“There will be four laps” or words to that effect and “anyone lapped will finish on the same lap as the leader”. Seemed reasonable and considering the beauty of a cyclo-cross race is you’re never dropped miles from home and if you puncture, and are still inclined, there’s a spare bike and well-wisher close to hand. Being a bit alternative too it allows host clubs any amount of options for word-play. And so it as with St. Finbarrs CC ‘Crossbarrs’ event in the wildlife park. Personally I would have preferred ‘Fotafinish’.
The width of the start line reminded me of the junior national championship at the Phoenix Park with all the riders lined out behind a single rope line and a terribly tight bottleneck 300 yards up the road. Alone, elbows resting against the barrier, stood a woman with a single white flower, awaiting the inevitable. My plan, I told anyone who would listen, was to get through the bottleneck before the crash came. Able students as they were they all dashed off after stealing my line, leaving me an under-geared understudy, but thankfully it wasn’t a crashing blow as I listened to crunching gears, rubbing tyres, shouts and cowbells around me.
Have you ever noticed the way in Top Gear they have pet names for the corners of their racetrack? Well amongst ours we had ‘bottleneck bend’, ‘the moving tree’, ‘spaghetti’ ‘whipping branch’, ‘wildlife’, ‘savannah’ and ‘Switzerland’. Switzerland was a movable feast though as obviously Aldi got a job-lot of cowbells from the winter Olympics which our spectators deftly rang to us. More ‘campanology than Campagnolo’ and glorious as that wordplay is there was little time to think. Bottleneck bend wasn’t the worse, but being the finish line it accrued the most spectators…and children. The encouragement of the adults was knowing, that of the kids less so as you heard their seniors remarks translated into enthusiastic pity. When a 6 year old shouts ‘good-man’ the writing is on the wall.
Past ‘bottleneck’ came slight relief and then down to ‘moving tree’, the first taste of front wheel slippage and tree root reminds us why we are here. Up the hill and another straight and on to ‘moving tree’. It had moved to a dustier descent which wanted you to fail, badly. The knobbly tyres foraged for grip and the brakes screamed to keep a grip tight, but you had to release. Who knew what was in the undergrowth. ‘Spaghetti’ was long, twisty and sticky until back toward the moving tree and the final suck in, dismount and run. You could only lick your lips when reunited with pedals and saddle.
The route meandered with ups, downs, twists and turns and finally around some flats. ‘I’m not concentrating’ I realised when I started pondering the number of white stakes which held up the directional tape. The flats suited, but I might make more time on the tricky stuff. Taking the corner quickly my lead rider combined with foliage to christen this corner the ‘whipping branch’. “Twak” it slapped off my helmet and did so for the rest of the race. One word for the future: secateurs. Not quite a straight line to the bunny hops but as good as. I eyed the height of the low boards, checked my gears, felt my cleats clutch the pedals, arched my back, gripped the drops, increased momentum, checked my line, bottled it and dismounted. My pride ensured a theatrical running jump, thankfully not captured for posterity.
Heading for ‘wildlife’ I was glad I had traded my shades for my normal specs. The bright light of day was shuttered out and blinking widely I sought out lions between the trees. Well it was wildlife. The dry earth showed tracks, the tracks of cross men who sought out unchartered corners amongst more marking ribbon. Tight bends beckoned and there of a sudden lay hidden, camouflaged, unforgiving mounds of earth. They bury their dead over ground here. The bike shouted its war c(x)ry and stuck it’s 48 teeth into the 3 crypts, one, slowly, after, another. I’ll try and do that better next time I grimaced and sped away, shaken. The next bunny hop forbad theatrics and after another un-picturesque dismount we returned to civilisation and came out on ‘Savanna’. Like Gazelles of old (mine was a borrowed Ridley) we sped through the low grass and around the corner, back to Bottleneck bend. The woman with the flower headband and camera had moved on. No Fotafinish for me. The children held the sign up that read 6 more laps. I sighed. Four would have been just fine!