The start of March could not have come any sooner for me. Though February was literally a matter of hours behind me, in my head when it turns to March 1st it means one thing. Spring. The issue is my idea of spring is 15 degrees minimum and starting off the tan, sadly this wasn’t the case.
March the 1st was the date of the first southern xc race of the year, or to put it simply, the first big race of the year. All my prep over January and February would start to show here and I was going well.
With the first big race came the first big test for me in expert, would I sink or swim? The likely hood of me getting my arse kicked was probable as I stepped up this year, but some of my best races have come from little expectations, so I was kind of ready for that. However, I knew in the back of my mind I was riding well and I shouldn’t actually be too surprised if I come away from the race with more than I expected.
I did come away with more than I expected, if we’re talking bruises, but I’ll get onto that.
With racing in a new category comes it’s challenges, not knowing who my close competition was and how much it would hurt doing the extra lap compared to last year being some of those. I was now doing 5 laps instead of 4, and the guys I was racing were quicker. If anything was a given this weekend though, it was my confidence, so for now I just had to go with that.
The course at Black Park, Slough was pan flat, the highest elevation gain we probably saw was, quite honestly, a log jump. That said you’d expect it to be a really fast course, right? Wrong. It had a fine mix of short fire roads but 80% was made up of twisty, tight single track with plenty of roots to keep you on your toes, it really was a course to favour the more technically gifted.
The race really couldn’t have got off to a much worse start, as we were called to the line it was pointed out by Ryan that I’d punctured. Already. I’d barely gone 10 metres. I won’t lie I was livid, I hopped over the barriers though and thankfully got the tube replaced with about 30 seconds to spare. That didn’t bode well. Once we finally got going though the start was flat out. It was about 400m to the first single track and I got a cracking start, positioning myself in a small group just in the top 10 feeling comfortable and crucially with Ryan.
It didn’t last long, two thirds of the way round I dropped my chain on a root section and whilst I only lost around 15 seconds, the flat course meant 15 seances was enough to lose a fair few places. I managed to get myself stuck in a group of 3 which would pretty much ruin my chances of a top 10 there and then. One particular guy in the group really wasn’t strong in the technical sections, where I was flying. He was then nailing it on the short fire road sections to stay in front. I tried on numerous occasions over the course of two more laps to pass him on the fire road but he was having none of it. Clearly a roadie, I let him drag me along the fire roads and I simply waited for him to make a mistake, and sure enough he did…right on top of me.
He stopped at the lip of a bomb hole meaning I had to stop half way up and when that happens there’s only one way you’re going, back down. In my attempt to hop off the bike I took a strong blow to the nether regions, though luckily no one was around to hear my (high pitched) strong choice of words, but it did one hell of a job getting me fired up. Now more determined to pass this guy he slipped up again and this time I capitalised, finally free home his back wheel I went full gas to try and claw back some time, anything I got now was a bonus. I felt really strong through the technical sections so continued to press on with my new found energy, soon catching up to the wheel of what was then 16th place.
As we reached a short open section I noticed him sit up, making the most of it I went straight past and continued through the next bit of single track to get a gap, and I did. Now heading into the last lap I knew I could lay down everything I had, 15th wasn’t too far ahead. I must have woken him (Daniel Eastment) up behind me though, because by the midway point of lap 5 he was back on my wheel. The last couple of miles however was all single track, so with the knowledge that we had a big gap to 18th I eased up slightly, there wouldn’t be anywhere to pass me until the sprint for the finish. Or so I thought. Just a mile out from the finish a lethal root, and there was lots of them, stopped me in my tracks. Before I knew it I had gone straight over the handle bars, smashing my knees onto a log. That hurt, a lot. By the time I had picked myself Daniel was out of sight, I limped home 17th, just happy to have finished.
Again, things hadn’t exactly gone my way this weekend, I couldn’t be disappointed with a mid pack finish in my first big expert race with a really strong field though. Without any problems I was strong enough today to be not far outside the top 10, certainly inside the top 15 so I’ll take that a lot of confidence from that into next weekends race.
I’ve now got my feet up, nursing the bruises before next weekend where we go again. Maybe this one will go my way…
Cheers for reading. I’ll keep it shorter next time.