Milton Keynes MadnessCorrespondence Friends Events Sports Cycling Bicycles
My trip to England for the UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Milton Keynes, started with me leaving my keys at work (a 15km bike ride each way). But this was ok, because I had a little time up my sleeve and everything was packed and ready to roll. The second hitch came when I took a second look at my boarding pass, and realised I needed to be at the airport 40 minutes earlier than I had thought. This brought on a bout of nausea and caused my hands to shake. To cap it off the airport bus too was late and this was one flight I did not want to miss.
Luckily I was greeted by friendly check-in staff and an empty airport so I made it to the gate right on time for boarding. Although it would seem that I might have cashed in all my luck before even getting to England. My friend James, a budding osteopath, and his friend and fellow student Nico were my crew for the weekend and stood in for transport and logistics. The bonus with having two future osteopaths helping out is that conversation often fell to the pros and cons of whether they should be cracking my neck or not the day of a race. James won the argument and any straightening of my spine occurred after the event.
To begin with, I thought it was a real pain having to come to England for a World Cup. I could see from the chatter on the interweb that the English were pretty stoked about it, but for me I saw it as nothing but an inconvenience. I would like to retract that statement now. Wow. What a weekend! The course was fantastic, the volunteers friendly and helpful, and the spectators, well the spectators just made the event. They cheered for EVERY rider. The harder the time you were having the more they cheered, and as you approached what we dubbed 'The Shimano Steps' the volume of shouting was deafening. The last climb at the famous Koppenberg cross is the only other race where I have experienced the like.
The course itself was a broad green highway winding over the lush hills of Milton Keynes. To increase the difficulty of riding, course designers have several elements that they can employ (god forbid that it should be easy). Sand, mud, steep climbs, careering descents, off camber turns, barriers, stairs, flyovers, cobblestones even, can be found in a race. Some excel in just one of these things, Hamme Zogge for example, is a mud bath without comparison, you need to see it to truly believe it. Milton Keynes however provided for some muddy off camber riding that would have made the most sadistic of Belgian designers swell with pride. It was so much fun! There is nothing like trying to control your bike at speed going across and down a hill with both wheels going sideways. What actually happened during the race for me still did not manage to take away from that experience.
The race itself didn't really go according to plan. I went arse over tit shortly after the start because of a crash in the sprint. Then I began slowly reeling in the couple of riders at the back. This was going well until shortly after my first bike change the chain got stuck and ripped my front derailleur off. This left me with two options, either giving up or running just over a kilometer back to the pits. So run I did. This is where the crowd really came into their own, the support was just fantastic! But none the less I was gutted. After running for a little more than a kilometre, I got a fresh bike and completed the lap, before I got the inevitable news that I was being pulled from the race as I had fallen too far behind. Luckily, I would be racing the same course in the National Trophy Series, with more drifting practice to be had, the day after. Also on the bright side we were invited out with a friend, Martin, for an evening of English Ales and blues at one of his favorite watering holes. The hot shower that came with this plan was also much appreciated.
The National Trophy course had one of the nastier off camber traverses cut out of it, but otherwise was the same as the day before. The madding crowds had fallen off too and I suspect that many of the people watching today had friends and relatives racing. The organized eight pressure washer mechanics pit of the World Cup had been swapped out for a mad free-for-all, as the organizers at this level of racing are not obliged to provide washing facilities. I would guess there was something like 30 odd petrol powered, privately owned, washers parked up on the hillside. We even had to collect our own water from a nearby pond. Whilst the Belgians and Dutch could learn a little from the English on how support an entire field of riders and not just one or two at the front, the English could learn how to facilitate races of this level when the UCI isn't cracking the World Cup whip. Simple things like somewhere to wash our bikes during a race and access to showers, to wash ourselves after the race are all standard fare on the European mainland. Thankfully we had the all-star Cyclocross Magazine pit crew backing us up, washing my bikes faster than I could do half a lap.
I was standing so far at the back of the 97 strong field for the call up to the grid that I couldn't hear my name being called. This left me somewhere in the middle of the second largest cross race I have ever done. But that was ok, I was there for the fun of it and didn't care much about the results. The start was crazy and chaotic, especially going into the first off-camber and descent but as these things go, we soon settled into a rhythm and I had a good race. Although after yesterdays run of luck I didn't dare change gears at the front and just rode in the big ring the entire time.
I am sincerely hoping that Milton Keynes gets to host a World Cup again next year, and having spoken to some of the other racers there that day I can say that I am not the only one. So thanks for putting on a fantastic event, I will be looking forward to it again next year, though we will probably make sure to bring more beers across from Belgium ...