Well, they say that everything happens for a reason, and that every action has a reaction. So early into the month of December and my box of Christmas cards was already running low. The credit crunch meant that a cull was in order, but whom can I strike off the list? Closest friends and family have all been disturbingly well behaved this year so no cut backs there I’m afraid. Hmm, this one’s going to need some more thought...
Beaufort County School, the heart of Gloucester, on what can only be described as a day where I was seeing black and white through my contact lenses as opposed to the usual kaleidoscope of colours that we’ve been blessed with this winter. Thick, dark, cloud wrapped around the playing fields like a 600 fill duck-down jacket, helping to keep what little warmth there is from escaping. If the day was anything but inspiring, the course for the South of England Championships/Round 8 of the Wessex League offered no helping hand in lifting spirits. It was evident after one practice lap that it was indeed going to be a flat-out winter crit around the perimeter of the school, the biggest technical challenge of the day being the double flight of stairs to avoid the queue for the only toilet on the ground floor.
Fortunately it’s not the course that makes the race but the riders in it, and with some of the hottest legs in the country lining up at the start it was always going to be sixty minutes at full-throttle. Current U23 National Trophy Series leader, Steve James (Hargroves Cycles) made his intentions clear on the whistle, immediately taking on the early pace and separating the pack into more bite-size friendly pieces. With Steve leading, I’d slotted into third place on the wheel of Motorpoint Pro Cycling’s Will Bjergfelt, closely followed by Crispin Doyle (Swindon RC), Ben Sumner (Beeline Bicycles) and Nick Jones (Corley Cycles).
By the third lap it was time for the movers and shakers to have their time, initially Bjergfelt led the charge before Sumner found himself at the head of affairs after what he described as “an accidental attack”. By now the speed was fluctuating somewhat. Big injections of pace followed by a regrouping, before another attack. I like this type of racing, the tactical approach to cyclocross. With little shelter, or places to hide, the course didn’t lend itself to a solo breakaway but more to a gradual wearing down process. With just over half an hour on the watch I hit the front to do my turn, conscious not to light the whole box of matches all in one lucky strike. The group is now down to just four - James, Bjergfelt and Doyle. I’m feeling comfortable, but as the laps pass my attention begins to turn to how we can thin the group further. Crispin puts in what looks to be a serious attack but is quickly closed down. He slides to the back of the pack and looks to be paying for his efforts, finding it hard to keep in contact with the accelerations out of each bend.
Two laps to go and it’s starting to get very serious indeed, all will be decided in a matter of minutes. A sense of urgency can be felt in the air with every hard pressed pedal stroke. I’m determined not to make any late mistakes and remain well positioned as we take the bell. I’d been playing this final lap over and over in my head for what seemed like days. A glance back and the gap has opened up behind to Bjergfelt and Doyle. It’s now a two horse race. On the only uphill drag, halfway around, I’m focussed on passing James but can’t get by before the sharp left at the top of the climb. Deep breath, “come on MC, it’s not over yet”. Through the switchbacks and along the back edge of the course, I can feel the adrenaline building with every heartbeat. I try desperately hard not to pass Steve too early but know I have to lead into the last left-hander to stand any chance. Now is my time to go, I commit and pass on the inside line, setting myself up to take the final two ditches from the front. On exit I’m already on the drops and trying to get back up to speed. The finish line is a long way out. I can hear the crowd screaming with excitement. I wanted to win this race so bad, but Steve is too strong, passing me in the final metres to be crowned the South of England Champion. I cross the line and wish that I was all alone so that I can shout aloud the words that feel like they’re going to detonate my mind and split my skull in two. Gutted.
The Gloucester course proved to be host to the most exciting day of racing this season (and one of the most closely fought races I can remember). Chapeau to the organisers for making this happen under less than ideal circumstances when the original venue was cancelled at short notice. The reason? Bristol City Council spitting their toys out of the pram and demanding £5000 should any damage be made to the grass (hmm, isn’t that the wonderful thing about the ever-green plant, it grows back?) Let’s not forget that Bristol was chosen to be England’s first ‘Cycling City’, receiving £11M from the Department of Transport to transform cycling. Oh, and that’s the same Bristol ‘Cycling City’ that has received a further £40M to promote cycling as a means of transport and exercise, and the same good ol’ Bristol ‘Cycling City’ that, according to their website, ensures ‘cycling is central to our vision of the future’. Well, with vision like that I’d prefer to take my chances and ride with my eyes shut. Decision made, cull complete, no Christmas card for you Bristol ‘Cycling City’, maybe next year if you decide not to be such jokers.
Photos by Deborah Malin (04.12.11)