My next outing between the tape was to Round 11 at the legendary, but no less wet and muddy, Herne Hill Velodrome in SE London a blissful 10 minute cycle from my house. OK, so you don’t ride on the fabled banking, except down it to connect two horrifically muddy sections, but you definitely feel special and connected to the illustrious history of British cycling when you race there.
It was here I realised how tight this whole scene is, and how simple. It’s no criticism and I’m as guilty as the rest but at a DH race there’s an awful lot of bullshit as people very earnestly discuss lines they’ll never hit and then bellyache endlessly about how the psi lurking in various parts of their bike is to blame for a crap result. The mud I’ve come to expect from a CX race was there but also a refreshing lack of enthusiasm for any kind of practicing. Top of most racers’ agenda seemed to be coffee from the army trailer and a genuine zeal for for sitting around and talking bollocks which I had the pleasure of doing with Kona Chamberlain’s Matt Webber who caught me oggling his beautiful Major Jake and then shared his wisdom about the benefits of starting a race with dry feet. With over 120 riders lining up for the Vets / Seniors / Womens race there was always going to be first corner carnage and some of it sounded expensive.
I heard ‘How’s them carbon spokes working out for ya?’ after a horrible twanging noise rippled through the pack followed by ‘Not well mate’ as pedals found wheels. In the very same corner, someone who knows their movie history and can spot flat pedal amongst the pack said ‘keep away from Ben Hur’ after spotting my gold flats and their potential to inflict the same sort of damage to a wheel as Ben Hur’s modified chariot did to his rival’s. The next opportunity to get mud on my teeth from grinning was at the sight of people trying to get down a decent using the ugly old ‘loads of front brake, feet off, balls on the stem’ technique which I’ve not seen in ages.
After the chuckling had stopped and the pack began to string out I found my targets: a gaggle of faster lads who I was determined to try and stay with and hopefully pass, for a minute at least, on one of the more tech’ sections. Braking after a really fast section alongside the fence at the top of the Velodrome’s banking the tape funnelled us into a hairpin around a post with standing room only. I lined it up, got up the inside and went for the brakes only to have the rear cable snap, making me to t-bone this poor guy and ditching us both in Brixton mud. ‘I lost my back brake!’ I offered up, waiting for the punch. Picking himself up and with a grin, he said ‘that’s what I say when I take someone out, ya bastard!’.
Except for the soul destroying infield section the Herne Hill track was fun to ride and a huge contributing factor was this lake that had formed at the foot of a small descent after a slippery left. One of the marshalls was squirting washing up liquid into it so it was not only hub deep but fragrant, foamy and no place for caution. Most people were gunning it so snappers and the baying crowd were all over it and I heard one bloke shout ‘Surf’s up’ as he got barrelled by a standing wave the elites threw up. Someone behind me bellowed, ‘you need a fooking ark for this, not a bike.’ But racing’s racing and no matter how many comedians you encounter it’s all about trying to drop and not be dropped. I managed to get top 15 in my class this time and for all the banter, off-track and on, I was agonising over the results sheet the following week and working out where I could’ve pulled back the seconds that might have put me into the holy grail of the top 10. Whilst winter’s clearly not over, the CX season almost is and in yet another surprise dished up by my infatuation with this sport I find myself uncharacteristically looking forward to next September, not just because it’s my birthday month, but because the the whole league starts again and the waiting will once again be over.
Photo credit: www.DaveHayward.com