I’d stood on the start line – further back than I expected after missing the rush to elbow your way to the front – stareing at the backs of a good dozen or so shivering racers. I’d sprinted off from the start as much as you can when in the middle of the pack; banging elbows, scuffing tyres, a sudden sense of claustrophobia as the racing line became swamped in front and behind of me. I’d fought my way though towards the fast end of the race, the number of riders to pass dropping and the trail ahead opening up as the first lap lung burning began. I’d almost made it when the familiar ‘BOOONG’ of a rim bottoming out against something solid, sharp edged and retiscent to move. A brick, hidden under a delightfully muddy puddle, in this case.
I’d kept my head in the race and started to thank my lucky stars that the tube hadn’t punctured when it made it quite clear it had by drifting wide on a long, fast corner on some wonderfully swoopy singletrack.
And that was it. I pulled off to the side of the track, knelt down, removed the front wheel, looked up and saw the blur of the race thundering past without me, just inches away.
The air was still, a slight winter chill being shooed away by the morning sun warmed my back as I wrestled the tyre off and began the suddenly tedious job of swopping the innertube. It was a lovely Saturday morning to be in the park, but a foot or so to my left the gasping, the tearing of rubber across newly laid gravel and the ferocity of hundreds of singleminded people was intoxicating.
I wanted to be back there, in the thick of it. Even as the very last rider disappeared into the distance, allowing the silence to flow back around me just as the mud gently rolled back onto the racing line, as I attached a CO2 canister to the new tube’s valve, I’d decided to just chase down everyone and everything in front of me. To leap back into the melee and become a part of the spectacle.
I wasn’t ‘in it to win it’ anymore, where I wanted to be, but this would do nicely.
Laps came and went, each time the nature of the course changed – fast, flowing singletrack bacame slithery, slidey, wheel grabbing slop – slow, grinding climbs opened up and became lungs-out sprints to the top of the hills – the long drag across a field to a push/carry slope of hellish proportions stayed exactly that, despite the best wishes of everyone riding it – and I just kept passing people until someone told me to stop and jabbed a fistful of Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls at me.
No more punctures, somehow, but a good couple of hours of hurling myself round a course that surprised many with the amount of fun and pain it dished out, despite being just a stones throw from Manchester city centre.
I ended up 7th. Not bad, given the 5 minute faffage that fixing the tyre cost me, not what I wanted, but not bad.