wearing in the warm up. The Leeds Castle cyclocross course is divided up into several different sections (see course map below).

Leeds Castle Cyclocross route

After hearing the whistle for the start of the race. I rode a quick sprint up a long uphill, known as the joust. Before I took a 180 degree turn back down, around the bottom and back up again to the finish area.

I was mainly keeping my position as we entered the top field and into the spiral and short switch backs. The group I was in was losing pace with the others. Mainly due to the concertina effect going into each corner (and also our ability!). The next is a part known as the “Zip wire”. A horrendous, off camber section with deep mud ruts. I had to pick a line and push forward whilst trying to maintain balance. Stopping meant a long run before being able to get on the bike again. Many a rider did not get this right. Next I hopped off the bike to run up a steep bank.

Hitting the ‘Wall’

After re-mounting it is a fast descent around a sweeping left- hand corner unclipping your inside pedal to maintain balance. After a short, relatively flat section, through even thicker mud. Each of the following laps was a quick up and down steep ramp. I was able to ride the majority of laps, thankfully. However, next on the course was “the wall”. Most cyclocross courses a have a steep bank that requires riders to dismount and run up, however this is beyond steep.

Every cyclocross rider had slowed down to a standstill as they climbed up the bank, bike over shoulder. There is nothing more energy sapping then having to drag yourself up the hill, then jump back on your bike and ride it as hard as possible after. The course then goes back to the start.

Coming a cropper on Phil’s folly

On the second lap I was getting back in to my rhythm and overtook 3 riders to move up the standings. However, the third lap was a disaster, firstly at the top of “Phil’s Folly” I tried to ride all around the top but did not have enough speed or power and ending up falling on my side. The marshal joked with me that he had just put away his camera!

By this point the weather was warming up, which meant that the mud was getting very thick and sticking to everything. It’s not great when your bike has just landed in it and every component is covered in mud. It doesn’t matter what lubricant you put on the chain in these circumstances! Then having struggled up the wall, I went to put power down on the pedals but they wouldn’t turn. From a previous bitter experience on a club run I knew not to force it.

I had to get off and spent what seemed like an eternity working out that the chain had slipped between the cassette and spokes. After replacing the chain and cleaning some of the mud off, I jumped back on the bike, only to find that I had lost the places I had gained on the previous lap. In all I had lost a minute whilst spending time lying on the floor and fiddling with the chain. Not perturbed I got back on the bike and chased down the riders in front.

An unintended cyclocross ride through the brambles

On the next lap I didn’t get the off-camber section correct and had to run a lot of it, and then on the descent, I tried too hard for drift and the rear wheel slipped out and I slid down the hill. This cost me another 50 seconds and I was now last in the race. I rode the next two laps without any drama. Although I was overtaken by the leaders for the second time in the race.

Annoyingly, one of my objectives for the season was to only get lapped once! Unfortunately, on the 5th lap I under steered on the descent and ended up riding through the brambles. Somehow, I avoided a puncture and thankfully I couldn’t feel the stings and scratches due to the burning in my legs. As I completed this lap, I could see the leader completing his final lap, so I knew I had one lap remaining to try and catch up some places, however in the “maze” section my chain again slipped between the cassette and wheel so I had to fix that before getting on my bike again.

I finally nailed the off-camber section and returned to the wall. At this point all the marshals were gathered at the top and were giving a lot of encouragement, probably because they wanted to go home. When I reached the top, they gave me a great cheer and all I could offer was a meek wave. I remounted and entered the start finish area where I could see some of the riders in front of me but did not have enough time to chase them down.

Finished, at last

I finished last out of 68 riders (6 laps, 2 laps down), 5 did not finish. I had not prepared for this race, so I couldn’t be disappointed with only finishing. After collecting my discarded garments, I went straight to the food stall, got a hot dog and slice of cake before heading off to the car to get changed.

Tom riding in the second race of the cyclocross season
Me at the top of ‘the wall’ covered in mud, with a look on my face of “I am knackered, at my limit, wondering why I’m doing this, safe in the knowledge I will be signing up to the next race.”

Post by Tom Pemberton

Don’t forget to read Tom’s other posts:

”Things I learned in my second cyclocross season”

“Tom’s cyclocross season: race one”


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