David Jarrom writes with an update from the cyclocross season opener. Photos by Rob Goldsmith and Nic Pow
It’s September already. For most cyclists, a time to start winding down a little after a busy summer, and maybe time to start thinking about taking a break after a season of racing. For a certain breed though, it’s the business end of the year: cyclocross season.
2019 is my 14th season of racing cyclocross, but even as a devotee who returns to it every year, I appreciate that it is the absolute marmite of cycling disciplines. My advice is try a cyclocross race, at least once. You may find the whole idea of racing what it essentially a road bike with grippier tyres round parks and fields, whilst occasionally being forced to dismount and push or carry the thing over unrideable obstacles, baffling, bizarre and hellish. Just as likely though is that you’ll be hooked on a form of bike racing like no other: fast and furious off-road racing that rewards not only fitness and power, but also technical skill and good racecraft. It’s also a uniquely accessible form of bike racing, suitable for all abilities and with compact courses that offer plenty of opportunities to cheer people on when you’re not racing yourself.
One of the other blessings, some would say curses, of cyclocross is the sheer variation in conditions as the season arcs from the tail end of summer (fast courses on bone-dry ground) through all of autumn and into winter (expect anything from frozen solid ground, to snow and ice, or several inches of mud). The season opener was typical of this, with plenty of blue skies and warm sunshine: there was even an ice cream van in attendance to reward the kids (and big kids) with something sweet post-race.
Tredegar Park is a new venue for the Welsh League, nestling at the very east end of Newport. The course was dry and predominantly flat save for a couple of just-about-rideable ramps, making for a very fast race. The main thing that kept speeds down was the relentless bumpy ground, baked hard by the recent dry weather.
After a packed morning of racing for under-16s, a new format this year saw the women race first followed by the men. A healthy sized field lined up for the inaugural women-only race, including 3 in Cardiff Ajax colours. Claire Hoskins took a commanding win for Cardiff Jif (who also did a sterling job of organising this round) and also took the V50 win – second V50 was Liz Webb for Cardiff Ajax. In the V40 category Suzie Warren came home 7th and Chris Byrne 11th.
On to a packed men’s race, with well over 100 lining up on the start line. Seniors and juniors set off first, followed by veterans in a separate start a couple of minutes behind. Lining up on the 3rd row, the charge down to the first corner, completely unsighted over bumpy ground, was something I was glad just to survive! I slotted in a few places behind Tom Dye and within a couple of minutes we were together. On a fast course, ‘cross can almost resemble an off-road criterium and there is definitely an advantage from working together, so Tom and I set about doing just that, managing to reel in a few riders ahead of us over the next couple of laps. Our teamwork came to an abrupt end on lap 3 though, when Tom’s rear wheel popped out of the dropouts, costing him a minute or so and leaving me racing solo. Despite my best efforts to reel in riders ahead (including teammate Mike Webb, last seen up close overtaking me into the first corner), I made little impression and came home just outside the top 10 in 11th place. Mike took 9th place and Tom recovered to finish 14th. Steve James (Hope Factory Racing) outsprinted Ben Nott for the overall win.
In a very busy veteran men’s field, containing no less than 12 Cardiff Ajax riders, the best-placed V40 Ajax rider was Brian Kiernan in 31st place. Paul Harvey was the best-placed V50 Ajax rider was Paul Harvey, coming home 17th with Miles Brown just seconds behind after a mid-race puncture.
Round 2 heads to Builth Wells this coming Sunday, for what looks like more sunny racing weather. Those of us thrive in modders will just have to be patient……