A lifetime of cycling – part 7

Posted: March 10, 2011 in 2011, General

I am pushed for time today so this may be a little more succinct than usual!

My first MTB race saw me drive to FR10 in Thetford Forest in a state of high excitement. There were directional signs everywhere so I couldn’t miss the tuning to the venue, marshals all over the place and a slick and efficient car parking system. I was given my allotted space and I wandered off to the signing on tent to pick up my number. I was a little disconcerted to see bikes with suspension forks on them – hmm, what;s all this then? I saw someone I knew and asked him what was going on. His reply was along the lines of ‘they are for the fast boys only, they reckon it makes it easier in the rough bits, they are a very expensive luxury, don’t worry about it’. Signing on involved entering a tent already saturated with the smell of embrocation and saturated with testosterone as the grrr factor was obviously in evidence. Anyway, I picked up my number and was told not to bother entering details of my road club (West Suffolk Wheelers) as they weren’t interested in that sort of cycling…. only mountain biking. My first experience of this strange demarcation that differentiates between disciplines; until then, I had thought we were all cyclists… my mistake obviously!

My bike adorned with the number identifying myself as a ‘fun racer’ I wandered off to the start at the appropriate time. I had no idea what to expect…. nothing, no inkling of how fast I was expected to go, how far the loop was or anything. When the hooter went all the other ‘fun’ guys blasted off while I was still trying to clip in. As they were disappearing rapidly into the distance I thought it would be wise to somehow get going.

What a shock… none of my myriad of road miles had prepared me for the trial of riding mile after mile of rough trails, moguls, logs across the trails etc, nor had it prepared me for being passed by everyone else on two wheels (or so it seemed). The biggest fright was yet to come… the bomb hole now known as Madgett’s. The eroded, thoroughly tamed, inverse pimple that is now Madgett’s bears little or no relation to the pit that loomed up before me save its’ geographical location. Steep, muddy and rooty, it was the first bomb hole I had ever seen in the forest and while getting down was easy enough (all that time on trackers hadn’t gone to waste then) I had no idea how to get out. In a flurry of gear shifts I managed to unship my chain and stall half way up the exit. The cheering crowd spurred me on (they were cheering everyone else but hey, it made me feel part of the experience) and I clambered out ready to attack the rest of the course. About two minutes later, a shrill cry on ‘on your right’ was followed by the lades field whooshing past me in a blur of brightly coloured lycra and what can only have been rocket fuel.

And so it continued, I was getting muddier, more tired, my back had adopted the constant ache that I later knew by the name of ‘Thetford Back’ and the end was nowhere in sight. I was lost, disoriented and couldn’t wait for the finish. At last the end was in sight (loops were huge in those days, not like the short ones favoured now) and I could do my best to at least look the part. I gathered up my self respect and did my best to get to the line in good fashion. I had finished, completely knackered, muddy. cold and wet. I was very much a billy no mates on the MTB scene in those days so I slowly wheeled my lonely way back to the car, thinking how glad I was that it was all over and then another feeling started to emerge. I had finished my first mountain bike race, I hadn’t died, ok I was almost last but I had finished, I had had a bit of fun and yes, I could see myself doing some more of this. I grinned, then I grinned some more. I got back to the car and started to pack up; the guy next door (way quicker than me and in a different class altogether) was packed up and ready to go home but he stopped to chat. I told him it was my first race and then it all sort of wurbled its way out and I realised I was babbling. “Yeah, it gets like that’ he said, ‘you’ll be back’.

I never saw this bloke again but he had just introduced me to a whole new clan, a friendly bunch and at that time, almost like a little family. I had passed the first test, now all I had to do was turn up the next time and maybe do better, maybe just survive again. Who knows? Who cares? All I know was that I was about to explore a whole new world of cycling that my bank manager probably wishes had passed me by!

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