I rocked up to Luton and entered on the day after a last minute change of plan to join the North Road vets in Round 7 of the Central League.
I got a good start off the second row of the grid and managed to break through and get ahead up the starting straight and was in first place into the first bend of 14 riders. The course snaked around a slope but you could choose pretty fast lines through it so the flow was good in this section. There were a couple of hairpins which zigzagged up the slope and I could see that by the time I had exited this section of the course I had gained a good gap on 2nd place and the rest of the field. The course then ducked and went onto a small concrete path before a very sharp off camber corner which I could not ride and so I dismounted quickly in advance of the bend so I could keep momentum running round the slippery camber. A quick dismount and glance behind and I saw I was maintaining my lead.
The course featured a ‘spiral of doom’ like that at Ally Pally a few weeks ago which involves a swirl type maze which spits you out from the centre after a tight S bend. They’re great fun to ride in as you have riders going in all different directions and at first it is hard to know how you’ll make it out! Spat out of the spiral of doom there was then a charge along a tarmac path before swerving out onto some grass and out onto a path again – this bit was tricky as you didn’t want too much speed as you came off the tarmac onto the grass again. Muddy tyres and slick concrete don’t mix so well. We then negotiated a single track rutted section of heathy lumpy grass which must have been courtesy of the local rabbits. It was crucial to keep speed through this section as best you could as a difficult hillock followed which was rideable but required a seated climb to keep traction on the slippery ground. The mound was scarred with skidded tyre marks revealing the fate of previous riders with their slips and falls.
Out into the open again the course ducked and dived in a series of turns on what were seemingly innocuous corners but were more than ready to take you by surprise if you took them too fast or tried to put the power down a bit prematurely on the exit. As the course snaked back on itself I could see my lead had grown a few seconds and I was confident I should keep riding as I had been, aggressive but not taking risks. The course made its way around the school field, keeping the football pitches intact, and weaved around some course markers. A very slippery section followed which consisted of a tight line next to a metal fence :-/ and then a steep hill which some people rode and others dismounted and ran. There wasn’t much in it and so I chose to get off as the lines were very tight, there was no run off and the ground was slick. I kept my lines high to avoid having to climb back up too much on the heavily trodden ground. This seemed to pay off as the girls behind me appeared more cautious and perhaps indecisive how best to tackle the section which bought me more time. The course then weaved a bit and a but sharp left hand turn led us slightly uphill to the course end to start the lap again.
I had around 20 seconds lead on the first lap and managed to pick up more seconds each lap. I started passing the vets and tried to get past them as quickly as I could so I lost as little time as possible. John McDowall and I spotted each other in the Spiral of Doom and this must have bolted him like a cattle prod back into action as I didn’t see him again after that! The race was uneventful, I played it safe, rode hard but kept upright and concentrated on picking off the vets and ticking off the laps. I was passed by the leading junior rider in the last section of the course and so finished my race just after him.
I consolidated my lead over the course of the race and finished 1 minute and 35 seconds ahead of 2nd place, it was my best race to date on what was more of a traditional style cross course than Northampton. I am now going to focus on the Central League and hope to finish in the top 3 for the league overall this year.