James Cotty Rides The Bill Higson Memorial Cyclocross
I've ridden the Bill Higson Memorial race a handful of times and only ever once or twice in the dry, so it came as no surprise to arrive at the venue on Sunday to torrential rain, bikes clogged thick with mud and riders sliding all over the place. But did my heart sink knowing this was going to be a very messy Sunday? No! For I had anticipated such events with great delight, forty litres of water and a petrol pressure washer (plus eight year old user). Man, cross is all about mud, bike handling and pain, and Prospect Park was just about to deliver in spades!
The course was ninety-five percent the same as in previous years with the start taking you straight up a short sharp hill before winding up to the finish line. Round past the line, slide past the pits and off for a few slippery grassy turns before heading into a small wooded section. All pretty rideable to this point using the outsides of each bend to stay away from the worst of the mud on the safety of the freshest grass.
Out alongside the main road and up again for a small leg-sapping climb. Down and up again once more before heading deeper into the woods and sweeping around the orchard section and back to the first proper decent all day Not massive by mountain bike standards, but on 33mm tyres with very little grip it caused many riders many problems. This lead to a nasty little run-up, rideable in the dry, but not a chance today. This was a bad bike-on-the-back section whilst attempting to gain enough grip to make suitable progress on a very nasty reminder of how hard cross can be. The right turn at the top took you back through the woods before dropping out on to a field for a 500 yard ride back through the start line and up to the finish of the lap.
And so to the start. If last weeks fifth row grid slot was depressing, this week's gridding felt like I'd been forgotten completely, lining up sixth row. Ok, I may have missed the first two rounds riding as a senior, and appreciate how the rankings work, but for the past 5 years I've started on the front row having taken enough points each weekend, so I think I may need a little word before the next outing. Surely 'the establishment' can sort something. Talk about not seeing the front - I could look over my shoulder and see the back far too easily before the gun...
The first hill was carnage from the get go. Not only slippery but on a righthand turn at the base which swept a fair few riders wide. I had a good start, hardly trying in fact given the lack of space to do anything before the inevitable happened and I was swept wide, forcing me to run the second half of the hill. Back on the bike at the top, pedelled hard and hey, the front was in sight. The start had gone well and I was up to 12th. I played my cards well for the first few laps, pedalling strongly where I could to make up spaces and then riding carefully where needed to avoid unneccessary falls or an overly muddy bike. I was back in the mix. The guys I'd been with over the past few weeks several yards back, some of the fast guys still behind me and my legs feeling good. Over the next few laps I was caught by a couple of quick guys which pushed me back a couple of places, but hey that's fine, I can feel the progress coming and we're only at mid-October.
The results were positive, I'd cracked the top 20 (16th) this week and only a minute and a half off 10th. I know the guy in 10th well - he's just returned from a week's training abroad and came past me midway through the race so I'm confident he's a keeper in future weeks. I was beating him last year and it'll happen again.
The next race is at Fairthorne Manor, Botley, next Sunday...