Today was the day. The day I did my first ever cyclo-cross race. I've been talking about it for a few years now but today I put my money where my mouth is and did a round of the Eastern Cyclo-Cross League at Basildon.
As always my preparation was hardly ideal; very little fitness, no speed and I haven't raced for a few years. But what did I have to lose? Nothing. I've been enjoying riding bikes lately so now seemed the perfect time to try something new, with no pressure, and just enjoy the experience.
Racing can sometimes seem a bit daunting when you haven't done it for a while, especially in a new discipline. I wondered if I was going to look out of place with all the skinny, quick, experienced riders and I was more than prepared to come last. Part of the reason why I'd picked this event was down to it's structure: the women were due to go off in the morning with the Veterans, rather than the silly quick senior men. I felt better about this, if nothing else there might be some old fuddy-duddy behind me at the end of the first lap. I was also unsure about the format of the race, I hadn't seen how long we were racing for, or how many laps we had to do, how would I know when to stop?!
Needless to say the reality wasn't as bad as I'd imagined it. Although most of the cyclo-cross set are club affiliated and therefore in lycra club kit, there was a healthy smattering of mountain bikes around and a few people that had eaten too many pies. And one quick conversation with a couple of the very friendly ladies at the back of the group as the riders were being lined up and the rules became perfectly clear too. I was going to enjoy this after all.
The start was a steady affair (another bonus of going off with the Veterans) and up the first hill I was actually making my way through the pack! Unusually for 'cross racing (so I'm told) was the presence of a very steep hill in the course that we went up twice. The first lap was the only time I rode it, I wasn't the only one either. My Surly Cross-Check has always been set up for road riding with a fairly sporty block on the back and my legs were suffering from this.
After lap 2 it became clear how many laps I had left and realising I could probably go a bit quicker if I wanted to, I started to put some effort in. I'd been cruising on the flat twisty stuff up until now but on lap 3 I decided to actually use the big ring and push the gears. It's amazing how many places you can make up by riding a bit faster, jeez I wished I'd tried that earlier.
On the last lap I caught up to two ladies at the bottom of the steep hill but one rode it and the other ran it whilst I, well, 'ambled' is probably the best word to use. I lost some time but on the long flat run in to the finish there was still room to chase. It was a good tussle, I even passed one of them at one point but was overtaken again in the final 200 yards.
After 40 minutes of racing and 4 laps I was 12th out of 15 with 9th place just 13 seconds ahead in a four woman, last lap battle for the line. My last lap was also 30 seconds quicker than laps 2 and 3, so I probably could have gone a bit quicker and maybe even been as high as 8th. Hindsight is a wonderful thing though and I'll know for next time. Yes, there is going to be a next time!