todays western league round two race at purdown in bristol was my first cyclo-cross race of the autumn/winter series and the second time i have raced this circuit. the last time was one year ago and was the first time i had the pleasure of racing up what i will from now on term ‘murder hill’. on that occasion i do not think I rode up it once, always opting to run/walk with the bike. this time i rode up it the majority of times but i will come back to that later.
velo club walcot team mate phil and i both started todays race. phil is a little newer to the cross scene than i with todays race being only his second start. we drove to the race together along with betty and bella. managing to arrive at the course in good time we got a couple of sighting laps in and i reacquainted myself with ‘murder hill’ which to my mind is the stand out feature of what i consider to be the hardest course i have ridden in the western league (i have not yet ridden gloucester, cheltenham or the new course in bath).
sighting laps done 40 plus riders pulled up to the start line, including ex olympic mountain biker olly beckinsale, on what was a warm sunny early autumn day. incidentally olly won the race, no surprise there. if my memory serves me rightly he lapped me three times in the process! although it had rained a little the day before the grass and dirt was fairly dry. i let out a little air from my tires just before pulling up to the start line. i do not know for sure but think i had roughly my preferred 35 psi in both tires. i have found this amount of pressure to be almost ideal in all conditions considering i still use clinchers. i say almost because in very wet conditions i will take it down to 30 psi which is probably about as low as one can go with clinchers without incurring pinch flats.
as the race started we all streamed up the slight incline, around the building on the right, then dropped down and around the trees before started the ascent of ‘murder hill’. it starts off fairly mild with maybe 6 or 7% gradient on open grass land before the riders, who were already snaking out into a long line get funnelled up the narrow ‘murderous’ dirt section that i would estimate hits gradients of around 20%. it is only a short section, maybe 50 metres but when you are on the rivet and have to get up it 9 or 10 times it becomes a big challenge.
first time up the hill i had to dismount and walk/run with my bike as it was highly congested. during the first ten minutes of the race there were a lot of riders passing me and me passing a few riders as well. after that things settled a bit, as is always the case the natural order is found and the time comes to just dig in and try to maintain ones position. actually the race was more hectic than usual in terms of riders passing each other, continuing to a lesser extent throughout the race. i noticed i would be quicker on the uphill sections than some of my nearest rivals but then they would gain time on descents and so it went on.
for at least the first half of the race maybe more, i was ahead of team mate phil, but as the race wore on i could feel physically and mentally that i was slowing. this feeling became pronounced on ‘murder hill’ where on a couple of occasions i dismounted and walked in the hope of getting a little respite, bad decision. i realised it was actually easier to ride up it than to get off and walk. it was also quicker to ride, even very slowly. it was on one of my dismounts up the hill that phil overtook me and off he went into the distance.
speaking to phil after the race his experience was the reverse of mine. he mainly produced negative splits on each lap meaning as the race progressed he got quicker and in fact his last lap was, i think, his quickest. respect to phil for pulling that off so well and in only his second ever cross race. i have taken note and will aim to take a similar approach in my next race.
in the end phil finished a couple of places ahead of me. i guess we both finished somewhere in the twenties maybe, at least we finished! it was another race under the belt with a couple of key lessons learnt. firstly, do not go out too fast in order to try to save something for the last half of the race. secondly, when racing at purdown always opt for riding up ‘murder hill’ if you can, it is the lesser of two evils.
i am away next sunday so will miss round three which means next up will be round four at hengrove park on 20 october. bring it on!
(results i came 31 from 50. phil 29th)