Funny, as I have ridden a fair few cross races over time, but the combination of a gloriously varied and challenging track with older but wiley and strong opposition combined to put one over on me - in a way that just left me wanting more.
Former National Cross Champion and double 3 Peaks winner Nick Craig, has oft been quoted musing that cross is his favourite discipline because it is not exclusively the fittest rider that wins, but often the one that shows the most guile in the dark art of cross, rather than bike riding. I have paraphrased him somwehat, but you get my drift.
Pic: Richard Weltman
I love these North West League races - they are full of battles within battles, right the way through the field. Riders come back week after week, not hoping for a win or to be top in their age category, but to beat their nemesis from the previous week, to keep it going for a lap or two longer before being lapped by the leader or a team mate, to finish in the top half, third or whatever of the field.
And this is why I love cross - none of road racing's being dropped on the first lap and slinking back to the changing rooms rather than ride in anonymity and isolation around the course. No lonely furrow, against the clock and the inconsiderate drivers with a roundabout (for crying out loud!) to spice things up. No sir - cold hard racing from gun to tape, at our own level but in company and with encouragement.
In the end at Boggart I was undone by a crafty rider, older and wiser, though to be fair with sronger legs too. Ray provided me with a great 40 minutes entertainment once I had caught him after the melee that was the start. Attacking me up the tarmac climb every lap, I would claw him and his team mate back each time, about half a lap later. Then the process would start again, me sometimes getting away on some more technical sections to be pulled back and attacked again. If we were at the front of the race it would have been thrilling to watch - for me, positioned in the late twenty's out a of a hundred strong field, it was simply great fun. Ray's a bugger though - on catching me he would raise the pace again. It must have hurt somewhat but it sure demoralised me and made me doubt myself. He beat me fair and square, with strength of leg and character too. And I learnt some valuable lessons in the process. Cheers!
The handlebar banging was a relatively new one to me. Cross is competitive, sure. I want to improve as much as anyone else too. But for me, diving up the outside of the first bend at the start, cutting across to bang into me several times and nearly down me in the bunch inside, only to fade and go backwards half a lap later is taking things a bit far. I am to be fair a pretty meek soul, but it would be nice if riders who know they are likely to finish up mid pack or lower would let faster competitors get on with it at the start without forcing their way up and then getting in the way on the opening lap as their pace fades. There were several riders who fell into this particular category..... I was fairly well down too on this first lap but matched pace with riders in the top 15 quite happily for a while as I picked through the field.
I suspect there is the potential for some debate on this one, and given a wide field start then I have no problem with everyone for themselves. However we were gridded on a narrow tarmac climb and as an infrequent rider I have no right to the front of the grid. Neither too though have those who know they will be lapped by those around them later in the race but who still push to the couple of rows behind the front....
Let's see some some self regulation on this one to make it a better race for all. Insults, brickbats and other complaints to