Finally my trip to a snow-free country came around and with the increase in temperature I stood on the start line of the Gorrick Spring Series with my pale and pasty legs and arms bared for all to see. Luckily the sun was shining a little for the start but the wind was blowing down some of the fireroad straights.
Dad and I arrived at the event 90 minutes early so I could take a ‘leisurely’ lap of the course. It was certainly a course of two halves: the first being mildly hilly with some steep sections and a mix of fireroads, tracks and singletracks, while the second half was a loopy, rooty, rollercoaster section in the woods.
The event was a Long Valley South to orienteers or Caesers Camp to mountain bikers. The forest holds up well in the wet so the mud was solid and grippy in the corners rather than loamy and greasy.
With only one technical part of the course I was looking forward to racing. I was expecting my skills to have become a little rusty over the cold winter in Norway, but the practise lap showed that I hadn’t lost much at all. The only technical section (in my book) was a blind chute into and out of a gully. Before the drop was a sharp climb with many exposed small roots which gradually became more slippery. The drop itself had a noticeable small drop, but what concerned me the most, I saw it too late in the practise to get scared, was a parallel root in the middle of the rutted chute. Thus the only options were left or right of the root into a muddy gully bottom before a sudden climb out. I was pleased to ride it blind in the practise but I then became concerned about riding it under pressure. In reality I rode it every time in the race even with the male riders breathing down my neck, so I was pleased to handle this well.
I stood on the start with most of the best UK XCO riders which was a little daunting. As soon as the gun went I knew I was in trouble. The speed the leading girls went off at was unbelievable! I had no chance to stay with them as they sprinted down the start straight. From a quarter of the way round the first lap I was on my own, and so it stayed for the rest of the 4 laps. At times my legs wanted me to slow down, but my head wouldn’t allow me to do such a stupid thing!
I finished in 9th, 13 minutes behind 1st and 10minutes behind second. Not the race I had hoped to open my season with but I am very much still learning XC racing and the learning curve is steep.
All bar one of the other girls were on 29’ers or 650b bikes, and most were on 29’ers. I felt positively like a child on the start with my tiny 26 inch wheels! I was pleased to have put on some grippier tyres the day before though (I say I, I mean Stonehenge Cycles!) as the larger side tread gave me more confidence on the slightly muddy corners.
I certainly felt strong racing, and technically ok, but I lacked leg speed entirely. It is still ‘winter’ however and having fast legs now would be a bigger concern! I couldn’t help but feel I was disadvantaged on a 26’er, so I set out today to do a test.
Last summer I rode a certain interval session on a 1.3km hill, on both my 29’er and a road bike. Thanks to GPS and my Ascent programme I can compare the same session on different bikes. The analysis is interesting, as the road bike took me 200m than the 26’er. This could be down to the difference in season, I used the road bike the week before WOC so would naturally have fast legs. But what is interesting is that 3 weeks before WOC, the 29’er took me only 30m further than the 26’er today. From this I can truly put my lack of performance down to me and my legs rather than the bike!