Liam is a familiar face to me; he has been racing at the regional mountain bike events for the past year, and has recently joined the EHF Racing Team whose friendly manner and garish green hoodies are hard to miss! He was a new face to cyclocross however. Last weekend was his first time racing ‘cross and he was kind enough to share his experience with me, and you…
Since he started beating his Dad up the hills on their mountain bike holidays in Wales, Liam has taken to racing mountain bikes with relish and success. Having started out on a “bog-standard bike”, Liam was gifted a decent MTB for his 16th birthday and from there the young Ipswich lad has really got stuck into the regional and national MTB racing scene.
Liam’s work-mate, U23 World Champion duathlete Ryan Ostler, pestered Liam to give cyclocross a go. With a bike on loan from the ever-supportive MTB coach and commissaire Graham Elliot, Liam decided to join Ryan at Round 8 of the Eastern Cyclocross League at Mistley in Essex.
Liam’s preparation included riding to and from work on the bike and a trip out with his younger brother to brush up on some cyclocross-specific technique. Liam said the hop-off and hop-on was far from perfect, and the shouldering technique was somewhat hampered by a recently healed collarbone break, but despite his inexperience the first year junior was full of youthful ardour and confidence.
His expectations of a ‘cross race were “a field!”. However, after signing on – already at home and sharing a chuckle with the sign on team- Liam went out for a couple of laps on the course and came back with a different opinion – the course at Mistly is notoriously tricky, with steep, wooded descents and climbs. It was, perhaps, an unfair introduction to cyclocross, but Liam, as a mountain biker, embraced the technical nature of the course.
Peeling himself away from the chit chat of the village hall, Liam headed out to warm up and then get to the start.
I let Liam catch his breath and get wrapped up warm against the strong and chilly wind, then, over a cuppa and some top-notch homemade cake, we discussed his race. The enthusiasm and adrenaline still coursing through Liam was an absolute delight! If anyone was ever unsure about whether to race cyclocross, they needed to sit down with Liam in this moment. I am sure they would be on the start line the following week!
We started at the beginning – a good place to start – and I asked about the opening lap.
“I love starting! Sounds silly but its probably my favourite part of racing, apart from winning of course! I always make sure I get a good start. I think I got away well [I can vouch for that – like a bullet!] but there was so many people racing so I had to manoeuvre my way through the field from starting last on the grid. It sort of felt like I had a blanket over me – I didn’t know what to expect, how quick it would be or how to ride it. I just went out and rode my hardest. Coming from mountain biking I was confident with bike handling but a cross bike is soooo different to a MTB bike, it’s crazy! I had troubles getting on and off over obstacles, it was hard but each lap I got better and better and I moved up from there.”
So the race had got the big thumbs up, but what about the event as a whole? I was fairly confident that Liam’s answer would be very positive; his chatty and open manner fits right in at a cyclocross race.
“The atmosphere has been great. I’m here with my good friend Ryan Ostler who is a duathlon World Champion so he is a popular face – I’ve stuck with him and got to know people throughout the day which is good. MTB will always be my love but cyclocross has made me think there is more to biking than just rocks and suspension! It is a hell of a lot better than any road races I’ve done. I’ve loved it all, but MTB is still top for now.. I say for now, it could all change!”
I hadn’t heard a bad word about cyclocross yet – the discipline that is fast, intense, has no let ups, has nowhere to hide and requires real skill, strength and fitness. We are a strange breed, us cyclists, running ourselves ragid in the cold and mud is addictively appealing! But, what about doing it again?
“I’d love to do some more races, it will get me in tip top shape for XC next season. It is great to take part in, I’ll go to most races with Ryan as Dad isn’t so keen on them, but he always pops up to support me, never let me down my old man!”
Good old Dads!
With the race and the atmosphere discussed, we moved onto a subject of utmost importance. Cake.
“Corrrr! The cake is lush! I handed my number in and the cake was calling me, I had to get some. My lovely step mum had just got me some sweets but I thought two bits of cake can’t hurt so I had to tuck in. Loved it! Wish they had cake at XC races, I’d be a great customer!”
With a roast dinner and Downton Abbey calling, I left Liam with his cake and headed home sporting a big grin – it is interminably awesome to talk to someone whose enjoyment and passion for the sport is positively bubbling over. It is infectious.
After the aforementioned roast dinner (and before Downton) I e-mailed Liam to ask how he was feeling now.
“I’m ever so tired. Around 5 I didn’t think I would make it to 8, but I’ve got Run Fat Boy Run on [inspiration if ever it were needed!] so I’ll power through with a good old brew! My legs didn’t hurt as the race was so quick – one hour is quick for me as I’ve been doing lots of endurance base training just lately. My lungs, on the other hand, hurt like mad! Haven’t done much high intensity stuff yet.
Over all I thought it was awesome, no one was disrespectful, everyone was great and I loved every second off it! Finishing my first ever cross race was a bit of a relief but I had a great day with everyone and and met lots of new people!
I’d just like to say a big thank you to Graham Elliot for lending me the bike, Dad and my Step Mum Lou for the help and encouragement and my good man Ryan Ostler for helping me out today.”
Just when you thought it was all fluff and fairies, Liam ended with a classic –
“Cyclocross is so hard and brutal! I always thought it was for roadies too scared to do XC but today I learnt it is more than that!”
Thank you Liam for a great insight into what it is like to race cyclocross for the first time.
In conclusion, cyclocross is hard but awesome and the cake and company is first class!
No excuses really, get out there and give it a go!