I landed 12 minutes early at Heathrow yesterday morning. I hadn’t slept, in spite of the early start, thanks to arriving at Oslo Gardermoen a bit later than planned and needing to leave my bike box uncollected at the oversize baggage desk in order to make my flight. My bikes are like children. I never leave them out of sight, and definitely never unguarded. I was terrified my bike would a) be stolen, or b) not make the flight. Luckily, it arrived, in one piece without damage.
Dad and I headed over to Winterfold and Holmbury Hills for some Mtbo training. I used this to gauge my form and test my lungs/health after a 10 day bout of bronchitis (or something similar) that began 2.5 weeks ago. I felt good. Strong actually. I rode the steep climbs, and felt my breathing was back to normal. With those harder hill efforts, I saw my body was in a decent place to race at the Off Camber XC.
Photo from Kevin Sheldrake
The morning dawned cloudy, and cold. The humidity and wind made it feel colder than the 6 degrees the car thermometer read. I rode the 2nd part of the course and discovered a wealth of new singletrack. In fact, this part of the course, that makes up 2/3’s of the 8km loop was almost entirely singletrack. The course builders had created substantial lengths of new trails. Much was bedded in and well ridden, but a few sections appeared fresher and bumpier. There were a couple of extra climbs, but the course had a nice flow. Although rooty, I can imagine I could find some great speed if I was able to ride more regularly here and know the rooty corners from the tree-on-the-exit corners!!
At the start I was stuck near the back of the pack, but the rolling start gave me some chance to move up the field. The start proper is at the bottom of the climb so I accelerated and started picking off the men and women ahead. I felt strong here and motivated to climb hard. It took sometime to adjust to 29’er riding, after a winter of fatbiking on snow. I found myself oversteering, not to mention excessive brake use on the singletrack.
With so much singletrack it was hard to overtake. I got stuck in a traffic jam but lacked the extra power I would have expected to have in order to overtake. I got the feeling with the extra singletrack that the course was longer in distance and time than my race here a year ago. My first lap was good, but at the finish passing I considered calling it a day. My legs were fatiguing really quickly and I already felt I was going to have go back off the pace. I opted to keep going, not being one to quit a race. By this point I was in nomansland. A lone rider a few hundred metres ahead that I only glimpsed on the occasional straight sections, and no one behind.
Photo from Kevin Sheldrake
There was almost a 2 minute difference in my lap times. It felt more like 5 minutes, so I guess my legs felt more tired than they were. The first lap was 27.01, while the second was 28.57!!! Interestingly last March my 1st and 2nd laps varied by 90 seconds, so it seems I have some non-illness related work to do.
It was enough to take the win by more than 5 minutes to Harriet Dodd. There is work to do now in terms of regaining my speed in combination with endurance, but it’s good to get a gauge of my form. With the longer track times, I’m tempted to say I am ahead of last year, but until I can download my Gps data, I can’t be too optimistic on that one!
Luckily, I didn’t make my health worse, just a standard I-raced-too-hard-on-cold-day cough. I’m used to these, so the lung reaction passes after a few hours. I’m looking forward to the Spring Series from the Gorrick team next weekend, but I will hold off entering until Saturday in order to be sure I continue to improve my health. I also want a good week of training, so I must see how that goes too.
Thanks to the Off Camber Bikes team for organising, by all accounts, another successful grassroots winter series.