James Cotty gives us a report form the Wessex League Round 3
Dalton Barracks, Abingdon
Wessex League Rd3
Talk about a close shave... if last week's round two of the Wessex League came close to being wet race with intermittent showers before the off, then betting on round three being wet was a full gone conclusion given the torrential rain of Saturday. So wet in fact I stayed home on the turbo whilst my team mates smashed up the Glenn Longland two-day event to great effect. Great wet-effect maybe, but massive success none-the-less. The boys were really flying! So imagine my surprise (and delight) to open the curtains to bright sunshine on Sunday morning. Cross is a great sport and success can be measured in many ways, but not having to clean two cross bikes in the early season is winning in any cross riders vocabulary.
Until today I'd never raced at Dalton Barracks but had heard it described as flat, fast and like a crit on gravel. Really? I've ridden crits and also fast and flat cross races, but this is like nothing before. Barr the headwind, the whole course was quick. The grassy fields rolled with ease, the corners like being on the road (well on my set-up anyway) with efforts required out of every turn. The second half of the course consisted of what can only be described as a BMX track. Ups, downs, berms, hops, you name it, it was there, all rolled together on a hard-packed surface with very little mud. After riding the first practice lap it looked good. After two more practice laps I was ready for the off...
Now, the previous two weeks I'd moved up to ride in the Vet40 category which, if I'm being honest, hasn't fully gelled with me. Long drives for a 40 minutes race hasn't sat comfortably with my prep, and last week I'd only really got moving when the bell sounded for the last lap. Midweek my mind was made up, this week I would slip back into more familiar surroundings of the Senior/Elite boys to see how things went.
Having missed the first two Senior events this season I was forced to line up ungridded, hard left on the third row, sights firmly set on a fast start up the outside, and this is exactly what happened. Bang, foot in first time nearly hitting the guy in front who's a little slow off the line and already I'm past him. This is going well and I can see the front of a race for the first time this season. Before long (probably no more than 7-8 seconds all told) we sweep gracefully right and off of the road onto the grass. Same speed, same lean angle and how, I don't know, everyone stays upright, shoulder to shoulder down to the first left hander. I manage to sneak inside my mate Alex Forrester and try to keep him at bay for a short while, but he's riding well and gets the better of me a couple of bends later. And this is how it continues for the whole race as everything is stretched. The fastest boys making early moves, the rest trying to catch wheels and breaths between turns. The first lap goes well, the second slightly slower, dropping a few places and paying for my fast start, but still ok. My surprise comes after 5 laps though when passing the line we're shown 6 laps to go. Really, 6 to go??? Well, that was correct, and as we moved towards three to go my legs were really into their stride collecting up a couple of guys who'd started to slip back. I can't recall how many laps we had to go when riding 3-4 seconds behind my team mate Joe Andrews when he sadly rolled a tub on a slow left hander, his day was done for :-(
Results came out Sunday evening and I was semi-pleased with 22nd from 80 odd. As numbers go, I would have liked it to have been inside the top 15, but when viewed in context of the other riders I know well, it's not a bad results all told. More importantly for me, when I compare lap times I'm happy I'm riding reasonably well. Ten seconds a lap would have found me just over a minute and a half and 13th place, so we'll see what's possible around the parklands of Basingstoke, a course I know well, next week.