Racing is always fun, but some racing can be more funnerer than others. Maybe it was the change of scene or the much reduced weight of expectation compared to road racing, but jumping into my second ever cyclocross race this last weekend was thoroughly enjoyable. The event was the third race in a local derby series put on by the Canberra Off Road Cyclist club, and was held in and around our city velodrome. The pitched banks provided ample opportunity to challenge the riders with technical descents and climbs outside the track, while the inside was twisting and winding flats testing cornering, braking judgements and core sprinting power. Historically, the local CX events bring a broad section of the cycling community out, and often features some heavy hitting Canberra based national MTB and road riders out to play with some newbie roadie hacks. And that’s where I come in. Definitely not A grade contention material, but stoked to be able to make up numbers and support a great local series.
I turned up early to register and get a feel for the track before the race and was a little intimidated by some of the big angled off camber corners on a couple of runs down the outer embankment, but enjoyed the more open and flowing sections, particularly the ‘snail’ sections, featuring spirals working themselves inwards and outwards. The temperature was amazing. The sun was out, the wind was calm and it was 1000% more pleasant than the road race the team had done the day before, just south of Canberra at the base of the Brindabellas. I was basking in the warmth and contemplating how much of my full winter kit I would remove before our race started. Team chat questioning conditions was greeted with an enthusiastic endorsement of ‘gilet at worst’ from me.
The track was well thought out and would have taken an enormous amount of time to prepare. There were a couple of hurdles and a couple of steep muddy climbs to run up, one with stairs which would later brutalise my core. Maybe that’s why I am a bit tender today. After my pre race recce, my family showed up, with my 4 and 7 year olds armed with their bikes and ready to attack the track. While getting prepped, some high level cloud rolled in and the temperature fell back down to near freezing. I rugged back up and joined the kids in a lap of the inner velodrome maze to give them a feel for the little CX-ers race that would be held after the combined Mens B & C/ Womens A & B race, which was a fiercely fought battle resulting in some highly entertaining racing. Once finished, the competitors looked battered, but delighted with the experience and friendly banter was shared across the grades. Then the kids hit the track, with more than half sporting balance bikes. Their course took in about half of the inner velodrome track, which was frequently and amusingly ignored, with participants obviously low enough to easily ride under bunting. An abundance of parents joined in for company on foot and on bikes, and everyone was a winner, with Kinder Surprises all round for participants.
Then it was A grade. 45 minutes of hard accelerating, twisting, winding, technical riding on a 1.9km track which had a mix of tussocky grass, concrete track, gravelly slopes and increasingly muddy patches. It was hard on the body but great on the mind. The pace was on from the start, with some serious contenders fighting out for the lead into the first series of corners. I was happy to just let things go and ride my own pace, counting on my fitness to keep me on the lead lap through to the finish. Before long, I was fighting it out for third last with another rider who was clearly more comfortable with the tricky downhills than I was. I chose a smart line steeper up the embankment to give me a longer downhill section to gather momentum before the next technical section, and from there I was on my own. The next two guys up the road continued to pull out more time on me until either I got more comfortable or they got more tired. Or both. In the last 10 minutes, I was making up margins of time and starting to really enjoy the pain and the experience. Alas, I wasn’t making time fast enough and I retained my place on the reverse winners podium. I didn’t get lapped. Win. I crossed the line beaten and bruised, but happy.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the race was the atmosphere, with the small, but vocal assembled crowd making noise for every rider regardless of allegiances. It was also nice to have the support (if not company on the track as previously discussed) of my team mates, who ensured I was treated to just the right balance of encouragement and banter to keep me motivated. It was a great fun race and a massive double thumbs up goes to CORC and the hard working race organisers. I may just race the next one, too, calendar permitting. I’d like to blame my entry level 10kg aluminium CX machine I bought as a commuter, but I think developing a skillset might be a better spend of time. I think that’s called cross training…