My first National Trophy and my first wooden spoon (which I’m classing as a win!)

I’ve been doing cyclocross now for around 5 years, with a year’s break during the forgettable 2020. What started out as a medium for winter fitness training, very much as a powerful triathlete with zero bike handling skills, has over the years slowly become a more competitive affair. With all the guff life has thrown at me in the last 18 months, my power has actually gone down significantly. But having been out more with the Velobants crew on gravel rides (which may or may not involve large quantities of beer), I have rather surprisingly found that my handling skills have improved immeasurably.

Having left Central League in 2020 and been too late in the 2021 season to join Northwest League, I have amused myself by picking and choosing whichever races I fancy at whichever leagues I want. I’ve done a West Midlands one (did well, not much banter), several Northwest ones (did well, a bit more banter and some prizes), and now I can say I’ve done my first National Trophy event at Houghton-le-Spring! Something the hyperanxious old me would never have dared to do, for fear of being last and making a tit out of myself.

So how was it? Well, first off I was definitely NOT in it to win it. For a start, the majority of the senior field were U23, meaning around 15 years younger than me. Gawd that makes me feel old! And lots of team names I’d heard of, which is always a daunting prospect. Although I had joined Macc Wheelers by then, I was still racing under Velobants, and so I had to do the most “professional” job I could with “Beer, Bike, Bants” written on my back 😀

Like any true triathlete, I did a Parkrun sandwich the morning before, running from my aunt’s house to Durham Parkrun and back – around 10 miles. But at least I countered that with a long walk back to Durham and a big Greek late lunch with my cousin Gabi.

Having stayed at my friend Hayley’s the night before, we went into Newcastle for brunch on the morning, where I had a big black coffee and a bowl of loaded porridge. Still trying to like peanut butter… nope. After saying our goodbyes, I drove a whole 15 minutes to the venue and befriended the registration team, who offered to take my jacket off me on the start line. Bloody love northerners! Managed a one lap recce – intentionally no more, as I had no pit bike or crew, so whatever mud was picked up was staying put. There was a LOT of off-camber, a steep drop and a couple of climbs, a set of (in my opinion) impossibly enormous hurdles, and a fair amount of zapping flat grass. But the biggest obstacles were an off-camber muddy hairpin descent, and a short sharp bridge with about one bike length at the top. The marshalls at the off-camber hairpin were wonderful, sensing my nerves and lack of skills, and talking me through what they had witnessed working/ending in disaster. I think I may have given them an empty promise of a beer afterwards 🙂 The bridge? Well, I did not make it up hahaha.

So onto the start line, and with the 80% rule in place (where riders are pulled before they are lapped) I was not expecting to last more than a couple of laps at best. Maybe 20 minutes into the 40 minute race? Anyway, I was gridded I think second-to-last rider. The commisaire could clearly tell I was a noob and likely to be pulled, so we had some banter going and he exclaimed that I had “the dirtiest bike of the entire weekend” – well, at least I won something?!

Richard Howes Photography

I reckon I managed to stay with (at the back counts as with…) the pack until the first major corner, and then (obviously) my legs fell off. Cue settling into a more appropriate pace, and I had a couple of stragglers with me. One girl got a mechanical, so rapidly went backwards, but then rejoined and caught me a lap or 2 in. I reckon although I was last by that point, I managed to hold her within 50-100m for most of the rest of the race, falling off only on the last of my laps. When I eventually did get pulled, it was not as predicted – I looked at my watch and I’d made it to 37 minutes! So I wheeled George II around to the start/finish and watched some of the speedier lasses go through. Very inspirational. Unfortunately I couldn’t hang around for the finish and podium as I had a one-year-old’s birthday to get to, but I went back to Durham a last placed but very happy woman.

Positives:

  • Entered a race I previously would never have dared to.
  • Bossed the off-camber hairpin descent every damn time. May have been slower than others, but who cares?
  • After bailing on the bridge for the first 3 laps, I nailed it on the last 2. Chuffed to pieces! Proof that I DO have the power to get up, it’s just the confidence (and perhaps some skill) that needs work.
  • Despite coming last, I gained some points for showing up. National points. Boom!

Opportunities:

  • Enter more National level CX events! What is stopping me?! Only myself.
  • Work on confidence in my own power. It IS there.
  • Get a pit bike.
  • Rope someone into pit crew duties! 😀
  • One season of solid training should massively help to marry the new handling skills and help me to achieve more.

Until next year!