The end of the summer is always a busy time of year if you’re planning on racing ‘cross. This is my fourth full season of racing and I always approach this time of year with a mixture of mounting excitement and nervous trepidation, as well as an ever-expanding list of things to do and glue.
This year things are even more hectic, with the arrival of baby Theo in the Webber household, a definite future cycling champ if his powerful lungs are anything to go by.
Pre-season prep for 2014 included a 3-day “Cross Camp” spent with my Hackney GT teammates and my brand new Major Jake, riding hard and hanging out with former National CX champ (and current National XC Series champ), Paul Oldham of Hope Factory Racing, who gave us a master-class in all things cyclocross.
In the 6 month break, it’s easy to forget how hard it is to ride your bike flat-out for an hour. I forget about those pre-race jitters, about how formidable your opponents appear to be as they line up on the grid and how quick they actually are when the start whistle blows. I forget the way that a lap that you love during your warm up becomes a circuit of misery for 60 minutes, as your legs and lungs burn and your strength and skills evaporate.
Painful? Certainly – but it’s a type of pain that keeps us coming back for more. Are racing cyclists just people with exceptionally short memories?
I’m actually now 2 weekends into the season with 4 Eastern League races under my belt. Saturday saw my first win of the season – at Hog Hill on the outskirts of East London – a race long ding-dong with Matt Holmes of Arctic/SRAM, last year’s London League winner and a rider I’ve battled with many times in the past.
The fast, furious course is one that I know well, but I knew that Holmes was just as well-versed in its many twists and turns, and I also knew that if it came down to a sprint, Holmes would have the edge. I managed to get a small gap through some grassy switchbacks just before the bell lap and I spent the final eight minutes of the race pushing as hard as I dared, with Holmes breathing down my neck at every turn. I crossed the line just seven seconds ahead.
I know that Matt Holmes will be racing hard all season, as will an ever-growing, ever-improving array of talented ‘crossers.
There will be no easy wins this season, but then – there never is.
Many thanks to Neil Ellison for the photograph