I've never really had much success at XC racing in my short racing career.. it started out as my main aim but i quickly discovered that spreading my pain over many more hours of racing suited me better.
As the Midlands series is organised by a fellow 29ers Team mate, James Hampshire and xcracer.com rider Nadine Spearing it seemed a perfect opportunity to try out the new bike in a race, get more race preperation and tactics practice and also try my hand again at the shorter stuff.
My race's now start on a saturday with bike preperation, rather than risk a bad performance due to a mechanical on the sunday the whole of saturday morning is dedicated to checking over the bike, tightening, adjusting, lubing etc followed by a 30 minute ride to check everything is running as it should... all of this to be completed before midday to allow plenty of time to get to a bike shop if need be. As the bike is only 2 rides old everything was as it should be.
Sunday, Get out of bed and look out the window to clear blue skies.. gonna be a good day.
Sport race started at 2pm and as the race was relatively local it afforded me a more leisurely approach to the day... all bottles, food, kit and bike were ready the night before so up at 8am to breakfast and pack the van. On the road for 9am and at the race venue for just after 10am, car park was right next to the start/finish which is always a bonus not just for riders but for those faithful bottle handers and mid race gel providers. Sign on and a quick walk up the first climb, definately a big ring affair for the first lap.. lovely.
12pm, get kitted and roll out for a pre ride with some fellow racers, the course started with the afformentioned long climb, a short singletrack section, then into another climb, followed by a muddier climb.. so far was looking good. The ground was very soft in places but the 1.8 Bontrager Jones ACX 29er treads i will be using this year cut right to the chase and didn't clog, there were a few cheeky climbs which were borderline ride/run depending on how you were feeling and these climbs were balanced by some nice little sections of downhill with a few drops thrown in for good measure.
1pm, warm up, mp3 player on, used the start straight and did a good 40 minutes warm up.. i assumed with only 3 laps to complete no one would be hanging around at the start and good to be as warmed up as possible.
2pm, race start, with a shout of "you will be starting in the next 10 seconds" we were off... i had already decided that i was going to give it both barrels straight of the start and just see what happened, start was along a gently climbing section of fireroad before cutting left onto the course and the first climb. Got a good start and by the start of the climb was in 5th/6th place.. thhe Gary Fisher Superfly laps up straights like that, felt like i was on my road bike just flowing along nicely. By the top of the first climb i was in 3rd.
As we caught the tail of the Masters category i lost sight of 1st and 2nd place in the traffic... a third of the way into the lap i paid for my 'all or nothing' start and was caught up by another 2 riders, this time i managed to hold the wheels and take a little breather.. somehow always easier to folllow a rider than to set a pace yourself. Before the end of the lap i had gained a place back but couldn't stay with the other rider that had caught me, which turned out to be eventual race winner Carl Hulston - Numplumpz.
2nd lap and time to add fuel to the fire with a gel, was making good progress on the climbs but stalling through the tight stuff and slower on downhills... areas of personal weakness that i am always trying to address. This lap got caught early by another rider, but nearing the end of the lap saw the sorry sight of original race leader Chris Metcalfe - Matlock CC/Wards Shoe Shop, fixing a flat, as it turned out hhe had been riding with a slow flat for a while and decided to stop to change it out as he still had a lap to go but unfortunately ripped valve off the spare:( On this lap i could now see th original second place rider who was now in 3rd, Niall Frost - Team MK, got within passing distance on a number of occasions on the lap but alwasy dropped a little on the downhills.
3rd lap, still felt good on the climbs but obviously a little tired as tight stuff became more troublesome and battled with feet jumping out of pedal and soft deep mud, at top of course was caught by Dai Price - Pearce Cycles Race Team, he seemed to have a better flow through the top of the course and quickly gapped me. Rest of lap was fairly consistent, plenty of power on the ups and the flats and super sketchy on the downs... although still loving the drops. With the final 3rd of the lap remaining finally caught and passed Niall Frost and with some last ditch efforts made the gap which lasted till the finish.
4th place mens sport class, think 4th is the worst place to finish as its annoyingly close to a podium,maybe if the race was another 5 laps longer like my endurance events i would have faired a little better. Think now if time allows i'll be back fro the future rounds and see how they go, may even try a national XC race depending on how my Marathons are going.
Great day out, little dissapointed with the finish but it has definatelty fueled a sick fascination to see if i can be competitive over these shorter races.
Great Race for fellow XC Racer 29er Phil Morris, with a move to Elite for this year, on paper looking at the start sheet it loooked like a tough race and Phil assured me it was:) He still mixed it up with the big boys of XC racing and am sure that he'll get the measure of them with a few more races.. no pressure Phil:)
Congrats to everyone that helped put on this race, definately a move in the right direction for mountain bike racing and if you find a lung on course it'll be mine as at the moment i'm still trying to cough up the other one... shorter races should be easier shouldn't they???