Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Don't be Afraid of the Dark!

Once again, the annual Rollapaluza Muddy Hell cyclo cross took place at Herne Hill. I had deliberated somewhat because I wasn't sure I'd be fit enough to race, given my acute lack of cycling fitness. In the end the prospect of doing a women-only race in fancy dress in the dark was all too tempting. Something about dressing up in a daft costume for a bike race always makes it more fun. It also diverts attention away from how bad you may be cycling!

So at 7pm I lined up in the dark with the other fancily dressed ladies to do my first cyclo cross race of the season. Even though the obstacles were largely similar to last year's course I felt a certain level of apprehension. The ramp up to the bridge seemed higher, or maybe the ramp was on a steeper gradient. One thing was for sure, we were not going to have the full momentum from a downhill slope to carry us up the ramp like we did last year. No, we we're going to have to work to reach the summit. A sharp right hand turn after running over the planks meant that we would have to remount our bikes and give it some almighty welly to develop the speed to ride up the 25% gradient. Many people just didn't get the pace and ran out of momentum two thirds of the way up and either fell sideways or just put a foot a ground to walk. So for me, not only did I have to think about how I would get up the ramp but how I would ride around people who couldn't quite climb it in the saddle (which was about 20% of the field). Once up the ramp and on the bridge a down ramp threw me at full speed towards a table-top jump which made my bike leap for a split second! Not something to be doing on a full stomach! I would be in for some fun.

This year I was riding a Boardman CX Team cyclocross bike, kindly lent to me by Halfords and my path was being lit by USE-Exposure, who had provided me with a Diablo helmet light and a Toro handlebar light. With this combination I knew I would have no problem seeing the path ahead. Also with my new bike that had disc brakes that would help me on those short sharp descents. With all this new gear I felt motivated to give the best performance I could. It's funny how new kit raises your motivation!
So, on the whistle I set off in my Halloween dress and facepaint ready to blast around for 40 minutes. It was great. The course was a real fairground ride. From the sandpit to the bridge with table-top jump, via the BMX berm, the steep "Galibier" run-up, the single track, the muddy strip, the whoop bumps and the plank barriers. All this to the beat of the pumping sound system made it a real fairground ride. Small wonder I didn't get dizzy!
Anyone who thinks 40 minutes is easy, think again - the pace is almost twice as fast as what we do at the usual London Cyclo Cross League 60-minute races, but as this paricular course had so many obstacles in it, there was extra energy needed to hold it together and not completely "stack it" in front of everyone. It goes without saying that spectators were gathered around the trickiest parts of the course! I was happy with my race considering it was the first one of the season. I felt surprisingly more fluid in my movements, though I was lapped by a clown, a witch, and Batwoman!

The women's race has definitely become more competitive, as the top 3 women were regular National Trophy riders, and there were a number of strong women who had travelled down to South London from other parts of the country who raised the level of the race that bit higher. (The generous prize money may have had something to do with it!) Even with really fast women racing, there was room for all levels and I had fun on the course. I was glad to have signed up for it and I executed my best race possible.
Once across the finish line all that was left to do was to get on with enjoying the evening over a beer and catching up with folks I hadn't seen for a while. Another great night from Rollapaluza!

Photos by Higg
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