As Brendan mentioned in the previous post I ventured out in the outer regions of urban life (into what he refers to as 'bad latte country') to race the 2nd Round of the Cross Melburn series.
After securing a lift with DDCX CX champion Lewis Rattray and getting to ogle his newly built ride (lightest complete CX bike I've handled? Maybe... It certainly was one hell of a bike [RIP]) we talked CX and it's associated characters on our way out to Lysterfield.
After a week and a half with the cold/flu/hacking cough that seems to have afflicted everyone I know, I was sure I wasnt going to scare the frontrunners, but felt like a good race-pace hitout and skills test. What I wasn't looking forward to was the predicted rain and thunderstorms 'raining' on my slow return to health! We were. however, greeted with irregularly gloomy skies and unseasonably warm temps. Right! Pack those armwarmers back in the bag and skip the embro!
The course was very similar to the last round, but this time the super boggy back grass stretch was dry and bumpy. The organisers had been kind enough to add a little more BMX track and some well-placed gravel mounds as well as some mini-barriers. All in all it made for a faster and marginally more technical course, with those lovely stairs and a tight-run up to benefit those with deeper CX skills.
We arrived just as the Open classes were starting so I cant comment too much on them but I watched Liam Jeffries lose a CX race which coming after he came 2nd in the earlier Open Juniors race was a bit of a shock to the crowd. Fair play to his DDCX bridesmaid (and Trailmix teammate) Sam Wilson who toppled him on both occasions.
In the B-class there was a bit of controversy as the the Omara boys demoted themselves from A-grade (after a mid-pack finish in the last round) to go out and dominate their race. In the lower places there were some excellent battles going on with places swapping as tiredness and crashes took their toll and re-arranged the riders. Some familiar faces from DDCX showed their faces and toed the line in unfamiliar surrounds. The two ladies who entered barely saw each other but each fought very hard to ensure a good placing and some valuable practice for this week's CSV Open.
And then it was time for the main event... with much of the field all knowing each other from various MTB/DDCX/road events there was some light-hearted heckling as we rode a warm-up pre-race lap and staged for our start. Winner of the last round of DDCX, Casey Munro had asked for gears and was looking focussed, Lewis had a shiny new whip and Dan Moore was talking the talk and had a posse of iRide team mates by his side. The sun had dipped its intensity and it was feeling more like Cx weather than a summer's day. Everyone eyed each other off and we lightly jostled for position at the start. A word from Snozza (who was sitting this race out) and we were off. I saw Lewis, Casey and an iRide skinsuit (Dan i think) bolt up the track as the rest of us rumbled after them in a cloud of dust. The first few corners of the BMX track were 'exciting' as riders squeezed into gaps and moved others off their pre-planned lines, but by the time we had hit the first tight u-turn in the grass the field had begun to settle into a line and you could hear the grunts of your following riders rather than a blur of sounds around you.
As always I only remember fragments of the race, Leigh DL yelling at me to 'let my wheel slide' as i wound through some loose gravel, sneaking past a rider on a climb only to be bested on the descent, trying to stick my sunglasses in my helmet/on my face while negotiating a bumpy grass section, getting cheered for a fast transition in the stair section that won me a place back, sitting on my rear wheel after my front wheel slipped out on an overly aggressive turn in the grass.
I do remember hearing that Lewis and Casey were battling hard up the front and then hearing he had gone down hard. It always sucks hearing that in the middle of a race... especially knowing how scary that gravel is to me (as a non-native MTBer).
Casey came steaming past on the flat gravel TT section late in the race and it was obvious the class of his riding (I've been passed by the best in the series and he, Lewis and some others have a definite edge in their riding).
All too soon/after too long (in the race it felt like forever, but now it seems like it was so short) we got the bell and the battle I had been having with NB now had a conclusion in sight. We had been swapping comments on/off through the race (all light-hearted) and our differing skills meant that depending on the part of the course each of us had an advantage. I dug deep on the final climb to try and pass him but he held me off and I threw everything I had at him on the beach and final stair transition to no avail. His superior strength/fitness maintained the gap on the final flat section and I had nothing left to counter. Having spent several races this year riding by myself it was great to have a race that was a battle (tactical, skills and fitness) all the way through.
After catching my breath and trying to stem my hacking cough I found Lewis and saw the large pad of gauze on his elbow and hip and heard about his crash (I had clipped the same pothole mid-race but thanks to going slower and having both hands on the bar had only given myself a bit of a scare). He was surprisingly chipper, but disappointed to have bowed out so catastrophically. He did look pretty pale... his bike looked worse and belied the violence of the crash. He ended up in hospital that night having surgery on his elbow, and looks likely to miss this Sundays event (but competitors should be wary as he might get some time on the mic with our trusty DDCX announcers).
All in all another chance to go spelunking in the 'pain cave' in the name of cyclocross racing and good times on the bike.
Thanks again to the racers and organisers and volunteers. The next round is at Westgate so the more urban dwelling of you readers should come out and try a different flavour of course, or come and make some noise for us who are digging ourselves into a new suffer-hole.
I'll add some pictures as they emerge