Today was to be the last MTB XC race in the UK before I go back to Norway in morning. The last weeks have been great, no rain (usually for England), sun most days and surprisingly mild. My tan lines are already developing!
I was excited for the Southern XC race at Wasing Park. I pre-entered the elite course (when there were only 2 other entrants). As the entry list grew to include some names I have raced many years ago (and remember well how fast they rode), and some top elite athletes who are sponsored team riders, I became increasingly apprehensive. The list included; Louise Robinson, XCracer.com; Emily Iredale, TORQperformance; Catriona Ross, Beyond MTB/Specialized and Rachel Fenton, Trek Coventry. Some really strong athletes. I started to feel I might be in for another shock and was prepared to be 10 minutes behind the winner again.
I rode a practise lap, and after a 10min shouted conversation with the Southern XC guy at the bottom of the steep drop, I decided to take the B line, or chicken run. 10-15 seconds longer, but far safer. I wanted to ride the drop, but without HJ to coach me and put to rest my fears, more of my head wanted to be safe than wanted to try. I just wasn’t tempted enough to ride it. I liked the course instantly, many sharp corners, roots and some small climbs. Sections of the course were bumpy and I wished for my 29’er.
Standing on the start line I wished even more for my 29’er. I had the children’s wheels again! Having never raced a British Cycling or Southern XC event before I was unseeded, and thus had the start position right next to the fence on the unflattened grass. I had a race plan. Annoyingly I couldn’t get my left foot clipped in at the start, due to the bumpy ground so 100m down the start straight and I was last. Dead last. We had a 1km section of asphalt and fireroad before the singletrack so I gained a few places as I began to stick to my race plan. It felt to me that the field split into two groups of 5, with me and the 4 names above in the second group. Throughout the first lap I was at the back of the pack but maintaining pace well and actually recovering on the singletrack section as my 26 wheels seemed a bit nippier through the corners. Coming through the finish the group were announced as 1st-5th place, but I thought this must be a mistake as there were 5 girls ahead. I was convinced. As the race went on, I realised there were no 5 girls ahead. I have no idea where I overtook them, possibly early on at the start.
I was riding in a group (at the back) with Iredale (4), Fenton (3), Ross (2) and Robinson (1). Cool, huh?! On the fireroad for lap 2 and I overtook Fenton, but couldn’t get past Iredale. I was right on her back wheel in the singletrack and felt strong. My route down the B line cost me some time, but I soon caught Iredale back up. By this time the two leaders were about 20 seconds ahead, and each time I tried to overtake, Iredale stuck her elbows out and accelerated. Lesson learned, more aggression needed. Next time my elbows will be out 😉
On the swoopy (but bumpy) descent, Iredale’s chain dropped off, and seeing my chance I accelerated on the singletrack. By the end of the second lap I was in 3rd. Each time I looked behind on a straight I could see Iredale and Fenton, but I had lost sight of the two leaders. I set my goal on maintaining 3rd, and ensuring I gained enough time on the singletrack, that the chasers couldn’t catch me as I took B line (they rode the A line).
From then on, it was a solitary race, just to keep pushing and pedalling. And so, I took 3rd! It felt better than winning an MTBO World Champs medal!! I finished 1min37 behind the winner, Ross, and just 40 seconds behind second place, Robinson. Iredale took 4th, 2 mins back from me, and Fenton 5th, 2.5mins back from me.
Once the race got going and I saw how the 29’ers handled compared to my 26 in the tight corners, I felt I had made a good choice. Only on the fireroads did the 29 have an advantage.
Today’s race was successful for me for several reasons. 1) the training I had experimented with in the last weeks has paid off. 2) I stuck to my race plan, and even though my legs hurt, I kept following it, which helped to maintain the gap I think. 3) my singletrack skills were mostly ok, just a small mental block with steep drops to overcome, but my confidence in some areas has improved enormously. 4) I finished ahead of athletes I never expected to beat today (or in the next year). 5) my lap times were suprisingly consistent: 22.33, 22.57, 23.07, 23.31. 6) I maxed my HR (203) …
A huge thank you to Southern XC and all the marshals who seemed to be enjoying sunning themselves in the pleasant 19°C weather! Well done to all the athletes who raced today too. I hope to be back in April to challenge myself again!