Already it’s turned into a no-holds-barred sprint, legs burning with the intensity of the stop-start pace, heart dancing deep within my chest, beads of sweat just starting to run off of the brow. Fifteen minutes, I’d only lasted a measly fifteen, pathetic, minutes. How can this be? Two decades of racing under tyre and yet, even with that experience, I’ve learnt some things will always remain out of your control. The fact that, on this occasion, I’d only made it as far as Winchester before I’d become acquainted with the service station facilities is (even by my own frightfully low standards) a personal record. What is it about race day and suddenly inheriting a stomach with the same limp action as a goby teenage kid flippin‘ burgers in the aforementioned services? Let’s not ponder the thought. The answer, my friends, simply doesn’t exist.....but, it does all add to the warm up.
Idle chit-chat put to one side, it’s now all eyes on the sunny climes of Basingstoke’s infamous War Memorial Park for the third round of the Wessex Cyclocross League. One of the fastest courses of the year, especially in these conditions, traversing a series of football pitches before a swift hack through the fallen leaves and an all out bermed blast onto the local BMX track. One hundred percent rideable albeit for three sets of hurdles that had been strategically positioned to test high speed technique and skill.
The brisk wind did little to slow the start as the whistle blew, signifying a sixty minute hit of adrenaline fed deep into the veins like an intravenous drip. I lead the race early and ride a good tempo to line things out, occasionally being able to glance back on the corners to see if any gaps are appearing. Within a lap we’d established a lead group of five including Adrian Lansley (Pedal On), Dan Lewis (RAF CA), Will Bjergfelt (Motorpoint Pro Cycling) and Ben Sumner. Although comfortable, by lap three I decide that it is time for someone else to sample the fine delicacy of an October headwind for themselves, flicking an elbow and allowing Adrian to head up the charge. It’s good to take a few minutes to assess how everyone is looking. Behind a cycle helmet and spangly set of shades it’s sometimes hard to gauge a poker face, so you have to remain attentive for another sign. The laboured pant of a rider desperately trying to suck in more oxygen will seldom ever lie. It's a good sign.
I remain close on Ade’s wheel as we roll through the technical sections before emerging back out into the open to power up a steep bank and along the back edge of the course. Approaching a lapped rider signalled it was time to move back to the front, not wanting to get caught out by further back markers. Through the off-camber chicane and I have a couple of seconds gap. On exit I hear a clatter behind and see that Dan has clipped a pedal and gone to ground. Confronting the wind head on, now was the time to go (earlier than I’d wanted, but in time with an opportunity and coincidentally as Prodigy’s ‘Breathe’ hits my internal playlist). I’ve got a couple of seconds on Adrian and realise that the aero advantage of being sat behind someone is lost. I knock it down two gears, crouching low in the wind. The big gear is now rolling which signifies it’s game on. Over the first set of hurdles and the gap is extending. The plan was to ride the sketchy parts conservatively to avoid crashing and the open sections at full tilt. It’s a rarity that things go completely to plan in a race and no sooner had I forged daylight ahead of the chasers I was picking myself up off the dirt after washing out on a leaf littered left-hander. I thought the mistake would cost me the gap but to my relief I was still clear once up and on it again. Micky, don't be an idiot.
Serving as a welcome reminder to stay calm, the proceeding laps were ridden at a solid and consistent pace, knowing that I was gaining a few extra seconds as each passed. I was eager to see how many laps remained, so it would be possible to monitor my exertion to the line. Close to fifty minutes of racing done, surely we’re getting close to the bell? I pass the finish line and am told ‘three to go’. Admittedly this was probably one more lap than I’d anticipated based on my stopwatch, but it made little difference. By this point I had every section of the course burnt deep into each retina, enjoying every twist and berm for its indescribable simplicity. Riding the final lap a little quicker just to make sure, should I encounter a late mechanical. By now I don’t feel the bumps and undulations, reality for a few moments replaced with relaxation and freedom. I look to the sky, its perfect blue enough to ignite any spirit. In little over an hour I've been through the full quixotic playlist twisting my melon. The electro-dance of Prodigy, made way for a dab of mid race rap from the Blazin' Squad, finally ending in Denver's finest from Flobots "look at me, look at me, hands in the air like it’s good to be alive and I'm a famous rapper, even when the paths're all crookedy. I can show you how to do-si-do, I can show you how to scratch a record, I can take apart the remote control, and I can almost put it back together, I can tie a knot in a cherry stem, I can tell you about Leif Ericson, I know all the words to "De Colores", and "I'm Proud to be an American", me and my friend saw a platypus, me and my friend made a comic book, and guess how long it took? I can do anything that I want coz look, I can ride my bike with no handlebars, no handlebars, no handlebars.....”
Photos by Malin and Robins (16.10.11)