This was my first Gorrick Spring Series race. Ever. Each year from January through to April, race organisers Gorrick host a series of 4 to 5 XC races to cater to those needing an off-season/pre-season fix. This year, I am chomping at the bit, desperate to get cracking with my race season. With my primary focus still on MTBO there’s little extra time in the calendar to fit in XCO races of any real calibre. I’ll be taking in about 3-4 United Bakeries Cup races in Oslo on the Wednesday evenings I am in Norway. I’m also hopeful to race in the Norges Cup and possibly Champs around Oslo, but I can’t remember how they fall with the MTBO season.
I enjoyed my warm up lap, getting to cheer on some rapid under 11 and under 13 kids! Frith Hill isn’t a venue I have been to before, so it was great to check out an unfamiliar course and trails. I wasn’t expecting technical or especially hilly but I did expect steep climbs and twisty trails with some roots based on what I know from Porridgepot on the other side of the road. The venue certainly didn’t disappoint, and I rode my practise lap with a grin on my face. I was grateful I changed to a 32 tooth chairing from a 34 tooth for the race. After a 1/4 turn gear adjustment, it was fine.
Lining up on the start line, I was feeling intimidated by the athletes present, with far more racing experience under their belts just this season alone. I had about 3 race plans, since I had no idea how I would perform a) in relation to the others, and b) with my legs/lungs (I’ve been feeling really heavy legged all week).
Plan 1: start with the leaders, hold on as long as possible
Plan 2: ride my own race and go for consistency
Plan 3: start with the leaders, make a break, win.
The above are ranked in order of likelihood, with 1 being most likely outcome.
I surprised myself by being first off the line and to the first corner. So much that I coasted for a bit and allowed 2 women to overtake. I sat behind for a bit before overtaking one of them. I fluffed the gully section with the root climb and had to unclip when I almost hit the athletes’ bike ahead. Sorry to those behind that then ended in a worse situation.
On one of two steepest climbs I was able to overtake the leader, so by the end of the lap I had a 9 second lead. I slowed up, on the flat start to the lap, and waited for the chasing two to come back to me. By 50% of the way around the second lap, I didn’t want to carry on setting the pace, and let the chasers overtake on a wide climb. A small group formed to the new leader which was up to 10-15secs. I wanted to stay close, and reduced the gap down to a few seconds. I heard the leader, Alexis Barnes, have some chain/shifting trouble, which ended in a snapped chain. I only had an Allen key set and CO2 canister so had nothing to offer to help fix it.
Over the next few climbs, I felt I was drawing way from the athlete behind, Louise Mame, and sure enough a 10 second gap formed by the lap close. I didn’t push on and make an attack, but neither did I back of on the flat start to the lap. I was expecting the gap to come back down, but instead it quickly grew, which was odd. Perhaps something was occurring I wasn’t aware of.
I then found myself in a lone race, just ticking off the male riders ahead. I only knew I couldn’t slow up too much, and was able to keep some good consistency between laps 2, 3, and 4. Consistency for me, at least!
Although it was a win after 1:40:18, the gap to second was just 76 seconds, and most of that was gained though a 1 min time difference on lap 3. Second was Louise Mame and third, 2 mins 56 back was Louise Fox.
It was nice to race on a level laying field; all on 29’ers. Did it make a difference? I’m in two minds. Yes, a 29 is faster, the science answers that one. But I wonder how much of my improvement and consistency comes down to a good winter of training… The only way to tell will be a time trial in my local woods in a few weeks time. I’m hopeful to be faster than June last year, when I set a big Pb, but there’s also a lot of work to do before Czech in August. I feel I’m getting the hang of XCO racing now, able to plan a tactical race better and even execute it. I don’t feel so pressured while racing and am able to play a race to my strengths. I certainly feel good on the steep climbs, and slowly starting to work my way around some demons when it comes to hills. I was happy to ride to gully section each time, it was only the proximity to other athletes that had me on lap1!! As always, some areas to improve, but it’s nice to start the season with a couple of wins and general ‘good legs, good body, good mind’ feeling.