Say the words ‘Lochore Meadows’ and I hear ‘mud and broken bikes’. It’s not been the kindest course to me, snapping my derailleur in 2014 and then grinding through the mud in 2015 to a 73rd percentile finish.
But this year is going to be different. Cold weather makes for a crunchy start to the day, with the course holding up pretty well during the early races and only modest amounts of mud. I’ve also managed to up my power levels a bit, so hopeful that I’ll do better on the flat/power terrain. A few warmup laps reveal addition to the course: a staircase. I like! With my long legs, hurdles and stairs and climbs are all features where I make up places.
The vet40’s are a canny bunch, and even when I try to get to the starting grid early there’s already a huge crowd there already. So I shuffle in somewhere midpack and hold my ground as everything shuffles around. The whistle goes, and I give it all down the left side to gain position before the first bottleneck, dodging a crash on the way. It’s all stop and go through rest of lap 1, and things only settle down when we get to the spiral for the first time.
The “spiral of doom” is the big feature at Lochore Meadows. With good conditions underfoot this year, I really enjoyed it. The outer part is fast, with two possible lines – inside is shorter but muddier, outside is longer but grassier. I tended to stick with the inside line, since I wasn’t worried about grip but with hindsight I paid the price with lots of mud buildup in the last laps. Towards the middle, the spiral tightens and so transitions into a more technical grip limited surface. Then a flipflop turn to head back out again and the long drag round the grass to the start line.
I quickly settled down chasing rider #14. He’d pass and drop me going into the spiral and I’d be at threshold just to stay vaguely in touch around the spiral. But then I’d pass him on the infield course, often by running rather than riding. And so we passed and repassed each other lap after lap. At one point I thought I’d dropped him, but then he flew past again. A couple of other riders came past, but they too ended up in this elastic group switching positions.
It was only in the last lap that they got away from me. I felt I was still giving out the same power, but I just wasn’t as fast. My bike was getting very clogged up with mud. A few riders flew passed me at speed (did they have clean pit bikes?) as I dropped a few places. I tried to hang on, even tried to catch one on the last half lap, but it wasn’t to be.
In the end, I finished 56th (47%) – having been up to 44th on lap 3. Thanks to chasing #14 throughout, I know that I pushed as hard as possible. I also did as many ‘smarts’ as possible – running rather than riding, surging to take a position before the track narrowed to singletrack. Maybe if I had a pit bike I could’ve sustained my 44th place (after the race, I tried to spin my wheel and it would barely do a single rotation). But two bikes is a level of seriousness beyond what I’m going to do!
Still, although not in the points, I finished in the top half, and on the lead lap again unlapped. My fastest lap time was +14% on the winners fastest. It’s not so long ago that I was being lapped twice, and having lap times 50% slower than the winners!
Next weekend’s race is Plean. Back in October 2011, I did my first ever cyclocross race at Plean (back then, my lap times were twice as long as the winner!). The weather this week has been constant rain, and the forecast is for dry and cold. From 2011, I remember mud. Muddy downhills. Muddy uphills. Muddy flat sections. But it was fun!