The art of cyclo-cross

Builth wells 2013 It was cool and relatively mild. The sun shone, but a keen easterly took the shine off.  Riders thudded past as Jim looked on.

“Key changes”.

Sorry?” said Jim, suddenly aware of the diminutive figure standing at his elbow.

“Key changes”.

Jim’s face creased mildly in confusion. He let the comment slide. More riders speeded along, clods of earth arcing away from knob led tyres.

“You need to know your fret board.”

Jim took a long look at his new companion. He stood knee high to a grasshopper. A ponytail poked out the back of an aging cap. Jim suspected a Monk’s tonsure beneath. Despite the chill breeze he wore long shorts beneath the knee, with calf muscles like a relief map of the Cairngorns. A tiny rusted bike rested against his midrift. “If you want to play well”.

I’m sorry, do I know you?” responded Jim. This was his first time at a cross race, curiosity had finally bettered him, luring Jim away from yet another long road ride.

“No need to apologise. Most don’t”.

A cowbell broke the spell. Their heads swivelled to face the course. The leader now eased into view, straightened his line and sat patiently behind a back marker, before sprinting for a tight corner marked in tape. Part of Jim was interested. He was no guitar player, so why the musical advice?

“It’s all about the key changes. Knowing when to sprint along the board and when to hang back. Knowing what fits where. Knowing how the rest of your group will respond. Knowing how to hit sharps and avoid flats, how to scale heights, soar, leap and pause…..You know…. for dramatic effect”.

“Wh…” Jim was cut short. “Reinhardt was the master. Van Halen could do it and so could Segovia. In different fields of course”. The little figure rolled an ancient paper. Tiny amounts of tobacco leaking from a skinny roll.  Jim watched and contemplated.

“Well I’ve never really thought about guitar playing in any depth” Said Jim. The figure looked up and fixed him with a gaze forged in the furnaces of Port Talbot and rolled into metallic slab.  Jim tried holding it. An impossible task.

“Oh I’m not talking about guitar playing” said the figure, smiling softly. Reaching down to his bike, he spun elegantly on his cleats , swung gnarled lumps over rusted top tube and pedalled smoothly across the boggy field.

Cyclo-cross; a rollercoaster ride of shifting tempo and short hard efforts. Image; Donald and Craig at the 2013 Welsh Champs.

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