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Tom’s cyclocross season: Race two.

Race 2: London and South-East League Round 3 – Leeds Castle, Maidstone

My second race of the season was not one that I had planned to race, however Velo South was cancelled and the league said that it was 99% certain the race was going ahead. I decided to enter and on the day the race went ahead as planned. The conditions in the morning were wet and windy i.e some 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).

Having signed on I got my bike ready and 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 notoriously a difficult course. Whilst waiting for my name to be called out before the start I was taking off more and more of the layers that I had on until I was just in a jersey, a big change from the two layers of coats I was wearing for the warm up. The Leeds Castle course is divided up into several different sections (see course map below).



After hearing the whistle for the start of the race it was a quick sprint up a long uphill straight known as the joust before a 180 degree turn back down and then around the bottom and back up again through the finish line 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 starting to lose pace with the others due to the concertina effect going into each corner (and also our ability!) Next is a part known as the “Zip wire” a horrendous off camber section with deep mud ruts in which you had to pick a line and go for it 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. After was a hop off the bike to run up a steep bank. After re-mounting it is a fast descent around a sweeping left- hand corner unclipping your inside pedal to maintain balance. Then after a short relatively flat section, though through stickier and thicker mud each lap was a quick up and down steep ramp, which I was able to ride the majority of laps. However, next on the course was “the wall”. Most cross courses a have a steep bank that requires riders to dismount and run up, however this is beyond steep. Every rider was slowed down to a standstill as they climb up the bank, bike over shoulder. There is nothing more energy sapping then having to drag yourself up the hill, and then jump back on your bike and ride it as hard as possible after. The course this then goes back to the start.

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. Not good when your bike has just landed in it and every component is covered in mud, it doesn’t mater 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. 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. The next two laps went by without any drama, though I was overtaken by the leaders for the second time in the race. Annoyingly it was one of my objectives for the season to only get lapped once! Unfortunately, on the 5thlap 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 remining 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.

I finished last out of 68 riders (6 laps, 2 laps down), 5 did not finish. Given that I had not prepared for this race I could not be disappointed with 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.




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.”


dont forget to read Tom’s other posts:

”things I learned in my second cyclocross season”

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