It’s that time of year again. The nights are drawing in, the ground will shortly disintegrate into gloopy quagmire and my heart rate will go through the roof. Yep. Its the cross season. There’s nothing like blazing around a muddy field for 50 minutes to remind you what all that training is for (and what pain is all about). The Welsh season kicked off in some style at Llantarnam with large fields across the categories. For our family, the race was quite a major event. Evelyn, aged 5 years 9 months made her debut in the U8s while Dad (me), marshalled, then raced in the Senior/Vet field. Watching the kids brought mixed feelings. First and foremost – Pride. As Evelyn raced across the start line in her new Cardiff JIF top, my chest swelled. I simply couldn’t be more proud. Racing alongside her friend Jess (aged 6 and the daughter of similarly cycle oriented parents) and seeing her little legs spin furiously around on her bright pink Saracen mountain bike was pure joy.
The U8s cover quite a range, with older more serious kids at the top end of the age spectrum pulling serious race faces that even Cadel Evans would applaud. Indeed, there was some truly impressive riding, which – of course – is great. But here is the source of my discomfort, for while the kids were revelling in their racing, there was even more impressive shouting, yelling and gesticulating by overly impassioned parents and coaches a little too keen to see results over fun. Relax!.….let’s have a little balance please. These are U8s after all, they have a life time of sport – and perhaps sporting success – ahead of them, providing they enjoy it and their social circumstances allow them to pursue it (As an apprentice 42 year old* with 36 years of sport under my belt, I speak from experience). Whilst I’ll be keeping a close eye on the competitiveness of this early race environment, for as long as Evelyn continues to enjoy herself, I’ll be there to support her (and if she develops a passion for other sports, I’ll be there too). Despite these observations, there can, however, be no doubt; cyclo-cross does provide a wonderful opportunity for families to enjoy racing in a safe and enjoyable environment.
As an aside, Mrs N had prepared Evelyn’s race kit (above). I applaud entirely the combination of Jam T-shirt (bought from Mod retro specialist Mojo King 12 months ago) and miniature race top, though the Bradley Wiggins overtones were entirely accidental and completely lost on Evelyn’s mum. Incidentally, Evelyn’s favourite song (currently) is ‘The self preservation society’ by The Pearly Kings. As Yoda would say – “The Mod is strong with this one”.
For a race in South Wales, the senior race was massive. 98 riders toed a high quality start line (46 of which were vets). There is little doubt in my mind that the high numbers are as a direct consequence of Olympic and professional cycling success – clear evidence of the legacy in action. There were people here who were inspired, race curious and ready to charge. Nowhere was this more evident than at the start, a furious 100 metre dash across an open field and onto the course proper. I started like a demon and finished like a sloth, paying the price for nailing it into the first corner for positional advantage. No matter. The race was tremendous, with fast criterium style conditions and decent technical sections through dry woodland. Hats off to race organiser (and buddy) Craig Standage and fellow Jiffies for creating a superb race and a community feel (team mates and family members baked cakes and raised over £150 for Macmillan). I’m not sure you could get the season off to a better start.
So Summer is officially over. Long live the Autumn
If you’re tempted by cross, watch the short video below which shows you how it’s done. As it happens, I don’t do it like that and spend quite a bit of time fighting with the bike, gurning and crashing by over committing on bends.
*I graduate shortly.
Many thanks to my club mates for putting on such a great race. Well done to Evelyn and Jessica on their first event and finally, well done to Donald for judging the pace just right and pipping me to 5th Vet. Swine.