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Hills and Trenches
My personal cyclocross debut is stored in the memory banks on a short list of awful experiences on a bicycle. Held on sodden, claggy, clay-rich farmland in Wiltshire, the parcours of tractor tyre ruts, cow hoof imprints and watered-down slurry, interspersed with sections of barely rideable straw stubble fields, would have been challenging enough for a properly equipped grown man.
For a 13-year-old scrawny kid riding his one-and-only road machine, it was purgatory. The inevitable end came halfway through the race in a ditch that had earlier contained a depth of water just about reaching my knobbly knees, but had grown progressively deeper and stickier every lap. Having shouldered the now ridiculously heavy bike in the appropriate fashion, I waded in and emerged in seemingly reasonable order, the woollen shorts sucking up more ditch water than the best kitchen towel.
It took a few more strides before the realisation hit my frozen brain that I was now running without a left shoe. Attempting to retrieve it involved submerging in filthy, icy water, my neck craning to avoid drowning while hands aimlessly groped in the gloop. The prospect of Wiltshire County’s coronor having to hold an inquest into some damn fool kid dying because he so badly wanted a dog-eared leather shoe back was a distinct possibility at this point. I retired from cyclo-cross racing there and then.
Eugène Christophe was, as we know, made of sterner stuff. Fixing his own forks in a forge on the Tourmalet in 1913 – and receiving a time penalty for his troubles – may be the most commonly raised mention of the Parisian, but besides being a great Tour rider, he was one of the pioneers of ‘cross and seven-time French champion.
The fact that Christophe enlisted for a cycling battalion in World War One should come as no surprise when you see the photos accompanying his advice published in Le Miroir Des Sports in 1921. The trenches of Ypres were a minor obstacle compared to the ditch the Frenchman is depicted emerging from, bike held aloft. (Fixed wheel and mudguards, incredibly.) Rarely is he pictured actually riding the bike, but the thick woodland and steep embankments prohibit any thoughts of mounting the thing: the cycle is mostly a burden and Christophe is the mule.
Scans courtesy of www.blackbirdsf.org
Having returned to the discipline after a 20-year lay-off to find cyclocross the best fun to be had on a bike, and modern courses eminently rideable with the right equipment and a little knowhow, I find myself repeatedly drawn to the most ridiculous, painstakingly gruelling ‘cross race in the world, otherwise known as The Three Peaks. Which, considering my aversion to all things involving physical discomfort over lengthy periods, is quite bizarre.
Christophe would have loved this race. I shall try to keep the great man’s words in my head on the final descent of Pen-Y-Ghent, a stupidly fast rock-strewn track and an absolute blast:
Be careful, but also decisive.
Pictures and tips »
- Last week was a great one for Rapha Condor JLT, all the action and images now up on the team site: http://t.co/ftBejPnnCJ
- RT @alainrumpf: Well done @mike_cuming and @raphacondorjlt winner of #TdK2013 under the scrutiny of latest drone… http://t.co/gv81uP9mHP
- In their attempt to cross the US in 24 days, @michaeltabtabai & Andrew Hudon will ‘Leave It On The Road’. → http://t.co/Per6QsCAtt
- We are delighted to announce the opening of a one-month, pop-up @RaphaCycleClub in Tokyo this summer from 22/6–21/7 → http://t.co/Jrc0EKZ9ky
- Huge congratulations to @raphacondorjlt’s @mike_cuming for winning the @TourdeKorea2013 and to @tomsoutham for best DS. #TdK2013
- @danfromnam in Corsica — outtake from our 2013 Spring/Summer shoot #corsica #beningstagram http://t.co/03A7pT9mtj
- Winner Winner Chicken Dinner ! The most important jersey of #TdK2013 hot off the press. http://t.co/Pflx0eUfdv”
- What a day... The boys keep Mike Cuming in yellow, after having to chase all day. Great performance by all.
- Just rehearsing the whole of Pacino's speech from Any Given Sunday to recite to the boys...
- UK: Thanks to all who came to to tonight’s Rapha Étape Evening in London with @CyclefitUK — one of our biggest turnouts yet.