Leeds Castle – Sun 12th Nov 2017
It’s called a Scarp. It is sometimes inlaid with bricks and stones and the steeper it is, the more effective it becomes. Opposite the Scarp is the Counterscarp and together these two ramparts form the basis of a defensive ditch used to keep invaders from the fortress.
I very much doubt that the grass embankment infront of me (tackled every lap instead of the unridable and muddy alternative route) was a Scarp or Counterscarp but it was bloomin’ big!
And from the top, you could see a castle.
Sitting against a fencepost at the highest end of the course and watching the V50 men set off, I tried to piece my race together. This Leeds race had been brutal! By lap three I was despairing. I hated the mud (the wrong type). I hated the cambers (too tight). I hated the hurdles and I hated the grass wall (riders were clutching at clumps to heave themselves up by lap five). But most of all I hated the ‘bumps’. On the flatter parts of the course, the leaves hid a surface worthy of Paris Roubaix. I rattled my way round until we hit the hills and mud again. It was hard for anyone to get going.
We had all known what to expect though. This was only Dulwich Paragon’s second outing to Leeds Castle as course builders but already they seem to have made their point. Each course in the Kinesis London League has its own distinct characteristics (fast and flat, sticky and technical, hilly or obstacle filled) and Dulwich have made the most of the castle theme. The course includes long, bumpy straights known as the ‘joust’, a puddle-filled hurdle set that appears on the map as ‘the moat’ and, of course, ‘the wall’. All of which makes for a challenging course and great spectating. Even as early as the U10 race a small crowd was gathering and Sammy Bassett made the most of the attention, showboating (from the middle of the field) with waves and salutes on every lap. Completing the race earned him a bacon sandwich and WCC had their first finisher.
More people came through the gate and the Canopy Beer tent rolled up to sit next the food stall, bring a bit of Herne Hill flavour to Kent and signal the start of the adult races. It had been cold and windy since the start of the day and the midday sun failed to warm things up as we stood for our pre-race, Remembrance Sunday silence. The wind picked up again for the 30 second countdown to the Junior and V40+ race, bringing colour to faces and vocabulary. Even before we’d reached the field in which had been placed the most unpleasant parts of the course I felt uncomfortable.
Just in front of me on the grid sat Dave Bishop. He knew this course from 2016 and had chosen his bike carefully. Dave had bet on being able to ride the ‘alternative routes’ scattered around the obstacles and had brought his mountain bike. As we set off along ‘the joust’ it certainly seemed like a good idea; I was already struggling with those bumps and he seemed to be finding the ground more even. There seemed to be no sprocket on the block that could help smooth things out for me. However, before the end of lap one Dave had learned that even a mountain bike couldn’t ride around the hill and he was having to lug it up like everyone else.
Sam Painter had ridden off in the Junior race a minute before and was to discover, like the rest of us, that it was hard to find any kind of rhythm on this circuit. That didn’t mean he had a bad race though and he finished in a respectable place, well prepared for next week’s Cyclopark excursion.
By now the food stall was drawing a crowd and a good number of people were scattered around the course, watching. With no V50+ or women riders there was a short time when all of today’s WCC riders could enjoy viewing rather than competing in the races. And it was certainly an interesting view. As the age categories passed by, more of the course was churned into unridable sections.
Next up into this mud was Luke. His text after the race read ‘no fun’ and I’m sure he would have similar things to say about the course as the rest of us. It was interesting to note that the usual victors on the senior’s podium were ousted for the day. Pin him down though, and he would admit, like the other WCC riders that today was a worthwhile afternoon and that the diversity of venues within this league is to be celebrated.
It certainly says something about a course if you consider the bit between the hurdles your favourite part but I was already, under my fence post, thinking about next year and trying to encourage more riders from our club. Squinting at the bbq smoke rising around the groups of riders and spectators next to the shelters and gazebos, it was easy to continue with the Dulwich Paragon theme and see a medieval army camped out on the open ground in front of the castle. Brutal course or not, I hope they lay siege to Leeds for many more Novembers.
13th Sammy Bassett
10th Sam Painter
74th Jon Bassett
80th Dave Bishop
57th Luke Anderson