The final round of the Western League, Lovecrossed took place at the exquisite Chavenage House, an Elizabethan manor house near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, and in a burst of enthusiasm following the final round of the Welsh series I had entered it, hoping for the same fast and furious racing that Pembrey had provided. The price had almost put me off – £19 for forty minutes of racing? Let’s treat it as a day out, I reasoned, with the organisers providing big screens to watch the World Championships, caterers, trade stands and a course signed off by elite riders.
The next thing to almost deter me was the weather – a 120-mile trip in ferocious rain and wind, which only eased as we approached the Cotswolds and Chavenage House itself. The day proved bright and precipitation-free, with the rain making an appearance only once we headed west again, back into the gloom of a wet, Welsh winter.
Duly signed-in and kitted up, I headed onto the course for a recce lap. A short stretch of tarmac past the finishing line led onto a mysteriously grip-free section of gravel. This very short part of the course caused me no end of trouble – I just could not turn the bike on it. And since there was a hairpin bend on the gravel, this meant I had to completely stop the bike, lift and turn it 180o and then carry on pedalling. This gravel may be the only example of a non-Newtonian road surface known to humankind.
From the gravel it was a short section of wooded singletrack, enjoyably fast and twisty, and then into the field. The muddy field. The endless, claggy, sticky, muddy field. I can’t overstate how interminable this section was. Once I had cleared the mud from my frame I carried on for a few more minutes and entered a muddy, sloppy lane, which threw up leaf litter to deposit on top of the tacky mud from the never-ending field. Another clear-out of the frame and I rode over the line. It would be a long forty minutes with no spare bike, I thought.
My category started at 10:40 a.m., with a smaller field than I expected, but I am used to the single ‘senior’ race in the Welsh League with 150+ starters. Roughly fifty of us, veterans, women and juniors pounded away from the start line and into that muddy field. Up the sloppy lane and half the field threw their bikes into the pits and jumped on the spare. After only one-third of a lap, I continued on, willing my bike not to gather mud and detritus so quickly, and hoping that my rear mech could cope with it. The field thinned out after a lap or so and the race became a procession. The only time I overtook another rider was when they were clearing out mud, and the same in reverse when I was off the bike. Despite having spent most of my years racing ‘cross in wet Wales, this event must have been a first for me in that I spent more time cleaning my bike than riding and after just four laps, less than 8km, I rode across the finish line somewhere in the bottom half of the field. At least the bike was intact, which was more than could be said of another of the Welsh contingent, Iain, who snapped his rear mech ten metres from the end.
A change of clothing, some food and hot tea, and we piled into the ballroom of the house to watch Sven, Wout, Lars and the rest show us how it should be done, on a big screen in front of a roaring fire.
A good day out overall at a beautiful location. And one note to myself for the future – when a race has been signed off by elite riders, always remember that they can change bikes twice a lap.