As usual, the Welsh cyclocross season passed in a flash. It feels like barely a week or two ago that I headed to the first round at Llanishen in the autumn sunshine, and here we are just days before Christmas having completed the last race at Pembrey. This season will be remembered as having two halves. The first was bathed in the Indian summer, temperatures hitting twenty degrees in November and giving me a state of confusion when I got slightly sunburnt at a cyclocross race. That’s not supposed to happen! The second half of the season drowned in a series of Atlantic storms that are still raging across the country as I write this. For various reasons, or maybe excuses, I missed six weeks of racing in the worst of the weather, and headed down to Pembrey determined to enjoy the last day.
Pembrey Country Park never disappoints. Situated on the coast, the site of a wartime munitions factory, there are plenty of options for ‘cross courses. We were served with a longish lap which headed west for about a kilometre along a hard packed, double-tracked surface before doubling back through the dunes on an apparently wide, sandy, undulating track. This was more challenging than it first appeared, with soft sand claiming the unwary and short runs if you got stalled in the sand. The final challenge before the finish line was a run-up a set of steps and a slip-slide down a steep sandy dune with multiple lines – the fastest being the most hazardous high line with hidden holes. Later, there were many photos of riders flying through the air minus bikes on this section.
Once again a large field formed at the start line and pounded away on that long road stretching down to the far end of the course. A big ring sprint, something rarely seen in the last few weeks of sludge. The first couple of laps thinned the field out, and passing through the dunes became easier. I settled into my normal rhythm, and the first time I checked my watch I was over halfway through the race. There was no Downhill World Champion for me to chat to this time, although I became slightly concerned that I identified Magnus Backstedt’s backside as it sped away from me on the fast part of the course. Was it his riding style that I identified, or am I so familiar with ‘the view from the rear’ that I know everybody’s derriere?
Perhaps the unique selling point of this event would be the sandy sections, reminiscent of Koksijde in Belgium. There is a knack to riding through sand which can be summed up in one word – momentum. Carry speed and momentum into a soft sandy section and you’ll coast through. Hesitate and you’ll stall. The fastest riders gave a masterclass in line choice and speed, until they found the path blocked by, ahem, me. But one of the great joys of ‘cross is that, having had a ‘robust’ conversation about line choice out on the course, an apology can be given and accepted and all forgiven.
The race finished in sunshine, although we had raced through torrential rain and hail. Bikes thrown into cars and vans, sandy kit shaken out and season’s greetings passed on to these people who for a few months of the year share the same experiences and adventures. And who look forward to the next season with glee, forgetting the mid-race misery, the mechanical disappointments, the anaerobic burn. All that stays in the memory is the sunshine through the dunes, not the hail smacking off your helmet and instantly making you a shivering wreck.
Full of enthusiasm from this race I went home and instantly entered Lovecrossed. Just to keep me going until next September.
Jacob Phelps won the race overall, with Clare Dallimore being lead female. I puffed over the line 32nd in my V40 category, two laps down on the leaders, determined to meet the next season fitter and more streamlined. Now, where are those mince pies?
Full results at www.cyclocrosswales.co.uk
Photographs by Craig Fawkes.