A Trio of Cross Country Races

Sun 22 May 2016

Bryan goes off road with Mud Sweat & Gears



Travelling to races with fellow club members is a dangerous affair. Confined in a car moving at speed there is nowhere to hide when talk of next season and pre-season events commences. Thus it was after numerous trips last year to far reaches of Norfolk and Suffolk for cyclo-cross with one John McDowall that I have found myself competing in the Mud Sweat and Gears Eastern Region cross country races. It’s been 20+ years (yes that long ago I can’t actually date it), since my first and only previous mountain bike race on Cannock Chase, in which incidentally I finished last by a distance (in fact they were already taking down the finishing line), so it was with some trepidation that I signed up for first race


Mud Sweat & Gears Rd 2: Henham Park, Suffolk - 17th April 2016

First up was a trip to Southwold. On arrival I soon realised I had a slight challenge in that my chain snapped as I started my warm up.  Despite some concerted effort, it seemed I was destined to miss out as the chain was refusing to stay together, but  eventually  and post some kind support from Dave Kiely I managed to get a working chain all be it a little too short for the whole gear range. So with minutes to spare I rolled up to the start with no time to check the course and fingers crossed the chain would last at least a lap. Some encouraging course notes from Dave and Joe and a decision to run the “C” line having not seen the “A” line was last bit of preparation available. Gridding up seemed normal from cross and the quick start followed by a couple of “off and run” around the corners to get ahead of the queue made use of some cross skills to. But after about eight minutes I realised that things were different as I was still on lap 1 and dealing with more technical single track, longer straights and more hill work than might be the norm for a cross race… Oh well, push on…. Next a big hill and first incident for me with the chain jamming as I had taken it to high up the cassette… This was followed by a few minutes at the side of the track being passed by many while I tried to get the chain and derailleur working (not so easy with a clutch derailleur).  Eventually back up and going the next challenge was the “c” line… which I can only say made me think each time around “if this is the easy line what on earth are the other two like”, especially as I had 2 people fall in front of me, and I came off myself on the last lap. After 24 minutes (half a cross race), I reached the start / finish line for lap 1, only another 3 laps to go I thought  and slowly started making my way back through the now strung out field. As the race drew on I got more used to the terrain and managed to work the gears to avoid any more problems…Coming around for what I thought would be my finish I realised that nobody seemed to have finished and the bell was sounding so a 4th lap required which had me finish after 1hr 53 minutes, not really in the plan for an 90 minute race… Oh well, in the end I was pleased all things considered with 36th from a field of 61, a lap down on the leader..


Mud Sweat & Gears Rd 3:  Thetford Forest - 8th May 2016

Second up was a trip to Fire Road 24 at Thetford. This time armed with a new chain (and a spare in the tool box)  all was fine with the bike and the warm up showed a mainly flat course but with plenty of bouncy single track to test the “pumping” skills (yes lots of new terms to learn) and the bac. The race kicked off with a long set of straights with minimal cornering to stretch out the masses before the first single track.  I managed to gain a few places and found myself holding on to some wheels to keep with a group mid pack. Road work seemed to be paying off on the easy bits as I could gain / regain time, but the technical sections slowly but surely took their toll and I found myself losing more than I was gaining elsewhere.  Despite that I settled into a pace and slowly but surely got back to one rider and then we worked together (as much as you can) to keep the effort up and catch and loose another rider.. In the last lap try as I might I couldn’t quite get away from my shadow, and inevitably on the last technical section I made a mistake and was passed with too little time to catch up before the line.  An enjoyable race and a real eye opener to the need to work on the skills, I was pleased to finish in a more reasonable 1hr 36 minutes and despite losing a place coming in 26th from 59 starters, to gain my first 5 ranking points of the season.


Mud Sweat & Gears Extra Event: Olympic Park -  22nd of May 2016

Next up was a trip to the Olympic Park in Stratford to try a fast and furious course which made use of the mountain bike trials adjacent to the road circuit and velodrome. Warm up laps where a bit of a shock as there were enough a and b route options that it was difficult to remember which was which and more technical elements than I had seen in either of my first two races. The first line choice however was the most significant with a steep drop on some rocks and a step half way down, making most look with trepidation… While I took a deep breath in the warm up and took the plunge (brakes on quite a bit), I elected initially in the race to go for the b line on this. Only later getting more confident and attacking it on the last 2 laps. Other A-lines where less scary, but challenging in other ways with rock gardens, small drops, etc.  Soon enough the race was on and with plenty of single track getting caught near the back definitely impacted ability to get moving as the queue to get through corners formed more or less orderly… Laps started to tick by and the slowly the technical sections seemed more manageable. Missing the a line on the big hill was however losing a few seconds each lap which told in the end as by the last lap I seemed to be on my own and cruising in… With perhaps a little too much cruising I realized the need in the end for a quick sprint to the line but kept ahead of some lively finishers to come 21st in a field of 31. 


Next up will be Hadliegh Park, where the Olympic Mountain Biking events took place, so I am expecting some even more challenging lines…

by Bryan Holland