You can tell that you are getting old when a venue is described as ‘new,’ but you have raced there many times, albeit in a different century. Arriving at Dare Valley Country Park for the Bike Doctor Dares to Cross, there were several discussions running among the old-timers. We talked about the fact that the venue is a reclaimed slag heap, and that races tended to be muddy, gritty and rocky, and not overly pleasant. We talked about the Five Valleys ‘Cross event, a fore-runner of the current trend in cyclocross sportives. We talked of the time that Big Phil rugby-tackled a motorbike rider who had ridden straight through a kids’ race. Good times? Different times, certainly. And then we headed out towards the course, and found that Dare Valley Country Park had changed beyond recognition. The barely disguised slag heap had gone to be replaced by mixed woodland and pleasant vistas. And where did the pond come from? None of us remembered Dare Valley having a pond.
Along with the landscape, the racing has changed. Gone are the days when fifteen of us would slog around for an hour and know our result before the end of the race. Yesterday, the Bike Doctor event had a huge turnout for a Welsh league race, with over 150 starters in the main race, and several people being turned away after arriving minutes before the start.
The course was proper cyclocross. From the start-line there were a handful of fast corners winding down the hill, which suited my mountain biker instincts. Then a short boggy run across hurdles and a small ditch, before the course meandered its way back up the hill, through the bog in a couple of places, which didn’t suit my fat, unfit instincts.
A little later than expected, the start whistle was blown, and the mass of racers squeezed through the first few corners. I always need a couple of laps to get myself up to speed, and this week was no different. I was finding that I could make places down the hill on every lap, and would then lose some of them as I struggled to find grip through the mud back up the hill. With no spare bike in the pits, I had made a conscious decision to shoulder the bike through the muddiest patch for fear of clogging up my only bike. Once through this patch, I was finding my WTB Crosswolf tyres were fine, until I slid out with a bump on the fastest corner just before the finish. My wounded pride was assuaged by the sight of plenty of others on the ground in the same place later on.
With so many riders on course, the whole race felt congested, but with plenty of room to pass. The final lap found me alongside two Cardiff JIF riders and, knowing that one of them would climb the hill quicker than me, I plunged down the hillside as hard as possible making a gap of maybe fifteen metres, only to slip while hurdling the small ditch and lose the gap I had made. Of course, JIF made it up the hill before me and we finished in a panting mess.
The general opinion was that the course was tough – when is it not tough? – and the Bike Doctor Dares to Cross had been an excellent success. Not only was the racing great, but the venue was welcoming and coffee and bacon butties were fantastic as well.
Provisional results are that Ben Simmons of Team Charge Bikes won the event overall, with Clare Hoskins of Cardiff JIF being the lead woman. I was in 74th place, consistently mid-field.
The series moves to Brecon next week, 18th October, for the Beacons Cross. Record numbers are predicted for this event, and entry is online because it has been upgraded to a Category A race. Entry will be available on the day if it hasn’t filled up online.
Full results and calendar at www.cyclocrosswales.co.uk
Photographs by Felicity Parker.
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