Straying into Cyclocross

Straying into Cyclocross

November 21st, 2022, Torbay Velopark

I’ve never ridden a cyclocross bike, not even been to a cyclocross race.  So, when Ned, Pete and I were approached by Rob from Mid Devon CC about NSF becoming the title sponsor for their first ever British National Cyclocross race we obviously inexperiencedly jumped at the opportunity.  Rob had been inspired by our Hunger Games concept chat during the TdF and our dream of becoming race organisers; or at least contributors.  

We decided to be brave and face the mud, go grassroots, see what all the fuss was about. 

I also saw it as an opportunity to travel with Archie, my son, for the first time solo. He is 11, and like me, has never been to a cyclocross race.  It was a rare opportunity to experience something new together and have him hang out with two of my best friends (terrible colleagues) at a bike race.  A rare opportunity.  When Archie has previously visited me at a bike race I’ve been somewhat absent: he’s only known me racing or commentating, never spectating.

We spent all day Saturday travelling and arrived just in time to do our live podcast event on the Saturday evening.  Ned and I have done this before, but we’d never done it as a threesome with Pete.  We had a 4hr drive to get there allow us to finally think about it, we all voiced our concerns and even decided we’d record it but likely not publish it as it might be horrible.  On that same 4hr drive we essentially did an unrecorded podcast: standard MO for us.  We spent 1+hr with Ned quizzing us about the racing season.  Archie watched Ander on the iPad.  I didn’t want to ruin his trip before we got there by boring him to death with our cycling geekiness.  Live pod event went well.  Archie sat in a corner and got really bored.  Then we promptly departed to our Airbnb and ordered curry.  Pete, Archie and I played UNO (Ned has never played it).  Archie won, multiple times.

We woke up on the Sunday to race day.  Archie and I were sleeping in the same bed and were woken up by an animated Pete telling us he and Ned were going for a dip in the nearby English Channel.  We jumped up.  I saw it was blue skies and figured it was an opportunity to make a memory, power of mements etc., so we joined them. 

Archie was official photographer for the weekend, that was part of the deal of him coming.  He would be in charge of my Polaroid camera and would chronicle and create a book of photos of our three days away together.  Ned was in charge of audio.  He sneakily recorded our cold-water dip and MY GOD I’m glad he did.  Everyone can now listen to Pete’s graceful entry into the ocean: 

Then we went to the race.

It was muddy - First World War trench muddy.  We were all kitted out in Belstaff jackets, a gift from my sister, France.  She is the CEO of Belstaff and wanted to make sure the roadies were okay in the extreme conditions of British Cyclocross.  I chose a bright orange new style, Ned a classic, Pete a combo of fleece and parka – we were literally ticking boxes for Belstaff customer demographics.  I was hitting “Cool Dad” styling.  Poor Archie.  Figure out the others for yourself.

The event itself was amazing, we had such a wonderful time.  So many old faces from a scene Ned, Pete and I, grew up in; in our different ways.  We saw so many people (even a Rich, who I went to primary school with in England and who Saw Arch and said, “Is that your son, he looks just like how I remember you.”). 

We got to see a side of the sport we had next to zero experience/history with.  A few gazebo’s were set up for our NSF area and an amazing DJ x PA system built for Pete by DJ Martin.  Martin, with Rob, is one of the many organisers from Mid Devon CC, yet they were at a level of commitment where they slept in a van the night before together because they finished so late and started so early.  And they live locally.  They do it all out of amateur love, yet the professionalism of the set-up was second to none. 

Next to our NSF “marquee” we had Papillon Gin, a local Dartmouth company who had made a gin to our design and recipe for the event.  Check it out here.

There was a local Brewery, TQ Beerworks, who had made an NSF ale, yet pride of place on our stand was a bike made by Cotic.  Cy, the owner of Cotic, has been making beautiful bikes since 2004 and is based in the North of England, the bike was painted in Scotland. It was Cotic’s gravel bike and liveried in our NSF Torbay design, all of which done by our friend, Conor Brady, he designed the poster, the gin, the bike, our merch… Thank you, Conor.

Yet, the highlight of the day for me personally was watching Nick Craig race.  He is the don of British Cyclocross and a family friend.  I got to know him during my doping ban when I exiled myself from Biarritz and moved to Hayfield in the Peak District.  He and his family were some of the people who looked after me.  Watching him race was pure joy, and Archie and I darted around the course to catch glimpses of him.  He is truly a legend:

Ned’s highlight was different.  He was a dignitary, on the podium handing out medals and trophies.  He got them made in Lewisham for the event, that’s how excited he was.  Pete and I have stood on the very podium we used, it’s a fold out truck that British Cycling have had FOREVER.  Yet Ned has always been looking up at it.  Seeing his delight and dignity (I’d say guilty pleasure but there was no guilt) to be on the podium handing out medals and trophies to all the bike racers was pure joy.  He really does love bike racing, all of it, whatever it is, even cyclocross.  If you want some authenticity of Ned’s credentials check out his Road Book - his annual bible of road racing.  This weekend proved he’s not a snob, after all, he also loves darts.

And so that was our weekend. Give us a bike race and we’re happy.