New Year at Nova Cross in Knaresborough North Yorks, Team riders Bruce and Hannah spent new year in true cyclist style, by cooking a feast and having an early night before the first UCI CX race of the new year
Words by Bruce Dalton
Pictures by The CX handbook.
Not enough sleep. Getting up at 6am on new years day is never pleasant, the bed seems warmer and the noise of the rain on your childhood bedroom window louder. A silent breakfast, tea is passed around, the rain drums on the kitchen window. All into the vans, heaters on and eyes prized open, it's an hour and half driving north to the race and the rain battering the windscreen.
Nova cross is a new event and the enthusiasm for the race was someone dulled by the early start, the vans stuck in the mud and a general feeling of "I wish I could go back to bed"
Cross is a communal affair. A well oiled team is vital for cross success, particularly in the toughest races. You move some water, someone refills, you provide a jet wash someone passes you a bike. Kindness is a currency. And at Nova cross various helpers made everybody's races a little easier.
Set up the pits, look after your dad, sort out the flags, make sure you've signed on. Suddenly 3hrs have disappeared and your chomping down a ham and pickle sandwich in between cheering on your team mate. You've missed your chance to ride the course, worry not MTB legend and Olympian Nick Craig hasn't either. Its a slog, its a battle, don't get any kit dirty if you can help it.
I'm getting ready and then, my skin suit rips in two and I'm more exposed than is comfortable even for a man in lycra, a quick swap and re-pin, ready to go. fifteen minutes of hard riding on the turbo to warm up, up the watts, stretch the legs, Caffeine will help.
Off the line tearing up a road section, the course runs parallel with the river Nidd for 700m or so, I sit there in 5/6, this is not uncommon but never the less, a good start. I do not know what comes next, the course crosses the river on the main Harrogate to Knaresborough road , swooping down and then into deep mud. The final time up this section my legs are weary but with first lap bravado its attack and move forward, it was a slog. Your easiest gear was not easy enough, the hill too steep. My bike affixed firmly to my back, there are no lines, its foot out and pedal round the corner. Descending to the river again from the top across swooping fields, down a bumpy bank letting it slide, staying loose, have faith in FMB.
Finally some grip, round a corner and on the flat, dropping down the block, I know today I'll never reach the 11T. The speed is increasing and finally I'm getting into my rhythm, the hurdles look big but rideable I give it a go. I still have my front teeth and dignity. It's straight into the pits, the mud is cloggy, grassy and thick. A fresh bike improves progress and is lighter on the shoulder, though Di2 and Hydraulic brakes do make things lots more pleasant when coated in mud. Shifting crisp and sharp, braking predictable.
Battling with your friends, pushing each others limits, a group of three of use battle it out. I am fastest running, tom is fastest on tarmac, rob is fastest in the deep mud. We all have out weaknesses, my confidence tricks me when I have a gap ahead, I come down hard with my front wheel sliding away on a drop. Matches burnt. We are back together and Tom shoots past, Rob too, we bunny hop the hurdles in unison. Tooth and nail.
My legs are hurting now, its all about grunt, not lungs but watts. The biggest gear you dare. I think back to the 3Peaks, there is less running than that. I pick up my feet, laboured but marching on through the deep gloop, up the steps.
The end in sight, a lap to go the pressure off, Rob falls foul of a mechanical. I am more fortunate, preservation. The next bike change is the last, its about making no mistake. I roll over the line, there are no applause, greeted only with the task of more bike washing and a stinging hip and shoulder from a bike induced pummelling. Why do we do it? It's hard, its protracted, its complex, its not cheap, it's smile inducing, its character building, its life defining. We race because we can.
10th place its not much to some, but a great sense of satisfaction for me. A UCI race is a bigger deal and points mean prizes. Small goals, that's what is in order for 2017. Small goals are the name of the game for my 2017, no resolution other than to achieve satisfaction from the little things and make steps towards the bigger things.
Catch me and my team mate Hannah in action this weekend at the National Champs in Bradford.
Special thanks for all my sponsors for making my riding and racing possible.