Despite having been going to races in one sport or other since 1987, the enjoyment has never diminished. The nerves, the joy of racing well and the essential lessons learnt from racing badly all contribute to the day. In my running days though the Saturday night after a cross country race was deemed more important. The banter and piss taking with team mates while getting increasingly drunk was always the highlight of a weekend. If a team mate had a shocker in a race he would be ridiculed all night.
''You are only as good as your last race'' was a regular taunt. Well if that's the case, a few weeks back I was rubbish. In the first big race of the season I was slipping, sliding and falling off all race long and finished well down. It was round one of the National Trophy Series in Abergavenny and the poor result meant I'd be relegated to the 4th row in the grid at round two.To add insult to embarrassment British Cycling have changed the points system this season and the National Trophy races now harbour a much more bountiful points allocation, so I certainly picked the wrong race to have a mare.
Usually after a below par performance, I am always keen to punish myself in training to make up. However this time the fallout was not quickly rectified, one of the many falls was a spectacularly classy clattering over a metal barrier into the path of oncoming riders. The impact, although not apparent initially had damaged my ribs. For 3 or 4 days I was unable to sleep lying down. My chest had taken quite a knock, so blowing my nose and sneezing was very painful. Pushing it hard again on the bike had to wait. But even poor performances are fun in cyclocross, I really enjoy all the elements of a cyclocross race. Loading the van, travelling to the course, meeting riders, learning the course, the thrill of racing, then the big clean up and journey back home.
The season is already halfway through, last year a full season of races seemed a long struggle but this year time seems to be passing so much quicker. The strategy is the same, as many local league races as possible, the National Trophy Series, all building up to the National Championships mid January. The league races have been going ok with the usual up and downs, mechanical issues and fun journeys in the van. The veteran races morph each season with fresh 40 year olds entering the category and in the Wessex League Crispin Doyle has been untouchable.
I have naively completed three cross seasons without any full mud tyres. Looking back at courses I'd struggle on it's now pretty clear that the wrong choose of tyre goes a long way to understanding some of my weaker results. Cyclocross has been an exciting sport to learn. The gridding and points system blighted some of my early races a few years back. I remember starting the Southern Champs frustratingly gridded behind two women, who casually stated that they were going to take the first lap easy! I quickly saw the leader go out of view as I weaved through the field. Lessons are learned all the time.
So back up to date and Round 2 of the National Trophy Series in Southampton and it was time to make amends. Sometimes it's difficult to drum up the aggression in races after 26 years but now I needed a decent result to get me back on track. Although not great at starting I was determined to get through the field. 15th after the initial flurry, then 10th by the end of the first lap and into 6th during the second lap. Towards the end I got back up to the wheel of series leader Ian Taylor and for a short time I had a sniff of a podium top three. This was very pleasing having finished an awful 5 minutes behind him at round one, but by now I had run out of puff and a fight for a podium would have to wait for another time. But 5th place was a return to form.
Who knows what the second half of the season has to offer. Although I may not be able to better last year's podium position at the National Championships, I'm going to have fun trying, and as ''You are only as good as your last race'', this week at least, I'm much better.