We’re in a rental van, full of bicycles and rucksacks. It’s pouring rain. We look at each other. Chuckle nervously.
– “It’s beginning, I’m starting to feel the nerves.”
– “You know what, I think that’s why we do it.”
For the round 12th of the London Cross League, BigFoot has organized an amazing event. They’ve got all the jazz, cowbells and sausage rolls; banks, hurdles and mud for days.
And we’re about to race all together for the first time. Proud and terrified. But mostly terribly excited.
We’re lined up, there won’t be any gridding. The girls are on the right, I’m on the left next to Stef and Mon, our Brixton club mates. My heart pinches. The guys are there, everyone is drenched, smiling, wishing each other luck. And within an eye blink, we’re at it. Not thinking about anything else than the mud, that drag, keeping on moving.
Clare and I take on a great start, we squeeze past the first corner amongst the first 4 ladies. There are no nerves anymore. The mud is fast, it’s not one of these days where you can’t make any progress. But it’s also deadly slippery. I crash half way through the first lap. Chain is down. Shifters are off the grid. Without thinking about it, I just smack them back into place and jump back on. Clare’s taken a bit of distance, she’s smashing it.
The guys are all around the course. And man, they can heckle.
Andy and Jon are at the top of a ridge:
– “GO ON, HOP BACK ON!”
Ouch. Oh shit. That hurt.
– “YOU’VE GOT SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOUR SKINSUIT”
Double shit. I’ve ripped my skinsuit remounting. Massive whole, inner right thigh, it looks ridiculous. I might as well be naked. And it’s the bloody second lap.
I still find it incredible how quickly you take decisions when racing. The bike still works, I’m still in a good position. Stopping is just not an option.
Aoife catches up with me. I feel so happy to see her. We ride together for a bit, but I’m already pretty beaten up and she distances me over the course of the 3rd lap. I’ve punctured my front tyre. It couldn’t be more flat than that. Gives me a pretty good anchor in the mud, but it’s not ideal for speed. Alex is on the side.
– “ALEX I’VE GOT A FLAT, AM I BREAKING MY BIKE OR WHAT ?!”
– “NAH YOU’RE GOOD !”
I’m pretty sure he had no idea what I just said. But he said I’m fine, so I’m probably fine.
The rest of the race is tough. I feel slow, I’m in pain, the rain won’t stop. I can see Clare on the return of a long straight and scream some encouragements at her.
The nerves are back. It hurts, I’d like to stop.
It’s the last lap, I quickly look back. Only men for at least 10 meters. There’s just the spiral to go. Then the hurdles. Then this long straight with all the headwind in the world. And then the two super sketchy descends. And then the place where I crashed. Then the return. Then the little path. And then the friendliest face in cyclocross, John Mullineaux the commissaire extraordinaire, screaming well done at everyone. It’s over.
We run to each other, it’s a mess, everyone’s face has disappeared in mud. The guys are smiling through the roof. Some highfives, some fist bumps, some hugs. All the helmets get mixed up, all the jackets get mixed up, everyone looks after each other, it’s the friendliest chaos in the world. Clare came 2nd, Aoife came 3rd, I’m 4th, Petra is 5th and Sophie’s 7th. That’s incredible.
We will spend the rest of the afternoon planning the year ahead, red cheeks and frozen feet. Excited that the racing’s started.
Today more than any other day, cross was boss.
But I think the #5THLDN women came very close second. Man, I’m excited for 2016.