Round nine marks an important time in the CX season. To start with every rider needs nine rounds under his or her belts to get a final standing next year. Out of fourteen rounds your best nine count. That said I don't think any LBRCC racer has managed to complete, well finish all nine. Though a good few are on eight.
The other? it marks the end of a continuous two months of racing with a welcome two week break.
Round nine is in deepest Berkshire. Hosted by local boys GS Henley, it's a course that runs though country park and a derelict golf course. I'm not sure if this was planned or not, but the sandy Henley race coincides with the day of the famous Koksijde cross race over in that there Belgium. If you know about Koksijde you'll know what I mean.
We arrive on course after a hour and a half drive. From the car the course looks like a little gem, undulating, cropped grass and willows overhanging the lines.
Despite it's locale all the usual suspects are here, along with a strong London League contingent. A nippy race is right on the cards. So how it looks isn't going to factor one little bit when we're underway.
Like the previous week we opt to walk the course and warm up instead on faster paths and roads.
Technically this course is a piece of cake, though not for all. There are four sand pits, single and double hurdles, a ditch and some changes of under tyre terrain. The walk once again proves invaluable in particular where to jump off and run are spotted, it's so easy to think that you have to ride everything after all it's a bike race, but this is the cross in cyclo cross.
Next we stand track side to watch Andrew and Colin set off in Vet40. We wait until we've seen them get round lap one safely before setting off to get race ready ourselves.
The air is still, but it's bitterly cold so like last week it's all going on. And a liberal dollop of heat spray and warming oil is applied like undercoat.
After some hill warm ups and sprints track side we saunter off to the start area to await our call up.
Myself Darren and Miles are pretty well next to each other on the grid, with new boy Barry at the back yet to earn any race credits. The thirty second countdown is announced and we wait ready to tackle the climb that starts right on the start line!
It goes and I get a perfect start. Up the hill I go following the green line. After just a few yards of flat the course heads off on a twisty undulating path. At the first turn there's a crash, Darren goes past as I trackstand waiting for a clearing in the maelstrom of fallen riders. The crash has put a nuisance distance between us, but it's early days yet. I ride on with Darren and a few others ahead. At the first set of hurdles, the doubles I gain a little. Then at the double deep sand pits a perfect dismount and remount reverses the gap.
Strangely it's not comfortable being ahead. Like the Ickneild race I'm alone and Darren is in a small chasing group behind.
It's not comfortable anyway. I can't find it on this race. Whilst I know I'm handy in the singletrack and the sand offers no problem they're only a small part of the race. I'm like a car stuck in third. No matter how hard I try I can't find any pace.
Darren is however behind, the way I'm feeling I can only hope the status quo remains the same.
The course isn't suiting me. There isn't anywhere I can dig in. It's one turn after another. One obstacle after another. It's pedal brake turn, followed by pedal brake dismount. It is of course the same for everyone. The only place to get some in is on the climbs!
We're coming up to the penultimate lap and bad news. Darren has launched from his small group and is closing at a speed I can't out run. He goes past and I latch on like a heat seeking missile. The wheel is welcome, though I'm sure it wasn't meant to be
We're both having an awkward race. Darren has gone past, but hasn't dropped me. So he's either got something saved or is spent after chasing. I think though we're both just plain old fashioned knackered and can't think straight.
The course has dried out somewhat so that's making life a little easier, but if either of us were to slip or fall off the other would take honours.
Side by side we approach the final hurdle, a real bitch of an obstacle. At the bottom of a descent, hit it too fast and it'll end up messy. It's also high and over the other side there's a ditch to negotiate. Now neither of us are tall fellas and we hit it steady sharing mumbles. My extra 1/2" height advantage gives me the edge clearing the hurdle and ditch in one go. I hold Darren off through a back breaking muddy section, but Darren's back as we hit the climb to go over the line for the bell lap.
Despite the tiredness you have to have your wits about you. And never more so than now.
Locked in a slow motion battle with Darren on the climb, I spot the Rainbow jersey approaching with the eyes in the back of my head. We're about to be lapped with twenty metres to go by the current World Champion. I actually shout across to Darren the exact words 'here we go' as the Champion cuts us in two.
Race over with the chequered flag within smelling distance.
I take honours again, but when the results came out later that night our lap averages were exactly the same Darren and myself both at 11.05 per lap.
Cold and tired and wrapped in all I own I watch the start of seniors.
Just want to say at this point that as the club chairman I have never been so proud. Standing trackside I saw my boys all holding their own well within the first half of the pack. Three green jersey's looking good and business like with some of the very best from two leagues.
I couldn't stay until the end as I was so cold, but well done guys.