This weekend just gone was Rapha Supercross rounds one and two so naturally, I entered having not raced or ridden off-road since Hoghton Tower! I packed my club racing jersey (shouts to Manchester Wheelers!), my wellies and made the trip to Halifax for the weekend. I was so excited at the same time as fully prepared to get schooled by all the other incredible women racing at the same time.
Shibden Hall has beautiful grounds: a boating lake, an old tudor house, parklands and this weekend, a cyclocross course winding around its ample acreage. Key features of the course included off-camber, tight corners, a gravel climb, three sets of steps and 18th century stone. Beside the house was the Supercross Village: home to The Porkery, Mutley Crepes, Streatza Pizza and many other vendors dishing out some top quality tucker over the two days.
My race wasn’t until 12:45 on day one so I had some time to kill since I got there around 8:30. I hung around the Rapha shop, catching up with friends and meeting new people who’d I’d previously only known on social media (Martin Cox, Jon Baines, Jack Chevell, Ollie Butterwick, Neil Phillips, Sarah Grimshaw – you all rock!) which was a real novelty and great to put a face to a twitter handle.
I looked down on the course from the wall I spent many hours on and realised that as much as there were minimal hills and no rocks, there are plenty of tight corners snaking around the off-camber, a climb which, from a distance, looks harmless but in actual fact is a real test of endurance. There are stairs around the corner straight after the gravel and a tight corner into the finish. As usual, my question to myself was, “what am I doing here?”
The first race on Saturday was my second ever CX race and I feel like I looked like a complete newbie too. I wasn’t worried about coming last – this was a technical course and I have no expectations. Part of me wanted to come last so that I could prove to myself and everyone watching and reading this that it’s all about fun. The absolute highlight for this race was the women got their own race! Such a treat and one I really appreciated that’s for sure.
Fun: an interesting term to describe such a cardio-heavy work out on a bike. Around every corner I was petrified of sliding, up every little dip in the grass I wondered whether I’d gain traction to get back up, at the sight of the start of the gravel climb I wondered whether I’d have to stop half way to catch my breath, approaching the hurdles I considered practicing my dismounting but with the spectators watching, I decided now was not the time – I’ll stop, dismount, run, jump, stop, remount.
I managed to survive without falling off or getting too muddy (disappointed about that part!) and I eagerly awaited Marta who was still out on the course. Time passed and I began to think that maybe she had a mechanical but soon enough she rolled around and she finished with the best smile on her face! We celebrated with a hug and I won’t lie, it was a bit emotional. I was so glad to have ridden with her in her first CX race. There were three DNFs in that race which reduced the finishing field to 24. I came 21st and Marta came in 23rd.
The real fun began when I got to throw tequila at riders participating in the night race. We had Mike in gold tights, a poncho and a sombrero which just added to his Mexican authenticity flowing from his facial hair. Behind him, a table with shots of tequila, me and Marta armed with bidons full of tequila. The deal was you can do the entire course without taking a shot or come through the Tequila Shortcut and cut about half of it out. Niall was on my bike with flat pedals and a skinsuit coming through the tequila shortcut every lap. He went on to secure third place having never ridden CX before – incredible!
Round 2 couldn’t have been further different from round 1. Overnight, the course had a little shower and after three races already on it, it was well and truly carved. I cursed everyone practicing on it thinking “it’s already bad you guys, I’d really appreciate it if you left some grass for me to grip on”. They obviously didn’t hear my thoughts and carried on as normal, adding to my nerves with every lap they completed.
For this race, I wore the Rapha Supercross jersey with the padded shoulder – that was a novelty! Given the cooler temperatures, I wore a sleeveless merino base layer. I signed on, grabbed my number and timing chip and slipped on my kit. I was already apprehensive and thought, “I’ve only ever DNF’d a running race so I need to finish this at the very least – just get around”. Unfortunately, we rode with the veteran men, which I surprisingly found quite intimidating. I’m sure they’re all lovely guys but I felt pressure not to slow them around corners or to let them run up the steps past me so I didn’t annoy them. We were lucky in round 1 to have had our own dedicated women’s race. The field was also much smaller for women this time – there were just 15 women as opposed to the 27 that signed on in round 1.
The corners were getting progressively worse and the racing lines were becoming bogged so after lap 2, I called it day purely because it stopped becoming fun and became more of a test of survival than I was prepared for. I don’t take a DNF as a loss or failure but more as a bit of a kick to force myself onto the road less travelled on my CX bike. I’m going to sign up to the next Fluent in Cross course and just make a conscious effort to do some bridleways and trails on my bike. I need to practice dismounting and unclipping my “other” foot as I corner. The elite riders make it look so easy!
I’m so happy I went along though and I had so much fun. I was able to support my friend, learn new skills, realise I need to gain even more skills and to always make sure I have fun. Don’t worry about coming last – take it as a learning experience. You don’t need to win or be the best at something in order to have fun. It sounds cliché but it’s the taking part that counts so I want to see more of you ladies having a go at the next race I’m at.
The final round of Rapha Supercross is in London on 14 November. Be there (We can cross the line last together if you like!).