OK, I do understand that my concept of fun may not be shared by everyone. But I know that all the cyclists reading this will totally get it when I say that last Saturday at the Ipswich Cyclocross I had so much fun that I may have given myself exercise-induced asthma.
“Pursuiter’s cough” is the term cyclists use, and it describes a hacking cough that can affect you for up an hour or so after a really intense effort. I remember in the late 90s, SBS interviewing the Australian pro rider Neil Stephens, who was tough as old boots, straight after a stage finish in the TdF. Stephens couldn’t get a complete sentence out without the interruption of a bout of hacking coughs.
Well that was me, to a lesser extent, after cyclocross.
I raced in Division 4. And the reason for that mystery link was that alongside me in Div 4 was a dead-set bandit or burglar. A certain Dean Winchester, who races B grade on the road, and in Masters B in open events. According to the event flyer this would mean he should have raced in either Div2 or perhaps Div3.
But after we drove out there together, unloaded the bikes, registered and got our numbers, I was shocked & appalled (yes, both) to find that Dean was pinning a green number on his jersey, the same colour as mine. His excuse: “You do this sort of thing (i.e. off-road riding and racing) much more than me.” I should have set Gerard Kennedy onto him.
Dean was racing on his hardtail mountain bike. And the last time I had seen that machine in working order was at the 2009 Epic. It wasn’t a thing of beauty then either.
For me, my weapon of choice was my Frezoni, a steel framed road bike that has (by design) greater clearance than standard road machines. It’s not a proper cyclocross bike, because it uses long-reach road brakes rather than cantilevers or v-brakes. So it’s more likely that in bad conditions to get clogged up with mud.
But what it did have for this occasion was proper cyclocross tyres, secured at just about half price from a friendly person at a friendly bike shop. That would help me find some grip on the grass and mud. So advantage me in the bike department.
But how Furracabad could it be on a football oval in Ipswich in the middle of winter? What mud?
Well the rain came down the night before, much to the joy of organiser Scott Kirton. And the course this year included crossing a creek, or perhaps ditch would be closer to the truth.
Div4 winner Tim Hooker showing some style crossing the ditch. Tim was waaaay too good for the rest of the Div 4 field.
So after the kids had their race, it was our turn. There were 16 starters in Division 4. Louise Jones, one of Cycling Queensland’s top commissaires was there, because her husband was racing in the Div 4 race with us! Louise gave us the race briefing (‘be careful’ and ‘don’t hurt yourself’ was what I heard), and then we were off!
Louise’s husband (Phil?) leads us out on the first lap, followed by race organiser Scott (black Rapha cx kit), and then Tim Hooker, then Deano & me.
So by halfway through the first lap, eventual winner Tim is disappearing from sight, and to my surprise Dean and I are dicing for second place. The effort is intense, but staying upright is pretty easy, and getting the power to ground is also working pretty well. Dean’s mtb is making horrible noises every time he shifts gear, so that’s got to be in my favour as well.
The creek is fun, the steps are ok, there’s no sharp corners or steep sections really, and I’m just having a blast and almost keeping up with Dean, and another guy who I later meet as Adrian.
About three laps in, and my initial speed is starting to fade. I come to the series of barriers, and unclip to jump off the bike and prepare to hurdle. But clumsiness caused by fatigue defeats me, and I don’t quite lift the Frezoni high enough, and kind of smash it into the wooden barrier.
The handlebar in turn smashes me in the knee and I stumble and very nearly fall flat on my face. By the time I stop staggering and get upright, I realise that the chain is off the bike. Stop & fumble with chain, and Dean and Adrian are gone.
It was probably kind of a relief to realise at this point that I was unlikely to catch the place-getters, and that I was well ahead of fifth place. So I could just try to find a steady rhythm for the rest of the race and see if I could make the finish line without throwing up.
And that modest target I achieved.
It was a super-fun day out. There should be more cyclocross, or dirt crits, or similar events. I would absolutely race in them.
Of course, when I say “there should be more”, I realise that the best way to make this happen is to be part of doing it myself. So a bigger effort towards getting cyclocross back into Bike Week next year is what I’m saying.