Enticed by the thought of a new type of urban racing, Juliet Elliott signed up for the Morvelo Citycross in Halifax last weekend. A change of venue didn't stop it being fast, masochistic fun.
It was billed as ‘a new type of urban bicycle race’ so when I first heard about Morvelo’s Citycross event, I knew I had to get involved. Blasting around a listed, decaying mill in Halifax, negotiating manmade obstacles and barriers? Count me in! Fast paced, technical urban racing, with a beer tent, hog roast and cheering spectators? Ooh, go on!
But rather unfortunately for the organisers and those already signed up, the main draw of this unique event was cruelly snatched away. At the final moment, the owners of the mill changed their mind about hosting the race resulting in a last minute relocation. Sadly the city element of the cross race was out the window and we were back to racing on grass, dirt and a short cobbled section at a disused tip.
In other words, classic, gritty British cyclocross.
For those of you who’ve never tried cyclocross, let me tell you, that though fun, it can be very tough indeed. An all out sprint for the duration of the race, slogging your way through boggy mud, shouldering your bike to scramble up slippery hills and pedaling furiously up mud slicked slopes can be a real lung burner to say the least. Competitors can be fiercely strong, in fact, almost superhuman if you ask me.
I’ve only ever done one proper cyclocross race and it nearly killed me. My poor heart and lungs screamed for mercy from the moment I set off. This time, knowing that pedaling on grass for half an hour at maximum capacity is not my forte, I lined up with trepidation at the start.
As I surveyed the crowd of women and girls around me, I noticed a lot of lean, toned, serious-looking ladies sipping on energy drinks, eyes flinty with determination. I knew that I was going to get my arse kicked so I decided to look at the competition in a new way; I would see how many people I could beat, rather than see how near the top I could come.
Due to a mechanical problem, I didn’t have the opportunity to ride the course in advance of my race, but from what I could tell, we would set off with a sprint towards a sandpit, slog it up and down a few hills and some pave, take a detour through a wet field and then complete each lap with either a jump or a couple of berms. Keen to get going, I positioned myself at the front and decided to go for it as hard as I could.
We whizzed through the sandpit, a mass of Lycra-clad limbs jostling for the best line, and sprinted up the first incline, tightly packed and all eager to lead out. I managed to get out swiftly and hold my own as we descended the first grassy knoll to the switch back in the field. Powering my way up and over the bridge, I grinned my way round the corner then shouldered my bike to clamber up the short, steep, comically slippery hill. A fast descent of the pavé, a couple of climbs and berms and lap one was complete.
But the smile was short-lived and lap two was when the mutiny occurred.My body had given its all and was not happy that I wanted to go round the course another time.
The first loop had seen top riders such as Adela Carter, Louise Robinson and Isla Rowntree cement their places at the front of the pack while I’d been furiously pedaling further back, just about managing to cope with my screaming lungs. But as we went into our second lap, I began to see more flashes of the green Hope skinsuits pass me as I grimaced and gurned my way around the course. It became somewhat less fun when I could taste blood in my mouth but I continued to slog away, determined to complete the race in as short a time as I was able.
As half the field lapped me, I saw former British National Junior champion, Abby Mae Parkinson shoot past me with a pained expression on her face. Cyclocross makes everyone grimace in agony, but either some people are better at dealing with pain, or they’re just able to ride very quickly whilst ignoring it.
As I heard the tannoy announce the victory of Louise Robinson, with Isla Rowntree and Adela Carter cossing the line close behind her, I dug deep and tried to do the same. As my only aim had been to complete the race and not come last, I was happy to have survived and beaten a few people to boot.
By the time of the finals later that afternoon, the mud I’d struggled through was even deeper, the pavé had grown treacherously slippery and the final (optional) jump had claimed a victim.
Undeterred, the women lined up for a last chance to shake up their standing in the race. From the outset, Adela Carter was looking strong and she powered her way through the race, creeping up a position and finishing second. Louise Robinson again proved unstoppable, taking the top podium spot for a second time with three times National Cyclocross champ, Isla Rowntree in third.
A big thank you to Morvelo for doing such a great job with the course in so little time and for creating such a fun atmosphere. Thank to all the children at Vulpine Corner for pelting competitors with cabbages and marshmallows. And well done to all the incredible competitors, not least the tough little kids who took time out from launching their missiles to show us all how strong they are.
I have the utmost respect for the talented, tenacious women who fight for supremacy in this tough event; the level of fitness and skill required in cyclocross is off the hook. If I compete again, and that’s a big if, I now realize just how much hard work I’d have to put in to be any kind of contender against such strong athletes.