Last night’s message from the Gorrick/Merida Brass Monkeys team was
‘…The course will be a bit splattery, but in no way boggy tomorrow – and we’re pleased to say that no rain is forecast…’
During Wednesday’s training trip around Windmill Hill I saw the course was fast with just a few puddles. After the rain on Saturday and into the night, I didn’t see how the course could be ‘splattery’! Surely it would be a quagmire, a swamp that slowly became thicker as 500 riders lapped around. The first lap was splattery, by the third (my last) the puddles were dry and the mud being carried around on the bikes and bums (for those without mudguards) of the competitors! For me the muddiness was perfect. Slippery enough to challenge my mud skills, but providing grip at the last moment, not to mention nicely forming berms in the corners.
My training in the week was suboptimal. Moderately high volume (mostly low intensity), but intervals on Dean Hill on Friday were a disaster. Lacking leg power, HR and later motivation, I cruised home disappointed. I still wanted to perform well at the race, but with such a poor session playing on my mind, I had no option but to speak to HJ for advice and get my race plan sorted.
In his simple words ‘you know after last weekend you felt great over a 2hr race, so there’s no need to respect the distance. Just pedal like mad from start to finish’.
With that in mind, my race plan was simple. Front of the start line, sprint hard for 500m until the first singletrack and aim to be in the top 30 men on entering it. Latch onto wheels as they go past and then settle into a rhythm.
That’s just what I did. The start sprint was good fun, elbows out, but by the singletrack I was probably still around the top 20 guys. I avoided the bottleneck that always occurs here and the train just flowed straight on the path at full speed.
Although I was steadily being overtaken by the guys, by the middle of the first lap, I settled into my position in the field and had some lonely minutes; with no one in sight in front or behind. A small detour from the marked route cost me 90 secs on lap 1, but the error was easily rectified by doubling back to find the problematic junction.
With lap one out the way, it was just to keep pedalling. Knowing the layout of the course made it easier to know when to push harder or when to take a recovery. The hills around Windmill Hill seem unrelenting while racing. It’s constantly up-and-down, big climbs mixed with the small undulations in the singletracks that require a few powerful pedal strokes to cruise over without sacrificing speed. It’s hard work to maintain momentum all the way and the climbs can be gentle to begin with, before ramping up the gradient at the top. On GPS analysis, the climb was only 120m per lap, depressingly little considering it felt like a 1000m climb in total!
With each lap, my legs protested a little more. Each climb seemed to require more effort. But in spite of this, I still rode the two rooty steep climbs, just requiring a short sprint and small wheelie to crest the roots at the top. Doing this under fatigue was pleasing for me, it’s nice to see my skills and technique improving.
Finally I was entering the last 5 minutes of twisting (but) flat) riding, and crossed the line after 2hrs 4mins of hard racing. 2nd place went to Laura Sampson, the winner of round 1 MBM, just over 4 minutes behind me, and 3rd to Rachel Clay, some 9 minutes back.
A massive thank you goes to the Gorrick team who put together a brilliant course, and stood around in the cold freezing fog for most of the morning! Of course, I can’t forget my Dad and brother who came along to cheer me on, between trips to the heated marquee for burgers and hand warming!