Foxlake, aka Thistly Cross CX, was my final cx race of the season. Having raced there a few years ago, I was looking forward to the technical nature of the course, and I wasn’t disappointed. It has steep ups, fast downhills, sketchy turns and plenty of twisty off-cambers. All in all, a great technical challenge and a standout course.
This time, I was in the B race and so hoping to match my 9th place in the B race at Rouken Glen. I got to the start line good and early. Everyone was being well behaved, waiting in a group back from the grid lines. But as new people wheeled their bikes in at the front, people started edging forward nervously before we all finally legged it for the grid. I started a couple of rows back, next to two riders who know are a tiny shade faster than me and hence are good people to try to stay with in the race. Plenty of start line banter about the world cx championships and green tyres, then suddenly we were off.
Normally, I try to avoid overcooking the first lap but on this course I knew there’d be several choke points after the initial fast flat section (at the muddy twists, then on the first downhill). So my game plan was to burn some matches off the start line to get clear of the masses and avoid holdups. This worked well, getting myself into 8th position by the time the course narrowed. I managed to stay in 8th for the first few laps too, despite a few holdups with people crashing on front of me.
Then by mid-race a familiar pattern set in. Paul-in-blue (as I think of him) caught up with me, and we switched places a few times. Brian McCutcheon also moved smoothly by me, as he often does mid race – I think he paces himself better during races than I do, and by the time he’s caught me there’s no way I can lift my pace to stay with him. I also was passed by a pair of superfast riders hammering through the field together – I guess they must’ve started further down the field because they passed me midrace but at a thundering pace!
As usual, I gained on people on the technical sections – banzai’ing downhills and swooping through the twisty woodland. I was out-tactic’d on the steep climbs though – I took them at 90% to avoid going into the red, but others would redline it past me on the climb then recover on the next descent or flat section where it was hard for me to repass. Lesson learned!
I was glad for having decent mud tyres. It wasn’t an excessively muddy day, but the end-of-lap zigzags got chewed up quickly and the tyres gave me confidence to throw the bike into the fast downhill turns. After running 32psi in previous rounds (limus clinchers), I went up to 34psi as a bit of insurance against the many stones and roots. There was plenty of punctures and mech failures around, so certainly not a day to be risking anything.
Towards the end of the race, I was making time back on Paul-in-blue on front of me – catching him through the last woodland section, then losing a bit of time behind a backmarker at the bombhole, then recatching on the road to the final ‘stadium section’. I was right behind him after the offcamber runup, but opted to try and ride the hairpin hill (which I’d managed the previous lap) whereas he ran it. So I was a little bit back as we did the final switchbacks, and although I tried to seek out a creative grippy line for a sprint it was all to no avail and so I rolled in to take 12th place. And then collapsed!
All in all, a great day of racing – close competition, a quality course with so many interesting bits, and decent weather too. I couldn’t ask for more for my final race of the season! Kudos to the organisers, marshalls, and all the racers and spectators!