Words: Rod Fountain
Adrenaline, alcohol and love make you say and do (or at least promise to do) some pretty daft stuff. Just think about how this trinity of influences has changed the direction of your life over the years, for better or worse. Maybe the scars on your body are the result of amorous encounters but it’s more likely they’re from crashing bikes or doing bonkers stuff on the way home from the pub. Ever laid broken on the ground wishing you could turn the clock back 30 seconds and re-think that line, gap or move? Course you have.
In the Dirt Magazine feature that I wrote about the Rapha Supercross event (my CX baptism) I made a finish-line claim about entering more races and said as much to Mike Rose, Dirt’s editor, on the phone between hasty gulps of restorative air. True to my word I’ve since endured two other races and can’t blame it on booze, so I guess it’s either love or adrenaline that’s kept me driving to taped off bits of field on cold, wet winter days with a big smile on my face.
The last Jake Diary was all about keeping busy in Steve McQueen’s ‘waiting room’ and how no matter where you live you can get a proper buzz on a CX bike because they’ve eschewed (except for disc brakes) the evolution that took the Klunker on its journey from Mount Tamalpais to the brutality of the current World Cup DH circuit. But despite the waiting being fun there’s really only one thing, in my mind, that a CX bike is made for: racing. I’ve raced BMX, DH, enduro, 4X and cycle speedway and all are brutal in ways only the initiated can understand, but CX combines that brutality with a fair bit of on-track comedy banter that has me laughing as much as I’m pedalling.London X League round 9
I was too knackered to notice it at the Rapha event but at Round 9 of the London X League (londonxleague.co.uk), my second and much less glam’ race, at the brilliantly named Gunpowder Park in Essex it dawned on me.
With last lap smug confidence I was sizing up a pack of ‘roadies’ as we entered a small descent into an off-camber hairpin when number 189 (Jamie Bishop), a veteran of DH and 4X I’d been battling with since the start hammered the lot of us off the brakes, claiming my line and forcing me into the tape as he bellowed ’do they still call that a t-bone in 4X?’ My kind of racing!
There can’t be many Round 9 riders who wouldn’t choose ‘muddy’ as the adjective du jour but I’m quickly learning that whilst inclement conditions might kill attendance at a DH race it’s just how it goes in CX; after all, you don’t go surfing and expect to stay dry. But even this doesn’t dampen the comedy and it exposes the sinister side of the CX racer and how the ever-present mud can be turned to into an advantage. The marshall at the start/finish asked us to call out our muddied, unreadable numbers each lap and I heard people (half) joking about giving the numbers of their long gone rivals just to cause a bit of chaos in the results spreadsheet.Round 11
My next outing between the tape was to Round 11 at the legendary, but no less wet and muddy, Herne Hill Velodrome in SE London, a blissful 10 minute cycle from my house. OK, so you don’t ride on the fabled banking, except down it to connect two horrifically muddy sections, but you definitely feel special and connected to the illustrious history of British cycling when you race there.
It was here I realised how tight this whole scene is, and also how simple it is. It is no criticism and I’m as guilty as the rest but at a DH race there’s an awful lot of BS as people very earnestly discuss lines they’ll never hit and then bellyache endlessly about how the psi lurking in various parts of their bike is to blame for a crap result.
…people very earnestly discuss lines they’ll never hit and then bellyache endlessly about how the psi lurking in various parts of their bike is to blame for a crap result.
The mud I’ve come to expect from a CX race was there but also a refreshing lack of enthusiasm for any kind of practicing. Top of most racers’ agendas seemed to be coffee from the army trailer and a genuine zeal for sitting around and talking nonsense which I had the pleasure of doing with Kona Chamberlain’s Matt Webber who caught me oggling his beautiful Major Jake; he then shared his wisdom about the benefits of starting a race with dry feet.
With over 120 riders lining up for the Vets / Seniors / Womens race there was always going to be first corner carnage and some of it sounded expensive. I heard, “How’s them carbon spokes working out for ya?” after a horrible twanging noise rippled through the pack followed by, “Not well mate” as pedals found wheel. In the very same corner, someone who knows their movie history and can spot a flat pedal amongst the pack said, “Keep away from Ben Hur” after spotting my gold flats and their potential to inflict the same sort of damage to a wheel as Ben Hur’s modified chariot did to his rival’s. The next opportunity to get mud on my teeth from grinning was at the sight of people trying to get down a descent using the ugly old ‘loads of front brake, feet off, balls on the stem’ technique which I’ve not seen in ages.
The next opportunity to get mud on my teeth from grinning was at the sight of people trying to get down a descent using the ugly old ‘loads of front brake, feet off, balls on the stem’ technique…
After the chuckling had stopped and the pack began to string out I found my targets: a gaggle of faster lads who I was determined to try and stay with and hopefully pass, for a minute at least, on one of the more tech’ sections. Braking after a really fast section alongside the fence at the top of the Velodrome’s banking the tape funnelled us into a hairpin around a post with standing room only. I lined it up, got up the inside and went for the brakes only to have the rear cable snap, making me to t-bone this poor guy and ditching us both in Brixton mud. ‘I lost my back brake!’ I offered up, waiting for the punch. Picking himself up and with a grin, he said, “That’s what I say when I take someone out, ya bastard!”.
Except for the soul-destroying infield section the Herne Hill track was fun to ride and a huge contributing factor was this lake that had formed at the foot of a small descent after a slippery left. One of the marshals was squirting washing up liquid into it so it was not only hub deep but fragrant, foamy and no place for caution. Most people were gunning it so snappers and the baying crowd were all over it and I heard one bloke shout, “Surf’s up” as he got barrelled by a standing wave the elites threw up. Someone behind me bellowed, “You need a fooking ark for this, not a bike.”
I lined it up, got up the inside and went for the brakes only to have the rear cable snap, making me to t-bone this poor guy and ditching us both in Brixton mud.
But racing’s racing and no matter how many comedians you encounter it’s all about trying to drop and not be dropped. I managed to get top 15 in my class this time and for all the banter, off-track and on, I was agonising over the results sheet the following week and working out where I could’ve pulled back the seconds that might have put me into the holy grail of the top 10.
Whilst winter’s clearly not over, the CX season almost is and in yet another surprise dished up by my infatuation with this sport I find myself uncharacteristically looking forward to next September, not just because it’s my birthday month, but because the the whole league starts again and the waiting will once again be over.Check out the previous editions of Rod’s Jake Diaries: Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here. Thank you kindly to Kona World for supplying the Jake cyclocross bike and giving Rod all those laughs!