Won a race once. AND DON'T YOU EVER FORGET IT

  • The hamster wheel learning curve conundrum

    Leg speed! Leg speed! Leg speed! I chanted to myself as I scrabbled my way through the first of two sand pits on Irvine’s National Trophy ‘cross course. I’d dismounted and begun to run through the fake beach (real beach located just over a set of sand dunes to the right, providing a scenic backdrop tot he race for photographers willing to brave the chill wind up at the top of the banking) because, well, the rider in front had done. I’d learned on the last lap that, if the person in front dismounts, you have to. Despite the course being regulation width between the tape, once off the one racing line in the sand you weren’t overtaking anything. Off, sprint, remount and ignore the spike in heart rate the run had brought on as you dish out as much power as possible. Like a hamster getting on and off it’s wheel.

    The course was covered in these little learning opportunities, despite it’s apparent simplicity. In fact, maybe BECAUSE of it’s seeming simplicity. Sometimes making race courses so continually technical removes an element of strategy for people racing them, you’re not really racing those around you, you’re just focused on getting through/over/round the obstacles. I’m not saying take all the fun out of courses (or, worse, turn them into something resembling a zwift race…or hamster wheel contest) but get a course just right and riders will find ways to use the trickier bits to their advantage. They’ll learn as the race progresses and the course conditions change and they’ll love it. I was.

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    Pic courtesy of Richard Howes Photography – @askRHPhotos

    I got a decent (for me) start. From the 2nd row I’d pretty much held my own along the start straight gallop and avoided any 1st lap bottlenecks. The start in ‘cross is massively important and I’d been learning to get on top of it. Keep the legs turning after a decent warm up for as long as possible, keep the blood going and the heart rate elevated a bit to reduce the shock of those first few frantic moments.
    From watching the race sprint off at round 1, stuck at the back waiting for people to get on with it, to getting caught up in the human knot in the middle of the field at Round 2 and having to work round the inevitable traffic jam to holding my own at the business end at round 3. That learning curve is steep, but climbable.

    Just like that hamster happily scampering away on it’s wheel, I’d kept my pace up as close to the start sprint as possible and had managed to work my way up in to the top ten. With the endless enthusiasm “Hammy” (for that is what we will call our hamster on it’s wheel) has, I kept my chin up as the laps flew by, thoroughly enjoying being able to rail the bike round corner after corner, chasing riders in front and dropping anyone behind. It’s kind of funny, when you take a step back from it all, to think about how much fun you can have going round and round in circles in a park on a weekend morning with your bike. In the grand scheme of things you’re not really getting anywhere but at the same time you’re learning more and more. Getting better, faster and just generally loving the feeling of racing.

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    Railing corners, yay! Pic by Iona Simcock

    Going in to the last two laps myself, number 13 for this race and number 12 were trading places every few corners. This seemed to please the commentator, who delightedly announced that ‘our’ race was going according to the gridding we’d had. Dismounting mid way through the second sand trap and keeping that leg speed up, despite any fatigue I may have been feeling, we arrived at firmer ground side by side. The unmistakable sound of race shoe slipping across pedal without clipping in from number 12 echoed almost deafeningly in my head.
    I was clipped in and able to put down a burst to get in front and open enough of a gap to stop him hanging on to my wheel.

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    Pic courtesy of Richard Howes Photography – @askRHPhotos

    You learn, very quickly, that in the Trophys you can’t make any mistakes or you’re punished for them instantly. I kept that in mind and, rather than just frantically try to sprint away, I concentrated on really nailing my lines. I’ll never be the greatest bike handler in the world (or in the room, if there’s anyone else in said room…) but I made the most of every single piece on information I’d taken in during the race. Where each little patch of sand was, which corners to take slowly to give a faster line through the next section, how early I could start pedaling on the exit of each bend without slipping. Clever, rather than clattering about crazily.
    It seemed to work and the gap opened over the final lap. In fact it worked so well I made up a huge amount of time on the riders on front of me, crossing the finish line 7th, just 20 seconds back on 5th place…hmm, a new lesson to learn there. The learning curve continues upwards!

     

    5:08 pm on October 28, 2019 | 1 Comment | # |

Comments

  • Dave Haygarth 11:03 pm on October 28, 2019 | #

    Nice one Dave another riveting account of you in the rivet. 5th was my best in a v40 Trophy so go and find them 20 seconds!!

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