Superquaich round 2, and the forecast is promising 1C, 30mph winds and snow. And it didn’t lie!
A new course this time, which will be used for the National Trophy CX series in the autumn. After watching the pro cx racers at Valkenburg I was rather hoping for a more-technical-than-average course, and I wasn’t disappointed. Proper short/sharp climbs, fast steep descents, offcamber switchbacks, sandpits, muddy steep offcambers, runups, the lot! A proper challenge, especially over the 1h race duration.
Still, come race o’clock, the weather had other plans. A blizzard flew in just as I was heading to the line, horizontal snow/sleet/ice, hard to even keep your eyes open. I overheard someone say there was a delay, and so checked with the timing dudes and sure enough, race start delayed due to bad weather – first time that’s happened.
So rush back to the car and watch the storm until it blows over. Still, it’s a tough call of how much gear to wear. When the snow stops, it’s a cold but sunny day. It’s tempting to go for normal race gear, but if another blizzard hits it’ll be carnage. In the end I decide to plan for the worst and change into long leggings, and wear a hat and a buff/scarf and full winter gloves. I definitely felt overdressed at the start line – other people were in short-legged skin suits. But come the final lap, I was soo glad of my choices!
I started somewhere near the middle of the pack, and made a few good moves on the first few corners to end up around 30th in the first part of the lap. I had preridden the course, and sussed out lines which let me ride some of the steep sections others were running. But, this being an “A” race, 30th is beyond what I can reasonably hope for. And so the story of the day was gradually slipping back down the field to my eventual 49th place (56th percentile). But that’s fine, it means I definitely wasn’t compromised by starting too far back. If anything, I probably overcooked the first lap in my keenness to be ahead of the tangles, and suffered a bit with a sore back later in the race.
I started to struggle round the long offcamber on lap 2, which let a train of 4 riders past (including the Two Wheel Army). I tried to up my pace to hang on to them, but just didn’t have the legs, and could see them pulling away for the rest of the lap. My strongest point was probably the climb near the start of the lap, which I rode every lap. Each time I got passed by a rider, I’d see where they were making time on me, all useful information. Mid-race I got lapped by Davie Lines (eventual winner) on the flat grass and it was phenomenal to see how fast he goes on the flat!
Coming toward the final lap, the weather was shifting again and then suddenly we were back in another full-on snow storm. Now I was super glad of my earlier choices, able to pull my scarf over my face, and my sunglasses protecting me from the ice. The glasses fogged up as the temperature dropped, so I could only really see the course tape and little else – but on the last lap of a race you don’t really need to see much more than that! I used the Force to navigate round the rest of the lap, pretty exhausted, before making it across the line in 49th. It was like a warzone, with lightly dressed cyclists scattering for cover.
So, takeaways? I found the muddy offcambers hard once they started getting chopped up; don’t think I’ve sussed the best technique out for that. I lost a lot of time in that section over the race, crashing one lap, having an uncontrolled downhill slide on another. My tyres seemed to clog badly in that kind of mud, and despite running lower pressures than ever (28/30psi) I had to run/slide much of the section. It felt like a course that rewarded good technique, but with the weather, there was limited opportunity to preride the course and so I didn’t get everything nailed. Also, there was a lot of flat power sections which I’m always behind-the-curve on.
Still, 49th out of 87 (56%) is actually my best result in a Superquaich A field (vs. 65% at Ayr). So even though I spent most of the race going backwards, it’s actually a step forward.
Bikewise, I’ve finally decided to switch out the rear derailleur. Through various falls, I’ve taken chunks out of the metal body near to the hinges – and since that’s where my previous derailleur failed I don’t want to take chances. Also, the jockey wheel are worn down to points, and there’s abrasion on the inside where I can only assume it’s somehow been rubbed against spokes. Cyclocross is brutal on bikes! Also, I’ve got fed up with eggbeater pedals – partly because they’re not as clog-free as originally seemed, the cleats wear fast, the pedals themselves are hammered after a couple of seasons, and the igus bushings are a nightmare to remove even with the refurb kit. So, I’m flipping back to Shimano SPDs – as used by most european pro cx riders.
Next week is the final race of the season, bringing this run of 4 races in 4 weeks to a close. It’s back at Rouken Glen, where last year I was mere “B race” material and got 9th. This year, it’ll be more “A race” action. Rouken Glen is more about the ups/downs and woodland and less about flat power, so I’m looking forward to it – and currently the forecast is a balmy 8C and dry!